It was the month of May, and glorious rose
The sun on Jinji, bathing in his light
Her lofty hills, her ancient walls and towers,
Her battlements, and all the glittering scene
That bade the stranger tell - "here lives a prince;"
And greeting late, as if too long he slept
Upon his ocean bed, the eager crowd
That in their best attire at early dawn
Fast gathered from their hamlets far and wide,
And like a hive swarmed on the castled hills.
Perhaps some village poet waited there,
Who day and night toiled hard in metres rare
To sing the deeds and virtues of his prince
And trace them on the leaves of that lone palm
Which stood close by his humble cottage home.
Perhaps with faces that bespoke deep grief
A troop of farmers there had come to tell
To their sport-loving prince the havoc wrought
Upon their toiling cattle by wild beasts
That nightly from their hill abodes came down
To feast on them. And in that motley crowd
Were servants of the state and many more
Who long had waited merely for a glimpse
Of their just ruler Désing holding court.
But soon there echoed through the lofty hills
The sound of th' Indian bugle and the drum
Proclaiming the arrival of the prince;
And often, as the new flood rushing down
With the still waters of a sleeping stream,
Leaves nought behind, and all is vacancy,
Or as the dim light of a shallow lamp
Suddenly blazes forth and soon is quenched,
So louder rose the clamour of the crowd
At the sound of the bugle and the drum,
Then straightway in deep silence died away,
And perfect stillness reigned everywhere.
Upon his gorgeous throne sat Jinji's prince
With servants fanning him on either side;
And in a place of honour sate in that
Capacious hall his holy Brahmin priest,
The master of his well-trained army there,
The chief and trusted min'ster of the state,
The aged poet that his praises sang,
The sage that, versed in all the starry lore,
His royal master's fortunes daily told;
The painter that adorned those ancient walls,
And countless other servants of the prince
There gathered each in his accustomed seat.
Then from the gate approached a trusty page,
And said with folded hands and trembling lips -
"O royal master, at the gate there waits
A man of noble mien from the far north
Requesting audience on affairs of state."
"Conduct him to our presence," said the prince.
The stranger came, - upon the floor he knelt
And said - "Thou mighty prince of these fair lands,
I come from Arcot, and the Nabob sent
His humble servant to demand of thee
Thy dues which these five years thou hast not paid.
Know, then, if these are not now duly paid,
From thee he will these broad dominions wrest,
And give them those who will his rule obey."
The angry prince made answer - "Go and tell
Your master that his vain threats move us not,
Say we will gladly meet him on the field."
So saying, from his royal seat he rose,
And to his palace instantly withdrew.
As when a stone dropped in the middle of
A placid pool its slumb'ring waters wakes,
And the calm surface is all ruffled seen,
Or at the merest touch of ruthless man
Bent on the honeyed treasures of the hive
Those myriad ones leave murm'ring to the foe
Their hoarded wealth to which they fondly clung,
So scattered to their distant native homes
The bustling crowd that met on Jinji's hills,
When he of Arcot came to mar their joys.
And days and months rolled on until one day
To Désing came his loyal spy and said -
"My noble ruler, on the other side
Of the fair stream that runs through yonder plain,
There waits our foe of Arcot with his men:
Prepare to go and meet him on the field."
'Twas even time - the warrior prince soon wrote
To Mamood Khan, the master of his troops,
To hasten to his country's duty first.
What though it was that soldier's bridal hour,
When he received his royal master's call!
"My country's welfare first, then my fair spouse,"
He said, and leapt upon his faithful steed
And stood, ere morn had streaked the eastern sky,
Before his lord his bidding to obey.
The prince rose early on that fated day
And to the temple of his God repaired,
There to invoke His blessing on the field.
Then to the palace hastened he to meet,
Ere he went forth to fight, his youthful wife,
Who day by day in beauty grew amidst
A score of maidens, like the waxing moon;
And, with a screen of silk between, they met.
As one lured by the fragrance of the rose
Stoops down gently to lift the truant stalk
That to the other side of the thick hedge
Shoots out alone from its own parent stem,
So fondly down stooped Jinji's noble prince
To kiss the jewelled arm of his fair spouse
Which through the screen she offered to her lord.
Prince Désing was the first who silence broke.
"My dear wife! on the day when we were wed
These eyes of mine had not e'en this arm seen,
Although on the same bridal seat we sat.
The screen which by the custom of our race
Was drawn by cruel hands hid thee from view.
So wondrous fair this arm looks that methinks
Rare beauties must be seated on thy face.
My foe hath come; fear not; I go to fight,
And come with honours loaded from the field,
A victor to rejoice with thee to-night
At the propitious hour which, by the aid
Of all his starry lore, our Brahmin sage
Hath for our nuptials named, - to gaze and scan
In silent joy what charms, what beauties rare
The hand divine has showered upon thy face,
And to recount to thee, when with thine own
My arm in friendship plays, what blood it shed,
What havoc in the Moslem camp it wrought.
So let me now depart." To which the Queen:
"I was the only daughter of my sire,
And cradled in his sinewy arms I grew;
And when upon his warrior breast I laid
My head to sleep, my mother by his side
Lulled me with songs of how in days gone by
The martial women of our noble race
Went with their husbands by their side to fight;
And one so nursed fears not the Moslem foe.
But now, alas! some evil it forebodes
That thou shouldst on this day go forth to fight."
And as she spoke tears trickled down his eyes,
And one, a pearly drop, stole to her palm.
She felt it: instantly her hand withdrew,
And then began to speak in words like these:
"It is not meet that Jinji's valiant prince
Should like a child at this last hour shed tears
And fear to meet his foe; fear not, my lord,
To meet him like a soldier on the field.
If thou a victor comest from the fight,
We shall in joy spend our first nuptial night,
But if thou comest routed from the field,
I never more will see thy timid face
Or think that thou art born of Kshatriya race.
And if thou fallest bravely fighting, then
Remember, Prince, thou hast in me a wife
Who will not let thee pass from earth alone.
Go forth and like a warrior meet the foe.
But fear not; Runga will be on our side,
So ere thou goest kiss this hand of mine
Which from thine eyes that precious tear has sought."
So saying, this brave Rajput girl once more
To Désing offered through the screen her hand.
He lifted it and reverently kissed,
Then sallied forth resolved to win or die.
Fierce raged the battle, but the hapless prince
Was weak to meet his foeman's myriad host;
And Mamood Khan fell bravely lighting there,
And with him many of his valiant men.
The faithful steed that through all perils bore
The prince was slain, and soon he fought on foot.
But ere the foe could capture him alive,
He hurled his heavy dagger, bared his breast,
And instantly a lifeless corpse he fell.
A few brave soldiers bore him from the field.
They hastened to the castle and before
The widowed Queen their precious burden laid.
She, nothing daunted, orders gave at once
That her attendants should prepare the pyre;
And then to her assembled men thus spake:
"My faithful men and my brave soldiers! you
Who with my lord fought nobly on the field,
I see you all weep at our hapless fate.
'Tis God has willed we thus should end our lives.
But a worse fate shall surely soon befall
Our cruel foe - howe'er exulting now.
Weep not - there soon shall dawn another day
When from the farthest end of this vast globe
A race for valour and for virtue famed
Shall wrest his kingdom from his ruthless hands,
And everywhere your sons and your sons' sons
Shall lasting peace and happiness enjoy.
Be witness to the curse pronounced by me,
A widowed maiden at the hour of death,
Thou setting Sun and thou, O rising Moon!"
Then as a bride in all her glory decked
Approaches with a gladdened heart t' embrace
Th' expectant bridegroom on the nuptial bed,
E'en so ascended this fair Queen the pyre,
And there embracing lay by her dear lord.
The fire was lighted and the pyre was closed,
And speedily to ashes were reduced
The lifeless husband and the living wife.
The Moslem came - heard of the death she died
Amid the flames, repented of his deed,
And, it is said, he built a lordly town
In honour of the Queen, who counted it,
A sin her noble husband to survive,
And in a moment flung her life away.