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A NIGHT OF MYSTERIES.
MAI CHANDRA, Sm‚yŠtee's new friend, redoubled her tenderness and sisterly love for the poor, forlorn girl when she found that she was asleep. As midnight approached, she gently placed her head on a cushion, and then went home to her supper, deeply in love with the beautiful stranger.
The Duke Chow P'haya M‚ndtree's pavilion was thronged, as usual, with courtiers and nobles. All manner of attractions and diversions were there. The duke himself, partly intoxicated, sat amidst them, boasting of the rare purchase he had made that day: "She is so beautiful," said he to one of his boon companions, "that she inspires me as this glass of English brandy does." And he filled and refilled the jewelled goblet out of which he drank.
This man, in his whole person, was a type of many who may be seen any day in Siam, ó a human being sunk in the lowest depths of sensualism and savage barbarity. From his hair, which was a dull gray, his wrinkled brow, his livid lips and watery eyes, there breathed forth an atmosphere which would have repelled even the mother who bore him.
At one time it was his intention to have Sm‚yŠtee brought into the pavilion, that his friends might judge of her beauty; but, with his faculties already greatly enfeebled by the immoderate use of English brandy, he forgot his purpose.
At length the distant sounds of trumpets, conch-shells, and the ringing of multitudinous pagoda-bells proclaimed the last hour of day, ó i. e. midnight. The nobles, courtiers, and friends retired and some elderly female attendants appeared; to them the duke gave orders to have the new slave-girl conducted to the upper story of his summer tower.
The day had been hot and sultry; no clouds were to be seen, except low on the eastern horizon, where they stretched in lengthened ridges of gold and purple, like the border between earth and sky.
As the women departed on their mission, a dark, heavy mass of clouds rose in the black outline of the distant hills. A sudden gust of wind, in fits and starts and snatches, came sweeping up the river, and tossed its waters wildly against the banks; then flashed incessant lightnings, and the winds rang and roared as though they heralded with joy the coming thunder-storm. Suddenly the moon was blurred with clouds, and the tempest raged outright. In the midst of the storm the poor terrified girl was roused from her slumbers, led to the lofty chamber, and left alone, while the attendants retired to one of the little alcoves to be in waiting.
Rama ó who had that day made a circuit of the walls, and had promenaded every nook and corner in the vain hope of finding some means of getting, unseen, into the duke's palace, had hired a boat, and was sailing wildly up and down the river in front of it, laying desperate plans of finding his daughter and carrying her off at any risk and peril ó was at the same moment, by one mighty sweep of the water, dashed on the banks that bounded on one side the gardens and temples of the palace. He staggered to his feet, and raised his head to the dreadful sky. A sudden flash of lightning revealed the gilded top of the lofty summer tower and the tapering summits of the Buddhist and Hindoo temples.
With a dreadful purpose burning in his heart, he walked straight on to the latter building, which was dimly lighted, and stood open as if inviting him to take shelter under its sacred roof. He entered. Happy memories, every sweet emotion he had known, came crowding upon him, as he once more recognized, in the partial darkness, the faint outlines of the images of his long-forgotten gods, D‚vee and Indra and Dhupiy‚.
There is compensation in all things. He had lost his child, and found his gods. Joy and sorrow are bound up in every event of life, ó even as opposite poles are inseparable in the magnet. The pity is that the night of trouble is at times so dark that the interwoven gold with which Providence relieves the woof of calamity remains undiscovered.
Thus it was with Rama; there was joy and sorrow in his heart as he bowed before the gods of his fathers, but there was hatred and revenge there too, mingled with dark and bloody thoughts.
"Life is now a useless gift, an insupportable burden," groaned Rama.
In how many lives there lurks a hidden romance or a hidden terror. No one was near to mark the secret workings of this terrible man's nature. He recalled his home on the hills of Orissa, the yearly sacrifice that his fathers had been wont to offer up on D‚vee's altar, and he suddenly resolved that he would himself be the sacrifice to his long-forgotten and neglected gods.
Only one person could have saved him from his rash purpose, and she was sitting up there alone, midway between earth and heaven. He slowly drew out from his cumberbund a glittering knife, and his expression became exultant as he felt its sharp edge.
Not all the gods, not all the love-lit eyes, not all the hills of Orissa, can move him from his purpose now. He laid the knife upon the altar, and cried aloud to the insatiable Earth Goddess.
"O D‚vee, thou hast been unworshipped for years; multitudes crowd thy sister temples, but thine they pass unnoticed by. Behold my child now in the grasp of the spoiler. Defend, preserve her, that her honor may shine bright among men, and I will pour out to thee the life of my heart. Drink of my blood, and be revenged on the defiler of my house and my race."
Then, snatching up the knife, he waved it thrice over his head, and thrust it into his side. Leaning forward, he tried to picture his child's face, but could not for the light that love threw around her, and the mist that death wrapped round him; he drew nearer to his childhood's God, and, drawing out the knife, fell down at its feet, turning up his face to it, reverently, lovingly; and there was joy ó joy of conscious strength, of victory ó mingling with the life-blood of the heart that was fast flowing away forever.
It is two o'clock. The night is changed. The storms and clouds and darkness are all dispersed. The blue sky has thrown aside her veils, and the moon rides serenely in limitless range, undimmed by a single fleck of cloud. The very air breathes sweetness and perfume and peace.
But of all the mysteries of the night there is one yet to be solved.
Sm‚yŠtee still sits on one of the sills of the arches in the topmost chamber of the summer tower, nearest to where the women have retired out of sight. She hears them whispering. She hears, too, some one slowly mounting the stairs; the footsteps are heavy, and sound like those of an aged man. She looks around to see if there is any way by which she may escape. The tower has but a single spiral stairway. She remains still and motionless. In a few minutes the sound of the footsteps comes nearer; through the archway opposite, the tottering figure of a dark, heavy man enters and approaches her. In the dim light she looks up at him with a terror-stricken, pleading face, daring neither to breathe nor speak; she shrinks away to the other side, where the women are in waiting. The duke, rather admiring her coyness, laughs a drunken laugh, and attempts to follow her. In crossing the threshold he stumbles. In trying to recover his footing he is thrown back. His head strikes violently against a massive gold spittoon.
A wild cry, and Sm‚yŠtee rushes from her hiding-place, springs across the prostrate figure, down the flights of stairs, and through the labyrinths of flowering shrubs and plants, to hide herself beside a low tank of water.
The attendants and slaves who were lying around heard wild cries for help proceeding from the summer tower, and hurried to the spot with lamps and lanterns. All the piazzas, streets, gardens, and avenues are alive with anxious faces and inquiring looks.
The duchess's fears are aroused. She too summons her maidens with their lanterns, and sets out for the tower.
Suddenly she stops.
A few steps from her she sees an object dressed in bright colors, crouching in a pool of rain-water by the tank. She stooped to scrutinize the figure, and found it was that of a young and strange girl. She bent over her again, and said, gently, "Why art thou hiding here, my child?"
"I am afraid of him, dear lady," replied the girl, pointing to the lofty chamber.
"Afraid! art thou, indeed?" said she, a little coldly, remembering the news of the day; "didst thou not sell thyself to the duke in spite of thy fathers wishes?"
"O yes, I did, dear lady," replied Sm‚yŠtee; "but ó" and she began to cry bitterly, and could not say another word for her tears and sobs.
The true woman triumphed in the "wife," for she put out her arms, and raised the forlorn stranger to her bosom, and comforted her with such words as women who have great and loving hearts only can. Then, confiding her to the tender care of her own women, she went on her way to find out the meaning of those dreadful cries.
Nai Dhamaphat, who had been watching in sadness and despair the marvellous expression of Nature's tears and smiles, was the first to mount the spiral staircase, to find his father in the last agonies of death. He takes him up gently, with the assistance of the women, and places him on his luxurious couch.
The duke is dead.
Everything is forgotten. He sees the pale face of the duchess, his mother, that silent woman, and, catching a glimpse of the bitter sorrow of that patient soul, who was so worthy of his father's love in her right of youth and beauty, ó the foremost to love him, the last and only woman of all those whom he had wronged to mourn him, ó he bows his head and weeps. The son and the mother are drawn closer than ever. They two had suffered in silence apart. Now they sorrowed together.