When a visitor leaves he is usually discussed. So after the doctor had taken his leave, we spoke of him for a while.
"He makes a good impression," remarked my sister.
"Yes, he is not a bad fellow," rejoined my brother-in-law. "He has not much common sense, though, too much of a woman worshipper I should say."
"That is good."
"Who says it is bad? Poor fellow, I pity him. He is quite lost in admiration of the fair sex. Fancy, an intelligent young man believing in the possibility of a female Shakespeare."
"Is that such an impossible thing?"
"And what is worse still, he does not hesitate to make a fool of himself by expressing his outrageous opinion before others. I wonder if the man has any idea how ludicrous it sounds."
"It seems to me a proof of the fact that he has great strength of conviction." This remark came from me.
My brother-in-law turned towards me and said,
"You are right, it shows his sincerity. I like him the better for his outspoken foolish enthusiasm."
"The man has a warm heart," said my sister.
"Yes, and the manners of a perfect gentleman," replied her husband. Then as if a new idea took hold of him suddenly he exclaimed,
"How would you like to see him married to Moni?"
"He is already engaged," replied my sister.
"Good Gods, who has told you that? I thought he was rather—aw—well, never mind what I thought. But who told you that he is engaged?"
"Chanchal's mother told me."
"Who has tackled him so soon? The report may after all be mere gossip."
"No," replied my sister. "It does not seem to be that. She heard it from the doctor's mother, but who the chosen lady is I do not know. I did not enquire. What was the good of my knowing?"
"Bad luck everywhere. Well, let's retire and congratulate the happy pair in our dreams."
It was fortunate for me that it was dark, they could not therefore see the sudden change in my face. I know I must have turned pale, I felt it.
Alone in my room that night I found no sleep. I sat by the open window and gazed into the beautiful moonlight before me. Clouds of varying hue passed softly over the sky. I reflected what this evening had brought to me. I saw one face ever before me, until the sorrow that filled my heart overflowed and filled my eyes with tears.
Was it merely fancy after all? That deep fond glance he had cast at me, the uncommon cordiality he showed even in ordinary conversation, were they after all no more than the expression of his own deep nature? How little, how unworthy I suddenly appeared in my own eyes. How could I forget myself so far as to think that this was all for me? No, it could never, never be, it was all a delusion, a fancy.
There was the moonlight outside and the light of those eyes in my heart, but the cheerfulness I had felt in his presence was gone and melancholy and dejection took its place, the spring that had entered my heart a few hours ago was already withering before the wintry blast of reality.
He, too, came back to my mind, the man whose love I had spurned. We are taught Karma, that is to say, the effect of causes created by ourselves. Had this sorrow come upon me because I had caused pain to another? Had I occasioned my own affliction? Be that as it might I could not bring back the love that I knew, and this new love had not come to me through any desire on my part. I would gladly have torn it from my heart for ever, for it gave me no happiness. Was it the uncontrollable force of Karma again that had brought this new passion into my life? If man is not responsible, then why must he suffer so? Oh, great Creator, behold Thy work, how helpless, how weak are thy creatures! Still into the darkness of this hour, I felt God's mercy shining, I thought of my childhood once more, and a pathetic prayer breathed from my heart:
"Oh, merciful God, even as Thou took pity upon me when I was a helpless child and gave peace and happiness to my young life, grant me to-day——"
The prayer died unfinished on my lips. What was I doing? Praying to God to give to me the lawful right of another? Another was to sacrifice her life's happiness for my sake? The feeling that came over me with this sudden change of thought overpowered me and I fell helplessly to the ground, and there in my agony I groaned another prayer:
"Mercy, Divine God, oh grant me strength to endure. Help me to bear up in patience under a trial which will but purify my life in the end. Have mercy, O Lord!" And thus amid prayers and tears I fell asleep that night, but the dawn brought no relief, the terrible experience of the night just passed was upon me still, and the vision of that face, that look so tender, followed me like a shadow.