That evening as I looked upwards I saw another sky. There were the same clouds, the same vibrating colours of sunset, but all breathed peace and happiness, there was no sorrow in the whispering breeze that night.
Nor was I alone as my gaze went heaven-ward that night, and the inward cry that this earth knows no happiness, no smile without tears, that cry that had haunted me so long was stilled at last. We were sitting together, Chotu and I, silently absorbed in the love of our young lives. To me the shading of the clouds had another message now. "Smiles," they whispered, "would not be so precious if they had not known tears, happiness would not know itself if it were not born of suffering." Did he think as I did, for suddenly he gave expression to my silent thoughts and said—
"Happiness is not happy enough, but must grow by the contact of pain and fear."
Too much happiness made me sigh, and with it came the pain of remorse. Poor Romanath, if he had really loved me, I had done him grave injustice. Chotu seemed to feel my thoughts. He spoke somewhat abruptly, saying:
"Have you heard the latest news? Kusum is to be married to Romanath. What a humbug—I beg your pardon—what an exemplary lover!"
I was delighted, and interrupted him in my eagerness to hear more.
"A week before our marriage?"
The light of the newly risen moon fell upon his handsome face as he spoke, and I thought I had never before seen him look so beautiful. The moon of the thirteenth lunar day, that wanted but two digits to make it full, how glorious it was! It floated like a mellow silver orb in the deep blue ocean of ether. The fragrant Sephalica fell around us like a rain of meteorites, and the air was filled with beauty and fragrance. The autumn air was mellow and soft, and it flowed into our being, and all was love and beauty.
It was I who broke the silent spell.
"But you, doctor, how could you?"
"Doctor again?—I will not listen."
"But how could you, Chotu, cause me so much pain? When you understood from my remarks that father had settled my marriage with you, that very moment you left me alone."
"Yes, it appeared from what you said that I was the man, but I was not certain. There might have been a mistake. Love gets easily frightened."
"Was that the reason you left me to my misery? Is that your idea of chivalry?"
"But don't you see, I intended to come back without delay. I wished only to speak to your father, and then Binoy Krishna would present himself before you as Chotu."
"No doubt, that would have been charmingly romantic, but had you no thought of the misery that I underwent in the meantime? So that was the extent of your love?"
He laughed and replied:
"And the extent of your love, my lady? You did not even recognise me, and yet I knew you the first minute I saw you."
"Oh, that is small wonder. The minute you came to the house you knew all about me, and then you kept your identity concealed. You did not even care to speak to me of bygone days. I don't think you loved me so very deeply."
"Now, listen. Was I not told that the lady of my heart was betrothed to another? When I found she did not even recognise me, I thought it wise not to make myself known to her. You do not love Chotu, the friend of your childhood, you love the new man, the doctor."
"And you do not love me, you love the companion of your childhood."
I thought at one time that individuality disappeared in love, and that love was all self-abnegation, but now I find that as light and shade are both required for a landscape, so altercations an demands are also adjuncts of love, and in this way love is kept ever young.
At any rate in our lives love is full of challenge. "You do not love me," I say mockingly, "you love the companion of your childhood."
"You do not love me," is the inevitable reply. "You love the man you met at your sister's house, the doctor."
And now I leave it to the judgment of the reader to decide whom I have loved. Did I love the companion of my childhood and perceive the reflection of him in the doctor whom I met again as a man and a stranger, or did I love the man, and obtain the companion of my childhood by accident? I love, I admit, but the question remains, "Whom?"