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CHAPTER XLVII: Thugs, Continued - Record of Murders - A Joy of Hunting and Killing Men-Gordon Gumming - Killing an Elephant - Family Affection among Thugs-Burial Places
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 and Nimes, flock to enjoy the blood and misery of the bullring. We have no tourists of either sex or any religion who are able to resist the delights of the bull-ring when opportunity offers; and we are gentle Thugs in the hunting-season, and love to chase a tame rabbit and kill it. Still, we have made some progress-microscopic, and in truth scarcely worth mentioning, and certainly nothing to be proud of - still, it is progress: we no longer take pleasure in slaughtering or burning helpless men. We have reached a little altitude where we may look down upon the Indian Thugs with a complacent shudder; and we may even hope for a day, many centuries hence, when our posterity will look down upon us in the same way.
There are many indications that the Thug often hunted men for the mere sport of it; that the fright and pain of the quarry were no more to him than are the fright and pain of the rabbit or the stag to us; and that he was no more ashamed of beguiling his game with deceits and abusing its trust than are we when we have imitated a wild animal's call and shot it when it honored us with its confidence and came to see what we wanted:
"Madara, son of Nihal, and I, Ramzam, set out from Kotdee in the cold weather and followed the high road for about twenty days in search of travelers, until we came to Selempore, where we met a very old man going to the east. We won his confidence in this manner: he carried a load which was too heavy for his old age; I said to him, 'You are an old man, I will aid you in carrying your load, as you are from my part of the country.' He said, 'Very well, take me with you.' So we took him with us to Selempore, where we slept that night. We woke him next morning before dawn and set out, and at the distance of three miles we seated him to rest while it was still very dark. Madara was ready behind him, and strangled him. He never spoke a word. He was about 60 or 70 years of age."
Another gang fell in with a couple of barbers and persuaded them to come along in their company by promising them the job of shaving the whole crew - 30 Thugs. At the place appointed for the murder 15 got shaved, and actually paid the barbers for their work. Then killed them and took back the money.
A gang of forty-two Thugs came across two Brahmins and a shopkeeper on the road, beguiled them into a grove and got up a concert for their entertainment. While these poor fellows were listening to the music the stranglers were standing behind them; and at the proper moment for dramatic effect they applied the noose.
The most devoted fisherman must have a bite at least as often as once a week or his passion will cool and he will put up his tackle. The tigersportsman must find a tiger at least once a fortnight or he will get tired and quit. The elephant-hunter's enthusiasm will waste away little by little, and his zeal will perish at last if he plod around a month without finding a member of that noble family to assassinate.
But when the lust in the hunter's heart is for the noblest of all quarries, man, how different is the case! and how watery and poor is the zeal and how childish the endurance of those other hunters by comparison. Then, neither hunger, nor thirst, nor fatigue, nor deferred hope, nor monotonous disappointment, nor leaden-footed lapse of time can conquer the hunter's patience or weaken the joy of his quest or cool the splendid rage of his desire. Of all the hunting-passions that burn in the breast of man, there is none that can lift him superior to discouragements like these but the one - the royal sport, the supreme sport, whose quarry is his brother. By comparison, tiger-hunting is a colorless poor thing, for all it has been so bragged about.
Why, the Thug was content to tramp patiently along, afoot, in the wasting heat of India, week after week, at an average of nine or ten miles a day, if he might but hope to find game some time or other and refresh his longing soul with blood. Here is an instance:
"I (Ramzam) and Hyder set out, for the purpose of strangling travelers, from Guddapore, and proceeded via the Fort of Julalabad, Newulgunge, Bangermow, on the banks of the Ganges (upwards of 100 miles), from whence we returned by another route. Still no travelers! till we reached Bowaneegunge, where we fell in with a traveler, a boatman; we inveigled him and about two miles east of there Hyder strangled him as he stood - for he was troubled and afraid, and would not sit. We then made a long journey (about 130 miles) and reached Hussunpore Bundwa, where at the tank we fell in with a traveler - he slept there that night; next morning we followed him and tried to win his confidence; at the distance of two miles we endeavored to induce him to sit down - but he would not, having become aware of us. I attempted to strangle him as he walked along, but did not succeed; both of us then fell upon him, he made a great outcry, 'They are murdering me!' at length we strangled him and flung his body into a well. After this we returned to our homes, having been out a month and traveled about 260 miles. A total of two men murdered on the expedition."
And here is another case-related by the terrible Futty Khan, a man with a tremendous record, to be re-mentioned by and by:
"I, with three others, traveled for about 45 days a distance of about 200 miles in search of victims along the highway to Bundwa and returned by Davodpore (another 200 miles) during which journey we had only one murder, which happened in this manner. Four miles to the east of Noubustaghat we fell in with a traveler, an old man. I, with Koshal and Hyder, inveigled him and accompanied him that day within 3 miles of Rampoor, where, after dark, in a lonely place, we got him to sit down and rest; and while I kept him in talk, seated before him, Hyder behind strangled him : he made no resistance. Koshal stabbed him under the arms and in the throat, and we flung the body into a running stream. We got about 4 or 5 rupees each ($2 or $2.50). We then proceeded homewards. A total of one man murdered on this expedition."
There. They tramped 400 miles, were gone about three months, and harvested two dollars and a half apiece. But the mere pleasure of the hunt was sufficient. That was pay enough. They did no grumbling.
Every now and then in this big book one comes across that pathetic remark: "we tried to get him to sit down but he would not." It tells the whole story. Some accident had awakened the suspicion in him that these smooth friends who had been petting and coddling him and making him feel so safe and so fortunate after his forlorn and lonely wanderings were the dreaded Thugs; and now their ghastly invitation to "sit and rest" had confirmed its truth. He knew there was no help for him, and that he was looking his last upon earthly things, but "he would not sit." No, not that - it was too awful to think of!
There are a number of instances which indicate that when a man had once tasted the regal joys of man-hunting he could not be content with the dull monotony of a crimeless life after ward. Example, from a Thug's testimony:
"We passed through to Kurnaul, where we found a former Thug named Junooa, an old comrade of ours, who had turned religious mendicant and become a disciple and holy. He came to us in the serai and weeping with joy returned to his old trade."
Neither wealth nor honors nor dignities could satisfy a reformed Thug for long. He would throw them all away, someday, and go back to the lurid pleasures of hunting men, and being hunted himself by the British.
Ramzam was taken into a great native grandee's service and given authority over five villages. "My authority extended over these people to summons them to my presence, to make them stand or sit. I dressed well, rode my pony, and had two sepoys, a scribe and a village guard to attend me. During three years I used to pay each village a monthly visit, and no one suspected that I was a Thug! The chief man used to wait on me to transact business, and as I passed along, old and young made their salaam to me."
And yet during that very three years he got leave of absence "to attend a wedding," and instead went off on a Thugging lark with six other Thugs and hunted the highway for fifteen days! - with satisfactory results.
Afterwards he held a great office under a Rajah. There he had ten miles of country under his command and a military guard of fifteen men, with authority to call out 2,000 more upon occasion. But the British got on his track, and they crowded him so that he had to give himself up. See what a figure he was when he was gotten up for style and had all his things on: "I was fully armed - a sword, shield, pistols, a matchlock musket and a flint gun, for I was fond of being thus arrayed, and when so armed feared not though forty men stood before me."
He gave himself up and proudly proclaimed himself a Thug. Then by request he agreed to betray his friend and pal, Buhram, a Thug with the most tremendous record in India. "I went to the house where Buhram slept (often has he led our gangs!) I woke him, he knew me well, and came outside to me. It was a cold night, so under pretence of warming myself, but in reality to have light for his seizure by the guards, I lighted some straw and made a blaze. We were warming our hands. The guards drew around us. I said to them, "This is Buhram," and he was seized just as a cat seizes a mouse. Then Buhram said, "I am a Thug! my father was a Thug, my grandfather was a Thug, and I have thugged with many!"
So spoke the mighty hunter, the mightiest of the mighty, the Gordon Cumming of his day. Not much regret noticeable in it. - [" Having planted a bullet in the shoulder-bone of an elephant, and caused the agonized creature to lean for support against a tree, I proceeded to brew some coffee. Having refreshed myself, taking observations of the elephant's spasms and writhings between the sips, I resolved to make experiments on vulnerable points, and, approaching very near, I fired several bullets at different parts of his enormous skull. He only acknowledged the shots by a salaam-like movement of his trunk, with the point of which he gently touched the wounds with a striking and peculiar action. Surprised and shocked to find that I was only prolonging the suffering of the noble beast, which bore its trials with such dignified composure, I resolved to finish the proceeding with all possible despatch, and accordingly opened fire upon him from the left side. Aiming at the shoulder, I fired six shots with the two-grooved rifle, which must have eventually proved mortal, after which I fired six shots at the same part with the Dutch six-founder. Large tears now trickled down from his eyes, which he slowly shut and opened, his colossal frame shivered convulsively, and falling on his side he expired."- Gordon Cumming.]
So many many times this Official Report leaves one's curiosity unsatisfied. For instance, here is a little paragraph out of the record of a certain band of 193 Thugs, which has that defect:
"Fell in with Lall Sing Subahdar and his family, consisting of nine persons. Traveled with them two days, and the third put them all to death except the two children, little boys of one and a half years old."
There it stops. What did they do with those poor little fellows? What was their subsequent history? Did they purpose training them up as Thugs? How could they take care of such little creatures on a march which stretched over several months ? No one seems to have cared to ask any questions about the babies. But I do wish I knew.
One would be apt to imagine that the Thugs were utterly callous, utterly destitute of human feelings, heartless toward their own families as well as toward other people's; but this was not so. Like all other Indians, they had a passionate love for their kin. A shrewd British officer who knew the Indian character, took that characteristic into account in laying his plans for the capture of Eugene Sue's famous Feringhea. He found out Feringhea's hiding-place, and sent a guard by night to seize him, but the squad was awkward and he got away. However, they got the rest of the family - the mother, wife, child, and brother - and brought them to the officer, at Jubbulpore; the officer did not fret, but bided his time: "I knew Feringhea would not go far while links so dear to him were in my hands." He was right. Feringhea knew all the danger he was running by staying in the neighborhood, still he could not tear himself away. The officer found that he divided his time between five villages where be had relatives and friends who could get news for him from his family in Jubbulpore jail; and that he never slept two consecutive nights in the same village. The officer traced out his several haunts, then pounced upon all the five villages on the one night and at the same hour, and got his man.
Another example of family affection. A little while previously to the capture of Feringhea's family, the British officer had captured Feringhea's foster-brother, leader of a gang of ten, and had tried the eleven and condemned them to be hanged. Feringhea's captured family arrived at the jail the day before the execution was to take place. The foster-brother, Jhurhoo, entreated to be allowed to see the aged mother and the others. The prayer was granted, and this is what took place - it is the British officer who speaks:
"In the morning, just before going to the scaffold, the interview took place before me. He fell at the old woman's feet and begged that she would relieve him from the obligations of the milk with which she had nourished him from infancy, as he was about to die before he could fulfill any of them. She placed her hands on his head, and he knelt, and she said she forgave him all, and bid him die like a man."
If a capable artist should make a picture of it, it would be full of dignity and solemnity and pathos; and it could touch you. You would imagine it to be anything but what it was. There is reverence there, and tenderness, and gratefulness, and compassion, and resignation, and fortitude, and self-respect - and no sense of disgrace, no thought of dishonor. Everything is there that goes to make a noble parting, and give it a moving grace and beauty and dignity. And yet one of these people is a Thug and the other a mother of Thugs! The incongruities of our human nature seem to reach their limit here.
I wish to make note of one curious thing while I think of it. One of the very commonest remarks to be found in this bewildering array of Thug confessions is this:
"Strangled him and threw him an a well!" In one case they threw sixteen into a well - and they had thrown others in the same well before. It makes a body thirsty to read about it.
And there is another very curious thing. The bands of Thugs had private graveyards. They did not like to kill and bury at random, here and there and everywhere. They preferred to wait, and toll the victims along, and get to one of their regular burying-places ('bheels') if they could. In the little kingdom of Oude, which was about half as big as Ireland and about as big as the State of Maine, they had two hundred and seventy-four 'bheels'. They were scattered along fourteen hundred miles of road, at an average of only five miles apart, and the British government traced out and located each and every one of them and set them down on the map.
The Oude bands seldom went out of their own country, but they did a thriving business within its borders. So did outside bands who came in and helped. Some of the Thug leaders of Oude were noted for their successful careers. Each of four of them confessed to above 300 murders; another to nearly 400; our friend Ramzam to 604 - he is the one who got leave of absence to attend a wedding and went thugging instead; and he is also the one who betrayed Buhram to the British.
But the biggest records of all were the murder-lists of Futty Khan and Buhram. Futty Khan's number is smaller than Ramzam's, but he is placed at the head because his average is the best in Oude-Thug history per year of service. His slaughter was 508 men in twenty years, and he was still a young man when the British stopped his industry. Buhram's list was 931 murders, but it took him forty years. His average was one man and nearly all of another man per month for forty years, but Futty Khan's average was two men and a little of another man per month during his twenty years of usefulness.
There is one very striking thing which I wish to call attention to. You have surmised from the listed callings followed by the victims of the Thugs that nobody could travel the Indian roads unprotected and live to get through; that the Thugs respected no quality, no vocation, no religion, nobody; that they killed every unarmed man that came in their way. That is wholly true - with one reservation. In all the long file of Thug confessions an English traveler is mentioned but once - and this is what the Thug says of the circumstance:
"He was on his way from Mhow to Bombay. We studiously avoided him. He proceeded next morning with a number of travelers who had sought his protection, and they took the road to Baroda."
We do not know who he was; he flits across the page of this rusty old book and disappears in the obscurity beyond; but he is an impressive figure, moving through that valley of death serene and unafraid, clothed in the might of the English name.
We have now followed the big official book through, and we understand what Thuggee was, what a bloody terror it was, what a desolating scourge it was. In 1830 the English found this cancerous organization imbedded in the vitals of the empire, doing its devastating work in secrecy, and assisted, protected, sheltered, and hidden by innumerable confederates-big and little native chiefs, customs officers, village officials, and native police, all ready to lie for it, and the mass of the people, through fear, persistently pretending to know nothing about its doings; and this condition of things had existed for generations, and was formidable with the sanctions of age and old custom. If ever there was an unpromising task, if ever there was a hopeless task in the world, surely it was offered here - the task of conquering Thuggee. But that little handful of English officials in India set their sturdy and confident grip upon it, and ripped it out, root and branch! How modest do Captain Vallancey's words sound now, when we read them again, knowing what we know:
"The day that sees this far-spread evil completely eradicated from India, and known only in name, will greatly tend to immortalize British rule in the East."
It would be hard to word a claim more modestly than that for this most noble work.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XLVIII: Starting for Allahabad - Lower Berths in Sleepers - Elderly Ladies have Preference of Berths - An American Lady Takes One Anyhow - How Smythe Lost his Berth - How He Got Even - The Suttee