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Tent Life in Tigerland
Chapter XIII - Famine and Fighting


Early spring in India—"The Black District"—Desperate straits—One ghastly group—Relief works—Conservatism of natives—The old easygoing style of work—A zealous young reformer—Glowing visions— Wheelbarrow reform — Irritating — Explaining — Theory — Actual practice—Back to the old style—The coolies — Sad scenes — Poor suffering humanity—The terrible hunger—Back to Hoolas—The seed industry—Native dodgery,—Tricks and tests of the seed trade—Mode of contract—Fluctuations of the market—A slippery neighbour—News of a meditated looting expedition-—The Golail—Preparing for a fight —Call out the levies—Disposition of our forces—News of the raiders— Confronting the robbers-—-Their insolent audacity—A knock-down blow—"Wigs on the green''—A regular ruction—"Loot" and "lay on"—The tide of battle—'Victory!

Next day broke crisp and clear, one of the lovely, almost perfect days of early spring in India, when a soft breeze gently stirs the heavy masses of the dark mango groves, and sets the spear-pointed leaves of each waving feathery bamboo softly whispering to its neighbour.

Light cirrhus clouds fleck the sky, the dew gleams on every tiny leaf as if Hhrishna Joe had himself passed during the night with his train of ten thousand sportive maidens and had scattered pearls on each side as they passed. The sun's heat is tempered by the breeze, the young crops, if it is a good season, are shooting up their delicate olive-green blades, "o'er all the world,"—everything is balmy and fresh and redolent of the sweet springtide, and at such a time India is certainly a delightful place to dwell in.

Would that it could be always Spring! Put alas! the fierce struggle for existence, the desperate disparity between classes, the awful burden of frail humanity, forces itself upon the serious attention of even the most frivolous; and one has but to go through the busy street of even a small rural village to find ample evidences that sin and suffering and man's depravity are not the mere figments of the theologian's brain, but are hard, staring, palpable realities. But a truce to trite moralisings.

To the north of Soopole and between Durbhunga and the Terai, the famine had been so severe, and to such an extent had the dearth spread, that all over the country-side the villagers, speaking to each other, characterised the district as the "Black District."

For nearly twelve months no rain had fallen, the cold weather crops of the previous year had long ago been consumed; the early rice crop had been a failure; the late rice, on account of the drought, had not even been sown, and the seed corn for the winter crop had been eaten.

To such dire straits were the people reduced, that even the rigid bands of caste had been loosened, and it was no uncommon thing to see crowds of hollow-cheeked villagers surrounding the quarters and houses of the wealthier classes, piteouslv begging for even the sweepings of the granaries; and I could tell harrowing tales of the dire straits to which the poor people were reduced by the famine which had settled upon the land.

Snakes, field rats and mice, even grasshoppers, were greedily eaten by the lower castes, wherever they could be procured. Proud Rajputs and erstwhile well-to-do tradesmen battled fiercely with each other for possession of some broken roots and carrots which had been left in the field near one of my outworks.

In one village near the Baugmuttee, one of my friends came upon a horrible and ghastly group of seventeen corpses, all huddled together 'neath a Bhair tree, and consisting of evidently the total sum of four generations of one family, who had elected, in the dumb despairing apathy of Oriental fatalism, thus to die together.

There was the old Bada and Dadee, the decrepit grandfather and grandmother of the group; then their once lusty son, with his poor wife and their children, and two or three tiny little forms, withered and shrivelled up out of all semblance to humanity, black with famine and exposure, that had been last born into the world.

All the bodies were each simply a desiccated bag of bones held together by blackened parchment.

Each poor corpse was so shrivelled and attenuated that it-could have been spanned within the compass of one's linger and thumb, between the stomach and the backbone.

There were not many such horrible sights as these, thanks to the noble efforts made by the Indian Government to relieve distress, but in former famines such sights were not at all uncommon, and the victims of these awful visitations might have been numbered by the ten thousand.

Relief works had been started near Soopole and were in full swing at the time I speak of. These consisted of embankments to restrain the flood waters of the river, and of roads connecting certain points, which would help to bear traffic in support of the projected Tirhoot railway, and upon these relief works teeming thousands of half-starved villagers had been drafted from the most famine-afflicted portions of the provinces, and a whole army of engineers and civil officers of various grades were engaged upon the work of supervision, distribution of famine relief, and in various other duties and capacities.

One curious illustration of the conservatism of the native character was told me by one of the relief officers. It is perhaps worthy of record. The usual modus operandi of a village family engaged on embankment work was this: the lord and master, armed with a Kodalie or cutting hoe, would fill the little earthen basket carried by each of his wives and children, as they bore it towards him. Two or three cuts of the hoe, done in very leisurely fashion, would suffice, to put two or three pounds' weight of mould into these aforesaid little bamboo baskets.

Then when the tokree or basket was filled, the Koelalie would be thrown down, and the workman, stooping with many a weary groan and with the utmost deliberation, would, in unison with his wife or child, the bearer of the burden, lift the tokree with its little pile of mud or mould on to the head of such assistant.

She, if it was a woman, would then in the same leisurely manner glide gracefully away to the embankment, and with a nod as if she was pouring out a libation to mother earth, would deposit her little contribution to the slowly growing mound.

It was for all the world in effect much like a long stream of two-legged ants incessantly passing and repassing, in seemingly aimless fashion, from all points of the plain; but such was the assiduity of these poor creatures and the power of numbers, that small and seemingly insignificant as the individual contributions were, yet at the end of the day a large addition would be made to the ever-growing bulk of the embankment. Here and there on the earthwork cuttings little mounds were left, just as English navvies leave them on railway works, and these are called Shahee or Sakhec—i.e. a witness—to show the depth of the cutting.

The women who carry the little baskets wear a little pad of plaited straw or grass on their heads to ease the pressure of their load.

But it really is most whimsical to see the deliberation that is evinced, and the miserable little handfuls of stuff that are carried in this slow and costly fashion. One does not know whether to swear or groan. Most sahibs do both, freely.

One energetic young fellow, who had been engaged in engineering work under very different circumstances—overlooking English navvies in fact—felt the zeal of a reformer stirring within him, and, quite unmindful of the good-natured chaff of his superior officer, who had had considerable experience of the unprogressive Oriental mind, he determined to try to introduce the methods of the English navvy, and see if he could not effect some reform upon this old, primitive, and certainly ridiculous-looking custom.

He tried to indoctrinate some of his native underlings with a portion of his own fiery youthful zeal. He went to an infinite amount of trouble to lay down planks from the cutting of the embankment, and then, mindful of the slight frames of his coolie workers, he got several miniature English wheelbarrows made, weighing really not much more than some twenty pounds or so; they were made of light wood, were nicely finished, and were quite suited to the capacity of the weak, under-fed, small-boned natives to whom he wished to teach their use.

He had so often in the mess-tent dogmatised on his favourite theory, that the natives only wanted teaching and demonstration, to do work equal in degree to that of the English navvy, that his superior officer good-naturedly challenged him to put his theory to the test, and this was the result. He had taken a deal of care and trouble to get his wheelbarrows made, he had adapted them as he thought beautifully to the capacity of the human machines he had to work with, and after a deal of explanation to his baboos, or overseers, he got a picked gang, one morning to attempt the new-fangled wheelbarrow innovation.

The baboos in most mellifluous and persuasive accents explained to the coolies the method of working the new machines.

They clearly demonstrated to the young officer's complete satisfaction that the work would be more effective, if not actually easier, than the old-fashioned method of carrying mud in baskets.

The action of the wheel was explained, the reduction of friction by impelling said wheel on the plane of the prepared planks was carefully dwelt upon, and then the brawny Englishman, to give a practical demonstration, tilled the first barrow himself, wheeled it easily along the planks, tumbled it over the end of the embankment with a vigorous and triumphant twist, as much as to say "EvpyKa!—"There! I have solved the problem of public works construction; the practical methods of the West have been wedded to the patient and abundant labour of the East, and now public works will go ahead with a rapidity and an economy which will change the whole administration of the mighty department which has charge of the public works of this great Empire!"

Yes! the theory was perfect, but alas for the practice! So long as the zealous young officer himself remained as overlooker, things went pretty well. Certainly it was a little disappointing to find that no less than three or four coolies were required to till the barrow with any approach to explanation. Then the man who wheeled it, light as it was, had a rather suspicious shakiness about the legs, and an unfortunate tendency to sit down every few yards and squat in the old ancestral Oriental fashion, or else awkwardly to overturn the load at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

The intervals for a long rest, during which the tobacco and lime were carefully triturated in the palm of the hand, and then handed round as a sort of fraternal refreshment, were also rather frequent.

But what did that matter?

A beginning had been made at all events!

They would soon get into the way of filling and wheeling and emptying the barrow with greater precision and rapidity; and in any case he had practically demonstrated his theory to be correct—that it only wanted patience and perseverance to make good English navvies out of half-starved Hindoo village coolies.

Visions of promotion flitted before his mental eye.

He pictured to himself a vast establishment for the manufacture of a new and improved Oriental wheelbarrow for which he might get the contract.

And so, after setting several of the wheelbarrows at work, he departed to eat his tiffin with a contented mind, and with that inward glow which always accompanies the successful inauguration of any great and lasting reform.

Alas! alas! how inadequately had he gauged the precedents of caste methods—the irremediable conservatism of Oriental habit!

No sooner had he left, than the baboo retired to the shade of the nearest tree, to console himself with the seductive music of his fragrant hubble-bubble.

The coolies, wishing to carry out the sahib's instructions, but weary already of the strange exertion of unwonted muscles, thought they would make a compromise, and while using the nya hid—i.e. the new machine—of the sahib, would do so in the ancient fashion observed by their ancestors for hundreds of generations back.

And so it was that when the young officer came down to the works with quite a number of hurra, sah ibs, after tiffin, they saw the grand new wheelbarrows that were to effect such a revolution in the Public Works Department, each with its wheel carefully taken off and laid on one side, and while one coolie carefully filled the barrow with little dabs of earth from his Kodalie in the old antique style, the other four, squatted alongside, chewing tobacco and indulging in pleasant gossip till the nya kul was filled, after which they would call in the aid of four or five others, who had all to leave their work, and by the combined efforts of the eight or nine, the little wheelbarrow was lifted on to the heads of the four, who then had a very funereal pause, marched solemnly along to the edge of the embankment, and there carefully deposited their microscopic contribution to the earth-work, in regular old orthodox style. You can imagine the chaff that ensuedI That young officer is now a grey-haired old veteran, and has done good service many a time and oft since then, but wheelbarrows are not yet introduced to any large extent in India, and he has been quite content to work on in the old patient way,

I merely give this as a somewhat humorous illustration of the unchangeableness of native customs. The story is a true one.

Well, I was anxious, as I had been nominated by Government as one of the local committee on the relief works, to see what was being done at Soopole.

I had to consult with the magistrate and local engineer, Mr. Handley, who, strange to say, is now, even while I write, in the service of the New South Wales Government, having like myself succumbed to the Indian climate, and come down to gain a new lease of health in this salubrious land of the Eucalyptus.

Well, getting on our horses, we rode down to the coolie lines, and after going all over the works, which were very extensive, and seeing the various operations, we came back to preside over the distribution of cooked food prepared daily for the more necessitous cases that the burden of the famine hail thrown upon the hands of the authorities.

There is at all times a vast army of helpless, suffering creatures in an Indian district, who are beholden to the charity of well-to-do neighbours for their very subsistence.

In every village, at every ferry, near every bazaar, 'neath almost every shady grove, and at every place where two roads meet, there is sure to be some miserable, palsied, deformed, degraded beggar, piteously appealing to the charity of the passer-by, and of course these, what might be called permanent and professional beggars or objects of charity, had been attracted to the relief works from all quarters.

But besides these were scores of poor emaciated aged men and women, scarcely able to totter, owing to their weakness; dozens of attenuated, pallid looking children with a glazed skin, swollen joints, and shrunken limbs, and the awful hungry look which marks the famine-stricken—their heads seeming out of all proportion to the poor, wasted, parchment-covered bodies; ghastly objects indeed they were, and they all moved with such a listless, objectless gait, all hail the same piping, quavering, querulous cry, all looked at one with a horrible pathetic pleading look which spoke of absolute hopelessness, that it was a terrible ordeal to have to pass down the long ranks and see the awful sum of unspeakable misery, the intense depth of abject wretchedness, and poverty, and hunger, which famine means in India. It was bad enough to come across occasionally in one's peregrinations, such an object as is described by Arnold—

"A wretch in rags, haggard and foul— An old old man, whose shrivelled skin, sun-tanned, Clung like a beast's hide to his fleshless bones;— Bent was his back with load of many days— His eye-pits, red with rust of ancient tears— His dim orbs blear with rheum ; his toothless jaws wagging with palsy, and the fright to see so many and such joy. One skinny hand Clutched a worn staff to prop his quavering limbs; And one was pressed upon the ridge of ribs, "Whence came, in gasps, the heavy painful breath. ' Alms!' moaned he, give, good people, for I die to-morrow or the next day '' Then the cough Choked him, but still he stretched his palm and stood Blinking and groaning 'mid his sjasms."

To see such as one occasionally, I say, and it is a common sight, is bad enough; but to see such a sight multiplied many-fold was my experience on that never-to-be-forgotten day, and alas! it was a sight that might have been seen at many centres of relief work during that dreadful famine year.

It was painful to see with what greedy avidity they struggled for the boiled rice, like wild beasts, and how they almost tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get a little pittance more. It was a dreadful sight!

The recollection of those gaunt, cadaverous, living skeletons, haunted me for many a day, and yet one could not help a thrill of patriotic pride at the thought, that but for our presence in the country as rulers, under the compulsion of Christian compassion, countless thousands whose lives were saved must have perished like dumb starved cattle.

I spent a day or two at Soopole in making full inquiries as to the working of the relief system, getting my instructions for minor works to be carried out in some of my own outlying villages where the pressure of want was being felt, although not nearly so much, or so intense in degree as in Tirhoot.

I got back to Hoolas without further adventure, and certainly had a tamer ending to this visit than to my previous one.

But I must tell you about that.

To give some graphic idea of the lawlessness of the villagers and the state of strife that had been the rule between rival factories during the busy competition of an excited seed market, I may narrate an account of a regular pitched battle which had caused me hurriedly to leave Soopole some months before the time of which I have just been speaking. The affair happened in this way.

I had gone to Soopole to look after some rent cases, which had required the attendance of most of my head men and a large number of my chief executive servants, and while quietly enjoying the hospitality of my friend Handley, I received news of an intended attack on an outlying seed depot of my factory.

At that time I had at Hoolas (my largest depot for the seed trade, winch was carried on by the factory in conjunction with indigo manufacture proper) a smart little fellow named D--, whose duty it was to give out advances to cultivators who would contract to supply so much indigo seed at a price which was mutually determined upon.

I had on behalf of the factory made large contracts with Calcutta merchants, with planters in Lower Bengal, and in various other planting districts, to supply them with their annual requirements of seed, and if our local seed crop was a bountiful one, we also purchased largely in the bazaars, and generally the margin between the price we paid for it on the spot, and our contract price for delivery, resulted in a very handsome profit.

If, however, the local crop failed, or was a partial failure, the situation became somewhat complicated, and the outlook not so rosy.

The native seed merchants, and the cultivators themselves, were just as quick to recognise the fluctuations of the seed market as I was. They could generally pretty well guess what amount of contracts I had made, and they would have recourse to every dodge known to the subtle Oriental intellect, to force prices up in the local mart, and as there were other dealers, both native and half-caste in the trade, the natural competition to supply large contracts from a possible short crop would sometimes send up prices to almost a fabulous extent.

"When the crop was a full one, there was no trouble— supplies would come in freely, natives would in fact beseech you to buy from them; and as my employers were the Agra Banking Company, I generally had the best of it in a plenteous season, because I always had a command of ready money.

It so happened that this year the crop was a very short one. I had, as I have said, made large contracts in anticipation of a good crop, and I had had considerable difficulty in getting the cultivators who had contracted to supply me, to keep their engagements.

All sorts of tricky practices are indulged in when such a conjunction of affairs arises, and the present was no exception to the general rule. Old worthless seed that may have lost its germinating power is furbished up, dried and mixed with a little turmeric and indigo dust, and is then rapidly revolved in barrels or canvas bags, to put a nice polish on it.

Large admixtures of worthless forest seeds are used to increase bulk, and it requires considerable smartness and knowledge of native character to run a seed depot at such a time.

We have various tests for seed. The most common of course is the magnifying-glass. We have the water test— that is, heavy seed will generally sink, while light seed will float; and according as the sample answers the test, so do we deduct the proportion from the bulk. To test artificially coloured seed, we generally put a spoonful in a white linen handkerchief, wet it and rub it gently in the palm of the hand, when of course the colouring matter comes out on the white linen.

Such samples are invariably rejected by an honest dealer.

These are all tricks which one soon gets accustomed to and can cope with, but things are not so easy when the season has advanced and customers down south are clamouring for their supplies. The quantities you rely on getting from your cultivators come in very tardily, and you scour the country with your peons and messengers, to force those who have contracted with you to bring in their quota.

These in turn make all sorts of excuses.

Sometimes you have to take the law into your own hands, and send out gangs of coolies to cut the crop vi ct cermis, and bring it in perforce to your own threshing-floor.

Not unfrequently you will lind an astamee has taken advances from a rival seed merchant, and while he, having spent the money, feels quite secure, he quietly chuckles over his part of the spoil, and leaves you and your rival to fight together for the possession of the crop.

It is indeed a busy and an anxious time.

Your customer at a distance has no sympathy with you and your troubles; the very existence of his factory depends upon his getting the seed in time to sow the crop; you are bound down by heavy penalties to supply certain quantities within a given period; an error of judgment on your part in delaying to buy, in hopes that the market may fall, may be fatal; as some more astute or enterprising dealer may have meanwhile stepped in and swept the whole crop from the district.

Now on the present occasion my smart little assistant, D-, had managed to make very favourable local contracts.

In fact, nearly all the cultivation of the surrounding district had been secured under advances to the Hoolas factory.

A neighbouring dealer, rather a slippery customer, although professing to be a great friend of mine, had, I knew, made large delivery contracts, but being in want of ready cash, he had omitted to give advances, and at the critical moment found himself with short supplies; and I had already acted the part of a good neighbour to him, by sending him large quantities which I could spare, and on which of course I might have made a good profit elsewhere.

Seeing the market going up, however, I had made a few other contracts, and could not now afford to let him have any more seed.

Many of my small sub-contractors, and some of the leading cultivators, had held back portions of what was still due to me under my advances, and the usual higgling and diplomatic bargaining was of course going on.

The condition of my rival in the trade, if I may so call him, was becoming desperate, and so I was not altogether taken by surprise when I received an urgent message from my young assistant to hurry back at once, as he had heard that a raid was about to be made upon a large store of stacked seed plant, upon which I had made advances, and which was garnered up on the threshing-floor of a rich villager who owed me money, and located at some little distance from the Hoolas outwork.

The information went on to say that undoubtedly the nominal proprietor of the stuff had been bought over not to very vigorously defend his property, but to make some little show of resistance, and allow the stuff to be carried away. There was no doubt, in fact, that it was "a put-up job," the result of which, if successfully carried out, would be that I would possibly lose my advances, lose a very valuable supply of seed, upon which I depended to fulfil my contracts, and of course lose a very handsome profit which was attached to the completion of my transactions.

There was no time for hesitation.

The details received by me were quite sufficient to enable me to resolve on my course, and, like a general preparing for a campaign, I sent in instructions by two or three mounted messengers to tell D-what to do.

I resolved, if I could, to outwit the scheming rascality of my fair-seeming neighbour, and give him a "Roland for his Oliver."

We had our spies and our paid emissaries all over the district.

It was part of my policy to keep always a set of clever unscrupulous rascals, for I can call them nothing else, in my pay.

I was forced to do this in self-defence, and I was generally kept pretty well informed of every dodge that was on the tapis in my wide and lawless Dehaat.

Now in view of some such contingency as had just arisen, I had been carefully getting together the nucleus of a light jungle artillery, in the persons of some dozen or more golailchees.

These were all smart active fellows, perfect adepts in the use of the golail.

The golail is a strong bamboo pellet bow, in the middle of the arc of which, is a little web stretched between two strands of the strong gut of which the string is composed.

The gut is, in fact, doubled in the centre, stretched apart with two little bits of bamboo and interlaced, so as to make a little mesh or net.

Hard mud pellets, dried in the sun, are then prepared, and an expert marksman with the golail can make it very "hot" for anyone who may chance to come against him unarmed with a similar weapon.

In fact, a man with a golail and a good supply of pellets, could keep up such a discharge that he could almost kill anyone who tried to approach him.

I have myself killed a squirrel at eighty yards with one of these primitive weapons, and in the hands of an expert marksman they are indeed very dangerous and even deadly.

Now I knew pretty well that if the stuff was looted, it would be taken to the threshing-floor of a relative of the owner, in a neighbouring village, by name Petumber Jha.

As he was a sub-contractor under my scheming rival, and had already collected a large amount of plant, some of it by fair means, and some by methods which were of the shadiest character, I determined at once to allow the proposed loot to be consummated, and to have ready a good ambush, and a numerically stronger force than that which was likely to be brought against me, so that I could swoop down in my turn and recover the stolen property, and take as much of the other stuff away also, as my fellows could conveniently carry off.

The old Borderer's law, in fact.

I kept my own counsel, but made sufficient dispositions to give an inkling of what I intended, to one or two cunning trusty fellows whom I could rely on, and who were quite delighted at the prospect of having a game at "turning the tables."

And so I started for Hoolas.

I should explain that these men to whom I have just referred had accompanied me to Soopole, they being witnesses in a case winch had been brought before Mr. Smith, the magistrate, concerning payment of some rents.

I sent them off at once on horseback, to make certain arrangements, the carrying out of which I had entrusted to them, and then late in the afternoon I bade adieu to my friends, and started back, determined to make a night march of it and get into Hoolas before dawn.

It is also necessary to explain that the seed crop is cut in the fields while the pods are still scarcely pveca, that is, before the last ripening stage is reached as with indigo, so with nearly all the seed crops of India; when the pods are fully ripe, they open, and if not garnered before that last stage is reached, the whole of the crop would be lost, as the seed would fall to the ground.

Sometimes the native women, when gathering the crop, will strip great handfuls of the pods off the stalks, and bury them in the field, leaving certain marks by which they can afterwards distinguish the spot.

This is done only when the market has gone up, and is one of the ingenious ways in which the unsophisticated ryot seeks to evade the due fulfilment of a contract. "When the plant is cut, it is bound in bundles and carried on the heads of coolies to the Kavtehan or threshing-floor, where it is piled up in circular heaps to be threshed out, winnowed, cleaned, and packed as leisure permits.

My emissaries throughout the district had been so busy in buying up and getting in growing crop, that much of it was stacked in this fashion at various centers, waiting to be brought into the head depot, where I had a busy staff of men at work, threshing, cleaning, bagging, and transporting the seed to the head factory as fast as I could get it ready.

The reader will now, therefore, see that it was an object of some importance for my rival to get possession of enough seed to enable him to fulfil his contracts, and thus avoid a heavy pecuniary loss.

I regret this long explanation, but it is absolutely necessary to enable the reader to understand what followed.

I got into Hoolas about three o'clock in the morning. I found young D- up, waiting my arrival, and in a state of fearful excitement.

He told me that he had been expecting all night to hear that the attack had been already made by Sheik Manoola, who was the ringleader in the nefarious scheme. But the information he gave me was quite sufficient to confirm all my surmisings, that the plan was in reality got up by my neighbour, that he was in desperate straits for seed, and that it was pretty certain this scoundrel, Sheik Manoola, who was a Mussulman Budmash, often employed by my neighbour to carry out some truculent design, would stick at nothing to carry out his master's orders. The man against whose threshing-floor the attack was likely to be directed, was a cunning, plausible fellow by the name of Moonee Lull Jha, and I knew perfectly well that any attempt he would make to defend what was practically my property would be only a bogus one. Luckily for me I had been well served, and the other side had not got Khubber of my return.

Two or three of my old Tirhoot servants, however, upon whose fidelity I could implicitly rely, gave me such information as quite to convince me that my first surmise had been the correct one, and I accordingly got out all my best pyadas, i.e. fighting men, and sent them circuitously away, with orders to station themselves in a small mango grove, close to Petumber Jha's house and threshing-floor. They were to wait there until they saw our elephants; and would come round on horseback and take command when the moment for action would have arrived.

I had three other elephants at the time, which, with my old hunting elephant "Jorrocks," made an available squadron, of what I might call heavy Oriental cavalry. I got my golah fellows on the elephants well supplied with pellets, and I started them off to be in readiness to swoop down and act in concert with my ambushed pyadas to cover our retreat.

All this of course took some. time.

We took breakfast and were waiting for events to develop themselves, when presently, one after the other, in came my messengers to tell me that they had got a good force of reliable friends of the factory from the various well-affected villages, and they had quite an army of coolies, accustomed to do my weeding, and cleaning, and other factory work, who were ready to go anywhere, and do any tiling, while the promise of a double allowance of rice, and a feast into the bargain, if my plan turned out successfully, made them all eager for the performance of whatever they might be called upon to do.

I now felt pretty easy in my mind.

If the attack did take place, as I had every reason to believe it would, from the minute information given to me. I felt quite satisfied that I could beat my enemies at their own game.

And if the attack did not take place, I had made up my mind to at once clear off every stem of plant from Moonee Lall Jha's Kureehan and bring it into Hoolas. So I felt "equal to either fortune."

Just as we were about to start, up came one of Moonee Lall Jha's young men, in a state of well-simulated excitement and indignation, to tell me that Sheik Manoola, with a band of htdmashis, had just swept down at his master's place, had beaten off all the retainers, and he pointed to some little marks on his hack and shoulders, which he said were severe bruises he had received while fighting valiantly in defence of his master's and my property. He seemed a little disconcerted at first, when he found I had so unexpectedly returned. The fellow was an artist in his way, and to hear him speak, one would have thought that he had himself performed prodigious feats of valour; but the gist of his tale was to the effect that the robbers were in over-powering force, and had managed to beat off all the defence Moonee Lall could bring to bear against them, and, in a word, everything had just happened as I had foreseen. It was now my time for action, so I tied up the messenger, and then we hurried off with our men down by the side of the lake; through a small village; in amongst a lot of growing sugar-cane; and through a wild jungle patch of neglected mango groves, and came out at the back of Petumber Jha's baree (that is the orchards, plantain groves, and bamboo topes which lay behind his homestead, which was rather an imposing cluster of houses; the man being well to do), and sending forward one or two trusty scouts to reconnoitre, they came back with the tidings that the whole of my plant had been carried off, that a long string of women and children and coolies, each with a bundle on their respective heads, were wending their way cross country to Petumber Jha's place, and that Sheik Manoola, with a considerable number of fighting men, was with the party.

They also recognised one or two of the omlah, that is the head factory servants of my neighbour, and I felt a chuckling sense of satisfaction that so far my plans had matured splendidly.

After a few moments consideration with D- we determined to ride boldly forward by ourselves, and first try the effect of an outspoken peremptory demand for the restoration of the pilfered plant.

So telling our fellows to corne as quickly as possible behind us, and unite all our scattered parties, so as to be ready for immediate action, we set off, and cantering leisurely after the retiring army of robbers, we rode boldly up into the midst of them, right in amongst Petumber Jha's men, who were busy mixing up all our stolen plant with their own.

And now, quiet, self-possessed, but determined, I demanded the reason of this high-handed proceeding.

Just as I expected, Petumber Jha was very polite, very cool, but full of artfulness; as he told me that he had purchased the plant from Moonee Lall Jha, was quite prepared to show me the receipts, and that in fact I had been made the victim of Moonee Lall Jha's duplicity, but that he had got the stuff, and intended to keep it. I could see, however, that my sudden appearance had somewhat disconcerted him.

He had evidently thought that I was well away out of the district at Soopole, and I could see several of my ryots, to whom I had often shown kindnesses, and who were on the whole pretty well disposed towards me—I could see that they felt rather ashamed of themselves and were inclined to slink, out of the affair.

I did not mince matters, but told him bluntly he lied. I told him that I had heard of his intended raid, that I had hurried back to prevent it if possible, that the magistrate knew it, and that there was little doubt but that he had rendered himself amenable to a criminal prosecution, and that the best thing he could do was to make the coolies carry back the stuff, as I was determined to have it.

At this stage Slieik Manoola, feeling no doubt that he had all the weight of the rival factory at his back, came up in an overbearing swaggering way, put his hand on the bridle of my horse, and began speaking in a very insolent manner to me.

This roused young D-'s ardent temperament, Just a little over fighting point, and with an explosive yell, which would have done credit to a Tipperary man, he jumped from his horse and gave the Mussulman a truly British punch which sent him flying, and immediately, as may be imagined, there was a pretty row. There was "wigs on the green," and no mistake. Shouts, yells, exclamations, arose on all sides. The Sheik's men raised a defiant yell and came rushing at us with uplifted latthces.

I caused my game little Arab to curvet and prance round, using my heavy thonged hunting-whip with good effect, until I saw D- remounted, then I told hint to hurry off as hard as he could pelt, to bring up the fellows from our ambush beyond.

Away he went, and a good many of the enemy thinking he was retreating, very luckily for me, rushed after him, yelling like demons. But just then, right in the nick of time, out came my swarm of pyadas and fighting Rajputs, and there was a terrific melee as the contestants surged hither and thither in deadly strife, Petumber Jha's men came swarming out of a near enclosure, with spears, swords, battle-axes, latthees, and all sorts of nondescript weapons swaying in the air like a bamboo grove in a gale of wind. The women shrieked, the horses neighed, dogs barked, children were crying, and altogether there was a regular hullabaloo.

My men, however, were well led, and succeeded in rolling the tide of battle past the houses; and now up came D-- at the head of his picked men, with his four elephants in line, and the golah pellets began to sing and whistle around the heads of the chop-fallen followers of Petumber, who saw at once that not only were they overpowered in strategy, but out-numbered.

I was not sure, however, but that possibly a reserve force of the enemy might be in the neighbourhood, and it behoved me to get possession of the coveted seed plant as quickly as possible.

My friendly coolies—men, women, and children—were working like so many ants, trying to save the treasures of their ant-hill in a sudden flood; and each with a bundle of plant on his head, some with half a bushel of seed tied up in a cloth, others with bundles under each arm, were soon seen flying hurry-scurry, helter-skelter across the face of the country, scattering themselves to avoid pursuit, and almost while it takes me to tell the tale, they had pretty nearly clear looted the whole of the stock of our would-be despoilers.

All this time the battle raged fiercely in two or three little separate centres, and my fellows with their yolaih were taking the utmost delight in peppering the unlucky followers of Sheik Manoola, who were all conspicuous by their red turbans, and who, moreover, as they were Mohammedans, were fair game to my delighted Hindoo marksmen, who did not spare them, I can assure you.

We now quietly began to withdraw our forces. By this time the news had spread like wild-fire through the adjacent villages.

Reinforcements were hurrying up; and then it became apparent how sagacious and important had been my generalship in providing the elephants and marksmen.

My men began to draw off, following the retreating coolies.

With loud cries of encouragement to each other, with the use of insulting and barbarous language towards myself, bodies of excited and angry villagers now began to make hostile demonstrations against the line of our retreat.

They would come on with a rush, yelling and shouting, leaping in the air, waving their staves, brandishing their weapons, and. making all the usual demonstrations which are common in affairs of the sort, when D- or myself, suddenly separating, would gallop outwards, and then come straight down upon them and charge, going through them like a hurricane, plying our whips the while; and then our elephants, with their load of expert marksmen, managed to keep back our pursuers, and foil them at every point.

I cannot pourtray on paper half the excitement and fun which we experienced.

Of course all this took a considerable time, but my coolies were now well away from the hostile villagers, and in my own Dehaat, and knew that once they got near Hoolas it would be utterly futile for any of our enemies to continue their pursuit.

And so ended "the battle of the Kureehan," as my fellows called it.

There were two or three law-suits over it, but I was able to prove so clearly that they had been the aggressors, that I came off with flying colours in every case, and so crippled my unrighteous adversary, that I do not think from that day to this he has ever attempted to loot a rival threshing-floor, although up to that time it had been a matter of constant occurrence, during the seed season, to have half-a-dozen affairs annually of the sort.


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