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Chapter III.


At the present time two small villages, Dowlutpur and Daryápur, stand near the spot where Nobokumar was abandoned by his companions; but at the time of our story there was no trace of human habitation in those parts—it was nothing but forest. Still the country was not so uniformly level as other parts of Bengal. For several leagues without interruption, from the Rasulpur mouth as far as the river Suborna-rekha, the country was studded with numerous sand-heaps, which, had they been a little higher, might have deserved the name of small hills; at the present time they are known as "Báliári." The white summits of these sand-hills look very beautiful from a distance in the rays of the mid-day sun. There are no big trees on the top; below there is a growth of small jungle, while the centre and summits are conspicuous by the brilliance of an almost spotless white. Small bushes, wild shrubs, and flowers abound midst the vegetation that encircles the base of these hillocks.

Such was the inhospitable region in which Nobokumar was abandoned by his comrades. First of all, on coming to the river-bank with his load of wood, he could not see the boat. Though this caused him a sudden pang of fear, he could not believe that his comrades had altogether abandoned him. He supposed that, on the sand being covered by the rising tide, they had moored the boat on some other place hard by, and would quickly return to look for him. In this expectation, he sate there for some time and waited, but no boat came. Nor could he see any of the pilgrims. Nobokumar became very faint with hunger, and not being able to wait any longer, he went along the river-bank looking for the boat. He saw no trace of it anywhere, and returned to the same spot. He thought that the force of the tide must have floated it away, and that his comrades were delayed in returning by the hostile current. But the tide came to an end, and then he thought that the boat could not return against the tide owing to the force of the hostile current, but that it must be now returning with the ebb-tide. But the ebb-tide, too, gradually increased—gradually it got later and later, till the sun set! If the boat had been returning, it must have returned ere now.

Then Nobokumar felt certain that either the boat had been swamped by the tidal waves, or that his companions had abandoned him; and with the uprising of this certainty Nobokumar's heart was crushed within him, just as a man walking under a hill is crushed by a piece of the summit falling upon him.

At this juncture Nobokumar's state of mind was beyond description. Though he was pained with doubt concerning the possible destruction of his comrades, still he speedily forgot such sorrow in the contemplation of his own danger, especially as grief gave place to anger when it occurred to him that his comrades might have abandoned him.

Nobokumar saw that there was no village near, no shelter, no people, nothing to eat and nothing to drink; the river-water was unbearably salt, and he was beginning to suffer agonies from hunger and thirst. There was no shelter, nor even had he any covering to keep out the bitter cold; he would have to sleep without roof and without covering under the frosty sky on the bank of that river, tossed by the wind, made cold with dew. It might be that tigers or bears would kill him during the night, or if not to-night, at any rate tomorrow; death was a certainty.

Excitement prevented Nobokumar from sitting long in one place. Leaving the bank, he ascended the higher land, and began to wander hither and thither. Gradually it got dark; in the cold sky the stars began silently to burst forth, just as they burst forth in Nobokumar's own country. In the darkness everywhere was solitude; sky, forest, sea, all was still, save for the ceaseless rolling of the ocean and the fitful roar of some wild beast. Nevertheless, in that darkness, and under that chilly sky, Nobokumar kept wandering midst the sand-hills, now in the valley, then on the table-land, now beneath the sand-hills, and then on their summits. Each step he walked there was a probability of his being attacked by wild animals; but there was none the less cause for fear even if he remained sitting in one place.

Nobokumar became weary with wandering about, and the fact that he had had no food all day made him the more exhausted. He rested his back against a sand-heap and sate down, and thought of his warm bed at home. When the weariness of bodily or mental toil brings on melancholy, then sleep almost invariably comes along with it. Nobokumar fell asleep in the midst of his pondering. If such were not the rule of nature, we could not always bear up against the terrible shock of worldly troubles.