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Tent Life in Tigerland
Chapter IV - The Habitations of Horrid Cruelty.

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 done —Retribution.

By the 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 passing around.

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 him.

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 to fate.

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.

"Take 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."

We lifted 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 tracheotomy.

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.

I 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 Indian pulse.

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:—

"Coan Kurdea?"

"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 writing.

"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 boy.

"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 pencil.

But the letters grew.

R-A-M. Ham!

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.

Ramchurn 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 tan. They 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.

Ramchurn 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 fruit.

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 described.

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 horrid cruelty."

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