Chandra Shekhar/Part 6/Chapter 7
in the durbar
The Nawab in his regal robe, studded with pearls and diamonds, sat majestically on his high throne of gold, bedecked with jewels of every colour and description, with the superb state crown on his head, shining with its precious brilliants. On his two sides, stood, with folded hands, his numerous attendants, in well-formed rows—the high officials, with the permission of their royal master, were seated on a carpet, in a kneeling attitude, silent and motionless. The Nawab asked,
"Are the prisoners all present?"
"Yes, if it please your majesty," replied Mahammad Irfan, with a bow.
The Nawab expressed his desire to see Lawrence Foster first. Foster was accordingly brought in and made to stand before the Nawab. He asked Foster, "Who are you?"
Lawrence Foster could feel that there was now no escape for him. He thought within himself, "So long I have only brought disgrace to my race and nationality—to-day I will die like an Englishman." He said to the Nawab,
"My name is Lawrence Foster."
Nawab. To what nationality do you belong?
Foster. I am an Englishman.
Nawab. Then you are my enemy—why did you come to my camp?
Foster. I have no explanation to give—I am now in your hands and you can inflict on me any punishment you like. You need not ask me why I came here—if you do so, you will have no answer from me.
The Nawab instead of being angry, laughed aloud and said,
"Well, I see you are fearless. Will you tell me the truth?"
Foster. Englishmen never tell lies.
Nawab. Is it? All right, we will see that now. Who was telling me that Chandra Shekhar is here? Get him before me if he is come.
Mahammad Irfan brought Chandra Shekhar before the Nawab. The Nawab, pointing his finger at Chandra Shekhar, asked Foster,
"Do you know him?"
Foster. I have heard his name but I do not know him.
Nawab. All right. Where is Kulsam?
Kulsam was brought there and the Nawab asked Foster,
"Do you know this woman?"
Foster. Yes, I do.
Nawab. Who is she?
Foster. She is one of your maid-servants.
Nawab. One of you go and bring Mahammad Taki here.
Mahammad Irfan accordingly brought in Taki Khan in chains. The treacherous wretch was hitherto wavering as to which side he would take in the struggle between the Nawab and the English; so, he was not able to go over to the enemy's side. Besides, the commanders of the Nawab’s forces, knowing him to be faithless, used to keep him under vigilant watch. It was, therefore, quite easy for Ali Ibrahim Khan to bring him to Udayanalla, as a prisoner.
The Nawab did not even look at Taki Khan. He simply said to Kulsam,
"You now relate in detail, how you went to Calcutta from Monghyr."
Kulsam related the whole story, as clearly as she could. She gave out all that she knew about Dalani Begum. She then folded up her hands, and with tears in her eyes, addressed herself to the Nawab as follows:—
"My lord! I have a complaint to lodge, at this your royal court, against that cruel murderer, Mahammad Taki—pray listen to me. That faithless and treacherous man has duped my royal master by making certain false and libellous allegations against his queenly wife. The wretched sinner has, without the least hesitation or pain, destroyed the life of Dalani Begum, that jewel of a woman, as if, that precious thing was as insignificant a trifle as a poor ant. My lord! justice, therefore, demands that this great sinner should be crushed like an ant."
"It is a lie," faltered out Mahammad Taki. "Who are your witnesses?"
Kulsam's eyes were dilated with emotional grief and she roared out,
"Who will bear testimony to what I say? Look up—God is my witness! Place your hand on your heart—you are my witness. If any other person's deposition is necessary, ask that Englishman and he will say whether my story is true or not."
Thereupon, the Nawab asked Foster,
"What do you say—is the maid-servant's story true? You had been with Amyatt, and you have just now said that Englishmen do not tell lies."
Foster gave out what he actually knew about Dalani Begum. His statement convinced every one, present there, that Dalani was absolutely stainless. Mahammad Taki remained silent, with down-cast eyes.
Chandra Shekhar then stepped forward and thus addressed himself to the Nawab,
"My lord, I can also testify to what the maid-servant has said. I am that very hermit, who came to your Begum’s help, on the isolated bank of the Ganges."
Kulsam immediately recognised him and said,
"Yes, it is he, indeed!"
Chandra Shekhar now said to the Nawab,
"My lord, if this Englishman is truthful, pray, ask him one or two more questions."
The Nawab understood what Chandra Shekhar had meant and said,
"You better put the questions—the interpreter will explain them to Foster."
Chandra Shekhar then asked,
"You said a little before that you have heard the name of Chandra Shekhar—he is no other than myself. Why did you take away—"
"Please stop," interposed Foster, "you need not bother yourself with any question. I am free, as I do not fear death—it depends entirely upon my sweet will whether I shall give any answer to your questions or not; I am determined not to say anything in reply to any of your queries."
"Then bring Shaibalini here," ordered the Nawab to his men.
Shaibalini was accordingly brought in. At first, Foster could not recognise her—she was now lean and emaciated—she had put on a dirty and ragged Shari—her locks were flowing about in a wild manner and had lost their glossy lustre, through utter neglect—there was the smile of madness in her lips, and the vacant looks of insanity in her once-intelligent eyes! Foster shuddered at this sight.
The Nawab asked him, "Do you know her?"
Foster. Yes, I do.
Nawab. Who is she?
Foster. She is Shaibalini—Chandra Shekhar's wife.
Nawab. How do you come to know her?
Foster. You better inflict on me any punishment you like—I will not give any answer to this question.
Nawab. It is my desire to see you torn into pieces by hounds.
Foster grew pale—his limbs began to tremble with fear. He got over his nervousness a little after and said,
"If it is your desire to put an end to my life, pray, order any other form of capital punishment."
Nawab. No. Tradition has it, that in by-gone days the practice among the rulers was to bury alive a culprit, sentenced to capital punishment, up to the waist, and then let loose at him trained dogs to tear him limb by limb. After each attack of the fearful hounds, salt used to be showered upon the wounds of the unfortunate victim. The dogs would go away when they had satisﬁed their hunger with the culprit's flesh, and the man would be left in that miserable plight, half-dead, to be finished by them when they felt hungry again. I order such a punishment for you and the treacherous Taki Khan.
At this, Mahammad Taki burst forth into a hideous cry of distress, like an afflicted brute. Foster knelt down and with folded hands and up-turned eyes, began to pray to God for his deliverance—he said within himself, "Oh, omnipotent Father! I have never in my life taken your holy name or thought of your divine grace. I have all along sinned against you. It never occurred to me that you are omnipresent. But I venture to invoke your help, because I am helpless to-day—oh, thou friend of the needy and the succour of the distressed! come to my help and save me from the impending danger."
Good readers! don't be surprised at this. Even the man who does not believe in the existence of God, invoke his divine help in the hour of gloom—he invokes it with all the sincerity and devotion of his heart. Foster too prayed, and devotedly prayed, for Heaven's mercy.
While lowering his eyes after prayer, Foster quite unexpectedly saw, at the entrance of the tent, a striking, hoary-headed personality, casting acute and penetrating glances at him. The wonderful man wore a loose scarlet; he had long matted hair and a flowing grey beard—he had sacred symbols painted all over his body with the ashes from his sacred altar of sacriﬁcial fire. Foster could not take away his eyes from that imposing spectacle and as if charmed, fixed them upon those of the strange figure, before him. Gradually his mind was absolutely overpowered by the influence of that vision. A little after, his eyes became heavy with sleep and a peculiar hypnotic influence benumbed his limbs. It seemed to Foster that the lips of the wonderful man, before him, were moving, as if, he was speaking something. Gradually, a voice of thunder reached his ears—he heard some one saying,
"I will save you from the threatened punishment. You better answer to what I ask—are you Shaibalini's paramour?"
Foster gazed at the poor distracted Shaibalini and said,
"No, I am not."
Every one present there distinctly heard Foster saying, "No, I am not." That mysterious voice, resembling a roaring thunder, was again heard. Foster could not make out whether it emanated from the Nawab or Chandra Shekhar or some one else—he simply heard a solemn voice asking,
"Why was then Shaibalini kept in your boat?"
Foster cried out,
"My mind was completely captivated by the fascinating charms of Shaibalini's beauty and I was led to snatch her away from her home. I kept her in my boat in the belief that she might be attached to me; but, I soon found that I had been acting under a delusion—she was verily my enemy. When I met her in my boat for the first time, she brought out from her waist a sharp knife and said to me in a threatening attitude, 'If you will come within my cabin, this knife will end your and my life—look upon me as your mother.' I could therefore never go within her cabin—I did not even touch her."
Every one heard this. Chandra Shekhar then asked,
"How could you then make her eat your food, knowing that it will lead to her excommunication from the society?"
"She did not take, even for a day, my food or anything that I might have touched," said Foster in an earnest and impressive tone. "She used to cook her food with her own hands."
Question. What she used to take?
Foster. She used to take only rice with milk.
Question. What about the water she used to drink?
Foster. She would invariably get it herself from the Ganges.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
"What is that?" inquired the Nawab in surprise. "Alas, it is the cannon's roar," replied Mahammad Irfan, in a mournful voice. "The English have attacked our camp."
Forthwith, people within the Nawab's tent began to rush out, in wild disorder. The firing grew heavier and oftener and the roaring cannons were heard nearer and nearer, as if, they were approaching by leaps and bounds—the blood exciting note of battle was struck by the military bands, and the air all around was filled with war's rattle. The noise of the hoofs of galloping steeds, the metallic jingle of the combatants' arms and armours and the shouts and war-cries of the fighting soldiers, all mixed together, and resembled the hustle and commotion of a boisterous sea—the sky was enveloped with sulphurous smoke. So unexpected was this outburst of warlike fury, that it seemed, as if, during the dead of night, when the whole universe is lulled to sleep by the fostering care of nature, the angry ocean, swollen with rage, rushed forward and encircled the camp, quite unawares.
All on a sudden, the officers and the attendants of the Nawab rushed out of the tent, in all haste—some to go to the field of battle and some to make ignominious escape. Kulsam, Shaibalini, Chandra Shekhar and Foster also came out; only the Nawab and the captive, Taki Khan, remained within the tent.
After a while, the enemy’s shells began to fall on the Nawab’s tent. Thereupon, the Nawab rose up and unsheathing his sword, thrusted it, with his own hand, into the heart of his treacherous prisoner. Taki Khan fell on the ground dead, and the Nawab walked out of the tent.