Tales of Bengal (S. B. Banerjea)/A Roland for his Oliver

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Nagendra's soul was not haunted by any such ambitions. He was content with the surplus profits from his landed estates, which he did not invest in trade or even Government paper, but hoarded in a safe. By slow degrees he amassed a small fortune, and when Samarendra's growing impecuniosity forced him to ask his brother for a loan of Rs. 2,000, it was readily granted on a mere note of hand. In less than six months the borrower died and, after waiting as long, Nagendra pressed his sister-in-law for payment of the debt. She referred him to her brother, Priyanath Guha, who, she said, was manager of what property she had left. This man was a scoundrel of the deepest dye, and Samarendra, who was fully aware of the fact, never allowed him inside the house. After his death Priya made himself so useful to the widow that she invited him to live in her house and trusted him implicitly. When the neighbours learnt this arrangement they whispered that the poor woman would inevitably be reduced to beggary.

Nagendra reluctantly applied to Priya for a refund of the loan, producing Samarendra's note of hand, which was about a year overdue. After examining it, Priya said:—

"The matter is simple enough. My sister must repay you; but you know the muddle in which her husband's affairs were left, and I'm sure you won't refuse to renew the bond."

Nagendra replied that he would gladly give his sister any reasonable time to discharge her debt.

"Very well," rejoined Priya. "What do you say to my renewing this note of hand for six months, with 12 per cent. interest?"

"I have no objection," said Nagendra, "but you must satisfy me first that you hold a general power of attorney to act for her."

"Oh, you doubt my word," sneered Priya, "but I don't blame you; such is the way of the world."

So saying he took a registered power of attorney out of his sister's strong box, which Nagendra saw entitled him to transact any business whatever relating to her estate. He handed the bond to Priya and asked him to endorse the conditions agreed on. While doing so Priya looked up. "Have you any objection," he asked, "to my antedating the renewal a week or so. The fact is, Baisakh 12th has always been a lucky day in my family and I should like to date my endorsement then."

"Just as you like," answered Nagendra indifferently; and after reading the endorsement through very carefully he took the note of hand away without saluting Priya.

Not hearing from him when the note matured, Nagendra called at his sister's house and pressed Priya, whom he found there, for payment of the Rs. 2,000 and interest.

Priya gazed at him with feigned astonishment. "What loan are you talking about?" he asked.

Nagendra attempted to jog his memory, but he stoutly denied having renewed any note of hand which purported to have been executed by Samarendra. When the document was shown him, he boldly declared that the endorsement was a forgery, and further that the handwriting on the note of hand itself was not Samarendra's. Nagendra stood aghast for awhile and, on regaining his wits, he said, "I ought to have known better than trust a haramzádá like you!"

"Now don't descend to personalities," rejoined Priya. "I can prove that the endorsement could not have been executed by me; and the whole transaction looks fishy."

This was too much for Nagendra, who lost his temper and abused the scoundrel roundly. They separated with threats of mutual vengeance.

On the morrow, Nagendra instructed a pleader to file a suit against his sister for recovery of the principal and interest due on the promissory note. When it came on for hearing before the Subordinate Judge, Nagendra Babu was dumbfoundered by hearing the defendant's pleader aver that the endorsement could not possibly be genuine, inasmuch as his client was fifteen hundred miles from Ratnapur at the alleged date of execution. He then placed Priya in the box, to swear that, on Baisakh 12th, he was at Lahore, in order to give evidence in a civil suit. All doubt vanished in the Sub Judge's mind when the pleader handed him a document bearing the seal of the Chief Court of the Punjab, certifying that Priya had been in attendance on that day. He dismissed the suit with costs against Nagendra, and remarked that this palpable forgery cast discredit on the whole transaction.

It was a wise man who said that we hate our enemies less for the harm they have done us than for the harm we have done them. Priya was not content with depriving Nagendra of his dues; he resolved to injure him more materially. About a month after his unlucky lawsuit, Nagendra learnt quite by accident that one of his estates named Lakhimpur had been notified for sale for arrears of land revenue amounting to Rs. 197 odd. The Naib (manager), on being asked to account for this, laid all the blame on the ryots, who, he said, would not be made to pay their rent and thus deprived him of the means of satisfying the Government demand. Nagendra rebuked him for gross negligence and failing to report the matter, for, he added, the arrears would have been paid from his own pocket. He at once dismissed the Naib from his employ and hastened to Ghoria, where he instructed a pleader named Asu Babu to petition the collector for leave to make good the arrears on Lakhimpur. The request was perforce rejected. Lakhimpur was put up for sale and Nagendra ascertained that the purchaser was a man of straw representing Priya himself. He endured the loss of a valuable property, resolving to be even some day with his enemy.

On the following night he was about to retire to bed, when the Lakhimpur Naib burst into the parlour and clasped his master's feet which he bedewed with tears. Nagendra shook him off roughly and asked how he dared to intrude upon him.

"Mahásay," whined the Naib, "I want to make a clean breast of my misdeeds. It was Priya who persuaded me to withhold the revenue due on Lakhimpur, by promising me a reward of Rs. 2,000 if the estate was auctioned. Now that he has got possession of it, he refuses to carry out his bargain and actually offers me Rs. 20, saying that I deserved no more. The black-hearted villain! Now I am come to implore forgiveness of my sin and to make amends for it."

Nagendra was amazed by the fellow's villainy and impudence. He reflected, however, that nothing was to be gained by kicking him out of the house, while his offer of reparation was not to be despised. He replied, "You have been faithless to your salt; but I will pardon you on one condition that you help me to regain my estate, lost through your treachery".

"That I will," protested the Naib. "Only let me have Rs. 300 in currency notes of one hundred rupees each, previously recording the numbers. I swear by Mother Kali, not only to pay the arrears of revenue but to get the sale quashed." Nagendra at first thought that to do so would be only throwing good money after bad; but the man was terribly in earnest, and evidently hostile to their common enemy. He opened his safe and handed the Naib the amount he asked, after carefully taking the numbers of the notes.

At the same hour on the morrow, the Naib returned in high glee to say that the business had been satisfactorily concluded. All Nagendra had to do was to file a petition praying for the cancellation of the sale, and it could not fail to be granted. On being asked how he had contrived to evade the law, the Naib went on:—

"I will tell you the whole truth, Mahásay, only concealing names; for the people, who helped me extracted an oath that I would keep them a profound secret. I went straight from your house last night to that of an office tout, who is a precious rascal, but tolerated because he is in some way related to the Collectorate head clerk. On hearing my story he said he thought the matter could be settled, and asked me to meet him at 1 p.m. under a Nim tree north of the Collectorate, when he would bring a man to me who was able to do all we wished. I was punctual to the minute, and sure enough the tout came with one of the Collectorate clerks. I asked him whether it would not be possible so to manipulate the accounts of Lakhimpur, as to show that all Government revenue had been paid prior to the alleged default. The clerk at first refused to have hand in such a transaction, as it would be too risky; but when I produced my currency notes he thought the job might be attempted, and added that some of the Treasury amlas (clerks) would have to be squared as well as himself. I thereupon handed him Rs. 300, saying that it was enough to discharge the revenue due on Lakhimpur and leave more than Rs. 100 to divide as bakshish (gratuity). He said that he would do his best and made me swear never to divulge his name. We then separated, and only two hours ago the tout came to my house with the news that the accounts had been corrected."

Nagendra was delighted on hearing these clever tactics and straightway ordered his pleader, Asutosh Sen, widely known as Asu Babu, to file a petition praying for the cancellation of the sale. It came in due course before the Collector for hearing. He called for the accounts, which fully substantiated the petitioner's statements. After hearing the arguments of Priya's representative the Collector said that he was fully satisfied that a mistake had been made, and called on the head clerk to explain the non-entry of a payment made before the due date. That officer laid the whole blame on an unfortunate apprentice, who was promptly dismissed. The sale was declared null and void, and Nagendra regained his own to the intense disgust of the rascally Priya.