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It is one of the worst days of the rainy season; not once had the sun appeared, only a continuous downpour of rain. The well metalled road to Benares was a mass of slush. But one traveller was to be seen, his dress was that of a <em>Brahmachari</em> (an ascetic): yellow garments, a bead chaplet on his neck, the mark on the forehead, the bald crown surrounded by only a few white hairs, a palm leaf umbrella in one hand, in the other a brass drinking-vessel. Thus the <em>Brahmachari</em> travelled in the soaking rain through the dark day, followed by a night as black as though the earth were full of ink. He could not distinguish between road and no road; nevertheless he continued his way, for he had renounced the world, he was a <em>Brahmachari</em>. To those who have given up worldly pleasures, light and darkness, a good and a bad road, are all one. It was now far on in the night; now and then it lightened; the darkness itself was preferable, was less frightful than those flashes of light.


Plodding along in the darkness the <em>Brahmachari</em> heard suddenly in the pathway some such sound, followed by a long sigh. The sound was muffled, nevertheless it seemed to come from a human throat, from some one in pain. The <em>Brahmachari</em> stood waiting, the lightning flashed brightly; he saw something lying at the side of the road--was it a human being? Still he waited; the next flash convinced him that his conjecture was correct. He called out, "Who are you lying by the roadside?" No one made reply. Again he asked. This time an indistinct sound of distress caught his ear. Then the <em>Brahmachari</em> laid his umbrella and drinking-vessel on the ground, and extending his hands began to feel about. Ere long he touched a soft body; then as his hand came in contact with a knot of hair he exclaimed, "Oh, <em>Durga</em>, it is a woman!"

Leaving umbrella and drinking-vessel, he raised the dying or senseless woman in his arms, and, leaving the road, crossed the plain towards a village; he was familiar with the neighbourhood, and could make his way through the darkness. His frame was not powerful, yet he carried this dying creature like a child through this difficult path. Those who are strong in goodwill to others are not sensible of bodily weakness.

Bearing the unconscious woman in his arms, the <em>Brahmachari</em> stopped at the door of a leaf-thatched hut at the entrance of the village, and called to one within, "Haro, child, are you at home?"

A woman replied, "Do I hear the <em>Thakur's</em> voice? When did the <em>Thakur</em> come?"

"But now. Open the door quickly; I am in a great difficulty."

Haro Mani opened the door. The <em>Brahmachari</em>, bidding her light a lamp, laid his burden on the floor of the hut. Haro lit the lamp, and bringing it near the dying woman, they both examined her carefully. They saw that she was not old, but in the condition of her body it was difficult to guess her age. She was extremely emaciated, and seemed struck with mortal illness. At one time she certainly must have had beauty, but she had none now. Her wet garments were greatly soiled, and torn in a hundred places; her wet, unbound hair was much tangled; her closed eyes deeply sunk. She breathed, but was not conscious; she seemed near death.

Haro Mani asked: "Who is this? where did you find her?"

The <em>Brahmachari</em> explained, and added, "I see she is near death, yet if we could but renew the warmth of her body she might live; do as I tell you and let us see."

Then Haro Mani, following the <em>Brahmachari's</em> directions, changed the woman's wet clothes for dry garments, and dried her wet hair. Then lighting a fire, they endeavoured to warm her.

The <em>Brahmachari</em> said: "Probably she has been long without food; if there is milk in the house, give her a little at a time."

Haro Mani possessed a cow, and had milk at hand; warming some, she administered it slowly. After a while the woman opened her eyes; when Haro Mani said, "Where have you come from, mother?"

Reviving, the woman asked, "Where am I?"

The <em>Brahmachari</em> answered, "Finding you dying by the roadside, I brought you hither. Where are you going?"

"Very far."

Haro Mani said: "You still wear your bracelet; is your husband living?"

The sick woman's brow darkened. Haro Mani was perplexed.

The <em>Brahmachari</em> asked "What shall we call you? what is your name?"

The desolate creature, moving a little restlessly, replied, "My name is Surja Mukhi."