THE HISTORY OF THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF A ZEMINDAR FAMILY
IT is a notorious fact that many eminent zemindar families in Bengal owe their rise to some ignoble origin.
Bangshibadan Ghose lived as a menial servant with an old zemindar of East Bengal whose name and family are now extinct. The unfruitfulness of his first marriage induced the zemindar, late in life, to take another wife, but it had been preordained that he should live and die childless. He had, however, a blessing which next to a progeny he deemed the greatest good that could befall him in his old age—a young and beautiful wife. It is true indeed that discordance and broils between his two helpmates often interrupted his domestic felicity, for the elder lady always sturdily maintained that seniority constituted the indisputable rule by which favours should be bestowed, which indisputable rule, however, the old gentleman always presumed to dispute. Matters were getting to a hopeless state when interfered an umpire whose award brooked no question, and justly acknowledging the claims of her own indefeasible right of seniority removed the elder lady to another world. The old man and his youthful mate were now left in peace, but the former justly took warning by the occurrence and perceived that he himself might be called upon to follow at no distant day. Now hopeless of leaving a family, he reflected with bitterness that his ample estates must be left to the enjoyment of those who had been to him almost strangers, and that though they might remain in the possession of his wife during her lifetime, she could not, with her hands fettered by the law, be anything more than a pensioner on her own estate. Desirous of leaving it in a condition which should leave the young woman its complete mistress, and led into the same course by the advice and influence of his wife, whose perception of her own future prospects was wonderfully clear, he began to free his possessions of landed incumbrances and to convert his zemindaris into ready money and movables as often as he could advantageously do it, and so successful was his uxorious zeal that when he died his relict became the mistress of a splendid fortune of which landed property formed a very inconsiderable portion. Now Karunamayee was a decidedly sensible woman, and she judged it right that, mistress of her fortune and her person, she should enjoy both. Ram, the godhead, she argued, had, in the depth of his love and gratitude for his adored wife, consoled himself in the days of his bereavement by a metallic representative of Sita. Why then should not her immense love for her departed husband find expression under the same representative system ? She also thought that it would be a decided improvement in the plan, if she made a human being instead of a metallic image represent the loved and lost one for whom she mourned, inasmuch as a human being is a nobler thing, and would bear a closer resemblance than metal, and also as such resemblance would by no means be confined to the external form alone. Thus fortified by reason and veneration for the departed as well as by the example of the gods, she lost no time in making her choice. Bangshibadan Ghose the menial servant was the happy mortal on whom it fell. This crafty person perceived his advantage too clearly to neglect it, and lord of his mistress’s bosom, he saw no reason [why]1 he should not be the same of her fortune. It was an easy achievement and his progress from the rank of Khansama to that of Sadar Naib was rapid. A fever originally slight, but which from unintelligible or rather very intelligible causes, became fearfully violent, forced the anxious widow to part with her domestic and with the world before age had chilled her fires. A few days after, the distant and expectant relatives of her husband came to take possession of her estates, but found to their great mortification that they consisted only of a few wretched villages. Of movables, they were told, there were only a few and these she had given away to her servants.
Bangshibadan carried with him a splendid fortune to Radhaganj, the seat of his humble paternal abode. He very prudently made no display of his immense wealth, except so much as was necessary to a life of comfort. On his demise he left a splendid patrimony to each of his three sons. These, who deemed long possession had conferred security, were no longer restrained by the same prudential considerations as their father, purchased zemindaris, built fine houses, and assumed the state and style that belonged to their wealth. The eldest Ramkanta by dint of prudent and able management improved his share, and after having lived to a green old age bequeathed it to the equally able or abler hands of his only son, Mathur, with whom we have had the pleasure of making the reader acquainted. Ramkanta had viewed with eyes of jealousy the encroachments that were being made in the ancient manners and usages by the influence of western civilization and had steadily forborne to send his son to an English school, which he condemned as a thing not only useless but as positively mischievous. Mathur was early associated with his father in the management of the zemindari and proved an exceedingly apt scholar in the science of chicane, fraud and torture.
The fate of Ramkanai, the second son of Bangshibadan, was different. By nature indolent and extravagant, he soon managed to throw his affairs into disorder. His houses and gardens were the most magnificent, his estates the most unprofitable and the worst managed. Some wily hangers-on, too, played on his credulity and painted to him in alluring colours the chances which a certain mercantile scheme they propounded presented of retrieving his affairs. Ramkanai followed their advice and, placing himself under their guidance, took up his residence in Calcutta. It is needless to add that his advisers continued to fleece him of every farthing he had ventured in the speculation and eventually to bring his mismanaged and neglected estates to the hammer.
One good result however had followed Ramkanai’s residence in the metropolis. Influenced by the example of the metropolitans, he had bestowed on his son Madhav as good an education as he could receive in Calcutta. He had also accomplished that great object of a Hindu father’s love—the marriage of his son with a girl of remarkable beauty. A poor Kayastha dwelt in a small village in the vicinity of Calcutta, who boasted that the only good fortune that the heavens had conferred on him was perfect in its kind, and his two daughters had not their equal in beauty or in dutiful and amiable conduct. But the same circumstances which often so cruelly match the fairest and tenderest of fair and tender Bengalis, consigned the eldest of his daughters, the noble and beautiful Matangini, to the arms of the brutal Rajmohan; yet, when the marriage took place, Matangini’s father thought he had not chosen ill. Rajmohan had indeed then reached manhood and was therefore unsuited in age—but this was not minded much. He possessed no handsome person—but a handsome person was to be looked for in a boy bridegroom, not in a man. He lived in an adjoining village, and the prospect that no great distance would separate father and daughter served greatly to favour the match in the eyes of the former. His robust frame and vast strength were the envy and admiration of all who knew him. His spirit was active and energetic, ready in expedients, and as a natural consequence, though his father had left him no fortune and given him no education, he was never much in want. This circumstance which promised to rescue Matangini from the pinchings of poverty seemed to her father to be another and the greatest recommendation, and the marriage accordingly took place. The younger and more fortunate Hemangini became the bride of young Madhav.
The father of Madhav died a little before the latter completed his studies at college. He would have been left penniless but for a circumstance which nobody had foreseen.
Ramgopal the third son of Bangshibadan was neither so fortunate as the first, nor so unfortunate as the second. He died early and childless bequeathing nearly the whole of his property to his nephew Madhav on condition the latter maintained his relict as long as she lived in Madhav’s household.
Madhav continued his studies till he finished them, his agents managing his estate for him during his absence and minority. After the expiration of the year, he prepared to leave the city for Radhaganj with his young and beautiful wife. Before [going there he] took her to her father’s house in order [to enable her to] bid her parents farewell. [Madhav’s wife] was beloved by her sister, [and design] or accident brought also Rajmohan [and his wife to the] house.
Madhav intended to make a short stay with his father-in-law; Hemangini incessantly wept at the prospect of parting with her parents and her sister, for how long she knew not. It was a far, far country whither she was going, and would she ever come back to the scene of her earliest affection? Would her parents ever visit her there? Her father said he would, but then her mother? her sister? Her mother and sister answered not, but wept with her in silence, and gave her their blessings.
Matangini took hold of her sister’s hand and drew her aside. When they were alone, she said, “Hem, I have something to ask of you.” Hemangini did not reply but gazed upon her sister with an enquiring look in her large black eyes.
“Hem,” Matangini resumed, “we part to-morrow.”
Hemangini burst into tears. “Weep not, sister,” said Matangini, calming her own agitated features with effort, “weep not; the gods will bless you, and you have a husband, Hem, who will make you happy.” As she said this, warm tears ran down her cheeks and fell upon the lily hands that she held in her own.
“What were you going to ask of me?” inquired Hemangini, wiping her eyes.
“I am poor, Hem, very poor, but were it for me only I would never speak of it to you. But my husband, whatever he is, sister, Heaven made him so—he is my husband and I care for him. He has now nothing to do and is reduced to great straits. He has besought me to ask you to speak to my brother-in-law.”
“Yes, I will; but what shall I ask in his behalf?”
“An employment—some means of earning a livelihood.”
“I will,” promised Hem, and then the sisters conversed on other subjects.
Hemangini had in the ardour of her affection for her sister undertaken a task which she knew not how to execute. She was still of that tender age when wives in her country speak always timidly to their husbands, and hardly ever on such subjects. She mustered resolution, nevertheless, and when she saw her husband, related to him the conversation she had [had] with her sister. Her husband promised to do what he could. Rajmohan had, with the usual bashfulness of boors, chosen the indirect agency of sari Government, usually resorted to by poor relatives, instead of a direct and personal application to his brother-in-law. Madhav chose to reply in person, and the next morning drew Rajmohan into a conversation on the subject. He politely enquired what Rajmohan’s present pursuits were, and desired to know if he wished to change them. Rajmohan, from foolish pride or shame or perhaps from design, made no avowal of distress,’but said he, he had nothing particular to do at present. Madhav then informed him that he had need of the assistance of some able and trustworthy relative to overlook the management of a part of his zemindari, and if Rajmohan had no objection to a change of residence to Radhaganj, he would ask him to do this friendly office.
“That cannot be, sir,” replied Rajmohan; “with whom can I leave my family?”
“I have thought of that,” replied Madhav, “I shall provide them with a comfortable home at Radhaganj.”
Rajmohan darted an expression of fierce anger at his brother-in-law.
“At Radhaganj!” he exclaimed, “never, I shall sooner die if necessary in prison.” Saying this, he walked away in great anger.
Madhav was surprised at this burst of temper but said nothing. Rajmohan however had scarcely a choice to make. For reasons which even his wife did not know, he had himself become anxious for a change of residence, though Radhaganj he had never thought of. He had made poverty the pretext of his application, but poverty seemed to be the least powerful cause which had led to it. And he also seemed to entertain the utmost repugnance to Madhav’s proposal. Taking his chudder Rajmohan left the house. He ran rather than walked through the fields in the noonday sun, stopping nowhere and speaking to nobody. Hours and hours after he returned, with a gloomy and vexed countenance. He had decided on going to Radhaganj with his family, and informed Madhav of his determination in no very gracious terms. Madhav agreed to wait a few days more in Calcutta to allow him to make his preparations, which done they left the city together and reached Radhaganj in a few days.
Notwithstanding the churlish manner with which Rajmohan had accepted of his assistance, Madhav behaved very handsomely towards him. Aware of the unprincipled and unscrupulous character of his rude brother-in-law, but sincerely compassionating the unmerited fate of Matangini, he vested him with the nominal control of one single village but allowed him a handsome salary in return. He also built him a house, the one where this narrative opened, and gave him lands to cultivate by hired labourers if he chose. Indeed, this latter employment chiefly engaged Rajmohan’s attention, as he had little or nothing to do with the zemindar’s sherista.
But this liberality did not command much gratitude from its [unworthy] object. Ever since their arrival at Radhaganj he behaved with coldness, and perhaps with more than coldness towards his benefactor, and the benefactor and the benefited had little intercourse with each other. Madhav seemed not to notice his strange conduct [or if he] did, it was with indifference, though he never lessened his bounty to its ungrateful object. One painful effect of this feeling on both sides was that the sisters, who loved each other dearly, had very little of each other’s company.