Chandra Shekhar/Part 3/Chapter 5
Golston, after all, was almost as clever in Hindi as Amyatt; but among his own fellows, he was suffered to pass for an expert. He asked the woman,
"Who are you?"
Shaibalini made no answer. She continued to weep.
Golston. "Why are you weeping?"
Yet Shaibalini gave no reply, and wept on.
Golston. "Where do you live?"
Shaibalini kept on as before.
Golston. "What has brought you here?"
Shaibalini remained silent, weeping as before.
Golston was at his wit's end. The Englishmen got no answer from Shaibalini, and asked her to go away. Shaibalini, however, did not seem to understand that—she did not stir—she stood there, as before.
Amyatt then said, "She does not understand us and we do not understand her too. From her dress it appears that she is a Bengalee girl. Just call here a Bengalee and ask him to question her."
Almost all the attendants of these Englishmen were Bengalee Mahomedans. Amyatt called one of them in his presence, and asked him to speak to her.
"Why do you weep?" inquired the servant.
Shaibalini burst into laughter, as if, she was mad.
"Sirs, she is a mad woman," said the servant to his masters.
"Ask her what she wants," said the Englishmen out of curiosity.
On being asked, Shaibalini said that she was hungry, and the servant explained this to his masters.
"Give her something to eat," enjoined Amyatt on his servant.
The menial took her away to the kitchen, with a delightful heart—delightful, because Shaibalini was exceedingly handsome. But Shaibalini did not eat anything, inspite of the entreaties of the servant. She said to him, "I am a Brahmin's daughter; why should I take food from your hands?"
The servant left and reported to his masters what Shaibalini had said.
"Is there no Brahmin in any of the boats?" inquired Amyatt of the servant.
"There is one Brahmin among the Sepoys and another among the prisoners," replied the man.
"If there is rice with any one of them, go and ask him to give some to the woman," said Amyatt in good grace.
The servant, thereupon, took Shaibalini to the Hindu Sepoy. But he had nothing to give her to eat. The servant, therefore, brought Shaibalini to the boat, in which the Brahmin prisoner was kept. The prisoner was none but Pratap Roy himself.
Pratap was alone in a small boat. Both at its front and back, there were sentinels on watch. There was no light within the boat.
The servant called out the prisoner, and said, "Have you any rice left with you?"
"What will you do with it?" inquired Pratap.
"A Brahmin girl has had no meals yet—can you give her some rice?" said the servant.
Pratap too had no rice with him. But he did not say so—he said, "yes I can—but ask the sentinel to take off my handcuff."
The servant, thereupon, asked the sentinel to take off Pratap's handcuff. But the guard refused to do so without orders. The servant, therefore, went to Amyatt to obtain his permission.
Who takes so much trouble for a stranger? Particularly, so much attention could not be expected of Pirbuksh; for he drew his pay from an English master, and was never in the habit of helping any one willingly. Of all classes of men in the world, the Mahomedan servants of Anglo-Indians are the worst. But Pirbuksh had some interest in doing this little service for Shaibalini. He thought within himself that he would take the woman to the servants' quarter after she had taken some food, and so he became anxious to win over her by serving her with a meal. He, therefore, left to obtain Amyatt's orders—Shaibalini meanwhile waited outside Pratap's boat, drawing a veil over her face.
A beautiful face achieves triumphs everywhere. Particularly, if a young woman happens to be the possessor of a beautiful face, its influence becomes irresistible. Amyatt had seen that the woman was a matchless beauty—he was also somewhat moved to find that she was mad. He, therefore, sent orders through the head of the sentinels, to take off Pratap's handcuff, and allow Shaibalini to go within the boat.
Pirbuksh brought a light, and the sentry took off Pratap's handcuff. Pratap took the light, from the servant, and asked him not to come upon the boat. He then went inside with the light, and pretended, as if, he was getting rice for the woman—his object was to escape. Shaibalini too came within the boat. The sentinels were keeping watch outside—they could not see what was going on within the boat. Shaibalini drew up her veil, and took her seat before Pratap.
When Pratap got over his surprise, he noticed that Shaibalini was biting her lips—her face was rather bright with joy, and bore signs of unswerving determination. Pratap felt that Shaibalini was in every way fit to be the heroine of a hero like himself.
"Take off your hand from the pot and wash it—am I a beggar for rice?" whispered Shaibalini into Pratap's ears.
Pratap washed his hand readily.
"Now quit this place in all haste. Know it that the small boat, you will find after that yonder bend of the river, is meant for you," again whispered Shaibalini to Pratap.
"You go first or you will not be safe," said Pratap in a very low whispering voice.
"Away—be gone forthwith," urged Shaibalini with all the emphasis she could command. "You won't be able to escape if you are handcuffed again. Jump into the water at once. Don't delay. Be guided by me for a day at least. I shall jump into the water like a mad woman, and you will follow me, as if, to my rescue."
Shaibalini then rose up. She burst into a shrill unnatural laughter, and cried out, "I shall not eat rice." Immediately after this, she began to weep, and said, as she came out of the boat, "I have been fed with a Mahomedan's rice—I have lost my caste—Mother Ganges, give me shelter in your sacred bosom." Shaibalini then threw herself into the river.
Pratap came out of the boat instantly, as if, in great surprise. The sentinel was going to stop him, when he kicked down the man, saying, "Rascal, a woman is about to drown herself in your presence, and you are standing here quite indifferent!"
At that single kick, the sentry fell down from the boat, on the bank. Pratap then leaped into the water, crying out, "To the rescue—to the rescue of the dying woman."
Shaibalini, who was an expert in swimming, was going ahead, and Pratap was following her.
The sentinel at the back of the boat then raised a hue and cry, and levelled his gun at Pratap. Pratap saw this, and cried out to the man, "Don't be afraid—I don't mean to get away—I will save that woman—how can I suffer my heart to see her perish for want of help. You are a Hindu—don't sin by killing a Brahmin for nothing."
The Sepoy lowered his gun.
At that time, Shaibalini was swimming away by the side of the last boat in the row. At the very sight of it she got startled. She saw that it was the very Bundgerow in which she had to live with Foster. She fixed her eyes on the boat for a while, and began to tremble with fear. She saw, in the moonlight, on the top of the boat, an Englishman, lying on a little sofa, in a half reclining state. The radiant beams of the moon had fallen upon his face. Shaibalini shrieked out when she found that the man on the sofa was no other than Lawrence Foster himself!
Lawrence Foster was also gazing at her, as she was swimming away, and recognised that it was Shaibalini. He forthwith cried out, "Seize, ho, seize my lady there!" Foster himself was sick and bed rid—he had not the power to get up.
At Foster's cry, four or five men jumped into the river to seize Shaibalini. Pratap was at that time far ahead of them. They cried out to him, "Seize that woman—Foster Sahib will reward you. At this, Pratap said within himself, "I myself once gave Foster some reward, and I have a mind to reward him again." He, however, shouted to the men, "I will seize her—you better go back."
The men relied on Pratap's words, and turned back. Foster could not recognise that the man in advance was Pratap himself. Even then Foster's brain was not thoroughly restored.