Part 2 out of 3
impulse was to shout for help and eject the intruder with every
species of ignominy, but second thoughts are proverbially peaceful.
"This Jogesh," he reflected, "must be a very smart fellow, or he would
never have taken us all in as he did. It is better to be on the side of
the sacrificial knife than the goat that awaits its stroke. Why should
I not hear what he has to say? He would not have come here without
some excellent reason--perhaps he wants to pay up part of his debt
to me, or maybe he has some scheme with money in it to unfold. He'll
certainly try to overreach me again; but then once bitten twice
shy. I'll be on my guard." Then with an attempt at irony he asked:--
"What brings you of all people to my house? Have you got another
daughter to marry?"
Had Amarendra Babu observed the gleam which shot from Jogesh's shifty
eyes, he would have kicked him out at once, but he waited for a reply,
which came in honeyed accents:--
"Now, Babuji, please don't rake up old stories; what is done cannot
be undone. You, as a father, ought to excuse little subterfuges,
contrived in order to get a daughter off one's hands. I was so anxious
to ally myself with your distinguished family that I did sail rather
near the wind. But I have come to offer you some amends by putting
you on a really good thing."
Amarendra Babu's cupidity was excited by these words. He asked with
apparent indifference: "Well, let me hear more of your famous plans,
and meantime I'll call for a hookah".
Jogesh was overjoyed by the success of his manoeuvres. He answered,
punctuating his sentences by inhaling fragrant Bhilsi, "You have
heard of Campbell & Co., the big cooly recruiters of Azimganj? Well,
they have an agency in Calcutta for supplying emigrants to Mauritius,
Trinidad, and other outlandish places; and it is run by one Ganesh
Sen who is a close friend of mine. He tells me that a number of
sub-contracts will be given out to-morrow, and I have made up my mind
to apply for one. Ganesh Babu is sure to come to terms with me; and I
know a very smart sardar (ganger) who will supply me with any number of
coolies I want. But I shall take care to keep a large margin between
the rate per head, at which they will be delivered to Campbell & Co.,
and that which my sardar will receive. All this will be clear profit."
"It seems a good speculation," said Amarendra Babu musingly, "but
I should like to have further particulars. What do you expect to
make per head delivered; and what capital will be required?" Jogesh
pulled out a paper covered with calculations, and proved to his host's
satisfaction that as much as Rs. 5 might be expected on each cooly. As
for capital, a few hundreds would be needed in the first instance as
an advance to the sardar, and other sums later, to provide outfits
for the coolies according to law. Campbell & Co. settled the accounts
of sub-contractors monthly, so that Amarendra would not have to wait
long for his money. Jogesh concluded by urging his baibahik (father
of a son-in-law) to call with him on Messrs. Campbell & Co.'s Calcutta
manager, who would corroborate his statements. Amarendra Babu thought
that there would be no harm in going into matters further. He fixed 4
P.M. on the following day for a visit to 809 Strand, where Campbell &
Co.'s branch offices were said to be located.
On arriving there punctually, he was met by Jogesh, who took him
through a courtyard where twenty or thirty coolies were squatting,
shepherded by a stalwart Mohammadan, wearing a blue turban, who was
introduced as Salim Sardar, his ganger. Pushing through the little
crowd, they entered a well-furnished office, where several clerks
sat writing busily. One of them looked up when Jogesh said: "Ganesh
Babu, I have brought you my baibahik, who is thinking of joining me
in a sub-contract".
The manager, for such he was, received Amarendra Babu politely and
said that he would gladly come to terms with them. He then produced
a written contract in duplicate on stamped paper, by which the
partners agreed to furnish at least 1,000 coolies monthly, during
the emigration season, at rates which left a net profit of Rs. 5
per head, to be shared equally between them. After reading both
documents over twice, Amarendra Babu executed them, as did Jogesh;
and the former took possession of his copy. On returning home with
his new partner, he entered on a discussion as to ways and means. It
was agreed that he should advance Rs. 5,000 for preliminaries, which
he did a week later, raising the amount on a mortgage of his Calcutta
house property. Everything went swimmingly at first; Jogesh calling
daily to report progress; and a month later he burst into Amarendra
Babu's parlour, with a cash-book and bundle of currency notes. The
latter learnt to his intense delight that his share of the profits
amounted to Rs. 1268 12.4. which was promptly paid him. Two or three
days afterwards Jogesh again called to tell him that an opportunity
of making Rs. 10,000 net had occurred owing to the pressing demand
for cooly freight from a ship which was lying half-empty, and costing
large sums for demurrage. Rs. 10,000 must be forthcoming at once for
advances and perhaps special railway trucks, but Amarendra Babu might
calculate on receiving 100 per cent. in three weeks at the latest. Such
a chance of money-making was not to be lost. Amarendra Babu rushed off
to his broker and sold nearly all his Government paper for Rs. 10,000
in cash, which he handed to Jogesh, against a formal acknowledgment.
Seeing nothing of his partner for several days, Amarendra called
to inquire how the new contract fared and was thunderstruck to find
Jogesh's house locked up. Hastening to Campbell & Co.'s Strand offices,
he saw a notice "to let" exhibited there. This spectacle confirmed
his worst fears--he had been twice swindled outrageously. His only
hope lay in the scoundrel's arrest; so he laid an information at the
police station, and a clever detective was told off to investigate
the charge. Strange was the story which came to light. No such firm
as "Campbell & Co." existed; Ganesh Babu and Salim Sardar were both
accomplices of Jogesh, who had rented an office on the Strand for
one month at Rs. 300 which was never paid. He had also engaged twenty
or thirty loafers at 4 annas (4d.) a head to personate coolies for a
couple of hours. This part of the inquiry was satisfactory enough--for
the police; not so the efforts they made to trace Jogesh and his
accomplices. From that day to this nothing has been heard of them.
Amarendra Babu never recovered from this crushing blow. The loss of
nearly Rs. 14,000 is a very serious matter for any one of moderate
means; to him it was doubly grievous, for he worshipped money and
valued nothing but success. By constantly brooding on his misfortunes
and folly he developed symptoms of madness and was at times so violent
that his relatives were obliged to confine him in a dark room. One
afternoon he eluded their vigilance and hurried to the office of
"Campbell & Co." on the Strand. After gazing for several minutes at
the empty building, he heaved a deep sigh, ran across the road, and
sprang into the River Hughli. The undercurrent sucked his body in,
and it was never recovered. Perhaps Mother Ganges was loath to keep
a carcase so tainted in her bosom, and so whirled it southwards to
The Virtue of Economy.
Sham Babu was a clerk of nearly thirty years' standing, and the
approach of old age made him anxious to escape from the daily grind of
business. He asked permission to resign, which was reluctantly granted;
his employers signifying their appreciation of his faithful service
by granting him a pension of Rs. 30 a month and offering to provide
for any of his relatives who might be fit for clerical work. Sham
Babu thanked them warmly and retired to his native village, with the
intention of passing the evening of life in peace. He had always lived
well within his means. People who were thrice as rich could not imagine
how he contrived to bring up a family on the salary which he was known
to enjoy. Some folks insinuated that he had made money by giving his
son in marriage to Kumodini Babu's daughter, never remembering that a
dowry is reserved for the bride's benefit, while the cash payment made
to a father-in-law barely suffices to meet the expenses of elaborate
nuptial ceremonies. Others hinted that he had waxed rich on illicit
commissions--another charge which was quite without foundation. Sham
Babu was strictly honest, and besides, the opportunities within the
reach of clerks employed by a private firm are not worth mentioning.
After settling down at Kadampur he cudgelled his brains for some
means of increasing his slender resources. Friends advised him to try
farming, or start a business in lending grain to cultivators. Neither
trade was to his liking. Clerks are of little use outside their own
sphere; and Sham Babu was too soft-hearted to succeed as a village
Shylock. A matter of pressing importance was to establish his son
Susil, who had passed the First Arts examination and was hanging about
the Government offices at Ghoria, in the hope of securing a post. Sham
Babu took advantage of his late employer's offer and sent the young
man off to Calcutta armed with a sheaf of certificates. To his great
delight, Susil was appointed clerk on Rs. 25--a magnificent start,
which relieved his father's most pressing anxiety.
Sham Babu had begun life with a small patrimony which was slowly
increased by savings from his monthly pay. He was worth nearly
Rs. 10,000, the whole of which was lent by him to a trader named
Gopal Datta, certified by Sham Babu's brother-in-law Hari to be
thoroughly trustworthy. This Gopal dealt in jute; and being a man of
great daring, he speculated so successfully with Sham Babu's money
that, within three or four years, he amassed a fortune of two lakhs
(L13,333). He paid 12 per cent. interest on the loan regularly,
which made a comfortable addition to Sham Babu's pension.
It was the latter's habit to visit his Calcutta relatives at least
once a month. So, one day in June, 18--, he went to Hari Babu's house
with the intention of passing the night there. His brother-in-law
was absent and not expected till the morrow; but Sham Babu was
welcomed by the ladies of the family, who made all arrangements
for his comfort. In the evening he sat in the Baitakhana (parlour)
reading the Bhagavat Gita (a mystical poem). A carriage drove up
to the door whence alighted Ramanath Babu, who was Gopal's younger
brother. After the usual compliments had been exchanged, Sham Babu
asked what business his visitor was engaged in.
"I have started as a broker in jute and oil-seeds," was the reply.
"I hope you will do as well as Gopal," said Sham Babu, "but I suppose
you have joined him?"
"Certainly not," replied Ramanath impulsively; then he checked himself,
as though he had said too much.
Sham Babu was astonished by the tone adopted by his visitor. He asked,
"Why, what's the matter with Gopal, nothing wrong I hope and trust?"
"No, not exactly; but I'm in a hurry to-day, you must excuse my
Sham Babu, however, would not be put off with vague insinuations. He
said, "I must ask you, Ramanath, to be more precise. You know your
brother has borrowed Rs. 10,000 from me on a mere note of hand,
and I am naturally very anxious to learn the truth."
Ramanath Babu paused for a few seconds before replying. "It is a
fact that my brother's speculations have been unfortunate of late. He
certainly made a good deal of money at one time, but sunk the bulk of
it in bricks and mortar, which you know are not easily turned into
liquid capital. You, as a large creditor, ought to be told how the
"This is the first I have heard of Gopal's difficulties," groaned
"Yes, because no one troubled himself to tell you the truth; but I
can assure you that Gopal's liabilities are something awful, and it
is quite possible that he may have to take insolvency proceedings."
"You don't say so! What shall I do? If Gopal becomes bankrupt,
I shall be utterly ruined."
"Well, I cannot advise you fully," replied Ramanath Babu, "but
forewarned is forearmed. If I were in your shoes I would certainly
call in my loan." Thereon he took leave.
Sham Babu passed a restless night, dreaming of the debtor's jail and
a starving family. On Hari Babu's return, next morning, he related the
purport of his conversation with Ramanath. His host said: "You should
not attach too much importance to such tittle-tattle. Ramanath has
had a quarrel with his brother about family matters, and he is not
at all averse to doing him a bad turn." Sham Babu was not satisfied
with this explanation. He answered:--
"I can hardly believe Ramanath capable of telling deliberate lies,
which must inevitably be detected."
"Perhaps not. It is quite possible that Gopal may be in temporary
straits. But can you point to a single merchant among your
acquaintances whose career has been uniformly prosperous? There are
ups and downs in commerce, which no one can avoid. Mark my words,
Gopal will soon pull himself together again!"
Sham Babu was by no means convinced by his brother-in-law's
optimism. He remarked, "In any case I ought not to allow my loan to
stand without some tangible security. Gopal has house property in
Calcutta, I believe?"
"To be sure he has. There is his new house at Entally, which must have
cost Rs. 20,000; and another in Barabazar, letting at Rs. 3,000. Just
calculate what this property must be worth. If I doubted Gopal's
solvency, do you suppose I would have lent him Rs. 20,000 on his note
Sham Babu was quite reassured. He came to the conclusion that Ramanath
had attempted to injure his own brother, and returned home with a
firm resolve to disregard such scandalous talk in future.
About three months afterwards he met Ramanath Babu quite casually in
Harrison Road and, in the course of conversation, the latter asked
whether he bad called in his loan to Gopal.
"I have done nothing of the kind," was the curt reply. "My
brother-in-law tells me that he is quite solvent."
"It was just like him to say so--the selfish fellow! I am sorry to
say that my brother has lost heavily by speculating in jute and is,
in fact, a ruined man. If you don't believe me, ask Hari Babu again
and you will see what tune he sings. Perhaps you don't know that he
has called in his loan of Rs. 20,000?"
"That is certainly strange," replied Sham Babu with tears in his
voice. "He never breathed a word of any such intention to me."
"Hari Babu is your brother-in-law," continued Ramanath, "but Gopal
is my own brother. Is it likely that I would injure his reputation
gratuitously? No; you are an old friend whom I cannot allow to be
ruined without a word of warning. If you do not choose to act upon it,
so much the worse for you."
Sham Babu was now convinced that no time was to be lost in demanding
proper security for the loan. He went straight to his brother-in-law,
to whom he repeated the information which he had received.
Hari Babu shook his head sadly. "Yes," he said, "I am afraid there is
some truth in it. Gopal is in temporary difficulties; but you need not
be anxious. I will get him to give you a mortgage on landed property
worth much more than his debt to you."
Sham Babu felt somewhat reassured, but there was a point to be
"One word more," he said, "have you called in your loan of Rs. 20,000?"
Hari Babu looked at him suspiciously. "Who told you so?"
"I heard it from a reliable source."
"It must have been Ramanath, who is always seeking to make
mischief. Well, yes, I did ask Gopal to repay me, not that I distrusted
him but because I wanted to invest the money in land."
Sham Babu felt indignant at the man's gross selfishness, but he
concealed his feelings and merely remarked that he would not leave
Calcutta till the mortgage was settled. Next morning he insisted on
Hari Babu accompanying him to Gopal's house at Entally. They found the
debtor apparently in high spirits, although he admitted that certain
speculations had turned out badly. When pressed by Sham Babu to repay
the loan, he asked for time, pleading that his whole capital was locked
up. Sham Babu, however, was obdurate, and with his brother-in-law's
help he brought such pressure to bear on Gopal that the latter sulkily
agreed to give him a mortgage on an ancestral estate in the Mufassil
(interior of Bengal). Sham Babu stuck closely to him until the bargain
had been fulfilled, and managed matters so expeditiously that the
mortgage deed was drawn up, executed, and registered in a week. Though
he had now something tangible to rely on in case of accidents still
he was not happy, for Gopal discontinued paying interest on the loan
and he did not dare to press him, lest he should precipitate a crash.
Misfortunes never come singly. Soon after settling this unpleasant
affair, Sham Babu was laid low by fever; and doctor's bills trenched
sadly on his slender resources. Susil, too, the hope of the family,
caught a mysterious disease and was absent from office so long that his
employers were obliged to replace him. For the first time in his life,
the poor old father felt the pinch of want, but he bore up bravely
hoping for better times. When he was able to crawl about again, he
applied to his old employers for work of any kind, but learnt to his
sorrow that they intended winding up the business and were not able
to increase their establishment. Sham Babu scanned the advertisement
columns of the daily paper and answered many offers of employment,
learning, on each occasion, that he was far too old to fill the
One evening he sat in his parlour brooding over the many misfortunes
which encompassed him. A distant connection named Srish Babu came in
and, hearing that his host sorely needed work, said:--
"I am going to start a business in country produce and shall want
several experienced clerks. I must provide for relatives first and
strangers afterwards. Now, would you be inclined to come to me as
manager, on Rs. 75 a month to begin with?"
Sham Babu jumped at the offer, which would restore him to comparative
affluence, and it was agreed that he should enter on his new duties
in three weeks. A month passed by without news from his relative,
and meantime Sham Babu received a tempting offer of employment. Before
deciding what to do he wrote to Srish Babu, informing him of the fact
and asking whether he could rely on him. A reply came to the effect
that he might do as he pleased, but that the business in country
produce, which he was to manage, would positively be started in a
fortnight. After another month of suspense, Sham Babu learnt that
Srish's bubble had been pricked, and that he had levanted, no one
knew whither, to escape a swarm of creditors.
The poor old man was now on his beam-ends. The only course open
to him was to sue Gopal for arrears of interest and foreclose his
mortgage. After a year and a half's attendance in divers civil
courts and spending his last rupee on lawyers' fees, he obtained a
decree. When, however, he tried to execute it, it turned out that
the estate on which he had a lien was a joint family possession,
with the shares so inextricably mixed up that he could neither trace
the property mortgaged to him nor discover who was liable for the
proportion of profit derived from it. As well poke one's fingers into
a hornet's nest as into a joint family estate! Sham Babu was glad to
accept an offer of Rs. 5,000 from Gopal's co-sharers, in return for
a surrender of his claims. Despite his heavy loss, enough remained
to preserve him from penury; and he was even able to start Susil in
a small way of business. Great is the virtue of economy!
Young Samarendra Dass of Calcutta hoped to enter Government service
as a Sub-Deputy Magistrate; but this ambition was thwarted by the
sudden decease of his father, who left a widow and two sons entirely
unprovided for. After dutifully performing the sradh (funeral rites),
he waited on the dead man's uncle, Rashbehari Babu by name, with a
request that he would support the little family until the sons were in
a position to do so. No good Hindu in comfortable circumstances ever
turns a deaf ear to such appeals. Rashbehari Babu at once invited the
trio to take up their abode with him. Having no nearer relatives,
he had resolved to leave his whole fortune to Samarendra and his
brother Nagendra; and long before his nephew's death he had executed
a will to that effect, which for obvious reasons was kept a profound
secret. The young men were, therefore, ignorant of the brilliant
prospects in store for them, and worked hard to prepare themselves
for earning a livelihood. Samarendra was soon provided with a post
as clerk, which yielded enough to provide the cost of his father's
funeral ceremony and also enabled him to pay Nagendra's school fees.
One evening Rashbehari Babu went to bed supperless, complaining of
indisposition. At midnight, Samarendra was awakened by his groans and
found him writhing in agony on the floor. A doctor was summoned in hot
haste; but ere his arrival the poor old man had expired in Samarendra's
arms. His case was diagnosed as one of failure of the heart's action.
Samarendra and his mother were prostrated by this sudden calamity;
but there is no time to be lost in hot weather. Calling in three
or four neighbours, they had the body carried to Nimtala Ghat for
cremation. Sufficient money was given to the Muchis (low-caste men who
serve as undertakers) for purchasing an abundant supply of fuel and ghi
(clarified butter) with which a chilla (pyre) was constructed. After
the corpse had been laid reverently thereon, Samarendra performed
Mukhagni ("putting fire in its mouth," the duty of the eldest son
or nearest relative). Fire was then applied on four sides, and when
the body had been reduced to ashes, Samarendra bathed in the Ganges
with his companions, and returned home with wet clothes, shouting
"Haribol!" (a cry used at funerals).
Next day Samarendra discovered the dead man's keys, one of which
opened a drawer where Rashbehari Babu kept his private papers. Among
them was a will, which made himself and his brother sole heirs to
the deceased's estate. He ran with the glad news to his mother, who,
in the exuberance of her joy, vowed to offer a sumptuous puja at Kali
Ghat temple after the sradh had been duly performed.
Rashbehari Babu left landed property yielding an annual income of
Rs. 1,200, besides Rs. 10,000 deposited in a Calcutta bank, and a
substantial house. His estate was worth not less than Rs. 40,000--a
lucky windfall for the penniless brothers. It is needless to add
that the testator's sradh was celebrated with great pomp, which
over, Samarendra applied for and obtained probate of the will. A
sudden change from dependence to comparative wealth is trying to
the best-balanced character. Samarendra's head was turned by the
accession of fortune; he began to give himself airs in dealing with
acquaintances, and was not over-kind to his mother, who bore her
A landed proprietor holds service in contempt. Samarendra at once
resigned his post and settled down at Ratnapur, where Rashbehari
Babu had owned a house and the bulk of his estate was situated. Soon
afterwards he yielded to the repeated advice of his mother by marrying
the daughter of a caste-fellow, endowed with goods on a par with her
husband's new position.
His brother Nagendra passed the Entrance Examination, but failed to
secure a First Arts certificate. This rebuff so disheartened him that
he gave up all idea of continuing the University course and returned to
Ratnapur with the intention of living in idleness on his property. In
vain did Samarendra point out the advantages of a degree. Nagendra
declared that such distinctions were beyond his reach. Sudden wealth,
in fact, was injurious to both of them.
Two uneventful years passed away. Samarendra's wife was the mother
of an idolised boy and was herself adored by her mother-in-law, who
never allowed her to do any manner of household work. The result was
that her temper changed for the worse. When the old lady fell ill,
the young one made horrible messes of her curry and rice. If her
husband ventured to remonstrate, she silenced him with abuse, and
even emphasised her remarks with a broomstick.
Samarendra, in fact, was completely under his wife's thumb. Her word
was law in the household; her mother-in-law a mere cypher, who found
both husband and wife perpetually leagued against her. Shortly after
his arrival at Ratnapur, Nagendra espoused the daughter of Kanto
Babu, a Zemindar residing in the neighbourhood. At first Samarendra's
wife received the new-comer graciously enough; but finding that she
was of a submissive disposition, she soon began to lord it over her
sister-in-law. Nagendra sympathised heartily with his young wife,
but had such a horror of family quarrels that he was very loath to
intervene on her behalf. One evening, however, he ventured on a word
of reproof, which was received with angry words and threats of his
eldest brother's vengeance.
Next day Samarendra called him into the parlour, and, after they
were seated, said: "I hear you have been rude to Barabau (the elder
wife). Is that so?"
Nagendra raised his hands in wonder. "No, brother, it was she who
showed disrespect to me, simply because I objected to her bullying
"Do you mean to say that Barabau has lied?" thundered Samarendra. His
brother was nettled by the tone adopted. He replied hotly, "Yes,
she has lied!"
"What!" asked Samarendra beside himself with indignation. "Is my
wife a liar and are you a Judisthir?" (the elder of the five Pandav
brothers, heroes of the Mahabharata). "You are a creature without
shame!" So saying, he shook his fist at Nagendra who started from
his seat as if to attack him. Luckily a respectable neighbour came
in at the very nick of time and separated the would-be combatants.
On the morrow, Nagendra told his brother curtly that these perpetual
bickerings must be avoided at all cost, and that the only course open
to them was to separate. Samarendra raised not the slightest objection,
and from that day forward two distinct establishments were set up
in the same house. It only remained to divide the estates equally,
and as a preliminary step Nagendra asked for accounts during the last
three years. They were furnished in a few weeks, and he spent several
nights in examining them carefully, taking lists of defaulters in
order to verify them by independent inquiry.
While returning home, one evening, from supper at a friend's house,
he met a Mohammadan ryot who, according to the accounts, was heavily
in arrears of rent. He paused and, after acknowledging the man's salam,
remarked that he ought to make an effort to pay a part at least of what
was due. The ryot stood aghast with surprise, but invoked Allah to
witness that he had paid up every pice, adding that he held Dakhilas
(rent receipts) from Bara Babu (the elder brother) which would prove
his assertion. Nagendra asked him to call next day with the receipts
When the man presented himself, Nagendra, in his brother's
presence, asked for the arrears of rent shown in the jama wasil baqi
(accounts). Again the ryot affirmed that he owned nothing and appealed
to the Bara Babu for corroboration. Samarendra was taken aback.
"Yes," he stammered, "you did pay me something about a month ago."
"Why do you say 'something,' Babu? You know quite well that I
discharged my rent in full; and what is more I have receipts." So
saying he untied a knot in his gamcha (wrapper) and extracted some
greasy papers, which he flourished in Samarendra's face, shouting,
"Will you swear by your gods that these are not in your writing?"
Nagendra took the receipts, which bore his brother's signature. The
latter looked somewhat sheepish as he answered: "My memory failed me;
I now recollect receiving our rent from you."
Nagendra turned sharply on his brother with the question: "Then why
did you not enter these receipts in your karcha (cash-book)?"
"I'm sure I don't know," was the reply; "probably I forgot to do so."
Though Nagendra said nothing at the time, his doubts of Samarendra's
probity became certainties. From that day onward he was indefatigable
in studying the copy of the siah (rent-roll) furnished him,
the cash-book, and statement of arrears. Figures set down in
these accounts were checked by private inquiries among the ryots
themselves. Then the truth dawned on Nagendra, that his brother
had misappropriated large sums, which should have been paid to him,
and concealed his fraud by falsifying the Zemindari papers. After
preparing a list of defalcations, he showed it to his brother and
asked for an explanation. None was forthcoming; nay, Samarendra made
his case worse by flying into a passion and ordering him out of the
room. He went straight to Kanto Babu for advice, and was told that
the only course open to him was to sue his brother for recovery of
the amount wrongfully appropriated. He resolved to do so forthwith.
On the self-same night his wife, after discussing household affairs
with him as usual, asked casually why he had paid her father a
visit. He told her everything that occurred without reserve. The young
lady listened with breathless attention, but heaved a deep sigh on
learning that he intended suing his elder brother. Nagendra paused
and asked what was on her mind.
"My lord," was her reply, "I am only a woman, knowing nothing of
the world except things within my sphere. Any attempt on my part to
meddle in business matters may seem extremely presumptuous. But this is
such a grave and risky matter that I cannot help speaking out. If you
file a suit against your brother, he will of course defend himself;
for to lose it would ruin him in purse and honour. It will drag on
for months. If you get a decree, the defendant will appeal to the
Sub-Judge, and eventually to the High Court. To fight your way step
by step will cost a fortune; and even should you win all along the
line, the lawyers will not leave you enough to keep body and soul
together. How can a small estate like yours bear the costs of both
sides? So in my humble opinion it would be much better to allow your
brother to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. Make up your mind, from this
day forward, to look carefully after your interests, and you may rest
assured that your brother will never try any such tricks again."
Nagendra listened with open mouth to this discourse, and when his wife
had done speaking, he embraced her fondly again and again, murmuring:--
"My dearest love, I never knew your real worth till now. The Goddess
of Wisdom has chosen you as her messenger and has convinced me that
lawsuits are luxuries which only the rich folk can enjoy--not people
in my position. I will certainly see your father to-morrow and tell
him my resolve to take no steps whatever against Samarendra."
A Hindu wife is her husband's truest friend; ever eager to share his
sorrows and to proffer sound advice in times of difficulty. Yet these
sweet, unselfish creatures are systematically libelled by men who owe
everything to them. It was soon noised abroad that Nagendra's wife had
saved him from inevitable ruin. Everyone praised her common-sense--not
excepting Samarendra and his wife, who thenceforward treated her with
more consideration. Nagendra, therefore, began to hope that peace
and unity would again rule the family.
A Brahman's Curse.
Despite his lack of training Samarendra Babu had great capacities
for business, and seldom lost a chance of profit-making. He saw that
people around him stood in constant need of funds to defray the cost
of religious and family rites, and were ready to pay 60 per cent for
loans--at least they undertook to do so. It occurred to him that if
he lent money on unimpeachable security at something under the market
rates, he could not fail to make a large fortune. Soon after he had set
up as a banker, the neighbours flocked to him for advances, which he
granted only to such as could offer substantial security; his charges
by way of interest being 30 to 40 per cent. He also started a business
in lending ryots rice for their seed-grain and support till the harvest
should be reaped. It is needless to add that his clients paid heavily
for this accommodation. So rapidly did his dealings increase that he
sought an agent to represent him at the district headquarters; and
particularly to buy up defaulters' estates at the auctions which are
held periodically under Government auspices. His choice fell upon one
Bipinbehari Bhur, who had a widespread reputation for acuteness. It
was not belied. In less than a year Bipin had secured for his master
estates yielding a net income of nearly Rs. 1,200, which had cost a
mere song at auction. Samarendra Babu never failed to reward him for
such bargains. On one occasion he had such a slice of luck that it
is worth while to narrate it in some detail.
He had just retired to rest for the night, when a servant knocked at
the door to say that Bipin had come on very urgent business. Samarendra
Babu went downstairs to his parlour, clad in a wrapper, to find
his agent pacing up and down in evident agitation. After the usual
compliments had been exchanged, he asked why Bipin had called so late.
"I have bad news for you, Mahasay," was the reply. "You remember
buying the Shibprakash estate at last auction? Well, that property
may slip through your fingers." He paused to watch the effect of the
announcement on his master, and then went on: "The late proprietor
has lodged an objection to its sale, on the ground that no arrears
were due, producing a receipt to substantiate his contention. The
Collector has just called on us to show cause against the cancellation
of the sale and will take the case up the day after to-morrow."
Samarendra was thunderstruck by this information, the Shibprakash
estate being one of the best bargains he had ever got. After pondering
a while, he asked, "What would you advise me to do? I am afraid it
is hopeless to contend against a receipt in full!"
Bipin was not so easily disheartened. He replied, "Let us consult
our pleader, Asu Babu, who is sure to have some plan for upholding
the sale. He won't ask more than Rs. 100, which is not a tenth of
the annual profits for Shibprakash." This course commended itself to
Samarendra, who sent his headman back to Ghoria, promising to follow
next day, with the necessary sinews of war. He arrived betimes at
Bipin's house there, and took him to the Bar Library, where Asu
Babu was sure to be found when not engaged in Court. A few minutes
later the limb of the law came in, and asked what business brought
Samarendra to Ghoria.
After hearing the story of Shibprakash and its vicissitudes of
ownership, he asked:--
"How much will you pay me if I win your case?"
Glancing at Bipin, Samarendra answered hesitatingly, "Well, I might
go as far as fifty rupees".
"Nonsense," was the rejoinder. "I won't take a pice less than
Rs. 100." After several minutes wasted on haggling, it was agreed
that Asu Babu should be paid Rs. 40 on the nail and Rs. 35 more
if he won the suit. The pleader pocketed this first instalment, and
assured Samarendra that he would prove the sale to have been perfectly
valid. Then the trio separated, Samarendra returning to Bipin's house
where they passed the day in forming plans for further purchases.
At 10.30 on the morrow, both attended at the Collectorate and
found that the Shibprakash objection stood first for hearing. It was
opened by the appellant's pleader, who rose armed with a huge account
book and bundle of receipts, in order to prove that his client owed
nothing to Government, and that the sale proceedings were a blunder
from beginning to end. Asu Babu waited till his turn came, and then
informed the Collector that he would find, on examining his books, that
the appellant was Rs. 1 11. 0. in arrears at the date of the sale. The
Collector ordered his head clerk to produce the ledger account of
payments on account of the Shibprakash estates, and, sure enough, they
showed a short payment of the amount stated. This was a thunderbolt
for the appellant, whose pleader vainly tried to pick holes in the
accounts, but was at last obliged to confess that a mistake had been
made. The only course open to him was to sue for mercy. The Collector,
however, was inexorable, and indeed he had no power to mitigate the
Draconian law of sale. That of Shibprakash was duly confirmed, and
its new owner adjourned to the bar library to settle matters with
his pleader. The meeting was joyful indeed. After congratulating Asu
Babu on his unexpected success, Samarendra asked how he had managed
it. The pleader at first refused to gratify his curiosity, but yielded
to entreaty. "The tiger has a jackal," he said, "and I, who cannot
stoop to dirty tricks myself, have a certain mukhtiar (the lowest
grade of advocates) who is hand-in-glove with all the amlas (clerks)
and can twist them round his finger--for a consideration. I gave him
Rs. 10 out of the advance money and promised as much more if he could
persuade the Collectorate clerks to cook the appellant's accounts,
so as to show a short payment. You see how well he has succeeded,
and now I think the least you can do is to refund the douceur to
me." Samarendra agreed and handed Asu Babu Rs. 55, prophesying that
he would have a brilliant career at the bar.
He had to stop for a fortnight or so at Ghoria, in order to get
possession of his purchase from the Collectorate nazir (bailiff)
who, according to custom, planted a bamboo thereon, as a symbol
of its transfer. While waiting for this formality he attended
another sale for arrears of revenue, in the hope of picking up
some profitable bargains. He was not disappointed. The last lot was
the whole of Jayrampur, a small village quite close to his house,
inhabited by hardworking and submissive ryots, who paid their rent
punctually. Samarendra was all agog when the nazir read out the
names of its proprietors, the amount of arrears, and the boundaries,
calling on the crowd to bid. A dead silence followed, which was at
last broken by a timid offer of Rs. 1,000. Samarendra promptly bid
Rs. 6,000; which he knew was hardly three years' purchase of the
net rental, and the rise was so tremendous that it choked off all
competition. Jayrampur was knocked down to him; but his exultation
was tempered by the discovery that he had not nearly enough to meet
the amount of earnest money which had to be paid down at once. A
mukhtiar came to his aid by whispering offers of a loan, and the
requisite amount was forthcoming in five minutes, on Samarendra's
giving his note of hand with a bonus of 10 per cent. payable next day.
His star continued to be in the eleventh heaven; for this was one of
a series of profitable purchases. In seven or eight years he owned
estates yielding an income of Rs. 8,000, while his dealings in grain
produced half as much again.
Samarendra's ambition rose with growing prosperity. Visions of a
title hovered in his brain, and being a man of resource, he hit upon
an ingenious method of converting them into realities. Close to his
house there was an extensive bil (marsh) peopled in season by swarms
of wild-duck, teal and snipe. It was visited occasionally by Europeans
from Calcutta, who are always on the alert for a day's sport, but they
were inconvenienced by the total lack of accommodation. So Samarendra
built a neat bungalow, equipped it with European furniture, and placed
an old Khansama (Mohammadan butler) in charge, who was versed in
all the customs of Saheb-log (Englishmen). This menial had orders to
report the arrival of white visitors and offer them hospitality. His
courtesy was highly appreciated, and there was scarcely a Sunday
during the cold weather which did not bring a couple of sportsmen to
the bungalow. Samarendra attended personally to their comforts, thus
making many friends. Through their influence he secured carte blanche
in the matter of guns and ammunition--a boon which seldom falls to the
lot of middle-class Indians. At their request he subscribed to various
European clubs, winning the reputation of being "not half a bad sort of
fellow". All this hospitality, however, was terribly expensive, and it
soon exceeded Samarendra's income. But he went on spending money like
water, in the assurance that one day it would yield a golden return.
On a bright morning, in January, 18--, he was sitting in his bungalow,
in the hope of welcoming guests, when a European entered it, attended
by two orderlies; and seeing a well-dressed Indian, was about to
retire. Samarendra introduced himself as the local Zemindar and
offered to send a shikari (game-keeper) with the visitor in order to
show him some sport. His overtures were gratefully received, and the
European, on returning at noon with a heavy bag, was delighted to find
an appetising tiffin ready for his acceptance. Samarendra kept out of
the way until it was finished, and then asked whether his guest had
enjoyed himself. The latter was profuse in thanks and, ere leaving
for the neighbouring railway station, asked whether he could be of
any service, tendering a card inscribed, "Mr. Charles Bernardson,
Indian Civil Service". He was none other than the Chief Secretary
Such an acquaintance was not to be lost sight of. A week later
Samarendra went to Calcutta and called on Mr. Bernardson at his
chambers in the United Service Club. He was received, so to speak, with
open arms, questioned about crops, crime, sport, and other commonplace
topics, and again assured that Mr. Bernardson would serve him in any
way within his power. The latter hint was promptly taken. On receiving
permission to quit the great man's presence he timidly suggested
that he would like to be an Honorary Magistrate. Mr. Bernardson
took note of the wish, and a few weeks later the Gazette announced
Samarendra's nomination to the Ghoria Independent Bench, with power
to try cases singly.
The next point was to attract the attention of the district
authorities. Samarendra pored over the Penal and Procedure Codes,
took lessons in law from Asu Babu, and soon mastered the routine
of a petty Court of Justice. He never missed any sitting of the
Bench and signalised himself by a rigorous interpretation of the
law. Offenders had short shrift from him; and the police moved heaven
and earth to get their cases disposed of in his Court. His percentage
of convictions was larger than that of any honorary magistrate. Such
zeal deserved a suitable reward, and it soon attracted the attention
of the authorities. On New Year's Day, 189-, the Calcutta Gazette
came out with its usual list of honours, amongst which was seen a
Rai Bahadurship for Samarendra. This dignity answers to the English
knighthood, and it is usually made an excuse for rejoicings shared
by all classes. Samarendra, however, thought it unnecessary to waste
money on junketings. He preferred subscribing to movements favoured
by the "little tin gods" of Darjiling.
Towards the end of the same year, he was accosted, while leaving
Court one afternoon, by a chuprassi (orderly) attached to the
magistrate-collector's person, who salamed obsequiously and said that
the Bara Saheb wished to see him at once. Hastening to the district
chief's bungalow he was graciously received, and in the course of
conversation a remark fell from the great man's lips, which made the
blood course wildly through his veins. It seemed that a fund had been
started in Calcutta for the purpose of erecting some permanent memorial
to the late Viceroy, and a hint was thrown out that if Samarendra
subscribed liberally, he might possibly find himself gazetted a
"Raja Bahadur". He assured the magistrate that the Memorial Fund
would receive a handsome donation from him and asked for a few days
in order to decide the amount.
On returning home, he made a rough calculation of his assets and
liabilities. The latter amounted to nearly a lakh of rupees (L6,666),
or about five times his net annual income. Common prudence suggested
that he ought not to increase the burden; but ambition prevailed,
and the only question which Samarendra set himself was, "What is
the least amount I can decently give?" After thinking over pros and
cons for a whole night, he decided that Rs. 10,000 would be enough;
raised that sum at 12 per cent, by mortgaging some landed property,
and sent it with a flowery letter to the District Magistrate, as a
humble donation to the Viceroy's Memorial Eund.
A few days later Samarendra was preparing for a visit to his favourite
rest-house, in the vague hope that Mr. Bernardson might turn up again,
when a strange Brahman entered the courtyard and thus addressed him:--
"Sir, you are an Amir, and I am a beggar. I have a request to make."
"Cut it short," replied Samarendra testily. "Come to the point--what
do you want?"
"Sir, I have a grown-up daughter who positively must be married;
but I cannot raise a sufficient dowry. Will your honour give me a
trifle towards making one up?"
"No, I won't; if you belonged to this village you would know that I
cannot afford to fling money about. My expenses are enormous!"
"Now, please, don't refuse me, Rai Bahadur; surely you can spare a
couple of rupees to a poor Brahman!"
Samarendra was exasperated by the man's importunity. He replied
sharply, "You and your kind seem to think that I am Kuver (the God of
Wealth) incarnate, who is able to satisfy every human need! I won't
give you anything!"
"Only one rupee, Rai Bahadur," pleaded the Brahman with folded hands.
"No! no! Get out of my house at once!" bellowed Samarendra; then
turning to his doorkeeper, he ordered him to "run the fellow out of
the yard by the neck".
The Brahman was deeply incensed. Drawing himself up to his full height,
he looked scornfully at Samarendra, and said:--
"Babu, you dare to order me, a Brahman, to be ejected with violence
from your house. Is there no religion left in this world? Mark
my words, a day is coming when you will be poorer even than
myself. I have spoken." Then he strode out of the courtyard in high
dudgeon. Samarendra merely laughed aloud and hurled mocking epithets
after his retreating figure, to which no reply was vouchsafed.
Next morning he received a letter from the District Magistrate which
filled him with mingled joy and terror. It contained a curt request
to call at once on a matter of great importance. He drove to the
great man's bungalow arrayed in his best, but was kept waiting for
nearly a quarter of an hour in the porch. When he was ushered into the
magistrate's study he saw intuitively that something was wrong. His
salam was returned by a mere inclination of the head and a request to
be seated. Then the Magistrate spoke in tones of chilling politeness:--
"Rai Bahadur, I've sent for you to say that a subscription of
Rs. 10,000 is wholly unworthy of your position. If you wish, I
will send it to the Secretary of the Memorial Fund; but I warn you
plainly that the most you can expect in return is an expression of
the Lieutenant-Governor's thanks in the Gazette. I could not possibly
recommend you for a title for such a paltry sum."
Poor Samarendra's heart beat more loudly than the clock on the
magistrate's mantelpiece. He stammered out: "I need only assure
your honour that I have given as much as I could afford; but if your
honour thinks the amount insufficient--er--er--er--I am quite willing
to give--twice as much". So saying he awaited a reply in trembling
apprehension. It was satisfactory.
"Now, Rai Bahadur, you are talking sense. Send me Rs. 10,000 more
for the fund and I'll undertake to submit your name to Government for
a Rajaship. It will be just in time for the New Year's Gazette. Now
you may take leave."
Samarendra bowed himself out with precipitation and, on returning
home, sent for his factotum, Bipin, to whom he related this momentous
interview, with an injunction to raise Rs. 10,000 more by hook
or by crook. Bipin shook his head ominously and feared that no
moneylender would advance any considerable sum on estates already
over-burdened. However, he promised to do his best and negotiated so
successfully that Rs. 10,000 were procured at 24 per cent. in less
than a week. This additional subscription was gracefully acknowledged
by the District Magistrate, and a fortnight later Samarendra's drooping
spirits were revived by the appearance of a notification in the Gazette
thanking him warmly for his "munificence and public spirit". There
was nothing for it but to count the days of the expiring year.
On 31st December, 189-, his impatience could brook no further
delay. Hurrying to Calcutta by train, he sent a trusty servant to the
Government printing office with orders to obtain the earliest copy of
the Gazette at any price. He slept not a wink on that fateful night
and rose betimes to intercept the messenger.
At last the bulky document was thrust into his hands. He unfolded it
with trembling fingers and glanced downwards through an interminable
list of newly-made Maharajas, Nawab Bahadurs, Raja Bahadurs, and
Rajas--in the hope of finding his own name. Alas, it was conspicuous by
its absence. Oh, the pangs of hope deferred and wounded pride! Death
seemed to Samarendra preferable to a life of poverty and despair. He
returned home crestfallen and nursed his disappointment until it
landed him in a severe attack of brain fever. As soon as he felt
strong enough to leave the house, he drove to the magistrate's
house for explanation and comfort. He was courteously received,
but the Chief hinted that there might be a hitch about the title,
as he himself had enemies in the Secretariat, who would be glad of
an opportunity of placing him in a false position. He counselled
patience and expressed a conviction that the birthday Gazette would
contain the notification so ardently desired.
This was comforting, but Samarendra resolved to push his own
interests. He remembered the promises made by Mr. Bernardson and took
the next train to Calcutta in order to secure his influence. On
reaching the Secretariat he learnt, with deep annoyance, that
Mr. Bernardson had taken sick leave to England and was not likely
to return. So the only course open was to wait for 24th May. Again
he was disappointed, the list of birthday honours ignoring him
completely. Samarendra had not even the resource of consulting the
official who had lured him into extravagant expenditure. The District
Magistrate was transferred to a distant and unhealthy part of the
province, and his successor disclaimed all knowledge of the bargain.
Samarendra's long suspense and repeated disappointments told severely
on his health. He neglected business, leaving everything in the hands
of Bipin, who was more anxious to feather his own nest than extricate
his master from difficulties; so the interest in mortgages fell into
arrears. One creditor bolder than the rest sued him and foreclosed;
then others were encouraged to attack the ruined man. In less than a
year, Samarendra was stripped of every bigha (one-third of an acre)
of land he once possessed, and attachments galore were issued against
his moveable property. Too late did he see the depths of folly into
which he had fallen.
Grief and despair brought on a second attack of brain fever, which
exhausted his failing strength. After tossing for several weeks in
delirium he regained sense only to feel assured that the end of all
worldly ambition was fast approaching. Then he remembered the Brahman's
curse, and knowing that it was the cause of all his misfortunes he
endeavoured to make some reparation; but the holy man was not to be
found. One evening he fell into a deep slumber from which he never
awoke, leaving a wife and several helpless children in comparative
penury. Then a hush fell on the land, and people whispered that
Brahmateja (the power of Brahmans) was by no means extinct.
A Roland for His Oliver.
Nagendra's soul was not haunted by any such ambitions. He was content
with the surplus profits from his landed estates, which he did not
invest in trade or even Government paper, but hoarded in a safe. By
slow degrees he amassed a small fortune, and when Samarendra's
growing impecuniosity forced him to ask his brother for a loan of
Rs. 2,000, it was readily granted on a mere note of hand. In less than
six months the borrower died and, after waiting as long, Nagendra
pressed his sister-in-law for payment of the debt. She referred him
to her brother, Priyanath Guha, who, she said, was manager of what
property she had left. This man was a scoundrel of the deepest dye,
and Samarendra, who was fully aware of the fact, never allowed him
inside the house. After his death Priya made himself so useful to
the widow that she invited him to live in her house and trusted him
implicitly. When the neighbours learnt this arrangement they whispered
that the poor woman would inevitably be reduced to beggary.
Nagendra reluctantly applied to Priya for a refund of the loan,
producing Samarendra's note of hand, which was about a year
overdue. After examining it, Priya said:--
"The matter is simple enough. My sister must repay you; but you know
the muddle in which her husband's affairs were left, and I'm sure
you won't refuse to renew the bond."
Nagendra replied that he would gladly give his sister any reasonable
time to discharge her debt.
"Very well," rejoined Priya. "What do you say to my renewing this
note of hand for six months, with 12 per cent. interest?"
"I have no objection," said Nagendra, "but you must satisfy me first
that you hold a general power of attorney to act for her."
"Oh, you doubt my word," sneered Priya, "but I don't blame you;
such is the way of the world."
So saying he took a registered power of attorney out of his sister's
strong box, which Nagendra saw entitled him to transact any business
whatever relating to her estate. He handed the bond to Priya and asked
him to endorse the conditions agreed on. While doing so Priya looked
up. "Have you any objection," he asked, "to my antedating the renewal
a week or so. The fact is, Baisakh 12th has always been a lucky day
in my family and I should like to date my endorsement then."
"Just as you like," answered Nagendra indifferently; and after reading
the endorsement through very carefully he took the note of hand away
without saluting Priya.
Not hearing from him when the note matured, Nagendra called at his
sister's house and pressed Priya, whom he found there, for payment
of the Rs. 2,000 and interest.
Priya gazed at him with feigned astonishment "What loan are you
talking about?" he asked.
Nagendra attempted to jog his memory, but he stoutly denied having
renewed any note of hand which purported to have been executed by
Samarendra. When the document was shown him, he boldly declared that
the endorsement was a forgery, and further that the handwriting on
the note of hand itself was not Samarendra's. Nagendra stood aghast
for awhile and, on regaining his wits, he said, "I ought to have
known better than trust a haramzada like you!"
"Now don't descend to personalities," rejoined Priya. "I can prove
that the endorsement could not have been executed by me; and the
whole transaction looks fishy."
This was too much for Nagendra, who lost his temper and abused the
scoundrel roundly. They separated with threats of mutual vengeance.
On the morrow, Nagendra instructed a pleader to file a suit against
his sister for recovery of the principal and interest due on the
promissory note. When it came on for hearing before the Subordinate
Judge, Nagendra Babu was dumbfoundered by hearing the defendant's
pleader aver that the endorsement could not possibly be genuine,
inasmuch as his client was fifteen hundred miles from Ratnapur at the
alleged date of execution. He then placed Priya in the box, to swear
that, on Baisakh 12th, he was at Lahore, in order to give evidence
in a civil suit. All doubt vanished in the Sub Judge's mind when the
pleader handed him a document bearing the seal of the Chief Court
of the Punjab, certifying that Priya had been in attendance on that
day. He dismissed the suit with costs against Nagendra, and remarked
that this palpable forgery cast discredit on the whole transaction.
It was a wise man who said that we hate our enemies less for the harm
they have done us than for the harm we have done them. Priya was not
content with depriving Nagendra of his dues; he resolved to injure him
more materially. About a month after his unlucky lawsuit, Nagendra
learnt quite by accident that one of his estates named Lakhimpur
had been notified for sale for arrears of land revenue amounting to
Rs. 197 odd. The Naib (manager), on being asked to account for this,
laid all the blame on the ryots, who, he said, would not be made
to pay their rent and thus deprived him of the means of satisfying
the Government demand. Nagendra rebuked him for gross negligence and
failing to report the matter, for, he added, the arrears would have
been paid from his own pocket. He at once dismissed the Naib from
his employ and hastened to Ghoria, where he instructed a pleader
named Asu Babu to petition the collector for leave to make good the
arrears on Lakhimpur. The request was perforce rejected. Lakhimpur
was put up for sale and Nagendra ascertained that the purchaser was
a man of straw representing Priya himself. He endured the loss of a
valuable property, resolving to be even some day with his enemy.
On the following night he was about to retire to bed, when the
Lakhimpur Naib burst into the parlour and clasped his master's feet
which he bedewed with tears. Nagendra shook him off roughly and asked
how he dared to intrude upon him.
"Mahasay," whined the Naib, "I want to make a clean breast of my
misdeeds. It was Priya who persuaded me to withhold the revenue due
on Lakhimpur, by promising me a reward of Rs. 2,000 if the estate
was auctioned. Now that he has got possession of it, he refuses to
carry out his bargain and actually offers me Rs. 20, saying that I
deserved no more. The black-hearted villain! Now I am come to implore
forgiveness of my sin and to make amends for it."
Nagendra was amazed by the fellow's villainy and impudence. He
reflected, however, that nothing was to be gained by kicking him out
of the house, while his offer of reparation was not to be despised. He
replied, "You have been faithless to your salt; but I will pardon you
on one condition that you help me to regain my estate, lost through
your treachery ".
"That I will," protested the Naib. "Only let me have Rs. 300 in
currency notes of one hundred rupees each, previously recording
the numbers. I swear by Mother Kali, not only to pay the arrears
of revenue but to get the sale quashed." Nagendra at first thought
that to do so would be only throwing good money after bad; but the
man was terribly in earnest, and evidently hostile to their common
enemy. He opened his safe and handed the Naib the amount he asked,
after carefully taking the numbers of the notes.
At the same hour on the morrow, the Naib returned in high glee to
say that the business had been satisfactorily concluded. All Nagendra
had to do was to file a petition praying for the cancellation of the
sale, and it could not fail to be granted. On being asked how he had
contrived to evade the law, the Naib went on:--
"I will tell you the whole truth, Mahasay, only concealing names; for
the people, who helped me extracted an oath that I would keep them a
profound secret. I went straight from your house last night to that
of an office tout, who is a precious rascal, but tolerated because
he is in some way related to the Collectorate head clerk. On hearing
my story he said he thought the matter could be settled, and asked
me to meet him at 1 P.M. under a Nim tree north of the Collectorate,
when he would bring a man to me who was able to do all we wished. I was
punctual to the minute, and sure enough the tout came with one of the
Collectorate clerks. I asked him whether it would not be possible so
to manipulate the accounts of Lakhimpur, as to show that all Government
revenue had been paid prior to the alleged default. The clerk at first
refused to have hand in such a transaction, as it would be too risky;
but when I produced my currency notes he thought the job might be
attempted, and added that some of the Treasury amlas (clerks) would
have to be squared as well as himself. I thereupon handed him Rs. 300,
saying that it was enough to discharge the revenue due on Lakhimpur
and leave more than Rs. 100 to divide as bakshish (gratuity). He
said that he would do his best and made me swear never to divulge his
name. We then separated, and only two hours ago the tout came to my
house with the news that the accounts had been corrected."
Nagendra was delighted on hearing these clever tactics and straightway
ordered his pleader, Asutosh Sen, widely known as Asu Babu, to file
a petition praying for the cancellation of the sale. It came in due
course before the Collector for hearing. He called for the accounts,
which fully substantiated the petitioner's statements. After hearing
the arguments of Priya's representative the Collector said that he
was fully satisfied that a mistake had been made, and called on the
head clerk to explain the non-entry of a payment made before the due
date. That officer laid the whole blame on an unfortunate apprentice,
who was promptly dismissed. The sale was declared null and void, and
Nagendra regained his own to the intense disgust of the rascally Priya.
Nagendra Babu was now the wealthiest man in Ratnapur. Puffed up by
worldly success, he began to treat his neighbours arrogantly and,
with one exception, they did not dare to pay him back in his own
coin. Ramdas Ghosal, known far and wide as Ramda, flattered or
feared no one. Having a little rent-free and inherited land, he was
quite independent of patronage. Ramda was "everyone's grandfather,"
a friend of the poor, whose joys and sorrows he shared. He watched by
sick-beds, helped to carry dead bodies to the burning-ghat, in short
did everything in his power for others, refusing remuneration in any
shape. He was consequently loved and respected by all classes. Ramda
was the consistent enemy of hypocrisy and oppression--qualities which
became conspicuous in Nagendra Babu's nature under the deteriorating
influence of wealth. He met the great man's studied insolence with a
volley of chaff, which is particularly galling to vain people because
they are incapable of understanding it.
Nagendra Babu did not forget the Brahman's presumption and determined
to teach him a lesson. So, one day, he sent him a written notice
demanding the immediate payment of arrears of rent due for a few
bighas (one-third of an acre) of land which Ramda held on a heritable
lease. As luck would have it the crops had failed miserably, and Ramda
was unable to discharge his debts. On receiving a more peremptory
demand seven days later, he called on Nagendra Babu, whom he thus
"Why, Nagen, what's the matter with you? You are plaguing me to
death with notices, yet you must be aware that I can't pay you a pice
"Thakur," replied Nagendra Babu in stern accents, "I will listen
to none of your excuses. Do you mean to tell me that you decline to
discharge your arrears?"
"I never said that," protested Ramda; "but you must really wait till
the beginning of next year. My cold weather crops are looking well;
"No, that won't do at all. If you do not pay up in a week, I will
certainly have recourse to the civil court."
"Do so by all means if your sense of religion permits," rejoined Ramda,
leaving the parlour in smothered wrath.
When the week of grace had expired, Nagendra Babu filed a suit in the
local Munsiffs Court against his defaulter. As soon as the fact was
bruited abroad a universal protest was roused against Nagendra Babu's
harshness. Some of the village elders remonstrated with him, but were
told to mind their own business; whereon they laid their heads together
and subscribed the small sum due from the Brahman. A deputation of
five waited on him with entreaties to accept it, but he refused to
take the money on any other footing than a loan. So Ramda paid his
arrears and costs into Court, to the plaintiff's intense annoyance.
Samarendra Babu had left his wife and children in comparatively poor
circumstances; for, after discharging his debts, they had barely
Rs. 300 a year to live on. The widow declined to seek Nagendra Babu's
help, even if she were reduced to beg in the streets. After her
brother's imprisonment, she had no one to manage her little property
which, as a Purdanashin (lit. "one sitting behind the veil"), she
was unable to do herself. After mature reflection she sent for Ramda,
who had known her from infancy. He obeyed the summons with alacrity
and gave the poor woman sound advice regarding the direction of
the Zemindary. By acting on it she was able to increase her income
and live in tolerable comfort. Observing that Ramda was a frequent
visitor, Nagendra Babu hinted to his sister-in-law that, if she cared
for her reputation, she would not be so thick with him. She flared
up instantly. "I will talk to any of my friends I please," said she,
"and you shan't poke your nose into my affairs!"
"Very well," replied Nagendra angrily, "but you may rely on my making
it hot for that old scoundrel shortly!"
This threat was of course repeated to Ramda, who merely laughed. As
far as he was concerned Nagendra might act as he pleased.
A few days afterwards the bailiff of Nagendra Babu's estate, known
as Lakhimpur, called on Ramda with a verbal request that he should
surrender his ancestral tenure and, meeting with a curt refusal,
left the house threatening all sorts of evil consequences. Next
day, indeed, Ramda received a notice from Nagendra Babu, calling
on him to show cause against the cancellation of his lease on the
ground that, by mismanaging the land, he had rendered it unfit for
cultivation. Ramda called some of his neighbours together, to whom
he exhibited the document. They expressed the greatest indignation
and assured him that they would spend their last rupee in defending
his interests. Ramda gave them a heartfelt blessing and promised a
divine reward for their sympathy.
Calling on Samarendra's widow the same day, he was distressed to
find that she had received a similar notice, which aimed at robbing
her of a small estate, on the ground that it had been surrendered
by her husband in part payment of his debt to Nagendra Babu. She
knew nothing of any such arrangement and assured Ramda that, if the
property was lost, her income would fall to little more than Rs. 100,
meaning starvation for herself and little ones. Her trusty counsellor
told her not to lose heart, for she might rely on his help.
In due course the suit against Ramda came on for hearing before the
Munsiff. His pleader established by documentary evidence that the
tenure was one without any condition whatever; while the neighbours
came forward to prove that the land in dispute had been admirably
tilled. The plaintiff, therefore, was non-suited, with costs. The very
same result attended Nagendra Babu's action against his sister-in-law,
whose case excited universal sympathy. He lost heavily in purse and
left the Court with a ruined reputation. It was natural that a man
so evil-minded should regard Ramda as the author of misfortunes due
to his own wicked nature. He plotted the poor Brahman's destruction,
but no effectual means of compassing it suggested itself.
As days and weeks wore on, his despondency became deeper and, one
evening, while sitting with the Lakhimpur bailiff, he asked whether
there was any remedy which would restore his peace of mind. The
cunning rascal said nothing at the time; but at a late hour on the
morrow he came to Nagendra Babu's house with a large bottle hidden
under his wrapper. It contained some light brown fluid, which the
bailiff poured into a tumbler. Then adding a small quantity of water,
he invited his master to swallow the mixture. A few minutes after doing
so, the patient was delighted to find that gloomy thoughts disappeared
as if by magic. An unwonted elation of spirits succeeded; he broke into
snatches of song, to the intense surprise of the household! His amateur
physician left the bottle, advising him to take a similar dose every
night; and Nagendra Babu followed the prescription punctiliously, with
the best effect on his views of life. After finishing the bottle he
asked for another, which was brought to him secretly. It had a showy
label reading, "Exshaw No. 1 Cognac". Nagendra Babu's conscience
accused him of disobeying the Shastras; but the die was cast. He
could no longer exist without a daily dose of the subtle poison;
and gradually increased it to a tumblerful, forgetting to add water.
His faithful wife did her best to wean him from the fatal habit. She
even ventured to abstract his brandy bottle and dilute its contents. On
being detected, she underwent a personal correction which was not
soon forgotten. The poor creature, indeed, underwent every sort of
humiliation from her worthless husband, which she bore in silence,
hoping that time would bring him to his senses.
Drunken men are proverbially cunning. After brooding long over
his supposed grievances Nagendra matured a scheme of revenge. He
intercepted Ramda, one afternoon, on his way to visit Samarendra's
widow, and, affecting sincere penitence for the injury he had
endeavoured to work, he invited the unsuspecting Brahman into
his sitting-room. Once inside, he suddenly thrust a brass vessel
into his visitor's hand and dragged him into the yard, shouting
"Thief! thief!" The Lakhimpur bailiff, who was sitting on the
verandah, also laid hands on Ramda and, with the aid of two up-country
servants, he was dragged to the police station, too bewildered to
resist. On their way thither they met one of Nagendra's neighbours
named Harish Chandra Pal, who stopped them and asked what was the
matter. On learning particulars of the charge, he saw how the land
lay, and resolved to defeat an infamous plot. So waiting till the
little crowd was out of sight, he ran back to Nagendra's house and
whispered to him that the bailiff had sent for more property, in order
that the case against Ramda might look blacker. Nagendra handed him a
fine muslin shawl and loin-cloth, and a set of gold buttons, adding
that he would follow in half an hour in order to depose against the
thief. On reaching the police station, Harish found the Sub-Inspector
recording the statements of the witnesses. He looked on in silence
until Nagendra arrived. Then he asked the Sub-Inspector: "Do these
people mean to say that the brass vessel belongs to Nagendra Babu?"
"Certainly," was the reply. "Here are three witnesses who have
"Well, that's strange," said Harish; then producing the shawl and
loin-cloth he said: "These are mine, but if you ask Nagen Babu he
will tell you a different story".
"But they are mine!" roared Nagendra, "and part of the stolen
"Dear me," said Harish, "perhaps you will say that these buttons are
"Of course they are," was the rejoinder.
"Now, Sub-Inspector Babu," said Harish, "you must see that Nagendra
Babu is subject to strange hallucinations since he has taken to
drink. He fancies that he is the god of wealth personified, and
that everything belongs to him. I am quite certain that Ramda has
been falsely charged with stealing a brass vessel which is his own
The Sub-Inspector evidently thought so too. He called the prosecutor
into an inner room. What passed between them there was never known;
but presently the Sub-Inspector returned to the office and ordered
the prisoner to be at once released. Ramda was truly grateful to
Harish Pal for having so cleverly saved him from ruin, and the whole
story soon became common property. Nagendra overheard his neighbours
whispering and pointing to him significantly, and village boys called
him ill-natured nicknames in the street. His irritation was increased
by recourse to the brandy bottle, and he vented it on his luckless
wife. She suffered so terribly that, one morning, Nagendra found
her hanging from a rafter in his cowshed. This suicide was the last
straw. Nagendra saved himself from prosecution for murder by a heavy
bribe, and got leave from the police to burn his wife's body. But
so universally was he execrated that not a man in the village would
help him to take her body to the burning-ghat. In dire despair
he humbled himself so far as to implore Ramda's assistance. The
magnanimous Brahman forgot his wrongs and cheerfully consented to
bear a hand. Others followed his example, and thus Nagendra was
able to fulfil the rites prescribed by religion. The lesson was not
altogether lost on him. The scales fell from his eyes; he dismissed
the rascally servant, who had led him from the path of duty, and
foreswore his brandy bottle.
A Rift in the Lute.
Nalini Chandra Basu worked hard for the B.L. degree, not to fill his
pockets by juggling with other people's interests, but in order to
help the poor, who are so often victims of moneyed oppression. After
securing the coveted distinction, he was enrolled as a pleader of the
Calcutta High Court and began to practise there, making it a rule to
accept no fees from an impoverished client. But two years of constant
attendance at Court convinced Nalini that Calcutta had far too many
lawyers already. He therefore removed to Ghoria, knowing that he
would find plenty of wrongs to redress there. About a month after his
arrival, a Zemindar of Kadampur, named Debendra Chandra Mitra, sued
one of his ryots for ejectment in the local Munsiff's Court. Nalini
espoused the defendant's cause and showed so stout a fight that the
case was dismissed with costs. Debendra Babu was deeply offended with
the young pleader, and determined to do him a bad turn if possible.
About a week later Nalini got a telegram from Benares announcing his
mother's death. He promptly donned the customary Kacha (mourning-cloth)
and hurried home, only to find his brother, Jadunath Babu, already
in possession of the sad news; and they went to Benares to comfort
their stricken father.
After the customary month of mourning Jadu Babu made preparations
for celebrating the sradh on a grand scale, by giving presents to
distinguished Brahmans, feasting his relatives, and distributing
alms to the poor. No money was spared in order to keep his mother's
memory green. The family's position would have been most enviable,
but for a slight unpleasantness which was created by some of the
villagers. Debendra Babu, who had been waiting for an opportunity
of revenge, went from house to house urging his neighbours not to
participate in the sradh, on the score that Nalini had married into
a strange clan and was ipso facto an outcast. Jadu Babu was stung to
the quick on learning these machinations. He consulted Nalini as to
the best method of parrying them, and was consoled by his brother's
assurance that it would be quite easy to win over his opponents except,
perhaps, Debendra Babu himself.
When the time for distributing Samajik (gifts) came round, Jadu Babu
sent one to every caste-fellow in the village, but all returned them
without a word of explanation. Nalini was not so much distressed as he
by the rebuff. He advised an attempt to pacify Debendra Babu; which
failing, he would put his scheme into execution. The two brothers,
therefore, called on their enemy, and falling at his feet, implored
him to say how they had offended him.
"You are much better off than I am," replied Debendra Babu
sarcastically; "it would be presumptuous for me to consort with
such people. You remember the old fable of the earthen pot and brass
"Mahasay," pleaded Jadu Babu, "we are young enough to be your sons. If
we have unwittingly caused you offence, we beg to be forgiven."
"You have learnt how to talk sweetly enough," rejoined Debendra
Babu. "Nalini fancies himself a Lat (lord) or badshah at the very
least. What times we live in! The young have no respect whatever for
"Nalini is hardly more than a boy," said Jadu Babu with folded
hands. "I am sure he had not the slightest intention of hurting
"What's the use of talking nonsense?" growled Debendra Babu. "Go
away!" and he pointed to the door.
The brothers did not stir; but Jadu Babu asked, "So you won't overlook
our faults, or even tell us what they are?"
"Well, if you will have it," replied Debendra Babu in measured accents,
"Nalini is an outcast; and no respectable Kayastha can take part in
your mother's sradh."
Jadu Babu fairly lost his temper. He exclaimed: "If there is a flaw in
my sister-in-law's pedigree, what is to be said of people who visit
women of alien religions, take food from their hands, and tipple
strong liquor with them?"
This was a home thrust. Debendra Babu was well-known to be carrying
on an intrigue with a Mohammadan woman, named Seraji, but as he
was well-to-do, no one had dared to propose his excommunication. He
started from his feet in an outburst of fury.
"What! you have the audacity to lecture me--a wretched brat like
you? Leave my house at once." So saying he flounced into his inner
apartments; while the brothers went away rather crestfallen.
After returning home Nalini disclosed his famous scheme for
circumventing the boycott, which Jadu Babu heartily approved. To every
Samajik they added an envelope containing a new ten-rupee note and
sent them round to their caste-fellows. The sight of money banished
prejudices; one and all received the gifts, and some were so shameless
as to hint that similar largesse would be acceptable to their uncles
Debendra Babu was deeply annoyed by the success of the strategy. He
swore a mighty oath not to rest until he had destroyed the Basu
family root and branch. After a good deal of thought he matured a
plan which was to be executed through a notorious widow belonging to
the village. This creature, Hiramani by name, had passed middle life
and lived on a little money left by her husband, in a hut close to
Debendra's residence. People used to say that God had created her a
female by oversight, for she had every bad quality which a man could
possess. She was noted for the fact that misfortune invariably fell
on a house which she honoured with her intimacy. People were very
shy indeed of inviting her.
One bright afternoon Hiramani called at the Basus and started a
conversation with the wives of Jadu and Nalini by inquiring about
their household affairs, and offering advice which is generally
acceptable if seldom acted on. While they sat talking Jadu Babu's
eldest boy came to his mother, whimpering:--
"Chota Kaka (my young uncle) has whipped me because an inkpot of his
slipped from my hand, while I was playing with it, and got broken!"
"He served you rightly, naughty boy!" observed his mother administering
a sharp slap which sent the child off bellowing loudly.
Hiramani remarked, "You ought not to beat him for so trivial a fault".
"That's a terrible boy," explained the mother. "He is up to all
manner of tricks, and if he is not checked, he will grow up a regular
"God forbid!" remarked Hiramani; "but has he not been too cruelly used
by his uncle? You must have noticed the welts on his naked back. I
counted five as broad as my forefinger. How could a grown-up man
torture a child like that?"--and she looked meaningly at her hostess.
The mother was evidently impressed by these words. She undertook
to speak to Nalini about his treatment of her son. Hiramani was
delighted to see that the poison was beginning to work. She went
straight from the Basus' house to Debendra Babu and reported her
success. He praised her warmly, presented her with a rupee, and
offered further instructions.
Hiramani soon became a regular visitor of the Basu ladies. She lost
no opportunity of poisoning the mind of Jadu Babu's wife, by retailing
Nalini's iniquities. At the outset her insinuations were disregarded;
but in time the elder wife fell so completely under Hiramani's
influence as to accept her stories as gospel truth. One day, indeed,
she ventured to ask her husband to separate from his brother and,
on meeting with a peremptory refusal, declared that she would take
no food while Nalini remained in the house. Ending that she really
meant to carry out this awful threat, Jadu Babu apparently yielded,
promising to eject his brother. When the villagers saw Hiramani so
thick with the Basu ladies, they prophesied ill-luck for the family,
and on learning Jadu Babu's resolve they remarked that the old woman
had not belied her reputation. As for Nalini, he knew that something
was in the wind, but carefully avoided broaching the subject to his
brother, lest he should widen the breach. Like a sacrificial goat, he
waited for the stroke to fall on his devoted head. Shortly afterwards,
Jadu Babu told his wife to make arrangements for setting up a separate
establishment. Her heart leapt for joy. She cooked twice the number of
dishes usually prepared for her husband's midday meal, and anxiously
waited for him in her kitchen.
Jadu Babu went about his duties as usual, never mentioning the coming
separation to Nalini. After bathing at 11 A.M. he took Nalini into the
latter's kitchen, and asked his sister-in-law to give them something
to eat. The pair sat down to a hastily-prepared repast, Jadu Babu
chatting and joking with his brother according to his wont. After
dinner he took his betel box and adjourned to the parlour for
rumination and a siesta. Nalini and his wife were surprised by Jadu
Babu's behaviour. They dared not ask him why he had invited himself
to eat with them, but waited anxiously for further developments.
Meanwhile the elder wife was eating her heart with vexation and
forming resolutions to give her husband a curtain lecture. But he
slept that night in the parlour and on the morrow took both meals
with Nalini. When a woman fails to gain her object she is apt to
take refuge in tears, which are generally enough to force a mere
man to bend to her wishes. Jadu's wife watched for an opportunity of
having it out with her husband. On finding him alone, she burst into
lamentations, beating her heart and praying that God would put an
end to her wretched life. He calmly asked what was the matter and,
on receiving no reply, went to bed. Presently she asked, "What has
induced you to put me to shame?" Jadu Babu pretended ignorance,
and thus made her only the more angry.
"Oh, you Neka" (buffoon), she groaned, "didn't you swear to separate
from Nalini, and have you not taken all your meals with him ever
since? Is that the action of a truthful man?"
"Well, I should like to know how Nalini has injured me?"
"I say that he is your enemy!"
"Tut, tut, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Where could I find a
brother so faithful and obedient as he? You wish to live apart from
him? Very well; I have made separate arrangements for you." Then in
dispassionate tones Jadu Babu pointed out the treachery of Debendra and
his parasite. The woman's eyes were opened. She fell at her husband's
feet and implored his pardon. Then she suddenly rose, went across the
courtyard to Nalini's room, and knocked at his door. He came out and,
seeing his sister-in-law there at an unusual hour, asked anxiously
whether Jadu was ill. She reassured him and took him by the hand to
his brother, in whose presence she asked him to forgive and forget
the offence. Nalini was nothing loth; and harmony was soon restored
in the family.
Meanwhile old Hiramani had not failed to report progress to her patron
daily. He was delighted to think that the rift in the Basu lute was
widening, and promised her a handsome reward when the estrangement
should take place.
On learning the failure of the plot, he paid Hiramani a surprise
visit, abused her roundly, and, when she retorted in the like strain,
he administered a wholesome correction with his shoe. On his departure
she ran to Jadu Babu's house intending to have it out with his wife
for her breach of faith. The doorkeeper, however, roughly denied her
entrance; and when she threatened to report him to his mistress, he
ran her out by the neck. Hiramani went home in a state of impatient
anger and despair, and for several days she dared not show her face
in the village. The spell cast by her malice was broken.
Debendra Babu in Trouble.
One chilly morning in February a Mohammadan neighbour of Nalini's
named Sadhu Sheikh burst into his parlour crying, "Chota Babu, Chota
Babu (lit. 'little babu,' used for younger brother, to distinguish
him from the elder, styled 'bara babu'), Siraji is dying!"
"Who is she?" asked Nalini looking up from a law book which he was
"Surely you know my sister, Chota Babu?"
"Yes, of course, what's the matter with her?"
"She has been ill for three days, with excruciating internal pains;
what am I to do, Babuji?"
"Who is treating her?" asked Nalini.
"Abdullah has been giving her the usual remedies."
"Why, he is a peasant and knows nothing of medicine. You should not
have called him in."
"Sir, we are poor folk. Abdullah is very clever and his fee is a
"What drugs has he been administering?"
"Homopotik (homoeopathic), they are called."
"Now you had better return home at once to find out how she is
progressing. Let me know if she grows worse and I will send Hriday
Doctor. Don't trouble about his fees; I will pay them myself. Why
did you not come to me earlier?"
Sadhu muttered some words, which Nalini could not distinguish, and
left the room hurriedly. After waiting for an hour for news, Nalini
threw a wrapper over his shoulders and went to Siraji's cottage. On
nearing it he learnt from Sadhu's loud lamentations that she was beyond
the reach of medicine; so, after a few words of sympathy, he went home.
Presently Sadhu sallied forth to ask the neighbours' help in carrying
the dead body to burial. One and all refused to lay a hand on it
because, they said, she had lived with an unbeliever. In dire distress
Sadhu again appealed to Nalini, who summoned the chief inhabitants
of the Musalmanpara (Mohammadan quarter) to his house and ordered
them to take Siraji's body to the burial ground. They reluctantly
agreed to do so, and assembled at Sadhu's cottage; but at the last
moment all of them refused to touch the corpse. Nalini was puzzled by
their behaviour. He asked for an explanation, whereon the Mohammadans
whispered together and nudged a grey-beard, who became their spokesman.
"Mahasay," he said, "the fact is Siraji lived with Debendra Babu
and was actually made enceinte by him. In order to save himself from
exposure and shame, Debendra Babu got Abdullah to administer powerful
drugs to the woman. After taking these she was attacked by violent
pains in the abdomen and vomiting, which ended in her death. The
Chaukidar (village watchman) knows all the facts, and he is sure to
give information to the police. You know, sir, that no one would dare
to touch a corpse without their permission, if there is any suspicion
of foul play."
Nalini was greatly surprised; he asked Sadhu whether the old man's
words were true and, getting no reply except a significant silence,
said: "You may now go about your business, but mind I shall expect
you all to assemble here and carry Siraji to the burial ground as
soon as the police give you leave to do so".
There was a chorus of assent, and the crowd dispersed. Nalini was
about to return home too, when the Chaukidar came in and told him
that he had reported Siraji's death to the Sub-Inspector of police,
who had ordered him not to permit the corpse to be touched by any
one until his arrival.
About three o'clock on the same day Nalini heard that the police had
come to investigate the cause of Siraji's death. He went at once to
Sadhu's house, where the Sub-Inspector was recording the statements of
eye-witnesses. When Abdullah's turn came, the police officer surveyed
him from head to foot, saying:--
"I have heard of you before; what is your occupation?"
"Sir, I am a Hakim (doctor)."
"Yes, sir, I have a little cultivation and sometimes lend money."
"Did you attend the deceased woman?"
"Yes, I was called in by Sadhu a week ago, and treated her for fever."
"A nice mess you have made of the case too! Swear on the Quran that
you gave her no poison or drug!"
"Sir, I am ready to declare in the name of God and His Prophet that
I gave her nothing but homopotik, only nuxo bomicka (nux vomica)
in doses which would not have harmed a baby."
"Now, remember you are on your oath. Did you administer anything else?"
Abdullah's shaking limbs proved that he was terribly apprehensive
of evil consequences to himself. He muttered, "I gave her a little
"So I thought," said the Sub-Inspector. "Now all present will follow
me." With the assistance of his constable and chaukidars, he led them
to Debendra Babu's house. The latter received them in his parlour. He
affected to be surprised and shocked by the news of Siraji's death.
"That is strange," retorted the Sub-Inspector. "Abdullah here has
sworn that he poisoned her at your request,"
Debendra Babu became ashen pale, but he soon regained
self-possession. Turning on Abdullah he shouted:--"How dare you say
that I gave you any such orders?"
"Babu," whined Abdullah, "I never said so. The Darogaji is mistaken."
The Sub-Inspector perceived that, all the witnesses being tenants
of Debendra Babu, there was no hope of getting them to stick to any
statement inculpating him. He sulkily told the Mohammadans present that
they might bury Siraji's corpse, and accompanied Debendra Babu to his
house, where he was royally entertained till next morning. However,
on taking leave, he hinted that enough evidence had been secured to
warrant his reporting the case as one of causing abortion by means
of drugs, and that the Pulis Saheb (District Superintendent)
would probably order further investigation. Debendra Babu was
seriously alarmed by the implied threat. Visions of jail--perchance
transportation across the dark ocean--floated in his sensorium. He
resolved to submit the case to an astrologer.
Gobardhan Chakravarti was an old Brahman neighbour who lived by casting
nativities, giving weather and crop forecasts, and prophesying good or
evil things in proportion to the fee he received. Debendra Babu paid
him a visit next morning and was received with the servile courtesy
due to a wealthy client. After beating about the bush for a while he
said: "My fate just now seems very unpropitious; when may I expect
Gobardhan covered a slate with mysterious calculations and, after
poring over them for ten or fifteen minutes, he looked up with the
remark:--"Your luck is really atrocious and has been so for more than
"Quite true, but what I want to know is--how long is this going
"I am afraid that you may expect one misfortune after another;
I can't quite see the end of your evil destiny."
"Goodness gracious! what shall I do? Are there no means of conjuring
"Certainly, the Shastras prescribe certain Grahasanti (propitiation of
planets) processes, which will enable you to counteract the influence
of malign stars."
The cunning bait was swallowed by Debendra Babu, who asked: "How much
would these ceremonies cost?"
After thinking out the maximum amount he could decently demand,
the astrologer said: "About one hundred rupees."
"Oh, that's far too much," was the reply. "Do you want to ruin
me? Can't you do it for less?"
"Not a pice less. I could perform a jog (sacrifice) for as little as
ten rupees; but such maimed rites are quite contrary to the Shastras."
"Will you guarantee definite results for Rs. 100?" asked Debendra
"I promise nothing; if you have faith in my ceremonies, you must pay
me my own price; if not--I leave you to Fate."
"I have implicit faith in you," groaned Debendra Babu, who was now
terribly alarmed, "and will pay you Rs. 100 to-morrow, but please
don't delay; the matter is very pressing."
Gobardhan agreed to the proposal; but seeing that his client was loth
to go and evidently had something on his mind, he remarked:--
"When a wise man consults a physician, he always discloses his
symptoms. You must be quite frank and tell me how your affairs have
been progressing lately, in order that I may address my incantations
to the proper quarter. Be sure that I will divulge nothing."
Thus encouraged Debendra Babu revealed his relations with Siraji,
confessed that he had bribed Abdullah to administer a powerful drug
to her, and expatiated on the very awkward predicament in which her
sudden death had placed him.
Gobardhan listened with breathless attention and then remarked:
"You have acted rightly in telling me the whole truth. I will perform
a homa (burnt sacrifice) and verily believe that it will have the
desired effect. Let me have Rs. 200 and I will set about it at once."
Debendra Babu groaned inwardly at the thought of so heavy an
expenditure; but after all, the prospect of escaping deadly peril
was well worth Rs. 200. So he returned home and thence despatched
the amount in currency notes to Gobardhan.
The astrologer spent about Rs. 5 on ghi (clarified butter), rice,
and plantains for his homa sacrifice, and completed it in three
days. Then he called on the police Sub-Inspector, who received him
cordially. After the usual compliments had been, exchanged, Grobardhan
asked how his host was faring.
"Things are not going well with me," was the reply. "Most of the people
in those parts are miserably poor; and what I can extract from the
well-to-do hardly suffices for my horse-keep. Thakurji (a term used
in addressing Brahmans), I want you to examine my palm and say when
good times are coming for me."
After poring over the proffered hand for fully a minute, muttering
and shaking his head the while, Gobardhan said: "I am delighted to
tell you that your good star is in the ascendant. Very soon you will
make something handsome."
"I wish I could think so!" observed the policeman, "but it is
impossible. I have only one likely case on my file, and prospects
are not brilliant even in that quarter."
Then, in answer to leading questions from Gobardhan, he told the
story of Siraji's death--adding that he had decided to send Debendra
Babu and Abdullah up for trial, but doubted whether he could adduce
sufficient evidence to convict them of murder or anything like it.
Gobardhan asked: "Now, why should you lose such a splendid opportunity
of making money?" and seeing the policeman's eyes twinkle, he went on,
"Oh, you need not appear in this transaction yourself. I will do the
needful. Tell me frankly--how much money would satisfy you?"
"I could not run the risk of reporting the case as false for less
than Rs. 100."
"That is too much," was the wily astrologer's reply. "Mention a
reasonable sum, and I will see what can be done."
"Well, I will take Rs. 75, and not a pice less; and understand, if
the money is not paid before this evening, I will send Debendra Babu
up for trial."
"Very good; I will call on him at once and frighten him into paying
up; but I must have something for myself."
"Certainly, if you can get Rs. 75 from the defendant you may keep
Rs. 15 as commission."
Gobardhan returned home, took the required amount from the Rs. 200 paid
him by Debendra Babu, and handed it privately to the Sub-Inspector,
who swore by all the gods that he would take no further steps against
the inculpated men.
Knowing well that the policeman would keep faith with a Brahman,
Gobardhan went straight to Debendra Babu with the glad news that the
homa sacrifice had been completely successful, and not a hair of his
head would be injured. Debendra felt as though a mountain was lifted
from his heart; he stooped to wipe the dust from Gobardhan's feet.
On learning a few days later that the case had been reported to
headquarters as false, he was firmly convinced that Gobardhan's magical
rites had saved him from ruin, and presented him with a bonus of
Rs. 50. Nalini Babu was not long in ascertaining how the land lay. He
was exasperated by the sordid wrong-doing which reached his ears and
resolved to report it to the District Magistrate. But in the end he
kept silent, because Sadhu came to him with tearful eyes, saying that
he had already suffered deep humiliation; and if old scandals were
raked up, the community would certainly excommunicate him.
True to His Salt.
Hiramani did not forget the thrashing given her by Debendra Babu for
failing to cause a rupture between the Basu brothers. She took a vow of
vengeance and laid in wait for an opportunity of fulfilling it. Meeting
him one day in the village street, she asked with an air of mystery:--
"Have you heard the news?"
"What's that?" replied Debendra Babu carelessly.
"It concerns the woman Siraji," she whispered.
All Debendra Babu's fears revived; he exclaimed: "Speak plainly,
what is the matter?"
"The matter stands thus. You know that her case was hushed up by the
police? Well, I hear on good authority that the District Magistrate
has received an anonymous letter relating the real cause of her death
and has ordered a fresh investigation. So I am afraid you will soon
be in hot water again. As I am your well-wisher in spite of the cruel
treatment I have received, I think it my duty to warn you of this
Hiramani spoke in faltering accents and wiped away an imaginary tear
with the corner of her cloth.
"How did yon learn all this?" asked Debendra Babu in deep anxiety.
"I got the news only last night from the wife of the new Sub-Inspector
who has come here on transfer. On paying my respects to her, I was
told in confidence that her husband had orders to make a searching
inquiry into the cause of Siraji's death."
Debendra Babu saw that his secret was at the woman's discretion. He
answered in an apologetic tone: "It was certainly foolish of me to
lose my temper with you, but I had some provocation. Forgive me,
and let bye-gones be bye-gones. Whom do you suspect of sending the
Hiramani bit her lips; she knew the author, who was none other than
herself, and replied: "It might have been written by Jadu Babu; but
I suspect his brother Nalini, who is as venomous as a snake and hates
Debendra Babu stamped his foot in annoyance and, after musing awhile,
asked, "What would you advise me to do?"
Hiramani wagged her head sententiously. "Babuji, I am afraid you are in
a serious scrape. The matter has gone too far to be hushed up a second
time. You cannot do anything directly without increasing the suspicion
which attaches to you; but I will watch events and keep you informed of
all that happens at the police station. You know I have friends there."
Debendra Babu was profuse in his thanks. He pressed a couple of rupees
into the old woman's willing palm, saying: "Hiramani, I see that you
are really my well-wisher. Come to my house as often as you like;
and if you have anything particular to say to me, I shall always be
glad to hear it--and grateful too."
Then the pair separated, and Hiramani took advantage of the Babu's
invitation by visiting his daughter Kamini that very evening.
She was made welcome in the inner apartment and sat down for a long
chat, in the course of which she asked after Kamini's husband.
"He has gone out for a stroll," her hostess replied, "but I expect
him back every minute."
The words were hardly out of her mouth ere a young man came in
hurriedly and, not noticing Hiramani who sat in the shade, asked for
a drink of water. Hiramani doubted not that he was Debendra Babu's
son-in-law, Pulin by name, who had lately come to live with his wife's
family. She introduced herself as a friend of his father-in-law's
and, being very witty when she chose to exert herself, soon managed
to make a favourable impression on the young man, He asked her to
come again whenever she pleased, adding that he was generally at home
Hiramani had prepared the ground for a further attack. She left the
house with a certainty that she had made a good impression.
Thenceforward hardly a day passed without at least one visit to
Debendra Babu's. Hiramani wormed all Kamini's little harmless secrets
out of her and obtained enough knowledge of the girl's tastes and
habits to serve her own designs.
One day, finding herself alone with Pulin, she threw out dark hints
against his wife's character. The young man's suspicion was excited. He
pressed for more explicit information, but Hiramani shook her head
mysteriously without replying. Pulin insisted on being told the truth,
whereon Hiramani poured out a whispered story of Kamini's intrigues,
mentioning names of male relatives who were known to frequent the
house. Pulin was stung to the quick. Regardless of a stranger's
presence, he called Kamini into the room, abused her roundly, and
declared that he would never live with her again. Then gathering up
a few belongings in a bundle, he quitted the house, leaving his wife
in a flood of tears. Hiramani was overjoyed by the results of her
machinations. She affected sympathy with the deserted wife, who was
too young and innocent to suspect her of having caused the quarrel.
Debendra Babu had a servant, Ram Harak by name, who had been in the
family for nearly forty years and was treated as one of them. He had
watched the growing intimacy between Hiramani and the young couple and,
knowing the old woman's character well, endeavoured to counteract her
evil influence. Finding this impossible he sought Debendra Babu in
the parlour, salamed profoundly, and stood erect, without uttering
a word. His master asked, with some surprise, what he wanted.
"Mahasay," replied Ram Harak, "have I not served you for two-score
years with obedience and fidelity? Have you ever found me untrue to
"Certainly not; I know you are a good and faithful servant."
"Then, Mahasay, you ought to protect me against enemies of your
house. That odious hag, Hiramani, has abused me foully."
"Now, Ram Harak, it is you who are abusive. What have you done to
"You are my father and mother," replied Ram Harak with his eyes
full of tears. "Let me explain fully. I have long since suspected
Hiramani of making mischief in this house, and have kept a close
watch on her movements. The very day of Pulin Babu's departure I
overheard her whispering all manner of false insinuations against
my young mistress. Then came the quarrel between husband and wife,
which ended in Pulin Babu's leaving your house. After he had gone I
ventured to remonstrate with Hiramani for poisoning jamai (son-in-law)
Babu's mind against his wife; whereon she overwhelmed me with abuse
and actually threatened to get me dismissed! I want to know whether
this woman is mistress of the family? Am I to have no redress?"
"Leave all this to me, Ram Harak, and go to your work. I'll speak to
"Babuji, you are treading the matter far too lightly. I would never
have complained on my own account, but I cannot bear to see her
plotting against your daughter's happiness, which she has, perhaps,
destroyed for ever!"
Debendra Babu went into his inner apartments and, seeing Hiramani
engaged in close conversation with his daughter, he asked her why she
had used bad language to Ram Harak. The old woman beckoned him to come
outside; and after making sure that no one was listening, she poured
into his ears a long tale of Ram Harak's misdoings. He was robbing
his master, she declared, taking dasturi (commission on purchases) at
twice the customary rates. What was far worse, the "faithful servant"
had spoken freely of Debendra Babu's relations with Siraji in the
village, and it was he who instigated the anonymous letter which was
about to bring the police down on his master. Though all this was the
purest fiction, Debendra Babu swallowed it greedily. He shouted for
Ram Harak and, on the man's appearance, charged him with fraud and
unfaithfulness to his salt. Ram Harak stood silent with folded hands,
not deigning to exculpate himself, which so enraged Debendra Babu
that he gave the poor old man a sharp blow on the head with his shoe,
bidding him begone and never to cross his threshold again. Ram Harak
went to his hut, collected his possessions in a bundle, and left the
house where forty years of his life had been spent. Hiramani's plans
of vengeance were prospering.
Soon after these unpleasant events the new Sub-Inspector of police
arrived at Debendra Babu's house with a warrant for his arrest, and
took him to the station despite loud protests of innocence. There
he applied for bail, which was of course refused, and he spent the
night in the lock-up. Knowing well that he had a very bad case, he
humbled himself so far as to send for Nalini, whom he implored with
folded hands to save him from destruction. Nalini was deeply moved by