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his robe fluttered like flame. Now he checked the speed of his flying coursers, whereat they tossed their manes and pawed the ground impatiently. Anon he plied the thong, and they left the wind behind. The celestials stayed their chariots in mid-air.
"Ho! Nala," they shouted, "we have a message for you. Stay, and do our bidding."
"Speak, I will do your bidding," answered the Rajah, folding his arms and bowing his head. But who are ye, and what is the service ye require
"Know us," said Indra: "we are the Immortals, and we seek the love of Damayanti. I am Maghavan, the Cloudy; this is Yama; and yonder are Agni, and the King of Waters. Go to the maiden of Vidarbha, and proclaim our coming-say:
'Indra, Agni, Varun, Yama, each to seek thy hand are come;
One of these celestial beings, choose, O virgin, for thy lord.""
"Spare me, and send me not upon this cruel errand. For how can I, enamored myself, plead for you?" Speak, I will do your bidding :' such was your promise, Rajah. You know our bidding. Do it. No more delay."
"But how," sighed the unhappy lover, "how shall I enter the palace of Bhima? It is guarded strictly, night and day."
"Thou shalt enter," said Maghavan; and even while the god spake, Nala found himself in the garden of Damayanti. He entered the bower of roses, as the swans had done before him, and there he beheld Damayanti and her maids. It was as if he saw an early morning sky peopled with radiant clouds and governed by the crescent moon. Against a background of rose-buds sat an hundred virgins, clad in white, airy and graceful; and in their midst was Damayanti, the Moon of Beauty. Her eyes were as soft as lotus blooms, her waist as slender as the stalk of the young bamboo, and the waves of her black hair were sown with pearls.
The heart of the Rajah leaped within him, like a stag pursued by the hunters; but he remembered his promise to the gods, and prepared to plead their cause.
The handmaids of Damayanti sprang from their seats, amazed at his beauty and strength; but none dared to accost him before the princess. Damayanti
shared their amazement and was silent, till she remembered that she was the daughter of a king; then, her royalty lending her speech, she thus addressed the Rajah.
"Who art thou so beautiful and strong, and how hast thou entered our palace? The wardens of the king are watchful; his mandates are stern."
"I am Nala," answered the enamored but faithful Rajah; "Nala the messenger of the gods.
‘Indra, Agni, Varun, Yama, each to seek thy hand will come;
One of these celestial beings, choose, O virgin, for thy lord!'"
"I hear your words, Rajah, but I cannot obey them. No god shall be my husband. I am content to love a man. Thou art the man, O Nala! Before I saw thee I was enamored, the swans sang thy praise so sweetly; and now that I see thee I cannot but give thee my heart. Wilt thou not give me thine in return ?"
When the princess began she smiled, and her eye beamed in the Rajah's face like a star; but as the river of her thought deepened, her eye dropped to his feet, and the smile vanished, leaving a blush to reign in its stead.
Nala was delighted to know himself beloved; but his promise to Indra haunted him; so he pressed his hand on his rebellious heart, and persisted in his errand.
"But what is a man to the gods? Compared to the gods men are as dust: displeasing them, they hasten to death. Who is she that would not wed Agni, who compressed the world in his fiery hand? Or Yama, the King of Justice, of whom the world stands in awe? Or Indra, the Sovereign of the Gods?"
"I am she," said Damayanti; "I worship the gods as gods, I cannot love them as men. I will choose a man, and a man only for my husband. Thou art the man, O Nala."
The soul of the Rajah fluttered like a loori who sees its mate through the wires of a cage. "I have delivered my message," he murmured, kneeling at her feet; "I have plead for others; hereafter I shall plead for myself. Till then weigh me in thy thought."
The blush came back to her cheek, and after the blush the smile. "Come to my betrothal with the gods, dear Nala, and I will choose thee for my husband."
She plucked a rose-bud, and handed it to the Rajah. He pressed it to his lips, and wishing himself back to the gods stood in their presence.
"Have you seen Damayanti, and delivered our message? And what says
"I have seen her," answered the Rajah, lifting himself to his full hight, like a man ennobled by a heavenly thought; "I have seen the beautiful maiden, and faithfully plead your cause. She rejects your suit, O gods, and chooses a mortal for her husband: even me, your unworthy messenger."
"She may change her mind before the day of her betrothal," replied Indra.
"I hope not," muttered Nala. And the swans at that moment flying past him, he charged them to sing his praises
The day of the full moon came, and Bhima summoned the Rajahs to the betrothal of his daughter. In loving haste they thronged the hall of state. It was splendid with columns of gold, and a triumphal arch of pearl. Fragrant were the garlands over their profuse locks, and rich their pendent ear gems. Some were swarthy and vigorous, with arms like battle maces, others were as lithe and delicate as the fiveheaded serpents.
They seated themselves upon the thrones, a door was flung open, and Damayanti appeared. She was dressed royally, as became the daughter of a king. Her silken vest glittered with golden spangles, her wrists were loaded with bracelets, and bells of silver hung at her ancles and tinkled as she walked. Her steps were lighter than the steps of a gazelle when it picks its way among flowers.
She glided before the kings like a cloud, looking among their number for her betrothed. She found him leaning against a column. And yet she found him not. There were five Rajahs before her instead of one, five Nalas, alike in form and garb. The four gods had assumed the shape of their messenger to perplex the princess in her choice. She scanned them again and again, but could not discern Nala from his counterfeits.
"How shall I know my betrothed?" she said to herself. And something whispered-"Pray, and the gods will help you." She folded her hands on
her bosom, and bowed her head, and prayed:
"When I heard the song of the swans I said- The lord of Nishadha shall be my husband.' By this truth reveal him to me, ye loving gods."
"I have not swerved from him in word, or thought. By this truth reveal him to me, ye faithful gods."
"I have pledged him my vow, and it must be holily maintained. By this truth reveal him to me, ye holy gods."
"I will die rather than take another for my husband. By this truth reveal him to me, ye pitying gods."
The prayer of the woman prevailed. The gods assumed their own immortal shapes, and Nala was revealed to his beloved. He stood in the shadow of the column with a drooping garland, while the four gods, Indra, Agni, Varun, Yama, hovered in the air crowned with stars. Unlike Nala, they cast no shadow!
She gazed a moment in their divine eyes, her face bathed with thankful tears, and turning to the Rajah she lifted the hem of his garment and threw a zone of flowers over his shoulder.
"I take Nala for my husband!" "You have done well," said the gods: but the kings said nothing for sighing. The king of Nishadha stepped from the shadow, and clasped the hand of his
Since you take me for your husband, fair Damayanti, know me your faithful lord; as long as my soul dwells in my body-so long am I thine!"
Be happy!" said the gods, and each gave Nala a double blessing. Indra a firm gait in the sacrifice, and the faculty of seeing the godhead. Agni the stars at noonday, and the boon of fire whenever he wished it. Yama eminence in virtue, and a subtle taste in food. And Varun the power of making water come at his call, and flowers of matchless fragrance.
Thus Nala won Damayanti.
THE BOOK OF THE LOADED DICE. Let no man think to live without enemies, although he be as pure as the gods. There are always black hearts in the world, and they delight to throw dust on the robes of the good and wise. But the wise and good often fall by their own weakness. If the gods are always waiting to help those who perform their duties, the demons are also waiting to haunt those who neglect
them. The sky is not broad enough for a god: no chink is too narrow for a demon. But let no man despair. The Vedas are a well of truth.
The gods blessed Nala and Damayanti; and having no further desire to remain on earth-for what to them was the pomp of the Rajah's bridal, the splendor of his marriage?-they returned to the sky. Midway between Vidarbha and Mount Meru they met Kali and Dwapara flying earthward like two dark clouds.
"Whither so fast?" said Indra, the Slayer of Giants.
I am going to the betrothal of Damayanti," answered Kali. My heart has entered into the maiden, and I mean to make her my consort."
"The gates of that bridal are closed," said the bright-tongued Agni. "She hath chosen Nala in our presence."
The brow of Kali grew black; fire flashed from his eyes. Heavy be her doom," he muttered with a stormy voice.
"Not so, Evil One," replied the Sovereign of the Gods. "She weds the Rajah by our permission. He is brave and good; he reads the four Vedas, and the Puranna, and adores the gods with offerings. He is gentle to all living creatures, and his word and Vow are sacred. Whoever curses the noble Nala shall find his curses recoil on himself. He shall be plunged in the torments of hell."
So said the Lord of Heaven and vanished.
"I can curb my wrath no longer," thundered Kali to his evil companion. "I will enter into the heart of Nala, and cast him from his kingdom, and the sweet embraces of his bride. Thou shalt assist me, Dwapara, embodied in the loaded dice."
the wings of the twelfth summer were broken by the arrows of autumn, the demon Kali entered into the heart of the Rajah, and Dwapara was embodied in the loaded dice. Twelve long years the demons watched the Rajah, seeking an opportunity to overthrow him; but his wisdom and discretion baffled them all that time. Nor would they have ever prevailed against him, but that one eve he omitted to wash his feet before praying to the gods.
It may seem a small thing to you, ye men of this atheistical age, to neglect the ablution of water; but what says the Law-giver Menu, the son of Brah"Men's bodies are cleansed by water, as their minds are purified by truth." Be warned by the fate of Nala!
When the marriage feast was over, and the kings had departed, each to his separate kingdom, Nala bade the king of Vidarbha adieu, and returned to Nishadha taking Damayanti with him. Before them flew the swans, singing a nuptial song: the demons came behind.
Twelve years, twelve happy years passed like a day; the last was sweeter than the first, as evening is sweeter than dawn. The flight of the summers brought Nala and Damayanti two fair children, Indrasen, a noble son, and Indrasena, a beautiful daughter. But it brought them sorrow also; for, when
Kali entered into the heart of the Rajah, and straightway beckoned Pushkara, the Rajah's brother, to play at dice with him. "By my subtle aid," said the malignant fiend, "thou shalt win the kingdom of Nishadha."
"Come, brother," said the envious Pushkara, when the Rajah had finished his prayer; come, and play with the dice." Here Dwapara changed himself into a set of loaded dice.
The Rajah shook his head.
"You fear to lose," said the cunning gamester.
The Rajah shook his head again. Well, I must play with myself then." And Pushkara rattled the dice, and threw as badly as he could. The Rajah resisted the temptation for a long time; but hearing the rattling of the dice, and seeing how badly his brother threw, he consented to play.
It was dusk when the pair began, and they were in the idol-wing of the palace. They played all night by the light of the sacred lamps, under the very eyes of the idols. The hours passed like moments, and every moment was knelled to its grave by the rattling dice. No matter how carefully he threw, Nala always lost.
At midnight the God of Sleep came to the palace. And being blinded by the lights in the idol-wing, he peeped through the lattice to know what it meant. He saw two sleepless men whose feverish unrest warred with his drowsy quiet; and being displeased thereat, he flew to the chamber of Damayanti, and struck her eyes with his heavy fingers. She slept till dawn, tormented by evil dreams.
At dawn she woke, and wondered at the absence of Nala. She waited and waited, but still he came not. At noon a Brahman told her all. The news of soon noised the king's losses were abroad, for Disgrace is an ill bird that no cage can hold. The Councilors of State and the citizens assembled at the gate of the palace to endeavor to restrain the folly of their ruler. They knocked, and knocked, but he heard them not, he was so intent on the dice. But the Master of the Chariots heard them, and guessing their errand told it to Damayanti.
The Haunted King and the Loaded Dice.
the queen in her misfortune, he came at
"Varshneya, thou knowest the re-
Noble princess, the city stands at the gate. Go thou to the king, and tell him so. Say that we, his loving subjects, will freely pay all that he has lost; but that we entreat him to play
'Rajah, the whole city is at the gate," whispered the princess in the They come to ear of her husband. speak to their Lord; deign to admit them." The Rajah shook his head, like one who is addressed in a strange tongue, but answered not a word. She addressed him again: he turned his back upon her.
Varshneya obtained the consent of the Rajah's council and departed, taking the kingly children with him. Bhima received them with open arms; also the He urged chariot and the steeds. Varshneya to remain in Vidarbha; but the master of the chariots could not bear to look upon the beggared children of his sovereign. So he excused himself and went to Ayodhya, where he became the charioteer of the king.
In the meantime, the Rajah, his master, had gambled away his kingdom.
"All is lost!" he cried, dropping the accursed dice.
Not all," dear brother, answered the wicked Pushkara. "Damayanti yet remains. Let us throw now for Damayanti. I stake my kingdom against her.” "Throw," whispered the demon to the haunted king.
"Yes, throw!" rattled the dice, "You will win all back." But Nala resisted.
The baseness of his brother's soul He was a dagger in his faithful heart. spoke not, but stripped himself of the last remains of his splendor. Crown, sceptre, robe-he gave Pushkara all, retaining for himself only a single vest, wrapped in which he wandered from the palace. The whole city stood at the gate to see him depart; but he saw them not, for his eyes were fixed on the ground. Neither did he see Damayanti, his true wife, although she walked beside him.
So Nala lost his kingdom.
"It cannot be Nala," she said, and shut herself up to weep. "It is not Nala," said the citizens, and they went back to their homes sorrowfully.
When the gamesters began to play
creeping into his hand.
Damayanti sat in her chamber, and
"They are the children of a king,"
THE BOOK OF THE WANDERINGS.
No sooner did the fallen king and queen leave the city than Pushkara issued a proclamation, forbidding the citizens to harbor them under the pain of death. He also sent spies abroad to see that his commands were obeyed. The royal fugitives wandered around the walls of the city three days and nights; their drink was water, their food berries and roots. The Rajah was like a man bereft of his wits, or like a man walking in a dream. He strayed aimlessly from place to place, seeing all things, but understanding nothing. Damayanti followed, guiding and guarding his footsteps.
On the morning of the fourth day, while it was yet dusk, she was startled by the appearance of her old nurse, who warned her and the Rajah to fly, because Pushkara had given orders to slay them both. They arose and fled, and not a moment too soon; for they had hardly gained the highway before a band of horsemen spurred from the palace, and surrounded their old hidingplace. The Rajah was fain to wait and see the end, but Damayanti persuaded him to continue his flight. It was enough for her to see the ruffians brandish their spears in the distance.
The road in which the fugitives found themselves was beautiful. It wound through groves of mangoes, and past lovely gardens. Berries grew on its edge, and brooks of clear water rippled along the hedges. But by and by it changed: groves and gardens there were none; even berries and brooks were few. At last it became a belt of dust in an interminable plain of arid grass. The Rajah began to complain for want of food; but Damayanti complained not, for she felt her husband's sufferings more than her own. As long as there were berries enough for him she forgot her hunger.
The noon of the sixth day found them in a desert of sere grass. There were no trees to shelter them from the fierce glare of the sun, and no brooks or springs at which they could quench their thirst.
"We shall die in this desolation," fretted the Rajah; "bird or beast, no living thing is near."
"My lord is mistaken," answered Damayanti; "yonder are three fine birds."
"Where?" asked the Rajah, casting his eye over the dreary plain.
There, beside the path," and she pointed to a grassy hollow, as large as the nest of an eagle.
"They are asleep," whispered the Rajah. I will catch them, and have a banquet."
He drew off his vest, and, holding it in his hand for a trap, cautiously stole towards the birds. They were birds of a strange species, white, with black spots on the breast. Their heads were tucked under their wings. "They are fast asleep," said he, spreading his garment over them; "I have them now."
They snatched the vest from his hand, and sprang up in the air!
"Instead of your having us, Nala," said they, with a human voice, "we have you." And they waved the vest in his face!
“What are ye, ye accursed birds?" We are the dice, Nala-the dice that lost you your kingdom. We have followed you ever since you fled from the palace, to see if you had nothing else. for us to win. While anything remained, our joy was incomplete. But we are content now, for we have robbed you of your last garment. You are now as low as the lowest-a naked, foolish king!"
When he saw the dice flying away with his garment, he desired to die alone.
Wife, hear, and profit by my advice. We have come to a forest from which many roads diverge; but all lead to the south. This on thy right hand passes the city of Avanti and the heights of RishaThat passes Vindhya, the great mountain, and Payoshni, the river that flows to the sea. Somewhere near, perhaps in yonder forest, are the retreats of the holy hermits. This road will lead thee to Cosala, and that—it is lined with shady trees!-to thy father's kingdom."
"I cannot think of your counsel, Nala; for only to hear it breaks my heart. How can I leave thee, when thou art naked, and worn with hunger and thirst? There is no herb or balsam in sorrow like the care of a loving wife. Let me remain."
"What dost thou fear, thou timid one, that I will leave thee? Fear not. I might abandon myself, but never thee."
"Why, then, dost thou still point out