No sooner had I crossed the threshold of my father's house, than my aunt accosted me.
"Good Heavens, what a big girl, and not married! What will people say when they see her? How can we eat our rice and have that girl on our hands."
My father appeared nervous and tried to make excuses.
"She will not be unmarried much longer. Everything has been settled, as you know. So don't get excited."
His words were barely audible, and he seemed to be anxious to get away, but my aunt was fretting still. She continued:
"Indeed, yes, why should I worry? It is all very well to talk, but people will come to see her, and what will they say when they see such a big girl unmarried? It will not be you then who will have to listen to it all, it will be I who will have to reply to it."
Poor aunt! she had indeed cause for anxiety. No sooner had the news spread about that I had come home, than there were visitors by the dozen. It seemed as if the whole female population of the town had turned out to greet me. Relations, friends, neighbours, every one knew me and had a claim upon me, and the burden of their song was ever the same!
"What! such a big girl and not married! How can you eat your rice, how can you sleep at night?" etc., etc. The condemnation fell upon my father and every one went away with the satisfaction of having said something sharp about him. He had neglected his duty as a father, he had sinned against Society. He had a nineteen-year-old spinster on his hands, and that was an unpardonable offence.
Aunt forgot her grief over my sad lot by joining the chorus. She, too, began to blame my father and seemed to take a morbid delight in doing so. My condition in the face of all this can be understood. My life became well-nigh unbearable. Still I felt resolved on one point—it would be far better for me to remain unmarried and continue being worried than to be joined to a man for whom my heart cared not. The whole affair put a severe strain upon me, under which my nervous system threatened to break down.
These things continued to be of daily recurrence—the unsparing criticism of the people, aunt's admonitions to my father, his assurance that all would be well in the end; but I heard no more of any settled marriage, nor was Chotu mentioned to me again. So notwithstanding the fact that my heart was by no means entirely at ease, I became more composed daily. Trepidation left me and I gradually became so calm that I could take a reasonable view of what was going on around me. If people said unkind things, it was because they could not overcome time-honoured custom, I argued, and instead of being annoyed with them any longer, I began to respect them for the strength of their convictions.
Suddenly my palace of calm was broken to pieces again, for father took me by surprise one day during dinner; he announced:
"Chotu will be here in a day or two. The date of the marriage will be fixed as soon as he comes."
This was good news for aunt. She ejaculated with delight:
"The bridegroom is himself coming! I thought his mother was coming first. But never mind that, times are changing and nowadays a young man must see his bride before marrying her. Let him see her then, that does not matter, but no further delays. The marriage must take place this month and no later."
My father agreed with her.
"That too is my wish," he replied.