William St. Clair.

Prince Baber and his wives, and, The slave girl Narcissus and the nawab of Lalput online

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u Rajjub Alii promised that my friend should
also be provided for in these stirring times."

u My fate," said Baber, "will probably be
decided the day after to-morrow. I congra-
tulate my two friends on their good fortune."

The next day but one Baber waited on
Busti Ram, who was most polite. " First of
all let me inform you that I have an order
for one thousand rupees for your boy, Zulficar ;
it has been sent from Delhi. May he make
a suitable use of it. And now as regards
your Highness; I am willing to appoint you
as my agent at the Court of Lahore, that of
the English Political Agent and that of the
would-be King of Cabul (Ameer I ought to
say) Shah Shoojah. Yours will be rather a
roving commission. We are on the crater


of a political volcano; I must have a Maho-
metan Agent to look well after my banking
affairs. May I rely on your Highness, that
to me you will be true as the finest gold?"

u For the future forget the word Highness.
I am your servant Baber from this time forth,
true as the finest gold."

"That will do," said Busti Ram. " You will
now reside at my garden-house, you can see
it from where we are sitting. The garden
is sweet with the perfume of orange blossoms
and many lovely flowers ; you must not allow
any birds to be killed in it, their songs have
often comforted me when I have feared for the
stability of my banking firm. c Cheer up, Busti
Ram,' they sing ; l no evil shall befall you ! ' '

It was under these circumstances that Baber,
before evening closed in, took up his resid-
ence with his friends, servants, horses and
baggage in the garden-house.

True to a moment Zulficar entered the
shop of the sweetmeat seller. The wearer
of the boorkha met him; she had a bundle
in her hand. She unfolded it in a private
court and slipped a boorkha over Zulficar's


" There now, walk like a girl. That will
do; no one will detect you some one must
have taught you. Now come along a little
behind me; you can take your dagger with
you and hold your sword close to you."

Thus the two passed along the street and
entered the Palace of Shah Shooja. The
Sepoys on duty did not challenge them when
they entered the courtyard, to an apartment
of which they bent their steps.

"Here, my mistress, is the nightingale of
whom I spoke to your Highness."

Zulfkar was now in the presence of a
daughter of Shah Shooja. She was very fair
and quite charmed with the boy, who on his
part thought he had never seen her equal.
When asked to sing he did so willingly and
the time flew away. At length he obtained
leave to depart, and falling gracefully at the
feet of the Princess, he kissed her feet. The
two visitors left as they came.

The Princess became rather nervous after
their departure. u What if the intruder were
discovered? What a sweet voice, what eyes,
what a figure, seen even through a boorkha!"

The servant presently returned alone, un-


suspected as she imagined, and standing be-
fore her mistress, announced: u All's well!"

"I fear all is not well," said a girl, slipping
up to the servant. u Be on your guard ! The
old wretch who has charge of us all, sent a
negro after you as you left the palace, to
act as a spy."

The Princess felt a chill creep over her
when she heard these words of caution. But
the cloud of doubt cleared away and she
spoke cheerfully to her servant. u You have
done me a great service. I am charmed with
your singing bird. May I hear a song again
and again!"

Zulficar found all bustle on his return to
the serai, and was soon snugly lodged in
Busti Ram's garden-house, but he did not
leave the serai before Nirgis, the wife of the
innkeeper, whispered in his ear : u Take care
that the palace people do not entrap you like
a bird. Always carry your sword and dagger.
There, go along, my dear ; if you are ever in
trouble, come to me."

All were now comfortably housed at the
garden retreat, if natives of India can ever
claim the word " comfort" as theirs.


Meantime Busti Ram was weaving his webs
for acquiring more wealth, and was gradually
initiating Baber into the secrets of commerce
and money-making.

Zulficar had been informed of the remittance
of one thousand rupees in his favour, and
had been cautioned: u Be careful; be very
prudent! "

The old eunuch who was guardian of Shah
Shooja's Zenana, was as diabolical a wretch
as ever breathed. He adored and worshipped
gold, it was his darling idol ; he loved gaudy
clothes and the most dainty living. As for
the affections of frail human nature, he
abominated them. A marriage, a bride, a
bridegroom, or a child, made him frantic. And
he frequently indulged in strong drinks.

Now he particularly disliked the Princess
Zeinab, who had been so charmed by Zulfi-
car's singing. Why this was the case, no one
could exactly say, except perhaps that she
was very beautiful and regarded him with
scorn and contempt.

Zulficar was fond of fishing and field sports.
The garden-house inhabited by Baber and
himself looked out on the river Sutlej, the


high banks of which, at about half a mile
distant, were covered with brushwood. Since
seeing the Princess Zeinab, he was melancholy,
sad, and inclined to solitude. The river banks
and its rushing waters suited his mood, and
he often frequented them. So it chanced
that one fine moonlight night when just about
to return home, he fancied he heard a noise
as if something were coming towards him,
crushing through the brittle brushwood. Could
it be a lurking tiger thirsting for human
blood? He felt nervous and uncomfortable.
The sound became more and more distinct.

Taking advantage of the shelter of a date
tree, Zulificar waited in silence, his heart beat-
ing violently. The sound came still nearer;
voices could now be heard. Zulficar drew
his sword; he could hear curses, threats, and
the sound of a female voice, full of entreaty,
supplication and agony. Two figures could now
be seen drawing near to the river bank,
carrying something between them.

u Be quiet, you she-devil! be quiet! Now,
brother, for the final toss!"

At this moment the moon shone out brightly.
Two negroes were close to Zulficar, half drag-


ging, half carrying a shrieking girl to the river
bank, which hung over the rushing stream
of the Sutlej. A few more steps and the
edge would be reached. The negroes were
on the point of swinging the girl into the
river, when, swift as a flash of lighting, Zul-
ficar rushed from his hiding-place and dealt
the negro nearest him such a blow that he
fell to the ground, calling out u Allah ! Allah ! "

The girl sank down on the river bank as
the remaining negro relinquished his hold,
and, drawing his sword, rushed on Zulficar full
of fury. But a wild boar dashing through
the jungle, struck the negro on his right side,
and Zulficar, accepting the good omen, cut
him down. He fell with a curse on his lips.

Quickly rising, the girl sprang into Zulficars
arms, crying out: "No time to lose!"

He placed her gently on the grass, and
dragging one of the negroes by his legs,
tumbled him over the bank into the stream
below. The other corpse soon followed, with
a thud and a splash. The current was strong,
and away floated the bodies of the two negroes.
Dry earth was cast over the traces of blood.
There was no time to lose, for doubtless the


old eunuch would send men before long to
search for his slaves, fearing they might have
run away with the girl.

Falling at the feet of the Princess, Zulficar
then enquired, " What are the orders of your

u Take me to a place of safety. Save me
from the hands of the old eunuch!"

Zulficar hardly knew which way to turn.

Seeing he hesitated, the Princess Zeinab
said : u Be quick ! be quick ! The report has
been spread that I have died from cholera,
so if I am concealed, there will be no search
for a time."

Princess Zeinab was in a sad plight, stand-
ing as she did on the bank of the river
Sutlej, in a pair of silk trousers and a muslin
bodice. Zulficar took off his turban, unfolded
it, and having stretched it out, placed it round
the shoulders of the Princess, who threw one
end of it over her head and mouth. But
something must be quickly done for Zeinab's
safety. Where could she be concealed? At
first Zulficar thought of the garden-house as
a place of safety. But that would not answer,
there were to many prying eyes there. Then


Zulficar thought of the serai and Nirgis. That
would answer; so Zulficar threaded his way
to the serai, in dread every moment of meet-
ing a party sent by the eunuch to search for
his two slaves. Zeinab followed with timid
footsteps, shivering from cold, fright and ex-

As Zulficar was nearing the serai, a man
ran up to him in haste, saying: " Master
bids me tell you, he is summoned to Lahore
on urgent business. You are to remain behind."

This was welcome news to Zulficar; he thus
would be free to look after Zeinab. On
arriving close to the serai, Zulficar seated the
Princess in a ruined hut, and ran to the house.
Arriving out of breath, he soon found Nirgis,
and whispered to her : u Oh, dear Nirgis, help
me! I am in a sad scrape. I have brought
a girl with me and do not know where to
put her. Dear, kind Nirgis, speak quickly."

"I will help you, you young rogue. Bring
the girl here."

In a few minutes Zulficar brought in the
trembling Princess. Nirgis saw at a glance
that the girl was of no ordinary rank, and
quickly led her through a small courtyard


into a bastion to which the serai had been
connected by a covered way.

u Here you will both be as safe as two
young foxes in a jungle. Now I will bring
clothes and a bed for the lady. Come along
with me, Zulficar, and carry in the clothes."

As soon as they had left the tower, Nirgis
turned round to Zulficar, who was following
her, and said: u Tell me all about this affair/'

Without any hesitation Zulficar told her the
whole truth about the matter and did not
hide anything from her.

" A pretty beginning for a boy ! But I
will not betray you. There will be no search
for the Princess as she is said to be dead
from cholera. Hark! there sound the kettle-
drums ! People are beginning to leave the
Palace for the Cabul expedition. But I must
get things ready for the Princess. You will
now forget about leaving your mother for a
time!" '

u Do not distress me, beloved, by sharp
words flowing from lips like roses."

Nirgis was full of surprise that Zulficar should
have been so bold in the affair of the Princess,
but resolved to shield him as far as practicable.


u To-morrow morning Shah Shooja will
march and pass close under my bastion. If
I mistake not, cholera and the supposed death
of his daughter must have frightened him."

Nirgis placed herself in close attendance
upon Princess Zeinab ; and, hanging a curtain
before the entrance to the bastion, had much
satisfaction in excluding Zulficar. By degrees
she wormed out all that had taken place
from the Princess, and was assured that Zul-
ficar had told the truth.

"But why did not the slave-girls of your
Highness defend you?"

"I was caught in a trap, like a bird, by a
false message sent by the monster who has
charge of the Zenana. l Come, I am very
ill' was the false message from my father.
I rushed out of my room and was a prisoner
in the hands of the negroes. I screamed.
Then a cry of ; Cholera ! Cholera ! ' was raised,
and I was hurried away. You know the
sequel to this tragedy."

In due time the Princess slumbered, while
Nirgis kept watch at the entrance door.

Early next morning a shout was raised:
u The Shah is coming ! "


Nirgis hurried the Princess up to the top
of the bastion which was surrounded with a
parapet. A cloud of dust arose from the
direction of the Afghan Palace, and the sound
of kettle-drums came nearer and nearer.
Horsemen and footmen hurried along the
road which passed under the bastion. The
rear was brought up by elephants richly
caparisoned, on one of which Shah Shooja
was seated in a howdah of gold; the old
eunuch followed on another elephant close
behind the Shah.

At the sight of this monster the Princess
trembled, shivered, and nearly fainted, but
revived on being encouraged by Nirgis, and
would have called out to her father had not
fear of the eunuch restrained her. As Shah
Shooja passed the bastion he lifted his eyes
to heaven and his lips moved in prayer as
he told his rosary. The procession moved
on. Little did the Princess know what the
future would bring forth : death to the Shah,
death to the eunuch and to thousands of
brave men destined to be slain at Cabul and
in the Khyber, where their bones whitened
for years and years.



Now the procession had passed, not a dog
remained behind. The Princess would have
torn her hair in her grief, had not Nirgis
prevented her and, taking her to her room,
soothed her with kind words of hope for
the future.



BABER departed in a hurry for Lahore on
the receipt of an urgent note written by Busti
Ram, which said: u Order will follow."

On arriving on the banks of the river Sutlej,
Baber was ferried over with all his followers,
and was welcomed by a party sent by Azizu-
deen to meet him.

u Welcome to the territory of our Master,
Maharaja Runjeet Singh," said Lai Singh,
who commanded a party of horse. " You will
find us Sikhs somewhat rough in tongue and
unpolished after your Delhi language."

"Not so," replied Baber; u the voice of the
Khalsa has made itself heard afar for all
that is noble in war and wise in the Council
Chamber. Your Ruler is one of the greatest
Sovereigns of the age."

Baber had touched the right keynote, and
things went on smoothly until Lahore and its
tall minarets appeared in sight, and a camp


was formed for the night. The news-writer
hurried off with his notes. No Muezzin
announced the time of evening prayer at La-
hore, the call was forbidden by the Sikhs ;
but just before the customary hour for prayer,
a present arrived for Baber from Maharaja
Runjeet Singh, consisting of a dinner, fruit
and money, and a courtier enquired with
solicitude after Baber's health.

"It has improved every minute since I
entered the territory of him they truly call
the Lion of the Punjab, under whose shadow
all rest secure," was the reply.

Mounting a fast horse, the courtier delivered
his news to Azizudeen.

u What says this friend of yours?" asked
Runjeet Singh.

Azizudeen read out Baber's speech in a
distinct clear voice.

"I will see this friend of yours to-morrow,
first in Durbar, then in an interview in private,
when the Lion of the Punjab will see what he
can do to make his residence in the Punjab
agreeable. I feel better, Azizudeen, since you
read the news-writer's report to me. Let
him be rewarded in our presence to-morrow.


The court was dismissed and Azizudeen
went home a happy man ; for Runjeet Singh
had been out of sorts all day until the news
was read out.

Early next morning Nurudeen (Azizudeen's
brother) paid a visit to Baber, partly of cere-
mony, but principally to warn him.

"The Maharaja will ask you many questions,
answer them with care and caution, always
with truth, for his spies are everywhere. You
will be questioned about Shah Shooja's ex-
pedition. Weigh every word you speak ; and
if the Maharaja asks about his own health,
give an answer suited to a Delhi tongue.
And now, my friend Farewell ! "

Baber dressed himself simply in pure white
muslin and took a suitable present with him,
including a splendid turquoise ring, which had
been in the possession of his family for gene-
rations. He arrived at the door of the
Palace in good time for the Durbar. Jemedar
Khushyal Singh's men were on guard. When
ushered into the presence, Baber saw Maharaja
Runjeet Singh seated on a golden chair sur-
rounded by about a dozen of his Ministers.
There was not much state about the Lion's


Court, nor much majesty in his personal ap-
pearance. He was a small man, blind of one
eye, and pitted with small-pox. He wore a
green turban, and was plainly dressed except-
ing for a rich pearl necklace.

The Maharaja greeted Baber with courtesy
as he presented his gift.

"I trust," said Baber, u that this turquoise
ring may bring good fortune to your High-
ness. It was worn by Timur ages ago."

Taking up the ring with grace, the Maharaja
placed it on his finger with evident satisfac-
tion, saying as he did so, " I will never cease
to remember the donor."

At the Durbar before his courtiers, Runjeet
Singh asked Baber several questions of no
great importance, to which suitable replies
were given by Baber in pure Delhi Urdu, and
the reporters noted down the fact of his per-
fect accent.

The Durbar broke up and Baber was summon-
ed to a private audience, at which only the
Maharaja, Azizudeen and himself were present.

"You have just come from Loodiana and
have seen the Shah. Now tell me frankly
what you think about him, without reserve."


U I think the Shah was born under an un-
lucky star; he will never prosper."

" Why do you think he will never prosper,
forgetting all about his unlucky star?"

u Because, Maharaja, he inspires no confi-
dence, he trusts no one and no one trusts

The Maharaja looked at Baber with his
one piercing eye, and the glance was under-

u And now I wish to say a few words to
you about my health. I am not what I could
wish, though my dear physician is near me,
the faithful Azizudeen. What can you do?"

"I can give you vigour."

Azizudeen looked hard at Baber.

"May I come nearer to your Highness?"
continued Baber.

"Yes, by all means."

Baber rose with due respect, pulled up the
loose sleeves of his muslin dress, and stood
before the Maharaja.

"I shall gently touch your forehead, cheeks
and arms."

"Do so."

Quick as an arrow Baber made the mesmeric


passes which he had learnt from a skilled
man in Calcutta, backed with perfect grace
of posture and sat down.

" What is this?" said Runjeet Singh. "I feel
young again, as full of vigour as when I was
a young man/'

He called to a guard on duty, and said :
" Order my favourite horse and my escort. I
will review my troops. Let the bugles sound
the Assembly far and wide."

There was a silence of a few minutes, and
the bugles sounded clear and loud.

i% I must not lose a moment. There comes
my charger, neighing loudly. I will mount."
And thanking Baber briefly, the Maharaja left
the Durbar Hall and rode off.

Azizudeen looked at Baber and enquired :
"How long will this vigour last?"

"I hope for ever; certainly for a time," re-
plied Baber.

There was a great stir and excitement in
Lahore that evening. The army shouted for
joy at seeing their old Chief again looking
as fresh as a green leaf in spring.

The same evening Nurudeen came to call
on Baber with presents from the Maharaja.


Not a word was spoken regarding the health
of Runjeet Singh, but Baber was invited to
an interview next day, and Nurudeen con-
cluded his visit by remarking:

u Money will be wanted for this Cabul ex-
pedition. Azizudeen sends this message :
4 Let Busti Ram first look to Shikarpore.
Write to 'him by to-night's post.' Farewell ! "
And turning back as he quitted the room,
he added: u My advice is be prompt."

Baber's servants brought him some strange
and startling reports next morning.

"It is said that Maharaja Runjeet Singh
suddenly ordered his horse and started with
a large escort for Amritzir early this morning.
As to the cause of his abrupt departure, some
say one thing some another, but the word
'conspiracy' is on the tongues of many, and
they say he will reduce the amassed wealth of
many a chief. Runjeet Singh will freely bleed

Whilst Baber was conning over the news,
Nurudeen appeared, calm and placid as ever.
He salaamed to Baber: u My message from
the Maharaja is, 1 1 have escaped from a net
nearly thrown over me. Be careful for a


time in sending money to Shikarpore. If
any of my Zenana people call for you, see
them and let Azizudeen know the result. I
send a ring which will give a free pass to
you." And Nurudeen gave the ring, remark-
ing: u Be on your guard and remember that
I and my brother Azizudeen, Raja Dhian
Singh and his brother Gulab are ever your
firm friends. Keep aloof from the foreign
officers and from all chiefs for the present;
a cloud is rising which may burst in tor-
rents of blood."

The sudden departure of Runjeet Singh
was a cause of wonder to many not in the
secret of his health, but Raja Dhian Singh
and Raja Gulab Singh at a private meeting
agreed that "it was like the flicker of an
expiring oil lamp." The powers of body of
the Maharaja became more feeble, his utter-
ance was difficult, he gradually lost the use
of speech and the faculties of his mind, and
the Rajas of Jummoo usurped to themselves
the whole of the functions of Government.
The Army was assembled and a litter, said
to contain the dying Maharaja, was brought
back from Amritzir. Dhian Singh was most


attentive to his dying master and was
supposed to receive instructions, one of
which was that his successor should be the
imbecile Kurruck Singh, who affected the

Nurudeen still continued to bring messages
from his brother Azizudeen, who was in close
attendance on the Maharaja, and the messages
were always accompanied by valuable gifts.
The burden of the requests made to Baber
was: " Report all news; fail not!"

The health of Runjeet Singh was the cause
of much discussion and anxiety amongst the
women of his Zenana, whatever might be
their position. Amongst others, Ranee Jindan,
a wife or concubine of Runjeet Singh, was
resolved to play a bold part for her son
Dhuleep Singh. She was aware of the pre-
sence of Baber in Lahore and of his interview
with Runjeet Singh, and had also found out
that his friends, Acbar and Hafiz, had been
employed by the political Agent at Loodiana,
through the head Moonshi, Rujjub Alii. Con-
sequently, she resolved to have an interview
with Baber, cost what it might, in the interest
of her son Dhuleep Singh. She said to her-


self: u The English shall know of his exist-
ence, and then bribes and flattery and good
fortune must gain the day ; he shall sit on the
throne of Lahore though I wade knee-deep in
the blood of rebels ! "

Whilst Baber was busy with his letters to
and from Busti Ram, a servant brought a
message that a man particularly wished to
have an interview with him on very urgent

"What can it be? : ' thought Baber, and
ordered the man to be admitted.

In came a fawning, cringing, somewhat
awkward man in gaudy clothes. It was Mun-
noo Singh, the father of the Ranee Jindan,
come to ask Baber to interview his daughter
next day at the Shalimar Garden. This man
had formerly been a dog-keeper to Runjeet
Singh. For months he used to carry about
his daughter on his shoulders to the Durbar,
where he offered her as a wife to Runjeet,
and after a time, Jindan being young at that
time, she was introduced into the Zenana
of the Maharaja.

A chair was brought for Munnoo Singh, on
which he sat very awkwardly.


u Your Highness, my daughter is anxious
to have an interview with one of whom she
has heard so many wonderful reports. May
it be your pleasure to meet her to-morrow
at the Shalimar at noon?" Then drawing
his chair closer to Baber, he whispered
u And you shall see Mungela, the slave-girl,
her large hazel eyes will captivate even a
Prince of the Royal house of Delhi."

Baber agreed to meet the Ranee Jindan,
remembering the permission given to him by
Runjeet Singh, regarding the members of his
Zenana. But he resolved to be on his guard
against the hazel eyes of Mungela, who was
said to have u an easy winning carriage."

On hearing Baber's answer, Munnoo fawned
more and more, after the manner of the dogs
of which he had charge for so many years,
and then he took his departure, leaving Baber
in astonishment that a mere buffoon, in the
estimation of many, should have gained any
standing in a Court like that of Runjeet Singh.

u There must be a vicious polluted current
flowing somewhere in the Zenana of his High-

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Online LibraryWilliam St. ClairPrince Baber and his wives, and, The slave girl Narcissus and the nawab of Lalput → online text (page 2 of 14)