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CHAPTER XVII - THE VIGILANCE OF LOVE

AT the hour when this strange turn of fortune overtook the hero of our tale, for such we believe the reader thinks Madhav, Mathur Ghose was resting, or, to be more accurate, endeavouring to rest in Tara's chamber. Tara was seated on the couch close by his reclining form, with a little delicate straw punkha in her hand, with which she patiently and affectionately endeavoured to lull to sleep the disturbed spirit of her husband. Her efforts however did not seem successful, for though Mathur was silent and his eyes closed, an occasional sigh which now and then escaped him, betrayed an anxiety of mind proceeding from some cause unknown to Tara. She at length broke silence and spoke.

"You do not sleep," said she.

"No I cannot; this you see is not my hour to sleep."

"Then why come to sleep at all? I fear to speak, but will you forgive me if I am bold?"

"What have you to say?"

"You are unhappy; may one who sincerely loves you learn the cause?"

Mathur gave a start. Then checking himself he answered with an assumed lightness of air which was too transparent to deceive the eyes of affection, "Why, who told you that? What have I to grieve for?"

"Do not try to deceive me, love," returned Tara in a tone of earnest but affectionate remonstrance. "I know you care little for me or my love, but to a woman, her husband is—I cannot say what he is not. Deceive the world, but you cannot deceive me."

"You are surely mad to think me wretched," said Mathur, in a tone that most significantly contradicted his words, "What put that fancy in you?"

"Yourself" replied she. "Listen: you have many things to think of; your taluqs, your lawsuits, your rents, your kacharis, your houses, gardens, servants, family, and of much more: I have nothing to care for, but my husband and my daughter. Do you wonder then that for the last three days I have noted before others, that your step had lost its wonted pride? That your eyes wandered and had a strange look; that you spoke less often, and that when you smiled, your smile came not from your heart; nay, can you suppose that a mother's eye would forget to note that her child met not from its father his former warm embrace? Yes, often during these three days has Bindu held your finger, and played round your knee, and you have not spoken to her; and even my sister," here an arch smile, which passed off as soon as it came, momentarily interrupted the earnestness of Tara's manner, "and even my sister has pouted and stormed, and you have not listened with your wonted courtesy: and that sigh! Nay, can you longer deny that something troubles you?"

Mathur did not reply.

"Do you not think me worthy of sharing your griefs?" continued Tara, seeing that her husband did not reply. "I know you do not love me." Tara hesitated. Mathur still continued silent. He gazed steadfastly on the angel purity of his affectionate wife's countenance; his bosom slowly heaved, and a sigh escaped him.

"You are unhappy; conceal it not, deceive me not," sobbed rather than uttered Tara, with an intensity of agony in the stifled tones of her voice beyond the power of language, "Deceive not, conceal not, tell me all. If my life will purchase your happiness, you can yet be happy."

Mathur still continued mute.

He no longer jested, prevaricated, or denied, but maintained a sombre and determined [silence, and] the look of cold and hypocritical levity with [which he] was presently attempting to evade the questions [of] his wife, had given place to a serious earnest gaze which seemed to seek and yet repel sympathy. Tears rolled down the cheek of Tara as she perceived, with a woman's sensitiveness and a woman's depth of feeling, this unusual change in the expression of her husband's face.

"Cursed be the hour of my birth!" burst from the lips of the mortified wife. "Not even this! I would lay down my life to make you happy, but cursed be the hour when I was born! I cannot even know what it is that makes you unhappy."

Mathur was touched. "It is useless now to conceal from you that I am unhappy," he confessed at last, "but do not grieve that I confide not my troubles to you. Human ears will not hear them."

As Tara heard these words, a fleeting expression of intense pain shot across her pallid but noble features, but the next moment she stood calm and apparently without emotion.

"Give me one poor request then," said she now calmly, "will you promise?" A wild and hollow shriek like that of a screech-owl interrupted her words. Her husband started to his feet at the sound.

"Why do you start?" enquired his wife. "It is a screech-owl only, though certainly the sound was fearful to hear."

The sound came borne once again in still more fearful notes upon the wind. Before Tara could speak, Mathur bounded out of the room.

Tara was surprised. She was certain the shriek was from a screech-owl, or if not, of nothing more fearful, and to her mind, there was nothing in it to apprehend except as a sound of ill omen, which however people daily hear and tolerate. She had also some perception that the sound they had heard, rather bore a resemblance to that of the night-bird that presented its unmistakable notes in their reality. Her curiosity was awakened, and she came out of her apartment. Finding that her husband had gone downstairs, she ascended the staircase which led to the terrace overhead in order to see what had so much startled him. Looking earnestly and long in the direction whence the sound had proceeded, she could discern nothing. Thinking therefore that the sound could have been nothing more than what it had appeared to be, and that the bird itself perhaps sat concealed in some leafy branch or invisible cornice, and also that her husband had left her in that abrupt manner only perhaps to avoid yielding to the emotion which she had seen rising palpably in his bosom, she thought the matter unworthy of further attention, and was in the act of returning, when the unusual sight of a human figure, evidently that of a man too, and not of a female inmate of the house, issuing out of the postern gate, caught her eyes. A second glance convinced Tara that it was her husband, making swiftly towards the jungles. She was staggered. A cold tremor seized her limbs, and she felt overpowered and ready to faint. A thousand vague fears and harrowing suspicions swept over her mind. She loved her unworthy husband too well to think him the agent in some dark or unhallowed purpose, but gloomy conjectures of approaching dangers and of some fearful risk which her husband ran, rushed through her mind. She stood rivetted to the spot. Bending over the low parapet, which surrounded the edges of the terrace, she gazed and gazed and followed his motions with distracted eyes. Suddenly she lost all view of him. She still gazed and turned her eyes on all sides, but could no longer perceive his vigorous form gliding amid the darkness. Her fears increased tenfold. Long, long did she gaze in this attitude, silent and unmoved like a marble-formed ornament of the huge edifice. She was on the point of giving up the [search in] despair when a last and sweeping glance met the [object] of her solicitude as he lightly leaped into the small iron-door which opened outside from that tenantless part of the house already known to the reader as the godown-mahal.

Tara's heart felt greatly relieved when she saw her husband within the shelter of his own roof. Still her apprehensions were not entirely quieted. This nocturnal and clandestine walk outside and a visit at such an hour to a part of the house rarely visited by any, coupled with his previous anxiety and loss of spirits and the ominous sound of the night-bird which still rung in Tara’s ears, spoke some approaching misfortune. Tara did not leave her watch but continued anxiously waiting for the reappearance of her husband. But again she watched in vain. More than half an hour elapsed, still her husband did not repass through the secret gate. She felt tired with standing and as she was more sure of her husband's personal safety, she at last for the present descended and returned to her apartment.

A sudden light had flashed upon her. Would not this furnish a clue to her husband's secret? Her resolution was now formed.

In the course of a few moments, her husband re-entered the room. His manner was restless and uneasy, but there was exultation in his eyes. Tara spoke not a word to him of what she had seen.

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