Part 6 out of 10
Prophet's line. He is comely; also young--for a god; not forty, perhaps
not above thirty-five years old. He wears his immense honors with
tranquil brace, and with a dignity proper to his awful calling. He
speaks English with the ease and purity of a person born to it. I think
I am not overstating this. He was the only god I had ever seen, and I
was very favorably impressed. When he rose to say good-bye, the door
swung open and I caught the flash of a red fez, and heard these words,
"Satan see God out?"
"Yes." And these mis-mated Beings passed from view Satan in the lead and
The Other following after.
Few of us can stand prosperity. Another man's, I mean.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
The next picture in my mind is Government House, on Malabar Point, with
the wide sea-view from the windows and broad balconies; abode of His
Excellency the Governor of the Bombay Presidency--a residence which is
European in everything but the native guards and servants, and is a home
and a palace of state harmoniously combined.
That was England, the English power, the English civilization, the modern
civilization--with the quiet elegancies and quiet colors and quiet tastes
and quiet dignity that are the outcome of the modern cultivation. And
following it came a picture of the ancient civilization of India--an hour
in the mansion of a native prince: Kumar Schri Samatsinhji Bahadur of the
The young lad, his heir, was with the prince; also, the lad's sister, a
wee brown sprite, very pretty, very serious, very winning, delicately
moulded, costumed like the daintiest butterfly, a dear little fairyland
princess, gravely willing to be friendly with the strangers, but in the
beginning preferring to hold her father's hand until she could take stock
of them and determine how far they were to be trusted. She must have
been eight years old; so in the natural (Indian) order of things she
would be a bride in three or four years from now, and then this free
contact with the sun and the air and the other belongings of out-door
nature and comradeship with visiting male folk would end, and she would
shut herself up in the zenana for life, like her mother, and by inherited
habit of mind would be happy in that seclusion and not look upon it as an
irksome restraint and a weary captivity.
The game which the prince amuses his leisure with--however, never mind
it, I should never be able to describe it intelligibly. I tried to get
an idea of it while my wife and daughter visited the princess in the
zenana, a lady of charming graces and a fluent speaker of English, but I
did not make it out. It is a complicated game, and I believe it is said
that nobody can learn to play it well--but an Indian. And I was not able
to learn how to wind a turban. It seemed a simple art and easy; but that
was a deception. It is a piece of thin, delicate stuff a foot wide or
more, and forty or fifty feet long; and the exhibitor of the art takes
one end of it in his hands, and winds it in and out intricately about his
head, twisting it as he goes, and in a minute or two the thing is
finished, and is neat and symmetrical and fits as snugly as a mould.
We were interested in the wardrobe and the jewels, and in the silverware,
and its grace of shape and beauty and delicacy of ornamentation. The
silverware is kept locked up, except at meal-times, and none but the
chief butler and the prince have keys to the safe. I did not clearly
understand why, but it was not for the protection of the silver. It was
either to protect the prince from the contamination which his caste would
suffer if the vessels were touched by low-caste hands, or it was to
protect his highness from poison. Possibly it was both. I believe a
salaried taster has to taste everything before the prince ventures it--an
ancient and judicious custom in the East, and has thinned out the tasters
a good deal, for of course it is the cook that puts the poison in. If I
were an Indian prince I would not go to the expense of a taster, I would
eat with the cook.
Ceremonials are always interesting; and I noted that the Indian good-
morning is a ceremonial, whereas ours doesn't amount to that. In
salutation the son reverently touches the father's forehead with a small
silver implement tipped with vermillion paste which leaves a red spot
there, and in return the son receives the father's blessing. Our good
morning is well enough for the rowdy West, perhaps, but would be too
brusque for the soft and ceremonious East.
After being properly necklaced, according to custom, with great garlands
made of yellow flowers, and provided with betel-nut to chew, this
pleasant visit closed, and we passed thence to a scene of a different
sort: from this glow of color and this sunny life to those grim
receptacles of the Parsee dead, the Towers of Silence. There is
something stately about that name, and an impressiveness which sinks
deep; the hush of death is in it. We have the Grave, the Tomb, the
Mausoleum, God's Acre, the Cemetery; and association has made them
eloquent with solemn meaning; but we have no name that is so majestic as
that one, or lingers upon the ear with such deep and haunting pathos.
On lofty ground, in the midst of a paradise of tropical foliage and
flowers, remote from the world and its turmoil and noise, they stood--the
Towers of Silence; and away below was spread the wide groves of cocoa
palms, then the city, mile on mile, then the ocean with its fleets of
creeping ships all steeped in a stillness as deep as the hush that
hallowed this high place of the dead. The vultures were there. They
stood close together in a great circle all around the rim of a massive
low tower--waiting; stood as motionless as sculptured ornaments, and
indeed almost deceived one into the belief that that was what they were.
Presently there was a slight stir among the score of persons present, and
all moved reverently out of the path and ceased from talking. A funeral
procession entered the great gate, marching two and two, and moved
silently by, toward the Tower. The corpse lay in a shallow shell, and
was under cover of a white cloth, but was otherwise naked. The bearers
of the body were separated by an interval of thirty feet from the
mourners. They, and also the mourners, were draped all in pure white,
and each couple of mourners was figuratively bound together by a piece of
white rope or a handkerchief--though they merely held the ends of it in
their hands. Behind the procession followed a dog, which was led in a
leash. When the mourners had reached the neighborhood of the Tower--
neither they nor any other human being but the bearers of the dead must
approach within thirty feet of it--they turned and went back to one of
the prayer-houses within the gates, to pray for the spirit of their dead.
The bearers unlocked the Tower's sole door and disappeared from view
within. In a little while they came out bringing the bier and the white
covering-cloth, and locked the door again. Then the ring of vultures
rose, flapping their wings, and swooped down into the Tower to devour the
body. Nothing was left of it but a clean-picked skeleton when they
flocked-out again a few minutes afterward.
The principle which underlies and orders everything connected with a
Parsee funeral is Purity. By the tenets of the Zoroastrian religion, the
elements, Earth, Fire, and Water, are sacred, and must not be
contaminated by contact with a dead body. Hence corpses must not be
burned, neither must they be buried. None may touch the dead or enter
the Towers where they repose except certain men who are officially
appointed for that purpose. They receive high pay, but theirs is a
dismal life, for they must live apart from their species, because their
commerce with the dead defiles them, and any who should associate with
them would share their defilement. When they come out of the Tower the
clothes they are wearing are exchanged for others, in a building within
the grounds, and the ones which they have taken off are left behind, for
they are contaminated, and must never be used again or suffered to go
outside the grounds. These bearers come to every funeral in new
garments. So far as is known, no human being, other than an official
corpse-bearer--save one--has ever entered a Tower of Silence after its
consecration. Just a hundred years ago a European rushed in behind the
bearers and fed his brutal curiosity with a glimpse of the forbidden
mysteries of the place. This shabby savage's name is not given; his
quality is also concealed. These two details, taken in connection with
the fact that for his extraordinary offense the only punishment he got
from the East India Company's Government was a solemn official
"reprimand"--suggest the suspicion that he was a European of consequence.
The same public document which contained the reprimand gave warning that
future offenders of his sort, if in the Company's service, would be
dismissed; and if merchants, suffer revocation of license and exile to
The Towers are not tall, but are low in proportion to their
circumference, like a gasometer. If you should fill a gasometer half way
up with solid granite masonry, then drive a wide and deep well down
through the center of this mass of masonry, you would have the idea of a
Tower of Silence. On the masonry surrounding the well the bodies lie, in
shallow trenches which radiate like wheel-spokes from the well. The
trenches slant toward the well and carry into it the rainfall.
Underground drains, with charcoal filters in them, carry off this water
from the bottom of the well.
When a skeleton has lain in the Tower exposed to the rain and the flaming
sun a month it is perfectly dry and clean. Then the same bearers that
brought it there come gloved and take it up with tongs and throw it into
the well. There it turns to dust. It is never seen again, never touched
again, in the world. Other peoples separate their dead, and preserve and
continue social distinctions in the grave--the skeletons of kings and
statesmen and generals in temples and pantheons proper to skeletons of
their degree, and the skeletons of the commonplace and the poor in places
suited to their meaner estate; but the Parsees hold that all men rank
alike in death--all are humble, all poor, all destitute. In sign of
their poverty they are sent to their grave naked, in sign of their
equality the bones of the rich, the poor, the illustrious and the obscure
are flung into the common well together. At a Parsee funeral there are
no vehicles; all concerned must walk, both rich and poor, howsoever great
the distance to be traversed may be. In the wells of the Five Towers of
Silence is mingled the dust of all the Parsee men and women and children
who have died in Bombay and its vicinity during the two centuries which
have elapsed since the Mohammedan conquerors drove the Parsees out of
Persia, and into that region of India. The earliest of the five towers
was built by the Modi family something more than 200 years ago, and it is
now reserved to the heirs of that house; none but the dead of that blood
are carried thither.
The origin of at least one of the details of a Parsee funeral is not now
known--the presence of the dog. Before a corpse is borne from the house
of mourning it must be uncovered and exposed to the gaze of a dog; a dog
must also be led in the rear of the funeral. Mr. Nusserwanjee Byranijee,
Secretary to the Parsee Punchayet, said that these formalities had once
had a meaning and a reason for their institution, but that they were
survivals whose origin none could now account for. Custom and tradition
continue them in force, antiquity hallows them. It is thought that in
ancient times in Persia the dog was a sacred animal and could guide souls
to heaven; also that his eye had the power of purifying objects which had
been contaminated by the touch of the dead; and that hence his presence
with the funeral cortege provides an ever-applicable remedy in case of
The Parsees claim that their method of disposing of the dead is an
effective protection of the living; that it disseminates no corruption,
no impurities of any sort, no disease-germs; that no wrap, no garment
which has touched the dead is allowed to touch the living afterward; that
from the Towers of Silence nothing proceeds which can carry harm to the
outside world. These are just claims, I think. As a sanitary measure,
their system seems to be about the equivalent of cremation, and as sure.
We are drifting slowly--but hopefully--toward cremation in these days.
It could not be expected that this progress should be swift, but if it be
steady and continuous, even if slow, that will suffice. When cremation
becomes the rule we shall cease to shudder at it; we should shudder at
burial if we allowed ourselves to think what goes on in the grave.
The dog was an impressive figure to me, representing as he did a mystery
whose key is lost. He was humble, and apparently depressed; and he let
his head droop pensively, and looked as if he might be trying to call
back to his mind what it was that he had used to symbolize ages ago when
he began his function. There was another impressive thing close at hand,
but I was not privileged to see it. That was the sacred fire--a fire
which is supposed to have been burning without interruption for more than
two centuries; and so, living by the same heat that was imparted to it so
The Parsees are a remarkable community. There are only about 60,000 in
Bombay, and only about half as many as that in the rest of India; but
they make up in importance what they lack in numbers. They are highly
educated, energetic, enterprising, progressive, rich, and the Jew himself
is not more lavish or catholic in his charities and benevolences. The
Parsees build and endow hospitals, for both men and animals; and they and
their womenkind keep an open purse for all great and good objects. They
are a political force, and a valued support to the government. They have
a pure and lofty religion, and they preserve it in its integrity and
order their lives by it.
We took a final sweep of the wonderful view of plain and city and ocean,
and so ended our visit to the garden and the Towers of Silence; and the
last thing I noticed was another symbol--a voluntary symbol this one; it
was a vulture standing on the sawed-off top of a tall and slender and
branchless palm in an open space in the ground; he was perfectly
motionless, and looked like a piece of sculpture on a pillar. And he had
a mortuary look, too, which was in keeping with the place.
There is an old-time toast which is golden for its beauty.
"When you ascend the hill of prosperity may you not meet a friend."
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
The next picture that drifts across the field of my memory is one which
is connected with religious things. We were taken by friends to see a
Jain temple. It was small, and had many flags or streamers flying from
poles standing above its roof; and its little battlements supported a
great many small idols or images. Upstairs, inside, a solitary Jain was
praying or reciting aloud in the middle of the room. Our presence did
not interrupt him, nor even incommode him or modify his fervor. Ten or
twelve feet in front of him was the idol, a small figure in a sitting
posture. It had the pinkish look of a wax doll, but lacked the doll's
roundness of limb and approximation to correctness of form and justness
of proportion. Mr. Gandhi explained every thing to us. He was delegate
to the Chicago Fair Congress of Religions. It was lucidly done, in
masterly English, but in time it faded from me, and now I have nothing
left of that episode but an impression: a dim idea of a religious belief
clothed in subtle intellectual forms, lofty and clean, barren of fleshly
grossnesses; and with this another dim impression which connects that
intellectual system somehow with that crude image, that inadequate idol--
how, I do not know. Properly they do not seem to belong together.
Apparently the idol symbolized a person who had become a saint or a god
through accessions of steadily augmenting holiness acquired through a
series of reincarnations and promotions extending over many ages; and was
now at last a saint and qualified to vicariously receive worship and
transmit it to heaven's chancellery. Was that it?
And thence we went to Mr. Premchand Roychand's bungalow, in Lovelane,
Byculla, where an Indian prince was to receive a deputation of the Jain
community who desired to congratulate him upon a high honor lately
conferred upon him by his sovereign, Victoria, Empress of India. She had
made him a knight of the order of the Star of India. It would seem that
even the grandest Indian prince is glad to add the modest title "Sir" to
his ancient native grandeurs, and is willing to do valuable service to
win it. He will remit taxes liberally, and will spend money freely upon
the betterment of the condition of his subjects, if there is a knighthood
to be gotten by it. And he will also do good work and a deal of it to
get a gun added to the salute allowed him by the British Government.
Every year the Empress distributes knighthoods and adds guns for public
services done by native princes. The salute of a small prince is three
or four guns; princes of greater consequence have salutes that run higher
and higher, gun by gun,--oh, clear away up to eleven; possibly more, but
I did not hear of any above eleven-gun princes. I was told that when a
four-gun prince gets a gun added, he is pretty troublesome for a while,
till the novelty wears off, for he likes the music, and keeps hunting up
pretexts to get himself saluted. It may be that supremely grand folk,
like the Nyzam of Hyderabad and the Gaikwar of Baroda, have more than
eleven guns, but I don't know.
When we arrived at the bungalow, the large hall on the ground floor was
already about full, and carriages were still flowing into the grounds.
The company present made a fine show, an exhibition of human fireworks,
so to speak, in the matters of costume and comminglings of brilliant
color. The variety of form noticeable in the display of turbans was
remarkable. We were told that the explanation of this was, that this
Jain delegation was drawn from many parts of India, and that each man
wore the turban that was in vogue in his own region. This diversity of
turbans made a beautiful effect.
I could have wished to start a rival exhibition there, of Christian hats
and clothes. I would have cleared one side of the room of its Indian
splendors and repacked the space with Christians drawn from America,
England, and the Colonies, dressed in the hats and habits of now, and of
twenty and forty and fifty years ago. It would have been a hideous
exhibition, a thoroughly devilish spectacle. Then there would have been
the added disadvantage of the white complexion. It is not an unbearably
unpleasant complexion when it keeps to itself, but when it comes into
competition with masses of brown and black the fact is betrayed that it
is endurable only because we are used to it. Nearly all black and brown
skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare. How rare, one
may learn by walking down a street in Paris, New York, or London on a
week-day particularly an unfashionable street--and keeping count of the
satisfactory complexions encountered in the course of a mile. Where dark
complexions are massed, they make the whites look bleached-out,
unwholesome, and sometimes frankly ghastly. I could notice this as a
boy, down South in the slavery days before the war. The splendid black
satin skin of the South African Zulus of Durban seemed to me to come very
close to perfection. I can see those Zulus yet--'ricksha athletes
waiting in front of the hotel for custom; handsome and intensely black
creatures, moderately clothed in loose summer stuffs whose snowy
whiteness made the black all the blacker by contrast. Keeping that group
in my mind, I can compare those complexions with the white ones which are
streaming past this London window now:
A lady. Complexion, new parchment. Another lady. Complexion, old
Another. Pink and white, very fine.
Man. Grayish skin, with purple areas.
Man. Unwholesome fish-belly skin.
Girl. Sallow face, sprinkled with freckles.
Old woman. Face whitey-gray.
Young butcher. Face a general red flush.
Jaundiced man--mustard yellow.
Elderly lady. Colorless skin, with two conspicuous moles.
Elderly man--a drinker. Boiled-cauliflower nose in a flabby face
veined with purple crinklings.
Healthy young gentleman. Fine fresh complexion.
Sick young man. His face a ghastly white.
No end of people whose skins are dull and characterless modifications of
the tint which we miscall white. Some of these faces are pimply; some
exhibit other signs of diseased blood; some show scars of a tint out of a
harmony with the surrounding shades of color. The white man's complexion
makes no concealments. It can't. It seemed to have been designed as a
catch-all for everything that can damage it. Ladies have to paint it,
and powder it, and cosmetic it, and diet it with arsenic, and enamel it,
and be always enticing it, and persuading it, and pestering it, and
fussing at it, to make it beautiful; and they do not succeed. But these
efforts show what they think of the natural complexion, as distributed.
As distributed it needs these helps. The complexion which they try to
counterfeit is one which nature restricts to the few--to the very few.
To ninety-nine persons she gives a bad complexion, to the hundredth a
good one. The hundredth can keep it--how long? Ten years, perhaps.
The advantage is with the Zulu, I think. He starts with a beautiful
complexion, and it will last him through. And as for the Indian brown--
firm, smooth, blemishless, pleasant and restful to the eye, afraid of no
color, harmonizing with all colors and adding a grace to them all--I
think there is no sort of chance for the average white complexion against
that rich and perfect tint.
To return to the bungalow. The most gorgeous costume present were worn
by some children. They seemed to blaze, so bright were the colors, and
so brilliant the jewels strum over the rich materials. These children
were professional nautch-dancers, and looked like girls, but they were
boys, They got up by ones and twos and fours, and danced and sang to an
accompaniment of weird music. Their posturings and gesturings were
elaborate and graceful, but their voices were stringently raspy and
unpleasant, and there was a good deal of monotony about the tune.
By and by there was a burst of shouts and cheers outside and the prince
with his train entered in fine dramatic style. He was a stately man, he
was ideally costumed, and fairly festooned with ropes of gems; some of
the ropes were of pearls, some were of uncut great emeralds--emeralds
renowned in Bombay for their quality and value. Their size was
marvelous, and enticing to the eye, those rocks. A boy--a princeling--
was with the prince, and he also was a radiant exhibition.
The ceremonies were not tedious. The prince strode to his throne with
the port and majesty--and the sternness--of a Julius Caesar coming to
receive and receipt for a back-country kingdom and have it over and get
out, and no fooling. There was a throne for the young prince, too, and
the two sat there, side by side, with their officers grouped at either
hand and most accurately and creditably reproducing the pictures which
one sees in the books--pictures which people in the prince's line of
business have been furnishing ever since Solomon received the Queen of
Sheba and showed her his things. The chief of the Jain delegation read
his paper of congratulations, then pushed it into a beautifully engraved
silver cylinder, which was delivered with ceremony into the prince's
hands and at once delivered by him without ceremony into the hands of an
officer. I will copy the address here. It is interesting, as showing
what an Indian prince's subject may have opportunity to thank him for in
these days of modern English rule, as contrasted with what his ancestor
would have given them opportunity to thank him for a century and a half
ago--the days of freedom unhampered by English interference. A century
and a half ago an address of thanks could have been put into small space.
It would have thanked the prince--
1. For not slaughtering too many of his people upon mere caprice;
2. For not stripping them bare by sudden and arbitrary tax levies,
and bringing famine upon them;
3. For not upon empty pretext destroying the rich and seizing their
4. For not killing, blinding, imprisoning, or banishing the
relatives of the royal house to protect the throne from possible
5. For not betraying the subject secretly, for a bribe, into the
hands of bands of professional Thugs, to be murdered and robbed in
the prince's back lot.
Those were rather common princely industries in the old times, but they
and some others of a harsh sort ceased long ago under English rule.
Better industries have taken their place, as this Address from the Jain
community will show:
"Your Highness,--We the undersigned members of the Jain community of
Bombay have the pleasure to approach your Highness with the
expression of our heartfelt congratulations on the recent conference
on your Highness of the Knighthood of the Most Exalted Order of the
Star of India. Ten years ago we had the pleasure and privilege of
welcoming your Highness to this city under circumstances which have
made a memorable epoch in the history of your State, for had it not
been for a generous and reasonable spirit that your Highness
displayed in the negotiations between the Palitana Durbar and the
Jain community, the conciliatory spirit that animated our people
could not have borne fruit. That was the first step in your
Highness's administration, and it fitly elicited the praise of the
Jain community, and of the Bombay Government. A decade of your
Highness's administration, combined with the abilities, training,
and acquirements that your Highness brought to bear upon it, has
justly earned for your Highness the unique and honourable
distinction--the Knighthood of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of
India, which we understand your Highness is the first to enjoy among
Chiefs of your, Highness's rank and standing. And we assure your
Highness that for this mark of honour that has been conferred on you
by Her Most Gracious Majesty, the Queen-Empress, we feel no less
proud than your Highness. Establishment of commercial factories,
schools, hospitals, etc., by your Highness in your State has marked
your Highness's career during these ten years, and we trust that
your Highness will be spared to rule over your people with wisdom
and foresight, and foster the many reforms that your Highness has
been pleased to introduce in your State. We again offer your
Highness our warmest felicitations for the honour that has been
conferred on you. We beg to remain your Highness's obedient
Factories, schools, hospitals, reforms. The prince propagates that kind
of things in the modern times, and gets knighthood and guns for it.
After the address the prince responded with snap and brevity; spoke a
moment with half a dozen guests in English, and with an official or two
in a native tongue; then the garlands were distributed as usual, and the
Each person is born to one possession which outvalues all his others--his
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Toward midnight, that night, there was another function. This was a
Hindoo wedding--no, I think it was a betrothal ceremony. Always before,
we had driven through streets that were multitudinous and tumultuous with
picturesque native life, but now there was nothing of that. We seemed to
move through a city of the dead. There was hardly a suggestion of life
in those still and vacant streets. Even the crows were silent. But
everywhere on the ground lay sleeping natives-hundreds and hundreds.
They lay stretched at full length and tightly wrapped in blankets, beads
and all. Their attitude and their rigidity counterfeited death. The
plague was not in Bombay then, but it is devastating the city now. The
shops are deserted, now, half of the people have fled, and of the
remainder the smitten perish by shoals every day. No doubt the city
looks now in the daytime as it looked then at night. When we had pierced
deep into the native quarter and were threading its narrow dim lanes, we
had to go carefully, for men were stretched asleep all about and there
was hardly room to drive between them. And every now and then a swarm of
rats would scamper across past the horses' feet in the vague light--the
forbears of the rats that are carrying the plague from house to house in
Bombay now. The shops were but sheds, little booths open to the street;
and the goods had been removed, and on the counters families were
sleeping, usually with an oil lamp present. Recurrent dead watches, it
But at last we turned a corner and saw a great glare of light ahead. It
was the home of the bride, wrapped in a perfect conflagration of
illuminations,--mainly gas-work designs, gotten up specially for the
occasion. Within was abundance of brilliancy--flames, costumes, colors,
decorations, mirrors--it was another Aladdin show.
The bride was a trim and comely little thing of twelve years, dressed as
we would dress a boy, though more expensively than we should do it, of
course. She moved about very much at her ease, and stopped and talked
with the guests and allowed her wedding jewelry to be examined. It was
very fine. Particularly a rope of great diamonds, a lovely thing to look
at and handle. It had a great emerald hanging to it.
The bridegroom was not present. He was having betrothal festivities of
his own at his father's house. As I understood it, he and the bride were
to entertain company every night and nearly all night for a week or more,
then get married, if alive. Both of the children were a little elderly,
as brides and grooms go, in India--twelve; they ought to have been
married a year or two sooner; still to a, stranger twelve seems quite
A while after midnight a couple of celebrated and high-priced nautch-
girls appeared in the gorgeous place, and danced and sang. With them
were men who played upon strange instruments which made uncanny noises of
a sort to make one's flesh creep. One of these instruments was a pipe,
and to its music the girls went through a performance which represented
snake charming. It seemed a doubtful sort of music to charm anything
with, but a native gentleman assured me that snakes like it and will come
out of their holes and listen to it with every evidence of refreshment
And gratitude. He said that at an entertainment in his grounds once, the
pipe brought out half a dozen snakes, and the music had to be stopped
before they would be persuaded to go. Nobody wanted their company, for
they were bold, familiar, and dangerous; but no one would kill them, of
course, for it is sinful for a Hindoo to kill any kind of a creature.
We withdrew from the festivities at two in the morning. Another picture,
then--but it has lodged itself in my memory rather as a stage-scene than
as a reality. It is of a porch and short flight of steps crowded with
dark faces and ghostly-white draperies flooded with the strong glare from
the dazzling concentration of illuminations; and midway of the steps one
conspicuous figure for accent--a turbaned giant, with a name according to
his size: Rao Bahadur Baskirao Balinkanje Pitale, Vakeel to his Highness
the Gaikwar of Baroda. Without him the picture would not have been
complete; and if his name had been merely Smith, he wouldn't have
answered. Close at hand on house-fronts on both sides of the narrow
street were illuminations of a kind commonly employed by the natives--
scores of glass tumblers (containing tapers) fastened a few in inches
apart all over great latticed frames, forming starry constellations which
showed out vividly against their black back grounds. As we drew away
into the distance down the dim lanes the illuminations gathered together
into a single mass, and glowed out of the enveloping darkness like a sun.
Then again the deep silence, the skurrying rats, the dim forms stretched
every-where on the ground; and on either hand those open booths
counterfeiting sepulchres, with counterfeit corpses sleeping motionless
in the flicker of the counterfeit death lamps. And now, a year later,
when I read the cablegrams I seem to be reading of what I myself partly
saw--saw before it happened--in a prophetic dream, as it were. One
cablegram says, "Business in the native town is about suspended. Except
the wailing and the tramp of the funerals. There is but little life or
movement. The closed shops exceed in number those that remain open."
Another says that 325,000 of the people have fled the city and are
carrying the plague to the country. Three days later comes the news,
"The population is reduced by half." The refugees have carried the
disease to Karachi; "220 cases, 214 deaths." A day or two later, "52
fresh cases, all of which proved fatal."
The plague carries with it a terror which no other disease can excite;
for of all diseases known to men it is the deadliest--by far the
deadliest. "Fifty-two fresh cases--all fatal." It is the Black Death
alone that slays like that. We can all imagine, after a fashion, the
desolation of a plague-stricken city, and the stupor of stillness broken
at intervals by distant bursts of wailing, marking the passing of
funerals, here and there and yonder, but I suppose it is not possible for
us to realize to ourselves the nightmare of dread and fear that possesses
the living who are present in such a place and cannot get away. That
half million fled from Bombay in a wild panic suggests to us something of
what they were feeling, but perhaps not even they could realize what the
half million were feeling whom they left stranded behind to face the
stalking horror without chance of escape. Kinglake was in Cairo many
years ago during an epidemic of the Black Death, and he has imagined the
terrors that creep into a man's heart at such a time and follow him until
they themselves breed the fatal sign in the armpit, and then the delirium
with confused images, and home-dreams, and reeling billiard-tables, and
then the sudden blank of death:
"To the contagionist, filled as he is with the dread of final
causes, having no faith in destiny, nor in the fixed will of God,
and with none of the devil-may-care indifference which might stand
him instead of creeds--to such one, every rag that shivers in the
breeze of a plague-stricken city has this sort of sublimity. If by
any terrible ordinance he be forced to venture forth, be sees death
dangling from every sleeve; and, as he creeps forward, he poises his
shuddering limbs between the imminent jacket that is stabbing at his
right elbow and the murderous pelisse that threatens to mow him
clean down as it sweeps along on his left. But most of all he
dreads that which most of all he should love--the touch of a woman's
dress; for mothers and wives, hurrying forth on kindly errands from
the bedsides of the dying, go slouching along through the streets
more willfully and less courteously than the men. For a while it
may be that the caution of the poor Levantine may enable him to
avoid contact, but sooner or later, perhaps, the dreaded chance
arrives; that bundle of linen, with the dark tearful eyes at the top
of it, that labors along with the voluptuous clumsiness of Grisi--
she has touched the poor Levantine with the hem of her sleeve! From
that dread moment his peace is gone; his mind for ever hanging upon
the fatal touch invites the blow which he fears; he watches for the
symptoms of plague so carefully, that sooner or later they come in
truth. The parched mouth is a sign--his mouth is parched; the
throbbing brain--his brain does throb; the rapid pulse--he touches
his own wrist (for he dares not ask counsel of any man lest he be
deserted), he touches his wrist, and feels how his frighted blood
goes galloping out of his heart. There is nothing but the fatal
swelling that is wanting to make his sad conviction complete;
immediately, he has an odd feel under the arm--no pain, but a little
straining of the skin; he would to God it were his fancy that were
strong enough to give him that sensation; this is the worst of all.
It now seems to him that he could be happy and contented with his
parched mouth, and his throbbing brain, and his rapid pulse, if only
he could know that there were no swelling under the left arm; but
dares he try?--in a moment of calmness and deliberation he dares
not; but when for a while he has writhed under the torture of
suspense, a sudden strength of will drives him to seek and know his
fate; he touches the gland, and finds the skin sane and sound but
under the cuticle there lies a small lump like a pistol-bullet, that
moves as he pushes it. Oh! but is this for all certainty, is this
the sentence of death? Feel the gland of the other arm. There is
not the same lump exactly, yet something a little like it. Have not
some people glands naturally enlarged?--would to heaven he were one!
So he does for himself the work of the plague, and when the Angel of
Death thus courted does indeed and in truth come, he has only to
finish that which has been so well begun; he passes his fiery hand
over the brain of the victim, and lets him rave for a season, but
all chance-wise, of people and things once dear, or of people and
things indifferent. Once more the poor fellow is back at his home
in fair Provence, and sees the sundial that stood in his childhood's
garden--sees his mother, and the long-since forgotten face of that
little dear sister--(he sees her, he says, on a Sunday morning, for
all the church bells are ringing); he looks up and down through the
universe, and owns it well piled with bales upon bales of cotton,
and cotton eternal--so much so that he feels--he knows--he swears he
could make that winning hazard, if the billiard-table would not
slant upwards, and if the cue were a cue worth playing with; but it
is not--it's a cue that won't move--his own arm won't move--in
short, there's the devil to pay in the brain of the poor Levantine;
and perhaps, the next night but one he becomes the "life and the
soul" of some squalling jackal family, who fish him out by the foot
from his shallow and sandy grave."
Hunger is the handmaid of genius
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
One day during our stay in Bombay there was a criminal trial of a most
interesting sort, a terribly realistic chapter out of the "Arabian
Nights," a strange mixture of simplicities and pieties and murderous
practicalities, which brought back the forgotten days of Thuggee and made
them live again; in fact, even made them believable. It was a case where
a young girl had been assassinated for the sake of her trifling
ornaments, things not worth a laborer's day's wages in America. This
thing could have been done in many other countries, but hardly with the
cold business-like depravity, absence of fear, absence of caution,
destitution of the sense of horror, repentance, remorse, exhibited in
this case. Elsewhere the murderer would have done his crime secretly, by
night, and without witnesses; his fears would have allowed him no peace
while the dead body was in his neighborhood; he would not have rested
until he had gotten it safe out of the way and hidden as effectually as
he could hide it. But this Indian murderer does his deed in the full
light of day, cares nothing for the society of witnesses, is in no way
incommoded by the presence of the corpse, takes his own time about
disposing of it, and the whole party are so indifferent, so phlegmatic,
that they take their regular sleep as if nothing was happening and no
halters hanging over them; and these five bland people close the episode
with a religious service. The thing reads like a Meadows-Taylor Thug-tale
of half a century ago, as may be seen by the official report of the
"At the Mazagon Police Court yesterday, Superintendent Nolan again
charged Tookaram Suntoo Savat Baya, woman, her daughter Krishni, and
Gopal Yithoo Bhanayker, before Mr. Phiroze Hoshang Dastur, Fourth
Presidency Magistrate, under sections 302 and 109 of the Code, with
having on the night of the 30th of December last murdered a Hindoo
girl named Cassi, aged 12, by strangulation, in the room of a chawl
at Jakaria Bunder, on the Sewriroad, and also with aiding and
abetting each other in the commission of the offense.
"Mr. F. A. Little, Public Prosecutor, conducted the case on behalf
of the Crown, the accused being undefended.
"Mr. Little applied under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure
Code to tender pardon to one of the accused, Krishni, woman, aged
22, on her undertaking to make a true and full statement of facts
under which the deceased girl Cassi was murdered.
"The Magistrate having granted the Public Prosecutor's application,
the accused Krishni went into the witness-box, and, on being
examined by Mr. Little, made the following confession:--I am a mill-
hand employed at the Jubilee Mill. I recollect the day (Tuesday); on
which the body of the deceased Cassi was found. Previous to that I
attended the mill for half a day, and then returned home at 3 in the
afternoon, when I saw five persons in the house, viz.: the first
accused Tookaram, who is my paramour, my mother, the second accused
Baya, the accused Gopal, and two guests named Ramji Daji and Annaji
Gungaram. Tookaram rented the room of the chawl situated at Jakaria
Bunder-road from its owner, Girdharilal Radhakishan, and in that
room I, my paramour, Tookaram, and his younger brother, Yesso
Mahadhoo, live. Since his arrival in Bombay from his native country
Yesso came and lived with us. When I returned from the mill on the
afternoon of that day, I saw the two guests seated on a cot in the
veranda, and a few minutes after the accused Gopal came and took his
seat by their side, while I and my mother were seated inside the
room. Tookaram, who had gone out to fetch some 'pan' and betelnuts,
on his return home had brought the two guests with him. After
returning home he gave them 'pan supari'. While they were eating it
my mother came out of the room and inquired of one of the guests,
Ramji, what had happened to his foot, when he replied that he had
tried many remedies, but they had done him no good. My mother then
took some rice in her hand and prophesied that the disease which
Ramji was suffering from would not be cured until he returned to his
native country. In the meantime the deceased Casi came from the
direction of an out-house, and stood in front on the threshhold of
our room with a 'lota' in her hand. Tookaram then told his two
guests to leave the room, and they then went up the steps towards
the quarry. After the guests had gone away, Tookaram seized the
deceased, who had come into the room, and he afterwards put a
waistband around her, and tied her to a post which supports a loft.
After doing this, he pressed the girl's throat, and, having tied her
mouth with the 'dhotur' (now shown in Court), fastened it to the
post. Having killed the girl, Tookaram removed her gold head
ornament and a gold 'putlee', and also took charge of her 'lota'.
Besides these two ornaments Cassi had on her person ear-studs a
nose-ring, some silver toe-rings, two necklaces, a pair of silver
anklets and bracelets. Tookaram afterwards tried to remove the
silver amulets, the ear-studs, and the nose-ring; but he failed in
his attempt. While he was doing so, I, my mother, and Gopal were
present. After removing the two gold ornaments, he handed them over
to Gopal, who was at the time standing near me. When he killed
Cassi, Tookaram threatened to strangle me also if I informed any one
of this. Gopal and myself were then standing at the door of our
room, and we both were threatened by Tookaram. My mother, Baya, had
seized the legs of the deceased at the time she was killed, and
whilst she was being tied to the post. Cassi then made a noise.
Tookaram and my mother took part in killing the girl. After the
murder her body was wrapped up in a mattress and kept on the loft
over the door of our room. When Cassi was strangled, the door of
the room was fastened from the inside by Tookaram. This deed was
committed shortly after my return home from work in the mill.
Tookaram put the body of the deceased in the mattress, and, after it
was left on the loft, he went to have his head shaved by a barber
named Sambhoo Raghoo, who lives only one door away from me. My
mother and myself then remained in the possession of the
information. I was slapped and threatened by my paramour, Tookaram,
and that was the only reason why I did not inform any one at that
time. When I told Tookaram that I would give information of the
occurrence, he slapped me. The accused Gopal was asked by Tookaram
to go back to his room, and he did so, taking away with him the two
gold ornaments and the 'lota'. Yesso Mahadhoo, a brother-in-law of
Tookaram, came to the house and asked Taokaram why he was washing,
the water-pipe being just opposite. Tookaram replied that he was
washing his dhotur, as a fowl had polluted it. About 6 o'clock of
the evening of that day my mother gave me three pice and asked me to
buy a cocoanut, and I gave the money to Yessoo, who went and fetched
a cocoanut and some betel leaves. When Yessoo and others were in
the room I was bathing, and, after I finished my bath, my mother
took the cocoanut and the betel leaves from Yessoo, and we five went
to the sea. The party consisted of Tookaram, my mother, Yessoo,
Tookaram's younger brother, and myself. On reaching the seashore,
my mother made the offering to the sea, and prayed to be pardoned
for what we had done. Before we went to the sea, some one came to
inquire after the girl Cassi. The police and other people came to
make these inquiries both before and after we left the house for the
seashore. The police questioned my mother about the girl, and she
replied that Cassi had come to her door, but had left. The next day
the police questioned Tookaram, and he, too, gave a similar reply.
This was said the same night when the search was made for the girl.
After the offering was made to the sea, we partook of the cocoanut
and returned home, when my mother gave me some food; but Tookaram
did not partake of any food that night. After dinner I and my
mother slept inside the room, and Tookaram slept on a cot near his
brother-in-law, Yessoo Mahadhoo, just outside the door. That was
not the usual place where Tookaram slept. He usually slept inside
the room. The body of the deceased remained on the loft when I went
to sleep. The room in which we slept was locked, and I heard that
my paramour, Tookaram, was restless outside. About 3 o'clock the
following morning Tookaram knocked at the door, when both myself and
my mother opened it. He then told me to go to the steps leading to
the quarry, and see if any one was about. Those steps lead to a
stable, through which we go to the quarry at the back of the
compound. When I got to the steps I saw no one there. Tookaram
asked me if any one was there, and I replied that I could see no one
about. He then took the body of the deceased from the loft, and
having wrapped it up in his saree, asked me to accompany him to the
steps of the quarry, and I did so. The 'saree' now produced here
was the same. Besides the 'saree', there was also a 'cholee' on the
body. He then carried the body in his arms, and went up the steps,
through the stable, and then to the right hand towards a Sahib's
bungalow, where Tookaram placed the body near a wall. All the time
I and my mother were with him. When the body was taken down, Yessoo
was lying on the cot. After depositing the body under the wall, we
all returned home, and soon after 5 a.m. the police again came and
took Tookaram away. About an hour after they returned and took me
and my mother away. We were questioned about it, when I made a
statement. Two hours later I was taken to the room, and I pointed
out this waistband, the 'dhotur', the mattress, and the wooden post
to Superintendent Nolan and Inspectors Roberts and Rashanali, in the
presence of my mother and Tookaram. Tookaram killed the girl Cassi
for her ornaments, which he wanted for the girl to whom he was
shortly going to be married. The body was found in the same place
where it was deposited by Tookaram."
The criminal side of the native has always been picturesque, always
readable. The Thuggee and one or two other particularly outrageous
features of it have been suppressed by the English, but there is enough
of it left to keep it darkly interesting. One finds evidence of these
survivals in the newspapers. Macaulay has a light-throwing passage upon
this matter in his great historical sketch of Warren Hastings, where he
is describing some effects which followed the temporary paralysis of
Hastings' powerful government brought about by Sir Philip Francis and his
"The natives considered Hastings as a fallen man; and they acted
after their kind. Some of our readers may have seen, in India, a
cloud of crows pecking a sick vulture to death--no bad type of what
happens in that country as often as fortune deserts one who has been
great and dreaded. In an instant all the sycophants, who had lately
been ready to lie for him, to forge for him, to pander for him, to
poison for him, hasten to purchase the favor of his victorious
enemies by accusing him. An Indian government has only to let it be
understood that it wishes a particular man to be ruined, and in
twenty-four hours it will be furnished with grave charges, supported
by depositions so full and circumstantial that any person
unaccustomed to Asiatic mendacity would regard them as decisive. It
is well if the signature of the destined victim is not counterfeited
at the foot of some illegal compact, and if some treasonable paper
is not slipped into a hiding-place in his house."
That was nearly a century and a quarter ago. An article in one of the
chief journals of India (the Pioneer) shows that in some respects the
native of to-day is just what his ancestor was then. Here are niceties
of so subtle and delicate a sort that they lift their breed of rascality
to a place among the fine arts, and almost entitle it to respect:
"The records of the Indian courts might certainly be relied upon to
prove that swindlers as a class in the East come very close to, if
they do not surpass, in brilliancy of execution and originality of
design the most expert of their fraternity in Europe and America.
India in especial is the home of forgery. There are some particular
districts which are noted as marts for the finest specimens of the
forger's handiwork. The business is carried on by firms who possess
stores of stamped papers to suit every emergency. They habitually
lay in a store of fresh stamped papers every year, and some of the
older and more thriving houses can supply documents for the past
forty years, bearing the proper water-mark and possessing the
genuine appearance of age. Other districts have earned notoriety
for skilled perjury, a pre-eminence that excites a respectful
admiration when one thinks of the universal prevalence of the art,
and persons desirous of succeeding in false suits are ready to pay
handsomely to avail themselves of the services of these local
experts as witnesses."
Various instances illustrative of the methods of these swindlers are
given. They exhibit deep cunning and total depravity on the part of the
swindler and his pals, and more obtuseness on the part of the victim than
one would expect to find in a country where suspicion of your neighbor
must surely be one of the earliest things learned. The favorite subject
is the young fool who has just come into a fortune and is trying to see
how poor a use he can put it to. I will quote one example:
"Sometimes another form of confidence trick is adopted, which is
invariably successful. The particular pigeon is spotted, and, his
acquaintance having been made, he is encouraged in every form of
vice. When the friendship is thoroughly established, the swindler
remarks to the young man that he has a brother who has asked him to
lend him Rs.10,000. The swindler says he has the money and would
lend it; but, as the borrower is his brother, he cannot charge
interest. So he proposes that he should hand the dupe the money,
and the latter should lend it to the swindler's brother, exacting a
heavy pre-payment of interest which, it is pointed out, they may
equally enjoy in dissipation. The dupe sees no objection, and on
the appointed day receives Rs.7,000 from the swindler, which he
hands over to the confederate. The latter is profuse in his thanks,
and executes a promissory note for Rs.10,000, payable to bearer.
The swindler allows the scheme to remain quiescent for a time, and
then suggests that, as the money has not been repaid and as it would
be unpleasant to sue his brother, it would be better to sell the
note in the bazaar. The dupe hands the note over, for the money he
advanced was not his, and, on being informed that it would be
necessary to have his signature on the back so as to render the
security negotiable, he signs without any hesitation. The swindler
passes it on to confederates, and the latter employ a respectable
firm of solicitors to ask the dupe if his signature is genuine. He
admits it at once, and his fate is sealed. A suit is filed by a
confederate against the dupe, two accomplices being made co-
defendants. They admit their Signatures as indorsers, and the one
swears he bought the note for value from the dupe The latter has no
defense, for no court would believe the apparently idle explanation
of the manner in which he came to endorse the note."
There is only one India! It is the only country that has a monopoly of
grand and imposing specialties. When another country has a remarkable
thing, it cannot have it all to itself--some other country has a
duplicate. But India--that is different. Its marvels are its own; the
patents cannot be infringed; imitations are not possible. And think of
the size of them, the majesty of them, the weird and outlandish character
of the most of them!
There is the Plague, the Black Death: India invented it; India is the
cradle of that mighty birth.
The Car of Juggernaut was India's invention.
So was the Suttee; and within the time of men still living eight hundred
widows willingly, and, in fact, rejoicingly, burned themselves to death
on the bodies of their dead husbands in a single year. Eight hundred
would do it this year if the British government would let them.
Famine is India's specialty. Elsewhere famines are inconsequential
incidents--in India they are devastating cataclysms; in one case they
annihilate hundreds; in the other, millions.
India had 2,000,000 gods, and worships them all. In religion all other
countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire.
With her everything is on a giant scale--even her poverty; no other
country can show anything to compare with it. And she has been used to
wealth on so vast a scale that she has to shorten to single words the
expressions describing great sums. She describes 100,000 with one word--
a 'lahk'; she describes ten millions with one word--a 'crore'.
In the bowels of the granite mountains she has patiently carved out
dozens of vast temples, and made them glorious with sculptured colonnades
and stately groups of statuary, and has adorned the eternal walls with
noble paintings. She has built fortresses of such magnitude that the
show-strongholds of the rest of the world are but modest little things by
comparison; palaces that are wonders for rarity of materials, delicacy
and beauty of workmanship, and for cost; and one tomb which men go around
the globe to see. It takes eighty nations, speaking eighty languages, to
people her, and they number three hundred millions.
On top of all this she is the mother and home of that wonder of wonders
caste--and of that mystery of mysteries, the satanic brotherhood of the
India had the start of the whole world in the beginning of things. She
had the first civilization; she had the first accumulation of material
wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and subtle intellects; she
had mines, and woods, and a fruitful soil. It would seem as if she
should have kept the lead, and should be to-day not the meek dependent of
an alien master, but mistress of the world, and delivering law and
command to every tribe and nation in it. But, in truth, there was never
any possibility of such supremacy for her. If there had been but one
India and one language--but there were eighty of them! Where there are
eighty nations and several hundred governments, fighting and quarreling
must be the common business of life; unity of purpose and policy are
impossible; out of such elements supremacy in the world cannot come.
Even caste itself could have had the defeating effect of a multiplicity
of tongues, no doubt; for it separates a people into layers, and layers,
and still other layers, that have no community of feeling with each
other; and in such a condition of things as that, patriotism can have no
It was the division of the country into so many States and nations that
made Thuggee possible and prosperous. It is difficult to realize the
situation. But perhaps one may approximate it by imagining the States of
our Union peopled by separate nations, speaking separate languages, with
guards and custom-houses strung along all frontiers, plenty of
interruptions for travelers and traders, interpreters able to handle all
the languages very rare or non-existent, and a few wars always going on
here and there and yonder as a further embarrassment to commerce and
excursioning. It would make intercommunication in a measure ungeneral.
India had eighty languages, and more custom-houses than cats. No clever
man with the instinct of a highway robber could fail to notice what a
chance for business was here offered. India was full of clever men with
the highwayman instinct, and so, quite naturally, the brotherhood of the
Thugs came into being to meet the long-felt want.
How long ago that was nobody knows-centuries, it is supposed. One of the
chiefest wonders connected with it was the success with which it kept its
secret. The English trader did business in India two hundred years and
more before he ever heard of it; and yet it was assassinating its
thousands all around him every year, the whole time.
The old saw says, "Let a sleeping dog lie." Right.... Still, when there
is much at stake it is better to get a newspaper to do it.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
January 28. I learned of an official Thug-book the other day. I was
not aware before that there was such a thing. I am allowed the temporary
use of it. We are making preparations for travel. Mainly the
preparations are purchases of bedding. This is to be used in sleeping
berths in the trains; in private houses sometimes; and in nine-tenths of
the hotels. It is not realizable; and yet it is true. It is a survival;
an apparently unnecessary thing which in some strange way has outlived
the conditions which once made it necessary. It comes down from a time
when the railway and the hotel did not exist; when the occasional white
traveler went horseback or by bullock-cart, and stopped over night in the
small dak-bungalow provided at easy distances by the government--a
shelter, merely, and nothing more. He had to carry bedding along, or do
without. The dwellings of the English residents are spacious and
comfortable and commodiously furnished, and surely it must be an odd
sight to see half a dozen guests come filing into such a place and
dumping blankets and pillows here and there and everywhere. But custom
makes incongruous things congruous.
One buys the bedding, with waterproof hold-all for it at almost any shop
--there is no difficulty about it.
January 30. What a spectacle the railway station was, at train-time! It
was a very large station, yet when we arrived it seemed as if the whole
world was present--half of it inside, the other half outside, and both
halves, bearing mountainous head-loads of bedding and other freight,
trying simultaneously to pass each other, in opposing floods, in one
narrow door. These opposing floods were patient, gentle, long-suffering
natives, with whites scattered among them at rare intervals; and wherever
a white man's native servant appeared, that native seemed to have put
aside his natural gentleness for the time and invested himself with the
white man's privilege of making a way for himself by promptly shoving all
intervening black things out of it. In these exhibitions of authority
Satan was scandalous. He was probably a Thug in one of his former
Inside the great station, tides upon tides of rainbow-costumed natives
swept along, this way and that, in massed and bewildering confusion,
eager, anxious, belated, distressed; and washed up to the long trains and
flowed into them with their packs and bundles, and disappeared, followed
at once by the next wash, the next wave. And here and there, in the
midst of this hurly-burly, and seemingly undisturbed by it, sat great
groups of natives on the bare stone floor,--young, slender brown women,
old, gray wrinkled women, little soft brown babies, old men, young men,
boys; all poor people, but all the females among them, both big and
little, bejeweled with cheap and showy nose-rings, toe-rings, leglets,
and armlets, these things constituting all their wealth, no doubt. These
silent crowds sat there with their humble bundles and baskets and small
household gear about them, and patiently waited--for what? A train that
was to start at some time or other during the day or night! They hadn't
timed themselves well, but that was no matter--the thing had been so
ordered from on high, therefore why worry? There was plenty of time,
hours and hours of it, and the thing that was to happen would happen--
there was no hurrying it.
The natives traveled third class, and at marvelously cheap rates. They
were packed and crammed into cars that held each about fifty; and it was
said that often a Brahmin of the highest caste was thus brought into
personal touch, and consequent defilement, with persons of the lowest
castes--no doubt a very shocking thing if a body could understand it and
properly appreciate it. Yes, a Brahmin who didn't own a rupee and
couldn't borrow one, might have to touch elbows with a rich hereditary
lord of inferior caste, inheritor of an ancient title a couple of yards
long, and he would just have to stand it; for if either of the two was
allowed to go in the cars where the sacred white people were, it probably
wouldn't be the august poor Brahmin. There was an immense string of
those third-class cars, for the natives travel by hordes; and a weary
hard night of it the occupants would have, no doubt.
When we reached our car, Satan and Barney had already arrived there with
their train of porters carrying bedding and parasols and cigar boxes, and
were at work. We named him Barney for short; we couldn't use his real
name, there wasn't time.
It was a car that promised comfort; indeed, luxury. Yet the cost of it--
well, economy could no further go; even in France; not even in Italy. It
was built of the plainest and cheapest partially-smoothed boards, with a
coating of dull paint on them, and there was nowhere a thought of
decoration. The floor was bare, but would not long remain so when the
dust should begin to fly. Across one end of the compartment ran a
netting for the accommodation of hand-baggage; at the other end was a
door which would shut, upon compulsion, but wouldn't stay shut; it opened
into a narrow little closet which had a wash-bowl in one end of it, and a
place to put a towel, in case you had one with you--and you would be sure
to have towels, because you buy them with the bedding, knowing that the
railway doesn't furnish them. On each side of the car, and running fore
and aft, was a broad leather-covered sofa to sit on in the day and sleep
on at night. Over each sofa hung, by straps, a wide, flat, leather-
covered shelf--to sleep on. In the daytime you can hitch it up against
the wall, out of the way--and then you have a big unencumbered and most
comfortable room to spread out in. No car in any country is quite its
equal for comfort (and privacy) I think. For usually there are but two
persons in it; and even when there are four there is but little sense of
impaired privacy. Our own cars at home can surpass the railway world in
all details but that one: they have no cosiness; there are too many
At the foot of each sofa was a side-door, for entrance and exit.
Along the whole length of the sofa on each side of the car ran a row of
large single-plate windows, of a blue tint-blue to soften the bitter
glare of the sun and protect one's eyes from torture. These could be let
down out of the way when one wanted the breeze. In the roof were two oil
lamps which gave a light strong enough to read by; each had a green-cloth
attachment by which it could be covered when the light should be no
While we talked outside with friends, Barney and Satan placed the hand-
baggage, books, fruits, and soda-bottles in the racks, and the hold-alls
and heavy baggage in the closet, hung the overcoats and sun-helmets and
towels on the hooks, hoisted the two bed-shelves up out of the way, then
shouldered their bedding and retired to the third class.
Now then, you see what a handsome, spacious, light, airy, homelike place
it was, wherein to walk up and down, or sit and write, or stretch out and
read and smoke. A central door in the forward end of the compartment
opened into a similar compartment. It was occupied by my wife and
daughter. About nine in the evening, while we halted a while at a
station, Barney and Satan came and undid the clumsy big hold-alls, and
spread the bedding on the sofas in both compartments--mattresses, sheets,
gay coverlets, pillows, all complete; there are no chambermaids in India
--apparently it was an office that was never heard of. Then they closed
the communicating door, nimbly tidied up our place, put the night-
clothing on the beds and the slippers under them, then returned to their
January 31. It was novel and pleasant, and I stayed awake as long as I
could, to enjoy it, and to read about those strange people the Thugs. In
my sleep they remained with me, and tried to strangle me. The leader of
the gang was that giant Hindoo who was such a picture in the strong light
when we were leaving those Hindoo betrothal festivities at two o'clock in
the morning--Rao Bahadur Baskirao Balinkanje Pitale, Vakeel to the
Gaikwar of Baroda. It was he that brought me the invitation from his
master to go to Baroda and lecture to that prince--and now he was
misbehaving in my dreams. But all things can happen in dreams. It is
indeed as the Sweet Singer of Michigan says--irrelevantly, of course, for
the one and unfailing great quality which distinguishes her poetry from
Shakespeare's and makes it precious to us is its stern and simple
My heart was gay and happy,
This was ever in my mind,
There is better times a coming,
And I hope some day to find
Myself capable of composing,
It was my heart's delight
To compose on a sentimental subject
If it came in my mind just right.
--["The Sentimental Song Book," p. 49; theme, "The Author's Early Life,"
Barroda. Arrived at 7 this morning. The dawn was just beginning to
show. It was forlorn to have to turn out in a strange place at such a
time, and the blinking lights in the station made it seem night still.
But the gentlemen who had come to receive us were there with their
servants, and they make quick work; there was no lost time. We were soon
outside and moving swiftly through the soft gray light, and presently
were comfortably housed--with more servants to help than we were used to,
and with rather embarassingly important officials to direct them. But it
was custom; they spoke Ballarat English, their bearing was charming and
hospitable, and so all went well.
Breakfast was a satisfaction. Across the lawns was visible in the
distance through the open window an Indian well, with two oxen tramping
leisurely up and down long inclines, drawing water; and out of the
stillness came the suffering screech of the machinery--not quite musical,
and yet soothingly melancholy and dreamy and reposeful--a wail of lost
spirits, one might imagine. And commemorative and reminiscent, perhaps;
for of course the Thugs used to throw people down that well when they
were done with them.
After breakfast the day began, a sufficiently busy one. We were driven
by winding roads through a vast park, with noble forests of great trees,
and with tangles and jungles of lovely growths of a humbler sort; and at
one place three large gray apes came out and pranced across the road--a
good deal of a surprise and an unpleasant one, for such creatures belong
in the menagerie, and they look artificial and out of place in a
We came to the city, by and by, and drove all through it. Intensely
Indian, it was, and crumbly, and mouldering, and immemorially old, to all
appearance. And the houses--oh, indescribably quaint and curious they
were, with their fronts an elaborate lace-work of intricate and beautiful
wood-carving, and now and then further adorned with rude pictures of
elephants and princes and gods done in shouting colors; and all the
ground floors along these cramped and narrow lanes occupied as shops--
shops unbelievably small and impossibly packed with merchantable rubbish,
and with nine-tenths-naked natives squatting at their work of hammering,
pounding, brazing, soldering, sewing, designing, cooking, measuring out
grain, grinding it, repairing idols--and then the swarm of ragged and
noisy humanity under the horses' feet and everywhere, and the pervading
reek and fume and smell! It was all wonderful and delightful.
Imagine a file of elephants marching through such a crevice of a street
and scraping the paint off both sides of it with their hides. How big
they must look, and how little they must make the houses look; and when
the elephants are in their glittering court costume, what a contrast they
must make with the humble and sordid surroundings. And when a mad
elephant goes raging through, belting right and left with his trunk, how
do these swarms of people get out of the way? I suppose it is a thing
which happens now and then in the mad season (for elephants have a mad
I wonder how old the town is. There are patches of building--massive
structures, monuments, apparently--that are so battered and worn, and
seemingly so tired and so burdened with the weight of age, and so dulled
and stupefied with trying to remember things they forgot before history
began, that they give one the feeling that they must have been a part of
original Creation. This is indeed one of the oldest of the princedoms of
India, and has always been celebrated for its barbaric pomps and
splendors, and for the wealth of its princes.
It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the
heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
Out of the town again; a long drive through open country, by winding
roads among secluded villages nestling in the inviting shade of tropic
vegetation, a Sabbath stillness everywhere, sometimes a pervading sense
of solitude, but always barefoot natives gliding by like spirits, without
sound of footfall, and others in the distance dissolving away and
vanishing like the creatures of dreams. Now and then a string of stately
camels passed by--always interesting things to look at--and they were
velvet-shod by nature, and made no noise. Indeed, there were no noises
of any sort in this paradise. Yes, once there was one, for a moment: a
file of native convicts passed along in charge of an officer, and we
caught the soft clink of their chains. In a retired spot, resting
himself under a tree, was a holy person--a naked black fakeer, thin and
skinny, and whitey-gray all over with ashes.
By and by to the elephant stables, and I took a ride; but it was by
request--I did not ask for it, and didn't want it; but I took it, because
otherwise they would have thought I was afraid, which I was. The
elephant kneels down, by command--one end of him at a time--and you climb
the ladder and get into the howdah, and then he gets up, one end at a
time, just as a ship gets up over a wave; and after that, as he strides
monstrously about, his motion is much like a ship's motion. The mahout
bores into the back of his head with a great iron prod and you wonder at
his temerity and at the elephant's patience, and you think that perhaps
the patience will not last; but it does, and nothing happens. The mahout
talks to the elephant in a low voice all the time, and the elephant seems
to understand it all and to be pleased with it; and he obeys every order
in the most contented and docile way. Among these twenty-five elephants
were two which were larger than any I had ever seen before, and if I had
thought I could learn to not be afraid, I would have taken one of them
while the police were not looking.
In the howdah-house there were many howdahs that were made of silver, one
of gold, and one of old ivory, and equipped with cushions and canopies of
rich and costly stuffs. The wardrobe of the elephants was there, too;
vast velvet covers stiff and heavy with gold embroidery; and bells of
silver and gold; and ropes of these metals for fastening the things on
harness, so to speak; and monster hoops of massive gold for the elephant
to wear on his ankles when he is out in procession on business of state.
But we did not see the treasury of crown jewels, and that was a
disappointment, for in mass and richness it ranks only second in India.
By mistake we were taken to see the new palace instead, and we used up
the last remnant of our spare time there. It was a pity, too; for the
new palace is mixed modern American-European, and has not a merit except
costliness. It is wholly foreign to India, and impudent and out of
place. The architect has escaped. This comes of overdoing the
suppression of the Thugs; they had their merits. The old palace is
oriental and charming, and in consonance with the country. The old
palace would still be great if there were nothing of it but the spacious
and lofty hall where the durbars are held. It is not a good place to
lecture in, on account of the echoes, but it is a good place to hold
durbars in and regulate the affairs of a kingdom, and that is what it is
for. If I had it I would have a durbar every day, instead of once or
twice a year.
The prince is an educated gentleman. His culture is European. He has
been in Europe five times. People say that this is costly amusement for
him, since in crossing the sea he must sometimes be obliged to drink
water from vessels that are more or less public, and thus damage his
caste. To get it purified again he must make pilgrimage to some renowned
Hindoo temples and contribute a fortune or two to them. His people are
like the other Hindoos, profoundly religious; and they could not be
content with a master who was impure.
We failed to see the jewels, but we saw the gold cannon and the silver
one--they seemed to be six-pounders. They were not designed for
business, but for salutes upon rare and particularly important state
occasions. An ancestor of the present Gaikwar had the silver one made,
and a subsequent ancestor had the gold one made, in order to outdo him.
This sort of artillery is in keeping with the traditions of Baroda, which
was of old famous for style and show. It used to entertain visiting
rajahs and viceroys with tiger-fights, elephant-fights, illuminations,
and elephant-processions of the most glittering and gorgeous character.
It makes the circus a pale, poor thing.
In the train, during a part of the return journey from Baroda, we had the
company of a gentleman who had with him a remarkable looking dog. I had
not seen one of its kind before, as far as I could remember; though of
course I might have seen one and not noticed it, for I am not acquainted
with dogs, but only with cats. This dog's coat was smooth and shiny and
black, and I think it had tan trimmings around the edges of the dog, and
perhaps underneath. It was a long, low dog, with very short, strange
legs--legs that curved inboard, something like parentheses wrong way (.
Indeed, it was made on the plan of a bench for length and lowness. It
seemed to be satisfied, but I thought the plan poor, and structurally
weak, on account of the distance between the forward supports and those
abaft. With age the dog's back was likely to sag; and it seemed to me
that it would have been a stronger and more practicable dog if it had had
some more legs. It had not begun to sag yet, but the shape of the legs
showed that the undue weight imposed upon them was beginning to tell.
It had a long nose, and floppy ears that hung down, and a resigned
expression of countenance. I did not like to ask what kind of a dog it
was, or how it came to be deformed, for it was plain that the gentleman
was very fond of it, and naturally he could be sensitive about it. From
delicacy I thought it best not to seem to notice it too much. No doubt a
man with a dog like that feels just as a person does who has a child that
is out of true. The gentleman was not merely fond of the dog, he was
also proud of it--just the same again, as a mother feels about her child
when it is an idiot. I could see that he was proud of it, not-
withstanding it was such a long dog and looked so resigned and pious. It
had been all over the world with him, and had been pilgriming like that
for years and years. It had traveled 50,000 miles by sea and rail, and
had ridden in front of him on his horse 8,000. It had a silver medal
from the Geographical Society of Great Britain for its travels, and I saw
it. It had won prizes in dog shows, both in India and in England--I saw
them. He said its pedigree was on record in the Kennel Club, and that it
was a well-known dog. He said a great many people in London could
recognize it the moment they saw it. I did not say anything, but I did
not think it anything strange; I should know that dog again, myself, yet
I am not careful about noticing dogs. He said that when he walked along
in London, people often stopped and looked at the dog. Of course I did
not say anything, for I did not want to hurt his feelings, but I could
have explained to him that if you take a great long low dog like that and
waddle it along the street anywhere in the world and not charge anything,
people will stop and look. He was gratified because the dog took prizes.
But that was nothing; if I were built like that I could take prizes
myself. I wished I knew what kind of a dog it was, and what it was for,
but I could not very well ask, for that would show that I did not know.
Not that I want a dog like that, but only to know the secret of its
I think he was going to hunt elephants with it, because I know, from
remarks dropped by him, that he has hunted large game in India and
Africa, and likes it. But I think that if he tries to hunt elephants
with it, he is going to be disappointed.
I do not believe that it is suited for elephants. It lacks energy, it
lacks force of character, it lacks bitterness. These things all show in
the meekness and resignation of its expression. It would not attack an
elephant, I am sure of it. It might not run if it saw one coming, but it
looked to me like a dog that would sit down and pray.
I wish he had told me what breed it was, if there are others; but I shall
know the dog next time, and then if I can bring myself to it I will put
delicacy aside and ask. If I seem strangely interested in dogs, I have a
reason for it; for a dog saved me from an embarrassing position once, and
that has made me grateful to these animals; and if by study I could learn
to tell some of the kinds from the others, I should be greatly pleased.
I only know one kind apart, yet, and that is the kind that saved me that
time. I always know that kind when I meet it, and if it is hungry or
lost I take care of it. The matter happened in this way
It was years and years ago. I had received a note from Mr. Augustin Daly
of the Fifth Avenue Theatre, asking me to call the next time I should be
in New York. I was writing plays, in those days, and he was admiring
them and trying to get me a chance to get them played in Siberia. I took
the first train--the early one--the one that leaves Hartford at 8.29 in
the morning. At New Haven I bought a paper, and found it filled with
glaring display-lines about a "bench-show" there. I had often heard of
bench-shows, but had never felt any interest in them, because I supposed
they were lectures that were not well attended. It turned out, now, that
it was not that, but a dog-show. There was a double-leaded column about
the king-feature of this one, which was called a Saint Bernard, and was
worth $10,000, and was known to be the largest and finest of his species
in the world. I read all this with interest, because out of my school-
boy readings I dimly remembered how the priests and pilgrims of St.
Bernard used to go out in the storms and dig these dogs out of the
snowdrifts when lost and exhausted, and give them brandy and save their
lives, and drag them to the monastery and restore them with gruel.
Also, there was a picture of this prize-dog in the paper, a noble great
creature with a benignant countenance, standing by a table. He was
placed in that way so that one could get a right idea of his great
dimensions. You could see that he was just a shade higher than the
table--indeed, a huge fellow for a dog. Then there was a description
which event into the details. It gave his enormous weight--150 1/2
pounds, and his length 4 feet 2 inches, from stem to stern-post; and his
height--3 feet 1 inch, to the top of his back. The pictures and the
figures so impressed me, that I could see the beautiful colossus before
me, and I kept on thinking about him for the next two hours; then I
reached New York, and he dropped out of my mind.
In the swirl and tumult of the hotel lobby I ran across Mr. Daly's
comedian, the late James Lewis, of beloved memory, and I casually
mentioned that I was going to call upon Mr. Daly in the evening at 8.
He looked surprised, and said he reckoned not. For answer I handed him
Mr. Daly's note. Its substance was: "Come to my private den, over the
theater, where we cannot be interrupted. And come by the back way, not
the front. No. 642 Sixth Avenue is a cigar shop; pass through it and you
are in a paved court, with high buildings all around; enter the second
door on the left, and come up stairs."
"Is this all?"
"Yes," I said.
"Well, you'll never get in"
"Because you won't. Or if you do you can draw on me for a hundred
dollars; for you will be the first man that has accomplished it in
twenty-five years. I can't think what Mr. Daly can have been absorbed
in. He has forgotten a most important detail, and he will feel
humiliated in the morning when he finds that you tried to get in and
"Why, what is the trouble?"
"I'll tell you. You see----"
At that point we were swept apart by the crowd, somebody detained me with
a moment's talk, and we did not get together again. But it did not
matter; I believed he was joking, anyway.
At eight in the evening I passed through the cigar shop and into the
court and knocked at the second door.
I entered. It was a small room, carpetless, dusty, with a naked deal
table, and two cheap wooden chairs for furniture. A giant Irishman was
standing there, with shirt collar and vest unbuttoned, and no coat on. I
put my hat on the table, and was about to say something, when the
Irishman took the innings himself. And not with marked courtesy of tone:
"Well, sor, what will you have?"
I was a little disconcerted, and my easy confidence suffered a shrinkage.
The man stood as motionless as Gibraltar, and kept his unblinking eye
upon me. It was very embarrassing, very humiliating. I stammered at a
false start or two; then----
"I have just run down from----"
"Av ye plaze, ye'll not smoke here, ye understand."
I laid my cigar on the window-ledge; chased my flighty thoughts a moment,
then said in a placating manner:
"I--I have come to see Mr. Daly."
"Oh, ye have, have ye?"
"Well, ye'll not see him."
"But he asked me to come."
"Oh, he did, did he?"
"Yes, he sent me this note, and----"
"Lemme see it."
For a moment I fancied there would be a change in the atmosphere, now;
but this idea was premature. The big man was examining the note
searchingly under the gas-jet. A glance showed me that he had it upside
down--disheartening evidence that he could not read.
"Is ut his own handwrite?"
"Yes--he wrote it himself."
"He did, did he?"
"H'm. Well, then, why ud he write it like that?"
"How do you mean?"
"I mane, why wudn't he put his naime to ut?"
"His name is to it. That's not it--you are looking at my name."
I thought that that was a home shot, but he did not betray that he had
been hit. He said:
"It's not an aisy one to spell; how do you pronounce ut?"
"H'm. H'm. Mike Train. H'm. I don't remember ut. What is it ye want
to see him about?"
"It isn't I that want to see him, he wants to see me."
"Oh, he does, does he?"
"What does he want to see ye about?"
"I don't know."
"Ye don't know! And ye confess it, becod! Well, I can tell ye wan
thing--ye'll not see him. Are ye in the business?"
"The show business."
A fatal question. I recognized that I was defeated. If I answered no,
he would cut the matter short and wave me to the door without the grace
of a word--I saw it in his uncompromising eye; if I said I was a
lecturer, he would despise me, and dismiss me with opprobrious words; if
I said I was a dramatist, he would throw me out of the window. I saw
that my case was hopeless, so I chose the course which seemed least
humiliating: I would pocket my shame and glide out without answering.
The silence was growing lengthy.
"I'll ask ye again. Are ye in the show business yerself?"
I said it with splendid confidence; for in that moment the very twin of
that grand New Haven dog loafed into the room, and I saw that Irishman's
eye light eloquently with pride and affection.
"Ye are? And what is it?"
"I've got a bench-show in New Haven."
The weather did change then.
"You don't say, sir! And that's your show, sir! Oh, it's a grand show,
it's a wonderful show, sir, and a proud man I am to see your honor this
day. And ye'll be an expert, sir, and ye'll know all about dogs--more
than ever they know theirselves, I'll take me oath to ut."
I said, with modesty:
"I believe I have some reputation that way. In fact, my business
"Ye have some reputation, your honor! Bedad I believe you! There's not
a jintleman in the worrld that can lay over ye in the judgmint of a dog,
sir. Now I'll vinture that your honor'll know that dog's dimensions
there better than he knows them his own self, and just by the casting of
your educated eye upon him. Would you mind giving a guess, if ye'll be
I knew that upon my answer would depend my fate. If I made this dog
bigger than the prize-dog, it would be bad diplomacy, and suspicious; if
I fell too far short of the prizedog, that would be equally damaging.
The dog was standing by the table, and I believed I knew the difference
between him and the one whose picture I had seen in the newspaper to a
shade. I spoke promptly up and said:
"It's no trouble to guess this noble creature's figures height, three
feet; length, four feet and three-quarters of an inch; weight, a hundred
and forty-eight and a quarter."
The man snatched his hat from its peg and danced on it with joy,
"Ye've hardly missed it the hair's breadth, hardly the shade of a shade,
your honor! Oh, it's the miraculous eye ye've got, for the judgmint of a
And still pouring out his admiration of my capacities, he snatched off
his vest and scoured off one of the wooden chairs with it, and scrubbed
it and polished it, and said:
"There, sit down, your honor, I'm ashamed of meself that I forgot ye were
standing all this time; and do put on your hat, ye mustn't take cold,
it's a drafty place; and here is your cigar, sir, a getting cold, I'll
give ye a light. There. The place is all yours, sir, and if ye'll just
put your feet on the table and make yourself at home, I'll stir around
and get a candle and light ye up the ould crazy stairs and see that ye
don't come to anny harm, for be this time Mr. Daly'll be that impatient
to see your honor that he'll be taking the roof off."
He conducted me cautiously and tenderly up the stairs, lighting the way
and protecting me with friendly warnings, then pushed the door open and
bowed me in and went his way, mumbling hearty things about my wonderful
eye for points of a dog. Mr. Daly was writing and had his back to me.
He glanced over his shoulder presently, then jumped up and said--
"Oh, dear me, I forgot all about giving instructions. I was just writing
you to beg a thousand pardons. But how is it you are here? How did you
get by that Irishman? You are the first man that's done it in five and
twenty years. You didn't bribe him, I know that; there's not money
enough in New York to do it. And you didn't persuade him; he is all ice
and iron: there isn't a soft place nor a warm one in him anywhere. That
is your secret? Look here; you owe me a hundred dollars for
unintentionally giving you a chance to perform a miracle--for it is a
miracle that you've done."
"That is all right," I said, "collect it of Jimmy Lewis."
That good dog not only did me that good turn in the time of my need, but
he won for me the envious reputation among all the theatrical people from
the Atlantic to the Pacific of being the only man in history who had ever
run the blockade of Augustin Daly's back door.
If the desire to kill and the opportunity to kill came always together,
who would escape hanging.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
On the Train. Fifty years ago, when I was a boy in the then remote and
sparsely peopled Mississippi valley, vague tales and rumors of a
mysterious body of professional murderers came wandering in from a
country which was constructively as far from us as the constellations
blinking in space--India; vague tales and rumors of a sect called Thugs,
who waylaid travelers in lonely places and killed them for the
contentment of a god whom they worshiped; tales which everybody liked to
listen to and nobody believed, except with reservations. It was
considered that the stories had gathered bulk on their travels. The
matter died down and a lull followed. Then Eugene Sue's "Wandering Jew"
appeared, and made great talk for a while. One character in it was a
chief of Thugs--"Feringhea"--a mysterious and terrible Indian who was as
slippery and sly as a serpent, and as deadly; and he stirred up the Thug
interest once more. But it did not last. It presently died again this
time to stay dead.
At first glance it seems strange that this should have happened; but
really it was not strange--on the contrary,. it was natural; I mean on
our side of the water. For the source whence the Thug tales mainly came
was a Government Report, and without doubt was not republished in
America; it was probably never even seen there. Government Reports have
no general circulation. They are distributed to the few, and are not
always read by those few. I heard of this Report for the first time a
day or two ago, and borrowed it. It is full of fascinations; and it
turns those dim, dark fairy tales of my boyhood days into realities.
The Report was made in 1889 by Major Sleeman, of the Indian Service, and
was printed in Calcutta in 1840. It is a clumsy, great, fat, poor sample
of the printer's art, but good enough for a government printing-office in
that old day and in that remote region, perhaps. To Major Sleeman was
given the general superintendence of the giant task of ridding India of
Thuggee, and he and his seventeen assistants accomplished it. It was the
Augean Stables over again. Captain Vallancey, writing in a Madras
journal in those old times, makes this remark:
"The day that sees this far-spread evil eradicated from India and
known only in name, will greatly tend to immortalize British rule in
He did not overestimate the magnitude and difficulty of the work, nor the
immensity of the credit which would justly be due to British rule in case
it was accomplished.
Thuggee became known to the British authorities in India about 1810, but
its wide prevalence was not suspected; it was not regarded as a serious
matter, and no systematic measures were taken for its suppression until
about 1830. About that time Major Sleeman captured Eugene Sue's Thug-
chief, "Feringhea," and got him to turn King's evidence. The revelations
were so stupefying that Sleeman was not able to believe them. Sleeman
thought he knew every criminal within his jurisdiction, and that the
worst of them were merely thieves; but Feringhea told him that he was in
reality living in the midst of a swarm of professional murderers; that
they had been all about him for many years, and that they buried their
dead close by. These seemed insane tales; but Feringhea said come and
see--and he took him to a grave and dug up a hundred bodies, and told him
all the circumstances of the killings, and named the Thugs who had done
the work. It was a staggering business. Sleeman captured some of these
Thugs and proceeded to examine them separately, and with proper
precautions against collusion; for he would not believe any Indian's
unsupported word. The evidence gathered proved the truth of what
Feringhea had said, and also revealed the fact that gangs of Thugs were
plying their trade all over India. The astonished government now took
hold of Thuggee, and for ten years made systematic and relentless war
upon it, and finally destroyed it. Gang after gang was captured, tried,
and punished. The Thugs were harried and hunted from one end of India to
the other. The government got all their secrets out of them; and also
got the names of the members of the bands, and recorded them in a book,
together with their birthplaces and places of residence.
The Thugs were worshipers of Bhowanee; and to this god they sacrificed
anybody that came handy; but they kept the dead man's things themselves,
for the god cared for nothing but the corpse. Men were initiated into
the sect with solemn ceremonies. Then they were taught how to strangle a
person with the sacred choke-cloth, but were not allowed to perform
officially with it until after long practice. No half-educated strangler
could choke a man to death quickly enough to keep him from uttering a
sound--a muffled scream, gurgle, gasp, moan, or something of the sort;
but the expert's work was instantaneous: the cloth was whipped around the
victim's neck, there was a sudden twist, and the head fell silently
forward, the eyes starting from the sockets; and all was over. The Thug
carefully guarded against resistance. It was usual to to get the victims
to sit down, for that was the handiest position for business.
If the Thug had planned India itself it could not have been more
conveniently arranged for the needs of his occupation.
There were no public conveyances. There were no conveyances for hire.
The traveler went on foot or in a bullock cart or on a horse which he
bought for the purpose. As soon as he was out of his own little State or
principality he was among strangers; nobody knew him, nobody took note of
him, and from that time his movements could no longer be traced. He did
not stop in towns or villages, but camped outside of them and sent his
servants in to buy provisions. There were no habitations between
villages. Whenever he was between villages he was an easy prey,
particularly as he usually traveled by night, to avoid the heat. He was
always being overtaken by strangers who offered him the protection of
their company, or asked for the protection of his--and these strangers
were often Thugs, as he presently found out to his cost. The
landholders, the native police, the petty princes, the village officials,
the customs officers were in many cases protectors and harborers of the
Thugs, and betrayed travelers to them for a share of the spoil. At first
this condition of things made it next to impossible for the government to
catch the marauders; they were spirited away by these watchful friends.
All through a vast continent, thus infested, helpless people of every
caste and kind moved along the paths and trails in couples and groups
silently by night, carrying the commerce of the country--treasure,
jewels, money, and petty batches of silks, spices, and all manner of
wares. It was a paradise for the Thug.
When the autumn opened, the Thugs began to gather together by pre-
concert. Other people had to have interpreters at every turn, but not
the Thugs; they could talk together, no matter how far apart they were
born, for they had a language of their own, and they had secret signs by
which they knew each other for Thugs; and they were always friends. Even
their diversities of religion and caste were sunk in devotion to their
calling, and the Moslem and the high-caste and low-caste Hindoo were
staunch and affectionate brothers in Thuggery.
When a gang had been assembled, they had religious worship, and waited
for an omen. They had definite notions about the omens. The cries of
certain animals were good omens, the cries of certain other creatures
were bad omens. A bad omen would stop proceedings and send the men home.
The sword and the strangling-cloth were sacred emblems. The Thugs
worshiped the sword at home before going out to the assembling-place; the
strangling-cloth was worshiped at the place of assembly. The chiefs of
most of the bands performed the religious ceremonies themselves; but the
Kaets delegated them to certain official stranglers (Chaurs). The rites
of the Kaets were so holy that no one but the Chaur was allowed to touch
the vessels and other things used in them.
Thug methods exhibit a curious mixture of caution and the absence of it;
cold business calculation and sudden, unreflecting impulse; but there
were two details which were constant, and not subject to caprice: patient
persistence in following up the prey, and pitilessness when the time came
Caution was exhibited in the strength of the bands. They never felt
comfortable and confident unless their strength exceeded that of any
party of travelers they were likely to meet by four or fivefold. Yet it
was never their purpose to attack openly, but only when the victims were
off their guard. When they got hold of a party of travelers they often
moved along in their company several days, using all manner of arts to
win their friendship and get their confidence. At last, when this was
accomplished to their satisfaction, the real business began. A few Thugs
were privately detached and sent forward in the dark to select a good
killing-place and dig the graves. When the rest reached the spot a halt
was called, for a rest or a smoke. The travelers were invited to sit.
By signs, the chief appointed certain Thugs to sit down in front of the
travelers as if to wait upon them, others to sit down beside them and
engage them in conversation, and certain expert stranglers to stand
behind the travelers and be ready when the signal was given. The signal
was usually some commonplace remark, like "Bring the tobacco." Sometimes
a considerable wait ensued after all the actors were in their places--the
chief was biding his time, in order to make everything sure. Meantime,
the talk droned on, dim figures moved about in the dull light, peace and
tranquility reigned, the travelers resigned themselves to the pleasant
reposefulness and comfort of the situation, unconscious of the death-
angels standing motionless at their backs. The time was ripe, now, and
the signal came: "Bring the tobacco." There was a mute swift movement,
all in the same instant the men at each victim's sides seized his hands,
the man in front seized his feet, and pulled, the man at his back whipped
the cloth around his neck and gave it a twist the head sunk forward, the
tragedy was over. The bodies were stripped and covered up in the graves,
the spoil packed for transportation, then the Thugs gave pious thanks to
Bhowanee, and departed on further holy service.
The Report shows that the travelers moved in exceedingly small groups--
twos, threes, fours, as a rule; a party with a dozen in it was rare. The
Thugs themselves seem to have been the only people who moved in force.
They went about in gangs of 10, 15, 25, 40, 60, 100, 150, 200, 250, and
one gang of 310 is mentioned. Considering their numbers, their catch was
not extraordinary--particularly when you consider that they were not in
the least fastidious, but took anybody they could get, whether rich or
poor, and sometimes even killed children. Now and then they killed
women, but it was considered sinful to do it, and unlucky. The "season"
was six or eight months long. One season the half dozen Bundelkand and
Gwalior gangs aggregated 712 men, and they murdered 210 people. One
season the Malwa and Kandeish gangs aggregated 702 men, and they murdered
232. One season the Kandeish and Berar gangs aggregated 963 men, and
they murdered 385 people.
Here is the tally-sheet of a gang of sixty Thugs for a whole season--gang
under two noted chiefs, "Chotee and Sheik Nungoo from Gwalior":
"Left Poora, in Jhansee, and on arrival at Sarora murdered a
"On nearly reaching Bhopal, met 3 Brahmins, and murdered them.
"Cross the Nerbudda; at a village called Hutteea, murdered a Hindoo.
"Went through Aurungabad to Walagow; there met a Havildar of the
barber caste and 5 sepoys (native soldiers); in the evening came to
Jokur, and in the morning killed them near the place where the
treasure-bearers were killed the year before.
"Between Jokur and Dholeea met a sepoy of the shepherd caste; killed
him in the jungle.
"Passed through Dholeea and lodged in a village; two miles beyond,
on the road to Indore, met a Byragee (beggar-holy mendicant);
murdered him at the Thapa.
"In the morning, beyond the Thapa, fell in with 3 Marwarie
travelers; murdered them.
"Near a village on the banks of the Taptee met 4 travelers and
"Between Choupra and Dhoreea met a Marwarie; murdered him.
"At Dhoreea met 3 Marwaries; took them two miles and murdered them.
"Two miles further on, overtaken by three treasure-bearers; took
them two miles and murdered them in the jungle.
"Came on to Khurgore Bateesa in Indore, divided spoil, and
"A total of 27 men murdered on one expedition."
Chotee (to save his neck) was informer, and furnished these facts.
Several things are noticeable about his resume. 1. Business brevity;
2, absence of emotion; 3, smallness of the parties encountered by the 60;
4, variety in character and quality of the game captured; 5, Hindoo and
Mohammedan chiefs in business together for Bhowanee; 6, the sacred caste
of the Brahmins not respected by either; 7, nor yet the character of that
mendicant, that Byragee.
A beggar is a holy creature, and some of the gangs spared him on that
account, no matter how slack business might be; but other gangs
slaughtered not only him, but even that sacredest of sacred creatures,
the fakeer--that repulsive skin-and-bone thing that goes around naked and
mats his bushy hair with dust and dirt, and so beflours his lean body
with ashes that he looks like a specter. Sometimes a fakeer trusted a
shade too far in the protection of his sacredness. In the middle of a
tally-sheet of Feringhea's, who had been out with forty Thugs, I find a
case of the kind. After the killing of thirty-nine men and one woman,
the fakeer appears on the scene:
"Approaching Doregow, met 3 pundits; also a fakeer, mounted on a
pony; he was plastered over with sugar to collect flies, and was
covered with them. Drove off the fakeer, and killed the other
"Leaving Doregow, the fakeer joined again, and went on in company to
Raojana; met 6 Khutries on their way from Bombay to Nagpore. Drove
off the fakeer with stones, and killed the 6 men in camp, and buried
them in the grove.
"Next day the fakeer joined again; made him leave at Mana. Beyond
there, fell in with two Kahars and a sepoy, and came on towards the
place selected for the murder. When near it, the fakeer came again.
Losing all patience with him, gave Mithoo, one of the gang, 5 rupees
($2.50) to murder him, and take the sin upon himself. All four were
strangled, including the fakeer. Surprised to find among the
fakeer's effects 30 pounds of coral, 350 strings of small pearls, 15
strings of large pearls, and a gilt necklace."
It it curious, the little effect that time has upon a really interesting
circumstance. This one, so old, so long ago gone down into oblivion,
reads with the same freshness and charm that attach to the news in the
morning paper; one's spirits go up, then down, then up again, following
the chances which the fakeer is running; now you hope, now you despair,
now you hope again; and at last everything comes out right, and you feel
a great wave of personal satisfaction go weltering through you, and
without thinking, you put out your hand to pat Mithoo on the back, when--
puff! the whole thing has vanished away, there is nothing there; Mithoo
and all the crowd have been dust and ashes and forgotten, oh, so many,
many, many lagging years! And then comes a sense of injury: you don't
know whether Mithoo got the swag, along with the sin, or had to divide up
the swag and keep all the sin himself. There is no literary art about a
government report. It stops a story right in the most interesting place.
These reports of Thug expeditions run along interminably in one
monotonous tune: "Met a sepoy--killed him; met 5 pundits--killed them;
met 4 Rajpoots and a woman--killed them"--and so on, till the statistics
get to be pretty dry. But this small trip of Feringhea's Forty had some
little variety about it. Once they came across a man hiding in a grave--
a thief; he had stolen 1,100 rupees from Dhunroj Seith of Parowtee. They
strangled him and took the money. They had no patience with thieves.
They killed two treasure-bearers, and got 4,000 rupees. They came across
two bullocks "laden with copper pice," and killed the four drivers and
took the money. There must have been half a ton of it. I think it takes
a double handful of pice to make an anna, and 16 annas to make a rupee;
and even in those days the rupee was worth only half a dollar. Coming
back over their tracks from Baroda, they had another picturesque stroke
of luck: "'The Lohars of Oodeypore' put a traveler in their charge for
safety." Dear, dear, across this abyssmal gulf of time we still see
Feringhea's lips uncover his teeth, and through the dim haze we catch the
incandescent glimmer of his smile. He accepted that trust, good man; and
so we know what went with the traveler.
Even Rajahs had no terrors for Feringhea; he came across an elephant-
driver belonging to the Rajah of Oodeypore and promptly strangled him.
"A total of 100 men and 5 women murdered on this expedition."
Among the reports of expeditions we find mention of victims of almost
every quality and estate.
Also a prince's cook; and even the water-carrier of that sublime lord of
lords and king of kings, the Governor-General of India! How broad they
were in their tastes! They also murdered actors--poor wandering
barnstormers. There are two instances recorded; the first one by a gang
of Thugs under a chief who soils a great name borne by a better man--
Kipling's deathless "Gungadin":
"After murdering 4 sepoys, going on toward Indore, met 4 strolling
players, and persuaded them to come with us, on the pretense that we
would see their performance at the next stage. Murdered them at a
temple near Bhopal."
"At Deohuttee, joined by comedians. Murdered them eastward of that
But this gang was a particularly bad crew. On that expedition they
murdered a fakeer and twelve beggars. And yet Bhowanee protected them;
for once when they were strangling a man in a wood when a crowd was going
by close at hand and the noose slipped and the man screamed, Bhowanee
made a camel burst out at the same moment with a roar that drowned the
scream; and before the man could repeat it the breath was choked out of
The cow is so sacred in India that to kill her keeper is an awful
sacrilege, and even the Thugs recognized this; yet now and then the lust
for blood was too strong, and so they did kill a few cow-keepers. In one
of these instances the witness who killed the cowherd said, "In Thuggee
this is strictly forbidden, and is an act from which no good can come. I
was ill of a fever for ten days afterward. I do believe that evil will
follow the murder of a man with a cow. If there be no cow it does not
signify." Another Thug said he held the cowherd's feet while this
witness did the strangling. He felt no concern, "because the bad fortune
of such a deed is upon the strangler and not upon the assistants; even if
there should be a hundred of them."
There were thousands of Thugs roving over India constantly, during many
generations. They made Thug gee a hereditary vocation and taught it to
their sons and to their son's sons. Boys were in full membership as
early as 16 years of age; veterans were still at work at 70. What was
the fascination, what was the impulse? Apparently, it was partly piety,
largely gain, and there is reason to suspect that the sport afforded was
the chiefest fascination of all. Meadows Taylor makes a Thug in one of
his books claim that the pleasure of killing men was the white man's
beast-hunting instinct enlarged, refined, ennobled. I will quote the
Simple rules for saving money: To save half, when you are fired by an
eager impulse to contribute to a charity, wait, and count forty. To save
three-quarters, count sixty. To save it all, count sixty-five.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
The Thug said:
"How many of you English are passionately devoted to sporting! Your days
and months are passed in its excitement. A tiger, a panther, a buffalo
or a hog rouses your utmost energies for its destruction--you even risk
your lives in its pursuit. How much higher game is a Thug's!"
That must really be the secret of the rise and development of Thuggee.
The joy of killing! the joy of seeing killing done--these are traits of
the human race at large. We white people are merely modified Thugs;
Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of
civilization; Thugs who long ago enjoyed the slaughter of the Roman
arena, and later the burning of doubtful Christians by authentic
Christians in the public squares, and who now, with the Thugs of Spain