THE POISON TREE
A Tale of Hindu Life in Bengal
BANKIM CHANDRA CHATTERJEE
MIRIAM S. KNIGHT
WITH A PREFACE BY
EDWIN ARNOLD, C.S.I.
London T. FISHER UNWIN 26 PATERNOSTER SQUARE 1884
I had been asked by the accomplished lady who has translated the subjoined story to introduce it with a few words of comment to the English public. For that purpose I commenced the perusal of the proof sheets; but soon found that what was begun as a literary task became a real and singular pleasure, by reason of the author's vivid narrative, his skill in delineating character, and, beyond all, the striking and faithful pictures of Indian life with which his tale is filled. Nor do these qualities suffer, beyond what is always inevitable, in the transfer of the novel from its original Bengali to English. Five years ago, Sir William Herschel, of the Bengal Civil Service, had the intention of translating this Bisha Briksha; but surrendered the task, with the author's full consent, to Mrs. Knight, who has here performed it with very remarkable skill and success. To accomplish that, more was wanted than a competent knowledge of the language of the original and a fluent command of English: it was necessary to be familiar with the details of native life and manners, and to have a sufficient acquaintance with the religious, domestic, and social customs of Bengali homes. Possessing these, Mrs. Knight has now presented us with a modern Hindu novelette, smoothly readable throughout, perfectly well transferred from its vernacular (with such omissions as were necessary), and valuable, as I venture to affirm, to English readers as well from its skill in construction and intrinsic interest as for the light which it sheds upon the indoor existence of well-to-do Hindus, and the excellent specimen which it furnishes of the sort of indigenous literature happily growing popular in their cities and towns.
The author of "The Poison Tree" is Babu Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, a native gentleman of Bengal, of superior intellectual acquisitions, who ranks unquestionably as the first living writer of fiction in his Presidency. His renown is widespread among native readers, who recognize the truthfulness and power of his descriptions, and are especially fond of "Krishna Kanta's Will," "Mrinalini," and this very story of the Bisha Briksha, which belongs to modern days in India, and to the new ideas which are spreading—not always quite happily—among the families of the land. Allowance being made for the loss which an original author cannot but sustain by the transfer of his style and method into another language and system of thought, it will be confessed, I think, that the reputation of "Bankim Babu" is well deserved, and that Bengal has here produced a writer of true genius, whose vivacious invention, dramatic force, and purity of aim, promise well for the new age of Indian vernacular literature.
It would be wrong to diminish the pleasure of the English reader by analysing the narrative and forestalling its plot. That which appears to me most striking and valuable in the book is the faithful view it gives of the gentleness and devotion of the average Hindu wife. Western people are wont to think that because marriages are arranged at an early age in India, and without the betrothed pair having the slightest share in the mutual choice, that wedded love of a sincere sort must be out of the question, and conjugal happiness very rare. The contrary is notably the case. Human nature is, somehow, so full of accidental harmonies, that a majority among the households thus constituted furnish examples of quiet felicity, established constancy, and, above all, of a devotedness on the part of the Hindu women to their husbands and children, which knows, so to speak, no limit. The self-sacrifice of Surja Mukhi in this tale would be next to impossible for any Western woman, but is positively common in the East, though our author so well displays the undoubted fact that feminine hearts are the same everywhere, and that custom cannot change the instincts of love. In Debendra the Babu paints successfully the "young Bengalee" of the present day, corrupted rather than elevated by his educational enlightenment. Nagendra is a good type of the ordinary well-to-do householder; Kunda Nandini, of the simple and graceful Hindu maiden; and Hira, of those passionate natures often concealed under the dark glances and regular features of the women of the Ganges Valley. In a word, I am glad to recommend this translation to English readers, as a work which, apart from its charm in incident and narrative, will certainly give them just, if not complete, ideas of the ways of life of their fellow-subjects in Bengal.
EDWIN ARNOLD, C.S.I.
LONDON, September 10, 1884.
CHAPTER I. NAGENDRA'S JOURNEY BY BOAT
CHAPTER II. "COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE"
CHAPTER III. OF MANY SUBJECTS
CHAPTER IV. TARA CHARAN
CHAPTER V. OH! LOTUS-EYED, WHO ART THOU?
CHAPTER VI. THE READER HAS CAUSE FOR GREAT DISPLEASURE
CHAPTER VII. HARIDASI BOISNAVI
CHAPTER VIII. THE BABU
CHAPTER IX. SURJA MUKHI'S LETTER
CHAPTER X. THE SPROUT
CHAPTER XI. CAUGHT AT LAST
CHAPTER XII. HIRA
CHAPTER XIII. NO!
CHAPTER XIV. LIKE TO LIKE
CHAPTER XV. THE FORLORN ONE
CHAPTER XVI. HIRA'S ENVY
CHAPTER XVII. HIRA'S QUARREL. THE BUD OF THE POISON TREE
CHAPTER XVIII. THE CAGED BIRD
CHAPTER XIX. DESCENT
CHAPTER XX. GOOD NEWS
CHAPTER XXI. SURJA MUKHI AND KAMAL MANI
CHAPTER XXII. WHAT IS THE POISON TREE?
CHAPTER XXIII. THE SEARCH
CHAPTER XXIV. EVERY SORT OF HAPPINESS IS FLEETING
CHAPTER XXV. THE FRUIT OF THE POISON TREE
CHAPTER XXVI. THE SIGNS OF LOVE
CHAPTER XXVII. BY THE ROADSIDE
CHAPTER XXVIII. IS THERE HOPE?
CHAPTER XXIX. HIRA'S POISON TREE HAS BLOSSOMED
CHAPTER XXX. NEWS OF SURJA MUKHI
CHAPTER XXXI. THOUGH ALL ELSE DIES, SUFFERING DIES NOT
CHAPTER XXXII. THE FRUIT OF HIRA'S POISON TREE
CHAPTER XXXIII. HIRA'S GRANDMOTHER
CHAPTER XXXIV. A DARK HOUSE: A DARK LIFE
CHAPTER XXXV. THE RETURN
CHAPTER XXXVI. EXPLANATION
CHAPTER XXXVII. THE SIMPLETON AND THE SERPENT
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE CATASTROPHE
CHAPTER XXXIX. KUNDA'S TONGUE IS LOOSENED
CHAPTER XL. THE END
GLOSSARY OF HINDU WORDS
For the assistance of the reader, the names of the principal characters in the tale are given—
NAGENDRA NATHA DATTA A wealthy Zemindar.
SURJA MUKHI His wife.
DEBENDRA DATTA Cousin to Nagendra.
SRISH CHANDRA MITTRA Accountant in a Merchant's Office
KAMAL MANI His wife, sister to Nagendra.
SATISH Their baby boy.
TARA CHARAN Adopted brother of Surja Mukhi.
KUNDA NANDINI An Orphan Girl.
HIRA Servant in Nagendra's household.
NAGENDRA'S JOURNEY BY BOAT.
Nagendra Natha Datta is about to travel by boat. It is the month Joisto (May—June), the time of storms. His wife, Surja Mukhi, had adjured him, saying, "Be careful; if a storm arises be sure you fasten the boat to the shore. Do not remain in the boat." Nagendra had consented to this, otherwise Surja Mukhi would not have permitted him to leave home; and unless he went to Calcutta his suits in the Courts would not prosper.
Nagendra Natha was a young man, about thirty years of age, a wealthy zemindar (landholder) in Zillah Govindpur. He dwelt in a small village which we shall call Haripur. He was travelling in his own boat. The first day or two passed without obstacle. The river flowed smoothly on—leaped, danced, cried out, restless, unending, playful. On shore, herdsmen were grazing their oxen—one sitting under a tree singing, another smoking, some fighting, others eating. Inland, husbandmen were driving the plough, beating the oxen, lavishing abuse upon them, in which the owner shared. The wives of the husbandmen, bearing vessels of water, some carrying a torn quilt, or a dirty mat, wearing a silver amulet round the neck, a ring in the nose, bracelets of brass on the arm, with unwashed garments, their skins blacker than ink, their hair unkempt, formed a chattering crowd. Among them one beauty was rubbing her head with mud, another beating a child, a third speaking with a neighbour in abuse of some nameless person, a fourth beating clothes on a plank. Further on, ladies from respectable villages adorned the ghats (landing-steps) with their appearance—the elders conversing, the middle-aged worshipping Siva, the younger covering their faces and plunging into the water; the boys and girls screaming, playing with mud, stealing the flowers offered in worship, swimming, throwing water over every one, sometimes stepping up to a lady, snatching away the image of Siva from her, and running off with it. The Brahmans, good tranquil men, recited the praises of Ganga (the sacred river Ganges) and performed their worship, sometimes, as they wiped their streaming hair, casting glances at the younger women.
In the sky, the white clouds float in the heated air. Below them fly the birds, like black dots. In the cocoanut trees, kites, like ministers of state, look around to see on what they can pounce; the cranes, being only small fry, stand raking in the mud; the dahuk (coloured herons), merry creatures, dive in the water; other birds of a lighter kind merely fly about. Market-boats sail along at good speed on their own behalf; ferry-boats creep along at elephantine pace to serve the needs of others only: cargo boats make no progress at all—that is the owners' concern.
On the third day of Nagendra's journey clouds arose and gradually covered the sky. The river became black, the tree-tops drooped, the paddy birds flew aloft, the water became motionless. Nagendra ordered the manji (boatman) to run the boat in shore and make it fast. At that moment the steersman, Rahamat Mullah, was saying his prayers, so he made no answer. Rahamat knew nothing of his business. His mother's father's sister was the daughter of a boatman; on that plea he had become a hanger-on of boatmen, and accident favoured his wishes; but he learned nothing, his work was done as fate willed. Rahamat was not backward in speech, and when his prayers were ended he turned to the Babu and said, "Do not be alarmed, sir, there is no cause for fear." Rahamat was thus brave because the shore was close at hand, and could be reached without delay, and in a few minutes the boat was secured.
Surely the gods must have had a quarrel with Rahamat Mullah, for a great storm came up quickly. First came the wind; then the wind, having wrestled for some moments with the boughs of the trees, called to its brother the rain, and the two began a fine game. Brother Rain, mounting on brother Wind's shoulders, flew along. The two together, seizing the tree-tops, bent them down, broke the boughs, tore off the creepers, washed away the flowers, cast up the river in great waves, and made a general tumult. One brother flew off with Rahamat Mullah's head-gear; the other made a fountain of his beard. The boatmen lowered the sail, the Babu closed the windows, and the servants put the furniture under shelter.
Nagendra was in a great strait. If, in fear of the storm, he should leave the boat, the men would think him a coward; if he remained he would break his word to Surja Mukhi. Some may ask, What harm if he did? We know not, but Nagendra thought it harm. At this moment Rahamat Mullah said, "Sir, the rope is old; I do not know what may happen. The storm has much increased; it will be well to leave the boat." Accordingly Nagendra got out.
No one can stand on the river bank without shelter in a heavy storm of rain. There was no sign of abatement; therefore Nagendra, thinking it necessary to seek for shelter, set out to walk to the village, which was at some distance from the river, through miry paths. Presently the rain ceased, the wind abated slightly, but the sky was still thickly covered with clouds; therefore both wind and rain might be expected at night. Nagendra went on, not turning back.
Though it was early in the evening, there was thick darkness, because of the clouds. There was no sign of village, house, plain, road, or river; but the trees, being surrounded by myriads of fireflies, looked like artificial trees studded with diamonds. The lightning goddess also still sent quick flashes through the now silent black and white clouds. A woman's anger does not die away suddenly. The assembled frogs, rejoicing in the newly fallen rain, held high festival; and if you listened attentively the voice of the cricket might be heard, like the undying crackle of Ravana's funeral pyre. Amid the sounds might be distinguished the fall of the rain-drops on the leaves of the trees, and that of the leaves into the pools beneath; the noise of jackals' feet on the wet paths, occasionally that of the birds on the trees shaking the water from their drenched feathers, and now and then the moaning of the almost subdued wind. Presently Nagendra saw a light in the distance. Traversing the flooded earth, drenched by the drippings from the trees, and frightening away the jackals, he approached the light; and on nearing it with much difficulty, saw that it proceeded from an old brick-built house, the door of which was open. Leaving his servant outside, Nagendra entered the house, which he found in a frightful condition.
[Footnote 1: King of Lanka (Ceylon), whose remains were to burn without ceasing.]
It was not quite an ordinary house, but it had no sign of prosperity. The door-frames were broken and dirty; there was no trace of human occupation—only owls, mice, reptiles, and insects gathered there. The light came only from one side. Nagendra saw some articles of furniture for human use; but everything indicated poverty. One or two cooking vessels, a broken oven, three or four brass dishes—these were the sole ornaments of the place. The walls were black; spiders' webs hung in the corners; cockroaches, spiders, lizards, and mice, scampered about everywhere. On a dilapidated bedstead lay an old man who seemed to be at death's door; his eyes were sunk, his breath hurried, his lips trembling. By the side of his bed stood an earthen lamp upon a fragment of brick taken from the ruins of the house. In it the oil was deficient; so also was it in the body of the man. Another lamp shone by the bedside—a girl of faultlessly fair face, of soft, starry beauty.
Whether because the light from the oil-less lamp was dim, or because the two occupants of the house were absorbed in thinking of their approaching separation, Nagendra's entrance was unseen. Standing in the doorway, he heard the last sorrowful words that issued from the mouth of the old man. These two, the old man and the young girl, were friendless in this densely-peopled world. Once they had had wealth, relatives, men and maid servants—abundance of all kinds; but by the fickleness of fortune, one after another, all had gone. The mother of the family, seeing the faces of her son and daughter daily fading like the dew-drenched lotus from the pinch of poverty, had early sunk upon the bed of death. All the other stars had been extinguished with that moon. The support of the race, the jewel of his mother's eye, the hope of his father's age, even he had been laid on the pyre before his father's eyes. No one remained save the old man and this enchanting girl. They dwelt in this ruined, deserted house in the midst of the forest. Each was to the other the only helper.
Kunda Nandini was of marriageable age; but she was the staff of her father's blindness, his only bond to this world. While he lived he could give her up to no one. "There are but a few more days; if I give away Kunda where can I abide?" were the old man's thoughts when the question of giving her in marriage arose in his mind. Had it never occurred to him to ask himself what would become of Kunda when his summons came? Now the messenger of death stood at his bedside; he was about to leave the world; where would Kunda be on the morrow?
The deep, indescribable suffering of this thought expressed itself in every failing breath. Tears streamed from his eyes, ever restlessly closing and opening, while at his head sat the thirteen-year-old girl, like a stone figure, firmly looking into her father's face, covered with the shadows of death. Forgetting herself, forgetting to think where she would go on the morrow, she gazed only on the face of her departing parent. Gradually the old man's utterance became obscure, the breath left the throat, the eyes lost their light, the suffering soul obtained release from pain. In that dark place, by that glimmering lamp, the solitary Kunda Nandini, drawing her father's dead body on to her lap, remained sitting. The night was extremely dark; even now rain-drops fell, the leaves of the trees rustled, the wind moaned, the windows of the ruined house flapped noisily. In the house, the fitful light of the lamp flickered momentarily on the face of the dead, and again left it in darkness. The lamp had long been exhausted of oil; now, after two or three flashes, it went out. Then Nagendra, with noiseless steps, went forth from the doorway.
"COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE."
It was night. In the ruined house Kunda Nandini sat by her father's corpse. She called "Father!" No one made reply. At one moment Kunda thought her father slept, again that he was dead, but she could not bring that thought clearly into her mind. At length she could no longer call, no longer think. The fan still moved in her hand in the direction where her father's once living body now lay dead. At length she resolved that he slept, for if he were dead what would become of her?
After days and nights of watching amid such sorrow, sleep fell upon her. In that exposed, bitterly cold house, the palm-leaf fan in her hand, Kunda Nandini rested her head upon her arm, more beauteous than the lotus-stalk, and slept; and in her sleep she saw a vision. It seemed as if the night were bright and clear, the sky of a pure blue—that glorious blue when the moon is encircled by a halo. Kunda had never seen the halo so large as it seemed in her vision. The light was splendid, and refreshing to the eyes. But in the midst of that magnificent halo there was no moon; in its place Kunda saw the figure of a goddess of unparalleled brilliance. It seemed as if this brilliant goddess-ruled halo left the upper sky and descended gradually lower, throwing out a thousand rays of light, until it stood over Kunda's head. Then she saw that the central beauty, crowned with golden hair, and decked with jewels, had the form of a woman. The beautiful, compassionate face had a loving smile upon its lips. Kunda recognized, with mingled joy and fear, in this compassionate being the features of her long-dead mother. The shining, loving being, raising Kunda from the earth, took her into her bosom, and the orphan girl could for a long period do nought but utter the sweet word "Mother!"
Then the shining figure, kissing Kunda's face, said to her: "Child, thou hast suffered much, and I know thou hast yet more to suffer; thou so young, thy tender frame cannot endure such sorrow. Therefore abide not here; leave the earth and come with me."
Kunda seemed to reply: "Whither shall I go?"
Then the mother, with uplifted finger indicating the shining constellations, answered, "There!"
Kunda seemed, in her dream, to gaze into the timeless, shoreless ocean of stars, and to say, "I have no strength; I cannot go so far."
Hearing this, the mother's kind and cheerful but somewhat grave face saddened, her brows knitted a little, as she said in grave, sweet tones:
"Child, follow thy own will, but it would be well for thee to go with me. The day will come when thou wilt gaze upon the stars, and long bitterly to go thither. I will once more appear to thee; when, bowed to the dust with affliction, thou rememberest me, and weepest to come to me, I will return. Then do thou come. But now do thou, looking on the horizon, follow the design of my finger. I will show thee two human figures. These two beings are in this world the arbiters of thy destiny. If possible, when thou meetest them turn away as from venomous snakes. In their paths walk thou not."
Then the shining figure pointed to the opposite sky. Kunda, following the indication, saw traced on the blue vault the figure of a man more beautiful than a god. Beholding his high, capacious forehead, his sincere kindly glance, his swan-like neck a little bent, and other traits of a fine man, no one would have believed that from him there was anything to be feared.
Then the figure dissolving as a cloud in the sky, the mother said—
"Forget not this god-like form. Though benevolent, he will be the cause of thy misery; therefore avoid him as a snake."
Again pointing to the heavens she continued—
Kunda, looking, saw a second figure sketched before her, not this time that of a man, but a young woman of bright complexion and lotus-shaped eyes. At this sight she felt no fear; but the mother said—
"This dark figure in a woman's dress is a Rakshasi. When thou seest her, flee from her."
[Footnote 2: A female demon.]
As she thus spoke the heavens suddenly became dark, the halo disappeared from the sky, and with it the bright figure in its midst.
Then Kunda awoke from her sleep.
Nagendra went to the village, the name of which he heard was Jhunjhunpur. At his recommendation and expense, some of the villagers performed the necessary rites for the dead, one of the female neighbours remaining with the bereaved girl. When Kunda saw that they had taken her father away, she became convinced of his death, and gave way to ceaseless weeping.
In the morning the neighbour returned to her own house, but sent her daughter Champa to comfort Kunda Nandini.
Champa was of the same age as Kunda, and her friend. She strove to divert her mind by talking of various matters, but she saw that Kunda did not attend. She wept constantly, looking up every now and then into the sky as though in expectation.
Champa jestingly asked, "What do you see that you look into the sky a hundred times?"
Kunda replied, "My mother appeared to me yesterday, and bade me go with her, but I feared to do so; now I mourn that I did not. If she came again I would go: therefore I look constantly into the sky."
Champa said, "How can the dead return?"
To which Kunda replied by relating her vision.
Greatly astonished, Champa asked, "Are you acquainted with the man and woman whose forms you saw in the sky?"
"No, I had never seen them. There cannot be anywhere a man so handsome; I never saw such beauty."
On rising in the morning, Nagendra inquired of the people in the village what would become of the dead man's daughter, where she would live, and whether she had any relatives. He was told that there was no dwelling-place for her, and that she had no relatives.
Then Nagendra said, "Will not some of you receive her and give her in marriage? I will pay the expense, and so long as she remains amongst you I will pay so much a month for her board and lodging."
If he had offered ready money many would have consented to his proposal; but after he had gone away Kunda would have been reduced to servitude, or turned out of the house. Nagendra did not act in so foolish a manner; therefore, money not being forthcoming, no one consented to his suggestion.
At length one, seeing him at the end of his resources, observed: "A sister of her mother's lives at Sham Bazar; Binod Ghosh is the husband's name. You are on you way to Calcutta; if you take her with you and place her with her aunt, then this Kaystha girl will be cared for, and you will have done your duty to your caste."
Seeing no other plan, Nagendra adopted this suggestion, and sent for Kunda to acquaint her with the arrangement.
Champa accompanied Kunda. As they were coming, Kunda, seeing Nagendra from afar, suddenly stood still like one stunned. Her feet refused to move; she stood looking at him with eyes full of astonishment.
Champa asked, "Why do you stand thus?"
Kunda, pointing with her finger, said, "It is he!"
"He! Who?" said Champa.
"He whom last night my mother pictured in the heavens."
Then Champa also stood frightened and astonished. Seeing that the girls shrank from approaching, Nagendra came near and explained everything. Kunda was unable to reply; she could only gaze with eyes full of surprise.
OF MANY SUBJECTS.
Reluctantly did Nagendra Natha take Kunda with him to Calcutta. On arriving there he made much search for her aunt's husband, but he found no one in Sham Bazar named Binod Ghosh. He found a Binod Das, who admitted no relationship. Thus Kunda remained as a burthen upon Nagendra.
Nagendra had one sister, younger than himself, named Kamal Mani, whose father-in-law's house was in Calcutta. Her husband's name was Srish Chandra Mittra. Srish Babu was accountant in the house of Plunder, Fairly, and Co. It was a great house, and Srish Chandra was wealthy. He was much attached to his brother-in-law. Nagendra took Kunda Nandini thither, and imparted her story to Kamal Mani.
Kamal was about eighteen years of age. In features she resembled Nagendra; both brother and sister were very handsome. But, in addition to her beauty, Kamal was famed for her learning. Nagendra's father, engaging an English teacher, had had Kamal Mani and Surja Mukhi well instructed. Kamal's mother-in-law was living, but she dwelt in Srish Chandra's ancestral home. In Calcutta Kamal Mani was house-mistress.
When he had finished the story of Kunda Nandini, Nagendra said, "Unless you will keep her here, there is no place for her. Later, when I return home, I will take her to Govindpur with me."
Kamal was very mischievous. When Nagendra had turned away, she snatched up Kunda in her arms and ran off with her. A tub of not very hot water stood in an adjoining room, and suddenly Kamal threw Kunda into it. Kunda was quite frightened. Then Kamal, laughing, took some scented soap and proceeded to wash Kunda. An attendant, seeing Kamal thus employed, bustled up, saying, "I will do it! I will do it!" but Kamal, sprinkling some of the hot water over the woman, sent her running away. Kamal having bathed and rubbed Kunda, she appeared like a dew-washed lotus. Then Kamal, having robed her in a beautiful white garment, dressed her hair with scented oil, and decorated her with ornaments, said to her: "Now go and salute the Dada Babu (elder brother), and return, but mind you do not thus to the master of the house: if he should see you he will want to marry you."
Nagendra Natha wrote Kunda's history to Surja Mukhi. Also when writing to an intimate friend of his living at a distance, named Hara Deb Ghosal, he spoke of Kunda in the following terms:
"Tell me what you consider to be the age of beauty in woman. You will say after forty, because your Brahmini is a year or two more than that. The girl Kunda, whose history I have given you, is thirteen. On looking at her, it seems as if that were the age of beauty. The sweetness and simplicity that precede the budding-time of youth are never seen afterwards. This Kunda's simplicity is astonishing; she understands nothing. To-day she even wished to run into the streets to play with the boys. On being forbidden, she was much frightened, and desisted. Kamal is teaching her, and says she shows much aptitude in learning, but she does not understand other things. For instance, her large blue eyes—eyes swimming ever like the autumn lotus in clear water—these two eyes may be fixed upon my face, but they say nothing. I lose my senses gazing on them; I cannot explain better. You will laugh at this history of my mental stability; but if I could place you in front of those eyes, I should see what your firmness is worth. Up to this time I have been unable to determine what those eyes are like. I have not seen them look twice the same; I think there are no other such eyes in the world, they seem as if they scarcely saw the things of earth, but were ever seeking something in space. It is not that Kunda is faultlessly beautiful. Her features, if compared with those of many others, would not be highly praised; yet I think I never saw such rare beauty. It is as if there were in Kunda Nandini something not of this world, as though she were not made of flesh and blood, but of moonbeams and the scent of flowers. Nothing presents itself to my mind at this moment to which to liken her. Incomparable being! her whole person seems to breathe peace. If in some clear pool you have observed the sheen produced by the rays of the autumn moon, you have seen something resembling her. I can think of no other simile."
Surja Mukhi's reply to Nagendra's letter came in a few days. It was after this manner:
"I know not what fault your servant has committed. If it is necessary you should stay so long in Calcutta, why am I not with you to attend upon you? This is my earnest wish; the moment I receive your consent, I will set out.
"In picking up a little girl, have you forgotten me? Many unripe things are esteemed. People like green guavas, and green cucumbers; green cocoa-nuts are cooling. This low-born female is also, I think, very young, else in meeting with her why should you forget me? Joking apart, have you given up all right over this girl? if not, I beg her from you. It is my business to arrange for her. In whatever becomes yours I have the right to share, but in this case I see your sister has entire possession. Still, I shall not vex myself much if Kamal usurps my rights.
"Do you ask what do I want with the girl? I wish to give her in marriage with Tara Charan. You know how much I have sought for a suitable wife for him. If Providence has sent us a good girl, do not disappoint me. If Kamal will give her up, bring Kunda Nandini with you when you come. I have written to Kamal also recommending this. I am having ornaments fashioned, and am making other preparations for the marriage. Do not linger in Calcutta. Is it not true that if a man stays six months in that city he becomes quite stupid? If you design to marry Kunda, bring her with you, and I will give her to you. Only say that you propose to marry her, and I will arrange the marriage-basket."
Who Tara Charan was will be explained later. Whoever he was, both Nagendra and Kamal Mani consented to Surja Mukhi's proposal. Therefore it was resolved that when Nagendra went home Kunda Nandini should accompany him. Every one consented with delight, and Kamal also prepared some ornaments. How blind is man to the future! Some years later there came a day when Nagendra and Kamal Mani bowed to the dust, and, striking their foreheads in grief, murmured: "In how evil a moment did we find Kunda Nandini! in how evil an hour did we agree to Surja Mukhi's letter!" Now Kamal Mani, Surja Mukhi, and Nagendra, together have sowed the poison seed; later they will all repent it with wailing.
Causing his boat to be got ready, Nagendra returned to Govindpur with Kunda Nandini. Kunda had almost forgotten her dream; while journeying with Nagendra it recurred to her memory, but thinking of his benevolent face and kindly character, Kunda could not believe that any harm would come to her from him. In like manner there are many insects who, seeing a destructive flame, enter therein.
The Poet Kalidas was supplied with flowers by a Malini (flower-girl). He, being a poor Brahmin, could not pay for the flowers, but in place of that he used to read some of his own verses to the Malini. One day there bloomed in the Malini's tank a lily of unparalleled beauty. Plucking it, the Malini offered it to Kalidas. As a reward the poet read to her some verses from the Megha Duta (Cloud Messenger). That poem is an ocean of wit, but every one knows that its opening lines are tasteless. The Malini did not relish them, and being annoyed she rose to go.
The poet asked: "Oh! friend Malini, are you going?"
"Your verses have no flavour," replied the Malini.
"Malini! you will never reach heaven."
"There is a staircase to heaven. By ascending millions of steps heaven is reached. My poem has also a staircase; these tasteless verses are the steps. If you can't climb these few steps, how will you ascend the heavenly ladder?"
The Malini then, in fear of losing heaven through the Brahmin's curse, listened to the Megha Duta from beginning to end. She admired the poem; and next day, binding a wreath of flowers in the name of Cupid, she crowned the poet's temples therewith.
This ordinary poem of mine is not heaven; neither has it a staircase of a million steps. Its flavour is faint and the steps are few. These few tasteless chapters are the staircase. If among my readers there is one of the Malini's disposition, I warn him that without climbing these steps he will not arrive at the pith of the story.
Surja Mukhi's father's house was in Konnagar. Her father was a Kaystha of good position. He was cashier in some house at Calcutta. Surja Mukhi was his only child. In her infancy a Kaystha widow named Srimati lived in her father's house as a servant, and looked after Surja Mukhi. Srimati had one child named Tara Charan, of the same age as Surja Mukhi. With him Surja Mukhi had played, and on account of this childish association she felt towards him the affection of a sister.
Srimati was a beautiful woman, and therefore soon fell into trouble. A wealthy man of the village, of evil character, having cast his eyes upon her, she forsook the house of Surja Mukhi's father. Whither she went no one exactly knew, but she did not return. Tara Charan, forsaken by his mother, remained in the house of Surja Mukhi's father, who was a very kind-hearted man, and brought up this deserted boy as his own child; not keeping him in slavery as an unpaid servant, but having him taught to read and write. Tara Charan learned English at a free mission-school. Afterwards Surja Mukhi was married, and some years later her father died. By this time Tara Charan had learned English after a clumsy fashion, but he was not qualified for any business. Rendered homeless by the death of Surja Mukhi's father, he went to her house. At her instigation Nagendra opened a school in the village, and Tara Charan was appointed master. Nowadays, by means of the grant-in-aid system in many villages, sleek-haired, song-singing, harmless Master Babus appear; but at that time such a being as a Master Babu was scarcely to be seen. Consequently, Tara Charan appeared as one of the village gods; especially as it was known in the bazaar that he had read the Citizen of the World, the Spectator, and three books of Euclid. On account of these gifts he was received into the Brahmo Samaj of Debendra Babu, the zemindar of Debipur, and reckoned as one of that Babu's retinue.
Tara Charan wrote many essays on widow-marriage, on the education of women, and against idol-worship; read them weekly in the Samaj, and delivered many discourses beginning with "Oh, most merciful God!" Some of these he took from the Tattwa Bodhini, and some he caused to be written for him by the school pandit. He was forever preaching: "Abandon idol-worship, give choice in marriage, give women education; why do you keep them shut up in a cage? let women come out." There was a special cause for this liberality on the subject of women, inasmuch as in his own house there was no woman. Up to this time he had not married. Surja Mukhi had made great efforts to get him married, but as his mother's story was known in Govindpur, no respectable Kaystha consented to give him his daughter. Many a common, disreputable Kaystha girl he might have had; but Surja Mukhi, regarding Tara Charan as a brother, would not give her consent, since she did not choose to call such a girl sister-in-law. While she was seeking for a respectable Kaystha girl, Nagendra's letter came, describing Kunda Nandini's gifts and beauty. She resolved to give her to Tara Charan in marriage.
[Footnote 3: A religious periodical published in Calcutta.]
OH! LOTUS-EYED, WHO ART THOU?
Kunda arrived safely with Nagendra at Govindpur. At the sight of Nagendra's dwelling she became speechless with wonder, for she had never seen one so grand. There were three divisions without and three within. Each division was a large city. The outer mahal (division) was entered by an iron gate, and was surrounded on all sides by a handsome lofty iron railing. From the gate a broad, red, well-metalled path extended, on each side of which were beds of fresh grass that would have formed a paradise for cows. In the midst of each plat was a circle of shrubs, all blooming with variously coloured flowers. In front rose the lofty demi-upper-roomed boita khana (reception-hall), approached by a broad flight of steps, the verandah of which was supported by massive fluted pillars. The floor of the lower part of this house was of marble. Above the parapet, in its centre, an enormous clay lion, with dependent mane, hung out its red tongue. This was Nagendra's boita khana. To left and right of the grass plats stood a row of one-storied buildings, containing on one side the daftar khana (accountant's office) and kacheri (court-house); on the other the storehouse, treasury, and servants' dwellings. On both sides of the gate were the doorkeepers' lodges. This first mahal was named the kacheri bari (house of business); the next to it was the puja mahal (division for worship). The large hall of worship formed one side of the puja mahal; on the other three sides were two-storied houses. No one lived in this mahal. At the festival of Durga it was thronged; but now grass sprouted between the tiles of the court, pigeons frequented the halls, the houses were full of furniture, and the doors were kept locked. Beside this was the thakur bari (room assigned to the family deity): in it on one side was the temple of the gods, the handsome stone-built dancing-hall; on the remaining sides, the kitchen for the gods, the dwelling-rooms of the priests, and a guest-house. In this mahal there was no lack of people. The tribe of priests, with garlands on their necks and sandal-wood marks on their foreheads; a troop of cooks; people bearing baskets of flowers for the altars; some bathing the gods, some ringing bells, chattering, pounding sandal-wood, cooking; men and women servants bearing water, cleaning floors, washing rice, quarrelling with the cooks. In the guest-house an ascetic, with ash-smeared, loose hair, is lying sleeping; one with upraised arm (stiffened thus through years) is distributing drugs and charms to the servants of the house; a white-bearded, red-robed Brahmachari, swinging his chaplet of beads, is reading from a manuscript copy of the Bhagavat-gita in the Nagari character; holy mendicants are quarrelling for their share of ghi and flour. Here a company of emaciated Boiragis, with wreaths of tulsi (a sacred plant) round their necks and the marks of their religion painted on their foreheads, the bead fastened into the knot of hair on their heads shaking with each movement, are beating the drums as they sing:
"I could not get the opportunity to speak, The elder brother Dolai was with me."
The wives of the Boiragis, their hair braided in a manner pleasing to their husbands, are singing the tune of Govinda Adhi Kari to the accompaniment of the tambourine. Young Boisnavis singing with elder women of the same class, the middle-aged trying to bring their voices into unison with those of the old. In the midst of the court-yard idle boys fighting, and abusing each other's parents.
These three were the outer mahals. Behind these came the three inner ones. The inner mahal behind the kacheri bari was for Nagendra's private use. In that only himself, his wife, and their personal attendants were allowed; also the furniture for their use. This place was new, built by Nagendra himself, and very well arranged. Next to it, and behind the puja bari, came another mahal; this was old, ill-built, the rooms low, small, and dirty. Here was a whole city-full of female relations, mother's sister and mother's cousin, father's sister and cousin; mother's widowed sister, mother's married sister; father's sister's son's wife, mother's sister's son's daughter. All these female relatives cawing day and night like a set of crows in a banian tree; at every moment screams, laughter, quarrelling, bad reasoning, gossip, reproach, the scuffling of boys, the crying of girls. "Bring water!" "Give the clothes!" "Cook the rice!" "The child does not eat!" "Where is the milk?" etc., is heard as an ocean of confused sounds. Next to it, behind the Thakur bari, was the cook-house. Here a woman, having placed the rice-pot on the fire, gathering up her feet, sits gossiping with her neighbour on the details of her son's marriage. Another, endeavouring to light a fire with green wood, her eyes smarting with the smoke, is abusing the gomashta (factor), and producing abundant proof that he has supplied this wet wood to pocket part of the price. Another beauty, throwing fish into the hot oil, closes her eyes and twists her ten fingers, making a grimace, for oil leaping forth has burnt her skin. One having bathed her long hair, plentifully besmeared with oil, braiding it in a curve on the temples and fastening it in a knot on the top of her head, stirs the pulse cooking in an earthen pot, like Krishna prodding the cows with a stick. Here Bami, Kaymi, Gopal's mother, Nipal's mother, are shredding with a big knife vegetable pumpkins, brinjals, the sound of the cutting steel mingling with abuse of the neighbours, of the masters, of everybody: that Golapi has become a widow very young; that Chandi's husband is a great drunkard; that Koylash's husband has secured a fine appointment as writer to the Darogah; that there could not be in the world such a flying journey as that of Gopal, nor such a wicked child as Parvati's; how the English must be of the race of Ravan (the ten-headed king of Ceylon); how Bhagirati had brought Ganga; how Sham Biswas was the lover of the daughter of the Bhattacharjyas; with many other subjects. A dark, stout-bodied woman, placing a large bonti (a fish-cutter) on a heap of ashes in the court, is cutting fish; the kites, frightened at her gigantic size and her quick-handedness, keeping away, yet now and again darting forward to peck at the fish. Here a white-haired woman is bringing water; there one with powerful hand is grinding spices. Here, in the storehouse, a servant, a cook, and the store-keeper are quarrelling together; the store-keeper maintaining, "The ghi (clarified butter) I have given is the right quantity;" the cook disputing it; the servant saying, "We could manage with the quantity you give if you left the storehouse unlocked." In the hope of receiving doles of rice, many children and beggars with their dogs are sitting waiting. The cats do not flatter any one; they watch their opportunity, steal in, and help themselves. Here a cow without an owner is feasting with closed eyes upon the husks of pumpkins, other vegetables, and fruit.
Behind these three inner mahals is the flower-garden; and further yet a broad tank, blue as the sky. This tank is walled in. The inner house (the women's) has three divisions, and in the flower-garden is a private path, and at each end of the path two doors; these doors are private, they give entrance to the three mahals of the inner house. Outside the house are the stables, the elephant-house, the kennels, the cow-house, the aviaries, etc.
Kunda Nandini, full of astonishment at Nagendra's unbounded wealth, was borne in a palanquin to the inner apartments, where she saluted Surja Mukhi, who received her with a blessing.
Having recognized in Nagendra the likeness of the man she had seen in her dream, Kunda Nandini doubted whether his wife would not resemble the female figure she had seen later; but the sight of Surja Mukhi removed this doubt. Surja Mukhi was of a warm, golden colour, like the full moon; the figure in the dream was dark. Surja Mukhi's eyes were beautiful, but not like those in the dream. They were long deer-eyes, extending to the side hair; the eye-brows joined in a beautiful curve over the dilated, densely black pupils, full but steady. The eyes of the dark woman in the dream were not so enchanting. Then Surja Mukhi's features were not similar. The dream figure was dwarfish; Surja Mukhi rather tall, her figure swaying with the beauty of the honeysuckle creeper. The dream figure was beautiful, but Surja Mukhi was a hundredfold more so. The dream figure was not more than twenty years of age; Surja Mukhi was nearly twenty-six. Kunda saw clearly that there was no resemblance between the two. Surja Mukhi conversed pleasantly with Kunda, and summoned the attendants, to the chief among whom she said, "This is Kunda with whom I shall give Tara Charan in marriage; therefore see that you treat her as my brother's wife."
The servant expressed her assent, and took Kunda aside with her to another place. At sight of her Kunda's flesh crept; a cold moisture came over her from head to foot. The female figure which Kunda in her dream had seen her mother's fingers trace upon the heavens, this servant was that lotus-eyed, dark-complexioned woman.
Kunda, agitated with fear, breathing with difficulty, asked, "Who are you?"
The servant answered, "My name is Hira."
THE READER HAS CAUSE FOR GREAT DISPLEASURE.
At this point the reader will be much annoyed. It is a custom with novelists to conclude with a wedding, but we are about to begin with the marriage of Kunda Nandini. By another custom that has existed from ancient times, whoever shall marry the heroine must be extremely handsome, adorned with all virtues, himself a hero, and devoted to his mistress. Poor Tara Charan possessed no such advantages; his beauty consisted in a copper-tinted complexion and a snub nose; his heroism found exercise only in the schoolroom; and as for his love, I cannot say how much he had for Kunda Nandini, but he had some for a pet monkey.
However that may be, soon after Kunda Nandini's arrival at the house of Nagendra she was married to Tara Charan. Tara Charan took home his beautiful wife; but in marrying a beautiful wife he brought himself into a difficulty.
The reader will remember that Tara Charan had delivered some essays in the house of Debendra Babu on the subjects of women's education and the opening of the zenana. In the discussions that ensued, the Master Babu had said vauntingly: "Should the opportunity ever be given me, I will be the first to set an example of reform in these matters. Should I marry, I will bring my wife out into society."
Now he was married, and the fame of Kunda's beauty had spread through the district. All the neighbours now, quoting an old song, said, "Where now is his pledge?" Debendra said, "What, are you now also in the troop of old fools? Why do you not introduce us to your wife?"
Tara Charan was covered with shame; he could not escape from Debendra's banter and taunts. He consented to allow Debendra to make the acquaintance of his wife. Then fear arose lest Surja Mukhi should be displeased. A year passed in evasion and procrastination; when, seeing that this could be carried on no longer, he made an excuse that his house was in need of repair, and sent Kunda Nandini to Nagendra's house. When the repairs of the house were completed, Kunda Nandini returned home. A few days after, Debendra, with some of his friends, called upon Tara Charan, and jeered him for his false boasting. Driven thus, as it were, into a corner, Tara Charan persuaded Kunda Nandini to dress in suitable style, and brought her forth to converse with Debendra Babu. How could she do so? She remained standing veiled before him for a few seconds, then fled weeping. But Debendra was enchanted with her youthful grace and beauty. He never forgot it.
Soon after that, some kind of festival was held in Debendra's house, and a little girl was sent thence to Kunda to invite her attendance. But Surja Mukhi hearing of this, forbade her to accept the invitation, and she did not go. Later, Debendra again going to Tara Charan's house, had an interview with Kunda. Surja Mukhi hearing of this through others, gave to Tara Charan such a scolding, that from that time Debendra's visits were stopped.
In this manner three years passed after the marriage; then Kunda Nandini became a widow. Tara Charan died of fever. Surja Mukhi took Kunda to live with her, and selling the house she had given to Tara Charan, gave the proceeds in Government paper to Kunda.
The reader is no doubt much displeased, but in fact the tale is only begun. Of the poison tree the seed only has thus far been sown.
The widow Kunda Nandini passed some time in Nagendra's house. One afternoon the whole household of ladies were sitting together in the other division of the house, all occupied according to their tastes in the simple employment of village women. All ages were there, from the youngest girl to the grey-haired woman. One was binding another's hair, the other suffering it to be bound; one submitting to have her white hairs extracted, another extracting them by the aid of a grain of rice; one beauty sewing together shreds of cloth into a quilt for her boy, another suckling her child; one lovely being dressing the plaits of her hair; another beating her child, who now cried aloud, now quietly sobbed, by turns. Here one is sewing carpet-work, another leaning over it in admiring examination. There one of artistic taste, thinking of some one's marriage, is drawing a design on the wooden seats to be used by the bridal pair. One learned lady is reading Dasu Rai's poetry. An old woman is delighting the ears of her neighbours with complaints of her son; a humorous young one, in a voice half bursting with laughter, relates in the ears of her companions whose husbands are absent some jocose story of her husband's, to beguile the pain of separation. Some are reproaching the Grihini (house-mistress), some the Korta (master), some the neighbours; some reciting their own praises. She who may have received a gentle scolding in the morning from Surja Mukhi on account of her stupidity, is bringing forward many examples of her remarkable acuteness of understanding. She in whose cooking the flavours can never be depended upon, is dilating at great length upon her proficiency in the art. She whose husband is proverbial in the village for his ignorance, is astounding her companions by her praises of his superhuman learning. She whose children are dark and repulsive-looking, is pluming herself on having given birth to jewels of beauty. Surja Mukhi was not of the company. She was a little proud, and did not sit much with these people; if she came amongst them her presence was a restraint upon the enjoyment of the rest. All feared her somewhat, and were reserved towards her. Kunda Nandini associated with them; she was amongst them now, teaching a little boy his letters at his mother's request. During the lesson the pupil's eyes were fixed upon the sweetmeat in another child's hand, consequently his progress was not great. At this moment there appeared amongst them a Boisnavi (female mendicant), exclaiming, "Jai Radhika!" (Victory to Radhika).
[Footnote 4: Wife of Krishna.]
A constant stream of guests was served in Nagendra's Thakur bari, and every Sunday quantities of rice were distributed in the same place, but neither Boisnavis nor others were allowed to come to the women's apartments to beg; accordingly, on hearing the cry "Jai Radha!" in these forbidden precincts, one of the inmates exclaimed: "What, woman! do you venture to intrude here? go to the Thakur bari." But even as she spoke, turning to look at the Boisnavi, she could not finish her speech, but said instead: "Oh, ma, what Boisnavi are you?"
Looking up, all saw with astonishment that the Boisnavi was young and of exceeding beauty; in that group of beautiful women there was none, excepting Kunda Nandini, so beautiful as she. Her trembling lips, well-formed nose, large lotus-eyes, pencilled brows, smooth, well-shaped forehead, arms like the lotus-stalk, and complexion like the champak flower, were rare among women. But had there been present any critic of loveliness, he would have said there was a want of sweetness in her beauty, while in her walk and in her movements there was a masculine character.
The sandal mark on the Boisnavi's nose was long and fine, her hair was braided, she wore a sari with a coloured border, and carried a small tambourine in her hand. She wore brass bracelets, and over them others made of black glass.
[Footnote 5: The caste mark, made with sandal-wood powder.]
One of the elder women addressed her saying, "Who are you?"
The Boisnavi replied, "My name is Haridasi. Will the ladies like a song?"
The cry, "Yes, yes! sing!" sounded on all sides from old and young. Raising her tambourine, the Boisnavi seated herself near the ladies, where Kunda was teaching the little boy. Kunda was very fond of music; on hearing that the Boisnavi would sing she came nearer. Her pupil seized the opportunity to snatch the sweetmeat from the other child's hand, and eat it himself.
The Boisnavi asking what she should sing, the listeners gave a number of different orders. One called for the strains of Govinda Adhikari, another Gopale Ure. She who was reading Dasu Rai's poem desired to have it sung. Two or three asked for the old stories about Krishna; they were divided as to whether they would hear about the companions or about the separation. Some wanted to hear of his herding the cows in his youth. One shameless girl called out, "If you do not sing such and such a passage I will not listen." One mere child, by way of teaching the Boisnavi, sang some nonsensical syllables. The Boisnavi, listening to the different demands, gave a momentary glance at Kunda, saying: "Have you no commands to give?"
Kunda, ashamed, bent her head smiling, but did not speak aloud; she whispered in the ear of a companion, "Mention some hymn."
The companion said, "Kunda desires that you will sing a hymn." The Boisnavi then began a hymn. Kunda, seeing that the Boisnavi had neglected all other commands to obey hers, was much abashed. Haridasi, striking gently on her tambourine as if in sport, recited in a gentle voice some few notes like the murmuring of a bee in early spring, or a bashful bride's first loving speech to her husband. Then suddenly she produced from that insignificant tambourine, as though with the fingers of a powerful musician, sounds like the crashing of the clouds in thunder, making the frames of her hearers shrink within them as she sang in tones more melodious than those of the Apsharas (celestial singing women).
The ladies, astonished and enchanted, heard the Boisnavi's unequalled voice filling the court with sound that ascended to the skies. What could secluded women understand of the method of that singing? An intelligent person would have comprehended that this perfect singing was not due to natural gifts alone. The Boisnavi, whoever she might be, had received a thorough scientific training in music, and, though young, she was very proficient.
The Boisnavi, having finished her song, was urged by the ladies to sing again. Haridasi, looking with thirsty eyes at Kunda, sang the following song from Krishna's address to Radhika:
THE BOISNAVI'S SONG.
"To see thy beauteous lily face I come expectant to this place; Let me, oh Rai! thy feet embrace. To deprecate thy sullen ire, Therefore I come in strange attire; Revive me, Radha, kindness speak, Clasping thy feet my home I'd seek. Of thy fair form to catch a ray From door to door with flute I stray; When thy soft name it murmurs low Mine eyes with sudden tears o'erflow. If thou wilt not my pardon speak The banks of Jumna's stream I'll seek, Will break my flute and yield my life; Oh! cease thy wrath, and end the strife. The joys of Braj I've cast aside A slave before thy feet t' abide; Thine anklets round my neck I'll bind, In Jumna's stream I'll refuge find."
The song over, the Boisnavi, looking at Kunda, said, "Singing has made me thirsty; give me some water."
Kunda brought water in a vessel; but the Boisnavi said, "I will not touch your vessel; come near and pour some water into my hands. I was not born a Boisnavi." By this she gave it to be understood that she was formerly of some unholy caste, and had since become a Boisnavi.
In reply to her words, Kunda went behind her so as to pour the water into her hands. They were at such a distance from the rest that words spoken gently could not be heard by any of them. Kunda poured the water, and the Boisnavi washed her hands and face.
While thus engaged the latter murmured, "Are you not Kunda?"
In astonishment Kunda replied, "Why do you ask?"
"Have you ever seen your mother-in-law?"
Kunda had heard that her mother-in-law, having lost her good name, had left the place.
Then said the Boisnavi: "Your mother-in-law is here now. She is in my house, and is crying bitterly to be allowed to see you for once. She dare not show her face to the mistress of this house. Why should you not go with me to see her? Notwithstanding her fault, she is still your mother-in-law."
Although Kunda was simple, she understood quite well that she should not acknowledge any connection with such a relation. Therefore she merely shook her head at the Boisnavi's words and refused her assent. But the Boisnavi would not take a refusal; again she urged the matter.
Kunda replied, "I cannot go without the Grihini's permission."
This Haridasi forbade. "You must not speak to the house-mistress, she will not let you go; it may be she will send for your Sasuri (mother-in-law). In that case your mother-in-law would flee the country."
The more the Boisnavi insisted, the more Kunda refused to go without the Grihini's permission.
Haridasi having no other resource, said: "Very well, put the thing nicely to the Grihini; I will come another day and take you. Mind you put it prudently, and shed some tears also, else she will not consent."
Even to this Kunda did not consent; she would not say either "yes" or "no."
Haridasi, having finished purifying her face and hands, turned to the ladies and asked for contributions. At this moment Surja Mukhi came amongst them, the desultory talk ceased, and the younger women, all pretending some occupation, sat down.
Surja Mukhi, examining the Boisnavi from head to foot, inquired, "Who are you?"
An aunt of Nagendra's explained: "She is a Boisnavi who came to sing. I never heard such beautiful singing! Will you let her sing for you? Sing something about the goddesses."
Haridasi, having sung a beautiful piece about Sham, Surja Mukhi, enchanted, dismissed her with a handsome present. The Boisnavi, making a profound salute, cast one more glance at Kunda and went away. Once out of the range of Surja Mukhi's eyes, she made a few gentle taps on the tambourine, singing softly—
"Ah, my darling! I'll give you honey to eat, golden robes to wear; I'll fill your flask with attar, And your jar with water of rose, Your box with spice prepared by my own hand."
The Boisnavi being gone, the women could talk of nothing else for some time. First they praised her highly, then began to point out her defects.
Biraj said, "She is beautiful, but her nose is somewhat flat."
Bama remarked, "Her complexion is too pale."
Chandra Mukhi added, "Her hair is like tow."
Kapal said, "Her forehead is too high."
Kamala said, "Her lips are thick."
Harani observed, "Her figure is very wooden."
Pramada added, "The woman's bust is like that of a play actor, it has no grace."
In this manner it soon appeared that the beautiful Boisnavi was of unparalleled ugliness.
Then Lalita said, "Whatever her looks may be, she sings beautifully."
But even this was not admitted. Chandra Mukhi said the singing was coarse; Mukta Keshi confirmed this criticism.
Ananga said, "The woman does not know any songs; she could not even give us one of Dasu Rai's songs."
Kanak said, "She does not understand time."
Thus it appeared that Haridasi Boisnavi was not only extremely ugly, but that her singing was of the worst description.
Haridasi Boisnavi, having left the house of the Datta family, went to Debipur. At this place there is a flower-garden surrounded by painted iron railings. It is well stocked with fruit trees and flowering shrubs. In the centre is a tank, upon the edge of which stands a garden-house. Entering a private room in this house, Haridasi threw off her dress. Suddenly that dense mass of hair fell from the head; the locks were borrowed. The bust also fell away; it was made of cloth. After putting on suitable apparel and removing the Boisnavi garments, there stood forth a strikingly handsome young man of about five and twenty years of age. Having no hair on his face he looked quite a youth; in feature he was very handsome. This young man was Debendra Babu, of whom we have before had some slight knowledge.
Debendra and Nagendra were sprung from the same family, but between the two branches there had been feud for successive generations, so that the members of the Debipur family were not on speaking terms with those of Govindpur. From generation to generation there had been lawsuits between the two houses. At length, in an important suit, the grandfather of Nagendra had defeated the grandfather of Debendra, and since that time the Debipur family had been powerless. All their money was swallowed up in law expenses, and the Govindpur house had bought up all their estates. From that time the position of the Debipur family had declined, that of the other increased, the two branches no longer united.
Debendra's father had sought in one way to restore the fallen fortunes of his house. Another zemindar, named Ganesh, dwelt in the Haripur district; he had one unmarried daughter, Hembati, who was given to Debendra in marriage. Hembati had many virtues; she was ugly, ill-tempered, unamiable, selfish. Up to the time of his marriage with her, Debendra's character had been without stain. He had been very studious, and was by nature steady and truth-loving. But that marriage had been fatal to him. When Debendra came to years of discretion he perceived that on account of his wife's disposition there was no hope of domestic happiness for him. With manhood there arose in him a love for beauty, but in his own house this was denied to him; with manhood there came a desire for conjugal affection, but the mere sight of the unamiable Hembati quenched the desire. Putting happiness out of the question, Debendra perceived that it would be difficult to stay in the house to endure the venom of Hembati's tongue. One day Hembati poured forth abuse on her husband; he had endured much, he could endure no more, he dragged Hembati by the hair and kicked her. From that day, deserting his home, he went to Calcutta, leaving orders that a small house should be built for him in the garden. Before this occurred the father of Debendra had died, therefore he was independent. In Calcutta he plunged into vicious pursuits to allay his unsatisfied desires, and then strove to wash away his heart's reproaches in wine; after that he ceased to feel any remorse, he took delight in vice. When he had learned what Calcutta could teach him in regard to luxury, Debendra returned to his native place, and, taking up his abode in the garden-house, gave himself up to the indulgence of his recently acquired tastes. Debendra had learned many peculiar fashions in Calcutta; on returning to Debipur he called himself a Reformer. First he established a Brahmo Samaj; many such Brahmos as Tara Charan were attracted to it, and to the speech-making there was no limit. He also thought of opening a female school; but this required too much effort, he could not do it. About widow marriage he was very zealous. One or two such marriages had been arranged, the widows being of low caste; but the credit of these was due, not to him, but to the contracting parties. He had been of one mind with Tara Charan about breaking the chains of the zenana; both had said, "Let women come out." In this matter Debendra was very successful, but then this emancipation had in his mind a special meaning.
When Debendra, on his return from Govindpur, had thrown off his disguise and resumed his natural appearance, he took his seat in the next room. His servant, having prepared the pain-relieving huka, placed the snake in front of him. Debendra spent some time in the service of that fatigue-destroying goddess, Tobacco. He is not worthy to be called a man who does not know the luxury of tobacco. Oh, satisfier of the hearts of all! oh, world enchantress! may we ever be devoted to thee! Your vehicles, the huka, the pipe, let them ever remain before us. At the mere sight of them we shall obtain heavenly delight. Oh, huka! thou that sendest forth volumes of curling smoke, that hast a winding tube shaming the serpent! oh, bowl that beautifies thy top! how graceful are the chains of thy turban; how great is the beauty of thy curved mouthpiece; how sonorous the murmur of the ice-cool water in thy depths! Oh, world enchantress! oh, soother of the fatigues of man, employer of the idle, comforter of the henpecked husband's heart, encourager of timid dependents, who can know thy glory! Soother of the sorrowing! thou givest courage to the timid, intellect to the stupid, peace to the angry! Oh, bestower of blessings, giver of all happiness, appear in undiminished power in my room! Let your sweet scent increase daily, let your cool waters continue to rumble in your depths, let your mouthpiece ever be glued to my lips!
Pleasure-loving Debendra enjoyed the favour of this great goddess as long as he would, but yet he was not satisfied; he proceeded to worship another great power. In the hand of his servant was displayed a number of straw-covered bottles. Then on that white, soft, spacious bed, a gold-coloured mat being laid, a spirit-stand was placed thereon, and the sunset-coloured liquid goddess poured into the power-giving decanter. A cut-glass tumbler and plated jug served as utensils for worship. From the kitchen a black, ugly priest came, bearing hot dishes of roast mutton and cutlets to take the place of the sacred flowers. Then Debendra, as a devoted worshipper, sat down to perform the rites.
Then came a troop of singers and musicians, and concluded the ceremonies with their music and songs.
At length a young man of about Debendra's age, of a placid countenance, came and sat with him. This was his cousin, Surendra. Surendra was in every respect the opposite of Debendra, yet the latter was much attached to his cousin; he heeded no one in the world but him. Every night Surendra came to see him, but, fearing the wine, he would only sit a few minutes.
When all were gone, Surendra asked Debendra, "How are you to-day?"
"The body," replied Debendra, "is the temple of disease."
"Yours is, especially," said his cousin, "Have you fever to-day?"
"Is your liver out of order?"
"It is as before."
"Would it not be better to refrain from these excesses?"
"What, drinking? How often will you speak of that? Wine is my constant companion," said Debendra.
"But why should it be?" replied Surendra. "Wine was not born with you; you can't take it away with you. Many give it up, why should not you do so?"
"What have I to gain by giving it up? Those who do so have some happiness in prospect, and therefore give it up. For me there is no happiness."
"Then to save your life give it up."
"Those to whom life brings happiness may give up wine; but what have I to gain by living?"
Surendra's eyes filled with tears. Full of love for his friend, he urged:
"Then for my sake give it up."
Tears came into the eyes of Debendra as he said: "No one but yourself urges me to walk in virtuous paths. If I ever do give it up it will be for your sake, and—"
"If ever I hear that my wife is dead I will give up drink. Otherwise, whether I live or die, I care not."
Surendra, with moist eyes, mentally anathematising Hembati, took his leave.
SURJA MUKHI'S LETTER.
Dearest Srimati Kamal Mani Dasi, long may you live!
"I am ashamed to address you any longer with a blessing. You have become a woman, and the mistress of a house. Still I cannot think of you otherwise than as my younger sister. I have brought you up to womanhood, I taught you your letters; but now when I see your writing I am ashamed to send this scrawl. But of what use to be ashamed? My day is over; were it not so how should I be in this condition? What condition?—it is a thing I cannot speak of to any one; should I do so there will be sorrow and shame; yet if I do not tell some one of my heart's trouble I cannot endure it. To whom can I speak? You are my beloved sister; except you no one loves me. Also it concerns your brother. I can speak of it to no one but you.
"I have prepared my own funeral pyre. If I had not cared for Kunda Nandini, and she had died, would that have been any loss to me? God cares for so many others—would He not have cared for her? Why did I bring her home to my own destruction! When you saw that unfortunate being she was a child, now she is seventeen or eighteen. I admit she is beautiful; her beauty is fatal to me. If I have any happiness on earth it is in my husband; if I care about anything in this world it is for my husband; if there is any wealth belonging to me it is my husband: this husband Kunda Nandini is snatching from me. If I have a desire on earth it is for my husband's love: of that love Kunda Nandini is cheating me. Do not think evil of your brother; I am not reproaching him. He is virtuous, not even his enemies can find a fault in him. I can see daily that he tries to subdue his heart. Wherever Kunda Nandini may happen to be, from that spot, if possible, he averts his eyes; unless there is absolute necessity he does not speak her name. He is even harsh towards her; I have heard him scold her when she has committed no fault. Then why am I writing all this trash? Should a man ask this question it would be difficult to make him understand, but you being a woman will comprehend. If Kunda Nandini is in his eyes but as other women, why is he so careful not to look towards her? why take such pains to avoid speaking her name? He is conscious of guilt towards Kunda Nandini, therefore he scolds her without cause; that anger is not with her, but with himself; that scolding is not for her, but for himself. This I can understand. I who have been so long devoted to him, who within and without see only him, if I but see his shadow I can tell his thoughts. What can he hide from me? Occasionally when his mind is absent his eyes wander hither and thither; do I not know what they are seeking? If he meets it, again becoming troubled he withdraws his eyes; can I not understand that? For whose voice is he listening at meal-times when he pauses in the act of carrying food to his mouth? and when Kunda's tones reach his ear, and he fastens to eat his meal, can one not understand that? My beloved always had a gracious countenance; why is he now always so absent-minded? If one speaks to him he does not hear, but gives an absent answer. If, becoming angry, I say, 'May I die?' paying no attention he answers, 'Yes.' If I ask where his thoughts are, he says with his lawsuits; but I know they have no place in his mind; when he speaks of his lawsuits he is always merry. Another point. One day the old women of the neighbourhood were speaking of Kunda Nandini, pitying her young widowhood, her unprotected condition. Your brother came up; from within I saw his eyes fill with tears; he turned away and left them quickly. The other day I engaged a new servant; her name is Kumuda. Sometimes the Babu calls Kumuda; when so doing he often slips out the name Kunda instead of Kumuda, then how confused he is—why should he be confused? I cannot say he is neglectful of me, or unaffectionate; rather he is more attentive than before, more affectionate. The reason of this I fully understand: he is conscious of fault towards me; but I know that I have no longer a place in his heart. Attention is one thing, love quite another; the difference between these two we women can easily understand.
"There is another amusing matter. A learned pandit in Calcutta, named Iswara Chandra Bidya Sagar, has published a book on the marriage of widows. If he who would establish the custom of marrying widows is a pandit, then who can be called a dunce? Just now, the Brahman Bhattacharjya bringing the book into the boita khana, there was a great discussion.
"After much talk in favour of widow-marriage, the Brahman, taking ten rupees from the Babu for the repairs of the Tote, went his way. On the following day Sharbabhoum Thakur replied on the same subject. I had some golden bracelets made for his daughter's wedding. No one else was in favour of widow-marriage.
[Footnote 6: The village school in which Sanscrit is taught.]
"I have taken up much time in wearying you with my sorrows. Do I not know how vexed you will be? but what can I do, sister? If I do not tell you my sorrows, to whom shall I tell them? I have not said all yet, but hoping for some relief from you has calmed me a little. Say nothing of this to anyone; above all, I conjure you, show not this letter to your husband. Will you not come and see me? if you will come now your presence will heal many of my troubles. Send me quickly news of your husband and of your child.
"P.S.—Another word. If I can get rid of this girl I may be happy once more; but how to get rid of her? Can you take her? Would you not fear to do so?"
Kamal Mani replied—
"You have become quite foolish, else how can you doubt your husband's heart? Do not lose faith in him; if you really cannot trust him you had better drown yourself. I, Kamal Mani, tell you you had better drown yourself. She who can no longer trust her husband had better die."
On the course of a short time Nagendra's whole nature was changed. As at eventime, in the hot season, the clear sky becomes suddenly veiled in cloud, so Nagendra's mind became clouded. Surja Mukhi wept secretly.
She thought to herself, "I will take Kamal Mani's advice. Why should I doubt my husband's heart? His heart is firm as the hills. I am under a delusion. Perhaps he is suffering in health." Alas! Surja Mukhi was building a bridge of sand.
In the house there dwelt a sort of doctor. Surja Mukhi was the house-mistress. Sitting behind the purdah (a half-transparent screen) she held converse with everyone, the person addressed remaining in the verandah. Calling the doctor, Surja Mukhi said—
"The Babu is not well; why do you not give him medicine?"
"Is he ill? I did not know of it; I have heard nothing."
"Has not the Babu told you?"
"No; what is the matter?"
"What is the matter? Are you a doctor, and do you ask that? Do I know?"
The doctor was nonplussed, and saying, "I will go and inquire," he was about to leave; but Surja Mukhi, calling him back, said, "Do not ask the Babu about it; give him some medicine."
The doctor thought this a peculiar sort of treatment; but there was no lack of medicine in the house, and going to the dispensary, he composed a draught of soda, port-wine, and some simple drugs, and, filling a bottle, labelled it, "To be taken twice a day."
Surja Mukhi took the physic to her husband, and requested him to drink it. Nagendra, taking the bottle, read the inscription, and, hurling it away, struck a cat with it. The cat fled, her tail drenched with the physic.
Surja Mukhi said: "If you will not take the medicine, at least tell me what is your complaint."
Nagendra, annoyed, said, "What complaint have I?"
"Look at yourself," replied Surja Mukhi, "and see how thin you have become," and she held a mirror before him.
Nagendra, taking the mirror from her, threw it down and smashed it to atoms.
Surja Mukhi began to weep. With an angry look Nagendra went away. Meeting a servant in the outer room, the Babu struck him for no fault. Surja Mukhi felt as if she had received the blow. Formerly Nagendra had been of a very calm temper; now the least thing made him angry.
Nor was this all. One night, the hour for the meal being already past, Nagendra had not come in. Surja Mukhi sat expecting him. At length, when he appeared, she was astonished at his looks. His face and eyes were inflamed—he had been drinking, and as he had never been given to drinking before his wife was shocked. From that time it became a daily custom.
One day Surja Mukhi, casting herself at his feet, choking down the sobs in her throat, with much humility entreated, "For my sake give this up."
Nagendra asked angrily, "What is my fault?"
Surja Mukhi said: "If you do not know what is the fault, how can I? I only beg that for my sake you will give it up."
Nagendra replied: "Surja Mukhi, I am a drunkard! If devotion should be paid to a drunkard, pay it to me; otherwise it is not called for."
Surja Mukhi left the room to conceal her tears, since her weeping irritated her husband, and led him to strike the servants.
Soon after, the Dewan sent word to the mistress that the estate was going to ruin.
She asked, "Why?"
"Because the Babu will not see to things. The people on the estates do just as they please. Since the Karta is so careless, no one heeds what I say."
Surja Mukhi answered: "If the owner looks after the estate, it will be preserved; if not, let it go to ruin. I shall be thankful if I can only save my own property" (meaning her husband).
Formerly Nagendra had carefully looked after all his affairs.
One day some hundreds of his ryots came to the kacheri, and with joined palms stood at the door. "Give us justice," they said, "O your highness; we cannot survive the tyranny of the naib (a law officer) and the gomashta. We are being robbed of everything. If you do not save us, to whom shall we go?"
Nagendra gave orders to drive them away.
Formerly, when one of his gomashtas had beaten a ryot and taken a rupee from him, Nagendra had cut ten rupees from the gomashta's pay and given it to the ryot.
Hara Deb Ghosal wrote to Nagendra: "What has happened to you? I cannot imagine what you are doing. I receive no letters from you, or, if I do, they contain but two or three lines without any meaning. Have you taken offence with me? If so, why do you not tell me? Have you lost your lawsuit? Then why not say so? If you do not tell me anything else, at least give me news of your health."
Nagendra replied: "Do not be angry with me. I am going to destruction."
Hara Deb was very wise. On reading this letter he thought to himself: "What is this? Anxiety about money? A quarrel with some friend? Debendra Datta? Nothing of the kind. Is this love?"
Kamal Mani received another letter from Surja Mukhi. It concluded thus: "Come, Kamal Mani, sister; except you I have no friend. Come to me."
Kamal Mani was agitated; she could contain herself no longer. She felt that she must consult her husband.
Srish Chandra, sitting in the inner apartments, was looking over the office account-books. Beside him on the bed, Satish Chandra, a child of a year old, was rejoicing in the possession of an English newspaper. He had first tried to eat it; but, failing in that, had spread it out and was now sitting upon it. Kamal Mani, approaching her husband, brought the end of her sari round her neck, threw herself down, bending her forehead to the floor, and, folding her hands, said, "I pay my devotions to you, O great king." Just before this time, a play had been performed in the house, from whence she borrowed this inflated speech.
Srish said, laughing, "Have the cucumbers been stolen again?"
"Neither cucumbers nor melons; this time a most valuable thing has been stolen."
"Where is the robbery?" asked Srish.
"The robbery took place at Govindpur. My elder brother had a broken shell in a golden box. Some one has stolen it."
Srish, not understanding the metaphor, said "Your brother's golden casket is Surja Mukhi. What is the broken shell?"
"Surja Mukhi's wits," replied Kamal.
"People say if one has a mind to play he can do so, though the shells are broken" (referring to a game played with shells). "If Surja Mukhi's understanding is defective, yet with it she gained your brother's heart, and with all your wisdom, you could not bring him over to your side. Who has stolen the broken shell?"
"That I know not; but, from reading her letter, I perceive it is gone—else how could a woman write such a letter?"
"May I see the letter?" asked Srish.
Kamal Mani placed the letter in her husband's hand, saying: "Surja Mukhi forbade my telling you all this; but while I keep it from you I am quite uneasy. I can neither sleep nor eat, and I fear I may lose my senses."
"If you have been forbidden to tell me of the matter I cannot read this letter, nor do I wish to hear its contents. Tell me what has to be done."
"This is what must be done," replied Kamal. "Surja Mukhi's wits are scattered, and must be restored. There is no one that can do this except Satish Babu. His aunt has written requesting that he may be sent to Govindpur."
Satish Babu had in the meantime upset a vase of flowers, and was now aiming at the inkstand. Watching him, Srish Chandra said: "Yes; he he is well fitted to act as physician. I understand now. He is invited to his aunt's house; if he goes, his mother must go also. Surja Mukhi's wits must be lost, or she could not have sent such an invitation."
"Not Satish Babu only; we are all invited."
"Why am I invited?" asked Srish.
"Can I go alone?" replied Kamal. "Who will look after the luggage?"
"It is very unreasonable in Surja Mukhi if she wants her husband's brother-in-law only that he may look after the luggage. I can find some one else to perform that office for a couple of days."
Kamal Mani was angry; she frowned, mocked at Srish Chandra, and, snatching the paper on which he was writing out of his hand, tore it to pieces.
Srish Chandra, smiling, said, "It serves you right."
Kamal, affecting anger, said, "I will speak in that way if I wish!"
Srish, in the same tone, replied, "And I shall speak as I choose!"
Then a playful scuffle ensued; Kamal pretended to strike her husband, who in return pulled down her hair; whereupon she threw away his ink. Then they exchanged angry kisses. Satish Babu was delighted at this performance; he knew that kisses were his special property, so when he saw them scattered in this lavish manner he stood up, supporting himself by his mother's dress, to claim his royal share, crowing joyously. How sweetly that laugh fell on the ears of Kamal Mani! She took him in her lap, and showered kisses upon him. Srish Chandra followed her example. Then Satish Babu, having received his dues, got down and made for his father's brightly coloured pencil, which soon found its way into his mouth.
In the battle between the Kurus and Pandus there was a great struggle between Bhagadatta and Arjuna. In this fight, Bhagadatta being invincible, and Arjuna vulnerable, the latter called Krishna to his aid, who, receiving the charge of Bhagadatta on his breast, blunted the force of the weapons. In like manner, Satish Chandra having received these attacks on his face, peace was restored. But their peace and war was like the dropping of clouds, fitful.
[Footnote 7: An illustration drawn from the Mahabharat.]
Then Srish asked, "Must you really go to Govindpur? What am I to do alone?"
"Do you think I can go alone?" answered his wife. "We must both go. Arrange matters in the morning when you go to business, and come home quickly. If you are long, Satish and I will sit crying for you."
"I cannot go," replied Srish. "This is the season for buying linseed. You must go without me."
"Come, Satish," was Kamal's reply; "we two will go and weep."
At the sound of his mother's voice Satish ceased to gnaw the pencil, and raised another shout of joyous laughter. So Kamal's cry did not come off this time; in place of it the kissing performance was gone through as before.
At its close Kamal said, "Now what are your orders?"
Srish repeated that she must go without him, as he could not leave; whereupon she sat down sulking. Srish went behind her and began to mark her forehead with the ink from his pen.
Then with a laugh she embraced him, saying, "Oh, dearer than life, how I love you!"
He was obliged to return the embrace, when the ink transferred itself from her face to his.
The quarrel thus ended, Kamal said, "If you really will not go, then make arrangements for me."
"When will you come back?"
"Need you ask?" said Kamal; "if you don't go, can I stay there long?"
Srish Chandra sent Kamal Mani to Govindpur, but it is certain that Srish Chandra's employers did not do much in linseed at that time. The other clerks have privately informed us that this was the fault of Srish Chandra, who did not give his mind to it, but sat at home in meditation.
Srish hearing himself thus accused, remarked, "It may be so, my wife was absent at that time."
The hearers shook their heads, saying, "He is under petticoat government!" which so delighted Srish Chandra that he called to his servant, "Prepare dinner; these gentlemen will dine with me to-day."
CAUGHT AT LAST.
It was as though a flower had bloomed in the family house at Govindpur. The sight of Kamal Mani's smiling face dried the tears in the eyes of Surja Mukhi. The moment she set foot in the house Kamal took in hand the dressing of her sister-in-law's hair, for Surja Mukhi had neglected herself lately.
Kamal said, "Shall I put in a flower or two?"
Surja Mukhi pinched her cheek, and forbade it.
So Kamal Mani did it slily. When people came in she said, "Do you see the old woman wearing flowers in her hair?"
But even Kamal's bright face did not dispel the dark clouds from that of Nagendra. When he met her he only said, "Where do you come from, Kamal?"
She bent before him, saying bashfully, "Baby has brought me."
"Indeed! I'll beat the rascal," replied Nagendra, taking the child in his arms, and spending an hour in play with him, in return for which the grateful child made free with his moustache.
Kamal Mani playfully accosted Kunda with the words, "Ha, Kundi, Kundi! Nundi, Dundi! are you quite well, Kundi?"
The girl was silent in astonishment, but presently she said, "I am well."
"Call me Didi (elder sister); if you do not I will burn your hair when you are asleep, or else I will give your body to the cockroaches."
Kunda obeyed. When she had been in Calcutta she had not addressed Kamal by any name; indeed she had rarely spoken; but seeing that Kamal was very loving-hearted, she had become fond of her. In the years that had intervened without a meeting she had a little forgotten Kamal; but now, both being amiable, their affection was born afresh, and became very close.
When Kamal Mani talked of returning home, Surja Mukhi said, "Nay, sister, stay a little longer. I shall be wretched when you are gone. It relieves me to talk to you of my trouble."
"I shall not go without arranging your affairs."
"What affairs?" said Surja Mukhi.
"Your Shradda" (funeral ceremonies), replied Kamal; but mentally she said, "Extracting the thorns from your path."
When Kunda heard that Kamal talked of going, she went to her room and wept. Kamal going quietly after her found her with her head on the pillow, weeping. Kamal sat down to dress Kunda's hair, an occupation of which she was very fond. When she had finished she drew Kunda's head on to her lap, and wiped away the tears. Then she said, "Kunda, why do you weep?"
"Why do you go away?" was the reply.
"Why should you weep for that?"
"Because you love me."
"Does no one else love you?"
Kunda did not reply; and Kamal went on: "Does not the Bou (Surja Mukhi) love you? No? Don't hide it from me." (Still no answer.) "Does not my brother love you?" (Still silence.) "Since I love you and you love me, shall we not go together?" (Yet Kunda spoke not.) "Will you go?"
Kunda shook her head, saying, "I will not go."
Kamal's joyous face became grave; she thought, "This does not sound well. The girl has the same complaint as my brother, but he suffers the more deeply. My husband is not here, with whom can I take counsel?" Then Kamal Mani drew Kunda's head lovingly on her breast, and taking hold of her face caressingly, said, "Kunda, will you tell me the truth?"
"About what?" said the girl.
"About what I shall ask thee. I am thy elder, I love thee as a sister; do not hide it from me, I will tell no one." In her mind she thought, "If I tell any one it will be my husband and my baby."
After a pause Kunda asked, "What shall I tell you?"
"You love my brother dearly, don't you?"
Kunda gave no answer.
Kamal Mani wept in her heart; aloud she said: "I understand. It is so. Well that does not hurt you, but many others suffer from it."
Kunda Nandini, raising her head, fixed a steadfast look on the face of Kamal Mani.
Kamal, understanding the silent question, replied, "Ah, unhappy one! dost thou not see that my brother loves thee?"
Kunda's head again sank on Kamal's breast, which she watered with her tears. Both wept silently for many minutes.
What the passion of love is the golden Kamal Mani knew very well. In her innermost heart she sympathized with Kunda, both in her joy and in her sorrow. Wiping Kunda's eyes she said again, "Kunda, will you go with me?"
Kunda's eyes again tilled with tears.
More earnestly, Kamal said: "If you are out of sight my brother will forget you, and you will forget him; otherwise, you will be lost, my brother will be lost and his wife—the house will go to ruin."
Kunda continued weeping.
Again Kamal asked, "Will you go? Only consider my brother's condition, his wife's."
Kunda, after a long interval, wiped her eyes, sat up, and said, "I will go."
Why this consent after so long an interval? Kamal understood that Kunda had offered up her own life on the temple of the household peace. Her own peace? Kamal felt that Kunda did not comprehend what was for her own peace.
On this occasion, Haridasi Boisnavi entering, sang—
"I went into the thorny forest to pluck a soiled flower— Yes, my friend, a soiled flower; I wore it twined about my head, I hung it in my ears— Friends, a soiled flower."
This day Surja Mukhi was present. She sent to call Kamal to hear the singing. Kamal came, bringing Kunda Nandini with her. The Boisnavi sang—
"I would die for this blooming thorn, I will steal its honied sweets, I go to seek where it doth bloom, This fresh young bud."
Kamal Mani frowned, and said: "Boisnavi Didi, may ashes be thrown on your face! Can you not sing something else?"
Haridasi asked, "Why?"
Kamal, more angrily, said: "Why? Bring a bough of the babla tree, and show her how pleasant it is to be pierced by thorns."
Surja Mukhi said gently: "We do not like songs of that sort; sing something suitable for the home circle."
The Boisnavi, saying "Very well," began to sing—
"By clasping the Pandit's feet, I shall become learned in the Shastras; Learning thus the holy Shastras, who will dare speak ill of me?"
Kamal, frowning, said: "Listen to this singing if it pleases you, sister. I shall go away."
She went, and Surja Mukhi also left, with a displeased countenance. Of the rest of the women, those who relished the song remained, the others left; Kunda Nandini stayed. She did not understand the hidden meaning of the songs, she scarcely even heard them. Her thoughts were absent, so she remained where she was seated. Haridasi sang no more, but talked on trivial subjects. Seeing that there would be no more singing, all left except Kunda Nandini, whose feet seemed as though they would not move. Thus, finding herself alone with Kunda, the Boisnavi talked much to her. Kunda heard something of her talk, but not all.
Surja Mukhi saw all this from a distance, and when the two showed signs of being deep in conversation she called Kamal and pointed them out to her.