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Bengal Dacoits and Tigers/Dacoit Stories/Girl as Kali-Ma

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A large and well-to-do family lived happily in a country place in Bengal.

One day their peace was disturbed by an anonymous letter. The writer warned them to expect a "dacoity" (burglary). These Indian outlaws always make it a point of honour to inform their intended victims, and always come with drums, torch-light and a sort of war-cry.

There was much valuable jewellery in the house and the family, thinking discretion the better part of valour, gathered all together, packed it securely and, taking it with them, left their home about sunset for safe quarters.

Somehow one of the younger ladies with a tiny infant was left behind. Unaware of the warning letter or desertion of the family, she slept peacefully through the early hours of the night. But later, she was awakened by the sound of drums and loud cries, which she recognised as the signal of the dacoits. Rushing out of her chamber she discovered that the burglars were already in the house and that none of the family were to be found. From

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room to room she fled, finding none to protect her, and realised that she was alone and helpless. Even her husband was gone.

She was a high-spirited and resourceful girl. She knew her life and the baby's as well were in danger and she determined to outwit the burglars. She had a swarthy complexion like Kali, the dacoits' divinity. Often had her mother bemoaned its darkness! Now it should serve her. But was she black enough? To make assurance doubly sure, she caught up a bottle of ink, which she knew where to find, and hastily smeared her face and limbs with it. Then, hiding her baby in a safe corner, she uncoiled her heavy hair and let its luxuriant black tresses fall about her like a cloak. Her preparations complete, she placed herself in a large niche at the head of the stairs.

The dacoits found nothing below worth attention and trooped upstairs. The flickering glare of their torches fell upon a life-like image of Kali the Terrible. With protruding scarlet tongue and fixed staring eyes, the girl stood immovable and breathless, silently invoking all her family gods to come to her aid in her bold design.

With an awe-struck cry of "Mercy! mercy! Kali-Ma!", the thieves fell prostrate at her feet. The girl held her breath. Was it possible that her plan had succeeded? The slow seconds passed. The Chief arose. "Come, brothers, we touch nothing where Mother Kali is worshipped." With hasty and reverent steps they descended the stairs and left the house.

Long after the dacoits had gone the girl stood there. Then the strain snapped and she relapsed to her normal self. Fear swept over her and she rushed out of the house. But her trembling limbs could not carry her far. She fell in a dead faint on the pathway. The neighbours, who had heard the dacoits enter the house and seen them go away silent and empty-handed, came to learn the mystery and found her there.

When the family returned next morning, the neighbours abused them soundly for leaving the girl and her babe behind. The girl herself was so hurt by the neglect that she had scarcely strength enough to relate the strange happenings of the night. Her husband found it difficult to make his peace; he said that he believed her to be with the ladies of the family. In zenana families even the most devoted husband has little voice in his wife's

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movements, as all arrangements are left in the hands of the mother-in-law. There were several ladies and children in the family and the mother-in-law had thought the girl was with some of them. Friendship was however finally restored. All generously admired her ingenuity and realised her bravery. From the white-haired old father to the smallest child, everyone was grateful then and always after for her presence of mind on that memorable night.


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