An Unfinished Song

by Swarnakumari Ghosal

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Chapter III

I saw Him first at my sister's house at a tennis party. My sister's husband is a barrister who took his degree in England. He has a small party at his house every week for tennis. He, too, has been abroad, and is distantly related to my brother-in-law.

So I met him and fell in love with him at first sight, I hear my credulous reader laughingly assert. No, not that, far from it. I am not recording a romance; we only became acquainted. I saw him look at me and smile, and then turning to my sister, he remarked in a low tone, "You are keeping a jewel concealed in a mine, and letting a lotus fade away in a wooden box."

My name is Mrinalini (Lotus), but they call me Moni (Jewel). I overheard his remark, and it jarred on me. My brother-in-law, however, took it up and gave a whole verse of poetry in reply:—

"Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear.
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

Brothers and sisters-in-law in this country have the time-honoured privilege of teasing and joking with one another as much as they like. But, alas for poor me! I was so shy, and so unequal a match for him, that all I could do was to smile pleasantly and grumble inwardly the whole time.

Then there was my sister's brother-in-law, who had taken his M.A. degree in Sanskrit and would not let the opportunity pass of showing off his learning. So he replied with a Sanskrit quotation, which meant that a jewel does not seek anyone, it has to be sought.

Everyone smiled, but I did not enjoy the joke at my expense, nor look with special favour upon the man who had occasioned it. However, this was before tennis began, and the feeling was modified later on. After play was over the guests assembled in the drawing-room, and he was asked to sing. He consented, and sang an English song. But my sister was not satisfied, and urged him to sing in Bengali. He made some objections and apologies, but finally yielded. But what was this? The song he sang was the same I had heard Chotu sing in the schoolroom of my childhood:

"Alas, we met
When moon and stars had faded,
Spring-time had fled and flowers
Withered lay."

But I heard it clearly now, no longer in the humming tone in which Chotu used to sing it. His voice blended with the notes of the piano and filled the house with sweet melody. I stood spellbound and listened like one in a trance. I drank in every word of the song as one parched with thirst will drink without breathing when at last he finds the spring he sought.

Alas, this is a world of disappointment, seldom here do we get what we long for in its entirety. Scarcely was the song begun when it was interrupted. A friend of the family, Mr. Mullick, entered the drawing-room, accompanied by his wife and daughter. Both the player and the singer left their places and joined in greeting the visitors. This formality ended, the singer was urged to finish his song, but he refused. Miss Mullick was reputed to be a good singer; every one, except me, urged her to sing, and she remained at the piano till the time came for us to break up shortly afterwards.

Miss Mullick, or Kusum as we called her, had hardly any chance of entering a protest in her modest way. She sang, and the listeners were so charmed that they urged her to sing again and again.

The mellow harmony of Kusum's voice, however, was lost on me. I heard only one song and the music of that dwelt in my heart:

"Alas, we met
When moon and stars had faded,
Spring-time had fled and flowers
Withered lay."

The music ceased in time. The guests departed and the house was quiet once more. But the song that had entered my soul rang through me still, and even in my dream that night I heard it, and saw the schoolroom of my childhood once more, now filled, so it seemed, with the furniture of my sister's drawing room; a party of guests had assembled, and I thought I heard some one sing the same sweet song, not softly humming as of old, but singing with a full and manly voice, while his beautiful eyes were fixed on me in a loving look—

"Alas, we met
When moon and stars had faded,
Spring-time had fled and flowers
Withered lay."

The music of that song and the deep tenderness of those eyes fixed upon me sent a thrill of delight through me and I awoke and found it was dawn.

I wished to hear that song again and again. It seemed I had no other wish. On that account alone did I look forward to next week's tennis party. The day came, the guests assembled, but the singer of that song of mine was absent. This was a source of great disappointment to me. At the dinner table I ventured to enquire.

"Why has not Mr. Roy been here today?"

My sister reiterated my question. "I was thinking of the same thing," she said. "Why did not Mr. Roy come?"

This gave my brother-in-law a chance for a joke. "Indeed! Well, had he known he would be missed so much, he would surely have come. Shall I send for him?"

This was all lost on me. I was attracted to the singer, not to the man, and so I answered unabashed.

"Yes send for him, he sings well. I wish to hear him sing once more."

I had no motive other than to hear the song, but I soon saw that they had, for my sister replied eagerly, "Romanath has called several times, but we have never yet invited him to dine. We ought to do so." My brother-in-law agreed very readily. Mr. Roy was accordingly invited and came in due course.

When I saw him again, I was somewhat disappointed. I had seen him only once before, and his personality had not made a very lasting impression upon me. Meanwhile ten or twelve days had elapsed. During this time, my fancy had been busy. I had imagined him to be like the vision I had seen in my dream. Though I did not remember the features I saw in my dream vision, I recalled the deep and loving look.

The man I met at dinner was certainly handsome. He had finely cut aristocratic features, a well-shaped head with beautiful hair, and he wore a glossy jet black moustache, but his eyes—ah, there lay the difference! They had not that tender, fond expression I had seen in my dream. In his conversation, too, I searched in vain for the ideal. His humour seemed very forced. He paid many compliments which seemed uncalled for, jarring on a Hindu maiden's ears. It was, perhaps, my untrained taste that was at fault. For how could one who had so long been accustomed to the best English society show other than good manners?

In the course of conversation my sister enquired the reason of his absence from last week's tennis party.

He had accepted an invitation to the Mullicks that day, he explained.

"I had refused them so often," he continued, "that I had not the heart to do so again. Did you really expect me? If I had known that I would sooner have sacrificed a thousand Mullicks."

"I say, Romanath," broke in my brother-in-law, "don't get so very eloquent, it might make me jealous, you know."

"What songs had you after dinner?" my sister enquired. "Does not Miss Mullick sing well?"

"Mr. Roy smiled as he replied,

"Yes—at least that is her reputation, the general belief. What a lovely colour, it suits your complexion beautifully."

The last remark applied to the colour I wore. My seat at the table was beside him, but no conversation of any importance passed between us. My brother-in-law conversed with him on political topics. He spoke to me at intervals, but we did not get far beyond questions and answers. "Could I sing?" "Did I read poetry?" "What poet was my favourite?" "How long did I expect to remain at my sister's?"

In return I expressed my admiration of his song, and most sincere I was when I expressed it. Possibly he was pleased, for he replied, "I do not know many Bengali songs, I see I must learn them now."

This was the only remark I heard him make that seemed agreeable to me; I thought he spoke sincerely then.

After dinner he sang again,

"Alas, we met
When moon and stars had faded,
Spring-time had fled and flowers withered lay.
Garland in hand through the dark night I awaited
The bridegroom who would come when all was bright and gay.
Then the house would be filled with fragrance and soft music,
And the mellow flute the tune of Sahana[1] would play."
The song was over, but to me it was unfinished, something was left out. I was charmed but not satisfied.
He then approached me, as ever, with a compliment on his lips.

"I wish I were an artist, I would paint you as I see you now." This time I was not annoyed; he seemed no longer a stranger to me. Of a sudden the dream vision and he were blended into one. And I saw whom? Him or another?

1 - The tune played at weddings.


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