Chapter 8 – Justice Served
Next morning James Humphrey London took a rickshaw to the harbour Police Chowk. There was spring in his step as he remembered late night discussions with his sisters and their suggestions he’d decided to modify slightly in the interests of the family.
The sisters consulting together had suggested to James while the ship in the harbour obviously checked out as being legitimately owned by James evil brother in law, and in that it was obvious their money made this possible, that ship should revert to London Shipping assets in repayment.
The sisters were financially independent as a result of their management of the carriage business and did not want for anything. They thought this should be a condition on which the husband could be released after signing over ownership and immediately deported. It was not in the interests of the family to have it publicly known one of them was in jail. This would be distressing to the children.
But James was thinking about his sister’s children. Suitable matches would eventually be found for the girls so they’d be well cared for in adulthood, but the boys needed to have some consolation as they matured and carried the stigma of their fathers’ indiscretions which were well known around the settlement and beyond. They needed something to give them status as they dealt with that humiliation.
The ship was the key. James had consulted with his other brothers when his meeting with the sisters concluded. He put it to them that while that ship should rightly be the property of the London family perhaps they may consider holding it in trust for the sister’s boys until they were mature enough to decide whether to enter the shipping business on their own, or stay as part of the London shipping business. The brothers were enthusiastic about this suggestion and left it to James to work out details.
Entering the Police Chowk James was soon in the presence of the English Chief of Police who snapped his fingers and ordered one of the sepoys to fetch the prisoner.
Both James and the Police Chief gasped in surprise as the prisoner made his appearance limping and bent over. He was covered with bruises.
“Who did this?” The Police Chief demanded angrily looking at the prisoner.
James brother in law shivered and glanced at the sepoy in fear but said nothing.
The Sepoy snapped to attention and salaamed. “I’m thinking the prisoner did this to himself Sahib!” The sepoy looked threateningly at the prisoner.
The Chief sighed and shrugged his shoulders. You could never get a straight answer out of these sepoys. He’d deal with that later. He turned to James who was still staring at the miserable shell of a man in front of him. He remembered their happier moments together in times past and his heart went out in sympathy to this degraded substitute for the man he remembered.
“What decisions have you come to James, what charges do you want to make?”
James stared at his brother in law then turned to the Chief.
“The money taken from the London family will be reclaimed by this man signing his ship in the harbour over to his children with me holding it in trust. I have the documents with me prepared by our lawyer and if you have no objections Chief you could witness his signature on the document. It is not in the interests of his family to have him in jail here so I suggest he be deported on the next ship sailing to Australia and never be permitted to enter British Colonies in India again.”
The Police Chief looked uncomfortable. “I’ll have to consult with the colony administration James. This man has attempted kidnapping and threatened citizens with dangerous weapons. These are serious crimes which cannot be ignored! I agree he should be deported to Australia, but as a convict, not as a free man.”
James thought this through silently; then he spoke. “Well I suppose he can only be convicted as a criminal if someone presses charges, right? It would be a further humiliation to his children if they were to know their father was a convict. For that reason I’d like to see if we can work out something not quite as drastic. Do you mind if I go with you when you speak to the Colony administration or would you rather I did this alone?”
The Chief smiled. “I think you’d better do this alone. I don’t want to be compromised in future having to deal with a similar case and have the accused ask for the same treatment. Criminals are criminals!”
He said this looking directly into the prisoner’s eyes.
The brother in law fell at James feet and implored him for mercy. He’d sign the documents but pleaded to go from this place as a free man. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve brought on the London family.”
“You should be very sorry for the disgrace you’re brought to your wife and children in the eyes of this community!” James thundered.
Priya had brightened considerably since her confrontation with her relative the day before and this cheered her staff as they bustled around trying to keep the sahibs and memsahibs happy. Staff members were adept at sensing moods, it was a time tested means of ensuring their well-being. A dark look from one of the patrons would bring on their best developed look of humility and a cheery look would see them swapping stories from the local bazaars which always ensured a rapt attention from the patrons who’d discuss this latest scandal in their small groups afterward with pretend superior shock and later carry to their homes to be shared there. In this, the sahibs and memsahibs were not that much different to the local Indian population.
It was toward late morning when the kitchen was gearing up for specialities of the day, buttered chicken in a basket and Goa fish curry that Priya decided to do her usual rounds to talk with scattered groups in inner rooms and verandas. She looked forward to these rounds as news from the English community was faster received and more detailed in these casual conversations than the English newspapers were able to access as quickly. She’d share what she’d gleaned from her rounds with James London evenings as they shared their evening meal together. James marvelled at her daily reports which were more comprehensive than the newspapers he studied carefully each day looking for business opportunities.
It was on this round she noticed a group she’d not seen before uncertainly moving down the path to the club house. It was obvious they were not residents of Bombay. One could always discern a stranger in town. As they approached she heard different languages within the group being spoken but it was obvious as they swapped between languages each member of the group understood what was being said and responded. Priya was intrigued as one of the languages sounded like a dialect of Marathi but they all looked like sun tanned Europeans. She stood at the top of the steps to welcome them and inquire where they were from.
Priya welcomed them in English, then as an afterthought in Marathi. A tall young man looked at her with interest and spoke to her in the Konkani dialect. Priya had to concentrate to get all the words but understood he was asking if she’d been to Ratnagiri.
Ratnagiri was a port city south of Bombay which had recently been taken over by the British; and in pre-history a place of importance to Hindus having had a special part in the Mahabharata epic. The London shipping line had been servicing that port for some years and Priya was aware of it because of the choice alphonso mangos coming from that district.
It soon became apparent this was a mixed group of Europeans who had agricultural properties in Ratnagiri. They were in Bombay to look for outlets through which their fruit and nut products could be sold. Someone had recommended they sample the Goa fish curry speciality of that day at the club and they were wondering if non-members would be permitted entry.
Priya asked them to wait and sought out the English Secretary of the Club for permission. The Secretary took a look at the group and judging them to be worthy entrants gave his permission. Priya found a table for the group, called a waiter who took their order and then sat and chatted to them while they waited for their food.
It appeared they were looking for responsible distributors for their products but had been frustrated to find that in the Indian community at least the wholesale trade was in the hands of cartels that drove hard bargains making it potentially unprofitable for them to supply. They’d been equally frustrated at the lack of interest in the English community. They’d be returning to Ratnagiri at the end of the week and were quite discouraged with their venture.
Priya reported this to her Uncle James at their evening meal and to her surprise he asked excitedly where they could be contacted. To her further surprise he told her he’d been thinking about her family inheritance to honour his deceased brother, Priya’s father, and it occurred to him this might be the answer.
The London family could set up a distribution business and perhaps the products this group supplied could be the beginning of something much bigger. Would Priya be interested in taking on such a major project? He was confident she could do it. Priya was too stunned to answer!
But James was too excited to be diverted from his new venture. Calling his head servant of the household he urged him to go out into the night, locate the group from Ratnagiri and make an appointment for them to meet him at his office early next morning.
To be continued.
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