Durgesa Nandini/Book 2/Chapter 12

 

CHAPTER XII.

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THE SINGULAR ORNAMENT.


A great festivity was come—the celebration of Katlu Khan's anniversary. Dancing and drinking, mirth and frolic, feasting and alms-giving filled the day. The night was even more jovial. It was just past sunset. The fort was a-blaze with light. Every creek and corner was filled with officers, soldiers, courtiers, servants, beggars, drunkards, actors, actresses, dancers, dancing-girls, musicians, jugglers, fruiterers, vendors of perfumes, betel sellers, vendors of various kinds of food, of various products of art, &c., &c. Wherever you went, you came upon illumination, music, fragrant waters, betels, flowers, jugglery and prostitutes. It was partly the same with the inner apartments. The Nabab's seraglio was comparatively calm, but comparatively more gay. Every chamber was mildly lighted with fragrant silver and crystal lamps; there were fragrant flowers on the flower stands, over the pillars, and on the beds, the cushions and the persons of the inmates. The air was sick with the smell of the rose. No end of maids, clad in gold brocade, or in blue, yellow, black, or pale red chin cloth, were passing and repassing, their golden ornaments glittering in the light. Their fair mistresses sat each in her chamber, and all care and attention were engaged in making their toilette. That day, the Nabab would make merry with every one in his pleasure-house; there would be music and dancing; every one would that night obtain her desire. Some fair one (intending to secure a situation for her brother) was lustily applying the comb to her hair; another with the view of increasing the number of her maids had brought her curled locks down to her very breast; a third intended to secure some property in the shape of dower on behalf of her new-born son, and in order to make her neck blush, had rubbed it until blood had actually began to flow. Another woman envying a set of ornaments the Nabab had recently given to a favored mistress, was painting the under-lids of her eyes with kajjala through their whole lengths. A maid-servant in donning the cloth on the person of her gentle mistress, unwarily pressed her peshwaj[1] with her feet; and the gentle fair one administered her a goodly slap on her cheek. By the inexorable virtue of age, the hairs of some dame had grown rather thin, and a quantity came out with the comb which the maid had been applying to them. Seeing this, her mistress began to cry, the tears streaming down her cheeks.

Like the land-lotus in the grove, like the peacock among birds, a certain fair one, after having finished her toilette, was roving from room to room. One could go anywhere that night. Nature had made the woman the receptacle of her sweets; Katlu Khan had given her every member its appropriate ornament; yet her face did not show any marks of pride either for her beauty or for her ornaments. She knew no mirth, no laugh. Her face was grave—calm—her eyes showed the fire burning within.

After roving here and there, Bimala entered a handsome chamber. She fastened the door. On this festive occasion, a solitary lamp only cast its pale beams around. On the further side stood a couch on which lay some one covered from head to foot with a blanket. Bimala came up to the side of the person and said faintly,

"I am come."

The person on the bed started and withdrew the cover from off her face.

Having recognised Bimala, she put away the blanket and sat up; but spoke nothing.

"Tilottama," said Bimala again, "I am come."

Still Tilottama kept silent; she steadily gazed on Bimala's face.

She was then no longer the bashful girl she had been. Alas! if you saw her then by the pale light, you would think her ten years older than she actually was. Her body was lean and emaciated; her countenance was pale; she wore a short, unclean cloth; her hair was covered with dust; there was not a single ornament on her person, only the traces of her former ornaments remained.

"I told that I would come" again Bimala said, "and have done so. Why don't you speak?"

"What I had to say" replied Tilottama, "I have said. What more shall I say?"

Bimala perceived from Tilottama's voice that she was weeping. Bimala laid her hand on Tilottama's head, and raised her face; it was bedewed with tears; Bimala felt the flowing end of Tilottama's cloth, and found it thoroughly wet. She then touched the pillow on which the latter had reposed her head, and also found it wet.

"How long can you stand this constant weeping?" said Bimala.

"And wherefore should I stand it?" said Tilottama eagerly. "The only regret is that I have stood it so long."

Bimala became silent and began to weep.

"But what's to be done for to-night?" asked Bimala with a deep sigh, after a pause.

Tilottama eyed Bimala's ornaments with displeasure.

"What's the need of thinking of that?" said she.

"My child," replied Bimala; "don't you slight me. You don't yet know Katlu Khan well. Partly for want of leisure, and partly to allow our grief to subside, the villain has spared us so long. I have ere this told you, to-day ends our freedom. I don't know what danger will befall us, should he miss us at the dancing saloon."

"What more danger can possibly befall us?"—said Tilottama.

"Tilottama," said Bimala rather calmly, "why do you at once despair? Still we have life—still we have innocence. So long as we have life—so long we will keep our innocence intact."

"Why then, mother?" Tilottama then said, "Fling off those ornaments; they are an eye-sore to see."

"Child"—said Bimala with a smile, "don't chide me without seeing all my ornaments."

Saying this, she drew out from her waist a sharp dagger, which she had hidden in her dress. It flashed like lightning on meeting the glare.

"Where have you procured it? Eh?" asked Tilottama, starting and looking blank.

"Havn't you seen," said Bimala, "a new maid-servant who came yesterday into the inner apartment?"

Til.   "Yes, I have,—it is Ashmani."

"I have brought it in through Ashmani, from Abhiramswami."

Tilottama was surprised; her heart trembled.

After a while, Bimala asked, "Will you not change this dress to-night?"

"No," replied Tilottama.

"Neither will you go to the dancing and music?"

Til.   "No."

Bi.   "Still you will not be let alone."

Tilottama began to weep.

"Be calm and listen," said Bimala. "I have found means for your escape."

Tilottama eagerly looked at Bimala's face. The latter handed to her the ring given by Osman.

"Keep it with you," said she; "don't go to the merry-making. It will not end before midnight. I shall up to that time be able to keep the Pathan engaged. He knows that I am your step-mother; and I will make him restrain his desire to see you till the dance and music is over, under the pretext that you can't come in my presence. At midnight, go to the gate of the inner apartment; there a person will show you another ring like this; go with him without hesitation. He will take you wherever you should like to go. Tell him to take you to Abhiramswami's cottage."

Tilottama was astonished. Either from amazement or from excess of joy, she could not speak for a while.

"What's this?" said she. "Who has given you this ring?"

"That's a long story to tell,"—said Bimala. "I will tell it to you at leisure. Now do without hesitation as I have told you."

"And what of yourself?" asked Tilottama. "How will you go out?"

"Don't be uneasy on that account," said Bimala. "I will by some other means go out and meet you to-morrow morning."

She thus silenced Tilottama. The latter could not understand that she closed her own way in providing deliverance for Tilottama.

For many a day, Tilottama's face had not expressed joy. She now looked quite cheerful at this joyful intelligence.

This filled Bimala with delight.

"Then I go now," said she with tearful eyes and a choked utterance.

"I see," said Tilottama hesitatingly, "you know every thing that has taken place within the fort. Will you tell me (before you go) how and where our friends and acquaintances are?"

Bimala saw that even in this imminent danger the remembrance of Jagat Singha was lively in Tilottama's mind. Bimala had received Jagat Singha's cruel note, in which he did not mention the very name of Tilottama. To tell this to her would but add to the misery of a heart already bending beneath the weight of its sorrow. Therefore without alluding to that subject, Bimala said,

"Jagat Singha is in the fort. He is in good health."

Tilottama remained silent.

Bimala kissed her and went out, wiping her eyes.

 

 

  1. A piece of dress resembling the gown.