Bengal Dacoits and Tigers/Dacoit Stories/A Child's Experience
A CHILD'S EXPERIENCE
Some years ago in a country place, not far from Calcutta, there lived a well-to-do Bengalee gentleman. Hę was an old man; and his large family consisting of sons, grandsons, and his brothers with their wives and children, and many dependent relatives—all lived happily together in their ancestral home.
It was an old-fashioned house with verandahs, courtyards and many rooms. In a large dalan or verandah all the family poojas were celebrated. Here the daughters of the house were married, and for generations the old walls had looked on at family gatherings and festivities.
There were extensive grounds round the house. Quite close to the zenana there was a large kitchen garden which supplied all the vegetables consumed daily in the house; and so plentiful was the produce that large trays filled with vegetables were sent out every day as presents to friends, relatives and to the neighbouring temples.
A little further away was an orchard, and in spring the numerous mango trees delighted all eyes with their blossoms. And there were jackfruit trees, peaches, plums and guava trees in numbers, besides long lines of plantains and palms of several kinds.
In the garden, orchard and stables there were tanks and wells so that the supply of water was sufficient for the needs of such a large establishment. In front of the mansion there was a large ornamental tank or lake with white marble steps leading to its waters. Here every evening the men and boys of the family gathered to recreate and enjoy the cooling south breeze, and they were often joined by neighbours, and many a pleasant hour was spent on those marble steps.
An avenue of trees and a high hedge rendered the house quite private, and the roof was a lovely recreation place and promenade for the ladies and girls of the family, who were all purdah.
The old man's wealth was much discussed and the expensive clothes and rich jewels of the ladies were often spoken of. One day the old gentleman received a warning letter from a band of dacoits that the house would be visited by them that night. After some hurried consultation, the family packed up all their jewels and valuables and sought shelter in flight. It was decided to spend the night at a place a few miles distant.
In the excitement a young mother was separated from her little boy, a child of about three or four years of age. She concluded that he was with some other member of the family in another carriage and did not trouble herself about it. But on their arrival at their place of refuge he was not found with any of the others.
The mother's distress of mind was pitiful. She wished to return for her child; but it was growing dark and there was the danger of meeting the dacoits. So her wish was overruled, and through the long night she suffered terrible anxiety, picturing in her mind all that was perhaps befalling her little son.
In the meantime the child was sleeping sweetly and peacefully in his bed in his mother's room. Tired out with play, he had slipped into bed unknown to any one and there he lay.About twelve at night the dacoits arrived and broke into the house. They searched the empty rooms and were furious at finding no valuables worth carrying away. They came to the room where the little boy slept, and their loud voices
awakened him. He sat up and, seeing their strange faces and glaring torches, screamed with fright. One of them threatened to kill him if he did not stop his noise. Another stepped to the bedside and taking the little boy in his arms said: "Little one, do not cry. No one will hurt you."
The child recognised his father's servant and twined his little arms around the man's neck. The other dacoits laughed and walked out of the room leaving their comrade with the child.
When daylight broke, the family returned home, and the poor young mother flew through the house in search of her child. To her surprise and joy she found him sleeping peacefully in her own room. Her hysterical caresses awakened him and the little fellow could not understand what ailed his mother.
"Did nothing happen during the night?" she asked. "Did you see anything or anyone, my son?"
Rubbing his chubby knuckles in his eyes the sleepy little boy answered: "Oh, yes, where were you, mother? A lot of men came. Some wanted to hit me, but—(naming the servant) was with them, and he sent them away. Then he gave me sweets and put me to sleep."
The servant was arrested, and he confessed that he was one of the band of dacoits who had sent the warning letter and had broken into the house. Nearly the whole band was captured.