A voice behind the scenes. O sheldrake bride, bid your mate farewell. The night is come.
Shakuntala (listening excitedly). Oh, my dear, this is Mother Gautami, come to inquire about me. Please hide among the branches.
(The king conceals himself. Enter GAUTAMI, with a bowl in her hand.)
Gautami. Here is the holy water, my child. (She sees SHAKUNTALA and helps her to rise.) So ill, and all alone here with the gods?
Shakuntala. It was just a moment ago that Priyamvada and Anusuya went down to the river.
Gautami (sprinkling SHAKUNTALA with the holy water). May you live long and happy, my child. Has the fever gone down? (She touches her.)
Shakuntala. There is a difference, mother.
Gautami. The sun is setting. Come, let us go to the cottage.
Shakuntala (weakly rising. To herself). Oh, my heart, you delayed when your desire came of itself. Now see what you have done. (She takes a step, then turns around. Aloud.) O bower that took away my pain, I bid you farewell until another blissful hour. (Exeunt SHAKUNTALA and GAUTAMI.)
King (advancing with a sigh.) The path to happiness is strewn with obstacles.
Her face, adorned with soft eye-lashes,
Adorable with trembling flashes
Of half-denial, in memory lingers;
The sweet lips guarded by her fingers,
The head that drooped upon her shoulder—
Why was I not a little bolder?
Where shall I go now? Let me stay a moment in this bower where my beloved lay. (He looks about.)
The flower-strewn bed whereon her body
The bracelet, fallen from her arm and lost;
The dear love-missive, in the lotus-leaf
Cut by her nails: assuage my absent grief
And occupy my eyes—I have no power,
Though she is gone, to leave the reedy bower.
(He reflects.) Alas! I did wrong to delay when I had found my love. So now
If she will grant me but one other meeting,
I’ll not delay; for happiness is fleeting;
So plans my foolish, self-defeated heart;
But when she comes, I play the coward’s part.
A voice behind the scenes. O King!
The flames rise heavenward from the evening
And round the sacrifices, blazing high,
Flesh-eating demons stalk, like red cloud-masses,
And cast colossal shadows on the sky.
King (listens. Resolutely). Have no fear, hermits. I am here.
(Enter the two friends, gathering flowers.)