Durgesa Nandini/Book 2/Chapter 4

 

CHAPTER IV.

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THE LADY OF THE VEIL.


Two days after the capture of the fortress, about noon, Katlu Khan was holding his court in the fortress. On two sides stood his courtiers in array. On the tract of land in front, an immense crowd stood in silence. That day would take place the trial of Virendra Singha.

Several armed guards brought in Virendra. His face was overspread with crimson; but there was no trace of fear in it; his flaming eyes threw out scintillations of fire; his nostrils dilated and quivered; he bit his nether lip. When he was brought up, Katlu Khan said,

"Virendra Singha, this day I will try you for treason. Why did you assume a hostile attitude towards me?"

Virendra's face reddened. He suppressed his anger and said,

"Let me first know what I have done?"

"Be more respectful, Sir," said a courtier

"Why didn't you," asked Katlu Khan, "send me men and money?"

"You are a rebel," replied the undaunted Virendra; "one might well call you a robber. Wherefore should I give you money; wherefore supply you with troops?"

The spectators perceived that Virendra was preparing his own ruin.

Katlu Khan's frame shook with passion; but he had learnt to master his emotions with promptitude.

"Living in my domains," said he somewhat calmly, "why did you join the Mogul?"

"And where are your domains, may I enquire?" asked Virendra.

"Listen, miscreant," exclaimed Katlu Khan in a rage, "Listen, varlet, you shall meet your deserts. You could hope for your life; but you are mad. Your pride has undone you."

"Katlu Khan," said Virendra laughing scornfully, "when I came before you, I never expected mercy at your hands; and what's the earthly need of a life saved through the mercy of an enemy like you? If you could rest satisfied with only taking my life, I would gladly lay it down, wishing you well. But you have stained me and mine; my life of life you have—"

He could no longer contain himself. His utterance was choked; his eyes filled with tears; the dauntless, haughty Virendra Singha hung down his head and wept like a child.

Katlu Khan was constitutionally hard;—so much so that he delighted in the pain of a fellow-creature. Seeing the plight of his proud enemy, his face betokened joy.

"Virendra Singha," said he, "would you ask anything at my hands? Consider, Sir, your end is near."

Tears had brought relief to the burning heart.

"Nothing save this," answered Virendra calmly, "order my execution soon."

Katlu.   "It shall be so; any thing more?"

Answer.   "Nothing in this life."

Katlu.   "Would you not look your last upon your daughter?"

At this the spectators became silent for grief. Fire sparkled in Virendra's eyes.

"What!" cried he; "will nothing less satisfy you than trampling under foot this crushed heart?" He then continued with less vehemence, "Do so; I am powerless in this life. But in the next you shall answer for it before the tribunal of God."

This touched the heart of Katlu Khan; for is there a sinner whose heart trembles not at the sound of that dread Name?

"No more" said he; "executioner, do your office."

Silence held that vast concourse of people in breathless suspense; so much so that the fall of a needle could have been heard.

The guards led Virendra to the place of execution. He had not yet reached it, when a Musalman whispered something into his ear. Virendra could not understand it. The individual ?then handed him a letter. Musing and absent, he opened it and saw that it was in Bimala's handwriting. He crumpled and threw it away from him, with signs of great displeasure. The bearer took it up and went away.

At this a spectator who was close by said to another in a low tone,

"Perhaps, Sir, 'tis a letter from his daughter."

Hearing this, Virendra turned round and said,

"Who speaks of my daughter? I have no daughter."

When the bearer of the note departed, he said to the guards, "Await my return."

"All right, Your Excellency," replied they.

Osman himself was the bearer, and it was for this reason that the guards applied to him the epithet of "Excellency."

Taking the note, Osman went to the bottom of the wall of the inner apartment. There stood a veiled lady. Osman came to her, and after casting his eyes round, related to her all that had happened.

"I am giving you infinite trouble" said she; "but you must remember it is you who have reduced us to this pass. You must threfore do me this turn."

Osman said nothing.

"If you refuse it," continued she of the veil, in a voice trembling with emotion, "I am helpless;—but God will judge."

"Mother," said Osman, "you don't know what a perilous task you are laying upon me. Katlu Khan will take my life, if he come to know it."

"Katlu Khan?" returned the woman. "Why are you deceiving me? Katlu Khan dares not touch a hair of your head."

Osman. "You do not know Katlu Khan. But come, I will take you to the execution-ground." When they came to the spot, Virendra, who was conversing with a Brahmin disguised as a beggar, did not mark her. The woman looked from within her veil and recognised the Brahmin to be Abhiramswami.

"Sire," said Virendra, "here then I make my last obeisance to you. What more shall I say? Whom have I in this world on whose behalf I should offer up my prayers to Heaven? For whom shall I pray?"

Abhiramswami pointed with his finger to the veiled lady behind. Virendra turned round; anon she threw back her veil and cast herself at the chained feet of Virendra.

"Bimala!" cried he in a choked voice.

"Husband! My life! My all!" she exclaimed in a frenzy, "this day I will proclaim it to the four winds. None shall prevent me. Husband! Life of life! Where are you going—where are you going, leaving us?"

The flood-gate was opened in Virendra's eyes.

"Bimala! Beloved," exclaimed he, lifting her by his arm, "O! why should you make me weep at such a moment! my enemies will think me afraid to die."

Bimala was mute.

"Bimala!" he went on; "Farewell!—Do you follow me straight way."

"No;—after a little delay." Here she proceeded in an inaudible tone. "First I will avenge my wrong."

Virendra's countenance brightened up like an expiring flame.

"By your own hands?" enquired he.

"By this very hand"—said she, painting her right hand with a finger of the left. "Here I cast away gold from my arms.[1] What further the need of it?" She thereupon flung away her bracelets and other ornaments at a distance and proceeded, "No more shall these arms of mine bear any ornaments;—but sharp steel must now supply their place."

"You will certainly succeed," said Virendra joyfully. "May Heaven help you."

"I can't wait any longer," cried the executioner.

"Well then, you may go now,"—said Virendra.

"Not so;" replied Bimala. "I will with my own eyes witness the fell stroke that makes me a widow. I will drown all scruples in your blood."

Bimala's voice was awfully calm.

"Be it so," said Virendra. He then made a sign to the executioner. Bimala saw the raised axe flash in the sun; for a moment her eyes closed of themselves; when they opened again, the severed head of Virendra Singha was rolling before her in the bloody dust.

Bimala stood like a statue; not a hair of her head waving in the wind; not a tear standing in her eye. Without shrinking, she fixed her gaze steadily upon the severed head.

 

 

  1. Hindu widows do not wear ornaments.