Thomas Herbert Lewin.

A fly on the wheel, or How I helped to govern India online

. (page 10 of 31)
Online LibraryThomas Herbert LewinA fly on the wheel, or How I helped to govern India → online text (page 10 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

every way, but the nut remained as before. " This
is a very hard nut to crack," said the monkey.
Babek, however — may his tail never be less I — has, I
think, cracked the nut of our difficulty. Let us
consult the wisdom of the great Raja, even Raja

** So they went before him. Then said Solomon,
* What will ye, hoopoes ? ' And they told him
how the hand of every man was against them by
reason of their crowns.

" Then said the King, * foolish ones ! I foresaw
that this would come upon you, even on the day you
made petition, on the day of the sun-shielding.'

"Then he smiled and waved his hand, and the
golden crowns changed, and became as feathers that
are of gold, but still are feathers, and no gain to any
man. So the hoopoes departed rejoicing, and praising
the goodness and the wisdom of Solomon, the son of

Digitized by VjOOQIC

&AZAElBAaH. ' 137

I thanked the Daroga for his story, and retired to
my tent, having no mind for further vocal melody,
but fer into the night I was dreamily conscious of
Shaikh Jaffer's shakes and quavers.

On returning to Hazaribagh, I found an unwel-
come summons from my Colonel, calling upon me
to rejoin my regiment, the 104th, as there was a
lack of oflBcers. I had no mind to return to the dull
monotony of regimental life, and therefore submitted
to Government a respectful application to be per-
mitted to join the Bengal Staff Corps, and reported
my action in the matter to the Colonel of my regi-
ment, waiting meanwhile for further orders.

As the rainy season set in, the criminals of the
district roused themselves to greater activity, hoping,
doubtless, to escape pursuit owing to the difficulty of
travelling. But

Naught cared this body for wind and weather,
When youth and I lived in 't together ;

and I rode sometimes forty miles a day, investigating
and following up serious cases of murder and robbery.
There were hitches and difficulties also with the police,
and cases of insubordination and mutiny requiring
immediate repression and punishment. I was fairly
successful in my work, taking prisoner sixteen out of
a band of forty miscreants who had been committing
serious highway robberies on the Grand Trunk Road,
sixty miles of which I had to patrol and keep in safety
for travellers.

On this expedition it was necessary to travel with
extreme secrecy. I started off with only ten of my
best men, all well armed. We went on foot, and,

Digitized by VjOOQIC

186 A FLY ON TflE WfiBEL.

the better to escape observation, I wore native clothes
during the three weeks we were out, and fered in all
respects like one of my own men, eating rice and
chupatees, and marching an average of sixteen miles
a day. Our final march, when we closed on the
band was one of twenty-five miles. We carried no
tent, but slept each night where we could, -often
under a tree in the jungle.

I returned to Hazaribagh in high spirits, for we
had not only taken sixteen, but learnt the names of
many more of the outlaws.

I greatly enjoyed riding quietly back after the cap-
ture, in spite of the torrents of rain that fell without
intermission. The whole adventure seemed like a
dream. The night marches through dense jungle;
the surroundings of men's houses in the early grey
dawn ; the scuffles, fightings ; the denials and search-
ings; and the patter-patter of the rain, which was
a never-failing monotonous accompaniment of the
whole expedition. I carried no luggage save a
bundle of absolute necessaries ; and one evening,
when the rain was unusually heavy, in order to keep
my one suit of outer gannents from being absolutely
soaked, I took oflF all my things, wrapping each article
up in big leaves, and sat with only a waist-cloth on,
the rain pouring down on my bare head and shoulders
like a heavy shower-bath. But the rain brightened
and refreshed the land, which bloomed out into myriad
beauties. Insect life, too, was busy, and I often
amused myself watching the tiny creatures. A green
leaf seemingly taking a walk ; chameleons darting
about with changeful hue ; or an important cocked-
hatted beetle, which occupied its time in propelling

Digitized by VjOOQIC


pellets of cow-dung, standing on its head and
working with its hind legs.

My friendly superior officer, Major B , greeted

me warmly when I reached the station, and congratu-
lated me on the success of our little foray.

My efforts at keeping order and promoting honesty
had not always so pleasant a termination. One
morning early I received a hurried note from a high-
placed Government official, to say that a burglary
had been committed during the night and his wife's
jewels stolen. He asked me to investigate the case
ftdly and at once, with a view to the recovery of the
property and the punishment of the thief.

I proceeded accordingly to the house. The lady
herself was in bed and could not see me, but her ayah
informed me that the jewels had been kept, with some
silver spoons, in a box under the bed occupied by
her master and mistress, she herself sleeping in a
small bath-room opening on the bed-room, and in the
same apartment two pet dogs also passed the night.
The box had been found in the morning empty
beside the bed, and showed signs of having been
forced open by some sharp -pointed instrument.

T thoroughly examined the premises, and set spies
in t<he bazaar with curious results. In the first place,
I found that the dogs had not barked, but passed a quiet
night. It was true that the iron gauze outside the
pantry window had been cut away, but no marks of
violence or footsteps were visible outside, while in the
bushes near, one of the police discovered a stout pair
of scissors freshly broken, the points of which fitted
into the marks on both box and window. On search-
ing the house of the chief goldsmith in the bazaar

Digitized by VjOOQIC


the jewels were found in his strong-box. I pointed
out to him the serious position in which he was placed
by this discovery, and he then stated that the jewels
were sold to him by the lady's ayah, who, in her turn,
on being threatened with the law, confessed that she
had sold them by her lady's own orders. The result
was an unpleasant one to communicate to the lady's
husband. It appeared that, being heavily in debt and
ajfraid of her husband, she had sold the jewels, and
tried to cover their absence, which he would be sure
to note, by a pretended robbery. They shortly after
left the district and I saw them no more.

The remnants of the band I had attacked, with
their leader, a brave, clever scoundrel, named Jherria
Raj war, were still at large, and one day I spent an
hour vainly in trying to elicit information against*
them from a poor wretch whose house had been plun-
dered ; the only answers he returned to my queries
being, ** Ah ! but I fear much, Sahib ! '* or, " They
will be sure to come back and kill me if I say any-
thing " ; and lastly, " I am very poor, my lord ; they
have taken all ! " To explain this last plaintive
remark, I should add that the custom among the old
police had been to exact a handsome gratuity from
anyone who had been robbed, in default of which the
sufferer was made to suffer more by long joumeyings,
tedious attendances, and providing food for the police
during their protracted investigations, than by the
original loss. So the poor man feared that I too
meant to plunder him.

At last I spied his wife with a child in her arms
peeping at me from an inner room, so I said in a
loud voice, *'Ah! they beat your little boy, the

Digitized by Google


scoundrels ! '* The wife emerged a little from her
obscurity to listen. ** And you say they assaulted
your wife, and made her show her face — the villains ! "

" It is false ! Who said so? *' And with this out
came the wife, forgetting alike both fear and poverty,
and indignantly told me all she knew.

The robbers it appeared had, as their custom was,
tied up their faces in cloths to avoid recognition ;
but the woman averred, and her husband did not
contradict her, that the leader of the robbers was
Jherria Rajwar.

Jherria Rajwar, therefore, must be hunted down.
I collected all the evidence I could, and made a careful
list of the missing property, and set to work. The
task was no easy one. He was a convicted dacoit,
who had been released when the mutineers broke
open the prison gates at Gya, and made a general jail
deliverance. When order was restored he continued
'living in the jungle as an outlaw, subsisting by rob-
bery, and only occasionally visiting his native village,
which was situated on the outskirts of the district, in
a hilly gorge near the sacred place known as the
Dripping Well.

I had to approach this locality very cautiously, in
order to gain information of his whereabouts ; so
under pretence of returning to Hazaribagh, we left
the village where the robbery had been committed,
and after marching for some hours till daylight was
spent, we took to the jimgle and camp^ for the

As we lay under some trees, rolled in our blankets,
a great black bear came grubbing for food close by.
It was bright moonlight, and I watched his proceed-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


ings for some time without stirring, not wishing to
attract his attention ; but my men soon became aware
of the unwelcome visitor, and raised the cry, " A
bear, a bear ! "

" Ahi ! bap-r^ bap ! Oh, my father ! go and drive
him away I " said a timorous voice from under a
blanket close by.

On this Rahmut-ullah Khan, a fine young Mussul-
man, who formed one of my party, arose, and seizing
a large two-handled sword, with measured steps
approached the bear, addressing the animal as he

" Ah ! dastardly robber of honey, the skin of whose
fiither is my sitting-place I Oh ! white-livered son of a
pig's mother I will you dare to abide my coming ? "

Now, whether it was the gleaming sword which he
brandished in a flashing circle round his head, or
the torrent of abuse, which scared Mr. Bruin, I
know not ; certain it is, that the bear gazed for a
moment, grunting uneasily, and then turned and fled.

Camp life has its unexpected luxuries as well as its
hardships. I remember on this occasion a memorable
bath, when on returning one morning to our camping-
ground after a long and fi-uitless walk under a hot sun,
I found my men had scooped out for me in the soft
white sand of a clear streamlet an oval hollow, large
enough to lie in at full length, and here the pure cool
spring water, filled with sunlight and shimmering
reflections of green leaves, seemed to bring new life
into my wearied limbs. I lay there with my lace
only out of the water, watching the bright dragon-
flies dance hither and thither round the gnarled trunk
of an old semul tree, among whose roots my bath

Digitized by VjOOQIC


was made ; ^hile out and beyond, through the green
boughs, was the intense blue of a cloudless Indian
sky, telling of the glare and heat without and giving
additional zest to the shady coolness of the streamlet.

The breakfast which followed was equally delightful
in its way. Eice of snowy whiteness, boiled to a turn,
and served on a large platter of green leaves ; a cake
of unleavened bread, hot and crisp off the wood
embers; chutney made of fresh pepper and lemon-
rind, some fruit, and a glass of sweet fresh milk.

We were getting hot in our pursuit of Jherria
Rajwur, and hoped to surprise him by a night attack.
I had learnt from a cow-herd that he was in the im-
mediate vicinity of the Dripping Well of Mhaka with
fifteen of his men, and we approached with caution,
our party only numbering nine, including myself.

It was dark, and we lay down to rest for a few
hours before attacking him.

" What hour is it, Rahmut Khan ? "

** Your highness, I cannot exactly say, as there
are no clocks in the wilderness ; but I believe it to be
exactly midnight."

" Why do you say exactly ? "

^* Because at that time of night only, does the air
flow with even freedom through both of a man's

I essayed this new mode of time-measurement, and
found truly that I did breathe equally through both
ipy nostrils; so we agree that it is probably midnight.
Our movements had been speedy, and we were within
a mile of the robber's lair ; still, great caution was
needed, as they might have heard of our coming, and
be on the look out.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


"They would all be asleep now, Sahib, under
ordinary circumstances; but with the rumour that
your honour is out, you may be sure they will keep
a good guard. We ought not to reach the Dripping
Well until the morning star shows himself there/'
pointing to the eastern sky.

Before us lay a long range of low rocky hills,
clothed from base to crown with thick jungle mixed
with large forest trees, which stretched east and west
as far as the eye could see, save for a break in the
line just in front of us. Here the range suddenly
fell in height, sweeping back in a great amphitheatre.
The foot of the hills was belted with thick brush-
wood, through which we had to pass before reaching
the well. We could almost follow with the eye the
track along which our path would lie, until the steep
ascent was closed by a perpendicular wall of rock,
curving round in a semi-circle to where a large .
peepul tree marked the gully up which the path led
to a natural terrace above. Here was situated a small
cave, whence, out of the heart of the rock, welled
forth, crystal-clear, the spring which gave the place its
name of the Dripping Welh The spot was held sacred
by the inhabitants of the ^dllage of Mhaka, whose
dwellings were dimly discernible at the foot of the
hills. The spring never dried up, even in the hottest
season, and its waters were famed for the cure of all
sorts of sickness and disease.

Here had collected the remnants of the nest of
robbers which had for so long harassed the district.
The rascals had with great astuteness confined their
depredations to distant forays, or to robberies com-
mitted on strangers and wayfarers, and by so doing

Digitized by VjOOQIC


had preserved the goodwiU of the country people in
the vicinity, who doubtless benefited by the plunder,
and who supplied thera with food and helped to
screen them from too pressing inquiries.

Acting on Eahmut Khan's advice, we remained
quiet for another three hours, and then, the morning
star having taken up the required position, we looked
to our arms and cautiously made for the pass leading
to the Dripping Well.

On commencing the steep ascent, one of the con-
stables, who was somewhat corpulent and short of
breath, took to puffing and groaning in a manner
which threatened to frustrate all our precautions. I
therefore pulled his ears heartily, and bade him stay

We crept along so quietly that we gained the
terrace before any alarm was given, and came
in sight of the great tree, underneath which
smouldered the embers of a fire. Then there was
a shout, and, as we rushed in, a number of recum-
bent figures sprang up from around the fire, and
two flashes with sharp reports told us they were

There was a scramble and a scurry, and catch who
catch can. I followed a man who had been lying a
little apart from the rest, and Bahmut Khan followed
me. The fellow tried to bolt along the terrace, but
we were too quick for him, and cut off his retreat
that way. He then faced up the cliff, but with a
quick rush I caught him by the leg. He turned on
me, and with a wrench and a twist sent me heavily
down on to the rocks. I was stunned by the fell ;
and when I came to myself I found I was lying by


Digitized by VjOOQIC


the spring, with aching head and bruised shoulders,
and a wet cloth round my temples.

Three of the robbers had been captured, and sat
sullenly on the ground, each man's right thumb being
tightly bound with small cord to his neighbour's left,
and their legs tied in like manner. A villager or
two, from Mhaka, disturbed by the noise, had come
up, and stood with some of my men looking at the
dead body of one of the robbers which lay at their

" Well, Rahmut Khan," I asked, " have we taken
Jherria ? ''

" No, Sahib," answered the Darogah, " the villain
has, I fear, again escaped us. But I settled the man
who threw you."

** My lord," said one of the villagers, pointing to
the dead man, " this is Jherria Raj war ! "

This expedition did much to check highway rob-
bery, which had hitherto been conducted openly and
with violence, even along the Grand Trunk Road,
and in spite of police patrol. But I had still to deal
with another* class of criminals, who first drugged and
afterwards robbed their victims.

Their mode of proceeding was ingenious. An in-
sinuating and seemingly harmless waj^arer would
join himself to a band of pilgrims, asking permission
to do so, being solitary and afraid of robbers. He
was seemingly a Brahmin, wearing the sacred thread
and taking direction of the cooking, with an assump-
tion that could only belong to the priestly class. For
a few days all would go well, but one night, after
camping in a lonely place, all the party after supper
would fall into an unaccountable stupor. The insinu-

Digitized by VjOOQIC


ating Brahmin had drugged the food, and they are
fortunate if on awaking they find even the clothes
remain to them on their backs.

In October, I undertook a thorough inspection of
the Grand Trunk Eoad, with a view to making it safer
for travellers; and as the Government executive
en^neer was bent on a similar errand of inspection,
with respect to the bridges and metalling, we joined
forces and travelled together in a dfi-k carriage.

From Hazaribagh to Burhee we were drawn by
relays of men, who tugged the vehicle along; but
at Burhee we struck the Trunk Road, and became
dependent for locomotion on the ddk horses, which
were kept at post-stages along the whole length
of the road by contractors, who undertook the
conveyance of passengers and goods up and down
country. These horses, as might be expected, were
of a soured and evil disposition, their faith in human
nature gone, having indeed but one fixed idea — the
determination not to drag a dslk carriage.

It was a curious sight to see the contractor and his
grooms start our carriage. The horses were blind-
folded in their stable, and in this condition were
inveigled into the shafts. As soon as they recog-
nised what had happened to them they commenced
jibbing, and were only induced to reverse this process
by forcibly backing the carriage, and thus making
them believe that we wished to proceed in the con-
trary direction. They would* then dash madly for-
ward at a gallop, urged on by the driver to top
speed ; at this pace they were kept, if possible, for
the seven miles which intervened between the posting

10 ♦

Digitized by VjOOQIC


We halted from time to time at the d&k bunga-
lows, which a beneficent Government had established
at intervals along the road, where we cooked our
meals by means of a portable Soyer's magic stove.
The bungalow servant, who usually cooked for tra-
vellers, watched our proceedings with admiration and
awe, keeping as near the door as possible, in case the
evil spirit confined in our conjuring apparatus should
escape control. On one occasion, when my compa-
nion spilt some spirits of wine and a blue flare-up
ensued, there was a regular stampede among the
on-lookers, who fled precipitately, invoking the
protection of Allah.

We ascended Parisnath, a sacred mountain situated
in the Hazaribagh district, which is the resort of pil-
grims from far and wide. My companion had to
report on a scheme which was then under considera-
tion for establishing here a sanitorium for Europeans,
the hill being of considerable altitude and within
comparatively easy reach from Calcutta.

On the way, we passed through a mighty flight of
locusts, in such numbers that the earth was shadowed
for twenty minutes, as if by a dark thunder-cloud.
Their legs and bodies were red with black articula-
tions, and metallic black-striped wings. It was an
awe-inspiring sight, this host of insects ; one felt that,
had they chosen to settle on a man, their millions
of small powerful jaws would soon make an end of

My friend Major B , the Deputy-Commissioner,

with whom I had worked so amicably, had gone on
leave, and I did not find his successor so pleasant to
deal with, A new assistant magistrate had also been

Digitized by VjOOQIC


posted at Burhee, who seemed to regard all police
and police superintendents as his natural enemies. I
had never met this gentleman ; but because I sent
for some natives to take down their depositions in a
robbery case, instead of myself riding some thirty
miles to their various houses, he reported me to
Government for having grossly infringed the law,
and asked the High Court at Calcutta to authorise
my trial for having illegally confined these persons.

The matter was referred to the Commissioner of
the Division for orders ; but in the meantime the
natives were quick to notice and take advantage of
difference of opinion among their rulers, and I very
soon found my authority weakened. " What can
your Sahib do?" asked a man whom my constables
arrested for drunken brawling, *'the magistrate Sahib
will protect me. Look to yourself." And, in truth,
it was woe to the policeman who was brought before
that functionary.

In the East, where to bear false witness is the
usual condition of things, it sufficed for the magis-
trate in authority to show any bias against the police
and criminal investigation became paralysed. My
poUcemen were afraid to act, for fear of the false
charges which were sure to be brought against them,
and the heavy sentences which were as sure to follow.

With the departure of my kind friend Major B

my luck seemed to desert me, and an unfortunate
occurrence which happened about this time still
further depressed my fortunes.

My assistant, Mr. E , had gone out by my

orders to investigate a case of robbery, and a man
whom he had arrested died suddenly while in

Digitized by VjOOQIC


custody. The relatives of the deceased accused

Mr. E of being concerned in the man's death,

in haying incited the police to administer the
flogging under which he died. This was a terribly
serious matter, and I at once proceeded to investigate
it thoroughly. After a long inquiry, I came to the

conclusion that although Mr. E had been grossly

negligent in his supervision of the police und6r his
charge, yet he had no personal cognizance of the
illegalities which had been committed. There was,
however, no doubt that the man's death had been
hastened, if not actually caused, by the violence to
which he had been subjected.

The case was to be heard and decided upon by
the Deputy Commissioner ; so I wrote demi-oflBcially
to my Deputy Inspector-General, giving him an out-
line of the case, and saying that I would report fully
in official form as soon as the magisterial decision had
been given. I did not report at once officially in my
own department, hoping that at the trial things might

prove more favourable for poor E , who had not

a sixpence in the world if he lost his appointment ;
and, remembering the proverb, **A bad wound
heals, but a bad name kills," I did not wish until it
became absolutely necessary to report the charge of
murder against him. At any rate, I acted according
to my lights ; and so, doubtless, did the Deputy
Commissioner, who brought the whole matter to the
notice of Government, commenting most unfavourably

on E 's conduct, and doubtless on mine also, for

1 was thunderstruck one morning at receiving an
official letter from the Secretary to the Gk>vemment
of Bengal, characterising my conduct as evasive and

Digitized by VjOOQIC


untrustworthy, and stating further that, in the opinion
of the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, I was unfit to
hold charge of a district.

I replied at once, respectfully but firmly setting
forth my own views of the case, and I concluded my
letter by saying that, should my explanation be
deemed unsatisfiwtory on this the first time that any
action of mine had been disapproved, I begged to
tender my resignation of the Service.

It seemed hard to receive so sharp and sweeping a
reprimand, after such unsparing eflForts as I had made

Online LibraryThomas Herbert LewinA fly on the wheel, or How I helped to govern India → online text (page 10 of 31)