A LETTER—A VISIT TO THE ZENANA
When Madhav returned from his garden, where he had parted with his cousin, he found a messenger waiting for him with a letter which he said was “Zaruri.” Madhav tore it open with eagerness, and devoured its contents. It was from his lawyer at the Sadar station of his district. We will endeavour to give a literal translation of this epistle, interspersing it with the remarks Madhav made as he read.
“To sea of glory.”
“Your servant has been engaged in conducting your honour’s lawsuits at this station, with great carefulness, and hopes that he will succeed in all of them.”—
“All of them” thought Madhav, “aye, you may say so, lawyer, for my cases are all just. But it is not in the nature of our courts to be right in every case, so I fear, I must take my lawyer’s dictum with some allowance. He is an able fellow, however, and manages cases excellently, I must confess.—I heartily wish all this mummery were at an end, but my neighbours must drag me to law. But what next ?” The letter proceeded—
“It gives me great pain to have to inform you that this day, your aunt has by proxy instituted a suit against you in the principal Sadar Amin’s Court, alleging that her husband’s will is a forgery and claiming the whole estate with wasilut.”
“My aunt!” exlaimed Madhav in astonishment, the letter dropping from his hands, “my aunt! she! Heavens! and for my whole fortune! I a forger. The wretch! I shall kick her out of the house!”
He stood musing for some moments, trembling with rage. But calming himself a little, he picked up the paper and proceeded with it.
“I do not know who gave her such counsels, but your servant has made many enquiries, knowing well that some one must have counselled it, and he has heard who it is. Great men are there at her back.”
“Counsellors indeed!” thought Madhav “who can they be?” He tried to make a guess, first thought of one neighbouring zemindar, then of another, but no one seemed likely, and he resumed reading.
“But do not think your honour has anything to fear. The will is in truth real, as I know, and where there is virtue, there is victory. But it is necessary to be very cautious. It would be advisable to give vakalatnamas to Babus ………………… and ………………… vakils of the Judge’s Court, as well as to engage another from the Sadar Court on necessary occasions. Barristers from the Supreme Court need also be engaged when the parties join issue as well as at the final hearing. Your servant will do all in his power, and will try for the case even with his life. He waits your honour’s orders.
Obedient to orders,
Gokul Chandra Das.
P.S.—A thousand rupees are at present required to meet necessary expenses.”
Madhav’s first thought, after he had finished the perusal of the letter was to go and seek his aunt, and to hear what explanation she had to give of her strange proceeding. Madhav therefore immediately hurried into the inner apartments where he found it no very easy task to make himself heard in that busy hour of zenana life. There was a servant woman, black, rotund and eloquent, demanding the transmission to her hands of sundry articles of domestic use, without however making it at all intelligible to whom her demands were particularly addressed. There was another, who boasted similar blessed corporal dimensions, but who had thought it beneath her dignity to shelter them from view; and was busily employed, broomstick in hand, in demolishing the little mountains of the skins and stems of sundry culinary vegetables which decorated the floors, and against which the half-naked dame never aimed a blow but coupled it with a curse on those whose duty it had been to prepare the said vegetables for dressing.
A third had ensconced herself in that corner of the yaid which formed the grand receptacle of household filth, and was employing all her energies in scouring some brass pots; and as her ancient arms whirled round in rapid evolutions the scarcely less active engine in her mouth hurled dire anathemas against the unfortunate cook, for the mighty reason, that the latter had put the said vessels to their legitimate use, and thus caused the labours which excited the worthy matron’s ire. The cook herself, far removed from the scene where both her spiritual and her temporal prospects were being so fiercely dealt with by the excited scourer of the brass pots, was engaged in an angry discussion with an elderly lady, apparently the housewife and governess, the subject of debate being no less interesting and important than the quantity of ghee to be allowed her for the culinary purposes of the night. The honest manufacturer of rice and curry was anxious to secure only just double the quantity that was necessary, wisely deeming it advisable that half should be set apart in secret for her own special benefit and consumption. In another corner might be heard those sounds so suggestive of an agreeable supper, the huge bunti severing the bodies of fishes doomed to augment the labours of the conscientious cook aforesaid. Several elegant forms might be seen flitting, not often noiselessly but always gracefully, across the daláns and veranda with dirty earthen lamps lighted in their little hands, and occasionally sending forth the tinkling of the silver mal on their ankles or a summons to another in a voice which surpassed the silver in delicacy. A couple of urchins utterly naked and evidently excrescences in the household, thought the opportunity a fitting one for the display of their belligerent propensities and were making desperate attempts at tearing each other’s hair. Some young girls were very clamorously engaged in playing at Agdum Bagdum in the corner of a terrace.
Madhav stood for some moments in utter hopelessness of ever making himself heard in this the veriest of Babels.
“Will you, you wenches,” he cried at length in a key creditable to his lungs, “will you cease? Can I speak?”
The change this short exclamation produce*! was magical. The vociferations of the dame whose demands for nameless articles had been thitherto addressed to the air, ceased in the midst of a scream of more than ordinary power, and the black rotund form of the screamer was nowhere to be seen. She of the broomstick threw away the formidable weapon as if stung by an adder, and sought in precipitate flight to shelter her half-naked mass of flesh in the friendly cover of some dark corner. The anathematizing scourer of the brass vessels was cut short in the midst of a very sonorous curse; and both her tongue and her arm were suspended in the middle of half-performed evolutions. The destroyer of the finny tribe, also, experienced a momentary interruption, but though she mustered courage to resume her task, it was certainly executed with a far smaller expenditure of noise. The presiding divinity of the kitchen abruptly terminated her vocal exertions in favour of ghee and betook to her heels, carrying off in the precipitancy of her flight the entire ghee-pot, a bare moiety of which had just formed her demands. The flitting figures with the lit lamps disappeared in tumultuous flight, little caring that the tinkling of the ornaments in their feet betrayed the very presence they endeavoured to conceal. The combat of the sturdy little warriors who fought in nudity and darkness for victory suddenly terminated in flight on both sides, though the abler general of the two did not fail to fire a retiring shot in the shape of a hearty kick at the shins of his antagonist The little girls too, who had been so merrily playing, rose and followed the said general accompanying him with an ill-suppressed tittle of hilarity. The scene which had just exhibited an unparalleled confusion was suddenly changed into one of utter silence and solitude, and the grave housewife was the only being who stood unmoved and unchanged before the master of the house.
“Masi,” said Madhav, addressing the matron, “how is this? My house is a very bazar.”
“Women, son, women,” replied the Masi with a benevolent and affectionate smile, “it is woman’s nature to be screaming.”
“Where is Khuri now, Masi?”
“That is what I was thinking of” was the reply, “she has not been seen in the house since morning.”
“Not seen in the house since morning!” exclaimed Madhav in amazement, “the thing is true then?”
“What is true, son?” replied the maternal aunt.
“Nothing; I will tell you afterwards. Where is she then? Has any one seen her anywhere?”
“Ambika, Srimati,” cried the matron, addressing the women who were engaged with the fish and the vessels respectively, “have you seen her anywhere?”
“No,” replied each softly.
“Strange,” said the matron; then, as if addressing the walls, she enquired, “has any one seen her?”
“I met her at the Elder House at bathing time,” replied a voice from behind the walls.
“There!” exclaimed the matron in surprise.
“There! in Mathur Dada’s house,” exclaimed Madhav also, and then muttered between his teeth, a sudden light flashing upon him, “cousin Mathur! can he be the instigator? No, no, it cannot be, I judge wrong.” Then speaking out he said, raising his voice, to one of the women present, “Go to the Elder House, and see if my aunt is there; if she is, ask her to return, and in case she refuses, know her reasons.”