Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part2/Chapter 6


THE boat was gliding over the Ganges at night and Shaibalini woke up from her sleep.

There were two cabins in the boat, one was occupied by Foster, and the other by Shaibalini and her maid. Shaibalini had not yet reduced herself into a European lady. She had still her black-bordered sari on. She retained the bangles on her arm, the anklets on her feet, and the Purandarpore maid Parvati was keeping her company. Shaibalini had been sleeping, and she saw a vision. The trees on the banks of the Bheema, with their water-prone branches, had formed a dark fringe round the tank. In it Shaibalini’s face was floating as a lotus. At the further end a golden swan was gliding along, and on the bank a white boar was roaming about. The swan had caught her fancy and she was anxious to get at it, but it turned off and moved along, while the boar prowled about on the bank to catch the lotus(Shaibalini). The face of the swan could not be seen, but that of the boar gave an idea as if it resembled Foster. Shaibalini wanted to get at the swan, but her feet stuck in the water like the stalk of the lotus—her locomotion had gone. Here again, the boar had been crying out to her, “come to me, I will get you the swan.” At the first report of the gun Shaibalini’s slumber was broken. Then she heard the splash of the sentry’s fall. In the opiate fumes of unfinished and interrupted slumber, she could not collect her wits for a while, the swan and the boar coming back to her with recurrent persistency. The second gunshot and a great clamour roused her completely. She came to the outer cabin and looked out. Yet she could not make out anything. Then she returned to her own cabin. A lamp was burning there, and Parvati had also got up. Shaibalini asked her,——

“Do you understand what is going on there?”

“Not much,” said Parvati. “It appears from the men’s talk that the boat has been set upon by pirates-the Englishman has been killed. This is the consequence of our folly.”

“How can the death of the Englishman be the consequence of our folly? Surely it is his, if anybody’s.”

“When the pirates have attacked, ours is the danger.”

“What is the danger? Hitherto we had been in the company of one set, now it will be another. If we can get out of the clutches of the white pirate and then fall into the hands of black pirates, we shall not be any the worse for it.”

Then shaking the braided locks of her small head trailing behind her shoulders, she strode with a soft delicate smile and installed herself in her small couch.

"I can scarcely bear your smile at such a moment,” cried Parvati.

“If you cannot,” said Shaibalini “there is the Ganges ready for you; you are welcome to drown yourself. The time for my smiling has come, and I will smile. Do call one of the pirates please, will you? I should like to have a talk.”

"They do not want to be called,” answered Parvati in a pet, "they will come without it.”

Sometime passed, but no pirates came. “Look at our luck,” said Shaibalini in an injured tone, “even the pirates do not take any notice of us.” Parvati had been trembling in fear.

A long while after, the boat stopped at an alluvial plat. It waited there sometime before some clubmen brought a palanquin with Ramcharan at their head.

The bearers set the palanquin on the ground. Ramcharan got into the barge and approached Protap. With Protap’s instructions he entered the cabin. His eyes first lighted on Parvati’s face, then he saw Shaibalini. Addressing the latter he said, “Will it please you madam, to come out?”

“Who are you?” asked Shaibalini. “Where do you want me to go?”

“Your servant, madam,” replied Ramcharan, “do not be afraid—come with me. The Englishman is dead."

Quietly Shaibalini stood up and followed Ramcharan, and together went out of the boat. Parvati was following, but Ramcharan forbade and warned her off. In fear she abided in the boat. At Ramcharan’s request Shaibalini got into the palanquin. He took it to Protap’s house.

Dalani and Kulsam were still staying in that house. Lest there should be any interruption to their sleep, Ramcharan avoided them and took shaibalini upstairs, and with a request that she might take her rest, he set a light before her, made her obeisance, and left the place after closing the door behind him.

Shaibalini had asked—“whose house is this?”—but it suited Ramcharan to pay a deaf ear to it.

Contrary to Protap’s instructions, Ramcharan in the exercise of his own discretion, had taken Shaibalini to Protap’s house. Protap had told him to take the palanquin to Jagat Shetth’s house. On the way it struck Ramcharan— “Who knows if I should find the gate of Jagat Shetth’s house open at this time of night? Would the gatekeeper give us admittance ? How should we introduce ourselves when asked? Should I invite my own ruin by giving a true account? It is much safer to avoid all that and go to our own lodging.” With this decision he had taken the palanquin to Protap’s house.

When Protap found that the palanquin was fairly out of sight, he got out of the boat. Hitherto the sight of the guns in Protap’s hand had made the men hold their tongue, but now the presence of the clubmen effectually silenced them. Alighting from the boat, Protap took the way to his lodging. Reaching the door of his house he gave a knock. Ramcharan came and opened the door. That Ramcharan had acted against his instructions, he heard as soon as he reached home from Ramcharan himself. He was a little put out and said, “There is time yet, take her to Jagat Shetth’s house. Go fetch her.”

Reader, you will be astonished to hear, Ramcharan went and found Shaibalini asleep. Surely, no sleep is possible under such circumstances! Possible or not, we cannot say; we are writing just as it happened. Without rousing Shaibalini, Ramcharan cameback to Protap and said, “She is sleeping, shall I wake her up?” Protap was astounded and thought that the savant Chanakya left his famous couplet about woman incomplete[1] a woman’s sleep is sixteen-fold greater than man’s. Aloud he said, “There is no need for pushing matters to that extent, you can go to sleep—we had no end of trouble tonight; I myself too must take a little rest.” Ramcharan went away to sleep. Night had not yet altogether spent. The house, the city beyond, everywhere, there was stillness and darkness. Alone, Protap silently went upstairs and walked towards his own bedchamber. Reaching his room, he opened the door and saw Shaibalini lying on his bed. Ramcharan had forgotten to tell him that he had left Shaibalini in his bedroom.

In the light of the lamp it seemed to him as if someone had heaped pure blooming flowers on his white bed; as if some one had cast adrift white smiling lilies on the still white expanse of the Ganges during the rains. What tranquil soul-entrancing loveliness! Once seen, Protap could not turn his eyes. Not that he was bewitched by the charm of beauty, or that his senses were overpowered by any sensuous feeling, but in sheer abstraction he gazed as one spell-bound. Events of long bygone days were conjured up in his mind; suddenly the sea of his memory was churned and sent up billows on billows.

Shaibalini did not sleep—she was meditating her plight with eyes shut. Ramcharan had come to the conclusion from her closed eyes that she was asleep. Her deep absorption prevented her from hearing Protap’s footfall. Protap had come up with the musket in his hand. Presently he leaned it up against the wall. His mind was a little distraught, and he had placed it rather carelessly; the result was, it slipped down. At the sound Shaibalini opened her eyes and saw Protap; she rubbed her eyes and sat up, and with a loud exclamation cried -

“What is this! who are you?”

With these words she fainted away on her bed. Protap fetched some water and sprinkled the face of the lifeless Shaibalini. Bathed in water, her face beamed like a dew-washed lotus. The water coursing down her tresses rendered them moist and flaccid and began to drip, and the hair shone like conferva clinging to the lotus.

Soon Shaibalini was brought to. Protap got up on his feet. Quietly she asked him, “Who are you? Are you Protap or some Divinity come to try me in the shape of man?”

“Yes, I am Protap,” said Protap.

“For once in the boat it seemed to me, I heard your voice; but instantly I thought it must be a mere fancy. I had waked up in the midst of a dream, and that is why I mistook it for a fancy.”

With these words she uttered a deep sigh and remained silent. Finding her thoroughly recovered, Protap was silently leaving fhe room, when Shaibalini called out, “Don’t go yet.”

Reluctantly Protap turned back.

“Why have you come here?” asked Shaibalini.

“This is my lodging,” answered Protap.

As a matter of fact Shaibalini had not yet recovered. A fire was burning within her; she was trembling to the tips of her nails, and a thrill was passing through her entire being. She remained silent for a little while. and somewhat recovered, she resumed,

“Who has brought me here?”

“We have brought you?”

“We! who are the we?”

“I and my servant.”

“Why have you brought me here? What do you want with me?”

Protap got very much irritated and said, “One should not look upon the face of a miserable sinner like you. I have saved you from the hands of the Englishman, and you ask me, ‘why have you brought me here?"

Shaibalini did not return passion for passion. In a tearful voice she meekly said :—

“If the Englishman’s company seemed to you such an abomination for me, then why didn’t you put an end to my life then and there? You had the gun in your hand.”

Protap was further incensed and said,

“I would have done that even; but the sin of a woman’s death stayed my hand, nevertheless, it is better you should die.”

Shaibalini wept. After stanching her tears, she went on, ‘Yes, it is better I should die, but let others say what they like, you shouldn't say so. Who is the author of this miserable plight of mine ?——you. Who has rendered my life full of darkness?——you. Despaired of all hopes of happiness for whom did I lose all sense of right and wrong?——it is for you. For whom am I thus miserable?——it is for you. For whom was I not able to fix my mind on my domestic duties?——it is for you. You should not scold me.”

“You are a vile sinner,” replied Protap, “therefore, I reproach you. Is it my fault? God knows, I am not guilty in any way. Heaven only knows how of late I have shunned your path in terror as of a serpent. In dread of your venom I left Vedagram. Your own heart is at fault. Your own inclinations are to blame. You are a wicked sinner, therefore you blame me. What harm have I done to you?”

Shaibalini flared up, and continued, “What harm you have done, you ask? Why, why did you again hold up that matchless divine figure of yours before my eyes ? In my budding youth swelling in bloom why did you light the flame of your beauty before me. What I once forgot, why did you kindle up? Oh, why did I see you! If I did see you, then why couldn’t I get you! If I couldn’t get you, then why didn’t I die! Don’t you know that in contemplation of your beauty my home was converted into a wilderness for me? Don’t you know that in a vague uncertain hope of getting you, I snapped all ties with you in connection with Vedagram and left my home, otherwise who is Foster to me?”

At these words it seemed as if a thunder-bolt had come down on Protap’s head. He shot out of the place like one stung by a scorpion. At that time there was a great tumult at the outer gate.

  1. The allusion is to a famous couplet in Sanskrit by Pundit Chanakya an aphorist, in which he described some of the principal characteristic; of man and woman.