As a cotton rag placed near fire becomes burnt, so the heart of Hira became ever more inflamed by the remarkable beauty of Debendra. Many a time Hira's virtue and good name would have been endangered by passion, but that Debendra's character for sensuality without love came to her mind and proved a safeguard. Hira had great power of self-control, and it was through this power that she, though not very virtuous, had hitherto easily preserved her chastity. The more certainly to rule her heart, Hira determined to go again to service. She felt that in daily work her mind would be distracted, and she would be able to forget this unfortunate passion which stung like the bite of a scorpion. Thus when Nagendra, leaving Kunda Nandini at Govindpur, was about to set forth, Hira, on the strength of past service, begged to be re-engaged, and Nagendra consented. There was another cause for Hira's resolve to resume service. In her greed for money, anticipating that Kunda would become the favourite of Nagendra, she had taken pains to bring her under her own sway. "Nagendra's wealth," she had reflected, "will fall into Kunda's hands, and when it is Kunda's it will be Hira's." Now Kunda had become the mistress of Nagendra's house, but she had not obtained possession of any special wealth. But at this time Hira's mind was not dwelling on this matter. Hira was not thinking of wealth; even had she done so, money obtained from Kunda would have been as poison to her.
Hira was able to endure the pain of her own unsatisfied passion, but she could not bear Debendra's passion for Kunda. When Hira heard that Nagendra was journeying abroad, and that Kunda would remain as <em>grihini</em> (house-mistress), then, remembering Haridasi <em>Boisnavi</em>, she became much alarmed, and stationed herself as a sentinel to place obstacles in the path of Debendra. It was not from a desire to secure the welfare of Kunda Nandini that Hira conceived this design. Under the influence of jealousy Hira had become so enraged with Kunda, that far from wishing her well she would gladly have seen her go to destruction. But in jealous fear lest Debendra should gain access to Kunda, Hira constituted herself the guardian of Nagendra's wife.
Thus the servant Hira became the cause of suffering to Kunda, who saw that Hira's zeal and attention did not arise from affection. She perceived that Hira, though a servant, showed want of trust in her, and continually scolded and insulted her. Kunda was of a very peaceful disposition; though rendered ill by Hira's conduct she said nothing to her. Kunda's nature was calm, Hira's passionate. Thus Kunda, though the master's wife, submitted as if she were a dependant; Hira lorded it over her as if she were the mistress. Sometimes the other ladies of the house, seeing Kunda suffer, scolded Hira, but they could not stand before Hira's eloquence.
The <em>Dewan</em> hearing of her doings, said to Hira: "Go away; I dismiss you."
Hira replied, with flaming eyes: "Who are you to dismiss me? I was placed here by the master, and except at his command I will not go. I have as much power to dismiss you as you have to dismiss me."
The <em>Dewan</em>, fearing further insult, said not another word. Except Surja Mukhi, no one could rule Hira.
One day, after the departure of Nagendra, Hira was lying alone in the creeper-covered summer-house in the flower-garden near to the women's apartments. Since it had been abandoned by Surja Mukhi and Nagendra, Hira had taken possession of this summer-house. It was evening, an almost full moon shone in the heavens. Her rays shining through the branches of the trees fell on the white marble, and danced upon the wind-moved waters of the <em>talao</em> close by. The air was filled with the intoxicating perfume of the scented shrubs. There is nothing in nature so intoxicating as flower-perfumed air. Hira suddenly perceived the figure of a man in a grove of trees; a second glance showed it to be Debendra. He was not disguised, but wore his own apparel.
Hira exclaimed in astonishment: "You are very bold, sir; should you be discovered you will be beaten!"
"Where Hira is, what cause have I for fear?" Thus saying, Debendra sat down by Hira, who, after a little silent enjoyment this pleasure, said--
"Why have you come here? You will not be able to see her whom you hoped to see."
"I have already attained my hope. I came to see you."
Hira, not deceived by the sweet, flattering words she coveted, said with a laugh: "I did not know I was destined to such pleasure; still, since it has befallen me, let us go where I can satisfy myself by beholding you without interruption. Here there are many obstacles."
"Where shall we go?" said Debendra.
"Into that summer-house; there we need fear nothing."
"Do not fear for me."
"If there is nothing to fear for you, there is for me. If I am seen with you what will be my position?"
Shrinking at this, Debendra said: "Let us go. Would it not be well that I should renew acquaintance with your new <em>grihini</em>?"
The burning glance of hate cast on him by Hira at these words, Debendra failed to see in the uncertain light.
Hira said: "How will you get to see her?"
"By your kindness it will be accomplished," said Debendra.
"Then do you remain here on the watch; I will bring her to you."
With these words Hira went out of the summer-house. Proceeding some distance, she stopped beneath the shelter of a tree and gave way to a burst of sobbing: then went on into the house--not to Kunda Nandini, but to the <em>darwans</em> (gatekeepers), to whom she said--
"Come quickly; there is a thief in the garden."
Then Dobe, Chobe, Paure, and Teowari, taking thick bamboo sticks in their hands, started off for the flower-garden. Debendra, hearing from afar the sound of their clumsy, clattering shoes, and seeing their black, napkin-swathed chins, leaped from the summer-house and fled in haste. Teowari and Co. ran some distance, but they could not catch him; yet he did not get off scot-free. We cannot certainly say whether he tasted the bamboo, but we have heard that he was pursued by some very abusive terms from the mouths of the <em>darwans</em>; and that his servant, having had a little of his brandy, in gossip the next day with a female friend remarked--
"To-day, when I was rubbing the Babu with oil, I saw a bruise on his back."
Returning home, Debendra made two resolutions: the first, that while Hira remained he would never again enter the Datta house; the second, that he would retaliate upon Hira. In the end he had a frightful revenge upon her. Hira's venial fault received a heavy punishment, so heavy that at sight of it even Debendra's stony heart was lacerated. We will relate it briefly later.