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A Digit of the Moon

A Hindoo Love Story

211 pages
Library of Alexandria
There lived formerly, in a certain country, a king, called Súryakánta. And his armies, guided by Valour and Policy, had penetrated in all directions to the shore of the ocean, and his intellect had gone to the further shore of all the sciences, so that one thing only was unknown to him, woman, and the love of woman. He was, as it were, the very incarnation of the spirit of misogyny, beautiful exceedingly himself, to scorch with the hot rays of his glory the despairing hearts of all fair women who might chance to cast eyes upon him, yet himself cold as snow to their own melting glances. And as time went on, his ministers became full of concern for the future of the kingdom, for they said: The King has no son, and if he should die, everything will go to ruin for want of an heir. So they took counsel among themselves, and sending for them wherever they could find them, they threw in his way temptations in the form of beautiful women, raining on him as it were showers of the quintessence of all the female beauty in the world. But all was of no avail: for no matter what shape it took, the celestial loveliness of those ladies made no more impression on the King's mind than a forest leaf falling on the back of a wild elephant. Then the ministers fell into despair, exclaiming: Truly there is a point at which virtues become vices. It is well for a King to avoid the wiles of women; but out on this woman-hating king! the kingdom will be undone for him. And they took counsel again among themselves, and made representations to the King, exhorting him to marriage. But he would not listen to anything they could say. So being at their wits' end, they caused it to be bruited about without the King's knowledge, by means of their spies, that they would give a crore of gold pieces to any one who could produce a change in the mind of the King, and inspire him with an inclination for marriage. But though many charlatans presented themselves and performed incantations and other such devices, no one could be found able to effect the desired end. On the contrary, the King's hostility to the other sex increased so much, that he punished every woman who came within the range of his sight by banishing her from the kingdom. And in their fear lest the kingdom should be wholly deprived of its women, the ministers had to place spies about the King, who ran before him wherever he went, and made all the women keep out of his way. And this task was as difficult as standing on the edge of a sword, for all the women in the kingdom were drawn to see him by love and curiosity as if he were a magnet and they so many pieces of iron. Then one day there came to the capital a certain painter. And he, as soon as he arrived, made enquiries as to the wonders of that city. Then the people told him: The greatest wonder in our city is our King, Súryakánta, himself. For though he is a king, nothing will induce him to have anything to do with women, from the peacock of whose beauty he flies as if he were a snake. And yet he is himself like a second god of love, so that here is the marvel: that one whom the Fish-bannered god has created as a sixth weapon to cleave the hearts of the female sex should have no curiosity to exert his power. Should the sun refuse to warm, or the wind to blow? But when the painter heard this he laughed, and said: I possess a charm that would act like the sun upon its gem. And one of the spies of the ministers heard him, and went and told them of his arrival and his brag. And they immediately summoned that painter and questioned him, telling him the whole state of the case, and promising him the reward if he could make his words good. And the painter said: Contrive that the King shall send for me, and leave the rest to me.