"Yes, that will do. Kunda shall submit. But if we do not make Surja Mukhi appear as poison in the eyes of Nagendra, nothing can be accomplished."
So Hira set herself to divide the hearts hitherto undivided.
One morning early, the wicked Hira came into her mistress's house ready for work. There was a servant in the Datta household named Kousalya, who hated Hira because she was head servant and enjoyed the favour of the mistress. Hira said to her: "Sister Kushi, I feel very strange to-day; will you do my work for me?"
Kousalya feared Hira, therefore she said: "Of course I will do it; we are all subject to illness, and all the subjects of one mistress."
It had been Hira's wish that Kousalya should give no reply, and she would make that a pretext for a quarrel. So, shaking her head, she said: "You presume so far as to abuse me?"
Astonished, Kousalya said: "When did I abuse any one?"
"What!" said Hira, angrily, "you deny it? Why did you speak of my illness? Do you think I am going to die? You hope that I am ill that you may show people how good you are to me. May you be ill yourself."
"Be it so! Why are you angry, sister? You must die some day; Death will not forget you, nor will he forget me."
"May Death never forget you! You envy me! May you die of envy! May your life be short! Go to destruction! May blindness seize upon you!"
Kousalya could bear no more. She began to return these good wishes in similar terms. In the act of quarrelling Kousalya was the superior. Therefore Hira got her deserts.
Then Hira went to complain to her mistress. If any one could have looked at her as she went, they would have seen no signs of anger on her face, but rather a smile on her lips. But when she reached her mistress, her face expressed great anger, and she began by using the weapon given by God to woman--that is to say, she shed a flood of tears.
Surja Mukhi inquired into the cause. On hearing the complaint, she judged that Hira was in fault. Nevertheless, for her sake, she scolded Kousalya slightly.
Not being satisfied with that, Hira said: "You must dismiss that woman, or I will not remain."
Then Surja Mukhi was much vexed with Hira, and said: "You are very encroaching, Hira; you began the quarrel, the fault was entirely yours, and now you want me to dismiss the woman. I will do nothing so unjust. Go, if you will. I will not bid you stay."
This was just what Hira wanted. Saying "Very well, I go," her eyes streaming with tears, she presented herself before the Babu in the outer apartments.
The Babu was alone in the <em>boita khana</em>--he was usually alone now. Seeing Hira weeping, he asked, "Why do you weep, Hira?"
"I have been told to come for my wages."
Nagendra, astonished, asked: "What has happened?"
"I am dismissed. <em>Ma Thakurani</em> (the mistress) has dismissed me."
"What have you done?" asked Nagendra.
"Kushi abused me; I complained: the mistress believes her account and dismisses me."
Nagendra, shaking his head and laughing, said: "That is not a likely story, Hira; tell the truth."
Hira then, speaking plainly, said: "The truth is I will not stay."
"The mistress has become quite altered. One never knows what to expect from her."
Nagendra, frowning, said in a sharp voice: "What does that mean?"
Hira now brought in the fact she had wished to report.
"What did she not say that day to Kunda Nandini Thakurani? On hearing it, Kunda left the house. Our fear is that some day something of the same kind should be said to us. We could not endure that, therefore I chose to anticipate it."
"What are you talking about?" asked Nagendra.
"I cannot tell you for shame."
Nagendra's brow became dark. He said: "Go home for to-day; I will call you to-morrow."
Hira's desire was accomplished. With this design she had quarrelled with Kousalya.
Nagendra rose and went to Surja Mukhi. Stepping lightly, Hira followed him.
Taking Surja Mukhi aside, he asked, "Have you dismissed Hira?"
Surja Mukhi replied, "Yes," and then related the particulars.
On hearing them, Nagendra said: "Let her go. What did you say to Kunda Nandini?"
Nagendra saw that Surja Mukhi turned pale.
"What did I say to her?" she stammered.
"Yes; what evil words did you use to her?"
Surja Mukhi remained silent some moments. Then she said--
"You are my all, my present and my future; why should I hide anything from you? I did speak harshly to Kunda; then, fearing you would be angry, I said nothing to you about it. Forgive me that offence; I am telling you all."
Then she related the whole matter frankly, from the discovery of the <em>Boisnavi</em> Haridasi to the reproof she had given to Kunda. At the end she said--
"I am deeply sorrowful that I have driven Kunda Nandini away. I have sent everywhere in search of her. If I had found her, I would have brought her back."
"Your fault is not great. Could any respectable man's wife, hearing of such a stain, give refuge to the guilty person? But would it not have been well to think a little whether the charge was true? Did you not know of the talk about Tara Charan's house? Had you not heard that Debendra had been introduced to Kunda three years before? Why did you believe a drunkard's words?"
"I did not think of that at the time. Now I do. My mind was wandering." As she spoke the faithful wife sank at Nagendra's feet, and clasping them with her hands, wetted them with her tears. Then raising her face, she said: "Oh, dearer than life, I will conceal nothing that is in my mind."
Nagendra said: "You need not speak; I know that you suspect me of feeling love for Kunda Nandini."
Surja Mukhi, hiding her face at the feet of her husband, wept. Again raising her face, sad and tearful as the dew-drenched lily, and looking into the face of him who could remove all her sorrows, she said: "What can I say? Can I tell you what I have suffered? Only lest my death might increase your sorrow, I do not die. Otherwise, when I knew that another shared your heart, I wished to die. But people cannot die by wishing to do so."
Nagendra remained long silent; then, with a heavy sigh, he said--
"Surja Mukhi, the fault is entirely mine, not yours at all. I have indeed been unfaithful to you; in truth, forgetting you, my heart has gone out towards Kunda Nandini. What I have suffered, what I do suffer, how can I tell you? You think I have not tried to conquer it; but you must not think so. You could never reproach me so bitterly as I have reproached myself. I am sinful; I cannot rule my own heart."
Surja Mukhi could endure no more. With clasped hands, she entreated bitterly--
"Tell me no more; keep it to yourself. Every word you say pierces my breast like a dart. What was written in my destiny has befallen me. I wish to hear no more; it is not fit for me to hear."
"Not so, Surja Mukhi," replied Nagendra; "you must listen. Let me speak what I have long striven to say. I will leave this house; I will not die, but I will go elsewhere. Home and family no longer give me happiness. I have no pleasure with you. I am not fit to be your husband. I will trouble you no longer. I will find Kunda Nandini, and will go with her to another place. Do you remain mistress of this house. Regard yourself as a widow--since your husband is so base, are you not a widow? But, base as I am, I will not deceive you. Now I go: if I am able to forget Kunda, I will come again; if not, this is my last hour with you."
What could Surja Mukhi say to these heart-piercing words? For some moments she stood like a statue, gazing on the ground. Then she cast herself down, hid her face, and wept.
As the murderous tiger gazes at the dying agonies of his prey, Nagendra stood calmly looking on. He was thinking, "She will die to-day or to-morrow, as God may will. What can I do? If I willed it, could I die instead of her? I might die; but would that save Surja Mukhi?"
No, Nagendra, your dying would not save Surja Mukhi; but it would be well for you to die.
After a time Surja Mukhi sat up; again clasping her husband's feet, she said: "Grant me one boon."
"What is it?"
"Remain one month longer at home. If in that time we do not find Kunda Nandini, then go; I will not keep you."
Nagendra went out without reply. Mentally he consented to remain for a month; Surja Mukhi understood that. She stood looking after his departing figure, thinking within herself: "My darling, I would give my life to extract the thorns from your feet. You would leave your home on account of this wretched Surja Mukhi. Are you or I the greater?"