Alexander Allardyce

The City of Sunshine

Chapter I

The Linga of Dhupnagar

It was the morning after the Dewali Puja, the Hindoo “Feast of Lanterns,” and though the sun was already high over head, not a soul was astir in the little village of Dhupnagar. The waters of the big tank where folks bathed the first thing of a morning, sparkled brightly in the dazzling rays, undisturbed except by the nocturnal cur that, encouraged by the unusual stillness, had ventured out of the jungle to drink. The bazaar was tenantless. Shops, with their wares temptingly exposed to any passing thief, stood open upon each side of the street; but the owners, worn out by last night’s excitement, were still too sleepy to think of buying or selling. Even greedy Ram Lall, the oilman, who was generally the first to open his shop in the morning and the last to leave it at night, had not made his appearance, but was still probably dreaming of the profits that he had netted off last night’s illuminations. The jackals were snuffing about the deserted streets, looking hungrily for garbage, and wondering what had become of the lords of the creation. All over the village there were signs of the festival. Each house had its row of tiny earthen lamps arranged upon the window-sill, or hung from a projecting bamboo sapling. Some of the wealthier had even gone so far in their devotion as to display candles in neat lanterns of coloured mica. And the morning air was loaded with a fetid smell of oil and burnt wick.

More than any of the other houses the great brick mansion of the Lahory family, blackened with age and crumbling into ruins, showed traces of Dewali splendour. The verandah was hung with festoons of party-coloured lanterns, and the walls were clothed from base to summit with a network of bamboos, upon which little earthen cressets—some of them still flickering faintly in the strong sunshine—had been set forth in countless numbers. In front of the house, a score of servants or hangers-on of the family were sleeping in the open air, each stretched upon a rectangular slip of matting, with his head pillowed upon his arm or upon a roll of clothing.

Pass inside and you will find the tenants and guests of Baboo Kristo Doss Lahory lying upon charpais, or rude four-legged couches, snatching a few hours’ rest after the riot and excitement of last night’s festival, before they should set out for their homes to resume the ordinary business of life. All was quiet; no breeze stirred the trees or ruffled the smooth surfaces of the tanks; there was not even a chattering parrot or a rattling woodpecker to break the silence. A stranger entering Dhupnagar, “the city of sunshine,” that morning, might have been pardoned for thinking that he fallen into a Sleepy Hollow in the plains of Bengal.

But cross the village green from the house of Lahory—pass through the hedge of thorny bamboo, whose straight tapering stems and delicately-feathered branches form a fairer curtain for a holy place than the hand of art could have designed—enter the village temple, and you are sure to find the priest astir, and probably occupying his favourite seat in the porch or enjoying his morning smoke. The temple stands in a spacious courtyard or “compound,” which is entered through an arched doorway, flanked on each side by a small turret, and by apartments for the porter and other servants of the shrine. The temple is on the summit of a little knoll, and is a small unpretentious building with arched door and pointed roof, devoid of all architectural show except a few simple mouldings upon the façade. Two or three stone steps lead up to the porch which the boughs of a sacred peepul tree, fast rooted in the temple wall above the entrance, had been trained to form; and here in the cool evenings the priest and those friends who were privileged to enjoy his society, would seat themselves upon the broad stone platform to smoke their hookhas, chat over the village gossip, and enjoy the still beauty of the scene.

Inside the temple a small antechamber led to a central room, where in a niche stood the guardian genius of the place, the palladium of Dhupnagar. It was not a three-headed god, or a ten-armed goddess, or any of the other monstrosities of the Hindoo mythology. It was simply a round pyramidal block of black polished stone, standing a foot and a half high, and with a slight projection at its base. This was the Linga, the symbol by which men have rudely expressed the creative attributes of the self-existent Siva, the second member of the Hindoo triad; and it is, moreover, the phallus of Grecian worship. But the Linga of Dhupnagar is not like other Lingas, as the priest and three-fourths of the district are ready to swear. The Linga of the neighbouring town of Gapshapganj, for instance, or that of Bhutpore, the zilla, or county, town, are, as everybody knows, nothing more than common black stones from the Patna district, which required a deal of chiselling to bring them into the sacred form. But not so the Linga of Dhupnagar. Three or four generations back, before miracles had ceased because of the red-coated infidels creeping over the land, this Linga had started up from the ground at the feet of Harrinath Gossain, ancestor of the present priest, as he journeyed homeward from a pilgrimage to Benares, where he had offered up ten thousand rupees at the Manikarnika temple, and had gorged to surfeit fifty of the poorest Brahmins that he could find in the holy city. Harrinath had accepted the portent as a suitable acknowledgment of his piety; and taking the Linga home with him, he built for it a temple and installed himself as its priest.

When this miracle was noised abroad, worshippers flocked in crowds to Dhupnagar, whose offerings speedily recouped Harrinath in ten-fold degree for the expenses of his pilgrimage. Priests of rival shrines began to look with dismay upon the popularity of the upstart temple. Some of them did not hesitate to assert that the miracle had existed only in Harrinath’s imagination; while others professed themselves ready to swear that he had either purchased or stolen the stone on his way down country. But Harrinath treated such slanders with merited contempt. In vain did the priest of Bhutpore, whose shrine had hitherto been the most fashionable place of worship in the Gungaputra district, hire a mad devotee to undergo the shora, for the purpose of exposing the imposture. But though the enthusiast remained wrapped in prayer before the Linga for fifteen days and nights in red garments; though he repeated the thousand sacred names of Siva ten thousand times; though he walked round the Linga in the fashion of a triangle one thousand two hundred and sixty times, prostrating himself at full length each time he passed before the image;—though he did all this without omitting the minutest particular of the shora, yet did not the Linga break or even bow before him, as it must infallibly have done had there not been divinity in the stone. Equally vain was it for the priest of Gapshapganj to proclaim the miraculous cure of an elephant foot, effected under the auspices of his Linga. A woman, indeed, asserted that such a cure had been wrought upon her, but she came from a far part of the country, and nobody could be found to vouch either for her elephantiasis or her veracity.

The spite of these detractors only added to the prosperity of the Dhupnagar temple, and soon cures were reported about which there could be no possible doubt. A rich merchant of Calcutta, whose son was wasting away with disease, had sent the lad on a pilgrimage to Dhupnagar; and its sacred atmosphere, combined with the removal of the means of dissipation, soon wrought a favourable change in the young man’s health. The grateful father made over to the shrine three houses in the wealthiest quarter of Calcutta; and there they stand at this hour to refute the sneers of the sceptical. A neighbouring landholder, who had been notorious as an oppressor of his tenantry, had set apart a portion of his estates for the service of the Dhupnagar temple that things might be made smoother for his entry into the next world, and ever after he had enjoyed peace of conscience in a remarkable degree. In short, the Dhupnagar temple speedily became one of the most flourishing concerns of the kind in Lower Bengal; and the income of Ramanath Gossain was to that of the majority of other priests as a bishop’s salary is to a curate’s stipend.

The present incumbent of Dhupnagar was a man considerably past the prime of life. Ramanath Gossain might perhaps be fifty, or even sixty years of age, but his figure was still erect and active, his countenance fresh, and his brow unwrinkled. He had led an easy, careless, prosperous life, knowing nothing of the struggles for existence that were going on in the outside world, and troubling himself little about other people’s affairs, so long as they did not affect his own comfort. The crosses he had met with had been few and trifling; his circumstances had always been affluent; his priestly office and his own amiable character procured him reverence from all with whom he came in contact; and he had been happy in his family and his domestic relations. His only brother was dwelling at Benares in the odour of sanctity as guardian of one of the wealthiest shrines in the holy city; and being himself childless, he had adopted Ramanath’s second son as his heir and successor. The priest’s eldest son, and only other child, a young lad of great promise, was completing his studies in Calcutta, whither Ramanath with pardonable vanity of the boy’s talents had been tempted to send him. It was not until the mother of his children died that Ramanath had availed himself of his countrymen’s privilege to choose a second wife; for he well knew that when the wives of his bosom cast out, the husband cannot long remain neutral. The only female inmates of his house were his own wife—the Thakoorani or lady, as she was called—a young woman of little more than half Ramanath’s age, and Chakwi, the wife of his absent son. In spite of her unlucky name—Chakwi signifies a goose—the daughter-in-law was a gentle and amiable girl, the sunshine of the priest’s household. She was not pretty, for her face was chubby and her eyes small and weak; and she had not even that lithe graceful figure which is common to all Bengalee girls, but was plump, dumpy, and almost waistless. She had, however, two rows of pearly teeth, unstained by betel juice, which her laughing lips seldom concealed; and her hair was glossy black and of a great length, although she always wore it braided up into a simple knot at the back of her head. The Thakoorani was indolent and fond of dress; and her time was fully taken up in bathing, dressing, and perfuming her person, and in eating, sleeping, smoking her silver hookha, and chewing tobacco mixed with betel; so that all the duties of the household fell upon the industrious Chakwi. It was Chakwi who rose at the false dawn and brought the ghi (clarified butter) and oil for anointing the image to her father-in-law, as he was setting out for morning worship. It was Chakwi who went over the house every morning sprinkling the floors with cow-dung and water to cleanse the rooms from the presence of ghosts and demons and other spirits of evil that might have intruded in the night-time. It was Chakwi that had prepared the breakfast of rice and fresh milk, with his favourite sweetmeats to follow, when the priest came back hungry from the temple. In short, whatever was done in Ramanath’s household was done by Chakwi’s hands or by Chakwi’s orders.

Chakwi was legally but not actually Ramanath’s daughter-in-law. The marriage ceremonies had all been performed, but the young Krishna Chandra Gossain had never yet received his bride from the hands of his father. The marriage had been contracted while both were still infants, and Krishna had never seen his young mate until she was brought to Dhupnagar in the bridal procession, when he was just turned of fifteen, and Chakwi had little more than entered upon her teens. When Krishna first saw the girl arrayed in silks and embroidery, and glittering with jewels amid the blaze of torches and coloured lamps, she had seemed to his heated imagination beautiful as one of the Apsaras who dance before the elephant throne of the god Indra. But the bridal party had scarcely reached Dhupnagar before he had convinced himself that Chakwi was not only not beautiful, but that her features and figure were cast in the very homeliest mould. From the consequent disappointment sprang a feeling of positive dislike; and when Ramanath, observing the young man’s aversion, had suggested that he might as well complete his education before the consummation of the marriage, Krishna joyfully accepted the reprieve and set off for Calcutta in high spirits. At every Durga Puja Krishna returned home, bringing with him a load of prizes and testimonials from his college, and congratulatory letters to his father from all their Calcutta friends; but though he was brought into constant contact with Chakwi, and he indeed treated her with quite a brotherly fondness, not a word had ever passed his lips regarding the future relationship in which they were to stand through life. Though merry and spirited as a young kitten, Chakwi was timid and retiring in the presence of her husband, scarcely daring to let her eyes light upon him, and never raising her voice above a whisper when he was beside her. The priest, who loved the girl as his own daughter, had pleaded ineffectually with Krishna to demean himself more affectionately towards one upon whom so much of his future happiness was to depend; but though the young man promised obedience, and before his father made a show of affection for Chakwi, it was evident to Ramanath that the marriage must turn out an ill-assorted one.

And this was not the only respect in which Ramanath had cause to be dissatisfied with his son. Although the priest was proud of Krishna’s scholarly acquirements, and would never tire of telling his neighbours the flattering things that the Calcutta pundits had said of him, he had of late begun to entertain serious doubts of his son’s religious opinions. When he had first determined on sending Krishna to Calcutta there were two disasters which the priest sought to guard against: one—the danger of being contaminated by profligate associates—he had averted by boarding the young man with a high-caste Brahmin who followed the virtuous and ascetic habits of the Vedic sages; the other—the chance of imbibing heterodox opinions—was, as the father thought, fully removed, when he had shown his son how injurious heresy would be to his worldly prospects. But, though all agreed that Krishna’s moral character was blameless, and that his conduct was an example to the whole of his fellow-students, the priest was far from satisfied that his son was sound in the faith. Ramanath was no bigot: he was punctual in the performance of his religious duties; he professed as much reverence and enthusiasm for the Linga of Dhupnagar as could be expected from its guardian; and he gave just as much alms and fed as many Brahmins as was proper for a man in his position; and he did no more. It is possible that he may have had his own views of the Linga’s sanctity, but he kept them to himself, and if he could not be called a pious man, he at least was not a godless priest. He had made up his mind that Krishna should succeed him in the guardianship of the Linga; and however tolerant he was disposed to be himself, he dared not commit the shrine to the hands of a heretic.

But each time that Krishna returned home, his father was grieved to see some fresh and stronger symptoms of a wavering faith. He who as a little child had daily tottered in his father’s hand to the temple and prostrated himself in awe-struck reverence before the idol while the ceremony of adoration was being performed, would now return to Calcutta after a visit to Dhupnagar without once setting a foot inside the shrine. More than that, he openly sneered at Siva, and at the fools who thought to win the god’s favour by boring their tongues or casting themselves upon spikes, as pious fanatics were wont to do in the month Choitra. But what was worst of all, he had walked into the temple one day during his last vacation, and handling the Linga without prayer or prostration, had reviled it—the sacred stone! the palladium of Dhupnagar!—as an “aerolitic monolith;” of which blasphemous expression the horrified Ramanath never dared to inquire the import. Krishna’s college career was, however, nearly completed; in a few months he would have taken his degree; and then when he had settled down at home, as had been arranged, his father did not doubt that his own influence and the society of the pious Chakwi, who held in devout awe the Linga of Dhupnagar, would soon banish such unprofitable vagaries from the lad’s head.

On the morning after the Dewali Puja, worthy Ramanath Gossain was stirring long before any of his townsmen. He had himself seen that his dwelling-house and the temple were illuminated by a sufficient number of lamps; he had put forth a basketful of rice still in the ear that his household might adore it as the emblem of good fortune; he had given a small present to each of his servants, with an injunction to avoid the gambling and dissipation with which the Puja was generally wound up; and then he had gone off to bed with a clear conscience, leaving his townsmen to squander away their earnings at pachisi with cards, or to stupefy their senses by smoking ganja, an intoxicating preparation of hemp-leaves. Ramanath had risen in the morning with a sound head and a good stomach; had bathed and anointed the idol, crowned it with flowers, placed an offering of incense and sweetmeats before it; and then having prostrated himself for a few minutes in prayer, he came forth and sat down on the broad stone platform outside the door to indulge in a morning smoke before going home to breakfast. A peepul tree which had rooted itself among the broken masonry of the roof threw forward a canopy of green tendrils over the priest’s head, screening him from the morning sun, and the aspen-like murmur of its leaves soothed him into a pleasant reverie. Away from the front of the temple the country fell with a gentle slope towards the banks of the Gungaputra; and far beyond, the eye could travel over a wide expanse where green jungle alternated with greener rice-fields, with here and there the white dome of a pagoda or the brown-thatched roof of a ryot’s cottage to break the prevailing colour. Bounding the view rose a low line of hills clad with forest and crested with tall sal trees, the first step by which the alluvial plains rose into the stony wolds and rough mountains of the Bengal highlands. The range was split into five rocky peaks, which had procured it the name of Panch Pahar among the natives of the valley. The scene was one that might well have been familiar to Ramanath’s eyes, for he had sat and smoked upon that stone platform at the same time every morning these forty years; and it could not be supposed that his mind would dwell much upon the calm beauty and picturesqueness of the landscape before him.

The crackling of the dry grass outside the temple compound told of the approach of a worshipper; and soon Tin Cowry, the village mahajan, or money-lender, made his appearance. Shuffling along in gaudily-embroidered slippers, which were as awkward to walk in as they were ornamental to look at, Tin Cowry, or “Three Shells,” as his name is rendered, was a tall, thin person, almost a walking skeleton, with a countenance cadaverous enough to complete the ghostly allusion. In demeanour Three Shells was obsequious even to servility, flattering and fawning upon every one off whom there was a possibility of his making any money. His head was generally bent and his hands clasped in respectful homage to the person whom he was for the time addressing; but those who caught a glance of the twinkling eyes and hard cruel mouth of the money-lender could not help feeling that they were face to face with a tiger in human form; a man who would not scruple to devour them, flesh and blood and bones, if ever chance should yield them to him for a prey. But Three Shells passed for a pious man in the village of Dhupnagar; and indeed it was under the plea of religion and reverence for the Linga that he had taken up his residence there, for Three Shells was a stranger from a distant part of the country. His interest seldom exceeded fifty per cent, and he never foreclosed upon a client so long as anything was to be made out of him. A much-respected man was Three Shells, for wherever he went, “salaams” and bent heads greeted his presence. A reason for this doubtless was, that there were not twelve persons in Dhupnagar but were dipped to a greater or less extent in the mahajan’s books; scarcely a shopkeeper in the village whose stock the mahajan could not at any moment have seized upon as his own; hardly a plough or an ox among any of the surrounding peasants that had not been mortgaged to defray the expenses of a daughter’s marriage or a father’s shraad (funeral rites). What though the poor wretches had redeemed their pledges ten or even a hundred times over? Three Shells never quitted the grasp of a client. But in every village of Bengal the rapacity of the usurer is insatiable as that of the horse-leech; and the folks of Dhupnagar had, on the whole, reason to be satisfied that they had fallen into the hands of so equitable a mahajan. Three Shells was, as has been said, a man of great religious pretensions. No one in the village was a more regular worshipper at the temple; and no one was more strict to mark all the observances laid down in the Brahminical books. With regard to his caste, doubts had been raised when he came to Dhupnagar six years ago; but as the villagers began to borrow of him their scruples vanished, and, with the exception of the priest and the Lahories, who had never yet deigned to drink or smoke with him—the acknowledgment of caste equality—there was no one in the district who could afford to treat the mahajan otherwise than as a high-caste Brahmin.

Such was the man who now came forward to the temple door, making many lowly salutations to Ramanath as he advanced.

Chapter II

Three Shells, The Mahajan

Three Shells stood at the foot of the steps, his body bent forward and his right hand raised in salutation to his forehead. “Salaam, great king,” he murmured in a meek, whining voice. “May your prayers of the morning, which are grateful to the gods as an offering of amrit (ambrosia), return upon your head in the shape of heavenly blessings! May your life be prolonged, O protector of the poor!” and the money-lender, as he spoke, made a motion as if he would embrace the priest’s feet.

“Salaam, Three Shells,” said the priest curtly, as he scarcely raised his hookha from his lips to greet the mahajan, and waved the new-comer with his left hand to a seat on the platform.

With much deference and affectation of humility, Three Shells sat down at a respectful distance from the priest. Ramanath smoked on in silence, for the difference of caste did not permit him to offer his hookha to the money-lender.

“It was a great festival last night in Dhupnagar,” Three Shells at length ventured to observe. “The streets of the village were lighted up like the courts of Agni, the god of fire. Ah, what a comfort it is to live among respectable people who worship the gods so well!”

“You set them a good example, Three Shells,” said Ramanath; “those coloured lanterns that adorned your verandah were not put there for pice. I’ll warrant, now, that you had them from the zilla (county) town, for I don’t think they make such things here in Dhupnagar.”

“Unworthy of your notice,” responded Three Shells. “They came from Calcutta, and were all that I could do to show that, though a poor man, I am not ungrateful for the favours the gods have sent me. But, maharajah, you should have seen the jatra (play) at Kristo Baboo’s last night. No expense was spared; the young Rajah of Ghatghar’s own band of music was there, and there were two female dancers that have been honoured by the highest noblemen in Bengal. Oh, they were lovely as Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and their dancing was stately as the movements of the moon through the heavens! You were not there, maharajah?”

“No,” grunted Ramanath. “I went to bed, which better became a respectable man than to sit gazing at the lascivious posturings of such wantons. I am glad that Kristo Baboo has money enough to squander upon play-acting and nâtches.”

“He he!” sniggered the mahajan, casting a sharp glance with his keen little eyes upon the priest’s stolid countenance; “not so much, perhaps, if every one had his own; who knows whose pockets supplied the cost of last night’s entertainments! But the Lahories are a family of good caste, and it becomes Kristo Baboo to support the dignity of his house.”

“Ay, if feeding all his friends and relations upon ghi (clarified butter) and sweetmeats for one month, and starving himself and his family upon parched rice and cold water for the other eleven, will keep up the dignity of any family, commend me to Kristo Baboo’s way of doing it. He will have to put his hands in your coffers before long, I doubt, Three Shells; that daughter of his must be married some day. It is a disgrace to the village that a girl of her age should be without a husband. I wish good may come of it.”

Ramanath smoked away in grave disapprobation of Kristo Baboo’s laxity, for among the Hindoos nothing is considered more improper than to allow a woman to reach maturity before she has been provided with a husband. But in marrying his daughter, the Hindoo of high caste has two great difficulties to encounter. In the first place, the number of eligible husbands is restricted by the minute limitations of caste; and secondly, the terrible expenditure upon the marriage ceremonies, and the heavy dower expected with the bride, fall with great severity upon a poor and proud family. It is to these considerations, which extend as far as caste itself does, that the fearful progress of infanticide in Hindoo society is due; and it is these feelings that tempt the haughty Rajpoot father who could never afford to make a suitable settlement upon his daughter, to stretch forth his hand against the life of his own offspring.

“Kristo Baboo will not be easy to please with a son-in-law,” said the money-lender; “he holds his head higher than all the Brahmins in the district, except the Rajah of Ghatghar, and the Rajah has two wives already.”

“A good reason why he should take a third one, Three Shells,” said the priest, sententiously. “When a man has only two wives, each calls upon him for aid against the other when they fall out; but when he gets a third, the other two turn against the new-comer and leave him at peace.”

““Well done! a rare jest,” sniggered the money-lender, torturing his pinched features into the fashion of a smile; “but were the Rajah to offer himself, Kristo Baboo could never afford to marry his daughter to so great a man. Why, the marriage expenses could not cost less than half a lakh of rupees. And yet it is a sad pity, for the girl’s beauty is famed throughout Dhupnagar.”

“It is a pity, and that is all that can be said about it, for no good comes of gossiping about other men’s family matters,” said Ramanath, becoming mindful that his own household was liable to objection as containing a virgin wife. “But let us hope that Kristo Baboo may get her off his hands as soon and as decently as possible.”

“There is your great son, that ocean of learning, who is the instructor of all the sages in Calcutta,” insinuated the money-lender. “Why should you not take the maiden for a bride to him, maharajah? Such a match would raise the head of Kristo Baboo among men again, for your caste is as noble as his own.”

“My son is already mated,” said Ramanath, curtly, as he applied himself to his hookha more vigorously than before.

“Which does not prevent him from being mated again,” quietly observed the mahajan. “Idle people said, maharajah, that your son had cast loving eyes upon Kristo Baboo’s daughter, and that he would rather have taken her to his bosom than the wife whom you had provided for him.”

“Idle people should mind their own affairs,” said Ramanath, angrily, as he started up to his feet. “Vishnu confound them! is there no other young man in the village, that my son must be made the talk of the bazaar? You should marry the girl yourself, Three Shells, since you take so much interest in her as to become her ghatak.”1

“Forgive me, maharajah,” said Three Shells, affecting great concern. “I meant not that my mouth should speak irreverently of your honoured family; and, I pray you, couple not the maiden’s name with my humbleness, lest her father should be displeased; for, as you know, I am not of quite so high a caste as the Lahories.”

“Not quite,” said Ramanath, drily; “but never mind, Three Shells, let Kristo Baboo once put his fingers in your purse and you will never hear of caste again. He will then hold out the hand of fellowship to you any day; and now, if you have got any offerings to make and prayers to say, go inside and have done with them, for I see my daughter Chakwi on the verandah beckoning me to breakfast.”

Calling one of the servants to attend the mahajan throughout his devotions, Ramanath set out towards his house, while Three Shells entered the temple and prostrated himself before the idol. The attendant peeped in, but observing Three Shells bent in prayer, he decorously withdrew to the outside until the money-lender had finished, when he might reasonably expect that so prosperous a person would not suffer his little attentions to go unrewarded.

But there was little of prayer crossing Three Shells’ lips. “It is all true that he says,” he was muttering; “once let me get Kristo Baboo into my hands, and we shall see if I be longer a dog in his presence. The Mussulmans’ Law says well:—

“‘Short since I was a weaver,
I am a Shaikh this year,
And twelve months’ time shall see me a Sayyid
If corn still keep dear.’

“Strong as their castes are, money is stronger, and there is nothing on earth which it may not purchase: even Kristo Baboo’s daughter has her price. That slave is listening. O Siva, the all-powerful one, the preserver of man and beast, the fountain of life, keep the head of thy suppliant! O thou who dwellest upon the hills, I salute thee! He is gone now,” continued the mahajan, dropping the snuffling tone which he had assumed while the man was within earshot. “He will expect at least four annas, for yesterday was a great festival. It is an expensive thing this religion, and yet it pays one. I wonder, now, how much Ramanath makes in the year off this god of his: it cannot be much under a lakh of rupees between lands and temple-offerings. I shall never get my hands upon him, I suppose; but if I did——. However, there is the son, and no one can say what he may bring the property to with his extravagant Calcutta habits. There was the old Rajah of Ghatghar, the stingiest churl in the whole country, who would not have given away to a beggar the grain of rice that he could stow in his own stomach. Well, he starved himself, and ground down his ryots until the poor wretches could scarcely call their skins their own—and for what? Home comes his son from the Calcutta colleges, and what with feasting and dancing, play-acting and horse-racing, his wives and his concubines, he has to put his hands into my purse before he can keep the fifth anniversary of his father’s death. And who is Rajah of Ghatghar now? Not that broken-down young bankrupt, an old man at five-and-twenty, with his fine house and gold-laced raiment. Ho, ho! here he kneels, plain Three Shells, the money-lender, he is the man for whom the Ghatghar ryots scrape their rents together. The slave again approaches—from which and from all other evils deliver me by thy might. O glorious Siva, conqueror of death, protect the humblest of thy servants in all his sojournings!”

Leaving Three Shells to complete his devotions after his own fashion, we may cross the village green and see what is going on at the house of the Lahories. It was a huge square brick building of almost palatial dimensions, but the walls were blackened with age, and had in several places crumbled into ruins, which the proprietor could never afford to repair. In front the upper storey opened out to a pillared balcony, hung with chicks of green bamboo to defend it from the sun’s rays during the daytime. The windows opening to the outside, of which there were two rows, an upper and a lower, were all defended by wooden Venetians, which served as well to secure the inmates from intrusive eyes as to shut out the fierce glare of noonday.

The house is by this time astir, and most of Kristo Baboo’s many guests have gone to the great tank behind the mansion to bathe and pray, or they are bustling about preparing a hasty meal before they take leave of their entertainer, and return to their own homes. Entering through the wide doorway we come into a great quadrangle, round which, on the upper floor, are arranged the apartments of the family; and at the extreme end stands the idol-room or family chapel, cut off from observation by only a few pillars. Here old Digumbra, the family priest and pundit, is making the morning oblations to the guardian deities of the house of Lahory. The Lahories are highly orthodox people. No suspicion of scepticism has ever attached to any member of this family: no people were more strict in their observance of the Hindoo ritual: none fed more Brahmins, or gave a higher largess to the strolling devotee: none could observe festivals and ceremonies more carefully than Kristo Baboo and his family. Their zeal for religion had in fact sadly impaired the Lahories’ substance. The Lahory domains had once been ample, including not only all Dhupnagar, but much of the surrounding district. But the Hindoo law of inheritance and the joint family system had wrought their usual effects. Instead of each son as he grew up to manhood taking his portion in money and going out into the world to seek a career for himself, he settled down upon the family property and in the family mansion, married and begot a family of his own, which in course of time became a still further charge upon the family lands. In a few generations, the rental which had supported only a single family became burdened with a little clan of Lahories; and then the head of the family, who had to maintain a position worthy of his dignity, and to contribute the largest portion of the expenditure upon the religious rites common to himself and his kinsmen, began to feel his circumstances straitened, and was obliged to cast about him for some means of increasing his income. His unfortunate tenants naturally first suggested themselves, and their rents were screwed and screwed until the poor wretches had scarcely left to them the wherewithal to keep soul and body together. Now, a portion of the estate must be feued to defray the expenses of a daughter’s marriage, and once feued, the rents became nominal and unalterable. Then, a father’s funeral ceremonies could not be duly performed until two or three hundred acres had been sold altogether. And thus it happened that, by the time Kristo Baboo became head of the family, scarcely anything was left to support his lofty pretensions. The old Rajah of Ghatghar, whose greed for land was only less than his lust for gold, had bought up lot after lot, until little remained to Kristo but the village and a few farms round about it. One year when there was a drought over all Bengal, the rice was burned up in the blade: there were no crops, the ryots had fallen into arrears with their rent, and Kristo was unable to pay the Government assessment, which was several years in arrears. The collector saw no prospect of recovering the dues, and after several warnings proceeded to distrain a considerable portion of Kristo’s estate. This was bought in by the Government and presented as a reward to a Pathan officer who had been of signal service to the English during the Mutiny. Kristo Baboo had never got over this disgrace. He hated Shamsuddeen Khan as the author of his calamity, although the Pathan had only accepted what the Government offered him; and when the latter built a new mansion on the land which had once been Kristo’s, the Baboo had gone solemnly down on his knees before the gods and prayed that the new possessor might never have enjoyment of his land until the soil of it covered him.

In course of time, as Kristo Baboo’s circumstances grew worse, his richer kinsmen drew away from him, and refused to pay him the respect which they owed to him as head of the family; and there only remained his daughter and a host of poor cousins, who, having no better means of subsistence, adhered faithfully to his falling fortunes. But chief among all his troubles was the condition of his daughter. Radha had now been marriageable several years, but as yet the Baboo had been unable to find a suitable match for her among his acquaintance. He clung eagerly to the pride of his high caste, which was indeed nearly all that was now left him; but his means were so slender that he shrank from encouraging the advances of any wealthy suitor, who would expect to be treated to an expensive marriage ceremony and a heavy dowry. There would have been no lack of lovers, for Radha was beautiful as a queen, and the ghataks had trumpeted her praises all over the district.

Among the few that had ever been privileged to catch a glimpse of the maiden was Krishna, the priest’s son. The young man had come unexpectedly upon Radha as she had finished bathing, and was standing by the edge of the tank wringing the water out of her dark tresses, and looking in her scanty drapery lithe and graceful as a nut-brown naiad. The girl fled, but not before she had marked that Krishna was rapt in admiration of her person: and Radha was too vain of her own charms not to triumph at the conquest she had made. From that hour Krishna was always to be found sauntering about the Lahories’ tank, or prying so curiously at the Baboo’s zenana windows, that it was a wonder how he escaped the staves of Kristo’s servants. Sometimes a window would be thrown open as if by accident, and before it could be closed he would discern Radha’s retreating figure as she fled backwards into the obscurity of the room. Once or twice a flower fell from the window, which he stealthily snatched up and concealed; and these were carefully preserved as his greatest treasures. But such courtship makes slow progress, and three years found Krishna and Radha still utter strangers to each other. But Krishna’s love was not the less constant; and when his wife Chakwi was brought home, it was still Radha’s image that was uppermost in his heart, and he could not help loathing his gentle partner, because of the bright vision that had crossed his path so long ago at the tank of Lahory.

Kristo Baboo was standing upon the steps, in close conversation with one of his guests, who was preparing to mount an active little pony that a syce (groom) held close by them. The Baboo was a middle-aged Hindoo, of a stout, almost obese figure, but with a high square forehead and fair features, indicating the purity of his Aryan descent. He wore only a waist-cloth of white cotton, with a snowy muslin chaddar thrown loosely over his shoulder, and nothing to distinguish him from the others but the massive silver hookha that he held in his hand. His companion was a man of a very different stamp. His skin was almost as black as a negro’s, and his round face, narrow brow, and irregular features contrasted strongly with the aristocratic countenance of the master of the house. He was dressed in a long chapkan or coat, cut in a fashion half oriental half European, which is much affected by the Anglicised natives: he wore a pair of white duck trousers, with patent-leather English boots; a heavy gold chain attached to his watch was wound in two or three folds about his neck; and a little gold-laced cap was perched jauntily upon his crisp black curls. In short, his whole appearance was such as may any day be seen loitering about the Presidency College gate, or Wellesley Square, or any of the other haunts of “Young Bengal” in Calcutta. Though only the son of Ram Lall, the village oilman, Preonath had become a man of greater consequence than many a person of much higher birth: for he was a Bachelor of Arts of the Calcutta University, and Deputy Magistrate of the subdivision. The “Dipty Baboo,” as he was called, was one of the most earnest suitors for Radha’s hand. Many thought that it would be no great condescension in Kristo to give his daughter to so promising a young officer; but the Baboo had never been able to bring himself to sanction an alliance with a Sudra who did not even belong to the nine tribes of tradesmen with whom a Brahmin might drink water. Kristo was, however, litigious and oppressive, and lawsuits with his neighbours and tenants were of frequent occurrence, so he prudently kept friends with the Dipty, before whom such cases would generally come in the first instance; and though he never pledged his word to Preonath, he never gave him to understand that there were irremovable obstacles in the way of a marriage. On his part, the Dipty spared no pains to win Kristo’s favour. He took up his quarters at the house of Lahory every time he visited Dhupnagar, although he knew that his old father, Ram Lall, had the little house in the bazaar swept and garnished for the reception of his great son. His origin and his father’s status were sore trials to Preonath’s pride. Were it not that the old man and the little shop in Dhupnagar were constantly before their eyes, folk would, he fancied, soon forget that Baboo Preonath Doss, B.A., and Deputy Magistrate, was the son of an oil-seller. But old Ram Lall would not resign the shop for all his son’s entreaties and promises of support; and every time Preonath entered Dhupnagar, he was haunted by the dread of a meeting with his father.

“And you must then go to-day, Baboo?” said Kristo. “Well, we cannot detain the pillar of justice with us always. When may we next look for you in Dhupnagar?”

“It will not be long,” replied Preonath: “the subdivision has been giving a good deal of trouble lately, and the Magistrate Sahib insists that I must be accountable for the discovery of all these robberies that have of late taken place. Sri Krishna-ji! as if I could arrest a band of Sonthal highlandmen, armed with axe and spear, with the aid of my court clerks and half-a-dozen policemen. A likely thing indeed!”

“Very likely,” rejoined Kristo. “But what better know these Englishmen? The Magistrate Sahib should come himself if he wants to rid the district of dakaits (robbers). He will find that there are Bengalees as well as hillmen among the thieves.”

“How?” said Preonath, pausing sharply as he put his foot in the stirrup. “Whom do you mean? No one in Dhupnagar?”

“Umph ! well, no, I don’t know of any one in particular,” said Kristo, stammering and reddening; “but that old scoundrel Shamsuddeen Khan who stole my land, is quite capable of stealing anything else, and his ne’er-do-well of a son has come back again from the army. Mind I don’t say that any of them are mixed up in the robberies, but I should not be at all surprised if they were.”

“It would never do to say such a thing to the Magistrate Sahib,” said Preonath, reflectively. “The Pathan is a favourite with the English, and he has eaten—yes, actually eaten, with the Magistrate Sahib, and at the very same table; so it is impossible that he could have anything to do with the robberies. And now, am I at liberty to take my departure?”

“Go, my son, and may Vishnu be your preserver!” said the Brahmin; “and forget not to countenance me in my plea with Gunga Sahai, the dog of a money-lender from Gapshapganj—would that an evil eye might light upon him!”

“Fear not, my father, I shall do all that I can,” returned Preonath in a whisper; “but Rakhaldass Sen has appealed to the Magistrate Sahib from my last decision in your favour, and if his honour should call for the record, I know not what may happen to me. Think of this, Kristo Baboo, and let it make you favourably disposed towards me in my suit for Radha.”

“I do think of it, I will think of it,” cried Kristo, hastily waving an adieu to the Dipty, and entering the house to conclude a conversation which had taken an awkward turn. Preonath looked doubtfully after him for a moment, and then applying the switch to his pony trotted off, followed by half-a-dozen ragged hangers-on of his court, who, by obsequious attendance on the Dipty, hoped some day to raise themselves from “expectants” to the position of salaried officials.

Chapter III

Radha’s Three Lovers

Where the highroad leading from Calcutta and the other towns in the Hooghly basin crosses the low ridge that forms the eastern watershed of the Gungaputra, it passes through a green mango tope, beneath which a shrine had once been reared to some of the Hindoo deities. The little temple had long ago been deserted, unless when a passing traveller took shelter from the heat beneath its white dome, or a band of belated pilgrims to the Linga of Dhupnagar passed the night there. The tope had a bad name among the country people. The priest had never prospered while the shrine was still in existence. His children had been carried off by disease; his cows had been stolen; people refused to give anything to so ill-omened a temple, which, they said, must have been built over human bones; and the priest had in course removed his idol to some more auspicious locality. The people of Dhupnagar would hurry on that they might pass the Pagoda Tope before night fell; and if they were alone they preferred to seek hospitality at some of the wayside cottages rather than place themselves within the power of the evil spirits that infested the ruins.

At noon-tide on the day after the Dewali Puja the temple had a single occupant, who had evidently ventured to pass the night in the haunted locality; for the strip of matting which had served him for a couch was still spread out upon the floor, and by it was a small bundle of clothes which he had used as a pillow. He was a young man of eighteen or nineteen, whose fair face and open regular features, no less than his sacred cord, bespoke him a high-caste Brahmin. He had just finished bathing in the ruined tank, which was half choked up with the broad green leaves of the water-lily, and the white pith-like stems of the Sola bushes. As he stood in the temple door adjusting his simple toilet, his eye followed the road as it wound down the valley—past hamlet and homestead—now lost in a patch of jungle, now skirting the green fields of some ryot’s farm. Beneath him, at a distance of two or three miles, lay Dhupnagar, its white houses standing garishly forth in the blazing sunshine; and down in the bottom of the valley the Gungaputra was flowing swiftly along—an unbroken current of liquid silver—from the white minarets of Bhutpore on the north, until hidden behind the lofty terraces of the Ghatghar Palace at the other extremity. Beyond, the view was bounded by the low range of hills called, from its five peaks, “Panch Pahar,” the skirts of which were clothed with a dense robe of jungle, while on its ridges and summits gigantic old sal trees waved like the plumes upon a warrior’s basnet. There are few fairer scenes in Lower Bengal than that which greets the traveller’s eye as he gazes from the Pagoda Tope into the valley of the Gungaputra. The wearisome flatness of the Gangetic plains has been exchanged for undulating slopes and rich meadows: a red earthy soil resting on a rocky bed, which here and there throws up a craggy peak above the surface, has taken the place of white sandy clays: the vegetation, if less luxuriant, has a hardier appearance: and the population are of a stronger and manlier cast than the lithe, slim Bengalees of the Hooghly valley.

“I must face my fate, whatever be the consequences,” said the young man, as he looked nervously in the direction of Dhupnagar, “for I can delay here no longer. It would be all the same if I waited for a lifetime, for I should never be able to nerve myself more for the task. I might just as well have gone on last night; but I felt as if I would be carrying discord and trouble into a scene of happiness and gaiety, and I could not enter Dhupnagar upon a festival night: and then when the lamps were kindled, and the village shone out in one blaze of light, and sounds of music and revelry came floating up from the valley, I felt that I was indeed an outcast. The old temple sprang up all at once into a building of flame, and a dark figure passed athwart the light, which I am sure was my father’s. My poor father! I wonder how he will bear it! He has such an easy, selfish nature, and is so worldly, that it will fall a heavy blow upon him. Perhaps he may curse me and throw me out of doors. Well, let him: I shall then, I know, be firm in the truth. It is not persecution, but silent reproach, affectionate entreaties, and tender pleadings, that can shake my resolution.”

He had now completed his toilet and taken up his little bundle, but he still lingered by the temple door as if his heart failed him and his limbs were refusing to bear him on the road.

“I saw, too, where she was last night,” he soliloquised, sadly. “When they placed these coloured lamps upon the terrace of Kristo Baboo’s verandah a slim form stood out for an instant in front of the light, and then glided away towards the zenana. It was her, for no maiden in Dhupnagar—no, nor in all Bengal—has the same sylph-like form, or moves with so much grace. But why should I think of her now, when she would turn from me as from a pariah dog? I could never have won her as I was before—far less now. Then there is my wife, Chakwi. My wife! What wife can she be to me, or what husband I to her? God’s curse upon Hindooism and its customs, for it has blighted my life, and the lives of every one connected with me. But I, for one, have broken with it, never to be reconciled. Would that I could as easily cast off its taints as I can fling from me the last of its emblems!”

As he spoke he again opened the bosom of his coat, and tearing off the poita or sacred cord, which marked his position as a Brahmin, he held it for an instant in his hands: “It was my father who blessed it and put it on me,” he said, bitterly; “little did he think that the day would come when I should thus dishonour it. But the Christian Teacher rightly says, ‘He who loveth father and mother more than me, is not worthy of me;’ and how can I expect the eternal Brahma to lead me to truth and everlasting bliss, if I allow my mind to be warped by the fleeting affections of earth? God is my father and mankind is my brother, and thus perish everything that would tend to narrow the holy relationship;” and the young enthusiast broke the sacred thread into fragments, and flung them contemptuously upon the highway, trampling them under feet as he did so.

He had now wrought himself up to a pitch of strong mental excitement, and he set out with firm step along the road, and began to walk at a rapid pace down-hill in the direction of Dhupnagar. The, road followed an easy declivity, and for some distance from the Pagoda Tope it was sheltered by clumps of tall bamboo planted by the wayside. But Krishna Chandra Gossain—for it was the priest of Dhupnagar’s son, as the reader has doubtless already conjectured—recked little of shade or sunshine, but strode resolutely on with knit brows and clenched fists. Sometimes he would pause abruptly, muttering to himself, and wildly gesticulating. Sometimes he would halt with a look of uncertainty upon his face, as he half thought of turning back, and then again he would start with redoubled speed and a more determined resolution than before. It was no wonder though Krishna shrank from the journey, for he was going to face death; ay, death—the death of a lifetime—the terrible civil death that overtakes the Hindoo whose foot strays from the strait ordinances of the Brahmins. We have our martyrs in plenty—men who have devoted themselves for their faith to the most terrible deaths; but our Western imaginations fail us when we attempt to realise the lifelong persecutions, trouble, isolation, and scorn which beset the young Hindoo who dares to put himself in opposition to the errors of his countrymen.

As Krishna came out upon the open road, his eye fell upon a rider coming up the hill, followed by five or six half-clad attendants. At a glance he recognised Preonath, the Deputy Magistrate, the man whom, of all others, he was most anxious to shun. He knew Preonath to be a pretender to the hand of Radha, and he could not help entertaining feelings of dislike and jealousy towards him. There had, moreover, been an old rivalry between the two at the Presidency College, where Preonath, as the senior student, would have taken the wall of young Krishna, an assumption which the high-caste Brahmin refused to tolerate upon the part of an oil-seller’s son. It was true that when Krishna’s liberal instincts were aroused, and when he began to see how empty a boast was the pride of caste, he had sought to repair his error by treating Preonath with the utmost courtesy and even respect; but though they outwardly remained good friends, Preonath never could forgive his fellow-student for being a better-born man than he was, far less for having vaunted himself to be so. In their studies, too, each had endeavoured to surpass the other, but their intellects were very differently constituted, and rivalry between them was almost impossible. Krishna excelled in literature and ethical philosophy—could pen a Sanskrit sloka like Kalidasa, as his pundit boasted, or turn out a very creditable essay in English. It was in mathematics and law that Preonath had distinguished himself. His acute but superficial intellect lacked the guidance of taste in his literary studies, and his mind was too selfish to seek philosophical culture simply for culture’s sake. Krishna had sought his friends among the little group of theistical students who adhere to either of the two sects of Brahmists; while cautious Preonath kept the most orthodox company in college, and never ceased to extol the blessings of caste, although he himself had none that was worth mentioning. The end of all this was, that Preonath, through the influence of his Hindoo patrons, soon procured a deputy magistracy, and was now on the highroad to official promotion; while Krishna, a disgraced and a broken man, was on his way to his father’s house, which he would in all likelihood find to be no longer a home for him.

Had it been at all possible to avoid Preonath, Krishna would have gladly done so; but the Dipty was close upon him, and there was not a single bush or a tree by the wayside that would have screened him from observation. He must face his old rival; and with this resolution the thought of his altered circumstances came bitterly into Krishna’s mind. He had just thrown away the last relic of his caste: what grounds had he now for claiming to be the superior of Preonath? Could he have gathered up and mended that cord which he had dishonoured at the Pagoda Tope a few minutes before, he would have been strongly tempted to do so. But now the deed was done, and he must abide by the consequences, whatever they might be.

“What! Krishna Chandra here?” cried the Dipty in amazement, as he perceived him. “How is this? We had not expected to see you before March.” And Preonath got off his pony and greeted his old fellow-student with a great show of cordiality.

“Well, Preonath Baboo, I am glad to meet you,” said Krishna, somewhat coldly. “You seem to have grown quite a great man in the district; I suppose I ought hardly to address my old class-fellow without ‘your honouring’ and ‘my lording’ him, now that he has become a great official.”

“Not so great yet that he can receive adulation from his old friend and the son of Ramanath Gossain. But tell me, Krishna, how comes it that you are away from college just now? Is all well with you? I know your friends in Dhupnagar are in health, for I saw your father last night before the festival.”

“Yes, yes—all is right; I have come home upon some private business,” responded Krishna, hurriedly; “and as my time may be short, you will excuse me, Preonath, if I do not delay longer with you. I am very anxious to see my father.”

“Of course, of course,” said. Preonath; “but you will come and see me before you return to Calcutta. I am very lonely at Gapshapganj among stupid old Bengalees, who are as ignorant as their own bullocks, and positive as pigs. Will you not come and spend a few days with me at my house? You are not one who troubles himself about his caste, or I should not have dared to ask you to be the guest of a poor Kyasth;” and as the Dipty said this he darted a keen glance towards Krishna, as if he would read in his looks what he wanted to learn.

“No, certainly not; nothing would give me more pleasure,” said Krishna, speaking with incoherent utterance. “If I can so arrange it, I shall pay you a visit before I go back to college—that is, if I do go back, for really my mind is at present very unsettled.”

“Just so,” said Preonath, drily, as he looked doubtfully at the other. “Well, at all events your future does not depend upon your taking a degree, as mine did. Pious Hindoos will not tie the corners of their cummerbunds (waist-cloths, purses) any tighter because the priest of Dhupnagar is not a B.A. of the University.”

“If a man escape the shafts of Yama, the god of death, he will not die,” answered Krishna, shaking his head sadly. “You will never see me priest of Dhupnagar, Preonath, while sun and moon endure; at least not the priest of Siva’s Linga. And now, farewell;” and with a wave of the hand to the Dipty, he walked rapidly down the hill to avoid further questioning.

“What in the thousand names of Vishnu is the matter now?” said the Dipty to himself as he remounted his pony. “What on earth can he be doing here when the college examinations are just beginning? He can’t have been expelled from the Presidency College for misconduct. No, it’s not that; he was always too shy and quiet—annoyingly quiet—for that. It is something about religion that is at the bottom of it. I should not wonder, now, if he had got up another beef-steak party as they did in the wild old days, for when I left college he was always sneering and scoffing at Hindooism. He can’t have become a Christian. No, that would be too good to be real.”

Thus the Dipty continued to muse as he rode along the road. He knew that there was something wrong with Krishna, and he was already plotting how he might turn the accident, whatever it might be, to his own advantage. He was perfectly well aware of Krishna’s passion for Kristo Baboo’s daughter, for he had often seen the wild impassioned verses in which the young student was wont to celebrate the beauties of Radha, and which were looked upon by their class-fellows as masterpieces of Bengalee poetry. And if, as he did not doubt was the case, Krishna had done something to compromise himself with the orthodox party, he would then at least have one dangerous rival removed from the field. “I would give a lota (cup) of silver to the temple of Tarakeshwar, that this young fool had turned Christian,” he said, as he looked piously up towards the sky.

Hardly had he breathed his vow when his eye fell upon the shreds of Krishna’s cord as they lay scattered upon the road before him. “What is that?” the Dipty asked, as he pointed with his riding-switch towards the fragments. Four of the attendants rushed forward, knocking their heads against each other in their eagerness to pick them up. “Let me look at them,” he continued, holding out his hand. The first glance confirmed his suspicion. “Sri-Narayan-ji” he muttered; “the prayer of the pious hath its answer. It is — yes, it is a Brahmin’s poita, and it is Krishna Chandra that has offered this insult to the sacred symbol. The temple of Tarakeshwar shall have its lota, if I should never earn another rupee in the world. What an ass, and father of an ass, is he, thus to throw away his high privileges!”

“I shall keep this,” said the Dipty to himself, as he carefully rolled up the broken cord; “it is right that the Brahmins of the district should know how religion is dishonoured, and by a priest’s son too. Jaddoo,” he continued, turning to one of his followers, “stand apart here and hearken. They say that you have brains, Jaddoo, and if you will use them now in my service it may well be to your advantage. You saw young Krishna Baboo pass us on the road? Well, I am told upon good authority that he has become an unbeliever, and an eater of beef and other abominations; and it is right that the good folks of Dhupnagar should be cautioned against so dangerous a character, lest they should suffer pollution in his society. Now, Jaddoo, you will go into the bazaar, and when they ask you for news, you will say that you have heard such things of the young Krishna Baboo, but that you do not think them true. You will tell them that you have heard of his eating and drinking with English and other unclean races; that he despises the gods, and follows a new religion; and that he has come back to Dhupnagar to destroy the caste and creed of everybody in it. You will tell them all this, and anything similar that may occur to you—but only as hearsay, mind; and do not let my name pass your lips, as you value my favour. You understand, do you not? Very well, you may return now, and if you manage this business properly, I shall soon require an extra chaprassi about the court. And stay, Jaddoo—do not go the way of Kristo Baboo’s with your gossip; they will hear of it without you.”

“It will be better that the Baboo should not see that I have any interest in running down Krishna,” said he to himself; “but I shall take care to let them hear of it through another channel.”

The Dipty’s meditations were here interrupted by a violent collision, which sent both him and his little pony spinning to the wayside, where they fell in a heap, the one rolling over the other, until they settled down into the ditch, the Dipty being undermost. His ragged staff set up a howl of affected concern, and rushed to extricate him; while the cause of the accident, a young man in a semi-military attire, mounted upon a bony Waler mare, reined up his charger and began to anathematise the sufferer.

“May the Prophet confound thee, thou son of a burnt father!” cried the new-comer, speaking loudly in Hindustani, with a north-country accent, “that ridest along the highway like a bag propped upon the back of a mule. Say, thou brother of a wanton sister, what wouldst thou have done had my mare injured her knees against thee and thy wretched tat there? By the tomb of Shah Safi, I had rather thy neck had been broken!”

The speaker, a smart young Mussulman of twenty-two or twenty-three years of age, handled his riding-whip as if little would induce him to lay it across the Dipty’s shoulders. He was dressed in a dust-coloured tunic, ornamented with gold embroidery about the sleeves and collar, and he wore yellow leather gaiters and long steel spurs. Round his close-fitting velvet cap were wound two or three folds of a pagri, or scarf of green silk—the favourite colour of the Prophet—which, ending in embroidered fringes, hung gracefully over his shoulders. He rode with the lightness and ease of a Sikh or Mahratta horseman, and managed his charger with the dexterity and grace of a trooper of the Irregular Cavalry.

By this time the Dipty had scrambled to his feet with the assistance of his orderlies, and he stood with lowering brows, rubbing his aching sides, but taking care to keep his attendants well between him and the horseman.

“I do not know who you are, sir, and it strikes me you do not know very well who I am, else you had not ventured upon this insult,” said Preonath, slowly. “I am Deputy Magistrate and Deputy Collector of the subdivision; and the Bengal Regulations, as contained in Sutherland’s edition, lay down respecting the causing of hurt or obstruction to wayfarers “

“May Shaitan choke thee, O son of the one-eyed and doomed to perdition! what have I to do with thy Bengal Regulations? Where is it written that a magistrate shall ride along the highway with his head hanging down upon his breast, and his body swaying to and fro like the head of the leading camel of a kafila (caravan) for the Faithful to peril themselves upon? Why didst thou not take to the roadside when thou sawest me ride up?”

“Who are you that I should give place to you?” demanded the Dipty, though in a less confident tone, for he was conscious that his own inattention was in some measure to blame for the accident. “I have yet to learn that a Deputy Magistrate riding upon duty through his own district, must give place to any rude blusterer that sets himself to create a disturbance upon the highroad. You shall answer for this, sir.”

“By the sword of the Prophet, and that I shall, in this very spot too!” ejaculated the imperious Mussulman as he made his horse curvet towards the Dipty, while he raised his whip high above his head to strike the terrified official. But the Dipty was too true a Bengalee to wait the descent of the blow, and he took to his heels, with all his followers before him. A low wall of ruined masonry that had once marked the pomarium of the deserted pagoda, stood close by, and towards this the Dipty retreated. When he had succeeded in scrambling up to the top, his courage revived a little, and he again addressed the Muhammadan who sat upon horseback in the middle of the road watching with a scornful smile the retreat of the Bengalees.

“It is not here that you can account for this conduct, sir,” cried the Dipty, in desperation. “There is justice in the Englishman’s court for the poor Hindoo as well as for the Muhammadan; and if you are Shamsuddeen Khan’s, the Subadar’s, son, my officials will know where to bring you a summons. There is not only the original ground of offence, the injuries caused to my person and to my horse, but there is now superadded language and gestures calculated to provoke a breach of the peace, the punishment for which, made and provided for in the Indian Penal Code, Currie’s edition——”

“I should not like to hear the language calculated to provoke a Bengalee to break the peace,” said the stranger, with a derisive laugh; “for it must be indeed more awful than the words engraven upon the seal of Suleiman, the son of Duoud, the mention of which makes all the powers of evil to quake. But hearken, Baboo; thou hast thyself disproved the accusation, for instead of provoking thee to a breach of the peace, my language provoked thee to run away. What says the Penal Code of that? and what will the English Magistrate Sahib say to the courage of his Bengalee Deputy, when thy charge comes up before him?”

Preonath bit his lip and was silent, for he knew how well founded was the Mussulman’s taunt. Mr Eversley, the Collector of the district, was a civilian of the old Anglo-Indian school, who rated his native subordinates very cheaply, and who was never ill pleased when anything occurred to expose them to ridicule. The stranger marked the impression that he had made, and continued:—

“Go home, oh thou! and thank thy abominable gods—which may the Prophet speedily exterminate—that thy bones are whole; for if Pearl’s knees had been as much as grazed by thy carelessness, it would have been many a day before thou hadst been able to take thy seat in cutcherry again. And now again begone, lest I give you some real cause to sue for damages. Take my advice and walk on foot in future, as every Bengalee should do, for horses were made for men and for your masters. Again be off, O infidel! and may the Prophet convert thee to the true faith, if he should think a dog like thee worth his pains.”

With this parting benediction the haughty youth rode off, turning now and then to cast a threatening glance backwards at his Hindoo opponents. As the waving green turban of the Mussulman began to disappear down the slopes, the Dipty’s courage revived, and he cursed the stranger by as many of his three millions of gods as he could readily remember in his agitation. When his pony had been caught, and the Dipty assisted to the saddle, he proceeded to quote whole pages from the Penal Code and High Court Circulars, illustrative of the injuries that had been sustained by his person and feelings: he conjured his attendants to treasure up the minutest particulars of the encounter; he made a formal minute of the occurrence in his pocket-book; and then he rode angrily homewards, racking his brains for a convenient means of revenging himself upon his enemy. Little cared Afzul Khan for the Dipty’s threats as he descended the slope towards Dhupnagar at a hand-gallop. He soon passed Jaddoo, who had started off to fulfil his master’s orders in the village, as soon as he saw that the altercation was not unlikely to end in blows, and who was now trotting quickly along the road, his mind filled with visions of his future greatness, when once he should become a belted messenger in the Dipty’s court. As Afzul slackened his rein at the end of the village, he passed a weary-looking wayfarer who stood half concealed by the shade of a banian-tree, as if doubtful whether he should venture into Dhupnagar. It was Krishna who was bracing up his nerves for the trial that awaited him.

Chapter IV

Father and Son

Old Ramanath Gossain had again seated himself by the shady door of his temple, and beside him still sat Three Shells, the money-lender. The priest had returned from breakfast before the end of the mahajan’s protracted devotions, and the two resumed their gossip. Ramanath dearly loved to discuss the affairs of his neighbours. It was almost his whole occupation to sit by the temple door, hot weather and cold, and give and receive the news of the village. There was not a soul in Dhupnagar with whose family affairs Ramanath was not intimately acquainted. He could tell the exact number of wives in each man’s family, could call all the children by their proper names, and could calculate to a rupee the annual income and expenditure of every one around him. But with all his love for tattle Ramanath was no slanderer. It was rather because in his easy, good-natured way he took a fatherly interest in the villagers’ wellbeing that he loved to discuss their domestic concerns. Nothing pleased him so much, not even a donation to the shrine, as when a neighbour came to ask his advice; and though his experience of the world was very limited, his natural shrewdness made him a safe and cautious counsellor. But there was one subject that Ramanath carefully excluded from conversation, and that was the domestic relations of his son and daughter. He was well aware that Krishna’s aversion for his wife was the talk of Dhupnagar, and that many orthodox Hindoos were disposed to blame himself for not stretching his paternal authority to hasten on the consummation of the marriage. But it was all for the best that Ramanath had acted, for he well knew that nothing would be so likely to confirm Krishna’s aversion for his bride as any show of paternal coercion. And so, although he received with great complacency all the praises that Three Shells could lavish upon his son’s learning and high character, he promptly repressed any remarks that would tend to turn the conversation towards Krishna and Chakwi’s ill-assorted union.

But there was no lack of free topics. There was the young Rajah of Ghatghar, who, while yet a ward of Government on an allowance of five hundred rupees a month, had spent five thousand, and had now got to the end of his father’s savings before he had been full five years in possession. His father—peace be with him—who was such a miser that he would have eaten the mangoes and sold the stones, never thought that his money would come to an end in this fashion. The Rajah kept horses to run races with the Englishmen; and madams came from Calcutta and the up-country towns who would soon help him to eat up the Ghatghar property. His Dewan (agent), too, was making a pretty penny off his master’s improvidence; people said that he had already acquired estates of his own in the Backergunge district. “And the ill wind from Ghatghar may blow good to somebody else, eh, Three Shells?” and Three Shells meekly owned that he had had the great honour of ministering to the Ghatghar Rajah’s present necessities. Then the Subadar’s wild young son, Afzul Khan, was come back again to the village. Folks said that he had shown himself to be bold as a tiger while the English were fighting in Bhootan with the square-faced Buddhists, but that he would not behave himself in cantonments when the war was over, nor be submissive to the Sahibs. It was a pity for his father, who was a respectable man—that is, for a Muhammadan and a kine-killer. It was not likely that the young fellow would be long in the village before he played some mischief. Had he not attempted to carry off Belputtee the ryot of Milkiganj’s daughter before he went away to the army; and when the ryot’s servants had driven him off with clubs, had not the wanton slipped away next night of her own accord and abode in the Mussulman’s zenana. It was a great scandal; and though the Subadar had given the ryot two hundred rupees to take back his daughter, silver will not lacquer disgrace. Might the gods defend all virtuous women who had not a husband’s protection, against him and the like of him. Here Ramanath shifted uneasily as conscious that Three Shells’ petition was directed more at his family than to the gods. Then these night robberies were getting more and more common. What an awakening that was for poor Peary Lall, the landholder of Kadimkote on the other side of the Gungaputra, to be roused by the blaze of his own roofs, and to find half-a-score of armed dakaits ransacking his house and untying his cattle! Resistance! How could Bengalees resist hill-men armed with sword and spear and the terrible Sonthal axe? The policemen came next day, but they were afraid to venture beyond the passes of Panch Pahar; and the Superintendent Sahib had said that the thieves did not belong to his district, and that all he could do was to report them to Government. But it would be long before the Government thought of compensating poor Peary Lall for his eight cows and his wives’ jewels worth five hundred rupees.

“Take care, friend Three Shells,” remarked Ramanath, drily, “that they do not call in some night to help you to sum up your accounts. A wealthy mahajan like you would be better worth fleecing than a poor zemindar who has nothing but what he can scrape off the soil.”

Three Shells smirked and said that he rested in safety under the protection of the gods and the Linga of Dhupnagar; what little money he had was all in the hands of clients; and though they searched his house from top to bottom, the dakaits would not find as much silver as would make a nose-ring for a three-year-old child.

While the two sat in the shade of the temple conversing in this fashion, they were startled by a loud exclamation from the porter, who threw down his hookha in astonishment, and sprang to his feet to greet his young master as Krishna entered the courtyard. Ramanath sat in speechless amazement at the unexpected sight, and rubbed his eyes to convince himself that he was not dreaming. Krishna’s haggard aspect and jaded appearance at once informed him that something was seriously wrong. His first impulse was to get rid of his companion, for he noticed that Three Shells’ little red eyes were like to start out of their sockets with curiosity, and that he was looking from the one to the other for an explanation. But after the first shock of surprise was over, Ramanath’s countenance told no tale, and he welcomed his son with dignified and affectionate gravity. Raising his clasped hands to his brow, and bending his head almost to the ground, Krishna stood before his father waiting for his blessing.

“You have come somewhat before you were expected, but not sooner than you are welcome, my son,” said the priest, placing his hand fondly upon the young man’s head. “You are tired with your journey and the heat; speak not a word until you have come into the house and rested yourself. Peace be with you, good Three Shells,” and taking his son by the arm to conceal his own trembling gait, Ramanath descended the steps of the temple and moved off in the direction of his dwelling.

But Three Shells was not to be thrown off thus easily. “Let me welcome you again to Dhupnagar, Krishna Baboo,” he said, following them closely with hands respectfully clasped and head bent eagerly forward, fawning upon the young man like a cringing spaniel. “May I hope that your learning and virtues will shed light upon the village for some length of time? Your propitious name has made Dhupnagar famous among Calcutta pundits. I pray that all may be well when you come among us thus suddenly.”

“Enough, Three Shells,” cried the priest, impatiently; “my son is tired, and cannot stand chattering here with you. Go in peace. Hai Modhoo! attend this worthy mahajan, Tin Cowry Baboo, to the gate;” and away went the priest with his son, leaving Three Shells to pocket the rebuff under a profusion of low bows and salaams.

“Commend me to such courtesy,” muttered the money-lender angrily; “a man may learn good manners that has never been to Delhi. But go thy ways, Ramanath Gossain; sorrow has set his foot on your threshold this morning, else may I never draw a pice of interest again. It is not for good that that young fellow comes here to-day in this fashion. Modhoo, my good friend, Modhoo.”

“Baboo,” answered Modhoo, sententiously, as he came slowly up to the speaker, for he did not like the mahajan, who was stingy in his largesses to the temple attendants.

“That gate of yours was very brilliantly lighted last night, Modhoo,” said Three Shells, affably; “it was quite an ornament to the village. You are a good man, Modhoo, and you will get a great reward some day for your services to the shrine.”

“Umph! some day,” said Modhoo, drily, as if he would have preferred a less indefinite time of settlement. “One would need a reward, for it is poor work, if all respectable Baboos did not give me a rupee apiece when they come to the temple.”

“Very true, my good Modhoo, and that reminds me of my duty,” said the mahajan, blandly, taking a rupee from his bag and putting it into the man’s outstretched palm. “How glad I am to see your young master again! He has come home quite unexpectedly, has he not?”

“We did not look for him just quite so soon,” said Modhoo, with an appearance of reserve.

“Not quite so soon,” re-echoed the mahajan; “but he was expected, then, about this time? It is strange that Ramanath Baboo did not mention it. It will be private business that has brought young Krishna home, then?”

“Very private,” said Modhoo, with a mysterious shake of the head.

“Very private, you say. It occurs to me just now, Modhoo, that I forgot to notice you last time I was at the temple. However, it is not too late yet, and here is another rupee for you. And does this private business that you speak of relate to your young mistress?”

“I have not heard that it relates to my young mistress,” said Modhoo, pointedly, as if there were some great secret in his possession, which was only to be wormed out of him piecemeal.

““What in the name of Siva can it be then?” said the mahajan to himself. “Good Modhoo,” he added aloud, “I have been blind not to have noticed your obliging manners before this time. Here is another rupee to you; we must be friends after this. And now, Modhoo, tell me truly what is the cause of Krishna Baboo’s coming home?”

“I know no more about it than you do,” answered Modhoo, curtly.

“No more about it than I do,” re-echoed Three Shells, angrily; “why then, you rascal, did you tell me that it was very private business?”

“Just because I did not know anything about it,” said Modhoo, sturdily; “if it had not been very private I should have been able to tell you what it was.”

Muttering a curse upon his grinning interlocutor, the mahajan shuffled away impatiently from the temple, determined to find some explanation of the mystery in the bazaar. “Three rupees thrown into the water,” he growled. “I might have known that if there was any secret it would not have been intrusted to that churlish slave. But it will be strange if I do not get an inkling of it from somewhere before long.”

Not a word passed between Ramanath and his son as they crossed the temple courtyard and entered the little wicket that admitted them into the compound of the priest’s house. Ramanath’s dwelling was a large brick building, in the usual quadrangular form of Hindoo houses. The Gossain family had been much more numerous at the time of its erection than Ramanath’s modest household, which now occupied only a small corner of the house. The zenana, or female apartments, took up a whole wing of the upper floor, and the only other habitable apartments were the boita khana, or sitting-room, where the priest received visitors of distinction, and the rooms which had been set apart as the study and bedchamber of the priest’s son. The latter were furnished in a semi-European style, with some pretensions to taste and neatness, and they contained a fair collection of popular English works, which Krishna had picked up among the book-stalls of China Bazaar. These rooms were generally shut up during the young man’s absence; for, except an occasional glance at an odd number of the ‘Shome Prokash,’ which his son would send him from Calcutta, the priest never read anything but Puranic books of devotion; and the ladies of the household did not know even their letters. Before Krishna had conceived a fixed aversion to his wife, he had dreamed of teaching her all that he himself knew, and of making her a marvel of learning among her countrywomen. But though Chakwi would have been delighted by such a mark of her husband’s regard, and would have exerted her utmost to please him, Krishna had never taken the pains to teach her anything. Nevertheless, the poor girl kept good watch over her husband’s treasures. No servant was allowed to enter Krishna’s room except when she herself was present. She saw that each book was carefully wiped and replaced in its proper order; that they were put forth into the sun in the damp, rainy season, when white mould gathered about the precious volumes; and that fresh leaves of the nim tree were scattered over the bookcase to repel the white ants, the Indian bibliopole’s greatest enemies. It was out of pure devotion to her husband that Chakwi undertook this task, for she herself bore no goodwill to the volumes which she had come to connect with Krishna’s heretical leanings and neglect of herself. Sometimes as Chakwi lifted a book, she would shudder to think that it might perhaps contain some blasphemous writings against the gods; might, indeed, be one of those wicked books that the Padre Sahibs wrote to beguile men into the religion of the white Christ. There were books, too, with pictures of English ladies, at which Chakwi would look with curiosity not unmingled with awe; for it seemed to her a terrible thing that women should not only dress themselves in such a monstrous costume, but should be represented as unblushingly walking arm-in-arm with their husbands before the eyes of all the public. Chakwi had grave doubts about the moral tendency of books that were illustrated in such a fashion. But whatever they might be they were her husband’s, and that was enough for Chakwi.

It was to these rooms that the priest now led Krishna. Not a word passed between them until they had entered, and the priest sat down faintly upon a couch. Krishna threw himself upon his knees before him, and would have embraced his feet, but Ramanath took both his son’s hands in his own, and held them tightly in his nervous grasp. The young man buried his head in his father’s lap and sobbed aloud, and the priest sat with ashy face and quivering lips, his eyelids closed tightly, as if he would fain shut out the scene before him. It was a moment of bitter suspense, and each shrank from being the first to begin the dread explanation.

At last Ramanath broke the silence. “Krishna, my son,” he said, gently passing his hand over the young man’s thick black curls, “tell me what evil has befallen you, for I can see plainly that something serious has happened. Let me know the worst, for I think I can bear it now, whatever it is.”

A stifled sob was Krishna’s only rejoinder. “Courage, my son,” said the priest; “in whom can you confide, if not in your father? You are all my happiness in this world—my hope of salvation in the next; say what it is, and we will bear the sorrow together.”

“It is that thought which maddens me,” cried Krishna, wildly. “I can bear my lot without a murmur; but what have you done, dearest father, that grief should thus be brought to your door? My father, did I say? You are my father no longer, nor am I your son. I have discarded my faith and my caste, and with them all my future prospects in life, all my present position in society. I have now nothing but the possession of that truth which I have sacrificed so much to obtain, and the hope of that eternal reward which the one God will give to him who denies himself for His service.”

The priest heaved a deep sigh, it might be of relief, or it might be of anguish at the announcement. “Have you turned Christian?” he asked, with a groan.

“No,” said Krishna, “I am of the congregation of God. We hold that the one God is our Father, and that the human race is one vast family of brothers and sisters. We protest against the degradation of the Eternal by idolatry, and the usurpation of sacred attributes by erring creatures. The whole system of caste is one great pernicious lie, feigned to give the Brahmins sovereignty over their fellows, and no one may follow the God of truth while he lends himself to the maintenance of such a falsehood. So I have renounced my caste; would, father, that you could view my conduct in a true light! Would that your eyes were opened to a sight of the truth!”

But to this appeal the priest made no response. “Do you follow Debendronath Baboo?” he asked, in a calmer tone.

“I do not,” said Krishna; “the Adi Somaj seeks to temporise with darkness, to free the mental faculties while they fetter man’s social relations with all the old chains of Hindooism, and to substitute for Nature’s simple ritual the affected liturgy of the Vedas. I have cast in my lot with the Progressive Brahmists.”

“Do the Calcutta Brahmins know of your perversion?” was the father’s next question.

“I myself proclaimed it to them,” said Krishna, rising to his feet with an air of pride. “I threw down my gage to the foremost pundits of the Sanskrit College, and challenged them to prove the inspiration of the Hindoo Shastras, offering to make a public recantation of my opinions if they could convince me by their arguments. But none of them came forward, and the Brahmins ordered all the caste students in the college to expel me from their society. Then it was that I publicly freed myself from the trammels of Hindooism, and joined the little band of reformers that are so nobly devoting themselves to the regeneration of our country. My guardian, Poorno Baboo, turned me out of his house, and I had no choice left but to come and tell you what I had done, and to shape my future career by your decision. O father,” added he, again throwing himself upon his knees before the old man, “I cannot say forgive me, for my conscience tells me that I have chosen the right part; but think kindly of what I have done. You know how I love you, my father, and consider what a price I shall pay for my principles if I forfeit your affection.”

“Krishna,” said the old man, solemnly, “it would have been lighter for me to have stood by your funeral pyre on the banks of the Gungaputra, and to have committed your ashes to the bosom of the sacred stream, than to hear from your own lips that you have forsaken the faith of your fathers. O gods! that my son should be the first to cast dishonour upon the Gossains of Dhupnagar.”

“I have done no dishonour to our name,” cried Krishna, starting up indignantly: “I have taken a step of which the purest Brahmins in Bengal might well be proud. Who says that it is a dishonourable thing to forsake all for the service of God? But forgive me, my father,” he added; “I am indeed forgetting myself. I who have to bear the world’s reproaches, need not chafe at the words of a parent.”

“You have forfeited all your hereditary advantages,” said the priest; “you have renounced your caste, and your position among the honoured of your countrymen; you have disqualified yourself for following the profession of your fathers, for inheriting the family possessions; you have thrown away rank, and affluence, and the prospect of future wealth: tell me now, son Krishna, what have you got in return for these sacrifices?”

“The approbation of my own conscience, and a knowledge of the truth,” said Krishna, boldly; “compared with which, all the riches of Calcutta are but as so much dirty dross.”

“Conscience!” echoed the priest, testily; “will conscience fill your belly when I am dead and the temple gone to strangers, and you are reduced to shift for a living? Knowledge of the truth! ay, feed upon that. The truth of to-day will be the truth of to-morrow—that is, if your nerves and senses remain unchanged—won’t it? A little addition to the nervous current, a slight disturbance of the brain’s equilibrium, and what becomes of the truth then? The truth is now falsehood, and something else is truth, and will continue so just as long as your stomach keeps its present tone. Have not you yourself told me so? Is it not thus that a plain Hindoo like me reads the lessons of your English masters? Truly it is a superlative thing this truth of yours, that you should make yourself a beggar, and plunge your family into mourning because of it.”

Krishna made no answer, for he knew enough of his father’s disposition to be aware that the priest’s feelings were most easily relieved by sarcasm. Like many good-natured men, Ramanath was irritable enough at trifles; but when a blow of any magnitude fell upon him, he braced himself up manfully to bear his troubles. His mind had already grasped the worst possible consequences of Krishna’s imprudence, and he was now seeking for some means of obviating them. There still remained a gleam of hope. In the solitude of Dhupnagar, away from all the heretical influences of the Calcutta Brahmists, who could say what changes might not come over his son? Hindooism had, too, among its resources, pleasures of which the young man knew nothing; and the best Brahmins in all ages had not scrupled to employ voluptuous allurements to restrain the wavering in the ways of religion. Though pure in life himself, and ashamed of the excesses of his countrymen, Ramanath felt at that moment as if he would willingly sacrifice his son’s morals to save him from apostasy. Then there was another expedient that might be tried, and the priest almost started from his seat as the idea flashed across his mind. Krishna was still madly in love with Kristo Baboo’s daughter, and as against his passion for her, his new opinions would, the priest thought, count for little. Yes, that was a certain remedy. Much as he disliked polygamy, he would willingly promote a marriage with Radha as the price of his son’s recantation. There was, to be sure, poor Chakwi: it would be a heavy grief to the girl to see another come between her and the coveted affection of her husband. But hundreds of thousands of Hindoo wives had patiently to put up with the same; and Ramanath, much as he loved his daughter-in-law, unhesitatingly resolved that the peace of the family would be cheaply purchased at the expense of Chakwi’s happiness.

“You have acted in this matter with the hot-headedness of youth,” said the priest at last, “and time and reflection may bring you to a better way of thinking. Surely it is not the son that I have begotten that would doom my old age to misery. Consider, Krishna, how much my future weal depends upon my having a son to perform my funeral rites. You will think of this, and think deeply, before you designedly put your father’s salvation in peril.”

“O father,” cried Krishna, “would that you could see how vain are the rites you mention, and how contemptible such oblations must be in the eyes of the Eternal! There is a purer and more spiritual life among the poor Theists than any that you have ever experienced in this idol-tainted town.”

“Krishna,” said the priest, sternly, “you must not speak thus to me, the bond-servant of the dread Siva. I have ever allowed you too much licence in religious matters, and this is the sad result of my laxity. We will talk no more of this at present. Avoid making any parade of your new faith, lest sooner than you can anticipate, the time may come when you would wish your acts undone and your words unsaid.”

“Nay,” said Krishna, “I must go out into the world and proclaim to my benighted countrymen their deliverance from idolatry and the tyranny of caste. Accursed be the man that would lie idle while such a glorious work is waiting to be achieved.”

“You quit not this house,” said Ramanath, firmly, “if my paternal authority is to have any weight with you. What call have you to unsettle men’s beliefs, when you have nothing certain to offer them instead? Is it for the sake of establishing a single abstract doctrine, the individuality of the Supreme, which lies at the very root of our own religion, though time and men’s fancies may have clothed it with various disguises? It seems to me that you wish to roll back the religious progress of two thousand years, and to reduce us to the simple worship of our Aryan ancestors, who could only discern in the elements and the agencies of Nature the ministries of an unknown deity. Remain here, and seek a surer faith for yourself before you assail other people’s.”

“How can I remain here?” said Krishna, as he bent his head sadly: “you forget, my father, that I am an outcast, and may not stay here without defiling the household. I have done you harm enough already, without making your home a scandal among your caste-fellows.”

“Krishna” said the old man, sadly, “though you came to me with your hands red from the blood of a Brahmin, you would still be my son, and my roof would shelter you so long as I was beneath it. Here you may abide in comfort and quietness. These rooms are yours, and Bechoo, who has no caste to break, will gladly cook for you and be your attendant: with your advanced views you will not scruple to take food from his hands; and here you will remain, my son, until you again awake to a proper sense of your privileges as a member of our holy thrice-born order. O Krishna! your father will have a heavy heart until that happy day arrives.”

The concluding words quite unmanned Krishna, whose enthusiasm was as easily quenched by kindness as it was kindled by opposition. He sank down upon the couch as the old priest rose from it, and burying his face among the cushions, lay there for a long time in an agony of tears and prayer. Ramanath carefully shut the doors of his son’s apartments, and went slowly across the courtyard in the direction of the temple. There, in his favourite seat under the porch, the priest could best meditate upon what was to be done. The afternoon was well advanced, and the sun was fast declining towards the woody peaks of Panch Pahar. Calling to Modhoo to close the temple gate for the day, Ramanath sat himself down and tried to draw consolation and counsel from his hookha. The hookha was emptied and filled and emptied again that afternoon. The sun went down behind Panch Pahar: the ruddy crimson skies in the west changed first to a pale red and then to a dusky umber, dark as the giant outline of the trees that stood out in colossal relief upon the crest of the hills. Darkness set in, except where here and there a death-pyre lit up the waters of the Gungaputra, or the myriads of fire-flies illumined the forest. A cool breeze came sweeping up the valley, stirring the peepul leaves above the priest’s head to a ghostly fitful shiver. The jackals began to peep from their covers; the pariah dogs came boldly into the compound snuffing for garbage; the night settled down, but still Ramanath sat and smoked by the temple door. It was the bitterest pipe that ever he had smoked.

Chapter V

The Council of Five

Jaddoo, the Dipty’s “expectant,” did his work well. Coming into the village in a careless saunter, he lounged about from shop to shop, and from house to house, giving and receiving the news of the day, casually mentioning always that he had met Krishna, the priest’s son, on the highway, and had heard a current report that the young man had turned a Christian, and a beef-eater. This astounding intelligence speedily took wing and flew over the town; and long before Jaddoo reached the further end of the bazaar, he was gratified by meeting his own story so exaggerated and coloured, that he, the author, might have been pardoned for disowning it. Shama Churn, the grain-seller, confidently asserted that Krishna had not only eaten beef, and drunk spirits in the company of English Sahibs, but that he was in the habit of frequenting European nâtches (balls), and of dancing like a wanton or an infamous play-actor. Nitye, the village kobiraj or quack doctor, who had not forgiven Krishna for administering quinine to the fever-stricken peasants, two years ago come the rains, had an inkling of the business which brought the young man to Dhupnagar:—it was nothing more or less than a conspiracy to exterminate caste among the townsmen by means of European medicines, into which the dust of human bones and other abominations had been covertly introduced; and if any one was so irreligious as to accept anything from Krishna’s hands after this warning, his blood was on his own head and not on his, Nitye, the kobiraj’s. Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, had heard from one who ought to know, that the temple of the Linga was about to be turned into a Christian church, and he could even lay his thumb upon the exact spot where the butching-house—without which, as they were all well aware, no Christian church could exist—was straightway to be erected. And Three Shells, the money-lender, who on entering the bazaar had greedily caught up the news, soon had his little mite of gossip to contribute. He had heard a report that Krishna’s wife was forthwith to be divorced, and an offer of marriage made to Kristo Baboo’s daughter; and that failing the maiden and her father consenting to a Christian marriage, as was very likely, the young man was to bring home a fine European madam from Wellesley Street, or the Bow Bazaar. He, Three Shells, had heard, but could not believe, such a calumny: it was too profligate, too atrocious a deed to be done in a godly town like Dhupnagar; but a score of voices instantly protested upon their personal knowledge that Krishna was capable of even worse wickedness than that.

By sunset the whole village was in an uproar. Folks gathered in knots about the bazaar, or squatted upon the door-steps, discussing the scandal with their neighbours over the way. Nothing was to be heard but abuse of Krishna, and of his father who had exposed the young man to the contaminations of Calcutta. Everybody agreed that nothing of such importance had occurred in the district since the Chota Lord Sahib (Lieutenant-Governor) had camped a night in the village on his way to the Sonthal Pergunnahs, the year of the rotten mangoes. Many put on their best chaddars, and went with an offering to the temple in hopes of hearing further intelligence; but the gate was shut, and Modhoo, who sat before it imperturbably smoking his hookha, gave all comers stiffly to understand that he had no orders to admit them. All attempts to elicit information from the surly porter failed; and in the evening numerous little groups had assembled upon the village green, to talk over the awful calamity that had befallen Dhupnagar, and to peer through the gaps in the bamboo hedge to see if they could glean anything of what was going on in the temple; but nothing was to be seen but the old priest sitting smoking under the porch.

In a separate corner of the green, under the shade of the babul trees (acacias), which a former magistrate of the Gungaputra had planted for the benefit of the town, the high-caste Brahmins held a solemn conclave. There were old Gangooly, the village headman; Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster; Prosunno, the mookhtyear or lawyer; Shama Churn, the grain-dealer; and Protap, the accountant and letter-writer. Three Shells had properly no vote in the matter, as his own caste was, to say the least, involved in doubt; but the Brahmins were his bondsmen, and could not well exclude him from their counsels. The mahajan went to work in his own wily fashion; he professed to lament the calamity that had befallen his friend Ramanath, and while he enlarged upon the judgments which would surely overtake the village if Krishna’s impiety were altogether condoned, he entreated the Brahmins to deal leniently with the young man for his father’s sake. The Brahmins did not very well know what to do. If the offender had been a poor man, with only a cow and a bigah of land, they would have made short work with him; but Ramanath was one of the heads of the village, of a family that had been honoured in the place for many generations, and he was more wealthy than even Three Shells himself. But most of the Brahmins were more or less at Three Shells’ mercy, and rather than displease him, they were prepared to proceed to the utmost extremities against their caste-fellows.

“In the Council of Five is the voice of God,” said old Gangooly, the village headman; “my friends, let us not proceed rashly in this matter. We must summon the Brahmins and deliberate what is to be done. The gods forbid that we should needlessly lend our ears to evil rumours of a brother. The words of a backbiter are like the stream of the Gungaputra, they gather as they go.”

“Who talks of evil rumours and backbiters?” cried Prosunno, the lawyer, who was the money-lender’s factotum, and felt bound to display his zeal when his master’s testimony was assailed; “you surely do not say that worthy Three Shells would come to us with words of falsehood in his mouth. No one is so blind as he who wilfully shuts his eyes. Did not half-a-score of respectable in-dwellers see the young man as he slunk through the back lanes of the village towards his father’s house? And has not this trustworthy follower of the Dipty Baboo” (here Jaddoo made a low salaam to the company) “brought news from Calcutta, which completely confirms the evil tidings? Why then talk of rumours unless you wish to shirk your duty, Mr Headman?”

“The gods forbid,” said the perplexed Gangooly. “I have been forty years headman of Dhupnagar, and my father and grandfather were headmen before me, but such a scandal never came before me or them. As I said before, I am willing to call a ‘Panchayat’ upon the business.”

“It is my opinion,” said Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, sententiously, “that something should be done to stop the godless teaching of the English. If Krishna Baboo had been educated at my school, I warrant that he had never thought of turning Christian. But what can we expect when lads are sent to a college where they are told that the earth is a round ball, and that it is continually moving round about the sun?—ha! ha! What fools they must be to have eyes in their heads and yet believe such stuff! If we were to mind what the English teachers tell us, we should “soon be all Christians and kine-killers.”

“This is, indeed, the Black Age,” snuffled Three Shells, turning up his eyes,—“but what can we do? The evil is already committed, and punishment will not mend matters. Let me entreat you to take no notice of this affair, for my heart is sore for Ramanath Gossain. It were much better that we should try to propitiate the gods, that their wrath may not fall upon Dhupnagar because of this impiety. As for myself,” continued Three Shells, with an affected shudder, “I think I shall gather together my little property and return to my own country, that my eyes may not be grieved by the sight of godlessness.”

At this, Protap, and Prosunno, and Shama Churn, and Dwarkanath burst forth into a howl of grief, for they knew that if Three Shells left the village he would gather in all his debts, which meant utter ruin to themselves.

“What! the worthy Three Shells leave the town, and for such a cause! Never should it be said that the Brahmins of Dhupnagar gave offence to so excellent, so religious a man by their laxity. They would do anything he might choose to direct. They would hold a Panchayat, and put Krishna out of caste that very night. They would make such an example of the priest’s family that the name of heresy should never again be breathed in Dhupnagar. But Three Shells must never speak of leaving. It would be a less calamity were the sun to desert the firmament, than that Three Shells, who had been a father to the village, should turn his back upon his children.”

Even old Gangooly, who had less cause to fear the mahajan than any of the others, joined in their entreaties, and expressed his willingness to call a council of the Brahmins. To this the faction of Three Shells gladly assented, and messengers were despatched throughout the district to summon the few Brahmins who had a right to be present, and to invite Kristo Baboo and the Rajah of Ghatghar, to sit upon the Panchayat which was to take place next afternoon at the house of Gangooly, the village headman. It was also necessary that a summons should be served upon Krishna and his father, for the Panchayat could not venture to decide against persons of their standing without first hearing what they had to say in their defence. None of the Brahmins were willing to undertake the errand to Ramanath. Respectable men like Gangooly felt for the priest in his trouble, and were unwilling to be the means of adding to his affliction by further ill news; and the others did not wish to bring down upon themselves the wrath of so influential a man. When at last it was apparent that no one would volunteer his services, Gangooly made choice of Prosunno, the lawyer, ostensibly because he was the best business man among them, but really because he and all his townsmen hated Prosunno sneaking, officious mischief-maker, the cause of more than half the discord in the village, and a spy and tale-bearer to the money-lender. Prosunno would fain have declined the mission, but the other Brahmins, each of whom was glad to escape the unpleasant task, unanimously confirmed the choice; and the dread of exciting Three Shells’ anger deterred the lawyer from returning a flat refusal.

The announcement of this resolution served to quiet the public curiosity, and the people began to move away in the direction of their houses. It was little marvel though they talked, for a case of heresy in Dhupnagar was more than a nine days’ wonder. All the Rajah of Ghatghar’s wickednesses, all the excesses of young Afzul Khan, the Subadar’s son, even the raids of the Sonthal dakaits were as nothing compared to the perversion of the priest’s son. Violation of caste was a scandal hardly known in Dhupnagar. Sometimes a Brahmin would so far forget himself as to indulge in a liaison, or even to marry, with a woman of low caste or no caste at all. And instances had been seen of a twice-born Hindoo emerging from the shop of Rutton Pal, the kulwar or spirit-seller, with an unsteady gait and idiotic demeanour which too clearly indicated that the restraints of caste had been temporarily forgotten. But prompt submission, a fine or so, and a feast to the Brahmins, had caused such slips to be glossed over, and the regulations of caste had been maintained without the necessity of a public example. But this was a different case. When the matter went before a Panchayat it could no longer be hushed up, and the people amused themselves by conjecturing how Ramanath and his son would ward off the terrible doom of excommunication. It would cost them the bulk of half a lakh of rupees, Ram Lall, the oilman, was ready to warrant; but what mattered it, since they were well able to afford the money? It was fortunate for Krishna that Ram Lall’s caste did not entitle him to a seat on the Panchayat, for the old man heartily shared the hatred of his son the Dipty. Nitye, the quack doctor, was doubtful whether the high-caste Brahmins would, after all, fall out among themselves. If the offender had been a poor man there would have been little doubt of his being punished; but had they not winked at old Hem Chunder when he married the rich leather-seller’s daughter, of whom he begot Prosunno, the lawyer? Bah! what Brahmin ever saw a speck of dirt upon another Brahmin’s dhoti (waist-cloth)?

At sunrise next morning, Three Shells and Prosunno met together before the gate of the temple. Although the hour of morning worship had arrived, the door was still locked, and Modhoo did not seem to be in any hurry to respond to their loud knocks. The money-lender carried a garland of brilliant flowers, in which the bright blossoms of the champak mingled gaily with the white flowers of the kundoo and the blue petals of the water-lily, as an offering to the Linga. Confident that he had a good excuse in this offering for seeking admission, Three Shells knocked loudly at the gate, and reviled the memory of the ancestors of Modhoo, the porter, who lay in bed like a lazy fellow while the sun was mounting to mid-heaven, and whose sloth prevented devout worshippers from paying their morning devotions. Modhoo having reconnoitred his visitors through a slit in the gate, leisurely set about his toilet, which consisted chiefly in stretching and shaking himself and in binding his long red turban round his head. The porter suspected that the early visit of these two worthies betokened no good to his master, and so he admitted them with curt civility, scarcely deigning them a stiff salaam as they walked past him towards the temple. Early as it was, Ramanath was before them engaged in the ceremony of morning worship; and the money-lender and Prosunno did not venture to intrude themselves upon his devotions. Whether the trouble that had befallen him had rendered Ramanath more pious than ordinary, or whether he had observed his visitors and conjectured their motive, it is certain that his prayers occupied him a good hour longer than usual; and Three Shells and Prosunno were left to stand sweltering in the sun, for they could not venture to come under the shelter of the temple porch until the priest had invited them. Meanwhile Modhoo, who had seated himself at his ease in the shade to enjoy his morning smoke, scarcely concealed his exultation at their embarrassment, and the position of the confederates was not rendered any more comfortable by the porter’s broad grins. At length Ramanath’s prayers and the envoys’ patience were alike exhausted. Slowly the priest rose to his feet and placed an offering of rice and ripe plantains before the idol, accompanying each act with a mantra (prayer) which Three Shells thought might well have been dispensed with; and it was not until he had deliberately gone through the minutest injunctions of the ritual, that the priest came to the temple door and acknowledged the presence of his visitors by an affable salaam and an invitation to enter. After the usual greetings had been interchanged, Three Shells slipped into the temple with his offering, leaving Prosunno a fair field for delivering his message. But though he prostrated himself before the Linga in the attitude of prayer, the usurer kept his ears open to catch every word that passed between Prosunno and the priest.

“These are evil times,” said Prosunno, with a sanctimonious sniff, as he accepted the priest’s invitation to sit down. “The judgment of the gods must be near at hand when mankind disowns their power and impurity is openly committed in the sight of heaven.”

“Umph!” said the priest, who knew what was coming, and was determined to do battle with Prosunno; “I don’t know that the world is any worse than it used to be. Your father, Hem Chunder—may his memory be preserved—was, in my way of thinking, just as good a man as you are, Prosunno.”

“Hem!” said Prosunno, drily; “there is an evil spirit abroad upon the land. The English teachers are covertly sowing the seeds of irreligion, and who knows what the crop may be like? I say foul befall the Brahmin who countenances those that would sap the foundations of our most holy faith; and three-fold woe to those who expose the young of their families to the contagious influence of Christians and kine-killers.”

“Indeed!” said Ramanath, calmly, as he smoked away at his hookha without ever offering a whiff to his visitor, a sure affectation of superiority which did not fail to increase Prosunno’s discomfort. “You did not think so, friend Prosunno, when you went to learn law from the English Sahibs at Hooghly. I have heard, too, that after you came home you boasted of being the only lawyer in the Gungaputra district that had learned the Sahibs’ law from the Sahibs themselves. Did the Christians and kine-killers do you much harm that time?”

“I spoke not of law teachers,” said Prosunno, somewhat discomposed, “but of those who teach systems of philosophy and religion contrary to the Shastras; and many of your friends in Dhupnagar think that you have erred with respect to your son Krishna Baboo.”

“Oh, they think that I have erred, do they?” said the priest, sarcastically. “And have they sent you to tell me so, Prosunno? It is surely a propitious day for my family when the good folks of Dhupnagar have sent their sharpest lawyer to aid me in managing my domestic affairs. This kindness is all the greater that it is entirely unsought on my part. I hope my wife and daughter-in-law are included in your commission?”

Prosunno’s wrath was kindled by this taunt, for it was not long before that the Brahmins of Dhupnagar had been obliged to restrict his marital powers of inflicting chastisement upon the ladies of his zenana. “Jesting may do for the Hoolie festival, maharajah, but today is a day of earnest words,” he said, testily. “I have come to summon you to answer before a Panchayat of your townsmen for the character of your family.”

“You have come to summon me!” cried Ramanath, losing all self-control; “you, the grandson of a vile leather-seller, summon Ramanath Gossain whose Brahmin’s blood runs as pure in his veins as it did in those of his forefathers when they first came to Bengal forty-five score years ago. Hound! it would only be the meet desert of your insolence if I were to have you driven from the temple with clubs. What can I or my family be to Sudras like you?”

“I crave your pardon,” said Prosunno, cowering before the priest’s anger; “I crave your honour’s pardon if I have offended you. Remember, if you please, that I am only delivering a message from my fellow-townsmen; and I pray you also that you will recollect how the Brahmins, yourself among the rest, have condoned the blot in my pedigree and confirmed me in all the privileges of my father’s caste.”

“But they couldn’t put a Brahmin’s heart in a Sudra’s body,” said the priest, turning away haughtily; “they could not make you anything but the half-bred sneak that you are. Begone, sir! and tell those who sent you that I will be at their Panchayat, and that some of them will wish that they had sat down upon red-hot iron before they seated themselves to try the caste of Ramanath Gossain and his son. Modhoo! attend this Baboo to the gate.”

“You will repent this violence, Baboo,” cried Prosunno, whose rage was now fairly kindled, but who nevertheless took the precaution of moving away half-a-dozen paces before he ventured upon a retort; “your language, sir, is actionable, and I shall make you pay for it. The Penal Code, Chapter XV. clause 5, see Mayne of Madras’s edition, expressly says, “Whoever with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person utters any word, or makes any sound in the hearing of that person, or places——”

“By the three heads of Siva!” cried the priest, interrupting him, “if you stand there giving me back answers, you shall have something to sue for. Here, Modhoo, Bechoo, Ram Singh, quick with your lattees (quarter-staves) and drive this fellow outside the bounds of the temple.”

Modhoo caught up his club with alacrity, but the lawyer did not wait to add an assault and battery to his proposed action against the priest. He took to his heels with such goodwill, that although first one and then another of his loose native shoes fell from his feet as he ran, he never stopped to take them up, nor paused in his flight until he had reached the village green, where several of the townsmen were already assembled waiting for his return.

“Fling his shoes over the hedge after him, Modhoo,” said the priest, “and never allow that spawn of a Sudra to pass my temple doors again.”

Modhoo picked up the shoes with much affectation of disgust, and flung them over the hedge with so just a regard to the laws of projectiles that one fell with a thud upon Prosunno’s sconce, and the other plumped into the ample stomach of Protap, the accountant, with such force as caused the fat Baboo to double himself up in a contortion of pain. This signal of defiance, coupled with the exaggerated accounts which Prosunno gave of the priest’s insolence, excited the popular anger in a tenfold degree against Ramanath; and even old Gangooly vowed that the Panchayat would make him bitterly repent his effrontery. But Three Shells had yet to come out, and so the Brahmins hung about the green, waiting to hear what further news the money-lender would bring them. But Three Shells was apparently in no hurry. The Brahmins were much disconcerted at the sober countenance which they had received in the prosecution. The needy Rajah of Ghatghar had long been scheming to obtain a loan from the wealthy priest, and would not damage his chances of accommodation by taking part in a hostile meeting, but he civilly excused his attendance upon the plea of ill health. Kristo Baboo, whose voice would have gone a great way in determining the decision of the village council, was less polite. Mindful, perhaps, that his own domestic arrangements were open to censure, and perhaps grateful for old kindnesses done to him by Ramanath, he returned for answer that the villagers were ever too ready to meddle with the affairs of their betters, and that there was none among them of good enough caste to try Ramanath Gossain. Kristo’s reply disconcerted the Brahmins more than they cared to admit, for they had made themselves sure of the co-operation of a man who prided himself so much upon his orthodoxy. Gangooly would fain have seized the opportunity to urge that the matter should be dropped or postponed, but Prosunno threatened him with the vengeance of all the Brahmins in Bengal, and the possible loss of his office, until the pacific Gangooly was obliged to proceed with the business. Then a controversy sprang up as to whether Three Shells might not be permitted to sit upon the Panchayat. Although the money-lender was generally very reticent about his caste, he laid some pretensions to Brahminical dignity; and the village Brahmins when they had once borrowed his money could not well refuse to meet him upon an equal footing. Prosunno the lawyer, and Protap the accountant, were ready to vouch for him being a good Brahmin. Shama Churn, the grain-dealer, who was to some extent in Three Shells’ power, but was still a conscientious man, held his peace. Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, who was just about to redeem the mortgage upon his house and garden, openly demurred, unless Three Shells could establish his caste upon better evidence than verbal assertion. And old Gangooly, the village headman, settled the discussion by flatly declaring that no one should join the Panchayat who was a stranger to the place, and of more than doubtful antecedents. A wordy warfare sprang up, in which the lawyer and accountant fought a stout battle on behalf of their patron, and argued the point so keenly that the minority were beginning to yield. But what was detaining the money-lender himself all this time in the temple?

Chapter VI

The Priest Scotches a Snake

After the priest had routed his first opponent he again sat down quietly to his hookha. Three Shells, still prostrate before the idol, was now praying in a loud, whining tone, repeating the names and attributes of Siva, and pleading for preservation from all sorts of danger, both likely and unlikely. The money-lender had marked Prosunno’s discomfiture, and fearing lest the angry priest might be disposed to treat him as an accomplice, he had some difficulty in summoning up courage to face Ramanath. At last, when he could in decency pray no longer, and when he had spent an unconscionable time in arranging his offering of flowers, Three Shells came forth, concealing his apprehensions under his usual fawning demeanour. With a low salaam and a fervently-ejaculated prayer for the continuance of the priest’s life and prosperity, Three Shells would have gone on his way, but the priest beckoned him to stay.

“Three Shells, my friend,” said Ramanath, affably, “sit ye down; I have a few words to say to you.”

Three Shells took his seat on the other side of the temple door in considerable surprise. “Aha,” thought he, “Ramanath Baboo, like a wise man, is going to solicit my assistance in this matter, but he shall pay for it, I promise him;” and, pleased with his new importance, Three Shells made a ridiculous attempt to inflate his skeleton of a body into consequential and dignified dimensions.

“Speak on, Ramanath Baboo,” said he, with an air of lordly condescension; “anything that I can do for you will be gladly performed. There is, of course, my duty to society and to religion, which a holy man like you will not expect one to transgress.”

“Certainly not, Three Shells—certainly not,” cheerily responded Ramanath; “your duty to society and religion—it is quite proper that you should regard both; I am only going to tell you a little story.”

“Indeed?” said the mahajan, looking straight before him with half-closed eyes and his face puckered up into a contemptuous smile; “and what may it relate to? Say on, Father Ramanath.”

“Two years ago come the next Jagannath Puja,” the priest began, “there came three Hindustani pilgrims to the temple door, telling me that one of their company was lying sick unto death at the Pagoda Tope. He was a poor Brahmin who had been at Puri, had spent all his money, and had caught jungle-fever by the way, and he was now lying in that ruined temple without a friend to comfort his last moments—without a hand to close his dying eyes. Well, taking Modhoo with me, I set out for the Pagoda Tope, and, sure enough, there was the man lying upon a strip of tattered matting in the vestibule of the old temple, perishing of thirst and hunger. Modhoo broke a coco-nut and poured the milk down his throat, and the poor wretch revived a little. We tended him all that day, and as the heat declined the fever left him; so we called three or four kindly ryots, and placing him on a charpai (four-legged wicker bedstead), bore him to my house. But Yama, the god of death, had laid his hand heavily upon him. The luckless creature raved the whole night, and died a little after sunrise next morning.”

“Peace be with him! You did well, very well, Father Ramanath, to show compassion to a helpless stranger,” said Three Shells, with an air of patronising benignity. “Verily the gods will reward you manifold. But as touching this matter of your son Krishna which you doubtless wished to speak to me about “

“He raved, as I said, the whole night,” interrupted Ramanath; “ah! it is an awful thing, Three Shells, when the gods deprive the guilty of their reason. This man had been a terrible sinner. There was hardly a crime in the power of man to commit which this poor wretch did not lay to his own charge. He spoke of drugging lonely travellers with the deadly dhatura; of despatching with his knife the wayfarer that had taken shelter beneath his roof; of robbing the widow of her ornaments and the maiden of her honour; worse than all, he talked of a priest butchered at the altar, and the shrine of the gods plundered of its wealth. This man was a Brahmin of Lootna, a village on the higher waters of the Soane, a place you may perhaps have heard of.—But what ails you, Three Shells? You look as if you were going to faint. The sun is too strong for you, eh? Sit a little farther back into the shade, man.”

A terrible change had come over Three Shells’ aspect. His face had turned of an ashy-grey paleness, his eyes were distended until they seemed to have started from their sockets, his lower jaw had fallen as if paralysed, and a gurgling inarticulate sound in his throat failed to find expression in words.

“Sickness had brought the poor wretch to repentance,” continued the priest, turning away his head carelessly in the other direction, “and he set out on a pilgrimage to Jagannath to seek rest for his conscience but he might have gone to the world’s end before a soul like his could have found any peace but what the gods in their goodness had provided for him at Dhupnagar—the peace of death. An hour or two before he died, his senses returned to him, and he told me his sad history. He had led a terrible life, had that Brahmin; but he told me of an accomplice who was even more steeped in crime than he was. This person was—dog, and son of a dog!” exclaimed Ramanath, starting to his legs, as Three Shells with a howl of despair prostrated himself before him and attempted to kiss his feet, “pollute not with your unhallowed lips the feet of a pure Brahmin. Back, wretch, lest I blast thee with a look!”

“Mercy, mercy!” groaned the usurer, as he raised his hands in supplication. “Protector of the poor! upon thee, upon thee! Your slave is your protected! O Asylum of the Universe! defile not your sacred foot by crushing a mean worm. Have mercy upon me, holiest of priests! have mercy upon me!”

“Aha, Three Shells! you have heard my little story before,” said the priest, looking down with a glance of scornful loathing at the wretch who lay writhing before him. “I will spare you the repetition of it then, and come to the hasil (moral), which you will find to be as pithy a one as is in all the fables of Pilpay. It is this — mind your own business and let your neighbours’ alone. And now begone, and never set your foot within this temple again, if you would rather have whole bones than broken ones. I need hardly tell you that if this Panchayat takes place to-day, I shall have matters to lay before the members that they little anticipate. They will scarcely be prepared to learn that you have not left them an undefiled Brahmin in the village, but Kristo Baboo, to hold a Panchayat upon Ramanath the priest. Moreover, I shall have a messenger going express to the English Magistrate Sahib at Bhutpore, as soon as the Panchayat is over. Can he execute any little commission for you, friend Three Shells, in that quarter?” added Ramanath, tauntingly.

“There will be no Panchayat, maharajah,” said Three Shells, humbly; “no indignity shall befall your honoured family that I can prevent. Am I not your bond-slave? Do you not give me life? O maharajah, overlook my error towards you!”

“Begone then,” said the priest, sternly, “and take care how you again intrude yourself into my presence. Yet, stay a moment, Three Shells,” he continued, as the mahajan was sneaking away humbly from the temple: “it may prevent mistakes if I tell you that I have written down this little story we talked of, and given a sealed copy to a trusty friend, who will place it in the hands of the Magistrate Sahib if anything unusual were to happen to me—that is, if I were to be suddenly found dead, or the like. You understand me, Three Shells? Ah, I see you do. Peace be with you, Three Shells.” And the priest bestowed a derisive salaam upon the retreating money-lender.

Three Shells slunk quietly out of the temple gate and passed along the back of the thorny bamboo hedge, beyond which he could see the elders impatiently waiting his arrival on the village green. He paused for an instant, but his mind misgave him, and he hurried off by a back lane in the direction of his house, and was seen no more of the villagers for several days.

The threatened Panchayat never was held for the trial of Ramanath and his son Krishna. While the Brahmins loitered about the village green waiting for the appearance of Three Shells, Modhoo came forth and summoned the village headman to wait upon his master. When alone with old Gangooly, Ramanath was able to show the headman excellent reasons why his family should not be made the subject of public interference. His son was no Christian: of that the priest would assure them; and his house was his own, and his son was welcome to remain there as long as he pleased. But let the villagers beware how they meddled with Ramanath Gossain’s domestic matters. The temple was his own, the Linga was his own, and what prevented him from doing with them as he thought fit? The folks of Gapshapganj would only be too glad if he would transfer his shrine to their town; and Ramanath himself owned lands in Bhutpore where he could build a temple. This threat was sufficient for the headman. Dhupnagar owed all its prosperity to the popularity of the Linga, and to the crowds of pilgrims that resorted to it. If, as Gangooly afterwards told his fellow-townsmen, they drove away the priest in disgust, they might as well yoke the donkey’s plough2 and sow salt upon the site of Dhupnagar, for the ruin of the village would be certain. The priest did not dismiss Gangooly until he had convinced him of the folly of trusting to popular rumour, and made the headman thoroughly ashamed of the ingratitude of himself and his fellow-townsmen towards a family to whom the village stood so much indebted.

Dwarkanath the schoolmaster, and Shama Churn the grain-seller, readily seconded Gangooly’s proposal that the matter should be quashed in spite of the outcries of Three Shells’ dependants, who called all the gods to witness that the Brahmins of Dhupnagar were compounding sacrilege against their holy order. Prosunno, the lawyer, who had his own private insults to avenge, was especially vehement, until reminded by old Gangooly how slender was his own claim to caste consideration, and that those who had made him a Brahmin would have little difficulty in unmaking him. The village elders speedily agreed that they had acted upon insufficient information, that the priest’s son had not become a Christian and a kine-killer, that no breach of caste had taken place, and that those who had raised such reports were liars and dullals (brokers, a common term of abuse). Jaddoo, the Dipty’s expectant, who still loitered about the village in the hope of being able to carry his master the news of Krishna’s condemnation, was observed by old Gangooly sneaking about the village green, endeavouring to pick up scraps of the elders’ conversation; and the old headman, not sorry perhaps to find a convenient scapegoat, gave orders that he should be driven from the town as a liar and a mischief-monger. A magistrate’s hanger-on is as unpopular a character in a Bengalee village, as a sheriff’s officer, or process-server, is in an Irish hamlet. And the townsfolk willingly seized clubs and slippers to fulfil the headman’s behest. Jaddoo protested his innocence, and menaced them with his master’s wrath, but all to no purpose. His voice was drowned by the thud-thud of slippers upon his sconce, his bones were nearly broken by the whacks of cudgels, his clothes were torn off his back, he was thrown into the gutter, and rolled over the gravelly road; and finally, he made his escape from the village, more dead than alive, never pausing to examine his injuries until he reached the crest of the ridge and the shelter of the Pagoda Tope.

But the villagers, ever ready to grumble at the doings of their betters, were far from satisfied with the decision of the Brahmins. They had looked upon Krishna’s excommunication as certain, and now they felt as if they had been unjustly balked of a sensation. If Krishna had been a poor man, they argued, instead of the son of a rich priest, his caste-fellows would not have scrupled to throw him off; but what wonder was it though men forsook the gods and the customs of their country when twice-born Brahmins durst not say to such that they were doing wrong. The lower castes, jealous of the Brahmin’s position and privileges, are sharp critics of the latter’s shortcomings, and though they would gladly welcome any relaxation of the Brahminical restrictions that would admit themselves to a closer intimacy with the favoured class, they are ever the first to taunt the Brahmins with tolerating laxity in any other form.

Ram Lall, the oilman, who hated Krishna on his son the Dipty’s account, and would have gladly seen the young man degraded, was one of the mouthpieces of popular discontent. When the Dipty’s expectant was driven from the village, the old man had retired to sulk in his shop, and to pray that no signal judgment might fall upon Dhupnagar because of the impiety of its inhabitants. Moreover, Ram Lall that same evening, although notorious as parcus deorum cultor et infrequens, made an offering of a two-pound measure of flour and half-a-dozen ounces of clarified butter, together with a huge basket of flowers, which cost only the trouble of gathering, to the clumsy pillar-stone at the east end of the village, which stood for the gram deota, or genius loci, of Dhupnagar. By this unwonted manifestation of piety the oilman meant to show, not so much his reverence for the gram deota, as his contempt for Ramanath and the Linga of Dhupnagar. But Ram Lall’s ostentatious devoutness only caused a hearty laugh to the Brahmins, who were well acquainted with the old man’s penuriousness, and who jestingly said that surely the gods would be good to Dhupnagar since Ram Lall had spent eight annas in their worship. But Ram Lall, as well as the rest of his townsmen, was quite aware that the prosperity of the village depended upon the temple, and that if they drove Ramanath and his idol away by their scandal-mongering, their craft was in danger to be set at nought; for no pilgrims would then repair to Dhupnagar—there would be no yearly mela or market at which the tradesfolk might reap a golden, or at least a silver, harvest—and rich devotees, with their trains of attendants, would no longer frequent the village at festal tides. No doubt religion was a matter of great importance—so, also, was the preservation of caste; but it was more especially the Brahmins’ business to attend to these things; and the good folks of Dhupnagar had no intention of breaking with their livelihood in their zeal for orthodoxy.

Chapter VII

Shamsuddeen Khan, the Subadar

A few hundred yards out of the village, by the side of the road leading down to the fords of the Gungaputra, stood a large house, of a style not often seen in the Lower Provinces. The walls were compactly built of brick and lime, but without verandahs, with narrow stanchioned windows, and with small turrets surmounting each angle of the building. The aim of the architect had apparently been to combine the semblance of an up-country chieftain’s muhil, or citadel, with the conveniences of a peaceful dwelling-house. Another novel feature was the tastefully laid out gardens that flanked the mansion upon either side, and filled up the background as far as the commencement of the jungle. Shamsuddeen Khan, the proprietor, had seen the imperial gardens of Delhi and Agra, and in spite of his rough profession he had always cherished a passion for flowers; and now that he was an old man, and no longer able to sit firmly in the saddle, he was well content to turn his sabre into a pruning-knife, to spend his days among his roses and passion-flowers, and to smoke and dream of old times under the tulip-loaded boughs of the dhag tree by the side of the little marble fountain that dropped a tiny jet of water into the basin at his feet.

Shamsuddeen Khan had well earned his repose and the reward which the British Government had bestowed upon him for his services. When the Pindarry bands of Kurreem Khan were routed near Gungraur in Malwa, a little boy was found among the prisoners, with whom no one would acknowledge relationship until a kind British officer took the waif into his own household. The young Shamsuddeen was brought up in his benefactor’s regiment, and became a trooper almost as soon as his legs could straddle across a saddle. His patron, Captain Walesby, attended to his military education, and made him the best swordsman and “tent-pegger” in a crack corps of irregular cavalry; while old Ahmed Khan, Captain Walesby’s butler, superintended the lad’s religious instruction, and brought him up as a stanch Muhammadan of the Shiyia persuasion. The young Shamsuddeen rapidly became a favourite in the regiment, both with his English officers and native comrades. The latter made him the spokesman of all their little grievances, and the former were always glad to oblige so active and respectful a soldier. If a man wanted furlough, it was Shamsuddeen who was deputed to beg it from the colonel; if the colonel wanted a batch of lusty recruits, it was Shamsuddeen who was sent to beat up for them. In war Shamsuddeen Khan’s reputation was no less favourable than in peace. In the Afghan campaign, where, as everybody who reads Sir John Kaye’s delightful history will remember, Walesby’s Horse did such distinguished service, Shamsuddeen won a commission by his determined bearing in every engagement; and his promotion was accompanied by an eulogium in General Orders upon his long service and good conduct. At the same time Shamsuddeen had an opportunity of clearing off his debt of gratitude to his commandant. In the night attack upon Sale’s brigade in the Khurd Cabul valley, Colonel Walesby was recognised as he rode from the Political Agent’s tents to join his regiment, wounded, and carried off a prisoner by the traitorous Afghans who had obtained admission into the camp; and there is little doubt that he would have been reserved for cold-blooded butchery, had not Shamsuddeen, without orders, and heedless of Sale’s “assembly” bugles, followed up the retreating Ghilzyes with a score of troopers, until they were compelled to abandon Walesby in their flight. All through Walesby’s illness, in the miserable Afghan winter, Shamsuddeen tended his patron with the carefulness of a son and the tenderness of a woman; until the colonel declared that he had been repaid tenfold for his early kindness to the Pindarry orphan.

In course of time Shamsuddeen remained alone in the regiment. Of the early comrades of his youth the bones of some lay bleaching in the Afghan passes; others had found a grave in the sandy plains of the Sutlej, and those who had survived the wars had long since retired to spend their pensions in their native villages. Though General Walesby was dead and buried in Cheltenham churchyard, Walesby’s Horse was still Walesby’s Horse, and Shamsuddeen Khan was now Subadar-major of the regiment, with many streaks of silver in his black hair and beard. Then came the Mutiny; and when the troopers of Walesby’s began to growl about greased cartridges and interference with their faith, and to listen to the lying agents of the Badshah of Delhi and the Nana of Cawnpore, Shamsuddeen Khan remained faithful to the salt, and did his best to strengthen the wavering allegiance of his comrades. And when Walesby’s troopers held a midnight muster upon the Pultunpore parade-ground for the purpose of shooting their officers, and declaring for the Moghal, Shamsuddeen Khan had dashed into their midst, pistoled Rissaldar Ahmad Buksh, the ringleader, at the risk of his own life, and made such an eloquent appeal to the loyalty of the men that eighty of the best soldiers in the regiment came to his side and assisted him in escorting their officers safe to headquarters. For his fidelity Shamsuddeen was made a Khan Bahadoor in the Order of British India, and the Government further rewarded him with a small estate rent free in the vicinity of Dhupnagar, which had come into the hands of the District Collector from the distraint of Kristo Baboo’s property.

In quitting the regiment in which his life had been spent, Shamsuddeen Khan felt like a man who has broken off all the associations that bound him to earth. His heart was still in his old corps, and it was still his pride to know every officer and every trooper in Walesby’s. Regularly as the Durga Puja came round, Shamsuddeen paid a visit to Walesby’s Horse, no matter how far off they were stationed; and his coming was welcomed with all the honours that would have been paid to the general commanding the division. It was good to see the old soldier receiving the salutations of the beardless recruits with whose fathers he had ridden side by side in the Afghan and the Punjab wars, and to hear the words of encouragement and counsel which he addressed to them. The troopers felt that Shamsuddeen Khan was an honour to their regiment, and would proudly boast that the commander-in-chief, Sir George Blitzen Sahib, who would hardly look at an Englishman under the rank of a field-officer, was wont to shake their old Subadar cordially by the hand whenever his Excellency met him.

There was no house in all the Lower Provinces where an old soldier was made so welcome as at Walesbyganj, for so Shamsuddeen had named his house, in memory of his benefactor and the old corps. Troopers of Walesby’s going and coming between Calcutta and Upper India would make a long detour to pass a night under Shamsuddeen’s roof, and to hear his stories of the storming of Ghizni, and the charge at Sobraon. Retired Rajpoot officers of other corps taking a trip for their sins to the shrine of Jagannath at Puri, or the Linga of Dhupnagar, never failed to pay their respects to the old man as they passed through the valley. Zealous Mussulman as he was, the “Service” overrode all sectarian feelings in Shamsuddeen’s mind, and the Hindoo was as cordially welcomed at Walesbyganj as the Muhammadan, provided he was a soldier. The Subadar did not, however, carry his tolerance beyond the limits of the army, and treated the civilians, his Hindoo neighbours, with the utmost hauteur and contempt. There was no other Mussulman near Dhupnagar except the broken-down landholder who dubbed himself the Nawab of Panch Pahar, in virtue of some post which his ancestor held about the Nazimat Court of Murshedabad, and who affected to look down upon the Subadar as an upstart and a parasite upon the British. On his part, the Subadar was nowise anxious for the intimacy of so disreputable an old spendthrift, who had spent all his belongings, down to the bare walls of his paternal mansion and the few bigahs of land that surrounded it, upon brandy and dice and loose company, in a way that could not but bring the holy faith of Islam to discredit among the surrounding infidel. Bhutpore, at the head of the valley, had once been a populous Muhammadan town in the days of the Moghals; but, as the number of ruined mosques testified, the Faithful had fallen upon evil times, and, except one or two grey-bearded Moulavis, the Mussulmans had all sunk into a menial condition. Consequently Shamsuddeen was almost wholly cut off from the society of his co-religionists.

When the Subadar quitted Walesby’s Horse he took with him his orderly, Agha Khan, an Afghan from the Khyber, who had been in his service since the army of retribution had returned from the burning of Cabul. The Subadar’s fondness for Agha was one of those attachments that no one could explain. The Khyberee was a loutish, unshapely soldier, whose insubordinate temper was perpetually bringing him into quarrels with his comrades. From the hour of his enlistment Agha had never been out of trouble; and his duffadar (corporal) used jestingly to calculate that all the entries against him in the defaulters’ book would alone fill an ordinary-sized volume. The adjutant had pronounced him incurable, and Colonel Walesby had threatened to have him drummed out of the regiment the next time that Agha was brought before him. But the Gwalior war soon broke out, when discipline was less strictly enforced, and those officers who had been hardest upon Agha’s shortcomings, could not but admire the daring recklessness with which he had broken his ranks and galloped up to the mouth of the Sindhia’s guns at Maharajpore. The Subadar took him for his servant immediately after the action, and quite melted the rough Khyberee by his kindness. Shamsuddeen was eating in his tent when the trooper came to him, and when he had commended his bravery and told him of the promotion in store for him—the first words of kindness and sympathy that Agha had heard since he quitted his native hills—the man dashed his hand rudely in Shamsuddeen’s salt-dish, swallowed a mouthful, made a low salaam, turned on his heel and strode out of the tent without a word of thanks. Shamsuddeen perfectly understood the significance of this act; and well did Agha fulfil his profession of fidelity. He had received a great slash across the shoulder from a Sikh sabre as he was dragging his master from the bloody mud of the Sutlej in the grand charge which Walesby’s Horse made at Aliwal, and he had received in his own thigh a thrust from a bayonet which a sepoy had meant for his master when the troops at Pultunpore mutinied in the ’Fifty-seven. These injuries had improved neither the symmetry of Agha’s appearance, nor the equanimity of his temper; and it was rarely that he ever opened his mouth to say anything civil even to his master. Strange to say, the Subadar, who had the reputation of a martinet as far as every other person was concerned, never allowed himself to be disconcerted by Agha’s insubordinate language. The wags of Walesby’s had a joke that the Subadar was afraid of Agha, and that the Khyberee was thus the real commandant of the regiment, for the Subadar ruled the colonel, and Agha the Subadar. Facetious young subalterns took a delight in dubbing the old curmudgeon “commandant sahib,” until the Khyberee was like to handle his dagger for very passion.

There was one, however, with whom Agha never lost his temper, and whose caprices he was never tired of humouring. Shamsuddeen had married a Pathani wife when Walesby’s Horse were serving under Sir Harry Fane in the Army of the Indus, and in due time a little boy made his appearance in the Subadar’s tent. Agha had been the little Afzul’s nurse almost from his birth, and the ungainly trooper would stalk about the bazaar with the infant in his arms quite composedly, in spite of the jeers of his comrades at his awkwardness as an ayah. The trooper would walk from one end of the cantonment to the other to humour the child’s slightest whim, and would cheerfully stint his own expenditure that he might buy toys and sweetmeats for him in the bazaar. The boy grew up to know his power, and lorded it over Agha right despotically; and the poor man would hardly have dared to call his life his own if Afzul had thought fit to require it. While a child Afzul was trained to arms, and before he had entered his teens he was as fearless a rider as any trooper in the regiment. Agha taught him to ride and to “tent peg,” to hurl the quoit like the Sikh Alkali, and to wield the lance like a Mahratta horseman. But there were some of Agha’s instructions of a less edifying character. Though with his comrades he had maintained a taciturn reserve, and had never let out any of his antecedents previous to joining the regiment, he opened his whole heart to the boy, and never tired of telling him of the wild life which men lived beyond the frontier,—where there was no red-coated infidel to keep the sons of Islam in bondage; where each man righted his own wrongs by the sword; where men were not fettered by laws written on paper; and where a stout heart and a strong arm were of more avail than miles of land or lakhs of rupees. He had stories, too, to tell of the terrible blood feud handed down through half-a-dozen generations, each of which had vainly shed its quota of blood to appease the family quarrel; of the plunder of villages and the abduction of virgins; of conspiracies, intrigues, and the other lawless and romantic phases in the wild life of the trans-Indus tribes. The effect of such a training upon an impulsive young lad may easily be conceived. Afzul grew up to hate the restraints of law and discipline, to revile English rule, and to long for some field where more licence was allowed to strength and passion. He had more than once proposed to Agha that they should run away to join the Afghan tribes; but a sense of duty to the Subadar steeled the trooper against the temptation, and for once in his life he had warned the father of his son’s intentions.

It was Shamsuddeen’s greatest ambition to see his son take the place in Walesby’s Horse which he himself had filled so long; and so, when he quitted the service, Afzul was left behind him in the ranks of the regiment. Agha would fain have stayed with his young master, but the Subadar would not hear of such a thing. A private trooper had no use for a servant: he himself had never had one until he became an officer; and his son must learn to wait upon himself until he won his commission. But when his father had left the regiment the lad’s conduct became less guarded. He associated with the wildest and most dissolute men in the corps, and gave himself no trouble to conciliate the good opinion of his superior officers. Much would have been, and much was, pardoned to his father’s son, but the discipline of the service could not be infringed with impunity, and the young man had been more than once before a regimental court-martial for wildness and insubordination. When the regiment was sent to Bhutan, during the brief campaign against the insurgent chiefs of that country, a remarkable change came over Afzul. So long as the regiment was in the field, it did not contain a more zealous and orderly soldier than the Subadar’s son, and none so eager to undertake any duty that involved fatigue or danger. The officers were delighted with Afzul’s alacrity and bravery, and his speedy promotion was looked upon as a certainty. Old comrades of his father, who had hitherto held their peace or shaken their heads gravely when Afzul Khan’s name was mentioned, never ceased now to sound his praises; and the Subadar’s retirement was cheered by glowing descriptions of his son’s good qualities from his former friends and officers. But when the times of “piping peace” returned, and the regiment was sent back to the plains, Afzul speedily effaced these good impressions, and was reported to the commandant as more insubordinate and ungovernable than before. The colonel, an old officer who had served with Shamsuddeen, and respected his bravery and probity, was unwilling that his son should be made an example of in the corps; and so he sent for Afzul and told him plainly that he must either reform or quit the regiment. Afzul haughtily took him at his word, applied at once for his discharge, and threw old Agha into a cold sweat by appearing before him one morning dusty and wayworn at the gate of Walesbyganj. Agha concealed and fed the young prodigal until the Subadar was prepared for the bad news, and a pardon obtained for Afzul’s misconduct. Shamsuddeen was almost heart-broken at the failure of his hopes, but he never as much as said to his son that he had done wrong. Not so Agha, who did nothing from morning to night but harp upon Afzul’s profligacy, although the young man gave little heed to his rebukes. Although he was rich enough to make his son independent of any profession, Shamsuddeen was bitterly disappointed that he should have left in disgrace a service where he himself had obtained both honour and rewards. He considered the army the only honourable career for a Muhammadan gentleman, and the favour of the British Government the highest distinction which any native could obtain. He had fondly hoped that Afzul would revive the good reputation which he himself had left in the army, and that his loyalty and bravery would increase the patrimony which he would inherit at his own death. Now that all these prospects were blasted, the old man thought it mattered little what Afzul did.

Afzul Khan was no stranger in Dhupnagar when he came there after leaving the army. During two furloughs he had already succeeded in scandalising the quiet inhabitants. He had carried off Bel-puttee, the ryot of Milkiganj’s daughter, and beaten the girl’s brother within an inch of his life. He had almost ridden over old Gangooly, the village headman, in the middle of the bazaar in broad daylight, thus offering a wanton insult to the representative of public authority. He had borrowed money from Three Shells at seventy-five per cent, and had treated the mahajan to a sound bambooing when he came to claim his interest. He was perpetually getting into some trouble or other with the villagers, and the Subadar was constantly annoyed by complaints of his son’s riotous conduct. Shamsuddeen took these matters, however, very coolly. If a man behaved himself inside the lines, he must be allowed some licence among the civil population. After all, the offended parties were only Hindoos, and it was doubtful whether to torment them was not a meritorious act for a true Muhammadan. As for the carrying off of the girl, young men would be young men, and he had seen many a wench taken away from her friends across the crupper in his old campaigning days. He paid Three Shells’ claim, and threatened the usurer with personal chastisement from his own hands if ever he lent his son another anna. But when Afzul one day announced to his father that he was bent upon having Kristo Baboo’s daughter to wife, the old man saw that this was a more serious caprice than any that the lad had yet taken into his head. Kristo was a Hindoo of high caste and consideration, and his family could not be dishonoured with the same impunity as the poor ryot of Milkiganj’s. Then the difference of creed prevented all prospect of securing an alliance by fair means. Shamsuddeen did his best to drive the passion out of the lad’s head; but Afzul was obstinate, and swore by the tombs of Hassan and Hussein at Kerbela that he would not live another twelve months without the girl though he were to be made Lord Sahib of Bengal. The Subadar knew the young man’s headstrong nature too well to hope that advice would influence his conduct, and so he contented himself with ordering Agha to keep the child out of mischief. But Agha was the worst possible mentor that a fiery young man could be put under. Advancing years and wounds had not yet tamed the native lawlessness of the Khyberee, and he was ever more ready to abet than to check the irregular conduct of his young charge.

On the same morning as Prosunno and Three Shells had paid their visit to the priest, Shamsuddeen Khan was seated in his little arbour, breakfasting upon a simple repast of sliced hilsa fish and custard apples. Behind him stood Agha, who still deigned to wait upon his master’s meals, although he would not have done a similar service to a Lieutenant-Governor. Both master and man still retained some traces of their old calling. Though his uniform had been laid aside for a loose coat of striped silk, the Subadar still clung to the gaiters and the flowing turban of the Irregular trooper, and from sheer force of habit he carried his long cavalry sword with him wherever he went. Shamsuddeen Khan was still erect as an arrow, and his grey hairs and long flowing white beard gave him an appearance of great dignity. The naturally unshapely figure of Agha had been still more contorted by his wounds; and his broad shoulders were so bent as almost to give him the appearance of being humpbacked. He wore his coarse black hair long, in the Afghan fashion; his surly features were disfigured by the loss of an eye, which had been knocked out in a bazaar brawl; and a cynical sneer had for many years been stereotyped upon his large mouth. Agha was always dressed in a cast-off suit of the Subadar’s regimentals, in the tarnished embroidery of which he took no little pride. At his girdle he wore a long straight dagger, with an antiquely-shaped silver hilt, in which was concealed a lock of hair belonging to Sayyid Saffia Shah, a celebrated saint of Agha’s own tribe. In the potency of this relic, whether for defence or attack, Agha placed implicit confidence; and whether or not the holy Sayyid nerved Agha’s arm in the hour of need, it was certain that he never had occasion to strike twice.

“These roses,” said the Subadar, looking up from his plate, “are the richest that we have yet had at Walesbyganj. I never saw finer in the Shalimar. You remember the roses of the Shalimar, Agha?”

“Am I a mallee (gardener)?” was Agha’s tart reply. “I remember Madam Dilnawaz’s house behind the Shalimar well enough, but I never saw any roses except on the cheeks of her and her damsels.”

“A soldier has no business to know anything of such wares,” said the Subadar, shaking his head; “but you were ever prone to mischief, Agha. Is the child at home?”—among themselves the two old soldiers always spoke of Afzul as “the child.” “At what hour did he return from Panch Pahar last night?”

“He did not return from Panch Pahar last night,” answered Agha, curtly.

“Is he at home now?” demanded the master.

Agha nodded.

“It was this morning, then, before he came,” said Shamsuddeen, with a sigh. “When I was at his time of life, if I had stayed outside the lines after the last post I would have tasted of the guard-house, as sure as my name was Shamsuddeen.”

“And a good thing it was for you too,” said Agha, sneeringly.

“But I shall keep better discipline with you all after this; I am determined on that,” said the Subadar, somewhat nettled by his follower’s remark. “I shall muster the house every night at ten and lock the gate with my own hand, and if any one is outside after that, he may remain there till daybreak.”

“You have said so a hundred times before, but you never did it yet,” was Agha’s comment.

“You grow impudent, O thou!” cried the Subadar, in a rage. “I shall have to send you back to your hills again;” and seeing Agha inclined to grin at this terrible threat, which he had heard uttered half-a-dozen times a-day for the last six years, he bawled out, “’Tenshun! Silence in the ranks!” At the word of command Agha clapped his hands to his thighs, drew himself stiffly up behind his master’s chair, and stood still as a mute, waiting to hear what the Subadar had to say farther.

“I do not approve of the child’s going so much to Panch Pahar,” said Shamsuddeen; “he will learn no good from that bankrupt old scoundrel who calls himself a Nawab. If the falcon is shot among a flock of kites, who can blame the archer? If a horse run away with a herd of wild asses he will soon try to bray like them. They drink abominations which the Prophet, upon whom be peace, has interdicted, and the Nawab’s house is the resort of gamblers and dancing courtesans. It is no place for a young soldier. I would rather my son had been thrust through with a Bhutia’s spear in the last war, than that he should live to become a low, cheating debauchee like the Panch Pahar man.”

The Subadar turned half round to Agha, as if expecting him to make some remark; but the trooper still stood at “attention,” with his lips firmly pressed together.

“And now he has got some vagary in his head about the daughter of this Hindoo Lahory,” continued the master, “and there is sure to some mischief come of it. Was there no maiden of Islam fair enough for him that he must seek to mate with this she-infidel? I do not approve of young soldiers marrying, for a man who wishes to do his duty will have no time to trifle away with women; but now that he has left the service, I should have no objection to his marrying three or four decent girls of his own faith. But nothing less will serve his highness than a high-caste Brahmini, who will be almost as easily won by a Mussulman as a Peri from Paradise. He is making my old age miserable, Agha. Why don’t you answer me, sirrah?”

“Answer you what?” returned Agha, imperturbably.

“What am I to do with the child? He is getting wilder and wilder every week, and each new fancy that he takes into his head is more extravagant than the one that went before. His bickerings and excuses are wearying my life out as well as my substance. What would you do, Agha, if you had such a son?”

“Slay him,” said Agha, in a snappish tone of decision.

“Ah, Agha! it is easy for you to say that,” said the Subadar, in a lachrymose tone, at which the trooper made a ludicrous grimace; “you know nothing of the feelings of a father. Whatever may be his faults, Afzul is my only son, and who would lay my grey head in the grave if he were gone? Allah is my witness that there is no reasonable licence which I would withhold from him. You know I never said a harsh word to him about the Milkiganj girl. But what’s to be done about this daughter of Kristo Baboo’s? I do not see any prospect of the child’s obtaining her.”

“I would burn down the house and carry her off by the strong hand,” said Agha, after a short pause, during which he seemed to be absorbed in deep reflection upon the case.

“Ay, and be thrown into Bhutpore jail next day for it,” said the Subadar, impatiently. “Tush, Agha! speak sense. Why will you always forget which side of the frontier you are standing on? If we were in Afghanistan, now, it might be a just and honourable way of settling the difficulty; but it does not become persons who are so much indebted to the English Sircar (Government) as me and my son to do anything against their laws. Not that I consider there is anything morally wrong in a true believer carrying off a Hindoo damsel; it might even be the means of bringing an infidel to the faith of Islam. But it’s no use speaking of such a thing in the Lower Provinces here.”

“Let us go to Afghanistan then,” said Agha, in a more serious tone than he had hitherto used. “There is little good in staying here in subjection to Nazarenes. Once beyond the border and Afzul may have any woman that he is strong enough to take.”

“Don’t speak nonsense, man,” said the Subadar, impatiently; “we should be just as likely to get all our throats cut. I have lived sixty years under English rule, and never found any restrictions upon liberty but what was for the good of the public. Just think, if you had a daughter, how you would like Kris to Baboo to come and take her away from you.”

“I have no daughter, and if Kristo Baboo took her away I would bury my dagger in his fat paunch,” retorted Agha, with slight regard for logic, but with an emphasis which showed that he had little belief in the application of the moral law to the intercourse of Muhammadans with the infidel.

“You will get yourself into trouble yet with your bullying, swaggering manners,” said the Subadar; “if the men of Dhupnagar had the spirits of pariah dogs they would give both you and Afzul skinsful of broken bones some dark night. But tell me, Agha, what has the child been saying to you about the Hindoo girl?”

“Nothing; what, in the name of Eblis, have I to do with him and his wantons?”

“’Tenshun! speak respectfully, fellow,” cried the Subadar; and Agha, thus admonished, fell once more into a stiff military attitude. “Well, I want you to find out what schemes the child has in view about Kristo’s daughter. He tells you everything, and you must tell me, so that between us we may keep him from harm’s way. After all, we must pardon something to youth, and not allow the child to come to grief for lack of good advice. Where is he now?”

“In bed: where else would he be? You know he won’t rise for these good two hours,” replied the trooper.

“More is the shame, Agha,—more is the shame. I must really do something to bring you all back to discipline. You will order the garrison—the household, I mean—that after this they must turn out every morning at sunrise. Late hours are an unsoldierly habit, and an ungodly habit; for have not set times of prayer been appointed by the Prophet, upon whom be peace?”

“So I may tell them,” said Agha, with a contemptuous sniff; “and if you had a duffadar with a heavy bamboo to beat sleep out of them you would likely be obeyed; but it is folly to expect people to get up at sunrise who only go to bed at the false dawn.”

“Don’t bandy bat-chit with me, slave, but go and do as you are bid,” cried the Subadar, losing his patience; “and mind that you report to me at breakfast-time to-morrow what the child is saying about the Hindoo girl. ’Tenshun! ’Bout face! Mar-ach!”

Agha never ventured to gainsay an order delivered in military fashion, and he stumped away with the eye-side of his head turned up towards the sky in a queer expression of cynical amusement. The trooper knew his master’s weakness and his own power, and did not give himself much trouble about the Subadar’s rebukes. Though in the regiment Shamsuddeen had shown himself an admirable disciplinarian, he was perfectly unable to govern a private household. All the duties of his previous life had been regulated by military formulas, which were in a manner self-enforcing, and which, at any rate, could be applied without much mental exertion. The Subadar had always regarded the life of a civilian as one that could have but few cares and anxieties; and when he had settled down at Walesbyganj, it was with the determination that worldly troubles were to give him no more annoyance. A household of a dozen servants and a score of tenants would, as he thought, need no supervision; and so he contented himself with laying down stringent rules for their guidance, never doubting that they would dare to disobey his instructions. But the servants soon began to get lazy and slight their work, except in the stables, which were under Agha’s special supervision; and the tenants began to be backward with their rents, and to pester their landlord with their quarrels among each other. It was then that Shamsuddeen saw how powerless he was to enforce his orders, and that he could no longer support his authority by the guard-room and a court-martial. Discipline was once broken through, and the Subadar felt that he had not the energy to put it in force; and so he contented himself with forming resolutions to keep better order, which were never by any chance put into execution. The household would have gone to rack and ruin but for Agha’s ill-temper. Both servants and ryots had a wholesome fear of the trooper, who had indeed a rough-and-ready way of putting things to rights which kept the timid Bengalees in a constant dread of offending him. When two of the Subadar’s tenants came bawling for mutual justice, Agha would hear both their cases with the gravity of a Badamanthus; and if both were wrong, as was almost always the case, he would order plaintiff and defendant to be seized and bambooed until the soles of their feet were as soft as a jelly. In spite of Agha’s churlish habits he was invaluable to the Subadar, and without his presence the affairs of the Walesbyganj household must very soon have come to a dead-lock.

Chapter VIII

Three Shell’s Conversion

When the meeting of the village elders broke up after they had come to a resolution that the matter against the Gossains was to be set aside, Prosunno, the lawyer, left the green in disgust at the apathy of his castefellows, and went strutting angrily through the bazaar in the direction of his own house. He for one had made up his mind that the prosecution against Krishna should not be dropped. Provided they got a market for their wares, these grovelling traders cared nothing for the purity of religion; but Prosunno’s practice lay in the Gapshapganj court, and it was nothing to him though the village should go to wreck and ruin. His own influence in Dhupnagar would not avail him much against a person of the priest’s standing; but with Three Shells’ assistance he might still hope to compass his revenge. The mahajan could at least excite a popular commotion by means of his many debtors, and when the attention of the other Brahmins throughout the district had once been attracted to Krishna’s perversion, Prosunno had little doubt that the excommunication of the priest’s family would speedily follow. There were Lingas, moreover, at Bhutpore and Gapshapganj, whose priests would give their ears to get a handle against Ramanath; and Prosunno mentally resolved that before many hours passed he would lay the matter before them.

As the lawyer walked along, engrossed in his vindictive reflections, Gopi, the usurer’s clerk, plucked him by the chaddar, and summoned him to his master’s house, where the worthy Baboo Three Shells was anxiously awaiting him. Prosunno turned and retraced his steps to the money-lender’s dwelling, wondering how Three Shells could have slipped out of the temple unobserved, and what had been the issue of his interview with the priest. The mahajan’s residence was a compact little house of cutcha masonry—that is, it was built of brick and mud instead of brick and lime. The walls were of great thickness, the few windows opening to the outside were narrow and barred with iron, and the door was made of heavy planks of teakwood, strengthened with bolts and plates of metal. Three Shells did not keep many servants, and the villagers could glean but little information regarding what went on in the interior. The money-lender’s food was brought to him at stated hours, and he ate it in his little open sitting-room facing the doorway. Gopi, his clerk, and Prosunno, the lawyer, were the only persons who had the entrée to the house, and neither of these had much opportunity of prying into the mahajan’s private affairs. Three Shells invariably received them in a little office off his sitting-room, and he had given them sharply to understand that when they did not find him there, it was darwaza bund.3 Strange stories were told in the village of the interior of Three Shells’ dwelling. Some would have it that he sat all day surrounded by coffers of pearls and rubies; others were sure that his zenana contained beauties of surpassing loveliness from Persia and Kashmere; while a third party was not less confident that scenes were enacted there which would make the blood curdle and the hair turn white to witness. Lights might be seen streaming through the narrow windows night after night until the morning watches; and what else could Three Shells be doing sitting up so late, but endeavouring to bring back by magic exorcisms and the aid of demons the paras patthar, or philosopher’s stone, which a holy Brahmin had, ages before, thrown into a bottomless pool of the Gungaputra? But whatever shapes the popular conjecture might assume, the villagers took good care not to obtrude them upon the mahajan’s ears.

On this occasion, much to Prosunno’s surprise, Three Shells was not to be found in the sitting-room or office. “Go straight before you and ascend the stair,” the clerk said, in a nervous whisper, “and take care what you say, for the Baboo’s liver is boiling.”

“Oh ho!” said Prosunno to himself, while he groped his way along a narrow dark passage, “Three Shells must have heard that the Panchayat has broken down; I do not wonder that he is in a passion. But so much the better; I shall have the less difficulty in persuading him to extreme measures. He is the only man in Dhupnagar who can lay the pride of these cursed Gossains.”

Prosunno cautiously stepped up a rickety stair, every step of which creaked beneath his tread. He peered cautiously through the darkness as he went, for some sign of the splendour with which rumour had fitted up the money-lender’s apartments; but the staircase might have been of ivory and sandal-wood for all that Prosunno could see. He felt his way to the landing and stood there, undecided as to where he should turn himself. If he were to advance another step he might find himself in a forbidden apartment, and then the angry mahajan would very likely turn his passion upon him. After a few minutes’ deliberation, Prosunno ventured to announce himself by a forced cough; but still no answer was returned, nor could he see any indication of the mahajan’s presence.

Presently he. heard a low wail issue from the adjoining apartment—a wail such as the hungry cheetah utters when forcibly torn off his prey. Remembering the stories he had heard of Three Shells’ habitation, Prosunno’s hair began to stand on end; but his curiosity almost mastered his fears, and though he was trembling like an aspen, he eagerly inclined his ear in the direction of the sound.

“Would to the gods that I were either dead or avenged upon him!” Prosunno heard uttered in tones of heartfelt agony. “Fool that I was, ever to have come to Dhupnagar! And yet who could have thought that Prem Singh would come here to die, when I had sent him thousands of miles away into the Deccan? It is the gods’ doing: it is their doing, undoubtedly. What is it that always tempts me, wretch that I am, to put forth my hands against their servants? O blessed Kali, my mother and protectress! keep my head in safety and from shame, and a Brahmin shall henceforth be to me as sacred as my father. But no, I will be revenged upon that priest; I must, for while he lives my life is not my own. O Vishnu Vaikuntha, the destroyer of sorrow! must I then dye my hands once more in holy blood? O gods! my wealth is yours, all yours, down to the uttermost cowrie—not one pice shall my nearest and dearest deprive you of; only, only let me live my allotted days and die in peace at last.”

Prosunno could hear the wretch beating his bosom with his hands, and dashing his forehead against the floor or the wall. The lawyer would fain have listened to further revelations, but these fragmentary confessions had not tended to increase Prosunno’s confidence in his patron. So he again coughed loud enough to attract the money-lender’s attention. But Three Shells was too much immersed in his own guilty reverie to heed the interruption. The lawyer heard him again burst forth into a torrent of passionate exclamations, but they were uttered so rapidly in a strange Hindustani patois, that Prosunno could make nothing of them. He was still listening eagerly, and was so much absorbed in thinking of what he had just heard, that he did not mark the money-lender’s movements, until Three Shells sprang out from the room and caught him by the throat. Prosunno made an effort to free himself, and the two rolled over on the floor, each locked in the other’s embrace. The struggle lasted but an instant, for the puffy and effete Bengalee was no match for the spare, sinewy, up-country man; and Three Shells soon had his long lean fingers buried in the flesh of Prosunno’s fat neck, while the other feebly attempted to gasp out a supplication for mercy.

“Wretch! I would strangle you where you lie, if it were not that I would be doing you a kindness,” hissed Three Shells in the lawyer’s ear; “but live—live to be my slave, my tool, my fetch-and-carry cur, and I shall give you crumbs or kicks as you deserve them. But mark me, seek not to pry into my secrets, or your curiosity will meet with a more terrible reward than you think of.”

So saying, Three Shells dragged the lawyer to his feet, and thrust him head-foremost into an adjoining room. Prosunno reeled forward like a drunk man, gasping for breath, and with his eyes rolling sightlessly in his head. His progress was arrested by a pile of cushions, over which he stumbled and fell headlong on the floor; and there he lay, stunned with the fall and his fright. When he ventured at last to open his eyes, he saw Three Shells sitting cross-legged on a couch, and smoking furiously at a huge silver hookha. A window had been thrown open, and the light now streamed full upon the mahajan’s countenance. An expression of forced composure was stamped upon Three Shells’ features; his eyelids drooped, but now and then his small bloodshot eyes flashed forth with a quick, angry glare, his thin hard lips quivered impatiently, and he ground his teeth savagely, as he struggled to keep back the torrent of rage and despair that was rending his bosom in search of an outlet. Prosunno felt himself in the position of one who, without knife, or rifle, or prospect of succour, has brought a tiger to bay. He continued to lie speechless on the floor, only holding up his clasped hands before the mahajan in abject entreaty for mercy.

“Sit up,” said Three Shells, curtly, as he pointed to a low seat before him. Prosunno scrambled up hurriedly enough, and took a seat among the cushions. “Compose yourself,” was the money-lender’s next order. This command was not so easily obeyed, but, nevertheless, Prosunno did his best to assume a confident bearing. He sat upright, and endeavoured to look the mahajan fixedly in the face, but he cowered and quailed as often as Three Shells bent one of his keen angry glances in his direction; and his hands seemed to be unaccountably in his way, his legs refused to bend easily beneath him, and his neck appeared to have grown too weak to support the weight of his head. Two large horse-pistols lying on the couch, with which Three Shells’ hands kept nervously playing, did not assist Prosunno in regaining his assurance. “Compose yourself,” again said Three Shells, spitefully, as he marked and gloated over the terrors he was exciting; and he fingered the butt of a pistol, while Prosunno again raised his clasped hands in mute entreaty for mercy. And thus the two continued to sit, the mahajan still smoking, and keeping his eyes steadily fixed upon the lawyer, whose increasing uneasiness seemed to have the effect of allaying his own fury; while Prosunno squatted with downcast eyes and parched mouth, his frame motionless, except when a convulsive shiver showed the apprehensions under which he was labouring.

“Speak!” cried the mahajan, at length, contemptuously puffing a mouthful of smoke in the direction of Prosunno; and seeing that the latter did not stir, he said again, sternly, “Speak, slave.”

Prosunno shifted himself uneasily upon the cushions, made a mouth as if he would speak, and lost heart again as he saw the money-lender’s hand still grasping the pistol: at last he stammered out—

“Sir, believe me, sir, I could not help it. All that could do was done, to stir up the Brahmins against Ramanath and his son. How can I answer for their obstinacy? And am I not here, your slave, ready to obey each and all of your commands? What does it please you that I should do? Shall I go forth and stir up the people to take staves against these unclean dogs of Gossains?”

The mahajan’s answer was to hurl first one pistol and then another in rapid succession at the lawyer’s head, Prosunno was, however, on the alert; and the first missile was avoided by an adroit duck of the head, but the second grazed his poll, inflicting a slight wound upon the scalp. Prosunno threw himself forward with a howl, and lay extended at full length before the mahajan.

“Prosunno,” said the money-lender, in slow and emphatic tones, “if you venture to raise as much as a finger against my most excellent and honoured friend Ramanath Gossain, or any of his family, I shall murder you myself, and throw your body to be devoured by the jackals of Panch Pahar.”

The lawyer started up at this unexpected intimation, and scanned the mahajan’s face anxiously, to see whether he was speaking in jest or in earnest. But Three Shells’ countenance wore a look of grim determination, which showed that he was not to be trifled with, and so the lawyer could only bow his head silently in token of assent.

“And hark ye, Prosunno,” continued the money-lender, “you will go out into the bazaar and take steps to stifle all gossip about this affair of Krishna Chandra Gossain. When you hear a trader speak an evil word of the lad or his father, you will ask them if they are desirous that I should reclaim my money, principal and interest, at a day’s warning. You will give everybody to understand, moreover, that the priest and I are greater friends than ever, and that if they offend him they offend me beyond forgiveness. You will take heed to do all this, Prosunno, and what is more, you will contrive that the priest shall learn all that I am doing in his behalf.”

Prosunno acquiesced by a gesture, and the money-lender went on:—

“For the insult you offered him to-day at the temple you will apologise upon your knees, and render, besides, any other atonement that the priest may desire. Shall I have to order twice?” he added, as Prosunno showed his unwillingness by an impatient gesture; but the lawyer hurriedly raised his hands to his forehead in token of submission. “It is well; and now attend to your other instructions. I wish to know in whose hands Ramanath Gossain has placed a sealed packet of great importance. You will make private inquiries until you have found out this, Prosunno, and when you have discovered it you will instantly let me know. Go now, and return to-morrow at sunrise and report the news of the bazaar.”

The lawyer rose, and after salaaming almost to the ground, was slouching out of the house when the money-lender’s voice recalled him.

“Stay, Prosunno,” said Three Shells: “I believe I could have you transported for life to the Andamans if I pleased. Forgery aggravated by perjury is punished by the Magistrate Sahib in that way, isn’t it? Ah! I thought so: but it is not enough—I must be able to hang you, Prosunno—d’ye hear, to hang you? Not that I would do it, for you are much too useful to me for that; but I must have you in my power. However, we can devise some means for arranging that afterwards. Go now, Prosunno—go in peace.”

Prosunno staggered forth from the money-lender’s house with these terrible words ringing in his ears. He was faint and sick at heart, and would have been hardly able to walk the length of his own house had not his bosom friend Protap, the accountant, been passing that way and lent him assistance. Prosunno gave out that he had been suddenly taken ill on his way home from the temple, and said nothing of his having been at the money-lender’s. He was indeed ill, but it was in mind, and not in body: and he kept his house for the remainder of the day, soothing his feelings by beating his wife Dossee on the pretence of the rice at breakfast-time having been over-seasoned with chillies, and racking his brains as to the real purport of his late conversation with the usurer.

Three Shells still sat where Prosunno had left him, agitated by a torrent of contending passions. The temporary relief which he had experienced in the lawyer’s humiliation soon died away, and the remembrance of his interview with the priest, of Ramanath’s threats, and of the dangerous position in which he had placed himself, came back with all its terrors. At the very height of his prosperity, at the time when he fancied himself most secure from recognition, the Nemesis of his past life had swooped down upon him, and borne him off to the dizzy verge of ruin. Well might Three Shells recoil from looking over into the dark abyss of the calamitous future, for pale ghosts hungry for vengeance were hovering under, ready to seize him, and the weight of former crimes hung heavily about him to accelerate his fall. He burrowed his head among the cushions of the couch as if he would hide himself from memory, but his restless spirit gave him no peace. At last, as if struck by a sudden idea, he sprang to his feet, and tearing open an almira (cupboard) he took from it another hookha and filled it from a parcel of dried-hemp leaves; and sitting down again, began to smoke furiously. As the fumes of the ganja mounted to his head, the pale agony of the money-lender’s features changed to an expression of settled savage ferocity, and he clenched his fists and struck angrily at the side of the couch as if he were assailing an enemy. He was rapidly becoming intoxicated, and as his spirits rose the sense of danger lessened, and he became more able to lay plans for saving himself. Ramanath was the only man in Dhupnagar who possessed the power of harming him, and if he could be removed, and the sealed packet of which he had spoken secured, Three Shells might face the Magistrate Sahib as calmly as any man in Dhupnagar. But how was this to be accomplished? There were difficulties in the way of no ordinary magnitude, and the money-lender felt that he must go cautiously to work.

“And this is the justice and providence of the gods!” said Three Shells to himself, angrily. “I do not believe that there was a more religious man in Dhupnagar, or a more respectable, than I was until this morning. I gave more money to the Linga than any one in the village, and I never sent a Brahmin from the door without a bellyful. And this is my reward. I am compelled to become as bad as ever, or my life is not worth a four-anna bit. The gods never give a man a chance in this world, and what’s the use of spending money on their worship? Why, it is not longer than two days ago that I gorged a Kanouje Brahmin with curds and sweetmeats until the rogue was not able to crawl out of the courtyard from sheer surfeit four-and-twenty hours after, and this is my reward! But I’ll none of that trusting in them longer. I’ll save myself by killing that cursed priest; and then, when once I am safe, may dogs devour me if ever I spend as much as another cowrie upon temple or priest! But softly, Three Shells; keep well with the gods until you are in sure ground: it will be time enough to turn your back upon them when you are out of this scrape. I must be more pious than ever, and more liberal to the Linga to conceal my intentions towards the priest. I wonder if Kalee would aid me against Ramanath if I prayed her assistance, and gave a costly present to her temple at Bhutpore. I shouldn’t wonder, for the goddess could not be very friendly at heart to so popular a shrine as the Linga and to its priest. But that will take more money. I shall be beggared by this devotion. And there are these lazy blackguards eating up all my substance, and doing nothing for it. But I must make them work. It is easy for them to idle so long as they get me to fill their bellies. Qui hye? (who’s there?)

“Salaam!” responded a deep voice from a remote apartment; and in a few minutes a tall muscular Hindustani, with a swarthy face and small lowering forehead, entered the room and saluted the money-lender.

“Well, Mohun,” said the mahajan, making an attempt at affability, “and how is the time passing with you? You must be dull, Mohun, in these hard times when so little is doing; it is about time Panchoo and you were thinking of another job.”

“Yes, Baboo,” replied Mohun; “but we were thinking that we had just done enough in this place. Since the affair at Peary Lall’s, over the water, the police are keeping such a sharp watch upon the country-side, that we may as well walk into the zilla (county) jail at once as show our faces outside after nightfall. Panchoo and I have been thinking of going home to our own country.”

“What!” cried Three Shells, starting up in wrath; “going home to your own country without settling the debt of five hundred rupees which you have owed me since you came first to the valley, and the interest, which makes it one thousand two hundred! Slaves! shall I have to give the hint to the Dipty Baboo who are the Sonthalis that are plundering in his subdivision?”

“Nay, Baboo,” said Mohun, composedly, “you will not do that for your own sake. Remember that it was you who suggested the robberies and received the loot (booty); the English Sahibs would be as hard upon you as upon Panchoo and me.”

“Fool! don’t you know that I could purchase my own pardon by informing upon you?” said the mahajan, maliciously; “but don’t be afraid, Mohun; I would never try such a trick—that is, so long as you made yourselves obedient and useful to me. But never speak of going away. I shall have such work for you as you little dream of before long, and then you may go back to your country with your waistbands stuffed with gold mohurs. And to show you how friendly I am, I will put you up to a trick. The ryot of Gaogong comes today for two hundred rupees which he has borrowed from me. The man is a coward, and his house is hidden in the jungle, and Panchoo and you will have no difficulty in breaking in and carrying off the bag. And as a proof of my liking for you both, I shall only ask the half for my share. There—you won’t find such a generous master in every place.”

Mohun salaamed his thanks, but still he seemed dissatisfied. “But one might as well be in prison as shut up here,” he grumbled; “we never get out of doors night or day unless to do mischief. I had rather be with Bhugvan Dass and his men in the jungle than cribbed up here.”

“Tuts, Mohun!” said the mahajan; “keep up your spirits. Bethink you how much better you are under shelter of a good roof, with as much food as you can eat, than shifting for yourselves among the jungles of Panch Pahar, without a full meal once in a week’s time. Wait until after nightfall and we shall send along to Rutton Pal’s for a gallon of arrack, and that will make the time pass more merrily; and now go and prepare Panchoo for his evening’s work.”

The man left the room, and Three Shells again resumed his pipe of ganja. He was now more than half intoxicated, and his spirits were as extravagantly high as they had been depressed before. “Who need be afraid when he has such fellows as these in hand,” he chuckled, “and can manage them as I can? That fellow, Mohun, will do anything, if he is only properly worked. He shall kill Ramanath, for I dare not do it myself. No, I could never carry another priest on my conscience; and then I’ll poison Mohun—I don’t mind that; there can be no sin in putting such a scoundrel out of the world. Sin! the gods should reward me for it. And then when all that is settled, I, Three Shells, shall be king of Dhupnagar. I shall foreclose upon the Ghatghar property, and turn that young blackguard of a rajah out neck and heels. I shall build a female school, and make a pukka (macadamised) road between the village and the ferry of the Gungaputra, and get the thanks of Government and the Kumpshiner Sahib (Commissioner) as a model landlord, and perhaps be made a Rae Bahadoor—who knows? Then where would Kristo find such a match for his daughter as Baboo Tincowry Dass Rae Bahadoor, the zemindar of Ghatghar? Oh ho! I trow they will lick their lips at me then; and Ramanath will salaam to the ground, and come to meet me at the gate whenever I go near his temple. But stay, Ramanath will not be there; where will he be? Ah, let me see: he will be killed. And I will build a temple—such a temple! the Linga’s temple would not be a kitchen to my temple. What’s that? Is that the Linga standing there in the middle of the floor? I’ll just say my prayers before it and go home. Can’t think what is become of Ramanath this afternoon. Oh, I know now; he is killed—killed—ay, killed by the Sonthal dakaits. Well, I must just say my prayers without him. Obeisance, O obeisance to the glorious, the everlasting Siva, whose alms-dish is a skull! But stay, there’s a priest: O gods! it’s the priest of Lootna, and his breast is all bloody. Gopi! Mohun! Panchoo! save me! save me from him!”

The mahajan fell forward upon the floor in an agony of drunken sickness, and Mohun and Panchoo, alarmed by his outcries, entered the room and laid him to sleep upon the couch. These worthies improved the occasion by searching for some key to the place where the money-lender kept his treasures; but Three Shells was too experienced a person not to have taken due precautions against any such accidents. They rummaged the mahajan’s room from top to bottom, and found nothing worth pillaging except a small bottle of French brandy, which at once approved itself to their palates, and with which they retired to their own room to drink and play cards until sunset.

Chapter IX

The Priest’s Zenana

That eventful day passed very quietly away in Ramanath’s household. Krishna kept his room in obedience to his father’s orders, and no one saw him save old Bechoo, his attendant, who had long been a servant of the house, and who gave himself little trouble about religion or caste. The priest had as yet made no remarks to the ladies about his son’s return, but it was impossible that Krishna could remain long in the house without their knowledge. The Thakoorani was too apathetic to trouble herself about the matter, further than to inquire whether her stepson had brought his usual present of Belatee mithai (European sweetmeats) from Calcutta, a delicate attention which Krishna had this time unfortunately overlooked in his perplexity. But Chakwi naturally took a deeper interest in the matter. When the poor girl heard of her husband’s return, she put on her finest clothes, and her most costly ornaments, perfumed herself with attar of roses and sandal-wood powder, and sat down in the zenana to wait for a summons to her husband’s presence. But Chakwi waited in vain. Day broke upon her as she sat shivering in the cool morning breezes within an embrasure of the zenana window, her pale cheeks and eyes red with weeping, contrasting sadly with the gay flowers in her hair and the flash of jewels about her dusky neck. She had looked across the court to her husband’s windows the livelong night, feeding her eyes upon even his shadow, as he chanced to come between her and the lamp, and listening breathlessly to every footstep that fell upon her ear.

“He is busy with his books and his learning, and forgets how the time passes,” Chakwi kept saying to herself; “but he will come yet for all that—he will come.” But when the light was put out in Krishna’s room, the light of hope was also extinguished in Chakwi’s heart. “I had better have been a widow in reality,” sobbed Chakwi, flinging herself upon a couch in a torrent of tears, “than to be thus tortured with false hopes. It were better I had never loved at all, than to have my love thus put to scorn.”

Still Chakwi hoped against hope, and sat through the long dark watches praying the gods that her husband’s love might be inclined towards her. Surely he could not be so heartless as to desert her altogether. Was she not his wife, and as such lawfully entitled to claim his love? Why, the very Brahmins would take her part if she were to complain to them; but it was love freely tendered from the heart, and not a forced show of affection, that Chakwi pined for. Had Krishna become enamoured of some Calcutta damsel, that he thus continued to slight his wife? Surely she herself was not so ugly that he need loathe her; and if a warm heart could make any husband happy, Krishna need not seek after strange women. Hark! that was a step coming in this direction. Such a firm elastic tread could only belong to Krishna; and Chakwi began to tremble, and put her hand upon her side to help her to breathe! Poor fool! it was only Ramanath going to bed—slow-footed and heavy-hearted enough, doubtless. Surely that was Krishna’s door that creaked. A long breathless pause,—until a repetition of the noise shows that it came only from a loose Venetian on the opposite verandah. She counts the howls of the jackals prowling about the compound, hoping that he would come before she counted fifty—a hundred—two hundred—a thousand. At last, at last, he comes! She would have known his step among the tread of an army, said Chakwi to herself, as she sprang up and stood with clasped hands in the middle of the room shivering with anxiety. Alas! it is only poor old Doorgee, the dhye (waiting-woman), whose rheumatism keeps her from rest at night, hobbling along the passage. But still Chakwi hoped on, and waited on, until the flush of the false dawn lightened the court for a few minutes, and she knew that morning was at hand. “I wish I were dead,” said Chakwi; “I wish he were dead, and I would make myself sati for him, though all the Sahibs in Bengal tried to keep me from the pile, and then he could not help loving me in heaven. Oh me! but my heart is sore;” and the poor weary watcher laid her head against the cold damp wall, and in a few minutes had forgotten her sorrows in sleep.

But her slumbers did not last long. Already the sun was up and shining fiercely into the window, and Chakwi, mindful of her household duties, sprang to her feet. She pushed back the thick black tresses which hung in dishevelled locks about her face and neck; she took the white rosebuds, now, alas! faded and shrivelled like her own hopes, from her hair, and put them into a little vase of water, that they might perchance revive a little; and she stealthily divested herself of her rich dress and jewellery, and slipped on the simple white muslin raiment which she ordinarily wore. It was less easy to remove those tell-tale traces of tears which clung to her cheeks and eyelids, defying alike water and towel. But Ramanath was in no mood that morning to notice Chakwi’s appearance, and when he had saluted her in his usual affectionate way, he took up the offerings and went away to the temple. It was with a heavy heart that Chakwi set about the ordering of the house and the preparation of the morning meal; but labour lightens sorrow, and she tried so zealously to engross herself in the work, that the servants wondered at her unusual sharpness and activity, and imputed her briskness to joy at her husband’s return.

After breakfast Chakwi went to her own room and sent for old Doorgee, her nurse, to whom alone the girl could freely open her heart. But Doorgee could tell her nothing about what she most wished to know, although the old woman shook her head and said that all could not be right, for Krishna Baboo was strictly confined to his own rooms and saw nobody but Bechoo, his attendant. Was there any other news in town? the girl had asked, half dreading to hear that Krishna had come home to marry Kristo Baboo’s beautiful daughter, for she knew the village gossips had talked of such a match. Doorgee, however, could tell her nothing, though she thought there was something unusual going on by the stir about the village green; but she was just going into the bazaar to buy rice, and would give her young mistress all the news on her return.

While Doorgee trotted away upon her errand, Chakwi again attempted to forget her cares in bustling about the house. She had seen that the breakfast that morning had contained a large supply of those dishes which she knew to be her husband’s favourites, and had made Bechoo take him a quantity large enough to satisfy two men of moderate appetites. She went herself to the tank and drew a pitcher of cool water from the shady side upon which the sun’s rays had not yet fallen, and wrapping a wet napkin round the jar, had set it forth in the sun to cool for her husband’s refreshment. She might even have carried her complaisance so far as to pour it into the big silver jug called a filter which Krishna had brought home among other new-fangled contrivances, although Chakwi had serious misgivings about the orthodoxy of water prepared in such a fashion; but then the jug stood in her husband’s rooms, and there she might not enter unbidden. She would have liked to muster courage enough to question the priest about Krishna, but Ramanath was still at the temple; and so she fidgeted about until Doorgee’s return, hiding a heavy heart under an active, cheerful demeanour. She had occasion frequently that morning to pass the windows of her husband’s room, and actually saw Krishna standing in an abstracted reverie looking out into the courtyard; but the young man’s thoughts had little connection with the poor girl to whom an untoward fate had linked him. Poor Chakwi! your misfortunes are but too common. What cares little Rama for Sita when they are made to take up house together? They were but infants when the bonds of marriage were fastened upon them, and the key of the padlock given to death to keep. Sita is a nice playfellow, but then there is this disadvantage, that she does not go away when Rama gets tired of her. Let them live as turtle-doves or as game-cocks: it is all one under this happy dispensation. Love indeed! a fico for love if it were not a nice thing to read about in a song or a story; but in real life— Is there any word of love in the work of Manu, king of men, who came down from heaven to give laws to mortals, and to set society on its legs? I trow not. It is only in the pages of crack-brained poetasters like Vyasa and Kalidass that we read of such an absurdity. The Hindoos are a practical people, let them thank the gods for it, and manage their marriages much better than we silly Englishmen, who leave green heads to settle a matter that would be so much more wisely arranged by grey ones.

“How shocking is all this!” says Mrs Mayfair, who has done me the honour to skip thus far over these humble pages; and who, having married her eldest daughter to Sir Invoyse St Leger, the eminent banker, in spite of Miss Frances’s passion for her penniless cousin, Jack Churchmouse the curate, can speak with authority upon the subject. “How I pity these wretched Hindoos and their unhappy marriages! nothing done to consult the poor things’ feelings, nothing left to the heart—no place given to sentiment or affection. It is really so distressing, that I must remember to give a ten-pound note to the India Mission next May meetings. I must go to Exeter Hall at any rate, to see that Clara is sufficiently civil to Mr Smelters, the rich ironmaster, who has become quite serious of late, and to keep that young pauper Linesley of the Temple from dangling at her heels. I’m sure the minx must give him some encouragement, or he would never persist so. Ah, well! these poor Hindoos and their unhappy unions — my heart quite bleeds for them.”

Go now, dear Mrs Mayfair, and drop in your shekel with a clatter upon the plate, that everybody may know you don’t give a mite when there is good to be done; or, better far, put your name in a conspicuous place upon the subscription-list, that men may see your good works, &c. Your offering will be blessed—I know it will.

There is a river in Monmouth and a river in Macedon. Bengal and Belgravia both begin with a B; and marriage is an institution in both. But to resume: When Chakwi saw Doorgee coming back from the village as fast as her old legs could bear her, she knew by the nurse’s tremulous gait and dejected looks that there was bad news to be told. “It is as I thought,” said Chakwi to herself; “he has come to marry Radha Lahory. Well, it is all one to me whom he marries, for he will never lay his love upon me. And why should I wish him to be miserable as well as myself? It is enough that one should bear the sorrow. But if he would spare me only a little portion of his love, for I will not need it long—I feel that;” and stifling her sobs, Chakwi sat down upon a couch and prepared herself to hear the tidings that Doorgee had to tell her.

Doorgee unburdened herself of the gossip of the bazaar with very little reserve, told Chakwi that her husband had become both a Christian and a kine-killer, and assured her that a Panchayat was about to excommunicate him for ever from the Brahmin caste. This news was so startling, and so different from what Chakwi had expected, that she hardly knew how to receive it; but there was one faint gleam of light issuing from the dark cloud, to which the girl eagerly turned her eyes. If Krishna had become a Christian he could never marry Radha Lahory; and what prevented her from changing her faith as well as her husband? She would be put out of caste likewise; but what was caste to Chakwi, compared with the love and society of her husband? She might be punished in another life, but she was certain that she would be happy in this one. Chakwi was almost horrified to find how easily she could stifle the scruples of religion by the promptings of love, and she began to fear that some evil spirit must be putting such ideas in her head.

It was late in the evening when Ramanath came home from the temple, for he had avoided the house all day on purpose that he might not be troubled by his wife and daughter-in-law with awkward questions regarding Krishna’s return. The victory over Three Shells and Prosunno had raised the priest’s spirits, but he knew that a still more difficult task had to be achieved before he could reclaim his son from heresy. His hopes of success rested chiefly upon the young man’s passion for Radha Lahory, and he was now willing to make any sacrifice to bring about the match. The Lahories were of excellent caste, and of as long standing in Dhupnagar as the Gossains themselves; and though they were poor, Krishna had no need to seek for a wealthy wife. He himself would clear off Kristo Baboo’s debts, and quietly lend him a hand with the marriage expenses; and there was little doubt that Kristo would be glad to get clear of his daughter in so honourable and convenient a fashion. But then there was Chakwi—and the priest’s heart sank at the thought that his plans could not be carried out without causing sorrow to his daughter-in-law, for, next to Krishna, Ramanath loved Chakwi better than any one on earth. But what was a woman’s tears against the honour of the Gossains, and the prosperity of the Linga of Dhupnagar? It was, as Ramanath tried to assure himself, a matter of the highest religious importance, in which family affections could not be taken into account; for if Krishna persisted in his perversion, there was a serious danger that the service of the Linga might be interrupted at his own death. True, he might adopt a son, or might even appoint an orthodox Hindoo trustee for the temple worship; but Ramanath chose rather to ignore these simple remedies, and to assure himself that the course upon which he had set his mind, was also the one that would be most agreeable to the gods. Besides, many a wife had to put up with the same, and why not Chakwi? It might even come to pass that Krishna would love her better after his second marriage than ever he had done before. Beauty was only skin-deep; and when his son was disenchanted of Radha Lahory’s charms, the patient gentleness and pure loving heart of Chakwi could not fail to make an impression upon him. It was right, however, that Chakwi should be protected against the new wife; and he, Ramanath, would take care that his favourite’s interest came to no harm in the marriage contract. He even made up his mind that the ample dower which Chakwi had brought with her should be placed at her own absolute disposal, and that would enable the poor girl to hold her own in the family against the penniless beauty. Many in his position would think such an arrangement to be foolishly liberal, but the Gossains of Dhupnagar were too high-hearted to be mercenary.

While Ramanath was endeavouring to persuade himself that he was doing everything for the best, and to silence any objections that conscience might suggest upon the score of Chakwi, the door of the room was softly pushed up and Chakwi stood before him. The priest opened his eyes at the change in her personal appearance. She was dressed in a plain white sheet of coarse cotton, her jewels were all laid aside, she had put away her rings and bracelets, she had strewed ashes upon her hair, and had adopted all the other signs of Hindoo widowhood. Her face was deadly pale, and she trembled in every limb as she stood before the priest. Ramanath knew what was coming, and strove to nerve himself for the scene.

“Chakwi, my daughter, what ails you that you have dressed yourself in these weeds?” said Ramanath, gently, as he drew the girl towards him. “Your friends are all alive and well; why then should you thus forebode calamity? Remember that they who sorrow before they need, sorrow always more than there is need.”

“Oh, father! how can I be but sorrowful,” cried the girl, burying her face in the priest’s hands, “when I know not whether I am wife or widow at this moment? though a widow I have been, and a widow I shall be all the days of my married life. But tell me, father, what have they done to my husband? have they put him out of caste?”

“Why should my son be put out of caste?” asked the priest, evasively. “There are few Brahmins in Dhupnagar that can afford to make light of the caste of a Gossain, far less to refuse him “ Evil hearts speak with evil tongues, my daughter ; (smoking and drinking).”

“But has not Krishna fallen away from the gods, and turned a white Christian?” asked Chakwi, looking up searchingly in the priest’s face.

“The gods forbid,” said Ramanath, fervently. “Krishna is no Christian, nor will he ever be one. In the course of a few weeks he will show the world that there is not a better Hindoo in Dhupnagar. Poor girl!” added the priest, as he recollected at whose expense Krishna’s orthodoxy was to be demonstrated; “would that my boy only knew your worth half as well as I do!”

“How, then, did they dare to talk in the bazaar of my husband’s perversion, and to speak of excommunicating him?” said Chakwi, indignantly. “What can have made them venture to take such a liberty with our family?”

“Evil hearts speak with evil tongues, my daughter; but what has a good girl like you to do with the chatter of the old randis4 and cheating dealers that meet to make noise in the bazaar? It were as profitable an occupation to listen to the wrangling of two sheparrots. Persons of our caste and station must not heed what the envious rabble says about them.”

“Alas! then,” said Chakwi, “I had almost dared to hope that my husband had been excommunicated, for then I might have gone forth with him, as Sita did with Rama, to cheer and comfort him in his banishment. There is no poverty, no trial, no scorn, that I would not gladly endure for his sake; I would follow him through the world like his slave or his dog for only a dog’s share of his master’s regard. I might have compassed his love in adversity, but in his father’s house what wants of his can I supply? Oh, father! tell me how I may win my husband.”

“The gods help you, Chakwi, my child,” said Ramanath, wiping his eyes with one hand while he embraced the girl’s neck with the other. “It was an evil hour for you when I sought you from your dead father. But cheer up; all may turn out well yet, for I have a scheme which may melt this stubborn husband of yours, and secure you at least a share of his love. Ask not what it is,” he added, as Chakwi looked up in his face with a glance of eager inquiry, “for I must keep my own counsel in the matter; but trust me, my poor little lotus-bud, that I will do all for you a father can do.”

The priest pressed a kiss upon Chakwi’s brow, and gently put her out of the room, bolting the door behind her.

“What demon of mischief sent her here to unsettle all my plans just as my mind was fully made up?” said Ramanath, impatiently. “I believe, if that poor little thing came crying to me, I should break off the marriage with Radha even after I had tabled the money. I cannot think why I should be so foolishly softhearted. Now my dear father—peace be with him—would beat his wives until the zenana rang with wailing like a burning-ghat at burial-time; but I could never bear to see a woman cry all my life. The faintest whimper was always enough to turn my scolding into coaxing, and they can wheedle me out of anything directly they begin to snivel. It is a shame that a man should be so weak. I believe I should have done my duty as a husband better, had I made more use of the bamboo; and yet I never had anything to complain of. I would almost as soon give up my life as vex poor Chakwi; but what can I do? A marriage with Radha is my only resource for saving the boy; and if that fails me, I believe I shall have to turn him out of doors after all.”

Ramanath rose, yawned, and paced up and down the room two or three times with, the air of a man who has quite made up his mind. “I had better go to bed now,” he muttered. “The Thakoorani will be sleeping, that is one comfort, and I shall not be bothered with her queries. I used to grumble at her drowsiness, but it is an ill quality that is not serviceable sometimes.”

Chapter X

The Dipty Catches an Idea

In the centre of the town of Gapshapganj stands a large prison-looking building, distinguished by some pretensions to architecture from the cutcha houses and mud huts which surround it. The doorway is guarded by a Bengalee policeman, in red turban and faded blue jacket, who slopes his baton over his shoulder with an imposing air of authority. Other members of the force, in a déshabille approaching more or less nearly to perfect nudity, lounge or loll about the doorway. It is here where the deputy-magistrate for the subdivision of Gapshapganj and Dhupnagar holds his court; and the groups of people that we see pressing round about the door are lawyers with their clients, suitors or complainants, who have come in from the country with their pieces of stamped paper, to seek for justice at the feet of that Noushirwan of the nineteenth century, our old friend Baboo Preonath Dass, “the Dipty.” The Dipty is the great man of Gapshapganj, and the amla or officials of his court are persons of scarcely less consideration. That fat consequential-looking native who elbows his way through the throng with so little ceremony is the nazir or sheriff, who receives as many salaams as might have sufficed for the Padshah of Delhi. Here stands the court interpreter, listening with half-closed eyes and vacant countenance to the pitiful tale of wrong and oppression which a poor ryot pours into his ear, in the hope of securing a friend in court when his complaint is taken up. Chaprassis, or belted messengers, are bustling in and out of the court-house, summoning now one and then another of the litigants. Smug-faced and sharp-eyed Bengalee lawyers are there in plenty, handling their bundles of papers, declaiming among themselves in loud tones, and now and then stopping to whisper into a client’s ear. Notice among others our friend Prosunno, standing in eager converse with a wealthy landlord from the Dhupnagar valley. Prosunno is held in great estimation by the landlords of the district for his cleverness in rebutting their tenants’ charges of rack-renting and oppression, and for the command which he always has of exculpatory evidence. Less successful pleaders did not hesitate to say that Prosunno gave more employment to the professional perjurers who skulked about in the vicinity of the court-house, than all the other lawyers in Gapshapganj put together. But all successful men have to put up with calumnies; and so long as his witnesses were unchallenged by the magistrate, Prosunno did not trouble himself about such aspersions.

Inside the court-house a more animated scene was going on. Upon the bench, a railed-in platform raised a few feet above the level of the ground, sat Preonath in all the dignity of a deputy-magistrate. Before him sat or stood half-a-dozen of court officials, clerks, or police inspectors, each endeavouring to make as much noise as he could under pretence of keeping silence in court. In one corner some half-dozen decree-holders were assailing a clerk for documents; and the official on his part was enumerating all obstacles, possible and impossible, in the way of making out the papers, in the hope of extracting a fee from the pockets of the impatient litigants. Preonath’s court was no exception in respect of venality to other tribunals of the same grade. Silver was the “open sesame” to every official’s good graces, from the old registrar to the latest-appointed policeman; and if Preonath was above temptation, it was because he knew that honesty was the best policy for a man in his position, and not on account of any abstract scruples about the purity of public justice. Jaddoo, the late “expectant,” stood with folded arms behind his master’s chair, grave and dignified as became a paid orderly and a member of the uncovenanted Civil Service. A belt and badge had now repaid the bruises which the enraged villagers of Dhupnagar had inflicted upon him as a tale-bearer.

Jaddoo was now Preonath’s head orderly, an office which was most conveniently filled by the man who had the least scruple about doing dirty work, and who could best forward any private objects that the magistrate might have in view for the time being. There were several circumstances which had recommended Jaddoo to the magistrate’s notice. He was not only a poor relation—for there was some cousinship between Jaddoo’s father and old Ram Lall, the oilman—but he was the stanchest and most ingenious liar in the whole of the subdivision. Jaddoo’s brother, moreover, was a servant in the house of Kristo Baboo; and the Dipty, who took into account every circumstance that might advance his suit for Radha, had calculated upon Jaddoo’s connection being convertible to his advantage.

To-day Preonath is engaged in police business. Here is old Gangooly, the headman of Dhupnagar, come to report another aggravated robbery within his jurisdiction. The tenant of Gaogong—a spare, hard-faced farmer, who, unused to the presence of justice, keeps well in the rear of the headman, and seldom ventures to speak louder than a whisper—was robbed last night of two hundred rupees; and his wife and daughter had lost all their jewellery. By the mouth of his spokesman, Gangooly, the ryot deponed that he and all his family had been sleeping, when two robbers burrowed a hole through the mud walls of his cottage, and one had seized him by the throat and held him down, while the other rifled the house, and stripped the terrified women of their ornaments. When the robbers had taken everything of value, they went away swearing that they would shoot any one who dared to lift a head before sunrise, and the ryot and his family had lain in bed expecting every minute to be murdered, until daylight came in, when the head of the house had gone to Gangooly and reported the robbery. Gangooly and the Dhupnagar policemen, two venerable watchmen of the Dogberry and Verges type, testified that they had gone to Gaogong, and examined the hole through which the thieves had entered; that they had found no other traces of them there or anywhere else; and that they had no hope of being able to discover the depredators but in his worship’s wisdom, which was like that of Vrihaspatti, the teacher of the gods, and in his judgment, which was as a turner’s lathe making all things even; adding thereto many flattering compliments to the magistrate’s learning and sagacity. Then began the cross-examination. It was the magistrate’s cue to bully the village authorities into some admission which would give his officers ground to work upon, and the village police in their turn did all they could to shift the responsibility from their own shoulders.

How could the complainant be sure that there were exactly two hundred rupees in the bag? was the first question put by the Court.

Sure! how could the complainant be otherwise than sure? Had he not the very day before hypothecated his crop of betel and two oxen to the worthy Baboo Three Shells, the money-lender, that he might raise the expenses of his son’s betrothal? Sree Krishnajee! why should he tell a falsehood? lying would not bring back his money.

“And you suspect nobody, Mr Headman? Come now, no trifling with me,” said the Dipty, who never missed an opportunity of hectoring the archon of his native village. “Is there no one in Dhupnagar who was likely to have done this? Recollect your duty to the Government, and do not attempt to screen your townsmen.”

Gangooly called the waters of the Ganges and the holy Linga of Dhupnagar to witness that he was not the man to conceal an offender or to trifle with the administration of justice. But who was there in Dhupnagar that would have done such a thing? The Huzoor (honour-magistrate), who well knew the people of his native town—and surely Dhupnagar was honoured in being the birthplace of so wise, so distinguished, so beneficent a ruler—knew also that there was no one there who would plunder a neighbour’s house.

“And was there nothing about these robbers that could serve to identify them?” asked the Dipty, turning towards the complainant. “Can’t you tell us something about their appearance or their voice that would lead to their detection?”

The farmer of Gaogong whispered into Gangooly’s ear that he had been too frightened to look at them. Their faces were muffled up, as he thought, and the one who spoke did not speak like a Bengalee. His tongue was like that of an up-country man.

“An up-country man. I suppose you mean a Hindustani or a Mussulman,” said Preonath, his face lighting up with a gleam of spiteful intelligence as he eagerly caught at the remark. “Think again, Headman; are there no Mussulmans about Dhupnagar who could have committed this robbery?”

Gangooly again called the gods to testify that there were no thieves in Dhupnagar. The only Mussulmans in the village were Shamsuddeen Khan the Subadar, and his family; and the gods forbid that the magistrate’s slave should say a word against a man who stood so high in the favour of the English Sahibs, although he was a kine-killer. There were turbulent and evil-disposed Mussulmans in the retinue of the Nawab of Panch Pahar; but the ferryman on the Gungaputra swore that no one had crossed the river that night, so they could not have been the offenders. If Gangooly, the humblest of the magistrate’s menials, might be permitted to make a representation, he would say that the robbery was doubtless committed by Sonthals from beyond the passes of Panch Pahar, who had so often molested the peaceable people of the valley.

But the Dipty had got hold of an idea and would not willingly abandon it. “What sort of men are the Subadar’s family? Are they all regular, well-disposed persons, or are there any badmashes (blackguards) about Walesbyganj who bear a troublesome, unruly character, and who would be likely to want money? Come now, headman, give me a straightforward answer.”

Gangooly hummed and hawed, blushed up to his eyes, and then turned pale. He knew that it was running a great risk to tamper with the reputation of the Subadar and his son, and he knew also that there were many facts which circumstantial evidence could twist to the disadvantage of young Afzul Khan. But it was hard that a peaceable man like him should be thus innocently embroiled with a truculent young swash-buckler like the Subadar’s son.

“A liar’s face is black, but the man who speaketh truth shall prosper,” said the proverbial Gangooly in desperation, when he saw that the Dipty was not to be put off with evasions; “and the Muhammadan’s son is an up-handed youth, who drives us Hindoos before him as if we were dogs or lepers. He is, moreover, a spendthrift and a waster, for he gambles with the Nawab of Panch Pahar, and frequents the company of naughty women. But how could it be otherwise? Man or beast will after kind, and the leopard will as soon cease to thirst for blood as the Mussulman to give over oppression. But remember, O Dipty Sahib, that I have not said anything against the youth in this matter of the robbery, for the man who secretly slanders his neighbour, sows brambles which will entangle him as he returns the same way.”

“That is as much as to say that you are kept from speaking your mind through fear of this Afzul Khan. Now hear me, Mr Headman; these robberies are bringing the subdivision into disrepute, and the Magistrate Sahib has given a hukhm (order) that they must be put down. You have confessed that there is a disreputable young man in the village, and you hint also that you are afraid to say what you know of him because of bodily injury which might be done to you on that account by this Afzul Khan. Now no magistrate could tolerate such a state of things; and I warn you that, unless you give me some certain information regarding these thefts, another headman will have to be appointed to Dhupnagar.”

“My fathers have been headmen of Dhupnagar since the English Sahibs obtained the stewardship of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, but it must be as the gods will it,” said Gangooly, beginning to whimper. “I have always tried to be a faithful servant to the Government and my townsfolk, and it is no shame to a man that he is not a seer. Question on them, your honour, and I will tell you everything I know against the lad.”

In a short time all the evil reports that scandal had ever breathed of young Afzul Khan were wormed out of the timorous headman, who between the fear of the Subadar’s vengeance and the threat of losing his office, was in a state of no ordinary perplexity. He saw clearly that the Dipty was anxious to get up a case against the young Muhammadan, and though he was quite certain that Afzul had no connection with the thefts, he knew also that his irregular habits and lawless bearing gave some colour of likelihood to suspicion against him. So he raked up the old stories about the ryot of Milkiganj’s daughter, and other scandals of the same type, the beating of Three Shells, the orgies at Panch Pahar, Afzul’s visits to the shop of Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller, and his riotous and unseemly carriage on foot and on horseback by street and by highway, and the offence which was thereby given to the decent and orderly lieges of Dhupnagar. Preonath knew all those stories before, for his father Ram Lall kept him well posted up in the gossip of his native town; but he shook his head with an air of sad gravity as the headman repeated each successive enormity, and made frequent entries in the note-book which lay open before him upon the desk.

“It is really a very serious and deplorable case,” said the Dipty, shaking his head with an affectation of melancholy solemnity, “when a young man of respectable parentage and considerable substance embarrasses himself by extravagance and improper conduct, so that to maintain his pleasures he is obliged to resort to unlawful means of obtaining money. There is no crime so wicked, no deed so audacious, that such a person will not be tempted to commit. Nay, even the law itself, in the persons of its officers, they will contemptuously set at defiance,” added the Dipty, indignantly, as he remembered how Afzul had ridden himself down at the Pagoda Tope. “I know nothing of this young man—it is probable that I may never have set my eyes upon him; but from what this worthy headman has deponed, I have no hesitation in saying that he is a most suspicious and dangerous character.”

A murmur among the amla and the lawyers applauded the Dipty’s eloquence and the justice of his remarks. A queer twinkle might have been observed in the eyes of Jaddoo as he stood behind the magistrate’s chair, for the astute orderly had no difficulty in conjecturing why his master should be so anxious to get up a case against the Muhammadan. The Dipty had taken no further notice of his rencontre with Afzul at the Pagoda Tope, but he was not the man to dismiss an insult thus readily from his recollection.

“As yet I see no grounds for proceeding against the suspected party,” continued the Dipty, “but it is a great matter to have got a clue. We must give this Muhammadan and his accomplices their swing for a while, Mr Headman, and keep a strict watch upon all his movements. When he goes out at night you or your policemen must keep him constantly in sight, and come to me next day with a report. If this be done we shall soon put a stop to these robberies, and have the thieves fast in Bhutpore jail.”

But Gangooly had another protest to make. Did his honour the Dipty think that he and his policemen had wings, that they could keep sight of the swiftest horse and the fastest rider in all the country? The only horse among them was his own pony, which only went four miles an hour, except when Lutchmun was behind with a stick to belabour it, when it could manage five. Why, even Eversley Sahib Bahadoor could not ride so fast as the Muhammadan, and how could they be expected to keep him in sight? His honour the Dipty should bethink himself how such orders were to be executed; for as the law said, “He that devised impossible tasks for another devised only—”

“Now, headman, don’t argue with me,” interrupted Preonath, angrily; “it has been evident to me from the first that you are some way interested in screening this malefactor. But mark what I tell you: if you do not get me a conviction for these thefts before the month is out, there will be a change in the headmanship of Dhupnagar.”

“The gods’ will be done,” said Gangooly, sulkily; “a man can do but his best. My fathers have been headmen of Dhupnagar since the British got the stewardship of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, and they were never asked to run against a race-horse.”

The Dipty struck his desk with his clenched fist, and was making an angry rejoinder, when a breathless messenger dashed into the court, covered with sweat and dust, without a rag of clothes upon him except his waistcloth, and with his shoes slung over his shoulders, and hardly taking time to salaam to the Dipty, announced that the Magistrate Sahib Bahadoor had taken horse, and was even then riding in the direction of Gapshapganj. In an instant all was confusion. Policemen rushed off to don their turbans and waist-belts, clerks began to scribble as if for life and death; and Preonath, having hurriedly thrown a bundle of miscellaneous papers upon his desk, called an important revenue case, in which our friend Prosunno made his appearance for the defendant; and by the time that Mr Eversley had arrived at the Gapshapganj court-house the Dipty was sitting engrossed in the pleading, and so intent upon his work that he was for a few minutes oblivious of the magistrate’s presence.

It should be remarked that the movements of a district magistrate are always a matter of the highest importance to his subordinates. The public business carried on by native officials is almost all eye-service, and it is essential to their comfort that they should know when they are under the observation of their English superiors. Like a wise official, Preonath took all necessary precautions in this respect. He fee’d the magistrate’s confidential orderly, he fee’d his khansamah, and he secured the friendship of the chief officers of the Bhutpore court by frequent complimentary largesses; so that Mr Eversley could not put his foot in the stirrup to ride in the Gapshapganj direction without a friendly warning being conveyed to the Dipty to put his house in order.

The Bhutpore magistrate was a wiry little man, of about forty years of age or upwards. His face, neck, and hands were burned as brown as a brick, and his long brown beard was bleached and grizzled by exposure to the weather. There was little appearance of official pomp about him as he dashed up to the door of the Gapshapganj court-house. He wore a yellow tussa silk jacket, which might have weighed an ounce and three quarters, a pair of white duck trousers tucked inside long riding-boots, and an enormously broad pith-hat, which gave him the appearance when walking of an animated mushroom; but he had eschewed all such vanities as gloves, waistcoat, collar, or necktie. As he came up, the Gapshapganj policemen, drawn up in line, with the sergeant at their head, executed an elaborate military salute, which the magistrate carelessly returned with the shaft of his hunting-whip; and handing his horse, a beautiful Waler mare, to the nearest orderly, who received the animal with hardly less respect than he had vouchsafed to its master, the magistrate walked into the court compound. The lawyers salaamed low, and the suitors on the outside of the crowd set up a faint cry of “Dohai (justice), Magistrate Sahib! Kumpani ka dohai!“ (the justice of the Company)—which was promptly silenced by blows from the nearest policeman. Brijo, the perjurer “in largest practice,” made off for the jungle as fast as he could; sweepers were sent off to clean and water the streets; and everybody in Gapshapganj could see by the bustle and hubbub about the court-house that the “Big Sahib” had come to the village.

Chapter XI

Eversley Sahib

Mr Eversley, the Collector of the Gungaputra district, was an official of a type that has almost passed away. He had been brought up in the strictest traditions of the Haileybury school, and had adhered through all his life to the conservative principles of “old civilianism.” His deepest conviction was that the service was “going to the devil,” and that every fresh change which was made in its constitution was merely an extra acceleration to its downward progress. When the “competition wallah” came in, Eversley foresaw certain ruin to the English interests in India; and to this day he firmly believes that the introduction of the new system was mysteriously connected with the Sepoy Mutiny, which followed after a short interval. “Competition wallahs!” he was wont to exclaim; “as well put the country under a commission of schoolmasters at once. But we’ll lose the country with all this Greek and Latin; take my word for it, we’ll soon lose the country.” Mr Eversley was very sparsely imbued with these classical languages, and his contemporaries at Haileybury say that it was a marvel how the Court of Directors ever allowed him to come out to India at all. He had never been able to make a hexameter in the whole course of his life, and there is grave reason to doubt that he was ignorant of even the barest elements of the Greek accidence. But he had acquired a marvellous colloquial familiarity with the Eastern vernaculars, and he knew the habits and feelings of the Bengalees better than any other officer in the Lower Provinces. He could cross-examine a ryot in the patois of his own village, and repay with interest the slang of a bazaar shopkeeper. There was no chance of Eversley falling into such a blunder as that which was laid to the charge of Muffington Prig, the magistrate of the neighbouring district of Lallkor, who once, in taking the deposition of a witness in a criminal case, had expressed his displeasure that evidence of such importance should be given on the authority of a third person, and ordered the police to take care that “Fidwi” should be brought before him.5 But for all that, Mr Muffington Prig was a rising man in the service, and had obtained as much promotion in twelve years’ time as Eversley had in twenty. True, he never could understand what a Bengalee said to him; he could no more sit a horse than he could have ridden upon a griffon; and his enemies even whispered—for the charge was too serious a one to be openly advanced—that he had once in a sporting mood gone out “pig-shooting,” the enormity of which offence could only be paralleled by the butchery of a fox in an English hunting county. But then he wrote leaders in the ‘Bengal Peon;’ he was known to be the author of at least one article in the ‘Chowringhee Review,’ and he had edited an edition of the ‘Mofussil Magistrate’s Manual;’ all of which eminent literary undertakings clearly marked him out for advancement. Eversley, on the contrary, had difficulty enough in making decent English of an official report, and pert young undersecretaries at the Bengal office took a delight in girding at his orthography and syntax. Mr Muffington Prig’s judgments had been more than once spoken of with high encomiums by Mr Justice Tremor in the Appeal side of the High Court; but Mr Eversley’s law never came before the Bench except to be reprobated. Lawyers complained that he did not know even the rudiments of the Codes; but there was no magistrate in the Lower Provinces whose decisions were received with more general satisfaction, or from whose judgments there were fewer appeals. The magistrate of the Gungaputra’s rough and ready way of settling cases was better relished by the natives than the elaborate findings of the Lallkor archon, which were generally unintelligible to the suitors until they had fee’d their lawyers to tell them which side had gained. The people knew that Eversley would do what he saw to be right independent of Act or Code, and they had more confidence in his sense of justice than in the written law. But in spite of all these drawbacks Mr Eversley’s name was well mentioned in high places, for the Government knew that he was a trustworthy and energetic officer, who could well be relied upon to meet an emergency.

It was clearly understood, however, that the magistrate of the Gungaputra was not a man who was likely to receive further promotion. So far was he from courting favour in Calcutta, that he had never hesitated to non-suit or decide against the Government itself when it came into his court with a weak or an illegal plea, notwithstanding a hint from the Board of Revenue that the magistracy of Colrapore would likely be soon vacant by death, as it was now nearly six weeks since the present incumbent had taken up his appointment. But neither Colrapore nor Saugor Island would deter Eversley from doing justice when on the Bench, and the Board was fain to leave him alone, for fear of a public outcry. But it was little wonder then though Mr Eversley’s official reputation was thrown far into the shade by Mr Muffington Prig, for that excellent official had not only never decided against the Government in a single suit, but had always succeeded in showing that the law was clearly in its favour. It only remains to be added that Mr Eversley was a mighty hunter, a pillar of the Tent Club, and a patron of the turf, although he had never betted sixpence upon horse-flesh since he came to India. His exploits among the “wild pigs” were the favourite talk of the Bengal and the United Service Clubs; and he had shot as many tigers in his time as “Tiger Brown” of the Junglywallah Cavalry, or Bounceby of the Toshakana Office, whose feats, moreover, mainly rested upon their own personal assertions. He preserved the tigers in his district as strictly as a Norfolk squire guards his pheasants; and great was his indignation at the scandalous conduct of Muff. Prig of Lallkor, who determined to stamp out beasts of prey, and had offered a reward of five rupees for every tiger’s head brought to his office. When it came out that the artistic natives of Lallkor had taken to the manufacture of tigers’ heads, and that Mr Prig had paid away several hundred rupees for clever imitations, composed of glass eyes, bamboo splits, and tiger-skin, Eversley was as much delighted as if he had been promoted to a Commissionership. The news of a tiger was the signal for the instant adjournment of the Gungaputra court, no matter how important might be the business before it. Styles, the great wit of the Calcutta bar, used to tell how he had managed Eversley when pleading before him in a criminal case, which the magistrate refused to remand to give the prisoner’s counsel more time to collect evidence. Styles had slipped out of court and given a countryman a rupee to tell the Magistrate Sahib that there was a tiger in the Panch Pahar jungles; and before ten minutes had passed, Eversley was on horseback and galloping down the valley at full speed with a dozen bearers behind him. But then Styles was not always remarkable for veracity when he himself was the hero of his own narrative.

Everybody salaamed down to the ground as the magistrate entered the Gapshapganj court-house, and the Dipty came down from the Bench and advanced with many bows to welcome his superior officer. Eversley gave him his hand, and threw himself unceremoniously into a chair, calling out as he sat down for a light to his cigar. Half-a-dozen fire-stands were obsequiously proffered, and the magistrate smoked away in silence until the Dipty had adjourned his court and cleared the room of officials. There only remained the Dipty’s clerk and old Gangooly with his two watchmen, who had been hustled into a corner when the magistrate’s arrival was announced, and who now stood as far away from the great man as possible, anxiously waiting for the Dipty’s permission to depart. The Dipty, however, was too much engrossed in attending to Mr Eversley to be conscious of their presence. “Well, Baboo, and how is work going on?” the magistrate was saying; “as many cases upon your files as usual? This subdivision of yours is more litigious than all the rest of the district put together; and no wonder, for I am sure that I counted more than a dozen pleaders hanging about your cutcherry. I wish to heaven they would not let loose so many blackguards to prey upon the people! I would rather any day have ten dakaits (highwaymen) than one lawyer in my district.”

“He, he! your honour is jesting surely,” sniggered the Dipty; “but there are lawyers from Dhupnagar as well as Gapshapganj attending my court; one of them was pleading before me in an important rent case when your honour arrived.”

“But talking of Dhupnagar,” interrupted the magistrate, “what about these robberies? Something must be done, and that immediately; for these confounded papers in Calcutta are crying out about them, and urging the Government to send a special officer to the district. Special officer indeed! much good would a special officer do in my district. It is that confounded soor Muffington Prig who wrote that article in the ‘Peon.’ I know it was: no other fellow could have been so spiteful,” added the magistrate sotto voce; and then aloud, “Have you got any clue to the depredators yet?”

“There was another robbery the night before last at Gaogong,” said Preonath. The magistrate uttered an exclamation of annoyance, and began to smoke with short, fierce puffs.

“And has nothing been discovered yet? What is the use of your police? I’ll suspend every man Jack of them if they don’t get me a conviction within a week’s time. You must stir them up, Baboo—you must stir them up, even if you should have to shut up your court, and go and stay upon the spot until some of these scoundrels are captured.”

“I have received some information to-day,” said Preonath, gravely, “which throws suspicion upon a new and altogether unsuspected quarter. The headman of Dhupnagar tells me that he suspects one Afzul Khan, a son of Shamsuddeen, the retired Subadar.”

“If the humblest slave of the Huzoor—may his lordship live for a thousand years and his favour increase in the land!—might make a respectful representation, he would say that his honour the Dipty Baboo has mistaken his words,” interposed old Gangooly, sidling forward into the magistrate’s presence with profound salaams.

“What, fellow! how came you here?” cried Preonath, reddening at the interruption. “The headman, sir, is overawed by the young Mussulman, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I could get any information out of him. I would respectfully suggest, your honour, that a more efficient headman should be appointed to Dhupnagar.”

“My fathers have been headmen of Dhupnagar since the English Sahibs got the stewardship of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa,” said poor Gangooly; “but a man cannot see beyond eyeshot, nor hear where there is no sound. The gods know that I am neither diviner nor soothsayer. How, then, can I find out the robbers?”

“By keeping your eyes open and your wits about you, headman, as you will have to do a little better if you wish to remain in your present post,” said the magistrate; “and now, Baboo, tell me what is this about Afzul Khan?”

“They will have it so then,” said Gangooly to himself, with a sigh of resignation, “and the best thing will be to give them their own way, for there is little good comes of contending with one’s masters. However, I wash my hands of false witnessing. And, after all, the lad is only a Muhammadan, so it does not matter quite so much whether he gets justice or not;” and consoling himself with this reflection, Gangooly held his peace, and allowed the Dipty to rehearse to Mr Eversley all the articles of impeachment against the character of Afzul Khan.

The magistrate listened gravely to the various charges. “But all these things,” he said, “have no bearing upon the case in point, although they might help to strengthen a suspicion. Tell me, headman, what reason have you for thinking that Afzul Khan is mixed up with these robberies?”

“May it please your honour, I did not think that the Subadar’s son was a robber,” responded Gangooly, brightening up again. “I have always said, as the whole village says, that the robbers are Sonthals from above the passes; and what can I and my two watchmen do against half-a-score of men armed with axe and spear? It was his honour the Dipty Baboo who, in the depth of his great wisdom—of which we, his townsmen, may well be proud—discovered that the Muhammadan must be the robber.”

“Indeed! and what grounds of suspicion have you against him?” inquired the magistrate, turning a searching glance upon the Dipty.

“Sir, your honour!” cried Preonath, eagerly, colouring up to the eyes in spite of himself, “I told you this man was under intimidation of the Muhammadans. It was with the utmost difficulty that I could draw any information out of him regarding this person’s character. Besides, I had a hint from a most respectable Hindoo in Dhupnagar that the Subadar’s family was connected with the robberies.”

“And who may this most respectable Hindoo be, pray?” asked the magistrate, doubtfully, as he began to suspect that the Dipty had some personal interest in criminating Afzul. The aphorism “cui bono” was one of Eversley’s few judicial maxims, and it was one that he never lost sight of when dealing with native cases.

“It was Baboo Kristo Doss Lahory,” replied the Dipty, after some hesitation, for he was not sure that Kristo’s words would warrant him in putting such a construction upon them. “He said to me that he should not be at all surprised if the Subadar and his son were at the bottom of these robberies the very last time I saw him.”

“Now, Baboo, did you—who are a lawyer, and a clever one too—actually give heed to what Kristo said of the Subadar’s family? You know quite well that Kristo has never forgiven Shamsuddeen Khan for obtaining a part of his family estates, and that there is no ill turn which he would not do the Muhammadan if he could get off with it; and now, answer me plainly and truly, have you any personal quarrel with Afzul Khan?”

“What quarrel could I have with him, your honour?” said the Dipty, confidently. “So far as I know, I never saw the man in my life, and I have never heard anything of him except the information which has been lodged against him this morning. I trust you do not think, sir, that though I had any quarrel with him, I should allow it to influence my feelings as a deputy-magistrate? I am sorry that your honour should have formed so unfavourable an opinion of my character;” and Preonath put on an air of injured innocence as he looked Mr Eversley full in the face.

“Well, well, I hope not,” said the magistrate, doubtfully, “but it is best to be careful. And after all,” he muttered to himself, “it may be just the Dipty’s officiousness and anxiety to fix the robberies upon some one of another faith.” “And what do you propose to do?” he added aloud; “how do you intend to act upon this supposed information?”

“That will be for your honour to decide,” replied the Dipty; “as you consider our suspicions unfounded, I suppose we had better take no further notice of them. I may, however, venture to remind your honour that the officers in the Sonthal Pergunnahs are positive that the robberies were not committed by men from their district. Shall I cancel this information against Afzul Khan?”

“No, certainly not,” said the magistrate; “heaven forbid that I should allow my own prepossessions to interfere with the course of justice! and I would give heavy odds that the lad has no connection with these thefts. I have hunted with him in the Panch Pahar jungles, and I never saw any one that was a scoundrel ride so straight up to a boar.” This comment was addressed rather by the magistrate to himself than for the Dipty’s edification. “However, just keep a close watch upon him. If he is an honest man he will be none the worse for being under surveillance; and if he isn’t, the sooner we send him to the Andamans the better. But who is to look after him? Do you mean to intrust the duty to these energetic officials?” looking towards Gaugooly and his two ancient assistants.

“No, sir; I have an orderly who is a very clever detective, and I shall send him to Dhupnagar for this business. I suppose you think that we had better keep the matter secret until our suspicions are verified?”

“Certainly,” returned the magistrate, “for the lad’s father’s sake, who, at all events, is a most excellent and loyal man. So take care of your tongues, my good fellows, when you go back to Dhupnagar, or if I hear of any gossiping about this business, there will be a vacancy in the village headmanship.”

Gangooly swore by the thousand names of Siva, by the waters of the Gungaputra, and the thrice-holy Linga of Dhupnagar, that not a word should cross the lips of him and his watchmen; adding, also, that his fathers had been headmen of Dhupnagar since the English Sahibs had obtained—”

“Are there any tigers about Panch Pahar nowadays, headman?” interrupted the magistrate.

“By your honour’s favour they are all exterminated,” said Gangooly, with a low salaam: “the wild beasts of the jungle can no more face your lordship’s presence than an antelope can look upon a hunting leopard. The mothers of Dhupnagar tell their children every day how the great Magistrate Sahib killed the big man-eating tigress at the Ghatghar ford, five years ago come the feast of Kalee. Do they not, Hurree? do they not, Lutchmun?”

Hurree and Lutchmun, the aged guardians of the peace of Dhupnagar, bowed almost to the ground, and whispered a chorus to their headman’s eulogium on the magistrate’s exploits. Mr Eversley sucked his cigar with a mollified air, for even district magistrates are mortal, and the Collector of the Gungaputra was not a little vain of his reputation as a sportsman.

“Well, headman, I am coming to Dhupnagar in a fortnight, and I shall want some sport upon the other side of the river. You will manage to provide a score or so of beaters for me, won’t you?”

“Your lordship shall have the whole village, man and child, if you require them,” said Gangooly, delighted with the commission; “and if any one dares to refuse, I will tie him by the great toes to the small end of a green bamboo, and let him hang there until he learn to reverence the Government.”

“Nay, nay; ’ware the torture clause in the Penal Code,” cried Mr Eversley, laughing; “eight annas a-head will be a more legitimate inducement. And do not forget to keep quiet about Afzul Khan, and to keep a good look about the village until you catch the real culprit.”

Gangooly took his leave delighted with the magistrate’s affability, and promising that his orders should be strictly obeyed; and the magistrate and the Dipty addressed themselves to the other business of the subdivision. It was not without a purpose that Eversley had conciliated the headman, for he had a sincere regard for Shamsuddeen, and would gladly have spared him any scandal regarding his son. The magistrate mentally resolved not to confide too much in the Dipty in the matter, but to take an early opportunity of investigating the robberies on the spot; for Eversley was one of those civilians who had little confidence in the integrity of natives, and who had incurred no small odium by steadily setting his face against their admission to offices of trust and authority. However, the public service lost little by Eversley’s narrowness; for his distrust of his native subordinates only made him far more careful and energetic in the discharge of his own duties, and less ready to accept evidence at second hand than other officials who were more liberal in their sentiments.

“If a dog made a pilgrimage to Kasi (Benares), he is still but a dog when he comes back again,” said old Gangooly to his two henchmen, as his pony jogged slowly up the road towards the Pagoda Tope. “Our Dipty, though he has got all the learning that the Calcutta Sahibs can put into him, is still no more of a gentleman than his old father Ram Lall, the oilman. You noticed, Hurree—you saw, Lutchmun—how politely the Huzoor Magistrate Sahib Bahadoor spoke to me. He is a great man, and of a good caste of Englishmen, and knows what proper manners are. But when had an upstart like the Dipty proper respect for his elders and betters? It is a bad thing for the country when the English Sahibs put low-caste men in authority.”

“What better do they know? they are ignorant of the blessing of caste. English society is like the kingdom of Harbong, where greens and sweetmeats are sold alike at a pice a seer. They have no proper orders; the sweeper, they say, may sup with the priest, if he has only money enough,” said Hurree, sententiously.

“But we needn’t trouble ourselves about the Dipty so long as we can retain the favour of the English Magistrate Sahib,” said Gangooly. “You will take heed, my brothers, that his honour’s orders about secrets are remembered. You are not to go into the bazaar and sit down and gossip with folks about Afzul Khan being blamed for the robbery, or that the Dipty’s orderly is coming to Dhupnagar to watch him. But if you wanted any news to give the villagers, I do not know that there would be any harm of speaking thus to them:— lo, you! what a great and good man is our magistrate, and how he respects our old headman, Gangooly! He treats our headman with as much courtesy as he does the Dipty Baboo, and trusts as much to his word as if he were the holy Hurrish Chunder himself, who never told a lie.—This much ye may say, my children, without doing harm.”

“But surely we may tell the wives and friends of our families about the Muhammadan,” said the watchmen; “there could be no wrong in that, O Mr Headman?”

“Nay, nay! the gods forbid that I should tie your tongues under the thatch of your own cottages!” responded the easy-going Gangooly, “for he who hides in his breast a secret from his friends, sits upon burning coals until he yield it up; I know that myself. I shall tell my own wife, and you may tell yours; but command them not to tom-tom it over the bazaar, for the orders of the Magistrate Sahib must be strictly obeyed. Beat up the pony, Lutchmun!”

Hurree and Lutchmun promised compliance; but it could hardly be wondered at that, in spite of Gangooly’s interdict, the bazaar of Dhupnagar should be full of Afzul Khan’s guilt before four-and-twenty hours had passed over, and that the Subadar’s family were the only persons in the village who had not heard of what had transpired in the Gapshapganj court-house.

Chapter XII

Krishna’s Letters

Krishna sat in his room writing letters. Since his arrival he had not quitted his father’s compound, and had confined himself closely to his own apartments, except when he went forth to bathe in the tank at early morning, or when he ascended to the top of the house to walk up and down its terraced roof for exercise after nightfall. He had spoken to none of the inmates save his father and old Bechoo, his attendant; and the young man’s spirit was beginning to chafe at the solitary life. A hundred times a-day he would wish that he were up and doing something, however humble, for the regeneration of his countrymen, instead of purposelessly frittering away his time within four walls. Krishna had not as yet wavered in his purpose of becoming the deliverer of his country from idolatry and superstition. Something within seemed to tell him that he was not as other men were: that a great work was waiting for him in the world to do; and that fame and honours, brilliant as they were remote, were destined to crown his earthly career. Enthusiasm had in fact got the mastery over the young man’s mind, and he owed it to the accident of education that his enthusiasm had been directed into a right channel. Had he not been sent to a Calcutta college, he might have laid aside his Brahminical cord and his caste as his uncle Shib Chunder had done when a young man, to become a Sunyasee or wandering mendicant, devoted to the service of Siva; but Krishna now would have scouted such an idea as ridiculous. He was sure that nothing could move him, but a firm belief in the True and the Eight, and that his motives were of the purest and most disinterested character. And yet it is to be feared that the actuating principle of these feelings was ambition, an ambition not the less active that it was well disguised under the aspect of self-denial and generosity. And yet in all Krishna’s visionary projects for the deliverance of his countrymen, self played a very important part. When he tried to fill his mind with the golden age which would dawn upon India when the idols were broken, superstition banished, and the people converted to the worship of the One, his thoughts persistently turned to what rewards, what honours, would be showered upon him who had wrought this great work. And he dreamed of a day when the name of Krishna Chandra Gossain would be spoken admiringly by every Indian tongue, and when men would make pilgrimages to Dhupnagar to look with respect upon the birthplace of so illustrious a character. But in proportion to the extravagance of such hopes, the fits of despondency which frequently overtook him, depressed his spirits; and at such times seclusion would begin to work the effects upon which Ramanath had calculated. Why, Krishna would then ask himself, should he thus voluntarily exile himself from the society of his family and his friends for a mere matter of belief which he might well keep to himself, and nobody be any the wiser? What call had he to become a martyr for Theism? And would his countrymen be any happier though they were all Theists to-morrow? Had knowledge made himself happy or the reverse? Then he would wish that he had never troubled his head about religion, that he could believe as devoutly in the Linga as Modhoo the porter did, or that he could accept the popular faith in his father’s unquestioning spirit. Then he would ask himself, why should not this be so? He had merely to make a fashion of conforming to orthodox Hindooism, and he would be a rich, respected, and happy man during the rest of his life. Respected he might be, but would he respect himself? And what would the Brahmists say if he, who had been the boldest speculator, the most determined iconoclast among them, were to set up as the priest of an idol temple? No, no; he could never do it: he had made deliberate choice of the light, and would no longer abide in the darkness. Then his pride would rise again at the thought that his belief, or his scepticism rather, had placed him far above the level of the vulgar masses; and his present position as a sufferer for a noble and unpopular cause, was not without its strong potion of vainglory for an ardent young mind. A glance at Krishna’s correspondence will perhaps help us better to understand his state than any description would do. The first was written in Bengalee, and was superscribed,

“To the fortunate Baboo Bholanath Thakoor, my friend, loved as my own life, I write as follows:—

“Though the promise I made to you at the Howrah station has been ever in my mind, it is only now that I am able to fulfil it. Need you ask why? Surely the heart of friendship can divine that it is because I have no good news to give you. Know, then, that my father has not cast me off, and that I am still living in his house, but apart from the family. But what of that? I cannot continue to stay here in idleness, and the time is at hand when I must break through the bonds of family love and go forth into the world to do the work. I need not tell your tender heart how hard it is for me thus to offend my father. I shall need all the strength that my prayers and yours can procure for me, to nerve me for the struggle. O Bholanath! would that I had you or some of our other friends by me to aid me with their counsel! for at times I feel the ground of my faith slipping from under my feet. If I were only out in the world where bodily temptations assail one, I think I could withstand them—at least I should wrestle with them; but my own mind is a far stronger tempter than I can get the better of. Sometimes an evil spirit asks me, Why throw away all your worldly advantages, your position as a twice-born Brahmin, your ancestral wealth, and your father’s love, for an idea? At such times, Bholanath, I am sore bested; and but for prayer, and the thought of your sympathy and that of the brethren, I should assuredly fall away. Would that I were with you, Bholanath! I say again. Each day will be long year until I return to the society of you and our other friends. Think then of me, Bholanath, especially at prayer-time. What more can be said by your affectionate friend and fellow-Brahmist,

“Krishna Chandra Gossain.

“But I must tell you of her,—not the wife to whom an untoward fate has linked me in name—though why should I complain of it, since that chiefly of earthly influences hath opened my eyes to the errors of Hindooism?—but of her to whom I have so long been secretly devoted. I have seen her again, Bholanath—seen her again face to face, as I did when she slew me with a single glance. Last night I was walking up and down my father’s compound, when some irresistible influence led me to look upon the sacred spot where I had first beheld her. I wrapped my chaddar round my head so as to conceal my features, and stole quietly through the temple grounds until I reached the Lahories’ ruined tank. The waters sparkled brightly in the moonlight, and the fire-flies’ lamps glowed in the dark shade of the thick boughs which hang over the basin of the tank. It was such a night as our idolatrous countrymen might well have chosen for paying their homage to Kamdeo, the god of love. I leaned against a broken wall, well concealed by a thick clump of bamboos, and was unconsciously humming to myself a stanza of the Urdu song, which you may remember some of our Mussulman students used to sing:—

‘Like soft wind’s ripples upon beauty’s stream,
So fall thy tresses; and their dazzling gleam,
More golden than the fountain of the sun,
Sheds purer light than noontide’s brightest beam.’

Just then I heard a rustling among the leaves, and Radha with her maid appeared on the other side of the tank. I crept forward, and from behind the shadow of an acacia-tree, I could see her quite distinctly as she came down to the water’s edge and stood straight before me in the moonshine. If my pen could only describe the charms I saw, you would forgive me, Bholanath, for loving her. Radha’s figure is fuller and more womanly than when I last saw her, but her face still wears that look of childish guilelessness which has been engraven upon my heart all these weary years. Once as she turned her face upwards, a yellow glow of moonlight fell upon her features, smiling upon her red lips, playing about her dainty nose, silvering her high square forehead, and sparkling in her large liquid eyes, while her black hair seemed almost blue as the soft moonbeams played upon it. Ah, Bholanath! it was a glance of heavenly beauty such as one only sees once in a life-time.

“‘Kamdeo (Cupid) with the golden locks be propitious to thy handmaid,’ said she, as she took from the attendant a small chip of wood, upon which a tiny wax-light was burning. ‘Shall we say this is the Rajah of Ghatghar, my Sukheena?’ she asked, as she gently launched the chip upon the bosom of the tank. ‘Very well; a fair voyage to your highness. But see! what is this? I declare he is going to sink already! The Rajah’s passion is soon cooled, my Sukheena;’ and as she spoke, the chip was overturned by the weight of the taper, which had not been placed fair in the centre, and it disappeared among the waters with a hiss and a splutter.

“‘Let this be old Ganga Prasad, the rich landholder of Gapshapganj, who wants me for his fourth wife,’ she said, as she launched another. ‘Well done, Ganga! you sail away steadily as if you were used to marry; but what is this?’ Here a little fish sporting in the moonlight leaped up, oversetting the taper. ‘So, so,’ said Radha; ‘Ganga is soon disposed of. If that is an omen, his suit will come to an unexpected end.’

“‘Quick, Sukheena! quick with another!’ she cried hurriedly, breeze swept the surface of the tank. ‘Let this be my own, my only, my nameless lover, for it is over no smooth waters that his bark must float.’ As the third light was blown over the ripply surface, and as the tiny wavelets tossed it higher and higher, threatening every minute to swallow up the frail bark, Radha clapped her hands with childish delight. ‘See, Sukheena!’ she cried; ‘watch how nobly it is sailing towards the other bank! Nothing can swamp the bark of true love, and our passion will guide us safely to love’s haven, in spite of the many hindrances that come in its way. See, it touches the bank! I must catch it;’ and as she spoke, the light-hearted maiden came running round to the side where I was concealed. She gave one shriek as she saw me, and turning quickly, bounded off to the house like a frightened antelope, while I made my escape as quietly as possible. Was it not strange that the third love-bark should come safely to shore through so many dangers? You will think me silly, Bholanath, but my heart instinctively told me that the maiden whispered my name as she launched the third taper.”

“K. C. G.”

Krishna’s second letter was addressed to one of the leading reformers of the Calcutta Brahmo Somaj, and it was less frank in tone than the preceding. It was written in Bengalee also.

“Baboo Krishna Chandra Gossain, to the most reverend and honoured Baboo — —

“The only relief your former disciple finds in the midst of his manifold afflictions is the thought of your sympathy and friendship, and that of the brethren. O my preserver and protector, let your prayers ascend to the Supreme Brahma for me! I am detained in parental bonds, and I lack the strength to break through them; although my condition here is far more harassing to the soul than the world’s scorn, or hostility, or temptations could be. I am shut out here from all society except that of my books and my own thoughts; and the latter are my most deadly enemies. I have followed your counsels, and striven to conquer evil suggestions by prayer; but it is heartless work praying in this Black Age, when the mind is racked by doubts, and when no hand is put forth from heaven to raise the suppliant. But think not, my father, that I murmur at my lot, or that I mistrust the Supreme Brahma’s care for those who truly seek to serve Him. I know that He is ordering all this affliction for my good; I only fear that there may be still some trial in store for me which I shall sink beneath. Advise me what to do. I would fain go out into the world to proclaim war against idolatry, and rescue our countrymen from the thraldom of caste; but you know how strong are the ties that bind a son to a father. Counsel me also in the matter of my wife. I was married to her when an infant, and we have never lived together. She is an insipid, narrow-minded woman, wholly sunk in superstition, and unable to see the beauty of our holy faith. I would be glad if our union could be dissolved, giving her, of course, an ample portion of my worldly wealth; but to do this I must have the sanction of our brethren. Can I trouble your kindness to put this matter before them in a quiet manner? I would be ashamed to force such an affair upon their notice, did I not feel that my usefulness is fettered, and my life embittered, by my relationship to this woman. Thenceforward I would live without wife or family to distract my attention from the service of the Supreme.”

It can hardly be said that these letters set forth the whole of Krishna’s mind without reserve. He had alluded to doubts and temptations, but he had not frankly acknowledged that his passion for Radha was the greatest trial that he had to encounter. The accidental meeting which he had described to his old class-fellow had fanned the smouldering flame into a blaze. His new faith now occupied but a secondary place in his thoughts, and when he did think of it, it was chiefly as the barrier between him and his love. The time which he had been wont to spend in prayer and religious meditation was now devoted to the composition of Sanskrit slokas in praise of Radha’s beauty, or in scribbling love-sonnets in Bengalee. Night after night he paced up and down the house-top, watching Radha’s windows until long after every light had been put out in the house of Lahory; and whenever a shadow passed between him and the light in Radha’s apartments, his heart would begin to palpitate, and his frame to tremble, as he sought to trace the outlines of Radha’s figure. O Krishna! could you have known that the shadow which seemed to you so lithe and slender was cast not by Radha’s shapely form, but by the lean and withered skeleton who had been the maiden’s nurse, how you would have loathed the foolish stupidity that made you go down on your knees and waft kisses across the darkness! But which of us has not made love to a shadow in our time as well as the priest’s son?

Krishna sat at his table, embarrassed by a crowd of contending feelings. The letters were written, and lay sealed before him, but his mind was filled by a vague sense of misgiving, which made him wish that they were unwritten, and he felt irresolute about despatching them. Had he not been too frank with Bholanath? And yet if he could not confide in him, whom could he trust? What were his feelings and trials to the men of the Brahmo Somaj, who were too busy with their own affairs to waste their sympathy upon him? He remembered how he had vaunted his own firmness, how harshly he had judged the weakness of others; and he trembled at the thought of how men would scoff and sneer at his own instability. There were many of his fellow-Brahmists who sneered at him as a visionary, and turned into ridicule his great schemes for the regeneration of his country; but these men would jeer at him now as a weak-minded enthusiast, a dreamer who had never the courage to put his Utopian schemes into execution. But he would take care that they should not scoff at him; and he felt that he could almost persist in his design to become an apostle of Brahmism, if for no other purpose than that he might deprive his enemies of the pleasure of sneering at his recantation. He was conscious that he was not altogether loyal to his new faith, and this consciousness soon suggested a suspicion of the sentiments of his fellow-Brahmists towards him. He was sure that several heads of the society were jealous of his talents, and would be glad to hear that he had fallen off from the faith; but he would take care that their wishes were not gratified at his expense. No: he would at once go forth and begin the great work which was to regenerate his countrymen and raise himself to a higher niche in the temple of fame than any Hindoo had reached since the heroic ages. And warming in his enthusiasm, Krishna started to his feet and began to pace the room with short, impatient steps.

But why did he pause so often opposite that window which looked forth upon the village green? Over against him stood the house of Lahory, its huge pile of masonry seeming in the waning moonlight to be even more grey and ruinous than it actually was. A few lights glimmered here and there in the building. There was Kristo’s reception-room, where he would be sitting and smoking with his poor relation and gossip, Jotendro, or with Radhakant, the Ghatghar Rajah’s steward, who was said to encroach upon Three Shells’ profession, and who was known to have more than once accommodated the needy head of the Lahory family. But it was those windows that looked towards the Gungaputra and Panch Pahar that riveted Krishna’s attention, for they belonged to the zenana, where the lovely Radha was immured. How many times a day had Krishna studied that angle of Kristo Baboo’s building! One might have thought that it was with the black moss-grown bricks, or the unpainted weather-beaten Venetians, that he was in love, for these were all that he could feed his eyes upon. But the glance of love can penetrate deeper than the unaided vision of ordinary mortals, and a brick wall in Bengal is as little a barrier to the imagination as a bedroom blind in Britain. So Krishna looked and loved by day and night, feeding his feverish passion upon shadows and other such unsubstantial manifestations, but taking no direct steps to gain the maiden’s affection. His love was a dream, and he was not sure in his present position that he would be pleased to have it turned into a waking reality.

As he stood looking out at the open windows, the cool night air came blowing in, chafing his hot temples, and rousing the restless spirit of impatience within him. The moon was driving rapidly downwards through fleeces of white gauzy clouds towards the western horizon, and the black shadow of the trees and houses was perceptibly lengthening. The light was so mellow and inviting as to woo one to come forth; and Krishna, after a few attempts to shake off the influence of the “potent night,” wrapped a cloak about his shoulders and stole forth from the house. No one saw him; for Modhoo, the porter, was too sound a sleeper to be roused by a footfall in the compound; and Ramanath, his father, had long since finished evening worship at the temple, and returned to his own apartments. The temple door stood wide open; for what thief in all the valley would be so impious as to put forth a hand against aught belonging to the Linga of Dhupnagar? Krishna regarded both temple and Linga with utter abhorrence, but on this occasion his thoughts were too tender for feeling angry even with an idolatrous shrine. The temple, he even thought, looked rather picturesque in the moonlight; and the peepul tree growing up from the roof, and sending down tendrils all round about the building, was decidedly beautiful. But it was not to admire the temple that Krishna had come out so late at night. Rather than waken Modhoo he scrambled over the compound wall, and stole stealthily across the village green, keeping well under the shadow of the trees until he reached Kristo Baboo’s grounds. Kristo’s compound was quite in keeping with the ruinous condition of the family mansion. The grass was long and rank, bamboo and jungle scrub were springing up all over the place, and the tanks were almost choked up with silt and vegetable decay. The compound wall was a mere heap of ruins, over which Krishna could stride almost, as he made for the old tank, where Radha had launched the love-tapers. He concealed himself under the acacia-trees, and hoped, perhaps, that he might again see Radha steal down to the water’s edge. Surely since she loved him she might divine that he would be there. But Radha came not, and Krishna lingered until the silvery surface of the tank became changed to a sullen black, and darkness set in around him. He was cold and nervous, but still he could not go home until he had feasted his eyes upon the place where his idol was enshrined.

As he stood in the shade of a clump of bushes, looking up in rapt admiration towards the zenana windows, a Venetian was thrown open, and Radha looked forth into the moonlight. The moon was just then setting behind Panch Pahar, and her beams came straight over the tree-tops, striking evenly upon the casement where the maiden stood. Her shoulders were bare, except where her rich, heavy hair, no longer confined by its plaits, fell down, and a tress or two, like the tendrils of a young vine, straggled over her bosom. Radha peered cautiously forth into the darkness, as she half concealed herself behind the jill-mills, and seemed to be looking for some one appearing among the shrubbery beneath. Krishna stood and gazed at the beautiful vision until he could contain himself no longer; and he rushed forward, throwing himself on his knees before her, and raising his clasped hands towards the window. Radha threw him a chaplet of flowers and hastily retreated, and he could hear the window shut and barred behind her. He remained for a minute entranced upon his knees, looking sometimes at the flowers, sometimes at the window where the vision had disappeared, as if half hoping she would again return; and then taking up the flowers he kissed them and placed the garland upon his temples. It was a wreath such as is worn on festival days, or at the worship of an idol, and a slight shudder passed through Krishna’s frame as he thought that he was thus tampering with the accursed thing. But though it had been the symbol of all the heathen idolatries and abominations in Hindustan, Radha’s hand had sanctified it to him; and as the chaplet pressed his temples, he felt a thrill in the thought that perchance but a few minutes before it had rested upon Radha’s hair, and that the sweet odours of her person still clung to it, overpowering the natural perfume of the flowers.

Krishna now no longer doubted that his love was returned. He had received two clear intimations that the maiden loved him in secret; and what better assurance could man desire until he heard the sweet confession from her own lips? When she had launched the taper on the ruffled bosom of the tank, it was of course to see if their mutual love could outlive the storm which the customs of society, religion, and jealousy were raising about them. He had marked, too, how Radha rejoiced when the frail chip reached the opposite bank in safety. And if any lingering doubt could have remained that he was deceiving himself, was not this chaplet a certain token of love? The heavy odour of the flowers seemed to have intoxicated Krishna as he walked rapidly back towards the priest’s house. A thousand thoughts seemed to be fighting in his brain for priority of expression, but nothing came of them, for his head was filled with the two great ideas of his love for Radha and his resolution to possess her. There was a great gulf between these two ideas, but Krishna’s mind was then too excited to think of obstacles. It all seemed easy enough. What a fool he had been to distract his brains with idle speculations! to think of renouncing his caste and position, and to go forth into the world a beggar to beggar others! He might as well think of turning a mendicant devotee like his silly uncle Shib Chunder, and of trudging over the country, from shrine to shrine, supported by the alms of charity. In his father’s house he might live in pleasure and affluence all his days with Radha as his wife, and no earthly cares to molest them. But then there was Chakwi—bah! what of her? A Hindoo’s love is not limited to one woman, and Chakwi must make up her mind to see another wife brought into the house. How lucky it was that he had never given the girl any encouragement, and that her feelings could not be very seriously hurt by his marrying a second time! There was his faith also, his belief in the Supreme Brahma, his avowed enmity to orthodox idolatry. Well, what of that? Theism did not impose any obligations of martyrdom upon its followers; and he could keep his own belief to himself, and allow others to do the same. No: his duty to his father and his family, which he had so shamefully neglected, clearly showed that he must dismiss such folly. It was a pretty religion, forsooth! that must needs break up family ties, and set the son at variance with the father. Providence had placed him in a certain condition, and had brought him up in a certain creed, and it would be little short of impiety in him to change his religion upon no surer ground than intellectual convictions. The Supreme Brahma might convert his countrymen when He saw fit, and it would only be arrogance in a mortal to attempt forestalling His work. And how did he know that his countrymen were fit for Theism? A grosser belief satisfied the masses, and it was very doubtful if a purely intellectual creed, colourless and symbol-less as Brahmism was, would take any hold upon them. Krishna felt that he had been too hasty, and that it was high time to retrace his steps. What hindered him from making his father happy by accompanying the old man to the temple tomorrow? It was, after all, but his duty.

In this reckless fashion Krishna indulged his fancy; but how different would have been his reflections if he could have seen what was passing within a few yards of him? Afzul Khan, the Muhammadan, had been lurking behind the bushes when Krishna had picked up the flowers, and had marked the impassioned attitude of the young Hindoo. Afzul ground his teeth, and handled his dagger; and it was by a strong exercise of self-control that he abstained from rushing forward and killing his rival upon the spot. Stealthily, as a cat watches its prey, he followed Krishna out of the Lahories’ compound, until the Hindoo had passed the village green, and disappeared in the darkness of the temple precincts. Then he returned and took up his old position before Radha’s window; but all the lights were extinguished, and only the feeble glimmer of a night-lamp showed where the maiden’s bedchamber was.

“A plague upon the presumption of these Hindoo swine!” muttered Afzul angrily to himself: “are there no drabs in Dhupnagar that he must raise his ill-omened eyes to a huri of Paradise? I wonder how I kept my hands off him. The girl must be blind, to have mistaken yon loutish, puffy Bengalee for a tight sowar (cavalier) like me. By Allah! I thought I could have stabbed him when I saw him beslobber the garland with his filthy kisses; but I care not, provided he gets nothing more precious than a bunch of flowers. But I must keep my eyes on that fellow: he is the Kaffir priest’s bookish son, and would be an acceptable suitor to the girl’s friends. She comes not, and I am tired with watching. Confound the wanton! is it not honour enough to her that the son of Shamsuddeen Khan keeps guard while she slumbers? But I shall make her one of Islam ere all be done, and she shall see this impudent Hindoo, who has dared to lift his eyes to her face, and all her other heathen kindred, cast into scorching blasts and scalding water, and the shade of smoke in the Day of Separation. Amen! Blessed be the Prophet,” And with a feeling of self-satisfaction at his own devoutness, Afzul went down the road to Walesbyganj, and began to knock at the door and bawl for Agha to admit him.

Chapter XIII

Husband and Wife

The cool night air which came blowing over the peaks of Panch Pahar, out of the pale, silver rift where the moon had just disappeared, brought no calmer thoughts to Krishna’s fevered brain. He shrank from returning to the quiet of his own chamber, which seemed like a prison, and where his books, his papers, the very letters which he had written that afternoon, might rise up between him and his thoughts of Radha; so he walked rapidly up and down the grassy compound before the priest’s house, revolving all sorts of projects for gratifying his passion, and smoothing down the obstacles which reason raised between them. How long his promenade lasted he knew not, and his reverie might have continued till daybreak but for a great speckled cobra which crawled across his path. The snake’s red eyes sparkled in the darkness, his hood was angrily spread, and his head raised to strike, when Krishna noticed the reptile, and bounded rapidly backwards. Foiled in his first spring the cobra glided quietly away among the grass, and Krishna drew a long breath at the thought of how narrow an escape he had had. The shock recalled the young man to himself, and to the lateness of the hour; but how was he to get into the house? He found the door locked, and the noise that would waken so sound a sleeper as the porter would also alarm every soul in the house. He now felt for the first time that the wind was chill, and he did not like the prospect of passing the rest of the night upon the grass in such disagreeable company as the cobra he had just encountered. He knocked once or twice at the door, but Kumbakharna6 was about as easily roused as Ramanath’s porter. He looked up, but all the house was in darkness except the windows of his own apartment, where a lamp still burned. Krishna was young and active, and, like all his countrymen, an excellent climber. Seizing a projecting brick in one hand, and planting a foot firmly against the wall, he gave himself a great swing, until the other hand caught hold of the verandah railing. The rest was easy, and in another minute he had reached the window of his room. A nightlight shed a dim glimmer from a side-table, and on his writing-desk in the centre of the room stood a large oil-lamp, which was burning low down into the socket.

“I shall go to bed at once,” said Krishna to himself; “my mind will be more composed to-morrow. How lucky I had not sent away these letters!” he muttered, as his eye fell upon the two unsealed epistles on the table, and a twinge of remorse passed through him; “I shall write others in a more cautious style to-morrow. O Radha! what is there that I would not do for thy love?”

The young man’s passion again returned in all its former violence, and he strode up and down the room, muttering wildly to himself, and pausing now and then as he passed the window, from which he could see the house of Lahory looming large and black among the trees. He could not see Radha’s room, but a faint reflection of light from the side where the zenana was, sufficed to feed his flame, and his mind was full of the image of his love as she stood in all her unadorned beauty looking forth into the night. Again he attempted to calm himself; and turning towards the bookcase, where his little library was kept, he was about to take down a volume when his glance fell upon Chakwi.

Yes, Chakwi, who sat in a chair fast asleep, with her head leaned back against the side of the bookcase. The duster which she still held in her hand told how she had been employed; and having sat down to sigh over her grief when her work was finished, she had fallen fast asleep. Her cheeks still bore traces of tears, and her face, even in sleep, wore an expression of subdued sadness. The contrast between this plain little woman and the vision of loveliness which he had just beheld, raised angry feelings in Krishna’s mind. Unfortunate wretch that he was, to be linked to a creature that had no more beauty than a hen, and no more soul than the goose whose name she bore! What evil had ever he done, to be thus mis-mated? It was Hindooism that had done it—Hindooism that had cursed him with such a wife—ay, the very Hindooism with which he was now about to make a base peace, and to which he was going to sacrifice both his conscience and his honour. Krishna almost tottered under the sense of his own weakness, and he would have liked to fall upon his knees that instant and pray for strength against temptation.

“Sree Vishnu-jee!” muttered Krishna, forgetting his Theism; “what can have brought her here? It is a trick of the wanton to foist herself upon me; or could my father have thus advised her? What shall I do? Shall I rouse her and send her away, or shall I go to bed and take no notice of her?”

He sat down upon a chair opposite Chakwi and shifted the lamp so that the light fell full upon her face. After all, the girl was not bad-looking. Plain she was, but her face did not lack expression; and her figure, though inclined to dumpiness, was rounded and graceful.

“She is winsome enough in her own way,” thought Krishna, “and might be lovable, too, under other circumstances. Poor girl! I wonder if she cares much

about me now? I remember how fond she used to be when I would make love to her in a childish way about the time our marriage was celebrated. I used to think her both pretty and amiable in those days, and I daresay we might have been living happily enough as man and wife, had I not fallen in love with Radha. I wonder if I should waken her?”

He screwed up the lamp, and made a slight noise upon the table, but Chakwi still slept on.

“There is as much difference between her and Radha as there is between two orders of beings. A man might worship Radha with little danger of idolatry, for there must be some spark of divinity in one so beautiful. Chakwi, here, is a creature of earth; to mind the house and bear children is her sphere: but it seems to me almost sacrilege to associate such ideas with Radha. If she were mine, I would worship her with veiled face at a distance, until the goddess repaid the devotion of her votary by the beatific vision of her perfections. This creature has no soul, no sensibility.”

A change came over Chakwi’s face, and for a moment the girl looked absolutely beautiful. A smile played upon her lips, showing her pearly teeth, and a laughing dimple lurked in each of her smooth, round cheeks. “O Krishna! how could you have neglected me so long,” she murmured, in her sleep; “but it will only make our love sweeter now-—will it not, my husband?”

Krishna turned away his head and smothered a sigh of pity. “Poor child!” he thought, “it is even worse than I had imagined; there was nothing but her love wanting to complete my misfortunes. I am not the only sufferer, then, from this accursed union. How happy she might have been if she had only got a husband of her own stamp! This union with Radha will make her still more miserable. Would to God I saw some way out of my perplexities!”

At that moment, as if in answer to his prayers, Chakwi opened her eyes and looked wildly about her. “What is this? where am I? how came I here?” cried she hastily, while crimson blood crowded to her dusky cheeks as her gaze fell upon her husband.

Seeing that Krishna made no answer, the girl began to tremble violently, and to cast uneasy glances towards the door. “I will go away,” she said; “I did not know you were here. I must have fallen asleep in the evening when I came in to put your room straight;” and Chakwi rose and was moving away with faltering steps.

“Stay a little, Chakwi,” said Krishna, in a kindly tone; “you have not spoken to me since I came home. Surely my wife is glad that I am come back again. Is it not so?”

“I am glad if you and my father are glad,” said Chakwi, hesitatingly.

“That is but a cold welcome, Chakwi,” said Krishna, half pettishly; “you are not afraid of your husband, girl, because he has turned Brahmist?”

“I should not be afraid of my husband whatever he had turned,” said Chakwi, in a decided tone; “but I am sorry that Krishna Gossain has forsaken his father’s faith.”

“That is as much as to say that I have never been a husband to you,” retorted Krishna; “but, my poor girl, I can bear your reproaches. It was an evil destiny, Chakwi, that linked you and me together.”

“And am I to blame for that?” asked Chakwi, indignantly. “Do you suppose that my father’s daughter, if she had been left to her free will, would have laid down her love to be thus slighted? Evil destiny indeed! Have I ever placed myself in your way, or prevented you from choosing your own loves, or claimed aught of a wife’s regards at your hand? I have done everything that woman could to please your dislike, except to die; and I shall do that next, and before long too, for my heart is nearly broken;” and the poor girl buried her face in her hands, and burst into a torrent of tears.

“Nay, but, Chakwi, forgive me,” said Krishna, unnerved at the sight of her grief; “I have not said anything to hurt you, and it is not right of you to distress me in my present condition. You know, Chakwi, that I am now an outcast from Hindoo society; and you, my dear one, would be treated in the same fashion if you were to call me husband, and so it is better for us both that we should remain just as we are, and see what time brings about; we may both be happier in the future than we have been in the past. Believe me, it was because I was unwilling that you should in any way suffer from your relationship to me, that I have not sent for you before this time.”

“A wife has no caste but her husband’s,” sobbed Chakwi; “if you were to become a beggar, I would follow you, happier in your love, than if I were made consort to the Padshah of Delhi. But why should I say that? It is not my part to proffer my love to you, and it is not right that I should be here now. You may think that I have come on purpose to see you, but Mother Gunga is my witness that I had no such intention.”

“Go then, Chakwi,” said Krishna, releasing her, “for my mind is too troubled and too uncertain at present for me to know what I should say to you, or what I should leave unsaid. Believe me, I shall do what I think best for both our happinesses. Go, and do not be a stranger in my rooms any more.”

So saying, he dismissed her with a kiss, and Chakwi went away to her room with a lighter heart than she had known for many a day. Krishna’s demeanour had seemed to her more kind and grave than ever she had noticed it before, and she did not doubt that before long he would return her love. So she fell asleep and dreamed again the dream of blissful reconciliation with her husband which she had dreamed a little before under her husband’s eye. Poor Chakwi! the only solace for the sorrows of her blighted young life was to be found among the confused joys of dreamland.

“Still deeper in the mire,” muttered Krishna to himself, as he paced rapidly up and down his chamber; “where is all this to end? Just at the very moment when my heart was burning for love of Radha, comes this girl to torture me. And yet I could not speak unkindly to her, and the poor fool goes away puffed up to the skies with hopes that can never be realised. Well, after all, she is my wife; and even if I were married to Radha, she would still be my wife, and entitled to a share of my regard. I must speak more kindly to the poor child for Radha’s sake as well as for my own, for it must be upon the ground of her love for me that I shall beg her to put up quietly with a second marriage;” and when he had sufficiently perplexed his brain by thinking over and over again upon the untoward condition of his love affairs, Krishna flung himself on his couch and at last found refuge in sleep.

The sun was high in the heavens before Krishna was astir next morning. After the excitement of the previous night, he felt as one who rises from a debauch: his temples were racked by headache; his veins throbbed with an irregular, feverish heat; his tongue was parched, and clave to the roof of his mouth; and his brain was dizzy, and incapable of thought. He was utterly miserable, but he could not well tell why. Was it because he had the assurance of Radha’s affection? No, for this was what he had set his heart upon beyond all things on earth. Was it because he felt himself wavering in the faith, and because his zeal for the theistic creed was rapidly melting away? If it was this, he had not yet gone too far, and he could easily retrace his steps. But he could not tell whether he wished to break with Hindooism or with Theism that morning. He looked from the window, and saw the woody valleys of Panch Pahar, so green, and cool, and refreshing, that he wished he might go and live in the recesses of the forest, away from all these cares that were chafing him, like a Rishi of olden days. The Gungaputra came gliding slowly down the bottom of the valley, sweeping with its waters now the one side now the other, as the robes of a queen are tossed from side to side as she paces the palace hall; throwing up huge mounds of silt as it slowly doubles the corner of Milkiganj; then taking breath, as it were, and gathering strength for a dash upon the bathing-ghats of Dhupnagar; pausing at the Kalee point to undermine a little more of the crumbling rock upon which stands the deserted pagoda, looking as if it were almost ready to topple over into the stream; and, finally, hurrying with a swift ripple and an inviting murmur over the treacherous fords of Ghatghar, until it disappeared behind the Rajah’s palace. The waters sparkled so limpidly and clearly in the sunshine that Krishna felt an uncontrollable desire to bathe in the river. Bathing in the Gungaputra is so much of a religious ceremony among orthodox Hindoos that Krishna had purposely abstained from doing it, performing his ablutions in a deserted tank that occupied a sequestered corner of the priest’s compound. Oh why, of all the millions of his countrymen who had washed away their guilt in the holy waters of the Gungaputra, was he the only one who could not “from sin and dark pollution free, bathe in its blameless waters clear?” But still the river wooed him as it glided past, and eager to seek some respite from his thoughts, he started up, and calling upon Bechoo to attend him, walked briskly down the slope towards the water-side.

The walk, the free morning air, the twittering of the birds, the murmur of the trees, and the sweet smell of flowers, soon raised Krishna’s spirits. It was the first time that he had been out of doors by day since his memorable return to Dhupnagar, and he felt like a captive who has regained his liberty after a weary confinement. The women coming home from the river, each with a pitcher of water gracefully balanced upon her head, looked askance at the handsome young man, and coquettishly drew their sarrees over their faces. Krishna had been so little about Dhupnagar for the last four or five years that few of the villagers would have known him, but for old Bechoo, who trotted at his heels. As he passed the gate of Walesbyganj, Afzul Khan, who was outside watching the grooming of his favourite mare, eyed him with a jealous scowl, and turning round whispered something, with a scornful laugh to Agha, who was sitting behind him smoking. Krishna noted this rudeness, but could only account for it as a piece of insolence peculiar to bigoted Muhammadans. As yet he had no conception that the Mussulman regarded him as a possible rival, or that a high-caste Brahmini maiden could be aught in the eyes of an unclean kine-killer. But Krishna knew not how little Afzul recked of the distinctions of religion or caste when his passions were to be gratified.

The bathing-ghat of a sacred river is one of the most curious and picturesque of Indian scenes. In the stream, and upon the banks, are groups of Hindoos of all ages and sexes. Here is a religious mendicant who has measured the road from Dhupnagar to the river upon his hands and knees for some sin, real or imaginary, and will continue to do so every day as long as his wretched life is spared. Mark how feebly, how abjectly, he creeps down to the water’s edge, and how lightly he springs to his feet after the first plunge, as if his guilt had been all washed away. There stands a sorrowful crowd of mourners around the charpai (four-legged couch) of an old Brahmin who has been brought down to the river to die. Already the domes are gathering the wood and digging the pit for his funeral pyre, but the old man never flinches or removes his eye from the river. “To the water,” he mutters— “to the water. He who dies fasting with his members immersed in the holy tide is never born again, and attains equality with Brahma. To the water with me, my sons.” And cautiously looking round to see that no policeman is watching, the sons tenderly lift the old man and hold him with the lower part of his body immersed in the water until his latest breath is drawn.

Slim Hindoo maidens stand up to the waist in water, or dive boldly into the depths; others are wringing the moisture from their long black tresses, and casting arch coquettish glances at a knot of young bathers of the opposite sex, who ogle them in turn, and startle them by diving down and reappearing suddenly in the midst. Heedless of this folly, a stately Brahmin, with fair skin and lofty forehead, who has walked all the way from Gapshapganj to pay his morning’s homage to the Gungaputra, stands in an ecstasy of devotion, his eyes fixed so steadily upon the crystal stream flowing rapidly past that he is lost to all sense of what is going on around him. Up and down the bank strut three or four young libertines, distinguished by their perfumed locks and foppish garments, whose only business seems to be to watch the gracefully-moulded forms of the girls as they come up from the river, their wet garments scarcely serving to conceal the charms of their persons. These young fellows belong to the dissolute household of the Ghatghar Rajah; and the decent villagers scarcely seek to dissemble their disgust at such conduct, and would gladly beat them away from the ghat with bamboos, if it were not for fear of the Rajah’s vengeance.

As Krishna approached the ghat, all eyes were turned upon him in astonishment. A few of the loungers made way for him with a salaam, and stood with lengthened countenances to watch how one so strongly suspected of heresy would comport himself. The girls suddenly became grave as the whisper reached them, “’Tis Krishna, the priest’s son.” The young men on the bank assumed an air of inquisitive gravity, the mourners raised their eyes for an instant to look at him, and even the pious Brahmin ceases from his orisons to eye the impious man who had shaken off the old gods. Was ever such impiety seen, as for an unbeliever thus to pollute the holy river with his presence? What wonder would it be though the goddess in her wrath were to clutch him in her arms and drag him down for ever into her fathomless abysses? Yet it was a pity that so goodly a young man should have gone so far wrong; for he was a goodly young man, as everybody acknowledged, and as he waded into the centre of the current, and exposed his broad chest to its full force, the spirit of the stream might well have fallen in love with him as with the grandfather of Bishna of old. “Will he do puja (worship)?” whispered each to the other as they saw him enter the water; but no puja did Krishna do. On the contrary, without prayer or prostration, he threw himself boldly into the middle of the current, and struck out stoutly against the stream. All Bengalees swim like water-dogs, and Krishna had all the skill, and more than the daring, of his countrymen. As he buffeted the stream his spirits rose with the exercise, the lassitude left him, and he felt like a new man by the time that he pulled up out of breath opposite Milkiganj. He was now out of eyeshot of the worshippers, and felt more at ease; and so he scampered out to the bank and began drying himself, although the exuberance of his animal spirits was such that he could scarcely keep himself from plunging again into the tide.

“No wonder though they worship the river!” he ejaculated in his enthusiasm; “who would not feel his heart stirred within him at the sight of so noble a stream? The fires of hell were but even now gnawing my heart, and after a plunge in the water I feel as if all pollution had departed from me. Of course I can account for the change upon physical grounds; but who can wonder that the ignorant should attribute their refreshment to divine properties in the river? In which of his works is the majesty of the Creator more apparent than in the endless flood that rolls before me? O Daughter of the Mountain!” added he, falling unconsciously into the language of his childhood’s prayer, “I had rather be a dweller in thy waters than a monarch, the sound of whose war-steeds’ bells scatter kings in consternation.”

“Well done, sir!” cried a voice behind him; “may your prayers be grateful as amrit (ambrosia) to the gods! I wish I had my hands upon those blackguards and brokers who said that my old friend Ramanath’s son had turned Christian; I would soon make them eat dirt. Give me your hand, Krishna, and let me welcome you back to Dhupnagar. I heard of the rough reception which these churls of Sudras gave you; but never mind them—these dogs can never forgive us for being of better caste than themselves. But I am glad that you have not fallen from the old faith, for who will remain a Hindoo, if the Brahmin becomes a mletcha (a foreigner, an outcast)?”

And Kristo Baboo, for it was he who spoke, cordially grasped the young man’s hand. The Baboo had been coming along the bank from visiting one of his tenants, when he overheard the idolatrous exclamation which Krishna had inadvertently let slip from him.

Krishna was too much surprised and confused to make a distinct reply, far less to correct the mistake into which the Baboo had naturally fallen. Besides, of all men, Kristo was the one before whom he was least anxious to parade his new religion; for not only was the Baboo a Hindoo of bigoted orthodoxy, but what was more, in Krishna’s mind, he was the father of Radha. So Krishna muttered an inaudible reply, and in a louder tone hoped that the Baboo and all his family were well.

“Well! ay, as well as people can be who stand between a grasping Government and a beggarly tenantry. May Yama choke me if I don’t think the landlords were better under the old Moghals than under the English rule, with all its fuss about justice and equity! Provided they got their money, the Moghals never asked how it was collected; but the last time I bambooed a ryot who was backward with his rent, the Magistrate Sahib made such an uproar that it cost me the building of a female school before I was safa-karróed (white-washed). But come along, Krishna, and give me your good company up the road to Dhupnagar.”

And taking the young man’s arm, the Baboo walked on, unburdening himself as he went of his many grievances, which were all reducible to two heads, his own impecuniosity, and the presumption of his more wealthy though lower-born neighbours. Upon this theme Kristo could talk by the hour; nor was Krishna sorry that he was not called upon to put in a word, for he felt that he ought to correct the Baboo’s mistake about his orthodoxy, and yet he strangely lacked courage to begin. Was he the man, he kept asking himself, as he blushed up to his ears at the thought, who had burned to publish his faith in the faces of hostile thousands, and yet was afraid to confess it to one mild Hindoo, who at the most would only go away from him in disgust? But he was thankful Kristo’s tongue never halted to give him an opportunity of saying anything about himself.

“Ay, ay, there they go! ride on, and may you never pause till you gallop over the brink of Patala (hell)!” cried Kristo, apostrophising Afzul Khan, as the young Muhammadan cantered past them on his way to the Ghatghar ford; “it is my two hundred acres of rice land that you have got your legs astride of. If the gods took the slightest interest in this world nowadays, they would throw down that kennel about the ears of these kine-killing dogs. If folks grow irreligious, the gods are mostly to blame for it themselves, for they don’t do half the miracles that they used to do in the old times. I’m sure it wouldn’t be much trouble to Siva to glorify himself by inflicting some notable calamity upon those accursed mletchas (foreigners) who took away my land, and it would be as good as the conversion of half the Gungaputra district. But for all that, I’m heartily glad, my son, that you have not gone astray among their new-fangled religions. It is all very well for these kyasths and chamars (writers and shoemakers) who have got no caste worth keeping, to make a merit of giving it up; but the Gossains of Dhupnagar are not such crack-brained fanatics. I felt as glad, for my old friend Ramanath’s sake, when I heard you at your prayers this morning, as if you had been my own son.”

Again Krishna essayed to set the Baboo right, but still his courage failed him, and he endeavoured to make some commonplace remark about the genial weather and the favourable prospects of the boru, or winter crops. This set Kristo off into a tirade of invectives against his tenantry, who, though they were fattening upon his land, and making fortunes out of good harvests, would hardly pay a pice of rent until they were taken into court for arrears; while the Government Collector would neither want the land revenue nor allow him to put forth his hand to help himself to his own. This subject was quite sufficient to engross the Baboo’s attention for the rest of the way; and he was still declaiming when they reached the temple gate. Old Ramanath, sitting smoking in his usual place, beheld the two in company with great inward satisfaction, and chuckled to himself as he saw his plot in a fair way to be accomplished. He hastened down to the gate, and greeted Kristo and his son with the greatest cordiality, giving the latter his morning blessing, and entreating the Baboo to come up and rest in the shade of the temple porch. Krishna escaped to his own room, but he could see from the window that the seniors were carrying on a very agreeable conversation; and before Kristo Baboo took his leave, Ramanath had occasion to pay a visit to the house, and returned to the temple with a heavy weight in the corner of his waist-cloth. From which Krishna had little difficulty in concluding that a monetary transaction had been effected between the rich priest and the impecunious Baboo.

Chapter XIV

A Gift from the Greeks

Prosunno, the lawyer, was hurrying through the bazaar in the early morning towards the house of Three Shells, the money-lender. Since he had fallen under Three Shells’ displeasure, on the day when their attempt to excite the Brahmins against the priest’s family had so signally failed, Prosunno had not ventured into the mahajan’s presence—not that Three Shells had not frequently sent for him, but Prosunno had found it convenient to stay for a week at Gapshapganj, where he had many briefs in the Dipty’s court, and to be otherwise engaged abroad when the money-lender required his presence. But the time had now come, Prosunno thought, when he might safely present himself before his patron. Three Shells’ wrath must have cooled by this time; and the lawyer knew that the money-lender would have as much difficulty in dispensing with his services as he himself would have in parting with Three Shells’ patronage. Each was mutually useful to the other, and there were secrets between them which could not be confided to the ears of a third person. So Prosunno had screwed up his courage to the point of facing the money-lender, all the more easily that he had something of importance to communicate; and he had set out at sunrise for the mahajan’s house.

Even at that early hour the good folks of Dhupnagar were mostly astir. Some were hastening to the tanks to perform their ablutions and morning devotions, while others, more religiously disposed, were setting out for the Gungaputra to wash away the sins of the past four-and-twenty hours in its sacred waters. Many sat in the doors of their houses enjoying their hookhas, and looking too indolent and sleepy to return the lawyer’s greetings. Active housewives were coming back from the tanks, each balancing a pitcher of water upon her head with one hand, while with the other she supported a child upon her side in the awkward Indian fashion. Some women were plastering the mud walls of their houses with cow-dung, which would serve as fuel to cook with when dried, and others were busy grinding rice for the breakfast with pestles kept in motion by the foot. Business had hardly commenced in Dhupnagar, for the tradesfolk were either dressing or bathing. Only greedy Ram Lall, the oilman, who never missed a chance of turning an anna, had opened shop, and was sitting among his jars looking out for a customer. The oilman greeted Prosunno with a salaam, which the lawyer, wishing to have the old man’s good word with his son, the Dipty, ceremoniously returned.

Prosunno, finding the money-lender’s porter astir, despatched him to inquire if his master was visible; and in a minute after, Gopee, the mahajan’s clerk—an ugly, mis-shapen Bengalee, with no neck, and a face that seemed to be looking constantly askance at the sky—came forth and invited Prosunno into Three Shells’ presence. Gopee was not permitted to enjoy a large share of his master’s confidence. He kept the regular accounts between Three Shells and his clients, acted as his master’s deputy in transacting small advances, collected interest, and kept a sharp look-out that the borrowers made away with none of the hypothecated property. But Three Shells kept many accounts that were not for Gopee’s inspection, and it was one of the clerk’s great grievances that the mahajan should have so many secrets which he could not succeed in penetrating. Gopee, however, concealed his curiosity under an affectation of indifference; and Three Shells generally spoke of him as a negligent lad, who took no interest in his work, although he could be careful enough when he pleased. Although Gopee’s stated salary was a trifle, his perquisites were very considerable. No application for money to the master would succeed unless the man had been previously propitiated by a present. Out of every loan Gopee squeezed his dasturi (commission), and took a percentage upon every payment of interest that came through his hands. When a borrower was unmindful of Gopee’s interest, the clerk would pay him a visit, and hint that Three Shells was requiring his principal at an early date; or he would object to such and such property upon which money had been advanced being employed in such and such a way. A present would at once occur to the debtor as the readiest method of getting rid of the clerk; and Gopee would pocket the bakshish, and return home well satisfied with the results of his stratagem.

“Well, Gopee, what is doing, and how is the master’s mizaj (temper) this morning?” asked Prosunno. “Is the worthy Three Shells in any better humour than when I saw him last?”

“The master is well contented,” said Gopee, “and begs you to come to him immediately. He has asked frequently for you, Baboo, and said he was sorry you had gone to Gapshapganj without telling him, as there were some things he wanted done in the Dipty’s court.”

Prosunno was ushered through the money-lender’s office into the little room beyond, where Three Shells sat busied with his papers. The mahajan’s greeting was as cordial as if no difference had ever occurred between them.

“Why, Prosunno Baboo, what a stranger you are!” said Three Shells, jocosely; “you have not been away on pilgrimage to Benares, have you? I sent for you two or three times, but your servants always said you were from home.”

“I was obliged to be at Gapshapganj, where I had several great rent cases to plead,” answered Prosunno, in an apologetic tone, as he wondered in his own mind whether it was possible that the furious demon whom he had last seen could be identical with the smooth-tongued person who was sitting before him with half-closed eyes and bland countenance. Somehow Prosunno could not help thinking that the former expression was the one that sat most naturally upon the money-lender. “But I was not forgetful of your business, sir,” he added. “I have made the inquiries you wished respecting that packet.”

“Gopee,” said the money-lender, raising his voice, “the quarterly interest upon the Nawab of Panch Pahar’s bond is due to-day; go and give my respects to his highness, and say that you have come for payment. And, Gopee, you had better take the porter with you, for the Panch Pahar people are often readier with their cudgels than with their purses. Not that the prying scoundrel would be much worse for a good beating,” he added in a lower tone.

“And now, Prosunno, what of the packet? where is it, and how did you hear of it?” asked Three Shells, eagerly, as soon as the clerk was out of hearing. “I hope you did not let out that I was interested about it in your inquiries.”

“You see, sir,” began Prosunno, “old Gangooly, the village headman, was attending the Dipty’s court at Gapshapganj about the Gaogong robbery, and we both fell a-talking about the priest and his son Krishna Baboo. Gangooly has always fawned upon these Gossains, and he began to boast about his intimacy with old Ramanath. I had just been saying that the priest carried his head higher than his neck would well stretch, and that he counted the Brahmins of Dhupnagar as little better than his dogs.

“‘Speak for yourself,’ said the father of asses; ‘I have known Ramanath Gossain for forty years, and I never heard him say an evil word against a good neighbour. But he is a wiser man than to choose his friends among you law kites. It was only last night that Ramanath sent for me to the temple and asked me to take charge of an important packet of papers; but you won’t catch him putting such confidence in any of you lawyers.’

“‘And what might these papers be about?’ asked I, pretending to make light of them. ‘Some serious matter, I warrant; the title-deeds of a katha7 of jungleland, or the rights of some tumble-down, clay hut.’

“‘Nay,’ said Gangooly; ‘but they are papers of the utmost importance, and Ramanath said the packet was not to be opened until his death, and that the contents should then be dealt with according to the enclosed directions. I am to take the greatest care of them, and keep them among the village papers, and they are to be handed over to my successor if I should die in the meantime. So I have put them in my great teak chest, and told my son, Gopal Chunder, to take as good care of the papers as if they were the pottahs (deeds) of his ancestral property; and Ramanath said, too, that I was not to gossip about them, so you must never mention the packet.’

“‘And a most trustworthy person you are, babbling to me all this time,’ said I; ‘if you go on chattering, it will be no more of a secret in Dhupnagar before sunset than the rape of Sita.’

“‘Nay, but,’ said Gangooly, ‘I have only told it to you, who are a discreet person, and to my own wife, who is as free from gossip as any woman in Dhupnagar. The gods forbid that I should be a tale-bearer, for, as the holy writings say, it is better to take a vow of silence than to make mischief by babbling.’ Of course,” concluded Prosunno, “he will go on in this way until he has told the whole town; but if you want to know what is in the packet, Gangooly can tell you no more about it than I can. Still some way might be devised, if you were very anxious.”

“Not at all,” said the mahajan, carelessly; “I only wanted to assure myself that Ramanath had not neglected a little matter about which we were talking. We had a monetary transaction together, and Ramanath wished to place some bonds in my hands as security; but I thought it would look better if they were deposited with a third party, as they relate to the temple lands. The bonds are assigned to me, if anything were to befall our excellent friend Ramanath, which I sincerely pray the gods to avert.”

“The gods avert it!” echoed Prosunno, marvelling in his own mind what had occurred to make the mahajan all at once so friendly to the priest; “but still, sir, I think I could manage to get a look at the documents if you wished it. I could take an impression of the seal, and close the packet up again so neatly that no one would ever know it had been opened.”

“I forbid you to think of such a thing!” cried Three Shells, angrily, “unless you wish to part with my patronage altogether. What! shall you or I presume to doubt the word of so holy a man as Ramanath Gossain? But what about the robbery you were talking of?”

“Two men broke into the ryot of Gaogong’s house, and carried off a bag of two hundred rupees, which the ryot had borrowed from you the day before. The fellow kept his bed half dead with fright, and allowed the robbers to escape with their plunder.”

“And I shall lose my money,” said Three Shells, quietly; “well, it can’t be helped, and I have a bill of sale upon his oxen. And what said the Dipty about the robbery? Has that mirror of wisdom and fountain of justice been able to find out the thieves?”

“Nay,” said Prosunno, “he has got it into his head that young Afzul Khan, the Subadar’s son, is the culprit, because one of the thieves spoke with a Hindustani accent. I took the liberty of representing to the Dipty that it was more likely Sonthals from above the passes; but he is too conceited in his own opinion to notice good advice.”

“And you were a fool to do anything of the sort, Prosunno,” said the money-lender, testily; “the Dipty knows better than you do. Is not that whelp of the Muhammadans a notorious badmash? Did he not beat me—me, with a bamboo when I went to crave my interest from him? Is he not a night-walker, and a gambler, and a drinker of arrack (native rum)? and who is more likely to commit robbery than such a fellow? You ought to know that as well as I do, Prosunno.”

“What a fool I was not to have remembered the young man’s bad character!” Prosunno readily answered. “Now that I think of it, I have not the slightest doubt but he is the robber.”

“I should think not, Prosunno,” said Three Shells, rubbing his hands; “the matter is plain enough to any one who has his wits about him. And what is the Dipty going to do?”

“Nothing at present, except to watch Afzul Khan’s movements. Jaddoo, the Dipty’s orderly, is coming privately to Dhupnagar for that purpose.”

“Ah, it would be well that you should see this Jaddoo, Prosunno, and strengthen his suspicions against Afzul Khan,” said the mahajan in an indifferent tone. “Tell him to keep his eyes closely upon the young fellow, and not to go about fancying he sees thieves in every honest townsman who is abroad of a night. And you may give him a couple of rupees as bakshish from me, for there is no one in Dhupnagar more interested in the capture of these robbers than I am, or has more danger to fear from them. A poor lonely man like me, that has generally money lying about, and that keeps only a few servants, is but too good a prey for such housebreakers.”

Prosunno promised to attend to these orders, although he was astonished at the readiness with which the mahajan had caught up the suspicion against Afzul Khan. Hitherto Three Shells had persisted that Sonthal dakaits were the perpetrators of the numerous robberies that had been committed throughout the district, and had flown into a passion when any one dared to insinuate that the guilty parties might be found nearer home. “The thief thinks himself the only honest man in the world,” the money-lender would say to such persons; “and let those who would cast suspicion upon a neighbour look that there is no chor grass upon their own waist-cloths.”

But a still greater surprise was in store for Prosunno, when Three Shells went on to unfold his intention of dedicating to the shrine of Dhupnagar a golden vessel worth two thousand rupees, to be used in the worship of the Linga. He was pricked in his conscience, Three Shells said in explanation, heaving a deep sigh; for he had imagined evil against the guileless son of a Brahmin, and he was now desirous of anticipating the displeasure of the gods by this act of religious merit. “Alas!” said Three Shells, shaking his head in deprecation of Prosunno’s praises, “I am a weak sinful man, only too prone to fall from the paths of religion, and to be ensnared by the desire of wealth. And what saith the ‘Panchatantra’? ‘Whose are the riches that are disposed of neither in alms nor in useful deeds—are they mine or thine? It is the nature of money to corrupt the heart. If it were not that so many people would be distressed thereby, gladly would I gather all my substance together, and, repairing to Benares, spend the rest of my life in meditation and prayer within its holy walls. O, Prosunno! when we are well and strong, our religious duty rests lightly upon us as a festal garland; but when we are lying at the last gasp on the banks of the Gungaputra, each petty neglect will hang upon us like a fetter of iron to clog our souls in their ascent to Paradise.”

“Ah, sir,” said Prosunno, unconsciously pitching his voice in the sing-song snuffle that the money-lender had adopted, “would that I had your piety! But it is not every one that can afford to gratify the gods in the same way as you do. I hope that I myself am not so unmindful of my religious duties as some are. In my humble way I gave fifty rupees in silver to the Dhurma Thakoor’s shrine at Gapshapganj, under whose holy protection I have placed myself, only a fortnight ago. May my offering find acceptance!”

“And when does the Dhurma Thakoor’s rascally priest intend to redeem the mortgage I hold upon his property?” asked Three Shells, sharply, in his natural voice; “I cannot afford to have so much money lying out all these years at only fifteen per cent. As good make him a present of it at once. I shall sell him out to the bricks and mortar before long.”

Prosunno ventured to interpose that it was difficult to distrain temple property.

“But he has family lands of his own, then,” snapped Three Shells; “we must have the debt transferred to them. Give him a little more tether, Prosunno—a little more tether, and I warrant he will go to the full length of the chain; and then, when we have his property fairly under our hands, we shall milk him, Prosunno, so long as the skin covers his bones.”

“Certainly, sir,” said Prosunno, chuckling at the idea of fleecing the priest of the Dhurma Thakoor, notwithstanding he himself was a devotee of the shrine; “I shall soon arrange all that to your satisfaction.”

“And there are those papers about the houses at Bhutpore to be attended to,” said Three Shells. “You must really try, Prosunno, to get some one to swear to the dead man’s signature. Without witnesses, the money is as much lost as if it had been thrown into the Gungaputra.”

“Oaths are up,” said Prosunno, mournfully, “ever since the Magistrate Sahib transported Nando, the barber, for swearing about the sudden death of his father-in-law. I could hardly get a witness in Gapshapganj last week when I was defending the Nawab of Panch Pahar in a charge of deforcement. Old Hurrish, who has done business for me since I began to practise, has made a little fortune, and begins to cry out about his conscience if I offer him less than ten rupees in a civil case.”

“Well, well, do your best,” said Three Shells, benignantly, “and you needn’t make any secret about the golden goblet that I am going to give to the temple. The cup is coming up from Calcutta in a day or two, and the townsfolk may as well hear of it from you as from any other body. Not that I wish my gifts to be blazoned abroad in the bazaar, for it is the favour of the gods, not the praise of men, that I desire. The hypocrite, O Prosunno, is as the crocodile, who, while pretending to sleep on the sunny bank, slyly keeps a watchful eye fastened upon his prey; but the truly virtuous man who gets no credit for his good actions, is dead even while he liveth. What would it profit the unworthy Tin Cowry, the mahajan, though his neighbours should say, ‘Lo! how religious a man, how charitable to the poor, how pious to the gods!’ if he felt that his face was black before the shining ones? Nevertheless, Prosunno, it would ill become me to say to a faithful servant like you, tell this, and conceal that; so I leave you free to say what you list about the matter, remembering ever that nothing tends so much to stir up good works among men as the quiet, unostentatious example of a neighbour.”

Prosunno took his departure, lauding loudly the good fortune that had made him the means of conveying to his fellow-townsmen the first news of the mahajan’s munificence. The lawyer’s brains were in a state of hopeless perplexity as he came forth into the bazaar. He did not know what to think of his patron’s altered demeanour; nor could he conjecture to what the change was due, or what would be the result so far as he himself was concerned. “Let me see,” said Prosunno, standing up before a shop-door and thoughtfully scratching his head; “he has either begun to fear the gods, or he is shamming: that is safe so far. Well, if he has begun to fear the gods, he has committed some crime. But what could that crime be? He could hardly have murdered anybody here without my knowledge. And why should he trouble himself thus to dissemble before me? And why should he spend so much as two thousand rupees, when two hundred spent in the same way would make a saint of the greatest sinner in Dhupnagar? And why—but what is the use of raising questions that cannot be answered? Such a change from the swearing, murderous rakshasa (demon), that was ready to take my life the other day, to the sleek pietist who looks as if he would not sneeze without invoking the name of Rama—I can’t believe it; surely I must be dreaming! Will any one slap me on the back that I may know if I am awake?”

Prosunno uttered this last ejaculation aloud, and was rolling his eyes vacantly about him as if in search of somebody to solve his doubts, when a smart blow with a bamboo quarter-staff across the shoulders sent him reeling among Ram Lall, the oilman’s, pots and jars. Gathering himself angrily up, he checked the torrent of imprecations that rose to his lips when he saw that his assailant was the ex-trooper, who, swaggering along the bazaar in attendance on his young master, had heard the lawyer’s exclamation, and had only been too glad to gratify his request.

Bakshish, master lawyer, for the blow,” said Agha, with a grin, as he held out his hand; “surely a gentleman like you would never bid a poor man work for nothing. If I did not lay on hard enough to satisfy you, have at you again with all my heart.”

“You saw him, Ram Lall—you saw the Muhammadan knock me down,” said Prosunno, appealing to the oilman; “you will swear to the assault when called upon.”

“And you will swear, Afzul Baba, that you heard the fellow bid me,” said Agha, laughing in the loud Afghan fashion, which more resembles the neighing of a horse than the cachinnations of a human being. “You are like the man that cried, ‘Come, sweet Death!’ when Death was beyond the mountain; but ‘Begone, fell demon!’ when Azrael looked in at the door. Let this be a warning to you not to cry out for being knocked down another time unless you wish to be taken at your word.”

And the two Muhammadans went striding down the street with their dragoon swagger, laughing like mischievous children at the lawyer’s annoyance, and elbowing everybody out of the way with cool insolence. Quiet Hindoos crossed the street to avoid them, and such women as had any pretensions to prettiness covered up their faces, or shrank trembling into the doorways. They formed a curious contrast, the tall and slim, but muscular and well-formed youth, and the elderly trooper, whose back was bent and neck contorted by the wounds he had received from the Sikh lancers. But old as he was, Agha delighted in mischief as much as a schoolboy, and he was chuckling with glee at the success of his practical joke, utterly regardless of the offence he had given to the revengeful Bengalee lawyer.

Ram Lall did his best to soothe Prosunno, brushing the dust off his clothes, and trying to console him with the reflection that the rascals were only Muhammadans, and knew no better. But Prosunno was not to be appeased. He made a formal entry of the assault in his memorandum-book, and carefully minuted the evidence of Ram Lall and the other bystanders. All were indignant at the disgraceful treatment of a Brahmin by foul Mussulman mletchas, and said that it was enough to bring a judgment upon the aggressors. Brijo, the butterman, however, who was an inveterate joker, and had lately lost a plea by Prosunno’s exertions on behalf of his adversary, deponed that he could swear to nothing but that he had heard the lawyer inviting somebody to strike him, and that he was just thinking of obliging him himself when the Afghan interposed to save him the trouble. To this Prosunho retorted that the speaker was a liar, and a broker, and the brother of a naughty sister; that his wife was a procuress of abortion; and that his grandfather had been guilty of incest; and Brijo responding by similar calumnies against the lawyer’s relations, a wordy duel arose, and the neighbours speedily began to quarrel among themselves in their zealous attempts to reconcile the disputants. In the midst of the uproar, Prosunno, remembering that his professional dignity was compromised by taking part in such a squabble, and also that in case of blows he would be more likely as a neutral to be retained as counsel for one or other of the parties, stole quietly away to his own house.

“They are going to Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller’s,” said Prosunno, as he saw the Muhammadans at the end of the village; “but never mind, that young gentleman may go down the street of Dhupnagar with a policeman on each side of him before many cold weathers come and go. If I were his counsel on the trial he should hang for it. It might nearly be worth my pains to make friends with him, on the chance of getting the management of his defence. But I must go home and think over Three Shells’ conversion.”

Chapter XV

A Morning at Rutton Pal’s

We must now follow the two Muhammadans on their morning visit to Rutton Pal’s spirit-shop, where neither Agha nor his young master was a stranger. The Mussulman soldier, habituated to the loose morals of a cantonment town, has less regard for the Prophet’s prohibition of strong liquors than the Muhammadan civilian, whose faith in the Koran has not been shaken by contact with foreigners; and both Agha and Afzul would unblushingly take their seats under the thatched verandah before Rutton’s shop, and quaff the abomination called rum under the eyes of all the respectable inhabitants of Dhupnagar. The Subadar was greatly distressed when he heard of this practice, and issued a stringent “garrison” order against resorting to Rutton’s; but the “troops”—that is, Afzul and Agha—paid little attention to the old man’s injunctions. As for Agha, he defended himself by urging the opinion of a Maulavi or Muhammadan doctor of divinity, who had assured him that the Prophet’s prohibition—the peace of God be upon him and rest—did not apply to Indian arrack (rum), about which, not being brewed in Arabia, the Sent of Allah could have known nothing. But, had added the reverend casuist, as the practice of drinking even arrack partook of the semblance of transgression, he himself would take in hand the obtaining of a pardon for an annual consideration of a few rupees and a night’s quarters whenever he should come the way of Walesbyganj. Fortified by this ghostly counsel, Agha went daily to Rutton’s for his ration of spirits, and it only too frequently happened that his young master was disposed to bear him company.

Rutton Pal’s shop stood at the end of the bazaar, near where the Gapshapganj road enters Dhupnagar. It was a large tumble-down house, or rather a collection of huts, full of all sorts of odd holes and corners, and wretched drinking-rooms lighted by narrow, iron-barred windows. Rutton not only sold spirits, but provided his customers with pipes of the still more intoxicating ganja and opium. The victims to the latter vice were easily distinguishable by their dull, leaden eyes almost buried in the sockets, their blanched and withered cheeks, and the careless, though careworn, aspects of their countenance. There were always three or four such debauchees squatted about Rutton’s shop in a state of greater or less intoxication. To these poor wretches life was kaif, “the savouring of animal existence, the passive enjoyment of mere sense,” as Captain Burton well renders it: a pleasant dream which would have been all happiness but for the recurrence of a waking nightmare, brought on by lack of the Lethean drug, and for the necessity of purchasing future pleasure by present toil. From being a resort for such persons, Rutton Pal’s shop bore a bad character in Dhupnagar. Some drunken wretch with his head turned by the frenzy of ganja would occasionally rush forth into the street, armed with hook, or hatchet, or whatever other weapon came to hand, and, running amuck, would slay or wound such of the lieges as he encountered, until some one plucked up courage enough to shoot or cut him down. More than one robbery had been traced to Rutton’s lodgers, among whom were numbered very doubtful characters of both sexes; and the respectable villagers often complained that so bad a house was tolerated by the authorities. But there was some cousinship between Rutton and old Ram Lall, the oilman, whose son the Dipty may have remembered the relationship when complaints came up before him. But though the Dhupnagar Brahmins inveighed loudly against Rutton and his calling, not a few of them quietly availed themselves of the private entrée to his premises. The fact was that in Dhupnagar, as in too many other Hindoo villages, the high-caste Brahmins were among Rutton Pal’s best customers, and their patronage was all the more lucrative that they paid for secrecy as well as for the strong liquors which they drank; and Rutton Pal, like a judicious man, was never known to betray a patron.

Rutton, a bull-headed, frog-necked Hindoo, whose obese and greasy person was the fitting envelope of a bloated and slippery moral nature, placed a low stool for the two soldiers in a shady corner of the verandah, for he knew them to be customers who did not court concealment. Rutton Pal was less obsequious than his countrymen generally are, for he had a monopoly of the means of vice in the village, and his patrons cared little for politeness provided they were promptly served. But he greeted the two Muhammadans with a respectful salutation, for they were not only liberal paymasters, but violent and hot-tempered fellows, who were ever as ready to bestow a buffet as to settle a score. So the spirit-seller abandoned his other guests to the care of an assistant, and hastened in person to set a measure of liquor beside the troopers, and to fill a pair of his largest hookhas for their use. After sipping a little arrack, the two began to smoke in silence, Afzul lolling carelessly against the wall, and Agha sitting with his cynical face turned intently upwards, as if he were immersed in a deep study of the blackened joists and rafters which supported the roof of Rutton Pal’s verandah. The Sikh lancer’s stroke at Aliwal had distorted the muscles of Agha’s neck so that the axis of his face formed a constant angle of forty-five degrees with the level of his right shoulder; and a scar upon his left cheek—inflicted by private Ameer Jan of Walesby’s Horse with a knife-hilt, in a debate concerning the respective merits of the clans of the Khyber Pass and of the Eusufzye valley—had writhed his mouth into a perpetual sneer, to which his innate ill-nature had given forcible expression. As he smoked, the older trooper drank draught after draught of the arrack, until his little eyes were beginning to twinkle with a fiery redness; nor did he, like Afzul, wash down each libation with a mouthful of cold water, as is the manner of oriental topers.

“And how fares your suit for the daughter of the infidel?” asked Agha, suddenly laying down his hookha, and turning his head stiffly in the direction of his young master.

“Bravely,” replied Afzul, with a laugh; “my love comes about as much speed as the nightingale’s wooing of the rose-tree. She came to the window last night and looked out into the moonlight, but her eyes never rested upon the slave of love, though she saw clearly that I was there. She carelessly dropped a sprig of champak blossoms just at my feet, and then turned coldly away to her room.”

“And what idiocy may a champak sprig portend?” said Agha, with a contemptuous whiff.

“May Allah make it clear! What know I about flowers? What was her tongue given her for, unless to speak? and there was no one to hear.”

“I knew a man in the clan of the Wuzeer Kheyls,” said Agha, musingly, and speaking rather to himself than to Afzul, “who could speak the language of flowers, and tell what the birds said to each other when they chirped among the boughs. When any man got a flower from a maiden, he went to this Wuzeerie, Karim Khan, to find out what it signified; and Karim would tell them the meaning in a rhyme, pat enough, I warrant you. Oh, he was a mad fellow, continually going about through the country maundering to himself and making verses. He once fell into the hands of a tribe with whom the Wuzeeries had a blood-feud, and the clansmen, of course, were going to kill him. But Karim took his lute and sang to them of the deeds of their forefathers, which so stirred up the spirits of their young men, that they snatched up their swords and ran ten miles into the Sikh territory to burn a couple of villages; and, what was more, they escorted Karim back in honour to his own clan, with a present of the two best cows taken in the foray.”

“Wonderful man! I wish we had him here to fiddle old Kristo Baboo out of his daughter. Couldn’t you send for him, Agha?”

“But he came to grief among the same people soon after,” Agha continued. “He thought his music might stanch the blood-feud between them and his own clan, and so he made up a fine new song and set out to sing it in the enemy’s village. But his pains were not so well paid this time, for they called him a meddling spy, and broke his lute across his sconce, until the poor wretch forgot his lay through fright, and was as mute as a parrot with its tongue cut out. So, when they saw that, they knocked out his brains with an axe, which was, on the whole, a wrong thing to do, for those who make verses are fools, and Allah himself guides people to whom he has not given sense enough to guide themselves. And you have never yet spoken to the infidel woman?”

“I have never had a chance,” said Afzul, gloomily. “How can I speak to her with twenty feet of brick wall between us, unless I wished all who dwell in the Baboo’s house to hear my love-speeches? May Shaitan confound all Hindoo fathers who lock up their daughters on an upper flat! If I could only get to the girl’s ear, I warrant she would listen to me fast enough, for I know by her looks that she loves me. But one may wait some half-score of years without ever getting a chance of speaking to her.”

“And by that time she will be an old woman, or the bed-fellow of some filthy Hindoo. Give her up, Miah, and your father and I will marry you to two or three Muslim damsels, who have more beauty in their little fingers than this Bengalee wench has in her whole body. Give her up: it is a shame for a Muhammadan and a trooper to bother his head about such a slave. I have seen a fairer sold in Cabul for half the price of an Afghan gelding.”

“No, never, by Allah!” cried Afzul, jumping to his feet, and striking his fist passionately against a pillar of Rutton Pal’s verandah. “I would sooner see all your Muslim damsels in Jehannum. I never loved, and never will love, woman as I love this Hindoo girl; and I’ll have her yet, though I should carry her off with the sword’s point against all her kinsmen. I tell you, Agha, I shall die without this Radha.”

“Exactly what you used to say about the Milkiganj girl,” said Agha, with a sneer, as he drained out his liquor and knocked upon the floor with the pitcher for a fresh supply; “and you continued to be madly in love with her for whole six weeks after you carried her off. Then you quarrelled with her the sixth—was it the sixth or the seventh week?—and the week after you were only too glad to get rid of her when your father sent her back with money to her people. It would be just the same if you had this one.”

“No; by the soul of the Prophet and the tombs of the Blessed at Kerbela, I would love this girl to my latest day, and never another woman!”

“Oh, ay, of course you would,” grinned Agha; “how often have you sworn the same to others when you were away with the regiment? But, Miah, you may just as well fall in love with the moon as with this high-caste Brahmani. Why, man, what would the Hindoo dog her father say if you went and asked him for his daughter? I trow he would soon call for quarter-staves and have you beaten from his house.”

“And I should cut him down before a slave could lift a hand to obey him!” cried Afzul, furiously; “now, Agha, give me good counsel for once; you are always advising when no one wishes you. What would you do about this girl if you were in my place?”

“If I were in your place, I would not bother my head about her,” responded Agha, contemptuously. “Who am I that I should make myself the slave of a sari (female garment)? Bah! wait till you have lived as long in the world as I have, and you will see clearly the mischief and wickedness that lie under black eyes and soft cheeks. I once brought home a Persian girl with me from Turkistan when I went there with the Amir’s troops before I came to serve the English Sahibs. I was as proud of her as a hen with one chicken, and was constantly bragging of how much more beautiful she was than the swarthy wives of my own clansmen. I thought nothing of going forty miles to plunder a necklace or some other pretty trinket to adorn her. Well, there was one night that my brother and I and half-a-dozen other horsemen went down into the Khyber to stop a company of rich merchants coming from Jellalabad to Peshawur; but the weather was stormy and the kafila (caravan) did not start. So when we grew tired of riding backwards and forwards among the blinding snow-drift, we galloped home again empty-handed, and cold and hungry. I had been thinking all the way, how the warm welcome at home would make up to me for my cheerless ride; and whom should I find with my wanton of a wife but Sekandar Khan, the chief of my village. I shot Sekandar through the shoulder as he fled, but my nerves failed me when I turned round to kill Souda. I raised my sword to strike her; but as she knelt before me, with her little head thrown back, her soft tresses, which were fairer and more silky than those of any maid in the valley, hanging down to the ground, and her soft hands clasped about my wrist, I thought how often that head had been pillowed on my bosom, and grew as weak as a girl. I tried several times to strike her, but my arm was witched by the piteous look of her pale face, and I fled from the house and passed the night in rushing wildly about among the drifty glens. I was not a whit stronger next day; and when my brother and kinsfolk told me that I must either wipe out the disgrace by killing my wife or flee the country, I thought it would be much easier for me to go away. I rode that night to Loodiana upon the chief’s best charger, having burned down his houses and killed his two brothers, who were the only males of his family I could fall in with, before I set out. After all, poor Souda had a worse fate than if I had killed her, for Sekandar took her home to his house, and she is now the slave of his other three younger wives, and does all the drudgery of the family. Allah the merciful, what is fated is fated!”

“And what in the name of Eblis have I to do with your long-winded stories? I don’t wonder at your wife taking up with another man, for she could never have cared for an old wolf of the Khyber like you. You in love! I could as well imagine a frog catching cold. A pretty Mejnun you must have made to this Turkistani Leila! But come, Agha, my brother, do advise me what I am to do.”

“Well,” replied Agha, as he drowned his matrimonial reminiscences in a huge gulp of spirits, “if you will have the maiden, it must be by foul means, for fair ones won’t work; and what is more, they must be by safe means, for there would be no use in carrying off the girl one week, to be thrown into prison and banished across black water the next. Am I right?”

Afzul, busy with his hookha, nodded assent.

“Then we must carry her quietly off some night, and keep her out of the way until the tufan (storm) blow over; and then, when her caste is fairly broken, her Hindoo relations will disown her, and will be too much ashamed to make an uproar about her.”

“Excellently suggested, Agha. But how am I to keep suspicion off myself? These Hindoo dogs would get me arrested at once,” doubtfully remarked the young man.

“Umph,” said Agha, “we must guard against that, and fasten the suspicion upon some other quarter. Ah, I know a plan,” he added, after a moment’s reflection; “suppose we dress ourselves like Sonthal bandits, and break into the house with spear and torch. The Bengalees would be frightened to follow us in the direction of the passes, and we may easily conceal ourselves in the jungle until we can place the girl in some secure concealment. Won’t that do?”

“Capitally,” said Afzul, rubbing his hands in glee; “the Nawab of Panch Pahar is a true man, and would never betray one of the Faithful to the Bengalees. I shall keep the girl in his house until the danger is past, and I can take her with safety to my father’s. And we can give out, Agha, that I am gone to Pultunpore on a visit to the regiment.”

A fresh measure of liquor was ordered in to aid them in maturing their lawless enterprise; and the more they discussed it, the less difficult did it seem. Afzul was only too glad to catch at any suggestion that promised him the realisation of his passion; and with the unthinking rashness of youth, he was prepared to brave any danger that stood between him and his love. As for the Khyberee, he took a natural delight in mischief, provided there was a dash of romance or daring in the transgression. Agha’s ethics had been formed in a somewhat arbitrary school among the wild frontier tribes. He would have deemed it a heinous sin to pilfer his purse from a sleeping man, or to rob a poor ryot of his cow; but there was no turpitude in robbing with the strong hand, or in driving off a herd of cattle from a rich landholder. Laws designed for the protection of property were in Agha’s eyes rather a disgrace than an honour to a nation, for they presupposed impotence or cowardice on the part of the possessor, and tended to the encouragement of these base qualities, and to the destruction of whatever was free and manly and noble. Nor had Afzul’s mind entirely escaped the contagion of these ideas. The Khyberee’s tales had produced upon his imagination an effect analogous to that which is wrought upon the uneducated youth of England by the lower jets of sensational literature. No undergraduate of St Giles’ or Whitechapel ever perused his pennyworth of blood and murder with a keener relish than that with which Afzul listened to Agha’s trans-frontier experiences. And what was that they were now proposing to undertake but the fulfilment of his boyish dreams of carrying off a bride, the captive of his spear, as the warriors of old had been wont to woo? and the difficulties and dangers that beset the adventure were only additional enticements to him to put his fortune to the touch.

They drank off the remains of their liquor and strode back through the bazaar towards Walesbyganj—not quite so steadily, perhaps, as they had come—jostling the quiet townsfolk out of their path, and terrifying the shopkeepers by their loud talk and fierce gestures. The troopers saw and enjoyed the nervous demeanour of the Dhupnagar villagers; and their natural insolence was designedly exaggerated for the purpose of frightening the people still further. Wickedness and arrogance were inbred in a Muhammadan, argued the Bengalees; but these two were more vicious and oppressive than all the Mussulman tyrants put together, from the days of Muhammad the idol-breaker to the time of Nawab Suraj-ud-daulah.

“See how unblushingly they walk through the streets to Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller’s!” remarked Protap, the accountant, who was himself not altogether unsuspected of being one of Rutton’s private patrons. “It was perfectly intolerable that men whose hands were red with the blood of sacred kine should be allowed thus to annoy the town’s-folk,” observed Dwarkanath, the village schoolmaster; “and if the headman would only do his duty, some order would be taken with these blusterers to keep them from putting honest folk in peril of their bodies.”

But old Gangooly shook his head, and averred that it was a foolish thing to rouse a sleeping tiger; it would be time enough to cry out when anybody was beaten. Though the nim tree were watered with syrup, its leaves would still be bitter: so would a Mussulman be always a tyrant wherever he dwelt. His, Gangooly’s, advice to his townsmen was to take care of themselves, for the Magistrate Sahib Eversley was friendly to the old Subadar; and the gods forbid that the villagers of Dhupnagar should blacken his honour’s face by complaints of his honour’s favourites. But since Afzul had fallen under suspicion of the robberies, the abuse of the villagers had grown more unmeasured, and the peaceful counsels of Gangooly less effectual; and though the Dhupnagar Hindoos might have to put up with Afzul’s domineering ways while the young man stood well in the magistrate’s favour, matters were very different now that he was in disgrace. Thanks to Gangooly’s talking propensities, and the gossip of the two watchmen, there was not a house in Dhupnagar, except Walesbyganj, where the charge hanging over Afzul remained a secret. And so, as he and Agha went home from Rutton’s that day the Hindoos regarded them with sulky looks and scowls of hardly-concealed defiance, although each was prudent enough to avoid any provocation that would break the wand of peace upon his own person.

No sooner had the Muhammadans departed from Rutton’s than Jaddoo, the Dipty’s orderly, crawled out from behind an old deal box in a corner of the verandah, and began to rub and chafe his legs and arms, which were cramped by lying so long coiled up in a snake-like posture. Jaddoo’s face wore an air of triumph, indicating his appreciation of the news which he had overheard. Here was a discovery, not exactly what either he or his master had expected, but still a plot which would be quite sufficient to secure a conviction against the Muhammadan. Rutton Pal came gloomily in to take away the stools and jugs, and Jaddoo in his delight gratified the spirit-seller with a rupee in return for the means of eavesdropping which Rutton had afforded him.

Rutton took the coin and rang it upon the floor. “I didn’t want to see either your face or your money, Master Orderly,” said he, securing the coin in his waist-cloth. “It is the first time that ever Rutton, the son of Gopal, sold a patron or a neighbour, and he hopes it will be the last. If anything befall the Muhammadan, your dirty takka (rupee) will scantily repay me for the loss of their custom.”

“You might chance to be put to a greater inconvenience, brother Rutton, than the loss of a customer,” said Jaddoo, with a grin, “if his honour the Dipty and I were to order a search of your premises. You will take care that no one hears of my being in your house, if you wish to keep my favour.”

Rutton changed countenance at this threat, and bowed the great man’s great man submissively out by the back door. Jaddoo sauntered away carelessly in the direction of the bazaar, and spent the day chatting and smoking with his acquaintances, and enjoying the hospitality which everybody readily proffered to one who enjoyed so large a share of the Dipty’s confidence. Jaddoo, however, took good care to say nothing of the business which brought him to Dhupnagar, although more than half the village could easily guess his errand. His honour, the Dipty, had given him a few days’ leave, Jaddoo said when questioned; and where could he spend his holidays better than among his friends and relations? As for business, he had enough of that at the Gapshapganj Court, where he could not avoid it; and he knew a better way of employing his leisure than by meddling with their police matters. And though the shopkeepers knew that Jaddoo’s statements were all a banao (hatch-up), they did not care to call them in question, but sought rather by bribes and flattery to secure Jaddoo’s influence with the Dipty on behalf of their little lawsuits and grievances. And the first day of his sojourn in Dhupnagar, Jaddoo fingered so many largesses from persons who wished to purchase his favour, that he began to think there were more unpleasant tasks in the life of an orderly than such “special duty” as had fallen to his lot.

Jaddoo had little difficulty in making up his mind that it would be prudent for him to keep the discovery which he had just made a little longer to himself. “For,” he argued, “if I report what I have heard to the Dipty, he will think it quite sufficient ground for placing the matter in the hands of the regular police. But I am much better here, going about, my own master, with plenty of money for karaj (expenses) in my pocket, where nothing costs me a pice, and where everybody worships my feet. No, no; I don’t get such a case every day, and must make it spin out. So I had better report to the Dipty that I have got no evidence as yet, but that I am daily expecting to fall in with a clue.”

Chapter XVI

Bejoy, the Ghatak

One morning all Dhupnagar became alive to the important fact that Bejoy, the ghatak, had been sent for by Ramanath Gossain, and there was nobody so simple as not to know what this foreshadowed. It was Bejoy’s business to arrange all the Brahmins’ marriages in the place, to settle the question of dowry and nuptial expenses between the high contracting parties, and generally to keep a list of all the marriageable boys and girls in Dhupnagar, with their prospects, their pedigrees, their personal attractions, and every other quality desirable in a husband or wife. Bejoy was a most useful man in the village, and the depositary of many grave domestic secrets; but no one had ever known him violate a client’s confidence. Bejoy was an important man in the community, and he sometimes presumed upon his importance to take liberties, which in the case of any other person would have been rewarded with a bamboo or a slipper. If a Brahmin was so far forgetful of his duty as to allow his daughter to grow up into girlhood without having chosen a husband for her, Bejoy would put on his best clothes, refresh his memory from his list of unmarried boys, wait upon the negligent parent, and gravely remonstrate with him upon his want of natural affection. Bejoy could expatiate by the hour upon the impropriety of allowing girls to attain womanhood before they were settled in life, of the dangers which might thence result to the reputation of the family, of the grief with which the souls of deceased ancestors saw the chance of posterity thus cut off; and then he would artfully shift his theme to the good qualities of such and such a family, their pure Brahminical descent, their comfortable circumstances, and the amiable character and good looks of the oldest unmarried son. If the father was reluctant, and hinted at his inability to make a suitable settlement, Bejoy would assume another tone, would talk of the religious obligations which bound a parent to provide for his family’s welfare, quote scripture by the page to convince the poor man of his sinful conduct, and end by pretending to take his departure in pious horror at his host’s godless and unnatural conduct. But paterfamilias cannot afford to have his character blackened to all his neighbours, and his domestic affairs perhaps brought before the village council; so he calls Bejoy back, with much concern that any offence should have been given him; and the ghatak’s kind interest is repaid with a fee, and a half-permission may be wormed out of paterfamilias to make inquiries regarding the boy and his family—just for mere curiosity, in a private way, and without liability to either party, upon Bejoy’s word. So Bejoy goes away to the other family and tells the converse of his former story, is fee’d and feasted, and perhaps empowered to conclude a definite alliance; and then he goes home and books the match, calculates the net fees which it will bring, and casts his eye down the list in search of another eligible couple. Many a match is entered in Bejoy’s books of which the families concerned can have little anticipation. Have the Fates, for instance, ever decreed the marriage of little Dossee, who was born on Saturday, with Khetter, who is now beginning to walk in leading-strings, and to lisp the names of his father and mother? I cannot say; but they are already coupled in Bejoy’s ledger, and unless the Fates call death or disease to their assistance, the ghatak stands a fair chance of carrying out his own project.

I have often thought that the ghatak is an institution which some of us good Christians might well condescend to borrow from heathenism. Start not, my most respectable reader! I am not going to say that our British marriages are not the most perfect, the most happy, the most disinterested, the most pure—with this which you may fill up with any other superlative that expresses your views of what a marriage ought to be—I repeat, the most perfect, the most happy, &c, unions possible in this iniquitous world, where, nowadays, the decrease of marrying sons, the alarming increase of marriageable daughters, the competition for women of property, the upstart of new capitalists, the poverty of eligible aspirants, the ineligibility of rich candidates, the influence of society, that Board of Trade which looks so sharply after our domestic weights and measures, and many other awkward and untoward circumstances, are, I am assured upon good authority, every day threatening to bring business upon the matrimonial exchange to a complete dead-lock. But excellent as our matrimonial system is, I am not at all sure that it might not be mended. We do not sell our shares and stocks ourselves; indeed, some of us who think not little of our own cleverness, would make but a sorry bargain if we went into the City for that purpose; and why should we buy and sell our own flesh and blood when Bejoy, the ghatak, would do it so much better for us? Consider what humiliations my friend, Mrs Fisher, has undergone during these nine years since her eldest daughter became marriageable; how she has bowed and flattered, smiled and ribbed, gone out in evening dress when her rheumatism ought to have kept her at home, neglected her husband, and allowed her household to go to rack and ruin; and yet in spite of the exertions of that devoted mother, we all say that Miss Fisher is no more likely to get a husband than her old aunt, Miss Witherington. Ah, my good lady, they order these things better in Bengal. Had your daughter’s name been in Bejoy’s list, I believe Helena would have been settled years ago; at least you would have been spared no end of trouble and mortification. And how much more pleasant would it be for poor Tom Westerall if he could only make love by proxy to that raddled, bony Miss Silverley, who is forty at the least, but who has a fortune that would clear off all Tom’s creditors, and set him on his legs again with the world—poor Tom! who has carried a faded little photograph of penniless Maggie Gordon, his sister’s Scotch governess, in his pocket-book for the last ten years, until the likeness has become quite dog’s-eared and dirty! Send for Bejoy, Tom, and if the lies must be told, don’t tell them yourself; and then if she will have you, marry her, in heaven’s name, pay off your debts, and deal as kindly with her as you possibly can. But there is so much to be said in favour of the ghatak that I shall keep the subject until some time when material is more scanty. Our French neighbours have their bureaux de confiance; but the French are a vain nation, unhappily inclined to make light of serious subjects; and my friend, Captain Slack, late of the Bengal Junglywallah Cavalry, who spends much of his time in the Parisian capital, as a change from Boulogne, has cautioned me that these institutions are seriously abused by mauvais sujets of both sexes. The Bengalees are, however, a serious and sober race, who view domestic institutions in as sacred a light as the greatest Pharisee who ever boasted of Great Britain as his birthplace possibly could do; and we may safely enough take a lesson from them. How I longed last Sunday, while escorting my friend Mrs Fisher from church, when that excellent lady made the remark apropos of the sermon—man’s first disobedience and its fruit, had been the preacher’s theme—“How little trouble our first parents must have had in marrying their sons and daughters,”—it was the poor lady’s highest conception of primeval bliss, and a very natural one too,—how I longed, I say, to recommend her to adopt the Bengalee ghatak, and thereby set an example to other British matrons, for which a grateful posterity would bless her name!

But enough of Mrs Grundy; and really after her and her ways the primitive savagery of the City of Sunshine is a sort of relief. The villagers were at no loss to guess what was on foot when Ramanath Gossain sent for Bejoy, the ghatak. Bejoy lost no time in obeying the summons, although he had an old grudge against the priest, for Ramanath had not only married his second wife, but had also arranged his son’s unfortunate match with Chakwi without Bejoy’s intervention. Bejoy was, however, delighted to forget all this in the prospect of securing so good a client as the priest, and he put on his best clothes, assumed a pretentious expression of professional gravity, and hastened to the temple to make his bow to the priest. Ramanath was sitting on his usual seat in the temple porch; his hookha had gone out unnoticed in his abstraction, and his head was bent upon his breast in a reverie, when a rustling of primly-starched cotton garments, and a heavy perfume of musk and sandal-wood, aroused him to the fact that Bejoy was salaaming before him. Bejoy’s duties led him not infrequently into female circles, and a little foppishness was excusable, and even requisite, in his profession.

“Salutation, Bejoy,” said Ramanath, cordially, as he motioned the ghatak to a seat and proffered him the hookha. “Why, man, it is as good as an offering of incense to the gods, when you come to the temple. I suppose you can’t guess why I have sent for you?”

“Though I am no reader of riddles, I yet think I may venture,” replied Bejoy, with a smirk. “I have long said to myself, ‘What a wonder it is that a lusty, hearty man like his worship, the priest, who can so well afford an establishment, should be content with one wife!’ I warrant now you will want a young girl to nurse you in your old age. The Rajah of Ghatghar has a sister who is just turned of twelve, an Apsara8 of loveliness: her face is round as the full moon, her waist slender cuckoo’s throat, her ankles—”

“Nay, nay, friend Bejoy,” interrupted Ramanath, with a laugh, “say no more of her charms, or I shall be as foolish as to fall in love with her at my time of life. I have been married enough for this world, and if I had wanted another I would have wooed one for myself—no offence to you, however, my good friend.”

Bejoy made a grimace and a bow. He had known this well enough, but he thought Ramanath would feel pleased to be complimented upon his youth, and he had made the mistake on purpose. And certainly there was no accent of anger in the priest’s voice as he continued:—

“No, Bejoy, it is my son Krishna who wants to make a fool of himself. You can’t put an old heart in a young body; and I don’t mind telling you, who are a discreet man, in confidence, that there is little love lost between him and Chakwi; and a pity it is, for she is a good girl. But the lad has set his heart upon Kristo Baboo’s daughter, and I have thought it best to let him have his own way. So I am going to put the case in your hands, and if you manage it well, I promise you it will be the best match for you that was ever made in Dhupnagar.”

Bejoy grinned and rubbed his hands, and then burst forth into a torrent of blessings upon the priest’s wealth and liberality, and vowed that if he did not make up the marriage before a month was over, he would never attempt another in Dhupnagar. The case was a difficult one; but Bejoy, like the barrister who is delighted at being entrusted with a cause célèbre, was duly sensible of the importance which he acquired in undertaking it, and was determined to stake his professional reputation upon the issue. Kristo Baboo’s daughter had long been a standing reproach against Bejoy in his own eyes. Radha’s father could not have been more chagrined at his daughter’s ill-fortune than was Bejoy, who looked upon a maiden so well-born and so beautiful, but yet unmarried, as a professional disgrace to himself. But be it told to Bejoy’s credit that Radha’s spinsterhood was no fault of his. The ghatak had proposed all manner of matches, both likely and unlikely, until Kristo Baboo had lost patience, and had told Bejoy not to trouble him farther upon that subject, though he acknowledged the ghatak’s concern for his daughter’s welfare by a heavier largess than he could well afford. So far-seeing a man as Bejoy had of course observed how suitable a match Krishna, the priest’s son, would be for Kristo Baboo’s daughter; but the Gossains had never been clients of his, and Bejoy had no faith in any marriages that were not of his own making. But now the case was altered, and Bejoy felt as if he should like to begin work that very minute.

But the priest had to moderate his ardour. There were many things that must be taken into account before a formal proposal could be made to the Lahories. The young man might not impossibly raise some scruples about a second marriage, although he was madly in love with the girl, for he had picked up a lot of whimsical notions among the English Sahibs at Calcutta. Bejoy shrugged his shoulders contemptuously at the idea of any man having scruples about marrying a girl of such beauty and of so high a caste as Radha. Moreover, Ramanath must not have the izzat (reputation) of his family compromised by exposing his son to a chance of being rejected by the Lahories. Bejoy rubbed his hands impatiently, as much as to say that Ramanath might trust him to take care of that. So Bejoy must go to work cautiously, and sound Kristo upon the subject, before he gave the Baboo to understand that he had any powers to treat with him; and above all he must keep the villagers from getting wind of the matter, until it was definitely settled; and he could hint to Kristo, added Ramanath in a dignified way, that the marriage expenses need not be any drawback, for though Ramanath Gossain need not pay a pice to get the best Lahory in Bengal for his son, yet he would take care in a neighbourly way that his old friend Kristo should be put to no loss by the marriage, and that there would be no want of funds to provide a ceremonial suited to the rank of both families.

Bas (enough), bas,” cried Bejoy, jumping to his feet—“say no more, sir; the marriage is made!” and it was all the priest could do to prevent him from rushing across to the house of Lahory, and broaching the matter to Kristo Baboo that very minute.

It was astonishing how many of the villagers were congregated about the green after the news went out that Bejoy, the ghatak, had been sent for to the temple. The shadow of a jackass had fallen between Dwarkanath and his pupils while they were busy at lessons, and the pious schoolmaster could not possibly proceed with his work after such a portent. Shama Churn, the grain-dealer, left his shop to meet an imaginary merchant, whom he had engaged to see upon the village green, the Rialto of Dhupnagar. And what could have brought Prosunno, the lawyer, and Protap, the accountant, there at that moment? Some pressing business, no doubt. Protap’s house was hard by, and Prosunno had recollected himself that he must talk with Gangooly, the village headman, who was of course quoting proverbs in the centre of the group. Each seemed to imagine that he himself, and no other, had a right to be there at that time; and when a new-comer sauntered up to the party, he had to put up with a host of cynical queries as to what he could be doing there just then. And then the great topic of the day would be introduced. It was no doubt on Krishna’s behalf that Bejoy’s services had been called in; but who was the girl? Protap, the accountant, who would gladly have given his own unmarried daughter to the priest’s son, but who knew also that Krishna would never seek her, pitied the poor thing, whoever she was, and said that a woman might as well marry a mletcha (barbarian) or an Englishman Hindoo who had no religion.

Old Gangooly must have his joke, that a man who had been once burned should again plunge his hand into the fire, and was sharply rebuked by Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, who had three wives himself, and who detected an irreverent allusion to the sacred institution of polygamy in the headman’s remark. Shama Chum was mentally calculating the expenses which would be incurred by people of the Gossains’ quality, and how much grain would be required to feed the Brahmins, and whether it would not be worth his pains to be a little more regular in his devotions at the temple, in order to get the contract. Nitye, the village doctor, was understood to say that no good could come of marrying a man who used European medicines; they tainted the blood, and his children would consequently be predisposed to leprosy and cholera. To which Gangooly responded that they would be all the better patients to him then; but the old charlatan shook his head, and said that physic did little good to a dead man, and English doctors were worse than Hindoo devils, for the latter might be driven away by charms; but when a man took medicine from the former, he made a covenant with Yama, the god of death. And Prosunno, the lawyer, speaking from the brief he held for Three Shells, said that the Gossains were excellent people—most excellent and honourable people; that an alliance with them would be an honour to any one in the place; and that he was surprised—nay, grieved even—that people should have allowed their tongues to cast aspersions upon Krishna’s orthodoxy, when that good young man was bearing so clear a testimony to his Swadharma9 by taking to himself a second wife. Whereupon the elders stared at Prosunno in amazement and held their peace; but that ornament of the legal profession never lost control over a muscle of his countenance.

When Bejoy, the ghatak, made his appearance, there was a general movement to meet him; but that gentleman was too full of the importance of his mission and of professional responsibility to pay much heed to their greetings. He came stepping daintily up, his well-polished shoes creaking jauntily beneath him, and his stiffly-starched chaddar thrown with studied carelessness over his shoulder. His face was half turned aside, his eyes fixed upon the ground; and his face wore an air of pensive contemplation, as if it would say, “See here, how I am drudging for the happiness of you and your families! It is little wonder though we ghataks be melancholy men. Ah! if you only knew the toil, the care, the anxiety it gives us to arrange your domestic affairs, you would be more grateful to your benefactors,” With a courteous wave of his hand and a sad smile, Bejoy acknowledged the salutations of his townsfolk, and declining, with a solemn shake of the head, Gangooly’s laughing invitation to come and revive his friends with a smell of him, he passed along the green until almost in front of the house of Lahory, while all eyes anxiously watched his progress. It may be that Kristo Baboo was not without his share of the popular curiosity, for that worthy gentleman, who was standing at his own door, started when he saw Bejoy coming towards him, and went hurriedly inside. But Bejoy had no intention of troubling Kristo at that time. He walked slowly across the green until he came to the road which led along the village, and turning to the left, passed on, apparently engrossed in thought, until he reached his own house, and was hid from the anxious view of the Dhupnagar public.

“Well, well,” said Gangooly, “if he makes a marriage it can’t be in the dark, and we shall doubtless hear of it in time. And Bejoy, the ghatak, is none the worse that he does not gossip about other people’s business. One loose tongue will make more mischief in a minute than twenty can mend in a month. What think ye would be the consequences if I were to chatter about every matter that came before me as your headman?” The village elders, who had good reason to distrust Gangooly’s commendations of his own prudence, shrugged their shoulders, and went their several ways. There were divers conjectures put forth in the bazaar that day regarding Bejoy’s mission. Some had it that Ramanath, provoked by his son’s heresy, had made up his mind to disinherit Krishna, and to marry another wife in the hope of having male issue. Others were sure that Bejoy had been commissioned to bring a European madam from Calcutta as a wife to the young man, and hence it was no wonder though the ghatak did not like to speak about so disgraceful a job; they wondered that so respectable a man as Bejoy would have had anything to do with these Gossains and their dirty work. Chand, the barber, who was the great authority upon the Brahminical side of all public questions, was astonished that people could fabricate such stories. He had been most credibly informed that Bejoy’s visit to the priest was nothing more than a mere friendly call. Of course, when so clever a fellow as Bejoy got his hands upon a man, there was no saying what would occur, and it was just possible that a marriage might come of it; but any such announcement would be premature at present. However, there were more things of which the folks of Dhupnagar might assure themselves, and they were these—that the Gossains would only ally themselves with a family of the very best caste; and that if there was a bridal, it would be the grandest affair of the kind Dhupnagar had witnessed for many a day. Bonoo, the broker, who was the organ of the opposition, inveighed loudly against the corruptions of Dhupnagar Brahminism; they would hardly bestow a glance upon a person of lower caste than themselves, and they were ever ready to excommunicate any poor man who intermarried with a Sudra; but they had no scruple about smoking and drinking with a rich heathen and a beefeater like Krishna, the priest’s son; surely the latter days of the Black Age were come, when the twice-born caste thus forgot themselves. Moreover, Bonoo warned the townsfolk to keep a sharp eye upon the priest and his family; they had already introduced heresy into the village, and the gods only knew what they might do next. Whereupon Chand, the barber, the conservative exponent, expressed himself in withering scorn of the opinions of Bonoo, the radical, and wondered that no judgment befell a man who had ventured to open his mouth in disparagement of the holy caste; but what could be expected of such an insignificant, ill-conditioned fellow, who got his information at second-hand from the cow-dung wives in the bazaar? The undaunted Bonoo stoutly replied that his opponent was an old crow and a father of fools, that he followed the Brahmins as a kite follows a sick bullock, in the hope of picking something up from off them, and that he knew nothing about the matter in question. Then, of course, Chand would abuse Bonoo, and Bonoo vilify Chand, until the townsmen took sides and a clamour arose. But why detail the progress of the controversy? Is Bengal the only country where Chand and Bonoo bespatter one another for the public amusement and their own profit?

There were not many people the wiser that evening, when Bejoy slipped out at his back door after dusk, and took his way through the deserted lanes of Dhupnagar to the house of Lahory. Was it entirely a lucky accident that the ghatak found Kristo Baboo just about to sit down to supper, upon which more than ordinary care had been taken; or had the Baboo divined that Bejoy might possibly look in upon him? This point I cannot pretend to settle; but it is certain that Bejoy received a warm welcome, and being a man of good caste he was instantly set down to share the Baboo’s meal. The rice was served up smoking hot and boiled to perfection; the curry and chillies were so hot that you could hardly hold them in your mouth, and yet so sweet that you scarcely felt the heat; the mango fish were deliciously sour, and almost floating in melted butter; there was also mango phul, or the fruit of the mango-tree beaten into custard; piles of sweetmeats; and, to crown the whole, a couple of bottles of “European water,” which we English call by the name of soda, the last of a dozen which Kristo had received in a present from a Calcutta friend. The production of this wonderful liquor denoted the importance which the Baboo attached to Bejoy’s visit, for it was only to great personages, like the Rajah of Ghatghar, and Preonath, the “Dipty” magistrate, that a similar attention had been shown. So Kristo and the ghatak gorged themselves upon the good things, and fed each other with the choicest delicacies, until the servants came to remove the dinner-carpet, and brought in the Baboo’s massive silver hookha, when both, fairly surfeited, leant back upon their respective cushions, and waited there in patient endurance of the pleasure of repletion, too indolent to speak or even to think, until they had privacy for the discussion of business. Then began the contest, the ghatak, on his part, endeavouring to probe Kristo’s real feelings regarding his daughter’s marriage, without committing his client to a definite proposal, and the Baboo doing his best to appear indifferent to the subject. They talked of all the gossip of the village, and how frequent robberies were becoming, and how young Afzul Khan was likely to get into trouble about them, and how many thousand rupees the Rajah of Ghatghar had squandered among the English Sahibs at the last Pultunpore races.

“May Siva blast him and his whole generation!” growled Kristo, at the mention of Afzul Khan. “When his father robbed me of my land, I always said these Muhammadan dogs would come to the gallows. Ill-gotten land never thrives with such people, Bejoy; and I should not wonder though the Government were to take back the grant from them, now that they are become Thags and Dakaits.”

“You speak the truth, Baboo,” said Bejoy. “There is little good in these Muhammadans. They have no order or decency in their marriages. I have heard that they will take a slave-girl for their head wife, if she is pretty, as readily as a woman of their highest caste.”

“If they would be content with their wives,” cried Kristo, indignantly, “it would not matter so much; but I tell you, Bejoy, there is not an unmarried woman or a widow in the district safe from that young blackguard. You have heard, of course, how he behaved to the ryot of Milkiganj’s daughter?”

“It must be a serious thought to you, sir, to have an unmarried daughter of such beauty in your house while this lawless young Mussulman is at large,” said Bejoy, making a bolt at the opening thus presented to him. “If I might make a respectful representation, I would advise that you should allow me to seek out a good husband for her. It is time, Baboo, that your daughter were well mated.”

“He won’t be at large long, or I’m much mistaken,” said Kristo, taking no notice of the ghatak’s insinuation. “The Magistrate Sahibs have got their eyes upon him, and I trust they may soon send him to the Andamans—or, better still, hang him.”

“The over-ripe mango loses its bloom, Baboo,” persisted Bejoy. “Your daughter is fast approaching maturity. It is neither prudent nor natural to delay longer. The townsfolk murmur about it, and no wonder.”

“Murmur! Plague choke them!” said Kristo, angrily. “What have Sudras like them to do with me and my daughter? I have no doubt they would like well enough that I should go into the bazaar and pick out some of their pariah shopkeepers as a husband to my girl. I would tenfold sooner follow her corpse to the banks of the Gungaputra, Those who come after me may well say that Kristo Lahory lessened the family property, but they shall never taunt me with tainting the blood. Better that the family should end in a pure virgin than endure as a mongrel strain to grieve the souls of our departed ancestors.”

“There is no need to go into the bazaar, sir,” said Bejoy. “Your daughter has blood and beauty to make her a match for the best Brahmin in Bengal. If you were not so difficult to please, I could soon make an excellent match for her.”

“Oh, ay! and where, in the name of Kali, am I to get money to pay her dowry and provide for the marriage expenses?” cried Kristo, in an impatient tone. “Am I to take to the highway with that blackguard of a Muhammadan, and plunder purses to dower my daughter? or am I to send her away like a beggar with my poor mother’s bracelets and nose-rings, and burn half-a-dozen oil-lamps upon the verandah in honour of the occasion? When I brought home my wife, Bejoy, the road from the Pagoda Tope to the village was lighted with more than two thousand lanterns upon each side; and when the one end of the procession had entered the village, the other was not come in sight of the valley. That was something like a bridal; the expenses did not cost my father a pice less than half a lakh of rupees.”

“And what would you say, Baboo, if as gay a bridal could be provided for your daughter, without putting you an anna out of pocket?” said Bejoy, triumphantly. This was going to the full stretch of his commission; but Bejoy, like every skilful practitioner, was fond of carrying his point by a bold stroke.

“Say! Why, I should say such a thing might be possible if one of the immortals came to woo her, as they came to Damayanti, the wife of Nala,” cried Kristo, in a tone of angry incredulousness. “It does not cost them much to get up a tamasha (show); and if it is any of them that has made you his ghatak, he may have my daughter with my blessing, though he had an elephant’s head like Ganesha, or were as ugly as Yama, the god of death.”

“Such jesting is unseemly,” said Bejoy, with a look of grave reproach. “You surely do not think that I would venture to trifle with a person of your consequence. May my face be black before you if ever you find Bejoy taking such a liberty! I was only remarking that with your kind permission and good fortune, I might be able to find a suitable husband for your daughter, and a way of providing for a proper marriage ceremonial, without putting you to any expense.”

“Then it is some low-caste fellow who wants her,” said Kristo. “It won’t do, ghatak. The gods forbid that Kristo Lahory should sell Brahmin’s blood to a churl though he were lord of ten provinces! Nobody would make such an offer unless there was something wrong about him. I tell you I shall never be the person to lower the caste of Lahory.”

“Bejoy never took a fee from a churl in his days,” said that gentleman, with an offended air. “I have been a ghatak in Dhupnagar for twenty years, and I never yet arranged a match that Manu himself might not have blessed for being equal. The husband I suggested comes of as good a caste as your own.”

“Is it Ramanath Gossain, or his son Krishna?” said Kristo, in a low stammering voice, and with a flushed face. “Is it of either of them you would speak, Bejoy?”

“I certainly am not empowered to make an offer upon the part of these worthy Baboos; but since you have suggested it, I think that the young man might be a most advantageous match,” returned Bejoy, fully fathering the idea upon his host. “It would give me most sincere pleasure to arrange a marriage between your families, and I do not think there would be much difficulty in bringing it about. Ramanath is as generous as he is rich, and from what he said to me this morning, I am sure he would be willing to take all the outlay upon his own shoulders, in a neighbourly way, if his son were marrying again to his satisfaction.”

Kristo smoked away in silence, but his face was flushed and his pulse beat quickly. A marriage with the Gossains would end the reproach to his family, and they were so wealthy that they would never miss the money required to release him from his creditors. But then there was the disgrace of allowing Radha to leave his house a portionless bride. Well, when he considered the matter, he would have fewer scruples in being obliged to his old neighbour Ramanath than to any other person. But he must take care not to show the other party that he was so eager for the match, nor to allow the dignity of his family to suffer in the negotiations. So he returned no immediate answer, but smoked on, debating in his own mind the pros and cons of the proposition, especially as it affected his own pecuniary interest and the opinion of the public. With regard to his daughter’s happiness, it is due to Kristo’s character as a high-minded Hindoo parent, to state that he never bestowed a thought upon so trivial a subject.

“What about this young fellow’s religion?” he asked, at length. “It is only a short time ago since the village panchayat was going to try him Christian and a kine-killer. You would not have me give my daughter to such a man, ghatak?”

“Who would heed what brokers and badmashes (blackguards) say?” asked Bejoy, scornfully. “The better a man’s character is, the more they abuse it. Why, there is not a better Hindoo, or a stricter Brahmin, or a man that reverences the gods more, in Dhupnagar, than Krishna Gossain.”

“So much the better for him, Bejoy,” said Kristo; “but for all that, I do not see that he can marry my daughter. Krishna has a wife already, and I am not going to give Radha to be the slave of the saukan saut (rival wife).”

“Far be it from your bondsman to think of such a thing!” cried Bejoy, readily. “The gods forbid that I should offer the second place in any man’s household to your daughter! Besides, Krishna hates his present wife, and has long fixed his eyes upon your daughter.”

“Well, Bejoy, you are a good and trustworthy man, and I should be sorry to stand in the way of your earning a fee in this business,” said Kristo, with affected carelessness; “but remember that the dignity of me and my daughter suffer not in your hands. A clear and distinct offer must come from their side, and it must be solicited favour from me rather than proffered benefit to us. They are a good family, the Gossains; but a marriage with them is no honour to the Lahories. You will come again soon, friend Bejoy, and give me the pleasure of your gossip. I would have made you a present, but may Kuveru (the god of wealth) sweep away any rupee that is in my house until my rents come in. However, we may be more prosperous one day, when your kind interest shall not be forgotten.”

“It is not necessary,” said Bejoy. “It is pleasure enough for me to be serviceable to such excellent people without payment. I am not like the dirty ghatak of Gapshapganj, who fixes his fee of fifteen per cent before he will cross his own threshold. Nevertheless, you may depend upon me doing all that man can do to bring this affair to an auspicious termination.”

“Sri Krishna-ji! but this is a lucky hap,” muttered Kristo to himself after the ghatak had departed. “Ramanath could pay my debts and redeem my land without knowing himself a pice the poorer; and I warrant him do it too, for he is a right generous neighbour, if the matter goes right. And then I can adopt one of my grandchildren, and keep the property from these kites of cousins. I shall give a silver lota to your Linga, O Siva! if this affair come right. What will the folk say about it? By the by, I shall have to keep it quiet until my lawsuit with Keshub of Bhutpore is over; or that rascally Dipty would give a decree against me for very spite. Impudence, indeed, for the son of an oil-seller to pretend to my daughter! I wonder his presumption does not bring a judgment upon him!”

Chapter XVII

Krishna Agonistes

Poor Krishna! he was now to learn how frail are the best of good intentions. If, as folk say, the road to a certain place is paved with these, what a slippery pathway it must be, to be sure! and the descent to Avernus will be easy indeed. Your reprobate takes a header sheer over, and goes down with a rough come-tumble, accompanied by so much “hideous ruin and combustion,” setting so many stones rolling in his descent, and altogether making so unpleasant an uproar, and presenting such a disagreeable spectacle, that everybody who sees him is quite shocked, and moralises primly over the downfall of the wicked. But the poor man who is always making good resolutions and never keeping them, whose conduct is the very reverse of his intentions, has ventured upon an easier but not less dangerous slide. Down he goes, gradually and gently at first, but, in spite of the pleasant incline, he is nervous and begins to pull up. Again he is off; this time with more confidence, and we see him gracefully nodding and bowing to the gentlemen and ladies, his friends, who crowd round to cheer and applaud the bold skater. A few more pauses and the slide has become so smooth that really he hardly knows whether he is at rest or in motion. He does not see the posts with the placard “Dangerous!” He does not hear the warning hollas of the bystanders. A crash and a splash, and he is wallowing in the dirt, the mud, and the débris, the negra belletta of Styx; and the world has a more harsh judgment to pronounce upon him than it had upon his neighbour. Poor Krishna! who thought that he was standing so firmly all this time, had slipped his foot, and was somewhat hurt, but more humiliated. Was this the man who had been to perform such feats, to cut such figures, before he bound on his skates? Tumbling at the first step upon the ice, and everybody laughing at him too. Krishna laughed bitterly at himself when he remembered the temptations he was to overcome, the stripes and the imprisonment he was cheerfully to undergo on behalf of his opinions; and here he was, before a sword had been drawn or a standard unfurled, bought over to the enemy’s cause. Where now was that strength of character upon which he had prided himself—that self-confidence which had led him to take up a loftier standpoint than his fellows? What availed it now that he had evinced his intellectual superiority over the Calcutta students, since his intellect was no match for base, brute passion? Was he not worse now than Preonath, the “Dipty,” whose servile adherence to Hindoo orthodoxy he had so often scoffed at? Why, even his old companion Premchand Dass, who had turned Christian, and whom Krishna had been wont to taunt with having exchanged one superstition for another, was more to be envied than he was. Premchand had at least remained consistent to his faith, while he——. But I doubt much whether Krishna’s mental humiliation oppressed him so much as the dread of public ridicule—the sneers of the Brahmins and the scorn of his fellow-Brahmists. They could not help knowing everything about it, for the Brahmins would be sure to tom-tom the recantation of so distinguished a heretic all over the country. The ‘Bengalee Baboo,’ the organ of the orthodox party, would hail his return to Hindooism with patronising sneers; while the ‘Cossitollah Reflector’ would make his defection the subject of indignant leaders, full of invectives against himself and all his connections for six months to come. O God!—or gods rather—the poor youth would groan; what sins had he committed in his present or former births that he should be thus bound and delivered over to himself for punishment and torture?

It did not require a long siege to bring Krishna to capitulation. Day after day found the poor youth waging a vain battle with himself, now by prayer and good resolves beating back the enemy, but only to yield the vantage-ground again under the pressure of passion and selfishness. Could his friends have come to his rescue, or could he have possessed himself with an enthusiasm for his faith, he might have been saved. But how far will the enthusiasm produced by a purely intellectual belief, such as that of the Brahmic Theists, carry a man? Who ever laid down his life for a theory of Causation? Would Comte have gone to the guillotine in defence of Positivism? or Mr Darwin—I mean no disrespect to that great thinker—allow himself to be led to the stake in St Paul’s Churchyard for the sake of his ‘Origin of Species’? A certain amount of opposition and persecution will make a martyr of any man for any conceivable opinion; and I have no doubt that, had Ramanath adopted this course with his son, Krishna would have borne an illustrious testimony to the principles of Brahmism. If the priest had risen in wrath and turned him out of doors, Krishna would have gone to Calcutta and given himself all the airs of a martyr; or if the father had attempted by petty persecutions, by continual worrying, by threats, and by sneers, to bring him back to the paths of orthodoxy, I daresay Krishna would have hugged the rack and the thumb-screws, would have faced the priest’s anger unflinchingly, answered argument by argument, and remained in the end a more enthusiastic Brahmist than before. But Ramanath did nothing of the kind: he left the young man to himself, and treated his religious aberrations as a genial father would deal with his son’s boyish folly—his mental wild oats, which he would be all the steadier for having sown; and he did his best to stir up the youth’s self-interest and passions, which the old priest well knew would plead more powerfully on behalf of Hindooism than any language of his could. Krishna was perfectly unprepared for this mode of attack. He had come home to be martyred, and was on the whole rather disappointed that nobody took any notice of him. He had no small share of vanity, which would have fed upon persecution; but what right had they thus to treat him as a child? If the mob in Calcutta had stoned Kheddarnath Chatterjee when he was baptised as a Christian, surely he was as well worthy of lapidation. The Brahmins of Padrepore had beaten young Hem Chunder Mitter within an inch of his life for breaking his caste and declaring himself a Theist; and had not he too torn off his Brahmin’s cord and thrown down the gauntlet to the gods of his people? Did they think that he who had been held up to honour as the most promising student in college, had been made so much of by all the great natives in Calcutta, whose conversion had been considered so great a triumph for the Brahmists—did these wretched barbarians of Dhupnagar think him too insignificant to be noticed, or did they realise what might be the consequences to Hindooism of his apostasy? In fact, Krishna felt quite angry with the latitudinarianism of his townsfolk, and began to think that there would be but small benefit in teaching them a new faith when they cared so very little for their present creed.

Then to these feelings of pique and disappointment, and a half-formed suspicion that he had been led somewhat far away by his self-conceit, were added his passion for Radha and his interest in standing fast by the old faith. If he abjured his caste and his creed, Radha could never be his; and what had he to look forward to but a life of misery without her—a life of poverty, scorn, and hardships? Well, he was prepared for this; but the bright spot beyond, the life of well-earned ease and honour that was to succeed his troubles, was not that another of his delusions? What hope could he have to see so gigantic a system as Hindooism overthrown in his lifetime? and so long as Hindooism prevailed, he must continue to be an outcast and object of popular persecution. Then consider what misery he would cause to his friends by an ill-advised profession of his enlightened opinions,—to his poor father, who had been so good-natured, so indulgent, and whose old age would be rendered lonely and miserable by the desertion of the only child left to him—to Radha, whom he loved—to poor innocent Chakwi, who loved him, and whom fate had, so unfortunately for them both, mated with him. Why should he be the cause of grief to all these innocent people? For what was it that he was thus bent upon ruining himself and distressing his relations? For a belief; but how well grounded was that belief? Had he never doubts and misgivings? was he as happy as those who had a more sure, though a grosser, faith? was his purely intellectual cultus as calculated to make the masses happy as the old emotional worship of the country? On the whole, Krishna began to fear that he had been following a phantasm which had led him away until he was lost in the jungle. So when Ramanath made a direct attack upon Krishna’s citadel, the fortress was carried by an easy assault, the garrison having been starved out by cutting off the supplies of vanity, and disheartened for want of allies. The old priest came and sat down beside his son, took the young man’s hands in his own, and in tones of parental kindness told him that he was making proposals for Kristo Baboo’s daughter. He had done very wrong, the priest meekly confessed, in contracting the marriage with Chakwi, and in attempting to coerce his son’s affections, and the best reparation he could make for it now would be to secure for his son a girl whom he truly loved. As for Chakwi, it was an awkward affair, and the priest was very sorry; but his son was a good-hearted man who would feel for the poor, gentle girl, and do his best to show her some appearance of husbandly regard. And then he began to talk of the marriage, and to grumble good-humouredly over the expenses that they would have to be at in providing a ceremony worthy of so grand a lady as Radha. They must have the house decorated anew, although really her own home was not so luxurious that the girl had any reason to be fastidious. There were some folk who would not be over well pleased when they heard of Krishna’s good fortune. Our friend Preonath, the Dipty, for instance; an ill-conditioned tyke, my son, whom learning had made proud without making him a gentleman: a fellow who, forsooth, was ashamed of his old father, Ram Lall, the oil-seller, an honester man than ever stood in the Dipty’s slippers. That young profligate, the Rajah of Ghatghar, too, would fain have been a suitor; but Ramanath Gossain’s son did not need to salaam to any of these great people, and could hold his own against the best of them. No, no; Krishna might perhaps count rupee about with his highness; and pretty highness he was too—a broken-down debauchee before there was a rough hair upon his face; and his son could, at any rate, get through this world without sitting upon a bench to be deaved by the chattering of lying lawyers and policemen for three hundred rupees a-month.

Krishna sat in silent thoughtfulness, allowing his father to rattle away in this manner. The old priest talked against time, hardly pausing to take breath, for he knew that if he allowed his son to speak for himself, and a controversy arose, his cause was lost. But Krishna was then in no humour for arguing. His brain was in a whirl; and the only idea he could lay hold of, was a feeling of doubt whether he was the same Krishna Chandra Gossain, the boldest, the most ardent of Brahmic converts, the fiery “Iconoclast” of the ‘Cossitollah Reflector,’ the man who had proclaimed war without quarter against the idolatry and superstition of his countrymen,—he wondered whether it was the same person who was sitting there so calmly and hearing all these things. The priest, it is true, had never mentioned religion, taking for granted, as it appeared, that Krishna’s enthusiasm had cooled down; but the Hindoo marriage with all its idolatrous rites—nay, the bigamous union itself—would be a public profession of his recantation. He knew all this, but still he held his peace. The thought of Radha was a spell upon his tongue; and he sat there giving a silent assent to all that his father said; and when the old man had finished and hurried out of the room rubbing his hands in great good-humour, Krishna allowed him to go away without a word of expostulation.

It was all over then, and he felt wonderfully relieved. To be sure, his honour was shattered, his good faith bartered for the possession of a woman, his name become a disgrace to all his Calcutta friends and associates; but still he was less miserable than he had been when tossed about, the prey of contending passions, seeking to do the right, yet choosing to do the wrong. The Rubicon was passed, and the dangers that had been like to daunt him upon the other side were fast melting away in the bright vistas opening up before him. Love as well as gold can deaden the sense of disgrace; with Radha as his wife he would be independent of the sneers of the Brahmists. He could spend all his days in ease and pleasure in the valley of Dhupnagar, and need never go near the city again with its racket and turmoil, its chattering and hollow inhabitants, its insincerity, its censoriousness, and its empty conventionalities. Here he might lead a life as happy as that of his free Arigian forefathers in the early pastoral days, before lust and priestly ambition and the love of money had inaugurated the Black Age. The Brahmists would of course revile him; but what mattered it what the Brahmists said? He felt he was beginning to hate the Brahmists; idle speculative visionaries they were, the most of them; or else officious, meddling busybodies, who, having no definite faith of their own, took a mischievous delight in unsettling other people’s ideas. Who were they that they should attempt to overthrow so venerable, so aesthetic a ritual as that of Hindooism? What warrant had they for the position they took up? They had no revelation, no scripture, nothing but the faint and uncertain light of human speculation to guide them. They abused the Christians; but what, after all, was the Brahmist system but Christianity without Christ? their ethics, their forms of worship, the whole structure of their religion, were they not taken from a system that they professed to despise? And what would be the end of the Brahmic movement? They might go on smoothly enough so long as they had a man of powerful intellect and saintly character like Keshub Chunder Sen to guide them; but what would become of them after his death? They would be split up into half-a-dozen different sects, each fighting with the other and bringing their principles into utter discredit; or they must become Christians, or perchance relapse into Hindooism. It was only a partial and uncertain movement; and Krishna began to reason himself into an assurance that he was very fortunate in getting out of it before he was too deeply compromised to retreat.

Krishna’s first act, however, did not speak much for the sincerity of this conviction. He wrote to his Calcutta friend Bholanath Thakoor, a cautious, diplomatic letter, intended to forestall the news of his recantation, and modify, its effect upon the members of the Brahmo Somaj. Poor Krishna, who had hitherto been so honourable and ingenuous, was serving a rapid apprenticeship to duplicity. But we had better let his letter speak for itself:—

From Baboo Krishna Chandra Gossain of Dhupnagar, to Baboo Bholanath Thakoor of Calcutta.

“My dearest Friend,

Your letter was welcome to me as the dewy moonbeams to the love-parched chakar. Like a ray of sunshine gleaming through prison-bars to gladden the hearts of the captives, your cheering counsel came to refresh my soul. O Bholanath, how much I need your company! In my father’s house I am as much a prisoner as if I were a bound convict in Alipore jail. I have no one to talk to, no one to whom I can open my heart, no one of whom I can ask advice. I am shunned here as if I were a leper, or as if I carried the cholera about in my waist-cloth. Yet it is little loss to me upon the whole, for I can have but little fellowship with people who are so far sunk in ignorance and superstition.

“I may confide to you that solitude and constant meditation have wrought a considerable change in my opinions. Think not, Bholanath, that my faith in the Supreme Brahma has ever for an instant wavered, or that I am falling back into our old errors. What I mistrust is my own ability to battle with Hindooism, and the expediency of provoking a contest while our party is still in its infancy, while our views are not fully matured, and while the position of the enemy is still so strong. A few years longer, and education will have prepared a fitting soil for the reception of our good seed. At present we hazard our cause by exposing it to defeat. You remember, Bholanath, how we used to talk in our youthful ardour about going forth as missionaries to rescue our countrymen from their delusions. It was a dream, a generous ideal, but still a dream. When Brahma thinks that the time has come to enlighten his countrymen, he can by a single flash of his glorious truth before their eyes turn millions from their idolatry. As for me, who am I that I should attempt to take God’s work out of His own hands? I find myself placed here by Brahma in a certain sphere with certain duties to perform, and with certain rights belonging to me. What does it profit me if I neglect these duties, that I attempt a great work, not knowing whether Brahma will require it at my hands? Suppose I, by my teaching and my testimony, turned a few Hindoos from idolatry, but still broke my poor father’s heart and distressed all my kind relations, would I have satisfaction—would my conscience approve my conduct to me? How could I preach the sacred obligations of filial affection when I have slighted them myself? You will reproach me for all this, and say that I am striking a truce with error. My answer is, that I am not, and shall never be, reconciled to Hindooism; but that while I loathe idolatry myself, I hesitate to unhinge men’s minds from their swadharma (own religion), until I can present them with a more objective creed than our own philosophical system.

“I must also tell you that I am likely soon to be married to the maiden whom I have so long loved, of whom you have heard me so often speak. My head is so full of coming bliss that I hardly know what I am writing. Do not reproach me for contracting a bigamous union; Chakwi has never been my wife but in name. The marriage will of course be celebrated according to Hindoo fashion. That I cannot help, for no other form of marriage is known here among us, and I shall assent to the idolatrous rites with a mental reservation. I tell you this in confidence, as I do not wish it to be mentioned at present. But every man has his enemies; and if you should hear a rumour among the Brahmists that Krishna Chandra Gossain has abandoned the paths of Theism and gone back to the ways of error, I need not ask my friend to contradict the report, and to assure them that my faith in the Supreme Brahma was never more steadfast than at present. I know that your affection will do all that is needful and all that I could wish. Greet all our brethren for me, and assure our reverend leader that my lips are longing to kiss his feet.

“From your brother in Brahma,

“Krishna Chandra Gossain.”

As Krishna read over this letter he could not conceal from himself that he had hardly stated his case frankly. But what good would it do him to enter into particular details to persons who were not likely either to realise or sympathise with his position? He had done his best to prepossess his friend Bholanath in his favour, and to take the sting out of slander; and that was really all that he wanted. As for stating his mind clearly, he had better wait until he knew it clearly himself, for he was in such a whirl that he was never two days of the same opinion. But why not open his heart to his trusted friend Bholanath, and confess to him at once that he had succumbed to temptation, that he had sold his conscience for a fair bride, and that he was really more miserable now when he had a certain prospect of obtaining Radha, than ever he had been while his love seemed hopeless? Krishna felt that this was a subject on which he had better be reticent. His Calcutta friend could not be expected to enter into all the feelings and motives which regulated his conduct; besides, good friend as Bholanath was, it was not impossible that he might indulge in a little natural triumph over the backsliding of one who had always boasted himself to be a more zealous reformer than his fellows.

The sequel showed that Krishna, judging probably from what he himself would have done under the same circumstances, had not miscalculated his friend’s disposition. No sooner had Baboo Bholanath Thakoor mastered the above epistle than he hurried off to the leaders of the Brahmo Somaj, and disclosed to them the startling intelligence that Krishna Baboo, the hope of the sect, their most distinguished disciple, the convert in whom of all others their firmest confidence had been placed, was on the point of relapsing into Hindooism, and of sealing his recantation by marrying an idolatrix from the family of Lahory. This was terrible news to the reformers, and a meeting was specially summoned to consider the case. Bholanath, proud of being the cause of all this commotion—for Bholanath was one of those small Baboos who are always glad to take advantage of any chance of notoriety—read and re-read his letter, commented upon its contents, and explained all the circumstances of Krishna and his family, until the heads of the sect were glad to silence him. Then began such a clatter of tongues as is to be heard nowhere outside a Bengalee meeting. Some would have the Brahmo Somaj to wash its hands of the young Gossain, and to publish his name in the ‘Cossitollah Reflector’ as an apostate from the faith; others thought that the matter should be kept quiet, as it would only give their enemies an occasion for triumphing over them; a third party considered the Hindoos should be informed how far Krishna stood committed to the principles of the Somaj, and how he had on one occasion breakfasted upon beefsteaks cut from the sacred rumps of kine in company with certain of his fellow-students at Spence’s Hotel; a fourth counselled moderation, and argued that Krishna should not be condemned unheard, that an expostulatory epistle should be addressed to him, and that he should be exhorted and encouraged to withstand temptation; and a fifth made the happy suggestion that some influential member of the Somaj should be despatched to succour the young man in his hour of need, and save the Brahmists from the reproach of a perversion. This proposal was instantly caught up by all present, opinions differing only as to the person who might most suitably be intrusted with the mission. When the spiritual welfare of so interesting a youth as Krishna was in question, everybody was willing to take a trip to Dhupnagar at the expense of the Society, and to spend a few weeks among the green fields and shady woods of that pleasant valley—an agreeable change from the sweltering heat and dusty streets of Calcutta. There were so many volunteers that the heads of the Somaj were puzzled how to avoid the odium of making a selection. Bholanath urged his intimacy with Krishna as a claim to the preferment; but half a score of voices pronounced him to be a chokhra (boy), and a parasite of the young Gossain, and probably no better a Brahmist than his companion. So Bholanath shrank away into his original insignificance, and left the others to fight for the prize. Kali Baboo said that the Gossains were of his acquaintance, that he had great influence with the young man, and that he was quite confident in his own ability to steady Krishna’s wavering faith. To which the others replied that Kali Baboo was a professional busybody, a wallower and a coiler in other people’s affairs, a neglector of his own business, a broker, and the brother of a lascivious sister. While Kali was retorting at the top of his lungs, Siva Prasad Baboo put forth his pretensions, and was instantly attacked as an unsound Brahmist, a man who had a sneaking kindness for the Theism of the Vedas, who followed the Nyaya school of philosophy; a man who ought never to have joined the progressive Brahmists, but to have allied himself to the temporisers with error of the Adi Somaj: a proper mentor for a young man indeed! The turmoil had reached its height when the heads of the congregation announced that the choice of the Society had fallen upon their esteemed brother Mr Romesh Chunder Roy.

Baboo Romesh Chunder Roy—I beg his pardon, Mr E. C. Roy, for this is a point upon which my good friend is extremely sensitive—was the latest and most distinguished acquisition of the Brahmo Somaj, and the heads of the Society were naturally anxious to do him honour. Mr Roy had been educated in England; and having but lately returned to his native country, he was still regarded as a lion by his friends, who were confident that one of so much authority and experience would have no difficulty in leading Krishna back to the Brahmic fold. Mr Roy had himself begun life not far from Krishna’s own village, his father being a small landholder near the town of Bhutpore. The young Romesh had attended the Anglo-vernacular school at Bhutpore, where he displayed such proficiency in acquiring English that Mr Eversley, the collector, took notice of the lad, and urged the father to send him to a Calcutta college. The father’s ambition for his son would have been satisfied with a clerkship in the local courts, but the magistrate’s word was not to be gainsaid; and so one fine morning young Romesh trudged away from the Gungaputra valley with a few books upon his back, his father’s silver-mounted hookha, the family palladium, in one hand; a pair of new patent-leather shoes, which he was on no account to put on until he reached Calcutta, dangling from the end of a staff, carried over his other shoulder; and a small store of rupees, for which his father had mortgaged the best bullock to old Mahesh, the Bhutpore usurer, knit into a corner of his waist-cloth. The old man accompanied Romesh to the Pagoda Tope, which crowns the southern ridge of the Gungaputra valley; and his mother, and little sisters and brothers, and a bevy of neighbours, pursued him with good wishes and prayers for his welfare as long as he was within earshot. Romesh was sorry enough when the old man gave him his blessing and hurried away, that the boy might not be dispirited by the sight of his grief: but Romesh’s heart was light, and the world was before him; and so he trudged cheerily onwards until he came to the line of railway, where, not without considerable misgivings, he embarked upon the ag-ghari, the wonderful fire-coach, which is swift as the car of Indra, god of the firmament, and much more useful to mortals. True to his father’s cautions to be careful of his money, Romesh spent half a day in higgling for an abatement of the fare at the railway station, and threatening to walk all the way to Calcutta if he could not have a ticket at his own price, much to the amusement of the “knowing” clerks, who indulged in many a joke at the prudent simplicity of the “jungly” youth.

But Romesh’s “jungly” simplicity was soon rubbed off in Calcutta. His little stock of money was speedily exhausted, and his wits were often sorely tried to get a living; but he made many friends, and as he kept those that he did make, he was never altogether reduced to starvation. In those days Romesh was the most orthodox of Hindoos. No one shouted louder or pulled more lustily at the Padrepore car festival; no one was more devout at the Durga Puja, and none more loud in professing horror at caste laxity, at intercourse with the beef-eating English, and at the progress of heterodoxy. In due time Romesh obtained a scholarship which a benevolent Anglo-Indian had founded for the purpose of enabling deserving students to obtain an English education; and in spite of his former declarations of antipathy to the English, in spite of the remonstrances of his friends, who gave him up for lost, both body and soul, the young adventurer crossed Black Water and ate roast-beef in its native climate. At the commencement of the voyage Romesh was sore troubled in body, and inclined to think that the judgments of his country’s gods had overtaken him for his presumption in venturing upon Ocean, and for his impiety in eating forbidden meats; but in a few days the painful sensations lessened, and his spirits rose so, that before he had been a week at sea he found himself—such is the rapidity with which we harden in guilt—actually eating beefsteaks as if he had been used to them from infancy, and as if Brahma had not created the cow to be a sacred animal and the mother of the gods at the same time as he had formed the Brahmin race.

In Calcutta, Romesh had been but a poor half-starved student, who felt himself highly honoured when an English Sahib took the slightest notice of him; but in London, Mr E. C. Roy found himself a personage of no small consequence. The “enlightened Hindoo” was not then so familiar an object to the British public as he is at present, and Romesh was speedily caught in the toils of a host of lion-hunters. Ladies of title received him in their drawing-rooms; public men who had, or wished to have, an Indian connection, sought him out, and asked him to dinner. He was received by the Secretary of State for India, and he was even toasted as an Indian prince at a corporation dinner. Romesh accepted all these attentions with great affability, and comported himself with a dignity suited to the exalted society in which he was now moving. He would have been condescendingly civil to Mr Lyttleman, the joint-magistrate of the Gungaputra district, then on furlough, when he encountered that official at Lady Gotham’s reception, had not Mr Lyttleman, chagrined doubtless at finding himself completely eclipsed by a native, turned away with great rudeness, and remarked to his wife in an audible tone that the impertinence of these confounded Bengalee Baboos was growing really intolerable, and that the Government ought to do something to put them down. On another occasion, at Lord Blackmore’s, who was looking out for an Indian Presidency, Romesh was placed next Sir George Blitzen at dinner, as a compliment to the ex-commander-in-chief of the Indian forces,—in consequence of which ill-advised allocation, a severe attack of gout, brought on by Sir George’s indignation at the proximity of a “blasphemed nigger,” very nearly deprived the British army of one of its brightest ornaments. It was whispered, however, that there were fair Anglo-Saxon damsels who did not share in the narrow prejudices of these Anglo-Indians, and who would have gladly been bride to the young Romesh Chunder. But there was a “Mrs Roy” already in his father’s house, who had been married to him when they both were infants, and whose face he had not seen for many a weary year, and Romesh prudently refrained from inspiring hopes of matrimony into the bosoms of his fair admirers.

The time at length came when K. C. Roy, Esquire, of the Outer Temple, barrister-at-law, and Bachelor of Laws of the University of Cockaigne, was free to return to his native country. It cannot be said that the feelings with which he contemplated revisiting the scenes of his youth were those that might have been expected to animate so warm a patriot. In his ‘Champak Leaves,’ which was published about this time, with a dedication to his honoured patron, the most noble the Marquis of Gotham, Mr Roy had informed the public that, though

“Distant far in western isles
I bask in Beauty’s radiant smiles,
My heart still haunts the lonely piles
That frown o’er Ganga’s stream.
My country’s woes, ’neath alien sway,
Uncheered by freedom’s faintest ray,
Are still my bitter thoughts by day—
By night my troubled dream.”

But in spite of this sentiment, Mr Roy would gladly have remained in England, to be fed and petted by an appreciative public, rather than return to his former insignificance in Bengal; but his scholarship was at an end. He had no prospect of employment, and so he was compelled by force to take shipping for Calcutta. The news of his coming had of course preceded him. The ‘Bengalee Baboo’ had chronicled his academical triumphs, and transcribed wonderful paragraphs from the English newspapers concerning the doings of their distinguished countryman. The editor had lauded ‘Champak Leaves’ to the skies as a work destined to mark an epoch in English poetry, and wondered at the little-mindedness of the Laureate who could wear the bays that more properly belonged to worthier temples. They were all proud of their countryman’s success, and now that he was soon again to be among them, the ‘Bengalee Baboo’ conjured him by all that was venerable and sacred in their ancient religion, not to add another name to the perfidious list of those who had apostatised from the faith of their forefathers. On the other hand, the ‘Cossitollah Reflector’ invited Mr Roy to cast in his lot with the little band of reformers who were struggling so nobly for the spiritual emancipation of India, in spite of the persecutions and sneers of society, and undeterred by the ignorant opposition of corrupt and illiberal journals.

We may be sure that Romesh’s father, the old ryot, with his wife and family, packed closely inside a third-class ticca-ghari (hackney-carriage), was down at Garden Reach when the steamer came up the river bearing back his illustrious son to his native shores. But who could that great man be whom so many Baboos had rushed forward to greet, and who was whisked away to the city in a grand carriage, before the worthy folk had time to disentangle their ravelled senses? It must surely be a new Lord Sahib come to rule the country, or a Commissioner Bahadoor at least, that grand personage in the flowing robes. But where was their son, their Romesh who had left them ten years ago, with a pair of new patent-leather shoes in his hand and fifty rupees in his waist-cloth? And so they drove sadly back to the town, wondering whether Belatte (Europe) had so much altered their son that they had allowed him to pass unrecognised. Poor folks! little wonder though Romesh’s own mother did not recognise her son in the barrister’s wig and gown and the law hood of the Cockaigne University, which he had donned to give dignity to his debarkation. We must not ask too curiously whether Mr Roy saw that rickety carriage drawn by two miserable, half-starved horses, and whether he had caught a glimpse of his parents’ faces as he was driven rapidly past them. It was an unseasonable time and an awkward place for a display of filial affection, when so many of the Calcutta aristocracy had come down to meet him. But we hope that he made up for his parents’ disappointment when he met them some hours afterwards at the humble lodging of his college days.

So Mr Roy settled down at the Calcutta Bar, and his authority upon England and the English was held in the highest respect by his native countrymen. He still retained his English dress and English habits, and did not seek to dissemble his contempt for his untravelled countrymen. His affectation would have been intolerable but for his good-humour, which nothing could ruffle, and for his conceit, upon which no rebuff could make any impression. After some slight hesitation, during which he had been weighing his chances with either party, Mr Roy had joined the Brahmo Somaj, more especially as his old rival, Gobind Chunder Mitter, who had also been to England, and had come back a barrister, was a most zealous supporter of the opposite party; and thus it happened that Mr Roy had been selected by the heads of the Brahmo Somaj as the person whose arguments were likely to have most weight with Krishna, the priest’s son.

Chapter XVIII

Radha’s Chamber

No profane foot of man, save of him only who is the happy possessor of the beauties there immured, may penetrate into the zenana, or female apartments, of a good Bengalee family. The pardah10 however, is not to be a barrier to us; and so we may just venture to slip in behind it once in a way, and even to tell what we see there: in strict confidence between ourselves and our readers, however, for it is ticklish ground upon which we are now treading. A respectable Hindoo father like Kristo Baboo would feel sadly humiliated if he were to learn that we had betrayed secrets of his to the public; but Kristo reads no English, and as Dhupnagar is one of the very few towns to which this veracious narrative is not likely to reach, we may nope that this chapter will cause the worthy man no annoyance. Besides, Kristo Baboo’s opinions upon Hindoo social questions have undergone a material alteration of late; but with that, in the meantime, we have nothing to do.

Let us peep softly into Radha’s chamber. It is a long rectangular room, through the windows of which we catch a glimpse of the broad Gungaputra gliding swiftly through the green valley, and of the woody peaks of Panch Pahar standing up against the horizon. More care has been bestowed upon the decoration of Radha’s rooms than upon any other part of the house. Gaudy festoons of green and yellow flowers are painted upon the borders of the whitewashed walls, which are further ornamented by a number of cheap looking-glasses of various shapes and sizes set in dingy gilt frames, and by a few French prints, as to taste as well as to delicacy questionable. These works of art were the souvenir of one of Kristo’s visits to the capital, and a source of much pride and admiration to the household. A rich Persian carpet, purchased in the days of Kristo’s prosperity, was spread on the centre of the floor; but its pile was now frayed and threadbare; its dark-red roses changed to irregular spots of brick-coloured worsted, and its glossy black woof to a dismal grey. There was neither chair nor table in the room, but a low ottoman stood against one of the walls, and a number of soft cushions were strewed about the floor. Beyond, a small closet was screened off by a green curtain, and this was the maiden’s bedchamber, whither we are not privileged to carry our researches.

In the centre of the floor stands a tall lamp, and beneath its soft rays a fair face is turned listlessly upwards, a fair form is carelessly stretched at full length upon the soft velvet cushions. Extending for a good yard behind the maiden’s head lie her rich tresses, which the careful Sukheena has combed out to their full length—a mass of silky, glossy hair, brown rather than black, with a wavy curl running through it, like the ripple made on a smooth brook by the light winds of summer. Radha’s face was fair—fair even as may have been the countenances of her Aryan ancestors before the fierce sun of the tropics bronzed their hue; her features were regular and delicate as those of a statue; her brow high, and receding as it rose; her head round and small almost to a fault—if fault could be found with symmetry so exquisite. No European milliner had cramped the development of her lithe figure, or sharpened into angles the beautiful curves that set off her graceful form. As she reclines there, bathed in the soft light that falls from the lamp above her, her scanty drapery scarcely concealing the charms of her person, the shapeliness of her form is so perfect, her features so placid, that it is difficult to believe we are looking upon living flesh and blood, and not upon the marble creation of a master-sculptor. Radha is now seventeen, an age at which most of her countrywomen are beginning to wear a matronly appearance, but time had as yet told upon the maiden only to her advantage, maturing the beauties of her face and imparting a voluptuous grace to her figure.

Sukheena, who is combing and braiding her hair, has been Radha’s sole attendant from girlhood, and the two have grown up together in mutual confidence and love. Sukheena is a widow. Small-pox had carried away her husband when he was but a boy of nine, and before the little wife was old enough to realise the life of misery to which the loss condemned her. She was a year or two older than Radha, with bold, sharp features, to which the sense of widowhood had perhaps given a cast of sourness, and of a tall and somewhat spare figure. Sukheena’s mother had been a poor kinswoman of Kristo Baboo, and glad enough to get her daughter taken off her hands to be maid to the rich man’s daughter. Much as Radha was attached to Sukheena, the young widow’s lot was not always to be envied, for her mistress’s temper was not altogether free from caprice and imperiousness, to which a sense of her neglected condition had contributed no small amount of acerbity; and of these imperfections Sukheena had often to bear the brunt. But the attendant was quite conscious how dependent her mistress was upon her society and kind offices, for months would frequently pass without Radha seeing another person; and she returned anger for anger, and sulk for sulk. Quarrels took place daily, and reconciliations were as frequent. Now Radha would break the peace and drive Sukheena into tears or rebellion; but she was always glad when an excuse for making up their difference presented itself. Then Sukheena would excite her mistress’s wrath by venturing to censure her carriage and conversation, until a battle royal ensued, ending, of course, in the tears of the one and the soothing words and caresses of the other belligerent. Still Sukheena loved her mistress dearly; for whom else had the poor creature to bestow an affectionate thought upon? As she could never be remarried herself, she was thus free to devote all her attention to her mistress’s love-affairs; so she kept a sharp watch upon every eligible young man in the valley, and made careful inquiries concerning his family and prospects, and the possibility of his becoming a suitor for Radha. So smart a person as Sukheena had not, of course, allowed Bejoy, the ghatak, to visit the house so often as he had been doing of late unnoticed; but that respectable practitioner had indignantly repelled all the handmaiden’s attempts to insinuate herself into his confidence. The rest of the household, however, had a shrewd conjecture of Bejoy’s errand, and by keeping both eyes and ears open, they had obtained a pretty accurate notion of what was going on between him and their master.

“And Sooroo heard the Baboo say, ‘Give my best salaams to Ramanath, and say that good fortune comes with him whenever he enters our door; and that we shall gladly welcome him to-morrow night to make a pakka (firm) contract. May our joint prosperity be thereby increased!’” the attendant is saying, as she holds up a heavy brown tress between her and the lamp, and places her cheek lovingly against the soft lock. “And the ghatak went away rubbing his hands, and looking as pleased as if his mother-in-law were dead; and he actually gave a four-anna piece to Tarini, the porter. Now we may be sure that something is going to happen when Bejoy fees a servant.”

“How often have you come to me with stories like that, Sukheena?” replies the fair face, never moving a muscle, or betraying by a glance of the eye even, that Sukheena’s intelligence was of vital interest. “But nothing ever has happened yet.”

“Ay; but what was ever like this before?” argues the attendant. “Where could you have got so good a match as young Krishna, so rich and so good-looking, and so near your own age? The gods themselves must have been your ghataks; for if ever they made a match, this is one of their contriving.”

“They have been in no hurry, then, about it, my sister,” pout the red lips.

“Hush! take care how you speak of the gods!” cries the alarmed Sukheena; “and see that you offer a tray of sweetmeats this very night to the family idol, and pray that you may have twenty sons; for when you trouble the gods at all, it is of no use to do it for a trifle. It looks as you doubted their power when you seek something insignificant.”

“As well ask them to make me a hideous old woman at once,” says Radha, as she lowers her eyelids to steal a complacent glance along her own shapely figure. “Look at my play-fellow, poor little Tara. Is she any happier because she is married to Protap, the accountant, and has three sons? Her face is beginning to wrinkle already, although she is younger than me by the time from the Feast of Cakes to the Shyama holidays; and she has no more figure than a ball of worsted—she who used to think herself so slim and slender. Mother Ganga! I had rather live unmated all my life, than be turned into such an old hen as Tara. And if it were not that I do not like Radha Lahory not to be as other girls are, I should not weep though I were never married.”

“Be the eye of evil far from us! Take care, Miss, that the gods do not take you at your word!” cries Sukheena, sharply. “It is barefaced blasphemy to speak that way of marriage. You let your tongue wag now when you think yourself sure of a mate, but only a little ago it was ‘Heigh-ho for a husband! ‘ But who knows what may happen? Your robe has not yet been pinned to Krishna Gossain’s waist-cloth, and you may still rue that you did not make more of him when he was in your offer.”

“Rue losing that unlucky boy, that eclipse-struck one, who goes maundering about like a crazy devotee!” exclaims Radha, with affected scorn. “Joy go with him! I never see him going about shaking his wise head and muttering his verses, but I think of the Nawab of Panch Pahar’s old elephant, with his big melancholy eyes always standing full of tears, and his trunk wiggle-waggling before him. I cannot understand why that silly little Chakwi does not manage such a husband. A babe might order him about.”

“Say that twelve months after when you have tried him,” sneers Sukheena; “many men are not so soft as they look, and many who bluster like lions in the bazaar are chup (silent) enough in the zenana. Old Jaggat, who used to be the Baboo’s steward—in days when your father’s steward had something better to do than to pay interest on mortgages—was always bullying and beating somebody; and yet his wife, a dot of a woman, as ugly as a she-monkey, used to beat him until his head was all over cuts and bruises. Who can say how man and wife will accord until the marriage is six months behind them? But Krishna Gossain is clever and learned, and can speak the tongue of the Sahibs—perhaps he knows medicine and magic—and he is, besides, rich and of a good caste; and so you may be very proud to have him for a husband at your age.”

“Oh, ay,” rejoins Radha, stifling a sigh in a yawn. “And the poor creature is madly in love with me too. How can a man so book-wise be so heart-foolish! He comes creeping about the house night after night, trying to peer into my window; and sighing until he is like to set all the leaves rustling about him. How lucky for him that he does not fall in with the Muhammadan!”

“The Muhammadan must come no more,” says Sukheena, with a positive shake of her head; “he has had only too much encouragement already. Why does Tarini, the porter, allow him to come so often? Blind as he is, he cannot miss seeing the man.”

“Tarini knows better than to interfere with him,” laughs the mistress; “the Muhammadan is not a Bengalee to be frightened by the shake of a cudgel. He would draw his sword and chop Tarini in pieces. I like to see a man with a sword by his side, instead of walking about with a staff in his hand like an old crone, as our Bengalees do. I saw the Muhammadan come down the road the other day with his sword clanking against the stones, and everybody ran out of his way as fast as if he had been a man-eating tiger. Would to the gods he had been a Hindoo!”

“He is not a Hindoo, but an unclean mletcha (barbarian),” snaps the maid; “and no modest woman would waste a thought upon him. What has a Brahmini maiden like you to do with a man who eats and drinks abominations, who kills cows and breaks idols? He carried off Belputtee, the ryot of Milkiganj’s daughter.”

“Sri Narayan-ji! I wish he would carry me off next,” says Radha, between a sigh and a simper, partly no doubt wishing what she said, but speaking more to annoy Sukheena.

“What!” cried Sukheena, dropping the combs in horror; “can you speak such blasphemy and still live! Are these words becoming a high-caste damsel, O shameless one? A wanton tongue utters the thoughts of a wanton heart. But your father shall hear of this, lady; the Baboo shall know of your naughtiness.”

“Shall he?” asks Radha, never losing her self-possession; “but who will tell him, Sukheena? Not you, I think, unless you were to forget what secrets I know of yours. I only wish you would tell him, for then I should get a new dai (maid), and a change would be pleasant, for one wearies of you always, my Sukheena.”

This last remark, uttered in a calm, indifferent tone, completely upset the attendant’s equanimity; and Sukheena, bursting into a flood of angry tears, began to passionately upbraid her mistress with ingratitude, with hard-heartedness, unkindness, and all uncharitableness. Yes, indeed, Radha had reason to be weary of Sukheena. Sukheena had never watched over her day and night since her childhood, had never nursed her in fever, or cooled water for her drinks in the long days of the hot weather. Sukheena was nobody—she was not wanted. She had not been more faithful and obedient to her mistress than a bought slave, and more loving and secret than a foster-mother. She had never borne scoldings and even beatings from the Baboo to save her mistress from an angry word. She had never allowed her own name to be made light of, that her mistress might be sheltered from scandal. No, no, she had never done any of these things: and Sukheena laughed a bitter, hysterical laugh through her tears. Why not dismiss her at once? call for the porters and have her turned out of doors. She would be happier begging her dinner in the bazaar; yea, better lead dogs in a string than slave away all one’s life, without even a kind word, for a slave’s wages. Radha would have no difficulty in getting a better servant; some of the unclean Muhammadan women might be more to her liking; and the gods forbid that she should stand between her mistress and her pleasure!

Radha heard her with quiet scorn, and without moving a muscle of her beautiful face. “I thought it must rain after so much wind,” said she, contemptuously. “You provoke me to give you gali (abuse), and then you cry like a neglected wife. You call yourself a loving and obedient servant, and yet speak of carrying tales to the Baboo out of the zenana. But I should have known better than to trust a person in your condition. They say a widow’s tongue makes more mischief than a loose Brahmini bull, my Sukheena.”

“Ay, taunt me with my misfortune now,” sobbed Sukheena. “When did I ever breathe a word that you wished kept secret, mistress? Have I not lied, and plotted, and bribed, and sacrificed myself to screen you—done all for you that a mother could have done—and is this to be my reward? You have thrown dirt upon my head: why should I live longer? Pray you, take a knife, and let out my life without more delay.”

“Do it yourself, Sukheena—your wrist is much stronger than mine,” returned Radha, with a placid smile; “besides, what should I do without you? for with all your faults I could get no one who would love me as well as you do.”

“Ah, Radha, do you say so?” sobbed the melting Sukheena. “How could you cut my heart, then, with your hard words? You well know that I would not betray you for all the gold that is hidden beneath the springs of the Gungaputra. I can bear a blow from you, but you kill ten thousand with a word.”

“Silly one,” laughed Radha, “go on with my hair now. Of course I love you, and could not live without you; and when we go to that stupid Krishna’s family, you shall be fed upon sweetmeats and lemonade, and shall rule the whole household for me—that black-feathered goose, Chakwi, and all——”

Sukheena leaped up from the task and threw herself upon Radha’s bosom in an ecstasy of delight, imploring forgiveness for her late waywardness, and swearing to be her mistress’s slave all her life long. “You will marry Krishna, then?” said she, looking down fondly into her mistress’s eyes; “and you were only jesting when you spoke of the Muhammadan?”

“Of course I shall marry Krishna if my father bids me,” replied Radha, dropping her careless manner and speaking in measured, dry tones. “I might never get another chance of a husband; besides, the Gossains are people of as good a caste as we are ourselves, and so rich that they will not grudge spending plenty of money upon me. I care nothing for Krishna; he is a dumpish, woe-begone, book-Baboo, whose head is always taken up with some conceit or nonsense. What business has a man with books, unless he is a pundit like that ugly grey-headed Ubhoy, the Shashtree, or an accountant like Protap, who beats his poor little wife Tara? I’d wager now that the Muhammadan can’t read a word, and I like him all the better for that reason. Ah! as the Nawab of Panch Pahar’s Persian wife, who came to see me last rains, said, ‘He is sikha murdana (a true stamp of a man).’”

“Still the Muhammadan, and again the Muhammadan,” said Sukheena, with a smile, and she shook a warning forefinger playfully at her mistress; “but you must give him no more encouragement, for if Krishna were to hear anything about him, it might cause him to draw back. There are always evil-doers about at night who have eyes to see what were better unseen; and if the Muhammadan were discovered about Kristo Baboo’s zenana, the very dogs of Dhupnagar would bark the news up and down the valley.”

“But, Sukheena,” urged the mistress, “I wonder what the Muhammadan will say when he hears that Krishna is going to marry me? If he be as madly in love with me as he seems, he will be in a pitiful case. Suppose now—ah yes, suppose you were to fall in with him, by chance, you know, and tell him about it—just to see how he takes it,—you understand?”

“Certainly I shall,” replied Sukheena, who delighted in an intrigue; “there can be no harm in that; and I can give him a hint at the same time not to come back again.”

“Um! you had perhaps better say nothing about that; the Muhammadan might think you forward. Besides, they say a woman’s prohibition is a man’s invitation, and the Muhammadan might think that we wished him to come again. I should like to see how disconsolate he looks after hearing the news. You could not contrive that he should be before my window to-morrow night, could you, Sukheena, without letting him know that I expect him?”

“Well, perhaps I may,” rejoined Sukheena; “but you must not speak to him or take any notice of his presence. It would be most unlucky to let the gossips get your name in their filthy mouths just now. You must keep me with you so long as the Muhammadan is there.”

“A salaam for your good advice, my Sukheena,” said Radha, haughtily—“as if Kristo Baboo’s daughter would disgrace herself for an out-caste! No, no; I may enjoy the Muhammadan’s chagrin, but he shall never know from me by word or sign that Radha Lahory allowed his image to enter her heart. And now that you have finished my hair, I shall go to bed; and you may come and sit by me, Sukheena, and we shall talk over this famous marriage until I fall asleep.”

Gathering her light robe about her with one hand, while she playfully pushed Sukheena forward with the other, Radha stepped into the inner chamber, lithe and graceful as a wood-nymph, and a queen in every step and gesture. And we hear the two talking far into the night of the coming marriage, and the feasting, and the grand procession, the elephants, the jewels, the presents; what this one would say and that one would do; how all the unmarried girls would envy Radha her splendid wedding; what fine clothes they would wear and how sumptuously they would fare once they had got into the family of the rich Gossains; how they would order Krishna’s house for him, and keep both the fat sleepy Thakoorani and the foolish Chakwi in a state of proper subjection. And when Sukheena has petted and coaxed the beauty into dreams of coming happiness, the poor creature will retire to the furthest corner of the apartment and coil herself up upon the floor with a footstool for her pillow. We hear all their talk, I say; but I think you will agree with me that it would be inexpedient for us to carry our observations further than the green baize curtain which serves as a door for the maiden’s bedchamber; and indeed, between ourselves, I think we have tarried quite long enough in so delicate a vicinity.

Next day, after her morning duties had been performed, Sukheena obtained permission to go and bathe in the Gungaputra. Sunrise is the hour which pious Hindoos generally select for their ablutions; but the widow knew by experience that the sun would be in mid-heaven before young Afzul Khan stirred from his couch. Drawing a fold of her robe over her face, the widow took up a pitcher, and balancing it upon her head, walked down the road with the light, but firm and graceful, gait of a Bengalee woman. As a widow, Sukheena wore no jewels, and her robe was plain and borderless; but the arrangement of her dress was such as to leave no one in doubt that a coquettish spirit had survived all her disappointments. Her sarree was tucked up so as to show considerably more of leg and ankle than Hindoo propriety, liberal as it is upon such points, could have well approved of: by tight girding at the waist her bust was thrown into greater relief than was either necessary or prudent; and the cover on her face presented no obstacle beyond which an inquisitive eye could not penetrate. The village wives saluted Sukheena, for she was a kinswoman of the Lahories, and the confidant of Kristo Baboo’s daughter, and the widow returned their greeting haughtily enough. Three or four young fellows coming up from the river winked at each other knowingly, and nudged with their elbows, as Sukheena passed them, prudishly moving her drapery under pretence of veiling herself more closely, but so as to afford them a full glimpse of her face. The gallants paused after she was past, and coughed and hemmed with rustic effrontery; but Sukheena swept on with a scornful toss of the head, which perilously endangered the equilibrium of her pitcher; and the young men went on their way, pluming themselves upon their awful rakishness and dissolute conduct.

Before the gate of Walesbyganj, Afzul and Agha were loitering in the shade smoking, and endeavouring to master a programme of the Pultunpore races, which being printed in English conveyed to them little more information than could be extracted from the print of the high-mettled racer, executed in the usual extravagant style of Mofussil art, which graced the head of the handbill. Agha, with his usual cynicism, was expatiating upon English ignorance of horse-flesh, as evinced in the print before them—which, with its outspread legs and cocked tail, looked more like a representation of the holy beast Alborak that carried the Prophet to Paradise, than a thorough-bred Waler—when Afzul interrupted him with an impatient exclamation, and throwing away his cigar, advanced to the road.

“Oh, ay—of course, another woman,” said Agha, pettishly; “run, in the name of the Prophet! You will never halt until you get a mischief among them some day. If you had seen half as much of women’s ways as I have, you would keep as far away from them as from a cobra or a tigress. I don’t know what like the houris in Paradise may be, but if they are aught like the houris here, it won’t be much of a Paradise long. See there, how the wanton giggles and postures before him! I wish her ashes were in the Gungaputra, and her soul in Jehannum; and yet I don’t wonder though the jades rim after him, for there isn’t so handsome a lad along the whole course of the river. I’ll go and see what the Subadar Sahib is growling about, and leave them to their own company.”

“Soho, Lady Sukheena!” said Afzul, as recognising Radha’s attendant he hastened to accost her; “what sins have you been committing over-night that you are hurrying so fast to the Gungaputra to get rid of them?”

“What am I, and what are my sins to such an unclean one as thee?” said Sukheena, shrugging her shoulders, and making as if she would pass him. “Stand aside, Sahib, and let me go; the road is wide enough to hold us both without any use for jostling each other.”

“Nay, my fairy-faced one, thou Leila of the world, why should we stand and salaam to each other a mile apart, like the meeting of two padshahs (kings)?” said Afzul, barring the road with his outstretched arms, and taking hold of Sukheena. “Have you no token, no message from the pearl of Bengal, your incomparable mistress, whose beauty would have turned the heart of even Joseph of Canaan? Say, Sukheena, what command did she bid you bear to her slave?”

“My mistress has plenty slaves of her own race, willing to do her bidding, and needs not your services,” said Sukheena, haughtily; “and Kristo Baboo has given orders that you are to be beaten with old slippers if ever you set a foot again inside his compound after nightfall.”

“By the tomb of Pir Bahrain of Burdwan, but there will soon be more slippers about the Baboo’s compound than feet to put into them, if he or any of his slaves lifts as much as a little finger against Afzul, the son of Shamsuddeen. But see, my sweet Sukheena!” added he, taking a pair of earrings from his waistband; “look at these pretty trinkets which I won at dice from the Nawab of Panch Pahar; they would become your pretty ears! I know they would.”

“I am a widow, and may not wear such ornaments,” said Sukheena, casting, however, a longing look at the earrings; “but they are pretty jewels.”

“And they are yours if you only do as I tell you; and when you come to my house with your mistress, you may wear as many jewels as the Great Begum of Delhi, and no Hindoo dog dare question you. We shall make you a good Mussulmani, Sukheena, and you shall marry one of the Faithful; for it is a shame to see a fine woman like you wasting her days in widowhood.”

“Alas!” said Sukheena, “it is easy to talk; but the kite mates not with the crow. Who would marry a poor old woman like me?”

“Old! why, you are a good year younger than I am, and I should not mind a bit marrying you myself for a second wife, if Radha had no objection; and after we were married a little, it would not matter much whether she objected or not. Meanwhile, take these trinkets, and remember that your own interest is concerned in promoting this marriage.”

“Well, then,” said Sukheena, concealing the earrings in her bosom with evident satisfaction, “my mistress bids me tell you that you may see her once again at her window two nights hence when the moon is sinking above the minarets of Bhutpore; but on the pain of losing her favour you are not to attempt to speak to her, because she is going to be married in a few weeks to a young Hindoo Baboo of great wealth, and of the highest caste in Bengal.”

“What do you say?” cried Afzul, starting back in alarm; “you are lying, Sukheena—you are a liar, like all your accursed race! Tell me that you said this to provoke me,” he added, clutching her arm; “confess that it is all a bannao (make up) and jest, and I will forgive you.”

“Mother Ganga be my witness, I speak the truth!” cried the frightened Sukheena; “release me, Sahib, for the pity of the gods! I hear voices coming up from the river. Just think what would be the consequence if we were seen together. Sri Narayan-ji! it is that babbling Gangooly, the headman!” she ejaculated, as she wrenched her arm out of the young man’s grasp, and sped down the road towards the Gungaputra.

Afzul remained standing in the middle of the road in a state of stupefaction at the news which he had heard. If this was true, it might be the death-blow of all his hopes, and at any rate it would compel him to take instant steps to carry off the girl. Who could it be? Was it the young Rajah of Ghatghar, or Baboo Preonath Dass, the Dipty? Whoever he was, he would do well not to cross Afzul’s path.

The headman came up puffing with the heat, and oily after his forenoon bath. “Salutation, Sahib,” quoth Gangooly, as he pulled up alongside of Afzul, glad of an excuse to stop and take breath, and never sorry to indulge in a word of gossip; “this is trying weather for a man like me that is both old and stout; but your worship knows little of either of these evils. These crops upon your slope are looking like withered jungle-grass; I really don’t ever remember such drought at this time of year. I have heard my grandfather telling of a season when the whole country “

“May Eblis choke your chattering! I would you were with your grandfather in the hottest corner of hell, and the north wind blowing the smoke and ashes in your face!” cried Afzul, as he at length became conscious of his interlocutor’s presence. “Am I a Hindoo banya (tradesman) that you thrust your bazaar gossip down my throat?” and the young man turned haughtily away and entered the house, thrusting Agha violently aside as he encountered the trooper in the doorway. Gangooly stood looking after him in amazement, for he had hitherto been one of the few Hindoos whom Afzul condescended to treat with politeness.

“Umph!” said the headman, mopping himself vigorously with the corner of his chaddar to conceal his confusion; “you won’t want much hot seasoning to your rice about Walesbyganj, my friend, so long as your young master is at home. He might have spoken more civilly had he been addressing a dog instead of the headman of Dhupnagar.”

“So he might, Mr Headman,” retorted Agha, contemptuously; “and if you had been a dog of a good strain and well broken, I have no doubt the young Sahib would have patted you on the head and said ‘good Taabi;’ but, on the whole, I don’t think you have much to complain of. It was only yesterday that he kicked a fat, gouty mongrel cur of some breed of Hindoo pariahs fairly over the hedge yonder;” and the old Khyberee, delighted at having affronted the village archon, went away to the stables grinning with great glee at the success of his witticism.

Gangooly, indignant at such an insult, resumed his journey, boiling with rage, and perspiring with his hot climb. “The Muhammadan blackguards, the sons of impure mothers, the swine of the false Prophet, to call me—me, the headman of Dhupnagar—a dog to my face! May Shiva—but I needn’t care; the law will soon avenge me upon that foul-mouthed fellow. I shall not be so uncivil as to remind him of his words when I take him up to Bhutpore prison with handcuffs on his wrists as a convicted dakait (robber); and that will be before long, or I am very much mistaken.” And thus Afzul had raised up another enemy in the village.

The young Muhammadan kept a sharp watch at the gate of Walesbyganj for Sukheena’s return from the river, but the widow came back accompanied by little Tara, Protap the accountant’s wife; and Afzul could do nothing but bestow an inward anathema upon both of them. “He will be lying on a bed of thorns,” said Sukheena to herself as she cast a stealthy glance towards the Subadar’s mansion, “until he finds out who is going to marry the mistress: but he may discover that for himself. How silly to think that he could mate with a high-caste Brahmini maiden! Had it been a poor widow like me, without friends, and with no inducement to keep to her caste, he might have come more speed. Well, who knows where his love might light next, if Radha were out of the way? He said to-day that I was a year younger than he was, and that he would not mind marrying me. I wonder how one would feel, being a Mussulman’s wife, and if it be very unpleasant to eat beef! Well, at any rate, he is the handsomest man in the valley, and it is impossible not to love him.” But Sukheena said nothing of these thoughts when she told her mistress of the results of her mission.

Chapter XIX

The Wedge of Achan

Three Shells’ munificent gift to the temple was great news for the villagers. Prosunno, the lawyer, and Protap, the accountant, went about the bazaar proclaiming their patron’s generosity, praising the beauty and value of the cup, and congratulating their townsmen upon having so pious and public-spirited a man among them. The chorus was loudly caught up by those who were in the mahajan’s books, and those who wished to be there, so long as his two agents were present; but after their backs were turned, both Three Shells and his gift were freely criticised in terms that were the reverse of complimentary. Old Gangooly said he would believe the goblet to be gold when he saw it; but a gilt one from a miser like Three Shells would be more to the gods than a rosha rooshi (lavatory) of virgin gold from another man. Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, who had just paid the annual interest on the mortgage of his cottage and homestead, and had had an additional ten per cent added to the usance, opined that it was easy for Three Shells to show his religion at other people’s expense: it was out of their pockets—it was at the cost of the poor Brahmins, and ryots, and tradesmen of Dhupnagar, that this vaunted present had been provided; and the gods, who saw what was behind as well as what was before, ought in justice to make recompense to the right quarter. Shama Churn, the grain-dealer, said it was not for the mouth to spit upon the hand that fed it; nevertheless, he, for one, could not believe that Three Shells’ offering was due to purely pious motives. He was a double man, was the mahajan, and his schemes were not easy to understand; but of this they might rest assured, that Three Shells saw his way clearly to recoup himself before he laid out so much upon the worship of the Linga. Some hazarded the conjecture that the money-lender was seeking to ease his conscience for some secret crime that he had committed. Another that he was terrified, and very reasonably too, lest the Sonthal robbers, who were annoying the valley, should pay him a visit, and ease him of his wealth; while a third party, unwilling to commit themselves, shook their heads, and said significantly that they who lived longest would see most wonders. When the question had been argued in all its bearings, Gangooly thought fit to interpose his authority, and to solemnly caution the speakers against intermeddling with their neighbours’ affairs, and forgetting the example which he himself had set, to compare them to the sieve which blamed the needle for having a hole in it. At which signal the elders of Dhupnagar broke up their parliament upon the village green, and repaired to their own dwellings to discuss the eventful portent in the bosoms of their families.

It was not without considerable misgivings that the money-lender had adopted the idea of making a costly present to the temple. He knew that Ramanath would consider the golden vessel as a bribe to keep him silent; but what of that?—it was as a bribe that he intended it; and if once Ramanath accepted the offering, the priest’s honour would be concerned in preserving the reputation of one who had been so great a benefactor to the shrine. But there were other considerations that entered into Three Shells’ calculations. A scheming, unscrupulous mind like the mahajan’s was little likely to brook the thought of being for life the slave of Ramanath’s mouth. Three Shells was so merciless a master to his own bondsmen, that he had good cause to shrink from becoming subject to the will of another; and judging from himself he could not believe that any one possessed of power would refrain from stretching it to its utmost limits. Prosunno’s information had, however, opened up a new way of escape. The packet which the priest had intrusted to Gangooly, the headman, contained, of course, the secret upon which Three Shells’ liberty and even life depended; and if the packet were destroyed before any one was the wiser for its contents, and the priest removed by any means, the money-lender might hold his head as high as the honestest man in all the Gungaputra district. Of honesty as a moral principle Three Shells had no conception: it was something that the law prescribed, just as it imposed a duty upon salt, or prohibited the illicit manufacture of opium; and a breach of the injunction was no sin so long as it was undetected. It must not, however, be supposed that Three Shells was an atheist. On the contrary, he believed devoutly in as many of the three millions of Hindoo gods as he was acquainted with; and he treated them exactly like a banking corporation, with whom he kept an account current, patronising the directors when he calculated upon a goodly deposit standing on the creditor side of the account, and humbling himself and cringing to the clerks even, when he had overdrawn his balance and wanted further accommodation. So Three Shells found himself busily plotting for obtaining possession of the packet, and for the removal—that is, murder—of the priest. The presentation of the golden goblet to Ramanath’s shrine would help in a great measure to divert all suspicion from himself; and as for the means—ah, well, the means would just be adapted to such occasions as might offer, and Three Shells’ past experience had provided him with a variety of resources. Of course, there was the danger of incurring Siva’s anger by the murder of his priest to be taken into account; but the god, as Three Shells tried hard to assure himself, could not with a very good grace lay a heavy hand upon one who had been so great a benefactor to his shrine. “It is not every day in this Black Age that the gods get a gift worth two thousand rupees; and Siva has so many priests, that he might be well content to let the half of them go at so much per head, and congratulate himself upon the bargain,” said Three Shells to himself, in a tone of cheerful assurance. “The only danger now is that Ramanath many refuse to accept my gift, and then all my plans will be upset.”

Ramanath, however, did no such thing. When Modhoo brought his master the news which he had heard in the bazaar of the grand present which Three Shell designed for the temple, the priest had been at no loss to conjecture the motive of the money-lender’s piety. At first Ramanath had spurned at the notion of allowing such a wretch as he knew Three Shells to be, to become a benefactor to the temple; but in the present age, gifts like the mahajan’s are not presented every day; and when once Ramanath began to consider the arguments in favour of accepting it, he was not long in finding out a number of reasons why Three Shells’ donation should not be rejected. The present was a valuable one, and not to be scornfully thrust aside like a paltry hundred-rupee silver-gilt lota (cup); and perhaps—the gods grant it!—Three Shells might be penitent for his crimes; in which case, the gods forbid that he, Ramanath, should stand in the way of any one making his peace with Heaven—especially by so costly an offering! And if he were to refuse, what excuse could Ramanath render the public? He was too soft-hearted to think of giving Three Shells up to justice, and without doing that he could not unmask him to the villagers. He was, moreover, a quiet-living man, and did not care about unnecessarily driving so desperate a character as Three Shells to extremity. But what mattered it though Three Shells was a miscreant? Had not reprobates as great as he possibly could be, purchased peace for themselves by propitiating the gods? There was Panchoo Bhur, the robber-leader in the last generation, whose gang had evaded the police for more than a score of years among the jungles of Panch Pahar, and who had committed murder, rapes, and robberies beyond numbering; and yet this same Panchoo had built a bathing-ghat, and a temple to the goddess Kali, upon the projecting rock which overhung the other bank of the river, and had been accounted a most pious and moral Hindoo ever after. And the priests of Jagannath at Padrepore had not scrupled to accept a golden arm for their idol from Bhima Sen, the headman of Bhutpore, although the fact of Bhima having strangled his mother-in-law was notorious all over the district; and, to be sure, such a present was a great windfall to the temple; and how the priests of these trumpery Lingas at Bhutpore and Gapshapganj would fume when they heard of it! When conscience takes a retainer, it is wonderful how powerful a special pleader she becomes, and how many precedents in point she can patly produce.

So when Prosunno and Protap, the accountant, came to the temple as a deputation to present the cup in the name of Three Shells, the priest received the gift with grave civility, feasted the ambassadors, notwithstanding his antipathy to them both, sent back his thanks and the blessing of Siva, and commanded them to tell the donor that prayers for his prosperity and spiritual welfare would be said in the Dhupnagar temple so long as his gift was used in the worship of the idol. This was as much as Ramanath could conscientiously say, and less could not be said with civility; and as he took the cup, a piece of exquisitely chased workmanship, admiringly in his hand, and placed it reverently before the Linga, the good priest uttered a fervent prayer that the gift might be accepted and the giver pardoned. It was a beautiful bauble, and Ramanath felt as much in love with it as a child is with a new and rare toy. In his delight he called Modhoo, and the other servants of the temple, and bade them admire Three Shells’ present, pointing out with glee the reliefs representing the marriage of Siva and Parvati, in which the artist had done due justice as well to the grim deformities of the three-eyed and four-armed destroyer as to the lithe gracefulness and maidenly charms of the shrinking bride; telling them which was the meddling mother-in-law, which the damsel’s father, ancient Himalaya, and which young Kamdeo, the god of love, starting again into being after having been blasted by the wrath of Brahma. All re-echoed the priest’s praises; but old Modhoo shook his head and said, “When the tiger goes to the Gungaputra, it is rather upon the chance of snapping up a bather than to worship the sacred stream;” until Ramanath felt himself called upon to reprimand the porter for his malapert remark.

Ramanath must needs also carry the cup to his house, so that the ladies of his family might be gratified by a sight of it; and as he walked across the compound, the priest could not help holding the vessel lovingly up between him and the declining sunbeams, which glinted and flashed about it, until the cup seemed to be encircled by a radiant glory such as that in which Hindoo art has enveloped the body of Agni, the god of fire. Simple Ramanath thought he could read the acceptance of the gift in the halo of light that played about the vessel as he held it aloft; but had he seen the malignant smile which was written upon a face peering steadily through the thorny bamboo hedge, he would have been less confident of the god’s approbation. But it was only for a moment that Three Shells ventured to play the spy, and in another instant he had resumed his evening walk with downcast eyes and grave demeanour. Ah, Ramanath! could you have seen the goblet with the same eyes as Three Shells saw it, you would have dashed it to the ground and prayed the gods to pardon your cupidity. But your death-warrant was written in gold, and the glitter of the yellow metal dazzled your eyes, as it has dazzled those of many a cleverer man, so that they could not trace the characters written thereon. Was the mighty Siva, then, talking or pursuing, or was he on a journey, or peradventure slept he, that he had thus turned his back upon his minister?

Ramanath’s wife, the Thakoorani, admired the goblet as much as her apathetic nature was capable of admiring anything, and remarked how pretty it would be if filled with red and yellow English confections; and Chakwi, who could really feel a pleasure in such of the beautiful as came within her comprehension, screamed with delight, and childishly begged to be allowed to hold it in her own hands. And now the priest’s happiness would be full could he extort some commendation of the present from his sceptical son; and at Chakwi’s entreaty he bent his steps towards Krishna’s room, the young girl following him in simple glee, as if unwilling to lose sight of the gay vase.

Krishna was seated at his table in moody abstraction, now scribbling a few sentences, and then tearing the paper into small shreds. A perplexing struggle was still going on in Krishna’s mind. His love for Radha, and his disposition to make peace with his family, were waging a terrible fight against his religious convictions and his regard for honour and consistency. Sometimes the one side, sometimes the other, prevailed; and for a brief space Krishna’s resolution was, as he thought, decided, and his position firmly taken up; but the next gust of passion’s suggestions, or the clear biting wind of conscientious conviction, swept away this resolution, as others had been swept away before, and he found himself again plunging blindly among the angry surges of contending feelings, striving vainly to catch a glimpse of the shore. At this very moment fancy was picturing to him the comfort and happiness which he might enjoy in his own home with Radha as his wife, and was rapidly wiping off all the outlines of the previous vision, in which he had figured as a glorious witness to the eternal truths of Theism, triumphing over the world’s persecution and the world’s scorn, and winning for himself a deathless name in the annals of his country. And certainly a lovely wife, and a pleasant house, with all the luxuries that an ample fortune could give, was a more agreeable ideal than to stand forth as a target for the brickbats of a mob of enraged Brahmins, or to sup upon a dish of prayers, with weary limbs and an empty stomach.

Ramanath had not as yet made any announcement to Krishna of the negotiations which had been opened up between himself and Kristo Baboo, thinking that his son was more likely to yield his assent to the marriage when all the preliminaries had been arranged, than if he were brought face to face with all the difficulties that might be thrown up by the other side. The priest was playing a bold game, for Krishna’s refusal at the eleventh hour might involve him in a serious controversy with the insulted Lahory; but Ramanath was a shrewd man where his own self-interest was concerned, and he knew the depth of his son’s passion. He had hitherto carefully avoided Krishna’s society, thinking artfully that solitude would be the most likely means of driving away those delusions with which the lad’s head had been filled by his fellow-students. Krishna was all the more surprised at the present visit from his father, and his surprise was not unmixed with alarm when he saw the unlucky countenance of poor Chakwi peering timorously from behind the priest’s back.

But the old priest gave his son no time to speculate. “Look here, son Krishna!” he cried in his loud, hearty tones; “see this vessel, and tell me how long it will be before your fine new-fangled religions will get you such gifts as this! You don’t see many such ornaments as this in Keshub Baboo’s mandir (temple) at Calcutta.”

Krishna took the goblet, and cast a glance of admiration at the workmanship, holding up the cup so as to place the reliefs full in the light. “It is a very fine vase, and of English workmanship, as I can see. May I ask who is so rich as to present you with so costly a gift?”

“A poor man, Krishna, whom the gods have blessed or cursed with much substance, and who puts his money out to better than earthly interest by dedicating this cup to the service of the gods. It is Three Shells, the money-lender, who has bestowed this gift upon our temple.”

“A goodly gift, and a goodly giver,” said Krishna, with a sneer; “I wonder how many poor men’s lives ground out in satisfying his rapacious usury—how many widows’ and orphans’ substance, this cup stands for? A ryot selling his last waist-cloth to pay the mahajan’s interest; a widow and her children turned out of house and home starving of hunger in the shelter of a ditch; a beggared banya (shopkeeper) driven to suicide by the money-lender’s exactions, and a few other similar representations, would have formed more appropriate designs for the cup than the marriage of Siva and Parvati. You asked just now if there were such ornaments in Keshub Baboo’s temple? God forbid! Better bare walls than that they should be beholden for decoration to those who grind the faces of the poor.”

“But suppose Three Shells’ money has not all been gotten very creditably,” said Ramanath, somewhat disconcertedly, for the objections started by Krishna had previously been raised in his own mind; “are we to deny the poor man the means of easing his conscience by making restitution to the gods?”

“Was it the gods whom Three Shells had plundered?” demanded Krishna, quietly; “I thought it had been the poor traders and peasantry about Dhupnagar. If Siva and his fellows can delight in such a gift, they are art and part in Three Shells’ villainies, and ought to be sent to the Andamans along with him. If Three Shells be penitent, and anxious to make restitution, he need not have come to you. All his victims have not yet been driven to death, and he could have spent his money to better purpose in paying back the extortions which he has wrung from them.”

“You hear, Chakwi, how bold a preacher your husband has become,” said Ramanath, with a forced laugh; “but I warrant him a true Brahmin and a good Hindoo for all that. When you have given my dust to the holy waters of the Gungaputra, and taken my place in the temple, you will be proud enough of this fair goblet, Krishna; and I hope you will breathe a prayer for poor, sinful Three Shells, whenever you take it in hand; and really there is no one in Dhupnagar who stands more in need of a good man’s prayers.”

“I shall pray for Three Shells with all my heart,” said Krishna; “but never, while God preserves my reason, shall I take that or any other cup in my hand to worship an idol.”

“That is what they do in their Calcutta colleges,” said the priest, making a desperate effort to be jocular, although his son’s words made him sink at heart; “they stuff a lad so full of learning and conceits that he soon looks upon his own father and wife, and all his friends and neighbours, as little better than mletchas (heathen barbarians). But bless you, girl, it is talk, all talk! they don’t mean a word of what they say. There is Krishna here, at this very moment, good lad though he be, and loving to his father, thinking how cosy a life he will lead if once he had put his feet in the old priest’s slippers. He follow their foreign religions and give up Hindooism! I tell you, Chakwi, the scamp is thinking of marrying more wives,”

Both Krishna and Chakwi started, and turned ashy pale; the former, because the father’s chance shaft had struck so close to the desire that lay next his heart—the latter, because she fancied the priest’s words portended the fulfilment of her worst forebodings. The poor girl stole silently out of the room, and sought the solitude of her own chamber, that she might cry over her sorrow in quietness.

“There is no religion but has its faults and drawbacks,” continued the priest; “or if there were such a one, it would not be long in the hands of human beings before it became faulty enough. When God gives you a revelation, son Krishna, there will be good reason that you should follow it. Until then, be content with the faith of your fathers. As for reasoning about God without the assistance of a revelation, it is like trying to see without eyes. You remember the story about the three blind men who went to see the elephant, and how each of them described him when they came back again. The one who had handled the trunk, declared the animal to be like a huge writhing snake; the other, who had felt a leg, pronounced the beast to be shaped like a tree, tall and upright; while the third, who had touched only the body, asserted that the elephant was a huge mass of animated matter, without limbs or head. “Well, your Calcutta pundits seem to me to do very much the same thing when they begin to speculate about religion. Each grasps a small portion of the great truth that is limitless as nature itself, and he thinks that that is, and nothing else can be, the eternal dharma (religious truth). Our creed is broader, and has better interpreted to the finite human mind the manifold revelations of the Divine principle in the universe. But a simple old priest like me, who knows nothing of your college learning, cannot attempt to argue with such a pundit. I shall leave Chakwi with you to see if her mother wit can be more successful. Here! go and keep your husband company, girl! Why, she has gone off already. Well, well, son Krishna, I shall follow her, for good never came of wrangling; but if I am too old and stupid to reclaim you from heresy, I think I know of a pair of black eyes that will do more to dispel your doubts than all the logical darts of the pundits and their commentators.” And bestowing a knowing wink upon his confused son, the priest left the room to carry his precious vessel back again to the shrine.

When his father left the room, Krishna sank back in his chair, and buried his face in his hands. He was then utterly powerless to struggle against the old faith. Whatever men might prate about free-will, fate had so far circumscribed his volition, that his will could never be carried into effect. Who was he that he should presume to struggle against destiny? Had not every circumstance that had befallen him since his rash profession of Theism pointed out clearly that he had made a mistake? The hand of Providence seemed, he assured himself, to be leading him back to Hindooism and to caste; and it was useless, if not impious, to harden his heart against the decrees of the Supreme. The prospect of a union with Kristo Baboo’s daughter, to which his father had clearly enough alluded, was too much for Krishna’s convictions; but he would not confess this even to himself, and sought rather by casuistry to make out a case for the approbation of his own conscience. This was not very difficult to do, when a dread of the enmity of the Calcutta Theists, and of public ridicule, was the chief argument that he had to overcome. Intellectual Belief had ridden a course with Love, and had been driven headlong from his seat at the first thrust from the spear of his gentle adversary.

Chapter XX

Mr Romesh Chunder Roy

One evening about sunset, the villagers of Dhupnagar were aroused by the unwonted sight of a palanquin coming down the road from the Pagoda Tope. Now as there were only two palkies in the village, those of the priest and Kristo Baboo, and both of these were known to be at home, everybody was agog with curiosity as to the new-comer and his business. They could tell, from the measured, monotonous chant by which the bearers timed their pace, that the men were no Bengalees, but some of the thousands of Ooriya bearers, who ply their calling in the streets of Calcutta. The sun had gone down behind Panch Pahar, and twilight had risen duskily up from the bottom of the valley, and was gliding with stealthy steps up the slope, while the last beams of sunlight that played about the heights melted away into a dim grey. Lights were beginning to twinkle in the bazaar of Dhupnagar, and the shopkeepers were taking their wares inside, and preparing to shut up for the night. Those whose work was over, went and sat down by the edge of the tanks, and indulged in the gossip of the day, until it was time to go to bed. Wives were carrying home their pitchers, and the street resounded with the shouts of noisy children, as they chased each other up and down the dusky lanes, or played at bhag bhandi (caging the tiger) upon the open space of the village green. But old Ram Lall, having counted the day’s profits with a discontented grumble, lighted two great lamps, and placed them well forward that all the street might see them, and some customer be attracted at the eleventh hour towards the shop. As the headman, Gangooly, came along the bazaar, he must, of course, have his joke against the old miser, and rebuke his extravagance in lighting up the street solely for the good of the public; to which Ram Lall made a curt enough reply, for was not his great son, the Dipty, Gangooly’s master, who could degrade him from the headmanship if it seemed good to his honour? And Gangooly went on his way, well pleased with his wit, Lukshmun, one of the ancient and most quiet watchmen of the village, trotting breathlessly at his heels, until he came to the end of the village opposite Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller’s, where a little group of the elders were assembled waiting to catch the earliest glimpse of the new arrival.

While they were standing there, Krishna, the priest’s son, came walking past with a rapid step, and courteously returning the headman’s salute without stopping, he was soon lost in the darkness. The elders looked at one another doubtfully as the young man disappeared, and some of them gravely shook their heads as if they feared that Krishna was still in a bad way. Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, nudged Shama Churn, the grain-dealer, by the elbow, and said, “See what comes of English education, my friend. He’s gone out to the jungle to hold communion with devils and rakkases (ghouls), I warrant you; for those who go about in broad daylight are not fitting company for one who knows the foul sciences of the Feringhees.” Shama Churn remarked that it did not look well when one was forced to shun the company of honest folk in such a fashion; and Nitye, the kobiraj, or doctor, had assured them that it was all owing to the unhappy young man having taken European medicine, which had, of course, utterly ruined his moral nature, and very probably his mental faculties also, as the drugs of European practitioners generally did. But Gangooly, who liked better to talk himself than to listen to others, authoritatively put an end to their scandal-mongering, and ordered them to find another subject of conversation.

“There is a curious echo in Dhupnagar when you mention the name of Gossain,” said Gangooly, sagely shaking his head; “and what is whispered in the bazaar is sometimes shouted aloud in the temple. Krishna is a good youth, and a good Hindoo also, let us hope; and when the worthy Ramanath goes home to the gods, I have no doubt he will make as good a priest as his father. Do you think that, if there were any doubts about the lad’s orthodoxy, Kristo Baboo would have jumped so readily at Krishna’s offer for his daughter?”

“He has accepted him, then?” “When does the marriage feast come off, Mr Headman? What dowry does Kristo give his daughter?—her mother’s nose-ring and his blessing?” “What will Krishna Gossain do with his present wife?” “How many thousand rupees will the nuptials cost?” and a score of other questions were hurled in rapid succession at Gangooly’s head. Forgetful of his own recent cautions, the headman drew himself up with importance, tightened his waist-cloth, and threw his chaddar over his left shoulder so as to leave his right arm free to emphasise his remark.

“There will be time enough for you, my friends, to talk of the marriage, when you hear that Kristo Baboo has called the betrothal dinner,” said Gangooly, with an affectation of reserve. “It does not become me to proclaim by tom-tom any private matters that the worthy priest may have whispered into my ear; for he who betrays a secret is like a dog that bites the hand held out to feed him. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that this will be one of the greatest marriages that ever took place in Dhupnagar, for the Gossains and the Lahories have been the highest families in the place since the days of the Nawab Shaista Khan, and the gods only know for how many generations before. And as ye are all persons of credit, and trustworthy, I may mention this much quietly among friends regarding the dowry, that—ahem—that it is none of our business, and the less said about it the better.”

This was not the way in which the headman had originally intended to conclude his sentence; but while he was delivering himself with much pomp and emphasis, a pleasant odour of sandal-wood and attar of roses stole upon his nostril, and turning round he perceived that Bejoy, the ghatak, was standing by his elbow, his head meditatively leaned to the side, and smelling a bunch of flowers while he listened to the headman’s harangue. Bejoy was not a man to be trifled with when marriage was in question, and Gangooly dropping his loud solemn drawl hurriedly brought his speech to a close, he hardly knew how.

“Salaam, ghatak-ji,” said Gangooly, making a rush to change the subject, dreading that Bejoy might lessen his authority by rebuking him before the villagers for meddling in matters matrimonial. “We are going to have rain before long; the frogs have been croaking for it all the afternoon.”

“We have much need for it,” said Bejoy, looking up quite cheerily, and readily taking part in the conversation, when he saw that professional topics were put aside; “the cold-weather crops are in great want of moisture. But who is this approaching the village?— some person from Calcutta, as I should judge by the tongue of the bearers.”

“It is a lawyer coming to draw up the agreement of marriage between Krishna Chandra Gossain and the Baboo’s daughter,” suggested young Brijo, the schoolmaster’s son; at which unseasonable observation Bejoy relapsed into his former pensive attitude, and the headman smartly scolded the youth for his unseasonable observation, and for his forwardness in the presence of his elders.

By this time the palanquin and its bearers had rounded the corner of the jungle, and were seen by the villagers approaching in a dark body. As they came in sight of the lights of Dhupnagar, the men quickened their chant and redoubled their speed, and in another instant they came trotting into the street, and set down their burden with a bump, and a grunt of relief such as only an Ooriya throat could emit, on the middle of the road right before Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller’s. There were eight bearers, four to relieve the other four—squat, muscular fellows, with broader shoulders and harsher features than the natives of Bengal. They sat down instantly on the pavement, and one of them produced a lighted hookha, which was rapidly handed from mouth to mouth until all of them had smoked. Meanwhile the traveller inside the palkie began to stretch himself, and yawn, and to pull open the doors preparatory to getting out of the cage; and the townsmen stood by, anxiously waiting to discover what manner of man the new-comer might be.

Forth from the palanquin crawled a man of middle stature, with skin blacker than the blackest native of Dhupnagar, but dressed foppishly after the manner of the Anglo-Indian dandies of Calcutta. An enormous sola or pith-hat, covered with yellow silk and resembling in shape a huge overgrown toadstool, was perched jauntily upon his crisp locks; his dress was a loose jacket of black paramatta, with a vest of the same material sufficiently low in the breast to show a dirty shirt-front garnished with gold studs, and a pair of stiffly-starched white trousers, which had apparently been just put on to enhance the solemnity of the wearer’s entrance into Dhupnagar. His feet were encased in natty little boots of shining patent leather, and he wore a necktie of the most gorgeous colours. Rings, pins, watch-chains, and charms, with precious stones dug from the mines of Bristol, that Golconda of the West, adorned his elegant person in great profusion. In one hand he poised a gold-headed cane, while in the other he flourished a scented handkerchief of less than doubtful whiteness.

“‘Thus far into the bowels of the land,’ as the divine Shakespeare saith,” soliloquised the stranger, addressing himself in the English tongue, as he stood up and looked about him; “but little bowels I shall find here, I warrant me: O dura ilia, the restraints that caste and superstition have cast upon a naturally hospitable race! That’s two puns, but it is too dark to take them down. Peace be with ye, friends,” added he in Bengalee, turning towards the crowd of villagers.

“Upon you be peace,” replied Gangooly, coming forward and salaaming, but sorely puzzled in his own mind as to what hybrid phenomenon this might be, wearing the dress of a foreigner yet having the features and tongue of the Bengalee.

“Are you the headman of this village?” demanded the hybrid, shaking out the perfume from his pocket-handkerchief as Gangooly thoughtlessly approached too closely to his delicate nostrils. The headman again salaamed and answered in the affirmative, adding, moreover, the information that his fathers had been headmen of Dhupnagar since the British had obtained the stewardship of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa. “And have you no hotels in this benighted and heaven-forsaken hamlet, my good friend?” said the stranger, whom we may without further reserve introduce to the reader as Mr R. C. Roy. “Is there any decent place where a gentleman can get a night’s lodging?”

“I don’t know, Baboo—that is, Sahib, I mean,” said Gangooly, scratching his head. “Your honour sees that when respectable Hindoos come to Dhupnagar we are like to fight among ourselves for the pleasure of entertaining them; for verily, as holy writ sayeth, ‘That man is truly excellent who offers to a guest a soft seat, clean water, and sweet words’: and when a poor man comes among us we all give him something to make up a meal, and quarter him with some one of his own condition; for as the scriptures again say, ‘Benevolence towards all living creatures—this is religion.’ But in the case of—that is to say—in fact, your honour,” stammered the headman, twirling his chaddar in perplexity, “strangers never do come here, and so we don’t very well know what we would do with them. And is your honour a Hindoo?” demanded Gangooly, dubiously, as he eyed the pantaloons and Bristol jewellery. “You will excuse our asking this, for we are simple people, and seldom see any one except our own folks.”

“A Hindoo! of course I am a Hindoo. Give me a light, some of ye,” said Mr Roy, taking out his cigar-case; but polite as Bengalees in general are, not a soul stirred to do the bidding of this man of doubtful caste. “There is not a better-born man in all your valley than I am,” he continued, striking a light for himself on the side of a fusee-box.

“But are you a man of caste, Sahib?” asked Gangooly, fidgeting about uneasily at the idea of being impertinent to one who might be a Rajah or a Deputy-magistrate, or some other great official of Government, but at the same time fearing lest he should compromise the caste of himself or his neighbours by giving hospitality to a pariah.

“Caste, indeed! do I look like a man of caste?” cried Mr Roy, indignantly. “Why, man, I was six years in England, and have eaten more beef in my time than all the cows of Dhupnagar would make, if they were killed and hung up by the hind legs to-morrow.”

Shama Churn, the grain-dealer, observed that it was getting late, and as he must be stirring betimes in the morning he would go home to his bed. “And I will go with you, neighbour,” said Bejoy, the ghatak, shrugging his shoulders, as he took a parting glance at their perverted countryman. “Come home to bed, Brijo, child,” cried Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, catching hold of his son’s arm, as that reckless young man was pressing forward to address the stranger; “good never comes of those who wander under the cover of night.” “Sri Krishna-ji!” cried Nitye, the quack doctor; “and old Biprodass, the money-changer, wanting his potion all this time! I am too long here;” and off he hurried as fast as his legs could carry him. And in the course of a few minutes the villagers had all dispersed with the exception of Gangooly, the headman, who still stood uneasily before the stranger, scratching his head, and twisting the corner of his upper garment in mute perplexity as to what he should do with this awkward arrival.

“Ay, there they go,” said Mr Roy, bitterly, “scampering away as if I had brought the small-pox or cholera with me—me who sit with the Sahibs, and have dined with a Secretary of State. My dear friend, Lord Gotham, would not have allowed the best of them to black his boots, the d—d Bengalee niggers! Hark ye, Mr Mayor, or Mr Headman, or whatever you call yourself, is there no place in this barbarous locality where I can get something to eat, and a charpai to lie down upon?”

“Well, there is Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller’s, just behind you, Sahib, and provided you have money in your purse, Rutton will not trouble you about caste, and he will not venture to steal anything from a gentleman like you.”

“A pretty-like pot-house,” said Mr Roy, angrily. “Oh for the worst room in the worst inn of London! Good heavens! what would my dear friends, the Hon’ble Gupta Chatterjee of the High Court, or his learned brother, the Hon’ble Mr Justice Snapper, think if they saw E. C. Roy of the Outer Temple quartered in such a kennel? I shall have a fine tale to tell to my very good friend, the Governor-General Lord Sahib Bahadur, of the hospitality of Dhupnagar, the next time I have the pleasure of dining at his Excellency’s table, Mr Headman.”

The mention of these august names caused poor Gangooly’s legs to shake underneath him. His first impulse was to humbly place his house and all that was within it, including his wife and daughters, at the illustrious stranger’s disposal, and to run off and drown himself in the Gungaputra the next minute. His second thought was to mollify the stranger, and try whether flattery would not do something to soothe him.

“Ah, Sahib,” he said, “we are poor ignorant folk, and the presence of a great man like your honour quite terrifies us. Your worship is so like an Englishman—in fact, may my offence be forgiven, I took your honour for one at first—that we should feel quite frightened to ask you into our poor houses. Yea, we should as soon think of daring to offer hospitality to Kumshuner Sahib Prowler, or Eversley, the Magistrate Sahib of the district, as of taking the liberty to invite your honour under our roofs. You saw how they all went away, abashed at the sight of your lordship’s grand English manners. I hope your worship is not angry with me for mistaking you for an Englishman; but I say it with humble reverence, you are so like one, that Brihaspatti himself, the instructor of the gods, might well have made the error.”

“Well, well, you are an honest fellow, headman, and can’t help the rudeness of the villagers,” said Mr Roy, quite cajoled by the headman’s shrewd flattery. “But never mind; the rude Dhupnagar boor will regret some day that he shut the door against the houseless stranger. Do you know Mr Krishna Chandra Gossain, the idol priest’s son, my worthy headman?”

“There he is, your honour, just passing,” cried Gangooly, pointing out the figure of Krishna hurrying along the street; “the good youth is returning from his evening walk.”

“Ha! that is fortunate,” cried Mr Roy; “go, my good headman, and announce my arrival to the publican of Dhupnagar; tell him to have his best room swept and garnished for an honourable guest, and to have a hot supper of the best viands he can procure ready by the time I come back;” and leaving the afflicted headman loath to undertake such a message, yet unwilling to disobey a person who assumed such airs of authority, the barrister rushed along the street after Krishna.

“Hi, Mr Gossain! Mr Gossain!” he shouted out in English as he pursued, “stop just half a minute, will you? The pleasure of five minutes’ talk with you, Mr Gossain.”

The sound of English words in the streets of Dhupnagar calling his own name made Krishna pause in amazement. He could hardly credit his ears, and felt inclined to think that his fancy must have played him false, but there was the speaker, running breathlessly after him through the darkness. Who could it be? Krishna’s heart sank at the thought that some of his theistic Calcutta friends had come to intrude themselves upon his retirement, and perhaps to annoy him by their interference in his domestic concerns. It was with a sense of relief that he saw when the man came panting up that he had to deal with one who was an utter stranger.

“How do you do, my dear Mr Gossain?” cried Mr Roy; “believe me, I am delighted to make your acquaintance. Allow me to introduce myself—Mr K. C. Roy, of the Calcutta Bar, and your very humble servant.”

Krishna had often heard of his adventurous countryman, and he now shook him heartily by the hand, though he could not help casting a dubious glance upon Mr Roy’s eccentric costume. The priest’s son was not one of those who despised the homely habits of the Hindoo people. He loved his country with all the ardour of a youthful patriot, and though his mind had revolted against the national religion, he was strongly inclined to hold conservative opinions in other respects. The foppish Baboos about the Presidency who affected to despise everything that was not European and English, and who had laid aside the simple costume of their forefathers for a mongrel attire that was neither European nor Asiatic, had only impressed Krishna with their ridiculousness, and with contempt for them as jackdaws dressed in borrowed plumage. From what he had read in ‘Champak Leaves’ he had expected to find the grave and majestic demeanour of an ancient Rishi (Vedic sage), combined with the lofty port and chivalrous sentiments of a Bharata or a Rama, in the person of the author; but there was little in Mr Roy’s appearance calculated to excite either respect or enthusiasm. And almost the first words that passed between them sufficed to create in Krishna’s mind an aversion to his Anglicised countryman.

“My dear fellow, you can’t think how glad I am to see you,” cried Mr Roy, dancing a hornpipe round about Krishna, who looked with silent amazement at his singular proceedings. “What a comfort it is to hear civilised speech once more! I have had to talk so much vile barbaric Bengalee this afternoon that my throat is as husky as if I had eaten sour mangoes.”

“I am sorry to think, sir, that England should have made you dislike our mother tongue,” answered Krishna, coldly. “I hope the time will never come when I shall feel ashamed of either Bengal or her language.”

“All sentiment, my dear boy, I assure you,” returned Mr Roy, shrugging his shoulders. “I once thought exactly as you do; but one learns better out in the world. You will get rid of these old-fashioned notions as you grow a little older. But, bless my soul! how can you, my dear Gossain, manage to subsist in a wretched little place like this, away from all the comforts of civilised society?”

“Dhupnagar is the prettiest village in all the valley of the Gungaputra,” replied Krishna, who felt his anger rising at Mr Roy’s contemptuous and patronising airs; “although I can well believe that it looks poorly enough in the eyes of one who has seen the great European cities. And as for society, I have my books and my thoughts, even if I were to set myself above the society of the kinsfolk and neighbours among whom I have been brought up,”

“They!” cried Mr Roy, with a contemptuous sniff, “the mutum ac turpe pecus, the vile and dumb herd; what company can they be for a gentleman more than their own oxen? Why, my dear sir, we must get you out of this valley before the white mould begins to grow over your mind by associating with these boors.”

However much Krishna might feel contempt in his own mind for the grovelling condition of his townsfolk, he was not disposed to put up with such slights from a stranger, and he answered with some temper, “Every one has not had your advantages, you must remember, Mr Roy; and I, for my own part, wish for nothing better than to live and die in this valley and among its kindly inhabitants. But to change a subject which might breed discord, may I ask how it happens that you have chosen so late an hour for your visit to Dhupnagar?”

“Well, you see, I have come up from Calcutta expressly to see you,” said Mr Roy, with hesitation, “and to talk about some matters in which we have a common interest as members of the same Society. But perhaps we had better defer it to a more favourable opportunity, in case we differ about that next, ha, ha! You see the play, and will excuse it. Punning is a poor gift of mine, and I cannot always keep the faculty in proper subjection.”

“I am really at a loss to conjecture what you can have to say to me,” said Krishna, colouring, and bracing himself up for the attack which he knew was coming, for he had instinctively guessed as soon as he heard Mr Roy’s name, that the barrister had been sent to strengthen his allegiance to the Society. “I take a great interest in the cause of the Brahmo Somaj, and would willingly do anything that lies in my limited power to help it. Will you kindly tell me, without further ceremony, what it is that you require?”

“Well, you see, my lord,—that is, my dear Gossain—I really beg your pardon, but my London career carried me so much among the nobility, that when I begin to speak English that phrase always unconsciously comes to my lips,—well, you see, the heads of the Society have heard something about a certain marriage, and thinking that you would be none the worse of having some good advice, they commissioned me to take a run up to Dhupnagar, and consult with you about it.”

“Indeed?” said Krishna, “I am very much obliged to them for sending me so able a counsel; but I think they might have waited until there was some need for his services. But since you are here, will you be good enough to inform me who is going to be married, or what relation any such matter has to me?”

“Ah, if you take that line, it is my professional duty to tell you not to criminate yourself,” returned Mr Roy knowingly; “but allow me to tell you that it is no secret in Calcutta that you are going to be married to the rich Baboo Lahory’s daughter in this town, and the news has caused your friends very great concern, I assure you. Now, my dear Gossain, just think a bit before you throw yourself away upon a beautiful savage. Think what chances your accomplishments and person, united with your pecuniary prospects, might secure for you in the polished society of the Presidency. There is Kali Baboo’s charming widowed sister, who has been called the Sappho of Cossitollah in the ‘Probakhur,’ and who has written a delightful essay upon the ‘Rights of the Bengal woman,’ that was praised even in the ‘Padrepore Monitor,’—a lively person, and so fat; it was no longer ago than the last Somaj meeting, that some one remarked that you were made for each other. Or there is Ram Charan Dutt’s granddaughter. Have you seen the verses young Mohun Lall wrote about her in the ‘Bengalee Baboo,’ called the ‘Heart-stealer of Baugh Bazaar?’”

“It is very kind of the Society to provide in this way for my domestic happiness; but, for my part, the Sappho of Cossitollah may throw herself off the Armenian Ghat, and she of Baugh Bazaar may break her own heart at her leisure. When I want a wife, I shall select one for myself, without troubling the Society about such a matter.”

“But, my dear fellow, don’t you see the scandal that you will bring upon the Society by marrying with a heathen woman according to heathen rites? Think how the ‘Dharma Sabha’11 will crow: how the ‘ Bengalee Baboo ‘ will sneer at the Theists. I assure you, your apostasy would be one of the most serious calamities that has befallen the cause of Theism for many years.”

“You assure me of this, Mr Roy,” said Krishna, as he felt his anger rising at the familiar manners of his interlocutor, “that you take a great deal more liberty with my private affairs than our very brief acquaintance can warrant, and I shall be obliged if you will allow me to bring this discussion to a close. I may, however, pass you my word that I have made no proposals of marriage to any one, and that it is very possible I may never do so. But should ever I take such a step, you may depend upon it, I shall not consult the Brahmo Somaj with regard to it, and that I shall vindicate in the fullest manner my freedom of personal action from the control of the Society.”

“In that case I am non-suited,” said Mr Roy, with a wave of his handkerchief, as if he were throwing up his brief. “Can you give a fellow a shake-down for a night? I am not at all particular, and the worst bedroom in your house will be better than that vile piggery where the headman was going to put me.”

Krishna hesitated a minute. He was naturally both generous and hospitable, and would have gladly taken Mr Roy home with him; but what would his father think if such an open contemner of Hindooism and the Hindoos were brought under his roof? Moreover, now that he was beginning to get quietly reconciled to Hindoo society, intercourse with a man so notoriously out of caste would have raised the village again in arms against him, and destroyed his prospects of a union with Kristo Baboo’s daughter; and now that he had a fair ground for resenting the action of the Society, why should he condone their offence by offering friendly entertainment to their messenger? and adding to these considerations his dislike to Mr Roy, and his consciousness that he himself stood in the disadvantageous position of one who plays a double game, he came to the conclusion that it would be prudent to decline Mr Roy’s society.

“I am very sorry,” said he, “that the personal desire which I have for your society must yield to my father’s scruples upon the subject of caste. If the house were mine I should at once bid you welcome to it; but I only live here upon sufferance myself, and I have more regard for one in your position than to take you to a house where you would not be freely welcomed. I shall be sincerely sorry if you have been put to any great inconvenience upon my account; but you must remember always that your journey was not undertaken at my solicitations.”

“Certainly, certainly; no apologies,” said Mr Roy, whose good-humour was impenetrable. “I quite understand and sympathise with your position. I daresay our friend the publican can get me a chop and a pint of Ind-Coope. I shall see you again, my dear Gossain, and we’ll have another talk over your affairs.”

“Really,” interrupted Krishna, “my time is so much taken up that——”

“It doesn’t matter,” cried Mr Roy. “I’m not in any hurry; I want to ruralise a bit. A week, a fortnight, a month, is all one to me until you are at leisure. Believe me, I wish to improve our acquaintance. But as I see you are in a hurry, I shall just say au revoir in the meantime.”

And bestowing an affectionate squeeze upon Krishna’s hand, Mr K. C. Roy danced back through the street in the direction of Rutton Pall’s, waving his gold-headed cane gaily about his head. “An obstinate young mule,” he said to himself; “but, Lord bless you! he’ll soon become as tractable as a tat (little pony) in my hands. These conceited young fellows who have been under the patria potestas all their lives are the most difficult to manage, and bumptious of mankind. It is only when a man goes out into the world that he sees how valuable a thing is good advice. But if I don’t make a job of him, the next one need not try it.”

“Insufferable, meddling, conceited fool,” muttered Krishna to himself, as he hurried through the temple compound. “He reminds me for all the earth of the monkey that had seen the world in the English fable-book. Yet I ought to be thankful, after all, that the Society has sent me such an ass, for I might have had a difficult task to hold my ground against a wiser man. And that is what we make of ourselves by abandoning the ancient customs of our forefathers—a hissing and a reproach to our own people, and an object of contempt to our English masters.”

Chapter XXI

Ramanath Breaks Ground

“It is a disagreeable task, but the sooner it is got over the better,” soliloquised Ramanath to himself, as he sat smoking in his favourite seat by the temple porch. “It is just like standing shivering by the river ghat on a cold morning, thinking how chill the water will be, and how one’s teeth will chatter, and then after the first plunge finding one’s self all of a glow. It had to be done sooner or later, and now the coming of this Calcutta crow that was with Krishna last night makes longer delay dangerous, for the silly lad is sure to get inveigled again in some of the springes of their thrice-accursed philosophy. If I had more sons, I would as soon wring their heads off as send them to an English college. What is the use of wasting time and puzzling brains in trying to know the unknowable? I had once a pedantic teacher who tried to make me believe that there was no such thing as the world; that it was all maya—a mere illusion—a shadow; and when I retorted that it was very strange that maya should make one stumble and break one’s shins, he broke his bamboo rod over my head on account of my contumacy, as he called it. Ram-Sita! that was not maya. What a trouble wives and children bring upon a man! and yet without them he lives only half a life. But much of this vexation about Krishna has been of my own making, for I was so proud of his cleverness that nothing would satisfy me but he must learn all the wisdom of the Sahibs. Of course I might have known that he must learn their evil ways also. When a king has a brave son, and puts him in the forefront of the battle to show off his gallantry, need he grumble at fate if the young man is slain. So I must just blame myself, and make the best of my blunder. It is very lucky that I should have such likely means at hand for putting matters to rights.”

Ramanath relapsed into deep thought, and allowed his hookha to go out unnoticed. It was a lovely evening, and no place lovelier than the porch of the Linga’s temple. The peepul tree was putting forth fresh leaflets in anticipation of spring, and a multitude of new suckers were struggling downwards to the ground, seemingly eager to close up the entrance to the temple altogether. The birds were flitting about among the boughs, or perching on one leg, with head turned reflectively to the side, lost, perhaps, in conjecturing what had befallen the priest that he gave them rice so seldom nowadays; while every now and then some feathered adventurer would hop up the temple steps close to where Ramanath was sitting, piping out his evening greeting in the hope of attracting the attention of man. Until graver thoughts had preoccupied his mind, the birds had been the objects of Ramanath’s daily care. When he came to the temple of a morning he was received with quite an ovation from the feathered choir, and the songsters would hardly restrain their impatience until he could empty his pockets of the crumbs and grains which he had laid aside for their breakfast, but would dart backwards and forwards about his head and shoulders, chirruping assurances of their regards and gratitude. The birds repaid Ramanath’s kindness with their entire confidence, and they would come boldly forward and pick the crumbs from his hand, or jump upon his head with a burst of triumph at their own daring. But the first appearance of a stranger was the signal for a prompt retreat to their lurking-places about the eaves and roof of the temple. Sometimes Ramanath would remember his old friends, and then they were treated to such a repast as they knew not what to do with except to call in the birds from the trees in Kristo Baboo’s compound, or from the bamboos in the neighbouring jungle, and to stand by pluming themselves upon their charity and benevolence, while their poor neighbours humbly picked up the leavings of their more opulent entertainers.

But neither singing nor fluttering could arrest Ramanath’s attention that evening. He sat with his head bent forward upon his closed hand, gazing vacantly before him into the gathering darkness. The birds, with just perhaps an accent of angry expostulation in their notes, gave up petitioning as hopeless, and flew away to their roosts aloft. Modhoo, the porter, came with the flowers and the offerings for evening service, but the priest was unconscious of his presence. The old man looked sadly at his master as he passed inside, and set down the things in the antechamber. “A week of trouble is worse than a year of toil,” said Modhoo to himself. “He has grown older in the last few months than in all the years that I have served him. A man must be far from well who sleeps in that way with his eyes open. I wish Master Krishna would let his father have his will, for his obstinacy will be the old man’s death, and then the gods only know what will become of us all!” And he passed out from the temple again, coughing and brushing against the priest, but without succeeding in disturbing Ramanath from his reverie.

“Yes,” said Ramanath, again shaping his thoughts into words, “if it were not for Chakwi the marriage would be a matter to make presents on. The Lahories are of excellent caste, and this girl is by all accounts of matchless beauty. And what though Kristo is as poor as a fakir, and as extravagant as a Moghal governor? Better spend his money freely among his kinsmen and townsfolk than scrape everything together to scatter among the pimps and brokers of Calcutta, as so many of our Hindoo landlords do nowadays. Of course we are paying a dear price to undertake the marriage expenses, when my son might take a dowried wife from the best families of Bengal. But the Gossains can pay for their whims without knowing themselves much the poorer; there are not many people in Dhupnagar that can guess the depth of old Ramanath’s money-box. And costly as this marriage will be, I would pay the expenses twice over if it could be brought about without causing sorrow to my poor Chakwi; but that is impossible.”

The priest once more sought consolation in his hookha, but finding that the ashes were quite cold, he recalled his senses and became aware that it was the hour of evening prayer. “I must set about it as soon as the service is done,” he said; “and I don’t know whether I wouldn’t as readily leap off the pinnacle of Kali’s pagoda into the pool beneath, as open my mouth to say a word about it to either of them. I have little mind for going about worship, and yet no one is in more need of the gods’ assistance, if they would only give it to me.”

Taking up the lamp and the offerings, Ramanath went into the inner chamber and began the ceremonies of worship. The faint glimmer of the cressets scarcely sufficed to dispel the darkness of the shrine. The black, dank idol was just discernible in the gloom with a garland of yellow flowers hanging about it, which looked white and sickly under the ray of the lamp. From a niche beside the Linga came a yellowish glow as the light was reflected back from the polished surface of Three Shells’ golden cup, which had been placed in this prominent position that other worshippers might be incited to similar good works. Ramanath felt a half shudder as he turned the lamp full upon it, for there was something in the yellow metal that seemed to mock him in his trouble and to tauntingly ask, “Am I not well worth the goodly price you paid for me—the honour of your idol and the reputation of your shrine?” and the three eyes of the grim Siva appeared to look from the bas-reliefs with a menacing scowl at his minister. Now that the novelty of Three Shells’ gift was gone, Ramanath had begun to repent having ever accepted it; and every time he entered the temple, the sight of the vase suggested the thought that he had allowed himself to be bribed to secrecy. If the temptation were to be undergone a second time, the priest felt that he would refuse a gift offered by bloody hands, and warn the donor that the pardon of the gods was not to be purchased by silver or gold, but to be earned by prayer and practical benevolence. But Ramanath’s wisdom had come after the event, and there was the ill-omened vase, casting the black Linga into the shade by its radiancy, and presaging no good to the priest and his family. When Ramanath shut his eyes and prostrated himself in prayer before the Linga, he could not shut out the glittering gift from his inward sight.

When Ramanath entered his son’s room he found Krishna engaged with an English book. Even in trouble and degradation the vanity of youth will discover something to feed upon; and Krishna now took delight in contrasting his present state of mental abasement with his former magnificent dreams of future greatness. He was reading the ‘Samson Agonistes’ of Milton, and drawing most probably in his mind comparisons between his own condition and that of the degraded Judge of Israel.

“Ask for this great deliverer now and find him,
Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves.”

Seek for him that was to deliver his country from the yoke of superstition—him the great iconoclast, the illustrious reformer, the champion of Indian Theism, and of social freedom—and find him in Dhupnagar bound hard and fast in the chains of caste, and with his eyes blinded by the beams of passion. Poor fool! what was Samson to him or he to Samson? but if there was any consolation in the comparison, why grudge him it? When Perkins, who entered college with the full intention of being Senior Wrangler, was plucked in the “little go,” did not he take a pride in contrasting what he had done with what he might have done, and in assuring himself that,

“Since he miscalled the morning-star,
Nor man nor fiend had fallen so far”?

And the reader may lay down the book, if he has not before this time perceived that human nature is radically the same, whether on the Ganges or on the Granta. Krishna closed the volume and started to his feet when he saw his father, and placing a chair for him, stood silently by waiting to hear what he had to say. The priest sat down, but fidgeted about uneasily, hardly knowing how to begin; and Krishna could see by his manner that he had something of importance to communicate.

“Well, Krishna,” said Ramanath, “are you tired of playing the recluse yet? If you remain shut up here much longer, you will soon become as ignorant of what the world is like as was the sage Rishyaringa, who had been brought up in the wilderness until he came to the years of manhood. And talking of Rishyaringa reminds me of my errand to you. You remember how the ascetic was wiled back to society and to the court of King Dasaratha—I warrant me you could repeat every line of the passage in the poem as patly as I could say my morning’s prayers. Well, we are going to try the same plan with you, and see if the smiles of beauty cannot bring you back to your religion and to caste.”

“That is to say,” said Krishna, bitterly, “you would have me barter my honour for a fair woman. What would you, father, say to any one that attempted to buy you from your faith? Surely you would not have your son do that which you would scorn to do yourself?”

Ramanath winced, and thought, as he remembered Three Shells’ unlucky goblet, that if a paternal precedent could sway Krishna’s resolution, it need not be wanting.

“No, my son,” said the priest, “I would have you be a better man than your father has ever been, and I am quite sure that you will answer my expectations. You will be a great-hearted and true man, and the light of your mind will lead you through the world with unfaltering steps where I have had to grope my way. When you have erred, it has been through generosity, and because you hold purer and higher opinions than can be put in practice in this world. In learning, Krishna, I am to you but as an infant to a sage; but experience has given me many bitter lessons which I hope you will be spared.”

Krishna made no reply, and the priest went on:—

“I know as well as you do that caste is an evil; but there are many evils in this world that we must be fain to put up with, and it always happens that some time or another we find them working good to us. And suppose we throw aside caste altogether; how long will it be, tell me, before the world creates another caste for itself? And which is the better—the Hindoo caste of blood and spirit, purified by ages of training and separation from the grosser herd of mortals, or the Christian caste of gold? There is old Heera Lall, the Brahmin peasant, who lives by the wayside as you go into Dhupnagar—the poor man has nothing but his six hundred years’ pedigree and his unsullied blood—but the proudest head in the valley is bent at his approach. Take away caste, and Heera Lall is but a poor cottager, with just enough of substance to keep soul and body together, whom no one will give a good-day to; and our salaams are kept for some churl like Three Shells, the money-lender, who has wrung a fortune out of the necessities of the poor, and made his way in the world by lying and cheating. That is Christian caste, is it not? For my part I prefer our own system.”

“Nay,” said Krishna, “you make a mistake. There is no such thing as caste among Christians. Money gives a man a position and influence in the world, but the rich enjoy no exclusive privileges which the poorest may not by industry and success attain to. The Christian creed, as well as the purer light of our Theism, teaches us to consider all men as our brothers, though by reason of the inequalities of life we cannot give practical effect to the theory.”

“And we, though we don’t believe in any such relationship, yet try to treat even the meanest as if he were our brother,” retorted Ramanath. “You admit the theory, but hold its application as impracticable: we deny the theory, but yet practise it as much as lies in our power. I am a Brahmin, and of a race that sprang from Brahma’s mouth; while the other castes were produced from the less nobler parts of his person. But there never yet was a pariah passed my doors with an empty stomach but who might have both food and water for the asking. We can be as kindly in our way as the Christians or the Theists can, and with a good deal less fuss about it.”

Krishna held his peace, but a somewhat contemptuous expression at his father’s prejudiced reasoning could not be wholly suppressed, nor could it altogether escape the priest’s attention.

“But why should we trouble our heads about the Christians? doubtless they are good enough people in their own way. We are Hindoos and Brahmins, who ought to be thankful for our high privileges, and to make the best use of them by doing good to those whom the gods have placed under us. And now let us to business. I did you a great wrong, Krishna, when I married you to our poor Chakwi; but I meant to act for the best. We cannot compel our likes and dislikes, and though I would give half a lakh of rupees that you could take her to your bosom and live happy with her, I am not going to make matters worse by seeking to force your inclinations. You love Kristo Baboo’s daughter?”

Krishna knew quite well what was coming, but when the priest put the question point-blank to him, the blood rushed to his face, and he felt faint and dizzy. The crisis was come which must decide his future fate, and there was neither strength within nor assistance without to stablish him in his mind against the temptation. He took hold of a chair to support himself, and, looking guiltily at his father, answered—

“What avails my love now? I am married already, and may not marry again. You who have always condemned polygamy, would not have me practise it?”

“Ahem!” said Ramanath, calling to his aid a fictitious cough. “It is impossible to lay down a dogma upon a matter in which every one must suit his own convenience. If you love the maiden, there is no reason why you should not wed her; Chakwi cannot be more unhappy than she is at present, and it may well be that a second marriage, by leading you into domestic habits, will tend ultimately to her comfort. In fact, Kristo and I have talked over the matter, and there is nothing wanting now except your sanction to arrange the marriage ceremonies.”

“And this marriage,” said Krishna, in a hoarse voice, “would be conducted, I suppose, with all the old idolatrous mummery and idle pomp?”

“Well, you can hardly expect that Kristo would consent to a Gandharva12 wedding,” said Ramanath, forcing a laugh; “or that the fairest Brahmin maiden in the district would allow herself to be married as quietly mallee’s (gardener’s) daughter. Besides, when we are happy ourselves, we should make others happy too; and how are our friends and neighbours to enjoy themselves if there are not feasting and tamasha (display) in honour of the occasion?”

“The short and the long of it is, father,” said Krishna, “that I am to make my peace with Hindooism, and that my conformity to an orthodox marriage is to be accepted in lieu of a public recantation of my new creed. All figures of speech set aside, that is what you would have me do, is it not?”

“I would have you do what is best for your happiness, Krishna, my son,” said the priest, stretching out his hand, and drawing the young man tenderly towards him. “If your love is set upon this maiden, marry her and be happy with her; but if you feel that happiness would be too dearly purchased at the price of your convictions, do what you feel to be right. I would rather lose my life than see you become a renegade from the faith of your forefathers; but were it to purchase my everlasting peace, and that of all my line who have gone before me, I would never ask you, my dearest son, to do what would dishonour you. I only bid you consider rightly what Theism gives you in return for that which you give up, and whether you can well be happy having made all your friends miserable.”

There was a deep and dignified feeling in Ramanath’s tones that quite got the better of the lingering shadows of resolution that still hovered about Krishna’s heart. As the priest fondly caressed him, the young man threw himself into his father’s arms, and implored his forgiveness for the sorrow he had caused him, begging him to do in the matter as he thought best.

“No, Krishna,” said the priest, warmly pressing his son to his bosom, “not what I think best, but what you would have me do. I have already given you my counsel, and I can do no more. I must not have my son reproach me that he married to please me at the sacrifice of his principles. You will answer plainly, ay or no, whether I am to make this marriage for you.”

Poor Krishna had flattered himself that his consent to the union would be, as it were, wrung from him against his will, and that he could solace himself with the reflection that he had been coerced back into Hindooism by the paternal authority. But now, alas! the whole responsibility was thrown upon himself, and his father refused to give him any assistance in reaching the humiliating conclusion. “Do what you feel to be right,” his father had said; and for a moment Krishna was tempted to spring to his feet and dash the temptation aside. But what good would it do? There would be all the old battle to fight over again—all the mental doubts to contend with, all the promptings of passion to withstand, and possibly yet more serious evils than he had ever met with to come, if he cast his lot unreservedly in with the Theistic party. He was already compromised with his Calcutta friends, and the breach would be more easily widened than repaired. But “yield” is an ungracious word for a proud young throat to utter, and Krishna felt as if he was parting with his manhood when he pressed his father’s hand, and said—

“I can have no will but yours, dearest father, for our two hearts are but one. I do love this maiden, and will marry her according to your wishes. I have given you much trouble, but I shall strive so that the rest of my life shall make you some amends.”

Ramanath heaved a deep sigh, but strained his son to his heart. “The gods bless you, Krishna, in all fulness, and give you a son as dutiful and as loving as you have been to me! But be not rash—think well before you decide; it is easy to say ‘bind,’ but the tongues of a thousand cannot untie the knot. And remember, my son, above all things, that you are doing this of your own free will, and that neither restraint nor compulsion has been put upon you by me.”

Was there no good angel then to whisper, “Courage,” in Krishna’s ear? His father’s voice was gentle—nay, it seemed almost to be pleading with him to reconsider his intention, and his father’s face was looking down upon him with an aspect of tender pity. Now or never was the time for him to play the man—to follow the dictates of conscience; and in another minute it would be too late. But the image of Radha came before him, and cast a spell over his resolution. He thought again: there was no constraint, no threat on the part of his father to justify his surrender, or to palliate his conduct to his own mind afterwards; he thought of this, but he thought also of Radha’s rippling hair and faultless face and voluptuous figure, and steeled himself against the still, small voice.

“It is best that it should be so,” he said in a low voice, hiding his head upon his father’s shoulder. “I have been wrong-headed and foolish, listening rather to the whisperings of my own vain thoughts than to the voice of reason; but in future I shall walk by your advice.”

“Be it so, then,” said the priest as he kissed his son, “and may it be a step that will bring happiness to us all. I cannot think that you have done wrong in remaining in the position where the gods had placed you; and if there is any reward for filial piety, you, my son, will be assuredly blessed. And now I may tell you what I could not have told you before your mind was made up. I love you dearly, as you know, and would willingly give you your freedom with my whole substance; but all our wealth has been made in connection with the shrine, and I feel that it belongs rather to the temple than to the family. So while it was still uncertain whether you were to follow the old faith, I made arrangements for conveying all my property to the service of the temple, reserving only such an allowance to you as would have afforded you a very frugal maintenance, and placed my instructions in the hands of a trusty townsman, who will not open them until I am no more. There is, thank the gods! no further use for them, for you will one day take my place in the shrine, and be a better priest than I have ever been; but we will let the paper remain, I think, that the townsmen of Dhupnagar may know some day that, though Ramanath Gossain loved his son, he loved justice more. So long as you keep by the Hindoo faith, the paper will be utterly useless.”

Krishna said nothing, but still hung upon his father’s neck engrossed in bitter thoughts. Hardly had he passed his consent when he would have given the best year of his life to be able to recall it. The self-humiliation had been greater even than he anticipated. How could he ever bring himself to serve in the temple as priest, to prostitute himself by pretending to worship an idol? He had not thought of this before, and would he not be entitled to reconsider his decision in the light of additional information? But there was disinheritance waiting him if he revolted. If he did not know the one fact before he made up his mind, he did not know the other; and surely the weightier argument was in favour of the step he had taken; and above all was there not Radha, lovely as an Apsara from the heaven of Indra, chaste as Sita, the wife of Rama, whose virtue came out unscathed from the ordeal of fire, and loving as Damayanti, the wife of Nala, who clave to her husband when every one else in the wide world turned their backs upon him—ah, yes, surely her perfections would heal the wounds of self-respect, would deaden the pricks of conscience, and atone for all the opprobrium that he had already suffered and that still awaited him? No doubt of it; and he was a fool to allow himself to be tortured by silly fancies.

“And when do you propose that the marriage shall take place?” he asked, faintly, with the vision of Radha still floating before him. He was anxious that every fetter should be fitted upon him at once, that he might be powerless to change his mind.

“That will be for Kristo to decide,” replied his father; “but I am as anxious as you can be that no delay should take place. Vulgar tongues have already handled our names too freely; but this marriage will put them all to silence.”

“I must make this stipulation,” said Krishna, eagerly—“that I am to see Radha before anything is fixed, to learn from her own lips that she loves me, and consents to the marriage. Without this I shall take no other steps in the matter.”

“Sri-Siva-ji! more of his new-fangled English notions,” muttered Ramanath to himself, adding aloud, “Well, I shall do my best to bring about a meeting between you; but you know such a thing is unusual, and Kristo may not care to have his daughter stared at as a filly that is going to be sold. You have had a quiet peep at her already, and might be content to leave all the other details of the business to Bejoy the ghatak. However, we’ll see what can be done. And now I must go and break this matter to Chakwi, poor girl! and I would almost as soon go and put my hand into a caldron of boiling water.”

Pressing his son again to his breast, Ramanath left the room. His plot had succeeded—succeeded beyond even his most sanguine expectations; but, with all this success, was he satisfied? He tried hard to convince himself that he was; but there was a bitter mixture in his cup of joy. His son had recanted his errors, and come back to the old faith—back to Caste, and to the bosom of society. So far well; but where was that high principle that Ramanath feared to contend with, that fervid devotion for truth, that chivalrous hatred of error, which had seemed to him to animate his son’s magnanimous mind? Had not the victory which he had been so eager to obtain been clouded by a feeling that his son had fallen in his estimation several degrees lower than before? Ramanath tried to think that this was not so, and attempted to dwell upon the sacrifice which Krishna had made to filial obedience; but still he was far from happy. “It matters not,” he said to himself as old Dossee told him that Chakwi had retired to rest; “one such job is more than enough for one evening.”

Chapter XXII

Walesbyganj

Agha was sitting by the gate of Walesbyganj, sedulously polishing the barrel of an old Afghan pistol. It was a useless, clumsy weapon, with a trigger that could be moved only by the sheer strength of a couple of fingers, and a flint-lock that missed fire in eight out of every ten times it was employed. The pistol had long ceased to be dangerous, except to the person that was rash enough to use it; but Agha’s original veneration for the piece had remained undiminished by his acquaintance with more recent inventions in the science of gunnery. With this pistol his father, Jabbar Khan of happy memory, had shot his hereditary foe Ahmad Khan of Jamrood, robbing him at the same time of a chain shirt of sword proof, only once broken, and a gold bracelet, well worth three hundred rupees of Company’s currency—with a moiety of which money he had bought a blessing upon the weapon from the celebrated saint, Peer Muhammad of Jugdullack; so that when the pistol came into Agha’s hands, it was both an heirloom and a sacred relic. Worthless as it was for all practical purposes, it was of great mental assistance to the Khyberee. Whenever his ideas became confused, and there was a necessity for putting them in order, Agha would sit down with an oily rag in one hand and the pistol in the other, and rub assiduously at the barrel until his mind was clearly made up. It is not difficult to determine how the old pistol had come to serve Agha for a considering-cap. In the old campaigning days, when he had first joined Walesby’s Horse, the ungainly, half-savage recruit had been the butt of his company, and the only relief that discipline permitted to his feelings was to furbish up his pistol, and dream of the terrible vengeance which he would take with it upon his tormentors when time and place presented a suitable occasion. And so much had habit become a second nature, that the trooper found the readiest mental relief in polishing his weapon whenever trouble or perplexity overtook him. Except himself, there was no other person visible about the premises. It was close upon noon, the quietest hour of the day at Walesbyganj. The Subadar had lain down in his garden arbour with little Peeroo “on duty” beside him, fanning the old man with a huge hand-punkah of palm-leaf, and whisking away the flies that sought to disturb his master’s repose with a bunch of peacock’s feathers. The syces (grooms) had finished their stable-work, and were gone to their huts to feed, or into the bazaar to buy provisions. Afzul was not yet astir, and Leila’s rough coat and muddy legs betrayed the fact that he had been abroad late on the previous night, and had come home by other ways than by the beaten road. It was not likely that he would leave his room for some time yet, and so Agha had taken advantage of the quietness to polish his pistol-barrel, and solve several doubts that were disquieting his mind.

It was no business of Agha’s own that was disturbing him. The trooper never had any troubles himself, except what he underwent on Afzul’s account. Most of his own wild oats had long since been sown, and many a stiff harvest had been garnered out of them; but when he did wrong nowadays he took care that his sin should be a safe one, and his conscience clear. But Afzul was a never-failing source of anxiety to both of the seniors, and to Agha more especially, because he was fully in the young man’s confidence, and knew all his difficulties, while the Subadar was only consulted when matters had become too desperate for Agha’s mending. And now he was puzzling his head as to what would be the issue of Afzul’s intrigue with the Baboo’s daughter, since the plot was further complicated by the intervention of a new rival in the person of Krishna, the priest’s son. Agha had picked up the news that morning on his way through the bazaar to Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller’s; and he was now taking the earliest opportunity of digesting the intelligence.

“May Allah make it clear!” said he, holding up the pistol-barrel between him and the sun, as if his remark had reference to the weapon; “how should I be a reader of riddles? Why should a rough old trooper like me trouble myself with their haram intrigues and petticoat plotting? Am I, Agha the son of Jabbar, a man and a warrior, to become a mu’tabar (go-between) in my old age, a broker of Bengalee damsels? But then neither can I desert the chokhra (boy); if it were not for me he would ruin himself by some rashness in a fortnight’s time. But how, to advise him puzzles my poor head. Yes, the barrel is very dirty. There is this young son of the Kafir priest, a most likely match for the girl, and one that her father, the Baboo, will jump at as a dog will jump at a dish of butter. Then there is the maiden herself—will not she favour a man of her own people rather than an outsider with whom she could never honourably mate? I think it is most likely she would, for all that Master Afzul thinks of his scented locks and good luck among the frail ones. It is an awkward business, and I see no way of making anything out of it. Curse that barrel! will it never be clean?”

A few minutes’ more of savage rubbing helped to arrange Agha’s ideas, if not to brighten the pistol, and he again began—

“Not that Afzul’s chances are a whit less than before, for he never had any. There was no way open to him but to carry her off, and another suitor more or less would make little difference. It is easy settling these Bengalees. But if the girl herself take part with the Hindoo lover, it would be putting ropes round our own necks to carry her off. So it all depends upon the damsel herself; and we can do nothing till we learn her mind on the matter. Yes, it is clean enough for the meantime, and won’t rust for some days at any rate.”

And Agha, with a sigh of relief, dried the pistol with the sleeve of his coat, and squinted his eye along the barrel with a glance of satisfaction. He then levelled the piece at a mina chattering among the branches of a nim tree by the gate, and was going through all the pantomime of firing when Afzul made his appearance at the doorway.

The young Muhammadan’s countenance too plainly betrayed that his pleasures of the previous evening had not been characterised by much sobriety. His eyes were hollow and bloodshot, his lips swollen and tremulous; and his hands shook while they attempted to roll up a cigar of tobacco, as if he had but partially recovered from a shock of paralysis. The old trooper marked these symptoms with an affected sneer which, however, hardly dissembled his real concern at Afzul’s forlorn aspect.

“Up already!” jeered the trooper, as he carefully rolled up his favourite weapon in a piece of old oilcloth; “are you really wise to venture out so early? Your eyes do not look this morning as if they would stand the unaccustomed sight of the sun.”

“Witty fellow,” retorted Afzul, shortly;” one would think you had been brought up at Delhi as buffoon to the padshah (king). No wonder you ran away from the Khyber—you must have been much too sharp for the other thieves.”

“Never so blunt as to go out o’ nights to as little purpose as certain persons,” growled Agha, who liked no jests but such as were of his own making. “When I put my foot in the stirrup after dusk, it was to make money, not to spend it.”

“By Allah, you are right there!” said Afzul, with a deep sigh; “I wish I had broken Leila’s legs—I wish I had broken my own neck—before I rode to Ghatghar last night. Send a chokhra (boy) to Rutton Pal’s for liquor, in the name of the Prophet, for the very fires of Jehannum are blazing in my gullet this morning.”

Agha rose and walked over to the stable, where he carefully put aside his pistol in an old teak-wood chest in which his little stock of valuables was locked up, and taking a glass bottle from a heap of straw in a corner, and a pitcher of water which was cooling in the sun with a wet cloth about it, he returned to his young master, who was standing with his hands clasped and his eyes fixed upon the ground, the very picture of dejection. Afzul seized the bottle greedily, and having taken several draughts of spirits and water alternately, he returned the bottle to Agha, with a sigh of relief.

“When I saw Leila’s knees this morning, I knew you would be thirsty, and brought that back with me from Rutton’s,” said Agha, in a kind tone, as he put the bottle to his mouth; “and now sit down and tell me what luck befell you last night, and then I may perchance give you some news of interest.”

“What news?” asked Afzul, querulously. “Something evil, of course. A man is never smitten with leprosy but the itch comes after it.”

“Nothing so pressing but that it will keep until your story is finished. So you have been losing money again?”

“How do you know that?” demanded Afzul, fiercely. “But you could have no trouble in guessing. Of course I lost money—I am always losing money; and last night I lost more money to that infidel hound of a Rajah than a year of my father’s rental will pay. May Eblis choke me if I am not minded to shoot myself, and get rid of my troubles! for I can no more pay this money than I can fly from here to the top of Panch Pahar yonder.”

“Bah!” said Agha, sneering again; “you haven’t nerve to do it this morning. Go and play again; a few lucky throws will turn all your losses into gains. I thought there was no man in the valley who could play with your honour.”

“I think the devil is in the dice,” cried Afzul, in a fury. “Yes, by the Prophet! I believe that Shaitan himself was shaking my elbow, as he did to King Nala, in the Hindoo story-book, for the whole night long I never threw so much as a single pasha.”

“People don’t often throw pashas when they play with swindlers,” remarked Agha, placidly.

“Swindlers!” echoed Afzul, indignantly. “Do I look like a fresh simpleton that sharpers could pluck? Why, the Rajah hardly knew how to play the game when we began. It is all my luck—my thrice-accursed evil fortune.”

“The Rajah is to be pitied for his memory then. It was only the rains before last that he won ten thousand rupees from Captain Bonesby Sahib of the Junglywallah Cavalry; and I heard Havildar Runbeer Singh, of our regiment, tell your father the last time he was here, that the captain had made the stewards at Sonepore strike out all the Rajah’s horses, and forbid him to come near the place while the race-meeting lasted. Was that like swindling?”

Afzul ground his teeth, and flung his arms wildly from him. “What a blinded pagal (fool) I have been! and yet I could have sworn that there was not a Hindoo in the Gungaputra valley that could have got the better of me at dice. And now I am utterly ruined; seven thousand rupees gone in a single night, besides what I owe to the Nawab of Panch Pahar and the old money-lender in Bhutpore. Wallah, that I were dead! for I can never confess my folly to my father.”

“Nay, nay,” said Agha, gently— “don’t be so cast down, Afzul Baba; things will come straight somehow or other. You will be wiser in future, and the Rajah can be put off with fair words, or the sight of a knife for that matter, until the debt can be discharged. A single gripe of the weasand would make his rickety highness hear reason.”

“Nay, but,” said Afzul, shaking his head sadly, “the Rajah has already parted with my notes. He gave them to a Calcutta shroff (banker), a lean, greedy-looking slave, who sat outside with the dogs and the menials all the time that we were feasting and playing. I repented as soon as I saw him pocket the paper, for these Calcutta wallahs (fellows) know how to make the law strong and swift against a man. But it is worst of all that I should be beggared at a time when I want money so urgently to aid me in carrying off the Hindoo girl.”

“Ho, ho!” laughed Agha, relapsing into his usual sneering tones. “If you have nothing better than that to do with your money, your lamentation may be light. The Hindoo girl will soon give you your jawah (literally, answer—dismissal). She has got a likelier lover of her own creed. I wonder you haven’t heard of the great marriage that is preparing for the beauty of Dhupnagar.”

Afzul turned pale and gazed stupidly at the trooper. “What marriage?” he asked; “and whom do you call the beauty of Dhupnagar? Do you dare to say that any one has been rash enough to raise his eyes to the maiden upon whom I have set my heart?”

“There were a good many obstacles, they say, but I did not hear that your passion had been numbered among them,” returned Agha, as he folded his hands and half closed his eyes; “but if you have any claims, you would do well to set them forth, for I hear that the marriage is to take place without delay. It will be one of the grandest——”

“And what is his ill-omened name that has dared to come between me and Kristo Baboo’s daughter?” interrupted the young man, as he bit his lips and clenched his fists in a vain effort to check the rage that was boiling up within him. “By Allah, he will have to take my life first!”

“You are not in great peril, for your rival is not a very bloodthirsty-looking person. It is the idol priest’s book-learned son that is going to marry the Lahory’s daughter.”

“That fellow—that bookish baboo—that miserable keranni (clerk) aspire to Radha!” cried Afzul, in a fury, pacing about wildly and gesticulating with his arms. “May the Prophet dig for him a pit in the day of torment deeper and hotter than the one set apart for all those of his accursed faith! I saw the slave loitering about the Lahory’s house one night, and was half tempted to chastise him. Wallah, that I had done so then! But there is not a Hindoo in the Gungaputra valley that shall sit on the saddle before me. I swear by the tombs at Kerbela that I shall take the villain’s life before four-and-twenty hours are over.”

“Just as you please,” returned Agha. “A Hindoo’s life lies lightly upon a man’s conscience. But it seems to my ignorance that the girl is rather to blame of the two. It is she that has played you false, and that ought to bear the punishment.”

“Never! There is not a grain of falsehood in her whole nature. She is as chaste as the Virgin Mariyam, and as true as our Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet—may peace rest on both him and her! She has been led astray by some of the accursed arts that the priest’s son has learned in Calcutta. But were he as potent a magician as Suleiman, the son of Daoud, his spells will avail him little against my dagger. I tell you, Agha, that maiden loves me better than her own life.”

Agha shut his eyes altogether and whistled.

“I’ll see her to-night, though I should have to break into her father’s house to get at her, and learn from her own mouth what truth there is in the story. But, oh, Agha! you must stand my friend with the Subadar about this money. You never failed me yet, and you will not turn your back upon me now. If I cannot meet these bills when they come from Calcutta, I shall leap over Kali Point as sure as the Prophet was sent by Allah.”

“Well, Afzul Baba, I shall see what can be done. I must go and waken your father, and talk to him about the new pottali (lease) of Liakut Ali’s holding; the man has been here four times asking for it. And if I can put in a word about your affairs I’ll do it. But the Subadar Sahib is very wroth with you at present. Somehow or other he has heard of your visits to Madam Diljan of Bhutpore, and he has sworn that the lady will in future have to lavish her caresses upon a penniless lover.”

Afzul choked himself upon an oath, and snatching the spirit-bottle from Agha’s hand took another great draught.

“There now, that will do for morning prayer,” said Agha, regaining possession of the bottle; “you must go and bathe and get some breakfast in case the Subadar Sahib should summon you, as is not at all unlikely when he hears of the disgrace you have got into. Curse that pistol, it is as rusty as ever again!” the old man said to himself, as he trudged away to the stables to hide his bottle and prepare for an interview with his master.

Shamsuddeen Khan was still sleeping when his old orderly entered the arbour. The love for flowers which he had acquired among the imperial gardens of the up-country cities, was now almost the only solace of the Subadar’s old age. Flowers never troubled him with misconduct, nor disappointed him unless when they faded before the proper time; flowers never appeared to feel that his presence was a restraint, or that his affectionate attentions were a tiresome embarrassment. Since his hopes of Afzul had been so bitterly disappointed, his whole life had become wrapped up in his garden. The mallees (gardeners) were tasked with all the rigour of a martinet; the smallest neglect was punished with military discipline; the appearance of a single weed was as great a crime in the Subadar’s eyes as sleeping on sentry had been in his younger days: and had the law allowed him, he would have visited the careless destruction of one of his favourite shrubs with the heaviest penalty provided in the Mutiny Act. The “black hole” at Walesbyganj was seldom without some of the gardeners or their apprentices; but as it was a cool room and pleasant to sleep in, they rather enjoyed the punishment than otherwise. The Subadar’s servants were not long in discovering that their master’s severity was purely theoretical, and that his punishments were terrible only in name; and they would generally have taken their own way about the place but for their dread of Agha. That his punishments were not nominal the Walesbyganj servants very soon discovered to their cost. If Shamsuddeen Khan was the roi fainéant, Agha was a most energetic mayor of the Walesbyganj palace.

The trooper stood for a minute looking into the cool shade, formed by creeping evergreens, trained to grow over the drooping bough of an acacia-tree, where his master was sleeping. The Subadar’s head was thrown back upon a soft velvet cushion, his turban had fallen off, showing the few silver hairs that still lingered about his temple, and his long grey beard flowed over his breast, rising and falling like a wave with the old man’s regular breathing. His face was thin and careworn, and the skin hung loosely about his big wrist-bones. Agha thought sadly of the great strong officer of twenty years ago, whose right hand could rein in the most headstrong horse in the Irregular Cavalry, and who could cut a full-fed Patna sheep in two as easily as a Sindee juggler would split an apple. A child of twelve might now get the better of this feeble, shattered old man, and yet he had once ridden in the foremost ranks of battle. A twinge of compunction crossed Agha’s conscience as he remembered that trouble more than age had wrought this wreck, and that he himself was not altogether innocent of disturbing his master’s peace. And now he was about to inflict still greater vexation upon him. If it had not been for his recollection of Afzul’s extremity, Agha felt that he could not have braced his nerves for the interview; and he turned his face away that the sight of his master’s careworn countenance might not get the better of his resolution.

Peeroo, the Subadar’s attendant, had brightened up at the sight of Agha; he was growing tired of fanning the old man, and naturally thought that Agha would waken him, and that he himself would be released. But when the trooper turned away, Peeroo’s impatience got the better of him, and he desisted from his task. “Punkah haro, chokhra“ (ply your fan, boy), cried the Subadar instinctively in his sleep, as he missed the cooling motion; and Peeroo set to work again, flicking the Subadar’s face with the feathers in his exasperation. “Eh! what! the gun gone already?” said the old man, sitting up alertly; “bid them sound for stable parade, Duffadar:” but as he rubbed his eyes and saw Agha standing before him, and Peeroo fanning him as if for life and death, he remembered where he was, and became once more the decrepit veteran.

Bas punkah“ (enough of the fan), said he, languidly; and with a low salaam the delighted Peeroo ran away. “Well, Agha,” he continued, as the trooper came forward with a military salute, “what have you to report?”

Agha’s only reply was a fictitious cough, as he stooped down to conceal his face and hook up the stem of a tall lily that had been broken down by some careless intruder. “Ah yes, that is right,” said the old man with a pleased look. “I shall have to make you take some order with these careless gardeners, Agha. I would not for five rupees that yonder flower were destroyed. It came from the Government gardens at Pultunpore. Have you anything to say to me?”

“Liakut Ali has been here about his lease, Subadar Sahib,” replied Agha; “he is getting old and frail, and wishes his lease transferred to Suraj, his eldest son. The young man is industrious and well-doing, and takes in hand to support the whole family.”

“That is right, Agha; such a youth deserves to be encouraged. He shall have the lease again, at the old rent too. Would there were more sons like him! And now tell me, what is the Child doing at present?”

But Agha did not seem to hear the question. He was stooping with his hands on his knees, looking intently at a bush of blood-red roses, the stems of which were bending low with the weight of the blossoms.

“These roses, Subadar Sahib, far surpass any that I have ever seen in Delhi,” said Agha, in tones of admiration. “Oh father! but it is wonderful that they should grow so luxuriantly in so hot a place as this. It is your ikbal (good luck) that makes them bloom so well.”

“Nay, nay, no ikbal, but good gardening,” replied the Subadar, with a pleased smile; “but I am glad that you admire the flowers, for they are really fine. I have seen worse blossoms than these offered as a present to the old Emperor. But I was asking you about Afzul.”

“Well, you see, the fact is, Subadar Sahib, that he has not been just so careful as he ought to have been. There are rascally sharpers about—that young Rajah down the river and the old Nawab of Panch Pahar have both cozened him at play, and he will have to pay smartly for his amusement. But you know one cannot be wise beforehand, and the Child will be all the steadier for a little lesson. We have recovered all the arrears upon the houses at Bhutpore this year, and you will never miss the money.”

“Alas! Agha,” said the Subadar, shaking his head, “it is not the money that vexes me. What use is money to me, except that I may save it for him when I am gone? But his conduct is bruising my heart. The Child is never content except when he is breaking the laws of God and man, ruining his own health, and bringing discredit upon the holy faith of Islam in the midst of this infidel population. You need not deny it. I can read in his face the life he leads without asking any questions. He has more wrinkles in his brow at twenty than I had at fifty, although I had gone through the Afghan war and the two campaigns in the Punjab, and undergone such hardships as soldiers little dream of nowadays. But I could always say my prayers with a cool head and a clear conscience, no matter how early the bugles sounded.”

“Your mention of the Punjab war, Sahib, reminds me that I have to tell you of Jowahir Singh’s death—you remember Jowahir, who was Duffadar in my old company?” said Agha, adroitly giving another turn to the conversation.

“Dead, is he? Jowahir Singh—ay, to be sure, I remember him well,” said the old man, musingly; “I remember how cool he was, charging through the jungle upon the Sikh batteries at Chillianwallah. There was a tree hanging full of delicious leechees right before us, as we were pressing on under a deadly fire, ‘Wuh!’ said old Jowahir, ‘I shall gather a pagri (turban) full for breakfast as I come back again;’ and he was as good as his word, though he had sabred five or six of the Sikh artillerymen between hands. Dead, is he?—peace be with him, though an infidel!—a cool old fellow was Jowahir Singh. His charger was a Cabulee with a white star on his breast—a horse that was stronger in the haunches than any in the regiment. Major Pegger Sahib offered twelve hundred rupees for him, to be a pig-sticker; but Jowahir would not sell him, though he said that he would not like any one to make him such an offer for his wife. And old Jowahir Singh is dead?”

“You remember, Subadar, what you said that day, when Colonel Snaffle Sahib’s dragoons gave the word, ‘Threes about’?” insinuated Agha. “You and some six of us, with little Cornet Canter Sahib, were surrounded by Sikh infantry, and you said to the Cornet if they had come as far as we have, they would not be in such a hurry to fall back. You recollect how you struck down that big Sirdar who attempted to cut off our retreat to the main body of the brigade?”

“Ah, well, I daresay,” said the old officer, drawing himself up on his seat; “there is little merit in fighting well when the word is ‘kill or be killed.’ But there never was enemy yet, Sikh or Afghan, who could tell how the backs of Walesby’s troopers’ jackets were trimmed. Not even at Chillianwallah; for when we were ordered to retreat, we still had the most of the Sikhs before us.”

Memory had made another man of the Subadar. His eye had brightened, and his frame become erect and active; and as, aroused by his reminiscences of war, he started to his feet, and began to pace the garden with a firm step, Agha saw that his object had been achieved, and that he could bear the disagreeable news of his son’s difficulties so long as the excitement lasted.

“I shall make arrangements then for paying the Child’s debts?” said Agha, in a matter-of-course way, as if everything had been already settled; “there is money enough in my hands to clear him, and I shall get the accounts written out and bring them to you afterwards.”

“I tell you, Agha, I am wearied out with the Child’s evil courses,” said the Subadar, angrily; “if he lose money, he must pay it out of his own purse. Am I to use the bounty of the British Government for the support of all the gamesters and courtesans in the valley? But I shall take another way with him and with you all. I shall keep regular discipline in future, and muster the household every night at ten, and then whoever is absent shall be so at his peril. What is the amount of the Child’s debts?”

“Twelve thousand rupees would pay them all and be something over,” said Agha, carelessly; “but there is no need for you to trouble yourself about it, Subadar Sahib; I have more than that of rents in my hand, and will settle the matter as soon as you give me permission to do so. I’ll answer for it that the Child does not squander more in the same way. Shall I pay the money?”

“Pay it! yes, pay it, in the Prophet’s name, were it the last rupee that I am possessed of!” cried the Subadar, bitterly—“and never let it be said that a son of Islam broke his bond to the infidel. But listen, Agha—this must come to an end. If entreaties and kindly counsel will not avail with the Child, we must try another plan. You will keep him under surveillance, and report to me before he leaves the house upon any of his nefarious excursions.”

But Agha had gained his object, and the necessity for being civil no longer existed. So he replied, roughly, “As well try to keep a shaitan-i-khyal (will-o’-the-wisp—lit. devil’s delusion) under surveillance as the Child. Just try it yourself a fortnight and see what you think of it for a job.”

“Peace,” said the Subadar, sternly; “it is little wonder though the Child be disobedient and unsteady, considering the example you set him. But unless I speedily see signs of better conduct in you, you will have to go back to the frontier. My house is not to be a harbour for blusterers and profligates.”

“I wait for my dismissal, Subadar Sahib,” said Agha, with a sneer.

“And, by the Prophet, you shall have it, and that before long, too!” cried Shamsuddeen. “Are you, or am I, to be master in this house? Is there any reward to me, do you think, for having my life embittered by an old cross-grained wolf of the Khyber like you? By Allah! I believe that the unfortunate child has not acquired a single vice, many of them as he has now, that he has not learned from your example.”

“His father’s son had no need of evil example,” retorted Agha, “for breaking will never remove inbred faults.”

“Silence, fellow! ’Tenshun!” thundered the Subadar, and Agha at once drew himself stiffly up in a military attitude. “Your words are insubordinate, and merit severe punishment. Now, listen: you will tell Afzul that this money will be paid because I do not want my name to be tainted with dishonour; but you will tell him at the same time that no more cash will be supplied him for the same base purposes. I owe all my prosperity to the English Government, and it is the duty of both me and my son to show our gratitude by observing its laws, and by becoming examples of loyalty and sobriety to the other subjects about us. You presume upon my weakness; but you shall find that I am strong enough to curb you all yet. If Afzul do not mend his ways, I shall leave my jaghire (rent-free estate) to my old comrade Feroze Shah and his children; and I will be doing the Child a greater kindness than if I provided him with the means of ruining himself, soul and body. You will tell him this, Agha, and you will tell yourself, moreover, that the next time you enter the shop of that vile spirit-seller at the other end of the village, you will find my doors close when you return. Silence in the ranks!” he added, as Agha would have replied; “right about face! march!” and as the trooper strode away, without a word of remonstrance, the old man fell back upon his seat in the arbour, utterly exhausted with the effort which he had made to assert his lost authority.

Chapter XXIII.

Mariage à la Mode Indienne

The head of the house of Lahory was closeted with Bejoy, the ghatak, deep in the discussion of an alliance with Ramanath’s family. Since he last visited Kristo, Bejoy’s position had undergone a considerable change. Then, he had been employed upon a mere demi-official mission, as an unaccredited envoy who could claim little countenance for himself or for his business. Now, he was an ambassador plenipotentiary, empowered to make what conditions he pleased in the name of Ramanath, the priest, and in a position to grant such concessions as would place him on a high vantage-ground above the other negotiator. His present dignified character was fully reflected in Bejoy’s demeanour. An expression of grave importance was firmly fitted on to the match-maker’s face; his eyelids were lowered so that no twinkle of triumph or glimmer of disappointment might betray itself; and his thin lips were closely pressed together and curled down towards the corners of his mouth, as if it required a serious effort to repress the weighty thoughts that were working within him. Always neat in his dress, Bejoy was on this occasion as dainty as a newly-gathered nosegay. His chaddar was so crisply starched that it rustled at the slightest movement; his garments showed a broad stripe of gold embroidery; and a number of valuable rings glittered on his little fat fingers. The man’s appearance was essentially feminine, as indeed became his occupation; but there was a still determination of purpose, and a latent capacity for hatred and malignity, that would, when occasion required, show itself above the usual sleek placidity of his manner. If there were anything in metempsychosis, Bejoy could not have undergone many transmigrations since his soul had tabernacled in the form of a cat, for his expression was still much more feline than human. When he walked, it was with a stealthy, noiseless, cat-like tread; when he was pleased, his voice sounded like a gentle purring; when he meant business, he half closed his eyes and listlessly allowed the mouse to gambol about until the proper minute arrived for him to put out his paw; and as he sat face to face with Kristo on the present occasion, one could have almost sworn that he had made his toilet by licking himself only half an hour before. In appearance Kristo Baboo was the very antithesis of the match-maker. He was a tall, strongly-built man, with irregular but handsome features, upon which pride and disappointment had stamped a look of envy and discontent. Kristo had not always been the soured, selfish man that he now was; but his whole life had been spent in a hopeless struggle against poverty; he had never been able to gratify a generous or disinterested thought; and, like many men in his position, he had caught the idea that his falling dignity could only be maintained by defying society to deny his claims to consideration. The prospect of his daughter’s marriage was almost the only gleam of good luck that he had experienced in his lifetime. Adversity he could withstand with dogged stubbornness; but the faintest gleam of sunshine was too much for his eyes, dazzling his sight by the unwonted glare and intoxicating his senses. As soon as the marriage with Krishna Gossain had been suggested to him, the Baboo’s innate haughtiness had led him to refuse, because he was not able to marry his daughter in a style befitting her rank; but it was characteristic of Kristo that though his intentions were lofty, his actions were mean; and he soon came to entertain the most extravagant expectations for himself and his fortunes from a union with the rich Gossains. The game that he was now playing was a saving one: to suggest difficulties which the match-maker would have to overcome, to concede rather than to agree, and to secure the fullest measure of consideration for the house of Lahory in all arrangements that might be resolved upon. But the honour of the Gossains was perfectly safe in Bejoy’s hands.

But Bejoy’s mind was by no means free from misgivings. There was one part of his instructions that he had accepted with great reluctance. When Ramanath had first signified that the young folks must be allowed a meeting before the marriage was finally fixed, Bejoy had flatly declared such a thing to be entirely out of the question, to be grossly “unprofessional”—to be, in short, a proposition that should not have been mooted to a respectable practitioner like himself. And when Ramanath had represented Krishna’s obstinacy upon this point, the utmost that the match-maker would do was to take time for consideration and to “search for precedents.” Had not Bejoy’s mind been firmly bent upon effecting a wedding, or had the principals been persons of an inferior standing, he would not have hesitated to fling up his brief rather than countenance so serious an innovation upon matrimonial etiquette. And when he did undertake the commission, it was under protest and promises of secrecy, and with the mental resolution that it was the first and last time that he should be accessory to such a practice. “Such customs,” said Bejoy to himself, “go in like needles, but they come out like ploughshares. If the children are to have a hand in making up their own marriages, there is an end of the profession altogether. But in a special case like this, one can’t stick for stretching a point.”

“To tell you the truth, ghatak,” said Kristo, throwing himself back carelessly among his cushions when the servants had taken away the fragments of the repast upon which he and Bejoy had regaled themselves, “I should not be very sorry if this matter were dropped. The Gossains are excellent people, and there is nobody that I respect more than Ramanath; but the boy has made such a gol-mol (uproar) about religion that there is a risk in having anything to do with him. He has fallen away once, and may again become an apostate; and am I going to have my daughter thrown back upon my hands again, a widow with her husband still alive?”

“No need of foreseeing unlikelihoods, Baboo,” replied the match-maker, “when there are so many probabilities that demand serious attention. I can assure you that there is no chance, not even the slightest of Krishna again wavering. In fact, he never was anything but a most orthodox Hindoo, and all the scandal sprang out of a mere frolic, one of those wild pranks that boys will not forbear from.”

“I know not about such pranks,” grumbled Kristo, shaking his head doubtfully. “The Dipty Baboo tells me that all Calcutta was ringing with the news of Krishna’s apostasy, and that his name was put in the papers. Oh Rama! I wonder he survived that disgrace. It is too much, ghatak, to expect that I would give my daughter to a man that has been made so infamous.”

“Of course, if you give ear to what the Dipty says, reasoning is useless,” retorted Bejoy, with a scornful toss of his head. “He came to me and offered two thousand rupees if I would procure your consent to a marriage with Radha; but I told him that I would not undertake the business though he should promise me a lakh. The ghataks of Bhutpore or Gapshapganj are good enough for the like of him, for Bejoy never went on a low-caste man’s errand. The impudence of an oil-seller’s son aspiring to your daughter’s hand!”

“Impudence indeed, worthy Bejoy!” reiterated Kristo, not choosing to remember the encouragement which he had given to the Dipty’s aspirations. “But still, all this does not convince me that I should give my girl to the Gossains. I am a lone man, and my life would be solitary without Radha.”

Bejoy put on a look of grave reprobation as he responded, “Nay, but, Baboo, it cannot be that you are speaking seriously. Think of the portion prepared for those who neglect the divinely-appointed ordinances of the family. Think how you will answer to the souls of your ancestors for disappointing their hopes of posterity. Consider how culpable has been your conduct already in allowing your daughter to reach her present age unmarried. If the obligations of religion, if the fear of the gods, if the dread of future retribution,” added Bejoy, solemnly, “are to have no weight with you, words of mine would be useless. When scandal turned its tongue against you, I was always only too ready to take your part, for I thought that you were really in difficulty; but when such an offer has been made you, there can be no excuse. However, as you seem to wish it so much, we’ll break off the bargain.”

But Kristo was not prepared for such a conclusion. “When you speak of religion, you cut me with a diamond,” he said, meekly. “I am a simple man, who has had a sore struggle with the world, but I would not knowingly offend the gods. But of course it is my duty to make the best bargain I can for my daughter.”

Bejoy had now got the decided advantage, and he was not slow to make use of it. He began to state the terms on which Krishna proposed to become the Baboo’s son-in-law, and which were so liberal that they left nothing to be cavilled at. Ramanath proposed, out of kindness for his old friend Kristo, to be at the whole expense of the marriage ceremonies, which should be of a character well befitting the rank of both bride and bridegroom. The arrangements, which were to be made within the priest’s family, would obviate any chances of a collision occurring between the two wives, unless one or other of them was fixedly bent upon a quarrel.

Kristo would fain have objected to the provisions which secured to Chakwi complete independence of the new-comer, and which set aside her fortune absolutely for her own use, as giving her a decided superiority over Radha; but Bejoy drily told him that he might remedy the grievance himself by settling an equal sum upon his daughter; and though he, Bejoy, had no special instructions upon that point, he would undertake that his patrons should offer no obstacles. To this suggestion Kristo had of course nothing to say, and his next stipulation was rather asked as a favour than claimed as a right. To save the honour of his family, which he thought would be compromised in the public’s eyes if it were known that Ramanath had defrayed the marriage expenses, he proposed that he himself should borrow the money from Three Shells upon the priest’s security, and repay the usurer when he got the money from Ramanath after the wedding. The match-maker did not see much reason for refusing the request; but he pretended to demur, and would only promise to recommend the matter to Ramanath’s consideration. There was still one condition that weighed heavily upon Bejoy’s mind, and he wished something kept in hand as a set-off against it. He had never yet mustered courage to tell Kristo that Krishna insisted upon seeing the maiden; and the request seemed so shockingly “unprofessional,” that he did not know whether he would not be better pleased if it were refused than if it were granted. But his dignity demanded that Kristo should be made to yield all that was asked of him, and he had resolved to carry his point in this as in all other respects, regardless of his personal feelings. At length, however, all other preliminaries were adjusted, and the match-maker was compelled to raise the dreaded question.

“Ah!” said Bejoy, “it is indeed a pleasure to do business for such gentlemen as your worship and Ramanath Gossain. No haggling, no bargaining, but each one willing to accommodate his neighbour. I have seen some marriages that could not be made up without as much ragrajhagra (wrangling) as if one were selling hens in the bazaar. Some people have no delicacy about them at all. And when shall Krishna see the face of his young bride?”

“After the marriage procession, with the blessing of Siva—when else?” demanded Kristo, looking up in surprise.

“Ah, yes—of course—ahem! but then, you see—the fact is, that this is a special case, and we must just consent to waive some points of etiquette. The fire of love is burning within Krishna’s bosom, and he will neither have peace by day nor rest by night until he feast his eyes upon that moon-faced one. Now I, knowing your kind and amiable disposition, and that you are quite above all vulgar prejudices, took in hand to win your consent to gratifying the youth, in a quiet way—may my forwardness be forgiven.”

“What!” cried Kristo, angrily; “let him look upon the maiden before he weds her! By the temple of Tarakeshwar, does he think that he will marry my daughter as he would purchase a mare—after he has looked into her mouth and put her through her paces? I wonder you would have had the assurance to mention such a thing, ghatak. This will be some of the obscene English notions that he has caught up in Calcutta. The Dipty tells me that in England the young men and maidens will associate together, and make love to each other, years before they are married; but I cannot believe that there could be any people so depraved.”

“Alas!” said Bejoy, with a melancholy shake of the head, “I am afraid things are not much better than you say in England. But what can be expected in a country where the very root of society is rotten? Just think for a moment how soon matters would be at sixes and fives with ourselves if young folks were to make up their own marriages.”

“You don’t seem to think so, when you make such a proposal in the case of my daughter,” growled the Baboo. “If you go on long in this fashion you will soon find that you have been digging a pit to drown yourself in.”

“The gods forbid!” echoed Bejoy, piously; “and I assure you it was not without serious scruples that I undertook to countenance such a thing. But what can a man do that has to deal with mad young lovers? And I think that if you accede to this, there will be no difficulty in persuading Ramanath to let Three Shells advance the marriage expenses to you in the first instance. You may depend, moreover, that the matter will be kept strictly secret. I would not for a thousand rupees that the ghataks of Bhutpore or Gapshapjang should learn that I had allowed a young man and woman to come together before the knot was tied.”

“Well, I suppose you will have it so,” said Kristo, in a gruff voice, as he thought how his family honour would be saved if the folks of Dhupnagar could but be led to believe that he himself was defraying the marriage expenses; “but to tell you my mind, friend Bejoy, I don’t like it. It is but a little matter, as you say, but then straws will bind an elephant if you plait plenty of them together. If communings between the youth of both sexes were to be tolerated, there would soon be neither marriage nor morality in Bengal.”

To this proposition Bejoy warmly assented, and soon after took his leave, quietly slipping into a fold of his waist-cloth the fee which Kristo tendered, with many apologies for its insignificance. “Nay, but it is not necessary,” said Bejoy, as he pocketed the cash; “a virtuous action is its own full reward. It is honour enough for me to have been the means of making happy two such excellent families. And I pray that Shashti (the patroness of children) grant the young couple an abundant increase.”

“If there is another ghatak in Bengal that could have brought about this union,” purred Bejoy to himself, as he came out into the darkness, “let him come and put his hand upon my head. I was not so glad when I married my own daughter as I am to get that girl of Kristo’s off my mind, for the existence of an unmarried damsel of so high a caste, and of such rare beauty, was a slur upon my professional reputation which I could never get over. How these vile matchmakers of Bhutpore and Gapshapganj will worry themselves when they hear of my success! Dogs that they are, neither of them is fit to make up the ten-rupee marriage of a shoemaker!”

In the height of his good-humour Bejoy allowed himself to be arrested by Gangooly, the headman, who was wending homewards to bed from his gossip with the other elders of the town, assembled upon the village green; and knowing that, from Gangooly’s talkativeness there could be no better medium for giving the tidings of his triumph a wide circulation, the matchmaker confided to him, under promises of solemn secrecy, the news of the coming marriage, doing full justice to the personal part which he himself had taken in bringing it about. Gangooly praised the ghatak’s address, and congratulated themselves upon having so clever and trustworthy a practitioner to look after their domestic happiness; and Bejoy purred still more, while his little eyes sparkled brightly through the gloom, like those of his feline connection. But notwithstanding Gangooly’s pledges, his conscience somehow permitted him to call in at Dwarkanath’s door, and give the schoolmaster an inkling of what was going to happen, enjoining him to silence under the pain of his severest displeasure. Nor, when he encountered Prosunno, the lawyer, coming out of the lane from the house of Three Shells, the money-lender, could he refrain from showing the pleader that when anything of real importance was astir he would not be the last to hear of it, although Prosunno had called him a chattering old parrot, and a broker of banaos (hatch-ups). And as he passed the oilman’s shop, where old Ram Lall still sat patiently among his jars, although every other trader in the village had shut up hours before, the headman jokingly congratulated him upon the fortune that he would make off the great illuminations that were at hand; and by pretending to disbelieve his words, the crusty oilman soon picked out of Gangooly all that the headman could tell him of the approaching marriage. Hardly had Bejoy finished summing up the profits that he would make off the match, and gone to bed to dream, in his elation, that he had married the ghatak of Gapshapganj to a penniless pariah crone of fourscore, and his rival of Bhutpore to a she-devil from the nether world, before the news of the bridal had spread from one end of the village to the other; and the townsmen with their wives and families sat up a good hour later than their ordinary bedtime discussing the great event in all its bearings.

But there were two men in Dhupnagar who took more than a passing interest in the news. Prosunno had deemed the headman’s intelligence of sufficient importance to be quickly communicated to his patron, and he had at once turned back and sought readmission to the money-lender’s presence. Three Shells heard the information with a bland smile, said he was delighted to hear that his dear young friend, Krishna, was going to marry so beautiful a wife; and wondered how Kristo would manage to afford the expenses requisite for the nuptials. He cordially thanked Prosunno for his kind attention, and bade him a smiling good-night. But scarcely had the lawyer disappeared when a change came over the money-lender’s demeanour. He clenched his fists angrily, and gnashed his thin lips with his long carnivorous-like teeth. Nothing was more clearly indicative of Three Shells’ low moral nature than the animal fashion in which his emotions expressed themselves. When labouring under strong excitement, his movements were assimilated as closely to those of a wild beast as the human form would allow, and on this occasion his attitude was that of a leopard that has been balked of its prey. A savage gleam of disappointment sparkled in his eyes, the blood-thirst tingled in his tongue as it lolled out of his mouth, and his hands nervously clasped and unclasped themselves in rapid alternation. What was there in Krishna’s marriage that the money-lender should be thus strangely affected? In the first place, he hated Krishna, with all the bitterness of which a fierce nature was capable, and his spleen rose at the thought of any happiness being in store for the priest’s son; and secondly, in all Three Shells’ ambitious visions of the future, Kristo’s daughter had occupied a prominent place. As the mahajan saw his substance daily increasing, and the land around Dhupnagar gradually falling into his own hands, he began to think of some day assuming a position worthy of his wealth, and of forcing himself into the society of the high-caste Brahmins around him. The Ghatghar estates would soon be all his own, even if the Rajah survived the few years until the money-lender was in a position to foreclose, which was hardly to be expected in a man of so dissolute habits. Once installed in the Ghatghar palace, Three Shells might surely, without much presumption, seek the best maiden in Dhupnagar for a wife. Kristo Baboo’s impecuniosity had suggested to Three Shells the idea of getting the thriftless landlord into his toils, and of reducing him to such straits that he would be glad to purchase his favour at the price of his daughter. As the owner of Ghatghar, and the son-in-law of a Lahory, Three Shells might carry his head as high as any man in the Gungaputra district; that is, when once the ashes of Ramanath, the priest, had been safely committed to the river. But now the vision was broken, and all Three Shells’ hopes rudely dispelled; and what was worst of all, by the man whom he hated most bitterly of mortals. Was it for this that he had lent Kristo money at nominal interest, and upon worthless security?—that he had bought up all the liabilities of the Baboo at almost their par value wherever he could lay hands upon them? And was all that money that he had thus expended to be, as it were, thrown to the kites? Never! Three Shells swore by the skull necklace of Kali that before Krishna should marry the Baboo’s daughter he would play a card that was little expected; and going into his private apartment he took out his ganja pipe, and sat down to intoxicate himself, and to think over the best way of thwarting the course of Krishna’s love.

Old Ram Lall, the oilman, was hardly less disconcerted than the money-lender by the news. It must not, however, be supposed for one instant that the vaunted descriptions of Radha’s beauty had touched the flinty heart of the old curmudgeon. Such scanty charms as his wife, old Mohini, had been possessed of, were quite sufficient for Ram Lall, even in the hot days of youth; and but for her ruinous appetite and fastidiousness about going without clothes, she would have been in his eyes a perfect woman. But the oilman knew quite well the feelings which his son, the Dipty, entertained towards Kristo’s daughter, and he had nattered himself that before his old eyes were closed, they would look upon grandchildren who carried in their veins some of the best Brahmin blood in Bengal. Ram Lall had done all that he could in his humble way to advance his son’s suit with the Baboo. He had cringed before Kristo even to the dust whenever the latter had come the way of his shop; he had sold the Lahory family its oil at cheaper rates than he gave to any one else in the village; and, what was more, he had meted it out to them by the standard measures, and not by the false-bottomed vessel with which he served ordinary customers. Ram Lall thought sadly that all this courtesy had gone for nothing, as he hurriedly shut up his shop, and, muffling an old rotten cloak about his shoulders to save them from the night air, he set out with a heavy foot and a heavier heart on his road to Gapshapganj. It might not yet be too late; Ram Lall’s belief in the genius of his great son was perfectly limitless, and he could not think it possible that any parent would prefer such a one as Krishna to his clever and handsome son, Preonath. So Ram Lall set out; although the road to Gapshapganj was long and steep, and though he had the haunted Pagoda Tope to pass, the old man’s courage never faltered. There is no heart so hard and selfish but that by careful probing some soft spot may be found in it. His intense love for his son was the redeeming feature in the oilman’s sordid character, and it would have led him not only to risk the rheumatism by exposing his old body to the night air, and fatigue his frail limbs by a hurried journey, but even to give his life itself if Preonath might be benefited thereby. His heart was too great at that moment to remember how coldly the Dipty had repaid his affection, how often he would come and go to Dhupnagar without setting a foot inside the little shop, and how he had more than once ignored the presence of his old father when in the company of zemindars and rajahs and other great folks. Provided Preonath’s wishes were gratified, Ram Lall in his heroism was resolved to set his own feelings aside; but he could not help thinking that surely some show of affection would reward the anxiety on his son’s account, which had brought him out at that hour of the night. The old man sadly recalled how fondly the little boy Preonath used to come bounding home from school, and to leap up to kiss him with his arms tightly clasped about his father’s neck. For such a reward from the Deputy-Magistrate and Deputy-Collector of the Gapshapganj subdivision, Ram Lall felt as if he would walk from Dhupnagar to Gapshapganj, not only that night, but every night of his life. A fervent repetition of the name of Rama kept the powers of darkness in check as he passed the dreaded Pagoda Tope, and he arrived at the Dipty’s quarters in Gapshapganj, weary and footsore, before the second watch was run. But the morning was not very far advanced before the undaunted old man had taken his usual place among the oil-pots, and was chaffering and cheating as eagerly as if he had passed the night in dreaming of hidden treasure, instead of in sentimental self-communion with himself upon the Gapshapganj road. Had the Dipty’s filial caresses nerved the old man for such exertions? We hope so. Preonath could surely well afford to be affectionate to his father when there was no one by to witness their meeting.

Chapter XXIV

Three Shells Does Business

If haply we or you, my friend, should be driven by necessity—which Heaven avert!—to raise a temporary loan upon our watch, our ring, or any other of our little valuables, you will easily conceive that we are not likely to sound a trumpet before us on our way to the pawnbroker’s. We would rather envelop ourselves in our thickest greatcoat, draw our hat down over our eyes, conceal the lower half of our face under the thickest muffler in our wardrobe, and set out for the Mount of Piety by the darkest lanes and least-frequented thoroughfares. Nor, when we are absolutely obliged to solicit a renewal of that trifling bill for another three months, do we choose to obtrude our difficulties on the attention of the public, but seek the bank-parlour and pour our embarrassments into the confidential, and let us hope sympathising, ear of the manager; and peradventure we may jauntily inquire as we pass the counter on our way out, what rates are going on fixed deposits for twelve months certain, as if a five-hundred-pound note were at that very moment burning our fingers. Kristo Baboo felt himself in a similar situation as he started for the dwelling of Three Shells, the money-lender, on the morning after his interview with the match-maker. There were few people who had less sense of shame about borrowing than Kristo. He had never been out of debt since boyhood, and had always cancelled one obligation by incurring another. Hitherto he had cared little who knew his liabilities, and did not feel that his dignity was at all lowered by the avowal of his indigence. But matters were very different now. In a few months he would be connected with the rich Gossains, his estates would be cleared from encumbrances, he would have money in his pockets to meet all his expenses, and he would always be able to fall back upon his wealthy son-in-law whenever anything was wanted to maintain his position. But in the meantime he would have a difficulty in discounting his high prospects. He wished the people of Dhupnagar, and the world in general, to believe that he himself was defraying the cost of his daughter’s bridal; and if any one was to hear of his visit to Three Shells, the circumstance might tend to destroy the delusion. He would have to bind Three Shells to secrecy, but the mahajan was a discreet man as became his profession. The interest would, of course, be high, for Three Shells would take into account the Baboo’s urgent need of the money; and it would have to be paid out of Kristo’s own pocket. But all that could be referred to the golden days after the marriage; the only drawback was that a man with such high hopes before him should he absolutely penniless at the present time.

Dressed in his very best garments, wearing the heavy silver chain which had belonged to his uncle, Ganga Prasad, of blessed memory, and carrying in his hand the gold-headed ebony cane that was the chief heirloom of the Lahory family, Kristo quitted his house and sauntered carelessly through the back lanes of the village. On ordinary occasions Kristo would have been ashamed to show himself in public without a “tail” of three or four poor relations, and double that number of ragged menials; but that day he had signified that it was his pleasure to “eat the air” alone. To all outward appearance there was not a more careless man in Dhupnagar than Kristo Baboo that morning, or one that had less upon his mind. He swung his cane pompously before him; paused now and then to look up at the sky; stopped to sniff at Shama Churn the grain-seller’s sweet-scented lilacs where they hung over the ruined wall; bestowed in alms the last rupee he was possessed of upon cripple Bhim, the religious beggar; cheerfully menaced a long green viper out of his path; stood up coolly at the end of the narrow lane leading to the mahajan’s back-door as if to take breath, cast a wary look round about him, and in another instant he had dived into the purlieus of Three Shells’ dwelling, and was stirring up the sleepy-headed porter, who sat coiled up in the sunshine with his chin supported upon his knees. But before he could ask an audience of the money-lender the Baboo was startled by the unwelcome apparition of Gangooly emerging from the doorway.

If there was one man in Dhupnagar whom the Baboo wished to avoid more than another, that man was Gangooly. He knew the headman’s propensity for chattering; that without any desire to make mischief, the old man was utterly incapable of keeping a secret, and that his first work would be to go into the bazaar and publish the news of Kristo’s visit to the money-lender. Repressing a curse which, if carried into effect, would have placed the headman’s future welfare in serious jeopardy, Kristo stiffly returned Gangooly’s salute, and motioned to the misshapen clerk to let his master know that a visitor was waiting.

“I salute you humbly, Baboo,” said Gangooly; “and I hope you will find me a good foot to meet. But who would have expected to see you here?”

“Why, anybody who knew that I have dealings with Three Shells,” retorted Kristo, gruffly; “there is nothing very surprising in that, is there? It should be more wonderful to see a freeholder like you coming out of a money-lender’s office. If it were not for that cursed land revenue that Government extorts from me, I would not be in debt a pice to anybody.”

“Alas!” said Gangooly, shaking his head lugubriously, “care comes with a family. My son, Gopal, is going to marry a second wife; he is a good lad, and mindful of his duty to the gods; and it is so short a time since I married his little sister and buried my mother-in-law that I have not as much money left as would be an alms to a wandering jogee (devotee). I suppose your honour has come upon the same errand?”

“How! what do you mean?” said Kristo, frowning, and drawing himself up haughtily. “I have no son to marry, and no need to borrow money though I had.”

“Nay, I mean your daughter Radha’s bridal. Have we not all heard of the great good luck that has come to your family? I vow I was as glad to hear the good news as if any one had given myself a bakshish. It was only last night that I said to my wife, Chintamony, ‘Well, the Baboo has had a hard time of it, what with his high pretensions and his small rental, his unmarried daughter growing older every day, and his lands growing less; but this match with the priest’s family will set him up straight again,’ and she said——”

“I wish Yama would strike you dumb, you drivelling old babbler! I believe you would chatter upon your funeral pile with the last siki (sixpence, the Hindoo viaticum), stuck between your teeth,” cried the angry Baboo; “my coming here has nothing to do with my daughter’s marriage. The money for that has been set aside and salted these half-score years and more. I only came to take up a trifling bond of mine that happens to have fallen into Three Shells’ hands—that is all my errand.”

“Oh, just so,” replied Gangooly, whom no rebuff ever disconcerted: “what better could a poor simpleton like me know? But, believe me, I am heartily glad to hear of your good fortune. You see, as I said to Prosunno Baboo, the pleader, last night, when a girl comes to Radha’s time of life without being married, there is really no guarantee——”

“And don’t go about with a drum and tell everybody that you saw me at the money-lender’s taking up a bond,” interrupted Kristo; “but I might as well tell you not to eat when you are hungry. If your legs only ran half as fast as your tongue, you would be the most active headman in all Bengal.”

“Nay, the gods forbid that I should be a tale-bearer or a betrayer of secrets!” remonstrated Gangooly. “When a man says aught to me in confidence, it is as though he had whispered it in the ear of the dead. I have been trusted with as weighty matters as any man in the valley. Did any one ever hear me say aught about Rakhal Das strangling his oldest wife?—will you tell me that, Kristo Baboo?”

The altercation was cut short by the appearance of Three Shells himself, salaaming and smirking in the doorway, and inviting Kristo to walk inside, with many acknowledgments of the honour which the Baboo had done him in visiting his humble abode. Gangooly walked away, signifying by indignant grunts how unjust he felt the suspicion to be of breach of confidence. “Some folks are as particular about their matters,” snorted the headman, “as if they were engaged in a conspiracy against the King of Delhi, and their lives depended upon secrecy. Why should I talk of Kristo Baboo’s affairs? I have things of more importance to take up my head with. As if the people of Dhupnagar gave themselves any concern about Kristo’s going to the money-lender’s! Some people surely think much of themselves.”

Notwithstanding Gangooly’s contempt for Kristo Baboo and his concerns, when he encountered Shama Churn, the grain-dealer, the headman could not withhold from mentioning his casual encounter with Kristo, and the cause of the latter’s visit to the mahajan, enjoining, however, his gossip to the strictest secrecy on the pain of a rupture of their ancient friendship. The grain-dealer was disposed to distrust Kristo’s assertion that his errand to Three Shells had no reference to Radha’s marriage; but Gangooly mysteriously said that he had his own reasons to know that the Baboo was only taking up a bond; “for,” reasoned the headman with himself, “if Kristo only told me about the bond to deceive me, he would never have troubled himself to keep me from talking about it;” but the Baboo knew enough of Gangooly’s character to guess that the surest way to set the headman a-talking was by binding him to silence. And thus it came to be believed in Dhupnagar that Kristo Baboo, with all his improvidence, had saved a sufficiency to marry and dower his daughter, and that the girl was a much better match than any one had supposed. When the young Rajah of Ghatghar heard the news, he anathematised the folly that had kept him from securing Radha while she was yet free, and vented his spleen by locking up his two oldest and ugliest wives for four-and-twenty hours in their own rooms without food or drink. When Agha sarcastically told young Afzul Khan of the great mistake he had made in allowing so wealthy a bride to slip through his fingers, the young Pathan muttered an imprecation, and turned away impatiently upon his heel. Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, ventured to congratulate the priest upon the splendid marriage that Kristo intended to provide for his son, and to laud the Baboo’s prudence and forethought that had regarded the honour of his family throughout all his pecuniary difficulties; and Ramanath had cheerfully concurred in the schoolmaster’s encomiums.

But we must return to Three Shells and his client. When the Baboo’s name was announced, the money-lender turned pale, and he convulsively grasped the low desk which lay before him as if he needed support. But it was excess of joy, and not fear, that thus discomposed him. The chief object of his solicitude at that moment was to get Kristo into his power, and at the very instant of the Baboo’s arrival he was sighing over the hopelessness of every plan that had presented itself to his mind. He had made himself sure that the Gossains would supply the marriage expenses, and aid the Baboo to meet his present necessities; and for once in his life Three Shells felt that his genius for intrigue was at fault.

“Now the gods be praised, for their hands are in it!” ejaculated the money-lender inwardly, as he shuffled towards the door to greet his patrician visitor. “O Siva, blessed benefactor, you are not one to remain a debtor to a votary! My lota (goblet) to the Linga is more than repaid by this chance. Continue thus to befriend your slave, and he will give you a muhr13 where hitherto he has given but a cowry.”

Three Shells, all smiles and politeness, led the Baboo into his inner office, and seated him upon a pile of the softest cushions, while he himself stood respectfully by with folded hands and bent head, waiting to hear what Kristo had to say to him.

“Won’t you sit, Three Shells Baboo,” said Kristo, making an effort to be jocular, “and not be a stranger in your own house? Draw in about, and guess what has brought me here to-day.”

“How can I guess, a poor ignorant man like me?” simpered Three Shells, with affected diffidence, as he planted himself face to face with the Baboo, a closer proximity than the proud Brahmin could altogether relish; “it would be presumption to imagine that your honour has taken the trouble of coming to tell so humble a person of the great marriage which your daughter is going to make with the son of my revered friend, Ramanath, the priest.”

Three Shells said this with half-closed eyes, and lips that hardly parted to let the words through them; but he could not control a scornful toss of the head, nor prevent pride from puffing out his lean frame, and stiffly straightening his cringing back.

“Why say presumption, friend Three Shells,” replied the Baboo, “when I am so well assured of the kindly interest which you take in the welfare of my family? Have you not repeatedly shown it by your benefactions?”

“Yes, there was the bond for eight hundred rupees, granted the year of the dear rice, upon which there has been only one payment of interest,” returned Three Shells, with affected simplicity; “and then there was the bill of sale upon the Gaogong holding, granted as security for an advance which has—”

“Ah, yes, I remember these trifles,” interrupted Kristo; “I’ll have time to look into them by-and-by and you shall be nothing the loser. It was in a general way that I spoke of your friendship. And now, as you conjectured, I am come to tell you of my daughter’s marriage.”

“And I rejoice to hear it—yea, even as Rama joyed when the monkey-god brought him back news from his imprisoned Sita,” said Three Shells, with a bland smile, but never opening his eyes. Verily, Ramanath’s son is a good youth, and a learned youth, and one that worships the gods devoutly in the way of his fathers. I have always loved Krishna.”

And the money-lender opened his eyes to their widest limit, and then blinked in the light as he watched upon Kristo’s countenance the effect of his sneer at Krishna’s scepticism. But Kristo’s face was immovable.

“The Gossains are of a good caste,” he replied; “and that is the main thing for me to look to; and besides, they have held out terms that a poor Brahmin like me could hardly venture to refuse. I may tell you, friend Three Shells, that all the expenses of this bridal are to come out of Ramanath’s own pocket; but that must be a secret between us.”

Three Shells’ lower lip fell, his eyes were again opened wide, and his body seemed to collapse where he sat as his ear caught this announcement. “The worthy Ramanath is a good man, and a rich man, and can well afford to be thus liberal,” he slowly answered; “and how can money be better spent than by uniting excellent families, and gladdening the hearts of departed ancestors by perpetuating their issue?”

“Well said, Three Shells!” cried Kristo, slapping his hand heartily upon his thigh; “you speak like a Shashtri. It is a good and acceptable work to the gods to aid a marriage betwixt the twice-born; never doubt it. And knowing well your great love for the Gossains, as also your kindly friendship for myself, I have come to ask your obliging assistance.”

Three Shells revived again: again his back became rigid, his head was tossed up, his eyes half closed, and his lips pursed into a melancholy smile.

“Assistance? Of what sort?” asked he, shortly.

“I know you to be a discreet man, friend Three Shells,” said Kristo, “and one that will talk of anything rather than the affairs of your customers. Now Ramanath does not care that the gossiping mischief-mongers of Dhupnagar should know at whose expense the powder is burnt and the sweetmeats eaten, and I think with him. So we have deemed it best that I should borrow the money from you for two months, and transact matters as if I were paying out of my own purse. What say you to that?”

Three Shells heaved a deep sigh, and filled his hands with the soft velvet cushion on which he was sitting. It was with difficulty that he kept himself from jumping up and uttering a howl of exultation over his prey. “The fool puts his head, into my hands unasked,” he thought: “the lota—the lota; it is my gift to the temple that has done this; nothing is misspent that is given to the gods.”

But he mastered his triumph, and hesitatingly replied, “I would do much for the Gossains, or for you either, Baboo; but money is scarce, and hard to get, and I know not how I could scrape together such a sum as you require. Money comes by favour of the gods; but it goes in their favour also. It is but lately, as you may perchance have heard—but such a trifle would hardly stay your attention—that I made rather a costly present to the Linga of Dhupnagar, and I have been somewhat straitened for funds since.”

“Heard of it! who has not heard of your great offering, and seen it too?” cried Kristo, heartily; “Sri-Krishna-ji! for a week after it was put in the temple you would have thought a miracle had been wrought, there were such crowds of people thronging to look at it. It was ‘Good Three Shells!’ ‘What a pious usurer!’ ‘How mindful of the gods!’ ‘So benevolent to his customers!’ in a strain as long as a canto of the ‘Mahabharata.’ My eyes never looked upon so pretty a vessel. But we all know that you might put one like it in every temple within the valley, and yet know yourself none the poorer.”

Three Shells was melted in a measure by the flattery, but he shook his head in negation, and heaved a deep sigh, as if he wished that all that were true.

“Nay,” he replied, with assumed meekness, “I am but a poor man. A person in my trade can never call his wealth his own but from day to day. When a client goes phut (smashed) our money melts away, and no one says he is sorrow for a usurer. I have had some heavy losses of late, and between these and bad-paying borrowers I am wellnigh brought to the bare walls.”

“Tush!” said Kristo, “don’t tell me that. If you count me among the bad-paying borrowers I shall make you change your mind yet. Wait until a month after this marriage, and you will be paid anna and pice, principal and interest, and get such a bakshish over and above as shall make you bless the hour when you did business with Kristo Dass Lahory. You know well enough that I am no niggard when I get money in my hands.”

“Ah, I am well aware of that,” responded Three Shells, moving a little closer to the Baboo; “and there is no one in Dhupnagar whom I would be more willing to serve than yourself. And Ramanath, the priest, too, I feel towards him as to a father. I would put myself far about to oblige him.”

As Three Shells shook his head sentimentally, he put forth his hand upon the Baboo’s shoulder, and patted a gentle emphasis to the assurance of his fondness for the Gossain family. The high-caste Brahmin shrank at heart from the touch of a vile out-caste, but he was borrowing money, and any open expression of disgust would have been fatal to his success. “May you stew for a yuga (an age) amid the boiling metal of Kali Sutra for thus defiling a pure Brahmin!” ejaculated Kristo, inwardly. But he said aloud, “I may look to your kindness then for assistance in this matter?”

“You see,” said the money-lender, sitting quite close to the Baboo, and taking him cordially by the hand, “my power will not go so far as my desire in this matter, but yet I will do what I can. How much do you want?”

The sweat was sitting in beads upon Kristo Baboo’s brow, and there was a faintness at his heart that made him fear lest he should swoon in the money-lender’s presence. The idea that he, Kristo, the son of Gopi, the head of the Lahory family, a man of untainted caste, should be sitting cheek by jowl with a vile pariah, hand joined in hand, was too much for the Brahmin’s stomach. A Carolinian of “first family” rank bestowing a fraternal embrace upon his own “nigger” would have been as comfortable. But the remorseless Three Shells seemed not to mark the Baboo’s agitation.

“I can’t do with less than ten thousand rupees,” Kristo replied, in a weak voice; “the marriage alone will take five or six thousand, and I have other necessities pressing me.”

“Ten thousand rupees,” said Three Shells, musingly; “strange, now, how things fit into each other. I have received that sum this very day on account of my honoured correspondent Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar in Calcutta. I might let you have that, but I could not do it unless you would take it as repayable at four-and-twenty hours’ notice. I really could not give you it upon any other terms.”

“Nay, nay, Three Shells, that would never do,” said Kristo, shaking his head, and endeavouring to move farther away from the money-lender; but Three Shells kept him fast in his grip: “we will rather borrow from yourself at a longer term. Never mind the interest; say you will take a six months’ bond.”

“Impossible!” cried Three Shells, holding up his hands. “I have not a hundred rupees in the house. There never was such a run upon money as at present. I must charge you six per cent more than the old rate for Banksi’s money. There is not another man in Dhupnagar except yourself that I would lend it to,—except Ramanath, the priest—ah, yes, always except Ramanath. I love that man as a father, Baboo.”

“Ah, well, I suppose I must take it,” said the Baboo, with a sigh, rising up to his feet as he saw Three Shells again preparing to take his hand; “but you are not going to try any of your tricks with us, mind. No pressing for the money until after the marriage.”

“Nay,” said Three Shells, “the money is not mine to crave; it is my friend Banksi’s; it is with him you will have to deal. But you need not be afraid of him. A most lenient usurer is Banksi; he quite beggars himself to accommodate his clients. You will tell Ramanath how much I have striven to meet his wishes. Oh, what an excellent, what a righteous man, is Ramanath! There surely is no one in Dhupnagar so base as to cherish an ill feeling to him. How glad I am that this marriage has come about!”

And Three Shells again laid a hand upon the Brahmin’s shoulder, while with the other he took hold of the breast of his coat. But the loan was negotiated and Kristo would no longer endure the contamination of the money-lender’s proximity.

“And when will the money be sent me?” he said, shaking himself free of the mahajan without much ceremony.

“I will bring it myself to-night,” said Three Shells, “when I have prepared the necessary documents. We must have everything pakha (correct), so that Banksi Lall shall have no cause to quarrel with his humble friend, Three Shells. Not that Banksi would quarrel with anybody; he is much too mild for that. My only fear is that when you find how easy a usurer Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar is, you will never think of honouring poor Three Shells with your custom. But Banksi is rich, and can afford to be liberal. Peace be with your honour, then, if you will go. Forget not my respects to Ramanath,” added he, calling out as Kristo hurried unceremoniously away; “ah, there are few men like him; may the gods—”

“Pinch both him and you with hot tongs in the fires of Patala to all eternity,” concluded the money-lender, in his natural tones, as the Baboo disappeared. “I have him in my hands as firmly as though he were bound with a threefold chain. And Ramanath can now be safely removed. Oh, Three Shells! this is the best day’s business you have ever done in Dhupnagar.”

Radha’s marriage expenses were not the only loan that Three Shells had engaged to advance that morning. Gangooly, the village headman, had supplicated the mahajan to have mercy upon the heart of his son, Gopal, and to help the youngster to a second wife. The headman had wished to hypothecate his spring crop and a yoke of oxen, but Three Shells declined to invest upon such security. He next offered to pledge the right of his house and homestead, but this the usurer absolutely refused to look at, as appertaining to the public. Gangooly was at his wits’ end when Three Shells led the conversation away by an easy channel to the packet which Ramanath had deposited with him; and presently offered the astonished headman the very sum he had been suing for upon the security of the priest’s papers. “If you put these papers in my hands I shall know that my money is safe,” Three Shells had said; “for your izzat (reputation) would be gone if Ramanath reclaimed the packet and you could not produce it; but oxen die, and spring crops are either blighted or burnt up when I lend money upon them;” and the headman had joyfully accepted the loan on these terms.

“It gives us a good long day, for the papers are not likely to be wanted until Ramanath’s death,” soliloquised Gangooly to himself as he walked homeward; “and the money comes to us like found treasure. I shall now pledge the bullocks to Jotee Lall at Gapshapganj, and the crops to Bullal Sen of Bhutpore, and we will even have a blithesome bridal in a quiet way, although it will be but a poor affair compared with the wedding of Krishna and Radha.”

Be it recorded for once in the life of Gangooly that he kept Three Shells’ terms for advancing this loan to himself, self-interest in this instance overcoming his innate love of babbling.

Chapter XXV

Ira Furor Brevis Est

When Kristo Baboo left the mahajan’s office he was boiling over with rage. The offensive familiarity with which Three Shells had treated him, not less than the consciousness of his dependence upon the object of his contempt, had mortified the proud Brahmin more than the rudest refusal could have done. It mattered little to him now though all Dhupnagar saw him issuing from the money-lender’s, or even though they knew what his errand there had been. He had fallen in his own self-respect, and nothing that his neighbours would either think or say could add to his shame. As with many of his race, Kristo’s mind was peculiarly constituted in this respect. He could do a mean, or even a wicked action without forfeiting any share of his self-esteem; nay, his guilt might have been made manifest without causing him a blush; but the thought that he had forfeited any of the respect to which his high caste entitled him was far more painful to him than either guilt or remorse. Now that Three Shells, the money-lender, a man of low caste, or worse, had dared to treat him as an equal, to sit down by his side, to take him by the hand, and to use him as familiarly as if they had been foster-brothers, it was of little consequence, Kristo thought, though Protap, the accountant, should see him quitting the mahajan’s premises, or that Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, should be watching him from a back window. Kristo was too much incensed to care for concealment, and he hurried home as fast as he could, scowling angrily at everybody whom he encountered, and paying no regard to their respectful greetings. “Whatever may have been Kristo’s errand at the mahajan’s, it has come but little speed,” said Dwarkanath to himself, as he scanned the Baboo’s excited demeanour; “and I should not wonder but this grand marriage of his may go phut (broken) after all.”

It was a relief to the Baboo when he reached his own house, and could vent a portion of his ill-humour. He slapped the porter, who was snoozing as he entered; he abused Kanya, the old bearer, for the disorderly state of the courtyard; and when Ashutosh Lahory, his poor relation, would have also taken up his testimony against Kanya’s carelessness, the Baboo bade him, with an oath, begone from the house, if his worship was dissatisfied with it. Ashutosh, of course, made a humble apology, and would have endeavoured to fawn himself again into the Baboo’s favour, had not Kristo prayed that he might be struck dumb and never recover his speech until he saw a greater fool than himself. He pushed Sukheena roughly aside as he met the waiting-woman on the stairs, and he even forgot himself so far as to cast an entirely undeserved aspersion upon the virtue of his old nurse Lutchmee when he nearly stumbled over the tottering crone upon the landing. Calling for fire to his hookha, he entered his own room, and threw himself down at full length among the cushions to fume and fret over his mortifications.

“Let no man say the mango is sweet until he has tasted it,” growled Kristo. “I have got all that I had desired—my daughter honourably betrothed, the money for her marriage forthcoming, and nothing to be paid out of my purse save that cursed usurer’s interest; yet there is not a more miserable wretch than I am in all Dhupnagar. Curse the impertinence of that cur! What did he see in me to embolden him to take such liberties? But I’ll make him rue his impudence, the low-bred hound! I’ll make him kiss my feet before he gets his money again; and when I do give him the cash, I shall treat him worse than if he were a sweeper. ‘Here, thou son of a defiled mother,’ I’ll say, giving the bag of rupees a kick with my foot, ‘take thy dross, which has been hallowed by the use of a pure Brahmin! Take it—begone! and forget the road to Kristo Baboo’s door! And remember this, that too much grace has been already done thee in permitting our eyes to behold thy impurities, and our nostrils to be offended by the foulness of thy person. Hence with thy uncleanness! and forget not Kristo Baboo has lusty lathials (club-men) to drive away whatever mangy cur dares to wag a tail at their master! And Kristo bestowed a hearty kick upon the imaginary money-lender. “But, holy Krishna! what a fool I am to let such a slave annoy me thus! Let me make myself happy by thinking what great things I shall do with the Gossains’ money,” he added, as he lighted his hookha, and shook up the cushions to his satisfaction.

But that day the gods had surely conspired against Kristo’ s peace. Long before he returned from Three Shells’, Jaddoo, the Dipty’s orderly, had come trotting into the Lahory compound with a letter from his master. Jaddoo was still doing “special duty” at Dhupnagar, and indeed the orderly had no disposition to relinquish a task which proved to be a pleasant sinecure. In Dhupnagar Jaddoo was a person of worship; the people salaamed to him a degree or two lower than they did to their own headman; and he lived liberally, and at free quarters, with all who had anything to hope or fear from the course of justice. With regard to the robberies, his special mission, Jaddoo had little to communicate, but he made up for the scantiness of his information by the fullest details of what was transpiring on both sides of the village green, at the Linga’s temple, and the house of Lahory. When the Dipty grumbled, and threatened to supersede Jaddoo by a more efficient detective, the orderly had unfolded the plot which he had overheard at Rutton Pal’s, suppressing only the mention of Radha, and making out plunder to have been the object of Afzul and Agha. After this it was not difficult to persuade the Dipty that Jaddoo was the most likely man to deliver his enemies bound into his hand; and the orderly was suffered to return to Dhupnagar, and to spend his time as suited his inclination.

When Jaddoo was roused from his slumbers in the early morning with the news of the marriage contract between Krishna and Radha, he had seen the necessity of instantly communicating with his master. And so, although the morning was hard and chill, and though he felt a keen appetite for breakfast, Jaddoo hurried out of the village, munching a handful of plantains as he went along. He knew that he was the bearer of bad tidings, and he dreaded the welcome which the Dipty might extend to him; but his duty required him to risk the magistrate’s ill-temper. As he neared the Pagoda Tope he met old Ram Lall, the oilman, coming wearily down the hill. Ram Lall had been ill at ease, he said, overnight, and had gone early abroad to see if a breath of fresh air would do him any good; whither was Jaddoo away so early? Jaddoo was away to wait upon his master, worthy Ram Lall’s honoured son. Had the oilman heard of the grand wedding that was going to take place between young Krishna and Kristo Baboo’s daughter? No, he had not, but he was very glad to hear it; it would surely be a great show that such rich folks would make: and old Ram Lall smilingly wished they would buy the oil for the illuminations from his shop, and resumed his journey, giving Jaddoo a civil good-day. Jaddoo stood looking doubtfully after the old man, for he could not help suspecting that Ram Lall had already taken his message out of his mouth; but still Jaddoo would have to go forward himself. If Ram Lall had told the Dipty of the marriage, the orderly comforted himself with the reflection that the first ebullition of the magistrate’s wrath would have been expended before he reached Gapshapganj. And so the orderly resumed his journey with less haste than at the outset.

On his arrival at the Dipty’s quarters, Jaddoo happily found that his misgivings had been groundless. Preonath was in a most gracious mood, and ordered Jaddoo off to refresh himself after the journey before he would hear a word of his news. On the orderly’s return, Preonath put a number of good-humoured queries to him respecting his duties at Dhupnagar; whether the Muhammadans were remaining quiet, and whether anything new was stirring about the valley; but whenever Jaddoo would have spoken of Kristo Baboo and his affairs, the Dipty skilfully shifted the conversation into a different channel. A less astute man than Jaddoo might have seen that his information had been forestalled; and the orderly, remembering his rencontre with Ram Lall, knew at once that the old man had been with his son overnight. It was fortunate that Jaddoo had chanced to come, the Dipty said, for he had a letter to write to the Magistrate Sahib Eversley about the robberies, and would now be able to put the latest intelligence in it. He had also a letter to send to Dhupnagar, which Jaddoo could carry; but there was no hurry about it, and the orderly might go and see his friends; Preonath would summon him when the note was written. So Jaddoo went away to seek his brethren the amlah (court officials), and to exchange with them the news of Dhupnagar for the gossip of Gapshapganj.

The morning was far advanced, and Preonath had taken his seat upon the bench before Jaddoo was sent for. The order of business had been altered to take up a case of considerable importance which had for some time been depending upon the files of the court. Kristo Baboo had enhanced the rents of all his tenants in the pergunnah of Garibghar, lying between Milkiganj and the town lands of Bhutpore; and the ryots, who were resident cultivators, with rights dating from the days of the Moghals, refused to pay the increase. Kristo, trusting to his interest with the Dipty, had selected a ryot as the representative of the others, and brought a summary suit for the enhanced rent in Preonath’s court. Unscrupulous as Preonath was in perverting the course of justice, he could not trifle with the rights of a whole pergunnah, and so he had gone on postponing the case from time to time as the best way of saving his own credit with his superiors, and at the same time retaining a hold upon Radha’s father. But when Preonath got the news of the marriage he felt that the time was come for action, and accordingly the case of Kristo Dass Lahory v. Gopal Ryot was the first called when the Dipty came into court. In the bustle that ensued before the lawyers were ready—our friend Prosunno appearing for the defence—the Dipty had time to send for Jaddoo and deliver his instructions.

“You will take this note to Kristo Baboo,” he said in a low voice, “and you will run all the way to Dhupnagar as if a tiger were behind you. The Baboo will send back an answer by you, and if he wishes to detain you, you may tell him what case is going on, and say that you must hasten back to give evidence in it. Be sure and let him clearly know that the cause will not be decided till you return. And, Jaddoo, I need not tell you that a close mouth swallows no dust. I will reward you well when you come back.”

Jaddoo bowed an assent, and quickly disappeared from the village, and in less than three hours he was trotting through the bazaar of Dhupnagar with his shoes slung over his shoulder, and the sweat running in drops from his face. Old Ram Lall looked up from his pots with a glance of intelligence as the messenger hurried past him; but it was the hour of full market in Dhupnagar, and nobody else took any notice of the orderly’s precipitancy.

When Kristo returned from his interview with Three Shells, Jaddoo was waiting, letter in hand, but the great man in his wrath deigned not to notice him, and kicks and curses seemed then to be too plentiful for Jaddoo to rashly obtrude himself upon the Baboo’s attention. Thus the first opportunity was let slip, and Jaddoo was left in the court-yard to do his best by bribery for obtaining admission to the master’s presence. But welcome as was the unwonted sight of silver to Kristo’s domestics, none of them would dare to face the Baboo until his rage had subsided; and so Jaddoo was forced to remain in an agony of impatience, tossed to and fro betwixt contending fears, the dread of incurring his master’s anger by delay, and the danger of being beaten if he should unadvisedly present himself as a scapegoat to Kristo Baboo’s ill-humour. Weighing these things carefully in his mind, and reflecting that a beating was but a temporary misfortune, while the loss of his master’s favour would ruin his future prospects; bethinking himself also that the rupee which he expected from the Dipty on his return might well be made two by a piteous tale of broken bones and bruises,—Jaddoo, like a true hero, chose the more immediate danger, and began to screw his resolution up to the point of facing the Baboo. A fee of four annas secured the guidance of Kanya, the bearer, as far as the door of Kristo’s “growlery,” but neither money nor prayers could prevail on him to announce the messenger.

Left to his own devices, Jaddoo gently opened the door and peeped in, but shut it again as softly when once he had seen the state of the interior. Kristo’s back was turned towards the door as he lay among the cushions, and his right hand played with a heavy slipper, the sight of which made Jaddoo involuntarily raise his arm to guard his head. There could be little doubt that Kristo would salute him with that, or with his hookha-stand, or with some other missile, if he stood far enough aloof to give the Baboo room to throw; on the other hand, if he ventured too close he would place himself within range of Kristo’s arm, and that would be even a worse position. Once more opening the door, Jaddoo made a nice calculation as to the mean proportional which would place him inside the range of a projectile and outside that of a blow, and slipping quietly in, posted himself close, and yet not too close, to the recumbent Baboo.

“And then there is that cursed Dipty,” said Kristo aloud to himself, “who will be clucking like a hen when her egg has been taken away from her. But even his impudence cannot say that he had a promise. However, he can’t do me much harm, for I’ll give up going to law altogether after the marriage. I wonder if he has heard the news yet.”

Jaddoo, knowing that he was in a position to solve the Baboo’s doubts upon this matter, thought the moment a favourable one for announcing his presence, and he accordingly ventured upon a strangled “hem,” the echo of which made him leap as if he had been shot. Kristo turned quickly round, and cast a look of stupid amazement at the intruder.

“Who art thou, O defiler of thy sister, that walkest into my house as into a serai?” roared Kristo, paralysed for the moment with passion. “Are thy bones made of green bamboo, and thy skin of three-ply elephant-hide, that thou thus layest thyself down beneath the flail? Who’s there? Ho! Kanya! Durjun! Tukht Singh! Clubs here, and quick with them!”

“Nay, great king; but a letter from the worthy magistrate, Preonath Dass, sent by the hand of the humblest of his and your honour’s slaves,” cried Jaddoo, dropping on his knees and holding out the note, but keeping, at the same time, a sharp look-out upon the door. “May good fortune follow me into your house, and may your favour extend to the remotest corners of the seven climes! You are worthy of worship as a cow from Kasi (Benares).” Kristo’s reply was to snatch the letter from the orderly’s hand, and to plant under the messenger’s ear a box so sound that it prostrated him at full length upon the floor. “Nay, then, if Ganga has a place for me, why should I live? Let the will of the gods have its way,” groaned Jaddoo, as he stretched himself out with folded hands, in corpse fashion, upon the floor.

Kristo had meanwhile torn open the Dipty’s letter, and was spelling it slowly over with many angry comments.—“Is ‘loath to believe it true’—is he? Does the low-bred cur think that good luck should come to no one’s door but his own? I am ‘well aware of the depth and purity of his affection for my charming daughter’—am I? O Vishnu! have the gods lost all control of the world nowadays? He cannot think that I ‘would have encouraged and countenanced his suit so much with the purpose of deluding him.’ Encourage and countenance him! I’d as soon have encouraged a sweeper to smoke with me. He knows that I ‘would not willingly plunge him into affliction and despair.’ I’d willingly plunge him into the deepest darkness of hell—yea, even into the lowermost recesses of Andha-Tamisra. I must ‘pause before I break the garland of peace that binds us both together.’ Must I? I should certainly be in no hurry to cut the cord that bound his neck to the gallows. And he hopes that I will ‘hear the propositions which he has to make before committing my daughter to Christians and kine-killers.’ Umph! as though the son of a pariah oil-seller were one whit better than a Christian. What is this? ‘Should I kindly favour his suit, I may ever command him in all that lies in his power.’ Why was not his hand blasted before it penned such insolence to a high-born Brahmin? It is enough to make one turn atheist altogether,” added Kristo, bestowing a hearty kick upon the orderly’s posteriors.

“Stay—here is something more: ‘I entreat you to send back the messenger with your decisive reply as quickly as possible.’ Of course I shall. Get up, O unclean one! and tell thy vile master to vow a purse of gold muhrs to the Linga of Dhupnagar that his filthy carcass may be saved from the lathies (quarterstaves) of my servants; for that Kristo Dass Lahory has sworn to take vengeance upon the Sudra that had dared to lift an eye to daughter of his. Hence with thy answer, pig!” And Kristo impressed the message upon Jaddoo’s memory with a second kick more vigorous than its predecessor.

“Nothing disquiets my mind but the thought of my poor children. There are enough of rupees to settle my funeral expenses rolled up in an old pagri (turban) in the second rat-hole over the door of my house,” said Jaddoo, faintly, but with a placid smile on his face.

“Don’t think to frighten me by your shamming,” cried Kristo, falling again upon the orderly with his feet, which, luckily for Jadoo, were at the time unshod. “I’d just as soon kill you wholly as half.”

A low groan was Jaddoo’s only answer.

“Here Tukht Singh! Kanya! Who’s there?” cried the Baboo; and, as the servants made their appearance, he added, “Here is a blackguard who has taken a fancy for dying. Just carry him round to the back of the house and put a few kindled sticks beneath him. If he stands that, we shall have him burnt on the banks of the Gungaputra like a good Hindoo, forthwith.”

The attendants carried the orderly round to the back part of the compound, and laid him down on an old, rickety charpai (four-legged bed). “You had better be hence, friend Jaddoo, before we come back with the fire,” whispered the good-natured bearer, Kanya Lall; “for the Baboo’s orders are not to be gainsaid, when his liver is boiling as hotly as to-day,”

But no answer gave Jaddoo, nor did he move a muscle, until the servants had entered the house to fetch lighted torches to begin the torture; then, looking cautiously about him, the orderly sprang swiftly to his feet, leaped the compound wall, and never halted until he had put half-a-dozen gardens and lanes between him and the house of Lahory.

“May I die childless if I don’t go home and lie in bed for six weeks,” gasped Jaddoo, as he paused to breathe, and to rub his aching back; “and I’ll swear that it is all owing to the injuries from Kristo. I’ll swear, too, that I was carried home by friends if I don’t meet any one. Oh! shall not my master make that cursed Lahory rue his insolence?”

Notwithstanding the effects of Kristo’s brutality, Jaddoo was not long in making his way to the Gapshapganj court-house, where the case of Kristo Dass Lahory v. Gopal Ryot was still going on. Preonath had tried the case with great impartiality and legal acumen, had kept the pleaders to their briefs, and had brought forward some points of evidence that were being overlooked by Kristo’s lawyer. Both pleaders looked anxiously into the Dipty’s face to see if they could read the probable decision; but nothing was apparent there save the gravest attention. All the evidence was concluded and the court only waited for the Dipty’s judgment; but Preonath was in no hurry. He adjourned the case until afternoon, and retired to his private room to wait the return of Jaddoo. At length Jaddoo came and told without reserve all the indignities that the Baboo had heaped upon his worship, and upon the humblest of his worship’s servants; and added many other items from his own imagination that he thought would be calculated to inflame his master against the high-handed Brahmin. Preonath, however, smiled good-humouredly, commiserated Jaddoo upon his injuries, rewarded his services with a rupee, and returned to the court-room with an aspect of the utmost good-humour and benignity. Then he sat down upon the bench, and delivered a most admirable prelection upon the law of landlord and tenant, animadverting with the utmost severity upon the unprincipled attempt which had been made to deprive a whole pergunnah of honest peasants of their natural rights, and decreeing, with expenses, against the plaintiff Kristo Dass Lahory. Prosunno, the pleader, had been dozing in his seat when the Dipty began his judgment, for experience had shown him that it was useless to hold a brief against Kristo Baboo in the Gapshapganj court; but he soon started to his feet, and long before the Dipty’s harangue had drawn to a close, he had despatched a messenger to Garibghar, and another to Dhupnagar, with the tidings of the decision. The poor ryots of Garibghar lighted up their village that night as if there had been a puja (feast), and sent into Bhutpore for a band of music and dancers, for their hearts were glad that their lands were saved to them; but there is no reason to suppose that the intelligence wrought any change for the better in Kristo Baboo’s temper when he heard of it before going to bed.

Chapter XXVI

Moth and Candle

The scene changes again to Radha’s chamber, where Kristo’s daughter is leisurely making a splendid toilet with the assistance of Sukheena, her waiting-woman. Now, as we have before intimated, a Hindoo zenana is a ticklish place for a male to enter, more especially for an infidel Englishman, whose lips are bloody with steaks cut from the holy rumps of kine, and whose palate is polluted with brandy and like abominations. Inquisitive as we naturally are, we would not have it thought that our curiosity had ever overcome that feeling of delicacy which we entertain where womankind is concerned—to say nothing of the staves of Tukht Singh and his fellows—or that we ever had the temerity to see with the bodily eye and hear with the bodily ear such transactions as are set down in the following chapter. But for all that, we pledge our credit—a heavier pawn than you perhaps think, Mr Cynic—that the events which we are going to record are quite as veracious as any other part of this truthful narrative. And why should they not be so, although coming to us at second hand? If you will only exercise your imaginations a little, you will see a number of ways by which we could have got our information; Sukheena, for instance, might have told Gangooly, under solemn promise of secrecy, which would not, however, have prevented the worthy headman from confiding in so trustworthy a character as ourselves. But this is thrown out merely as a suggestion; we, unlike many writers of, it is to be feared, laxer principles, never divulge the secrets which our well-informed friends intrust to us.

Radha was taking more than usual pains with her person that evening. A robe of spidery muslin, softer than silk, and whiter than the down that lies beneath the turtle-dove’s wing, was rolled twice round her body, but yet without concealing the graceful curvature of her form. The embroidered fringe of her garment fell a little below the knee, revealing shapely legs, hard and smooth as pieces of marble sculpture, exquisitely-turned ankles, and feet that seemed made to trip upon nothing. Two tiny slippers of scarlet cloth, embroidered with gold, lay close by; but who could think of the beauty of the cage while looking at the bird? Radha’s arms were bare from the shoulders, and her robe was girt about her breast with coquettish tightness, to show the fulness of her bust. But the voluptuous graces of her figure were thrown far in the background by the calm beauty and queenly carriage of her head and face. It was as if the head and neck of Artemis Diana had been planted upon the body and limbs of Venus Anadyomene.

The last rays of sunlight came darting across the valley from the ridges of Panch Pahar, and glancing in at the zenana window, played lovingly upon the lake of rippling brown hair that Sukheena supported upon her arm, as she combed the soft locks down from the maiden’s head. The brown tresses glistened like liquid amber in the fast-fading sunlight, and seemed almost to reflect the flash of the jewelled earrings, as the little head was proudly tossed backwards. The hair and the eyes were the two fatal charms of Radha’s beauty. Like the poisoned seeds of Eastern fable that, once swallowed, take fast root in the stomach, and shoot out their deadly tendrils to twine around the vital organs, so Radha’s silky locks, once beheld, twisted themselves about the heart, and fettered its free beatings, until all the rest of the body began to languish, as it were, through lack of the life-sustaining blood. And then her eyes, large, brown, and lustrous, melting as water, and yet hard as diamond, shaded by long soft eyelashes, and by lids which, when shut, could hardly keep in the brightness of the orbs that lay beneath them—what chance for weak mankind when these became converted into Love’s artillery? When Radha had examined herself critically in the tawdry gilt mirror, had walked backwards and forwards through the room to see that her robe lay smoothly and gracefully upon her person, and had shaken her little ears to set her bell pendants a-tinkling, she turned round to Sukheena with a smile and a sigh of relief.

“There,” said she, “I am fully equipped now. Might I hold a swayamvara14 for a husband, Sukheena, as maids of yore used to do when they wanted to get married?”

“Ay, mistress, that you might,” replied the attendant; “and the proudest Baboos in Bengal would come to it if they only knew the half of your loveliness.”

“Surely it is time that Krishna were coming,” said the mistress; “you said he would be here by sundown, and lo! the peaks of Panch Pahar are black already.”

“Ah, lady, you weary for your lover,” laughed Sukheena; “did I not tell you, that for all your show of scorn, you would be eager enough for the wedding-day? But it is not dark yet; you know it would not do for the townsfolk to see him coming. But patience, my dove; your mate will soon fly hither.”

“As though I cared for him,” retorted Radha, with a haughty toss of the head. “I think nothing of him as a lover, but the boy will do quite well for a husband. And what does he come here for just now? Does he think that I am either blind or lame, and wishes to make his eyes his merchant before the bargain be struck? I don’t like to be seen of men in this fashion, Sukheena,” and the beauty affected an indignant pout.

“Nay, it is his great love,” argued Sukheena, “that will neither give him peace day nor night until he has opened up his heart to you. And you must be good to him, mistress, and love him back again—sigh when he sighs, and coyly cast down your eyes when he speaks to you; and you must not scorn nor lightly his vows, for slighted love is the seed of hatred.”

“For a widow that never knew her husband, you speak boldly upon such a subject, my good Sukheena,” said Radha, ironically. “Shall I ask how you come to know so much about love-making?—well, no, I had better spare your blushes and my own ears. But tell me when you saw the Muhammadan last?”

“Shameless!” cried Sukheena, “to mention his ill-omened name when your future husband’s foot is already on the threshold. How could you hope to be happy and go on thus wickedly? If ever that unclean one puts a foot inside our compound after this, I shall confess all to your father.”

“I should wrinkle my brows and ruffle my hair if I were to get angry with you just now, Sukheena,” said Radha, languidly; “so go away, and do not irritate me. Away and watch for the approach of my brave bridegroom, and give me timely notice that I may put on my holiday smiles, and heat up a kiss or two to regale him with.”

Sukheena left the room, shaking her head gravely at her mistress’s flippancy, and Radha was left alone in the chamber. Giving one more glance at herself in the darkening mirror, the maiden stepped to the window and looked down the road that leads to the bathing-ghats of the Gungaputra. Men and women were coming and going in numbers, for it was the hour when devoutly-disposed persons resort to the banks of the sacred stream, but it was not upon them that Radha’s eyes rested. The darkness was setting in fast about Walesbyganj, but she could see the Subadar’s horses being walked up and down the green turf before the gate, and she knew well that Afzul and Agha were seated under the shadow of the archway, watching the movements of their four-footed favourites.

“If it were he that was coming here how differently I would feel!” she sighed, as she strained her eyes in the twilight towards Walesbyganj. “I cannot see him at a distance, but my heart is like to leap from my side, and my limbs grow feeble as a child’s; and now, when he who in a few weeks is to claim all my life, all my affection, is at the door, my veins are as slow and steady as if I were about to receive my father.”

And Radha held one arm high above her head, while she felt her pulse with the other hand, and lingered for an instant in that attitude as if she knew how well it became her. In truth she was a beautiful being; but hers was a cold, hard, and statuesque beauty—in nothing melting, in nothing woman-like.

“I might go away with him, as he entreats me—might join his faith—what is faith to me?—and we might live in love all the rest of our days. But the Lahories shall never say that I was the first woman of their house that brought shame upon them. No; if I thought that I had not strength enough to save myself, I should leap from the heights of Kali’s pagoda, and die a stainless virgin in the sacred stream. But I am strong—ay, strong above my sex; yet I am sorry for him, for I think he loves me well.”

Her reverie was here interrupted by Sukheena, who came rushing in with her breath in her breast. “They are coming, Radha! they are coming! Your bridegroom and Bejoy, the ghatak. They were at the door as I came in, and he will be here in a minute. Sit down, quick, upon this cushion, throw this veil over your head and face, let the light fall fuller upon you, and—there now, you are a bride for an emperor.”

“Peace, silly chatterer,” said Radha, calmly; “go and stand by the door, and when he comes in you will wait in the outer room.”

In another instant Krishna was in the anteroom, and Bejoy, the ghatak, having pointed out the zenana door, disappeared as fast as possible, for he felt serious misgivings that he was lending himself to a highly indecorous and “unprofessional” usage. Krishna paused a minute irresolutely, until beckoned by the waiting-woman to advance; the heavy curtain was held aside; he entered, and found himself standing alone in the presence of the woman he loved.

Although Krishna had for years longed for such an opportunity of declaring his passion, his courage failed him now that he was brought to the point. He glanced nervously at the shrouded figure, sitting motionless in the middle of the floor; he felt that two bright eyes were curiously fixed upon him from beneath the thin covering; he looked round about the room to see that they were quite alone; and he essayed to speak, but his mouth refused utterance. Where now were all the tender speeches, all the love-conceits, all the erotic verses, of which his mind had been pining to be delivered for a week past? Had his life depended upon the effort, he could not have recalled one of them at that moment; but somehow or other the melancholy remembrance of his unlucky wife, Chakwi, took the foremost hold upon his imagination.

“Radha!” he stammered at last, “my own love, I have come—that is, how happy I am to be permitted—I mean, can you pardon my intruding thus into your presence?”

But the veiled figure on the cushions never moved.

“O Radha!” he continued, approaching closer, “you cannot know how I have loved you all those long, weary years, how I have cherished you in my heart, how I have yearned for an opportunity of declaring my passion. My love has so long been hidden in the secret places of my heart, that I seem guilty to myself when I dare to publish it even to you. Will you not say something to me, beauteous; will you not tell me at least that you pardon my boldness?”

Slowly Radha put back the veil over her shoulders, and turned her face full upon her lover. “You love me, then,” she said; “you do love me?”

Krishna was dazzled and confused, as if a full flood of sunshine had suddenly been flashed into his eyes. “Love you?” he cried; “ah, if it depended upon my lips, you could never know how I adore you, for they tremble to be thought insincere. But it shall be the sole labour of my life to convince you how deep and unalterable is my devotion. I shall study to anticipate your slightest wish, serve you like a slave on bended knees, court you as fondly as an hour-old lover to the latest day of our wedded life, and shield you from every care that could cast a shade over that faultless face. ’Tis thus that I would prove my love; say, Radha, whether I may dare to hope?”

But Radha said nothing; she only smiled a cold, glassy smile, and turned her eyes inquiringly upon Krishna.

“Much as I adore you, I would never have dared to ask you for my wife,” resumed he, “had I not thought that your tender heart pitied my passion. You remember that night when you launched the love-tapers? It was then hope first dawned upon me. And when you flung me that garland”—here Radha’s eyes opened wider, but the movement was so slight as to be almost imperceptible—“when you flung me that garland, I felt, God help me! as if there was nothing in heaven or in earth that I would not sacrifice to win your favour. See, I have it yet; since it fell from your fair hand it has never for an hour been absent from mv bosom;” and Krishna drew forth from his breast the chaplet, withered and fast crumbling into decay.

“Chi, chi!” (fie, fie!) said Radha, taking the flowers from him, and throwing them aside; “but they are faded and crumpled like dry grass. You shall have other flowers.”

Not sorry, perhaps, to have an excuse for showing off her stately figure to the best advantage, Radha rose and crossed the room to a niche where a vase of freshly-gathered blossoms was standing. Selecting a half-blown rosebud, she turned round and handed it to Krishna. “There,” she said; “that is fresher, and will be more easily carried. Let it speak to you for me of my heart.”

Krishna pressed the flower rapturously to his lips. “I ask no more,” he said, gently stealing an arm round the maiden’s waist; “if pure affection, and a life’s devotion, can warm even a half-liking to the fulness of love, I shall not despair of one day winning your whole heart.”

He led Radha back to her seat, and placing himself by her side, he pressed her closely to his breast, and laid his cheek against hers, marvelling all the while at his own temerity. The blood was coursing wildly through his veins, his heart was like to burst from his bosom. Thoughts were shooting to and fro in his brain, defying all his efforts to express them; and his soul was drunk with the delirium of love. A soft cheek rested against his own, the perfume of her breath was wafted about his face, her locks brushed his neck, and his arm clasped her body in a tight embrace. Radha submitted to these demonstrations with well-bred passiveness, having first assured herself by a quick glance that her robe was decorously and becomingly arranged, and that her hair would not be disordered by Krishna’s embrace. But if the young man had laid his hand upon her heart, he would have found that organ beating with all the steadiness and regularity of a piece of mechanism.

However quickly the time flew by to Krishna, it would be tedious enough for us to follow the interview to its close, and to narrate how the poor youth poured out all the treasures of his affection before his haughty mistress. Now in spasmodic silence, now in a poetical burst of feeling, kissing at one time her red lips, at another her brown ringlets—he gave way to the pent-up passion of years; but his emotion excited no response from Radha. She submitted to his embraces with graceful coyness; she listened to his tender words with an air of dreamy pleasure: when he praised her beauty she drooped her eyes because she knew how exquisitely her lashes were pencilled; and she heaved a half-audible sigh as he repeated some of the ardent verses into which he had woven her name. But we will not dwell upon a scene so disagreeable—the old, old story of “a fool and a woman;” nor yet will we essay to render Krishna’s erotics into the English tongue. Let us rather say, with melancholy Jaques, “Nay, then, God be wi’ you, an you talk in blank verse.”

The sound of a slight tapping at length came from the outer apartment, and Sukheena was presently heard greeting Bejoy, the ghatak, in designedly loud tones. Krishna, printing a farewell kiss upon Radha’s cheek, sprang to his feet, and stood looking towards the door in blushing confusion, while Radha also arose, placid as a statue of Pallas, and went forward to the pardah (screen) that marked the commencement of the female apartments.

“The ghatak awaits you, Baboo,” said Sukheena, putting her head in, “and you must come forth directly.”

“Farewell, then, loveliest,” whispered Krishna; “and when next we meet, it will be not to part until death divide us. I go, but I leave my heart behind me. O Radha! if you would only tell me that I bear yours along with me.”

She looked up in his face with a quiet smile, and transfixed him with a glance of her bright eyes. Krishna again threw his arms around her, and pressed his lips to her until both had to draw their breaths. “Radha,” he said suddenly, looking her full in the face, “if aught were to befall you I should die. For your sake I would mount the pile and be suttee.”

“Nay, but you must not think such ill-omened thoughts,” she answered, with a little laugh; and withdrawing herself from his embrace, she salaamed gaily with her hand, and said, “Farewell, Krishna! farewell, my husband!”

It is unlikely that Krishna would have been able to refrain from again clasping her in his arms, had the impatient Sukheena not drawn aside the screen to allow him egress. He went out, not forgetting to slip a ten-rupee note into the hands of the attendant, and joined Bejoy, who was walking uneasily up and down in the corridor.

“Umph!” said the match-maker, taking a critical survey of his client from head to foot; “are you pleased with your bargain, now that you have seen her? I hope no ill will come of it, but it seems to me a sacrilegious way of making a marriage.”

“Peace, good Bejoy,” returned Krishna, as they descended the stairs; “and believe that I shall not forget how much my happiness is due to your kindly efforts. She is, indeed, all that you have said, and much more beautiful and loving than tongue can tell. The sooner you can hasten on the marriage now, the more grateful I shall be.”

“Oh, we shall soon get things ready, never fear,” returned Bejoy; “but you must keep back, Baboo, until I have seen that there are no spies about the village green to tom-tom tales of our visit over Dhupnagar. What a godsend it would be to the ghataks of Gapshapganj and Bhutpore if they should hear that I had connived at such an irregular practice! Why, there would not be a chokhra (boy) in the valley who would not think that he had. a right to make his own love. Why, as good to us allow our sons and daughters to make up their own matches altogether, after the scandalous Christian fashion! The valley would soon be a hotbed of iniquity at that rate.”

Going forth into the night, Bejoy cautiously reconnoitred the road between the house of Lahory and the temple gate, and satisfied that there were no idlers about, he silently beckoned to Krishna to follow him. Slipping a handsome gratuity into the match-maker’s hand—which Bejoy mentally vowed to spend in the service of religion, that no calamity might overtake him for his “unprofessional” conduct—Krishna went his own way across the green. But he could not then go into the house and sit down in the dreary quietness of his own room. He must relieve his excitement by exercise in the cool night air, and walk away the impatient longings that racked his heart. So when Bejoy was out of sight, he turned and dashed down the road towards the river, never pausing until he had reached the Gungaputra. He then leaned himself against a broken pillar of the ruined bathing-place, and tried to collect his thoughts.

Down by the Gungaputra everything was still as the grave. The dark flood rolled past as silently as if its waters had been muffled, and hardly emitted a gurgle as the tide welled up and down by the edge of the bank. Far up the river a corpse-fire was burning low and fitfully, but sometimes starting up into a blaze and casting a sullen flush athwart the stream, as fresh fuel was added to the pyre. There was not a soul to be seen or heard, not even a mad devotee squatting about the bathing-ghat, and measuring the night-watches by his prayers. Krishna sat down on a step, and leaned his throbbing head upon his hands.

“So good, and so pure, and so loving,” murmured he; “even her beauty pales before the sweetness of her manners and the tenderness of her heart. What a fool she must have thought me to rant and rave like a man in the bazaar, vowing his heart to the fishwoman his neighbour; and to spout my fustian poetry to one whose soul is the very essence of poetry itself! And yet how gently, how patiently she bore with my tediousness! She is like the moon-gem, which absorbs all the passionate heat of the god15 of night, and returns it in dew, pure and cool as a drop of the Ganges when it trickles from the fountains of everlasting night. How well coldness becomes her, shadowing forth as it does her innate purity! and yet I had not cared though she had shown more warmth in returning my caresses. Fool that I am! I would have every one to love me with such a dog’s love as that of poor Chakwi. Poor Chakwi! I must get the matter broken to her as soon as possible; I wonder how she will bear it? But Chakwi has one of those shallow superficial natures that cannot retain deep feeling; a good cry in her own room and she will soon find something else to comfort herself with. Yes, Chakwi is the only alloy in my cup of happiness. Ay, but I am forgetting; there are those meddlesome, sophistical speculators in Calcutta who will abuse me as a murderer, and worse, because I have seen the error of my ways. Well, let them say what they like. I am not the first man that has changed his opinions and rechanged them again. It matters nothing to me though the ‘Cossitollah Reflector’ should write me down by the column; its sneers will not take a pice from my pocket, nor will any one in the valley think less of me because I have had courage enough to recant my boyish errors. Yes, I have done all with an honest purpose, and my conscience is clear; but yet I wish that hybrid Hindoo, who calls himself Mr Roy, would not dog my steps. A mind like his is incapable of estimating the motives that have actuated my conduct, far less of sympathising with the difficult position in which I have been placed. Adorable Radha! how slowly the minutes will glide by until we are united! and then what bliss! such bliss as I fear to imagine, lest the jealousy of the gods should be stirred up at seeing a mortal so happy.”

In this fashion Krishna mused far into the night, until the corpse-fire flickered and went out, and the cold stars came forth and lit up the black bosom of the Gungaputra with their feeble reflections.

Chapter XXVII

The Deceitfulness of Riches

When the legitimate nine days—to which three days of grace must be added in the case of Bengalee gossips—had run their course, the betrothal of Krishna and Radha ceased to command the exclusive attention of the Dhupnagar villagers, although the coming marriage came in very handily to fill up a gap in conversation. As yet the best authorities could not say with certainty when the ceremony would take place; but it was obvious to all that a wedding upon so large a scale as Kristo proposed to hold, could not be prepared in a day’s time. Gangooly professed himself to be in a position to state that all obstacles to the union had been finally removed, that Kristo and Ramanath were at one in everything, and that Radha was as fond as Krishna was fain. Prosunno, the lawyer, had dropped several broad hints that Kristo might well be satisfied with the match, since it would not cost him so much as a pice; but this, as the headman said, need not be believed as implicitly as the Vishnu Purana; for since Prosunno had won the great case of Kristo Dass Lahory v. Gopal Ryot for his clients, there had been little goodwill between the Baboo and the pleader; and, indeed, Tukht Singh, the Baboo’s lattial (club-man) had been seen in the bazaar with a heavy bludgeon making anxious inquiries regarding the lawyer’s whereabouts. Prosunno wished nothing better, he said, than so sufficient a cause of action against the Baboo; but reflection had probably suggested the difficulty of recovering damages from so penniless a person, and Prosunno had for some time past kept himself well indoors. The community, meanwhile, suffered little from the loss of his society, and Gangooly, the headman, had made a great joke about paying Tukht Singh, at the village expense, to patrol the lane opposite the pleader’s door. Of course everybody laughed heartily at the headman’s wit as long as he was present, and so soon as his back was turned began to quote scripture regarding the ultimate destiny of those who allowed themselves to rejoice in the misfortunes of others.

About this time, too, the villagers were greatly exercised by the ongoings of the Ghatghar Rajah. Shama Churn, the grain-dealer, whose wife’s cousin’s husband was the favourite orderly of Eversley Sahib Bahadoor, had heard that the Rajah was two collections behind with his land revenue, and that Eversley Sahib had sworn over the “Bengal Regulations”—an oath which no Englishman ever ventured to break—that if all arrears were not paid up before the early rains, the estate would be put up to auction in the Bhutpore cutcherry. The headman, who felt rather jealous of any official information that came through a channel other than himself, gravely rebuked Shama Churn for his trustlessness, and exhorted the grain-seller to take a pattern from him, Gangooly, who had known all about the matter for the last three months, but had never mentioned it to mortal man until that moment. But for all his difficulties, his Highness had not abated his extravagance a whit. Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, had been credibly informed that two young damsels of surpassing loveliness from the cold country of Kashmere had just been added to the Ghatghar domestic circle; and Brijo, his son, volunteered the information that one day on the Ghatghar road a half-opened palanquin had passed him, and that he had seen a little hand close the curtains; a hand smaller and whiter than any maiden’s hand in the valley. Against this as a fact the headman had nothing to say, but he seriously cautioned Brijo that his feet had better touch fire than his eyes rest upon female charms that did not belong to him; and solemnly predicted that the young man would bring his father to shame if he did not soon abandon his licentious habits. To this Brijo, who was really a well-behaved youth, would have returned an angry retort; but the other seniors, who felt that their own dignity was concerned in the maintenance of authority, and the suppression of youthful presumption, took Gangooly’s part. And the conference was closed by a solemn admonition from the headman to avoid all tattling and tale-bearing, and more especially to restrain their tongues from interfering in the affairs of their betters.

Gangooly’s reputation as a source of information would have been seriously endangered about this time but for the opportune marriage of his son Gopal. The sealed packet had been placed in Three Shells’ hands, and the loan duly advanced. Moreover, Jotee Lall of Gapshapganj had accepted the bullocks as a pledge, and Bullal Sen, the Bhutpore usurer, had advanced fully half the probable value of next year’s crops; so that the headman had the wherewithal to marry his son in a style calculated to enhance the family dignity. And that the wedding was a great success, even Prosunno the lawyer, and Protap the accountant, who were not invited, could not deny. The whole street of Dhupnagar was lighted with cressets from one end to the other; ten men with silver staves preceded the bridegroom’s litter; three elephants, and the broken-winded camel of Peeroo, the potter, followed in the procession; and the train of guests and torch-bearers was nearly a quarter of a mile in length. The most censorious could not shut their eyes to that procession, and say that Gangooly had failed in his duty to his family. That the marriage-feast was worthy of the procession, the death of one mendicant Brahmin from repletion, and the serious illness of two others from the same cause, were sufficient proofs. Then Gangooly had been treated with great consideration by the village magnates. Ramanath and his son had both sent presents to the bridegroom, as well as polite excuses for their not being present; and Kristo Baboo had redeemed his promise of looking in to see the nâtch (dancing), upon condition that he was not to be asked to eat or smoke with any of the guests. As Three Shells had so much to do with providing the entertainment, Gangooly felt that he could not well be left out; and the money-lender attended duly, and did ample justice to the feast, although his presence there had been like to turn the stomach of not a few Brahmins who could not bring themselves to believe in his claims to caste. But there were not many of Gangooly’s guests that could afford to quarrel with Three Shells about a mouthful or two of rice or the whiff of a hookha.

Kristo Baboo was none the less ready to honour Gangooly’s house with his presence because he knew that the money-lender was among the invited. Although the time was at hand when the Baboo must disburse money for the bridal preparations, Three Shells had not yet put him in possession of the promised loan. Kristo had several times sent urgent requests for the money, but either Three Shells had been from home, or the mahajan prayed the Baboo’s patience until a reference upon the subject could be made to his honoured correspondent, Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar in Calcutta; until Kristo could not help feeling that he was being put off for some purpose or another. After the daring familiarities with which the money-lender had lately treated him, Kristo felt that he could not undergo another private interview; but the presence of a public assembly would surely, he thought, restrain Three Shells’ impertinences within proper bounds. So Kristo went to Gopal’s bridal late at night, when the feasting was over, and the dancing was begun, fully as much for the purpose of having a quiet talk with Three Shells as of paying respect to the headman’s family.

Three Shells stood silently by until Kristo had been installed in the seat of honour, and while the more respectable guests were crowding round to compliment the great man; but though he was apparently absorbed in watching the dancing-girls, the money-lender’s little eyes did not fail to catch the anxious glances which Kristo constantly threw in his direction. At length, when a burst of applause saluted a more than ordinary lascivious attitude into which Nathi, the Rajah of Ghatghar’s favourite dancer, had thrown herself, and all pressed anxiously forward to look on, Three Shells seized the opportunity to glide quietly up to the Baboo’s seat.

“Ah, who could have expected to see your honour here?” he said, with a fawning air, as he bent almost to the ground in saluting the Baboo. “I have been looking all around for some place in which to hide my black face from your presence.”

“It is not needful, worthy Three Shells,” responded Kristo, condescendingly; “I am always well pleased to meet you. I had heard of your noble gift to the temple, and I hope the gods will return it to you an hundred-fold. Dhupnagar ought to be proud of so liberal a resident.”

“Nay, it is you who are holy; I am but a poor vile wretch, to whom it is even too much honour that my gift should find a refuge in the Linga’s temple,” snuffled Three Shells. “But can your honour pardon me for not having waited upon you before this time?”

“Hem!” said Kristo, as he looked suspiciously towards the long ears of Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, the rigid inclination of which towards the speakers was hardly in keeping with the affected direction of the pundit’s eyes. “I daresay you could not conveniently—give—come sooner.”

“The reason was,” said Three Shells, sinking his voice, “that my correspondent, Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar, had never given me an answer about the money, and until I heard from him it was impossible for me to do anything. What sayeth the Panchatantra? ‘That which is possible may be done, but that which is impracticable can never be accomplished.’ So as I could not give you money of my own, I had even to take the time from another.”

“Of course, of course,” returned Kristo, in a half-whisper; “but you see, Three Shells, I must have the money at once. Would it oil the wheels if I were to send a message from myself to this Banksi Lall, and promise him a handsome bakshish for the obligement?”

“No need, Baboo,” answered Three Shells, hastily; “he has this day sent me his kind permission to accommodate you. Besides, Banksi Lall will never do business with any one himself. He is a strange character, but so rich and so liberal. I have known him lend lakhs of rupees at not a pice more than ten per cent. Ah, a most generous person.”

“And he will let me have the money upon a three months’ note?” said Kristo.

“He said not so,” replied Three Shells, drily; “but you may have it as a loan at twenty per cent, repayable upon demand. And really I could not have made a better bargain for you. The interest of money is as a king’s ransom just now.”

“Well, if I must, I must; but you will have to stand between me and this Banksi Lall if he wants his money before my daughter’s marriage can take place,” said Kristo; “and you will let me have the cash to-morrow, will you?”

“Certainly, Baboo,” responded the money-lender. “I will bring you the money and the papers about sundown. Ah, I cannot tell you how happy I have been since I heard of this marriage. If so great an honour could be permitted to one so lowly as myself, I should like to offer a small present to the bride—a poor string of Lanka (Ceylon) pearls—a mere trifle, but offered by one that wishes her utmost happiness.”

“Nay, nay, Three Shells,” interrupted Kristo; “my daughter receives no presents but from her future husband. Keep the pearls; or, better far, find out some other woman to give them to. Why, a man with your wealth might marry into the best families of the valley. I only wish I had another daughter to bestow on you.”

“Why jest with me thus?” said Three Shells, with affected meekness; “you know that you are to me as a king to a beggar. It is only your great goodness that has emboldened me to lift up my eyes in your presence. And the poor mahajan is grateful, sincerely grateful,” and to prove his gratitude the money-lender stretched out his hand to pat the Baboo on the shoulder.

“Hush!” said Kristo, avoiding the contact; “see how that old crow of a schoolmaster is watching us, like a cobra listening to a piper! Peace be with you Three Shells, and forget not the morrow.”

And summoning Gangooly to his side, the Baboo intimated his intention of departing, and quitted the house amid the reverences of the wedding guests. Three Shells, among others, attended him to the door, salaaming almost to the ground; and the money-lender did not return to the headman’s entertainment.

“Kristo shall escort me to the door with tenfold more ceremony, and that before long, too,” chuckled the mahajan to himself, as he made his way home through the lighted streets. “Look at him there with a band of torch-bearers and lackeys sufficient to light home the Deputy of a province, while poor Three Shells is left to make his way with the aid of his two eyes. I shall treat Kristo with all reasonable kindness when he is my father-in-law, but he is not going to squander my money to feed his beggarly pride. I hope I shall find Panchoo and his comrade sober, for I shall have a stiff job to drill them for their work to-morrow night. It is the most ticklish business they have undertaken yet; but there can’t be much danger—these blessed Sonthalis are well able to bear the blame.”

Next day Three Shells waited upon the Baboo and told down ten thousand rupees in good silver, fresh from the Calcutta mint, deducting two thousand on account of interest. Against this diminution Kristo pleaded so pitifully, that Three Shells was moved to remit the money, promising to stand between Kristo and Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar, provided the Baboo granted him a three months’ bill for three thousand rupees. To this demand Kristo had no alternative but to consent, and the documents were duly signed and made over to the mahajan. It was in vain that Kristo prayed the mahajan to put a term to his bond to Banksi Lall. Obliging as he professed himself to be whenever his own interest was concerned, Three Shells became as hard as flint when Banksi Ball’s affairs came in question. So Kristo was obliged to put his name upon the paper which rendered him liable to pay a thousand pounds sterling upon presentation.

“It is a relief to me to get these rupees out of my hands,” said Three Shells, as Kristo drew the money towards him; “for a lone man like me is not safe with such sums about my house, while so many robbers are plundering the country. I heard from a pilgrim the other day that the Sonthal dakaits (robbers) have again been seen below the passes.”

“Let them come,” said Kristo, as he gathered up the last coins into a bag, “they shan’t take a pice of my money. I wish I could say as much of the tax-gatherers and gentlemen of your profession; they are the worst dakaits I fall in with. Look here,” he added, as he opened a rickety safe, built into the wall of his sitting-room, “it would take a clever thief to steal anything from under a neat English Burma (Brahma) lock like this;” and Kristo, by dint of main strength, slid a jingling bolt backwards and forwards. “I bought this safe in Calcutta twenty years ago; the only pity is that I have had so little use for it.”

“But suppose you were to lose the key,” said Three Shells, as the Baboo locked the safe, “what would you do?”

“Why, what would it matter?” cried Kristo; “I lost the key before, and got Karma, the blacksmith, to make me another. I caused him to prepare three or four while he was about the job, and can get one of them at any time.”

“Indeed!” said Three Shells, quietly; “I did not know Karma had been so handy. I shall employ him to mend some old locks of my own.”

Three Shells soon after took his leave, and was dismissed with little consideration; for now that Kristo had the money, his native arrogance rose again to the offensive pitch. But Three Shells was at that moment so elated, that he did not feel the Baboo’s uncourteousness.

“Holy mother Kali,” said he to himself, “how everything is working into my hands! That descendant of jackasses has removed the only difficulty that stood in my way. I shall give a hundred rupees in silver to the temple of Kali at Bhutpore the first time I enter that town, else may the goddess lay her hand heavily upon me.” In the course of that afternoon, Three Shells, mindful of Kristo’s recommendation of the blacksmith, sent for Karma, and ordered the artisan to bring a number of keys with him that he might fit the lock of a cash-box whose key had gone amissing. Karma came, bringing with him among others the keys made for Kristo, which the blacksmith pointed out with no little pride. Three Shells handled them for a few minutes while Karma was selecting one for the cash-box, praised the man’s skill in his craft, handed them back to him again, and paid him for the key and for his trouble in fitting it. Having done so much business the money-lender was naturally tired, and telling his misshapen clerk that he did not wish to be disturbed more that afternoon, retired to his own apartment, and was heard of the quick-eared Gopul hammering away at the secret places where he kept his money; at least so that sharp-witted lad conjectured the noise to indicate. And in the evening he sent a message to Gangooly, the village headman, to come and talk with him; and although the business related to the merest trifle—the renewing of an old bond which could have been effected in five minutes—Three Shells detained the headman with his talk until morning had begun to lighten in the east. Gangooly would fain have gone home to bed, for he had not yet recovered the fatigue of his son’s marriage, but Three Shells was so jocular and pleasant, and pressed him so much to stay, that the headman could not civilly get away. The sun was already up when Gangooly at length got free from the mahajan’s dwelling.

Having counted his money again for safety’s sake, Kristo Baboo thought fit in the cool of the evening to pay his devotions to the Linga of Dhupnagar. He now began to feel a feverish anxiety lest something should come to interfere with the marriage project, and he himself should be left to the mercy of Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar, of whom he felt an ominous dread, in spite of the mahajan’s encomiums. So he went across to the temple under pretence of paying his devotions to the idol, but in reality to have a talk with Ramanath, and to urge that an early day should be fixed for the wedding. He found Ramanath as anxious for haste as himself. The good priest felt that he would have no security until his son was once more fairly linked to Hindooism by means of an orthodox marriage. That “clothed monkey” from Calcutta, as Ramanath designated Mr Romesh Chunder Roy, was still hovering about the place, and if he should succeed in getting the ear of Krishna, there was no saying what mischief he might make. So both the parents resolved that the marriage should take place on the day of the coming month that Bejoy the ghatak should select as the most propitious; for, as they both knew quite well, no wife was ever faithful to vows pledged in the month of Cheth (March), and they would have to wait for other nine months before they found a season so lucky for matrimony as Phalgun (February).

“And what about the first wife? How does she take with the marriage?” asked Kristo, as the priest passed the hookha to him, while they sat together under the temple-porch in the twilight.

“Alas, poor thing!” said Ramanath, hanging his head, “I fear it is biting deeply into her poor heart. When I told her—and I would have gladly given a hundred rupees to have been spared the duty—the poor child bore up right bravely and said, although she was like to choke upon the words, that whatever would make her husband happy would make her happy also; but her eyes have been red with tears ever since, and her cheeks are hollow and sunken. Ah, neighbour! your daughter may be a peerless beauty, as every one says she is, but she cannot have a kinder heart than my poor Chakwi.”

“I daresay not,” said Kristo, carelessly; “but it is strange how some women will take on. I don’t think my wife would have cared a plaintain-paring though I had brought other twenty women into the house. However, I hope the girls will agree together and be pleasant, for Krishna’s sake. If they don’t, he should beat both; it is always the best plan in such cases.”

Ramanath sighed, but said nothing, and the hour of evening worship shortly afterwards broke up the conference. Kristo returned, ate a hearty supper, smoked steadily for two hours, and then went to bed with an easier mind than he had known for many a day. But considering the state of his stomach, the reader will not be surprised to hear that his sleep was haunted by visions of Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar in the shape of an English padre (missionary), who gave Kristo the choice of three evils—either to give Banksi his daughter in marriage, repay him the ten thousand rupees, or take a draught from a brandy-bottle which Banksi produced from the tail-pockets of his coat. Failing to induce Kristo to accept any of these propositions, Banksi had squatted himself upon the Baboo’s breast and was endeavouring to force a piece of beefsteak down his throat, when Kristo was wakened by the sound of his own outcries. It took some time to convince him that it was broad daylight, and that the relish of unclean meat in his mouth was mere imagination.

When he had bathed and breakfasted, Kristo resolved to begin work in earnest. He would set about the marriage preparations that very day, and first and foremost he would go into the bazaar and bargain with Ram Lall about the oil for the illuminations. Since the Dipty had been disappointed in his suit, the old man would drive a hard bargain, Kristo did not doubt; and he would have to pay the small account which the oilman had standing against him. So Kristo went away to the safe to take out a handful of rupees, and with some trouble opened the Brahma lock. As the door fell back, the Baboo started, shaded his eyes with his hands, stood for a few minutes staring stupidly before him, and then fell over with a heavy thud on the floor. The safe was perfectly empty.

Chapter XXVIII

Post Equitem Atra Cura

A few days after the disappearance of Kristo’s money, an express from Mr Eversley, the magistrate of the Gungaputra district, came trotting up to the gate of Walesbyganj, where Agha was sitting basking in the evening sunshine, and delivered to the Khyberee a letter for the Subadar. Agha opened his eyes wide with surprise, asked the messenger what the note was about, and on the man protesting his utter ignorance of its import, slowly sought his master’s presence. Somehow the trooper felt a presentiment that mischief was brewing for Afzul, and he would gladly have taken counsel with him before submitting the letter to the Subadar; but Afzul had business of his own on hand that evening, having followed Sukheena down to the river-bank in the hope of overcoming her scruples about making an assignation for him with her mistress. So there was nothing left for Agha but to carry in the letter to Shamsuddeen, which he accordingly did, after he had curiously scanned the outside of the envelope, had held it up between him and the light, and had weighed it carefully upon the tips of his fingers, but all without being able to form any idea of the contents.

Shamsuddeen was sitting in his own room when the trooper entered, endeavouring, spectacles on nose, to spell his way through an illuminated copy of Mir Ismail’s “Futteh-ul-Sham,” a chronicle of the early conquests made by the Faithful in Syria. The apartment was furnished in strict accordance with Shamsuddeen’s tastes. Vases of freshly-culled flowers stood in every niche and in every corner, contrasting oddly enough with the cavalry trappings and articles of armour that adorned the walls. Unlike most rooms in native houses, there was a fireplace with an English grate; the mantelpiece being composed of a black slab of polished stone from some ruined Mussulman mosque, bearing a holy text from the Koran upon its front, and supported by two pillars of indisputably Hindoo workmanship, the wreck of some idolatrous shrine. Above the fireplace hung a water-colour drawing of the late Colonel Walesby, who was depicted as sitting upon horseback, and pointing with his sword to the watchfires of an Afghan encampment burning luridly in the background. For this work of art, the chef d’œuvre of Lieutenant Lymner Sahib, the same who was shot on the Pultunpore parade-ground in the Mutiny year, Shamsuddeen felt a reverence which was almost idolatrous, and which no comments upon the imperfect perspective, the preternatural length of the charger’s body, or obliquity which the artist had bestowed upon the commandant’s eyesight, could in the least diminish. Among other mementos of his military career were the silver-mounted pistols presented to him by Sir George Blitzen Sahib, as an acknowledgment of Shamsuddeen’s having rescued his Excellency’s valet from a band of the enemy’s troopers on the field of Sobraon—it was said that Sir George would rather have lost the Adjutant-general than M. Capille; the saddle that had borne him through Maharajpore, with the holsters ragged from Rajpoot bullets; the stall-collar of his favourite charger, Akbar, whose leg was broken at Agra through the carelessness of a vile son of a burnt Hindoo father—the mention of this was one of the few occasions on which Shamsuddeen departed from his usual propriety of speech; and some score of sabres, pistols, spears, and shields which he had either worn or won in the course of his long campaigning. When Agha entered, the Subadar set down his book with a sigh of relief, although he affected to mark his place by inserting his spectacles within the volume.

“Well, Agha,” said he, returning the Khyberee’s stiff, military salute, “what brings you here? All well in the garrison?”

“A khureeta (communication) from the Magistrate Sahib Bahadoor, brought by an express messenger. Shall I read it for you, Subadar Sahib?”

Shamsuddeen, in his listless moods, not infrequently made use of the Khyberee as his secretary; for to please the Subadar, Agha had made considerable progress in reading and writing while with the regiment.

“The Magistrate Sahib Eversley—may he live for a thousand years!” said Shamsuddeen, briskening up with astonishment, and taking out his spectacles from the “Conquest of Syria.” “Nay, but I will read his letter myself. The writing of so honourable a gentleman should be as pleasant to read as a General Order.”

Agha handed his master the letter, and the old man took it tenderly in his hand, and turned it curiously over and over before he broke open the seal. Shamsuddeen had not many correspondents among the Sahib log (Englishmen), and the receipt of an epistle from a man in Mr Eversley’s station was an event of no little importance in his quiet life. At length he tore up the envelope and read the letter slowly over. It was written in Hindoostani, a language which Mr Eversley could construe with more elegance and grammar than his mother English; and after the usual compliments, ran somewhat as follows: “Evil accounts of your son have caused us much concern. For some time we have learned that he has been consorting with drunkards and dicers, and frequenting the company of loose and lewd females. We grieved to hear such words of his father’s son; but we had hoped that your good example, and his own better judgment, would wean him from wickedness. But we are now informed that he has entered upon a criminal career, which must soon end in his own ruin, and in disgrace to all connected with him. We cannot say how soon it may be our duty to interfere, but we would fain talk with you about him, as one friend with another. You are therefore entreated, for your son’s sake, to come to our presence as soon as you conveniently can. Receive our wishes for your welfare, and know our goodwill towards you and your family,” &c.

Shamsuddeen read the letter twice over before he looked up, but his face betrayed no sign of the emotion which its contents excited. He had long weakly allowed himself to be overcome by trifles, but when a serious calamity confronted him he stood up to it as bravely as ever he had faced Afghan or Sikh in the days of his prime. He paused for a few minutes after he had mastered the Magistrate’s letter, that he might strengthen himself for the coming trial.

“Order Sultan to be saddled immediately,” said the old man, in a low commanding voice; “and bid a bearer get me my newest uniform. Make ready your own horse, for you will ride with me.”

“But, Subadar Sahib,” cried Agha, looking the picture of utter amazement, “what can be the matter? And I don’t believe the devil himself would sit that Sultan horse just now.”

“Silence, fellow! and do my bidding. Are my orders to be criticised by a dog like you? Another word, and salt of mine never crosses your lips again.”

Agha shrugged his shoulders, saluted, and left the room without another word. He saw that it was not the old pensioner, but Shamsuddeen Khan, the Subadar of Walesby’s Horse, that he had to do with now, and that it would be dangerous to bandy words with him in his present humour.

“Where, in Eblis’ name, is the Child?” snarled Agha to himself; “away upon some raking ramble, I warrant ye! I’m sure this uproar has something to do with him, for nothing else would have thus sent the Subadar to the saddle.”

So ordering out the horses, Agha went and put on his faded old uniform, with its rusting buttons and ragged facings; and hardly had he finished his toilet when his master came out from the house. Agha looked in wonder at the old man, as he walked forth erect as an arrow, his long cavalry sabre in his hand, and looking as stout and determined as he had done that night when Walesby’s Horse was like to mutiny at Pultunpore, and he had pistoled the ringleader with his own hand. Agha had meant to remonstrate with his master for venturing upon a rough, mouthless, vicious brute like Sultan; but the words died away as he noticed the cast of his master’s countenance.

“He’d back a devil from the lowest depths of hell, when he has got that look on his face,” inwardly ejaculated the trooper; “so look to yourself, Sultan Sahib.”

The Subadar soon showed the justice of Agha’s observation. Hardly had Sultan begun to kick and plunge, and to arch his back for “bucking,” than Shamsuddeen buried his spurs in the brute’s sides, while at the same time he pulled the horse back with such a firm jerk as to nearly throw him upon his haunches. Long before the riders had passed the bazaar of Dhupnagar, Sultan had come to a perfect understanding of the mutual conditions upon which the rest of the journey was to be performed, and he thenceforth honourably refrained from exhibiting any personal bias in the matter. As Agha had guessed, the Subadar followed the Bhutpore road; and so unsparingly did he apply the spur to Sultan, that in a couple of hours the two pulled up before the large villa-like mansion that served as an official residence for the Magistrate of the Gungaputra district.

Mr Eversley was sitting at his solitary dinner in no very equable frame of mind. The magistrate was a consistent bachelor. When a young writer, serving as deputy-assistant secretary in the Toshakhana office, Eversley had been much smitten by the graceful figure and daring horsewomanship of Miss Josephine Killigrew, daughter of the eminent house of M‘Wallop, Killigrew, & Flynn, in Clive Street, and had even accompanied that young lady to three successive meetings of the Calcutta Hunt in the capacity of an accepted lover. But when Sir Dander Byles, the puisne justice of the High Court, proposed to Mr Killigrew for his daughter’s hand—he had marked the maiden among other aristocratic belles in his court during the trial of the famous crim. con. case of Horner v. O’Toole, a major in the king’s service—the filial Miss Josephine artfully put herself in the hands of her parent, and the young civilian received an unceremonious jawab (dismissal). In time Eversley had got the better of his love-fever, his recovery being greatly aided by the dowdy and woe-begone appearance of Lady Byles on the return of the happy pair from their honeymoon at Madras; and he had ever since maintained a good-natured cynicism on the subject of the sex, and had repudiated all efforts to entrap him into matrimony. A copy of the ‘Bengal Peon’ divided the magistrate’s attention with the microscopic preparation which on Indian tables does duty for a leg of mutton; and it was difficult to say whether the flesh or the newspaper was harder to digest. The editor had taken for his subject the repression of crime among the rural population; and much disagreeable emphasis was laid upon the fact that the percentage of undiscovered thefts had risen from 11.5 to 13.9 in the Gungaputra district during the last official year, while in the Lallkor district for the same period only 7.43 per cent of the robberies reported had baffled the police.

“Comment upon the above,” said the editor, “would be superfluous. It is as useless to seek far-fetched excuses for the alarming increase of undetected crime in the Gungaputra district as it is to deny that the marked success of the Lallkor police is due to the energetic superintendence of the local magistrate. We have every respect for Mr Eversley. We honour him as the high-minded representative of the class that laid the foundations of our Eastern empire—the valiant but illiterate followers of Clive—the vigorous but high-handed disciples of Wellesley and Hastings. Peace be with them! they did in their day. A new and better régime has dawned upon India. Strength and Force are no longer the ministers of an usurping Zeus, to bind Philanthropy in adamantine chains; but swift-winged Themis and Dike execute the behests of a paternal Jove among a free and intelligent race of subjects. If Mr Eversley cannot accommodate himself to the methods of modern administration, why should he stop the way? The Government can never allow so important a district as the Gungaputra to become a hotbed of crime, because the magistrate happens to be an amiable and inoffensive person. But we would fain hope for better things from Mr Eversley even at the eleventh hour. The oldest of us may often learn wisdom from a younger head; and if Mr Eversley would cast his eyes across the frontier of his own district he will not have far to look for a pattern. It is a high standard of excellence that we have set before the magistrate of the Gungaputra district, but let him not be discouraged; we cannot all be Muffington Prigs, but we may all strive to follow at some distance in the footsteps of that excellent administrator, that most energetic of district officers.”

“Cursed, impertinent, backbiting, toadying soor (pig),” commented Eversley, as he pushed the mutton savagely away. “It is that blackguard Muff. Prig himself, beyond doubt; there is no other body would say so much good of him. No, stay—it is Butterby of the Envelope Office. I know his style well enough, with these cursed classical allusions and lines out of the Latin grammar. He has got a zidd (spite) against me because I did not send him the return he asked for about the number of punkah-wallahs who had been vaccinated in the district for the last twenty years. He wanted the figures for one of his damned books. Muffington Prig indeed! If we were all to follow in his footsteps, there wouldn’t be the ghost of an Englishman on this side of Suez in less than twelve months’ time! Qui hye? Take away this cursed cast-iron mutton, and bring me something that mortal chops can masticate!”

At this juncture the khansamah, meekly folding his hands, whispered in his master’s ear that the Subadar Sahib from Dhupnagar was without. Rising instantly from the table, the magistrate went out and gave Shamsuddeen a hearty greeting, assisting him to alight, and taking his arm inside—for, bigot as Eversley was to the “dam nigger” doctrine of Anglo-Indianism, he never withheld respect where it was due; and when he met with a native of honour and worth like Shamsuddeen, the magistrate paid him double deference to make up for his poor opinion of orientals in general. So they went inside, and Agha was left to see their horses put up in the magistrate’s stables; and when this duty was discharged he went and sat down in a quiet corner of the verandah, scorning to mingle with menial Mussulmans; while the magistrate’s servants were, on their part, too proud of their master’s dignity to force their society on one who rode so high a horse without stirrups.

The magistrate led the Subadar inside, and seated him in an easy-chair with many polite proffers of refreshment, all of which the old man declined. Then ensued an awkward pause, which the Subadar at last broke by respectfully thanking the magistrate for the consideration which had prompted his kind letter, and begging to be told the worst of his son’s misconduct. Eversley was but a bad hand at condolence, and he bluntly told the Subadar all the evil reports that had reached him of Afzul’s conduct, and how suspicion of the robberies had been attached to the young man. He had been very unwilling to believe any such thing of Afzul, whom he knew to be a brave and spirited youth, the magistrate said; but evidence had of late been laid before him which it was impossible to ignore. It was clear that the robberies were perpetrated by some one in Dhupnagar, and Afzul was known to be often abroad in the night-time. Besides, a case had been reported that same day which gave the charge a very black complexion. A large sum of money had been stolen from a person in Dhupnagar, and Afzul had been seen loitering about the man’s house on the night of the theft. The magistrate earnestly hoped that there might be some mistake, and that Afzul’s innocence would be clearly established; but in the meantime he would be compelled to have the matter investigated. So he had thought it best to consult the Subadar upon the subject, knowing that he would not screen even his son from justice, and thinking that if the youth were really innocent, his father would be the counsellor most likely to aid him in showing it.

Shamsuddeen rose and made a low salaam before the magistrate. “Sahib,” he said, “you are more to me than my father and mother. I am not a talker, but may Allah forget me in the day of separation if ever I forget your goodness! Afzul is my only son, but he shall pay the penalty of his fault. Only in this hear me: the Government has given me lands and wealth,—all these will I render back again if it will grant my prayer that my son shall die by the bullet like a soldier, and not by the cord like a pariah cur.”

“No, no, my good old friend,” cried Eversley, “there is nothing so serious. His life is in no danger; even if the worst that we suspect be true, he is only liable to a term of transportation. Now, what I want you to do is this: keep the lad in strict confinement until I come to Dhupnagar, which will be in the course of the next week, and then I can investigate the charge with less noise than in my own court. Of course, if I were to keep close by the regular procedure, I should have him arrested at once; but I know that if you undertake to produce him, he is as safe as if he were in Bhutpore Jail, with the handcuffs on, at this very moment.”

“Ay, Sahib, never fear; I will produce him alive or dead when the proper time comes. I swear it to you by the holy tombs of the martyred at Kerbela,” said Shamsuddeen, slowly and with preternatural calmness.

“Enough said,” replied the magistrate; “and really I hope something will turn up to explain this mysterious matter. I cannot think Afzul would stoop to so base a trade as thieving. Foolish he may have been, but no thief ever went up so straight to a tiger as I have seen him do in the jungles of Panch Pahar.”

“Alas, Sahib!” said Shamsuddeen, with a sad smile, “there is no saying what the best soldiers will come to when wine and women get between them and their wits. As the Sent of God—the peace of Allah be upon him, and rest!—truly said, ‘He that soweth evil shall reap repentance. Do evil and obtain good? Ah, that would be to gather grapes off thorns.’”

“Well, well, but I hope it will all come right yet,” said Eversley, doubtfully. “You may depend upon my leaving no stone unturned to get at the truth. And then—then I will do justice.”

“I know you will, Sahib,” said the Subadar, with a sigh, “and I will do my duty. I never scrupled to risk my own life when the Government required it, and I shall not spare my son. As I swore, so shall I place Afzul in your hands, dead or alive.”

The Subadar soon after took his leave, respectfully declining all the magistrate’s invitations to stay all night and to take food; and Eversley would have courteously assisted the old man to mount had Shamsuddeen permitted him. The poor old father rode slowly home, his head hanging down on his breast, and his eyes so full of moisture that he hardly saw the way before him. Agha, seeing him so depressed, thought that perchance he might venture to lead him into conversation and worm out of him the cause of their night-ride. With this object in view, he pricked up his horse and feigned that he could not keep in the animal until he was well abreast of the Subadar; but a stern “Fall back, fellow!” made him speedily pull up and retire to the rear. It was long after midnight when they reached Dhupnagar, and the bazaar was deserted by aught save a few snuffing dogs and prowling jackals that were snouting about for a scanty meal.

“Is my son within, Jeswunt?” demanded the Subadar of his head Hindoo domestic, as he dismounted and endeavoured to straighten his numbed and tottering legs after the long ride.

“Nay, my lord,” replied Jeswunt; “he went out about two hours ago, and has not yet returned.”

“Agha,” said Shamsuddeen, turning round and pointing with his sabre to the trooper, “stand forward.”

“Yes, Subadar Sahib,” responded the Khyberee, coming briskly forward with a military salute.

“’Tenshun!” The trooper instantly drew himself stiffly up in the required attitude. “You will arrest my son immediately he returns; put him in irons, confine him in the old zenana, and mount guard upon the door with loaded carbine, until you are relieved.”

“Yes, Subadar Sahib,” replied the Khyberee, saluting.

“And hold no communication of any sort with the prisoner, remember.”

“No, Subadar Sahib; “and Agha saluted again.

Shamsuddeen went slowly away to his own apartment, supporting his feeble steps upon his sword, and when there he got out an old Koran from a battered haversack that had served him when a private trooper, and sat down by the dim night-lamp to compose his thoughts by devotion. But the tears ran thick and fast down his furrowed cheek, and bedewed his long white beard, so that his eyes could not distinguish the sacred letters. There was no bed for Shamsuddeen that night.

The Khyberee calmly went to the stables and got out a pair of handcuffs, loaded his carbine, and returned to take up his post at the gate. A vague sense of some heavy calamity for which he himself was in a great measure to blame, had fallen upon the trooper’s mind, and rendered him incapable of any thought, save that the Subadar’s bidding must be done. The night was bitter cold, and Agha shivered while he kept his sorrowful watch; but it was not the cold that made the hardy Khyberee quail. His trembling hands would hardly light his hookha, and he had scarcely taken the first whiff when he dashed the bowl from his lips with a muttered oath. “O Allah!” he cried, looking up towards the sky, “it is long since I asked aught of Thee for myself, and I may never trouble you more—but spare, oh spare the Child!”

Chapter XXIX

An Honest Iago

Mr E. C. Roy still lingered about Dhupnagar, and was still a guest of the reputable Rutton Pal, the spirit-seller. It must not, however, be imagined that Mr Roy took advantage of the abandon of Rutton’s establishment, for, beyond a modest glass of arrack (rum) and water at each meal, the barrister was strictly abstemious, and he steadily ignored the presence of all fellow-lodgers, no matter what attractions their society might hold out. If Mr Roy had been asked what detained him in Dhupnagar, it would have puzzled him to give a sufficient answer. To himself he had renounced all hopes of reclaiming Krishna from the errors of Hindooism; but he was anxious to see the play played out. “In brief,” wrote Mr Roy to the head of the Theistic Society, “I have thrown up my brief—pray excuse the pun, for the paronomasia is one of my besetting weaknesses; but I think I may just as well stay here until I see the finale. Something may perchance”—(on second thoughts Mr Roy erased “perchance” and substituted “through the goodness of Providence”)—“through the goodness of Providence occur to give me a chance of extricating our brother from the hands of these heathens. When an immortal soul is at stake, we should not lay aside our efforts for its salvation so long as the faintest spark of hope shines upon our labours.” In other words, Mr Roy meant that he would tarry in Dhupnagar until the funds with which the Society had supplied him should have been legitimately disbursed, so that he might have no disagreeable task of making refunds on his return to Calcutta. “Besides,” said Mr Roy to himself, “as I have failed this time, they will never employ me in a similar case, and so I had better make the most of it.”

To while away his time the barrister had set himself to study the society of Dhupnagar, and with Gangooly’s ready assistance he had made himself master of all the private gossip relating to the inner life of the villagers. He had also made the acquaintance of Prosunno, the pleader, in hopes that the village lawyer might perhaps be able to send an appeal or two in his direction. Mr Roy was not long before he knew more of the villagers than they themselves did. He knew the exact position in which the priest’s son was placed, and the respective motives which had led Ramanath and Kristo Baboo to arrange the marriage. He saw, too, that love was the cord which bound Krishna to Hindooism, and his next step was to search for some means of snapping the ligature. With Afzul Khan’s character he was soon made familiar; and the notorious gallantries of the Subadar’s son, coupled with the famed beauty of Kristo’s daughter, soon suggested suspicions in the lawyer’s mind, which he was determined to set at rest. It was with the view of satisfying himself upon this point that Mr Roy now began to choose the village green and the environs of Kristo’s mansion for his evening promenade.

There was another subject in which Mr Roy had begun to take a keen professional interest. He had gleaned from Gangooly and Prosunno all that they could tell him of the robberies, and he had come to form an opinion of his own upon the matter. Something which he had overheard at Rutton Pal’s might perchance have given the barrister an inkling of the mystery; but at all events he ridiculed their suspicions and pooh-poohed the notion that Afzul Khan was the depredator. But when the headman and the pleader sought to share his confidence, Mr Roy knowingly placed his thumb against the tip of his nose, and extended his fingers towards them after the playful manner of the English aristocracy, among whom he had acquired the habit, telling them at the same time that any such confidence upon his part would be premature until he saw which side he was to be retained upon.

Mr Roy was sitting smoking a strong Trichinopoly cheroot on Rutton Pal’s low verandah as the Subadar and Agha rode past him on their mournful errand to the magistrate. There was daylight enough left for him to distinguish the striking figure of the old officer, and to identify Agha as one of Rutton Pal’s steadiest customers. “Right, by the Horse Guards’ clock!” said Mr Roy. “Prepare to receive cavalry! A fine-looking old gentleman, and sits that vicious black brute as steadily as if he had been brought up in the Blues. His servant is the thirsty Afghan trooper who appreciates my friend Rutton’s tap so well. I wonder if anything will come of that scandal about his scampish son? If the case does come to court, they will do well to make me his counsel, for without me all the pleaders in the valley will not bring him off. I suppose I should on moral grounds volunteer my evidence, but my exertions would be all the more hearty that they were paid for. It is getting rapidly dark, and I may as well take a stroll. It is just possible that one may see some nocturnal phenomena of interest about the other end of the village.”

Shouting to Rutton to have a mutton-chop ready against his return a couple of hours hence, Mr Roy lighted a fresh cigar and sallied forth. Rutton had come to feel not a little proud of his eccentric visitor, and he did all that he could in his quiet way to make the lawyer comfortable, ordering the more dissolute frequenters of his shop to refrain from annoying the “Baboo Sahib” under the penalty of perpetual exclusion, and taking care that no unseemly scenes should be enacted within the scope of the stranger’s eyesight. Rutton had dealt with ruffians and blackguards all his life long, and he felt it an agreeable change to have a respectable man, even although he was not in caste, under his roof-tree for once in a way.

Mr Roy strolled through the bazaar, looking curiously into the shops, and now and then pausing to return the greeting of some villager whom respect or curiosity induced to salute him. The village elders in general were religiously shy of the renegade’s acquaintance; but the younger and wilder spirits were moved by an impious inquisitiveness as to the uncouth habits of the godless nations among whom their travelled countryman had sojourned—to hear of their unclean banqueting upon the flesh of kine and broth of abominable things—and about their women, who danced and walked about with mankind regardless of either decency or decorum. Mr Roy had no objection to magnify himself in the eyes of the Dhupnagar youth by vaunting of the great folks he had met and the great things he had seen; but no sooner had a group of lads gathered about him with open mouths and prickt-up ears, than Dwarkanath the schoolmaster, or some other of the village ancients, would swoop down upon the assembly, carrying off their own sons and nephews from the contamination of the heretic, and scaring away the rest by their scowls of pious horror. But Mr Roy only laughed his usual laugh of conceited good-humour, and went on his way contented with himself and with all the rest of his species.

As he sauntered along he met Three Shells turning into the lane where his dwelling was, his misshapen clerk Gopee following him with a comfortable-looking cash-box. Three Shells salaamed nearly to the ground as Mr Roy came up, and the lawyer returned the courtesy by a careless wave of the hand which carried his cigar. Three Shells had frequent occasion for legal advice, and he liked to keep good friends with the profession.

“Confounded old fence!” commented Mr Roy as he passed along—“as big a blackguard as a Whitechapel broker. I shouldn’t wonder if I have to expose him before I leave Dhupnagar; and yet I won’t either, unless I get a brief to do it. As the adage goes, Ne in consilium accesseris ante quam vocatus; which means, Don’t canvass for business, but take what the attorney sends you. I wonder if there was anything against Mr Three Shells before he came here? I strongly suspect so; nemo nepente fuit—people don’t grow scoundrels all at once. It won’t be very handy for him if ever he falls into my hands—that is another pun, by the way; the ninth—no, the tenth—besides three or four in Bengalee that don’t count.”

As Mr Roy came out upon the village green, Krishna was just issuing from the temple compound. At the sight of the lawyer, the priest’s son paused and hesitated as if he felt half inclined to turn back. He had a nervous dread of another interview with Mr Roy, and had done all in his power to avoid a collision with him; but he felt ashamed to exhibit his weakness, and after a minute’s reflection, he resumed his walk with a rapid pace, intending to pass the lawyer without parley. But Mr Roy was not so thin-skinned as to be shaken off in this fashion; he planted himself right in Krishna’s path and held out his hand with a great show of cordiality. “How are you, my dear Gossain? What an age it is since I had the pleasure of seeing you last! You shut yourself up like a recluse over there. I wonder that you are not dead of ennui already!”

“I am very fond of solitude,” said Krishna, stiffly, and taking no notice of the lawyer’s outstretched hand; “my books and my own thoughts are sufficient company, and I feel no want of other society.”

As he said this with a significant look which would, he thought, rid him of his companion, Krishna stepped past him and resumed his walk; but the irrepressible Mr Roy at once wheeled about and fell into step with him.

“Quite right, my dear fellow; one’s own company is both amusing and instructive compared with the society of these Goths and Vandals about us,” returned Mr Roy. “You can’t think what a wearisome time I’ve had of it here without a rational soul to say a word to. I am beginning to feel myself growing as much of an animal as any of them.”

Krishna had not imbibed that contempt which his English-speaking countrymen generally feel for the uneducated natives, and he was at that moment disposed to be both national and conservative in his sentiments; but waiving the question, he halted and looked the barrister sternly in the face as he said—

“I hope, Mr Roy, that your protracted stay in Dhupnagar has no relation to my affairs. I have already told you distinctly that all interference on your own part, or on that of the Society which you claim to represent, is useless to you, and disagreeable to me. I should have thought, sir, that one telling would have sufficed you.”

“Keep your temper, my dear Gossain—keep your temper,” calmly responded Mr Roy. “I have not the slightest wish to meddle with you if you don’t want me. I offer you my hearty congratulations on your coming marriage, and hope it may tend to your lifelong happiness.”

“Thanks,” said Krishna, coldly; “I know it will. Of course, I cannot expect the Theistic Society to approve of the match, for it will unhappily clash with their prejudices; but for all that, I wish the Theists well. I am far from thinking that the time has come for throwing off the national faith, or that sufficient knowledge has been vouchsafed us for establishing a new religion; but I can respect and sympathise with those who grope for light amid thick darkness. I was young and rash, and knew not my own mind, when I contemptuously threw aside a creed that has satisfied the spiritual necessities of millions of my countrymen for a score of centuries; and I am not ashamed to frankly own my error.”

“Ah, yes, that was just the way the ‘Bengalee Baboo’ put it for you in his leader upon your relapse,” replied Mr Roy; “it was a capitally written article, and defended you much better than you could have done yourself.”

“What! have these cursed Calcutta papers been meddling with my name?” cried Krishna, his face flushing up to the eyes. “Is the sanctity of private life to be thus invaded by wretched, servile scribblers? I see no reason why such liberties should be thus taken with me.”

“Why, you see,” returned the other, “when you joined the Theists, your friends put an article in the ‘Cossitollah Reflector,’ lauding the high principle and self-sacrifice and what-not that had led you to break with caste and superstition, and you do not seem to have objected to it. Now, when a man allows himself to be put forward by one party as a paragon, you can’t blame the opposition for smashing him when it gets an opportunity.”

Krishna groaned. “And what said the ‘Reflector’ about me?” he asked. “Did it re-echo the abuse of the ‘Bengalee Baboo?’”

“No, it did not abuse you; the ‘Reflector’ never descends to personal contumely,” said the barrister, who was himself connected with that journal. “Of course it could not but lament that one so full of promise should have gone over to the enemy before a blow was struck. But I’ll send you the ‘Reflector,’ and let you see for yourself what it says.”

“I care not,” said Krishna, “for the sneers of the press. My conscience has fully commended my conduct, and I seek no other encomium. I choose to live and die in the faith of my forefathers; and I would wish every other man to enjoy the same religious freedom as I claim for myself, undisturbed by the solicitations of officious creed-mongers.”

“Quite so, quite so,” rejoined Mr Roy; “but I say, what a clever girl that fiancée of yours must be, to have got the better of an educated and intellectual man like you! What is more, she had nearly effected the conversion of her Muhammadan lover also.”

“Muhammadan lover! what do you mean, sir?” cried Krishna, turning fiercely round upon him. “Explain yourself instantly.”

“Umph! Lupus in fabula. Speak of the devil, you know,” replied Mr Roy, calmly, as they turned the corner at Walesbyganj, and discovered Afzul Khan and Sukheena standing by the roadside in deep consultation. The waiting-woman started, and muffling her face in her robe, hurried rapidly homewards; while Afzul, after bestowing a contemptuous frown upon the two Hindoos, walked angrily into the courtyard, clanking his spurs upon the gravel as he strode along. Krishna and Mr Roy walked on in silence, until they were clear of the Subadar’s house, when the priest’s son stood up, and, taking hold of the barrister by the breast of the coat, said, in a low voice that was shaken by passion—

“What did you mean by, a minute ago, allowing your foul tongue to traduce my beloved? What has she to do with Muhammadans, or other unclean barbarians? Speak, sir! Confess that you were lying—meanly and maliciously lying—through spite that you have failed to wile me back to the ways of your fellow-self-seekers. Quick, sir! own your baseness before I strike you to the ground; for, by God, I shall vindicate Radha’s fair fame from the falsehoods of such paid mischief-makers as you are!”

“Now, my dear Gossain, do keep your temper,” said Mr Roy, blandly, holding up his cigar in gentle deprecation of Krishna’s menaces. “I have not the slightest doubt of your muscular prowess, or that you could smash my knowledge-box, and put me in chancery—as my young friend, Viscount Wiseacre, Lord Gotham’s eldest son, would say; but what good would that do you? Just take away your hand, and let us talk coolly over the matter.”

Krishna released his hold, but stood with clenched fists and flashing eyes waiting to hear what the barrister had to say.

“You saw that woman standing there with the Subadar’s son,” said Mr Roy, lazily puffing out mouthfuls of smoke. “Ah, well—Miss Lahory’s waiting-maid, was she not?—well!”

“Well, and what has Miss Lahory, as you call her to do with the intrigues of her domestics? How can such matters reflect upon her when she probably knows nothing of them?”

“Ah, yes; but then if I were in your place I would make certain that it was her own affairs that the girl was chattering about just now. We all know that your waiting-maid is ever ready to play the part of a go-between.”

“Fool!” said Krishna, turning scornfully upon his heel—“narrow-minded and ungenerous fool, to judge the dispositions of others by your own petty and insidious heart. I tell you, man, that if you only knew how good, how pure, how generous, and how angelic is she whom you are slandering, you would go down on your knees, and pray Heaven to forgive you for the sacrilege of slighting one of its fairest works—that is, supposing that you have the spirit of a man and not of a monkey in your bosom.”

“My poor Gossain, I can forgive your words,” returned the other, “for I know that you are speaking from the generosity of your own heart. But really, I can assure you, that there is more between Afzul Khan and your intended than there ought to be, considering her engagement to you. It is all for your own good and happiness that I am telling you. So far as I am personally concerned, it is nothing though the young lady had half the males in the district at her feet.”

“You are speaking of a matter you know nothing about,” said Krishna, scornfully. “If I thought you worthy of such a confidence I might tell you how her own lips have assured me of her love; how I have sat with her side by side, my cheek to her cheek, our hearts responding to each other by mutual throbs of affection: but what would it avail to one so full of base suspicions as yourself?”

“That may be all very well, my dear Gossain, and I have not the slightest doubts of your sincerity and honour; neither would I dispute Miss Lahory’s had I not had the evidence of my own eyesight. I have seen her myself lavish all these tokens of affection, and more, upon young Afzul Khan.”

“Seen her! Afzul Khan! liar!” cried Krishna, aiming a violent blow at the barrister, who, stepping back to avoid it, missed his footing, and fell into the ditch that flanked the road, and served as a sewer to the village of Dhupnagar. Krishna turned away, and was going to leave him to his fate, when a generous impulse smote him, and he said—

“Mr Roy, I beg your pardon for my violence, although what you have said might well warrant it. I am sorry for your accident, and hope that you are not hurt. And now you will please to consider me a stranger to you henceforth.”

“All right, my dear Gossain, I accept your apology,” said Mr Roy, struggling to extricate himself; “and if you doubt anything that I have said, just judge for yourself. Take a walk now and then about the Lahory compound after bedtime, and you may adopt another view of the matter.”

“Never!” cried Krishna, over his shoulder, as he strode rapidly homeward. “My love must be dead before I play the spy.”

Mr Roy sat in the ditch, looking curiously after him, until the young man had vanished in the darkness. “No, no, my young friend, you don’t impose on me in that fashion. All the poppy and mandragora in the Calcutta chemists’ shops won’t make you sleep until you have seen the worst for yourself. Ugh! what a cursed smell there is here!”

Scrambling to his feet, Mr Roy regained the road, and proceeded to investigate the damages which he had sustained in the fall. “What an infernal mess!” he said, ruefully; “but it was better to tumble over than be knocked down by Gossain’s mace of an arm, and that is a melancholy enough pun. However, I’m sorry for the poor fellow, and shall help him all I can, for he will want my help badly yet before all is over. Alas! there is a breach in my breeches which no skill of mine can repair; and as for my coat, it may undergo a common recovery, but there is the tail cut off sure enough. Ha! ha! that might surely do with Mr Justice Tremor,”

Mr Roy soon recovered his spirits, and picking up the insulated extremity of his upper garment, wended his way homeward towards Dhupnagar. As he passed the house of Lahory he slackened his pace, and looked eagerly about; but seeing nothing to excite his interest, he returned to Rutton’s and made himself happy with his mutton-chop and glass of spirits.

“I wish I hadn’t told the Society that I had failed to convince Gossain,” soliloquised he; “for I’ll bet a gold muhr that I bring him straight back to Theism within a couple of weeks. And there are a few other little matters that I shall put right before I leave Dhupnagar. By Jove! the fellows about the Bar library will stare when they hear of the business that I’ve been doing. But what is there that a man may not effect if he only keeps his eyes and his ears open?”

And in his supreme self-satisfaction Mr Roy summoned Rutton, and ordered another allowance of rum to drink to the speedy arrival of his good fortune.

Chapter XXX

The Folly of Wisdom

If I were actuated by a due regard for dramatic unity, a consideration which gives me but little trouble, I would keep Krishna upon the rack of torturing suspense and uncertainty for at least the next six chapters. When Iago pours the poison into Othello’s ear, the Moor does not go hot-foot to Desdemona, and, shaking the lady by the shoulders, demand an instant explanation of her conduct with Cassius. Had he done so, the plot of the story would have been turned into a very different channel: Iago had been kicked out of Cyprus to the tune of the “Rogue’s March,” honest Michael had been reinstated in his command, with a kindly caution to take care of his cups, and the curtain would have fallen to a merry flourish of trumpets, instead of a roll of muffled drums. If Posthumus had but put a frank letter in the post at Rome, telling Imogene how that villain Iachimo had traduced her, and imploring her to set the mind of her distracted husband at rest by an explicit denial of the slander, and an assurance of her unalterable affection, per the first mail, how little trouble there would have been compared with all the hurly-burly and racket that fill up three acts of “Cymbeline”! But, in the same way, had Krishna walked straight up the road to Kristo’s door, and told the Baboo of the aspersions that were being cast upon his daughter’s character, there is no doubt that the young man would have been comforted by an indignant disavowal, by impassioned professions of constancy and of undying love, and by a kiss or two from the pouting lips of his betrothed—that he would have gone home more in love with her than ever—and that the marriage would in due course have been solemnised with all formality. But it is not thus that my story shall end. When Krishna rushed away from Mr Roy, he was bursting with rage at the barrister’s calumnies. He scouted the idea that Radha, whom he had chosen from among all the maidens of the valley as the one worthy of his love—she so chastely cold, so reserved and modest—should be carrying on a clandestine intrigue with a vulgar roisterer like Afzul Khan,—a man of no soul, no sensibilities, and hardly higher in Krishna’s eyes than the horse he rode upon. He had in his own mind deified Radha, and there was sacrilege in the supposition that she should be subject to the frailties of her sex. Poor Krishna! how many of us fall into the same error! Is there not something in our love that hallows for the time the object of our adoration? We worship with veiled faces; we jealously exclude the vulgar from the shrine; we install ourselves as high priests to serve the idol on bended knees,—until some fine morning we wake up to find that it is all delusion, and that we have been prostrating ourselves before mere humanity. The goddess has smiled upon another. How could we ever have thought that porcelain and stucco contained a spark of divinity? Faugh! put the broken toys away in the old cobwebbed cupboard with the headless mandarins, armless shepherdesses, and other ruined gimcracks. We can easily get something prettier to put upon the mantelpiece.

It was all a mean subterfuge of that sneaking puppy Romesh Chunder Roy, to bring him back to the Theistic Society. A pretty Society that sought to found religion by fraud and deceit, and by breaking of the dearest ties that bind mankind together! How thankful Krishna was that he had broken off his connection with men of so little principle! But then it occurred to him that he had on more than one occasion encountered Afzul Khan after dusk in the vicinity of Kristo’s premises. And what of that? Radha was not the only woman in the house of Lahory, and nothing more likely than that some of the female domestics encouraged the visits of the young Muhammadan. He had surprised Afzul that very night in company with Sukheena; and did not every one admit that “widow” was the same as “wanton”? But why should he torment himself with reasoning upon such a subject? Was he not insulting Radha in his own heart, and debasing their holy love, by discussing her honour even with himself? He would as soon doubt his own existence as her innocence; and he would dismiss his doubts, if doubts they could be called, along with the recollection of him that had suggested them.

Triumphing in this generous resolution, Krishna went home and sat down to his books. But although his eyes mechanically followed the printed lines, his mind was still engrossed with the suspicions thrown out by Mr Roy. The more he reflected, the more hold distrust took upon him. Afzul Khan was after all a handsome youth. Krishna thought himself well-favoured as he looked across at the mirror on the opposite wall: his features were regular, his brow lofty, and his figure compact and well made, though perhaps rather stout to be considered graceful; but he could hardly flatter himself that his person would compare with the dashing bearing of the young Muhammadan. Then might not the young profligate have involved the guileless maiden in an intrigue unwittingly of her? She could know nothing of his bad reputation, and might be beguiled by his fair words and pleasant exterior into an intimacy innocent enough on her part. In that case, it might not yet be too late to save her, and he would instantly set about the case. But why had she dissembled with him?—why had she not frankly owned the entanglement? It could not possibly be that she—and a great lump, almost like to choke him, rose up in Krishna’s throat at the thought that Radha might have been playing with his love, while her heart was given to another. But then the love-tapers? Well, did not the omen apply as well to Afzul the Mussulman as to Krishna the Hindoo? And the garland she had thrown to him? But, as Krishna remembered, it would have been a difficult task to distinguish between the two beneath the dark shade of the acacias at midnight.

A few hours’ reflection in this strain wrought Krishna up to almost a pitch of madness, and he found himself utterly unable to compose his mind without further action. When the priest’s household had retired to rest, the young man wrapped himself in a thick, black cloak, which concealed his face and disguised his figure, and let himself softly down from the balustrade of the verandah. The night was dark as blindness, so that he had to grope his way across the temple compound, stumbling at every other step over stones and roots of trees. The gate was shut, but the young man preferred climbing the walls to exciting the curiosity of Modhoo the porter as to the cause of his young master’s nocturnal wanderings.

A faint light was twinkling in Radha’s window, and the Venetian shutters stood ajar, but there was nothing else to indicate that the maiden was still astir. It was not, however, so much for his betrothed as for his rival that Krishna was now looking. But though Krishna searched the whole of the shrubbery before the windows of Kristo Baboo’s zenana, and peered into all the dark nooks of the compound, he saw no traces of Afzul, and the weight of anxiety began to rise off his mind. “I knew it was all an artifice of that kishkasaghatak (destroying-confidence, treacherous) renegade,” cried Krishna, exultingly; “but he has lost his labour. O Radha! wretch that I was ever to suspect your faith! I could do penance on my hands and knees from here to the Gungaputra, for my vileness in harbouring such a thought! Why did I not beat the scoundrel that dared to sully her name, until he had eaten his own lies? but who would defile himself by beating a pariah dog? O Radha! look out for an instant and turn all this darkness into light by your beauteous face, before which even the moon is dim! One glimpse of you would more than repay all the care that has come over me on your account.”

But Radha appeared not, and Krishna was left to nurse his passion alone, now loading himself with self-reproaches for having ever admitted a doubt of his betrothed’s fidelity, now praying that his mind might be set at rest by an avowal from Radha’s own lips. “Though a messenger were to come down from heaven and tell me that she was false,” he mentally ejaculated, “I should hold him for a liar until my own eyes made good his charges. I thank God that has given me this confidence in her honour, for life would be insupportable to me without her love. But I wish I could see her; it is due to herself that I should give her an opportunity of refuting these wicked slanders.”

As Krishna stood under the shade of a heavy almond-tree, leaning against the ruined wall of the compound, his ear caught the low murmuring of voices coming from the end of Kristo Baboo’s garden. His frequent love-watches had made him more familiar with Kristo’s premises in darkness than by daylight, and he had little difficulty in conjecturing whence the sound came. There was an old arbour at the bottom of the garden formed of bamboos and creepers intertwined, and supported by the compound wall for a back. This, as Krishna knew, was the favourite retreat of Radha and her attendant; and he had often stolen hither after their departure in the hope of finding a flower or some other token that had been hallowed by the hand of his mistress. A chilling fear took hold of him as he strained his ear in a vain effort to identify the speakers; and he stepped noiselessly in the direction of the sound. There was only one way by which he could approach sufficiently near to overhear them. It was more than probable that if the arbour was the scene of an illicit assignation, it would be guarded in front by some attendant, who would give the alarm of an intruder; but by crawling noiselessly along the top of the garden-wall, he might ensconce himself behind the bower, and overhear even their faintest whispers. With stealthy and cat-like speed he crept along the top, pausing every second to hearken whether he was overheard, until he reached the bower and stretched himself out at full length upon the wall, peering intently downwards through the interstices of the bamboo screen, and listening to catch the lowest sound that might be uttered below.

It was well for Krishna that he had the wall to support him, else the first words that fell upon his ears would assuredly have made him stagger. It needed not the glitter of jewels nor the odour of sandalwood and rose-water to satisfy his heart that his worst anticipations were well founded. Dark as was the night, his jealous eye could see too clearly the lithe figure of his betrothed reclining in the arms of Afzul Khan.

“It is too cruel of you to doubt my love,” pleaded a low, silvery voice, every accent of which sent a spasm through the heart of the listener; “have I not done enough to prove it—more than enough for my own good name—more than enough for the honour of my future husband?”

“And yet you are going to marry another!” was retorted in deep, masculine, but not unmusical tones; “does that look much like love? You have wiled me to your feet, you have drawn forth a declaration of my passion, and now you give me the ‘begone!’ By the ninety-nine names of Allah, girl, you shall not trifle with me thus!”

“Nay, but do not be angry with me, nor grip me thus rudely,” whimpered the female voice; “we have each our fate; can I change mine? It is my lot to be a Hindoo and to wed a Hindoo husband. Had the gods meant me to mate with you, they would have made me of your faith.”

“Faith! May Allah exterminate your faith! For what use is your religion except to people hell? Become my wife, and I shall teach you the faith of the Prophet. Lying by my side upon the couches of heaven, you shall behold your heathen lover and kinsfolk writhing amid the tortures of flaming fire.”

“But they are my people,” replied Radha, with something of her own queenly pride; “and whither they are, I will go too.”

“Ay, go to them with all my heart, and take your full measure of their recompense. I might have been wiser than to lay my love upon one of your cold-hearted race. I wanted not rich and beautiful maidens of my own nation, who would gladly have been wives to the son of Shamsuddeen Khan.”

“And yet you deigned to cast your eyes upon Hindoo damsels; what an honour for me! and for Bel-puttee, the Ryot of Milkiganj’s daughter:” uttered in bitter, taunting tones.

“Honour enough!” retorted Afzul, haughtily; “handsomer maidens than either of you have been carried off at a Mussulman’s crupper before this time, and will be so again, please Allah! But I loved you, Radha, as I never have loved other woman. The first time that my eyes lighted upon you, I was slain without a wound, and my heart has ever since been as an open ulcer, inflamed by the recollection of your charms. Why, oh why, did you lure me to love you, and are now going to cast me from you like an old slipper?”

“And am I not to be sufficiently punished for my folly?” asked Radha, sadly. “Is it a pleasure to me to call one lord whom I loathe; to receive his distasteful embraces as if they were amrit (ambrosia) to my heart; to listen to his babbling as if they were the words of a god, and to hide a bruised and bleeding spirit under a smiling face and kissing lips? Call you that no punishment?”

Yet deeper into your soul, Krishna. Are you dreaming, or have your senses forsaken you? Such words could never surely come from the little mouth that you so lately kissed—such sentiments spring from the heart that you so little time ago pressed to your own? And can she, the beautiful glistening serpent there, thus defy truth and honour, and no judgment overtake her? O Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, and the other two millions odd of you, have ye eyes to see and ears to hear, and yet are not shaken with ague or stricken with palsy while such perjury is being perpetrated before you? But the thunders were silent and the lightnings slept, and only a single star came out above Panch Pahar, and winked knowingly upon the group in the arbour. Kristo Baboo’s garden wall gave more support to Krishna upon this trying occasion than all the deities in the Hindoo calendar.

“Why then throw yourself away upon that snivelling man of the pen?” demanded Afzul, scornfully—“a fellow that knows as little of the points of a woman as he does those of a horse. Suppose when he marries you he takes some such sort of antipathy to you as he feels for his other wife? Let him go hang himself, and come home with me to Walesbyganj. Once there, and there is not a man in Dhupnagar that will dare to stir a foot to take you back.”

“And make my father’s name a reproach to all his caste-fellows, bring his grey hairs to a childless and dishonoured bier, and send him to tell the spirits of twenty generations of unstained Lahories that their line has been withered by a woman’s disgrace? Not while a leap from Kali Point can end my woes and my life together.”

“Bah! you provoke me by your nonsense!” cried Afzul, impatiently. “You know not the man with whom you are trifling. I could carry you off in my arms, with a hand on your mouth, this very minute, as easily as I pluck off this tendril.”

“But my honour is in my own power,” said Radha, as she withdrew herself from his embrace and held up a small glittering knife between her and the sky. “I should plunge this into my bosom if you dared to lay a rough hand upon me.”

“Nonsense, Radha; I was only joking. Give me that knife in case of accidents. I am none of your blustering lovers that keep maidens in terror. Those whose favours cannot be won for asking may even keep them for me. Marry the man, in God’s name! and may Eblis bless him with a faithless wife and a fruitful progeny! Peace be with you, my mistress, and a blithesome bridal!” and rising to his feet, Afzul made a pretence of swaggering out of the arbour.

Let him go his ways with a witness. Be firm, Radha, and call to your aid all the pride of your House! Summon Sukheena, and return to your own chamber. You have erred, but all may yet be well. Your tears and charms will overcome even a harder heart than Krishna’s, justly incensed though he be. Verily the gods have blessed you with an opportunity of escape. But, alas for woman’s frailness!

“But stay!” cried Radha, eagerly, as she held out her hand to arrest him; “let us not part in anger, since we shall never meet again. It should rather be with love in our hearts and regrets on our lips that we must sever,”

“Radha, you are killing me!” cried Afzul, as he flung himself at her feet and seized her hands. “You cannot bid me love and yet despair. Throw aside your girlish weakness, and let me claim you as my bride in the teeth of all the Brahmins in the valley. Think that you have it in your choice to be either happy or miserable. What is such a trifle as your caste and religion compared with the pleasures that await us in our married life? Say but a single ‘Yes,’ and I am your bond-slave.”

“Alas!” said Radha, with a deep sigh, “our fates are not in our own hands. I shall always love you to the latest day of my life, and my heart will ever bound when your name is mentioned, even though I were in Krishna’s arms. No one will ever be to me what you are. But there are gulfs between us that we cannot cross.”

“Radha,” said Afzul, rising before her and drawing himself up to his full height, “I cannot live without you, and I will not. I swear by the tombs of the blessed at Kerbela. Do not, then, tempt me to desperation.”

“Peace!” she said, throwing her arms about his neck. “I will not have you say such things. You shall be brave and wrestle with your love, as I shall with mine. We shall keep our own counsel, but let us each be assured that at heart we are still true to one another. And now you must leave me for ever, love. Take one kiss, and do not stay to witness my weakness.”

“Talk not to me of peace!” cried Afzul. “Do you not know me better than to think that I will stand calmly aside and see another brook my rights? Before Krishna, the priest’s son, become your husband, he must show himself a better man than Afzul Khan, or be sent to keep company with his infidel ancestors in the hotness of hell before his appointed day.”

“No, but you must not,” pleaded Radha; “for my sake, you must forbear. Suppose you were to kill Krishna, then the Magistrate Sahib would hang you as he hanged Tej Pal Singh, the highwayman: and how could I live then? My heart would break if aught evil should befall you. See! I take your misfortunes upon my own head,” and Radha passed both her hands slowly over Afzul’ s head and shoulders in the firm belief that she was drawing away from him to her own person any future evil that the Fates might have in store for her lover.

“But you will meet me again? Do not say that this is the last time,” whispered Afzul, as he clasped her in his arms and kissed her fervently. “You cannot be so cruel as to leave me thus. Nay, then, I will come again, and you must meet me.”

“Alas!” said Radha, “you will make my name to go forth as a fixer of assignations; and what would my father say if the word came to his ears? And is there not that moon-calf Krishna always wandering about our compound after dark? Oh, I shudder to think that he might fall in with you!”

“Shudder not for me, Radha,” said Afzul, scornfully; “but let the Hindoo take the consequence if ever he places himself in my path. I have not much religious merit laid up in store for the Day of Reckoning; but the slaughter of an infidel would go a good way with me. You will come again, then, love, won’t you? I shall let you know— But, by Allah! there is your maid running towards us. There is danger abroad. Flee, my darling, and the Prophet be your protector!”

Sukheena did indeed come running to apprise her mistress that the porter was coming home from the bazaar, whither he had gone to spend the eight-anna-bit that Sukheena had given him to get him out of the way; and that she must make haste and enter the house before the door was shut. Radha started off like a frightened doe, piloted by the waiting-woman, and was soon lost in the distance; while Afzul Khan, cautiously handling his dagger, stole warily away under the shade of the compound wall.

Silence again set in about the old arbour, the night grew darker and darker, and the star above Panch Pahar ceased to twinkle, and retired to ruminate, doubtless, over the scene to which it had been a witness; but still Krishna never stirred from his lurking-place. The cruel words still rung in his ears, and he saw not one Radha, but fifty, clinging to an equal number of Afzul Khans, and whirling about in a strange devil’s dance before his glazed eyes. He felt as if the car of Jugannath, with its cruel wheels, had passed over his body and nailed him to the spot, and there was a huge void inside his breast which made him seem to himself like a man that is being frozen to death. Now and then a convulsive shiver would pass through his frame, accompanied by a hysterical swelling of the throat, and a noise between that of laughter and crying. “I shall always love you to the latest day of my life,” he kept saying to himself; and he felt as if the words were being burned into his brain in red-hot letters. “I shall always love you to the latest day of my life,” he repeated to himself; and he laughed a low idiotic laugh every time that his tongue came across the phrase.

Had Krishna been an English lover, I would in all probability have had the pleasure of treating my fair readers to a refreshment of blood and murder within the compass of the present chapter. The tamest dunghill-cock will raise his crest and ruffle his feathers at his rival when Dame Partlet, the hen, is looking on. Hodge squares his fists at Tummas, and cries, “Dang un, let un coom on, then!” while Sukey stands by calmly, munching the fairing provided by the liberality of the said Tummas. And Sir Harry looks pistols and the sands of Calais at the gallant Colonel, under Lady Mary’s eyes, as plainly as if he said it in so many words. But not even the presence of beauty and the instincts of jealousy will instil chivalry into the heart of a Bengalee. He is constitutionally a coward, and does not scruple to call himself one. And so you see, mesdames, had I told you that Krishna leaped down into the arbour, and, grappling with Afzul Khan, had wrested the dagger from the hand of the infuriated Muhammadan, hurled him to the earth, and then, with one foot placed upon the breast of his prostrate rival, and, holding gracefully aloft the gleaming steel, had delivered a harangue to Radha upon her perfidy and his own generosity in sparing the life of her lover,—why, I might have made a very dramatic scene of it; but it would have been utterly unlike to nature and to truth. As for my hero, he is as his countrymen are, and I take no shame for him that he cannot compare with Cæsar, and with cannibals, and Trojan Greeks.

But Krishna could not always lie there. At what hour of the night it was that he arose, I know not; but his frame was shivering with ague, and his teeth were chattering in his head, as, with drooping shoulders and hands rolled up in his chaddar after the schoolboy fashion, he sought his home with uncertain and faltering steps. He knocked feebly at the temple-gate until Modhoo, the porter, was aroused. And when the old man, alarmed by his altered appearance, asked what ailed his young master, Krishna replied, with a vacant smile, “I shall always love you to the latest day of, my life.” The crusty porter bestowed a hearty imprecation upon Calcutta and the dissolute habits which Hindoo youth acquire therein; and, taking Krishna firmly by the arm, guided him across the compound, and pushed him into the door of the priest’s dwelling, with the parting query, “Whether his father’s son thought no shame in coming home at such an hour and in such a figure?”

As Krishna went through the corridor, he met Chakwi, who hastily rushed past him, and sought refuge in her own room. At another time Krishna’s curiosity would have been excited by seeing his wife astir at that time of the night and in a costume that clearly betrayed her having been abroad. But it is doubtful whether Krishna was then at all conscious of her presence, and he certainly never remembered the instance in after-days.

Once in his own chamber, Krishna threw himself, dressed as he was, upon his bed; but whether he spent the rest of the night asleep or awake, he could not tell. Next morning, old Bechoo, his attendant, was alarmed to find his young master suffering from a severe attack of fever and ague, and protesting in his delirium that he would always love the old man to the latest day of his life.

We must now accompany the successful lover on his homeward journey. Afzul Khan, dagger in hand, made his way with slow and stealthy steps through Kristo’s compound, pausing every other minute to look warily about him lest any spies should be on the watch. When he reached the gap in the wall beside the highway leading from the village to the river, he stood and waited, to see that there were no chance passers-by to observe him leaving Kristo’s premises. But all was still, both on the road and in the village above him, and no sound fell upon his ear except the rustle of the chill night-wind among the trees, and the dull murmur of the river in the bottom of the valley.

Once upon the road, Afzul threw away his previous caution, and, returning his dagger to the sheath, and sticking his hands in his girdle, he walked jauntily towards Walesbyganj, whistling a bugle-call, and now and then pausing to indulge in a quiet laugh of triumphant contentment.

“Aha! my little infidel,” lie said, half aloud, “you played with a tiger-cub when you thought to trifle with Afzul Khan! Those who toy with gunpowder generally scorch their fingers. Another night’s persuasion, and I’ll give my oath that you are as willing to put your foot in the stirrup as I am to say ‘mount.’ The darling huri of paradise! I never loved woman like her, and never shall love another. Once we are married, I shall settle down for certain. I swear to the Prophet that the dice-box shall never come into my hands again, and that I shall flee from wine as from the fire of hell. I wonder if Radha is gone to bed yet? I really wish her Hindoo lover had been a man with more fight in him, that I might have shown myself worthy of winning her.”

As he came down before the gate of Walesbyganj, he noticed that the door was open, and that a light was burning in the passage—a most unusual circumstance at that hour of the night. But Afzul’s spirits were too high to anticipate any evil.

“Ah, a light in the doorway! Nothing wrong with the horses, I hope. And, by the tomb of Shah Suffi! there is Agha on sentry with his old regimental carbine on his shoulder. Can the old fellow be drunk? It is some whim of the Subadar’s, I’ll wager. He’ll be going to keep up night guards, and will be making me officer of the rounds next. Well, I shan’t give them much molestation. Ho, ho, my friend! what is the word for the night in this impregnable fortress of yours?”

And Afzul walked laughingly up to the door, until he was abreast of the Khyberee, when, to his great amusement, Agha suddenly presented his carbine at the young man’s bosom, and called out “Stand!” in a hoarse voice. Afzul laughed outright at what he considered an excellent joke; but in another instant Jeswunt Rao and a couple of grooms rushed from behind and seized his arms, while Agha, laying aside his carbine, instantly thrust a pair of handcuffs on his young master’s wrists.

The whole operation was so quickly effected, that Afzul had not time to utter even a word of remonstrance. When he recovered from his surprise, and looked at the troubled faces of his captors, he saw at once that something was wrong, and broke forth into a fury of passion.

“What, in the name of Shaitan, is the meaning of this?” he bawled. Are you mad, or drunk, fellows, to lay hands on me in this fashion? Loose my arms instantly, if every soul of you would not be flogged until your bones are bare. Explain this insolence, rascal,” he added, shaking his fettered hands menacingly at Agha.

“No order,” grunted the Khyberee, taking up his carbine again; “bring on the prisoner, Jeswunt Rao;” and amid a scuffle of kicking and swearing, the servants forced Afzul up the stair, and into the deserted rooms, which had been set apart for the ladies in the days when the Subadar’s wife had been alive. Into one of these the young man was unceremoniously thrust; his hands were unbound, and the door slammed to after him and locked on the outside; and, shouldering his carbine, Agha began to walk up and down the passage with measured tread. The other servants retired while Afzul was still shouting out oaths and menaces against all who had been concerned in his incarceration. To these succeeded appeals to Agha’s affection, and reproaches upon Agha’s faithlessness; but all were alike in vain: and wearied at last by his vain exertions, the young man at length desisted, and threw himself upon the floor in a state of sullen dejection. Tears were falling fast from Agha’s eyes as he turned a deaf ear to Afzul’s entreaties; but he never for a moment forgot the stern orders of the Subadar. He would have essayed a prayer; but beyond the confession of faith, “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet,” Agha’s orisons would go no further. He tried to recall the prayers that his old moulvie had taught him when a child, far away among the trans-Indican hills; but Agha had evermore been an apter pupil at feud and foray than at school, and his slender stock of divinity had long since taken leave of him. Wearied at length with walking, he sat down in the embrasure of a window, and leaning his head upon the muzzle of his piece attempted to think out some solution of Afzul’s troubles. But unless assisted by his favourite pistol, Agha’s ideas refused to arrange themselves; and not even the affectation of polishing his own wrist would aid his mental faculties. So the old man turned sadly away, to think of his own past life, and of all the violence and wickedness which he had wrought in his day, as well as of the evil example he had set his young master; and great sobs began to shake his rugged bosom. But the Subadar’s orders must be obeyed, though Agha should blow out his own brains when they were executed. And thus the watches of this memorable night wore slowly away.

Chapter XXXI

Banksi Lall’s Bond

It will not be forgotten that when Kristo Baboo opened his safe with the boasted “Burmah” lock, and found that the money which was to have defrayed the expenses of Radha’s bridal had entirely disappeared, he fell back insensible upon the floor. The regimen of Kristo’s household was, however, such that the eye of no prying domestic marked his misfortune, for his servants would hardly attend him when summoned, much less were they likely to intrude unbidden into his apartments. But though no kindly hand chafed his limbs, or dashed water in his face, Kristo came round in due time, and sitting up, looked with a blank face upon the empty coffer where his treasure had been deposited.

In that first glance Kristo saw utter ruin to himself and his family. His property was already encumbered to double the amount which it could legitimately bear, and here was the last straw that was to break the camel’s back. Then what was to become of his daughter’s marriage? Should he conceal all until the ceremony was perfected, and then trust to the generosity of the Gossains to save him? But what excuse could he then offer to Ramanath, who had been made aware of the negotiation with Three Shells? And besides, the priest would have to advance the bridal expenses; for there was not a tradesman in the Gungaputra district so simply confiding as to do a day’s work for Kristo without the assurance of ready-money payment. The more Kristo considered his position, the more desperate it seemed. He would have locked the door and hanged himself, but for the thought of what would befall his daughter if left a penniless and unprotected orphan. He would fain have gone to Ramanath Gossain and unburdened all his troubles without reserve to his old friend; but to do this required a greater amount of moral courage than Kristo was master of. But above all, the thought that pressed most heavily upon him, and which he was most anxious to exclude from his mind, was the probability of a sudden call for the ten thousand rupees coming upon him. In that case, said Kristo to himself, I am indeed ruined beyond remedy.

Upon ordinary occasions, the least trifle of annoyance was sufficient to unhinge Kristo’s mental faculties, and to render him utterly incapable of calm reflection. But the magnitude of his present misfortune, and still more the dread of impending consequences, now inspired him with the coolness of utter despair. Those of us who have seen a shipwreck may have marked the desperate composure with which some poor wretch grasped at life in the face of death, seeming to calculate with the sang froid of an experimental philosopher the strength of each separate board, or the force of each successive wave, and to compress the thoughts of hours within the compass of a few seconds. So it was with Kristo. Unless he kept all his faculties upon the alert to catch a chance hen-coop or passing spar, he must soon flounder and sink among the fathomless waters; and so, by a rigid exercise of will, he controlled his feelings, and began to look around him for some way of evading the impending ruin.

In the first place, who was the thief? Kristo felt that the loss of his money might almost be borne if the crime could be brought home to Afzul Khan. But in his own mind Kristo did not suspect the Subadar’s son. A terrible apprehension had taken hold of his mind that the usurer had employed some devilish artifice to beguile him. Three Shells did not bear the best of names among the superstitious villagers, who readily ascribed to the practice of sorcery the strange noises, the untimely lights, and the mysterious appearances that were to be seen of nights about the money-lender’s dwelling. Kristo remembered well the case of Ram Mohun, the landlord of Usarghar, far up the valley above the town of Bhutpore. Ram Mohun, being at his wits’ end for money to meet the collector’s demands, had made a vain pilgrimage to all the mahajans in the valley, and coming home weary and dispirited, had inadvertently sat down to rest on the parapet of the ruined bridge, beside which Tej Pal Singh, the dakait, had murdered a high-caste Brahmin of Bhutpore, for which thing’s sake a curse had very properly fallen upon the locality. Ram Mohun had not sat long there when he spied a venerable Brahmin coming slowly along the road, for whom, as he seemed breathless and exhausted, the landlord made way, that the old man might sit beside himself, and courteously begged his blessing. They fell into conversation, and somehow or other Ram Mohun took the stranger into his confidence, and told him of the ungrateful conduct of the district usurers, to whom he had all his life been a liberal patron; but what was his astonishment when the old man readily offered to accommodate him with the very sum he required, taking his six months’ bill as the sole security for both principal and interest? The money was counted over in good Company’s rupees, and the old man went on his way, promising to call for the debt when the bill became due, while Ram Mohun went home so elated, that, as he said himself, he seemed to be treading the clouds beneath his feet the whole way. There was a mighty feast prepared that night at Usarghar, and many blessings invoked by the zemindar upon the head of his unknown benefactor. But what was his dismay next morning, when on opening his bag he found nothing but a heap of carefully-picked lichi stones (lichi, a variety of acidulous fruit, in shape something like the plum)? But this was not the worst of it; for just six months from that day, Ram Mohun went amissing, and nothing could be conjectured as to his whereabouts until one morning his corpse, all bloated and bruised, and more than half eaten by the alligators, was cast up by the current hard by the foot of Kali Point. And Kristo was not altogether free from anxiety that some such misfortune might result from his own dealings with Three Shells.

But still he must do something in the matter. He had thought at first of publishing the robbery and examining the servants, but a little reflection convinced him that his most prudent course would be to keep the matter strictly secret. If the news of his loss were to get wind, his creditors would come down in flocks upon him, and in a few weeks he would be turned out of doors. He might, too, just as well send out a crier with a drum to proclaim the theft all over the village, as call Gangooly, the headman, to his assistance. Nor was there any use in soliciting the aid of Preonath Dass, the Dipty, after the scornful manner in which Kristo had dismissed his suit for Radha’s hand; for there could be little doubt that Preonath would overlook no opportunity for avenging himself. There only remained, then, the magistrate to whom he could go for redress; and Kristo at last resolved to confide his wrongs to him, although as a turbulent landlord and constant revenue defaulter, he was well aware that he had little claims upon Mr Eversley’s consideration.

So, ordering his palanquin, Kristo made ready for his journey to Bhutpore, and all the way thither his mind was engrossed in the preparation of his case for the magistrate’s opinion. It was not without considerable reluctance that Kristo had made up his mind to tell the truth to Mr Eversley. Like too many of his countrymen, he had but a limited belief in the efficacy of truth, and could he have safely done so, he would much rather have based his story upon imagination than upon fact. But Mr Eversley was a confirmed sceptic in Bengalee veracity, and his habit was to assume every statement as a falsehood until it had been corroborated by proof; and the most feasible story that Kristo could concoct might give way upon him if the magistrate were to sift it by a cross-examination. So while Mr Eversley listened with the deepest attention, Kristo unfolded the tale of all his difficulties,—his daughter’s coming marriage, his desire to save the reputation of his family by leading the people to believe that the expenses were coming out of his own pocket, his visit to Three Shells and the receipt of the loan, the safe with the “Burmah” lock, and the mysterious disappearance of the money. There were two matters, however, about which the Baboo judged it prudent to keep reticent—the complicity of Afzul Khan, and his suspicion of enchantment; for the Muhammadans were known to stand high in the magistrate’s favour, and the Sahibs all laughed at the mention of magic, as they did at many other things that were matters of religious faith with a Hindoo. So Kristo finished his piteous story by declaring himself a ruined man, and protesting that he had no hope of discovering the depredator save in his lordship’s boundless wisdom, which was extolled throughout the seven continents, and of which even the gods themselves might well be jealous.

After a minute’s consideration, during which the magistrate was debating with himself whether or not the whole story was a ruse to obtain some grace from Government at the approaching revenue term, Mr Eversley said slowly—

“Well, Baboo, as you wish the matter to be kept secret, I don’t see very well that I can take any immediate action. But so far as catching the thief is concerned, you may make your mind easy, for I have sworn to have him in Bhutpore jail before the month is out. Of course, the recovery of your money is a different thing, but you may be sure that I’ll make the police do their best for you. I think you have done very well to keep your own counsel,” added the magistrate, as he bethought himself how Mr Muffington Prig and the ‘Peon’ would exult to get this fresh excuse for falling foul of his district administration. “And if I can help it, you shan’t be any the worse for not making an outcry about your loss. Just keep quiet and look about you, and if anything suspicious strikes you, let me know of it at once.”

Not only did the magistrate not make any allusion to outstanding arrears of revenue as Kristo had dreaded, but he even payed the Baboo the compliment of convoying him to his palanquin,—an honour which raised Kristo’ s pride above all his misfortunes, for hitherto he had always appeared before Mr Eversley as a delinquent or a defaulter. And when the Baboo had gone on his way to Dhupnagar, the magistrate, after reconsidering the case, despatched an orderly to summon Shamsuddeen Khan. We already know the issue of the old officer’s night ride.

The interview with the magistrate had so far raised Kristo’s spirits, that he had almost resolved to take Ramanath into his confidence, and to see whether or not he might expect assistance from the Gossains; but he was weary with his journey and wanting both rest and refreshment, and so he ordered his bearers to carry him home, resolving to tackle Ramanath about the hour of evening worship. But a harbinger of evil was waiting for him by his own door. The first object his glance lighted upon as he rolled out of his palanquin, was the figure of Three Shells seated upon a strip of matting under the shade of the archway. The mahajan’s little eyes were almost hidden under the expression of intense humility which he had assumed, as he simpered and salaamed a welcome to his client.

“Surely the shadow of a demon has fallen upon me,” groaned poor Kristo, inwardly, as he returned Three Shells’ salutation, “for it is not for good that he comes hither.”

The Baboo led Three Shells up-stairs and placed him with great show of politeness upon the softest seat in the room, beginning at the same time a long and somewhat incoherent disquisition upon the state of the rice crops, and the calamity that would ensue if the rains were to keep off for another week, which might the gods in their wisdom avert; and as touching the summer sowings, there was no hope that—

“I hear you have been at Bhutpore, Baboo,” interrupted the money-lender; “is there any word of the Magistrate Sahib stirring in these robberies yet?”

“Robberies!” stammered Kristo, “why should I know? I was there upon business relating to my daughter’s marriage, and saw nothing of the Magistrate Sahib. But why do you ask me of the robberies?” added he, recovering himself so far as to fix a keen look upon the money-lender’s countenance. “You surely don’t think that I have any concern with them?”

“Ha, ha!” chuckled Three Shells—“what a thing to say! As well might you think that I am one of the thieves. A laughable jest indeed.”

“I am quite exhausted,” observed Kristo, languidly, as he endeavoured to lead the conversation away from so delicate a subject, “with making preparations for my daughter’s marriage. As the Shastras say, ‘There is an autumn for everything, and let everything be done in its season;’ and I shall have a busy time of it until I get the ceremony over.”

“May it be perfected in an auspicious moment,” said Three Shells, shutting his eyes and folding his hands across his stomach; “but, Baboo, I have come to talk to you on business.”

“Business!” re-echoed Kristo, reddening up to his eyebrows, while a cold sweat began to break out over his body—“I’m sick of business. Could you not speak about something else for a change? Well, what is fated is fated; but mind you don’t get any money from me just now.”

“I don’t wan’t any money,” replied Three Shells, quietly, without opening his eyes; “there are, of course, my two bonds—one overdue nine months and the other five—but there is no hurry about them. You can settle at your own convenience after the marriage.”

“Good,” said Kristo, with a sigh of relief. “I shall soon satisfy you, then; and if there is anything else that I can do for you, you have only to say what it is.”

“It is not on my account that I have come,” returned Three Shells; “but it is because of a letter I have received to-day from my valued correspondent Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar. He has made an enormous speculation in Company’s paper, and wants his money immediately. How lucky it is that we have got the information so early, before you can have broken upon the cash!”

“Eh? broken upon the cash?” said Kristo, in a husky whisper, and staring the mahajan stupidly in the face. “Wants his money? But he can’t have it,—not an anna—not a pie of it,—by the ever-living Vishnu!”

The mahajan smiled pleasantly. “Ah, you wouldn’t say that if you knew Banksi Lall,” he said. “He is not a man to say anything that he does not mean. If Banksi says he must have his money, he will have it, although all the lawyers in Calcutta and Dhupnagar were to hold out their hands between him and it. If you’d take a friend’s advice, you’ll give up the takkas (rupees) without raising a tempest about it.”

“I have just fifty rupees in my purse, and not another coin between me and beggary. I swear it by the holy Linga of Dhupnagar,” answered Kristo, in a voice that was nearly inaudible from emotion.

“Impossible! What! spend ten thousand rupees in four-and-twenty hours?” said Three Shells, with a derisive sneer. “Such things might be done at Delhi, but hardly in a quiet place like Dhupnagar. What has become of the money, Baboo?”

“Ay, what has become of the money?” cried Kristo, furiously. “I ask you that. Where is the money?”

“Eh?” answered Three Shells, with a look of feigned curiosity, not unmingled with concern. “What mean you? But I see that you are jesting with me all this time. I warrant me you have the silver safe and sound there,” added he, pointing to Kristo’s redoubted strong-box.

“Yes, you and your unhallowed sorceries know best where the money has gone to,” reiterated Kristo. “When I opened my safe this morning, it was as empty as the stomach of a devotee’s dog. I wish your ill-omened eyes had been picked out by vultures before they fell upon aught under my roof!”

“Sorceries!” re-echoed Three Shells, with a sigh of relief and a sardonic laugh. “Aha! sorceries! But, my good Baboo, these excuses won’t do for my esteemed friend Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar. How Banksi Lall would laugh to hear you say that Three Shells had charmed away your money! But poor Three Shells is no conjuror. Would that he were! So here is your bond, and please to produce the rupees.”

Here Kristo burst forth into a torrent of incoherent abuse of the money-lender and protestations of the sincerity of his statements, appealing to the whole host of gods and demi-gods to witness his veracity, charging Three Shells with having plotted his ruin, and vowing all the vengeance of lawyers and magistrates against the mahajan for his treachery. Three Shells heard him calmly to the close with shut eyes and folded hands, raising now and then a finger in gentle appeal as the Baboo thundered out some more than ordinarily violent invective, or coined some novel variety of foul-mouthed epithet. At last, when Kristo’s breath and his vocabulary were alike exhausted, the mahajan managed to interpose, in quiet, business-like tones—

“The borrower has a bent knee and a sweet mouth; the debtor closes his fist and curses his creditor. But all this will not pay Banksi Lall’s bond, and it is my duty to call upon you now to settle at once or stand by the consequences.”

“Not an anna, though my house were built of gold and silver! Do your worst, and see what you will gain by it. My bond to your cursed Banksi Lall is but a mote among the mass of my other debts. But the rest of my creditors are men of good caste and consideration, who would scorn to let you push me to extremity. Begone from my house, and bring your bond after the bridal if you would have it discharged. I am even degrading my Brahmin’s rank by parleying so long with a vile outcast like yourself.”

“I am highly favoured,” retorted Three Shells, bending low in a mock salutation. “You are the father and mother of Brahmins, cows, and women. But if your bondsman might speak, he would say that he is your sole and only creditor, having for the last two or three years bought up every bill and bond that he could find with your honour’s name upon it; and really the holders were not loath to dispose of them.”

And Three Shells took out from his bosom a bundle of papers, and spread them before the Baboo’s eyes. There was no need for the money-lender to particularise them; Kristo well knew the amount of each bond, and long before Three Shells had finished shuffling them, he clearly saw that he was bound hand and foot in the mahajan’s power. Three Shells took out a pencil and affected to sum up the amounts, although he could have told to a pie the extent of the Baboo’s obligations; but he was anxious to give Kristo time to compose himself, and to make up his own mind as to the course he should follow with the Baboo.

“I find, Baboo,” said he at length, “that my honoured correspondent, Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar in Calcutta, holds in his hands liabilities of yours to the extent of a lakh and a quarter of rupees. I also notice some little mistakes which the Magistrate Sahib may possibly put to rights; such as the hypothecation of the lands of Gaogong and Gharibghar twice over to different individuals.”

“But they were hypothecated each time for half the actual value; I will take my oath on Ganges water that they were so,” urged Kristo, in a faint tone.

“Perhaps; but Banksi will soon be able to judge for himself,” replied Three Shells, coldly; “and now, give me your final answer—are these bonds to be paid, or shall we proceed to put Banksi Lall in possession of his own by the law?”

“Cursed blood-suckers!” roared Kristo; “I wish both you and your Banksi Lall were dead and buried with cow-skins for your winding-sheets. It is all an infamous plot—a conspiracy to possess yourselves of my ancestral lands, and turn me and my daughter penniless from beneath my father’s roofs. Do you think, wretch, that there are no gods to punish such treachery towards a Brahmin? May my curse, and the gods’ curse, and the curse of all my holy order—”

“Nay, Kristo Baboo,” interrupted Three Shells, somewhat hurriedly, “you should not be so hasty with your maledictions. My client Banksi Lall is not the man to be hard upon a Brahmin of such good caste as you are. I have no doubt that if he were civilly approached he would put you in a way of saving yourself.”

Kristo looked doubtfully up. “Where is this Banksi Lall to be found, then?” he asked. “I shall go to Calcutta and wait upon him myself.”

“Ah, but you cannot see Banksi Lall,” replied the mahajan, once more shutting his eyes; “it is one of Banksi’s peculiarities that he will never do business with a client himself. Banksi says he is too soft-hearted, and cannot refuse a borrower even to his own prejudice, and so he is obliged to do all his business by deputy. You might easier gain access to the great Lord Sahib himself at Calcutta, than to the presence of Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar. But his humble slave, Three Shells, is possessed of Banksi’s mind, and will do his best to forward any proposals that you may make for freeing yourself from these encumbrances.”

“What can I say?” demanded Kristo, surlily. “Am I not in your hands, and bound to do your bidding? The cat asks not of the mouse what death it would die. All that a man may do I will do, rather than see strangers sitting in the home of my fathers.”

“Hem,” responded Three Shells, shutting his eyes still closer, and clasping his hands nervously together, “there are certain conditions by which such a misfortune might be avoided; and if you are prepared to listen to them, as a sensible man should do, you may rely upon my best assistance.”

“Say on, then,” said Kristo, in desperation; “the butcher needn’t make a bow to the lamb.”

“Well, then, the first and chief condition which Banksi Lall makes is, that you must renounce this marriage for your daughter with Krishna Chandra Gossain,” said Three Shells, in a curt and hurried manner.

Kristo started, and looked the mahajan keenly in the face. “What! and blacken my face before my worthy friends the Gossains? Disgrace myself in the eyes of all the Brahmins in Dhupnagar? What can my daughter’s marriage have to do with the matter?”

“But you must not ask me that,” replied Three Shells, with a faint smile. “Banksi Lall is not in the way of troubling his agents with explanations of his motives. His yeas and nays are enough for them.”

Kristo remained silent, buried in bitter reflection. It would be a most awkward position that in which a rupture with the Gossains would place him, but anything was better than parting with his family property. There was, besides, this recommendation in the proposal, that if the marriage were broken off, he could make out in the meantime without more money until his rents came in, and in time he might find some means of circumventing his persecutors. Surely a clever lawyer like the Dipty could be able to suggest some fatal flaw in their position; and if Krishna were dismissed, Preonath could be again admitted to his friendship, and employed in his service. Time had always been Kristo’s guardian angel; and for Time he was now prepared to promise anything that might be asked of him.

“To show you how far I am disposed to befriend you,” continued Three Shells, “I should be willing myself to marry your daughter upon the same footing as Krishna would have done, and to guarantee you in your ancestral property during your lifetime. So much, I think, my influence with Banksi Lall will enable me to offer you.”

Had Three Shells in the days of Kristo’s prosperity ventured to ask the Baboo for a whiff of his hookha, or for a glass of water, or for any other trifling concession of caste equality, he would have raised such a storm about his ears as would have deterred him from ever attempting to take such a liberty in future. But standing upon the brink of ruin, Kristo heard this startling proposal with an unmoved countenance, and perhaps with a certain degree of savage satisfaction. It was one weak point revealed in his opponent’s position, and by operating cautiously upon it, he might keep the enemy in play until some opportunity of escape presented itself. So he suppressed his disgust and answered evasively—

“Marry my daughter! A proper request indeed! I wonder if you left your wits behind you at home! Have the gods by any miracle made you a Brahmin, that you venture to aspire to my daughter’s hand?”

“I have made myself better than any Brahmin in the Gungaputra district,” retorted Three Shells. “You are not the only high-caste landholder that I could turn out to beg his bread upon the highway. I could make your daughter mistress of the Ghatghar palace tomorrow, if I thought fit, and treat her to such a splendid bridal as many a rajah’s daughter might be proud of. Will your caste stand you in as good stead when my honoured client Banksi Lall turns you and your daughter out of this house with just as much clothes upon your persons as decency demands, and no more?”

“You must give me time to think about it,” said Kristo. “I can’t betroth my daughter as I would sell a basket of mangoes—more especially as she has been already promised; you must give me a few weeks to think it over.”

“Well,” replied Three Shells, “I would be willing to favour you so far; but you must break off the match with the Gossains instantly; and what is more, you must be careful to keep my name out of the matter; but that you will do, of course, for your own sake.”

“I don’t see the use of such a hurry,” grumbled Kristo; “it is not as if we were running for water to drown out a house on fire. I’ll tell them—let me see—yes, I’ll tell them the first lucky day after the new moon is full, and that will be sure to bring things to a happy ending.”

“Nay, but Banksi Lall is obstinate upon this point,” said Three Shells, shaking his head. “The Gossains must be told at once that it cannot be; these were Banksi’s very words, and I am bound to see them carried out.”

Kristo muttered a fervent prayer that Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar might hereafter stew among the boiling copper of Kala Sutra for three and a half millions of years, as the gods have wisely ordained for those who despise and harass a twice-born Brahmin; but when Three Shells mentioned the name of Banksi Lall, the Baboo knew that all argument was in vain. Three Shells again recapitulated the various dangers by which Kristo was threatened, and pointed out the terrible vengeance which he and Banksi Lall would wreak upon the Baboo if they found him endeavouring to play them false, or to thwart their designs; and when he thought that Kristo’s terrors were sufficiently aroused, the mahajan took his departure, promising to call again next day and talk over the matter. Kristo took leave of his visitor at the house door with a surly salutation, and returned to his own room to smoke the tobacco of bitterness in solitude and despair.

The whole district of the Gungaputra did not contain a happier man than Three Shells, the mahajan, as he came forth from the house of Lahory, and took his road through the bazaar towards his own house. He was astonished at his success. All the difficulties that he had conjured up, all the tactics that he had arranged with so much trouble of mind, all the expedients that he had provided against possible contingencies, had never presented themselves or been required, and his whole course had been plain and easy. Surely Three Shells did not err in imagining that the gods were working with him, and that it was to their favour his good fortune was due. That lota which he had gifted to the Linga had more than paid itself; and Three Shells began to calculate whether his interest in the good graces of the gods was yet exhausted, or whether it would still bear the strain of the deeds which remained to be done. On the whole, considering the hazardous nature of his future undertakings, Three Shells thought it might be as well to insure himself against danger by another present to the Linga; but he had fully made up his mind that he would not in the long-run leave the gods his debtors.

So he went homeward highly contented with himself, and with most of his fellow-creatures. He smiled to the tradesmen in the bazaar; he made obeisance to the Brahmins; he stopped and gave an alms to Monnoo, the paralytic cripple who sat by the door of the grain-dealer; and when two little urchins ran against his legs in their play, he stooped and pulled the little fellows playfully by the hair. What a kind money-lender! what a benevolent person! thought everybody whom he passed; no wonder though he prosper, for it is only his deservance. And had they spoken their thoughts aloud, Three Shells would have heartily acknowledged the truth of the observation. After all, success is your only salve for a sore conscience.

Chapter XXXII

The Subadar’s Sorrow

The ruddy glare of an Indian morning broke upon Walesbyganj, rousing up the Subadar’s domestics to the discharge of their daily duties, and opening the care-closed eyes of the heads of the family. Shamsuddeen raised his head from the table upon which he had wearily rested it, and looked languidly out of the window. He had fallen into a brief and troubled slumber in which his mind had been tormented by ominous visions and forebodings of future evil, and he had wakened to find them realised to their worst extent. It seemed hard that the night should be so short; still harder that the golden hours of morning should bring no relief. Shamsuddeen had been wakened many a morning by the rattle of musketry or the hoarse roar of cannon to the consciousness that his next repose might be in the arms of death; but never had he buckled himself for the battle-field with half so heavy a heart as he now prepared to seek his son’s presence.

But he must first snatch a brief respite from earthly care to perform his morning devotions. Having carefully washed his face and hands, according to the ritual of the Prophet, the Subadar took up his strip of prayer-carpet and went down to his garden. There, upon a little plot of grass, screened off by thick shrubbery from all irreverent eyes, the old man turned his face towards a giant myrobalan tree which stood forth upon the highest ridge of Panch Pahar, like the sentinel of the forest, and behind which the Subadar’s spiritual adviser had calculated that the holy city of Mecca lay in a straight line, and slowly prostrated his aged limbs in prayer. Shamsuddeen was always rigid in his observance of the Prophet’s ordinances, and now he found them to be the readiest relief from his afflicted thoughts. Whether Hindoo or Muhammadan, Christian or Pagan, we all seek an ear that is not mortal into which to pour our plaints, and crave for a sympathy that is wider and deeper than that of mere humanity. And this is at least a catholic faith.

But the longest prayers must have an “Amen;” and when Shamsuddeen had accoutred himself at all points with his spiritual harness, he was obliged to prepare himself for asserting his authority after the manner of the flesh. He went to his own room, and, calling his bearer to assist him, he dressed himself in his best uniform from turban to spurs, put his order and medals on his breast, and buckled on his long cavalry sabre with the massive silver hilt that had been presented to him by his native brother-officers of Walesby’s Horse, on the occasion of his leaving the regiment. It was not so much to overawe Afzul as to support himself that the Subadar had donned the insignia of command; for he seemed to regain his old manly vigour and courage when he put on his military trappings, and to find himself once more the bold dragoon that had wooed death so often in the ranks of Walesby’s, and had ridden back with proud heart and erect head from the bloody flirtation. Yes: the frail old pensioner lay behind there in the heap of loose and padded clothes; and Shamsuddeen Khan, the Subadar, went clanking with firm and steady step towards the door of the old zenana where his son was confined.

He found the Khyberee faithful to his trust, and the old trooper drew himself up and presented arms as his master approached. It was hard to say upon which of the two the night’s sorrow had set the deepest impress. Agha’s face was deadly pale, and his eyes hollow and inflamed, as if with bitter tears; and indeed the trooper had been weeping piteously when no witnesses were by to see him thus unmanned. The sight of Agha’s face was a sore trial for the Subadar’s sternness, but he mastered himself with an effort and said, “You are relieved now—go;” and as the Khyberee turned an appealing look upon his master’s face, the Subadar sharply reiterated his orders, “’Bout face, march!” and the trooper had no alternative but to make a humble salute, shoulder his carbine, and trudge down-stairs. When the Subadar entered the zenana, he found his son stretched upon the floor in a sound sleep. Afzul, however much of a Sybarite he might be when opportunity offered, could always resume his soldier’s habits when needful; and he had pillowed his head upon his arm and laid himself down upon the bare boards without any sense of hardship. The angry clouds which had settled on his face had been chased away by bright visions of love and Radha; and as the Subadar stood looking down upon his son’s countenance, he saw the young man smile joyfully, and heard him mutter some expression of imaginary endearments. It was no wonder though the father sighed as he looked down upon the sleeping youth. In spite of some ravages that dissipation had prematurely wrought upon his handsome features, Afzul might have served for the model of an Eastern Apollo; his face had all the regularity and none of the cunning that characterises the classic type of Persian beauty, and his body and limbs had the shapely symmetry of the Bengalee, along with the sinewy robustness of the Afghan warrior.

“So comely, so soldier-like, and yet so vile,” sighed Shamsuddeen to himself. “O Allah! for which of my many sins am I thus afflicted? But I murmur not, for I know that it is for Thy glory that everything has been ordained. Oh that he had found an honourable death upon a Booteah’s spear in the war-time!”

Afzul stirred and turned himself in his sleep. “Bah! your father?” he murmured. “What matters it what your father says? Once in my arms I dare all the fathers in Bengal to harm a hair of your head.”

“Ay,” said the Subadar, bitterly, to himself, “he preaches filial disobedience even in his sleep, as he hath ever practised it in his waking hours. Who would be a father in this guilty age? Afzul,” he added aloud,—“Afzul, get up!”

The young man dreamily opened his eyes, started as he saw the Subadar standing beside him, and instantly sprang to his feet, making a military salute.

“My father!” he cried, in surprise; “and in uniform thus early.” Then, as the recollection of his arrest lashed across his memory, he added as he drew himself haughtily up to his full height, “Now I shall know, perhaps, whether it was by your orders that this indignity has been offered to me, and what I have clone to merit such a degradation.”

“Afzul,” returned the old man, sternly, “you are addressing your superior officer as well as your father; It is for me to speak and you to listen.”

“I may at least ask what my offence has been,” grumbled Afzul. “The Sahibs of whom you are always talking do not condemn a man without a trial. I should like to know why you have authorised your servants to pollute my person with their hands.”

“‘Pollute,’ said you?” asked Shamsuddeen. “Can filth be defiled? After you have degraded yourself and dishonoured me as you have done by your excesses and crimes, no punishment can debase you further. The sooner an unknown grave hides your dishonour, the better for both you and me.”

“I have done nothing to dishonour you,” retorted Afzul; “that is, I may—I confess I have been foolish, and I have often done things that I was sorry for; but not even my father has a right to tack dishonour to my name. If any other had dared to say as much,” continued Afzul, laying his hand fiercely upon his thigh, “I should have drowned his lies in his heart’s blood!”

“Peace!” said the Subadar; “remember that you are under arrest, and such words are mere blustering insolence. You say you have done nothing to dishonour me. Did you not disgrace my name in my own corps by your insubordination, your debauchery, and your evil example, until the Colonel Sahib was compelled to dismount you? Is it no dishonour that my son should be pointed out as a wine-bibber and a dice-rattler, upon whom the Prophet—God’s peace and rest be upon him—has set his ban? Is it no dishonour that my ears should be tortured by tales of your dalliances with infidel wantons? That you should be the boon companion and sworn brother of every blackguard in the valley, whether Hindoo or Mussulman? Oh no! no dishonour, of course! Shamsuddeen Khan Bahadoor, Subadar of Walesby’s Horse, salaams to his son for the lustre which he has cast upon the family reputation;” and the old man raised his palm to his forehead with an ironical reverence.

Stung to the quick by these taunts, conscious that they were only too well deserved, and yet burning with pent-up passion, Afzul could make no reply, and the Subadar went on—

“And now your profligacy has broken the laws of the Government—that Government which was a father to your father, which saved him when a helpless orphan from beggary or from becoming a robber, which promoted him to rank and wealth, and which has put bread in his mouth and in yours from the earliest day of your existence. Nimak haram! Faithless to the salt! But that your mother was the purest and best of women, I should take you for the whelp of some Rangree trooper, or the spawn of a Panjabi weaver, rather than for son of mine!”

“But I at least cannot forget that you are my father,” replied Afzul, haughtily; “and therefore it is that my tongue is silent, and my hand withheld.”

“Withheld, sirrah!” cried Shamsuddeen, passionately; “a fine exercise of moderation indeed, when you know that I could cut you in two with a single blow before you stirred a foot! But I am driven to forget myself by your insolence. I have come to tell you that you are to remain here as a prisoner until the Magistrate Eversley Sahib, to whom I swore to deliver you, dead or alive, arrives in Dhupnagar to try you for your misdeeds. Thenceforth my old age shall be childless, and when I die my estate shall return back to the Government that gave it; and too little, after all, to atone for the ingratitude which my flesh and blood have shown to its laws.”

“Misdeeds!” cried Afzul, looking up with angry astonishment. “And what misdeeds may I have done that the Magistrate Sahib can have any concern with? If I have ever beaten a beggarly Hindoo infidel, have I not always salved his sore with silver? If the Magistrate Sahib is offended with me, I am willing to put myself in his hands at once. With your leave, Subadar Sahib, I shall ride to Bhutpore this very day and answer any accusation that Eversley Sahib may choose to bring against me.”

“I said not so,” said Shamsuddeen, stiffly. “My orders are that you remain here under arrest until Eversley Sahib require you at my hands.”

“And what offences are laid to my charge?” demanded Afzul. “Am I to be condemned in the dark? How can one purge one’s self from disease until he has been told the malady? But do your worst, both you and the magistrate; I shield myself behind my own innocence.”

“Son Afzul,” answered the Subadar, “Ali, the son of Abu Taleb, the successor of the blessed Prophet, hath well said, ‘Thy delight in thyself arises from the corruption of thy understanding.’ What had an innocent man to do strolling about under the shadow of night, when all good men had committed their souls to Allah and their bodies to repose? Tell me wherefore it was that, night after night, you have stolen forth like a beast of prey, when nought is stirring except the spirits of the accursed and the sons of crime? Tell me frankly where you have spent your nights, and it may be that I shall yet be able to gain grace for you in the sight of the Magistrate Sahib. But, alas! it is idle to look for good fruit upon a rotten tree.”

“And as idle to plead to ears that will not hear,” retorted Afzul, “and to a mind that will not believe the truth. Am I a child, that I must ask leave every time I wish to cross the threshold? Nay, then, if I am to be thus oppressed, have your own way; but I warn you that I shall not long submit to such slavery.”

“I fear me sore that you will have to submit to a severer bondage before long,” said the Subadar, with a sigh; “but as you will not accept my assistance, you must even sit upon your own saddle. I know that you are no coward, however many other vices you may have, and I shall be willing to trust to your parole that you will not leave this room without my consent. Do you agree to this, or shall I be obliged to keep you a close prisoner?”

Instead of returning an immediate answer, Afzul walked round the room, satisfied himself of the strength of the iron bars that guarded the windows, and subjected the door to a critical scrutiny. Apparently he thought that the chances of escape were but slight, for, after a minute’s deliberation, he turned towards his father and said—

“I pledge you my word, then; not that I could not escape if I were so minded, but that you may see I do not fear to face whatever is in store for me. If it pleased you to take my life this minute, I should never raise my hand to bar your dagger.”

“I commit you, then, to the Prophet,” said the old man, with a trembling voice and tottering limbs. “O Afzul! seek his aid while there is yet time. With all your faults, you are still the light of my old eyes; and if misfortune befall you, I am left in worse than blindness, in worse than death.” And the Subadar hurried out of the room to conceal his emotion, just as Afzul, touched to the heart by his father’s sorrowful accents, had thrown himself forward upon his knees to seek forgiveness for his waywardness, and to promise that in future he would be a more dutiful son. But his penitence came just one minute too late, and he was addressing himself to the panels of the closed door.

And thus two stubborn hearts marred a golden opportunity of making peace, and stored up bitter trouble for both. The Subadar, bigoted in his notions of discipline, tied up his feelings in red tape, and kept a tight rein upon all the emotions of paternal love. He had not firmness to restrain Afzul as a father, and in the character of an officer he must be both severe and stern. He had, too, a strong suspicion that his son was guilty. When a man had been guilty of such misconduct in the regiment as Afzul, there was no crime that he was not capable of committing, in the Subadar’s way of thinking. Were there not authenticated instances to confirm this opinion? Had not Trumpeter Lall Muhammad, of Walesby’s Horse, begun his career of crime by neglecting to oil his stirrup-leathers, and soon after terminated it by breaking into a money-changer’s shop near the Cashmere Gate, when the regiment was quartered at Delhi. Then, too, he could remember how Duffadar Goolab Singh, a man from the Bunnoo district, and a brave enough trooper in war-time, had gone on from drinking to insubordination, and from insubordination to dakaitee, until he had been at length sentenced to ten years’ transportation by the Sessions Judge of Agra. What likelihood was there that Afzul should be any better? Had he not already taken the bit between his teeth; and was it likely that he would pull up before he did himself a mischief? As Shamsuddeen said to himself, theft or even murder was but a light matter for a man that would come upon parade with unclean buttons and rusty spurs, and that had allowed his name to get into the defaulters’ book.

Afzul on his side had allowed his pride to rise at the Subadar’s sternness, and his haughty spirit could not brook the idea of opening his heart to his father. He had also formed a chivalrous resolution not to betray Radha’s fair fame, whatever might be the consequence to himself. He did not doubt that his present difficulty was in some way or other connected with her. Perhaps the plot which he had been planning for her abduction had been discovered, and hence the magistrate’s interference. But surely the British Government, that boasted so much of its justice, could not punish a man for a misdeed that was not committed. Upon this point Afzul had his misgivings, and thought it not improbable that he had made himself amenable to punishment. But surely the intention of carrying off a young woman could not be such a heavy crime but that a slight fine, or a brief term of imprisonment, would pay the penalty. Yes, it must certainly be so; and all the fuss that his father was making was simply a piece of his usual fanatic martinetism. All these old soldiers were the same; he remembered that Jemadar Mirza Beg of Walesby’s used to make more fuss about a man sleeping on sentry than the commander-in-chief would do about losing a battle. Nevertheless he resolved to make his peace with the Subadar, and sat down to await the arrival of Agha, whom he meant to make his ambassador; but it was the Khitmutghar Shaik Kulloo that waited upon him with breakfast, and Afzul found another cause of complaint against his father in the Khyberee being debarred from his presence, for he was quite certain that Agha would not stay long away from him of his own free will.

But Agha had been rigorously excluded from the old zenana. When Shamsuddeen left his son, he found the trooper loitering in a corner of the passage. Agha had concerted a plan which he thought would effect a diversion upon the Subadar’s temper. He saluted, as his master approached, endeavoured to put on a bland smile, and said—

“It was on this day of the year, Subadar Sahib, that we fought the battle of Guzerat, and you had so narrow an escape, when Rustum was killed beneath you by the Sikh thirteen-pounder. Is it your pleasure that we make a holiday to celebrate it?”

“The battle of Guzerat!” cried Shamsuddeen, his face lighting up with a glow of pleasure at the recollection; “to be sure it is. What a day that was! You remember, Agha, how we had to sit in our saddles on the artillery flank for three long hours, while our hundred guns were crashing away at Shere Singh’s ranks, until Ikram Ali’s Afghan Horse charged us. ‘Now, my lads!’ said Colonel Walesby Sahib, ‘don’t you think we might say “Threes about” to these gentlemen?’ And sure enough they were soon glad to retreat at a quicker pace even than they had come on at.”

“And you remember, Sahib, when Rustum fell down dead with you, how Lal Pande, the biggest coward in the regiment, jumped off and offered you his charger, thinking that he might then go to the rear? And what a roar the troopers set up when you said, ‘No, no, my friend; you have so accustomed that horse of yours to push into the hottest fighting, that the brute might bring me into awkward company; my servant will get me one’!”

“Ay, and then you galloped across the line of the Sikh fire and caught a riderless charger that was rushing upon our artillery. And a right good horse he was; I rode him until his wind was broken, when General Picquet Sahib reviewed us at Pultunpore.”

The train is now sufficiently laid, thought Agha, and if an attack does not succeed now, it never will. “It shall be a holiday in the household then, Subadar Sahib?” he asked aloud.

“Certainly,” said the Subadar; “and give a bakshish of eight annas to each, and have a lamb killed to bake with their rice. Ah! it was a great day the battle of Guzerat; the Khalsa (Sikh nation) never raised its head again.”

“Then we shall haul out ‘Pulluk Sahib’ to the green before the gate and fire a salute with him? I’ll tell Afzul Baba to come and help; he is the only one that understands how to fire him.”

But though ‘Pulluk Sahib’—a light field-piece, called after the greatest of Indian artillerymen, who has now gone to his rest—was the pride of the Subadar’s heart, and though the delight of his old age was to toy with the gun, not even the union of its name with that of his son would effect a diversion in Afzul’s favour. The Subadar started, frowned, while Guzerat and all its glories rolled back into the invisible recesses of memory, and turning to Agha, said with a stern voice—

“Afzul is under arrest within the old zenana; be careful yourself that your misdeeds meet not a similar punishment. Shaik Kulloo, the Khitmutghar, will wait upon him; and should any other servant of mine hold communication with the prisoner, it is the day of his dismissal. D’ye hear me, Agha? Am I to be obeyed?”

“Yes, Subadar Sahib,” replied Agha, with a dolorous whine, as all his schemes for a reconciliation melted away; “but it is I, and not Afzul, that am to blame. And if in your most excellent justice and boundless mercy you would be pleased to order me for punishment—”

“Silence, fellow!” cried Shamsuddeen, lifting his sheathed sword menacingly. “Are you to lay down to me my duty? Right about face! Mar-rch.”

Agha saluted, and went away to the stables in a very sober frame of mind. He was much disconcerted by the failure of his attempt to reinstate Afzul in the Subadar’s good graces, and still more by his ignorance of the fault that had thus embittered Shamsuddeen against his son. That the offence was of more than ordinary magnitude, Agha was convinced by his master’s visit to the magistrate; but to which particular transgression of Afzul’s the commotion was due, Agha could not conjecture. So far as the Khyberee knew, Afzul had done nothing that could bring him into collision with the law, and he was fully in his young master’s confidence. It would surely, then, be his whole bearing—his unruly and irregular conduct, and not any special offence—that had got him into trouble; and when the trooper reflected how much of Afzul’s wildness was due to his own example and training, how the young man’s turbulent passions had been fostered by his exciting tales of Afghan life and his seditious murmurings at British rule, he began to feel the torments of remorse at work within him. But what availed repentance when the evil was done? The thing to be considered was how he might best aid his young master; and how could he assist him without knowing the point wherein Afzul was at fault?

Neither breakfast, nor the judicial punishment of Bonnoo, the Subadar’s farrier, convicted of causing the Cabulee mare to limp by careless shoeing, and sentenced to three dozen strokes on the calves of his legs with a supple bamboo sapling—one dozen and a half being for the actual offence, and the rest for Agha’s ill-humour—restored the Khyberee to his usual spirits. Probably for the first time in his life he began to feel something like true repentance for an ill-spent career, and to think that the distress which had come upon him was, after all, but the retribution of a righteous Providence. Impressed with this idea, he went to the stable and got out his old pistol, and set himself diligently to work at scouring the barrel, hoping in that fashion to obtain some gleam of mental guidance. Agha had never applied in vain to this oracle; nor upon this occasion was he doomed to disappointment. After some half-hour’s diligent rubbing, the Khyberee’s grasp relaxed, and his exertions slackened, while his face became at the same time lighted up with an expression of sorrowful intelligence.

Tobah, tobah!“ (repentance, repentance!) said Agha to himself, with the whine of a begging dervish, as he smote his breast with the palms of his hands; “what a wretched sinner I have been! By Allah! but my oaths, and my wine-drinkings, and my wantonnesses, and my neglect of the precepts of the Prophet—peace and rest be upon him!—and my careful observance to do those very things which he has forbidden, are more than enough to overbalance me upon the sword-edged bridge of Al Sirat, were I as sure-footed as a lizard or a Malabar monkey. My sins, were they all written down, would more than fill a regimental roster. O Allah! there never was wretch so vile as I am, save Duffadar Ibrahim Khan, who deserted to the Sikhs the night before Sobraon, taking with him my silver-mounted pistols. And what chance is there for amendment in this infidel-oppressed land? If I seek my salvation by good works, such as slaying a heathen for the glory of the Faith, lo You! the Sahibs cry out ‘murder,’ and straightway string me up as if I were a malefactor. And yet I would fain be safa-karroed (whitewashed) before Thy face. Not that I would seek to curry favour with Thee for the sake of promotion as some do; the simplest saddle in Paradise will suffice for Agha, the son of Jubbar Khan, and let those have commissions who best deserve them. But if aught that I could do would avail Afzul, I’d set out on a pilgrimage to-morrow.”

The more Agha reflected, the more he was convinced that the occasion demanded some display of religious energy upon his part. The Khyberee had intrusted his spiritual concerns to the care of a holy moulvie who resided in Bhutpore, and who generally paid a visit to Walesbyganj about the season when the trooper’s pension became payable. In his reverend society Agha would spend a day very devoutly in cursing all infidels and separatists; nor would the holy man disdain to share with the trooper a measure of Rutton Pal’s best liquor—sometimes to such an extent as to interfere with the steadiness of his steps on the homeward journey. But it was not of such assistance that Agha now stood in need. Old Sayyid Gulzar’s counsels might do well enough when there was nothing serious the matter, and when a formal profession of religion was all that was necessary; but he was not a horse upon which a swollen river might be forded. So Agha resolved to make a pilgrimage on horseback to Ajibganj, in the adjoining district of Lallkor, where was the shrine of a Muhammadan saint, who had wrought great miracles in his lifetime, and still greater ones since his decease. The keeper of the mosque at Ajibganj was, moreover, a countryman of Agha’s own, one Peer Muhammad, from the Yusufzye, who might be expected to understand the workings of an Afghan conscience better than the timorous priests of the Lower Provinces. This praiseworthy resolve, coupled with a mental vow that he would henceforth harass the Subadar’s Hindoo tenants to the utmost of his power upon religious principle, quieted the Khyberee’s mind in a measure; and with a sigh of relief he rose up and went to restore his pistol to its usual resting-place in the stable.

Chapter XXXIII

In Profundis

When a shipwrecked sailor who has been dragged exhausted from the breakers, carried senseless to the nearest fisherman’s cottage, and there put snugly and warmly to bed by the hospitable kindness of his deliverers—when this poor wretch wakens next morning to find that he has lost all save the bare life, what wonder though at first he be hardly sensible of how much God has spared to him! Such were the feelings of poor Krishna, as from a troubled slumber which had succeeded to the ravings and tossings of a day’s delirium, he awoke to a full consciousness of his forlorn condition. He had been miserably deceived; the dearest feelings of his heart had been cruelly trifled with, and, worse than all, he had bartered his faith and his good name for a shadow, and had been cheated in the bargain. It was not from a few hours’ derangement, but from months of madness, that Krishna’s senses were coming back to him. Was it well that he had ever awakened? Would he not have owed it to the kindness of the Supreme Brahma if he had been permitted to perish in the depths of his delusion? What had he to live for now? Ay! what? And Krishna, shuddering, shut his eyes, and turned his face to the wall, with a sickness at heart which he prayed might be the sickness of death.

But death came not, and while life remained, Krishna could not help reflecting upon his earthly evils. There was but little that he had left to cling to in the world. The many advantages which nature had conferred upon him had been all perverted, while he had ever made the most of such misfortunes as had fallen to his lot. A melancholy confession; but how many young men may make it? And yet, judged by our standards, Krishna had sinned lightly to be punished so heavily. He had changed his faith. Well, suppose your son should get a “call,” and associate himself with the Shakers, or the Sandemanians, or any other of the obscurer forms of Dissent, it would be trying to your feelings as an orthodox Churchman; but you would neither kick him out of doors in this world, nor avail yourself of the Athanasian Creed to consign him to eternal retribution in the next. But as a Hindoo, Krishna was accountable to Hindoo opinion; and in the judgment of that tribunal he had committed an offence—nay, a crime, of the most heinous character. This was the first lapse. Then, when he had entered the ranks of the Theists, he had been received with honour by the first thinkers among his countrymen, and had been congratulated both by the press and by the public as the future champion of Indian progress—what a grand career had there been spread out before him! With his education and talents, a seat in the Bengal Council would have been an object of ambition not difficult of attainment; and Baboo Krishna Chandra Gossain might have made laws for his countrymen, and taken the private entrée at Government House as well as Baboo Bunkum Chunder Chatterjee, before whom the greatest men in Calcutta made obeisance. Or if he had gone to England, might not he have sat at Lord Gotham’s table, and shaken hands with the Marquis at the India Office, as well as a shallow-pate like Mr R. C. Roy? And all these golden possibilities he had next flung from him, and for what? For the love of a fair devil, a beautiful dream; a damsel who kept as many hearts in her bosom as there were lovers in her eyes; a temptress as lovely and as wanton as those hired women that were sent to wile away the ascetic of old from his holy retreat to the court of King Dasaratha. And now that he had given up all that was dearest to him, his faith to his God and his fair fame among men, for her sake, she had turned round and laughed at him. A bullying, barbarous, Afghan soldier, whose soul was in a spirit-pot, and who wore his honour in his fists, could command that love with a few vulgar oaths which he had vainly sighed out the finest sentiments of his soul to obtain. Had a worthier man borne off the prize, he could have endured his sorrow manfully, and even wished his rival “God-speed;” but the bitterest, the most humiliating blow of all was, that he had been supplanted by one who was even beneath his contempt. In such a moment his old belief in the “brotherhood of man” was little likely to have much weight with Krishna; the relationship between him and his successful rival could only be that of a high-caste Brahmin proceeding out of the very mouth of God, and a foul wretch that could not even claim with the lowest Hindoo to be sprung from Brahma’s feet, but of whose anomalous origin no one knew anything, and as few cared to know.

As for Radha, all sentiments of affection towards her were effectually dispelled. In some high-strung hearts there is but a semitone between passionate love and bitter hate, and the chord will respond in either note according to the touch of the striker. Of such a nature was Krishna. So long as he thought his passion returned, he would have bowed himself to the greatest indignities that her love chose to lay upon him; but though he would willingly have been her slave, he scorned to be her fool. And now that he was lying broken, and bruised, and bleeding, at the foot of the precipice, whom should he blame but her who had pushed him down? And thus Krishna’s present hate became intense in proportion to his past love.

“She is like the Vishkanya, the poison-maiden of the old stories,” thought Krishna; “she whom princes had fed upon poison from the hour of her birth, in whom every beauty had been perfected, every charm developed, by the aid of deadly drugs—so that, when sent as a present to a mortal enemy, certain death might ensue from her venomed embrace. Yes, this poison-maiden was designed for my destruction in the just retribution of Providence. But I have escaped her snares—have I, indeed, or has my heart already caught contagion at her lips? It matters not much, for in one way or another I must soon get clear of my earthly troubles.”

The sound of a light footstep fell upon his ear, and the shadow of a woman’s figure came between him and the fast-failing twilight. Krishna did not raise his head, but instinct told him that Chakwi was watching over his sick-bed. A thrill of pleasure ran through his heart at the thought that there was still some one who cared for him; but only to be succeeded by a pang of remorse when he remembered how her affection had been repaid by coldness and contempt. He would have liked to put forth his hand and draw her to his bosom, and to print a kiss of gratitude upon her lips, but his pride revolted from such meanness. “I scorned her in my weal, and she shall not suffer in my woe,” said he to himself; “I can bear my sorrow alone. Poor girl! it was part of my madness to shut my eyes to your affection. Would it had been otherwise—would to God it had been otherwise! But such deeds, such deserts. It’s too late now.”

As if it ever could be too late to open up the heart that has long hardened itself against the tenders of a pure and disinterested devotion, to acknowledge one’s wrong-headedness and errors, and to sue for pardon with a sincere and humble mind! Had Krishna then yielded, a reconciliation would assuredly have taken place, and much that has to be written in the remaining chapters could never have come to pass. But would this have been the best, the happiest issue? You see, we writers become in our way a sort of little providence to our puppets, and may afflict them with evil that good may come, as well as punish them with the still more trying chastisement of a brief prosperity, so that ruin when it does fall upon them shall crush them with an unwonted and terrible force; and surely, when we consider how limited are the combinations of life that come within our conceptions, how transparent and artificial the best plots that we can contrive, we cannot help thinking, with reverence, of the Great Plotter that has written such striking, such unfathomable, such ever-novel mysteries upon the broad page of man’s destinies.

So Krishna restrained his feelings, although he was much touched by this fresh proof of Chakwi’s fidelity; but he called her to the bedside, and pressed her hand kindly in his own.

“I might have known that you would not be far from me in the hour of my trouble, dear Chakwi,” said Krishna, not without a certain bitterness in his tones; “I have ill earned such attention at your hands.”

Checking a sigh, Chakwi turned away her head to conceal the tears as they started to her eyes, and half endeavoured to withdraw the hand that her husband pressed to his lips. “Am I not your wife?” she said, in a low voice; “did I not say in front of the burning altar, ‘Leaving16 my father’s house I am come to yours; I and mine and my life are your property’? You would not have me break my word?”

And Chakwi looked down in her husband’s face with a gaze of innocent and calm dignity, which, however, instantly gave place to an expression of sorrowful concern as she observed how Krishna winced at the implied reproach.

“Nay,” she said, hastily, “but I did not mean to give you pain. I only wished to excuse my presence in your chamber. I know I am not wanted; I—I am always in the way—and you will never be happy till you have put the torch to my funeral pile. Oh that I were dead!” sobbed forth Chakwi, as she hid her face in her veil.

“Good God! what a wretch I have been!” groaned Krishna; “spare me, Chakwi—spare me; I have already more upon my back than I can bear without the self-conviction of your wrongs. If it pleases God to spare me, I may yet atone for the injustice I have done you. I have little else to live for than your love.”

Chakwi looked up with a wild stare of astonishment. “It is I that am wicked in coming thus to annoy you. You are weak, you are feverish, and must try to sleep. I shall go now and watch in the next room;” and smoothing the sick man’s pillow deftly with both her hands, Chakwi stole on tiptoe from the room, but sat herself patiently down outside the door, listening with eager ears that she might fly to his assistance should he want anything.

“I am glad she is gone,” thought Krishna, as he threw himself feebly back upon the couch; “I feel chill, as if a devil’s shadow had fallen over me, when I look upon the poor neglected little thing. And yet she is an angel, for none but an angel could have forgiven the neglect and scorn with which I have repaid her love all these long years. It is hard to believe that such constancy could exist save in the visions of an ancient poet:—

“‘My lonely, weeping, miserable wife,
Weeping at early morn, at evening late;
Where hast thou seen a nymph so soft of mould,
So tender, loving, and disconsolate?
Sure the sad lady’s spirit dwelt of old
In some frail lotus-flower that shrank from rain and cold’”17

The stately roll of the Sanskrit slokas, coupled with the weak and excited condition of Krishna’s mind, filled his eyes with tears, and caused his nether lip to shake. Raising himself upon his elbow, to see that there were no witnesses of his effeminacy, he noticed that two newspapers had been placed upon the little table that held the few necessaries of his toilet.

“What! are these English papers?” said he, clearing his eyes. “There were none there before. I wonder how they came here. Could Chakwi have brought them? Ah! it’s some of Romesh Chunder Roy’s work. I wish I could get at them;” and reaching forth his arm, he endeavoured to get at the table, but in a second Chakwi had sprung in and placed the journals in his hand.

“They were brought hither by that English-like Baboo,” she said, apologetically; “but I feared that you were not fit to read them; and besides, I feared that—that there might be some evil to you in a paper coming from that unclean and wicked flesh-eater.”

“Silly one!” said Krishna, with a faint smile; “do you believe in such nonsense? But you must go to your own room; I am very comfortable, and shall want for nothing more. Go now, and please your husband,” and holding up his face, he pressed q kiss upon the smooth, round cheek, and gently pushed her away from him.

Chakwi’s face flushed, as if Krishna’s lips had magnetised all the blood in her body towards it, and her heart beat violently when she paused breathlessly outside the room. “He kissed me, and yet sent me away. He cares not to have me with him. But I shall do his bidding; Chakwi is not going to force her love even upon her husband. And besides, I must go to that dreadful place to-night. How can I ever get courage to carry me so far through the darkness? But what is there that I would not dare to win his love;” and Chakwi went noiselessly away to her own room, dreading, in her bashfulness, lest any even of the house domestics should know that she had been in her husband’s apartment.

Meanwhile we must return to Krishna. A candle, which Chakwi had placed in a niche at the head of his bed, enabled him to see that the journals were the two last issues of the ‘Bengalee Baboo,’ the organ of orthodox Hindooism, and the ‘Cossitollah Reflector,’ which shadowed forth the views of the reforming Theists. Giving the preference to the ‘Baboo,’ he opened and read that Rajah Siva Jagganath Bahadur had given a great natch, at which there had been present Sir Dackle Duftur, the Hon’ble Pekin Prattle, the mercantile member of council, Mr Snipper, from the Bengal Secretariat, and other élite of Calcutta society, who had expressed their sense of the Rajah’s hospitality in the most flattering terms; that Baboo Mohendro Jath Bose was the foremost man in Calcutta, whether for religion, liberality, public spirit, or private character; and that words were wanting the ‘Baboo’ to characterise in sufficiently reprobative language those vile miscreants who had asserted in a contemporary—which the ‘Baboo’ would not pollute his pages by designating—that the Mæcenas of Kuli Bazaar had been seen to reel out of Spence’s Hotel in a state of too evident intoxication, when every one with the slightest pretension to a knowledge of good society was aware of the worthy gentleman’s constant liability to vertigo and spasms, the penalty of his arduous labours for the good of his ungrateful countrymen; that the Reverend Lamentations Splasher, Baptist missionary at Dipteepûl, had, upon the undoubted authority of a valued native correspondent, made a criminal attempt upon the honour of an amiable widow lady, aged ninety-five next Jaagadadhatri festival, relict of the late lamented Bammohun Bose of that station, and that all the Padree Sahibs of the district were employing bribes and threats to hush up the business; that the Editor of the ‘Padrepore Monitor’ was a fiend and a villain and a brutal Anglo-Saxon oppressor for daring to insinuate that Kali Dass Bhur had been justly convicted of forgery, when to the veriest fool it was clearly apparent that Mr Justice Tremor, who had summed up against the prisoner, was notoriously biassed, and that the jury, who had brought in a verdict of guilty, was bribed to a man; that Mr Romesh Chunder Roy, the talented author of ‘Champak Leaves,’ was by far the ablest barrister in the High Court, and that nothing but the petty jealousy of an alien administration, which always did its best to stifle native genius, kept him from promotion, while such men as Bob Bullie and Phelim Doyle were made Solicitor-General and Sitting Counsel to the Bengal Government; and many other items of similar interest. But on turning over the first page his eye became riveted to a particular paragraph which occupied a prominent place among the editorial effusions, and which he now devoured with breathless anxiety. It ran thus:—

Recantation of a Brahmist Pervert.—It will be a matter of congratulation to our many readers when we inform them that the promising young gentleman, Baboo Krishna Chandra Gossain, son of the venerable custodian of the holy Linga of Dhupnagar, to whose temporary adhesion to Theism the ‘Cossitollah Reflector‘ and its meddling patrons sometime ago gave such an ill-advised publicity, has been happily reconciled to the faith of his fathers. A mind so acute and many-sided as that of Baboo Krishna Chandra Gossain could not possibly remain satisfied with the narrow dogmas of our so-called reformers, which are as specious as they are delusive; nor could a high-souled youth, brought up in the best Brahmin society, long tolerate the assumptions of a clique which, while professing to despise caste, seeks, on the sole ground of religious superiority, to set itself above all the constituted castes of the country. We admire the high moral courage which has enabled Krishna Baboo to frankly acknowledge his error, and we commend his example to other young men who, having found out their mistake, still hesitate, through fear of opprobrium, to retrace their steps. We may anticipate that the ‘ Cossitollah Reflector’ will meet this statement with its usual denial, but we derive our information from a gentleman now on the spot, who is certainly no enemy to the Theistic cause. We may also add that Baboo Krishna Chandra Gossain is about to contract a matrimonial engagement with a young lady of great beauty and accomplishments belonging to a highly connected and most orthodox family in his native village.”

When he had glanced over this paragraph, Krishna tore open the ‘Reflector,’ which he knew would express the Theistic opinion of his tergiversations, and lo! the first article on the first page was devoted to a scathing attack upon himself. The ‘Reflector’ had no intention of denying the truth of the announcement contained in the last issue of the ‘Bengalee Baboo,’ and heartily congratulated its contemporary upon the accession of Baboo Krishna Chandra Gossain to the Orthodox party. The editor then went on to analyse the whole of Krishna’s mental and moral qualities, making the former out to be of the most superficial character, and the latter not any better than they ought be. From this he glanced at the benighted condition of Dhupnagar, denouncing it as a hotbed of ignorance, superstition, and crime, and declaring that were Mr Muffington Prig magistrate of the Gungaputra district but for a single day, such a vile cesspool would no longer disfigure the map of Bengal. Then, after disposing of Ramanath as a hoary-headed idol-monger, who had bought his son’s honour for licence to practice libertinism, and stigmatising the Lahories as panderers to the worst passions of humanity, the writer turned back to give Krishna the coup de grâce: “Let no one presume to say that the cause of Theism will suffer from Krishna Baboo’s defection. It is rather a positive gain. We know, and will dare to measure our strength with, our open opponents; but what defence have we against weakness and half-heartedness in our own ranks? We agree with our contemporary in recommending Krishna Baboo’s example to all those among us—if any such there be—who entertain misgivings as to the creed they have adopted. Better far that they slunk back at once into the slavery of caste—what matter though their names become like that of Krishna Chandra Gossain, a hissing and a reproach wherever the eternal truth is proclaimed?—than that they remained among us to spread doubt and chill the minds of earnest believers with their formalism and indifference. We take our leave of Krishna Baboo with the prayer that the rejection of the truth may never be laid to his charge in a future state, and with the hope that he may suffer no direr punishment than the reproaches of his own conscience. We have heard that Krishna Chandra indulged in dreams of making a name for himself, and we suppose his ambition has now been gratified, for his name will henceforth stand as a synonym for perfidy and baseness wherever there are Hindoos that struggle sincerely and honestly for the revival of their degraded countrymen.”

“Yet deeper in the mire,” said Krishna, as he fell back on his pillow with a groan. “Oh, God! what is there yet to come? Hurl Thy remaining bolts in merciful quickness, and keep me not longer in torture. This is then the end of all my dreams of future greatness—irretrievable disgrace and obloquy, and the scorn of her whom I most loved. But why should I blame her faithlessness when I myself have been a traitor—a traitor to God and religion. My punishment is but too just, and its justness is the heaviest part of it.”

Since his abjuration of Brahmism, Krishna had given up his devotions, except the repetition of an occasional formula from the Shastras, to humour his father, which in his mouth had no meaning at all. Now he felt in his heart an intense need of prayer, a desire to pour out all his troubles and doubts and difficulties before the Great Unseen One, whose cords he had cast from him, and whose worship and glory he had degraded to the service of idols made by men’s hands. But how could he, a rebel, a sworn foe, approach the Eternal? Submission, could only lead to his own destruction, and his pride rose at the idea of humbling himself to Him whom he had denied—for still does the audax Japeti genus walk beneath heaven with a proud head and a haughty heart, braving even the thunderbolts of an angry Jove. But in dire distress the heart will have a vent, and neither Brahma, Vishnu, nor Siva, the Linga of Dhupnagar nor the Temple of Tarakeshwar, would suffice for Krishna at that moment. At length he gave up his mind to God, and when he had done so, the rest was easy. There was no trace of pride then, no shadow of self-sufficiency, no attempt at extenuation nor endeavour to palliate, but rather a seeking for the lowest depths of humiliation, a grovelling in the uncleanest mire that his soul could find to prostrate itself in. He had erred, but he could not be satisfied unless he made himself out to be a greater sinner than he really had been. And this abasement did him good. He felt as if he clung a suppliant to the garments of God, and no longer stood afar as an alien. His mind calmed down, and hope and peace began to shine upon his soul through the breaking storm-clouds of passion. He might yet win the favour of God—he might yet atone for his past errors,—not by allying himself to these uncharitable sophists of the Calcutta debating clubs, but by loving God and helping his fellows. Here, after all, was something to live for, and Krishna felt that he would live and not die.

When evening service was over in the temple, Ramanath came slipping barefooted into his son’s room to see if the fever had abated. He found Krishna calm and self-possessed. The priest recommended him to keep the window shut, to get an extra coverlet put upon his bed, and to drink a posset of nim leaves, which old Bechoo would prepare for him, and was moving away to his bed when Krishna stopped him, and begged to be permitted to speak upon a matter of importance. Ramanath, fearing that some new difficulty might have arisen, would fain have postponed the interview upon the ground that Krishna was too weak to talk, and that the hour was late; but when he saw that his son was obstinate, the good priest sat down upon the bed with a sigh, and with serious misgivings as to the soundness of his night’s sleep. But evil as were his anticipations, he was not prepared for the announcement that Krishna was about to make—namely, that he had abandoned all intentions of marrying Kristo Baboo’s daughter, and that the negotiations between the families must be at once broken off.

“Sacred Siva! break off the marriage?” cried Ramanath, jumping from the bed in amazement and shading his eyes with his hands that he might the better see Krishna’s face. “But it is impossible; cannot be done. Such a thing was never heard of in Dhupnagar before. Why, I would not say such a thing to Bejoy, the ghatak, for five score rupees.”

“If you will not, I must, then, father,” answered Krishna, firmly; “I would not wed with Radha Lahory for all the gold upon Mount Someru. Press me not, father, for my mind is made up.”

“God of the azure neck! (Siva)—and but yesterday he was sighing for her like a sal-tree in a gale of wind!” ejaculated poor Ramanath, with upturned eyes. “A pestilence upon all young fools that know not their own minds. And what have you against the girl, son Krishna, that has made you change thus suddenly?”

“I have nothing against her. I make no complaint; but she loves me not—is not that enough?”

“Love you? why, she has had no chance. How can you know whether she loves you or not? She did not say so when you went to see her, did she? for you came back well enough pleased then. You have got some of your silly English notions into your head again. However, if you will make a fool of yourself, you are not going to make a world’s wonder of me likewise. Break off the marriage, in the gods’ names, yourself, but don’t make the townsmen say that Ramanath Gossain went back from his word. And hearken, son Krishna! don’t let any of your heretical notions get hold of you again, else you might find if aught befell me that you would have nothing left but the beggar’s dish to lick. I have done my duty to the country and to my religion; and Gangooly, the headman, who has my testament, will see it carried out. I wish I had wrung your neck about before I sent you to that thrice-cursed English college in Calcutta,” ejaculated Ramanath to himself as he left the room. “May both pundits and students be cast from the highest height in heaven to the lowest gulf in hell, and be roasted there with their own books until the end of time, for meddlesome, shallow-pated mischief-makers that they are!”

With a devout prayer that the learned members of the Presidency College may escape such a fate, I close this chapter.

Chapter XXXIV

Madri, the Daina

In a ravine opening into the Gungaputra, cut off by thick jungle from the ghats of Dhupnagar, and dividing the village lands from those of the Milkiganj cottagers, lived Madri, the daina, or witch of the district. There are many witches in the Gungaputra valley, but, by her malignity and cunning, Madri had raised herself to a bad eminence, to which no other of the sisterhood had the tact to attain, and her evil fame had been spread far and wide as the Witch of the Gungaputra. Madri had only to go outside her own hut after nightfall, and shake loose her long black hair, to bring all the witches in Bengal, from the Naf to the Karumnassa, trooping round about her. So at least said the folks of Dhupnagar; and there was the beaten, green circle in front of Madri’s door, where their unholy gambols were carried on, to substantiate the villagers’ statements. Then for an evil eye—it was well known that Madri’s glance brought certain destruction to either man or beast. It was notorious that Jye Kishen, the younger brother of Gangooly, the village headman, had met Madri one morning while he was setting out on a journey to Calcutta, and had turned back, fearing for the consequences of so inauspicious a rencontre. But who can evade his destiny? Going to a feast at Dwarkanath the schoolmaster’s, the young man partook over freely of ghi and sweetmeats, which brought on an attack of indigestion, followed by obstruction of the bowels; and with the assistance of Nitye, the kobiraj, or quack doctor, young Jye Kishen was borne to the burning-ghat within eight-and-forty hours of his meeting with Madri. With a puff of her breath she could raise such a hurricane in the valley as would shake all the fruit-trees, and level every standing stalk of grain from Bhutpore to Ghatghar; and she had only to wag her little finger to send murrain upon both cow and bullock. When a cow became prematurely dry, the ryot assured himself that Madri had need of milk, and made no more about it. When a child began to ail, it was of course Madri’s doing, and her hostility must be bought off at any price. It was in vain that the husbandman placed the chattur, or consecrated cake of cow-dung, on the top of his heap of winnowed corn. The rats at Madri’s bidding would eat more than half of the grain in a night’s time. Equally vain was it to seek to fight Madri with her own weapons. When Ram Churn, Shama Churn the grain-dealer’s nephew, became possessed—of course it was Madri who had bewitched him—the afflicted parents had unwisely sent for Raghoo, the khokasa, or warlock, who lived apart from men, among the jungles of Panch Pahar, and commissioned him to expel the evil spirit. The upshot was that, after Raghoo began his incantation and fumigations to drive out the fiend, the youth became worse than ever, and died in a day or two raving mad; and after that, there was no sorcerer in the district who would enter the lists against Madri. Nor was the witch of the Gungaputra limited to the use of the human form. Gangooly, the headman, whose veracity no one in Dhupnagar would dare to dispute—openly at least—had encountered her in the shape of a spotted leopard one night near the Pagoda Tope as he was riding home from Gapshapganj; and when he exclaimed aloud, “If I survive till to-morrow I shall send that excellent lady, Madri—may she live for a thousand years!—a basket of the finest sweetmeats to be had in Dhupnagar,” The beast, instead of springing upon him, gave him a friendly wag of its tail, and disappeared among the ruins of the old temple.

Madri’s residence was well suited to her avocation. Close by the mouth of the ravine, where her hut stood, was the burning-ghat, where the funeral rites of the low-caste people of Dhupnagar were performed—a place which no respectable Brahmin ever passed without an expression of disgust. Rakshasas (ghouls), and all manner of unclean and evil spirits, hovered about the spot after dusk to pick up the souls of poor outcastes, and to torment the wretched naked spirits before they could find a refuge in some other body, whether human or brute. Through the thick jungle-wood Madri could see the death-fires at night from the door of her hut; her solitude was cheered by the shrill wailing of the mourners, and her senses were enlivened by the rank odours of the funeral-pile. Fronting her dwelling, on the other side of the ravine, was a deep precipice, almost concealed by creepers, at the foot of which more than one dead body had been found, and which generally was the first place to be searched when any of the villagers was amissing. Suicide was Gangooly’s invariable report upon these occasions, for no one would venture to make too minute an inquest upon an accident happening so close to the witch’s dwelling.

Let us peep into this abode of dread. It is a low, gloomy room, scarcely lighted up by an earthen lamp, which flickers and sputters in a hole of the wall. The charred cinders of a few sticks are lying in the middle of the room, from which a fitful glare of flame now and then flashes up, succeeded by a thick volume of smoke, which curls about the roof and eaves of the cottage until an outlet is found by the half-open window. Of course Madri would not burn dried cow-dung, as other Hindoos do, for her friends and familiars could hardly be expected to abide the odours of so holy a substance. There was neither chair nor table, nor any sign of Madri’s professional pursuits visible; only a small shrine, gaudy with scarlet cloth and silver filigree work, stood against the wall of the hut, supporting, upon a crystal stand, a small, round, black stone. This was the shalgram, a stone possessed of divine properties, and powerful in all the appliances of magic; and it is the ætites, or eagle-stone of the geologists, a stone found in almost every Hindoo household. But there were no marvels to attract the credulous, nothing horrible to unnerve the timorous, nothing mysterious to impose upon the sceptical.

But a single glance at the witch herself, as she stood in the middle of the floor, looking dreamily down upon the dying embers, was sufficient to convince one that such affectations could well be dispensed with. Madri was a tall, muscular woman, far above the average height of Bengal females, with a figure that was commanding and handsome, and a large well-formed head that sat proudly upon a stately neck and finely-squared shoulders. Her face had once been beautiful, and would have been so still but for the lines which vice and passion had traced upon it. It was as if evil had wrought a veil to spread over features which spoke of the goodness of nature—a veil which, though it could not wholly conceal the outward manifestations of a better mind, could still render them wholly inoperative. Her brow, though broad and lofty, had become moulded into a perpetual frown; her clear grey eyes were quick and piercing and fierce withal, her nostrils and upper lip were writhed into a scornful sneer, and the mouth revealed a set of large teeth clenched firmly together. None could tell her age; she might not be much over forty, but her skin was as dry and wrinkled, and her hair as grizzled, as any crone of threescore and ten years. She wore a long robe of coarse black serge, girt lightly round the middle; her arms were bare; and her hair hung loosely down to her waist in thick matted tresses, those tresses the shaking of which could strike awe into the hardiest heart in Bengal. One look into her face is enough to remove our wonder at the power for evil which Madri has made herself in the Gungaputra district.

Madri raises herself from her meditative attitude and looks towards the door of the hut. “The night waxes late and yet the girl comes not,” she soliloquised; “what can detain the silly hussy? Charming herself with amulets and toys against the mantras (incantations) of Madri? Ah, well, let her; spell for spell; and the strong heart against the weak one. One needs no conjuring to read a mind like hers—all simplicity, purity, and innocent trust. And yet I am so unused to these qualities, that I had wellnigh mistaken them for guilty shame. Poor thing! hers is a sad story, and I could have melted at it, but that I saw she shuddered when I laid my hand upon her. That shudder, I suspect, saved my credit, for I should have lived to rue it had I taken such a simple chitterling into my confidence. And that old soldier will be here too—also very unlike the usual run of Madri’s customers; but his errand was quite in my way. A handsome young gallant his son. I remember when I met him in the Ghatghar bridle-path where there is only room for one. He pulled his horse to the side and said, ‘I should crave a kiss for my courtesy, my good mother, but that you are somewhat eldern; but never mind, the first pretty girl I meet shall requite me for your debt.’ Ah! I have seen the day when he had not passed Madri in such a fashion; but alas! after the bloom comes the dry bark and the withered foliage.”

“Here they are, love and death,” continued she, taking two vials from her bosom and holding them between her and the light; “love and death, peace and trouble. If folks were not such fools, I know which they would choose. The one a long peaceful sleep from which there is no awakening, and no to-morrow of toil and misery to come after it—a heavenly repose; the other a short fitful dream of bliss, which we find on awakening to have been all a vision, and to have fled beyond recall to the world where visions dwell. In this hand I hold the death of the young Muhammadan; in this, the—well, what shall I call it?—a fit of colic to the young Hindoo. Poor thing! his maiden bride will call it a love-philtre, and will watch as anxiously for its operation as a girl waits for the first visit of her future bridegroom. The learned pundits say that nothing can take place but by the appointment of the gods. Eh, is that so? Suppose Madri’s vials change hands; and now the Hindoo will die and the Muhammadan live; and every time that the vials change their places, the chances of life and death are changing to two men. Let the gods overrule these, and I’ll thank them. But I must not confound the two, or I shall be making a blunder in earnest.”

A rustling was now heard at the door of the hut, and Madri hastily replaced the vials in her bosom, muttering as she did so, “The poison is on the left, I am sure; the philtre to the right. It is the Hindoo girl; she fears to enter, but Madri is not the woman to tell her to take courage.”

And crossing her arms upon her bosom, Madri began to chant some unintelligible doggerel in a low unmusical voice, which sometimes rose to the pitch of a strident screech, swaying at the same moment her body backwards and forwards in accompaniment to her strain. The rustling at the door continued, followed by a tremulous tap, but still Madri went on with her song, apparently unconscious that there was any one watching. Poor Chakwi, after peeping once or twice into the hut, and as often withdrawing her head in terror, was at last driven by sheer necessity to enter, and she came trembling in and made a humble obeisance to the sorceress. But Madri made no response, and the scared girl was obliged to stand cowering and shivering in a corner until the witch was pleased to notice her presence. In her terror Chakwi leaned herself against the wall for support, but started back instantly as if she feared to contract some terrible contagion. Madri marked and enjoyed all these symptoms as clear tokens of her superiority over other mortals; and it was not until her visitor had all but shrunk into the earth, that the witch’s song grew fainter and fainter, dying away at last in a shrill prolonged wail, the discordance of which made Chakwi collect her wavering senses and draw herself up in an agony of horror.

“So you are come,” said Madri, turning a stern glance upon the girl, and speaking in solemn, hollow tones; “and time too. Think ye that those of the air can bide for your behests? What have you brought me to-night to repay all the trouble that I have taken on your account?”

“Only this, good mother,” faltered Chakwi, as she handed the witch a purse containing fifty rupees. “I know it is too little, and I would willingly give more if I had it; but, trust me, I shall not forget your kind assistance.”

“Those who proffer gratitude before it is due, never pay when the bond is presented,” said Madri, with a sneer. “And have you no ornaments about you, no charms or trinkets that have been blessed by a Brahmin? for there are those about us who will not brook such toys. If you have any, I advise you, as you value your life, to put them off your person before we proceed to do what must be done.”

Chakwi began to tremble violently, and would have fallen, had not Madri supported her with a strong arm. The poor girl shuddered as the witch touched her, at which Madri’s eyes began to glare fiercely, and her teeth to grind. “Off with your jewels, girl, or take the consequences!” cried the witch, shaking her roughly. “I may not fool away the precious night in stilling your fears. By the waters of the Gungaputra, but your husband was right to sleep with his back to such a simpleton.”

Roused by this taunt, Chakwi plucked off her bracelets and her earrings, the string of Lanka (Ceylon) pearls that Ramanath had given her as her last birthday gift, and the fillet of gold thread and precious stones which confined her hair, and handed them to the sorceress. Madri took them contemptuously, as if they had been the brass bangles of a herdwoman, and going to the door, flung them, as she said, away.

“You will find them a few paces from the door when you go out, if no demon has been beforehand with you,” she replied, in answer to Chakwi’s look of fearful inquiry; but Chakwi made up her mind that if ever she got outside the hut alive, she would not tarry to search for her ornaments. Another fit of trembling fell upon her as Madri let go her arm and blew out the light.

“She will faint,” muttered the witch, “and I shall be in straits what to do with her. I must brisken her up;” and going towards a recess in the wall, Madri took from it a long-necked bottle which had a suspicious look of having once borne the label “Exshaw No. 1.” Pouring some liquor into a brass goblet, she held it to Chakwi’s lips and imperatively ordered the girl to drink.

“But I know not what it is,” pleaded Chakwi; “and I may not take drink from your hands for fear of my caste. Forgive me, mother, if I anger you; but I dare do nothing that would offend my religion, for my soul’s sake.”

“Soul’s sake!” echoed Madri. “Do you talk to me of your soul? Drink, girl, or give up all hopes of your husband’s love. This is the true drink of the gods, and, like the sacred food at the temple of Jagannath, it knows no distinctions of caste. Drink, I tell you; it will do you good.” Chakwi put the vessel to her lips, and the witch forced her to swallow several mouthfuls. Instantly a strange lightness came over her mind, and she felt her courage begin to revive; and it was not much wonder, for the witch’s bottle was filled with the strongest arrack (rum) from the Sudder distillery at Bhutpore.

“Now,” said the witch, “stand aside, and when I give the word, shut your eyes and stretch out your hands, and something will be placed in them; but, if you love your life, speak not!”

And striking up a shrill recitativo, the witch shook her locks and began to sway her body to and fro. Strange flashes of fire began to pass before Chakwi’s eyes, and dreadful shapes—“if shapes they might be called that shape had none”—came hovering about her. She shut her eyes firmly, but then she only saw the apparitions still more vividly—saw Madri standing in the centre of a circle of fire with her locks all aflame, and sparks issuing from her mouth; while round her danced thousands of demons, some with wings, some with tails, all gibbering and grinning and making faces at Chakwi. Meanwhile Madri’s notes rose higher and higher, until they seemed to Chakwi to be caught up by a choir of the infernal imps and re-echoed from every corner of the hut. It was of no use for Chakwi to thrust her fingers in her ears; she seemed to hear the hellish melody through every pore of her body. All at once, while shrieking forth at the highest pitch of her voice, Madri seemed to pause, listen for an instant, and then made a full stop.

“Now,” thought Chakwi, “comes the terrible moment. But, O Krishna, my husband! I would dare all the powers of darkness to earn thy affection.”

The girl boldly stretched out her hand, but the witch caught her tightly by the elbow and dragged her aside.

“We are interrupted,” said Madri, in a hoarse whisper, as she led the girl into another apartment cut off by a rude partition of bamboos from the main room; “stay here until I call you again. Put your fingers in your ears, and for the life of you, daughter, make no noise.”

Chakwi was pushed into a seat and left sitting in breathless agitation. The fumes of the spirits had mounted to her head, and she thought, with a confidence and familiarity that were perfectly appalling to herself, of the terrible sights by which she was surrounded and the ghastly neighbours that were crowding about her. She sat and shuddered, but curiosity triumphed over all her terrors, and she did not shut her ears, as Madri had ordered, but listened eagerly to hear what was going on.

“Well, have you got what I wanted?” asked a stern voice speaking in Bengalee with an up-country accent. “Here is the sum I promised you, and your silence shall be requited with as much every year so long as I live.”

“A brief annuity, my father,” responded the sarcastic tones of the witch; “for I see the death-film more than half over your eyes already.”

“The briefer the better,” replied the first speaker, with a deep-drawn sigh. “When life outlasts happiness, the sting of death has departed. I would it were my duty to take, instead of give, thy nostrums.”

“And wherefore not?” taunted Madri. “I promise you shall find them effectual. Four-and-twenty hours after, the pains of age will have ceased to wrack you; the troubles of this world, the ingratitude of friends, the disobedience of children, will no longer be able to raise the slightest pang in your bosom. Give me as many rupees again, and you shall have another potion for yourself.”

“I am an old soldier, and may not stir from my post until I am relieved,” answered the other, with a groan. “And now the medicine, for I cannot tarry longer in this place.

“The medicine, Sahib,” responded Madri; “good! but there are those with us who have no earthly bodies, and whose wants must be spoken by my mouth. Give me money for them, for they love money as the best means of doing evil. More money, Sahib, and you shall have the medicine; refuse, and you excite the endless enmity of those nameless ones.”

“I commend myself to the Prophet,” replied the voice; “think not, woman, that thy foul fiends can have power over a humble, though erring, son of Islam. There is money—take it, and let me be gone.”

“And for whom do you design this draught?” said the witch, sinking her voice into a hissing whisper. “For shame, old man! to put forth your hand upon the son of your heart. Nay, think not to deceive Madri, who knows what is both behind and before. Stifle your foolish pride, and leave the young head to grow grey in God’s own time. If the young man has erred, there are other powers to punish, and you were never set to judge your own offspring. Begone in time, for it is long since Madri gave good advice before, and the words blister her tongue.”

“Woman! devil! tempt me not!” groaned the man; “be quick with the medicine. Would you abet a rebellious heart? Is it not enough to have my own feelings to overcome that you must do your best to unnerve me? But my dependence is upon Allah. Quick with the stuff, sorceress!”

“Nay, then, take your choice,” was Madri’s reply, in a sullen tone. “Which of these you will. Either is sufficient to fulfil the course of Fate, and the wisest of us all must yield to his decrees.”

“You have my thanks,” responded the other, in a firmer tone. “Be silent about this, woman—silent as a stone image—and you shall be no loser by keeping the counsel of Shamsuddeen Khan.”

With a blessing, that sounded like a curse in the ears of the horrified listener, Madri dismissed her visitor, and the next minute she had groped her way to where Chakwi was crouching, and dragged the girl into the larger room.

“And what did you hear?” she asked, shaking the girl roughly. “Of course you heard; you are too much of a woman to stop your ears as I commanded. Heard you Patchnamaworsanatrava, the king of the demon one-eyed Rotnagoratanparmandkas, whose dwelling is deep in the bowels of the earth, millions of cubits below the foundations of the Panch Pahar hills? What did he seem to you to be saying?”

“I cannot tell, good mother. I was too frightened to listen. My head swims, and I cannot stay longer. Indeed, indeed, I must go.”

“Whatever you heard you must speedily forget, for the demon king’s words have a sound which misleads other mortals, entirely different from the sense which they have to me. And you would have something to turn your husband’s love towards you, poor thing?”

“Yes, good mother, and I beseech you to give it to me quickly. I will reward your kindness again; I swear it by the holy Linga of Dhupnagar. But let me—pray let me be gone; what should I do if they missed me from the house?”

“Peace, little coward! Madri has cast a deep sleep upon them all; none will witness your return. But you must come again, and let me know how the charm works. A stronger one may perhaps be necessary; for it is not so easy to secure the love of a husband as that of a paramour.”

“But it will do no harm, will it?” asked Chakwi, suspiciously, as the witch placed a small vial in her hand; “it will not make him sick or heart-sore, good mother?”

“No more harm than a chew of betel,” said Madri, contemptuously. “Pour the liquid into drinking-water, and be sure that no one else tastes it, if you would not have somebody else turned in the head about your beauty. I suppose you would not be sorry at that, would you?”

“Nay, good mother, but I am a true wife,” said Chakwi, drawing herself up with a blush. “And now have I your leave to depart, and your protection?”

“Go in peace, my daughter, and be not long in returning,” said Madri; “and linger not about the cottage lest some fiend should fall in with you,” added she, as she remembered the ornaments.

But Chakwi did not need this injunction; for, clasping the precious vial to her bosom, she bounded from the cottage door, and disappeared in the jungle with the swiftness of an antelope.

Madri went out, and carefully picked up Chakwi’s trinkets and brought them into the hut. “Pretty gewgaws,” she said, as she concealed them with her other treasures; “and there was once a day when they would have shown to more advantage on Madri’s person than on that plain little hen. No wonder though her husband dislikes her; and she has no more tact to snare a man’s heart than she has to call down a star from the sky. I wonder when that marriage with Kristo’s daughter is going to take place! I must learn something about it. There is that waiting-woman, Sukheena, the widow, whom I saved from shame. She will be able to give me the news. I wonder which bottle the old man took! Well, I gave the young man another chance, and he was a handsome youth, and spoke civilly to Madri. And as for the other; bah! he sneered at my power, and tried to make the villagers believe that I was an impostor. However, Hindoo or Mussulman, it is all one to me. And yet I shall not be sorry if the young soldier is saved; and I can find a more amorous lover to console Chakwi’s widowhood. Well, fate is fate, and those who live longest shall see most wonders. I have made a good day’s work, and may now afford some comfort;” and bolting the door of her hut, Madri went and took her spirit-bottle from the recess, and with it on one side and her hookha on the other, she squatted down among the ashes, prepared to enjoy herself after the manner of mundane existences.

Chapter XXXV

Breach of Promise in Bengal

One morning all Dhupnagar woke up in a hubbub of astonishment; and from the temple to Rutton Pal’s there was nothing but amazement and dismay. The men congregated about corners, talking in low voices, and with lengthened visages. The women crowded about the steps of the tanks, or loitered on their way home with the breakfast-water, chattering like flocks of noisy parrots. Even the little children had suspended their sports that they might whisper to each other the serious news. The marriage between Krishna, the priest’s son, and Kristo Baboo’s daughter, was broken off. Some said the breach had arisen with the Gossains; others were confident that Kristo himself had discarded the young suitor; a third party had reason to believe that the damsel had rebelled against the match;—but all were unanimous that the marriage was not to take place. There would be no feast then, said Protap, the accountant, as he ruefully stroked his lean stomach. No feast, re-echoed Shama Churn the grain-dealer, as he thought, with a sigh, of the extra stock of rice and flour that he had laid in on account of the bridal. No feast, growled Nitye, the quack doctor, remembering the stomach-aches and indigestions which he would have had to cure, and the fees which would have consequently flowed into his pocket. No illuminations, snarled old Ram Lall, the oilman; and then he remembered how good news it would be to his son, the Dipty, and reconciled himself even to the loss of the profits which he had calculated upon gaining at Kristo Baboo’s expense. No bridal procession, no tamasha (display), complained the women; no fireworks nor coloured lanterns, whimpered the children: and from the one end of the village to the other, there was not a man or woman in Dhupnagar who did not feel personally aggrieved by the rupture between Krishna and Radha.

But when individual feelings had been exhausted, there was still a higher aspect in which the matter had to be regarded. If, as Dwarkanath, the schoolmaster, sagely remarked, a sacred ordinance, like marriage, were to be made and broken in this fashion, like the buying and selling of a yoke of oxen, society must soon come to a stand-still. Shama Churn, on his part, pointed out that no good could come of a marriage when love was at the bottom of it: had this been a contract made between two infants, there could be no doubt that it would have stood pakka (firm) enough. Where, Shama Churn would ask, was there any authority to be found in the Shastras for adult unions? Where was there a single text to show that sons and daughters could follow their own inclination in forming matrimonial engagements? Where indeed? re-echoed Protap, the accountant; but if youngsters were allowed to make their own marriages, things would soon be as bad as in England itself, where even widows might marry a second—yea, a third or fourth time, without being faulted for indecency or wantonness. At this shocking statement of Protap’s there was of course a general groaning and shaking of heads, while the elders breathed a prayer to the gods that the country might be preserved from the pollution of such practices. The conjecture was hazarded that perhaps Krishna might have relapsed into infidelity, and this supposition found general acceptance. But even if this were the case, what could the villagers do? They could not venture to quarrel with the priest, for he had once already shown them what the consequences would be if in his wrath he were to remove the Linga from Dhupnagar. Then if Kristo were to demand satisfaction at their hands for the slight offered to his family, and were to seek redress from a Panchayat, how would they get out of the difficulty? To this no answer was returned; but Shama Churn, and Dwarkanath, and Protap, and the others, separately made up their minds not to quarrel with the priest, and calculated to a certainty upon having an attack of fever on the day appointed for the Panchayat.

But there were three men of note whose voices were not heard upon this occasion. Neither Gangooly the headman, nor Three Shells the mahajan, nor Prosunno the lawyer, had as yet made an appearance on the village green; and it was generally felt that any authoritative expression of opinion would be premature until their views of the matter had been ascertained. Gangooly had been seen at the door of Bejoy the ghatak, and there could be no doubt that his errand was to obtain some trustworthy information regarding the topic of the day. His news would then be well worth waiting for. As for Three Shells, the villagers were sure that they would be better without his counsel, if he could only be induced to refrain from volunteering it. So they postponed the subject until Gangooly’s arrival should give them more certain data to go upon. Meanwhile, they had other matters of moment to discuss. Somehow or other it had oozed out that Afzul Khan was a prisoner in his father’s house on account of the robberies, and that the Magistrate Sahib Eversley was coming to Dhupnagar to hold a grand assize for the conviction of the culprit. All agreed that it was a lucky thing to have a Muhammadan saddled with the offence, especially one who had given so much annoyance to decent people. Dwarkanath suggested that the Magistrate Sahib would most likely hang him on the tall palmyra-tree at the lower end of the village between the temple and Walesbyganj; but Protap the accountant, who claimed to have a better acquaintance with the laws of the Sahibs, declared that such a punishment was not in the power of a Magistrate Sahib. Nobody less than a Jaj Sahib could hang a man. Why was that? Why, because when a Sahib was made a Jaj, he was taught a spell which gave him power over the spirits of the executed in another world; while a Magistrate Sahib could not hang a man without running the risk of retaliation at some future period of his existence. And why did not Government teach this spell to magistrates as well as to judges? did young Biprodass, the son of Shama Churn, ask. Oh, for this black age! when beardless youngsters ventured to catechise men who might be their fathers, instead of storing up their sayings with unquestioning reverence. Was it possible any one could have been so long at school as Biprodass had been, without learning that it was an essential part of the compact with the Powers of Evil, under which the English bore sway in Hindoostan, that this spell should be communicated to a strictly limited number of persons? Dwarkanath the schoolmaster, ashamed of the backwardness of his pupil, looks daggers at Biprodass, and the lad is ignominiously elbowed to the outside of the throng, cursing his unlucky forwardness. But this was clear, that there would be no execution in Dhupnagar, and everybody was sorry for it. The hanging of Afzul would have done much to console the villagers for the loss of Krishna’s marriage procession. At length Gangooly was seen coming slowly towards the village green, and was saluted by a perfect shower of questions. But to all the “hows,” “whys,” “whens,” and “whos,” Gangooly turned a deaf ear, and shook his head in answer to each query, with an aspect of preternatural gravity. When reminded that knowledge concealed in a man’s heart was like a pearl hidden in the shell of an oyster, the headman drily responded in the scriptural proverb, that God had opened a way to the knowledge of all things except the heart of the vicious. It soon became apparent to them all that Gangooly had no story to tell, however he might attempt to disguise the fact: and this, indeed, was the case. He had gone boldly up to the match-maker’s door, confident that a basket of the finest plantains in his garden, which he designed to present to Bejoy, would insure him a favourable reception, and perhaps open the ghatak’s heart. But Bejoy’s first words had dispelled this delusion. “Was there no dunghill nearer home that he (Gangooly) should bring such rotten rubbish to his (Bejoy’s) house?” the irate ghatak had demanded, as he glared fiercely at the intruder. Gangooly glanced deprecatingly at the match-maker, and then at the bright yellow fruit which had been plucked while scarcely yet ripe, as plantains always should be; but this mute appeal made no impression on Bejoy, who called impatiently to a servant to take away the basket, and not annoy him further with such gardeners’ trifles. Foiled in this stratagem, Gangooly next made a pretence of consulting him about his youngest daughter’s marriage, although the maiden was only three years old, and he had not intended broaching the subject these good twelve months hence. But not even in this fashion was Bejoy to be mollified. He rudely told the headman that the ghatak of Gapshapganj was good enough for his brats, and that he himself had something else to do than to arrange powderless weddings—an effective sneer at Gangooly, who, at his son Gopal’s late bridal, had gone the length of illuminations, but had grudged the fireworks, much against the will of the match-maker, who felt his professional dignity compromised when any of his “cases” did not pass off with sufficient éclat; and when Gangooly, despairing of any further success, had humbly begged that he might be permitted to take his departure propitiously, the ghatak had turned round his back with the spiteful imprecation, that he wished Gangooly’s bier were carried out, for a chattering old parrot. From all which signs of temper, Gangooly sagely concluded that Bejoy the ghatak was very much annoyed by the breaking off of the marriage between the Gossains and the Lahories.

And it was so; for the formal revocation of the contract had not taken place without Bejoy’s violent opposition. Ramanath had flatly refused to take any further concern in the matter, and Krishna had been compelled himself to send for the match-maker. Nothing doubting that the summons related to an acceleration of the marriage, Bejoy had gladly prepared himself to wait upon the impatient lover, calculating in his own mind what obstacles he could throw in the way of Krishna’s ardour, and how much money he ought to get for removing them. But when the match-maker, prim, and spruce, and scented, as if he had just stepped down from the window of a Bond Street milliner, presented himself in Krishna’s sick-room, and marked the youth’s careworn and haggard visage, he felt sure that something was wrong. But he was by no means prepared for what was to come. When Krishna began, with a trembling voice, and speaking in rapid and incoherent sentences, to announce his firm determination to give up Radha, Bejoy, who always seemed more or less catlike, became on this occasion the very personification of feline rage. His eyes glistened, his hair and beard seemed to grow stiff and bristly, his head sank down, his back and shoulders rose up, and altogether he looked as if he would like to spring upon Krishna and worry him where he lay. But, undeterred by these symptoms of disapprobation, Krishna succeeded in making the ghatak understand that he must at once go to Kristo and have the contract cancelled.

“Phut! cancel the contract?” cried Bejoy, contemptuously; “but it can’t be cancelled. Sacred Rama! do you think that I don’t make my engagements more pakka (firm) than that? It is too late to speak of it now; the marriage must go on.”

“Never!” cried Krishna, starting up on his bed. “I wouldn’t marry Kristo Baboo’s daughter though I were dragged with cords before her and fettered to her side. I tell you, the match is broken off, and you must do my errand to Kristo.”

“There is, then,” said Bejoy, turning his eyes piously towards the ceiling—“there is, then, no fear of the gods left upon earth. Break off a marriage after the betrothal, and within a month of its consummation! It’s the rankest atheism. My good Baboo, you are unwell—you are fevered—your brain is excited—you can never mean what you are saying. I’ll send Nitye, the kobiraj, to let you some blood. You would not forgive me to your dying day if I were to do your bidding just now.”

“I am seriously in earnest, I tell you,” answered Krishna, impatiently. “The marriage is all over, and if I were bled to death, or if you argued until I were deaf, you could not change my resolution,”

“Neither shall I change mine,” hissed Bejoy, while he showed his teeth and spat like an enraged cat. “I have made this marriage, and it shall take place. I am not like the ghataks of Gapshapganj or Bhutpore, to be wound and unwound like a skein of silk. When Bejoy makes a match, nought save Yama, the god of death, can dissolve it.” And without deigning to cast another look upon his young patron, Bejoy hurried away to the temple to make his complaint to Ramanath the priest. But Ramanath had troubles enough of his own to bear without participating in the matchmaker’s mortification. Krishna was again showing unequivocal signs of relapsing into infidelity. He had sent a message to that “mongrel Baboo,” as Ramanath contemptuously designated Mr R. C. Roy, and the barrister had presented himself at the temple gate, but had been denied entrance by the jealous Modhoo, who refused point-blank to allow an unbeliever to set his foot inside the sacred pomœrium. Moreover, Ramanath had marked that his son had again gathered about him his long-neglected books of Theistic devotion, which was certainly a bad sign. So he was in no humour to listen to Bejoy’s complaints; but gruffly told the match-maker that he and Krishna might settle the matter between them as best they might; and that for his own part he had given up all interference with his son’s affairs. And so, after a futile attempt to arouse the priest to the exercise of his paternal authority, Bejoy took his leave, inwardly cursing the hour when he had been induced to meddle with the matrimonial affairs of the Gossain family.

“There is an utter want of principle about both father and son,” grumbled Bejoy to himself as he left the temple— “an utter lack of delicacy and refinement upon the subject of marriage. I cannot forget the low, vulgar manner in which Ramanath wedded his present wife—went and asked her father’s consent himself, as if there had not been a respectable ghatak in the whole country, or as if he had been a grass-cutter seeking a cow-woman for his wife, and not a high-caste Brahmin of wealth and repute. And he made his son Krishna’s first marriage himself: well, it is like his work—a right amateur job. I would give a hundred rupees to the Linga of Dhupnagar that I had never put their names on my register. How these cursed low-caste ghataks of Bhutpore and Gapshapganj will sneer when they hear of it, vile panders and cozeners that they are!”

There was still one hope left to Bejoy. Kristo Baboo could not but feel deeply insulted at the slight offered to him by the Gossains, and with his co-operation the match-maker might still be able to force Krishna to fulfil his engagement. At all events, Kristo had probably got money before this time for the marriage expenses, which he could justly refuse to refund; and surely the Gossains would not be such fools as to throw away their rupees for nothing. This was an argument which would have great weight with so thrifty a man as Ramanath; and if Kristo would only take up the matter in a proper spirit, as, judging from his haughty and irritable temperament, he might well be expected to do, Bejoy had yet a prospect of bringing the case to a favourable issue. So he went straight across to the house of Lahory, not without many misgivings as to the reception that awaited him, but determined to preserve Kristo’s friendship, and if possible to make the Baboo’s wrath subservient to his own purpose.

When Bejoy entered the house of Lahory, he found the master seated in a shady nook of the verandah calmly enjoying a smoke. “He has heard nothing of the news,” said the match-maker to himself. “I must break it to him cautiously, for the bearers of bad tidings often pay the penalty due to their message;” and he approached the Baboo, stepping with cat-like care, and purring and fawning as if he would wish to rub himself against Kristo’s legs. The Baboo motioned to him to sit down, and began a conversation upon the weather, and the prospects of the early sowings.

“Evil news, Baboo, is like a wet cloak,” said Bejoy, gravely, “which a messenger must put off before he can sit comfortably. I bespeak your favour for myself, and beg that you will be angry, not with me, but with my words.”

“The worst calamity is lighter when it has been said than when it is presaged,” returned Kristo, colouring as he laid down his hookha; “whatever may have happened, I expect nothing but goodwill from Bejoy the ghatak.”

“Good men say good things,” said Bejoy; “but alas for the shamelessness of this iniquitous generation, when the most sacred obligations lie as lightly upon men’s shoulders as a fagot of withered grass! The holiest pledges are now worth nothing more than a puff of wind.”

“May Doorga devour him! he has heard that I am going to break off the wedding,” said Kristo to himself; “what excuse can I make that will satisfy this silly pedant?”

“But it is all owing to the evil example of the English that such wickedness has come among us,” resumed Bejoy; “and to the carelessness of Hindoo fathers, who expose their children to the polluting influence of those unclean ones. If the marriage customs of a race are wrong, we need not look for either religion or morality.”

Kristo was rather puzzled by this observation, and replied only by a surly grunt.

“That ill-starred one, the priest’s son, who sways to and fro like a wind-tossed pine-tree, has again been causing scandal. Even now a devil has taken possession of him, leading him to renounce the marriage with your daughter. But you must be firm with him, Baboo—indeed you must.”

“What!” echoed Kristo; “does Krishna want it broken off, did you say?”

“It is to my sorrow that I say so—to my sorrow and his shame,” answered the match-maker, sitting as far away from Kristo as good manners would permit.

But Kristo exhibited none of the expected indications of anger. He only uttered an exclamation of surprise, and remained for some minutes engrossed in thought. “And what reason did Krishna allege for breaking off the match?” he at length asked.

“His pleasure—nothing else,” cried Bejoy; “a fine way of going to work! But we’ll teach him a lesson, won’t we, Baboo? A pious man like you won’t suffer the holy ordinance of marriage to be thus made nought of?”

“I don’t see what I can do,” said Kristo, reflectively; “I am not going to force my daughter down any man’s throat. It was more to oblige my good friend Ramanath than because I had any wish to get Radha married, that ever I consented. If he and his son are content to end the matter, so I am sure am I.”

“But, Baboo, bethink yourself!” cried Bejoy, starting up in horror at the strange apathy of the other; “consider that an essential part of our holy religion is at stake; think of the encouragement which you hold out to licentiousness and infidelity if you overlook so glaring a breach of faith. Why, if such conduct were to be tolerated, there would hardly a young man in the valley be brought to fulfil his marriage contract.”

“And a good thing for the valley it would be too,” said Kristo, with a sneer; “if there were no wives there would be no bickerings and backbitings, and all men would live like one father’s sons. Most of the mischief in the valley has been of your making, my good Bejoy.”

“Fear the gods, Baboo,” returned Bejoy, solemnly; “a jest levelled at holy things recoils to the evil of the utterer. Think rather what men will say of you if you allow yourself to be thus affronted. Think of the afflicted souls of your pious ancestors who see their seed thus untimely cut off. Can it be that a Brahmin whose ancestors have been counted as Kulins (the noblest caste of Hindoos) since the days of Raja Beermala of Barendra Bhum, will make of himself a mat for these Gossains to wipe their shoes upon? How can you ever offer your daughter to another when Krishna Chandra has already lifted the veil off her face? Can a twice-born Brahmin thus eat dirt? Can a—”

“Peace, ghatak!” interrupted Kristo, haughtily. “I employ you to make marriages and not to protect the honour of my family, which, thank the gods! is in my own keeping. I am obliged to you for your services, and the Gossains will pay you. Depart in peace, and when next we meet, let us say no more of this matter.”

“And you allow the marriage to be cancelled?” cried Bejoy, with much such an angry whine as a cat utters when she sees the tail of a mouse that she mentally destined for her prey, disappear into a hole. “O gods! what will the world come to? The Black Age is indeed begun!”

But Kristo had already disappeared within the house, and there was nothing left for Bejoy but to rise and go, which he accordingly did, invoking a heavy curse upon Kristo’s roof-tree and all beneath it. Never, in the whole of his professional experience, had the match-maker met with such a mortification. His first resolve was to give up business altogether, and go and live at Benares upon his ample savings: the valley would not get on without him; but that was so much the better. But second thoughts suggested that it would be to the profit of the match-makers of Bhutpore and Gapshapganj should he quit the field; and Bejoy at once made up his mind to die at his post. But he was afraid that the present failure would seriously affect his reputation, and he returned to his own house in a mood that was the opposite of amiable. And his passion was slowly working itself off when Gangooly the headman forced his way in; so that it was not much wonder though the ghatak gave him a churlish reception.

Chapter XXXVI

Three Shells Sets about Work

In those days, Three Shells, the mahajan, was basking in the sun of an unbroken prosperity. Somehow it seemed as if he could do nothing wrong. The greatest risks that he undertook turned out the safest possible investments; two or three of the most desperate debts upon his books had been unexpectedly cleared off; a lucky speculation in indigo which he had effected through his Calcutta agents had brought him a return of nearly fifty per cent; and not a breath of adverse wind rose to ruffle the even current of his good fortune. Things were going so well with him, in fact, that Three Shells felt a superstitious dread lest his run of luck might be “before something,” and he would have been rather reassured had he met with some slight reverse—the loss of a few score of rupees on a ryot’s bond, or the elopement of one of his small debtors—anything that would have relieved his mind as a sacrifice to the goddess of evil fortune. But when no cross fell to his lot, Three Shells began to bethink himself of taking the reins of Providence into his own hands, and of propitiating the celestials by the gift of another goblet to the Linga of Dhupnagar. There were more birds than one that Three Shells intended to kill with this stone.

The mahajan might well be proud of his position. In the Ghatghar palace the Rajah was now nothing more than Three Shells’ tenant, whose daily bread depended upon the sufferance of the usurer. The estate was burdened down to the last foot of land and the last fruit-tree, and Three Shells had only to say the word to bring the whole to the hammer. At the last two collections the land-revenue of the Ghatghar estates had come out of Three Shells’ pocket, and he had only to refuse the advance due at the coming term to have the estate distrained at the instance of the Government. In that case Three Shells knew well that he would have no other competitor for the purchase of the Ghatghar property, for no one would dare to bid for an estate so heavily encumbered. So far his course was plain enough; but as Three Shells had made up his mind to live and die as a reputable landholder in the Gungaputra district, he wished to avoid all appearance of dispossessing the present proprietor. The Rajah, though little more than five-and-twenty, was physically a worn-out and decrepit debauchee. His hand trembled as if he had been paralysed; his limbs tottered beneath the weight of his puny body upon the rare occasions when he tried to walk; his senses were altogether deadened, so that he cared for nothing beyond the gratification of his present whim. He had twice had attacks of delirium tremens, and the English doctor who had come over from Pultunpore to prescribe for his Highness, had declared that the next attack would assuredly prove fatal. In that case, Three Shells could take possession without much disturbance, for the Rajah had no children, nor had he adopted any one to succeed him. So the mahajan patiently waited in hope, and ungrudgingly settled his Highness’s bill to the Calcutta wine-merchants for cherry-brandy; nor did he withhold the money necessary to induce a beautiful half-caste madam, who had caught the Rajah’s fancy, to take up her residence at the Ghatghar palace. So long as his Highness was bent upon ruining himself, Three Shells was only too happy to aid him in doing so as pleasantly as possible.

There was another matter that had to be settled before Three Shells could have the confidence to remove to Ghatghar. He was still under the power of Ramanath, the priest, and a single word from him would overthrow all Three Shells’ airy castles, and turn Three Shells himself into an outlawed criminal. So long as Three Shells gave no cause of offence to the Gossains, he was tolerably safe; but he did not know in what light Ramanath would regard his usurpation of the Ghatghar property, for there had been an old friendship between the priest and the Rajah’s miserly father; and moreover, his marriage with Radha could not fail to be construed as an act of hostility by both Ramanath and his son. Of the sealed packet which contained his secret, Three Shells was now master, and if the priest were out of the way, he would have nothing to fear. Four or five times every day he had looked into the recess where this important document was deposited with his money and private papers; but somehow or other his heart always failed him when he would have destroyed it, for he knew that its destruction must be the signal for Ramanath’s removal. Still less had he ever ventured to break the seal and read the contents of the packet. Ah! he knew only too well the story that was written there—a story that was graven in his own heart in lines of terror, if not remorse—a story that he had daily conned in his mind for more than twenty years. And so he took out the packet and gnashed his teeth over it, and struck it viciously with his open palm, and then returned it to its former concealment. But the time was at hand when Three Shells would have to take action—prompt and vigorous action, if he would save himself from danger; and so the mahajan began to arrange his preliminary measures. In the first place, all must be over before the magistrate came to Dhupnagar. Prosunno had told him that Mr Eversley was to hold an investigation into the robberies in little more than a week, and Three Shells had good reason for wishing to have his house set in order before that time. Mr Eversley had a lively prejudice against mahajans, and had once given Three Shells himself a very rough handling when the money-lender had come into the Bhutpore Court to sue for the recovery of a debt upon a bond which the defendant averred to have been fraudulently tampered with. If Eversley Sahib were disposed to make searching inquiries, there were those in Three Shells’ house whose presence would turn suspicion into an entirely new channel; and yet Three Shells could not venture to dismiss his tools so long as Ramanath, the priest, walked the earth. Then, he had already announced his intention of presenting another lota to the Linga; and if Ramanath were allowed to live much longer, Three Shells would be compelled to redeem his promise. But the mahajan had no design of doing so. He had merely spoken of the gift because it would help to divert all suspicion from himself when Ramanath was murdered; and the unsound opinions of the priest’s son were an excellent excuse for an orthodox man like Three Shells revoking his promise. Not but what Three Shells really considered that some special sacrifice was due to the gods at so critical a juncture; but then he wisely thought that he might make more powerful interest for himself by propitiating another divinity. He had already made such a handsome offering to Siva that the god would surely overlook a liberty taken with the life of one of his servants; and Three Shells thought he might as well give his lota to the goddess Kalee, who delighted in blood, and who would surely befriend a liberal votary at a pinch. So the golden vessel, which was being prepared in Calcutta ostensibly for the Linga of Dhupnagar, was really intended to grace the shrine of Kalee at Bhutpore, providing always that the money-lender succeeded in effecting his object with regard to Ramanath’s removal.

As for Kristo Baboo, Three Shells had got the entire ascendancy over him. By degrees he had convinced the Baboo how hopelessly he was involved, how completely he held his property at his, Three Shells’, sufferance; and how easy it would be to turn him out of doors a beggar with his daughter in his hand. The ties that bound Kristo to home, and to the lands that had been his fathers’, were the strongest feelings in his nature, and he felt that there was no sacrifice which he could not make to be allowed to end his days in the old house. And this much Three Shells promised him, provided he listened to reasonable conditions. But there had been a sore struggle in Kristo’s heart before he could bring himself to listen to Three Shells’ propositions regarding his daughter. His caste was almost as dear to him as his property; but then, as Three Shells bluntly told him, caste would never fill his belly when Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar had turned him out of doors to beg his bread.

“But what use could my daughter be to you?” pleaded Kristo. “There is no suitableness, no parity, between you. You are three times her age, and have more than six times her judgment. She is good for nothing but to spend money, while you are desirous of saving it. Take my advice, worthy Baboo Three Shells, and have nothing to do with so useless a slut as Radha. There are plenty of worthy girls who would keep you comfortable, and deal thriftily with your substance; but poor Radha comes of a stock of wasters. I am obliged to you for your proposal, but the last of the Lahories of Dhupnagar must spend her days as an unhonoured virgin in her father’s house.”

Though Kristo strove to speak as courteously as he could, there was an accent of bitterness in his tones, and his heart was sick within him at the thought of how far he had fallen when a low-caste parvenu like Three Shells could venture to ask him for his daughter. The day had been when Kristo would have punished such an insult by beating the mahajan within an inch of his life, and now he must hear him with smiling lips and a smooth tongue.

“But I am no miser,” returned Three Shells. “As I’ve made my money freely, I’ll spend my money freely. And who is there that would become wealth better than your daughter? I shall deck her out in silks and in jewels, until the very courtesans in Indra’s heaven burst their galls for envy.”

“May Siva keep my senses!” said Kristo to himself, “but this is more than I can well bear. Does a Brahmin go for nothing in the sight of heaven nowadays that I am thus given over to be tormented by this vile out-caste?” But he said aloud, “And yet, my good friend, I see not well how it can be. I am not of those who ride atop of their caste, and I doubt not but your origin is perfectly honourable and respectable; but the men of my dol (set, social section) are so bigoted and narrow-minded that I should sharp a razor to cut my own throat if I gave my daughter to one who did not belong to the ennobled race of Kulins.”

“Bah!” said Three Shells; “carry your Kulinism to the bazaar, and see whether it will buy you a mess of dry rice for dinner. When I’m zemindar of Ghatghar, there isn’t a Kulin in the Gungaputra district but would change castes with me. Caste nowadays is a mere byword, and it is money that makes men salaam.”

“But I know not what the girl will say,” pleaded Kristo. “She has a will of her own, as all of her kin have had, and it may not be easy to obtain her consent. I remember when old Ganga Prasad of Gapshapganj wanted to marry her, she threatened to break her neck by jumping from the zenana window rather than become his bride.”

“Phut! my good Kristo”—the good Kristo winced sorely at this familiarity, as well as at the weight of the usurer’s hand upon his shoulder—“have you been thus long a husband and father and yet know not how to manage a woman? Tell her of the diamonds, man, and the silks and the ornaments. Tell her that I shall fit her up a bower as bright as Agni-loka, the paradise of the fire-god. Tell her, too, that she shall command every one at Ghatghar from the greatest to the least, and that old Three Shells shall bow the lowest of all to do her bidding. Ay, and she shall keep the key of my coffers, too, or may I never draw a pice of interest again. Tell her all this, my worthy father, and I warrant she will not be so rash in breaking her sweet pigeon neck.”

“I wish somebody would break your serpent’s neck, you vile one! but that, I reckon, is reserved for the gallows,” inwardly ejaculated Kristo; but he added aloud, “Well, friend Three Shells, I shall do my best; but we are all in the hands of the gods; it will be as they will, do we all that we may.”

“And as you deal with me, so shall I deal with you. Give me your daughter, and you shall have gold muhrs where the Gossains would not have given you rupees. Play me false, and I shall send you and your daughter out of doors with scarce clothes to cover your nakedness. Remember that Banksi Lall of Barra Bazaar in Calcutta has expressly said that this marriage must take place.”

“Oh!” groaned Kristo, who knew by experience that there was no further argument when Banksi Ball’s name was mentioned—“I wish Banksi Lall would mind his own business. I wish he was tied down to his funeral-pile, and his ashes cast into the middle of the Hooghly.”

“Hush!” cried Three Shells, holding up his forefinger reproachfully; “I will not hear my friend Banksi Lall thus spoken of. A most benevolent man is Banksi, so rich, and so liberal, and so eccentric; quite beggars himself on behalf of his clients, and takes such an interest in people, too.”

Kristo muttered something under his breath which did not sound at all like a blessing upon Banksi Lall, and, rising from his seat, begged that the money-lender would allow him to take his departure. But this Three Shells would not do until he extracted from the horrified Baboo a promise that he would join him to-morrow night at supper. When all conceivable excuses had been at last exhausted, Kristo muttered an unwilling assent, but resolved in his own mind that if there were drugs enough in Dhupnagar to make a man unwell, sickness should save him from degrading his caste by dipping his hand in the same dish with Three Shells. When the Baboo had quitted the money-lender’s premises, Three Shells sent away the misshapen Gopee on an errand to Gapshapganj, and, having locked the door of his office, retired to his private room. Filling himself a hookha, he sat down and began to plan out the work that lay before him.

“He is under my feet now,” chuckled he, “and, by Brahma! he shall feel the weight of them. How the fellow used to sniff and sneer at me when I first had dealings with him, and would have strutted past me upon the highroad, hardly deigning to notice my lowest salutations with the corner of his eye! But fat closes the eyes, while even the blind beggar will see a four-anna bit in the gutter, as the old saw says; and so Kristo Baboo must carry his head a little lower when he comes in my way; and now he will be even as I am, for ‘One dish, one caste;’ or, rather, he will be worse than I am, for wealth makes a man independent of caste. And he will be the slave of my mouth; yea, my slave as much as though I had bought him; and I have bought him—both him and his daughter. I shall hasten on this marriage, once Ramanath is out of the way. If that rickety Rajah does not think of dying before long, I shall not be able to wait his convenience. But he can’t be long; it is impossible. His toady, Keshub, told me yesterday that his master had not been sober since last festival. I shall send him a cask of the strongest Belattee (European) brandy in a present, if he holds out long. Ah! that which is strength to one is weakness to another; and I shall need some extra strength for the work that I have to do.”

Unlocking a wall almira, Three Shells took out a bottle of spirits and held it to his mouth, swallowing three or four draughts in rapid succession. He then returned the bottle to its concealment, smacked his lips with great gusto, and resumed his seat; first, however, taking his pistols from under the cushions and satisfying himself that they were in an effective condition. “Now I can deal with them,” he said; “there is no saying what these two badmashes (blackguards) would not do if they got an opportunity. I’m thankful I’m going to get clear of them, and never, while I live, shall I again have such cattle under my own roof. Qui hye? (who’s there?) Panchoo! Tettoo!”

Panchoo, to whom the reader has already been introduced, soon made his appearance, accompanied by his comrade Tettoo—a squat, bull-necked, little man, whose well-knit frame denoted great personal strength, and whose face wore an expression of almost infantile simplicity, to which a squint of the right eye imparted an expression of comic jollity. Panchoo was the head, and Tettoo was the hands. The one plotted, the other executed; and the less clever rogue got all the dirty and dangerous work to do, while his comrade pocketed the lion’s share of the booty. But Three Shells was as much intellectually superior to Panchoo as Panchoo was to Tettoo; and the two ruffians, having made their reverence, stood humbly before the money-lender, waiting to hear what he had to say to them.

“Well, my children,” said the mahajan, in his sleekiest manner, and using a slang dialect in vogue among the melters of bell-metal, and other classes who cover the receipt of stolen property under the pretence of exercising some similar craft—“well, my children, and how is the time passing with you? Why, Panchoo, you are getting fatter and fatter every day. That comes of having nothing to do and plenty to eat. You would have had less flesh upon your bones if you had spent the winter with Bhugvan Dass in the jungle.”

“I wish I had been with Bhugvan,” said Panchoo, with a sigh; “we should have had at least the free air above us and the wide forest to stretch our limbs in. We might as well have been in jail as here, Baboo.”

“We might as well have been in jail as here,” re-echoed Tettoo, positively, who, although he never ventured an opinion of his own on any subject, always deemed it his duty to support his comrade.

“Indeed,” said Three Shells, sarcastically; “I was not aware that the Magistrate Sahibs offered such encouragement to their kaidies (prisoners) as I have been in the habit of giving you. Let me see. You had ten hundred rupees between you this last month,—had you not? That is what I call a fair wage, considering the time and the trouble.”

“Ay, and you had nine thousand to your share out of the same loot (plunder),” returned Panchoo, doggedly.

“Yes, Baboo, nine thousand,” reiterated Tettoo, with a shake of the head and a wink of his squinting eye.

“Well, and wasn’t there a good reason why I should?” retorted Three Shells. “Could you ever have known of the ten thousand rupees that I lent to Kristo Baboo, unless I had told you? Could you ever have stolen them without my directions? Didn’t I even give you a key that opened the safe? Why, Panchoo, I did everything except the actual stealing, and you grudge me my share.”

“Nay, Baboo, but when Tettoo and I risked the chance of being caught, surely we should have shared equally with you who were in no danger,” grumbled Panchoo.

“Ay,” said Tettoo, “we had all the danger, and would have been sent to jail if we had been caught. Nothing would have befallen you.”

“Well, and didn’t you say a minute ago that you would have been better off in jail than in my house? I never had to do with such ungrateful grumblers. I believe I shall have to let you go home to your own country; for you eat and drink all the profits that I make off your work.”

The cloud cleared off Panchoo’s face. “Yes, we’ll go home,” said he, readily, “as soon as it is your pleasure to give us leave.”

“Certainly,” said Tettoo, with a blithe wink of the squinting eye; “we shall go home.”

“Well, and as I should like you to go home with full kummerbands (girdles), and not like men coming back from a pilgrimage, I shall just set you one last task, and, if you manage it successfully, I’ll give each of you a thousand rupees.”

“A thousand rupees, Tettoo!” said Panchoo, brightening up, and smiling upon his colleague.

“A thousand rupees, Panchoo!” returned Tettoo, the winker.

“Ay, you will be barra sahibs (great gentlemen) when you go back to your villages,” said Three Shells, with an affable grin; “and the folks will salaam to you as lowly as if you were a munsiff (petty judge) or a police-sergeant; and then you may turn money-lenders yourselves, and you’ll soon make your thousand rupees ten thousand.”

“We’re not rogues enough for that, Tettoo,” said Panchoo, with an impudent grin.

“Not quite for that, Panchoo,” sniggered Tettoo, convulsed with suppressed laughter at his comrade’s joke.

Three Shells threw a wicked look at them. “I’m glad to think that you are going to lead an honest life,” he said, with a hypocritical sniff. “I trust that of your abundance there will not be lacking gifts to the gods and to their holy ministers. Remember that ‘ten in this world is a thousand in the next.’ And as the scriptures say, ‘There are no riches but what a man enjoys himself or gives in gifts; the rest goes to others,’ hem!”

And when he had unburdened himself of these pious counsels Three Shells rubbed his hands complacently, and half shut his little eyes.

“But what is the job that you want done?” demanded Panchoo, impatiently, while he did not seek to dissemble his disgust at the mahajan’s hypocrisy. As for Tettoo, he seemed to consider Three Shells’ advice as a rare piece of humour, and grinned until the extremities of his mouth were extended almost to his ears.

“Ay, what is the job?” repeated Tettoo.

“Oh, it is not to break into the Collector Sahib’s iron chest in the Bhutpore Treasury; nor yet is it to slay a sepoy armed with gun and bayonet; so there isn’t much courage required. But I want it carefully and cautiously done, and that is why I am willing to pay so much for it.”

“What is it, then?” asked Panchoo; “it isn’t the building of temples, or the offering of sacrifices that you want performed, or you would get somebody else to do it, eh, Tettoo?”

“Not quite, Panchoo,” giggled Tettoo.

“Well, it isn’t a matter of much importance after all,” said Three Shells, carelessly. “There is a man here in my way who would be happier in heaven than he can be on earth, and there couldn’t be very much harm in sending him thither.”

“Oh, it’s a man!” said Panchoo, turning pale, and beginning to fumble uneasily with his hands.

“A man!” cried Tettoo, with a blank look, as he turned inquiringly towards his mate.

There was a moment of utter silence. Three Shells made no answer, but sat with closed eyelids, and a gentle, almost pitying smile upon his countenance. Panchoo clenched his fists, and breathed hard, while Tettoo seemed absorbed in studying Panchoo’s demeanour.

“Who is he?” the former at length asked, in a low husky voice, while his echo struck in in a more cheerful tone; “ay, what’s his name?”

“No formidable antagonist,” smiled Three Shells. “A fat, pursy, old fellow, who would faint with terror at the sight of Panchoo’s knife. One squeeze of friend Tettoo’s fingers upon his weasand, and the man is as dead as King Dasaratha. It is only the priest of the Linga’s temple.”

“Only the priest of the Linga’s temple!” ejaculated Panchoo, beginning to tremble, while even Tettoo turned pale, and words failed him to repeat the other’s exclamation.

“That is all!” said the mahajan, with a pleasant smile, as he locked his fingers into each other, and began to twirl his thumbs. “I would never ask you to tackle a dangerous person.”

“I won’t do it,” said Panchoo, decisively. “If it had been any other body I should not have cared; but I dare not stretch forth my hand against a Brahmin. I’d rather murder twenty Mussulmans any day.”

“Much rather!” said Tettoo.

“Phut, you fool!” sneered the money-lender; “what are you frightened at? Do you believe all the silly stories these priests tell you out of their Shastras? Is a Brahmin made of finer flesh and blood than other men’s. Would you know the ashes of a Brahmin from those of a Sudra if you saw both lying side by side on the burning-ghat. It is easy for the priests to say that they are sacred, but we have only their own word for it. I had looked for more courage from both of you. But never mind; I am in no hurry about it, and the two thousand rupees will always be useful to me. Only, remember this, Panchoo, you leave not Dhupnagar until the priest has been put out of the way.”

“And why not?” asked Panchoo, with a scowl, as he stepped forward, while Tettoo also clenched his fists, and said, “Why not?”

“Because,” said Three Shells, drawing a pair of pistols carelessly from below the cushions; “because I would put the police upon you before you were half-way through the passes. Now hold your tongue. I know what you are going to say; you would threaten to betray me, but you can’t. I can buy as many witnesses as would blacken both your evidences, and banish you for life across black water. Don’t think of going away, unless you want to make me your foe.”

Panchoo turned and looked at Tettoo, with a deep-drawn sigh, which Tettoo immediately re-echoed.

“Ah! I know you will see what a good job it is to have a thousand rupees apiece for ten minutes’ trouble. And by the second watch of the morning of the day after to-morrow you may be beyond the Panch Pahar hills on your homeward journey. Go to your room, and take this bottle with you, and think over the matter. I’ll give you full directions how the thing is to be done;” and taking a bottle of brandy from his private cupboard, the mahajan handed it to Panchoo. The ruffian clutched at it greedily, turned upon his heel with a rude salaam, and strode out of the room, followed by Tettoo, who fondly licked his lips, and whetted his palate at the anticipation of good liquor.

“I thought they would have given me more trouble,” said Three Shells to himself, with a sigh. “I believe they have conscience enough to kill a cow if anybody was to pay them for it. I feel more compunction for my share in the matter than they do, although they are going to do the actual deed. And Ramanath’s blood can’t be on my head. No, no; the gods forbid that I should put forth a hand to ruffle a hair of his head! Let blood be with those by whom blood is spilt. And now,” said Three Shells, going towards the recess where his money was kept, “now I can get rid of that accursed paper. The destruction of it is the first step towards freeing myself from Ramanath’s chains, and when once it is taken, there can be no backdrawing. I would like to read it, but I dare not. No, no; I know too well what is written there; but I should not sleep to-night were I to see my guilt described by another.”

Taking his spirit-bottle from the cupboard, Three Shells soaked the packet with spirits, and then placed it upon the earthen pan full of live coals which he kept by him for lighting his hookha. After blowing steadily for a few minutes, the sparks began to leap and the paper to crackle, and in another minute the whole was in a blaze.

“There,” said Three Shells, as he scattered the blackened ashes, “my secret now dies with Ramanath Gossain.”

And so the mahajan sat down to the complacent enjoyment of a chillum of tobacco.

Chapter XXXVII

Agha’s Pilgrimage

A gloom like that cast by the presence of death had been hanging over Walesbyganj since the night of Afzul Khan’s arrest. The Subadar remained shut up in his own room, engrossed in his devotions and in his own gloomy thoughts. Agha was excluded from his presence, and it was with the utmost difficulty that Byram, the old khansamah could induce his master to take as much food as was barely necessary for his sustenance. Day after day the Subadar dressed himself with scrupulous care in the full uniform and trappings of his rank, down to the spurs and minutest buckle, and sat erect and stiffly by the table, on which lay his sword, the Koran, a copy of the Articles of War for the Native Army, and the Government Gazettes of olden days, in which his name had been so often and so honourably mentioned. Probably the old man had some feeling that he was sitting upon a military board or regimental court-martial all the time, and the ghosts of old comrades, whose bones were rotting among the mud of the Five Rivers, or bleaching in the snow-blocked passes of Afghanistan, may have been crowding around him to aid the Subadar in his gloomy deliberations. It was by means of the uniform and the fiction of doing duty that the Subadar was at all able to maintain his resolution. In his dressing-gown he was only a battered, broken-hearted, old veteran, powerless to enforce his authority, and wholly at the mercy of his parental affections; but with the garb of his profession, all the military vigour and spirit of his youth seemed to come back to him. Agha had made several attempts to sap his master’s resolution. He had even condescended to make interest with the Rajah of Ghatghar’s mallees (gardeners), that he might obtain slips of a magnificent double-cupped rose-tree, which could hardly fail to excite the admiration of so enthusiastic a florist as his master. But the Subadar had sternly told him to remove the rubbish, and had slammed the door in his face. It was in vain that the Khyberee gathered bouquets of his master’s favourite flowers in the early morning, while the dew still lay in drops upon their buds, and ordered them to be placed where they might attract the Subadar Sahib’s attention; Shamsuddeen was utterly unconscious of their perfumes. Then, indeed, Agha began to lose all hopes of being able to effect any diversion on behalf of his young master. He had become a mere cipher in the household. The Subadar had sent down to Pultunpore for the services of two Hindoo troopers to aid him in maintaining discipline; and one of these was constantly on sentry by the door of the old zenana, where Afzul Khan was confined. Swart and sullen-looking fellows they were, Jats of the Manjha, Sikhs of the Sikhs, the sworn enemies of all true sons of Islam, who could have little sympathy with Agha’s sorrows, and who scowled and twisted their stiffened moustaches whenever the Khyberee came into their vicinity. Agha mentally determined that if ever he received a call to become a Ghazzee—that is, to tread the blessed paths of martyrdom for slaying an unbeliever—he would begin with one or other of these Sikh sentries.

The more Agha reflected upon his troubles, the more he became convinced that the present crisis called for some display of religious devotion. Let him polish for hours at the barrel of his favourite pistol, he could see no other remedy for Afzul’s misfortunes but the mercy of Allah. And Agha could not but confess how unworthy he was of the favours of heaven. He had, it was true, been liberal in giving alms to indigent believers; he had even done his best to persecute and molest all Hindoo enemies of the Faith who came in his way, and had once beaten a Bengalee syce (groom), until the poor wretch had been glad to buy off the bastinado by repeating the Muhammadan confession of faith: but all these virtues were as a molehill compared with the mountains of his transgressions; his wine-bibbing and wantonness, neglected times of prayer and violated fast-days, his rejection of the Prophet’s precepts, and persistence in those things which the Sent of Allah had forbidden to his disciples, and above all, the evil examples and counsels by which he had ruined his young master. He had made some attempts at amendment during the last few days—he had forsworn Rutton Pal and his wares—he had even performed the requisite number of prayers and ablutions enjoined by the Prophet; but these expressions of penitence were of too short standing to be much depended upon, and Agha felt that some special effort must be made to ingratiate himself with the higher power that presided over human destinies.

To this end he undertook a pilgrimage, at once the simplest and most efficacious way of winning religious merit. In the neighbouring district of Lallkor stands the celebrated shrine of Ajibganj, so called from the miracles which had been wrought at the tomb of the Mussulman saint, Pir Murtaza Ali. This reverend personage had arrived in Bengal before the valley of the Gungaputra had been subjugated to Muhammadan rule, and had suffered many persecutions and dangers at the hands of the heathen inhabitants. Taking up his abode on the spot where the town of Bhutpore now stands, then a tract of wild jungle, the holy man spent his days and nights in praying that the glory of Islam would dawn upon the darkened country. At length the Brahmins of the valley, apprehensive of the effect of his orisons, raised by their exorcisms an army of bhuts (demons) to destroy the stranger; but with the sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, Murtaza Ali kept his hellish foes at bay for a whole summer night; and they fled cowed and baffled at the false dawn never to return. When morning broke, the Prophet appeared to the exhausted warrior and held to his lips a golden chalice full of such wine as “the damsels with swelling bosoms, of equal age,” shall present to the pious in Paradise. “See ye not these cinders?” said the Elected One, pointing to the charred and shapeless ashes of the demons whom the valour of the believer had vanquished; “verily there shall a house arise where each of them now lies in which the name of Allah shall be called upon until the consummation of all things.” The truth of this legend is attested by the name Bhutpore, or the demons’ town, as well as by the number of mosques therein, which corresponds exactly with the demons that perished beneath the hand of Murtaza Ali. When he had converted the Gungaputra district to the faith of Islam, in which good work he received considerable assistance from the presence of a Muhammadan army, Murtaza Ali went into the adjoining district of Lallkor, there to propagate a knowledge of the true faith. Being weary and footsore, the saint sat down at the door of a Hindoo Rajah and craved a mess of rice and a cupful of water for charity’s sake. The Rajah drove him away with foul words; upon which the holy man said, with a smile, that he would be more civil to the next Muhammadan who came. This prophecy was literally fulfilled; for in a few weeks the Mussulman host burst in, and the Rajah was a fugitive, houseless and landless. But this was only one of many prophecies by which the saint had demonstrated the divine mission of Islam.

After a long life of piety and usefulness, during which he wrought many notable miracles and showed divers signs and testimonies, the time came at last when the saint was to enter upon the reward of his labours. Murtaza Ali fell sick of a fever in his hermitage at Ajibganj; but when his disciple would have gone to fetch a physician, the saint forbade him, saying that he expected a hakim (doctor) who would work an effectual cure upon him. The disciple’s affection was, however, stronger than his obedience, and he set off in quest of a physician; but though he searched a whole day he could find none. Returning to the hermitage at eventide, he was amazed to see the grot surrounded by a halo of celestial light, and to find an animal of dazzling whiteness, that was neither mule nor ass, but yet resembled both, waiting by the door. The disciple knew from this that the Prophet was with his master, and he prostrated himself in prayer, never daring to lift his head until the vision had disappeared. When he went inside he found that his master had just breath enough left to bless him and to give instructions about his funeral, all of which the disciple faithfully carried out. It could hardly be possible that Agha should seek in vain for peace at the shrine of such a man. The whole country rang with marvels that had been wrought at the tomb of Murtaza Ali—marvels which none but a dog of a Hindoo unbeliever would presume to doubt—and the shrine had been enriched by the gratitude of those who had obtained the saint’s favour. Agha was too much of a gentleman to trouble the holy man for nothing; and his girdle was stuffed with a goodly bag of silver, as well as with sundry precious trinkets which had come into his possession in the Sikh wars and in the Mutiny, in a way that was scarcely sanctioned by the general orders about plunder. It had been a difficult matter for Agha to decide how this pilgrimage was to be performed. Strict piety demanded that the journey should be made on foot; but it was a long and wearisome road from Dhupnagar to Ajibganj, and Agha thought that wounds and infirmities gave him a fair pretext for going on horseback. His spiritual adviser at Bhutpore had indeed told him that he might as well sit at home if he did not walk every inch of the way to Ajibganj; but then Moulvie Abdullah had done his best to dissuade the trooper from repairing to the shrine of Murtaza Ali at all, vaunting the superior sanctity of the White Mosque of Bhutpore, where a bunch of hair from the camel’s tail which bore the Prophet on his flight to Medina was preserved for the comfort of all true believers, and where he himself was a reader. But Agha was shrewd enough to divine the motives which led his reverend adviser to throw as many obstacles as possible in the way of a rival shrine; and so he made up his mind to ride to Ajibganj, feeling certain that a slight additional bakshish would condone the irregularity in the eyes of the venerable guardian of Murtaza Ali; while Moulvie Abdullah went his way back to Bhutpore, his mind filled with misgivings regarding the future welfare of his headstrong disciple, who was so blinded by the Evil One as to place the trumpery relics of an Afghan fakir before the sacred tail of the Prophet’s own camel—the peace of God and rest be upon both him and her!

Agha commenced his pilgrimage under happy auspices, which gave him sanguine hopes of a favourable issue. Before he had well seated himself in the saddle, and while he was yet giving the groom instructions as to what was to be done in his absence, Sultan caught the bit between his teeth, and bounding forward, upset the portly figure of Shama Churn the grain-dealer, who happened to be then passing on his way to the bathing-ghat. Luckily for the Hindoo, a wet ditch by the wayside received him and saved him from injuries, but he bellowed as loudly as if all his bones had been broken. “Well done, Sultan!” said Agha, patting the horse’s neck as he put spurs to him; “that is a better beginning than saying twenty bismillahs. I would you had broken the old infidel’s neck. You shall have a double feed of gram when we come back, my horse, for your piety. Forward, then, in the name of God!”

Agha had grave doubts whether or not it was a decorous thing to gallop on a pilgrimage, and he conformed so far to his religious scruples, that he restricted Sultan’s pace to a broken trot the whole way to Ajibganj. Accordingly the day was well advanced when he reached the tomb of Murtaza Ali; and the porter, who looked not a little scandalised at seeing a pilgrim on horseback, told him that Pir Muhammad, the keeper of the shrine, was taking his noonday nap, and could not be disturbed upon any pretence. So Agha had to picket his horse outside the sacred precincts, and then he went and sat down in the shade of the arched gateway by which the holy place is entered, doing his best to bring himself to a devotional frame of mind. But it was always a difficult task for Agha to fix his thoughts upon religious subjects, and before long he was deeply interested in the account which the porter gave him of an old comrade of his, one Ahmed Khan, a Reisaldar of Walesby’s Horse, who had lately made a pilgrimage to Ajibganj, and whose liberality the porter loudly praised, in hopes, perhaps, that his auditor might thereby be stimulated to greater generosity.

The shrine of Murtaza Ali was a quadrangular building entered by an arched doorway, the mouldings of which bore a suspicious resemblance to the ornaments of a Hindoo temple. Three sides were occupied by cloisters cut off by a double row of pillars from the open courtyard. The west wing, that towards Mecca, was occupied by the tomb of the saint, over which a mosque had been raised by one of the Muhammadan viceroys of Bengal. An oblong slab of dark-green granite—so dark that it seemed at first sight to be wholly black—above the door of the mosque, bore an inscription in bad Arabic to the effect that—“This Mosque—may it be blessed to Islam and the Muslims!—was erected by the Lord of the Age, the owner of the necks of nations, Daood Khan, King of Bengal—may God perpetuate his rule and kingdom!—in honour of the renowned saint and lamp of the faith, Pir Murtaza Ali Khan—may God make Heaven his dwelling-place!” Before the steps of the mosque a small space was shut in by a gilt railing, now sorely tarnished and weather-beaten. Inside this enclosure the eye of faith might discern the hoof-prints of the sacred beast, Alborak, upon the exact spot where he had once stood at the door of Murtaza Ali’s grot. Certainly the marks of four horse-shoes, each fitted with the proper number of nails and finished in a style that was highly creditable to celestial farriery, were distinctly visible in the laterite slabs. Admission to kiss these relics was an essential part of the pilgrimage, and had to be purchased by a round largess to the guardian of the shrine. It was a moot point among Muhammadan divines whether the saying of seven Fathahs18 at the tomb of the saint, or the kissing of the prints of the heavenly beast’s feet, was the more efficacious act of devotion. Pir Muhammad, the keeper of the mosque, who was bound to gratuitously admit the poorest fakir to pray by the grave of Murtaza Ali, but who charged a handsome fee for the other privilege, held strong convictions in favour of the latter rite.

In course of time slumber fled from the eyes of the reverend Pir Muhammad, and he came forth with arms extended above his head and yawning like an ogre. Agha got up and made his lowest obeisance, announcing himself as Agha, the son of Jubbar Khan of the Khyber, who had come all the way from Dhupnagar, in the Gungaputra district, to seek first the favour of God Most High; secondly, that of His Accepted One, Pir Murtaza Ali; and thirdly, the blessing of the saint’s present venerable successor—might God cover him with His pardon! In view of which he supplicated his spiritual father to take him under his protection, and out of the depths of his boundless knowledge to show him those ceremonies which were necessary to a proper performance of his pilgrimage.

The Pir nodded his acknowledgments of this complimentary address, and asked Agha a few general questions about his Khyberee clansmen and kinsfolk, while his sharp eye seemed all the time to be estimating the pilgrim’s worldly circumstances, and his mind to be engaged in calculating the amount of the fees which he might venture to exact from him. Then bidding Agha follow, he led the way inside to a small closet in the cloisters, where he sat down, and motioning to the pilgrim to follow his example, prepared to hear his visitor disclose his spiritual state.

“Ay, ay! even so, even so, even so!” snuffled the Pir, sententiously, when Agha had made a general confession of his backslidings. “With Allah there is a refuge from the wicked one. Well saith Ali, the Prophet’s vicegerent—may both be in the vicinity of God’s glory!—‘Repentance purifieth the heart and washeth away sin.’ ‘Verily,’ as it is written in the Book—‘verily, man is to his Lord ungrateful, and he himself is a witness thereof.’ Surely it is not to pamper their worthless bodies and to feed their lusts with debaucheries and uncleannesses that Allah has given prosperity to men, but that they might use it to the spread of His knowledge and in ministering to the wants of His servants. Saith not the Prophet, ‘He that heapeth up riches and numbereth them for the future, he thinketh surely that his wealth shall be with him for ever; nay, for verily he shall be cast into the crushing fire’? And again, ‘He that giveth of his wealth to purify his soul withal, he it is indeed that shall be satisfied.’ Ameen!”

While the Pir was carrying on his discourse, Agha had been fumbling in his waistband, counting over his money, and wondering in his own mind what was the least sum that a sinner like himself could tender with decency.

“Ameen!” he re-echoed; “and, holy Pir, I would fain, out of my small substance, bestow upon you such a sum as would entitle me to the benefit of your prayers. These thirty rupees are, I know, a trifle unworthy of your notice; nevertheless—”

“And there be those,” continued the Pir, with an indignant sniff, not deigning to notice Agha’s outstretched palm—“there be those that would bid for the mercy of God as if it were a tray of sweetmeats. They say, ‘Lo! a little gift goeth a great way;’ and while they spend an anna grudgingly in the service of God, they pour rupees by the score into the palms of taverners and the laps of harlots. Repentance! I take refuge with Allah from the mention of such abominations. The Prophet—God’s peace be upon him!—saith that when it shall be inquired of the wicked, ‘What brought you into hell?’ they shall reply, ‘We were not of those that prayed, and we did not feed the poor.’ And what are the torments that there await the impious? Oh that they could see with their eyes the bitterness of their portion! Oh that they could taste one sip of the boiling water mixed with ordure, which is the drink of the damned!—that they could feel for one instant the scorching blasts and the scalding smoke!—then would they know what their avarice and hardness of heart are surely storing up for them; then would they see that the dross which they grudge to spend in good-doing has become a weight about their necks to drag them to hell. O, Allah, let not such a fate be my appointed portion!”

“As I was saying,” observed Agha, when the Pir paused to take breath, “these fifty rupees have I destined for the service of God; and how can I better dispose of them than through your reverend hands, whose face is as white before Allah as the skirt of a seraph? Look with kind compassion upon the desire of your sinful slave.”

“Umph,” said the Pir, as he took the rupees from Agha’s hand, and counted them twice over. “Verily unto the Lord is the return of all things. And if it ease your conscience, who am I to spurn aside your gifts? May the blessings of Allah and His Prophet rest upon you, and may the voice of the holy Pir Murtaza Ali be heard in your behalf at the Day of Reckoning! There are certain fees appertaining to the sijdagahs (places where prayers are to be said), but of these a brother will inform you, as well as of the devotions proper for the occasion.” So saying the Pir yawned; and calling aloud, “Ai, Sayyid Sultan! Sayyid Sultan!” turned his back coldly upon Agha to show that the interview was at an end.

Sayyid Sultan was a little wizened man, of some fifty or sixty years of age, with a head of short grey hair cut closely to the poll, and two keen little eyes that seemed to pierce the party upon whom they were turned through and through. He made a lowly obeisance to his superior, keeping his hand affectedly before his eyes, as if the religious glory of the Pir was too strong for his sinful vision. Muttering a blessing the Pir motioned Agha to follow the Sayyid; and as he hurried away to his own apartments, Agha heard him telling over the fifty rupees a third time, and ringing one or two suspected coins upon the stone pavement.

“You will want to kiss the holy footprints of course?” said Sayyid Sultan, in accents that seemed to doubt as if Agha would bear the cost of this rite. “All you gentlemen silladars19 who come here make a point of doing it.”

“Well, I suppose it can’t do any harm,” said Agha, gruffly; “and if I can get religious merit in any fashion, I care not much how it comes.”

“Just so,” answered Sayyid Sultan, who all this time was taking Agha’s measure; “and in no way can man yield more delight to Allah than by ministering to His service. It is written that riches without God are the greatest poverty and misery. A worthy gentleman who came here a few days ago, a soldier like yourself, gave me twenty rupees to be allowed to kiss the holy footprints, and he said that he felt his sins fall off from him the moment his lips touched the stone.”

“That wasn’t Reisaldar Ahmed Khan of Walesby’s Horse, was it?” inquired Agha. “I don’t believe Ahmed’s sins would fall from him though he kissed the actual buttocks of Alborak, let alone his footmarks. He was the greatest rascal in the regiment.”

“The more the miracle,” responded Sayyid Sultan. “Had the gentleman been a saint, he would have had no sins to get rid off. He gave me five rupees, moreover, to myself, so well pleased was he. But perhaps you have nothing on your mind, in which case we may as well pass on.”

“Twenty rupees is a deal of money,” grumbled Agha. “I could have kissed the tail of the Prophet’s camel at Bhutpore for a fourth of that sum.”

“O Allah, hear not this cut-off one!” muttered Sayyid Sultan, in an audible whisper, as he raised his eyes heavenward. “To even the relics of Ajibganj with the Bhutpore trumpery! But ’tis ignorance, and let not your mercy lay this impiety to his charge. Ameen!”

Agha responded to the Sayyid’s prayer by sulkily counting out twenty rupees and placing them in his conductor’s palm. As this was ten rupees more than the legitimate fee, the Sayyid was somewhat mollified; and, with an air of greater civility, he unlocked the enclosure and directed Agha how his devotions were to be performed. The two entered and prostrated themselves, and with the aid of the Sayyid, the Khyberee got through the ceremony with due decorum.

There still remained the tomb of the saint to be visited, and in spite of the manifest veneration of the keeper of the shrine for the holy quadruped’s footprints, Agha built more hopes upon his prayers at the tomb of Murtaza Ali than on any other part of the pilgrimage. “It is customary for pilgrims,” hinted the Sayyid, “to leave behind them some offering upon the Sayyid’s tomb. It always makes their prayers more efficacious; for it is written that generosity of spirit is the true fruit of religion.”

“I wonder if you are as perfect in the rest of the Koran as in these beggar’s petitions?” said Agha to himself; “I never thought to see the grace of God huxtered in this fashion.”

The mosque itself was a dim, ill-lighted building, with a raised block of black stone in the middle of the floor to mark where the ashes of the saint were deposited. Narrow windows on either side, quite destitute of glass, let in just as much light as could enable the worshipper to discern the aspect of the interior, and no more. Two niches of rudely-carved stone in the western wall marked the position towards which men were to turn their faces when they prayed; for the whole Muhammadan world prays with its face towards the kaabah of Mecca. Between these niches a pulpit (mimbar) of stone slabs projected from the wall. The whole condition of the interior suggested the reflection, that whatever the offerings of pious pilgrims were spent upon, it was not on the conservation of Murtaza Ali’s mosque.

“I shall have to go to my private devotions in about four hours; I suppose you will have finished your prayers by that time, that I may attend you to the gate?” said Sayyid Sultan, as, motioning Agha to enter the mosque, he squatted down on the steps, and coiled himself up to sleep in a shady corner.

“I pray for four hours!” ejaculated Agha to himself, as he shambled into the holy place. “By Allah, and by Allah, but I could say in four minutes all the prayers that ever I learned! Truly, I am a taza-wallah (freshman) in religious affairs.”

However, Agha prostrated himself, and repeated such orisons as he could recollect, with a successful effort at fervour. He repeated the Kalima, or Creed, and Fathah, or Opener, three times over; and then, when his stock of prayers was exhausted, he began to yawn and look about him. It was a disappointing thing, after all, this pilgrimage. Here he had spent seventy rupees, and what better was he? The whole thing had been a mere mechanical operation, and his feelings had found none of that relief which he had expected from contact with holy things. And as for getting ghostly counsel from the guardians of the shrine, the fellows were as mercenary as itinerant tamasha-wallahs (showmen). But there was the tomb of the saint; there could be no deception with him, if Agha could only address him in proper terms. But this was exactly what Agha could not do; and the more he deliberated upon a form of words, the more he shrank from giving utterance to his own language, Mechanically he began to move his hands as if he were polishing the barrel of his favourite pistol; but even this exercise failed to enliven his intellect. At length, plucking up courage, he began, after having assured himself by the snoring of the Sayyid that no earthly ear was overhearing his petitions.

“In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful.

“O blessed Pir Murtaza Ali Khan, an Afghan yourself, and knowing how difficult it is for an Afghan to do right, have mercy on the vilest and humblest of your slaves.

“I am worse than a dog of dirt, and a cat of clay; and worse than that, and worse than that, and worse than that!

“I am worse than the Nawab of Panch Pahar’s little, brown, spavined gelding; and worse than that, and worse than that, and worse than that!

“I am worse than the rotten old rock that lies between Dhupnagar and Milkiganj, on the banks of the Gungaputra; and worse than that, and worse than that, and worse than that!

“Wherefore, O blessed Pir Murtaza Ali Khan, seeing that thou art so holy, and I am so vile, do what is needful. What use of more? Ameen!”

As Agha reflected over the terms of this supplication he began to feel more at his ease. He had abased himself before the saint in as depreciatory terms as his mind could suggest, and what more could a reasonable saint expect? The day was hot, Agha was tired with his ride, and while he thus mused, with heart intent on heavenly things, his senses suddenly deserted him, and in a few minutes his nasal organ was sending forth an antistrophe to the sonorous strophes of Sayyid Sultan.

In after-accounts of this pilgrimage, Agha was wont to detail the particulars of a beatific vision, in which Pir Murtaza Ali appeared to him, clad in a horse-hair wig and bar gown, like the Lawyer Sahib who had defended his comrade Dost Muhammad for robbing the military chest when Walesby’s Horse were quartered at Agra. The saint, he averred, told him that his sins were pardoned; that his prayers would be heard; that he must go home and live a better life, and do some great work for the glory of Islam. But I should scruple to lend my sanction to this story, which I am inclined to think was developed out of events that subsequently befell the characters mentioned in this book.

However, this much is certain, that Agha awoke in course of time in a comparatively cheerful frame of mind, and rousing the worthy Sayyid Sultan, proceeded to take horse.

“What! did you not come here on foot?” demanded the Sayyid, indignantly, as he cast a contemptuous look upon the gratuity which Agha slipped into his hands. “Some folk seem to suppose that they can gallop into the gates of Paradise itself; but their fall into hell will only be so much more the greater. Charity and alms-giving are the only horses that will bear you safely to the skies.”

But Agha had left a heavy gold bracelet upon the tomb of the saint, and confiding in his favour, he did not trouble himself about the goodwill of the underlings. Tipping a wink to Sayyid Sultan, and a rupee to the porter who had looked after his horse, Agha mounted and rode cheerily back to Dhupnagar, satisfied that he had done all that a pious man could do to avert calamity, and that Providence might safely be trusted to do the rest.

Chapter XXXVIII

Mr Roy Plays the Eavesdropper

“I’d give sporting odds, now, that this fellow will hedge. It is all up between him and his fancy woman, and I wouldn’t give a brass sixpence for his orthodoxy after that. It was solely to get into the Lahories’ good graces that he had anything to do with Hindooism again; and if I know human nature rightly, he will visit the wench’s sins upon her religion, and hate both of them as fervently as the best Brahmist could wish. And who is there to thank for all this? Who but this humble individual at whom the Theistic Society is carping and grumbling because they grudge the few dirty takkas (rupees) that he is spending in their service? I have seen a tenfold better retainer given to defend a man for sheep-stealing than the Society allowed me for the salvation of Krishna’s soul; and then to put out their horns because I won’t refund. It was a pity I ever let out that I had lost hope of the case; but who could have believed that that cursed jilt would be so accommodating as to play into my hands? I’ll write again, and tell them that he is nibbling at my hook like a half-starved gudgeon. I wonder what will become of the girl? Gad! I wouldn’t give much for her chances of a husband, especially if her intrigue with the Muhammadan gallant get to the winds, as there is great probability of its doing.

“‘In Gray’s Inn Lane, not long ago,
An old maid lived a life of woe;
She was fifty-three, with a face like tan,
And she fell in love with a dog’s-meat man.’”

At the sound of this strange and wild melody, respectable passers-by halted in the street, and looked curiously towards Rutton Pal’s verandah, whence the notes proceeded; women wrapped their faces closer in their veils, and hurried out of hearing, for how could they tell what evil spells the unholy minstrelsy might cast upon them? and the young men of the village winked each to the other, and nudged one another’s elbows as they congregated by the corner at the opposite side of the street, straining their ears to catch the song, which, although they did not understand a word of it, they felt assured must be delightfully wicked, since it came from the mouth of so great a reprobate as Mr Romesh Chunder Roy.

All, however, that was revealed to the admiring gaze of the gamins of Dhupnagar was the well-worn soles of a pair of patent-leather boots protruded over the balustrade of Rutton Pal’s verandah. Mr Roy’s head reclined on the back of an old lounging-chair, some thirty degrees lower down, and was, of course, invisible to the outside public. A cigar was in his mouth, and a modest tumbler of rum-and-water stood on a small teapoy by his elbow.

“I must fall upon some means of getting this Muhammadan’s brief,” Mr Roy continued to muse. “Unless I take up his case the young fellow is in a bad way, for no one will believe his story about Kristo’s daughter, especially if the girl, as she likely will, denies all knowledge of him. Of course my evidence would clear him at once, but I can’t be counsel and witness both. I shall call Krishna for the defence; I am much mistaken if he cannot open the eyes of these thick-sighted magistrates, unless they are as blind as Justice herself. And then who are the robbers? That, I humbly submit to your discerning worship, is no business of mine to indicate. R. C. Roy did not eat eight terms in the Lower Temple without learning the meaning of ne sutor ultra crepidam. But I have my suspicions, and I think if it lay very much in the way of my duty I could help Mr Eversley to one or two convictions that would rather astonish him. My ears have not been idle all these weeks that I have been in this den of thieves.”

The little knot of boys and young men over the way was beginning to manifest symptoms of an impatience to see or hear something more of the wonderful stranger whose eccentricities were a never-failing subject of wonder and reprobation to the whole village. One or two of the more malapert ventured to call out “Salaam, sahib!” while one forward brat, the son of Prosunno the pleader, came boldly to the front of the throng, and, proud of his linguistic attainments, shouted, “Good-y evenin’, mishtir!”

Rejoicing in popularity from whatever quarter it came, Mr Roy raised himself from his recumbent posture and peered over the verandah, bestowing an affable salutation on his young admirers. To the English interlocutor he addressed a sentence or two in that language, which the imp was utterly unable to comprehend, still less reply to. But Prosunno’s son inherited all his father’s assurance, and he boldly responded, “Good-y evenin’, mishtir!” then turned round and poured a voluble flood of Bengalee abuse upon those of his comrades who were disposed to jeer him on the failure of his boasted proficiency in the English tongue.

By-and-by the shrill pipe of a snake-charmer was heard in the other end of the bazaar, and the boys scampered off to witness a greater attraction than even the odd doings of their heretical countryman. The darkness came down, and Mr Roy, having finished his cigar and sipped out the remainder of his liquor, went inside to accoutre himself for his evening stroll. Rutton had gone along the street to Ram Lall, the oilman’s, and the house was left in silent darkness. Only from a hut at the extreme end of Rutton’s premises came a feminine giggling and chattering, proceeding from certain fellow-lodgers, of whose presence Mr Roy did not deign to take the slightest notice.

As he was passing out through the dark rooms, a strange voice fell upon his ear, which made him pause and listen intently. Next to vanity, curiosity was one of the most characteristic traits of the barrister’s character; and he stole back on tiptoe to the opening from which the sound came, and strained his ears to catch the words of the speakers. Peering through a door of wicker-work, he could see two red lights at some distance from each other, and he easily conjectured that two of Rutton’s customers were busy with their hookhas inside.

“I like it worse than any job I ever yet undertook,” grumbled a peevish voice, in a broad Hindustani patois. “I would rather have risked a couple of torchlight dakaities (robberies).”

“Much rather,” responded the other, in gruff but cheery tones.

“But the notched tree must fall. And, after all, we shan’t be so badly paid for it; a thousand rupees is a lot of money, and we have other as much that we kept out of former loot (plunder) that he never knew aught of. I’d rather throw myself under the car of Jagannath than stay another year under Three Shells’ roof, locked up like a suspected wife.”

“Much rather,” readily assented the other.

Nothing but a consciousness of the danger of eavesdropping upon such desperate characters restrained Mr Roy’s inclination to whistle. “Three Shells,” he repeated to himself. “Aha! I was right after all, then. I always thought the fellow was an infernal old fence, and now I’m sure of it. For half-a-sovereign I’ll take in hand to make these robberies as clear as noonday.”

“I shall turn zemindar when I go to my village,” said the grumbler, “and lead a respectable life. I shan’t steal anything within a hundred koss20 of my own home.”

“Nor I,” answered the other; “unless I were sure that somebody else would be blamed for it; and I shall give gifts to the village temple, and go twice a-day there to say my prayers.”

“Ay, religion is very useful in that way,” said the first speaker, “and a man can always take his own money out of it. But hist! Tettoo, didn’t you hear a noise? Take my knife and look that no one is listening.”

But before Tettoo was able to open the door, and look outside, the passage was empty, and no sign of any spy was apparent. Mr Roy had stolen off on the first alarm, and was standing trembling in his own room, before Tettoo succeeded in opening the door.

“By Jove!” he gasped, “but that was a narrow escape. I would rather have fallen into the hands of a St Giles’ garotter than that scoundrel with the knife. I’m as little of a coward as any Bengalee can be, and yet I feel rather shaky on my pins. I would give a twenty-rupee note to hear the rest of these rascals’ confabulation, but I can’t. Scarcely! I might if I had a spare neck to put on like a shirt-collar, when that ruffian had slit this one. But I’ll watch where they go to. They’re up to some preciously deep mischief, that’s certain. I wish I had a glass of liquor. The evening must be growing chill, for I am shivering all over.”

But though Mr Roy did not venture to overhear the remainder of the dialogue, there is no reason why our readers should be denied this pleasure.

“I wouldn’t have cared for killing any ordinary man,” resumed Panchoo, the grumbler, when Tettoo had again taken his seat; “but a Brahmin priest is rather too heavy for my conscience. Why, I had as lief kill a cow, although that they say one suffers for it in hell as many years as there are hairs in the beast’s body. I’ll give forty rupees to the first shrine of Kali that we come to on our way home, if we get well over this business.”

“I won’t say anything about it until I see how things go; but if there is like to be a difficulty, I should not mind giving other as much,” said Tettoo, with more caution.

“After all, there can’t be much trouble,” said Panchoo. “You won’t want a knife to settle him. You have only just to spring upon him, throw him over, grapple him by the weasand, and dig your knees into his chest, and the whole thing is done in five minutes. Ah, you are a handy fellow, Tettoo!”

“Eh! and what are you to do all the time, Panchoo?” demanded Tettoo, looking up in surprise.

“Oh, me? I shall have many things to do,” replied Panchoo, reflectively. “I shall have to watch that nobody comes upon us, and to see if there is anything in the temple worth taking away, and to look that no marks are left to betray us, and—and a number of other things. But you know as well as I do, Tettoo, that one must plan and the other do the work; and you have no head, Tettoo.”

“No, I have no head,” said Tettoo, with a sigh, “except to stand drink; and there I am better than you, Panchoo.”

Panchoo silently conceded this claim to superiority, and the two smoked in silence for some minutes.

“Didn’t you hear some one stirring?” asked Panchoo again. “It was rash of us to come here at all, Tettoo, where so many people of all castes are prowling about. Drink out your liquor, and let us get home again by the back way. In another hour or so it will be time to move down to the temple.”

Panchoo rose and cautiously looked into the passage; and, after he had assured himself that they were unobserved, he beckoned to Tettoo to follow, and the two stole cautiously out by a back way through Rutton’s compound. And thus it happened that they were seen no more of the expectant barrister.

Mr R. C. Roy had equipped himself in a long black cloak, with a cape which completely enveloped his features, and he was, moreover, armed with a stout malacca walking-stick having a heavy knotted head, of the species popularly known as a “Penang lawyer.” There was, however, a twitchy nervousness about the arm that wielded this trusty weapon which did not hold out a great pledge of the execution to be done if conclusions should have to be tried with any very formidable antagonist. He crossed the road from Rutton’s, and took up a position of observation on the other side of the street, from which he could see every one who came out of the hostelry without being readily seen by any one in turn.

“I’m hanged if it isn’t quite a melodrama!” soliloquised Mr Roy, as he looked down approvingly at his costume. “What would Lord Gotham say if he were to see me in this trim? I shall be able, at any rate, to say that I have served in all grades of the legal profession from thief-taker to crown prosecutor. By Jove! I would so like to address a jury for a conviction against that villain who spoke about the knife; I’d make every man of them cry almost for vexation that they couldn’t do more than hang him. ‘Is there, my lord, a man so utterly dead to the common feelings of humanity—whose heart is so hardened against the melting tones of our mother Nature—in whose bosom the voice of Justice raises no echo of sympathy—from whom the cry of Injustice wrings no tear of compassion,—one

who is dead to all the distinctions of right and wrong—one of those unhappy beings so graphically portrayed in the ever-living lines of the immortal Shakespeare—

“‘But when we in our viciousness grow hard
(Oh misery on’t!) the wise gods seal our eyes;
In our own filth drop our clear judgments: make us
Adore our errors; laugh at us while we strut
To our co-on-nfusion’?

By Jove! but that would surely wake Mr Justice Tremor, after the prosy drivelling of Bob Bullie and the senseless blarney of Phelim Doyle. I’d like to see the jury that would return a verdict against me after I had put such a question as that to them. I should rise and say, ‘I shall not seek to dissemble, my lord, my astonishment at the verdict that has been returned per-jury;’ and then there will be a roar of laughter through all the court, and the foreman may get cocky and crave the protection of the court against the licence of counsel. And again when I say, ‘My lord, I did not, when I spoke of the verdict per-jury, mean, as the foreman seems to apprehend, to charge the respectable gentlemen by whom this important case has been tried, with wilful violation of their oath. But after the decision that they have already arrived at, I am not surprised that they should be ignorant of even the rudest elements of the classic tongues, and unconscious that a verdict per jury is a verdict returned by means of the jury.’ And then there will be another roar in court, drowning the angry remarks of the foreman, and Mr Justice Tremor will shake his finger warningly and say, ‘Mr Roy!’ Gad! I am getting so jungly living in this solitude, that I thought I had almost forgotten the way to make a pun.”

The time passed quickly on while the barrister was indulging in these dreams of future professional triumphs, but no one appeared at the door of Rutton Pal’s. The lights began to be extinguished one after the other; even Ram Lall the oilman, after he had come out to the road and looked up and down the street in search of a late customer, shut his shop and went to bed; and sleep began to spread its wings over the village. A slow heavy footstep was heard coming along the street, and soon old Lutchmun, the village watchman, appeared upon his night’s patrol. Lutchmun started and seemed somewhat alarmed at the muffled figure that kept so close in the shade of the houses; but mindful of his duty, and plucking up courage, the ancient and quiet watchman crossed over to the opposite side, and thus arrived unmolested at the end of his beat.

“A fine protector of the public’s property, truly,” said Mr Roy to himself; “but where have these fellows gone to? I’ll just go quietly in and see whether they are still there. They can’t knife a man for going into his own lodgings, surely. Rutton would never allow a customer’s throat to be cut who hasn’t settled his bill.”

The barrister crossed the street and went into his room in Rutton Pal’s. The house was still quiet, and the room where the two conspirators had been seated was now empty, and its door left open to the passage.

“They are off, by all that’s provoking,” said Mr Roy to himself, “and Lord only knows what devilry may be done before morning! I suppose I should call up the headman and the watch; but I might just as well call upon the Linga of Dhupnagar, for all the good that either of them will do.”

By this time Lutchmun the watchman had begun to retrace his steps, and was nearly opposite Rutton Pal’s when the barrister came out. The watchman again took alarm, and speedily put the road between himself and the cause of his terror, quickening his pace as nearly to a run as his aged limbs allowed him when he saw that the stranger was determined to accost him.

“Stop, my friend, what are you frightened about?” cried Mr Roy, in a low voice; “you don’t think, surely, I would do you any harm? Let me speak a few minutes with you, and I’ll give you an eight-anna bit.”

“May Doorga deliver me!” said Lutchmun, to himself; “but I cannot run though he be a badmash (blackguard), for he would soon overtake me; and if he is a respectable indweller he will give me the eight annas; so I had better stop and speak him softly.”

Lutchmuna recognised Mr Roy as he came up, and with a flourish of his arm, which he fondly believed to be a military salute, began to apologise for his pusillanimity. A woman in Shama Churn the grain-dealer’s quarter, had seen a bhut (devil) prowling about in the disguise of an Englishman, and, as his honour knew, bhuts were beings that the watchmen were not required to interfere with; and so when he saw his honour—might his shadow be increased—he had taken him for the bhut—might his innocent error be pardoned to him for an old simpleton; but then his honour was so like an Englishman, quite a Sahib in appearance, &c. &c.

When he had thus, as he thought, sufficiently mollified the barrister, Lutchmun listened to his story with many misgivings. At first his counsel was to take no notice of the ruffians, for, as the Shastras said, “As the sea was fettered because it dwelt near the wicked, so if the virtuous ventured near the vicious, they would both suffer together for the sins of the latter;” and when the barrister was not to be satisfied with this reasoning, he consented at last to waken Gangooly, the headman, and communicate to him the questionable character of the two persons who were abroad in the village.

Gangooly’s house was towards the aristocratic end of Dhupnagar, neighbouring the village green, the temple, and the house of Lahory; and thither the two hastened as fast as Lutchmun was able to hobble along. The aged watchman was sorely distressed at the prospect of encountering two such desperadoes as those whom Mr Roy described; but he had confidence that the headman was just as great a coward as himself, and could be trusted to shun the least appearance of danger. So he put on an appearance of boldness, and made an effort to bluster about the drubbing which the robbers would receive if they came in the way of his quarter-staff.

According to the usage established in the rare cases of night alarms, Lutchmun began to rattle against the Venetians of the window which lighted the headman’s bed-chamber, with small stones and handfuls of sand. But it seemed as if sleep were steeled against such larums when she shared the couch of Gangooly, for the nasal respirations from the headman’s couch drowned the utmost noise that those outside could raise. At last the noise of a couple of heavy stones crashing upon the wooden shutters, was followed by the appearance of Gangooly at an open window, rubbing his eyes and yawning like Kumbhakarna awakened from a six months’ slumber.

“If it is Prosunno, the pleader, who is beating his wife again,” said the archon of Dhupnagar, thrusting his hands into his eyes, “tell him that I shall go to the Magistrate Sahib to morrow, as sure as my father was headman of Dhupnagar.”

“O father! may you have wakened in a propitious hour!” said Lutchmun, clasping his hands together and salaaming to his chief; “but it is not the pleader and his spouse, who both sleep in peace like respectable people.”

“Then if it is only drunk people fighting in Rutton Pal’s, I’ll have no business with them,” said Gangooly, positively; “if anybody is killed we can make a report about it to-morrow. I wonder you haven’t more sense, Lutchmun, than to alarm a township about such a trifle!”

“But if it would please you to descend,” pleaded Lutchmun, “this worthy gentleman, this honoured-among-Englishman-and-pride-of-the-Hindoo-people, has tidings of importance to tell you. There is evil abroad, and our faces will be black in the eyes of the Magistrate Sahib if we do not put on the slippers of activity and the spectacles of observation.”

“Eh! what? who is that?” said the headman, for the first time noticing Mr Roy’s presence, “I’ll come down directly. Is it not a hard thing that a man whose forefathers have been headmen of Dhupnagar since the days when the English got the dewanny (stewardship) of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, should be roused out of his first sleep by an unclean mletcha like that? What’s the matter with him now? Nothing, I warrant, that would not keep without stinking until mid-day tomorrow. But he has got the ear of the Sahibs, and dips in the same dish with the great Lord Sahib himself, and so his worship must be duly attended to. Ugh! how cold it is! and to be wakened just as I was going to dream of a hidden treasure. But we who are the servants of the public, must sleep with one eye ever open.”

Checking his grumbling, Gangooly came out into the open air, and with many apologies to Mr Roy for keeping him waiting, prepared to hear the barrister’s story.

Chapter XXXIX

Radha Rouses Herself

The fair cause of all the mischief which had fallen upon Dhupnagar at this time was not herself exempted from trouble. Kristo’s daughter was one of those haughty women who can only be hurt through their pride; so long as this was intact, she could stoutly withstand any misfortune, could steel her heart against the softening influences of sympathy, and could pay back scorn with tenfold usury. But if she felt that her dignity was in any way compromised—that, whether justly or unjustly, the world held her name or fame cheaper than her own estimation of it—her spirit gave way, and she was meanly inclined to let the world take her at its own valuation. The simple consciousness of innocence was not sufficient to sustain Radha against the ordeal of public opinion. She would have borne the weight of guilt more lightly provided that society in general pronounced her blameless. And yet there were times when the softer feelings of womanhood would rise up strong within her, and threaten to overthrow the false tyranny that had usurped their place. In her intercourse with Afzul Khan she had ever felt herself treading on the verge of a precipice where the slightest dizziness, the most temporary subjection of head to heart, was certain destruction. And it was not to principle that Radha owed her preservation. It was the cool counsels of worldly prudence and interest that had strengthened her resolutions; the fear of giving an edge to scandal, and of risking for the gratification of a foolish passion the substantial advantages that would flow from a marriage with Krishna Chandra Gossain. And now that this bubble had burst next, did Radha regret her discretion? Into this, I think, we had better not inquire too minutely. There is a point at which the task of the dissector must cease if he would not excite disgust rather than admiration; and it is humiliating both to writer and reader that the worst weaknesses of human nature should be laid bare, and held up to the public eye, filament by filament, and tissue by tissue. Remember, too, that Radha was a woman, an admired and vain woman; that she was a heathen, and badly trained in even the ethics of heathendom; that she was passionate, high-spirited, and mainly her own mistress—for Kristo’s paternal control went for little, being wholly of a negative character;—and remembering this, can we feel aught but wonder that the maiden had strength of mind to bear her unscathed through the fiery ordeal of a clandestine attachment?

Radha had never received any formal intimation that Krishna had renounced her hand. The subject was a disagreeable one to her father, and as he naturally considered himself to be the person most interested in the matter, and did not think Radha’s feelings of sufficient importance to entitle her to paternal sympathy, he kept his mortification to himself. But with Sukheena for her confidant, Radha was not likely to remain long in ignorance of any piece of public gossip. Kristo’s servants soon heard in the bazaar that all their great expectations of a marriage, with its splendour and perquisites, its fireworks and illuminations, its broken meats and bakshish, had been given to the winds—thrown down the Gungaputra, as they themselves phrased it. Of course they posted home hot-foot to tell the rest of the household, and interrogate sister Sukheena about the truth of the rumour. Sukheena heard their story with ill-assumed composure, imprecated the vengeance of the gods upon all such dallals and badmashes (brokers and blackguards) as the gossips of Dhupnagar and the servants of the house of Lahory, who did not silence these vile slanders with the weight of their quarter-staves; and hurried up in tears to break the tidings to her mistress.

Radha laughed scornfully when Sukheena burst into a flood of tears at the end of her story. “Renounced me, has he? Not he! I would he were man enough to do such a thing, for then perchance I might fear and respect him. Didst ever hear the cat say, ‘Depart in peace,’ to a mouse that he had once put his paw upon? If Krishna has renounced his senses, or if he has seen a fairer face in the Gungaputra valley—do you think he has, my Sukheena?—then I might believe your report.” And in the pride of her beauty Radha rose to her feet, pushed back the heavy masses of her unbraided hair, and tossed her head triumphantly before the mirror. “Do you think he has fallen in love with another, my Sukheena?” she repeated, banteringly. “A sight of the fair maiden that has so soon effaced my poor features from his breast would be a salve for sore eyes.”

“May evil and the eye of evil be far from us!” whimpered Sukheena. “But Keshub, the bearer, who is no liar, heard it with his own ears in the bazaar. The whole village is ringing with the news. And Bejoy, the ghatak, was here last night with the Baboo, and left in a tufan (hurricane) of ill-temper. When the porter held out his palm for a bakshish, he prayed that the devils might fill his hands with red-hot cinders; and he such a smooth and civil-spoken man usually! Mother Gunga protect us! but I am sure there is trouble coming upon us. I saw a hargilla (the ‘adjutant’ bird) alight on the roof of our house yesterday; and Tukht Singh, your father’s clubman, heard a jackal howling at mid-day among the garden coppices a week ago come Sanichar (Saturday).”

“Better get Adbhuta-shanti21 performed,” jeered Radha; “but if you anticipate no greater calamity than the loss of Krishna, it would scarcely be worth wasting the wood and the butter.”

“You would not speak thus if you thought the news was true,” said Sukheena, losing her temper. “I warrant you are sore enough at heart for the loss of your lover. And it is only the just meed of the gods for your scornful treatment of that good young Baboo, and your shameless carrying on with that wicked Mussulman. Whatever you may think, the gods always do to us as we do to others,”

“Ah! but the gods are merciful, my Sukheena,” retorted the fair mocker. “Look how they took away your poor boy-husband just in time before he had tasted the evils that were in store for him! What a fate the wretched creature would have met if he had been spared!”

“What, O incestuous!” cried Sukheena, in a fury; “would you cast my misfortune in my teeth? The day may come when you yourself may wear the widow’s friendless robe, and walk unjewelled with less reputation than I have borne. And I—I, not a lone one, a woman whom no one ever deigned to take by the hand; a disgrace to my father, and a care to my mother; a—a—”

Sukheena’s further invectives were cut short by her mistress, who clapped one hand upon the waiting-woman’s mouth, and seizing her arm firmly in the other, forcibly conducted her through the anteroom, pushed her out, and slammed and bolted the door behind her.

When Radha returned to her own room, her face wore altogether a different expression. Her brows were lowered, her lips firmly set together, and her eyes darted forth flashes of anger. Mechanically she took up a bouquet of flowers—one of those presents by which Krishna kept her in daily remembrance of his affection—and crushed it in her clenched hand until the gay leaves were ground to small powder. But there was no trace of sorrow in her whole demeanour; nothing but anger and determined hate.

“And he throws me thus aside like a gathered rosebud,” she said, bitterly. “Well, I care not for the loss of his love. But I am dishonoured by his rejection, and I swear he shall repent it. And yet I cannot believe it. He loved me—nay, worshipped me; and he feared me too; reverenced me as a jogee (ascetic) reverences the god to whose worship he has given up his life. He dared not do it of his own free will. There has been witchcraft practised upon him; that ugly trollop, his wife, most likely has put spells upon him to draw his love to herself. No, he dared not of himself give me up. And what will my father, who is so touchy about the honour of the Lahories, do? If I were a man, and any one had thus slighted my daughter, he should not live to boast of it. But why should I fret—I who would never have stooped myself to pick up his love, though I saw it lying in a gutter before me? If the rupture had only begun with me, I should have thanked the gods that my children would not have a fool for their father. I shall know to-night whether the news is true. He will send the flowers as usual, if he means to keep his troth; and if not—well, if not, I shall—” and Radha pressed her lips firmly together, and did not say to herself what vengeance she would venture to take in that case. She waited with no little anxiety for the hour when the temple gardener was wont to bring his young master’s bouquets. Often amid the flowers Radha would find concealed a Bengalee sonnet dedicated to her beauty, or a pretty trinket of jewellery for the adornment of her person. The verses were tossed away, but the ornaments were carefully preserved and religiously put to the use that the donor had intended them for. But now there was not even flowers—not so much as a single bud; and when the time went past, Radha felt that the news was true, and that her last chance of marriage was departed. How she hated that stupid, faithless Krishna! Would that she could marry him now, if it was only to cross and annoy him, and abuse him, until his heart was broken! But perhaps he was sick, and might be faithful after all. What pleasure, then, to spurn him away with a dog’s denial! O gods! that she might yet have an opportunity of throwing dirt in his face!

They were not pleasant or womanly thoughts that crowded about Radha’s fair head as she sat by the open window and looked out into the moonlight. The other side of the valley, sloping in a gentle curve from the river to the ridge upon which the Panch Pahar hills rose up steep and rugged, was bathed in a lustre of bright grey; but to Radha’s eyes the scene looked stern and deathlike. A wide reach of the river above the corner of Milkiganj was visible; but it was on a death-fire at the burning-ghat, flickering pale and faintly in the moonlight, and not on the silvery streams that looked pure and brilliant as the water of the Ganges, when first the sacred flood leapt down to earth, that the maiden’s gaze lingered. A tigress among the dense dingles of Panch Pahar opposite the Ghatghar Rajah’s palace broke the stillness by a prolonged howl of savage desire and disappointment; and Radha felt as she could almost give the brute a “god-speed,” provided only she was in quest of man for her prey.

And where was Afzul Khan all this time, who spoke so loudly of his love and boasted of the blood he had drunk? Could it be possible that he had heard the news, and that he scorned to put up with the love that a Hindoo book-man had cast away from him? She looked anxiously all over the compound, but Afzul did not make his appearance from under the shade of the black trees as he was wont to do; and though she dropped a sprig of golden champak carelessly to the ground, no gallant sprang forward to seize it and kiss it and place it in his bosom. She was, then, forsaken indeed. So be it; she would live and die an unblemished virgin, the last of her proud race, and never look upon the face of man again. Nay, she would not hesitate to mount the funeral pyre that instant, provided she could only obtain a revenge upon Krishna adequate to the wrong he had done her. Ay, and upon Afzul Khan too, if he had likewise deceived her; for her love for him was so strong that any repulse would soon force the current of her passions to seek an outlet through the channel of hate.

But when such resolutions are taken by a maiden of seventeen, they are easier made than kept. In the midst of her troubles, her old love for Afzul Khan came back upon her in full force, and she felt that if he deserted her, she was indeed desolate. Whom was there that she could trust—whom that she could lean upon—whom that she could love, if not him? Her father was—her father; and the simple fact of relationship was almost all that there was between them. She loved Sukheena in spite of all their bickering; but then her love was that of a mistress for a lap-dog, or a song-bird, or any other pet of an inferior order of creation. But what she wanted was some one that she could love up to; one that would repay her love with the warmth of a man’s affection, and stretch out a strong arm to support her in such times of trouble as the present. And who was there in the wide world that could protect and cherish her as Afzul Khan could?

When Sukheena came in to comb her mistress’s hair, Radha noticed that the waiting-woman’s face was swollen and her eyes bleared with crying. Repenting her previous harshness, Radha spoke to her in kind and caressing tones, but Sukheena’s tears only flowed the faster, and she sobbed as if the heart would burst forth from her bosom. Radha put up her arms and drew the other’s head caressingly to her breast.

“Surely my Sukheena is not so silly as to let aught that I can say hurt her?” said Radha, as she kissed away the widow’s tears. “You know I am but petulant at the best, and you should make some allowance for shortness of temper in a girl who has been jilted by her betrothed. Come now, my Sukheena, kiss me and be friends; you know I never said a harsh word to you but I repented it afterwards,”

But the more that Radha fondled her, the more uncontrollable became Sukheena’s emotion. “It is not that—it is not that,” she sobbed; “my life is yours if you like to take it. How shall I ever tell you? how shall I ever bear the calamity?”

“What is this, now?” said Radha; “calm yourself, and tell me all. Is Krishna going to marry anybody else? I think—I promise you—that I shall bear even that with tolerable composure.”

“No, no—worse, a thousand times worse,” cried the other; “it is Afzul Khan. They have got him a prisoner and they will murder him; and oh! I shall never, never, see him again!”

“Peace, girl!” said Radha, fiercely; “what have you to do with Afzul Khan that you give way thus? Dry your eyes this instant, and tell me all, if you would not have me go out to the bazaar to learn the worst for myself.”

Sukheena’s distress and unconcealed concern about her lover, roused keen pangs of jealousy in Radha’s heart. What was Afzul to her—a servant, a widow, and a coarse-looking wench to boot—that she should display feelings on his account which, Radha thought, ought properly to belong to her? By degrees, Radha managed to extract from Sukheena all that the village gossips had told her regarding Afzul Khan. Her lover was a prisoner in his father’s house upon the charge of being at the back of all the robberies that they had heard so much about; and the Magistrate Sahib himself was coming to Dhupnagar in a few days to pass sentence upon, and perhaps execute him. One of the principal accusations against him was the stealing of a large sum of money from Kristo Baboo; and everybody was sure that he was the thief, for Jaddoo, the Dipty’s orderly, had watched him slinking out of Kristo’s compound on the very night that the money was missed. And if it wasn’t for loot (booty), what could he be seeking there at that hour? everybody said. A look of guilty horror was exchanged by the two women, and then Sukheena went on with her story. All the women and some of the men were sure that death would be the sentence; that he would be hung upon the tall palmyra at the lower end of the village green. Radha shuddered as her eye caught the outline of the hateful tree standing up boldly in the moonlight against the clear blue sky. What more? Why, that was all, except that the Dipty was coming on the morrow to Dhupnagar to search out witnesses against Afzul Khan; and Gangooly the headman’s son, Gopal, said that the Dipty had sworn by the Linga, not to return to Gapshapganj until he had seen the vultures picking the bones of the Muhammadan. And there were many said, added Sukheena, drying her eyes, that the Dipty would be willing to take up the hand that Krishna Gossain had let fall; and that a clever officer like the Baboo, who would be worth a lakh of rupees at least when Ram Lall, the oilman, died, and would sit at the Little Lord Sahib’s (Lieutenant-Governor’s) council-table before long, was as good a match as Kristo could expect for his daughter.

Radha looked as though the Dipty Baboo’s suit would not have much chance of success if he had come before her to plead it at that moment. She rose and walked rapidly up and down the room, attempting to comprehend the full force of the awful story that Sukheena had told her. There were two contending passions at work within her, each tearing her heart in an opposite direction. “What matters it?” hissed Pride in her ear. “The Muhammadan will never dare to breathe your name; and though he did, no one would believe him. Courage! harden your heart, hold your head high, and no tongue in Dhupnagar will venture to cast the slightest slur upon the honour of Kristo Baboo’s daughter.”

“Ay,” whispered Love, “and leave him to his fate—him who is bearing all this trouble for your sake, and who would bear an hundredfold more, even death itself, rather than that you should be put to the blush. What solace will it be to you that folks should credit you with virtue that you never possessed, if his blood is poured out upon your head? Think what he would have done for you, and what you in your pride are going to do for him.”

“Pshaw!” sneered Pride; “the man is only an unclean Mussulman, with whom you never could have mated had he lived.”

“But he loved you well,” sighed Love, in a melancholy whisper.

“Bah! so do half a score decent Hindoos of good caste,” argued Pride; “only take care of your good name, and you will get husbands a-plenty. You know yourself how beautiful you are. What folly for one so fair to make such a fuss about one lover! Let the fellow go hang.”

Love’s only answer to this artful insinuation was a sigh, deep-drawn and prolonged, and coming from the very core of the heart.

“And am I then so vile,” cried Radha, “as to sacrifice him to save myself? Can I be a Lahory and stoop to so base a subterfuge? It was not thus that the Aryan dames of old preserved their honour. Did Sita turn her back upon Rama when he was driven forth in disgrace and to exile? No; I will go to him though every Brahmin in the Gungaputra district stood in the way to oppose me, and every step of the road made me of a lower caste than the vilest Sudra. I will stand by his side and we will speak the truth together to the Magistrate Sahib, though my father should shut the door in my face ever afterwards. And if they harm a hair of Afzul’s head, I shall burn myself upon his body and go sati (chaste) with him wherever he goes. O Afzul! Afzul! to think that I should for an instant have thought of bathing my hands in your blood! I will lay my head in the dust and never lift it again until I know that you have forgiven me. My cloak, Sukheena, and quickly; we shall go to him. I dare not trust myself longer alone with my own evil thoughts.”

Sukheena looked up at her mistress in horrified amazement. Lit up by the light of self-sacrifice and enthusiasm, Radha’s exquisite features shone with a glory that was almost divine; her sparkling eyes flashed all the more brightly for the tear-drops that quivered in them: and there was a dignity and stateliness in her mien altogether different from the stiff hauteur which she was wont to show when her feelings were aroused.

“She will go mad,” said Sukheena to herself, jumping up in alarm; “it has driven her out of her senses. Radha, darling! sit down by me; you will go to bed, my life, and be better before morning. See! the lights are all out in the house, and your hair not unbraided yet. Sit down, my sweet, and lay your head in my lap.”

“Get me a cloak, Sukheena; the heavy one I wear in the cold weather, and muffle up yourself and come with me. Nay, not a word; am I not bad enough already that you should try to make me worse? Don’t look at me, woman, but haste and get ready.”

“Mother Gunga guard us!” said Sukheena, in a whisper; “she is raving mad. And where would you wish to go, my love? Sit down by me now.”

“I am going to him,” said Radha, as she pointed with her arm to where the white walls of Walesbyganj peeped out among the dark jungle; “I shall tell him to let no silly scruples about me stand between him and his freedom, for if he will not tell the truth I shall.”

“O Rama! she would go among Mussulmans at midnight, and ruin her character and caste for ever. Sit down now, my own best beloved and closest to my heart.”

Radha’s reply was to push Sukheena firmly aside and go into the inner apartment, from which, soon afterwards, she emerged, draped from head to foot in a black cloak.

“If you please to attend me, well; if not, I shall go alone,” she said, with the proud air of a heroine queen; “such work as I have before me to-night cannot be hindered by womanish scruples.”

Mechanically Sukheena began to wrap herself up, breathing all the while pious petitions to the gods for protection, intermingled with exclamations of dismay at Radha’s infatuation. But Radha’s heart was absorbed in her high purpose, and she heeded not Sukheena’s terror, but stood in the middle of the floor, tapping impatiently with her little foot at the waiting-woman’s slowness.

“But how shall we get out?” said Sukheena, when she had time to bethink herself of obstacles. “The porter is still awake, and will alarm the house. O holy Doorga! what would the Baboo do if he caught us?”

“We must shut the porter’s mouth, as we have done before when there was less necessity pressing us,” said Radha, tearing off her bracelet; “there, give him that, and let him take care that we get out and in unobserved. Although it matters little, for all Dhupnagar will know of it before many days go by.”

“O father! it is the bracelet Krishna gave her, and worth five hundred rupees if it’s worth an anna. We shall buy the rogue with a less bribe,” said Sukheena, as she put the bracelet aside into Radha’s jewel-box, and took up a bright silver rupee from the same coffer. “That should tie his tongue sufficiently; and if it come to telling, my story will, perchance, be as long as his.”

“Let us go, then,” said Radha, motioning to Sukheena to lead the way; “as quietly and as quickly as we can.”

“Stay, my mistress!” said Sukheena, throwing herself before Radha as an idea struck her; “I have hit upon a plan which will save both of you. What is good fame to a poor widow like me at whom every one points the finger of scorn, who is every one’s drudge? Why should not I confess to have been the Mussulman’s paramour, and swear that he was keeping assignations with me? That would clear him, and screen you, and save all further outcry. And what though your father did turn me out of doors? The gods would give me food somewhere, and you would protect me when you get a rich husband.”

There was something so plausible and accommodating in Sukheena’s proposal that Radha’s resolution was at first staggered. But she was so pleased with her own heroism, and enamoured of the novelty of doing a good and generous action, that she could not bear to see another dash the cup away from her lips. And jealousy came to her aid, for she could not help perceiving that Sukheena took more than a mere friendly interest in the fate of the young Muhammadan.

“Nay, girl,” said Radha, sternly; “I shall bear the consequences of my own folly. What! is not Afzul Khan worthy of this, or even a greater sacrifice at my hands? And you would say that he had held assignations with you? Fool! do you think that one like him would look at such as you, or that the Magistrate Sahib would believe that he had done so? But I see what you would have, wanton. You love this Muhammadan, and think that by pretending thus to prove his friend you will thrust yourself into his favour. Nay, answer me not—I know that it is so. But rather than that Afzul Khan should waste a smile upon your worthless face, I would see you lying at the bottom of the deepest pool in the Gungaputra. But lead the way; it is not such assistance as yours that Afzul needs.”

Sukheena with difficulty repressed her tears, and went forward to parley with the porter, who, after a short altercation, noiselessly opened the door, and bowed his young mistress out. Radha shuddered as she stepped forth into the darkness, for the moon had gone down, and the night wind was sighing mournfully among the trees. The girl would have liked to brace up her courage by repeating a short prayer; but, alas! the expedition was one that she could not call upon the gods of her country to bless, and she knew not by what name to call upon the Deity of Afzul Khan, whose aid she might have solicited with some measure of confidence. But a noble and generous purpose nerved her mind, and made her feel a proud happiness in the risk that she was running in behalf of her lover.

“Forgive me, Sukheena,” she whispered, as she kissed her companion; “forgive my harsh words, for I did not know what I was saying in my madness. But I love you better than all the rest of the world except him.”

Chapter XL

The Love-philtre

As a man who has been stunned by a fall from a lofty height slowly collects his senses, one by one, after he has returned to consciousness, so Krishna began to put together the various calamities under which he found himself labouring when he woke from the fond dream that he had dreamed of Radha’s love. He felt as a man who has been rudely startled from a drugged sleep, and to whose senses the visions of the night still cling with loosening hold, as if unwilling to yield their place to the thoughts of open day. It was not much wonder though Krishna should shrink from attempting to realise his position. What other conclusion could he come to than that he himself was the sole cause of all his misfortunes; that his vanity, his egotism, and his passion had ruined his self-respect, and hardly left him a friend in the wide world? His vanity had made him think that he knew better than his fathers, and forsake the faith in which he had been received. His egotism had led him to put himself in the foremost ranks of the followers of a new and strange doctrine, and to foolishly imagine that he was the champion destined to deliver his people from the thraldom of idolatry and superstition. His passion had entirely got the better of both his reason and his honour—had led him to put aside his convictions and break his word—had made him an object of both hate to his orthodox countrymen and scorn to the Congregation of Reformers; and all for the sake of a false woman, who had mocked his love, and only used him to conceal her attachment to a ruffianly follower of the false Moslem Prophet. And now he had quarrelled with all his friends; and in that hour when he had most need for loving counsel and support, whom was there to sympathise with or assist him? Even if he could have gone to his wife, Chakwi, it would have relieved his heart; but with what face could he ask for her pity whom he had despised and slighted all these years? and would she not scorn him for only coming to her after he had been repelled by her rival? Then what was to become of himself? He could stay no longer in his father’s house after the fresh quarrel which had arisen from his refusal to marry Radha. No, he must go forth; and whither? All his dreams about becoming a missionary of the Brahma Somaj, and the great apostle of Theism in India, had melted away. He still smarted under the criticisms of the ‘Cossitollah Reflector,’ and the uncharitable remarks that the Reformers had passed upon his supposed relapse into Hindooism. No, he would have nothing more to do with them, self-seekers and busybodies that they were. And his hatred of the orthodox creed was no less intense. Somehow or other he could not help laying the blame of Radha’s perfidy and his present misfortunes upon the faith to which she belonged, and he accordingly loathed it on her account even more than for its intrinsic errors. The hour was come when, to all appearances, he must abandon for ever his father’s roof, and set out as a beggar and a pilgrim into the world, without an aim, and almost without a desire.

He moved slowly through the room, for he was still weak from his illness, and looked out from the window down towards the bottom of the valley and the banks of the Gungaputra. In what other corner of the earth would he find a scene that was so fair, or one that he loved so well? The village rice-fields, extending down from the temple to the edge of the jungle, were all the ancestral lands of the Gossain family. The scattered cottages and steadings extending as far up the valley as the Milkiganj corner of the river, were all his father’s property. Was it not hard, then, that he should be cut off from the inheritance of these?—he who would have made so good a landlord, who could have taught the ryots so much more than Bengalee husbandmen generally knew, and who could have made the Gossain estates a model of good management for all the zemindars in Bengal to copy? The landscape in its brightness seemed to show a loving sympathy with his sorrow; and the tall sal trees on the Panch Pahar ridges, beyond the river, as they waved to and fro in the breeze, moaned condolence to his ear—while up the slopes came the pitying murmur of the Gungaputra for the troubles of the youth who had so often worshipped her waters, and bathed in her clear bosom. While standing in the recess of the window, brooding over such gloomy thoughts, a light footstep fell upon his ear, and turning round he saw Chakwi steal gently into the room, a pitcher in her hand. Chakwi looked cautiously round to assure herself that her husband was not in his accustomed place at the writing-table, or in the little bedroom beyond; and then thinking he had gone out, advanced into the middle of the apartment without seeing Krishna, who was concealed by the open door from her view.

“Mother Gunga be with me!” murmured Chakwi; “and make it right if what I do is wrong. I would rather have gained his love by walking barefoot to Benares and back than in this fashion; but if it was written upon my forehead that in this way I should win him, in this way it must be;” and so saying, she emptied the contents of her pitcher into the water-bottle on Krishna’s table.

These words had been inaudible to Krishna’s ears, and he now came forward, while Chakwi, startled by his sudden appearance, gave a low shriek, and shrank back from the table, where she stood shivering and cowering before him like a culprit detected in the commission of some grave offence.

“What, Chakwi! afraid of your husband?” said Krishna, advancing and pressing her hand. “God knows, poor child, you have reason enough to hate my presence, but none to fear me. Were I tenfold the wretch that I am, I could not do anything that I thought would harm you.”

“I—I—did not know-—I thought you had gone to the river,” stammered Chakwi; “I did not mean to do any harm—I only wished—that is, I brought fresh water for you to drink.”

“Thanks, dear Chakwi,” replied Krishna, taking the shrinking girl by the hand; “you are ever thoughtful of me, and I would your kindness were better requited: I am glad, too, to have seen you, for it is fitting that I should tell you that I leave this house to-morrow, and take a long farewell of all under its roof.”

Chakwi looked in his face for a minute with a vacant gaze, as if she hardly comprehended the import of his words, and then threw herself at his feet, and clasped his knees with her hands, while her upturned face imprinted with an expression of passionate despair, and her streaming eyes, pleaded silently for pity and love.

“You will not go—you must not go so soon,” she cried, when she at last found her voice. “You must wait—you must—you shall wait—I will make you love me—I tell you, you shall love me if you will only give me time. Ah, sacred mother Gunga! what am I saying? I am talking like a wanton. Oh, I shall go mad —I know I shall!” and she prostrated herself at his feet upon the floor, and endeavoured to hide her burning face in the tresses of her long hair, which had become unbound in her agitation.

Gently Krishna raised her from the ground, and held her in his arms, while with a tender hand he pushed back the heavy locks of hair wet with her tears from her forehead, and stooped to kiss her brow. “Yes, poor Chakwi, it must be. To-morrow I leave this for ever, and become a homeless wanderer upon earth. You may lay aside your bracelet, and wash the vermilion from your forehead, for you will henceforth be as much a widow as if you had followed my bier to the banks of the Gungaputra. I would our harsh laws would let you mate with some one who would make you more happy, because more worthy of your affection than ever I have been.”

“A widow have I been from my girlhood, and a widow will I remain,” sobbed Chakwi; “and though a husband as handsome as Kartikeya21 and as rich as Kuveru,22 were offered me, I would none except you. But are you taking Radha with you?” she asked quickly, raising her head with a suspicious glance into his face.

Krishna’s heart writhed, as he turned away his head from the girl’s gaze. “Name her not,” he said, sternly; do not sully your virtuous lips by speaking of one so false. I would sooner go forth with a female fiend from the nethermost abyss—yes, with the commonest drab that haunts the slums of Lall Bazaar,” added he, hissing the words through his teeth.

Chakwi had not yet been told of the breach between her husband and Radha, for Ramanath, trusting still that matters would be made up between them, had ordered the servants, under the penalty of a sound beating, to forbear from repeating to her any gossip they might hear on the subject in the bazaar. The priest’s object had been to save his daughter-in-law from building hopes upon the rupture that could never be realised; and now she could hardly credit the news when she heard it from Krishna’s own lips.

“What! do you then scorn her also?” she said in her amazement, unconscious almost that her husband overheard her. “If she, with all her beauty, cannot keep hold of his heart, what hope is there for me? And now that she will be a lone one like myself, I can almost forgive her for ever standing between me and my husband.”

“Peace, dear Chakwi!” said Krishna, kindly smoothing the girl’s hair back from her forehead; “speak not of her. Tell me, rather, that you forgive myself for all those years of cruel neglect since we were married, and that to the other sorrows of my life of lonely wandering there will not be added the thought that your curse clings to me. After to-morrow we may never look upon each other again.”

“Forgive you!” said Chakwi, again relapsing into tears. “Nay, but I have nothing to forgive. Can you help loathing me any more than I can help loving you? It is our fate. Was it not written on our foreheads in the hour of our birth?”

“No, my Chakwi, I loathe you not,” said Krishna, again kissing her. “I love my little wife, and would cause her as little unhappiness as possible. And this is the reason why I would have you try to forget me; for what could I, an outcast and a beggar, be to you when I go forth from this?”

“My husband, and still my husband,” replied Chakwi, firmly; “if you go, I shall go with you. Did not the holy Sita do so, and won the praise of both gods and men? Let me go with you as your servant, your slave, as anything; only let me be with you.”

The pleading, piteous, upturned face was lit up by the enthusiasm of pure and devoted love into beauty; the entreating eyes, sparkling amid their tears like crystals at the bottom of overflowing fountains; the soft cheeks wet with weeping, which the warm blood, coursing wildly and passionately beneath, flushed up into a dusky redness; the curved and rounded lips on which fancy might almost see the ripe kisses tempting one to pluck them,—could not but soften Krishna’s heart; and he began to think that of all the trials which he had to face, the greatest would be the leaving behind him of a heart so pure, so true, and that loved him so well. Wounded in his affections and in his self-esteem by Radha’s faithlessness, Chakwi’s love was as healing to his sores, and Krishna felt his heart drawn towards his wife as it never had been before.

“No, Chakwi, my own darling,” said he, folding her in his arms, “I will not be so selfish. You have been too tenderly nurtured to face the cares and necessities of the world in this, the Black Age. The gods will not nowadays stay the streams till you cross over, or bend the branches for your bield, as they did for Sita.”

“The gods are as good now as ever they were,” returned Chakwi, positively, “if people would only believe in them.”

“But yet it cannot be, dear Chakwi,” said Krishna, assuming an air of firmness. “I am not so despicable as to accept your love when my fortunes are at the lowest, after having refused it when I had something better to give in return than a broken heart and a begga