It is mid-day. Srish Babu is at office. The people in his house are all taking the noon siesta after their meal. The <em>boita khana</em> is locked. A mongrel terrier is sleeping on the door-mat outside, his head between his paws. A couple of servants are seizing the opportunity to chat together in whispers.
Kamal Mani is sitting in her sleeping chamber at her ease, needle in hand, sewing at some canvas work, her hair all loose; no one about but Satish Babu, indulging in many noises. Satish Babu at first tried to snatch away his mother's wool; but finding it securely guarded, he gave his mind to sucking the head of a clay tiger. In the distance a cat with outstretched paws sits watching them both. Her disposition was grave, her face indicated much wisdom and a heart void of fickleness. She is thinking: "The condition of human creatures is frightful; their minds are ever given to sewing canvas, playing with dolls, or some such silly employment. Their thoughts are not turned to good works, nor to providing suitable food for cats. What will become of them hereafter?" Elsewhere, a lizard on the wall with upraised face is watching a fly. No doubt he is pondering the evil disposition of flies. A butterfly is flying about. In the spot where Satish Babu sits eating sweets, the flies collect in swarms; the ants also do their share towards removing the sweet food. In a few moments the lizard, not being able to catch the fly, moves elsewhere. The cat also, seeing no means by which she could improve the disposition of mankind, heaving a sigh, slowly departs. The butterfly wings its way out of the room. Kamal Mani, tired of her work, puts it down, and turns to talk with Satish Babu.
"Oh, Satu Babu, can you tell me why men go to office?"
"Sli--li--bli," was the child's only answer.
"Satu Babu," said his mother, "mind you never go to office."
"Hama," said Satu.
"What do you mean by Hama? You must not go to office to do hama. Do not go at all. If you do, the <em>Bou</em> will sit crying at home before the day is half done."
Satish Babu understood the word <em>Bou</em>, because Kamal Mani kept him in order by saying that the <em>Bou</em> would come and beat him; so he said, "<em>Bou</em> will beat."
"Remember that, then; if you go to office, the <em>Bou</em> will beat you."
How long this sort of conversation would have continued does not appear, for at that moment a maid-servant entered, rubbing her sleepy eyes, and gave a letter to Kamal Mani. Kamal saw it was from Surja Mukhi; she read it twice through, then sat silent and dejected. This was the letter:
"Dearest,--Since you returned to Calcutta you have forgotten me; else why have I had only one letter from you? Do you not know that I always long for news of you? You ask for news of Kunda. You will be delighted to hear that she is found. Besides that, I have another piece of good news for you. My husband is about to be married to Kunda. I have arranged this marriage. Widow-marriage is allowed in the Shastras, so what fault can be found with it? The wedding will take place in a couple of days; but you will not be able to attend, otherwise I would have invited you. Come, if you can, in time for the ceremony of <em>Phul Saja</em>. I have a great desire to see you."
[Footnote 13: <em>Phul Saja</em>. On the day following the wedding, the bride's father sends flowers and sweetmeats to the friends.]
Kamal could not understand the meaning of this letter. She proceeded to take counsel with Satish Babu, who sat in front of her nibbling at the corners of a book. Kamal read the letter to him and said--
"Now, Satish Babu, tell me the meaning of this."
Satish understood the joke; he stood up ready to cover his mother with kisses.
Then for some moments Kamal forgot Surja Mukhi; but presently she returned to the letter, reflecting--
"This work is beyond Satish Babu, it needs the help of my minister; will he never come in? Come, baby, we are very angry."
In due time Srish Chandra returned from office and changed his dress. Kamal Mani attended to his wants and then threw herself on the couch in a fume, the baby by her side. Srish Chandra, seeing the state of things, smiled, and seated himself, with his huka, on a distant couch. Invoking the <em>huka</em> as a witness he said--
"O <em>huka</em>! thou hast cool water in thy belly but a fire in thy head, be thou a witness. Let her who is angry with me talk to me, else I will sit smoking for hours."
At this Kamal Mani sat up, and in gentle anger turning to him her blue lotus eyes, said--
"It is no use speaking to you while you smoke; you will not attend."
Then she rose from the couch and took away the <em>huka</em>.
Kamal Mani's fit of sulking thus broken through, she gave Surja Mukhi's letter to be read, by way of explanation saying--
"Tell me the meaning of this, or I shall cut your pay."
"Rather give me next month's pay in advance, then I will explain."
Kamal Mani brought her mouth close to that of Srish Chandra, who took the coin he wished. After reading the letter he said--
"This is a joke!"
"What is? your words, or the letter?"
"I shall discharge you to-day. Have you not a spark of understanding? Is this a matter a woman could jest about?"
"It is impossible it can be meant in earnest."
"I fear it is true."
"Nonsense! How can it be true?"
"I fear my brother is forcing on this marriage."
Srish Chandra mused a while; then said, "I cannot understand this at all. What do you say? Shall I write to Nagendra?"
Kamal Mani assented. Srish made a grimace, but he wrote the letter.
Nagendra's reply was as follows:--
"Do not despise me, brother. Yet what is the use of such a petition; the despicable must be despised. I must effect this marriage. Should all the world abandon me I must do it, otherwise I shall go mad: I am not far short of it now. After this there seems nothing more to be said. You will perceive it is useless to try to turn me from it; but if you have anything to say I am ready to argue with you. If any one says that widow-marriage is contrary to religion, I will give him Vidya Sagar's essay to read. When so learned a teacher affirms that widow-marriage is approved by the Shastras, who can contradict? And if you say that though allowed by the Shastras it is not countenanced by society, that if I carry out this marriage I shall be excluded from society, the answer is, 'Who in Govindpur can exclude me from society? In a place where I constitute society, who is there to banish me?' Nevertheless, for your sakes I will effect the marriage secretly; no one shall know anything about it. You will not make the foregoing objections; you will say a double marriage is contrary to morals. Brother, how do you know that it is opposed to morality? You have learned this from the English; it was not held so in India formerly. Are the English infallible? They have taken this idea from the law of Moses; but we do not hold Moses' law to be the word of God, therefore why should we say that for a man to marry two wives is immoral? You will say if a man may marry two wives why should not a woman have two husbands? The answer is, if a woman had two husbands certain evils would follow which would not result from a man's having two wives. If a woman has two husbands the children have no protector; should there be uncertainty about the father, society would be much disordered; but no such uncertainty arises when a man has two wives. Many other such objections might be pointed out. Whatever is injurious to the many is contrary to morals. If you think a man's having two wives opposed to morality, point out in what way it is injurious to the majority. You will instance to me discord in the family. I will give you a reason: I am childless. If I die my family name will become extinct; if I marry I may expect children: is this unreasonable? The final objection--Surja Mukhi: Why do I distress a loving wife with a rival? The answer is, Surja Mukhi is not troubled by this marriage: she herself suggested it; she prepared me for it; she is zealous for it. What objection then remains? and why should I be blamed?"
[Footnote 14: The writer is mistaken in supposing that the Christian doctrine of monogamy is derived from the Mosaic law.]
Kamal Mani having read the letter, said--
"In what respect he is to blame God knows; but what delusions he cherishes! I think men understand nothing. Be that as it may, arrange your affairs, husband; we must go to Govindpur."
"But," replied Srish, "can you stop the marriage?"
"If not, I will die at my brother's feet."
"Nay, you can't do that; but we may bring the new wife away. Let us try."
Then both prepared for the journey to Govindpur. Early the next day they started by boat, and arrived there in due time. Before entering the house they met the women-servants and some neighbours, who had come to bring Kamal Mani from the <em>ghat</em>. Both she and her husband were extremely anxious to know if the marriage had taken place, but neither could put a single question. How could they speak to strangers of such a shameful subject?
Hurriedly Kamal Mani entered the women's apartments; she even forgot Satish Babu, who remained lingering behind. Indistinctly, and dreading the answer, she asked the servants--
"Where is Surja Mukhi?"
She feared lest they should say the marriage was accomplished, or that Surja Mukhi was dead. The women replied that their mistress was in her bed-room. Kamal Mani darted thither. For a minute or two she searched hither and thither, finding no one. At last she saw a woman sitting near a window, her head bowed down. Kamal Mani could not see her face, but she knew it was Surja Mukhi, who, now hearing footsteps, arose and came forward. Not even yet could Kamal ask if the marriage had taken place. Surja Mukhi had lost flesh; her figure, formerly straight as a pine, had become bent like a bow; her laughing eyes were sunk; her lily face had lost its roundness.
Kamal Mani comprehended that the marriage was accomplished. She inquired, "When was it?"
Surja Mukhi answered, "Yesterday."
Then the two sat down together, neither speaking. Surja Mukhi hid her face in the other's lap, and wept. Kamal Mani's tears fell on Surja Mukhi's unbound hair.
Of what was Nagendra thinking at that time as he sat in the <em>boita khana</em>? His thoughts said: "Kunda Nandini! Kunda is mine; Kunda is my wife! Kunda! Kunda! she is mine!"
Srish Chandra sat down beside him, but Nagendra could say little; he could think only, "Surja Mukhi herself hastened to give Kunda to me in marriage; who then can object to my enjoying this happiness?"