Kopal-Kundala/At the Door of the House

Chapter VI.

At the Door of the House.

Just before evening, when Kopal-Kundala was engaged in her household duties, the letter had slipped from her hair and fallen on the ground unperceived by her. Nobokumar had observed it fall from her hair, and was astonished. When Kopal-Kundala had gone elsewhere, he picked up the letter and went outside and read it. There could only be one inference from that letter. "You will hear what you wanted to hear yesterday." What was that? Words of love? Was the Brahman Mrinomoi's paramour? For one who knew the occurrence of the former night, no other conclusion was possible.

When a chaste woman dies with her husband, or when anybody for any other reason ascends the funeral pyre alive, and places the torch to the wood, at first a heap of smoke envelops everything; it shuts out the view; makes all dark; then when the heap of wood gradually begins to burn, at first one or two flames of fire dart from below like serpent's tongues, and lick the limbs here and there, then with a noise the flames of fire come from all sides and spread over every limb and member; at last, with a terrible noise, the heap of fire lights up the sky, leaps over the head, and reduces the body to ashes.

This is what happened to Nobokumar when he read the letter. At first he could not understand it; then doubt, then certainty, and at last agony. Man's heart cannot at once assimilate an excess of pain or an excess of joy; it does so by degrees. At first the heap of smoke enveloped Nobokumar; then the flame of fire began to burn his heart; and at last his heart was reduced to ashes in the heap of fire. Before this Nobokumar had perceived that Kopal-Kundala in some matters did not obey him. Moreover, in spite of his prohibition, Kopal-Kundala used to go alone wherever she liked; she would behave with anybody as she pleased; and what was more, she would pay no heed to his words, and wander alone in the forest at night. Any one else would have had his suspicions aroused by this, but Nobokumar did not permit himself to doubt for a single moment, knowing that if he once doubted Kopal-Kundala, it would be like the sting of a scorpion, never to be eradicated. To-day, too, he would not have allowed himself to doubt, but to-day it was not a matter of doubt. Certainty had come in its place.

When the first pang of his anguish was over, Nobokumar sate in silence and wept for a long time. He was a little relieved by his tears. Then he made up his mind what to do. To-day he would say nothing to Kopal-Kundala, but, when she started for the forest, he would secretly follow her; he would witness with his own eyes Kopal-Kundala's great sin, and then commit suicide. He would say nothing to Kopal-Kundala, but kill himself. What else could he do? He could no longer bear the terrible burden of life.

With this resolve, he remained watching the back-door to see when Kopal-Kundala would go out. When Kopal-Kundala had gone out a little way, Nobokumar was about to go out too, when Kopal-Kundala returned for the letter. Nobokumar, seeing her, got on one side. At last Kopal-Kundala again went out, and when she had gone some way, Nobokumar was about to follow her, when he saw that a tall man was standing in the doorway.

Who he was, or why he stood there, Nobokumar had no desire to know. He saw him, but took no notice of him; all he wanted was to keep Kopal-Kundala in sight. So, to clear the way, he put his hand on the stranger's breast, and pushed him, but he could not move him.

Nobokumar said, "Who are you? Go—get out of my way."

The stranger said, "Don't you know who I am?"

The sound fell upon his ear like the roaring of the ocean. Nobokumar gazed at him, and saw that it was his old acquaintance, the matted-haired Kapálik!

Nobokumar started, but he was not afraid. Suddenly his face beamed with joy as he asked, "Is Kopal-Kundala going to meet you?" The Kapálik said "No."

The flame of hope, that had flickered for an instant, went out, and Nobokumar's face became cloudy and dark as before. He said, "Then let me pass."

The Kapálik said, "I will let you pass, but I have something to say to you—first hear it."

Nobokumar said, "What should I say to you? Have you again come to take my life? Take it; this time I will offer no resistance. Do you now wait for me, I will return. Why should I not give my body for the satisfaction of the god? I have now reaped its fruits. She who preserved me has now destroyed me. Kapálik! this time do not doubt me; I will this instant return and deliver myself up to you."

The Kapálik said, "I have not come to kill you. That is not Bhobani's wish. What I have come to do will please you. Go inside the house, and listen to what I have to say."

Nobokumar said, "Not now. I will hear it at some other time. Do you wait now. I have some particular business; I will finish it and come."

The Kapálik said, " Child! I know all. You want to follow that wicked woman; I know where she is going. I will take you there with me. I will show you what you want to see; now listen to me, and have no fear."

Nobokumar said, "I no longer fear you. Come."

So saying Nobokumar took the Kapálik inside the house, and gave him a seat, and he, too, sate down and said, "Speak."