On the evening of that day, Kunda was sitting near the <em>talao</em> in the middle of the garden. The <em>talao</em> was broad; its water pure and always blue. The reader will remember that behind this <em>talao</em> was a flower-garden, in the midst of which stood a white marble house covered with creepers. In front, a flight of steps led down to the water. The steps were built of brick to resemble stone, very broad and clean. On either side grew an aged <em>bakul</em> tree. Beneath these trees sat Kunda Nandini, alone in the darkening evening, gazing at the reflection of the sky and stars in the clear water. Here and there lotus flowers could be dimly seen. On the other three sides of the <em>talao</em>, mango, jak, plum, orange, lichi, cocoanut, kul, bel, and other fruit-trees grew thickly in rows, looking in the darkness like a wall with an uneven top. Occasionally the harsh voice of a bird in the branches broke the silence. The cool wind blowing over the <em>talao</em> caused the water slightly to wet the lotus flowers, gave the reflected sky an appearance of trembling, and murmured in the leaves above Kunda Nandini's head. The scent of the flowers of the <em>bakul</em> tree pervaded the air, mingled with that of jasmine and other blossoms. Everywhere fireflies flew in the darkness over the clear water, dancing, sparkling, becoming extinguished. Flying foxes talked to each other; jackals howled to keep off other animals. A few clouds having lost their way wandered over the sky; one or two stars fell as though overwhelmed with grief. Kunda Nandini sat brooding over her troubles. Thus ran her thoughts: "All my family is gone. My mother, my brother, my father, all died. Why did I not die? If I could not die, why did I come here? Does the good man become a star when he dies?" Kunda no longer remembered the vision she had seen on the night of her father's death. It did not recur to her mind even now. Only a faint memory of the scene came to her with the idea that, since she had seen her mother in vision, that mother must have become a star. So she asked herself: "Do the good become stars after death? and if so, are all I loved become stars? Then which are they among those hosts? how can I determine? Can they see me--I who have wept so much? Let them go, I will think of them no more. It makes me weep; what is the use of weeping? Is it my fate to weep? If not, my mother--again these thoughts! let them go. Would it not be well to die? How to do it? Shall I drown myself? Should I become a star if I did that? Should I see? Should I see every day--whom? Can I not say whom? why can I not pronounce the name? there is no one here who could hear it. Shall I please myself by uttering it for once? only in thought can I say it--Nagendra, my Nagendra! Oh, what do I say? my Nagendra! What am I? Surja Mukhi's Nagendra. How often have I uttered this name, and what is the use? If he could have married me instead of Surja Mukhi! Let it go! I shall drown myself. If I were to do that what would happen? To-morrow I should float on the water; all would hear of it. Nagendra--again I say it, Nagendra; if Nagendra heard of it what would he say? It will not do to drown myself; my body would swell, I should look ugly if he should see me! Can I take poison? What poison? Where should I get it? Who would bring it for me? Could I take it? I could, but not to-day. Let me please myself with the thought that he loves me. Is it true? Kamal Didi said so; but how can she know it? my conscience will not let me ask. Does he love me? How does he love me? What does he love--my beauty or me? Beauty? let me see." She went to examine the reflection of her face in the water, but, failing to see anything, returned to her former place. "It cannot be; why do I think of that? Surja Mukhi is more beautiful than I. Haro Mani, Bishu, Mukta, Chandra, Prasunna, Bama, Pramada, are all more beautiful. Even Hira is more beautiful; yes, notwithstanding her dark complexion, her face is more beautiful. Then if it is not beauty, is it disposition? Let me think. I can't find any attraction in myself. Kamal said it to satisfy me. Why should he love me? Yet why should Kamal try to flatter me? Who knows? But I will not die; I will think of that. Though it is false I will ponder over it; I will think that true which is false. But I cannot go to Calcutta; I should not see him. I cannot, cannot go; yet if not, what shall I do? If Kamal's words are true, then those who have done so much for me are being made to suffer through me. I can see that there is something in Surja Mukhi's mind. True or false I will have to go; but I cannot! Then I must drown myself. If I must die I will die! Oh, my father! did you leave me here to such a fate?" Then Kunda, putting her hands to her face, gave way to weeping. Suddenly the vision flashed into her mind; she started as if at a flash of lightning. "I had forgotten it all," she exclaimed. "Why had I forgotten it? My mother showed me my destiny, and bade me evade it by ascending to the stars. Why did I not go? Why did I not die? Why do I delay now? I will delay no longer." So saying, she began slowly to descend the steps. Kunda was but a woman, timid and cowardly; at each step she feared, at each step she shivered. Nevertheless she proceeded slowly with unshaken purpose to obey her mother's command. At this moment some one from behind touched her very gently on the shoulder. Some one said, "Kunda!" Kunda looked round. In the darkness she at once recognized Nagendra. Kunda thought no more that day of dying.
[Footnote 9: <em>Talao</em>--usually rendered "tank" in English; but the word scarcely does justice to these reservoirs, which with their handsome flights of steps are quite ornamental.]
And Nagendra, is this the stainless character you have preserved so long? Is this the return for your Surja Mukhi's devotion? Shame! shame! you are a thief; you are worse than a thief. What could a thief have done to Surja Mukhi? He might have stolen her ornaments, her wealth, but you have come to destroy her heart. Surja Mukhi never bestowed anything upon the thief, therefore if he stole, he was but a thief. But to you Surja Mukhi gave her all; therefore you are committing the worst of thefts. Nagendra, it were better for you to die. If you have the courage, drown yourself.
Shame! shame! Kunda Nandini; why do you tremble at the touch of a thief? Why are the words of a thief as a thorn in the flesh? See, Kunda Nandini! the water is pure, cool, pleasant; will you plunge into it? will you not die?
Kunda Nandini did not wish to die.
The robber said: "Kunda, will you go to-morrow to Calcutta? Do you go willingly?"
Willingly--alas! alas! Kunda wiped her eyes, but did not speak.
"Kunda, why do you weep? Listen. With much difficulty I have endured so long; I cannot bear it longer. I cannot say how I have lived through it. Though I have struggled so hard, yet see how degraded I am. I have become a drunkard. I can struggle no longer; I cannot let you go. Listen, Kunda. Now widow marriage is allowed I will marry you, if you consent."
This time Kunda spoke; she said "No."
"Why, Kunda? do you think widow marriage unholy?"
"Then why not? Say, say, will you be my wife or not? will you love me or no?"
Then Nagendra, as though he had a thousand tongues, entreated her with heart-piercing words. Still Kunda said "No."
Nagendra looked at the pure, cold water, and asked himself, "Can I lie there?"
To herself Kunda said: "No, widow marriage is allowed in the Shastras; it is not on that account."
Why, then, did she not seek the water?