Chandrashekhar (Mullick)/Part6/Chapter 7

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CHAPTER VII.
IN THE DURBAR.

IN a spacious tent sat the last sovereign-of Bengal in royal state—the last sovereign, because those who assumed the title of Nawab after him never actually reigned.

Elevated on a seat enriched with pearls, corals, silver and gold, and in an array of pearls and diamonds, sat Nawab Mir Kasim Ali Khan at his Durbar, his head-gear lustrous with the brightest diamond in the whole assemblage and dazzling like the sun. Along his side stood rows of attendants with folded palms, and with his accorded permission sat the silent ministers with bended knees.

“Are the prisoners present?” enquired the Nawab.

“Every one is present,” responded Mahammad Irfan. The Nawab ordered Foster to be brought first.

Foster was brought in and placed before the Nawab. "Who are you?” asked the Nawab.

Lawrence Foster knew that his fate had now been sealed. Rather late in life, he said to himself, “Hitherto I have disgraced the British name, now I will die like an Englishman.”

“I am Lawrence Foster,” said Foster.

“What nation do you belong to?”

“I am an Englishman.”

“The English are my enemy. Being an enemy, why did you enter my camp?"

“Yes, I did enter. For that you can do whatever you like with me, I am now in your power; there is no need of asking why I entered, and even if you did ask, you wouldn’t get any answer.”

Instead of getting angry the Nawab smiled and said,“You are bold, that's clear; but will you be able to speak the truth?”

“An Englishman never utters a falsehood.”

“Indeed! we shall see presently.”

Looking round, the Nawab enquired, “Who said that Chandrashekhar was present? If he is here, let him be brought in."

Mahammad Irfan brought Chandrashekhar in. On seeing the latter the Nawab asked Foster, “Do you know this man?”

“I have heard his name, but I do not know him.”

“Very well, where is the slave Kulsam?”

Kulsam also appeared.

“Do you know this slave?” asked the Nawab.

“Yes, I do.”

“Who is she?”

“She is your slave.”

“Call Mahammad Taqui,” said the Nawab.

Mahammad Irfan brought in Taqui Khan in chains. Taqui Khan had wavered all his time; he could not make up his mind which side to join, consequently he had not gone over to the enemy yet. But the Nawab’s generals knowing him to be a man of doubtful integrity had narrowly watched his proceedings. Hence Ali Ibrahim Khan found no difficulty in bringing him under arrest.

Without casting a look on Taqui the Nawab said, “Kulsam, tell us how you went to Calcutta from Monghyr.”

Kulsam described every thing in detail and told all about Dalani Begum. After finishing her story, with folded hands and tearful eyes she said in a loud voice, “My Liege! in this tent of public audience, I charge this scoundrel, this woman-murderer, Mahammad Taqui. Deign to admit my suit. He deceived my master with a false accusation against the character of his wife, and has crushed like an ant the very pearl of her kind in this world—the Begum Dalani. My Liege! I say he has done it, and I pray that this wretch might in his turn be as pitilessly crushed.”

“That is false,” faltered Taqui in a choking voice. "Who is your witness?”

With dilated eyes Kulsam yelled out, “You want my witness? Look above—my witness is God. Lay thy hand on thy heart and then ask—-even thou art my witness! If any other testimony is required, then ask that Englishman there.”

“Now Englishman, what do you say?” asked the Nawab. “Does the woman there speak the truth?" You also were with Amyatt. Mind, an Englishman never tells an untruth.”

Foster faithfully told all he knew. Everyone now saw that Dalani was unimpeachable. Taqui’s looks fell. At this moment Chandrashekhar advanced and addressing the Nawab said, “Incarnation of Justice! I am also another witness. This woman’s words are quite true. I am that ascetic.”

“Yes, he is the man, ” said Kulsam when she recognized him.

“Your Highness!” continued Chandrashekhar, “ if this Englishman is truthful, kindly ask him a question or two more.”

The Nawab read Chandrashekhar’s mind and said, “You can ask yourself, the interpreter will explain every thing to him.”

Then Chandrashekhar asked, “You said that you have heard Chandrashekhar’s name. I am that Chandrashekhar. Did you——?”

Before he had finished Foster broke in, “You need not trouble yourself. I am a free man, I am not afraid of death. It depends on me here to answer your questions. I decline to answer them.”

“Let Shaibalini be brought in,” said the Nawab.

Shaibalini came in. At first Foster could not recognise her. She was pale, sickly and lean. She wore a short thread—bare sari, her hair was neglected, her body was smeared with dust and her skin was rough and dry. The hair was dirty and dishevelled, a maniac’s laugh was on her face and the questioning look of madness was in her eyes. Foster shuddered at the sight.

“Do you know her?” asked the Nawab.

“Yes, I do.”

“Who is she?”

“She is Shaibalini, Chandrashekhar’s wife.”

“How do you know her? ”

“You can order any punishment you choose, I am not going to answer your questions any more.”

“My choice is that you be devoured by dogs.”

Foster’s face withered up, his hands and feet began to tremble; but he soon recovered himself and said, “If you have decided upon my destruction, then kindly direct some other form of death.”

“No,” said the Nawab. “A tradition of an old punishment is current in this country. The culprir is first buried in the earth waist-deep. Then trained dogs are let loose upon him. When he is torn by the dogs, salt is scattered over the wounded parts. The dogs retire after gorging themselves with the flesh and the culprit is allowed to continue half dead and half consumed till the dogs return with renewed hunger and finish off the remainder. I direct that you and Taqui Khan do meet such a death.”

A loud yell, like that of a wounded animal went out of the captive Taqui. Foster bent his knees on the ground and with upturned eyes and clasped hands offered up a silent prayer : “I never prayed to you before, O God ! I never even thought of you but have only sinned all my life. That you exist, never occurred to me. But to-day I am helpless and I call on you. O Thou support of the forlorn, refuge of the destitute, save me, O save me!”

None need be surprised. He who has no faith in God, in times of difficulty, even he calls on Him, and calls in all sincerity of heart. Foster also did the same.

His prayer over, while his eyes sank earthwards, their glance wandered beyond the tent. Quite unexpectedly he found a man with matted locks, clad in a crimson cloth, with a white beard and besmeared with holy ashes, standing with his gaze fixed upon him. Foster's eyes were held captive by that gaze. Gradually his mind was overpowered by it, the eyes fell, and a heavy drowsiness paralysed his body, It seemed to him as if the lips of the being in matted locks moved in a mutter. Then a deep voice like the rumble of rain-clouds entered his ears and Foster heard as if some one was saying, “I will save you from the death by dogs, answer me truly. Are you Shaibalini’s lover?”

For once Foster directed his eyes to the begrimed maniac and said, “No, I am not.”

Every one heard the words, “No, I am not Shaibalini’s lover.”

In that same thundering voice again came another question. Whether it was the Nawab, Chandrashekhar, or some body else who asked it, Foster could not make out; he only heard a question uttered in a deep tone—“Then why did Shaibalini stay in your boat?” “I was bewitched by Shaibalini’s beauty,” answered Foster in a loud voice, “and bore her off by force from her home. I kept her in my boat. I was under the impression that she had an attachment for me, but I found quite the reverse——she owned a decided aversion. At our first meeting in the boat she took out a knife and threateningly said to me, ‘If you enter my cabin then this knife will put an end to us both. You must look upon me as if I were your mother.’ I could not approach her after that, neither did I touch her.” Everyone present heard the above.

“How could you manage to make her eat food prepared by an outcast?” asked Chandrashekhar.

“Not for a single day did she eat my food or food touched hy me,” said Foster in a tone of regret. “She used to cook her own food.”

“What did she cook?” came a further question.

“Only rice,” answered Foster, “she never took anything with it except milk.”

“Did she drink water?” came a question again.

“Yes she did, but she used to draw it herself from the Ganges,” said Foster.

At this time there was a sudden sound——“boom, boom, boom.”

“What is that?” enquired the Nawab.

“What else but the English guns,” said Irfan in a melancholy tone. The English have attacked the camp.”

Suddenly people began to rush out of the tent. Again the cannon roared “boom, boom, boom.” Again and again many guns pealed together. The terrific din leapt forward in hounds. The martial music struck up and a universal huhbub filled the place. The tramp of horses, the clangour of arms, the victorious shouts of an exultant soldiery, together roared like ocean billows and a cloud of smoke covered the skies and filled the horizon. It seemed as if an unsuspecting sleeper suddenly found himself surrounded hy an angry sea with its heaving and tumultuous waters.

At once the Nawab’s ministers and servants hustled out of the camp, some to battle, some to flight. Kulsam, Chandrashekhar and Shaibalini also went out. Only the Nawab and the captive Taqui remained inside. Cannon-balls began to fall into the tent. Then the Nawab unsheathed his sword from his belt and drove it home into Taqui’s bosom. Thus did Taqui meet his end. The Nawab then went out of the tent.