A woman, they say, always remembers her wedding night. Well, maybe they do; but for me there are other nights I prefer to remember, sweeter, fuller, when I went to my husband matured in mind as well as in body, not as a pained and awkward child as I did on that first night.
When the sun shines on you and the fields are green and beautiful to the eye, and your husband sees beauty in you which no one has seen before, and you have a good store of grain laid away for hard times, a roof over you and a sweet stirring in your body, what more can a woman ask for?
I think it cost him a good deal to say what he did, and he never varied his attitude once […] I am sure it could not have been easy for him to see his wife more learned than he himself was, for Nathan could not even write his name; yet not once did he assert his rights and forbid me my pleasure, as lesser men might have done.
“Never, never,” I cried. “They may live on our midst but I can never accept them, for they lay their hands upon us and we are all turned from tilling to barter, and hoard our silver since we cannot spend it, and see our children go without the food that their children gorge […].”
So they were reconciled and threw the past away with both hands that they might be the readier to grasp the present, while I stood by in pain, envying such easy reconciliation and clutching in my own two hands the memory of the past, and accounting it a treasure.
She nodded slightly, making no comment, yet I knew how bruised she must be by the imminent parting. My spirit ached with pity for her, I longed to be able to comfort her, to convince her that in a few months’ time her new home would be the most significant part of her life, the rest only a preparation […] but before this joy must come the stress of parting […].
Nature is like a wild animal that you have trained to work for you. So long as you are vigilant and walk warily with thought and care, so long it will give you its aid; but look away for an instant, be heedless or forgetful, and it has you by the throat.
“Times are better, times are better,” he shouts. “Times will not be better for many months. Meanwhile you will suffer and die, you meek, suffering fools. Why do you keep this ghastly silence? Why do you not demand—cry out for help—do something? There is nothing in this country, oh God, there is nothing!”
Nobody asked, “Where do you go from here?” They did not say, “What is to become of us?” We waited and one day they came to bid us farewell […] then they were gone, and the shopkeepers were glad that there was less competition […] and we remembered them for a while and then took up our lives again.
“If it were your land, or mine,” he said, “I would work it with you gladly. But what profit to labor for another and get so little in return? Far better to turn away from such injustice.” Nathan said not a word. There was a crushed look about him […].
None more so than Ira: the transformation in her was as astonishing as it was inexplicable. I had feared she might dislike the child, but now it was as if he were her own. She lost her dreary air, her face became animated, the bloom of youth came back to her.
It is true, one gets used to anything. I had got used to the noise and smell of the tannery; they no longer affected me. I had seen the slow, calm beauty of our village wilt in the blast from town, and I grieved no more; so now I accepted the future and Ira’s lot in it, and thrust it from me; only sometimes when I was weak, or in sleep while my will lay dormant, I found myself rebellious, protesting, rejecting and no longer calm.
I do not know what reply to make—these men are strangers. Nathan says we do not understand, we must not interfere: he takes my hand and draws me away. To his sons he is gentle. Into the calm lake of our lives the first stone has been tossed.
People will never learn! Kenny had said it, and I had not understood, now here were my own sons saying the same thing, and still I did not understand. What was it we had to learn? To fight against tremendous odds? What was the use? One only lost the little one had.
It seemed to me that a new peace came to us then, freed at last from the necessity for lies and concealment and deceit, with the fear of betrayal lifted from us, and the power we ourselves had given her finally rested from Kunthi.
She was no longer a child, to be cowed or forced into submission, but a grown woman with a definite purpose and an invincible determination […] It was as simple as that we forbade, she insisted, we lost. So we got used to her comings and goings, as we had got used to so much else.
Have I not so much sense to see that you are not one of us? You live and work here, and there is in your heart solicitude for us and love for our children. But this is not your country and we are not your people.
Privately I thought, Well, and what if we gave in to our troubles at every step! We would be pitiable creatures indeed to be so weak, for is not a man’s spirit given to him to rise above his misfortunes? […] What profit to bewail that which has always been and cannot change?
Somehow I had always felt the tannery would eventually be our undoing. I had known it since the day the carts had come with their loads of bricks and noisy dusty men, staining the clear soft greens that had once colored our village and cleaving its cool silences with clamor.
Tannery or not, the land might have been taken from us. It had never belonged to us, we had never prospered to the extent where we could buy, and Nathan, himself the son of a landless man, had inherited nothing. And whatever extraneous influence the tannery may have exercised, the calamities of the land belong to it alone, born of wind and rain and weather, immensities not to be tempered by man or his creations.
“If I grieve,” I said, “it is not for you, but for myself, beloved, for how should I endure to live without you, who are my love and my life?” “You are not alone,” he said. “I live in my children,” and he was silent, and then I heard him murmur my name and bent down.