The Virtue of Economy.
Sham Babu was a clerk of nearly thirty years’ standing, and the approach of old age made him anxious to escape from the daily grind of business. He asked permission to resign, which was reluctantly granted; his employers signifying their appreciation of his faithful service by granting him a pension of Rs. 30 a month and offering to provide for any of his relatives who might be fit for clerical work. Sham Babu thanked them warmly and retired to his native village, with the intention of passing the evening of life in peace. He had always lived well within his means. People who were thrice as rich could not imagine how he contrived to bring up a family on the salary which he was known to enjoy. Some folks insinuated that he had made money by giving his son in marriage to Kumodini Babu’s daughter, never remembering that a dowry is reserved for the bride’s benefit, while the cash payment made to a father-in-law barely suffices to meet the expenses of elaborate nuptial ceremonies. Others hinted that he had waxed rich on illicit commissions—another charge which was quite without foundation. Sham Babu was strictly honest, and besides, the opportunities within the reach of clerks employed by a private firm are not worth mentioning.
After settling down at Kadampur he cudgelled his brains for some means of increasing his slender resources. Friends advised him to try farming, or start a business in lending grain to cultivators. Neither trade was to his liking. Clerks are of little use outside their own sphere; and Sham Babu was too soft-hearted to succeed as a village Shylock. A matter of pressing importance was to establish his son Susil, who had passed the First Arts examination and was hanging about the Government offices at Ghoria, in the hope of securing a post. Sham Babu took advantage of his late employer’s offer and sent the young man off to Calcutta armed with a sheaf of certificates. To his great delight, Susil was appointed clerk on Rs. 25—a magnificent start, which relieved his father’s most pressing anxiety.
Sham Babu had begun life with a small patrimony which was slowly increased by savings from his monthly pay. He was worth nearly Rs. 10,000, the whole of which was lent by him to a trader named Gopal Datta, certified by Sham Babu’s brother-in-law Hari to be thoroughly trustworthy. This Gopal dealt in jute; and being a man of great daring, he speculated so successfully with Sham Babu’s money that, within three or four years, he amassed a fortune of two lakhs (L13,333). He paid 12 per cent. interest on the loan regularly, which made a comfortable addition to Sham Babu’s pension.
It was the latter’s habit to visit his Calcutta relatives at least once a month. So, one day in June, 18—, he went to Hari Babu’s house with the intention of passing the night there. His brother-in-law was absent and not expected till the morrow; but Sham Babu was welcomed by the ladies of the family, who made all arrangements for his comfort. In the evening he sat in the Baitakhana (parlour) reading the Bhagavat Gita (a mystical poem). A carriage drove up to the door whence alighted Ramanath Babu, who was Gopal’s younger brother. After the usual compliments had been exchanged, Sham Babu asked what business his visitor was engaged in.