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OVER THE RELIC of Lord Buddha King Bimbisar built a shrine, a salutation in white marble.

There in the evening would come all the brides and daughters of the King's house to offer flowers and light lamps.

When the son became king in his time he washed his father's creed away with blood, and lit sacrificial fires with its sacred books.

The autumn day was dying.

The evening hour of worship was near.

Shrimati, the queen's maid, devoted to Lord Buddha, having bathed in holy water, and decked the golden tray with lamps and fresh white blossoms, silently raised her dark eyes to the queen's face.

The queen shuddered in fear and said, 'Do you not know, foolish girl, that death is the penalty for whoever brings worship to Buddha's shrine?

'Such is the king's will.'

Shrimati bowed to the queen, and turning away from her door came and stood before Amita, the newly wed bride of the king's son.

A mirror of burnished gold on her lap, the newly wed bride was braiding her dark long tresses and painting the red spot of good luck at the parting of her hair.

Her hands trembled when she saw the young maid, and she cried, 'What fearful peril would you bring me! Leave me this instant.'

Princess Shukla sat at the window reading her book of romance by the light of the setting sun.

She started when she saw at her door the maid with the sacred offerings.

Her book fell down from her lap, and she whispered in Shrimati's ears, 'Rush not to death, daring woman!'

Shrimati walked from door to door.

She raised her head and cried, '0 women of the king's house, hasten!

'The time for our Lord's worship is come!'

Some shut their doors in her face and some reviled her.

The last gleam of daylight faded from the bronze dome of the palace tower.

Deep shadows settled in street corners: the bustle of the city was hushed: the gong at the temple of Shiva announced the time of the evening prayer.

In the dark of the autumn evening, deep as a limpid lake, stars throbbed with light, when the guards of the palace garden were startled to see through the trees a row of lamps burning at the shrine of Buddha.

They ran with their swords unsheathed, crying, 'Who are you, foolish one, reckless of death?'

I am Shrimati,' replied a sweet voice, 'the servant of Lord Buddha.'

The next moment her heart's blood coloured the cold marble with its red.

And in the still hour of stars died the light of the last lamp of worship at the foot of the shrine.

 

 

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