SCENE The HERMITAGE in a Grove.
The Hermit's Pupil bearing consecrated grass.
Pupil. [Meditating with wonder.]
HOW great is the power of Dushyanta! The monarch and his charioteer had no sooner entered the grove than we continued our holy rites without interruption. What words can describe him? By his barely aiming a shaft, by the mere sound of his bow-string, by the simple murmur of his vibrating bow, he disperses at once our calamities. Now then I deliver to the priests this bundle of fresh Kusha grass to be featured round the place of sacrifice [Looking behind the scenes.] Ah! Priyamvada, for whom are you carrying that ointment of Usira root, and those leaves of water lilies? [Listening attentively.] What say you? That Shakuntala is extremely disordered by the sun's heat, and that you have procured for her a cooling medicine! Let her, my Priyamvada be diligently attended; for she is the darling of our venerable father Kanva, I will administer, by the hand of Gautami some healing water consecrated in the ceremony called Vaitana. [He goes out.]
Dushyanta enters, expressing the distraction of a lover.
King Dushyanta: I well know the power of her devotion: that she will suffer none to dispose of her but Kanva, I too well know. Yet my heart can no more return to its former placid state, than water can reascend the steep, down which it has fallen. O God of Love, how can thy darts be so keen, since they are pointed with flowers? Yes, I discover the reason of their keenness. They are tipped with the flames which the wrath of Hara (Rudra or Siva) kindled, and which blaze at this moment, like the Barava fire under the waves: how else could it thou, who wast consumed even to ashes, be still the inflamer of our souls By thee and by the moon, though each of you seems worthy of confidence, we lovers are cruelly deceived.
They who love as I do, ascribe flowery shafts to thee, and cool beams to the moon, with equal impropriety; for the moon sheds fire on them with her dewy rays, and thou pointest with sharp diamonds those arrows which seem to be barbed with blossoms.
Yet this god, who bears a fish on his banners, and who wounds me to the soul, will give me real delight, if he destroy me with the aid of my beloved, whose eyes beautiful as those of a roe. O powerful divinity, even when I thus adore thy attributes, hast thou no compassion? Thy fire, O Love, is fanned into a blaze by a hundred of my vain thoughts. -Does it become thee to draw thy bow even to thy ear, that the shaft, aimed at my bosom, may inflict a deeper wound? Where now can I recreate my afflicted soul by the permission of those pious men whose uneasiness I have removed by dismissing my train? [Sighing.] I can have no relief but from a sight of my beloved!
[Looking up.] This intensely hot noon must, no doubt, be passed by Shakuntala with her damsels on the banks of this river over-shadowed with Tamalas. It must be so: I will advance thither. [Walking round and looking.] My sweet friend has, I guess, been lately walking under that row of young trees; for I see the stalks of some flowers, which probably she gathered, still unshrivelled; and some fresh leaves, newly plucked, still dropping milk. [Feeling a breeze.] Ah! this bank has a delightful air! Here may the gale embrace me, wafting odours from the water lilies, and cool my breast, inflamed by the bodiless god, with the liquid particles which it catches from the waves of the Malini. [looking down.] Happy lover! Shakuntala must be somewhere in this grove of flowering creepers; for I discern on the yellow sand in the vicinity of yon arbour some recent footsteps, raised a little before, and depressed behind by the weight of her elegant limbs. I shall have a better view from behind this thick foliage. [He conceals himself, looking vigilantly.] Now are my eyes fully gratified. The darling of my heart, with her two faithful attendants, reposes on a smooth rock strewn with fresh flowers. Their branches will hide me, whislt I hear their charming conversation. [He stands concealed, and gazes.]
Shakuntala and her two Damsels discovered.
Both: [Fanning her.] Say, beloved Shakuntala, does the breeze, raised by our fans of broad lotus leaves, refresh you?
Shakuntala: [Mournfully.] Why, alas, do my dear friends take this trouble? [Both look sorrowfully at each other.]
King Dushyant: [Aside.] Ah! she seems much indisposed. What can have been the fatal cause of so violent a fever Is it what my heart suggests? Or [Musing] I am perplexed with doubts. The medicine extracted from the balmy Usira has been applied, I see, to her bosom: her only bracelet is made of thin filaments from the stalks of a water lily, and even that is loosely bound on her arm. Yet, even thus disordered, she is exquisitely beautiful. Such are the hearts of the young! Love and the fun equally inflame us; but the scorching heat of summer leads not equally to happiness with the ardour of youthful desires.
Priyamvada: [Aside to Anusuúya.] Did you not observe how the heart of Shakuntala was affected by the first fight of our pious monarch? My suspicion is, that her malady has no other cause.
Anusuya: [Aside to Priyamvada] The same suspicion had risen in my mind. I will ask her at once. [Aloud.] My sweet Shakuntala, let me put one question to you. What has really occasioned your indisposition?
King Dushyant: Aside.] She must now declare it. Ah! though her bracelets of lotou are bright as moon beams, yet they are marked, I see, with black spots from internal ardour.
Shakuntala: [Half raising herself.] Oh! say what you suspect to have occasioned it.
Anusuya: Shakuntala, we must necessarily be ignorant of what is passing in your breast; but I suspect your care to be that which we have often heard related in tales of love. Tell us openly what causes your illness. A physician, without knowing the cause of a disorder, cannot even begin to apply a remedy.
King Dushyant: [Aside.] I flatter myself with the same suspicion.
Shakuntala: [Aside.] My pain is intolerable; yet I cannot hastily disclose the occasion of it.
Priyamvada: My sweet friend, Anusúuya speaks rationally. Consider the violence of your indisposition. Every day you will be more and more emaciated, though your exquisite beauty has not yet forsaken you.
King Dushyant: [Aside.] Most true. Her forehead is parched; her neck droops; her waist is more slender than before; her shoulders languidly fall; her complexion is wan (pale); she resembles a Madhavi creeper, whose leaves are dried by a sultry gale: yet, even thus transformed, she is lovely, and charms my soul.
Shakuntala: [Sighing.] What more shall I say! Ah! why should I be the occasion of your sorrow?
Priyamvada: For that very reason, my beloved, we are solicitous to know your secret; since, when each of us has a share of your uneasiness, you will bear more easily your own portion of it.
King Dushyant: [Aside.] Thus urged by two friends, who share her pains as well as her pleasures, she cannot fail to disclose the hidden cause of her malady; whilst I, on whom she looked at our first interview with marked affection, am filled with anxious desire to hear her answer.
Shakuntala: From the very instant when the accomplished prince, who has just given repose to our hallowed forest, met my eye [She breaks off, and looks modest.]
Both. Speak on, beloved Shakuntala.
Shakuntala: From that instant when the affection was unalterably fixed on him and thence I am reduced to my present languor.
Anusuya. Fortunately your affection is placed on a man worthy of yourself
Priyamvada: Oh! could a fine river have deserted the sea and flowed into a lake?
King Dushyant: [Joyfully.] That which I was eager to know, her own lips have told. Love was the cause of my distemper, and love has healed it; as a summer's day, grown black with clouds, relieves all animals from the heat which itself had caused.
Shakuntala: If it be no disagreeable talk, contrive, I entreat you, some means by which I may find favour in the king's eyes.
King Dushyant: [Aside.] That request banishes all my cares, and gives me rapture even in my present uneasy situation.
Priyamvada: [Aside to Anusuúya] A remedy for her, my friend, will scarce be attainable. Exert all the powers of your mind; for her illness admits of no delay.
Anusuya: [Aside to Priyamvada] By what expedient can her cure be both accelerated and kept secret?
Priyamvada: [As before.] Oh! to keep it secret will be easy; but to attain it soon, almost insuperably difficult.
Anusuya: [As before.] How so?
Priyamvada: The young king seemed, I admit, by his tender glances, to be enamoured of her at first sight; and he has been observed, within these few days, to be pale and thin, as if his passion had kept him long awake.
King Dushyant: [Aside.] So it has This golden bracelet, sullied by the flame which preys on me, and which no dew mitigates, but the tears gushing nightly from these eyes, has fallen again and again on my wrist, and has been replaced on my emaciated arm.
Priyamvada: [Aloud.] I have a thought, Anusuya Let us write a love letter, which I will conceal in a flower, and, under the pretext of making a respectful offering, deliver it myself into the king's hand.
Anusuya: An excellent contrivance! It pleases me highly; -but what says our beloved Shakuntala?
Shakuntala: I must consider, my friend, the possible consequences of such a step.
Priyamvada: Think also of a verse or two, which may suit your passion, and be consistent with the character of a lovely girl born in an exalted family.
Shakuntala: I will think of them in due time; but my heart flutters with the apprehension of being rejected.
King Dushyant: [Aside.] Here stands the man supremely blessed in thy presence, from whom, O timid girl, thou art apprehensive of a refusal! Here stands the man, from whom, O beautiful maid, thou fearest rejection, though he loves thee distractedly. He who shall possess thee will seek no brighter gem; and thou art the gem which I am eager to possess.
Anusuya: You depreciate, Shakuntala, your own incomparable merits. What man in his senses would intercept with an umbrella the moonlight of autumn, which alone can allay the fever caused by the heat of the noon?
Shakuntala: [Smiling.] I am engaged in thought. [She meditates.]
King Dushyant: Thus then I fix my eyes on the lovely poetess, without closing them a moment, while she measures the feet of her verse: her forehead is gracefully moved in cadence, and her whole aspect indicates pure affection.
Shakuntala: I have thought of a couplet; but we have no writing implements
Priyamvada: Let us hear the words; and then I will mark them with my nail on this lotus leaf, soft and green as the breast of a young paroquet: it may easily be cut into the form of a letter. Repeat the verses.
Shakuntala: "Thy heart, indeed, I know not: but mine, oh! cruel, love warms by day and by night; and all my faculties are centered on thee."
King Dushyant: [Hastily advancing, and pronouncing a verse in the same measure.] "Thee, O slender maid, love only warms; but me he burns; as the day-star only stifles the fragrance of the night-flower, but quenches the very orb of the moon."
Anusuya: [Looking at him joyfully.] Welcome, great king: the fruit of my friend's imagination has ripened without delay. [Shakuntala expresses an inclination to rise.]
King Dushyant: Give yourself no pain. Those delicate limbs, which repose on a couch of flowers, those arms, whose bracelets of lotus are disarranged by a slight pressure, and that sweet frame, which the hot noon seems to have disordered, must not be fatigued by ceremony.
Shakuntala: [Aside.] O my heart, canst thou not rest at length after all thy sufferings?
Anusuya: Let our sovereign take for his seat a part of the rock on which she reposes. [Shakuntala makes a little room.]
King Dushyant: [Seating himself.] Priyamvada, is not the fever of your charming friend in some degree abated?
Priyamvada: [Smiling.] She has just taken a salutary medicine, and will soon be restored to health. But, O mighty prince, as I am favoured by you and by her, my friendship for Sacontalá prompts me to converse with you for a few moments.
King Dushyant: Excellent damsel, speak openly; and suppress nothing.
Priyamvada: Our lord shall hear.
King Dushyant: I am attentive.
Priyamvada: By dispelling the alarms of our pious hermits, you have discharged the duty of a great monarch.
King Dushyant: Oh! talk a little on other subjects.
Priyamvada: Then I must inform you that our beloved companion is enamoured of you, and has been reduced to her present languor by the restless divinity, love. You only can preserve her inestimable life.
King Dushyant: Sweet Priyamvada, our passion is reciprocal; but it is I who am honoured.
Shakuntala: [Smiling, with a mixture of affection and resentment.] Why should you detain the virtuous monarch, who must be afflicted by so long an absence from the secret apartments of his palace?
King Dushyant: This heart of mine, oh thou who art of all things the dearest to it, will have no object but thee, whose eyes enchant me with their black splendour, if thou wilt but speak in a milder strain. I, who was nearly slain by love's arrow, am destroyed by thy speech.
Anusuya: [Laughing.] Princes are said to have many favourite consorts. You must assure us, therefore, that our beloved friend shall not be exposed to affliction through our conduct.
King Dushyant: What need is there of many words? Let there be ever so many women in my palace, I will have only two objects of perfect regard; the sea-girt earth, which I govern, and your sweet friend, whom I love.
Both: Our anxiety is dissipated.
[Shakuntala strives in vain to conceal her joy.]
Priyamvada: [Aside to Anusúya.] See how our friend recovers her spirits little by little, as the peahen, oppressed by the summer heat, is refreshed by a soft gale and a gentle shower.
Shakuntala: [To the damsels.] Forgive, I pray, my offence in having used unmeaning words: they were uttered only for your amusement in return for your tender care of me.
Priyamvada: They were the occasion, indeed, of our serious advice. But it is the king who must forgive: who else is offended?
Shakuntala: The great monarch will, I trust, excuse what has been said either before him or in his absence. [Aside to the damsels.] Intercede with him, I entreat you.
King Dushyanta: [Smiling.] I would cheerfully forgive any offence, lovely Shakuntala, if you, who have dominion over my heart, would allow me full room to sit by you, and recover from my fatigue, on this flowery couch pressed by your delicate limbs.
Priyamvada: Allow him room; it will appease him, and make him happy.
Shakuntala: [Pretending anger, aside to Priyamvada.] Be quiet, thou mischief-making girl! Dost thou sport with me in my present weak state?
Anusuya: [Looking behind the scenes.] O! my Priyamvada, there is our favourite young antelope running wildly and turning his eyes on all sides: he is, no doubt, seeking his mother, who has rambled in the wide forest. I must go and assist his search.
Priyamvada: He is very nimble; and you alone will never be able to confine him in one place. I must accompany you. [Both going out.]
Shakuntala: Alas! I cannot consent to your going far: I shall be left alone.
Both: [Smiling.] Alone! with the sovereign of the world by your side! [They go out.]
Shakuntala: How could my companions both leave me?
King Dushyanta: Sweet maid, give yourself no concern. Am not I, who humbly solicit your favour, present in the room of them? [Aside.] I must declare my passion. [Aloud.] Why should not I, like them, wave this fan of lotus leaves, to raise cool breezes and dissipate your uneasiness! Why should not I, like them, lay softly in my lap those feet, red as water lilies, and press them, O my charmer, to relieve your pain?
Shakuntala: I should offend against myself, by receiving homage from a person entitled to my respect.
[She rises, and walks slowly through weakness.]
King Dushyanta: The noon, my love, is not yet passed; and your sweet limbs are weak. Having left that couch where fresh flowers covered your bosom, you can ill sustain this intense heat with so languid a frame. [He gently draws her back.]
Shakuntala: Leave me, oh leave me. I am not, indeed, my own mistress, or the two damsels were only appointed to attend me. What can I do at present?
King Dushyanta: [Aside.] Fear of displeasing her makes me bashful.
Shakuntala: [Overhearing him.] The king cannot give offence. It is my unhappy fate only that I accuse.
King Dushyanta: Why should you accuse so favourable a destiny?
Shakuntala: How rather can I help blaming it, since it has permitted my heart to be affected by amiable qualities, without having left me at my own disposal?
King Dushyanta: [Aside.] One would imagine that the charming sex, instead of being, like us, tormented with love, kept love himself within their hearts, to torment him with delay. [Shakuntala going out.]
King Dushyanta: [Aside.] How! must I then fail of attaining felicity?
[Following her, and catching the skirt of her mantle.]
Shakuntala: [Turning back.] Son of Puru, preserve thy reason; oh! preserve it. The hermits are busy on all sides of the grove.
King Dushyanta: My charmer, your fear of them is vain. Kanva himself, who is deeply versed in the science of law, will be no obstacle to our union. Many daughters of the holiest men have been married by the ceremony called Gandharva, as it is practised by Indra's band, and even their fathers have approved them. [Looking round.] What say you! Are you still inflexible! Alas! I must then depart.
[Going from her a few paces, then looking back.]
Shakuntala: [Moving also a few steps, and then turning back her face.] Though I have refused compliance, and have only allowed you to converse with me for a moment, yet, O son of Puru let not Shakuntala be wholly forgotten.
King Dushyanta: Enchanting girl, should you be removed to the ends of the world, you will be fixed in this heart, as the shade of a lofty tree remains with it even when the day is departed.
Shakuntala: [Going out, aside.] Since I have heard his protestations, my feet move, indeed, but without advancing I will conceal myself behind those flowering kuruvacas, and thence I shall see the result of his passion. [She hides herself behind the shrubs.]
King Dushyanta: [Aside.] Can you leave me, beloved Shakuntala me who am all affection? Could you not have tarried a single moment? Soft is your beautiful frame, and indicates a benevolent soul; yet your heart is obdurate: as the tender Sirisha hangs on a hard stalk.
Shakuntala: [Aside.] I really have now lost the power of departing.
King Dushyanta: [Aside.] What can I do in this retreat since my darling has left it! [Musing and looking round.] Ah! my departure is happily delayed. Here lies her bracelet of flowers, exquisitely perfumed by the root of Usira which had been spread on her bosom: it has fallen from her delicate wrist, and is become a new chain for my heart. [Taking up the bracelet with reverence.]
Shakuntala: [Aside, looking at her hand.] Ah me! such was my languor, that the filaments of lotus stalks which bound my arm dropped on the ground unperceived by me.
King Dushyanta: [Aside, placing it in his bosom.] Oh! how delightful to the touch! From this ornament of your lovely arm, O my darling, though it be inanimate and senseless, your unhappy lover has regained confidence a bliss which you refused to confer.
Shakuntala: [Aside.] I can stay here no longer. By this pretext I may return.
[Going slowly toward him.]
King Dushyanta: [With rapture.] Ah! the empress of my soul again bless these eyes. After all my misery I was destined to be favoured by indulgent heaven. The bird Chatac, whose throat was parched with thirst, supplicated for a drop of water, and suddenly a cool stream poured into his bill from the bounty of a fresh cloud.
Shakuntala: Mighty king, when I had gone half way to the cottage, I perceived that my bracelet of thin stalks had fallen from my wrist; and I return because my heart is almost convinced that you must have seen and taken it. Restore it, I humbly entreat, lest you expose both yourself and me to the censure of the hermits.
King Dushyanta: Yes, on one condition I will return it.
Shakuntala: On what condition? Speak
King Dushyanta: That I may replace it on the wrist to which it belongs.
Shakuntala: [Aside.] I have no alternative. [Approaching him.]
King Dushyanta: But in order to replace it, we must both be seated on that smooth rock.
[Both sit down.]
King Dushyanta: [Taking her hand.] O exquisite softness! This hand has regained its native strength and beauty, like a young shoot of Kamalatà : or it resembles rather the god of love himself, when, having been consumed by the fire of Hara's wrath, he was restored to life by a flower of nectar sprinkled by the immortals.
Sac. [Pressing his hand.] Let the son of my lord make haste to tie on the bracelet.
Dushm. [Aside, with rapture.] Now I am truly blessed. That phrase, the son of my lord, is applied only to a husband. [Aside.] My charmer, the clasp of this bracelet is not easily loosened: it must be made to fit you better.
Sac. [Smiling.] As you please.
Dushm. [Quitting her hand.] Look, my darling: this is the new moon which left the firmament in honour of superior beauty, and, having descended on your enchanting wrist, has joined both its horns round it in the shape of a bracelet.
Shakuntala: I really see nothing like a moon: the breeze, I suppose, has shaken some dust from the lotos flower behind my ears, and that has obscured my sight.
King Dushyanta: [Smiling.] If you permit me, I will blow the fragrant dust from your eye.
Shakuntala: It would be a kindness; but I cannot trust you.
King Dushyanta: Oh! fear not, fear not. A new servant never transgresses the command of his mistress.
Shakuntala: But a servant over-assiduous deserves no confidence.
King Dushyanta: [Aside.] I will not let slip this charming occasion. [Attempting to raise her head Shakuntala faintly repels him, but sits still.] O damsel with an antelope's eyes, be not apprehensive of my indiscretion. [Shakuntala looks up for a moment, and then bashfully drops her head King Dushyanta, aside, gently raising her head.] That lip, the softness of which is imagined, not proved, seems to pronounce, with a delightful tremour, its permission for me to allay my thirst.
Shakuntala: The son of my lord seems inclined to break his promise.
King Dushyanta: Beloved, I was deceived by the proximity of the lotus to that eye which equals it in brightness. [He blows gently on her eye.]
Shakuntala: Well: now I see a prince who keeps his word as it becomes his imperial character. Yet I am really ashamed that no desert of mine entitles me to the kind service of my lord's son.
King Dushyanta: What reward can I desire, except that which I consider as the greatest, the fragrance of your delicious lip!
Shakuntala: Will that content you?
King Dushyanta: The bee is contented with the mere odour of the water lily.
Shakuntala: If he were not, he would get no remedy.
King Dushyanta: Yes, this and this [Kissing her eagerly.]
Behind the scenes. Hark! the Chacravaca is calling her mate on the bank of the Malini: the night is beginning to spread her shades.
Shakuntala: [Listening alarmed.] O son of my lord, the matron Gautami approaches to enquire after my health. Hide yourself, I entreat, behind yon trees.
King Dushyanta: I yield to necessity. [He retires.]
Gautami enters with a vase in her hand.
Gautam: [Looking anxiously at Shakuntala] My child, here is holy water for thee. What! hast thou no companion here but the invisible gods; thou who art so much indisposed?
Shakuntala: Both Priyamvada and Anusuúya are just gone down to the river.
Gautami: [Sprinkling her.] Is thy fever, my child, a little abated? [Feeling her hand.]
Shakuntala: Venerable matron, there is a change for the better.
Gautami: Then thou art in no danger. Mayst thou live many years! The day is departing, let us both go to the cottage.
Shakuntala: [Aside, rising slowly.] O my heart, no sooner hadst thou begun to taste happiness, than the occasion slipped away! [She advances a few steps, and returns to the arbour.] O bower of twining plants, by whom my sorrows have been dispelled, on thee I call; ardently hoping to be once more happy under thy shade.
[She goes out with Gautami]
King Dushyanta: [Returning to the bower, and sighing.] How, alas, have my desires been obstructed! Could I do less than kiss the lips of my charmer, though her modest cheeks were half averted; lips, whose sweetness had enchanted me, even when they pronounced a denial? Whither now can I go? I will remain a while in this arbour of creepers, which my darling's presence has illuminated. [Looking round.] Yes; this is her seat on the rock, spread with blossoms, which have been pressed by her delicate limbs. Here lies her exquisite love letter on the leaf of a water lily; here lay her bracelet of tender filaments which had fallen from her sweet wrist.
Though the bower of twining Vétasas be now desolate, since my charmer has left it, yet, while my eyes are fixed on all these delightful memorials of her, I am unable to depart. [Musing.] Ah! how imperfectly has this affair been conducted by a lover, like me, who, with his darling by his side, has let the occasion slip. Should Shakuntala who, with his darling visit once more this calm retreat, the opportunity shall not pass again unimproved: the pleasures of youth are by nature transitory. Thus my foolish heart forms resolutions, while it is distracted by the sudden interruption of its happiness. Why did it ever allow me to quit without effect the presence of my beloved?
Behind the scenes. O king, while we were beginning our evening sacrifice, the figures of blood-thirsty demons, embrowned by clouds collected at the departure of day, glide over the sacred hearth, and spread consternation around.
King Dushyanta: Fear not, holy men. Your king will protect you.
[He goes out.]