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Chapter X: THE SPROUT.

On the course of a short time Nagendra's whole nature was changed. As at eventime, in the hot season, the clear sky becomes suddenly veiled in cloud, so Nagendra's mind became clouded. Surja Mukhi wept secretly.

She thought to herself, "I will take Kamal Mani's advice. Why should I doubt my husband's heart? His heart is firm as the hills. I am under a delusion. Perhaps he is suffering in health." Alas! Surja Mukhi was building a bridge of sand.

In the house there dwelt a sort of doctor. Surja Mukhi was the house-mistress. Sitting behind the <em>purdah</em> (a half-transparent screen) she held converse with everyone, the person addressed remaining in the verandah. Calling the doctor, Surja Mukhi said--

"The Babu is not well; why do you not give him medicine?"

"Is he ill? I did not know of it; I have heard nothing."

"Has not the Babu told you?"

"No; what is the matter?"

"What is the matter? Are you a doctor, and do you ask that? Do I know?"

The doctor was nonplussed, and saying, "I will go and inquire," he was about to leave; but Surja Mukhi, calling him back, said, "Do not ask the Babu about it; give him some medicine."

The doctor thought this a peculiar sort of treatment; but there was no lack of medicine in the house, and going to the dispensary, he composed a draught of soda, port-wine, and some simple drugs, and, filling a bottle, labelled it, "To be taken twice a day."

Surja Mukhi took the physic to her husband, and requested him to drink it. Nagendra, taking the bottle, read the inscription, and, hurling it away, struck a cat with it. The cat fled, her tail drenched with the physic.

Surja Mukhi said: "If you will not take the medicine, at least tell me what is your complaint."

Nagendra, annoyed, said, "What complaint have I?"

"Look at yourself," replied Surja Mukhi, "and see how thin you have become," and she held a mirror before him.

Nagendra, taking the mirror from her, threw it down and smashed it to atoms.

Surja Mukhi began to weep. With an angry look Nagendra went away. Meeting a servant in the outer room, the Babu struck him for no fault. Surja Mukhi felt as if <em>she</em> had received the blow. Formerly Nagendra had been of a very calm temper; now the least thing made him angry.

Nor was this all. One night, the hour for the meal being already past, Nagendra had not come in. Surja Mukhi sat expecting him. At length, when he appeared, she was astonished at his looks. His face and eyes were inflamed--he had been drinking, and as he had never been given to drinking before his wife was shocked. From that time it became a daily custom.

One day Surja Mukhi, casting herself at his feet, choking down the sobs in her throat, with much humility entreated, "For my sake give this up."

Nagendra asked angrily, "What is my fault?"

Surja Mukhi said: "If you do not know what is the fault, how can I? I only beg that for my sake you will give it up."

Nagendra replied: "Surja Mukhi, I am a drunkard! If devotion should be paid to a drunkard, pay it to me; otherwise it is not called for."

Surja Mukhi left the room to conceal her tears, since her weeping irritated her husband, and led him to strike the servants.

Soon after, the <em>Dewan</em> sent word to the mistress that the estate was going to ruin.

She asked, "Why?"

"Because the Babu will not see to things. The people on the estates do just as they please. Since the <em>Karta</em> is so careless, no one heeds what I say."

Surja Mukhi answered: "If the owner looks after the estate, it will be preserved; if not, let it go to ruin. I shall be thankful if I can only save my own property" (meaning her husband).

Formerly Nagendra had carefully looked after all his affairs.

One day some hundreds of his <em>ryots</em> came to the <em>kacheri</em>, and with joined palms stood at the door. "Give us justice," they said, "O your highness; we cannot survive the tyranny of the <em>naib</em> (a law officer) and the <em>gomashta</em>. We are being robbed of everything. If you do not save us, to whom shall we go?"

Nagendra gave orders to drive them away.

Formerly, when one of his <em>gomashtas</em> had beaten a <em>ryot</em> and taken a rupee from him, Nagendra had cut ten rupees from the <em>gomashta's</em> pay and given it to the <em>ryot</em>.

Hara Deb Ghosal wrote to Nagendra: "What has happened to you? I cannot imagine what you are doing. I receive no letters from you, or, if I do, they contain but two or three lines without any meaning. Have you taken offence with me? If so, why do you not tell me? Have you lost your lawsuit? Then why not say so? If you do not tell me anything else, at least give me news of your health."

Nagendra replied: "Do not be angry with me. I am going to destruction."

Hara Deb was very wise. On reading this letter he thought to himself: "What is this? Anxiety about money? A quarrel with some friend? Debendra Datta? Nothing of the kind. Is this love?"

Kamal Mani received another letter from Surja Mukhi. It concluded thus: "Come, Kamal Mani, sister; except you I have no friend. Come to me."

Kamal Mani was agitated; she could contain herself no longer. She felt that she must consult her husband.

Srish Chandra, sitting in the inner apartments, was looking over the office account-books. Beside him on the bed, Satish Chandra, a child of a year old, was rejoicing in the possession of an English newspaper. He had first tried to eat it; but, failing in that, had spread it out and was now sitting upon it. Kamal Mani, approaching her husband, brought the end of her <em>sari</em> round her neck, threw herself down, bending her forehead to the floor, and, folding her hands, said, "I pay my devotions to you, O great king." Just before this time, a play had been performed in the house, from whence she borrowed this inflated speech.

Srish said, laughing, "Have the cucumbers been stolen again?"

"Neither cucumbers nor melons; this time a most valuable thing has been stolen."

"Where is the robbery?" asked Srish.

"The robbery took place at Govindpur. My elder brother had a broken shell in a golden box. Some one has stolen it."

Srish, not understanding the metaphor, said "Your brother's golden casket is Surja Mukhi. What is the broken shell?"

"Surja Mukhi's wits," replied Kamal.

"People say if one has a mind to play he can do so, though the shells are broken" (referring to a game played with shells). "If Surja Mukhi's understanding is defective, yet with it she gained your brother's heart, and with all your wisdom, you could not bring him over to your side. Who has stolen the broken shell?"

"That I know not; but, from reading her letter, I perceive it is gone--else how could a woman write such a letter?"

"May I see the letter?" asked Srish.

Kamal Mani placed the letter in her husband's hand, saying: "Surja Mukhi forbade my telling you all this; but while I keep it from you I am quite uneasy. I can neither sleep nor eat, and I fear I may lose my senses."

"If you have been forbidden to tell me of the matter I cannot read this letter, nor do I wish to hear its contents. Tell me what has to be done."

"This is what must be done," replied Kamal. "Surja Mukhi's wits are scattered, and must be restored. There is no one that can do this except Satish Babu. His aunt has written requesting that he may be sent to Govindpur."

Satish Babu had in the meantime upset a vase of flowers, and was now aiming at the inkstand. Watching him, Srish Chandra said: "Yes; he he is well fitted to act as physician. I understand now. He is invited to his aunt's house; if he goes, his mother must go also. Surja Mukhi's wits must be lost, or she could not have sent such an invitation."

"Not Satish Babu only; we are all invited."

"Why am I invited?" asked Srish.

"Can I go alone?" replied Kamal. "Who will look after the luggage?"

"It is very unreasonable in Surja Mukhi if she wants her husband's brother-in-law only that he may look after the luggage. I can find some one else to perform that office for a couple of days."

Kamal Mani was angry; she frowned, mocked at Srish Chandra, and, snatching the paper on which he was writing out of his hand, tore it to pieces.

Srish Chandra, smiling, said, "It serves you right."

Kamal, affecting anger, said, "I will speak in that way if I wish!"

Srish, in the same tone, replied, "And I shall speak as I choose!"

Then a playful scuffle ensued; Kamal pretended to strike her husband, who in return pulled down her hair; whereupon she threw away his ink. Then they exchanged angry kisses. Satish Babu was delighted at this performance; he knew that kisses were his special property, so when he saw them scattered in this lavish manner he stood up, supporting himself by his mother's dress, to claim his royal share, crowing joyously. How sweetly that laugh fell on the ears of Kamal Mani! She took him in her lap, and showered kisses upon him. Srish Chandra followed her example. Then Satish Babu, having received his dues, got down and made for his father's brightly coloured pencil, which soon found its way into his mouth.

In the battle between the <em>Kurus</em> and <em>Pandus</em> there was a great struggle between Bhagadatta and Arjuna. In this fight, Bhagadatta being invincible, and Arjuna vulnerable, the latter called Krishna to his aid, who, receiving the charge of Bhagadatta on his breast, blunted the force of the weapons.[7] In like manner, Satish Chandra having received these attacks on his face, peace was restored. But their peace and war was like the dropping of clouds, fitful.

[Footnote 7: An illustration drawn from the <em>Mahabharat</em>.]

Then Srish asked, "Must you really go to Govindpur? What am I to do alone?"

"Do you think I can go alone?" answered his wife. "We must both go. Arrange matters in the morning when you go to business, and come home quickly. If you are long, Satish and I will sit crying for you."

"I cannot go," replied Srish. "This is the season for buying linseed. You must go without me."

"Come, Satish," was Kamal's reply; "we two will go and weep."

At the sound of his mother's voice Satish ceased to gnaw the pencil, and raised another shout of joyous laughter. So Kamal's cry did not come off this time; in place of it the kissing performance was gone through as before.

At its close Kamal said, "Now what are your orders?"

Srish repeated that she must go without him, as he could not leave; whereupon she sat down sulking. Srish went behind her and began to mark her forehead with the ink from his pen.

Then with a laugh she embraced him, saying, "Oh, dearer than life, how I love you!"

He was obliged to return the embrace, when the ink transferred itself from her face to his.

The quarrel thus ended, Kamal said, "If you really will not go, then make arrangements for me."

"When will you come back?"

"Need you ask?" said Kamal; "if you don't go, can I stay there long?"

Srish Chandra sent Kamal Mani to Govindpur, but it is certain that Srish Chandra's employers did not do much in linseed at that time. The other clerks have privately informed us that this was the fault of Srish Chandra, who did not give his mind to it, but sat at home in meditation.

Srish hearing himself thus accused, remarked, "It may be so, my wife was absent at that time."

The hearers shook their heads, saying, "He is under petticoat government!" which so delighted Srish Chandra that he called to his servant, "Prepare dinner; these gentlemen will dine with me to-day."