Author: Taylor, Meadows, 1808-1876
-1600 — Fiction
Queens — India — Fiction
A Noble Queen: A Romance of Indian History (Volume 1 of 3)
A NOBLE QUEEN:
A ROMANCE OF INDIAN HISTORY.
C.S.I., M.R.A.S., M.R.I.A., &c.
AUTHOR OF ‘SEETA,’ ‘TARA,’ AND OTHER TALES.
‘O, never was there queen
So mightily betray’d!’
Antony and Cleopatra, act i. sc. iii.
IN THREE VOLUMES.
C. KEGAN PAUL & CO., 1 PATERNOSTER SQUARE.
(The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved.)
SIR SALAR JUNG BAHADUR, G.C.S.I.
THE EMINENT AND ACCOMPLISHED STATESMAN
LEADER OF ALL THE ADVANCING CIVILIZATION OF THE DEKHAN
ILLUSTRATIVE OF A PORTION OF ITS HISTORY,
BY HIS FAITHFUL FRIEND,
The favour with which my former Indian tales have been received has induced me to write another, in illustration of one of the most important epochs in the history of the Dekhan. The character of the noble Queen Chand Beebee is still popular in the country; and her memory is reverenced, not only as the preserver of Beejapoor, but for the heroic resistance she made to the Moghul armies in their first invasion of the Dekhan and siege of Ahmednugger. The whole circumstances relating to the Queen, upon which this tale has been founded, are detailed in the history of Mahomed Kasim Ferishta, and can be read and verified in the translation of that work by the late Major-General Briggs.
Old Court, Harold’s Cross, co. Dublin.
August 27, 1875.
THE FIRST VOLUME.
|I.||THE CATARACT OF THE KRISHNA||1|
|II.||“A NIGHT’S VIGIL”||25|
|III.||THE PRIESTS OF MOODGUL||44|
|IV.||AN INSULT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES||54|
|V.||A NEW ARRIVAL||80|
|VI.||THE STORM AND THE FLOOD||97|
|VII.||CONFIDENCES AND FAREWELLS||119|
|VIII.||MÁMA LUTEEFA PROPHESIES||138|
|X.||HOW THE NIGHT PASSED||175|
|III.||THE EVENTS OF A DAY||237|
|IV.||THE EVENTS OF A DAY—continued||251|
|At page||81,||vol. i., line||4,||for Hoosein-bee read Mamoolla.|
|“||176,||” “||4,||for Hoosein-bee read Mamoolla.|
|“||176,||” “||17,||for Hoosein-bee read Mamoolla.|
|“||177,||” “||6,||for Hoosein-bee read Mamoolla.|
|“||181,||” “||11,||for Hoosein-bee read Mamoolla.|
|“||199,||” “||4,||for Hoosein-bee read Mamoolla.|
|“||201,||” “||8,||for corn read cover.|
A NOBLE QUEEN.
THE CATARACT OF THE KRISHNA.
Queen Elizabeth reigned in England. In the Dekhan, King Boorhan Nizam Shah ruled over Ahmednugger, and King Ibrahim Adil Shah II. over the kingdom of Beejapoor. They were rivals.
It was a fiery day in the end of the month of May 159-, when a small party of horsemen, evidently weary from long travel, were passing over the plains which lie north of the Krishna river. They carefully avoided village and road tracks, and kept a steady course eastward across the cultivated and uncultivated ground which seemed well known to them. There were no hedges, as the fields are unenclosed, except near the villages; and there were no trees, except distant clumps here and there, which marked the site of a village or hamlet, or perchance a lonely Mussulman shrine or Hindoo temple.
Nothing could be more dreary or desolate in appearance than the landscape; every green thing had long ago been burnt up; the soil was for the most part black and cracked; and the fields, which had been or were being ploughed, were broken into large clods, over which the tired horses strained with difficulty.
Beyond the river Krishna, which lay at a few miles’ distance to the right hand, was a small cluster of hills, and directly before them a continuation of the range, which seemed to be broken in the middle by a gap; but the hills themselves were continually distorted by the hot wind and mirage, which had effect on everything about them.
Trees suddenly appeared to start up, which dwindled into bushes as the party approached them; villages, with their walls and roofs of white slaty limestone, rose into seeming palaces, glittering in the sun, and disappeared; lakes of water seemed to gather together, and again vanish under the fierce blasts of the burning wind, which carried with it at times clouds of choking dust. Men and bullocks ploughing were seen for a moment, then rose quivering and misshapen into the air, and vanished under an increased blast.
Now and then the droning song of the ploughmen came upon them in snatches, borne by the wind, and again ceased, and there was no sound except the plaintive whistle of the red plover, as flocks ran swiftly over the ground, the shrill chirrup of grasshoppers, or the wail of the lapwing when it was disturbed and flew away. Occasionally large lizards with red throats raised their heads stupidly as the party passed them, or the small blue-throated species looked pertly from its position on a stone or high clod, puffed out its beautiful azure neck, and whistled a defiant note as it beheld the unusual sight, or darted into the hole or crack in which it lived, and was seen no more.
Over ploughed fields flocks of crows or white storks, with their beaks wide open, searched among the newly-turned clods for insects, and rose up with harsh cries and flew away before the mirage, and were soon lost to view; or trembling in the hot air took a short flight and settled again. Here and there a small river bed or a brook suggested a pool of water or thread of stream, at which the horses and men could quench their thirst; but they stayed rarely for this, and pursued their way with all the speed, a quick amble, that their horses were capable of.
In truth, painful to endure as it undoubtedly was, this hot wind and mirage had proved to be their preserver from capture, and probably death. The times were lawless and fierce; party feeling ran high in the Dekhan kingdom, and partizans showed little mercy to each other in the civil war then raging. Early that morning a small force of cavalry in the service of the King of Beejapoor had started on its way to join one of the main bodies of the Royal army on its march to subdue the rebellion of the Prince Ismail, the King’s younger brother. But the rebellion was, in fact, that of Eyn-ool-Moolk, the ex-Prime Minister, who in putting forward the young prince had trusted to regain his old influence and power. Nor did this seem at all improbable, as he was certain of the assistance of the King of Ahmednugger and his powerful armies, in order to pay off scores with his cousin of Beejapoor.
It was necessary, therefore, for Beejapoor to send all the troops at its disposal to quell the insurrection which had begun at Belgaum, and the party of cavalry under the young Abbas Khan, which had held a frontier outpost, being ordered to join a larger division, had been pushing on incautiously that morning before daylight, when it was attacked suddenly by an overwhelming force, and, after losing half its number on the field, was forced to fly. Many more were pursued, and captured or slain; many followed their brave young leader, occasionally showing front to their pursuers; but they gradually fell off, and only the four best mounted remained. Even they had had a narrow escape. From the brow of an undulation they had caught the glint of spears on the plain below, while they had also been seen in their elevated position, and were pursued with fresh ardour; but as they plunged into the hot waves of mirage, then beginning to blow, they had been concealed by it, or their figures so distorted that they could not be recognised.
We have no concern in this tale with the progress of the rebellion, or its sudden collapse after the death of Eyn-ool-Moolk, its instigator, and have only mentioned it incidentally to account for the flight of the small party whom we are following.
They seldom spoke one to another, for their heads were muffled in folds of cotton cloth, and the cotton sheets they usually carried on their saddles were now thrown over their persons to keep off the fierce heat of the sun. It was evident that two of them were wounded; and exhausted by the heat and loss of blood, could barely sit their horses. One of these was the young leader of the party, Abbas Khan, who occasionally reeled in his saddle as if about to faint from weakness, but again revived by a drink of water from a companion’s leathern bottle, rallied bravely, and the march was resumed as before.
Abbas Khan, the nephew of Humeed Khan, and his adopted son, was, perhaps, twenty-five years old, or it might be less. His dress of Genoa velvet, braided with gold, was rich and handsome, but frayed with perpetual use, as were also the crimson velvet saddle-cloth and housings. On his head he wore a steel morion with a spike at the top, covered partly with padded velvet flaps, which fell over his ears and part of his neck behind, and were protected by small scales of steel; and a steel bar, as part of the morion itself, projected over his forehead, and was covered with velvet as the side pieces. Long Persian boots of soft leather, embroidered in coloured silk, greaves of padded velvet, strengthened by steel scales, covered his thighs, and steel gauntlets, richly inlaid with gold, defended his wrists and his arms up to his elbow; a waistband of a rich green muslin scarf, the brocaded ends of which were tied at his right side, partly supported his sword, which hung from a baldrick embroidered with gold, crossing his breast.
It was the handsome dress of a Dekhan cavalier of the period, and there was not a braver, nor as yet one more distinguished, than the young Abbas Khan. For the times were rough. Insurrections and rebellions were the normal condition of the country, and especially of the capital; while from Ahmednugger on the north, and Beeder and Golconda on the east, the frontier was rarely or ever secure. Often, indeed, great leagues were made among the rival Sovereigns, and large armies sent into the field, when heavy actions were fought with terrible slaughter. Abbas Khan’s service had always been in frontier posts, and his daring character and athletic frame urged him to undertake perilous enterprises, with little heed as to the possible results; indeed, he seemed to have no perception of danger, nor thought but to strike a blow against an enemy whenever he might appear. Rash to a degree, his uncle had refused him a command in his own army lest by his indiscreet valour he might compromise the effect of military skill; but he had no wish to curb the young man too much, and as the best experience was to be gained in frontier service, he had from time to time committed important posts to his nephew’s charge.
Those who had escaped with him from the skirmish at Kórla were his own retainers; but they had, as we know, fallen behind from exhaustion, wandered into other paths, or taken refuge in villages. There were only three left—one, by name Jumal, as badly wounded as the young leader himself, who with difficulty kept his seat. He was the Khan’s standard-bearer, and still carried the small green pennon he had defended so bravely in the fight. The second was Yasin, an attendant of his own; the third Runga, a chief of the Beydurs of the country to the eastward, a tall grim-looking Hindoo, who acted as guide. All were well mounted, but the hardy, active horse of the Beydur was perhaps the freshest.
The day was now declining, and the furious wind had somewhat fallen, but still blew in occasional gusts, accompanied by clouds of dust; but the wounded men could barely hold out, and there were drops of blood oozing from the bandages with which the Khan’s chest and left arm had been hastily bound up, while the pressure of the velvet coat, soaked in blood, which had dried hard and adhered to a part of the wound, was exquisitely painful.
The Beydur saw that it was so, and tried to cheer his young master, saying in his rough Canarese tongue, which the Khan understood perfectly, “Fear not, Abbas Khan, fear not, an hour hence thou wilt be safe in the fort. See, the trees of Nalutwar are already behind us, and my own hills are growing more and more distinct amidst the haze and dust. Cheer up, and set thy teeth like a true soldier as thou art; I say another coss and thou art safe among my people, and the wound shall be dressed again. And thou, too, Jumal, we will care for thee also. Faint not, man, but keep a good heart.”
“I do not like the ceasing of the wind so suddenly,” said Yasin Khan; “if the rebels were to see us now, we should have a poor chance for life.”
“We could at least die like soldiers,” was the Khan’s reply. “It was my rashness which caused this disaster and the loss of so many of our poor fellows! May God forgive me, for I fear my uncle will not; and to your fidelity I owe my life, O friends; may Alla reward ye. Yes, I will hold out, if the bleeding will let me, but even now the ground swims before my eyes. Give me some more water, for I thirst.” And after a long draught from the leathern bottle, the young man settled himself afresh in his saddle, spoke cheerily to his horse, and pressed on again.
They had not proceeded more than a mile when several men sprang out of a thicket and rushed towards the Beydur chief, whose feet they kissed with passionate tears and cries of joy. “Oh, thou art safe, thou art safe,” was all they could find words to say. “We heard thou wert dead, lying on the field by Kórla, and some have gone to seek thee there.”
“Peace,” cried the chief, laughing. “See, children, I am unharmed and safe.”
“But there is danger,” cried several. “A party of the rebel horsemen have tracked ye, and are near us now. Can ye not ride faster? once within the pass and ye are safe. Ride on, we will follow.”
“On your lives,” returned the chief, “stop them there. Keep yourselves close within the brushwood, and fire at them as ye can. Their horses are as weary as our own, and can do little. Ye can defend the mouth of the Cháya Bhugwuti; or, if they are many, ye may entice them into the hills on the main road.”
“And what would ye do by the Cháya Bhugwuti? Do ye not know, master, that Mother Krishna is running full, and ye cannot get refuge in the fort?”
“Ha!” cried the chief, “is it so indeed? and when did this happen? We did not hear the mother.”
“About noon,” was the reply of several. “She comes down before her time. Listen!”
As the man spoke, a deep hollow sound fell upon their ears. The wind blowing from the west, along the course of the great river, had prevented this sound reaching them before; but there could be no mistake now, and on passing a small eminence they saw the river in flood, from bank to bank, rushing rapidly along; while in the gap of the hill before them rose a column of mist, which increased as the wind lulled, and again was blown away as a gust came down the river.
“If there were time,” said the leader of the new party with his men, who were running beside the horses, “ye should turn by the upper road, and make straight for Korikul, but it is too late now for that; and how are ye to cross the river?”
“Let us reach Narrainpoor first, and we will see to that,” said Runga, quietly. “Away, some of ye, to Narrainpoor, and tell the fishermen to go on to the lower ferry with their gear. Their lives shall answer for the young Khan’s if there be any delay, and I, Runga, declare it. Tell Krishna, the barber, to have his needles ready; there may be time to dress the Khan’s wound. Ye remember him, children, how he slew the panther with his sword, and how ye all worshipped him. Away! we have to save his life; no matter what the flood is, we shall be cowards if we do not place him in the fort ere the sun sets.”
The men he spoke to were Beydurs like himself. Indeed, Runga was not only a chief but a relative of the Rajâh of the Clan, then a very powerful one, which could bring twenty thousand men into the field. Runga Naik held the lower part of the western frontier with horse and footmen, and had been summoned to join the young Khan according to the tenor of his service to the State. He was a true adherent, not only because of his service, but because of his love for and admiration of the Khan, and this was shared by the people. It would be disgrace indeed if aught happened to Abbas Khan or his followers; and at their chief’s appeal several of them dashed forward in the direction of the hollow booming sound and cloud of mist.
They were fleet of foot, and admirably equipped for tough frontier service. On their heads they wore conical caps of leather, which drew in by a string round the forehead and temples. Each wore loose leather drawers reaching as far as the knee, with a red waistband of strong stuff, and pliant sandals completed their costume. Some had sword and shield, with a knife in the gir