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
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
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
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
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
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
overseers, he got a picked gang, one morning to attempt the new-fangled
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
I got back to Hoolas without further adventure, and certainly
had a tamer ending to this visit than to my previous one.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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,
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
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
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