Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Sir Edmund C. Cox: The Rajapur case

WHEN I look back on my thirty years of Police work in India, one of the points which impresses itself most forcibly upon my memory is the extraordinary absence of regard for the value of human life displayed by the natives of that country. Murders are of the commonest occurrence; and in the generality of cases the motives are of an utterly trivial nature. A woman complains to her husband that a neighbour has annoyed her when she was drawing water from village well. The husband promptly shoulders an axe, and puts an end to the offender. A man kills his wife because she does not cook his food to his liking. A woman on bad terms with her husband throws her child into a well, and reports to the police that her man is the murderer. The divorce laws are seldom appealed to — a stab in the back being a simpler remedy for any infringement of the marriage bond than that afforded by the law. I remember scores of cases in which children were murdered for their ornaments — worth, possibly, two or three rupees. A girl jealous of her lover will kill the whole family, either of her lover or of her rival, reckless of the consequent deaths of persons against whom she has no grudge. Most of these cases are uninteresting, and sordid in their details; but there are some I find recorded in my note-book which possess features that make them worthy of narration. Such a case was the murder Damodhar.

  It was the beginning of the cold weather. The roasting that we had endured in the hot season, and the boiling and the stewing that we had undergone in the monsoon, were forgotten, for were there not before us four months of delightful climate and enjoyable life? The tents are brought out, pitched, and inspected; and the damage caused by the wear and tear of the last camping season investigated. The amount of repairs needed each year is indeed wonderful. Down come the tents again; and an army of durzies and moochies (leather workers) takes charge of them for a week or more, until the last tent is repaired and the final patch sewn on. Guns and rifles are cleaned, and cartridges loaded for the destruction of game, both big and small. Boxes of stores, books, clothing, glass, crockery, and kit of the most miscellaneous description are packed; and great is the satisfaction of all when the preparations are complete, and boxes and tents are loaded on a train of creaking bullock carts. Off they go at last. It is ten o'clock at night, and they will trundle on at the rate of a little more than two miles an hour until they arrive at the first camp by four in the morning, when, after a short rest, the orderlies, servants, and cartmen will use their best efforts to have the camp ready for the Sahib by the time he comes. The Sahib and the Mem-sahib, if there be one, are up betimes, and in the saddle without delay, for the sun is still hot after nine or ten o'clock, and an early arrival is advisable. Oh the joy of those early morning rides in the fresh, keen November air! Never mind how many years one has served, and how disappointing the result, one felt young and light-hearted as ever, cantering along past many topes and palm trees, now and then starting a jackal or fox from his lair.

  It was my first Sunday in camp, and I had promised myself a shoot over a fine jheel a few miles off. There was excellent khubber of duck, and snipe were said to abound in the neighbouring rice-fields. But before I could start on my excursion I was told that a constable had arrived on urgent business from the Police post at Deoghar. I at once sent for him and told him to report what had happened. He informed me that a dacoity had been committed in the preceding night at Rajapur, a large village but two miles from the Police post, and five from my camp. One man, he said, had been killed by the dacoity, two of whom had been arrested and had confessed their guilt. The Head Constable of the outpost was at the scene of the crime making further investigations. More than this he did not know.

  Here was an end to my intended expedition after the duck. The road to Rajapur led past the jheel and I threw a regretful glance at the birds as I rode by on my way to the village whence the dacoity had been reported. On my arrival the Head Constable, named Imam Shah, who had the reputation of being a smart officer, promptly gave me an account of the incident. Sitaram, a young man of about twenty, lived in a substantial house, with his paternal uncle, named Ganpat, and a servant named Damodhar. These were the only males who resided in the establishment; but there were, however, some female members of the family. About midnight, when all were asleep, Sitaram was aroused by the noise of some persons forcing open the door. Hastily awaking his uncle and their servant, they seized some sticks, having no more formidable weapons, and went towards the door, but were too late to prevent five men from rushing in. However, the attack was resisted boldly; and the dacoits, surprised at the unexpected opposition, made off. Sitaram, Ganpat, and Damodhar followed them, calling loudly for assistance. They had only gone a few paces when one of the dacoits turned round, and fired his gun at Damodhar, who happened to be in front of the pursuers, and about four yards behind the dacoits. Damodhar received a bullet in his chest, and died within half an hour, being unconscious from the time that he was wounded. His body had been sent on a litter, hastily constructed of bamboos, to the hospital at Ranigunge, ten miles off, for the usual post-mortem examination. Sitaram and his uncle were plunged in profound grief at the loss of Damodhar, who had served the family for twenty years; and they were positive that they had recognised two of the dacoits as men who had formerly been employed on their homestead, but, having been discharged for misconduct, consequently bore them enmity. Their houses had been at once searched by the Head Constable, and in one of them was found a gun of country manufacture which had been recently fired. The owner, named Govind, had at first stated that he had used the gun to shoot wild pig which were rooting up crops in his field; but on being confronted with the body of Damodhar he and his companion, named Bala, confessed that they and three others, whom they named, had committed the crime. Govind and Bala were under arrest; and men had been sent to the neighbouring villages to search for the remaining three accused.

  "It is a very strong case," said Imam Shah, "and is sure to end in conviction. The Huzur will remember my exertions in arresting the prisoners with their gun, and obtaining their confession. The Sahib's slave has many children; and if, through the favour of the presence, he is granted the vacant post of jemadar, they will all bless the protector of the poor."

  "Well, well, Imam Shah," I said, "you have wasted no time, and you know that I never overlook good work. But now show me the place."

  The house was evidently that of a well-to-do man. Built of stone, embedded in mud, it was of the usual old- fashioned design. The walls were of considerable thickness. There were no windows: but there were solid wooden doors with elaborate carving, at the front and back of the house. Each door was secured from within by a ponderous iron bolt. On entering the house, which was of one storey only, a passage on a level with the ground led across to the other door. A native usually shares his house with his domestic animals in the fashion of Ould Ireland. On the left of the passage two buffaloes, a pony with wild eyes and pink points, a cow, and some sheep and goats were tethered behind a wooden barrier. On the right the floor was raised to a height of about two feet; and this part of the house, which was about twenty feet long by fifteen broad, was used as the general living room of the family. Furniture, in the European sense of the word, there was none. A few pillows and scraps of carpet lay here and there on the cow-dunged floor. Two tiny bedrooms, or rather sleeping rooms — for the only beds consisted of rugs spread on the ground, and an equally tiny cook- room and dining-room combined, led off the main room. The house was dark, gloomy, and dirty; but as it is the type of residence affected by natives who are rich enough to erect a comfortable bungalow, the only thing to pity them for is their want of taste. Men who wish to make a show will build an upper room, approached by a steep and narrow staircase, adorn it with glass chandeliers and hideous German pictures for occasional ceremonies, or the reception of European guests. But for their own comfort they remain in the vault that they consider a more appropriate dwelling-place.

  The first thing to see was the means by which the dacoits had effected their entrance. This was a simple matter. The walls, which were thick enough elsewhere, were less so near the front door. By pulling out, with a chisel or similar implement, some of the stones on the side, one of the intruders had been enabled to thrust his hand sufficiently far to withdraw the iron bolt, and so open the door. I had a good look at the aperture, and found that by putting in my hand I could easily move the bolt. The two prisoners were inside the house, carefully handcuffed. I directed them to be taken outside, and guarded, while I interviewed Sitaram and Ganpat separately on the events of the night, keeping the Head Constable with me. I began with Sitaram. A chair had been brought for me from the village school. I sat down, lit a pipe, and took out my note-book, while I motioned Sitaram to seat himself on a carpet beside me. He was an intelligent young man, and though naturally much agitated, he told me his story readily enough. His narrative agreed with the Head Constable's report. He added that the two dacoits who were recognised as the men who had formerly worked on his father's land, had several times lately been seen hanging about the house, and had been warned to keep away. They had obviously been planning the best means of carrying out their burglarious intentions.

  "Your father's field," I said; "where is your father? I thought the house and property were yours."

  "True, Sahib, they are now mine. My dear father passed away three months ago. His name was Luxaman. It was in his time that the men were turned off the farm; but the Sahib knows the people of this country, and how enmity goes down from father to son. Oh, that the villains have killed my faithful Damodhar! But the Sahib will see that justice shall be done!"

  "Fear not for that," I replied; "the court cannot doubt your recognition of these two scoundrels, corroborated as it is by the finding of the gun that had been lately fired, and the confession of Govind and Bala. But tell me more about yourself and your father. I am interested in your story. You are somewhat young to manage a house and land. Or does your uncle advise you?"

  "My uncle knows little of the affairs of this world. He spent many years in religious meditation at Benares; and he only returned a few weeks before my father's death. My father had long been anxious to see him again; my uncle could not resist his earnest request that he would come back, if only for a visit. It was indeed fortunate that he came when he did, or he would have been too late to see my father alive."

  The boy, for he was little more, nearly broke down at the remembrance of his loss. After a short interval he resumed. "I know not what further misfortunes are in store for us. My father is dead, and Rama, who was my father's right-hand man, has deserted me. It is a solace to me to pour out my griefs to the Sahib, as the presence condescends to listen to this afflicted one. As I said, my father died a few weeks after my uncle's return. He had gone on a journey to Gopalpur in connection with some business matters, taking with him his two servants, Damodhar and Rama. But when halting in a temple at Koregaum he was seized with cholera, and died in a few hours. After performing his funeral rites the two retainers came back to me; but Rama refused to continue in my service, saying that he was heartbroken at my father's death. So he went away to his native place. I miss him terribly in the management of the fields; and what I shall do now, with neither him nor Damodhar to assist me, I cannot tell. I specially need advice with regard to obtaining some more land. My father had long wished to enlarge his farm; and by the death of a neighbour several survey numbers which adjoin mine are to be shortly put up for auction of the right of occupancy. I have money enough — for my good father had insured his life last year in the Occidental Life Assurance Company for five thousand rupees, and the claim has been paid. But the responsibility of such arrangements is great, and my experience is small."

  "You have indeed a weight of care," I said condolingly; "but doubtless you will soon be able to pick up a confidential adviser in place of Rama. Be of good heart, and do not repine against the will of God. But now I should like to have a chat with your worthy uncle."

  The old gentleman was by no means inclined to be as communicative as his nephew. His business was not of this world. His sole duty was to meditate on the incarnations of Vishnu. His brother was happy in that his soul was liberated from its earthly tenement. Yes, his nephew was a good boy, but what could he advise him concerning his money and his land? All such things were illusion. The dacoity showed that the gods viewed the possession of property with displeasure. True, he had himself taken a stick which Damodhar had placed in his hands, and assisted in driving off the dacoits. But he acted on the spur of the moment without thinking; and such action was a hindrance to his religious observances and abstraction of the soul.

  "Well, Imam Shah," I said to the Head Constable, "doubtless all that we have heard strengthens the case. It was, of course, known that Sitaram had a considerable sum of money in his house, and was about to negotiate for the purchase of land. In the course of the day we may hear of the arrest of the other three scoundrels. Keep the two prisoners here in custody. We need not send them to the magistrate till to-morrow morning. Meanwhile, I shall go back to the jheel and pick up a few duck."

  Imam Shah saluted, and I rode off in the direction of my camp. But my thoughts were on other game than the ducks. As soon as I was well out of sight I turned off across country, and cantered away to Ranigunge. As I expected, I arrived at the hospital before the medical officer in charge had commenced his post-mortem examination. I scrutinised and put aside the clothes which the unfortunate Damodhar had worn, and then waited till the formal examination of the corpse was completed. The bullet was extracted, and handed over to me by the hospital assistant. By this time I was extremely hungry, as I had had nothing since my chota hazri, or morning tea. All that I could get was some chupatties — flat cakes of unleavened bread — and a bunch of plantains, to be washed down by some very unpalatable water. But a policeman in India cannot always expect delicate fare; and he is sometimes fortunate if he comes off so well as I did then. Comfortable as is my home in Surrey, I feel now and then that I should like once more to be munching chupatties and plantains in the shade of a banyan tree. After my al-fresco meal, I lit a pipe, and had a quiet think about the circumstances of the case. Wrapped in mystery it clearly was. Could I work out a clue and disentangle the thread; and, if so, by what means? I at length determined upon a plan of action. There was nothing to be gained by my returning to Rajapur that day. It would be sufficient if I were there in the early morning before the two men under arrest were sent off to the magistrate. By that time the other accused might have been found. So I made my way leisurely back to my camp, and then gave certain instructions.

  Tired out with my exertions I went to bed early with a view to rising before daybreak. At early dawn I was on my way to Rajapur. The Head Constable met me on my arrival with a curious report.

  "Sahib," he said, "there has been another crime committed. After dark yesterday evening there was a great shouting, and four or five men came chasing a Hindu mendicant, swearing that they would have his life. They gave him a number of blows, and at last knocked him down and left him senseless just outside Sitaram's door. A crowd quickly gathered, but no one had the courage to seize the men; and before I came up they had made themselves scarce. Had I been in time, the Sahib can be sure none of them would have escaped me. In the darkness it was hopeless to pursue them."

  "And the mendicant," I asked, "where is he?"

  "He was so knocked about, Sahib, that I dared not move him any distance, so I had him carried as gently as possible into Sitaram's house, where he lay senseless all night. I have just heard that he seems coming to himself. Who he is no one knows."

  "I will see him at once," I replied, "and by myself. Let everyone keep away."

  I found the mendicant lying on a blanket in the main room of the house, Sitaram bending over him. After exchanging a few words with Sitaram, I asked him to retire for a short time while I questioned the unfortunate stranger, who, I could see, was now able to give some account of himself. His story was of the utmost interest. "Sitaram," I called out, "come in now, and bring your good uncle. I should like you to hear this poor man's narrative. His is a pitiable case, and you may be able to help him. Sit by him for a few moments while I go and see if my horse is being properly attended to."

  The patel, or head man of the village, and a number of other persons were standing close by with Imam Shah. I called them up one by one, and asked them a single question. The answer, though not unexpected by me, was sufficiently startling. I went back to the house, and sat down near the wounded man, Sitaram and his uncle Ganpat standing close by. I filled and lit my pipe, and then said to the older man: "Now Luxaman, haven't we had enough of this play-acting? Come, out with the whole story. There is not much that I don't know; but it will be interesting to have it all from your own lips. Oh! would you, you young viper!" I shouted, as Sitaram proceeded to level a revolver at me. But before I could get at him the mendicant had seized him round the waist, and the bullet buried itself harmlessly in the roof.

  "Arrest these two men," said I to the Head Constable, who had rushed in; "arrest Sitaram and the gentleman who passed for his uncle, for the murder of Damodhar, and for attempting to murder me. And as for you, Imam Shah," I continued, when the handcuffs were securely on, "you son of a burnt father, you imbecile idiot, you to talk to me of your exertions, and your claims for promotion, and the confession obtained from Govind and Bala. Well, there will be a minute inquiry into that matter of the confession a little later on. Govind and Bala are to be released at once. You see that I have not thought it worth while to ask them even a single question. Now just look at that hole in the wall by which the bolt was unfastened. If you inspect it closely, can't you see that there are marks of a chisel inside as well as out? Why, I noticed that at the first glance, and though I did not at once see through the whole plot, yet it was clear that these good people were wholesale liars, and that they had made the hole themselves. What they said about recognising Govind and Bala was, of course, false. It was rather hard on the two prisoners to keep them under arrest all this time; but to release them earlier would have thrown suspicion on my scheme of investigation. Now take their recognizances in the usual way, and let them go."

  Imam Shah retired crestfallen to obey my orders, while I separately interviewed Sitaram and his father. It was now the turn of the older man to be communicative, and Sitaram would say never a word. The only light to be thrown upon the history of the case was the object of the journey when the imaginary death of Luxaman occurred. I was uncertain whether the whole plot was arranged before starting or not. Luxaman stated that the journey was undertaken purely on account of business; but the unexpected death of his servant Rama gave him the opportunity of carrying out the design which he had long meditated of defrauding the Life Assurance Company. He had deliberately insured his life with the intention of obtaining the money by a false certificate of death; but the exact means of doing so he had not decided on.

  The whole story was now perfectly clear. The chisel marks inside the wall showed me that the dacoity was a bogus one. Realising this, I at once went off to the hospital to see if the wound by which Damodhar met his death corresponded with the account of the circumstances given by Sitaram. I found that the bullet was a revolver one, and also that the clothes smelt of gunpowder. The bullet was, therefore, not fired from Govind's gun, nor was it fired at a distance of four yards, but at close quarters. Some suspicion then formed itself in my mind that the murder hinged on the life insurance business; but how to prove it? This point was elucidated by my orderly Krishna, who successfully carried out my instructions, and gained admittance into the house for the night in the guise of a wounded mendicant. Some scraps of conversation which he overheard were of no great value, but twice he heard Sitaram address his soi-disant uncle as father. One difficulty remained. The uncle was said to have arrived some weeks before the reported death of Luxaman. A brief inquiry settled the point. Neither the patel nor any of the neighbours had seen the uncle before Luxaman's death was announced; and the story of his previous arrival was pure fabrication. Thus, then, Rama died of cholera in a strange place, where neither he nor his master were known. The death certificate was made out in due form in the name of Luxaman, who went back to his home by night, and reappeared in the personage of his brother. The claim on the insurance company was duly paid, and everything was working satisfactorily. But the demands of Damodhar became so extortionate that the partners at length refused to give any more, upon which he threatened to expose the whole matter. They therefore, after making the hole in the wall, called him in upon some pretext, and Sitaram shot him with his revolver. The greater part of the spoil was restored to the Insurance Company, who were good enough to give me a handsome acknowledgment of my services in unearthing the fraud, and the miserable father and son paid the penalty of their crime on the gallows.

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