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CHAPTER XXI—THE LAST CHAPTER IN LIFE'S BOOK—AND IN THIS

THE evening that followed was a tempestuous and gloomy one. The wind howled, the rain fell in torrents, and the thunder rattled loud and long. As Mathur Ghose sat alone, a sound like that of blowing at a conch-shell fell on his ears, during intermissions in the violence of the storm. Twice he could distinctly hear it. His first thought was not to obey the well-known signal of those whose unworthy association had just brought on him infamy and disgrace. But every time that the sound was heard it became louder and louder, and more and more urgent. At length he left his seat, and braving the storm, repaired to the spot which had been the scene of so many of his dark interviews. A form lurked beneath a tree, and he had no difficulty in recognizing it to be that of the robber-chief.

"What brings you now here?" said he, pettishly, "I have had enough of you. Rid me of your presence. My good name is lost, and your treachery the cause."

"I do not deserve this reproach," replied the robber, calmly; "we did our best. He who takes us for his associates must abide by the consequences."

The scoundrel was preaching philosophy to the great man! And, dear reader, was he very wrong?

"But our connection has ceased," rejoined Mathur, angrily; "you know it well enough. Why do you seek me at this stormy hour?"

"Because," said the sardar, mournfully, "because this is the only hour when I can dare come out now. The police are after us, as you know."

"Then, why not rid Radhaganj of your presence at once?"

"You were not wont to speak thus to us, Baboo," said the sardar, with a slight touch of his old manner, "when these days had not come over us. Think as you may, I am come to convince you that we have a better memory than you suppose of those whom we serve, or those who serve us."

"What do you mean?" asked Mathur.

"You do not see with me tonight, one who used to follow me as my shadow," answered the sardar with a shade of melancholy.

"Yes—where is that man? Bhiku you call him, I believe?"

"In the hands of the police."

Mathur was startled. "Nothing worse?" asked he, tremblingly.

"Alas! yes!" replied the sardar in a desponding tone. "He has confessed."

"Confessed what?" asked Mathur with furious anxiety.

"Much," said the sardar with the same despondency, "much that may send both you and me across the black waters. Me they shall not catch. This hour is my last at Radhaganj. But you have done well by us, and it shall never be said we did ill by you. So I came to give you a warning."

So saying the bandit vanished into the thicket without waiting for a reply.

Mathur Ghose turned back and regained the house. For a couple of hours he sat musing deeply. His was a strong mind, and speedily regained courage. The police was venal and corrupt; his wealth was vast; he would buy up the police. There was one hitch in the scheme. A shrewd and restlessly active Irishman sat in the district station as Magistrate, and it was his besetting sin to be meddling with everything. He was constantly shaking out ugly affairs of the police. But Mathur Ghose promised himself to see that Bhiku should recant before the meddlesome Irishman.

His meditations were interrupted by some one bounding into the room, dripping with rain, and bespattered with mud. It was one of his trustworthy agents employed in the Zila Courts.

"Fly, master, fly!" said the man, "you have not a moment to lose."

"How so?" asked Mathur, bewildered at this new warning.

"One Bhiku has this day at eleven o'clock confessed to the Magistrate to dacoities and other crimes committed, as he falsely said, at your instigation."

"Confessed to the Magistrate?" repeated Mathur, almost mechanically, turning pale as death.

"Yes," said the law-agent, "and I started immediately after the confession was worded. I saw the Saheb making preparations for starting, and I am afraid he will be at Radhaganj during the course of the night."

"At Radhaganj during the course of the night?" again iterated Mathur, mechanically.

"Fly, Sir! immediately!" repeated the man.

"Yes; go," said Mathur, mechanically again.

The man went away.

Next morning the busy Irishman came to Mathur Ghose's house, to arrest him personally, a whole posse of policemen following at his heels in a hundred varieties of dress, and an eager rabble pressing close upon them to have a peep at the sort of animal they call a Magistrate, and the pranks he liked to play. Arrived at the house, it was entered, and thoroughly ransacked for the owner, but he was not to be found. At length found he was. There in the godown-mahal, in the very room which had formed the prison of Madhav and so many others of his victims, the master of the house was found—Dead. He had hanged himself.

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