An Unfinished Song/Chapter 4
I felt like one mesmerised, and this condition was repeated every time he called at the house. When I received him, I was perfectly indifferent, even in conversation. I felt towards him as a mere acquaintance, but when he began to sing my whole nature changed. It was ever the same song, and that song was the enchantress. I resolved not to ask him to sing again, but when the time came I could not resist. The strange fascination of the song lay in its power to bring back to my memory the days of my childhood. It poured a flood of feeling over me that awoke the dormant emotions of the maiden, and ere the song was ended, it created a vortex in which I felt myself carried into the realm of the ideal, searching for something I knew and yet I knew not. I was lost in an intense longing; it seemed as if a god had taken possession of him who sang. Anon as I listened to the melody it broke the barriers of time until the past and the present were blended and the singer himself became identified with one I had known of old, until I felt as if I were walking in a trance.
Nor was the spell broken by his departure; I often remained in a partial stupor during the entire night. Waking or sleeping I could not banish that song from my heart. In a day or two, however, I usually managed to master myself, and when I met him again after a week or, perhaps, sooner, I was perfectly self-controlled. Still I was shy on receiving him, because I remembered the spell his music exercised over me. My condition became an enigma to me. As the sky assumes different colours before and after sunset, so did my whole nature change with the coming and disappearance of the effect that that song had over me.
Gradually, however, this condition became permanent, and I began to realise the thoughts of others. There was but one opinion, one influence around me—this man was to be my husband, and to the thoughts of those surrounding me I yielded as every maiden of Bengal would yield.
No Westerner can realise what a powerful influence matrimony has upon the life of a Hindu woman. Her husband is the representation of the Divine on earth to her, the object of her worship. There can be no mistake whoever he may be; he is the only one, and none other ever dare claim a thought in her mind. She has been trained in this conviction throughout the ages until it has moulded her nature and is in itself enough to awaken her love and foster it.
Wherever I went I heard this one theme. My girl friends joked me about him. Older people discussed the matter freely with my sister even in my presence. My sister and brother-in-law let no opportunity pass of expressing their joy at my future happiness, sometimes jokingly, sometimes in serious conversation. There was no ground for thinking even in my imagination that this marriage would not take place, especially since he himself strengthened the conviction from day to day. His visits became more frequent, his attentions more pronounced. That he had not so far proposed to me, seemed to me due to a desire on his part to understand my feeling towards him better.
Love creates love, there is no other power so potent. When the heart is not occupied with other aspirations, it can soon be won over to love. As long as he who woos is not repulsive to the maiden of his choice he has little difficulty in awaking sympathy in her heart, and sympathy will grow into love ere long. There is always the desire in the female breast to make another happy by self-abnegation, for love is woman's whole nature, its desires and aspirations are her life blood. This ideal may carry her to the very gates of Heaven or, alas, if it is misplaced, if it finds not the right support, it may drag woman very low, and when she sins, it is because she has loved too much, trusted too much and desired to sacrifice herself to her devotion.
He gradually became to me the perfect ideal realised. His manly bearing, his engaging manners, these won my heart. I became proud of the fact that one so wonderful should have chosen me as the object of his love. Nor did the period of uncertainty last long. The day came when he told me what was in his heart, the day to which I had learned to look forward with pleasing anticipations—but!
I was gathering flowers in the garden. It was evening, and just after a rain-shower. The air was doubly refreshing, and the flowers more beautiful. The setting sun illuminated the western sky with crimson glory, and reflected its hues on the clouds and on the garden in which I stood. I tried to pluck a rose but pricked my fingers. Just then my attention was arrested by a carriage entering the compound. It was he, and he came near and secured the obstinate rose for me.
"For whom are you plucking these flowers?" he questioned softly.
Yes, for whom was I plucking these flowers? That question I had revolved in my own mind ever since I came into the garden. In my childhood I had gathered flowers, but there was no question about it then, they were for Chotu, but for whom were these? I could not give them to Mr. Roy, however hard I might try.
"For my sister" I faltered shyly. I heard him sigh and then he picked a rose, the most beautiful one to be seen, put it into my hand, and repeated a verse:—
"A lamp is lit in woman's eye,
That souls else lost on earth
Remember angels by."
I blushed and invited him to enter the house.
"Go first and I will follow you," was his reply. "Do you remember you have promised to sing to-night?"
We went upstairs. My brother-in-law had not returned home, and letting my sister know through a servant that Mr. Roy had come, I entered the drawing-room with him.
He urged me to take my place at the piano and sing. "Please do sing," he said, "the song I love, 'Oh, mellow night with moonlight softly shining.'"
But I decided since this was a song that appealed to the night, it might better be sung later in the evening. He left the matter to my choice, selecting, however, another of his favourites.
"Sing 'Sweet Bird of Beauty'; you know the poem, I suppose?"
And then he recited the words,
"To me there is but one place in the world,
And that is where thou art;
For wherever I may be,
My love doth find its way
Into thy heart,
As doth a bird
Into her secret nest.
Then sit and sing,
Sweet bird of beauty, sing."
I urged him in return to sing to me, I wished to hear it. He took no notice of my request, but replied,
"I like one of Shelley's poems greatly, you must have read it.
'We, are we not as notes of music are
To one another though dissimilar?
Such difference without discord as can make
Those sweetest sounds in which all spirits shake,
As trembling leaves in a continuous air?'"
I remained silent, but he spoke again. "I once thought," he continued, "that all good poems were more or less hollow, that they were devoid of truth and consisted of mere fantasies, but I have learned to feel that I was mistaken. How do they appeal to you?"
"I have not thought about them in that way. I read poems and like them. That is all I know."
"But," he argued, "unless you feel them to be true can you appreciate their beauty? In earlier days I used to be displeased with a love story because it seemed to me untrue and impossible. I see differently now; I now understand that
'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'
I never would have thought that I would learn to realise all this in my own life."
Then he turned towards me with eyes filled with sorrow and softly whispered:—
"'To see her is to love her, and love but her forever.'
Must I speak more plainly still?
'To see you is to love you,
And love but you forever.'"
He was interrupted by my brother-in-law, who entered the room just then in a gay mood.
"Hallo," he ejaculated, "how long have you been here? Just winding up the game? Final proposal in poetry, it seems. Hurrah, let me congratulate you."
Mr. Roy was somewhat abashed at this unexpected intrusion, but in a minute he was master of the situation.
"You are very late in returning this evening," he said calmly. "We were whiling away the time as best we could. By the by, did you win that murder-case of yours? Did you get that poor fellow off?"
To an advocate no subject is so welcome as a talk about his cases, and my brother-in-law forgot everything else at this question. The two discussed the case. Meanwhile I was like one in a dream. I tried to think. He had expressed his feelings for me,—was I happy now? The voice of my heart did not reply. Something displeased me, I knew not what, but I recalled my first meeting with him and remembered that I had experienced a similar feeling then. There was something in it that jarred upon me. I was surrounded by happiness, all was beauty; I did not deny that. I felt like one into whose cup of nectar a drop of poison has fallen. The light of my heart became suddenly dimmed, I knew not why. It dawned upon me that this was not what I had longed for, it was all so short of my expectations.
While I was absorbed in my thoughts and the others talked, the servant came in with two cards and announced the arrival of a client and a visitor. My brother-in-law took up the cards, and exclaimed, "The doctor, Binoy Kumar Chaudhury. Moni, go and call your sister. Show him in, Durwan."
I went, and hardly had I crossed the threshold when I heard the voice of the visitor. Curiosity got the better of me and I stopped to have a glance at him through the partially drawn curtains. My brother-in-law had already left the room to see his client, and the newcomer was left alone with my lover. It was thus that I overheard a most extraordinary conversation. The doctor spoke first.
"By the way, I met Miss K. just before leaving England. She seemed very anxious to know whether you had arrived safely and why you had not sent her the money for her passage out to India. You know her relatives will have nothing to do with her since her engagement to you. So the poor girl . . ."
I began to tremble, and it required a great effort to keep on my feet.
"Nonsense," replied Mr. Roy, "there never was a formal engagement. I thought that affair was a thing of the past. For goodness' sake don't start the subject here, my friends might consider me a villain if they heard of it."
"What else can you make yourself out to be?" was the doctor's firm reply. "Do you consider it honourable conduct to forsake a young girl who trusted you? Before God you were man and wife."
I do not know what happened after this. I fell fainting to the ground.