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CHAPTER IX — WE MEET TO PART

"CAN I ever forget what you have done for me?" said Madhav to Matangini, after he had rejoined his wife and his sister-in-law. The former, as soon as her heart was relieved of its load of apprehensions, lightly tripped out of the room leaving her sister alone with him. "Can I ever forget what you have done?" said Madhav looking more gratitude than he expressed in words.

"If you cannot, let it be for Hem's sake that you remember it. Should she ever fall under your displeasure, which Heavens forbid! may the memory of her sister's sufferings obtain her pardon! As for myself, I could not do otherwise than I have done it—I will take leave of you."

"Why, sister-in-law?" returned Madhav, "your sister has not seen you long—she will be overjoyed to be with you for a few hours more. When it is day, my pálki will convey you to your home, if you cannot longer remain. Why depart to-night and on foot?"

"Fate rules it otherwise. That happiness I must forego," returned she sadly; "I must go."

"Why sister-in-law, why so?" asked Madhav again, "cannot your sister's husband know the reason?"

"He!" said she, as much with shame as with sorrow. "You know him well. He will be angry if I remain."

"Angry if you remain with your sister?" again inquired Madhav, "did you promise him to return so soon? Does he know where you are?"

"No," said she, "I did not promise him anything, nor does he know where I am."

"Strange," said Madhav "I don't understand how then you could come. Was he at home when you left?"

"Ask not such questions," replied she.

A dark suspicion crossed Madhav's mind at this reply, but he soon abandoned it as groundless. He sat musing in deep silence for moments during which Matangini kept fixed on him her large, blue, sorrowful eyes.

"Why do I linger?" she said at length, "I go; Karuna will go with me. Farewell," added she sadly, her voice growing thick, "Fare you well! Be you happy, Madhav." Madhav looked up to her face—it was wet. Matangini was weeping! "and be my Hem happy with you."

"You weep!" said Madhav, "you are unhappy."

Matangini replied not, but sobbed. Then, as if under the influence of a maddening agony of soul, she grasped his hands in her own and bending over them her lily face so that Madhav trembled under the thrilling touch of the delicate curls that fringed her spotless brow, she bathed them in a flood of warm and gushing tears.

"Ah, hate me not, despise me not," cried she with an intensity of feeling which shook her delicate frame. "Spurn me not for this last weakness; this, Madhav, this, may be our last meeting; it must be so, and too, too deeply have I loved you—too deeply do I love you still, to part with you for ever without a struggle."

Did Madhav chide her? Ah, no! He covered his eyes with his palm and his palm became wet with tears. There was a deep silence for some moments, but their hearts beat loud. Matangini, recovering her presence of mind as speedily as she had lost it, first broke the heart-rending silence.

The distant and reserved demeanour, the air of dejection and broken-heartedness which had marked her from the first had disappeared; the impetuosity and fervour of the first burst of a deep and burning love had subsided; and Matangini now stood calm and serene, her usually melancholy features beaming with the light of an unutterable feeling. A sweet and sober pensiveness still mantled her tender features, but it was not the pensiveness of deep-felt enjoyment, for the wild current of passion had hurried her to that region where naught but the present was visible, and in which all knowledge of right and wrong is whirled and merged in the vortex of intense present felicity. Was not Matangini now in Madhav's presence? And had not her long pent-up tears fallen on his hands? Had he not wept with her? That was all Matangini remembered, and for a moment the memory of duty, virtue, principle ceased to fling its sombre shadow on the brightness of the impure felicity in which her heart [revelled]. There was a fire in that voluptuous eye,—there was a flow on that moonbeam brow, and as she stood leaning with her well-rounded arm on the damask-covered back of the sofa, her beautiful head resting on the palm of her hand over which, as over the heaving bosom, strayed the luxuriant tresses of raven hue;—as thus she stood, Madhav might well have felt sure earth had not to show a more dazzling vision of female loveliness.

"I had thought," she cried at length in a voice which trembled from emotion, "I had thought that never again would human ears, not even your own, hear from my lips the language I breathed to-night, ah! I know not what I felt."

"Matangini," said Madhav, speaking for the first time since the storm of passion had burst, "I too had thought we could part without a struggle, but you have—you see what you have done. But," continued he, his eyes again suffused with tears, "you have made many sacrifices, make one last sacrifice. Root out the feeling from a heart on which no impurity should leave a spot. Forget."

"Blame me not," she said, and then interrupting herself, she bent down her head to hide the tear that gushed again with the current of feeling. "Yes, reproach me, Madhav," she continued, "censure me, teach me, for I have been sinful; sinful in the eyes of my God, and I must say it, Madhav, of my God on earth, of yourself. But you cannot hate me more than I hate myself. Heaven alone knows what I have felt—felt for the long long years that have past, could I rip open this heart you could then and then only know how it beats."

Madhav wept again. "Matangini dear, beloved Matangini,"—he began, but his voice thickened, and he could not proceed.

"Oh say again, again say those words, words that my heart has yearned to hear—say Madhav, do you then love me still? Oh! say but once again and to-night I shall meet death with happiness."

"Listen to me, Matangini," replied Madhav, scarcely cool himself, "listen and spare both of us this sore affliction. At your father's house the flame was kindled which seems fated to consume us both and which then we were too young to quench by desperate efforts, but if even then we never flinched from the path of duty, shall we not, now that years of affliction have schooled our hearts, eradicate from them the evil which corrodes and blisters them? Oh! Matangini, let us forget each other. Let us separate." And Madhav heaved a sigh.

Matangini rose and stood erect in the splendour of new flushed beauty. "Yes," said she with desperate effort, "if the human mind can be taught to forget, I will forget you. We part now and for ever," and there was desperate calmness in her voice.

Pulling her veil over her face to hide the stream that again welled forth from her eyes in spite of her efforts, Matangini hurriedly left the room.

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