Srish Chandra was sitting alone in his <em>boita khana</em> one evening, when Nagendra entered, carpet-bag in hand, and throwing the bag to a distance, silently took a seat. Srish Chandra, seeing his distressed and wearied condition, was alarmed, but knew not how to ask an explanation. He knew that Nagendra had received the <em>Brahmachari's</em> letter at Benares, and had gone thence to Madhupur. As he saw that Nagendra would not begin to speak, Srish Chandra took his hand and said--
"Brother Nagendra, I am distressed to see you thus silent. Did you not go to Madhupur?"
Nagendra only said, "I went."
"Did you not meet the <em>Brahmachari</em>?"
"Did you find Surja Mukhi? Where is she?"
Pointing upwards with his finger, Nagendra said, "In heaven."
Both sat silent for some moments; then Nagendra, looking up, said, "You do not believe in heaven. I do."
Srish Chandra knew that formerly Nagendra had not believed in a heaven, and understood why he now did so--understood that this heaven was the creation of love.
Not being able to endure the thought that Surja Mukhi no longer existed, he said to himself, "She is in heaven," and in this thought found comfort.
Still they remained silent, for Srish Chandra felt that this was not the time to offer consolation; that words from others would be as poison, their society also. So he went away to prepare a chamber for Nagendra. He did not venture to ask him to eat; he would leave that task to Kamal.
But when Kamal Mani heard that Surja Mukhi was no more, she would undertake no duty. Leaving Satish Chandra, for that night she became invisible. The servants, seeing Kamal Mani bowed to the ground with hair unbound, left Satish and hurried to her. But Satish would not be left; he at first stood in silence by his weeping mother, and then, with his little finger under her chin, he tried to raise her face. Kamal looked up, but did not speak. Satish, wishing to comfort his mother, kissed her. Kamal caressed, but did not kiss him, nor did she speak. Satish put his hand on his mother's throat, crept into her lap, and began to cry. Except the Creator, who could enter into that child's heart and discern the cause of his crying?
The unfortunate Srish Chandra, left to his own resources, took some food to Nagendra, who said: "I do not want food. Sit down, I have much to say to you; for that I came hither." He then related all that he had heard from Ram Kristo Rai, and detailed his designs for the future.
After listening to the narration, Srish Chandra said: "It is surprising that you should not have met the <em>Brahmachari</em>, as it is only yesterday he left Calcutta for Madhupur in search of you."
"What?" said Nagendra; "how did you meet with the <em>Brahmachari</em>?"
"He is a very noble person," answered Srish. "Not receiving a reply to his letter to you, he went to Govindpur in search of you. There he learned that his letter would be sent on to Benares. This satisfied him, and without remark to any one he went on his business to Purushuttam. Returning thence, he again went to Govindpur. Still hearing nothing of you, he was informed that I might have news. He came to me the next day, and I showed him your letter. Yesterday he started for Govindpur, expecting to meet you last night at Ranigunj."
"I was not at Ranigunj last night," said Nagendra. "Did he tell you anything of Surja Mukhi?"
"I will tell you all that to-morrow," said Srish.
"You think my suffering will be increased by hearing it. Tell me all," entreated Nagendra.
Then Srish Chandra repeated what the <em>Brahmachari</em> had told him of his meeting Surja Mukhi by the roadside, her illness, medical treatment, and improvement in health. Omitting many painful details, he concluded with the words: "Ram Kristo Kai did not relate all that Surja Mukhi had suffered."
On hearing this, Nagendra rushed out of the house. Srish Chandra would have gone with him, but Nagendra would not allow it. The wretched man wandered up and down the road like a madman for hours. He wished to forget himself in the crowd, but at that time there was no crowd; and who can forget himself? Then he returned to the house, and sat down with Srish Chandra, to whom he said: "The <em>Brahmachari</em> must have learned from her where she went, and what she did. Tell me all he said to you."
"Why talk of it now?" said Srish; "take some rest."
Nagendra frowned, and commanded Srish Chandra to speak.
Srish perceived that Nagendra had become like a madman. His face was dark as a thunder-cloud. Afraid to oppose him, he consented to speak, and Nagendra's face relaxed. He began--
"Walking slowly from Govindpur, Surja Mukhi came first in this direction."
"What distance did she walk daily?" interrupted Nagendra.
"Two or three miles."
"She did not take a farthing from home; how did she live?"
"Some days fasting, some days begging--are you mad?" with these words Srish Chandra threatened Nagendra, who had clutched at his own throat as though to strangle himself, saying--
"If I die, shall I meet Surja Mukhi?"
Srish Chandra held the hands of Nagendra, who then desired him to continue his narrative.
"If you will not listen calmly, I will tell you no more," said Srish.
But Nagendra heard no more; he had lost consciousness. With closed eyes he sought the form of the heaven-ascended Surja Mukhi; he saw her seated as a queen upon a jewelled throne. The perfumed wind played in her hair, all around flower-like birds sang with the voice of the lute; at her feet bloomed hundreds of red water-lilies; in the canopy of her throne a hundred moons were shining, surrounded by hundreds of stars. He saw himself in a place full of darkness, pain in all his limbs, demons inflicting blows upon him, Surja Mukhi forbidding them with her outstretched finger.
With much difficulty Srish Chandra restored Nagendra to consciousness; whereupon Nagendra cried loudly--
"Surja Mukhi, dearer to me than life, where art thou?"
At this cry, Srish Chandra, stupefied and frightened, sat down in silence.
At length, recovering his natural state, Nagendra said, "Speak."
"What can I say?" asked Srish.
"Speak!" said Nagendra. "If you do not I shall die before your eyes."
Then Srish said: "Surja Mukhi did not endure this suffering many days. A wealthy Brahman, travelling with his family, had to come as far as Calcutta by boat, on his way to Benares. One day as Surja Mukhi was lying under a tree on the river's bank, the Brahman family came there to cook. The <em>grihini</em> entered into conversation with Surja Mukhi, and, pitying her condition, took her into the boat, as she had said that she also was going to Benares."
"What is the name of that Brahman? where does he live?" asked Nagendra, thinking that by some means he would find out the man and reward him. He then bade Srish Chandra continue.
"Surja Mukhi," continued Srish, "travelled as one of the family as far as Barhi; to Calcutta by boat, to Raniganj by rail, from Raniganj by bullock train--so far Surja Mukhi proceeded in comfort."
"After that did the Brahman dismiss her?" asked Nagendra.
"No," replied Srish; "Surja Mukhi herself took leave. She went no further than Benares. How many days could she go on without seeing you? With that purpose she returned from Barhi on foot."
As Srish Chandra spoke tears came into his eyes, the sight of which was an infinite comfort to Nagendra, who rested his head on the shoulder of Srish and wept. Since entering the house Nagendra had not wept, his grief had been beyond tears; but now the stream of sorrow found free vent. He cried like a boy, and his suffering was much lessened thereby. The grief that cannot weep is the messenger of death!
As Nagendra became calmer, Srish Chandra said, "We will speak no more of this to-day."
"What more is there to say?" said Nagendra. "The rest that happened I have seen with my own eyes. From Barhi she walked alone to Madhupur. From fatigue, fasting, sun, rain, despair, and grief, Surja Mukhi, seized by illness, fell to the ground ready to die."
Srish Chandra was silent for a time; at length he said: "Brother, why dwell upon this an longer? You are not in fault; you did nothing to oppose or vex her. There is no cause to repent of that which has come about without fault of our own."
Nagendra did not understand. He knew himself to blame for all. Why had he not torn up the seed of the poison tree from his heart?