Durgesa Nandini/Book 1/Chapter 2

 

CHAPTER II.


ACQUAINTANCE.


The young man was the first to betray his curiosity. Addressing the dame, "I presume, madam," said he, "you belong to the zenānā of some respectable person. I should scruple to ask for your name and lineage, but you may not have the same objection that I have to make myself known. May I therefore take the liberty to enquire who you are?"

"No, sir," replied the woman, "that can not be. When do women first make themselves known?"

"What does precedence in acquaintance signify?" rejoined the young man.

"And how, I pray, is a woman to make herself known—she who is not allowed to bear her caste addition? How can she, whose virtue consists in living shut up from the world, disclose herself? When God forbade woman to utter her husbands name, didn't He thereby deprive her of the power of discovering herself?"[1]

The young man returned no answer to these words; in fact, he was otherwise engaged. By degrees removing part of her veil, the youthful lady had been gazing at him steadfastly from behind her companion. In course of the conversation, the traveller's glance had also accidentally fallen in that direction and been fast rivetted on her face. He thought it would never again fall to his lot to witness such a 'shower of beauty.' As soon as the young man's glance mingled with that of the damsel, she looked down. On the other side, the attendant receiving no answer to her words, looked right into the traveller's face, and marked well which way he was looking. Knowing also that her fair companion was eying the young man ardently, she whispered into her ear.

"What's this, girl? Dost mean to marry in presence of the Siva?"

She who was thus spoken to, gave her attendant a pinch, saying, "Beshrew thee!" Seeing how matters stood, the clever attendant reflected, "I shrewdly fear the charms of this young man have begun to tell on my charge. Should she conceive a passion for him, even if worse consequences do not happen, her peace of mind, alas! would go for ever. Ah! that's to be averted. Aye, but how? Let me try artifice to rid ourselves of him."

Having determined this, with the innate cleverness of a woman, she said, "Sir, women's good name is so frail a thing that it can hardly bear the weight of the air, what shall I say of to-night's violent gale? Therefore, now that the storm is over, we shall with your permission see whether we can walk home."

"If you needs must go home afoot at this hour of night," replied the young man, "I will convoy you. The sky has become clear, and I would by this time have set out for my quarters; but it is only because I have not the heart to leave a beauty like your companion, without a guard, that I am still here."

"Sir," replied the woman, "your kindness towards us has been very great—indeed so great that it alone prevents me from speaking out my mind fully to you lest you think us ungrateful. But, sir, what shall I tell you of woman's cursed luck? We are naturally looked on with suspicion. It would indeed be a very happy thing if you accompanied us, but pray consider when my master, who is the father of this girl, will ask her, 'Under whose safeguard have you come at this dead hour?' what shall she answer?"[2]

The young man mused a little and then replied, "Why, even thus, 'Under the safeguard of Jagat Singha, son of Maharaja Kinorh Man Singha?'"

Had the thunder burst there at that moment, the females could not have been struck with greater surprise. Immediately both stood up. The damsel slinked away behind the image; the clever-tongued dame wound the flowing border of her cloth round her neck and with clasped hands said, "Pardon, noble Prince. We have unwittingly been guilty of a thousand transgressions."

"Such grave transgressions are past all pardon," replied the Prince laughing, "but I'll forgive if you let me be acquainted with you; otherwise yon cannot escape condign punishment."

Soft words invariably breathe courage into a clever woman. "Name it, sir,—issue your fiat, we agree."

"Nothing but this," replied Jagat Singha, "that I will conduct you home.

The attendant was in a dilemma. For some very particular reason she was loath to make the damsel known to the officer of the Emperor of Delhi,—that he should accompany them was far more objectionable, being, as it was, of grayer import. She hung down her head.

Just at this moment the treading of a good many horses at no great distance from the temple, was heard. Going out hurriedly, the Prince saw about a hundred horsemen passing by. He marked their uniform and recognised them to be his own Rajput soldiers. Some time ago the Prince had gone to Vishnupur on some military duty; and had been returning to his father's camp with a hundred horsemen. In the afternoon he had left his men and gone before; and afterwards following a path different from that taken by his soldiers, he had been overtaken alone by the storm and put to trouble. Now finding them again, in order to ascertain whether they had descried him, he exclaimed, "Victory to the Emperor of Delhi!" Immediately a horseman approached. On seeing him, the Prince said, "Dharam Singha, I stopped here on account of tho storm."

"After searching much for you, sir," said Dharam Singha, humbly making obeisance, "at length we have come here tracing the marks of your horse's hoofs. We have also brought up the horse, which we found near yonder banian tree."

"Do you stay here with the steed," said Jagat Singha, "sending two men to fetch up a palankeen and bearers from a neighbouring village. Let the rest of the soldiers march on."

Dharam Singha was rather taken by surprise at this order, but thinking it unnecessary to ask his master for any reason of his command, said, "I will carry out your orders, sir."

He then communicated to the soldiers the intention of the Prince. On coming to know it, some one smiled and enquired of his campanion, "why things were ordered so wondrous strange that day." "And why shouldn't this be, Sir?" answered another. "Remember, the Maharaja at the head of the Rajputs is surrounded by no less than five hundred queens."

Meanwhile availing herself of the Prince's absence, the young lady withdrew the veil and said to her hand-maid, "Bimale, why are you so unwilling to make me known to the Prince?"

"I answer that to your father; but now, what's this noise again?"

"Methinks," replied the maiden, "some of his soldiers have come in search of the Prince. But why should you fear while he himself is with us."

Before the return of the horsemen who had gone to bring up a palankeen, the bearers and guards who had left the ladies and taken shelter in an adjacent village, came back. Espying these, Jagat Singha re-entered the temple and said to the attendant, "Some bearers accompanied by several armed men, are coming this way with a palankeen. Please come out and see whether they are your people." Bimala looked out from the door, and recognised them to be their men. "Then I mustn't stay here any longer," said the Prince, "my presence with you may be attended with evil. Farewell, then. I pray to Saileswara that you may reach home in safety. I only beg that you will not make known our meeting within a week. But O! do not forget me either. Rather keep this with you for remembrance. As for me, your memento is in my heart—even the fact that I could not learn who your lord's daughter is." He thereupon took out a pearl neck-lace from his turban and placed it on Bimala's head. Bimala, after twining the precious gift around her hair, bowed to the Prince in great humility. "Noble Prince," said she, "I beseech you not to blame me for withholding from you the information in which you have happened to take so much interest. Believe me, Sir, there is sufficient reason for this silence on my part. If however you are exceedingly curious, let me know where I may see you a fortnight hence."

"In this very temple," said Jagat Singha after reflecting a little. "If you don't see me here, we shall never meet again."

"God bless you, Sir!" said Bimala, humbly bowing. After looking once more on the youthful lady with burning ardour, tho Prince leaped on his horse and was out of sight.

 

 

  1. The woman, with the native simplicity which characterizes her sex, makes her own world, the measure of womankind in general, with a confidence which such simplicity alone inspires. With what charming naiveté she alludes to the Hindu female seclusion, &c. as facts obtaining with all women, irrespective of creed or color.
  2. The English reader is requested to remember that a Hindu lady can not, for the life of her, dare be found in the company of a male stranger—so tremendous is the power weilded by society over the weaker sex.