Is Revenge Sweet?

(The Story of a Confession)

Wee Tong Poh

The rain was coming down in torrents,–quite typical of our tropical showers–and I was being driven in a closed gharry[1] along Mitchell Terrace when my pony suddenly came to a full stop. Then the carriage door was opened from outside, and a Chinese coolie said, in an excited tone, “Please, Doctor, will you come at once to No.— My towkay’s wife is very ill, and I have been the last hour waiting for your carriage to pass. Your tamby said that you were going to make a call at a house in Swettenham Road, and I knew that you would have to pass this road on your way back to your office.”

I therefore directed my syce[2] to house No.—and, jumping out, was shown to a bed-room on the first floor where I found a woman stretched on her bed, while a crowd of women and children was gathered around her. The patient was suffering from a severe congestion of the bowels and I saw that she had not many hours to live. As is usual with my Chinese patients, I learnt that I had been sent for only after all Chinese treatment had failed. The sick woman herself seemed to feel that she was at death’s door, and when to her enquiry, I told her that I could hold out no hope of her recovery, she asked me if I would let her make a confession to me. I was non-plussed.

“Why do you want to confess to me?” I instantly queried, “Surely your husband is a more suitable person to make your confession to.”

“No” she replied impatiently, “I must confess to some one who will have the power to set right the wrong I have done. It has something to do with a gambling case in which Inspector Catspaw prosecuted” (3).

“In that case ” I rejoined, “I can send him a chit to come and see you at once. I must not keep my pony standing in the street any longer in this dreadful weather.”

“You must not go yet, Doctor” she said. “I want you to be present as medical attendant until my confession has been made, and I will get my husband now to pay you $25 for this morning’s call.”

I had gone the round of my patients for that morning, and after having ordered my carriage to return home, I lit a cigar and dropping into a chair, waited patiently for the appearance of Inspector Catspaw of the Gambling Suppression Department.

Half an hour had gone by before I heard the heavy tread of the Inspector–a red-faced, curly-haired officer, standing six foot at least in his shoes. Following close at his heels, came one of those objectionable individuals who, under the name of informers, make a living out of the fines imposed by the Police Magistrates on gamblers against whom they have given information. He was a Teochew Chinaman, with a cunning and crafty look in his eyes and dressed with bad taste. I loathed at the very sight of the man.

A Police Inspector at all times considers himself an important personage and Inspector Catspaw undoubtedly had a high opinion of himself. In my chit to him I had in a few words explained why he was wanted, and hence he came provided with writing materials.

When the patient saw the Inspector, she motioned with her head to him to a seat by her bedside. “Ah, Sir,” said she slowly, “I have an important communication to make to you in the presence of Dr. Wee Tong Poh. I have no hesitation in so doing as the doctor assures me that I shall not open my eyes to-morrow morning in the land of the living. I sought revenge, and when it was granted to me, I found to my disgust that it gave me little satisfaction. I have had no peace since that woman Ah Nya was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in default of paying the fine of $1,500 for managing a chap-ji-ki lottery.” She paused for a moment to take breath.

“Oh, you mean the case in which one of your coolies gave evidence for the prosecution against a Teochew woman living at the corner of Maxwell Crescent,” put in Inspector Catspaw. “Well I am ready to take down your confession in writing, but I hereby warn you that whatever you may say now may be used as evidence against you afterwards.”

The patient smiled. “I fear nothing now from man, for I shall soon be beyond man’s power to punish; but wicked spirits may dog my footsteps in the next world if I don’t try to undo, in some measure, the wrong which my thirst for revenge prompted me to commit. The Teochew woman who was sent to prison was a poor but proud Christian woman. You may be surprised to hear that for the last three years I have been a collector for chap-ji-ki lottery and in that capacity I canvassed the women in my neighbourhood with a thoroughness and enthusiasm worthy of a better cause. Four months ago this woman came to occupy a room in the corner house of Maxwell Crescent. I called on her and invited her to stake. She declined on the plea that she was a poor widow who found it hard enough by honest means to earn a living.

I told her that I was placing a golden opportunity in her way, and invited her to try small stakes. She was stubborn. On another occasion I went and informed her that I had on my own responsibility staked 20 cents for her on a certain chap-ji-ki character and that she had won ten times that amount on that character. I offered her the money having previously deducted 20 cents, but she would have none of it. It then struck me that perhaps larger wins would make her yield to the temptation. I therefore suggested keeping the money she had won already for the purpose of staking on chap-ji-ki characters from day to day. I kept a sort of account for her, and at the end of a fortnight by strokes of good fortune, I was able to show some $40 to her credit.

Being convinced in my own mind that her resolution would now give way at the sight of this bright roll of silver dollars, I went with light steps to her room one morning with the news and winning which I thought would please her. But she was not to be moved. It was wrong, she said, to gamble. She exasperated me by her goody, goody language, and I determined to have my revenge on her. It would cost me nothing, as I had her winnings to spend buying up witnesses.”

At this moment the informer who had been standing near the bed, a close listener, walked out of the room. “That is one of the men whom I bribed to make up a case against the woman I hated,” she said, pointing at the informer, “let him deny it if he dare. He and one of my coolies contrived between them to slip some pieces of paper with chap-ji-ki characters marked on them into the room of my enemy, and these pieces of paper were found there, I believe, when you made the arrest.”

A long pause followed during which my patient kept her eyes closed. I felt her pulse and found that she was sinking fast. Inspector Catspaw said that he wished the patient to put her mark at the foot of the document containing her confession.

A piercing shriek took us to her bedside once more. Her eyes were dilated and she threw her arms out as if trying to resist some unseen assailant.

“Oh, help me,” she cried, “I see the victim of my revenge here. It is her spirit seeking for redress. She is dead. I have killed her by this unjust and false charge against her. I feel her cold clammy fingers round my throat. I can’t breathe. She is choking me. Oh—“ She sat up on her bed, her eyes were wild and almost starting from their sockets. It was the last flicker of an expiring soul. Then she fell back on the bed, a lifeless mass.

It was a terrible scene. My services were no longer required and Catspaw and I left the house together. The following day brought me a note from the Inspector informing me that the Teochew woman who had been wronged had starved herself in the prison to death and that her soul had departed from its earthly frame just about the time when my late patient was making her confession in her house at Mitchell Terrace.


[1] A cart or carriage (Anglo-Indian expression, from Hindi).

[2] Driver and groom (Anglo-Indian expression, from Arabic via Hindi)

[3] A Cats’ paw is someone used by another person for their own purposes. Inspector Catspaw is clearly being duped by his Teochew informant. Police Inspectors in the Straits Settlements were generally undereducated, and were often NCOs hired from local army battalions. They were thus the butt of considerable humour from their more educated Asian subordinates.