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Bengal Dacoits and Tigers/Dacoit Stories/The Deputy Magistrate

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THE DEPUTY MAGISTRATE

In the Dacca district, a few years ago, there was a big dacoity. A Deputy Magistrate was ordered to secretly investigate the matter and, if possible, to capture the miscreants.

Besides his cook and personal attendants he took with him some policemen. All were disguised. They travelled in several small boats.

It was late in the evening as they neared the place, where the burglary had occurred. He decided to proceed no further that night. The boats put to; the men cooked their evening meal and all retired.

About midnight, the Magistrate awoke with a start to hear many voices calling him by name. He listened: "So you have come to arrest us, to put us in jail, to hang us. Ah! you will soon see who will be punished. We shall know how clever you are!"

The night was pitch-dark. He noiselessly opened the small window of the boat and saw a number of men, with flaming torches in their hands and armed with heavy sticks, coming down the bank. There was no time to call his men. He seized his loaded revolver. But what was one against so many! He decided to bolt. The land way was barred by the dacoits. What of the river? He was a good swimmer. But the water looked black as ink and swarmed with crocodiles. Yet to stay in the boat meant certain death. If he gained the opposite bank, he could make for his father-in-law's house, which was near the river and where his wife was then staying. He might escape the crocodiles. He determined to risk it.

Like a flash all this passed through his mind. Opening the other window he clambered out stealthily and slipped into the water. A few powerful strokes carried him across. He stumbled up the bank and raced through the thorny jungle to his father-in-law's house.

The sleeping family were disturbed by his violent knocking. As soon as he was admitted, he went to his wife's room. She was horrified to hear of his danger. After a hasty bath and change she insisted that he should eat something, and while he was refreshing himself, she informed her father of his son-in-law's escape and predicament. To her surprise, her father said: "I am sorry, but he must leave my house."

"O! father, how can he?" she pleaded.

"He must" repeated her father.

The daughter fell at her parent's feet and implored him not to drive her husband forth. But no words of hers could move him. "Why should all suffer for one?" he argued. She returned sadly to her husband.

Presently the cries of the dacoits showed that they had scented their quarry. Soon they shouted at the door: "Open! or drive out the Deputy Magistrate. We know he is here. Give him to us or what happens be on your own head."

The wife wept piteously. Her father remained obdurate, muttering, "I knew this would happen."

The unfortunate Magistrate could not understand his father-in-law's behaviour. He sat with his head bowed in despair. Suddenly his wife ran to him.

"You must try to escape. I have an idea." She pulled out a saree and some jewels, and began to dress him as a woman.

"It's no use," he said hopelessly, "they will catch me."

"Be brave," she said encouragingly, "for my sake see if you cannot elude them."

With tender hands she arranged the saree, draping it well over his head to conceal his face. Then giving him a ghurra (water vessel) told him to pretend that he was going to fetch water from the river. Cheered by her courage, he caught her to his heart in a mute farewell, and her prayers went with him.

He had not gone far from the house when cries arose of "There he is!" But some one shouted: "It is a woman. Look elsewhere." And he passed slowly to the river. Here he flung the brass ghurra far out into the stream and ran for his life along the bank. No sounds of pursuit followed him, and he now gained courage enough to form a plan of escape. Not far from his father-in-law's village was a small police station. Thither he bent his steps and asked protection of its solitary occupant.

The man recognised him and asked: "Deputy Saheb, why are you here? What is wrong?"

The Magistrate told him of the dacoits and of his escape. "Dacoits after you!" said the policeman and looked grave. "Sir, I cannot help you. What is one policewallah against so many? If I shelter you we shall both die. You better push on."

For a time the Magistrate pleaded to deaf ears. But at length his promises of promotion and reward moved the man. "Come" he said "I will do my best," and, rising, led the way to his own house. Here in the inner room was a high machan—a huge bamboo shelf made like a raft and suspended from the roof and reached by a moveable ladder, used for storing all sorts of things.

On this machan were some old blankets. "Here, conceal yourself in these" said the policeman. The Deputy Magistrate needed no second bidding. He climbed up and rolled himself in one of the blankets and heaped the others in front of him. The policeman carried the ladder away, right out of the house. Then he shut the door and returned to the office.

After a time there came the noise of the dacoits. They soon entered the police station and shouted: "Give up that Deputy Saheb. We know he is here."

"Deputy, what Deputy? I cannot understand. Where is he?" answered the policeman.

"Don't be shamming," returned the dacoits contemptuously, "thou knowest well whom we mean. Produce him if you value your own life."

In vain the policeman pleaded ignorance. His trembling limbs and shaking voice belied his words. The dacoits bound him, searched the police office, and then proceeded to hunt the house. "He is not here. Let us not waste further time," said one. "Let's look well," said another, "and search every place." Some climbed the machan and discovered their victim. It did not take them long to drag him down, and beat him mercilessly with their long sticks, till he became unconscious. The policeman too was severely chastised. Him they left lying there; but rolled the offending Magistrate in an old mat, bound him tightly with a rope and carried him away to the river.

As he was borne on their shoulders through the night air, he gradually came to his senses but kept silent and listened to his captors. By this time it was dawn, and they were at the river. The majority were for re-crossing and burning him, dead or alive. One dissentient voice struck him with surprise. It was his father-in-law's! Clearly he was one of the gang! But scruples had overtaken him and he pleaded that he might not be a witness of the projected murder of his son-in-law. "Spare me! spare me!" he cried.

Some jeered: "Ho! Ho! you still have a soft corner in your heart for your son-in-law." At last they agreed that he might absent himself and he apparently turned back.

The others now put their burden into a boat and crossed the river. They were laughing at the father-in-law's weakness, and as they approached the ghat failed to observe a Government budgerow anchored there. It was the Divisional Commissioner's. He was out on tour. The paharawalla on deck checked them: "Do not make such a noise. The Saheb sleeps."

They answered rudely and the watchman retorted angrily. The dacoits loudly abused the man.

The noise woke up the Commissioner, and he got out on deck with a loaded revolver in his hand. The dacoits jumped from their dinghy and ran up the bank. It was evident who they were and the Commissioner fired, aiming at their legs. One man fell with a scream of pain but scrambled to his feet and ran on.

Nothing was to be gained by chasing them

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through the still dark jungle. The Commissioner turned his attention to the boat. "Search it" he ordered his watchmen. His quick eyes detected legs protruding from a mat, and he was not surprised when his chaprassi called: "Saheb, a dead man lies in it."

The Deputy murmured feebly: "I am not dead. I live." The chaprassi amended the first statement: "Saheb, he speaks." The Commissioner jumped into the dinghi, cut the ropes that bound the unfortunate man, and discovered the Deputy Magistrate. It did not take him long to recover and pour his tale of woe into his Chief's ears.

By sunrise they were all after the dacoits. Blood-drops marked the way and, near by, they found the wounded man who, only able to hobble, had hidden himself in a thicket. The Deputy Magistrate's father-in-law was arrested. He was one of the leaders of the band. It did not take long to capture the others. And after this, for a time, this part of the Dacca district enjoyed peace from dacoits.

 

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