Kopal-Kundala/In the Heart of the Forest

Chapter III.

In the Heart of the Forest.

It has been to a certain extent mentioned above that this part of Septogram was wooded. Not far from the village was a dense forest. Kopal-Kundala went alone in search of the medicine along a narrow jungle path. The night was soft and perfectly still. In the sky of the spring night the moon with its cool rays was noiselessly passing through the white clouds; on the earth, the forest trees and creepers were as noiselessly resting in the rays of the cold moon; the leaves of the trees were noiselessly reflecting those rays; and noiselessly white flowers shone out midst the creepers and shrubs. The beasts and birds were silent, except that somewhere at intervals could be heard the flapping of the wings of some bird aroused from its rest, and now and again here and there the noise of dry leaves falling; elsewhere, too, might be heard the noise of snakes gliding through the dry leaves on the ground, and ever and anon in the far distance the barking of some dog. Not that the wind was altogether dead; it was the soothing breeze of spring, very gentle, and altogether noiseless, such as to shake only the very topmost leaves of the trees. Only the Shám creeper, bent to the ground, was moving to and fro; only small white clouds were softly moving through the blue sky. Only by the touch of such a breeze was the faint recollection of former happiness awakened in the heart.

Kopal-Kundala's recollection of the past was similarly awakened; she thought of how, on the summits of the sand-hills, the southern breeze laden with drops of ocean-water used to sport amid her long tresses. She gazed at the clear, blue, endless sky, and remembered the ocean so like it. Kopal-Kundala walked along, lost in the recollection of past events.

Absently walking along, Kopal-Kundala did not think of where she was going or with what object. The path gradually became impassable, and the forest more dense; over her head the interwoven branches of trees almost entirely shut out the light of the moon, so that she could no longer perceive the way. This fact first awoke her from her reverie, and, looking here and there, she saw that a light was burning in the forest. Lutufonissa, too, had before seen this light. Thanks to her former life, Kopal-Kundala was all this time fearless, but curious. Softly she went in the direction of the light, and saw that no one was there. But not far from it, invisible from a distance owing to the density of the jungle, was a broken house. The house was made of brick, but very small and wretched, and consisted of one room only. The sound of human voices was coming from the house. With noiseless footsteps Kopal-Kundala approached the house, and, no sooner had she got near, than she thought she perceived the sound of two persons engaged in cautious conversation. At first she could not understand a word, but afterwards, when her hearing had been sharpened by close attention, she heard something like the following:—

One was saying, "I desire her death; and if you do not consent to this, I will not help you; neither do you help me."

The other one said, "Neither do I desire her good; but I agree to her eternal exile only. You will never get me to help you in murdering her; nay, I will oppose such an object."

The first speaker said, "You are very foolish, senseless one! I will teach you some wisdom; listen attentively. I will tell you a great secret; just take a look round once, I thought I heard a man's breathing."

As a matter of fact Kopal-Kundala, in order to hear the conversation well, was standing quite close to the wall of the room; and her eagerness and apprehension combined made her breathe hard and fast.

One of the persons inside the house came out and saw Kopal-Kundala; the latter, too, saw well in the clear moonlight the form of a strange man, and, seeing him, she could not make up her mind whether to be alarmed or glad. She saw that the stranger had on the garb of a Brahman; that he wore an ordinary dhotee, and his body was well covered with a sheet. The Brahman youth was of very tender years, and there was not a single mark of age in his face. His face was very beautiful, beautiful as that of a beautiful woman, but marked with a fire and dignity that a woman's face seldom has. His hair was not cut close like the hair of most men, but uncut like a woman's it lay in masses on his back, limbs, arms, and sometimes on his breast. His forehead was broad, and slightly swollen, a single vein standing out in the middle. His eyes were filled with a lightning lustre. A long naked sword was in his hand. But in the midst of this heap of beauty there was a terrible expression, as if the shadow of some terrible desire had fallen on the golden colour. On seeing a glance that penetrated her inmost heart, Kopal-Kundala felt afraid.

Each looked at the other for an instant. At first Kopal-Kundala cast down her eyes, and, when she did so, the stranger asked her, "Who are you?"

If a year before, in the thorn jungles of Hidgellee, Kopal-Kundala had been asked this question, she could instantly have given a connected reply; but now Kopal-Kundala had to a certain extent acquired the nature of a family woman,[1] so that she could not at once make any reply. The man in Brahman garb, seeing Kopal-Kundala did not reply, said, "Kopal-Kundala, why have you come at night into this dense forest?"

Hearing her name from an unknown night-prowler, Kopal-Kundala was speechless, and a little terrified, so that a reply did not readily come from her mouth.

The man in Brahman garb again asked, "Did you hear my question?"

Suddenly Kopal-Kundala regained her power of speech. Without replying, she said, "I too must ask that question. What evil conspiracy are you two concocting by night in this forest?"

The man in Brahman garb remained for some time silent and immersed in thought, as if some new means of accomplishing his purpose had entered into his mind. He took Kopal-Kundala by the hand, and led her

some distance from the broken house. Kopal-Kundala in great wrath released her hand. The man in Brahman garb said very softly, close to Kopal-Kundala's ear, "What do you fear? I am not a man."

Kopal-Kundala was more astounded. She was inclined to believe it, but did not entirely do so. She went with the woman clad as a Brahman. Coming to a secret place away from the house, the Brahman whispered to Kopal-Kundala, "Will you hear what we were conspiring? It concerns you."

Kopal-Kundala's fear and curiosity increased; she said, "I will hear it."

The disguised woman said, "Then wait here till my return." And with this word she returned to the broken house. Kopal-Kundala remained sitting there for some time. But she was exceedingly alarmed by what she had seen and heard; and, sitting alone in the dark forest, her fear increased, especially as it was impossible to say with what object the disguised one had seated her there. It might be that he had placed her there in order to accomplish his evil purpose. Thinking this, Kopal-Kundala was overwhelmed with fear. The Brahman was a long time returning, and Kopal-Kundala could sit no longer. She got up and ran quickly in the direction of her house.

Then the sky began to grow black with clouds; even the little light there was in the forest began to disappear. Kopal-Kundala could not delay another moment. She quickly began to come out from the midst of the forest, and as she came, she fancied she could hear the footsteps of some one behind her; but, turning round, she could see nothing in the darkness. Kopal-Kundala thought the Brahman was pursuing her. She left the jungle and came out on the small forest-path mentioned above. There it was not so dark; a man could be seen, but she saw nothing. Therefore she went on her way quickly; but again she plainly heard footsteps. The sky became more terrible with black clouds. Kopal-Kundala ran faster. Not far from her house, but before she had actually reached it, a terrible storm of rain came down with a terrific noise. Kopal-Kundala ran, and she fancied the man behind her was also running. Before she could see her house, the wind and rain came down on Kopal-Kundala's house. There were claps of thunder in quick succession, and the noise of the falling of thunderbolts. The lightning flashed incessantly, while the rain fell in sheets. Kopal-Kundala somehow managed to escape into the house. She crossed the yard, and entered her room. The door was open for her. She turned facing the yard in order to close the door, and as she did so she fancied she saw a tall man standing in the yard. At that moment there was a single flash of lightning, and in that single flash she recognized him. It was the Kapálik who dwelt by the sea-shore.

  1. It is wrong for a respectable woman to look at or talk to a stranger. Among the higher classes it is of course considered wrong for a woman even to go in a public place unless in a conveyance or palki, or accompanied by other matrons. It has been said that the zenana system was the result of the Mohammedan invasion. But probably women were secluded long before that. The word oborodh (female apartments) was used before Mohammedan times. Panini gives as an epithet of a king's wife "asuryam-pasya," i.e. "one who never sees the sun." In Ramayaná (vi. 99-33) there is clear allusion to some sort of seclusion being practised. Rama thinks it necessary to excuse himself for permitting his wife to expose herself to the gaze of the crowd.

    Chivalry and reverence for the fair sex belonged only to European nations of northern origin, who were the first to hold that "inesse fœminis sanctum aliquid" (Tac. Germ. 8). Yet it is clear from many passages that women had more liberty than now. Rama says to Vihishana:—"In great calamities, at marriages, at the public choice of a husband by maidens, at a sacrifice, at assemblies, it is allowable for all the world to look upon women." Sakuntala appears in the public court of King Dushyanta; Damayanti travels about by herself; the mother of Rama goes to the hermitage of Valmiki. Again, women were present at dramatic representations, rode on horses, visited the temples of the gods, and performed their ablutions with little or no privacy, which is still the custom, though not among well-to-do Mohammedan women.