Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part1/Chapter 3

CHAPTER III.
LAWRENCE FOSTER.

CLOSE to Vedagram, in a village called Purandarpore, there was a small silk—factory belonging to the East India Company. Lawrence Foster was its factor. Disappointed in the love of Mary Foster, while yet very young, he accepted service under the East India Company and came out to Bengal. Just as various bodily ailments are bred in the Englishmen of the present day on their advent to India, similarly the air of Bengal used to breed in the Englishmen of those days the ailment of Avarice. Very soon Foster was attacked with this disease, consequently the image of Mary Foster was effaced from his mind. Once he had occasion to go to Vedagram on some business. In the waters of the Bheema the lovely lotus—like face of Shaihalini crossed his vision. At the sight of a white man Shaibalini had run away, but Foster returned to the factory meditating all the while. After much cogitation he came to the conclusion, that black eyes were better than blue eyes, black hair was better than fair hair. Suddenly he was reminded that woman was like a ship in the ocean of this mundane world; everyone ought to put her into requisition. Those Englishmen, who after coming out to India, defraud the priest and take Bengali beauties for their pleasure, are not very far out. Several Bengali women have bartered their love to Englishmen for greed of money—would not Shaibalini do the same? Taking a factory clerk with him, Foster again went to Vedagram and lay concealed in a thicket. The clerk saw Shaibalini, followed her and found out her home.

Every Bengali child gets terrified at the mention of a Bogey; but there are some naughty children who want to see a Bogey. Such was the case with Shaibalini. After the accepted manner of the times she would at first precipitately run away at the sight of Foster. Then some one said to her :—“The English do not catch people and swallow them straight off—they are very curious animals—just have a look at them once.” Shaibalini did look and found that the Englishman did not pounce upon her and eat her up. Thenceforward Shaibalini would not run away on the appearance of Foster, and gradually found courage even to talk to him. The reader knows it already.

In an evil moment Shaibalini took her birth in this world. In an evil moment did Chandrashekhar marry her. What Shaibalini is, we will tell later on; whatever that might be, Foster lost his labour.

Soon after, an order unexpectedly reached him from Calcutta to the following effect :——“Another man has been appointed to the factory of Purandarpore in your place, you should start for Calcutta at once. You will be deputed on special duty.” His successor followed close upon the order. Foster had. to start for Calcutta forthwith.

Shaibalini’s beauty had taken entire possession of Foster’s mind. He found that he must go away giving up all hopes of her. The Englishmen of Bengal in those days were incapable of two things only. They could not overcome avarice and they could not own a defeat. They would never admit they could not succeed in an enterprise, and it was better to desist; nor would they admit there was vice in any particular action and therefore they should not do it. Nowhere in the world can be found men equal in power and arbitrary will to the English men who first established British dominion in India.

Lawrence Foster was a man of this type. He did not try to resist the temptation. Among the Englishmen in Bengal at that period, the word virtue was extinct. He did not consider the feasibility or unfeasibility of the action, but only thought, “now or never.”

Thus resolved, on the night before he started for Calcutta, Foster, furnished with arms, palanquin, bearers, and some factory peons, set out after dusk in the direction of Vedagram.

That night the Vedagram folk heard with alarm that dacoits had attacked Chandrashekhar’s house. Chandrashekhar was not at home; he had gone to Murshidabad on receipt of a cordial invitation from one of the officials of the Nawab and had not yet returned. On hearing the noise, screams, crack of fire-arms and cries of weeping, the villagers left their bed, went out, and saw that dacoits were plundering Chandrashekhar’s house and many torches were blazing. No one went forward. Standing at a distance they saw the dacoits file out one by one after plundering the house; they also saw with surprise some bearers emerge from the house carrying a palanquin on their shoulders. The doors of the palanquin were closed and the English factor of Purandarpore were walking along side. Seeing this, they silently moved away in fear.

After the dacoits had left, the neighbours entered the house, but did not find many of the articles missing— most of them were there, but Shaibalini could not be found. “She must have hid herself somewhere,” opined a few, “and will presently come out.” “ No, she will not come out any more,” maintained the elderly among them, “and even if she did, Chandrashekhar would not take her back. The palanquin you saw carried her away.”

Those who had expected that Shaihalini would return, remained standing for sometime and finally sat down. After sitting for a while they began to doze, and after dozing for sometime they got disgusted and went away. Shaibalini did not return.

The girl, by name Sundari, whom we have introduced already, left the place last. She was the daughter of a neighbour of Chandrashekhar’s, by courtesy his sister, and an intimate friend of Shaihalini. We have given her account here, as we shall have need to speak of her later on.

After waiting for a long time, Sundari returned home at dawn and fell to weeping.