A deep calm sea; on the blue waters toiled,
From morn till eve, the simple fishermen;
And, on the beach, there stood a group of huts
Before whose gates old men sat mending nets
And eyed with secret joy the little boys
That gaily gambolled on the sandy beach
Regardless of their parents' daily toils.
And all the busy women left their homes
And their young ones with baskets on their heads
Filled with the finny treasures of the deep.
A thousand yards to landward rose a town
With its broad streets, high roofs, and busy marts.
An ancient temple in the centre stood,
Where to his servant Nandi once appeared
Great Siva, it is said, in human frame.
E'en learned saints sang of the holy shrine;
And to this sacred spot from far-off lands
For adoration countless pilgrims came
And men to buy all rarest things that poured
Into her busy marts from foreign parts.
Here in this ancient port of Nundipore
In royal splendour lived a merchant youth,
Who scarce had reached his one-and-twentieth year.
His aged father had but lately died
And left him the sole heir of all his wealth.
And Rudra - for that was the brave youth's name -
Had heard from infant days full many tales
Of how his grandsire and his sire had braved
The perils of the deep in search of gold,
And in his bosom fondly nurtured hopes
To travel likewise on the dang'rous sea.
And oft would he to Rati, his fair wife,
Exulting tell how wisely he would trade
In foreign shores and with rare gems return;
How even princes, by those gems allured,
To court his friendship come from distant lands,
And he dictate his own high terms to them,
And thus add glory to his glorious house.
And often would she vainly plead in turn
Her desolate position and her youth.
And her dear lord implore upon her knees
For ever to dismiss his cherished thoughts
And turn to her and to their lordly wealth
Which God had given them, to live in peace.
Thus wrangled for some months the timid wife
And he whom woman's charms could not subdue
Until at last arrived th' appointed day.
The little ship was waiting in the port,
And Rudra to his youthful wife repaired
His purpose to disclose; and as at times
Clouds hover over us and darken all
The sky for days, and still no rain descends -
But suddenly when least expected comes -
So she to whom her husband's parting lay
In words saw it burst in reality.
He said, "Dear Rati! well thou knowest how
I fondly wish to trade in distant realms.
The time has come for me to part from thee.
This morn a little ship was sighted here,
And she is riding yonder on the sea.
And ere the setting sun sinks down to rest
Into the western waves the little bark
Now destined to take me will leave the port;
And I have therefore one, but one short hour.
'Tis willed by Him above that I should soon
Bid farewell to the place where I was born,
Where all my thoughts for ever centred lie, -
Soon part from all that to my heart is dear,
But soon come richer, greater to my home,
To spend my days in joy and happiness.
Dear wife! allow me therefore to depart."
To which the wife - "Dear husband, sad it is
To me to think that thou shouldst part from me;
But sadder still the thought that thou shouldst go
On seas to roam in lands unknown and strange,
And canst not tell when to this spot return.
There is our lordly mansion here; there is
Our wealth, and here I am thy youthful wife.
Why go away and risk thy precious life
While we enjoy our days like king and queen?
Why leave me here to pine away in grief
And loneliness? Without my lord it is
Half death to me, and I would rather die
Than see him part; hence banish from thy mind
All thoughts of going and stay here with me."
"My wife!" he said, "why cherish idle fears?
The holy Brahmin whom thou knowest well,
So deeply versed in all the starry lore,
Tells me that I am fated to return.
It is an evil omen that thou shouldst,
Lamenting, hinder me at this last hour
And tell me not to go. Send me away
With thy good wishes, I will soon return.
By Him above that rules man's destinies,
By mother earth, by yonder setting sun,
The moon that shines up in the starry heav'ns,
By all that to his heart is sacred deemed,
And lastly by his sire whose picture hangs
On the wall there, thy husband Rudra swears
That after he returns he'll stay with thee,
And nevermore e'en think of leaving thee,
And let him therefore go in peace of mind."
"If it is true," replied the crying maid,
"That Sita followed Rama to the woods,
And that she of the Pandus also shared
With them their toils - if ever woman's charms
Had power to move the adamantine heart
Of man, then let thy Rati go with thee
To share with thee thy joys and woes as well.
If thou shouldst go alone, remember then,
Dear lord, the sin rests solely on thy head
That a young maiden has been left alone
To mourn for ever for her husband on
The seas - and all for gold and for a name."
"A name thou sayest - never, never would
Thy Rudra die unhonoured and unknown
And bear the evil name and the reproach
For ever with his sons and his sons' sons,
That of his old illustrious family
He was the only one that feared to go
Upon the sea. The sun is going down,
And cruel darkness is invading fast
On us; and soon the ship will leave the port.
Within a year thou shalt see me again.
But if 'tis ruled by God that I should not
Return, to one thing listen ere I go.
To soothe thy spirits in a few short months
An infant will be lying on thy lap,
And if a daughter she should be, let her
Be married to one worthy of our race.
But if a son is born tend him with care;
When he grows old, let it be said of him
That he is his lost father's worthy son."
And when the few last awful words were spoke
The frighted wife that stood supported by
Her lord at once grew pale and motionless.
As one that watched with anxious care the growth
Of a young tendril slowly fixes it
Upon a new and stronger prop, e'en so
Brave Rudra extricated himself from
Her grasp and gently placed her on the couch;
Then gazed on her for a few moments with
His hands upon her throbbing temples, kissed
Her brow, and straightway vanished from the room.
And now the little ship in which he sailed
Safe bore the crew along the wat'ry waste,
And after twenty days' fast sailing she
Encountered on the way a storm, was wrecked,
And all save Rudra perished in the waves.
The shipwrecked merchant lost all that he had,
And wandered through a distant country with
No friends, no money but his hands to earn
For him his daily bread: the lonely youth
Thus dragged for years his miserable life
With nothing to make it worth living save
The hope, the only hope, to see his wife;
Till at the end of twenty years a ship
Was sighted that was bound for Nundipore.
In it he sailed and safely landed in
His native port. It was the midday noon;
He saw the selfsame fishing village that
Stood years ago upon the sandy beach,
And with a joyful heart he hastened to
His house which all deserted seemed; inside
With falt'ring steps he went, and on the walls
Of the big hall were hanging pictures of
His sire, of Krishna playing on the flute,
Of Rama, Siva, and the other gods
Whom in his childhood days his house adored,
And seemed as they were drawn but yesterday;
A thousand other old familiar scenes
In quick succession passed before his eyes,
Then quickly passed into a room, where lo!
There slept a youth and she for whom for years
Life's toils he patient bore. As one born blind
Had after years of pray'r the gift of sight
Vouchsafed to him by God, his Maker, to
Behold the beauties of the universe,
His wife, his children, and those dear to him,
But straightway feels the precious gift withdrawn;
Or as a lonely bird that unawares
Has wandered far into the deep blue sea
Finds nothing but a wat'ry waste all round,
And knows not where to rest its wearied limbs,
But at a distance kens at last a ship
To which with doubled speed it flies and flies,
And there discerns a seaman with his bow
Preventing it from sitting on the mast -
So Rudra felt. "Is this my wife?" he thought.
"Yes, by the mole upon her cheek she is;
And beauty, spite of age, still lingers on
Her face, and this fair youth, attracted by
Her charms, came here. Why hast Thou brought me home,
O God! why was I not drowned in the sea?
Why did I leave that distant country where
These twenty years I toiled for bread and lived?
And why was I not spared this ghastly sight?
No, Rati! never would thy husband bear
To see thee lying with another man.
First he will kill you both, then die himself."
So saying, from a sheath a blade he drew,
When lo! there fell the piece of a palm leaf
Whereon were writ - think well before you do.
"This is," he said, "my father's dying gift;
By the advice here giv'n I will abide,"
Then woke his wife, and in firm tones thus asked,
"Who is this youth that has defiled my bed?
Speak ere I strike you both." The wond'ring wife
The dagger and the stranger saw and cried -
"Kill me alone, but spare my only son."
"Thy only son!" he said; "now wake him up,
And let us all adore our Maker first,
Who saved us from my frenzy, which in one
Short moment would have shattered all our bliss."