« PreviousContinue »
The soldiers received their pay very irregularly, seldom till they showed signs of mutiny for the want of it. When this crisis approached the treasurer was sent for, and a palaver ensued. Eventually matters were arranged. Scindiah the Rajah paid less than he owed, more than the army received. Before many years had elapsed Gokul Paruk had become the richest man in India, perhaps in the world. He was popularly supposed to possess fourteen millions of our money. He must really have owned several. He had, I know, an income of forty thousand pounds a year from the sums he had invested in our Government securities alone, and what natives invest bears but a small proportion to what they hoard.
Gokul was a man of extreme prudence, and he showed this quality in nothing more than in obtaining a domicile in Muttra, so soon as it had passed under British rule, and removing there the greater part of his treasures. He died childless, as had his master, and like him was succeeded by his manager, Seth Munnee Ram; according to native scandal by virtue of a forged will. Munnee Ram, with his master's wealth, did not inherit all his caution-the Gwalior court was full of intrigues-to one he fell a victim.
The Maharajah Scindiah was seated on his throne. holding full durbar. Casting his eyes on Munnee Ram, he remarked Sethjee!' (oh! Banker) you have been a long time treasurer, you must have much of my money.' The durbar over, Munnee Ram sought Colonel Skinner, who then held high command in the Mahratta army. Said the Colonel, when he heard what had happened, Take shawls and jewels, ever so many trays of them, and five million of silver rupees, and present them to-morrow to Scindiah at the durbar, and say, 'My Lord and Good Patron! all I have is yours, acquired through the favour
of your Highness; be pleased to accept from the hand of your servant this small portion of it.'
Munnee Ram was hot-tempered, the advice of the Colonel was not acceptable. He attended the durbar, but instead of a present he produced his account books, and addressing Scindiah he said, 'My Lord! false persons. have deceived you; it is your Highness, not I, that owes money, and the amount is ten millions.' This was too much. As the Scripture expresses it, the form of the king's visage was changed;' his fury blazed forth. Munnee Ram was haled away to the fortress, and there tied by ropes of raw leather to a gun on one of the bastions. As such ropes dry they contract. Munnee Ram had before him a death of agony. In this extremity Colonel Skinner stood his friend; he hurried to the palace he had influence; he used it, and so effectually that Munnee Ram was brought down from the bastion. After a short confinement in his own house he was released on payment of the same amount that he had so imprudently asserted the Rajah to be indebted to him. On attaining his liberty he bathed, put on new clothes, and waited on Colonel Skinner to express his gratitude. Ah,' said the Colonel smiling, my advice. was not so bad after all!' Munnee Ram not only expressed his gratitude but showed it. Colonel Skinner had large estates, but some years after fell into difficulties. Munnee Ram extricated him from them by a loan of one hundred and sixty thousand pounds without interest.
The receipt of the ten millions put Scindiah in such good humour that he took Munnee Ram again into favour, pressed him to continue in his office of treasurer, and when Munnee Ram declined permitted him to leave Gwalior unmolested, and, what was more, to take his treasures with him. Munnee Ram retired to Muttra,
where in due time he was gathered to his fathers. His ashes repose beside those of Gokul Paruk his master, beneath a pretty cupola, in a garden on the banks of the Jumma. To mark their relative positions in life, the stone eaves that border the dome of the tomb of Gokul project over and cut into those that surround the tomb of Munnee Ram, his servant.
The house in which the Seths resided had been only recently erected. Viewed from the outside it was very imposing; in Europe it would be termed a palace. The interior was disappointing, a collection of mere cells surrounding small courtyards. The room occupied by the Seths as their sitting-room was, however, a pretty enough apartment; it was in the upper storey, and overlooked the river. Like all native rooms it was entirely destitute of furniture, with the exception of a gigantic bolster, which to persons who sat cross-legged on the floor served the purpose of an arm-chair. For English visitors proper chairs were provided. A white cloth was stretched over the floor, and the walls were full of small niches, in which lamps were placed at night, and any small article during the day. The greater portion of the house was devoted to the women, and into that part I never entered.
The women appeared to be kept in strict seclusion. I never saw them, either on the roof or at the windows; their only glimpses of sky or fresh air must have been what they could get in the balconies of the lofty narrow courtyards. Their lot, however, in this respect must have been enviable to that of the women in the interior of the city. How these poor creatures endured the heat and the horrible smells was to me a source of never-ending wonder.
The Seths' house was constructed of stone, and the
solidest of masonry; the massive thickness of the walls contrasting very harmoniously with the slender columns that supported the balconies, and the delicate traceries that filled the windows. Before the disturbances, the Seths passed much of their time at Brindabun, a town about nine miles off, up the river, and which has the peculiarity of being almost entirely composed of temples. To the scores already existing, the Seths had recently added another, an edifice of surpassing magnificence. It always reminded me of the imaginary plans of the temple of Jerusalem, having an outer court, an inner court, and a holy of holies. Into this last, to the great amusement of the natives, the Seths themselves were not allowed to enter.
The entire building must have covered an area of many acres; it would be more correct to say that the outer walls enclosed that space, for the interior consisted chiefly of courtyards and corridors. In the curious way in which the Hindoos combine pleasure and devotion, the building was at once a place of worship, a country house, and a caravanserai. Pilgrims were accommodated at one end, the Seths resided at the other, while the services went on in the courts between. There was a magnificent expanse of stone and marble pavement, fountains, ponds, and, if I remember rightly, a garden and an aviary. I have a distinct recollection of some very brilliant plumaged cockatoos.
The story of the erection of this temple is so illustrative of Hindoo manners, that at the risk of being tedious I will relate it. Swâmee Rungacharee was a Fukkeer of the Deccan, where having, according to scandal, ruined his patron, he came to seek his fortune in the northwest. He entered Muttra in rags on a miserable pony. Somehow he got introduced to Radha Kishen, the younger
Seth, and soon acquired unlimited influence over him. Presently the temple began to arise; rumour credited Radha Kishen with the erection. The elder Seth, who did not at all care for the money to go that way, spoke to his brother. Radha Kishen assured him that the funds were provided by a rich banker in the south. The elder Seth was not satisfied. He made inquiries, and he felt sure he was being deceived; he spoke to his brother again, and implored him to tell the truth. Radha Kishen had by this time got into a mess with his accounts; he confessed the facts, and made over the building to his brother, who was good-natured enough to finish it for him, at the expense, according to popular rumour, of a million of pounds; but he assured me that the actual cost was less than half this sum. Perhaps, however, he understated the expenditure, being a little ashamed of it; and I do not know if he included in it his own apartments, and the ornaments of the shrine. Among these latter was a lofty flagstaff, overlaid with gold plates to the value of thirty thousand pounds.
The elder Seth was an entire unbeliever; he lived much at the temple but cared nothing for the shrine. For the chief priest, the Swâmee Rungacharee, he entertained a great contempt-he was very free in expressing it.
'Look at that woman,' he remarked to a Christian friend as they passed the priest's wife; she has a lac of rupees' worth of jewels on her, and her husband pretends to have abandoned the world!'
The Seth's opinion of the priest was that generally entertained. He was regarded very much as an impostor, and his patron as a dupe.
When not at the temple the elder Seth resided mostly in a bungalow in the cantonments, where he had a lathe