When I recovered consciousness, I saw a pair of tender eyes resting anxiously and lovingly upon me. Once again that strange enchantment took hold upon me when I confounded past and present, when the days of my childhood seemed so near, so real that I felt myself moving in the scenes of early days, surrounded by the love that then was mine. Ah, the look of tender love was there that I had seen in the eyes of my childhood's friend, that look for which in vain I had sought in the eyes of my lover. The delusion lasted a moment only, and I saw it was not he, but the doctor who was bending over me.
"Thank God, the danger is passed, she is saved," I heard him say.
My sister sat beside me. She looked like one who had undergone suffering and fatigue. Her voice was weak and nervous as she spoke. She held medicine to my lips and urged me to take it.
I could not realise the situation. "Why must I take medicine?" I questioned, "Am I ill?"
My brother-in-law replied, I saw he made an effort to be cheerful, "There is nothing the matter with you. It is not medicine we are offering you, only a little sherbet; do take it." And turning to the doctor he continued, "Romanath is anxious to see her, may he do so?"
"It would be better not to disturb her for a while," was the doctor's reply. "She requires sleep to recover her nerves. Let us retire. Her sister then may lull her to sleep. There is no necessity for my remaining here any longer. With your permission I will call and see her to-morrow morning."
"Certainly," replied my brother-in-law. "What should we have done if you had not been here to-day? I don't know how to thank you."
These last words were said as the doctor left the room. I was most uneasy in mind. Some feeling weighed me down like a heavy load, and finally found vent in a flood of tears. I knew not what came over me but my fond sister was there to comfort me, and against her loving heart I rested my weary head, asking the one question that occurred to me,
"Am I going mad, sister?"
Dear, kind sister, how tenderly she caressed me, how solicitous she was of my well-being.
"Do not talk, Moni, darling," she urged gently, "the doctor has recommended sleep. Rest quietly and you will fall asleep soon," and passing her hand tenderly over my head, she tried to soothe my excited nerves.
I endeavoured to be calm but could not check the flood of my tears. I could not understand the cause of my sadness. Why I wept I knew not, for I was conscious of neither pleasure nor pain yet I continued sobbing like a child. At last I fell asleep, fondled by my sister's loving hand. Throughout the entire night I was haunted by restless dreams, my sleep was not peaceful. I was like one lying in a trance. I was awake and yet the nightmare of weird dreams surrounded me. It seemed as if all the events of my life crowded into my brain at once and then left it as quickly, leaving behind a sensation of peculiar emptiness. I found myself talking to some one, who suddenly changed into another. Again, I was dressing to go visiting but could not finish my toilet. I went to secure a carriage, but could not find one. I began to walk and walk but reached no destination, or if I did reach it, I was confused about the house I was to enter. Thus the night was spent in a whirlpool of confused imaginings. Only towards morning I had a vivid dream and I remembered it on waking. I dreamt my marriage was being performed, and I looked wistfully at the bridegroom, but thought that it was not he for whom my soul had yearned. The thought seemed to break my heart, and I cast my eyes down. Then I saw his feet and instantly I realised that it was he after all. Suddenly a divine happiness flowed into my being and in my ecstasy I called out, "It is he, it is he." The sound of my own voice startled me, and I awoke. The day was already advanced and I felt relieved and stronger, notwithstanding the haunting nightmare. Still I was not myself, the illusion had not entirely departed.
I thought I heard again the conversation between the doctor and Mr. Roy, and the strange experience that I underwent made me imagine I was another being from what I had been yesterday, and that the conditions of yesterday had disappeared and to-day was another world. My heart was filled with disappointment; still I knew not that anguish, that intolerable pain of which I have heard those tell who have had a similar experience. Nor was I carried away by that ideal faith that, however depraved he might be whom I was to wed, he was my husband now and forever, and that I must worship him, be the conditions what they might. Deceived by him whom I had trusted so intensely I felt as did the beggar saint Durbassa who, when asking the love-stricken Sakuntala for alms, was roused to anger because she noticed him not. Even so my pride was wounded, and I began to loathe the deceiver. My indignation turned upon myself as well. Why had I been so blind as to take a renegade for a god? Still I felt a grim pleasure at being disillusioned, for now I knew him as he really was, and from this man my thought wandered to the other, whom only yesterday I had seen for the first time, the doctor, who had attended me while I was unconscious and the light of whose eyes had welcomed me back to life. I saw the difference between the two. I realised in the latter a strong and manly character that claimed respect from all with whom it came into touch.
Thus passed the day. I felt my strength returning gradually. After dusk my sister again sat beside me, and seeing me much improved she began to speak to me of my ailment, tenderly questioning me of the cause that had brought on yesterday's attack.
"You have not had an attack of hysteria for a long time" she began. "We thought you were cured. I am afraid you have stayed up late at night reading novels. Moni, will you never learn to take care of yourself? Really if you are indifferent as regards yourself, you ought to be careful for the sake of those who are so anxious about you."
I assured her I had not been at all careless.
"Why then, this sudden relapse? Oh, Moni, if I could tell you what anxiety we suffered yesterday! Oh, the terror that took hold of me when I found you lying in the corridor. I called out for help and the two visitors who were in the room came to the rescue. Fortunately the doctor was at hand; what would have happened otherwise I do not know. Oh, how pale and wretched poor Romanath looked. When we brought you into your own room—you know he could not very well come in to see you, because the doctor did not wish any disturbance—I was told he went home looking terribly sad and dejected."
My sister's expression of confidence in this man sounded like irony to me.
"Yes," I replied, "he may have been dejected, but there is another cause for it besides my illness. Sister, we have been sadly deceived. He is not an honest man, and now he has been found out. That is why he appeared dejected."
Again my eyes overflowed with tears, burning tears of anger. My sister became anxious.
"I do not understand what you mean, child. Did he tell you anything yesterday? Now do not weep, it will excite you, and you may get ill again. Try to be calm and tell me what has happened."
I then controlled myself and as calmly as I could I told my sister all I had heard while standing near the door. It made, however, no deep impression on her; she acted like one from whom a great anxiety had been suddenly removed, and with a sigh of relief she replied,
"Oh, is that all? I have been so nervous. I cannot describe to you the state of my anxiety."
This was more than I had expected of my sister. She surprised me disagreeably, and my reply was quick and fretful.
"What do you mean, sister? Are you taking this matter lightly? The man is engaged to be married to one and proposes marriage to another—is not this serious enough?"
My sister was not convinced. "You are taking entirely too serious a view of the matter," she said. "As for me I do not doubt in the least that he loves you. Don't worry yourself about that affair in England. Supposing there really was some talk of marriage between him and some one else, what is the use of fretting about it? He is not married, and you know very well that engagements are broken every day. Not long ago the marriage of my husband's cousin was broken off even after the betrothal ceremony had been performed. Then think of marriage between a Bengali and an English girl. Just realise the difference in their habits and customs. Two people may become infatuated and yield to their emotions on the impulse of the moment, but they certainly learn to regret their folly when they come to reason about the matter. If the object of marriage is the promotion of mutual happiness, then such a marriage as this would be a decided failure. Under such circumstances I consider it far wiser to break off an engagement than to yield to a foolish and mistaken sentiment. And remember the happiness of the girl in question was involved as well as his, and should he sacrifice her life?"
I had not the patience to listen further.
"Are you quite certain," I interrupted, "that he did it out of solicitude for the girl? Do you not understand that she has given up everything for this man, that she trusts him, and is waiting to hear from him? In the meantime he deliberately breaks his troth and seeks the hand of another. Is this worthy of the dignity of manhood? I am really at a loss to understand how you can take such a calm view of the matter?"
"Let me explain to you my reason for this," was my sister's calm reply. "You know that English girls are notorious for priding themselves on being able to captivate the affections of men, and I really think the poor fellow fell a victim to one of them. We should pity him rather than condemn. I am quite certain if we question him about it, we shall get a satisfactory reply."
"Do you expect me to refer to the matter when I see him?"
"You will not have to, he will do it himself. If not, your brother-in-law and I will speak to him. It is but natural, since you are engaged to be married to him, that we should ask him for an explanation."
"The marriage has not been settled yet," I rejoined, "and I have no desire for it either."
My sister looked amazed and exclaimed, "Have you gone mad? You wish to break off the engagement for so slight a cause? Now don't get any foolish notions into your head. Don't you understand that you will be disgraced in Society if you do so? He is a man, to him a broken engagement does not mean much, but when I think of your fate, I grow very nervous. There will be so much gossip about you, I don't think we shall be able to marry you at all."
"What if I remain unmarried? I am not very anxious for wedlock."
"Now in the name of justice," my sister urged, "let me appeal to you not to take any foolish step. If you wilfully refuse to marry this man, will you not commit the very wrong of which you are accusing him? Will you not ruin the life of one who loves you, and that for a fancied reason?"
"Fancied reason!" I reiterated her words.
"Certainly, for I feel convinced if we once hear the facts of the matter explained by his own lips, we shall find that he was not so much at fault. At least wait until you hear what he has to say and then give him your final answer. Even a criminal is not convicted without a trial, and you are ready to pronounce judgment upon the man who loves you without giving him a chance to say a word in his defence. I am afraid you are hard-hearted."
I was silenced. I saw it was useless to try and make her understand what I felt. She looked upon it from a worldly point of view. In her matter-of-fact way she argued that similar occurrences take place daily in life, that a man is not perfect but liable to the failings of humanity in general. If woman raises her ideal of him too high she must be disillusioned, and as long as he has not committed any extraordinary offence there can be no reason for condemning him. But my midsummer night's dream had vanished, and vanished for ever. I no longer saw with the eyes of Titania, to whom the most ungainly object appeared beautiful. The bandage had dropped from my eyes, and I did not even once attempt to soothe my wounded heart with the thought that he must be mine whatever he might have done. I was perfectly willing to pardon him as a man, but he could no longer take the place of lover with me. That place must be filled by one inspired by loftier motives. Whatever might be the shortcomings of men in general, he whom I was to call husband must be above all that is small and unworthy in a man. This might appear like a fanciful illusion to a maturer mind, but the ideal being unblemished carried all the force of reality in my inexperienced heart. Nor was I satisfied to have my husband's love for one life only, I must feel in my own consciousness that he had been mine in lives of the past and would be mine again in lives to come. That at any time his life should not have been entirely mine, that his affections should ever have belonged to another—I could not tolerate the idea. In this respect I expected of man what man expects of woman. As a man wants undivided devotion from the woman he marries, as she is not allowed ever to give a thought to any man but him, so did I want my husband's whole existence to be mine.
I do not know whether anyone sympathises with me, whether I can make anyone understand what I felt. I might pardon him, I might even marry him if need be, but he could never now reach up to my ideal. Time was when I thought he could be enshrined in my soul as all I had dreamed of in man, but I saw now that I had been mistaken. Now that the enchantment was over, he had become to me a mutilated idol, which could no longer enter the sanctuary of my being; my whole life seemed wrecked. Perhaps there is in the world another who harbours such sentiment as mine, but I knew of none, hence I remained silent.