+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


IT is some years since I first landed in
Calcutta. I was in no way connected with
the government, and was consequently an
"interloper" or "adventurer." These were
the terms applied by certain officials to
European merchants, indigo-planters,
shopkeepers, artisans, barristers, attorneys, and

It was not long before I made up my mind
to become a wanderer in the East. I had
no occupation, was my own master, and had a
large tract of country to roam about in. My
first step was to acquire a knowledge of
Hindoostanee and of Persian. By dint of hard
study, at the end of six months I found
myself capable, not only of holding a
conversation, but of arguing a point in either of
these languages; and, with a light heart, I
took my departure from the City of Palaces,
and proceeded to Monghyr, on the Ganges.

The chief civilian of that district had invited
me to spend a month with him. Every day
I accompanied my friend to his court, and
thereby got some insight into the administration
of justice in India, both civil and criminal.
Here, too, I first made acquaintance
with Thugs. Several most notorious characters
of that tribe were at Monghyr,—not
imprisoned, but permitted to move about.
They had been pardoned on condition that
they would become informers, and, to a certain
extent, detectives, in the suppression of
Thuggee in the British dominions. It was a
curious feeling to be in conversation with
men who had each committed his ninety or a
hundred murdersto see the fingers that had
strangled so many victimsto watch the
process, for they were good-natured enough to
act it. There was the unsuspecting traveller
with his bundle; the decoy Thug, who engaged
him in conversation; the two men, who at the
given signal, were to seize; the executioner,
standing behind with the handkerchief, ready
to strangle the victim. They even went through
the operation of searching the "deceased,"
upon whom they found nothing in this case;
but they assured me this frequently happened
in reality. The reader is of course aware
that it is a part of the Thug's religion not to
rob a live body. The crime of murder must
precede that of theft. The playthe tragedy
over (to these domesticated demons it was
a mere farce), they laughed at the solemn
expression which, I doubt not, was stamped
upon my features.

These Thugs were permitted to have their
families at Monghyr; and one morning, when
I strolled down to their camp, an old man
made five children, the eldest boy not more
than eight years old, go through the business
of strangling and robbing a victim. In one
respect these urchins outdid their progenitors
in the acting. They not only went
through the ceremony of searching the
dead body, but, that done, they dragged it
by the legs to a well, and, in dumb show,
threw it down, and then uttered a prayer to

"Was that good?" said one of the children,
running up to me for applause and a
reward. I scarcely knew what to reply.
Before I had time to give any answer, the
child's father said, "No; it was not good.
You used the handkerchief before the signal
was given. Go through it again, and remember,
this time, that you must have patience."
The boys began again, much in the same
spirit that an actor and actress would go
through the strangling scene in Othello, to
please a fastidious manager.

Approaching a very interesting looking
woman, of about two-and-twenty years of age,
I said to her, "What do you think of this?"

She replied, in a proverb, "The mango
always falls beneath the shade of the parent

"But the crime?" said I. "What think
you of that?"

She looked up with as lovely a pair of
eyes as ever saw the light, smiled, and

"Heaven will hold us all, Sahib!"

I was about to reason with her, but her
husband, with an expression of pride,
interfered, and informed me that she had taken
eighteen lives.

"Twenty-one!" she exclaimed.

"Eighteen only," said he.

"Twenty-one!" she persisted, and ran them
over, counting on her fingers the places and
the dates when the murders were committed.
Her husband then admitted that she was
in the right, and, turning to me, remarked,
"She is a very clever woman, Sahib."