Misfortunes never come singly. Soon after settling this unpleasant affair, Sham Babu was laid low by fever; and doctor’s bills trenched sadly on his slender resources. Susil, too, the hope of the family, caught a mysterious disease and was absent from office so long that his employers were obliged to replace him. For the first time in his life, the poor old father felt the pinch of want, but he bore up bravely hoping for better times. When he was able to crawl about again, he applied to his old employers for work of any kind, but learnt to his sorrow that they intended winding up the business and were not able to increase their establishment. Sham Babu scanned the advertisement columns of the daily paper and answered many offers of employment, learning, on each occasion, that he was far too old to fill the coveted post.
One evening he sat in his parlour brooding over the many misfortunes which encompassed him. A distant connection named Srish Babu came in and, hearing that his host sorely needed work, said:—
“I am going to start a business in country produce and shall want several experienced clerks. I must provide for relatives first and strangers afterwards. Now, would you be inclined to come to me as manager, on Rs. 75 a month to begin with?”
Sham Babu jumped at the offer, which would restore him to comparative affluence, and it was agreed that he should enter on his new duties in three weeks. A month passed by without news from his relative, and meantime Sham Babu received a tempting offer of employment. Before deciding what to do he wrote to Srish Babu, informing him of the fact and asking whether he could rely on him. A reply came to the effect that he might do as he pleased, but that the business in country produce, which he was to manage, would positively be started in a fortnight. After another month of suspense, Sham Babu learnt that Srish’s bubble had been pricked, and that he had levanted, no one knew whither, to escape a swarm of creditors.
The poor old man was now on his beam-ends. The only course open to him was to sue Gopal for arrears of interest and foreclose his mortgage. After a year and a half’s attendance in divers civil courts and spending his last rupee on lawyers’ fees, he obtained a decree. When, however, he tried to execute it, it turned out that the estate on which he had a lien was a joint family possession, with the shares so inextricably mixed up that he could neither trace the property mortgaged to him nor discover who was liable for the proportion of profit derived from it. As well poke one’s fingers into a hornet’s nest as into a joint family estate! Sham Babu was glad to accept an offer of Rs. 5,000 from Gopal’s co-sharers, in return for a surrender of his claims. Despite his heavy loss, enough remained to preserve him from penury; and he was even able to start Susil in a small way of business. Great is the virtue of economy!