Kopal-Kundala/On the Bank

Chapter II.

On the Bank.

The excitement of the passengers having subsided, the boatmen remarked that the tide would not set in just yet, and proposed that they should pass the interval in cooking their food on the bank, and afterwards, when the tide commenced to rise, they might start for their own country. The passengers having assented to this proposition, the boatmen fastened the boat to the bank. The pilgrims then got out and busied themselves with their bathing and other matutinal rites. Having finished these, a fresh obstacle in the way of cooking presented itself. There was no firewood in the boat, and for fear of tigers no one was willing to collect any from the land above. At last, seeing that everybody was likely to starve, the old man said to the young man whom we have mentioned above—

"My dear Nobokumar, if you don't devise some remedy for this, the whole lot of us will die."

Nobokumar pondered for a moment and said—

"Very well, I will go. Give me an axe, and let somebody accompany me with a billhook." No one wished to go with Nobokumar. "We shall see about it at dinner time," said Nobokumar, and girding up his loins, he went alone, axe in hand, to bring the wood.

Ascending the bank Nobokumar saw that as far as the eye could reach there was no trace of human habitation anywhere, but only jungle. The jungle, however, was not a dense forest, nor did it consist of big trees; simply patches of ground here and there were covered with small bushes, in which Nobokumar saw no wood ·worth cutting. So he had to go further from the river-bank in search of a suitable tree. At last he found one worth cutting, and took from it as much wood as he required. To carry away the wood now appeared to be an insurmountable difficulty. Nobokumar, not being a poor man's son, was not accustomed to such labour. He had come in quest of wood without considering all the difficulties, and now the conveyance of the wood was by no means an easy matter. Still he had commenced the task, and Nobokumar was not a man to be deterred by a trifle. So somehow or other he began to bring away the wood, and came along with it, alternately carrying it and sitting down to rest a little.

Nobokumar's return was thus delayed, and here his comrades began to get anxious. They feared that he had been eaten up by tigers, and when the probable time for his return had passed, their fear became certainty. Still not one of them had the courage to ascend the bank and go a short distance in quest of him.

While the pilgrims were thus cogitating, a terrible noise arose in the midst of the waters. The boatmen saw that the tide was rising, and they were well aware that, when the tide rises in these parts, the waves dash with such violence against the bank, that boats remaining near it are broken to pieces. For this reason, they in great haste loosed the boat's moorings, and pushed into mid-stream; almost before they had done so, the sand was covered with water, and the pilgrims only just had time to jump hurriedly into the boat. The rice and other provisions on the chur[1] were all washed away. Unfortunately, the boatmen were not very skilful, and could not control the boat, which was swiftly carried by the strength of the current up the Rasulpur river. One of the passengers remarked that Nobokumar had been left behind. "What!" quoth another, "d'you suppose your Nobokumar's alive? Jackals have eaten him up."

The force of the current was taking the boat up the Rasulpur river, and the boatmen, knowing how hard it would be to return, were striving with all their might and main to bring her out. So violent were their efforts, that even in that month of Mágh drops of sweat stood out on their foreheads. Though they succeeded in bringing her out of the Rasulpur river, still, no sooner had she come out than the force of the current at that spot drove her northwards with the speed of an arrow. The boatmen could not stop her for a moment, and the boat returned no more.

When the current had subsided to such an extent as to admit of the movements of the boat being controlled, they had come a long distance from the mouth of the Rasulpur river. It now became necessary to decide whether they should return or not for Nobokumar, and here we should mention that Nobokumar's fellow-pilgrims were merely his neighbours, and neither his relatives nor kinsmen. They took into consideration the fact that to return from there meant waiting for the next ebb-tide; night would arrive, when they could not proceed, and they would therefore have to wait for the next day's tide; till then, all would have to remain without food, and they would be almost dead after two days' fasting. Moreover, the boatmen were unwilling to return, and were not amenable to orders. As they alleged, it was probable Nobokumar had been killed by tigers, and therefore what was the good of taking so much trouble?

With such reflections the pilgrims came to the conclusion that it was best to return without Nobokumar, who was thus left to his fate in that terrible forest by the sea.

If any one, on hearing this, should resolve never to go in quest of wood to assuage a neighbour's hunger, he is vile, vile as these pilgrims were. Those who are of such a nature that they can once abandon a benefactor in the desert, will always do so; while, no matter how often he may be abandoned, the man, whose nature it is to do so, will again and again go and collect wood for another. Your being a villain is no reason why I should not show my own worth.

  1. Chur is an island in the middle of a river. Such islands are frequently thrown up during a rainy season in the large rivers of Bengal. They belong to Government, provided the passage between them and the mainland be not fordable.