Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part2/Chapter 8


JUST as the daughters of Islam were peeping from their chamber through the slightly parted door, Shaibalini was also similarly engaged in her own chamber. All three were women and all three were oppressed with the same womanly curiosity; at the same time a great terror weighed upon their mind. But the peculiar characteristic of terror is such that it continually draws you on to a sight of the object of it again and again. Thus Shaibalini saw everything from the beginning to the end. When every one had left, finding herself alone in the house, she sat on her bed and fell into a muse.

“What shall I do now?” she thought, "I am alone, but what is the fear in that?—I have nothing to be afraid of in this earth. There is no worse calamity than death. She who is yearning for it day and night, what is there for her to be afraid of? Ah! why don’t I meet that death? Suicide seems to be easy enough, but is it really so? Why, I passed so many days on the water and yet not for a single day could I attempt to drown myself? When every one was asleep at night, I could easily steal our of my cabin and drop into the water— who could prevent me? True, there was a chance of detection, there was the guard. But I never made any attempt. There was the wish for death, but no attempt. Even then I had some hope, and hope does not allow a person to die. But to-day?—yes, this is the fitting time for death. But then Protap has been taken away in durance——I cannot die without knowing his fate. What can happen to Protap? Whatever should chance, how could it affect me? who is Protap to me? I am no better than a vile sinner in his eyes who is he to me? Who, I do not know, but he is the burning flame Which draws the moth Shaibalini. In this desert of my life he is the first lightning flash in the midst of a parching drought—he is my death. Alas! why did I leave my home and come away with a man of alien religion, why did I not go back with Sundari?” She smote her forehead with the palm of her hand and began to shed tears. The house at Vedagram rose before her mind. The sweet-oleander planted with her own hands along the boundary wall, its tallest spray with its crimson spread at the top reaching beyond the wall and nodding in aspiration of the blue skies, with the bumble-bee and the little birds ever and anon lighting among them, came back to her mind. The platform of the holy basil with its clean swept grounds, the domestic cat, the talking-bird in the cage, the big mango trees of sapid fruit beside the house, all began to be depicted on the canvas of her memory. What a panorama of sweet impressions was unrolled before her mind’s eye! How often she sat on the terrace of her house and gazed at the beautiful azure of cloudless skies; how many white, blooming, sweet-scented flowers she used to wash in clear water and keep in potfuls for Chandrashekhar’s devotional use; how frequently she inhaled the soft, balmy, fragrant breeze, on the banks of the Bheema; how often she watched the tiny ripples throw up their crystal spray and listened to the cuckoo call on the banks! She again heaved a sigh, and pursued the train of her thought— “I had an idea that as soon as I left home I should be able to meet Protap; I thought that some day I would go back to the Purandarpore factory, which is close to Protap’s house, and there sitting at my window I would spread the snare of my glances and inveigle my bird Protap; that with a favourable chance I would run away from the Englishman and fall prostrate at Protap’s feet. But I was like a caged bird, I knew not the ways of the world; I knew not that man proposeth but Providence disposeth; that the English cage is made of iron——what power have I to break through it? For no good have I earned this infamy, for nothing have I lost my caste, for nothing have I ruined the prospects of a future life.” It never occurred to the vile woman to consider whether vice should succeed or defeat itself—— much rather it should defeat itself. But one day she will understand it; one day she will be ready to lay down the very bones of her body to accomplish her expiation. If we had no such hope we should not have introduced this picture of sin. Again she thought, “The future life ?——I lost it the very day I set my eyes on Protap. That very day the All-knowing Providence wrote hell for my lot. Even in this life I am in hell—my mind is my hell——else why am I suffering so much? Why did I suffer so long the company of the Englishman—my very eye-sore? Nor is that all; it seems even the very objects of my affection are blighted by my contact; that is perhaps why Protap is in this dangerous plight. Oh, why did I not die?”

Shaibalini again wept; a little while after, she dried her eyes. She frowned, bit her underlip, and for a time her blooming lotus-like face wore an aspect of terrible beauty like the spreading hood of an infuriate serpent. Again she said to herself, “Why did I not die?” Suddenly she took out a pouch from her waist; in it was a sharp small knife. She took the knife, and unclasping the blade began to play with it on her thumb. “Did I take this knife in vain?” she continued, “Why didn't I plant it into my wretched bosom so long? Only because I was deluded by hope! But now?”—and she pressed the point of the blade against her breast. The knife remained in that condition for some time. She began to muse again, “Another day I held the knife in the same way on the breast of the sleeping Foster. I could not kill him—I had not the courage. ‘To-day also I do not find courage for self-destruction. This knife could tame the fierce Englishman; he knew that if he had entered my chamber, this knife would have killed either him or me. The terror of it could hold him back, but how is it that my savage heart quails before it now? Shall I die? No, not to-day. If I am to die at all, I will go to Vedagram first, and then die. There I will tell Sundari that I have lost my caste, I have disgraced my family name, but I have not lost my virtue, and then I will die. But him—he who is my husband——what shall I tell him before my death? I cannot think of anything. The very idea is like the sting of a hundred thousand scorpions, and sends a fire coursing through every vein in my body. I am not worthy of him, and that is why I left him. Has it pained him? Is he sorry for it? No, I am nothing to him—his manuscripts are his all—he cannot grieve for me. Oh, how fondly I wish some one would tell me how he is and what he is doing now! I never loved him and never shall, yet if I have hurt him in any way, then the cargo of my sins becomes heavier still. ‘One other matter I should like to tell him very much, but Foster is dead, who will bear testimony to it, who will believe my word?’

Shaibalini laid herself down on her bed and remained buried in thoughts of a kindred nature. Towards morning sleep came to her. In that sleep she saw diverse evil dreams. Day had advanced when she woke. The sun had been streaming into the room through the open casement. She opened her eyes, and what she saw before her amazed and staggered her, and held her spell-bound—she saw Chandrashekhar.