Chandra Shekhar/Part 5/Chapter 2
the stalwart man again
fter Pratap had left with Foster's Budgrow, on the night Shaibalini was rescued, the men on the cargo boat, carrying arms and ammunition of the English, jumped into the river and picked up Foster, who being struck by Ramcharan's deadly shot, was floating away very close to that boat, in an unconscious state. Amyatt was instantly informed of it and he came there to see Foster. He found that Foster was completely unconscious, but was still alive. He had sustained a severe injury on his head, and had, therefore, lost his consciousness. There was greater probability of the case taking a fatal turn, but there was still some hope for Foster's life. Amyatt was a bit of a doctor, and he began to treat Foster as best as he could. According to Bakaullah's information, a search was made for Foster's Budgrow, and the boat, on being found, was brought to the Ghat, at Monghyr. When Amyatt left Monghyr, he took with him Foster, in that Budgrow.
Foster was destined to live longer, and so he recovered under Amyatt's treatment. Again, it was, perhaps, the decree of his fate which saved him from the hands of the Mahamedans, at Murshidabad; but then, he was now entirely deprived of that ruthless courage and wild vanity which all along characterized him, till Shaibalini was snatched away from him, and he himself was so terribly punished for his villany—he was now weak, dejected and was, in fact, reduced to a mere skeleton. He was now awfully afraid of his life, and was running away in all haste from Murshidabad, to save himself from the hands of the enemies. The severe wound which he had sustained on his head also affected his common sense to some extent. He was hurrying away his boat as fast as he could—he was afraid lest the Mahamedans would pursue and overtake him. He at first thought, that he would take shelter within the Residency at Cossimbazar, but he gave up the idea, as he feared, that the Mahamedans might attack it. This was a right guess; for, immediately after the fall of Amyatt and his comrades, the Mahamedans rushed to Cossimbazar and plundered the English Residency there.
Foster passed Cossimbazar, Farasdanga, Saidabad and Rangamati, yet, he could not shake off the fear of being overtaken by a pursuing enemy. Any boat which he found coming from behind, he fancied, belonged to the Mahamedans.
Foster noticed that a little boat was following his Budgrow, it seemed to him, persistently. At this, he began to think out a means, by which he could effect an escape. His diseased brain suggested one and a hundred ways by which, he believed, he could save himself from the hands of the pursuing enemy. He once thought, that the best thing for him would be, to leave the boat and escape by land. But, at the very next moment, he felt that it was quite impossible for him to run away—he was physically unfit to do so. Again, it occured to his diseased mind, that he would be safe if he would jump into the water. But, he instantly perceived that it would mean his death as well. He next thought, that his boat would go faster if he would cast into the river the two women with him.
All on a sudden, Foster jumped into another conclusion, which forced itself on him through his perverted understanding. It was, now, his firm belief, that the Mahamedans were pursuing him so tenaciously, only to rescue the two women in his boat. He had come to know that Dalani was the Nawab's Begum, and he thought that the enemies were continuing the chase for her alone. It, therefore, seemed to him that everything would be all right, if he would let off the Begum. He finally decided that he would drop down Dalani, somewhere on the bank of the river. He then said to the Begum,
"Do you see that yonder little boat, following us?"
"Yes, I do," replied Dalani, briefly.
"That boat belongs to your party," said Foster. "It is coming to snatch you off from our hands."
Was there really any reason to justify such a suspicion? No, nothing of the kind. It was absolutely the outcome of Foster's mental aberration—he mistook a rope for a snake. If Dalani had carefully considered what Foster had said, she would have certainly questioned the reality of Foster's apprehension. But, it is invariably the case that people completely lose themselves in the fascination of the very name of the object they crave for—hope makes them blind and they unhesitatingly shun deliberation! Dalani's mind was completely captivated by the hope, which Foster's words about her prospective deliverance, had inspired within her, and so she believed every word of Foster. She said to him,
"If what you say is true, why not let that boat come near us, so that we may get into it? If you will do so, I will amply reward you."
"By God, I cannot do that," said Foster. "If your men can once get hold of me, they will surely put an end to my life."
"I will prevent them from doing you any harm," replied Dalani with charming innocence.
"They will not listen to you," said Foster. "The people of your country have no regard for women's word!"
"In that case, you better drop us down on the shore, and go away," suggested Dalani, with her usual simplicity.
Dalani lost her sense through extreme impatience. She could not, therefore, carefully consider the good and evil of what she was going to do. She did not think, even for a moment, that she would be quite in a wide sea, if the boat, suspected to be the Nawab's, were actually not his; it did not, in fact, at all come to her mind that the boat might not be of the Nawab. She lost her patience, and plunged herself into a great peril. Foster was only too glad to agree to her alternative proposal, and he ordered his men to take his boat to the shore.
Kulsam, however, said, "I will by no means get down. If the Nawab can once get hold of me, I do not know what punishment he may not inflict on me. I will go to Calcutta with the Sahib—I have acquaintances there."
"You need not be afraid in the least," said Dalani in an impressively assuring tone. "If I live, I will also save you."
"Ay, if you live at all!" said Kulsam in reply.
Nothing could persuade Kulsam to get down from the boat with Dalani. The Begum repeatedly implored Kulsam to accompany her, but to no purpose.
"You too better get down," said Foster to Kulsam. "Who can say that the Nawab's men will not continue the chase if you be with me?"
"If you will drop me down here," said Kulsam with a ﬁne cunningness, "I will do all that I can to persuade the Nawab's men not to let you escape—I will see that they do not give up pursuing you."
Kulsam's threat had its effect on Foster's mind and he did not dare to meddle with her any more.
Dalani shed tears for Kulsam, and alighted from the boat, alone. Foster left the place forthwith, and hastened off, as fast as he could. The portals of the day were then about to be closed, and the moment was fast approaching when the mighty Sun was to retire from his day's work, to rest behind the horizon.
Foster's boat soon got out of sight. The little boat, which Foster had taken to be the Nawab's, now drew nearer—every moment, Dalani thought that it would be brought to the shore, to take her away on it. But it did not so happen. Suspecting that the men in the boat had not seen her, Dalani raised one end of her Shari, and began to wave it to and fro. But inspite of this, the boat was not brought to the shore and it passed her away. It was then that a doubt flashed through her mind, like a quick streak of lightning, that the boat which she had taken to be the Nawab's might not be his, and it was quite possible that it belonged to some other person altogether! Dalani then became almost mad, and began to call aloud the men in that boat. "There is no room in this boat," was the only reply they made and rowed away.
Dalani now felt that a thunder-bolt had come upon her. Foster's boat was then out of sight—yet she ran, as fast as she could, along the bank, in the hope that she would be able to overtake it. She ran a great distance, but she could not even catch a glimpse of Foster's Budgerow. The sun had already gone down the horizon, and now every object was enveloped by the falling shade of night. Nothing could be seen on the wide expanse of the river, as far as the vision of man could go; only the boisterous tumult of the flowing Bhagirathi, now swollen to the very edge of its banks, on account of the fresh and luxuriant supply of the rains, could be heard, in that dismal darkness. In utter despair, Dalani sat down on that dreary and isolated bank of the river, like a torn creeper!
After a while, Dalani felt that it was quite useless for her to remain there. She, therefore, got up and began to ascend the steep bank of the river. In that hideous darkness it was quite possible to find out a way of easy access, and so she stumbled and fell down several times before she could get on the main land. She then looked around and found that there was no trace of a village, as far as she could see, in the dim light of the twinkling stars overhead—she could only see a desolate field of endless dimension and the wide expanse of the Ganges, untiringly running its course with incessant murmurs. Not to speak of a man, she could not even see a faint light, a tree or a track in any direction. Only the beautiful images of the sparkling stars could be seen dancing in the waving ripples of the flowing Bhagirathi. Dalani felt that her end had surely come.
In that fearful lonely place, not far off from the river, Dalani took her seat, in utter despair. The drowsy hum of the beetles and the yell of jackals could be heard very close to her. Gradually the night advanced and with it the darkness became denser and more hideous. In the dead of night Dalani saw, with fear, a stalwart man, moving about, alone, in that desolate region. The man drew near Dalani and sat by her, without speaking a word.
The stalwart man again! He was no other than that mysterious person who had ascended the hills with Shaibalini on his arms, during the furious storm which had burst forth on the mountainous region, where unfortunate Shaibalini had been cast by the cruel tyranny of fate!