Gouri was the beautiful, delicately nurtured child of an old and wealthy family. Her husband, Paresh, had recently by his own efforts improved his straitened circumstances. So long as he was poor, Gouri’s parents had kept their daughter at home, unwilling to surrender her to privation; so she was no longer young when at last she went to her husband’s house. And Paresh never felt quite that she belonged to him. He was an advocate in a small western town, and had no close kinsman with him. All his thought was about his wife, so much so that sometimes he would come home before the rising of the Court. At first Gouri was at a loss to understand why he came back suddenly. Sometimes, too, he would dismiss one of the servants without reason; none of them ever suited him long. Especially if Gouri desired to keep any particular servant because he was useful, that man was sure to be got rid of forthwith. The high-spirited Gouri greatly resented this, but her resentment only made her husband’s behaviour still stranger.
At last when Paresh, unable to contain himself any longer, began in secret to cross-question the maid about her, the whole thing reached his wife’s ears. She was a woman of few words; but her pride raged within like a wounded lioness at these insults, and this mad suspicion swept like a destroyer’s sword between them. Paresh, as soon as he saw that his wife understood his motive, felt no more delicacy about taxing Gouri to her face; and the more his wife treated it with silent contempt, the more did the fire of his jealousy consume him.
Deprived of wedded happiness, the childless Gouri betook herself to the consolations of religion. She sent for Paramananda Swami, the young preacher of the Prayer-House hard by, and, formally acknowledging him as her spiritual preceptor, asked him to expound the Gita to her. All the wasted love and affection of her woman’s heart was poured out in reverence at the feet of her Guru.
No one had any doubts about the purity of Paramananda’s character. All worshipped him. And because Paresh did not dare to hint at any suspicion against him, his jealousy ate its way into his heart like a hidden cancer.
One day some trifling circumstance made the poison overflow. Paresh reviled Paramananda to his wife as a hypocrite, and said: ‘Can you swear that you are not in love with this crane that plays the ascetic?’
Gouri sprang up like a snake that has been trodden on, and, maddened by his suspicion, said with bitter irony: ‘And what if I am?’ At this Paresh forthwith went off to the Court-house, and locked the door on her.
In a white heat of passion at this last outrage, Gouri got the door open somehow, and left the house.
Paramananda was poring over the scriptures in his lonely room in the silence of noon. All at once, like a flash of lightning out of a cloudless sky, Gouri broke in upon his reading.
‘You here?’ questioned her Guru in surprise.
‘Rescue me, O my lord Guru,’ said she, ‘from the insults of my home life, and allow me to dedicate myself to the service of your feet.’
With a stern rebuke, Paramananda sent Gouri back home. But I wonder whether he ever again took up the snapped thread of his reading.
Paresh, finding the door open, on his return home, asked: ‘Who has been here?’
‘No one!’ his wife replied. ‘I have been to the house of my Guru.’
‘Why?’ asked Paresh, pale and red by turns.
‘Because I wanted to.’
From that day Paresh had a guard kept over the house, and behaved so absurdly that the tale of his jealousy was told all over the town.
The news of the shameful insults that were daily heaped on his disciple disturbed the religious meditations of Paramananda. He felt he ought to leave the place at once; at the same time he could not make up his mind to forsake the tortured woman. Who can say how the poor ascetic got through those terrible days and nights?
At last one day the imprisoned Gouri got a letter. ‘My child,’ it ran, ‘it is true that many holy women have left the world to devote themselves to God. Should it happen that the trials of this world are driving your thoughts away from God, I will with God’s help rescue his handmaid for the holy service of his feet. If you desire, you may meet me by the tank in your garden at two o’clock to-morrow afternoon.’
Gouri hid the letter in the loops of her hair. At noon next day when she was undoing her hair before her bath she found that the letter was not there. Could it have fallen on to the bed and got into her husband’s hands, she wondered. At first, she felt a kind of fierce pleasure in thinking that it would enrage him; and then she could not bear to think that this letter, worn as a halo of deliverance on her head, might be defiled by the touch of insolent hands.
With swift steps she hurried to her husband’s room. He lay groaning on the floor, with eyes rolled back and foaming mouth. She detached the letter from his clenched fist, and sent quickly for a doctor.
The doctor said it was a case of apoplexy. The patient had died before his arrival.
That very day, as it happened, Paresh had an important appointment away from home. Paramananda had found this out, and accordingly had made his appointment with Gouri. To such a depth had he fallen!
When the widowed Gouri caught sight from the window of her Guru stealing like a thief to the side of the pool, she lowered her eyes as at a lightning flash. And in that flash she saw clearly what a fall his had been.
The Guru called: ‘Gouri.’
‘I am coming,’ she replied.
. . . . . .
When Paresh’s friends heard of his death, and came to assist in the last rites, they found the dead body of Gouri lying beside that of her husband. She had poisoned herself. All were lost in admiration of the wifely loyalty she had shown in her sati, a loyalty rare indeed in these degenerate days.