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Title: Confessions of a Thug
Author: Taylor, Philip Meadows, 1808-1876
Language: English
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  CONFESSIONS
  OF
  A THUG.

  BY
  CAPTAIN MEADOWS TAYLOR,
  DEPUTY COMMISSIONER OF NORTH BERAR.

  I have heard, have read bold fables of enormity,
  Devised to make men wonder, but this hardness
  Transcends all fiction.
  LAW OF LOMBARDY.

  [Illustration]

  LONDON:
  RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET.
  1858.



PREFACE.


As nearly twenty years have elapsed since the original publication
of this Work, a revised edition might, but for the present absorbing
interest of Indian affairs, be considered unnecessary.

On its first appearance--received as an exciting romance--the
generality of readers little knew how much of melancholy and revolting
truth lay beneath the surface. At the present time it may deserve a
more attentive study; recent events will have too well prepared the
Reader's mind for implicit belief in all the systematic atrocities
narrated: they are true, and most of them found their first record
in legal and official documents brought under the notice of Captain
Taylor, who from an early age possessed the rare advantage of long
study and intimate knowledge of the languages, manners, and customs
of the natives, Mahomedans as well as Hindoo. In fact, it may safely
be affirmed, that the Reader will find no characters introduced, no
scenes delineated, nor customs and manners of the East described, which
have not been faithfully drawn from objects with which the writer was
perfectly familiar.

It will scarcely fail to be remarked, with what consummate art such
numerous bodies of men were organized, and for a long time kept
absolutely unknown, while committing acts of cruelty and rapine hardly
conceivable; countenanced too, and secretly supported, by men in
authority, and even by Priests, Brahmins, and Fakeers, eager to share
in their unhallowed gains.

The Reader is particularly requested to peruse Captain Taylor's
Introduction, as affording a valuable key to the subsequent narrative.
It may also furnish some clue to the successful concealment of a
rebellion, in the existence of which many of our oldest and most
experienced officers, and men high in authority, absolutely withheld
belief, till too late and too cruelly convinced of their fatal error.
Whatever can help us to arrive at a full and precise knowledge of the
causes and the extent of this singular conspiracy, which must have
resulted in the destruction of our Eastern Empire, had it not been
upheld by constancy and heroism yet more extraordinary, is of the
utmost value, and merits a deeper interest and more serious attention
than any romance can claim.

P. M. T.



INTRODUCTION.


The tale of crime which forms the subject of the following pages is,
alas! almost all true; what there is of fiction has been supplied
only to connect the events, and make the adventures of Ameer Ali as
interesting as the nature of his horrible profession would permit me.

I became acquainted with this person in 1832. He was one of the
approvers or informers who were sent to the Nizam's territories from
Saugor, and whose appalling disclosures caused an excitement in the
country which can never be forgotten. I have listened to them with
fearful interest, such as I can scarcely hope to excite in the minds of
my readers; and I can only add, in corroboration of the ensuing story,
that, by his own confessions, which were in every particular confirmed
by those of his brother informers, and are upon official record, he had
been directly concerned in the murder of seven hundred and nineteen
persons. He once said to me, "Ah! Sir, if I had not been in prison
twelve years, the number would have been a thousand!"

How the system of Thuggee could have become so prevalent, unknown to
and unsuspected by the people of India, among whom the professors
of it were living in constant association, must, to the majority of
the English public not conversant with the peculiar construction of
Oriental society, be a subject of extreme wonder. It will be difficult
to make this understood within my present limits, and yet it is so
necessary that I cannot pass it by.

In a vast continent like India, which from the earliest periods has
been portioned out into territories, the possessions of many princes
and chieftains, each with supreme and irresponsible power in his
own dominions, having most lax and inefficient governments, and at
enmity with or jealous of all his neighbours, it may be conceived that
no security could exist for the traveller upon the principal roads
throughout the continent; no general league was ever entered into for
his security; nor could any government, however vigorous, or system of
police, however vigilant it might be in one state, possibly extend to
all.

When it is also considered that no public conveyances have ever existed
in India (the want of roads, and the habits and customs of the natives
being alike opposed to their use)--that journeys, however long, have
to be undertaken on foot or on horseback--that parties, previously
unknown to each other, associate together for mutual security and
companionship--that even the principal roads (except those constructed
for military purposes by the Company's government) are only tracks
made by the constant passage of people over them, often intersecting
forests, jungles, and mountainous and uncultivated tracts, where there
are but few villages and a scanty population--and that there are
never any habitations between the different villages, which are often
some miles apart,--it will readily be allowed, that every temptation
and opportunity exists for plunderers of all descriptions to make
travellers their prey. Accordingly freebooters have always existed,
under many denominations, employing various modes of operation to
attain their ends; some effecting them by open and violent attacks with
weapons, others by petty thefts and by means of disguises. Beyond all,
however, the Thugs have of late years been discovered to be the most
numerous, the most united, the most secret in their horrible work, and
consequently the most dangerous and destructive.

Travellers seldom hold any communication with the towns through which
they pass, more than for the purchase of the day's provisions: they
sometimes enter them, but pitch their tents or lie under the trees
which surround them; to gain any intelligence of a person's progress
from village to village is therefore almost impossible. The greatest
facilities of disguise among thieves and Thugs exist in the endless
divisions of the people into tribes, castes, and professions; and
remittances to an immense amount are known to be constantly made from
one part of the country to another in gold and silver, to save the
rate of exchange; jewels also and precious stones are often sent to
distant parts, under the charge of persons who purposely assume a
mean and wretched appearance, and every one is obliged to carry money
upon his person for the daily expenses of travelling. It is also next
to impossible to conceal anything carried, from the unlimited power
of search possessed by the officers of customs in the territories of
native princes, or to guard against the information their subordinates
may supply to Thugs, or robbers of any description.

It has been ascertained, by recent investigation, that in every part
of India many of the hereditary landholders and the chief officers
of villages have had private connexion with Thugs for generations,
affording them facilities for murder by allowing their atrocious acts
to pass with impunity, and sheltering the offenders when in danger;
whilst in return for these services they received portions of their
gains, or laid a tax upon their houses, which the Thugs cheerfully
paid. To almost every village (and at towns they are in a greater
proportion) several hermits, Fakeers, and religious mendicants have
attached themselves. The huts and houses of these people, which are
outside the walls, and always surrounded by a grove or a garden, have
afforded the Thugs places of rendezvous or concealment; while the
Fakeers, under their sanctimonious garb, have enticed travellers to
their gardens by the apparently disinterested offers of shade and good
water. The facilities I have enumerated, and hundreds of others which
would be almost unintelligible by description, but which are intimately
connected with, and grow out of, the habits of the people, have caused
Thuggee to be everywhere spread and practised throughout India.

The origin of Thuggee is entirely lost in fable and obscurity. Colonel
Sleeman conjectures that it owed its existence to the vagrant tribes
of Mahomedans which continued to plunder the country long after the
invasion of India by the Moghuls and Tartars. The Hindoos claim for it
a divine origin in their goddess Bhowanee; and certainly the fact that
both Mahomedans and Hindoos believe in her power, and observe Hindee
ceremonies, would go far to prove that the practice of Thuggee was of
Hindoo origin. Though very remote traditions of it exist, there are
no records of its having been discovered in any of the histories of
India until the reign of Akbur, when many of its votaries were seized
and put to death. From that time till 1810, although native princes
now and then discovered and executed the perpetrators,--I believe it
was unknown to the British government or authorities. In that year the
disappearance of many men of the army, proceeding to and from their
homes, induced the Commander-in-Chief to issue an order warning the
soldiers against Thugs. In 1812, after the murder by Thugs of Lieut.
Monsell, Mr. Halhed, accompanied by a strong detachment, proceeded to
the village where the murderers were known to reside, and was resisted.
The Thugs were discovered to be occupying many villages in the
pergunnahs of Sindousé, and to have paid, for generations, large sums
annually to Sindia's Government for protection. At this time it was
computed that upwards of nine hundred were in those villages alone. The
resistance offered by the Thugs to Mr. Halhed's detachment caused their
ultimate dispersion, and no doubt they carried the practice of their
profession into distant parts of the country, where perhaps it had been
unknown before.

It appears strange, that as early as 1816 no measures for the
suppression of Thuggee were adopted; for that the practices of the
Thugs were well known, we have the strongest evidence in a paper
written by Doctor Sherwood, which appeared in the "Literary Journal"
of Madras, and which is admirably correct in the description of the
ceremonies and practice of the Thugs of Southern India. One would
suppose that they were then considered too monstrous for belief,
and were discredited or unnoticed; but it is certain that from that
time up to 1830, in almost every part of India, but particularly in
Bundelkund and Western Malwa, large gangs of Thugs were apprehended
by Major Borthwick, and Captains Wardlow and Henley. Many were tried
and executed for the murder of travellers, but without exciting more
than a passing share of public attention. No blow was ever aimed at the
_system_, if indeed its complete and extensive organization was ever
suspected, or, if suspected, believed.

In that year however, and for some years previously, Thuggee seemed
to have reached a fearful height of audacity, and the government
could no longer remain indifferent to an evil of such enormous
and increasing magnitude. The attention of several distinguished
civil officers--Messrs. Stockwell, Smith, Wilkinson, Borthwick, and
others,--had become attracted with great interest to the subject. Some
of the Thugs who had been seized were allowed life on the condition of
denouncing their associates, and among others Feringhea, a leader of
great notoriety.

The appalling disclosures of this man, so utterly unexpected by
Captain (now Colonel) Sleeman, the political agent in the provinces
bordering upon the Nerbudda river, were almost discredited by that able
officer; but by the exhumation in the very grove where he happened
to be encamped of no less than thirteen bodies in various states of
decay,--and the offer being made to him of opening other graves in and
near the same spot,--the approver's tale was too surely confirmed; his
information was acted upon, and large gangs, which had assembled in
Rajpootana for the purpose of going out on Thuggee, were apprehended
and brought to trial.

From this period, the system for the suppression of Thuggee may be
said to have commenced in earnest; from almost every gang one or
more informers were admitted; and when they found that their only
chance of life lay in giving correct information, they unequivocally
denounced their associates, and their statements were confirmed by the
disinterment of their victims in the spots pointed out.

In this manner Thuggee was found to be in active practice all over
India. The knowledge of its existence was at first confined to the
central provinces, but as men were apprehended from a distance, they
gave information of others beyond them in the almost daily commission
of murder: the circle gradually widened till it spread over the whole
continent--and from the foot of the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, from
Cutch to Assam, there was hardly a province in the whole of India where
Thuggee had not been practised--where the statements of the informers
were not confirmed by the disinterment of the dead!

Few who were in India at that period (1831-32) will ever forget the
excitement which the discovery occasioned in every part of the country:
it was utterly discredited by the magistrates of many districts, who
could not be brought to believe that this silently destructive system
could have worked without their knowledge. I quote the following
passage from Colonel Sleeman's introduction to his own most curious and
able work:--

"While I was in civil charge of the district of Nursingpoor, in the
valley of the Nerbudda, in the years 1822, 1823, and 1824, no ordinary
robbery or theft could be committed without my becoming acquainted
with it, nor was there a robber or thief of the ordinary kind in the
district, with whose character I had not become acquainted in the
discharge of my duty as a magistrate; and if any man had then told
me that a gang of assassins by profession resided in the village of
Kundélee, not four hundred yards from my court, and that the extensive
groves of the village of Mundésur, only one stage from me on the road
to Saugor and Bhopal, was one of the greatest bhils, or places of
murder, in all India; that large gangs from Hindostan and the Dukhun
used to rendezvous in these groves, remain in them for days together
every year, and carry on their dreadful trade all along the lines of
road that pass by and branch off from them, with the knowledge and
connivance of the two landholders by whose ancestors these groves had
been planted, I should have thought him a fool or a madman; and yet
nothing could have been more true; the bodies of a _hundred travellers_
lie buried in and among the groves of Mundésur, and a gang of assassins
lived in and about the village of Kundélee, while I was magistrate of
the district, and extended their depredations to the cities of Poona
and Hyderabad."

Similar to the preceding, as showing the daring character of the
Thuggee operations, was the fact, that at the cantonment of Hingolee,
the leader of the Thugs of that district, Hurree Singh, was a
respectable merchant of the place, one with whom I myself, in common
with many others, have had dealings. On one occasion he applied to the
officer in civil charge of the district, Captain Reynolds, for a pass
to bring some _cloths_ from Bombay, which he knew were on their way
accompanied by their owner, a merchant of a town not far from Hingolee:
he murdered this person, his attendants, and cattle-drivers, brought
the merchandise up to Hingolee under the pass he had obtained, and sold
it openly in the cantonment; nor would this have ever been discovered,
had he not confessed it after his apprehension, and gloried in it as
a good joke. By this man too and his gang many persons were murdered
_in the very bazar of the cantonment_, within one hundred yards of the
main guard, and were buried hardly five hundred yards from the line
of sentries! I was myself present at the opening of several of these
unblessed graves, (each containing several bodies,) which were pointed
out by the approvers, one by one, in the coolest manner, to those
who were assembled, till we were sickened and gave up further search
in disgust. The place was the dry channel of a small watercourse,
communicating with the river, not broader or deeper than a ditch;
it was close to the road to a neighbouring village, one of the main
outlets from the cantonment to the country.

Once awakened to the necessity of suppressing, by the most vigorous
measures, the dreadful system only just detected in its operation,
the officers who were first appointed to investigate the reports and
accusations of the informers, used their utmost efforts to arouse in
the Supreme Government a corresponding interest, and happily succeeded.
The matter was taken up most warmly by the Governor-General, Lord
William Bentinck, and the Supreme Council; and highly intelligent
officers were appointed to superintend the execution of measures in
those districts where Thuggee was discovered to be in practice. Most of
the native princes gave up claims upon such of their subjects as should
be apprehended upon charges of Thuggee, or who should be denounced by
the informers; and although in many parts the landholders and Potails
of villages protected the Thugs, and resisted their apprehension, yet
the plans for the suppression of the system were eminently successful.
As suspicion was aroused, no body of men could traverse the country
in any direction without being subject to the strictest scrutiny by
the police, and by informers who were stationed with them upon all the
great thoroughfares and in the principal towns.

The success of these measures will be more evident from the following
table, which was kindly supplied to me by Captain Reynolds, the general
superintendent of the department.

From 1831 to 1837, inclusive, there were:--

    Transported to Penang, &c.             1,059
    Hanged                                   412
    Imprisoned for life with hard labour      87
    Imprisoned in default of security         21
    Imprisoned for various periods            69
    Released after trial                      32
    Escaped from jail                         11
    Died in jail                              36
                                           -----
                                           1,727
    Made approvers                           483
    Convicted but not sentenced              120
    In jail in various parts not yet tried   936
                                           -----
                                           3,266

Added to the above, Captain Reynolds mentioned that, at the time he
wrote, upwards of 1,800 notorious Thugs were at large in various parts
of India, whose names were known; how many besides existed, it is
impossible to conjecture.

How enormous therefore must have been the destruction of human
life and property in India before Thuggee was known to exist or
was only partially checked! How many thousands must annually have
perished by the hands of these remorseless assassins! Awful indeed
is the contemplation; for, during the whole of the troublous times
of the Mahratta and Pindharee wars, their trade flourished; nor
was it till 1831 that their wholesale system of murder received
any serious check: and after its general discovery, the countless
and affecting applications from families to the officers of the
department to endeavour to procure them some knowledge of the places
where their missing relatives had been destroyed, that they might
have the miserable satisfaction of performing the ceremonies for the
dead--showed how deeply the evil had affected society.

And not only as described in the following pages has Thuggee existed:
since they were written, it has been discovered under several other
forms and been found to be extensively practised on the Ganges by men
who live in boats, and murder those passengers whom they are able to
entice into their company in their voyages up and down the river. But
the most refined in guilt are those who murder parents for the sake of
their children, to sell them as household slaves, or to dancing women,
to be brought up to prostitution.

Throughout the whole of India, including all territories of native
princes, only eighteen officers are employed as superintendents
and agents for the suppression of Thuggee; many of whom, besides
the labour of this office, which is excessive, have other civil
and political duties to fulfil. By a reference to any map, it will
at once be seen what enormous provinces or divisions of India fall
to the superintendence of each person. Whether it is possible for
each to extend to every part of that under his charge the extreme
attention and scrutiny which are so imperatively necessary to put an
end to this destructive system (for there is no doubt that wherever
one well-initiated Thug exists, he will among the idle and dissolute
characters which everywhere abound in the Indian population, find
numbers to join him), must be best known to the Government of India. It
is only sincerely to be hoped that _economical_ considerations do not
prevent the appointment of others, if necessary.

The confessions I have recorded are not published to gratify a morbid
taste in any one for tales of horror and of crime; they were written to
expose, as fully as I was able, the practices of the Thugs, and to make
the public of England more conversant with the subject than they can
be at present, notwithstanding that some notice has been attracted to
the subject by an able article in the "Edinburgh Review" upon Colonel
Sleeman's valuable and interesting work.

I hope, however, that the form of the present work may be found more
attractive and more generally interesting than an account of the
superstitions and customs only of the Thugs; while for the accuracy
of the pictures of the manners and habits of the natives, and the
descriptions of places and scenes, I can only pledge the experience
of fifteen years' residence in India, and a constant and intimate
association with its inhabitants.

If this volume in any way contribute to awaken public vigilance in
the suppression of Thuggee, or if from the perusal of it, any one in
authority rises with a determination to lend his exertions in this good
cause of humanity, my time will not have been occupied in vain.

LONDON, _July, 1839_.

M. T.



CONFESSIONS OF A THUG.



CHAPTER I.


You ask me, Sahib, for an account of my life: my relation of it will be
understood by you, as you are acquainted with the peculiar habits of my
countrymen; and if, as you say, you intend it for the information of
your own, I have no hesitation in relating the whole; for though I have
accepted the service of Europeans, in my case one of bondage, I cannot
help looking back with pride and exultation on the many daring feats I
have performed. Often indeed does my spirit rise at the recollection
of them, and often do I again wish myself the leader of a band of
gallant spirits, such as once obeyed me, to roam with them wherever my
inclination or the hope of booty prompted.

But the time is past. Life, Sahib, is dear to every one; to preserve
mine, which was forfeited to your laws, I have bound myself to your
service, by the fearful tenure of denouncing all my old confederates,
and you well know how that service is performed by me. Of all the
members of my band, and of those with whom chance has even casually
connected me, but few now remain at large; many have been sacrificed at
the shrine of justice, and of those who now wander, broken, and pursued
from haunt to haunt, you have such intelligence as will lead to their
speedy apprehension.

Yet Thuggee, capable of exciting the mind so strongly, will not, cannot
be annihilated! Look at the hundreds, I might say thousands, who
have suffered for its profession; does the number of your prisoners
decrease? No! on the contrary, they increase, and from every Thug
who accepts the alternative of perpetual imprisonment to dying on a
gallows, you learn of others whom even I knew not of, and of Thuggee
being carried on in parts of the country where it is least suspected,
and has never been discovered till lately.

It is indeed too true, Ameer Ali, said I; your old vocation seems to
be as flourishing as ever, but it cannot last. Men will get tired
of exposing themselves to the chance of being hunted down like wild
beasts, and hanged when they are caught; or what is perhaps worse to
many, of being sent over the Kala-Panee (transported); and so heartily
does the Government pursue Thugs wherever they are known to exist, that
there will no longer be a spot of ground in India where your profession
can be practised.

You err, Sahib; you know not the high and stirring excitement of a
Thug's occupation. To my perception it appears, that so long as one
exists, he will gather others around him; and from the relation of
what I will tell you of my own life, you will estimate how true is
my assertion. How many of you English are passionately devoted to
sporting! Your days and months are passed in its excitement. A tiger,
a panther, a buffalo, or a hog, rouses your utmost energies for its
destruction--you even risk your lives in its pursuit. How much higher
game is a Thug's! His is man: against his fellow-creatures in every
degree, from infancy to old age, he has sworn relentless, unerring
destruction!

Ah! you are a horrible set of miscreants, said I; I have indeed the
experience, from the records of murders which are daily being unfolded
to me, of knowing this at least of you. But you must begin your story;
I am prepared to listen to details worse than I can imagine human
beings to have ever perpetrated.

It will even be as you think, said Ameer Ali, and I will conceal
nothing; of course you wish me to begin my tale from as early a period
as I can recollect.

Certainly; I am writing your life for the information of those in
England, who would no doubt like to have every particular of so
renowned a person as yourself.

Well, then, Sahib, to begin; the earliest remembrance I have of
anything, and until a few years ago it was very indistinct, is of a
village in the territories of Holkar, where I was born. Who my parents
were I know not; I suppose them to have been respectable, from the
circumstances of my always wearing gold and silver ornaments, and
having servants about me. I have an indistinct recollection of a tall
fair lady whom I used to call mother, and of an old woman who always
attended me, and who I suppose was my nurse; also of a sister who
was younger than myself, but of whom I was passionately fond. I can
remember no other particulars, until the event occurred which made me
what I am, and which is vividly impressed on my mind.

From an unusual bustle in the house, and the packing up of articles
of clothing and other necessaries, I supposed we were on the eve of
departure from our home. I was right in my conjecture, for we left it
the next morning. My mother and myself travelled in a dooly, old Chumpa
was mounted on my pony, and my father rode his large horse. Several of
the sons of our neighbours accompanied us; they were all armed, and I
suppose were our escort. On the third or fourth day after we left our
village, after our march of the day, we as usual put up in an empty
shop in the bazaar of the town we rested at. My father left us to go
about on his own business, and my mother, who could not show herself
outside, after repeated injunctions that I was not to stray away, lay
down in an inner room and went to sleep. Finding myself at liberty,
as Chumpa was busy cooking and the Juwans were all out of the way, I
speedily forgot all my mother's orders, and betook myself to play with
some other children in the street. We were all at high romps, when a
good-looking man of middle age addressed me, and asked me who I was--I
must have been remarkable from the rest of the ragged urchins about me,
as I was well dressed, and had some silver and gold ornaments on my
person. I told him that my father's name was Yoosuf Khan, and that he
and my mother and myself were going to Indoor.

"Ah, then," said he, "you are the party I met yesterday on the road:
your mother rides on a bullock, does she not?"

"No, indeed!" retorted I, angrily, "she rides in a palankeen, and I
go with her, and father rides a large horse, and we have Chumpa and
several Juwans with us. Do you think a Pathan like my father would let
my mother ride on a bullock, like the wife of a ploughman?"

"Well, my fine little fellow, it shall be as you say, and you shall
ride a large horse too, one of these days, and wear a sword and shield
like me. But would you not like some sweetmeat? See how tempting those
julabees look at the Hulwaee's; come with me, and we will buy some."

The temptation was too strong to be withstood by a child, and after a
fearful look towards the shop where we stayed, I accompanied the man
to the Hulwaee's. He bought me a load of sweetmeats, and told me to
go home and eat them; I tied them up in a handkerchief I wore round
my waist, and proceeded homewards. This transaction had attracted the
notice of some of the ragged urchins I had been playing with, and who
had longingly eyed the julabees I had been treated to; and as soon
as the man who had given them to me had gone a short distance, they
attacked me with stones and dirt, till one more bold than the rest
seized me, and endeavoured to get my prize from me. I struggled and
fought as well as I could; but the others having fairly surrounded
me, I was mobbed, and obliged to deliver up my treasure. Not content
with this, one big boy made a snatch at the necklace I wore, on which
I began to bellow with all my might. The noise I made attracted the
notice of my acquaintance, who, running up, soon put the troop of boys
to flight, and taking me under his charge, led me to our abode, where
he delivered me up to Chumpa; at the same time telling her of the
scuffle, and cautioning her not to let me out of her sight again.

I was crying bitterly, and my mother hearing a strange voice, called me
to her. Asking me what had happened, I told my story, and said that the
person who had saved me was speaking to Chumpa. She addressed him from
behind the cloth, which had been put up as a screen, and thanked him;
and added, that my father was absent, but that if he would call again
in an hour or two, he would find him at home, and she was sure he would
also be glad to thank the person who had protected his child. The man
said he would come in the evening, and went away. My father returned
soon afterwards, and I received an admonition in the shape of a sound
beating, for which I was consoled by my mother by a quantity of the
sweetmeats from the Hulwaee's, which had been the cause of my trouble,
and I may add also of my present condition. You see, Sahib, how fate
works its ends out of trifling circumstances.

Towards evening my acquaintance, accompanied by another man, came. I
was a good deal the subject of their conversation; but it passed on to
other matters, among which I remember the word Thug to have been first
used. I understood too from their discourse that there were many on the
road between where we were and Indoor, and that they were cautioning my
father against them. The men said that they were soldiers, who had been
sent out on some business from Indoor; and as there were a good many of
their men with them, they offered to make part of our escort. My friend
was very kind to me, allowed me to play with his weapons, and promised
me a ride before him on his horse the next day. I was delighted at the
prospect, and with him for his kind and winning manner; but I did not
like the appearance of the other, who was an ill-looking fellow--I
shall have to tell you much more of him hereafter.

We started the next morning: our two acquaintances and their men joined
us at a mango-grove outside the village, where they had been encamped,
and we proceeded on our journey. In this manner we travelled for two
days, and my friend performed his promise of taking me up before him on
his horse; he would even dismount, and lead him, allowing me to remain
on the saddle; and as the animal was a quiet one, I used to enjoy my
ride till the sun became hot, when I was put into the dooly with my
mother. On the third day I remember my friend saying to my father, as
they rode side by side.

"Yoosuf Khan, why should you take those poor lads of yours on to Indoor
with you? why not send them back from the stage we are now approaching?
I and my men are ample protection to you; and as you will belong to the
same service as myself, there can be no harm in your trusting yourself
and family to my protection for the rest of the journey; besides, the
dangerous part of the road, the jungle in which we have been for the
last two days, is passed, and the country before us is open. The only
fear of Thugs and thieves existed in them, and they are now far behind."

"It is well said," replied my father; "I dare say the lads will be
thankful to me for sparing them a part of the long march back, and they
have already accompanied us some fifty or sixty coss."

On our arrival at the stage, my father told the lads they must return,
at which they were highly pleased; and on their departure about noon,
I gave many kind messages to my old companions and playfellows. I
remember too giving an old battered rupee to be delivered to my little
sister, and saying she was to hang it with the other charms and coins
about her neck, to remind her of me. I found it again, Sahib; but, ah!
under what circumstances!

At this period of his narrative, Ameer Ali seemed to shudder; a strong
spasm shot through his frame, and it was some time before he spoke: at
last he resumed:

Tell a servant to bring me some water, Sahib--I am thirsty with having
spoken too much.

No, said I, you are not thirsty, but you shall have the water.

It was brought, but he scarcely tasted it--the shudder again passed
through him. He got up and walked across the room, his irons clanking
as he moved. It was horrible to see the workings of his face. At last
he said, Sahib, this is weakness. I could not conceal it; I little
thought I should have been thus moved at so early a period of my story;
but recollections crowded on me so fast that I felt confused, and very
sick. It is over now--I will proceed.

Do so, said I.

The Juwans had been gone some hours, and it was now evening. My
friend came to our abode, and told my father that the next were two
short stages, and if he liked they might be made in one, as it would
shorten the distance to Indoor; but that we should be obliged to start
very early, long before daylight, and that the bearers who carried
the dooly could easily be persuaded to make the march by promise of
a sheep, which the potail of the village he proposed going to would
supply free of cost, as he was a friend of his. My father seemed to be
rather indignant at the idea of his taking a sheep for nothing, and
said that he had plenty of money, not only to pay for a sheep, but to
give them a present if they carried us quickly.

"Well," said my friend, "so much the better, for we sipahees have
rarely much about us but our arms."

"True," returned my father; "but you know that I have sold all my
property at my village, and have brought the money to aid me in our
service. Indeed, it is a good round sum." And my father chuckled at the
idea.

"What! have you a thousand rupees?" I asked, my ideas of wealth going
no further.

"And what if it should be more?" said he, and the matter dropped; but
even now I think I can remember that my friend exchanged significant
glances with his companion.

It was then arranged that we should start with the rising of the moon,
about the middle of the night. We were roused from our sleep at the
hour proposed; and after the men had had a pipe all round, we set off.
I was in the dooly with my mother. The moon had risen; but, as well as
I can remember, there was but little light, and a slight rain falling,
which obliged us to travel very slowly. After we had proceeded a few
coss, the bearers of the dooly put it down, saying that they could not
get on in the dark and the mud, and proposed to wait till daylight.
My father had a violent altercation with them; and as I was now wide
awake, and it had ceased to rain, I begged to be taken out of the
dooly, and allowed to ride with my friend. He did not assent as readily
as usual; yet he took me up when the bearers had been scolded into
going on. I remarked to him that some of the soldiers, as I thought
them, were absent. My remark attracted my father's notice to the
circumstance, and he asked our companion where they were. He replied
carelessly, that they were gone on in advance, as we had travelled as
yet so slowly, and that we should soon overtake them.

We proceeded. We came at last to the deep bed of a river, on the sides
of which there was some thick jungle, when my friend dismounted, as he
said, to drink water, and told me the horse would carry me over safely.
I guided him on as well as I could; but before I had got well across
the stream, I heard a cry, and the noise as if of a sudden scuffle. It
alarmed me; and in looking back to see from whence it proceeded, I lost
my balance on the horse, and fell heavily on the stones in the bed of
the river, which cut my forehead severely. I bear the mark now.

I lay for a short time, and raising myself up, saw all the men, who I
thought were far on before us, engaged in plundering the dooly. I now
began to scream with all my might. One of them ran up to me, and I
saw it was the ill-looking one I have before mentioned. "Ah! we have
forgotten you, you little devil," cried he; and throwing a handkerchief
round my neck, he nearly choked me. Another man came up hastily,--it
was my friend. "He must not be touched," he cried angrily to the other,
and seized his hands; they had a violent quarrel, and drew their
swords. I can remember no more; for I was so much frightened that I
lost all consciousness, and, as I suppose, fainted.

I was recovered by some water being forced into my mouth; and the first
objects which met my eyes were the bodies of my father and mother, with
those of Chumpa and the palankeen-bearers all lying confusedly on the
ground. I cannot remember what my feelings were, but they must have
been horrible. I only recollect throwing myself on my dead mother,
whose face appeared dreadfully distorted, and again relapsing into
insensibility. Even after the lapse of thirty-five years, the hideous
appearance of my mother's face, and particularly of her eyes, comes
to my recollection; but I need not describe it, Sahib; she had been
strangled! She, my father, and the whole party had come to a miserable
and untimely end! I heard a narrative of the particulars of the event,
many years afterwards, from an old Thug; and I will relate them in
their proper place.

When I recovered my consciousness, I found myself once more before my
friend who had saved my life. He supported and almost carried me in
his arms, and I perceived that we were no longer on the road. We were
rapidly traversing the jungle, which extended as far as I could see in
every direction; but the pain of my neck was so great, that I could
scarcely hold up my head. My eyes seemed to be distended and bursting,
and were also very painful. With my consciousness, the remembrance
of the whole scene came to my recollection, and again I fell into
insensibility. I recovered and relapsed in this manner several times
during this journey; but it was only momentary, only sufficient to
allow me to observe that we still held on at a rapid pace, as the men
on foot were between running and walking. At last we stopped, and it
was now broad daylight; indeed, the sun had risen. I was taken off the
horse by one of the men, and laid under a tree on a cloth spread on the
ground, and after some time my friend came to me. Desolate as I was, I
could not help feeling that he must have had some concern in the death
of my parents; and in my childish anger I bitterly reproached him, and
bade him kill me. He tried to console me: but the more he endeavoured,
the more I persisted that he should put me to death. I was in dreadful
pain; my neck and eyes ached insufferably. I heaped all the abuse I
could think of upon him, and the noise I made attracted the notice of
the ill-looking man, whose name was Gunesha.

"What is that brat saying? Are you too turned woman," cried he
fiercely, addressing the other, whose name was Ismail, "that you do not
put the cloth about his neck and quiet him at once? Let me do it, if
you are afraid."

And he approached me. I was reckless, and poured forth a torrent of
vile abuse, and spat at him. He untied his waistband, and was about to
put an end to me, when Ismail again interfered, and saved me: they had
again a violent quarrel, but he succeeded in carrying me off to some
little distance to another tree, where some of the band were preparing
to cook their victuals; and setting me down among them, bidding them
take care of me, he went away. The men tried to make me speak, but
I was sullen and would not; the pain of my neck and eyes seemed to
increase, and I began to cry bitterly. I lay in this manner for some
hours, I suppose; and at last, completely tired out, fell asleep. I
woke towards evening; and when Ismail saw me sit up, he came to me,
soothed and caressed me, saying that I should henceforth be his child;
and that it was not he, but others, who had murdered my parents. I
remember begging him to do something for my neck, which was swelled and
still very painful. He examined it, and seemed to be struck with the
narrow escape I had had of my life.

He rubbed my neck with oil, and afterwards put upon it a warm plaster
of leaves, which relieved it greatly, and I felt easier for its
application. He remained with me; and some of the other men, sitting
down by us, began to sing and play to amuse me. I was given some milk
and rice to eat in the evening; but before it was time to sleep, Ismail
brought me some sherbet of sugar and water, which he said would make me
sleep. I suppose there was opium in it, for I remember nothing till the
next morning, when I found myself in his arms on horseback, and knew
that we were again travelling.

I pass over the journey, as I remember nothing of it, except that
Gunesha was no longer with us, which I was very glad of, for I hated
him, and could not bear his presence. Even in after-years, Sahib,
though we have been engaged together in Thuggee, I always bore a
deep-rooted aversion to him, which never changed to the last. Ismail
and seven men were all that remained of the band; and we proceeded, by
long and fatiguing marches, to a village in which he said he resided,
and where I was to be given up to the care of his wife. We arrived at
last, and I was introduced to a good-looking young woman as a child of
a relation, whom he had long ago adopted as a son, and had now brought
home to her: in fine, I was formally adopted by them as their own, and
my sufferings were speedily forgotten.



CHAPTER II.


I must have been at this time about five years old. It will strike you
perhaps as strange, Sahib, that I should remember so many particulars
of the event I have described; but when I was imprisoned some years
ago at Dehlie, I used to endeavour, in my solitude, to recollect and
arrange the past adventures of my life; one circumstance led me to
the remembrance of another--for in solitude, if the mind seeks the
occupation, it readily takes up the clue to past events, however
distant, and thought brings them one by one before the imagination as
vividly fresh as the occurrences of yesterday; and from an old Thug's
adventures, which I heard during that imprisonment, I found my memory
to serve me well. I was in possession of the whole of the facts, as I
have related them to you, and I have only perhaps supplied the minor
points from my own mind. I particularly recollect the scene with
Gunesha, which he has since related to me, and told me, that such was
his rage at the abuse I poured on him, that had it not been for the
dread of Ismail's vengeance, and of his power, he would have sacrificed
me in his fury. But to return to my story, if you are not tired of it.

No, indeed, said I; I am becoming more and more interested in it.

Well, resumed Ameer Ali, I was kindly nursed and tended by Ismail
and his wife. The curiosity of the villagers was a good deal excited
by my appearance, and I have since suspected Ismail thought I might
one day reveal what I knew of my origin; and for this reason I was
never allowed out of his or his wife's sight. I must then, however,
have speedily forgotten all about it, or at least have retained so
confused and indistinct a recollection of the circumstances, that had
I endeavoured to relate them to any one, I could not have made them
intelligible, and should have been disregarded.

Ismail, in his village, carried on the trade of a cloth-merchant--at
least, when he was at home. He daily sat in his shop, with different
kinds of cloths before him for sale; but it was plain, even to me, to
see that he was restless and uneasy. He would very often be absent for
days together, without his family knowing where he had gone; and he
would suddenly return with large quantities of cloth and other goods,
which were always exposed for sale. I continued to be the object of his
greatest care, and I reciprocated his affection; for, indeed, I was
more kindly treated by him than I ever had been by my father, who was a
proud and ill-tempered man. My new mother, too, never gave me reason to
be displeased with her; for, having no child of her own, I was her pet,
and she lavished on me all the means in her power. I was always well
dressed, and had every indulgence that a child could wish for.

I was about nine years old, I think, when my kind protectress died of
a fever, while Ismail was on one of his excursions, and I was taken by
a neighbour to his house, until he returned. I shall never forget his
despair when he found his home desolate. Young as I was, I could do but
little to console him; but he used to go and deck her tomb with flowers
every Friday, and bitter were his lamentations over her grave.

Poor Miriam! for that was her name--it was well for you that you died;
had you lived, what would now have been your condition! As the wife of
a noted Thug, your reputation would have been blasted, and you would
have become an outcast! Sahib! she never knew what Ismail was. He
was to her a man in prosperous circumstances. She had everything she
could desire, and not a want remained unsatisfied; and so deeply and
well-laid were his plans, that she would never have known, till the day
of his capture, that she was the wife of a professed murderer!

I pass over the next four or five years of my life, as I can remember
no incident in them worth relating. Ismail, soon after the death of
his wife, removed from the village where he had hitherto resided, and
took up his abode in the town of Murnae, which was then in Sindia's
possession, and I was put to school with an old man, who taught me to
read and write Persian. As I grew older, I observed that Ismail used
very frequently to have a number of men at his house by night, and I
was naturally curious to know who they were, and why they assembled.
One evening that I knew they were expected, I feigned to lie down and
go to sleep as usual; but when they had all come, I got up cautiously,
and hid myself behind a purdah or screen, at the further end of the
room where they sat. After they had eaten what was prepared for
them, they all drew together, and began conversing in a language I
only partially understood, and I thought this strange, as I knew
Hindoostanee and the common dialect myself, having picked up the latter
by associating with the boys of the town. By-and-by Ismail went to a
closet very near where I lay, and his movement alarmed me greatly,
as I was fearful of being discovered; he took from it a box, which
he placed in the circle, and opened it. Rich as I had always thought
him, I had no idea of the wealth it contained; there were quantities
of gold and silver ornaments of all kinds, with strings of pearls and
other valuables; they seemed all parcelled out into lots, as equally as
possible, and to each man he gave one, reserving a considerable share
for himself.

At last they began to speak in Hindoostanee, a language I understood.
One of them, an elderly man with a venerable beard, said to Ismail,--

"What do you intend doing with Ameer? He is almost a young man; and if
he is to be one of us, it is high time he should be taught what to do.
It is very dangerous to have him about the house; he might discover
something, and be off before you knew anything of the matter."

"Oh, I have no fear of him," said Ismail, "he is too fond of me;
besides, he has no other protector in the world but myself. He was the
son of ----"

And here the conversation was carried on by Ismail again in the
language I did not understand.

"It does not matter," said another man, whose name was Hoosein, and
whom I knew very well, as he was employed by Ismail, to all appearance,
as an agent for selling his cloth; "the lad is a smart, active fellow,
and a great deal too knowing for you to let him go about everywhere
with so little restraint; he will find out all one of these days, if he
is not fairly brought among us. Besides, he is old enough to be of use
in many ways, and he ought to be instructed in our profession, if he be
ever to learn; depend upon it, the sooner he eats the Goor, the more
relish he will have for it. I brought up a lad myself; and when once
he got his hand in, he was a perfect tiger at the work, and became so
expert, that our oldest hands could hardly compete with him."

"Well," said Ismail, "I believe you are right, and I foretell great
doings from this boy. He is brave and stout beyond his years, and
there are but few who can excel him in his qusrut, which I have
taught him ever since he was a child; but he is of so kind and gentle
a disposition, that I do not know how to break the matter to him. I
almost fear he will never consent."

"Pooh!" said a third man, whom I had never seen before; "these very
kind-hearted boys are the best we could have; they are the more easily
led and won over, and one has more dependence upon them. Put the matter
in the proper light; talk to him of the glory of the business, and of
our surety of Heaven. Describe to him all about the houris which our
blessed prophet--may his name be honoured!--has promised us; and tell
him, too, of the heaven of Indur, all of which you know we are sure of;
the one by our faith as Moslims, and the other by our profession. He
will soon be won over, I am certain."

"I think," said Ismail, "you have hit on the right way; the lad goes
to the old foolish Moola of the Mosque whenever he can get a moment's
leisure, who has so filled his head with stories about Paradise, which
he reads to him out of the blessed Koran, that he is at times half
beside himself, and this is the only point on which he is assailable. I
will talk him over, and have no doubt he will soon belong to us."

"The sooner the better," said Hoosein, laughing; "I like to see the
first attempt of a beginner: he always looks so confoundedly innocent
when the cloth is put into his hand, and he is told----"

"Silence!" cried the old man; "suppose he were now to hear you (and
you were going on with a relation of the whole matter), he might take
a different view of the subject, and be off, as I said before."

"No; there is no fear of that," said Ismail; "but are you not tired
with your march? remember, we have far to travel to-morrow, and, by
Alla! it is for some good too."

"Ay!" said all, getting up; "let us go to sleep; it is too hot to rest
here; we shall be cooler in the open air;" and they left the room.

You may believe, Sahib, that my curiosity was at the highest pitch:
who was Ismail? who were the rest? what was it I was to know, or to be
taught? My mind was in a whirl. I could not sleep that night; I never
closed my eyes; I seemed to be in a fever, so intense was my curiosity,
and, I may say, my desire to know everything, and to become a partner
with Ismail in whatever he was. Hitherto I had been looked upon,
treated as a child: now that was to be cast aside. I was, like a snake,
to throw off my old skin, and to appear in a new and brighter form.
Who could my parents be? I had gathered enough from the conversation,
that Ismail was not my father, and I taxed my memory to recollect such
portions of my previous existence as might throw some light on the
subject; but all was dark within me. I could remember nothing but poor
Miriam, my mother as I used to call her; beyond this, though hard did I
endeavour, I could recollect nothing. It was only in after-times, as I
have told you, and during a long imprisonment of twelve years, that my
memory aided me.

The old Moola of the Mosque had hitherto appeared in my eyes the most
learned of men; he had stored my mind with passages from the Koran,
which had made me an enthusiast. When he spoke to me of the glories
of heaven, of the thousands of houris who would be at the command
of every true believer, described their beautiful forms, their eyes
like sapphires, their teeth of pearls, their lips like rubies, and
their breath like the perfume of musk; the palaces of jewels, and the
fountain of immortality and never-ending youth;--I believed that I
was destined to enjoy all. They had inflamed my imagination; and as I
used to repeat them to Ismail, he too appeared as delighted as I was,
and used to regret that he had never studied the blessed book, that he
might enjoy its beautiful descriptions; yet the Moola was called a fool
by Hoosein, and I understood from him that theirs was a higher calling,
their rewards more splendid than even those of the Moslim! What could
they be? I burned to know; and resolved, that if Ismail did not break
the matter to me, I would, of my own accord, lead him to the subject.

I said, I think, that my eyes never closed that night; when I rose
in the morning, I found that Ismail and the others were gone. He did
not return for some days. This was nothing uncommon, certainly; but
his proceedings had become mysterious to me for a long time before,
and I could not help connecting his frequent and long absences with
his true profession, whatever that might be. He could not be _only_ a
cloth-merchant: there was nothing in that plodding business to hold out
to him or to me the splendid hopes which Hoosein and the rest evidently
entertained, and with which I had no doubt he was familiar. It must be
something beyond this, which I could not compass; and to see whether I
could get any clue to it, I betook myself to the old Moola.

Azeezoola, for that was his name, received me with his usual kindness,
but remarked that I must be ill, as my face, he said, was full of
anxiety, and as though I was suffering from fever. I said I had had
ague, but that I was better, and that it would soon pass from me.
I took my usual lessons in the forms, positions, and words of a
Mahomedan's daily prayers; and when these were ended, I begged him to
open the Koran, and explain again to me my favourite passages. The old
man put on his spectacles, and rocking himself to and fro, read to me
passage by passage of the book in Arabic, explaining the meaning to me
as he read. It was the same I had heard often before: and when he had
finished, I asked him whether there were not other portions of the book
which he had concealed from me.

"No, my son," said he; "I have concealed from you nothing. My knowledge
of this blessed book is indeed very limited; but oh! that you could
have seen and heard the commentaries which my revered preceptor,
peace be to his memory! had written upon it. In them so deep was his
knowledge, that every sentence of some chapters, in which the true
meaning is purposely hidden from the uninspired, formed a separate
treatise; nay, in some passages every word, and indeed every letter,
was commented upon. But he is gone, and is now enjoying the delights of
the paradise I have revealed to you. All I can do is to read to you,
and I will do it again and again, till you have by heart the parts
which most interest you, and which are the cream of the book."

"But," said I, "have you never heard of anything beyond what you
have told me, in all your long experience? You are surely concealing
something from me, which you fear to tell me, on account of my youth."

"No, indeed," said the old man, "it is true that some professors of our
religion, Sofees and others, whose creeds are accursed, have from time
to time promulgated heterodox doctrines, which are plausible enough,
and entrap the unwary; but they lead to ultimate perdition, and I think
you are now too well grounded in your belief to be led away by them,
young as you are."

"Thanks to your kindness, I am," said I, "and it was only to try
whether I had more to learn, that I have now questioned you as I have,"
for I saw he either could not, or would not reveal to me more. "But
tell me, father, what profession ought I to adopt to carry your wise
instructions into the best effect?"

"Become a Moola," said he; "you will have to undergo much painful
study, but in the course of time this obstacle will be overcome; and
depend upon it, there is no station or profession so acceptable to God
as that of one of his ministers. I will instruct you in the rudiments
of Arabic, and your father when he sees your mind bent upon it will not
oppose you; nay, he will send you to Delhie to complete the education I
shall have begun."

"Well, I will think of it," said I. But it was very far from my
intention to become a Moola. I could not disguise from myself that
Azeezoola was miserably poor, and was dependent upon contributions he
with difficulty collected for his maintenance. Besides Ismail was not
a Moola, nor Hoosein, nor any of their set and I must become one of
them, be they what they might, before my mind could be at rest. I went
no more to him. I had got from him his little store of knowledge, and
if once I had broken the subject of my future life to him, I should
only be subjected to continual arguments in support of his view of what
would tend to my benefit; and as I did not like them, I thought it
better to stay away.

Would to God I had become a Moola! Anything would be preferable to my
state at present, which must now for ever remain as it is. It is my
fate, however, and I ought not to murmur at the decrees of Providence.
If it had not been written, would my father have been murdered? If it
had not been written, should I have ever become a Thug? Assuredly not!
Who can oppose fate? who can avert its decrees? Yet would you not,
Sahib, release me, and provide for me, if after many years you found me
faithful?

Never! said I; you Thugs are too dangerous ever to be let loose again
upon the world; your fingers would itch to strangle the first man you
met, and before long we should hear of Ameer Ali Jemadar, with a gang
of forty or fifty fellows, who would give us infinite trouble to catch.
Would it not be so?

I believe you are right, said Ameer Ali, laughing: in spite of my
remorse at times, the opportunities would be too tempting for me to let
them pass. And you know I have eaten the Goor, and cannot change. I am
better as I am, for if you caught me again you would hang me.

I have not the least doubt we should, Ameer Ali: but go on with your
story; you will forget what your train of thought was, if you digress
in this manner. He resumed.

Nearly a month elapsed, and after this weary time to me, Ismail
returned, accompanied by Hoosein. My father, for so I shall call him,
remarked a change in my appearance, which I accounted for as I had
done to the Moola, and he seemed satisfied. But was I? Oh, no! I was
consumed by my burning curiosity to know all that was hidden from me.
I could not sleep at nights, and became sullen, and oppressed with
thoughts which led me to no conclusions. At one time I had formed
the determination to leave my father, and seek my fortune; and had
actually packed up a few of my clothes, and a little money I had, and
resolved to leave the town in the night, little caring where my fate
should lead me; but when the time came, the sense of my desolation so
pressed upon me, that I abandoned the idea, and remained. I trusted to
time for clearing up the mystery that hung over me, but at the same
time determined that I would be more watchful over my father and his
companions than I had ever been before. And many were the resolutions
I made to speak to him on the subject nearest my heart; yet even when
opportunities occurred, I could not bring myself to the task. It was
not that I was timid--naturally I was brave--it was a mysterious
consciousness that I should hear something (whenever I should hear it)
that was strange, nay, fearful, that deterred me; but why this feeling
should have so possessed me I cannot now tell, yet so it was.

One evening, Ismail sent for me to his sleeping-room. I had been rarely
admitted to it, and my heart beat fearfully, with a presentiment
that I was upon the crisis of my fate.--Ismail too seemed to me to
be disturbed; he bade me sit down, and we sat silently for some time
gazing on one another. There was only one small oil light burning in
a recess of the wall, which made the apartment very gloomy, and this
trifling circumstance contributed still more to increase the morbid
feeling within me. I believe I almost gasped for breath; I could bear
it no longer. I arose, threw myself at his feet, and burst into a
passionate fit of weeping.

"Why, Ameer, my child, my son," said he, kindly and caressingly, "what
is this? what has troubled you? has some fair one bewitched you? have
you got into any difficulty while I have been away? Tell me, my boy;
you know you have no one in the world so fond of you as your father,
and, alas! you have now no mother."

When my feelings gave me power of utterance, fearfully I repeated to
him what I had heard from him and the rest, on the memorable night
I have before related. When I had finished, I rose up, and with a
throbbing heart said, "I have erred, my father; my curiosity, a boy's
curiosity, overcame me, but since then my feelings have changed, why I
know not; I am no longer a boy, for I feel that I can do anything, and
only implore you to put me to the proof;"--and I folded my hands on my
breast, and stood silently. He was evidently much moved; dusk as it
was, I could see his face working with emotions, and under expressions
new to me.

At last he broke the silence, which had become to me insupportable:
"My son," he said, "you know more than I had ever intended you should.
I have now no alternative but to make you such as I am myself, and my
knowledge of your character leads me to anticipate much from you."

"Trust me, only trust me!" I passionately exclaimed; "you shall never
have cause to regret it!"

"I believe you," said he; "and now attend well to what I shall say,
for upon it your future existence depends. There can be no hesitation,
no falling back on the world, when once you know all. You will have to
undergo a trial which will stretch your courage to its utmost: will you
go through with it? dare you to brave it?"

"I dare," cried I, for I was reckless.

He seemed to be absorbed in thought for a few moments, and then said,
"Not to-night, but I swear to you that in three days at the farthest, I
will conceal nothing from you."

I was disappointed, yet full of hope, and he dismissed me to my repose.
Ismail performed his promise; but I can hardly describe to you, Sahib,
the effect it then had on my mind: shall I endeavour to relate what his
tale was? I only hesitate, as it began by his giving me a sketch of
his life, which I fear would lead me from my own story--yet it would
interest you greatly.

I doubt not that it would, Ameer Ali, said I; and when you have
finished your own adventures you can return to it.

You are right, Sahib, I will omit it at present, all except his
concluding words; which, with his tale of wrong, endured and revenged,
made me hate the world, and cleave to Thuggee as the only profession
and brotherhood in which I could hope to find good faith existing. They
were these, and they have ever been indelibly impressed on my memory.

"Thus far, my son, have I related some events of my life for your
instruction, and I have little more to add. I need hardly now mention
that I am a Thug, a member of that glorious profession which has been
transmitted from the remotest periods, to the few selected by Alla for
his unerring purposes. In it, the Hindoo and the Moslim both unite
as brothers: among them bad faith is never known: a sure proof, that
our calling is blessed and sanctioned by the divine authority. For
where on this earth, my son, will you find true faith to exist, except
among us? I see none in all my dealings with the world; in it, each
man is incessantly striving to outwit and deceive his neighbour: and
I turn from its heartlessness to our truth, which it is refreshing to
my soul to contemplate. From the lowest to the highest among us, all
are animated with the same zeal; go where we will we find the same
brotherhood; and though differing perhaps, in many parts, in customs
and points of practice, yet their hearts are the same, and all pursue
the great aim and end of Thuggee with the same spirit. Go where we
will, we find homes open to us, and a welcome greeting among tribes
even of whose language we of Hindostan are ignorant; yet their signs
of recognition are the same as ours, and you need but to be thrown
among them as I have been, to experience the truth of my assertions.
Could this be without the aid of God? So clashing are human interests
and so depraved is the social state of our country, that I own no
such feeling could exist without the Divine will. Some repugnance you
will feel at the practice of the profession at first, but it is soon
overcome, for the rewards held out are too glorious, to allow us to
dwell for a moment on the means we use to attain them. Besides, it is
Fate,--the decree of the blessed Alla! and who can withstand it? If
he leads us into the undertaking, he gives us firm and brave hearts,
a determination which no opposition can overcome, and a perseverance
which never yet failed to accomplish its object. Such, my son, is what
I would make you; you will enter on your calling at once in a high
grade, under my auspices, a grade which others spend years of exertion
to attain; you will never know want, for all my wealth shall be shared
with you. Be firm, be courageous, be subtle, be faithful; more you need
not. These are the highest qualifications of a Thug, and those which
ensure honour and respect among our fraternity, and lead to certain
success and high rank. As for me, I look but to see you at the head
of a band of your own, to retire, and in quiet, pass the remainder of
the years allotted to me, content with hearing the praise which will
be bestowed upon Ameer Ali, the daring and enterprising son of Ismail!
Till then I shall be your guardian and instructor."



CHAPTER III.


"My father," said I, "you need say no more, I am yours, do as you will
with me; long ere I heard this history from you, I had overheard a
conversation between Hoosein, yourself, and some others, regarding me,
which has caused me great unhappiness; for I feared I was not thought
worthy of your confidence, and it weighed heavily upon my mind. That
was in fact the cause of the sorrow and heaviness you have remarked,
and I longed for an opportunity to throw open my heart to you, and to
implore of you to receive me among you. I am no longer a child, and
your history has opened to me new feelings which are at present too
vague for me to describe; but I long to win fame as you have done, and
long to become a member of the profession in which you describe true
faith and brotherhood alone to exist. As yet I have seen nothing of
the false world, and assuredly what you have said makes me still less
inclined to follow any calling which would lead me to connection with
it. Heartless and depraved I have heard it to be from others besides
yourself, and I feel as though I were chosen by Alla to win renown;
it can only be gained by treading in your footsteps, and behold me
ready to follow you whithersoever you will lead me. I have no friend
but yourself, no acquaintance even have I ever formed among the youths
of the village; for when I saw them following what their fathers had
done, and what appeared to me low and pitiful pursuits, my spirits
rose against them, and I have cast them off. My only friend is the old
Moola, who would fain persuade me to become one like himself, and
spend my days reading the Koran; but there is nothing stirring in his
profession, though it is a holy one, and it consequently holds out no
inducements to me, or any hope of gratifying the thirst for active
employment which is consuming me. I have wished to become a soldier,
and to enter one of the bands in the service of Sindea to fight against
the unbelieving Feringhees; but this too has passed away, and now I
desire nothing but to become a Thug, and follow you, my father, through
the world. I will not disappoint you; my thirst for fame is too ardent,
for anything but death to quench it."

"May God keep it far from you," said Ismail, with feeling: "you are the
only solace to a life which has now no enjoyment but what is produced
by the development of your thoughts and actions. I know, my son, you
will not disappoint me. You see the state of prosperity I am blessed
with, but you little know the power I have; my authority is owned by
every Thug in this part of Hindostan, and a week's notice would see a
band of a thousand men ready to obey any order I should give them. This
will be proved to you in a few days, at the festival of the Dasera;
we shall all assemble, at least as many as will be requisite for the
opening operations of the year, which will be undertaken on a scale
of unusual greatness, for we have determined to take advantage of the
confusion at present produced by the wars of Holkar and Sindea with the
Feringhees; we anticipate much work and a stirring season, and the men
are impatient for employment, after a long period of inactivity. I will
take you to Sheopoor, which we have decided on as our place of meeting,
as the zemindar is friendly to us and assists us in many ways. I will
introduce you to my associates, and you will be initiated as a Thug in
the usual manner."

Thus, Sahib, our conversation ended: the night had passed in its
relation, and I went to rest a different being from what I had been for
many days before. I rose, and found all my former energy and spirit
had returned to me; and whereas a few days before I went about like
a love-sick maiden, I now held up my head, threw out my chest, and
felt a man. It was true I was still a boy, I was only eighteen years
old, but I did not suffer my thoughts to dwell upon this; a few years,
thought I, and, Inshalla! I shall be somebody. To prove to you, Sahib,
the excitement that possessed me, I shall relate to you the following
circumstance. I might have joined in the action before, but never
should have dreamed of doing the deed of daring I then did, in the
presence too of men who were soldiers by profession, but who hung back
at the moment of danger.

It happened, a day or two after the conversation with my father which
I have related, that a tigress with a cub came into a small tract of
jungle which lay near our village; the first day she was seen she
killed a shepherd, the second day another man who had gone to look
for his body, and the third she grievously wounded the Potail of the
village, a man who was held in universal estimation, and he died during
the night. A general meeting of the villagers was held at the place set
apart for deliberations, and it was determined that all the active men
should proceed in a body and attack the beast in her lair. The next
morning we all assembled before daybreak. There was one man, a huge
large-whiskered and bearded Pathan, who volunteered to be our leader;
he was literally hardly able to move for the weapons he had about him.
Two swords were in his belt, which also contained an assortment of
daggers of various sizes and shapes; a long straight two-edged sword
hung over his left shoulder, the point of which nearly touched the
ground; he had also a shield across his back, and in his right hand a
matchlock with the match lighted. He addressed my father as we came up.

"Salaam aleikoom! Ismail Sahib," said he, "is a quiet person like you
coming out with us, and the Sahib zadah too?"

"Yes, Khan," replied my father, "it is incumbent on all good men to do
their utmost in a case of need like this; who knows, if the brute is
not killed, but that some one else may become food for it?"

"Inshalla!" said the Khan, twisting up his mustachios, and surveying
himself, "we have determined that the brute dies to-day. Many a tiger
has fallen from a shot from my good gun, and what is this brute that
it should escape! May its sister be defiled; the only fear is, that
it will not stand to allow us to prove that we are men, and not dogs
before it?"

"As to that," said my father, "we must take our chance; but say, Khan,
how will you move with all those weapons about you? Why, you could not
run away were she to rush out."

"Run away!" cried the Khan; "are our beards to be defiled by a brute?
What are you thinking on this morning to suppose that Dildar Khan ever
turned from anything in his life? Only let it come out, I say, and
you will see what use the weapons will be! Trust to me single-handed
to finish it: first I shall shoot it with my matchlock; it will be
wounded; then I shall advance on it thus," said he, drawing the long
sword and flourishing it, at the same time twirling round and round,
and leaping in every possible direction.

"There!" said he, quite out of breath, "there! would not that have
finished it? Why I am a perfect Roostum in matters of this kind, and
killing a tiger is only child's play to Dildar Khan! why, I could eat
one, tail and all. But come along, and when the play begins, let no
one come in Dildar Khan's way," said he to the assembled group, "for,
Inshalla! I mean to show you poor ignorant people how a tiger can be
killed by a single man."

"I know the Khan to be as arrant a coward as ever breathed," said my
father to me; "but come, let us see what he will do, for I confess I am
anxious to behold him capering before the tigress."

"By Alla!" said I, "if he does perform such antics, the brute will dine
on him to a certainty."

"That is no concern of ours," said my father; "it is a matter of
destiny; but I would venture a great deal, he never goes within an
arrow's flight of him."

We all set out headed by Dildar Khan, who still flourished his long
sword, holding his matchlock in his left hand, now and then smoothing
up his moustachios, which grew, or had been trained to stick upwards
from his lips, and reached nearly to his eyes. We soon reached the
jungle, and on entering it, I thought the Khan showed signs of fear.

"The beast can be but a panther after all," said he, "and it is hardly
worth the while of Dildar Khan to put himself to trouble. See, boys,"
continued he to some of us; "I will wait here; if it should really turn
out to be a tiger you can let me know, and I will come and kill it."

Against this, however, we all protested, and declared that all would go
wrong without him; and after some demur he again proceeded.

"I told you," said my father, "how it would be; but let us see how he
will end the affair."

We went on till some bones and torn clothes, and the head of one of the
unfortunate men who had been killed, lying near a bush, proved very
plainly that the animal was not far off, and at these the Khan showed
fresh signs of fear.

"They say it is a Purrut Bagh," said he, "a beast into whom the
unsainted soul of that mad Fakeer, that son of the Shitan, Shah Yacoob,
has entered, and that it is proof against shot. Why should we risk our
lives in contention with the devil?"

"Nay, Khan," said a young dare-devil lad, the scamp of the village,
"you are joking, who ever heard of a Purrut Bagh that was a female?
besides, we will burn the beards of fifty Shah Yacoobs."

"Peace!" cried the Khan, "be not irreverent; do we not all know
that Purrut Baghs can be created? Mashalla! did I not see one near
Asseergurh, which a Fakeer had made, and turned loose on the country,
because they would not supply him with a virgin from every village?"

"What was it like?" cried a dozen of us, and for a moment the real
tigress was forgotten.

"Like!" said the Khan, rubbing up his mustachios with one hand, and
pressing down his waistband with the other, "like! why it had a head
twice the size of any other tiger, and teeth each a cubit long, and
eyes red as coals, which looked like torches at night; and it had no
tail, and,----"

But here he was stopped short, and our laughter too, by a loud roar
from a short distance; and a moment afterwards, the tigress and a
half-grown cub, rushed past us with their tails in the air.

"Well, Khan," said the lad before-mentioned, "that is no Purrut Bagh at
any rate; did you not see the tail of the big one, how she shook it at
you?"

"I represent," said he, "that, tail or no tail, it holds the accursed
soul of that wretch Yacoob, may his grave be defiled! and I will have
nothing to do with it; it is useless to try to kill the Shitan; if he
chose, you know, he could blow us all into hell with a breath."

"Namurd! Namurd! coward! coward!" cried some of us; "you were brave in
the village; how are you now?"

"Who calls me Namurd?" roared the Khan; "follow me, and see if I am one
or not," and he rushed forward, but not in the direction the tigress
had gone.

"That is not the way," cried some, and at last he turned.

"This is child's play," said my father; "come, if we are to do
anything, we had better set about it in good earnest."

And we went on in the direction the beast had taken. It led to an open
glade, at one side of which there was a large rock, with some very
thick bushes about it.

"She is there, depend upon it," said an old hunter; "I never saw a more
likely place in my life."

We were all about thirty steps from the rock and bushes, and Dildar
Khan did not at all relish his proximity to them. "I beg to represent,"
said he in a low voice to us all, "that having killed so many of these
brutes, I know best how to manage them; and as I am the best armed of
the party, I shall take up my position near yonder bush, by which runs
the pathway; she will take to it when she is driven out, and then you
will see the reception she will meet with from Dildar Khan. Inshalla!
I shall present the point of my sword to her, and she will run on it,
then I shall finish her with one blow of my tegha."

We all looked in the direction he pointed, and sure enough there was a
bush, about two hundred paces off, on the pathway to the village.

"Not that one surely," said my father; "why, man, you will never see
the beast from thence."

"Trust me," said the Khan, and off he went.

"I told you how it would be," continued my father; "directly he sees
the animal, he will be off down the road as fast as he can. But come,"
said he to the men, "since the Khan thinks he will be of more use down
yonder, I will lead you on, and we will see whether this eater of men
cannot be got out."

We were immediately divided into three parties, one to go on either
side of the bushes, the other by a circuit to get behind the rock and
if possible upon it, in order to shoot her from above if she was to
be seen; if not, at any rate to dislodge her by throwing stones. The
arrangements were quickly completed, and though we were all within
only a few yards of the bushes, there was no sign of the tigress. She
expressed no displeasure at our near approach or preparations, as she
had been disturbed before, and of course could not easily be driven out
of her place of refuge. I was with one of the parties on the side, and
had no arms but a sword and a light shield; indeed I had gone more as
a spectator than aught else. We waited a few minutes, and one of the
party who had been sent round, appeared on the top of the rock; he was
soon followed by three others.

"Are you all ready?" cried one of them: "I shall heave down this stone."

"Bismilla! Away with it!" cried my father.

Three of them applied their strength to it, and at last it rolled
over the face of the rock, and thundering down, split into a thousand
fragments. There was a moment of intense anxiety and suspense, but no
tigress followed.

"Try whether you cannot see her," cried my father; "if you do, fire; we
are all prepared."

The men looked down in every direction, but said nothing. At last one
of them was observed to be pointing to a particular spot, as though he
showed the others something.

"By Alla!" said my father, "he sees her; look out; she will rush
forth before you are thinking of her." Every man blew his match, and
planted his feet firmly. At last one of the men on the rock raised his
matchlock and fired; it was answered by a tremendous roar which rent
the skies, and out rushed the cub, apparently badly wounded, for before
he had come a few yards he lay down and roared horribly; he was fully
half-grown, and made a dreadful noise. One of the men of our party
fired at him, and he did not move after the shot struck him.

"Now we shall have tough work," said my father; "she will be savage
and infuriated beyond description; it is hardly safe to be here; but
mind your aim, my lads, and she will never reach us; I never yet missed
mine, but the shot may not be fatal; so look out for yourselves."

Again my father called to the men on the rock to heave over another
fragment. There was one very large one just on the brink. After a good
many pushes it gave way, and as the former had done, shivered into
atoms with a great noise. It was successful, the tigress rushed out
towards our side, and stood for a moment. I had never seen a tiger
before, and could not help admiring her noble appearance. There she
stood, her tail erect, the end of it only waving from side to side,
glaring on us with her fearfully bright eyes, apparently irresolute
as to what she would do, and not noticing the body of the cub, which
was close to her. We were all as silent as death, each man with his
matchlock to his shoulder. My father fired, and then the others; I
could see the whole distinctly, for I had no gun. She staggered when my
father fired, he had evidently hit her; but the rest had missed, and
she charged with another tremendous roar, right at our party; but the
shout we set up, and the waving of our weapons turned her, and she set
off at a slow canter towards the bush where Dildar Khan had stationed
himself.

"Ya Alla!" cried my father, "coward as he is, he will be killed! she
will spare nothing now! what can be done?" By this time the other party
caught a glimpse of her, and every matchlock was discharged; she must
have been hit again, for she stopped, turned round, growled, and showed
her teeth, but again sprang forward. I imagine Dildar Khan had no idea
that she was approaching him, as he had hid himself behind the bush and
could have seen nothing of what had passed. "He may escape," said my
father; "it is possible, yet scarcely; what can be done?" No one made a
reply; but an instant afterwards I had drawn my sword, and set off at
full speed after the enraged brute.

"Ameer Ali, my son! come back, come back instantly! Ya Alla, he too
will perish!" cried my father in an agony of apprehension.

But I heeded not, and who of that company had my fleet foot? yet some
of them followed me. As I ran, I saw the tigress was weak, and was
badly wounded, but still she ran fast. I saw her approach the bush,
and the miserable man Dildar Khan rush from behind it, and stand in
her very path, with his arms stretched out, apparently paralyzed with
fear. Another instant she had crouched as she ran, and sprang upon him;
he was under her, and she fiercely tearing his body. It did not stop
me; I heard the cries of those behind me to turn off, but I did not.
I do not think I gave the danger a thought; if I did, the excitement
overpowered it. Another bound had brought me close to the brute, whose
head was down, gnawing the body beneath her. I made but one stroke at
her, which, praise be to God! was successful; the blade buried itself
deep in the back of her neck, and she seemed to me to drop dead; I
bounded off to one side, and watched for a moment. She was indeed
dead, and lay, her limbs only quivering, upon the body of the man
beneath her. Unfortunate coward! wounded as she was, she would not have
turned after him, had he even had the presence of mind to avoid her;
but he had thought to fly, and the sight of the animal had paralyzed
his faculties. Though all passed in a moment, methinks now, Sahib,
I see him, his eyes starting from his head, and his arms raised and
expanded, as though wooing the animal's fatal embrace. Coward! had he
remained behind the bush, he was safe, and might have shot her as she
passed; but there he lay, a fearful spectacle, his face all bitten and
lacerated, and the blood pouring from wounds in his stomach! He was
quite dead. My father came up immediately; he embraced me, and burst
into tears.

"How could you risk your life, my boy?" said he; "how could you be so
rashly venturous of your life for so poor a wretch as he?" pointing
to the body; "did I not tell you he was a coward? Yet I am proud of
you now, my son, and you have shamed us all. See!" continued he to the
whole assembly, "our faces are blackened this day by a boy; who among
you could have planted so well-aimed and deep a cut? See! the blade has
buried itself, and is half through the bone. Mashalla! it is a brave
boy!" and again my father hugged me to his breast.

"I beg to represent," said old Benee Singh, my instructor in my
athletic exercises, "that some of the praise is due to me for my good
teaching. I always told you, Ismail Sahib, that the Sahib Zadah would
be worthy of his father: may his riches increase, and may he live a
thousand years! Yes, sir," said he to me, "often have I taught you that
cut; you see you were running along, and cut over your left hand; it is
few that can do that with any certainty, but you have caught the knack,
and you want but a little practice to become as good a swordsman as
myself. Perhaps, too," continued he to me, laughing, "the heart of your
teacher may be made glad to-day; under such an auspicious commencement,
the Sahib Zadah will remember the old Rajpoot."

"That reminds me," said my father, "that I owe you a present; come to
me this afternoon. Inshalla! we know how to be grateful for kindness,
and it shall have its reward." And he received when he came a handsome
gift.

I must say, however, that under his tuition I had become highly expert
at all manly exercises; I could use a gun, throw a spear, wrestle,
knew the exact use of every description of sword, straight or crooked,
single or double-edged, long or short, and in all these exercises there
was not a lad of the village, and I may say of the country round, who
could in any way compete with me.

That night my father said to me, "Ameer, my son, to-morrow, you
accompany me to Sheopoor. I need not tell you how to-day's exploit
will raise you in the eyes of your future companions. Already have I
despatched intelligence of our purposed departure to-morrow, and some
account of to-day's affair, enough only to make them curious to see the
hero of it; and I have mentioned no particulars, which will make them
the more anxious to hear them from me. You have hitherto been looked on
with some suspicion by many members of my band; and were it not for my
rank of jemadar, I should have been obliged to explain my intentions
in regard to you, long ago to them. I look therefore upon this event
as particularly fortunate; as, knowing you are to be publicly brought
amongst them, they will receive you with greater warmth and respect, as
having given so undeniable a proof of your bravery, in the presence too
of old soldiers, who have most of them seen many a tough fight."

"It was God's will," said I; "else what power had a boy like I to do
such a thing?"

"You are now no child," replied my father; "you have this day, or I
mistake you much, thrown off every lingering feeling of boyhood; the
change has been sudden, but it has been complete, and it will last, or
I mistake you much."

"You do not," I replied, "I am not what I was; to-day is the first
blood I have seen spilled; I feel that it will not be the last."



CHAPTER IV.


The day after my adventure with the tiger, I left our village with my
father. We travelled on horseback, and on the fourth morning afterwards
reached Sheopoor, the town from which the grand expedition was to set
out. It was here, too, that I was to be admitted into the band of
Thugs, and I looked forward to my inauguration with much impatience,
and perhaps some dread, for I knew not what ceremonies I had to go
through. We put up in the house of Moedeen, where several other Thug
leaders were also; and after refreshing ourselves, my father bade me
accompany him to the council which was to determine on the future
operations. I was presented to the members, ten in number, who were
the jemadars of the different bands. I could see, from the respect and
consideration with which my father was treated, that he was looked upon
as the chief of the whole; I was gratified by the reception I met with;
and my conduct in the affair of the tiger, the whole circumstances of
which were related by my father, raised me at once to a high station in
their respect.

As it still wanted two days of the festival of the Dasera, my
inauguration was postponed to that day; for it is esteemed a
particularly fortunate one by the Thugs, and indeed by all classes. On
it, you are already aware, that all great undertakings are commenced
by armies, and, in like manner, by us Thugs; for the breaking up of
the rains gives a hope that the adventure will not be impeded by them;
and the continuance of fine weather which follows it, allows the band
to travel in comfort, and with better hope of booty from the chance
of falling in with travellers, who also take advantage of the break
in the weather to commence long journeys. Above all, it is a day
peculiarly sacred to Bhowanee, our patroness and goddess. Still, being
a Moosulman, I could not then see why such respect was paid to the
festival of the Dasera, or indeed why it was kept at all; and I applied
to my father for a solution of my doubts on the subject.

"It is necessary to your fully understanding this," said he, "that
I should give you an outline of our belief in the divine origin of
our profession, which is intimately connected with the faith of the
Hindoos, and by whom we Moosulmans have been instructed in the art of
Thuggee."

"This is wonderful, indeed," said I; "how do you reconcile any
connection between the faith of unbelievers and that of the blessed
prophet?"

"I cannot pretend to solve the difficulty," said my father; "but as
their religion is far more ancient than ours, and no doubt had a divine
origin, there are many points in it which one of the true faith may
follow without offence, so that he does not join them in all their
forms and professions. Indeed, this is impossible, as no one can become
a Hindoo; but, as I told you before, Thuggee is one of the means by
which Alla works out his own ends; and as the profession of it has been
handed down to us from ages, and as it becomes the fate of those who
are called to it to follow it, there is no possibility of avoiding the
profession, though one desired it; and, as a direct consequence, no sin
in associating with Hindoos in the practice of it, from whom it has had
its origin. Do you understand me?"

"Perfectly," said I; "it was not to question its propriety that I asked
the question, but only to know how it was, that Hindoo festivals were
acknowledged and kept by us Moosulmans?"

"The Dasera is the only one," said my father, "which is observed; and
the reason of this is, that it is the fittest time of the year to
commence our enterprises, and has been invariably kept sacred by all
Hindoo Thugs; but I must tell you of the origin of Thuggee, that you
may judge for yourself how ancient it is, and how well the instructions
then given by divine command have been followed up. In the beginning
of the world, according to the Hindoos, there existed a creating and
a destroying power, both emanations from the Supreme Being. These
were, as a matter of consequence, at constant enmity with each other,
and still continue to be so. The creative power, however, peopled the
earth so fast that the destroyer could not keep pace with him, nor
was he allowed to do so; but was given permission to resort to every
means he could devise to effect his objects. Among others, his consort
Devee, Bhowanee, or Kalee, for she is known under these names and many
others, constructed an image, into which, on this occasion, she was
empowered to infuse the breath of life. No sooner was this effected,
than she assembled a number of her votaries, whom she named Thugs. She
instructed them in the art of Thuggee; and, to prove its efficacy,
with her own hands destroyed before them the image she had made, in
the manner which we now practise. She endowed the Thugs with superior
intelligence and cunning, in order that they might decoy human beings
to destruction; and sent them abroad into the world, giving them--as
the reward of their exertions--the plunder they might obtain from
those they put to death; and bidding them be under no concern for the
disposal of the bodies, as she would herself convey them from the
earth. Ages passed on in this manner, and she protected her votaries
from human laws, and they were everywhere found to be faithful; but
corruptions crept in among them with the increased depravity of the
world; and at last, a gang more bold and curious than the rest, after
destroying a traveller, determined--instead of following the old custom
of leaving the body unnoticed--to watch, and see how it was disposed
of. They hid themselves, as they thought, secure from observation in
the bushes by the side of the road, and waited the arrival of the
goddess. But what mortal can escape the eye of divinity? She quickly
espied them, and called them before her. Terror-stricken by her
splendid and terrific appearance, and in the utmost dread of her
vengeance, they attempted to fly; but she arrested their steps, and in
an awful manner upbraided them for their want of faith.

"'You have seen me,' said she, 'and looked upon a power which no mortal
has ever yet beheld without instant destruction; but this I spare you;
henceforward, however, I shall no longer protect you as I have done.
The bodies of those whom you destroy will no longer be removed by me,
and you must take your own measures for their concealment. It will not
always be effectual, and will often lead to your detection by earthly
powers, and in this will consist your punishment. Your intelligence
and cunning still remain to you. I will in future assist you by omens
for your guidance; but this my decree will be your curse to the latest
period of the world.'

"So saying, she disappeared, and left them to the consequences of
their own folly and presumption; but her protection has never been
withdrawn. It is true, the remains of those who fall by our hands are
sometimes discovered, and instances have been known of that discovery
having led to the apprehension of Thugs, at least so I have heard;
but during my lifetime I have never known of one; and it is my firm
belief that such instances have been permitted on purpose to punish
those who have in some way offended our protectress, by neglecting her
sacrifices and omens. You therefore see how necessary it is to follow
the rules which have guided our fraternity for ages, and which cannot
be changed without incurring the displeasure of the divine power; nor
is there anything in our creed to forbid it. We follow the blessed
precepts of our prophet; we say our Namaz five times a day; we observe
all the rules of our faith; we worship no idols; and if what we have
done for ages--ever since the invasion by our forefathers of India--was
displeasing to the apostle, surely we should have had, long ere this,
some manifestation of his displeasure. Our plans would have been
frustrated, our exertions rendered of no avail; we should have dragged
on a miserable existence; and long ere this, should have abandoned
Thuggee, and our connection with its Hindoo professors."

"I am convinced," said I; "for your relation is wonderful. Truly have
you said that we are under the especial protection of Providence;
and it would be sinful to question the propriety of any usages which
have been transmitted from a period so remote, and followed without
deviation. I will allow that I had thought this open connection with
Kafirs as offensive, because I was led to believe them sunk into the
lowest depths of depravity and bad faith, from the representations of
the old Moola who was my instructor; but he must have been ignorant, or
a bigoted old fool."

"I will say nothing more than this," said my father, "that you will be
thrown much into the society of Hindoos, all of good caste, and you
will find them as faithful and as worthy of your friendship as any
Moosulman; such, at least, has been my experience of them."

On the day of the Dasera the ceremony of my inauguration as a Thug
commenced. I was bathed and dressed in new clothes which had never
been bleached, and led by the hand by my father, who officiated as the
Gooroo or spiritual director, and to whom seemed to be confided the
entire direction of the ceremonies. I was brought into a room, where
the leaders of the band I had before seen, were assembled sitting on
a clean white cloth, which was spread in the centre of the apartment.
My father then advancing towards them, asked them whether they were
content to receive me as a Thug and a brother, to which they all
answered, "We are."

I was then conducted into the open air, accompanied by the whole
number, when my father, raising his hands and eyes to the sky, cried in
a loud voice, "Oh Bhowanee! mother of the world! whose votaries we are,
receive this thy servant--vouchsafe to him thy protection--to us, an
omen which may assure us of thy consent."

We waited for some time; and at last, from a tree over our heads, the
loud twittering of the small tree-owl was heard.

"Jey Bhowanee! Victory to Bhowanee!" cried the whole of the leaders;
and my father embraced me, saying,

"Be of good cheer, my son; the omen is most favourable. We could hardly
have expected such an one: thy acceptation is complete."

I was then reconducted to the apartment, and a pickaxe, that holy
symbol of our profession, was placed in my right hand, upon a white
handkerchief. I was desired to raise it as high as my breast; and
an oath, a fearful oath, was then dictated to me, which I repeated,
raising my left into the air, and invoking the goddess to whose service
I was devoting myself. The same oath was repeated by me on the blessed
Koran, after which a small piece of consecrated Goor, or coarse sugar,
was given me to eat, and my inauguration was complete. My father
received the congratulations of the assembly on the fortunate issue of
the ceremony, and he then addressed me as follows.

"My son, thou hast taken upon thee the profession which is of all
the most ancient and acceptable to the divinity. Thou hast sworn to
be faithful, brave, and secret; to pursue to destruction every human
being whom chance, or thy ingenuity, may throw into thy power, with the
exception of those who are forbidden by the laws of our profession,
which are now to thee sacred. These are particular sects, over whom our
power does not extend, and whose sacrifice is not acceptable to our
divine patroness; they are Dhobees, Bhats, Sikhs, Nanukshahees, Mudaree
Fakeers, dancing-men, musicians, Bhungees, Tailees, Lohars, Burraes,
and maimed or leprous persons. With these exceptions, the whole human
race is open to thy destruction, and thou must omit no possible means
(but at all times dependent upon the omens by which we are guided) to
compass their destruction. I have now finished: you are become a Thug;
and what remains of thy profession will be shown to thee by our Gooroo,
who will, under the necessary ceremonies, instruct thee in its details."

"It is enough," said I; "I am yours to death; and I only pray that an
opportunity may soon be afforded me to prove to you my devotion."

Thus I became a Thug: had I commenced my career under other and
ordinary circumstances,--I mean, had I not been introduced to my
profession by one so powerful and well esteemed as my father then
was,--I must have entered the lowest grade of all; and had I proved
myself to be active, intelligent and brave, I might have risen in time
to the highest. But this was spared me; and though too young myself to
become a leader, I was in a rank above the rest, and was considered
to be, and looked up to as, the person who was hereafter to fill my
father's place, whenever it should suit him to retire from active
employment.

The business which the Thug leaders had assembled to deliberate upon,
was a plan of my father's, for a large body under himself and two
other leaders (one of whom was Hoosein), to take the high road to the
Dukhun; to advance together as far as Nagpoor, from whence my father
was to proceed to Hyderabad; and the others separating, one to go
to Aurungabad, thence through Khândésh, by Boorhanpoor, to Indore,
and back to Sheopoor; the other also to Aurungabad, but from thence
to Poona; afterwards, if possible, as far as Surat, and from thence
homewards; but if the season should be too far advanced, they were to
get to Boorhanpoor and home in the best way they could; finally, we
were all to meet at Sheopoor by the commencement of the next rainy
season.

No opposition was made to this; on the contrary, it was highly approved
of, as, under the personal direction of Ismail, it could not fail of
success, and as an expedition had not been made to the Dukhun for many
years before. The other gangs were to proceed in various directions
about Hindostan as far as Benares, and round through the Saugor and
Nerbudda country,--their proceedings to be guided by circumstances,
which could not now be foreseen.

Thus planned, but a few days elapsed before we set off on our journey:
with us there were sixty men, with Hoosein forty-five, and with the
other jemadar, whose name was Ghous Khan, thirty; making in all one
hundred and thirty-five.

Before we commenced our journey, however, it was necessary to consult
the omens; and as the ceremonies are somewhat curious, I shall relate
them to you,--observing, that no expedition, whether of a large or
small body, can be undertaken without them.

The morning we were to separate on our different destinations,
everything having been duly prepared, we repaired to a spot which had
been chosen on the road, a short distance from the village, and the
whole band was in attendance. Bhudrinath, a man of much intelligence
and respectability, and who was learned in the conducting of
ceremonies, bore the sacred pickaxe, which had been previously duly
consecrated, and was immediately attended by my father and three other
jemadars. My father, as the leader of the whole, carried a lota filled
with water, suspended by a string which he held in his mouth, down
his right side. Had that lota fallen, what a dire omen would it have
been to him! Nothing could have averted his death in that year, or at
furthest in the year following.

We moved slowly, till we reached the spot fixed on, and there my father
stood. Turning his face to the south, the direction we were to take,
he placed his left hand on his breast, reverently lifted his eyes to
heaven, and pronounced in a loud voice the following invocation to
Bhowanee:--"Mother of the universe! protectress and patroness of our
order! if this expedition be pleasing to thee, vouchsafe us thy help,
and give us an omen of thine approbation!"

He was silent, and every mouth repeated the prayer aloud. Now every
one looked impatient for the omens: the band scarcely breathed, so
intensely anxious was the suspense. Long we waited, perhaps half an
hour: no one spoke; and the reverent silence of the assembled numbers
had something exceedingly impressive in it. At last the Pilhaoo, or
omen on the left hand, was vouchsafed; a jackass brayed, and was almost
instantly answered by one on the right, which was the Thibaoo. What
could have been more complete! such an omen had not been known for
years, and promised the utmost success, and splendid booty. Loud and
fervent were the cries of praise to Bhowanee; and each turning to his
companion, congratulated him on the happy prospect.

Seven long hours my father sat on that spot, during which time all was
prepared for the journey. At its expiration he arose, and we took the
nearest road to Guneshpoor.

At the stage where we stopped for the evening, the Thibaoo and Pilhaoo
were heard by Bhudrinath, who carried the nishan, the pickaxe, or,
as it was now called, having been consecrated, _khussee_; and these
renewed favourable omens produced an increased confidence in the
expedition and its leaders. At the first streamlet we passed the next
morning the band all sat down, and some goor and dall, which had been
brought with us, was shared to all. Proceeding, favourable omens were
again seen, and all declared that we should speedily gain a rich booty.
To me this was all strange and unaccountable; but the implicit faith
which every one seemed to place in the omens, and the regularity with
which the ceremonies were conducted, impressed me with a strong idea of
their necessity; though, to my shame I say it, as I acquired confidence
in myself, I scorned them as foolish; until misfortune, no doubt sent
by Bhowanee, brought me to my senses, and made me penitent.

In a few days we arrived at Guneshpoor, and as yet we had no adventure.
On reaching the town, the Sothaees or inveiglers, whose duty it is
to entice travellers into the power of the Thugs, were sent into the
town, while we remained under a mango-grove on the outside. They were
absent most part of the day; and when they returned they were eagerly
questioned for intelligence. The men who had been sent on this duty
were two Hindoos, one by name Bhudrinath, whom I have mentioned before,
a Brahmin, and the other a man of inferior caste, by name Gopal; but
both were persons of the most bland and persuasive manners, and I was
told that they rarely failed in their object. I was, among the rest,
highly curious to hear their adventures in the town, and joined my
father on his taking his place in the assembly.

Bhudrinath told us that he had gone through the whole of the bazar
without success, when he was attracted to a bunnea's shop by a
respectable old man, who was in high dispute with the bunnea. He went
up to him, and the old gentleman, who was in a violent passion at some
attempted exaction on the part of the merchant, immediately accosted
him, and begged him to be witness to the transaction, expressing at the
same time his intention of having the man brought before the Kotwal for
his dishonesty. "The bunnea was very insolent and abusive," Bhudrinath
went on to say; "and after some altercation, I contrived to settle
the matter by dint of threats and persuasions. The old man seemed
highly pleased with me; and it naturally led, after we left the shop
together, to a conversation about whither I was going, and who I was.
I took advantage of this, to convince him that the town was no safe
residence for a traveller, even for a night, and discovered that he was
a Persian mootsuddee, or writer in the service of the rajah of Nagpoor,
whither he was travelling with his son. I of course alarmed him as much
as I could with accounts of the thieves and Thugs on the road, and
represented ourselves to be a company of travellers proceeding also to
Nagpoor, on our way to the Dukhun, and associated together for mutual
protection; and that we always rested outside the villages, as being
the safest places when our number was so large. He seemed so struck
with the proposal I made to him to come out and join us, that I lost no
time in pressing him to leave the town, and I have succeeded. I have
left Gopal, who joined us, to show him the way out, and assist him in
packing up his things, and I have no doubt they will be here before
sunset."

"Barik Alla!" exclaimed my father; "your face is bright in our eyes,
Bhudrinath; and I have no doubt, lads," said he to the knot of
listeners, "that the old Khayet has abundance of money and jewels,
and his plunder will help to see us on to Nagpoor: so if he does not
come to us of his own free will, we must even waylay him, and that too
in the next march. A short time will decide this; and if he does not
come, some of you Lughaees must be off to prepare the bhil or place of
burial."

But we were saved the trouble; for the Khayet came into our camp, as he
had said, by sunset, and was met at the confines of it by my father,
and the two other jemadars. The respectability of his appearance struck
me forcibly; he was evidently a man of polished manners, and had seen
courts and good society. After arranging his travelling-cart to sleep
in, by placing some tent walls around it for protection to his women,
he and his son, an intelligent handsome-looking youth, came to the spot
where my father and the other leaders had spread their carpets; and
many of the band being assembled, there ensued a general conversation.
Who could have told, Sahib, the intentions of those by whom he was
surrounded! To me it was wonderful. I knew he was to die that night,
for that had been determined when he arrived in our camp, and while he
was arranging his sleeping-place. I knew too that a spot had been fixed
on for his grave, and that of those with him; for I had accompanied my
father to it, and saw that it was begun; and yet there sat my father,
and Hoosein, and Ghous Khan, and many others. The pipe and the story
passed round, and the old man was delighted at the company he had
fallen into.

"I thank you," said he to Bhudrinath, "that you brought me out of
that unsainted village; truly here is some enjoyment in the society
of gentlemen, who have seen the world: there I should have been in
perpetual dread of robbers, and should not have slept a wink all night,
while here I need not even to be watchful, since I am assured by the
Khan Sahib," pointing to my father, "that I shall be well taken care
of."

"Ay!" growled out in a whisper an old Thug who sat behind me, "he will
be well taken care of sure enough, I will see to that."

"How?" said I.

He gave the sign, by which I knew him to be one of the Bhuttotes or
stranglers who had been selected.

"I have an old grudge against him," he continued, "and the time is come
when I can repay it."

"Tell me how it happened," said I in a low tone, for the man's face
wore a savage expression as he said it.

"Not now," said he, "how can I? I will tell you to-morrow night when we
meet in the mujlis: that man is Brij Lall, as great a rascal as ever
lived, one who has committed more murders and more villanies in his
life than any of us Thugs. But his cup is full, his breath is already
in his mouth; one squeeze from me, and it will go forth never to
return."

"And the boy," said I, "that fair, fine boy,--surely he will be spared."

"To tell all he saw, I suppose," said the man; "to deliver us up at the
first place we come to! No, no, Mea, we know better, and so will you
one of these days." And he went round and seated himself just behind
the old man, who turned about as though he were intruded upon.

"Sit still, sit still," said my father; "it is only a companion: in an
open camp like this every one is privileged to hear the conversation
of the evening mujlis, and we usually find some one among us who can
enliven the evening with a tale, until it is time to rest for the
night."

So the old Thug sat still: I could see him playing with his fatal
weapon, the handkerchief, now pulling it through one hand and now
through the other; and I gazed on the group till my brain reeled again
with excitement, with intense agony I might call it with more truth.
There sat the old man; beside him his noble-looking boy; behind them
their destroyers, only awaiting the signal; and the old man looked so
unconscious of danger, was so entirely put off his guard and led into
conversation by the mild, bland manners of my father, that what could
he have suspected? That he was in the hands of those from whom he was
to meet his death? Ah, no! And as I gazed and gazed, how I longed to
scream out to him to fly! had I not known that my own death would
have followed instantaneously, I had done it. Yet it would have been
of no use. I turned away my eyes from them; but they returned to the
same place involuntarily. Every movement of the men behind seemed the
prelude to the fatal ending. At last I could bear the intensity of my
feelings no longer: I got up, and was hurrying away, when my father
followed me.

"Where are you going?" said he; "I insist on your staying here; this is
your initiation; you must see it, and go through with the whole."

"I shall return directly," said I: "I go but a pace or two; I am sick."

"Faint-hearted!" said he in a low tone; "see you do not stay long, this
farce must soon end."

A turn or two apart from the assembly restored me again, and I returned
and took up my former place, exactly opposite the old man and his son.
Ya Alla! Sahib, even now I think they are _there_ (and the Thug pointed
with his finger), father and son; and the son's large eyes are looking
into mine, as my gaze is riveted on them.

Ameer Ali looked indeed as though he saw them, and stared wildly; but
passing his hands across his eyes, he resumed,--

"Taajoob!" said he, "wonderful! I could have sworn they both looked
at me; but I am growing old and foolish." Well, Sahib, as I said, I
gazed and gazed at them, so that I wonder even now, they saw nothing
extraordinary in it, and did not remark it. But no: the old man
continued a relation of some treaties the Nagpoor Rajah was forming
with the English, and was blaming him for entering into any league
with them against his brethren, when my father called out "Tumbako lao
(bring tobacco)!" It was the signal! quicker than thought the Thug
had thrown his handkerchief round the neck of the old man, another
one his round that of the son, and in an instant they were on their
backs struggling in the agonies of death. Not a sound escaped them
but an indistinct gurgling in their throats; and as the Bhuttotes
quitted their fatal hold, after a few moments, others, who had been
waiting for the purpose, took up the bodies and bore them away to the
already-prepared grave.

"Now for the rest," cried my father in a low tone: "some of you rush on
the servants; see that no noise is made; the bullock-driver and others
can be dealt with easily."

Some of the men ran to the place the _khayet_ had chosen, and
surrounded the unsuspecting cart-driver and the other servants, who
were cooking under a tree. I saw and heard a scuffle; but they also
were all dead ere they could cry out.

"Come!" said my father and Hoosein, taking me by the arms and hurrying
me along; "come and see how they are disposed of."

I went, or was rather dragged along, to one side of our encampment,
where there was a ravine some feet deep, in the bottom of which a hole
had been dug, and by the side of which eight bodies were lying. The
father and son, his two wives, the bullock-driver, two male servants,
and an old woman; also a servant, who was in the inclosure with the
women. The bodies were nearly naked, and presented a ghastly spectacle,
as they lay in a confused heap, but just visible from the brink of the
ravine.

"Are they all here?" asked my father.

"Yes, Khodawund," said one of the Lughaees, whom I knew.

"Then in with them!" cried my father; and they were quickly deposited
in their last resting-place, the head of one over the feet of another,
so that they might lie close.

"We had better open them," said the Lugha, "for the ground is loose and
they will swell."

So gashes were made in their abdomens, and the earth quickly filled in
on them; it was stamped down, the top smoothed, and in a few moments
no one could have discovered that eight human beings had been secreted
beneath the spot. We turned away from it, and every one betook himself
to repose.

Sahib, can I describe to you how I passed that night? Do what I would,
the father and son appeared before me; the old man's voice rung in my
ears, and the son's large eyes seemed to be fixed on mine. I felt as
though a thousand shitans sat on my breast, and sleep would not come
to my eyes. It appeared so cold-blooded, so unprovoked a deed, that
I could not reconcile myself in any way to have become even a silent
spectator of it. Yet my father had joined in it--my father whom I
loved intensely, and Hoosein too. But all would not do; I could not
tranquillize myself. I crept from beneath our little tent, and sat down
in the open air. The moon shone brightly as ever, as now and then she
emerged from beneath a passing cloud, and there was a cool breeze which
fanned my burning face and soothed me. I watched her as she appeared to
travel along in the heavens, till she became overcast; and a few heavy
drops of rain, as if she wept over the deed she had witnessed, drove me
again under the tent. I crept close to my father, who was sound asleep,
and embracing him with my arms, sleep came to my eyelids, and I woke
not till the usual hour of prayer arrived, when I was roused by my
father to join in the morning supplication.

We spread our carpets, and I repeated the form with him; but my
thoughts were with the old man and his son, and the event of the
preceding night. Immediately after it was over our horses were saddled,
and we set out on what proved to be a long march; for it was necessary
to get as far as possible from Guneshpoor, that no suspicion might
attach to us. In due time we arrived at the stage, and a man was sent
into the town to purchase one rupee and a quarter's worth of goor or
coarse sugar: what this was intended for I could not imagine, but it
was soon made known to me when I asked my father.

"This," said he, "is the sacrifice of the Tupounee, in which we all
join after any adventure similar to what you saw last night; it is a
rite of the utmost solemnity, and must never be neglected."

The man returned with the sugar, and a place having been chosen,
Bhudrinath, the bearer of the khussee, was seated on a blanket spread
for him, his face towards the west. All the best men and noted
Bhuttotes seated themselves on each side of him, looking in the same
direction as he did. My father then made a small hole in the ground
near the blanket, upon which was placed the sacred pickaxe and the pile
of sugar, and a piece of silver as an offering. A little of the sugar
was then put into the hole by my father; he raised his clasped hands to
heaven and in a supplicatory manner cried aloud--

"Powerful and mighty goddess! who hast for ages vouchsafed thy
protection unto thy votaries, and who particularly to Joora Naig and
Khudeek Bunwaree gavest one lakh and sixty thousand rupees in their
need, we beseech thee in like manner to aid us, and fulfil our desires!"

This prayer was devoutly repeated by all around, and my father taking
water in his hand sprinkled it upon the pickaxe and into the hole; he
then took pieces of the sugar and presented them to each of the Thugs
in succession, who ate it in silence. They then drank some water, and
the pile of sugar was distributed among the rest of the assembled band,
who likewise ate their portions in silent reverence--all except myself;
for not having as yet strangled a man, I was not eligible to partake of
it with the rest. However, my father had reserved a portion of his own
for me, which he made me eat. After I had swallowed it, he said--

"You have eaten the goor, and are now a Thug in your heart; were you
to desire to forsake us you could not, such is the power it has, when
consecrated as you have seen it over the hearts of men. Were any one
to find a portion and eat it, whatever might be his rank or condition
in life, he would assuredly become a Thug; he could not avoid it, the
power it would exercise over him would be irresistible."

"This is wonderful indeed," said I; "have such things been known?"

"I could relate hundreds of instances, had I time," he replied; "but
ask Hoosein, or any one, they will all tell you the same."

In the evening, when all were assembled as usual, my father took me to
task about my faint-heartedness, as he termed it. "This will never do,
my son," said he; "you who ran in upon the tiger so nobly ought not to
shrink from such child's-play as this; you must be a man, and behave
better, and remember you have eaten the goor."

"For shame, brother!" said Hoosein; "do not speak so to the Sahib-zada;
remember you were no better yourself at first; do you not recollect the
business at ----, and what difficulty I had to persuade Gunesha that
you were in reality good stuff? Let the Sahib-zada but see one or two
more of these affairs, and he will be quite a different person, he will
become a tiger at the work. I do not fear, my son," said he, turning to
me and slapping me on the back; "worse men than you have begun better,
and ended in being chicken-hearted fellows, only fit to dig graves and
be scouts. Old Hoosein never yet was mistaken in any one, and you,
Inshalla! will surpass your father. Only let him," continued he, again
addressing my father, "let him see one or two more affairs, and then
try his hand himself; you will then see whether I am wrong or not."

"It is well," exclaimed my father; "believe me, my son, I meant not to
upbraid you, but I was fearful the feeling you displayed might grow
upon you; be kind as you will to those around you, affectionate to your
connections; pity the poor, give alms to the needy; but remember that
you are a Thug, and have sworn relentless destruction to all those whom
Alla may throw in your way."

"I am rebuked," said I, "and your words have sunk into my heart; never
more shall you have to say of me that I flinched from my duty. Whenever
you think fit I am ready to take the handkerchief." And to turn the
subject, I said, "I beg to represent, that Mahomed the Bhuttote
promised to tell me some history of the man who died last night, and I
call on him to fulfil his word."

"Well spoken!" cried a dozen of the men; "Mahomed is a sure hand at a
story--let us have it."

Mahomed, after stuffing a large quantity of pan-leaf and tobacco into
his mouth, crunched it several times between his teeth, and after a
copious discharge of red saliva, settled himself upon his heels, and,
addressing my father, spoke, as nearly as I can remember, as follows:--

"I was born at Boree, which is a small village in the Nagpoor
territory: my father was a Thug, as you all know, and my ancestors were
the same for generations before. Tales of their feats have been handed
down in our family from father to son, and they are worth relating,
but they have nothing to do with my story. They had been prosperous,
however, and had saved money enough to give a large sum at the court of
Nagpoor for the office and lands of the Patelship (chief magistracy) of
our village; nevertheless they pursued their profession of Thuggee. My
grandfather, Kasim, as many of you know, was as notorious a leader of
Thugs as any one has been since he died; and my father, who was then
young, succeeded to his property and situation. Long he held it, and
none arose to dispute his claim.

"But his prosperity was not fated to last. Well do I remember the day
when some soldiers, sent by order of the peshkar of the court, arrived
at the village with an order to bring him to 'the Presence.' My father
vainly endeavoured to learn from them the reason of this sudden call
for him, as he was regular in his payments to the government; and
finding reasoning would not avail, he strove to bribe the leader of
the party into conniving at his absence. But all would not do; he
was obliged to accompany them, and he took me with him at my earnest
entreaty. I was then a young man, probably about the age of the
Sahib-zada there. We reached Nagpoor after some long marches, and on
our arrival we were cast into a vile prison, our legs loaded with
irons, and we were denied the commonest comforts. We had no paun or
tobacco, no clean clothes, were not allowed to see any one, and were
given the coarsest and most wretched food to eat. In this manner we
passed four long months. My father in vain entreated to know what he
was accused of, or who was his accuser; and equally in vain were his
attempts to have his situation made known to his family and friends. We
wearied ourselves in our lonely prison with conjectures as to what the
cause of the misfortune could be, but without success. At last, one day
that wretch Brij Lall, who died last night by my hand, came into our
prison attended by soldiers. My father gave himself up for lost, and
thought his hour of death had arrived; but recovering, he appeared to
recognise Brij Lall, and instantly assailed him with imprecations and
abuse.

"When he had finished, Brij Lall, eyeing him with a grim look, said,--

"'Pateljee! perhaps you will now condescend to give the government some
account of the effects of Jeysookhdas, the merchant, who lived in your
village, and about whose affairs you well know I was sent some years
ago. You may also remember the reception and treatment you gave me, for
which, by the blessing of God, I will now see whether I cannot effect a
return.'

"'Thou art a liar, and a base-born rascal of a mootsuddee!' cried my
father, 'and not one word shalt thou ever know from my lips: send some
one more fit to confer with Kasim Patel, and he will tell what he
knows; but not one word to thee, thou dog and son of a dog.'

"'We will see,' said the vile wretch; and making a sign to the soldiers
with him, my poor father was seized; and a horse's nose-bag filled with
hot ashes being tied over his head, he was thumped violently on the
back till he was forced to inhale the hot dust, which nearly killed
him. This was repeated several times, on every refusal to tell to Brij
Lall what he desired to know. At last nature could bear no more, and he
fainted. The wretch then left the prison, particularly ordering that no
water should be given. But in this his vile intentions were frustrated;
for fortunately some had remained from our morning's supply, and after
sprinkling my father's face, and forcing a draught into his mouth, he
recovered sufficiently to sit up and drink some more, which revived
him."



CHAPTER V.


"'I thought I should have died, my son,' said my father, at length;
'and see what a black heart that villain must have to treat an old man
after that fashion. My curses on him and his! he will prosper awhile,
but judgment for this and all his villanies will at last overtake him.'

"'Tell me,' said I, 'what quarrel there is between you, and what cause
he has to persecute you in this manner.'

"'Listen,' he replied, 'and you shall know. Some years ago, when you
were but a boy, Jeysookhdas, who was the principal sahoukar in the
village, died. On his death-bed he sent for me, and delivering over
his family to my care, entreated me as a Moosulman, and one of the
faithful, to protect them against this Brij Lall, whom he had in the
public durbar at Nagpoor beaten with a shoe, for slandering him in the
vilest manner, with the intent of ruining his reputation. In fact,
Brij Lall had accused him of making away with some of the revenue: for
Jeysookhdas was the channel of payment not only of the revenue of our
village, but of those around us, amounting in the year to nearly a lakh
of rupees. Fortunately for him, the character of Jeysookhdas stood too
high for the aspersions of a low wretch like this to hurt it, and no
notice was taken of what he had said. But the insult he had received
never left the mind of Brij Lall. He brooded over it, and made every
attempt to ruin my old friend; who, as he had powerful enemies at the
court, was ever afterwards kept in continual dread of being plundered
under some false accusation, or cast into prison. At length however
he died; and in our last interview he implored me to lose no time in
sending off his wife and family to their country, Marwar, with their
jewels and what money I could collect. I did so as soon as I possibly
could, under an escort of our people, in case they should fall in with
other Thugs on the road.

"'They had scarcely been gone a week, when this Brij Lall and another
mootsuddee came with an order from his master, Narayun Pundit, the
Peshkar, to seize Jeysookhdas's family and effects. The order was a
verbal one, and this being a very unusual circumstance, I directly
refused to give any intelligence about the family, or account of the
effects of the deceased. Brij Lall began to threaten, and at last
became grossly abusive to me, on which I beat him with my shoe, had him
turned out of the village, and he was pelted with mud and stones by all
the idle lads, as he was conducted beyond the boundaries.

"'I never heard anything more of Brij Lall; but I knew he was my
enemy at court, as I could get no justice for many complaints I made
against the ill conduct and aggressions of a neighbour, who had not
only encroached on my boundaries, but seized grain which had been cut,
on several occasions. This annoyance at last reached such a height,
that I determined to send a deputation to the court to petition for
redress. It was, however, fruitless; my people were openly opposed by
Brij Lall, who it seemed had risen into great favour and power. I was
openly accused as a usurper of the patelship of our village--a person
was set up by Brij Lall as the descendant of the real patel; and so
much countenance and support were given him, that my people returned to
me in great alarm, and utterly discomfited.

"'Since that time, my son--now about five years ago--I have been
constantly alarmed by reports which have reached me through my friends
at Nagpoor. I have been warned to beware of assassination, to allow
no strange men to come into the village, nor to go anywhere without
a sufficient escort. This, however, has not, as you know, interfered
with our profession, which I have not neglected to follow; but in other
respects I have been careful. In spite of all, however, we are fairly
in his hands; and may Alla deliver us out of them!'

"We remained some days without another visit from our tormentor; but at
last he came again, and my poor father was again tortured in various
ways, but without effect: he would tell nothing.

"'You dare not kill me, cowardly kafir as you are,' cried he to Brij
Lall; 'and, Inshalla! were I once out of this vile prison, you should
see what a true Moosulman could do for himself. And I bid you beware.'

"Brij Lall laughed at my father's impotent threats, and again left us.

"We had remained in confinement for nearly three months, when one day
one of the soldiers of our guard, won over by my father's promises,
and really struck with the injustice of our case, agreed to convey a
petition, which my father had drawn up, to a sahoukar with whom he was
acquainted, who then managed the money affairs of our village, and
resided in the city of Nagpoor.

"He was extremely astonished to hear of our situation, and immediately
set to work to procure our liberation. But this was no easy task; Brij
Lall possessed the ear of the minister of the court, and every attempt
our friend made was frustrated. At last he laid our case before the
chief sahoukar of Nagpoor, a man of great influence, who went to the
minister himself expressly on our behalf. We were told that the next
day we were to appear in the durbar, and answer the accusations which
had been made against us; and at the hour appointed we were taken to
the house where the peshkar resided, and where he heard the various
suits and cases which were brought before him.

"Narayun Pundit was then a young man; but he was looked up to with much
respect by all who had any dealings with him. He was considered just,
and one who patiently listened to both sides of a question before he
gave his decision. But our bitter enemy Brij Lall was his confidential
mootsuddee, and conducted himself in so plausible a manner, that his
tyrannies were never discovered.

"Brij Lall made his accusation against my father. He said that, by the
laws of the kingdom, accounts of the effects of sahoukars and other
wealthy persons ought to be furnished to the government when they died
without male children. That it was well known that Jeysookhdas was
wealthy; that he had two or three daughters, but no sons; and that they
had no right to have touched a rupee of the property until the accounts
of the government had been settled. Again, that my father was not the
rightful patel of Boree, and that the person who was descended from the
original possessors claimed the office and the lands which were then
in my father's possession. Brij Lall concluded his representation by
saying to the Pundit, 'I will refrain from dwelling, oh incarnation of
Brahma! on the usage I have met with at this man's hands. Twice did I
visit his village, and twice was I received with such indignity that
my blood boils at the recollection. My intentions in going there were
solely for the good of the government; and had I but then complained,
the wrath of my lord would have descended on this man's head, and
annihilated him and his family. But I devoured my grief; and it was
not until provoked by his repeated refusals to come to the presence,
and his contempt of the messages sent to him about the effects of
Jeysookhdas, that I became aware that the dignity of the government was
set at nought, and I ordered his arrest and imprisonment.'

"'Ya Alla! Alla!' cried my father; 'my lord, it is all a lie. I call
Alla to witness that I never disobeyed any order of the government
when sent to me in a proper form. Have I not eaten the salt of the
government before that pitiful wretch was born? and who is he that my
lord should suffer him to abuse so old a servant of the state in his
presence? If I have permission I will represent to my lord that I am
not in fault, but that this devil ought to be severely punished for the
treatment he has subjected your slave to.'

"'We will hear you to-morrow,' said the Pundit, 'and in the mean time
it will be proper for you to draw up a statement of what you have to
say in your defence, in order that its relation may be more succinct
and more readily comprehended.'

"My father then begged not to be confined like a thief, and offered
the two sahoukars as his securities to appear whenever he might be
called on. This was admitted, in spite of Brij Lall's protestations
that no securities would bind us, and we walked away in company with
our friends; my father, as he passed him, twirling his mustachios and
looking askance at him, with many a muttered Inshalla and Mashalla, all
of which Brij Lall answered with looks of the most deadly spite and
hatred.

"In the course of the evening an account was drawn up, in Persian,
of the whole of Brij Lall's conduct, from first to last; and we took
it to the durbar in every expectation of seeing him disgraced before
our eyes, for his unwarrantable treatment of us. But we were doomed
to 'eat disappointment.' The petition was read by Narayun Pundit, and
he proceeded to pass judgment in the case, which was, that Brij Lall
had much exceeded his authority in imprisoning my father, that he had
acted wrongly in persecuting Jeysookhdas and his family, for that on
an examination of the accounts there did not appear to be any claim
against him.

"On the other hand, that my father had behaved ill to Brij Lall, in
having had him turned out of the village; disrespectfully to the state,
in not readily giving the accounts demanded to an agent who was known
to have the power to ask for them, and in resisting for so long a time
his repeated orders.

"My father was going to reply, when, his friend the Sahoukar stopped
him. 'Better,' said he, 'is it to come out of a battle with half
your life than with no life at all. Be quiet: consider that you have
escaped, which is what very few do, from the net which was thrown round
you by that low rascal, and be thankful.'

"My father had only to pay a small fine for what he had done to Brij
Lall. He considered that he had obtained a victory, and so the matter
ended.

"I never shall forget the advice which the old Sahoukar gave my father,
when, after some days' sojourn with him, and being entertained at his
expense, we were about to set out for our village.

"'Pateljee!' said he, 'I know that Brij Lall well; he will never give
up his revenge; you have seen that he behaves like a cow before his
patron, but absent from him he is a tiger in heart and in manners; and
such is the influence he has obtained, that no one dares to oppose him.
You have indeed got well out of his clutches; but had not your affairs
been taken up by our Séth, you would have remained in your miserable
prison until his hate had been satisfied by your death, from the
constant torment and ill-usage he would have subjected you to.'

"'Shookur Alla!' said my father, 'I am at least safe now.'

"'Not without great caution,' said the Sahoukar; 'his emissaries will
beset you wherever you go, and it will require your utmost vigilance
and wariness to avoid them. By your soul, O Patel, I beseech you not
to disregard what I say, or you will repent it.'

"'I will not,' said my father; 'your words are friendly, and I drink
them in as grateful sherbet. But this Brij Lall must have long arms and
powerful if he can reach Mahommedjee Patel.'

"In a very few days after, we took our leave and returned home; but,
as had been predicted, in a few months strange men began to be seen
about the village; and my father, strange to say, disregarded all our
prayers to stay at home, especially after dusk; he would not listen to
us, called the men we had seen travellers, and staid from home late
of nights out of bravado. However, my mother grew at last so anxious
and so alarmed about these repeated visits of unknown people, that
she begged of me never to leave my father's side by day, and always
to bring him home with me from the fields in the evening. This I did
for a long time; but one night, one cursed night--would that I had
never seen the dawn of the day preceding it!--having been delayed in a
field of sugar-cane to arrange about the cutting of it the following
day, we were late in returning home: we were accompanied part of the
way by some men of a neighbouring village, but they separated from
us about half a coss from ours; and the remainder of the way (if we
followed the straight road) was one which was not thought safe, and
by which no one went after nightfall if he could help it. I attempted
to take another; but the old man observed it, and said sharply, 'That
is not the way--that road will keep us out an hour longer.' I had no
reason to give to dissuade him from the road I wished to avoid, though
an ill-defined feeling that there was danger in the one before us had
led me to endeavour to take the other. But, my friends, who can avoid
his fate? If it is the will of Alla that one is to die, of what use
is human foresight? We went on, and soon reached the inclosed fields,
between the high milk-bush hedges of which the path wound. It was
scarcely light enough for us to see our way, but we knew every foot
of the road. All at once, as we proceeded, I thought I saw in a hedge
which crossed the road a glimmer, as if of the match of a gun.

"'Look!' said I to my father, 'we are waylaid, there are people behind
the hedge; look, there are three lighted matches!'

"'You are a fool,' cried he, 'they are fire-flies: are you afraid? has
my son become a coward?'

"The words were hardly out of his mouth, when there were three sharp
cracks close to us. My father fell on his face without uttering a
sound, and I felt a coldness and numbness all down my back, with a
sharp pain, and the same feeling in my leg. I became sick, staggered a
few paces, and then fell; but I was not insensible. Three men rushed
out from the hedge, and ran towards us with drawn swords. Seeing that
neither of us moved, one of them turned me over on my back, and looked
into my face. I shut my eyes, for I knew if they were open I should not
live an instant.

"'This is not the man,' said the fellow standing over me; 'we have
missed them.'

"Another came up.

"'It is nearly as good,' said he, 'it is the young devil, the son: the
father, depend upon it, is the other; come and see.' And they left me.

"They went to where my poor father lay, but I could not see what they
did. I suppose they examined him, for one cried, 'Alhumd-ul-illah! we
have been successful; our faces will be bright in our employer's sight
for this. And only think, to have succeeded so easily after this long
watching! The old dog was as wary as a fox.'

"'You may thank me,' said another, who had not as yet spoken: 'if I
had not dogged him to the sugar-cane field, and found out his nearest
way homewards, we might have had a long continuance of our fruitless
watching, of which I was heartily tired. Come,' continued he, 'we must
not stay, the country will be too hot to hold us. Madhoo will help us
on to Nagpoor, and the sooner we get to him the better; the horses I
know are all ready.'

"I heard no more. I was sick and faint, and lay almost insensible for
a long time: the pain of the wounds was horrible, and I writhed in
torment; the night too, was dreadfully cold, and I became so stiff I
could not move. I tried even to get as far as my poor father's body,
which I could just see lying on its back; but motion was denied me.
I lay and moaned bitterly. I heard the voices of persons not far off,
and shouted as loud as I could, but they did not hear me. There were
shots fired, as I afterwards heard, as signals to us; but I could not
answer them: what could I do, lying as I did like a crushed reptile? My
senses went and returned, as though I were dead, and again alive. Oh,
my friends, how can I describe to you the misery of that night! At last
I was roused out of a faint by some persons with a torch standing over
me. I quickly recognized them as some of the labourers of the village;
they had searched every lane, and at length found me. I knew not what
they said or did; but they broke out into lamentations on seeing my
father's body, and taking me up in a blanket they carried me to the
village, and set me down at the door of my father's house: alas! his no
longer.

"My friends, all of you have seen the grief of women when death has
come into the house and struck down a father, a brother, a son; all of
you know how the shrieks and moans of women pierce into the heart, and
turn men's livers into water. Till my father's body arrived there was
no cry--no scream; my mother sat in a corner rocking herself to and
fro, calling on my father's name in a low tone, and every now and then
beating her breast; my sister attended to me, and moistened my mouth
with water, as I still lay unable to speak, but fully aware of all
that was going on around me. Some old women of the village sat near my
mother, shivering in the cold wind which whistled through the house,
and speaking among themselves in whispers. There was but a small lamp
in a niche in the wall, which with its flickering light now revealed
one group now another, causing the shadows of the whole to leap about,
over--around--above me, until my disturbed brain fancied them a legion
of devils sent to torment me before my time.

"'Sister,' said I, 'call our mother to me, I am dying I think;' for at
the moment I felt fainter than ever.

"'No, no! you must not die; you must not leave us now,' said the
affectionate girl; 'it is but a wound; the barber is coming, and will
take out the ball; and a fomentation is being prepared by the hukeem:
you will soon be well.'

"As she spoke this, a sudden gleam of torches lighted up the whole
space outside; and immediately after, four men bearing my poor father's
body, walked slowly towards the house. I summoned energy enough to sit
up, leaning against the wall, and the body was brought, all bloody as
it was, and laid down. I should not say laid down, for as the men who
carried it were preparing to let it down gently, one of the corners of
the blanket slipped, and the corpse fell heavily to the ground, giving
a horrid dull squelch, the sound of which thrilled through every nerve.

"For an instant there was not a word spoken; but when the bloody
features were exposed to view, the uproar was dreadful. Headed by my
mother, all the old women rushed to the side of the body and began
the most heart-rending shrieks; those who had carried it were also
affected, and the cry reached to the outside, where the crowd assembled
took it up, till the heavens were cracked with the noise of the
lamentations. It was in vain that I endeavoured to make myself heard.
But on a sudden the noise ceased, and silence was ordered by the Kazee
of the village who entered. He cast a look on the dead body, and then
asked for me. 'Who has done this?' said he; 'whom do you suspect? Tell
us, by your soul tell us, ere it be too late to overtake them, whoever
they may be.'

"'Mahdoo, patel of Etare,' said I: 'but the villains have horses, they
are gone ere this, there is no use sending.'

"'Who have horses? who have gone, did you say?' cried he with
impatience: 'rally for a time, and strive all you can to let us know
how this was, how it happened.'

"I had barely strength, but I gave a short relation of the whole.

"'By Alla, it is the work of Mahdoo himself,' said one, 'and we will
burn his village before the morning breaks.'

"'It is the doing of Rheim Khan,' cried another.

"Rheim Khan was my father's brother-in-law, and they had been at bitter
enmity.

"'Who takes the name of Rheim Khan?' cried my mother, 'may his tongue
be blistered and rot in his mouth! May his end be like this!' pointing
to the corpse; and again she resumed her howls and lamentations.

"'Did you hear the woman?' said one fellow close to me; 'she would not
curse at that rate if Rheim Khan was free from suspicion.'

"'Silence!" said I, as loud as I could; 'I know who is the author
of this, at least I have a right to have the strongest suspicions.
Mahdoo Patel had no hand in it, he is a coward; Rheim Khan, though he
hated the old man, could never have done or planned this; no, it is
neither; it is one whom we poor people can never reach from his height
of station, one whom the pleasure of Alla alone can bring down to the
condition of him who is there; I mean Brij Lall, the accursed, the
merciless.' I was exhausted with speaking, and sank down.

"'Who spoke?' said my mother raising her head: 'I surely heard the
voice of my son!'

"'I am here, my mother,' said I; and she turned to me.

"'Thou here! thou alive! Coward! hast thou come to me to see thy father
a bloody corpse in his own house? Where wert thou that thou diedst not
with him? Did I not caution thee never to leave the headstrong old man,
who would persist in disregarding all advice, and in exposing himself
at night?'

"'I cannot answer thee now, my mother,' said I, 'but I was with him;
see here, I fell also: though I did not die then, I feel that I shall
do so soon.' I opened my vest and showed her the hole the ball had
made, out of which a drop or two of black blood every now and then
oozed; she looked at it, and threw herself at my feet.

"'Thou art no coward!' she sobbed out, 'thou art no coward! thou hast
bled in thy father's defence, and I can say nothing but that it is the
will of Alla, and his fate. Who can avoid his destiny? But it is hard
to lose both. Husband and son, husband and son, and I an old woman!'

"And she went from me, and resumed her place at the side of the body.

"One by one the neighbours left us; the name of Brij Lall had silenced
every one; and in a very short time there remained only the watchers
by the corpse, my sister, and myself. She was but a girl, my friends,
but she watched by me and fomented my shoulder and leg with warm water,
until the coagulated blood dissolved, and I was easier. How I wished
for the light to be put out! but they would not hear of it. I have
seen death in many, many forms since, but never have I seen anything
that I could compare with my remembrance of my father's appearance.
His features were pinched up, his lips drawn tightly across his mouth,
showing his upper and under teeth; his eyes were wide open, for they
could not be closed; and the flaring light, now rising now sinking, as
it was agitated by the wind, caused an appearance as if of the features
moving and gibbering, with that ghastly expression on them. I could not
take my eyes off them, and lay gazing at them till the day broke.

"The barber, who had been absent at a neighbouring village, soon
afterwards arrived, and examined my wounds. One ball had entered my
shoulder and had passed into my neck. He groped in the wound for some
time with a pair of pincers, and, after putting me to horrible pain,
succeeded in getting hold of it and drawing it out. I was then easier:
the blood flowed copiously; the wound in the leg was only through the
flesh, and having taken some opium I soon fell asleep, and awoke,
though still in pain, yet easier than I had been.

"My father had by this time been buried, and I was left with the
consciousness of having one enemy, and one, too, who would not forego
his revenge even to the son of his victim.

"The old Kazee could recommend nothing, could suggest no measures to be
pursued to bring the murderers to conviction. So, as he said, we sat
down on the carpet of patience, to smoke the pipe of regret, and to
drown our affliction in the best way we could. Matters continued to run
smoothly for the period of a year. I was considered to have succeeded
to my father's rights, when, one day, the man who had been set up by
Brij Lall as the real patel, in opposition to my father, arrived at the
village with a body of armed men, and with orders for his installation.
The villagers were too weak to resist this tyranny, and I was forced to
resign all my claims to the new comer. By this time my sister had gone
to the house of her father-in-law, and I sent my mother after her, for
I had no longer a home. I left the village with an aching heart, to see
if my father's friends, the sahoukars, could do anything for me at the
court. But they, too, had changed, as I might, perhaps, have expected,
and would do nothing.

"Brij Lall, they said, was too powerful to be interfered with; and
they recommended me to give up all hopes of justice, as the attempt
to fix the crime of murder upon him, with the insufficient evidence I
possessed, would be attended with my certain destruction. Nor would
they assist me to regain my lost rights; so that I was friendless, and,
as it were, forsaken in the world. I had but one resource: I joined
the first band of Thugs I could discover, though I had previously not
practised the profession, and I have since lived a lonely and wretched
life in the world. My mother is long since dead. My sister still
lives, and has some children; she is happy, and has no remembrance
of the past. I pay her a visit now and then, and am received with
affection and kindness. She is the only one in this world, except you,
my friends, who cares for me. She believes me to be a soldier in the
service of Holkar, and she will never know to the contrary. Praise be
to Alla! however, my enemy has died by my own hand, and I am content,
for I am revenged. Some of you, my friends, will lay me in my grave
when my time comes, and it will not be long. I have lived hitherto for
the deed I did last night. There is no excitement for me in the future,
and it matters not how soon the old Thug is laid in the earth. This
is my story, such as it is; if I have arrested your attention, and
gratified the Sahib-zada, my intentions have been fulfilled, and I am
content."

       *       *       *       *       *

The whole assembly was struck and affected by the old man's story, and
all joined in consoling him for his misfortunes. But I was particularly
interested in them, as they went more to convince me that the hand of
Alla was upon all our doings, than even my father's history. Both were
striking instances, but the Thug's particularly so. It really seemed as
though Brij Lall had been given into our hands--nay, to the very hands
of him he had so oppressed, to receive his punishment on earth previous
to the eternal fires of Jehunum. "Henceforward," said I to myself, "no
one shall have it to say of Ameer Ali that he hung back when occasion
required his personal exertions. I will emulate my father, and the
country shall know and feel that I am a scourge on its wickedness. No
one shall escape me; I shall act up to the utmost of the oath I have
taken, wage unrelenting war with the whole human race, and, Inshalla!
they shall see whether Ameer Ali cannot lead his men on to actions
which will by far surpass any of the present times, and equal those the
traditions of which remain among us."

From that day I put myself under the tuition of the Gooroo, or teacher
of the band,--an old Thug who was worn out with age, but had been
considered to be one of the most dexterous Bhuttotes, or stranglers,
who had lived within the memories of any of the men of our company. He
was a Hindoo, a Rajpoot; and though his frame was dry and shrivelled,
yet from his height, breadth of shoulders, and sinews, which were
developed the more by the absence of flesh to cover them, it was
easy to see that he had been a man of immense strength and power;
and, added to this, if his great dexterity in using the handkerchief
was considered, the stories of his superior prowess might easily
be credited. I had hitherto not associated much with him--beyond a
courteous demeanour to each other, we had been but little acquainted;
so I begged my father to take me to him, deliver me over to his care,
and request of him to initiate me thoroughly in the practice of a
bhuttote. He was delighted at this spontaneous offer on my part,
readily acceded to my wishes, and at once put me under the care of
Hoosein and Roop Singh, the old Thug I have mentioned, who belonged to
Hoosein's party.

"For a few days," said my father, "I will not see you; you shall remain
with them; and when you return to me, let me welcome you as ready and
willing to take a part in the next affair we may be engaged in."

The day after we began in earnest. Roop Singh repeated incantations
over me. I ate no meat, indeed tasted nothing but milk for four days.
Numerous sacrifices were made to the sacred pickaxe; every omen was
observed, and as I sat under the trees after our daily march, scarcely
a bird alighted on them but there was some conclusion drawn from it;
and the appearance of different animals and birds as we commenced our
march in the mornings were particularly observed and noted. I was
naturally very inquisitive as to the meaning of all that was done to me
and for me, but the old gooroo would not enlighten me.

"My son," said he, "when I was your age, these ceremonies were
performed over me, to make me fearless and stony-hearted, active and
cunning, so as to ensnare all who came within my reach, and to avoid
my enemies--to make me fortunate, and to cause me to win fame. In all
these I have never failed. Two others upon whom I have performed them
are rising fast to be jemadars, such is their address and courage;
and you, too, will be the same; therefore ask no questions. Content
yourself with knowing that everything is going on properly and to my
complete satisfaction, for I have not observed one unfavourable omen."

On the fifth morning, the handkerchief was put into my hand; and, after
having been bathed, anointed with sweet-smelling oils, and marked on
the forehead with vermilion, as a votary of Bhowanee, I was declared a
Bhuttote.

"One thing I forgot," said the old man, laughing, as he gave me the
cloth, "and that was the principal perhaps. I have not shown you how
to use it, and I have a peculiar knack of my own, which is easily
communicated. You will soon learn it."

He took the cloth, tied a large knot at one end, with a piece of silver
inserted in it; this he held in his left hand, the plain end being in
his right, and about as much space between them as would nearly compass
a man's neck: the closed hands had the palms uppermost.

"Now," said he, "mark this; and when you throw the cloth from behind,
and have got it tight, suddenly turn your knuckles into the neck,
giving a sharp wrench to either side that may be most convenient. If
done in a masterly manner, instant death ensues."

I took the cloth, and held it as he directed, but it did not please
him. "Give it me back, that I may show you more exactly on your own
neck," said he.

"Indeed, no," cried I, laughing; "you might think I was a traveller,
and have me down in an instant, without intending it; but I perfectly
understand the method."

"Then try it on _me_, Ameer Ali; I shall see by the position of your
hands whether you know anything about it."

I obeyed him; the old man shook his head and laughed. "That will never
do; you could not kill a child in that way," he said: "when you feel my
hands round your neck you will understand."

So I submitted with as good a grace as I could, though I did not at all
like the idea. My blood ran cold through me as I felt his chill, clammy
hands about my neck. But he did not hurt me, and I saw where my error
had been. I tried it on him as he had shown me several times, and was
declared at last to be perfect.

"Now you only want practice, Ameer Ali," said he.

"Inshalla! Roop Singh," I replied, "we shall have plenty of it. One
beginning, and I fear not for the rest. Like a tiger, which once having
tasted human blood will if possible take no other, and runs every risk
to get it, so I feel it will be with me." And it was so. Sahib! I knew
myself--I had spoken truly.



CHAPTER VI.


Nothing of any moment occurred during the rest of our march to Nagpoor,
if I except the deaths of a few solitary travellers, who had fallen by
the hands of a small portion of the band who had been sent to another
road which ran parallel to the one on which we marched; and as I know
no particulars of them worth mentioning, I shall at once lead you,
Sahib, to our encampment at Nagpoor. Outside the city is a large tank,
on the margin of which the majority of the band encamped. My father
and few others put up in the town, for the purpose of converting the
booty already obtained into money. It was not a difficult task, for as
the property which had belonged to Brij Lall was easily saleable, we
soon found purchasers among the numerous goldsmiths and sahoukars of
the city. In one of his dealings with a sahoukar, my father casually
stated, that he was proceeding to Hyderabad with some men he had
brought from his village, and for whom he was in hope of procuring
employment under, as he said, his brother, who was in the service of
the then reigning prince Sikundur Jah. The Sahoukar at once proposed to
accompany us, and to give my father and his men a handsome remuneration
if he would protect him on the road; as he had, he said, been for some
time on the look out for an opportunity to put himself under the escort
of a respectable man who might be travelling there with a number of
followers.

At that time, Sahib, in consequence of the unsettled state of
the country, and the many rumours there were of wars, any man of
respectability, who was idle in his village, and could persuade a few
companions to accompany him as their leader, was sure of employment as
a soldier, if he presented himself at any of the courts of Hindostan
or the Dukhun. Sindea, Holkar, the Peshwah, every prince in fact, had
a large army which was tolerably paid; and it was better to serve with
them, than to pursue any other occupation. We had met several bands of
such men on our road down to Nagpoor, so that our company presented no
extraordinary or suspicious appearance, especially under my father,
who looked like a soldier, was always well armed and dressed, rode a
fine horse, and on occasions of residing in, or even passing through a
city, was always attended by a number of the Thugs as his escort; and
his appearance was certainly what he represented himself to be to the
Sahoukar. My father readily agreed to the Sahoukar's terms, and bound
himself down in a day or two afterwards to be at his disposal, and to
afford him protection as far as Hyderabad. At a secret conference they
had that day, the Sahoukar, as my father told me, informed him that he
was going to take down a good deal of treasure, some valuable jewels
and some merchandize, by which he hoped to get a handsome profit at
Hyderabad. Nay, he even went so far as to show him what he was going to
take with him; and you cannot imagine, Sahib, the joy that was diffused
in our camp at the certainty of so rich a booty.

In order to give our band as much of the appearance of soldiers as
possible, my father purchased for those who had none, matchlocks,
swords, and shields, and distributed them: and, in truth, when all
the men were drawn up to be examined, they were a fine-looking set of
fellows; for as this expedition had been considered one of extreme
adventure, none but the youngest and most able-bodied had been selected
for it. They were all informed of the agreement which had been made
with the Sahoukar, cautioned to put on as military and swaggering an
air as possible, and, in short, to behave as soldiers would, during the
part of the journey they would have to appear as his escort.

This was in the evening, and during the night the camp was a scene
of jollity; the booty in view, nay, almost within their grasp, was
sufficient to cheer them. A set of dancing girls was invited from the
city, and in listening to their songs the best part of the night was
passed. We expected the Sahoukar anxiously all the day, and just at
nightfall he came to our camp in a small travelling cart, with one or
two servants and two or three small ponies, on which a tent and his
baggage were laden, and ten bullocks with their drivers. Altogether,
there were eight men, including himself. We saw but little of him
during our march to Oomraotee; my father and Hoosein used sometimes to
sit with him in his tent during the evening, and I was also introduced
to him. He was a large, unwieldy man, and I began to think whether he
would not be a good subject for my first trial. I mentioned my thoughts
to my father, and he was much pleased with me.

"I had intended to have appointed you to be his Bhuttote," said he; "he
is too fat to make any resistance, and he will be the easier work for
you, who have not as yet tried what you can do."

So from that time I looked upon him as my first victim. I daily went to
my instructor to gain fresh insight into my profession, and practised
the handling of the cloth in every way he pointed out to me. He one day
proposed to inveigle a lonely traveller into our camp, in order that
I might try my hand upon him first; but I objected to this, as I felt
confident in my own powers, and was determined, as I had selected the
sahoukar, that he should be the first man.

I pass over our journey, as nothing worth mentioning occurred on the
road. We arrived at the town, and took up our quarters in the bazar. I
was much struck with its apparent opulence and prosperity; but it was
not to be wondered at, as it was the place where all the merchandize
and manufactures of Hindostan were brought to be distributed over the
Dukhun, and where all the spices, drugs, and other articles of trade
arrived from the south, to be sent to different parts of Hindostan. The
town seemed to be full of sahoukars' houses and large shops; and in the
bazars were displayed every article that I had ever heard of, besides
many others from the Europeans at Bombay which I had never seen before;
and I wandered about every day in company with my father, admiring
and wondering at all I saw. The sahoukar's business detained him some
days at this place, at the end of which we again set forward, with an
addition to his people of three men, who drove a few bullocks heavily
laden with cloths, which we heard were of the most costly description,
being those of Benares, which are justly celebrated for their richness
and beauty. Nor did this addition at all disconcert our plans, for in
consequence of the sahoukar having accompanied us, Hoosein's party
still remained; and, indeed, if it had not, there were plenty of my
father's to have secured the whole without trouble. From Oomraotee to
Mungloor is three stages, and "There," said my father, "I shall decide
on a place for the ending of this matter. If I remember right, there
are some low hills and ravines not far beyond it, which will give us
excellent opportunities for concealing the bodies. And do you, Hoosein,
inquire who among your men know the ground--for it will be necessary to
send some one who does, with the Lughaees."

Inquiries were accordingly made when we reached our first stage,
a village named Baum, and it was discovered that three men were
intimately acquainted with the whole of the road, and had been on
the point of coming forward to recommend that one spot in particular
should not be neglected. They were closely questioned by my father and
Hoosein; and they gave a very clear description of a place which seemed
to be so well fitted for the purpose, that it was at once determined
on, and the men promised extra reward if they would exert themselves.

I now felt that my time had come; that in a very few hours I might take
my place with the rest, having established my right to be their equal.
Perhaps it was weakness, Sahib, but from that time I avoided the sight
of the sahoukar as much as possible. I saw him once or twice on the
road; but an involuntary shudder crept through me, and, like a fool,
I almost wished I were back again at our village. But it was too late
to retract; I had a character to gain, and the esteem of him who best
loved me, my father, to secure. To turn back was impossible, and to
evince the smallest cowardice was to degrade myself irretrievably. I
had therefore no resource but to do my best; and, in truth, when the
sahoukar was not before me, I felt no reluctance to perform my part,
but, on the contrary, the same desire I had before experienced to
distinguish myself.

We reached Mungloor. It is a large town, full of Mahomedans, and
celebrated for the shrine of Meer Hyat Kalundur, a saint of great
antiquity. His tomb is held in particular veneration, and it was judged
highly expedient that we should offer up our prayers for the success of
our enterprise. Accordingly, my father, myself, Hoosein, and some other
Mahomedans went to the tomb, and having observed all the ceremonies
required and directed by the attendant Moolas, we were sitting in
conversation with two of them, when we discovered, by a casual sign
made by my father to Hoosein, which was recognised by them that they
were Thugs! "Most extraordinary," thought I; "here are sacred ministers
of our faith Thugs as well as ourselves." But after some conversation
with them, I could see that my father esteemed them lightly.

"These fellows can hardly be Thugs," said my father to Hoosein, as we
descended the steps of the shrine into the outer court, where many of
the men had put up for the day, "and we had better caution the people
against getting acquainted with them. I do not think they will notice
us further as it is, but they might do so did they know whom we had
with us."

"You are right," said Hoosein; "it might perhaps be better were the
men told not to disclose whom we have with us." They were accordingly
cautioned: and it turned out that we had done right, as we heard
afterwards that the Moolas were most inquisitive, and could not
understand how it was that we had come so far and were going so much
further without an object; and I have no doubt had we not acted as
we did, and disclosed our intentions to, or asked for assistance
from them, that they would have either betrayed us to the village
authorities, or insisted on such a share of the spoil, which we dared
not have refused, as would have materially lessened ours.

After prayers we returned to the place where we had put up, and found
a man belonging to the Sahoukar waiting for us. He said his master
would stay that evening where he was, with a friend, instead of coming
outside the village to our encampment, but that my father was to leave
some men with him as a guard; and that he would set out early in the
night, as he was determined to go on to Bassim, a town some distance
off, where he had another friend, whom he wished to visit; that as it
was so long a march we must start early, so as to allow time for a halt
for refreshment at a village half way. My father did not like the idea
of sending the men into the village, lest they should be recognized as
Thugs by any of the Thug villagers; yet he could not but acquiesce, and
some were sent as soon as night closed in, that there might be hardly a
chance of their being known. In the meantime every preparation was made
by the party of gravediggers who were to precede us, and at nightfall
they also left the ground, fourteen in number, with the two who knew
the spot in company with them. They were confident as to the precise
place they should fix on, and described the hills as little more than
low mounds, caused by some high land breaking into ravines; that, if
they remembered right, the road was very stony, and crossed by several
small streams, whose banks were lined by thick brushwood, and that in
any one of these in which there might be no water, the bhil, or grave,
should be prepared. They were also desired to place men in advance to
give information, that we might all take our places, and fall on, when
the signal was given.

It was now generally known to all that I was to have the Sahoukar to
myself, and many thronged about me to see how I looked forward to my
first trial; every one cheered me, and I must own this gave me great
confidence. As the time approached, my soul burned for the work like
that of a young and brave soldier to see the first flash of his bright
sword in anger. My father enjoyed my demeanour in silent satisfaction;
he spoke not, but there was exultation in his eye as he looked fondly
upon me, and I felt that I should not disappoint him. The whole band
seemed to be impressed particularly with the importance of the present
matter, for they collected into groups, and though each man knew
exactly what he had to do, and what was appointed for his comrade, yet
they seemed to be discussing the whole, till one by one they separated,
and each stretched himself out to gain the little rest he could,
before the time arrived which would call him into active, nay, deadly
strife,--my father and Hoosein too--all except myself. I was sitting
outside our slight tent, when Roop Singh came to me.

"Baba!" said he, as he sat down, "how feel you? is your heart firm and
your blood cool?"

"Both," said I: "nothing can change my heart; and feel my hand, is my
blood hot?"

"No," said the old man, taking it in his; "it is not, nor does it
tremble; this is as it should be. I have seen many prepare for their
first trial, but never one so coolly and calmly as you do; but this is
all in consequence of the blessed Muntrus which have been read over
you, and the ceremonies you went through."

"Perhaps so," said I; "but I think I should have been much the same
without them."

"Now, may Bhowanee forgive you, proud boy," he replied; "you know not
their efficacy; was there ever a prouder being than I was,--a Rajpoot
by birth, and one of the purest tribes? Had I not slain wild beasts,
or helped to slay them, from my childhood? but when a man was shown
me, and the handkerchief alone put into my hands to destroy him with,
indeed I trembled; nor was it for a long time that I could be brought
to attempt it. But," continued Roop Singh, "you have one more ceremony
to go through, which on no account must be neglected; go, call your
father, Hoosein, and Bhudrinath, that they may be present."

We were all soon assembled, and the Gooroo led the way into an
adjoining field. He stopped, and turning to the direction in which we
were to proceed, raised his hands in a supplicatory manner, and cried,
"Oh Kalee! Maha Kalee! if the traveller now with us should die by the
hand of this thy new votary, vouchsafe us the Thibaoo!"

All of us stood silently; and wonderful to relate, even at that late
hour an ass brayed on the right hand. The Gooroo was overjoyed.
"There!" cried he to the others, "was there ever so complete an
acceptation of a votary? The omen almost followed the prayer."

"Shookr Alla!" exclaimed my father, "it is now complete; he will go
forth and conquer. There only remains for you to tie the knot."

"That I will do when we return," said the Gooroo; and when we reached
our encampment, he took my handkerchief, and untying the knot which had
been previously made, he retied it, placing a piece of silver in it.
Presenting it to me, he said,--

"Receive this now sacred weapon; put your trust in it; in the holy name
of Kalee, I bid it do your will."

I received it in my right hand, and carefully tucked it into my
waistband, that I might not lose it, and that it might be ready for
action when required. We remained in conversation for some time and
then threw ourselves on our carpets to snatch a short rest, till one
of our men from the village came and told us that the Sahoukar was
preparing to move, and had sent him on to warn us. The band were
quickly roused and our beasts laden, and we drew up by the side of the
road to await his arrival. He was not long in coming, and we all moved
on together. The night was beautiful, the road excellent, and we pushed
on in high spirits. The booty we were to possess, the tact with which
the whole matter had been managed from the first, would mark it as an
enterprise of a superior description, one that any one of us would
be proud to mention, and which would cause a considerable sensation,
not only in the country, but among the numerous bands of Thugs of
Hindostan, more especially those we were to rejoin at the conclusion of
our season.

We had proceeded about two coss, when there was a murmur among the men
who led, and one of the scouts was an instant afterwards seen making
his way to where we were. My father recognized him as one of those he
had sent on. "Bhilla manjeh?" [have you cleared the hole?] he eagerly
inquired.

"Manjeh!" said the man; "it is cleared, and it is all ready. See you
yon low hills? A streamlet, as I told you, runs from them; and it is a
rare bhil that we have made, Jemadar Sahib. You will say we have done
well."

"And how far may it be?" demanded my father.

"About half a coss," said the man; "a short distance from hence the
road becomes stony, and continues so till you are above the pass--take
advantage of it;" and he fell in among the others.

The men were silently warned to be at their posts, and each man,
or two men, as it was necessary, placed himself close to the one
to whom he had been assigned. By designed obstructions in front,
the bullocks belonging to the Sahoukar, with their attendants, were
brought immediately about the cart in which he rode, and the whole
being gathered into one place, were the easier to be secured. The
preparations again roused me, and I grasped the handkerchief firmly,
thinking every moment that the signal was about to be made; but we
still crept on at a slow pace, for the road was narrow and lined by
thorny bushes; and the men in front proceeding as slowly as possible,
we were kept exactly in our proper place, and expected every moment to
reach the spot.

As we approached the small hills, the jungle became pretty thick, and
appeared doubly so by the moonlight, and we passed many places where
I thought the deed might have been done with advantage. But I was
wrong, for the Lughaes had selected an admirable one. A man came from
the front, whispered a few words to my father, and again went on: this
increased my anxiety. We crossed a small hollow, ascended a bank, and
below us I saw what I was sure was the place. The banks of the rivulet
were high and steep, covered with thick underwood matted by trailing
creepers. A few higher trees nearly met over its bed, in which could be
just discerned a small thread of water, looking like a silver snake as
the moon's rays fell on it through the dark foliage. A hundred thieves
might lie there, thought I; and who could ever know the fate of a
traveller who might so easily be surprised in such a spot? I was roused
from my train of thought by my father, as he called out "Hooshiaree!"
[caution]. This was the preparatory signal. He went to the side of the
cart, and represented to the Sahoukar that we had reached the stream,
and that the bank was so steep, and the bed so stony, that he must get
out and walk over to the other side, if no further. This was quite
sufficient: the man got out, and after seeing the cart safely down the
steep bank was preparing to follow himself.

The whole scene is now before me. The bullocks and their drivers,
with the Thugs, were all in a confused group in the bed of the little
stream, the men shouting and urging on their beasts: but it was easy
to see that every man had a Thug close to him awaiting the signal.
They were only a few feet below us and the stream was so narrow that
it was with some difficulty all could stand in its bed, especially
when the cart reached the bottom. Above stood my father, Hoosein,
and myself,--the Sahoukar, one of his servants, and several other
Thugs. I was eagerly waiting the signal; I tightly grasped the fatal
handkerchief, and my first victim was within a foot of me! I went
behind him as being preferable to one side, and observed one of the
other Thugs do the same to a servant. The Sahoukar moved a step or two
towards the road--I instinctively followed him--I scarcely felt that
I stirred, so intensely was I observing him. "Jey Kalee!" shouted my
father: it was the signal, and I obeyed it!

As quick as thought the cloth was round his neck--I seemed endued
with superhuman strength--I wrenched his neck round--he struggled
convulsively for an instant, and fell. I did not quit my hold, I knelt
down on him, and strained the cloth till my hand ached; but he moved
not--he was dead! I quitted my hold, and started to my feet: I was mad
with excitement!--my blood boiled, and I felt as though I could have
strangled a hundred others, so easy, so simple had the reality been.
One turn of my wrists had placed me on an equality with those who had
followed the profession for years,--I had taken the first place in the
enterprise, for I had killed the principal victim! I should receive the
praise of the whole band, many of whom, I was confident, had looked on
me as only a child. I was roused from my reverie by my father.

"You have done well," he said in a low and kind voice; "you will
receive the reward of this soon; now follow me, we will go to the
grave. Ere this the bodies have been collected, and I myself must see
that they are properly disposed of. There will be a noise about this
business, and it will need great exertion for us to get out of the road
we are now travelling."

I followed him. We descended into the bed of the stream, and were led
to the grave by one of the men; others bearing the body of the Sahoukar
followed. We passed up the bed of the stream for a short distance; and
near the mouth of a small nulla, the bed of which was dry, a number of
the men were standing.

"The grave?" asked my father.

"It is up there," said one; "you will have to creep, and the thorns are
very bad."

"It matters not," he replied; and we entered the place.

The banks of the rivulet were perhaps two or three yards high, and
the bed was so narrow that but two persons could advance abreast.
The creepers and trees were matted overhead, and the sides so thick
that it was impossible that any one could have got down from above.
The tangled character of the spot increased as we proceeded, until it
became necessary to free our clothes from the thorns which caught us at
every step. In a few moments we heard the sound of voices, and after
creeping almost on all fours through a hole which had apparently been
forced through the underwood, we came upon the grave. There was only
one; it occupied almost the entire breadth of the stream; it was very
deep, and the earth, or rather sand, had been thrown out on each end.
The Lughaees were sitting there, sharpening stakes cut from the jungle;
but they could scarcely be seen from the darkness of the place, which
the thick wood above only partially allowed the moonbeams to penetrate.
They were conversing in a low tone in the slang of the band, which I
had not learned: my father spoke to them, or rather to their leader.

"You have had your wits about you," he said; "and we will think well
of you when we make the distribution: this is a grave that even a
jackal could not discover. Again I say, Peer Khan, you have done this
properly; and it is well I have seen it that I may speak of you as you
deserve. But you must be quick--the night advances."

"It is finished, Khodawund," replied the man; "we do but wait for
another body, which they say is coming, and the filling up will be done
immediately." As he spoke, the body of the Sahoukar was brought up by
three men, who railed at it for its weight.

"It is their wont," he said; "do not speak to them--only watch what
they do; for you must see all, that you may be fully acquainted with
your duties." I was silent. The corpse was dragged to the brink and
thrown in, as also that of the servant who had been killed close to the
Sahoukar; incisions were made in their abdomens, and sharpened stakes
driven through them.

"Were it not for the precaution you see," said my father, "the ground
might swell, and the jackals would drag out the bodies; in this way,
however, it is impossible."

When all was finished, quantities of stones, which had been collected,
were thrown upon the bodies; afterwards thorns; and the whole was
covered up with sand, which was carefully smoothed. "I think this will
do, Jemadar Sahib," said Peer Khan; "we may now leave the place. It is
not likely that any one will come here to look for the Séthjee or his
people; and the Sahib-zada has seen how cleverly we have done our work."

"Enough," said I, "I shall know how to act as a Lugha myself, should
I ever need it." My father beckoned me to follow him. I stayed to see
some dry sand thrown over the place, and proceeded with the others.
The hole in the underwood made by us was closed up with great care;
and a branch of a bush being broken off, and trailed after him by the
hindmost man, obliterated every footmark in the dry sand of the nulla.



CHAPTER VII.


The rest of the band, with the cart and laden bullocks, had proceeded
some way before we overtook them. We passed through a thin jungle for
some distance, emerging from which, we found ourselves on a wild,
bare plain, here and there studded with straggling brushwood. We all
collected together, and, lighting fires, the hooka passed round, and
each one related his achievement, and gloried in the prospect of a
speedy division of the booty we had acquired.

To arrange our future proceedings was by no means an easy matter, as
it was necessary to get past Bassim, where the Sahoukar had friends;
and his cart and bullocks might possibly be recognized in the town. My
father's advice was to travel till daylight, and then to withdraw to
one side of the road, as far from observation as possible; to remain
there as long as we could, and then to push on beyond Bassim. At this
halt, too, there was to be a grand division of the spoil, at least, as
much of it as could be divided; and Hoosein's party was to separate
from us and pursue their road, in the best way they could, in the
direction which has been pointed out to them. Accordingly we again
started, and, after passing some villages, halted about sunrise at some
distance from the road, near a grove of trees, in which there was a
well of water. Before the men betook themselves to cooking their meal,
after the march, they were all assembled; and the quantity of goor
having been brought, the ceremony of the Tupounee was performed as I
have before described. I was now entitled to a seat on the blanket with
the other Bhuttotes--I was their equal! The ceremony ended, I untied
the knot of my handkerchief, as directed by my father, and taking out
the piece of silver, presented it, with some rupees, to my gooroo,
touching his feet at the same time in reverence. This was the last of
my ceremonies of initiation. I was a Bhuttote, had fairly killed my
man, and held myself to be the equal of any of my associates.

After this my father and Hoosein brought forth all the plunder of our
late enterprise. It was magnificent: there was a good quantity of
gold and silver in money, but the principal valuables were the jewels
which the Sahoukar was taking to Hyderabad for sale, and the cloths
and brocades on the bullocks--they were of the richest description.
The distribution of these was a matter of great difficulty, and it was
impossible to satisfy every one; besides, the pearls and diamonds would
have lost a great deal of their value by being divided among the men.
So it was agreed to share the ready money, cooking utensils, and other
effects of the Sahoukar, also the least valuable cloths, into two equal
portions as nearly as possible, in proportion to the number of men of
each band; that my father was to have charge of the jewels, which he
was to sell at Hyderabad to the best advantage, as also of the most
valuable cloths; and that the proceeds of these were not to be divided
until we again reached our place of rendezvous.

The division of the ready money, upwards of three thousand five hundred
rupees, gave to each man a considerable sum, enough, at any rate, to
support him for some time,--the more especially as the share of the
former booty was not nearly expended; for every man lived as frugally
as possible, and all seemed intent upon vying with each other as to
who should have the largest share at the general division. Nay, many
even denied themselves the meanest luxuries, and it was not uncommon
to see a man eating his cakes without ghee, or anything but pure
water. Bhudrinath, however, one of the most skilful of the band, was a
complete exception to what I have said. He was a short, stout, active
fellow, a man who aspired to be a jemadar, and with some reason. I have
mentioned him before as the bearer of the sacred pickaxe. He was one of
the most enterprizing among us, and had conducted small expeditions, in
which he had acquitted himself much to the satisfaction of those who
had intrusted him with them. It was curious to see that man eat. He
consumed every day that he could get it, two seers of flour made into
cakes, a quarter of a seer of ghee (clarified butter), and a large pot
of milk containing upwards of a seer. It seemed impossible that one
man could demolish the pile of cakes when he had baked them and fairly
sat down to eat them, but one by one they disappeared, accompanied by
such draughts of water as would alone have filled any ordinary person.
Towards the end of the pile, however, it was easy to see that his jaws
could hardly perform their office; and it was almost painful to behold
the distension of his stomach: he would stretch himself first on one
side, then on the other; get up and stroke down the mass collected,
apparently from his throat downwards, and again essay to finish what
remained, and after many attempts he would sometimes succeed.

Often have I seen two or more village dogs sit opposite to him, during
the consumption of the mountain of cakes, looking wistfully at it, in
the hope that a portion of each as he ate it might be thrown to them,
watching and envying every mouthful as it passed into the apparently
insatiable maw: but in vain! Sometimes Bhudrinath would divide the
last two or three cakes between them, when every means of eating more
had been tried and had failed; but it was oftener that desire of
eating predominated. He would appear on the point of gratifying the
dogs' expectations,--nay, would even break a piece off and hold it in
his hand as if offering it: the dog would move towards him, but the
coveted morsel disappeared as the rest had done, and he would return
to his expectant station, to resume a watch which too often ended in
disappointment. We often jeered him on his enormous consumption of
food; but he used to declare that nothing under the daily allowance I
have mentioned could satisfy him, or enable him to perform his duty.

Our encampment broke up towards evening. Friends were seen embracing
each other, and wishing mutual success; at length they all departed: we
watched them over the brow of an eminence not far off, and then started
ourselves. Leaving the beaten road to Bassim, we struck off into one
to the left, and as it promised to lead to some large town we followed
it, as well to avoid discovery as to court new adventures. By the light
of a bright moon we travelled most of the night, passing through a
dreary country, in many parts covered with jungle, and never entering
a village save to ask the road, or to get fire to light our hookas.
Indeed we were often repulsed in this. There appeared to be a general
dread of robbers, and the walls and gates were usually manned by armed
men, on the intimation of our approach being given by the dogs as we
passed: but no questions were asked us, as to who we were or where we
were going, although perhaps our numbers might have excited suspicion.

In this manner, and without knowing where the road we had taken would
lead us, we travelled for some days; and as we had purposely avoided
the principal roads, it was not to be expected that we should meet with
anything in the way of adventure, or with any travellers whom we could
entice into our society. At last we came upon a broader road than that
on which we had been travelling; and as we had left every danger from
our late deed far behind us, we determined to follow it, in the hope
that it would lead us towards Hyderabad, or some large village in its
direction, from whence we could get upon a well-travelled road and
carry on our vocation. As it was, we had gained a respectable booty
even for a whole season; but scarcely two months had passed, and we
could not afford to go on so far as Hyderabad in inactivity. The road
led us on for some hours, till large mango groves, with here and there
the white top of a Hindoo temple peeping over them, gave us intimation
that we were approaching a place of consequence. It turned out to be
the town of Oomerkhér, a wealthy place, surrounded with most luxuriant
cultivation of wheat and other descriptions of grain.

"It will be our own fault," said my father, "if we find not some game
here. Having encamped on the other side of the town, the Sothaees must
carefully pass through the bazaars, and this evening may bring us booty
enough to recompense us for staying here."

The duty of a Sotha was one which I had also to learn: men were
even more proud of excelling in it, than in that of a Bhuttote; for
it required the greatest tact and powers of dissimulation, ability
to support characters and disguises, a smooth tongue, and polite
demeanour. Bhudrinath was one who united all in an eminent degree; he
was a short, stout, active man, as I have mentioned, but extremely
handsome, and with a most winning manner. It was his constant boast
that he never marked out a victim whom he did not strangle with his own
hands.

We passed through the town, describing ourselves as merchants from
Hindostan; and as the bales of cloths when stopped by the collector
of tolls were readily shown by my father, and the duty demanded on
them cheerfully paid, our assertion was credited, we were civilly
treated by the authorities, and shown an excellent piece of ground
for our encampment. "Now dress yourself in your best clothes," said
Bhudrinath, "and come with me into the town. Remember, your father is a
merchant, you are a jemadar commanding his escort, I am a bhula-admee
(respectable person) belonging to you; we will take with us Peer Khan,
who although a Lugha is an excellent Sotha, and a respectable fellow
when he is dressed and armed: and it is hard if we do not pick up
somebody."

Our meal was soon cooked and eaten, and after carefully attiring
ourselves we set off into the town to seek for adventures. It
astonished me to see the indifference with which the practised
hands proceeded, considering the object they had in view; for to
me there was as much excitement in this, as in what I had already
learned and practised. I confess our appearance was remarkable. I was
very noticeable from my dress and arms, which were of the richest
description, consistent with the appearance I had assumed. My face,
then much fairer than it is now, Sahib, with a mustachio already well
formed, and a figure which, though perhaps somewhat slender, gave
promise of future strength and power. Contrasted with my companions,
I felt I was superior to them in appearance; and a little pardonable
vanity gave me an air and swagger which were not unfitting the military
profession I had set up. We entered the town, and betook ourselves
to the Chowree, where the kotwal and some respectable persons were
sitting, surrounded by a few armed men as is usual. As we passed by
them we were invited to enter, and received with great politeness. I
was placed in the seat of honour by Bhudrinath, who took his station at
some distance. A desultory conversation began. My father's name was
asked, where he was going, and what he had brought for trade; who we
were, and in short the general object of our journey, by, as they told
us, an unfrequented road, at least from Hindostan. The tone in which
this question was asked seemed to me so suspicious, that I thought for
an instant we were suspected, and I was endeavouring to frame a reply,
when Bhudrinath stopped me.

"I represent," said he, addressing the man who had asked the question,
"that we were set astray at that abode of unsainted people, Nagpoor.
Either with a view to deceive us, or (God knows it may be so, I have
heard of such things) perhaps of robbing us, persons from whom we asked
information, told us the best and most frequented road was by this
place; and truly the town you have the fortune to dwell in is a place
of great beauty and fertility, and is evidently in the hands of a most
wise governor, and one who protects his people. How, Jemadar Sahib,
have I not said truly?"

"Indeed," said I, "you have; and the kindness we have as yet met
with shows that the servants of the governor are worthy of their
master. Truly it is not to be wondered at if the town is prosperous
and beautiful in such hands; and such is the mellifluous speech of
the kotwal, that we are impressed with the greatest opinion of the
discernment of the exalted person who has selected him."

"May your condescension never diminish," said the kotwal; "your slave
is not worthy of these encomiums; he is less than the least. If my lord
could but see the dispenser of benefits under whose beams he lives,
he would indeed say that the court of Hyderabad is worthy of being
compared with any in Hindostan, as having formed such a pattern of
excellence."

"Well," said I, "we shall only be too glad to lay our nuzzurs at the
feet of this patron of yours, and no doubt we shall see in him a
pattern of noblemen, a specimen of what we may expect to see at the
capital of the Dukhun. When may we hope to be admitted to the presence?"

"In the evening, after prayers," replied our acquaintance; "it is then
that justice is dispensed to these poor unbelieving cultivators, and
the durbar is enlivened by the presence and heavenly music of a set of
dancing-women, whom my lord has brought with him from the city."

"We will come," said I; "and I pray you to give your lord notice
that we have accepted your invitation to visit him; nay, that we are
desirous of paying our respects to him."

As I finished speaking, an elderly man of decent appearance had entered
the Chowree; he was a Hindoo, and looked like a merchant. He demanded,
in rather a peremptory tone, a place to rest in, declaring, that if he
did not get it immediately, he would go and complain to the ruler of
the town. The spirit of the old kotwal seemed to be roused by the man's
behaviour, and he declared in round terms that he would not give a foot
of ground, or an empty shop, without he was civilly asked.

"Look you, gentlemen," said he to us; "I ask you to decide between us;
I swear by the Prophet, I care no more than a snap of my fingers for
him; I have seen twenty thousand better; and if he goes to complain,
why let him go; he will be driven from the presence with stripes.
People like him come in hundreds every day, and who can trouble
themselves in looking after them?"

"You and your master may be the portion of the devil," said the old
merchant; "ever since I have entered the territories of the Nizam, I
have been treated in this manner. But it is only what I have heard
before; not a night have I passed without an alarm of thieves; and
God knows, if I had any protection, I would rather lie outside your
wretched walls, than in the zenana of your amil himself. Your bunneas
are rascals: I am refused grain at nearly double the price I paid
yesterday; I am refused shelter at night. In God's name, what am I to
do? Gentlemen," cried he to us, "what am I to do?"

Bhudrinath answered, as I was going to speak, and, to my astonishment,
angrily. "What would you have? O discontented man! I suppose some place
has been offered to you, and you have thought it not good enough; or
are you drunk with opium? or has hunger after your journey spoilt your
temper? Go, betake yourself to the bazar; be thankful that you can get
any place; and, if no one will shelter you, lie in the street; bethink
yourself that many a better man has done so before you."

The man stood aghast: he looked first at us, then at the kotwal and his
men, while expressions of delight at his discomfiture ran through the
kotwal's party: "Well said!" "Proper fellows!" "He ought to be turned
out of the village," &c. At last, without saying a word, he threw down
his turban and ran out, bellowing as loud as he could. We all burst
into a hearty fit of laughter.

"That is a queer fellow," said I to the kotwal; "I doubt not you have
often such to plague you; but send for him back, we will make him
ashamed of himself, and I will beg you to give him a place to stay in."

"As you will," replied he; "but for your intercession I should not have
troubled myself about him. Many such have I to deal with. One day a
fellow comes swearing he is cheated by every one; another, that he can
get nothing to eat, when perhaps both are too stingy to buy; another,
that he has no shelter, when he will not pay the trifle demanded by the
bunnea for the use of his shop. Again, a third must have every delicacy
to be found in a city, and he is furious because he cannot get them;
when, if they were all before him, he could not afford to buy one. In
short, sirs, there is no end to the fancies, foolishnesses, and, I may
say, tyranny, of travellers, and who think me, I suppose, to possess
superhuman power, and to have jins (genii) at my command, to bring them
whatever their foolish ideas may desire."

"You have indeed no easy situation, and to please every one is
impossible," said I; "but here comes the merchant,"--and he entered.

"Take up your turban, good fellow," said the kotwal, "and do not be
angry; you are no child to be quarrelling with decent people. Have you
never travelled before, that you should be angry and throw dust on our
beards in this manner? In God's name, take up your turban; and do some
one of you go and see that the good man gets a place for himself."

The man looked irresolute for an instant, then took up the turban, and
walked sulkily out, accompanied by the person desired to attend him.
Bhudrinath gave me a sign, and we took our leave. We had scarcely got
out, when he said, "That man is ours; now see how I will manage him.
I dare say he has but few persons with him, and he will be easily
disposed of."

We kept our eye on him and his attendant, and watched him take
possession of a shed of wretched appearance, with many symptoms of
dissatisfaction. We loitered purposely, till we saw that he was alone,
and then went up to him.

"Ram! Ram! Séthjee," said Bhudrinath, addressing him; "what a place
is this they have put you into after all, not fit for hogs to lie in!
That rascally kotwal, for all his smooth tongue, is an arrant knave,
I warrant; and I have heard," continued he, lowering his voice, "that
he has in his employ a number of thieves, whose business it is to cut
away travellers' saddle-bags from under their heads at night, and when
the poor man goes to complain in the morning, he is beaten out of the
village. Did we not hear so, Jemadar Sahib?"

"Yes, indeed," said I; "don't you remember the man who met us at the
village some coss from this, and warned us of the thieves of Oomerkhér,
and said he had been robbed of everything he possessed, and then driven
out with scarcely a rag to cover him? It was then that I determined to
encamp outside, where we might have our own sentinels, and where, if we
were robbed, it would be our own fault."

"God help me! I am a lost man!" cried the merchant; "I know not what
to do;" and he beat his head with his clenched hand. "In those bags
is all I am worth in the world; I fled from Surat to save myself from
oppression, and it appears that the further I fly the worse usage I
meet. It was only two nights ago--after watching till my eyes nearly
started from my head from want of sleep, and, not being able to sit
longer, I lay down and my eyes closed--that an attempt was made to
cut my bags from under me; and, as I awoke, the thieves snatched away
two of my cooking utensils and the cloth I had about me. What could
I do? Had I run after them, some fellow would have been off with my
bags; so I sat still, and screamed for help. The villagers were soon
assembled about me, and when I told them what had happened, a villain,
who called himself the patel, abused me for defaming his village; and I
was actually thrust without the gates, and left to pursue my way in the
dark, in momentary dread that I should be pursued, and perhaps robbed
and murdered. Oh, my unhappy fate!" cried he; "what will it not lead
me to! Fool that I was to leave my own country, to become the sport of
unblessed brutes, such as I have met in this wild country."

"Well," said Bhudrinath in a compassionate tone, "you have been used
very ill, and you ought to go and complain to the Hakim here; report
says he is a just man, although those under him may be thieves and
rascals."

"No, no, no!" cried the man; "go and complain! and be fleeced of my
last rupee! The great man would require a nuzzur, and every dependent
would ask for one; did I dare to refuse, my situation would be worse
than it is now. No, no! I have not been robbed as yet, and please God,
if I could only get out of this town, I would attach myself to some
party of respectable persons going the same road."

Bhudrinath turned to me, and took me a few paces aside. "The bait has
taken," said he; "our net is now around him; you must draw it tightly."

"How?"----"By inviting him to our encampment; I will propose it,
and you shall pretend to disagree at first, and then, after some
persuasion, consent. Do you understand?"

"I do," and we turned back.

Bhudrinath again addressed him, while I turned away. "Séthjee," said
he, "you are a man in misfortune, and if we don't help you out of this
place you will assuredly be robbed of everything you possess. You must
come and put up in our encampment; that is to say, if the Jemadar Sahib
will permit it: but the truth is, we are very careful, and allow no
one to approach it, as we are escorting a merchant from Benares to
Hyderabad, who has a large amount of goods with him."

"For God's sake! for the sake of your father and mother!" cried the
poor wretch, "for the sake of your children, intercede for me! do not
suffer me to be robbed and murdered here. Ai! Jemadar Sahib," he said
to me, catching me by my dress, "you are my father and my mother; a
word from you, and I am safe, and my poor merchandize will reach its
destination. God knows, if anything happens to me on the road, my house
will be made desolate, my employers will seize my wife and children.
Jemadar, you can protect me from this; you can save my life from these
fears, which make me most wretched, and are consuming my soul!"

"Thooh! good man," cried I, spitting on the ground, "do not be so
abject. Inshalla! I am able by God's favour to afford protection to
one who is a prince among merchants, and you are too poor to think of.
In His name follow us, and we will take care of you; we are going to
Hyderabad ourselves, and you can remain among the servants; do you,
Peer Khan, bring this man out to us."

Peer Khan remained, and we returned to our camp. On the way we
determined that he should die before evening, or when it should become
dusk, and we would then go into the town and visit the evening durbar
of the Hakim. In a short time we beheld the merchant, and Peer Khan,
with another man, driving two ponies apparently heavily laden towards
our camp.

"Come, this is more than I hoped for," said my father, "there are two
of them; and two ponies well laden must afford something worth taking:
we cannot expect this to be as profitable work as the last, but much
may come out of it."

The men approached, and the merchant was presented to my father. "To
your kindness," he said to me, "I owe all I possess, and if these
poor bags might but be allowed to remain along with the rest of the
merchandize you are protecting, it would increase the favour and they
would be safe."

"Surely," I replied, "you can unload your beasts; and there is the pile
of goods, you can put your bags on the top of it."

It was curious to see the behaviour of the men of the band; they
appeared to have an instinctive knowledge of the purpose for which
the men had been brought into the encampment. They did not evince
the smallest savageness of demeanour, as perhaps might have been
expected; on the contrary, every one was most civil and attentive to
the strangers; one offered to rub down the ponies, another to make a
place for cooking, a third to bring grass from the town, or anything
they might require for their meal. In a short time we observed the
appearance of care and anxiety on the face of the merchant to give
place to a cheerful expression, and long before evening both the
men were among a knot of the Thugs, listening to their stories, and
themselves relating their adventures. Little did they think what
preparations were making, and that in a few short hours they would
cease to be counted with the living.



CHAPTER VIII.


Meanwhile a consultation was held as usual at my father's tent, and the
different parts were assigned to us. The office of Bhuttote fell to me,
and the merchant was delivered to my hands. I now experienced none of
the hesitation which had formerly troubled my mind; I only longed for
objects to exercise myself on, to perfect my hand in the peculiar knack
it required. I had before me the example of those I most looked up
to, and to equal or excel them was my sole ambition. I was determined
to excel, and the excitement of the whole system proved a powerful
stimulus. In this matter too I had acted a prominent part as a Sotha;
and I began to pride myself on my ingenuity in seconding, as I had
done, one so completely an adept as Bhudrinath.

We agreed to put the men to death immediately after evening prayer. We
had in our camp a boy about twelve years old, the son of one of the
Thugs, who sang very beautifully, and his father used to accompany
him on the saringee. It was our custom of an evening after prayers to
send for the youth and be entertained by his songs; and he sang so
well, that he often collected a considerable sum from among us. On
this occasion he was called, and when he had begun, a message was sent
to the merchant to come and partake of our entertainment. He came,
and his servant also; the latter was a fine stout man, whiskered and
mustachioed and from the dialect he spoke, I concluded him to be a
Rajpoot of Meywar, whose inhabitants are a noble race and brave to a
degree. I eyed him, as he sat down in his place, with a half-formed
determination to change the merchant for him. Bhudrinath had been
allotted to him; and as I reflected on my own powers and his, I
felt assured that if he was thought equal to it, I was superior to
him, though I might not be considered so. Another thought, and my
determination was made; I proposed the exchange to Bhudrinath.

"As you please," said he, in a whisper, "but yonder is a tough fellow;
these Meywaree Rajpoots are active as panthers, and to tell you the
truth I did not half like the idea of being allotted to him; but there
is no help for it, and if I were to fail there are twenty others who
would finish him. But do you think yourself equal to him?"

"Yes, I do not fear him; I have, besides, a reputation to win, and do
not care running a little risk."

"As you will," he replied; "but you must mention it to your father."

I did so. The merchant was too much absorbed in the boy's song to
attend to us, and the servant was in ecstasies, as it was one of his
own country. "Are you able to do it? do not try else," said my father;
"the man is armed, and has a dagger at his girdle; a sword I do not
fear, but daggers are awkward things, and you might be wounded."

"And suppose I was," I replied, "do you think the fear of that deters
me? No, no! I have taken this on myself, and I will, with your
permission, go through with it."

"As you like, my son, I will not oppose you; you have a name to gain,
and you do well to run some risk: I will observe you narrowly, and be
ready to succour you should you require it."

The usual phrase, "Pan lao" (bring Pan), was to be the signal; and as
we changed places, myself and Bhudrinath, I fancied the servant eyed
us with some suspicion; I thought I saw him loosen the dagger in his
girdle; perhaps it was fancy, and yet he must have thought there was
danger. He stood up and looked round at us: and as I contemplated his
brawny form, naked from the waist, his chest covered with hair, and his
muscular arms, I thought for an instant I had overrated my strength;
but to recede would have been cowardly. The only plan was to attack
him standing; I moved towards him, and cast a keen look on my father,
by which I intended that he should give the signal as soon as I had
taken my post; he understood me. I had gained my place, the man had
just turned round to look at me and to get out of my way, and I was
just telling him not to move, as I was passing on, when the signal was
given.

Was it that I was a moment late, or that he had caught a glimpse of
the fate of his master--or that in reality he suspected that all was
not right, that he was in danger? I know not; but as I threw the cloth
around his neck, he drew his dagger: to have loosed my hold would have
been followed by instant death, he would have plunged it into me; and
he struggled so much, that, in spite of my great strength, he almost
succeeded in getting his other hand between his neck and the cloth.
All this happened in less time than I take to say it. My danger was
imminent, but as fortune would have it a Thug attempted to seize the
hand which held the dagger; this diverted his attention from me for an
instant: although half choked, he made an immense effort, which nearly
shook me off, and reached the unfortunate man--he plunged the weapon
into his heart! The man uttered a loud groan and fell, and the blood
spouted forth over us both; but the action had given me a fresh hold,
I was able to use my knuckles, and who could live under the strength I
put forth? The Rajpoot's dying struggles were tremendous, but I would
not quit my hold; my father rushed to me.

"Where is the cord?" he cried; "he will not die in this manner; where
is the cord? pass it about his neck, and let two of you pull."

"No, no!" I exclaimed, "he is nearly finished; let me alone, this
work is my own, no one shall interfere." Fortunately, having thrown
the man on his face, I was able to kneel on his back, and he was soon
past the ability to use his dagger. At last there was one convulsion
stronger than the previous ones, and he lay still--he was also dead--my
second victim! I arose, breathless and exhausted; and as I looked on
the prostrate corpse before me, I felt indeed that there had been
danger--that I had escaped from a deadly struggle, and that my art had
triumphed over strength. Almost beside the body lay that of the man
who had aided me, who had received a desperate wound. All had been so
occupied with me, that they had overlooked the poor sufferer; he was
lying with his face to the ground groaning.

"For God's sake," said I, "turn him round, the wound is in his stomach:
can nothing be done for him?"

Some of the men accordingly turned him, but it was plain to see that
there was no hope of life; the blood poured in a stream both from the
wound and from his mouth; he made several attempts to speak, but in
vain; he died almost instantly. While I was engaged in the struggle,
I several times fancied that the Rajpoot's dagger had reached me, as
I endeavoured to avoid it by screwing my body as far away from him as
possible; but the excitement was too great for me to feel the wound, if
there was any. Yet now on putting my hand to my side, I found, by the
blood on my garment, that I was wounded; the blood too was observed by
my father.

"Protection of God! he is wounded!" he cried. "My son, my son, did I
not warn thee? Did I not bid thee beware of that Rajpoot? Thou wast
no match for him, my son; and now thou art wounded, and what can be
done?" and my father sat down, fairly overpowered with his emotions. I
felt that the wounds were but scratches, and hastened to open my vest.
"There," said I, showing the wounds, "I said he would do me no harm;
and what are these? A thorn from a hedge would have caused a deeper and
more painful one."

"Shookur Khoda!" exclaimed my father; "you are not hurt after all"
(and the old man's eyes fairly ran over with tears as he looked at
the wounds); "but I had feared the worst after that horrid sight. Ai,
Mahomed! thou wast a faithful servant."

The bodies of the merchant and the Rajpoot were instantly stripped,
and removed to the grave which had long before been prepared for them;
it was made inside a small tent, where my father, myself, and some
others slept, and where it was secure from observation. I never was
more struck with the despatch and ingenuity of the Lughaes than on this
occasion. I had but delayed to have my slight wounds dressed, and to
bathe and cleanse myself from the blood I was covered with, when I
went to see the grave, thinking to find it still open. I was perfectly
astonished--there was no sign of the earth having been disturbed; the
place where the hole had been dug had been carefully beaten down,
plastered over with mud; and, but that it was wet, no one could have
told that it had been touched by the hand of man. My father's sleeping
carpet and mine were then laid over the place.

"Now," said I to Bhudrinath, "let us put on our best clothes and visit
the Hakim. Will you come too, my father?"

"No, Béta (no, my son), I have enough to do to keep all quiet here:
some one must remain; and you and Bhudrinath have deserved your
amusement, so go and take it. And here," cried he to some of the Thugs,
"take your shields and swords, and accompany my son; and see that you
look like soldiers, and not like Thugs, for the night."

Six or eight were soon ready, dressed in clean clothes and armed; and
by this time, the moon having risen, and it being the hour appointed
by the Kotwal for the evening durbar, we set off to the town. Truly,
dressed as we were in the handsomest clothes we could select, we
looked not only soldiers but handsome fellows. Each of us had given
a knowing cock to his turban; and mine, of the richest gold tissue,
passing several times under my chin, set off my face, by giving
me a particularly martial appearance. My arms were of the richest
description; a sword with a hilt inlaid with gold, its scabbard
covered with crimson velvet, with a ferrule to it of silver, of an
open pattern, which covered nearly half of it. In my girdle, which was
a Cashmere shawl, were a pesh-kubs or knife, with an agate handle,
inlaid also with gold, and a small jumbea or Arab dagger, also highly
ornamented with gold and silver. I carried too a shield of rhinoceros
hide, the manufacture of Sylhet, and painted and gilt in the beautiful
manner of Hindostan, the bosses being of silver, richly chased and
ornamented. My dress was of the finest muslin, which showed my shape
through it to the greatest advantage; and rich cloth of gold trowsers
completed a dress at once elegant, and calculated not only to impress
an observer with my correct taste, but to convince him that I was a
person, if not of rank, of respectability.

Bhundrinath's and Peer Khan's appearance was something less showy than
mine; but they looked good and true men, and fair seconds to one of my
pretensions. So we set off to the town, and passing the gate went to
the Kotwal's chouree, where we hoped to meet with him, or with some
one who would direct us to the durbar. As it happened, the Kotwal was
there; and, relinquishing his employment of caring for travellers, he
accompanied us to introduce us. We walked through some of the streets,
picking our way through tethered cattle and all the abominations of
a Mahratta town, and at last reached a respectable-looking gateway,
around which a number of soldiers were standing and lounging. Our
friend the Kotwal passed us through them; and after traversing two
open courts, we reached the place where the entertainment and assembly
was going on. A fine-looking old man questioned us as to who we
were, to which the Kotwal replied for us, that we were respectable
persons desirous of paying our respects to the Nuwab Sahib; to which
I added, that, having heard much of his great name and hospitality,
we considered that it would be unpolite to pass through his town
without paying our compliments to him, and becoming acquainted with so
estimable a person.

"You are welcome," said the old man; "there is nothing pleases the
Nuwab Sahib so much as to see strangers, wherever they may come from;
and, Inshalla! you will have no cause to regret having taken this
trouble."

"On the contrary," I replied, "we cannot think it trouble, but an
honour seldom allowed to such poor persons as we are. But pray lead us
to the presence."

We ascended a few steps into the hall, where sat the Nuwab, surrounded
by a number of persons. Before him were a group of dancing-women,
displaying their charms, and entrancing their hearers with songs of
Persia and of Hindostan. Our conductor bade us wait for a moment; and
going up to the Nuwab, said a few words to him, intimating our arrival.

"Khamoosh" (silence)! cried the Nuwab, and it was repeated by a dozen
voices; "let the strangers be admitted."

We were ushered on, leaving our shoes at the edge of the pure white
cloth which was spread over the part of the room which led to the
Nuwab's musnud. On seeing us he made a polite salutation; and I stepped
forward, and enveloping the hilt of my sword in an embroidered scarf I
had thrown loosely about my shoulders, I presented it as a nuzzur.

"Kubool hooa," said the old gentleman, placing his hands upon it; "it
is accepted; sit down near us. Inshalla! we are much pleased with your
appearance, and bid you heartily welcome to this our poor durbar."

To be polite I resisted this civility, protesting that I was by far too
humble an individual to allow myself so much honour; but he was not
to be denied, and accordingly I seated myself in the most respectful
attitude, with my heels under me; and placing my sword and shield
before me in the best manner to display their beauty, I turned to the
Nuwab, who seemed to be contemplating my appearance.

"Mashalla!" said he to me, "thou art a brave-looking young fellow:
now tell me who thou art, and who these respectable persons are that
accompany you."

"I beg to represent in your service," I replied, "that I am nothing
but a poor soldier, a Syud by birth; I have a few men with me, for
whom and myself I am going to Hyderabad to seek service. I am come
from Hindostan: my father, who is at our camp, is a merchant going to
the city with merchandise. These persons," I continued, pointing to
Bhudrinath and Peer Khan, "are two of my associates; and being superior
to the rest, I have ventured to bring them to present their nuzzurs to
the presence."

"By all means, Meer Sahib; we delight to see good and stout-looking
fellows. Any one such is a pearl in the eye of an old soldier like
myself. Let them be brought forward," said he to an attendant; and
both advancing made the requisite salutations, and presented the hilts
of their swords as I had done. The ceremonies of introduction being
concluded, the musicians and dancing-women were desired to recommence,
and I had a moment's leisure to survey the apartment and the scene
before me.

The apartment opened, through three large wooden arches, into the
court-yard which we had crossed; and between them were hung large
purdahs or curtains of English scarlet cloth, which could be let down
as occasion required. The room was lofty, and behind where we sat the
walls were ornamented with stucco-work in rich designs. Above, on one
side, was a small gallery thickly screened, from whence the inmates
of the zenana could observe all that was passing below without being
seen. Before us the dancing-girls were moving with their peculiar
floating motion, and singing, while they expressed the amorous words of
their song by their gestures. Another set were sitting down by their
side, waiting for their turn to be called, and both were splendidly
dressed and covered with jewels. Nuwab Hoosein Yar Jung Buhadoor,
a fine-looking wiry old soldier, polite and courtly in his manner,
was a good specimen of the noblemen of the Dukhun; though perhaps
not so effeminately polished as those of Delhi, yet he was one whose
appearance commanded respect; and his bright keen eye, and the seam
of a wound on his right cheek, showed that he had seen battle-fields
and was familiar with war. His dress was of plain Dacca muslin; but a
string of large pearls round his neck, which he used as a rosary, and
the beautiful sword lying before him on the carpet, would prove to the
most casual observer that he was a man of rank and consequence. He
observed me looking round, and addressed me thus,--

"We are in a poor place here, young man; but what can be done? the
duty of the government must be performed, and we cannot carry our
house about with us. However, we have made the place as decent as it
could be, considering we are in the jungle; and, by the favour of the
prophet, we have brought bright eyes and sweet voices with us, and we
do not lack amusement. Say, what thinkest thou of our selection? Yonder
is Zora, sitting down, second to few in Hyderabad either for beauty of
person or sweetness of voice: the other, now singing, is one we picked
up on the way hither; but, Inshalla! in a short time she will be fit
company for the other, and we shall take her down to the city with us,
to astonish our acquaintances."

The dancing-girl Zora, hearing her name mentioned, turned round
and looked towards me. I was instantly dazzled by her beauty. She
was not so fair as some of her profession I had before seen; but if
she was not so fair, her features were small and regular; and her
large antelope-like eyes, when turned full on me, seemed to pierce
me through. It was not a quick glance, but one that was fixed slowly
upon me, and was not withdrawn. I was then young and modest, and I was
fairly abashed. She observed it, and turned round and smiled to one of
her companions.

"Come," said the Nuwab smiling, "you are not to steal the hearts of my
Tuwaifs. You are a dangerous-looking fellow; and that handsome face of
yours will do much mischief, if I mistake not. Tell me the news from
Hindostan; report speaks of war in that quarter, and that the Mahrattas
and Pindarees are arming."

"Why," I replied, "there are such reports. We heard that there was
service to be got either with Sindea or Holkar, and that they and the
Feringhees would soon be at war; but we preferred trying our fortune
in the Dukhun; for we heard the pay offered by both was very small to
soldiers armed as we are, as they place their principal dependence
on the troops under the Francese generals, by whom alone the Ungrez
Feringhees are to be opposed."

"Ay," said the old Nuwab, "the times of fair fighting are passing away,
and the inventions of Europeans are fast supplanting the bravery of
the men of Hind. God knows where it will end! Even at Hyderabad the
Feringhees have got such a hold of the place, that God knows whether
they will ever be driven out. And they train the miserable Kafirs of
Telingana to fight in ranks and perform evolutions which are truly
wonderful; but the power of Alla is great, and they are in favour with
him."

"One comfort, however," said I, "is that the Francese and Ungrez are at
bitter enmity; and if there is a fight, one or other, by the blessing
of God, must be beaten. Then will be the time for true believers to
rouse themselves, and free their country from the yoke of both."

"You talk like a young, hot-blooded boy: this cannot be. We of
Hyderabad are too much beholden to the Ungrez Feringhees for freeing
us from the demands of the Mahrattas, and the oppression of Hyder Ali
and Tippoo, to quarrel with them; and after all I question whether we
could do much against them. Tippoo fell, and he had the advice of the
Francese in building his fort. God protect me! it was only a mud wall
before the Ungrez."

"You saw it then?" I inquired.

"Yes, indeed," said he, kindling, "I saw the whole; and if you had
also, you would have wondered to see the soger battalions scramble
up the breach like cats, headed by their officers, in the face of a
fire of guns and matchlocks which would have scattered the people _we_
call Sipahees like chaff. Truly they are something like men; and if we
of India had fought like them, would they have possessed one foot of
ground? Inshalla! they would not; but it is no use regretting. And now
Sikundur Jah has made a treaty with the Ungrez, and sits in his zenana
like a eunuch, leaving them to take care of him and his country."

"Then you think," said I, "that I have no chance of service at the
city?"

"By no means," said he; "you are, I think, pretty sure of it. There are
plenty of openings for a fine fellow like you, and your appearance will
take with some of those who command troops. Inshalla! you might have
had it here, but my list is full; and you are not likely to separate
from your men?"

"No," said I, "that I could not; the poor fellows would starve in a
strange land; and having collected them, I must perform my promise of
taking them down to the city."

"Now you must see my pride, Zora, dance," said the Nuwab. "Inshalla!
your heart must be hard if she does not make it ache, as she has done
that of many a one."

The group, who had hitherto been singing, were desired to be seated,
and Zora prepared to stand up. The bells for her ankles were brought,
and she tied them on. The musicians to accompany her tuned their
instruments, and after a short prelude she stood up. If I had been
struck with her appearance sitting, how much more splendid was it now!
She was not tall, but exquisitely formed, as far as could be judged
from her peculiar dress, which was so loose from under her arms as
completely to hide her form to her ankles; but it was of the richest
description. It was made of a dark lilac-coloured gauze, in bands
alternately with gold tissue; the bottom trimmed with gold tissue very
broad, as far as her knees, upon which there was rich embroidery in
gold thread and seed pearls. Around her she had thrown with extreme
grace a scarf of the lightest muslin and silver, of the same colour as
her dress; so thin was it, that as she moved, it seemed almost to float
away from her in the air caused by her motion. The colour of the scarf
round her head, in contrast with her complexion, made it appear much
fairer than it really was, and her large soft eyes still more brilliant
and swimming.

The musicians began their usual prelude, and with it one of Zora's
companions, a pretty girl, the slow movements of the dance. After a
few turns she resumed her place, and Zora herself, like the full moon
emerging from a cloud, sailed towards us with a slow and graceful
motion. How shall I describe to you, Sahib, her exquisite movements!
Every turn displayed her form to greater advantage, and I gazed till my
soul was fairly entranced. But how much more was I affected when she
began to sing! Having performed the dance, both the slow and quick, she
ceased; and after a prelude by one of the musicians behind her, she
broke out into an impassioned Ghuzul. It was one I was very fond of
myself. I listened till I could have fallen at her feet, and worshipped
her as a Peri from heaven. My soul was so intoxicated with the blessed
sounds I heard, that I was insensible to all around me. She at length
ceased; and the Nuwab, who had been observing me attentively, asked me
what I thought of the songstress and her dancing.

"Most wonderful is it," I replied; "my liver has become water before
her fascinations. It is fortunate for me that I am not to live within
their influence, or I were lost for ever. I could forego fame and my
profession to lie at her feet and dream away my existence."

"You talk like a foolish boy," said the Nuwab, "and must not give way
to such fancies; many a man has been ruined for ever by them. Persons
like her are greedy and insatiable of money, as we are told of the sea,
which swallows up everything that is cast into it, without showing a
sign on its surface beyond that of the transient ripple."

"Cannot they love?" I asked; "are they so utterly mercenary?"

"Utterly. Alas! young man, I have known and felt it--but let us change
the entertainment. I have some rare Bhyroopeas with me, who arrived
from Hindostan the other day. I have but heard them once, and my sides
ached with laughter. You, no doubt, are well acquainted with their
style; yet it is somewhat new to me--they shall be produced."

"May your condescension increase, Nuwab," said I; "truly your favour
is great on your poor servant, and of which he is utterly unworthy.
Nevertheless, he will not fail to make known the fair name and
hospitality of Hoosein Yar Jung Buhadoor, wherever his fate may lead
him, which is the only return he can make for it."

"You will prosper, I hope," he replied; "young fellows of your
appearance rarely fail to make friends. But here come the Bhyroopeas;
let us see what new amusement they have prepared for us; something to
laugh at, I doubt not."

They were three in number; and twisting their faces into comical
expressions, so as to cause the whole assembly to burst into a
simultaneous fit of laughter, one of them stepped forward and said,
that in the country whence he came there was once a Nuwab, a very wise
man, who governed his country as no one had done before, and was a lord
victorious in war; and that, if the Hoozoor pleased, his slaves were
prepared to relate some of his adventures.

"Go on," said the Nuwab, "we are attending; see that there is nothing
indecent, for you are in the presence of the Khanum."

"Asteferalla!" (God forbid!) cried all, making their salutation towards
the screen; "may the favour of the Khanum be upon us, and may Alla give
her a long life and posterity to bless her. Inshalla! we shall find
favour in her sight, and take away our garments filled with gold."

They commenced: one of the men, dressed ridiculously as a child,
personated the Nuwab. The story begins with his youth, how he is
petted in the zenana; and the two others changing their dresses
to those of females, one is his mother, the other his nurse. The
young Nuwab is pampered, spoiled, becomes unruly, is declared to
be possessed by the Shitan; a Moola is called in, and charms and
wonderful potions, prepared by the aid of magic, are administered. The
great child screams and roars, kicks his mother and nurse out of the
assembly, upsets all about him; and the confusion and noise created
by all this, especially among the Tuwaifs, made a scene of fun at
which we all laughed heartily. In an incredibly short time the men
again made their appearance, and the second act began. The child had
grown up to be a youth, and to be fiery and uncontrollable. Women,
wine, horses, and arms are his enjoyments; reckless of everything,
he plunges into dissipation, sets his parents at defiance, runs into
debt, is surrounded by sharpers and parasites, who despoil him of all
he possesses; and he had given himself up to harlots and debauchery;
and this ends the second part. His father dies--he is now Nuwab; he is
the head of a proud house, has men and soldiers at his command, and
his territory to manage. He forthwith kicks out his former companions,
discards every one he had formerly had near him, good and bad together,
gives himself up to a new set of rogues who had preyed upon his
father--men with hoary beards, only the greater adepts in villany. He
has a quarrel with a neighbouring noble, and the two prepare for war.

The troops are described--how they eat mountains and drink rivers; and
the Nuwab himself as going forth like a bridegroom to meet his bride,
like the lightning from the thunder-cloud, or river over-running its
bounds--terrible, irresistible, before whose glance men quail as before
a lion! His horse and arms--the former large of carcass, small of limb,
feet large and broad, fleet as the antelope, courageous as the panther.
Of the arms, the sword which, wielded by his father, had cut through a
buffalo's skin and divided the thickest quilting. He goes forth, and
the fight commences; the horses charge, and the Nuwab and his enemy
meet (each is mounted on the back of a man). They fight; sword after
sword (made of wood) is splintered. One of the horses is killed--it is
the Nuwab's! He too is killed! he is at the mercy of his foe! No, he is
up again; the fight is renewed; it is long doubtful; fresh weapons are
given by attendants; at last he is victorious. Alla Akbar! the victory
is won, the enemy is routed.

Then follows the torture of the prisoners, the rifling of the zenana.
There is one slave beautiful, small, delicate in form, an eye like the
gazelle's, fair as the beauties of Room or the fabled ones of England.
She falls at his feet--he is captivated. She conquers, and the Nika
is performed. They live happily for some time; but the fame of the
beauty of the daughter of a neighbour reaches him. His soul is on fire;
his former love is neglected. He proposes marriage; it is accepted;
the bride comes home, and a deadly jealousy ensues between the rival
wives. The quarrels of the zenana are described; and by the shrieks of
laughter from behind the screen, it is easy to believe how naturally
all had been described and acted. The Nuwab has reached middle age;
he is now a father of a family, a respectable man, a religious man,
surrounded by Moolas, who flatter him, and have usurped the places of
his former companions. He is as debauched as ever; but it is not known;
he passes for a just and good man, and his durbar is described, and his
judgments. What was Solomon compared with him? or Hatim Tai, or Lokman
the wise? And at each enumeration of his virtues the assembly loudly
applauded, and directed their looks to the real Nuwab who sat as the
spectator.

Again the Nuwab is shown, old and decrepid, worn out by disease,
surrounded by quacks, from whom he demands nostrums to make him young
and vigorous. His zenana is fuller than ever of women, who flatter
his vanity, tell him he is as young as ever he was, and yet are false
to him; but he has a son who promises to excel his father, who is a
Mejnoon in form, a Roostum in valour, before whom his father's enemies
are scattered like chaff from the grain before the wind. The old Nuwab
is growing more and more decrepid and querulous. His fancies and
longings are described in a most laughable manner; and as the final
event approaches, he sinks into his eternal sleep, sure of the seventy
Houris of Paradise, and the eternal youth, which is the portion of
true believers. Having concluded, they stepped forward for the largess
promised.

"Well, Meer Sahib," said the Nuwab to me, "how like you this?--have the
men done ill or well?"

"Ul-humd-ul-illa!" said I; "the works of Alla are wonderful, and
assuredly these fellows are of his especial handywork. I have seen many
of their caste before, but never any like these."

"They shall be well rewarded," said the Nuwab; "and yet, despite of our
having laughed at the whole story, there is much of a moral in it, and
much satire. Would that many of the rising generation could receive a
lesson from it; they might become wiser and better men."

"Ameen," I replied; "my lord's remarks are just. I did not notice the
satire when I heard it; but now I feel it, and it is just."

The night was far advanced; and, requesting leave to depart, I rose
to be gone. I was passing the Tuwaifs, when an old woman pulled me by
the sleeve, and said, hurriedly, "If you seek an opportunity, there is
another who desires one. Be secret; you shall hear more from me." My
blood boiled. I slipt a piece of money into her hand, and departed.



CHAPTER IX.


I said my blood boiled. Could it be that one so lovely--one who had
kept company with the nobles and men of wealth of Hyderabad, had seen
aught to admire in me, who was unused to courtly scenes, and was even
yet a boy, deficient in manner and address?--could it be that, from my
dress and appearance, she thought me rich--one who would squander my
substance upon her? These thoughts were passing through my mind, and we
had nearly reached our encampment without my having interchanged a word
with my companions. The silence was broken by Bhudrinath.

"How is this, Meer Sahib?" said he; "what has tied your tongue?--have
you nothing to talk about after our night's entertainment--no remarks
to make on the beautiful Kunchinee? By Alla!--though it is a Mahomedan
oath--I would almost be content to give up the heaven of Indra, and
turn Moosulman, were I sure of being attended in the paradise of
Mahomed by a set of Houris just such as she. And to think of her
belonging to that old wretch the Nuwab, and to be buried in this hole
of a Mahratta village, when she might have half the nobles of Hyderabad
at her feet, were she there. By Alla!--I say again--it were worth the
while to try and entice her away from the old sensualist; and it would
be something to talk about, not to mention her company on the road, and
the rare addition she would make to our evening amusements."

"Why," I replied, carelessly, "the girl is, as you say, of surpassing
beauty, and no doubt feels herself uncomfortable in this abode of
swine; yet to get her away would be no easy task; and what should we do
with her when we got her?"

"I shall try and see if her coming with us is any such marvellous
difficulty," he rejoined; "and, you know, if afterwards there is any
pursuit, she and the rest of her people are easily provided for."

"Now you speak like a cold-blooded Thug," I retorted angrily (for
deny it as much as I would to myself, I could not but feel that the
dancing-girl had more than interested me); "and I would sooner quit you
all, and get back to Hindostan the best way I could, than that a hair
of her head should be injured."

"I did but jest, Meer Sahib; you know I am not one who wars with women,
except when they come before me in the fair and lawful exercise of
my vocation. No, if we get the girl, it must be by fair means; and
strait-laced as your father is on many points, he is too fond of a
good song and good music to deny us having her in company; so do not
mind what I said, and do not go to sleep upon your anger to your poor
friend, if indeed you have any."

"I am not angry," said I, "though I certainly felt my blood rise when
you alluded to her. We will consider about the rest in the morning; and
if we can but persuade my father that the girl comes of her own accord,
I do not anticipate any objection; but we must be sure that she will
go first; and to this end I have a kind of clue which may guide me."

"How?--did she say aught to you?" he eagerly inquired.

"No," said I; "how could she in that crowd? but you know I understand
Persian--thanks to the old Moola, my teacher--and you do not; and
from the words of the last plaintive song she sang, and her mode
of expressing them, I have a shrewd guess that she is tired of
confinement, and of her mate. You know the old proverb, 'Kubootur bu
kubootur, bâz bu bâz'--pigeons mate with pigeons, and hawks with hawks."

"Well," said Bhudrinath, "according to that, she is more likely to look
to you than to me; and you know I am a Brahmin; therefore I leave her
and the matter to your management; I am ready to assist when I can be
of use. Inshalla! as you people say, we shall make a corner-stone of
the old fellow's beard, and laugh him to scorn."

"Ameen!" said I, "we will try, at all events; and you shall hear
from me in the course of to-morrow more upon this subject." We then
separated for the night; and I was glad Peer Khan and the rest of the
men had been so far behind us as not to have been able to overhear any
part of our conversation. I confess that, as I lay down to sleep, I
earnestly desired the success of our scheme, though as yet it could
hardly be called one; and though I had in some degree struggled with
it, I had not been proof against the fascination of the dancing-girl;
nor indeed was it to be wondered at, after the words of the old woman.

Soon after the morning prayer the leaders of the band were assembled
to see the opening of the bags of him who had died the evening before.
My father presided in the assembly; and one by one they were brought
from the pile of merchandize. We had indeed got a prize; and it was not
to be wondered at that the care of them had cost the man they belonged
to so much anxiety. In each of them, among a quantity of old clothes,
rags, and old copper vessels, were concealed small boxes filled with
precious stones, pearls, small diamonds, rubies, and emeralds; and in
two of the boxes were sets of ornaments made up, and set with jewels;
and two in particular, a bazu bund, or ornament for the arm, and a
sir-pesh, or ornament for the turban, were particularly splendid. My
father, who had a good deal of experience in these matters, pronounced
the whole to be worth at least fifteen thousand rupees, and offered the
band the alternative of distributing the whole in as equal portions as
he could, or of waiting till our arrival at Hyderabad, where they could
easily be sold for ready money. The latter, after some deliberation,
was determined on, as had been the case with the former booty.

I proposed, as I knew that we might perhaps run short of money on the
road, especially if we met with no more rich travellers, to offer one
of the two ornaments for sale to the Nuwab, and as I had made his
acquaintance to take it to him myself. The proposal was agreed to, and
I was not without hope that by some lucky chance I might fall in with
the old woman who had spoken to me the night before, and might be able
to arrange a meeting with her, which should guide us in our future
plans; so accordingly about noon I called Bhudrinath to accompany me,
and we proceeded to the palace, as it was called by the villagers. By
the way we met with our friend the Kotwal; but I cut him short with
"Another time, Kotwaljee,"--for it seemed as though we were to have a
long story--"another time, my friend, we will pay you a visit; but at
present the matter we have in hand is urgent, and it being past noon we
are afraid of being denied admittance, and so you must excuse us."

"Of course," said he, "I will not detain you, and I shall not fail
to present myself at your camp this evening to receive your further
commands."

"That means," said Bhudrinath as we moved on, "that he expects a
present. These worthies have been my study for many years."

"Ay," said I, "we must pay him well, and he will be the first to cry up
our praises should anything happen; but do you anticipate anything?"

"Not I," said he; "I wish we could always do our work as securely, and
get as well paid for it; but here we are at the Nuwab's gate."

An attendant at our request took in our names to the Nuwab, and after
a short delay we were again ushered into his presence, and received
with the same civility as we had been the night before. After some
desultory conversation, I opened the object of our visit. "Khodawund,"
said I, "my father pleads an attack of fever and cold, for not
attending to present his nuzzur at your feet, and he trusts you will
pardon his seeming neglect. In his behalf I have brought a rare piece
of jewellery for your inspection, which he hopes may please you; and
by its purchase you will not only materially assist him, but it will
become the property of one worthy to possess and wear it."

Thus saying I produced the ornament for the turban, and laid it before
him. He was evidently much struck with its beauty and the fine water of
the precious stones, and after turning it in every position he could
to catch the exact light for it, laid it down with a kind of sigh. "It
is indeed beautiful, and worthy of the turban of Bundugan Ali himself;
but," said he, "I am too poor to buy it: its value must be very great."

"No doubt," said I, "my grandfather must have paid handsomely for it;
but times have altered with us, and we have been glad to sell our
family property for whatever it would fetch. In this instance, far
be it from your slave's intention to put a price upon an ornament
without peer in its fashion; yet methinks it would so well become the
forehead of my lord that he ought not to let slip such an opportunity
of possessing it, to be enabled to show it one day at the court of his
prince."

"Thou sayest truly; and if I may, I will but show it in the Mahal,
and see how the persons of my household like it. Inshalla! they will
approve of it, and then we will see if we can come to terms about it."

"Certainly," said I; "the time has been when it would have been nothing
for our house to have presented a tray of such to one of my lord's
power and rank; but we are reduced, as I said, and are no longer fit
possessors of what we dare not wear."

The Nuwab took the jewel, and went into his zenana: he was absent a
long time, but we could see by his face on his return that it had been
approved of. "They have looked at it in a thousand ways, and have
discovered that there is good fortune to come with it: not that I need
any; but you know what a parcel of old women are," said he. "And now I
will ask what may be the price: you know we nobles of Hyderabad are not
overburthened with money, and you must be moderate in your demand."

"Why," said I, "I am flattered by the opinion of those who have seen
it, and can only say, that my grandfather (may his memory live for
ever!) paid so large a sum for the jewel that I am afraid to mention
it. My lord must observe particularly its exquisite water. He, I say,
collected the stones one by one during a long period of his life,
and they cost him alone six thousand rupees; the gold around them is
somewhat more; but my father will esteem himself fortunate if five
thousand rupees be given for it."

"It is too much," said the Nuwab with a sigh: "where have I five
thousand rupees to lay out in such a bauble as this? My friends, I have
been gratified by the sight of it, but to purchase it is out of the
question; the money I have not. Yet stay; allow me to have it valued by
a jeweller, and we may perhaps come to terms."

"By all means," said I; "I have told my lord no lie in stating the
price of it: but let the jeweller see it; he may fix a smaller sum; and
such is our urgent necessity for a little ready money that perhaps we
may be induced to take something less."

The jeweller was accordingly sent for, and arrived after a short time.
He was shown the jewel; and from the expression of admiration on his
countenance, I could see we had not overvalued it. He took it to the
light, and putting on his spectacles, examined it in every possible
way. At last he returned, and taking the spectacles from his nose,
asked the price we had fixed on it. I told him. "At the time this was
made up," said he, "no doubt it was worth the sum you mention, for the
stones are of rare water; nevertheless, we all know that men cannot
afford to expend money as they used to do; and all things considered,
perhaps at present four thousand rupees would not be too much, and
indeed a fair price."

"It is too little; we must be content to sell other articles to supply
our necessities: so Nuwab Sahib," said I, "with our profound thanks for
your condescension, we ask leave for our departure;" and I took up the
jewel and arose.

"Stay," said he; "I offer you three hundred rupees more: four thousand
three hundred, surely that is sufficient."

"Make it five hundred," I replied, "and it is yours." And after much
haggling on both sides, the price was fixed at four thousand four
hundred and fifty. Of this, two thousand five hundred were paid by the
Nuwab's treasurer in money, and for the rest, at my request, a bill was
made out by a sahoukar of the village on Hyderabad. And after again
offering our thanks to the Nuwab, we took leave of him for ever.

"Not a bad morning's work," said I to my companion as we walked
homewards, attended by some of the Nuwab's soldiers, escorting the men
who carried the bags of money: "the sight of the coin will gladden my
old father's heart; and it will be something to divide among the men,
who are really in want of money, and will keep them comfortably till we
reach the city, even though we should fall in with no more rich prizes."

"Indeed, you may congratulate yourself on your address and good
manners; for without them you could not have carried the matter off
in the way you have done," said he. "Now if I, though I am a far
older Thug, had tried it, I should have most likely failed for want
of a plausible story. The old fellow swallowed the account of your
grandfather as if it had been as true as that we are now here. By
Krishna, thou art a rare boy!"

"These matters sharpen one's intellect; and though I could not deceive
an unfortunate traveller as you can, you see I am of some use at a
pinch, Bhudrinath."

"All will come in time," said he; "I do not despair of you after this:
and if you accompany me in my work, you will soon excel me, I think."

"We shall see," I returned; "but our errand is not complete; we have
not met the old woman."

"Ha! so that plan is still in your head?" cried he; "I warrant it you
dreamt of the Kunchinee last night, and your young heart is all on
fire."

"No," said I, laughing, "not quite that; but I have some hope, and I
shall return to the Kotwal's chowree after a little time, and perhaps
the old creature may be in the bazar and may see me."

"Shall I accompany you?" asked he.

"No," said I, "I think it would mar the business; I will go alone; the
presence of another besides myself might prevent her, if I meet her,
from being communicative."

"As you will," said he; "as you are determined to carry the matter
to the utmost, you have a better chance of success than I have, and
besides you are a principal, while I could only be an agent."

Thus conversing, we arrived at the tents, and dismissing the soldiers
and money-carriers with a handsome present, I had the bags moved
into my father's tent, who was asleep. I ranged them before him, and
awakening him, pointed to them. He rubbed his eyes, grumbling at
being aroused from his slumber; but they were quickly fascinated by
the sight of the bags, and I could not help laughing heartily at his
astonishment, as he took them up one by one, guessing at their contents.

"What, my son! Ameer Ali, where hast thou got all this? There must be
five hundred rupees in each of them! One, two, three, four, five," said
he, counting them: "two thousand five hundred! impossible! My son, what
hast thou been doing? My brain is in astonishment. Where didst thou get
it?"

"There is just what you say, father," said I; "each contains five
hundred, or nearly. It is the price of the jewel you gave me to sell,
which it seems was worth more than we thought for. I asked at a venture
five thousand rupees, and I have brought you four thousand four hundred
and fifty, which was as much as I could get: here are hoondees for two
thousand, and the rest is in the bags."

"As much as you could get, boy!" cried my father; "why thou hast
done wonders. Mashalla! we are rich indeed; this is more than I ever
expected." And, his eyes fairly running over with tears, he embraced me
warmly.

"Now," said I, "as I have done good service, I have in return a favour
to beg, which I hope my father will grant; and it is a matter I dared
not settle without his sanction."

"Say on," said my father; "I can deny thee nothing."

"Why," continued I, "there is a Tuwaif of surpassing beauty, who sings
like a bulbul, and who is anxious to accompany us to Hyderabad. I dared
not allow it without speaking to you."

The old man's visage clouded. "A Tuwaif!" said he; "and dost thou not
remember, my son, all the cautions I have given thee against persons
of her condition, and hast thou so soon forgotten them as to get into
their company on the first occasion which presented itself?"

"I represent," said I, "that neither have I forgotten them, nor have I
gone into her company. I saw her at the Nuwab's durbar last night, but
did not even speak to her."

"Then how knowest thou that she desires to go from hence?"

"I have heard it," said I, "from one who is attached to her, an old
woman, who, I doubt not, will be here before the evening."

My father shook his head. "I do not disbelieve thee, my son," said
he; "but I mistrust thy young heart and hot temper; it is a danger
too great to be encountered; for once with us, and she would get thee
into her toils, and then father, duty, and profession will be alike
forgotten, and I should lose thee, my son, which would kill me."

"Do not think so, I pray, my father," said I; "there is not the danger
you anticipate; she would follow us, and we should see but little
of her, except we desired her presence to sing to us on the dreary
evenings of our journey. And grant me this request, I pray you; 'tis
the only one I have ever asked, and perhaps I deserve something for
what I have done hitherto."

"Thou dost indeed," he replied; "anything else would have been gladly
granted without a demur on my part; however, I have confidence in thee,
my son, and therefore have it as thou wilt, I will not gainsay thee in
the matter." So far, therefore, there was no objection; yet my heart
smote me as I thought on the concealment I had made of her being in the
pay and service of the Nuwab, and that her connection with him might
bring us all into trouble. "However," thought I, "women have sharp
wits; and if she truly desires to get away from him, she will take her
own measures."

As soon as I could, therefore, I set off to the bazar; and, after
loitering along the row of shops, and purchasing articles that were
really required by us, I ascended the steps which led to the chowree,
and was soon in conversation with the Kotwal, who entertained me with
the gossip of the town, and did not fail to endeavour to impress me
with a high sense of his power and influence. More than once I was on
the point of confiding to him my plan, and offering him a bribe to
assist me; but I checked myself on the consideration that he might take
my money, and afterwards play me false. As it happened, however, I was
not long in suspense, for I saw the old woman in the bazar beneath me,
making the best of her way in the direction of the gate of the town by
which I had entered; so I took my leave of the worthy Kotwal, begging
him to come to the camp in the evening for a reward for his civility
and exertions. I had, however, lost sight of the old woman before I got
fairly down into the street; and following the direction she had taken,
overtook her just beyond the gate.

"Mother," said I, "am I he whom you seek?"

"Ai mere jan! (ah, my soul!) have I at last found thee, my prince?
Surely I have not ceased in my endeavours since last night to meet
thee; I saw thee enter the palace, but my old limbs would not carry me
quick enough to overtake thee." And she threw her hands over my head,
and cracked every joint of her fingers by pressing them against my
temples.

"Are we secure against observation here?" she continued, "for I have
much to say to thee, and that quickly."

"Not here," I replied; "I will go on to our tents yonder, and you can
follow me; I will wait for you near them." The old woman hobbled up to
me as I stood under a mango tree, secure from observation. Quite out
of breath, she sat down: when she had recovered herself, she untied
a corner of the cloth about her person, and presented me with a small
ring.

"This," said she, "is from her you know of: and for the love of Alla,
my soul! do you exert yourself for her: she is dying in this place, and
is subject to all the torments the caprice of that unblest Nuwab can
think of. She is one day in favour and loaded with kindnesses, another,
in a fit of jealousy or rage, he deprives her of every comfort, shuts
her up in a lonely room, and will not even allow me to go to her. You,
my son, are young and brave; you will not suffer her to continue in
this state, she who is the pearl of Hyderabad, who has found favour in
the sight of princes and nobles. For the sake of Alla, exert yourself,
and she is free, and will accompany you to the end of the world.
She has seen you, and your beauty has entered into her soul and is
consuming her liver; and between this and her former miseries, she is
to-day in a state of madness, so that even I cannot pacify her."

"I am ready, mother," said I: "'tis true I have never been blessed with
hearing a word from her, save in her songs: but I can understand them;
and there was one she sang which has been ringing in my ears ever since
I heard it. Say, had it any reference to me and herself?"

"You have guessed well," she replied: "I told her to sing it, in the
chance of its being understood, and blessed be Alla it was not in vain:
but the time is passing fast, my son, and what can be done?"

"Nay," said I, "that I wish to hear from yourself, for I know not how
to proceed; neither do I know this town, nor the house where she lives,
so what can I advise? I am helpless in this matter, yet willing to the
utmost."

"Listen then," said the old woman; "I will describe the place, and you
must come after me and see it from the outside, that you may know it
in the night. The place she is now in, and where she will most likely
sleep to-night, is a small tiled house, at the corner of the wall of
the zenana toward the street. There are two windows, some distance
from the ground, yet not so high but that she might get out, if any
one helped her on the outside. There is no other way of her escaping;
for it would be impossible for her to get through the zenana, and
afterwards through the open courts, which are full of soldiers. Say,
will you dare the adventure; or be a coward, a namurd, who would not
risk a drop of blood for a woman, and one so fair as she is?"

"I am no coward, I believe," said I, "though I have no deeds of arms to
boast of. I accept the risk, and I pray Alla to defend us! Are there
soldiers near the place?"

"No," said she, "not one; the only danger is at the village gate, which
is always guarded. How will you pass this?"

"If that is all," said I, "trust to me; and Inshalla! we will all laugh
at the Nuwab's beard in the morning. But tell me, how do you intend to
contrive to accompany us?"

"Ah, I have arranged that already. I am allowed free egress at any hour
of the night, upon the various pretences or necessities of my mistress;
and I can get out at midnight and meet you anywhere you may determine."

"This is good," said I; "now come and show me the place."

She guided me through the gate we had just passed, and turning down a
narrow alley, desired me to mark the various windings as we went along,
which I did. We at last reached a street between two high walls, one
of which was the Nuwab's zenana; and passing on, we arrived at length
under a small tiled house, which answered the description she had given
of it. "This is the place," she said; "and that is the window from
whence she must descend. It is not very high, as you see, and there
will not be much difficulty in her getting out."

"I see none," I replied, "if she has only a stout heart. Tell her to
tie her sheets together and drop them over; we will be below, and take
care she reaches the ground easily."

"I will," said she; "and now away! we may be seen, and if so, Alla be
our help!"

"She sees us!" cried I; "for there is a hand stretched forth from the
window."

"It is she!" said the old woman; "and oh! what joy it must be to her
to know that there are persons anxious and willing to serve her! Now,
my poor bird, thou shalt no longer have a cage, though it be a gilded
one. But away, my soul, away! do not loiter here; a smile from her were
dearly purchased now, and to-night you will have thousands, aye with
her blessings too."

"I go," said I; "but fail not, nurse; for your life see that all is
right; you must meet us at the corner we last passed."

The old woman nodded her assent, and I withdrew as quickly as possible
from the spot, though I would have given worlds for one glance, for one
approving smile, from the object of my love. As soon as I reached the
tents, I summoned Bhudrinath, told him of my success, and unfolded to
him the plan as it stood at present. He was rejoiced, and saw nothing
objectionable in it.

"I have one thing, however," said he, "to represent, which you may do
or not, as you please."

"What is it? say on."

"Why," he replied, "although it will be, as you say, an easy enough
matter to get out of the town, I by no means think it so easy to get
in."

"By Alla! you say truly," said I; "what advice can you give to aid my
plan?"

"You see," rejoined he, "that the gates are guarded; I tried myself
to get in last night, before midnight, as I had an affair of my own
to look after, and the fair one expected me; but the sons of dogs at
the gates (may their sisters be defiled!) swore I was a thief, and
after interchanging abuse for a long time they finally shut the wicket
in my face, and I was forced to return in the worst of all possible
humours. So my advice is, that we go in before nightfall, and take up
our quarters in the shop of a Bhutteara with whom I have scraped an
acquaintance; the fellow will not suspect anything if we leave his
place in the night, as I hinted my bad fortune of last night to him
to-day, and he was the one to propose my coming to his place in the
evening to go wherever I pleased afterwards. So what say you? shall we
go to the fellow, or trust to our wits to get in the best way we can?"

"Your plan is a good one," said I, "and I thank you for your bad luck
last night; but for it, we might have gone and knocked our heads
against the gate to no purpose; to be sure we might climb over the
wall, and I wonder you did not think of it."

"I did," he replied, "and was undecided about attempting it; but some
fellow might have seen me, and, taking me for a thief, have thought no
more of sending a ball through me than if I were a dog; so I came away."

"Thou hast a wonderful deal of discretion," said I; "now my hot blood
would have led me into some scrape, whereas thou hast eaten thy
ill-humour."

"And am now at thy service," rejoined he. "So we sleep inside to-night,
which I am glad of, and we will get out through the further gate; it
will be some way round, but that is better than facing the fellows at
this gate, who I suspect know me, or will recognise my voice, for I was
too angry to disguise it."

"We will," said I: "and now I must in and eat, for I have fasted since
the morning, and an enterprise is ill done on an empty stomach."

After evening prayer Bhudrinath and myself went into the town; and it
was well we did so, for the men at the gate knew him perfectly, and
good-naturedly joked him about his bad success the night before. "Thou
art beforehand with us to-night, my friend," said one fellow; "and thou
art wise, for hadst thou come later we should have shut the door in thy
face as before."

"You might have been more civil," said Bhudrinath, laughing. "I
suppose, though you would not let me in, you will let me out in case I
should bring any one with me?"

"Why, that is not against orders exactly, but you would have to pay
toll; so, if you have not brought money with you, you had better stay
where you are."

"I may find some probably," said Bhudrinath to the speaker, "enough at
any rate to fill your hookahs for some days, if there is occasion."

"Agreed," said all the fellows; "a bargain, by Alla! a few rupees, and
you may take any one you please, the Nuwab's harem too to boot, though
there is not much in it by all accounts."

"Who is your wughyra, your officer?" said I; and one of the men
stepped out. "I am he, may it please your nobility, and I can wink at
an honest fellow's doings as well as another."

"Provided you are paid for it," said I.

"Of course," said he, laughing; "we are lucky when chance throws
gentlemen like you in our way."

"Here then," said I, "are five rupees, to entertain yourselves with;
and see that you don't get drunk, or the blame will fall on us."

"May your condescension increase!" cried the whole; "we are your
worship's devoted servants."

"Now how do you mean to get out?" asked Bhudrinath as we passed on.

"Not this way," said I, "if I can help it, for there will be a
disturbance about the matter; and if we go out here it will give a clue
to our discovery. We will try the other gate first."

"I will lay a wager they are all drunk in an hour," said he, "and we
may then open the gate for ourselves; but here is the Bhutteara's shop,
and those kabobs smell very savoury; I sometimes wish I was not a
Brahmin, that I might eat them as you do."

"Ah," said I, "it is well for you to say that; but perhaps they may
have proved too tempting at some time or other."

"By Krishna! I swear you wrong me," cried he; "Brahmin I am, and
will be; you know my creed tells me that I have been successively
transformed through every grade of suffering humanity, and now that I
have reached the top, I am not such a fool as to descend to the bottom
and undergo the whole pain over again for the sake of a few kabobs."

"You are right," said I; "nevertheless I will try them; I could not
eat when I wished at my tent, but their smell has raised my appetite
wonderfully." And in a short time my fingers were pretty deep in a
smoking dish of kicheree and kabobs, as hot as pepper could make them.

"Friend Bhutteara," said I when I had done, "surely the Shitan himself
must visit your shop now and then, for no other could eat those scraps
of meat, except he had a mouth of brass."

"I beg pardon," said the fellow, "but I was away on business, and I
suspect my daughter must, as you say, have put too much pepper in them;
but I can make my lord a cup of sherbet, a poor imitation of what true
believers will drink in Paradise, and it will cool his mouth."

"And a hookah, if you please," said I, "then I shall feel more
comfortable."



CHAPTER X.


I heard the Bhutteara bustling about in the interior of his house for
a while, and was gratified to see that he so evidently exerted himself
to please me. In a short time more the sherbet was prepared, and its
grateful coolness, with the rose-water which had been mingled with it,
allayed the irritation of my mouth, and enabled me to enjoy a hookah,
which, if served in a less costly apparatus than that the Nuwab had
offered me, was as good in flavour: its pleasing fumes composed me, and
quieted the feverish excitement I had hitherto been in.

"You appear comfortable," said Bhudrinath.

"I am so," I replied; "and I doubt not you envy me, in spite of your
Brahminical belief."

"Perhaps I do," said he; "yet having never tasted the luxuries of
meat and other things you set such value upon, I cannot estimate them
sufficiently, and I care not about them: nay more, the very idea
of meat, the sight of it in its raw state, the blood, the garbage
accompanying it, are loathsome to me; and I very much question, were
I to become a Mahomedan, whether I could ever bring myself to eat it.
Pah! the idea is horrible."

I could not help laughing heartily at his disgust, and he was not
angry. "But," said I, "how are we to wake at the proper time? an hour
too soon or too late, and our enterprise is ruined."

"I was thinking of the same thing," he replied; and turning to the
Bhutteara, he asked him how late he remained up: "For," he continued,
"my friend and I have a small matter on our hands about midnight. Can
we trust to you to awaken us if we sleep?"

"Certainly," said the man; "I never shut up my shop till after
midnight, for sometimes travellers drop in, and, poor hungry souls,
the first place they seek is the Bhutteara's shop, and were there not
something hot for them woe be to me!"

"Here is a trifle over and above the price of the kabobs," said I,
throwing him a few rupees, "to keep you awake."

He picked up the money with many salams and good wishes, and my hookah
being smoked out, and feeling drowsy, I laid myself down and slept,
but not long. As is often the case, excitement overpowered sleep, and
I awoke in alarm lest I had overslept the time; I had not however done
so. Looking round me, I saw the Bhutteara busily employed in cooking
cakes, while his little daughter was turning some kabobs on the fire;
he observed me, and said, "You are soon awake, Sahib, it wants a good
hour yet of your time; you had better go to sleep again; you see I
have work in hand which will keep me up beyond that time, for some
travellers have arrived, and it is as much as I can do to satisfy their
hungry stomachs."

"I cannot sleep again," said I; "I am refreshed, and another hookah or
two will keep me awake till it is time to go."

"I understand you," said he; "you young men are hot-blooded, and are
always seeking adventures; but it is only as it ought to be: I would
not give a couree for a young fellow who had not the spirit you appear
to possess."

"May you prosper," said I; "but let me have another hookah, for truly
the first has left a grateful flavour in my mouth."

He disappeared into the interior of his house for a short time, and
returned with it. "Now," said he, "if the first pleased you, you cannot
but be gratified with this; it is prepared from a choice receipt, and
it is only persons of rank and taste like yourself to whom I ever give
it: it would be lost on the multitude."

It was, as he said, delicious; and my pipe had been refilled several
times to my great satisfaction, when he told me the time I desired
was come. "Yonder star," said he, "rises over the houses a short time
before midnight, so rouse your companion; you will be expected."

I did so; Bhudrinath was soon awake, and ready to accompany me. We
took leave of our host, and directed our way through the now deserted
streets to the place of assignation. "We are wonderfully like two
thieves," said he to me; "what if the village watch should catch us? we
should look very foolish."

"I see no danger of it," said I: but hardly were the words out of my
mouth, when we saw the patrol coming down the street before us. There
was an open gate close to us, and stepping inside, we hid ourselves
behind the large doors. We had however been observed, and as the men
passed, one said he was sure he had seen two men lurking there.

"Nonsense," said another fellow, "you are always seeing men in the
dark. Come along! it is just midnight, and I am sleepy; we will go a
little further, and then beat the duphra; if there are any thieves
about they will run away."

A loud yawn was a pretty good proof of the truth of his assertion, and
they passed on. Just as we emerged from our hiding-place the duphra and
horns were sounded, and answered from the other sides of the town; and
then all was again as still as death, save when a village dog howled
his wild cry to the moon. "There is now no danger," said I; "come on,
we are near the place."

A few paces further brought us to the corner where the old woman said
she would await our coming, and there, to our great joy, we found her.
"My blessings on ye that ye are come," said she; "I thought the night
would never wear away, and I have been waiting here for some hours."

"Is all prepared?" said I: "Is she ready?"

"Ay, that she is; I warrant the hours have gone as slowly with her as
with me; and listen," said the old woman, "she has hit upon a rare
device, which will mislead suspicion:" and she laughed heartily.

"For the love of Alla be quiet!" said I; "were we heard or seen we are
undone."

"For that matter there is not much to apprehend, for this house on one
side is deserted, and inside the wall, on the other, is nothing but the
nuwab's garden, where no one stays at night."

"Tell me then what her plan is; can we assist it?"

"Oh no," said the woman; "it is her own invention, and a rare one it
is. I had just come to her, when she sent me out to get a bladder full
of blood. I could not make out what she wanted it for, but I went and
bought it, though I had to get a kid killed on the pretence that the
meat was suddenly required. Well, no sooner had I returned, than she
poured some of it on her bed, rumpled and daubed the sheets, tore off
pieces of her dress, and scattered them about the room, also some of
the beautiful hair from her head, which she also threw about, and in
short made the place look as if she had been wounded, and there had
been a scuffle to get her out. Ah, it was a rare device! and the best
of it is, that a nuwab who lives at a distance, and who has been trying
to get this one to give her up (and there has been much quarrelling
between them on the subject), will be suspected, and it will never be
thought that she has run off of her own accord."

"'Tis wonderful," said I; "and, proverbial as is woman's wit, yet, by
Alla! this is an instance which ought to be written in a book; but we
are delaying here to no purpose."

"Come, then," said the old woman; "it is but a few steps further." We
stationed ourselves under the window, in which there was a strong light
burning; and the old woman giving a sharp but low cough, a figure was
seen at the casement; it opened; it was she!

"Is he here?" said a low, sweet voice, which thrilled through me.

"Yes, lady, the humblest of your slaves is here, and prays you to be
quick, for the sake of Alla; there is no time to lose."

"I will be with you instantly," replied she.

"Do so," said I; "but be quick, or we are lost."

She withdrew from the window, and a few instants after reappeared,
and let down a box and bundle. I unfastened them, and she drew up the
sheet. "Now," said she, "I come; but what is to be done with the sheet?
I must fasten it inside ere I descend."

"Leave that to me," said I, "only come down."

A few instants more were occupied in fastening the cloth, and she then
stepped out on the ledge. My heart beat audibly lest she should fall
and hurt herself, and we should be observed; but I and Bhudrinath
placed ourselves underneath, to catch her if she fell. It was however
unnecessary, for she was on the ground in an instant, and I had pressed
her to my heart! "The rest must not be left undone," said I; and
ascending by the sheet, I entered the window. The room was a small one,
and, by the hasty glance I threw around it, it appeared, indeed, as
though there had been a scene of violence and bloodshed. Clothes were
strewn about, the floor and bed were stained with blood, and pieces of
torn apparel, lying here and there, gave to the whole the appearance of
what was intended. I did not stay a moment, but unfastening the sheet,
threw it down, and getting outside the window, dropped to the ground.
The shock hurt me considerably, but it was not the time for complaint.
We held a hurried consultation as to which gate we should go out by,
Bhudrinath again preferring the one by which we entered. This, however,
was overruled by all of us, and guided by the old woman we took our
way to the other. We met not a soul in the lonely streets, and, by the
blessing of Alla, on reaching the gate we found the wicket open, and
the man who should have guarded it fast asleep, with his shield under
his head and his sword by his side. Stealthily and slowly we passed by
him, lest our footfall should awake him; and gaining the outside, we
hurried along under the shadow of the walls until we gained the plain
on which was our encampment.

When fairly within our guards, who were stationed round the spot, the
fair being, who had hitherto clung to me, suddenly sunk down. To fetch
water for her was the work of a moment, and after forcing some into
her mouth she recovered. "I was overcome with joy," said she, throwing
herself at my feet; "and indeed, if you knew the anxious suspense I
have been in ever since last afternoon, you would believe me. At one
time I was overjoyed at the prospect of deliverance from my hateful
servitude, and again, as the night wore on, and I tried to count the
hours, I sometimes thought that the time had passed, and that my
preparations had been but a mockery. And now to find myself free and
with you, ah! my lord, it is too much joy--my heart is like to burst."

I raised her up and caressed her, and seating her under a tree, put
my arm around her, and we sat in the lovely moonlight in silence; she
could not speak, and I would not break the current of her thoughts,
whatever they might be. How long we sat there I cannot tell; we were
interrupted by the old woman. "This is no time for dalliance," said
she; "my lady requires rest; and methinks, sir, were you to find means
of getting us on before morning breaks, we should elude pursuit, and
you could follow us."

"You say truly," said I, "and it shall be cared for."

Fortunately the cart of the Sahoukar had not been sold, and though it
was still laden with his effects, there was plenty of room in it for
the two females. I went to Bhudrinath, whom I found fast asleep after
his night's work; when he was fully awakened, he seemed to comprehend
that his services were again required.

"What, more work!" said he. "Well, Meer Sahib, I am ready; what is it?"

"It is too bad for me to rouse you so soon," said I, "and to require
you to go on with this matter; for Alla, who sees my heart, alone knows
how grateful it is to you for your assistance this night."

"Do not say so, my young friend," cried he laughing; "I would do
anything for a little fun and excitement."

"Why," I rejoined, "you must know the old woman has advised instant
flight from hence; so you and some of the men must be ready to be
off before daylight; and as I have prepared the old Sahoukar's cart
for her, you will be easily able to get eight or ten coss from hence
to-morrow, and the same the next day, when you must halt till we
come up. Remember you are a Moosulman for the time, and she must be
protected and screened as though she were the wife of one."

"I understand," said he, "and will do my trust faithfully."

"I believe you," I replied; "and now for the road,--which to take I am
undecided. I have heard that two branch off from this to Hyderabad."

"Stay," said Bhudrinath; "I think Peer Khan knows both. I will go and
bring him; you know he is one of my set."

He went, and returned with the man. "I have explained all to him," said
he, "and now hear what he has to say."

"I beg to represent," said Peer Khan, "that I know both roads, but
not perfectly; still I should think what the Meer Sahib counsels the
best, for the other is a sad lonely one, and few travellers go by it.
As to the chance of being pursued, we must trust to our good Tukdeer
(destiny), which has brought us thus far without an accident, and
Inshalla! will carry us on."

"Well, Peer Khan," said I, "you must be the guide; you are the only
person who knows anything about the road, and I can only say that if
you are steady and faithful I will make you a handsome present when I
overtake you at Nirmul."

"May your condescension increase, Meer Sahib," said he; "but putting
the enam out of the question, you know very well that there is not a
man among us who would not give his blood to-morrow, or any time he
might be called upon, for you. But come, Bhudrinath, as we are to start
soon, I had better get the men together, and be ready."

I returned to the tent, where I found Zora and the old woman sitting
covered up in their sheets, and warming themselves over a fire they had
lighted. In a few words I told them of the necessity of flight, and
added, "Alas! I do not accompany you now; we have had a consultation on
the subject, and have determined that, for the sake of mutual safety,
we must for the present separate. Alla, who sees my heart, knows that
it will burn with anxiety and care while I am absent from you; for
know, lady, that from the time I first beheld you in the durbar, my
soul hath been consumed by your beauty, and as then I was plunged into
despair at the thought that you never could be mine, so now is the
excess of grief that I must part with you."

She was silent for some time; but at last throwing back her veil, and
again displaying her beautiful face to me, she put her hand into mine.
"I trust you," said she; "I have no fear now except for you; I will go
without a murmur, for I see how necessary it is for us to separate;
yet assure me, my beloved, that you will not be long away, and I am
content."

"I repeat," said I, "only two days at the furthest; we shall follow you
to-morrow evening, or the next morning; and once that we are in motion,
I will push on till I overtake you, where we will wait for my father
and the rest."

"By what road do we travel?" asked the old woman.

"By Nirmul," said I; "it is out of the way, and we have therefore
chosen it; it is not probable that the Nuwab's people, if he sends any
out, will take that direction."

"You are right," she replied; "they will not. But I would give much to
see him to-morrow, when the flight of this pretty bird is known."

"What shall we care," said I, "except to laugh at his old beard? I will
go into the town as soon as the alarm has spread, and you shall have
all the news when we meet again."

"Now bid me start," said Bhudrinath, who then entered the tent, "and I
am off. For the present I am Jumal Khan, by which name inquire for me
on the road."

"May God protect you all! You have a precious charge, my friend," said
I, "and would that I could even now take your place."

The women were soon ready, and I saw them comfortably settled in their
vehicle. "Now I am off," cried Bhudrinath: "drive on the cart; and do
some of you fellows keep about it, as though it were a decent man's
zenana."

"Alla Hafiz!" said I, "and may the Prophet guide you safely!" They
went on; I stood watching them, until a turn in the road hid them from
my sight, and I betook myself to my tent, where throwing myself down,
sleep soon came over me.

I was awakened by my father, who came into the tent where I was lying;
he seemed angry with me for having been out all night, as he said, on
some unprofitable if not unworthy business; "but," said he, "it is time
for the morning prayer, and after that I will hear what you have been
about." I accompanied him to the skirts of our camp, where, spreading
our carpets, we watched for the blush of dawn to go through the usual
forms; when they were over, he seated himself and desired to hear what
I had done: "I fear me no good," said he, "but tell me." So I recounted
the events of the night, and was prepared for a severe lecture,
and a great deal of advice and reproof. I was for once agreeably
disappointed; instead of being angry, he laughed heartily at the whole
affair, and applauded our arrangements in having sent Zora out of the
way.

The sun was barely risen, when there arose a noise from the town, and
it was plain enough to us that the discovery had taken place. The
whole place was in a ferment; people hurried out of the gates and
collected into groups, and by the pointing to our camp, and their
gesticulations, we were obviously the suspected persons; and, as we had
anticipated, about twenty horse and some foot soldiers issued from the
gate nearest to us, and came directly towards us. They surrounded our
little camp, and one or two who appeared the leaders of the party rode
up, and in an authoritative manner demanded to see our leader. I had
previously arranged with my father that he was to continue to support
his character as a merchant and to put me forward as the jemadar of
the party; and as he knew that I had appeared in the character at the
Nuwab's durbar, and supported it well, he had readily acceded to my
request.

"You see the leader," said I, "in my poor person. And what may be the
demands of the Nuwab Sahib so early? Is there anything his poor servant
can do to prove how much he is impressed with the kind treatment he has
received?"

"You must be content to be our prisoner," said the man, haughtily,
"until your camp is searched; a strange event has happened, and you are
suspected."

"Of what?" said I, appearing thunderstruck; "of what can I be
suspected? But the camp is before you, sirs, by all means search it.
Perhaps," said I, bitterly, "your town has been robbed, and it is not
wonderful that persons of respectability should be suspected in this
unmannerly country."

"Peace!" cried the man, "we must do our duty; and I for one, for the
sake of appearances, should be glad to find you had not requited the
Nuwab's hospitality with treachery."

"I am dumb," said I, "notwithstanding that I am in utter astonishment
at your words; but by all means search the place, and afterwards
perhaps you will in kindness unravel this mystery to me."

He rode with me to my tent, and, dismounting, entered it with me,
followed by two or three of his men. There was nothing in it but the
carpet and mattress on which I had slept, a few cooking utensils, and
some of the bales of plunder piled up at the farther end. "She is not
here," said Azim Khan, the leader of the Nuwab's party, "let us go to
the other tent."

I accompanied them, and, making a salam to my father, told him that the
Nuwab's people wished to search his tent, as they had done mine, and
added, "Do not oppose them, lest the Nuwab should in truth see reason
to suspect us."

"Certainly not," said my father; "here is the tent, and I am the
Nuwab's slave; it is not likely that an old man like me should have
women concealed here."

So his tent was searched as mine had been, and afterwards the temporary
screens of the men, but nothing was found, and the party were evidently
disappointed. "We are on the wrong track, and I told you so," said Azim
Khan to the leader: "depend upon it, as I told the Nuwab, it is that
rascal Sheffee Khan's work; we all know him to be in the employ of the
Hakim of Nursee, who wanted to get the girl; and we had better be after
him than wasting our time here."

"A girl!" cried I; "truly this is most wonderful. For the sake of Alla
satisfy my curiosity--what is all this about? By your head," said I to
the leader, "but that it seems a serious matter, I feel much tempted
to laugh at the idea of my poor camp being searched for a girl,--some
slave, I presume, who has run away or been carried off by her lover;
say, sahib, what has happened?"

"Why, it is no laughing matter to us, whatever it may be to you," said
the leader; "send your men out of hearing, and you shall have the whole
story."

"Away with you!" cried I to our men, who had crowded round; "this is no
tale for your ears."

"The affair is this," said the man: "Until last night, there was
in the zenana of the Nuwab a dancing-girl of surpassing beauty and
accomplishments; but early this morning her apartment was found empty,
marks of violence everywhere about it, blood on the sheets of her bed,
and some of her hair and portions of her clothes strewn about the room.
There was no alarm in the night, the gates of the town were closed and
guarded as usual; and it seems some work of the Shitan that this should
have taken place, and that we should have had dirt thrown on our beards
without knowing by whom. There is the Nuwab raving and swearing like a
madman; his zenana is all in confusion; and, what is worst of all, he
threatens to discharge every one of us, without we either bring back
the girl or get him intelligence of her within three days."

"Protection of Alla!" cried both I and my father; "this is most
extraordinary. And have you no suspicion who has insulted you in this
manner?"

"Why," said the man, "you were first suspected, as being strangers
and a large party, and we were desired to search your camp; but here
we find nothing but bales of goods,--and, indeed, you are not likely
persons to have carried her off, for I question whether you ever saw
her."

"I dare say," said I, "she was one of the women who were in the durbar
the other night, when I paid a visit to the Nuwab."

"Very likely," he returned; "were those you saw good-looking?"

"They were both so," said I; "one was tall and fair, the other was
shorter and not so fair, but very handsome."

"That was the girl," said the man; "I have seen her myself once or
twice, when I could get inside of a night. But I am wasting my time
here, and must return; you may depend upon my fully exonerating you
from any suspicion in the matter."

"Your favourable opinion," said I, "will no doubt, have its due weight;
and I pray you to carry our condolence to the Nuwab, and say that if we
have permission we will wait on him to express it."

"I will deliver your message," said he; "but I think you will not
be admitted, as really he is in great grief, more on account of the
insult, perhaps, than the loss of the girl. I take my leave."

He saluted us and rode off; and, not long after, a servant of the
Nuwab came with a civil message and some fruit, to say that his master
regretted he could not see us, and was sorry that he had been under the
necessity of searching our camp. We dismissed him with a present, and
reiterated our condolences, which he promised to deliver. "And now,"
said I to my father, "this is no place for us longer; we must be off.
What say you to a march in the afternoon?"

"It is good," said he; "we will go. Tell the men to be prepared."



CHAPTER XI.


We were on our way towards Nirmul in the afternoon, and as we had
heard no more of the Nuwab and his distress, we were relieved from our
anxiety; but I was in great dread the whole time we remained at the
town after the Nuwab's people had left us, lest some chance should open
to them a clue to detect us. The Bhutteara might possibly reveal what
he knew of our proceedings; for although he knew not our object, still
our remaining with him for so short a time (as he must have formed a
notion that we were after some woman), coupled with the disappearance
of Zora, might have led him to suppose, and very naturally so, that we
had carried her off. Fortunately, however, no ill effects did ensue,
and on the third day after leaving Oomerkhér we reached Nirmul.

As I entered the town I saw Bhudrinath in a shop, sitting with his back
to the street, in conversation with a decent-looking man, a Moosulman
by his appearance. He did not observe me, but on my calling out his
assumed name he hastily rose, and assisting me to dismount, embraced
me cordially. "Is she safe?" I asked in a low tone, so as not to be
overheard by his acquaintance.

"She is," he replied; "you have nothing to fear; and she is all
impatience to behold you again."

Sahib, I did not lose an instant in again beholding my beloved and
pressing her once more to my heart. She was more lovely than ever;
and after some fond chidings for my delay, and a relation of all
the anxiety she had suffered in my absence, and the fatigues of her
journey, we gave ourselves up to that voluptuous feeling of joy and
security, which those only know who have loved and been separated
from each other under circumstances of doubt or danger. After passing
some time with her I rejoined Bhudrinath. "Who was the man you were
conversing with when I came up?" I asked.

"Why," said he, "from what I have picked up as yet, I suspect he has
urgent reasons for getting away from hence as fast as he can; in other
words he has been helping himself to more than he ought in some revenue
affair, and his safety depends upon flight. I told him I expected you
and your party, and that he would have a good opportunity of getting
away if he chose to mix with us. You see," added Bhudrinath, "that when
once I have fixed my eye upon any one, it is against my principles
to let him escape me; now, as this is the case, we must have that
man,--first, because of my principles, as I said, and secondly, because
of the money which most assuredly he has in his possession: do you
comprehend?"

"Perfectly," said I laughing; "your argument is an admirable one;
therefore I will second your endeavours with all my heart. How shall we
proceed?"

"Why," said Bhudrinath, "that is a somewhat difficult matter to
determine, for I do not know where the fellow lives; but he promised to
be with me soon, and I dare say he will not be long away."

"We must spread the carpet of patience," said I, "and sit on it, I
suppose, till he makes his appearance; meanwhile I see no reason why I
should not eat."

Well, Sahib I went inside the purda, where my well-dressed meal awaited
me, and Zora and I had our fingers very soon buried in a smoking dish
of kicheree and a very good currie. While I was thus employed, I heard
the usual salutation pass between Bhudrinath and his acquaintance, and
when I had satisfied the cravings within me, which had been grievous to
bear, I joined them.

"This is my brother, of whom I have spoken to you," said Bhudrinath,
presenting me to him; "he has now, as you see, overtaken me, and we
shall journey on together. All his men are encamped outside the town,
but as he is more comfortable with me, you see him here."

We exchanged salutations, and, by way of drawing him to the subject, I
asked Bhudrinath when we should start. "I cannot delay," said I; "that
detention at Nursee was most inconvenient, and but for that we should
have been far on the road by this time."

The man stared at me, and at last said to Bhudrinath, "Surely you must
be joking when you say this gentleman is your brother; why, you are
much older, and your features do not resemble in the least."

"We are not real brothers," he replied, "but cousins; you know that
cousins usually call themselves brothers."

"But how comes it," said he, "that he is the jemadar of your men, and
not you, who are the eldest?"

"Why it is a long story, and would not interest you," said Bhudrinath;
"suffice it to say, that he is the son of the elder branch, who married
long after my father, having lost his first wife; so, by the consent of
the family and my own, he was declared leader, though he must confess I
am his adviser."

I pretended to be ashamed of my dignity, and allowed, though I was
nominally superior, yet that I could not get on at all without my
_cousin_. "Well," said the man, "you have curious customs in your
country, but in every one they differ. Here your relative situations
would be reversed; and so I suppose I must treat with you, Jemadar
Sahib; I dare say your cousin has told you all about me?"

"He has," said I, "at least as much as you have told him; but we are
both present, and what you say to one equally concerns the other; so I
pray you speak on without reservation."

"I will not then recur to the past," said the man; "suffice it to say,
that I have every reason to wish to get out of this place, as far as
Hyderabad; there I shall be secure from my enemies. I therefore propose
to accompany you, if you will guarantee me protection and concealment
on the road."

"We are ready to do that," said I; "but you will allow we shall run
some risk; for, besides protection and concealment upon the road, we
must defend you if necessary; and all this requires some recompense."

"True, and I am in no condition to drive a bargain, therefore you must
name your own terms."

"You are liberal, I see," I rejoined, "and you shall find us to be so
also. Perhaps one hundred and fifty rupees will not be thought by you
exorbitant?"

"It is not; half I will pay you now, and the other half when we arrive."

"Agreed," said I, "it is satisfactory; and now say how you intend to
travel. If I have permission, I would advise a mode which would be
certain to escape detection."

"What is it?" cried he, eagerly.

"That you should hire or buy a cart, and travel in it, at any rate, for
a few marches; my brother has his zenana with him, and you could not be
discovered; no one would dare to search a cart which held females."

"By Alla, it is a rare plan!" said the man; "I wonder it never entered
into my head. Yet, cart I have none; and how to get one without giving
a clue to my flight----"

"Do not distress yourself about it," said Bhudrinath; "furnish us with
the money--about one hundred rupees will be enough--and I will go and
purchase one, and account to you for whatever may be over."

"And my camels, and horses, and servants," said the man, "what can be
done with them?"

"How many of them are there?" I asked.

"There are two camels and two horses; and I have three or four
servants, whom I wish to accompany me."

"Then send them all to our camp at night," said I; "they will not be
seen, and if necessary they can be sent on a march."

"You are a ready-witted people," cried he, "and what has cost me
days and nights of anxiety, you have settled satisfactorily in a few
moments. Now I clearly see there is no time to be lost; and I go to
bring the money, and give directions to my people." So he left us.

"Well done," cried Bhudrinath to me, "you fairly took the words out of
my mouth, and I think the fish has taken the bait."

"I think so, too," said I; "the fellow may be a very sharp revenue
collector, but he is no match for you and me; and you see he is a
greater man than we thought for, as he speaks of his horses, camels,
and servants: no doubt we shall have a good round sum from him."

I hurried to my father, leaving Bhudrinath to manage everything his own
way, if I should not return in time to meet the man we expected. He was
surprised to see me, and exclaimed, "I did not think you would have
left your adored so soon--to what am I indebted for this early visit?"

"Nay," said I, "father, do not mention her--it sounds like banter; and
I have other work in hand just now than attending even to Zora."

"Ay, indeed! and now tell me my son, what thou hast in view."

"Why," said I, "Bhudrinath and I have secured a man in the town, who
promises to be almost as good a prize as either we have had before; and
when you see two horses, some camels, and servants, come into your camp
this evening, do you allow them to remain, and start them off as early
as may be to-morrow morning towards Hyderabad."

"I will do as you wish," said my father; "but tell me, Ameer Ali, what
is this you are about? Are you sure there is no risk--no danger?"

"As far as I can see there is not; but hear what has been done already,
and then judge whether the matter ought to be persevered in or not. If
you do not like it, we will drop it at once." So I told him all.

"You are both of you doing your work well, and I approve of it
greatly," said the old man; "I will on my part receive the camels, &c.,
and will send on a party of gravediggers this very night. We will set
off to-morrow night or early the next morning."

Bhudrinath was absent when I reached the house in the town, and I had
to wait a long time for his return, which was not till near evening;
however, I had the society I best loved, and the hours fled quickly. I
was, nevertheless, overjoyed to see him return with a cart and two fine
bullocks. He had purchased the whole from a set of dancing-girls, and
the cart was fitted with curtains, in the manner of those used to carry
women. When it was brought up to the house, he dismissed the driver
with a small present.

"There," said Bhudrinath, "is ninety-five rupees' worth, and the
concern is cheap enough; our only care is now for the person who is to
ride in it."

"Where is he?" said I. "Are you sure of him?"

"As sure," said Bhudrinath, "as I ever was of any one; he is now gone
to take leave of the Hakim of the place, and will pretend he has done
all his business. He has sent his camels and people to the camp, with
strict orders to obey whoever there may be there in authority, and I
myself directed them to go to your father and receive instructions from
him. The man himself will be here at nightfall."

"Inshalla!" cried I, "truly may we say we are fortunate; nothing has
gone wrong."

Just as we had completed all our preparations, our friend came, and by
this time it had become quite dark, so that he joined us unobserved;
and as we had sent word to him that the cart had been purchased, he
brought with him what we supposed to be his valuables; one of his
servants carried the bundle, which appeared carefully tied up in waxed
cloths, and his hookah and his bedding. "Are you sure you have omitted
nothing?" he asked.

"Certain," said I; "everything is ready. I have been to the gate, and
have told the guard that we have a long march before us, and will pass
out a little after midnight, with two carts and our people."

"Well," said he, "then here is your money;" and he counted out
seventy-five rupees to me.

"Now we have nothing to desire," said I, "but to be informed of your
name, which hitherto you have not told us."

"Call me Kumal Khan for the present," he replied; "you shall know my
real name at Hyderabad."

"As you will," said I; "doubtless you have good reasons for not
discovering yourself to us. Meanwhile, as you say, Kumal Khan will do
as well as any other name; therefore, Khan Sahib, I think the sooner
we take some rest, the more we shall be refreshed for our journey
to-morrow."

"I can lie down anywhere," said he; "I dare say I shall sleep,
moreover, which my care and anxiety have prevented my doing for some
nights past."

He spread his carpet and covered himself up. Bhudrinath followed his
example, and in a short time they were both asleep, as their deep
breathing testified. Strange destiny, I thought; there lies the man who
has but a few hours to live, side by side in peaceful slumber with one
who will be actively employed in his destruction. A few hours and their
situations will be changed--oh, how changed! one to lie senseless in
the earth, the other to live and breathe, and to tax his wits to gain
fresh victims. "Ya, Alla!" I exclaimed involuntarily, "thy purposes are
inscrutable!"

We were roused at the time appointed by the men, and our preparations
for departure quickly completed. I saw Zora safely deposited in her
cart, as also her old attendant, next Kumal Khan in his; and putting
myself at the head of the party, we were soon beyond the gates of the
town, and at the encampment. Here I sent on Zora's cart, and desired
one of the men to come back and give us due notice should he meet the
Tillaees, or scouts, on the road. I then sought out my father, and
inquired whether he had allotted Bhuttotes and Shumsheas (persons to
hold the hands) to the servants and grooms.

"I have settled everything," he replied, "and given every man his
instructions: there will be no difficulty if all is ready before us.
But are you sure that Kumal Khan, as you call him, is not armed?"

"He has a sword," said I, "but what of that? Bhudrinath and I will
easily manage him, and he will not be on his guard."

"Then keep well behind," said my father; "if there is any scuffle he
will not hear it, and I will send a man back to you when we meet the
first of the scouts. You can then do as you please; either bring him
on, or deal with him there as you like."

"Very good," said I; "we will be guided by circumstances." I saw with
secret exultation how beautifully everything had been arranged, as
our men and our acquaintance's servants passed me. To every one of
them was attached one of the most expert Bhuttotes, with two others to
assist if necessary: yet they disposed themselves so carelessly that
suspicion was out of the question. Each one as he passed threw a look
of intelligence towards me, as much as to say, "Here is work we delight
in;" and I felt truly excited as the whole band was before me, their
arms glancing brightly in the moonbeams.

This, thought I, is the joy my father told me of; and what could raise
such feelings within me in the common plodding pursuits of life? When
these fellows are but my own, then shall the name of Ameer Ali be
dreaded and feared; men shall wonder at it: many a timid woman's heart
shall beat as she listens to stories of me, and allows her fancy to
picture to her him of whom she hears such deeds of daring bravery.
"Yes," cried I, aloud, for I could not control myself, "the time will
come, ay, and soon: the present is poor work to what I have thought of
and will put into execution!"

The voice of Bhudrinath recalled my ideas. "In the name of Narayun and
all the gods," said he, "what are you talking about? Come, we wait for
you."

I urged my horse down the bank, and was with him in an instant. Kumal
Khan put his head out of the curtains, and asked if we had assembled
our men. "Yes," said I, "they are all before us, except my cousin,
myself, and a few of our attendants, who will stay round you."

"That is right," said he; "I shall sleep, if this vile jolting will
let me. Oh that I were on my horse, instead of being cooped up in this
cart!"

"Patience," said Bhudrinath; "I dare say you will soon be out of it
again."

"That I shall, my friend," said he, "when I dare show myself," and so
saying he shut the curtains.

Bhudrinath and I rode on some time in silence: at last we reached a
rising ground, which apparently led down to the bed of a river, for I
thought I saw the water glistening in the moon's rays. The jungle was
thicker than before, and I involuntarily turned to Bhudrinath. "Surely
this is the spot," cried I; "we must wait for the cart," for we had
preceded it a long way.

"We had better do so," he replied; "it will soon be up."

We had just heard the rumbling sound of the wheels, when the man I had
sent on with it came up to us. "What news?" I asked; "is all prepared?"

"By this time it is," said the man; "when I met the first scout I
returned to tell you: they have fixed on a beautiful spot, and I doubt
not that the band are waiting for you, having done their share of the
night's adventure."

"Well," said I, "we don't want you here, so go on again." But he begged
hard to remain, and I allowed him. As Kumal Khan passed us, Bhudrinath
gave the driver the signal; he nodded his head in compliance: and
telling the men who were to hold our horses to be near and in
readiness, we got behind the cart, and followed it down the descent.
About half-way down, the bank of the road sloped into it, and rose into
a small eminence. I marked the place, and saw that the driver had done
the same: the cart gradually diverged from the track; one wheel went
up the bank; it leaned fearfully over, and at last came down with a
terrible crash.

We were off our horses in an instant, and ran up: Kumal Khan was
groaning beneath it. We lifted it up and got him out; but he was either
so frightened or hurt he could not speak. At last he recovered; and the
first words he uttered were a volley of abuse at the driver.

"Look!" cried he; "a smooth road, not a stone or a pebble, and yet that
son of a base mother must needs drive up yonder bank, and has nearly
killed me."

"He shall be well punished for his carelessness," said I; "but are you
hurt, Khan?"

"My right arm is very painful," said he, holding it; "and I wish to
Alla I had a horse to ride, instead of going further in that concern."

"It cannot now be helped," said Bhudrinath; "and it is well none of
your bones were broken. We will keep nearer you in future, and see that
the fellow drives more carefully."

The cart had been by this time set fairly in the road again, and Kumal
Khan's mattress and pillow arranged. As he turned away from us, and
laid hold of one of the posts of the curtains, and had his foot on the
wheel to get in, I threw the handkerchief round his neck. "What--what
is this?" was all that escaped him; the rest was an indistinct gurgling
in his throat for an instant. The wrench I gave to his neck must have
extinguished life, for he relaxed his hold of the post, and fell to the
ground without sense or motion.

"Neatly and cleverly done," cried Bhudrinath; "I could not have managed
it better myself; you see he does not stir--he is dead enough. Now,
Meer Sahib, believe that a man can be killed before he touches the
ground."

"I must see you do it," said I; "this fellow held on by the cart for
some moments. But come," I added to the men, "lift the body into the
cart, we have no time to lose." They bundled it in, and we set off as
rapidly as the bullocks could trot.

"What if he should revive with this jolting?" said I to Bhudrinath.

"Never fear," he replied; "if he does, he will only have to be killed
over again; but depend upon it he is dead enough: no man ever survived
the wrench you gave him--his neck is broken. The old Gooroo has taught
you well, I see plainly."

"I own I feel more confidence every time I do it," said I; "and I
should not care if even now I had one or two more fellows to try my
hand upon."

"Nay," said Bhudrinath, laughing, "rest you content with what we have
done. See, we are at the bhil, and yonder is the whole band collected."
We rode up to the spot, and the first inquiry was from my father:
"Have you brought him?"

"Yes," said I; "the earth that held him is in the cart."

"Did _he_ do it?" he eagerly asked of Bhudrinath, and pointed to me.

"Ay, did he," he replied, "and most properly too: he had him all to
himself; I did not interfere."

"Alhumd-ul-illa!" cried my father; "he is a worthy son. Come,"
continued he to all the men, "do not loiter here, but make the best of
your way to the river-side; we will follow, and, I dare say, overtake
you." Seeing there was no more to be done, I pushed on to the river,
the Godavery, and finding that all had been ferried over, I urged on my
horse to overtake Zora's cart; for I knew not what she would think of
my absence, nor how I could well account to her for it satisfactorily;
but I trusted to chance to frame some excuse. I passed the men, who
were straggling along in parties of ten or twelve; but still I did not
see the cart, though I had desired those who were in charge of it not
to drive fast. I became anxious, and urged my horse into a gallop.

Well it was that I did so, for when I had proceeded some distance, I
heard a confused clamour before me. Could she have been attacked by
thieves? was my instant thought. It was probable; for the road was
narrow and the jungle thick on both sides, and seeing the few men
with the cart, thieves might have surprised them. I drew my sword, to
be prepared, as the noise and screams seemed to increase, and a few
moments more arrived at the spot. There indeed was a scene of violence!
the moon was still shining brightly, and I could see all before me.

The cart was surrounded by the five or six men I had sent on with it,
and who were defending their charge bravely: two of the robbers, as I
supposed, were stretched on the ground; the rest were aiming cuts at my
men, which they parried; but just as I got up, one of my men fell, and
the rest looked exhausted. I suspect neither party observed my arrival,
so intent were they on their own proceedings, and I could see that my
cry of "Bismilla!" accompanied by a cut which struck down one of the
robbers was as startling to them as unexpected; while my faithful men,
who now saw me plainly, set up a shout, and attacked their opposers
with renewed spirit. The scuffle lasted only a few moments longer:
throwing myself from my horse, I drew my pistol from my girdle, and
discharged it at a thief who was coming up to me with his sword
uplifted: the ball passed through his body, and he fell. On this the
rest of the band turned and fled. We pursued them for a short distance,
and secured a youth who was one of them; the rest got clear off.



CHAPTER XII.


When we returned to the cart, my first business was to soothe my poor
Zora, whose screams, added to those of the old attendant, and the
oaths, execrations, and shouts of the contending parties, had made a
din which defies description. I found her terribly alarmed, of course,
but the rascals had not been suffered to approach her; and when she was
assured by me that I should not again quit her side, she was calm, and
gave me a history of the attack; which was, that as they were going
along, the thieves began to pelt them with stones from the bushes on
the sides of the road; and at last, perhaps not thinking them armed,
rushed from their concealment, and the fight began.

The wounded thief was unable to walk, so he was put into the cart with
the dead body: the boy's arms were tied behind his back, and a cord
passed round his neck I tied to my own saddle. Leaving twenty men to
guard the wounded, we then quickly proceeded. We arrived at a large
village before the sun rose; but the villagers were up, and the herds
of cattle were pouring out of the gates on their way to the pastures.
We desired the men to take up the encampment under some tamarind trees,
and my father, myself, and Bhudrinath went to the gates, and desired
to see the Patail, or whoever might be the chief authority. After
waiting a long time we were told that the Aumil expected us, and were
ushered into his house, where he sat in a verandah, apparently used
by him generally to transact business in. He was a Hindoo, a Khayet
by caste, and, as those persons usually are, was polite and courteous
in his manners. My father was spokesman on this occasion, and after
introducing himself as a merchant, and us as leaders of the men who
escorted him,--the old Oomerkhér story,--he told him of the attack
which had been made on us, of which, however, he seemed for a time to
be perfectly incredulous.

"Impossible!" said he; "there has not been a highway robbery, or an
attempt at one, for years, ever since some notorious thieves were
caught and beheaded here; you must be under some mistake."

"You have not mentioned our wounded men, and that several of the
thieves have been killed by us," said I to my father: "perhaps this
worthy gentleman will believe us when he sees them, or finds the bodies
of the rascals; and again, you forget that two of them are in our
custody."

"Indeed!" cried the Aumil, that alters the case; "but the truth of the
matter is, that so many travellers beg for escorts from village to
village, and set forth their having been threatened between here and
Nirmul, that I am become difficult to satisfy, or to be persuaded that
any danger has existed."

"We require no escort," said my father; "we are strong enough to take
care of ourselves, having, as you have heard, beaten off these thieves;
all we want is a few men to bring up our wounded, and justice done on
the rascals we have caught."

"It would be well for us," said Mohun Lall, "if all travellers were
to defend themselves like you; we should have but few thieves in the
country, for they would find theirs a losing trade. But I think you
said you had one of them unhurt; where is he; we may perhaps get
something out of him."

I sent for the lad, and he was questioned for some time about the gang,
and where it was probable they had gone; but he would not answer a
word, and the man who was interpreting for us gave up questioning him
in despair. "He will not say a word in this manner," said Bhudrinath;
"give him the lash. I dare say that will make him speak."

"True," said Mohun Lall; "I was going to send for a korla;" and he
called to one of his men to bring one. The thief shuddered as he saw
it, and was again asked if he would confess; but he remained silent.

"Throw him down," cried Mohun Lall, "and cut the skin from his back."
In an instant he was thrown with his face to the ground, and the lash,
wielded by a stout fellow, brought blood at almost every stroke: but in
vain; he would not speak a word--not even a cry for mercy.

"This is of no use either," said one of the men who held him; "get a
bag full of ashes. I'll warrant he speaks fast enough when that is put
over his face." A leather bag, such as is used to give grain to horses,
was filled with burning-hot ashes, and brought. It was tied over his
mouth, and at the same time he received some hard thumps on his back
to force him to breathe. This apparently had the desired effect; for
after a short time, during which the torture must have been great, he
muttered something, and the bag was withdrawn.

"You think to make me confess," said the rascal as soon as he could
speak, "but it is in vain. I know well where my people are gone, and
I curse the authors of their discomfiture;" and he poured a torrent
of abuse on me. "Yes," continued he, pointing to me, "it was you who
struck down my father, and as he is dead, I want no more than to die
also; you may hang me as soon as you please."

"Ha," said Mohun Lall, "I had forgotten him; let him be brought."

I had left the fellow badly wounded, but did not think there was any
danger of his life. When he arrived, however, carried on a bed, it was
evident he was dying; he scarcely breathed, and the rattle was in his
throat: we did not therefore trouble ourselves further about him, but
endeavoured to make the son confess; the whip and hot ashes were both
resorted to again without effect, and all our endeavours only produced
fresh execrations and abuse.

"There is no bearing this any longer," cried Mohun Lall; "the fellow
must be hanged. I know these rascals, and were we to keep him for a
year we should never get a word of intelligence out of him, so there is
no use in delay."

"As you will," said my father; "perhaps he will confess when the rope
is round his neck."

"We shall see," replied Mohun Lall; "but I do not think it. Send for
the Mangs." These wretches, everywhere the vilest of mankind, were soon
present, and the thief was made over to them.

"You see," said Mohun Lall to him, "you have no chance of escape; will
you now confess and take service with me? I will protect you." The
fellow hesitated, looked at his father, and appeared irresolute; but a
second glance at his expiring parent again rallied him.

"Not for all the wealth you could give me," cried he, drawing himself
up and looking at us proudly. "Had _he_ been alive, and in your power,
I might have taken your service; but you could not protect me now, and
I would rather die by the hands of your people than by those of my
associates, from whom I could not escape."

"Away with him!" cried Mohun Lall to the Mangs; "see that you do your
work properly."

"And our mamool (customary present), Maharaj, you must not forgot that."

"No, no," cried he; "but away with ye; I am polluted by your presence;
go to the Kotwal after you have done, and he will have received orders
to give you a sheep and as much liquor as will make you all drunk."

The fellows made many most profound salams, and went off with their
wretched companion. "Where will they hang him?" said I; "I should like
to see him again, and try if I can't persuade him to live to become a
decent fellow."

"Somewhere beyond the gate," said Mohun Lall: "I do not know the place
myself, but my people will show you. You will do little good, however,
I am afraid; and after all, why should you trouble yourself about him?"

"It is no trouble," I replied; "I have simply a curiosity upon the
subject, and will see the last of him."

"I will accompany you," said Bhudrinath; and we took our leave and
followed the executioners. About an arrow's flight from the gate were
two scraggy, gnarled, and almost leafless neem-trees, beneath which
stood the group we sought, and round them all the urchins and idle men
of the village. We hastened up to them, and found that everything was
prepared: a rope with a noose in it hung over a branch, and one of the
Mangs was coolly sharpening a knife upon an old stone idol, which lay
beneath the tree--for what purpose I could not make out; however, my
business was not with them, but with the wretch who was so near his
death. He had seen us approach, and I thought was urging the Mangs
to despatch him before we came up; but they did not do so, as they
imagined we brought some other orders to them. I addressed myself to
the robber: "Will you not live?" said I; "so young as you are, have
you no love of life? I now again promise you protection if you will
confess, as you have been asked to do before."

"Let the cords be somewhat loosened which bind my arms," said the
robber, "and I will speak to you; at present, I am in too much pain to
talk."

"Loosen them," said I to the Mangs; "and one of you hold the rope in
case he attempts to escape."

The robber smiled faintly at what I said, and continued:--"You have
taken an interest in me, and although I owe my present condition to
you, yet sooner or later I should have come to the same end, or fallen
by some shot, or cut of a sword; therefore I forgive you my death.
But, again I repeat, I have no wish to live; nor, miserable as I am,
can you suppose I would purchase my life by an act of treachery to my
companions. Had my father lived, and remained in Mohun Lall's power, I
would have promised anything; but he is dead: my uncle, too, fell by
the hands of one of your men in the attack on your cart; and whom have
I left in this world to care for, that I should live? One day has seen
the end of my family; and it was our fate. Yet bear to Mohun Lall my
hate, and the curses of a dying man. It is he who has killed me, and
for this he will have to pay a fearful retribution. And now," said he,
turning to the Mangs, "do your horrible office; I have no more to say."

I was going to speak again, but Bhudrinath stopped me. "What is the
use?" said he; "the fellow is obstinate, and, depend upon it, if he
were spared, it would only be to lead good men into danger, if not into
destruction: let him die, he deserves it."

The Mangs looked to me for orders, and I told them to proceed; it was
clearly of no use to delay. The robber was again tightly pinioned and
thrown on the ground, and the Mang who held the knife he had been
sharpening, dexterously cut both sinews of his legs close above the
heel; he was then raised up, the noose put round his neck, and in
another instant he was pulled up to the branch, and struggling in his
death agony. "Pah!" said Bhudrinath, turning away, "it makes me sick;
what a contrast this is to our work, where he who is to die scarcely
knows that the handkerchief is about his neck before he is a dead man."

"You say truly," said I; "we have the advantage; but these Mangs are
miserable, outcast wretches. What else could you expect from them?
Now let us go to the camp; my father will be there, and we will see
what this Kumal Khan had with him." When we arrived, we found that
all his baggage had been examined. There were two boxes, the contents
of which we looked to see with some impatience. One was nearly filled
with papers relating to his business as a revenue-collector, and these
were burned as fast as they could be looked over by me. In the bottom,
however, was a bag filled with gold, which Bhudrinath held up in
triumph.

"This is something better than musty paper," said he, putting it on one
side; "now for the other box."

It was broken open, and proved a rich prize, indeed. After the clothes
with which the top was covered had been removed, a number of bars of
silver met our expecting eyes. The box was not, however, emptied, and
under another layer of clothes were ten bars of gold, of the same size
as the silver ones.

"Here is the cream of the matter," cried Bhudrinath, as he took up the
first; "Alla knows how much there is! but it is clear the man was worth
killing; and finely, indeed, must he have plundered the unfortunate
cultivators."

The bars of gold and silver were made over to my father, to be placed
among the other plunder we had got; and all that now remained to be
seen were the clothes he had worn and his waist-bag. There was not,
however, much in it. "Stay," said Bhudrinath, "here is another bundle,
which was in the humeanah."

I took it from him, and unrolled fold after fold of clean paper. "Why,
there is nothing here," said I; "I suppose he kept this to write on."

"Go on to the end, nevertheless," said my father; "let us see all."

After removing three more folds I came to another small packet, which
was tied up with thread. "Here is something at last," said I, breaking
it open: "bills of exchange, in the name of the blessed Prophet! and, I
doubt not, of value, too. Have we any one who can make them out?"

"I cannot read the writing," said Bhudrinath, "but I can make out the
figures if they are not written in Persian."

"Ah, no," said I, "they are Nagree or Guzerattee; so try your skill."

"This," said Bhudrinath, after examining one, "is for two thousand
rupees: see, these are the figures."

"I dare say you are right," said I, handing the rest to him; "what are
these for?"

"Here is a second for four hundred."

"Not much," said my father; "but go on."

"The third is for--let me see again," said Bhudrinath; "ah, I am right,
it is for two thousand two hundred; and the last is for two hundred and
forty."

"That is, let me see," said I, "four thousand eight hundred and forty.
Well, we have got a good prize."

"Yes!" cried my father, "we should be well off if they were worth
anything to us; but they are no better than the waste paper we have
burned."

"How?" said I; "we should get the money if we presented them, surely?"

"You do not reflect," said my father, "that if we did so, it would lead
to our detection in this matter: so destroy them."

"Indeed," said I, "I will not, but will keep them for stolen money; and
I dare say were we to affect to be this Kumal Khan's agents, we might
get the amount."

"As you will," said my father; "but remember you take no steps about
them without consulting me." So I kept them, and had afterwards reason
to be glad that I had done so.



CHAPTER XIII.


As we were to leave the village the next morning, I thought I might as
well go and take leave of Mohun Lall, and accordingly went to his house
in the evening.

"So you could make nothing of that rascal who was hung up," said he,
when we were seated; "these thieves are hardened vagabonds, and though
I have hung several in this way, I have never been able to get anything
out of them."

"I could not," said I; "the fellow was, as he called it, faithful, and
died worthy of a better cause."

"It is no use of speaking of him," said Mohun Lall; "the fellow is
dead, and I would that all his brethren were hanging as high as he is;
but I have heard a strange piece of news since you left me, Meer Sahib,
which I do not care telling you, and you may perhaps be able to give me
some assistance."

"Command me," said I; "anything that I can do will be but a poor return
for your attention."

"The matter is this," said he; "a person by name Syud Mahomed Ali, who
is very respectably connected at Hyderabad, came from the city with
letters to the governor of Nirmul, two or three years ago, directing
him to be employed as a collector of any small district which might
become vacant. He lived some time with him, and when an opportunity
offered, was appointed by him his naib, or deputy, in a district
not far from Nirmul. Latterly, the governor has had a good deal of
difficulty in getting him to remit the revenue collections, and one or
two complaints which reached him privately made him suspicious. This
feeling was increased by hearing that he had sent off his baggage in a
clandestine manner,--whither, no one knew, and this morning both he and
his people have suddenly disappeared."

"It is most extraordinary," said I; "but as I never heard of this
person before, I do not see exactly how I am to be of any use to you or
your friend."

"It is only a chance that you may be so," said Mohun Lall; "and my
request is, that you keep a look out for him during your journey, and
should you meet him, that you will arrest him instantly, and send him
to me under an escort of your people, to whom I promise a handsome
reward for their delay and trouble. One thing I must tell you, that
on many occasions he has assumed the name of Kumal Khan,--the name I
believe of a relative of his who adopted him, and perhaps he may have
taken this name in travelling."

"I will not forget it," said I, "and you may depend upon my doing my
utmost to secure him, should I fall in with him; and could you give me
a paper relating his delinquencies, under your own seal, to serve me as
a kind of authority for arresting him?"

"Certainly," said Mohun Lall; "your thought is a good one: I will
forthwith write one myself." So saying he drew up the document, and
handed it to me.

"I am an indifferent scholar," said I, "but I dare say I can make it
out;" and taking the paper I read what he had written, which was in
substance what he had told me.

"And now I pray you to give me my dismissal, for I have business among
my people, and the day is nigh closed."

"I will not detain you," said Mohun Lall; "and if there is anything
you or your people want which my poor village can afford, you have
only to send for it. I shall write too to my friend to tell him of the
arrangement I have made, and the confidence I have in you."

"I thank you for your kindness," said I, "and should I want anything
more I will not scruple to send for it. Salam, Sahib!"

"Salam!" he returned; "I wish you a safe journey and a successful one."

"Thanks again to you, good Aumil, for your last words," said I to
myself as I went away: "Inshalla! it will be as successful as it has
hitherto been. Well indeed Mahomed Ali has met his deserts; and it
is better perhaps for him that he lies cold and dead as he is, than
that he should have lived to be haunted by an evil conscience, and to
fall into the hands of those he has cheated and deceived, who would
have tortured him to death, if they had not immured him in a miserable
prison to pine out the remainder of his days.

"Verily a good deal has been done, and my old father will laugh
heartily when he hears how I have behaved, and how I have baffled
suspicion by the commission I have brought with me, of which these
papers are good proof. I have got his true name too, and it is hard if
with this clue I do not get hold of the money for the bills of exchange
which my sagacious parent would have destroyed. Shabash! Ameer Ali,
do thou go on in this way, and whose dog is he who shall compete with
thee, either in cunning or in daring!"

As I thought he would, my father laughed heartily at the business I
had undertaken. "It would be a good joke," he said, "to send for Kumal
Khan's head, and put it at the gate of the village; they would then be
at rest about him, and Mohun Lall's friend would be obliged to disgorge
a little of the coin I have no doubt he has helped himself to out of
the revenue."

"By Alla," said I, "it is an excellent thought, and I will send a
couple of Lughaees to bring it."

"No, no," said my father; "I did but jest; it is now nearly evening,
and it would not do to risk them on that lonely road at nightfall;
besides, they could not well be back before we start."

"As you will," said I; but at the same time I made an inward
determination to mention it to one or two of them. When I reached my
tent, I sent for three Lughaees, enterprising fellows. "Now," said I,
"my lads, I have got an adventure for you, and here are five rupees
apiece if you will do it."

"Your commands are on our heads and eyes," said they; "you have only to
order us, and we will perform your wishes."

"Well then," said I, "what I want is the head of Kumal Khan: do you
know the place you put him in? and is the grave deep?"

"We know the spot exactly," said one of them, a Hindoo, by name
Motee-ram; "what Lugha ever forgot a spot where he had buried any one!
the grave is not deep, and he is at the top of all. But what are we to
do with the head? and why is it wanted?"

I detailed to them what Mohun Lall had said, and repeated what a good
joke it would be to get the head and place it in some conspicuous
place. "Then," said Motee-ram, "if I may offer advice, I recommend its
being put under the tree whereon the thief was hung this morning: the
worthy Aumil will think Kumal Khan has fallen by the hands of some of
his gang."

"A capital idea," said I: "and therefore, if you find no one about when
you return, place it there, for I have no wish to look at it."

"It shall be done to your satisfaction," said all three; "and we will
start immediately." So they left me. Yet I was in dread all the time
they were absent lest anything should befall them, and I often wished I
had not sent them on such an errand; but it was too late, and I could
not recall them. Anxiously and sleeplessly did the hours pass till near
midnight; and poor Zora could not imagine what was the matter with me.
I excused myself to her, however, on the plea of having a headache and
feeling unwell, and suffered her and the old woman to put quicklime on
my temples, and use other remedies which she said were infallible in
such cases: and at last pretending I was going to sleep, she lay down
and was soon really so. It was about midnight that I was relieved from
my suspense, and gladly did I hear the voice of Motee-ram at my tent
door calling to me. I arose and went out. "Is all safe?" I eagerly
asked.

"All is safe," said he; "and we have brought the head and put it where
you told us. It was well we went, for we found a troop of jackals
busily scratching at the grave; and they would have got to the bodies
before morning, for they had made a large hole when we arrived; however
we scared them away, and put a quantity of dry thorns just under the
earth on the top: they will not try it again, and if they do it does
not matter, as no one will ever find that spot--it was too well chosen."

"You have done your work well and bravely," said I, "and you shall
have your money to-morrow morning." They left me, and the excitement
past, I lay down and slept soundly. The next morning we rose before
day: the omens were consulted, and proved favourable, and all prepared
for prosecuting our march. We were soon ready, and finding that Zora
was comfortable in her cart, and that she needed nothing, I could not
resist the temptation of going as far as the tree where the thief had
been hung, to see whether in reality the head of Kumal Khan had been
brought. Accordingly I separated from the party, and ran as fast as I
could to the spot, which was not far distant. I know not why, but an
involuntary shudder crept over me as I reached the tree, and looked
about for the object of my search.

The wind, which had been still all night, suddenly rose with the
breaking day, and its first sigh through the withered branches of the
neem almost seemed to have a voice in it--a deprecation of the deed we
had done the night before, and of which so foul an evidence as that
before me was present; for at that instant my eyes fell on the head,
which had been placed on a projecting knot of the trunk to protect it
from the jackals. I recoiled from it with loathing, for the eyes were
protruding from the sockets and the mouth open, and the expression of
the features was hideous in the extreme. I gazed at it for a moment.
"This must not be," said I; "those eyes will betray us:" so taking the
cold head down, I forced them into their sockets, and shut the eyelids,
which I was able to do, as the stillness of death was past. I then
placed the head on a large stone close to the tree, on which some rude
idol was sculptured, and quitting the place, ran as fast as I could to
a small puddle I had passed as I came, in which I cleansed my hands
from the blood which had adhered to them.

"Alla be praised they are pure again!" said I inwardly, as I washed
them eagerly with some earth and water. "Brave as I know myself to be,
and caring for nothing alive, I would not have gone with Motee-ram and
his people, have dug up that body and decollated it,--no, not for the
wealth of Delhi. Pah! the idea is horrible." And I arose, and ran again
at my utmost speed till I reached the party.

My absence had not been remarked, which was well; and having mounted
my horse, I stationed myself near Zora's cart, which was in front.
After we had reached the stage, and were resting ourselves for the day,
a horseman came from the Aumil with a letter, at which we were all
greatly amused. It related how the head had been found and recognized,
but at the same time implored me to keep the event secret, in order
that the Aumil's friend, the ruler of Nirmul, might gain time to meet
the demand caused by the defalcation of the man we had killed. This
exactly suited my purpose, as I had now no doubt that I should be able
to get the amount of the bills.

On the fifth morning after this we were to reach Hyderabad: it was
estimated as seven coss distant, so we did not start so soon as
usual; we wished to reach it when the day was well advanced, in order
to attract as little attention as possible, for our numbers were
considerable. We therefore divided into three parties, one under my
father, one under myself, and the other under Surfuraz Khan, a friend
of my father whom we had met on the road, and who with his men had been
admitted into our company; and we agreed to meet again in the karwan,
which was the usual resort of all travellers, and where we were told we
should find accommodation in the serais which were used by them. Mine
was the first division to move, and my father said he should remain
with the baggage, and bring it leisurely along, as he should have to
pay the usual duties upon the property we had secured, at the various
toll-houses. Accordingly at full daylight we set out. It was a lovely
morning, cold, yet not so cold as in our own country, where the frost
is often seen on the ground, and the grass feels crisp under the foot
of the traveller until the sun rises; still a good shawl was a welcome
addition to my usual clothing.

Wreaths of mist spread themselves over some hills to the left of the
road, and concealed from our view an immense tank which lay at their
foot; while, as a gentle breeze arose, the mists were set in motion,
revealing one by one piles of the most stupendous rocks I had ever
seen, and which appeared as though they had been heaped on each other
by human agency; I had been struck by these extraordinary rocks on our
first entering Telingana, and remarked them now to Bhudrinath; he gave
a ready solution to my conjectures as to their origin, "You perhaps
have heard of one of our sacred books called the Mahabharut," said he;
"in it are related the wars of the gods. The origin of one of them was
the forcible carrying off of Sita, the wife of Ram. She was taken to
the island of Lanka (Ceylon), and there detained by the rakshas or evil
spirits of the place, assisted by the king with powerful armies: they
defied Ram, and he was in utter despair at the loss of his beautiful
wife, nor could he find any trace of whither she had been carried. You
know that Hunooman, our monkey-god, was a wise and astonishing being;
in the monkeys of the present day his form only is perpetuated; the
intelligence is gone, and cunning alone is left to them. But it is
also a sad fact that, like them, mankind has also degenerated, and we
are no more like the beings of those days than the present monkeys
are like Hunooman. Well, as I was saying, Ram in his perplexity was
visited by Hunooman, who pitying his state proposed to go in search of
the lost fair one, and accordingly departed. Long did he wander, and
at last discovered her in Lanka, in a state of as great distress as he
had left her lord in. Quickly he returned with the intelligence, and
an army was assembled for the conquest of the island. But a difficulty
arose when it reached the end of the land; before them certainly lay
Lanka, but a wide and rough sea ran between them, the roaring waves
of which appalled the stoutest hearts--nor did even the glorious Ram
himself escape the general fear. Boats were not to be procured, and if
they had, what would have been their use to transport an army which
consisted of millions of god-like beings, each of whom was ten cubits
in height! Ram gave himself up to despair; but Hunooman at one bound
clearing the channel, quickly returned with assurances that a bridge
could soon be constructed, and that he and his companions would labour
night and day till it was completed.

"Quick as thought, legions of monkeys departed to the Himalayas. Huge
mountains and rocks were torn from their foundations, and transported
by relays of these indefatigable beings to the shores of the ocean.
One by one they were dropped into it from above, and the splashing
of these huge masses is described as terrific, the water ascending
to the heavens and extinguishing the stars! At last the bridge was
completed, the vast armies marched over it, the country was conquered,
and the beauteous Sita restored to the arms of her devoted lord. Now
these rocks are part of those brought from the Himalayas, and have
remained piled upon each other just as they were set down by the
monkeys; for this country being half-way, it was here that the relay
was established, and when the bridge was completed, these remained,
not being required. To prove the truth of what I have said, (and may
Bhugwan grant that no one doubt it!) I must tell you that remains of
the bridge are visible to this day. Many pilgrims with whom I have
conversed, who had been to Ramisseram, declared that they had gone
in boats along the side of the bridge, and traced it by the points
of rocks appearing above the water, almost in a direct line from
one land to the other, with here and there a small island where the
waves have not been able to make an impression: that further, heaps
of rocks similar to these are met with in various parts between here
and Ramisseram, which no doubt were not required; and you will remark
that in no other part of the country north of this do any similar ones
appear. There cannot therefore be a stronger proof of the truth of our
ancient religion than these hardened witnesses, which will last to the
end of the world, to the confusion of all unbelievers and sceptics."

"Mashalla!" said I; "it is a wonderful story, and true enough, for I
have heard of the bridge myself. We Moslims have it, that Baba Adam,
who was placed by Alla in the paradise of Serendeeb, which is Lanka,
got tired one day of his confinement to so small an island; and seeing
the main-land at a distance, made the bridge by throwing mountains
into the sea, each at seven coss distance, to get there. When it was
completed, he easily stepped from one to the other, and so gained the
land; but this action displeased Alla, who soon afterwards ejected him
from the paradise, and man has been a wanderer ever since."

"Yes," said Bhudrinath: "but is not my story the most probable,
especially when you see all these rocks piled up in so extraordinary a
manner as if in loads? Why, if a man wanted to carry a heap of stones,
he would pile them up in the same way; and see, these are in separate
heaps, just as they were laid down, some large, some small, according
no doubt to the strength of the parties who bore them."

"Alla ke Qoodrut," exclaimed I,--"it is the power of God. Mashalla!
they were great monkeys; it is well we have none of them nowadays, or
they would pelt us out of the land."



CHAPTER XIV.


We passed the village of Ulwal, its white pagoda peeping from among
groves of tamarind and mango trees, and its large tank now glistening
in the rays of the sun; and pursuing our way, we saw, on passing a
ridge of rocks, the camp of the army at the far-famed Hoossain Sagor,
or, as it is more often called, Secunderabad. The tents of the English
force glittered in the bright sun, and behind them lay a vast sheet
of blue water. We had heard much of this lake from many persons on
our journey, and as we passed it a strong breeze had arisen, and the
surface was curled into a thousand waves, whose white crests as they
broke sparkled like diamonds, and threw their spray into our faces
as they dashed against the stonework of the embankment. We stood a
long time gazing upon the beautiful prospect, so new to us all, and
wondering whether the sea, of which we had heard so much, could be
anything like what was before us. I have since then, Sahib, twice seen
the sea; I need not attempt to describe it, for you have sailed over
it; but when I saw it first, methought I could have fallen down and
worshiped it, it appeared so illimitable, its edge touching as it were
the heavens, and spread out into an expanse which the utmost stretch of
my imagination could not compass,--a fit type, I thought, of the God
of all people, whom every one thinks on, while the hoarse roar of the
waves as they rolled on, mountain after mountain, and broke in angry
fury against the shore, seemed to be a voice of Omnipotence which could
not fail to awaken emotions of awe and dread in the most callous and
unobservant!

We passed the embankment of the tank. As yet we had seen nothing of
the city; but there was a ridge not far off, and as we ascended it I
could no longer control my impatience. I spurred my horse, and before I
reached the top shut my eyes, that whatever was before me might burst
upon my view at once. My horse slackened his pace when he reached
the top, and allowing him to go on a few steps I opened my eyes, and
glorious indeed was the prospect before me. Beneath lay Hyderabad, the
object of many a conjecture, of many an ardent desire to reach it--the
first city of the Dukhun, justly celebrated throughout the countries
I had passed. I had imagined it, like every other I had seen, to be
in the midst of a plain, and that all that would be visible of it
would be here and there a minaret rising out of large groves of trees:
but Hyderabad presented a different aspect. I stood on the crest of
a gentle slope, which to my right hand was broken at some distance
by rude, rocky hills, and to the left appeared gradually to descend
into a plain, which stretched away almost uninterruptedly to the
horizon. Before me, on the gentle rise of the valley, and beyond where
I supposed the river to be, lay the city, its white terraced houses
gleaming brightly in the sunlight from amidst what seemed to me at the
distance almost a forest of trees. The Char Minar and Mecca Musjid rose
proudly from the masses of buildings by which they were surrounded; and
here and there a white dome, with its bright gilt spire, marked the
tomb of some favourite or holy saint, while smaller mosques, I might
say in hundreds, were known by their slender white minarets.

Beyond the city rose another connected chain of rocky hills, which ran
along until they met those on the right hand, and shut in the valley
on that side. The city seemed to be of immense extent; but I thought
from the number of trees that it was composed principally of gardens
and inclosures, and was much surprised afterwards, when I entered it,
to find its streets so filled with houses, and the whole so thickly
peopled. It was altogether a most lovely scene: the freshness of the
morning, the pureness of the air, and the glittering effect of the city
and its buildings caused an impression which can never be effaced from
my memory. I have seen it since, and though it is ever truly beautiful,
it never struck me as it did that day. But I was then young, full of
spirits, and flushed with the consciousness of my own powers, just
developing, and assuring me that they would lead me to eminence.

One by one, as the Thugs came up, each ejaculated his praise of the
beautiful scene, and all declared that the capital was worthy of the
encomiums they had heard lavished on it. Inquiring the nearest road
to the karwan, we descended the slope, and threading our way through
numberless suburbs we reached the place, and were at the end of our
journey. We were grateful for it, and for the protection and success
we had met with. We took up our abode for the present in a serai
which surrounded a large and richly ornamented mosque; and for our
greater convenience I went in search of an untenanted house, and after
some difficulty succeeded in hiring a small place, the property of a
merchant who resided next door. It contained only three rooms, and
the verandah, which was the shop; but it was enough for my father and
myself, and there was a small room with a strong door, in which we
stowed away all our plunder. Zora was overjoyed at reaching the place
of her birth, and what was in reality her home, and could talk of
nothing but the delight of meeting with her relatives and friends, and
the surprise her arrival would excite in them all, as she said they
had considered her lost to them ever since the Nuwab had carried her
off. The almost certainty of her being separated from me as soon as she
was again in their power never occurred to her, and I determined that
before she visited them I would lay all my fears before her, convinced
that her affection for me would be the best guide for her conduct.

Our landlord the merchant was very civil and attentive to our wants,
though his civility evidently proceeded in a great measure from
curiosity as to who we were and what was our object. I stated to him in
a few words our old story--of my father being a merchant, and myself a
soldier of fortune who had accompanied him in search of employment. He
was now curious to know of what my father's stock in trade consisted;
but we were resolutely silent upon the subject, although he offered his
agency to dispose of our goods. "For," said my father to me afterwards,
"our goods I know are valuable, and I know not their worth; nor have we
as yet opened the bales; we will do so to-morrow morning, and assort
them: we will then go into the city to the shops of the sahoukars,
and inquire for articles similar to them, find out their prices, and
by this means be enabled to value our own. Were we to offer them in
ignorance of their market prices, we might be suspected; and though we
may not get what they are intrinsically worth, we shall no doubt be
able to sell the whole for a handsome sum."

I agreed with him perfectly, and the next morning we set to work to
open the bales. Their contents were indeed costly,--brocades, cloth of
gold, fine muslin scarfs, also woven with gold and silver patterns,
plain muslins, and a few shawls, besides fine cloths of different
kinds for wearing-apparel, and sarees with silk and tissue borders,
the latter from the looms of Nagpoor. These and the jewels in our
possession, when laid out and assorted, made a display on which we
feasted our eyes for some time, wondering at their magnificence; and
after I had made an inventory of the whole, my father and myself,
attired in handsome clothes and mounted on the best of our horses,
attended by a few of the men, took our way into the city. Crossing over
an old but massive bridge, below which ran the river, now a shallow
stream, we entered by the gate at the head of it, and inquiring our way
went direct to the chowke, or market-place, where we trusted we should
find goods exposed for sale similar to our own. The streets were narrow
and dirty, and the interior of the city certainly did not answer the
expectations we had formed from its outside and distant appearance;
still there were evident tokens of its wealth in the numbers of
elephants, on the backs of which, in canopied umbaras, sat noblemen or
gentlemen, attended by their armed retainers. Crowds of well-dressed
persons paraded the streets, and as the festival of the Mohorum had
just commenced, cries of "Hassan! Hoosein! Doola! Deen! Deen!" and a
thousand others familiar to us resounded on every side.

We made our way as well as we could through the throng, and our
attendants were often obliged to clear us a passage, which exposed
them to the jeers and abuse of the multitude, as they were recognized
as strangers from their dress and language. Once or twice I observed a
hand laid on a sword by some respectable person who had been jostled
or pushed by our men, and heard a deep threat muttered; but we managed
to get along, and at length came to a broader street, where the crowd
was less dense; and here that noble building, the Char Minar, burst at
once upon our view. "How grand!" I exclaimed, stopping my horse and
looking up to the huge minarets, which seemed to pierce the clouds; "to
see this alone is worth a journey from Delhi." The minarets formed the
four corners of the building, and from them sprang immense arches which
supported a roof, upon the top of which a small mosque was built. It
did not look capable of supporting the immense weight of the whole, and
yet it had stood for centuries, and the fabric was unimpaired.

"It is the hour of prayer," said my father, interrupting my gaze; "and
hark! the Muezzin calls from the Mecca mosque; thither we will now
proceed, and afterwards transact our business."

I followed him, and passing by the Char Minar, we turned up a street
to our right, and stopped our horses at the gate of the mosque. A
feeling of awe mingled with admiration came over me as we entered the
court-yard and advanced along a raised causeway to the foot of a flight
of steps which led up to the interior. On either side of us were the
graves of princes and nobles, many of them of elegant forms and richly
carved; but the building itself engrossed my entire admiration. Five
lofty and wide arches opened to view the interior of the edifice, where
an equal number appeared in depth; and where the arches met, the eye
was perplexed by the innumerable points and ornaments, which, running
into each other, completed a roof of exquisite design and workmanship.
To add to its beauty, the whole was of stone, carefully smoothed,
whereas the Char Minar and the other buildings I had as yet seen were
of stucco.

But I had little time to observe more; the sonorous and melancholy call
of the Muezzin had ended, and the few attendants for the afternoon
prayer had spread their carpets and commenced their devotions. We
joined them, and, kneeling on our outspread waistbands, went through
the usual forms, while the low murmur of the prayers of all ascended
to the fretted roof and added to the solemnity of the scene. To the
majority of those present there was perhaps nothing new or uncommon;
but I, who had escaped the dangers of our journey and those attendant
on our profession, felt that it went to my heart; and, murderer as I
was, though not as yet callous, I was softened, and my tears flowed
fast as I repeated the words of prayer, and the impressive language of
the blessed Koran in which they were couched. The ceremony concluded,
we rose; and though I was well disposed to linger in the sacred edifice
and observe more of its beauties, my father hurried me away, and we
returned to the Char Minar.

"Here," said my father, "those useful rogues the dullals are to be met
with. They will try to cheat us, no doubt, as it is their trade; but
as we are not purchasers, we may avail ourselves of their aid to find
out the houses of the merchants who deal in our articles, and it may be
that the fellow we fix on will be intelligent and assist us to dispose
of our property." We stopped on reaching the building, the lower part
of which was sadly disfigured by numbers of wretched huts and stalls,
where venders of vegetables and sweetmeats sat, and served out their
goods to the passers-by. My father, calling to a decent-looking young
Hindoo, of intelligent countenance, asked him where he could meet with
a dullal, as he was a stranger in the city, and wished to see some
clothes and other goods, which he did not know where to find.

"I am one at your service, noble sir," he replied; "and I know well the
richest warehouses, and can lead you to any you wish; and," added he,
"there is not a sahoukar or dealer in the city who will not readily
give your poor servant, Moheno Das, a character for sobriety and
trustworthiness."

"You had better not say much of your good qualities till they have been
proved," said my father; "your tribe has not the best reputation on
these points."

"Ah," said the man, "my lord is well aware of what (alas that I should
say it!) the majority of our tribe are--a sad set; nevertheless, his
slave will not be found to be like them, for having begun by being
honest, he has not found it worth his while to be otherwise."

"That is as much as to say you would be dishonest if it suited your
interests," said I; "but come, the day wears fast, and we are anxious
to be out of this crowd before dark."

The fellow gave me a knowing look, accompanied by a shrug of his
shoulders, which could not be mistaken; what I had said had proved to
him that we were on our guard. "What description of goods may you be in
search of?" said he; "any may be procured, from the shawls of Cashmere
and brocades of Benares to the meanest article."

"Benares fabrics are what we require," said I; "a few handsome
roomals and doputtas, and a turban or two, to adorn ourselves for the
minister's durbar."

"You shall see them," said the dullal, girding his shawl about his
waist. "Now follow me, and keep a good eye on me, lest you lose me in
the crowd." And so saying, he descended the steps of the building,
and led us along some of the principal streets, till we dived into
an obscure alley, and stopped at the door of a house which certainly
promised nothing from its exterior.

"A very unsatisfactory search we should have had," said I to my father,
"had we endeavoured to find out a merchant ourselves. It is well we
took this fellow with us."

"These merchants, I have heard, usually choose these secluded places
on account of their security," replied my father. "It would not do in
a lawless place like this to expose goods for sale as they do in other
cities. But they are well known, and easily found out by strangers if
they apply to the dullals as we have done."

We were ushered into the interior of the house, and were received by
a large fat man, the very counterpart of the sahoukar I had killed. I
started involuntarily at the resemblance; but soon recovering myself,
and assured by his civility, I seated myself, as did also my father,
and we quickly entered on the object of our visit. One by one bales
were opened and their contents spread before us. The sahoukar's stock
seemed to be interminable and of great value. We selected several
articles, and inquiring the prices of those which we inspected, of
which I made memorandums, we desired them to be kept for us, saying
that we would call the next day with money to pay for them. The
sahoukar pressed us to take them with us, and the dullal offered his
security for us; but for obvious reasons we declined, and took our
leave of the merchant.

The dullal accompanied us as far as the Char Minar, where my father,
slipping a piece of money into his hands for his trouble, told him we
now knew our way home, and bid him come early in the morning to the
karwan, and inquire for the house of Rugonath Das Sahoukar, where he
would get tidings of us. "So far I am satisfied," said my father; "our
goods, as you will have observed, are equal in quality to those we saw,
and by the prices affixed to them we have a good earnest of a large sum
of money, if we can only dispose of them, a matter I apprehend of no
difficulty if properly managed."

The next morning came the dullal. "Canst thou be secret?" asked my
father at once, and throwing him a couple of rupees. The fellow started
and trembled.

"If such is my lord's will," said he, his teeth almost chattering with
fear, "I can; but I am a poor man, a very inoffensive man. I am my
lord's slave, and rub my nose on his feet," cried he at last, fairly
throwing himself on the ground and rubbing his forehead against the
ground, as he saw my father's brow contracting, and his face assuming
an expression of anger at the evident suspicion which the man had of us.

"Why," cried my father, as the fellow lay on the floor whimpering,
"what is this? what chicken-hearted son of a vile woman art thou? In
the name of Alla get up! Because a man who, Inshalla! is somebody, asks
thee whether thou canst be secret, must thou of necessity think thou
art going to have thy throat cut?"

"Do not talk of it," cried the wretch, shutting his eyes and
shuddering. "I am a poor man and a miserable Hindoo; what would my
lord get by cutting my throat?"

"Nay," said my father, "this is beyond bearing; the fellow has not the
soul of a flea. Kick him out into the street, and beat him on the mouth
with a slipper: there are plenty of dullals to be found beside him."

"Pardon, noble sir!" cried the fellow--the mention of his trade leading
him to suppose that he was required in the way of his calling--"pardon
my foolishness. My lord's threatening aspect turned my liver into
water; but now that he smiles again, I am assured that no harm is
meant."

"Harm! surely not to such a wretch as thou," said my father; "but since
thou art inclined to listen to reason, sit down, and hear what we have
to say to thee."

"I can be secret," cried the dullal; "let my lord speak."

"It will fare badly with thee if thou art not," said my father, again
looking grimly at him: "but listen. I am a merchant; I have never
been at this city before; but hearing at Delhi that an investment of
valuable goods, such as we saw yesterday, was likely to sell well here,
I have brought one down with me. I knew not the selling prices here,
and therefore engaged thee to show me some goods, that I might be able
to regulate the sale of my own. Now, canst thou manage it for me?"

"Surely, surely," said the fellow in delight, "nothing is more easy. My
lord will not, of course, forget my perquisites on the sale?"

"Thou shalt have five rupees in every hundred's worth disposed of,"
said my father: "will this content thee?"

"It is a princely offer, and worthy of my lord's generosity," said the
dullal. "Might I be permitted to see the goods?"

"It is necessary that you should see them, and here they are," rejoined
my father; and he opened the door of the room where they were, and one
by one displayed the contents of the bales.

"This is indeed a rich stock," said the dullal; "you may be able to
sell most of the cloths, but I question whether the whole, without you
intend to remain here some time."

"That depends upon circumstances over which I have no control," said my
father; "if I cannot sell them all here, I shall take what remains to
Poona."

"Well," said the man, "if I am permitted, I will make memorandums of
all that there is here, and in the course of to-morrow will let you
know what can be done. I cannot do so earlier, for I shall have to
visit all the dealers."

"Do what you think best," said my father, "and here are ten rupees
for your expenses. Now begone, and let me see you again at this time
to-morrow." The fellow made many salams and took his leave.

"Did you ever see so pitiful a wretch?" said my father. "For two
cowrees I would have strangled him on the spot, to put an end to so
disgraceful a coward."

"Let him pass," said I; "he is but a Hindoo, and not worth thinking
of. But you are not going to let him off with all the money you have
promised him?"

"Of course not," replied my father; "you understand, I suppose, what is
to be done?"

"Perfectly," said I; "leave him to me."

I went to Zora, my own gentle Zora. She had been speaking much of
visiting her kindred, and though I had put her off as well as I could
since we arrived, I saw with concern that I had no longer any pretext
for detaining her. I could have fled with her--I think I could. Such
was the intensity of my love for her, that, had I had the courage to
speak of flight and she had agreed to accompany me, I verily believe I
should have forsaken father, associates, and profession, and committed
myself to the world. And if I had, said the Thug, musing, should I have
been worse off than I am now? should I ever have worn these disgraceful
fetters? have ever doomed myself to perpetual imprisonment and a
state of existence which I would to heaven were ended, and should be
ended, but that I have (and I curse myself for it), a mean, base, aye,
cowardly lingering for life! Sahib, I tell you it would have been well
for me had I then fled--fled from guilt and crime, into which I daily
plunged deeper. With my soldierlike figure, my address, my skill in
the use of arms, I might have gained honourable service; I might have
led armies, or have met a soldier's death on some battle-field! But it
was not so written; it was not my fate, and I am what I am--a curse to
myself, and to all with whom I have ever been connected.

Zora! she thought not of my anxiety; all she hoped for, cared for
now, was to see her mother and her sister. She assailed me with
importunities that I would send her, and assured me that she would not
be long absent, but go to them she must; they would so rejoice to see
her again, and would welcome me as her deliverer. After seeing them
she would return to me, and we should never again be parted. "Alas!"
I said, "my Zora, you know not what you ask. Do you think that those
charms are of no value to your mother and sister? You have owned to me
that you are far more beautiful and attractive than any of those you
are connected with. In your absence they will have sunk into obscurity,
and they will hail your return as the earnest of more wealth and more
distinction."

"Nay, these are cruel words, my beloved," she replied; "you well know
that I have never deceived you, and that, as true as that I breathe, my
soul is yours for ever. So let me go, I pray you, and in a few hours I
shall be again with you, and pressed to your honoured breast."

"Be it so," said I, sadly; for though I hardly dared think it, I felt
as if this was our parting for ever. "Go, then; and if you return not,
I will come to you by the evening." A covered zenana cart was easily
hired; and the driver seeming perfectly to understand where she wished
to go, she stepped joyfully into it, attended by her old servant, and,
with two of my men to attend her, she left me.

They soon returned; but they knew nothing, save that there was great
joy in the house when her relatives saw her. Towards evening I could
no longer control my impatience; and, taking one of them with me, I
mounted my horse and rode to her house. It was situated nearly opposite
a fountain, which is in the centre of the street below the Char Minar,
and I had passed it the day before. I was easily admitted; and oh! what
joy was evinced when I entered the room where Zora, her sister, and
mother were seated. "He is come!" cried my poor girl, and she rushed
into my arms. She strained me to her breast for an instant, and then,
holding me from her, "Look, mother!" she cried; "look on him; is he not
as I said--is he not as beautiful and brave!"

The old lady approached me, and, passing her hands over my face,
cracked her knuckles, and every joint of her fingers, by pressing the
backs of her hands against her temples, while the tears ran down her
cheeks. This she did as often as there was a joint to crack; and then
she caught me in her arms and hugged me, crying at the same time like
a child. The sister received me, I thought, rather coldly. Had I been
less handsome, perhaps, she would have been more cordial; she did not
seem to like Zora's having so handsome a lover.

"May the blessing of the Prophet and the twelve Imams be on you and
your posterity!" cried the old lady, when she had recovered breath to
speak. "May the gracious Alla keep you in his protection, and may the
lady Muriam and the holy Moula-ali bless you! You have made a desolate
house full again, and have changed our weeping to joy. What can I say
more? Who could have thought it was our Zora when a cart stopped at the
door? Zenatbee was just saying that it was that vile wretch Sukeena,
come to pretend condolence, while in reality she rejoiced at our
misfortune, which left her without a rival; and I was saying--no matter
what I was saying--when we heard a faint cry, as if of astonishment,
and a bustle, and we did not know what to think; when in rushed our
lost Zora, our pearl, our diamond; and then I thought my old heart
would break with joy, for my liver seemed to be melted; and I have done
nothing since, Meer Sahib, but sit opposite to her, and stroke her face
with my hands, and gaze into her eyes, to assure myself that I am not
mistaken. Inshalla! to-morrow I will send five rupees to every shrine
in the city, and distribute sweetmeats to fifty beggars in the name of
the Imam Zamin; besides, I will have a tazea made, and will no longer
wear these mourning garments. Ah! Meer Sahib, if you knew how I have
sat day after day, and wept till I am reduced to a mere shadow of what
I was! and all my friends tried to console me, but in vain; I would
not be comforted." And her tears flowed afresh at the recollection.

What the old lady was before her grief commenced I cannot pretend to
say; but in her present plight she appeared the fattest woman I had
ever looked upon. We sat conversing and relating our adventures until
the evening fell; and I spread my carpet for prayer. "Ah, he is a good
Syud," said the old woman; "I like to see the young fond of their
devotions; but it is ever thus with the noble race from Hindostan."

I was preparing to take my departure, when they one and all cried out
against it. "What! leave our house before you have broken bread and
drunk water with us?" It was not to be thought of--I must stay--dinner
was prepared; they were just on the point of sending for me when I
came; and, above all, it was the ninth day of the Mohorum; and I
must stay, were it but to see the procession of the Nal Sahib. That
sacred relic, one of the shoes of the horse the blessed Prophet rode
when he fled to Medina, would be carried in grand procession, and I
should never have a chance of seeing the like again. These reasons,
and many imploring looks from Zora made me speedily determine; so,
sending away my horse and the man, with a message to my father to say
I should not return, I gave myself up to a night of enjoyment, such as
I little expected when I parted with Zora in the morning. The dinner
was excellent, and the old lady's cooking unexceptionable. There were
all sorts of curries, with but a mouthful in each little cup, but still
sufficient of each to leave an exquisite flavour in the mouth, only
to be replaced by another surpassing it--pilaus of various kinds, and
sweetmeats; and, to crown all, some delicious wine of the infidels
called the Francees, which the old lady pronounced not to be wine, but
sherbet, and allowed to the Huzoor himself, the great Sikundur Jah. It
certainly was very delicious, and elevated the spirits. At the end,
after taking a whiff or two, she carefully wiped the mouth-piece, and
presented me with her own hookah, the fragrance of which was beyond
that of ambergris or musk. I was in paradise!--I was intensely happy!

"You have heard me sing," said Zora to me, "when I was in captivity,
and, after the fatigues of travel, in our little tent, where there
was no scope for my voice; now my heart is glad and bounding, and you
shall hear me again--may the Prophet pardon me for singing during
the Mohorum!--and you shall say which you like best; my sister shall
accompany me till I am tired, and I will then accompany her."

A saringhee was brought; Zenat tuned it, and, taking the bow, played
a short prelude. It was one of the most entrancing sounds I had ever
heard. Zora surpassed all her former attempts; it was ravishing to
listen to her; and her sister, who was a perfect mistress of the
instrument (a strange thing for a woman), gave it its full force of
melody and expression. You know, Sahib, how nearly it accords to the
human voice; and now, as accompaniment and song rose and fell together,
it appeared as though two of the richest, fullest voices were pouring
forth strains such as angels might have come down from the skies to
hear.

But at last the noise of drums and shouting outside became so great,
that both gave up in despair. "A plague on them all," said she; "and I
in such voice, that I could have sung to you all night! And have I sung
well?"

"Ay, have you," said I; "but methinks the first song you ever sung to
me, at the palace in Oomerkhér, will dwell longer on my memory than any
I have heard since."

"Ya Alla!" exclaimed Zenat who had moved to the window; "was there ever
a sight so magnificent! Come and see; 'tis passing fast, and will be
soon out of sight."



CHAPTER XV.


Zenat's exclamation drew us to the window. "Quick!" she said; "look
out, or you will lose the sight; they are even now passing the Char
Minar." We did look out, and the sight was indeed magnificent. A crowd
of some hundreds of people were escorting a Punjah, that holy symbol of
our faith; most of them were armed, and their naked weapons gleamed
brightly in the light of numberless torches which were elevated on
lofty bamboos; others bore aftab-geers, made of silver and gold tinsel,
with deep fringes of the same, which glittered and sparkled as they
were waved to and fro by the movements of those who carried them. But
the object the most striking of all was the Char Minar itself, as the
procession passed under it; the light of the torches illuminated it
from top to bottom, and my gaze was riveted, as though it had suddenly
and startlingly sprung into existence.

The procession passed on, and all once more relapsed into gloom: the
Char Minar was no longer visible to the eye, dazzled as it had been
by the lights; but as it became more accustomed to the darkness, the
building gradually revealed itself, dim and shadowy, its huge white
surface looking like a spectre, or, I could fancy, like one of the
mysterious inhabitants of the air whom, we are told, Suleeman-ibn-Daood
and other sages had under their command, and were thus enabled to
describe. Again, as we gazed, another procession would pass, and a
sudden flash as of lightning would cause the same effect; interior and
exterior of the edifice were as bright, far brighter they seemed, than
at noonday. I was enraptured. Zenat had left us to ourselves, and we
sat, my arm around my beloved, while she nestled close to me, and we
murmured to each other those vows of love which hearts like ours could
alone frame and give utterance to. Long did we sit thus--Sahib, I know
not how long--the hours fled like moments.

"Look!" cried Zora, "look at that mighty gathering in the street below
us; they are now lighting the torches, and the procession of the Nal
Sahib will presently come forth." I had not observed it, though I had
heard the hum of voices; the gloom of the street had hitherto prevented
my distinguishing anything; but as torch after torch was lighted and
raised aloft on immense poles, the sea of human heads revealed itself.
There were thousands. The street was so packed from side to side, that
to move was impossible; the mass was closely wedged together, and we
waited impatiently for the time when it should be put in motion, to
make the tour of the city.

One by one the processions we had seen pass before us ranged
themselves in front, and as they joined together, who can describe the
splendour of the effect of the thousands of torches, the thousands of
aftab-geers, of flags and pennons of all descriptions, the hundreds
of elephants, gaily caparisoned, bearing on their backs their noble
owners, clad in the richest apparel, attended by their armed retainers
and spearmen, some stationary, others moving to and fro, amidst the
vast mass of human beings! One elephant in particular I remarked,--a
noble animal, bearing a large silver umbara in which sat four boys,
doubtless the sons of some nobleman from the number of attendants which
surrounded them. The animal was evidently much excited, whether by the
noise, the lights, and the crowd, or whether he was _must_, I cannot
say; but the Mahout seemed to have great difficulty in keeping him
quiet, and often dug his ankoos into the brute's head with great force,
which made him lift his trunk into the air and bellow with pain. I saw
the Mahout was enraged, and, from the gestures of some of the persons
near, could guess that they were advising him to be gentle; but the
animal became more restive, and I feared there would be some accident,
as the Mahout only punished him the more severely. At last, by some
unlucky chance, the blazing part of a torch fell from the pole upon
which it was raised on the elephant's back; he screamed out with the
sudden pain, and raising his trunk, rushed into the crowd.

Ya Alla what a sight it was! Hundreds, as they vainly endeavoured to
get out of the way, only wedged themselves closer together, shrieks
and screams rent the air; but the most fearful sight was, when the
maddened beast, unable to make his way through the press, seized on
an unfortunate wretch by the waist with his trunk, and whirling him
high in the air dashed him against the ground, and then kneeling down
crushed him to a mummy with his tusks. Involuntarily I turned away
my head; the sight was sickening, and it was just under me. When I
looked again, the brute, apparently satisfied, was standing quiet, and
immediately afterwards was driven away; the body of the unfortunate
man was carried off and deposited in a neighbouring shop; and all again
became quiet.

All at once the multitude broke out into deafening shouts of "Hassan!
Hoosein! Deen! Deen!" the hoarse roar of which was mingled with
the beating of immense nagaras. The sound was deafening, yet most
impressive. The multitude became agitated; every face was at once
turned towards the portal from which the sacred relic was about to
issue, and it came forth in another instant amidst the sudden blaze of
a thousand blue lights. I turned my eye to the Char Minar. If it had
looked brilliant by the torch-light, how much more so did it now! The
pale sulphureous glare caused its white surface to glitter like silver;
high in the air the white minarets gleamed with intense brightness;
and, as it stood out against the deep blue of the sky, it seemed to
be a sudden creation of the genii--so grand, so unearthly,--while the
numberless torches, overpowered by the superior brightness of the
fireworks, gave a dim and lurid light through their smoke, which, as
there was not a breath of wind, hung over them.

All at once a numberless flight of rockets from the top of the Char
Minar sprung hissing into the sky, and at an immense height, far above
the tops of the minarets, burst almost simultaneously, and descended
in a shower of brilliant blue balls. There was a breathless silence
for a moment, as every eye was upturned to watch their descent, for
the effect was overpowering. But again the shouts arose, the multitude
swayed to and fro like the waves of a troubled sea; every one turned
towards the Char Minar, and in a few instants the living mass was in
motion. It moved slowly at first, but the pressure from behind was so
great that those in front were obliged to run; gradually, however,
the mighty tide flowed along at a more measured pace, and it seemed
endless. Host after host poured through the narrow street; men of all
countries, most of them bearing naked weapons which flashed in the
torch-light, were ranged in ranks, shouting the cries of the faith:
others in the garbs of Fakeers chanted wild hymns of the death of the
blessed martyrs; others again in fantastic dresses formed themselves
into groups, and, as they ran rather than walked along, performed
strange and uncouth antics; some were painted from head to foot with
different colours; others had hung bells to their ancles, shoulders,
and elbows, which jingled as they walked or danced; here and there
would be seen a man painted like a tiger, a rope passed round his
waist, which was held by three or four others, while the tiger made
desperate leaps and charges into the crowd, which were received with
shouts of merriment.

Some, again, were dressed in sheepskins, to imitate bears; others
were monkeys, with enormous tails, and they grinned and mowed at the
crowd which surrounded them. Now, some nobleman would scatter from his
elephant showers of pice or cowrees among the crowd below him; and
it was fearful, though amusing, to watch the eager scramble and the
desperate exertions of those undermost to extricate themselves,--not
unattended by severe bruises and hurts. Bodies of Arabs, singing their
wild war-songs, firing their matchlocks in the air, and flourishing
their naked swords and jumbeas, joined the throng, and immediately
preceded the holy relic, which at last came up. It was carried on a
cushion of cloth of gold, covered by a small canopy of silver tissue;
the canopy and its deep silver fringes glittering in the blaze of
innumerable torches. Moolas, dressed in long robes, walked slowly
before, singing the Moonakib and the Murceas. Men waved enormous
chourees of the feathers of peacocks' tails; incense burned on the
platform of the canopy, and sent up its fragrant cloud of smoke; and
handfuls of the sweet ubeer were showered upon the cushion by all who
could by any means or exertions get near enough to reach it.

Gradually and slowly the whole passed by. Who can describe its
magnificence? Such a scene must be seen to be felt! I say _felt_,
Sahib, for who could see a mighty multitude like that, collected for a
holy purpose with one heart, one soul, without emotion? Hours we sat
there gazing on the spectacle; we scarcely spoke, so absorbed were we
by the interest of the scene below us. At length, however, the whole
had passed, and the street was left to loneliness and darkness; the few
forms which flitted along here and there looked more like the restless
spirits of a burial-ground than human beings; and the silence was only
now and then broken by a solitary Fakeer, his bells tinkling as he
hurried along to join the great procession, the roar of which was heard
far and faintly in the distance.

Just as we were about to retire, a number of men formed themselves into
a circle around a pit in which were a few lighted embers; but some
bundles of grass were thrown on them--the light blazed up, and, drawing
their swords, they danced round and round the fire, waving their
weapons, while all shouted aloud in hoarse voices the names of the
blessed martyrs. The blazing fire in the centre lighted up their wild
forms and gestures as they danced, tossing their arms wildly in the
air. Now they stood still and swayed to and fro, while the fire died
away and they were scarcely perceptible. Again more fuel was thrown on,
the red blaze sprung up far above their heads, and their wild round was
renewed with fresh spirit.

The night was now far spent, and the chill breeze which arose warned us
to retire. Indeed Zenat and her mother had done so long before, and we
were left to ourselves. Sahib, that was the last night I passed with my
beloved, and the whole of our intercourse remains on my memory like the
impression of a pleasing dream, on which I delight often to dwell, to
conjure up the scenes and conversations of years past and gone--years
of wild adventure, of trial, of sorrow, and of crime.

I can picture to myself my Zora as I parted from her on the following
morning; I can again hear her protestations of unalterable love, her
entreaties that I would soon return to her; and above all I remember
her surpassing loveliness, and the look of anguish, I might call it,
with which she followed me as I left her, after one long, passionate
embrace. These impressions, I say, still linger on a mind which has
been rendered callous by crime, by an habitual system of deception,
and by my rude intercourse with the world--my deadliest enemy; and
they are refreshing and soothing, because I have no wrong toward her
to charge myself with. I rescued her; she loved me, and I loved her
too; we wanted nought but a longer intercourse to have strengthened
that affection, which would have lasted till death. But why should I
talk thus? Why should I, a convicted felon and murderer, linger on the
description of such scenes and thoughts? Sahib, I have done with them;
I will tell you of sterner things--of the further adventures of my life.

I returned to my father; he was not angry at my absence; and I
found Mohun Das, the Dullal, closeted with him, and also another
sahoukar-looking person. Mohun Das had been eminently successful; the
sahoukar I saw was the assistant in a wealthy house who had need of all
our goods, and he was come to see them before the bargain was finally
closed. They were displayed to him, both goods and jewels; he approved
of all, said he would return shortly with an offer for them, and having
made a list of the whole he departed.

"Now," said Mohun Das, "about the price; what do you ask?"

"You know better than I do," said my father, "therefore do you speak;
and remember, the more they sell for the more you get."

"I have not forgotten your munificence," said the Dullal; "and I say at
once the cloths are worth sixteen, and the jewels ten thousand rupees;
but you must ask thirty thousand,--you will get twenty-five I dare say."

"It is too little," said my father; "they cost me nearly that sum; and
how am I to pay my guards if I get no profit? I shall ask thirty-five
for the whole."

"Well," said the Dullal, "if you do, so much the better for me; but
mark what I say, you will get no more than my valuation; however, if
you will trust me, and leave it to my judgment, I will get a fair
price."

"I will; but recollect, twenty-five thousand is the least."

"Certainly," said the Dullal; "I go to do your bidding."

"Go," said my father; "Alla Hafiz! be sure you return quickly."

It was noon before he returned, but it was with a joyful face when he
did come. After many profound salams, he exclaimed to my father, "You
have indeed been fortunate; your good destiny has gained you a good
bargain. I have got thirty thousand six hundred rupees for the whole.
We had a long fight about it, and wasted much breath; but, blessed be
Narayun! your slave has been successful,--see, here is the Sahoukar's
acknowledgment."

My father took it and pretended to read; I was near laughing outright
at his gravity as he took the paper and pored over the crabbed Hindee
characters, of which he did not understand one,--nor indeed any other;
for he could neither read nor write. "Yes," said he, gravely, "it is
satisfactory. Now, how am I to be paid?"

"The Sahoukar will arrange that with you in any way you please," said
the Dullal; "ready money or bills are equally at your service; but as
all transactions are generally at six months' credit, the interest for
that time, at the usual rate, will be deducted."

"And if I take bills, I suppose the interest will be allowed till I
reach Benares, or whatever place I may take them upon?"

"Certainly."

"Good," continued my father; "do you attend here with the Sahoukar,
and we will settle all about it, and he can take away the merchandize
whenever he pleases." So the Dullal departed.

It was now about the time when the tazeas were to be brought to the
edge of the river to be thrown into the water; and, as the Karwan was
not far from the spot, I proposed to my father to send for our horses
and ride thither to see the sight. He agreed; the horses were quickly
brought, and we rode to the bridge over which the road passes into the
city. Taking our stand upon it, we beheld beneath us the various and
motley groups in the bed of the river; there were thousands assembled;
the banks of the river and the bed were full,--so full, it seemed as if
you might have walked upon the heads of the multitude. The aftab-geers,
and the tinsel of the various tazeas, glittered in the afternoon
sun,--the endless variety of colours of the dresses had a cheerful and
gay effect; and, though it was nothing to the grand appearance of the
procession at night, still it was worth looking at. The tazeas were
brought one by one by the various tribes or neighbourhoods to which
they belonged, and thrown into the pools in the bed of the river, for
deep water there was none, but there was sufficient for the purpose;
and as each glittering fabric was cast in, it was assailed by hundreds
of little ragged urchins, who quickly tore the whole to pieces for the
sake of the ornaments; and there was many a warm contest and scramble
over these remains, which excited the laughter of the bystanders.

One by one the various groups returned towards their homes, looking
wearied and exhausted; for the excitement which had kept them up for
so many days and nights was gone. In many a shady corner might be seen
lying fast asleep, an exhausted wretch, his finery still hanging about
him, his last cowree perhaps expended in a copious dose of bhung,
which, having done part of its work in exciting him almost to madness
during the preceding night, had left him with a racking brain, and had
finally sent him into oblivion of his fatigue and hunger. The Mohorum
was ended: we stayed on the bridge till the time for evening prayer,
when, repairing to an adjacent mosque, we offered up our devotions with
the others of the faithful who were there assembled. This done, I told
my father I should again visit Zora, and most likely remain at her
house all night: he bid me be sure to return early in the morning, on
account of our business; and having promised this, I departed.

I rode slowly through the now silent and almost deserted streets: the
few persons whom I met were hurrying along to their homes, and had no
common feeling or interest with each other as before. I passed along
the now well-known track, and was soon at the house which held all
that was most dear to me on earth. I sent up my name and dismounted; I
expected the usual summons, and that I should see that countenance I
longed to behold welcoming me from the window. I waited longer than I
could assign a cause for in my own mind; at last my attendant returned,
and as he quitted the threshold the door was rudely shut after him,
while at the same time the casements of the windows were both shut.
What was I to think of this? Alas! my forebodings were but too just.
My attendant broke in upon my thoughts by addressing me. "Her mother,
whom I have seen," said he, "bid me give you her salam, and tell you
that her daughter is particularly engaged and cannot receive you. I
ventured to remonstrate, but the old woman became angry, and told me
that she had behaved civilly to you, and that you could not expect
more; and further, she said, 'Tell him from me that he had better act
the part of a wise man, and forget Zora, for never again shall he see
her; it will be in vain that he searches for her, for she will be
beyond his reach; and I would rather that she died, than become the
associate and partner of an adventurer like him; who, for all I know,
might inveigle her from home, and, when he was tired of her, leave her
in some jungle to starve. Go and tell him this, and say that if he is a
wise man, he will forget her.'"

"And was this all?" exclaimed I in a fury; "was this all the hag said?
I will see whether I cannot effect an entrance;" and I rushed at the
door with all my might. In vain I pushed and battered it with the hilt
of my sword, it was too securely fastened within to give way. I called
out Zora's name--I raved--I threatened as loud as I could to destroy
myself at the door, and that my blood would be upon the head of that
cruel old woman. It was all in vain, not a bolt stirred, not a shutter
moved, and I sat down in very despair. A few persons had collected,
observing my wild demeanour, and as I looked up from my knees, where my
face had been hidden, one of them said, "Poor youth! it is a pity his
love has been unkind and will not admit him."

"Pooh!" said another, "he is drunk with bhung; Alla knows whether we
are safe so near him!--he has arms in his hands; we ought to get out
of his way: your drunken persons are ticklish people to deal with, let
alone their being a scandal to the faith."

I was ashamed; shame for once conquered anger. I walked towards my
horse, and mounting him, rode slowly from the place. How desolate
everything appeared! The night before, I had reached the summit of
happiness. I cast one look to the window where I had sat in sweet
converse with her whom I was destined no more to behold; I thought on
her words, and the glittering scene was again before me. Now all was
dark and silent, and accorded well with my feelings. I rode home in
this mood, and throwing myself down on my carpet, gave myself up to the
bitterness of my feelings and unavailing regret. A thousand schemes I
revolved in my mind for the recovery of Zora during that night, for I
slept not. One by one I dismissed them as cheating me with vain hopes,
only to be succeeded by others equally vague and unsatisfactory. I rose
in the morning feverish and unrefreshed, having determined on nothing.
There was only one hope, that of the old woman the nurse; if I could
but speak with her, I thought I should be able to effect something, and
as soon as I could summon one of the men who had attended Zora, I sent
him for information.



CHAPTER XVI.


I had not seen Bhudrinath now for some days, and fearing he might think
me neglectful, I went to the serai in which he and the men had put up.
"Ah!" cried he, when he saw me approach, "so we are at last permitted
to see the light of your countenance; what, in the name of Bhowanee,
have you been about? I have sought you in vain for the last three days."

"Tell me," said I, "what you have been doing, and you shall know my
adventures afterwards."

"Well, then," said he, "in the first place, I have made a series of
poojahs and sacrifices at the different temples around this most
Mahomedan of cities; secondly, I have seen and mixed in the Mohorum;
and lastly, I have assisted to kill seven persons."

"Killed seven persons!" I exclaimed in wonder, "how, in the name of the
Prophet, did you manage that?"

"Nothing more easy, my gay young jemadar," he replied: "do you not know
that this is the Karwan, where travellers daily arrive in numbers,
and from which others are as frequently departing? Nothing is easier
than to beguile them to accompany us a short distance, pretending
that we are going the same road: why a Thug might live here for ever,
and get a decent living. The people (my blessings on them!) are most
unsuspicious; and, thanks to Hunooman and his legions, there is
no want of rocks and wild roads about the city, which give capital
opportunities for destroying them."

"Ajaib!" I exclaimed, "this is very wonderful; and who were they?"

"Not in the least extraordinary," said Bhudrinath coolly, "if you think
on it;--but to answer your question. The first was a Bunnea who was
going to Beeder; we took him to Golconda, and buried him among the
tombs, and we got seventy rupees and some pieces of gold from him.
The second were two men and their wives, who said they were going
to Koorungul: where that is Bhugwan knows! but it is somewhere in a
southerly direction. We killed them about three coss from the city,
among some rocks, and left them there."

"That was wrong," said I, "you should have buried them."

"Not at all wrong, my friend; who will take the trouble of inquiring
after them? Besides, we had not time, for the day had fully dawned,
and we feared interruption from travellers; we got above two hundred
rupees, and two ponies, which I have sold for thirty rupees."

"Well," said I, "these make five; and the other two?"

"They lie there," said Bhudrinath, pointing to where a horse was
picketed; "they were poor devils, and not worth the trouble of taking
out; we only got forty-two rupees from both."

"Dangerous work," said I; "you might have been seen."

"Oh, no fear of an old hand like me; every one was off to the city to
gape at the show, and we were left alone. I was deliberating whether we
should not accompany them on the road we came in by, and by which they
were going; but Surfuraz Khan cut short my doubts and uncertainties by
strangling one fellow on the spot, and I followed his example with the
other; the bodies were concealed till night, and then buried."

"But is there no fear of the grave bursting?" I asked. He laughed.
"Fear! oh no, they lie deep enough; and you know our old tricks."

"Well," said I, "it is most satisfactory, and I have missed all this,
have been a fool, and have lost my mistress into the bargain."

Bhudrinath laughed immoderately; but seeing the gravity of my face, he
said, "Never mind, Meer Sahib, care not for my merriment; but truly thy
face wore so lackadaisical an expression, that for my life I could not
have refrained. Cheer up, man, there is plenty of work in store for
you; women will be faithless, and young and hot-brained fellows will
grieve for them; but take a friend's advice, make your profession your
mistress, and she at least will never disappoint you."

"Your advice is good," said I; "nevertheless the mistress I have lost
is, as you know, worthy of regret, and I shall miss her for many a day.
But tell me, what have you now in hand,--anything in which I may have a
share?"

"Why no," he replied, "nothing; but if you are so inclined, we will
take a ramble this evening through the bazars, we may perhaps pick up
somebody."

"Of course I will be with you, for in truth my hand will get out of
practice if I neglect work. But have you seen my father?"

"I have not," said Bhudrinath; "I hear he is very much engaged about
the property, and do not like to disturb him."

"You are right, he is," said I; "but he will finish all to-day, and get
the money. I suppose after that we shall not stay long here, and for my
part I care not how soon we set off; I am anxious for new scenes and
adventures, and we are not likely to do much here. Is not Surfuraz Khan
here?"

"No; he is gone with a party of seven travellers towards Puttuncherroo,
and has taken ten or fifteen of the best of the men with him; he will
not be back probably before night, if then."

"Who were the travellers?"

"Bunneas, I heard," said Bhudrinath carelessly; "I did not see them
myself, and Surfuraz Khan was in too great a hurry to give me any
information."

"Out upon me!" I exclaimed, vexed at my idleness; "here have I been
amusing myself while all this has been going on: for the sake of the
Prophet, let us do something soon, that I may settle scores with my
conscience, for I have hardly assurance enough to look you in the face
after my behaviour."

"Well," said he, "come this evening; if we can't decoy any one, we will
kill somebody for amusement and practice."

"I agree," said I; "for by Alla! I must do something. I am as
melancholy as a camel, and my blood, which boiled enough yesterday,
seems now scarcely to run through me;--it is not to be borne."

I found when I reached home that the dullal had arrived, and with him
the sahoukar's clerk, and some porters to carry the goods, as well as
fellows with matchlocks and lighted matches, and others with swords and
shields, to escort them. I stared at them. "One would think you were
going to battle, Séthjee," said I, "with all those fierce fellows; I am
half afraid of them."

The fellows laughed; and the clerk replied, "They are necessary, and we
always have them. If our goods were stolen, nay, carried off before our
eyes, should we get any redress? no indeed: we therefore protect our
property the best way we can."

"Now," said my father, "take your goods and be off with them; they are
no longer mine, and I fear to allow them to remain under my roof."

"Surely," said the clerk, "they will be out of your way directly; and
now let us speak about your money, or will you take some merchandise as
part of it?"

"Not a bit, not a bit," replied my father; "I want all my money in
rupees--no, stay, not all in rupees; give me five thousand in silver
and the rest in gold, it will be easier carried."

"I suppose you mean five thousand rupees, and the rest in gold bars;
well, you must purchase gold according to weight, and the best is
twenty rupees a tola;--but you had better take bills, and the exchange
is favourable."

"No, no; no bills," said my father, "but the gold. If I remember
rightly, the price of gold was high when I left Delhi, and was likely
to remain so; and I have plenty of persons for my guard if robbers
should attack me."

"You forget me," cried the dullal, "and my percentage."

"Make yourself easy," said I; "it will be paid out of the five thousand
rupees; it will be about fifteen hundred, I think."

"What did you say? fifteen hundred! to whom?" asked the clerk.

"To this dullal," said I; "I suspect the rascal is cheating us."

"Cheating! surely he is; why Mohun Das, good man, what have you been
about? are you mad, to ask so much?"

"Ah, it was my lord's offer and promise," said he, "and surely I shall
now get it! pray what business is it of yours?"

"What ought he to have?" asked my father.

"One per cent. is ample," replied the other: "and you might have saved
this too, if you had only applied yourself to the different sahoukars."

"We were strangers," said I, "and knew not their places of residence;
so we were obliged to have recourse to this rascal, who offered his
services."

"What! did you not take me from the Char-Minar? did you not promise me
five per cent., and bind me to secrecy about the sale of your goods?"
cried the dullal.

"Listen to him," said my father; "he raves. Now, Meer Sahib, did not
this bhurwa come begging and beseeching for employment, and when I
said I would try him, and asked his terms, he said he was miserably
poor, and would take whatever was given him; was it not so? And now,
Punah-i-Khoda, we are to be bearded in this manner, defrauded of
fifteen hundred rupees, where we have not as many cowrees to give, and
made to eat dirt into the bargain. Beat him on the mouth with a shoe!
spit on him! may he be defiled so that Ganges water would not purify
him! may his mother, sisters, and all his female relatives be----"

"Nay, my good friend," said the sahoukar's clerk, "be not thus rash and
hot-headed, nor waste your breath upon so mean a wretch; since you have
employed him, something must be given, it is the custom, and next time
you will know better; say, may I pay him the one per cent., which will
be three hundred and six rupees?"

"Three hundred and six rupees! Alla, Alla! where am I to get the half?"
cried my father: "for the love of the Prophet, get me off what you can;
I swear by your head and eyes that I am a poor man, and only an agent;
is it not so, Meer Sahib? am I not miserably poor?"

"You certainly cannot afford to pay so much money as one per cent.
on this large sum," I replied; "nevertheless, as such appears to be
the custom, you had better give something, say one hundred and fifty
rupees."

"Certainly," said my father; "I am ready; I will not refuse anything in
reason; but so large a sum--I was quite astounded at the impertinence
of the demand, and lost my temper, like a fool."

Mohun Das stood all this time with his eyes and mouth wide open,
looking from one to the other, every word that was uttered increasing
his astonishment and disappointment. "Do you pretend to say," screamed
he at last, "do you pretend to say that I am not to get my money, my
fifteen hundred rupees, for which I have toiled night and day? And do
you pretend to say I came to you first? did you not take me with you
from the Char-Minar?"

"Nay, here is the Char-Minar again; for the sake of Alla," said I to
the clerk, "if you really know this fellow, advise him to be quiet;
what have I, who am a soldier, to do with his filthy traffic; he may
provoke a patient man once too often, and people with weapons in their
hands are not safe persons to play jokes with;" and I twisted up my
mustachios.

I have told you, Sahib, what a coward the fellow was: he fell instantly
on the ground and rubbed his forehead against the floor. "Pardon!
pardon!" he cried, "most brave sirs! anything, whatever you choose to
give me, even ten rupees, will be thankfully received, but do not kill
me, do not put me to death;--see, I fall at your feet, I rub my nose in
the dust."

"You fool," cried the clerk, holding his sides with laughter, for he
was a fat man; "you fool; ah, Mohun Das, that I should have seen this!
In the name of Narayun, who will do you any harm? Are you a child--you,
with those mustachios? Shame on you, man; dullal as you are, be
something less of a coward; get up, ask for your money boldly, ask for
whatever these gentlemen please to give you, though indeed you deserve
nothing for your impertinent attempt at deception."

He got up and stood on his left leg, with the sole of the right foot
against the calf, his hands joined, his turban all awry, and the
expression of his face most ludicrously miserable.

"Ten rupees, my lord," he faltered out; "your slave will take ten
rupees." We all once more burst into a peal of laughter; the Gomashta's
sides appeared to ache, and the tears ran down his cheeks.

"Ai Bhugwan! Ai Narayun!" cried he, catching his breath; "that I should
have seen this; Ai Sitaram! but it is most amusing. Ten rupees! why
man," said he to the miserable dullal, "you just now wanted fifteen
hundred!"

"Nay," said my father, "let him have his due; you said one hundred and
fifty,--that he shall have; do you, Meer Sahib, go with this worthy
sahoukar to his kothee, and bring the money; I dare say he will give
you a guard back, and you can hire a porter for the gold and silver."

"Certainly, you shall have the men," said the Gomashta: "and now come
along; I shall have to collect the gold, and it may be late before
it can be weighed and delivered to you, and the rupees passed by a
suraff." As we went on, the dullal said to me, "You will pay me at the
kothee, will you not?"

"We will see," said I; "the money is none of mine, and I will ask
advice on the subject."

"Not your money! Whose then?"

"Why his who has employed you, and from whom you are to get one hundred
and fifty rupees," I said; "are you a fool? Why do you ask?"

"Ah nothing, only I was thinking--"

"Thinking of what?" I asked; "some rascality I doubt not."

"Ah," said he, "now you speak as you did at the Char-Minar."

"By Alla!" said I, stopping and looking at him, "if ever you mention
that word again--"

"Never, never!" cried the wretch, trembling; "do not beat me; remember
it is the open street, and there will be a disturbance; the words
escaped me unawares, just as I was thinking--"

"That is twice you have said that, and by Alla! I think you have some
meaning in it; what _would_ you be at?"

"Nothing, nothing," said he; "only I was thinking--"

"Well!"

"I was only thinking that you are an adventurer, who has accompanied
that rich merchant from Hindostan."

"Well, and what of that? you knew that before."

"You are not rich?"

"No indeed," said I, "I am not."

"Then," said the wretch, "why not both of us enrich ourselves."

"How?" I asked.

"Refuse the guard, or take some men I will guide you to; they will do
whatever you like for five rupees a piece; we will fly with the money,
and there is a place in the rocks close to this where I have plunder
hidden--we will go thither and share it."

"Where is the place you allude to--is it far?" I asked.

"No," said he; "will you come? I can show it you from a distance;
we need not get up the rocks--there is danger of being seen in the
daytime."

I followed him for a little distance, and he pointed to a huge pile of
rocks at the back of the Karwan and Begum Bazar. "There, do you see a
white spot about half-way up on a rock?"

"I do," said I.

"That is the spot," he replied; "it is known but to myself and a few
others; whatever I can pick up I put there."

"What do you get?"

"Ah, little enough; sometimes a shawl, a brocade handkerchief, or some
gold, anything in fact. But why do you ask? Will you do what I said and
join us? there are sixteen of us; one is yonder disguised as a Fakeer,
the rest are hard by and will accompany us."

"Dog!" cried I, dashing him to the earth, "dog! dost thou know to whom
thou speakest? Here there is no one," (for we had got to the back of
the houses,) "and it were an easy task to send thee to Jehanum; one
blow of my sword, and that false tongue would cease to speak for ever:"
and I half drew it. I knew the effect this would have: there was the
same grovelling cowardice he had displayed before! he clung to my
knees; I spurned him and spit on him. "Reptile!" cried I at length,
wearied by his abjectness, "I would scorn to touch thee: a Syud of
Hindostan is too proud to stoop to such game as thou art; lead me to
the Sahoukar, for by Alla I distrust thee!"

"Nay, in this matter I have been honest," said the wretch; "the money
is sure."

"It will be well for thee that it is," said I, "or I swear to be
revenged; lead on, and beware how you go; if I see one attempt at
escape I will cut you in two, were it in the middle of the bazar."

"Then follow me closely," said he; and he gathered up his garments,
which had become disordered, and we again entered the crowded bazar. We
were soon at the Sahoukar's, who awaited us: the money and gold were
told out, and a receipt I had brought with me given, and accompanied by
the guard of soldiers I took the treasure to my father.

"Meer Sahib, kind Meer Sahib," said the Dullal, as we approached our
dwelling, "you will forget all that has passed; Bhugwan knows I was
only jesting with you; I love to play such tricks,--nay, I have always
been of a jesting disposition:" and he laughed in his terror. "You will
not forget my little perquisite, my hundred and fifty rupees, I know
you will not."

"Peace!" cried I, "if you wish to get a cowree. Has it not been
promised to thee on the word of two of the faithful? Thou shalt get the
uttermost farthing."

I dismissed the sepoys with a small present when the money had been
lodged in our strong-room, and as they went, the miserable Dullal
looked after them as though he thought with them had departed his last
chance for existence. It certainly drew to a close. "Give me my money
and let me depart," said he in a hollow voice.

"Wait," said I, "till it is counted out for you."

"Ah, I had forgotten the Dullaljee," cried my father; "I will get out
his due."



CHAPTER XVII.


My father counted out the money and handed it over to the Dullal; his
countenance brightened as he viewed it, and he made numberless salams
and protestations of thanks. "Now you must write a receipt for the
money," said my father.

"Surely," replied the fellow, taking a pen out of his turban, "if my
lord will give me paper and ink."

"Here they are," said I; "write."

He did so, gave me the paper, and tied the money up in a corner of
his dhotee, which he tucked into his waistband. "Have I permission to
depart?" he asked; "my lord knows the poor Dullal, and that he has
behaved honestly in this transaction. Whenever my lord returns to
Hyderabad, he can always hear of Mohun Das, if he inquires at the Char
Minar, and he will always be ready to exert himself in his patron's
service."

"Stay," said I; "I have somewhat to say to thee;" and I related to my
father the whole of the conversation I have just described.

"Is it so?" said he to the miserable being before him; "is it so?
speak, wretch! let me hear the truth from thy own lips; wouldst thou
have robbed me?"

But the creature he addressed was mute; he stood paralysed by fear and
conscious guilt, his eyes starting from his head, his mouth open, and
his blanched lips drawn tightly across his teeth. "Thou hast deserved
it," continued my father; "I read in that vile face of thine deeds of
robbery, of murder, of knavery and villany of every kind; thou must
die!"

"Ah, no, no! Die?--my lord is pleased to be facetious; what has his
poor slave done?" and he grinned a ghastly smile.

"Thou wouldst have robbed me," said my father, "when I trusted thee
with my whole substance; thou wouldst have left me to starve in a
strange land without compunction; thou hast robbed others, and cheated
thousands: say, art thou fit to live, to prey longer upon the world
thou hast already despoiled?"

He threw himself at my father's feet; he grasped his knees; he could
scarcely speak, and was fearfully convulsed and agitated by extreme
terror. "I am all that you say," he cried, "thief, murderer, and
villain; but oh! do not kill me. My lord's face is kind--I cannot
die--and my lord has no sword, and how will he kill me?" He had only
just perceived that we were both unarmed, and he made a sudden rush at
the door. "The Kotwal shall know of this," he cried; "people are not
to be terrified with impunity." The door was fastened; he gave several
desperate pulls and pushes at it; but I was at his back, and the fatal
handkerchief was over his head: he turned round and glared on me--the
next instant he was dead at my feet.

"There," cried my father exultingly, "judgment has overtaken him, and
the memory of his crimes will sleep with him for ever; we have done a
good deed."

"Yes," said I, "a good one indeed; he confessed himself to be a
murderer, robber, and knave--what more need you? and so young too for
this accumulation of crime!"

"Drag him in here," said my father, "I like not to look on him; and go
for the Luggaees; he must be buried at night in the small yard of the
house; I dare not have the body carried out in this crowded city."

"It shall be done," I replied; "but think what an escape we have had;
had you not told me to go with the wretch, we should have lost our
money."

"Yes, my son, and even had we got it, had you not suspected that five
per cent. was too much, I should certainly have paid the sum; but I saw
your drift, and I think took up the clue admirably. We have cheated the
knave both out of his money and his life."

"True," said I, "it has been a good adventure, and amusing withal;
besides it promises further advantage."

"From the rock and the Fakeer?"

"Yes; there will be good booty."

"Take care," said my father; "the band may be there, and they will give
you a warm reception."

"I will go and consult with Bhudrinath," said I; "the adventure will
just suit him and Surfuraz Khan; we will do nothing rashly."

Bhudrinath was at the serai waiting for me. "So, Meer Sahib," said he,
"you are still in the humour for a frolic; how many lives will satisfy
your worship to-night there is no lack of men in this abode of villany."

"I am in the humour," said I, "but not for what I intended; I have
better game in view."

"Ha!" said he, "so _you_ have been acting Sotha; and pray what may this
game be?"

"One that will require stout hearts, and maybe naked weapons," I
replied: "are you willing to accompany me?"

"To death," said Bhudrinath; "but I cannot for my life see what you are
driving at."

"Listen," I replied; and I related to him the whole history of the
Dullal.

"Cleverly done, very cleverly, indeed, my young jemadar," said he, when
my relation was ended; "no one could have managed it better from first
to last; the rascal deserved his fate; and now I suppose we must search
out these hidden treasures in the rock."

"Exactly," said I; "I would do so this very night if I knew how to go
about it properly."

"Let me see," said Bhudrinath musing; "we shall not want many men, six
or eight resolute fellows will be sufficient. You and I, Peer Khan,
Motee-ram, and four others, are ample; there is no use waiting for
Surfuraz Khan, he will not now be back before the morning. But how to
get intelligence of the place, and whether any of the rascals are there
at night?"

"Can no one personate a Fakeer?" said I; "a kulundur, anything will do.
He might go up now, as the spot is close by, and bring us news in an
hour or so."

"I have it!" cried Bhudrinath. "Here, some one call Shekhjee to me."

Shekhjee came. He was an old man, with a long beard; but he was an
able fellow, and a rare good hand with the handkerchief. "Shekhjee,"
said Bhudrinath, "sit down, I have something to say to you. You can
personate a Fakeer if necessary, can you not?"

"Certainly," replied the old fellow; "Moosulman or Hindoo, all kinds
are familiar to me. I know all their forms of speech, and have many of
their dresses."

"It is well," said Bhudrinath; "now listen. You must go and disguise
yourself this instant; we have an enterprise in view;" and he related
our proposed scheme and what had preceded it. "And now," continued
Bhudrinath, "you must be wary, and by dark you must return, and tell us
of the place, and if there are men there."

"Is the Fakeer who lives there a Hindoo or Moosulman?"

"I saw the impression of spread hands in whitewash on the rock, so he
must be a Moosulman," said I.

"Then I know how to act," cried the Thug. "Sahibs, I take my leave, and
will not fail you. I shall be with you by the time I am required."

"Will he manage it?" I asked of Bhudrinath. "Methinks it is a delicate
business."

"Never fear him," said Bhudrinath; "he is a most accomplished rogue and
is a capital hand at disguise, especially as a Fakeer, and once got us
considerable booty by enticing five Nanukshaee Fakeers among us who had
picked up a good deal of money, and were going to build a well with it.
Besides, he is as brave as a lion, and you have seen his other work."

As we were talking Surfuraz Khan came in. "Ours has been a good
business," he cried exultingly, "and there is good spoil. We have
killed all the men, and the plunder is coming in charge of our
fellows."

"That is so far good," said I; "but is there any ready money, or is it
all goods?"

"Both, Meer Sahib, both; but methinks you need not be so ready to ask,
when we have not seen your face ever since we have been in the city. We
might all have been taken and safely lodged in Puntoo Lall's huwélee
for all you knew of the matter. I do not like such conduct."

I was enraged at his speech, and was about making an angry reply when
Bhudrinath interfered. "Peace!" said he, "no brawls: it is disgraceful,
and only fit for drunkards and smokers of ganja; listen to me. Surfuraz
Khan, you are no boy, and ought not to let your anger have sway; listen
and hear what our young jemadar has been about, and I swear by Bhowanee
I think he will yet put us all to shame."

He then related all I had told him, on hearing which Surfuraz Khan's
angry feelings gave way in a moment; he rose and embraced me. "I was
wrong," said he, "and you must forgive me; and to prove that I am more
than ever your friend, I beg you to allow me a place in this adventure,
for, by Alla! it promises to be a strange one."

"Willingly," said I; "we thought you would not arrive in time, but now
you are come I would not on any account that you did not accompany us."

"So you have strangled the fellows you took out," said Bhudrinath. "Had
you any trouble?"

"None whatever," replied the Khan. "We took them out on the Masulipatam
road, and found a spot on the other side of Surroonuggur; we threw
the bodies into a well and returned by another road. Soobhan Alla!
this is a rare place, and we might remain here for years and have some
amusement every day. I think I shall stay here."

"You may do as you please about that," said I, "when we have shared the
spoil we have got. You will then be free, but I should be sorry to lose
you."

In such conversation we continued till it was dusk, and then assembling
the men we intended to take, eight in all, and seeing that our arms
were in good order, we waited in great anxiety for the return of our
emissary. At last he came. "There is no time to be lost," said he. "I
went up to the place and found the Fakeer. He is a fine sturdy young
fellow, and at first warned me to descend; but when I told him I was
hungry and weary, that I had just arrived from Hindostan, and did not
know where to lay my head, and begged for a crust of bread and water in
the name of the Twelve Imaums, he was pacified, and admitted me into
his cave, gave me some food and a hookah, and we sat carousing for some
time. I pulled out my opium-box and took a very little; seeing it he
begged for some, and has taken such a dose that he will not wake till
morning. I left him fast asleep."

"He shall never wake again," said I: "but did you observe the place?
Where can the plunder be hidden?"

"He lives in a cave, between two enormous rocks," said Shekhjee. "It
was nearly all in darkness, but I saw a corner at the back of it built
up with mud and stones, which he said was his sleeping-place, and I
suspect it is there that the plunder is concealed."

"Come then," said I; "there is not a moment to be lost; if we delay we
may chance to find the rest of the gang. This is just the hour at which
they are all out in the bazars, stealing what they can."

We all sallied out, and conducted by our guide, crept stealthily along
the foot of the rocks till we gained the narrow pathway by which we
were to ascend. We held a moment's conference in whispers, and bidding
five of the men stay below until we should tell them to ascend,
Bhudrinath, myself, and Surfuraz Khan crept up the narrow track to the
mouth of the cave, whither the old Thug had preceded us.

"He still sleeps," said he in a whisper; "but tread softly, lest you
wake him. He lies yonder, close by the lamp."

"Mind, he is mine," said I to Bhudrinath: "do you and Surfuraz Khan
hold him;" for as I looked on the powerful form before me, I felt this
precaution to be necessary. But he slept; how was I to throw the roomal
about his neck? Bhudrinath solved the difficulty; he gave the Fakeer a
smart blow with the flat of his sheathed sword upon the stomach, and
the fellow started up to a sitting posture.

"What is this? Thieves!" was all he could say; my handkerchief was
ready, and now it never failed me--he was dead in an instant.

"Now trim the lamp," said I to Bhudrinath. "Call up three of the men,
and let the others remain below to look out."

Bhudrinath tore a piece of rag off the clothes of the dead Fakeer,
which he twisted up into a thick wick and put into the oil vessel; its
strong glare lighted up the interior of the cave, and we saw everything
distinctly.

"Here is the wall which I spoke of," said Shekhjee, "and we had better
search behind it." We did so. There were piles of earthen jars in one
corner, which we at first supposed to contain grain or flour, and
indeed the first two we uncovered had rice and dal in them; the third
felt heavy.

"This has something in it beyond rice," said I; "examine it closely."
The mouth was stuffed with rags, but when they were removed we beheld
it filled with money--rupees and pice mixed together.

"This was not wise," said Bhudrinath; "the Shah Sahib ought not to have
mixed his copper and silver, the silver will be tarnished; but we can
clean it."

The next pot was the same: the last was the best; it was full of gold
and silver ornaments, rings, anklets, and armlets. We shuddered to see
that many of them were stained with blood. "The villains!" I exclaimed;
"that wretch then told the truth when he confessed himself to be a
murderer; the city is well rid of him. But we must not stand talking.
Do one of ye tie these things up and be ready for a start, while we
look out for further spoil."

But there was nothing else in this corner, no bales of cloth or other
articles as we had expected. We were looking about to find any other
place of concealment, and had nearly given up our search, when Surfuraz
Khan, who had gone outside, called to us. "Come here," he cried; "there
is a place here which looks suspicious."

We ran to the spot, and found the hole he had discovered to be between
two rocks; it was dark within, and a man could but just enter by
crawling upon his hands and knees. "Give me the light," said I; "I will
enter it if the devil were inside."

"Better the devil than any of this infernal gang," said Bhudrinath to
me as I entered.

I found no one, and the space within, which was so low that I could
scarcely stand upright, was filled with bundles. "Neither the devil nor
any of the gang are here," cried I to those outside, "so do some of you
come in quickly and see what I have found."

I set myself to work, as did also the others, to untie the different
bundles, and we were all busily employed. I had just opened one which
contained, as I thought, brass cooking-pots and water-vessels, and
was overjoyed to find some gold and others silver, when the alarm was
given from outside. We all got out as quickly as we could and inquired
the cause. "There are two men," said the scouts, "whom we have watched
come round the corner of the houses yonder and approach the bottom of
the rocks; they do not walk fast, and appear to be carrying loads of
something."

"Only two," said I, "then they are easily managed. Put out the light,
and conceal yourselves at the entrance of the cave; we must fall upon
them as they enter."

We had just taken our posts behind a rock which was close to the mouth,
our roomals ready, and two with their swords drawn, when one of the
fellows called out, "Ho! Sein! Sein! come down and help us up. Here we
are, laden like Pulla-wallas, and thou hast not even a light to show us
the way."

"Not a word," said I, "as you value your lives. Let them come."

"May his mother be defiled!" said the other fellow. "The beast is drunk
in his den and does not hear us. I will settle with him for this."

I suppose he stumbled and fell, for there was another series of
execrations at the Fakeer, the load, and the stones; but in a few
moments more they both reached the platform and threw down their
bundles, which clanked as they fell. "Where is this drunken rascal!"
said one, a tall fellow as big as the one we had killed. "No light for
us, and I warrant the brute has either smoked himself dead drunk or is
away at the Bhung-khana just when he is wanted."

The other sat down, apparently fairly tired and out of breath. "Go
inside," said he; "you will find the lamp and cruse of oil behind the
wall. I will not stir an inch."

The first speaker entered, cursing and abusing the Fakeer. Surfuraz
Khan and I rushed on him and despatched him; but the other, hearing
the scuffle, cried out and attempted to escape. He was not fated to do
so, however; his foot slipped, or he stumbled over one of the bundles
he had brought, and fell, and before he could rise had received his
death-wound by a cut in the neck from one of the men behind the rock,
who darted out upon him. "Enough of this work," said I; "we had better
be off; first, however, let us pay one more visit to the hole and get
what we can, and do one of you see what is in the bundles."

We again entered the hole, and each taking a bundle we got out. Those
the fellows had brought only contained cooking-pots and a few cloths,
so we left them behind, and made the best of our way to the serai
laden with our booty. I have forgotten to tell you, Sahib, how many
more proofs we discovered in that cave of the bloody trade of these
villains. Many of the bundles were of wearing apparel, and most of them
covered with blood; one that I opened was quite saturated, and as the
still wet gore stuck to my fingers, I dropped it with mingled disgust
and horror.



CHAPTER XVIII.


When we returned we had a good laugh over our success. The adventure
was novel to us all, and we pictured to ourselves the mortification
and chagrin of the robbers, when they should arrive, at finding their
stronghold plundered of all its valuables, and their friends lying dead
at the threshold, instead of being ready to receive them and recount
their adventures of the evening. As a better place of security, I took
the jewels and silver vessels I had found to our house, and locked them
up in the strong-room, to be disposed of afterwards as best they might
be. My father, I need not say, was overpowered with joy, and every new
feat that I performed seemed to render me more dear to him. He caressed
me as though I had still been a child.

"Wait till these actions are known in Hindostan, my son," said he, with
enthusiasm; "I am much mistaken indeed if they do not raise you to a
rank which has been attained by few, that of Subadar."

I did not reply to him, but I made an inward determination to venture
everything to attain it. I was aware that nothing but a very successful
expedition, coupled with large booty and a deed of some notoriety and
daring, could raise me to the rank my father had mentioned; but that it
could be attained I had no doubt, since others had reached it before
me;--and why should not I, whose whole soul was bent upon winning fame
through deeds which men should tremble to hear. Two days after our
adventure at the robbers' cave, the whole of the Karwan and adjacent
neighbourhood were thrown into great excitement from the discovery
of the dead bodies by their smell and the number of vultures they
attracted. Various were the conjectures as to the perpetrators of the
violent deed, and many attributed it to the treachery of some of the
band of robbers; however, all agreed that a great benefit had been done
by unknown agents. Much of the stolen property was recovered; among it
was some of great value which had been stolen from a sahoukar a short
time before, and which in our hurry and confusion had escaped us; but,
as it was, we had got a considerable booty. All the gold and silver was
secretly melted into lumps by one of our men who understood how to do
it, and it was valued by weight at upwards of seven thousand rupees.

On a general division of the proceeds of the booty being proposed,
which amounted in a gross sum, by the sale of the camels, horses,
bullocks, carts, and various valuables, to about fifty thousand
rupees, all the Thugs agreed that it had better be reserved until the
return of the expedition to our village; and meanwhile twenty rupees
were disbursed to each inferior, and fifty to each jemadar, for
their present wants. My father now talked of leaving the city; but I
entreated a further stay of ten days, as, in concert with Bhudrinath
and Surfuraz Khan, I had laid out a plan for dividing our gang into
four portions, one to take post on each side of the city, and to
exercise our vocation separately, the proceeds to be deposited as
collected in one place, and to be divided when we could no longer carry
on our work.

The plan was favourably received by him, and that day it was put into
execution. We paid the trifling rent of our house, and on the pretence
that we were about to leave the city and return to Hindostan, quitted
the Karwan and took up our quarters on the other side, in a suburb
which bordered upon the Meer Joomla tank. Bhudrinath and his party
went into the Chuddar Ghat bazar, near the magnificent mansion of the
Resident, as, being a grand thoroughfare, it was frequented by numerous
travellers, and from thence branched off many roads, both to the north
and east. Surfuraz Khan with eight men continued at the Karwan, as he
was less known than we were. Another larger party took post on the
western road from the city towards Shumshabad, under Peer Khan and
Motee-ram, who were resolved by their exertions to merit the trust
which had been confided to them.

Our plan succeeded wonderfully; not a day passed in which the
destruction of several parties was not reported, and though the booty
gained was inconsiderable, yet it was probably as much as we could
expect, and it was all collected and deposited in our new abode, from
whence my father disposed of such as met a ready sale. I pass over my
own share in these little affairs. I had thought, when I selected the
quarter I did, that there would have been more work than turned out to
be the case; I was disappointed in the small share which fell to my
lot, in despite of my utmost exertions to the contrary, and entreated
Bhudrinath or Surfuraz Khan to exchange places with me; they however
would not; they had laid their own plans, and as I had myself selected
my station I had no right to any other, nor ought I to have been
dissatisfied. It was very early in the morning of the eighth day after
we had commenced operations, that Bhudrinath came to me in great alarm.

"We must fly," said he; "the city is no longer safe for us."

"How?" I asked in astonishment; "what has happened? Has aught been
discovered, or have any of the band proved faithless and denounced us?"

"I will tell you," replied Bhudrinath; "it is a sad affair--some of our
best men are taken and in confinement. You know Surfuraz Khan to be
daring, far beyond the bounds of discretion, and that for this reason
few hitherto have liked to trust themselves to his guidance; and but
for this fault he would ere now have been one of our leading jemadars,
for he is a Thug by descent of many generations, and his family has
always been powerful."

"But the matter," cried I, impatiently; "what in the name of Shitan
have we to do with his ancestors? By Alla! you are as bad as a----"

"Nay, I was not going to make a story about it," said Bhudrinath,
mildly, for nothing could provoke him, "so do not lose your temper;
but listen. Surfuraz Khan then yesterday evening had got hold of
two sahoukars, who were on the eve of departure for Aurungabad; he
persuaded them to put up in the serai with him, and they were to start
the next morning. They were supposed to be rich, as their effects in
two panniers were brought into the serai, and carefully watched by
them. By some unlucky chance, just as the evening set in, they were
visited by two or three other merchants whom they seemed to know, and
who persuaded them to wait for another week, and to join them in their
journey up the country. To the extreme mortification of Surfuraz Khan
they agreed to the proposal; but as they said there would be danger in
removing their bags from the serai at night, they told their friends
they would sleep there, and join them in the morning. Surfuraz Khan,
I hear, made every exertion by persuasion to induce them to alter
their determination, but in vain. So you know there remained but one
alternative, which was to put them to death in the serai, and to
dispose of the bodies as well as they could; besides, the circumstance
of the men being afraid to risk their bags by removal at night, looked
as though they were of value. I must own, Meer Sahib, it was tempting;
it would even have been so for you or me,--how much more for the Khan!
Had he even waited till towards morning, done the business, and
started, leaving the bodies where they were, he could have got clean
off with the booty, which was large, and he could have come round the
back of the city and joined you or me; any one of us could have taken
his post in the Karwan, and no one would have been at all suspicious.
But no, he did not reflect; the men were killed almost immediately
after their friends left, and their bags plundered: as it is, we have
got some of the spoil in the shape of two strings of pearls, but the
best are gone."

"And how was the matter discovered? you have not said."

"Why," continued Bhudrinath, "one of the sahoukars' friends shortly
after returned with a message; Surfuraz Khan made some excuse that
they had gone out, but would soon return. The fellow waited for a long
time; but at last growing suspicious he went away, and returned with
the others, who insisted upon a search for their friends. Surfuraz Khan
had contrived to bury the bodies in the yard, but some articles were
found on his person which the others positively swore to, as also the
bags in which they had been; and the upshot of the whole was, that they
were all marched off to the city by a guard which was summoned from
somewhere or other for the purpose, except one of them, by name Himmat
Khan, one of Surfuraz's own people, who happened to be absent."

"It is a sad business truly," said I, "and I do not exactly see what is
to be done to extricate them."

"Nor I," replied Bhudrinath; "but this evil comes of not taking the
omens, nor attending properly to them when they are taken."

"Nonsense," said I; "you are always prating about these foolish omens,
as if success lay more in them than in stout hearts and cunning plans.
I believe them not."

"You will rue it then one day or other," said Bhudrinath; "depend upon
it you will rue it; I tell you I could mention a hundred instances of
the disastrous effects of disregard of omens, and what I say will be
readily confirmed by your father."

"Pooh," said I, "he is as superstitious and absurd as yourself; why do
you not make your lamentations on my want of faith to him, instead of
troubling me with them?"

"I would," he replied, "but that he seems to have given over the charge
of the whole expedition to you, and to have forgotten his station as
the leader and conductor. Did any one ever hear of a whole band being
separated, and each pursuing a separate course, without the omens being
taken, or a solemn sacrifice offered to Bhowanee?"

"I thought that you had performed all the rites you seem to think so
necessary," said I, sneeringly; "and if you have not, to whom else
have we to look but to you, who are the Nishan-burdar? By Alla and his
Prophet! Bhudrinath, methinks you have deceived us all; and," said I,
my anger rising, "I bid you beware how you speak of my father as you
have done; remember that I am able and willing to avenge any word which
may be spoken against him, and I will do it."

"Young man," said Bhudrinath, gravely, "you well know me to be one who
never enters into idle brawls or quarrels, and these angry words of
yours are wasted; keep them, I pray you, for those who will gratify
you by taking offence at them--to me they are trifles. Your placing
no dependence upon the omens which have been considered by Thugs
both of your faith and mine to be essential to our success, is only
attributable to your inexperience; the necessary offerings have been
neglected by us, and behold the punishment. Though at present it has
fallen lightly upon us, there is no saying how soon the whole of us may
be in danger; suppose any of those taken are put to the torture and
denounce us, how could we escape?"

"Then what do you counsel?" said I.

"I would first propose an offering to Bhowanee, and then such measures
for the deliverance of those who have been seized as may be hereafter
determined on by us all."

"Perform the ceremonies by all means," said I; "you and my father know
how to do so; my ignorance might mar your object, so I will keep away
from you till they are over."

"You are right, it might--and I am glad to hear you at length speak
reasonably; where is your father?"

"You will find him asleep within," said I, "and you had better go to
him."

Sahib, the sacrifices were made, the omens watched, and declared to be
favourable. What they were I know not; I cared so little about these
ceremonies then, that I did not go near them, or even ask what had
been done. It was only in after days that their value and importance
were impressed upon me by a series of misfortunes, which were no doubt
sent to check my presumption; since then my faith in them has been
steadfast, as you shall hereafter learn. My father and Bhudrinath
returned to me with joyful countenances. "Bhowanee is propitious," said
they, "in spite of this little display of her anger: the truth is, we
had in some manner neglected her, but she is now satisfied."

"Since that is the case," said I, "we had better be stirring and doing
something for the poor fellows; but what to do I know not. When did you
say they were seized, Bhudrinath?"

"About the middle of the night."

"Then they are now in confinement somewhere or other, and it will be
impossible to effect their release by day; a bribe I dare not offer,
for they say Hussein Ali Khan, the Kotwal, is an upright man. When is
it likely they will be brought before him?"

"I know not," said Bhudrinath, "but it can easily be ascertained,"--and
he went into the street, and soon returned; "I asked an old Bunnea the
question, or rather at what time the Kotwal held his durbar, and he
told me in the first and second watches of the night."

"Then," said I, "they must be rescued by force, and I will do it."

"Impossible!" cried both at once.

"But I tell you I will do it," said I; "where is Himmat Khan? with him
and six of our best men I will do it, if they will stand by me. Do any
of them know the Kotwal's house?"

They were summoned, but none knew it. "Then," said I, "I will go even
now and find it out, and will return when my plan is perfected."

"And I will go and bring some of my men," said Bhudrinath; "I will be
back by noon."

"See that they bring their swords and shields, Bhudrinath; some of them
may volunteer to accompany me."

"I will do so for one, Meer Sahib; I have confidence in you in spite of
your want of faith,"--and he laughed.

"I understand you," said I; "you forgive me?"

"Certainly; did I ever quarrel with you?"

"No, indeed, though you had cause; I was foolish."

"Why, what is all this?" said my father; "you have not surely been
offended with each other?"

"It is nothing," I replied, "for you see the end of it: but I am losing
time, I must depart."

I went into the city, and easily got a person to show me the Kotwal's
habitation. It was in a long, narrow street, which did not appear
much of a thoroughfare. This exactly suited my purpose, for we could
have done little in a crowded place. It seemed very practicable to
surprise the men who should escort our friends, and I had no doubt, if
suddenly attacked, they would scamper off, and leave their prisoners to
their fate. I returned, and laid the result of my inquiries before my
father. He was not averse to the undertaking, but was in much alarm at
the prominent part I should have to play, and the chance of our being
defeated.

"But," said he, "my son, these thoughts are the cowardly ones which
affection often suggests, and Alla forbid they should have any effect
with you; go, in the name of the Prophet, to whose protection I commend
you."

Towards evening, therefore, myself, Bhudrinath, and six others,
two of whom were Rajpoots, who swore to die rather than come back
unsuccessful, went into the city. We separated, but kept in view
of each other, and they all followed me to the street in which the
Kotwal resided. There we lounged about for some hours, and I grew
very impatient. Would they ever come? had they even before this been
tried, condemned, and cast into prison? were questions I asked myself a
thousand times. That the durbar was being held I knew by the number of
persons who went in and came out of the house, but still there was no
sign of our brethren.

I was sitting listlessly in the shop of a Tumbolee, almost the only
one in the street, when Himmat Khan came up to me. I saw by his face
that he had news, and descended from the chubootra, upon which the man
exposed his goods, and turned round a dark corner. "They come," said
he, panting for breath from anxiety; "I have been watching one end of
the street, and Khoseal Sing the other: they are coming by my end, and
will be now about half-way up."

"And by whom are they guarded?" I asked.

"Oh," said he, "a parcel of Line-wallas--about twenty soldiers with old
muskets; we could cut through a hundred of them."

"Have they their bayonets fixed?" I inquired.

"They have; but what of that? they are cowardly rascals, and, you will
see, will run away."

"Then," said I, "run and tell Bhudrinath, who is yonder; tell him to
walk down that side, I will go down this; when we are near them I will
give the jhirnee."

My four men had now joined me, as I told them to do if they saw me
speak to any one; Bhudrinath was joined by his, and by Khoseal Sing,
who had given up his watch at the other end, and arrived at the
critical moment. Our parties proceeded down the street exactly opposite
to each other. I thought not of danger, though it was the first time I
had ever drawn a sword in anger against a fellow-creature, and I was
about to precipitate myself into what might be a sudden and desperate
combat. Our shields apparently hung loosely and easily on our arms, but
they were tightly grasped, and our swords were free in their scabbards.
I saw the party approach--they marched carelessly; and had not the arms
of my companions been tightly bound, and the whole tied together by a
rope, which the leader of the party held in his hand, they might have
easily escaped.

Our men joined together in the middle of the street, and when we were
close to the coming party, I cried, in a loud tone, "Bahee Pan lao!" It
was the signal--our swords flashed from their scabbards, and we threw
ourselves on the sepoys. I cut right and left, and two men fell; the
others were as successful: I rushed to the prisoners, and a few strokes
of my sword, and of those who were nearest, cut their bonds, and they
were free. As Himmat Khan had said, the whole of the sepoys fled on the
instant of the attack.

"Fly to the gates, my brothers, or they will be shut!" I cried; "fly
through these narrow, dark streets; no one will know who you are, nor
trouble themselves about you."

We all dispersed in an instant. I cast a hurried look around me as I
returned my bloody sword into its scabbard, and saw five poor wretches
lying on the ground and groaning. It was enough: I, too, fled down the
nearest street which offered, reached the gate I had entered by, and
when I got on the embankment of the Meer Joomla tank, I plunged among
the gardens and inclosures which are below it, and by the various lanes
which led through them soon reached my father's house. The attack on
the escort of the prisoners, Sahib, was so sudden, and over so quickly,
that I can give you but a faint idea how soon it was made and finished:
it occupied less time than I have taken to tell it; and I have often
wondered since, that the noise and confusion, not only caused by us,
but by a few passengers who witnessed the fray, did not alarm the whole
street, and cause the inhabitants to rise on us.

By morning all our companions were present at the different places of
rendezvous; but thinking we were no longer safe about the city, my
father sent them all out of the way to the camp at Hassain Sagor, where
he bid them wait, for we knew that it would never be searched for us.
Nothing now remained to detain us, but to dispose of the plunder we had
gained during the last ten days, and there was none of much value; a
few strings of pearls, several shawls, and some unset precious stones,
were the best, and they were soon sold: the gold and silver, as before,
had been melted down.



CHAPTER XIX.


I had now only two matters on my hands; one to discover Zora, if I
could, the other to endeavour to get the bills of exchange I had
brought with me cashed. Of the first I had but little hope; for since
the day I went to her house, although I had constantly men on the
watch about it, I could discover nothing of her or of the old nurse;
the latter I had bribed handsomely, and I knew if it was possible to
convey to me any information of her I loved, she would do so. I had
several times passed the house myself, in the hope of seeing Zora by
some accident or other, but it was in vain; and at the time I now speak
of, I had almost given her up in despair. Had it not been, Sahib, for
the wild interest of my trade, I should have sunk into apathy and
wretchedness--so fondly, so deeply did I love her. It was this which
rescued me from myself, for I could not be behind the rest in seeking
adventures; and once that I had a band entirely under my own direction,
I was incessantly occupied in finding employment for it, and taking my
own part in the catastrophes which ensued.

The day after the rescue of our brethren we held a consultation, at
which the principal members of the band were present. I need not
relate particulars; suffice it to say, that all agreed in thinking
we had remained long enough consistently with our safety, and it was
resolved to depart in the course of the next day, or at most the day
after. One by one the parties, as they were then divided, were to take
the nearest road towards Beeder, which led through Puttuncherroo; and
the last-mentioned place was to be the rendezvous whence we should
proceed in company. Little time, therefore, remained to me; and as
soon as I possibly could, I took Bhudrinath and Motee-ram with me, and
we went into the city. We sat down on the steps of the Char Minar.
Wonderful, indeed, were the stories we heard of our skirmish with the
Kotwal's soldiers; the accounts of the killed and wounded on each side
were ludicrously inconsistent, and you may imagine how we enjoyed
the various relations we heard, all either from persons who declared
that they had been eyewitnesses of the matter, or who had heard it
from undoubted authority. But it was not our errand to waste time by
listening to idle tales, not one of which contained a word of truth,
but to get the money for the bills we had found among the effects of
Syud Mahomed Ali, alias Kumal Khan, and we had repaired to the Char
Minar as the most likely place to meet with a person who could read
them, and without suspicion tell us upon whom they were drawn.

Observing as we sat a miserable half-starved-looking wretch, with a
pen stuck between his turban and his ear, an ink-bottle hanging by his
side, and a roll of paper under his arm, I fixed upon him as a likely
person to suit our purpose. I beckoned to him, and he ran eagerly
towards us. "Canst thou read Goozerattee?" I asked.

"Noble sir, I can not only read but write it, for it is my native
tongue; what are my lord's commands?"

"Simply," said I, "to read a hoondee--no great matter;" and I handed
him one of the bills.

"It is an order, Sahib, drawn in favour of Kumal Khan (my lord's name I
presume), by Bearee Mul of Nandair, upon Gopal Chund Bisn Chund of the
Begum Bazar, for four hundred rupees, at nine days' sight."

"Is it correctly drawn?" I asked.

The fellow looked at the bill, and turned it round and round, examining
every part of it. "Does your worship suspect it?"

"Alla forbid!" said I; "for if it is wrong, I and these worthy
associates of mine are ruined, for we have more like it, and for larger
sums."

"I see nothing wrong in the bill," said the man; "but let me see the
others." I showed them.

"They are all correct," said he; "you have only to take them for
acceptance, and you are sure of your money."

"Is the firm upon whom they are drawn well known?"

"They have a great deal of country business in hoondees," said the man,
"and are on that account perhaps less known than many of our leading
bankers, but nevertheless the firm is most respectable."

"Where did you say they live?"

"In the Begum Bazar. If your worships wish it I will accompany you
thither."

"Good," said I, "do so; we are strangers, and might not readily find
the house. You shall be rewarded for your trouble."

We went out of the city by a small gate at the end of a street
which led down from the Char Minar,--I think it is called the Delhi
gate,--and turning to the left, after crossing the river, we were soon
in the midst of the populous and wealthy suburb in which the bankers
we sought resided. The road through the principal street was almost
entirely blocked up by bags of grain, bales of merchandize, tethered
bullocks belonging to the grain-carriers, and empty carts; and it was
as much as we could do to keep together, both from these causes and
the crowd of people. The noise too of the crowd, of the buying and
selling in the bazar, the curses and execrations of bullock-drivers and
unloaders, the cries of men measuring grain, and a thousand others,
made a din and confusion which I had never heard equalled. However, by
dint of pushing and elbowing our way, we reached a respectable-looking
house, and were introduced to one of the partners by the man we had
taken with us.

I put a bold face on the matter and presented one of the hoondees. The
Sahoukar was an old man, and taking a pair of spectacles from a fold in
his turban, he placed them on the end of his nose and carefully read
the hoondee; he afterwards turned it round and round, and examined it
most carefully, looking from time to time most suspiciously at me over
his glasses. I own this would have been unpleasant had I been alone,
but with the two companions I had brought with me I cared not; had it
come to the worst, our weapons were ready, and we would have used them
for our liberty.

"I wish to speak a few words with you, if you will follow me into the
next room," said the Sahoukar, pointing to one which led from that in
which we sat. He rose, and I followed him.

"How came you to be possessed of this?" said he, anxiously; "and who
are you?"

"It matters not who I am," I replied; "and it must suffice for you to
know that I am to receive the money for that hoondee, and for these
also;" and I showed him the others.

"Most extraordinary!" he exclaimed after he had examined them. "I
cannot understand it. It is most strange that they should be presented
by another. Young man, by what authority are you here to receive this
money?"

"By his for whom they were drawn," I replied.

"His name, and the Sahoukar's who drew them?"

"Kumal Khan,--and the Sahoukar's Bearee Mul."

"That will not do," said the Sahoukar; "you have blundered in your
errand, young man; the drawer's name any one could have told you."

"Perhaps this may enlighten you further upon the subject," said I, and
I took from my waistband the seal of the Syud.

He examined it, and going to a box in the room he took from it a bundle
of papers. He turned them over rapidly. "Ay, here they are," said he,
reading, "'Accounts of Syud Mahomed Ali;' and now, young man, if there
is deceit in that seal it can be easily proved, for behold the seal of
the worthy Syud himself;" and he showed me an impression on one of the
papers.

I confess I had been in much suspense, for had I by any unlucky chance
got hold of the wrong seal my detection would have certainly followed;
but still I had taken the ring from the man's own finger, and it was
not likely that he had any other. The instant I saw the impression,
however, I was satisfied that it was the right one.

"Now for the proof," said the Sahoukar, rubbing the seal over with ink
and wetting a piece of paper with his tongue. "If you have attempted
deceit, young man, your detection is certain. Shall I stamp it?"

"Certainly," said I; "I am innocent of any attempt to deceive you. The
worthy Syud gave me the seal in order that you might be satisfied."

He pressed the seal to the paper and withdrew it; the impression
was perfect, and exactly corresponded with that on the paper of
accounts. "This is correct," he said, at length; "though I cannot read
Persian, the letters appear the same, and the size is exact. I cannot,
therefore, doubt longer; but still it is most strange."

"I can only say," said I, "that I am the Syud's confidential agent,
whom he has sent to you for the money; if you will not pay it, say so,
that I may write to him."

"By no means," said the Sahoukar; "the money is here. But why did not
the Syud come himself? the bills are made payable to him alone."

"True," said I, "they are; but if you are in his confidence, as you
seem to be, you will know that there are good reasons for his absence
from the city at present, and as he wanted the money he has sent me for
it."

"And where is he?"

"That I cannot tell you," said I; "it can be divulged to no one;
suffice it for you to know that when the proper time comes he will
emerge from his place of concealment." And I told the truth, Sahib, for
will he not rise at the day of judgment? And Ameer Ali laughed heartily
at his own conceit.

"Well," said the Sahoukar, "no doubt remains as to your right to the
money. When do you want it? the bills are at nine days' sight."

"Now; I have no time to lose, I must depart in the morning. You can
deduct the interest for nine days. But stay," I continued, "the Syud
told me that if he owed you anything you were to deduct it, and if any
balance of his remained in your hands you were to pay it to me."

"Good," replied the Sahoukar; "I will see;" and he turned to his books.
"Ah, here is the account. Last balance struck the fifteenth of Suffer,
nearly a year ago,--in his favour three hundred and twelve rupees, four
annas."

"So much the better," said I; "now pay me the moneys and write a
receipt; I will sign it with the seal, which I must take back with me."

The Sahoukar called to a man inside. "Here," said he, "register these
hoondees and get the money for them, and make out a receipt. Your
name?" said he to me.

"Ameer Ali, an unworthy Syud." The money was duly counted out, a
trifling deduction made for interest, and the whole paid to me. I put
my own seal as well as that of the Syud to the receipt, and after
seeing the balance in the Sahoukar's books duly cancelled there was no
longer cause to delay.

"How will you carry all that money?" said the Sahoukar; "this is not
a safe place for people to be seen out at so late an hour" (for the
evening was now closing fast) "with such a sum in their possession."

"Content yourself," said I; "we are three stout fellows, and well able
to defend our charge."

"You had better take two of my men, at any rate, to carry the money."

"I will carry some, if I am permitted," said the man we had brought
with us. "Bughwan knows I have eaten nothing to-day and knew not where
to get a meal till these kind gentlemen met me; and I may perhaps earn
a trifling sum above what they have promised me."

"Good," said I; "how much can you carry?"

"Two thousand rupees," he replied, "if my lord will try me."

"Very well, then take up that bag." The rest we divided between
ourselves, and departed. We did not return as we had gone, but avoiding
the city, passed by the house of the English Resident, crossed the
river below it, and on the other side struck into some close lanes,
which led to the suburb we lived in. As we went along, I said to
Bhudrinath in Ramasee, which I had now learned, "That fellow must not
live; our secret is safe with the Sahoukar, but not with another. What
do you say?"

"I agree with you," said he. "We can throw the body into a well; and
there is one not far off I think; I bathed there this morning."

"Very well," said I; "when you see the place give the signal. I will
settle all our accounts with him for his trouble and carriage of our
money."

We came to the well, and the signal was given; I was ready and my
victim also, but he struggled hard, as the bag of rupees was on his
shoulders, and my roomal had not fair play. He died, however, and we
threw him into the well, with a large stone tied in his clothes to sink
him. Strange, Sahib, that after protesting his poverty as he had done,
we should have found forty-three rupees in his girdle!

You may judge of my father's joy at my success; and to prove his sense
of the value of my address and ready wit, he presented me with five
hundred rupees out of the sum I had brought. With this at my disposal I
determined to make a last attempt for Zora, for I thought that with it
I might bribe the old woman who called herself her mother; and late as
it was, I pleaded some excuse and set off for the city. I soon reached
the now well-known street, and finding the door open I entered, and was
ushered into the presence of the old woman and Zora's sister Zenat.
They rose on seeing me, and welcomed me kindly. "You have not been with
us, Meer Sahib, since the Mohorum," said the old woman as she cracked
all her fingers against her temples. "You knew that you would always be
our most favoured guest, and yet we have not seen you. Why has there
been this estrangement from us?"

I did not like to accuse the old woman of turning me from the door, as
I have related before, so I said I had been absent from the city, and
having only just returned had come to pay my respects to her. "And now,
mother," said I, "where is Zora? Why is the rose separated from the
nightingale?"

"Zora!" said the old woman; "why, have you not forgotten that foolish
girl? Is there not Zenatbee, who is dying for you, and has raved about
you ever since she saw you?"

"Toba! Toba!" cried Zenat, covering her face affectedly. "For shame,
mother! how can you speak so? how can you tell such lies?"

"I say the truth, Meer Sahib; I swear the foolish girl's head has been
turned by your beauty;" and she stroked my chin caressingly.

What could I do? I saw at once that if I did not affect love for
Zenat I should never hear aught of Zora; but I could not forget
her so easily, and I hated Zenat for her love. I thought it better
to come to terms at once if I could. "Mother," said I, "I am proud
of your daughter's love, and to one so young as I am such marks of
preference as you say she is inclined to show me are most flattering;
nevertheless, I cannot forget Zora; and tell me, by your soul, am I to
see her or not? Now hear me; I am not a rich man, not one who could
lavish thousands upon her, but what I have is hers for ever, and yours
too, if you will give her to me. Will you part with her?"

"What do you offer?" said the old woman. "Methinks you must be one of
our nobles in disguise to come here with such a proposition."

"I am no noble," said I, "but a poor Syud. I have five hundred rupees,
and they are yours if you make Zora mine for ever; say the word, and
to-morrow I will be present; we will send for a Moola, and the nika
shall be performed."

"Five hundred rupees!" cried the old woman, and she and her daughter
burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. "Five hundred rupees!"
continued she at length, when she could speak; "oh, man, thou art
either mad or drunk!"

"I am neither the one nor the other," I replied, very angrily; "I am as
sober as either of you, nay far more so."

"Then if you are so," said the old wretch, "what, in the name of
Alla, has come to you, that you think we would part with Zora for
five hundred rupees? Five thousand and twice as much would not be
sufficient."

"Then," said I, "you are a pair of the devil's children, and I spit at
you. Not content with spurning me from your house like a dog, you now
deny me the only happiness I looked to on earth. Women, have you no
hearts?"

"Yes," cried the old hag in a fury; "yes, we did spurn you, as I do
now. Begone! and never dare to intrude as you have done this night, or
I will see if I cannot bring a few stout fellows together to beat you
out with sticks like a dog and a son of a dog as you are."

"Peace! woman," cried I; "beware how you revile my father."

"May his mouth be filled with earth and his grave defiled! May your
mother----"

I could bear this no longer. I ran to the door for my shoes, and held
one in my hand threateningly. "Now," said I, "another word of abuse,
and I will beat you on the mouth."

It did not check her. A fresh torrent poured from her lips, and I was
really provoked. I could bear it no longer. I rushed at her, beat her
on the face with my shoe, and spat on her. The daughter hurried to the
stair-head and raised cries of alarm. "Thief, thief! He is murdering
us! Kasim Mahomed Ali, where are ye? We are murdered--we are defamed!
Bring your swords, and kill him!"

I had pretty well belaboured the old woman, and thought it high time
to be off; so I rushed to the door, and seizing Zenat threw her to the
other side of the room with all my force. I saw that she had a heavy
fall, and I ran down the stairs: about half way I met a man with a
drawn sword; he stood, and was about to make a cut at me, but I seized
his arm and hurled him down the steps, and as he rolled to the bottom
I leaped over him and was outside the house in a moment. Well, thought
I, as I went along, I have not got Zora, but I have slippered the old
shitan her mother, which is some satisfaction, and Bhudrinath will
laugh rarely when he hears of my exploit.



CHAPTER XX.


"For the love of Alla! young man," cried a low and sweet voice as I
passed under the gateway of a respectable-looking house; "for the love
of Alla, enter, and save my mistress!"

Fresh adventures, thought I, as I looked at the speaker, a young girl,
dressed like a slave. "Who are you?"

"It matters not," said the speaker; "did you not pass this way
yesterday afternoon, in company with two others?"

"I did, and what of that?"

"Everything; my mistress, who is more beautiful than the moon at its
full, saw you and has gone mad about you."

"I am sorry," said I, "but I do not see how I can help her."

"But you must," said the girl; "you must, or she will die; follow me,
and I will lead you to her."

I hesitated, for I had heard strange stories of lures spread for unwary
persons--how they were enticed into houses for the gratification of
wicked women, and then murdered. But the thought was only momentary.
"Courage! Ameer Ali," said I to myself; "trust to your good Nusseeb,
and follow it up. Inshalla! there will be some fun."

"Look you," said I to the girl, "you see I am well armed; I will follow
you, but if violence is shown, those who oppose me will feel the edge
of a sharp sword."

"I swear by your head," said the girl, "there is no danger. My lord is
gone into the country, and has taken all the men with him; there is no
one in the house beside myself but two slaves and three old women."

"Then lead on," said I; "I follow you."

She entered the gateway and conducted me through a court into an open
room, where sat a girl, richly dressed and of great beauty; but she
covered herself immediately with her dooputta, and cried when she saw
me, "Ya Alla! it is he; am I so fortunate?"

"Yes, lady," said I, "your slave is at your feet, and prays you to
remove that veil which hides a hoori of paradise from the gaze of a
true believer."

"Go," said she faintly; "now that you are here I dare not look on you;
go, in the name of Alla! what will you not have thought of me?"

"That your slave is the most favoured of his race," said I; "I beseech
you to look on me, and then bid me depart if you will."

"I cannot," said the fair girl, "I cannot, I dare not; ah, nurse, what
have you made me do?"

The old woman made me a sign to take the veil from her face, and I did
so gently: she faintly opposed me, but it was in vain; in an instant I
had removed it, and a pair of the loveliest eyes I had ever seen fixed
their trembling gaze upon me--another, and I had clasped her to my
heart.

"That is right," said the old woman; "I like to see some spirit in a
lover; Mashalla! he is a noble youth;" and she came and cracked her
fingers over my head.

"Now I will leave you," said she; "you have a great deal to say to each
other, and the night is wearing fast."

"No, no, no!" cried the girl; "do not leave us; stay, good nurse, I
dare not trust myself with him alone."

"Nonsense," cried the old woman, "this is foolishness; do not mind her,
noble sir;" and she left the room.

"Lady," said I, "fear not, your slave may be trusted;" and I removed
from her, and sat down at the edge of the carpet.

"I know not what you will think of me, Sahib," she said, "and I am at
a loss how to confess that I was enamoured of you as I saw you pass my
house yesterday; but so it was; my liver turned to water as I looked on
your beauty, and I pined for you till my attendants thought I should
have died. They said they would watch for you, and Alla has heard my
prayer and sent you."

"He has sent a devoted slave," said I; "one whose soul burns with love,
such as that of the bulbul to the rose: speak, and I will do your
bidding."

"Hear my history, and you will know then how I am to be pitied," said
the fair girl; "and it is told in a few words. I was the daughter of
humble parents, but I was, as you see me--they say I am beautiful; they
married me to my husband,--so they said,--but they sold me. Sahib, he
is old, he is a tyrant, he has beaten me with his shoe, and I have
sworn on his Koran that I will no longer remain under his roof. Yes, I
have sworn it: I would have fled yesterday, but I saw you, and I prayed
Alla to send you, and he has done so. Now think of me what you please,
but save me!" And she arose, and throwing herself at my feet clasped my
knees. "You will not refuse me protection? if you do, and your heart
is hard towards me, one thing alone remains--I have prepared a bitter
draught, and to-morrow's sun will look upon my dead body."

"Alla forbid! lady," said I. "He who has sent me to you has sent you a
willing and a fearless slave: fly with me this instant, and I will lead
you to a father who will welcome you, and a land far away where our
flight will never be discovered."

"Now--so soon?" she exclaimed.

"Ay, lady, now; leave your house this moment; I will protect you with
my life."

"I dare not, Sahib, I dare not; ah, what would become of us if we were
discovered? you would escape, but I--you know a woman's fate if she is
detected in intrigue."

"Then what can be done?" said I. "Alas! I am a stranger in the city,
and know not what to advise."

"I will call my nurse; let us leave all to her.--Kulloo!"

The old woman entered. "What are your commands?" said she.

"Listen," said I; "I love your fair charge with an intensity of
passion; this is no place for us to give ourselves up to love, for
there is danger, and we must fly: I am a stranger in the city, and am
on the eve of departure for my home, which is in Hindostan, and whither
I will convey her safely; she is willing to accompany me, and your aid
and advice are all that is required."

"To fly! to leave home and every one for Hindostan, and with one
unknown! Azimabee, this is madness; how know you who he is, and where
he will take you? I will not assist you. I was willing that you should
have a lover, and helped you to get one; but this is mere madness--we
shall be ruined."

"Mother," said I, "I am no deceiver; I swear by your head and eyes I
can be faithful; do but help two poor creatures whose affections are
fixed upon each other, and we will invoke the blessings of the prophet
on your head to the latest day of our lives. I leave here to-morrow;
my father is a merchant and accompanies me; he has ample wealth for us
both, and I am his only child: we shall soon be beyond any chance of
pursuit, and in our happiness will for ever bless you as the author of
it. Ah, nurse, cannot you contrive something? is there no spot on the
road past Golconda which you could fix on for our meeting? I can reward
you richly, and now promise you one hundred rupees, if you will do my
bidding."

Azima gathered courage at my words, and fell at the feet of the old
woman. "Kulloo!" she cried, "have you not known me as a child? have I
not loved you from infancy? Alas! I have neither mother nor father now;
and has _he_ not beaten me with a shoe? have I not sworn to quit this
house? and did you not swear on my head you would aid me?"

"What can I do? what can I do?" cried the nurse; "alas, I am helpless;
what can an old woman like me do?"

"Anything, everything," I exclaimed; "woman's wit never yet failed at a
pinch."

"Did you not say you had made a vow to visit the Durgah of Hoosain Shah
Wullee?" cried Azima; "and did not you say you would take me to present
a nuzzur at the shrine of the holy saint, if I recovered from my last
illness?"

"Thou hast hit it, my rose," said the nurse; "I had forgotten my vow.
Sahib, can you meet us at the Durgah to-morrow at noon?"

"Assuredly," said I, "I will be present. Good nurse, do not fail
us, and another fifty shall be added to the hundred I have already
promised."

"May your condescension and generosity increase!" cried she. "Sahib,
I have loved this fair girl from her infancy, and though it will go
sorely against my heart, I will give her into your hands rather than
she should be further exposed to the indignities she has already
undergone."

"Thanks, thanks, good nurse, I believe you; but swear on her head that
you will not break your faith."

"I swear," said the old woman, placing her hands on Azima's head, "I
swear she shall be thine."

"Enough," I cried, "I am content; now, one embrace and I leave you. I
shall be missed by my father, and he will fear I am murdered in this
wild city."

We took a long, passionate embrace, and I tore myself from her.
"To-morrow," I cried, "and at the Durgah we will meet, never again to
part. So cheer thee, my beloved, and rouse all your energies for what
is before you. To-morrow will be an eventful day to us both, and I pray
the good Alla a prosperous one."

"It will, it will," cried the nurse; "fear not for anything. Nurgiz is
faithful, and shall accompany us; the rest are long ago asleep, and
know not you are here. But now begone; further delay is dangerous, and
Nurgiz will lead you to the street."

She called, and the same slave who had ushered me in led the way to the
door. "By your soul, noble sir, by your father and mother, do not be
unfaithful, or it will kill her."

"I need not swear, pretty maiden," said I; "your mistress's beauty has
melted my heart, and I am hers for ever."

"Then may Alla protect you, stranger! That is your road, if you go by
the one you came yesterday."

I turned down the street and was soon at home. My father was asleep,
and I lay down; but, Alla! Alla! how my heart beat and my head
throbbed! A thousand times I wished I had carried off the beautiful
Azima; a thousand times I cursed my own folly for having left her,
when by a word from me she would have forsaken home and every tie and
followed me; but it was too late. In the midst of conflicting thoughts
and vain regrets I fell asleep; but I had disturbed dreams. I thought
her dishonoured lord had surprised us as we tasted draughts of love,
and a sword glittered over his head, with which he was about to revenge
his disgrace. Again I fancied one of the Moolas of the Durgah to be
him; and just as she was about to depart with us, and was stepping into
a cart, he rushed to her and seized her, and I vainly endeavoured to
drag her from him. I woke in the excitement of the dream, and my father
stood over me.

"What, in the name of the Prophet, is the matter with you, Ameer Ali,
my son?" cried the old man. "It is the hour of prayer, I came to
awake you, and I find you tossing wildly in your sleep and calling on
some one, though I could not distinguish the name; it sounded like a
woman's--Azima, I think. What have you been about? Had you any bunij
last night?"

Bunij was the cant phrase for our victims, and I shuddered at the ideas
it called up. "No, no," I said, "nothing. Let me go and perform my
ablutions; I will join you in the Namaz. It will compose my thoughts,
and I will tell you."

Our prayers finished, I related my adventures of the past night. He
laughed heartily at my relation of the scene with Zora's mother, and
declared I had served her rightly; but when I came to that with Azima,
his countenance was changed and troubled; however, he heard me to the
end without interruption, and I augured favourably from it. I concluded
all by throwing myself at his feet and imploring his sanction to our
union.

"You have gone too far to retract, Ameer Ali," said he. "If you do
not fulfil your promise to Azima she will drink the poison she has
prepared; you will be one cause of her death, and it will lie heavy
on your conscience; therefore on this account I give you my sanction.
I am now old, a few years must see my end, and all I have long wished
for is to marry you respectably and to see your children. I endeavoured
to effect a marriage-contract in Hindostan before we left, but I was
unable to do so. There is now no occasion for one; you have made your
choice and must abide by it; Alla has sent you your bride and you must
take her--take her with my blessing; and you say she is beautiful, in
which you are fortunate. Money you will want, as you have promised
some to the nurse; if she is faithful, give her from me an additional
fifty rupees; and you had better take gold with you,--it will be easier
carried."

"Spoken like my beloved and honoured father!" I exclaimed, "and I am
now happy. I ask your blessing, and leave you to carry our plans into
execution. We shall meet again at Puttuncherroo in the evening."

"Inshalla! we shall," he replied. "Be wary and careful. I apprehend no
danger; but you had better take some men with you."

"I will," said I, as I rose to depart; "I will take some of my own,
whom I can trust;" and I left him. My horse was soon ready and my men
prepared; but some conveyance was necessary for Azima, and I ran to a
house a short distance off where dwelt a man who had a cart for hire. I
had been in previous treaty with him, to be ready in case I should get
intelligence of Zora, and had engaged him to go as far as Beeder.

"Come," said I, "Fazil, I am ready and the time is come."

"And the lady?" said the fellow, grinning.

"Ah, she is ready too, only make haste, we have not a moment to lose."

"Give me twenty rupees for my mother, and I will harness the bullocks
and put in the cushions and pillows."

"Here they are," said I; "now be quick--by your soul be quick!"

"I will be back instantly," said he; and he disappeared inside his
house, but returned almost immediately with the cushions and curtains
of his cart.

"There," said he, as he completed his preparations and jumped on the
pole, where was his driving-seat, "you see I have not been long. Now
whither shall I drive? to the city?"

"No," said I; "to Hussain Shah Wullee's Durgah. Do you precede, and we
will follow you, for I know not the road."

"I know it well," said he; "follow me closely."

"Does it lead through the Begum Bazar or the Karwan?" I asked.

"Through both, or either, just as you please."

"And is there no other way?"

"There is, but it is somewhat longer. We must go by the English
residence and turn up towards the Gosha Mahal; the road will lead us
far behind both the Karwan and Begum Bazar."

"That will do," said I; "I wish to avoid both."

"Bismilla! then," cried the driver, "let us proceed;" and twisting the
tails of his bullocks, a few gentle hints from his toes about their
hind-quarters set them off into a trot, which, however, they exchanged
for a more sober pace before we had got far. I allowed him to proceed
to some distance, and then put my small party in motion.



CHAPTER XXI.


We soon passed the suburbs of the city, and held on our way towards
the Durgah. I was not without hope that we might fall in with Azima
on the road; but in this I was disappointed. As we passed over the
brow of an eminence, the tombs of the kings of Golconda broke on our
sight, occupying the whole of a rising ground in front. I had never
before seen them, indeed I knew not of their existence, and they were
the more striking on this account. I was astonished at their size
and magnificence even from that distance; but how much more so when
we approached them nearer! We had plenty of time before us, and I
proposed, if the Durgah should not be much further, to diverge from the
road and examine them. I rode up to the driver of the cart, and asked
him how far we were from the place of our destination.

"You cannot see the Durgah yet," said the man, "but it is just behind
the tombs, on the border of a large tank; you cannot miss it; you
will see its white dome and gilt spire above the tamarind trees which
surround it."

"Very good," said I; "do you go on thither, and if you are asked any
questions, say that you belong to a party which is coming out from the
city. We shall go to the tombs, and will join you shortly."

The driver kept to the road, and we, diverging from it, directed our
way to the mausoleums of the departed kings. As we approached them,
their immense size, and the beautiful groups which they assumed as
our point of view shifted, struck forcibly on the mind, while the
desolation around them added to their solemn appearance.

"What a pity," said Peer Khan, who accompanied me, "that the good
people of the city do not make gardens about these proud buildings! the
spot seems to be utterly neglected, even as a burying-ground."

"They are better as they are," said I; "the dust of the present
miserable generation would hardly mix with that of so noble a one as
that which has left such a monument of its glory. Ay," continued I, as
we entered the first immense tomb, "these were kings and princes who
lie here; men who won their kingdoms at the sword's point, and kept
them,--how different to the present degenerate race, who are indebted
for the bread they eat to the generosity of the Feringhees!"

We ascended by a narrow stair to the top of the tomb, and from the
terrace out of which the huge dome proudly reared itself the view of
the city was superb; but it was not equal to the one I have before
described to you, for we saw none of the white buildings; the Mecca
Mosque and the Char Minar were alone distinguishable over the mass of
trees, if I except the innumerable white minarets which rose out from
the foliage in every direction. From the other side of the terrace
the whole of the large tombs were seen at a glance--each by itself a
noble and striking object; but rendered still more so when grouped with
others of smaller size, whose contrast increased their massiveness. Not
a creature was to be seen; the old fort itself, its gray mouldering
walls covering the face of a huge pile of rocks, seemed tenantless, and
was in unison with the abodes of the illustrious dead who had built
it. The silence and desolation were oppressive, and we scarcely made a
remark to each other, as we traversed one by one the interiors of the
noble edifices--some of them dark and gloomy and filled with bats and
wild pigeons, whose cooing re-echoed within the lofty domes--and others
whose wide arches admitted the light of day, and were more cheerful in
appearance.

"Enough," said I, after we had examined some of the largest; "we do but
loiter here while we may even now be expected. Yonder is the Durgah,
and we had better go to it and be prepared, she cannot now be long
absent."

I saw as we approached the sacred edifice that our cart was ready; but
there was no other, and my mind somewhat misgave me that Azima had been
unable to keep her appointment; and I resolved within myself that,
should she not arrive before noon, I would return to the city and seek
my bride--for such I now considered her. I could not leave so lovely a
creature to the rude treatment she would experience from him to whom
she was united--one who was undeserving to possess a jewel such as she
was; but it was still early, and perhaps some hours must elapse before
she could reach the Durgah, which was further from the city than I had
anticipated.

I entered the holy precincts, and after offering up a gift upon the
shrine of the saint, I put up a fervent prayer that the object we had
come for should end successfully. This done, I sat down under the shade
of the trees, and entered into conversation with one of the many Moolas
who attended on the tomb, and who were constantly employed in reading
the Koran over the grave of the saint. He asked me who I was: I told
him I belonged to the city, and had brought my wife to perform a vow to
the saint, on her recovering from a dangerous illness; "but she is not
yet come," said I; "I rode on with some of my attendants, and she will
follow, and will soon be here."

Hour after hour passed, and yet Azima did not come. Sahib, I was
in a torment of suspense and anxiety: could she have met with any
misfortune? could her lord have returned home unexpectedly? could
she have played me false? Ah, not the last! her grief, her misery,
were too strong to be feigned, and what object could she have had
in dissembling? Noon came, and the music of the Nobut began to
play,--still no signs of her. My patience was fairly exhausted, and I
went to the place where my horse stood, mounted him, and bidding the
men remain where they were, I rode on towards the city. I had scarcely
got beyond the small village by which the Durgah was surrounded, when I
saw three carts with curtains to them carefully closed approaching. My
heart beat quickly with hope, and I determined to return; one of them
surely is hers, thought I, and I will await her coming in the Durgah.

"She comes!" cried I to Peer Khan, as he eagerly asked the cause of my
quick return, "she comes! Bid Fazil have his cart in readiness, and
take it round to the gate which leads towards Puttuncherroo."

I dismounted and stood at the gate. The first cart arrived; it was
filled with dancing-girls, who had a vow to sing at the shrine, one of
them having lost her voice some time before, but had recovered it, as
they supposed, at the intercession of the holy Wullee. They passed me,
and I soon heard their voices singing one of their melodies inside the
tomb.

The second arrived; three old women got out, who were the bearers of
some trays of sweetmeats for the Moolas, the offering of some lady of
rank, who was ill and begged their prayers and intercession with the
saint for her recovery. "Mother," said I to one of them, "saw you aught
of a cart with three females in it, my zenana, in fact, on the road
from the city?"

"Yes," said the woman, "they are close behind us; their vehicle broke
down in a rivulet we had to pass, and is coming very slowly, but it
will be here directly; and the ladies are safe, for I spoke to them and
offered to bring them on, but the damage had been repaired somehow or
other, and they declined my offer."

"Alhumd-ul-illa!" I cried, "they are safe then; I have been waiting
here since morning, and in anxiety enough about them."

"No wonder," said the old lady, "for the khanum seemed to be pale and
weakly-looking; but Mashalla! she is beautiful, and my lord too is in
every way worthy of her."

"She has been ill," said I, carelessly, "and her coming is in
consequence of a vow she made."

"May Alla give her a long life and many children! I feel an involuntary
interest in a pair whom he hath joined together, in every way so fitted
for each other; but I go, noble sir, my companions await my coming."

She also passed on, and in a few moments more the cart I so longed to
see turned the corner of some projecting houses, and advanced slowly
towards the gate. How my heart throbbed! was it her, my life, my soul,
or was I doomed to a third disappointment? It stopped, and I could
have fallen down and worshipped the old nurse, who first emerged from
the closely-curtained vehicle; I ran towards her, but was stopped
by the driver. "It is a zenana, noble sir," he said, "and courtesy
requires you to go out of sight, lest their faces should be seen in
descending."

"Peace, fool! the women are my own."

"That alters the case," said the man; "and my lord's displeasure must
not fall on his slave for this delay; the axletree cracked in passing
a rivulet, which is a circumstance no foresight could have prevented,
seeing that it was newly fitted after the Mohorum."

"It matters not," said I; "but you may now leave us; I will return and
pay you your hire: there is an empty cart yonder which I will engage
for them to return in."

The fellow retired to a short distance, and my breath went and came as
I put my head into the curtains and saw my beloved sitting unveiled,
beautiful beyond description, and her fine features glowing with the
excitement of her success. "Shookur khoda!" she exclaimed, "you are
here, my own best and dearest; you have not been unfaithful to your
poor slave." I caught her in my arms, and imprinted numberless kisses
on her lips.

"Toba! Toba! for shame!" cried the old nurse; "cannot you refrain for a
while? Assist her to dismount, and we will go into the Durgah."

I did so, and closely enveloped in a boorka, and leaning on the old
woman and Nurgiz, Azima followed me into the inclosure. Our first care
was to offer up at the shrine some money and a few sweetmeats which
Azima had brought with her; the old Moola to whom I had before spoken
received them and laid them on the tomb.

"They are accepted," said he, "and whatever prayers you may offer up,
our kind saint will intercede with the holy prophet for you, that they
be granted."

"Thanks, good Moola," said I; "all I desire is, that the pearl of
my eyes may be protected in health, and long spared to me. Truly an
anxious time have we had of it with her; but she is now restored to
health, and may Alla grant it be continued!"

"It will be," he replied; "Alhumd-ul-illa! our blessed saint's prayers
are wonderfully efficacious, and I could relate to my lord many
miracles which have been performed here."

"No doubt," said I; "the fame of Hoosain Shah Wullee is spread far and
wide, and we of the city have reason to be thankful that such blessed
saints were led in days of old to take up their residence near it; for
our present generation is so degraded, that without the aid of his
prayers the displeasure of the Supreme One would fall heavily on us."

"My lord's words have a sweet and holy savour," said the Moola, "and
show that, though his bearing is that of a soldier, his heart is filled
with religion; and blessed is he in whom both are seen united. But I
could tell my lord of many of the saint's miracles, if he has leisure
to hear them; and as he will not return till the afternoon, we can sit
down under the trees, and I will relate them."

"Excuse me, good Moola," said I; "time presses, and I have promised the
Syudanee's mother that I will return before the cold of evening sets
in, and it is now past noon."

"As you will," said he; "yet, perhaps, these few pages, which I have
compiled during my leisure hours, may entertain as well as instruct, if
my lord will accept them: of course he can read Persian?"

"Indifferently well," said I; "we soldiers are rarely good scholars;
nevertheless I will keep the book, and here is a trifle which may prove
acceptable;" and I put an ashruffee into his hand.

The old man's eyes glistened as he saw it, and after a profusion of
compliments he left us to ourselves. "Now there is no time to be lost,"
said old Kulloo; "we must travel far and fast this day. You have
brought a cart with you?"

"I have, it is ready; if there be aught in the one you came in, tell
me, and I will have it put into the other."

"Send a man or two with us," said the nurse; "I and Nurgiz will arrange
the new vehicle, and return instantly."

They too left us, and we were alone. No one remained in the large
inclosure, the women were still singing in the tomb, and all the Moolas
were sitting round them listening. "Can you support the fatigue of
further travel, Azima?" said I.

"I am strong and can bear anything, so I am with thee and thou with
me," she replied. "Dearest, I am now secure; but oh the suspense I have
endured since I last saw you, and until I was fairly out of that vile
city!"

"Tell me," said I, "how did you contrive to elude suspicion?"

"When you left us," replied Azima, "I thought my happiness had fled
for ever; I would have given worlds to have called you back, and to
have fled with you then. I had seen your noble face, I had heard your
vows of love; Alla had sent me a lover such as my warmest fancy had
painted to me, while I was daily suffering torments which the fond and
loving only can feel, when their affection is returned by severe and
bitter insult; and I thought I had lost him, that I had only gained a
few moments of bliss, which would appear like one of those dreams that
had often cheated my sleeping fancy, to leave me when I awoke to the
bitter realities of my sad lot--and I was inconsolable; but my kind old
nurse and Nurgiz soothed me. They told me they would die for me, and
assured me you would be faithful; so I gathered courage, and Kulloo
proposed that we should make immediate preparations for flight. We
packed up some clothes and my jewels, and all the money which had been
left with us, a few hundred rupees, and before morning we lay down to
take a little sleep. At daylight Kulloo told the other slaves and the
two old servants that I was going to this durgah, and sent one of them
for a cart; it came about sunrise, and concealing the articles we had
packed up in two large bundles of carpets and sheets, which we said we
should require to sit on at the durgah, we put them into the cart, got
in ourselves, and the driver made the best of his way hither."

She had just spoken, when Kulloo came to us. "All is prepared,"
said she; "I have dismissed the other cart, and your new one is now
ready;--do not delay."

There was no occasion for her to hurry us, we were as well inclined
to set off as she was, and we rose and followed her. The cart was
ready--my men with it, and Nurgiz already inside. Azima got in, and her
old nurse followed.

"You too?" cried I.

"Yes, Meer Sahib; my home is at Beeder, whither I will accompany you;
the city is no longer safe for me; my life would be forfeited were I
ever to enter it again, and fall in with that prince of devils, Nusrut
Ali Khan, whose house is now dishonoured, and whose beard we have spat
upon."

"Drive on," I exclaimed to Fazil; "go as fast as you can; we must reach
Puttuncherroo before nightfall."

The road from the durgah, after passing the tank upon which it was
situated, led through a wild pass; piles of rocks frowned over us, and
the road was at times so narrow that the cart could scarcely proceed.
"A rare place for a little work," said I to Peer Khan, as we reached
a low barrier-wall thrown across the road, and pierced with holes for
musketry; "many a wild deed has been done here in times past, I'll
warrant."

"They tell queer stories of the place," he replied; "and we have used
it ourselves in some of our late expeditions from the city. There lie
the seven Bunneas you heard of," and he pointed out a remarkable rock
not far from the road. "A sad business we had with the grave; it was
all rock underneath, and the bodies were hardly covered; but who asks
about them in this country? Why, as we accompanied the travellers, we
saw lying in this very pass the bodies of two men who had been murdered
and dreadfully mangled."

"Well," said I, "we have left our marks behind us at any rate, and all
things considered, we have been lucky. It matters not if we get no more
bunij all the way to Hindostan."

"We have enough to make us comfortable for some years," said he,
"nevertheless one's hand gets out of practice, and you are but young at
the work; the more you have for a few years to come, the better."

We reached Puttuncherroo late in the evening, and, to my inexpressible
joy, found my father and the whole band safely arrived, and comfortably
encamped under a large banian tree, by which was a Fakeer's tomb. One
of our small tents had been pitched for Azima, and after seeing her
settled for the night I joined my father.

"You are a lucky fellow," said he, when I had told him of all my
success; "I have been in anxious suspense about you, especially when
the evening set in and you came not; but now there is no danger, we are
once again in the country and the roads are our own. And now tell me,
what is your new bride like? is she as handsome as Zora?"

"She is quite as handsome," said I; "the full moon is not more
beautiful; she is tender in her love and of an affectionate and kind
disposition: you must see her to-morrow; she is now fatigued with
travel."

"And you must be fatigued also, my son, and hungry too. I have a rare
pilau ready for you." It was brought; and after sending a portion to
Azima, my fingers were very soon busied with the rest of the contents
of the dish; and I enjoyed it, for I had tasted nothing but a few of
the sweetmeats Azima had brought with her during the whole day.



CHAPTER XXII.


On the fourth morning we reached Beeder. If not so striking in its
outward appearance as we approached it as Hyderabad, this city was
nevertheless interesting. The summit of a long tableland broke into a
gentle descent, and from it Beeder suddenly opened on our view. The
walls of the town occupied the crest of a high ridge; and over them
one tall minaret, and what appeared another rude unfinished one, of
great height, towered proudly. On the right hand the large white domes
of some tombs peeped out of a grove of mango trees, with which the
hill was clothed from top to bottom; and there was a quiet solemnity
about the approach to the now nearly deserted capital of Dukhun, the
favourite residence of the once proud and powerful Bhamunee kings,
which accorded well with our feelings, and formed a powerful contrast
to the busy city we had just left. Some of our men who had gone on in
advance, had chosen a spot for our encampment near the gate of the city
upon the road we were to take in the morning; but separating from my
party, I rode through the town, which, though now mean in comparison to
what it must have been, was more striking than I had expected to find
it.

I joined the encampment on the other side, which now presented its
usual bustling appearance: some were already cooking their morning
meal by the edge of the well, others were bathing, and all talking and
conversing in that joyous manner which showed their minds were free
from care and full of happiness, at the prospect of a speedier return
to their home than they had anticipated, and well laden with a rich
booty.

"My father, this is a city full of true believers," said I, as I joined
him; "Moolas there must be in plenty, and I pray you to send for one,
that the nika may be performed, and that I may receive Azima at your
hands as my wife."

"I will not oppose it, my son; but, the old Moola, whoever he may be,
will think it strange."

"He may think what he pleases," said I; "but I can no longer live
without her; therefore pray consider the point settled, and send for
him at once."

Accordingly Peer Khan was despatched for the holy person, who duly
arrived: he was received with the greatest courtesy by my father, and
the object for which he was required was explained to him. He expressed
the utmost astonishment; it was a proceeding he had never heard of, for
persons to celebrate a marriage on a journey, and was in every respect
improper and indelicate. When he had exhausted his protestations, my
father replied to him.

"Look you, good Moola," said he, "there is no one who pays more respect
to the forms and usages of our holy faith than I do. Am I not a Syud
of Hindostan? Do I not say the Namaz five times a day, fast in the
Ramzan, and keep every festival enjoined by the law? And unwilling as
I am to do anything which may be thought a breach of the rules of our
faith, yet circumstances which I cannot explain render it imperative
that this ceremony should be performed; and if you refuse, all I can
say is, that there is no want of Moolas in Beeder, and if you do not
perform it, some less scrupulous person must, and earn the reward which
I now offer to you;" and my father laid two ashrufees before him.

"That alters the case materially," said the Moola, pocketing the
money. "Since the ceremony must be performed, in Alla's name let it
take place; it was no doubt fated that it should be so; and you will
therefore find no person in Beeder more willing to read the form of the
Nika than myself. Let me, I pray you, return for my book--I will be
back instantly;" and he departed.

"There," cried my father, "I thought it would be so. No one can
withstand the sight of gold; from the prince on the throne to the
meanest peasant it is the same; its influence is all-powerful. With it
a man may purchase his neighbour's conscience, his neighbour's wife, or
his daughter; with it a man may bribe the venerable Cazee of Cazees,
in any city he pleases, to declare him innocent, had he committed a
hundred murders, forged documents, stolen his neighbour's goods, or
been guilty of every villany under the sun; with it a good man _may_ be
better--but that is rare--a bad man increases his own damnation; for it
any one will lie, cheat, rob, murder, and degrade himself to the level
of a beast; young women will dishonour their lords; old women will be
bribed to assist them. A man who has hoards will practise every knavery
to increase them, yet is never happy; those who have no money hunger
and thirst after it, and are also never happy. Give it to a child to
play with, and by some mysterious instinct he clutches it to his bosom,
and roars if it be taken from him. In short, its influence cannot be
opposed; old and young, rich and poor--all are its slaves. Men's wisdom
is nothing; men's eloquence is nothing; their character nothing; their
rank nothing; but this vile metal, which has no voice, no intellect, no
character, no rank--this rules our destinies on earth as surely and as
potently as Alla himself does in heaven."

"Alla ke Qoodrut!" said I with a sigh; "your words are true, my father,
now that one thinks on them; and we have had a precious specimen in
the sudden change of opinion in the worthy Moola, who asked no further
questions when he saw your gold."

"No!" cried my father; "and if one only had enough, one might rule the
world. Who was Sikundur? By all accounts a petty prince, not half so
powerful as he who rules this country; and yet, when he gained favour
in the sight of the Jins, and afterwards by his magic got dominion over
them, did they not place the treasures heaped up in the bowels of the
earth at his disposal? and who could then stop his career? Is not this
all written in a book, and is it not as true as the Koran?"

"It were heresy to doubt it," said I: "but here comes the subject of
our conversation, with his book under his arm. I will prepare Azima."

I went to her. "Dearest," cried I, seating myself, and passing my arm
round her waist--"dearest, the time is come when, with the blessing of
Alla and my father's sanction, you will be mine for ever, and when the
law shall bind us together, for death alone to separate us. A Moola
has come; and, with your permission, now, even now, the Nika shall be
performed; further delay is idle; and I am consumed with the burnings
of my love."

"So soon, Ameer Ali? oh, not till we reach your home. What will your
father think of my consenting to this wild union?"

"He sanctions it, beloved! 'Twas he who sent for the Moola; 'twas he
who persuaded him to perform the ceremony; and they but await my return
to the tent to read the words which make you mine for ever."

"Alas! I know not," said the fair girl; "I am another's wife--how can
this be done?"

"Forget the hateful marriage," I cried. "Azima, these objections will
kill me. Am I not your slave? are we not now on our way to a distant
land, where he from whom you have fled will never again hear of you?
Ah, do not continue to talk thus, for it seems like a bitter mockery
that you should have fled with me, now to deny yourself to me."

"No no, no!--do not say so, Ameer Ali; you saved me from insult, and
from a miserable death to which I had doomed myself. I am your slave,
not you mine; do as you choose with me; let it be even as you will. I
will follow you till death." And she hid her face in my bosom.

"Then," cried I, "beloved, the preparations are soon made. Call Kulloo,
and let her know all."

The old woman came, and was overjoyed to hear of my proposal. "I had
feared you would not have bound yourself by this tie, Meer Sahib," said
she, "and my mind sorely troubled me on the subject; but now I am easy,
and I will give my precious child to you with joy and confidence; may
you be blessed in her, and see your children's children. Would that I
could proceed with you! but I am old, and my bones and spirit would not
rest easily in a strange land. Your generosity and what I have scraped
together is enough to make me comfortable for life, and when my hour
comes I shall die content."

"Then be quick," said I; "put up a screen, and I will call the Moola;
you can all three of you sit behind it while the ceremony is read."

A cloth was stretched from one side of the tent to the other, and
fastened to the ground: my father, myself, and the Moola sat on one
side, the females on the other. "All is ready, Moolajee," said I;
"begin."

He opened his book and read the usual service in Arabic. I did not
understand a word of it, neither indeed did he; but it was sufficient
that it had been read--the ceremony was complete, and Azima was mine
for ever.

It would have been a pity to have left Beeder without seeing more
of the town and fort, of which I had heard many praises; and in the
evening, therefore, my father, myself and a few others strolled into
the town for the purpose of seeing what we could. First we passed
the old Madressa, a noble mass of ruins; the front was covered with
beautiful enamel from top to bottom, and the immense minaret which
we had seen from a distance in the morning was also covered with the
same. The huge round fragments of another lay scattered about in every
direction, and I could well picture to myself the noble building it
must have been, ere by an unfortunate explosion of gunpowder, when
used as a magazine by Aurungzebe, its front was blown out, one minaret
destroyed, and the whole rent and torn as if by an earthquake.

Passing onwards we arrived at an open space before the ancient and
majestic ruins of the fort. Piles upon piles of old ruined palaces, in
many places built upon the walls themselves, and all nodding to their
fall, while they impressed us with a stronger idea of the magnificence
of their builders than anything we had as yet seen, were a lesson to
humble proud man--to teach him that he too must moulder in the dust as
their founders had done: they had stood for centuries; yet now the owl,
the bat, and the wild pigeon were the only tenants of these splendid
halls, where once beauty had dwelt and had been the adoration of the
brave and glorious.

Where were now the princely state, the pomp of royalty, the gallant
warriors who had of old manned these lofty walls and towers, and so
oft bidden defiance to hosts of invaders?--all were gone,--all was
now lonely and desolate, and the stillness accorded well with the
ruinous appearance of the scene before us. Not however that the walls
were dilapidated or overthrown; _they_ remained as firm and solid
as ever; and here and there the muzzle of a cannon, pointing from a
loophole or rude embrasure, showed that they were still capable of
defence, though, alas! defenders there were none. We thought the place
absolutely deserted, and went on to the gateway. It was massive, and
highly ornamented with enamel work, such as we had seen before in the
old Madressa and the tombs at Golconda.

While we thus stood admiring the outside, a soldier approached us and
asked us our business. "We are strangers, who have put up in the town
for the day," answered my father, "and we could not leave the spot
without looking at the venerable fort of which we have heard so much.
May we be permitted to enter?"

"Certainly," he replied; "persons of your respectable appearance are
always gladly admitted; if you will follow me, I will show you over
the interior, which is worthy your inspection." We followed him, and
passing through two gateways, which were defended by traverses so as
to be impenetrable to invaders, we stopped under the third, and our
conductor said,

"The rooms above this are well worth seeing, if you will ascend."

"Surely," said I, "we would willingly see everything." We ascended
a narrow stair, which at the top opened into a small but beautiful
suite of rooms, profusely adorned with enamel, far surpassing in its
brilliancy of colours and minuteness of design any that we had before
seen on the outside. Sentences of the Koran in white letters on a
brilliant azure ground were all round the cornices, and the ceilings
and walls were covered with flowers of every hue and design, their
colours and the enamel in which they were worked being as fresh and
bright as the day they were first painted.

"These are imperishable," said I to my father; "would that the
buildings which hold them could be so too, to remain to generations yet
unborn a proof of the magnificence and wealth to which they owed their
erection!"

"Ay," said he, "there requires no better proof than these of the
present degeneracy. The monarchs of those times were just and liberal
as well as powerful: the wealth their dominions brought them was freely
expended in beautifying their cities, and raising edifices by which
they might be remembered. Now, with the same dominions, the wealth
they bring is either uselessly hoarded or wastefully expended; now,
no buildings arise as monuments of a dynasty, no armies rejoice in
the presence of a brave and noble sovereign, and, stimulated by his
example, win for him renown at the points of their bright swords. All
now is mean and sordid, from the poor pensioned descendant of Shah Jhan
and Alumgeer to the representative of the once proud Soobahs of the
Dukhun."

"Yes," said our conductor; "what is the use of now calling oneself a
soldier, with scarcely bread to eat? The few of us who are in the fort
wander about the ruins of the noble palaces and the deserted walls, and
our only enemies are the panthers and hyænas, who have taken advantage
of the yearly increasing jungle and desolation, and bid fair to expel
us altogether. But look from the window, sirs; the open ground over
which you came is called the Fatteh Mydan, the plain of victory. Here
the proud monarchs of Beeder, first the Bhamunee and afterwards the
Beereed dynasties, used to sit, while their gallant troops poured
forth from the gates, and amused while they gratified their sovereign
with feats of arms. And yonder," added he, taking us to another
window,--"yonder are their tombs where their mortal remains rest,
though their spirits are in the blessed paradise of our Prophet."

We looked, and the view was as lovely as it was unexpected. We were on
the top of what appeared to be a lofty mountain, so far and so deep
did the noble expanse of valley before us descend. The blue distance
melted into the blue of the heavens, while nearer and nearer to us the
villages and fields became more and more distinct, till, close under
us, they seemed as it were drawn out on a map; and among them stood the
tombs, a cluster of noble-looking edifices, their white domes glaring
in the red light of the declining sun.

"Ay," cried I, "they must have felt that they were kings, while they
gazed admiringly on their gallant soldiers, and looked forth over the
lovely country which they ruled."

"Come," said my father, breaking in upon my reflections, which were
rapidly peopling the open space of the Fatteh Mydan with the troops and
warriors of past ages, and picturing to me their manly games--their
mock-fights--the shouts of the contending parties--while from the spot
whereon I stood, the praises of the king, and acclamations of his
courtiers, were ringing through the arched roofs, and re-echoed by
the multitudes without--"come, it is growing late, and we must soon
return." We again followed our guide, and as we passed over a causeway
which was built across the moat, we had a noble view of its great width
and depth. The bottom was partially covered by stagnant pools, the
remains of the water the monsoon had deposited; for the rainy season
was now past. The fosse was very curiously dug, with a view to defence
having been excavated out of the solid rock to a considerable depth;
three walls had been left standing, with large intervals between each;
and they would certainly oppose a most formidable interruption to an
invader.

We entered the fort by a large gloomy archway, within which some
soldiers were lounging; and from thence traversing a large court-yard,
covered with fragments of ruins and rank brushwood, we emerged into
an open space beyond. Here a scene of still greater desolation
than even the outside presented opened on our view; ruins of all
descriptions--of palaces, stables, offices, baths, magazines for
arms and ammunition--strewed the ground; it was a melancholy sight,
but the whole was evidently far beyond repair, and fast hastening to
destruction. We left the spot, to see the only remaining real curiosity
of the place, an immense cannon, the _sister_, as our guide told us,
of one at Beejapoor. It was on a high bastion, from which there was a
magnificent view of the plain below us, over which the huge fort now
flung its broad, deep shadow, while the distant country was fast fading
into obscurity under the growing darkness of the evening. The herds of
the town, winding up the steep ascent from the plain, alone broke the
impressive silence, as their lowings, the tinkling of their numberless
bells, and the melancholy, yet sweet, notes of the shepherd's rude
pipe, ascended to our lofty station.

But we could stay no longer; we returned by the way we had come; and
though I longed to have roamed over the ruined and deserted palaces,
and explored their recesses, it was too late; dismissing our guide,
therefore, with a small present for his civility, we retraced our steps
to our encampment. From Beeder, Sahib, we had no adventures worth
relating till we reached Ellichpoor, by which town we directed our
route homewards; however, we did not travel by the same road as we had
done in coming down, which would have led us by Mungrool and Oomraotee,
and we had good reasons for avoiding both places; the remembrance of
the fate of the sahoukar would necessarily be fresh in the memory
of the inhabitants of the latter place, and our appearance was too
remarkable to be easily forgotten; so we struck off from Nandair on the
Godavery towards Boorhanpoor, and when we reached Akola, in the Berar
valley, we turned again towards Ellichpoor, and reached it in safety.
You must not think, however, that during this long journey we were
idle; on the contrary, we pursued our avocation with the same spirit
and success with which we had commenced and continued our fortunate
expedition; and no traveller, however humble, who joined our party, or
was decoyed among us, escaped: and by this means, though our booty was
not materially increased, yet we collected sufficient to support us,
without taking aught from the general stock, which was to be divided
when we reached our home.

At Ellichpoor we encamped under some large tamarind trees, close to
the durgah of Rhyman Shah Doolah. It was a quiet, lovely spot. Below
the durgah ran a small river, which had its rise in the neighbouring
mountains; and over its stream the hallowed buildings of the saint,
embowered in thick trees, seemed to be the abode of peace and repose.
Thither Azima and myself, attended by some of our men, went, as soon
as we had rested ourselves a little and changed our road-soiled
garments, to present our offerings at the shrine, and to offer up our
thanksgivings for the continued care and protection of Alla. This done,
I sent her back to our camp, and entered into general conversation
with the Moolas, as was my wont, in order to gather information to
guide us in our enterprises; and from so large a city as Ellichpoor,
I had some hope that we should gain a valuable booty. We conversed
upon many topics of every-day occurrence; at last, one of the Moolas
asked me where I had come from, and whither I was going. I said I
was a horse-dealer, who had been down to Hyderabad with horses from
Hindostan, and was now returning, having disposed of them. "And the men
who accompany you, who are they?" asked the Moola.

"My father, who is a merchant, is one," said I; "besides him, there are
the grooms and attendants who accompanied us, and several travellers
who have joined us from time to time as we journeyed hither."

"Then you are a kafila?" said the Moola.

"Exactly so," said I; "and feeling ourselves to be strong, we are
determined to try the road to Jubbulpoor by Baitool, which, though
unsafe for small bodies, presents no obstacle to our numerous party."

"Certainly not," he replied; "and the road will save you a long
distance which you would have had to travel had you gone round by
Nagpoor; and since you are bent on trying the jungle road, perhaps you
would not have any objection to an increase to your party? and I think
I could get you one."

"Certainly not," said I, "if the travellers are respectable."

"Highly so," said the Moola; "the person of whom I speak is a man of
rank, no less than a Nuwab, who is returning to his nephew, who rules
over Bhopal."

"Ah, I have heard of him, I think," said I; "you do not mean the Nuwab
Subzee Khan, as he is called?"

"The very person, and a fine old soldier he is. It is a pity he is so
addicted to the subzee or bhang, from which, however, he has gained a
name which it is well known has struck terror into his enemies on the
battle-field, and has fairly superseded any other he may have had."

"It is a pity," I said; "for report speaks well of the noble Khan, and
his deeds of arms are known to all who have sojourned in Hindostan: I
shall be right glad to accompany him, for 'tis said also that he is a
rare companion."

"You have heard rightly," said the Moola. "The Nuwab will be here
before sunset, as he always comes to converse with us and drink his
bhang; if you will step over from your encampment when I send to you, I
will introduce you to him."

"Thanks, worthy Moola," said I; "you only need to summon me, and I will
attend your call with pleasure."

I left him soon after. Here was the commencement of an adventure
which promised fairly to eclipse all our former ones; the rank of the
Nuwab, the number of followers he would necessarily have with him,
and the noise there would be made about him when he was missed,--all
contributed to render this as pretty an adventure as a Thug seeking
plunder and fame could desire. I did not mention a word of my hopes
to any one; I was determined to have this matter all to myself, both
in plan and execution. If I succeeded my fame and character were
established for ever, and I could not fail with so many to back me. A
momentary thought flashed across me--that the Nuwab was a man of war,
that he would be armed to the teeth; and who was I, that I could oppose
him? but I dismissed it in an instant as unworthy. My confidence in my
own prowess, both as a Thug and with every weapon, whether on foot or
on horseback, was unbounded; it had never as yet been checked, and I
feared nothing living, I believe, in the form of man.

"Yes, Ameer Ali," said I, "you and all your tribe have ever feared us
Englishmen. You have never yet attacked one of us, nor dared you."

The Thug laughed.--"No, Sahib, you are wrong; we never feared you, but
to attack any of you would have been impossible. When you travel on
horseback you are not worth attacking, for you never carry anything
about your persons. In your tents you are surrounded by a host of
servants, and at night you are always guarded. When you travel post,
we might possibly get a few rupees from your palankeens, but you
are generally armed; you usually carry pistols, and some of us must
undoubtedly fall before we could effect our object; but above all,
there would be such a hue and cry if any of you were missing that it
would be impossible to escape, especially as any property we might take
from you would assuredly lead to our detection."

"Your reasons are weighty," said I laughing; "but I suspect, Ameer Ali,
you do not like the pistols, and that is the reason we have escaped
you: but go on with your story; I have interrupted you."

Well then, Sahib, to continue. I waited very impatiently till towards
evening, when, as I was sitting at the door of my tent, I saw a man
on horseback, attended by a small retinue, among whom, to my great
astonishment, was a young good-looking girl, mounted on a spirited
pony, coming down the road from the city. He passed near our camp, and,
crossing the river, ascended the opposite bank and entered the Durgah.
Was this my new victim? I was not long in suspense: a message soon came
from the Moola requesting my company; and taking my sword and shield
with me, I followed the man who had come to call me.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Seated with the old Moola I have before mentioned, the Nuwab Subzee
Khan Buhadoor (for by that name alone I knew him) was quaffing
his bitter and intoxicating draught. Around him stood some of his
retainers, fierce-looking fellows, one or two of them with deep scars
on their rough visages, which showed they had bravely followed their
noble master through many a hard-fought field. Behind him sat the slave
I have mentioned, a slender fair girl, who was busily employed in
making a fresh bowl of the infusion the Nuwab was so fond of.

The Moola introduced me. "This," said he, "my lord, is the young man I
spoke of. I need repeat no praises of him, for no doubt your discerning
eyes will at once observe that he is a person of respectability and
good breeding, and a fit companion for one of my lord's exalted rank."

I presented the hilt of my sword as a nuzzur, and after touching it
with his hand, he bid me be seated near him on the carpet. This I was
too polite to do; so, excusing myself on the ground of unworthiness of
such honour, I seated myself on my heels on the edge of the carpet, and
placed my sword and shield before me. The sword immediately attracted
his attention. "That is a noble weapon, Meer Sahib," said he; "may I be
allowed to look at it?"

"Certainly," said I, presenting the hilt; "the sword is at my lord's
service."

"Nay, Meer Sahib, I want it not; but I am curious in these matters, and
have a choice collection, which I will one day show you."

He drew it carefully from the scabbard, and as the brightly-polished
blade gleamed in the sunlight, he looked on it with a smile of delight,
such as one would greet an intimate friend with after a long absence. I
must however describe him. In person he was tall and strongly made; his
arms in particular, which were distinctly seen through his thin muslin
dress, were remarkably muscular, and very long; his figure was slightly
inclined to corpulency, perhaps the effect of age, which had also
sprinkled his curling beard and mustachios with gray hairs; or it might
be that these had been increased in number by the dangerous use of the
drug he drank in such quantities. His face was strikingly handsome, and
at once bespoke his high birth. A noble forehead, which was but little
concealed by his turban, was covered with veins which rose above its
surface, as though the proud blood which flowed in them almost scorned
confinement. His eyes were large and piercing like an eagle's, and, but
that they were swollen and reddened by habitual intemperance, would
have been pronounced beautiful. He had a prominent thin nose, large
nostrils, almost transparent, and a mouth small and curved like a bow,
which, when the features were at rest, wore an habitual expression
of scorn. His flowing and graceful beard and mustachios, which I
have already mentioned, completed a countenance such as I had never
seen the like of before, and have not met with since. The whole was
inexpressibly striking, and in the meanest apparel the Nuwab would at
once have been pronounced by any one to be a man of high family and a
gallant soldier.

A rosary of large pearls was about his neck, and with this exception he
wore no ornaments. His dress was studiously plain, while it was neat
in the extreme. I remarked two deep scars, one on the back of his head
where it joined the neck, the other on his broad chest, and its deep
seam was not concealed by the thin dress he wore. Such was Subzee Khan,
who had won his renown in many a hard fight, and whom I was determined
to destroy on the very first opportunity. He continued looking at the
blade so earnestly and so long, that I began to think that it had
possibly belonged to some victim of my father's, who might have been
known to the Nuwab, and I was mentally framing a reply in case he
should ask me where I got it, when he suddenly said, as he passed his
finger along the edge, "So, you too have seen battles, my friend; there
are some slight dents in this good sword which have not escaped the
touch of an old soldier. How did it come by them?"

"Oh, a trifling skirmish with robbers as I came down from Hindostan,"
said I; and I related to him our affair with the thieves in the Nirmul
road.

"It was well done," said he, when I ended my account; "but methinks you
might have followed up your success and sliced some more of the rogues
a little. This weapon would not have failed you if your heart had not."

"My heart never failed me yet, Nuwab," I replied; "those who know me
well, also know that I burn for an opportunity to prove that I am a man
and no coward; but what could I do in that instance? there were but few
of us, and the jungle was terribly thick--we could not have followed
them in the dark."

"You are right," he replied; "and what say you, my young friend, to
following the fortunes of Subzee Khan? He has at present naught to give
thee; but, Inshalla! the time is fast approaching when men of tried
valour may win something. My friend, Dost Mahomed, writes to me to
come quickly, for he has need of leaders in his new enterprises; and
methinks your figure and address would find favour with him. What say
you? You are not fit to sell horses all the days of your life; and if
you have turned any money in your present expedition, you cannot expend
it in a manner more befitting your appearance than in getting a few
men together, and offering your service. Dost Mahomed has need of such
youths as you, and, Inshalla! we will yet do something to win us fame."

"May your favour increase, Bundé Nuwaz!" cried I; "it is the very thing
my soul longs for; with your introduction I cannot fail of obtaining
service: and if once we have anything to do, you will find I shall not
be backward."

"Then you will accompany me?" said he; "I am glad of it. You have some
men with you I perceive, and some travellers; what say you to taking
the direct road to Jubbulpoor? it is a rough one, but I am pressed for
time; and that by Nagpoor, though free from interruption or danger of
robbers, is much longer."

"I had determined on taking it, Nuwab Sahib," I replied, "even before I
saw you, for we are a strong party and well armed; but now I can have
no hesitation. As for thieves or robbers, I have no dread of them, and
my lord assuredly can have none?"

"None, since you have joined me," he said; "but with the few fellows
I have, I confess I hardly liked to brave the jungle; for the bands
who roam through it are strong and merciless, and it would be a sorry
fate for Subzee Khan to fall in an unknown spot, after a life spent in
battle-fields."

And yet you will do so, Nuwab Sahib, said I internally; your death-blow
will reach you in that jungle you dread, and no monument will mark the
spot where the remains of Subzee Khan will lie.

"And when shall you be ready to move, Meer Sahib?" continued he; "have
you aught to delay you here?"

"Nothing," I replied. "I had purposed marching to-morrow morning, but
if my lord wishes I can wait a few days."

"Ah no--to-morrow morning I cannot move conveniently, but the day after
I will join you here by daylight, and we will travel together."

"Jo Hookum!" I replied; "I shall be ready; and now have I permission to
depart?"

"Certainly," he said; "I will no longer detain you, for I must be
off myself. My friend Sulabut Khan has an entertainment of some kind
to-night, and I have promised to attend it."

I returned to my tent, and though I longed to break the matter to my
father, yet I refrained from doing so until the Nuwab had fairly joined
us, when I would introduce him properly. As we were preparing to start
the third morning before daylight, the Nuwab rode into our camp and
inquired for me. I was speedily with him, and my father coming up to
us, I introduced them to each other. After the usual compliments had
passed, my father, unobserved by the Nuwab, threw me a significant
glance, I returned it, and he understood me; a look of triumph passed
across his features, which gratified me, because to me alone was the
band indebted for the adventure which was to follow.

Our party was soon in motion, and as the light increased with the
dawning day, it revealed to me the person and dress of the Nuwab,
who now rode by my side. He was mounted on a splendid bay horse,
which moved proudly and spiritedly beneath his noble master: the
trappings of the animal were of crimson velvet, somewhat soiled, but
still exceedingly handsome, for the saddlecloth and headstall were
embroidered with gold thread in a rich pattern.

But the rider chiefly attracted my observation: he wore a shirt of
mail, composed of the finest steel links, exquisitely polished, over
his ordinary clothes: at his waist it was confined by a handsome green
shawl, which he had tied round him, and in which were stuck two or
three daggers, mounted in gold and silver. His arms were cased in
steel gauntlets, as far as the elbows, and greaves of steel protected
his thighs. On his head was a bright steel cap, from the top of which
a crimson silk tassel depended, and a shawl handkerchief was folded
round it to protect his head from the heat of the sun. At his back hung
a shield of rhinoceros hide, richly painted and gilt; a long sword
hung at his side from an embroidered velvet belt which passed over his
shoulder; and at his saddle-bow was fastened a small battle-axe with a
long and brightly polished steel handle.

Well did his appearance accord with his fame as a warrior. I had seen
hundreds of soldiers at Hyderabad, but I had never yet looked on one
so perfectly equipped as he who now rode beside me--nor one, could I
but have attached myself to him, in whom I should have placed such
confidence and followed readily into the deadliest strife. But what was
the use of his weapons or his armour? They would not avail him,--his
hours were numbered, and his breath already in his nostrils.

"You observe me intently," said he.

"I do," I replied; "for I have never yet seen so perfect a cavalier:
horse, arms, and accoutrements all agree in setting off their noble
owner. Do you always travel thus?"

"Always, Meer Sahib; a soldier should never be out of his harness. The
short time I have spent in idleness with that luxurious dog Sulabut
Khan has softened my body, and even now I feel my armour chafe me. But
the time comes when I shall need it, and I had as well accustom myself
to it."

We continued the whole of the march together, and he beguiled the
way with relations of his adventures, battles and escapes. I was as
much fascinated by them as by his powers of conversation, which were
remarkable; and I often wished that I had met him as a friend, or
enrolled myself under him, when I might have followed his banner and
endeavoured to equal his deeds of valour. But he was marked: in our
emphatic language he was become a "bunij," and he was doomed to die
by every rule and sacred obligation of our profession. We reached our
first stage without any adventure. Beyond it the villagers told us that
the jungle grew thicker and thicker, that the road was very bad and
stony, and above all, that the Gonds were in arms, and plundered all
whom they met with.

"Let them try us," said the Nuwab, as he listened to the relations,
"let them try us! Inshalla! they will do us no harm, and it may be some
of them will get broken crowns for their pains."

But the next morning we moved with more caution; our men were desired
to keep well together, and I picked out a trusty few to surround the
cart, which moved on with difficulty over the rough and stony roads;
the Nuwab and myself rode at the head of the party. As we advanced, the
road grew wilder and wilder; in many places it was narrowed almost to
a footpath, and the men were obliged to cut away the branches, which
often nearly met across the road, so as to allow the cart to proceed.
At other times it ran between high banks, which almost overhung us, and
from which missiles might have been showered on our heads, without a
possibility of our being able to strike a blow in self-defence.

"That was an ugly place, Nuwab Sahib," said I, as we emerged from one
of these narrow passes into a more open country, though still covered
with jungle; "had we been attacked there we should assuredly have
fallen victims."

"It was indeed," said he; "and I am thankful we have got out of it;
if I remember aright it has a bad name. From hence however I think
there are no more; the jungle becomes a forest, and there is not
so much underwood. But look," cried he, "what is that? By Alla! the
Gonds are upon us. Shumshere Alum!" cried he, in a voice which rang
like the sound of a trumpet, "Sumshere bu dust!" and his glittering
blade flashed from the scabbard. Checking his horse, and at the same
time touching its flanks with his heels, the animal made two or three
bounds, after which the Nuwab fixed himself firmly in his seat, pressed
down his cap upon his head, and cried to me to be ready.

I was not behindhand; my sword was drawn and my shield disengaged,
which I placed before me to guard me from the arrows. A few bounds of
my horse, which was scarcely second to the Nuwab's, brought me to his
side, and we were followed by Bhudrinath and a few others mounted on
ponies, and some men on foot with their matchlocks. "Come on, ye sons
of defiled mothers," cried the Nuwab; "come on, and prove yourselves
true men; come on, and try your cowardly arrows against stout hearts
and ready weapons! Base-born kafirs are ye, and cowards; Inshalla! your
sisters are vile, and asses have loved your mothers."

I could not help laughing at the Nuwab's gesticulations and abuse, as
he poured it upon the Gonds and shook his sword at them. They would not
move, and perched up as they were on the side of a hill, they prepared
their bows to give us a volley--and down it came certainly; the arrows
whistled past us, and one wounded the Nuwab's horse slightly in the
neck, at which the Gonds set up a shout of triumph.

"Ah, my poor Motee, thou art wounded," cried he, drawing the arrow from
the wound. "Meer Sahib, those rogues will never come down; you had
better give them a volley and disperse them."

"Now, my sons," cried I to my followers, "whenever a fellow raises his
body to fire, do you mark him."

They did so. One Gond in particular, who was sitting on a rock drawing
a large bow, which he placed against his feet, was a conspicuous
object, and apparently careless of his safety. Surfuraz Khan aimed at
him--fired--and in an instant he rolled over and over, almost to our
feet; the ball had hit him in the throat, and he was quite dead. The
rest seeing his fate, set up loud yells, and for a moment we thought
they would have charged us; however, another of their number fell badly
wounded, and carrying him off, they rapidly retreated to their mountain
fastnesses. Pursuit would have been vain as it was impracticable.

We met with no further adventure during our march, and duly arrived
at our stage by the usual hour. "Ameer Ali," said my father, coming
to me shortly afterwards, "is the Nuwab to be ours or not? If you
have invited him as a guest, say so? if not, you had better arrange
something."

"A guest!" cried I; "oh no: he must be disposed of; there can be no
difficulty where there so many good places to destroy him."

"Impossible!" said my father; "on horseback it would be madness. He is
a beautiful rider, and his horse is too spirited; the least confusion
would make him bound, and who could hold him? We must devise some other
plan."

"Leave all to me," said I; "if there is no absolute necessity for
selecting a place, I will watch my opportunity."



CHAPTER XXIV.


"I suppose you have long ere this guessed, my friends," said I to
Bhudrinath and Surfuraz Khan next day, "why the Nuwab is in our
company."

"We can have little doubt," replied the former, "since you have brought
him so far; but tell us, what are your wishes,--how is it to be
managed? It will be impossible to attack him on the road; he would cut
down some of us to a certainty, and I for one have no ambition to be
made an end of just at present."

"You are right," said I; "we must not risk anything; still I think an
opportunity will not long be wanting."

"How?" cried both at the same moment.

"Listen," said I, "and tell me whether my plan meets with your
approval. During the march yesterday the Nuwab was regretting that we
did not fall in with a good stream of clear water, that he might take
his usual sherbet; you know that the slave girl he has with him always
prepares it. Now I am in hopes that we may meet one in to-morrow's
march, and I will try all I can to persuade him to alight and refresh
himself; while he is engaged in conversation with me, if we find him
off his guard, we can fall on him."

"Nothing is easier," replied Surfuraz Khan; "we cannot fail if he once
sits down: his weapons will not then serve him."

"I do not half like the job," said Bhudrinath. "Suppose he were to be
on his guard, he would assuredly escape; and though both myself and the
Khan here fear neither man nor devil, yet it is something out of the
way to kill a Nuwab; he is not a regular bunij, and I think ought to be
allowed to pass free of harm."

"Nonsense!" cried I. "This from you, Bhudrinath? I am astonished. What,
if he be a Nuwab, is he not a man? and have I not fairly enticed him
according to every rule of our vocation? It may be something new to
kill a Nuwab, but think, man, think on the glory of being able to say
we had killed Subzee Khan, that valiant among the valiant; why, our
fathers and grandfathers never did such an act before."

"That is the very reason why I raise my voice against it," said he;
"anything unusual is improper, and is often offensive to Bhowanee."

"Then take the omens upon it," said I, "and see what she says.
Inshalla! we shall have the Nuwab yet."

"Ay," replied he, "now you speak like a Thug, and a proper one: I will
take the omens this evening and report the result; should they be
favourable, you will find Bhudrinath the last man to desert you."

In the evening the omens were duly taken, and proved to be favourable.
Bhudrinath came to tell me the news with great delight. "I said how it
would be," I cried; "you were owls to doubt our patroness after the
luck she has given us hitherto; and now listen, I have not been idle. I
have found out from the villagers that about four coss hence there is a
small stream with plenty of water; the banks are covered with jungle,
as thick as we could desire, and I have fixed on that as the place.
Shall we send on the Lughaees?"

"Certainly," said Bhudrinath: "we may as well be prepared:--but no,"
continued he, "what would be the use of it? If the jungle is as
thick as you say it is, we can easily conceal the bodies; and at any
rate, as there is a river, a grave can soon be made in the sand or
gravel. But the Nuwab is a powerful man, Meer Sahib; you had better
not risk yourself alone with him; as for the rest, the men have
secured them,--that is, they have arranged already who are to do their
business."

"So much the better," said I, "for there is little time now to think
about it."

"I have selected one," continued Bhudrinath, "the fellow who calls
himself the Nuwab's jemadar; I have scraped an intimacy with him, and
am sure of him; the others have done the same; but we left the Nuwab to
you."

"He is mine," cried I; "I did not wish to be interfered with. If
Surfuraz Khan has not selected any one, I will get him to help me."

"He has not, Meer Sahib, that I know of, and he is as strong a man as
any we have with us; with him and another of his men you cannot fail;
but let Surfuraz Khan be the Shumshea, he is a good one."

"I scarcely need one if the Nuwab is sitting," said I; "though perhaps
it is better to have one in case of any difficulty."

We made all our arrangements that night, and next morning started on
our journey in high spirits. The Nuwab and I, as usual, rode together
at the head of the party. "This is an unblest country, Meer Sahib,"
said he, as we rode along. "Didst thou ever see so dreary a jungle, and
not a drop of water to moisten the lips of a true believer from one end
of the stage to the other? It is well the weather is cool, or we should
be sorely tired in our long stages; and here have I, Subzee Khan, gone
without my usual sherbet for three days on this very account. By Alla!
I am now as thirsty as a crow in the hot weather, and my mouth opens
in spite of me. Oh, that we could light on a river or a well in this
parched desert! I would have a glorious draught."

"Patience, Khodawund!" cried I, "who knows but we may be near a stream?
and then we will make a halt, and refresh ourselves: I am hungry myself
and should not care for an hour's delay to break my fast with some
dates I have with me."

"Ha, dates! I will have some too; my fellows may find something to eat
in my wallets, and thou sayest truly the cold wind of these mountains
makes one hungry indeed." But coss after coss was left behind, and as
yet no river appeared. I was beginning to think I had received false
information, and was in no very good humour at my disappointment, when,
to my joy, on passing over the brow of a hill, I saw the small river
the villagers had spoken of below me.

"There," said I. "Khodawund! there at last is a river, and the
sparkling of the water promises it to be good. Will you now halt for
an hour? we can have a pipe all round, and your slave can prepare your
sherbet."

"Surely," cried he; "we may not meet with another, and this is just
the time when I like my sherbet best; send some one to the rear for my
slave, and bid her come on quickly."

I dispatched a man for her, and reaching the stream, we chose a smooth
grassy spot, and spreading the covers of our saddles, sat down. One by
one, as the men arrived, they also rested, or wading into the water
refreshed themselves by washing their hands and faces in the pure
stream, which glided sparkling over its pebbly bed; the beasts too were
allowed to drink; and all the men sitting down in groups, the rude
hooka passed round among them, while they cheerfully discussed the
merits of the road they had passed, and what was likely to be before
them. Casting a hasty glance around, I saw that all the men were at
their posts, three Thugs to each of the Nuwab's servants and retainers.
They were therefore sure. Azima's cart was standing in the road, and in
order to get her away I went to her.

"Beloved," said I, "we have halted here for a short time to allow of
the people taking some refreshment, but you had better proceed; the
road appears smooth, and we shall travel the faster to overtake you."

"Certainly," she replied; "bid them drive on, for I long to be at the
end of the journey. Poor Nurgiz and myself are well nigh jolted to
death."

"Ah well," I said, "bear up against it for another stage or two. I
promise you to get a dooly, if I can, at the first large village or
town we come to, and then you will be comfortable."

"Now proceed," said I to the Thug who acted as driver (for I had
purchased a cart on the road, soon after we left Beeder, and he had
driven it ever since); "proceed, but do not go too fast."

She left me, and I returned to the Nuwab. He was sitting in
conversation with my father, and even now was evidently partially
intoxicated with his detestable beverage. "Ho! Meer Sahib," cried he,
"what dost _thou_ think? Here have I been endeavouring to persuade
this worthy father of thine to take some of my sherbet. By Alla, 'tis
a drink worthy of paradise, and yet he swears it is bitter and does
not agree with his stomach. Wilt thou take a drink?" and he tendered
me the cup. "Drink, man, 'twill do thee good, and keep the cold wind
out of thee; and as to the preparation, I'll warrant it good, for there
breathes not in the ten kingdoms of Hind a slave so skilled in the art
of preparing subzee as Kureena yonder. Is it not so, girl?"

"My lord's favour is great toward his slave," said the maiden; "and if
he is pleased, 'tis all she cares for."

"Then bring another cup," cried the Nuwab. "Now, with a few fair girls
to sing a ghuzul or two to us, methinks a heaven might be made out of
this wild spot."

"It is a good thought, Nuwab," cried I, chiming in with his humour; "we
will get a set of Tuwaifs from the next village we come to; I dare say
they will accompany us for a march or two."

"You say well, Meer Sahib; yours are good words, very good words;
and, Inshalla! we will have the women," said the Nuwab, slowly and
indistinctly, for he had now swallowed a large quantity of the
infusion, which had affected his head. "By Alla! they should dance,
too; like this--" continued he, with energy, and he got up and twirled
himself round once or twice, with his arms extended, throwing leering
glances around upon us all.

It was irresistibly ludicrous to behold him. His splendid armour and
dress but ill assorted with the mincing gait and absurd motions he
was going through, and we all laughed heartily. But the farce was
proceeding too long, and we had sterner matter in hand than to waste
our time and opportunity in such fooleries. So I begged him again to be
seated, and motioned to Surfuraz Khan to be ready the instant he should
see me go round to his back.

"Ho, Kureena!" cried he, when he had again seated himself, "bring more
subzee, my girl. By Alla! this thirst is unquenchable,--and thou art
excelling thyself to-day in preparing it. I must have more, or I shall
never get to the end of this vile stage. I feel now as if I could
sleep, and some more will revive me."

"Fazil Khan, bring my hooka," cried I, as loud as I could. It was the
signal we had agreed on.

"Ay," cried the Nuwab, "I will beg a whiff or two, 'twill be agreeable
with my sherbet."

I had now moved round behind him; my roomal was in my hand, and I
signalled to Surfuraz Khan to seize him.

"Look, Nuwab!" cried he: and he laid hold on his right arm with a firm
grasp.

"How dare you touch me, slave!" ejaculated Subzee Khan; "how dare you
touch a Nuwab----"

He did not finish the sentence: I had thrown the cloth about his neck;
Surfuraz Khan still held his hand, and my father pulled at his legs
with all his force. The Nuwab snored several times like a man in a
deep sleep, but my grip was firm and did not relax--a horse would have
died under it. Suddenly, as he writhed under me, every muscle in his
body quivered; he snored again still louder, and the now yielding form
offered no resistance. I gazed upon his features, and saw that the
breath of life had passed from the body it had but now animated. Subzee
Khan was dead--I had destroyed the slayer of hundreds!

But no one had thought of his poor slave girl, who, at some distance,
and with her back turned to us, had been busily engaged in preparing
another rich draught for her now unconscious master. She had not heard
the noise of our scuffle, nor the deep groans which had escaped from
some of the Nuwab's people, and she approached the spot where Surfuraz
Khan was now employed in stripping the armour and dress from the dead
body. Ya Alla! Sahib, what a piercing shriek escaped her when she saw
what had been done! I shall never forget it, nor her look of horror and
misery as she rushed forward and threw herself on the body. Although
master and slave, Sahib, they had loved.

Her lips were glued to those of the unconscious corpse, which had so
often returned her warm caresses, and she murmured in her agony all the
endearing terms by which she had used in their private hours to call
him, and implored him to awake. "He cannot be dead! he cannot be dead!"
cried the fair girl,--for she was beautiful to look on, Sahib, as she
partly rose and brushed back her dishevelled hair from her eyes. "And
yet he moves not--he speaks not;" and she gazed on his features for a
moment. "Ah!" she screamed, "look at his eyes, look at them--they will
fall out of his head! And his countenance--'tis not my own lord's;
those are not the lips which have often spoken kind words to his poor
Kureena! Oh, my heart, what a pain is there!"

"This will never do," cried I; "some of you put her out of her misery;
for my part, I war not with women."

"The girl is fair," said Surfuraz Khan; "I will give her a last chance
for life."

"Hark you!" cried he to her, "this is no time for fooling;" and as he
rudely shook her by the arm, she looked up in his face with a piteous
expression, and pointed to the body by which she was kneeling and
mourning as she rocked herself to and fro. "Hear me," cried the Khan,
"those who have done that work will end thy miserable life unless thou
hearkenest to reason. I have no wife, no child: thou shalt be both to
me, if thou wilt rise and follow me. Why waste further thought on the
dead? And thou wast his slave too! Rise, I say again, and thy life is
spared: thou shalt be free."

"Who spoke to me?" said she, in tones scarcely audible, "Ah, do not
take me from him; my heart is broken! I am dying, and you would not
part us?"

"Listen, fool!" exclaimed the Khan; "before this assembly I promise
thee life and a happy home, yet thou hearkenest not: tempt not thy
fate; a word from me and thou diest. Wilt thou then follow me? my horse
is ready, we will leave the dead, and think no more on the fate of him
who lies there."

"Think no more on him! forget him--my own, my noble lover! Oh, no, no,
no! Is he not dead? and I too am dying."

"Again I warn thee, miserable girl," cried Surfuraz Khan; "urge me not
to use force; I would that you followed me willingly--as yet I have not
laid hands on thee." A low moan was her only reply, as she turned again
to the dead, and caressed the distorted and now stiffening features.

"Away with the body!" cried I to some of the Lughaees, who were waiting
to do their office; "one would think ye were all a parcel of love-sick
girls, like that mourning wretch there. Are we to stay loitering here
because of her fooling? Away with it!"

My order was obeyed; four of them seized the body, and bore it off in
spite of the now frantic exertions of the slave; they were of no avail;
she was held by two men, and her struggles to free herself gradually
exhausted her. "Now is your time," cried I to Surfuraz Khan; "lay hold
of her in the name of the thousand Shitans, since you must have her,
and put her on your horse: you can hold her on, and it will be your own
fault if you cannot keep her quiet."

Surfuraz Khan raised her in his arms as if she had been a child; and
though now restored to consciousness, as she by turns reviled us,
denounced us as murderers, and implored us to kill her, he bore her off
and placed her on his horse. But it was of no use; her screams were
terrific, and her struggles to be free almost defied the efforts of
Surfuraz Khan on one side and one of his men on the other to hold her
on.

We proceeded about half a coss in this manner, when my father, who
had hitherto been a silent spectator, rode up, as I was again vainly
endeavouring to persuade the slave to be quiet and to bear with her
fate. "This is worse than folly," cried he, "it is madness; and you,
above all, Surfuraz Khan, to be enamoured of a smooth-faced girl in
such a hurry! What could we do were we to meet travellers? She would
denounce us to them, and then a fine piece of business we should have
made of it. Shame on you! do you not know your duty better?"

"I'll have no more to say to the devil," said the man on the left of
the horse, doggedly; "you may even get her on the best way you can;
what with her and the horse, a pretty time I am likely to have of it to
the end of the journey;" and he quitted his hold.

"Ay," said I, "and think you that tongue of hers will be silent when we
reach our stage? what will you do with her then?"

"Devil;" cried the Khan, striking her violently on the face with his
sheathed sword, "will you not sit quiet, and let me lead the horse?"
The violence with which he had struck, caused the sword to cut through
its wooden scabbard, and it had inflicted a severe wound on her face.

"There," cried my father, "you have spoilt her beauty at any rate by
your violence; what do you now want with her?"

"She is quiet at all events," said the Khan, and he led the horse
a short distance. But the blow had only partly stunned her, and
she recovered to a fresh consciousness of her situation; the blood
trickled down her face, and she wiped it away with her hand; she looked
piteously at it for an instant, and the next dashed herself violently
to the earth.

"One of you hold the animal," cried the Khan, "till I put her up
again." But she struggled more than ever, and rent the air with her
screams: he drew his sword and raised it over her.

"Strike!" she cried, "murderer and villain as you are, strike! and end
the wretched life of the poor slave; you have already wounded me, and
another blow will free me from my misery; I thought I could have died
then, but death will not come to me. Will you not kill me?"--and she
spat on him.

"This is not to be borne; fool that I was to take so much trouble to
preserve a worthless life," cried the Khan, sheathing his sword; "thou
shalt die, and that quickly." He threw his roomal about her neck, and
she writhed in her death agonies under his fatal grasp.

"There!" cried he, quitting his hold, "I would it had been otherwise;
but it was her fate, and I have accomplished it!" and he left the body
and strode on in moody silence.

Some of the Lughaees coming up, the body was hastily interred among
the bushes which skirted the road, and nothing now preventing us, we
pursued our journey with all the speed we could. Thankful was I that I
had sent on Azima in her cart; she was far beyond the scene of violence
which had happened, and of which she must have guessed the cause had
she been within hearing; but the driver of her cart had hurried on, and
we had travelled some coss ere we overtook her. Strange, Sahib, that
after that day Surfuraz Khan was no longer the light-hearted, merry
being he had used to be. He was no novice at his work; hundreds of
human beings, both male and female, had died under his hand; but from
the hour he killed the slave he was an altered being: he used to sit
in silent, moody abstraction, his eyes gazing on vacancy, and when we
rallied him upon it, his only reply was a melancholy smile, as he shook
his head, and declared that his spirit was gone: his eyes too would on
these occasions sometimes fill with tears, and sighs enough to break
his heart would escape from him.

He accompanied us to our home, got his share of the booty, which he
immediately distributed among the poorer members of the band, and after
bidding us a melancholy farewell, stripped himself of all his clothes,
covered his body with ashes, and went forth into the rude world, to
bear its buffets and scorn, in the guise of a Fakeer. I heard, years
afterwards, that he returned to the spot where he had killed the girl,
constructed a hut by the road-side, and ministered to the wants of
travellers in that wild region, where his only companions must have
been the bear, the tiger, and the wolf. I never saw him again after he
parted from us, and many among us regretted his absence, and his daring
skill and bravery, in the expeditions in which we afterwards engaged:
his place was never filled among us.

I have no more adventures of this expedition to relate to you: we
reached our home in due course without any accident or interruption;
and who will not say that we enjoyed its quiet sweets, and appreciated
them the more after our long absence and the excitement and perils of
our journey? I was completely happy, secure in the increasing love and
affection of Azima, whose sweet disposition developed itself more and
more every day. I was raised to a high rank among my associates, for
what I had achieved was duly related to those who had stayed in our
village, and to others who had been out on small expeditions about
the country; and the immense booty we had acquired, and my father's
well-known determination to retire from active life, pointed me out
as a leader of great fortune, and one to whom many would be glad to
entrust themselves in any subsequent expedition, as I appeared to be an
especial favourite of our patroness.

The return of Hoosein's party, about two months after we had arrived,
was an event of great rejoicing to us all when they reached our
village. As we had agreed beforehand, at our separation, the whole of
the proceeds of the expeditions of both parties were put into one, for
general distribution, and on a day appointed it took place. Sahib, you
will hardly believe it when I tell you, that the whole amounted to very
nearly a lakh of rupees. It was carried by general acclamation that I
should share as a jemadar, and according to the rules of our band I
received one-eighth of the whole. Bhudrinath and Surfuraz Khan received
what I did, but the latter only of such portion as we had won since he
had joined us. I forget how much it was, but, as I have told you, he
divided it among the poorer members of the band; and having apparently
stayed with us only for this purpose, he left us immediately, as I have
before mentioned. Upon the sum I had thus acquired I lived peacefully
two years. I longed often to go out on small expeditions about the
country, but my father would not hear of it.

"What is the use?" he would say. "You have ample means of subsistence
for two years to come; my wealth you know is also large, and until we
find the supply running short, why should you risk life in an attempt
to gain more riches, which you do not need?"

But my spirit sorely rebelled against leading such an inactive and
inglorious life, and every deed I heard of only made me more impatient
to cast off the sloth which I feared would gain hold on me, and to
mingle once more in the exciting and daring exploits of my profession.
Still I was fond of my home. Azima had presented me with a lovely boy,
who was the pride of my existence, and about the time I am speaking
of I expected another addition to my family. I had already seen two
seasons for departure pass, and a third was close at hand, but I
suffered this also to elapse in inactivity, although I was repeatedly
and strongly urged by Bhudrinath and others to try my fortune and head
another band to penetrate into Bengal, where we were assured of ample
employment and success.

But much as I wished to accompany them, my father still objected;
something had impressed him with an idea that the expedition would
be unfortunate; and so in truth it turned out. A large gang under
several leaders set out from our village at the usual time; but the
omens, although not absolutely bad, were not very encouraging, and
this had a dire effect on the whole. They had not proceeded far when
jealousies and quarrels sprang up among the several leaders; they
separated from each other and pursued different ways. One by one they
returned disappointed with their expedition, having gained very little
booty, scarcely sufficient to support them for the remainder of the
year. But one party was never heard of more; it consisted of my poor
friend Bhudrinath and six noble fellows he had taken with him. Years
afterwards we heard his fate: he had gone down into Bengal, had visited
Calcutta, and up to that period had been most successful; but there
his men dissipated their gains in debauchery, and they set out on
their return with barely sufficient to carry them a few marches. They
had nearly reached Benares, when, absolute starvation staring them in
the face, they attacked some travellers, and, as they thought, killed
them. They neglected, however, to bury their victims, and one, who
was not dead, revived: he gave information to the inhabitants of the
nearest village. My poor friends were overtaken, seized, the property
they had about them immediately recognized, and the evidence given by
the survivor of the party they had attacked was convincing. What could
oppose this? The law had its course, and they were tried and hanged.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ameer Ali here stopped in his narrative, and promising to resume it in
a few days, he requested permission to withdraw, and making his usual
salam departed. A strange page in the book of human life is this!
thought I, as he left the room. That man, the perpetrator of so many
hundred murders, thinks on the past with satisfaction and pleasure;
nay he takes a pride in recalling the events of his life, almost every
one of which is a murder, and glories in describing the minutest
particulars of his victims, and the share he had in their destruction,
with scarcely a symptom of remorse! Once or twice only has he winced
while telling his fearful story, and what agitated him most at the
commencement of his tale I have yet to hear.

With almost only that exception, his spirit has seemed to rise with
the relation of the past; and his own native eloquence at times, when
warmed with his tale and under the influence of his vivid imagination
and faithful memory, has been worthy of a better pen and a more able
translator than I am; but let this pass; I repeat, it is a strange
and horrible page in the varied record of humanity. Murderers there
have been in every country under heaven, from the time of Cain to the
present--murderers from hate, from revenge, from jealousy, from fear,
from the instigation of any and every evil passion of our nature; but a
murderer's life has ever been depicted as one of constant misery,--the
worm that dieth not, the agony and reproach of a guilty conscience,
gnawing at the heart, corroding and blasting every enjoyment of life,
and either causing its wretched victim to end his existence by
suicide, to deliver himself up to justice, or to be worn down by mental
suffering--a more dreadful fate perhaps than the others. Such are the
descriptions we have heard and read of murderers, but these Thugs are
unlike any others. No remorse seems to possess their souls. In the
weariness of perpetual imprisonment one would think their imaginations
and recollections of the past would be insupportable to them; but
no,--they eat, drink, and sleep like others, are solicitous about
their dress, ever ready to talk over the past, and would if released
to-morrow, again follow their dreadful profession with a fresh zest
after their temporary preclusion from it. Strange too that Hindoo and
Moslem, of every sect and denomination, should join with one accord
in the superstition from which this horrible trade has arisen. In the
Hindoo perhaps it is not to be wondered at, as the goddess who protects
him is one whom all castes regard with reverence and hold in the
utmost dread; but as for the Moslem, unless his conduct springs from
that terrible doctrine of Fatalism, with which every true believer is
thoroughly imbued from the first dawn of his reason, it is difficult to
assign a reason for the horrible pursuit he has engaged in. His Koran
denounces murderers. Blood for blood, an eye for an eye, and a tooth
for a tooth, is the doctrine of his Prophet, which he trembles at while
he believes.--And Ameer Ali is a Bhula Admee even in the eyes of his
jailers; a respectable man, a religious man, one who from his youth up
has said his Namaz five times a day, is most devout in his life and
conduct, is most particular in his ablutions, keeps the fast of the
Ramzan and every saint's day in his calendar, dresses in green clothes
in the Mohorum, and beats his breast and tears his hair as a good Syud
of Hindostan ought to do; in short, he performs the thousand and one
ceremonies of his religion, and believes himself as sure of heaven and
all the houris promised there as he now is of a good dinner.

And yet Ameer Ali is a murderer, one before whom every murderer of the
known world, in times past or present,--except perhaps some of his own
profession, the free bands of Germany, the Lanzknechts, the Banditti,
Condottieri, of Italy, the Buccaneers and Pirates, and in our own time
the fraternity of Burkes and Hares (a degenerate system of Thuggee, by
the bye, at which Ameer Ali, when I told him of them, laughed heartily,
and said they were sad bunglers)--must be counted men of small account.
Reader, these thoughts were passing in my mind, when at last I cried
aloud, "Pshaw! 'tis vain to attempt to account for it, but Thuggee
seems to be the offspring of fatalism and superstition, cherished and
perfected by the wildest excitement that ever urged human beings to
deeds at which humanity shudders."

"Did Khodawund call?" said a bearer, who had gradually nodded to sleep
as he was pulling the punkah above my head, and who was roused by my
exclamation. "Did the Sahib call?"

"No, Boodun, I did not; but since you are awake, bid some one bring me
a chilum. My nerves require to be composed."



CHAPTER XXV.


At the expiration of a week Ameer Ali sent word to me that he was ready
to resume his narrative, and I lost no time in requesting him to repair
to my residence. He arrived, and making his usual graceful obeisance, I
desired him to be seated.

The reader will perhaps like to know something of the appearance of the
man with whom he and I have had these long conversations; and no longer
to keep him in the dark on so important a subject, I will describe
Ameer Ali to him. He is what would be called a short man, about five
feet seven inches in height: his figure is now slender, which may be
the effect of his long imprisonment,--imprisonment it can hardly be
called, except that to one of his formerly free and unrestrained habits
and pursuits the smallest restraint must, of course, be irksome in the
highest degree, and painful to bear. His age may be about thirty-five
or forty years; but it sits lightly on him for a native of India; and
it has not in the least whitened a beard and mustachios on which he
evidently expends great care and pains, and which are always trimmed
and curled with the greatest neatness. His figure, as I have said, is
slight: but it is in the highest degree compact, agile, and muscular;
and his arms are remarkable for the latter quality, combined with
unusual length and sinewiness. His dress is always scrupulously neat
and clean, and put on with more attention to effect than is usual with
his brother approvers, his turban being always tied with a smart cock,
and his waist tightly girded with an English shawl or a gaily-dyed
handkerchief, where once a shawl of Cashmere or a handkerchief of
brocade was better suited to his pretensions. In complexion he is fair
for a native; his face is even now strikingly handsome, and leads
me to believe that the accounts of his youthful appearance have not
been exaggerated. His forehead is high and broad; his eyes large,
sparkling, and very expressive, especially when his eloquence kindles
and bursts forth in a torrent of figurative language, which it would
be impossible to render into English, or, if it were rendered, would
appear to the English reader, unused to such forms of speech, highly
exaggerated and absurd. His cheeks are somewhat sunken, but his nose
is aquiline and elegantly formed, and his mouth small and beautifully
chiselled, and his teeth are exquisitely white and even. His upper lip
is graced with a pair of small mustachios, which would be the envy of
many a gay lieutenant of hussars; while a beard close and wavy, from
which a straggling hair is never suffered to escape, descends nearly
to his breast, and hides a throat and neck which would be a study for
a painter or a sculptor. To complete all, his chest is very broad and
prominent, and well contrasts with the effect of his small waist.

His manner is graceful, bland, and polite--it is, indeed, more than
gentleman-like--it is courtly; and I have not seen it equalled even by
the Mahomedan noblemen, with many of whom I have associated. Any of
my readers who may have been in India, and become acquainted with its
nobles and men of rank, will estimate at once how high is the meed of
praise on this score which I give to Ameer Ali. His language is pure
and fluent, perhaps a little affected from his knowledge of Persian,
which, though slight, is sufficient to enable him to introduce words
and expressions in that language, often when they are not needed;
but still it is pure Oordoo; he prides himself upon it, and holds in
supreme contempt those who speak the corrupt patois of the Dukhun, or
the still worse one of Hindostan. Altogether Ameer Ali is a character,
and a man of immense importance in his own opinion, and that of every
one else; and the swagger which he has now adopted in his gait, but
which is evidently foreign to him, does not sit amiss on his now
reduced condition.

Reader, if you can embody these descriptions, you have Ameer Ali before
you; and while you gaze on the picture in your imagination, and look on
the mild and expressive face you may have fancied, you, as I was, would
be the last person to think that he was a professed murderer, and one
who in the course of his life has committed upwards of seven hundred
murders. I mean by this, that he has been actively and personally
engaged in the destruction of that number of human beings.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, Ameer Ali, said I, since I have finished describing your
appearance, I hope you are ready to contribute more to the stock of
adventures you have already related.

Your slave is ready, Sahib, he replied, and Inshalla Ta-alla! he will
not disappoint you. But why has my lord described my poor appearance,
which is now miserable enough? But might your slave ask what you have
written?--and the tone of his voice implied that he had concluded it
could not be favourable.

Listen, said I, and I will read it to you. At every sentence the
expression of his face brightened. When I had concluded, he said:--It
is a faithful picture, such as I behold myself when I look in a glass.
You have omitted nothing, even to the most trifling particulars; nay,
I may even say my lord has flattered me.--And he arose and made a
profound salam.

No, said I, I have not flattered your external appearance, which is
prepossessing; but of your heart I fear those who read will judge for
themselves; and their opinions will not be such as you could wish, but
such as you deserve.

You think my heart bad then, Sahib?

Certainly I do.

But it is not so, he continued. Have I not ever been a kind husband
and a faithful friend? Did I not love my children and wife while He
who is above spared them to me? and do I not even now bitterly mourn
their deaths? Where is the man existing who can say a word against
Ameer Ali's honour, which ever has been, and ever will remain, pure
and unsullied? Have I ever broken a social tie? ever been unfaithful
or unkind to a comrade? ever failed in my duty or in my trust? ever
neglected a rite or ceremony of my religion? I tell you, Sahib, the
man breathes not who could point his finger at me on any one of these
points. And, if you think on them they are those which, if rigidly
kept, gain for a man esteem and honour in the world.

But the seven hundred murders, Ameer Ali,--what can you say to them?
They make a fearful balance against you in the other scale.

Ah! those are a different matter, said the Thug, laughing--quite a
different matter. I can never persuade you that I was fully authorized
to commit them, and only a humble instrument in the hands of Alla.
Did I kill one of those persons? No! it was He. Had my roomal been a
thousand times thrown about their necks and the strength of an elephant
in my arms, could I have done aught--would they have died--without it
was His will? I tell you, Sahib, they would not--they could not; but
as I shall never be able to persuade you to think otherwise, and as
it is not respectful in me to bandy words with my lord, I think it is
time for me to recommence my tale, if he is ready to listen, for I
have still much to relate. I have been so minute in the particulars
of my first expedition, that perhaps I need not make the narrative of
the other events of my life so prolix; indeed, were I to do so, you,
Sahib, would be tired of writing and your countrymen of reading, for
it would be an almost endless task to follow me in every expedition I
undertook. I shall, therefore, with your permission, confine myself to
the narration of those which I think will most interest you, and which
I remember to possess remarkable incidents.

Go on, said I; I listen.

Well then, said the Thug, Khodawund must remember that I told him I
passed over three expeditions, and that I had partly determined to go
on the third. It is of that expedition I would now speak, as it was
marked by an extraordinary circumstance, which will show you at once
that it is impossible for any one to avoid his fate if it be the will
of Alla that he should die.

At the time I speak of I had been obliged to form another set of
intimates in consequence of the loss of Bhudrinath and Surfuraz Khan,
for both of whom I had the sincerest regard. Hoosein, though I loved
and revered him as my father's dearest friend, was now too old and
grave to participate in all my thoughts and perhaps wild aspirations
for distinction. So as Peer Khan and Motee-ram, with whose names you
are familiar, had now risen to my own rank, and proved themselves to
be "good men and true" in various expeditions, I took them into my
confidence, and we planned an enterprise, of which I was to be the
leader and they my subordinates. Fifty of the youngest, stoutest, and
most active and enterprising of our acquaintance were fixed on as the
band; and all having been previously warned, we met a few days before
the Dussera of the year 18--, in a grove near our village, which was
shady and well adapted for large assemblies, and was always used as a
place of meeting and deliberation: it was considered a lucky spot, no
unfortunate expedition ever having set out from it.

We were all assembled. It was a lovely morning, and the grass, as yet
not even browned by the sun and drought, was as if a soft and beautiful
carpet had been spread on purpose for us. The surrounding fields--many
of them tilled by our own hands--waved in green luxuriance, and the
wind, as it passed over them in gentle gusts, caused each stalk of tall
jowaree to be agitated, while the sun shining brightly, made the whole
glitter so that it was almost painful to look on for a continuance.
Birds sang in the lofty banian trees which overshadowed us; hundreds of
green parroquets sported and screamed in their branches, as they flew
from bough to bough, some in apparent sport, others to feed on the now
ripening berries of the trees; and the whole grove resounded with the
cooing of innumerable turtle-doves, whose gentle and loving murmurs
soothed the turbulence of the heart, and bade it be at peace and rest
and as happy as they were.

My father and Hoosein were present to guide us by their counsels
and experience, and the matter in hand was commenced by a sacrifice
and invocation to Bhowanee; but as I have before described these
ceremonies, it is needless to repeat them; suffice it to say that
the omens were taken and were favourable in the highest degree; they
assured us, and though I had little faith in them notwithstanding all I
had heard to convince me of their necessity, they inspirited the whole
band, and I partook of the general hilarity consequent upon them. My
father opened the object of the meeting in a short address. He said
he was old and no longer fitted for the fatigues and privations of a
journey; he recapitulated all I had done on the former expedition,
pointed out the various instances in which I had displayed activity,
daring, and prudence beyond my years, and concluded by imploring the
men to place implicit confidence in me, to obey me in all things as
though he himself were present, and above all not to give way to any
disposition to quarrel among themselves, which would infallibly lead to
the same disastrous results as had overtaken the expedition which had
gone out the previous year.

They one and all rose after this address, and by mutual consent swore
on the sacred pickaxe to obey me--the most impressive oath they could
take, and any deviation from which they all firmly believed would draw
down the vengeance of our Protectress upon them and lead to their
destruction. I will not occupy your time, Sahib, by a narration of what
I myself said; suffice it to say, I proposed that the band should take
the high road to the Dukhun, and penetrate as far as Jubbulpoor or
Nagpoor; from thence we would take a direction eastward or westward, as
hope of booty offered, and so return to our home. Khândésh I mentioned
as being but little known to us Thugs, and where I thought it likely we
might meet with good booty, as I had heard that the traders of Bombay
were in the habit of sending large quantities of treasure to their
correspondents in Malwa for the purchase of opium and other products
of that district. I concluded by assuring them that I had a strong
presentiment of great success, that I felt confidence in myself, and
that, if they would only follow me faithfully and truly, we might
return in a few months as well laden with spoil as we had on the former
occasion.

Again they rose and pledged their faith; and truly it was a solemn
sight to see those determined men nerve themselves for an enterprise
which might end happily, but which exposed them to fearful risk of
detection, dishonour, and death.



CHAPTER XXVI.


Our meeting broke up, and I returned to prepare Azima for my departure.
I had invented a tale to excuse my absence. I told her that the money
which I had gained on my mercantile expedition to the Dukhun was now
nearly expended; and although, in her society, and in the enjoyment of
happiness such as I had never hoped for, I had been hitherto unwilling
to leave my home, yet I could delay to do so no longer without absolute
ruin staring us in the face. I added, that my father had placed a sum
of money at my disposal for the purposes of trade; with which, if I met
with the success I had reasonable ground to hope for, from the letters
of my correspondents at Nagpoor and other places, I could not fail
of realizing a handsome profit--enough to allow us another continued
enjoyment of peace and affluence.

Long and vainly she strove to overrule my determination, pointed out
the dangers of the road, the risks to which I should be necessarily
exposed, the pain my absence would cause to her; but finding these
were of no avail, as I told her my plans had been long laid, and that
I was even now expected at Saugor, where my agents had collected the
horses I was to take for sale, she implored me to take her and our
children with me, adding that travelling was a matter of no difficulty
to her, and that the children would enjoy the change of scene and the
bustle and novelty of the camp. But this also I overruled. It would
have been impossible to take her, not to mention the expense of her
travelling-carriage; and at last, after much pleading and objections of
the description I have mentioned, she consented to remain; and placing
her under my father's care on the morning we were to depart, I took
an affectionate farewell of her. Many were the charms and amulets she
bound about my arms and hung round my neck, which she had purchased
from various wandering Fakeers and holy moolas; and with streaming eyes
she placed my hands upon the heads of my children and bade me bless
them. I did so fervently and truly, for I loved them, Sahib, with a
love as intense as were the other passions of my nature.

At last I left her. Leaving one's home is never agreeable, often
painful; for the mind is oppressed with indistinct visions of distress
to those one leaves behind, and is too prone to imagine sources from
which it might spring, though in reality they exist not. It was thus
with me; but the appearance of my gallant band, as they greeted my
arrival among them with a hearty shout, soon dispelled my vague
apprehensions, and my spirit rose when I found myself in the condition
which had been the object of many a fervent aspiration. I was my own
master, with men willing to obey me, and--Inshalla! I exclaimed to
myself, now Ameer Ali's star is in the ascendant, and long will it
gleam in brightness!

I have told you of the ceremonies which immediately preceded our
departure on a former occasion; of course they were repeated on this;
the omens were again declared to be favourable by Motee-ram, who was
our standard-bearer and director of all our ceremonies, as Bhudrinath
had been; and we proceeded, accompanied for some coss by my father and
Hoosein, who stored my mind with the results of their long experience.
Among other things both particularly urged me to avoid the destruction
of women. "In olden times," said my father, "they were always spared;
even parties in which there might by chance be any, although in other
respects good bunij, were abandoned on their account, as, our patroness
being a female, the destruction of her sex was considered obnoxious
to her, and avoided on every occasion. Moreover, men are the only fit
prey for men; no soldier wars with women, no man of honour would lift a
finger against them; and you of all, my son, who have a beauteous wife
of your own, will be the last to offer violence to any of her sex."

"Rely upon me that I will not," said I; "I was, as you know, strongly
against the fate of the unhappy women who died on my first expedition,
and, you will remember, I had no hand in their deaths; but I was
overruled in my objections, first by Bhudrinath and afterwards by
Surfuraz Khan, and what could I do? And it would be terrible indeed
to think that the distresses of their party and the unknown fate of
poor Bhudrinath were owing to the tardy, but too sure vengeance of our
patroness."

"It may be so," said my father; "but let not that prey on your mind;
both myself and Hoosein have killed many a woman in our time, and, as
you know, no ill effects have resulted from it. But bear in mind what I
have said, act with wisdom and discretion, and above all pay implicit
attention to the omens, and your success and protection are sure."

We rode on, conversing thus, and when we arrived at the boundary-stone
of our village, we dismounted and embraced each other, and I left them
and rode on with my men. According to our rules, no one was to shave
or eat _pan_ until our first victim fell; and as this was a matter
of inconvenience to many of the men, you may be sure we had our eyes
in all directions, and our scouts well occupied in every village we
passed through or halted at. But it was not till the fifth day that
we met with any one who offered a secure, and in every way eligible,
sacrifice; we had fallen in with bands of travellers, some going to,
and others departing from, their homes; but they had invariably women
in their company, and them I was determined to spare, as well for my
wife's sake as from the injunctions of my father.

However, as I have said, on the fifth day, early in the morning, we
came to a cross-road, and were glad to see a party of nine travellers,
three upon ponies, having the appearance of respectable men, and the
rest on foot, coming up the road a short distance from us. To our
great joy they struck into the road we were about to take. We had
halted in pretended indecision as to the road, and when they came up
we asked it of them. They readily pointed to the one before us, and
although expressing themselves astonished at our numbers, they agreed
to accompany us to the village where we proposed to halt, and the road
to which we had inquired of them. I soon entered into conversation
with the most respectable of their party; and I replied, in answer to
his inquiries, that we were soldiers proceeding, after our leave to
Hindostan, to Nagpoor, where we were in service. He told me in return,
that he and his brother, one of the two others mounted, with a friend
and some attendants, were on a travelling expedition; that they had
come from Indoor, and were going to Benares, as well for the purchase
of cloths and brocades, as to visit that sacred place of Hindoo
pilgrimage.

Ho, ho! thought I, these are assuredly men of consequence going in
disguise, and I have no doubt are well furnished with ready cash. No
time must be lost, as they have come by a cross-road, and have not been
seen in our company; there can consequently be no trace by which we
could possibly be suspected on their disappearance; so the sooner they
are dealt with the better. To this end I lagged behind a little, and
imparted my determination to Peer Khan, who rode in the rear of all; by
him it was told to another, and thus it circulated throughout the band
before we had gone far. I was gratified and delighted to see how, as
they became aware of what was to be done, each took his station, three
Thugs to each traveller, and the rest disposed themselves around the
whole, so as to prevent any possibility of escape. I remembered the
road well, for it was that upon which we had travelled before; and what
Thug ever forgets a road? I knew also that, although the country around
us was open and bare, there was a river not far off, the sandy bed of
which was full of the wild cypress, and the bodies could be easily
disposed of in the brushwood.

When we arrived at the brink of the river, the man I had continued to
converse with begged for a short halt. "We have been travelling since
midnight," said he, "and I for one am well tired, and should be glad of
rest."

I made no objection of course, for it was the very thing I wished;
and dismounting, and leading my horse to the water, I allowed him to
drink, and then joined the party, which had all collected, and were
now seated; the travellers discussing a hasty meal they had brought
with them, and the Thugs sitting or standing around them, but all in
their proper places. I was on the point of giving the _jhirnee_, and
I saw the Bhuttotes handling their roomals in a significant manner,
when, thanks to my quick sense of hearing, I distinguished voices at
a distance. It was well for us that I had not given the signal; we
should have been busily engaged in stripping the bodies when the party
I had heard would have come upon us. Of course they would have seen at
a glance what we were about, and have taken the alarm. But our good
destiny saved us. I hesitated, as I have said, and in a few minutes
fourteen travellers made their appearance, and came directly up to
where we were sitting. They were persons of all descriptions, who had
associated for mutual protection, and I had half determined to destroy
them also, which I think we could have done, when they relieved me
greatly by taking their departure, wishing us success and a pleasant
and safe journey.

On one pretence or another I delayed our associates until the other
party had proceeded far beyond the risk of hearing any noise, should
there be any; and now, seeing everything ripe for the purpose, I called
out for some tobacco, the word we had agreed to use, as being least
likely to attract attention or inspire suspicion. I had planted myself
behind the man I had been speaking to, and as I spoke my handkerchief
was thrown! Three years' rest had not affected the sureness of my hold,
and he lay a corpse at my feet in an instant. My work was done, and
I looked around to see the fate of the rest; one poor wretch alone
struggled, but his sufferings were quickly ended, and the party was
no more! "Quick, my lads!" cried I to the Lughaees, "quick about your
work!" One of them grinned.

"Why," said he, "did you not observe Doolum and four others go away to
yon brushwood when we reached this spot? Depend upon it they have the
grave ready, or they have been idle dogs."

And it was even so; the grave had been dug while the unsuspecting
travellers sat and conversed with us. We were so busily engaged
in stripping the dead, that no one observed the approach of two
travellers, who had come upon us unawares. Never shall I forget their
horror when they saw our occupation; they were rooted to the spot
from extreme terror: they spoke not, but their eyes glared wildly
as they gazed, now at us and now at the dead. "Miserable men," said
I, approaching them, "prepare for death! you have been witnesses of
our work, and we have no resource but your destruction for our own
preservation."

"Sahib," said one of them, collecting his energies, "we are men, and
fear not to die, since our hour is come;" and he drew himself up
proudly and gazed at me. He was a tall, powerful man, well armed, and I
hesitated to attack him.

"I give you one alternative," said I; "become a Thug, and join our
band--you shall be well cared for, and you will prosper."

"Never!" he exclaimed; "never shall it be said that Tilluk Sing, the
descendant of a noble race of Rajpoots, herded with murderers, and
lived on their unblessed gains. No! if I am to die, let it be now. Ye
are many; but if one among you is a man, let him step forward, and here
on this even sand I will strike one blow for my deliverance;" and he
drew his sword, and stood on the defensive.

"I am that man," cried I, though the band with one voice earnestly
dissuaded me from the encounter, and declared that he was more than a
match for me: "I am that man; now take your last look on the heavens
and the earth, for by Alla you never quit this spot!"

"Come on, boasting boy!" he exclaimed; "give me but fair play, and bid
none of your people interfere, and it may not be as you say."

"Hear, all of you," cried I to them; "meddle not in this matter--'tis
mine, and mine only. As for the other, deal with him as ye list;" and
in an instant more he was numbered with the dead.

"These are your cowardly tricks," cried the Rajpoot, now advancing on
me, for he had stood contemplating the fate of his companion; "my end
may follow his, but I shall die the death of a soldier, and not that of
a mangy dog as he has done."

I have before told you, Sahib, that my skill in the use of every weapon
was perfect, thanks to my good instructor; and I had never relaxed
in those manly exercises which fit a man for active combat whenever
he shall be called into it. My sword was the one Nuwab Subzee Khan
had so much admired, and I felt the confidence of a man when he has
a trusty weapon in his hand and knows how to wield it. I have said
that the Rajpoot advanced on me; he had no shield, which gave me an
immense advantage, but the odds were in his favour from his height and
strength, yet these are a poor defence against skill and temper.

He assailed me with all his force and fury; blow after blow I caught on
my sword and shield, without striking one myself; he danced round me
after the fashion of his people, and now on one leg now on the other,
he made wild gyrations, and at intervals rushed upon me, and literally
rained his blows at my person; but I stood fixed to the spot, for I
knew how soon this mode of attack must exhaust him, and the loose sand
of the river added to his fatigue. At length he stood still and glared
on me, panting for breath. "Dog of a Kafir!" cried he, "son of an
unchaste mother, will nothing provoke thee to quit that spot?"

"Kafir!" I exclaimed, "and son of a Kafir, thy base words have sealed
thy fate;" and I rushed on him. He was unprepared for my attack, made a
feeble and uncertain blow at me, which I caught on my shield, and the
next instant my sword had buried itself deep in his neck. He fell, and
the blood gushed from the wound and from his mouth.

"Shookur Khoda!" exclaimed Peer Khan, "you have settled his business
nobly; let me embrace thee;" and he folded me in his arms.

The Rajpoot was not dead; he had sufficient strength remaining to raise
himself up on his arm, and he looked at me like a devil; he made many
attempts to speak; his lips moved but no sound followed, as the blood
prevented utterance, "Some of you put him out of his pain," said I;
"the man behaved well, and ought not to suffer."

Peer Khan took my sword and passed it through his heart; he writhed for
an instant, and the breath left his body. "Away with him!" cried I, "we
have loitered too long already."

The Lughaees took him by his legs and arms, to avoid his blood, and
carried him away; others strewed a quantity of dry sand over the spot
where he had fallen, and in a few minutes more we were pursuing our way
as if nothing had happened. After this proof of my personal courage and
skill, I may safely say I was almost adored by the whole band. They all
assured me that a Thug having killed a traveller and a soldier in fair
open combat was an unprecedented circumstance, and only required to be
known to make me the envy of old and young, and I gloried in what I had
done; their praise was sweet incense to my vanity.

The booty we got from the merchant and his brother was rich, and was of
itself a fair amount of booty for any expedition. Some were even for
turning back, but they were only two or three voices, and were easily
overruled. "It would be a shame," I said, "if, while fortune favoured
us, we did not take advantage of our good luck." Sahib, we continued
our march, and when we had reached Saugor we had killed nineteen other
travellers, without, however, having obtained much plunder; ten,
fifteen, and, on one occasion only, nearly a hundred rupees, were as
much as any of them afforded us.

The town of Saugor was, and is now, a large and busy place, built on
the edge of an immense lake, nearly as large as that of the Hoosein
Sagor; the cooling breezes which travel over it make it a delightful
spot. We encamped on the border of the lake near the town. For the
four days we remained there, we daily perambulated the bazars, and
frequented the shops of Bhuttearas, one of whom was well known to Peer
Khan, and whom we paid handsomely for information. He promised to be on
the look-out for us, and on the third day after our arrival, Peer Khan
came to me in the evening, as I sat before the entrance of my little
tent, smoking and enjoying the delightful breeze which came over the
vast sheet of water spread before me.

"Meer Sahib," said he, "the Bhutteara is faithful; he has got news of a
Sahoukar going our road, who is to leave this place in about a week; he
says we are certain of him, but that we must quit this spot, and march
about within a few coss of the town, leaving two or three men with him
to carry information."

"Ul-humd-ul-illa!" cried I, "he is a worthy man; we will listen to his
advice, and be off to-morrow early. Three of the best runners shall
stay here as he counsels to bring us the news."

"But he stipulates for a large reward in case we are successful."

"I see nothing against it," said I; "he will be worthy of it if he is
true to his word."

"Oh, for that you need not fear; he is faithful so long as you pay him."

"Then he shall have it. How much does he want?"

"Two hundred rupees if we get five thousand," he replied; "double, if
we get ten; and in proportion if between one and the other."

"If the Sahoukar is rich, Khan," said I, "we can well spare what he
asks; so go and tell him he shall have it."

"I go," he said: "should I not return, conclude that I have stayed with
him." He sought out the men he required to accompany him, and taking
them and a small bundle of clothes with him, I watched him far beyond
the precincts of our camp on his way to the town.



CHAPTER XXVII.


We travelled from village to village for four days, meeting with no
adventure, and in truth I was beginning to be weary of the delay and
inactivity, when, on the fifth morning, one of the men we had left
behind to bring information arrived.

"Peer Khan, Sahib, sends his salam," said he, "and requests you will
return immediately, as the bunij has been secured, and is about to
leave the city."

"Know you aught of who he is?"

"No, I do not, Meer Sahib. I lived at the Bhutteara's, and he and the
Jemadar were often in earnest conversation about him, but I was not let
into the secret."

"'Tis well," I replied; "refresh yourself, and be ready to accompany
us. How far are we from Saugor?"

"By the way I came, about fourteen coss," said he, "but by a path which
I know, the city is not more than half the distance."

"Then we may be there by evening?"

"Certainly; by noon if you please--and I will conduct you now."

Accordingly, guided by him through a wild track which I should never
have found alone, we reached Saugor towards evening, and after
occupying our former ground, I hurried to the Bhutteara's, where I was
pretty sure of meeting my friends. Peer Khan was there, and welcomed
me. "I was fearful the messenger would miss you," said he; "but, praise
to Alla, you are come."

"And this is our worthy ally, I suppose?" said I, making a salutation
to the Bhutteara.

"The same," he answered; "your poor slave Peroo is always happy when he
can serve his good friends."

"I have not forgotten what you are to get, my friend," said I, "and you
may depend on the word of a true Thug for it. Are we sure of the man?"

"As sure," said Peer Khan, "as of those who have hitherto fallen;
to-morrow he will take his last look on Saugor."

"Ul-humd-ul-illa!" I exclaimed; "so much the better. And he will be a
good bunij, you think?"

"He will be worth seven or eight thousand good rupees to you," said the
Bhutteara; "and all _nugd_ (ready money) too."

"Good again, friend; but why do you not take to the road? You are a
likely fellow enough."

"Oh, I have tried it already," said he, laughing; "I was out on two
expeditions with Ganesha Jemadar. Do you know him?"

"I have heard of him," I replied; "he is a leader of note."

"He is," said the Bhutteara; "but he is a cruel dog; and to tell the
truth--I fear you will think me a coward for it--I did not like the way
he treated the poor people he fell in with; so I quitted active work,
and only do a little business as you see now, by which I pick up a
trifle now and then."

"Well," said I, "you do good, it appears; but beware how you act, and
see that you do not bully poor Thugs out of their money by threatening
to denounce them." The fellow winced a little at my observation, but
recovering himself, stoutly protested he had never been guilty of so
base an act.

Peer Khan threw me a sly look, as much as to say, you have hit the
right nail on the head; but I did not press the matter further, for we
were completely in his power. "Then," said I, "we start in the morning
I suppose?"

"Do so," replied the man; "the Sahoukar goes to Jubbulpoor. It would
be as well not to show yourselves for some days, as he might take the
alarm, and some people of note have disappeared of late on the road."

"Now," said I to Peer Khan, "we have no further business here, and I am
tired; let us go to the camp. We can send two scouts to remain here, to
give us intelligence of the Sahoukar's departure, if necessary." The
men were instructed in what they had to do, and we left them and the
Bhutteara.

"You probed that rascal deeply by what you said," said Peer Khan as we
walked along: "it is the very practice by which he gets his money; the
fellow is as rich as a Sahoukar by this means, and never omits to levy
a contribution on every gang which passes Saugor."

"Then," said I, "my mind is made up as to his fate. Such a wretch is
not fit to live--a cowardly rascal, who sits at his ease, runs no risk,
undergoes no fatigue, and yet gets the largest share of any one. He
ought to die. What say you to putting him to death?"

"It is a rare plan," replied he; "but how to get him out of the town I
know not; he is as wary as a fox."

"Oh," said I, "that is more easily managed than you think. The Kafir is
fond of money?"

"As fond as he is of his own miserable existence."

"Then, Peer Khan, we have him. Directly we get to the camp I will send
a man with a message, which you shall hear me deliver, and if it does
not bring him, call Ameer Ali a father and grandfather of jackasses."

"Good," said he, laughing; "we will see this rare plan of yours; but
I tell you the villain is most wary. I never knew him come out except
in broad daylight, when there was no danger, and then only to small
parties."

"Here, Junglee," said I to a smart young fellow who always attended my
person; "you know Peroo, the Bhutteara?"

"Certainly; my lord was with him this afternoon. I know his house, for
I was in the bazar purchasing some flour, and saw my lord at the shop."

"Good," said I; "then you will have no need to inquire for it. Now go
to the Bhutteara, and take my seal-ring with you: mind you don't let it
go out of your hand; tell him, with many compliments from me, that as
we are so sure by his kindness of the bunij in prospect, and have some
money with us, I will pay him what he asks, if he will come here to
receive it. Say that I do so, as our return by this road is uncertain
and may be at a distant period, and that I shall have no means of
sending him the coin; and add, that I do this favour to him, as I am
convinced of his good faith, and have placed implicit reliance in his
assertions. Now, can you remember all this? Mind you speak to him in
Ramasee,--he understands it."

"Certainly," said the lad; "I know all." And he repeated what I had
told him word for word.

"That will do," said I, "and here is the ring: now be off,--run, fly,
and let us see how soon you will earn two rupees."

"I am gone, Jemadar Sahib," cried he joyfully. "I will be back
instantly."

"That is a sharp lad," said Peer Khan; "he takes one's meaning so
readily. But oh, Meer Sahib, Peroo will never come for that message; he
is too old a bird to be caught with chaff."

"Depend on it he will; he will hear the tinkling of the silver, and
will run to it as ever lover did to his mistress's signal. Besides, he
has no chaff in prospect, but rupees, man, rupees. The fellow would run
to Delhi for as much."

"We shall see," said Peer Khan. "If it be written in his fate that he
is to come, why, Alla help him, come he must, there is no avoiding
destiny. What! Peroo the Bhutteara come out of his house at night to
visit Thugs! I say the thing is impossible; it has often been tried,
and failed utterly; the fellow laughed at them, as well he might."

"For all your doubts, Khan," said I, "Inshalla! we will throw earth on
his beard to-night; and as we may as well be ready, call Motee, and two
or three Lughaees; the grave must be dug, and that immediately."

Motee came, but was as desponding of success as Peer Khan. "You will
never take him," he said; "did not Ganesha offer to divide a large
booty here last year, and that Peroo should have a share if he would
come to take it? and he sent word that he laughed at our beards, and we
had better leave his share in the hollow of an old tree known to us, or
he would send the whole police of Saugor after us in the morning."

"And so you left the share?"

"We did, and it was a good one too."

"Then Ganesha was an owl, and I will tell him so if I ever meet him.
Peroo should not have had a cowree from me; nor will he now unless he
comes to take it."

We were silent for some time, and I could hear the dull blows of the
pickaxe, as the sound was borne by the chill night-wind from the
place where the grave was preparing. He will come, thought I, and his
iniquity will be ended: shame on the cold-blooded coward who can sell
men's lives as he does, without striking a blow against them! As I was
thus musing, our messenger was seen, in the dusky light, returning
at the top of his speed, and alone. "We told you so!" cried both my
associates triumphantly; "we told you how it would be!" I was vexed,
and bit my lips to conceal my chagrin. "Let us hear what he says, at
any rate," said I.

"Well, what news, Junglee?" cried I, as he ran up quite out of breath.

"Wait a moment, Jemadar," said he, "till I can speak: I have run hard."

"Here, drink some water: it will compose you. What has happened. Is
there any alarm?"

"Ah, no alarm," replied the lad, "but listen. I went as fast as I could
without running, for I thought if I appeared out of breath when I
reached him he might suspect something; so when I got to the town gate,
I walked slowly till I reached his shop. He was busy frying kabobs for
some travellers, and told me to go into his private room and wait for
him. In a short time he came to me.

"'Well,' said he, 'what news? Why have you come? The bunij is safe; it
was but just now that one of your scouts came and said he had heard
orders given for his departure to-morrow. What do you want?'

"So I repeated your message, word for word as you delivered it to
me, and he seemed much agitated. He walked up and down the room for
some time, talking to himself, and I could hear the words 'Ganesha,'
'treachery,' once or twice repeated. So at last I grew tired of this,
and said to him, 'I cannot wait, I have orders to return immediately:
will you come or not?' and this stopped him; he turned round and looked
at me severely--

"'Tell me,' said he, 'young man, was Motee-ram present when this
message was delivered?'

"'No, he was not,' I replied.

"'Did he know it?'

"'No; he had not returned from the town when I received it; at any
rate, neither I nor the Jemadar Sahib saw him.'

"'Was Peer Khan present?'

"'No,' said I stoutly, 'he was not.'

"'But he left this place in company with your master.'

"'He may have done so,' said I, 'but I did not see him; I was preparing
the Jemadar's bedding when he returned, and the message was delivered
to me privately; for after he lay down to rest he called to me and
delivered it: and I may as well tell you that he counted out the money
from a bag which was under his pillow.'

"'How much was there set apart for me?'

"'Two hundred and fifty rupees; he was counting more, but he stopped
short, put the rest into the bag, and said it would be enough.'

"'And how much is in the bag?'

"'Alla maloom!' said I; 'how should I know anything about it?'

"'Who sleep in the tent with the Jemadar?' he asked, after another
silence and a few more turns about the room.

"'No one,' said I. 'I sleep across the doorway; but no one is ever
allowed to enter.'

"'You are a good lad,' he rejoined, 'and a smart fellow. How should you
like to be a bhutteara?'

"'Well enough,' said I; for I wanted to see what he was driving at, and
I suspected no good."

"Did you ever hear of such a rascal?" said Peer Khan. "Oh, if we only
had him, I would wring the base neck off his shoulders."

"Let him go on," said I; "don't interrupt him."

"Well," continued Junglee, "he paced to and fro again several times,
and at last came and sat by me, and took my hand in his. I did not like
it, so I laid my other on the hilt of my dagger, which was concealed in
my waistband.

"'Junglee,' said he to me, 'thou art a good lad, and may be to me a
son if thou wilt aid me in this matter. Young as thou art, this bloody
trade can have no charms for thee; besides, I'll warrant your Jemadar
does not make a pet of you as I would, and obliges you to work hard?' I
nodded.

"'Ay! it is even so,' said he, 'and thou wouldst be free? speak, boy,
and fear not; thou shalt be a son to me. Alla help me! I have neither
wife nor child.' I nodded again.

"'That is right,' continued he; 'although you are ill used, you do not
like to abuse the salt you have eaten, and I like you the better for
it. Now listen to me. I will come, but not now. You say you lie at the
entrance of the tent--good: you must sleep as sound as if you had taken
opium--do you hear? I shall step quietly over you, and I know an old
trick of tickling with a straw--do you understand?'

"'I do,' said I; 'you would have the large bag.'

"'Exactly so, my son,' said he, 'you have guessed rightly; trust me,
I will have it. As I go away I will touch you; you need not follow me
then, but you can watch your opportunity.'

"'But the scouts,' added I; 'you have not thought of them.'

"'Oh, I can easily avoid them; the night is dark and cloudy, and no one
will see me; I shall strip myself naked, and throw a black blanket over
me.'

"'Then I agree,' said I; 'and I will quit those horrid people and
become an honest man. Now what am I to say to the Jemadar?'

"'Say,' replied he, 'that the herdsman's flock has often been robbed
by the wolf of its fattest sheep; and the herdsman said to himself,
I will catch the wolf and put him to death. And he dug a hole, and
suspended a fat lamb over it in a basket, and sat and watched; and the
wolf came, and saw from afar off that there was something unusual in
the generosity of the herdsman, and he said to himself, Wolf, thou art
hungry, but why should one lamb tempt thee? the time will come when
thou mayest find the herdsman asleep; so wait, although thy stomach is
empty. Say this to the Jemadar and he will understand thee.'"

"By Alla! thou hast done well, Junglee," said I, "and thy faithfulness
shall surely be well rewarded. What think you, my friends, of this
villain?"

"Ah, we are not astonished," cried both, "it is just like him; but,
Inshalla! he will fall into his own snare."

"Now," said I, "call two of the scouts;" and they came. After I had
told them of the plot Peeroo had formed. "My friends," I continued,
"you must allow this rascal to come into the camp: one of you lie down
close to my tent, and pretend to be asleep; but have your eyes open,
and directly you see him enter, rouse Peer Khan and Motee, and bring
them to the entrance; and do you two then place yourselves one on
each side of the door, so that he cannot see you. I shall feign to be
asleep, and shall let him take the bag, though he should even fall over
me in doing so; as he comes out you can seize him and hold him fast; do
him no harm till I come; and as for you, Junglee, if you do not sleep
as sound as though a seer of opium was in your stomach, I swear by Alla
you shall lie in the same grave with him."

"Do not fear me," said the lad; "I have eaten your salt, you are my
father and my mother, you have treated me kindly, and how could I
deceive you? had I intended it, I had not mentioned a word of what he
told me."

"Then we are all prepared," said I. "Did he say when he would come?"

"He did," said Junglee; "in the second watch of the night, when he had
no more business."

"Good; then mind you are all ready, and we will spit on his beard."

Anxiously to me did the hours pass, till the time came when I might
expect him. I went out of my little tent repeatedly to see that all
were at their proper posts, and returned as often, satisfied that they
were. Peer Khan was lying near my tent apparently in a sound sleep, but
I knew he was awake; the scouts were wandering lazily about; above all,
the night was so dark that I could not see my hand before me, and the
splashing and murmuring of the tiny waves of the lake upon the shore
would prevent any noise of his footsteps being heard. "Yes," I said,
half aloud, as I retired to my carpet for the last time, "he will come;
thief as he is, he will not miss such a night as this; but the darkness
favours us as much as it does him."

"Now, Junglee," said I, "this is the last time I stir out; mind your
watch, my good lad, and I will not forget you; Peer Khan is close at
the back of the tent: I care not much about the rest, they will soon be
collected when he is caught."

"Do not fear me," said the boy; "my eyes are not heavy with sleep, and
when I move from this spot to call Peer Khan, a rat will not hear me."

I went in and lay down; I drew my trusty blade and laid it close to
my right hand, so that I could grasp it in a moment; and covering
myself up with my quilt, as well to hide it as to assure me when he
came (for I knew he would endeavour to pull it off me), I continued to
stare steadfastly on the entrance of the tent; and my eyes becoming
sensible of the greater darkness of the inside than of the outside, I
was certain that if any one entered, or even passed the door, I should
see him. Long, long did I lie in this position; I hardly stirred, lest
Peeroo should be outside listening whether I was awake. It was now, I
guessed, considerably past midnight; still no one came, and I should
have been inclined to despair, did I not feel certain that his fate
would lead him to destruction. Why is it, Sahib, that one has these
presentiments? I have often felt them during my lifetime, but I never
could account for them.

At last he came. I saw an object darken the doorway, hesitate for a
moment, and then pass in over the body of Junglee, who snored so loudly
and naturally that I could have declared he was asleep, had I not
known the contrary by having spoken to him a short time before. Alla!
Alla! Sahib, how my heart beat!--I could hear its throbbings, and they
seemed to be so loud in my breast that I thought he would hear them
too. Another thought flashed across me--could he be armed? and would he
attempt to destroy me? It might be; and I almost trembled as I thought
how I was to lie inactive and in his power while he abstracted the
bag; I was on the point of leaping up and passing my weapon through
his body, but I dismissed the idea. He is a thief, a miserable thief,
and has not courage to bring a weapon, much less to use it; and he
will want both his hands too--he cannot have one. So I lay quiet, with
my hands on the hilt of my sword. The tent was very low, and he was
obliged to advance stooping: he reached my side and knelt down, and as
I feigned the hard breathing of sleep, I felt his warm breath when he
looked over me and into my eyes to see whether I really slept or not.
He appeared satisfied that I did, for he instantly thrust his hand
under the pillow, but so quietly that I could not have felt it had I
been asleep: but the bag was not on that side, it was under my other
ear; he felt it, but found, I suppose, that he could not abstract it
without his awakening me; so he felt about on the ground for a piece
of straw or a blade of grass, and began tickling my ear on the side
next to him. I obeyed the intention of the action, and turned towards
him with a grunt: it startled him, and he was still for a moment: but
again his hand was groping; I felt the bag recede--recede till it was
withdrawn from the pillow; I heard the clink of the money as he placed
it on his shoulder, and I was content: I saw too that Junglee was not
at the door (though when he had gone I know not--having been too much
occupied by my own situation), and that the Bhutteara was aware of it.
He stopped, and murmured in a low tone, "Strange that he should be
gone; but he knows the way and will not disappoint me." Another step,
and he was beyond the threshold, and in the rough grasp of Peer Khan,
Motee, and a dozen others.

"Capitally managed!" cried I, as I ran to the door and joined the
group: "strike a light, one of you; let us see the face of this Roostum
among thieves--a fellow who dares to rob a Thug's camp and defy him to
his beard."

A light was brought, and there stood the trembling wretch, with the bag
of rupees still on his shoulder, and clutching it as though it were
his own. "Ha!" said I, "so it is you, Peeroo, and the wolf who was so
wary has fallen into the hands of the shepherds at last; he would not
take the little bait, but the large flock was well watched, and he has
fallen into the trap. And now, rascal," I continued, "thou wouldst
have robbed us, and dost deserve to die, yet upon thy answers to the
questions I will put to thee depends thy life or death."

"Name them, oh name them!" said the wretch; "let me live,--I will set
off without delay, I will even accompany you; you may turn me out from
among you in the jungle, and if ever my face is seen in Saugor again or
on this road, deal with me as ye list."

"Very good," said I; "now answer the following questions. Is the bunij
you have promised false?"

"As true as that I breathe: ah, Meer Sahib, have not your men seen the
preparations, and will not you hear the same to-morrow from them? how
could you doubt it?"

"How much money will you give us to let you go? I want two thousand
rupees."

"Ai Méré Sahib! Méré Sahib!" cried the wretch; "two thousand rupees!
where am I to get them? I have not a cowrie in the world."

"It is a lie," said Motee and several others; "you have thousands
of rupees which you have bullied poor Thugs out of; we could name a
hundred instances in which you have taken money from us: how dare you
deny it?"

"Look here," said I, "here is the roomal, and you know the use of it;
say whether you will give the money or not."

"I will give it," said he; "I will swear on the pickaxe to do so, and
do you come with me and take it."

"Ay," said I, "and be taken too ourselves! no, no, friend Bhutteara, do
not try to throw dust on our beards after that fashion. Inshalla! the
people who could catch you have sharper wits than you seemed to give
them credit for: no, man, I was but joking with thee--where is all thy
wealth concealed?"

"You may kill me if you will," said he, "but I give no answer to that
question."

"Ah, well," cried I, "you may think better of it when you are choking;
now you two hold him fast, and take the bag off his shoulders." They
did so. I threw the roomal about his neck, and tightened it till he was
almost choked: he made several attempts to speak, and at last I relaxed
my hold a little; but he could not utter a word--fear of death had
paralyzed his powers of utterance.

"Give him some water," said I, "it will wash down his fright." He
took it, and fell at my feet, and implored me to spare him. I spurned
and kicked him. "Where is the treasure?" I said: "you have felt the
tightening of the roomal once, beware how you risk it again: where is
the treasure?"

"Promise to let me live and I will tell," cried the Bhutteara,
trembling in every limb.

"I will promise," said I; "you shall remain here, and I will send
people to bring it; you well know we have no time for delay, and if you
trifle with us you know the result--you have already half felt it."

"Where is Motee-ram? he knows the spot."

"Liar! I know it not," cried Motee, stepping forward; "do you wish to
make me out to be a participator in your base gains?"

"You know the spot," continued the Bhutteara, "but you do not know
that there is aught there; you remember the old hollow mango-tree on
the other side of the town, where you left the last share I got from
Ganesha?"

"I do."----"Well, then, you must dig in the hollow of the trunk; about
a cubit deep you will find all I have--gold, silver, and ornaments."

"Now," said I, "villain, I have kept my word, you _shall_ remain here;
the grave is dug which shall hold thee, and has been ready for hours:
I swore that I would spit on thy beard before morning, and Bhowanee,
whose votaries thou hast bullied and threatened, has delivered thee
into my hands:" and I spat on him; all the men who were near me did the
same. "Again," cried I, "hold him fast, and bring the tobacco." He knew
the fatal jhirnee, and struggled to be free; but he was a child in the
power of those who held him--in an instant more he was dead!

"Off with you, Motee!" cried I; "take ten men and go to the spot he
mentioned; he may have told the truth, and we shall be the richer for
it; then will many a man cry 'Wah! Wah!' when he hears of this deed."

The body was taken away and buried, the grave was smoothed over and
beaten down, the place plastered over, some fire-places made, and fires
lighted to blacken them, and our work was concealed. Now did not that
villain deserve his fate, Sahib? To my perception, his cold-blooded
work was far worse than our legitimate proceedings; and as for his
treachery, he paid the forfeit of it.

It was a fearful revenge, said I; but you spoilt the justice of it by
your vile love of plunder. Why should you have promised him his life,
and then have murdered him? that was base.

I did not promise it to him; I said he should remain where he was, and
he did remain--ay, he is there now.

It was a nice distinction certainly, Ameer Ali, and only shows
the more how little you are to be trusted. But how did you get on
afterwards,--had he told the truth about his money?

He had, replied the Thug. Long before morning Motee returned, and
rousing me, poured at my feet a heap of gold and silver coins,
necklaces, armlets, bracelets, and anklets. They were worth nearly
three thousand rupees, and not one article of them was there but had
been given him by Thugs. Motee, Peer Khan, and others recognised most
of the property. We melted all the ornaments, and divided the whole at
our next stage, and it was a good booty, and enriched us for a long
time; indeed I may say it lasted till our return home.

And the Sahoukar, I asked, was the news true about him?

Oh, quite true, said Ameer Ali; I will tell you of him. We left Saugor
early, and at a short distance on the road sat down to eat the goor, as
is usual with us after any adventure. While we were thus employed, one
of the scouts came up, and told us the joyful news that the Sahoukar
had left the town, and was close behind us, and that the other, whose
name was Bhikaree, had taken service with him as far as Jubbulpoor as
an attendant, to watch at night while the Sahoukar slept.

"And how does he travel?" I asked.

"He is on a tattoo, a good strong beast," said the scout, "and has
two others laden with him, and there are four men besides himself and
Bhikaree."

"Good," said I. "Now, my lads, we must push on; the Sahoukar must see
nothing of us for some days, and till then I shall avoid all others."

We hastened on, and got to the end of our stage. Three days we
travelled quietly, and from time to time observed the omens; they were
all favourable, and cheered us on. On the fourth, as if by accident,
we contrived to fall in with the Sahoukar and his people; our faithful
Bhikaree we rejoiced to see in his train. It was in the road that we
met with him, or rather allowed him to overtake us, and the usual
salutations passed. I was well dressed and well mounted, and looked a
soldier. He inquired our destination and business, to which the old
story was answered, and we proceeded merrily along. The Sahoukar was a
fat, jolly fellow, and witty in his way, and stories were interchanged,
and we all laughed heartily at his jokes. It is astonishing, Sahib, how
soon these trifles engender good will and friendship among travellers:
the loneliness of the road and the weariness of the stage are forgotten
in such pleasant conversation: and before we had reached the end of the
stage we were as great friends as though we had travelled together for
months, or known each other for years. A kind farewell was interchanged
as we parted at the village; he to put up inside it, in the bazar, and
we to our old plan of encampment.

"To-morrow," said I to the assembled men, "is a good day, it is Friday:
we must finish this business." All were agreed upon it, and at midnight
the Bélhas and Lughaees went on, the former to choose a spot for the
affair, and the latter to dig the grave.

At daylight, a man (our Bhikaree it was) came to say the Sahoukar would
wait for us at the other side of the village, and begged we would
be quick, as he liked our company, and wished for the safety of our
escort. "I have been frightening him a little," continued he, "and in
truth he has been in alarm ever since he left Saugor, for he had heard
of the disappearance of some parties on the road last year; so when we
met you yesterday he was highly delighted, and afterwards spoke warmly
of you, Jemadar Sahib, and said he could feel no fear in your society."

"Well done," cried I; "thou too hast played thy part well, and it shall
not be forgotten; but, my friends, the Sahoukar waits, and we had
better be moving; do you all surround his party as you did yesterday;
ply them with tales and stories, and keep their minds quiet."

"Jey Bhowanee! Jey Ameer Ali!" was the shout of the party as we quitted
the ground and took our way to the spot where the Sahoukar awaited us.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


"Ram! Ram! Meer Sahib," was the salutation of the Sahoukar as we met
at the spot whither Bhikaree had guided us. "Ram! Ram! I am glad you
have condescended to keep company with your poor servant, for truly the
sweet savour of your fluent discourse has left a longing in my heart
to hear more of it, and happily I am so far favoured."

I returned the usual compliments, and we set forward on our journey.
Gradually my band arranged themselves around their new victims. All
were at their places, and I eagerly looked out for the first scout who
should give us intelligence that the bhil was ready. A strange feeling
it is, Sahib, that comes over us Thugs at such moments: not a feeling
of interest or pity for our victims, or compunction for the deed we are
about to do, as perhaps you might expect to hear, but an all-absorbing
anxiety for the issue of the adventure, an intense longing for its
consummation, and a dread of interruption from passing travellers; and
though I had become now callous in a great measure, still my heart
was throbbing with anxiety and apprehension, and my replies to the
Sahoukar's witty and jolly remarks were vague and abstracted: my whole
thoughts were concentrated upon the affair in hand, and it was not to
be wondered at. He remarked my altered behaviour, and I rallied myself,
and was soon able to amuse him as I had done before.

"Ah! that is like yourself, Meer Sahib," said he, as I had just given
utterance to a joke which caused his fat sides to shake,--"that is like
yourself. Why, man, whose face did your first glance on awaking from
sleep rest on? Surely on some melancholy being, and you have partaken
of his thoughts ever since."

"I know not, Séthjee," I replied; "but you know that a man cannot
always command the same evenness of temper, and I confess that my
thoughts were far away, at my home."

"Well," said he, "all I wish for you and myself is a safe return to
our homes, for this travelling is poor work, and I have been unlucky
enough to start on a very indifferent day after all my waiting. I had
determined on leaving Saugor nearly a month ago, but on consulting the
astrologer, he delayed me from time to time, declaring this day was bad
and that day was worse, until I could stay no longer: and it was all
to little purpose, and I pray Naraynu to protect me and you from all
Thugs, thieves, and Dacoos."

"Ameen," said I; "I respond to your prayer most fervently, for I am on
my way to my service, where we chance often to get harder knocks than
we can bear. But do they say there are Thugs on the road, and who or
what are they? the term is new to me."

"Why truly I can hardly tell you, Meer Sahib. The Thugs, they say, are
people who feign one thing or other, till they get unwary travellers
into their power, and then destroy them; I have heard too that they
have handsome women with them who pretend distress on the roads, and
decoy travellers who may have soft hearts, to help them; then they
fasten on them, and they have some charm from the Shitan which enables
them to keep their hold till their associates come up, despite of
all the efforts of the person so ensnared to gain his liberty. And
that either thieves, or Thugs, or rascals of some kind or other do
infest the highways is most true, for many travellers disappear in an
unaccountable manner. But I do not fear; I am in the company of honest
men, and we are a large party, and they must be stout men or devils who
would assail us."

I laughed inwardly at the Sahoukar's idea of Thugs, and had no doubt
that Ganesha Jemadar was, if the truth were known, at the bottom of
the disappearance of the travellers. But I answered gaily, "Ah! no
fear, my friend. These Thugs, as you say, may now and then light upon
an unsuspecting single traveller and kill him, but no one would dare
to touch a party like ours; and, Inshalla! if any appear, we will let
daylight into some of their skins; there is nothing I love better than
making keema (mincemeat) of these rascals. I have done so once or twice
already, and I never found them stand when a sword was drawn. But
yonder, I see, is one of my men sitting; I wonder how he got on before
us. I will ask him. He must have started early to get a rest on the
road;" and as we reached him he slowly raised himself from the ground,
and made his salutation to me and the Sahoukar; he appeared tired and
acted his part well.

"How is this, Ameer Singh?" said I, "how is it that you are so much in
advance of us?"

"Oh," replied he readily, "a thorn ran into my foot yesterday, and as
I knew you would not wait for me, I started at midnight with a few
others, who said they would be my companions, and we travelled on
leisurely; but I could not proceed farther, as my foot was painful, and
I determined to wait for the party here to get a lift on a pony."

"You shall have it," said I; "mount the one which carries my baggage,
and I will see that a barber examines your foot when we reach the end
of the stage. But where are your companions?"

"They said there was a small river in advance, about half a coss off,
and they would proceed thither and wash their hands and faces; they
bade me tell you that, if I could not follow them, you would find them
there."

"Good," said I, "and I am glad to hear there is water near; we can
dismount and refresh ourselves, for the stage is a long one: how say
you, Séth Sahib? You Hindoos are as particular about your morning
ablutions as we Moslems are."

"True, true," he replied; "the news is welcome, for my mouth is dry,
and I have not as yet washed it; we will stop for a short time;
besides, my stomach is empty, and I have sweetmeats with me which I
will share with you, Meer Sahib; it is ill travelling without something
in the inside."

"A good thought," I replied, "and I shall be glad of them; I usually
bring some myself, but have neglected to do so in this instance."

The scout was right, the rivulet he mentioned was scarcely as far as
he had said, and we reached it after a few minutes' riding; and sure
enough there were my men sitting unconcernedly by the edge of the
water, busily discussing a hasty meal of some cakes they had brought
with them. "Bhillmanjeh, have you cleaned the hole?" I eagerly inquired
of the Belha.

"Manjeh," he replied.

"What did you ask?" said the Sahoukar; "if they have not a clean vessel
for you to drink out of, you can have one of mine."

"Thanks for your kindness," I replied, "but my good fellow here tells
me that he has brought one, and cleaned it ready for me."

We all dismounted; the men rushed into the water, and were each and all
busily engaged in washing their mouths and teeth, and drinking of the
pure element which murmured over its pebbly bed beneath their feet;
but none of them quitted their stations, and only awaited the signal
to do their work. "Is the bhil far distant?" I asked of the Belha who
presented me with a lota of water for the purposes of ablution.

"About an arrow's flight," said he, "down yonder in that thicket; it is
a good place, and a well-known one; it was on this spot that Ganesha
Jemadar had a rare bunij last year. But do not delay for the sun is
high, and travellers may be coming from the stage before us; this is
the only running water on the road, and all hasten to it to refresh
themselves."

"Then I am ready," said I; "and when you see me close to the Sahoukar,
I will give the signal; I see the men are all prepared." And I walked
towards him.

"Why don't you give the jhirnee?" said Motee-ram to me as I passed him,
"we are all waiting for it."

"Now," said I, "be ready; I go to my station." The fellow near whom he
was standing turned round, hearing us converse in a strange language;
but he immediately afterwards sat down and resumed the operation of
cleaning his teeth with great assiduity: there were two men behind him
who would shortly save him the trouble!

"Why, Séthjee," said I, "I wonder you do not go up higher; here you
have the water muddied by all the fellows above you. Come with me, and
I will show you a deep place where I have just washed, and where the
water is clear."

"Ah, I did not think of it," said he; "I will follow you." He had been
washing low down, and as I got him into the middle of the party I gave
the jhirnee.

Sahib, though I had not killed a man with the roomal for nearly four
years, I had not forgotten my old trick: he was dead, I think, ere he
reached my feet. Stupid it was in us to delay, and I prevented the
like in future. Every man resumed his employment of washing himself
as though nothing had happened, and there lay the bodies on the sand.
We were once again fated to be interrupted. Two travellers were seen
approaching, and the bodies were hastily covered with sheets, as if
those who lay beneath them were asleep; and I cried to the men for some
of them to sit and others lie down, and all to feign great weariness.
They did so, and the men came up; they were poor creatures, hardly
worth killing, and I proposed to Peer Khan to let them go, but he would
not hear of it.

"Let them go!" he cried; "are you mad? Do you not think that these
fellows already suspect who we are? Does a man ever come into the
presence of the dead, be they ever so well covered or disguised,
without a feeling that they are dead? and see, some of our men are
speaking to them; they are true bunij, and Davee has sent them."

"As you will," said I; "but there may be more of them."

"Hardly so soon," replied he; "these fellows must have left in the
night to be here so early; but come, let us ask them." And we walked up
to them.

"Salam!" said I, "where are you from so early; you have travelled fast
if you have come from the stage we hope to reach in the course of the
day; how far is it?"

"It is seven long coss," said the man, "and the sun will be high and
hot before you reach it; but we are in haste, and must proceed."

"Stay," said I, "dare not move till you are allowed; and tell me, how
many travellers put up last night in the village from whence you have
come?"

"Two besides ourselves," replied the other of the two, evidently in
alarm at my question. "Why do you ask?"

"Are you sure there were no more?"

"Certain," he replied; "we travelled together from Jubbulpoor, and put
up in the same house."

"And how far are they behind you?"

"They will be here immediately I should think, for we started at the
same time, but have outstripped them."

"Good," said I; "now sit down there, and wait till they come."

"Why is this?" cried both; "by what right do you detain travellers? we
will go on."

"Dare to stir at your peril," said I; "you have intruded on us, and
must pay the penalty."

"What penalty? Are you thieves? if so, take what you will from us and
let us go."

"We are not thieves," said Peer Khan; "but stay quiet, we are worse."

"Worse! then, brother, we are lost," cried one to the other; "these
villains are Thugs; it is even as I whispered to you when you must
needs stop among them: they have been at their horrid work, and yonder
lie those whom they have destroyed."

"Yes," said I, "unhappy men, you have guessed right; yonder lie the
dead, and you will soon be numbered with them; it is useless to strive
against your destiny."

I turned away, for I felt, Sahib--I felt sick at the thoughts of
destroying these inoffensive people. They might have passed on--but
Peer Khan was right, they had detected the dead, though the bodies had
been laid out and covered as if the senseless forms were sleeping--but
they lay like lumps of clay. No measured breathing disturbed the folds
of the sheets which covered them, and a glance had been sufficient to
tell the tale to the unfortunate people who had seen them. But I shook
off the feeling as best I could; had I given way to it, or betrayed its
existence to my associates, the power I possessed over them would have
been lost--and it was the spirit of my existence.

"They must die," said I to Peer Khan; "you were right, and they had
guessed the truth; but I wish it had been otherwise, and the lazy
Lughaees had done their work quickly; they might have passed on, and we
have had a good morning's work without them; they are not worth having."

"I would not exchange places with them for anything you could name,
Meer Sahib, and perhaps it were well to put them out of their suspense."

"Do so, Peer Khan, and get the rest with them removed; I will deal
with one of the other two coming up. These fellows are half dead
already with fear, and the others I will fall on in my own way; I hate
such passive victims as these will be."

Peer Khan and another went to the miserable wretches, who remained
sitting on the ground where we had left them. I watched them; they
stood up mechanically when they were ordered to do so, and stretched
out their necks for the fatal roomal, and were slain as unresistingly
as sheep beneath the knife of the butcher. The rest of the travellers
were not long coming, and were only two, as the others had said.

"Now," said I to Motee, "these fellows must be dealt with at once: you
take one, I will the other; they must not utter a word."

"I am ready," said he; and we arose and lounged about the road. The
travellers came up. One was a young and the other an old man. I marked
the young one, and as he passed me a Thug laid hold of his arm; he
turned round to resent it, and I was ready. These too were carried
away, and after collecting our dispersed party, we once more pursued
our route without interruption.

It had been a good morning's work. The Sahoukar was as rich as the
Bhutteara had said, and four thousand three hundred rupees greeted
our expectant eyes as the contents of the laden ponies were examined:
besides these there were six handsome shawls, worth better than a
thousand more, and a few pieces of cotton cloth, which were torn up and
immediately distributed. The other four travellers had upwards of a
hundred rupees, a sum not to be despised, and which I divided equally
among the band, reserving the large booty, and adding it to the sum we
had already gained.



CHAPTER XXIX.


We reached Jubbulpoor without another adventure of any kind, and
rested there for two days. Peer Khan, Motee, and myself perambulated
the bazars during the whole time, but not a traveller could we meet
with, nor could we learn that any were expected; it was therefore of no
use to remain, and as we had still plenty of time before us, we could
travel as leisurely as we pleased: so on the third morning we again
proceeded. The country between Jubbulpoor and Nagpoor is a wild waste.
Villages are not met with for miles and miles, the road is stony and
uneven, and the jungle thick and dangerous for nearly the whole way.
On this account the tract has always been a favourite resort of Thugs,
and more affairs have come off in those few marches than perhaps in any
other part of the country frequented by us. We were all regretting that
we had not met with some bunij at Jubbulpoor, wherewith to beguile the
weariness of the road, when, at our second stage, soon after we had
arrived, Motee, who had gone to look out for work for us, returned with
the glad news that there was a palankeen at the door of a merchant's
shop, surrounded by bearers and a few soldiers, which looked very much
as if it belonged to a traveller.

"But he must be of rank," said Motee, "therefore I humbly suggest that
you, Meer Sahib, should undertake to see who he is, and to secure him,
if possible."

I followed his advice, and changing my travelling attire for a dress
which would ensure my civil reception, I armed myself, and, attended by
a Thug, who carried my hooka, I sauntered into the village. I soon saw
the palankeen and men about it; and in order to gain some intelligence
to guide me, I went to a Tumbolee's shop directly opposite to it, and
sitting down, entered into conversation with the vendor of tobacco and
pan.

"This a wild country you live in, my friend," said I.

"Yes, it is, indeed, as you say," he replied; "and were it not for you
travellers, a poor man would have little chance of filling his belly by
selling pan and tobacco, but, as it is, my trade thrives well."

"There do not seem to be many on the road," said I; "I have come from
Jubbulpoor without meeting a soul."

"Why, the roads are hardly much frequented yet," he rejoined, "but in a
month more there will be hundreds; and there," he continued, pointing
to the house over the way, "there is almost the only one I have seen
for some time."

"Who is it?" I asked, "and where has he come from? he was not with us."

"I know not," replied the Tumbolee, "nor do I care; whoever he is, he
has bought a quantity of my stuff, and it was the first silver which
crossed my hands this morning."

I saw there was nothing to be got out of this man, so I went to
a Bunnea, a little further off, and, after a few preparatory and
indifferent questions, asked him whether he knew aught of the
traveller; but he knew nothing either, except that a slave-girl had
bought some flour of him. "They say," said he "that it is a gentleman
of rank who is travelling privately, and does not wish to be known; at
any rate, Sahib, I know nothing about him; I suppose, however, he will
come out in a short time." This is very strange, thought I; here is a
gay palankeen, eight bearers and some soldiers with it, come into this
wretched place, and yet no one's curiosity is aroused; who can it be? I
will return to the Tumbolee, and sit awhile; I may see, though I cannot
hear anything of this mysterious person.

I sat down at the shop, and calling to my attendant for my hooka,
remained there smoking, in the hope that some one might appear from
behind the cloths which were stretched across the verandah; nor did I
stay long in vain--I saw them gently move once or twice, and thought I
could perceive the sparkle of a brilliant eye directed to me. I riveted
my gaze on the envious purdah, and after along interval it was quickly
opened, and afforded me a transient momentary view of a face radiant
with beauty; but it was as instantly closed again, and I was left in
vain conjecture as to the beautiful, but mysterious, person who had
thus partially discovered herself to me. It would not have suited my
purpose to have personally interrogated any of the bearers, who were
lying and sitting about the palankeen, as it would have rendered them
suspicious, and would have been impertinent: after all, it was only a
woman--what had I to do with women now? And had I not made an inward
resolution never to seek them as bunij--nay, even to avoid parties in
which there might be any? So I arose, and took my way to our camp,
firmly resolving that I would pursue my march the next morning; for,
thought I, she must be some lady of rank travelling to her lord, and
Alla forbid that I should raise a hand against one so defenceless and
unprotected; and I thought of my own lovely Azima, and shuddered at
the idea of her ever being placed within reach of other members of my
profession, who might not be so scrupulous as I was.

But, Sahib, the resolves of men--what are they?--passing thoughts,
which fain would excite the mind to good, only to be driven away by the
wild and overpowering influences of passion. Despite of my resolve,
my mind was unquiet, and a thousand times fancy brought to my view
the look she had cast on me, and whispered that it was one of love. I
could not shake it off, and sought in the conversation of my associates
wherewith to drive her from my thoughts; but it was in vain--that
passionate glance was before me, and the beauteous eyes which threw it
seemed to ask for another, a nearer and more loving.

In this state I passed the day, now determining that I would resist the
temptation which was gnawing at my heart, and now almost on the point
of once more proceeding to the village and seeking out the unknown
object of my disquietude; and I was irresolute, when towards evening I
saw a slave-girl making towards the camp, and I went to meet her, but
not with the intention of speaking to her, should she prove to be only
a village girl. We met, and I passed her; but I saw instantly that she
was in search of some one, for she turned round hesitatingly and spoke
to me. "Forgive my boldness, Sahib," said she, "but I am in search of
some one, and your appearance tells me that it must be you."

"Speak," said I; "if I can aid you in anything, command me."

"I know not," she replied, "whether you are he or not; but tell me, did
you sit at the Tumbolee's shop this morning for some time, smoking a
hooka?"

"I did, my pretty maiden," said I; "and what of that? there is nothing
so unusual in it as to attract attention."

"Ah, no!" said the girl archly; "but one saw you who wishes to see you
again; and if you will now follow me, I will guide you."

"And who may this person be?" I asked; "and what can be his or her
business with a traveller?"

"Your first question I may not answer," said the girl; "and as to the
second, I am ignorant; but, by your soul, follow me, for the matter is
urgent; and I have most express commands to bring you if I possibly
can."

"I follow you," said I; "lead on."

"Then keep behind me at some distance," she said; "and when you see me
enter the house, step boldly in after me, as if you were the master."

I followed her. But ah! Sahib, observe the power of destiny. I might
have sat in my tent, and denied myself to the girl, who, something told
me, had come to seek me when I first saw her approach. I might, when I
did advance to meet her, have passed on indifferently; and, even when
she spoke to me, I might have denied that I was the person she was sent
after, or I might have refused to accompany her; but destiny impelled
me on, nay, it led me by the nose after a slave-girl, to plunge into an
adventure I fain would have avoided, and which my heart told me must
end miserably. Sahib, there is no opposing Fate; by the meanest ends
it works out the greatest deeds, and we are its slaves, body and soul,
blindly to do as its will works! I say not Thugs only, but the whole
human race. Is it not so?

It appears to me, Ameer Ali, said I, that poor Destiny has the blame
whenever your own wicked hearts fixed themselves on any object and you
followed their suggestions.

Nay, but I would have avoided this, cried the Thug; and have I not told
you so? Alla knows I would not have entered into this matter; but what
could I do? what were my weak resolves compared with his will! and yet
you will not believe me. Sahib, I do not tell a lie.

I dare say not, said I; but the beautiful eyes were too much for you;
so go on with your story.

The Thug laughed. They were indeed, said he, and accursed be the hour
in which I saw them. But I will proceed.

The slave preceded me; at some distance I followed her through the
village and its bazars, and saw her enter the house before which I had
sat in the morning. I too entered it, leaving my slippers at the door,
and with the confident air of a man who goes into his own house. I had
just passed the threshold, when the slave stopped me.

"Wait a moment," said she; "I go to announce you;" and she pulled aside
the temporary screen and went in.

In a few moments she returned, and bade me follow her. I obeyed her,
and in the next instant was in the presence of the unknown, who was
hidden from my sight by an envious sheet, which covered the whole of
her person, and her face was turned away from me towards the wall.

"Lady," said I, "your slave is come; and aught that he can do for one
so lovely he will perform to the utmost of his power. Speak! your
commands are on my head and eyes."

"Byto," she said in a low, timid voice. "I have somewhat to ask thee."

I obeyed, and seated myself at a respectful distance from her on the
carpet. "You will think me bold and shameless, I fear, stranger," said
she, "for thus admitting you to my presence, nay even to my chamber;
but, alas! I am a widow, and need the protection you are able perhaps
to afford me. Which way do you travel?"

"Towards Nagpoor," I replied; "I purpose leaving this miserable place
early to-morrow, and I have come from Jubbulpoor."

"From whence I have also come," she said, "and I am going too to
Nagpoor. Ah, my destiny is good which has sent me one who will protect
the lonely and friendless widow!"

"It is strange, lady," said I, "that we did not meet before, having
come the same road."

"No," she replied, "it is not, since I was behind you. I heard you were
before me, and I travelled fast to overtake you. We have now met, and
as I must proceed the remainder of my journey alone, I implore you to
allow me for the stage to join your party, with which, as I hear it is
a large one, I shall be safe, and free from anxiety."

"Your wish is granted, lady," I said; "and any protection against the
dangers of the way which your poor slave can afford shall be cheerfully
given. I will send a man early to awaken you, and promise that I will
not leave the village without you."

She salamed to me gracefully, and in doing so the sheet, as if by
accident, partly fell from her face, and disclosed again to my
enraptured view the features I had beheld from a distance. Sahib,
the shock was overpowering, and every nerve in my body tingled; only
that a sense of decency restrained me, I had risen and thrown myself
at her feet; but while a blush, as though of shame, mantled over her
countenance, and she hastily withdrew the glance she had for an instant
fixed on me, she replaced the sheet and again turned to the wall,
bending her head towards the ground. I thought it had been purely
accidental, and the action at the time convinced me that she was really
what she represented herself to be; and fearing that my longer presence
would not be agreeable or decent, I asked her if she had any further
commands and for permission to depart.

"No," said she, "I have no further favour to beg, save to know the name
of him to whom I am indebted for this act of kindness."

"My name is Ameer Ali," said I; "a poor syud of Hindostan."

"Your fluent speech assured me you were of that noble race; I could not
be mistaken,--'tis seldom one hears it. Fazil! bring the pan and utr."
She did so, and after taking the complimentary gift of dismissal, and
anointing my breast and beard with the fragrant utr, I rose and made my
obeisance. She saluted me in return, and again bade me not forget my
promise. I assured her that she might depend upon me, and departed.

She must be what she says, thought I; the very act of presenting pan
and utr to me proves her rank; no common person, no courtesan would
have thought of it. I shall only have to bear a little jeering from
Motee and Peer Khan, which I will resist and laugh away; and this poor
widow will reach Nagpoor in safety, without knowing that she has been
in the hands of murderers. But I said nothing that night to any of
them. In reply to their numerous questions as to the fortune I had met
with in the village, and whether I had discovered the unknown, I only
laughed, and said I believed it was some dancing-girl, for I knew the
mention of one would turn their minds from the thoughts of bunij, as it
is forbidden to kill those persons by the laws of our profession; and
with my supposition they appeared satisfied. Great, however, was their
surprise when in the morning, after having delayed our departure longer
than usual, I joined the party of the lady outside the village and
they understood that we were to travel in company. I was overpowered
by jokes and witticisms from Peer Khan and Motee, who declared I was
a sly dog thus to secure the lady all to myself; and after protesting
vehemently that I cared not about her, which only made them laugh the
more, I became half angry.

"Look you, my friends," said I, "this is a matter which has been in a
manner forced upon me. Who the lady is I know not. She has begged of
me to allow her to accompany us, as she supposes us to be travellers,
and I have permitted it; and whether she be old or young, ugly or
beautiful, I am alike ignorant. We may hereafter find out her history;
but, whoever she be, she has my promise of safe escort, and she is not
bunij. You remember my resolution, and you will see I can keep it."

"Nay," said Motee, "be not angry; if a friend is not privileged to
crack a joke now and then, who, in Bhugwan's name, is? And as for us,
we are your servants, and bound to obey you by our oath; so you may
have as many women in your train as you please, and not one shall be
bunij."

So we pursued our road. Several times I could not resist riding up to
the palankeen and making my noble horse curvet and prance beside it.
The doors were at first closely shut, but one was gradually opened, and
the same sparkling eyes threw me many a smiling and approving look,
though the face was still hidden.

Alas! Sahib, those eyes did me great mischief--I could not withstand
them. About noon, when we had rested from our fatigue, and my men were
dispersed in various directions, scarcely any of them remaining in
the camp, the slave-girl again came for me, and I followed her to her
mistress. We sat a long time in silence, and the lady was muffled up
as I had before seen her. Despite of all my conflicting feelings, I
own, Sahib, that in her presence my home was forgotten, and my burning
desire was fixed upon the veiled being before me, of whose countenance
I was even still ignorant.

She spake at last, but it was to the slave. "Go," said she, "and wait
without, far out of hearing; I have that to say to this gentleman which
must not enter even your ears, my Fazil."

She departed, and I was alone with the other, and again there was a
long, and to me a painful, silence. "Meer Sahib," she said, at length,
"what will you think of me? what will you think of one who thus exposes
herself to the gaze of a man and a stranger? But it matters not now: it
has been done, and it is idle to think on the past. I am the widow of a
nuwab, whose estate is near Agra; he died a short time ago at Nagpoor,
on his way from Hyderabad, whither he had gone to see his brother, and
I was left friendless, but not destitute. He had abundance of wealth
with him, and I was thus enabled to live at Nagpoor, after sending news
of his death to my estate, in comfort and affluence. The messengers I
sent at length returned, and brought me the welcome news that there
was no one to dispute my right to my husband's property; and that my
own family, which is as noble and as powerful as his was, had taken
possession of the estate and held it on my account; and they wrote to
me to return as quickly as I could, and among the respectable men of
the land choose a new husband, by whom I might have children to inherit
the estate. I immediately set off on my return--ah! Ameer Ali, how can
I tell the rest! my tongue from shame cleaves to the roof of my mouth,
and my lips refuse utterance to the words which are at my heart."

"Speak, lady," said I; "by your soul, speak! I burn with impatience,
and you have excited my curiosity now too powerfully for it to rest
unsatisfied."

"Then I must speak," she said, "though I die of shame in the effort.
I heard at the last village that you had arrived; I say you, because
my faithful slave, who finds out everything, came, shortly after your
arrival, and told me that she had seen the most beautiful cavalier
her thoughts had ever pictured to her. She recounted your noble air,
the beauty of your person, the grace with which you managed your
fiery steed, and above all the sweet and amiable expression of your
countenance. The account inflamed me. I had married an old man, who
was jealous of my person, and who never allowed me to see any one but
my poor slave; but I had heard of manly beauty, and I longed for the
time when his death should free me from this hated thraldom. Long I
deliberated between the uncontrollable desire which possessed me and a
sense of shame and womanly dignity; and perhaps the latter might have
conquered, but you came and sat opposite to the hovel in which I was
resting; my slave told me you were there, and I looked. Alla! Alla!
once my eyes had fixed themselves on you, I could not withdraw them;
and, as the hole through which I gazed did not afford me a full view
of your person, I partially opened the curtain and feasted my soul
with your appearance. You went away, and I fell back on my carpet in
despair. My slave at last restored me to consciousness, but I raved
about you; and fearful that my senses would leave me, she went and
brought you. When you entered, how I longed to throw myself at your
feet! But shame prevailed, and, after a commonplace conversation,
though my soul was on fire and my liver had turned into water, I
suffered you to depart. I told my people that I must return to Nagpoor,
as I had forgotten to redeem some jewels I had left in pledge, which
were valuable; and they believed me. Ameer Ali!" cried she, suddenly
throwing off her veil and casting herself at my feet, while she buried
her head in my lap; "Ameer Ali! this is my tale of shame--I love you!
Alla only knows how my soul burns for you! I will be your slave for
ever; whither you go, thither will I follow; whoever you are, and
whatever you are, I am yours, and yours only; but I shall die without
you. Alas! why did you come to me?"



CHAPTER XXX.


And where now were all my resolutions? By Alla, Sahib, I had forgotten
all--home, wife, children--I thought not of them, but I drank deeply
of love, wild, passionate, burning love, from her eyes, and I caressed
her as though she were mine own. There we sat, and though guilt was
in my soul, and it accused me of infidelity to my oft repeated vows,
I could not tear myself away from her, and I suffered her caresses
in return, though they often struck to my heart like the blows of a
sharp knife. Hours passed thus--I thought not of them; she seated at
my feet, and I with my hands entwined in her long silken hair, and
gazing at her face of such loveliness, that never had my wildest dreams
pictured anything like it. Zora was beautiful, Azima was even more so,
but Shurfun surpassed them both in as great a degree as they excelled
any of their sex I had ever seen. Fain would she have had me stay with
her: fain would she, the temptress, have then and there separated me
from my band, and led me with herself, whither she cared not, so I was
with her and she with me. Wealth, she said, she had in abundance, and
we could fly to some undiscoverable spot, where we should pass years of
bliss together, and where she would, by communication with her family,
procure such money from time to time as would enable us to live in
affluence.

"Ameer Ali," said she, "you are young, you are unknown, you have to
fight your way to fame upon a bare pittance, and for this will you risk
your precious life, when I offer you everything I possess, and swear
that I am your slave? Ah, you will not, you cannot now leave me to
perish in despair, and die of unrequited love! Speak, my soul, you will
not leave me?"

Wretch and perjured that I was, I swore to obey her wishes. Sahib, it
was a sore temptation, and it overcame me. At last I tore myself away
from her, but not till I had sworn by her head and eyes to return the
following day, when, being more calm, we might arrange our plans for
the future.

I returned to my little tent, and there, in the agony of my soul, I
rolled on the ground. I raved, I refused to eat, and was as one bereft
of sense; I spoke rudely to Peer Khan, who having been called by my
attendant came to comfort me; and I was almost on the point of driving
my dagger to my heart, to end a life, which, though a splendid prospect
was open to it, could never afterwards be aught but one of guilty
misery. But the passion reached its height; and as a thunder-cloud,
which after a burst of internal commotion, after its deep peal has gone
forth and it has ejected the lightning from its bosom, gradually pours
its pent-up flood of waters to soothe and refresh the earth, so did
mine eyes now rain tears, and they calmed me. I can now ask and take
advice, thought I, and Peer Khan, who is fondly attached to me, will
give it as he would to a brother.

I sent for him, and after apologizing for my rudeness, said he would
find the cause of it in the relation I would give of the last few
hours. I told him all, and awaited his answer. My heart was relieved of
a load of oppressive thought, and I was the better for it. He pondered
long ere he spoke; at last he said,--

"Meer Sahib, this is a difficult business indeed, and I hardly know
what to advise; go to her to-morrow; be a man, and give not way to
this boyish passion, which ill suits you; try to persuade her that you
cannot do as she wishes; speak to her, kindly yet firmly, of her home,
of her relatives, and of the guilt which must cleave to you both from
the connection she proposes. Tell her you have a wife and two children,
and, if she is a true woman she will be fired with jealousy and will
quarrel with you; do you then become irritated in your turn, and leave
her to go her own way, and find some one who may not be so scrupulous,
and may take advantage of her blind passions. And if all this fail, if
no words of yours can drive these foolish ideas from her brain, we have
only to make a long march in some unknown direction and at once be quit
of her. I know the paths through the jungles, and by them, difficult as
they are, we can easily reach Berar, where she will never again hear of
us."

I thanked him cordially for his advice; and that part of it which
related to Azima and my children struck forcibly on my heart. I was as
yet, thanks to the protection of the Prophet, pure, and by his aid I
would remain so. I determined I would urge my previous ties to her so
forcibly, and I would depict my love for my wife in such colours, that
she should at once reject me.

Full of these resolutions I once more obeyed her summons, sent me by
her slave, and followed the girl, and as we had made a long march of
twelve coss, it was now late in the day. I need not again tell you,
Sahib, of all her love for me, which she now poured forth without
check or reserve. She had fairly cast away all shame, and would hear
of nothing I could represent as to the consequence of our connection
with her family. I had only now one resource, and as a man in alarm for
his life fires the train of a mine, so did I, hurriedly and perhaps
incoherently, mention my wife and children. The effect was as Peer Khan
had expected, instantaneous. She had been sitting at my feet, listening
to my objections, and playfully reasoning with me against them; but,
at these words, she suddenly started to her feet, and drew her noble
figure up to its full height, while her eyes flashed as she smoothed
back her flowing hair from her brow; the veins of her forehead and neck
swelled, and she was terrible to look on. I confess I quailed beneath
the glances of scorn she cast on me.

"Man!" she cried at length, "ah, vile and faithless wretch, say, did I
hear thee aright? Dare to say again that thou hast a wife and children!
What dirt hast thou eaten?"

It was my time, and my good resolutions came to my aid; I rose, and
confronted her with a look as proud and unflinching as her own.

"Yes, Shurfun," I said, "I have spoken the truth; one as beautiful
as thou art believes me faithful, and faithful I will remain to her;
long I reasoned with thee, and hadst thou not been carried away, and
thy good feelings deadened, by an idle and sudden passion, thou hadst
heard my words, and submitted to them, for the sake of thy family and
hitherto untarnished honour. For my unfortunate share in this matter,
may Alla forgive me! Lady, it was thy maddening beauty which caused me
to err; but he has strengthened my heart, and again I implore thee to
hear the words of friendship, and be thyself again."

How can I tell you, Sahib, of her despair, and the bitterness of her
expressions, as she upbraided me with my deceit. I deserved them all,
and not a word did I answer in return. I could not and I dared not
approach her, lest my heart should again yield to her blandishments,
for I felt that a kind word or action would renew them, and cause her
to forget the past; and it was pitiable to see her as she now sat on
the ground, moaning and rocking herself to and fro, while at intervals
she tore her hair and beat her breasts in her agony of spirit.

"Leave me!" she said at last. "Ah, Ameer Ali, thou hast broken a heart
which could have loved thee for ever! I do not complain: it is the will
of Alla that the only man I could ever have loved and honoured should
deceive me, and I submit. Shurfun is not yet reduced so low that she
could put up with the second place in any man's heart, were he the
monarch of Delhi itself. Go, the sight of you is painful to my soul;
and may Alla forgive us both!"

I left her. I hastened to Peer Khan and related the whole to him, and
he was delighted. "Now," said he, "to make the matter sure, let us
retrace our steps; it is not attended with any risk, for we can put up
anywhere, and we need not visit the village we before halted at; we
have no hope of booty at Nagpoor, and if you like we can penetrate,
as I said before, into Berar, and return by Khândésh, which was our
original idea."

"I agree," said I; "this woman must be avoided at every risk. To save
appearances she must go on to Nagpoor with her people, and we shall, by
following your advice, avoid her altogether."

Accordingly the next morning, instead of pursuing the road we had
taken, we turned back, and after a few hours' travel halted at a small
village a few coss distant from the one we had left. But little had
I calculated on that woman's love and wild passions. Before the day
was half spent we saw her palankeen, attended by her men, advancing
towards the village by the way we had come. What was to be done? I was
for instant flight into the wild jungles by which we were surrounded,
and where she would soon have lost all traces of us. But Peer Khan
and Motee would not hear of it. "It would be cowardly," said they;
"there is no occasion thus to run before a woman; and why should we
expose ourselves to dangers from wild beasts, and the unhealthiness
of the forest, on her account? And," added Motee, "if she follow us
now, depend upon it it is not on your account, but because she is now
determined to go to her home as quickly as possible."

"It may be so," said I; "whatever her plans may be they will not
influence my determinations." Yet my mind misgave me that she would
again follow us, and a short time proved that my suspicions were right.
The slave came by stealth to my tent, disguised as a seller of milk,
and I followed her, for I knew not why her mistress had sent for me,
and why she now sought me after our last meeting.

I reached her presence, and again we were alone. I armed myself against
her blandishments, and determined to oppose them with scorn, that she
might again quarrel with me, and leave me for ever. I cannot relate to
you, Sahib, all that passed between us; at one time she was all love,
seeking to throw herself into my arms, and beseeching me to have pity
on her--for she felt that her reputation was gone--in words that would
have moved a heart of stone; at another, violently upbraiding me for
my perfidy, and bidding me begone from her sight; yet, each time as I
turned to depart, she would prevent me, and again implore me to listen
and agree to her proposals. At last I could bear with her no longer.
I was provoked with her importunities, and vexed at my own irresolute
conduct. I bade her farewell, and was quitting the shed, where she had
put up for the day, when she screamed to me to come back. I returned.

"Shurfun," said I, "this is foolishness, and the conduct of children;
why should we thus torment each other? You have heard my determination;
and could you offer me the throne of Delhi, I might share it with you,
but my heart would be hers who now possesses it, and you would live a
torment to yourself and me. Jealousy even now possesses your heart, and
what would not that passion become when you were in intercourse with
the object you even now hate, and whom you could not separate from me?"

"I care not for your words," said she; "I care not for the
consequences; I have set my life and my fame on the issue of this,--and
refuse me at your peril! As for your wife, I hate her not. Does not our
law allow you four wives? Is it not so written in the blessed Koran?
You cannot deny it. Even I, who am a woman, know it. I would love Azima
as a sister, and your children for your sake; and can you refuse wealth
and a future life of distinction for them? Oh, man, are you bereft of
sense? See, I speak to you calmly, and reason with you as I would were
I your sister."

"I would to Alla thou wert my sister," I said; "I could love thee
fondly as a sister, but never, never can I consent to this unhallowed
and disgraceful union. Yes, Shurfun, disgraceful! disguise it with all
thy flattering and sweet words, yet it is disgraceful. Do you dream
for a moment that your proud family would receive as your husband, as
the sharer of your property and wealth, a man unknown to them, one who
has no family honours, no worldly distinction to boast of, and with
whom you have picked up a casual acquaintance on the road? I tell you
they would not. Go therefore, I beseech you, to your home, and in after
years I will send my Azima to see you, and she shall pray for blessings
on the noble woman who preserved her husband to her."

She sat silent for some time; but the fire was not quenched within her;
it burst forth with increased violence, when I vainly thought that my
temperate words had quenched it for ever. Again she bade me go, but it
was sullenly, and I left her.

I had not been an hour in my tent when the slave again came to me.--But
perhaps, Sahib, you are tired of my minuteness in describing all my
interviews with the Moghulanee?

No, said I, Ameer Ali: I suppose you have some object in it, therefore
go on.

Well then, resumed the Thug, the slave came to me and I was alone. "For
the love of Alla," said she, "Meer Sahib, do something for my poor
mistress! Ever since you left her she has been in a kind of stupor, and
has hardly spoken. She just now told me to go and purchase a quantity
of opium for her; and when I refused, and fell at her feet, imploring
her to recall her words, she spoke angrily to me, and said, if I did
not go, she would go herself. So I have purchased it; but alas! I know
its fatal use: and you alone can save her. Come quickly then, and speak
a kind word to her; I have heard all that has passed, and you have
behaved like a man of honour; but since you cannot persuade her to
forget you and relinquish her intentions, at least for the time fall in
with her humour, and agree to accompany her, on the promise that she
will not seek to see you on the road; and say that when you reach her
Jagheer you will have your marriage duly solemnized. Oh, do this for
her sake! You said you could love her as a sister, and this would be
the conduct of a brother."

"Well," said I, "since the matter has come to this issue, that her life
or death is in my hands, I consent;" and I arose, and went with her.

Oh, with what joy the unhappy girl received me! long she hung upon my
bosom, and blessed me as her preserver, and kissed her slave when she
related what she had said to me, and that I had agreed to her wishes.
"It is to save your precious life," I cried, "that I thus expose myself
to the sneers and taunts of my friends and your own: think on the
sacrifice I make in losing their love, and you will behave cautiously
and decently on the road; we need not meet--nay we must not, the
temptation would be too strong for us both; but I swear by your head
and eyes I will not leave you, and you shall travel in our company."

The slave had gone out, and she drew towards me. "Beware," said she,
"how you deceive me, for I know your secret, and if you are unfaithful
I will expose it; your life is in my hands, and you know it."

"What secret?" cried I in alarm. "What can you mean?"

"I know that you are a Thug," she said, in a low and determined voice;
"my slave has discovered you, and a thousand circumstances impress the
belief that you are one upon my mind--your men, the way you encamp,
the ceremonies my slave has seen your men performing, and the freedom
with which you go forward or return at your pleasure. All these are
conclusive, and I bid you beware! for nothing that you can say will
persuade me to the contrary; you have even now the property of those
you have killed in your camp--you cannot deny it, your looks confirm my
words."

I inwardly cursed the prying curiosity of the slave, and feared she
had discovered us through one of our men with whom I had seen her
conversing, and I determined to destroy him. But I had now fairly met
my match, and though abashed for a moment, I replied to her: "Then,
Shurfun, since you have discovered us, I have no alternative, we must
be united, I to save my life and the lives of my men, you to save your
own. It is a fearful tie which binds us, but it cannot be broken."

"I thought so," she said; "fool that I was not to have urged this
before! I might have saved myself the agony which I have endured. Now,
go; I will hear of you from day to day, and it may be that we shall
have an opportunity of conversing unobserved. Now I am sure of you, and
my mind is at ease."

I left her, but my thoughts were in a whirl; she had discovered us,
and by the rules of our profession I could not conceal it from my
associates. Alla! Alla! to what would the communication I must make
to them lead! Alas, I dreaded to think--yet it must be done. A long
time I deliberated with myself whether I should expose the truth to
my associates, and fain would I not have done so; but the peril we
were in was so imminent, and the lives of my fifty brave fellows were
so completely at the mercy of a woman, that I could not overlook the
strict rules of my profession. I knew that it could only lead to one
alternative; but it was her fate, and it could not be avoided either by
her or me.

As I expected, the fatal mandate went forth among us. My men were
astonished and terrified at the information Shurfun possessed, and
after a very brief consultation her fate was determined on. Sahib,
you will think the worse of me for this, but what could be done? We
could not leave her, she would have alarmed the villagers, and they
would have pursued us. True, they could have done but little against
us there; but they would have dogged us through the jungles, and at
last have watched their opportunity and seized us. Our next care was
to endeavour to find out the person from whom she had gained the
information, and I mentioned the name of him with whom I had seen the
slave conversing. Sahib, as I did it, his face bore the evidence of
conscious guilt. He was a young man but little known to any of us,
and was one of the Lughaees. He had accompanied Peer Khan in his last
expedition, and had behaved well, so well as to induce him to allow
his accompanying us; but by this act he had forfeited everything, and
it was but too plain that he had been seduced by the wiles of that
intriguing and artful slave.

Observing his altered looks, I at once accused him of treachery; and
my accusation was re-echoed by the voices of the band. "He must die!"
cried one and all; "we could never carry on our work with the knowledge
that there was one treacherous person with us; and it is the rule of
our order too. Who ever spared a traitor?"

"Miserable wretch," said I to him, "why hast thou done this? Why hast
thou been unfaithful to thine oath and the salt thou hast eaten? Didst
thou not know the penalty? Hast thou not heard of hundreds of instances
of treachery, and was ever one pardoned? Unhappy man! thou sayest
nothing for thyself, and the sentence must be passed upon thee. Shame!
that the wiles of a wretched slave should so far have led thee from thy
duty, and exposed us all to peril!"

"Jemadar," said he rising, "I have sinned, and my hour is come. I ask
not for mercy, for I know too well that it cannot be shown me; let me
die by the hands of my own people, and I am content; and if my fate
be a warning to them, I am satisfied. I was pure in my honour till I
met that slave; she told me that you were to marry her mistress, and
that you had told her who you were. I thought it true, and I conversed
with her on the secrets of our band; I boasted to her of the deeds we
had done, and she consented to be mine whenever we could meet with a
fitting opportunity. Fool that I was, I was deceived; yet I offer this
as no palliation for my offence. Let therefore Goordut kill me; his is
a sure hand, and he will not fail in his duty."

Goordut, the chief of our Lughaees, stepped forward. "Forgive me your
death," said he to the fated wretch; "I have no enmity against you, but
this is my duty, and I must do it."

"I forgive you," he replied. "Let your hand be firm; I shall offer no
resistance, nor struggle; let my death-pain be short."

Goordut looked to me for the signal,--I gave it, and in another instant
his victim had expiated his crime by death; he suffered passively,
and Goordut's hand never trembled. The body was taken from among us
and interred; and henceforward we had no treachery among us, nor did
I ever meet with another instance, save one, and that was successful;
you shall hear of it hereafter. There but remained to allot to the
different members of the band their separate places in the ensuing
catastrophe; and this done, I felt that I had acted as a good Thug, and
that a misplaced pity had not influenced me during the transactions of
the day.

Strange was it, Sahib, that Shurfun, knowing who we were, should not,
when she had discovered it, at once have fled from us! How she, a
woman unused to and unacquainted with deeds of blood, could have borne
to look on, nay more to have caressed and loved, one a murderer by
profession, whose hand was raised against the whole human race, is
more than I have ever been able to understand: I can only say it was
her fate. She might, she ought to have avoided me; in every principle
of human conduct, her love for me was wicked and without shame, and
a virtuous woman would have died before she had ever allowed it to
possess her bosom. She might have cast me off when she said she would,
and when her resolution was made to see me no more; but her blind
passion led her on into the net fate had spread for her, and she was as
unable to avoid it, as you or I shall be to die, Sahib, when our hour
comes.

We started in company with her the next morning. I was determined
I would take no active part in her death, for I could not bear the
thought of lifting my hand against one whose caresses I had allowed,
and whose kisses were, I may say, still warm upon my lips. Motee and
Peer Khan were allotted to her, and one of her attendants was my share.
But hers was a large party; she had eight bearers, four sepoys as her
guards, and her slave rode on a pony, which was led by another servant.
In all, therefore, they were fifteen individuals, and to make sure,
thirty-five of my best men were to fall on them whenever we should meet
a fitting place. I knew one, a wild spot it was, where the jungle was
almost a forest, and where for miles on either side there was no human
habitation; and I intended, for greater security, to lead the party by
a path which I had discovered on our way down, and which led into the
thickest part of the jungle, where I knew our deadly work would be sure
of no interruption.

We reached the spot where the road diverged which I intended to take,
and after much opposition on the part of her bearers, I succeeded in
persuading them to follow me, by telling them both that the road was
a short one and that there was a stream of water which crossed it,
whereas on the main track there was none. We gained the small rivulet,
and I dismounted; my band surrounded their unsuspecting victims, and
eagerly awaited the signal; but I wished to spare Shurfun the sight of
the dead which she would be exposed to were she not the first to fall.
I went to her palankeen, and asked her to get out and partake of some
refreshment I had brought with me; she objected at first, as she would
have to expose herself to the rash gaze of my men; but I told her I
had put up a cloth against a tree, that it was but a few steps off,
and that veiled as she was, no one would see her, "Your slave is there
already," said I; "so come, she is preparing our meal, the first we
have ever eaten together."

She stepped out cautiously, closely muffled in a sheet, so that she saw
not those who were with me; the palankeen too concealed her person, and
as she arose from her sitting posture, the roomal of Motee was around
her, and she died instantly. Peer Khan held her hands, and the moment
her breath was gone, he put the body into the palankeen and shut the
door. "Now thus much is done," said he, "we must finish the rest, and
that quickly; they are all off their guard, and washing and drinking in
the stream; the men are at their posts. Bismilla! give the jhirnee!"

I sought my place and gave it: my own share was quickly done, and
the rest too; but one or two were unskilful, and the shrieks of the
unfortunate but too guilty slave, among the rest, smote on my ear,
and caused a pang to shoot to my heart at the thought that they had
all died for the wretched caprice of a wicked woman. I could not bear
to look at Shurfun,--the sight of her beautiful features would have
overpowered me. I saw the Lughaees bear her away, but I followed not.
Her palankeen was broken into pieces and buried with her.

Wretch that I am! cried I: ah, Ameer Ali, hadst thou no pity, no
remorse, for one so young and so lovely? I might have felt it, Sahib,
but the fate of him who had died the day before was too fresh in my
mind to allow me to show it: that might have been mine had I done so.
Besides, can you deny that it was her fate? and, above all, had I not
eaten the goor of the Tupounee?



CHAPTER XXXI.


After all had been completed, we travelled on until we reached a small
and wretched village, some coss from the scene of our late adventure,
where, after the customary sacrifice of goor, the considerable booty we
had gained was produced and distributed. There soon arose a discussion
as to our future proceedings. Some advised that we should return and
go on to Nagpoor--many indeed were for this, and I also inclined
to it--but Peer Khan gave better counsel, saying that, by our thus
going backwards and forwards on the same road, we should certainly
be suspected and perhaps attacked; and that to expose ourselves to
this, was not to be put in comparison with any chance of booty: he
advised that we should make the best of our way towards Ellichpoor,
avoiding that town, and keeping near the hills, until we got out
of the jurisdiction of Sulabat Khan, who, if he heard of us, would
assuredly suspect us of the death of the Nuwab Subzee Khan, who had
been his guest, and whose fate was generally known over the country
and attributed with justice to Thugs. After some further deliberation
we all agreed to his plan, and the next day, leaving the high road, we
struck into a jungle-track and pursued it; and I was heartily glad,
after some days of weary travel, when, arriving at the pass near the
deserted temples of Mookhtagherry, we saw the wide valley of Berar
stretched out before us, covered with the still green and luxuriant
crops of jowaree.

For some days previous I had had shiverings and pains all over my body,
and my mind was restless and ill at ease. In spite of my efforts to
throw them off, horrible dreams haunted me at night, and the figure of
Shurfun constantly presented itself to my fancy--now in the fulness
of her beauty, and now changed and distorted as she must have been in
death; while at one time she was pouring out her tale of love to me,
and at another upbraiding me with her fate. I had mentioned this to my
companions, and many were the ceremonies which they performed over me
to drive away the evil spirits which Motee declared had possessed me.
But they were of no avail, and on the morning we reached the top of the
pass I was so ill that I was obliged to be supported on my horse.

What was to be done? To go into Ellichpoor was to run into the tiger's
mouth, and all seemed to be at a loss whither to proceed. However,
on clearing the mouth of the glen through which the road ran, some
of the men discerned a large village a very short way off, and came
back with the welcome intelligence. I was sitting, or rather lying,
at a miserable Goand hamlet on the road; and when I heard the news I
remembered the village they spoke of, which I had passed the morning
we left Ellichpoor with Subzee Khan, though I had forgotten its
name. Thither, therefore, I begged they would carry me, and placing
me upon my good horse, I was soon there, and made as comfortable as
circumstances would admit of in the empty shop of a Bunnea. But the
fever raged within me; my whole frame was first convulsed with violent
shiverings, which were succeeded by intense burnings. I remember no
more of that day, nor indeed of many days after, for I lay insensible,
and my spirit hovered between life and death.

The first words I recollect, after that terrible time, were from my
faithful attendant. "Shooke Khoda!" he exclaimed; "at last he has
opened his eyes!" and he ran and called Peer Khan and others to me.

"Where am I?" I faintly asked, for in the violence of the fever I had
forgotten everything.

"Shooke Khoda!" again exclaimed all; "he speaks at last!"

I again repeated my question, and it was answered by Peer Khan. "Why,
do you not remember?" said he; "here you are in the good village of
Surrusgaum, within three coss of Ellichpoor; and now that you have
spoken all will be right, you will soon recover; but we have been sadly
anxious about you, for a worthy Mussulman, who is a Hukeem, said only
yesterday that you would die, and bade us prepare for your burial:
however, he was wrong, and, Inshalla! you will soon see yourself at the
head of your brave fellows again."

"Alas, Khan, I fear not," said I, "for I am weak and helpless, and your
staying with me only delays you to little purpose. Leave me to my fate,
and if it is the will of Alla that I should recover, I will rejoin
you at our home. I feel that I should be only a useless clog on your
movements; for if I even get over this fever, I shall scarcely be able
to sit on my horse for many a day to come."

"Forsake you, Meer Sahib--never!" exclaimed all who were sitting
round me. "Who will bury you if you die? or who will tend you if you
recover? What words are these? Are you not our brother, and more, our
leader? and what would become of us if we left you?"

"Well, my friends," said I, deeply affected by their kindness, "since
you prefer the bed-side of a sick man to roaming in the wide and open
country, even be it so; a few days will end your suspense, and either
you will have to bury me here, or, if it be the pleasure of Alla, I
shall once more lead you to new enterprises."

"But you must be silent," said Peer Khan, "for the Hukeem said so, and
told us if you roused at all to send him word, as he had prepared some
medicine for you, which he would administer, and hoped it would hasten
your recovery. I will go and tell him the good news."

In a short time the Khan returned, accompanied by an old and venerable
person, who, after feeling my head and body, turned to the Khan and
declared that my state was satisfactory. "But," said he, "as the fever
proceeded from cold, which is still in his stomach, we must give him
the medicine I spoke of: I have prepared it, and, being compounded of
heating drugs, it will soon expel the cold, induce perspiration, and,
Inshalla! to-morrow he will be a different being, though he will be
weak for some time to come."

The draught was prepared, and, though nauseous in the extreme, I
swallowed it, and by his directions covered myself with quilts and
horse-cloths. I was quickly in a profuse perspiration; and when the
Hukeem, who sat by my side all the time, thought I had been long enough
under this treatment, he withdrew the coverings one by one, and taking
my wet clothes from me, I soon fell into a sound and refreshing sleep,
from which I did not awake till the next morning's sun was shining on
my eyelids.

I felt so much refreshed when I awoke that I arose, but my head
swam round and I fell. I did not essay to repeat the exertion; but
I was well; I felt that I had thrown off the disease, and I was
thankful. Soon I had an inclination to eat, and after a slight meal of
kicheree I was indeed a different being. Two days more restored me to
convalescence, and I heartily wished to be again on the road toward
home; but travelling on horseback was out of the question, as I could
only walk a few steps with assistance; so, as Peer Khan volunteered
his services, I despatched him to Ellichpoor to endeavour to hire a
palankeen or dooly with bearers, to carry me a few stages, or as long
as I should find them necessary. He returned with them, and the next
day, having remunerated the good Hukeem, I gladly set out once again in
company with my gallant fellows.

We took the best road to Boorhanpoor, that through the valley of Berar
and close to the hills; and when we reached the old town of Julgaum,
I felt myself so strong that I dismissed the palankeen and once more
mounted my good horse. A joyful and inspiriting thing it is, Sahib,
to mount one's horse after a long and painful illness, and to feel
once more the bounds of the generous animal under you, as though he
too rejoiced at his master's recovery. He was, like myself, in high
spirits, and I never enjoyed a ride so much as I did on that morning;
the cool breeze fanned my thinned cheek as I rode along, now humouring
my horse by allowing him to bound and caracol as he pleased, now
exercising him on the plain, and again rejoicing my band as they walked
merrily along, apparently under the influence of the same joy as myself
and rejoicing to see me once more at their head.

We met with no adventure till we reached Boorhanpoor, where we arrived
on the tenth day after leaving the village at which I had been so
near dying: indeed we sought none. We found good quarters in one of
the old serais in the town, and I was determined to stay there until
we met with something to lead us on. Accordingly, men were daily sent
into the different bazars; but seven days passed in idleness, and I
began seriously to think that the death of Shurfun, which, though an
inevitable deed, was against my faithful promises, had caused me to
forfeit the protection of our patroness: in other words, I feared my
good fortune had deserted me, and for once I proposed a grand sacrifice
to Davee and that the omens should be consulted, in order to afford us
some clue to our future proceedings.

It was done, and the omens were good--"Propitious to a degree!" said
Motee, who was our conductor in these matters; "we shall have good
bunij soon, or these would never have been vouchsafed to us."

But another day passed, and still the Sothaees reported nothing. The
day after, however, about noon, Motee came to me. "You may know," said
he, "that this place, from its wealth, is frequented by Rokurreas, or
treasure-carriers, who bring money from Bombay, and take it into Malwa
to purchase opium."

"I do," said I; "what of that? I heard as much from my father, who bade
me return this way in the hope of picking up some of them."

"Then," said he, "I wish you to come with me, you and Peer Khan; you
have both sharp eyes, and I am much mistaken if I have not discovered
eight of them. I have killed others of their tribe before now, and I
think I am not wrong when I say that these are some also."

"Good," I replied, "I will come;" and, accompanied by Peer Khan and
Motee, we set forth to examine the men whom the latter had spoken
of. In an empty shop we found them. Wary as these people are, it was
highly necessary that we should not excite their suspicion; so we
hurriedly passed them, concealing our faces in our handkerchiefs; yet
from the casual glance I threw at them I was certain, from their sturdy
forms and the one camel they had with them, as well as from a kind of
restless and suspicious bearing, that they were the men we were in
search of. This was just the season too; they would be bearing treasure
to make advances to the poppy cultivators in Malwa, as the seed of the
plant would not be sown for another month at least.

I was satisfied; yet how to ensure their company I knew not, and many
schemes passed through my mind before I could determine on anything: at
length I formed one, as I sat with my companions on a flight of steps
leading down to the river, and whither we often resorted to enjoy the
fresh breezes and pure air from the noble river which flowed beneath
us. "I have been thinking," said I, "what we are to do to secure these
fellows; you know they are proverbially wary."

Both nodded assent. "Well," I continued, "what think you of the
following scheme? You and I, Peer Khan, will pretend to be travellers;
we will go now to our serai, throw dust and mud over our horses and
dirty our clothes, and, taking two men and a pony heavily laden with
us, we will go round the city, enter by the gate under the old palace,
and pretending to be weary, halt close to them; we shall easily be able
to worm ourselves into their confidence, and will then accompany them.
You, Motee, I will leave in charge of the band, and send you word what
road we are to take. You must be guided by circumstances, and contrive
to let the men overtake me by twos and threes: some must go on before,
so that we may come up to them; and in this manner, though the band
will be scattered, yet, Inshalla! in a few marches we shall muster
strong enough to do the work. We can keep up a communication with each
other; so that when the business is done we can assemble, and then
hurry forward to our home. But on no account must you be more than a
stage behind us; and you must contrive to reach our halting-place a
short time after we have left it. Now say, my friends, will this plan
do? or can you advise any other more practicable? if so, speak."

"It is excellent," cried both, "and had wisdom for its father. No time
ought to be lost."

We returned to our serai, and towards the afternoon two as
travel-stained and weary travellers in appearance as ever came off
a long and fatiguing march were seen to enter the south gate of
Boorhanpoor and traverse the bazars in search of shelter. These
were myself and Peer Khan, attended by my good lad Junglee and two
other Thugs. We passed and re-passed the shed, which was a large
one, in which the Rokurreas were; and feigning to have been denied
room everywhere that we had applied, I at last rode up to them, and
addressed myself to the most respectable among them, a fine tall
fellow, with huge whiskers and mustachios.

"Yaro!" said I, "you seem to be travellers as well as ourselves, and,
for the love of Alla, allow us a little room to spread our carpets.
Here you have seen us pass backwards and forwards for many times,
and yet there is not a soul who will say to us, Dismount and refresh
yourselves. Nay, we have been refused admittance into many empty
places. May their owners' sisters be defiled!"

"Go to the serai," said the man; "there is room there, and you will be
comfortable."

"Indeed," said I, "we have tried it already, and it is full; some forty
or fifty fellows were in it, who bade us begone in no measured terms;
and, in truth, we liked not their appearance, having some valuables
about us. They looked very like thieves or Dacoos--did they not,
brother?" said I, turning to Peer Khan.

"Ay, indeed," said he; "who knows, if we had put up among them, whether
we should not have had our throats cut? It was the mercy of Alla,"
continued he, looking up devoutly, "that the place was full, or, weary
as we are, we should have been right glad to have rested ourselves
anywhere; for indeed I can hardly sit on my horse."

"You see," said I, "how we are situated. Hindoos though you be, you
will not refuse us. The evening is drawing in, and we have ridden all
day; a slight meal is all that we can hope to get, and then sleep will
be welcome."

"Well," said the fellow, "it will be uncivil to turn you away, so
alight; and," cried he to one of his companions, "do you, Doorjun, and
some others, move the camel's saddles and those bags nearer this way,
and there will be room for these Bhula Admees."

As they were being moved, I heard the money chink. We dismounted, and
in a short time our horses were rubbed down, and a meal prepared, for
we had fasted that day on purpose. When we had eaten it, behold us
seated in conversation with the Rokurreas; and having already possessed
ourselves of their intended route, we agreed to accompany them for
mutual security, and in short were on as good terms with them as if we
had travelled hitherto together. Our appearance, our good horses and
arms, assured them that we were soldiers; for I had told them we were
in the service of Holkar, returning from Poona, where we had been on
a mission to the Peshwa, and bearing with us not only despatches, but
some hoondees of large amount. In proof of this I pulled forth a bundle
of papers from my inner vest, and touching my head and eyes with them,
praised the munificence of Bajee Rao, and extolled the friendly terms
he was on with Holkar.

This was my master-stroke; the idea had occurred to me when I was at
the serai, and I had hastily collected a bundle of waste-papers and
accounts, made them up into a packet, directed it to Holkar, and sealed
it with my own seal, which was as large as that of any prince in the
country. By Alla! Sahib, they believed me to be what I represented, as
surely as that they had heads on their shoulders, and forthwith began
questioning me on the possibility of the Peshwa and Holkar uniting to
overthrow the Feringhees; but I was mysteriously close in my replies,
just hinting that it was possible, and turning off the conversation to
the marks of favour which had been shown me by Bajee Rao, about which I
told enough lies to have choked myself; and I pointed to my own noble
horse as one of the Peshwa's gifts. They all declared that he was
worthy of the giver and of the possessor; and, after agreeing on our
stage for the morrow, which was distant eight coss, they went to sleep,
with the exception of two, who sat guarding the treasure with drawn
swords, and all believing that they were in company with an unknown
great personage.

Before I lay down to rest I despatched Junglee with the information to
Motee. I spoke to him openly in Ramasee, and he set off on his errand.
"That is a queer language," said the Jemadar of the Rokurreas; "what is
it?"

"'Tis Teloogoo," said I carelessly. "I picked the lad up at Hyderabad
two years ago for a small sum, and he is my slave; he understands our
Hindoo, but does not speak it."

Perhaps it was unwise to have done it, but I spoke in so careless a
manner that they concluded I had sent him out on some casual errand.
Indeed, I told him to buy some tobacco and pan on his way back, and
as the serai was not far from where we were, the time occupied in his
going to it would not exceed that of an ordinary errand. He returned
with the pan and tobacco, and told me they were ready, but that the
majority would remain the next day, and that seven of the best, under
Goordut, were then about to depart; the rest, leaving one of their
number as a scout in the village we were to halt at, would push on as
far as they could beyond.

I was satisfied; and so sure did I feel of the success of this
adventure, that I would have wagered all I possessed that I killed the
Rokurreas in three days. We started the next morning, and for two days
saw none of our men; however Peer Khan augured well from it, saying the
fellows were up to their work, and would appear in good time; and that
if they came too soon, our companions would take the alarm and be off.

On the fourth day one of our companions appeared; we overtook him on
the road, and as I lagged purposely in the rear, I learned from him
that Goordut and his remaining men were in advance of us one march, and
that some would join us that day, and the rest the next. This was as it
should be. Four men joined us at the village we encamped at; and as we
were now nine to eight, I began to think on the probability of putting
them to death by violence--I mean attacking them with our swords on
any opportunity which might offer. But it was dangerous, as they were
individually stouter men than we were, good hands at their weapons, and
as watchful as cats.

The second day Goordut and his party joined us but it was as much as
I could do to persuade the Rokurreas to allow them to travel in our
company. They declared it was directly against their rules; that we
must be aware of this, and that, if it was known by their employers
that they even admitted one traveller into their society on the road,
they would lose their reputation and means of subsistence. "But you,"
continued the Jemadar, whose name was Bheem Singh, "you are respectable
persons, who, for the honour of the government you serve, would assist
us against thieves or robbers, and we travel in your company through
these territories of Sindia as safely as though we had a rissala of
cavalry to guard us. However, for our sakes, let not the tales of
wayfarers make any impression on your mind; depend upon a Rokurrea's
experience, they are not to be trusted; and even when by yourself,
always avoid associating with any one; no good can come of it, and much
harm may ensue."

I promised to take his advice, and as I saw clearly that they would not
admit any more of our band into their company, and that a quarrel and
separation from them would inevitably be the consequence if I persisted
in forcing any more upon them, I determined to finish the matter as I
best could with the twelve men I had. Junglee was worth but little,
at least I counted not upon him, as he was a mere stripling; but the
rest were the very best of my band, all noted Bhuttotes, and fellows
who had good swords, and knew right well how to use them. In the day,
therefore, we had a consultation; we met in a field of jowaree, which
concealed us, and there we discussed the affair. Peer Khan proposed
to send one of the men back for Motee and the rest, to tell them to
pass us in the night without stopping, and to allow us to overtake
them early in the morning; and as soon as the two parties were mingled
together, in passing each other, that I should give the jhirnee.

The plan was very feasible, and the advice was good, as it placed the
issue beyond a doubt: I inclined to it myself. Still there was no
honour to be gained by it; it would be large odds against a few, and
this I did not like, as I had a choice in the matter. At last I said,
after musing some time, and listening to Peer Khan as he discussed
the measure, "No, no, Peer Khan; we are all of us young, and fame is
dear to us. If we kill these people in the old way, and the booty is
large, we shall no doubt get praise; but think, man, on the honour to
be gained, the good name! If we risk ourselves against these fellows,
and are victorious, will not every Thug in the land cry Shabash! and
Wah, Wah! and is not this worth an effort? I tell you a good name is
better than riches! and if it is our time to die, we cannot avoid it by
calling up Motee and his people. They are, after all, only the refuse;
and are we not the picked men of the band, and those on whom the matter
would fall, even were the whole now present? Say, therefore, will ye
risk your lives against these fellows, and fall on them to-morrow
morning?"

Sahib, they did not hesitate; one and all pledged themselves to follow
me, and die with me should it be their fate. "Then see your swords are
loose in their scabbards," said I, "and let each of you plant himself
within striking distance of his enemy, on his left hand. Peer Khan and
myself are mounted, and we cannot fail. I feel assured that there will
be no danger, and that we shall succeed."

We dispersed, and rejoined our associates. The evening was spent in
singing and playing on the sitar, on which two of the Rokurreas and
some of my men were adepts; and we retired to rest at a late hour,
fully prepared to do our work well and bravely on the morrow. And the
morrow came, and the sun rose in splendour; we set out soon afterwards,
for the Rokurreas would not travel before it had risen, for fear of
surprise from thieves or Dacoos, who generally fall on travellers in
the dark.

Somewhat to my mortification, two of the Rokurreas mounted the camel
they had with them, saying their feet were cracked and sore, and they
could not walk. This disconcerted me for a moment, for I thought they
had suspected us, and I knew that most, if not all, the treasure was
laden upon it. But I affected no surprise, and was determined, if
they showed the least symptoms of flight, to wound the camel, and
thereby prevent its getting away from us by the great speed I knew it
possessed, for they had put it to its utmost the day before, to show me
that it could outstrip a horse.

We travelled along until mid-day, and the fatigue and heat made us glad
to dismount at a stream which crossed the road. I thought it would be
a good opportunity to fall on them, but I was disappointed; they all
kept together, and I was then satisfied that they half suspected our
intentions; but I could not delay the attack long, and was determined
to make it under any circumstances, for the rapid rate at which the
Rokurreas travelled was exhausting my men, who had much ado to keep
up with them. By the merest good luck, about a coss after we left
the Nulla, we entered on a rough and stony track, which diminished
the speed of the camel, whose feet were hurt by the stones, and he
picked his way cautiously, though I saw the men on his back used every
exertion to urge him on. This slowness enabled my men to take their
places, and we continued to proceed a short distance, but ready at any
moment for the onset. I wished to get as near the camel as I could, in
order to prevent its escape; but the road became worse, our pace still
slower, and I was satisfied it could not be urged quicker. We were at
this time all in a group, and I saw that the time had come. How my
heart beat! not with fear, Sahib, but with excitement--excitement like
that of a gambler who has risked his all on a stake, and who, with
clenched hands, set teeth, and half-drawn breath, watches the turn of
the cowrees, which is either to ruin him or better his fortunes.

Peer Khan threw a glance towards me: one of the Rokurreas was trudging
along at his horse's shoulders, another was at the same place near
mine; and the fellows on the camel, with their backs turned towards us,
were singing merrily one of the wild lays of the Rajpoots, in which
from time to time they were joined in chorus by those on foot, and by
some of my men who knew the words. Junglee was close behind the camel
leading my pony, and the others in the rear, but all in their places. I
cast but one look behind to see that they were so, and being satisfied,
I gave the jhirnee--"Junglee, pan lao!" I cried with a loud voice.

The swords of my party flashed brightly from their scabbards, and in an
instant were buried deeply in the bodies of their victims and crimsoned
with gore. As for myself, I had cloven the skull of the fellow beneath
me, and my sword, sticking in the wound, escaped from my hand as he
fell. I threw myself from my horse to recover it, and only then saw the
camel prostrate on the ground, moaning terribly; the men upon it had
fallen with it, but both had gained their legs: one had thrown himself
upon Junglee, and the poor lad waged an unequal combat with him; the
other rushed on me with his sword uplifted. Sahib, I thought my end was
come; but I had time to disengage my shield from my back, and held it
before me in defence while I tugged in very desperation at my weapon.

Praise be to Alla! it yielded to my great exertion, and we were on
equal terms. I have before told you of my skill as a swordsman, but I
had met my match in the Rokurrea: he, though all his men were lying
around him save one,--who, having sorely wounded my poor attendant, was
now closely pressed by Peer Khan and another,--was as cool and wary as
myself. We fought well, and for a long time the contest was equal; we
were both out of breath, and our shields hacked with the repeated blows
we had each caught on them; at last, as my foot slipped on a stone,
he made a stroke at my head: the blow was weak from his exhausted
state, or it would have ended me: it cut through my turban and slightly
wounded my head.

I did not fall, though I was somewhat stunned by the stroke; he might
have taken advantage of the moment, yet he neglected it. Maddened by
the thought of defeat, I rushed on him, and by the violence of my
attack forced him backward: at last, he too slipped as he retreated,
and lost his balance; he raised his sword wildly in the air to recover
himself, but I did not lose my opportunity as he had done; my blow
descended with its full force, increased by a sudden leap I made
towards him, and he fell to the earth cloven through the neck and
shoulder--he was dead almost ere he fell. A moment I gazed on the
features of the brave Rajpoot, and then sought my poor lad, from whom
the life-blood was fast ebbing away; his wound was also in the neck,
and the blood rushing into his throat, was choking him. I tried to
stanch it with my waistband, but ineffectually; it relieved him for a
moment, and he asked for water. A leathern bag containing some had been
tied to the camel by one of the men, and I put the mouth of it to his
lips; he drank a little, and sat up, supported by Goordut.

"I am killed," said he; "Jemadar--I die--my own blood chokes me: I
cannot recover. Do not leave my body to be eaten by the beasts, but
bury it. That fellow," continued he, after a short interval, and
pointing to one of the dead, "that fellow's sword killed me. I cut the
hind sinews of the camel's leg, and it fell; I thought they would both
be stunned, but he got up and attacked me, and I was no match for him.
All the rest of you were engaged, or you would have helped me. But it
was my fate to die and I felt it yesterday; the bitterness of death
then passed over me, but now I am content: the pain will soon be over."

Here he sunk insensible, and we stood around him weeping; for he was an
affectionate lad, and we all loved him as a brother. But he recovered
again slightly, though the rattle was in his throat, and the blood
hardly allowed him to speak. "My mother!" he said, faintly. "Jemadar,
my mother!--you know her, and my little sister. They will starve
now;--but you will protect them for poor Junglee's sake?" And he strove
to bend his head on my hand, as though to supplicate my assistance for
them.

"Fear not," said I, "they shall be well cared for, and while Ameer Ali
lives they shall know no want." But I could hardly speak for weeping;
for I knew the old woman, and many were the prayers she made for his
safe return as she confided him to my care. Alas! how should we be able
to tell her his fate!

The poor boy was satisfied with my words; he would fain have replied
to them, and his lips moved; but a torrent of blood checked his
utterance, and, raising his dull and glazed eyes to mine, he bowed
his head on my hand, and died in the effort. "Now," said I, to the
assembled Thugs, "I here swear to one thing, and ye are none of mine
unless ye agree to it. I swear that, whatever share would have come to
this poor lad, it shall be doubled for his mother; as yet, we know not
what it is: but, whatever it be, it shall be doubled."

"We agree," cried all; "nay, every man of us will add to it what we
can; had Junglee not hamstrung the camel, which none of us thought
of doing, it might--nay, would have escaped; for we saw its speed
yesterday, and the two good Rajpoots who were on it would have carried
it off."

"Ye are my own brothers for this good promise," I said; "and now, some
of you dig a grave for the poor lad. We must unload that beast, and
strip the bodies. For myself, I am in some pain, and will wash my head
and tie up the cut--so set about your work quickly."

The camel still lay groaning; they tried to raise it up, but in vain;
the stroke had divided the sinew above the hock, and it could not raise
itself; so one of the men cut its throat, and ended its pain. The bags
of treasure were transferred to my pony and Peer Khan's horse, and
mine, and every man also filled his waistband; so that we were enabled
to carry it all off. We took the swords of the Rajpoots; but everything
else, and their bodies, were dragged into the jungle to some distance,
and hastily covered with earth and stones. The bloody earth on the
scene of the conflict was collected and thrown away, and in a very
short time nothing remained to mark the spot but the carcass of the
camel, which we could not dispose of; and leaving the usual marks for
the guidance of Motee and his party, we continued our march on the main
road.

Ah, how great was our joy when, before we reached the stage we were to
encamp at, and as we sat at the edge of a stream washing ourselves,
we saw, on the brow of a rising ground we had just passed, our party
coming up. They ran towards us in breathless anxiety and hope. Motee
was first, and he threw himself into my arms. "We hastened on," he
said, "from the last stage, hoping to overtake you in time; and when we
saw the dead camel, how great was our suspense till we could find you!
We saw the traces of the conflict, and some blood which had escaped
your notice--which I have removed--and that added to our anxiety; but,
Davee be praised! we have found you at last, and you are all safe. Is
it not so?"

"Not quite," I said; "we have lost poor Junglee, who was killed in the
fight, and I am wounded--but 'tis only a slight cut, and a few days
will heal it."

Some of the treasure was instantly distributed to the other ponies; and
encamping outside the village, when we reached it, after the accustomed
sacrifice, I had my small tent pitched, and all the treasure was
conveyed to it. One by one the bags were opened, and glorious, indeed,
was the booty--well worth the risk we had encountered! It consisted
of dollars, gold mohurs, and rupees, to the value of sixty thousand
rupees in all; and there were also six strings of large pearls in a
small box, sewn up in wax-cloth, which could not be worth less than
ten thousand more. I need not describe our joy: we had comfort--nay,
affluence, before us for years, and every one sat and gazed at the heap
of treasure in silent thankfulness. Finally it was all collected and
put into bags, which I sealed with my own seal.

We now hurried to our home, for we sought no adventure, nor needed any:
only two unfortunate wretches, who insisted on joining us, were killed,
and in less than a month we were within three marches of our village.
I despatched a man in advance to give notice of our approach; and,
Alla! how my heart beat with love and fond anxiety to see Azima, and
to press once more my children to my heart, after all the perils I had
encountered; how intense was my anxiety to reach my own threshold, when
I saw the well-known grove appear in view, the spot from whence I had
departed so full of hope, and the walls and white musjid of the village
peeping from amidst the trees by which they were surrounded! I urged
my horse into a gallop, and I saw my father and Moedeen approaching to
meet me, to give me the _istukbal_, the welcome of return; but, as I
neared them, they hung their heads, and advanced with slow and mournful
steps. A sudden pang shot through my heart. I threw myself from my
horse, and ran towards them. My father was weeping.

"Speak, for the sake of Alla!" I cried. "What can this be? Oh, say the
worst at once, and tell me--is Azima dead? this suspense will kill me."
A few words only the old man spake, as he told me that my child, my
beautiful boy, was dead!

And Ameer Ali wept.



CHAPTER XXXII.


Although the mind would ordinarily reject sympathy with the joys or
sorrows of a murderer like Ameer Ali, one so deeply stained with crime
of the most revolting nature, yet for the moment I was moved to see,
that after the lapse of nearly twenty years by his account, the simple
mention of the death of his favourite child could so much affect him,
even to tears, and they were genuine. I leave others to speculate
on the peculiar frame of the Thug's mind, how this one feeling of
tenderness escaped being choked by the rank guilt that had sprung up
around it, and will pursue my relation of his adventures.

Sahib, he said, why should I now trouble you with an account of my
miserable meeting with my loved Azima? You can picture it to yourself.
Our souls had been bound up in that boy, and it was long ere we could
bring ourselves to submit to the blow which the hand of Alla had
inflicted. But the poignancy of the grief passed away, and our girl,
growing up in beauty, occupied our thoughts and engaged our care and
attention.

Some time after we returned, my father one day came to me, and with
concern on his countenance declared there was a rumour that we were
suspected, and that he thought our village was no longer a safe abode
for us. We could risk nothing; there might or might not be truth in the
report, but it was our duty to secure a safe asylum; and accordingly he
and I set out to make a tour of the different states as yet independent
of the English, and to find out whether any of their rulers would allow
us a residence on payment of a fixed tribute, such as our fraternity
had used to pay to Sindia's government when our village belonged to
that prince. We accordingly departed, and after visiting many rulers in
Bundelkund (for we were averse to going farther from our home), we were
received by the Rajah of Jhalone, and were introduced to him by Ganesha
Jemadar, who was under his protection, and who made him handsome
returns from the booty he collected for his friendly conduct.

Our negotiation was a long one: the Rajah was fearful for some time
of the consequences of harbouring us, or pretended to be so in order
to enhance the favour he was conferring; but we distributed bribes
plentifully to his attendants and confidential servants, and at last
succeeded in our object. We were to pay a tax of three hundred rupees
a year to his government, present him with anything rare or valuable
we might pick up, and, to preserve appearances, my father agreed
to farm three villages situated a short distance from his capital.
The whole concluded by our presenting to him one of the strings of
pearls we had taken on the last expedition, my own beautiful sword,
and other articles, valued at nearly five thousand rupees. When we
were thus mutually satisfied, my father and some of the men remained
behind, while I and the rest returned to our village, to bring away our
families.

I confess I left our home with regret; many, many happy days had been
passed there, and we were beloved by the villagers, to whom we had
endeared ourselves by our inoffensive conduct. We were now to seek
a new country, and form new ties and connections--a disagreeable
matter under any circumstances. But my father's wisdom had saved us.
The information the English officers had obtained--Alla only knows
how--was correct. In a very few months after we were settled in our new
abode, we heard that the whole Purgunna of Murnae had been attacked,
village by village. Many of the best and bravest of the Thugs had died
defending their homes; the survivors had fled, routed and utterly
disorganized, and had taken refuge with those who had made previous
settlements as we had done.

For my own part, so long as my money lasted I was in no humour to
expose myself to fresh risks. I had too attained the highest rank
possible among Thugs, for I had been declared a Soobehdar immediately
upon my return from the last expedition; and I was content to enjoy my
ease, and assist my father in the management of the villages which had
been confided to us, and by which we realized a comfortable income.
For the time, therefore, Thuggee was abandoned; and though often
urged by Ganesha, who had a wild and restless spirit, to join him in
an expedition, we refrained from doing so, and lived peacefully and
respectably.

There was something about Ganesha which to me was mysterious, and the
instant I saw him at the court of the Rajah, a thought flashed into my
mind that I had met him before under painful circumstances. In spite
of all my endeavours I could hardly ever shake it off sufficiently to
be on any terms of cordiality with him; and I viewed with suspicion
and distrust his intimacy with my father, and the evident effect his
counsels had upon him. In person Ganesha was tall and strong, but his
face was more forbidding than any one I had ever before seen, and there
was a savage ferocity about his manner which disgusted me. But let him
pass at present; he has now little to do with my story; hereafter I
shall be obliged to bring him prominently and disagreeably before you.

Nearly three years passed quietly, and unmarked by anything which I
can recall to my memory. I had no more children, and my daughter was
growing up a model of beauty and grace. I was happy, and never should
have dreamed of leaving home, had it not been for the bad faith of the
Rajah, and one unfortunate season of drought; by the former we were
obliged to pay five thousand rupees, which he demanded under threats of
discovering us; and by the latter we lost considerably in the villages
we farmed, which were now seven in number, and for which he obliged us
to pay the full amount of revenue. These sums seriously diminished our
resources; and I began to look about me for men, to compose a band to
go in search of more plunder. But they were not easily collected, for
my own men had dispersed to distant parts of the country, and could not
be brought together save at great expense and sacrifice of time.

Just at this period it was rumoured through the country that Cheetoo
and other Pindharee chiefs of note would assemble their forces
after the rains, at the festival of the Dussera, and had planned an
expedition of greater magnitude than any ever before undertaken; an
expedition which was sure to enrich all its members, and strike terror
into the English government. The idea suited me exactly; I was a
soldier by inclination, if not by profession; and I thought, if I could
join any of the durras with a few choice men, well mounted, we might
make as good a thing of it as if we went out on an expedition of our
own. The latter scheme, moreover, promised no success, for the roads
would be infested by straggling parties of Pindharees, who were well
known to spare neither travellers nor Thugs: they looked on the last,
indeed, with great enmity.

Accordingly I set to work to make my preparations. Peer Khan and Motee
still remained near us, and when I disclosed my plans to them, they
entered into them with great readiness and alacrity. They had enough
money to mount themselves well, and after a short absence returned
fully equipped for the journey. I had told them to look out for a few
really fine fellows to accompany us, whom they brought; but our united
means would not allow of our purchasing horses for them, and on foot
they would be of no use. In debating on our dilemma, an idea occurred
to me that the Rajah would perhaps lend or sell the horses, on the
promise of after and double payment. I had heard of such things, and I
determined to try what could be done.

To my great joy the Rajah consented, and with less difficulty than
I had anticipated, for I had become a great favourite with him. I
was allowed to take five horses from his stables, which were valued
at three hundred rupees each, with their saddles and accoutrements,
and this sum was to be doubled in case we returned successful. The
Rajah indeed thanked me for the hint I had given him, and many
others obtained horses on the same terms, on giving security for the
performance of the conditions under which they took them. My final
arrangements were soon completed. We were all armed and accoutred in
the handsomest manner we could afford; and a better-mounted or more
gallant-looking little party never set out in quest of adventure than
I and my seven associates. Before we started we consulted the omens,
which were favourable, and we performed all the ceremonies of departure
exactly as if we had been going on an expedition of Thuggee.

In due time we arrived at Nemawur, the residence of Cheetoo. Here were
collected men from every part of Hindostan, as various in their tribes
as they were in their dresses, arms, and accoutrements. The country
round Nemawur was full of them, and the town itself appeared a moving
mass of human beings, attracted by the hope of active service, and
above all of plunder. We lost no time in presenting ourselves at the
durbar of the chief, and were graciously received by him. I opened our
conference in the usual manner, by presenting the hilt of my sword
as a nuzzur; and having dressed myself in my richest clothes, I was
instantly welcomed as if I had been a Sirdar of rank, and had the
command, not of seven men, but of as many hundreds.

Cheetoo was a fine-looking man and a gallant leader. He ought to have
died on the field of battle, instead of in the miserable manner he did.
No man that ever led a Lubhur was juster in the division of plunder;
no one was ever more attentive to the wants and complaints of those
under him than was Cheetoo Pindharee. It was this which gained him so
many followers, while his personal activity and hardihood stimulated
his soldiers to exertion and emulation. Nothing could tire him: often
have I seen him after a long and weary march, when it was as much as
most of us could do to sit on our horses, dash out to the front and
exercise his noble steed, which bore him gallantly, as though he were
only returning from a morning's ride of a few miles.

Cheetoo was, as I said, struck with my appearance, as I introduced
myself as a poor Syud of Jhalone, desirous of serving under him in his
ensuing campaign.

"Oh," said he, "from Jhalone! you have travelled far, my friend; but
nevertheless you are welcome, as every brave cavalier is who brings
a good horse and a willing heart to the service of Cheetoo. You know
my conditions of service; I give no pay, but as much plunder as your
own activity can procure: the people will tell you what my share of it
is; and I look to your honesty, for your face belies you if you are a
rogue."

"I know the conditions," said I, "and will accept them; but I have
brought a few friends with me who are desirous of sharing my fortunes;
and, if it be the pleasure of the Huzoor, I will bring them."

"Surely," he replied: "but now I am engaged: meet me with your men at
the place of assembly in the evening, and I will see them and your
horses, for the station I shall allot you in the durra depends on their
fitness."

I made my obeisance and retired. I had made the acquaintance of one
of Cheetoo's Sirdars, a man by name Ghuffoor Khan, a perfect savage
in appearance and deportment, a fellow who had Pindharee written on
his face, and had served with much distinction in the durras of Dost
Mahomed and Kureem Khan. He had introduced me to Cheetoo, and now, as
he accompanied me from the durbar, he gave me instructions how I was to
proceed.

"You will meet us," he said, "on the plain beyond the town, and see
that all your horses look well, that your men are well dressed and
armed, and I will venture to declare that you are all placed in my
division, which has the honour of leading, and is the first for
fighting and for plunder. I shall be glad to have you, and I will try
whether I cannot get you the command of a hundred or two of my own
risala. We want leaders, and from your appearance I judge that you will
do justice to my patronage."

"It is the very thing I have ever wished for," I said; "and if you
will but favour me, I will do my utmost to please you. It is true
I have as yet seen no service; but that is easily learned when the
heart is willing." We separated, and I hastened to my men to get them
in readiness for the inspection of our new chief. Our horses had now
rested from the fatigue of the journey, and were in high condition: our
arms were cleaned and sharpened. We provided ourselves with the long
spear which is peculiar to the Pindharees, and of which thousands were
on sale; and at the appointed hour I led my little band to the place,
where some hundred horsemen were already assembled. I had dressed
myself in the armour of Subzee Khan, which was a magnificent suit:
and my noble horse, as he bounded and caracoled with me, seemed proud
of his rider, and glad that he had at last got into a scene suited to
his fiery spirit. Peer Khan and Motee were also striking figures, and
nearly as well mounted as I was; and the rest were as good, if not
better, than the majority of those who were now assembled.

"Keep all together," said I to them: "do not straggle, or our party
will appear more insignificant than it really is. When you see the
chief coming, watch my movements and follow me."

Long before sunset Cheetoo issued from the town, accompanied by as
gallant a company as could well be imagined. The leaders of the
different durras were all around him, each surpassing the other in the
richness and martial air of his dress, his arms, and the trappings of
his horse. Before him, making his horse leap and bound in a wonderful
manner, rode Ghuffoor Khan, clad in chain-armour, which glittered in
the red rays of the setting sun. No one equalled him in appearance,
though many were noble-looking cavaliers; and no one appeared to manage
his steed with the ease and grace that he did.

"That is the man!" I cried with enthusiasm to Peer Khan; "that is the
man we are to serve under; is he not a gallant fellow? Now follow me."
And I gave my impatient horse the rein, and dashing onwards, was in an
instant at the side of Cheetoo, accompanied by my men. I dropped my
spear to the ground, as I threw my horse back on his haunches close to
him, and making an obeisance down to my saddle-bow, said that I had
brought my men as he had directed, and awaited his orders.

Cheetoo checked his horse, and for a moment surveyed me with delight.
"You are a fine young fellow," he said at length, "and your men are
excellently mounted. I would there were as many hundreds of you as you
have companions. However, something may be done. What say you, Ghuffoor
Khan, will the Meer Sahib serve with you? and have you a few hundred
men to put under him?"

"May I be your sacrifice?" cried the Khan, "'tis the very thing your
servant would have proposed. I liked the Meer Sahib from the moment I
saw him, and now that he is properly dressed, by Alla! he is a very
Roostum, and the only fit companion for himself (forgive my insolence)
that Ghuffoor Khan sees."

"Then be it so," said Cheetoo; "take him with you, and see that you
treat him kindly."

"Come," cried the Khan to me, "come then, Meer Sahib, take a
tilting-spear from one of those fellows; here is a rare piece of
ground, and I must see whether you are master of your weapon."

"I fear not," said I; "I know little about the spear. On foot and with
the sword I should not fear the best man of the army; nevertheless, to
please you, I will try."

I took the spear, a long light bamboo, with a large stuffed ball
of cotton at the end of it, from which depended a number of small
streamers of red cloth, and following Ghuffoor Khan, dashed forwards
into the plain. We pursued each other alternately, now advancing to the
attack, now retreating, amidst the plaudits of the assembled horsemen,
who looked on with curiosity to see how an utter stranger would
behave against the most accomplished cavalier of the army. For a long
time neither of us had any advantage over the other; our horses were
admirably trained, and neither allowed the other to approach within
reach of the spear-thrust. This was the great nicety of the tilt,
and cries of "Shabash! Shabash!" resounded at every baffling turn or
successful escape from a meditated blow. At last the Khan touched me;
it was but a graze, which I received on my arm, having delayed for an
instant to turn my horse, and he cried out that he had won.

"I own it," said I, as our horses stood panting for breath, "for I am,
as you know, a novice at the use of the weapon; yet if you will give me
another trial, I will again cross spears with you, and see if I have
not better luck."

"Good," cried he, laughing; "but look out, for I warn you I shall not
be merciful; a sharp blow on the ribs of a young hand teaches him his
vulnerable point, and causes him to be careful ever after."

"Come on," cried I; "if I can I will return the compliment."

We again took a large circle, and at a good canter approached each
other till we were nearly within spear's-length. The Khan was as good
as his word, and made several desperate lunges at me. I avoided them,
however, by the quickness of my horse; and I plainly saw that he could
by no endeavour approach near enough to me to strike a decisive blow.
His horse, too, being fatter, was more blown than my own; and, after
allowing him to weary it still more for some time in a vain pursuit
of me, I suddenly changed my position, and became his assailant. I
believe I was more cool and wary than he was, for he appeared vexed
that a stranger should be on such equal terms with him at his favourite
exercise; he did not parry my lunges with the same precision as in the
first encounter, when, notwithstanding all my efforts to touch him, he
avoided and laughed at me. Still I had not touched him; and growing
weary of my close pursuit, he endeavoured to turn again and become
the assailant; but whether his horse was slow in wheeling round, or
whether I was too near to allow of his avoiding the blow, I know not;
but, as he endeavoured to cross behind me, I wheeled my horse suddenly,
struck my heels into his sides, and, as he gave his accustomed bound
of some yards, struck my spear full on the broad chest of the Khan,
who was somewhat stunned by the blow. A loud shout from those around
us proclaimed my victory; and the Khan himself, though abashed at his
defeat, was one of the loudest in my praises to the chief himself.

"By Alla!" said he, "thou art no stranger at this work, Meer Sahib;
thou hast played me a trick."

"I swear by your beard and the Koran that I have not, Khan," I cried:
"it was the result of chance. Alla knows that two days ago I had never
had a spear in my hand. I only observed what you did when you hit me,
and to my good horse I owe my fortune. But it was all chance; and
though I prize the victory, yet I regret that such a chance should have
hurt you."

"Nay, I am not hurt, Syud," he replied; "and I bear these things with
good humour; but if you are as good a hand with the sword as you
promise to be with the spear, there will not be a man in the camp to
stand before you."

"It would be boastful in me to challenge any one," said I, "seeing that
I am a stranger among you; yet if the noble Cheetoo wishes to try me, I
will essay what I can do to-morrow."

"Good, good!" cried all; and Cheetoo himself, vastly pleased with the
result of my encounter with Ghuffoor Khan, bade me present myself early
at his residence, where he would invite a few good swordsmen to attend
and see us exercise.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


The next afternoon we were all assembled on a small plain outside the
town. Cheetoo had spread his carpet after the manner of a Pindharee,
and sat with his chiefs around him, promising by his demeanour to be an
eager spectator of the encounter. He was remarkably civil to me, and
asked me to sit by him until a few men, who were ready, had displayed
their dexterity and prowess. On the signal being given by him, two
stout Rajpoots leaped into the circle, and clattered their sticks on
each other's shield for some time without either touching the other.

"Does this please you?" said Cheetoo to me. "Those fellows are good
hands, you see, at their weapons: neither would have drawn blood had
they had swords in their hands."

"They are expert enough," said I; "but methinks they have played
together before, and know each other's ways; they make a great show;
but, if I may be pardoned, I think neither has much real skill. If my
lord wishes, I will try either of them."

"Take care you are not overmatched," said he: "I would not have your
fair fame sullied. You have already interested me much in your behalf."

"Do not fear for me," said I; "I will do my best."

I stripped myself to my trousers, and girding a handkerchief tightly
about my waist, I stepped into the circle, where one of the men, who
had now rested from his first encounter, awaited me. I took a stick
and a small shield made of basket-work from Peer Khan, who had brought
them, and advanced to the centre. There were murmurs among the assembly
that I was overmatched, for they contrasted my slight form with the
tall and brawny one of my antagonist; but I was not to be deterred by
this. I knew my skill, and that mere personal strength would avail but
little against it.

"How is it to be?" said I to the Rajpoot. "Does the first fair blow
decide between us?"

"Certainly," he replied. "I shall strike hard, so be on your guard."

"Good," said I; "now take your post."

He did. He retired to one edge of the circle and advanced on me
leisurely, now stooping and leaning his shield-arm on his knee as he
rested a moment to survey me, and now circling round me, first rising
on one leg and then on the other, and waving his stick in the air.

I stood perfectly still and in a careless attitude, but well on my
guard, for I knew that I should hazard something in moving after him.
It was evident to me he did not expect this, for he seemed for a moment
irresolute, but at last he rushed on me with two or three bounds, and
aimed a blow at my head. I was perfectly prepared, for I knew his mode
of attack; I received the blow on my shield, caught the stick under
it, and rained such a shower of blows on his undefended person as
completely astonished him.

The assembly rang with plaudits, and the other Rajpoot stepped forward
and saluted me. "You have had but short work with my friend Bheem
Singh," said he; "but now you must try me."

"I am ready," I replied; "so get to your post."

I had now an antagonist worthy of me; he knew my system of play, and
verily I thought myself for the moment engaged with my old instructor,
but I had used to vanquish him, and I did not fear the man before me.
We were soon hotly engaged: he was as cool and wary as myself, and
after a long conflict, in which neither had the advantage, we rested
awhile, both out of breath.

"Enough, enough!" cried Cheetoo; "you have both done bravely; neither
has won, and you had better let the matter stand as it is."

"Not so, Khodawund," said I; "let us finish it; one of us must win,
and my friend here desires as much as myself to see which of us is the
better man. Is it not so?"

"Ay," said the fellow, laughingly, "the Nuwab Sahib knows that no one
as yet has overcome me; but I have fairly met my match: and whoever
taught you was a good master, and has had a disciple worthy of him."

"As you will," said Cheetoo, "only play in good humour; let no feud
grow out of it."

We both saluted him, and assured him we could not quarrel, and that
whoever was victor must entertain a high respect for his opponent.

And to it we set again, as we had now recovered our breath: victory
for a long time hovered between us, now inclining to the one and now
to the other; we had both lost our footing once or twice, and the
spectators would have had us leave off; but excited as we were, it was
impossible--we stopped not for their exclamations. I was put to my last
shifts to avoid the well-directed blows of the Rajpoot; he had better
wind than I, and this obliged me to alter my mode of play: hitherto
I had attacked him, I now only warded off his cuts, but watched my
opportunity. In his eagerness, thinking by a succession of blows he
could beat down my guard, he exposed his side, and my stick descended
on his ribs with a sound which was heard by all, and with a force which
fairly took away his breath; had my weapon been a sword, I think I
should have cut him in two.

"Fairly won!" cried Cheetoo; "fairly and bravely won! Ramdeen Singh,
thou hast lost, but it is no disgrace to thee. Come to me by-and-by and
I will reward thee."

The Rajpoot laughed, and I was glad he bore the defeat so
good-humouredly, for I had expected the contrary; he allowed that he
had been vanquished, and cried out to all that it had been a fair
encounter, and that he had used the utmost of his skill: "So beware,"
he continued, "how any of you engage the Meer Sahib; you all know what
I am, and I have been fairly beaten."

I was delighted with the noble fellow, and addressed Cheetoo himself.
"I crave a boon, Khodawund, and if I may hope to have it granted, I
will speak."

"Say on," he replied; "I will grant it readily."

"Then," said I, "let this brave fellow be placed under me. By your
favour, a stranger has been entrusted with the command of part of the
Harawul (advance-guard), and I would have both these Rajpoots with me,
and be allowed to entrust fifty men to the one and twenty-five to the
other."

"Good," said Cheetoo, "let it be so; and do you, Ghuffoor Khan, look to
it that it is done; these are the men who will serve us in the time of
need." A few days more and I was fairly installed into my new charge.
Fortune had favoured me far above my expectations, and I saw nought
before me but a career of distinction under my new master. True, I was
no longer a leader on my own responsibility, but the rank I held was
honourable, and perhaps far above my deserts. I seized an opportunity
which presented itself, and wrote a full account of the whole to my
father and Azima, for I knew that they would rejoice at tidings so new
and unexpected.

Our time passed in the camp in the manner I have related. In the
mornings I was a constant attendant upon Cheetoo, who rarely allowed me
to leave his person during his inspections of the constantly arriving
new adventurers; and the evenings closed with feats of strength and
trials of skill, in which I sustained the reputation I had begun with.
I never spent a happier time than the month I was at Nemawur--in every
way so gratifying to me, and so consonant to my previously formed
wishes.

At last the festival of the Dussera arrived, and it was held with
great pomp and show. A grand review of all the assembled adventurers
was held, a muster taken, and it was reported that five thousand good
horsemen were present; and this number, with their followers, and those
indifferently mounted, was augmented to nearly eight thousand,--a
gallant band, ready to do the bidding of their chief, and to carry war
and devastation into the countries before them.

It was planned that we should separate into two bodies soon after
passing the Nurbudda, penetrate as far as the Kistna river to the
south, and, should we find that fordable, then press on as far south
as we could without exposing ourselves to encounters with the regular
armies of the Feringhees, which, we were assured, although at present
inactive, could speedily be sent in pursuit of us. Accordingly, as the
morning broke, the whole camp was in motion; and a noble sight it was
to see durra after durra defile before their chief and hurry onwards at
a rapid pace. Boats had been provided at the Nurbudda, which we crossed
the same day, and took up our ground near the town of Hindia on its
southern bank.

At this point the army separated. I remained with my division and
Cheetoo, and we pushed on the day after, taking a direction to the
westward, so as to come upon the river Taptee, up the valley of which
we were to proceed till we should reach the territories of the Rajah of
Nagpoor, with whom a treaty had been previously made to allow us a free
and unmolested passage through his dominions, on the condition that
they were not to be plundered. The other division, under Syud Bheekoo,
a leader of note, and only second to Cheetoo, took a direction to the
eastward, along the bank of the Nurbudda, until they reached the grand
road to Nagpoor, by which it was their intention to travel.

Meanwhile we proceeded by rapid marches, for we were eager to reach the
scene of our operations, as our money was running short, and without
plunder we should starve. We heard that there was a small detachment
of regular troops, under Major Fraser, watching our movements; but
our spies told us they were few in number, and we were under no
apprehension of an attack from them. It was reported that they did not
exceed three hundred men, and we vainly thought they would not dare to
face as many thousands. But we had not sufficiently estimated their
bravery. We knew they were upwards of fifteen coss distant from us, and
what infantry could make that march and attack a body of horse like
ours?

They did, however, attack us. We had arrived at our ground near a
village on the Taptee, and some were cooking their morning meal,
others lounging idly about the camp or lying at full length on their
saddle-cloths, when the alarm was given that the Feringhees were upon
us. The scene of confusion which ensued is indescribable. Men hurried
hither and thither; anything like organization was past all hope; each,
as he could gain his horse, threw himself upon it and fled for his
life. Not a man stood. In vain I entreated those with me to rally, and
make a charge on the small body of red-coats, which was now drawn up in
line close to our camp, and was pouring volley after volley amongst us
with destructive precision. Not a man would hear me; and though my own
Thugs and a few of my division swore they would die if I were to lead
them on, I saw no chance of success; and as one or two of my men had
fallen near me, we, too, at length turned our horses' heads and fled.
We were not pursued, though there were some horsemen with the infantry,
who, had they not been the most arrant cowards, would have charged
after and engaged us.

I must say I longed that they should, and I kept my men, nearly a
hundred, in a close body, while from time to time we faced about and
shook our spears in defiance at the body of horse, about our own
number, who however did not stir. We saw the infantry once more put
in motion, to take possession of our camp, which, with the thousands
of temporary screens from the sun standing here and there, and the
fires burning under half-cooked victuals, must have been a welcome
resting-place to them after their long march. They must have gained a
considerable booty, for many a man threw himself on the bare back of
his horse, leaving a well-lined saddle behind him to the victors.

Our surprise and route was complete, and if the enemy had had a larger
body of infantry, or any good cavalry with them to have followed us, we
might have bid adieu to all hopes of future plunder, and most likely
should have taken our way to our respective homes and abandoned the
expedition. As it was, however, we found we had not lost more than a
hundred men; and three days afterwards we were again reunited, and in
as good spirits as ever.

At length we debouched by almost untrodden paths from the hills to
the eastward of Ellichpoor, and from among the dense jungles I had
before traversed, after the affair with the Moghulanee. We entered the
territories of the Nizam near the river Wurda, which we crossed, and
in one march of nearly twenty-five coss, reached Oomraotee, which it
appeared had been the object of our leader from the first. I have once
before described its riches and prosperity, and it was then far richer
than it is now.

As we rushed along, more like the flood of a mighty river than aught
else, every village on our route was instantly deserted by its
inhabitants and left to our mercy. They were one by one ransacked for
treasure, and in some of the largest much booty was obtained. I was
fortunate in leading the advance-guard on this day, and well do I
remember the excitement of the moment, as we passed the last defile
in the hills, and rushed in a body into the plain. Well do I remember
waving my sword to my companions--whose numbers were now swelled to
nearly five hundred splendid fellows, often increased by parties from
the rear,--as I showed them the broad plains of Berar, and told them
that we had unlimited power to plunder as we listed!

Ghuffoor Khan envied me that day; he had been detained with Cheetoo,
who remained with the main body, while my own Harawul was increased, in
order that I might advance and surround Oomraotee. On we dashed! The
few villages we surprised were quickly laid under contribution; and
rupees and gold and silver ornaments were tendered, almost without our
asking, by their terrified inhabitants. As we proceeded, the news that
we were coming had spread through every village, and thousands of the
people were seen flying from their homes; while a few only remained in
each, with an offering to me, accompanied by entreaties not to burn
their villages. Nor did I; though from the pillars of smoke which
not long afterwards arose in every direction behind us, I too justly
thought the main body had been less merciful than we had. We reached
Oomraotee towards evening. There were but few soldiers to guard this
important post, and they had fled on the news of our approach; we
therefore entered the town unchecked and unopposed. How different was
my present from my former visit!

I directed my course to the main street, where I knew I should find the
principal sahoukars; and, after stationing parties of my men at each
end and at the different outlets, I rode into the middle of the chouke,
or market-place, and dismounted among the leading men of the town, who
had a carpet spread, and were prepared, as they said, to do us honour.

But few words of greeting passed, for ours was no cordial visit, and
each party was bent on driving the hardest bargain. "Come, gentlemen,"
said I, after I had listened for some time to their vain protestations
of poverty and inability to raise a sum adequate to my desires, "this
is mere fooling. You have offered a lakh of rupees; do you think the
noble Cheetoo will be satisfied with this? I swear by the Koran he
will not, and you had better at once be reasonable and listen to my
words. The whole Lubhur will be here before it is dark, and if any of
you will take the trouble to ascend one of your tall houses, or one of
the bastions, you will see how Pindharees mark their progress. Many a
fine village behind me has not now a roof or tree standing, and your
good town will assuredly share the same fate if you trifle with us; and
not only will it be burned, but your property will be handed over to
the tender mercies of my men--ay, and your wives and daughters also;
so I give you fair warning. You have no force to oppose us; and if you
refuse, I am desired to tell you that we shall stay here for some days
and amuse ourselves by inspecting the interior of your houses. Go,
therefore, be wise, consult among yourselves, and before the shadow of
this tree has lengthened the measure of my sword (and I laid it on the
ground), bring me an answer worthy of your name for wisdom, and liberal
withal; beyond that time I give you not a moment; your houses are close
at hand, and, Inshalla! we will help ourselves."

"Well spoken!" cried all the men who were around me: "but, Meer Sahib,
why not help ourselves at once? These stingy merchants can have no idea
of the wants of men of honour like us, who have a long journey before
us."

"You shall hear what they say," replied I; "meanwhile let us be quiet
and orderly, and let none of you interrupt their consultations, or
offer violence to any of the townspeople."

The time had nearly elapsed, and the hilt of my sword was all that
remained in the sunlight. The council of the merchants was, from all
appearances, as far from a decision as ever, if I might judge from
their angry debate, and the unsettled and anxious expressions of their
countenances. Eagerly I watched the increasing shadow, as from time to
time I called to them that the period allowed had nearly elapsed; at
last the bright hilt of my sword glittered no longer, and I took it
up amidst a shout from my men. The merchants saw my action, and again
advanced in a body towards me.

"Sit down, Meer Sahib," said the fattest of them, who appeared to
be the chief, "sit down; let us talk over this matter calmly and
deliberately. That business is always unsatisfactory which is done in a
hurry, and with heated minds."

"No!" I exclaimed, "I will not; standing as I am, I will hear what you
have to say. Remember, when I draw my sword the plunder begins, and
though I have some influence over these brave fellows while they expect
a reasonable offer from you, yet the instant they are disappointed, my
power ends, and I will not answer for any of your lives."

"Come aside with me for a moment," said the chief merchant; "I would
speak with you apart; you need fear no treachery from a sahoukar!"

We all laughed heartily. "No, no," said I, "I fear nought, and will
come. And do you, my good fellows," I added, turning to my men, "see
that none of these worthy persons escape. Well," said I, when we had
gone a few paces from the group, "what would you say? Be quick; my men
are impatient, and your houses and shops are provokingly and temptingly
near."

"Listen then," replied he: "you are a leader, and by your conduct
doubtless have the influence you appear to have. You have not more
than five hundred men with you; we offer you therefore ten thousand
rupees as your own share, one thousand to each of your sirdars, and one
hundred apiece to your men; this will be nearly a lakh of rupees, and
we will take our chance with the main body. What do you say? be quick
and tell me, for the money is at hand, and can be easily distributed
before the main body comes up."

I pondered awhile; I knew Cheetoo would make his own terms, and I did
not see any harm in getting as much as I could of the spoil before
he came. I knew also that he expected ten lakhs, and would get it,
or nearly the sum, by fair means or foul. "Listen again," said the
sahoukar: "you are in advance; you have nought to do but take your
money and push on, and any village before you will shelter you for the
night; what will Cheetoo know of it?"

"Nay," said I, "here we remain; after a march of twenty-five coss, we
are in no humour to proceed; but I will take my men outside the town on
the instant payment of one lakh of rupees:--remember, one third of what
we get goes to the chief, and our share, after all, is not much."

"Agreed," said he; "now come to your men, and persuade them to be
quiet: they will not get so much by violence as by treating us well."

We returned to the group we had left, and I unfolded to them the
proposition which had been made to me; it was welcomed with a loud
shout which made the air ring, and was then succeeded by loud cries
for the money. The sum had evidently been collected previously, for
in a few moments a line of men heavily laden with bags of rupees,
issued from a lane close to where we were sitting. Duffa by duffa of
the Pindharees, each headed by its own duffadar, was brought up to the
spot; each man received his hundred rupees, each leader his thousand,
which were stowed away in the capacious bags of their saddles.

"You have not cared for yourself, Meer Sahib," said Peer Khan; "you
have taken nothing."

"Oh, do not fear for me," I replied; "I have got my share; the bag does
not look large, but it holds gold."

His eyes brightened. "That is right," he said; "the others must not
know of it."

"Not a syllable; it is known only to you and myself. Now we must take
care these rascals commit no excesses; they seem half in the humour to
run riot in the town."

"They seem content," he replied; "at least I for one am. By Alla! Meer
Sahib, this is rare work; a thousand rupees in a morning's ride is
better than our own profession, though we have been lucky in our time."

"Choop!" said I, "silence! This is no time for our secrets. Away with
you! See that the men take up ground before the town. I will remain
here with some others, and see what becomes of the place when Cheetoo
arrives."

One by one the Pindharees left me, except a few who stayed by my
desire; and, our business at an end, I sat down and awaited Cheetoo's
arrival. "What do you think he will ask?" said my fat friend to me.

"I know not," I answered; "but you had better be liberal at once, or he
will sack your town, and you know what Pindharees are; they have few
scruples, and some of you may be tortured."

A general shudder ran through the assembly at the thought of the
torture, and I saw I had made a hit. "Yes," I continued, "there are
such things as korlas, and your fat backs would soon be laid open;
besides there are fellows who are rare hands at tying up fingers and
hitting them on the ends, which is not agreeable I should think,--also
at mixing compositions for those bags to be tied over your mouths.
I have heard of even still worse contrivances to persuade obstinate
sahoukars; but ye are wise men--ye will be warned."

"Say at once, Meer Sahib," said another of the merchants who had not
yet spoken, "say what we should offer, and how many Pindharees are
there? we have heard there are five thousand."

"Somewhat below the mark, Séthjee," said I, "we are little under ten
thousand, I think; however, you will see the Lubhur, and judge for
yourselves. As for the sum, I should say, in the first place, a lakh
of rupees for Cheetoo himself--I know he expects as much; then there
are three sirdars, Heeroo, Ghuffoor Khan, and Rajun--fifty thousand
apiece; then each minor leader and duffadar a thousand, and every good
Pindharee a hundred. Say, have I spoken well?"

"Bhugwan protect us!" cried one and all, "we are ruined and dead men.
Why this would be at least eight lakhs of rupees; where are we to get
such a sum? We are ruined, and better kill us at once."

"No, no, my good friends, not so," said I. "All the world knows that
Oomraotee is the richest town in the country, ay richer than Hyderabad
itself, and that the money maybe counted, not by lakhs, but by crores;
so talk not to Cheetoo of your poverty, for he will presently prove
whether you lie or not. Trust me, your safest plan is to offer him a
large sum at once, for he has a long journey before him; the men have
got nothing since we left Nemawur, and they are hungry and thirsty."

"I tell you all," said the fat sahoukar, "the worthy Meer Sahib speaks
the truth. Bhugwan has sent this gurdee (calamity), and we must be
resigned to our fate. Better far is it to give the uttermost farthing,
than to see our wives and daughters dishonoured before our eyes. I have
spoken."

"Good!" cried I; "now you speak like wise men, and I will give you
further advice. Cheetoo is a great man, and loves to be paid honour, as
indeed is due to him; so also do the other leaders. Now get your pan,
uttur, and spices, make up a proper tray of them, bring a few handsome
shawls, and as he takes his seat, one of you throw a pair of the best
over his shoulders and those of the other chiefs, and lay your nuzzurs
before him as you would before Sikundur Jah himself. Inshalla! you will
find favour in his sight, and where you would have to pay ten lakhs you
will get off with half the sum, and save your town besides."

"By Gunga! 'tis well said!" cried several. "Meer Sahib, you are a kind
friend and give good advice: without you we should not have known what
to do."

"Again," said I, "let none of you have long faces, but all look as if
you were rejoiced at his coming. Be none of you alarmed before you have
cause. Pay you must; and therefore do it with as good a grace as you
can."

The assembly drank in my words, as I by turns advised and alarmed them,
in order to keep up the spirit I had infused, and in this manner the
time passed until the dusk of evening, when, by the noise of the tread
of many horses' feet and the firing of matchlocks, we were assured of
the approach of the main body.

"Now stick by us," cried the sahoukars as they crowded round me; "you
are our friend and must present us: we will not be afraid." But their
words belied them, for the teeth of one and all were chattering with
fear, and their cheeks blanched, at the thoughts of confronting the
Pindharee chief.

Cheetoo came, and riding into the chouke, surrounded by a crowd of
wild-looking figures, the effect of whose appearance was materially
increased by the dusk of the evening, his titles were screamed out by a
dozen mouths, each vying with the other in exaggeration of his powers.
The group of sahoukars, headed by me, advanced towards him; and the
head merchant, rubbing his forehead on the chief's stirrup, implored
him to alight and refresh himself, adding that a zeafut had been
prepared, and all were desirous of presenting their nuzzurs. I seconded
the request, and he exclaimed, "Surely I know that voice; whose, in the
name of Shitan, is it?"

"That of your slave Ameer Ali," said I.

"Oh, then all is right," he cried; "and thou too hast turned sahoukar.
How is this, Meer Sahib?"

"May I be your sacrifice, Nuwab!" said I; "I have but mingled with
these worthy persons, because they declared they should be annihilated
at the sight of the splendour of your appearance. I did but console
them and keep up their spirits till my lord arrived."

"Thou hast done well," said Cheetoo. "Is everything prepared?"

"All," cried the sahoukars; "if the noble Cheetoo will but alight, we
are prepared to do him honour."

He alighted, and led by the hand by the chief merchant, he was
conducted into an adjoining house, which belonged to one of the
merchants, and where a clean white floor-cloth had been spread, and
a musnud placed. The room too was well lighted. Cheetoo took his
seat, and looked around him with evident gratification; savage as his
countenance was, it now wore a smile of triumph, yet mixed with an
expression of extreme pleasure.

"These are civilised people," said he to Rajun, his favourite, who was
close to him. "I little expected this; did you?"

"Indeed no," said he; "I thought we should have had to cut our way into
the town. Depend on it, this is some of Ameer Ali's doing."

"Likely enough," said Cheetoo; "he is a gentleman, and knows how a
gentleman ought to be received. But for him, it is most probable these
swine would have shut themselves up in their houses, and given us the
trouble of pulling them out. But see,--what are they about?"

I was nudged by the Sahoukar, who, whispering, implored me to ask
Cheetoo to accept their nuzzur. "Five hundred rupees for you if he
takes it," again he whispered as I pretended to hesitate. "Agreed,"
said I; "I will revenge myself if it is not paid."

"By Gunga! by my Junwa!" again said he most earnestly; "nay, I will
double it. Speak for us, good Meer Sahib, are you not our friend and
our brother?"

"What are those sons of asses talking to you about?" cried Cheetoo.
"Why don't they speak out?"

"Khodawund!" I said, "the terror of your name has preceded you"--and he
smiled grimly,--"and your appearance is in every way so imposing and
surpassing the accounts these men have heard, that, by Alla! they are
dumb; and though they would fain lay a nuzzur at your feet, in every
way befitting your high rank, they have not words to express their
desires, and have begged your slave to inform my lord of them."

"Kabool, Kabool! I agree," cried Cheetoo; "let the trays be brought.
Verily a nuzzur from the sahoukars of Oomraotee ought to be worth
seeing."

Fifteen trays were brought in, covered with rich velvet coverings, and
set down before the musnud; one by one their covers were removed, and
indeed it was a goodly sight! Dates, pistachio nuts, sweetmeats, and
sugar-candy filled four; the rest contained cloths of various kinds,
European and Indian, muslins, chintzes, rich turbans, and Benares
brocades. It was a nuzzur fit for a prince, and Cheetoo was delighted.

"Now," said I to the Sahoukar, "this is a happy moment; where are the
shawls and the ashruffees? Have a stout heart, and throw the shawls
over him, as you would over one of your own tribe at a marriage."

The Sahoukar took the shawls from an attendant, and putting five
ashruffees upon them, advanced to the feet of Cheetoo; and having made
the tusleemât or three obeisances, he presented the gold, and unfolding
the shawls, which were very splendid, dexterously enveloped the chief's
person in them, and then retreating, stood with his hands folded on his
breast in an attitude of respectful humility.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


Cheetoo was evidently flattered by the distinction with which he had
been received, and as he examined the beautiful shawls which now
enveloped his person, a grim smile of delight lighted up his coarse
features. "These men have sense," said he to Ghuffoor Khan, "and are
evidently accustomed to the visits of persons of quality. We little
expected this civility, and in truth it is most acceptable after our
long ride; but they have forgotten you."

"Not so, noble Cheetoo," cried the Sahoukar, advancing with
several pairs of shawls over his arm; "we are not forgetful of our
distinguished guests;" and he threw a pair over each of the chiefs,
which they received with complacency.

"Let the room be cleared," cried Cheetoo; "we have business with
these worthy gentlemen, which I have sworn to do before we touch any
refreshment."

It was quickly done, and there only remained our leaders and the
sahoukars, who huddled together like wild fowl on the approach of a
hawk. "Come forward," said Cheetoo to them; "come and sit near us; we
would speak to you."

They all arose, and, as they were directed, seated themselves in
respectful attitudes on the edge of the musnud. "Now," continued
Cheetoo, "you are doubtless aware of our object. We want money, and
money we will have, by fair means or foul; if ye are wise, ye will pay
me handsomely to be rid of me and my people, who are savage fellows. I
desire not to harm you, and on your own heads be it, if any disaster
befalls you. Say, therefore, how much are ye prepared to give?"

"Truly," said the Sahoukar, my friend, who was the spokesman, "we have
been duly advised of your Highness's coming; and as a proof that we did
not dread you, you see us here, and we have done our poor ability to
welcome so distinguished a person. We have also received good counsel
from your servant the Meer Sahib; and, agreeably to his instructions,
we have drawn up a list of a few trifles and some ready money which we
are desirous of laying at the feet of your Highness." And the Sahoukar
handed to him a paper written in Persian.

"This is unintelligible to me, for I am no moonshee; but can any of you
read, brothers?" asked Cheetoo of the other leaders.

"Not a word, not a letter," cried one and all; "none of us know one
letter from another."

"I can send for a moonshee," said the Sahoukar; "one is in attendance."

"If I am permitted," said I, "I will read the list; I may be able to
make it out."

"Ha! thou art a clerk as well as a good soldier," cried Cheetoo,
laughing. "Well, take the paper, and let us hear our good fortune."

"First, then," said I, after I had glanced over the document, "this
paper sets forth, that the sahoukars and others of the market-town of
Oomraotee, in council assembled, having heard of the near approach of
the mighty Cheetoo and his army, and being desirous of approaching
his feet with a small tribute of respect, have put down the following
articles and sums of ready money, which are prepared and ready for his
acceptance,--on no condition save that, they may find favour in his
sight, and be the humble means of insuring his clemency to others."

"Good!" said Cheetoo. "Now get thee to the marrow of the matter as
speedily as may be, for my stomach craves food, and I doubt not these
worthy gentleman's families have prepared a repast for me."

"It is ready, noble Cheetoo," cried the Sahoukar; "and if the order is
given, it will be set out; but the food of us poor Hindoos would be
tasteless to my lord, and therefore we have had the repast cooked by
the best Bawurchees of the town."

"Silence!" cried the chief; "speak when you are allowed to do so; we
are in no humour to be interrupted."

The Sahoukar shrank back intimidated, and raising my voice I proceeded.
"The first item, Protector of the Poor!" cried I, "is a sum of fifty
thousand rupees for yourself."

"Is that all?" cried he, his brow contracting.

"Stay," said I; "more follows. 'A tray of choice jewels, gold, and
silver, valued at fifteen thousand rupees, and three trays of shawls
and brocades for my lord's Muhal, valued at ten thousand rupees: in
all, seventy-five thousand rupees. Secondly, a sum of ten thousand
rupees to each leader of rank, of whom we learn from the worthy Syud,
Ameer Ali, there are three: a tray of jewels to each, of five thousand
rupees, and three trays, each valued at five thousand more; in all,
twenty thousand rupees each.'"

"Go on!" cried Cheetoo; "you have not done yet, I suppose?"

"No," said I, glancing down the paper; "there is more following.
'Thirdly, a sum of one thousand rupees to each duffadar: we are
uninformed of their number, but we have supposed thirty.'"

"Good!" cried Cheetoo; "what more?"

"'Fourthly, the sum of fifty rupees to each deserving person, to be
given at the discretion of the mighty Cheetoo; by report we hear there
are four thousand. Also food, grain, and forage for as many days as the
army may remain with us.' This is all," said I; "what are my lord's
orders?"

"The list is well enough," said Cheetoo; "but they are wrong in some
particulars: first, there are fifty duffadars, are there not, Ghuffoor
Khan?"

"There are," he replied; "I told them off myself."

"Put that down, Meer Sahib," said Cheetoo. "Again, there are five
thousand good Pindharees; am I not right?"

"True again," cried all the leaders; "were they not counted at Nemawur?"

This was a lie; there were hardly four thousand, for nearly half the
lubhur had gone off in a different direction from the Nurbudda; but
it signified little; for Cheetoo, I knew, was determined to make the
best terms he could with the sahoukars. "Put down five thousand," said
Cheetoo; "and now see how much you have got."

I hastily arranged the amount, and read the paper to him. "First,"
said I, "there is your Highness's share, seventy-five thousand rupees;
secondly, on account of the leaders, sixty thousand rupees; then the
fifty duffadars, each man a thousand, fifty thousand rupees; lastly,
five thousand men, each forty, two hundred thousand. And the sum of the
whole is three lakhs and eighty-five thousand rupees."

"And," said Cheetoo to Ghuffoor Khan, "the horses' shoes must be worn
out, I think? we require new ones."

"Certainly," cried the Khan, with a merry grin.

"Put down fifteen thousand rupees for the horse-shoes; this, Meer
Sahib, will make the sum an even four lakhs: and gentlemen," continued
he to the sahoukars, "I must trouble you to pay with as little delay
as possible, or we must help ourselves."

There was a hurried conference for a few moments among the Sahoukars,
and a few angry words passed among them; but they were wise; my fat
friend rose, and making a lowly obeisance, declared the money was at
hand, and should be brought immediately.

"Good!" cried Cheetoo; "now let me have my dinner, and do you all see
that the duffadars are present at this house by to-morrow's dawn, to
receive their shares and those of their men. The lubhur must move
on, for after this kind reception, I would not have my friends the
sahoukars exposed to the chance of being plundered by my lawless bands."

The chiefs separated, and I was preparing to leave the room with them,
when Chetoo called me back; "Come and take your dinner with me," said
he; "I doubt not your friends the sahoukars have prepared enough for us
two."

I obeyed the order, and seated myself at the edge of the musnud. The
dinner was soon brought, and a choice repast it was. We did justice
to it, for in truth our travel had sharpened our appetites. These
satisfied, and inhaling the fragrant smoke of our pipes, Cheetoo asked
me how I had managed to bring about so advantageous a reception as
he had met with. I related the whole to him, suppressing, however,
the fact that I had secured for myself so large a sum as ten thousand
rupees; for had I disclosed that, he would presently have helped
himself to half of it at least. Peer Khan was the only person who knew
of it, and to him alone was I determined to entrust it.

He was delighted; he had, I knew, determined to raise a large sum, and
I had purposely exaggerated his probable demand to the sahoukars; this,
and my threats and hints of the place being given up to plunder on the
least demur on their parts of paying handsomely, had been successful.
"You see, Meer Sahib," said he, "by your excellent conduct I have
secured, first, seventy-five thousand rupees; and what is over, after
every proper Pindharee has got his forty rupees, will make the sum
pretty near a lakh; which is, you will say, a good beginning."

"May your prosperity increase, noble Cheetoo," said I; "if your slave
can help you to a few more sums like the present, he will only feel
himself too happy, and too honoured by distinction like the present.
For the men I had with me, I made the same terms as you have accepted
for the whole, and they were well satisfied."

"And for yourself, Meer Sahib?"

"I have not got much," said I; "perhaps I might have arrogated to
myself the distinction of one of the leaders, but I refrained: they
gave me five thousand rupees, however, and I am satisfied."

"Nay," said Cheetoo; "it was too little, my friend, and I advise you
to get as much as you can next time. And as you have behaved so well
in this instance at the head of the advance-party, I will give it into
your command in future, and must satisfy Ghuffoor Khan as well as I
can; he is a good soldier, but a thick-headed fellow, who is always for
helping himself, and setting fire to towns and villages, by which we
seldom get half as much, especially from these rich places, as we could
do by a little management and a few soft words."

"May your condescension increase, Nuwab!" cried I; "your servant,
Inshalla! will never disappoint you."

I took leave of him soon afterwards, and joined the sahoukars, who
were sitting below counting the money, which lay in large heaps on the
floor. They received me joyfully, and expressed in forcible language
how much they were indebted to me for my active interference in their
behalf. They would have pressed on me the five hundred rupees they had
promised when I presented them to Cheetoo, but I refused it.

"No," said I; "if I have done you service, and I think I have, I will
not sell my good offices. You have dealt as well by me as I have by
you, so the balance is even; all I pray of you is, to let me have my
money in gold bars, which I can easily conceal, except a few hundred
rupees for present expenses."

"It is granted," said the Sahoukar; and I had shortly afterwards the
gold in my possession; and taking a few of the sahoukars' men to guard
me, I bent my way to the camp, the bright fires of which sparkled
through the darkness on the plain beyond the town, revealing many a
wild group which huddled round them to warm themselves from the effects
of the almost chilling night breeze. I was soon at my little tent,
which consisted of a cloth stretched over three spears, two of which
were stuck into the ground, and another tied across them as a ridge
pole; and assisted by Peer Khan, I put the gold into the bags I had
made in the flaps of my saddle, and sewed them over. I was ten thousand
rupees richer in one night!

"This is grand work," said Peer Khan; "here we have had no trouble; and
if we go on at this rate, we shall return far richer than after the
toil and risk of a hundred Thuggee expeditions."

"I am to have the advance-guard always," said I; "and it shall be my
own fault if we do not always secure a good share: for my own part, I
have foresworn Thuggee, as long as there is a Pindharee chief to erect
his standard."

"And we will all follow you," he replied; "Motee and the others are
delighted with their success, and are in high spirits: there is not one
of them but has got a good share of to-day's work, for we stuck near
you, and were bribed well to use our influence with you; they thought
us all duffadars, and you know Motee and myself shared as such."

"It shall not be my fault," said I, "if you are not all duffadars in
reality before long. Let the men make themselves active, and dress
handsomely; you are all well mounted and will catch the eye of the
chief."

By dawn the next morning I was with Cheetoo. The sahoukars had
collected the whole of the money, by subscriptions among themselves
and collections from the town; and the whole was distributed fairly,
I must say, among the Pindharees. Each duffadar bore away the share
of his duffa, and they knew too well the risk they would run if they
defrauded any man of his just due. A few hours elapsed, and after a
hurried meal, every man was on his horse, and the Lubhur departed to
seek fresh plunder in the country before them. Yet before he set out,
Cheetoo promised, in consequence of the ready payment of the sum he
received, that in every future expedition he might undertake, the town
of Oomraotee should be exempted from contributions; and he kept his
word. Oomraotee was never again plundered, and a large body of troops,
which were stationed there afterwards, effectually deterred small and
straggling parties from surprising it as we had done.

Onwards we dashed; I, at the head of my band, who had now implicit
confidence in me, caracoled along on my gallant horse, with a heart as
light and happy as the unlimited freedom of action I possessed could
make it. No thought of care intruded, and I was spared the pain of
seeing the villages we passed through (from each of which we levied at
much as we could, which was instantly laden on the Shootur camels that
accompanied us,) burned or plundered, and the inoffensive inhabitants
subjected to the cruel tortures of the men in the rear, who were often
disappointed of booty.

We halted at Karinjah; a few soldiers who were in the town made a
feeble defence, and wounded a few of my men as we rushed into the
place; but they were soon killed or dispersed; and, as a warning to
other villages, it was given up to sack and ruin. I could never bear
the sight of wanton cruelty, and I repaired to my place in the camp:
shortly afterwards I could see, from the bright blaze which rose from
different parts of the village almost simultaneously against the clear
gray evening sky, that it was doomed to destruction. Rapidly the fire
spread, while the shouts of the Pindharees engaged in their horrid
work, and the screams of the inhabitants--those of the women were
fearfully shrill and distinct--made a fit accompaniment. But it was
a work in which the Pindharees delighted; order, which never existed
save when there was no excitement, was completely at an end, and any
attempt to have checked the mad riot which was going on would have been
attended most likely with death to the interferer. My own Thugs, too,
sat around me, for a Thug is not savage, and they had no inclination to
join in the excesses.

We sat in silence, but our attention was soon arrested by the figure of
a man dragging along a girl, who resisted to the utmost of her power,
but who was evidently nearly exhausted, I rushed forward to her rescue,
and my eyes fell on the person of Ghuffoor Khan, his savage features
exaggerated in their ferocious expression by lust and the scene he had
been engaged in.

"Ha!" cried he, "Meer Sahib, is that you? here have I been working like
a true Pindharee, and have brought off something worth having; look at
her, man! is she not a Peri? a Hoori? The fool, her mother, must needs
oppose me when I got into their house, but I silenced her with a thrust
of my sword, and lo! here is her fair daughter, a worthy mate for a
prince. Speak, my pretty one, art not thou honoured at the prospect of
the embraces of Ghuffoor Khan?"

By Alla! Sahib, I could have killed him, and it would have been an
easy matter to have done so, as he stood unprepared. I had half drawn
my sword from its scabbard, but I returned it: I made an inward
determination as to his fate, and I kept it. I vainly endeavoured to
induce him to give up the girl and let her go, but he laughed in my
face, and dragged her off. She would fain have fled from him, and
attempted to do so, but he pursued and caught her, for her tender feet
were cut by the rough ground, and I lost sight of them both in the
quickly closing darkness. Miserable girl! she was a Brahmin's daughter,
and was spared the degradation of seeing the light of another day, and
the misery of returning to her desolate home polluted and an outcast.
Ghuffoor Khan told me in the morning, with a hellish laugh, that he had
murdered her, as she tried to possess herself of his dagger, to plunge
it into her own heart. "I spared her the trouble," he said.

Gradually the fire lessened in its fury, as there remained but few
houses unconsumed, but the Pindharees were still at their wild and
horrible work, as the shrieks borne to us on the night wind too well
testified. I had heard that these excesses were sometimes committed,
but I had formed no idea of the terrible reality. A thousand times
I formed the resolution to quit the Lubhur and return to my home;
but again the thought that a few straggling horsemen, who could
give no proper account of themselves, would be immediately taken
for Pindharees, and sacrificed by the now infuriated people of the
country,--this, and, I must add, a restless desire for further
adventures, caused me to dismiss it from my mind. It began to rain
too, and we all huddled together in my little tent, and passed a weary
night, till the morning broke. Then we were again in motion, and the
ill-fated town of Karinjah, now a heap of smouldering ruins, was soon
far behind us.

We passed Mungrool; and beyond the town, now in the broad daylight, I
had an opportunity of seeing the spot where my first victim had fallen.
I had thought that the place where he fell was in a large and dense
jungle, so at least it appeared that night in the moonlight,--but it
was not so; the rivulet was the same as when we had passed it, and
I stood once more on the very spot where the Sahoukar had fallen! A
thin belt of bushes fringed the stream, and Peer Khan pointed with
a significant gesture a little higher up than the place at which we
crossed. It was the _bhil_ where they were buried, and it now seemed a
fearfully insecure spot for the concealment of our victims,--so close
to the road, and apparently so thinly screened from observation. Yet
many years had now passed since they were deposited in their last
resting-place, and a succession of rainy seasons had either washed away
their remains, or covered them still deeper with sand. We passed the
spot too where our bands had encamped and separated; and before me was
now a new country, though it little differed in character from that we
had already traversed.

We halted at Basim, and I greatly feared a repetition of the scenes
of the past night; but the men were, to my astonishment, quiet and
orderly; and a handsome contribution levied in the town in all
probability saved it. From hence, in five marches, we reached Nandair
on the Godavery, a rich town, and one which promised as large a supply
to our army as we had got at Oomraotee. We had feared the news of our
approach would have reached it, and that the sahoukars and wealthy
inhabitants would have fled; but it was not so: they were completely
surprised and at our mercy, for not a single soldier worth mentioning
was there to guard the place. A few there certainly were, who shut
themselves up in an old fort which overhangs the river and commands
the ford; but they kept within the walls, only firing a matchlock-shot
or two whenever any of our marauders approached too near; we did not
molest them, but set ourselves to work to levy as large a sum as
possible.

As before, the advance guard had been entrusted to me, and I pursued
the same system I had done at Oomraotee. I will not weary you with a
repetition of almost the same tale; suffice it to say, that one lakh
and a half of rupees were collected and paid to the army, and I got
for my own share nearly three thousand rupees, some jewels, and a pair
of shawls. The town was not destroyed; indeed that would have been
impossible, as the houses were substantial ones, with terraced roofs;
but the suburbs suffered, and the huts of the unfortunate weavers were
sacked for the fine cloths for which the place is famous,--nor in vain,
for half the army the next day appeared in new turbans and waistbands.

The river was not fordable, and there was but one boat; we therefore
pushed along the northern bank, till we reached Gunga Khair, where we
were told there were boats and a more convenient ferry: nor were we
disappointed. We crossed with ease during the day on which we arrived
opposite the place, the men swimming their horses across, and the
plunder and baggage being brought over by the boats. A few hundred men
attempted to defend the town, but it was carried by forcing open the
gate, and plundered. We lost some of our men, and I was grazed on the
leg by a bullet, and disabled from taking any active part in the sack
of the place. Peer Khan and Motee were, however, not idle, and brought
a goodly heap of jewels and coin to swell the general stock.

From hence we penetrated southward. Beeder, Bhalkee, the fine and
flourishing town of Hoomnabad (a second Oomraotee), were severally
plundered, or laid under heavy contributions; while every village which
lay in our route was sacked, and too often burned and destroyed. From
Hoomnabad I led three hundred men to Kullianee, a few coss distant; but
we found the alarm had been given, and that all the rich inhabitants
had taken refuge in the fort, which is a very strong one, and to us
was impregnable. Such was the dread we inspired, however, that the
defenders of it remained quietly within it, and allowed us to keep
quiet possession of the town till the next morning, when we again
rejoined the main body.

We descended by a pass in the hills to the village of Chincholee, which
was of course plundered, and we followed a direct southwardly route,
burning and plundering every place in our way, till the broad and deep
stream of the Krishna effectually opposed our further progress. Here
the Lubhur halted for some days; forage was plentiful, every one was
loaded with money, and we enjoyed ourselves in our encampment as true
Pindharees. Dancing-girls were seized from all parts of the surrounding
country, though no violence was ever offered to them, and they amused
us with their songs and performances, and left us when we were again
put in motion, well satisfied and well rewarded, and regretting that
they could not accompany us.

Cheetoo was wrong to have halted, for the alarm that Pindharees were
out had flown through the country, and in our march towards Koolburgah
we got no plunder worth mentioning. Koolburgah we found garrisoned and
prepared for our reception; so relinquishing our designs upon Sholapoor
and the rich towns of Barsee and Wyrag, we struck off in the direction
of Bheer, Pyetun, and Aurungabad, hoping to surprise the latter,
though we feared it would be well garrisoned. But I was determined to
surprise Barsee and Wyrag, if I could, and I laid my proposals for the
expedition before Cheetoo. He readily acceded to my request, at which
Ghuffoor Khan was extremely savage; and taking with me three hundred
men, the best I could select, and dividing them into duffas under my
own Thugs, I left the main body at the town of Allund, and dashed on
towards Toljapoor, from whence there is a pass into the low country.

Toljapoor has little to recommend it but the temple of Bhowanee, which
is a place of pilgrimage; and though I knew there were hoards of jewels
in the possession of the Brahmins, yet, as many of my men were Hindoos,
they would not hear of the temples being sacked, and I was forced to
content myself with levying a few thousand rupees from the inhabitants.
Wyrag was our next aim, and we were successful. Our force was supposed
to be a Risala of Mahratta horse, who were known to be in the district,
and we were allowed to enter the town unopposed. We sacked it, and got
a large booty, for there was no time for a proposal of contribution;
indeed, I thought not of that alternative, nor could I restrain my
men after their long march. Yet they were not cruel, nor did I hear
of any of them having tortured any one, and the inhabitants gave up
enough of their valuables to satisfy them easily. Here we heard that
the Risala we had been mistaken for was at Barsee, and as that place
lay in our direct road to Bheer, where we were to join the main body,
I was obliged to give up my intention of proceeding through it; there
was also a large body of the Nizam's horse at Puréndah, and I feared
that we might be cut off. An instant return by the road we had come
was our only alternative; and after a few hours' rest we were again
in our saddles, and travelling as fast as we could urge our horses
towards Toljapoor. Nobly did my gallant horse carry me that day: most
of the men dosed theirs with opium to insure their bottom, but my good
charger needed it not, and he was almost as fresh when we again reached
Toljapoor, as when he had left it.

Here we rested a day to refresh ourselves; and after that, pushing on,
we overtook the main body at Bheer, where they were encamped. I had
been baffled in part of my design, yet Cheetoo received with great
complacency ten thousand rupees in money, and nearly the same amount
in jewels, which I presented to him in full durbar, as the results of
my enterprise; for this he invested me with a dress of honour, and
presented me with a good horse from among his own.



CHAPTER XXXV.


Bheer was sacked, and given up to rapine and excess for two whole
days; and when we left it, scarcely a rag remained to the miserable
inhabitants. It was piteous to see them raking together a few posts of
wood, many of them half burned, and erecting wretched hovels, which
they covered with green boughs, to screen themselves from the cold
winds of the night. They suffered the ravage of their town passively,
for there were no soldiers to protect it; and what could they have done
against a well-armed and savage horde like ours?

Pyetun, on the Godavery, shared the same fate; and though many of the
rich inhabitants had fled for refuge to Aurungabad, yet enough remained
for our purpose. You know, perhaps, that this place is celebrated for
a manufacture of brocaded muslins, only inferior to those of Benares;
and at that time there was an active demand for them, to supply the
courts of Poona and Hyderabad: you may judge, therefore, of the value
of the plunder we got; Cheetoo's camels and elephants were laden to
the utmost. None of us fared badly; and our own stock was now so large
of one valuable or another, that I hardly thought we should have been
enabled to carry it with us. I need not follow our track much further
with minuteness; suffice it therefore to say, that we passed the
Adjuntah Ghat, not, however, without being closely pressed by some
troops of the Feringhees; but we eluded them by a rapid march or two,
and after a vain attempt on Boorhanpoor, we struck off to the right by
the valley of the Taptee, and in a few days were safely returned to the
camp at Nemawur.

In a little more than three months we had traversed the richest part of
the broad territory of the Nizam; we had eluded his troops and those
of the Feringhees, and laughed at their beards; we had plundered his
richest towns with impunity, and we had returned, with scarcely the
loss of a man, laden with plunder of enormous value. So rich was it,
that the sahoukars of Nemawur, after purchasing all they could from us,
were unable to find further funds to buy up the whole; and merchants
from Oojein and Indoor, and all the neighbouring large cities, were
sent for to our rich market.

In due time all had been purchased, and every man prepared to return as
quickly as he could to his home, with the proceeds of his booty. I need
not say how my heart bounded at the prospect of again seeing mine, and
laying at my Azima's feet the wealth I had acquired, nor the pleasure
she would experience in hearing me recount the wild adventures I had
gone through. I accordingly purchased all the gold I could, as also
did my men, and hiring two swift camels, I loaded them with it and the
valuable cloths we had received for our own use, and was ready for a
rapid march to Jhalone when I could receive my dismissal from Cheetoo's
durbar. This it was not an easy matter to attain, for I had served the
chief faithfully, he had confidence in my address and activity, and was
loath to part with me, fearing I would not return to his standard.

The day I went to take leave he would not receive my parting gift, nor
give me the usual ceremonial return of uttur and pan on my departure;
and I sat in the durbar in gloomy thought, that perhaps treachery was
intended towards me--a poor return for my exertions. But I was wrong:
he called me towards him when but few remained, and appointing a late
hour in the night for an interview and private conversation, desired me
to be punctual, for that he had matters of importance to reveal to me.

I returned to my abode in better hope, yet still suspecting, and almost
inclined to follow the advice of Peer Khan and the rest, who would
fain have had me fly, as the only means of preserving our money. I did
not, however, entirely mistrust Cheetoo; but I determined, if he put
me off with further words, and caused me more delay, that I would at
once leave him in the best way I could. I accordingly attended at the
hour appointed, which was past midnight. I found the chief alone. I had
never before been so honoured as to be admitted to an entirely private
conference, though I had been allowed a seat in his councils, and my
suggestions had been followed on more than one occasion. I could not
divine what was to ensue.

"Be seated, Syud," said Cheetoo; "I have much to say to thee."

"Speak on, Nuwab," I replied; "your words are sweet to your servant,
and they will fall on ears which will convey their meaning to a heart
devoted to your service."

"Listen then," said he. "But first I will ask you what you thought the
object of the last expedition to be?"

"Its object!" cried I. "Why, I suppose, only to get as much money
as you could for yourself and your men, so as to be ready to take
advantage of the war which sooner or later must ensue between the
Mahrattas and the Feringhees--may their race be accursed! I never could
divine a deeper object, though I have thought upon the subject myself,
and heard many opinions expressed by others."

"You are partly right," said he, "but not entirely; now you shall hear
the whole, and what my further projects are."

I settled myself into an attitude of profound attention, and drank in
his words as he proceeded.

"You have had a watchful eye upon the times, Meer Sahib, and I
expected it from you. You may have heard that Tippoo Sultan--on whose
memory be peace!--would fain have enlisted the Nizam and the whole
of the Mahrattas in one confederacy to overthrow and extirpate the
Feringhees. Had his plans been successful he would have done it: but,
a curse on his avarice! he had an under-plot to divide the Nizam's
territories with the Mahrattas, which was discovered, Alla only knows
how; and--a curse on the luck of the Feringhees, who overthrew the
only power which, while it lasted, upheld the dignity of the Moslem's
faith--Tippoo is gone and his power. Perhaps you are not aware that at
this moment, though Holkar is sorely disabled from what he was, and
Sindia has made a base league of passiveness with the Feringhees, a
deep confederacy exists among the Mahratta states, and particularly
between those of Poona and Nagpoor, to rise simultaneously and declare
war against the usurping and never-satisfied Europeans. Sikundur Jah
will join with the Feringhees; not that he can do much, for his army is
miserable, and his leaders have neither skill nor bravery, but still
he will befriend them to the utmost, and his dominions are open to the
passage and subsistence of their troops, and in them positions can be
taken up which will sorely harass the future operations of the Mahratta
leaders. My last expedition was therefore intended (and by the favour
of Alla it has succeeded) to impoverish Sikundur Jah's country, to keep
the people in a constant state of alarm, and, need I add, to till our
own purses.

"Now listen again. To effect my purpose thoroughly, and to distract
the attention of the Europeans from the preparations of the Mahrattas,
these expeditions must be rapid in succession to have their due effect:
one half of the Huzoor's dominions have been sacked, and the other half
remains;--Inshalla! it shall share the same fate. The Feringhees will
be kept in a perpetual state of alarm; they will follow us vainly from
place to place, but I fear them not. I have laughed at their beards
once, and will do so again. They shall know who Cheetoo Pindharee is,
and to their cost. Not only shall the cowardly Nizam suffer, but the
rich provinces of the Feringhees shall be wasted. I will cross the
Krishna; the river will be fordable, or nearly so; and the whole of the
provinces which are not overrun by their troops shall be prostrated
before my power. This will exhaust their resources and paralyze their
efforts. The Mahrattas will then rise to a man: I will join them; for
I have been promised a high command in their armies, and territories
after their conquest; and we will rise, Meer Sahib--yes, _we_, I
say, for these stirring times are the fit ones for such as myself
and you--Inshalla! we will take advantage of them, and win fame for
ourselves which posterity shall wonder at."

"It is a rare plan," said I, "and a deep one, while the game seems easy
to play. I can find no fault with it; but will not the Feringhees be
prepared for us, and meet us wherever we show our faces?"

"No!" cried he, vehemently, "they will not! cunning as they are, I will
be before them in the field. They now think that, glutted with plunder,
we shall remain quietly here, and be fools enough to wait for another
Dussera before we are again on the move: but they are wrong to a man:
and here has lain the cause of my apparent secrecy with you. I could
not proclaim it in my durbar that I had planned another expedition;
some prating fool would have blabbed of it at his home, and the news
would have flown over the country in a week. No! I have kept it secret,
except from a few, and they are my chief leaders, every one of whom has
a thousand men at his back. Hear me,--I am determined, by the favour
of Alla, to move hence at the head of a larger army than the last has
been, in a space of time under two months. Say, will you come? I will
give you the command of a thousand horse, for I love you, and depend
upon you. Can you return from Jhalone in that time? I have no wish to
detain you here; a man's home is dear to him wherever it is, and you
are right to return to it: yet tell me that you will join me within two
months, and what I have promised I will perform."

"I will," cried I; "may your condescension increase, your slave will
take advantage of your bounty. In less than two months, though I travel
night and day, I will come, and bring more men with me."

"The more the better," said Cheetoo. "Take the best horse from my
stable if you wish it, he cannot be in better hands than your own; and
as you will want camels, take too as many as you require from my own
fleet ones: load them lightly and they will keep up with you. And now
go--I am weary in mind and body, and need repose; you, I doubt not,
will start with the morning's dawn. Go, and may peace be with you!"

I left him, and joyfully rejoined my associates. I knew the secret was
safe with them; and as I unfolded the deep plan to them, they were lost
in wonder and admiration at Cheetoo's sagacity and forethought. To a
man they swore to join me, and to follow my fortunes through good or
ill. Merrily we set off the next morning, and quickly miles and miles
of road disappeared under the hoofs of our fleet and hardy steeds. In
far less time than it had taken us to come, we had reached Jhalone,
unlooked for and unexpected, and with a joyful bound I crossed my own
threshold, and was again clasped in the embrace of my Azima. What
words can paint our joy? I cannot describe it; my heart was too full
for utterance as I was again seated in my own zenana, and beheld the
frolics and gambols of my beauteous child. My father, too, he rejoiced
with me; but there was an eye of evil upon us; our cup of joy was fated
to be no sooner filled to the brim, than to be dashed from our lips.
That eye was the Rajah's; but more of that hereafter.

Not that I neglected him; the prices of his horses were duly paid, and
I presented to him a valuable string of pearls, with some beautiful
cloths, the plunder of Pyetun, and a tray of fifty-one gold pieces.
One would have thought he would have been satisfied, but it was not
so:--yet he was all smiles and congratulations. I was invested with a
dress of honour, and encouraged privately (for he secretly knew of the
new enterprise), to further exertions, and cheered on by him to win
distinction and renown. Base liar and murderer! he deceived me; but
who could have guessed his thoughts?

As soon as I could, I dispatched Peer Khan and Motee with two of the
others in various directions, to offer terms of employment and the
prospect of booty to as many Thugs as they knew to be good men and
good horsemen; the latter was a qualification in which but few Thugs
excelled: nevertheless, in the space of ten days they returned with
twelve others, some of whom I knew, and all were stated to be resolute
men, well acquainted with the use of their weapons. They were easily
provided with horses from the Rajah's stables, as the first had been,
for he had received more than double their value, and would now have
risked his whole stud on the same terms. I examined their arms, and
rejected such as were defective, supplying them with others. Our
saddles were newly stuffed, and every preparation which our experience
could suggest was made for even a longer and more arduous enterprise
than that from which we had just returned.

But little time now remained to me to enjoy the quiet peacefulness of
my home, and now that I was there, I would fain have never again left
it. Wealth I had in abundance, enough for many years; and I was in a
situation from which I could have risen to a high civil employment,
in the management of revenue in the Rajah's country. Still the desire
for adventure was not blunted, and above all, the promise I had given
to Cheetoo could not be evaded or neglected; and had he not promised
me the command of a thousand men? This had many charms in my sight;
and should his plans succeed, to what rank might I not rise by my
exertions, when the Mahrattas overthrew the Europeans and the Nizam,
and their broad dominions were portioned out to the government of
their faithful leaders! These thoughts urged me to a speedy departure,
and tearing myself from my wife, I left the town, with the blessings
of my father and the apparent goodwill of the Rajah, who wished me
every success, and presented me with a valuable sword as a mark of his
especial favour.

I was soon again with Cheetoo, who received me with great joy; I
found him busied with the large preparations he was making for his
intended expedition. By this time the news of the immense booty he had
collected in his first expedition had spread through all lands far and
near; thousands had flocked to Nemawur, to offer themselves to his
service, in the hope that they might partake in the next; and hundreds
were arriving daily, to swell the numbers of the already assembled
multitude. A difficult task it was to allot the various tribes and
individuals to the command of the different leaders; and my aid was
asked by Cheetoo, and as readily given, to organize as far as we could
the heterogeneous mass.

It was no easy task, for the men would have preferred acting
independently, and on their own account; but this did not suit
Cheetoo's intentions, as his irruption, though for the sole purpose
of ravage and plunder, was to be of a more regular kind than the
preceding. Ghuffoor Khan was there in all his savageness, looking
forward to the burning of towns and the torture of inoffensive persons,
with a desire which had received additional zest from his previous
experience. We were on civil terms, but I had never forgotten that
night at Karinjah, and the memory of the wretched Hindoo girl, and
her sufferings and murder. In this expedition I felt assured that he
would give no check to his passions; and I only waited a favourable
opportunity to arrest his career of crime by a stroke of retributive
justice; until this arrived I was determined to cultivate his
acquaintance as closely as possible, in order that he might be the more
surely my own.

Our preparations were now made; upwards of ten thousand good horse
were already enrolled, and the number of their followers was beyond
computation; how they existed on their own resources I know not, but
they did so, and right merrily too, for our camp was one scene of
revelry and enjoyment. As a final ceremony, Cheetoo held a general
durbar, at which all the chiefs and leaders were present: he disclosed
his plan of operations, which was, to penetrate through the territories
of the Rajah of Nagpoor to the south-eastward, and passing through
the forests and jungles of Gondwana, to pour his forces on the almost
unprotected provinces north of Masulipatam; from thence to cross the
Krishna, to ravage the country as far as Kurnool, and to return from
thence in the best way we could to Nemawur. This plan of operations was
received with glad shouts by the assembly, the army outside the tent
took them up, and the air was rent with cries of exultation. It was a
spirit-stirring moment, all partook of the joy, and the chiefs eagerly
besought Cheetoo to lose no time in his departure. Nor did he. Prepared
as the whole were to move at a moment's warning, the order was given
that the army should cross the Nurbudda the next day.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


At the head of the advance, which consisted of my thousand splendid
horsemen, I was the first to cross the river, now fordable, and we
encamped on its further bank, in the same spot we had occupied scarcely
five months before, almost doubled in numbers, and with the prospect
of a brilliant foray before us. I shall not speak of how we traversed
the Rajah of Nagpoor's territories, or penetrated through jungles
and forests which till now had hardly ever been traversed by armies.
We suffered often sad straits for the want of water, but all bore up
nobly; and at last our horde rushed upon the fertile plains of the
northern Circars, and everything fell before it. Mercy was shown to
none. Our army spread itself over a tract of country many miles in
breadth, and every village in its route was sacked and reduced to ashes.

On we rushed, at the rate of ten and fifteen coss daily; neither
mountains nor rivers impeded us: in the language of hyperbole, we
devoured the former and drank up the latter. Troops there were none to
oppose us, and if there had been any, they would have been trampled
under the feet of our victorious squadrons. Yet we had no disposition
to fight; it was no part of our plan. If we heard of resistance likely
to be offered, we diverged from the spot, for what would have been
the use of exposing ourselves to encounters, in which, though sure of
victory, we should have lost many of our men and crippled our future
operations?

After some days we reached Guntoor, where we knew there was a large
treasure collected, the revenue of the province we had desolated. To
gain this was an object on which Cheetoo had set his heart, as he had
heard it amounted to many lakhs of rupees, and it belonged to the
detested Europeans. My men rushed with yells more like those of demons
than men upon the devoted town. To restrain them would have been vain,
and I did not attempt it. It was thoroughly sacked in the presence of
the British officers, who confined themselves to a building in which
was the treasure; and I must say they defended their charge nobly. No
Pindharee could show himself near the spot without being a target for
a volley of musquetry; and though I importuned Cheetoo to allow me to
storm the building at the head of my Risala, he would not hear of it.
He had been deceived, he said, about there being troops to defend it;
and though I always thought there were but few, yet he exaggerated
their numbers, and relinquished his determination.

In revenge, however, for our disappointment, we plundered the houses of
the officers, broke all their furniture, and set fire to many of them
afterwards, in the hope that this would draw them from their post, and
expose them to the charge of the horse. They were too wise, however,
to venture forth, and reluctantly we left the place from which we had
promised ourselves so large a booty; not, however, that what we did get
was inconsiderable, though many were disappointed.

I was not so. I had, with my own Thugs, seized upon a
respectable-looking house, which we defended against the Pindharees
who attempted to enter, and we despoiled its inmates, a large family
of rich Hindoos, of all their wealth and ornaments, to the amount of
nearly thirty thousand rupees. We did it too without torture, for I
never permitted it, though we were obliged to use threats in abundance.

Laden with our spoil, we left the town in the afternoon, and by night
the straggling army was again encamped at a distance of nearly ten
coss from it, secure against any pursuit. We crossed the Krishna, and
penetrated nearly as far as Kurpah, where he heard there was more
treasure belonging to the English government. But we were disappointed
in this also. The officers who guarded it were on the alert, and the
station was guarded by troops; we therefore avoided any collision with
them, and directed our course towards Kurnool. Here also we were beaten
off; but we crossed the river, and again entered the Nizam's territory,
closely pursued by a body of English cavalry, who, however, did not
cross after us. A consultation was now held, and it was determined
that our Lubhur should separate into three bodies, both for the sake
of destroying and ravaging a larger tract of country than we could do
united, and of more easily evading the troops which now watched our
movements in every direction. One body therefore took a western course
along the banks of the river, another an eastern one, and a third a
middle course.

That which took the eastern road was the one with which Cheetoo
remained, and with it were Ghuffoor Khan and myself. We were to pass
through the country to the eastward of Hyderabad, and regain the
Nagpoor territories by the great north road through Nirmul. I was now
the sole companion of Ghuffoor Khan; so long as the other leaders
remained, he was mostly in their company, but now their absence drew us
together, and I may almost say that we lived in the same tent, if tent
it could be called, which served to shelter us from the excessive heat
of the weather. Need I mention that I was a constant witness to his
cruelties? They were of every-day occurrence, and to show you the man's
nature, I shall relate one, as a specimen of thousands of a similar
kind that he committed.

We reached a town, the name of which I forget, nor does it signify
now; as usual, it was entered pell-mell by the horde, and the work of
destruction commenced. Why should I conceal it? I was as busy as the
rest, and not a house or hut of any description escaped my followers
and myself. Ghuffoor Khan was busy too. I had completed my work; I had
torn ornaments from the females, terrified their husbands and fathers
into giving up their small hoards of money; and having got all I could,
I was preparing to leave the town in company with my Thugs, who never
separated from me. We were passing through the main street on our
return, when our attention was attracted to a good-looking house, from
which issued the most piercing screams of terror and agony.

I instantly dismounted, and bidding my men follow me, we rushed into
the house. Never shall I forget the scene which met my eyes, when
we reached the place from whence the screams proceeded. There was
Ghuffoor Khan, with seven or eight of his men, engaged in a horrid
work. Three dead bodies lay on the floor weltering in their blood,
which poured from the still warm corpses. Two were fine young men, the
other an elderly woman. Before Ghuffoor Khan stood a venerable man,
suffering under the torture of having a horse's nose-bag full of hot
ashes tied over his mouth, while one of the Khan's followers struck
him incessantly on the back with the hilt of his sword. The miserable
wretch was half choked, and it was beyond his power to have uttered a
word in reply to the interrogations which were thundered in his ear by
the Khan himself as to where his treasure was concealed. Three young
women of great beauty were engaged in a fruitless scuffle with the
others of Ghuffoor Khan's party; and their disordered appearance and
heart-rending shrieks too well told what had been their fate previous
to my entrance.

What could I do? I dared not openly have attacked the Khan, though I
half drew my sword from its scabbard, and would have rushed on him;
but he was my superior, and had I then put him and his men to death,
it could not have been concealed from Cheetoo--and what would have
been my fate? So checking the momentary impulse, which I had so nearly
followed, I approached him, and endeavoured to withdraw his attention
from the horrible work in which he was engaged.

"Come, Khan Sahib," I cried, "near us is a house which has resisted
my utmost efforts to enter: I want you to aid me, and, Inshalla! it
will repay the trouble, for I have heard that it is full of money
and jewels, as the family is rich." I did not tell a lie, for I had
endeavoured to break open the gate of a large house but desisted when I
was informed that it was uninhabited.

"Wait awhile," said he; "I have had rare sport here; these fools must
needs oppose our entrance with drawn weapons, and I got a scratch on
the arm from one of them myself. But what could they do--the kafirs!
against a true believer? They fell in this room, and their old mother
too, by my own sword. My men have been amusing themselves with their
wives; whilst I, you see, am trying to get what I can out of this
obstinate old villain; but he will not listen to reason, and I have
been obliged to make him taste hot ashes."

"Perhaps he has naught to give," said I; "at any rate, he cannot speak
while that bag is over his mouth; let it be removed, and we will hear
what he has to say."

"Try it," said the Khan; "but we shall make nothing of him you will
see."

"Remove the bag," cried I to the Pindharee who was behind him; "let him
speak, and bring some water; his throat is full of ashes." The bag was
removed, and a vessel full of water, which was in a corner of the room,
was brought and put to his lips; but he rejected it with loathing, for
he was a Hindoo and a Brahmin.

"Drink!" cried the infuriated Khan at beholding his gesture; "drink, or
by Alla I will force it down thy throat. Kafir, to whom the urine of a
cow is a delicacy, darest thou refuse water from the hands of a Moslem?"

"Blood-thirsty devil," said the old man in a husky voice, "water from
thy hands, or any of thy accursed race, would poison me. I would rather
drink my own son's blood, which is flowing yonder, than such pollution."

"Ha! sayest thou so? then, in the name of the blessed Prophet, thou
shalt taste it. Here, Sumund Khan, get some up from the floor; yonder
is a cup--fill it to the brim; the old man shall drink it, as he would
the wine of Paradise."

"Hold!" cried I to Ghuffoor Khan; "you would not do so inhuman an act."

"Nay, interfere not," said the Khan, setting his teeth; "you and I,
Meer Sahib, are friends--let us remain so; but we shall quarrel if I
am hindered in my purpose; and has he not said he preferred it to pure
water?"

Sumund Khan had collected the blood, and the cup was half filled with
the warm red liquid--a horrible draught, which he now presented to the
miserable father. "Drink!" said he, offering the cup with a mock polite
gesture; "think it Ganges water, and it will open thy heart to tell us
where thy treasures are."

Ghuffoor Khan laughed loudly. "By Alla! thou hast a rare wit, Sumund
Khan; the idea should be written in a book. I will tell Cheetoo of it."
But the old man turned from them with loathing, and his chest heaved as
though he were about to be sick.

"There's no use wasting time," cried Ghuffoor Khan; "open his mouth
with your dagger and pour the draught into it."

It was done; by Alla! Sahib, the two did it before my eyes--fiends that
they were! Not only did they pour the blood down the old man's throat,
but in forcing open his mouth they cut his lips in a ghastly manner,
and his cheek was laid open.

"Now tell us where the gold is!" cried Ghuffoor Khan. "Of what use is
this obstinacy? Knowest thou not that thy life is in my power, and that
one blow of my sword will send thee to Jehanum, where those fools are
gone before thee?"--and he pointed to the dead.

"Strike!" cried the sufferer, "strike! your blow will be welcome; I am
old and fit for death. Why do ye delay?"

"But the gold, the treasures!" roared the Khan, stamping on the ground.
"Why, are you a fool?"

"Gold, I have told ye, I have none," he replied; "I told you so at
first, but ye would not listen. We gave you all we had, and ye were not
satisfied. Ye have murdered my sons and my wife, and dishonoured my
daughters. Kill us all, and we will be thankful."

"Hear him!" cried the Khan, savagely; "he mocks us. Oh the wilful
wickedness of age--is it not proverbial! One of you bring some oil and
a light; we will see whether this humour can stand my final test, which
has never yet failed."

By this time the house was full of Pindharees, and, if I had wished it,
I had not dared to interfere further. I stood looking on, determined
to let him have his course; he was only hastening his own fate, and why
should I prevent it? The oil was brought, and a quantity of rags were
torn from the dhotees, or waist-cloths, of the murdered men. They were
dipped in the oil, and wound round the fingers of the old man to as
great a thickness as was possible.

"Now bring a light," cried the Khan, "and hold him fast."

A light was kindled, and the man held it in his hand. "I give you a
last chance," said the Khan, speaking from between his closed teeth;
"you know I dare say, the use your fingers will be put to; be quick and
answer, or I will make torches of them, and they shall light me to your
treasures, which I warrant are hidden in some dark hole."

"Do your worst," answered the old man, in a desperate tone. "Ye will
not kill me; and if my sufferings will in any way gratify you, even let
it be so; for Narayun has given me into your power, and it is his will
and not yours which does this. You will not hear me cry out, though my
arms were burnt off to the sockets. I spit at you!"

"Light the rags!" roared Ghuffoor Khan; "this is not to be endured."

They were lit--one by one they blazed up, while his hands were forcibly
held down to his sides to accelerate the effect of the fire. Alla,
Alla! it was a sickening sight. The warm flesh of the fingers hissed
under the blaze of the oiled rags, which were fed from time to time
with fresh oil, as men pour it upon a torch. The old man had overrated
his strength. What nerves could bear such exquisite torture? His
shrieks were piteous, and would have melted a heart of stone; but
Ghuffoor Khan heeded them not: he stood glutting his savage soul with
the sufferings of the wretched creature before him, and asking him from
time to time, with the grin of a devil, whether he would disclose his
treasures. But the person he addressed was speechless, and after nature
was fairly exhausted, he sank down in utter insensibility.

"You have killed him," I exclaimed. "For the love of Alla, let him
alone, and let us depart; what more would you have? Either he has no
money, or he will not give it up."

"Where be those daughters of a defiled mother?" cried he to his
followers, not heeding what I said to him. "Where are they? Bring them
forward, that I may ask them about the money, for money there must be."

But they, too, were dead! ay, they had been murdered also; by whom I
know not, but their bodies were found in the next room weltering in
their blood. The news was brought to the Khan, and he was more savage
than ever; he gnashed his teeth like a wild beast--he was fearful to
look on.

The old man had revived, for water had been poured on his face and on
his fingers: he raised himself up, looked wildly about him, and then
gazed piteously on his mutilated hands. Were they men or devils by whom
he was surrounded? By Alla! Sahib, they were not men, for they laughed
at him and his almost unconscious actions.

"Speak!" cried the Khan, striking him with his sword, "speak, kafir!
or more tortures are in store for thee." But he spoke not--he was more
than half-dead: misery and torture had done their utmost.

The Khan drew his sword. Again he cried "Speak!" as he raised the
weapon above his head. I fancied I saw the old man's lips smile, and
move as though he would have spoken; he cast his eyes upwards, but no
word escaped him. The sword was quivering above his head in the nervous
grasp of the Khan; and seeing he got no answer, it descended with its
full force on the old man's forehead, almost dividing the head in two.
Need I say he was instantly dead! I was satisfied; Ghuffoor Khan's cup
too was full; for my own determination was made on that spot,--I swore
it to myself as I looked at the dead, and rushed from the house.



CHAPTER XXXVII.


From that hour I made a determination to destroy him. No sooner had I
reached the camp than I assembled all my Thugs, and laid before them
a scheme I had long been revolving in my mind. I spoke to them as
follows: "You have seen, my brethren, that Ghuffoor Khan is a devil;
such a person can hardly be called a man: bad as these Pindharees
are, he is the worst among them, and is unfit to live. You, Motee and
Peer Khan, remember the fate of the Brahmin girl at Karinjah; you may
remember my ill-suppressed indignation, which then almost impelled me
to destroy this fiend; and I would have done it, but that I felt his
fate was not in my hands. I felt that Alla would sooner or later urge
me on to be the humble means of a retributive justice overtaking him. I
have hitherto refrained, though I have sometimes fancied his hour was
come. I thought that some crime blacker than any previous one would at
last be committed by him, and it has been done. You all saw what it
was. Can he ever do worse?"

"He cannot!" cried my men with one voice; "he has reached the mark, and
he is ours."

"He shall be so," said I: "now listen. You know I have still three
bottles of the sweet wine of the Feringhees, which I brought with me
from Guntoor; he is very fond of it, and will easily be persuaded to
come here and drink it with us; I will dose his share with opium, and
after a few cups, he will become stupified, and will fall an easy prey
to us."

"Good!" cried Peer Khan, "it is an excellent plan. What say you to
putting it into execution this very night?"

"Not to-night," I said; "we must be cautious in this immense camp.
To-morrow let my tent be pitched on the utmost verge of it; nay, a
short distance beyond it,--and in the dead of the night, when all are
overpowered by sleep, he can be despatched."

"I beg to represent," said Peer Khan, "that Ghuffoor Khan's saddle is
well lined; could we not get possession of it?"

"I have been thinking about it," replied I, "but I do not see how we
are to get it without much risk and fear of discovery."

Peer Khan pondered for a moment; he then said, "I have a plan, Jemadar,
which you may perhaps be able to improve upon; and, Inshalla! we will
have the saddle. What I say is this: when the Khan is pretty well
intoxicated, do you propose to him to sleep in your tent, and to send
for his horse and saddle, so as to be near him to mount in the morning.
If the saddle is brought, we can empty it of its contents and bury it
with him; if not, we can only rejoice at having done a good action in
having destroyed him."

"I am not sure," observed Motee, "that the omens will be good; we had
better try them."

"Do so," said I; "I will think over Peer Khan's plan and see what can
be done." We then separated for the night.

During the next morning's travel, when we were not separated by
the confusion which ensued on a village or town being plundered, I
purposely threw myself as much in Ghuffoor Khan's way as I could, and
we conversed on the success of our expedition, and the adventures which
had befallen us.

"Do you remember, Khan Sahib," said I, "the attack on the houses at
Guntoor, and how we ravaged the Feringhees' store-houses in a vain
search for valuables? my curses on them! They are as rich as Nuwabs,
and yet not one of them has a gold or silver dish in his possession,
nor a jewel or valuable of any kind,--nothing but china-ware. And do
you remember how we smashed it all?"

"Ay, I remember," growled the Khan; "and but for our chief's
cowardice,--between you and me I say it,--we might have attacked and
carried the place where the treasure was, and enriched ourselves not
a little; whereas, as it was, we got nothing for our trouble. We
destroyed their houses, however, and that was some satisfaction."

"True," said I, "it was, Khan; how their hearts must have burned as
they saw the bright flames devouring their abodes! Do you remember too
the precious stuff I got hold of and recommended to your notice,--the
wine in the small bottles, with printed papers upon them? It was rare
good stuff."

"Mashalla! it was, indeed," cried the Khan; "the flavour of it did not
leave my lips for some days. These infidels know what good wine is,
that is certain. Would that I had brought some with me! a few bottles
would have been easily carried, and one would have enjoyed it after a
day's toil."

"I was more careful than you were, Khan; such wine is not always to be
got; I brought away some bottles, and I have them still, I believe, if
they be not broken."

"Some with you? Nay, then, be not niggardly of your treasure; let me
taste it again, for I swear to you I believe there will be no such
nectar in Paradise."

"It is at your service, Khan; but to escape scandal, what do you say to
coming to my tent to-night when it is dusk?--that is, if any remains,
of which I will give you notice. One of my fellows shall cook a good
pilao, and after it we will enjoy the wine quietly."

"Your words are as sweet as the wine itself, good Meer Sahib; truly I
will be with thee. I will tell my Saees to bring my horse and picket
him among yours; no one will see me, and I will bring no one with me.
I might exceed, you know, and I would not be an open scandal to the
faith."

My heart leaped to my mouth as he uttered the words. The saddle, then,
would be ours, without any trouble or risk of detection: how I blessed
him for acceding so readily to my plans! "True, Khan," said I, "it will
not do to be observed: we must be secret. I will have no one in my
tent but Peer Khan, whom you know; he is my foster-brother, and a rare
companion: we will have a pleasant carouse, I will send him to you when
the pilao is ready."

"No, no," cried he, "do not--there is no need of it; I will stroll to
your tent after dusk. And, hark ye!" said he to his Saees, who was
trotting after him, "mind, you are to bring my horse and saddle to the
Meer Sahib's tent, as soon as you see me going towards it. Remember,
you are to lead it after me, as though I were going to ride; and when
you arrive there, you are to picket it among his horses."

"Jo hookum," replied the fellow; "your orders shall be obeyed."

"And mind," continued the Khan, "you are not to tell any one where I am
going, nor to answer any questions, if any are put to you, as you lead
the horse along."

"Certainly not; since such is my lord's pleasure, I dare not disobey."

"You had better not," cried the Khan, "or I will try and find a korla
for you."

The fellow dropped behind again, and we resumed our desultory
conversation, chatting as we rode along on the merits of the different
leaders, and how they had behaved. Ghuffoor Khan was a pleasant
companion, and his remarks were full of wit and satire. I had put
him in good humour by the prospect of a deep carouse, and we rode on
cheerfully.

We reached our halting-place for the day, after a long and intensely
hot march; and glad were we to get under the cover of our tents, to
screen ourselves from the noonday heat. I had several messages from the
Khan, in the course of the day, to know whether the repast was ready;
but it would not have answered my purpose to have allowed that it was,
or to have had it prepared one moment before the time fixed.

"You have been riding with the Khan, Sahib, all the morning," said
Motee to me, "and have not, I suppose, observed the omens?"

"I have not," said I, anxiously; "but surely you have done so?" For I
knew how much they would influence my men; nay, that without favourable
ones they would have absolutely refused any participation in the matter.

"I have not been negligent," replied Motee. "Last night, after I parted
with you, Peer Khan, myself, and the others, made an offering of goor
to the Nishan, and, blessed be Bhowanee, she has vouchsafed us the
Thibao and Pilhao; you need, therefore, be under no apprehensions, for
she is favourable."

"I was sure she would be, Motee, for I observe the hand of Alla guiding
me; and I verily believe I should have followed the influence of my own
desires in this matter, even had they been unfavourable."

"Nay, say not so, Jemadar," said he laughing--"you are too good a Thug
for that; but there is now no fear, for the omens were indeed cheering."

"If we succeed," said I, "I have some thoughts of further work in our
own way; but, of this more hereafter. There will be a stir when his
disappearance is known, and we must be quiet for a time."

"Ay, that is like you, Jemadar. We have been consulting among
ourselves, and had come to the determination of proposing some
adventures to you; for here these dogs of Pindharees lie, night after
night, and each fellow is worth some hundreds of rupees. Yet we have
been content to remain inactive; and I, for one, say shame on us! We
need not pass a night without some work."

"Wait, good Motee; let us secure the Khan first. And now to arrange
matters; we must be our own Lughaees."

"For that we are prepared, Meer Sahib; a Thug must do his duty in any
grade when occasion calls for his services. We are all ready for work."

"Then we must lose no time; you must join your own pall to mine, and
put some screen or other between them; in the empty space the grave
must be prepared. It had better be ready before he comes:--but no; he
will, perhaps, suspect us; it can soon be made afterwards."

"You are right, Jemadar, he would suspect: he need not be buried deep;
and there are three of our men who are old Lughaees; they will prepare
it in a few minutes."

"And his Saees--he must die also, Motee."

"Certainly," he replied. "Do you and Peer Khan deal with the Khan, and
leave the Saees to us--we will manage him."

"Good; our arrangements are then complete. Remember that Peer Khan
alone eats with us; you must be all outside, and see that the horses
are kept saddled; for we must fly instantly if we are discovered or
suspected. I have no fears, however, on either score."

"Nor have I," said Motee; "the matter will create a stir, as he is a
leader of note; but it will be supposed, either that he has gone off
with his plunder, or that some one has murdered him. I tell you, Meer
Sahib, that many a Pindharee has died by the hand of his fellow since
we left Nemawur."

"I do not doubt it, Motee. I have heard of many brawls, and men of this
kind have but few scruples. They are a wicked set, and far worse than
those who formed the first expedition. But now go, get the pall ready,
and send Peer Khan to me."

The evening came; the calls of the faithful to evening prayers
resounded through the camp with the last red streak of day. Men were
assembled in knots, kneeling on their carpets, addressing their prayers
to Alla,--men whose hands were scarcely cleansed from the blood they
had that day shed! The ceremony over, each separated from his fellow,
to lie beside his faithful horse, and to enjoy a night of repose, to
fit him for the toil, the rapine, and plunder, of the ensuing day. The
time approached; and as I sat in my tent, awaiting the Khan's arrival,
my heart exulted within me, that for once in my life I should do a good
action, in revenging the murdered. Peer Khan was with me; we scarcely
spoke--our minds were too full of what was to follow to speak much.

"Have you drugged the bottle?" he asked.

"I have. I have put two tolas of opium into it; I have tasted it, and
the flavour of the drug is perceptible--but it will be the second
bottle, and he will not discover it; and if he does, we cannot help it,
we must take our chance. Do you think we can manage him between us,
without any noise?"

"Shame on us if we do not, Meer Sahib; I am as strong a man as he is,
and your roomal never fails. But to prevent any noise being heard,
suppose we propose to admit Motee and two or three others to sing and
play,--I mean when the Khan has swallowed his first bottle. Motee has a
sitar and a small drum with him, and its noise will drown all others."

"No, no!" said I; "others might be attracted by the singing, and come
to hear it; it will not do; we must do our best and leave the rest to
Alla. However we will see when the time comes."

The evening was far advanced, and everything around us was quiet. A
few fires here and there throughout the camp marked where, at each,
a solitary Pindharee cooked his last meal of the day; the rest were
already buried in profound slumber, and all nearest to us were still.
I stood at the door of my humble tent looking anxiously for the Khan's
coming; and at length I observed a figure stealing along in the dusk,
carefully avoiding the prostrate forms which lay in his path. Was it
the Khan? Yes. "By Alla, he comes!" said I to Peer Khan; "I see him
now: and there is his horse behind him, and the Saees leading it."

"Shookur Khoda!" exclaimed my companion; "he has not deceived us. I
feared he had, since it is so late."

"Is that you, Meer Sahib?" cried the voice of Ghuffoor Khan. "I feared
I should have missed your tent in this cursed darkness."

"Here am I, Khan, and you are welcome to the poor tent of your servant."

"So you have found the wine, eh?" said the Khan, rubbing his hands in
glee. "You have not cheated me?"

"By your soul, no! Khan, I have not; there it is, you see, and Peer
Khan is gone for the pilao."

"Khoob; by Alla! Meer Sahib, I have fasted all day on purpose to do
justice to it; and I should have been here an hour sooner, but I was
summoned to the durbar about some trifle or other; and I have kept you
waiting."

"And your horse, Khan?"

"Oh, he is here; my Saees has picketed him among yours. I have deceived
my other servants--I swore I had a headache and could not eat, and
pretended to lie down to sleep, having given them all strict orders
not to disturb me. The knaves knew better than to do so; and so, after
lying quiet awhile, I stole out of my tent behind, and have fairly
given them the slip. I suppose your people can throw some fodder before
the animal?"

"Surely; I have cared for that already."

Peer Khan now entered with the pilao; and seating ourselves, our
fingers were soon buried in the midst of it.

"Now for the wine, Meer Sahib; the pilao is dry without it, and my
throat lacks moisture."

"Here it is," said I, pouring it out into a cup; "see how it sparkles,
like the fire of a ruby."

"Ay," said the Khan, after he had drained it to the bottom, "this is
wine for the hooris; how one enjoys it! Think, Meer Sahib, how we true
believers will quaff in Paradise (if what we get there will be as
good), surrounded by twenty hooris, and each vying with the other to
please us! But drink, man,--I would not take the whole."

"Nay, that bottle is your own share, Khan, and there is besides another
for you; Peer Khan and I will divide this one between us. 'Tis a pity
there is not more, or that the bottles were not larger."

"Ay, it is to be regretted certainly, Meer Sahib, but what there is,
we must make the most of;" and he took another draught. "Only think,"
continued he, "of those infidels the Feringhees drinking such stuff
as this every day. I now scarcely marvel at their doing great deeds
when they are drunk. And is it not the case, Meer Sahib, that they all
sit round a table and drink, and roar out songs, till they fall down
intoxicated?"

"So I have been credibly informed, Khan. By Alla! they are jolly dogs."

"I wish I was in their service," said Ghuffoor Khan, after a short
silence. "Do you think they would give one wine to drink when one
wanted it?"

"I have not a doubt of it," I replied.

"Then I will take employ with them, Meer Sahib; this stuff would tempt
many a better Moosulman than I am to serve an infidel. But they say
Sikundar Jah drinks it also."

"So I heard when I was at Hyderabad," said I; "indeed it was there I
first tasted this liquor; and I knew the bottles again when I saw them
in the Feringhees' houses at Guntoor."

"It is fit drink for a prince," sighed the Khan, when he had finished
the bottle, and looking at it with a most rueful countenance. "That is
finished, Meer Sahib; thou saidst thou hadst another?"

"Ay, Khan! but only this one," I replied, handing him the other.

"I feel happy now, Meer Sahib. By Alla! I could sing--I could dance, I
think, though it would be a scandal to do so. The Prophet, however, has
not forbidden a Moslem to sing. May his name be honoured! Have any of
you a sitar? People say that I have a good hand."

"Go and fetch Motee-ram's," said I to Peer Khan; "it is a good one.
Shall the owner of it come also, Khan?"

"Nay, I care not, Meer Sahib; though the devil came, I would pluck him
by the beard; let him come. Can he sing?"

"Like a bulbul, Khan; I have rarely heard a better voice from a man."

"Oh, for some women!" sighed the Khan; "one misses the glances of
their antelope eyes, and the tinkle of their anklets in moments like
these. Ah, Meer Sahib, we were happy dogs when we were encamped in the
Krishna. There was one charmer--but why speak of them, Meer Sahib--why
speak of them?"

"We shall enjoy their company the more when we get to Nemawur," said I.
"But here is Motee with his sitar." Motee made his salam and sat down.

"Is the instrument tuned, Motee--thou pearl of singers?" cried the
Khan, bursting into a laugh at his play upon Motee's name. "Hast thou
tuned it?"

"I have, noble Khan; though it is not worthy the touch of so exalted a
person."

"Nay, 'tis a good sitar, and a sweet one," said the Khan, as he ran
his fingers over the strings in a manner which showed him to be a
proficient.

"Wah!" cried all of us at once; "play, noble Khan! the hand which could
execute such a prelude as that can do wonders."

"Give me some more drink," cried he, "and I will try. Knowest thou any
ghuzuls, Motee?"

"I am indifferently skilled in them, Khan Sahib; nevertheless, if my
lord will mention one, I will try. The tuppas of my own country I know
most of."

"Pah!" cried the Khan, "who would sing tuppas? I will name a ghuzul
which is in every one's mouth--sing 'Mahi-Alum, Soz-i-mun;' I warrant
me thou knowest it. But the wine, Meer Sahib, pour it out for me; thou
art my Saqi, thou knowest. I will sing an ode to thee, as Hafiz has
written and sung many a one to his; peace be to his memory! Ah! that
was good; but oh, Meer Sahib, it hath a different flavour from the
last."

"Very likely," said I; "the bottle, you see, hath a different paper on
it; perhaps it is a better kind."

"It is good, and that is all I care for, Meer Sahib. Now proceed, good
Motee." Motee did as he was ordered, and his voice and the Khan's
accompaniment were worthy of a better audience than that which heard
them.

"Wah, wah! Shabash!" cried Peer Khan and I, when it was ended; "this
is rare fortune to hear two such skilful musicians in this unsainted
jungle. Now it is your turn, Khan Sahib."

"More wine, Meer Sahib, 'Saqi mera!' more wine, for the sake of the
Twelve Imams. Oh that there were a thousand bottles, that we could meet
as we have done now every night! Good wine and good companions--have
they not been ever the burthen of the songs of the poets?"

"Is there much left?" he continued, when he had drained the cup.

"About half the bottle," said I.

"Then give Motee a cup, Meer Sahib: he deserves it."

"Excuse me," said Motee, "but I am a Hindoo and a Brahmin."

"Thou shouldst have been a true believer, Motee; Khan would sound as
well after thy name as Ram. Why, man, our blessed Prophet would have
had thee to sing to him when thou hadst reached Paradise!"

Ghuffoor Khan's voice was now rather thick, and he made but a poor hand
of the ghuzul he attempted; but it was very laughable to see him roll
his eyes from side to side, like a dancing-girl, and to hear him trying
to imitate their quavers and shakes. "Pah!" cried he, when he had sung
a verse, "my throat is dry; I want more wine, I think, Meer Sahib; but
the truth is, I caught a cold some days ago, and am still hoarse."

He tried again, after a fresh draught, but with no better success. In
vain he coughed and hemmed to clear his throat; the wine, and the still
better opium, were doing their work as quickly as we could desire.

"Do you sing again, Motee,--meree Motee! meree Goweya!" said the Khan
insinuatingly. "A curse on the water of this country, which spoils a
man's singing. Sing, man, and I will play; it cannot spoil that, at any
rate; and the Meer Sahib hath provided an antidote for this night at
least."

Motee sang again; but the accompaniment was wild and irregular, and the
Khan at last threw down the sitar.

"It will not do, Meer Sahib, after the fatigue (a hiccup) and the
trouble I have had (hiccup) all day, shouting and bullying these
rascally Pindharees (hiccup). How can it be expected, Meer Sahib, that
I, Ghuffoor Khan, the leader of three thousand horse, should play and
sing like a Goweya? By Alla! I will not (hiccup). But these hiccups,
Meer Sahib, what is to cure them?"

"Some more wine, Khan Sahib; nothing but liquor can cure them. And
there is more; there is still another cup."

"Then give me all!" cried the Khan; "I will drink it standing like a
kafir Feringhee--may their sisters be defiled, ay, and their mothers
too! Nevertheless, as I said, I will serve them and drink among them,
and none shall drink more than Ghuffoor Khan. Thou saidst they drink
standing; and what do they say?"

"Hip, hip, hip!" said I; "I learned the words from a vagabond who had
been a Khidmutgar among them, and had seen their wild orgies."

"What, hip, hip, hip! those are the words, eh? I wonder what they mean."

"They are an invocation to their Prophet, I believe," said I, "much as
we say 'Bismilla ir ruhman ir ruheem!'"

"I do not doubt it, Meer Sahib. Now help me to rise, for the stuff
is in my brain, and the tent goeth round about; help me to rise, I
say, and I will quaff the last drop, both as a true Moslem and as a
Feringhee. Ha! said I, not well?"

"Excellently well, great Khan," said I, as I helped him to his feet.
"Now, here is the wine."

"Bismilla!" shouted the Khan, "hip, hip, hip!" and he drained the cup
to the bottom; his head sunk on his breast, his eyes rolled wildly; he
made a desperate attempt to rush forward, and fell at his full length
upon the ground.

"Bus!" cried Peer Khan, as he got out of the way; "enough, great Khan!
noble Khan, thou art a dead man now. Feringhee and Moslem, thou hast
made rare fun for us."

"Raise him up," said I to them; "seat him on his end. I am ready; and
do one of ye give the jhirnee."

They raised him up; and, as he was seated, his head again sunk on his
shoulder, and some froth came from his mouth.

"He is dying," said Motee. "We ought not to touch him; it is forbidden."

"Not a bit of it," said I; "all drunken men are in this way; I have
seen hundreds in the same state; so hold his head up, and give the
jhirnee;" for I had taken my post behind him.

They did so. Peer Khan uttered the fatal words, and Ghuffoor Khan
wrestled out his last agony under my never-failing gripe.

"Enough, Meer Sahib," said Peer Khan, who was holding his
feet--"enough, he is dead."

"Ul-humd-ul-illa!" I exclaimed; "it is finished, blessed be the
Prophet and Bhowanee! Go for the Lughaees; he must be put under ground
immediately. Now for the Saees."

We left the Khan's body, and went out; the others were waiting for us.
"Where does he lie?" I asked.

"There," said one of the men; "he is fast asleep, and has been so for
an hour."

"So much the better," said Peer Khan; "leave him to me."

I watched him and Motee as they approached the sleeper. Peer Khan
touched him with his foot: he started up to a sitting position, and
rubbed his eyes; but Peer Khan threw himself upon him, and he was dead
in an instant, ere he had become conscious. Nothing now remained but
the disposal of the bodies and the saddle. The grave, a shallow one,
was quickly dug; and while the Lughaees were preparing it, myself,
Peer Khan and Motee unripped the lining and pockets of the saddle, and
took out the gold. There was naught else. It was in coin, and in small
lumps, as the jewels he had gotten in plunders had been melted down
from time to time. We had no leisure then to speculate on its value;
but we cut the saddle to pieces with our knives, to make sure that none
remained in it; and the fragments were buried with the bodies.

"What shall we do with the horse, Meer Sahib?" asked Motee. "We cannot
take him with us, for there is not a man in the camp who does not know
Ghuffoor Khan's horse; and we have no time to stain him."

I was puzzled for a while; to have retained the noble animal would have
ensured our detection, and I scarcely knew what to do. At last I hit
upon an expedient. "He must be destroyed," said I; "'tis a splendid
beast, certainly, yet our lives are worth more than his. Beyond the
camp, about an arrow's flight, is a deep ravine. Do any of you know it?"

"None of us have seen it," said all at once.

"Then I must go myself, and do you, Ghous Khan (he was one of my men),
accompany me; we will throw him into it. Go and loosen him from his
pickets."

I followed him, and we conducted the animal to the edge of the
ravine; it was deep, and just suited our purpose, as the banks were
precipitous. "That will do," said I, when he had brought the horse to
the edge; "now rein his head to one side; we must kill him before he
falls in."

He did so; I had prepared my sword, and drew it sharply across the
poor brute's throat; the blood gushed out, he reeled backwards, fell
into the dark ravine, and we heard his carcase reach the bottom with a
heavy fall. I looked over, but all I saw was an indistinct mass at the
bottom, while a few groans of its death-agony reached my ears.

"Enough," said I; "come away; the jackals will have a glorious feast
ere morning, and no one will ever think of looking here. But it was a
pity to kill the brute."

"He was worth a good thousand rupees, and would have fetched that price
at Hyderabad. Why did you not send him there? I would have taken him."

"I did not think of that," said I; "but no matter now; we will earn
more than that before we reach Nemawur."

"How, Meer Sahib? We get but little in this poor country."

"Trust me, Ghous Khan," said I; "we have begun, and, Inshalla! we will
go on with the work." I reached the tent, and the Lughaees had done
their business well; our carpets had been spread over the spot where
the Khan lay in his last resting-place, and we all lay down and slept
soundly.

Ghuffoor Khan was missed at his accustomed post the next morning; a
thousand conjectures were hazarded as to his fate, but no one could
account for his disappearance. Some said the devil had taken him for
his wickedness; others, that he had amassed an immense plunder, and was
fearful of its being wrested from him, and he had therefore escaped
with it, as it was known to be sewed up in his saddle. When we reached
our next encampment, Cheetoo sent for me. I went, and found him seated
in full durbar, and the Khan's servants as prisoners before him. I made
my usual salam, and he requested me to be seated near him.

"This is a most mysterious affair, Meer Sahib," said he; "Ghuffoor Khan
is gone; and Alla or the Shitan only knows whither! If he has fled,
it is as extraordinary a thing as I ever heard of; for he has been
attached to me from his youth, and I have ever been kind to him. What
think you?"

"I am at a loss also," said I; "your servant knows not what to say;
there are a thousand conjectures afloat, but no one can give any
probable solution to the mystery. But have you examined the servants?
Surely they must know something."

"I have not, Meer Sahib, as yet; but here they are, and I want you to
help me to question them. You may think of some things which may escape
me."

"I will do my best, Nuwab; but you had better begin--they will be
afraid of you and speak the truth."

"Call one of them," said Cheetoo to an attendant.

The man came, trembling in every joint, and prostrated himself before
our leader. "What is thy name?" he asked.

"Syud Ebrahim," said the fellow.

"And what service didst thou perform to Ghuffoor Khan?"

"I am a Khidmutgar, O Asylum of the World!" said the man; "I used to
keep the Khan's clothes, assist him to bathe, and attend him at night.
I was always about his person."

"Now speak the truth, Ebrahim, and fear not. But I swear by the beard
of the Prophet, if I detect thee lying, I will have thee cut to pieces
before my face, as a warning to thy comrades."

"May I be your sacrifice!" cried the man, "I will not lie. Why should
I? What I know is easily told, and 'tis but little."

"Proceed," cried Cheetoo, "and remember what I have said."

"Alla is my witness," said the man, "I know but little. My noble master
came from your highness's durbar late in the afternoon. We had prepared
dinner for him, but he said he was ill, and would not eat, and that
we ourselves might eat what we had cooked for him. He then went into
his tent, took off his durbar dress, put away his arms, and then lay
down. I was with him till this time, and sat down to shampoo him, but
he bade me begone, and I left him. I was weary with running all day by
his side, and I also lay down, and did not wake till the people roused
me for the march. I went into the tent to arouse him and give him his
clothes, but I found him not. The bedding was just as when he had lain
down, but his sword was not there, nor a stick he always walked with.
This is all I know, but Shekh Qadir knows something more, if you will
call him; he saw the Khan after I did."

Shekh Qadir was accordingly sent for, and after being cautioned and
threatened as the other had been, he spoke as follows:

"I am also a Khidmutgar, but my office was not about the Khan's person;
I used to give him his hooka, and prepare the opium he ate. Soon after
dusk I heard him moving in the tent, and I watched him; he lifted up
the back part of it and came out. I saw him walk towards the middle of
the camp, and followed him; he observed me, and turned round sharp upon
me: 'What,' said he, 'cannot I walk out for a few yards, to breathe the
air, without some of you rascals following me? Begone!' Nuwab, I was
frightened lest he should order me the korla, and I went away to the
tent of a friend. I heard in the morning that he had not returned."

"This is very unsatisfactory," said I; "we have as yet no clue to his
disappearance. If he has gone away, he must have ridden; where is his
horse?"

"Ay, where is it?" cried Cheetoo. "Who can tell us?"

"May I be your sacrifice!" said Shekh Qadir; "the horse is not here,
nor his Saees. The Khan had two horses, but the saddle of the one
missing is that in which all the gold was sewed up."

"Ha!" said Cheetoo, "is it so? Where is the other Saees?"

"Peer-o-Moorshid?" cried an attendant; "he is waiting without."

"Let him too be called." The man entered.

"What knowest thou?" asked Cheetoo.

"I only know," said the fellow, "that the gray horse was kept saddled
all the afternoon: this was contrary to custom, for its saddle was
always placed in the tent, near the Khan's head when he slept. I asked
my fellow Saees the reason of its being so; but he was angry with me,
and said it was no business of mine, that the Khan had ordered it, and
it was his pleasure. I saw him take the horse from his picket after
dark, but I asked no questions."

"There remains but one conclusion to be drawn, Nuwab Sahib," said I.
"Ghuffoor Khan has fled, and made off with the booty he had got. By all
accounts he had been very fortunate; and every one said his saddle was
stuffed with gold."

"So I have also heard," said Cheetoo; "but yet it is hard to think
of that man's ingratitude. Here have I been associated with him from
boyhood: I have raised him from obscurity to be a leader of three
thousand horse; and this has been a scurvy ending to my kindness. Go,"
said he to the servants, "I find no fault with any of you; take the
horse to my pagah, and let him be tied up among my own."

Thus ended this adventure; no suspicion fell upon us nor on any one.
The Khan was known to have friends at Hyderabad, and thither it was
supposed he had fled. We alone knew his fate, and it was one he had
deserved by a thousand crimes too horrible to mention.

But after this we were not idle; having begun our work, we had
constant employment; scarcely a night passed that one or two
Pindharees did not fall by our hands. They were missed too, as the Khan
had been, but we were favoured by the constant desertions which took
place from the Lubhur; for as we approached Nemawur, men daily made off
in every direction to their houses, little relishing the fatigues of
the camp and the constant alarms we had from reports of the vicinity of
the Feringhee troops, by whom we were several times nearly surprised.
Yet I was not fated to have the uniform success which had hitherto
attended me. Treachery was at work, and the blow we least feared fell
with a heavy hand at last, and dispersed us. I will tell you how it
happened, and what befel us.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


Among the men whom I had brought with me from Jhalone was one by name
Hidayut Khan. I had never seen him before, but he was slightly known to
Peer Khan, as having served with him, and was represented to be an able
Thug. Of the extent of his accomplishments I was ignorant, as he never
had any hand in the destruction of those who died in the Pindharee
camp; for I preferred allowing my own men, upon whom I could depend, to
do the work. But Hidayut Khan was certainly a capital horseman, a good
hand with his sword and spear, and an active, enterprising fellow as a
Pindharee. I have said we never employed him as a Bhuttote, nor even
as a Shumshea; why I can hardly say, yet so it was; he acted always as
a scout, and kept watch at the door of the tent while our work went on
within. Many days after the death of Ghuffoor Khan, indeed when we had
again reached the Nagpoor territory, and when a few days' march would
have brought us to Nemawur, Peer Khan, Motee, and one or two others
came to me one evening after it was dark, with faces full of concern
and alarm.

"For the sake of Bhowanee," cried I, "what is the matter? why are ye
thus agitated? Speak, brothers, and say the worst; are we discovered?"

"Alas, I fear treachery," said Motee. "For some time past we have
suspected Hidayut Khan, who has absented himself from us of late in
an extraordinary manner, to have disclosed what we are to a person
in Cheetoo's confidence. We have dogged them several times about the
camp, have detected them in earnest conversation, and this night we too
greatly fear he is even now in the durbar. What can be done?"

"We must fly at once," said I. "Now that you mention the name of
Hidayut Khan, I too have my suspicions: are the horses saddled?"

"They are," said Peer Khan, "they are always so."

"Good," said I; "then there is no fear. Yet I should like much to
satisfy myself of the fact of our being suspected,--ay, and by Alla! I
will ascertain it at once."

"Ah, do not!" cried they; "for the sake of Bhowanee, do not throw
yourself into peril; what can be gained by it? Our horses are ready;
let us mount them; leave the tent where it is, and fly."

Would to Alla that I had followed this wise counsel! matters would
not have turned out as they did; but I was possessed by the idea; a
headstrong man is never to be restrained, and I would hear nothing
they had to say. "Is there not _one_ among you," cried I, "who will
accompany me? The night is dark, and we can reach Cheetoo's tent
unobserved; we will lie down with our ears to the kanât, and hear what
passes: if the worst comes, if we really are denounced, we shall have
ample time to fly before they can get from the inside."

"I will," cried Peer Khan; but no one else stirred; they were all
paralysed by fear, and were incapable of action.

"That is spoken like yourself, brother," cried I; "thou hast a gallant
soul. Now do ye all prepare the horses for instant flight; let their
tether-ropes be loosened, and the bridles put in their mouths; do not
move them from their places, and no one will suspect us: and come,"
cried I to Peer Khan, "there is not a moment to be lost."

We stole out of the tent, and stealthily crept along towards Cheetoo's,
which was fortunately at no great distance. No one was about it; but
we could see from the outside that, by the side of a dim lamp, three
persons were engaged in earnest conversation. We lay down of the edge
of the kanât, and my ears eagerly drank in the words which fell on them.

"Ajaib!" said a voice, which I knew at once to be Cheetoo's, "and so he
murdered the Khan? you said _he_ did it."

"May I be your sacrifice," said Hidayut Khan (I knew his voice, too,
immediately), "he did; I cannot say I saw him die with my own eyes,
but they made him drunk, and they buried him, and Ameer Ali himself
destroyed the noble horse."

"I do not doubt it," said Cheetoo, with a sigh; "I have done his memory
foul wrong in thinking him ungrateful:--and the others?"

"They were men of scarcely any note," said the informer, "nor do I
know the names of all: one only I remember, for they had hard work to
despatch him; he was a strong man, by name Hubeeb Oola, and belonged to
my lord's own pagah."

"I knew him well," said Cheetoo: "he was a worthy man and a brave one;
and Ameer Ali slew him?"

"He did, Nuwab, with his own hands; and Motee and Peer Khan held him,
or he could not have done it. This was only three nights ago, when I
would fain have denounced them, but I feared no one would believe me;
and as I knew Ameer Ali was in your favour, I thought no one would have
listened to an accusation against him."

"Nor would I, by Alla!" cried Cheetoo, rising up and striking his
forehead in extreme agitation (I had made a hole in the cloth with the
point of my dagger, and could see all distinctly). "I would never have
believed your tale, but that circumstances so strongly bear out what
you have said. Who could have believed, that Ameer Ali, the kind, the
benevolent--, one who opposed every scheme of violence, and protested
against our ravages till I was ashamed of them myself,--who could have
thought _him_ a Thug?"

"But it is the truth, Nuwab," said the vile wretch; "when you have
seized them, you will find ample evidence of what I tell you: the sword
of Ghuffoor Khan is at this moment girded to the side of Peer Khan, who
threw away his own."

"That will be conclusive indeed," said Cheetoo. "But how came you to
join them?"

"I was at my village, near Jhalone," said Hidayut Khan; "I had formerly
known Peeroo (as we call Peer Khan), and he asked me to join him and
his jemadar, and to follow the Pindharees. I never suspected them to be
Thugs,--who could, when Ameer Ali and his father were high in favour
with the Rajah? and it was not till the Khan's death that they began
their horrible work."

"Well," said Cheetoo, "you have laid the plan; the sooner you put it
into execution the better. You have prepared the horsemen, have you
not?" said he to the other man, whose face I knew.

"I have," he replied; "they are standing by their horses, all ready for
the signal to set on--fifty good fellows; none of the Thugs will escape
us."

"Ya Alla!" cried "Cheetoo; "how will he look on me? and how can I bring
myself to order the punishment he deserves? Ah, Ameer Ali, how thou
hast deceived me! how could any one read deceit in that honest face of
thine!"

"Go," said he to Hidayut Khan and the others; "bring them to me without
delay. I will not forget thy reward: thou hast for the saddle of Peer
Khan."

"No more! no more!" cried the villain; "'tis all I want."

"Ay," said Peer Khan to me in a whisper, "but he has not got it yet,
and he is a cunning fellow if he does get it. Come, Meer Sahib, we must
be off--they are moving."

I was almost fascinated to the spot. I could have lain there and
listened to the discourse; but the peril was too imminent, too deadly
for a moment's delay. I got up, and sneaking along, we saw the two
figures cross the threshold of the tent, and with hurried steps direct
their course to a part of the camp where the pagah was, and which was
close to our tent.

Fear lent us speed; we flew to our tent, and for a few moments were
engaged in tying up some valuables we had brought out for division;
having done this, we hurried to our horses. Some of the men were
already in their saddles; I leaped on my spirited animal, and drew my
sword, ready for the worst. I wished all to move off in a body, for as
yet there was no alarm,--but I was deceived; we were surrounded! The
instant we were in motion a body of horse dashed at us, and we were at
once engaged in a conflict for life or death. What happened I know not;
I cut down the only man who was opposed to me; Peer Khan was equally
fortunate. I received a slight wound from another, which I little
heeded; we urged our horses to their utmost speed, and the darkness
favoured our escape.

I soon found, as I slackened my pace a little, that some of my men were
with me. We had agreed to take a northerly direction, and rendezvous
near a small village which could be seen from the camp; and by this
precaution those who had escaped were soon collected together. We were
not pursued, though we heard the shouts of the Pindharees, as they
hallooed to each other in and about their camp, and the shots from
their matchlocks; and we afterwards heard they had grievously wounded
many of each other in mistake. I almost dreaded to call over the names
of those who stood around me, for I could not see their faces, and no
one spoke a word to his companion.

We waited for a considerable time,--for an hour or more. Gradually
the noise and shouting in the Pindharee camp died away, and by the
straggling watch-fires alone could one have told that a mighty army was
encamped there. Now and then the shrill neigh of a horse was borne to
us upon the night wind, and when it ceased there was again a melancholy
silence. The little village too was deserted; part of it had been
burned, and the embers of the houses still emitted sparks, now and then
sending up a flame, as portions of dry grass of the thatched huts which
had escaped became ignited. Further delay was useless; I therefore
broke the silence, which was painful to all.

"How many are there of us, Peer Khan?" I asked, in a low tone.

"Eleven," said he; "the rest I fear have fallen."

"I pray Alla they have; better far to fall by a sword-cut or a
spear-thrust, than to be exposed to torture; but who are absent?--is
Motee here?"

"Alas! no, Meer Sahib. Motee I saw struck down. I made a cut at the
Pindharee who wounded him, but the darkness deceived me: I missed him."

"And who else are absent?" said I, stifling my grief, for Motee had
been as a brother to me; "let those who are here tell their names."

They did so. Ghous Khan was away, and Nuzzur Ali and Ramdeen Singh,
three of our best men; Motee was a fourth; Hidayut Khan, the traitor,
was a fifth, and all our attendants and grooms.

"'Tis no use staying here," said I; "we must make the best of our way
to Jhalone; there we will wait the usual time, and if none return, the
ceremonies for the dead must be performed for them. None of ye will
grudge your share of the booty we have (blessed be Bhowanee!) brought
away with us, to their wives and families; swear this unto me, ye that
are willing."

"We swear!" cried the whole, almost with one voice.

"I am satisfied," said I; "now let us proceed. We must turn off the
main road when it is light; we all know the paths through the jungles,
and by them we will travel, till we are safely beyond Hussingabad:
beyond that I fear not."

"Proceed," cried Peer Khan; "we follow you."

And we rode on in silence, with heavy hearts. We travelled thus for
many days. Through the country we passed, we represented ourselves, as
long as the Nagpoor territory lasted, to be servants of the government
on a secret mission; and though we were often suspected and questioned,
yet by my address I brought my band clear out of all the difficulties;
and our hearts bounded with joy when at length we arrived on the banks
of the noble Nurbudda, and dashing our steeds into the ford, soon left
its waters between us and our enemies.

Inured as we were to the fatigues of long and severe marches, and
our horses also, not a day passed but fifteen or twenty coss were
travelled, and at this rate we were not long in reaching our home.
Blessed be Alla! we did reach it, and glad was my heart once again to
see the groves of Jhalone after my weary pilgrimage. No notice had we
been able to give of our approach, and I alighted at the door of my
own house unattended and alone, covered with dust, and worn by fatigue
and exposure to the fierce heat of the sun, and as much changed by
anxiety for the fate of my poor comrades as though ten additional
years had gone over my head, instead of only a few weeks. My servants
scarcely knew me; but when I was recognised, the glad tidings of my
return flew from mouth to mouth. I waited not even to quench my raging
thirst before I was again in the embrace of Azima, my own loved one,
and peril was once more forgotten.

We assembled in the evening; and as the pockets of our saddles were
one by one unripped, and their contents heaped on the floor before us,
a glorious pile indeed met our view, of lumps of gold and silver, the
produce of the jewels we had seized, which we had melted down as we got
them. There were a few strings of pearls, one of which I laid aside for
the Rajah; and the whole was then weighed, valued, and distributed.
Those whom we supposed to be dead were not forgotten; their shares were
laid aside, and afterwards delivered to their families.

I now again enjoyed peace and rest; all idea of joining Cheetoo, or
any other of the Pindharee leaders, was out of the question; for
though I might have done so under an assumed name, yet the chance of
being recognised would have been too great, and I was rich enough for
the present. Cheetoo too had reached the summit of his fame and his
prosperity; his plans were all frustrated by the rash and sudden rise
of the Mahratta powers. All they could do was of no avail against the
skill and bravery of the Europeans; one by one they were conquered;
and Cheetoo, though he might have profited by the generosity of his
enemies, and accepted a large estate which he was offered by them,
could not curb his restless spirit. A few of his men followed his
fortunes, but his standard was in vain raised for fresh adherents.
These even deserted him one by one; his prospects were blasted; he
became a miserable fugitive; and pursued from haunt to haunt, from
fastness to fastness, he at last perished miserably by a tiger, in the
dense jungles about the fort of Asseer Ghur. Peace be to his memory! he
was a great man, and a skilful and brave leader; and whatever crimes
he may have committed in his wild career as a Pindharee chieftain, his
dreadful death has been some atonement for them.

I pass over two more years. Why should I fatigue you, Sahib, with a
relation of daily occurrences, monotonous in themselves, and presenting
to my memory not one incident worthy of remark. I will again lead you
to the road, and to further adventures.

But Ameer Ali, said I, did you never hear aught of Motee and your other
companions who were seized by Cheetoo?

I had forgotten them, Sahib; theirs was a sad fate, as you shall hear.

One evening, about three months after my return home, as I was sitting
in the Dewan Khana of my house, surrounded by some friends, an
attendant brought me word that a man was without, closely wrapped in a
sheet, who desired to speak with me. "He will not enter," said he; "and
says that you will know him when you see him."

I took up my sword and followed him. It was dusk, and I did not
recognise the features of the person who had sent for me; indeed he was
so closely muffled that I could hardly see them. "What is your purpose,
friend?" I asked, as the man did not speak, but motioned with his arms
under his cloth for my attendant to go away. I bid him begone.

"Jemadar," cried the figure when we were alone, "do you not know me?"

"The voice," said I, "is familiar to mine ears; step into the light
that I may see your face."

"No, no!" said the man, in a hollow voice, "I cannot bear the light;
mutilated and disgraced as I am, the darkness scarcely hides my shame:
I am Ghous Khan."

"Ghous Khan!" I cried, in amazement; "he is dead, he perished at----"

"It is even so," said the man with a melancholy voice; "Ghous Khan is
before you; to prove it, send for a light and look at me."

I brought one myself and held it to his face. I was indeed shocked.
Ghous Khan _was_ before me, but oh how changed! His features were worn
and sunken, the brightness of his eyes was dimmed, his beard was matted
and uncombed, and a few dirty rags covered his head; but what above all
shocked me was, that his nose had been cut off close to his face, and
the skin of his cheeks and mouth had been drawn together by the healed
wound, so that it was tight over them, and imparted to his features a
ghastly expression.

"My poor friend!" I exclaimed, embracing him; "how is this? how have
you been reduced to this condition? Speak, for the love of Alla! and
tell me what you have suffered."

"The disfigurement of my face is not all, Meer Sahib," said he,
throwing off the dirty, ragged sheet which covered him. "Behold these!"
and the poor fellow held up to my view the stumps of his arms; his
hands had both been cut off between the wrist and the elbow, and the
wounds were scarcely healed. Having done this, he sunk down on the
floor in an agony of grief and shame.

I raised him up, and comforted him as well as I could. I ordered a bath
for him, and clean apparel, had his wounds dressed by a skilful barber;
and, after seeing him eat, or rather fed with a hearty meal, I left him
to his repose. I need not tell you, now that one of my lost companions
had arrived, how I longed to hear the fate of the rest. That night I
was sleepless and restless: but the next day, closeted with me in a
private room apart from observation, he gave me the following account
of his adventures and sufferings; adventures indeed there were few, but
sufferings many.

"You of course remember, Meer Sahib," said he, "that fatal night when,
just as we were on the point of making off with our booty, we were
attacked. The darkness favoured your escape; but on the first onset
of the Pindharee horsemen I received a severe spear wound in the
back, which threw me from my horse. I was seized by the Pindharees,
bound hand and foot, and carried to the tent of Cheetoo, where there
was now a large concourse of people assembled. The wound in my back
was staunched and bound up, and in a few moments afterwards other
Pindharees entered, bearing Motee-ram, who was desperately wounded in
the head, and the two others, Nuzzur Ali and Ramdeen Singh, who were
untouched. Hidayut Khan was there--the villain and traitor! and his
triumphant glance quailed under mine when I fixed my eyes on him and
would not withdraw them.

"Silence was ordered, and Cheetoo demanded with a loud voice of Hidayut
Khan, whether he knew any of the persons before him.

"'I do, Nuwab,' said the wretch; and he named us one by one, and
pointed us out.

"'And what have you to say against them?' asked the chief.

"'I accuse them of being Thugs,' said he; 'I accuse them of
murder, of the murder of Ghuffoor Khan, and of fourteen other good
Pindharees,--they dare not deny it.'

"'Let their jemadar, as he is called,' said Cheetoo, 'if he can speak,
answer to this.' But poor Motee's spirit was fast departing, he was
senseless, and never spoke afterwards.

"'I will reply,' said I; 'I say it is a lie, a base lie; I defy that
man to bring proofs. Have we not served well in your camp, oh Nuwab?
have we not ever been foremost in danger, and more merciful than all
the rest of these murdering villains?'

"'Strike him on the mouth with a shoe! cut him down for his insolence!'
cried several.

"'Silence!' again exclaimed Cheetoo; 'the first man who disturbs this
inquiry, by Alla, I will behead him.'

"'Go on,' he continued, addressing me; 'what more have you to say?'

"'Nothing, Nuwab; I rely on your justice.'

"'Justice thou shalt have; but tell me why your chief has fled.'

"This confused me a little, but after a moment's thought I replied
stoutly,--

"'Look you, Nuwab, I am a plain soldier, and cannot please your ear
with fine words. My leader has fled, it is true, but not from guilt.
That black-hearted villain, Hidayut Khan, wanted more than his share of
plunder on many occasions, and was refused it. He separated from us; we
dogged him about the camp, and detected him in close conversation with
a man who is known to be in your favour. This excited our suspicion.
This evening we watched him to your tent; I gave the information to
our jemadar; he and Peer Khan stole towards it; they lay down outside
and heard his vile accusations of murder, and had only time to fly
and mount their horses. We were not all prepared, and have fallen into
your hands. Of what use would it have been for him to have braved your
presence? the disgrace alone, to such a man as he is, would have been
insupportable,--he would have destroyed himself. I know no more; do
with us as you please.'

"Cheetoo seemed struck with what I had said, and mused for a moment.
'The proofs of their guilt!' cried he to Hidayut Khan; 'the proofs!
bring them, or it will be worse for thee.'

"'Let their swords be brought,' said he; 'Peer Khan has made off with
that of Ghuffoor Khan, but that man (pointing to Ramdeen) has one which
was the property of a Pindharee who was murdered two nights ago; and
other articles may be discovered in the linings of their saddles.'

"'Show me the swords,' cried a Pindharee in the crowd; 'my brother
disappeared two nights ago, and I have sought him in vain since.'

"They were brought. Ah! Meer Sahib, how can I tell you that Ramdeen
Singh's was instantly recognised by the Pindharee, who vehemently
demanded our blood from Cheetoo?

"'This is conclusive against you,' said Cheetoo; 'what can you say?'

"Ramdeen muttered a few words in exculpation, but they were unheeded.

"'I beg further to represent, Peer-o-Moorshid,' cried Hidayut Khan,
'that if you have any further doubts of what I have declared to be the
fact, I am ready to accompany any men you may choose to select; I will
guide them to the spot where that man's unfortunate brother lies in
his unblessed grave; and not only him will I disinter, but march after
march beyond that one will I dig up, at one place one body, at another
two, until we come to where Ghuffoor Khan and his unfortunate Saees
lie, both in the same hole.'

"Cheetoo shuddered. 'It is too true,' said he. 'Alas! my brave men have
fallen by the base hands of these stranglers--men who ought to have
purchased their martyrdom by death on the battle-field. Where are the
saddles and their contents? Let them be produced.'

"This was worse and worse. Nuzzur Ali's saddle, you may remember, was
old and worn, and he had taken that of the Pindharee we last killed.
The brother knew it and wept over it. In the lining was all the plunder
he had got, just as we had received it; and around my own waist was the
man's humeana, with which I had replaced my own; it had his name on it
written in Persian, which I had not observed. It was enough,--we were
convicted; I repeated the Belief, and gave myself up to death.

"Yet I once more uplifted my voice. 'Nuwab!' I exclaimed, 'it is of no
use to contend further with destiny; were we a thousand times innocent,
this array of facts against us would convict us. I now conceal not that
we are Thugs--followers of the blessed Bhowanee, who will receive us
into Paradise. We shall die by your command, but why should that vile
wretch live?--he who, for a greedy demand of more than his share, which
he knew he could not receive according to our laws, has denounced us,
has broken his oath, and been unfaithful to the salt he has eaten? Is
he not a Thug? has he not joined me and a hundred others in our work
ever since he was a boy? He cannot deny it; look at him,--look at his
cowardly features convulsed by terror,--_they_ show that what I say is
true. If he had been, as he says he is, an honest man, why did he not
cause us to be seized when we were in the act of murder--upon the very
bodies? He might have done so, for the deeds, except that of Ghuffoor
Khan, were committed in the first watch of the night, when the camp was
awake, and every one engaged in his own business. Why did he not then
denounce us? he would have been believed. But no! he wanted half of the
plunder of that man's brother; it was denied him, as similar requests
had been before, and he has become a thing for men to spit at. If we
die, he should not be spared, because he is a Thug as we are, because
he is a traitor and a coward!'

"'Liar!' cried Hidayut Khan, scarcely able to speak between rage and
fear; 'Liar! I defy thee to say I ever strangled a person.'

"'No,' said I to Cheetoo, 'he was too great a coward--he dared not! and
my lord may have remarked that he used the slang term to express his
meaning in the last words he uttered.'

"'Vile wretch!' cried Cheetoo to him, 'thou art worse than they--they
are brave and undaunted, thou art a coward; thy head shall be struck
from thy body.'

"His cries for pardon, for life, were horrible; he besought, he
threatened; but of what avail was it? He was dragged to the doorway of
the tent, a Pindharee stepped behind him, and, while he still pleaded
for mercy, his head was struck from his shoulders and rolled forwards.

"'Are you not dismayed?' cried Cheetoo to us; 'yours will follow.'

"'No!' cried we, one and all; 'death must come sooner or later,--and
ours is now; we fear not.'

"'They fear it not,' said he to another chieftain; 'death would be
welcome to them; but their punishment shall be worse--they shall linger
out a miserable existence. Ho!' cried he to his Furashes, 'cut off
these villains' noses and hands, and bring them to me.'

"It was done, Meer Sahib! I alone have lived to tell it: our noses
were cut off--next our hands. The bleeding stumps were thrust into
boiling oil, and we were driven from the camp, there and then to
perish, as they thought we should, in the wild jungles. And the other
two did perish; we had no one to bind up our wounds; those of Nuzzur
Ali and Ramdeen broke out bleeding several days afterwards, and they
died within two days of each other. So long as we were together, we
supported ourselves by begging in the villages, representing ourselves
to be villagers from a distant country whom the Pindharees had brought
thus far and mutilated, and we procured enough to satisfy the cravings
of hunger; but we could get no one to dress our wounds, which were
inflamed by the scorching heat of the weather; and, as I said, the two
died. Motee we never saw, but he must have died also, for the wound in
his head had cut through the brain, and he never spoke. His was a happy
fate compared to ours!

"I have wandered from place to place, proceeding a few coss a day. I
have been fed, and my blessings are on those who gave me food for the
sake of the Prophet. What I have suffered I cannot describe; but I am
now with you again, and your kindness has obliterated it all from my
memory. I will live and die with you, if you will grant enough to feed
your faithful slave, who will now be only a burthen to you."

I was deeply affected at his story. I took the poor fellow under
my care, and his wounds were healed, but he never held up his head
afterwards. He died before the year was ended, I believe of shame and a
sense of his helpless condition.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


Three years, as I have before told you, Sahib, passed in inactivity.
My father and myself were in high favour, at least so we thought, with
the rajah, who protected us and bestowed flattering marks of kindness
upon us. Our revenue business was increased, we had now the management
of a large tract of country, and I believe we gave satisfaction to the
people as well as to their prince. The revenue was never in arrears; and
many persons from distant parts of the country, hearing of our mild and
equitable mode of government, came and settled with us in our villages.
Our perquisites as revenue collectors yielded a handsome income, and
we lived happy and tranquilly. Still a restless spirit was within
me; I heard of the successes of various bands of Thugs in different
directions: men came and boasted of their exploits, and again I longed
to be at the head of my gallant fellows, and to roam awhile striking
terror into the country.

'Tis true I had gained the highest rank I could; I possessed fame;
not a Jemadar or Soobehdar of Thugs could compare his actions with
mine; but I vainly thought that there was more to be gained, and that
I had only to propose an expedition, to be joined by a larger number
of Thugs than had collected together for many years. In this I was not
disappointed, as you shall hear.

I have before mentioned to you the name of Ganesha Jemadar, he was
always with us when not on the road, envying our quiet and respectable
mode of life, which he could not attain by any means, though he left
none untried. He bribed all the rajah's court, nay the rajah himself,
to procure employment; but there was something so harsh and forbidding
in his aspect, and so uncouth were his manners, that he did not succeed
in what he so much longed for.

He came in despair to us, and after rating in no measured terms the
conduct of the rajah and his officers, said that he was determined
again to take to the road, for there alone he found occupation and
amusement. He pressed me to accompany and join him, pictured in strong
terms the booty we should gain and the glory we should win; and after
many demurs and objections on my part, I finally agreed. Notice was
given out to all the Thugs of that part of the country, that an
expedition of great magnitude would be undertaken after the ensuing
Dussera.

Accustomed as Azima had become to my temporary absences, after the
period of quiet I had passed with her, she now did not oppose my
leaving her, as she had done before. She thought it was some mercantile
speculation which led me from home, and, as you may believe, I did not
undeceive her. Rejoiced at the prospect of again serving under me,
all my own band, and many more, flocked to the place of rendezvous,
which was at some distance from Jhalone. Ganesha had upwards of a
hundred followers; and, finally, on the day of the Dussera, the usual
ceremonies were concluded in the presence of upwards of three hundred
Thugs, than whom a finer or more experienced band were never gathered
under any leader. I was justly proud of my charge; and my father, who
had accompanied me to the rendezvous, felt all his former fire kindle
within him. I pressed him to accompany us, and the old man consented.

Some were for trying a new line of road, and for penetrating into
Guzerat through Rajpootana. This question was fairly discussed in a
general assembly, and opinions being much balanced between that route
and our old one by Saugor and Jubbulpoor to Nagpoor, the matter was
referred to the decision of the omens. They were consulted as I have
before described; and as they decidedly pointed to the south, no
further doubt could be entertained upon the subject, and again we moved
on in our old direction, to us familiar, for there was not a man among
us who did not know every step of the road, and the best places for the
destruction of any persons whom chance might throw in our way.

We had proceeded nearly as far as Saugor, with but indifferent success,
considering our large body, having only killed fourteen travellers, and
got but little booty; when one night, as my father and myself, with a
few others, sat in our little tent, we heard the _ekarea_--that most
dreadful of all omens to a Thug. The ekarea is the short sharp bark
or call of the jackal, uttered in the first watch of the night: in
itself there is something peculiarly melancholy and appalling, but to
a Thug the sound is one of horror. In an instant all conversation was
at an end, and we gazed on each other in consternation and alarm. No
one spoke, we all listened intently; it might be repeated, which would
be worse than ever. It was; the sharp short bark was again heard, and
there was but little time for deliberation: all started to their feet.

"We must return instantly," said my father. "Bhowanee is unpropitious,
or danger threatens; at any rate to go on is impossible, for mark you
not that the sound came from the very direction of to-morrow's march?"

All agreed that it did, and were unanimous in their desire to return.
Still I could not divine why the bark of a jackal should change the
determination of three hundred men, and I ventured to say that I was
sure it was some mistake, and that, even if it were not, we ought to
proceed, since the omens had been so propitious at the commencement.
"Why!" said I to my father, "were they not so? Have we not worshipped
the pickaxe every seventh day according to the law? Have we not
performed all the necessary ceremonies on the death of every traveller?"

"That is all true," said my father; "but it is madness to think of
proceeding. Foolish boy! you have never known a reverse, thanks to
your good fortune, and the excellent advice by which you have been
guided; but beware how you disregard omens--it will one day lead
you to destruction. As to this matter, the designs of Bhowanee are
inscrutable, and she must be obeyed!"

Other Thugs too had heard the ekarea, and many came in a clamorous body
to the tent, begging either to be allowed to disperse, or to be led
back to Jhalone. Any words of mine would have been useless, for the
whole band seemed infected by superstitious fear; I therefore held my
peace. Our encampment was broken up instantly, and, late as it was, we
that night retrograded a few coss on the road by which we had come; no
fresh omen of favour was vouchsafed to us, and we retraced our steps to
Jhalone, disappointed, wearied and dispirited.

A month passed in idleness; but having formed my determination again
to take to the road, I was not to be put off, and again I assembled my
men and sought for omens. They were favourable, and I heartily prayed
to Bhowanee that they might not deceive us again into a fruitless
expedition. They pointed too to a different direction, that of the
west, and we knew that between Bombay and Indoor, and indeed through
all parts of Malwa, large treasures were constantly passing. We had
before, as you have heard, reaped the largest booty I had ever got in
that quarter, and I hoped to secure a like one again. We accordingly
left our home,--one hundred and twenty Thugs under myself and Peer
Khan, who still stuck to me. Ganesha had gone off in a different
direction--whither I knew not; his presence was always hateful to me;
why, I could not tell, and I could but ill disguise the feelings I
entertained towards him.

It was too long an expedition for my father to undertake, and
accordingly he stayed at our village. We met with no adventures worth
recording, Sahib, on our road to Bombay, for thither we were determined
to proceed in quest of plunder; besides, I had heard much of its
importance, and I felt a curiosity to behold the sea and the ships
of the Feringhees, which came over trackless waters from their far
country. But when I say that we met with no particular adventures, or
any worth recording, you must not think that we were idle. Thirty-one
travellers died by our hands; several escaped us, the omens being
against their destruction; and, finally, we reached Bombay, with about
four thousand rupees worth of plunder--enough to enable us to live
respectably. In Bombay we put up in the large bazar which is without
the fort; and although, from the danger of detection, we could not keep
together, yet a constant communication was kept up among us, and every
man held himself in readiness to start in any direction on a moment's
warning. I had appointed too a rendezvous, the town of Tannah, which
being close to the continent is a place where travellers congregate in
large numbers previous to passing over.

I saw the sea! Day after day I went down to its edge, and gazed on its
magnificence. I used to lie on the grass of the plain before the fort,
and pass hours of a sort of dreamy ecstasy, looking on its varying
aspect,--like that of a beautiful woman, now all smiles, and again
agitated by the passions of love,--or listening to its monotonous
and sullen roar, as wave after wave bowed its crest, and broke into
sparkling foam on the white sand.

I was lying thus one day, about the seventh after our arrival,
meditating on our inactive life, and had almost determined to depart
the next day, when a respectable-looking man came up to me. "Salam
Aliekoom!" said he; "you are evidently a stranger, for your dress and
carriage bespeak you to be an inhabitant of Hindostan. I have watched
you for two days coming to this spot and gazing on the sea; have you
never seen it before?"

"Never," replied I; "my home is, as you say, far inland, and in
Hindostan; you have thus guessed rightly: and to me, a stranger, can it
be otherwise than that I should be struck with a sight so novel and so
overpowering as this expanse of water is, which seems to melt into the
sky?"

"The tones of your voice are music in my ears," said the stranger; "I
have heard many from my country (for that is also Hindostan), but never
any which reminded me so strongly of my own home as yours. May I ask
your village?"

"I lived formerly in Murnae, in the Sindousé Pergunna," said I, "but
now reside in Jhalone."

"Murnae!" cried the man in astonishment; but he lowered his voice as he
said, "Ah, I remember now; 'tis on the borders of Sindia's country, and
belongs to him."

"Not now," said I; "the Feringhees have had it ceded to them, and they
possess it."

"But," said the man, changing the topic, "you love to look on the sea;
have you ever been on its surface? have you visited the ships you may
have seen moored before the town?"

"I have not," replied I; "I several times determined to go, but my
heart failed me when I saw the frail boat which should take me.
Besides, I am a stranger; no one would have admitted me, were I to have
gone to them."

"Will you accompany me?" said the man. "I have an idle day before me,
and shall be glad to pass it in your company."

I gladly assented, and we took our way to a stone pier which ran into
the sea on the outside of the fort. I could not divine with whom I had
thus scraped an acquaintance; all the Peons on the Bunder (for so the
pier was called) paid the greatest respect to my new friend; all made
low obeisances to him, and a scramble ensued among the owners of the
small boats which were tied to the landing-place, for the honour of
conveying us to the shipping.

He selected one, however, and pushing off, we were on the bosom of the
ocean. I confess I was afraid: though Jhalone was not far from the
Jumna, I had never seen that river, nor had I ever seen a boat before
my arrival at Bombay. Now each succeeding wave, as we descended from
the top of the last one, appeared as though it would roll over us;
but the men were fearless and experienced, and after a few qualms I
was reconciled to our situation. We rowed, for the wind was against
us, close round several of the ships which lay at anchor; and at last
ascended, with the permission of a Feringhee officer who was on board,
the side of an immense ship, which my friend told me was one of war,
and belonged to the king of England. After looking over the upper part,
a small gratuity of two rupees to a sailor enabled us to proceed below
to see the guns. I was astonished at their size, and at the exactness
with which everything was fitted; the ropes even were twisted down
into coils, like huge snakes sleeping, and the whole was a picture
of neatness and cleanliness which I little expected to have seen.
But these matters, Sahib, are doubtless familiar to you, so I will
pass them over. We returned to the shore with a fair wind, and as the
boatmen spread a small sail, we danced merrily along over the swelling
waters.

I was about to separate from my companion, and again protested my sense
of his kindness, when he stopped me. "No, Meer Sahib," said he, "I must
have further converse with you. I am much mistaken if you are not what
I was once, and am still whenever I can seize an opportunity."

I stared at him. Could he be a Thug? If he was not, he would not
understand our words of recognition; if he was, I should be right. I
did not hesitate. "Ali Khan Bhaee Salam!" said I, gazing intently at
him.

"Salam Aliekoom!" cried he. It was enough--he also was a Thug.

"Those words I have not heard for many a year," said he; "they remind
me of my early days, and the goor of the Tupounee."

"Then you have eaten it?" said I.

"I have," replied the man.

"Enough," cried I; "I have met with a friend; but who you are I am as
yet ignorant."

"Have you not ever heard of Soobhan Khan Jemadar?" he asked. "You say
you came from Murnae: surely I must be remembered there?"

"I have," answered I; "those who knew you have believed you dead. How
is it that you are here, and a person of authority?"

"I will tell you hereafter of my situation, but at present I have many
questions to ask of you--and first, is my good friend Ismail Jemadar
alive?"

"My father!" said I, "surely he is; the good old man has attained a
fine age, and is well."

"Shookur Khoda!" cried he; "but you said he was your father; surely he
had no children--he was not even married when I left."

"Ah," said I, "so it might have been then, but here am I to speak for
myself."

"And Hoosein, his and my friend, does he too live?"

"Alas, no! he died two years ago, full of age and honour." (I have not
mentioned this event to you, Sahib, but it had taken place soon after I
returned from my Pindharee expedition.)

He continued to ask after many of his old friends, and at last inquired
how many men I had with me. I told him, and he was somewhat astonished
at their number.

"Well," said he, "you are here, and it will be hard if I cannot find
some work for you. I have told you I am a Thug, and have been so from
my youth: my father and ancestors were Thugs before me. But, many years
ago, I came here as the servant to a Sahoukar of Indoor. I liked the
place, and not long after got employment as a government Peon, in the
service of the English. They have been kind and generous masters to me;
I have served them well, and have risen by degrees to the rank I now
hold, which is that of Jemadar. Why I left my station as a Jemadar of
Thugs is perhaps unknown to you?"

I replied that I did not know.

"It was in consequence of a foolish quarrel with your father," said
he. "We were on an expedition, and I thought he assumed too much; we
were both young men, of fiery blood,--we had a sharp altercation, and
both drew our swords: he was my superior, and I feared that he would
condemn me to death. I fled, entered the service of the Sahoukar as
one of his escort from Indoor, and you see what I am. Yet I have never
forsaken the Thugs whenever I have met with them. I am too old to seek
adventures myself, but I put the young and active in the way of them,
and thus have kept up my connexion with them; not, it is true, with
those of Hindostan, for a feeling of shame has hitherto prevented my
doing so; but since Bhowanee has thrown you in my way, you shall not
regret it. My acquaintance has been with the Thugs of the Dukhun, and
I have headed one or two expeditions towards Poona, when I could get
leave of absence for a while from my duties. But when I could not do
this, I have secured bands of travellers for my associates, and they
have been successful. I have too, by the share of the booty I was
entitled to, been able to purchase the goodwill of those who could
befriend me; and your servant Soobhan Khan enjoys a high character
among the Sahib-logue for honesty and fidelity."

"I do not doubt it," said I; "your appearance insures respect; your
manners are courtly: and how could it be otherwise?"

Thus conversing, we reached his house; it was not far from where I was
residing; and, as he told me afterwards, he had discovered who we were,
and had followed me from place to place, until he got an opportunity
of speaking with me unobserved. From this time, as you may believe,
Sahib, we were sworn friends. I listened to his details of roguery (for
rogue he was in his heart) with great interest, and I accompanied him
several times to the durbar of the gentleman with whom his duties were
connected. He was evidently a person well thought of, and as far as
his office was concerned--that of keeping the peace, was zealous and
active. Still there was something forbidding to me in the way he now
followed his profession of a Thug; and as we became more intimately
acquainted, he unfolded to me his plans and operations. I cannot tell
you, Sahib, of their extent. He introduced me to the Jemadars of Dukhun
Thugs who scoured the roads to Poona, to Nassuk, to Sholapoor, and
Hyderabad; to others from Guzerat, who were engaged in that part of the
country,--but all under his control, and from all of whom he exacted
a high rate of tribute as the price of the information he was able to
give them, as to the despatch of treasure in various directions by the
sahoukars and merchants of Bombay.

I had remained with him a week, and our stock of money was sensibly
diminishing. What was to be done? He had promised assistance in giving
me information of the despatch of treasure in our direction, and I had
hitherto waited in expectation that he would fulfil his promise. I was
tired too of Bombay; the season was advancing, and I hardly thought we
should reach Jhalone before the setting in of the rains. I therefore
went to him, and frankly told him our money was running short, and
that in a place like Bombay, where my men were exposed to so many
temptations, they could not be expected to keep what they had; I was
therefore anxious to depart, and, if he could give me no hope of any
speedy booty, that I should set off in two days, and take my chance on
the road.

"My plans are not quite matured in your direction," said he. "I have
heard that one of the greatest traders to Indoor and Malwa is about
to send not less than two lakhs of rupees thither. I know that the
Rokurreas are hired; but as yet I cannot say whether they carry
hoondees or money. Three days ought to determine this, and in the mean
time, as you want money, a thousand rupees are at your service, which
you can repay me, with interest at three per cent. per month, on your
arrival at Jhalone. I will trust to your good faith as the son of my
old friend."

"I am obliged to you," replied I; "but the money is not quite so
necessary as I said. I believe every man has some twenty or thirty
rupees in his possession; but it was to prevent their spending this
that I spoke to you as I did. Only say that within a week we may start,
and my men will be careful."

"Certainly," said he, "before a week's time; come to me to-morrow
evening after prayer-time, and you shall have further news about your
bunij."

The interest-eating rascal! said I, as I left him. He a true believer!
Strange I have never heard of him from my father; but I will ask him
about the fellow on my return home, and doubt not I shall hear some
evil or rascality of him. Not a rupee of his money will I touch, the
kafir! A Thug to take interest from a Thug--who ever heard of it? I
dare say he is as bad as the villanous Bhutteara we killed at Saugor.
Nor was I wrong, Sahib. I became intimate with a Dukhun Jemadar who was
waiting for bunij, who told me that he ground the Thugs unmercifully,
threatened to denounce them if they ever demurred, and got from them
double the share he would have been entitled to had he shared the risk
and the danger on the road.

"But," said the Jemadar, "there is no doing without him, much as he
oppresses us; he throws the most valuable booty into our hands, which
we never could get scent of by ourselves; he has a number of Thugs who
are his servants, and whom he pays liberally to get him information;
he possesses the confidence of the sahoukars, as he assists them
to smuggle; they pay him too for a kind word now and then with the
Sahib-logue. In fine, he is paid both by them and us, and he contrives
to sell all our valuable plunder."

"Then his receipts must be enormous," said I.

"They are," said the Jemadar, "and we all grudge them to him; but still
he protects us, and we could not do without him."

"Has he ever been treacherous?" I asked; for, by Alla! I was inclined
to mistrust the rascal.

"There are some stories of the kind," he replied, "but in the main he
is to be trusted. Still, as I said, if he were not, we could do nothing
without him; he knows every Jemadar of the Dukhun, and could if he
chose blow up the whole system to-morrow; but it does not suit his
interest to do so, and we are all his slaves."

"Long may ye continue to be so!" cried I to Peer Khan when he had left
me; "but as for us, brother, 'tis the last time he will catch us here.
What say you?"

"Certainly," said Peer Khan; "these fellows are never to be trusted;
they exist everywhere, in all shapes: they are zemindars and potails
of villages; they are Fakeers and bhuttearas; they are goosaens,
sahoukars, servants, and mutsuddees; nay, the Rajah of Jhalone is one
himself. They are an evil 'tis true, but we could not do without them."

"I have done so as yet," said I, "and, by Alla! I will never trust one
of them."

"May you never have occasion, Meer Sahib." And the conversation dropped.

I went as I had promised, and found Soobhan Khan in high glee. "I have
secured the bunij," said he. "Are you ready?"

"I am. What are your orders?"

"Listen," he replied. "I was right in saying the sum was two lakhs.
Contrary to my expectations, the sum is in gold and silver and jewels;
there are about ten thousand rupees in hoondees (bills), but that is
all. Now before I tell you more, we must make our bargain."

"Speak," cried I; "I am ready to give anything in reason."

"Ay, you are my old friend's son, so I must not treat you as I do the
others I associate with," said he; "from them I get a third of the
whole, but from you I ask only a fifth. A fifth will be twenty thousand
rupees. Will you give it?"

"With pleasure," said I. "You may trust to my word; directly I get the
money, and reach Jhalone, I will purchase a hoondee on Bombay, and send
it you."

"Capital!" cried he; "you are a man I like to deal with: no unnecessary
talk, no haggling like a bunnea, but you speak like a soldier as you
are. Now give me a promise under your seal that I shall have the money,
and I will detail the plan to you. The paper is a mere matter of form,
and I am methodical."

I objected to this, and his brow darkened; I saw it, and instantly
altered what I had expressed: "Get me writing materials, and I will
write it out."

"What! you write? a Thug write? But never mind, since you are able to
do it, so much the better: there will be no need of a third person."

I wrote the paper, and handed it to him, having sealed it with my
seal: he folded it carefully up, and tucked it into a fold of his
turban. "Now we are all right, Meer Sahib. This treasure goes under
the escort of fifteen Rokurreas; they have three camels, and will be
disguised as soldiers, going from Poona to Indoor. They left this
place yesterday, with part of the treasure; the rest is at Poona: from
Poona they will go to Nassuk, where you will fall in with them: trust
me, my information is correct to the minutest particular. I know the
sahoukars who send it; I have spoken with the Rokurreas; and to ensure
your being unsuspected by them, here is a pass written in Persian and
Mahratta, signed and sealed by the English officers of customs here. It
represents you as persons who have come from Benares in charge of goods
for a sahoukar by name Hurree-das, and directs that no one shall molest
you on your return. The men who brought the goods are still here, and
likely to remain till the end of the rains. Their leader's name is
Futih Mahomed, so Futih Mahomed you must be if you please; he, too, is
about your own age and appearance, and thus you will be better able to
personate him. You see I have laid a good plan, and I leave all the
rest to your own judgment. Make the best of your way to Nassuk; wait
there four days, and on the fifth you will see your bunij, if you keep
a proper look out. Now go, make your preparations, and may Bhowanee
send you success. Remember Soobhan Khan, and return as speedily as you
like; I have no doubt I shall have found fresh work for you."

"You may depend on me, Khan Sahib," said I; "I will not be long away
from you. Your plan is an admirable one; and, Inshalla! your twenty
thousand rupees are as safe to you as though you even now had them in
your possession."

"Remember me with many kind words to your father, Ameer Ali," continued
he; "would he come thus far to see an old friend, and forgive him for
the past?"

"Of that I have but little hope," said I; "he is old and infirm, and
never leaves his village: but he shall write to you."

"Enough, enough," said the Khan; "I have much to accuse myself of in
the past; but 'tis a long time ago, and he has most likely forgotten my
foolish conduct."

I left him, but made an inward determination to be guided entirely by
my father's counsel as to whether one cowree of the twenty thousand
rupees should be paid or not. "And," said Peer Khan afterwards, "twenty
thousand rupees--the old villain! _He_ get it! Ah, Meer Sahib, we shall
be the brothers of owls and jackasses if he ever sees one rupee!"

The next morning we were on our return to Jhalone, and we halted
between Bombay and Tannah for the day. Our pass was of much use, for it
was respected and obeyed; and, the day after, we passed Tannah and the
different revenue guard-houses without interruption.



CHAPTER XL.


"Shookur Khoda!" cried Peer Khan, as he rushed into my presence on
the fourth day after we had arrived at Nassuk; "Soobhan Khan was
right--they are come!"

"Are you sure, Khan?"

"Certain," he replied; "the description we had of them tallies with
what I have seen in every point. Come and see yourself; there are the
camels and the men disguised. But I could have sworn, had I met them
anywhere, that they were Rokurreas; they have the air and bearing of
the tribe."

"Enough," said I, "_you_ cannot be deceived. They do not know we are
here, and we will do the same as we did at Boorhanpoor. Get the men
ready; we will go round the town, travel a coss or two, and enter by
the same gate they did: we will then put up in the bazar with them."

We were all shortly in motion, and, as I had planned, after going round
the outside of the town, we entered it on the other side, and were soon
in our new quarters in the bazar.

Travellers soon get acquainted. The shop I chose adjoined the one they
occupied, and I had quickly scraped an acquaintance with the Jemadar of
the Rokurreas.

Narrayun Das, for that was his name, was a tall and very powerful
man; he had small twinkling eyes, and long straight eyebrows, which,
by binding his turban tightly over his temples, he had drawn up in
diagonal lines to either side, and this imparted to them a very
peculiar expression: long mustachios, which were twisted out to each
side, and thick bushy whiskers, and his whole appearance proved him to
be an experienced Rokurrea, and one to whom deceit and stratagem were
familiar. I shall have a cunning hand to deal with here, thought I, as
I scanned his features; no common pretences will go down with him; but
have him I must and will, ay, and his two lakhs too. Two lakhs! it is
worth an effort were he Roostum himself. Yet he was not slow in forming
an acquaintance with me. Our salutations passed in due form, and after
we had all cooked our morning meal, and sat on our carpets, we soon
entered into familiar conversation.

"A pretty business Bajee Rao has made of it," said he, as I had asked
him the news from Poona. "The coward! had he but put himself at the
head of his army when the fight took place at Kirkee, he might have
annihilated the Feringhees."

"And do you wish that he had?" said I.

"Certainly; what do we know of them? While they confined themselves to
the fort of Bombay, it was all very well,--and I remember the time when
they had hardly a foot of ground beyond it; but now, little by little
they have advanced, until they have upset the Mahratta empire, and are
in a fair way to take it."

"But," said I, "Bajee Rao has a good army, all the country is his own,
and surely he will do something. The Mahrattas are good soldiers, and
he has leaders of renown with him."

"He will do nothing, Meer Sahib; he will run from place to place, and
his army may fight if they can or will: he will never draw a sword. The
cowardly wretch has not the soul of a flea."

"Well, Jemadar, to me it matters little; I have forsworn soldiering,
and find that I can get a good livelihood by escorting treasure and
goods. I am just come from Benares, and the sahoukar who employed me
has sent for more, which I am to bring down to him."

"Ah!" cried he, "so you are in that line. Well, it is a good one if
you have plenty of men, but a sorely troublesome and difficult one if
you have few. I speak from experience, for I am in the same business
myself. I have been lucky, but my poor brother was otherwise; he fell
by the hands of thieves between here and Indoor; we heard of him from
Boorhanpoor, but beyond that we could get no tidings of him."

"Strange!" said I: "I never heard of thieves on the road, though
my kafila would have been worth plundering. But now I am under the
protection of the Sahib-logue, I care not; they will soon have all the
country, and there will be no danger in another year."

"Under the protection of the Feringhees! how do you mean? I thought you
said you served a sahoukar."

"So I do," I replied; "but to ensure my safe return, his friend Soobhan
Khan got me this pass, which he said would be respected throughout the
country;" and I pulled out the document, which I had carefully folded
up in wax-cloth, and showed it to him.

"You are fortunate, Meer Sahib, and particularly in knowing Soobhan
Khan, who is a worthy man and one deservedly respected; I have known
him for many years; he has always been a good friend to me, and has
got me employment when I most required it, by becoming security for me
to a large amount. But you said that you had given up soldiering; in
this you have been wise; far preferable is it to gain an honourable
livelihood than be marched in all directions, with but little pay, and
hard fighting for that. With whom have you served?"

"You must not tell any one," said I; "for every man who has served the
man I have would desire it to be a secret, and perhaps the knowledge of
my former life might be against my present interests. I served under
Cheetoo Pindharee, and led three thousand of his best horse."

"Under Cheetoo!" cried the Jemadar; "this is most strange; and you are
not joking?"

"I am not, I swear by your head; I dare say I could find some papers to
convince you of the fact if you doubt it. But, as I said, I do not like
to tell any one."

"You need not fear me," said he, "I am as close as a Rokurrea, and
you know the saying is proverbial; but you must have seen strange
adventures and strange lands, for they say he got nearly to Madras, and
left the Feringhees' country a desert behind him."

"I shall be glad to tell you some of my adventures, Jemadar Sahib, and
perhaps they may interest you, though it hardly befits a man to speak
of his own deeds."

"Nay, there is nothing to be ashamed of, Meer Sahib; and as for being a
Pindharee, the best in the land were with him; and a gallant army they
were when the first Lubhur assembled at Nemawur."

"Then you were there?"

"I was. I brought some treasure from Indoor and Oojein to the sahoukars
at Nemawur, and saw the whole of the preparations for the campaign;
and Bhugwan knows I was so taken with the appearance of the whole,
that could I have got a horse, I verily believe I should have turned
Pindharee myself. They say every man filled his saddle with gold and
pearls."

"We were lucky enough," said I, "especially in the first expedition.
Had you come to Nemawur before the second had set out, you would have
heard of me; I had a good name and a high rank. In the first I was
nobody, and gained Cheetoo's favour solely because I was a better
swordsman than any in his camp."

"Then I have heard of you," said the man; "but surely you cannot be
that Syud Ameer Ali who was only second to Ghuffoor Khan?"

"I am the very person, and no other," I replied; "true, my rank
is fallen, but whose has not? Cheetoo is dead; Ghuffoor Khan has
disappeared, and is supposed to have gone to Hyderabad; Syud Bheekoo is
God knows where; and Shekh Dulla still roams about the hills between
Boorhanpoor and Ellichpoor, with a price set on his head. No one knew
much of me, and I suspect, so long as I behave peacefully and follow
my present calling, no one will ask after me. I had enough of being a
Pindharee after the second foray, and got to my home at Jhalone as soon
as I could. If the others had been wise, they would have sought their
safety as I did."

"Yes," said the jemadar, "Cheetoo's was a sad fate--he deserved a
better; but they say the Sahib-logue offered him a Jagheer,--is this
true?"

"So I have heard," said I; "fool that he was, he would not accept it;
but no wonder, his whole soul was bound up in his plans for driving out
the Feringhees. He thought the Mahrattas would beat them; and when they
had gained the first victory, he was to have joined them with fifteen
thousand horse, and become a great commander. I should have followed
him too, had they been successful; but they were not, nor ever will be;
and I am what you see me."

"A strange history," said the man, "and you have told me more than I
ever knew before. Had the Peshwa and the Rajah of Nagpoor played their
parts as well as Cheetoo, all would have gone right; but it is useless
to think of them, and I suppose we must make up our minds to our new
masters. Now, however, you and I, Meer Sahib, must not separate. I am
going to Indoor for some treasure, and your best way lies through it;
I will keep with you, for your party is a large one, and, to tell you
the truth, I don't like passing those jungles by the Sindwah Ghat with
my own. The Bheels are taking advantage of the present disturbances to
be all in arms. Bands of deserters from the Peshwa traverse the country
in all directions, helping themselves to what they can; and they are
not over scrupulous either. So we will keep together, if you like, for
mutual protection."

"I shall be glad to do so," said I; "though I have nothing to lose,
except two or three thousand rupees, and whoever comes to take them
will get more blows than money."

"And I have still less," said he; "I have only enough to pay my
expenses and feed my camels; but I am no great hand at fighting, and
am not mounted as you are, to run from danger." But the heavily-laden
pack-saddles belied his words. I was not to be deceived, and felt as
sure that the coveted treasure was there as that the Rokurrea who
guarded it was before me.

We shortly afterwards separated; and when I was alone with Peer Khan I
told him what I had said, and how I had deceived the Rokurrea. A long
and hearty laugh we had over it. "But I fear for you, Meer Sahib," said
he. "Compare his power and your own slight frame. You must risk nothing
now."

I laughed. "His power, Khan!" I said, "what is it to that of many who
have fallen under my hand before now? Besides, he is the brother of
the Rokurrea we killed beyond Boorhanpoor, and he must be mine at all
hazards. I would not miss this adventure for thousands."

"I will tell you what," said Peer Khan, "it will never do to kill them
so far from Indoor; let us get them as near to the city as possible,
and we shall be the nearer our own home. This matter will cause a stir,
and we had better not risk anything."

"Well, be it as you will. I had intended to have killed them near
Boorhanpoor, and then to have turned off directly into the hills; we
should never be followed."

"Ay, and risk Shekh Dulla and his party, who are out?" said Peer Khan;
"that would never do. He would plunder us; and as he knows us, would
most like serve us as Cheetoo did the poor fellows who were caught."

"Astaffur Alla!" cried I, shuddering. "God forbid! no, your plan is the
best. We will entice them out of the towns before we have gone many
marches, and then they are our own when and wherever we please."

I pass over our journey, Sahib; all journeys are alike devoid of
interest, and only one routine of dusty roads, parching sun (for the
Rokurreas would not travel by night), bad food, and discomfort of
all kinds. We met with no adventure, except being robbed of trifling
articles at different places; and we fully succeeded in persuading
the Rokurreas to encamp with us, as we adhered to our old custom
of preferring the outside of the villages to entering them, where,
besides the additional fear of thieves, there was more dust, more
dirt, more heat, and continual squabbles with the villagers. My men
had behaved admirably. No one could have told, from the broad patois
they spoke, that they were aught but what they represented themselves
to be,--Benares-walas, and Bhojpoorees: they looked as stupid a set of
owls as could well be collected together; but they played their parts,
to a man, with the extreme caution and cunning on which rested the
success of our enterprise.

After all, Sahib, cannot you now understand the excitement which
possesses the soul of a Thug in his pursuit of men? Cannot you feel
with us, as you hear my story, and follow us in my recital? Here had
we kept company with these Rokurreas for twenty days; we had become
intimate; they told their adventures, we told ours; the evenings passed
in singing or telling tales, until one by one we sunk down wearied upon
our carpets. Cannot you appreciate the intense interest with which we
watched their every movement, nay, every word which fell from them, and
our terrible alarms, as sometimes our minds misgave us that we were
suspected? Yet still we stuck to them through everything, they were
never lost sight of for a moment, and, above all, their minds were kept
happy.

As to their leader, he was delighted with me. My accounts of my
adventures as a Pindharee, the plunder we had got, the towns we had
burned and sacked, all were to him interesting, and day by day I told
him of new exploits. He used to sit, and the rest of his men too,
listening with unfeigned pleasure to the accounts which I and Peer Khan
gave. Cunning as they were, at heart they were honest and simple, and
they readily believed all we told them.

But their time had drawn near. Indoor was five marches further, and
delay was now impracticable and useless; besides, to insure their safe
arrival, I knew they had determined on going thirty coss in one march,
and my men could not keep up with these hardy fellows. "Come what
will," said I to Peer Khan, "they die to-morrow night."

The time came. We were sitting, as usual, under the same noble
tamarind-trees; one by one we had sung our song or related our
adventures; and who could have guessed, had he seen us thus engaged,
that a work of death was to ensue? Every tongue was employed, and the
hearty laugh which broke at times from one or other of the assembly,
showed how light and merry were our hearts,--we, at the certainty of
our success, the Rokurreas, at the thought that the peril of the road
was past, and that their large amount of treasure would reach its
destination in safety: there was not a grave face among us.

"There," cried the Jemadar of the Rokurreas, "there is the moon; when
she has risen over the trees yonder, we will bid you farewell, kind
Meer Sahib; we have been happy in your company, and free from alarms
and danger. Bhugwan grant that we may hereafter journey in company, and
as safely as we have done! Thanks to your care in protecting us outside
the villages, we have not lost a cowree; and we have been taught a new
mode of encamping, which we will follow in future. The moon will last
us the whole night, and we shall have twenty coss of ground behind us
by the time you wake from your night's sleep."

The Thugs had taken their places; to each Rokurrea were four stout men
allotted, and I marvelled that they should have thus allowed themselves
to be separated from each other. But they had not suspected; who
_could_ have done so? The moon rose majestically above the distant
trees; her full, round, and yellow orb cast a mellow light upon our
group. The Rokurreas rose with one accord, and each turned to the men
he was near to give them his parting benediction and salutation.

"Nay," said I, "we part not thus, Narrayun Das; let us separate
as friends; receive my embrace; we are friends and brothers by
profession." We embraced, and before the others could press forward to
salute me, I gave the jhirnee: "Pan lao!" I exclaimed. It was enough.
The Jemadar fell beneath my own handkerchief, and a few shrieks and
groans told the rest--all had died.

"Haste ye, my good fellows," cried I to the Lughaees; "the same bright
moon which was to have served these fellows shines brightly upon us;
quick with your work, the camels are ready, and a few hours will see us
safe from pursuit, though indeed none is to be apprehended from this
small place."

The bodies were stripped; every fellow had a heavy humeana, besides
what was laden on the camels. We stopped not to count our money, but
hastened on when the interment was finished; and only tarrying for a
few moments at the next village we came to, to purchase the goor for
the Tupounee, we found ourselves in the morning nearly twenty coss
from the scene of our last night's adventure.

We halted till the evening, and again pushed on, but by a different
road; and leaving Indoor about fifteen coss to the right, we directed
our course to a small village named Dehalpoor. From this, leaving
Oojein also to the right, we hastened on, always travelling by night on
account of the extreme heat of the weather, and by way of Buhadoorgurh
and Aorcha, we reached Jhalone in safety. No alarm had we but one. The
revenue officers on the frontier of Holkar's dominions insisted on
knowing who we were, and what we had with us; and so strict were their
inquiries, that, had it not been for the English pass I had with me,
we must have been suspected and apprehended. But, thanks to Soobhan
Khan, it was not questioned; as Futih Mahomed I passed free. A duty,
or rather an exaction, of fifty rupees was levied on the treasure, and
a fresh pass given to us, by which we escaped further questioning and
detention. Who can describe my father's joy at seeing the treasure!
the old man was in ecstasy: he kissed me, he embraced me, called me
by every endearing name, and extolled my conduct in glowing terms to
Ganesha, who happened to be with him. It was easy to see, however, that
to that worthy they might well have been spared. Jealousy possessed
him, which he could ill disguise, and I verily believe, had he dared,
that he would have informed the Rajah of the treasure we had secured.
In the memory of the oldest Thug, no such booty had ever been gained,
and I was classed by the Thugs with Jhora Naeck and Kuduk Bunwaree,
fabled votaries of Bhowanee, of whom stories were told which, though
implicitly believed by most, nay all of our fraternity, I never
credited. But it was enough for me. I had never met a reverse, and
every Thug of Hindostan, I verily believe, only thought he must join me
to secure to himself a booty which would support him for years.

I have forgotten, however, to mention to you an incident which befell
us at Buhadoorgurh. We were encamped outside the town, and late in the
evening we saw a body of men, whom we at first took to be Thugs, coming
towards our camp.

"Who can they be?" said I to Peer Khan; "they look like Thugs, yet it
is late for any party to be out."

"Some straggling party, I suppose," said he; "I will go and see."

"If they are Thugs and you know them," I added, "bring them, but say
not a word of our booty."

"No, no, I am not such a fool," said he laughing; "but I will bring you
the news."

He went, and returned with the leader of the party. I had purposely
kept in my little tent, in order that my face might not be seen in
case they were strangers; and to conceal it effectually, I tied a
handkerchief over my mouth and chin.

"Salam Aliekoom," said a gruff voice, as a man with Peer Khan entered
the tent.

"You are welcome, friend," said I: "sit down." He was evidently weary
with travel, and seated himself slowly.

"Your name," said I; "and who are you?"

"My name," replied the man, "is well known, I dare say, to most people,
and they are afraid of it. I am called Lall Khan, or familiarly Lalloo."

"I have not heard it before," said I; "but who are you and your men?"

"Oh, we are free traders, who help ourselves to what we can get with a
strong hand." Some wandering Pindharees, thought I; and I asked him if
they were such.

"Not exactly," said he; "we are Dacoos."

"Worse and worse," said I, laughing; "and I suppose you are from Delhi?"

"Ay," replied he, "even so; we know you, though you do not know us. We
know you to be Thugs by your encampment--but never fear us;--brethren
should not interfere with each other; we have different ways of helping
ourselves to spoil, but what matter; we are brothers in a general sense
of the word."

"Good, we are; and if I can help you, say so."

"In no wise," said he, "but to give us room among ye for the night: we
will be off early, if you do not go the same road."

"Room ye shall have, Khan, till the moon rises, and food too; but after
that we are off; we travel northwards."

"Then it cannot be helped," he replied; "we will stay here till you go,
and occupy your ground afterwards; we shall not be suspected."

"And where are you going?" I asked.

"To Hyderabad," said the man. "No one suspects Dacoos to be out at this
time of the year, and we shall have the whole road to ourselves; we
shall return after the rains, about the Dussera, by the Nagpoor road.
Now we are going by Bhopal and Boorhanpoor."

"And your luck?" said I; "have you had good bunij?" (for this word was
understood by them, and is common to all classes of people who do their
work on the roads).

"Middling," said he, "neither good nor bad. We have had a few affairs,
but nothing to boast of."

"Well," said I, "you have taken a good line; the road from Boorhanpoor
to Hyderabad is a good one, and you will be in Sikundur Jah's country,
where no one asks questions about the people who are left on the
highways. I wish you good luck, and my friend will look after your
comforts: you must excuse me, as I am in pain from a swelled face and
toothache."

"Salam!" said he, as he departed: "if you were going instead of
returning, we might get good plunder in company; we Dacoos are rare
hands at rough work."

I had spoken in a disguised voice, and it was impossible he could
recognize me again if he met me. I did this for an object which
occurred to me at the moment, as you shall learn hereafter. I mentioned
this meeting to my father. "What hinders us," said I, "from meeting
them as they come up? they will be laden with spoil, and will be an
easy prey. Brave and reckless as they are, they have no wit, and will
never find us out."

"I don't know that," said my father; "they are not so stupid as you
think; I know much of them, have killed some of them, and they were
cunning enough. Several gangs of them have escaped Thugs by being able
to detect them. However, I see nothing objectionable in your plan; and
at any rate, it will furnish excuse for a new expedition."

"Ay," said Ganesha, who was present, "let us go; I long to see the
Meer Sahib act. We hear so much of him, that, by Bhowanee, perhaps an
unlucky old Thug like myself may pick up something new. Will you let me
come also?"

"Certainly," said I; "but you will see no more than you know already;
lucky I have been, but you know my pretensions to knowledge are very
small, and I have never boasted of them. To my perception, the whole
art consists in having a smooth tongue in one's head; and a man who is
a good Bhuttote rarely makes a good Sotha."

"Yet you are both, Meer Sahib," said Ganesha, with a malicious grin;
"and your men would follow you to the death."

"So they will," said I; "for I am kind and considerate to them, and
reward them handsomely."

This stung him to the quick; for he was a rough bully, and, though
perhaps one of the best Bhuttotes then living, was no hand at
inveigling travellers; and as he always persisted in being a Sotha
himself, he was notoriously unlucky; but few men, too, would serve
under him. He was preparing to retort sharply, when my father stopped
him.

"Let him alone," said he; "he is a proud boy, and bickerings among us
lead to no good: you must not think on what he has said."

"Nay, Ismail," said he, with the air of an offended child, "I care not
what he says; pride will have its fall, and I may live to see it."

I was very angry, but there was no use in saying more. Had we been
alone, he should have answered for it.--So you see, Sahib, out of a
trifling incident a new expedition was determined on. We all prayed it
might be more favourable than the former one which was planned in that
direction, and I confess that my success in the last had strengthened
my faith in the efficacy of the omens, though as yet by no means
established it. Experience, they say, is always bought at a costly
price, and is bitter when you have got it; and I had to buy mine,
though the time was not yet come.

But Soobhan Khan, who was he? said I to Ameer Ali; and did you pay him
his price of blood?

Not a cowree of it, said Ameer Ali; but you shall hear. I asked my
father who he was, and detailed the whole of my adventures with him: he
remembered the man the instant I spoke of him.

"The rascal!" cried my father; "and is he so rich and honoured, the son
of a vile woman? To think that he should be in such a situation, the
scoundrel! But the deeds of Alla are inscrutable. Listen, my son, to
his story, which can be told in a few words.

"He and I were Jemadars together. I never liked him, and he had a bad
reputation; he was never a good Bhuttote, for the fellow was an arrant
coward, but he was a capital Sotha, and his smooth tongue gained him
more bunij than we could gain by straightforward work. Well, many years
ago we joined together, he to be Sotha, and I to manage the other work.
We had killed a large body of travellers near Jeypoor, for we had a
numerous gang. Two were sahoukars, and the booty was large. Among it
were some pearls and precious stones; they were given over to his party
as their share, and he said he would go to Indoor to sell them; but I
had lent him nearly a thousand rupees at different times, when he had
no money to make advances to men to induce them to serve under him, and
I pressed him for some of the pearls, which I wanted for my wife, in
payment of the money. This was late one night, after we had divided the
spoil; he said he would give me them in the morning, when I could pick
out the strings I liked best; and he spoke so winningly, that I, fool
as I was, never doubted him. That night he absconded, and I never heard
of him till this extraordinary account of yours. Pay him!" continued
my father, "not the value of a broken cowree shall he ever get; in
any other man I might have pardoned it, but in him the conduct was
ingratitude in the highest degree; for had I not assisted and upheld
him, he would have been neglected and have starved."

This then was the secret of Soobhan Khan's wealth; he must have sold
his pearls one by one, as he had hinted to me that he had traded in
them, and raised himself by bribery to the state he was in. Of course I
neither sent him his money as I had promised, nor wrote him a line to
say that I had arrived safely at Jhalone. I destroyed his pass too, as
it might have led to detection.



CHAPTER XLI.


I have told you of my popularity among the Thugs, and when it became
known that a new expedition was planned, and would set out after the
Dussera, so many men offered themselves that I was obliged to reject
numbers, and select those whom I knew, from experience and character,
would be likely to behave best. Among them were a few who were
excellent musicians and singers. I had before, on many occasions, felt
the want of such men, to amuse travellers with whom I had fallen in;
and these were particularly acceptable to me at the present time, as
the expedition was a large one; and the country being quieter and more
settled than it had been for some years, we were assured that the roads
would be full of persons of rank and consequence travelling to and from
their homes. In order that our band might have the greater appearance
of respectability, I begged of my father to accompany us; for his
venerable appearance and polished manners would, I was certain, do more
to insure us success than all our most cunning stratagems.

Nor was I neglectful of the Rajah; from time to time I visited his
durbar, and was always received with the greatest civility and
attention, as indeed I deserved; for not only was I a good servant
to him, but as numbers of Thugs had settled around me in different
villages, the revenue they paid for his protection and connivance at
our work amounted to a handsome sum yearly; and I need not say it was
punctually paid, for upon this mainly depended our concealment. In
the last expedition, however, I had pleaded poverty on my return, and
though I could have well spared five thousand rupees from my own share,
I was content with presenting as my nuzzur a gun I had purchased in
Bombay for two hundred rupees, and a small string of pearls which I had
found among the treasure of the Rokurreas; and he seemed satisfied; but
it was merely the feigned content which precedes a violent outbreak
of discontent or passion. He was our bitter, deadly enemy, though he
cloaked his designs under the garb of friendship, and was gradually
perfecting his schemes for our destruction.

We set out. I have nothing new or interesting to relate to you of the
manner in which our preparations were made and completed. Azima too,
poor soul, never dreamed of what we were: it was enough for her to know
that every new expedition brought her new ornaments and better clothes,
and enabled her to live in a higher and more expensive manner. I had
been enabled to add greatly to my house, and it was now as comfortable
and spacious as I could desire. She knew too that, with increased
wealth, she could look for a higher alliance for our daughter, our
only child; and she had even now received proposals of marriage for
her, some of which were in every way advantageous, and with persons
unconnected with our profession, of which I was glad; for, knowing full
well that one mischance, or one traitor among us, would hurl me at once
from my prosperity, I was desirous of marrying her to some one who
could protect her, and be free from any dangers similar to those I was
myself exposed to.

I however bade Azima wait, because (as I told her) the journey I
was about to undertake would be infallibly prosperous, and a fresh
addition to our already ample means would enable us to have the
marriage ceremony performed in a manner fitting or perhaps exceeding
our pretensions. She readily acceded to my request; for if there be
one thing more than another about which a matron of Hindostan is
solicitous, it is the marriage of her child; not as regards happiness
I must own, though perhaps there may be a lurking wish that she may
be happy; but the main matter is, that her clothes shall be of the
best and richest materials, her jewels many and of value, and the
whole of the establishment which she takes to her new lord of the most
substantial description; that they may last her for years, and procure
for her mother the goodwill of the female members of her husband's
family. Nothing is productive of more quarrels among the females
than that anything should appear indifferent; remarks are made, and
reproaches are bandied about between the united families; and out of
these soon grows an enmity which never cools. Many a marriage, which
promised well at its outset, has been marred in its joyous termination
by fault being found with the equipments of the bride, which are always
submitted for inspection to her female relations before they become her
own property for ever.

But I am digressing, and must return to my own adventures. We left
Jhalone as before, upwards of three hundred Thugs, under my father,
Ganesha, Peer Khan, and myself. We gave out along the road that we were
servants of the Nizam, and were returning to our service at Hyderabad
after our periodical leave of absence; this was necessary, for our
numbers without it would have provoked suspicion.

Never shall I forget the first matter we took in hand; not that there
was anything remarkable in the destruction of four men, but it was
attended by a sad result, which damped the spirits of the party for
many days afterwards, and from which _one_ never recovered. Peer Khan
had a nephew, a boy of about ten years old, a noble little fellow,
beautiful in his features, and intelligent beyond his years. As you may
imagine, he was a great favourite among us all, and I had repeatedly
asked Peer Khan to allow me to adopt him as my son, to supply the place
of the child I had lost: but he would not hear of it, for the child was
the son of a beloved sister who was dead; the boy's father had also
died about two years before, and Peer Khan had taken him to his home,
and loved him as his own.

The little fellow rode a spirited pony which I had given him, was
always in the van of the party, and amused us by his mimic feats of
horsemanship and by his intelligent prattle: he could never be kept
behind; and when the time came that the four men were to meet their
fate, we had given him in charge to those who brought up the rear,
with strict orders that on no account was he to be permitted to come
on after us. Peer Khan also had desired him to keep with these people,
as he was going off the road to a village at some distance; and he had
promised obedience. Yet all our precautions were of no avail;--how
could they be, when what followed had evidently been written in his
destiny?

I had just given the jhirnee, and the four miserable men were writhing
in the agonies of death, one of them too was shrieking, when, Ya Alla!
who should come galloping up but Alum Khan, the boy I have mentioned.
His first exclamation was of triumph that he had caught us; but how
can I tell the look of horror to which his countenance was instantly
changed when he saw what was going on! His eyes became fixed, and were
wide open, his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth, he uttered no
sound, but clasped his hands in agony; and before I could dismount, or
even Peer Khan, who was superintending the work, he had fallen from his
pony insensible.

"What shall we do?" cried I to Peer Khan, as we raised him up and
strove to comfort him. "Speak to him; a word from you may arouse him."

"My child, my child!" cried Peer Khan, in accents of terror and misery;
"oh speak to me! one word only--you are killing your parent. Ya Alla!"
continued he, raising his hands to heaven, "grant that this swoon may
pass away, and that he may speak; I will feed a hundred Fakeers in
thy name, O merciful Prophet! if thou wilt but intercede and grant my
prayer." But it was of no avail; the poor boy lay senseless, though his
eyes were fixed and staring, and not a word could he utter. The Thugs,
too, had left the dead, and were all around us. There was a rivulet
close by, in which the bhil had been prepared; I thought of water, and
bid one of the men run for some. It was brought, and I poured it into
his mouth. "He revives,--his lips move!" cried Peer Khan, in an ecstasy
of delight, "He speaks!" And the poor boy did speak.

"Where am I, uncle?" said he, in a faint voice. "Where am I? What have
I seen?" And he passed his hands over his eyes.

"Nothing, nothing," cried his uncle; "you have fallen from your pony,
that is all. You should not ride so hard, my child; you might have been
killed."

"No, no," said the boy; "I did not fall. I saw--Alla save me! save me,
uncle! Oh, look at their eyes and faces--there they lie. Oh, kill me, I
cannot bear it! I shall die."

Unhappy child! he had again seen their faces,--we had never thought of
the dead. One of the bodies lay close to us, the distorted features
grinning horribly; and it had fallen against a bank, so that he saw it
sitting half upright--a dreadful spectacle for a child.

"Take it away, take it away!" he shouted, in his infant voice. "I shall
die! Oh, bury me! I shall never forget the face and the eyes--they will
be ever before me!"

"Away with them!" cried I; and as I turned again to the child, he had
sunk on his face in the sand of the road, and was endeavouring to hide
himself in it,--he was in strong convulsions.

"Alla! Alla! what shall I do!" cried Peer Khan. "Oh, Meer Sahib, by
your soul, by your mother's honour, do something! Save that child, and
I will be your slave till the end of my days; I will serve you on my
knees,--I will be your menial."

"What can be done?" said I. "All we can do is to stay with him, and
comfort him when the paroxysm is past. He will revive soon and forget
all."

Poor boy, how he strove in his convulsions! He could not speak
intelligibly; he foamed at the mouth; his lips grew livid and
contracted; his eyes, when he opened them, seemed sunk into his head.
I had never seen such terror before, nor could I have believed that it
would have had such an effect on any one. We carried him to the edge
of the stream, and by dint of bathing his face, and forcing water into
his mouth, he partly revived. He had just opened his eyes again, when,
by a miserable chance, they fell upon one of the turbans of the dead
men, with which I had been wiping his face. It had an instantaneous
effect on him; his screams broke out afresh, nothing could console him,
and we were in dreadful alarm about him. What to do we knew not; we
were far away from any human habitation; and even had we been near one,
we dared not have called in any hukeem to see him, for his incoherent
ravings would have too truly exposed our doings. We sat by the boy
in fearful apprehensions that every throe and convulsion would cause
his death; at last we raised him up and placed him on his pony, and
had succeeded in conveying him about a coss while he was in a state
of insensibility; but it was of no avail. Again he awoke from his
temporary unconsciousness, and we were obliged to take him down, and
lay him on a bank at the side of the road, while we fanned his face and
endeavoured to compose him.

But he was greatly reduced in strength, his moans were feebler and
feebler; and though he now opened his eyes and gazed calmly around him,
it was but too plain to us that the delicate flower had been blighted,
and was fast withering under the terror which possessed him. Peer Khan
was in a dreadful state; he raved, he entreated, he prayed; he knelt
down beside the poor sufferer, and bedewed his face with his tears,
which were fast falling; but no mercy was shown him. We sat thus till
long past mid-day; numerous travellers passed us, all commiserating the
child's state of suffering, but they shook their heads as they left us,
with a firm conviction that he must die.

And he did die! towards evening the pure spirit fled from the suffering
body, and we were left alone in the wild waste with the dead.

"It is of no use lamenting now," said I to Peer Khan, as he sat, his
hands clasped in anguish, rocking himself to and fro, and moaning and
sobbing as though his spirit would break. "It is of no use, brother,
the boy is dead, and we must carry the body on to the stage, which is
not very far distant."

"Do as you will," he replied: "as for me my heart is broken; I shall
never look up again. He was the life of my soul, and without him what
shall I do? what shall I do?"

But we raised the body up, and at times carrying it, at others placing
it before us on our horses, we conveyed it to the camp. Our absence
had been known; but as its cause was also known, none of the Thugs had
come out to meet us. We laid down our sad burden in my tent, a grave
was quickly dug, and it was buried by torch-light, amidst the tears and
lamentations of the whole band; for the boy was beloved by all.

Peer Khan came to me in the dead of the night, and awoke me from a
restless slumber, in which the dreams of the sad scene had fearfully
mingled. I was glad that he had come, but not for what followed.

"Meer Sahib," said he, after a long silence, "I am not what I was,--I
never shall be again; I am broken in spirit, and am no longer fit for
my profession. My fate too points against it, and after this dreadful
catastrophe I should be useless to you; permit me therefore to depart.
You see I am calm and composed, and I do not say what I now urge on you
in passion or grief; therefore let me depart. I will go to my home, and
in solitude endeavour to make the remainder of my life acceptable to
Alla, who has visited me with this affliction. Nor will it be long ere
the earth covers me; I feel that this blow has shaken me to my soul,
and it will bow me down to the grave."

I saw it was useless to argue with him: his features were stamped with
despair, and to contravene a man's fate is impossible. It is the will
of Alla, and what mortal can oppose it? It must have its course.

"Go," said I, "Peer Khan; may peace be with you, and the blessing of
the Prophet! I feel for you. I shall ever grieve with you; but if, in
after-times, your inclination leads you to join me, I need not say how
gladly I shall avail myself of your services. We have been friends and
brothers, and we part such, I hope, after years of a sincere and mutual
affection."

He could not reply to me--he wrung my hands, while the big tears rolled
from his eyes over his manly features: he made attempts to address me,
but the words stuck in his throat; and at length throwing himself at my
feet, he kissed them, and embraced my knees: he then arose, and after
gazing on me for a moment, with features working under the effects of
suppressed emotion, he rushed from my presence for ever--ay, for ever!
When we returned to Jhalone he was dead; his grief had killed him!

He had been more to me than any of my other companions, and deeply I
sorrowed over his untimely fate. I said this event threw a gloom over
our party, which did not pass away for many days; but gradually the men
assumed their wonted cheerfulness, and again the song, the jest, and
the tale were heard in our merry and light-hearted camp. Nor was the
more serious part of our object neglected. Within a march or two of
Jubbulpoor, we had heard that a Moonshee, stated to be a man of great
wealth, was travelling before us to Nagpoor, and we made an effort to
overtake him. We effected this march from Jubbulpoor, on the Nagpoor
side, and were now entering on our best ground; I say our best, as
there were but few inhabitants in that miserable country.

We overtook the Moonshee; but had it not been that we were nearly three
hundred Thugs in number, we should have hesitated to attack so large a
party as his. He had two good-sized tents, horses, camels, a palankeen
and bearers, and servants; and we deliberated long over the matter. The
omens, however, having been consulted, were found to be favourable, and
therefore we hesitated no longer, but now laid our plans to effect an
object which promised so much plunder.

We encamped close to the Moonshee for two days; of course this led to
intercourse. Hearing that we were respectable persons, he sent to my
father and myself to come to him on the second evening, and we went.
The Moonshee was in the employment of the Europeans; he had served with
the force at Jalna, under General Doveton, though we could not make
out whether he was a servant of that officer or not; but he spoke of
him in such terms as led us to suppose he was. He told us that now the
country was settled, he had obtained leave to go to Hindostan, and was
returning with his wife and child. We spent a pleasant evening with
him, for he was a man of extensive information, and amused us with
many anecdotes and accounts of the Feringhees, of whom he spoke in
terms of the highest praise, and undeceived us as to many particulars
we had heard of them, and materially removed many of our prejudices
against them. I respected them more from what he said than I had ever
done before; for though every one acknowledged they were good and brave
soldiers, it was said they were vicious, and debauched, and drunken.
At one or two questions of mine the Moonshee laughed immoderately. I
asked him once why the Europeans eat with knives and forks, and spoons,
instead of with their fingers, which God had given them.

"Yes," said my father, "old as I am I have never been able to find this
out. Tell us, for you know, as you have yourself seen them eat."

"Tell me what you have heard," said the Moonshee, "and I will give you
an answer."

"It appears so extraordinary," said I, "that I can hardly believe it;
for why should not all men be the same? Nevertheless, I have heard,
and from what I thought to be good authority, that their finger-nails
contain poison, and therefore they dare not risk the chance of their
drawing blood, nay more, of touching their food."

How he laughed! I thought he would never have ended; and I felt nettled
that my remark should have given rise to such immoderate mirth. I could
hear, too, from the tittering behind the division of the tent, that
the women were also provoked to merriment at my expense. At last he
said,--"No, no, Meer Sahib, this is folly. Who could have told you such
a lie? What if their skins be white and their faces ruddy, are they not
the same flesh and blood as we are? They eat with spoons and knives
because it is the custom of their country, and because they do not like
to soil their hands; besides, their style of cookery is different to
ours; for instance, they roast half a sheep and eat it, and how could
they do so without the implements they use?"

"I confess my ignorance," said I, "and am ashamed to put any more
questions to you about them, so shall believe henceforward that all I
have heard are lies." Yet I longed at the same time to ask more about
their drinking scenes, and the meaning of the words, "Hip! hip! hip!"
which I fully believed to be of mystic import.

It was late when we separated; but before we did so we agreed to
travel in company, and to pass our evenings together. This was what we
wanted; our success was inevitable should we succeed in getting him
on one or two marches further, as the villagers there knew us, were
our friends, and for a small consideration would keep themselves to
their houses, and allow us to do what we liked. I have not mentioned
this before, Sahib, for you very well know that it is the case. We
have friends wherever we go; we bribe all we can, and have our agents
in every part of the country in the disguise of Fakeers or merchants.
Some zemindars fear us, others bully us and extort large sums from us,
but they are generally faithful; and without their help and connivance
do you think we could effect anything? We could not. In the Nizam's
country particularly we are well aided. Many of the zemindars have
Thugs in regular pay, whom they have been in the habit of sending out
on the road; some are content with a certain sum a year; others, who
fear so close a connexion with us, now and then pretend to arrest us,
and get as much as they can; and as there is no police of any kind,
they are not afraid of their dealings being brought to light. I myself
know but little of how these matters are managed there,--I mean from
personal experience; but I have heard from others, and in particular
from Motee, who led a gang of Thugs for some years all over the
Huzoor's dominions, and told me, that so long as he paid the potails
of villages, the zemindars, and the revenue servants _handsomely_, he
had no obstruction; that hundreds of others did the same, and practised
their profession so openly, that they often never took the trouble
of burying the bodies of those they destroyed. You know that this is
truth, Sahib, and therefore I need hardly mention it. But to my story.

We reached the village we wished to gain--a miserable hamlet called
Biseynee; but the Potail was in our interest, and a present of twenty
rupees now and then, with sometimes a new turban, gained us his silence
and co-operation. I say co-operation, for he often gave over passengers
to Thugs, by declaring that his village was unsafe, and that they must
go and encamp outside with the rest--who were the Thugs. He knew well
what would become of them; but he was, as I have said, paid for his
treachery.

Well, we reached Biseynee. I had purchased for the worthy Potail a
handsome turban and waistband, and had prepared for him a number of
other articles, one of which was an English pistol, which he had sent
word by a Thug that I was to purchase for him. As soon as I arrived,
I went into the village to him, and in his own house tied the turban
on his head, presented him with the gifts I had prepared, and added a
purse of twenty rupees.

"Ha!" said he, "what now, Meer Sahib? you are not used to be so
liberal. What bunij have you, that you are come with it to my poor
place, to give it a worse name than it has already?"

"Oh, none," said I, carelessly; "you know I have not been this way for
some years, and these are to prove that I have not forgotten you."

"Thanks for your kindness; may your condescension increase," said he;
"but the bunij, Meer Sahib? You are a cunning gentleman; I know you
of old. Who is he in the tents yonder? and why have so many Thugs
collected here? You cannot conceal your designs from me."

"Nor do I wish it," said I; "but remember our old compact."

"I do--I do," said he, hurriedly; "but times are changed, and with them
my masters. Know you not that this country belongs to the Sahib-logue?"

"And what of that, Potailjee?" said I; "what difference does it make?"

"None," he replied, "to _me_; but have you not seen the horsemen?"

"What horsemen?" cried I.

"Six," said he, "and a Duffadar. My poor village, it seems, has a bad
name for thieves; and they have sent a party here to guard it. Alla
help us, and keep the bread in our mouths!"

"And the Duffadar, what is he like?"

"He is a Hindoo," said the Potail, "and a Bhojpooree; he is called
Hittah Singh; his men, too, are all of his tribe."

"Bhojpoorees!" said I; "then I dare say they are Thugs. What Bhojpooree
was ever an honest man?"

"No, they are not Thugs, Meer Sahib, for I have tried them with the
password. But, between you and me, I think my friend Hittah Singh only
wants an opportunity to be as great a rascal as I am myself,--may Alla
pardon me!"

"I have no doubt of it," said I. "Where is he?"

"Shall I call him?"

"Do so," said I. "If I cannot persuade him, I will bully him; and, if
the worst comes to the worst, you know we are more than three hundred
to six, and they would have but little chance."

"True, Meer Sahib; but no violence, I pray; have some consideration for
my good name. If the Europeans heard of violence having been done, they
would turn me out of my place."

"And you would turn Thug, I suppose. But quick, Potailjee, call the man
here."

He was absent for a short time, and returned with a short mean-looking
fellow; and I could plainly see that rascal was written on his
countenance. You know the old proverb--"Chor ke daree men, tinka"
(there is always a straw in a thief's beard). Salutations were
exchanged, and I came to the point at once.

"Look you, Duffadar Sahib," said I to him, "you may have guessed what
we are?" He nodded assent. "This is good," I continued, "as perhaps you
may have guessed at our object."

"Partly," said he; "but what do I know about you?"

"Exactly," said I--"the very thing I want; you need know nothing, and
you will have nothing to tell if you are ever asked. Take my advice,
and remain quietly within your village; and if the earth turns upside
down you are not to stir out. For this you shall be well paid. But if
you molest us, remember we are three hundred to seven--fearful odds, my
friend."

"Nay, I am wise," said he; "what Bhojpooree is not? Nor do I wish to
interfere. Do what you like; neither I nor my men will stir a foot."

"Can you depend on them?" said I; "can they be close?"

"As close as you wish them to be, Jemadar; but we must be paid."

"Certainly," said I; "I would not have it otherwise: but the reward
depends on what we get."

"Say two hundred rupees," said the fellow; "it is worth your while."

"Well, it is a bargain, Duffadar," I replied, "and the Potail is
witness. And now I will give you further advice, which is, that you are
to know nothing and see nothing, if even the lord Sahib were to ask
you. You are to know only that travellers came and departed, and you
kept no account of them."

"Of course," said the fellow; "I know this of old. I have met parties
of your people in my own country, and have no reason to be dissatisfied
with them: they have always behaved like men of honour, and kept their
words with me."

"Then we are agreed?" said I.

"Certainly; you will see nought of us, and I will come to you at night
for my money."

"You had better come now, Duffadar, as I think we shall move on after
it is all over."

"Do you go, Potailjee; it would not look well for me to go with the
Syud Sahib. Do you go, and bring the money."

"Come then," said I, "we are losing time."

"Shall you return soon?" asked the Duffadar of me.

"I know not," I replied; "but it is probable. At any rate, as this
country always produces good booty for us, you will see us here pretty
often."

"The oftener the better," said he; "and I must continue to keep
my station here; it would be hard to lose such good friends. You,
Potailjee, can help me to a few low caste rascals from time to time, to
send in as thieves we have caught."

"Certainly," said the Potail--"there are plenty of Gonds and Dhérs in
the country; every one knows they are thieves; and if they may not
immediately have committed any robberies, they have been engaged in
them some time or other, so that it is all the same. I will get you a
few from time to time, as you want them."

"Now and then I shall require a few," said he, "just to keep up my
character and appearances, and a few years in irons will do none of
them any harm--the government will take care of them."

I could not help laughing heartily at the cool manner in which this was
proposed and accepted. But it was the truth; and I know that it was,
and is now, a matter of every-day occurrence. Many a Duffadar of police
has won a good name with his officers in this way, and for one guilty
man he has seized a dozen innocent people. Who cares about Mangs and
Dhérs?--they are always villains and robbers.



CHAPTER XLII.


"That is a Bhula Admee (a respectable man)," said I to the Potail, as
he walked to our camp; "he suits my purpose exactly."

"He has been on the look-out for some of you," said he, "for a long
time. We have never spoken openly on the subject, but he has hinted as
much many times. And I suspect he chose this post, if he had any choice
in the matter, because he was likely to meet Thugs here. If you pay him
well, he will help you materially."

"Do you think I have given enough?" said I.

"Quite," he replied: "I don't think he expected you would agree to so
much."

"It is certainly a large sum," said I; "but it is the first, and the
money is well spent."

"But you have forgotten me, Meer Sahib: am I not to partake of your
bounty?"

"Of course, Potailjee. What I brought was only a trifle--I have more
for you in the camp; you shall have your share."

"How much, Meer Sahib? I want money; my rents are in arrears, and I am
in distress."

"Thirty rupees," said I.

"Make it fifty, I beseech you. You know not in what a strait I am;
I cannot borrow the money, and you have been sent by Alla for my
deliverance. You will lend me the money if you will not give it me? and
you will have good bunij in this business."

"Well," said I, "you shall have it, but on one condition. We may not
be on the road when some people whom we are looking out for pass this
place: they are Dacoos; they have some Tattoos with them, and great
wealth. If they pass either way, you must send men after us with a
letter."

"I will send my own sons, well mounted," replied he; "they will easily
find you out, and you may depend on me. Where will these fellows come
from?"

"They have gone to Hyderabad now," said I, "and will return by Nagpoor.
If we meet them, all very well; but they may escape us."

"They shall not, by Alla!" said the Potail. "I will watch for them
myself, and if you get them I shall hope for a handsome present."

"I will not forget you. But here we are at the camp: take care no one
sees the money as you carry it away."

"Trust an old hand for that," said he, with a knowing wink. "I must go
after I have got it to the Moonshee, who has sent for me about fodder
for his horses. I should like to see him, too--to see a man whose
breath is in his nostrils. And he has a wife too."

"Yes," said I, "there is no getting her out of the way, so she must
die, which is a pity. He has a child also, about, four years old, which
I want myself: he is a pretty boy, and I have no son to bless me; he
will never know the difference between me and his father after a few
days."

I paid the money, and dismissed him. Ganesha came to me. "I have
been looking at the ground," said he, "and there is a hole near
the Moonshee's tent, which has been dug for some purpose or other,
apparently the commencement of a well; it will save us the trouble of
digging; the earth, too, lies close to it, and will only have to be
filled in."

"Have the Lughaees seen it?" said I.

"Yes," he replied; "I took Bhowanee with me; he says it is the very
thing."

"Now, Ganesha," said I, "how shall we manage?"

"Oh, do you take the tent-work, and leave the rest to me; I will settle
all outside. You have a smooth tongue, and the Moonshee is alone; I
will be close at hand in case of anything going wrong; but I do not
apprehend anything."

"Nor I either. None of the Saeeses or camel men must escape; there are
many of them."

"Sixteen in all; I have counted them: let me see--eight bearers, two
camel men,--one of them has a wife,--two Khidmutgars, one female
servant, and four Saeeses; how many is that?"----"Eighteen," said I.

"Ah, well, it does not matter; towards evening I will surround the
whole; most of them will be listening to the songs, and the rest we
must overpower in the best way we can. The night will be dark too,
which is in our favour."

I then told him of the horsemen in the village, and what I had done.
He knew Hittah Singh, the Duffadar, and told me that in his excursions
into the district of Arrah, in Bengal, he had met with him; and that on
one occasion, when he had been arrested for murder, this Hittah Singh
had got him off, by swearing to the collector that he knew him, and by
being security for him to a large amount. "He is a good fellow for a
Bhojpooree," said Ganesha, "but requires to be well paid, and you have
given him enough to keep him quiet."

The evening came. My father and I went to the Moonshee's, but after the
evening prayer time; he had his son on his knee, and a noble little
fellow he was. How I shall love that boy! said I, inwardly, as I looked
on his fair and beautiful features and expressive eyes. He came to
me readily, and I fondled him, and displayed to his admiring eyes my
beautiful sword and dagger. Azima too will love him, thought I, and he
will supply the place of our daughter when she is married and gone from
us.

"You have no children?" said the Moonshee; "or perhaps I ought not to
ask, you may have lost them; your brow darkens at the question."

"One," replied I, "a daughter. A son, the counterpart of the Sahib
Zada, it pleased Allah to take from me, when he was about his age."

"It is indeed his will," said the Moonshee; "there is no striving
against fate. This boy is my only offspring; for many years I had been
married, and my case was somewhat like that of the Sultan in the 'Story
of the Parrot;' grey hairs were coming, and I despaired; but at last
Alla was gracious, and you see the boy."

"May God grant he live a hundred years, and be prosperous," said I, "I
have no hope myself."

We conversed together for some time, and on a message being given from
without, I said, "You have been so pleased with the singing of some of
my men, Moonshee Sahib, that they have arranged a little masque, after
the manner of the Byroopeas, which they are anxious to perform before
you. It will be absurd enough, I dare say, yet it will serve to pass
the evening, and your son too may be amused."

"By all means," said he; "anything in the jungle is acceptable; but
for your company, Meer Sahib, we should have had a dull march. I will
prepare those within, so pray call in the performers."

The men came, six stout fellows dressed fantastically, two of them as
women, with sitars and drums in their hands; they personated a body of
Goosaeens, and danced and sang in a ridiculous manner. Where they had
learned their parts, I know not, but the whole was well done, and the
Moonshee's little son laughed immoderately. As we had expected, the
whole of the Moonshee's people gathered round the tent, which was open
on one side to admit of their seeing the Tumasha; and I observed with
secret exultation that every man had two or three Thugs close to him,
and one in particular behind each of them. All was ready, as I thought,
and I was about to give the signal, when one of the Thugs called to me
that I was wanted without. What it could be I knew not, but, excusing
myself for a moment, I went out.

"What shall we do?" said Ganesha to me, in a voice full of alarm and
apprehension; "Meer Sahib, the Feringhees are upon us!"

"The Feringhees!"----"Yes," he replied; "and what can we do? this good
bunij will escape us. Of course the Moonshee will join them, and we may
then as well think of strangling the king of Delhi, as of getting him."

"But how," said I, "how are the Feringhees upon us? Have you seen them?"

"No," said Ganesha, "but I have seen their people. A long string of
camels have just arrived, with I know not how many red-coated sepoys to
guard them--my curse be on them all!"

"And where are they?"

"Why, they are gone into the village. They wanted this ground, but I
told them I would not give it up; that the Moonshee was a gentleman of
rank, and could not be disturbed, and that there was better ground on
the other side of the village."

"Then never fear," said I; "the work must be done immediately. I will
go in and give the jhirnee; and if any of those prying rascals the
Lascars come about us, you know what to do. But I fear not; the Potail
will help us, and Hittah Singh too, and there need be no great noise.
My father will have to personate the Moonshee for a while if necessary;
but that does not matter."

"Good," said Ganesha; "but be quick, Meer Sahib, I shall be in a
torment of apprehension until the whole are fairly under the ground."

I left him, and, carelessly playing with my roomal, again entered the
tent. "What is it?" asked the Moonshee.

"Oh, nothing," I replied; "only some Sahib-logues' tents which have
arrived. Their servants wanted this ground to encamp on, but, seeing us
here, the Lascars have taken them to the other side of the village. The
troops will be here early to-morrow."

"That will suit me exactly," said he; "I will stay with them, and bid
you gentlemen farewell; but that is no reason why we should be the less
merry. I warrant these good fellows have another song or two in store.
Have you?" he asked of them.

"A hundred," replied one of them; "but perhaps the next will be rather
a noisy one."

"Never mind," said he, "play on; you shall have as good a reward as I
can afford to bestow."

I waited till the noise was at its height to give the jhirnee, yet I
had not the opportunity I wished for. The Moonshee sat with his back to
the kanât, and to get behind him was impossible: one of the Thugs saw
my embarrassment, and relieved it by begging him to rise and advance a
few paces.

"What are they going to do?" asked he.

"I know not," I replied, "but you had as well comply."

He arose, and I slipped behind him. "Now!" I shouted; "bring the pan!"
and my hand was on the Moonshee's neck. One wild shriek he gave, and
fell. His wife had been looking on through a hole in the kanât; she had
seen the work, and rushed out into the midst of us, with her boy in her
arms. I shall never forget her--never: I shall never forget her wild
look and her screams. I tore the boy from her arms, and left her in the
midst of the Thugs; I ran out into the air, and the first person I met
was Ganesha, his face flushed with triumph, which I saw by the glare of
the torches from the tent.

"All is done!" cried he; "they have all fallen. Two I killed myself.
Where are the Lughaees? we must be quick."

He ran on; and I stood in the open space before the tent. Parties of
Thugs passed rapidly to and fro, bearing the bodies of the dead, which
were one by one thrown into the hole. But the singing and music went on
as merrily as ever, and looking into the tent I saw my father sitting
in the place which had been occupied by the ill-fated Moonshee.

My little charge was crying terribly, imploring me, in tones and words
that would have moved any one's heart but mine, to take him to his
mother. I soothed him as well as I could, and was going to my tent; but
curiosity impelled me to return and see the hole in which the business
of interment was going on. I went to the edge; Ganesha was standing by
it encouraging the Lughaees; he saw the boy in my arms.

"What folly is this, Meer Sahib?" said he; "you are not going to spare
that boy, when we are even now in such danger!--it will be madness.
Give him to me; I will silence the crying wretch, and send him with his
parents."

"Never!" cried I; "the boy is mine; you may have all the spoil, but
give him up to death I will not. Have I not lost a son, and is it not
lawful to adopt a child of this age?"

"Madness! madness!" cried Ganesha, "the boy must die. Are you a fool,
Meer Sahib, to risk such a chance?"

"He will never find out the difference between us and his parents,"
said I; "and I will not be interfered with."

"Fool!" said Ganesha, setting his teeth, "I spared a child once, and
will never spare another; I have sworn it on the pickaxe."

"I care not for a thousand oaths," I cried; "the boy is mine, and you
had better not oppose me if you wish to avoid a quarrel;" and I was
going away.

He caught me by the arm. "Let me go," I exclaimed, and I felt for my
dagger, "or by Alla! I will strike this steel into you."

"Boy," cried he, "you are mad; I fear you not; talk of daggers to
others than Ganesha; he has seen too much of you to fear you. Give me
the child, I say, his very cries will alarm the sepoys."

I felt for my dagger or sword, but I had left them in the tent; I tried
if pity could move him. "Have you no compassion?" I said more gently:
"Ganesha, have you no pity for a child? Can you bear to kill him?"

I was off my guard, and he saw his opportunity. Quicker than thought he
had rudely snatched the child from my arms, and as he hurled him into
the pit, he cried scornfully, "Pity! no, I know it not. Now go and cry,
Meer Sahib, for the loss of your plaything."

I started forward, and leaned over the edge of the hole, which was
being rapidly filled; the poor boy lay senseless and dead at the
bottom--one shriek alone had escaped him as he was dashed with
passionate force into it. I gazed for an instant to satisfy myself that
he was dead, and some of the earth which was being thrown in hid him
almost instantly from my view.

I turned to Ganesha in savage anger. "Dog!" cried I, "and son of a dog!
you shall answer for this. Had I my sword now with me, I would cut you
in two pieces."

"An idle threat, and one befitting what I have heard of you," said he.
"Go, Meer Sahib, you are a boy and a fool: I do not fear you."

Stony-hearted villain, he had destroyed my son. Situated as I was I
could then do nothing, but I was determined to have my revenge: and I
took it too. I mentioned what had occurred to my father and to three of
my intimate associates; they were determined to stick by me whenever I
chose to attack Ganesha, and would fain have done so the next day; but
this did not suit me, though his words rankled in my heart, and the
deed he had done made me hate him more than ever. I deferred my revenge
to the last moment, but I took it, as you shall hear.

We stayed on the ground that night; the palankeen had been broken in
pieces and thrown into the hole, but my father personated the Moonshee
the next morning as we rode through the camp of the Feringhees, which
had been pitched so near us, that indeed I have often wondered they
heard not the cries of the party as we despatched them. But we had
taken good precautions. The noise of the drums, and the confusion
occasioned by letting loose two of the Moonshee's horses, which were
here and there pursued by a number of Thugs, shouting and screaming
after them, had drowned the cries of our victims, and we had effected
the whole without suspicion. Our good friends, the Potail and the
Duffadar, had kept the sepoys in conversation, and they had not noticed
the noise, beyond hazarding a passing remark as to its cause.

Again, therefore, we were on the road. We had not got all the booty
we expected, it did not indeed amount to three thousand rupees, and
we earnestly looked out for the Dacoos, who were we hoped to be our
next bunij. We went on to Nagpoor, and sold the Moonshee's camels and
horses. Here the gang divided; one part under a Jemadar named Emom
Buksh, took our old road towards Oomraotee, and through the valley of
Berar to Khândésh and Boorhanpoor; the rest of us returned by the road
we had come, after staying four days in the city of Nagpoor. On our
second or third march homewards we overtook the Dacoos. They had been
seen by our spies the moment we entered the village we had encamped at;
and as much caution was requisite in managing them, my father at once
proposed to be alone the Sotha, or inveigler.

"I shall feign to be a Hindoo," said he; "these rascals will suspect
me if I go by my own name, and indeed they would know me. I will be
a Rajpoot Jemadar, come from Hyderabad, and you shall see I have not
forgotten my old trade."

Accordingly he painted his forehead and breast after the fashion of
the Hindoos, covered his eyes with wood ashes, put on a waistcloth and
dress he borrowed from one of the men, and attended by another, went
into the village.

How anxiously I expected his return! I feared he would fail in his
mission, but Ganesha was confident. "He never fails," said he to me;
"he is one of Bhowanee's own favourites; nothing he ever did failed.
Would that I had his luck."

But he was absent so long that I became apprehensive for his safety,
and was on the point of setting out to gain tidings of him, when to my
great joy I saw him approaching. I ran to meet him. "What news?" cried
I; "oh, my father, my liver has been burnt during your absence. Why did
you stay so long?"

"Never mind, my son," said he, when he had dismounted, "you would
have been wrong to come after me. But ah, the owls! I have entrapped
them--they are ours."

"Ul-humd-ul-illa!" cried I, "this is rare news; but how did you manage
it?"

"Why," replied he, "it was done easily enough, though I feared for my
success when I saw that one of the Dacoos was a fellow I had known a
long time ago; however, he did not recognize me, thanks to my white
beard and these marks of the infidels; he never thought I was Ismail
Thug. I sat and conversed with their leader, who told me very gravely
he was a servant of the English, going to Hindostan on leave of
absence. I said I was one also, and had come from Jalna, where I was a
collector of duties on spirits. We then became intimate, and the upshot
of the whole was, that we agreed to travel together; and, by Alla! if
the omens are good, they shall die to-morrow. Delay is useless with
these fellows, for they evidently think (from the signs I saw them
making among themselves, which are known to me), that we are certain
bunij to them, and if we do not attack them, they will fall upon us."

"We shall need good hands," said I; "and I will take the leader."

"I will be a Bhuttote also," said Ganesha; "I never killed a Dacoo. Are
they stout fellows?"

"Very," answered my father; "but, like all their tribe, they are
heavily armed, and can do but little against us, if we manage properly."

"We had better fall on them with our swords," I observed.

"Not so, my son; but we will surround them, and if there is not a good
opportunity, the men can use their weapons."

We were soon agreed on this point; and in the morning the Dacoos
joined us as we moved round the village into the main road. They were
twenty-five in number, stout, but heavy-looking men, armed to the
teeth, with their heads enveloped in folds of cloth. They had with them
thirteen tattoos, heavily laden; and it was well that they had this
encumbrance, as it served to separate them, as each tattoo required a
man to drive it. Had they kept in a body, we could have made but little
impression on them, and dared hardly to have attacked them.

"Now, look out!" said my father to the men; "if you see them leaving
their beasts, and collecting in two and threes, fall on them at once,
or they will attack us: they know well enough who we are, though they
pretend they do not."

We journeyed on in company; after I had ridden for some distance I
dismounted, and walking beside the leader, I entered into conversation
with him. He did not recognize me in the least, and very gravely began
telling me how he had met with Thugs on his way down; how he had fought
with and overpowered a large band, and carried off their plunder,
amounting to some thousand rupees.

I could have struck him on the mouth with my shoe, but I refrained; yet
it was enough to have provoked me, being so barefaced a lie. Still I
applauded his bravery, and he continued: "Yes, Meer Sahib, these Thugs
are the greatest villains unhung; and I praise the Prophet that I have
gained some information about them, which I will give to my masters
the Europeans. The fool of a Thug, or rather one of his people, told
me they belonged to Jhalone; I am going that way, and if I do not tell
the Rajah of their being in his city, call me an owl, and a father of
jackasses. I expect, too, he will reward me handsomely."

Ay, you will tell him, thought I; but you must get there first, my
friend. Mashalla! words are one thing, but deeds are another.

"And were they such fools?" I asked; "all the world say that Thugs are
never to be taken in."

The fellow laughed scornfully. "Never taken in!" said he; "did not
I deceive them? They are swine, they are asses; they murder poor
travellers, but they have no wit, not so much as children. Their fool
of a Jemadar tried to deceive me by wrapping his face in a cloth; but I
saw him, dark as it was, and could swear to him among a thousand."

"What was he like?" inquired I; "I am curious to know, if it were only
to avoid him in future, especially as I am a constant traveller on this
road: but you said you attacked them?"

"Yes," said he; "I am an old traveller too, and as we were a large
body, and the Thugs not more than treble our number, I said to my
companions, that though I knew we were with Thugs, they ought not to
fear, and if they would only watch me, we might attack and disperse
them, and get their plunder: and by Alla! we did Sahib. Late at night
we rose on them, killed some, and the rest ran away, among them
the cowardly Jemadar. We got enough, too, to take us to Hyderabad
comfortably."

So we had a narrow escape, thought I; these fellows would have attacked
us, I doubt not, had we not gone on that night. But the lie, Sahib,
was it not an impudent one? Yet I could not help laughing heartily at
his relation, which he swore was true, by Alla and the Prophet, by my
beard, and by every saint in his calendar.

We trudged on till we came in sight of two trees on the road, on which
travellers hung bits of rag as offerings to the guardian saint of the
place. I saw very plainly that this was their bhil; one by one they
began to forsake their tattoos and collect. More delay on our part
would have been fatal, and my father saw this. He was as prompt as I
could have desired: he had seen their movements, and just as I had
disengaged my roomal from my waist, he gave the jhirnee. Eleven of
the Dacoos fell at the same moment; the leader by my hand. I had my
roomal round his throat, and before I gave the fatal wrench, I shouted
in his ear that I was Ameer Ali, the leader of the Thugs he had met,
and that _then_ I had sworn to kill him, and had done it. The rest
were cut down with swords: my men were prepared, they were not, and
were heavily encumbered. Yet had we delayed for another three or four
hundred paces, they would have fallen upon us; and I think, Sahib, the
Thugs would have run away. As it was, however, we were victorious; we
threw the bodies as they were into the jungle, and pushed on, laughing
heartily, and in the highest spirits at the issue of our adventure. The
booty, too, was good--thirteen thousand rupees worth of gold, silver,
and ready money met our admiring eyes, when the packages of the loaded
tattoos were opened for our inspection.

Well, Sahib, we had proceeded as far as Sehora on our return, when we
fell in with a great European, who was also travelling. We did not
fear him, but on the contrary determined to keep with him, because
we well knew that he had many travellers in his train who profited
by the protection of his troops; so we divided into two parties, one
under myself and my father, the other under Ganesha. Our object was to
separate the travellers from him, and we hoped, by representing the
inconvenience they were put to by delay on account of his slow marches,
and the scarcity of provisions they would experience on the road, to
induce them to accompany us. I need not follow the adventure further,
for it differed not from the rest; suffice it to say, that after a few
marches a large party of travellers had joined with us. We left the
high-road to proceed by footpaths through the jungles, and near the
village of Shirkarpoor we selected the bhil. The place was a favourite
one, and well known to our party. The travellers fell, twenty-nine
men, some women and children; all were buried in one grave, for the
spot where they were killed was a desolate one. The deed was done in
the night, but by the light of as fair a moon as ever shone on us.
One child I saved from the general slaughter; Ganesha was not present
to oppose me; and though the boy was a Hindoo, yet I determined to
adopt him as my own, and to bring him up in the holy faith I professed
myself, and this would enhance the merit of having spared him. But when
his mother died, I could not force him away from the body; he clung
to it, young as he was, with frantic force--he screamed and kicked
whenever I attempted to lay hold of him, and bit me in the arms and the
hands. I thought if the body was removed from his sight he would be
quiet and submit to his fate; but no--when it was gone, he grew worse
and worse; nothing would pacify or tranquillize him, and I fairly grew
impatient and angry. I drew my sword, and threatened him but he was
insensible to his danger; he reviled me, he spat at me with a child's
virulence. I once more raised him up in my arms, but it was of no use;
he seized my ear in his teeth and bit it till the blood came. In the
agony of the pain and in my rage I knew not what I did. Sahib, how
shall I tell you what followed! it was the worst act of my life but
one, which I have yet to tell you of.

You killed him, I suppose, Ameer Ali, said I.

Yes, Sahib, I killed him; but oh, how did I do it! it was the devil's
work, not mine. I never was cruel, but now the Shitan possessed me.

Here Ameer Ali put his hands to his eyes, and finding my heart sicken,
I begged him to refrain from reciting the dreadful particulars. After a
pause he continued.

Wretch that I was, I did this. No one was near me but the Thug who held
my horse, and even he was horror-struck, and uttered a loud scream of
terror. I silenced him, and leaving the mangled body, I mounted my
horse and galloped after my party.

Yes, Sahib, I deserved to be hanged for that deed, had I never done
another; but I was spared for a different fate.

We were in full march on the third day after this happened, when we saw
a body of horsemen coming after us. My mind misgave me when I observed
them, and I hastened to collect the straggling Thugs, and form them
into a close body, in case the horsemen should prove to be enemies, or
make any hostile demonstration. On they came, shouting and abusing us
in every term of vile reproach their tongues could utter. There were
about forty of them; and I verily believe that, had I not been at the
head of the band, they would have fled as one man: however, I cheered
them up, and was determined to show a good front in my retreat. I knew
there was a village in our interest within a few coss, which possessed
a worthy Potail like him I have told you of; and that if we could but
reach it, we might man the walls and towers, and bid defiance to our
pursuers.

"Be not afraid," cried I to my men; "let the best of ye come behind
with me, and we will stop these marauding rascals. I know they are
Pindharees, and the veriest cowards in existence. Only be firm; you who
have matchlocks take good aim, and when they are near enough, every one
mark his man, and see if as many saddles are not emptied."

On they came. Fortunately the road was narrow, and had thick thorny
brushwood on each side of it, so that they could not pass us. They were
within speaking distance, and I shouted, "Are ye friends or enemies?
If the former, keep behind us; if enemies, begone, in the name of the
Prophet, my friends, or ye are likely to get a sharp reception."

"Stop!" shouted the leader of the party; "who among you is leader? I
would speak to him."

"I am leader," said I. "Come out alone, and I will meet you; but if
any of ye stir, by Alla we will fire on you." The fellow advanced, and
seeing that none followed him, I rode out in front of my men. "If
there is treachery," said I to them, "fire,--never mind me."

"Jemadar," said the man, "our Thakoor has sent for you, you may
possibly have guessed why. You had better come; you will only have to
pay a fine, and will be released; I swear this to you on the faith of a
Rajpoot."

"I will neither trust you nor your master," said I; "you are a parcel
of vagabond Pindharees. I laugh at you, and spit on your beards. If you
want us, come and take us; but of our own accord we come not. Are we
fools? are we asses? Oh, man! art _thou_ one to talk thus? Go back to
him that sent thee, and say the man is yet unborn who will take Ameer
Ali Thug, so long as he has a weapon in his hand, or a few gallant
fellows by his side. Have you no shame to deliver such a message!"

He made no answer, but urged his horse and cut at me with his sword.
Fool! he did not think that a Thug could fight, and still less that he
had engaged one whom no one had ever yet defeated. I caught the blow on
my shield, and returned it on his head as he passed me; the fellow fell
front his horse a dead man.

My own men set up a shout, and discharged their matchlocks--one
horseman and a horse fell wounded, and struggled in the dust. Had only
my own good companions in the Pindharee affairs been with me, I would
have charged them, and put them to flight; but I could do nothing
alone. We had checked them, however, and retired slowly, followed by
the troop, who kept out of shot, but evidently waiting for a piece of
level and fair ground to charge us. In this way we retreated till the
welcome walls of the village, whither I had directed the main body,
appeared to our view. We redoubled our efforts to gain the shelter they
would afford us, and the men were in some disorder as we passed over a
level plain in front of the village; they were even beginning to run,
but I checked them. "For the love of Alla!" cried I, "for your own
sakes keep together, and have brave hearts; so long as we are firm they
will not dare to come near us; but if once we separate, we are lost.
See, even now they are preparing to charge, as a hawk stoops on his
quarry."

And down they came, thundering along, brandishing their spears, and
reviling us. Some of my men fled at their utmost speed to the gate, but
most of them stood. Again I dashed at one of our enemies, and wounded
him; but the odds were against us; one of my own men fell, pierced
through the breast to the backbone by a spear; another was wounded;
but they could not take further advantage of us. Those who had fled,
joined by others of my men and some villagers, headed by my brave old
father, issued from the gate, which the horsemen seeing, they drew off,
and we got within the village in safety. They kept hovering about till
mid-day, but out of the reach of our shot; and soon after noon, they
all departed, and we saw no more of them. We had to pay for our shelter
handsomely, however, for the Potail shut the gates of his village, and
declared we should not pass out without having paid him a thousand
rupees. I was for attacking him, plundering his village, and burning
it after the Pindharee fashion; and we could have done it easily. But
my father would not hear of it. "The country would rise on us," he
said; "and besides, it would ill requite the Potail's hospitality and
protection, even though we had to pay for it." So he paid the money;
and, after a thousand protestations of mutual goodwill, we left the
village in the evening, intending to push on as far as we could, to be
beyond the reach of pursuit.

Nor were we followed; though this exploit made a noise in the country,
and was known far and wide, we were not molested. We heard afterwards
that the Thakoor flew into a furious passion when he heard of his men's
defeat, and dismissed them from his service as a parcel of cowards, as
indeed they were. Moreover, he swore he would be revenged upon every
Thug he might ever catch afterwards; and I believe he kept his word,
and put some to death. But we laughed at his beard; and many a merry
jest had we over the adventure afterwards.

It seems, the day after, some herdsmen were passing the spot where the
travellers had been killed and they saw the body of the lad lying in
the road: all the remains were discovered, and information was given to
the ruler of the village and tract of country in which the deed had
been done. We pursued our route. Ganesha, too, had been fortunate; he
had decoyed a large body of travellers, consisting of a Jemadar who had
lost an arm, and his family, with some others, along the by-paths in
another direction, and he had killed them all.

You know, Sahib, that it is forbidden to us to kill persons who may in
any way be deformed. I was amused afterwards to hear the accounts which
were given of the deliberations made upon the Jemadar's fate by Ganesha
and his gang: he told them to me himself when we met.

"Some, indeed most of the men," said he, "hesitated as to whether
he should be strangled or not. There was no means of separating him
from the party, and they said the whole ought to be abandoned on his
account, as he had lost an arm, and therefore was not a fit sacrifice
to Bhowanee. I replied that he was not deformed, that if he had lost
an arm, he had had one once, and the losing of it was not the work of
Alla but of man, and that when he died he would appear in the form in
which he had been created; therefore he was not forbidden, but was
true bunij; and I asked them how they would show their faces to you
and to their brethren at the rendezvous with no deed to boast of, and,
more than all, no plunder. I prevailed; the whole were strangled; the
Jemadar by my own hand, for no one else would touch him, despite of
all I said to convince them there was no harm in it. The worst of all
was, however, that there were two young girls of a marriageable age,
the daughters of the Jemadar. Two of my men took a fancy to them, and
would fain have carried them off to be their wives, but they would not
consent, and they were strangled with the rest."

We were now somewhat at a loss for a route, or whither to go. The
omens were consulted at Saugor, which was our place of rendezvous;
and as they pointed to the northward, we struck off the high-road to
the north at Saugor, and took that to Seronje. But my father returned
to Jhalone. We divided into two bodies, each a day's march from the
other, for we were fearful of being suspected if we travelled in large
numbers; and since the Europeans had got a footing in the country, we
found that we were asked more questions at the different posts and
guards than we had used to be. Besides, large bodies of travellers
had disappeared in various directions by the hands of other bands of
Thugs, and the authorities were suspicious and inquisitive to a degree.
However, now with bullying, now with bribes, we contrived to pass on,
leaving our fruit as we went in many a sly place, which the Choukedars
never suspected; and although we got no large booty, yet scarcely a day
passed but one, two, or more travellers met their death at our hands.
It was at the village of Ekléra, in Holkar's dominions (alas! I shall
never forget it), that our Sothas brought us word they had secured a
small party of travellers, who they had heard were about to proceed to
a village a few coss distant.

Of course our men told them of the danger of travelling alone, of the
alarms there were of Thugs, and begged of them to accompany our large
party for safety, which had collected for the same purpose, and they
consented. The Sothas offered to introduce them to me as the leader of
the Kafila; and accordingly, at sunset, one of them returned to the
bazar, and brought two of the men to me. I received them cordially,
repeated the same stories as my men had done, and frightened them quite
sufficiently for my purpose.

"Listen," said one; "though I have never seen a Thug, nor know of any
existing in this part, yet that they have been here there is no doubt.
My wife's father was killed by them."

"How!" said I; "it is horrible to think on; how did this happen? know
you aught of the particulars?"

"No," replied he, "none but what I have heard from others. I was
a boy at the time, but the old men of the village know them well,
and often speak of them even to this day. I will introduce you to
my father-in-law, as I justly call him, and he shall tell you the
tale himself. Mashalla! he tells it with much spirit, and 'tis worth
hearing."

I confess I was interested; why I should have been so at a common tale
of Thuggee was more than I can imagine. I rose and followed the man to
his house, determined to hear the whole story from his father-in-law's
mouth.

I have said it was yet day; the sun was setting and the village was
a scene of bustle and noise, as is always the case in an evening;
the herds which had been out to graze were pouring in at the gates,
raising clouds of dust, through which the walls were but dimly seen.
Yet still as I advanced I fancied them familiar to me; I imagined I
knew the names of different places near them,--one in particular, the
abode of a Fakeer, around which was a small garden. I almost started
when I approached it, for it seemed like the face of a familiar friend
one meets after a long, long absence, when one hesitates to accost
him by name, though almost assured of his identity. But in spite of
my desire to know the name of the garden I walked on, for it would
not have suited my purpose to have appeared to recognize any object,
having represented myself to be an utter stranger. As we passed
through the gate, objects more and more familiar to my eyes presented
themselves,--the bazar, the little Mosque, the Kotwal's Chowree,
the temple of Mahadeo. I could have named them all, and one house
in particular,--my heart leaped within me as I passed it. There was
nothing remarkable in it: but it seemed unaccountably fresh to me,--as
though I had but left it yesterday.

Still I walked on silently, and my companion did not notice the
agitation and surprise which must have been depicted on my features. We
reached the house, a respectable one in appearance; and desiring me to
be seated, he left me to bring the old man of whom we had spoken. When
we entered, Alla! Alla! I could have called him too by name, though his
features were shrunken and withered. I was almost about to exclaim,
Rheim Khan! but I checked myself; and, as he was presented to me under
another name, Futih Mahomed Khan, I was silent.

The whole, after this, thought I, must be a wild dream, or I may have
visited the place in my wanderings, perhaps stayed a few days at it,
and it is thus familiar to me. After some desultory conversation, my
new friend stated what he had told me, and requested his father-in-law
to relate the story of Peer Khan with all its particulars.



CHAPTER XLIII.


The old man returned my salutations cordially; and when we were fairly
seated, and the hookah had passed round, he related the sad history
of the parents of the girl he had adopted. His version of the tale
differed little from that of my new acquaintance; and indeed the whole
affair appeared to have been as successful a piece of Thuggee as I had
ever listened to. I wonder who they were, thought I; I will mention the
story to my father; perhaps he may have heard of it, and can give me
some clue to the boy whose fate is buried in uncertainty. Yet the lad
may even now be among us; and as this thought flashed across my mind, a
half conviction forced itself upon me that I was the man! But I checked
it,--it was a foolish thought, such as one harbours sometimes upon the
slightest cause, and dismisses after a moment's reflection.

"And you never heard aught of them afterwards, nor of the boy?" I asked.

"Never," said the old man; "never; years have passed since then, and
the lad, if he lives, is about your own age, Meer Sahib; and--Ya Alla!"
cried he, gazing on me, as a gust of wind caused the lamp to flare
towards me, "those features are familiar to me!--speak, man! thou art
not the son of him who was murdered?"

I confess that his earnest gaze and manner, with my previous
convictions that the village was familiar to me, almost overpowered
me; but I was too old an adept in deceit to be long staggered by a
suspicion which he had no means of confirming, and I replied carelessly
and with a laugh: "No, no, that cannot be; my father still lives,
though my mother is dead; indeed I have but little remembrance of her.
Besides we are pure Syuds by descent, and reside in a distant country,
and you spoke of your old friend as a Pathan."

"It cannot be then," said the old man, turning away with an air of
disappointment; "yet the resemblance is very striking, and I pray you,
Meer Sahib, to pardon an old man's mistake; it may be that my eyes
are failing me. Yet look at him, my son, and say, does he not resemble
_her_?"

"He does so certainly," replied the other, "and I was struck with the
similarity of features, when I first saw him; but it must be imaginary,
or it is, perhaps, one of those unaccountable resemblances, which one
often sees without being able to discover any cause why it should
exist."

"But you spoke of a coin," said I, "which you hold to be possessed of
peculiar virtues."

"I did, Meer Sahib, and my father will tell you that I have not
overrated its efficacy."

"Nor has he," said the other; "many charms have I seen, but none equal
to it: when around the neck of the wearer, no evil comes to her, no
disease attacks her, and the eye of the malevolent or envious rests in
vain upon her. Assuredly it possesses wonderful virtues, for if it is
ever absent from her, she suffers from disease, or is unquiet in mind."

"Alla ke Qoodrut!" I exclaimed; "it is the work of God. Such charms
are indeed precious, and lucky is the possessor of them. I had once a
son,--he became the victim of an evil glance cast by a Fakeer to whom
alms were denied; he cursed my house, and the boy pined and died. I
was absent from my home, and you may judge, sirs, of my agony when I
arrived and learned my boy was dead. I have never been blessed with
another; but a girl still survives, upon whom every care is lavished,
and no charm is offered for sale by the wandering Fakeers, Moslem or
Hindoo, but it is eagerly purchased, and hung around her neck. In this
manner I have spent much money, but as yet without effect; for my
child is delicate, and afflicted with dreams which disturb her rest
and disquiet her gentle spirit; and I would to Alla I could become the
possessor of some charm similar to the one you mention."

"Keep a stout heart, Meer Sahib," said the old man; "you have bought
your experience with sorrow, to be sure, yet a constant attention to
the wants of the holy wanderers will no doubt have its effect in the
end, and their prayers will be offered for the health of your child and
her long life."

"May Alla listen to them;" said I fervently, for my heart was then with
my child and my loved wife. I arose to take my leave, and as my new
friend insisted on accompanying me to our camp, we walked thither.

"You will be ready, then, at the first dawn," observed I; "we travel
early for the sake of the cool morning air, and my companions bestir
themselves as soon as the first blush of light spreads over the east."

"Depend on me," said he, "I will not keep you waiting: we have a long
stage before us."

He left me. I will have the charm, thought I, as I lay down to rest;
my child shall be protected by its extraordinary virtue, and there
will be an end of the constant searchings for amulets, which do no
good, and cost much money: besides, I could not bring Azima a gift she
would prize more highly, better far in her eyes than strings of pearls
or costly jewels. Thus musing, my thoughts wandered to my home: my
treasures were before me in imagination, and I compared this my wild
and exciting life with the peaceful moments I enjoyed when I was there
with them--Azima lying beside me, and our child amusing us with her
innocent gambols. The contrast was forcible, and appealed to my best
feelings.

I fell asleep; nor did I awake until the bustle of preparation for
the journey warned me that it was time to rise. Having performed my
ablutions, I repeated the morning prayer and thanksgiving, and issuing
from my little tent, I saw the band was in readiness to move on; but my
new acquaintance and his family were as yet not with us.

"Shall we move on?" asked Laloo,--who was now my confidant, being the
second of the Bhuttotes,--as I stood near my horse, prepared to mount.

"Not yet," said I; "I expect some bunij from the village; they promised
not to be late, yet the day advances. Send some one to hurry them."

"Ay, our friends of last night, I suppose, Meer Sahib. Of course we
will wait for them, and I will send a fellow to quicken them: know you
how many there will be to deal with?"

"Not I," I replied; "there are a man and his wife, but how many more I
know not. We shall soon see, however."

Our messenger returned almost immediately. "They come," said he; "I had
not reached the village gate when I saw them issue forth."

"And how many are there?" I asked.

"There are two women on ponies, one old one on foot, and three men
armed with sword and matchlock."

"Six in all," said I; "do you Laloo tell off the Bhuttotes: if we find
a good place to-day I will give the jhirnee; if not, the business can
be done to-morrow."

"True, Meer Sahib," he replied; "but we had better put it off to-day.
To tell you the truth, there was an objectionable omen this morning,
and you know there is no need of risking anything."

"Certainly not; we can send on the Bélhas to-night, and things are best
done which are conducted regularly."

The village party now approached us, and salutations were exchanged; we
stayed not, but pushed on at as rapid a pace as allowed the villagers
to keep up with us; and we travelled thus to the end of the stage.
I saw no likely place for the deed on our way, for the country was
thickly peopled and the villages were close to each other. But I heard
with inward satisfaction from my acquaintance, that the next march was
through a lonely tract, and I was urged by him to be on the alert and
careful, for that robbers were plentiful, and we might be attacked.

They rested in our camp that day and night. I watched eagerly to see,
if it were possible, the face of the woman who bore the prize I so
eagerly coveted, but I could not discern it, she was strictly secluded,
or if she moved out of the temporary screen her husband had erected,
she was enveloped in a thick wrapper, which defied my utmost attempts
to discover her countenance. But she was _mine_, and I gloried in
the thought that ere another day should pass over me, she would have
fallen under my hand, and the charm would be mine also. You, Sahib,
will perhaps wonder at my eagerness to possess it; but you know us not,
if you do. What mother is there in Hindostan, ay, or father, who does
not covet a potent charm against the evil eye for his child or for his
wife, far more than riches, nay the commonest necessaries or comforts
of life? A child falls sick, the glance of some of one is declared to
have rested on it, ceremonies are performed without number, pepper is
burned, mustard-seed placed in the room, and other things done which
you would laugh at were I to relate them all; and hence comes the
necessity of charms. Holy men are besought to give them, and are paid
for them highly: Fakeers are implored to pronounce mystic words over
the suffering infant; and women will sell anything they possess, even
their jewels, to purchase an amulet which is said to be efficacious.
Sahib, I had lost one child; another, my sole offspring, was constantly
ailing, and we were tormented by a thousand miserable anticipations
regarding her. Within my reach was a sovereign remedy for all, so at
least I firmly believed. Can you wonder at my eagerness, my impatience
to possess it?

Laloo came to me, and with him the chief of the Bélhas. "We are to go
on, I suppose, as soon as we can?" said the latter.

"Certainly," replied I; "I hear the road lies through a lonely tract,
which commences a few coss from here. See that you choose a good place,
and that the grave will hold six bodies."

"Jo hookum!" rejoined the fellow; "but I hope the information is
correct about the road, and that it is not like the last stage,
cultivated ground from first to last. I would have defied the best
Belha that ever drew breath to have selected a spot free from a chance
of interruption."

"Rest content," said I; "the information is good, I had it from our
fellow-travellers, who have passed that way a hundred times."

"Then I will start by sunset," continued he; "I suppose the nearer to
this the place is selected, consistently with security, the better."

"Certainly," said I. "Go; you have your leave."

Midnight soon arrived: we had arisen, and had proceeded about three
coss on our way; we had passed every village, and entered on the
desolate tract I have mentioned. The hot night wind still sighed
over the waste, and through the thorny bushes by which it was thinly
covered. No sound broke the silence, save a shrill neigh from one of
our baggage-ponies at intervals, or the wild and melancholy note of
the plover, as it piped its song to its mate, and was answered again
from afar. Once or twice the half shriek, half howl of a hyæna might be
heard, and so like was the cry to that of a wretch under the knife of
an assassin, that my blood curdled in my veins as the sound thrilled
through me. I rode on, first of the party, eagerly looking for the
Belha, who should give the welcome intelligence that the grave was
ready, and that we were secure from interruption; nor had I long to
wait for this. At a turning in the road I saw the trusty messenger
seated; and as he espied me and arose, I hastened to meet him.

"Bhil manjeh?" I asked in our slang language.

"Manjeh," was the reply: "'tis ready, Meer Sahib."

"And how far, Gopal?"

"Scarcely a cannon-shot from hence, a dry nulla with a sandy bed
crosses the road; and a tributary streamlet's course, between high and
narrow banks, was the best place we could find."

"Good," said I, "you are always careful; now keep near me, and hold my
horse when I dismount: I have a share in this affair which I would not
trust to another."

I slackened my horse's pace, and the party soon overtook me. I stopped
as they came up, and dismounted. "A plague on these roads of yours,
Khan," said I to my acquaintance; "my horse has lost a shoe, and his
foot is somewhat tender; so I will walk a coss or two to ease him of my
weight. Surely there cannot be much more of this stony track."

"Not much; a coss or two perhaps: we ought to be near a dry nulla, if I
am not mistaken, and from thence the next village is a coss and a half;
after that the road is good."

"Let the Meer Sahib ride on my tattoo," said a voice like music; "I am
cramped and stiff, and I shall be glad to walk awhile." It was that of
my victim! she who was to die under my hand ere a quarter of an hour
elapsed. She must be beautiful with that voice, thought I; but I shall
see.

"No, no, Khan," said I, "that must not be; I am soldier enough to walk
when I have no horse. Mashalla! my limbs are strong and supple, and I
would not mind trying you at a long stage."

"As you will, Meer Sahib, but you have only to say the word, and she
dismounts. Alla knows 'tis a small recompense for your safe protection
over this dreary tract, which never man yet passed but with fear and
apprehension. The nulla too, we shall reach it soon--they say many a
brave fellow's blood has moistened its sand."

I saw the woman shudder at her husband's speech, and I checked him.
"Shame on you, Khan!" said I; "think who hears you: women's ears
are not fitted to listen to tales of blood, save when they are of a
battle-field, and of scenes in which honour is gained and fame won at
the sword's point. Here you are safe; no rascally Dacoo would dare to
meddle with a kafila like ours, and we shall pass the nulla, as we
have those behind us, without a thought of its dangers or what has
ever happened in it. But what was that?" I eagerly asked, as something
crossed our path close to my feet.

"Nothing but a hare," said the Khan; "some prowling jackal has scared
her from her form, and she seeks another hiding-place."

"A hare!" I repeated, the current of my blood seeming to be suddenly
arrested, as I thought on the fearful omen to a Thug,--one that could
not be disregarded, or, if disregarded, was certain to be followed by
the most dire calamities, nothing less than death or long imprisonment.

"Yes, Meer Sahib, a hare. Why should it astonish you?"

"But across my very path," I muttered involuntarily.

"'Twas chance," said the man; "what of it?"

"Nothing," replied I; "nothing,--we have an old superstition about it
in my country, but 'tis an old woman's tale, I dare say."

I paced on in silence. Ya Alla! what a conflict was raging in my heart!
I have told you I disregarded omens: I cared not for them, only as
they were the soul of Thuggee as far as my men were concerned; and to
humour them I feigned to be particular in their observance. But my soul
quailed when I was put to the proof. Every tale I had heard of the
vengeance of Bhowanee at a conscious neglect of her commands and omens
flashed in rapid succession across my mind,--how one had died, eaten
by worms; another been overtaken by what the world called justice; how
another had lost his wife or children,--and I too had yet a child! I
say I quailed in mental terror for awhile; but mine was a stout heart,
a noble spirit; and it roused at my call, like that of a good steed,
which wor