Stories of Bengalee Life/The Fulfilment of a Vow/Chapter 3

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III

On his way back home Bhabatosh reviewed the events of the afternoon. His way led him through the village where numbers of girls were returning to their homes bearing pots filled with water. He considered their faces rather carefully as they passed. There were pretty ones among them and many plain faces, but not one of them was so ugly as Jagadamba.

The carriage approached the fields, and now his mind was filled with pride in his victory over himself. Yet he felt his chosen bride need not have been quite so ugly. But since his choice was made, what was the use of such reflections? At this point he reached home. His mother said—"Well, do you approve of the maiden?"

"Yes mother, I do."

"Then shall I settle the matter?"

"Please."

"Shall it be early in February?"

"It may as well,"—and Bhabatosh betook himself elsewhere. The mother observed that the youth's mind was somewhat heavy. She imagined that though pleased at his choice, he was rather ashamed to have made it after so many vows that he would not marry a beauty.

Bhabatosh took no supper that night, declaring that he had no appetite.

The triumph in his mind over his self-conquest and the fulfilment of his vow began to abate. As often as Jagadamba's face arose before his mind, his heart grew cold within him. He began to think that ugly as she was, it would not have been so bad had she shown some signs of intellect.

On Monday early, Bhabatosh took train for Calcutta, his mother having remarked that there were only ten days to the wedding and that he must come home two days before the event.

At the mess-house his comrades observed that his countenance was clouded. He went to his own room and sat down. One after another came to him with greeting and the question—"What news have you for us?"—Before setting out for his home Bhabatosh had told them all what was afoot.

With an embarrassed laugh Bhabatosh answered—"The news is good." Then they questioned him as to the girl's appearance, her accomplishments, her age. Suddenly one of them said—"What is her name?" Bhabatosh gave it.

At the sound of it something of a smile appeared on every face. One only, losing control over himself, laughed out—"Ha! ha! ha! Jagadamba! he! he! he! A fine name that, isn't it?"

Sarat Babu said—"Why do you laugh, Nripendra Babu?"

"I was not laughing, he! he! he! Why should I laugh? ha! ha!"

Rajani Babu said—"What is the matter with the name? It is a classical name. In the present day you all select fancy names from the stage plays, Sarasibala, Jyotirmayi, Tarulata, &c, &c."

Bhabatosh shook his head gravely at these words. His former enthusiasm on these points was now much lessened.

There were but nine days left to the wedding. He knows how they passed with him. His comrades also knew something of it. The more Bhabatosh thought of Jagadamba, the more his heart was oppressed. He attended College but took in nothing of the lectures. He had been distinguished in the mess-house for his appetite, but now half his meal was left upon his plate. He joined with none in merry converse; he was always absent-minded. The comrades began to chaff him, saying—"Bhabatosh Babu, you show every sign of having been smitten by the shaft of Cupid."

Lying on his couch at night, Bhabatosh could scarcely sleep,—he could only toss from side to side. When at length sleep came, it was filled with terrible dreams. In one dream he saw Jagadamba wearing the hideous face of the idol Kali. The little that he could see of her tongue now seemed to be fully protruding. It seemed as if she had grown an extra pair of arms. In one hand she held a blood-smeared sword, in the other a severed head, which seemed to be that of Bhabatosh himself. In another dream he seemed to have lost himself in a thorny jungle. As he was anxiously seeking a path out of it, a she-buffalo came up and tried to rush at him. The brute was wearing a Bombay sari of the people colour. Her face was that of Jagadamba, only that she had two horns.

When there were but three days to the wedding, Bhabatosh thought he would write to his mother and stop the marriage. That day he did not go to College. He sat alone all day in his room writing and tearing up letter after letter. What would his comrades say when they should hear the marriage was broken off? How would he be able to endure their jeers and their banter?

That night as he lay on his bed, he resolved that without a word to any one he would go off to the Western Provinces. He got up, lit his lamp, and turned over the leaves of the time table. But at dawn his mood again changed. What? Should he after making all this fuss incur the name of a coward? That should never be. He would fulfil his vow, whatever may his lot be afterwards.

At the appointed time he went home and in due course entered the wedding booth. The assembly, the lights, the noise raised his spirits after the previous ten days. In the hour of battle, even the most timid soldier loses his fears.

The wedding began, but his heart was callous;—neither fear nor anxiety, hope nor despair possessed him.

Gradually the time came for uplifting of the bride's veil. To ensure good fortune, a cloth was thrown over the heads of groom and bride. On glancing at the bride's face, Bhabatosh was filled with astonishment. She was not the ogress of the last ten days. She was not the hideous Jagadamba of his dreams, but the lovely maiden who had served him with spices in a silver dish.

*****

On the night of the "Flower Decoration" Bhabatosh strove to make his newly-wedded wife converse. For a little while he was without success. Then Bhabatosh had recourse to a stratagem. He thought, perhaps if she heard her own people found fault with, she might defend them. So he said—"Why did your mother play me this trick?"

"Had you not said that because I was good-looking, you would not marry me? It served you right."

Hitherto Bhabatosh had been unable to solve this problem. He now said—"What girl was it that I saw?"

"She was the daughter of the village oilman. It served you right."

*****

And there even came a day when, before the post was quite due, Bhabatosh would be standing in the street at the door of the "mess-house" to take his letters from the Postman.