In the Rival's House.
At that time Sher Afghan was living as Governor of Burdwan under the Subadar of Bengal.
Moti Bibi came to Burdwan and put up in Sher Afghan's house, where she was treated with much honour by Sher Afghan and his family. Moti Bibi had been well known to Sher Afghan and his wife when they used to live in Agra; and she was a great friend of Meheronissa's. Afterwards they both became rivals for the empire of Delhi. Now that they had come together, Meheronissa thought, "In whose destiny has the Creator written the sovereignty of India? The Creator Himself knows, and Selim knows; and if any one else knows, it is this Lutufonissa. Let me see if she will not reveal something." Moti Bibi, too, wanted to find out Meheronissa's thoughts.
At that time Meheronissa had acquired the reputation of being the most beautiful and virtuous woman in India; and, as a matter of fact, women like her are seldom born in the world. Of those women who are famous in history for their beauty all historians admit her superiority. Very few men of that period excelled her in any branch of knowledge. Meheronissa was unrivalled in song and dance; she fascinated the minds of all by her poems and paintings, and her sparkling conversation was even more charming than her beauty. Nor was Moti deficient in these qualities. To-day these two remarkable women were eager to find out one another's thoughts.
Meheronissa was seated in her private room painting a picture. Moti was sitting just behind her looking on, and was chewing pán. Meheronissa asked, "What do you think of the picture?" Moti Bibi replied, "It is like your paintings always are; it is a pity that now-a-days there is no skilled painter like you."
Mehe. Even if there be not, where is the pity?
Moti. If any other were as skilled as you, they might preserve a model of this face of yours.
Mehe. Will a likeness of the face remain in the earth of the grave?
Meheronissa said this somewhat gravely.
Moti. Sister ———, why so serious to-day?
Mehe. How am I serious? But I cannot forget that you are going to leave me tomorrow morning. Can you not please me by stopping two days more?
Moti. Who does not wish for pleasure? If it were possible to stay, why should I go? But I am the servant of another; how can I remain?
Mehe. You do not love me any more; if you wanted to stay, you could manage it in some way. You have come here, and why can't you remain?
Moti. I have told you all. My brother is a mansubdar in the Mogul army—he was wounded in fight with the Orissa Pathans, and was in much danger. When I heard it, I got leave from the Begum and went to see him. I have stayed too long in Orissa, and ought not to delay any more. I had not seen you for a long time, and for this reason I have remained two days with you.
Mehe. By what day have you agreed to return to the Begum?
Moti understood that Meheronissa was jesting. Moti was not so expert as Meheronissa in neat and biting jests; but neither was she a woman to lose her wits. She replied, "Was it likely that, going on a three months' journey, I should fix any particular day for my return? But I have delayed too long; and further delay may be a cause for displeasure."
Meheronissa said, with one of her world-enchanting smiles, "Whose displeasure do you fear—the prince's, or that of his queen?"
Moti was a little confused, and said, "Why do you wish to put to shame this shameless one? Perhaps the displeasure of both."
Mehe. But let me ask you, Why do you not take the name of Begum yourself? I heard that the Prince Selim was going to marry you and make you the principal Begum. How far is that true?
Moti. I am naturally subject to others; why should I destroy the little independence I have. As the Begum's companion, I have found no difficulty in coming to Orissa; but as Selim's Begum, could I have done so?
Mehe. What necessity could there be for the Emperor of Delhi's chief queen to come to Orissa?
Moti. I have never aspired to be Selim's chief queen. In this country of Hindostan none but Meheronissa is fit to be the loved consort of the Emperor of Delhi.
Meheronissa bent down her head. She remained silent for a moment, and said, "Sister, I do not suppose that you have said this to pain me, or to find out my heart. But I entreat you not to say anything in forgetfulness of the fact that I am Sher Afghan's wife, and, heart and soul, his slave."
The shameless Moti was not confounded by this reproach, which indeed gave her an opportunity for further probing. She said, "I know well that you are devoted to your husband; and for this reason I ventured to introduce this topic by a side-wind. It was my object to let you know that Selim has not yet been able to forget your beauty. Be careful."
Mehe. Now I understand; but what should I fear?
Moti, with some hesitation, said, "Fear of widowhood," and as she spoke she fixed a piercing glance on Meheronissa's face; but she could not perceive any sign of either fear or joy. Meheronissa proudly said, "Fear of widowhood! Sher Afghan is able to defend himself; moreover, in Akber Shah's kingdom even his son cannot take the life of an innocent man with impunity."
Moti. That is true, but the latest news from Agra is that Akber Shah is dead. Selim has ascended the throne. Who will curb Delhi's emperor?
Meheronissa heard no more; her whole body shook and trembled. Again she bent her head, and tears flowed from her eyes. Moti asked, "Why do you cry?"
Meheronissa said with a sigh, "Selim is on the throne of India; where am I?"
Moti's object was achieved; she said, "Can you not even now altogether forget the prince?"
Meheronissa said in a sobbing voice, "Whom shall I forget? I may forget my own life, but I can never forget the prince? But listen, sister! The door of my heart has suddenly opened; you have heard this; but I solemnly adjure you not to tell another."
Moti said, "Well, be it so; but when Selim hears I have been to Burdwan, he will certainly ask me what Meheronissa said of him. What shall I tell him?"
Meheronissa thought for a few moments and said, "Tell him this, that Meheronissa idolises him in her heart, and will lay down her life for him, should necessity arise. But she will never yield her honour, and, as long as her husband lives, she will never look on the face of Delhi's emperor. And if her husband be killed by Delhi's emperor, then in this world she will never meet her husband's murderer."
With these words Meheronissa got up and went away. Moti Bibi was astounded. But the victory was hers; she had found out Meheronissa's feelings, while Meheronissa knew nothing of Moti Bibi's wishes and aspirations. She who afterwards, by the force of her intellect, became the queen of the king of Delhi,—even she was vanquished by Moti. The reason was that Meheronissa was in love, while in this matter Moti Bibi was actuated only by selfish motives.
Moti Bibi knew well the varied movements of man's heart. What she concluded on a consideration of Meheronissa's words, that actually came to pass. She saw that Meheronissa was really in love with Jahangir; therefore, whatever she might say now with a woman's pride, she would never be able to control her feelings, when the path lay open; she would without doubt fulfil the wish of the king.
With this certainty Moti's hopes and aspirations were dashed to the ground; but was Moti grieved on that account? She was not; nay more, she even experienced a certain pleasure. Why she felt so strange a joy, Moti could not at first understand. She set out for Agra. Some days passed on the way, and during that time she understood the feelings of her heart.