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CHAPTER XX - SOME WOMEN ARE THE EQUALS OF SOME MEN

TARA and Madhav bore away the seemingly lifeless Matangini to an apartment which was secure from interruption. The exertions of Tara, materially aided by the wholesome fresh air to which Matangini had been for so many days a stranger, soon recalled the blood to her face, and long before the first streaks of day had brightened the eastern sky, Matangini was again a living being. Refreshments were provided for her, but she ate little. The little she did eat considerably revived her, and as Tara sat on the window eyeing the grey light in the east, Matangini softly and slowly unfolded to her the course of the painful events which had nearly consigned her to a living grave.

Briefly told, that dark story is this: When Mathur Ghose sent her home in Suki's mother's company, Matangini had no suspicion of the snare which had been laid for her by that wily monster. Suki's mother, who had been well-instructed in her part, asked her on the way if she had no apprehension in returning to her husband.

"To tell you the truth, Sukir-má," replied Matangini, "I would not go, if earth held a place where I could remain."

"Would you?" asked the wretch, "I think I can serve you. I would conceal you in a place where nobody could find you out."

"No," said Matangini thoughtfully, "I must not conceal myself. Evil tongues will be busy."

"Then why not come to your sister's house?"

Matangini heaved a deep sigh. "No! that is not to be thought of."

The artful woman appeared to sympathize sincerely with her helpless situation, and at length suggested embarking for her father's house.

"How am I to find the means?" said Matangini sorrowfully.

"Oh! as for that, I dare say my elder mistress will find you a boat if she knew you wished it; and I can accompany and leave you there."

Matangini wept, anticipating this act of kindness on Tara's part.

"Shall I go and tell her?"

"Yes," said Matangini, joyfully.

"You then wait where I leave you till I come back. There no one will observe you. Come."

Matangini went where the woman-fiend led. She led her to the little room above-stairs in the godown-mahal. The sombre and deserted appearance of the rooms shot a chill through her heart as she passed the approaches. She was surprised to find the deserted dark little room splendidly furnished. She turned to Suki's mother to explain the mystery. Lo! Sukl's mother had vanished, bolting the door after her!

Matangini's intelligent mind now comprehended everything. Her resolution was formed at once with her usual promptitude.

In the evening, Mathur Ghose came and laid himself at her feet. The indignantly contemptuous repulse he met with, wounded and mortified him. He determined to gratify at once both revenge and lust.

"You shall be mine yet, life," said Mathur, as with a demoniacal look he was departing for that evening.

"Never!" said Matangini, concentrating the energy of twenty men in her look, "Never yours. Look here;" and she placed herself immediately in front of him "look; I am a full-grown woman, and at least your equal in brute force. Will you call in allies?" Mathur Ghose stood bewildered at this wonderful challenge.

"Hunger shall be my ally. I lift not a finger against a woman," said Mathur, recovering himself.

"Hunger shall be my ally," said Matangini, in return.

Mathur had resolved to starve her to compel her compliance. Matangini had resolved to starve herself to be rid from his power.

Both kept their word. Mathur visited her daily, to watch the effect. Matangini was literally starving when Madhav rescued her.

Madhav departed before it was quite daylight. Matangini was too feeble to be immediately removed, and it was arranged between Madhav and Tara that Tara should keep her concealed till the ensuing night, when Karuna would come to fetch her.

After seeing Madhav safe out of the house, Tara returned to Matangini, and observing playfully that it was now her turn to make her a captive, locked the door of the chamber to deceive appearances. She then returned to her husband's apartment, replaced the bunch of keys whence she had purloined them, and went to bed as if not a mouse had stirred during the night. Did she sleep? No! She had now learnt her husband's secret, and a terrible acquisition of knowledge it had proved to her noble heart. Perhaps of all the visitors in the scenes of that eventful night, none had suffered so deeply as the affectionate and confiding wife, appalled by the unexpected disclosures of the dark deeds of her husband.

Matangini spent the day in her safe but solitary chamber. Late in the evening Karuna came, as had been arranged, and at length, after so much suffering and wretchedness, Matangini had the pleasure of clasping Hemangini to her bosom.

"And you will never leave me again, sister, will you?" said Hem, after her joy at the meeting had subsided a little.

Matangini sighed. There were tears in her eyes.

"Why don't you answer?" asked Hemangini, a little impatiently.

"Alas! I fear we must part!"

"And for whom will you leave me?" said Hem, disappointed.

"I go to My Father," said Matangini.

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