Skip to content
Switch branches/tags

Name already in use

A tag already exists with the provided branch name. Many Git commands accept both tag and branch names, so creating this branch may cause unexpected behavior. Are you sure you want to create this branch?
Go to file
Cannot retrieve contributors at this time
Mashi 3
The Skeleton 31
The Auspicious Vision 49
The Supreme Night 61
Raja and Rani 77
The Trust Property 87
The Riddle solved 107
The Elder Sister 123
Subha 145
The Postmaster 159
The River Stairs 173
The Castaway 185
Saved 207
My Fair Neighbour 215
[1] The maternal aunt is addressed as Mashi.
'Try to sleep, Jotin, it is getting late.'
'Never mind if it is. I have not many days left. I was thinking that
Mani should go to her father's house.--I forget where he is now.'
'Oh yes! Sitarampur. Send her there. She should not remain any longer
near a sick man. She herself is not strong.'
'Just listen to him! How can she bear to leave you in this state?'
'Does she know what the doctors----?'
'But she can see for herself! The other day she cried her eyes out at
the merest hint of having to go to her father's house.'
We must explain that in this statement there was a slight distortion
of truth, to say the least of it. The actual talk with Mani was as
* * * * *
'I suppose, my child, you have got some news from your father? I
thought I saw your cousin Anath here.'
'Yes! Next Friday will be my little sister's _annaprashan_[2]
ceremony. So I'm thinking----'
[2] The _annaprashan_ ceremony takes place when a child is first given
rice. Usually it receives its name on that day.
'All right, my dear. Send her a gold necklace. It will please your
'I'm thinking of going myself. I've never seen my little sister, and
I want to ever so much.'
'Whatever do you mean? You surely don't think of leaving Jotin alone?
Haven't you heard what the doctor says about him?'
'But he said that just now there's no special cause for----'
'Even if he did, you can see his state.'
'This is the first girl after three brothers, and she's a great
favourite.--I have heard that it's going to be a grand affair. If I
don't go, mother will be very----'
'Yes, yes! I don't understand your mother. But I know very well that
your father will be angry enough if you leave Jotin just now.'
'You'll have to write a line to him saying that there is no special
cause for anxiety, and that even if I go, there will be no----'
'You're right there; it will certainly be no great loss if you do go.
But remember, if I write to your father, I'll tell him plainly what
is in my mind.'
'Then you needn't write. I shall ask my husband, and he will
'Look here, child, I've borne a good deal from you, but if you do
that, I won't stand it for a moment. Your father knows you too well
for you to deceive him.'
* * * * *
When Mashi had left her, Mani lay down on her bed in a bad temper.
Her neighbour and friend came and asked what was the matter.
'Look here! What a shame it is! Here's my only sister's _annaprashan_
coming, and they don't want to let me go to it!'
'Why! Surely you're never thinking of going, are you, with your
husband so ill?'
'I don't do anything for him, and I couldn't if I tried. It's so
deadly dull in this house, that I tell you frankly I can't bear it.'
'You are a strange woman!'
'But I can't pretend, as you people do, and look glum lest any one
should think ill of me.'
'Well, tell me your plan.'
'I must go. Nobody can prevent me.'
'Isss! What an imperious young woman you are!'
Hearing that Mani had wept at the mere thought of going to her father's
house, Jotin was so excited that he sat up in bed. Pulling his pillow
towards him, he leaned back, and said: 'Mashi, open this window a
little, and take that lamp away.'
* * * * *
The still night stood silently at the window like a pilgrim of
eternity; and the stars gazed in, witnesses through untold ages of
countless death-scenes.
Jotin saw his Mani's face traced on the background of the dark night,
and saw those two big dark eyes brimming over with tears, as it were
for all eternity.
Mashi felt relieved when she saw him so quiet, thinking he was asleep.
Suddenly he started up, and said: 'Mashi, you all thought that Mani
was too frivolous ever to be happy in our house. But you see now----'
'Yes, I see now, my Baba,[3] I was mistaken--but trial tests a
[3] Baba literally means Father, but is often used by elders as a term
of endearment. In the same way 'Ma' is used.
'Do try to sleep, dear!'
'Let me think a little, let me talk. Don't be vexed, Mashi!'
'Very well.'
'Once, when I used to think I could not win Mani's heart, I bore it
silently. But you----'
'No, dear, I won't allow you to say that; I also bore it.'
'Our minds, you know, are not clods of earth which you can possess
by merely picking up. I felt that Mani did not know her own mind, and
that one day at some great shock----'
'Yes, Jotin, you are right.'
'Therefore I never took much notice of her waywardness.'
Mashi remained silent, suppressing a sigh. Not once, but often she
had seen Jotin spending the night on the verandah wet with the
splashing rain, yet not caring to go into his bedroom. Many a day
he lay with a throbbing head, longing, she knew, that Mani would
come and soothe his brow, while Mani was getting ready to go to the
theatre. Yet when Mashi went to fan him, he sent her away petulantly.
She alone knew what pain lay hidden in that distress. Again and again
she had wanted to say to Jotin: 'Don't pay so much attention to that
silly child, my dear; let her learn to want,--to cry for things.'
But these things cannot be said, and are apt to be misunderstood.
Jotin had in his heart a shrine set up to the goddess Woman, and
there Mani had her throne. It was hard for him to imagine that his
own fate was to be denied his share of the wine of love poured out
by that divinity. Therefore the worship went on, the sacrifice was
offered, and the hope of a boon never ceased.
* * * * *
Mashi imagined once more that Jotin was sleeping, when he cried out
'I know you thought that I was not happy with Mani, and therefore you
were angry with her. But, Mashi, happiness is like those stars. They
don't cover all the darkness; there are gaps between. We make mistakes
in life and we misunderstand, and yet there remain gaps through which
truth shines. I do not know whence comes this gladness that fills my
heart to-night.'
Mashi began gently to soothe Jotin's brow, her tears unseen in the dark.
'I was thinking, Mashi, she's so young! What will she do when I
'Young, Jotin? She's old enough. I too was young when I lost the idol
of my life, only to find him in my heart for ever. Was that any loss,
do you think? Besides, is happiness absolutely necessary?'
'Mashi, it seems as if just when Mani's heart shows signs of awakening
I have to----'
'Don't you worry about that, Jotin. Isn't it enough if her heart
Suddenly Jotin recollected the words of a village minstrel's song which
he had heard long before:
O my heart! you woke not when the man of my heart came to my door.
At the sound of his departing steps you woke up.
Oh, you woke up in the dark!
'Mashi, what is the time now?'
'About nine.'
'So early as that! Why, I thought it must be at least two or three
o'clock. My midnight, you know, begins at sundown. But why did you want
me to sleep, then?'
'Why, you know how late last night you kept awake talking; so to-day
you must get to sleep early.'
'Is Mani asleep?'
'Oh no, she's busy making some soup for you.'
'You don't mean to say so, Mashi? Does she----?'
'Certainly! Why, she prepares all your food, the busy little woman.'
'I thought perhaps Mani could not----'
'It doesn't take long for a woman to learn such things. With the need
it comes of itself.'
'The fish soup, that I had in the morning, had such a delicate
flavour, I thought you had made it.'
'Dear me, no! Surely you don't think Mani would let me do anything
for you? Why, she does all your washing herself. She knows you can't
bear anything dirty about you. If only you could see your sitting-room,
how spick and span she keeps it! If I were to let her haunt your
sick-room, she would wear herself out. But that's what she really wants
to do.'
'Is Mani's health, then----?'
'The doctors think she should not be allowed to visit the sick-room
too often. She's too tender-hearted.'
'But, Mashi, how do you prevent her from coming?'
'Because she obeys me implicitly. But still I have constantly to be
giving her news of you.'
* * * * *
The stars glistened in the sky like tear-drops. Jotin bowed his head
in gratitude to his life that was about to depart, and when Death
stretched out his right hand towards him through the darkness, he
took it in perfect trust.
* * * * *
Jotin sighed, and, with a slight gesture of impatience, said:
'Mashi, if Mani is still awake, then, could I--if only for a----?'
'Very well! I'll go and call her.'
'I won't keep her long, only for five minutes. I have something
particular to tell her.'
Mashi, sighing, went out to call Mani. Meanwhile Jotin's pulse began
to beat fast. He knew too well that he had never been able to have an
intimate talk with Mani. The two instruments were tuned differently
and it was not easy to play them in unison. Again and again, Jotin had
felt pangs of jealousy on hearing Mani chattering and laughing
merrily with her girl companions. Jotin blamed only himself,--why
couldn't he talk irrelevant trifles as they did? Not that he could
not, for with his men friends he often chatted on all sorts of
trivialities. But the small talk that suits men is not suitable for
women. You can hold a philosophical discourse in monologue, ignoring
your inattentive audience altogether, but small talk requires the
co-operation of at least two. The bagpipes can be played singly, but
there must be a pair of cymbals. How often in the evenings had Jotin,
when sitting on the open verandah with Mani, made some strained
attempts at conversation, only to feel the thread snap. And the very
silence of the evening felt ashamed. Jotin was certain that Mani
longed to get away. He had even wished earnestly that a third person
would come. For talking is easy with three, when it is hard for two.
He began to think what he should say when Mani came. But such
manufactured talk would not satisfy him. Jotin felt afraid that this
five minutes of to-night would be wasted. Yet, for him, there were
but few moments left for intimate talk.
'What's this, child, you're not going anywhere, are you?'
'Of course, I'm going to Sitarampur.'
'What do you mean? Who is going to take you?'
'Not to-day, my child, some other day.'
'But the compartment has already been reserved.'
'What does that matter? That loss can easily be borne. Go to-morrow,
early in the morning.'
'Mashi, I don't hold by your inauspicious days. What harm if I do go
'Jotin wants to have a talk with you.'
'All right! there's still some time. I'll just go and see him.'
'But you mustn't say that you are going.'
'Very well, I won't tell him, but I shan't be able to stay long.
To-morrow is my sister's _annaprashan_, and I must go to-day.'
'Oh, my child! I beg you to listen to me this once. Quiet your mind
for a while and sit by him. Don't let him see your hurry.'
'What can I do? The train won't wait for me. Anath will be back in
ten minutes. I can sit by him till then.'
'No, that won't do. I shall never let you go to him in that frame of
mind.... Oh, you wretch! the man you are torturing is soon to leave
this world; but I warn you, you will remember this day till the end
of your days! That there is a God! that there is a God! you will some
day understand!'
'Mashi, you mustn't curse me like that.'
'Oh, my darling boy! my darling! why do you go on living longer? There
is no end to this sin, yet I cannot check it!'
* * * * *
Mashi after delaying a little returned to the sick-room, hoping by
that time Jotin would be asleep. But Jotin moved in his bed when she
entered. Mashi exclaimed:
'Just look what she has done!'
'What's happened? Hasn't Mani come? Why have you been so long, Mashi?'
'I found her weeping bitterly because she had allowed the milk for
your soup to get burnt! I tried to console her, saying, "Why, there's
more milk to be had!" But that she could be so careless about the
preparation of _your_ soup made her wild. With great trouble I managed
to pacify her and put her to bed. So I haven't brought her to-day. Let
her sleep it off.'
Though Jotin was pained when Mani didn't come, yet he felt a certain
amount of relief. He had half feared that Mani's bodily presence
would do violence to his heart's image of her. Such things had
happened before in his life. And the gladness of the idea that Mani
was miserable at burning _his_ milk filled his heart to overflowing.
'What is it, Baba?'
'I feel quite certain that my days are drawing to a close. But I have
no regrets. Don't grieve for me.'
'No, dear, I won't grieve. I don't believe that only life is good and
not death.'
'Mashi, I tell you truly that death seems sweet.'
Jotin, gazing at the dark sky, felt that it was Mani herself who
was coming to him in Death's guise. She had immortal youth and the
stars were flowers of blessing, showered upon her dark tresses by
the hand of the World-Mother. It seemed as if once more he had his
first sight of his bride under the veil of darkness.[4] The immense
night became filled with the loving gaze of Mani's dark eyes. Mani,
the bride of this house, the little girl, became transformed into a
world-image,--her throne on the altar of the stars at the confluence
of life and death. Jotin said to himself with clasped hands: 'At
last the veil is raised, the covering is rent in this deep darkness.
Ah, beautiful one! how often have you wrung my heart, but no longer
shall you forsake me!'
[4] The bride and the bridegroom see each other's face for the first
time at the marriage ceremony under a veil thrown over their heads.
'I'm suffering, Mashi, but nothing like you imagine. It seems to me
as if my pain were gradually separating itself from my life. Like
a laden boat, it was so long being towed behind, but the rope has
snapped, and now it floats away with all my burdens. Still I can see
it, but it is no longer mine.... But, Mashi, I've not seen Mani even
once for the last two days!'
'Jotin, let me give you another pillow.'
'It almost seems to me, Mashi, that Mani also has left me like that
laden boat of sorrow which drifts away.'
'Just sip some pomegranate juice, dear! Your throat must be getting
'I wrote my will yesterday; did I show it to you? I can't recollect.'
'There's no need to show it to me, Jotin.'
'When mother died, I had nothing of my own. You fed me and brought me
up. Therefore I was saying----'
'Nonsense, child! I had only this house and a little property. You
earned the rest.'
'But this house----?'
'That's nothing. Why, you've added to it so much that it's difficult
to find out where my house was!'
'I'm sure Mani's love for you is really----'
'Yes, yes! I know that, Jotin. Now you try to sleep.'
'Though I have bequeathed all my property to Mani, it is practically
yours, Mashi. She will never disobey you.'
'Why are you worrying so much about that, dear?'
'All I have I owe to you. When you see my will don't think for a
moment that----'
'What do you mean, Jotin? Do you think I shall mind for a moment
because you give to Mani what belongs to you? Surely I'm not so mean
as that?'
'But you also will have----'
'Look here, Jotin, I shall get angry with you. You want to console me
with money!'
'Oh, Mashi, how I wish I could give you something better than money!'
'That you have done, Jotin!--more than enough. Haven't I had you to
fill my lonely house? I must have won that great good-fortune in
many previous births! You have given me so much that now, if my
destiny's due is exhausted, I shall not complain. Yes, yes! Give away
everything in Mani's name,--your house, your money, your carriage,
and your land--such burdens are too heavy for me!'
'Of course I know you have lost your taste for the enjoyments of life,
but Mani is so young that----'
'No! you mustn't say that. If you want to leave her your property,
it is all right, but as for enjoyment----'
'What harm if she does enjoy herself, Mashi?'
'No, no, it will be impossible. Her throat will become parched, and
it will be dust and ashes to her.'
* * * * *
Jotin remained silent. He could not decide whether it was true or not,
and whether it was a matter of regret or otherwise, that the world
would become distasteful to Mani for want of him. The stars seemed
to whisper in his heart:
'Indeed it is true. We have been watching for thousands of years, and
know that all these great preparations for enjoyment are but vanity.'
* * * * *
Jotin sighed and said: 'We cannot leave behind us what is really worth
'It's no trifle you are giving, dearest. I only pray she may have the
power to know the value of what is given her.'
'Give me a little more of that pomegranate juice, Mashi, I'm thirsty.
Did Mani come to me yesterday, I wonder?'
'Yes, she came, but you were asleep. She sat by your head, fanning
you for a long time, and then went away to get your clothes washed.'
'How wonderful! I believe I was dreaming that very moment that Mani
was trying to enter my room. The door was slightly open, and she was
pushing against it, but it wouldn't open. But, Mashi, you're going too
far,--you ought to let her see that I am dying; otherwise my death will
be a terrible shock to her.'
'Baba, let me put this shawl over your feet; they are getting cold.'
'No, Mashi, I can't bear anything over me like that.'
'Do you know, Jotin, Mani made this shawl for you? When she ought to
have been asleep, she was busy at it. It was finished only yesterday.'
Jotin took the shawl, and touched it tenderly with his hands. It
seemed to him that the softness of the wool was Mani's own. Her loving
thoughts had been woven night after night with its threads. It was
not made merely of wool, but also of her touch. Therefore, when Mashi
drew that shawl over his feet, it seemed as if, night after night,
Mani had been caressing his tired limbs.
'But, Mashi, I thought Mani didn't know how to knit,--at any rate she
never liked it.'
'It doesn't take long to learn a thing. Of course I had to teach her.
Then there are a good many mistakes in it.'
'Let there be mistakes; we're not going to send it to the Paris
Exhibition. It will keep my feet warm in spite of its mistakes.'
Jotin's mind began to picture Mani at her task, blundering and
struggling, and yet patiently going on night after night. How sweetly
pathetic it was! And again he went over the shawl with his caressing
'Mashi, is the doctor downstairs?'
'Yes, he will stay here to-night.'
'But tell him it is useless for him to give me a sleeping draught. It
doesn't bring me real rest and only adds to my pain. Let me remain
properly awake. Do you know, Mashi, that my wedding took place on the
night of the full moon in the month of _Baisakh_? To-morrow will be
that day, and the stars of that very night will be shining in the
sky. Mani perhaps has forgotten. I want to remind her of it to-day;
just call her to me for a minute or two.... Why do you keep silent?
I suppose the doctor has told you I am so weak that any excitement
will----but I tell you truly, Mashi, to-night, if I can have only a
few minutes' talk with her, there will be no need for any sleeping
draughts. Mashi, don't cry like that! I am quite well. To-day my heart
is full as it has never been in my life before. That's why I want
to see Mani. No, no, Mashi, I can't bear to see you crying! You have
been so quiet all these last days. Why are you so troubled to-night?'
'Oh, Jotin, I thought that I had exhausted all my tears, but I find
there are plenty left. I can't bear it any longer.'
'Call Mani. I'll remind her of our wedding night, so that to-morrow
she may----'
'I'm going, dear. Shombhu will wait at the door. If you want anything,
call him.'
Mashi went to Mani's bedroom and sat down on the floor crying,--'Oh
come, come once, you heartless wretch! Keep his last request who has
given you his all! Don't kill him who is already dying!'
* * * * *
Jotin hearing the sound of footsteps started up, saying, 'Mani!'
'I am Shombhu. Did you call me?'
'Ask your mistress to come?'
'Ask whom?'
'Your mistress.'
'She has not yet returned.'
'Returned? From where?'
'From Sitarampur.'
'When did she go?'
'Three days ago.'
For a moment Jotin felt numb all over, and his head began to swim. He
slipped down from the pillows, on which he was reclining, and kicked
off the woollen shawl that was over his feet.
* * * * *
When Mashi came back after a long time, Jotin did not mention Mani's
name, and Mashi thought he had forgotten all about her.
Suddenly Jotin cried out: 'Mashi, did I tell you about the dream I
had the other night?'
'Which dream?'
'That in which Mani was pushing the door, and the door wouldn't open
more than an inch. She stood outside unable to enter. Now I know that
Mani has to stand outside my door till the last.'
* * * * *
Mashi kept silent. She realised that the heaven she had been building
for Jotin out of falsehood had toppled down at last. If sorrow comes,
it is best to acknowledge it.--When God strikes, we cannot avoid the
'Mashi, the love I have got from you will last through all my births.
I have filled this life with it to carry it with me. In the next birth,
I am sure you will be born as my daughter, and I shall tend you with
all my love.'
'What are you saying, Jotin? Do you mean to say I shall be born again
as a woman? Why can't you pray that I should come to your arms as a
'No, no, not a son! You will come to my house in that wonderful beauty
which you had when you were young. I can even imagine how I shall
dress you.'
'Don't talk so much, Jotin, but try to sleep.'
'I shall name you "Lakshmi."'
'But that is an old-fashioned name, Jotin!'
'Yes, but you are my old-fashioned Mashi. Come to my house again with
those beautiful old-fashioned manners.'
'I can't wish that I should come and burden your home with the
misfortune of a girl-child!'
'Mashi, you think me weak, and are wanting to save me all trouble.'
'My child, I am a woman, so I have my weakness. Therefore I have tried
all my life to save you from all sorts of trouble,--only to fail.'
'Mashi, I have not had time in this life to apply the lessons I have
learnt. But they will keep for my next birth. I shall show then what a
man is able to do. I have learnt how false it is always to be looking
after oneself.'
'Whatever you may say, darling, you have never grasped anything for
yourself, but given everything to others.'
'Mashi, I can boast of one thing at any rate. I have never been a
tyrant in my happiness, or tried to enforce my claims by violence.
Because lies could not content me, I have had to wait long. Perhaps
truth will be kind to me at last.--Who is that, Mashi, who is that?'
'Where? There's no one there, Jotin!'
'Mashi, just go and see in the other room. I thought I----'
'No, dear! I don't see anybody.'
'But it seemed quite clear to me that----'
'No, Jotin, it's nothing. So keep quiet! The doctor is coming now.'
When the doctor entered, he said:
'Look here, you mustn't stay near the patient so much, you excite him.
You go to bed, and my assistant will remain with him.'
'No, Mashi, I can't let you go.'
'All right, Baba! I will sit quietly in that corner.'
'No, no! you must sit by my side. I can't let go your hand, not till
the very end. I have been made by your hand, and only from your hand
shall God take me.'
'All right,' said the doctor, 'you can remain there. But, Jotin
Babu, you must not talk to her. It's time for you to take your
'Time for my medicine? Nonsense! The time for that is over. To give
medicine now is merely to deceive; besides I am not afraid to die.
Mashi, Death is busy with his physic; why do you add another nuisance
in the shape of a doctor? Send him away, send him away! It is you alone
I need now! No one else, none whatever! No more falsehood!'
'I protest, as a doctor, this excitement is doing you harm.'
'Then go, doctor, don't excite me any more!--Mashi, has he gone?...
That's good! Now come and take my head in your lap.'
'All right, dear! Now, Baba, try to sleep!'
'No, Mashi, don't ask me to sleep. If I sleep, I shall never wake.
I still need to keep awake a little longer. Don't you hear a sound?
Somebody is coming.'
'Jotin dear, just open your eyes a little. She has come. Look once
and see!'
'Who has come? A dream?'
'Not a dream, darling! Mani has come with her father.'
'Who are you?'
'Can't you see? This is your Mani!'
'Mani? Has that door opened?'
'Yes, Baba, it is wide open.'
'No, Mashi, not that shawl! not _that_ shawl! That shawl is a fraud!'
'It is not a shawl, Jotin! It is our Mani, who has flung herself on
your feet. Put your hand on her head and bless her. Don't cry like
that, Mani! There will be time enough for that. Keep quiet now for a
In the room next to the one in which we boys used to sleep, there hung
a human skeleton. In the night it would rattle in the breeze which
played about its bones. In the day these bones were rattled by us.
We were taking lessons in osteology from a student in the Campbell
Medical School, for our guardians were determined to make us masters
of all the sciences. How far they succeeded we need not tell those
who know us; and it is better hidden from those who do not.
Many years have passed since then. In the meantime the skeleton has
vanished from the room, and the science of osteology from our brains,
leaving no trace behind.
The other day, our house was crowded with guests, and I had to pass
the night in the same old room. In these now unfamiliar surroundings,
sleep refused to come, and, as I tossed from side to side, I heard all
the hours of the night chimed, one after another, by the church clock
near by. At length the lamp in the corner of the room, after some
minutes of choking and spluttering, went out altogether. One or two
bereavements had recently happened in the family, so the going out
of the lamp naturally led me to thoughts of death. In the great arena
of nature, I thought, the light of a lamp losing itself in eternal
darkness, and the going out of the light of our little human lives,
by day or by night, were much the same thing.
My train of thought recalled to my mind the skeleton. While I was
trying to imagine what the body which had clothed it could have
been like, it suddenly seemed to me that something was walking
round and round my bed, groping along the walls of the room. I could
hear its rapid breathing. It seemed as if it was searching for
something which it could not find, and pacing round the room with
ever-hastier steps. I felt quite sure that this was a mere fancy of
my sleepless, excited brain; and that the throbbing of the veins in
my temples was really the sound which seemed like running footsteps.
Nevertheless, a cold shiver ran all over me. To help to get rid of
this hallucination, I called out aloud: 'Who is there?' The footsteps
seemed to stop at my bedside, and the reply came: 'It is I. I have
come to look for that skeleton of mine.'
It seemed absurd to show any fear before the creature of my own
imagination; so, clutching my pillow a little more tightly, I said
in a casual sort of way: 'A nice business for this time of night! Of
what use will that skeleton be to you now?'
The reply seemed to come almost from my mosquito-curtain itself.
'What a question! In that skeleton were the bones that encircled
my heart; the youthful charm of my six-and-twenty years bloomed about
it. Should I not desire to see it once more?'
'Of course,' said I, 'a perfectly reasonable desire. Well, go on
with your search, while I try to get a little sleep.'
Said the voice: 'But I fancy you are lonely. All right; I'll sit down
a while, and we will have a little chat. Years ago I used to sit by men
and talk to them. But during the last thirty-five years I have only
moaned in the wind in the burning-places of the dead. I would talk
once more with a man as in the old times.'
I felt that some one sat down just near my curtain. Resigning myself to
the situation, I replied with as much cordiality as I could summon:
'That will be very nice indeed. Let us talk of something cheerful.'
'The funniest thing I can think of is my own life-story. Let me tell
you that.'
The church clock chimed the hour of two.
'When I was in the land of the living, and young, I feared one thing
like death itself, and that was my husband. My feelings can be likened
only to those of a fish caught with a hook. For it was as if a stranger
had snatched me away with the sharpest of hooks from the peaceful
calm of my childhood's home--and from him I had no means of escape.
My husband died two months after my marriage, and my friends and
relations moaned pathetically on my behalf. My husband's father, after
scrutinising my face with great care, said to my mother-in-law: "Do
you not see, she has the evil eye?"--Well, are you listening? I hope
you are enjoying the story?'
'Very much indeed!' said I. 'The beginning is extremely humorous.'
'Let me proceed then. I came back to my father's house in great glee.
People tried to conceal it from me, but I knew well that I was endowed
with a rare and radiant beauty. What is your opinion?'
'Very likely,' I murmured. 'But you must remember that I never saw
'What! Not seen me? What about that skeleton of mine? Ha! ha! ha!
Never mind. I was only joking. How can I ever make you believe
that those two cavernous hollows contained the brightest of dark,
languishing eyes? And that the smile which was revealed by those ruby
lips had no resemblance whatever to the grinning teeth which you used
to see? The mere attempt to convey to you some idea of the grace,
the charm, the soft, firm, dimpled curves, which in the fulness of
youth were growing and blossoming over those dry old bones makes me
smile; it also makes me angry. The most eminent doctors of my time
could not have dreamed of the bones of that body of mine as materials
for teaching osteology. Do you know, one young doctor that I knew of,
actually compared me to a golden _champak_ blossom. It meant that to
him the rest of humankind was fit only to illustrate the science
of physiology, that I was a flower of beauty. Does any one think of
the skeleton of a _champak_ flower?
'When I walked, I felt that, like a diamond scattering splendour,
my every movement set waves of beauty radiating on every side. I used
to spend hours gazing on my hands--hands which could gracefully have
reined the liveliest of male creatures.
'But that stark and staring old skeleton of mine has borne
false-witness to you against me, while I was unable to refute the
shameless libel. That is why of all men I hate you most! I feel I
would like once for all to banish sleep from your eyes with a
vision of that warm rosy loveliness of mine, to sweep out with it
all the wretched osteological stuff of which your brain is full.'
'I could have sworn by your body,' cried I, 'if you had it still,
that no vestige of osteology has remained in my head, and that the only
thing that it is now full of is a radiant vision of perfect loveliness,
glowing against the black background of night. I cannot say more than
'I had no girl-companions,' went on the voice. 'My only brother
had made up his mind not to marry. In the zenana I was alone. Alone I
used to sit in the garden under the shade of the trees, and dream
that the whole world was in love with me; that the stars with sleepless
gaze were drinking in my beauty; that the wind was languishing in
sighs as on some pretext or other it brushed past me; and that the
lawn on which my feet rested, had it been conscious, would have lost
consciousness again at their touch. It seemed to me that all the young
men in the world were as blades of grass at my feet; and my heart, I
know not why, used to grow sad.
'When my brother's friend, Shekhar, had passed out of the Medical
College, he became our family doctor. I had already often seen him from
behind a curtain. My brother was a strange man, and did not care to
look on the world with open eyes. It was not empty enough for his
taste; so he gradually moved away from it, until he was quite lost in
an obscure corner. Shekhar was his one friend, so he was the only
young man I could ever get to see. And when I held my evening court in
my garden, then the host of imaginary young men whom I had at my feet
were each one a Shekhar.--Are you listening? What are you thinking of?'
I sighed as I replied: 'I was wishing I was Shekhar!'
'Wait a bit. Hear the whole story first. One day, in the rains, I
was feverish. The doctor came to see me. That was our first meeting.
I was reclining opposite the window, so that the blush of the evening
sky might temper the pallor of my complexion. When the doctor, coming
in, looked up into my face, I put myself into his place, and gazed
at myself in imagination. I saw in the glorious evening light that
delicate wan face laid like a drooping flower against the soft white
pillow, with the unrestrained curls playing over the forehead, and the
bashfully lowered eyelids casting a pathetic shade over the whole
'The doctor, in a tone bashfully low, asked my brother: "Might I feel
her pulse?"
'I put out a tired, well-rounded wrist from beneath the coverlet.
"Ah!" thought I, as I looked on it, "if only there had been a
sapphire bracelet."[5] I have never before seen a doctor so awkward
about feeling a patient's pulse. His fingers trembled as they felt
my wrist. He measured the heat of my fever, I gauged the pulse of
his heart.--Don't you believe me?'
[5] Widows are supposed to dress in white only, without ornaments or
'Very easily,' said I; 'the human heart-beat tells its tale.'
'After I had been taken ill and restored to health several times,
I found that the number of the courtiers who attended my imaginary
evening reception began to dwindle till they were reduced to only one!
And at last in my little world there remained only one doctor and one
'In these evenings I used to dress myself[6] secretly in a
canary-coloured _sari_; twine about the braided knot into which I did
my hair a garland of white jasmine blossoms; and with a little
mirror in my hand betake myself to my usual seat under the trees.
[6] See note on p. 38.
'Well! Are you perhaps thinking that the sight of one's own beauty
would soon grow wearisome? Ah no! for I did not see myself with my own
eyes. I was then one and also two. I used to see myself as though I
were the doctor; I gazed, I was charmed, I fell madly in love. But,
in spite of all the caresses I lavished on myself, a sigh would wander
about my heart, moaning like the evening breeze.
'Anyhow, from that time I was never alone. When I walked I watched
with downcast eyes the play of my dainty little toes on the earth,
and wondered what the doctor would have felt had he been there to
see. At mid-day the sky would be filled with the glare of the sun,
without a sound, save now and then the distant cry of a passing kite.
Outside our garden-walls the hawker would pass with his musical
cry of "Bangles for sale, crystal bangles." And I, spreading a
snow-white sheet on the lawn, would lie on it with my head on my arm.
With studied carelessness the other arm would rest lightly on the soft
sheet, and I would imagine to myself that some one had caught sight of
the wonderful pose of my hand, that some one had clasped it in both of
his and imprinted a kiss on its rosy palm, and was slowly walking
away.--What if I ended the story here? How would it do?'
'Not half a bad ending,' I replied thoughtfully. 'It would no doubt
remain a little incomplete, but I could easily spend the rest of the
night putting in the finishing touches.'
'But that would make the story too serious. Where would the laugh come
in? Where would be the skeleton with its grinning teeth?
'So let me go on. As soon as the doctor had got a little practice, he
took a room on the ground-floor of our house for a consulting-chamber.
I used then sometimes to ask him jokingly about medicines and
poisons, and how much of this drug or that would kill a man. The
subject was congenial and he would wax eloquent. These talks
familiarised me with the idea of death; and so love and death were
the only two things that filled my little world. My story is now
nearly ended--there is not much left.'
'Not much of the night is left either,' I muttered.
'After a time I noticed that the doctor had grown strangely
absent-minded, and it seemed as if he were ashamed of something
which he was trying to keep from me. One day he came in, somewhat
smartly dressed, and borrowed my brother's carriage for the evening.
'My curiosity became too much for me, and I went up to my brother for
information. After some talk beside the point, I at last asked him:
"By the way, Dada,[7] where is the doctor going this evening in your
[7] Elder brother.
'My brother briefly replied: "To his death."
'"Oh, do tell me," I importuned. "Where is he really going?"
'"To be married," he said, a little more explicitly.
'"Oh, indeed!" said I, as I laughed long and loudly.
'I gradually learnt that the bride was an heiress, who would bring the
doctor a large sum of money. But why did he insult me by hiding all
this from me? Had I ever begged and prayed him not to marry, because it
would break my heart? Men are not to be trusted. I have known only
one man in all my life, and in a moment I made this discovery.
'When the doctor came in after his work and was ready to start, I said
to him, rippling with laughter the while: "Well, doctor, so you are
to be married to-night?"
'My gaiety not only made the doctor lose countenance; it thoroughly
irritated him.
'"How is it," I went on, "that there is no illumination, no band of
'With a sigh he replied: "Is marriage then such a joyful occasion?"
'I burst out into renewed laughter. "No, no," said I, "this will
never do. Who ever heard of a wedding without lights and music?"
'I bothered my brother about it so much that he at once ordered all the
trappings of a gay wedding.
'All the time I kept on gaily talking of the bride, of what would
happen, of what I would do when the bride came home. "And, doctor," I
asked, "will you still go on feeling pulses?" Ha! ha! ha! Though
the inner workings of people's, especially men's, minds are not
visible, still I can take my oath that these words were piercing the
doctor's bosom like deadly darts.
'The marriage was to be celebrated late at night. Before starting,
the doctor and my brother were having a glass of wine together on the
terrace, as was their daily habit. The moon had just risen.
'I went up smiling, and said: "Have you forgotten your wedding,
doctor? It is time to start."
'I must here tell you one little thing. I had meanwhile gone down
to the dispensary and got a little powder, which at a convenient
opportunity I had dropped unobserved into the doctor's glass.
'The doctor, draining his glass at a gulp, in a voice thick with
emotion, and with a look that pierced me to the heart, said: "Then I
must go."
'The music struck up. I went into my room and dressed myself in my
bridal-robes of silk and gold. I took out my jewellery and ornaments
from the safe and put them all on; I put the red mark of wifehood
on the parting in my hair. And then under the tree in the garden I
prepared my bed.
'It was a beautiful night. The gentle south wind was kissing away
the weariness of the world. The scent of jasmine and _bela_ filled the
garden with rejoicing.
'When the sound of the music began to grow fainter and fainter; the
light of the moon to get dimmer and dimmer; the world with its lifelong
associations of home and kin to fade away from my perceptions like
some illusion;--then I closed my eyes, and smiled.
'I fancied that when people came and found me they would see that
smile of mine lingering on my lips like a trace of rose-coloured wine,
that when I thus slowly entered my eternal bridal-chamber I should
carry with me this smile, illuminating my face. But alas for the
bridal-chamber! Alas for the bridal-robes of silk and gold! When I
woke at the sound of a rattling within me, I found three urchins
learning osteology from my skeleton. Where in my bosom my joys and
griefs used to throb, and the petals of youth to open one by one, there
the master with his pointer was busy naming my bones. And as to that
last smile, which I had so carefully rehearsed, did you see any sign of
'Well, well, how did you like the story?'
'It has been delightful,' said I.
At this point the first crow began to caw. 'Are you there?' I asked.
There was no reply.
The morning light entered the room.
Kantichandra was young; yet after his wife's death he sought no second
partner, and gave his mind to the hunting of beasts and birds. His
body was long and slender, hard and agile; his sight keen; his aim
unerring. He dressed like a countryman, and took with him Hira Singh
the wrestler, Chakkanlal, Khan Saheb the musician, Mian Saheb, and
many others. He had no lack of idle followers.
In the month of _Agrahayan_ Kanti had gone out shooting near the swamp
of Nydighi with a few sporting companions. They were in boats, and
an army of servants, in boats also, filled the bathing-_ghats_. The
village women found it well-nigh impossible to bathe or to draw water.
All day long, land and water trembled to the firing of the guns; and
every evening musicians killed the chance of sleep.
One morning as Kanti was seated in his boat cleaning a favourite gun,
he suddenly started at what he thought was the cry of wild duck.
Looking up, he saw a village maiden, coming to the water's edge, with
two white ducklings clasped to her breast. The little stream was
almost stagnant. Many weeds choked the current. The girl put the birds
into the water, and watched them anxiously. Evidently the presence of
the sportsmen was the cause of her care and not the wildness of the
The girl's beauty had a rare freshness--as if she had just come
from Vishwakarma's[8] workshop. It was difficult to guess her age.
Her figure was almost a woman's, but her face was so childish that
clearly the world had left no impression there. She seemed not to
know herself that she had reached the threshold of youth.
[8] The divine craftsman in Hindu mythology.
Kanti's gun-cleaning stopped for a while. He was fascinated. He had
not expected to see such a face in such a spot. And yet its beauty
suited its surroundings better than it would have suited a palace. A
bud is lovelier on the bough than in a golden vase. That day the
blossoming reeds glittered in the autumn dew and morning sun, and
the fresh, simple face set in the midst was like a picture of festival
to Kanti's enchanted mind. Kalidos has forgotten to sing how Siva's
Mountain-Queen herself sometimes has come to the young Ganges, with
just such ducklings in her breast. As he gazed, the maiden started
in terror, and hurriedly took back the ducks into her bosom with a
half-articulate cry of pain. In another moment, she had left the
river-bank and disappeared into the bamboo thicket hard by. Looking
round, Kanti saw one of his men pointing an unloaded gun at the ducks.
He at once went up to him, wrenched away his gun, and bestowed on his
cheek a prodigious slap. The astonished humourist finished his joke
on the floor. Kanti went on cleaning his gun.
But curiosity drove Kanti to the thicket wherein he had seen the girl
disappear. Pushing his way through, he found himself in the yard
of a well-to-do householder. On one side was a row of conical thatched
barns, on the other a clean cow-shed, at the end of which grew a
_zizyph_ bush. Under the bush was seated the girl he had seen that
morning, sobbing over a wounded dove, into whose yellow beak she was
trying to wring a little water from the moist corner of her garment.
A grey cat, its fore-paws on her knee, was looking eagerly at the
bird, and every now and then, when it got too forward, she kept it in
its place by a warning tap on the nose.
This little picture, set in the peaceful mid-day surroundings of the
householder's yard, instantly impressed itself on Kanti's sensitive
heart. The checkered light and shade, flickering beneath the delicate
foliage of the _zizyph_, played on the girl's lap. Not far off a
cow was chewing the cud, and lazily keeping off the flies with slow
movements of its head and tail. The north wind whispered softly in
the rustling bamboo thickets. And she who at dawn on the river-bank had
looked like the Forest Queen, now in the silence of noon showed the
eager pity of the Divine Housewife. Kanti, coming in upon her with
his gun, had a sense of intrusion. He felt like a thief caught
red-handed. He longed to explain that it was not he who had hurt
the dove. As he wondered how he should begin, there came a call of
'Sudha!' from the house. The girl jumped up. 'Sudha!' came the
voice again. She took up her dove, and ran within. 'Sudha,'[9]
thought Kanti, 'what an appropriate name!'
[9] _Sudha_ means nectar, ambrosia.
Kanti returned to the boat, handed his gun to his men, and went over to
the front door of the house. He found a middle-aged Brahmin, with a
peaceful, clean-shaven face, seated on a bench outside, and reading
a devotional book. Kanti saw in his kindly, thoughtful face something
of the tenderness which shone in the face of the maiden.
Kanti saluted him, and said: 'May I ask for some water, sir? I am
very thirsty.' The elder man welcomed him with eager hospitality, and,
offering him a seat on the bench, went inside and fetched with his own
hands a little brass plate of sugar wafers and a bell-metal vessel
full of water.
After Kanti had eaten and drunk, the Brahmin begged him to introduce
himself. Kanti gave his own name, his father's name, and the address of
his home, and then said in the usual way: 'If I can be of any service,
sir, I shall deem myself fortunate.'
'I require no service, my son,' said Nabin Banerji; 'I have only
one care at present.'
'What is that, sir?' said Kanti.
'It is my daughter, Sudha, who is growing up' (Kanti smiled as he
thought of her babyish face), 'and for whom I have not yet been able
to find a worthy bridegroom. If I could only see her well married,
all my debt to this world would be paid. But there is no suitable
bridegroom here, and I cannot leave my charge of Gopinath here, to
search for a husband elsewhere.'
'If you would see me in my boat, sir, we would have a talk about the
marriage of your daughter.' So saying, Kanti repeated his salute and
went back. He then sent some of his men into the village to inquire,
and in answer heard nothing but praise of the beauty and virtues of
the Brahmin's daughter.
When next day the old man came to the boat on his promised visit,
Kanti bent low in salutation, and begged the hand of his daughter for
himself. The Brahmin was so much overcome by this undreamed-of piece
of good fortune--for Kanti not only belonged to a well-known Brahmin
family, but was also a landed proprietor of wealth and position--that
at first he could hardly utter a word in reply. He thought there must
have been some mistake, and at length mechanically repeated: 'You
desire to marry my daughter?'
'If you will deign to give her to me,' said Kanti.
'You mean Sudha?' he asked again.
'Yes,' was the reply.
'But will you not first see and speak to her----?'
Kanti, pretending he had not seen her already, said: 'Oh, that we
shall do at the moment of the Auspicious Vision.'[10]
[10] After betrothal the prospective bride and bridegroom are not
supposed to see each other again till that part of the wedding
ceremony which is called _the Auspicious Vision_.
In a voice husky with emotion the old man said: 'My Sudha is indeed
a good girl, well skilled in all the household arts. As you are so
generously taking her on trust, may she never cause you a moment's
regret. This is my blessing!'
The brick-built mansion of the Mazumdars had been borrowed for the
wedding ceremony, which was fixed for next _Magh_, as Kanti did not
wish to delay. In due time the bridegroom arrived on his elephant, with
drums and music and with a torchlight procession, and the ceremony
When the bridal couple were covered with the scarlet screen for the
rite of the Auspicious Vision, Kanti looked up at his bride. In that
bashful, downcast face, crowned with the wedding coronet and bedecked
with sandal paste, he could scarcely recognise the village maiden of
his fancy, and in the fulness of his emotion a mist seemed to becloud
his eyes.
At the gathering of women in the bridal chamber, after the wedding
ceremony was over, an old village dame insisted that Kanti himself
should take off his wife's bridal veil. As he did so he started back.
It was not the same girl.
Something rose from within his breast and pierced into his brain. The
light of the lamps seemed to grow dim, and darkness to tarnish the face
of the bride herself.
At first he felt angry with his father-in-law. The old scoundrel
had shown him one girl, and married him to another. But on calmer
reflection he remembered that the old man had not shown him any
daughter at all--that it was all his own fault. He thought it best
not to show his arrant folly to the world, and took his place again
with apparent calmness.
He could swallow the powder; he could not get rid of its taste. He
could not bear the merry-makings of the festive throng. He was in a
blaze of anger with himself as well as with everybody else.
Suddenly he felt the bride, seated by his side, give a little start
and a suppressed scream; a leveret, scampering into the room, had
brushed across her feet. Close upon it followed the girl he had seen
before. She caught up the leveret into her arms, and began to caress
it with an affectionate murmuring. 'Oh, the mad girl!' cried the
women as they made signs to her to leave the room. She heeded them
not, however, but came and unconcernedly sat in front of the wedded
pair, looking into their faces with a childish curiosity. When a
maidservant came and took her by the arm to lead her away, Kanti
hurriedly interposed, saying, 'Let her be.'
'What is your name?' he then went on to ask her.
The girl swayed backwards and forwards but gave no reply. All the women
in the room began to titter.
Kanti put another question: 'Have those ducklings of yours grown up?'
The girl stared at him as unconcernedly as before.
The bewildered Kanti screwed up courage for another effort, and asked
tenderly after the wounded dove, but with no avail. The increasing
laughter in the room betokened an amusing joke.
At last Kanti learned that the girl was deaf and dumb, the companion of
all the animals and birds of the locality. It was but by chance that
she rose the other day when the name of Sudha was called.
Kanti now received a second shock. A black screen lifted from before
his eyes. With a sigh of intense relief, as of escape from calamity,
he looked once more into the face of his bride. Then came the true
Auspicious Vision. The light from his heart and from the smokeless
lamps fell on her gracious face; and he saw it in its true radiance,
knowing that Nabin's blessing would find fulfilment.
I used to go to the same dame's school with Surabala and play at
marriage with her. When I paid visits to her house, her mother would
pet me, and setting us side by side would say to herself: 'What a
lovely pair!'
I was a child then, but I could understand her meaning well enough. The
idea became rooted in my mind that I had a special right to Surabala
above that of people in general. So it happened that, in the pride of
ownership, at times I punished and tormented her; and she, too, fagged
for me and bore all my punishments without complaint. The village was
wont to praise her beauty; but in the eyes of a young barbarian like
me that beauty had no glory;--I knew only that Surabala had been
born in her father's house solely to bear my yoke, and that therefore
she was the particular object of my neglect.
My father was the land-steward of the Chaudhuris, a family of
_zemindars_. It was his plan, as soon as I had learnt to write a good
hand, to train me in the work of estate management and secure a rent
collectorship for me somewhere. But in my heart I disliked the
proposal. Nilratan of our village had run away to Calcutta, had
learnt English there, and finally became the _Nazir_[11] of the
District Magistrate; _that_ was my life's ideal: I was secretly
determined to be the Head Clerk of the Judge's Court, even if I could
not become the Magistrate's _Nazir_.
[11] Superintendent of bailiffs.
I saw that my father always treated these court officers with the
greatest respect. I knew from my childhood that they had to be
propitiated with gifts of fish, vegetables, and even money. For this
reason I had given a seat of high honour in my heart to the court
underlings, even to the bailiffs. These are the gods worshipped in our
Bengal,--a modern miniature edition of the 330 millions of deities
of the Hindu pantheon. For gaining material success, people have
more genuine faith in _them_ than in the good Ganesh, the giver of
success; hence the people now offer to these officers everything
that was formerly Ganesh's due.
Fired by the example of Nilratan, I too seized a suitable opportunity
and ran away to Calcutta. There I first put up in the house of a
village acquaintance, and afterwards got some funds from my father for
my education. Thus I carried on my studies regularly.
In addition, I joined political and benevolent societies. I had no
doubt whatever that it was urgently necessary for me to give my life
suddenly for my country. But I knew not how such a hard task could be
carried out. Also no one showed me the way.
But, nevertheless, my enthusiasm did not abate at all. We country lads
had not learnt to sneer at everything like the precocious boys of
Calcutta, and hence our faith was very strong. The 'leaders' of our
associations delivered speeches, and we went begging for subscriptions
from door to door in the hot blaze of noon without breaking our fast;
or we stood by the roadside distributing hand-bills, or arranged the
chairs and benches in the lecture-hall, and, if anybody whispered
a word against our leader, we got ready to fight him. For these things
the city boys used to laugh at us as provincials.
I had come to Calcutta to be a _Nazir_ or a Head Clerk, but I was
preparing to become a Mazzini or a Garibaldi.
At this time Surabala's father and my father laid their heads together
to unite us in marriage. I had come to Calcutta at the age of fifteen;
Surabala was eight years old then. I was now eighteen, and in my
father's opinion I was almost past the age of marriage. But it was
my secret vow to remain unmarried all my life and to die for my
country; so I told my father that I would not marry before I had
finished my education.
In two or three months I learnt that Surabala had been married to a
pleader named Ram Lochan. I was then busy collecting subscriptions for
raising fallen India, and this news did not seem worth my thought.
I had matriculated, and was about to appear at the Intermediate
Examination, when my father died. I was not alone in the world, but
had to maintain my mother and two sisters. I had therefore to leave
college and look out for employment. After a good deal of exertion
I secured the post of second master in the matriculation school of a
small town in the Noakhali District.
I thought, here is just the work for me! By my advice and inspiration I
shall train up every one of my pupils as a general for future India.
I began to work, and then found that the impending examination was a
more pressing affair than the future of India. The headmaster got angry
whenever I talked of anything outside grammar or algebra. And in a few
months my enthusiasm, too, flagged.
I am no genius. In the quiet of the home I may form vast plans; but
when I enter the field of work, I have to bear the yoke of the plough
on my neck like the Indian bullock, get my tail twisted by my master,
break clods all day, patiently and with bowed head, and then at sunset
have to be satisfied if I can get any cud to chew. Such a creature
has not the spirit to prance and caper.
One of the teachers lived in the school-house, to guard against fires.
As I was a bachelor, this work was thrown on me. I lodged in a thatched
shed close to the large cottage in which the school sat.
The school-house stood at some distance from the inhabited portion of
the town, and beside a big tank. Around it were betel-nut, cocoa-nut,
and _madar_ trees, and very near to the school building two large
ancient _nim_ trees grew close together, and cast a cool shade around.
One thing I have forgotten to mention, and indeed I had not so long
considered it worth mentioning. The local Government pleader, Ram
Lochan Ray, lived near our school. I also knew that his wife--my early
playmate, Surabala--lived with him.
I got acquainted with Ram Lochan Babu. I cannot say whether he knew
that I had known Surabala in childhood. I did not think fit to mention
the fact at my first introduction to him. Indeed, I did not clearly
remember that Surabala had been ever linked with my life in any way.
One holiday I paid a visit to Ram Lochan Babu. The subject of our
conversation has gone out of my mind; probably it was the unhappy
condition of present-day India. Not that he was very much concerned
or heart-broken over the matter; but the subject was such that one
could freely pour forth one's sentimental sorrow over it for an hour
or two while puffing at one's _hooka_.
While thus engaged, I heard in a side-room the softest possible jingle
of bracelets, crackle of dress, and footfall; and I felt certain that
two curious eyes were watching me through a small opening of the window.
All at once there flashed upon my memory a pair of eyes,--a pair of
large eyes, beaming with trust, simplicity, and girlhood's love,--black
pupils,--thick dark eyelashes,--a calm fixed gaze. Suddenly some
unseen force squeezed my heart in an iron grip, and it throbbed with
intense pain.
I returned to my house, but the pain clung to me. Whether I read,
wrote, or did any other work, I could not shake that weight off my
heart; a heavy load seemed to be always swinging from my heart-strings.
In the evening, calming myself a little, I began to reflect: 'What
ails me?' From within came the question: 'Where is _your_ Surabala
now?' I replied: 'I gave her up of my free will. Surely I did not
expect her to wait for me for ever.'
But something kept saying: '_Then_ you could have got her merely for
the asking. _Now_ you have not the right to look at her even once,
do what you will. That Surabala of your boyhood may come very close to
you; you may hear the jingle of her bracelets; you may breathe the air
embalmed by the essence of her hair,--but there will always be a wall
between you two.'
I answered: 'Be it so. What is Surabala to me?'
My heart rejoined: 'To-day Surabala is nobody to you. But what might
she not have been to you?'
Ah! that's true. _What_ might she not have been to me? Dearest to me
of all things, closer to me than the world besides, the sharer of all
my life's joys and sorrows,--she might have been. And now, she is so
distant, so much of a stranger, that to look on her is forbidden,
to talk with her is improper, and to think of her is a sin!--while
this Ram Lochan, coming suddenly from nowhere, has muttered a few set
religious texts, and in one swoop has carried off Surabala from the
rest of mankind!
I have not come to preach a new ethical code, or to revolutionise
society; I have no wish to tear asunder domestic ties. I am only
expressing the exact working of my mind, though it may not be
reasonable. I could not by any means banish from my mind the sense
that Surabala, reigning there within shelter of Ram Lochan's home,
was mine far more than his. The thought was, I admit, unreasonable
and improper,--but it was not unnatural.
Thereafter I could not set my mind to any kind of work. At noon when
the boys in my class hummed, when Nature outside simmered in the sun,
when the sweet scent of the _nim_ blossoms entered the room on the
tepid breeze, I then wished,--I know not what I wished for; but this
I can say, that I did not wish to pass all my life in correcting the
grammar exercises of those future hopes of India.
When school was over, I could not bear to live in my large lonely
house; and yet, if any one paid me a visit, it bored me. In the
gloaming as I sat by the tank and listened to the meaningless breeze
sighing through the betel- and cocoa-nut palms, I used to muse that
human society is a web of mistakes; nobody has the sense to do the
right thing at the right time, and when the chance is gone we break
our hearts over vain longings.
I could have married Surabala and lived happily. But I must be a
Garibaldi,--and I ended by becoming the second master of a village
school! And pleader Ram Lochan Ray, who had no special call to be
Surabala's husband,--to whom, before his marriage, Surabala was no
wise different from a hundred other maidens,--has very quietly married
her, and is earning lots of money as Government pleader; when his
dinner is badly cooked he scolds Surabala, and when he is in good
humour he gives her a bangle! He is sleek and fat, tidily dressed,
free from every kind of worry; _he_ never passes his evenings by the
tank gazing at the stars and sighing.
Ram Lochan was called away from our town for a few days by a big case
elsewhere. Surabala in her house was as lonely as I was in my school
I remember it was a Monday. The sky was overcast with clouds from the
morning. It began to drizzle at ten o'clock. At the aspect of the
heavens our headmaster closed the school early. All day the black
detached clouds began to run about in the sky as if making ready for
some grand display. Next day, towards afternoon, the rain descended
in torrents, accompanied by storm. As the night advanced the fury of
wind and water increased. At first the wind was easterly; gradually
it veered, and blew towards the south and south-west.
It was idle to try to sleep on such a night. I remembered that in this
terrible weather Surabala was alone in her house. Our school was much
more strongly built than her bungalow. Often and often did I plan to
invite her to the school-house, while I meant to pass the night alone
by the tank. But I could not summon up courage for it.
When it was half-past one in the morning, the roar of the tidal wave
was suddenly heard,--the sea was rushing on us! I left my room and ran
towards Surabala's house. In the way stood one embankment of our tank,
and as I was wading to it the flood already reached my knees. When I
mounted the bank, a second wave broke on it. The highest part of the
bank was more than seventeen feet above the plain.
As I climbed up the bank, another person reached it from the opposite
side. Who she was, every fibre of my body knew at once, and my whole
soul was thrilled with the consciousness. I had no doubt that she, too,
had recognised me.
On an island some three yards in area stood we two; all else was
covered with water.
It was a time of cataclysm; the stars had been blotted out of the
sky; all the lights of the earth had been darkened; there would have
been no harm if we had held converse _then_. But we could not bring
ourselves to utter a word; neither of us made even a formal inquiry
after the other's health. Only we stood gazing at the darkness. At our
feet swirled the dense, black, wild, roaring torrent of death.
To-day Surabala has come to _my_ side, leaving the whole world. To-day
she has none besides _me_. In our far-off childhood this Surabala
had come from some dark primeval realm of mystery, from a life in
another orb, and stood by my side on this luminous peopled earth; and
to-day, after a wide span of time, she has left that earth, so full
of light and human beings, to stand alone by _my_ side amidst this
terrible desolate gloom of Nature's death-convulsion. The stream of
birth had flung that tender bud before me, and the flood of death had
wafted the same flower, now in full bloom, to _me_ and to none else.
One more wave and we shall be swept away from this extreme point of the
earth, torn from the stalks on which we now sit apart, and made one
in death.
May that wave never come! May Surabala live long and happily, girt
round by husband and children, household and kinsfolk! This one night,
standing on the brink of Nature's destruction, I have tasted eternal
The night wore out, the tempest ceased, the flood abated; without a
word spoken, Surabala went back to her house, and I, too, returned to
my shed without having uttered a word.
I reflected: True, I have become no _Nazir_ or Head Clerk, nor a
Garibaldi; I am only the second master of a beggarly school. But one
night had for its brief space beamed upon my whole life's course.
That one night, out of all the days and nights of my allotted span,
has been the supreme glory of my humble existence.
Bipin Kisore was born 'with a golden spoon in his mouth'; hence he
knew how to squander money twice as well as how to earn it. The natural
result was that he could not live long in the house where he was born.
He was a delicate young man of comely appearance, an adept in music, a
fool in business, and unfit for life's handicap. He rolled along life's
road like the wheel of Jagannath's car. He could not long command
his wonted style of magnificent living.
Luckily, however, Raja Chittaranjan, having got back his property
from the Court of Wards, was intent upon organising an Amateur Theatre
Party. Captivated by the prepossessing looks of Bipin Kisore and his
musical endowments, the Raja gladly 'admitted him of his crew.'
Chittaranjan was a B.A. He was not given to any excesses. Though the
son of a rich man, he used to dine and sleep at appointed hours
and even at appointed places. And he suddenly became enamoured of
Bipin like one unto drink. Often did meals cool and nights grow old
while he listened to Bipin and discussed with him the merits of
operatic compositions. The Dewan remarked that the only blemish in
the otherwise perfect character of his master was his inordinate
fondness for Bipin Kisore.
Rani Basanta Kumari raved at her husband, and said that he was wasting
himself on a luckless baboon. The sooner she could do away with him,
the easier she would feel.
The Raja was much pleased in his heart at this seeming jealousy of
his youthful wife. He smiled, and thought that women-folk know only one
man upon the earth--him whom they love; and never think of other
men's deserts. That there may be many whose merits deserve regard,
is not recorded in the scriptures of women. The only good man and
the only object of a woman's favours is he who has blabbered into her
ears the matrimonial incantations. A little moment behind the usual
hour of her husband's meals is a world of anxiety to her, but she
never cares a brass button if her husband's dependents have a mouthful
or not. This inconsiderate partiality of the softer sex might be
cavilled at, but to Chittaranjan it did not seem unpleasant. Thus, he
would often indulge in hyperbolic laudations of Bipin in his wife's
presence, just to provoke a display of her delightful fulminations.
But what was sport to the 'royal' couple, was death to poor Bipin.
The servants of the house, as is their wont, took their cue from the
Rani's apathetic and wilful neglect of the wretched hanger-on, and
grew more apathetic and wilful still. They contrived to forget to look
after his comforts, to Bipin's infinite chagrin and untold sufferings.
Once the Rani rebuked the servant Puté, and said: 'You are always
shirking work; what do you do all through the day?' 'Pray, madam,
the whole day is taken up in serving Bipin Babu under the Maharaja's
orders,' stammered the poor valet.
The Rani retorted: 'Your Bipin Babu is a great Nawab, eh?' This was
enough for Puté. He took the hint. From the very next day he left
Bipin Babu's orts as they were, and at times forgot to cover the food
for him. With unpractised hands Bipin often scoured his own dishes
and not unfrequently went without meals. But it was not in him to whine
and report to the Raja. It was not in him to lower himself by petty
squabblings with menials. He did not mind it; he took everything in
good part. And thus while the Raja's favours grew, the Rani's disfavour
intensified, and at last knew no bounds.
Now the opera of _Subhadraharan_ was ready after due rehearsal. The
stage was fitted up in the palace court-yard. The Raja acted the part
of 'Krishna,' and Bipin that of 'Arjuna.' Oh, how sweetly he sang!
how beautiful he looked! The audience applauded in transports of joy.
The play over, the Raja came to the Rani and asked her how she liked
it. The Rani replied: 'Indeed, Bipin acted the part of "Arjuna"
gloriously! He does look like the scion of a noble family. His voice is
rare!' The Raja said jocosely: 'And how do I look? Am I not fair?
Have I not a sweet voice?' 'Oh, yours is different case!' added
the Rani, and again fell to dilating on the histrionic abilities of
Bipin Kisore.
The tables were now turned. He who used to praise, now began to
deprecate. The Raja, who was never weary of indulging in high-sounding
panegyrics of Bipin before his consort, now suddenly fell reflecting
that, after all, unthinking people made too much of Bipin's actual
merits. What was extraordinary about his appearance or voice? A
short while before he himself was one of those unthinking men, but in
a sudden and mysterious way he developed symptoms of thoughtfulness!
From the day following, every good arrangement was made for Bipin's
meals. The Rani told the Raja: 'It is undoubtedly wrong to lodge Bipin
Babu with the petty officers of the Raj in the Kachari[12]; for all he
now is, he was once a man of means.' The Raja ejaculated curtly:
'Ha!' and turned the subject. The Rani proposed that there might
be another performance on the occasion of the first-rice ceremony
of the 'royal' weanling. The Raja heard and heard her not.
[12] _Kachari_, generally anglicised as _cuteberry_: offices and
Once on being reprimanded by the Raja for not properly laying his
cloth, the servant Puté replied: 'What can I do? According to the
Rani's behests I have to look after Bipin Babu and wait on him the
livelong day.' This angered the Raja, and he exclaimed, highly
nettled: 'Pshaw! Bipin Babu is a veritable Nawab, I see! Can't he
cleanse his own dishes himself?' The servant, as before, took his
cue, and Bipin lapsed back into his former wretchedness.
The Rani liked Bipin's songs--they were sweet--there was no gainsaying
it. When her husband sat with Bipin to the wonted discourses of sweet
music of an evening, she would listen from behind the screen in an
adjoining room. Not long afterwards, the Raja began again his old habit
of dining and sleeping at regular hours. The music came to an end.
Bipin's evening services were no more needed.
Raja Chittaranjan used to look after his _zemindari_ affairs at noon.
One day he came earlier to the zenana, and found his consort reading
something. On his asking her what she read, the Rani was a little
taken aback, but promptly replied: 'I am conning over a few songs
from Bipin Babu's song-book. We have not had any music since you
tired abruptly of your musical hobby.' Poor woman! it was she who
had herself made no end of efforts to eradicate the hobby from her
husband's mind.
On the morrow the Raja dismissed Bipin--without a thought as to how
and where the poor fellow would get a morsel henceforth!
Nor was this the only matter of regret to Bipin. He had been bound to
the Raja by the dearest and most sincere tie of attachment. He served
him more for affection than for pay. He was fonder of his friend than
of the wages he received. Even after deep cogitation, Bipin could not
ascertain the cause of the Raja's sudden estrangement. ''Tis Fate! all
is Fate!' Bipin said to himself. And then, silently and bravely,
he heaved a deep sigh, picked up his old guitar, put it up in the
case, paid the last two coins in his pocket as a farewell _bakshish_
to Puté, and walked out into the wide wide world where he had not a
soul to call his friend.
Brindaban Kundu came to his father in a rage and said: 'I am off this
'Ungrateful wretch!' sneered the father, Jaganath Kundu. 'When you
have paid me back all that I have spent on your food and clothing, it
will be time enough to give yourself these airs.'
Such food and clothing as was customary in Jaganath's household could
not have cost very much. Our _rishis_ of old managed to feed and
clothe themselves on an incredibly small outlay. Jaganath's behaviour
showed that his ideal in these respects was equally high. That he
could not fully live up to it was due partly to the bad influence of
the degenerate society around him, and partly to certain unreasonable
demands of Nature in her attempt to keep body and soul together.
So long as Brindaban was single, things went smoothly enough, but
after his marriage he began to depart from the high and rarefied
standard cherished by his sire. It was clear that the son's ideas
of comfort were moving away from the spiritual to the material, and
imitating the ways of the world. He was unwilling to put up with the
discomforts of heat and cold, thirst and hunger. His minimum of food
and clothing rose apace.
Frequent were the quarrels between the father and the son. At last
Brindaban's wife became seriously ill and a _kabiraj_[13] was called
in. But when the doctor prescribed a costly medicine for his patient,
Jaganath took it as a proof of sheer incompetence, and turned him
out immediately. At first Brindaban besought his father to allow the
treatment to continue; then he quarrelled with him about it, but to
no purpose. When his wife died, he abused his father and called him
a murderer.
[13] Country doctor, unqualified by any medical training.
'Nonsense!' said the father. 'Don't people die even after swallowing
all kinds of drugs? If costly medicines could save life, how is it
that kings and emperors are not immortal? You don't expect your wife
to die with more pomp and ceremony than did your mother and your
grandmother before her, do you?'
Brindaban might really have derived a great consolation from these
words, had he not been overwhelmed with grief and incapable of
proper thinking. Neither his mother nor his grandmother had taken any
medicine before making their exit from this world, and this was the
time-honoured custom of the family. But, alas, the younger generation
was unwilling to die according to ancient custom. The English had
newly come to the country at the time we speak of. Even in those remote
days, the good old folks were horrified at the unorthodox ways of the
new generation, and sat speechless, trying to draw comfort from
their _hookas_.
Be that as it may, the modern Brindaban said to his old fogy of a
father: 'I am off.'
The father instantly agreed, and wished publicly that, should he ever
give his son one single pice in future, the gods might reckon his act
as shedding the holy blood of cows. Brindaban in his turn similarly
wished that, should he ever accept anything from his father, his act
might be held as bad as matricide.
The people of the village looked upon this small revolution as a
great relief after a long period of monotony. And when Jaganath
disinherited his only son, every one did his best to console him.
All were unanimous in the opinion that to quarrel with a father for
the sake of a wife was possible only in these degenerate days. And
the reason they gave was sound too. 'When your wife dies,' they
said, 'you can find a second one without delay. But when your father
dies, you can't get another to replace him for love or money.'
Their logic no doubt was perfect, but we suspect that the utter
hopelessness of getting another father did not trouble the misguided
son very much. On the contrary, he looked upon it as a mercy.
Nor did separation from Brindaban weigh heavily on the mind of his
father. In the first place, his absence from home reduced the household
expenses. Then, again, the father was freed from a great anxiety. The
fear of being poisoned by his son and heir had always haunted him. When
he ate his scanty fare, he could never banish the thought of poison
from his mind. This fear had abated somewhat after the death of his
daughter-in-law, and, now that the son was gone, it disappeared
But there was one tender spot in the old man's heart. Brindaban had
taken away with him his four-year-old son, Gokul Chandra. Now, the
expense of keeping the child was comparatively small, and so Jaganath's
affection for him was without a drawback. Still, when Brindaban took
him away, his grief, sincere as it was, was mingled at first with
calculation as to how much he would save a month by the absence of the
two, how much the sum would come to in the year, and what would be the
capital to bring it in as interest.
But the empty house, without Gokul Chandra in it to make mischief,
became more and more difficult for the old man to live in. There
was no one now to play tricks upon him when he was engaged in his
_puja_,[14] no one to snatch away his food and eat it, no one to
run away with his inkpot, when he was writing up his accounts. His
daily routine of life, now uninterrupted, became an intolerable burden
to him. He bethought him that this unworried peace was endurable
only in the world to come. When he caught sight of the holes made in
his quilt by his grandchild, and the pen-and-ink sketches executed by
the same artist on his rush-mat, his heart was heavy with grief.
Once upon a time he had reproached the boy bitterly because he had torn
his _dhoti_ into pieces within the short space of two years; now
tears stood in Jaganath's eyes as he gazed upon the dirty remnants
lying in the bedroom. He carefully put them away in his safe, and
registered a vow that, should Gokul ever come back again, he should
not be reprimanded even if he destroyed one _dhoti_ a year.
[14] A ceremonial worship.
But Gokul did not return, and poor Jaganath aged rapidly. His empty
home seemed emptier every day.
No longer could the old man stay peacefully at home. Even in the
middle of the day, when all respectable folks in the village enjoyed
their after-dinner siesta, Jaganath might be seen roaming over the
village, _hooka_ in hand. The boys, at sight of him, would give up
their play, and, retiring in a body to a safe distance, chant verses
composed by a local poet, praising the old gentleman's economical
habits. No one ventured to say his real name, lest he should have to go
without his meal that day[15]--and so people gave him names after their
own fancy. Elderly people called him Jaganash,[16] but the reason why
the younger generation preferred to call him a vampire was hard to
guess. It may be that the bloodless, dried-up skin of the old man
had some physical resemblance to the vampire's.
[15] It is a superstition current in Bengal that if a man pronounces
the name of a very miserly individual, he has to go without his meal
that day.
[16] Jaganath is the Lord of Festivity, and Jaga_nash_ would mean the
despoiler of it.
One afternoon, when Jaganath was rambling as usual through the village
lanes shaded by mango topes, he saw a boy, apparently a stranger,
assuming the captaincy of the village boys and explaining to them
the scheme of some new prank. Won by the force of his character and
the startling novelty of his ideas, the boys had all sworn allegiance
to him. Unlike the others, he did not run away from the old man as
he approached, but came quite close to him and began to shake his own
_chadar_. The result was that a live lizard sprang out of it on to
the old man's body, ran down his back and off towards the jungle.
Sudden fright made the poor man shiver from head to foot, to the
great amusement of the other boys, who shouted with glee. Before
Jaganath had gone far, cursing and swearing, the _gamcha_ on his
shoulder suddenly disappeared, and the next moment it was seen on
the head of the new boy, transformed into a turban.
The novel attentions of this manikin came as a great relief to
Jaganath. It was long since any boy had taken such freedom with him.
After a good deal of coaxing and many fair promises, he at last
persuaded the boy to come to him, and this was the conversation
which followed:
'What's your name, my boy?'
'Nitai Pal.'
'Where's your home?'
'Won't tell.'
'Who's your father?'
'Won't tell.'
'Why won't you?'
'Because I have run away from home.'
'What made you do it?'
'My father wanted to send me to school.'
It occurred to Jaganath that it would be useless extravagance to send
such a boy to school, and his father must have been an unpractical fool
not to have thought so.
'Well, well,' said Jaganath, 'how would you like to come and stay
with me?'
'Don't mind,' said the boy, and forthwith he installed himself in
Jaganath's house. He felt as little hesitation as though it were
the shadow of a tree by the wayside. And not only that. He began
to proclaim his wishes as regards his food and clothing with such
coolness that you would have thought he had paid his reckoning in full
beforehand; and, when anything went wrong, he did not scruple to
quarrel with the old man. It had been easy enough for Jaganath to get
the better of his own child; but, now, where another man's child was
concerned, he had to acknowledge defeat.
The people of the village marvelled when Nitai Pal was unexpectedly
made so much of by Jaganath. They felt sure that the old man's end
was near, and the prospect of his bequeathing all his property to this
unknown brat made their hearts sore. Furious with envy, they determined
to do the boy an injury, but the old man took care of him as though
he was a rib in his breast.
At times, the boy threatened that he would go away, and the old man
used to say to him temptingly: 'I will leave you all the property I
possess.' Young as he was, the boy fully understood the grandeur of
this promise.
The village people then began to make inquiries after the father of the
boy. Their hearts melted with compassion for the agonised parents,
and they declared that the son must be a rascal to cause them so much
suffering. They heaped abuses on his head, but the heat with which
they did it betrayed envy rather than a sense of justice.
One day the old man learned from a wayfarer that one Damodar Pal was
seeking his lost son, and was even now coming towards the village.
Nitai, when he heard this, became very restless and was ready to run
away, leaving his future wealth to take care of itself. Jaganath
reassured him, saying: 'I mean to hide you where nobody can find
you--not even the village people themselves.'
This whetted the curiosity of the boy and he said: 'Oh, where? Do show
'People will know, if I show you now. Wait till it is night,' said
The hope of discovering the mysterious hiding-place delighted Nitai. He
planned to himself how, as soon as his father had gone away without
him, he would have a bet with his comrades, and play hide-and-seek.
Nobody would be able to find him. Wouldn't it be fun? His father, too,
would ransack the whole village, and not find him--that would be rare
fun also.
At noon, Jaganath shut the boy up in his house, and disappeared for
some time. When he came home again, Nitai worried him with questions.
No sooner was it dark than Nitai said: 'Grandfather, shall we go now?'
'It isn't night yet,' replied Jaganath.
A little while later the boy exclaimed: 'It is night now, grandfather;
come let's go.'
'The village people haven't gone to bed yet,' whispered Jaganath.
Nitai waited but a moment, and said: 'They have gone to bed now,
grandfather; I am sure they have. Let's start now.'
The night advanced. Sleep began to weigh heavily on the eyelids of
the poor boy, and it was a hard struggle for him to keep awake. At
midnight, Jaganath caught hold of the boy's arm, and left the house,
groping through the dark lanes of the sleeping village. Not a sound
disturbed the stillness, except the occasional howl of a dog, when
all the other dogs far and near would join in chorus, or perhaps the
flapping of a night-bird, scared by the sound of human footsteps at
that unusual hour. Nitai trembled with fear, and held Jaganath fast
by the arm.
Across many a field they went, and at last came to a jungle, where
stood a dilapidated temple without a god in it. 'What, here!'
exclaimed Nitai in a tone of disappointment. It was nothing like what
he had imagined. There was not much mystery about it. Often, since
running away from home, he had passed nights in deserted temples
like this. It was not a bad place for playing hide-and-seek; still
it was quite possible that his comrades might track him there.
From the middle of the floor inside, Jaganath removed a slab of stone,
and an underground room with a lamp burning in it was revealed to the
astonished eyes of the boy. Fear and curiosity assailed his little
heart. Jaganath descended by a ladder and Nitai followed him.
Looking around, the boy saw that there were brass _ghurras_[17] on all
sides of him. In the middle lay spread an _assan_[18], and in front of
it were arranged vermilion, sandal paste, flowers, and other articles
of _puja_. To satisfy his curiosity the boy dipped his hand into some
of the _ghurras_, and drew out their contents. They were rupees and
gold _mohurs_.
[17] A water-pot holding about three gallons of water.
[18] A prayer carpet.
Jaganath, addressing the boy, said: 'I told you, Nitai, that I would
give you all my money. I have not got much,--these _ghurras_ are all
that I possess. These I will make over to you to-day.'
The boy jumped with delight. 'All?' he exclaimed; 'you won't take
back a rupee, will you?'
'If I do,' said the old man in solemn tones, 'may my hand be
attacked with leprosy. But there is one condition. If ever my grandson,
Gokul Chandra, or his son, or his grandson, or his great-grandson or
any of his progeny should happen to pass this way, then you must
make over to him, or to them, every rupee and every _mohur_ here.'
The boy thought that the old man was raving. 'Very well,' he replied.
'Then sit on this _assan_,' said Jaganath.
'What for?'
'Because _puja_ will be done to you.'
'But why?' said the boy, taken aback.
'This is the rule.'
The boy squatted on the _assan_ as he was told. Jaganath smeared
his forehead with sandal paste, put a mark of vermilion between his
eyebrows, flung a garland of flowers round his neck, and began to
recite _mantras_.[19]
[19] Incantations.
To sit there like a god, and hear _mantras_ recited made poor Nitai
feel very uneasy. 'Grandfather,' he whispered.
But Jaganath did not reply, and went on muttering his incantations.
Finally, with great difficulty he dragged each _ghurra_ before the boy
and made him repeat the following vow after him:
'I do solemnly promise that I will make over all this treasure to
Gokul Chandra Kundu, the son of Brindaban Kundu, the grandson of
Jaganath Kundu, or to the son or to the grandson or to the
great-grandson of the said Gokul Chandra Kundu, or to any other
progeny of his who may be the rightful heir.'
The boy repeated this over and over again, until he felt stupefied,
and his tongue began to grow stiff in his mouth. When the ceremony was
over, the air of the cave was laden with the smoke of the earthen lamp
and the breath-poison of the two. The boy felt that the roof of his
mouth had become dry as dust, and his hands and feet were burning. He
was nearly suffocated.
The lamp became dimmer and dimmer, and then went out altogether. In the
total darkness that followed, Nitai could hear the old man climbing up
the ladder. 'Grandfather, where are you going to?' said he, greatly
'I am going now,' replied Jaganath; 'you remain here. No one will
be able to find you. Remember the name Gokul Chandra, the son of
Brindaban, and the grandson of Jaganath.'
He then withdrew the ladder. In a stifled, agonised voice the boy
implored: 'I want to go back to father.'
Jaganath replaced the slab. He then knelt down and placed his ear
on the stone. Nitai's voice was heard once more--'Father'--and
then came a sound of some heavy object falling with a bump--and
then--everything was still.
Having thus placed his wealth in the hands of a _yak_,[20] Jaganath
began to cover up the stone with earth. Then he piled broken bricks
and loose mortar over it. On the top of all he planted turfs of
grass and jungle weeds. The night was almost spent, but he could not
tear himself away from the spot. Now and again he placed his ear
to the ground, and tried to listen. It seemed to him that from far
far below--from the abysmal depth of the earth's interior--came a
wailing. It seemed to him that the night-sky was flooded with that
one sound, that the sleeping humanity of all the world was awake, and
was sitting on its beds, trying to listen.
[20] _Yak_ or _Yaksa_ is a supernatural being described in Sanskrit
mythology and poetry. In Bengal, _Yak_ has come to mean a ghostly
custodian of treasure, under such circumstances as in this story.
The old man in his frenzy kept on heaping earth higher and higher. He
wanted somehow to stifle that sound, but still he fancied he could hear
He struck the spot with all his might and said: 'Be quiet--people
might hear you.' But still he imagined he heard 'Father.'
The sun lighted up the eastern horizon. Jaganath then left the temple,
and came into the open fields.
There, too, somebody called out 'Father.' Startled at the sound, he
turned back and saw his son at his heels.
'Father,' said Brindaban, 'I hear my boy is hiding himself in your
house. I must have him back.'
With eyes dilated and distorted mouth, the old man leaned forward and
exclaimed: 'Your boy?'
'Yes, my boy Gokul. He is Nitai Pal now, and I myself go by the name
of Damodar Pal. Your _fame_ has spread so widely in the neighbourhood,
that we were obliged to cover up our origin, lest people should have
refused to pronounce our names.'
Slowly the old man lifted both his arms above his head. His fingers
began to twitch convulsively, as though he was trying to catch hold of
some imaginary object in the air. He then fell on the ground.
When he came to his senses again, he dragged his son towards the ruined
temple. When they were both inside it, he said: 'Do you hear any
wailing sound?'
'No, I don't,' said Brindaban.
'Just listen very carefully. Do you hear anybody calling out
This seemed to relieve him greatly.
From that day forward, he used to go about asking people: 'Do you hear
any wailing sound?' They laughed at the raving dotard.
About four years later, Jaganath lay on his death-bed. When the
light of this world was gradually fading away from his eyes, and his
breathing became more and more difficult, he suddenly sat up in a
state of delirium. Throwing both his hands in the air he seemed to
grope about for something, muttering: 'Nitai, who has removed my
Unable to find the ladder to climb out of his terrible dungeon, where
there was no light to see and no air to breathe, he fell on his bed
once more, and disappeared into that region where no one has ever been
found out in the world's eternal game of hide-and-seek.[21]
[21] The incidents described in this story, now happily a thing of
the past, were by no means rare in Bengal at one time. Our author,
however, slightly departs from the current accounts. Such criminally
superstitious practices were resorted to by miserly persons under the
idea that they themselves would re-acquire the treasure in a future
state of existence. 'When you see me in a future birth passing this
way, you must make over all this treasure to me. Guard it till then
and stir not,'--was the usual promise exacted from the victim before
he became _yak_. Many were the 'true' stories we heard in childhood of
people becoming suddenly rich by coming across ghostly custodians of
wealth belonging to them in a past birth.
Krishna Gopal Sircar, zemindar of Jhikrakota, made over his estates to
his eldest son, and retired to Kasi, as befits a good Hindu, to spend
the evening of his life in religious devotion. All the poor and the
destitute of the neighbourhood were in tears at the parting. Every one
declared that such piety and benevolence were rare in these degenerate
His son, Bipin Bihari, was a young man well educated after the modern
fashion, and had taken the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He sported a
pair of spectacles, wore a beard, and seldom mixed with others. His
private life was unsullied. He did not smoke, and never touched
cards. He was a man of stern disposition, though he looked soft and
pliable. This trait of his character soon came home to his tenantry
in diverse ways. Unlike his father, he would on no account allow the
remission of one single pice out of the rents justly due to him.
In no circumstances would he grant any tenant one single day's grace
in paying up.
On taking over the management of the property, Bipin Bihari discovered
that his father had allowed a large number of Brahmins to hold land
entirely rent-free, and a larger number at rents much below the
prevailing rates. His father was incapable of resisting the importunate
solicitation of others--such was the weakness of his character.
Bipin Bihari said this could never be. He could not abandon the
income of half his property--and he reasoned with himself thus:
_Firstly_, the persons who were in actual enjoyment of the concessions
and getting fat at his expense were a lot of worthless people, and
wholly undeserving of charity. Charity bestowed on such objects only
encouraged idleness. _Secondly_, living nowadays had become much
costlier than in the days of his ancestors. Wants had increased apace.
For a gentleman to keep up his position had become four times as
expensive as in days past. So he could not afford to scatter gifts
right and left as his father had done. On the contrary, it was his
bounden duty to call back as many of them as he possibly could.
So Bipin Bihari lost no time in carrying into effect what he conceived
to be his duty. He was a man of strict principles.
What had gone out of his grasp, returned to him little by little. Only
a very small portion of his father's grants did he allow to remain
undisturbed, and he took good care to arrange that even those should
not be deemed permanent.
The wails of the tenants reached Krishna Gopal at Benares through the
post. Some even made a journey to that place to represent their
grievances to him in person. Krishna Gopal wrote to his son intimating
his displeasure. Bipin Bihari replied, pointing out that the times
had changed. In former days, he said, the _zemindar_ was compensated
for the gifts he made by the many customary presents he received from
his tenantry. Recent statutes had made all such impositions illegal.
The _zemindar_ had now to rest content with just the stipulated
rent, and nothing more. 'Unless,' he continued, 'we keep a strict
watch over the payment of our just dues, what will be left to us?
Since the tenants won't give us anything extra now, how can we allow
them concessions? Our relations must henceforth be strictly commercial.
We shall be ruined if we go on making gifts and endowments, and the
preservation of our property and the keeping up of our position will be
rendered very difficult.'
Krishna Gopal became uneasy at finding that times should have changed
so much. 'Well, well,' he murmured to himself, 'the younger
generation knows best, I suppose. Our old-fashioned methods won't
do now. If I interfere, my son might refuse to manage the property,
and insist on my going back. No, thank you--I would rather not. I
prefer to devote the few days that are left me to the service of my
So things went on. Bipin Bihari put his affairs in order after much
litigation in the Courts, and by less constitutional methods outside.
Most of the tenants submitted to his will out of fear. Only a fellow
called Asimuddin, son of Mirza Bibi, remained refractory.
Bipin's displeasure was keenest against this man. He could quite
understand his father having granted rent-free lands to Brahmins, but
why this Mohammedan should be holding so much land, some free and
some at rents lower than the prevailing rates, was a riddle to him.
And what was he? The son of a low Mohammedan widow, giving himself
airs and defying the whole world, simply because he had learnt to read
and write a little at the village school. To Bipin it was intolerable.
He made inquiries of his clerks about Asimuddin's holdings. All that
they could tell him was that Babu Krishna Gopal himself had made
these grants to the family many years back, but they had no idea
as to what his motive might have been. They imagined, however, that
perhaps the widow won the compassion of the kind-hearted _zemindar_, by
representing to him her woe and misery.
To Bipin these favours seemed to be utterly undeserved. He had not
seen the pitiable condition of these people in days gone by. Their
comparative ease at the present day and their arrogance drove him to
the conclusion that they had impudently swindled his tender-hearted
father out of a part of his lawful income.
Asimuddin was a stiff-necked sort of a fellow, too. He vowed that he
would lay down his life sooner than give up an inch of his land. Then
came open hostilities.
The poor old widow tried her best to pacify her son. 'It is no good
fighting with the _zemindar_,' she would often say to him. 'His
kindness has kept us alive so long; let us depend upon him still,
though he may curtail his favours. Surrender to him part of the lands
as he desires.'
'Oh, mother!' protested Asimuddin. 'What do you know of these
matters, pray?'
One by one, Asimuddin lost the cases instituted against him. The more
he lost, the more his obstinacy increased. For the sake of his all,
he staked all that was his.
One afternoon, Mirza Bibi collected some fruits and vegetables from
her little garden, and unknown to her son went and sought an interview
with Bipin Babu. She looked at him with a tenderness maternal in its
intensity, and spoke: 'May Allah bless you, my son. Do not destroy
Asim--it wouldn't be right of you. To your charge I commit him.
Take him as though he were one whom it is your duty to support--as
though he were a ne'er-do-well younger brother of yours. Vast is
your wealth--don't grudge him a small particle of it, my son.'
This assumption of familiarity on the part of the garrulous old woman
annoyed Bipin not a little. 'What do you know of these things, my good
woman?' he condescended to say. 'If you have any representations
to make, send your son to me.'
Being assured for the second time that she knew nothing about these
affairs, Mirza Bibi returned home, wiping her eyes with her apron all
the way, and offering her silent prayers to Allah.
The litigation dragged its weary length from the Criminal to the
Civil Courts, and thence to the High Court, where at last Asimuddin
met with a partial success. Eighteen months passed in this way. But he
was a ruined man now--plunged in debts up to his very ears. His
creditors took this opportunity to execute the decrees they had
obtained against him. A date was fixed for putting up to auction every
stick and stone that he had left.
It was Monday. The village market had assembled by the side of a tiny
river, now swollen by the rains. Buying and selling were going on,
partly on the bank and partly in the boats moored there. The hubbub was
great. Among the commodities for sale jack-fruits preponderated, it
being the month of _Asadh_. _Hilsa_ fish were seen in large quantities
also. The sky was cloudy. Many of the stall-holders, apprehending a
downpour, had stretched a piece of cloth overhead, across bamboo
poles put up for the purpose.
Asimuddin had come too--but he had not a copper with him. No
shopkeepers allowed him credit nowadays. He therefore had brought a
brass _thali_[22] and a _dao_[23] with him. These he would pawn,
and then buy what he needed.
[22] _Thali_: plate.
[23] _Dao_: knife.
Towards evening, Bipin Babu was out for a walk attended by two or
three retainers armed with _lathis_.[24] Attracted by the noise, he
directed his steps towards the market. On his arrival, he stopped
awhile before the stall of Dwari, the oilman, and made kindly inquiries
about his business. All on a sudden, Asimuddin raised his _dao_ and
ran towards Bipin Babu, roaring like a tiger. The market people
caught hold of him half-way, and quickly disarmed him. He was forthwith
given in custody to the police. Business in the market then went on as
[24] _Lathis_: stick.
We cannot say that Bipin Babu was not inwardly pleased at this
incident. It is intolerable that the creature we are hunting down
should turn and show fight. 'The _badmash_,' Bipin chuckled; 'I
have got him at last.'
The ladies of Bipin Babu's house, when they heard the news, exclaimed
with horror: 'Oh, the ruffian! What a mercy they seized him in time!'
They found consolation in the prospect of the man being punished as
he richly deserved.
In another part of the village the same evening the widow's humble
cottage, devoid of bread and bereft of her son, became darker than
death. Others dismissed the incident of the afternoon from their minds,
sat down to their meals, retired to bed and went to sleep, but to
the widow the event loomed larger than anything else in this wide
world. But, alas, who was there to combat it? Only a bundle of wearied
bones and a helpless mother's heart trembling with fear.
Three days have passed in the meanwhile. To-morrow the case would come
up for trial before a Deputy Magistrate. Bipin Babu would have to be
examined as a witness. Never before this did a _zemindar_ of Jhikrakota
appear in the witness-box, but Bipin did not mind.
The next day at the appointed hour, Bipin Babu arrived at the Court
in a palanquin in great state. He wore a turban on his head, and a
watch-chain dangled on his breast. The Deputy Magistrate invited him
to a seat on the daïs, beside his own. The Court-room was crowded to
suffocation. So great a sensation had not been witnessed in this Court
for many years.
When the time for the case to be called drew near, a _chaprassi_ came
and whispered something in Bipin Babu's ear. He got up very agitated
and walked out, begging the Deputy Magistrate to excuse him for a few
Outside he saw his old father a little way off, standing under a
_banian_ tree, barefooted and wrapped in a piece of _namabali_.[25]
A string of beads was in his hand. His slender form shone with a gentle
lustre, and tranquil compassion seemed to radiate from his forehead.
[25] A garment with the name of Krishna printed over it.
Bipin, hampered by his close-fitting trousers and his flowing
_chapkan_, touched his father's feet with his forehead. As he did
this his turban came off and kissed his nose, and his watch, popping
out of his pocket, swung to and fro in the air. Bipin hurriedly
straightened his turban, and begged his father to come to his pleader's
house close by.
'No, thank you,' Krishna Gopal replied, 'I will tell you here what
I have got to say.'
A curious crowd had gathered by this time. Bipin's attendants pushed
them back.
Then Krishna Gopal said: 'You must do what you can to get Asim
acquitted, and restore him the lands that you have taken away from
'Is it for this, father,' said Bipin, very much surprised, 'that you
have come all the way from Benares? Would you tell me why you have made
these people the objects of your special favour?'
'What would you gain by knowing it, my boy?'
But Bipin persisted. 'It is only this, father,' he went on; 'I have
revoked many a grant because I thought the tenants were not deserving.
There were many Brahmins among them, but of them you never said a
word. Why are you so keen about these Mohammedans now? After all that
has happened, if I drop this case against Asim, and give him back his
lands, what shall I say to people?'
Krishna Gopal kept silence for some moments. Then, passing the beads
through his shaky fingers with rapidity, he spoke with a tremulous
voice: 'Should it be necessary to explain your conduct to people,
you may tell them that Asimuddin is my son--and your brother.'
'What?' exclaimed Bipin in painful surprise. 'From a Musalman's
'Even so, my son,' was the calm reply.
Bipin stood there for some time in mute astonishment. Then he found
words to say: 'Come home, father; we will talk about it afterwards.'
'No, my son,' replied the old man, 'having once relinquished the
world to serve my God, I cannot go home again. I return hence. Now I
leave you to do what your sense of duty may suggest.' He then blessed
his son, and, checking his tears with difficulty, walked off with
tottering steps.
Bipin was dumbfounded, not knowing what to say nor what to do. 'So,
such was the piety of the older generation,' he said to himself. He
reflected with pride how much better he was than his father in point
of education and morality. This was the result, he concluded, of not
having a principle to guide one's actions.
Returning to the Court, he saw Asimuddin outside between two
constables, awaiting his trial. He looked emaciated and worn out.
His lips were pale and dry, and his eyes unnaturally bright. A dirty
piece of cloth worn to shreds covered him. 'This my brother!' Bipin
shuddered at the thought.
The Deputy Magistrate and Bipin were friends, and the case ended in a
fiasco. In a few days Asimuddin was restored to his former condition.
Why all this happened, he could not understand. The village people were
greatly surprised also.
However, the news of Krishna Gopal's arrival just before the trial
soon got abroad. People began to exchange meaning glances. The
pleaders in their shrewdness guessed the whole affair. One of them,
Ram Taran Babu, was beholden to Krishna Gopal for his education and
his start in life. Somehow or other he had always suspected that
the virtue and piety of his benefactor were shams. Now he was fully
convinced that, if a searching inquiry were made, all 'pious' men
might be found out. 'Let them tell their beads as much as they
like,' he thought with glee, 'everybody in this world is just as
bad as myself. The only difference between a good and a bad man is
that the good practise dissimulation while the bad don't.' The
revelation that Krishna Gopal's far-famed piety, benevolence, and
magnanimity were nothing but a cloak of hypocrisy, settled a difficulty
that had oppressed Ram Taran Babu for many years. By what process
of reasoning, we do not know, the burden of gratitude was greatly
lifted off his mind. It was a vast relief to him!
Having described at length the misdeeds of an unfortunate woman's
wicked, tyrannical husband, Tara, the woman's neighbour in the village,
very shortly declared her verdict: 'Fire be to such a husband's
At this Joygopal Babu's wife felt much hurt; it did not become
womankind to wish, in any circumstances whatever, a worse species
of fire than that of a cigar in a husband's mouth.
When, therefore, she mildly disapproved the verdict, hard-hearted Tara
cried with redoubled vehemence: ''Twere better to be a widow seven
births over than the wife of such a husband,' and saying this she
broke up the meeting and left.
Sasi said within herself: 'I can't imagine any offence in a husband
that could so harden the heart against him.' Even as she turned
the matter over in her mind, all the tenderness of her loving soul
gushed forth towards her own husband now abroad. Throwing herself with
outstretched arms on that part of the bed whereon her husband was wont
to lie, she kissed the empty pillow, caught the smell of her husband's
head, and, shutting the door, brought out from a wooden box an old and
almost faded photograph with some letters in his handwriting, and sat
gazing upon them. Thus she passed the hushed noontide alone in her
room, musing of old memories and shedding tears of sadness.
It was no new yoke this between Sasikala and Joygopal. They had been
married at an early age and had children. Their long companionship
had made the days go by in an easy, commonplace sort of way. On
neither side had there been any symptoms of excessive passion. They
had lived together nearly sixteen years without a break, when her
husband was suddenly called away from home on business, and then a
great impulse of love awoke in Sasi's soul. As separation strained
the tie, love's knot grew tighter, and the passion, whose existence
Sasi had not felt, now made her throb with pain.
So it happened that after so many long years, and at such an age,
and being the mother of children, Sasi, on this spring noon, in her
lonely chamber, lying on the bed of separation, began to dream the
sweet dream of a bride in her budding youth. That love of which
hitherto she had been unconscious suddenly aroused her with its
murmuring music. She wandered a long way up the stream, and saw many a
golden mansion and many a grove on either bank; but no foothold could
she find now amid the vanished hopes of happiness. She began to
say to herself that, when next she met her husband, life should not
be insipid nor should the spring come in vain. How very often, in idle
disputation or some petty quarrel, had she teased her husband! With
all the singleness of a penitent heart she vowed that she would never
show impatience again, never oppose her husband's wishes, bear all
his commands, and with a tender heart submit to whatever he wished of
good or ill; for the husband was all-in-all, the husband was the
dearest object of love, the husband was divine.
Sasikala was the only and much-petted daughter of her parents. For this
reason, though he had only a small property of his own, Joygopal had no
anxieties about the future. His father-in-law had enough to support
them in a village with royal state.
And then in his old age a son was born untimely to Sasikala's
father. To tell the truth, Sasi was very sore in her mind at this
unlooked-for, improper, and unjust action of her parents; nor was
Joygopal particularly pleased.
The parents' love centred in this son of their advanced years, and
when the newly arrived, diminutive, sleepy brother-in-law seized with
his two weak tiny fists all the hopes and expectations of Joygopal,
Joygopal found a place in a tea-garden in Assam.
His friends urged him to look for employment hard-by, but whether out
of a general feeling of resentment, or knowing the chances of rapid
rise in a tea-garden, Joygopal would not pay heed to anybody. He sent
his wife and children to his father-in-law's, and left for Assam. It
was the first separation between husband and wife in their married life.
This incident made Sasikala very angry with her baby brother. The
soreness which may not pass the lips is felt the more keenly within.
When the little fellow sucked and slept at his ease, his big sister
found a hundred reasons, such as the rice is cold, the boys are too
late for school, to worry herself and others, day and night, with her
petulant humours.
But in a short time the child's mother died. Before her death, she
committed her infant son to her daughter's care.
Then did the motherless child easily conquer his sister's heart. With
loud whoops he would fling himself upon her, and with right good-will
try to get her mouth, nose, eyes within his own tiny mouth; he would
seize her hair within his little fists and refuse to give it up;
awaking before the dawn, he would roll over to her side and thrill her
with his soft touch, and babble like a noisy brook; later on, he
would call her _jiji_ and _jijima_, and in hours of work and rest, by
doing forbidden things, eating forbidden food, going to forbidden
places, would set up a regular tyranny over her; then Sasi could
resist no longer. She surrendered herself completely to this wayward
little tyrant. Since the child had no mother, his influence over her
became the greater.
The child was named Nilmani. When he was two years old his father
fell seriously ill. A letter reached Joygopal asking him to come as
quickly as possible. When after much trouble he got leave and arrived,
Kaliprasanna's last hour had come.
Before he died Kaliprasanna entrusted Joygopal with the charge of his
son, and left a quarter of his estate to his daughter.
So Joygopal gave up his appointment, and came home to look after his
After a long time husband and wife met again. When a material body
breaks it may be put together again. But when two human beings are
divided, after a long separation, they never re-unite at the same
place, and to the same time; for the mind is a living thing, and moment
by moment it grows and changes.
In Sasi reunion stirred a new emotion. The numbness of age-long habit
in their old marriage was entirely removed by the longing born of
separation, and she seemed to win her husband much more closely than
before. Had she not vowed in her mind that whatever days might come,
and how long soever they might be, she would never let the brightness
of this glowing love for her husband be dimmed.
Of this reunion, however, Joygopal felt differently. When they were
constantly together before he had been bound to his wife by his
interests and idiosyncrasies. His wife was then a living truth in his
life, and there would have been a great rent in the web of his daily
habit if she were left out. Consequently Joygopal found himself in
deep waters at first when he went abroad. But in time this breach in
habit was patched up by a new habit.
And this was not all. Formerly his days went by in the most indolent
and careless fashion. For the last two years, the stimulus of bettering
his condition had stirred so powerfully in his breast that he had
nothing else in his thoughts. As compared with the intensity of this
new passion, his old life seemed like an unsubstantial shadow. The
greatest changes in a woman's nature are wrought by love; in a man's,
by ambition.
Joygopal, when he returned after two years, found his wife not quite
the same as of old. To her life his infant brother-in-law had added a
new breadth. This part of her life was wholly unfamiliar to him--here
he had no communion with his wife. His wife tried hard to share her
love for the child with him, but it cannot be said that she succeeded.
Sasi would come with the child in her arms, and hold him before her
husband with a smiling face--Nilmani would clasp Sasi's neck, and hide
his face on her shoulder, and admit no obligation of kindred. Sasi
wished that her little brother might show Joygopal all the arts he had
learnt to capture a man's mind. But Joygopal was not very keen about
it. How could the child show any enthusiasm? Joygopal could not at all
understand what there was in the heavy-pated, grave-faced, dusky
child that so much love should be wasted on him.
Women quickly understand the ways of love. Sasi at once understood that
Joygopal did not care for Nilmani. Henceforth she used to screen her
brother with the greatest care--to keep him away from the unloving,
repelling look of her husband. Thus the child came to be the treasure
of her secret care, the object of her isolated love.
Joygopal was greatly annoyed when Nilmani cried; so Sasi would quickly
press the child to her breast, and with her whole heart and soul try
to soothe him. And when Nilmani's cry happened to disturb Joygopal's
sleep at night, and Joygopal with an expression of displeasure, and
in a tortured spirit, growled at the child, Sasi felt humbled and
fluttered like a guilty thing. Then she would take up the child in
her lap, retire to a distance, and in a voice of pleading love, with
such endearments as 'my gold, my treasure, my jewel,' lull him to
Children will fall out for a hundred things. Formerly in such cases,
Sasi would punish her children, and side with her brother, for he was
motherless. Now the law changed with the judge. Nilmani had often to
bear heavy punishment without fault and without inquiry. This wrong
went like a dagger to Sasi's heart; so she would take her punished
brother into her room, and with sweets and toys, and by caressing and
kissing him, solace as much as she could his stricken heart.
Thus the more Sasi loved Nilmani, the more Joygopal was annoyed with
him. On the other hand, the more Joygopal showed his contempt for
Nilmani, the more would Sasi bathe the child with the nectar of her
And when the fellow Joygopal behaved harshly to his wife, Sasi would
minister to him silently, meekly, and with loving-kindness. But
inwardly they hurt each other, moment by moment, about Nilmani.
The hidden clash of a silent conflict like this is far harder to bear
than an open quarrel.
Nilmani's head was the largest part of him. It seemed as if the Creator
had blown through a slender stick a big bubble at its top. The doctors
feared sometimes that the child might be as frail and as quickly
evanescent as a bubble. For a long time he could neither speak nor
walk. Looking at his sad grave face, you might think that his parents
had unburdened all the sad weight of their advanced years upon the head
of this little child.
With his sister's care and nursing, Nilmani passed the period of
danger, and arrived at his sixth year.
In the month of Kartik, on the _bhaiphoto_[26] day, Sasi had dressed
Nilmani up as a little Babu, in coat and _chadar_ and red-bordered
_dhoti_, and was giving him the 'brother's mark,' when her outspoken
neighbour Tara came in and, for one reason or another, began a quarrel.
[26] Lit. the 'brother's mark.' A beautiful and touching ceremony in
which a Hindu sister makes a mark of sandalwood paste on the forehead
of her brother and utters a formula, 'putting the barrier in Yama's
doorway' (figurative for wishing long life). On these occasions, the
sisters entertain their brothers and make them presents of clothes,
''Tis no use,' cried she, 'giving the "brother's mark" with so
much show and ruining the brother in secret.'
At this Sasi was thunderstruck with astonishment, rage, and pain. Tara
repeated the rumour that Sasi and her husband had conspired together
to put the minor Nilmani's property up for sale for arrears of rent,
and to purchase it in the name of her husband's cousin. When Sasi heard
this, she uttered a curse that those who could spread such a foul
lie might be stricken with leprosy in the mouth. And then she went
weeping to her husband, and told him of the gossip. Joygopal said:
'Nobody can be trusted in these days. Upen is my aunt's son, and I
felt quite safe in leaving him in charge of the property. He could not
have allowed the _taluk_ Hasilpur to fall into arrears and purchase it
himself in secret, if I had had the least inkling about it.'
'Won't you sue then?' asked Sasi in astonishment.
'Sue one's cousin!' said Joygopal. 'Besides, it would be useless,
a simple waste of money.'
It was Sasi's supreme duty to trust her husband's word, but Sasi could
not. At last her happy home, the domesticity of her love seemed
hateful to her. That home life which had once seemed her supreme
refuge was nothing more than a cruel snare of self-interest, which had
surrounded them, brother and sister, on all sides. She was a woman,
single-handed, and she knew not how she could save the helpless
Nilmani. The more she thought, the more her heart filled with terror,
loathing, and an infinite love for her imperilled little brother. She
thought that, if she only knew how, she would appear before the _Lat
Saheb_,[27] nay, write to the Maharani herself, to save her brother's
property. The Maharani would surely not allow Nilmani's _taluk_[28]
of Hasilpur, with an income of seven hundred and fifty-eight rupees a
year, to be sold.
[27] The Viceroy.
[28] Land.
When Sasi was thus thinking of bringing her husband's cousin to book
by appealing to the Maharani herself, Nilmani was suddenly seized with
fever and convulsions.
Joygopal called in the village doctor. When Sasi asked for a better
doctor, Joygopal said: 'Why, Matilal isn't a bad sort.'
Sasi fell at his feet, and charged him with an oath on her own head;
whereupon Joygopal said: 'Well, I shall send for the doctor from
Sasi lay with Nilmani in her lap, nor would Nilmani let her out of his
sight for a minute; he clung to her lest by some pretence she should
escape; even while he slept he would not loosen his hold of her dress.
Thus the whole day passed, and Joygopal came after nightfall to say
that the doctor was not at home; he had gone to see a patient at a
distance. He added that he himself had to leave that very day on
account of a lawsuit, and that he had told Matilal, who would regularly
call to see the patient.
At night Nilmani wandered in his sleep. As soon as the morning dawned,
Sasi, without the least scruple, took a boat with her sick brother, and
went straight to the doctor's house. The doctor was at home--he had not
left the town. He quickly found lodgings for her, and having installed
her under the care of an elderly widow, undertook the treatment of
the boy.
The next day Joygopal arrived. Blazing with fury, he ordered his wife
to return home with him at once.
'Even if you cut me to pieces, I won't return,' replied his wife.
'You all want to kill my Nilmani, who has no father, no mother, none
other than me, but I will save him.'
'Then you remain here, and don't come back to my house,' cried
Joygopal indignantly.
Sasi at length fired up. '_Your_ house! Why, 'tis my brother's!'
'All right, we'll see,' said Joygopal. The neighbours made a great
stir over this incident. 'If you want to quarrel with your husband,'
said Tara, 'do so at home. What is the good of leaving your house?
After all, Joygopal is your husband.'
By spending all the money she had with her, and selling her ornaments,
Sasi saved her brother from the jaws of death. Then she heard that the
big property which they had in Dwarigram, where their dwelling-house
stood, the income of which was more than Rs. 1500 a year, had been
transferred by Joygopal into his own name with the help of the
Jemindar. And now the whole property belonged to them, not to her
When he had recovered from his illness, Nilmani would cry plaintively:
'Let us go home, sister.' His heart was pining for his nephews and
nieces, his companions. So he repeatedly said: 'Let us go home,
sister, to that old house of ours.' At this Sasi wept. Where was
their home?
But it was no good crying. Her brother had no one else besides herself
in the world. Sasi thought of this, wiped her tears, and, entering the
Zenana of the Deputy Magistrate, Tarini Babu, appealed to his wife.
The Deputy Magistrate knew Joygopal. That a woman should forsake her
home, and engage in a dispute with her husband regarding matters of
property, greatly incensed him against Sasi. However, Tarini Babu
kept Sasi diverted, and instantly wrote to Joygopal. Joygopal put
his wife and brother-in-law into a boat by force, and brought them home.
Husband and wife, after a second separation, met again for the second
time! The decree of Prajapati![29]
[29] The Hindu god of marriage.
Having got back his old companions after a long absence, Nilmani was
perfectly happy. Seeing his unsuspecting joy, Sasi felt as if her heart
would break.
The Magistrate was touring in the Mofussil during the cold weather and
pitched his tent within the village to shoot. The Saheb met Nilmani on
the village _maidan_. The other boys gave him a wide berth, varying
Chanakya's couplet a little, and adding the Saheb to the list of 'the
clawed, the toothed, and the horned beasts.' But grave-natured Nilmani
in imperturbable curiosity serenely gazed at the Saheb.
The Saheb was amused and came up and asked in Bengali: 'You read at
the _pathsala_?'
The boy silently nodded. 'What _pustaks_[30] do you read?' asked the
[30] A literary word for books. The colloquial will be _boi_.
As Nilmani did not understand the word _pustak_, he silently fixed his
gaze on the Magistrate's face. Nilmani told his sister the story of
his meeting the Magistrate with great enthusiasm.
At noon, Joygopal, dressed in trousers, _chapkan_,[31] and
_pagri_,[32] went to pay his salams to the Saheb. A crowd of suitors,
_chaprasies_,[33] and constables stood about him. Fearing the
heat, the Saheb had seated himself at a court-table outside the tent,
in the open shade, and placing Joygopal in a chair, questioned him
about the state of the village. Having taken the seat of honour in
open view of the community, Joygopal swelled inwardly, and thought
it would be a good thing if any of the Chakrabartis or Nandis came
and saw him there.
[31] A _chapkan_ is a long coat.
[32] Turban.
[33] Servants.
At this moment, a woman, closely veiled, and accompanied by Nilmani,
came straight up to the Magistrate. She said: 'Saheb, into your
hands I resign my helpless brother. Save him.' The Saheb, seeing the
large-headed, solemn boy, whose acquaintance he had already made, and
thinking that the woman must be of a respectable family, at once stood
up and said: 'Please enter the tent.'
The woman said: 'What I have to say I will say here.'
Joygopal writhed and turned pale. The curious villagers thought it
capital fun, and pressed closer. But the moment the Saheb lifted his
cane they scampered off.
Holding her brother by the hand, Sasi narrated the history of the
orphan from the beginning. As Joygopal tried to interrupt now and
then, the Magistrate thundered with a flushed face, '_Chup rao_,' and
with the tip of his cane motioned to Joygopal to leave the chair and
stand up.
Joygopal, inwardly raging against Sasi, stood speechless. Nilmani
nestled up close to his sister, and listened awe-struck.
When Sasi had finished her story, the Magistrate put a few questions to
Joygopal, and on hearing his answers, kept silence for a long while,
and then addressed Sasi thus: 'My good woman, though this matter
may not come up before me, still rest assured I will do all that is
needful about it. You can return home with your brother without the
least misgiving.'
Sasi said: 'Saheb, so long as he does not get back his own home, I
dare not take him there. Unless you keep Nilmani with you, none else
will be able to save him.'
'And what would you do?' queried the Saheb.
'I will retire to my husband's house,' said Sasi; 'there is nothing
to fear for me.'
The Saheb smiled a little, and, as there was nothing else to do, agreed
to take charge of this lean, dusty, grave, sedate, gentle Bengali boy
whose neck was ringed with amulets.
When Sasi was about to take her leave, the boy clutched her dress.
'Don't be frightened, _baba_,--come,' said the Saheb. With tears
streaming behind her veil, Sasi said: 'Do go, my brother, my darling
brother--you will meet your sister again!'
Saying this she embraced him and stroked his head and back, and
releasing her dress, hastily withdrew; and just then the Saheb put his
left arm round him. The child wailed out: 'Sister, oh, my sister!'
Sasi turned round at once, and with outstretched arm made a sign of
speechless solace, and with a bursting heart withdrew.
Again in that old, ever-familiar house husband and wife met. The decree
of Prajapati!
But this union did not last long. For soon after the villagers learnt
one morning that Sasi had died of cholera in the night, and had been
instantly cremated.
None uttered a word about it. Only neighbour Tara would sometimes
be on the point of bursting out, but people would shut up her mouth,
saying, 'Hush!'
At parting, Sasi gave her word to her brother they would meet again.
Where that word was kept none can tell.
When the girl was given the name of Subhashini,[34] who could have
guessed that she would prove dumb? Her two elder sisters were
Sukeshini[35] and Suhasini,[36] and for the sake of uniformity her
father named his youngest girl Subhashini. She was called Subha for
[34] Sweetly speaking.
[35] Lovely-locked.
[36] Sweetly smiling.
Her two elder sisters had been married with the usual cost and
difficulty, and now the youngest daughter lay like a silent weight
upon the heart of her parents. All the world seemed to think that,
because she did not speak, therefore she did not feel; it discussed
her future and its own anxiety freely in her presence. She had
understood from her earliest childhood that God had sent her like a
curse to her father's house, so she withdrew herself from ordinary
people, and tried to live apart. If only they would all forget her she
felt she could endure it. But who can forget pain? Night and day
her parents' minds were aching on her account. Especially her mother
looked upon her as a deformity in herself. To a mother a daughter is
a more closely intimate part of herself than a son can be; and a
fault in her is a source of personal shame. Banikantha, Subha's
father, loved her rather better than his other daughters; her mother
regarded her with aversion as a stain upon her own body.
If Subha lacked speech, she did not lack a pair of large dark eyes,
shaded with long lashes; and her lips trembled like a leaf in response
to any thought that rose in her mind.
When we express our thought in words, the medium is not found easily.
There must be a process of translation, which is often inexact, and
then we fall into error. But black eyes need no translating; the mind
itself throws a shadow upon them. In them thought opens or shuts,
shines forth, or goes out in darkness, hangs steadfast like the
setting moon, or, like the swift and restless lightning, illumines all
quarters of the sky. They who from birth have had no other speech
than the trembling of their lips learn a language of the eyes, endless
in expression, deep as the sea, clear as the heavens, wherein play
dawn and sunset, light and shadow. The dumb have a lonely grandeur
like Nature's own. Wherefore the other children almost dreaded Subha,
and never played with her. She was silent and companionless as noontide.
The hamlet where she lived was Chandipur. Its river, small for a river
of Bengal, kept to its narrow bounds like a daughter of the middle
class. This busy streak of water never overflowed its banks, but went
about its duties as though it were a member of every family in the
villages beside it. On either side were houses and banks shaded with
trees. So stepping from her queenly throne, the river-goddess became
a garden deity of each home; and forgetful of herself, performed her
task of endless benediction with swift and cheerful foot.
Banikantha's house looked upon the stream. Every hut and stack in
the place could be seen by the passing boatmen. I know not if amid
these signs of worldly wealth any one noticed the little girl who,
when her work was done, stole away to the waterside, and sat there.
But here Nature fulfilled her want of speech, and spoke for her.
The murmur of the brook, the voice of the village folk, the songs
of the boatmen, the crying of the birds and rustle of trees mingled,
and were one with the trembling of her heart. They became one vast
wave of sound, which beat upon her restless soul. This murmur and
movement of Nature were the dumb girl's language; that speech of
the dark eyes, which the long lashes shaded, was the language of
the world about her. From the trees, where the cicalas chirped, to
the quiet stars there was nothing but signs and gestures, weeping and
sighing. And in the deep mid-noon, when the boatmen and fisherfolk
had gone to their dinner, when the villagers slept, and birds were
still, when the ferry-boats were idle, when the great busy world paused
in its toil, and became suddenly a lonely, awful giant, then beneath
the vast impressive heavens there were only dumb Nature and a dumb
girl, sitting very silent--one under the spreading sunlight, the
other where a small tree cast its shadow.
But Subha was not altogether without friends. In the stall were two
cows, Sarbbashi and Panguli. They had never heard their names from
her lips, but they knew her footfall. Though she had no words, she
murmured lovingly and they understood her gentle murmuring better
than all speech. When she fondled them or scolded or coaxed them,
they understood her better than men could do. Subha would come to the
shed, and throw her arms round Sarbbashi's neck; she would rub her
cheek against her friend's, and Panguli would turn her great kind
eyes and lick her face. The girl paid them three regular visits every
day, and others that were irregular. Whenever she heard any words
that hurt her, she would come to these dumb friends out of due time.
It was as though they guessed her anguish of spirit from her quiet look
of sadness. Coming close to her, they would rub their horns softly
against her arms, and in dumb, puzzled fashion try to comfort her.
Besides these two, there were goats and a kitten; but Subha had not
the same equality of friendship with them, though they showed the
same attachment. Every time it got a chance, night or day, the kitten
would jump into her lap, and settle down to slumber, and show its
appreciation of an aid to sleep as Subha drew her soft fingers over its
neck and back.
Subha had a comrade also among the higher animals, and it is hard to
say what were the girl's relations with him, for he could speak, and
his gift of speech left them without any common language. He was the
youngest boy of the Gosains, Pratap by name, an idle fellow. After
long effort, his parents had abandoned the hope that he would ever
make his living. Now losels have this advantage, that, though their
own folk disapprove of them, they are generally popular with every
one else. Having no work to chain them, they become public property.
Just as every town needs an open space where all may breathe, so a
village needs two or three gentlemen of leisure, who can give time
to all; so that, if we are lazy and want a companion, one is to hand.
Pratap's chief ambition was to catch fish. He managed to waste a lot
of time this way, and might be seen almost any afternoon so employed.
It was thus most often that he met Subha. Whatever he was about, he
liked a companion; and, when one is catching fish, a silent companion
is best of all. Pratap respected Subha for her taciturnity, and, as
every one called her Subha, he showed his affection by calling her
Su. Subha used to sit beneath a tamarind, and Pratap, a little distance
off, would cast his line. Pratap took with him a small allowance
of betel, and Subha prepared it for him. And I think that, sitting
and gazing a long while, she desired ardently to bring some great help
to Pratap, to be of real aid, to prove by any means that she was
not a useless burden to the world. But there was nothing to do. Then
she turned to the Creator in prayer for some rare power, that by an
astonishing miracle she might startle Pratap into exclaiming: 'My! I
never dreamt our Su could have done this!'
Only think! if Subha had been a water nymph, she might have risen
slowly from the river, bringing the gem of a snake's crown to the
landing-place. Then Pratap, leaving his paltry fishing, might dive
into the lower world, and see there, on a golden bed in a palace of
silver, whom else but dumb little Su, Banikantha's child? Yes, our
Su, the only daughter of the king of that shining city of jewels!
But that might not be, it was impossible. Not that anything is
really impossible, but Su had been born, not into the royal house of
Patalpur,[37] but into Banikantha's family, and she knew no means of
astonishing the Gosains' boy.
[37] The Lower World.
Gradually she grew up. Gradually she began to find herself. A new
inexpressible consciousness like a tide from the central places of
the sea, when the moon is full, swept through her. She saw herself,
questioned herself, but no answer came that she could understand.
Once upon a time, late on a night of full moon, she slowly opened
her door, and peeped out timidly. Nature, herself at full moon, like
lonely Subha, was looking down on the sleeping earth. Her strong young
life beat within her; joy and sadness filled her being to its brim;
she reached the limits even of her own illimitable loneliness, nay,
passed beyond them. Her heart was heavy, and she could not speak!
At the skirts of this silent, troubled Mother there stood a silent
troubled girl.
The thought of her marriage filled her parents with an anxious care.
People blamed them, and even talked of making them outcasts. Banikantha
was well off; they had fish-curry twice daily; and consequently he
did not lack enemies. Then the women interfered, and Bani went away
for a few days. Presently he returned, and said: 'We must go to
They got ready to go to this strange country. Subha's heart was heavy
with tears, like a mist-wrapt dawn. With a vague fear that had been
gathering for days, she dogged her father and mother like a dumb
animal. With her large eyes wide open, she scanned their faces as
though she wished to learn something. But not a word did they
vouchsafe. One afternoon in the midst of all this, as Pratap was
fishing, he laughed: 'So then, Su, they have caught your bridegroom,
and you are going to be married! Mind you don't forget me altogether!'
Then he turned his mind again to his fish. As a stricken doe looks
in the hunter's face, asking in silent agony: 'What have I done to
you?' so Subha looked at Pratap. That day she sat no longer beneath
her tree. Banikantha, having finished his nap, was smoking in his
bedroom when Subha dropped down at his feet and burst out weeping
as she gazed towards him. Banikantha tried to comfort her, and his
cheek grew wet with tears.
It was settled that on the morrow they should go to Calcutta. Subha
went to the cow-shed to bid farewell to her childhood's comrades.
She fed them with her hand; she clasped their necks; she looked into
their faces, and tears fell fast from the eyes which spoke for her.
That night was the tenth of the moon. Subha left her room, and flung
herself down on her grassy couch beside her dear river. It was as
if she threw her arms about Earth, her strong, silent mother, and tried
to say: 'Do not let me leave you, mother. Put your arms about me, as
I have put mine about you, and hold me fast.'
One day in a house in Calcutta, Subha's mother dressed her up with
great care. She imprisoned her hair, knotting it up in laces, she
hung her about with ornaments, and did her best to kill her natural
beauty, Subha's eyes filled with tears. Her mother, fearing they
would grow swollen with weeping, scolded her harshly, but the tears
disregarded the scolding. The bridegroom came with a friend to inspect
the bride. Her parents were dizzy with anxiety and fear when they saw
the god arrive to select the beast for his sacrifice. Behind the
stage, the mother called her instructions aloud, and increased her
daughter's weeping twofold, before she sent her into the examiner's
presence. The great man, after scanning her a long time, observed:
'Not so bad.'
He took special note of her tears, and thought she must have a tender
heart. He put it to her credit in the account, arguing that the heart,
which to-day was distressed at leaving her parents, would presently
prove a useful possession. Like the oyster's pearls, the child's tears
only increased her value, and he made no other comment.
The almanac was consulted, and the marriage took place on an auspicious
day. Having delivered over their dumb girl into another's hands,
Subha's parents returned home. Thank God! Their caste in this and
their safety in the next world were assured! The bridegroom's work
lay in the west, and shortly after the marriage he took his wife
In less than ten days every one knew that the bride was dumb! At least,
if any one did not, it was not her fault, for she deceived no one. Her
eyes told them everything, though no one understood her. She looked
on every hand; she found no speech; she missed the faces, familiar
from birth, of those who had understood a dumb girl's language. In her
silent heart there sounded an endless, voiceless weeping, which only
the Searcher of Hearts could hear.
Using both eyes and ears _this_ time, her lord made another careful
examination, using his ears this time as well as his eyes, and married
a second wife who could speak.
The postmaster first took up his duties in the village of Ulapur.
Though the village was a small one, there was an indigo factory near
by, and the proprietor, an Englishman, had managed to get a post office
Our postmaster belonged to Calcutta. He felt like a fish out of water
in this remote village. His office and living-room were in a dark
thatched shed, not far from a green, slimy pond, surrounded on all
sides by a dense growth.
The men employed in the indigo factory had no leisure; moreover, they
were hardly desirable companions for decent folk. Nor is a Calcutta
boy an adept in the art of associating with others. Among strangers
he appears either proud or ill at ease. At any rate, the postmaster
had but little company; nor had he much to do.
At times he tried his hand at writing a verse or two. That the movement
of the leaves and the clouds of the sky were enough to fill life with
joy--such were the sentiments to which he sought to give expression.
But God knows that the poor fellow would have felt it as the gift of a
new life, if some genie of the _Arabian Nights_ had in one night swept
away the trees, leaves and all, and replaced them with a macadamised
road, hiding the clouds from view with rows of tall houses.
The postmaster's salary was small. He had to cook his own meals, which
he used to share with Ratan, an orphan girl of the village, who did
odd jobs for him.
When in the evening the smoke began to curl up from the village
cow-sheds,[38] and the cicalas chirped in every bush; when the faquirs
of the Baül sect sang their shrill songs in their daily meeting-place,
when any poet, who had attempted to watch the movement of the leaves in
the dense bamboo thickets, would have felt a ghostly shiver run
down his back, the postmaster would light his little lamp, and call
out 'Ratan.'
[38] Smoky fires are lit in the cow-sheds to drive off mosquitoes.
Ratan would sit outside waiting for this call, and, instead of coming
in at once, would reply: 'Did you call me, sir?'
'What are you doing?' the postmaster would ask.
'I must be going to light the kitchen fire,' would be the answer.
And the postmaster would say: 'Oh, let the kitchen fire be for awhile;
light me my pipe first.'
At last Ratan would enter, with puffed-out cheeks, vigorously blowing
into a flame a live coal to light the tobacco. This would give the
postmaster an opportunity of conversing. 'Well, Ratan,' perhaps
he would begin, 'do you remember anything of your mother?' That was a
fertile subject. Ratan partly remembered, and partly didn't. Her
father had been fonder of her than her mother; him she recollected more
vividly. He used to come home in the evening after his work, and
one or two evenings stood out more clearly than others, like pictures
in her memory. Ratan would squat on the floor near the postmaster's
feet, as memories crowded in upon her. She called to mind a little
brother that she had--and how on some bygone cloudy day she had
played at fishing with him on the edge of the pond, with a twig for a
make-believe fishing-rod. Such little incidents would drive out
greater events from her mind. Thus, as they talked, it would often
get very late, and the postmaster would feel too lazy to do any
cooking at all. Ratan would then hastily light the fire, and toast
some unleavened bread, which, with the cold remnants of the morning
meal, was enough for their supper.
On some evenings, seated at his desk in the corner of the big empty
shed, the postmaster too would call up memories of his own home, of
his mother and his sister, of those for whom in his exile his heart
was sad,--memories which were always haunting him, but which he could
not talk about with the men of the factory, though he found himself
naturally recalling them aloud in the presence of the simple little
girl. And so it came about that the girl would allude to his people
as mother, brother, and sister,[39] as if she had known them all her
life. In fact, she had a complete picture of each one of them painted
in her little heart.
[39] Family servants call the master and mistress father and mother
and the children elder brothers and sisters.
One noon, during a break in the rains, there was a cool soft breeze
blowing; the smell of the damp grass and leaves in the hot sun felt
like the warm breathing of the tired earth on one's body. A persistent
bird went on all the afternoon repeating the burden of its one
complaint in Nature's audience chamber.
The postmaster had nothing to do. The shimmer of the freshly washed
leaves, and the banked-up remnants of the retreating rain-clouds were
sights to see; and the postmaster was watching them, and thinking
to himself: 'Oh, if only some kindred soul were near--just one loving
human being whom I could hold near my heart!' This was exactly, he
went on to think, what that bird was trying to say, and it was the
same feeling which the murmuring leaves were striving to express. But
no one knows, or would believe, that such an idea might also take
possession of an ill-paid village postmaster in the deep, silent
mid-day interval of his work.
The postmaster sighed, and called out 'Ratan.' Ratan was then
sprawling beneath the guava-tree, busily engaged in eating unripe
guavas. At the voice of her master, she ran up breathlessly, saying:
'Were you calling me, Dada?'[40] 'I was thinking,' said the
postmaster, 'of teaching you to read,' and then for the rest of
the afternoon he taught her the alphabet.
[40] Dada = elder brother.
Thus, in a very short time, Ratan had got as far as the double
It seemed as though the showers of the season would never end. Canals,
ditches, and hollows were all overflowing with water. Day and night
the patter of rain was heard, and the croaking of frogs. The village
roads became impassable, and marketing had to be done in punts.
One heavily clouded morning, the postmaster's little pupil had been
long waiting outside the door for her call, but, not hearing it as
usual, she took up her dog-eared book, and slowly entered the room.
She found her master stretched out on his pallet, and, thinking he
was resting, she was about to retire on tip-toe, when she suddenly
heard her name--'Ratan!' She turned at once and asked: 'Were you
sleeping, Dada?' The postmaster in a plaintive voice said: 'I am not
well. Feel my head; is it very hot?'
In the loneliness of his exile, and in the gloom of the rains, his
ailing body needed a little tender nursing. He longed to remember
the touch on the forehead of soft hands with tinkling bracelets,