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THE POISON TREE
A Tale of Hindu Life in Bengal
BY
BANKIM CHANDRA CHATTERJEE
TRANSLATED BY
MIRIAM S. KNIGHT
WITH A PREFACE BY
EDWIN ARNOLD, C.S.I.
London
T. FISHER UNWIN
26 PATERNOSTER SQUARE
1884
PREFACE
I had been asked by the accomplished lady who has translated the
subjoined story to introduce it with a few words of comment to the
English public. For that purpose I commenced the perusal of the proof
sheets; but soon found that what was begun as a literary task became a
real and singular pleasure, by reason of the author's vivid narrative,
his skill in delineating character, and, beyond all, the striking and
faithful pictures of Indian life with which his tale is filled. Nor do
these qualities suffer, beyond what is always inevitable, in the
transfer of the novel from its original Bengali to English. Five
years ago, Sir William Herschel, of the Bengal Civil Service, had the
intention of translating this _Bisha Briksha_; but surrendered the
task, with the author's full consent, to Mrs. Knight, who has here
performed it with very remarkable skill and success. To accomplish
that, more was wanted than a competent knowledge of the language of
the original and a fluent command of English: it was necessary to be
familiar with the details of native life and manners, and to have a
sufficient acquaintance with the religious, domestic, and social
customs of Bengali homes. Possessing these, Mrs. Knight has now
presented us with a modern Hindu novelette, smoothly readable
throughout, perfectly well transferred from its vernacular (with such
omissions as were necessary), and valuable, as I venture to affirm, to
English readers as well from its skill in construction and intrinsic
interest as for the light which it sheds upon the indoor existence of
well-to-do Hindus, and the excellent specimen which it furnishes of
the sort of indigenous literature happily growing popular in their
cities and towns.
The author of "The Poison Tree" is Babu Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, a
native gentleman of Bengal, of superior intellectual acquisitions,
who ranks unquestionably as the first living writer of fiction in his
Presidency. His renown is widespread among native readers, who
recognize the truthfulness and power of his descriptions, and are
especially fond of "Krishna Kanta's Will," "Mrinalini," and this very
story of the _Bisha Briksha_, which belongs to modern days in India,
and to the new ideas which are spreading--not always quite
happily--among the families of the land. Allowance being made for the
loss which an original author cannot but sustain by the transfer of
his style and method into another language and system of thought, it
will be confessed, I think, that the reputation of "Bankim Babu" is
well deserved, and that Bengal has here produced a writer of true
genius, whose vivacious invention, dramatic force, and purity of aim,
promise well for the new age of Indian vernacular literature.
It would be wrong to diminish the pleasure of the English reader by
analysing the narrative and forestalling its plot. That which appears
to me most striking and valuable in the book is the faithful view it
gives of the gentleness and devotion of the average Hindu wife.
Western people are wont to think that because marriages are arranged
at an early age in India, and without the betrothed pair having the
slightest share in the mutual choice, that wedded love of a sincere
sort must be out of the question, and conjugal happiness very rare.
The contrary is notably the case. Human nature is, somehow, so full of
accidental harmonies, that a majority among the households thus
constituted furnish examples of quiet felicity, established constancy,
and, above all, of a devotedness on the part of the Hindu women to
their husbands and children, which knows, so to speak, no limit. The
self-sacrifice of Surja Mukhi in this tale would be next to impossible
for any Western woman, but is positively common in the East, though
our author so well displays the undoubted fact that feminine hearts
are the same everywhere, and that custom cannot change the instincts
of love. In Debendra the Babu paints successfully the "young Bengalee"
of the present day, corrupted rather than elevated by his educational
enlightenment. Nagendra is a good type of the ordinary well-to-do
householder; Kunda Nandini, of the simple and graceful Hindu maiden;
and Hira, of those passionate natures often concealed under the dark
glances and regular features of the women of the Ganges Valley. In a
word, I am glad to recommend this translation to English readers, as
a work which, apart from its charm in incident and narrative, will
certainly give them just, if not complete, ideas of the ways of life
of their fellow-subjects in Bengal.
EDWIN ARNOLD, C.S.I.
LONDON, _September_ 10, 1884.
CONTENTS.
CHAPTER I.
NAGENDRA'S JOURNEY BY BOAT
CHAPTER II.
"COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE"
CHAPTER III.
OF MANY SUBJECTS
CHAPTER IV.
TARA CHARAN
CHAPTER V.
OH! LOTUS-EYED, WHO ART THOU?
CHAPTER VI.
THE READER HAS CAUSE FOR GREAT DISPLEASURE
CHAPTER VII.
HARIDASI BOISNAVI
CHAPTER VIII.
THE BABU
CHAPTER IX.
SURJA MUKHI'S LETTER
CHAPTER X.
THE SPROUT
CHAPTER XI.
CAUGHT AT LAST
CHAPTER XII.
HIRA
CHAPTER XIII.
NO!
CHAPTER XIV.
LIKE TO LIKE
CHAPTER XV.
THE FORLORN ONE
CHAPTER XVI.
HIRA'S ENVY
CHAPTER XVII.
HIRA'S QUARREL. THE BUD OF THE POISON TREE
CHAPTER XVIII.
THE CAGED BIRD
CHAPTER XIX.
DESCENT
CHAPTER XX.
GOOD NEWS
CHAPTER XXI.
SURJA MUKHI AND KAMAL MANI
CHAPTER XXII.
WHAT IS THE POISON TREE?
CHAPTER XXIII.
THE SEARCH
CHAPTER XXIV.
EVERY SORT OF HAPPINESS IS FLEETING
CHAPTER XXV.
THE FRUIT OF THE POISON TREE
CHAPTER XXVI.
THE SIGNS OF LOVE
CHAPTER XXVII.
BY THE ROADSIDE
CHAPTER XXVIII.
IS THERE HOPE?
CHAPTER XXIX.
HIRA'S POISON TREE HAS BLOSSOMED
CHAPTER XXX.
NEWS OF SURJA MUKHI
CHAPTER XXXI.
THOUGH ALL ELSE DIES, SUFFERING DIES NOT
CHAPTER XXXII.
THE FRUIT OF HIRA'S POISON TREE
CHAPTER XXXIII.
HIRA'S GRANDMOTHER
CHAPTER XXXIV.
A DARK HOUSE: A DARK LIFE
CHAPTER XXXV.
THE RETURN
CHAPTER XXXVI.
EXPLANATION
CHAPTER XXXVII.
THE SIMPLETON AND THE SERPENT
CHAPTER XXXVIII.
THE CATASTROPHE
CHAPTER XXXIX.
KUNDA'S TONGUE IS LOOSENED
CHAPTER XL.
THE END
GLOSSARY OF HINDU WORDS
For the assistance of the reader, the names of the
principal characters in the tale are given--
NAGENDRA NATHA DATTA _A wealthy Zemindar_.
SURJA MUKHI _His wife_.
DEBENDRA DATTA _Cousin to Nagendra_.
SRISH CHANDRA MITTRA _Accountant in a Merchant's Office_
KAMAL MANI _His wife, sister to Nagendra_.
SATISH _Their baby boy_.
TARA CHARAN _Adopted brother of Surja Mukhi_.
KUNDA NANDINI _An Orphan Girl_.
HIRA _Servant in Nagendra's household_.
CHAPTER I.
NAGENDRA'S JOURNEY BY BOAT.
Nagendra Natha Datta is about to travel by boat. It is the month
_Joisto_ (May--June), the time of storms. His wife, Surja Mukhi, had
adjured him, saying, "Be careful; if a storm arises be sure you fasten
the boat to the shore. Do not remain in the boat." Nagendra had
consented to this, otherwise Surja Mukhi would not have permitted him
to leave home; and unless he went to Calcutta his suits in the Courts
would not prosper.
Nagendra Natha was a young man, about thirty years of age, a wealthy
_zemindar_ (landholder) in Zillah Govindpur. He dwelt in a small
village which we shall call Haripur. He was travelling in his own
boat. The first day or two passed without obstacle. The river flowed
smoothly on--leaped, danced, cried out, restless, unending, playful.
On shore, herdsmen were grazing their oxen--one sitting under a tree
singing, another smoking, some fighting, others eating. Inland,
husbandmen were driving the plough, beating the oxen, lavishing abuse
upon them, in which the owner shared. The wives of the husbandmen,
bearing vessels of water, some carrying a torn quilt, or a dirty mat,
wearing a silver amulet round the neck, a ring in the nose, bracelets
of brass on the arm, with unwashed garments, their skins blacker than
ink, their hair unkempt, formed a chattering crowd. Among them one
beauty was rubbing her head with mud, another beating a child, a third
speaking with a neighbour in abuse of some nameless person, a fourth
beating clothes on a plank. Further on, ladies from respectable
villages adorned the _gháts_ (landing-steps) with their
appearance--the elders conversing, the middle-aged worshipping _Siva_,
the younger covering their faces and plunging into the water; the boys
and girls screaming, playing with mud, stealing the flowers offered in
worship, swimming, throwing water over every one, sometimes stepping
up to a lady, snatching away the image of _Siva_ from her, and running
off with it. The Brahmans, good tranquil men, recited the praises of
_Ganga_ (the sacred river Ganges) and performed their worship,
sometimes, as they wiped their streaming hair, casting glances at the
younger women.
In the sky, the white clouds float in the heated air. Below them fly
the birds, like black dots. In the cocoanut trees, kites, like
ministers of state, look around to see on what they can pounce; the
cranes, being only small fry, stand raking in the mud; the _dahuk_
(coloured herons), merry creatures, dive in the water; other birds of
a lighter kind merely fly about. Market-boats sail along at good speed
on their own behalf; ferry-boats creep along at elephantine pace to
serve the needs of others only: cargo boats make no progress at
all--that is the owners' concern.
On the third day of Nagendra's journey clouds arose and gradually
covered the sky. The river became black, the tree-tops drooped, the
paddy birds flew aloft, the water became motionless. Nagendra ordered
the _manji_ (boatman) to run the boat in shore and make it fast. At
that moment the steersman, Rahamat Mullah, was saying his prayers, so
he made no answer. Rahamat knew nothing of his business. His mother's
father's sister was the daughter of a boatman; on that plea he had
become a hanger-on of boatmen, and accident favoured his wishes; but
he learned nothing, his work was done as fate willed. Rahamat was not
backward in speech, and when his prayers were ended he turned to the
Babu and said, "Do not be alarmed, sir, there is no cause for fear."
Rahamat was thus brave because the shore was close at hand, and could
be reached without delay, and in a few minutes the boat was secured.
Surely the gods must have had a quarrel with Rahamat Mullah, for a
great storm came up quickly. First came the wind; then the wind,
having wrestled for some moments with the boughs of the trees, called
to its brother the rain, and the two began a fine game. Brother Rain,
mounting on brother Wind's shoulders, flew along. The two together,
seizing the tree-tops, bent them down, broke the boughs, tore off the
creepers, washed away the flowers, cast up the river in great waves,
and made a general tumult. One brother flew off with Rahamat Mullah's
head-gear; the other made a fountain of his beard. The boatmen lowered
the sail, the Babu closed the windows, and the servants put the
furniture under shelter.
Nagendra was in a great strait. If, in fear of the storm, he should
leave the boat, the men would think him a coward; if he remained he
would break his word to Surja Mukhi. Some may ask, What harm if he
did? We know not, but Nagendra thought it harm. At this moment Rahamat
Mullah said, "Sir, the rope is old; I do not know what may happen. The
storm has much increased; it will be well to leave the boat."
Accordingly Nagendra got out.
No one can stand on the river bank without shelter in a heavy storm of
rain. There was no sign of abatement; therefore Nagendra, thinking it
necessary to seek for shelter, set out to walk to the village, which
was at some distance from the river, through miry paths. Presently the
rain ceased, the wind abated slightly, but the sky was still thickly
covered with clouds; therefore both wind and rain might be expected at
night. Nagendra went on, not turning back.
Though it was early in the evening, there was thick darkness, because
of the clouds. There was no sign of village, house, plain, road, or
river; but the trees, being surrounded by myriads of fireflies,
looked like artificial trees studded with diamonds. The lightning
goddess also still sent quick flashes through the now silent black and
white clouds. A woman's anger does not die away suddenly. The
assembled frogs, rejoicing in the newly fallen rain, held high
festival; and if you listened attentively the voice of the cricket
might be heard, like the undying crackle of Ravana's[1] funeral pyre.
Amid the sounds might be distinguished the fall of the rain-drops on
the leaves of the trees, and that of the leaves into the pools
beneath; the noise of jackals' feet on the wet paths, occasionally
that of the birds on the trees shaking the water from their drenched
feathers, and now and then the moaning of the almost subdued wind.
Presently Nagendra saw a light in the distance. Traversing the flooded
earth, drenched by the drippings from the trees, and frightening away
the jackals, he approached the light; and on nearing it with much
difficulty, saw that it proceeded from an old brick-built house, the
door of which was open. Leaving his servant outside, Nagendra entered
the house, which he found in a frightful condition.
[Footnote 1: King of Lanka (Ceylon), whose remains were to burn
without ceasing.]
It was not quite an ordinary house, but it had no sign of prosperity.
The door-frames were broken and dirty; there was no trace of human
occupation--only owls, mice, reptiles, and insects gathered there.
The light came only from one side. Nagendra saw some articles of
furniture for human use; but everything indicated poverty. One or two
cooking vessels, a broken oven, three or four brass dishes--these were
the sole ornaments of the place. The walls were black; spiders' webs
hung in the corners; cockroaches, spiders, lizards, and mice,
scampered about everywhere. On a dilapidated bedstead lay an old man
who seemed to be at death's door; his eyes were sunk, his breath
hurried, his lips trembling. By the side of his bed stood an earthen
lamp upon a fragment of brick taken from the ruins of the house. In it
the oil was deficient; so also was it in the body of the man. Another
lamp shone by the bedside--a girl of faultlessly fair face, of soft,
starry beauty.
Whether because the light from the oil-less lamp was dim, or because
the two occupants of the house were absorbed in thinking of their
approaching separation, Nagendra's entrance was unseen. Standing in
the doorway, he heard the last sorrowful words that issued from the
mouth of the old man. These two, the old man and the young girl, were
friendless in this densely-peopled world. Once they had had wealth,
relatives, men and maid servants--abundance of all kinds; but by the
fickleness of fortune, one after another, all had gone. The mother of
the family, seeing the faces of her son and daughter daily fading like
the dew-drenched lotus from the pinch of poverty, had early sunk upon
the bed of death. All the other stars had been extinguished with that
moon. The support of the race, the jewel of his mother's eye, the hope
of his father's age, even he had been laid on the pyre before his
father's eyes. No one remained save the old man and this enchanting
girl. They dwelt in this ruined, deserted house in the midst of the
forest. Each was to the other the only helper.
Kunda Nandini was of marriageable age; but she was the staff of her
father's blindness, his only bond to this world. While he lived he
could give her up to no one. "There are but a few more days; if I give
away Kunda where can I abide?" were the old man's thoughts when the
question of giving her in marriage arose in his mind. Had it never
occurred to him to ask himself what would become of Kunda when his
summons came? Now the messenger of death stood at his bedside; he was
about to leave the world; where would Kunda be on the morrow?
The deep, indescribable suffering of this thought expressed itself in
every failing breath. Tears streamed from his eyes, ever restlessly
closing and opening, while at his head sat the thirteen-year-old girl,
like a stone figure, firmly looking into her father's face, covered
with the shadows of death. Forgetting herself, forgetting to think
where she would go on the morrow, she gazed only on the face of her
departing parent. Gradually the old man's utterance became obscure,
the breath left the throat, the eyes lost their light, the suffering
soul obtained release from pain. In that dark place, by that
glimmering lamp, the solitary Kunda Nandini, drawing her father's dead
body on to her lap, remained sitting. The night was extremely dark;
even now rain-drops fell, the leaves of the trees rustled, the wind
moaned, the windows of the ruined house flapped noisily. In the
house, the fitful light of the lamp flickered momentarily on the face
of the dead, and again left it in darkness. The lamp had long been
exhausted of oil; now, after two or three flashes, it went out. Then
Nagendra, with noiseless steps, went forth from the doorway.
CHAPTER II.
"COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE."
It was night. In the ruined house Kunda Nandini sat by her father's
corpse. She called "Father!" No one made reply. At one moment Kunda
thought her father slept, again that he was dead, but she could not
bring that thought clearly into her mind. At length she could no
longer call, no longer think. The fan still moved in her hand in the
direction where her father's once living body now lay dead. At length
she resolved that he slept, for if he were dead what would become of
her?
After days and nights of watching amid such sorrow, sleep fell upon
her. In that exposed, bitterly cold house, the palm-leaf fan in her
hand, Kunda Nandini rested her head upon her arm, more beauteous than
the lotus-stalk, and slept; and in her sleep she saw a vision. It
seemed as if the night were bright and clear, the sky of a pure
blue--that glorious blue when the moon is encircled by a halo. Kunda
had never seen the halo so large as it seemed in her vision. The light
was splendid, and refreshing to the eyes. But in the midst of that
magnificent halo there was no moon; in its place Kunda saw the figure
of a goddess of unparalleled brilliance. It seemed as if this
brilliant goddess-ruled halo left the upper sky and descended
gradually lower, throwing out a thousand rays of light, until it stood
over Kunda's head. Then she saw that the central beauty, crowned with
golden hair, and decked with jewels, had the form of a woman. The
beautiful, compassionate face had a loving smile upon its lips. Kunda
recognized, with mingled joy and fear, in this compassionate being
the features of her long-dead mother. The shining, loving being,
raising Kunda from the earth, took her into her bosom, and the orphan
girl could for a long period do nought but utter the sweet word
"Mother!"
Then the shining figure, kissing Kunda's face, said to her: "Child,
thou hast suffered much, and I know thou hast yet more to suffer; thou
so young, thy tender frame cannot endure such sorrow. Therefore abide
not here; leave the earth and come with me."
Kunda seemed to reply: "Whither shall I go?"
Then the mother, with uplifted finger indicating the shining
constellations, answered, "There!"
Kunda seemed, in her dream, to gaze into the timeless, shoreless ocean
of stars, and to say, "I have no strength; I cannot go so far."
Hearing this, the mother's kind and cheerful but somewhat grave face
saddened, her brows knitted a little, as she said in grave, sweet
tones:
"Child, follow thy own will, but it would be well for thee to go with
me. The day will come when thou wilt gaze upon the stars, and long
bitterly to go thither. I will once more appear to thee; when, bowed
to the dust with affliction, thou rememberest me, and weepest to come
to me, I will return. Then do thou come. But now do thou, looking on
the horizon, follow the design of my finger. I will show thee two
human figures. These two beings are in this world the arbiters of thy
destiny. If possible, when thou meetest them turn away as from
venomous snakes. In their paths walk thou not."
Then the shining figure pointed to the opposite sky. Kunda, following
the indication, saw traced on the blue vault the figure of a man more
beautiful than a god. Beholding his high, capacious forehead, his
sincere kindly glance, his swan-like neck a little bent, and other
traits of a fine man, no one would have believed that from him there
was anything to be feared.
Then the figure dissolving as a cloud in the sky, the mother said--
"Forget not this god-like form. Though benevolent, he will be the
cause of thy misery; therefore avoid him as a snake."
Again pointing to the heavens she continued--
"Look hither."
Kunda, looking, saw a second figure sketched before her, not this time
that of a man, but a young woman of bright complexion and lotus-shaped
eyes. At this sight she felt no fear; but the mother said--
"This dark figure in a woman's dress is a _Rakshasi_.[2] When thou
seest her, flee from her."
[Footnote 2: A female demon.]
As she thus spoke the heavens suddenly became dark, the halo
disappeared from the sky, and with it the bright figure in its midst.
Then Kunda awoke from her sleep.
Nagendra went to the village, the name of which he heard was
Jhunjhunpur. At his recommendation and expense, some of the villagers
performed the necessary rites for the dead, one of the female
neighbours remaining with the bereaved girl. When Kunda saw that they
had taken her father away, she became convinced of his death, and
gave way to ceaseless weeping.
In the morning the neighbour returned to her own house, but sent her
daughter Champa to comfort Kunda Nandini.
Champa was of the same age as Kunda, and her friend. She strove to
divert her mind by talking of various matters, but she saw that Kunda
did not attend. She wept constantly, looking up every now and then
into the sky as though in expectation.
Champa jestingly asked, "What do you see that you look into the sky a
hundred times?"
Kunda replied, "My mother appeared to me yesterday, and bade me go
with her, but I feared to do so; now I mourn that I did not. If she
came again I would go: therefore I look constantly into the sky."
Champa said, "How can the dead return?"
To which Kunda replied by relating her vision.
Greatly astonished, Champa asked, "Are you acquainted with the man and
woman whose forms you saw in the sky?"
"No, I had never seen them. There cannot be anywhere a man so
handsome; I never saw such beauty."
On rising in the morning, Nagendra inquired of the people in the
village what would become of the dead man's daughter, where she would
live, and whether she had any relatives. He was told that there was no
dwelling-place for her, and that she had no relatives.
Then Nagendra said, "Will not some of you receive her and give her in
marriage? I will pay the expense, and so long as she remains amongst
you I will pay so much a month for her board and lodging."
If he had offered ready money many would have consented to his
proposal; but after he had gone away Kunda would have been reduced to
servitude, or turned out of the house. Nagendra did not act in so
foolish a manner; therefore, money not being forthcoming, no one
consented to his suggestion.
At length one, seeing him at the end of his resources, observed: "A
sister of her mother's lives at Sham Bazar; Binod Ghosh is the
husband's name. You are on you way to Calcutta; if you take her with
you and place her with her aunt, then this _Kaystha_ girl will be
cared for, and you will have done your duty to your caste."
Seeing no other plan, Nagendra adopted this suggestion, and sent for
Kunda to acquaint her with the arrangement.
Champa accompanied Kunda. As they were coming, Kunda, seeing Nagendra
from afar, suddenly stood still like one stunned. Her feet refused to
move; she stood looking at him with eyes full of astonishment.
Champa asked, "Why do you stand thus?"
Kunda, pointing with her finger, said, "It is he!"
"He! Who?" said Champa.
"He whom last night my mother pictured in the heavens."
Then Champa also stood frightened and astonished. Seeing that the
girls shrank from approaching, Nagendra came near and explained
everything. Kunda was unable to reply; she could only gaze with eyes
full of surprise.
CHAPTER III.
OF MANY SUBJECTS.
Reluctantly did Nagendra Natha take Kunda with him to Calcutta. On
arriving there he made much search for her aunt's husband, but he
found no one in Sham Bazar named Binod Ghosh. He found a Binod Das,
who admitted no relationship. Thus Kunda remained as a burthen upon
Nagendra.
Nagendra had one sister, younger than himself, named Kamal Mani, whose
father-in-law's house was in Calcutta. Her husband's name was Srish
Chandra Mittra. Srish Babu was accountant in the house of Plunder,
Fairly, and Co. It was a great house, and Srish Chandra was wealthy.
He was much attached to his brother-in-law. Nagendra took Kunda
Nandini thither, and imparted her story to Kamal Mani.
Kamal was about eighteen years of age. In features she resembled
Nagendra; both brother and sister were very handsome. But, in addition
to her beauty, Kamal was famed for her learning. Nagendra's father,
engaging an English teacher, had had Kamal Mani and Surja Mukhi well
instructed. Kamal's mother-in-law was living, but she dwelt in Srish
Chandra's ancestral home. In Calcutta Kamal Mani was house-mistress.
When he had finished the story of Kunda Nandini, Nagendra said,
"Unless you will keep her here, there is no place for her. Later, when
I return home, I will take her to Govindpur with me."
Kamal was very mischievous. When Nagendra had turned away, she
snatched up Kunda in her arms and ran off with her. A tub of not very
hot water stood in an adjoining room, and suddenly Kamal threw Kunda
into it. Kunda was quite frightened. Then Kamal, laughing, took some
scented soap and proceeded to wash Kunda. An attendant, seeing Kamal
thus employed, bustled up, saying, "I will do it! I will do it!" but
Kamal, sprinkling some of the hot water over the woman, sent her
running away. Kamal having bathed and rubbed Kunda, she appeared like
a dew-washed lotus. Then Kamal, having robed her in a beautiful white
garment, dressed her hair with scented oil, and decorated her with
ornaments, said to her: "Now go and salute the _Dada Babu_ (elder
brother), and return, but mind you do not thus to the master of the
house: if he should see you he will want to marry you."
Nagendra Natha wrote Kunda's history to Surja Mukhi. Also when writing
to an intimate friend of his living at a distance, named Hara Deb
Ghosal, he spoke of Kunda in the following terms:
"Tell me what you consider to be the age of beauty in woman. You will
say after forty, because your Brahmini is a year or two more than
that. The girl Kunda, whose history I have given you, is thirteen. On
looking at her, it seems as if that were the age of beauty. The
sweetness and simplicity that precede the budding-time of youth are
never seen afterwards. This Kunda's simplicity is astonishing; she
understands nothing. To-day she even wished to run into the streets to
play with the boys. On being forbidden, she was much frightened, and
desisted. Kamal is teaching her, and says she shows much aptitude in
learning, but she does not understand other things. For instance, her
large blue eyes--eyes swimming ever like the autumn lotus in clear
water--these two eyes may be fixed upon my face, but they say nothing.
I lose my senses gazing on them; I cannot explain better. You will
laugh at this history of my mental stability; but if I could place you
in front of those eyes, I should see what your firmness is worth. Up
to this time I have been unable to determine what those eyes are like.
I have not seen them look twice the same; I think there are no other
such eyes in the world, they seem as if they scarcely saw the things
of earth, but were ever seeking something in space. It is not that
Kunda is faultlessly beautiful. Her features, if compared with those
of many others, would not be highly praised; yet I think I never saw
such rare beauty. It is as if there were in Kunda Nandini something
not of this world, as though she were not made of flesh and blood, but
of moonbeams and the scent of flowers. Nothing presents itself to my
mind at this moment to which to liken her. Incomparable being! her
whole person seems to breathe peace. If in some clear pool you have
observed the sheen produced by the rays of the autumn moon, you have
seen something resembling her. I can think of no other simile."
Surja Mukhi's reply to Nagendra's letter came in a few days. It was
after this manner:
"I know not what fault your servant has committed. If it is necessary
you should stay so long in Calcutta, why am I not with you to attend
upon you? This is my earnest wish; the moment I receive your consent,
I will set out.
"In picking up a little girl, have you forgotten me? Many unripe
things are esteemed. People like green guavas, and green cucumbers;
green cocoa-nuts are cooling. This low-born female is also, I think,
very young, else in meeting with her why should you forget me? Joking
apart, have you given up all right over this girl? if not, I beg her
from you. It is my business to arrange for her. In whatever becomes
yours I have the right to share, but in this case I see your sister
has entire possession. Still, I shall not vex myself much if Kamal
usurps my rights.
"Do you ask what do I want with the girl? I wish to give her in
marriage with Tara Charan. You know how much I have sought for a
suitable wife for him. If Providence has sent us a good girl, do not
disappoint me. If Kamal will give her up, bring Kunda Nandini with you
when you come. I have written to Kamal also recommending this. I am
having ornaments fashioned, and am making other preparations for the
marriage. Do not linger in Calcutta. Is it not true that if a man
stays six months in that city he becomes quite stupid? If you design
to marry Kunda, bring her with you, and I will give her to you. Only
say that you propose to marry her, and I will arrange the
marriage-basket."
Who Tara Charan was will be explained later. Whoever he was, both
Nagendra and Kamal Mani consented to Surja Mukhi's proposal. Therefore
it was resolved that when Nagendra went home Kunda Nandini should
accompany him. Every one consented with delight, and Kamal also
prepared some ornaments. How blind is man to the future! Some years
later there came a day when Nagendra and Kamal Mani bowed to the dust,
and, striking their foreheads in grief, murmured: "In how evil a
moment did we find Kunda Nandini! in how evil an hour did we agree to
Surja Mukhi's letter!" Now Kamal Mani, Surja Mukhi, and Nagendra,
together have sowed the poison seed; later they will all repent it
with wailing.
Causing his boat to be got ready, Nagendra returned to Govindpur with
Kunda Nandini. Kunda had almost forgotten her dream; while journeying
with Nagendra it recurred to her memory, but thinking of his
benevolent face and kindly character, Kunda could not believe that
any harm would come to her from him. In like manner there are many
insects who, seeing a destructive flame, enter therein.
CHAPTER IV.
TARA CHARAN.
The Poet Kalidas was supplied with flowers by a _Malini_ (flower-girl).
He, being a poor Brahmin, could not pay for the flowers, but in place
of that he used to read some of his own verses to the _Malini_. One day
there bloomed in the _Malini's_ tank a lily of unparalleled beauty.
Plucking it, the _Malini_ offered it to Kalidas. As a reward the poet
read to her some verses from the _Megha Duta_ (Cloud Messenger). That
poem is an ocean of wit, but every one knows that its opening lines
are tasteless. The _Malini_ did not relish them, and being annoyed she
rose to go.
The poet asked: "Oh! friend _Malini_, are you going?"
"Your verses have no flavour," replied the _Malini_.
"_Malini_! you will never reach heaven."
"Why so?"
"There is a staircase to heaven. By ascending millions of steps heaven
is reached. My poem has also a staircase; these tasteless verses are
the steps. If you can't climb these few steps, how will you ascend the
heavenly ladder?"
The _Malini_ then, in fear of losing heaven through the Brahmin's
curse, listened to the _Megha Duta_ from beginning to end. She admired
the poem; and next day, binding a wreath of flowers in the name of
Cupid, she crowned the poet's temples therewith.
This ordinary poem of mine is not heaven; neither has it a staircase
of a million steps. Its flavour is faint and the steps are few. These
few tasteless chapters are the staircase. If among my readers there is
one of the _Malini's_ disposition, I warn him that without climbing
these steps he will not arrive at the pith of the story.
Surja Mukhi's father's house was in Konnagar. Her father was a
_Kaystha_ of good position. He was cashier in some house at Calcutta.
Surja Mukhi was his only child. In her infancy a _Kaystha_ widow named
Srimati lived in her father's house as a servant, and looked after
Surja Mukhi. Srimati had one child named Tara Charan, of the same age
as Surja Mukhi. With him Surja Mukhi had played, and on account of
this childish association she felt towards him the affection of a
sister.
Srimati was a beautiful woman, and therefore soon fell into trouble. A
wealthy man of the village, of evil character, having cast his eyes
upon her, she forsook the house of Surja Mukhi's father. Whither she
went no one exactly knew, but she did not return. Tara Charan,
forsaken by his mother, remained in the house of Surja Mukhi's father,
who was a very kind-hearted man, and brought up this deserted boy as
his own child; not keeping him in slavery as an unpaid servant, but
having him taught to read and write. Tara Charan learned English at a
free mission-school. Afterwards Surja Mukhi was married, and some
years later her father died. By this time Tara Charan had learned
English after a clumsy fashion, but he was not qualified for any
business. Rendered homeless by the death of Surja Mukhi's father, he
went to her house. At her instigation Nagendra opened a school in the
village, and Tara Charan was appointed master. Nowadays, by means of
the grant-in-aid system in many villages, sleek-haired, song-singing,
harmless Master Babus appear; but at that time such a being as a
Master Babu was scarcely to be seen. Consequently, Tara Charan
appeared as one of the village gods; especially as it was known in the
bazaar that he had read the _Citizen of the World_, the _Spectator_,
and three books of _Euclid_. On account of these gifts he was received
into the _Brahmo Samaj_ of Debendra Babu, the zemindar of Debipur, and
reckoned as one of that Babu's retinue.
Tara Charan wrote many essays on widow-marriage, on the education of
women, and against idol-worship; read them weekly in the _Samaj_, and
delivered many discourses beginning with "Oh, most merciful God!"
Some of these he took from the _Tattwa Bodhini_,[3] and some he caused
to be written for him by the school _pandit_. He was forever
preaching: "Abandon idol-worship, give choice in marriage, give women
education; why do you keep them shut up in a cage? let women come
out." There was a special cause for this liberality on the subject of
women, inasmuch as in his own house there was no woman. Up to this
time he had not married. Surja Mukhi had made great efforts to get him
married, but as his mother's story was known in Govindpur, no
respectable _Kaystha_ consented to give him his daughter. Many a
common, disreputable _Kaystha_ girl he might have had; but Surja
Mukhi, regarding Tara Charan as a brother, would not give her consent,
since she did not choose to call such a girl sister-in-law. While she
was seeking for a respectable _Kaystha_ girl, Nagendra's letter came,
describing Kunda Nandini's gifts and beauty. She resolved to give her
to Tara Charan in marriage.
[Footnote 3: A religious periodical published in Calcutta.]
CHAPTER V.
OH! LOTUS-EYED, WHO ART THOU?
Kunda arrived safely with Nagendra at Govindpur. At the sight of
Nagendra's dwelling she became speechless with wonder, for she had
never seen one so grand. There were three divisions without and three
within. Each division was a large city. The outer _mahal_ (division)
was entered by an iron gate, and was surrounded on all sides by a
handsome lofty iron railing. From the gate a broad, red, well-metalled
path extended, on each side of which were beds of fresh grass that
would have formed a paradise for cows. In the midst of each plat was
a circle of shrubs, all blooming with variously coloured flowers. In
front rose the lofty demi-upper-roomed _boita khana_ (reception-hall),
approached by a broad flight of steps, the verandah of which was
supported by massive fluted pillars. The floor of the lower part of
this house was of marble. Above the parapet, in its centre, an
enormous clay lion, with dependent mane, hung out its red tongue. This
was Nagendra's _boita khana_. To left and right of the grass plats
stood a row of one-storied buildings, containing on one side the
_daftar khana_ (accountant's office) and _kacheri_ (court-house); on
the other the storehouse, treasury, and servants' dwellings. On both
sides of the gate were the doorkeepers' lodges. This first _mahal_ was
named the _kacheri bari_ (house of business); the next to it was the
_puja mahal_ (division for worship). The large hall of worship formed
one side of the _puja mahal_; on the other three sides were
two-storied houses. No one lived in this _mahal_. At the festival of
Durga it was thronged; but now grass sprouted between the tiles of the
court, pigeons frequented the halls, the houses were full of
furniture, and the doors were kept locked. Beside this was the _thakur
bari_ (room assigned to the family deity): in it on one side was the
temple of the gods, the handsome stone-built dancing-hall; on the
remaining sides, the kitchen for the gods, the dwelling-rooms of the
priests, and a guest-house. In this _mahal_ there was no lack of
people. The tribe of priests, with garlands on their necks and
sandal-wood marks on their foreheads; a troop of cooks; people bearing
baskets of flowers for the altars; some bathing the gods, some ringing
bells, chattering, pounding sandal-wood, cooking; men and women
servants bearing water, cleaning floors, washing rice, quarrelling
with the cooks. In the guest-house an ascetic, with ash-smeared, loose
hair, is lying sleeping; one with upraised arm (stiffened thus through
years) is distributing drugs and charms to the servants of the house;
a white-bearded, red-robed _Brahmachari_, swinging his chaplet of
beads, is reading from a manuscript copy of the _Bhagavat-gita_ in the
_Nagari_ character; holy mendicants are quarrelling for their share of
_ghi_ and flour. Here a company of emaciated _Boiragis_, with wreaths
of _tulsi_ (a sacred plant) round their necks and the marks of their
religion painted on their foreheads, the bead fastened into the knot
of hair on their heads shaking with each movement, are beating the
drums as they sing:
"I could not get the opportunity to speak,
The elder brother Dolai was with me."
The wives of the _Boiragis_, their hair braided in a manner pleasing
to their husbands, are singing the tune of _Govinda Adhi Kari_ to the
accompaniment of the tambourine. Young _Boisnavis_ singing with elder
women of the same class, the middle-aged trying to bring their voices
into unison with those of the old. In the midst of the court-yard
idle boys fighting, and abusing each other's parents.
These three were the outer _mahals_. Behind these came the three inner
ones. The inner _mahal_ behind the _kacheri bari_ was for Nagendra's
private use. In that only himself, his wife, and their personal
attendants were allowed; also the furniture for their use. This place
was new, built by Nagendra himself, and very well arranged. Next to
it, and behind the _puja bari_, came another _mahal_; this was old,
ill-built, the rooms low, small, and dirty. Here was a whole city-full
of female relations, mother's sister and mother's cousin, father's
sister and cousin; mother's widowed sister, mother's married sister;
father's sister's son's wife, mother's sister's son's daughter. All
these female relatives cawing day and night like a set of crows in a
banian tree; at every moment screams, laughter, quarrelling, bad
reasoning, gossip, reproach, the scuffling of boys, the crying of
girls. "Bring water!" "Give the clothes!" "Cook the rice!" "The child
does not eat!" "Where is the milk?" etc., is heard as an ocean of
confused sounds. Next to it, behind the _Thakur bari_, was the
cook-house. Here a woman, having placed the rice-pot on the fire,
gathering up her feet, sits gossiping with her neighbour on the
details of her son's marriage. Another, endeavouring to light a fire
with green wood, her eyes smarting with the smoke, is abusing the
_gomashta_ (factor), and producing abundant proof that he has
supplied this wet wood to pocket part of the price. Another beauty,
throwing fish into the hot oil, closes her eyes and twists her ten
fingers, making a grimace, for oil leaping forth has burnt her skin.
One having bathed her long hair, plentifully besmeared with oil,
braiding it in a curve on the temples and fastening it in a knot on
the top of her head, stirs the pulse cooking in an earthen pot, like
Krishna prodding the cows with a stick. Here Bami, Kaymi, Gopal's
mother, Nipal's mother, are shredding with a big knife vegetable
pumpkins, brinjals, the sound of the cutting steel mingling with abuse
of the neighbours, of the masters, of everybody: that Golapi has
become a widow very young; that Chandi's husband is a great drunkard;
that Koylash's husband has secured a fine appointment as writer to the
_Darogah_; that there could not be in the world such a flying journey
as that of Gopal, nor such a wicked child as Parvati's; how the
English must be of the race of _Ravan_ (the ten-headed king of
Ceylon); how _Bhagirati_ had brought _Ganga_; how Sham Biswas was the
lover of the daughter of the Bhattacharjyas; with many other
subjects. A dark, stout-bodied woman, placing a large _bonti_ (a
fish-cutter) on a heap of ashes in the court, is cutting fish; the
kites, frightened at her gigantic size and her quick-handedness,
keeping away, yet now and again darting forward to peck at the fish.
Here a white-haired woman is bringing water; there one with powerful
hand is grinding spices. Here, in the storehouse, a servant, a cook,
and the store-keeper are quarrelling together; the store-keeper
maintaining, "The _ghi_ (clarified butter) I have given is the right
quantity;" the cook disputing it; the servant saying, "We could manage
with the quantity you give if you left the storehouse unlocked." In
the hope of receiving doles of rice, many children and beggars with
their dogs are sitting waiting. The cats do not flatter any one; they
watch their opportunity, steal in, and help themselves. Here a cow
without an owner is feasting with closed eyes upon the husks of
pumpkins, other vegetables, and fruit.
Behind these three inner _mahals_ is the flower-garden; and further
yet a broad tank, blue as the sky. This tank is walled in. The inner
house (the women's) has three divisions, and in the flower-garden is a
private path, and at each end of the path two doors; these doors are
private, they give entrance to the three _mahals_ of the inner house.
Outside the house are the stables, the elephant-house, the kennels,
the cow-house, the aviaries, etc.
Kunda Nandini, full of astonishment at Nagendra's unbounded wealth,
was borne in a palanquin to the inner apartments, where she saluted
Surja Mukhi, who received her with a blessing.
Having recognized in Nagendra the likeness of the man she had seen in
her dream, Kunda Nandini doubted whether his wife would not resemble
the female figure she had seen later; but the sight of Surja Mukhi
removed this doubt. Surja Mukhi was of a warm, golden colour, like the
full moon; the figure in the dream was dark. Surja Mukhi's eyes were
beautiful, but not like those in the dream. They were long deer-eyes,
extending to the side hair; the eye-brows joined in a beautiful curve
over the dilated, densely black pupils, full but steady. The eyes of
the dark woman in the dream were not so enchanting. Then Surja Mukhi's
features were not similar. The dream figure was dwarfish; Surja Mukhi
rather tall, her figure swaying with the beauty of the honeysuckle
creeper. The dream figure was beautiful, but Surja Mukhi was a
hundredfold more so. The dream figure was not more than twenty years
of age; Surja Mukhi was nearly twenty-six. Kunda saw clearly that
there was no resemblance between the two. Surja Mukhi conversed
pleasantly with Kunda, and summoned the attendants, to the chief among
whom she said, "This is Kunda with whom I shall give Tara Charan in
marriage; therefore see that you treat her as my brother's wife."
The servant expressed her assent, and took Kunda aside with her to
another place. At sight of her Kunda's flesh crept; a cold moisture
came over her from head to foot. The female figure which Kunda in her
dream had seen her mother's fingers trace upon the heavens, this
servant was that lotus-eyed, dark-complexioned woman.
Kunda, agitated with fear, breathing with difficulty, asked, "Who are
you?"
The servant answered, "My name is Hira."
CHAPTER VI.
THE READER HAS CAUSE FOR GREAT DISPLEASURE.
At this point the reader will be much annoyed. It is a custom with
novelists to conclude with a wedding, but we are about to begin with
the marriage of Kunda Nandini. By another custom that has existed from
ancient times, whoever shall marry the heroine must be extremely
handsome, adorned with all virtues, himself a hero, and devoted to his
mistress. Poor Tara Charan possessed no such advantages; his beauty
consisted in a copper-tinted complexion and a snub nose; his heroism
found exercise only in the schoolroom; and as for his love, I cannot
say how much he had for Kunda Nandini, but he had some for a pet
monkey.
However that may be, soon after Kunda Nandini's arrival at the house
of Nagendra she was married to Tara Charan. Tara Charan took home his
beautiful wife; but in marrying a beautiful wife he brought himself
into a difficulty.
The reader will remember that Tara Charan had delivered some essays in
the house of Debendra Babu on the subjects of women's education and
the opening of the zenana. In the discussions that ensued, the Master
Babu had said vauntingly: "Should the opportunity ever be given me, I
will be the first to set an example of reform in these matters. Should
I marry, I will bring my wife out into society."
Now he was married, and the fame of Kunda's beauty had spread through
the district. All the neighbours now, quoting an old song, said,
"Where now is his pledge?" Debendra said, "What, are you now also in
the troop of old fools? Why do you not introduce us to your wife?"
Tara Charan was covered with shame; he could not escape from
Debendra's banter and taunts. He consented to allow Debendra to make
the acquaintance of his wife. Then fear arose lest Surja Mukhi should
be displeased. A year passed in evasion and procrastination; when,
seeing that this could be carried on no longer, he made an excuse that
his house was in need of repair, and sent Kunda Nandini to Nagendra's
house. When the repairs of the house were completed, Kunda Nandini
returned home. A few days after, Debendra, with some of his friends,
called upon Tara Charan, and jeered him for his false boasting. Driven
thus, as it were, into a corner, Tara Charan persuaded Kunda Nandini
to dress in suitable style, and brought her forth to converse with
Debendra Babu. How could she do so? She remained standing veiled
before him for a few seconds, then fled weeping. But Debendra was
enchanted with her youthful grace and beauty. He never forgot it.
Soon after that, some kind of festival was held in Debendra's house,
and a little girl was sent thence to Kunda to invite her attendance.
But Surja Mukhi hearing of this, forbade her to accept the invitation,
and she did not go. Later, Debendra again going to Tara Charan's
house, had an interview with Kunda. Surja Mukhi hearing of this
through others, gave to Tara Charan such a scolding, that from that
time Debendra's visits were stopped.
In this manner three years passed after the marriage; then Kunda
Nandini became a widow. Tara Charan died of fever. Surja Mukhi took
Kunda to live with her, and selling the house she had given to Tara
Charan, gave the proceeds in Government paper to Kunda.
The reader is no doubt much displeased, but in fact the tale is only
begun. Of the poison tree the seed only has thus far been sown.
CHAPTER VII.
HARIDASI BOISNAVI.
The widow Kunda Nandini passed some time in Nagendra's house. One
afternoon the whole household of ladies were sitting together in the
other division of the house, all occupied according to their tastes in
the simple employment of village women. All ages were there, from the
youngest girl to the grey-haired woman. One was binding another's hair,
the other suffering it to be bound; one submitting to have her white
hairs extracted, another extracting them by the aid of a grain of rice;
one beauty sewing together shreds of cloth into a quilt for her boy,
another suckling her child; one lovely being dressing the plaits of her
hair; another beating her child, who now cried aloud, now quietly
sobbed, by turns. Here one is sewing carpet-work, another leaning over
it in admiring examination. There one of artistic taste, thinking of
some one's marriage, is drawing a design on the wooden seats to be used
by the bridal pair. One learned lady is reading Dasu Rai's poetry. An
old woman is delighting the ears of her neighbours with complaints of
her son; a humorous young one, in a voice half bursting with laughter,
relates in the ears of her companions whose husbands are absent some
jocose story of her husband's, to beguile the pain of separation. Some
are reproaching the _Grihini_ (house-mistress), some the _Korta_
(master), some the neighbours; some reciting their own praises. She who
may have received a gentle scolding in the morning from Surja Mukhi on
account of her stupidity, is bringing forward many examples of her
remarkable acuteness of understanding. She in whose cooking the flavours
can never be depended upon, is dilating at great length upon her
proficiency in the art. She whose husband is proverbial in the village
for his ignorance, is astounding her companions by her praises of his
superhuman learning. She whose children are dark and repulsive-looking,
is pluming herself on having given birth to jewels of beauty. Surja
Mukhi was not of the company. She was a little proud, and did not sit
much with these people; if she came amongst them her presence was a
restraint upon the enjoyment of the rest. All feared her somewhat, and
were reserved towards her. Kunda Nandini associated with them; she was
amongst them now, teaching a little boy his letters at his mother's
request. During the lesson the pupil's eyes were fixed upon the
sweetmeat in another child's hand, consequently his progress was not
great. At this moment there appeared amongst them a _Boisnavi_ (female
mendicant), exclaiming, "_Jai Radhika!_"[4] (Victory to Radhika).
[Footnote 4: Wife of Krishna.]
A constant stream of guests was served in Nagendra's _Thakur bari_,
and every Sunday quantities of rice were distributed in the same
place, but neither _Boisnavis_ nor others were allowed to come to the
women's apartments to beg; accordingly, on hearing the cry "_Jai
Radha!_" in these forbidden precincts, one of the inmates exclaimed:
"What, woman! do you venture to intrude here? go to the _Thakur
bari_." But even as she spoke, turning to look at the _Boisnavi_, she
could not finish her speech, but said instead: "Oh, ma, what
_Boisnavi_ are you?"
Looking up, all saw with astonishment that the _Boisnavi_ was young
and of exceeding beauty; in that group of beautiful women there was
none, excepting Kunda Nandini, so beautiful as she. Her trembling
lips, well-formed nose, large lotus-eyes, pencilled brows, smooth,
well-shaped forehead, arms like the lotus-stalk, and complexion like
the _champak_ flower, were rare among women. But had there been
present any critic of loveliness, he would have said there was a want
of sweetness in her beauty, while in her walk and in her movements
there was a masculine character.
The _sandal_ mark[5] on the _Boisnavi's_ nose was long and fine, her
hair was braided, she wore a _sari_ with a coloured border, and
carried a small tambourine in her hand. She wore brass bracelets, and
over them others made of black glass.
[Footnote 5: The caste mark, made with sandal-wood powder.]
One of the elder women addressed her saying, "Who are you?"
The _Boisnavi_ replied, "My name is Haridasi. Will the ladies like a
song?"
The cry, "Yes, yes! sing!" sounded on all sides from old and young.
Raising her tambourine, the _Boisnavi_ seated herself near the ladies,
where Kunda was teaching the little boy. Kunda was very fond of music;
on hearing that the _Boisnavi_ would sing she came nearer. Her pupil
seized the opportunity to snatch the sweetmeat from the other child's
hand, and eat it himself.
The _Boisnavi_ asking what she should sing, the listeners gave a
number of different orders. One called for the strains of _Govinda
Adhikari_, another _Gopale Ure_. She who was reading Dasu Rai's poem
desired to have it sung. Two or three asked for the old stories about
Krishna; they were divided as to whether they would hear about the
companions or about the separation. Some wanted to hear of his herding
the cows in his youth. One shameless girl called out, "If you do not
sing such and such a passage I will not listen." One mere child, by
way of teaching the _Boisnavi_, sang some nonsensical syllables. The
_Boisnavi_, listening to the different demands, gave a momentary
glance at Kunda, saying: "Have you no commands to give?"
Kunda, ashamed, bent her head smiling, but did not speak aloud; she
whispered in the ear of a companion, "Mention some hymn."
The companion said, "Kunda desires that you will sing a hymn." The
_Boisnavi_ then began a hymn. Kunda, seeing that the _Boisnavi_ had
neglected all other commands to obey hers, was much abashed. Haridasi,
striking gently on her tambourine as if in sport, recited in a gentle
voice some few notes like the murmuring of a bee in early spring, or a
bashful bride's first loving speech to her husband. Then suddenly she
produced from that insignificant tambourine, as though with the
fingers of a powerful musician, sounds like the crashing of the clouds
in thunder, making the frames of her hearers shrink within them as she
sang in tones more melodious than those of the _Apsharas_ (celestial
singing women).
The ladies, astonished and enchanted, heard the _Boisnavi's_
unequalled voice filling the court with sound that ascended to the
skies. What could secluded women understand of the method of that
singing? An intelligent person would have comprehended that this
perfect singing was not due to natural gifts alone. The _Boisnavi_,
whoever she might be, had received a thorough scientific training in
music, and, though young, she was very proficient.
The _Boisnavi_, having finished her song, was urged by the ladies to
sing again. Haridasi, looking with thirsty eyes at Kunda, sang the
following song from Krishna's address to Radhika:
THE BOISNAVI'S SONG.
"To see thy beauteous lily face
I come expectant to this place;
Let me, oh Rai! thy feet embrace.
To deprecate thy sullen ire,
Therefore I come in strange attire;
Revive me, Radha, kindness speak,
Clasping thy feet my home I'd seek.
Of thy fair form to catch a ray
From door to door with flute I stray;
When thy soft name it murmurs low
Mine eyes with sudden tears o'erflow.
If thou wilt not my pardon speak
The banks of Jumna's stream I'll seek,
Will break my flute and yield my life;
Oh! cease thy wrath, and end the strife.
The joys of Braj I've cast aside
A slave before thy feet t' abide;
Thine anklets round my neck I'll bind,
In Jumna's stream I'll refuge find."
The song over, the _Boisnavi_, looking at Kunda, said, "Singing has
made me thirsty; give me some water."
Kunda brought water in a vessel; but the _Boisnavi_ said, "I will not
touch your vessel; come near and pour some water into my hands. I was
not born a _Boisnavi_." By this she gave it to be understood that she
was formerly of some unholy caste, and had since become a _Boisnavi_.
In reply to her words, Kunda went behind her so as to pour the water
into her hands. They were at such a distance from the rest that words
spoken gently could not be heard by any of them. Kunda poured the
water, and the _Boisnavi_ washed her hands and face.
While thus engaged the latter murmured, "Are you not Kunda?"
In astonishment Kunda replied, "Why do you ask?"
"Have you ever seen your mother-in-law?"
"No."
Kunda had heard that her mother-in-law, having lost her good name, had
left the place.
Then said the _Boisnavi_: "Your mother-in-law is here now. She is in
my house, and is crying bitterly to be allowed to see you for once.
She dare not show her face to the mistress of this house. Why should
you not go with me to see her? Notwithstanding her fault, she is still
your mother-in-law."
Although Kunda was simple, she understood quite well that she should
not acknowledge any connection with such a relation. Therefore she
merely shook her head at the _Boisnavi_'s words and refused her
assent. But the _Boisnavi_ would not take a refusal; again she urged
the matter.
Kunda replied, "I cannot go without the _Grihini_'s permission."
This Haridasi forbade. "You must not speak to the house-mistress, she
will not let you go; it may be she will send for your _Sasuri_
(mother-in-law). In that case your mother-in-law would flee the
country."
The more the _Boisnavi_ insisted, the more Kunda refused to go without
the _Grihini's_ permission.
Haridasi having no other resource, said: "Very well, put the thing
nicely to the _Grihini_; I will come another day and take you. Mind
you put it prudently, and shed some tears also, else she will not
consent."
Even to this Kunda did not consent; she would not say either "yes" or
"no."
Haridasi, having finished purifying her face and hands, turned to the
ladies and asked for contributions. At this moment Surja Mukhi came
amongst them, the desultory talk ceased, and the younger women, all
pretending some occupation, sat down.
Surja Mukhi, examining the _Boisnavi_ from head to foot, inquired,
"Who are you?"
An aunt of Nagendra's explained: "She is a _Boisnavi_ who came to
sing. I never heard such beautiful singing! Will you let her sing for
you? Sing something about the goddesses."
Haridasi, having sung a beautiful piece about Sham, Surja Mukhi,
enchanted, dismissed her with a handsome present. The _Boisnavi_,
making a profound salute, cast one more glance at Kunda and went away.
Once out of the range of Surja Mukhi's eyes, she made a few gentle
taps on the tambourine, singing softly--
"Ah, my darling!
I'll give you honey to eat, golden robes to wear;
I'll fill your flask with _attar_,
And your jar with water of rose,
Your box with spice prepared by my own hand."
The _Boisnavi_ being gone, the women could talk of nothing else for
some time. First they praised her highly, then began to point out her
defects.
Biraj said, "She is beautiful, but her nose is somewhat flat."
Bama remarked, "Her complexion is too pale."
Chandra Mukhi added, "Her hair is like tow."
Kapal said, "Her forehead is too high."
Kamala said, "Her lips are thick."
Harani observed, "Her figure is very wooden."
Pramada added, "The woman's bust is like that of a play actor, it has
no grace."
In this manner it soon appeared that the beautiful _Boisnavi_ was of
unparalleled ugliness.
Then Lalita said, "Whatever her looks may be, she sings beautifully."
But even this was not admitted. Chandra Mukhi said the singing was
coarse; Mukta Keshi confirmed this criticism.
Ananga said, "The woman does not know any songs; she could not even
give us one of Dasu Rai's songs."
Kanak said, "She does not understand time."
Thus it appeared that Haridasi _Boisnavi_ was not only extremely ugly,
but that her singing was of the worst description.
CHAPTER VIII.
THE BABU.
Haridasi _Boisnavi_, having left the house of the Datta family, went
to Debipur. At this place there is a flower-garden surrounded by
painted iron railings. It is well stocked with fruit trees and
flowering shrubs. In the centre is a tank, upon the edge of which
stands a garden-house. Entering a private room in this house, Haridasi
threw off her dress. Suddenly that dense mass of hair fell from the
head; the locks were borrowed. The bust also fell away; it was made of
cloth. After putting on suitable apparel and removing the _Boisnavi_
garments, there stood forth a strikingly handsome young man of about
five and twenty years of age. Having no hair on his face he looked
quite a youth; in feature he was very handsome. This young man was
Debendra Babu, of whom we have before had some slight knowledge.
Debendra and Nagendra were sprung from the same family, but between
the two branches there had been feud for successive generations, so
that the members of the Debipur family were not on speaking terms with
those of Govindpur. From generation to generation there had been
lawsuits between the two houses. At length, in an important suit, the
grandfather of Nagendra had defeated the grandfather of Debendra, and
since that time the Debipur family had been powerless. All their money
was swallowed up in law expenses, and the Govindpur house had bought
up all their estates. From that time the position of the Debipur
family had declined, that of the other increased, the two branches no
longer united.
Debendra's father had sought in one way to restore the fallen fortunes
of his house. Another zemindar, named Ganesh, dwelt in the Haripur
district; he had one unmarried daughter, Hembati, who was given to
Debendra in marriage. Hembati had many virtues; she was ugly,
ill-tempered, unamiable, selfish. Up to the time of his marriage with
her, Debendra's character had been without stain. He had been very
studious, and was by nature steady and truth-loving. But that marriage
had been fatal to him. When Debendra came to years of discretion he
perceived that on account of his wife's disposition there was no hope
of domestic happiness for him. With manhood there arose in him a love
for beauty, but in his own house this was denied to him; with manhood
there came a desire for conjugal affection, but the mere sight of the
unamiable Hembati quenched the desire. Putting happiness out of the
question, Debendra perceived that it would be difficult to stay in the
house to endure the venom of Hembati's tongue. One day Hembati poured
forth abuse on her husband; he had endured much, he could endure no
more, he dragged Hembati by the hair and kicked her. From that day,
deserting his home, he went to Calcutta, leaving orders that a small
house should be built for him in the garden. Before this occurred the
father of Debendra had died, therefore he was independent. In Calcutta
he plunged into vicious pursuits to allay his unsatisfied desires, and
then strove to wash away his heart's reproaches in wine; after that he
ceased to feel any remorse, he took delight in vice. When he had
learned what Calcutta could teach him in regard to luxury, Debendra
returned to his native place, and, taking up his abode in the
garden-house, gave himself up to the indulgence of his recently
acquired tastes. Debendra had learned many peculiar fashions in
Calcutta; on returning to Debipur he called himself a Reformer. First
he established a _Brahmo Samaj_; many such Brahmos as Tara Charan were
attracted to it, and to the speech-making there was no limit. He also
thought of opening a female school; but this required too much effort,
he could not do it. About widow marriage he was very zealous. One or
two such marriages had been arranged, the widows being of low caste;
but the credit of these was due, not to him, but to the contracting
parties. He had been of one mind with Tara Charan about breaking the
chains of the zenana; both had said, "Let women come out." In this
matter Debendra was very successful, but then this emancipation had in
his mind a special meaning.
When Debendra, on his return from Govindpur, had thrown off his
disguise and resumed his natural appearance, he took his seat in the
next room. His servant, having prepared the pain-relieving _huka_,
placed the snake in front of him. Debendra spent some time in the
service of that fatigue-destroying goddess, Tobacco. He is not worthy
to be called a man who does not know the luxury of tobacco. Oh,
satisfier of the hearts of all! oh, world enchantress! may we ever be
devoted to thee! Your vehicles, the _huka_, the pipe, let them ever
remain before us. At the mere sight of them we shall obtain heavenly
delight. Oh, _huka_! thou that sendest forth volumes of curling smoke,
that hast a winding tube shaming the serpent! oh, bowl that beautifies
thy top! how graceful are the chains of thy turban; how great is the
beauty of thy curved mouthpiece; how sonorous the murmur of the
ice-cool water in thy depths! Oh, world enchantress! oh, soother of
the fatigues of man, employer of the idle, comforter of the henpecked
husband's heart, encourager of timid dependents, who can know thy
glory! Soother of the sorrowing! thou givest courage to the timid,
intellect to the stupid, peace to the angry! Oh, bestower of
blessings, giver of all happiness, appear in undiminished power in my
room! Let your sweet scent increase daily, let your cool waters
continue to rumble in your depths, let your mouthpiece ever be glued
to my lips!
Pleasure-loving Debendra enjoyed the favour of this great goddess as
long as he would, but yet he was not satisfied; he proceeded to
worship another great power. In the hand of his servant was displayed
a number of straw-covered bottles. Then on that white, soft, spacious
bed, a gold-coloured mat being laid, a spirit-stand was placed
thereon, and the sunset-coloured liquid goddess poured into the
power-giving decanter. A cut-glass tumbler and plated jug served as
utensils for worship. From the kitchen a black, ugly priest came,
bearing hot dishes of roast mutton and cutlets to take the place of
the sacred flowers. Then Debendra, as a devoted worshipper, sat down
to perform the rites.
Then came a troop of singers and musicians, and concluded the
ceremonies with their music and songs.
At length a young man of about Debendra's age, of a placid
countenance, came and sat with him. This was his cousin, Surendra.
Surendra was in every respect the opposite of Debendra, yet the latter
was much attached to his cousin; he heeded no one in the world but
him. Every night Surendra came to see him, but, fearing the wine, he
would only sit a few minutes.
When all were gone, Surendra asked Debendra, "How are you to-day?"
"The body," replied Debendra, "is the temple of disease."
"Yours is, especially," said his cousin, "Have you fever to-day?"
"No."
"Is your liver out of order?"
"It is as before."
"Would it not be better to refrain from these excesses?"
"What, drinking? How often will you speak of that? Wine is my constant
companion," said Debendra.
"But why should it be?" replied Surendra. "Wine was not born with you;
you can't take it away with you. Many give it up, why should not you
do so?"
"What have I to gain by giving it up? Those who do so have some
happiness in prospect, and therefore give it up. For me there is no
happiness."
"Then to save your life give it up."
"Those to whom life brings happiness may give up wine; but what have I
to gain by living?"
Surendra's eyes filled with tears. Full of love for his friend, he
urged:
"Then for my sake give it up."
Tears came into the eyes of Debendra as he said: "No one but yourself
urges me to walk in virtuous paths. If I ever do give it up it will be
for your sake, and--"
"And what?"
"If ever I hear that my wife is dead I will give up drink. Otherwise,
whether I live or die, I care not."
Surendra, with moist eyes, mentally anathematising Hembati, took his
leave.
CHAPTER IX.
SURJA MUKHI'S LETTER.
Dearest Srimati Kamal Mani Dasi, long may you live!
"I am ashamed to address you any longer with a blessing. You have
become a woman, and the mistress of a house. Still I cannot think of
you otherwise than as my younger sister. I have brought you up to
womanhood, I taught you your letters; but now when I see your writing
I am ashamed to send this scrawl. But of what use to be ashamed? My
day is over; were it not so how should I be in this condition? What
condition?--it is a thing I cannot speak of to any one; should I do
so there will be sorrow and shame; yet if I do not tell some one of my
heart's trouble I cannot endure it. To whom can I speak? You are my
beloved sister; except you no one loves me. Also it concerns your
brother. I can speak of it to no one but you.
"I have prepared my own funeral pyre. If I had not cared for Kunda
Nandini, and she had died, would that have been any loss to me? God
cares for so many others--would He not have cared for her? Why did I
bring her home to my own destruction! When you saw that unfortunate
being she was a child, now she is seventeen or eighteen. I admit she
is beautiful; her beauty is fatal to me. If I have any happiness on
earth it is in my husband; if I care about anything in this world it
is for my husband; if there is any wealth belonging to me it is my
husband: this husband Kunda Nandini is snatching from me. If I have a
desire on earth it is for my husband's love: of that love Kunda
Nandini is cheating me. Do not think evil of your brother; I am not
reproaching him. He is virtuous, not even his enemies can find a
fault in him. I can see daily that he tries to subdue his heart.
Wherever Kunda Nandini may happen to be, from that spot, if possible,
he averts his eyes; unless there is absolute necessity he does not
speak her name. He is even harsh towards her; I have heard him scold
her when she has committed no fault. Then why am I writing all this
trash? Should a man ask this question it would be difficult to make
him understand, but you being a woman will comprehend. If Kunda
Nandini is in his eyes but as other women, why is he so careful not to
look towards her? why take such pains to avoid speaking her name? He
is conscious of guilt towards Kunda Nandini, therefore he scolds her
without cause; that anger is not with her, but with himself; that
scolding is not for her, but for himself. This I can understand. I who
have been so long devoted to him, who within and without see only him,
if I but see his shadow I can tell his thoughts. What can he hide from
me? Occasionally when his mind is absent his eyes wander hither and
thither; do I not know what they are seeking? If he meets it, again
becoming troubled he withdraws his eyes; can I not understand that?
For whose voice is he listening at meal-times when he pauses in the
act of carrying food to his mouth? and when Kunda's tones reach his
ear, and he fastens to eat his meal, can one not understand that? My
beloved always had a gracious countenance; why is he now always so
absent-minded? If one speaks to him he does not hear, but gives an
absent answer. If, becoming angry, I say, 'May I die?' paying no
attention he answers, 'Yes.' If I ask where his thoughts are, he says
with his lawsuits; but I know they have no place in his mind; when he
speaks of his lawsuits he is always merry. Another point. One day the
old women of the neighbourhood were speaking of Kunda Nandini, pitying
her young widowhood, her unprotected condition. Your brother came up;
from within I saw his eyes fill with tears; he turned away and left
them quickly. The other day I engaged a new servant; her name is
Kumuda. Sometimes the Babu calls Kumuda; when so doing he often slips
out the name Kunda instead of Kumuda, then how confused he is--why
should he be confused? I cannot say he is neglectful of me, or
unaffectionate; rather he is more attentive than before, more
affectionate. The reason of this I fully understand: he is conscious
of fault towards me; but I know that I have no longer a place in his
heart. Attention is one thing, love quite another; the difference
between these two we women can easily understand.
"There is another amusing matter. A learned _pandit_ in Calcutta,
named Iswara Chandra Bidya Sagar, has published a book on the marriage
of widows. If he who would establish the custom of marrying widows is
a _pandit_, then who can be called a dunce? Just now, the Brahman
Bhattacharjya bringing the book into the _boita khana_, there was a
great discussion.
"After much talk in favour of widow-marriage, the Brahman, taking ten
rupees from the Babu for the repairs of the _Tote_,[6] went his way.
On the following day Sharbabhoum Thakur replied on the same subject. I
had some golden bracelets made for his daughter's wedding. No one else
was in favour of widow-marriage.
[Footnote 6: The village school in which Sanscrit is taught.]
"I have taken up much time in wearying you with my sorrows. Do I not
know how vexed you will be? but what can I do, sister? If I do not
tell you my sorrows, to whom shall I tell them? I have not said all
yet, but hoping for some relief from you has calmed me a little. Say
nothing of this to anyone; above all, I conjure you, show not this
letter to your husband. Will you not come and see me? if you will come
now your presence will heal many of my troubles. Send me quickly news
of your husband and of your child.
"SURJA MUKHI.
"P.S.--Another word. If I can get rid of this girl I may be happy once
more; but how to get rid of her? Can you take her? Would you not fear
to do so?"
Kamal Mani replied--
"You have become quite foolish, else how can you doubt your husband's
heart? Do not lose faith in him; if you really cannot trust him you
had better drown yourself. I, Kamal Mani, tell you you had better
drown yourself. She who can no longer trust her husband had better
die."
CHAPTER X.
THE SPROUT.
On the course of a short time Nagendra's whole nature was changed. As
at eventime, in the hot season, the clear sky becomes suddenly veiled
in cloud, so Nagendra's mind became clouded. Surja Mukhi wept
secretly.
She thought to herself, "I will take Kamal Mani's advice. Why should I
doubt my husband's heart? His heart is firm as the hills. I am under a
delusion. Perhaps he is suffering in health." Alas! Surja Mukhi was
building a bridge of sand.
In the house there dwelt a sort of doctor. Surja Mukhi was the
house-mistress. Sitting behind the _purdah_ (a half-transparent
screen) she held converse with everyone, the person addressed
remaining in the verandah. Calling the doctor, Surja Mukhi said--
"The Babu is not well; why do you not give him medicine?"
"Is he ill? I did not know of it; I have heard nothing."
"Has not the Babu told you?"
"No; what is the matter?"
"What is the matter? Are you a doctor, and do you ask that? Do I
know?"
The doctor was nonplussed, and saying, "I will go and inquire," he was
about to leave; but Surja Mukhi, calling him back, said, "Do not ask
the Babu about it; give him some medicine."
The doctor thought this a peculiar sort of treatment; but there was no
lack of medicine in the house, and going to the dispensary, he
composed a draught of soda, port-wine, and some simple drugs, and,
filling a bottle, labelled it, "To be taken twice a day."
Surja Mukhi took the physic to her husband, and requested him to drink
it. Nagendra, taking the bottle, read the inscription, and, hurling it
away, struck a cat with it. The cat fled, her tail drenched with the
physic.
Surja Mukhi said: "If you will not take the medicine, at least tell me
what is your complaint."
Nagendra, annoyed, said, "What complaint have I?"
"Look at yourself," replied Surja Mukhi, "and see how thin you have
become," and she held a mirror before him.
Nagendra, taking the mirror from her, threw it down and smashed it to
atoms.
Surja Mukhi began to weep. With an angry look Nagendra went away.
Meeting a servant in the outer room, the Babu struck him for no fault.
Surja Mukhi felt as if _she_ had received the blow. Formerly Nagendra
had been of a very calm temper; now the least thing made him angry.
Nor was this all. One night, the hour for the meal being already past,
Nagendra had not come in. Surja Mukhi sat expecting him. At length,
when he appeared, she was astonished at his looks. His face and eyes
were inflamed--he had been drinking, and as he had never been given to
drinking before his wife was shocked. From that time it became a daily
custom.
One day Surja Mukhi, casting herself at his feet, choking down the
sobs in her throat, with much humility entreated, "For my sake give
this up."
Nagendra asked angrily, "What is my fault?"
Surja Mukhi said: "If you do not know what is the fault, how can I? I
only beg that for my sake you will give it up."
Nagendra replied: "Surja Mukhi, I am a drunkard! If devotion should be
paid to a drunkard, pay it to me; otherwise it is not called for."
Surja Mukhi left the room to conceal her tears, since her weeping
irritated her husband, and led him to strike the servants.
Soon after, the _Dewan_ sent word to the mistress that the estate was
going to ruin.
She asked, "Why?"
"Because the Babu will not see to things. The people on the estates do
just as they please. Since the _Karta_ is so careless, no one heeds
what I say."
Surja Mukhi answered: "If the owner looks after the estate, it will be
preserved; if not, let it go to ruin. I shall be thankful if I can
only save my own property" (meaning her husband).
Formerly Nagendra had carefully looked after all his affairs.
One day some hundreds of his _ryots_ came to the _kacheri_, and with
joined palms stood at the door. "Give us justice," they said, "O your
highness; we cannot survive the tyranny of the _naib_ (a law officer)
and the _gomashta_. We are being robbed of everything. If you do not
save us, to whom shall we go?"
Nagendra gave orders to drive them away.
Formerly, when one of his _gomashtas_ had beaten a _ryot_ and taken a
rupee from him, Nagendra had cut ten rupees from the _gomashta's_ pay
and given it to the _ryot_.
Hara Deb Ghosal wrote to Nagendra: "What has happened to you? I
cannot imagine what you are doing. I receive no letters from you, or,
if I do, they contain but two or three lines without any meaning. Have
you taken offence with me? If so, why do you not tell me? Have you
lost your lawsuit? Then why not say so? If you do not tell me anything
else, at least give me news of your health."
Nagendra replied: "Do not be angry with me. I am going to
destruction."
Hara Deb was very wise. On reading this letter he thought to himself:
"What is this? Anxiety about money? A quarrel with some friend?
Debendra Datta? Nothing of the kind. Is this love?"
Kamal Mani received another letter from Surja Mukhi. It concluded
thus: "Come, Kamal Mani, sister; except you I have no friend. Come to
me."
Kamal Mani was agitated; she could contain herself no longer. She
felt that she must consult her husband.
Srish Chandra, sitting in the inner apartments, was looking over the
office account-books. Beside him on the bed, Satish Chandra, a child
of a year old, was rejoicing in the possession of an English
newspaper. He had first tried to eat it; but, failing in that, had
spread it out and was now sitting upon it. Kamal Mani, approaching her
husband, brought the end of her _sari_ round her neck, threw herself
down, bending her forehead to the floor, and, folding her hands, said,
"I pay my devotions to you, O great king." Just before this time, a
play had been performed in the house, from whence she borrowed this
inflated speech.
Srish said, laughing, "Have the cucumbers been stolen again?"
"Neither cucumbers nor melons; this time a most valuable thing has
been stolen."
"Where is the robbery?" asked Srish.
"The robbery took place at Govindpur. My elder brother had a broken
shell in a golden box. Some one has stolen it."
Srish, not understanding the metaphor, said "Your brother's golden
casket is Surja Mukhi. What is the broken shell?"
"Surja Mukhi's wits," replied Kamal.
"People say if one has a mind to play he can do so, though the shells
are broken" (referring to a game played with shells). "If Surja
Mukhi's understanding is defective, yet with it she gained your
brother's heart, and with all your wisdom, you could not bring him
over to your side. Who has stolen the broken shell?"
"That I know not; but, from reading her letter, I perceive it is
gone--else how could a woman write such a letter?"
"May I see the letter?" asked Srish.
Kamal Mani placed the letter in her husband's hand, saying: "Surja
Mukhi forbade my telling you all this; but while I keep it from you I
am quite uneasy. I can neither sleep nor eat, and I fear I may lose my
senses."
"If you have been forbidden to tell me of the matter I cannot read
this letter, nor do I wish to hear its contents. Tell me what has to
be done."
"This is what must be done," replied Kamal. "Surja Mukhi's wits are
scattered, and must be restored. There is no one that can do this
except Satish Babu. His aunt has written requesting that he may be
sent to Govindpur."
Satish Babu had in the meantime upset a vase of flowers, and was now
aiming at the inkstand. Watching him, Srish Chandra said: "Yes; he he
is well fitted to act as physician. I understand now. He is invited to
his aunt's house; if he goes, his mother must go also. Surja Mukhi's
wits must be lost, or she could not have sent such an invitation."
"Not Satish Babu only; we are all invited."
"Why am I invited?" asked Srish.
"Can I go alone?" replied Kamal. "Who will look after the luggage?"
"It is very unreasonable in Surja Mukhi if she wants her husband's
brother-in-law only that he may look after the luggage. I can find
some one else to perform that office for a couple of days."
Kamal Mani was angry; she frowned, mocked at Srish Chandra, and,
snatching the paper on which he was writing out of his hand, tore it
to pieces.
Srish Chandra, smiling, said, "It serves you right."
Kamal, affecting anger, said, "I will speak in that way if I wish!"
Srish, in the same tone, replied, "And I shall speak as I choose!"
Then a playful scuffle ensued; Kamal pretended to strike her husband,
who in return pulled down her hair; whereupon she threw away his ink.
Then they exchanged angry kisses. Satish Babu was delighted at this
performance; he knew that kisses were his special property, so when he
saw them scattered in this lavish manner he stood up, supporting
himself by his mother's dress, to claim his royal share, crowing
joyously. How sweetly that laugh fell on the ears of Kamal Mani! She
took him in her lap, and showered kisses upon him. Srish Chandra
followed her example. Then Satish Babu, having received his dues, got
down and made for his father's brightly coloured pencil, which soon
found its way into his mouth.
In the battle between the _Kurus_ and _Pandus_ there was a great
struggle between Bhagadatta and Arjuna. In this fight, Bhagadatta
being invincible, and Arjuna vulnerable, the latter called Krishna to
his aid, who, receiving the charge of Bhagadatta on his breast,
blunted the force of the weapons.[7] In like manner, Satish Chandra
having received these attacks on his face, peace was restored. But
their peace and war was like the dropping of clouds, fitful.
[Footnote 7: An illustration drawn from the _Mahabharat_.]
Then Srish asked, "Must you really go to Govindpur? What am I to do
alone?"
"Do you think I can go alone?" answered his wife. "We must both go.
Arrange matters in the morning when you go to business, and come home
quickly. If you are long, Satish and I will sit crying for you."
"I cannot go," replied Srish. "This is the season for buying linseed.
You must go without me."
"Come, Satish," was Kamal's reply; "we two will go and weep."
At the sound of his mother's voice Satish ceased to gnaw the pencil,
and raised another shout of joyous laughter. So Kamal's cry did not
come off this time; in place of it the kissing performance was gone
through as before.
At its close Kamal said, "Now what are your orders?"
Srish repeated that she must go without him, as he could not leave;
whereupon she sat down sulking. Srish went behind her and began to
mark her forehead with the ink from his pen.
Then with a laugh she embraced him, saying, "Oh, dearer than life, how
I love you!"
He was obliged to return the embrace, when the ink transferred itself
from her face to his.
The quarrel thus ended, Kamal said, "If you really will not go, then
make arrangements for me."
"When will you come back?"
"Need you ask?" said Kamal; "if you don't go, can I stay there long?"
Srish Chandra sent Kamal Mani to Govindpur, but it is certain that
Srish Chandra's employers did not do much in linseed at that time.
The other clerks have privately informed us that this was the fault of
Srish Chandra, who did not give his mind to it, but sat at home in
meditation.
Srish hearing himself thus accused, remarked, "It may be so, my wife
was absent at that time."
The hearers shook their heads, saying, "He is under petticoat
government!" which so delighted Srish Chandra that he called to his
servant, "Prepare dinner; these gentlemen will dine with me to-day."
CHAPTER XI.
CAUGHT AT LAST.
It was as though a flower had bloomed in the family house at
Govindpur. The sight of Kamal Mani's smiling face dried the tears in
the eyes of Surja Mukhi. The moment she set foot in the house Kamal
took in hand the dressing of her sister-in-law's hair, for Surja Mukhi
had neglected herself lately.
Kamal said, "Shall I put in a flower or two?"
Surja Mukhi pinched her cheek, and forbade it.
So Kamal Mani did it slily. When people came in she said, "Do you see
the old woman wearing flowers in her hair?"
But even Kamal's bright face did not dispel the dark clouds from that
of Nagendra. When he met her he only said, "Where do you come from,
Kamal?"
She bent before him, saying bashfully, "Baby has brought me."
"Indeed! I'll beat the rascal," replied Nagendra, taking the child in
his arms, and spending an hour in play with him, in return for which
the grateful child made free with his moustache.
Kamal Mani playfully accosted Kunda with the words, "Ha, Kundi, Kundi!
Nundi, Dundi! are you quite well, Kundi?"
The girl was silent in astonishment, but presently she said, "I am
well."
"Call me _Didi_ (elder sister); if you do not I will burn your hair
when you are asleep, or else I will give your body to the
cockroaches."
Kunda obeyed. When she had been in Calcutta she had not addressed
Kamal by any name; indeed she had rarely spoken; but seeing that Kamal
was very loving-hearted, she had become fond of her. In the years that
had intervened without a meeting she had a little forgotten Kamal;
but now, both being amiable, their affection was born afresh, and
became very close.
When Kamal Mani talked of returning home, Surja Mukhi said, "Nay,
sister, stay a little longer. I shall be wretched when you are gone.
It relieves me to talk to you of my trouble."
"I shall not go without arranging your affairs."
"What affairs?" said Surja Mukhi.
"Your _Shradda_" (funeral ceremonies), replied Kamal; but mentally she
said, "Extracting the thorns from your path."
When Kunda heard that Kamal talked of going, she went to her room and
wept. Kamal going quietly after her found her with her head on the
pillow, weeping. Kamal sat down to dress Kunda's hair, an occupation
of which she was very fond. When she had finished she drew Kunda's
head on to her lap, and wiped away the tears. Then she said, "Kunda,
why do you weep?"
"Why do you go away?" was the reply.
"Why should you weep for that?"
"Because you love me."
"Does no one else love you?"
Kunda did not reply; and Kamal went on: "Does not the _Bou_ (Surja
Mukhi) love you? No? Don't hide it from me." (Still no answer.) "Does
not my brother love you?" (Still silence.) "Since I love you and you
love me, shall we not go together?" (Yet Kunda spoke not.) "Will you
go?"
Kunda shook her head, saying, "I will not go."
Kamal's joyous face became grave; she thought, "This does not sound
well. The girl has the same complaint as my brother, but he suffers
the more deeply. My husband is not here, with whom can I take
counsel?" Then Kamal Mani drew Kunda's head lovingly on her breast,
and taking hold of her face caressingly, said, "Kunda, will you tell
me the truth?"
"About what?" said the girl.
"About what I shall ask thee. I am thy elder, I love thee as a sister;
do not hide it from me, I will tell no one." In her mind she thought,
"If I tell any one it will be my husband and my baby."
After a pause Kunda asked, "What shall I tell you?"
"You love my brother dearly, don't you?"
Kunda gave no answer.
Kamal Mani wept in her heart; aloud she said: "I understand. It is so.
Well that does not hurt you, but many others suffer from it."
Kunda Nandini, raising her head, fixed a steadfast look on the face of
Kamal Mani.
Kamal, understanding the silent question, replied, "Ah, unhappy one!
dost thou not see that my brother loves thee?"
Kunda's head again sank on Kamal's breast, which she watered with her
tears. Both wept silently for many minutes.
What the passion of love is the golden Kamal Mani knew very well. In
her innermost heart she sympathized with Kunda, both in her joy and in
her sorrow. Wiping Kunda's eyes she said again, "Kunda, will you go
with me?"
Kunda's eyes again tilled with tears.
More earnestly, Kamal said: "If you are out of sight my brother will
forget you, and you will forget him; otherwise, you will be lost, my
brother will be lost and his wife--the house will go to ruin."
Kunda continued weeping.
Again Kamal asked, "Will you go? Only consider my brother's condition,
his wife's."
Kunda, after a long interval, wiped her eyes, sat up, and said, "I
will go."
Why this consent after so long an interval? Kamal understood that
Kunda had offered up her own life on the temple of the household
peace. Her own peace? Kamal felt that Kunda did not comprehend what
was for her own peace.
CHAPTER XII.
HIRA.
On this occasion, Haridasi _Boisnavi_ entering, sang--
"I went into the thorny forest to pluck a soiled flower--
Yes, my friend, a soiled flower;
I wore it twined about my head, I hung it in my ears--
Friends, a soiled flower."
This day Surja Mukhi was present. She sent to call Kamal to hear the
singing. Kamal came, bringing Kunda Nandini with her. The _Boisnavi_
sang--
"I would die for this blooming thorn,
I will steal its honied sweets,
I go to seek where it doth bloom,
This fresh young bud."
Kamal Mani frowned, and said: "_Boisnavi_ Didi, may ashes be thrown
on your face! Can you not sing something else?"
Haridasi asked, "Why?"
Kamal, more angrily, said: "Why? Bring a bough of the _babla_ tree,
and show her how pleasant it is to be pierced by thorns."
Surja Mukhi said gently: "We do not like songs of that sort; sing
something suitable for the home circle."
The _Boisnavi_, saying "Very well," began to sing--
"By clasping the Pandit's feet, I shall become learned in the Shastras;
Learning thus the holy Shastras, who will dare speak ill of me?"
Kamal, frowning, said: "Listen to this singing if it pleases you,
sister. I shall go away."
She went, and Surja Mukhi also left, with a displeased countenance. Of
the rest of the women, those who relished the song remained, the
others left; Kunda Nandini stayed. She did not understand the hidden
meaning of the songs, she scarcely even heard them. Her thoughts were
absent, so she remained where she was seated. Haridasi sang no more,
but talked on trivial subjects. Seeing that there would be no more
singing, all left except Kunda Nandini, whose feet seemed as though
they would not move. Thus, finding herself alone with Kunda, the
_Boisnavi_ talked much to her. Kunda heard something of her talk, but
not all.
Surja Mukhi saw all this from a distance, and when the two showed
signs of being deep in conversation she called Kamal and pointed them
out to her.
Kamal said: "What of that? they are only talking. She is a woman, not
a man."
"Who knows?" said Surja. "I think it is a man in disguise; but I will
soon find out. How wicked Kunda must be!"
"Stay a moment," said Kamal, "I will fetch a _babla_ branch, and let
her feel its thorns."
Thus saying, Kamal went in search of a bough. On the way she saw
Satish, who had got possession of his aunt's vermilion, and was
seated, daubing neck, nose, chin, and breast with the red powder. At
this sight Kamal forgot the _Boisnavi,_ the bough, Kunda Nandini, and
everything else.
Surja Mukhi sent for the servant Hira.
Hira's name has been mentioned once; it is now needful to give a
particular account of her. Nagendra and his father always took special
care that the female servants of the household should be of good
character. With this design they offered good wages, and sought to
engage servants of a superior class. The women servants of the house
dwelt in happiness and esteem, therefore many respectable women of
small means took service with them. Amongst these Hira was the
principal. Many maid-servants are of the Kaystha caste. Hira was a
Kaystha. Her grandmother had first been engaged as a servant, and
Hira, being then a child, had come with her. When Hira became capable
the old woman gave up service, built herself a house out of her
savings, and dwelt in Govindpur. Hira entered the service of the Datta
family. She was then about twenty years of age, younger than most of
the other servants, but in intelligence and in mental qualities their
superior. Hira had been known in Govindpur from childhood as a widow,
but no one had ever heard anything of her husband, neither had any one
heard of any stain upon her character. She was something of a shrew.
She dressed and adorned herself as one whose husband is living. She
was beautiful, of brilliant complexion, lotus-eyed, short in stature,
her face like the moon covered with clouds, her hair raised in front
like a snake-hood.
Hira was sitting alone singing. She made quarrels among the maids for
her own amusement. She would frighten the cook in the dark, incite the
boys to tease their parents to give them in marriage; if she saw any
one sleeping she would paint the face with lime and ink. Truly she had
many faults, as will appear by degrees. At present I will only add
that if she saw attar or rose-water she would steal it.
Surja Mukhi, calling Hira, said, "Do you know that _Boisnavi_?"
"No," replied Hira. "I was never out of the neighbourhood, how should
I know a _Boisnavi_ beggar-man. Ask the women of the _Thakur bari_;
Karuna or Sitala may know her."
"This is not a _Thakur bari Boisnavi_. I want to know who she is,
where her home is, and why she talks so much with Kunda. If you find
all this out for me I will give you a new Benares _sari_, and send you
to see the play."
At this offer Hira became very zealous, and asked, "When may I go to
make inquiry?"
"When you like; but if you do not follow her now you will not be able
to trace her. Be careful that neither the _Boisnavi_ nor any one else
suspects you."
At this moment Kamal returned, and, approving of Surja Mukhi's design,
said to Hira, "And if you can, prick her with _babla_ thorns."
Hira said: "I will do all, but only a Benares _sari_ will not content
me."
"What do you want?" asked Surja.
"She wants a husband," said Kamal. "Give her in marriage."
"Very well," said Surja. "Would you like to have the _Thakur
Jamai_?[8] Say so, and Kamal will arrange it."
[Footnote 8: _Thakur Jamai_--Kamal Mani's husband.]
"Then I will see," said Hira; "but there is already in the house a
husband suited to my mind."
"Who is it?" asked Surja.
"Death," was Hira's reply.
CHAPTER XIII.
NO!
On the evening of that day, Kunda was sitting near the _talao_[9] in
the middle of the garden. The _talao_ was broad; its water pure and
always blue. The reader will remember that behind this _talao_ was a
flower-garden, in the midst of which stood a white marble house
covered with creepers. In front, a flight of steps led down to the
water. The steps were built of brick to resemble stone, very broad
and clean. On either side grew an aged _bakul_ tree. Beneath these
trees sat Kunda Nandini, alone in the darkening evening, gazing at the
reflection of the sky and stars in the clear water. Here and there
lotus flowers could be dimly seen. On the other three sides of the
_talao_, mango, jak, plum, orange, lichi, cocoanut, kul, bel, and
other fruit-trees grew thickly in rows, looking in the darkness like a
wall with an uneven top. Occasionally the harsh voice of a bird in the
branches broke the silence. The cool wind blowing over the _talao_
caused the water slightly to wet the lotus flowers, gave the reflected
sky an appearance of trembling, and murmured in the leaves above Kunda
Nandini's head. The scent of the flowers of the _bakul_ tree pervaded
the air, mingled with that of jasmine and other blossoms. Everywhere
fireflies flew in the darkness over the clear water, dancing,
sparkling, becoming extinguished. Flying foxes talked to each other;
jackals howled to keep off other animals. A few clouds having lost
their way wandered over the sky; one or two stars fell as though
overwhelmed with grief. Kunda Nandini sat brooding over her troubles.
Thus ran her thoughts: "All my family is gone. My mother, my brother,
my father, all died. Why did I not die? If I could not die, why did I
come here? Does the good man become a star when he dies?" Kunda no
longer remembered the vision she had seen on the night of her father's
death. It did not recur to her mind even now. Only a faint memory of
the scene came to her with the idea that, since she had seen her
mother in vision, that mother must have become a star. So she asked
herself: "Do the good become stars after death? and if so, are all I
loved become stars? Then which are they among those hosts? how can I
determine? Can they see me--I who have wept so much? Let them go, I
will think of them no more. It makes me weep; what is the use of
weeping? Is it my fate to weep? If not, my mother--again these
thoughts! let them go. Would it not be well to die? How to do it?
Shall I drown myself? Should I become a star if I did that? Should I
see? Should I see every day--whom? Can I not say whom? why can I not
pronounce the name? there is no one here who could hear it. Shall I
please myself by uttering it for once? only in thought can I say
it--Nagendra, my Nagendra! Oh, what do I say? my Nagendra! What am I?
Surja Mukhi's Nagendra. How often have I uttered this name, and what
is the use? If he could have married me instead of Surja Mukhi! Let it
go! I shall drown myself. If I were to do that what would happen?
To-morrow I should float on the water; all would hear of it.
Nagendra--again I say it, Nagendra; if Nagendra heard of it what would
he say? It will not do to drown myself; my body would swell, I should
look ugly if he should see me! Can I take poison? What poison? Where
should I get it? Who would bring it for me? Could I take it? I could,
but not to-day. Let me please myself with the thought that he loves
me. Is it true? Kamal Didi said so; but how can she know it? my
conscience will not let me ask. Does he love me? How does he love me?
What does he love--my beauty or me? Beauty? let me see." She went to
examine the reflection of her face in the water, but, failing to see
anything, returned to her former place. "It cannot be; why do I think
of that? Surja Mukhi is more beautiful than I. Haro Mani, Bishu,
Mukta, Chandra, Prasunna, Bama, Pramada, are all more beautiful. Even
Hira is more beautiful; yes, notwithstanding her dark complexion, her
face is more beautiful. Then if it is not beauty, is it disposition?
Let me think. I can't find any attraction in myself. Kamal said it to
satisfy me. Why should he love me? Yet why should Kamal try to flatter
me? Who knows? But I will not die; I will think of that. Though it is
false I will ponder over it; I will think that true which is false.
But I cannot go to Calcutta; I should not see him. I cannot, cannot
go; yet if not, what shall I do? If Kamal's words are true, then those
who have done so much for me are being made to suffer through me. I
can see that there is something in Surja Mukhi's mind. True or false I
will have to go; but I cannot! Then I must drown myself. If I must die
I will die! Oh, my father! did you leave me here to such a fate?"
Then Kunda, putting her hands to her face, gave way to weeping.
Suddenly the vision flashed into her mind; she started as if at a
flash of lightning. "I had forgotten it all," she exclaimed. "Why had
I forgotten it? My mother showed me my destiny, and bade me evade it
by ascending to the stars. Why did I not go? Why did I not die? Why do
I delay now? I will delay no longer." So saying, she began slowly to
descend the steps. Kunda was but a woman, timid and cowardly; at each
step she feared, at each step she shivered. Nevertheless she proceeded
slowly with unshaken purpose to obey her mother's command. At this
moment some one from behind touched her very gently on the shoulder.
Some one said, "Kunda!" Kunda looked round. In the darkness she at
once recognized Nagendra. Kunda thought no more that day of dying.
[Footnote 9: _Talao_--usually rendered "tank" in English; but the word
scarcely does justice to these reservoirs, which with their handsome
flights of steps are quite ornamental.]
And Nagendra, is this the stainless character you have preserved so
long? Is this the return for your Surja Mukhi's devotion? Shame!
shame! you are a thief; you are worse than a thief. What could a
thief have done to Surja Mukhi? He might have stolen her ornaments,
her wealth, but you have come to destroy her heart. Surja Mukhi never
bestowed anything upon the thief, therefore if he stole, he was but a
thief. But to you Surja Mukhi gave her all; therefore you are
committing the worst of thefts. Nagendra, it were better for you to
die. If you have the courage, drown yourself.
Shame! shame! Kunda Nandini; why do you tremble at the touch of a
thief? Why are the words of a thief as a thorn in the flesh? See,
Kunda Nandini! the water is pure, cool, pleasant; will you plunge into
it? will you not die?
Kunda Nandini did not wish to die.
The robber said: "Kunda, will you go to-morrow to Calcutta? Do you go
willingly?"
Willingly--alas! alas! Kunda wiped her eyes, but did not speak.
"Kunda, why do you weep? Listen. With much difficulty I have endured
so long; I cannot bear it longer. I cannot say how I have lived
through it. Though I have struggled so hard, yet see how degraded I
am. I have become a drunkard. I can struggle no longer; I cannot let
you go. Listen, Kunda. Now widow marriage is allowed I will marry you,
if you consent."
This time Kunda spoke; she said "No."
"Why, Kunda? do you think widow marriage unholy?"
"No."
"Then why not? Say, say, will you be my wife or not? will you love me
or no?"
"No."
Then Nagendra, as though he had a thousand tongues, entreated her with
heart-piercing words. Still Kunda said "No."
Nagendra looked at the pure, cold water, and asked himself, "Can I lie
there?"
To herself Kunda said: "No, widow marriage is allowed in the Shastras;
it is not on that account."
Why, then, did she not seek the water?
CHAPTER XIV.
LIKE TO LIKE.
Haridasi _Boisnavi_, returning to the garden-house, suddenly became
Debendra Babu, and sat down and smoked his _huka_, drinking brandy
freely at intervals until he became intoxicated.
Then Surendra entered, sat down by Debendra, and after inquiring after
his health, said, "Where have you been to-day again?"
"Have you heard of this so soon?" said Debendra.
"This is another mistake of yours. You imagine that what you do is
hidden, that no one can know anything about it; but it is known all
over the place."
"I have no desire to hide anything," said Debendra.
"It reflects no credit upon you. So long as you show the least shame
we have some hope of you. If you had any shame left, would you expose
yourself in the village as a _Boisnavi_?"
Said Debendra, laughing, "What a jolly _Boisnavi_ I was! Were you not
charmed with my get-up?"
"I did not see you in that base disguise," replied Surendra, "or I
would have given you a taste of the whip." Then snatching the glass
from Debendra's hand, he said, "Now do listen seriously while you are
in your senses; after that, drink if you will."
"Speak, brother," said Debendra; "why are you angry to-day? I think
the atmosphere of Hembati has corrupted you."
Surendra, lending no ear to his evil words, said, "Whose destruction
are you seeking to compass by assuming this disguise?"
"Do you not know?" was the reply. "Don't you remember the
schoolmaster's marriage to a goddess? This goddess is now a widow, and
lives with the Datta family in that village. I went to see her."
"Have you not gone far enough in vice? Are you not satisfied yet, that
you wish to ruin that unprotected girl? See, Debendra, you are so
sinful, so cruel, so destructive, that we can hardly associate with
you any longer."
Surendra said this with so much firmness that Debendra was quite
stunned. Then he said, seriously: "Do not be angry with me; my heart
is not under my own control. I can give up everything else but the
hope of possessing this woman. Since the day I first saw her in Tara
Charan's house I have been under the power of her beauty. In my eyes
there is no such beauty anywhere. As in fever the patient is burned
with thirst, from that day my passion for her has burned within me. I
cannot relate the many attempts I have made to see her. Until now I
had not succeeded. By means of this _Boisnavi_ dress I have
accomplished my desire. There is no cause for you to fear. She is a
virtuous woman."
"Then why do you go?" asked his friend.
"Only to see her. I cannot describe what satisfaction I have found in
seeing her, talking with her, singing to her."
"I am speaking seriously, not jesting. If you do not abandon this evil
purpose, then our intercourse must end. More than that, I shall become
your enemy."
"You are my only friend," said Debendra; "I would lose half of what I
possess rather than lose you. Still, I confess I would rather lose you
than give up the hope of seeing Kunda Nandini."
"Then it must be so. I can no longer associate with you."
Thus saying, Surendra departed with a sorrowful heart.
Debendra, greatly afflicted at losing his one friend, sat some time in
repentant thought. At length he said: "Let it go! in this world who
cares for any one? Each for himself!"
Then filling his glass he drank, and under the influence of the
liquor his heart quickly became joyous. Closing his eyes, he began to
sing some doggerel beginning--
"My name is Hira, the flower girl."
Presently a voice answered from without--
"My name is Hira Malini.
He is talking in his cups; I can't bear to see it."
Debendra, hearing the voice, called out noisily, "Who are you--a male
or female spirit?"
Then, jingling her bangles, the spirit entered and sat down by
Debendra. The spirit was covered with a _sari_, bracelets on her arms,
on her neck a charm, ornaments in her ears, silver chain round her
waist, on her ankles rings. She was scented with attar.
Debendra held a light near to the face of the spirit. He did not know
her.
Gently he said, "Who are you? and from whence do you come?" Then
holding the light in another direction, he asked, "Whose spirit are
you?" At last, finding he could not steady himself, he said, "Go for
to-day; I will worship you with cakes and flesh of goat on the night
of the dark moon."[10]
[Footnote 10: At the time of the dark moon the Hindus worship Kalee and
her attendant spirits.]
Then the spirit, laughing, said, "Are you well, _Boisnavi Didi_?"
"Good heavens!" said the tipsy one, "are you a spirit from the Datta
family?" Thus saying, he again held the lamp near her face; moving it
hither and thither all round, he gravely examined the woman. At last,
throwing down the lamp, he began to sing, "Who are you? Surely I know
you. Where have I seen you?"
The woman replied, "I am Hira."
"Hurrah! Three cheers for Hira!" Exclaiming thus, the drunken man
began to jump about. Then, falling flat on the floor, he saluted Hira,
and with glass in hand began to sing in her praise.
Hira had discovered during the day that Haridasi _Boisnavi_ and
Debendra Babu were one and the same person. But with what design
Debendra had entered the house of the Dattas it was not so easy to
discover. To find this out, Hira had come to Debendra's house; only
Hira would have had courage for such a deed. She now said:
"What is my purpose? To day a thief entered the Datta's house and
committed a robbery--I have come to seize the robber."
Hearing this, the Babu said: "It is true I went to steal; but, Hira, I
went not to steal jewels or pearls, but to seek flowers and fruits."
"What flower? Kunda?"
"Hurrah! Yes, Kunda. Three cheers for Kunda Nandini! I adore her."
"I have come from Kunda Nandini."
"Hurrah! Speak! speak! What has she sent you to say? Yes, I remember;
why should it not be? For three years we have loved each other."
Hira was astonished, but wishing to hear more, she said: "I did not
know you had loved so long. How did you first make love to her?"
"There is no difficulty in that. From my friendship with Tara Charan,
I asked him to introduce me to his wife. He did so, and from that time
I have loved her."
"After that what happened?" asked Hira.
"After that, because of your mistress's anger, I did not see Kunda for
many days. Then I entered the house as a _Boisnavi_. The girl is very
timid, she will not speak; but the way in which I coaxed her to-day is
sure to take effect. Why should it not succeed? Am I not Debendra?
Learn well, oh lover! the art of winning hearts!"
Then Hira said: "It has become very late; now good-bye," and smiling
gently she arose and departed.
Debendra fell into a drunken sleep.
Early the next morning Hira related to Surja Mukhi all that she had
heard from Debendra--his three years' passion, and his present attempt
to play the lover to Kunda Nandini in the disguise of a _Boisnavi_.
Then Surja Mukhi's blue eyes grew inflamed with anger, the crimson
veins on her temples stood out. Kamal also heard it all.
Surja Mukhi sent for Kunda Nandini, and when she came said to her--
"Kunda, we have learned who Haridasi _Boisnavi_ is. We know that he
is your paramour. I now know your true character. We give no place in
our house to such a woman. Take yourself away from here, otherwise
Hira shall drive you away with a broom."
Kunda trembled. Kamal saw that she was about to fall, and led her away
to her own chamber. Remaining there, she comforted Kunda as well as
she could, saying, "Let the _Bou_ (wife) say what she will, I do not
believe a word of it."
CHAPTER XV.
THE FORLORN ONE.
In the depth of night, when all were sleeping, Kunda Nandini opened
the door of her chamber and went forth. With but one dress, the
seventeen-year-old girl left the house of Surja Mukhi, and leaped
alone into the ocean of the world. Kunda had never set foot outside
the house; she could not tell in which direction to go.
The dark body of the large house loomed against the sky. Kunda
wandered for some time in the dark; then she remembered that a light
was usually to be seen from Nagendra's room. She knew how to reach
the spot; and thinking that she would refresh her eyes by seeking that
light, she went to that side of the house. The shutters were open, the
sash closed. In the darkness three lights gleamed; insects were
hovering near trying to reach the light, but the glass repelled them.
Kunda in her heart sympathized with these insects. Her infatuated eyes
dwelt upon the light; she could not bring herself to leave it. She sat
beneath some casuarina-trees near the window, every now and then
watching the fireflies dancing in the trees. In the sky black clouds
chased each other, only a star or two being visible at intervals. All
round the house rows of casuarina-trees raising their heads into the
clouds, stood like apparitions of the night. At the touch of the wind
these giant-faced apparitions whispered in their ghost language over
Kunda Nandini's head. The very ghosts, in their fear of the terrible
night, spoke in low voices. Occasionally the open shutters of the
window flapped against the walls. Black owls hooted as they sat upon
the house; sometimes a dog seeing another animal rushed after it;
sometimes a twig or a fruit fell to the ground. In the distance the
cocoanut palms waved their heads, the rustling of the leaves of the
fan palm reached the ear. Over all the light streamed, and the insect
troop came and went. Kunda sat there gazing.
A sash is gently opened; the figure of a man appears against the
light. Alas! it is Nagendra's figure. Nagendra, what if you should
discover the flower, Kunda, under the trees? What if, seeing you in
the window, the sound of her beating heart should make itself heard?
What if, hearing this sound, she should know that if you move and
become invisible her happiness will be gone? Nagendra, you are
standing out of the light; move it so that she can see you. Kunda is
very wretched; stand there that the clear water of the pool with the
stars reflected in it may not recur to her mind. Listen! the black owl
hoots! Should you move, Kunda will be terrified by the lightning. See
there! the black clouds, pressed by the wind, meet as though in
battle. There will be a rainstorm: who will shelter Kunda? See there!
you have opened the sash, swarms of insects are rushing into your
room. Kunda thinks, "If I am virtuous, shall I be born again as an
insect?" Kunda thinks she would like to share the fate of the insects.
"I have scorched myself, why do I not die?"
Nagendra, shutting the sash, moves away. Cruel! what harm you have done.
You have no business waking in the night; go to sleep. Kunda Nandini is
dying; let her die!--she would gladly do so to save you a headache. Now
the lightened window has become dark. Looking--looking--wiping her eyes,
Kunda Nandini arose and took the path before her. The ghost-like shrubs,
murmuring, asked, "Whither goest thou?" the fan palms rustled, "Whither
dost thou go?" the owl's deep voice asked the same question. The window
said, "Let her go--no more will I show to her _Nagendra_." Then foolish
Kunda Nandini gazed once more in that direction.
Oh, iron-hearted Surja Mukhi, arise! think what you have done. Make
the forlorn one return.
Kunda went on, on, on; again the clouds clashed, the sky became as
night, the lightning flashed, the wind moaned, the clouds thundered.
Kunda! Kunda! whither goest thou? The storm came--first the sound,
then clouds of dust, then leaves torn from the trees borne by the
wind; at last, plash, plash, the rain. Kunda, with thy one garment,
whither goest thou?
By the flashes of lightning Kunda saw a hut: its walls were of mud,
supporting a low roof. She sat down within the doorway, resting
against the door. In doing this she made some noise. The house owner
being awake heard the noise, but thought it was made by the storm; but
a dog, who slept within near the door, barking loudly, alarmed the
householder, who timidly opened the door, and seeing only a desolate
woman, asked, "Who is there?" No reply. "Who are you, woman?"
Kunda said, "I am standing here because of the storm."
"What? What? Speak again."
Kunda repeated her words.
The householder recognizing the voice, drew Kunda indoors, and, making
a fire, discovered herself to be Hira. She comforted Kunda, saying,
"I understand--you have run away from the scolding; have no fear, I
will tell no one. You shall stay with me for a couple of days."
Hira's dwelling was surrounded by a wall. Inside were a couple of
clean mud-built huts. The walls of the rooms were decorated with
figures of flowers, birds, and gods. In the court-yard grew red-leaved
vegetables, and near them jasmine and roses. The gardener from the
Babu's house had planted them. If Hira had wished, he would have given
her anything from the Babu's garden. His profit in this was that Hira
with her own hand prepared his huka and handed it to him.
In one of the huts Hira slept; in the other her grandmother. Hira made
up a bed for Kunda beside her own. Kunda lay there, but did not sleep.
Kunda desired to remain hidden, and therefore consented to be locked
in the room on the following day when Hira went to her work, so that
she should not be seen by the grandmother. At noon, when the
grandmother went to bathe, Hira, coming home, permitted Kunda to bathe
and eat. After this meal Kunda was again locked in, and Hira returned
to her work till night, when she again made up the beds as before.
Creak, creak, creak--the sound of the chain of the outer door gently
shaken. Hira was astonished. One person only, the gatekeeper,
sometimes shook the chain to give warning at night. But in his hand
the chain did not speak so sweetly; it spoke threateningly, as though
to say, "If you do not open, I will break the door." Now it seemed to
say, "How are you, my Hira? Arise, my jewel of a Hira!" Hira arose,
and opening the outer door saw a woman. At first she was puzzled, but
in a moment, recognizing the visitor, she exclaimed, "Oh, _Ganga
jal_![11] how fortunate I am!"
[Footnote 11: _Ganga jal_--Ganges water; a pet name given by Hira to
Malati. To receive this at the moment of death it essential to
salvation; therefore Hira expresses the hope to meet Malati in the
hour of death.]
Hira's _Ganga jal_ was Malati the milk-woman, whose home was at
Debipur, near Debendra Babu's house. She was a merry woman, from
thirty to thirty-two years of age, dressed in a _sari_ and wearing
shell bracelets, her lips red from the spices she ate; her complexion
was almost fair, with red spots on her cheeks; her nose flat, her
temples tattooed, a quid of tobacco in her cheek. Malati was not a
servant of Debendra's, not even a dependent, but yet a follower; the
services that others refused to perform, he obtained from her.
At sight of this woman the cunning Hira said: "Sister _Ganga jal_! may
I meet you at my last moment; but why have you come now?"
Malati whispered, "Debendra Babu wants you."
Hira, with a laugh: "Are you not to get anything?"
Malati answered, "You best know what you mean. Come at once."
As Hira desired to go, she told Kunda that she was called to her
master's house, and must go to see what was wanted. Then extinguishing
the light, she put on her dress and ornaments, and accompanied _Ganga
jal_, the two singing as they went some love song.
Hira went alone into Debendra's _boita khana_. He had been drinking,
but not heavily; he was quite sensible. His manner to Hira was
altogether changed; he paid her no compliments, but said: "I had taken
so much that evening that I did not understand what you said. Why did
you come that night? it is to know this that I have sent for you. You
told me Kunda Nandini sent you, but you did not give her message. I
suppose that was because you found me so much overcome; but you can
tell me now."
"Kunda Nandini did not send me to say anything."
"Then why did you come?" replied Debendra.
"I only came to see you."
Debendra laughed. "You are very intelligent. Nagendra Babu is
fortunate in possessing such a servant. I thought the talk about Kunda
Nandini was a mere pretence. You came to inquire after Haridasi
_Boisnavi_. You came to know my design in wearing the _Boisnavi_ garb;
why I went to the Datta house: this you came to learn, and in part you
accomplished your purpose. I do not seek to hide the matter. You did
your master's work, and have received your reward from him, no doubt.
I have a commission for you; do it, and I also will reward you."
It would be an unpleasant task to relate in detail the speech of a man
so deeply sunk in vice. Debendra, promising Hira an abundant reward,
proposed to buy Kunda Nandini.
At his words Hira's eyes reddened, her ears became like fire. When he
had finished she rose and said--
"Sir, addressing me as a servant, you have said this to me. It is not
for me to reply. I will tell my master, and he will give you a
suitable answer." Then she went quickly out.
For some moments Debendra sat puzzled and cowed. Then to revive
himself he returned to the brandy, and the songs in which he usually
indulged.
CHAPTER XVI.
HIRA'S ENVY
Rising in the morning, Hira went to her work. For the past two days
there had been a great tumult in the Datta house, because Kunda
Nandini was not to be found. It was known to all the household that
she had gone away in anger. It was also known to some of the
neighbours. Nagendra heard that Kunda had gone, but no one told him
the reason. He thought to himself, "Kunda has left because she does
not think it right to remain in the house after what I said to her. If
so, why does she not go with Kamal?" Nagendra's brow was clouded. No
one ventured to come near him. He knew not what fault Surja Mukhi had
committed, yet he held no intercourse with her, but sent a female spy
into the neighbourhood to make search for Kunda Nandini.
Surja Mukhi was much distressed on hearing of Kunda's flight,
especially as Kamal Mani had assured her that what Debendra had said
was not worthy of credit: for if she had had any bond with Debendra
during three years, it could not have remained unknown; and Kunda's
disposition gave no reason for suspicion of such a thing. Debendra was
a drunkard, and in his cups he spoke falsely. Thinking over this,
Surja Mukhi's distress increased. In addition to that, her husband's
displeasure hurt her severely. A hundred times she abused Kunda--a
thousand times she blamed herself. She also sent people in search of
Kunda.
Kamal's postponed her departure for Calcutta. She abused no one. She
did not use a word of scolding to Surja Mukhi. Loosening her necklace
from her throat, she showed it to all the household, saying, "I will
give this to whomsoever will bring Kunda back."
The guilty Hira heard and saw all this, but said nothing. Seeing the
necklace she coveted it, but repressed her desire. On the second day,
arranging her work, she went at noon, at which hour her grandmother
would be bathing, to give Kunda her meal. At night the two made their
bed, and laid down together. Neither Hira nor Kunda slept: Kunda was
kept awake by her sorrow; Hira by the mingled happiness and trouble of
her thoughts. But whatever her thoughts were she did not give them
words--they remained hidden.
Oh, Hira! Hira! you have not an evil countenance, you too are young;
why this vice in your heart? Why did the Creator betray her? Because
the Creator betrayed her, does she therefore wish to betray others? If
Hira were in Surja Mukhi's place, would she be so deceitful? Hira says
"No!" But sitting in Hira's place she speaks as Hira. People say all
evil that occurs is brought about by the wicked. Wicked people say, "I
should have been virtuous, but through the faults of others have
become evil." Some say, "Why has not five become seven?" Five says, "I
would have been seven, but two and five make seven. If the Creator or
the Creator's creatures had given me two more, I should have been
seven." So thought Hira.
Hira said to herself: "Now what shall I do? Since the Creator has
given me the opportunity, why should I lose it through my own fault?
On the one side, if I take Kunda home to the Dattas, Kamal will give
me the necklace, and the _Grihini_ also will give me something. Shall
I spare the Babu? On the other hand, if I give Kunda to Debendra Babu,
I shall get a large sum of money at once. But I can't do that. Why
does Debendra think Kunda so beautiful? If I had good food, dressed
well, took my ease like a fine lady in a picture, I could be the same.
So simple a creature as Kunda can never understand the merits of
Debendra Babu. If there were no mud there would be no lotus, and Kunda
is the only woman who can excite love in Debendra Babu. Every one to
their destiny! But why am I angry? Why should I trouble myself? I
used to jest at love--I used to say it is mere talk, a mere story. Now
I laugh no longer. I used to say, 'If anyone loves let him love; I
shall never love any one.' Fate said, 'Wait, you will see by and by.'
In trying to seize the robber of other's wealth, I have lost my own
heart. What a face! what a neck! what a figure! is there another man
like him? That the fellow should tell _me_ to bring Kunda to him!
Could he set no one else this task? I could have struck him in the
face! I have come to love him so dearly, I could even find pleasure in
striking him. But let that pass. In that path there is danger; I must
not think of it. I have long ceased to look for joy or sorrow in this
life. Nevertheless, I cannot give Kunda into Debendra's hand; the
thought of it torments me. Rather I will so manage that she shall not
fall in his way. How shall I effect that? I will place Kunda where she
was before, thus she will escape him. Whether he dress as _Boisnavi_
or _Vasudeva_,[12] he will not obtain admission into that house;
therefore it will be well to take Kunda back there. But she will not
go! Her face is set against the house. But if all coax her she must
go. Another design I have in my mind; will God permit me to carry it
out? Why am I so angry with Surja Mukhi? She never did me any harm; on
the contrary, she loves me and is kind to me. Why, then, am I angry?
Because Surja Mukhi is happy, and I am miserable; she is great, I am
mean; she is mistress, I am servant; therefore my anger against her is
strong. If, you say, God made her great, how is that her fault? Why
should I hurt her? I reply, God has done me harm. Is that my fault? I
do not wish to hurt her, but if hurting her benefits me, why should I
not do it? Who does not seek his own advantage? Now I want money; I
can't endure servitude any longer. Where will money come from? From
the Datta house--where else? To get the Datta money, then, must be my
object. Every one knows that Nagendra Babu's eyes have fallen on
Kunda; the Babu worships her. What great people wish, they can
accomplish. The only obstacle is Surja Mukhi. If the two should
quarrel, then the great Surja Mukhi's wish will no longer be regarded.
Now, let me see if I cannot bring about a quarrel. If that is done,
the Babu will be free to worship Kunda. At present Kunda is but an
innocent, but I will make her wise; I will soon bring her into
subjection. She can be of much assistance to me. If I give my mind to
it, I can make her do what I will. If the Babu devotes himself to
Kunda, he will do what she bids him; and she shall do what I bid her.
So shall I receive the fruits of his devotion. If I am not to serve
longer, this is the way it must be brought about. I will give Kunda
Nandini to Nagendra, but not suddenly. I will hide her for a few days
and see what happens. Love is deepened by separation. If I keep them
apart the Babu's love will ripen. Then I will bring out Kunda and give
her to him. Then if Surja Mukhi's fate is not broken, it must be a
very strong fate. In the meantime I will mould Kunda to my will. But,
first, I must send my grandmother to Kamarghat, else I cannot keep
Kunda hidden."
[Footnote 12: _Vasudeva_--the father of Krishna.]
With this design, Hira set about her arrangements. On some pretext she
induced her grandmother to go to the house of a relative in the
village of Kamarghat, and kept Kunda closely concealed in her own
house. Kunda, seeing all her zeal and care, thought to herself, "There
is no one living so good as Hira. Even Kamal does not love me so
much."
CHAPTER XVII.
HIRA'S QUARREL. THE BUD OF THE POISON TREE.
"Yes, that will do. Kunda shall submit. But if we do not make Surja
Mukhi appear as poison in the eyes of Nagendra, nothing can be
accomplished."
So Hira set herself to divide the hearts hitherto undivided.
One morning early, the wicked Hira came into her mistress's house
ready for work. There was a servant in the Datta household named
Kousalya, who hated Hira because she was head servant and enjoyed the
favour of the mistress. Hira said to her: "Sister Kushi, I feel very
strange to-day; will you do my work for me?"
Kousalya feared Hira, therefore she said: "Of course I will do it; we
are all subject to illness, and all the subjects of one mistress."
It had been Hira's wish that Kousalya should give no reply, and she
would make that a pretext for a quarrel. So, shaking her head, she
said: "You presume so far as to abuse me?"
Astonished, Kousalya said: "When did I abuse any one?"
"What!" said Hira, angrily, "you deny it? Why did you speak of my
illness? Do you think I am going to die? You hope that I am ill that
you may show people how good you are to me. May you be ill yourself."
"Be it so! Why are you angry, sister? You must die some day; Death
will not forget you, nor will he forget me."
"May Death never forget you! You envy me! May you die of envy! May
your life be short! Go to destruction! May blindness seize upon you!"
Kousalya could bear no more. She began to return these good wishes in
similar terms. In the act of quarrelling Kousalya was the superior.
Therefore Hira got her deserts.
Then Hira went to complain to her mistress. If any one could have
looked at her as she went, they would have seen no signs of anger on
her face, but rather a smile on her lips. But when she reached her
mistress, her face expressed great anger, and she began by using the
weapon given by God to woman--that is to say, she shed a flood of
tears.
Surja Mukhi inquired into the cause. On hearing the complaint, she
judged that Hira was in fault. Nevertheless, for her sake, she scolded
Kousalya slightly.
Not being satisfied with that, Hira said: "You must dismiss that
woman, or I will not remain."
Then Surja Mukhi was much vexed with Hira, and said: "You are very
encroaching, Hira; you began the quarrel, the fault was entirely
yours, and now you want me to dismiss the woman. I will do nothing so
unjust. Go, if you will. I will not bid you stay."
This was just what Hira wanted. Saying "Very well, I go," her eyes
streaming with tears, she presented herself before the Babu in the
outer apartments.
The Babu was alone in the _boita khana_--he was usually alone now.
Seeing Hira weeping, he asked, "Why do you weep, Hira?"
"I have been told to come for my wages."
Nagendra, astonished, asked: "What has happened?"
"I am dismissed. _Ma Thakurani_ (the mistress) has dismissed me."
"What have you done?" asked Nagendra.
"Kushi abused me; I complained: the mistress believes her account and
dismisses me."
Nagendra, shaking his head and laughing, said: "That is not a likely
story, Hira; tell the truth."
Hira then, speaking plainly, said: "The truth is I will not stay."
"Why?"
"The mistress has become quite altered. One never knows what to expect
from her."
Nagendra, frowning, said in a sharp voice: "What does that mean?"
Hira now brought in the fact she had wished to report.
"What did she not say that day to Kunda Nandini Thakurani? On hearing
it, Kunda left the house. Our fear is that some day something of the
same kind should be said to us. We could not endure that, therefore I
chose to anticipate it."
"What are you talking about?" asked Nagendra.
"I cannot tell you for shame."
Nagendra's brow became dark. He said: "Go home for to-day; I will call
you to-morrow."
Hira's desire was accomplished. With this design she had quarrelled
with Kousalya.
Nagendra rose and went to Surja Mukhi. Stepping lightly, Hira followed
him.
Taking Surja Mukhi aside, he asked, "Have you dismissed Hira?"
Surja Mukhi replied, "Yes," and then related the particulars.
On hearing them, Nagendra said: "Let her go. What did you say to Kunda
Nandini?"
Nagendra saw that Surja Mukhi turned pale.
"What did I say to her?" she stammered.
"Yes; what evil words did you use to her?"
Surja Mukhi remained silent some moments. Then she said--
"You are my all, my present and my future; why should I hide anything
from you? I did speak harshly to Kunda; then, fearing you would be
angry, I said nothing to you about it. Forgive me that offence; I am
telling you all."
Then she related the whole matter frankly, from the discovery of the
_Boisnavi_ Haridasi to the reproof she had given to Kunda. At the end
she said--
"I am deeply sorrowful that I have driven Kunda Nandini away. I have
sent everywhere in search of her. If I had found her, I would have
brought her back."
Nagendra said--
"Your fault is not great. Could any respectable man's wife, hearing of
such a stain, give refuge to the guilty person? But would it not have
been well to think a little whether the charge was true? Did you not
know of the talk about Tara Charan's house? Had you not heard that
Debendra had been introduced to Kunda three years before? Why did you
believe a drunkard's words?"
"I did not think of that at the time. Now I do. My mind was
wandering." As she spoke the faithful wife sank at Nagendra's feet,
and clasping them with her hands, wetted them with her tears. Then
raising her face, she said: "Oh, dearer than life, I will conceal
nothing that is in my mind."
Nagendra said: "You need not speak; I know that you suspect me of
feeling love for Kunda Nandini."
Surja Mukhi, hiding her face at the feet of her husband, wept. Again
raising her face, sad and tearful as the dew-drenched lily, and
looking into the face of him who could remove all her sorrows, she
said: "What can I say? Can I tell you what I have suffered? Only lest
my death might increase your sorrow, I do not die. Otherwise, when I
knew that another shared your heart, I wished to die. But people
cannot die by wishing to do so."
Nagendra remained long silent; then, with a heavy sigh, he said--
"Surja Mukhi, the fault is entirely mine, not yours at all. I have
indeed been unfaithful to you; in truth, forgetting you, my heart has
gone out towards Kunda Nandini. What I have suffered, what I do
suffer, how can I tell you? You think I have not tried to conquer it;
but you must not think so. You could never reproach me so bitterly as
I have reproached myself. I am sinful; I cannot rule my own heart."
Surja Mukhi could endure no more. With clasped hands, she entreated
bitterly--
"Tell me no more; keep it to yourself. Every word you say pierces my
breast like a dart. What was written in my destiny has befallen me. I
wish to hear no more; it is not fit for me to hear."
"Not so, Surja Mukhi," replied Nagendra; "you must listen. Let me
speak what I have long striven to say. I will leave this house; I will
not die, but I will go elsewhere. Home and family no longer give me
happiness. I have no pleasure with you. I am not fit to be your
husband. I will trouble you no longer. I will find Kunda Nandini, and
will go with her to another place. Do you remain mistress of this
house. Regard yourself as a widow--since your husband is so base, are
you not a widow? But, base as I am, I will not deceive you. Now I go:
if I am able to forget Kunda, I will come again; if not, this is my
last hour with you."
What could Surja Mukhi say to these heart-piercing words? For some
moments she stood like a statue, gazing on the ground. Then she cast
herself down, hid her face, and wept.
As the murderous tiger gazes at the dying agonies of his prey,
Nagendra stood calmly looking on. He was thinking, "She will die
to-day or to-morrow, as God may will. What can I do? If I willed it,
could I die instead of her? I might die; but would that save Surja
Mukhi?"
No, Nagendra, your dying would not save Surja Mukhi; but it would be
well for you to die.
After a time Surja Mukhi sat up; again clasping her husband's feet,
she said: "Grant me one boon."
"What is it?"
"Remain one month longer at home. If in that time we do not find Kunda
Nandini, then go; I will not keep you."
Nagendra went out without reply. Mentally he consented to remain for a
month; Surja Mukhi understood that. She stood looking after his
departing figure, thinking within herself: "My darling, I would give
my life to extract the thorns from your feet. You would leave your
home on account of this wretched Surja Mukhi. Are you or I the
greater?"
CHAPTER XVIII.
THE CAGED BIRD.
Hira had lost her place, but her relation with the Datta family was
not ended. Ever greedy for news from that house, whenever she met any
one belonging to it Hira entered into a gossip. In this way she
endeavoured to ascertain the disposition of Nagendra towards Surja
Mukhi. If she met no one she found some pretext for going to the
house, where, in the servants' quarters, while talking of all sorts of
matters, she would learn what she wished and depart. Thus some time
passed; but one day an unpleasant event occurred. After Hira's
interview with Debendra, Malati the milk-woman became a constant
visitor at Hira's dwelling. Malati perceived that Hira was not pleased
at this; also that one room remained constantly closed. The door was
secured by a chain and padlock on the outside; but Malati coming in
unexpectedly, perceived that the padlock was absent. Malati removed
the chain and pushed the door, but it was fastened inside, and she
guessed that some one must be in the room. She asked herself who it
could be? At first she thought of a lover; but then, whose lover?
Malati knew everything that went on, so she dismissed this idea. Then
the thought flashed across her that it might be Kunda, of whose
expulsion from the house of Nagendra she had heard. She speedily
determined upon a means of resolving her doubt.
Hira had brought from Nagendra's house a young deer, which, because of
its restlessness, she kept tied up. Malati, pretending to feed the
creature, loosened the fastening, and it instantly bounded away. Hira
ran after it.
Seizing the opportunity of Hira's absence, Malati began to call out in
a voice of distress: "Hira! Hira! What has happened to my Hira?" Then
rapping at Kunda's door, she exclaimed: "Kunda Thakurun, come out
quickly; something has happened to Hira!"
In alarm Kunda opened the door; whereupon Malati, with a laugh of
triumph, ran away. Kunda again shut herself in. She did not say
anything of the circumstance to Hira, lest she should be scolded.
Malati went with her news to Debendra, who resolved to visit Hira's
house on the following day, and bring the matter to a conclusion.
Kunda was now a caged bird, ever restless. Two currents uniting become
a powerful stream. So it was in Kunda's heart. On one side shame,
insult, expulsion by Surja Mukhi; on the other, passion for Nagendra.
By the union of these two streams that of passion was increased, the
smaller was swallowed up in the larger. The pain of the taunts and the
insults began to fade; Surja Mukhi no longer found place in Kunda's
mind, Nagendra occupied it entirely. She began to think, "Why was I
so hasty in leaving the house? What harm did a few words do to me? I
used to see Nagendra, now I never see him. Could I go back there? if
she would not drive me away I would go." Day and night Kunda revolved
these thoughts; she soon determined that she must return to the Datta
house or she would die; that even if Surja Mukhi should again drive
her away, she must make the attempt. Yet on what pretext could she
present herself in the court-yard of the house? She would be ashamed to
go thither alone. If Hira would accompany her she might venture; but
she was ashamed to open her mouth to Hira.
Her heart could no longer endure not to see its lord. One morning,
about four o'clock, while Hira was still sleeping, Kunda Nandini
arose, and opening the door noiselessly, stepped out of the house. The
dark fortnight being ended, the slender moon floated in the sky like a
beautiful maiden on the ocean. Darkness lurked in masses amid the
trees. The air was so still that the lotus in the weed-covered pool
bordering the road did not shed its seed; the dogs were sleeping by
the wayside; nature was full of sweet pensiveness. Kunda, guessing the
road, went with doubtful steps to the front of the Datta house; she
had no design in going, except that she might by a happy chance see
Nagendra. Her return to his house might come about; let it occur when
it would, what harm was there in the meantime in trying to see him
secretly? While she remained shut up in Hira's house she had no chance
of doing so. Now, as she walked, she thought, "I will go round the
house; I may see him at the window, in the palace, in the garden, or
in the path." Nagendra was accustomed to rise early; it was possible
Kunda might obtain a glimpse of him, after which she meant to return
to Hira's dwelling. But when she arrived at the house she saw nothing
of Nagendra, neither in the path, nor on the roof, nor at the window.
Kunda thought, "He has not risen yet, it is not time; I will sit
down." She sat waiting amid the darkness under the trees; a fruit or a
twig might be heard, in the silence, loosening itself with a slight
cracking sound and falling to the earth. The birds in the boughs shook
their wings overhead, and occasionally the sound of the watchmen
knocking at the doors and giving their warning cry was to be heard. At
length the cool wind blew, forerunner of the dawn, and the _papiya_ (a
bird) filled the air with its musical voice. Presently the cuckoo
uttered his cry, and at length all the birds uniting raised a chorus
of song. Then Kunda's hope was extinguished; she could no longer sit
under the trees, for the dawn had come and she might be seen by any
one. She rose to return. One hope had been strong in her mind. There
was a flower-garden attached to the inner apartments, where sometimes
Nagendra took the air. He might be walking there now; Kunda could not
go away without seeing if it were so. But the garden was walled in,
and unless the inner door was open there was no entrance. Going
thither, Kunda found the door open, and, stepping boldly in, hid
herself within the boughs of a _bakul_ tree growing in the midst.
Thickly-planted rows of creeper-covered trees decked the garden,
between which were fine stone-made paths, and here and there flowering
shrubs of various hues--red, white, blue, and yellow. Above them
hovered troops of insects, coveting the morning honey, now poising,
now flying, humming as they went; and, following the example of man,
settling in flocks on some specially attractive flower. Many-coloured
birds of small size, flower-like themselves, hovered over the
blossoms, sipping the sweet juices and pouring forth a flood of
melody. The flower-weighted branches swayed in the gentle breeze, the
flowerless boughs remaining still, having nothing to weigh them down.
The cuckoo, proud bird, concealing his dark colour in the tufts of the
_bakul_ tree, triumphed over every one with his song.
In the middle of the garden stood a creeper-covered arbour of white
stone, surrounded by flowering shrubs. Kunda Nandini, looking forth
from the _bakul_ tree, saw not Nagendra's tall and god-like form. She
saw some one lying on the floor of the arbour, and concluded that it
was he. She went forward to obtain a better new. Unfortunately the
person arose and came out, and poor Kunda saw that it was not
Nagendra, but Surja Mukhi. Frightened, Kunda stood still, she could
neither advance nor recede. She saw that Surja Mukhi was walking about
gathering flowers. Gradually Nagendra's wife approaching the _bakul_
tree, saw some one lurking within its branches. Not recognizing Kunda,
Surja Mukhi said, "Who are you?"
Kunda could not speak for fear; her feet refused to move.
At length Surja Mukhi saw who it was, and exclaimed, "Is it not
Kunda?"
Kunda could not answer; but Surja Mukhi, seizing her hand, said,
"Come, sister, I will not say anything more to you!" and took her
indoors.
CHAPTER XIX.
DESCENT.
On the night of that day, Debendra Datta, alone, in disguise, excited
by wine, went to Hira's house in search of Kunda Nandini. He looked in
the two huts, but Kunda was not there. Hira, covering her face with
her _sari_, laughed at his discomfiture. Annoyed, Debendra said, "Why
do you laugh?"
"At your disappointment. The bird has fled; should you search my
premises you will not find it."
Then, in reply to Debendra's questions, Hira told all she knew,
concluding with the words, "When I missed her in the morning I sought
her everywhere, and at last found her in the Babu's house receiving
much kindness."
Debendra's hopes thus destroyed, he had nothing to detain him; but the
doubt in his mind was not dispelled, he wished to sit a little and
obtain further information. Noting a cloud or two in the sky he moved
restlessly, saying, "I think it is going to rain."
It was Hira's wish that he should sit awhile; but she was a woman,
living alone; it was night, she could not bid him stay, if she did she
would be taking another step in the downward course. Yet that was in
her destiny.
Debendra said, "Have you an umbrella?" There was no such thing in
Hira's house. Then he asked, "Will it cause remark if I sit here until
the rain is past?"
"People will remark upon it, certainly; but the mischief has been done
already in your coming to my house at night."
"Then I may sit down?"
Hira did not answer, but made a comfortable seat for him on the bench,
took a silver-mounted _huka_ from a chest, prepared it for use and
handed it to him.
Debendra drew a flask of brandy from his pocket, and drank some of it
undiluted. Under the influence of this spirit he perceived that Hira's
eyes were beautiful. In truth they were so--large, dark, brilliant,
and seductive. He said, "Your eyes are heavenly!" Hira smiled.
Debendra saw in a corner a broken violin. Humming a tune, he took the
violin and touched it with the bow. "Where did you get this
instrument?" he asked.
"I bought it of a beggar."
Debendra made it perform a sort of accompaniment to his voice, as he
sang some song in accordance with his mood.
Hira's eyes shone yet more brilliantly. For a few moments she forgot
self, forgot Debendra's position and her own. She thought, "He is the
husband, I am the wife; the Creator, making us for each other,
designed long ago to bring us together, that we might both enjoy
happiness." The thoughts of the infatuated Hira found expression in
speech. Debendra discovered from her half-spoken words that she had
given her heart to him. The words were hardly uttered when Hira
recovered consciousness. Then, with the wild look of a frantic
creature, she exclaimed, "Go from my house!"
Astonished, Debendra said, "What is the matter, Hira?"
"You must go at once, or I shall."
"Why do you drive me away?" said Debendra.
"Go, go, else I will call some one. Why should you destroy me?"
"Is this woman's nature?" asked Debendra.
Hira, enraged, answered: "The nature of woman is not evil. The nature
of such a man as you is very evil. You have no religion, you care
nothing for the fate of others; you go about seeking only your own
delight, thinking only what woman you can destroy. Otherwise, why are
you sitting in my house? Was it not your design to compass my
destruction? You thought me to be a courtezan, else you would not
have had the boldness to sit down here. But I am not a courtezan; I am
a poor woman, and live by my labour. I have no leisure for such evil
doings. If I had been a rich man's wife, I can't say how it would have
been."
Debendra frowned.
Then Hira softened; she looked full at Debendra and said: "The sight
of your beauty and your gifts has made me foolish, but you are not to
think of me as a courtezan. The sight of you makes me happy, and on
that account I wished you to stay. I could not forbid you; but I am a
woman. If I were too weak to forbid you, ought you to have sat down?
You are very wicked; you entered my house in order to destroy me. Now
leave the place!"
Debendra, taking another draught of brandy, said: "Well done, Hira!
you have made a capital speech. Will you give a lecture in our Brahmo
Samaj?"
Stung to the quick by this mockery, Hira said, bitterly: "I am not to
be made a jest of by you. Even if I loved so base a man as you, such
love would be no fit subject for a jest. I am not virtuous; I don't
understand virtue; my mind is not turned in that direction. The reason
I told you I was not a courtezan is because I am resolved not to bring
a stain upon my character in the hope of winning your love. If you had
a spark of love for me, I would have made no such pledge to myself. I
am not speaking of virtue; I should think nothing of infamy compared
with the treasure of your love; but you do not love me. For what
reward should I incur ill-fame? For what gain should I give up my
independence? If a young woman falls into your hands, you will not let
her go. If I were to give you my worship, you would accept it; but
to-morrow you would forget me, or, if you remembered, it would be to
jest over my words with your companions. Why, then, should I become
subject to you? Should the day come when you can love me, I will be
your devoted servant."
In this manner Debendra discovered Hira's affection for himself. He