The Story of an Indian Jail


ALL around the jail there ran a great wall. I used to think it emblematic; a sort of moral circumstance as well as a material barrier; a warning to those without and a reminder to those within. There were men who had not seen the outside of that wall for twenty years. There were men who had come in in the heyday of life and would not leave it before the world — even the unchanging world of the East — had undergone strange changes, perhaps been bereft of all it had held dear for them. When you think of it in this light, the penalty of crime is heavy, is a sort of death in life. But so long as there is crime, it must be so.

The jail stood isolated, some five miles outside the cantonment and the native city. About it spread miles and miles of the flat lands of the United Provinces; here covered with scrub jungle, flaunting the red bhir flowers like points of flame; here broken into fields reticulated with the mud-water channels which fed their greenery with life; here raised, like islands at sea, into umbels of foliage where the mud-walled villages slept their century-old dreams of peasant life beneath the shade of the sacred peepul trees; and finally melting into the far blue horizon, in one long vague confusion of trees and fields and villages.

My bungalow stood outside the high wall, and about it there shone a lovely garden sluiced daily from two great wells. So large was it that in England it would have been a park; but the confines of it were wild bamboo thickets and brakes of tall tiger-grass. In the hot weather, before the rains began, I slept on the lawn, and of all nights I ever knew, — and I have known them on all parts of this globe, — those were the most eerie, the most haunting, the most hushed. With sundown the night guard took up their stations round the inner side of the wall and all night long I would hear them pass the ‘All’s Well ’ from man to man. The huge iron gates clanged to with a final crash, the Subedar of the guard came tramping up the drive, gave me the password for the night, saluted, and tramped off, leaving me alone.

It was two miles round this great wall, and within it ran another, the inner wall, leaving a space of sixty yards between, in which the vegetables for the jail were grown. For the whole place was like a small town, and except for grain, which we brought in once a year and stored in huge pits like swimmingbaths, was almost self-supporting. In the Indian climate one gets through all work commonly before breakfast, and at six o’clock I was in my office starting the business of the day. There were new prisoners to be admitted and a dozen or so old ones held for trial for jail offenses.

The newcomers were a motley crowd, sentenced to anything from two years to twenty — rich and poor, dirty and clean, Hindus and Mohammedans, high caste and low, clad and unclad. Their offenses ranged from murder to cocaine-smuggling, from theft to dacoity. Among them I remember one day a small bright-eyed lad of barely more than a dozen years, who stood up between two stalwart warders with all the aplomb of a tried man of the world, although he hardly came up to their waists. Even the grave Indians broke into gradually widening grins as they realized the incongruity. For myself, as I started to take down particulars of the lad, his parents, his village, caste, tribe, and so forth, I felt my smiles give way to a lump in the throat. The lad was an orphan belonging to one of the quaint wandering tribes, and all the precepts he had ever had had been of adroitness in thieving. This was his third entry into jail. For all his smiling, wide-eyed air of simple childhood, he was an incorrigible little rogue.

It is sad to come across these little orphans in India. A lady I knew once found one while she was out in camp with a party at a Christmas shoot. The little waif, a small girl of ten, approached to within a gunshot of the camp, wistfully eyeing the cooking-pots. We did what we could for her, but she was so starved that her tissues had lost all power to absorb food, and some weeks later, in the cantonment, she died. I can never forget the air of perfect womanliness about the poor little mite — how she pulled her ragged old sari round her thin frame, her modesty and self-possession, and her air of grown-up dignity.

No doubt it is the constant iteration of experiences like these that gradually develops in the spirit of Englishmen in India that sense of protection, of wouldbe godlike beneficence, which, ere long, they surely learn toward the poorer children of the soil, and which has led them step by step, often in the face of malice, jealousy, and intrigue, to build up that vast machinery of law and order, as well as of more material constituents, such as canals and railways, which is doing all that is humanly possible for the amelioration of a population so vast.

There stands in the gateway before my desk, also, the fat bunnia, his oleaginous curves shaking like a jelly as he casts apprehensive glances at the grim warders on either side of him. Next comes a fine bearded fellow, with hard face and muscles, one of the tillers of the soil. He has had the ill luck to be guilty of manslaughter in a village fight over some boundary stones. He is no hardened criminal: it is just a mischance; but the law has swept him into its toils. He will not see his village out yonder under the peepul trees for many a long year. But he is not downcast. His look is brave and high, for he is a Rajput by caste, a son of the Sun, one of the Twice-Born, and wears the sacred thread.

Next stands a poor half-wild fellow who has covered his body with dust in abasement. Probably he has never been inside a building in his life, and he looks with horror at the solid walls about him. The telephone bell behind my chair rings out. He starts and looks around with terror. What magic of the sahib’s is this? But when the babu gets up and takes down the instrument and begins to talk to it, he can stand it no longer. He dashes round wildly from between his two warders and makes a bolt for the gate. Trembling all over, he is brought back and, so far as may be, reassured. For him the jail will be an education, at least, and this is true, to some extent, for all. The clean, regular life, the absence of vicious indulgences, the exigent and rigid sanitary organization, the habits of industry, the encouragement of good works and conduct and the sure and speedy punishment of ill, must all be of the nature of a revelation, and bear some fruit later on in the wider world in all but the most depraved.

Each prisoner is weighed carefully on admission, and thereafter every month. It is found to be the almost invariable rule that he loses weight for the first month, then puts it on rapidly. It may be questioned, indeed, and often has been, wherein lies any hardship in this duress. Except for the loss of liberty, there is none, though that, to be sure, is enough, especially for men whose lives have been passed in the open fields. They miss, too, the quiet palaver in the village in the evening, when their work in the fields is done. How often have I seen it myself when I have been out in the jungle, shooting, and camped close by. A vast hush falls as the sun sinks, and you may hear the deep-toned converse of the men as they sit and smoke before the doors of their huts. From within come the shrill voices of children going to bed — like naughty children the world over — and the soothing murmur of women. It is the ten minutes of the day when the hardy peasant gives himself up to enjoy life and prepares for his hard-won repose. There is no question of a thirty-hour week, or of forty, or fifty. His limit is from the time the sun rises till it sets; and probably four fifths of the population of India do not know the meaning of a square meal. Those who blame the government for what they consider inefficiencies of administration might well remember how poor India is, and that efficiency costs money.


And now, the admissions for the day being over, there comes the next business, the trial of offenders in the jail. The head jailer brings them up, one by one. The governor (or, as he is called in Indian jails, the superintendent) sits at a table in a great open courtyard. Before him in a half circle squats the array of wrongdoers. It is astonishing what a variety of offenses these prisoners contrive to commit, considering the limited chances at their disposal. Most of them are cases of petty crime, such as stealing blankets, failure to perform allotted tasks, feigning illness, quarreling, abusing warders, stealing vegetables. They are soon disposed of.

Then come more serious cases, and they may take a whole morning. The commonest offense is smoking, which is strictly prohibited. Many prisoners go to extraordinary lengths to tide themselves over this deprivation. For tobacco they will resort to anything that will burn or smoulder, such as grass, straw, sawdust, paper, vegetable peelings, and leaves of trees. I seldom made an inspection without finding someone’s bed abbreviated in a ridiculous fashion. Each man was furnished with a mat six feet by two, made of fibre-matting, which he spread at night on the mud couch in his barrack. The fibre of these mats seemed to serve excellently as a tobacco substitute; and when I found a sheepish-looking individual standing by a mat two feet long, I did not have to ask what had happened.

As to pipes, they are easy to make in India, where the soil is all a clayey kind of alluvium commonly known as mutti, and is used for everything, from making pots to building houses. All one had to do was to scrape this up with a little water, knead it into a bowl, make a stem with more mutti, by moulding it round a stick, and then bake the whole contraption by leaving it in some corner, in the fierce sun. Some of these pipes, or chillums, were very crude, but some were quite beautifully made and covered with designs. It often happened that real country tobacco found its way into the jail, being brought in by dishonest warders, and this was traded to prisoners secretly, or else paid for by rich friends outside. Worse than this was the occasional introduction of hashish, — Indian hemp, — a deadly drug which soon leads to maniacal insanity of a most dangerous type. It was rare, for most of the convicts were themselves afraid of it, and I used to prosecute any warder who was found guilty of trading it.

This system led naturally to the commission of another jail offense — the possession of money. This was regarded as rather serious. In one way or another it led to much evil. You may wonder how men could keep it, as they wore nothing but a loin-cloth. They kept it in their mouths. I have taken from a man’s mouth a four-anna silver piece which had become green with verdigris from having been kept so long in that position. The more astute ruffians had a dodge by which they made small pouches in the loose areolar tissue at the back of the throat. In these pouches they could keep three or four four-anna bits and yet swallow food and leave their mouths free for talking. It took months to make the pouches. It was done by tying a button to a bit of string, of such length that, when one end was tied to one of the teeth, the button at the other end rested against the back of the throat. When constantly kept there, night after night, it made this curious diverticulum.

I think that numbers of convicts secretly almost enjoyed their life in jail by reason of the perpetual, petty intrigues that they were always planning. They were, indeed, like a class of schoolboys, and made the defeat of regulations their hobby. I wall say this for them, that, whenever they were discovered, they took their punishments like men, as part of the game. They had had their innings; it was the superintendent’s turn to have his. Only rarely, usually in the case of Brahmans and the better educated, did I find sulkiness and mutterings of revenge.

A flogging was a terrible affair, made more so by the pomp and circumstance with which it was conducted. Sometimes it was a part of the sentence awarded by the judge; in other cases it was awarded by myself for some especially heinous crime. If the latter sort became too numerous and exceeded, say, a half-dozen a year, the government stepped in and made stringent inquiries. There were some desperate cases, however, with whom no other argument counted. In one of the courtyards of the prison the guard was drawn up, standing at attention, with bayonets fixed. With them also was my bodyguard, who, armed only with truncheons, accompanied me on all my rounds. In the centre was the grim ‘ triangle’ — a St. Andrew’s cross of wood.

The native doctor sounded the victim and certified that he was fit to undergo the punishment. He was then fastened by wrists and ankles to the triangle. Then a great hush fell. The fierce Indian sun was streaming into the court, throwing down the clear-cut shadows of the roofs and towers; the crows were cawing in the trees, the parrots screaming noisily as ever. It was my ordeal to stand there and watch the wretched business through. The jailer stood beside the victim, holding his watch in his hand. The flogger, a burly Indian, stripped naked save for his loin-cloth, picked up a long rattan cane from a bundle beside him. It was long and thin and tapering, a thing that would bend double without a break. All was now ready, and in a dreadful silence the jailer gave the first word.

‘Ek!' (One!) The long cane swung and hissed in the air; there came the thwack on the naked flesh, a piercing yell, and the punishment had begun. Silence again; then, ‘Do!’ and again the cane whistled and fell. So it went on for the full thirty, with half-minute intervals, which seemed as if they would never end. By the fourth or fifth stroke the miserable victim was reduced to one long whining yell. It was a scene that all were glad to have done with; and to stand there in that blazing sun watching it to the end called for no small endurance.

These ceremonies being over, my jailer and I fell in with the guard and started our round. There was much to see, and one could manage only a portion of it in any one day. There were the factories to visit, where scores of men squatted, weaving matting from fibre. There were the oil mills, where sweating gangs of stark men, their ebony bodies glistening with sweat, ran round and round with the long wooden beams that turned the huge grinding balk of timber. Sweet and bitter was the odor from the crushed seeds, and all the air was redolent with the pungent smell of the mustard. There were the ' mills’ — long, narrow buildings where the men stood in a kind of ditch and turned the heavy disks of stone which ground the grain for the flour.

There were the cook-houses, where were great mixing-machines for kneading the dough. All who worked there were Brahmans, men of the highest caste, so that no one in the jail could refuse to eat of their cooking on the ground that it was polluted. The ovens were long slabs of iron, with fierce fires roaring under them. On these were laid the chupattis — flat cakes, the size of a large plate, not unlike a pancake in thickness and texture. One by one they were stamped out with a disk and flung onto the hot iron, where they browned, curled up, and sent out a friendly odor of hot meal. And here again was the blacksmith’s shop, where all the jail tools were made and repaired, and where the fetters were riveted on all who had to wear them. And here was the dairy, with its cows and buffaloes to provide milk for those who were sick.

But the chief interest was in the big carpet factories — huge barracks fifty feet high and seventy or eighty yards long. The tall looms on which the carpets were woven ran upright, like gigantic harps, from floor to ceiling. In front of each sat a gang of men, chirruping and singing over the colors of their threads, till the whole place resounded like a parrot-house. Day by day, inch by inch, the splendid textures grew. Some took months to finish. People came from far and wide, from all over the world, to see these wonderful factories. Many American tourists made a point of visiting them, and many left orders for carpets. There is many a floor in the United States, as well as in Great Britain, in which the footsteps fall softened by the nimble fingers of those poor convicts in far-away India. I even, be it whispered, — it was before the war, — received an order from the Kaiser for no less than eighty carpets for the imperial palace at Potsdam. One of them was to be made to a design of his own, a meaningless array of geometrical figures totally devoid of artistry. The groundwork of all was canary yellow, which appeared to be the imperial hue. Among other visitors I had the Crown Princess of Sweden. She told me that every member of the Royal Family of Sweden was obliged to learn a trade, and as her own choice had fallen on carpet-making, she knew not a little of that business.

Only men with long sentences are set to this task; for it takes most of them two years to learn it. All the processes of manufacture are carried out in the jail, beginning with the spinning of the wool. The skeins then go to the dyeworks, where they are dyed with native products, mainly indigo. Great care has to be exercised in the disinfection of the raw wool when it enters the jail, as a protection against anthrax. It all passes through an immense boiler, into which it is run on a trolley; and except through this, none of it is allowed to go inside the walls.

The buying of the wool and of the grain are the two great commercial transactions in the life of the superintendent. He needs be alert to circumvent the crafty native bunnia. On an assigned day a dozen of these gentry are waiting in the office, eyeing one another with intense disgust and furtiveness. Each has a bag of sample grain in one hand, and in the other a bag of rupees to be deposited as security. Then it is the business of the superintendent, — who must turn his hand to many things in this land, albeit his trade is a doctor’s, — to smell, sift, and examine the grain in the various bags, take aside the anxious bunnias, and inquire their terms. Despite these fellows’ distrust of one another, they have generally contrived to make a ‘ ring ’ beforehand. Once, having found the price forced up beyond all reason, I affected to haggle with them, but in the meantime sent to another city thirty miles away, to a certain magistrate, begging him to send me, not indeed an honest bunnia, but one who knew nothing about the present tendering. I arranged that this man was to see me privately at my bungalow before he had access to the jail, where, I well knew, certain of the native officials were hand-in-glove with the profiteering gang. The result was that I was able to tell the latter very politely next morning that they might all go home, taking their samples and their bags of rupees with them.


The jail was a happy hunting-ground of snakes, for some reason, and they were of all varieties, from the terrible hooded cobra to the tiny but deadly karait. It was within my power to grant up to a month’s remission of sentence in any one year to any prisoner for excellence of work or conduct, and, naturally, this was a reward very much coveted. Among the virtues so rewarded, I counted the killing of snakes; and it was surprising to see how the average Indian would risk his religious prejudice against taking life, when three or four days gained toward freedom was the prize offered. It must have been on an average twice a week that some convict paraded before my desk in the morning, holding a defunct and disfigured reptile by the tail. For a cobra I gave four days; for a karait three. I do not know why I made this distinction, for the karait, though only a few inches long, gives a bite as inevitably fatal as a cobra’s, and by reason of its small size and lurking habits is certainly the more deadly of the two. However, it takes less nerve to slay one. A five-foot or six-foot cobra, with his hood erect, is a spectacle to give pause to the most valorous.

I have said that the country outside the jail wall was waste and jungly; it showed numerous pits and depressions where water used to collect after rains, and was strewn with thick tussocks of tall grass. It was from here that the snakes used to enter the jail, making use of the small drain-holes in the wall. I frequently wandered round the wall on the outer side for an evening stroll, taking my gun with me, and often on these occasions put up both snakes and jackals. Once I had an encounter with one of the former which sticks in my memory yet. I disturbed it at a distance of only a few feet. It was a large creature, fully six feet in length, and after one or two writhings of its long folds, it reared its head and gazed at me with a pair of the wickedest eyes I have ever seen. It is the memory of those eyes that haunts me now. The creature was so close to me that I dared not use my gun; for the shot would have traveled like a bullet at such close range, and I might easily have missed, and something in its malevolent gaze told me that at the least hostile act it would spring at me. It may sound ridiculous to be intimidated by a snake; but unless you have seen them, I do not think you can imagine for a moment the absolute devilishness of the look in those eyes. I could well understand how small creatures would be fascinated by them and hypnotized into utter helplessness. We must have stared at each other for a full minute, and I had just made up my mind to throw up my gun and risk a shot, when the creature, seeming to read my murderous intent in my eyes, suddenly dived into the long grass and vanished.

Such, then, were some of the beasts that shared my domain. Of course, the convicts could not long refrain from exploiting the snake-killing concessions, and I began to have suspicions that one or two of the snakes which were brought to me were uncommonly dead and stiff and had done duty before. One sweltering day, when a slight breeze was blowing through the gateway, my olfactory nerves advised me that a serpent which was being held up for my inspection was more than ripe for honorable burial. I gently admonished the wily convict, who assured me that he killed the reptile only that morning; so I asked the jailer to do a little detective work, and the next day he was able to give me the history of the case. It appeared that I had seen that particular snake some four days before, and had duly given three days’ remission for it. The recipient had, thereupon, sold the corpse to a fellow convict, who had kept it in one of the water-jars used for holding drinking water, hoping thereby to preserve it from putrefaction long enough for me to have forgotten its previous appearance. However, on the fourth day, the decoction of snake having become too pronounced, he was obliged to produce it and try his luck.

As a sequel to this, on entering the jail a few mornings later, I was surprised to see a prisoner squatting by the side of the drive and holding down with the end of a bamboo a snake still alive and writhing. The warder came forward and explained that the man had found the snake that morning but had refused to kill it. He had been sitting there for more than an hour waiting for me to come and see him kill it with my own eyes. There was to be no mistake about it this time. I felt duly rebuked for my hardness of heart and had the wretched reptile despatched forthwith.

They sprang another surprise on me one day by producing a scorpion and claiming a reward for that. I compromised by giving one day, and thereafter gave it out that scorpions would not count, for they could be found in every crack of the wall and I should soon have had the whole jail scorpionmad. In spite of their numbers, I am glad to say we never had a fatal accident from snakes.

It is not to be imagined that in so large a population of criminals there were never any tragedies. There were many, both major and minor. Sometimes men who had been at bitter feud outside were thrown together by accident in the same barrack, and at such times the peculiar vindictiveness of the easterner was apt to assert itself in all its naked ferocity.

Once, as I was preparing to ride over to the Club in the cool of the evening, I received a report that there was trouble in the jail. I went in and found a great number of warders gathered round one of the barracks. They were holding on to the neck-rings of a number of convicts through the bars of the gratings. I had the door opened and went inside. At the end I saw a man squatting on his hams and leaning over a bucket. All eyes were directed toward him, and on approaching him I had a terrible shock to see that he was streaming with blood while his nose hung down by a mere thread of skin to his chin. I angrily inquired where the knife was with which the mutilation had been done; but I was told there had been no knife. On taxing others of the convicts, I found out the culprit and also the story of the crime. It appeared that the two men were enemies, and the one of them had, by bribes and, probably, doles of tobacco, got three or four of his fellows to help him in obtaining his revenge. When all had been locked in for the night the gang set on their victim and laid him prostrate on the floor. While he was held there, helpless, his foe bent over him, and with his teeth bit his nose off as cleanly as if he had severed it with a knife. I sewed the nose on again, and it grew into position, leaving only a scar.

I had the perpetrator of this enormity flogged, but it did not prevent a recurrence of the episode. This nose-cutting is a common Indian mode of revenge, and is practised not infrequently on unfaithful wives. A certain medical missionary attained considerable fame on the frontier through his success in restoring noses to errant spouses by the simple operation of using a flap from the forehead. He related how one Pathan chieftain, having brought a favorite wife, whom he had de-nosed in the heat of the moment, to have the organ restored, on being informed that too much was missing, was advised to buy a rubber one. The wily Pathan asked how much this would be, and on being told that it would cost him seventyfive rupees, went away in disgust, explaining that he could buy a new wife for forty.

Some of the most loathsome crimes were those of self-mutilation practised to avoid forced labor in jail. I had two men who deliberately put their eyes out for this purpose. A common method was the creation of huge ulcers on the body, and these were usually made by holding a lump of quicklime between the armpit and the side, or within the hollow of the knee. Another device — the commonest of all — was the inserting of a rusty nail through the calf of the leg. This set up a severe and often dangerous cellulitis. It may, indeed, be asked, and I often ask myself, how such insensate beings could ever be influenced by the punishment of flogging. So far as I could see, many of them were ignorant of the sense of pain. The flogging was, however, as I have explained, done with much formality; and probably it was this, with all the grim preparations preceding it, which affected their brute-like minds.


It must not be supposed that all the jail population was of this type. There were many men there of the highest human attributes — men who had, perhaps, been surprised by their own impetuosity or fancied wrongs into the commission of legal offenses such as manslaughter, who had expected no more to spend their years in a prison than you or I, and who, once free, would probably never see the inside of one again. Of this sort of prisoner my bodyguard was composed. I had more reliance on them than on the paid warders so far as my bodily safety was concerned. I had more than one clear demonstration that they entertained a real affection for me. In the course of my rounds I was three times attacked, and on each occasion my escort of convicts had ‘downed’ the man almost before I knew I had been set upon. Once, as I was passing down the ranks, a man sprang at me with a knife he had made for the purpose out of some old iron, and aimed a blow at the back of my neck. I dodged the blow and felled him with a riding-crop I carried, and in an instant my guard swarmed over him like a pack of wolves. I had literally to fall on them in turn and drag them away, to save the miserable man’s life.

The affection which springs up in the hearts of Indians for white men, especially for those whom they call ‘Pukka Sahibs,’ is often very strange and touching. In most cases it appeared to me to be founded, in the first instance, at any rate, on the Englishman’s wonderful sense of justice, and on his determination to see it done to all. Such an attitude in the East is looked on as godlike. When Englishmen cease to care to protect the weak, or begin to pander to the strong; when, in short, an inferior class of Englishmen begins to enter the Indian services, the rule of the English in India will begin to fail.

Once every three months was to be seen one of the saddest sights of all jaillife — a gang of men, as many as forty or fifty, perhaps, all heavily shackled, being conducted by warders to the door of the office in the great gateway. The heavy leg-irons which they all wore made them waddle like ducks. For the most part they were terribly sturdy knaves, often squat of figure, but square-built and muscular, well fitted for the parts they had played in life. They were all desperate criminals, and the scowling ferocity which all bore on their faces told plainly that they would stick at nothing. Most had been implicated in, if not directly guilty of, murder, but had escaped the extreme penalty of the law by reason of some extenuating circumstances, or through some technicality. Their doom was a dreadful one to the Indian mind, and even the European, entering in some small degree into native habits of thought, could guess at the qualms with which they stood waiting within the gate.

They were all transportees for the convict settlements of the Andamans. They were to cross the ‘Black Water,’ the ‘ Kala Pani,’ — in other words, the sea, — which till very lately was one of the most serious caste-infractions, redeemable only by heavy penalty prescribed by the priests. It might well be supposed that such villains set little store by their religious scruples; but religion is too often only a name for superstition, and the lawless and ignorant are often as much its dupes as the most chastened of churchgoers. Be that as it may, it may be doubted if even the most hardened of them would look back without pain to the memory of those quiet villages where they had spent their childhood, to the fond hopes of doting parents, to the old idylls of fields and groves which they were never in this life to see again. As I examined them one by one, I seemed to feel how each was drinking in the last of the sights and sounds about him, of which he had daily seen so much with no thought of how dear they might become one day, when they were gone. One could hardly imagine such perverts of humanity entertaining any such tender ideas. But that this vein of sentiment existed somewhere deep down in their hearts was shown by the desperate efforts they made to escape their fate, though toward any other, even death itself, they showed absolute callousness.

But the fateful hour was near. The black prison-van drew up by the gateway, and with their irons clanking like funeral bells, they were herded into it. One last glimpse they had through the prison gateway of the land that had borne them. They might see perhaps the landscape gradually changing as the heartless train bore them away to Calcutta; but from the moment they left the prison, the land of their birth was to be no more than a dream.

Hard it may be, yet be it remembered that most of them were lucky even to be alive. Many are condemned to transportation, but a very great number escape it in the end. For the selection of those to go is governed strictly by physical fitness and age. They had some trick for causing a derangement of the heart. It must have been done by some drug; but what it was, I could never discover. Only those with rich friends, I observed, were able to suffer from this ailment. But in the end it availed them little, for I had them strictly confined in hospital till the departure of the next batch, by which time I usually found them fit again.

Once on the Andaman Islands, the convicts lead a life of rigorous severity for the first three or four years. After that, if their behavior has been good, they are allowed to marry female convicts and settle down on farms of their own in the rôle of small peasant proprietors. So that life is still not altogether without hope for them. But the scenery of the Andamans is very different from that they are accustomed to, being in the one case tropical jungle, and in the other vast almost illimitable plains; and I know well how sensitive they are to the change. I have heard a regiment in Calcutta made up of men from the Punjab complaining bitterly of homesickness. The magnificent tropical scenery about that city, with its splendid palms and luscious ricefields, could ill replace the khaki-colored stretches of arid plains and scanty prickly shrubs and trees to which they were accustomed. Incidentally, it shows the vastness of India, that men from one part of it may suffer more severely from nostalgia in another part than a Highlander does in Australia.

I come now to the last dread scene of all, when a man has forfeited life itself to that complex instrument which we call society. In a back part of the jail there stood a plain square whitewashed building, which bore over its doorway the ominous words, ‘Condemned Cells.’ It contained three cells, and there have been times when I have known it to hold three occupants. The same thought seemed to strike most of them. As one said once, to whom I made some remark, ‘Sahib, I am already a dead man.’ And with the wondrous Indian resignation to fate, they would wait there the brief three weeks which was all that was left to them of the songs of birds and the sight of blue skies.

One evening I rode over from my bungalow to the jail, bound on the grim mission of making all preparations for the morning. It was a stifling hot evening in April, and my horse went lazily, stumbling often. Beyond the great plains that lay in the west the sun shone with a lurid golden magnificence, and the dust of the highway rose in amber clouds.

I dismounted at the gate, and calling the jailer, went to the remote corner of the jail where the gallows-inclosure had its place. It was the first execution I had been called upon to see through, and I had not much stomach for it. We tested the rope by hanging on it a sack filled with earth of the exact weight of the prisoner and giving it the prescribed drop.

Next morning I was there again. The sun had just shot up above the plain, and all the Indian life was stirring in its fullness. Parrots flying and screaming, crows cawing, minas chirruping — such a medley of sound as only Indians know. We led the poor wretch from his cell and went in solemn procession to the inclosure, where a posse of police was drawn up, with fixed bayonets, all round the walls. I read the indictment and sentence at the foot of the mound on which the gallows was reared; and having heard it, the victim went up and took his stand on the trap-door. All now passed in a twinkling. He was pinioned by the executioners and the sack drawn over his head, excluding his last view of the sun. I stood at the foot of the mound, holding a handkerchief in my hand; and all the preliminaries being now complete, the executioner laid his hand on the lever and sang out in a high voice, ‘Sab chiz taiyar, huzoor.’ (All is ready, excellency.) I dropped my hand; he pulled the lever with a sudden great heave; the trap-door flew open with a loud crash, and the murderer dropped like a stone into eternity.

Such was this dreadful ceremony, and to us, even to the stoic natives who stood by, it was full of thought beyond the power of words to express.

For the moment, while he stood there, we felt that the poor murderer was the superior of all of us, about to put to the test that ultimate riddle of life to which later on we should all have to find an answer.

I have known only one man to show signs of fear in this last great ordeal. One youth of twenty, glorying in what he seemed to consider a martyrdom (though he had been guilty of a most foul murder), said to me insolently at the foot of the gallows, ‘Ha! You can only kill me once, but know that I have killed twenty men in my time.'

Another, a brawny little agriculturist named Bhikki, glanced up at the gallows in the most unabashed fashion, and when I had read the sentence exclaimed, ‘Teek hai!’ (that’s right), and strode up as if he were going to take a prize. Of all men that it fell to my lot to put out of the way, this little peasant appealed to me most, and I have often thought of him since. My sympathy was not entirely misplaced, either. As I learned later, there had been a village fight, blood had been shed, and someone had to pay the penalty. Poor Bhikki gave himself up as the chief culprit; and though he died on the gallows, I am not at all sure that his death was not that of a hero. If ever I wanted to save a man, it was he. Though it was not till afterwards that I learned something of his story, I felt in my inner soul, before he died, that there had been some mischance; that he was no ferocious criminal like most whom I had to see standing in his place, but rather one of those victims whom Justice, with a woman’s blind cruelty, must sweep into her net, to vindicate her omnipotence.