My sister felt the effect of having retired late on the previous night, she therefore lay down to rest during the day. I was left alone and seated myself on an easy chair by the window, with a novel in my hand, but I could not fix my mind on my book; one's taste is subject to change. Only a year ago I was so fond of books of this kind that I stole time even from my studies for an occasional hour of novel reading. It had seemed to me then that I could spend my life happily with nothing else to do but read stories.
But now my book lay open before me, and I glanced through it mechanically, grasping of course not a word of it. I was, in fact, not reading at all. I was lonely at heart, yearning for something not within my reach, but what that something was I could not myself understand, and that made me the more lonely. I looked towards the sky and my eyes lost themselves in its measureless expanse. From it I turned again to my book. From afar the clock struck the hour. The sky attracted me again. Soft clouds appeared, and made me think of the sea, the restless, never quiet sea, that I had seen only once. I recalled a few lines I had once read somewhere, "There are places and times when the aspect of the sea is dangerous, fatal as is the gaze of woman." I remembered the simile impressed me as being most striking and beautiful. I had half forgotten it, but the look of the sky now revived its memory. I knew not the book in which I had read it, but the passage lived. If the sea is dangerous, then it must be an angry look that compares with it, but is a woman's look of anger ever awe-inspiring to man? Not being a man, I could not judge that, but I had to smile at the pusillanimity of man. I could not imagine such an angry look, such exasperation in a man as would discompose me. I am usually considered mild-natured, the sight of the least suffering in others moves me instantly, and for one I love I could sacrifice all my desires; but could another's anger tame me?
If on the day of our last meeting he had lost his temper, had threatened me, I should certainly not have felt any pity for him, nor would I have been so truly desirous of making amends. Love is far stronger in its workings than any other emotion. To me it could never be the angry look that would prove fatal, but the appealing glance that pleads for pity—this would find response in me, and this only. His tender farewell look came back into my mind. No, the sea is dangerous also in her sweeter moods. As the unsuspecting man who sleeps on the shore thinking himself safe from the distant wave is carried away softly, stealthily by the tide, so is the heart overpowered by the gentle melting glance; the man who sinks slowly into the embracing wave does not even wish to escape, and there lies the danger.
I heard footsteps; this startled me. I turned round and looking up saw Romanath standing before me. He was not smiling; serious, sad and afflicted, he offered his hand to me in silence, and sat down on a chair beside me. His coldness chilled me. He must feel hurt because he had received no letter from me, but how could I make an explanation to him while he was in this mood? I tried to speak but could not.
He broke the silence at last. "I hope you received my letter, Miss Mazumdar?" I noticed the change in the mode of address. His manner was distant, his language formal, cold and passionless. It almost froze the blood in my veins. The reply I gave was grave, and spoken in an unsteady voice.
"Yes, I received it. I did not reply because you were to return so soon."
"May I expect a reply now?"
I was prepared to speak to him. I had so long rehearsed what I was going to say. I knew it all by heart, but when I began to speak, I found how difficult it was to do so. I could remember neither the beginning nor the end of my prepared speech. It seemed as if the whole thing crowded into my brain at once and I became confused. I faltered a few indistinct words in reply. "I—what am I to say?—the fault was——"
"The same mood still—the same reply, 'The fault was mine,' you say." I had not meant it that way. I had meant to say the fault was not his but mine. He, however, gave me no chance to say more, but simply replied to my last words.
"Let the fault be mine, then; but can you marry me still knowing the fault to be mine? Do not think I speak from a selfish motive, think of what you will suffer if this engagement is broken. I have asked you to marry me, and as a man of honour I mean to keep my word. Do not be swayed by any considerations for me. Consider only yourself while you decide what course to follow."
The counsel sounded unselfish enough, but my whole nature revolted when I heard it. Had I condoned his shortcomings only to hear this? His language was careful and guarded, there was not a trace of sentiment in his speech. Was the report about him true after all? Had he been bought over by gold? My pride asserted itself, and when I spoke it was in a firm and clear voice.
"I am not calculating how much I may gain by this transaction. You need not trouble yourself on my account. I do not want to marry for convenience. Since your happiness no longer depends upon this marriage, I beg to be absolved from any further responsibility."
His voice was unsteady as he replied:—"Then let it be so."