I had just sat down to make some cakes for Amulya when the Bara Rani came upon the scene. "Oh dear," she exclaimed, "has it come to this that you must make cakes for your own birthday?"
"Is there no one else for whom I could be making them?" I asked.
"But this is not the day when you should think of feasting others. It is for us to feast you. I was just thinking of making something up 29 when I heard the staggering news which completely upset me. A gang of five or six hundred men, they say, has raided one of our treasuries and made off with six thousand rupees. Our house will be looted next, they expect."
I felt greatly relieved. So it was our own money after all. I wanted to send for Amulya at once and tell him that he need only hand over those notes to my husband and leave the explanations to me.
"You are a wonderful creature!" my sister-in-law broke out, at the change in my countenance. "Have you then really no such thing as fear?"
"I cannot believe it," I said. "Why should they loot our house?"
"Not believe it, indeed! Who could have believed that they would attack our treasury, either?"
I made no reply, but bent over my cakes, putting in the cocoa-nut stuffing.
"Well, I'm off," said the Bara Rani after a prolonged stare at me. "I must see Brother Nikhil and get something done about sending off my money to Calcutta, before it's too late."
She was no sooner gone than I left the cakes to take care of themselves and rushed to my dressing-room, shutting myself inside. My husband's tunic with the keys in its pocket was still hanging there--so forgetful was he. I took the key of the iron safe off the ring and kept it by me, hidden in the folds of my dress.
Then there came a knocking at the door. "I am dressing," I called out. I could hear the Bara Rani saying: "Only a minute ago I saw her making cakes and now she is busy dressing up. What next, I wonder! One of their Bande Mataram meetings is on, I suppose. I say, Robber Queen," she called out to me, "are you taking stock of your loot?"
When they went away I hardly know what made me open the safe. Perhaps there was a lurking hope that it might all be a dream. What if, on pulling out the inside drawer, I should find the rolls of gold there, just as before? ... Alas, everything was empty as the trust which had been betrayed.
I had to go through the farce of dressing. I had to do my hair up all over again, quite unnecessarily. When I came out my sister-in-law railed at me: "How many times are you going to dress today?"
"My birthday!" I said.
"Oh, any pretext seems good enough," she went on. "Many vain people have I seen in my day, but you beat them all hollow."
I was about to summon a servant to send after Amulya, when one of the men came up with a little note, which he handed to me. It was from Amulya. "Sister," he wrote, you invited me this afternoon, but I thought I should not wait. Let me first execute your bidding and then come for my prasad. I may be a little late."
To whom could he be going to return that money? into what fresh entanglement was the poor boy rushing? O miserable woman, you can only send him off like an arrow, but not recall him if you miss your aim.
I should have declared at once that I was at the bottom of this robbery. But women live on the trust of their surroundings--this is their whole world. If once it is out that this trust has been secretly betrayed, their place in their world is lost. They have then to stand upon the fragments of the thing they have broken, and its jagged edges keep on wounding them at every turn. To sin is easy enough, but to make up for it is above all difficult for a woman.
For some time past all easy approaches for communion with my husband have been closed to me. How then could I burst on him with this stupendous news? He was very late in coming for his meal today--nearly two o'clock. He was absent-minded and hardly touched any food. I had lost even the right to press him to take a little more. I had to avert my face to wipe away my tears.
I wanted so badly to say to him: "Do come into our room and rest awhile; you look so tired." I had just cleared my throat with a little cough, when a servant hurried in to say that the Police Inspector had brought Panchu up to the palace. My husband, with the shadow on his face deepened, left his meal unfinished and went out.
A little later the Bara Rani appeared. "Why did you not send me word when Brother Nikhil came in?" she complained. "As he was late I thought I might as well finish my bath in the meantime. However did he manage to get through his meal so soon?"
"Why, did you want him for anything?"
"What is this about both of you going off to Calcutta tomorrow? All I can say is, I am not going to be left here alone. I should get startled out of my life at every sound, with all these dacoits about. Is it quite settled about your going tomorrow?"
"Yes," said I, though I had only just now heard it; and though, moreover, I was not at all sure that before tomorrow our history might not take such a turn as to make it all one whether we went or stayed. After that, what our home, our life would be like, was utterly beyond my ken--it seemed so misty and phantom-like.
In a very few hours now my unseen fate would become visible. Was there no one who could keep on postponing the flight of these hours, from day to day, and so make them long enough for me to set things right, so far as lay in my power? The time during which the seed lies underground is long--so long indeed that one forgets that there is any danger of its sprouting. But once its shoot shows up above the surface, it grows and grows so fast, there is no time to cover it up, neither with skirt, nor body, nor even life itself.
I will try to think of it no more, but sit quiet--passive and callous--let the crash come when it may. By the day after tomorrow all will be over--publicity, laughter, bewailing, questions, explanations--everything.
But I cannot forget the face of Amulya--beautiful, radiant with devotion. He did not wait, despairing, for the blow of fate to fall, but rushed into the thick of danger. In my misery I do him reverence. He is my boy-god. Under the pretext of his playfulness he took from me the weight of my burden. He would save me by taking the punishment meant for me on his own head. But how am I to bear this terrible mercy of my God?
Oh, my child, my child, I do you reverence. Little brother mine, I do you reverence. Pure are you, beautiful are you, I do you reverence. May you come to my arms, in the next birth, as my own child--that is my prayer.
29 Any dainties to be offered ceremonially should be made by the lady of the house herself. [Trans.].