‘Try to sleep, Jotin, it is getting late.’
‘Never mind if it is. I have not many days left. I was thinking that Mani should go to her father’s house. — I forget where he is now.’
‘Oh yes! Sitarampur. Send her there. She should not remain any longer near a sick man. She herself is not strong.’
‘Just listen to him! How can she bear to leave you in this state?’
‘Does she know what the doctors —— ?’
‘But she can see for herself! The other day she cried her eyes out at the merest hint of having to go to her father’s house.’
We must explain that in this statement there was a slight distortion of truth, to say the least of it. The actual talk with Mani was as follows: —
‘I suppose, my child, you have got some news from your father? I thought I saw your cousin Anath here.’
‘All right, my dear. Send her a gold necklace. It will please your mother.’
‘I’m thinking of going myself. I’ve never seen my little sister, and I want to ever so much.’
‘Whatever do you mean? You surely don’t think of leaving Jotin alone? Haven’t you heard what the doctor says about him?’
‘But he said that just now there’s no special cause for —— ’
‘Even if he did, you can see his state.’
‘This is the first girl after three brothers, and she’s a great favourite. — I have heard that it’s going to be a grand affair. If I don’t go, mother will be very —— ’
‘Yes, yes! I don’t understand your mother. But I know very well that your father will be angry enough if you leave Jotin just now.’
‘You’ll have to write a line to him saying that there is no special cause for anxiety, and that even if I go, there will be no —— ’
‘You’re right there; it will certainly be no great loss if you do go. But remember, if I write to your father, I’ll tell him plainly what is in my mind.’
‘Then you needn’t write. I shall ask my husband, and he will surely —— ’
‘Look here, child, I’ve borne a good deal from you, but if you do that, I won’t stand it for a moment. Your father knows you too well for you to deceive him.’
When Mashi had left her, Mani lay down on her bed in a bad temper.
Her neighbour and friend came and asked what was the matter.
‘Look here! What a shame it is! Here’s my only sister’s annaprashan coming, and they don’t want to let me go to it!’
‘Why! Surely you’re never thinking of going, are you, with your husband so ill?’
‘I don’t do anything for him, and I couldn’t if I tried. It’s so deadly dull in this house, that I tell you frankly I can’t bear it.’
‘You are a strange woman!’
‘But I can’t pretend, as you people do, and look glum lest any one should think ill of me.’
‘Well, tell me your plan.’
‘I must go. Nobody can prevent me.’
‘Isss! What an imperious young woman you are!’
Hearing that Mani had wept at the mere thought of going to her father’s house, Jotin was so excited that he sat up in bed. Pulling his pillow towards him, he leaned back, and said: ‘Mashi, open this window a little, and take that lamp away.’
The still night stood silently at the window like a pilgrim of eternity; and the stars gazed in, witnesses through untold ages of countless death-scenes.
Jotin saw his Mani’s face traced on the background of the dark night, and saw those two big dark eyes brimming over with tears, as it were for all eternity.
Mashi felt relieved when she saw him so quiet, thinking he was asleep.
Suddenly he started up, and said: ‘Mashi, you all thought that Mani was too frivolous ever to be happy in our house. But you see now —— ’
‘Do try to sleep, dear!’
‘Let me think a little, let me talk. Don’t be vexed, Mashi!’
‘Once, when I used to think I could not win Mani’s heart, I bore it silently. But you —— ’
‘No, dear, I won’t allow you to say that; I also bore it.’
‘Our minds, you know, are not clods of earth which you can possess by merely picking up. I felt that Mani did not know her own mind, and that one day at some great shock —— ’
‘Yes, Jotin, you are right.’
‘Therefore I never took much notice of her waywardness.’
Mashi remained silent, suppressing a sigh. Not once, but often she had seen Jotin spending the night on the verandah wet with the splashing rain, yet not caring to go into his bedroom. Many a day he lay with a throbbing head, longing, she knew, that Mani would come and soothe his brow, while Mani was getting ready to go to the theatre. Yet when Mashi went to fan him, he sent her away petulantly. She alone knew what pain lay hidden in that distress. Again and again she had wanted to say to Jotin: ‘Don’t pay so much attention to that silly child, my dear; let her learn to want, — to cry for things.’ But these things cannot be said, and are apt to be misunderstood. Jotin had in his heart a shrine set up to the goddess Woman, and there Mani had her throne. It was hard for him to imagine that his own fate was to be denied his share of the wine of love poured out by that divinity. Therefore the worship went on, the sacrifice was offered, and the hope of a boon never ceased.
Mashi imagined once more that Jotin was sleeping, when he cried out suddenly:
‘I know you thought that I was not happy with Mani, and therefore you were angry with her. But, Mashi, happiness is like those stars. They don’t cover all the darkness; there are gaps between. We make mistakes in life and we misunderstand, and yet there remain gaps through which truth shines. I do not know whence comes this gladness that fills my heart to-night.’
Mashi began gently to soothe Jotin’s brow, her tears unseen in the dark.
‘I was thinking, Mashi, she’s so young! What will she do when I am —— ?’