I remained in the same condition as the day wore on, aimless, without hope, without any desire even to fight the inevitable, yet as water struggles underneath a rock, so did the instinct of life work underneath despair, my emotions were at war with each other. I felt like one bleeding from a thousand wounds in this struggle with myself. I felt as if in God's Kingdom there was not another that suffered as I did.
And still the whole affair filled me with amazement at my own nature. I had known him only a few days, I had spoken to him a few times only. Was I then going mad that I should give way to my feelings in this way? I felt as if I could draw into my being at once all the beauty and sorrow, the joy and agony, the happiness and misery of all existence since that sacred moment when my soul touched his.
I had thought I loved the other, but oh, how far short had been that feeling of what now controlled me. He had fascinated me with a song, had brought upon me the pain of past memories. What knew I then of this complete immolation of body and soul? That emotion had been but the outcome of a strong sympathy, a deep-rooted faith in love I had thought to be genuine, but when it had been unable to stand the test, the faith that had gone with it, and which I had mistaken for love, had died out. Now even though the feeling I had for this man brought me no happiness, nay worse, carried me to the every verge of despair itself, yet I had no desire to get away from it, it became on the contrary more firmly rooted in my being with every fleeting moment.
My daily duties became a thing apart from my life. People came and spoke of affairs, I spoke with them, but it all seemed like something far away, something in which I was no longer concerned. I endeavoured to forget him, but every endeavour brought nearer to me the consciousness of my great love. My being became composed of it, and whatever came into my life became converted into it. The very breezes whispered of a love that was mine, mine, and yet not mine. From out the vastness of space came a cry of despair, of agony.
"I ask not to be his," called out my feeble heart. "I ask but to see him, to hear his voice at times. Grant me that, oh Fate, and I shall feel compensated for the sorrow of existence." There was no wounded pride in this, I had no pride to wound, humility alone claimed me as her own.
Thus as the days went by the fire in my soul burnt on. I knew not whether time would bring peace, but it seemed to me there was but one flame that could extinguish the agony, the pain that would not leave me, and that was the last, the flame that consumes all that is mortal in man. Was I really to drag on this life until I was old? I shuddered at the very thought. Was this, then, the love I had dreamt of, was it to find its realisation in a yearning not to be satisfied, a groping for something that could not be grasped?
Chanchal came to see me one afternoon. She was my bosom friend. We were in the habit of spending one day together at least once a week. Her searching eyes noticed a change in me, the melancholy that was written on my face did not escape her.
"You say it has not affected you? It is too terrible to see how you look. I am so angry with him. And just think of it, my uncle and aunt proposed to marry my cousin to him." Chanchal became excited as she said this.
"I am very glad to hear it," I replied.
"Moni, do you mean that? Can you tell me in good faith that you do not love him any more, that you are not sorry because the engagement has been broken off?"
"I am not sorry. Chanchal, do you think I would tell you an untruth? I might not tell you all that is in my heart, but tell you a falsehood—never."
Chanchal was evidently delighted at this assurance, She pressed my cheeks between her palms and exclaimed:
"You dear, sweet friend, I do not know then what ails you. You are not in your best mood. Certainly you trusted this man, and he deceived you. That must cause you pain."
"Yes, it caused me some pain, that I will not deny, but do not think that I am pining over that affair now."
"If I had been in your place I should have died. If ever a week passes without a letter from England for me, I don't know what I am doing."
"Ah, but you are married. Even if your husband should forget you, you can never forget him, but my case was different; I could forget and I did."
"That may be the difference. Cousin Kusum, too, is quite aτ ease. I see I introduced perhaps too much of my own feeling into the matter when sympathising with you. Have you heard that Kusum's engagement to Mr. Roy, too, has been broken off?"
"No, I have not heard of it. Why?"
"That I do not know. They do not disclose everything to us, but I hear from other people that the marriage will not take place. I believe it is Romanath who has broken it off, because I understood Kusum was willing. Really the man must have extraordinary powers, or never would he have been able to make an impression on cousin Kusum!"
This news affected me. I felt remorse again. Why should he have objected to this marriage? Was this on my account still? Chanchal noticed my pensive mood and enquired,
"What are you thinking so earnestly?"
"Did your cousin really love him?" I asked Chancal. "My heart aches for her. Had I the power I would bring about the marriage."
"You? You pity my cousin? Would she waste so much sentiment on you? There is no need to pity my cousin, she has sufficient self-love and knows her own value too well, and perhaps she has reason on her side. She is beautiful and accomplished, and the man who marries her will get a princess and half a kingdom. There is no knowing how many men are sighing for her. If you want to pity, rather pity those disappointed suitors. If cousin Kusum really did receive a scar from this affair, rest assured it is healed by this time."
"You should not be so quick to judge. Do you not know that they remember longest who do not fall in love easily?"
"Yes, if my cousin had loved him in any high degree, but don't you fear that she has done that. The man is attractive, he creates a temporary impression on others by his conversation and manners, but I do not see how any one could fall in love with him very deeply. I could not, of that I am certain, and it now appears that you did not either, and yet you think Kusum might have lost her heart."
"You exhibit extraordinary logic."
"We read much in English literature of love at first sight, but, believe me, that means only a slight emotion that inexperienced youth mistakes for love. Now it is just possible that Kusum felt a little bubbling of the heart, but no doubt it has subsided ere this. True love can never be based on mere impulse; that requires a training of the heart and a fit object to rest upon. Yet if I heard of somebody falling in love with the doctor I could understand it. Do you know we joke cousin Kusum about him; he has become their family physician. I suspect he has been tackled."
The blood coursed madly through my veins, my face became flushed, and I feared I would betray myself, but Chanchal did not notice it, her attention was just then attracted in another direction.
"Here you are, coz," she exclaimed. "You will live long. We were just talking about you, and now you have come."
And really there stood Kusum. I had not met her for a long time. She looked greatly changed. Her eyes lacked their usual brilliancy, and the self-conscious smile that was generally on her lips had disappeared. I felt sorry for her, and fearing that she might think me ungracious spoke to her pleasantly and said:
"I am so glad to see you, Kusum, I have not seen you for an age."
Kusum was reserved and she replied:
"I have often thought of calling on you, but I could not somehow or other succeed in doing so, but why did you not call at our place all this time?"
I was somewhat at a loss for a reply, but presently said:
"I am going home shortly. I have been busy."
"Going into the wilderness in her grief," interrupted Chanchal.
That was ungracious of Chanchal. What would Kusum think of me? She herself seemed to realise that she had said the wrong thing; she, therefore, changed the subject, and asked Kusum about the doctor.
Kusum replied sharply:—
"What do I know of him? Perhaps Moni can tell you, he comes to her house often enough. Why should she grieve about any one? Others would consider themselves lucky if they had her good fortune."
Her object was to vent her feelings on me, but she let out the truth at the same time. As she spoke she sighed, and jealousy and despair shone out of her eyes. It was plain—Kusum had fallen in love, but the question remained with whom—with Romanath or with the doctor?