Then the king went back under the sissoo tree, put the goblin on his shoulder as before, and started. And the goblin said to him: “O King, I will tell you another little story to relieve your weariness. Listen.”
The King who died for Love of his General’s Wife; the General follows him in Death. Which is the more worthy?
Long ago there was a city named Golden City on the bank of the Ganges, where a quarter of the old perfect virtue still lingers in these evil days. There was a king named Glorious, and he deserved the name. His bravery kept the world from being overflowed, like the shore of the sea.
In this king’s city lived a great merchant, who had a daughter named Passion. Everyone who saw her fell in love and went mad with passion.
When she grew to be a young woman, the virtuous merchant went to King Glorious and said: “Your Majesty, I have a daughter, the gem of the three worlds, and she is old enough to marry. I could not give her to anyone without consulting your Majesty. For you are the master of all gems in the world. Pray marry her and thus lay me under obligations.”
So the king sent his own Brahmans to examine her qualities. But when the Brahmans saw her supreme loveliness, they were troubled and thought: “If the king should marry her, his kingdom would be ruined. He would think only of her, and would doubtless neglect the kingdom. Therefore we must not report her good qualities to the king.”
So they returned to the king and said: “Your Majesty, she has bad qualities.” So the king did not marry the merchant’s daughter. But he bade the merchant give his daughter to a general named Force. And she lived happily with her husband in his house.
After a time the lion of spring came dancing through the forest and slew the elephant of winter. And King Glorious went forth on the back of an elephant to see the spring festival. And the drum was beaten to warn virtuous women to stay within doors. Otherwise they would have fallen in love with his beauty, and lovesickness might be expected.
But when Passion heard the drum, she did not like to be left alone. She went out on the balcony, that the king might see her. She seemed like the flame of love which the spring-time was fanning with southern breezes. And the king saw her, and his whole being was shaken. He felt her beauty sinking deep in his heart like a victorious arrow of Love, and he fainted.
His servants brought him back to consciousness, and he returned to the city. There he made inquiries and learned that this was Passion whom he had rejected before. So he banished from the country the Brahmans who had said that she had bad qualities, and he thought longingly of her every day.
And as he thought of her, he burned over the flame of love, and wasted away day and night. And though from shame he tried to conceal it, he finally told the reason of his anguish to responsible people who asked him.
They said: “Do not suffer. Why do you not seize her?” But the virtuous king would not do it.
Then General Force heard the story. He came and bowed at the feet of the king and said: “Your Majesty, she is the wife of your slave, therefore she is your slave. I give her to you of my own accord. Pray take my wife. Or better yet, I will leave her here in the palace. Then you cannot be blamed if you marry her.” And the general begged and insisted.
But the king became angry and said: “I am a king. How can I do such a wicked thing? If I should transgress, who would be virtuous? You are devoted to me. Why do you urge me to a sin which is pleasant for the moment, but causes great sorrow in the next world? If you abandon your wedded wife, I shall not pardon you. How could a man in my position overlook such a transgression? It is better to die.” Thus the king argued against it. For the truly great throw away life rather than virtue. And when all the citizens came together and urged him, he was steadfast and refused.
So he slowly shrivelled away over the fever-flame of love and died. There was nothing left of King Glorious except his glory. And the general could not endure the death of his king. He burned himself alive. The actions of devoted men are blameless.
When the goblin on the king’s shoulder had told this story, he asked the king: “O King, which of these two, the king and the general, was the more deserving? Remember the curse before you answer.”
The king said: “I think the king was the more deserving.”
Then the goblin said reproachfully: “O King, why was not the general better? He offered the king a wife like that, whose charms he knew from a long married life. And when his king died, he burned himself like a faithful man. But the king gave her up without really knowing her attractions.”
Then the king laughed and said: “True enough, but not surprising. The general was a gentleman born, and acted as he did from devotion to his superior. For servants must protect their masters even at the cost of their own lives. But kings are like mad elephants who cannot be goaded into obedience, who break the binding-chain of virtue. They are insolent, and their judgment trickles from them with the holy water of consecration. Their eyes are blinded by the hurricane of power, and they do not see the road. From the most ancient times, even the kings who conquered the world have been maddened by love and have fallen into misfortune. But this king, though he ruled the whole world, though he was maddened by the girl Passion, preferred to die rather than set his foot on the path of iniquity. He was a hero. He was the better of the two.”
Then the goblin escaped by magic from the king’s shoulder and went back. And the king pursued him, undiscouraged. No great man stops in the middle of the hardest undertaking.