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CHAPTER III - THE TRUANT'S RETURN HOME

KANAKMAYEE and her companion silently pursued their way home. The latter was feeling extremely shy before men, and at her silence Kanak also had to remain silent. Kanak, however, felt the missed opportunity of wagging her tongue very keenly. The pathway was more lonely near their homes, and the younger woman began, "How the wretched wind hustled me!"

"Why?" replied Kanak laughingly, "has your brother-in-law never seen you before?"

"I am not thinking of him. But there was another man with him."

"He is Mathur Babu. Have you never seen him?"

"No, indeed! Is he Mathur Babu, the cousin of my sister's husband?"

"Yes, who else?"

"What a shame! Please don't talk about it to anybody."

"Oh no! I am going to tell people that you dropped your veil and showed your face when coming back from the river," said Kanak and began to simper. The younger woman said angrily, "Go to Jericho! How she goes on! I would never have come with you if I had known—"

Kanak laughed again.

"Leave your jokes alone.—O horror! Durga save me!" cried out the young woman as she cast her eyes towards her house and began to tremble. They were at that time quite close to it. Kanak saw Rajmohan standing at the door with glaring eyes, the very image of Death, and whispered to her companion, "There is trouble for you! Let me go in with you. I might be of some help."

Rajmohan's wife replied in the same low tone, "Oh no! I am quite used to it. It would probably be worse if you are there. You had better go home."

At this Kanak went her way. Rajmohan did not speak to his wife when she entered, the house. She went to the kitchen to put her pitcher down. He followed her silently there. When she had set it down, he said to her, "Wait a moment," and poured out all the water on the dust-heap. Rajmohan had an old aunt who used to do his cooking. She scolded Rajmohan for thus wasting the water, "Why are you throwing the water away? You don't keep a score of servants to draw water."

"Shut up, you old hag," cried out Rajmohan and flung away the empty pitcher. Then he turned round to his wife and said in a softer but scathing tone, "Well, queen, where have you been?" The woman firmly whispered back, "I had gone to fetch water." She was standing like a statue exactly on the spot where her husband had asked her to stop.

"To fetch water!" taunted Rajmohan, "but with whose permission did you go out?"

"With nobody's permission."

Rajmohan could restrain himself no longer. "With nobody's permission!" he shouted, "have I not forbidden you a thousand times!"

The woman replied in the same even tone, "You have."

"Then, wretched girl, why did you go?"

The woman proudly replied, "I am your wife." Her face reddened and her voice began to be choked. "I had gone because I thought there was nodiing wrong in it."

At this display of boldness, Rajmohan absolutely blazed up. "Have I not forbidden you a thousand times?" he shouted, and jumping on his wife who was standing stock-still, gripped her by the wrist, raising his other hand to strike her.

The helpless woman seemed to understand nothing. She did not move away one step from her assailant, but only looked at him with such pathetic eyes that his hand remained motionless as if spell-bound. After a moment's silence Rajmohan dropped his wife's hand, but immediately shouted out, "I'll kick you to death."

Even then the chidden woman did not reply. Only tears were streaming down her face. At the sight of her silent suffering the cruel man softened a little. He no longer tried to beat her, but continued his abuse. It is unnecessary to try the patience of my readers by reproducing all of his Billingsgate. The patient woman bore it silently. When, at last, Rajmohan's anger ebbed away, his aunt gathered some courage. She took her nephew's wife by the hand and led her into a room, all the while scolding her nephew. Even that was done circumspectly. But when she saw at last that Rajmohan had almost cooled down she burst out in her turn and paid the nephew back in his own coin. Rajmohan was then nursing his own grievances. He could not quite appreciate the language of his aunt. At any rate there was no novelty in it, for he had heard it many times before. So they both parted. The aunt began to console the wife, and Rajmohan went out pondering whom to fall upon and smash up.

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