While in the sleeping--chamber, bathed in a sea of joy, Nagendra and Surja Mukhi held loving converse, in another apartment of that same house a fatal dialogue was being held. Before relating it, it is necessary to record what occurred on the previous night. As we know, Nagendra had held no converse with Kunda Nandini on his return. In her own room, with her head on the pillow, Kunda had wept the whole night, not the easy tears of girlhood, but from a mortal wound. Whosoever in childhood has in all sincerity delivered the priceless treasure of her heart to any one, and has in exchange received only neglect, can imagine the piercing pain of that weeping. "Why have I preserved my life," she asked herself, "with the desire to see my husband? Now what happiness remains to be hoped for?" With the dawn sleep came, and in that sleep, for the second time, a frightful vision. The bright figure assuming the form of her mother, which she had seen four years before by her dead father's bedside, now appeared above Kunda's head; but this time it was not surrounded by a shining halo, it descended upon a dense cloud ready to fall in rain. From the midst of the thick cloud another face smiled, while every now and then flashes of lightning broke forth. Kunda perceived with alarm that the incessantly smiling face resembled that of Hira, while her mother's compassionate countenance was very grave. The mother said: "Kunda, when I came before you did not listen, you did not come with me; now you see what trouble has befallen you." Kunda wept. The mother continued: "I told you I would come once more, and here I am. If now you are satisfied with the joy that the world can give, come with me."
"Take me with you, mother; I do not desire to stay here longer."
The mother, much pleased, repeated, "Come, then!" and vanished from sight.
Kunda woke, and, remembering her vision, desired of the gods that this time her dream might be fulfilled.
At dawn, when Hira entered the room to wait upon Kunda, she perceived that the girl was crying. Since the arrival of Kamal Mani, Hira had resumed a respectful demeanour towards Kunda, because she heard that Nagendra was returning. As though in atonement for her past behaviour, Hira became even more obedient and affectionate than formerly. Any one else would have easily penetrated this craftiness, but Kunda was unusually simple, and easily appeased. She felt no suspicion of this new affection; she imagined Hira to be sour-tempered, but not unfaithful. The woman said--
"Why do you weep, <em>Ma Thakurani?</em>"
Kunda did not speak, but only looked at Hira, who saw that her eyes were swollen and the pillow soaked.
"What is this? you have been crying all night. Has the Babu said anything to you?"
"Nothing," said Kunda, sobbing with greater violence than before.
Hira's heart swam with joy at the sight of Kunda's distress. With a melancholy face she asked--
"Has the Babu had any talk with you since he came home? I am only a servant, you need not mind telling me."
"I have had no talk with him."
"How is that, Ma? After so many days' absence has he nothing to say to you?"
"He has not been near me," and with these words fresh tears burst forth.
Hira was delighted. She said, smiling, "Ma, why do you weep in this way? Many people are over head and ears in trouble, yet you cry incessantly over one sorrow. If you had as much to bear as I have, you would have destroyed yourself before this time."
Suicide! this disastrous word struck heavily on the ear of Kunda; shuddering, she sat down. During the night she had frequently contemplated this step, and these words from Hira's mouth seemed to confirm her purpose.
Hira continued: "Now hear what my troubles are. I also loved a man more than my own life. He was not my husband, but why should I hide my sin from my mistress? it is better to confess it plainly."
These shameless words did not enter Kunda's ear; in it the word "suicide" was repeating itself, as though a demon kept whispering, "Would it not be better for you to destroy yourself than to endure this misery?"
Hira continued: "He was not my husband, but I loved him better than the best husband. I knew he did not love me; he loved another sinner, a hundred times less attractive than I." At this point, Hira cast a sharp, angry glance from under her eyelids at Kunda, then went on: "Knowing this, I did not run after him, but one day we were both wicked."
Beginning thus, Hira briefly related the terrible history. She mentioned no name, neither that of Debendra nor that of Kunda. She said nothing from which it could be inferred whom she had loved, or who was beloved by him. At length, after speaking of the abuse she had received, she said--
"Now what do you suppose I did?"
"What did you do?"
"I went to a <em>Kabiraj</em>. He has all sorts of poisons by which life can be destroyed."
In low tones Kunda said, "After that?"
"I intended to kill myself. I bought some poison, but afterwards I thought, 'Why should I die for another?' so I have kept the poison in a box."
Hira brought from the corner of the room a box in which she kept the treasures received as rewards from her employers, and also what she got by less fair means. Opening it, she showed the poison to Kunda, who eyed it as a cat does cream. Then Hira, leaving the box open as though from absence of mind, began to console Kunda. At this moment, suddenly, in the early dawn, sounds of happiness and rejoicing were heard in the household. Hira darted forth in astonishment. The ill-fated Kunda Nandini seized the opportunity to steal the poison from the box.