Durgesa Nandini/Book 2/Chapter 18

 

CHAPTER XVIII.

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HOSTILITY.


After regaining his freedom, Jagat? Singha went to his father'?s camp; and?, as promised, brought about the conclusion of a treaty between the Moguls and the Pathans. The latter acknowle?dged the supremacy of the Emperor, and were allowed to retain the possession of Orissa. For the details of the treaty, the reader is referred to the pages of the historian; and we shall not enter into them. Some days after the conclusion of peace, both parties remained where they were. With the view of cementing the new-made alliance, the chief minister, Khawja Isa, and general Osman visited the camp of Man Singha, with the youthful sons of Katlu Khan. They won his good graces by the present of fifty elephants and various precious articles. The Raja received them with many marks of respect, and dismissed them loaded with honors.

It took some days to break up the encampment At length, on the eve of the departure of the Rajput army for Patna, Jagat Singha and suit went one afternoon to the Pathan fort, to take leave of Osman and other acquaintances. Ever since their meeting in the prison, Osman had shown a coldness towards the Prince. He now dismissed him with a few merely formal words.

In a sad temper of mind, Jagat Singha then went to Khawja Isa, and next to Aesha. He sent her word through a guard of the inner apartments, saying, "Tell her, I have not had the good fortune of seeing her, since the demise of the Nabab. I am about to depart for Patna, and the chances of my again seeing her are few. I am therefore anxious to bid her farewell before I go."

The eunuch returned after a while, and said,

"The Princess directs me to say that she is unable to see you, Sir; and begs you will excuse her for it."

With increased mortification, the Prince set out for his quarters. On coming to the gate of the fortress, he found Osman, waiting for him.

The Prince again saluted him; and was about to leave the place, when Osman followed him.

"General," said the Prince, "if I can be of any service to you, pray, let me know it. I shall be very glad to do your bidding."

"I have some very particular word with you," said Osman "which must not be told in the presence of so many people. Kindly tell them to advance, and follow me."

Without the least hesitation, the Prince directed his retinue to go forward, and rode with Osman. The latter called for and mounted his horse. After proceeding some distance, Osman entered a deep sal forest, in the heart of which stood a dilapidated building. Probably in former days, some rebel had taken refuge in the bosom of this forest. Fastening his horse to a sal tree, Osman entered the ruin, followed by the Prince. It was a deserted mansion. In the middle there was a spacious yard. On one side of it there was a new-made open grave, but no corpse; on the other, a funeral pyre, but no dead body.

"What are these for?" enquired the Prince, entering the yard.

"These have been prepared by my directions," replied Osman. "Should I fall this day, pray, bury me in yonder grave; nobody will know it;—should you die, I will have your last rites performed by Brahmins; no one will know it."

"What do your words moan, Sir?" enquired the Prince in surprise.

"I am a Pathan" replied Osman, "when our heart burns, we do not judge between right and wrong. This world cannot contain two rivals longing for Aesha's love; one of us must die here to-day."

The Prince now understood all, and became sad.

"What then is your intention, Sir?" demanded he.

"You are armed," replied Osman; "fight with me. If you can, clear your way by slaying me, or else lay down your own life and make way for me."

With these words Osman attacked the Prince with his sword, without even allowing him time to reply. Tho Prince was compelled to draw his sword hastily, and defend himself. Osman made repeated attempts on the life of the Prince, but the latter did not attempt to strike his antagonist, he only maintained the defensive. Both were masters of their weapons, and the fight continued for a long time, without resulting in the defeat of one or the other. But the blows of the Pathan made sorry work of the Prince's body, which was drenched with blood; Osman on the contrary was untouched, as the Prince had not aimed at him a single blow. Finding himself gradually enfeebled by loss of blood, and knowing death to be certain in such an unequal encounter, the Prince cried out imploringly,

"Desist, Osman, desist, I say;—I acknowledge myself vanquished."

"Ha! I did not know before," replied Osman with a laugh, "that a Rajput officer feared to die. Fight on—I will slay you—I will never forgive; whilst you live, Aesha will never be mine."

"I am not for Aesha," said the Prince.

"No, you are not, but Aesha is for you," said Osman flourishing his sword, "fight on—no forgiving."

The Prince flung away his sword at a distance, and said,

"I will never fight. You have served me in my misfortune; and I will not fight with you."

Transported by rage, Osman dealt a kick at the Prince's chest.

"Thus!" exclaimed he, "thus do I fight with a warrior who fears to fight."

The Prince's patience became exhausted. Hastily recovering his rejected weapon, he leaped forward, like a lion bitten by a jackal, and attacked the Pathan. The latter was ill fitted to bear the force of that tremendous onslaught; and he measured his length on the ground, borne down by the staltwart body of the Prince. The Prince got up upon the breast of his enemy, and wresting his sword from his hand and holding his own over his throat, said,

"How now? Has your craving for fight been satisfied."

"Not while I live," returned Osman.

"Your life I can end this moment," said the Prince.

"Do so;—or else your mortal enemy will live," said Osman.

"Let him," replied the Prince; "the Rajput scorns to fear it. I would have killed you; but you spared my life, and so do I."

He then bound together the hands and feet of Osman, and one by one deprived him of all his weapons.

"Now betake yourself to your home in peace," said he, after releasing him. "Being a Yavan, you durst kick the person of a Rajput Prince, and it is only for this guilt of yours that I have reduced you to this plight; otherwise the Rajputs are never so ungrateful as to lay their hands on the persons of their benefactors."

Without making any reply, Osman mounted his horse, and galloped in the direction of the fortress.

The Prince let down his sheet in a well close by, and washed his body with the water. He then unfastened the reins of his steed and mounted it, when he perceived a letter fastened to the reins by twigs and shrubs. On releasing it, he found that it was tied by a quantity of human hair. The superscription ran thus:—

"Pray, Sir, do not open this letter for two days;—if you do so, the object intended by it will be defeated."

The Prince reflected a little, and decided in favor of the writer. He kept the note enclosed in his amulet, and giving a lash to his horse, rode for the camp.

The day after his arrival there, the Prince received another letter through a messenger. It was from Aesha; but of this in the next chapter.