Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part5/Chapter 2


WHEN Lawrence Foster fell into the Ganges after being struck by Ramcharan’s bullet and Protap had set his barge loose, the crew of the junk jumped into the water and searched out Foster’s body which floated by. They kept him in their boat and informed Amyatt. Amyatt came and found Foster lying unconscious, but life was not yet extinct; the wound in his head had made him lose his consciousness. The chances of death were great, but he might survive. Amyatt knew the healing art and took up the case in right earnest. Acting on Bakaullah’s information he found out Foster’s boat and brought it to the landing-place. When Amyatt left Monghyr he carried the dying Foster in that boat.

The last sands of Foster’s life had yet to run, and Amyatt’s treatment saved his life for the nonce. He was destined to live, hence he escaped the hands of the Mussalmans at Mursidabad this time also. But now he was sickly and enfeebled; he had no longer his old courage, no longer his old defiance. He was in a mortal funk for his life and was fleeing to save it. The wound in his head had somewhat obfuscated his intellect.

He urged his boat with all possible speed as he had a suspicion that the Mussalmans would pursue him. At first he thought of taking shelter in the Kasimbazar Residency, but he was afraid lest they should attack that place, hence he gave up the idea. Foster was justified in his apprehensions here, or soon after, the Mussalmans went to Kasimbazar and attacked and plundered the Residency.

He rapidly cleared Kasimbazar, Farasdanga, Saidabad and Rangamati. Yet his fear was not gone; whenever he saw a vessel behind him, he at once took it for a Mussalman boat. Soon after, a small boat appeared to be persistently following him.

Foster then cast about for means of saving himself. In his distraction several ideas occurred to him. For once he thought, “Let me leave the boat and effect my escape by land.” “I cannot do that,” it struck him the next moment, “I haven’t got the strength for it.” “Why not drown myself?” came a second inspiration, and instantly it flashed on him that it was not a satisfactory solution of the difficulty, as in that case he would not save himself. “Let me throw these two women over-board,” was his last thought, “the boat will be lighter and run all the faster for it.”

Suddenly a wrong-headed idea took possession of his mind. It was his firm belief that the Mussalmans were coming in pursuit of him for these women. He had heard that Dalani was the Nawab’s Begum, and he thought that it was for her sake alone that the Mussalmans had attacked the English boats. Therefore if he released the Begum there would be no further difficulty. He made up his mind to leave Dalani on the shore.

“Do you see that small boat coming in our rear?” faltered Foster as he drew Dalani’s attention to it.

“Yes, I do,” answered Dalani.

“That is a boat belonging to your people, and it is coming to your rescue,” said Foster.

Had Foster really any ground for thinking so? His diseased imagination was the only ground. He mistook a piece of rope for a snake. If Dalani had carefully thought over the matter she would have at once found reason for doubt. But the mere mention of the coveted thing is enough to make one lose his head, and blinded hope is reason defeated. Duped by hope, Dalani readily fell in with the idea and said :

“If that be so, then why don’t you transfer us to that boat, we will give you plenty of money.”

“I cannot do that,” said Foster, “if they once capture my boat, they are sure to kill me.”

“I will stop them,” said Dalani.

“They would not listen to you. The people of your country have no respect for a lady’s request,” said Foster.

In her eagerness, Dalani lost her reason. She never thought of untoward possibilities; she never thought what she would do if the vessel turned out to be a private boat. That it might not belong to the Nawab’s Government, never struck her mind. Her impatience stranded her in a dangerous situation and she said, “In that case you can drop us on the shore and then follow your way.”

Foster joyfully agreed to the proposal and ordered the boat to pull for the shore.

‘I am not going to alight,” said Kulsam. “Who can say what is in store for me when I fall into the Nawab’s hands! I have made up my mind to go to Calcutta with the Englishman. I have got some acquaintances there.”

“You need not be afraid,” said Dalani. “If I live you shall also live.”

“If you live, then!” said Kulsam.

Nothing in the world could induce Kulsam to alight from the boat. Dalani earnestly entreated her, but she was determined.

“Who can say that the boat will not follow us for your sake? You had better get down also,” suggested Foster to Kulsam.

“If you insist on my leaving the boat,” said Kulsam, “then after going into the other boat I will take pretty good care that the people over there do not let you alone.”

Foster was frightened. He did not utter another word after that. Dalani shed tears for Kulsam and alighted from the boat. Foster sailed away. It was not long before the sun went down after that.

Foster’s boat gradually went out of sight. The small vessel, the mistaken identity of which as a boat belonging to the Nawab’s Government had led Foster to leave Dalani on the shore, also approached. Every moment Dalani expected it to pull for the shore to take her up, but it did not. Then in her doubt if she had been seen or not, she began to wave the end of her cloth on high; yet the boat did not turn from its course, but rowed past her. Like a lightning flash it at once flashed on her mind : “How could I conclude that the boat belonged to the Nawab’s Government? It might belong to some other party.” Then in aloud voice she frantically called out to the crew. “Sorry, no room for you,” said they in reply and sailed away.

Dalani felt as if a thunderbolt had struck her. By that time Foster’s boat had gone out of sight, yet she ran along the shore with the hope of overtaking it. She ran a long way, but ultimately failed. Night had already set in, and it became dark. Nothing could be seen on the face of the river—only the gurgling of the fresh current after the recent rains was heard. Then like a plant torn up by the roots Dalani sank down in despair.

After a while, when Dalani found it useless to sit in the river-bed, she stood up and slowly ascended the bank. In the darkness no pathway could be found. Stumbling once or twice she got up on the bank. In the dim star-glimmer she looked round. No sign of a village or a hamlet anywhere—only a limitless plain and that gurgling river. Not to speak of any human being, not even a light could be seen on any side; not a village, no tree, no pathway; not an animal excepting jackals and dogs; only the stars could be seen dancing in the river current. Dalani made sure of certain death.

Not very far from the river Dalani sat down on a plain. At hand the beetle droned and the jackal howled. Gradually night deepened and the darkness grew weird and gruesome. At midnight Dalani was terrified to see a tall man roaming alone in that plain. Without uttering a word he came and sat by her side.

The same tall individual again. This is the man who had lifted Shaibalini up and slowly ascended the hill in the darkness.