Back to camp—A piteous burden—The agonised mother—The father's story—Pity
and indignation—An ingrate servant— Fiendish barbarity—The long weary
night—Welcome arrival of the old doctor—Hovering twixt life and
death—Skilful surgery —"Who did it?"—The tell-tale slate—How the deed was
time I had
finished narrating ray nocturnal adventure with the leopard, we had nearly
arrived hack again at the camp. On a nearer approach to the tents, we could
plainly perceive, from the unusual noise and hustle, that something
extraordinary had happened. The servants were hurrying to and fro with
agitated looks and gestures, and a dense crowd of villagers, each swaying
his arms, brandishing his iron-shod lathee, and
all speaking excitedly together, showed plainly that no ordinary event had
either happened or was even now being enacted. Jogging and spurring the
elephant into a shuffling sort of an amble, we hastily neared the centre of
all this tumult, the crowd scattering to right and left at our approach. A
lane was thus opened through the intensely excited spectators, and it
disclosed to us a spectacle which I will never forget.
Before the Shamiana, several Kuhars, or
palkee carriers, were grouped around a rude litter, or Dhoohj, on
which was seated, tailor fashion, a handsome little olive-skinned boy. Hid
garments were literally soaked with blood. It had streamed down his
shoulders from two ragged torn wounds in his ears. His breast was crimsoned
with the copious flow, and a coagulated pool of the life fluid nearly filled
his lap. His clothes were saturated with it, and at the slightest motion it
welled up and bubbled frothily out from a frightful gash in the poor little
fellow's throat. His throat was nearly cut from ear to ear. His head, was
bent down upon his chest, and with the fingers of the left hand he clutched
the edges of the gaping gash, the blood oozing through the poor bent fingers
as he tried to stem the fatal drain. He sat perfectly motionless and still.
He seemed at the last stage of exhaustion. His eye alone betrayed
intelligence. It was clouded by a look of intense suffering and pain, but
its intelligent glance showed that he was keenly observant of all that was
A hurried inquiry of Joe put us in possession of all the
facts, so far as he knew them.
Our friends had finished breakfast, and were lolling about
the camp, some filling cartridges, one cleaning his gun, and George giving
directions to the Khansammah, or
butler, when they beheld a tumultuous group of villagers approaching the
tents, surrounding the Dhoohj, which
the Kahars were
carrying at a rapid pace. The mother of the poor little sufferer in the
litter was rending the air with frantic cries, beating her breast, while her
disordered garments and scattered grey locks streaming in the air showed the
utter abandonment of her grief.
Indeed, from the time the boy had been brought into camp, she
ceased not her lamentations, but was now seated beside the litter on the
ground, throwing her head wildly back, swaying to and fro, beating her
breast, and wailing out with an agonising piteousness of expression—
"Dohai, dohai, sahiban! Arree bap re bap!! Mera babawak. Ai
ho mera babawah! Arree lap re lbp!! "
("Mercy, mercy, gentlemen! Oh, father, my father!! Alas, my
child, my child! Oh, my father!!")
The poor mother was nearly demented with grief. Those who
have not seen the fierce, uncontrollable passion of the Oriental nature,
when conventionality is thrown to the winds under the impulse of an
overmastering emotion, can form little idea of the piteous abandonment—the
despairing, thrilling passionateness of this appeal. The poor woman was
almost hoarse—her voice choked at times—her burning eyes had refused to weep
more tears. She was wholly given up to her intense passionate grief.
"Without a moment's cessation she continued her wailing exclamations, and it
was with the utmost difficulty we could get her pacified enough to let us
hear the explanations we were all burning to receive. At length the hope and
soothing inspired by our presence seemed to relieve her; sobbing as if her
poor heart would burst, while the big tears chased each other down her
cheeks, we prevailed on her to be comparatively silent, and the husband, a
tall, stately, intelligent-looking Bunneah, or
grain merchant, stepped forth.
He, too, was labouring under intense agitation and
excitement, winch he struggled manfully to master. Even then the grave
courtesy of the well-to-do Hindoo did not desert him. With a
lowly salaam and graceful wave of his shapely arm, he apologised for
appearing before the Sahibs with
uncovered head. Then he told his story. He was interrupted frequently by the
remarks and exclamations of the bystanders. It was an exciting scene enough,
and there was plenty of noise, interruption, clamour, question, and
rejoinder. At times the poor mother would break out into another loud cry,
beseeching mercy, protection, vengeance. The crowd kept increasing, and we
all listened as patiently as we could, and with a feeling of growing horror
and indignation, as the poor father delivered himself of his narrative.
Shortly, it was to this effect. The facts are all well known,
and created a mighty sensation in the Pergunna, where
they occurred, at the time.
The child had been missed from the village the preceding
evening, at the usual hour for retiring, and search had been made for him
high and low. His father was a man in very comfortable circumstances for
this part of the country, and the boy was an only son. According to a very
common custom in these parts, the lurka, or
boy, was decorated with silver bangles on his wrists, and wore jewelled
ear-rings in his ears. He also had a valuable silver armlet worn above the
elbow; and as the night wore on without news of the missing lad's
whereabouts, the anxious searchers and watchers began to fear that the boy
had met with foul play.
Their ominous forebodings were but too well founded. In the
morning, several of the villagers came upon the poor little fellow in much
the same plight as I have described. The ornaments had been ruthlessly torn
from his ears—torn literally from the warm living flesh. He had been
stripped of his other ornaments, and then, to make sure of his murderous
work remaining undetected, the callous, fiendish monster who had thus shown
his ruffian, cruel nature, had gashed the poor child's throat with some
blunt, jagged instrument, and left his victim, as he imagined, slowly
bleeding to death.
The boy was a comely, intelligent little fellow, and had been
one of the brightest and most forward pupils in the Government vernacular
school in the village, "When his enemy departed (all this came out
afterwards, as we shall see), he felt that his only hope of life was to try
to staunch the flow of blood. His head had sunk down upon his breast, and by
keeping it in that position, and trying to close the gaping edges of his
fearful wound, he found that the flow of blood abated. All through the night
the brave little fellow had battled with his faintness and weakness. He had
a conviction that he would not die. He tried to crawl out of the patch of
thatching grass and make for the village, but his strength quickly failed
The neighbours found him as I have described, sitting on the
ground at the edge of the grass, bathed in blood, speechless, and his poor
little body nearly drained dry. To all their eager queries, and wild
incoherent questionings, he could make no answer. When his agonised father
and mother appeared on the scene, the quick glance of recognition and mute
appealing look he gave them, showed his mind was clear. He tried to speak,
but a choking gurgle was all the sound he could make. Every attempt he made
to articulate only increased the welling up of the crimson torrent, and with
a weary, despairing gesture of resignation, he seemed to bend submissively
The distracted parents did not know what to do, but an aged
Brahmin, knowing our camp was close by, happily suggested that the boy
should be carried before the Sahibs. No sooner was the suggestion uttered,
than it was acted upon.
A Dhooly and
bearers were procured. The child was tenderly lifted into it, and,
accompanied by nearly every inhabitant of the village, the melancholy
procession started for the tents.
In the meantime "Butty," remembering that there was a native
doctor at a neighbouring Tkanna, or
police-station, had got on horseback and galloped off as hard as he could
ride to fetch the doctor, telling Joe to send out a fast elephant to meet
them. George and myself, who both knew a little of surgery in an amateurish
way, had got lint, cold water, bandages, and other appliances, and were now
carefully sponging the terrible wound.
We found the wind-pipe had been almost severed. The poor
child at times seemed in danger of choking. Nearly all the blood in his body
seemed to have been drained away. His pulse was scarcely perceptible, but
his mute appealing look plainly thanked us for our attentions, and he seemed
fully conscious and observant of all that was passing.
The only thing that seemed practicable for us to do, was to
try and put in two suture needles (I had a case of surgical instruments with
me), and compress the edges of the wound by twisting thread round the
projecting ends of the needles.
Fortunately our surgical skill was not subjected to a
prolonged or severe strain. A sudden tumult and shouting caused us to look
up, and we found "Old Mac" indulging in a sort of caper that made us imagine
he had suddenly taken leave of his senses. A clatter of horses' hoofs and a
wild shout of triumph enlightened our understandings, and at a rapid hard
gallop "Butty" rode up, threw himself from his horse, scattered the natives
to right and left, and was immediately followed by the portly form and
jovial beaming face of our jolly station doctor, Surgeon-Major T-, whose
timely arrival on the scene was providential.
"Old Bones," as we called him, with a quick glance took in at
once the whole posture of affairs, and losing no time in questions, or
exchange of salutations even, he was on his knees beside the poor little
sufferer in an instant, whipped the sponge from my hand, and was busily
brushing away the clotted blood, with all the tender gentleness of a woman
and the practised skill of the experienced surgeon. Sorely tested endurance
and over-strained nature had now given way, and poor little Balkhrishna (the
boy's name) had fainted.
Scarcely a perceptible motion stirred his breast. We thought
he was dead. The doctor hung over him. A faint, very faint indication of the
passage of air round the livid edges of the wound, and a scarce noticeable
aeration of the clotted blood, showed that the poor child still managed
barely to draw breath.
The first words of the doctor as he looked angrily around
were: "Send those niggers away!"
"What's that infernal old woman howling about?" That was the
next interjection, and was directed to the poor wailing mother.
her out o' that!" pursued the doctor, sharp and stern; "one would imagine
something was the matter."
Then he quickly whispered to me, "Come along, Maori! Bear a
hand. Quick! This is life or death. We must get the boy into the, tent."
the poor, seemingly lifeless child inside. Then the doctor turned up his
sleeves, and, as tenderly as a mother could have done, he bathed the pallid
face of the boy, and the materials being speedily procured, he rapidly set
to work to sew up the wound.
We moistened the child's lips with brandy, but feared every
minute that the doctor had arrived after all too late, and that the little
fellow was beyond the reach of human aid.
How anxiously we watched every varying indication, as under
the doctor's skilful lingers the wound seemed to become less horrible to
look at. I need not linger over the details. A surgical operation to the
unprofessional reader is not an interesting subject of description. The job
was certainly a famous one in many respects, and I dare say there are few
Indian surgeons now living who have not heard the particulars of T.'s jungle
The. doctor found that the wind-pipe had been cut into, and
that to insure ability to breathe he would have to make a false wind-pipe.
The operation was most skilfully performed. One of us happened to have a.
new meerschaum pipe in camp, and out of the silver tubing round the stem the
doctor extemporised a capital substitute for the usual silver tube let into
the trachea by the surgeon in the operation of tracheotomy; and having done
this, dressed the wound, and attended to the poor torn ears, he had done all
that human skill could do. The issue was in higher hands.
may as well here give the sequel. For three days and nights the poor little
patient hovered between life and death. He must many times have been very
near the mysterious border that separates us from the "great beyond."
Thanks, however, to his brave constitution, and the proverbial quick healing
tendency of the temperate Hindoo system, he began to mend, after he had been
tended with every care for three days and nights. During that time, T.
waited on his patient with almost maternal devotion and care. He had come
out to join our hunt, but he refused to leave the side of the couch, whereon
lay his little unconscious charge. Every necessary appliance had been
procured, of course, from the "station," and, by injecting stimulants and
anodynes, the child had been kept alive. It was, in fact, a fierce wrestle
with death. In the end, skill, assiduity, watchful care, and a hardy young
life battled successfully through, but it was a tough struggle.
Meantime, we were consumed with an all-devouring curiosity to
find out the clue to the mystery. We speculated if the miscreant who had
committed the dastardly act would ever be discovered. The native police had
been scouring the country, and following up every possible indication, but
without success. Our District-Superintendent himself had come out, and we
had all carefully searched the grass, where the poor child had been
discovered, after the murderous attack upon his life, to see if we could
discover any clue to the ruffian.
A hussooah had
been found near the scene of the cruel deed, and as it was rusty and stained
with blood, there was little doubt but that with this weapon the unknown
dastard had perpetrated his murderous act. A hussooah is
a rough, village-made hand-sickle, used in harvesting operations. It has a
serrated edge, like a blunt saw, is made by the village blacksmiths, and is
used in cutting alike the crops of barley, wheat, and oats, the thick, hard
stems of the gentium and
maize, and the rahur stalks
that yield the luscious fattening dall, or
On the third day, there was a slight improvement in the
little patient. His pulse was stronger. His eye looked brighter. We were all
collected round him in the tent, after tiffin. I remember it was a Sunday,
and none of us had left the camp. The boy's father was there, but the poor
mother, after the first frantic outbreak, had remembered the claims of
custom, the tyranny of dustoor, and
had retired to nurse her grief, and feed on her agonising suspense, in the
dark solitude of the enclosed courtyard of the Bunneah's dukan, or
shop in the village. We can picture to ourselves the anxious moments that
the poor woman must have passed; how each sound would be fraught with
terror, each moment with foreboding. But her little son was not yet doomed.
He was not to die just yet.
"We were, as I have said, all collected round the camp bed on
which the child was lying. Doubtless, the same thought was present to more
minds than one. I was thinking— "WVhat cruel, callous ruffian could have
done this?" The boy opened his eyes. He seemed to recognise us again. A wan
smile flickered over his features. He made a motion with his hand, and
pointed to his breast. "We were all attention at once. He was evidently
trying to express himself, but his tongue refused utterance. At every
interval of consciousness the question had been put to him. and re-put over
and over again: "Who did this?"
But hitherto no light had been shed on the mystery. Now again
the doctor bent down.
"Abhi bolna sukta?" he
asked—"Are you able to speak now?"
A negative motion of the head.
Pointing to his throat again, the doctor asked:—
"Who has done it?"
A gleam of intelligence flashed from the child's eyes. He
tried to raise his head.
We gently helped him to a sitting position.
Then he wearily and faintly moved his fingers in imitation of
"Aha!" burst out the father, who had been intently observing
every look, every movement.
Aha! He wants to write! He has learned to write at the
village school. Now we shall find out who did it!"
As the father poured this torrent of words out in quick
excited sentences—of course in hindoostanee—the little fellow nodded.
We procured a slate and slate-pencil and handed it to the
"Who did it?" was again the question asked.
Slowly and with infinite labour, the faint fingers tried to
trace the characters.
The situation was truly dramatic. It was intensely exciting.
Shakily, oh, how shakily! the thin dusky little hand moved
the letters grew.
Cha-ra-na. Such are the Hindoo letters.
"Ramchurn Gope!" shouted
old Mac. "The infernal scoundrel!"
We each drew a long breath. The name of the would-be murderer
was out at last, and Justice would assert herself.
I need not weary my readers by further elaborating the
details. The full particulars came out very clearly at the subsequent trial.
I remember the sensation in court, as old Doctor T. carried
in the wan shrunken little fellow whom his skill and care had indubitably
won back almost from the very clutch of death; and how the slate with the
two damnatory words on it, were curiously examined by a crowd of planters
who thronged the court.
Gope, the ruthless scoundrel who had hacked the poor child's throat in the
manner I have described, was a sullen-looking, low-browed cowherd in the
service of little Balkhrislma's father, the wealthy Bunneah.
On the night of his cruel attempt to murder his master's
child, he had been gambling with some of the young fellows of a similar
caste to his own, and had lost a few pice, paltry copper coins. This
gambling is a regular passion with many of the natives. They are worse than
the Chinese with their fan
play for cowrie stakes, at a sort of complicated checkers, and they get
terribly fascinated by the game and excited over it.
The youth Bamchurn—he was but a youth—was of a common enough
but forbidding type among the low caste Hindoos. Little removed from the
brute, he had all the fierce unreasoning greed, the cruel nature, the crafty
cunning, and utter callousness of the brute. As he retired from the gambling
scene, smarting under his losses, the pretty artless boy came in his way.
His cruel eyes only saw the silver ornaments and jewels. His cupidity was
fired at once. Reckless and ruthless, the devil found him ready to yield to
the temptation, and at once his mind was made up. He resolved on the instant
he would murder the child, possess himself of the silver bangles, pawn
these, and with the money retrieve his losses.
He had little difficulty in inducing the child to accompany
him to the grass field. He said he had left his hussooah there,
would Balkhricha go with him to look for it. The. poor unconscious little
victim trotted off with his intended murderer. You know the sequel.
The villain, after the perpetration of his horrid crime,
seems to have been visited with no touch of compunction. It was found out by
the police that he had pawned one of the bangles with a grain seller in a
neighbouring village, and though this rascal must have known that the bangle
was stolen, and in all probability belonged to the poor child, never a word
did he say of the matter. Such would be no uncommon trait in a Hindoo
huckster's character. They will do almost anything for money. Of course I
mean the baser sort amongst them. These village usurers are terribly
covetous and unscrupulous.
went about his usual work, unsuspected in all the awful grief that had come
on the family. Stolid, unimaginative, conscienceless, he tended Ins plough
bullocks till he was seized by the police with old Mac and the District
Superintendent at their head, and then he bowed to fate, acknowledged all,
and seemed to acquiesce in every subsequent step that was taken to prove his
guilt, as quite an unnecessary fuss and supererogatory trouble.
He was hanged. Never did gallows tree bear more merited
This case is very illustrative of one phase of Hindoo native
character. "What strikes a European is the horrible cruelty of the man; yet
such cases are far from uncommon. The wonderful and notable features in this
case, were the splendid illustrations of quick resource and surgical skill
of the doctor, the bravery and self-possession and wondrous recovery of the
lad, and the dramatic surroundings and accessories of the whole chain of
incidents; but in my experience of the natives, I have often noticed
instances of the same stolid indifference to suffering, callous disregard of
human life, and horrible cruelty of disposition, scarcely inferior in
ruthlessness and beast-like remorselessness to the true instance I have just
The records of every famine abound with illustrations of the
same fiendish cruelty. The worship of Kali—the ceremony of Suttee—the
practice of infanticide—the torturings practised by the old native police,
and the myrmidons of wealthy Zemindars or land-holders, when extorting
blackmail or squeezing back rents cut of hapless villagers, and hundreds of
other episodes of native life, all furnish examples of the same pagan
vice—the vice of cruelty. Whatever scoffers and enemies of the Christian
religion may urge against it or its professors, they cannot but admit that
it has a softening, refining, humanising influence, and tends— indubitably
tends—to lessen cruelty and make man less beast-like and more God-like.
Before I finish these sketches, I will give a few more illustrations of the
savage ruthless nature of the heathen worshipper, and prove how true is the
verse, part of which heads my present chapter—
"The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of