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A tale of the Mysore war
Towards the close of a day of intense heat, about the middle of the month of June, 1788, a party consisting of many persons might be seen straggling over the plain which extends southwards from the Fort of Adoni, and which almost entirely consists of the black alluvial deposit familiarly known in India under the name of ‘cotton soil.’
The leader was a man perhaps about fifty years of age; he rode a powerful Dekhan horse of great spirit, but whose usual fiery comportment was tamed by the severe exertion he had undergone, from the miry roads through which he had travelled the greater part of the day. Indeed he began to show evident symptoms of weariness, and extricated himself from every succeeding muddy hollow—and they were very frequent—with less power. His handsome housings too were soiled with dirt; and the figure of his rider, which merits some description, was splashed from head to foot.
It has been already stated that he was a man of advanced age. His face, which was wrapped up, as well as his head, in thick folds of muslin, in order to protect them from the scorching heat of the sun, showed a dark complexion much pitted with the smallpox; but his eyes were very large, and of that intense black which is but rarely seen even among the natives of India, and which appeared to flash with a sudden light when any stumble of his gallant horse provoked an impatient jerk of the bridle, and a volley of curses upon the mud and the road, if such it could be called. His dress was of cloth-of-gold,—a suit which had been once magnificent, but which, soiled and tarnished as it was, he had chosen perhaps to wear as a mark of his rank, and thus to ensure respect from the people of the country, which might have been denied to money alone. It was open at the breast, and under the shirt of muslin worn within the alkhaluk, or upper garment, a broad rough chest could be seen,—a fair earnest of the power of him we describe.
A handsome shawl was girded around his waist, and his somewhat loose trousers were thrust into a pair of yellow leather boots, which appeared to be of Persian workmanship. Over his shoulder was a gold belt which supported a sword; but this in reality was confined to the waist by the shawl we have mentioned, and appeared more for ornament than use. A bright steel axe with a steel handle hung at his saddle-bow on the right hand; and the butt-end of a pistol, much enriched with chased silver, peeped forth on the left, among the fringe of the velvet covering of the soft saddle upon which he rode. A richly ornamented shield was bound to his back by a soft leather strap passing over his chest; and the shield itself, which hung low, rested between his back and the cantle of the saddle, and partly served as a support.
In truth, soiled and bespattered as he was, Abdool Rhyman Khan was a striking figure in those broad plains, and in his own person appeared a sufficient protection to those who followed him. But he was not the only armed person of the party. Six or seven horsemen immediately followed him,—his own retainers; not mounted so well nor dressed so expensively as the Khan himself, but still men of gallant bearing; and the party, could they have kept together, would have presented a very martial and imposing appearance.
At some distance behind the horsemen was a palankeen, apparently heavily laden; for the bearers, though there were as many as sixteen, changed very frequently, and could but ill struggle through the muddy road into which at every step they sunk deeply; nor did the cheering exclamations of those who were not under the poles of the palankeen appear to have much effect in quickening the pace of those who carried it; and it was very evident that they were nearly exhausted, and not fit to travel much further.
In the rear of all was a string of five camels, which required the constant attention of the drivers to prevent their slipping and falling under their burdens; and with these were a number of persons, some on foot carrying loads, and a few mounted on ponies, who were the servants of the Khan, and were urging on the beasts, and those laden with the cooking utensils, as rapidly as it was possible to proceed in the now fast-closing darkness. Behind all were two led horses of much beauty, whose attendant grooms conducted them through the firmest parts of the road.
‘Alla! Alla!’ cried one of those mounted on a stout pony,—he was in fact the cook of the Khan,—‘that I, Zoolficar, should ever have been seduced to leave the noble city of Hyderabad, and to travel this unsainted road at such a time of year! Ai Moula Ali,’ he continued, invoking his patron saint, ‘deliver us speedily from this darkness! Grant that no rain may fall upon this already impassable road! I should never survive a night in this jungle. What say you, Daood Khan—are we ever to reach the munzil?Are we ever to be released from this jehanum, where we are enduring torment before our time? Speak, O respectable man! Thou saidst thou knew’st the country.’
‘So I do, O coward! What is the use of filling our ears with these fretful complaints? Hath not the munificence of the Khan provided thee with a stout beast, which, with the blessing of the Prophet, will carry thee quickly to thy journey’s end? Was it not the Khan’s pleasure to pass Adoni, where we might have rested comfortably for the night? And are we who eat his salt to grumble at what he does, when we saw that the Khanum Sahib (may her name be honoured!) was willing to travel on? Peace, then! For it is hard to attend to thy prating and pick one’s way among these cursed thorns.’
2. Feminine of Khan; as Begum, feminine of Beg.
‘Well, I am silent,’ replied the other; ‘but my mind misgives me that we never reach the munzil, and shall be obliged to put up in one of these wretched villages, where the kafir inhabitants never kill meat; and we shall have to eat dry bread or perhaps dry rice, which is worse, after this fatigue.’
‘Ah, thou art no soldier, Zoolfoo,’ cried another fellow who was walking beside him, ‘or thou wouldst not talk thus. How wouldst thou like to have nothing for two days, and then perhaps a stale crust or a handful of cold rice, and be glad to thank the Provider of good for that,—how wouldst thou?’
‘No more, I pray thee, good Nasur!’ cried the cook, visions of starvation apparently overpowering him,—‘no more, I beseech thee! Methinks thy words have already had a bad effect on the lower part of my stomach, and that it begins to reproach me for a lack of its usual sustenance. I tell thee, man, I can put to myself no idea of starvation at all. I was never able to keep the Rumzan (for which I pray to be pardoned), and am obliged to pay heavily every year for some one to keep it for me,—may grace abound to him! I pray Alla and the Prophet, that the Khan may strike off somewhere in search of a roof for the night.’
The Khan had stopped: the increasing darkness, or rather gloom,—for there was still somewhat of daylight remaining, and the sun had not long set,—the muttering of thunder, and the more and more vivid flashes of lightning proceeding from an intensely black and heavy cloud which occupied the whole of the horizon before him, were enough to cause anxiety as to his proceeding further or not.
A hard or tolerably firm road would have relieved this, but the track upon which they journeyed became almost worse as he proceeded; and the man he had sent on some little distance in advance, to observe the best passage for the horses, appeared to be guiding his with increased difficulty.
‘I was an ass, and the son of an ass, to leave Adoni,’ muttered the Khan; ‘but it is of no use to regret this now:—what had better be done is the question. My poor Motee,’ he continued, addressing his horse, ‘thou too art worn out, and none of thy old fire left in thee. How, my son, wouldst thou carry me yet further?’ and he patted his neck.
The noble beast appeared to understand him, for he replied to the caress by a low whinny, which he followed up by a loud neigh, and looked, as he neighed, far and wide over the plain.
‘Ay, thou see’st nothing, Motee; true it is, there is no village in sight: yet surely one cannot be far off, where if they will admit us, we may get food and shelter. What thinkest thou, Ibrahim,’ he continued, addressing one of his retainers, ‘are we near any habitation?’
‘Peer O Moorshid,’ replied the man, ‘I know not; I never travelled this road before, except once many years ago, and then I was with the army; we did not think much of the road then.’
‘True, friend,’ answered the Khan, ‘but now we have need to think. By the soul of Mohamed, the cloud beyond us threatens much, and I fear for the Khanum; she is ill used to such travelling as this; but she is a soldier’s wife now, and I must teach her to bear rough work.’
‘The Palkee will be with us presently, and I doubt not the bearers well know the country, Khodawund,’ said another of the horsemen.
‘True, I had not thought of them; perhaps when it arrives, it would be advisable to stop a little to take breath, and then again set forward.’
A few moments brought the bearers and their burden to where the Khan stood; and a few hurried questions were put to them by him as to the distance to the next village, the road, and the accommodation they were likely to find for so large a party.
‘Huzrut!’ said the Naik of the bearers, ‘you have but little choice; we did not think the road would have been so bad as this, or we would never have left the town or allowed you to proceed; but here we are, and we must help to extricate you from the difficulty into which we have brought you. To return is impossible; there is no village at which you could rest, as you know. Before us are two; one not far off, over yonder rising ground—my lord can even see the trees,—and another beyond that, about a coss and a half; to which, if the lady can bear the journey, we will take her, as there is a good bazaar and every accommodation. My lord will reward us with a sheep if we carry her safely?’
‘Surely, surely,’ said the Khan, ‘ye shall have two; and we will travel a short stage to-morrow, as ye must be tired. So what say you, my soul?’ he cried to the inmate of the palankeen; ‘you have the choice of a comfortable supper and a dry lodging, or no supper and perhaps no roof over your head; you see what it is to follow the fortunes of a soldier.’
‘Let no thought of me trouble you,’ replied a low and sweet voice from the palankeen; ‘let the bearers and yourself decide, I am content anywhere.’
‘How say you then, Gopal?’
‘Let us smoke a pipe all round, and we will carry you to the large village,’ replied the Naik.
‘’Tis well,—do not be long about it; I doubt not we shall be all the better for a short rest.’
Fire was quickly kindled; every one dismounted from his beast, and all collected into groups. Tobacco was soon found, the hookas lighted, and the gurgling sound of half-a-dozen of them arose among the party.
A smoke of tobacco in this manner gives almost new life to a native of India. The trouble of the journey or the work is for awhile forgotten; and after a fresh girding up of the loins and invocation of the Prophet or their patron goddess (as the parties may be Hindoo or Mohamedan), the undertaking is resumed with fresh spirit. After a short pause, the whole party was again in motion.
No one had, however, observed the extremely threatening appearance of the sky. The cloud, which had been still, now began to rise gently;—a few small clouds were seen as it were to break away from the mass and scurry along the face of the heavens, apparently close to their heads, and far below the larger ones which hung heavily above them. These were followed very quickly by others: the lightning increased in vividness at every flash; and what was at first confined to the cloud which has been mentioned, now spread itself gradually all over the heavens! behind—above—around—became one blaze of light, as it were at a signal given by a rocket thrown up from behind the cloud before them. In spite of appearances, however, they hurried on.
‘It will be a wild night,’ observed the Khan, replacing and binding tighter the muslin about his head and face.
As he spoke he pointed to the horizon, where was seen a dull reddish cloud. To an unpractised eye it looked like one of the dusky evening clouds; but on closer and more attentive observation, it was clearly seen to rise, and at the same time to be extending right and left very rapidly.
‘I beg to represent,’ said Daood Khan, who had come from behind, ‘that there is a group of trees yonder not far from the road, and, if my memory serves me well, there should be an old hut in it; will my lord go thither?’
‘It is well spoken, Daood,’ said his master, ‘lead on.’
There was no wind—not a breath—but all was quite still; not even a cricket or grasshopper chirped among the grass: it seemed as though nature could scarcely breathe, so intense was the closeness.
‘Alla! Alla! I shall choke if there is no wind,’ said the fat cook, fanning himself with the end of a handkerchief.
‘You will have enough presently,’ said Nasur.
‘Inshalla!’ exclaimed one of the camel drivers, ‘the Toofans of the Carnatic are celebrated.’
‘Alas!’ sighed the cook, and wished himself anywhere but in the Carnatic.
At last a low moaning was heard,—a distant sound, as if of rushing water. The rack above them redoubled its pace, and went fearfully fast: every instant increased the blackness on each side and behind. They could no longer see any separate clouds above, but one dense brown black ropy mass, hurrying onward, impelled by the mighty wind. Soon nothing was visible but a bright line all round the horizon, except in front, where the wall of red dust, which proved that the previous rains had not extended far beyond where they were, every moment grew higher and higher, and came nearer and nearer.
They increased their speed to gain the trees, which were discernible a quarter of a mile before them. ‘Once there,’ said the Khan, ‘we can make some shelter for ourselves with the walls of the tents passed round the trees.’
No one replied to him; each was thinking of the storm, and what would happen when it came. The horses even felt the oppression, and snorted violently at intervals, as though they wished to throw it off.
At last, a few leaves flew up in the air: and some lapwings, which had been nestling under the stones by the wayside, rose and made a long flight to leeward with loud screamings, as though to avoid the wind.
One little whirlwind succeeded to another; small quantities of leaves and dry grass were everywhere seen flying along near the ground over the plain. The body of dust approached nearer, and seemed to swallow up everything in it. They anxiously watched its progress, in the hope that it would lessen in fury ere it approached them, for they could see the trees through the gloom against the bright line of the horizon, apparently at a great distance, disappearing one by one.
Meanwhile the roaring increased; the roar of the wind and that of the thunder were fearfully mingled together. Amidst this there arose a shrill scream from the palankeen; the fair inmate had no longer been able to bear the evident approach of the tempest.
The Khan was at her side in a moment. ‘Cheer thee, my rose!’ he cried; ‘a little further and we shall reach a friendly grove of trees. The road is harder now, so exert yourselves,’ he continued to the bearers; ‘five rupees, if you reach the trees ere the wind is upon us!’
The men redoubled their pace, but in vain; they still wanted half the quarter of the mile when the storm burst. With one fearful flash of lightning, so as almost to blind them, and to cause the whole to stagger backward, a blast met them, which if they had withstood they had been more than men. The palankeen rocked to and fro, tottered under their failing support, and fell at last heavily to the ground. There was no mischief done, but it was impossible to proceed further; they must abide the storm where they stood in the open plain.
And now it came in pitiless earnest. As if the whole power of the winds of heaven had been collected and poured forth bodily upon one spot, and that where they stood,—so did it appear to them; while the dust, increasing in volume every instant, was so choking, that no one dared to open his mouth to speak a word. The horses and camels instinctively turned their backs to the wind, and stood motionless; and the men at last, forcing the camels to sit down, crouched behind them to obtain some kind of shelter from the raging storm.
Thus they remained for some time; at last a drop of rain fell—another, and another. They could not see it coming amidst the dust, and it was upon them ere they were aware of it: they were drenched in an instant. Now, indeed, began a strife of elements. The thunder roared without ceasing one moment: there was no thunder for any particular flash—it was a continued flare, a continued roar. The wind, the rain, and the thunder made a fearful din, and even the stout heart of the Khan sunk within him. ‘It cannot last,’ he said;—but it did. The country appeared at last like a lake shown irregularly by the blue flare of the lightning.
Two hours, or nearly so, did they endure all this: the tempest moderated at length, and they proceeded. It was now quite dark.
‘Where is Ibrahim?’ asked one suddenly.
‘Ay, where is he?’ said another. Several shouted his name; but there was no reply.
‘Ibrahim!’ cried the Khan, ‘what of him? He must be gone to the trees; go, one of ye, and call him if he be there,’
The man diverged from the road, and was soon lost in the darkness; but in a short time an exclamation of surprise or of terror, they could not say which, came clearly towards them. The Khan stopped. In another instant the man had rejoined them.
‘Alla! Alla!’ cried he, gasping for breath, ‘come and see!’
‘See what?’ shouted the Khan.
‘Ibrahim!’ was his only reply, and they followed him rapidly.
They could hardly distinguish what it was that the man pointed out; but what appeared like a heap at first in the darkness, soon resolved itself into the form of a man and horse. The Khan dismounted and approached; he called to him by name, but there was no answer. He felt the body—it was quite dead; horse and man had fallen beneath the stroke of the lightning.
‘We can do nothing now,’ said the Khan. ‘Alas! That so good a man, and one who has so often fought beside me, should have thus fallen! Praise be to Alla, what an escape we have had!’
‘It was his destiny,’ said another,—‘who could have averted it?’
And they rode on, but slowly, for the road was undistinguishable from the ground on each side, except where a hedge of thorns had been placed to fence in some field. Here those who were on foot fared very badly, for the thorns which had fallen, or had been broken off from branches, had mixed with the mud, and sorely hurt their naked feet. The rain continued to pour in torrents; and the incessant flare of the lightning, which revealed the track every now and then, seemed to sweep the ground before them, nearly blinding both horse and man: it showed at times for an instant the struggles both were making in the now deeper mire.
They reached the smaller village at last; there were only three or four miserable houses, and in the state they were, there was but little inducement to remain in want of food and shelter till the morning; so taking with them, much against his inclination, one of the villagers as a guide whom they could understand, as he was a Mohamedan, and some rags soaked with oil tied on the end of a stick to serve as a torch, they once more set forward.
They had now scarcely three miles to travel, but these seemed interminable. The rude torch could not withstand the deluge of rain which poured upon it, and after a struggle for life it went out. There remained only the light of the lightning. The guide, however, was of use; now threatened, now encouraged by the Khan, he showed where the firmest footing was to be obtained, and piloted the little cavalcade through the almost sea of mud and water, in a manner which showed them that they would have fared but ill without his aid.
At last, O welcome sight! a light was seen to glimmer for awhile amidst the gloom; it disappeared, twinkled again, appeared to flit at a little distance, and was seen no more.
‘What was that, Rahdaree?’ asked the Khan; ‘one would think it was some wild spirit’s lamp abroad on this unblessed night.’
‘It is the village, noble sir,’ said the man simply; ‘we have no evil spirits here.’
‘Ul-humd-ul-illa! We are near our home then; it cannot be far now.’
‘Not a cannon-shot; we have a small river to cross, and then we reach the village.’
‘Yes, noble Khan, a small one; there is no water to signify.’
But the Khan’s mind misgave him. ‘It must be full,’ he said to himself, ‘after this rain; how can it be otherwise? Every hollow we have passed has become a roaring stream; but we shall see. Ya, Moula Ali!’ he exclaimed aloud, ‘I vow a gift to all the priests of thy shrine, if thou wilt protect me and mine through this night.’
They had not gone much further before the dull sound of the river was heard but too plainly, even above the wind and the thunder, which now roared only at intervals. One and all were fairly terrified; and that there should be such an end to their really manful struggles through the tempest disheartened them: but no one spoke till they arrived at the brink, where through the gloom could be seen a muddy torrent rushing along with fearful rapidity.
‘It is not deep,’ said the guide; ‘it is fordable.’
‘Dog of a kafir!’ cried the Khan, ‘thou hast deceived us, to get us away from thy miserable village. By Alla! Thou deservest to be put to death for this inhospitality.’
‘My life is in your hands, O Khan!’ returned the man; ‘behold, to prove my words, I will venture in if any one will accompany me; alone it is useless to attempt it. Will no one go with me?’
But one and all hesitated; the gloom, the uncertainty, and the dread of death alike prevailed.
‘Cowards!’ exclaimed the Khan, ‘dare ye not do for him whose salt you eat that which this poor fellow is ready to undertake because I only reproached him with inhospitality? Cowards and faithless! Ye are worse than women.’
‘I am no woman or coward,’ said Daood Khan doggedly. ‘Come,’ he added to the guide, ‘as thou art ready to go, give me thy hand and step in, in the name of the Most Merciful!’
‘Bismilla! Daood, thou hast a stout heart—I will remember thee for this. Step on in the name of Alla and the twelve Imaums! Halloo when thou art on the other side.’
They entered the water carefully, holding tightly each other’s hand, and each planting his foot firmly ere he ventured to withdraw the other. The torrent was frightfully rapid, and it required all the power of two very strong men to bear up against it; but at length the shallow water was gained, and a joyful shout from the other side told to the Khan and his expectant party that the passage had been made in safety.
‘Now make haste and get a torch, and bring some people with you,’ shouted the Khan; ‘meanwhile we will make preparations for crossing.’
Not much time elapsed before a few persons were seen approaching the river’s bank from the village, bearing several torches, which in despite of the wind and the rain, being all fed with oil, blazed brightly, and cast their light far and wide.
The Khan had been endeavouring to persuade his wife to trust herself to his horse, instead of to the palankeen, in crossing the river; and after some representation of its superior safety, he had succeeded. She was standing by him, closely veiled, when the torches appeared on the other side.
What she saw, however, of the stream, as revealed fully by the light, caused an instant change in her resolution: she was terrified by the waters; and indeed they were very awful to look on, as the muddy, boiling mass hurried past, appearing, as was the case, to increase in volume every moment.
‘There is no time to lose,’ shouted the villagers, observing there was irresolution among the party; ‘the water is rising fast—it will soon be impassable.’
‘The horse, the horse, my soul!’ cried the Khan in despair; ‘the bearers will never carry you through that torrent.’
‘I dare not, I should faint in the midst; even now my heart is sick within me, and my eyes fail me as I look on the waters,’ replied the lady.
‘Khodawund!’ said the Naik of the bearers, ‘trust her to us; on our lives, she reaches the other side safely.’
‘Be it so then, Gopal; I trust thee and thy party; only land her safely, and thou shalt be well rewarded.’
The lady again entered the palankeen; both doors were opened in case of danger. The stoutest of the bearers were selected, and the Naik put himself at the head. ‘Jey, Bhowanee!’ cried one and all, and they entered the raging waters.
‘Shabash! Shabash! Wah-wah! Wah-wah!’ resounded from the villagers, and from the Khan’s attendants, as the gallant fellows bore up stoutly against the torrent. Oil was poured upon the torches, and the river blazed under the light. The Khan was close behind on his gallant horse, which, snorting and uneasy, was very difficult to guide. There was not a heart on either bank that did not beat with almost fearful anxiety, for the water appeared to reach the palankeen, and it required the exertions of all the men to keep it and those who carried it steady.
‘Kuburdar! kuburdar! a little to the right!—now to the left!—well done! well done!’ were the cries which animated and cheered them; and the passage was accomplished all but a few yards, when the water suddenly deepened—the leading bearers sank almost up to their chests. Trials were made on either side, but the water was deeper than where they stood; the eddy had scooped out the hollow since Daood had crossed.
5. Take care! Take care!
‘Have a care, my sons!’ cried the Naik, whose clear voice was heard far above the din. ‘Raise the palankeen on your shoulders. Gently! First you in front—now those behind! Shabash! Now let every man look to his footing, and Jey Kalee!’
They advanced as they shouted the invocation; but careful as they were, who could see beneath those muddy waters? There was a stone—a large one—on which the leading bearer placed his foot. It was steady when he first tried it; but as he withdrew the other, it rolled over beneath his weight and what he bore: he tottered, stumbled, made a desperate effort to recover himself, but in vain: he fell headlong into the current.
The palankeen could not be supported, and but one wild piercing shriek was heard from the wife of the Khan as it plunged into the water.
‘Ya, Alla! Alla!’ cried the Khan in his agony—for he had seen all—‘she is lost to me for ever!’ And throwing himself from his horse, encumbered as he was, he would have been drowned, but for one of the bearers, who supported him to the brink, and, assisted by the rest who immediately recovered the palankeen, bore him rapidly to the village.
The confusion which ensued is indescribable. The few persons on the bank of the river rushed hither and thither without any definite object; and screams from some women, who had followed the men from the village out of curiosity, rent the air, and added to the wildness of the scene.
On a sudden an exclamation broke from a youth who stood not far off; and before they could turn to see what had occasioned it, he had darted from the spot, and precipitated himself into the waters.
Cries of ‘He will be lost! he will be lost!’ flew from mouth to mouth; and a dozen turbans were unwound and thrown to him from the brink, as he still struggled with the current, supporting the slight and inanimate form of her who was supposed to have been swept down the stream at first.
Without waiting for a moment to answer the numberless queries which were showered upon him by the spectators, or to ascertain whether the senseless form he bore had life in it or not, he hastily covered the features from view; and, declining the assistance of some old crones who thronged around him, he pressed through them and hurried with the utmost rapidity to his home.
Those who partly carried and partly supported the Khan himself conducted him to the chowrie or public apartment for travellers; and seating him upon such carpets and pillows as could most readily be found, they proceeded to divest him of his wet garments, arms, and boots, with an officious zeal, which, in spite of the protestations of his servant Daood, all persisted in exerting. The Khan suffered all patiently, apparently with almost unconsciousness, only at times uttering low moans and interjections, which showed his thoughts to be absorbed in the fate of her he deemed lost for ever. Gradually, however, the kind attentions of his servant, whose sobs could not be repressed as he bent over him in his attempts to remove his inner vest, which the others had hesitated to touch, recalled his wandering senses; and, staring wildly about him, he demanded to know where he was. Instantly, however, a fresh recollection of the scene which had passed flashed into his mind, and all the words he could find utterance for were an incoherent demand of Daood if the Khanum had been found.
‘Alas, Peer O Moorshid!’ was the reply, ‘your slave saw nothing; he assisted my lord here and—’
‘Was she not instantly rescued? What were all of ye doing that she ever passed from your sight?’ exclaimed the Khan. ‘Holy Alla! Give her back to me or I shall go mad,’ he continued, starting up and rushing from the spot into the air, followed by his attendant and a few of the others who lingered about.
Distractedly the Khan hurried to the river-side, and in the misery of despair began to search for the body of his wife. He ran from place to place, shouting her name; he looked everywhere for any trace of her remains, while his faithful attendant in vain besought him to withdraw from the spot, for that further search was unavailing. His words were unheeded: all the Khan saw, through the almost inky darkness, was the faint glimmer of the wild waters hurrying past him; and the only sounds he heard were their dull and sullen roar, above which arose the shouts of his servants on the other side, and at intervals a shrill neigh from one of the horses. Two or three persons only remained about the river-side, and these seemed unacquainted with what had occurred; all who had seen it had dispersed when the young man bore off the insensible girl he had rescued. After some time of fruitless search the Khan silently relinquished it, and sadly and slowly turned towards the village.
Meanwhile the young man we have mentioned carried the lady with the utmost speed he was able to his own home, a respectable house situated on the other side of the village from where the Khan was: without ceremony he entered the zenana, still bearing her in his arms, to the astonishment of an elderly dame, his mother, and several other women, servants and others who happened to be there, and to whom the news of the disaster was being brought piecemeal, as first one and then another hurried in with parts of the story.
‘Holy Prophet! What hast thou brought, Kasim Ali?’ cried his mother;—‘a woman! By your soul say how is this,—where didst thou get her?—wet, too!’
‘’Tis the Khan’s wife, and she is dead!’ cried many at once.
‘I care not what she is,’ cried the young man; ‘by the blessing of Alla I saw her and brought her out of the water; she is still warm, and perhaps not dead; see what ye can do speedily to recover her. She is as beautiful as a Peri, and—— but no matter, ye can do nothing while I am here, so I leave you.’
Whatever Kasim’s thoughts might have been, he had sense enough not to give them utterance; and, leaving the fair creature to their care, he again hurried forth, to see whether he could render further assistance to the unfortunate travellers.
Left among the women of the house, the Khan’s wife became an object of the deepest interest to these really kind people. Her wet clothes were removed; cloths were heated and applied to her body; she was rubbed and kneaded all over; the wet was wrung from her hair; and after awhile they had the satisfaction of hearing a gentle sigh escape her,—another and another at intervals.
‘Holy Alla!’ cried one of the women at last, ‘she has opened her eyes.’
The light was apparently too much for them, for she shut them again and relapsed into stupor; but the respiration continued, and the alarm that she had died ceased to exist. Gradually, very gradually, she regained consciousness; and ere many hours had elapsed she was in a deep sleep, freed from all anxiety regarding her lord, whom on her first recovery she had presumed was lost.
The Khan and Daood had scarcely again reached the chowrie, when a large body of men with torches, shouting joyfully, approached it. Daood’s heart leaped to his mouth. ‘She cannot have been saved!’ he cried, as he advanced to meet them.
‘Ul-humd-ul-illa!’ cried a dozen voices, ‘she has, and is in the Patél’s house.’
6. The chief or magistrate of a village.
Without any ceremony they broke in upon the unfortunate Khan, who sat, or rather lay, absorbed in his grief. Alone, the memory of his wife had come vividly over him; and when he raised his head, on their intrusion, his wet cheek very plainly told that his manly sorrow had found vent.
‘Ul-humd-ul-illa!’ cried Daood, panting for breath.
‘Ul-humd-ul-illa!’ echoed Kasim.
‘Do not mock me, I pray you,’ said the Khan sadly, ‘for grief is devouring my heart, and I am sad even to tears. And yet your faces have joy in them,—speak! She cannot live! That would be too much to hope. Speak, and tell truth!’
‘Weep not, noble Khan,’ said Kasim; ‘she lives, by the blessing of Alla,—she is safe in my own mother’s apartments; and such rude care as we can give her, or such accommodation as our poor house affords, she shall have.’
The Khan started to his feet. ‘Thou dost not mock me then, youth? Ya Alla! I did not deserve this! Who saved her? By the soul of the Prophet, any recompense in the power of Abdool Rhyman, even to half his wealth, shall be his who rescued her!’
‘He stands before thee, O Khan!’ cried Daood, who had recovered his speech; ‘it was that brave fellow who rushed into the water and rescued her, even while my lord was being carried hither.’
In an instant rank and power were forgotten, and the Khan, impelled by his emotion, ere Kasim could prevent him, had folded him in a sincere and grateful embrace. Nay, he would have fallen at his feet, but the young Kasim, disengaging himself, prevented it and drew back.
‘Not so, protector of the poor!’ he cried; ‘your slave has but done what any man would do in a like case. Kasim Ali Patél would have disgraced himself had he turned from that helpless being as she lay in such peril on the bank.’
The Khan was struck with admiration of the young man, who with excited looks and proud yet tempered bearing drew himself up as he uttered the last words; and indeed the young Patél was a noble figure to look on.
He had not attempted to change his clothes since his rescue of the lady, but had thrown off his upper garment; he was therefore naked to the waist, and his body was only partially covered by the dark blanket he had cast over his shoulders. His tall and muscular frame was fully developed; and the broad chest, long and full arms, and narrow waist, showed the power which existed to be called into exertion when opportunity required. Nor was his countenance less worthy of remark. Although he had hardly attained manhood, yet the down on his upper lip and chin, which was darkening fast, proved that perhaps twenty years had passed over him, and added not a little to his manly appearance. His dark expressive eyes, which glistened proudly as the Khan regarded him, a high aquiline nose, large nostrils expanding from the excitement he had been in, exquisitely white and regular teeth, and, added to all, a fair skin—far fairer than the generality of his countrymen could boast,—showed that he was perhaps of gentle blood, which indeed his courteous manner would have inclined most observers to determine.
‘Thou art a noble fellow, youth!’ cried the Khan, ‘and I would again meet thee as a brother; embrace me therefore, for by the soul of my father I could love thee as one. But tell me,—you saved her?—how?—and is she safe in your house?’
A few words explained all: the eddy in its force had cast the lady upon a bank below, almost immediately after her immersion, and fortunately with her head above the water. Had she not been terrified by the shock so as to lose her consciousness, she would have been able to drag herself upon the dry land, though she could not have got to shore, as part of the river flowed round the bank on which she had been cast. Thus she had continued in very imminent danger until rescued; for any wave or slight rise of the water must have carried her down the stream; and who in that darkness and confusion would ever again have seen her?
Gradually therefore the Khan was brought to comprehend the whole matter; and, as it ought, his thankfulness towards the young Kasim increased at every explanation. It is not to be supposed, however, that he was the less anxious about her who had been saved; he had been with some difficulty restrained from at once proceeding to the Patél’s house, and desisted only when Daood and his companion declared that such a proceeding would be attended with risk to the lady. She too had been assured that he was safe, they said; and in this comforting certainty, overcome by fatigue and excitement, she had fallen asleep.
‘But that is no reason why my lord should not come to my poor abode,’ said Kasim; ‘this open room is ill-suited to so damp a night, and my lord has been wet.’
‘I need but little pressing,’ he replied, and rose to accompany him.
Arrived at the house, which, though only a large cabin, was yet of superior extent and comfort of appearance to the rest in the village, the Khan found that every preparation the inmates had in their power had been made for him. A carpet was spread, and upon it was laid a comfortable cotton mattress; this was covered with a clean fine sheet, and some very luxurious pillows placed against the wall invited him to repose.
Fatigue rapidly asserted its mastery over even the Khan’s iron frame. He had been assured by Kasim’s mother that his lady slept sweetly, and, an ample repast concluded, he attempted for a time to converse with the young Patél, but without much success.
The young man took in truth but little interest in the replies. The Khan himself was abstracted; sleep gradually overpowered him, and he sunk down upon the bedding in total unconsciousness after a short time.
After seeing him covered, so as to prevent the cold and damp coming to him, the young Patél left him to the care of Daood, and withdrew. His own bedding was in an inner room of the house, near to the apartments of the women, and his mother heard him gently pass to it, and joined him ere he had lain down.
‘My blessings on thee, my brave boy!’ cried the old lady, melting into tears at the mingled thoughts of what might have been her son’s danger, and his gallant conduct; ‘my blessing and the blessing of Allah on thee for this! thou art thy father’s son indeed, and would that he were alive to have greeted thee as I do!’
‘It is of no use regretting the dead now, mother: what I did I am glad of,—and yet I could not have done otherwise; though I thought of thee, mother, when I cast myself into the raging waters: thou wouldst have mourned if Allah had not rescued me and her. But tell me,’ he continued, to avert the old lady’s exclamations at the very thought of his death, ‘tell me, by your soul,—say, who is she? she is fair as a Peri, fair as a Houri of the blessed Paradise; tell me if thou knowest whether she is his wife, or—or—’
‘His daughter, thou wouldst say, my son.’
‘Ay, why not?’
‘I understand thy thoughts, but they must pass away from thee. She is no daughter of his. She hath but newly used the missee; she must be his wife. Hast thou not asked the servants?’
7. A powder which women apply to their teeth only after marriage.
‘I have not, mother; but art thou sure of this?’
‘Then a bright vision has faded from my eyes,’ said Kasim despondingly: ‘the brightest vision I have yet seen in my young life. It seemed to be the will of Allah that she should be mine; for she had been lost to the world and to him, only that I saved her!’
‘Forbid such thoughts,’ said his mother quietly, for she knew the fiery yet gentle spirit of the young man, and how easily she might offend where she only intended kindness. ‘She can be nothing to thee, Kasim.’
‘Her fate is with mine, mother: from the moment I was impelled to rescue her from the waters, I felt that my life was connected with hers. I knew not, as she lay on the sand-bank, that she was beautiful or young; and I could not have hesitated, had there been a thousand devils in my path, or the raging waters of the Toombuddra.’
‘Alas! My son,’ she replied, ‘these are but the fantasies of a young spirit. It was thy generous nature, believe me, which impelled thee to rescue her, not thy destiny.’
But the young man only sighed; and after awhile, finding that her words had but little power to remove the feelings which the events of the night had excited, she blessed him and retired to her repose.
Left to himself, Kasim in vain tried to court sleep to his eyelids. Do what he would, think of what he would, lie how he would,—the scene of the Khan’s advance across the flood,—the waters hurrying by,—the rough eddies caused by the resistance to it made by the bearers, upon which the light of the torches rested and flashed,—their excited cries, which rung in his ears,—their every step which seemed before his eyes,—till the last, when all fell,—and then that one wild shriek! Again the despairing shout of the Khan, and the eager assistance rendered to him when he cast himself into the river,—the hurried search for the body, and the exertions of the bearers to raise the palankeen in hopes that it might be in it,—their despair when it was not,—the renewed search, for some moments unsuccessful,—then the glimpse of her lying on the bank, and his own efforts,—all were vivid, so vivid that he seemed to enact over again the part he had performed, and again to bear the lifeless yet warm and beautiful body to his home with desperate speed.
‘I saw she was beautiful, O how beautiful!’ he said; ‘I felt how exquisite her form. I saw her youthful countenance,—hardly fifteen can she be,—and she the bride of that old man! Monstrous! But it is my destiny: who can overcome that? Prince and noble, the beggar and the proud, all have their destiny; this will be mine, and I must follow it. Ya Alla, that it may be a kind one!’
He lay long musing thus: at last there was a noise as though of talking in his mother’s apartment. He heard a strange voice—it must be the lady’s: he arose, crept gently to the door of the room, and listened. He was right: her pure, girl-like and silvery tones came upon his ears like music; he drank in every word with eagerness,—he hardly breathed, lest he should lose a sound.
He heard her tell her little history; how she had been sought in marriage by many, since he to whom she was betrothed in childhood had died: how her parents had refused her to many, until the Khan, whose family were neighbours, and who had returned from Mysore a man of wealth and rank, hearing of her beauty, had sought her in marriage. Then she related how grandly it had been celebrated; how much money he had spent; what processions there had been through the noble city of Hyderabad; what rich clothes and jewels he had given her; and how he was now taking her with him to his new country, where he was a soldier of rank, and served the great Tippoo. All this she described very vividly; and with the lightheartedness and vivacity of girlhood; but at the end of all she sighed.
‘For all the rank and pomp, she is unhappy,’ thought Kasim.
Then he heard his mother say, ‘But thou sighest, Khanum, and yet hast all that ever thy most sanguine fancy could have wished for.’
‘Ay, mother,’ was the reply, ‘I sigh sometimes. I have left my home, my mother, sisters, father, and many friends, and I go whither I know no one,—no, not one. I have new friends to make, new thoughts to entertain, new countries to see; and can you wonder that I should sigh for the past, or indeed for the future?’
‘Alla bless thee!’ said the old lady; and Kasim heard that she had blessed her, and had taken the evil from her by passing her hands over her head, and cracking the joints of her fingers against her own temples.
‘Thou wilt be happy,’ continued his mother; ‘thou art light-hearted for thine own peace,—thou art very, very beautiful, and thy lord will love thee: thou wilt have (may Alla grant many to thee!) children, of beauty like unto thine own; and therefore do not sigh, but think thou hast a bright destiny, which indeed is evident. Thy lord is young and loves thee,—that I am assured of, for I have spoken with him.’
‘With him, mother?’
‘Ay, with him; he came a little while ago to the screen to ask after thee, and spoke tenderly: young, wealthy, and a soldier too, ah! thou art fortunate, my daughter.’
‘But he is not young, mother,’ she said artlessly. Kasim was sure there was regret in the tone.
‘Why then, well,’ said the old lady, ‘thou wilt look up to him with reverence, and as every woman should do to her lord. But enough now; thou hast eaten, so now sleep again. May Alla give thee sweet rest and a fortunate waking!’
Kasim heard no more, though he listened. His mother busied herself in arranging her carpet, and then all was still. He thought for awhile, and his spirit was not easy within him: he arose, passed through the outer chamber, where the Khan still slept, and his servants around him, and opening the door very gently passed on into the open air.
It was now midnight, and the storm had passed away. In the bright heavens, studded with stars, through which the glorious moon glided, almost obliterating them by her lustre, there existed no sign of the tempest by which it had so lately been overcast. The violent wind had completely lulled, if indeed we except the gentlest breath, which was hardly enough to stir lazily here and there the leaves of an enormous Peepul-tree that occupied an open space in front of the Patél’s house, and which also appeared sleeping in the soft light; while on every wet leaf the rays of the moon rested, causing them to glisten like silver against the sky. The tree cast a still shadow beyond, partly underneath which the servants of the Khan and the bearers of the palankeen all lay confusedly,—so many inanimate forms, wrapped in their white sheets, and reposing upon such straw or other material as they had been able to collect, to protect them from the damp ground.
In the broad light, the camels of the Khan were sitting in a circle around a heap of fodder, into which every now and then they thrust their noses, selecting such morsels as they chose from the heap; while the tiny bell which hung around the neck of each tinkled gently, scarcely disturbing the stillness which reigned around. Beyond, the moonlight rested upon the white dome and minarets of the small village mosque, which appeared above the roofs of the houses; and the Hindoo temple also caught a share of her beams, revealing its curious pyramidical form at some distance, among a small grove of acacia trees. Far away in the east the cloud which had passed over still showed itself,—its top glistening brightly against the deep blue of the sky: while from it issued frequent flickerings of lightning, which played about it for an instant and disappeared; and a low and very distinct muttering of thunder succeeded, showing that the tempest was still proceeding on its threatening yet fertilising course. The cloud and the distance all seemed in one, for the light of the moon did not appear to illuminate much beyond Kasim’s immediate vicinity.
He stood for a moment, and gazed around, and into the sky at the glorious orb. She looked so mild, so peaceful, riding in silence; whilst all around was so mellowed and softened by the blessed light, that, in spite of his habitual indifference to such scenes—an indifference common to all his countrymen—he could not help feeling that his heart was softened too.
The natives of India are perhaps heedless of natural beauties, but if there be any to which they are not indifferent, it is those of the glorious moonlights which are seen in the East, so unlike those of any other country. There, at almost every season, but particularly in the warmest, it is impossible for nature to supply anything more worthy of exquisite enjoyment than the moonlight nights; there is something so soft, so dreamy, in the bright but silvery light, so refreshing, from the intense glare of the sun during the day,—so inviting to quiet contemplation, or to the enjoyment of society, with whomsoever it may chance to be,—that it is no wonder if the majority of Asiatics, both Mahomedans and Hindoos, should love it beyond the day, or appreciate more keenly the beauties it reveals. There, too, moonlight in those seasons has no drawbacks, no dangers; there are no dews to harm, nor cold to chill; and if there be a time when one can enjoy warmth without oppression, light without glare, and both in moderation, it is at the time of full moon in most months of the year in India.
After regarding with some feelings of envy perhaps the sleeping groups, Kasim sauntered leisurely towards the river’s bank, his limbs mechanically obeying the action of his thoughts. The stream was still swollen and muddy, but it had subsided greatly, and the bank upon which the lady had been thrown was now no longer an island. Kasim walked there. ‘It was here,’ he said, ‘that she lay: another moment, perhaps, and she would have been swept away into eternity! I should have felt for the Khan, but I should have been more at rest in my heart than I am now.’
Kasim Ali, or Meer Kasim Ali, as he was also called, for he was a Syud, was the only son of the Patél of——; indeed the only child, for his sisters had died while they were very young. His father was of an old and highly respectable family of long descent, which had won renown under the Mahomedan sovereigns of Bejapoor in their wars with the infidels of the Carnatic, and had been rewarded for their services by the hereditary Patélship or chief magistracy, and possession of one or two villages, with a certain percentage upon the collections of the district in which they were situated. They had also been presented with some grants of land to a considerable extent, and the family had been of importance and wealth far superior to what it was at the period of our history. The troublous times between the end of the Bejapoor dynasty and the subsequent struggles of the Mahratta powers, the Nizam, and Hyder Ali, for the districts in which their possessions lay, had alienated many of them, and caused them to pass into other and stronger hands.
The family however was still respectable, and held a good rank among those of the surrounding country. Syud Noor-ud-deen, the father of Kasim, was much respected, and had at one time served under the banner of Nizam Ali in his wars against the Mahratta powers, and had been instrumental in guarding the south-western frontiers of his kingdom against their incursions.
But his death, which had occurred some years before the time of which we were speaking, had still more reduced the consequence of the family; and his widow and only son could not be expected to retain that influence which had resulted partly from the station and partly from the unexceptionable conduct of the old Patél.
Still there were many who looked forward to the rapid rise of the young man, and to the hope that he would in those stirring times speedily retrieve the fortunes of the house. On the one hand were the Mahrattas, restless, greedy of conquest; among whom a man who had any address, and could collect a few horsemen together, was one day an adventurer whom no one knew,—another, a leader and commander of five hundred horse. On the other was the Nizam, whose armies, ill-paid and ill-conducted, were generally worsted in all engagements; but who still struggled on against his enemies, and in whose service titles were readily to be won, sometimes, but rarely, accompanied by more substantial benefits. Again, in the south, the magnificent power of Hyder Ali had sprung out of the ancient and dilapidated kingdom of Mysore, and bid fair, under his successor Tippoo, to equal or to surpass the others.
As Kasim Ali grew to manhood, his noble appearance, his great strength, skill in all martial exercises and accomplishments, his respectable acquirements as a Persian scholar, and his known bravery,—for he had distinguished himself greatly in several encounters with the marauders and thieves of the district,—had caused a good deal of speculation among the families of the country as to whose side he would espouse of the three Powers we have mentioned.
Nor was he in any haste to quit his village: naturally of a quiet, contemplative turn of mind, fond of reading and study, he had gradually filled his imagination with romantic tales, which, while they assisted to develop his susceptible temperament, also induced a superstitious reliance upon destiny, in which he even exceeded the prevailing belief of his sect.
His mother, who read his feelings, had repeatedly besought him to allow her to negotiate for the hand of many of the daughters of families of his own rank in the neighbourhood, and even extended her inquiries to those of the many partly decayed noble families of Adoni; but no one that she could hear of, however beautiful by description or high by birth or lineage, had any charms in the eyes of the young Kasim, who always declared he chose to remain free and unshackled, to make his choice wherever his destiny should, as he said, guide him.
It is not wonderful, then, that upon one thus mentally constituted, and whose imagination waited as it were an exciting cause, the events of the night should have had effects such as have been noted:—but we have digressed.