Durgesa Nandini/Book 2/Chapter 2

 

CHAPTER II.

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THE FLOWER-EMBOSOMED STONE


THAT night Aesha and Osman sat up by Jagat Singha till a late hour. Now he was becoming conscious and now he became insensible;—the physician came and went many a time and oft.

Aesha was ceaseless in her attentions to the Prince. When it struck twelve a maid entered in and said that the Begam had sent for her.

"I go," said she and rose up. Osman rose with her.

"You also up?"—asked she.

"It is late; let me convoy you."

Aesha instructed the servants to be watchful, and then directed her steps to her mother's apartment.

"Do you mean to stay with the Begam to-night?" asked Osman on the way.

"No," replied Aesha. "I shall return to the Prince."

"Aesha," said Osman, "your goodness nothing can equal. A sister does not more for her brother than you are doing for this mortal enemy of your father. You are actually rescuing him from the jaws of death."

?"Osman," said Aesha, a gentle laugh illumining her countenance, "Nature has made me a woman, and as such it is my first of duties to tend the sick. It would indeed be a great sin in me to neglect it, but I can claim no merit for doing my duty. But how does it touch you? That you are daily watching and striving hard for the recovery of one who is your mortal foe, who is your opponent in the field, ever bent on humbling your pride—of one reduced to this pass by your own hands;—that you are doing all this for such an one can but redound to your credit."

"You, Aesha," said Osman, thrown a little out of countenance, "look on the world as partaking of your own sweet nature. My motive, you must know, is not so virtuous as you think. Don't you perceive what gainers we shall be if Jagat Singha come all right? Should the Prince now die, what do we gain by it? In the field, Man Singha is not inferior to his son; so that instead of one warrior we shall have another to cope with. But if we can keep Jagat Singha in durance when he recovers, we have Man Singha on the hip;—he shall certainly be obliged to offer us favorable terms for the liberation of his beloved son,—nay, Akbar too shall consider peace proposals seriously, to get back such an able officer. Further, if we can lay Jagat Singha under an obligation by treating him generously, he also will lend his influence to bring about the conclusion of a treaty favorable to us;—and his endeavours may not go for nothing. At any rate, we cannot miss a good round sum as his ransom. His life then, you see, is more valuable to us than even a victory in open fight."

No doubt these considerations weighed with Osman in determining his present conduct, but there wag something more. It is the way with some men to give themselves out as hard-hearted, fearing to be convicted of the taint of the 'milk of human kindness,' and they do good with a perpetual sneer at kindness, as an effeminate quality. When pressed for explanation, they seek refuge in such expressions as, "O, sir, content you, herein I serve my turn." Aesha well knew Osman was one of this class.

"Osman," said she laughing, "would to Heaven, all were as selfish and far-sighted as you. Goodness could then very well be dispensed with."

After an attempt at shuffling, Osman said in a softer tone,

"That I am selfish, I will show by another instance."

Aesha fixed her eyes on Osman, like a cloud surcharged with lightning—Osman continued,

"I am living on Hope; how long shall I remain her borrower?"

Aesha looked grave; Osman now saw new beauties rising to the view. "Speak to papa about it, pray," said she. "You know he can deny you nothing."

Osman.   "I have not left untried that quarter."

Aesha.   "And what does he say?"

Osman.   "He has pledged his word to the Begam that he will give you to the man of your own choice. But to this day, I have not known your mind."

Again her sweet countenance gleamed through a smile.

"Pray, when have men," said she, "been able to read the thoughts of women?"

Osman.—"What am I to understand by this?"

Aesha.   "That I do love you." Osman's handsome face brightened with joy.

"As your future husband, eh?" enquired he.

"As my dearest brother."

Osman's countenance fell.

"God! God! ever on that key!" ejaculated he. "God of Heaven, in such a flowery frame hast thou closed in a heart of stone!"

After conveying Aesha to her mother's apartment, Osman returned to his quarters, with a heavy heart.