Durgesa Nandini/Book 2/Chapter 15
When Tilottama and the maid-servant left the room, Aesha came forward and sat down on the bed. There being no other seat, Jagat Singha stood by.
Aesha pulled out a rose from her braid, and, beginning to tear the leaves, said,
"Prince, you look as if you had something to speak to me. If I can be of the least service to you, Sir, pray, do not scruple to speak out your mind. I shall be really delighted to serve you."
"Princess," said he "nothing avails me now. No, Your Highness, it was not for that reason that I longed for an interview with you. What I would say is this. Judging from what I have been reduced to, I cannot indulge the fond hope of seeing you again; perhaps here we see our last of each other. Ah! how shall words express how deeply I stand indebted to you! As for ever requiting it, I dare not hope to do it, considering my ill luck. But if ever I again possess the power to do you a good turn—if ever better days dawn on me, do not, I pray you, scruple to express your mind to me. As a sister unreservedly expresses her wishes to her brother, do you, Madam, do likewise."
Jagat Singha's tone was so very disconsolate—so very despairing, that Aesha was touched.
"Don't give way to despair, Sir," said she; "the evils of to-day are removed by the morrow."
"I am not given up to despair," answered Jagat Singha. "But what have I again to hope for in this life? To resign this existence, not to maintain it, is my sole wish now. But I am unwilling to quit it in prison."
The pathetic tone of the Prince went direct to the heart of Aesha;—she was moreover surprised at this display of feeling. The Princess was now put aside—distance and reserve now vanished;—like an affectionate woman, with a woman's tender concern, she took hold of the Prince's hand.
"Jagat"—exclaimed she, looking up into Jagat Singha's face, and then stopped for a moment. She had addressed the Prince, "Jagat."
"Jagat," resumed she, "O why is this anguish in your heart! Do not look on me as one foreign to you. If you permit me I'd ask—Is Virendra Singha's daughter—"
"I cry you mercy," interposed he; "that dream has vanished."
Both remained silent for a long while, their hands continuing joined as before. Aesha bent down her face over them.
All of a sudden the Prince started, for a warm tear-drop had fallen on his hand.
Lowering his head, the Prince examined the lovely countenance of Aesha, and saw tears streaming plentifully down her cheeks.
"Gracious Heaven!" exclaimed he, in surprise; "what is this, Aesha? Why are you weeping?"
Without returning any answer, she gently pulled Jagat Singha's hand, and made him sit down beside her on the couch.
When he had sat, she again took his hand and said,
"Prince! I did not dream that I should have to bid you farewell in this manner. I can suffer a great deal—but I can never suffer the thought of leaving you in prison, under this extreme anguish. Come out with me, I beseech you;—I will give you a horse from our stables; escape to your father's camp this very night."
Had his guardian angel appeared before him personally, to confer blessings on him, the Prince could not have been struck with greater surprise. He was speechless from very astonishment.
"Jagat Singha! Prince! come, O come," again importuned she.
"Aesha," said he, after a pause, "you will set me free?"
"Yes, instantly"—replied Aesha.
Prince. "Without your father's knowledge?"
Aesha. "No fear; I will break the matter to him when you shall have been beyond his reach."
"But how will the guards allow me to go out?"
"This talisman will induce them."
She thereupon tore her jewelled necklace, and held it before the Prince.
"When the matter will come to light" said he, "you shall come to grief at the hands of your father."
"No great matter."
"No, Aesha, I never will go."
Aesha looked blank.
"Ah, why so?" asked she sadly.
Prince. "I owe you already nothing less than my life,—and I shall never do an action which shall make you miserable."
"Then must you persist in refusing?" asked she in a choked voice.
"Pray, go out alone," said he.
Aesha was again silent,—tears gushed out afresh from her eyes, defying her utmost efforts at restraining them.
"Aesha!" exclaimed the Prince in amazement—"Aesha, why do you weep, maiden."
Aesha was silent.
"Aesha," the Prince went on, "if you can well express to me the cause of your silent weeping, do so I beseech you. I shall lay down my life to remove it. That I have chosen to remain in prison cannot have brought tears to the eyes of Aesha. Have not thousands of prisoners rotten in your father's?"
Without returning any answer, Aesha wiped her eyes.
"Prince," said she after a pause, "I shall weep no more."
The Prince was rather sorry for not receiving any reply. Both hung down their heads in silence.
The shadow of a third person now fell on the prison wall, unmarked by thos?e in the room. He c?am?e up and stoo?d by them. Af?ter standing still lik?e a ?s?tatue for a while,? he said in a voice faltering with p?assion,
"Princess!? this? is capital!"
Both raised their ?heads and s?aw?—Osman.
Osman had lear?nt the pa?rticulars from his follower, ?the bearer of th?e ring; a?nd had come in search of Ae?sha. On seeing Osman, the Prince became g?reatly apprehensive for the sake of Aesha, who might come by disgrace or reproof at th?e hands of Osm?an or of Katlu Khan himself; and that thi?s was more than probable, the angry tone in which Osman had made the taunt, rendered cle?arly manifes?t. Aesha understood the import of the remark as soon as it was made. For a mome?n?t o?nly her fair features grew crimson; but there was? no other sign of impatience.
"And wh?at is capita?l, Osman, I p?ra?y?"—asked she calmly.
"It is capital," said he in the same to?ne of raillery, "it is ca?pital for a Princess to be ?at nigh?t in the company of a pri?soner. Aye; it is capital for her ?also to enter the priso?n in perfect contempt of rule."
This was more than Aesh?a's spotless innocence could bear. Sh?e ri?vetted her eyes on Osman's face, and in such haughty accents as Osman never remembered to have heard before, said,
"It i?s my ?will to enter the prison alone at this dead hour of night—it i?s my will to? ?talk with the prisoner. You a?re no?t the man to? si?t in ??judgment on? the correctness or otherwise of my conduct."
Osman ?was a?mazed; he w?as still ?mor?e angry.
"You shall see that to-morrow morning before the Nabab," said he.
"?When father will ask"—replied she in the same manner, "I shall ans?wer him; yo?u nee?dn't b?e unea?sy on? that sco?re."
"A?nd what if I as?ked??" sai?d he in the same? railing tone.
Aesha st?arted t?o her f?eet, and for a while fix?ed her gaz?e on Osman. Her expan?s?ive eyes became more exp?ansive, her lily-like countenance beca?me still more blooming, her head wi?th th?e raven-b?lack loc?ks slightly inclined to one side, her bo?so?m heaved with rising emotion, like moss sw?yaye?d by the waves. ?In clear, ringing tones, sh?e said,
"If ?you ask, Osman, I ?can tell you that the priso?ner before us is—the lord of my bosom."
Had the thunder burst there at that moment, neither the Rajput nor the Pa?th?an could have be?en s?tartled more highly. The Prince felt as if some one had illumined his mental darkness;—he now understood the meaning and import of Aesha's silent weeping. Osman had ere this surmised as much, and had therefore rebuked Aesha in such a way; but that she should declare her love in his very presence, had not? entered his head. Osman was silent.
"Listen, Osman," continued she, "this prisoner is the lord of my bosom. While a part?icl?e of life? continues to warm this frame, none else can hope ?to find a pl?ace there. If it so happen that ?to-morrow the ground of exec?ution be ?dren?ched with his bl?ood—" here she shuddered, "still, still, you will find me enshrining his dear image in my heart of hear?ts a?nd w?orshipp?ing it for ever and a day. If this moment is destined to be the last of our seeing each other, if he be released to-morrow, and being encircled by hundreds of wives, cry shame upon the name of Aesha and turn it into a bye-word—still, still shall I remain his for ever, panting for his love. What, think you, I was speaking to him here secretly? I was telling him, I would win the guards over by soft words or by reward. I would furnish him with a horse from our stables;—and importuned him to escape at once to his father's camp. The prisoner himself declined to go away, or by this time you would not have found the least trace of him."
She wiped away her tears, and paused a little, and then resumed in an altered voice.
"But Osman, I have pained you. Forgive me, I beseech you. We cherish each other with affection; and my conduct looks rank unkindness. But you suspected my innocence. Whatever her other faults, impurity has no share in Aesha. Whatever Aesha does, she can avow it before the world. Now I have declared it to you—if necessary to-morrow I will declare it to my father." Then turning to Jagat Singha, she said,
"Prince! do you also forgive me. Had not Osman touched me to the quick, the grief that knawed my vitals, would never have come to your ears;—nay, to any human ears."
The Prince stood speechless, his heart burning in anguish. Osman also was silent. Aesha resumed,
"Osman! I say again, if I have offended you, do you forgive me. I shall ever remain your affectionate sister. Do not, O do not, lessen your affection for me. As my bad luck would have it, I have plunged into this ocean; do not add to my woe by depriving me of your brotherly love."
Saying this, the fair damsel rushed out, without waiting for the return of her maid. Osman remained speechless for a while like one that had lost his senses, and then returned to?? h?is apartment.