Kopal-Kundala/On the Brink of the Ocean

Chapter V.

On the Brink of the Ocean.

On getting up at dawn, Nobokumar naturally felt anxious to devise some means for getting home, especially as the proximity of this Kapálik did not at all please him. But for the present how was he to get out of this pathless jungle? Again, how was he to know the way home? The Kapálik must know the way: surely he would tell it if asked, especially as so far he had done nothing to cause him alarm. Then why should he be afraid? The Kapálik had forbidden him to leave the hut before his return, and he would incur his anger by disobedience. Nobokumar had heard that Kapáliks can, by the strength of their incantations, accomplish the impossible—therefore he ought not to disobey him. Thinking this, and much besides, Nobokumar made up his mind to remain in the hut for the present.

Gradually it became afternoon, but the Kapálik did not return. Yesterday's fast, and the fact that he had eaten nothing to-day, made his hunger intense. He had consumed the previous night the few roots and herbs that were in the hut, and now, if he were not to go in search of some more he would die of hunger. When a little of the day was left, Nobokumar was driven by the pangs of hunger to leave the hut in quest of food.

Nobokumar wandered in and out the adjacent sand-hills in search of roots. He tasted the fruit of several trees growing on the sand, and found that the fruit of one of the trees was very sweet, like almonds, and thereby satisfied his hunger.

The above-mentioned sand-heaps were very narrow, so that Nobokumar easily wandered beyond them. Then he came upon a sandless dense forest. Those who have wandered for a short time in an unknown forest, know that one can lose one's way in a moment. This was just what happened to Nobokumar. After he had come a little way, he could not make out by what path he had left the hermitage. A deep noise of water fell upon his ear, and he knew that this must be the rumbling of the ocean. After a moment he suddenly emerged from the forest, and saw the sea in front of him. The sight of that immense, endless mass of blue water made his heart overflow with intense joy. He went and sate down on the sandy shore. The foaming blue, the endless sea! On both sides, as far as the eye could reach, could be seen the streaks of foam flung by the breaking of the waves, like garlands woven with heaps of pure white flowers. Those white streaks on the golden sand formed a fitting hair-ornament for the jungle-belted earth. In the midst of the blue ocean, too, the foamy waves were breaking in a thousand places. If so strong a wind could blow as to move the stars from their myriad resting-places, and dash them about in the azure sky, they would resemble the gambols of those ocean-waves. At this moment a portion of the blue water was burning like molten gold in the soft rays of the setting sun. In the far distance the vessel of some European trader was sailing on the heart of the ocean, spreading its wings like some large bird.

As long as Nobokumar was seated on the shore, gazing intently at the beauty of the ocean, he was deprived of the sense of space. Then all at once twilight descended and sat on the black waters. Then Nobokumar remembered that he must look for the hermitage. Heaving a deep sigh he got up. Why he heaved a deep sigh is more than I can say. Perhaps it was the recollection of some past happiness, who can tell? He got up and returned towards the sea, and as he turned an incomparable sight met his gaze. There, on the sandy shore, on the brink of the deep-sounding ocean, in the dim twilight, stood a wondrous female form! Masses of hair, unconfined, curling like snakes, falling in a heap to the ankles. Against the hair stood out a jewel form, like a painting on the painter's canvas. The abundance of her curly tresses prevented the whole of her face from being seen; nevertheless it could be seen like the moon's rays bursting forth from a cleft in the clouds. The glance from her large eyes was very steady, very sweet, intensely deep, and full of light. That glance was tender and bright like the moon's rays playing on the heart of the sea. Her heaps of hair had covered her shoulders and arms; the former were quite invisible, but the marble brilliancy of her arms could be seen a little. The girl's body was entirely devoid of ornaments. There was a certain charm in her form that it is impossible to describe. Her colour was like the lustre of the half-moon, her hair jet black. The beauty of the skin and hair was enhanced by their close contiguity. One could only feel its wondrous power of fascination by seeing it in the evening light, on the shore of that deep-resounding ocean!

Nobokumar stood motionless on the apparition of this heavenly form in so inaccessible a forest. He was deprived of the power of speech, and gazed in silent wonderment. The woman, too, was motionless, and with a steady gaze fixed her large eyes on Nobokumar's face. The difference between them was this, that Nobokumar's glance was that of a startled being, while the woman's look bore no trace of astonishment, though it evinced considerable anxiety.

Thus, on the lonely shore of the ocean, they gazed at one another for some time. After a long interval, the woman's voice was heard. She said very softly—

"Traveller, have you lost your way?"

The harp of Nobokumar's heart sounded in unison with this voice. Sometimes the strings of the wondrous heart's mechanism are so devoid of tune, that, try as hard as we may, we cannot unite them. But they are corrected by a single sound, naught but the voice of a woman. Then all becomes tuneful. From that moment life appears as happy as a current of music. So that voice sounded in Nobokumar's ear.

"Traveller, have you lost your way?" This was the sound that penetrated Nobokumar's ear. What was the meaning, what reply to give, he could not think. The sound appeared to wander about, as if quivering with joy; it appeared to flow on the wind; it was murmured by the leaves of the trees, and then seemed to grow fainter and melt away in the noise of the sea. The ocean-girt earth was beautiful; the woman was beautiful; the voice, too, was beautiful. The tune of beauty rose on the strings of his heart.

The woman, getting no reply, said, "Come." So saying, she went away: her steps could not be seen. Softly, and with invisible tread, she went, like a white cloud moved by the gentle wind in spring-time. Nobokumar went with her like a mechanical doll. In one place they would have to go round a small patch of jungle. On getting behind this, he could not observe the woman any more; when he had got round it, he saw the hut in front of him.