WHAT BEFELL OUR HERO
THREE days had elapsed since the occurrences of the last chapter. The night was dark, and the brilliant and trembling light in Madhav’s room, which could be seen from afar, showed in rich contrast with the impenetrable gloom beyond. Madhav Ghose was alone. He sat reclining on a mahogany couch covered with satin. A single, but well-fed light illumined the chamber. Some two or three English books were scattered over the couch, and one of these Madhav held in his hand but he hardly read it. He sat with his abstracted gaze fixed on the dark but star-besprinkled heavens which were visible through the open windows. His pensive thoughts rambled over a variety of subjects. He feared the uncertain result of his lawsuit, and he was aware that there was everything to fear from the unprincipled agency employed by cunning and clever antagonists, whom he had neither the will nor the power to fight with their own weapons. And should they succeed what was to be the future? Then again he thought of the strange and unknown fate of Matangini. He had been informed of her retreat to Mathur Ghose’s house, her return thence, and of her sudden disappearance. He was ignorant of the events which had driven her to seek shelter under a stranger’s roof, except of what rumour gave, but Madhav knew Matangini too well to suspect that a light cause could have driven this brave-hearted girl to a step which published her own unhappiness and her failure to evince the patience of a woman and a wife. He well understood and appreciated the reasons which had deterred her from seeking shelter in her sister’s house when shelter had become necessary to her. But he was unable to account for her leaving home, and still less for her sudden and strange disappearance. That Matangini had come to know of the conspiracy formed against his property by dacoits and that she had given the timely warning which frustrated their purpose, drove Madhav into a thousand torturing conjectures as to her fate, but each surmise he rejected as wild and unreasonable. Certain he was, so well did he know her character, that whatever might have been her misfortune, she had not been guilty of a dishonourable desertion of her household. Assured, therefore, in his mind that she had come by some misfortune, his heart underwent excruciating torments. The deep and tender feeling which he had stifled in his breast at such cost, seemed to burn with redoubled fervour. His thoughts long dwelt on the remembrance of that parting scene; he recalled every word that she had uttered, and tears rushed to his eyes. Long did he muse and weep in silence. At length he rose from his seat and, as if to forget his reflections in the touch of the balmy air that blew outside, he went out to the veranda. His reflections pursued him there. Leaning against the balustrade, his head supported on the palm of his hand, his eye fixed on the starry heavens and the range of tall Devdaru trees that stood in bold relief against the blue vault, he again lost himself in a melancholy reverie. As he gazed and gazed, a curious object caught his attention. A protuberance on the trunk of a Devdaru [which] stood out in relief against the sky, and on which [he for] some time fixed his listless gaze, seemed suddenly to vanish. It is a singular trait in the human mind that when most intensely employed in brooding over its own gloomy feelings, the most indifferent circumstance will sometimes arrest its attention. The disappearance of the protruding object on the circumference of the tree, struck Madhav as singular. He was sure that the remnant of the stem of a lopped off branch, or a knotted protuberance on the wood, was no longer where he had seen it against the sky. Not attaching however any importance to the circumstance at the moment, and too busy with his own thoughts, he again resumed the subject which lay nearest his heart. A few moments after, however, his eyes again wandered to the same tree, and now he thought he could see the object once more where it was. His curiosity being now slightly awakened, he looked at it for some time with more care than before. Suddenly again the object disappeared. It distinctly exhibited motion in its disappearance. “What can it be?” he thought. Perhaps, he surmised, it was an owl or other night-bird sleeping on its perch among twigs invisible to him in darkness and distance. Again, however, the object reappeared. Madhav could not distinguish in its form the outlines of that of either bat or bird, and it rather seemed to possess more of the shape and size of a human head than of anything else. The outlines could be clearly discerned against the sky, and he even fancied he saw part of the neck protruding from behind the tree. It appeared however on a height in the tree to which it was not usual for men to ascend. As the object appeared and disappeared again and again, his curiosity or apprehension or both, were excited. He thought of going to examine. Usually led on by first impulses, the thought no sooner struck him, than he decided on going himself to see who lurked behind the tree, if any did lurk. He armed himself with a small silver-handled sword that hung in his parlour, and descended the stairs. He again closely looked at the tree from his front gate, as the row of the Devdarus lay very near it, but could see nothing there where he had before perceived the strange object. He looked around but without meeting with what he sought. It was therefore necessary to go to the foot of the tree. Scarcely had he reached it when a wild shriek like that of a screech owl startled him, and at the same moment his sword was wrested from him by a vigorous blow. Before he could turn to see who and where was this sudden assailant, the large and rough palm of a vigorous hand was laid upon his mouth. At the same instant a heavy body fell upon the earth from the tree, and Madhav Ghose saw before him a tall and sombre figure, vigorous and well-armed.
“Bind him, this is unexpected,” said the man in a whisper to the one who had disarmed Madhav, “gag him first.”
The other man took out a napkin and some rope from his waist, and, gagging Madhav well with the napkin, proceeded to bind his limbs, while he who had descended from the tree, held him down. Madhav who saw the uselessness of struggling, and was powerless to call for help, quietly submitted.
“Now, take him up in your arms; you can singly carry him away,” said the latter comer in the same low tone.
The other took up Madhav in his large arms and bore off the unfortunate young man without much difficulty. The other followed, and the two left the spot without having given the smallest alarm to the household.