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Chapter XII: HIRA.

On this occasion, Haridasi <em>Boisnavi</em> entering, sang--

<blockquote> "I went into the thorny forest to pluck a soiled flower--
Yes, my friend, a soiled flower;
I wore it twined about my head, I hung it in my ears--
Friends, a soiled flower."</blockquote>

This day Surja Mukhi was present. She sent to call Kamal to hear the singing. Kamal came, bringing Kunda Nandini with her. The <em>Boisnavi</em> sang--

<blockquote> "I would die for this blooming thorn,
I will steal its honied sweets,
I go to seek where it doth bloom,
This fresh young bud."</blockquote>

Kamal Mani frowned, and said: "<em>Boisnavi</em> Didi, may ashes be thrown on your face! Can you not sing something else?"

Haridasi asked, "Why?"

Kamal, more angrily, said: "Why? Bring a bough of the <em>babla</em> tree, and show her how pleasant it is to be pierced by thorns."

Surja Mukhi said gently: "We do not like songs of that sort; sing something suitable for the home circle."

The <em>Boisnavi</em>, saying "Very well," began to sing--

<blockquote> "By clasping the Pandit's feet, I shall become learned in the Shastras;
Learning thus the holy Shastras, who will dare speak ill of me?"</blockquote>

Kamal, frowning, said: "Listen to this singing if it pleases you, sister. I shall go away."

She went, and Surja Mukhi also left, with a displeased countenance. Of the rest of the women, those who relished the song remained, the others left; Kunda Nandini stayed. She did not understand the hidden meaning of the songs, she scarcely even heard them. Her thoughts were absent, so she remained where she was seated. Haridasi sang no more, but talked on trivial subjects. Seeing that there would be no more singing, all left except Kunda Nandini, whose feet seemed as though they would not move. Thus, finding herself alone with Kunda, the <em>Boisnavi</em> talked much to her. Kunda heard something of her talk, but not all.

Surja Mukhi saw all this from a distance, and when the two showed signs of being deep in conversation she called Kamal and pointed them out to her.

Kamal said: "What of that? they are only talking. She is a woman, not a man."

"Who knows?" said Surja. "I think it is a man in disguise; but I will soon find out. How wicked Kunda must be!"

"Stay a moment," said Kamal, "I will fetch a <em>babla</em> branch, and let her feel its thorns."

Thus saying, Kamal went in search of a bough. On the way she saw Satish, who had got possession of his aunt's vermilion, and was seated, daubing neck, nose, chin, and breast with the red powder. At this sight Kamal forgot the <em>Boisnavi,</em> the bough, Kunda Nandini, and everything else.

Surja Mukhi sent for the servant Hira.

Hira's name has been mentioned once; it is now needful to give a particular account of her. Nagendra and his father always took special care that the female servants of the household should be of good character. With this design they offered good wages, and sought to engage servants of a superior class. The women servants of the house dwelt in happiness and esteem, therefore many respectable women of small means took service with them. Amongst these Hira was the principal. Many maid-servants are of the Kaystha caste. Hira was a Kaystha. Her grandmother had first been engaged as a servant, and Hira, being then a child, had come with her. When Hira became capable the old woman gave up service, built herself a house out of her savings, and dwelt in Govindpur. Hira entered the service of the Datta family. She was then about twenty years of age, younger than most of the other servants, but in intelligence and in mental qualities their superior. Hira had been known in Govindpur from childhood as a widow, but no one had ever heard anything of her husband, neither had any one heard of any stain upon her character. She was something of a shrew. She dressed and adorned herself as one whose husband is living. She was beautiful, of brilliant complexion, lotus-eyed, short in stature, her face like the moon covered with clouds, her hair raised in front like a snake-hood.

Hira was sitting alone singing. She made quarrels among the maids for her own amusement. She would frighten the cook in the dark, incite the boys to tease their parents to give them in marriage; if she saw any one sleeping she would paint the face with lime and ink. Truly she had many faults, as will appear by degrees. At present I will only add that if she saw attar or rose-water she would steal it.

Surja Mukhi, calling Hira, said, "Do you know that <em>Boisnavi</em>?"

"No," replied Hira. "I was never out of the neighbourhood, how should I know a <em>Boisnavi</em> beggar-man. Ask the women of the <em>Thakur bari</em>; Karuna or Sitala may know her."

"This is not a <em>Thakur bari Boisnavi</em>. I want to know who she is, where her home is, and why she talks so much with Kunda. If you find all this out for me I will give you a new Benares <em>sari</em>, and send you to see the play."

At this offer Hira became very zealous, and asked, "When may I go to make inquiry?"

"When you like; but if you do not follow her now you will not be able to trace her. Be careful that neither the <em>Boisnavi</em> nor any one else suspects you."

At this moment Kamal returned, and, approving of Surja Mukhi's design, said to Hira, "And if you can, prick her with <em>babla</em> thorns."

Hira said: "I will do all, but only a Benares <em>sari</em> will not content me."

"What do you want?" asked Surja.

"She wants a husband," said Kamal. "Give her in marriage."

"Very well," said Surja. "Would you like to have the <em>Thakur Jamai</em>?[8] Say so, and Kamal will arrange it."

[Footnote 8: <em>Thakur Jamai</em>--Kamal Mani's husband.]

"Then I will see," said Hira; "but there is already in the house a husband suited to my mind."

"Who is it?" asked Surja.

"Death," was Hira's reply.