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Bengal Dacoits and Tigers/Dacoit Stories/Saved by a Bear


The evening shadows and silence had settled on the river Hooghly as an old Brahman wended his way to one of the many ghats (landing places).

The dinghis—little boats which ply backwards and forwards all day carrying passengers to and from Calcutta—had all been made fast for the night. Some of the boatmen were cooking their evening-meal, while others sat about on the decks smoking and singing. Many of the boats were wedged close together and drawn up on to the bank.

But one lay well in the water and some distance from its fellow-craft. Its manjhi (headman) stood on the stern deck, binding together the mat roof of his boat. His seemingly careless gaze took in the Brahman, about to descend the bank. He noted that the old man carried a parcel, partially concealed in his chadar (scarf), and, from the manner in which he hugged it, the observer concluded it contained something valuable. As the Brahman came nearer, the manjhi saw it was a bag of money.

The old man picked his way down the bank and called upon boat after boat to take him to a

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small village near Serampore, for in those days there was no railway. None were willing to go so far. Meanwhile a whispered consultation had taken place between the manjhi and dhars (oarsmen) of the furthest dinghi. When the Brahman finally accosted them, they first demurred and then, as though still reluctant, consented to hire their boat.

Just as they were pushing off, a man with a performing bear ran down the bank. "Where goest thou?" he asked.

"Serampore" answered the Brahman before the boatman could reply.

"My home is near by," the man remarked gladly, and jumped into the boat, pulling his bear after him.

The boatmen scowled angrily: "Get out, we go not so far." But he would not. The manjhi warned him that he and his bear would gain nothing by forcing themselves into the boat.

"These boatmen are queer customers," he laughingly remarked to the Brahman, and to them: "Gain nothing! Why! I will reach my home."

"So you say," they answered.

The bear-man wondered within himself at their unwillingness to have him as a passenger. He and the old Brahman made a few remarks to each other. Then they fell silent.

They were near the end of their journey when the bear-man asked suddenly: "Manjhi, have we not passed Serampore?"

"Are you the guru of boatmen that you question me?" replied the manjhi, and then, in a more conciliatory tone, added: "We are going higher up for a crossing. The tide is strong." The explanation was reasonable. But the bear-man's suspicions had been awakened and he was on the alert. The Brahman sat placidly nursing his bag which the bear-man too had noticed contained money. He had also noticed that the manjhis kept glancing furtively at it and its owner.

The river crossed, the boat hugged the bank; after a time it came to a standstill. One of the manjhis jumped ashore with the rope and secured it to a tree. The Brahman and the bear-man both asked: "What is wrong? Why stop the boat in this strange place?"

"You will soon know, you will soon see," answered the boatmen and chuckled over some secret joke as, one after another, each stepped ashore and disappeared.

The aged Brahman gazed after them apprehensively. Then, placing his money between his knees, as he sat on the deck with crossed legs tucked under him, he folded his hands together and bent forward in prayer.

The bearman thought within himself: "Prayer for him, action for me." And saying softly to the old man: "Brahman Thakoor, something is brewing. I follow to see," he too stepped ashore.

Not far from the tree he found a small thatched house and several men gathered behind it. Moving warily forward among the group he recognised the manjhis. "Dacoits!" he whispered to himself. Then an inspiration struck him.

He ran back to the boat, and asked the Brahman to change his seat to the stern and be ready to steer off when he gave him a signal. He took up a position in the prow and fondled his bear.

Within a few minutes a party of men appeared coming towards the dinghi. Some were boatmen; all were dacoits.

The actor loosed the bear's chain, saying: "Go! go! hug the life out of all of them!"

The sagacious animal responded to his master's order with a fierce charge right among the approaching band of robbers. With startled cries they fled in all directions. Quite sure they were effectively scattered, the bear-man called his animal back, secured its chain once more, and pushed from the shore.

With some difficulty he and the old Brahman navigated themselves back to Calcutta and informed the police authorities there. The police took possession of the dinghi which on inspection proved to be a dacoit's nest well-equipped with instruments fitted for murder and robbery. But none of this gang of river dacoits were captured.

The lives of the Brahman and the showman were certainly saved by the wonderful intelligence of the latter's bear.


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