A BANK FRAUD
by Rudyard Kipling
A BANK FRAUD -
He drank strong waters and his speech was coarse
He purchased raiment and forebore to pay;
He stuck a trusting junior with a horse
And won Gymkhanas in a doubtful way.
Then'twixt a vice and follyturned aside
To do good deeds and straight to cloak themlied.
-The Mess Room. -
IF Reggie Burke were in India nowhe would resent this tale being told; butas he is in Hongkong and won't see itthe telling is safe. He was the man whoworked the big fraud on the Sind and Sialkote Bank. He was manager of anup-country Branchand a sound practical man with a large experience of nativeloan and insurance work. He could combine the frivolities of ordinary life withhis workand yet do well. Reggie Burke rode anything that would let him get updanced as neatly as he rodeand was wanted for every sort of amusement in theStation.
As he said himselfand as many men found out rather to their surprisetherewere two Burkesboth very much at your service. 'Reggie Burke' between fourand tenready for anything from a hot-weather gymkhana to a riding-picnicandbetween ten and four'Mr. Reginald BurkeManager of the Sind and SialkoteBranch Bank.' You might play polo with him one afternoon and hear him expresshis opinions when a man crossed; and you might call on him next morning to raisea two-thousand-rupee loan on a five-hundred-pound insurance policyeightypounds paid in premiums. He would recognise youbut you would have some troublein recognising him.
The Directors of the Bank- it had its headquarters in Calcutta and itsGeneral Manager's word carried weight with the Government- picked their men well.They had tested Reggie up to a fairly severe breaking-strain. They trusted himjust as much as Directors ever trust Managers. You must see for yourself whethertheir trust was misplaced.
Reggie's Branch was in a big Stationand worked with the usual staff- oneManagerone Accountantboth Englisha Cashier and a horde of native clerksbesides the Police patrol at nights outside. The bulk of its workfor it was ina thriving districtwas hoondi * and accommodation of all kinds. A fool has nogrip of this sort of businessand a clever man who does not go about among hisclientsand know more than a little of their affairsis worse than a fool.Reggie was young-lookingclean-shavedwith a twinkle in his eyeand a headthat nothing short of a gallon of the Gunners' Madeira could make any impressionon. -
* In DOS versions italicized text is enclosed in chevrons . -
One dayat a big dinnerhe announced casually that the Directors hadshifted on to him a National Curiosity from Englandin the Accountant line. Hewas perfectly correct. Mr. Silas RileyAccountantwas a most curious animal- alonggawkyrawboned Yorkshire manfull of the savage self-conceit thatblossoms only in the best county in England. Arrogance was a mild word for themental attitude of Mr. S. Riley. He had worked himself upafter seven yearstoa Cashier's position in a Huddersfield Bank; and all his experience lay amongthe factories of the North. Perhaps he would have done better on the Bombaysidewhere they are happy with one-half per cent. profitsand money is cheap.He was useless for Upper India and a wheat-Provincewhere a man wants a largehead and a touch of imagination if he is to turn out a satisfactorybalance-sheet.
He was wonderfully narrow-minded in businessandbeing new to the countryhad no notion that Indian banking is totally distinct from Home work. Like mostclever self-made menhe had much simplicity in his nature; andsomehow orotherhad construed the ordinarily polite terms of his letter of engagementinto a belief that the Directors had chosen him on account of his special andbrilliant talentsand that they set great store by him. This notion grew andcrystallised; thus adding to his natural North-country conceit. Furtherhe wasdelicatesuffered from some trouble in his chestand was short in his temper.
You will admit that Reggie had reason to call his new Accountant a NaturalCuriosity. The two men failed to hit it off at all. Riley considered Reggie awildfeather-headed idiotgiven to Heaven only knew what dissipation in lowplaces called 'Messes' and totally unfit for the serious and solemn vocation ofbanking. He could never get over Reggie's look of youth and 'you-be-damned' air;and he couldn't understand Reggie's friends- clean-builtcareless men in theArmy- who rode over to big Sunday breakfasts at the Bankand told sultrystories till Riley got up and left the room. Riley was always showing Reggie howthe business ought to be conductedand Reggie had more than once to remind himthat seven years' limited experience between Huddersfield and Beverley did notqualify a man to steer a big up-country business. Then Riley sulkedandreferred to himself as a pillar of the Bank and cherished friend of theDirectorsand Reggie tore his hair. If a man's English subordinates fail him inIndiahe comes to a hard time indeedfor native help has strict limitations.In the winter Riley went sick for weeks at a time with his lung complaintandthis threw more work on Reggie. But he preferred it to the everlasting frictionwhen Riley was well.
One of the Travelling Inspectors of the Bank discovered these collapses andreported them to the Directors. Now Riley had been foisted on the Bank by an M.P.who wanted the support of Riley's fatherwhoagainwas anxious to get his sonout to a warmer climate because of those lungs. The M.P. had interest in theBank; but one of the Directors wanted to advance a nominee of his own; andafter Riley's father had diedhe made the rest of the Board see that anAccountant who was sick for half the year had better give place to a healthyman. If Riley had known the real story of his appointmenthe might have behavedbetter; butknowing nothinghis stretches of sickness alternated with restlesspersistentmeddling irritation of Reggieand all the hundred ways in whichconceit in a subordinate situation can find play. Reggie used to call himstriking and hair-curling names behind his back as a relief to his ownfeelings; but he never abused him to his facebecause he said'Riley is such afrail beast that half of his loathsome conceit is due to pains in the chest.'
Late one AprilRiley went very sick indeed. The Doctor punched and thumpedhimand told him he would be better before long. Then the Doctor went to Reggieand said- 'Do you know how sick your Accountant is?'- 'No!' said Reggie 'Theworse the betterconfound him! He's a nuisance when he's well. I'll let youtake away the Bank Safe if you can keep him quiet through this hot weather.'
But the Doctor did not laugh- 'ManI'm not joking' he said. 'I'll give himanother three months in his bed and a week or so more to die in. On my honourand reputation that's all the grace he has in this world. Consumption has holdof him to the marrow.'
Reggie's face changed at once into the face of 'Mr. Reginald Burke' and heanswered'What can I do?'- 'Nothing' said the Doctor. 'For all practicalpurposes the man is dead already. Keep him quiet and cheerfuland tell him he'sgoing to recover. That's all. I'll look after him to the endof course.'
The Doctor went awayand Reggie sat down to open the evening mail. His firstletter was one from the Directorsintimating for his information that Mr. Rileywas to resignunder a month's noticeby the terms of his agreementtellingReggie that their letter to Riley would followand advising Reggie of thecoming of a new Accountanta man whom Reggie knew and liked.
Reggie lit a cherootandbefore he had finished smokinghe had sketchedthe outline of a fraud. He put away- burked- the Directors' letterand went into talk to Rileywho was as ungracious as usualand fretting himself over theway the Bank would run during his illness. He never thought of the extra work onReggie's shouldersbut solely of the damage to his own prospects of advancement.Then Reggie assured him that everything would be welland that hewould conferwith Riley daily on the management of the Bank. Riley was a little soothedbuthe hinted in as many words that he did not think much of Reggie's businesscapacity. Reggie was humble. And he had letters in his desk from the Directorsthat a Gilbarte or a Hardie might have been proud of!
The days passed in the big darkened houseand the Directors' letter ofdismissal to Riley came and was put away by Reggiewhoevery eveningbroughtthe books to Riley's roomand showed him what had been going forwardwhileRiley snarled. Reggie did his best to make statements pleasing to Rileybut theAccountant was sure that the Bank was going to rack and ruin without him. InJuneas the lying in bed told on his spirithe asked whether his absence hadbeen noted by the Directorsand Reggie said that they had written mostsympathetic lettershoping that he would be able to resume his valuableservices before long. He showed Riley the letters; and Riley said that theDirectors ought to have written to him direct. A few days laterReggie openedRiley's mail in the half-light of the roomand gave him the sheet- not theenvelope- of a letter to Riley from the Directors. Riley said he would thankReggie not to interfere with his private papersspecially as Reggie knew he wastoo weak to open his own letters. Reggie apologised.
Then Riley's mood changedand he lectured Reggie on his evil ways: hishorses and his bad friends. 'Of course lying hereon my backMr. BurkeIcan't keep you straight; but when I'm wellI do hope you'll pay some heed to mywords.' Reggiewho had dropped poloand dinnersand tennis and allto attendto Rileysaid that he was penitent and settled Riley's head on the pillow andheard him fret and contradict in harddryhacking whisperswithout a sign ofimpatience. Thisat the end of a heavy day's office workdoing double dutyinthe latter half of June.
When the new Accountant cameReggie told him the facts of the caseandannounced to Riley that he had a guest staying with him. Riley said that hemight have had more consideration than to entertain his 'doubtful friends' atsuch a time. Reggie made Carronthe new Accountantsleep at the Club inconsequence. Carron's arrival took some of the heavy work off his shouldersandhe had time to attend to Riley's exactions- to explainsootheinventandsettle and re-settle the poor wretch in bedand to forge complimentary lettersfrom Calcutta. At the end of the first month Riley wished to send some moneyhome to his mother. Reggie sent the draft. At the end of the second monthRiley's salary came in just the same. Reggie paid it out of his own pocketandwith itwrote Riley a beautiful letter from the Directors.
Riley was very ill indeedbut the flame of his life burnt unsteadily. Nowand then he would be cheerful and confident about the futuresketching plansfor going Home and seeing his mother. Reggie listened patiently when theoffice-work was overand encouraged him.
At other times Riley insisted on Reggie reading the Bible and grim 'Methody'tracts to him. Out of these tracts he pointed morals directed at his Manager.But he always found time to worry Reggie about the working of the Bankand toshow him where the weak points lay.
This indoorsickroom life and constant strains wore Reggie down a good dealand shook his nervesand lowered his billiard play by forty points. But thebusiness of the Bankand the business of the sickroomhad to go onthough theglass was 116 degrees in the shade.
At the end of the third month Riley was sinking fastand had begun torealise that he was very sick. But the conceit that made him worry Reggie kepthim from believing the worst. 'He wants some sort of mental stimulant if he isto drag on' said the Doctor. 'Keep him interested in life if you care about hisliving.' So Rileycontrary to all the laws of business and the financereceived a 25-per-cent. rise of salary from the Directors. The 'mentalstimulant' succeeded beautifully. Riley was happy and cheerfulandas is oftenthe case in consumptionhealthiest in mind when the body was weakest. Helingered for a full monthsnarling and fretting about the Banktalking of thefuturehearing the Bible readlecturing Reggie on sinand wondering when hewould be able to move abroad.
But at the end of Septemberone mercilessly hot eveninghe rose up in hisbed with a little gaspand said quickly to Reggie- 'Mr. BurkeI am going todie. I know it in myself. My chest is all hollow insideand there's nothing tobreathe with. To the best of my knowledge I have done nowt'- he was returning tothe talk of his boyhood- 'to lie heavy on my conscience. God be thankedI havebeen preserved from the grosser forms of sin; and I counsel youMr. Burke...'
Here his voice died downand Reggie stooped over him.
'Send my salary for September to my Mother... done great things with the Bankif I had been spared... mistaken policy... no fault of mine'...
Then he turned his face to the wall and die.
Reggie drew the sheet over Its faceand went out into the verandahwith hislast 'mental stimulant'- a letter of condolence and sympathy from the Directors-unused in his pocket.
'If I'd been only ten minutes earlier' thought Reggie'I might haveheartened him up to pull through another day.' - -