Beharil Surajmul was the greatest moneylender in Dowlutpoor. He was a man of rare talents. He remembered the face of every man who had at any time come to borrow money of him since he began to work, as a little boy, in his father's office, so that it was impossible to deceive him. He had also such a miraculous skill in the making out of accounts that a poor man who had come to him in extremity for a loan of fifty rupees, to meet the expenses of his daughter's marriage, might go on making payments for the remainder of his life without reducing the debt by one rupee. In fact, it seemed to increase with each payment.
And if the matter went into court, Beharilal never failed to show that there was still a balance due to him much larger than the original loan. But so courteous and pleasant was the Seth in his manner to all that such matters never went into court until the right time, of which he was an infallible judge, for he knew the private affairs of every family in Dowlutpoor. Then a decree was obtained and the debtor's house, or land, was sold to defray the debt, Beharilal himself being usually the purchaser, though not, of course, in his own name, for he was a prudent man.
By these means Beharilal had become possessed of large estates, which he managed with such skill that they yielded to him revenues which they had never yielded to the former owners of them, while his tenants, who were mostly former owners, grew daily more deeply involved in their pecuniary obligations to him, and therefore entertained no thought of leaving him, for he could put them into prison any day if he chose. Their contentment gave him great satisfaction, and he treated them with benevolence, giving them advances of money for all their necessary expenses and appropriating the whole of their crops at the harvest to repay himself. He bound them to buy all that they had need of at his shop, so that he made profit off them on both sides.
And as his wealth increased, his person increased with it and his appearance became more imposing, so that he was regarded everywhere with the highest respect and esteem. He was, moreover, a very religious man and charitable beyond most. By early risers he might be seen in his garden seeking out the nests of ants and giving them, with his own hands, their daily dole of rice. It was his benevolent thoughtfulness which had supplied drinking troughs for the flocks of pigeons that continually plundered the stores of the other grain merchants. He had also established a pinjrapole for aged, sickly and ownerless animals of all kinds. To this he required all his tenants to send their bullocks when they became unfit for work, and he sold them new cattle, good and strong, at prices fixed by himself. If any of his old debtors, when reduced to beggary, came to his door for alms, they were never sent away without a handful of rice or a copper coin. He kept a bag of the smallest copper coins always at hand for such purposes.
Beharilal had a fine house, designed by himself and surrounded by a vast garden stocked with mangoes, guavas, custard apples, oranges and other fruit trees, and made beautiful and fragrant with all manner of flowers. The cool shade drew together birds of many kinds from the dry plains of the surrounding country, and it pleased Beharilal to think that they also were recipients of his bounty and that the benefits which he conferred on them would certainly be entered to the credit of his account with Heaven.
Some he fed, such as the crows, which flocked about the back door, like a convocation of Christian padres, in the morning and afternoon, when the ladies of his family gave out their portion of boiled rice and ghee. The pigeons also came together in hundreds in an open space under the shade of a noble peepul tree, where grain was thrown out for them at three o'clock every day; and among them were many chattering sparrows and not a few green parrots, which walked quaintly among the bustling pigeons, their long tails moving from side to side like the pointer of the scale on which the Bunia weighed his rupees. This resemblance struck him as he reclined against the fat red cushion in his verandah summing up his gains. There were other birds which would not eat his food, but found abundance, suited to their respective castes, among the shrubs and trees that he had planted. Mynas walked eagerly on the lawns looking for grasshoppers, glittering sunbirds hovered over the flowers, thrusting their slender bills into each nectar-laden blossom, bulbuls twittered among the mulberries and the koel made the shady banian tree resound with its melodious notes.
In a remote corner of the garden, under the dark shade of a tamarind, there stood a small shrine, like a whitewashed tomb, with a niche or recess on one side of it containing a conical stone smeared with red ochre. Some called it Mahadeo and some Khandoba, but no one could explain the presence of a Mahratta god in a Bunia's garden in Dowlutpoor, except by quoting an old tradition about one Narayen who had come from the Mahratta country and lived for many years in this place. Some said he was a prosperous goldsmith of great piety, but others maintained that he was a Sunyasee, or saint, and there was no certainty in the matter. The one point on which all were agreed was the great sanctity of the shrine, and Beharilal was most careful to perform at it every ceremony which custom, or tradition, sanctioned for placating the god and averting any calamity that might arise from his displeasure.