There was apparently no hope of Surja Mukhi's life. The <em>Brahmachari</em>, not understanding her symptoms, next morning called in the village doctor. Ram Krishna Rai was very learned, particularly in medicine. He was renowned in the village for his skill. On seeing the symptoms, he said--
"This is consumption, and on this fever has set in. It is, I fear, a mortal sickness; still she may live."
These words were not said in the presence of Surja Mukhi.
The doctor administered physic, and seeing the destitute condition of the woman he said nothing about fees. He was not an avaricious man.
Dismissing the physician, the <em>Brahmachari</em> sent Haro Mani about other work, and entered into conversation with Surja Mukhi, who said--
"Thakur, why have you taken so much trouble about me? There is no need to do so on my account."
"What trouble have I taken?" replied the <em>Brahmachari</em>; "this is my work. To assist others is my vocation; if I had not been occupied with you, some one else in similar circumstances would have required my services."
"Then leave me, and attend to others. You can assist others, you cannot help me."
"Wherefore?" asked the <em>Brahmachari</em>.
"To restore me to health will not help me. Death alone will give me peace. Last night, when I fell down by the roadside, I hoped that I should die. Why did you save me?"
"I knew not that you were in such deep trouble. But however deep it is, self-destruction is a great sin. Never be guilty of such an act. To kill one's self is as sinful as to kill another."
"I have not tried to kill myself; death has approached voluntarily, therefore I hoped; but even in dying I have no joy." Saying these words, Surja Mukhi's voice broke, and she began to weep.
The <em>Brahmachari</em> said: "Whenever you speak of dying I see you weep; you wish to die. Mother, I am like a son to you; look upon me as such, and tell me your wish. If there is any remedy for your trouble, tell me, and I will bring it about. Wishing to say this, I have sent Haro Mani away, and am sitting alone with you. From your speech I infer that you belong to a very respectable family. That you are in a state of very great anxiety, I perceive. Why should you not tell me what it is? Consider me as your son, and speak."
Surja Mukhi, with wet eyes, said: "I am dying; why should I feel shame at such a time? I have no other trouble than this, that I am dying without seeing my husband's face. If I could but see him once I should die happy."
The <em>Brahmachari</em> wiped his eyes also, and said:
"Where is your husband? It is impossible for you to go to him now; but if he, on receiving the news, could come here, I would let him know by letter."
Surja Mukhi's wan face expanded into a smile; then again becoming dejected, she said: "He could come, but I cannot tell if he would. I am guilty of a great offence against him, but he is full of kindness to me; he might forgive me, but he is far from here. Can I live till he comes?"
Finding, on further inquiry, that the Babu lived at Haripur Zillah, the <em>Brahmachari</em> brought pen and paper, and, taking Surja Mukhi's instructions, wrote as follows:
"SIR,--I am a stranger to you. I am a Brahman, leading the life of a <em>Brahmachari</em>. I do not even know who you are; this only I know, that Srimati Surja Mukhi Dasi is your wife. She is lying in a dangerous state of illness in the house of the <em>Boisnavi</em> Haro Mani, in the village of Madhupur. She is under medical treatment, but it appears uncertain whether she will recover. Her last desire is to see you once more and die. If you are able to pardon her offence, whatever it may be, then pray come hither quickly. I address her as 'Mother.' As a son I write this letter by her direction. She has no strength to write herself. If you come, do so by way of Ranigunj. Inquire in Ranigunj for Sriman Madhab Chandra, and on mentioning my name he will send some one with you. In this way you will not have to search Madhupur for the house. If you come, come quickly, or it may be too late. Receive my blessing.
"(Signed) SIVA PRASAD."
The letter ended, the <em>Brahmachari</em> asked, "What address shall I write?"
Surja Mukhi replied, "When Haro Mani comes I will tell you."
[Footnote 15: The wife does not utter the name of her husband except under stress of necessity.]
Haro Mani, having arrived, addressed the letter to Nagendra Natha Datta, and took it to the post-office. When the <em>Brahmachari</em> had gone, Surja Mukhi, with tearful eyes, joined hands, and upturned face, put up her petition to the Creator, saying, "Oh, supreme God, if you are faithful, then, as I am a true wife, may this letter accomplish its end. I knew nothing during my life save the feet of my husband. I do not desire heaven as the reward of my devotion; this only I desire, that I may see my husband ere I die."
But the letter did not reach Nagendra. He had left Govindpur long before it arrived there. The messenger gave the letter to the <em>Dewan,</em> and went away. Nagendra had said to the <em>Dewan</em>, "When I stay at any place I shall write thence to you. When you receive my instructions, forward any letters that may have arrived for me."
In due time Nagendra reached Benares, whence he wrote to the <em>Dewan</em>, who sent Siva Prasad's epistle with the rest of the letters. On receiving this letter Nagendra was struck to the heart, and, pressing his forehead, exclaimed in distress, "Lord of all the world, preserve my senses for one moment!"
This prayer reached the ear of God, and for a time his senses were preserved. Calling his head servant, he said, "I must go to-night to Ranigunj; make all arrangements."
The man went to do his bidding; then Nagendra fell senseless on the floor.
That night Nagendra left Benares behind him. Oh, world-enchanting Benares! what happy man could have quitted thee on such an autumn night with satiated eyes? It is a moonless night. From the Ganges stream, in whatever direction you look you will see the sky studded with stars--from endless ages ever-burning stars, resting never. Below, a second sky reflected in the deep blue water; on shore, flights of steps, and tall houses showing a thousand lights; these again reflected in the river. Seeing this, Nagendra closed his eyes. To-night he could not endure the beauty of earth. He knew that Siva Prasad's letter had been delayed many days. Where was Surja Mukhi now?