It was as though a flower had bloomed in the family house at Govindpur. The sight of Kamal Mani's smiling face dried the tears in the eyes of Surja Mukhi. The moment she set foot in the house Kamal took in hand the dressing of her sister-in-law's hair, for Surja Mukhi had neglected herself lately.
Kamal said, "Shall I put in a flower or two?"
Surja Mukhi pinched her cheek, and forbade it.
So Kamal Mani did it slily. When people came in she said, "Do you see the old woman wearing flowers in her hair?"
But even Kamal's bright face did not dispel the dark clouds from that of Nagendra. When he met her he only said, "Where do you come from, Kamal?"
She bent before him, saying bashfully, "Baby has brought me."
"Indeed! I'll beat the rascal," replied Nagendra, taking the child in his arms, and spending an hour in play with him, in return for which the grateful child made free with his moustache.
Kamal Mani playfully accosted Kunda with the words, "Ha, Kundi, Kundi! Nundi, Dundi! are you quite well, Kundi?"
The girl was silent in astonishment, but presently she said, "I am well."
"Call me <em>Didi</em> (elder sister); if you do not I will burn your hair when you are asleep, or else I will give your body to the cockroaches."
Kunda obeyed. When she had been in Calcutta she had not addressed Kamal by any name; indeed she had rarely spoken; but seeing that Kamal was very loving-hearted, she had become fond of her. In the years that had intervened without a meeting she had a little forgotten Kamal; but now, both being amiable, their affection was born afresh, and became very close.
When Kamal Mani talked of returning home, Surja Mukhi said, "Nay, sister, stay a little longer. I shall be wretched when you are gone. It relieves me to talk to you of my trouble."
"I shall not go without arranging your affairs."
"What affairs?" said Surja Mukhi.
"Your <em>Shradda</em>" (funeral ceremonies), replied Kamal; but mentally she said, "Extracting the thorns from your path."
When Kunda heard that Kamal talked of going, she went to her room and wept. Kamal going quietly after her found her with her head on the pillow, weeping. Kamal sat down to dress Kunda's hair, an occupation of which she was very fond. When she had finished she drew Kunda's head on to her lap, and wiped away the tears. Then she said, "Kunda, why do you weep?"
"Why do you go away?" was the reply.
"Why should you weep for that?"
"Because you love me."
"Does no one else love you?"
Kunda did not reply; and Kamal went on: "Does not the <em>Bou</em> (Surja Mukhi) love you? No? Don't hide it from me." (Still no answer.) "Does not my brother love you?" (Still silence.) "Since I love you and you love me, shall we not go together?" (Yet Kunda spoke not.) "Will you go?"
Kunda shook her head, saying, "I will not go."
Kamal's joyous face became grave; she thought, "This does not sound well. The girl has the same complaint as my brother, but he suffers the more deeply. My husband is not here, with whom can I take counsel?" Then Kamal Mani drew Kunda's head lovingly on her breast, and taking hold of her face caressingly, said, "Kunda, will you tell me the truth?"
"About what?" said the girl.
"About what I shall ask thee. I am thy elder, I love thee as a sister; do not hide it from me, I will tell no one." In her mind she thought, "If I tell any one it will be my husband and my baby."
After a pause Kunda asked, "What shall I tell you?"
"You love my brother dearly, don't you?"
Kunda gave no answer.
Kamal Mani wept in her heart; aloud she said: "I understand. It is so. Well that does not hurt you, but many others suffer from it."
Kunda Nandini, raising her head, fixed a steadfast look on the face of Kamal Mani.
Kamal, understanding the silent question, replied, "Ah, unhappy one! dost thou not see that my brother loves thee?"
Kunda's head again sank on Kamal's breast, which she watered with her tears. Both wept silently for many minutes.
What the passion of love is the golden Kamal Mani knew very well. In her innermost heart she sympathized with Kunda, both in her joy and in her sorrow. Wiping Kunda's eyes she said again, "Kunda, will you go with me?"
Kunda's eyes again tilled with tears.
More earnestly, Kamal said: "If you are out of sight my brother will forget you, and you will forget him; otherwise, you will be lost, my brother will be lost and his wife--the house will go to ruin."
Kunda continued weeping.
Again Kamal asked, "Will you go? Only consider my brother's condition, his wife's."
Kunda, after a long interval, wiped her eyes, sat up, and said, "I will go."
Why this consent after so long an interval? Kamal understood that Kunda had offered up her own life on the temple of the household peace. Her own peace? Kamal felt that Kunda did not comprehend what was for her own peace.