Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

the weak and facile, and which the bad too often obtain over the welldisposed and peaceable. The latter, Counlah, was in all respects the opposite of her brother. Lovely in her person, and amiable in her dispositions, she was formed to attract, as much as he to repel, the softer emotions of the heart. Eminently possessed of that peculiar delicacy of form and feature which characterise the females of Hindostan, the dark eyes and polished brow of Counlah beamed with intelligence as well as with affection; while her light and graceful limbs, set off by the floating drapery of her country, exhibited a perfect model of feminine symmetry and beauty.

“So lovely and so gifted a maiden could not long remain unsought ; and before Counlah had reached her twelfth year, her father had received the overtures of many a parent in behalf of his son; but years passed on, and still the young Rajepootnee remained an inmate of the Zemindar's zenana,' to the astonishment of all who knew the fact. The cause of such extraordinary conduct was matter of universal speculation in the neighbourhood: by some it was attributed to the Rajepoot's overweening pride ; some believed it to result from the weakness of parental affection, which could not endure separation from the last and dearest of his children. There were those who whispered that inability on the part of Ram Sing to furnish a dowry befitting the rank of his daughter, and her more wealthy suitors, had occasioned so much unaccountable delay in the performance of a parent's duty ; wbile others, who pretended to greater intimacy with the Zemindar's affairs, hinted that the maiden was already betrothed, and that a noble but somewhat aged bridegroom would soon claim and carry off the lovely blossom of the village of M

“ But while the gossips of the neighbourhood were occupied in such speculations, the fair Counlah decided the matter, as far as regarded her own part, by making choice of a lover for herself. There dwelt not far from M — a Mahometan munsubdar, or nobleman, placed by the Emperor in charge of the collection and police of the district. This munsubdar had a son as highly distinguished for his manly beauty, his gallantry, and noble endowments, as the Rajepoot maidey for her more feminine attractions. Curiosity had first inspired him with a desire of seeing the celebrated Hindoo beauty of the village: the ghất, the water-tank, and the temples of the neighbourhood, these never failing points of attraction and of rendezvous for village maidens, had furnished him with sufficient opportunities of beholding her. A slight service which he had been fortunate enough to render to her and one of her companions, in driving away one of the sacred bulls, so common in Hindostan, which had evinced a disposition to attack the two young women, had afforded him a favourable introduction to her acquaintance, and the impression mutually given and received was so powerful as not to be effaced.

“ It is true, that female delicacy and Hindoo prejudices forbade the shrinking Rajepootnee to admit the advances of a stranger and a Mahometan : but the emotion of her own heart at his approach declared in a language not to be mistaken, bow deep an interest he had gained there; and the respectful delicacy of his every look and action rendered this influence the more dangerous because less dreaded. Frequent, long, and painful were her mental conflicts, but the result only afforded one more instance of the triumph of feeling and passion over reason; and the conscientious struggles of Counlah terminated at length in tacitly consenting to a commencement of that very intercourse from which at first she shrunk with instinctive timidity.

“The yonng Sulimaun Beg, on his part, soon found means of introducing himself to the acquaintance of the Rajepoot Zemindar. There were arrangements to be made with Ram Sing connected with the revenue of the

· Women's apartments.

district, and the young man prevailed upon his father to intrust him with negociating them. It may be inferred that the lover was in no wise severe upon the father of his mistress, and he soon contrived to render himself so agreeable to the frank-hearted, though proud, Rajepoot, that he became as welcome a guest at the village of M as the adverse natures and habits of the two religions could render a Mussulman in the house of a Hindoo.

“ Under circumstances so favourable, the progress of intimacy and of passion between the lovers was rapid and effectual. The heart of Counlah was irretrievably lost; and the contemplation of a dark and dubious future was forgotten in the sweet enjoyment of present felicity. The time soon came, however, for dispersing these day-dreams, and arousing the lovers to the stern realities of their situation. Sulimaun entertained no other wish than to make the young Counlah his lawful bride. Well did he know the almost insuperable obstacles which interpose between the marriage of a Rajepootnee and a Mussulman ; but he also knew that in some instances these obstacles had been overcome, and he trusted, with the ardour of youth, that his own case might form an additional exception to the sweeping rule of exclusion. He knew himself to be a favourite with the Zemindar; he knew that the pecuniary and financial embarrassments of Ram Sing would put it in his own power to befriend and assist him with his father, and he trusted to being able to prevail on that father to accede to his wishes. The wishes and the hopes of the timid and inexperienced Counlah sympathised with those of her lover; she knew and felt all the force of the fatal obstacles of caste, but she hoped that the visionary projects suggested by the sanguine mind of Sulimaun might still be realised ; and although her trembling heart betrayed the secret dread which lurked within her soul, she would not, even to herself, confess the weight of apprehension which oppressed her spirits, but strove to throw it from her, and to view the future through the bright medium of a hope she rather wished to feel than felt.

“There was but one dark cloud over the prospect, which not even the ardour of the lovers could illuminate or dispel. Rawul Sing, son of the Zemindar, a gloomy, haughty, cruel-minded man, who never had evinced any friendship for the young Mussulman, and who even disliked his own sister, for the share of affection and influence which she possessed in her father's breast, had become, they suspected, aware of the attachment and secret meetings of the lovers : and to secure the co-operation of this person, or to attempt obtaining the acquiescence of the Zemindar without his consent, was an almost hopeless enterprise. To make that attempt was, nevertheless, indispensible. As a preliminary step, the young man disclosed his wishes to his own father, who received the communication with disappointment and displeasure; but yielding to the entreaties of a son whom he loved, he consented, under certain stipulations, to admit into bis family the fair Rajepootnee.

“ With the Zemindar, the success of young Sulimaun was far less complete. Amazed and alarmed at the disclosure of a fact which attacked at once the prejudices of the high-caste Hindoo and the affections of a fond father, Ram Sing burst forth into a torrent of invective and passion, which the lover attempted, for a long time in vain, to allay ; nor was it until the storm had in some degree spent itself, that certain allusions to the interests of that daughter as well as of himself, though they might hurt the pride, still claimed and received attention from the Zemindar's prudence. He called to mind his own embarrassed circumstances—he bethought him how completely his property and the fate of his family lay at the mercy of the young man's father. The reflection was painful, but the caution was wholesome and timely; he condescended to reason—to represent to the young Mussulman the unsuitable nature of the alliance he proposed to form—that, even were he to consent, the measure would be opposed by

his whole family and tribe-and what comfort, he asked him, could be hoped from a connexion which must be commenced in difficulty and opposition, and could produce only hatred and disgust? The only concession which, after a long and painful discussion, Sulimaun Beg could obtain, was a promise that the matter should be well considered, and that after due deliberation it should be finally decided whether an attempt should or should not be made to remove tbe obstacles, which opposed the union of a high-caste Hindoo female with a Mahometan.

“So discouraging and indefinite a reply was but ill-calculated to remove the uneasiness, or satisfy the eagerness, of a lover; and the heart of Sulimaun, although he sought to raise the sinking spirits of his mistress by affected cheerfulness, was in truth as ill at ease as her own. But the foreboding anticipations of both were soon terribly justified, for in a very short while Sulimaun Beg received, on the part of Zemindar, a surly intimation that his presence would thenceforth be dispensed with at the village, while Counlah was directed to hold herself in readiness to receive at an early period the husband destined for her by her father.

“ This blow was as sudden and unlooked-for as severe. Even the bold and buoyant spirits of Sulimaun Beg were stunned by it for a while, and the more gentle Counlah gave way, unresistingly, to despair. 'I will but bid him adieu once more, and then die,' said she to herself, as she repaired with trembling feet and sinking spirits to the place of meeting—for meet they did in spite of all the obstacles interposed by fierce brothers or irresolute fathers. The mind of the lover had in the mean time recovered somewhat of its native firmness. His courage and energy revived, and he resolved not tamely to abandon an object in the possession of which he felt his whole happiness to be centered. Counlah on the other hand, sunk in horror and despair at the prospect before her, could at first receive no comfort. She, who had never known what disobedience was, could not conceive the possibility of contravening or evading the mandates of a parent, who till then had only sought to heap upon her tokens of his affection. As she listened, however, to the fervid eloquence of her lover, the spirits of the maiden gradually revived under the magical power of impassioned tenderness; and while she shuddered at the picture of wretchedness and ruin which he drew as the inevitable result of their separation, and her obedience to her father's commands,-the methods by which he proposed to defeat the object of these commands, and to insure their permanent happiness, began to assume a more practicable and encouraging appearance to her apprehension. It would be necessary for them to quit the village and the country for a while. He had an uncle, an Aumildai,' in Oude, a man of substance and of consequence in the service of the Soubahdar, who would receive them. To him they should fly — for together must they go—and there, secure from harm, she should be made his wife according to the due observances of his law. Her father would soon be reconciled to what could not be undone nor avoided, and after a while they should be enabled to return to their homes in safety and comfort.

“Such was the young Mussulman's project; and we shall not pause to relate the lengthened, anxious, oft-repeated arguments—the passionate floods of entreaty and remonstrance by which Sulimaun strove, and strove for long in vain, to bend the mind of Counlah into acquiescence with his purpose ; nor shall we attempt to describe the agony of doubt, apprehension, terror, and despair under which the maiden suffered, ere she could be brought to entertain the thought of flying from her father's roof-of trusting to the guidance, to the honour of her lover, and taking that solemn and irrevocable step on which the fate of woman must for

i Collector of the revenue.

life depend. On the ensuing night, horses were to be stationed near the outskirts of the mango grove, and Sulimaun, with a few confidential attendants, was to approach, bear off his lovely mistress, and escape across the Ganges into a country where neither pursuit nor persecution was to be dreaded.

Night came. The young Mussulman, with three stout adherents, was at his post long ere the arrival of his mistress at the place of appointment could be looked for; and his impatience increased almost to frenzy as hour after hour wore away without sign or token of her coming. The first pale light of dawn was in the sky, and Sulimaun, with vexation and despair, was pondering on the necessity of retreat from observation, when a light footstep was heard-the waft of a floating garment was seen among the trees, and the maiden herself rushed forward to the arms of her impatient lover. •Light of my eyes,' said he, 'your appearance has dispelled the gloom of despair which was falling around me; but what

“' waste no time in words, she cried, but fly-fly ere it be too late, and leave me—I am too wretched—they are at hand—they follow me-fly and save thyself!'

Aye, fly we shall,' said be ; so come my beloved, thy lover is ready.'

Oh no!' cried the maiden, shrinking from his grasp ; it cannot be—I dare pot—I am not prepared-stop not—question not—they will overtake thee-fly, fly

"• Not without thee, Counlah-pot without thee, my beloved !'

“• Oh, Sulimaun, it is impossible ; drive me not mad—let me not see them shed thy blood.'

. Now by the head of my father, exclaimed the youth, dead or alive, I go not hence without thee. Come with me at once, Counlah, or wait and see me perish :-here, help me friends, help me with this lovely one, and then use your spurs in earnest :' and with these words, lifting the half-senseless girl upon his powerful horse, and springing on himself, he gave it the spur, and darted off at speed, followed by his comrades.

“The distance to the river was but small; but scarcely had they left the ground, ere the noise of shouts and trampling of horses rose rapidly behind them on the still dewy air of morning, and the increasing light enabled them to descry half a dozen mounted men, who were pursuing them at full speed. They increased their own pace in order to distance these unwelcome followers, and they turned their horses' heads directly towards the neighbouring banks of the river Ganges, where they knew that the boats were stationed to receive them. But the speed of Sulimaun's horse was retarded by its double burthen,

their pursuers gained upon him, and he called aloud upon his people to halt, and check the foremost. Unwilling to expose the person of his mistress, the young Mussulman permitted the first who came up to be met by one of his companions, who, after a short struggle, threw his opponent deeply wounded on the earth : but the second, shunning all other rencontre, pushed his horse right against that of Sulimaun, who then knew the rider for Rawul Sing, the malevolent brother of his Counlah, and his own most deadly foe. Indignation got the better of prudence ; grasping his sword in the one hand, and straining the other round the pale and trembling Counlah, he spurred against the Rajepoot: by a lucky blow he disabled his sword-arm, and the sword in its descent severing the bridle reins, left his enemy defenceless before him.

“ But other enemies were still in the field, and the object of Sulimaun was not to conquer, but escape. Turning his horse, he left the field, and made at once for the river side ; unfortunately, he reached it where a

kimkerbank' rose high above the waters :—the boats were not even in view.-It was a moment of terrible anxiety-his pursuers were close upon his traces, and he had not an instant to lose. A deep ravine in the bank afforded a perilous and rugged mode of descent, and he fearlessly urged his horse down the steep gorge, from which his pursuers started back, and turned away in dread. Uttering one cry to Allah and the prophet, the young man plunged from a desperate height, right into the eddying waters, reckless of every thing but escape from those who sought to tear his mistress from him. They galloped to the crest of the bank which overhung the stream, and saw him, after throwing himself from his horse to relieve it of his weight, swimming alongside of it, and directing its course across the current, while the maiden, half-immersed in the water, clung round the neck of the animal as it gallantly breasted the waves.

A loud shout expressed their disappointment and their admiration, as they watched the diminishing forms of the young Mussulman and his mistress borne downwards by the rapid tide; but the waters of the Ganges were low, the stream was confined, and the heart of Sulimaun was upborne by hope and confidence. Even the monsters of the deepthe terrible alligators of the sacred river, seemed to respect his dauntless intrepidity, and refrained from injuring the adventurous pair. By giving way to the current they were swept far down; but a spit of sand, which ran out from the opposite side, gave them footing after a while, and their baffled pursuers could distinguish their intended prey deliberately reach the dry land ; then, after breathing their horse, and adjusting his accoutrements, mount him once more, and disappear in the interior of the opposite country.

“ Safe from pursuit, Sulimaun Beg now made the best of his way to the dwelling of his uncle near Purtaubgur, who received him and his lovely companion with all possible affection ; and Counlah was speedily united to her lover by all the rites and solemnities of his law.

“ Three months passed over the wedded pair in all the blissful enjoyments of successful love, before they awoke to the remembrance of other objects. Sulimaun Beg was not of a disposition to live for ever in slothful indulgence; he felt that it was high time he should revisit his father, that he should make arrangements for the fitting reception of his wife, and endeavour to appease her incensed relations, so as to live at peace with them in his own province. Counlah too, on her side, yearned to embrace her father again, to solicit that forgiveness which she could not believe would be refused to the tears of a daughter whom he had loved so well; and it was agreed upon that Sulimaun Beg should return secretly to M-, ascertain the state of feeling in both families, and return to act as circumstances should determine.

“ The young man took his departure accordingly, and, leaving Counlah in the zenana of his kinsman, turned his face towards the Doab, followed by the prayers and anxious forebodings of his young wife, who, oppressed by the anguish of a first separation, believed that her sensations of forlornness and misery were the prophetic warnings of impending evil. To say the truth, the mind of Sulimaun himself was scarcely more at ease, nor did he interpret less gloomily the weight wbich pressed upon his heart; and the conviction which he felt, that he had seen his beloved Counlah for the last time was so strong, that he once thought to return and depute some other on bis errand, but never to part himself from her who was the light of his eyes—the rich blessing in his cup of existence. But fate may not be resisted: a little reflection dissipated in

1 A bank of calcareous gravel, common in these countries, and which sometimes rises to the height of 100 feet above the river.

« AnteriorContinuar »