17 The Little Clay Cart – ACT III
Act, the Third
THE HOLE IN THE WALL
[Enter Chārudatta’s servant, Vardhamānaka.]
His servants love, however poor he be.
The purse-proud, with a will on harshness bent,
Pays service in the coin of cruelty.1
You never can prevent;
A wife who wants her lord to wear a horn
You never can prevent;
A man who loves to gamble night and morn
You never can prevent;
And blemishes that with a man are born
You never can prevent.2
It is some time since Chārudatta went to the concert. It is past midnight, and still he does not come. I think I will go into the outer hall and take a nap. [He does so.]
[Enter Chārudatta and Maitreya.]
Chārudatta. How beautifully Rebhila sang! The lute is indeed a pearl, a pearl not of the ocean.
Gently the anxious lover’s heart befriending,
Consoling when true lovers may not meet,
To love-lorn souls the dearest comforts sending,
It adds to sweetest love its more of sweet.3
Maitreya. Well then, let’s go into the house.
Chārudatta. But how wonderfully Master Rebhila sang!
Maitreya. There are just two things that always make me laugh. One is a woman talking Sanskrit, and the other is a man who tries to sing soft and low. Now when a woman talks Sanskrit, she is like a heifer with a new rope through her nose; all you hear is “soo, soo, soo.” And when a man tries to sing soft and low, he reminds me of an old priest muttering texts, while the flowers in his chaplet dry up. No, I don’t like it!
Chārudatta. My friend, Master Rebhila sang most wonderfully this evening. And still you are not satisfied.
The notes of love, peace, sweetness, could I trace,
The note that thrills, the note of passion too,
The note of woman’s loveliness and grace—
Ah, my poor words add nothing, nothing new!
But as the notes in sweetest cadence rang,
I thought it was my hidden love who sang.4
The melody of song, the stricken strings
In undertone that half-unconscious clings,
More clearly sounding when the passions rise,
But ever sweeter as the music dies.
Words that strong passion fain would say again,
Yet checks their second utterance—in vain;
For music sweet as this lives on, until
I walk as hearing sweetest music still.5
Maitreya. But see, my friend! The very dogs are sound asleep in the shops that look out on the market. Let us go home. [He looks before him.] Look, look! The blessèd moon seems to give place to darkness, as she descends from her palace in heaven.
The moon gives place to darkness as she dips
Behind the western mountain; and the tips
Of her uplifted horns alone appear,
Like two sharp-pointed tusks uplifted clear,
Where bathes an elephant in waters cool,
Who shows naught else above the jungle pool.6
Maitreya. Well, here is our house. Vardhamānaka, Vardhamānaka, open the door!
Vardhamānaka. I hear Maitreya’s voice. Chārudatta has returned. I must open the door for him. [He does so.] Master, I salute you. Maitreya, I salute you too. The couch is ready. Pray be seated. [Chārudatta and Maitreya enter and seat themselves.]
Maitreya. Vardhamānaka, call Radanikā to wash our feet.
Chārudatta. [Compassionately.] She sleeps. Do not wake her.
Vardhamānaka. I will bring the water, Maitreya, and you may wash Chārudatta’s feet.
Maitreya. [Angrily.] Look, man. He acts like the son of a slave that he is, for he is bringing water. But he makes me wash your feet, and I am a Brahman.
Chārudatta. Good Maitreya, do you bring the water, and Vardhamānaka shall wash my feet.
Vardhamānaka. Yes, Maitreya. Do you bring the water. [Maitreya does so. Vardhamānaka washes Chārudatta’s feet, then moves away.]
Chārudatta. Let water be brought for the Brahman’s feet.
Maitreya. What good does water do my feet? I shall have to roll in the dirt again, like a beaten ass.
Vardhamānaka. Maitreya, you are a Brahman.
Maitreya. Yes, like a slow-worm among all the other snakes, so am I a Brahman among all the other Brahmans.
Vardhamānaka. Maitreya, I will wash your feet after all. [He does so.] Maitreya, this golden casket I was to keep by day, you by night. Take it.[He gives it to Maitreya, then exit.
Maitreya. [Receiving the casket.] The thing is here still. Isn’t there a single thief in Ujjayinī to steal the wretch that robs me of my sleep? Listen. I am going to take it into the inner court.
If we are trusted by a courtezan,
Then, Brahman, prove yourself an honest man,
And guard it safely, till it be restored.7
[He nods, repeating the stanza “The melody of song, the stricken strings:”]
Maitreya. Are you going to sleep?
Chārudatta. Yes, so it seems.
For conquering sleep, descending on mine eyes,
First smites the brow with unresisted blow;
Unseen, elusive, like old age, she tries
To gather strength by weakening her foe.8
Maitreya. Then let’s go to sleep. [He does so.]
By force of art and arms, a path to deeds!
I skinned my sides by crawling on the ground,
Like a snake that sloughs the skin no longer sound:
And now I go where my profession leads.9
[He gazes at the sky. Joyfully.] See! The blessèd moon is setting. For well I know,
My trade would fain from watchmen’s eyes be shrouded;
Valiant, I force the dwelling of another.
But see, the stars in deepest dark are clouded,
And the night shields me like a careful mother.10
I made a breach in the orchard wall and entered. And now I must force my way into the inner court as well.
Yes, let men call it vulgar, if they will,
The trade that thrives while sleeps the sleepyhead;
Yes, knavery, not bravery, call it still,
To overreach confiding folk a-bed.
Far better blame and hissing, fairly won.
Than the pay of genuflecting underlings;
This antique path was trod by Drona’s son,
Who slew the sleeping, unsuspecting kings.11
But where shall I make the breach?
Where is the spot which falling drops decayed?
For each betraying sound is deadened there.
No yawning breach should in the walls be made,
So treatises on robbery declare.
Where does the palace crumble? Where the place
That niter-eaten bricks false soundness wear?
Where shall I ‘scape the sight of woman’s face?
Fulfilment of my wishes waits me there.12
[He feels the wall.] Here is a spot weakened by constant sun and sprinkling and eaten by saltpeter rot. And here is a pile of dirt thrown up by a mouse. Now heaven be praised! My venture prospers. This is the first sign of success for Skanda’s sons. Now first of all, how shall I make the breach? The blessèd Bearer of the Golden Lance has prescribed four varieties of breach, thus: if the bricks are baked, pull them out; if they are unbaked, cut them; if they are made of earth, wet them; if they are made of wood, split them. Here we have baked bricks; ergo, pull out the bricks.
A “lotus,” “cistern,” “crescent moon,” or “sun”?
“Oblong,” or “cross,” or “bulging pot”? for each
The treatises permit. Which one? which one?
And where shall I display my sovereign skill,
That in the morning men may wonder still?13
In this wall of baked bricks, the “bulging pot” would be effective. I will make that.
And at my less successful ventures too,
The crowd of neighbors gazed by morning light,
Assigning praise or blame, as was my due.14
Praise to the boon-conferring god, to Skanda of immortal youth! Praise to him, the Bearer of the Golden Lance, the Brahman’s god, the pious! Praise to him, the Child of the Sun! Praise to him, the teacher of magic, whose first pupil I am! For he found pleasure in me and gave me magic ointment,
No watchman’s eye my form shall see;
And edged sword that falls on me
From cruel wounds shall leave me free.15
[He anoints himself.] Alas, I have forgotten my measuring line. [Reflecting.] Aha! This sacred cord shall be my measuring line. Yes, the sacred cord is a great blessing to a Brahman, especially to one like me. For, you see,
And picks the lock, when jewels are at stake.
It serves as key to bolted door and hall,
As tourniquet for bite of worm and snake.16
The measuring is done. I begin my task. [He does so, then takes a look.] My breach lacks but a single brick. Alas, I am bitten by a snake. [He binds his finger with the sacred cord, and manifests the workings of poison.] I have applied the remedy, and now I am restored. [He continues his work, then gazes.] Ah, there burns a candle. See!
Though jealous darkness hems it round,
The golden-yellow candle from its place
Shines through the breach upon the ground,
Like a streak of gold upon the touchstone’s face.17
[He returns to his work.] The breach is finished. Good! I enter. But no, I will not enter yet. I will shove a dummy in. [He does so.] Ah, no one is there. Praise be to Skanda! [He enters and looks about.] See! Two men asleep. Come, for my own protection I will open the door. But the house is old and the door squeaks. I must look for water. Now where might water be? [He looks about, finds water, and sprinkles the door. Anxiously.] I hope it will not fall upon the floor and make a noise. Come, this is the way. [He puts his back against the door and opens it cautiously.] Good! So much for that. Now I must discover whether these two are feigning sleep, or whether they are asleep in the fullest meaning of the term. [He tries to terrify them, and notes the effect.] Yes, they must be asleep in the fullest meaning of the term. For see!
Its regularity all fear defies.
Unmoving in their socket-holes, the eyes
Are tightly closed, and never seem to wink.
The limbs relaxed, at ease the bodies lie,
I see their feet beyond the bedstead peep,
The lighted candle vexes not the eye;
It would, if they were only feigning sleep.18
[He looks about him.] What! a drum? And here is a flute. And here, a snare-drum. And here, a lute. And reed-pipes. And yonder, manuscripts. Is this the house of a dancing-master? But no! When I entered, I was convinced that this was a palatial residence. Now then, is this man poor in the fullest meaning of the term, or, from fear of the king or of thieves, does he keep his property buried? Well, my own property is buried, too. But I will scatter the seeds that betray subterranean gold. [He does so.] The scattered seeds nowhere swell up. Ah, he is poor in the fullest meaning of the term. Good! I go.
Maitreya. [Talking in his sleep.] Look, man. I see something like a hole in the wall. I see something like a thief. You had better take this golden casket.
Sharvilaka. I wonder if the man has discovered that I have entered, and is showing off his poverty in order to make fun of me. Shall I kill him, or is the poor devil talking in his sleep? [He takes a look.] But see! This thing wrapped in a ragged bath-clout, now that I inspect it by the light of my candle, is in truth a jewel-casket Suppose I take it. But no! It is hardly proper to rob a man of good birth, who is as poor as I am. I go.
Maitreya. My friend, by the wishes of cows and Brahmans I conjure you to take this golden casket.
Sharvilaka. One may not disregard the sacred wish of a cow and the wish of a Brahman. I will take it. But look! There burns the candle. I keep about me a moth for the express purpose of extinguishing candles. I will let him enter the flame. This is his place and hour. May this moth which I here release, depart to flutter above the flame in varying circles. The breeze from the insect’s wings has translated the flame into accursèd darkness. Or shall I not rather curse the darkness brought by me upon my Brahmanic family? For my father was a man who knew the four Vedas, who would not accept a gift; and I, Sharvilaka, his son, and a Brahman, I am committing a crime for the sake of that courtezan girl Madanikā. Now I will grant the Brahman’s wish. [He reaches out for the casket.]
Maitreya. How cold your fingers are, man!
Sharvilaka. What carelessness! My fingers are cold from touching water. Well, I will put my hand in my armpit [He warms his left hand and takes the casket.]
Maitreya. Have you got it?
Sharvilaka. I could not refuse a Brahman’s request. I have it.
Maitreya. Now I shall sleep as peacefully as a merchant who has sold his wares.
Sharvilaka. O great Brahman, sleep a hundred years! Alas that a Brahman family should thus be plunged in darkness for the sake of Madanikā, a courtezan! Or better, I myself am thus plunged in darkness.
A curse on poverty, I say!
‘T is stranger to the manly will;
This act that shuns the light of day
I curse indeed, but do it still.19
Well then, I must go to Vasantasenā’s house to buy Madanikā’s freedom. [He walks about and looks around him.] Ah, I think I hear footsteps. I hope they are not those of policemen. Never mind. I will pretend to be a pillar, and wait. But after all, do policemen exist for me, for Sharvilaka? Why, I am
A hawk for rending, and a dog for sight
To judge the strength of men that wake or sleep,
A snake, when ‘t is advisable to creep,
Illusion’s self, to seem a saint or rogue,
Goddess of Speech in understanding brogue;
A light in blackest night, in holes a lizard I can be,
A horse on terra firma, and a ship upon the sea.20
In flight the prince of birds can show no greater skill;
In searching on the ground I am as keen as any hare,
In strength I am a lion, and a wolf to rend and tear.21
Sharvilaka. [Prepares to strike down Radanikā, but first
takes a look.] What! a woman? Good! I go.[Exit.]
Radanikā. [Recoiling in terror.] Oh, oh, a thief has cut a hole in the wall of our house and is escaping, I must go and wake Maitreya. [She approaches Maitreya.] Oh, Maitreya, get up, get up! A thief has cut a hole in the wall of our house and has escaped.
Maitreya. [Rising.] What do you mean, wench? “A hole in the wall has cut a thief and has escaped”?
Radanikā. Poor fool! Stop your joking. Don’t you see it?
Maitreya. What do you mean, wench? “It looks as if a second door had been thrown open”? Get up, friend Chārudatta, get up! A thief has made a hole in the wall of our house and has escaped.
Chārudatta. Yes, yes! A truce to your jests!
Maitreya. But it isn’t a jest. Look!
Maitreya. Why, here.
Chārudatta. [Gazing.] What a very remarkable hole!
The bricks are drawn away below, above;
The top is narrow, but the center wide;
As if the great house-heart had burst with pride,
Fearing lest the unworthy share its love.22
To think that science should be expended on a task like this!
Maitreya. My friend, this hole must have been made by one of two men; either by a stranger, or else for practice by a student of the science of robbery. For what man here in Ujjayinī does not know how much wealth there is in our house?
His customed harvest in my house to reap;
He has not learned that vanished riches teach
A calm, untroubled sleep.
And forced an entrance; for his heart did leap
With short-lived hope; now he must elsewhere roam,
And over broken hopes must sorely weep.23
Just think of the poor fellow telling his friends: “I entered the house of a merchant’s son, and found—nothing.”
Maitreya. Do you mean to say that you pity the rascally robber? Thinks he—”Here’s a great house. Here’s the place to carry off a jewel-casket or a gold-casket.” [He remembers the casket. Despondently. Aside.] Where is that golden casket? [He remembers the events of the night. Aloud.] Look, man! You are always saying “Maitreya is a fool, Maitreya is no scholar.” But I certainly acted wisely in handing over that golden casket to you. If I hadn’t, the son of a slave would have carried it off.
Chārudatta. A truce to your jests!
Maitreya. Just because I’m a fool, do you suppose I don’t even know the place and time for a jest?
Chārudatta. But when did this happen?
Maitreya. Why, when I told you that your fingers were cold.
Chārudatta. It might have been. [He searches about. Joyfully.] My friend, I have something pleasant to tell you.
Maitreya. What? Wasn’t it stolen?
Maitreya. What is the pleasant news, then?
Chārudatta. The fact that he did not go away disappointed.
Maitreya. But it was only entrusted to our care.
Chārudatta. What! entrusted to our care? [He swoons.]
Maitreya. Come to yourself, man. Is the fact that a thief stole what was entrusted to you, any reason why you should swoon?
Chārudatta. [Coming to himself.] Ah, my friend,
Who will believe the truth?
Suspicion now is sure.
This world will show no ruth
To the inglorious poor.24
Alas!If envious fate before
Has wooed my wealth alone.
Why should she seek my store
Of virtue as her own?25
Maitreya. I intend to deny the whole thing. Who gave anybody anything? who received anything from anybody? who was a witness?
Chārudatta. And shall I tell a falsehood now?
No! I will beg until I earn
The wherewithal my debt to pay.
Ignoble falsehood I will spurn.
That steals the character away.26
Radanikā. I will go and tell his good wife. [She goes out, returning with Chārudatta’s wife.]
Wife. [Anxiously.] Oh! Is it true that my lord is uninjured, and Maitreya too?
Radanikā. It is true, mistress. But the gems which belong to the courtezan have been stolen. [Chārudatta’s wife swoons.] O my good mistress! Come to yourself!
Wife. [Recovering.] Girl, how can you say that my lord is uninjured? Better that he were injured in body than in character. For now the people of Ujjayinī will say that my lord committed this crime because of his poverty. [She looks up and sighs.] Ah, mighty Fate! The destinies of the poor, uncertain as the water-drops which fall upon a lotus-leaf, seem to thee but playthings. There remains to me this one necklace, which I brought with me from my mother’s house. But my lord would be too proud to accept it. Girl, call Maitreya hither.
Radanikā. Yes, mistress. [She approaches Maitreya.] Maitreya, my lady summons you.
Maitreya. Where is she?
Radanikā. Here. Come!
Maitreya. [Approaching.] Heaven bless you!
Wife. I salute you, sir. Sir, will you look straight in front of you?
Maitreya. Madam, here stands a man who looks straight in front of him.
Wife. Sir, you must accept this.
Wife. I have observed the Ceremony of the Gems. And on this occasion one must make as great a present as one may to a Brahman. This I have not done, therefore pray accept this necklace.
Maitreya. [Receiving the necklace.] Heaven bless you! I will go and tell my friend.
Wife. You must not do it in such a way as to make me blush, Maitreya.[Exit.
Maitreya. [In astonishment.] What generosity!
Chārudatta. How Maitreya lingers! I trust his grief is not leading him to do what he ought not. Maitreya, Maitreya!
Maitreya. [Approaching.] Here I am. Take that. [He displays the necklace.]
Chārudatta. What is this?
Maitreya. Why, that is the reward you get for marrying such a wife.
Chārudatta. What! my wife takes pity on me? Alas, now am I poor indeed!
When fate so robs him of his all,
That on her pity he must call,
The man to woman’s state doth fall,
The woman is the man.27
But no, I am not poor. For I have a wife
Whose love outlasts my wealthy day;
In thee a friend through good and ill;
And truth that naught could take away:
Ah! this the poor man lacketh still.28
Maitreya, take the necklace and go to Vasantasenā. Tell her in my name that we have gambled away the golden casket, forgetting that it was not our own, that we trust she will accept this necklace in its place.
Maitreya. But you must not give away this necklace, the pride of the four seas, for that cheap thing that was stolen before we had a bite or a drink out of it.
Chārudatta. Not so, my friend.
She showed her trust in leaving us her treasure;
The price of confidence has no less measure.29
Friend, I conjure you by this gesture, not to return until you have delivered it into her hands. Vardhamānaka, do you speedily
Fill up the opening with the selfsame bricks;
Thus will I thwart the process of the law,
For the blemish of so great a scandal sticks.30
And, friend Maitreya, you must show your pride by not speaking too despondently.
Maitreya. How can a poor man help speaking despondently?
Chārudatta. Poor I am not, my friend. For I have a wife
Whose love outlasts my wealthy day;
In thee a friend through good and ill;
And truth that naught could take away:
Ah, this the poor man lacketh still.(28)
Go then, and after performing rites of purification, I will offer my morning prayer.