The Home and the World/Chapter 10/Bimala's Story
Amulya is due to return from Calcutta this morning. I told the servants to let me know as soon as he arrived, but could not keep still. At last I went outside to await him in the sitting-room.
When I sent him off to sell the jewels I must have been thinking only of myself. It never even crossed my mind that so young a boy, trying to sell such valuable jewellery, would at once be suspected. So helpless are we women, we needs must place on others the burden of our danger. When we go to our death we drag down those who are about us.
I had said with pride that I would save Amulya,—as if she who was drowning could save others. But instead of saving him, I have sent him to his doom. My little brother, such a sister have I been to you that Death must have smiled on that Brothers' Day when I gave you my blessing,—I, who wander distracted with the burden of my own evil-doing.
I feel to-day that man is at times attacked with evil as with the plague. Some germ finds its way in from somewhere, and then in the space of one night Death stalks in. Why cannot the stricken one be kept far away from the rest of the world? I, at least, have realized how terrible is the contagion,—like a fiery torch which burns that it may set the world on fire.
It struck nine. I could not get rid of the idea that Amulya was in trouble, that he had fallen into the clutches of the police. There must be great excitement in the Police Office—whose are the jewels?—where did he get them? And in the end I shall have to furnish the answer, in public, before all the world.
What is that answer to be? Your day has come at last, Bara Rani, you whom I have so long despised. You, in the shape of the public, the world, will have your revenge. O God, save me this time, and I will cast all my pride at my sister-in-law's feet.
I could bear it no longer. I went straight to the Bara Rani. She was in the verandah, spicing her betel leaves, Thako at her side. The sight of Thako made me shrink back for a moment, but I overcame all hesitation, and making a low obeisance I took the dust of my elder sister-in-law's feet.
'Bless my soul, Chota Rani,' she exclaimed, 'what has come upon you? Why this sudden reverence?'
'It is my birthday, sister,' said I. 'I have often caused you pain. Give me your blessing to-day that I may never do so again. My mind is so small.' I repeated my obeisance and left her hurriedly, but she called me back.
'You never before told me that this was your birthday, Chotie darling! Be sure to come and have lunch with me this afternoon. You positively must.'
O God, let it really be my birthday to-day. Can I not be born over again? Cleanse me, my God, and purify me and give me one more trial!
I went again to the sitting-room to find Sandip there. A feeling of disgust seemed to poison my very blood. The face of his, which I saw in the morning light, had nothing of the magic radiance of genius.
'Will you leave the room,' I blurted out.
Sandip smiled. 'Since Amulya is not here,' he remarked, 'I should think my turn had come for a special talk.'
My fate was coming back upon me. How was I to take away the right I myself had given. 'I would be alone,' I repeated.
'Queen,' he said, 'the presence of another person does not prevent your being alone. Do not mistake me for one of the crowd. I, Sandip, am always alone, even when surrounded by thousands.'
'Please come some other time. This morning I am....'
'Waiting for Amulya?'
I turned to leave the room for sheer vexation, when Sandip drew out from the folds of his cloak that jewel-casket of mine and banged it down on the marble table. I was thoroughly startled. 'Has not Amulya gone, then?' I exclaimed.
'No,' chuckled Sandip.
Ah, then my blessing had come true, in spite of all. He was saved. Let God's punishment fall on me, the thief, if only Amulya be safe.
The change in my countenance roused Sandip's scorn. 'So pleased, Queen!' sneered he. 'Are these jewels so very precious? How then did you bring yourself to offer them to the Goddess? Your gift was actually made. Would you now take it back?'
Pride dies hard and raises its fangs to the last. It was clear to me I must show Sandip I did not care a rap about these jewels. 'If they have excited your greed,' I said, 'you may have them.'
'My greed today embraces the wealth of all Bengal,' replied Sandip. 'Is there a greater force than greed? It is the steed of the great ones of the earth, as is the elephant, Airauat, the steed of Indra. So then these jewels are mine?'
As Sandip took up and replaced the casket under his cloak, Amulya rushed in. There were dark rings under his eyes, his lips were dry, his hair tumbled: the freshness of his youth seemed to have withered in a single day. Pangs gripped my heart as I looked on him.
'My box!' he cried, as he went straight up to Sandip without a glance at me. 'Have you taken that jewel-box from my trunk?'
'Your jewel-box?' mocked Sandip.
'It was my trunk!'
Sandip burst out into a laugh. 'Your distinctions between mine and yours are getting rather thin, Amulya,' he cried. 'You will die a religious preacher yet, I see.'
Amulya sank on a chair with his face in his hands. I went up to him and placing my hand on his head asked him: 'What is your trouble, Amulya?'
He stood straight up as he replied: 'I had set my heart, Sister Rani, on returning your jewels to you with my own hand. Sandip Babu knew this, but he forestalled me.'
'What do I care for my jewels?' I said. 'Let them go. No harm is done.'
'Go? Where?' asked the mystified boy.
'The jewels are mine,' said Sandip. 'Insignia bestowed on me by my Queen!'
'No, no, no,' broke out Amulya wildly. 'Never, Sister Rani! I brought them back for you. You shall not give them away to anybody else.'
'I accept your gift, my little brother,' said I. 'But let him, who hankers after them, satisfy his greed.'
Amulya glared at Sandip like a beast of prey, as he growled: 'Look here, Sandip Babu, you know that even hanging has no terrors for me. If you dare take away that box of jewels....'
With an attempt at a sarcastic laugh Sandip said: 'You also ought to know by this time, Amulya, that I am not the man to be afraid of you.'
'Queen Bee,' he went on, turning to me, 'I did not come here today to take these jewels, I came to give them to you. You would have done wrong to take my gift at Amulya's hands. In order to prevent it, I had first to make them clearly mine. Now these my jewels are my gift to you. Here they are! Patch up any understanding with this boy you like. I must go. You have been at your special talks all these days together, leaving me out of them. If special happenings now come to pass, don't blame me.'
'Amulya,' he continued, 'I have sent on your trunks and things to your lodgings. Don't you be keeping any belongings of yours in my room any longer.' With this parting shot, Sandip flung out of the room.
'I have had no peace of mind, Amulya,' I said to him, 'ever since I sent you off to sell my jewels.'
'Why, Sister Rani?'
'I was afraid lest you should get into trouble with them, lest they should suspect you for a thief. I would rather go without that six thousand. You must now do another thing for me,—go home at once, home to your mother.'
Amulya produced a small bundle and said: 'But, sister, I have got the six thousand.'
'I tried hard to get gold,' he went on, without replying to my question, 'but could not. So I had to bring it in notes.'
'Tell me truly, Amulya, swear by me, where did you get this money?'
'That I will not tell you.'
Everything seemed to grow dark before my eyes. 'What terrible thing have you done, Amulya?' I cried. 'Is it then......'
'I know you will say I got this money wrongly. Very well, I admit it. But I have paid the full price for my wrong-doing. So now the money is mine.'
I no longer had any desire to learn more about it. My very blood-vessels contracted, making my whole body shrink within itself.
'Take it away, Amulya,' I implored. 'Put it back where you got it from.'
'That would be hard indeed!'
'It is not hard, brother dear. It was an evil moment when you first came to me. Even Sandip has not been able to harm you as I have done.'
Sandip's name seemed to stab him.
'Sandip!' he cried. 'It was you alone who made me come to know that man for what he is. Do you know, sister, he has not spent a pice out of those sovereigns he took from you? He shut himself into his room, after he left you, and gloated over the gold, pouring it out in a heap on the floor. "This is not money," he exclaimed, "but the petals of the divine lotus of power; crystallized strains of music from the pipes that play in the paradise of wealth! I cannot find it in my heart to change them, for they seem longing to fulfil their destiny of adorning the neck of Beauty. Amulya, my boy, don't you look at these with your fleshly eye, they are Lakshmi's smile, the gracious radiance of Indra's queen. No, no, I can't give them up to that boor of a manager. I am sure, Amulya, he was telling us lies. The police haven't traced the man who sank that boat. It's the manager who wants to make something out of it. We must get those letters back from him".'
'I asked him how we were to do this; he told me to use force or threats. I offered to do so if he would return the gold. That, he said, we could consider later. I will not trouble you, sister, with all I did to frighten the man into giving up those letters and burn them,—it is a long story. That very night I came to Sandip and said: "We are now safe. Let me have the sovereigns to return them tomorrow to my sister, the Maharani." But he cried, "What infatuation is this of yours? Your precious sister's skirt bids fair to hide the whole country from you. Say Bande Mataram and exorcize the evil spirit."
'You know, Sister Rani, the power of Sandip's magic. The gold remained with him. And I spent the whole dark night on the bathing-steps of the lake muttering Bande Mataram.
'Then when you gave me your jewels to sell, I went again to Sandip. I could see he was angry with me. But he tried not to show it. "If I still have them hoarded up in any box of mine you may take them," said he, as he flung me his keys. They were nowhere to be seen. "Tell me where they are," I said. "I will do so," he replied, "when I find your infatuation has left you. Not now."
'When I found I could not move him, I had to employ other methods. Then I tried to get the sovereigns from him in exchange for my currency notes for Rs. 6,000. "You shall have them," he said, and disappeared into his bedroom, leaving me waiting outside. There he broke open my trunk and came straight to you with your casket through some other passage. He would not let me bring it, and now he dares call it his gift. How can I tell how much he has deprived me of? I shall never forgive him.
'But, oh sister, his power over me has been utterly broken. And it is you who have broken it!'
'Brother dear,' said I, 'if that is so, then my life is justified. But more remains to be done, Amulya. It is not enough that the spell has been destroyed. Its stains must be washed away. Don't delay any longer, go at once and put back the money where you took it from. Can you not do it, dear?'
'With your blessing everything is possible, Sister Rani.'
'Remember, it will not be your expiation alone, but mine also. I am a woman; the outside world is closed to me, else I would have gone myself. My hardest punishment is that I must put on you the burden of my sin.'
'Don't say that, sister. The path I was treading was not your path. It attracted me because of its dangers and difficulties. Now that your path calls me, let it be a thousand times more difficult and dangerous, the dust of your feet will help me to win through. Is it then your command that this money be replaced?'
'Not my command, brother mine, but a command from above.'
'Of that I know nothing. It is enough for me that this command from above comes from your lips. And, sister, I thought I had an invitation here. I must not lose that. You must give me your prasad before I go. Then, if I can possibly manage it, I will finish my duty in the evening.'
Tears came to my eyes when I tried to smile as I said: 'So be it.'
- Food consecrated by the touch of a revered person.