THE FRIENDS AND THE STRANGER
THE recent shower had lent to the morning a delightful and invigorating freshness. Leaving the mass of floating clouds behind, the sun advanced and careered on the vast blue plain that shone above; and every house-top and every tree-top, the cocoa-palm and the date-palm, the mango and the acacia received the flood of splendid light and rejoiced. The still-lingering water-drops on the leaves of trees and creepers glittered and shone like a thousand radiant gems as they received the slanting rays of the luminary. Through the openings in the thick-knit boughs of the groves glanced the mild ray on the moistened grass beneath. The newly awakened and joyous birds raised their thousand dissonant voices, while at intervals the papia sent forth its rich thrilling notes into the trembling air. Light fleecy clouds of white wandered in the solitude of the now purified blue of the heavens, which were fanned by a light breeze that had sprung up to shake the pattering drops from the pendant and wooing boughs.
The reader will now follow us to the pool which had been the scene of Matangini’s temporary danger and escape on the previous night. The sun had run a two hours’ course in the heavens. Beneath a young tamarind tree, where the surrounding underwood lent a sort of cover, Matangini sat on the moist grass. Her clothes were wet; her sari had been soiled by mud, her usually curly tresses, washed by the drizzling rain, now fell in straight and loosely-flowing bands on her neck and arms; and her head was slightly bent to permit the sunbeams to play on that raven hair, darker than any cloud which had ever opposed their progress through the atmosphere. Close by her was to be seen the rather full and developed figure of Kanak shining with recently rubbed oil. A dirty napkin thrown over her neck, the brass kalsi maintaining its capacious but as yet empty bulk close by its mistress, and the blue mishi which had recently been called upon to lend its hue to her teeth, showed that the morning ablutions had drawn Kanak out of her home, but that important business had not been hitherto performed. The friends were evidently engaged in an earnest and interesting conversation. The reader need not be informed that with much of the subject of this interesting dialogue, he is already acquainted. Matangini was pouring cautiously and in whispers a narrative of the occurrences of the eventful night into the faithful and discreet ears of her only friend. The concluding part of this conversation we shall, with the reader’s leave, place before him for his gratification.
“Ma gow!” said Kanak with a shudder, after having listened for some time in silent and mute astonishment. “Ah! were it I, I would have been dead through fear. But you are a brave woman. But do you think of returning to your husband’s house?”
“Where else can I go?” replied Matangini with a deep drawn sigh.
“Ah, do not, do not return, I beseech you,” returned Kanak vehemently, “they will kill you.”
“I know my death is inevitable, but who can help fate? Who will tell me how I can find a shelter elsewhere?” and Matangini wept.
“My house will be no shelter for you, I know well,” replied Kanak, her eyes brimming over with tears in sympathy for the affliction of her friend. “But you must not return home. Why will you not go to your sister?”
Matangini’s features changed; she dashed the tear-drops from her eyes, and assuming the same energy of voice in which she had bidden Madhav farewell, said, “Never! never again while life lasts.”
Matangini’s manner silenced all contradiction. Kanak covered her face with her anchal and wept.
“Ah, mothers!” interrupted a voice from behind “What are you speaking of in secret? Ah, you are weeping I see; why, what is the matter?”
The new speaker who stood by the startled friends, was a middle-aged woman of dark complexion. Her hair had turned partly grey and her countenance was fast becoming wrinkled. She was dressed in a coarse thenthe, rather clean; her freshly oiled face, the dirty napkin on her shoulder, as well as the empty kalsi on her waist, betokened the nature of her visit to the waterside.
“Why, it is Suki’s mother,” said Kanak, forgetting her tears and laughing and smiling in an instant, “why, Suki’s mother, why this unusual visit to the Phulpukur today?”
“I rose late this morning,” replied Suki’s mother with benignant civility, “and so, hasty of going to work direct, I thought of washing myself first. But what has happened, child? Why are you both weeping?”
“Ah, Suki’s mother!” said Kanak, her eyes again moistening, “how shall I speak of this poor woman’s misfortunes?” A quiet but significant glance from Matangini’s eye, which meant that her misfortunes were such as should not meet strangers’ ears, warned Kanak against indiscreet disclosures; but Kanak, replying by a glance as full of meaning, seemed to imply that her secrets were safe.
“Talk not of her misfortunes,” said Kanak to the newcomer. “The wretched woman has been turned out of her house by her husband and she knows not where to seek a shelter.”
“Oh fie,” exclaimed Suki’s mother, “is that a thing to weep for? Husbands and wives quarrel in the morning and become reconciled in the evening—who does not know that! He is angry now—will entreat you to go home as soon his anger is gone. Fie, mother, why do you weep for that? Ah, Kanak, when my son-in-law comes to see us, there is not a night when he does not quarrel with my daughter. But what of that? He loves my daughter as no one eke loves his wife. Even last Wednesday, he came and brought her a handsome gold noth—and such a noth, Kanak!” Kanak cut short the happy mother’s description of her son-in-law’s amiable disposition by observing, “True, Suki’s mother, but Raju-da wants to marry another girl—the match that came from Junglebariah; you know well now why he treats her after this fashion, often and often; she will not go home again, Suki’s mother, no woman ought to go. She will never trust herself again to that house to receive insults and reproaches. But alas, poor woman, whither else can she go! Is her father’s hut close by to give her shelter?”
“Ah what a hard fate!” said the good dame, sympathizing, “No no, if she be worthy of the name of woman, she cannot return home. Marry again! Why, where could he get a more beautiful wife? And will the little child he will bring home be a housewife like her? No, mother, do not return but go to your sister and see what he will do.” “Alas! Suki’s mother, she cannot go to her sister even,” responded Kanak, Matangini silently eyeing the ground from shame and confusion. “She has quarrelled with her sister because Madhav Babu did not invite her husband at the late shradh. I could indeed give her shelter, but we are poor, Suki’s mother, and I cannot take her there to starve.”
“My death; but what a simpler-hearted woman is she,” replied Suki’s mother. “She quarrelled with her sister on behalf of such a husband! The man does not deserve such a wife. Were he my son-in-law, I would have scolded not only him but his mother and his father too; but come, mother,” said she, turning to the silent and confused Matangini, “come with me and live with my mistress as long as you choose; the elder Thakurani likes you so much that she will be overjoyed to see you. There, when your husband forgets his anger, and entreats you to go,—for soon he will—you can return to your own house. But do not listen to him too soon; first see that tears flow from his eyes—and that he takes the straw between his teeth.”
“Ah! yes, yes!” exclaimed Kanak joyfully, “you have spoken well, Suki’s mother. She will go with you now; what say you, sister? Will it not be the best thing to go with Suki’s mother? The elder Thakurani, I am sure, loves you; you must be quite welcome to her. Why do you not speak?” Matangini frowned, but without heeding her, her loquacious friend went on glibly. “Yes, yes, she will go; go, bathe yourself, Suki’s mother, and when you return she will follow you. Go then, delay not.”
Suki’s mother hastened to perform her morning ablutions. When the friends were alone, Matangini spoke. “To what a depth am I fallen, Kanak!” said she.
Kanak returned with an impressive energy of manner, “Oh! Do not say nay—drink my blood if you do. Go—go now; in the evening I will see you—Be silent.”
Kanak waited not for a reply, but taking her kalsi up in haste, she ran to the waterside to join Suki’s mother and to perform her morning ablutions.