Durgesa Nandini/Book 1/Chapter 18

 

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE CLEVER PERSON AND HER FOIL.


Bimala came back to her chamber and sat down on the couch. Her countenance betokened excess of joy at having fulfilled her desire. A lamp was burning there; before her stood the glass;—her dress looked as fresh as it did in the evening. For a moment, she looked at her image an the glass. The same happy entanglements of her braid, the same dark sheen of the kajjala on the underlid of her eyes, the same rosy betel stain on her nether lip, the same pendants ever and anon waving, touching her round cheeks. She was lying in a recumbent posture. Who that saw her manner then, could again pant for the love of a youthful woman? Bimala contemplated her own charms with a smile. Did it proceed from regret at having sent the peerless Jagat Singha to Tilottama, after having brought him with her own exertions? Oh no! Far from being pained at such a consummation, she was delighted by it beyond measure. She smiled at the thought that the erudite Diggaja did not consent to leave his home absolutely without reason!

Bimala was waiting for Jagat Singha, when suddenly the deep blast of a trumpet burst upon her ear from the adjoining mangoe wood. She started in alarm, for the trumpet used to sound only at the gate, and never at so late an hour. Anon the remembrance of all that she had seen and heard on her way to the temple and back flashed upon her mind. She immediately inferred that the sound was the harbinger of evil; and hurried to the window to look out; but could see nothing particular in the wood. Filled with apprehensions, she sallied out of the room. Next to it was the yard, beyond which was another suite of rooms containing a staircase for ascending to the roof. Bimala went to the roof and began to look around; but could see nothing on account of the deep darkness in the wood. With increased apprehension, she then came to the balustrade, and placing her breast upon it and ?bending down her face, surveyed the place to the very base of the castle; but with her former success. The shifting green foliage was bathed in the soft moonlight; at intervals, as the breeze swayed the leaves, they wore a glistening red. Beneath the wood reigned deep, palpable darkness; here and there the moonlight escaping through openings in the foliage glinted over certain spots. On the still breast of the Amodara was reflected the moon with the star-crested welkin. At a distance, on the other bank rose the heaven-kissing appearances of the stately buildings. Here and there the form of a sentinel was visible on their roofs. This was all that she could see. She was about to return in disappointment, when she felt as if some one had touched her back with a finger. She started and turned round—an armed individual unknown to her was standing before her. She was struck motionless as a statue.

"You mustn't cry," said the armed person. "Do so—and your tender frame I shall hurl down to the bottom of the castle."

The man who thus suddenly stupified Bimala was dressed like a Pathan soldier. From the completeness of his costly dress, it might easily be inferred that the person held some important post. His age did not exceed thirty and he was eminently handsome. A diamond graced the turban on his lofty forehead. Were Bimala not then utterly confounded, she could perceive that the individual before her could almost challenge a comparison with Jagat Singha himself. His body was not so large, nor was he so broad-chested; but he had the same heroic and graceful mein, and boasted of a softer person. In his precious belt was a Damascus dagger in a sheath studded with corals. He held the naked sword in his hand, but had no other weapon.

"Don't cry; if you do so, I will instantly throw you down."

The amazement of Bimala gifted with presence of mind lasted but for a moment. She understood the soldier's meaning when he spoke a second time. Just behind her was the verge of the roof; before her stood an armed soldier; soldiers, she knew, were no idle talkers, nor was the threat so hard of execution either. Revolving all this in her mind, the sensible woman said,

"Who are you?"

"Where's the need of your knowing me?" replied the soldier.

"Why have you come here into the castle?" asked she. "Don't you know that thieves are led to the stake?"

Soldier.   "I am no thief, fair one."

Bimala.   "How have you entered the castle?"

Soldier.   "Through your own kindness—-when you left the window open, I came in; and have come up here in your wake."

Bimala struck her forehead with her hand.

"Who are you?" again asked she.

"Why should I now hesitate to make myself known to you?" said he. "I am a Pathan."

Bimala.   "This is not enough—you are a Pathan by race; but who are you?"

Soldier.   "By God's grace, my name is Osman Khan."

Bimala.   "I have never heard of any such person."

Soldier.   "Osman Khan, the general of Katlu Khan."

Bimala trembled. She burned with the desire of escaping any how and informing Virendra Singha of the tidings. But there was absolutely no way of her doing so, for before her stood the general obstructing her passage. Seeing no alternative, she thought that so long as she could keep him engaged in talk, so long she was free; afterwards, some sentinel on the roof might chance to come that way. Deciding this, she again set on to talk.

"Why have you entered the castle, Sir?"

"We sent a messenger to Virendra Singha," answered Osman Khan, "requesting him to side with us. In return, he has challenged us to enter the castle with our soldiers."

"Because the master of the castle, I understand you to say"—said Bimala, "has refused to ally himself with your people and has sided with the Mogals, therefore you have come to capture it. But I see you are alone."

Osman.   "At present I am so."

"Perhaps it is for this very reason," asked Bimala "that you are preventing my going."

This was said with the vain hope of escaping from the hands of the Pathan, who, she thought, would feel piqued at the imputation of cowardice and prove his valour by making way for her.

"Fair one," replied Osman with a smile, "you have nothing to be afraid of, except your side-glance. I have no very great fear even of that. But I have a suit to you."

Bimala felt curious, and fastened her look on Osman Khan's face.

"Pray, kindly oblige me," said Osman, "by giving me the key which is tied up in the corner of your sheet. I should hesitate to insult you by laying my hands on your person."

"That's very fine!" replied Bimala, gently laughing. "Were you not but a moment before ready to crush my body by hurling me down?"

"Necessity has no law," said the general. "And if need be, I shall have to do it now."

It required no long time for a clever woman like Bimala to understand that the key of the window was indispensably necessary to the soldier. But she did not know how to evade him. He that can take a thing by force, jests when he solicits for it. If the key was not voluntarily given, the general would master it by force. Any other person in her position would undoubtedly have handed the key, but the clever Bimala said,

"If I don't give you the key willingly, how will you take it, Sir?"

Whilst she was speaking, she took her sheet in her hand.

"If you don't," replied Osman, his eyes fast fixed on the sheet, "if you don't, I will enjoy the pleasure of touching your body."

"Do it, Sir," said she and sent the sheet in the direction of the wood. No sooner had she done so, than Osman, whose gaze had been rivetted to the sheet, stretched out his hand and caught hold of the flying cloth. Bimala was amazed at the vigilance of Osman.

Having secured the sheet, Osman Khan took hold of Bimala's arm with a firm grasp. Then holding the sheet between hie teeth, he loosened the key and deposited it in his belt. His next action blanched the countenance of Bimala; he bound her hands fast to the balustrade with the sheet.

"What are you at?" enquired Bimala.

"It's an exigency of war," replied Osman.

Bimala.   "You will soon reap the consequence of this foul deed!"

Osman was going away, leaving Bimala in that plight when he returned, and saying, "No trusting a woman's tongue," gagged her mouth as well.

Osman then descended to the room below Bimala's. He there turned the key, as Bimala had previously done, and pushed the window into the wall. When a passage was made, Osman began to whistle softly. Immediately a bare-footed soldier came up from behind a tree and entered in. He was followed by another. In this manner, a large number of Pathan soldiers noiselessly crept into the castle. To the last man that came, Osman said,

"No more; do you all remain outside. When you hear my signal, attack the castle from the outside. Tell it to Taj Khan."

The man returned. Taking the soldiers with him, Osman again noiselessly ascended to the roof. When passing by the place where Bimala was a captive, he said,

"This woman is very clever; not safe to trust her. Rahim Saikh! do you mount guard over her. Free her mouth; but should she attempt to fly or talk with any one or talk aloud, don't scorn to kill a woman."

"I will, Sir," replied Rahim, and remained there.

From roof to roof, the Pathans went to the other side of the castle.