Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part3/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII.
ON THE HILL.

THE orb of night was not visible in the firmament to-night. Clouds came and covered up the moon, the stars, the milky-way and the blue sky. They were compact, all-embracing and dark grey with aqueous vapours. Below an infinite darkness. A dense immense all—pervading gloom enshrouded the river, the beach, the shore and the hill-ranges along the banks. In that darkness Shaibalini was alone in a hill valley.

Towards the close of night the boat had halted ashore, leaving the pursuing English boat far behind. The banks of large rivers abound in solitary recesses. In such a recess the skiff was kept. No sooner the boat halted than Shaibalini slipped away from it. On this occasion she had no vicious motive. The same terror which drives a wild animal from a burning forest, also drove Shaibalini from Protap’s company. For her very life she abandoned this world so full of happiness, beauty, affection and other joys of life. Happiness, beauty, love and Protap——in these she had no longer any part or hope—even the very desire had been interdicted. Who could live in close proximity to the object of his desire and yet deny himself! What thirsty Wayfarer in a desert could help drinking the cool, clear fragrant water! With the terrible ravenous devil—fish inhabiting the sea-bottom which Victor Hugo has described, greed or desire seems to form the essential constituent of its nature. It lives in very clear crystal water. On the floor of its habitation beautiful red ochre and other minerals softly shine refulgent with a tender and delicate light. How many precious pearls and corals spread their lustre in the interior!—but it sucks human blood. No sooner a person charmed with the beauty of its habitation enters it, than the hundred-armed monster puts forth its arms one by one and seizes its prey; once caught, there is no escape. With its hundred arms and thousand ligaments, it embraces its victim, and then the monster applies its thousand blood-sucking discs to the body of the hapless being and drinks up his blood.

Considering herself unequal to the combat, Shaibalini retired from the field. She had her apprehensions lest Protap should try to find her out when he came to know of her escape. For this reason, without stopping at a nearer place, she walked as far as her legs could carry. Not very far, she spied the ranges of hills which girdle India like a waist-band. To avoid observation, she did not attempt the hill during day-time and lay concealed in a wood. The whole day passed without food; evening went away; now it will be dark, and then the stars will appear by degrees. In darkness Shaibalini began her ascent. Her feet were lacerated with the splinters of rock in the obscurity. No passage could be found through the low shrubs and creepers, and their thorns, the edges of broken twigs, and the ends of root stumps, tore her hands and feet and caused them to bleed. Shaibalini’s atonement had begun.

But Shaibalini was not sorry for it. Out of her own free-will she had chosen this atonement. Of her own free-will she had abandoned the world and entered this hill-forest full of horrid brambles and ferocious beasts. So long she had been steeped in profound sin—would her sufferings now atone for it in any way?

Therefore, with lacerated feet and bloody limbs, oppressed with hunger and thirst, Shaibalini began her ascent. There was no pathway; as it was, it was difficult to find one's way through the shrubs, Creepers and crowd of stones even during day—time; now it was dark, consequently with great effort she could only advance a little.

In the meantime the clouds gathered in great strength. A solid, compact, endless, extensive black shroud sealed the face of the sky. Darkness fell on darkness and enveloped the hill-ranges, the under-lying forests, and the distant river. The world became one essential mass of darkness and it seemed to Shaibalini as if there was nothing in this universe save stones, brambles and darkness. It was useless to attempt any further ascent. In despair, Shaibalini sank on a thicket of brambles.

From the centre to the extreme verge of the horizon, from there again to the centre, the lightning flashed, How terrible! Deep roars of clouds started simultaneously. Shaibalini knew that a fearful summer gale would soon blow across the tableland. What was the harm?

In that body of the hill, many trees, branches, leaves, flowers and things of like nature, would be torn from their places and destroyed. Must not Shaibalini be permitted to participate in that cold comfort of destruction?

What is this impact of cold felt along the body? It is only a drop of rain. Drip, drip, drip!—and then a confused roar of sounds embracing the farthest quarters of the globe. That roar was the combined effect of the wind, rain and clouds; along with it were heard the crack of snapping branches, the shriek of terrified animals, the rumhle of up-rooted boulders rolling down the hill and the tumult of the frantic waves of the Ganges afar. On a hill-stone Shaibalini sat crouching with her head hanging down, the cold rain driving against it all the time. Branches of trees, creepers, and shrubs dashed and re-dashed against her body and currents of water flowing from the summit with fearful rapidity drenched her up to the hips and ran along.

Thou inanimate Nature! Millions of bows to thee! Thou hast no mercy, no tenderness, no love, no compunction for the destruction of beings. Thou art the mother of endless misery, and yet from thee flows all the blessings of life ! Thou art the source of all happiness! Thou art all-beneficent, all—supplying, all-beautiful! My bows to thee! O awfully terrible, many—shaped goddess! Yesterday you fascinated the creation with the moon as the beauty—spot on your forehead, the tiara of stars on your head and your world-bewitching smile. You strung garlands of ripples on the Ganges and hung pendant moons on the ripple-links; you inflamed millions of diamonds in the sands of the beach; you poured a blue pigment into the heart of the Ganges, and on it how happily you floated young youths and maidens—as though you knew well to caress and well you did caress! But what a change to-day! You are a treacherous destroyer. What makes you play with the lives of created beings I do not know. You have neither intelligence, reason nor animation, but you are all-pervading, all-mastering, all-destructive and all-powerful. Thou art the illusory shroud of the Creative Impulse, thou art the monument of the Creative Genius, thou art invincible! Millions of bows to thee!

The rain ceased after a long while but not the storm, only its fury abated. Darkness seemed to gather in deeper shades. Shaibalini knew that ascent or descent of the moist slippery hill was equally impracticable. Remaining where she was, she began to shiver in cold. Her husband’s home at Vedagram full of domestic comforts rose in her memory. "If I could but once more see that abode of happiness before my death,” she thought, “ I should still die in peace! But it is a far cry; I am afraid I am not destined to see the sunrise again. That king of terrors, whom I have invited so often is now at hand.” Who could it be, that at such a moment, in that unfrequented hill, in that impenetrable forest, in that profound darkness, touched Shaibalini with his hand?

At first Shaibalini thought it was some wild animal and moved away. Again the hand touched her—it was the distinct touch of a human hand—but nothing could be seen in the dark. “Who are you?” she cried in a voice distorted with terror, "‘ God or man?” She was not afraid of man but she had a dread of the gods, for the gods deal out rewards and punishments.

No answer. But Shaibalini was aware that God or man, he was seizing her with both hands. The contact of the warm breath was felt along her shoulders. She felt one hand placed against her back and the other gathering up her feet. Then she perceived that she was being lifted up. She gave a little scream Man or God, she could understand that she was being carried to some place in his arms. A little while after she could perceive that taking her in his arms he was picking his way up the hill. Shaibalini thought whoever he might be, he was not Lawrence Foster any way.