Rabindranath Tagore.

The hungry stones, and other stories online

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B O 1. P U








V '//







Set up and electrotype;!. Published, October, 1910.
Bolpur Edition, October, 1910.






THE stories contained in this volume were trans-
lated by several hands. The version of The Vic-
tory is the author's own work. The seven stories
which follow it were translated by Mr. C. F. An-
drews, with the author's help. Assistance has also
been given by the Rev. E. J. Thompson, Panna Lai
Basu, PrabKat Kumar Mukerji, and the Sister




















MY kinsman and myself were returning to Calcutta
from our Puja trip when we met the man in a train.
From his dress and bearing we took him at first for
an up-country Mahomedan, but we were puzzled as
we heard him talk. He discoursed upon all sub-
jects so confidently that you might think the Dis-
poser of All Things consulted him at all times in all
that He did. Hitherto we had been perfectly
happy, as we did not know that secret and unheard-
of forces were at work, that the Russians had ad-
vanced close to us, that the English had deep and
secret policies, that confusion among the native
chiefs had come to a head. But our newly-acquired
friend said with a sly smile: ' There happen more
things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are re-
ported in your newspapers." As we had never
stirred out of our homes before, the demeanour of
the man struck us dumb with wonder. Be the topic
ever so trivial, he would quote science, or comment



on the Fedas, or repeat quatrains from some Per-
sian poet; and as we had no pretence to a knowledge
of science or the Fedas or Persian, our admiration
for him went on increasing, and my kinsman, a
theosophist, was firmly convinced that our fellow-
passenger must have been supernaturally inspired by
some strange " magnetism " or " occult power," by
an " astral body " or something of that kind. He
listened to the tritest saying that fell from the lips
of our extraordinary companion with devotional
rapture, and secretly took down notes of his con-
versation. I fancy that the extraordinary man saw
this, and was a little pleased with it.

When the train reached the junction, we assem-
bled in the waiting-room for the connection. It
was then 10 P. M., and as the train, we heard, was
likely to be very late, owing to something wrong in
the lines, I spread my bed on the table and was about
to lie down for a comfortable doze, when the ex-
traordinary person deliberately set about spinning
the following yarn. Of course, I could get no sleep
that night.

When, owing to a disagreement about some ques-
tions of administrative policy, I threw up my post


at Junagarh, and entered the service of the Nizam
of Hyderabad, they appointed me at once, as a
strong young man, collector of cotton duties at

Barich is a lovely place. The Susta " chatters
over stony ways and babbles on the pebbles," trip-
ping, like a skilful dancing girl, in through the woods
below the lonely hills. A flight of 150 steps rises
from the river, and above that flight, on the river's
brim and at the foot of the hills, there stands a soli-
tary marble palace. Around it there is no habita-
tion of man the village and the cotton mart of
Barich being far off.

About 250 years ago the Emperor Mahmud
Shah II. had built this lonely palace for his pleasure
and luxury. In his days jets of rose-water spurted
from its fountains, and on the cold marble floors
of its spray-cooled rooms young Persian damsels
would sit, their hair dishevelled before bathing,
and, splashing their soft naked feet in the clear wa-
ter of the reservoirs, would sing, to the tune of the
guitar, the ghazals of their vineyards.

The fountains play no longer; the songs have
ceased; no longer do snow-white feet step grace-
fully on the snowy marble. It is but the vast and


solitary quarters of cess-collectors like us, men op-
pressed with solitude and deprived of the society
of women. Now, Karim Khan, the old clerk of my
office, warned me repeatedly not to take up my
abode there. " Pass the day there, if you like,"
said he, " but never stay the night." I passed it off
with a light laugh. The servants said that they
would work till dark, and go away at night. I gave
my ready assent. The house had such a bad name
that even thieves would not venture near it after

At first the solitude of the deserted palace weighed
upon me like a nightmare. I would stay out, and
work hard as long as possible, then return home at
night jaded and tired, go to bed and fall asleep.

Before a week had passed, the place began to exert
a weird fascination upon me. It is difficult to
describe or to induce people to believe; but I felt
as if the whole house was like a living organism
slowly and imperceptibly digesting me by the action
of some stupefying gastric juice.

Perhaps the process had begun as soon as I set
my foot in the house, but I distinctly remember the
day on which I first was conscious of it.

It was the beginning of summer, and the market


being dull I had no work to do. A little before
sunset I was sitting in an arm-chair near the water's
edge below the steps. The Susta had shrunk and
sunk low; a broad patch of sand on the other side
glowed with the hues of evening; on this side the
pebbles at the bottom of the clear shallow waters
were glistening. There was not a breath of wind
anywhere, and the still air was laden with an op-
pressive scent from the spicy shrubs growing on the
hills close by.

As the sun sank behind the hill-tops a long dark
curtain fell upon the stage of day, and the inter-
vening hills cut short the time in which light and
shade mingle at sunset. I thought of going out for
a ride, and was about to get up when I heard a foot-
fall on the steps behind. I looked back, but there
was no one.

As I sat down again, thinking it to be an illusion, I
heard many footfalls, as if a large number of persons
were rushing down the steps. A strange thrill of
delight, slightly tinged with fear, passed through
my frame, and though there was not a figure before
my eyes, methought I saw a bevy of joyous maidens
coming down the steps to bathe in the Susta in
that summer evening. Not a sound was in the


valley, in the river, or in the palace, to break the
silence, but I distinctly heard the maidens' gay and
mirthful laugh, like the gurgle of a spring gushing
forth in a hundred cascades, as they ran past me,
in quick playful pursuit of each other, towards the
river, without noticing me at all. As they were in-
visible to me, so I was, as it were, invisible to them.
The river was perfectly calm, but I felt that its still,
shallow, and clear waters were stirred suddenly by
the splash of many an arm jingling with bracelets,
that the girls laughed and dashed and spattered
water at one another, that the feet of the fair swim-
mers tossed the tiny waves up in showers of pearl.
I felt a thrill at my heart I cannot say whether
the excitement was due to fear or delight or curios-
ity. I had a strong desire to see them more clearly,
but naught was visible before me; I thought I could
catch all that they said if I only strained my ears;
but however hard I strained them, I heard nothing
but the chirping of the cicadas in the woods. It
seemed as if a dark curtain of 250 years was hang-
ing before me, and I would fain lift a corner of it
tremblingly and peer through, though the assembly
on the other side was completely enveloped in dark-


The oppressive closeness of the evening was
broken by a sudden gust of wind, and the still sur-
face of the Susta rippled and curled like the hair
of a nymph, and from the woods wrapt in the eve-
ning gloom there came forth a simultaneous mur-
mur, as though they were awakening from a black
dream. Call it reality or dream, the momentary
glimpse of that invisible mirage reflected from a
far-off world, 250 years old, vanished in a flash.
The mystic forms that brushed past me with their
quick unbodied steps, and loud, voiceless laughter,
and threw themselves into the river, did not go
back wringing their dripping robes as they went.
Like fragrance wafted away by the wind they were
dispersed by a single breath of the spring.

Then I was filled with a lively fear that it was
the Muse that had taken advantage of my solitude
and possessed me the witch had evidently come
to ruin a poor devil like myself making a living by
collecting cotton duties. I decided to have a good
dinner it is the empty stomach that all sorts of
incurable diseases find an easy prey. I sent for my
cook and gave orders for a rich, sumptuous moghlai
dinner, redolent of spices and ghi.

Next morning the whole affair appeared a queer


fantasy. With a light heart I put on a sola hat like
the sahebs, and drove out to my work. I was to
have written my quarterly report that day, and ex-
pected to return late; but before it was dark I was
strangely drawn to my house by what I could not
say I felt they were all waiting, and that I should
delay no longer. Leaving my report unfinished I
rose, put on my sola hat, and startling the dark,
shady, desolate path with the rattle of my carriage,
I reached the vast silent palace standing on the
gloomy skirts of the hills.

On the first floor the stairs led to a very spacious
hall, its roof stretching wide over ornamental arches
resting on three rows of massive pillars, and groan-
ing day and night under the weight of its own intense
solitude. The day had just closed, and the lamps
had not yet been lighted. As I pushed the door
open a great bustle seemed to follow within, as if
a throng of people had broken up in confusion, and
rushed out through the doors and windows and cor-
ridors and verandas and rooms, to make its hurried

As I saw no one I stood bewildered, my hair
on end in a kind of ecstatic delight, and a faint
scent of attar and unguents almost effaced by age


lingered in my nostrils. Standing in the darkness
of that vast desolate hall between the rows of those
ancient pillars, I could hear the gurgle of fountains
plashing on the marble floor, a strange tune on
the guitar, the jingle of ornaments and the tinkle
of anklets, the clang of bells tolling the hours, the
distant note of nahcbat, the din of the crystal pen-
dants of chandeliers shaken by the breeze, the song
of bulbuls from the cages in the corridors, the cackle
of storks in the gardens, all creating round me a
strange unearthly music.

Then I came under such a spell that this intangible,
inaccessible, unearthly vision appeared to be the only
reality in the world and all else a mere dream.
That I, that is to say, Srijut So-and-so, the eldest
son of So-and-so of blessed memory, should be draw-
ing a monthly salary of Rs. 450 by the discharge of
my duties as collector of cotton duties, and driving
in my dog-cart to my office every day in a short coat
and sola hat, appeared to me to be such an astonish-
ingly ludicrous illusion that I burst into a horse-laugh,
as I stood in the gloom of that vast silent hall.

At that moment my servant entered with a lighted
kerosene lamp in his hand. I do not know whether
he thought me mad, but it came back to me at once


that I was in very deed Srijut So-and-so, son of So-
and-so of blessed memory, and that, while our poets,
great and small, alone could say whether inside or
outside the earth there was a region where unseen
fountains perpetually played and fairy guitars, struck
by invisible fingers, sent forth an eternal harmony,
this at any rate was certain, that I collected duties
at the cotton market at Barich, and earned thereby
Rs. 450 per mensem as my salary. I laughed in
great glee at my curious illusion, as I sat over the
newspaper at my camp-table, lighted by the kero-
sene lamp.

After I had finished my paper and eaten my
moghlai dinner, I put out the lamp, and lay down
on my bed in a small side-room. Through the open
window a radiant star, high above the Avalli hills
skirted by the darkness of their woods, was gazing
intently from millions and millions of miles away in
the sky at Mr. Collector lying on a humble camp-
bedstead. I wondered and felt amused at the idea,
and do not know when I fell asleep or how long
I slept; but I suddenly awoke with a start, though I
heard no sound and saw no intruder only the
steady bright star on the hilltop had set, and the
dim light of the new moon was stealthily entering


the room through the open window, as if ashamed
of its intrusion.

I saw nobody, but felt as if some one was gently
pushing me. As I awoke she said not a word, but
beckoned me with her five fingers bedecked with
rings to follow her cautiously. I got up noiselessly,
and, though not a soul save myself was there in the
countless apartments of that deserted palace with
its slumbering sounds and waking echoes, I feared
at every step lest any one should wake up. Most
of the rooms of the palace were always kept closed,
and I had never entered them.

I followed breathless and with silent steps my in-
visible guide I cannot now say where. What
endless dark and narrow passages, what long cor-
ridors, what silent and solemn audience-chambers
and close secret cells I crossed!

Though I could not see my fair guide, her form
was not invisible to my mind's eye, an Arab girl,
her arms, hard and smooth as marble, visible through
her loose sleeves, a thin veil falling on her face from
the fringe of her cap, and a curved dagger at her
waist! Methought that one of the thousand and
one Arabian Nights had been wafted to me from
the world of romance, and that at the dead of night


I was wending my way through the dark narrow
alleys of slumbering Bagdad to a trysting-place
fraught with peril.

At last my fair guide stopped abruptly before a
deep blue screen, and seemed to point to something
below. There was nothing there, but a sudden
dread froze the blood in my heart methought I
saw there on the floor at the foot of the screen a
terrible negro eunuch dressed in rich brocade, sitting
and dozing with outstretched legs, with a naked
sword on his lap. My fair guide lightly tripped
over his legs and held up a fringe of the screen. I
could catch a glimpse of a part of the room spread
with a Persian carpet some one was sitting inside
on a bed I could not see her, but only caught a
glimpse of two exquisite feet in gold-embroidered
slippers, hanging out from loose saffron-coloured
paijamas and placed idly on the orange-coloured
velvet carpet. On one side there was a bluish
crystal tray on which a few apples, pears, oranges,
and bunches of grapes in plenty, two small cups and
a gold-tinted decanter were evidently awaiting the
guest. A fragrant intoxicating vapour, issuing
from a strange sort of incense that burned within,
almost overpowered my senses.


As with trembling heart I made an attempt to
step across the outstretched legs of the eunuch, he
woke up suddenly with a start, and the sword fell
from his lap with a sharp clang on the marble floor.

A terrific scream made me jump, and I saw I was
sitting on that camp-bedstead of mine sweating
heavily; and the crescent moon looked pale in the
morning light like a weary sleepless patient at dawn;
and our crazy Meher Ali was crying out, as is his
daily custom, "Stand back! Stand back!!" while
he went along the lonely road.

Such was the abrupt close of one of my Arabian
Nights; but there were yet a thousand nights left.

Then followed a great discord between my days
and nights. During the day I would go to my work
worn and tired, cursing the bewitching night and her
empty dreams, but as night came my daily life with
its bonds and shackles of work would appear a petty,
false, ludicrous vanity.

After nightfall I was caught and overwhelmed in
the snare of a strange intoxication. I would then
be transformed into some unknown personage of
a bygone age, playing my part in unwritten history;
and my short English coat and tight breeches did
not suit me in the least. With a red velvet cap on


my head, loose pai jamas, an embroidered vest, a
long flowing silk gown, and coloured handkerchiefs
scented with attar, I would complete my elaborate
toilet, sit on a high-cushioned chair, and replace my
cigarette with a many-coiled narghileh filled with
rose-water, as if in eager expectation of a strange
meeting with the beloved one.

I have no power to describe the marvellous in-
cidents that unfolded themselves, as the gloom of
the night deepened. I felt as if in the curious apart-
ments of that vast edifice the fragments of a beau-
tiful story, which I could follow for some distance,
but of which I could never see the end, flew about
in a sudden gust of the vernal breeze. And all the
same I would wander from room to room in pursuit
of them the whole night long.

Amid the eddy of these dream-fragments, amid
the smell of henna and the twanging of the guitar,
amid the waves of air charged with fragrant spray,
I would catch like a flash of lightning the momentary
glimpse of a fair damsel. She it was who had saf-
fron-coloured paijamas, white ruddy soft feet in gold-
embroidered slippers with curved toes, a close-fitting
bodice wrought with gold, a red cap, from which
a golden frill fell on her snowy brow and cheeks.


She had maddened me. In pursuit of her I wan-
dered from room to room, from path to path among
the bewildering maze of alleys in the enchanted
dreamland of the nether world of sleep.

Sometimes in the evening, while arraying myself
carefully as a prince of the blood-royal before a
large mirror, with a candle burning on either side,
I would see a sudden reflection of the Persian beauty
by the side of my own. A swift turn of her neck,
a quick eager glance of intense passion and pain
glowing in her large dark eyes, just a suspicion of
speech on her dainty red lips, her figure, fair and
slim, crowned with youth like a blossoming creeper,
quickly uplifted in her graceful tilting gait, a daz-
zling flash of pain and craving and esctasy, a smile
and a glance and a blaze of jewels and silk, and she
melted away. A wild gust of wind, laden with all
the fragrance of hills and woods, would put out my
light, and I would fling aside my dress and lie down
on my bed, my eyes closed and my body thrilling with
delight, and there around me in the breeze, amid all
the perfume of the woods and hills, floated through
the silent gloom many a caress and many a kiss and
many a tender touch of hands, and gentle murmurs
in my ears, and fragrant breaths on my brow; or a


sweetly-perfumed kerchief was wafted again and
again on my cheeks. Then slowly a mysterious ser-
pent would twist her stupefying coils about me; and
heaving a heavy sigh, I would lapse into insensibility,
and then into a profound slumber.

One evening I decided to go out on my horse
I do not know who implored me to stay but
I would listen to no entreaties that day. My Eng-
lish hat and coat were resting on a rack, and I was
about to take them down when a sudden whirlwind,
crested with the sands of the Susta and the dead
leaves of the Avalli hills, caught them up, and
whirled them round and round, while a loud peal of
merry laughter rose higher and higher, striking all
the chords of mirth till it died away in the land of

I could not go out for my ride, and the next day
I gave up my queer English coat and hat for good.

That day again at dead of night I heard the stifled
heart-breaking sobs of some one as if below the
bed, below the floor, below the stony foundation of
that gigantic palace, from the depths of a dark damp
grave, a voice piteously cried and implored me :
" Oh, rescue me ! Break through these doors of
hard illusion, deathlike slumber and fruitless dreams,


place me by your side on the saddle, press me to your
heart, and, riding through hills and woods and across
the river, take me to the warm radiance of your
sunny rooms above ! "

Who am I? Oh, how can I rescue thee? What
drowning beauty, what incarnate passion shall I drag
to the shore from this wild eddy of dreams? O
lovely ethereal apparition! Where didst thou flour-
ish and when? By what cool spring, under the shade
of what date-groves, wast thou born in the lap
of what homeless wanderer in the desert? What
Bedouin snatched thee from thy mother's arms, an
opening bud plucked from a wild creeper, placed thee
on a horse swift as lightning, crossed the burning
sands, and took thee to the slave-market of what
royal city? And there, what officer of the Badshah,
seeing the glory of thy bashful blossoming youth,
paid for thee in gold, placed thee in a golden palan-
quin, and offered thee as a present for the seraglio
of his master? And O, the history of that place!
The music of the sarcng? the jingle of anklets, the
occasional flash of daggers and the glowing wine of
Shiraz poison, and the piercing flashing glance!
What infinite grandeur, what endless servitude!

1 A sort of violin.


The slave-girls to thy right and left waved the
chamar, 1 as diamonds flashed from their bracelets;
the Badshah, the king of kings, fell on his knees at
thy snowy feet in bejewelled shoes, and outside the
terrible Abyssinian eunuch, looking like a messenger
of death, but clothed like an angel, stood with a
naked sword in his hand ! Then, O, thou flower of
the desert, swept away by the blood-stained dazzling
ocean of grandeur, with its foam of jealousy, its
rocks and shoals of intrigue, on what shore of cruel
death wast thou cast, or in what other land more
splendid and more cruel?

Suddenly at this moment that crazy Meher Ali
screamed out: "Stand back! Stand back!! All
is false ! All is false ! I " I opened my eyes and
saw that it was already light. My chaprasi came
and handed me my letters, and the cook waited with
a salam for my orders.

I said: " No, I can stay here no longer." That
very day I packed up, and moved to my office. Old
Karim Khan smiled a little as he saw me. I felt
nettled, but said nothing, and fell to my work.

As evening approached I grew absent-minded; I
felt as if I had an appointment to keep; and the

1 Chamar: chowrie, yak-tail.


work of examining the cotton accounts seemed
wholly useless; even the Nizamat 1 of the Nizam
did not appear to be of much worth. Whatever
belonged to the present, whatever was moving and
acting and working for bread seemed trivial, mean-
ingless, and contemptible.

I threw my pen down, closed my ledgers, got into
my dog-cart, and drove away. I noticed that it
stopped of itself at the gate of the marble palace
just at the hour of twilight. With quick steps I
climbed the stairs, and entered the room.

A heavy silence was reigning within. The dark
rooms were looking sullen as if they had taken of-
fence. My heart was full of contrition, but there
was no one to whom I could lay it bare, or of whom
I could ask forgiveness. I wandered about the dark
rooms with a vacant mind. I wished I had a guitar
to which I could sing to the unknown: " O fire, the
poor moth that made a vain effort to fly away has
come back to thee ! Forgive it but this once, burn
its wings and consume it in thy flame ! "

Suddenly two tear-drops fell from overhead on
my brow. Dark masses of clouds overcast the top
of the Avalli hills that day. The gloomy woods and

1 Royalty.


the sooty waters of the Susta were waiting in ter-
rible suspense and in an ominous calm. Suddenly
land, water, and sky shivered, and a wild tempest-

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Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreThe hungry stones, and other stories → online text (page 1 of 12)