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    Chapter 46

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    Chapter 47
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    If the desire to kill and the opportunity to kill came always together,
    who would escape hanging.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    On the Train. Fifty years ago, when I was a boy in the then remote and
    sparsely peopled Mississippi valley, vague tales and rumors of a
    mysterious body of professional murderers came wandering in from a
    country which was constructively as far from us as the constellations
    blinking in space--India; vague tales and rumors of a sect called Thugs,
    who waylaid travelers in lonely places and killed them for the
    contentment of a god whom they worshiped; tales which everybody liked to
    listen to and nobody believed, except with reservations. It was
    considered that the stories had gathered bulk on their travels. The
    matter died down and a lull followed. Then Eugene Sue's "Wandering Jew"
    appeared, and made great talk for a while. One character in it was a
    chief of Thugs--"Feringhea"--a mysterious and terrible Indian who was as
    slippery and sly as a serpent, and as deadly; and he stirred up the Thug
    interest once more. But it did not last. It presently died again this
    time to stay dead.

    At first glance it seems strange that this should have happened; but
    really it was not strange--on the contrary--it was natural; I mean on
    our side of the water. For the source whence the Thug tales mainly came
    was a Government Report, and without doubt was not republished in
    America; it was probably never even seen there. Government Reports have
    no general circulation. They are distributed to the few, and are not
    always read by those few. I heard of this Report for the first time a
    day or two ago, and borrowed it. It is full of fascinations; and it
    turns those dim, dark fairy tales of my boyhood days into realities.

    The Report was made in 1889 by Major Sleeman, of the Indian Service, and
    was printed in Calcutta in 1840. It is a clumsy, great, fat, poor sample
    of the printer's art, but good enough for a government printing-office in
    that old day and in that remote region, perhaps. To Major Sleeman was
    given the general superintendence of the giant task of ridding India of
    Thuggee, and he and his seventeen assistants accomplished it. It was the
    Augean Stables over again. Captain Vallancey, writing in a Madras
    journal in those old times, makes this remark:

    "The day that sees this far-spread evil eradicated from India and
    known only in name, will greatly tend to immortalize British rule in
    the East."

    He did not overestimate the magnitude and difficulty of the work, nor the
    immensity of the credit which would justly be due to British rule in case
    it was accomplished.

    Thuggee became known to the British authorities in India about 1810, but
    its wide prevalence was not suspected; it was not regarded as a serious
    matter, and no systematic measures were taken for its suppression until
    about 1830. About that time Major Sleeman captured Eugene Sue's
    Thug-chief, "Feringhea," and got him to turn King's evidence. The
    revelations were so stupefying that Sleeman was not able to believe them.
    Sleeman thought he knew every criminal within his jurisdiction, and that
    the worst of them were merely thieves; but Feringhea told him that he was
    in reality living in the midst of a swarm of professional murderers; that
    they had been all about him for many years, and that they buried their
    dead close by. These seemed insane tales; but Feringhea said come and
    see--and he took him to a grave and dug up a hundred bodies, and told him
    all the circumstances of the killings, and named the Thugs who had done
    the work. It was a staggering business. Sleeman captured some of these
    Thugs and proceeded to examine them separately, and with proper
    precautions against collusion; for he would not believe any Indian's
    unsupported word. The evidence gathered proved the truth of what
    Feringhea had said, and also revealed the fact that gangs of Thugs were
    plying their trade all over India. The astonished government now took
    hold of Thuggee, and for ten years made systematic and relentless war
    upon it, and finally destroyed it. Gang after gang was captured, tried,
    and punished. The Thugs were harried and hunted from one end of India to
    the other. The government got all their secrets out of them; and also
    got the names of the members of the bands, and recorded them in a book,
    together with their birthplaces and places of residence.

    The Thugs were worshipers of Bhowanee; and to this god they sacrificed
    anybody that came handy; but they kept the dead man's things themselves,
    for the god cared for nothing but the corpse. Men were initiated into
    the sect with solemn ceremonies. Then they were taught how to strangle a
    person with the sacred choke-cloth, but were not allowed to perform
    officially with it until after long practice. No half-educated strangler
    could choke a man to death quickly enough to keep him from uttering a
    sound--a muffled scream, gurgle, gasp, moan, or something of the sort;
    but the expert's work was instantaneous: the cloth was whipped around the
    victim's neck, there was a sudden twist, and the head fell silently
    forward, the eyes starting from the sockets; and all was over. The Thug
    carefully guarded against resistance. It was usual to to get the victims
    to sit down, for that was the handiest position for business.

    If the Thug had planned India itself it could not have been more
    conveniently arranged for the needs of his occupation.

    There were no public conveyances. There were no conveyances for hire.
    The traveler went on foot or in a bullock cart or on a horse which he
    bought for the purpose. As soon as he was out of his own little State or
    principality he was among strangers; nobody knew him, nobody took note of
    him, and from that time his movements could no longer be traced. He did
    not stop in towns or villages, but camped outside of them and sent his
    servants in to buy provisions. There were no habitations between
    villages. Whenever he was between villages he was an easy prey,
    particularly as he usually traveled by night, to avoid the heat. He was
    always being overtaken by strangers who offered him the protection of
    their company, or asked for the protection of his--and these strangers
    were often Thugs, as he presently found out to his cost. The
    landholders, the native police, the petty princes, the village officials,
    the customs officers were in many cases protectors and harborers of the
    Thugs, and betrayed travelers to them for a share of the spoil. At first
    this condition of things made it next to impossible for the government to
    catch the marauders; they were spirited away by these watchful friends.
    All through a vast continent, thus infested, helpless people of every
    caste and kind moved along the paths and trails in couples and groups
    silently by night, carrying the commerce of the country--treasure,
    jewels, money, and petty batches of silks, spices, and all manner of
    wares. It was a paradise for the Thug.

    When the autumn opened, the Thugs began to gather together by
    pre-concert. Other people had to have interpreters at every turn, but
    not the Thugs; they could talk together, no matter how far apart they
    were born, for they had a language of their own, and they had secret
    signs by which they knew each other for Thugs; and they were always
    friends. Even their diversities of religion and caste were sunk in
    devotion to their calling, and the Moslem and the high-caste and
    low-caste Hindoo were staunch and affectionate brothers in Thuggery.

    When a gang had been assembled, they had religious worship, and waited
    for an omen. They had definite notions about the omens. The cries of
    certain animals were good omens, the cries of certain other creatures
    were bad omens. A bad omen would stop proceedings and send the men home.

    The sword and the strangling-cloth were sacred emblems. The Thugs
    worshiped the sword at home before going out to the assembling-place; the
    strangling-cloth was worshiped at the place of assembly. The chiefs of
    most of the bands performed the religious ceremonies themselves; but the
    Kaets delegated them to certain official stranglers (Chaurs). The rites
    of the Kaets were so holy that no one but the Chaur was allowed to touch
    the vessels and other things used in them.

    Thug methods exhibit a curious mixture of caution and the absence of it;
    cold business calculation and sudden, unreflecting impulse; but there
    were two details which were constant, and not subject to caprice: patient
    persistence in following up the prey, and pitilessness when the time came
    to act.

    Caution was exhibited in the strength of the bands. They never felt
    comfortable and confident unless their strength exceeded that of any
    party of travelers they were likely to meet by four or fivefold. Yet it
    was never their purpose to attack openly, but only when the victims were
    off their guard. When they got hold of a party of travelers they often
    moved along in their company several days, using all manner of arts to
    win their friendship and get their confidence. At last, when this was
    accomplished to their satisfaction, the real business began. A few Thugs
    were privately detached and sent forward in the dark to select a good
    killing-place and dig the graves. When the rest reached the spot a halt
    was called, for a rest or a smoke. The travelers were invited to sit.
    By signs, the chief appointed certain Thugs to sit down in front of the
    travelers as if to wait upon them, others to sit down beside them and
    engage them in conversation, and certain expert stranglers to stand
    behind the travelers and be ready when the signal was given. The signal
    was usually some commonplace remark, like "Bring the tobacco." Sometimes
    a considerable wait ensued after all the actors were in their places--the
    chief was biding his time, in order to make everything sure. Meantime,
    the talk droned on, dim figures moved about in the dull light, peace and
    tranquility reigned, the travelers resigned themselves to the pleasant
    reposefulness and comfort of the situation, unconscious of the
    death-angels standing motionless at their backs. The time was ripe, now,
    and the signal came: "Bring the tobacco." There was a mute swift
    movement, all in the same instant the men at each victim's sides seized
    his hands, the man in front seized his feet, and pulled, the man at his
    back whipped the cloth around his neck and gave it a twist the head sunk
    forward, the tragedy was over. The bodies were stripped and covered up
    in the graves, the spoil packed for transportation, then the Thugs gave
    pious thanks to Bhowanee, and departed on further holy service.

    The Report shows that the travelers moved in exceedingly small groups
    --twos, threes, fours, as a rule; a party with a dozen in it was rare. The
    Thugs themselves seem to have been the only people who moved in force.
    They went about in gangs of 10, 15, 25, 40, 60, 100, 150, 200, 250, and
    one gang of 310 is mentioned. Considering their numbers, their catch was
    not extraordinary--particularly when you consider that they were not in
    the least fastidious, but took anybody they could get, whether rich or
    poor, and sometimes even killed children. Now and then they killed
    women, but it was considered sinful to do it, and unlucky. The "season"
    was six or eight months long. One season the half dozen Bundelkand and
    Gwalior gangs aggregated 712 men, and they murdered 210 people. One
    season the Malwa and Kandeish gangs aggregated 702 men, and they murdered
    232. One season the Kandeish and Berar gangs aggregated 963 men, and
    they murdered 385 people.

    Here is the tally-sheet of a gang of sixty Thugs for a whole season--gang
    under two noted chiefs, "Chotee and Sheik Nungoo from Gwalior":

    "Left Poora, in Jhansee, and on arrival at Sarora murdered a
    traveler.

    "On nearly reaching Bhopal, met 3 Brahmins, and murdered them.

    "Cross the Nerbudda; at a village called Hutteea, murdered a Hindoo.

    "Went through Aurungabad to Walagow; there met a Havildar of the
    barber caste and 5 sepoys (native soldiers); in the evening came to
    Jokur, and in the morning killed them near the place where the
    treasure-bearers were killed the year before.

    "Between Jokur and Dholeea met a sepoy of the shepherd caste; killed
    him in the jungle.

    "Passed through Dholeea and lodged in a village; two miles beyond,
    on the road to Indore, met a Byragee (beggar-holy mendicant);
    murdered him at the Thapa.

    "In the morning, beyond the Thapa, fell in with 3 Marwarie
    travelers; murdered them.

    "Near a village on the banks of the Taptee met 4 travelers and
    killed them.

    "Between Choupra and Dhoreea met a Marwarie; murdered him.

    "At Dhoreea met 3 Marwaries; took them two miles and murdered them.

    "Two miles further on, overtaken by three treasure-bearers; took
    them two miles and murdered them in the jungle.

    "Came on to Khurgore Bateesa in Indore, divided spoil, and
    dispersed.

    "A total of 27 men murdered on one expedition."

    Chotee (to save his neck) was informer, and furnished these facts.
    Several things are noticeable about his resume. 1. Business brevity;
    2, absence of emotion; 3, smallness of the parties encountered by the 60;
    4, variety in character and quality of the game captured; 5, Hindoo and
    Mohammedan chiefs in business together for Bhowanee; 6, the sacred caste
    of the Brahmins not respected by either; 7, nor yet the character of that
    mendicant, that Byragee.

    A beggar is a holy creature, and some of the gangs spared him on that
    account, no matter how slack business might be; but other gangs
    slaughtered not only him, but even that sacredest of sacred creatures,
    the fakeer--that repulsive skin-and-bone thing that goes around naked and
    mats his bushy hair with dust and dirt, and so beflours his lean body
    with ashes that he looks like a specter. Sometimes a fakeer trusted a
    shade too far in the protection of his sacredness. In the middle of a
    tally-sheet of Feringhea's, who had been out with forty Thugs, I find a
    case of the kind. After the killing of thirty-nine men and one woman,
    the fakeer appears on the scene:

    "Approaching Doregow, met 3 pundits; also a fakeer, mounted on a
    pony; he was plastered over with sugar to collect flies, and was
    covered with them. Drove off the fakeer, and killed the other
    three.

    "Leaving Doregow, the fakeer joined again, and went on in company to
    Raojana; met 6 Khutries on their way from Bombay to Nagpore. Drove
    off the fakeer with stones, and killed the 6 men in camp, and buried
    them in the grove.

    "Next day the fakeer joined again; made him leave at Mana. Beyond
    there, fell in with two Kahars and a sepoy, and came on towards the
    place selected for the murder. When near it, the fakeer came again.
    Losing all patience with him, gave Mithoo, one of the gang, 5 rupees
    ($2.50) to murder him, and take the sin upon himself. All four were
    strangled, including the fakeer. Surprised to find among the
    fakeer's effects 30 pounds of coral, 350 strings of small pearls, 15
    strings of large pearls, and a gilt necklace."

    It it curious, the little effect that time has upon a really interesting
    circumstance. This one, so old, so long ago gone down into oblivion,
    reads with the same freshness and charm that attach to the news in the
    morning paper; one's spirits go up, then down, then up again, following
    the chances which the fakeer is running; now you hope, now you despair,
    now you hope again; and at last everything comes out right, and you feel
    a great wave of personal satisfaction go weltering through you, and
    without thinking, you put out your hand to pat Mithoo on the back, when
    --puff! the whole thing has vanished away, there is nothing there; Mithoo
    and all the crowd have been dust and ashes and forgotten, oh, so many,
    many, many lagging years! And then comes a sense of injury: you don't
    know whether Mithoo got the swag, along with the sin, or had to divide up
    the swag and keep all the sin himself. There is no literary art about a
    government report. It stops a story right in the most interesting place.

    These reports of Thug expeditions run along interminably in one
    monotonous tune: "Met a sepoy--killed him; met 5 pundits--killed them;
    met 4 Rajpoots and a woman--killed them"--and so on, till the statistics
    get to be pretty dry. But this small trip of Feringhea's Forty had some
    little variety about it. Once they came across a man hiding in a grave
    --a thief; he had stolen 1,100 rupees from Dhunroj Seith of Parowtee.
    They strangled him and took the money. They had no patience with thieves.
    They killed two treasure-bearers, and got 4,000 rupees. They came across
    two bullocks "laden with copper pice," and killed the four drivers and
    took the money. There must have been half a ton of it. I think it takes
    a double handful of pice to make an anna, and 16 annas to make a rupee;
    and even in those days the rupee was worth only half a dollar. Coming
    back over their tracks from Baroda, they had another picturesque stroke
    of luck: "'The Lohars of Oodeypore' put a traveler in their charge for
    safety." Dear, dear, across this abyssmal gulf of time we still see
    Feringhea's lips uncover his teeth, and through the dim haze we catch the
    incandescent glimmer of his smile. He accepted that trust, good man; and
    so we know what went with the traveler.

    Even Rajahs had no terrors for Feringhea; he came across an
    elephant-driver belonging to the Rajah of Oodeypore and promptly
    strangled him.

    "A total of 100 men and 5 women murdered on this expedition."

    Among the reports of expeditions we find mention of victims of almost
    every quality and estate.

    Also a prince's cook; and even the water-carrier of that sublime lord of
    lords and king of kings, the Governor-General of India! How broad they
    were in their tastes! They also murdered actors--poor wandering
    barnstormers. There are two instances recorded; the first one by a gang
    of Thugs under a chief who soils a great name borne by a better man
    --Kipling's deathless "Gungadin":

    "After murdering 4 sepoys, going on toward Indore, met 4 strolling
    players, and persuaded them to come with us, on the pretense that we
    would see their performance at the next stage. Murdered them at a
    temple near Bhopal."

    Second instance:

    "At Deohuttee, joined by comedians. Murdered them eastward of that
    place."

    But this gang was a particularly bad crew. On that expedition they
    murdered a fakeer and twelve beggars. And yet Bhowanee protected them;
    for once when they were strangling a man in a wood when a crowd was going
    by close at hand and the noose slipped and the man screamed, Bhowanee
    made a camel burst out at the same moment with a roar that drowned the
    scream; and before the man could repeat it the breath was choked out of
    his body.

    The cow is so sacred in India that to kill her keeper is an awful
    sacrilege, and even the Thugs recognized this; yet now and then the lust
    for blood was too strong, and so they did kill a few cow-keepers. In one
    of these instances the witness who killed the cowherd said, "In Thuggee
    this is strictly forbidden, and is an act from which no good can come. I
    was ill of a fever for ten days afterward. I do believe that evil will
    follow the murder of a man with a cow. If there be no cow it does not
    signify." Another Thug said he held the cowherd's feet while this
    witness did the strangling. He felt no concern, "because the bad fortune
    of such a deed is upon the strangler and not upon the assistants; even if
    there should be a hundred of them."

    There were thousands of Thugs roving over India constantly, during many
    generations. They made Thug gee a hereditary vocation and taught it to
    their sons and to their son's sons. Boys were in full membership as
    early as 16 years of age; veterans were still at work at 70. What was
    the fascination, what was the impulse? Apparently, it was partly piety,
    largely gain, and there is reason to suspect that the sport afforded was
    the chiefest fascination of all. Meadows Taylor makes a Thug in one of
    his books claim that the pleasure of killing men was the white man's
    beast-hunting instinct enlarged, refined, ennobled. I will quote the
    passage:
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