Chandra Shekhar/Part 2/Chapter 5

 

CHAPTER V

on the bank of the ganges.

 Decorative T from Chandra Shekhar.pnghe Council, at Calcutta, had decided to make war with the Nawab. For the present, they felt the necessity of sending some arms to the factory, at Azimabad. Accordingly a boat, loaded with arms, was despatched. It was also found necessary to send some private instructions to Mr. Ellis, the chief of the factory, at Azimabad. Mr. Amyatt was at Monghyr to settle all differences with the Nawab; no definite instructions could be given to Ellis, without knowing what Amyatt was doing there, and what he thought of the situation. So, an intelligent officer had to be sent to Monghyr. He would first see Amyatt, and taking necessary instructions from him, would go to Ellis, and explain to him the intentions of the Calcutta Council and those of Amyatt.

For this purpose, Governor Vansittart summoned Foster from Purandarpur. He would escort the boat carrying arms and proceed to Patna, after seeing Amyatt, at Monghyr. So, Foster, immediately after his arrival at Calcutta, had to leave for the western provinces. He had come to know of all these things before he left Purandarpur, and so he had already sent Shaibalini towards Monghyr.

Foster overtook Shaibalini in the way, and reached Monghyr with her and the boat carrying arms. He took leave of Amyatt after he had an interview with him. But just at that time, the boat loaded with arms was arrested under Gurgan Khan's orders. This gave rise to a controversy between Amyatt and the Nawab. One day, Amyatt and Foster decided that if the Nawab would let off the boat so much the better, or Foster would leave for Patna without it, the next morning.

Foster's two boats were lying fastened at the Monghyr Ghat. One of them was a country cargo boat—very big in size; the other was a Budgrow. On the cargo boat, some soldiers of the Nawab were on watch. There were also a few more of them on the bank. This boat was loaded with arms, and it was what Gurgan Khan meant to arrest.

The Budgrow contained no arms in it. It was lying some fifty cubits off the cargo boat. There was no sentinel of the Nawab on it. On its top, there was on watch, a Telinga sepoy of the English.

It was then past midnight. The night was dark but cloudless. The sentinel on the Budgrow was rising and sitting at intervals and dozing at times. There was a thick bush at the bank. From behind it, a person was closely observing some one at a distance. The observer was Pratap Roy himself.

Pratap saw that the sentinel was dozing. He, therefore, advanced and slowly got down in the river. The sentinel hearing a noise in the water, cried out, while dozing, "Who comes there?" Pratap gave no answer. The sentinel kept on dozing. Within the boat, Foster was awake and on alert. He heard the sentinel and looked around from within the Budgrow. He saw that a man had got down in the river—he thought, perhaps, to bathe.

At this moment, a report of a gun unexpectedly came from within the bush. The sentinel on the Budgrow was struck by a bullet and fell into the water. Pratap then moved to the spot, where the dark shadow of the boat had fallen and dipped himself into the water up to the chin. No sooner was the report of the gun heard, than the sepoys on the cargo boat shouted out, "What, ho!"

Those who were sleeping in the Budgrow now got up. Foster came out with his gun. He began to look around very closely. He found that the Telinga sepoy had disappeared. In the star-light, he could see his dead body floating away on the river. At first, he thought that it was the Nawab's sepoys who had killed him. But immediately after, he noticed a thin line of smoke, in the direction of the bush. Moreover, he saw that the men who were in the other boat were running up towards the Budgrow, to enquire what had happened. The stars were sparkling in the sky—lights were burning in the town—at the bank of the Ganges there were rows of boats, lying motionless in the darkness, like so many monsters, inert and lifeless in sleep—the ever-flowing Bhagirathi was running in murmurs—and in her current the corpse of the sentinel was floating away. Foster saw all these, in the twinkling of an eye.

Seeing the thin line of smoke above the bush, Foster raised his gun to fire in that direction. He could fully understand that the enemy was lying concealed in that bush. He could also feel that the hidden enemy who had killed the sentinel, might at any moment kill him as well. But he had come out to India after the battle of Plassey, and he could not believe that a native of Bengal would level his gun against an Englisnman. Besides, he thought that to an Englishman it was better to die than to fear an Indian foe. So, he had taken his stand there and raised his gun to fire. But instantly a flash of light was seen in the bush—a report of a gun was again heard—Foster was struck on the head and he fell into the water of the Ganges like the sentinel. His gun fell on the boat with a noise.

At that moment, Pratap, taking out a knife from his waist, cut down the ropes with which the Budgrow was fastened at the bank. The water was very shallow there and the current being very mild, the boatmen had not cast down the anchor. Even if it had been dropped down, it would have mattered very little to the strong and swift-handed Pratap, who briskly jumped upon the Budgrow, as soon as the ropes were cut off.

All these happened within a time which is only a hundredth part of what has been taken in describing them. The fall of the sentinel, Foster's appearance on the top of the Budgrow, his fall from and Pratap's getting on it—all these had taken place before the men from the other boat could come there.

When they arrived at the spot, they found that the Budgrow had been shifted to deep waters by Pratap's skill. One of them made an attempt to swim up to the Budgrow to get hold of it. Pratap raising a pole, struck him with it, on the head. The man swam back—no one else ventured to advance. Touching the bottom of the river with that pole, Pratap propelled the boat. The Budgrow, taking a side turn, came upon the strong current, and moved towards the east, in great speed. With the pole in hand, Pratap turned back and found that another Telinga sepoy, kneeling down on the top of the Budgrow, was raising his gun to fire at him. Pratap struck the sepoy on his hand, with the pole. His hand became disabled, and the gun dropped down. Pratap picked up that gun and also the one which had fallen down from Foster's hand. He then spoke aloud to the men in the boat,

"Know it, my name is Pratap Roy. Even the Nawab is afraid of me. With these two guns and the pole, I can alone kill all of you. If you obey me, I shall not harm any one of you. I am going to the helm—let the boatmen all row—others should remain where they are now; death is certain if they move, otherwise they have nothing to fear."

Pratap, then, poked the boatmen with the end of the pole, and made them go to the oars. They were struck with fear, and began to row. Pratap came to the helm. No one, after that, ventured to speak or question. The Budgrow moved on swiftly. There were some fires from the cargo boat, but as it was impossible to see, in the star-light, the person to be aimed, they were immediately stopped.

Then, some men, armed with guns, came out, in a small boat, to seize the Budgrow. At first Pratap did nothing. But when they came to close quarters, he let both of his guns go off at them. Two were wounded—the rest turned back their boat out of fear and rowed away in all haste.

Ramcharan, who lay concealed in the bush, finding that Pratap was out of danger, and that the sepoys were coming from the cargo boat to make a search in the bush, made himself scarce.

 

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