Page images

on the ground cross-legged, and looking so miserable and forlorn that for all his misdeeds I could not help feeling sorry for him. His fellow-countrymen showed him less compassion, treating him to many taunts and jeers, as they did also his wife. They made her mock salaams, addressed her in ridicule as 'Queen' and 'her Highness,' and otherwise made fun of her. As soon, however, as the officers perceived this, they at once put a stop to it, and Captain Dennys had the poor woman removed to a distance, till we decided what to do with her and the other prisoners.

A party of men were now sent into the village; on their reporting it empty, orders were given to set it on fire. We were watching the flames, when, to our horror, we perceived a party of men on the flat roof of one of the houses. The flames were rapidly approaching them. We shouted, and Captain Dennys sent a party of tent-pitchers to their assistance. Their danger was more apparent than real, the house was on the margin of the village. Before the relieving party reached them they had leaped off the roof, and we presently, to our satisfaction, saw them scampering away across the fields.

The Sepoys had beheld the peril of their countrymen with great indifference. They exhibited, however, a lively interest in that of a pretty white cow, which, having escaped from the village, appeared inclined to run back to it. They shouted, gesticulated, appealed to the animal not to rush on to its fate, and till it had turned and run off in another direction they were wild with excitement. When the village was consumed, that is, when the thatches were burnt, for nothing else was combustible, we continued our march. Dayby Sing and the prisoners who had been found in arms we carried with us, the rest and the women we released. We marched

[ocr errors]

for another hour, and then arrived at a small town, the capital of that part of the district. Here we remained till the surrounding country had been brought to order. During my stay there I became acquainted with Dayby Sing's history and proceedings. They are so illustrative of native habits and of the condition of the country at the time, that an account of them may perhaps even now prove interesting to the reader.

The fourteen villages had, in times gone by, formed a single estate. During the half century of our rule they had been sold and resold, and the proprietors reduced to the condition of mere cultivators. But they still held the tradition of their former supremacy, and looked forward to the time when they might recover it. On the breaking out of the mutiny that time seemed to them to have arrived, and they hastened to avail themselves of it. In each village they rose and turned on the new owners ; of these most fled, the rest fought. In these fights Dayby Sing came to the front. The proceedings on neither side were very heroic; there was much firing of matchlocks, a good deal of burning of thatch, a few men killed, more wounded. Eventually, Dayby Sing's fellow caste-men obtained the victory, re-established themselves in their ancient position, and, this done, Dayby Sing elected himself as their Rajah. He then turned his attention to his neighbours, to our Government, and to the Bunniahs.

The Bunniahs, as I have already explained, are a class of traders peculiar to India, at once dealers in grain, grocers, and money-lenders. In the latter capacity they are the most extortionate and pitiless usurers in the world. The leading Bunniahs in the neighbourhood resided in the town, where we were encamped. When Dayby Sing advanced to call them to account he had with him the sympathies of the entire population. This town

was also the head-quarters of the police. His first act was to eject them; it was easily effected-most of them, indeed, fled of their own accord on hearing of his approach. On entering the town Dayby Sing proceeded to the schoolroom, a building lately erected by our Government. In this he established his head-quarters, first tearing out the doors and windows. He then constituted a government of his own, which he formed on the English model.

He appointed a Board of Revenue, a Supreme Court of Judicature, a Commissioner, a Magistrate, and a Superintendent of Police. For this last office he did not consider any of his own people properly qualified; so he sent a message to the late incumbent begging him to return, and promising him an increase of salary. Having constructed his government, Dayby Sing was very diligent in superintending it. He came to the town every morning at daybreak, and sat himself down in the schoolroom. There he received petitions, heard complaints, and dictated despatches. This done, he devoted the rest of the day to plundering the Bunniahs, which he did very deliberately, all the town assisting.

Each morning one Bunniah was selected. He was conducted with his books to the schoolroom, and put through an examination, Dayby Sing first exhorting him very earnestly to speak the truth, to give up his bonds and mortgage deeds, and to point out his concealed treasures. If his replies were satisfactory, well and good; if they were not, he was put to the torture. The torments inflicted were not very severe; I found no case where any Bunniah had been seriously hurt.

Next followed an adjournment to the Bunniah's house-the afternoon was spent in pulling it to pieces. Whatever goods or treasure were found were distributed, account-books and papers were burnt, or torn to frag

ments. The proceedings terminated by the release of the Bunniah. Like a cobra deprived of its poison bag, without his documents he was considered harmless.

By the time of our advance the Bunniahs had been nearly disposed of; the morning of our arrival Dayby Sing, having little other occupation, was amusing himself in robbing a mango orchard. He and his people were busy picking the fruit, when a man arrived and informed him that there was a column of smoke in the west, and that he feared something was wrong. He recommended the Rajah to return to his home. On this Dayby Sing set out for his village, and reached it only a little before our troops surrounded it.

Throughout the mutiny our intelligence was bad, but almost invariably that of the natives was worse. This was the result of their overwhelming conceit, their extreme apathy, and their childish credulity. Of this Dayby Sing was a fair example. Having driven out the police, he imagined that he had overthrown our government. On learning the recall of the contingent, he troubled himself no more about it. He was not aware of its return till he beheld the Sepoys before his village.

In the afternoon I visited the town. It was a pretty place, containing a long bazaar and several handsome houses. The bazaar, I should explain, is the principal street of an Indian town, in which are the shops and the market-places. Before his shop each trader was standing; as I entered, with one accord they lifted up their voices and wept.' Never before had I realised the force of the Scriptural expression.

Each commenced by shouting out his individual grievance, and calling on me and the Great Company' for vengeance and redress. To attract my attention. they raised their voices higher and higher, till they

mingled in one loud discordant wail. They screamed, they yelled; some threw ashes on their heads, some beat their breasts, some tore their hair; they wept, they blubbered. No other word can so well express the sound; it was the vicious, revengeful cry of a cowardly schoolboy.

As men whose god was money they certainly had reason for their grief; every shop was completely plundered, and not only plundered but wrecked. The doors were torn out, the verandahs pulled down, the floors dug up, and also great holes dug in the walls. Whatever was worth carrying off had gone to the villages, the rest lay in the street. The roadway was covered with torn accountbooks, broken bottles, fragments of jars and boxes, besides the débris of the floors and verandahs.

Having seen the shops, I was led off to examine the dwelling-houses. Some of these were very pretty; walls solid as rocks, and delicate stone carving. They had been worse used than even the shops. In the search for hidden treasures the smaller ones had been nearly pulled to pieces; all of them were more or less reduced to ruins. I noticed here, as I had at Muttra, the excessive fondness of the villagers for wood and iron; not a fragment of either had been left that could be extracted. Here, as there, I was also struck with the disproportion between the value of the plunder and the labour of extracting it. Hours, even days, must have been spent in digging out of the solid walls ends of beams or fragments of clamps and hinges.

In the whole town only one house had escaped, and there the lamentations of the owner were the loudest. The mob had arrived to dig for his treasure, a carpenter stepped forward and said he would save them the trouble. He had just constructed a hiding-place for the proprietor, and he pointed it out. It was a small recess over

« PreviousContinue »