Bengal Dacoits and Tigers/Dacoit Stories/A Punjabee Dacoit
A PUNJABEE DACOIT
In a railway train several Punjabee ladies sat on the lower berths of a second class compartment, laughing and talking gaily. They were, with one exception, all richly dressed and each of them wore a quantity of jewels. The exception was a capable, good-looking woman, of about twenty-five. Her short hair, neck and arms bare of jewellery, and plain white saree, proclaimed her a widow. But like the others she chatted merrily, and a listener would have learned from their conversation that they had been attending a wedding, and were now on their way home. Witty remarks about the guests, criticism of the looks of the bride, and comparisons of this wedding with others, passed from one to another, and whiled away the hours of the journey as the train sped onwards.
Night fell, and the ladies became silent. They rested against each other and dozed at intervals. The widow sat on a trunk at the end of the carriage and silently told her beads. The train slowed down and stopped at a little station. Then the bell clanged and once again they were on their way.
The little station had not been left far behind when a dark figure appeared on the foot-board of the ladies' carriage, and a man's head was thrust in at one of the windows. A startled exclamation from one of the party drew the attention of all to the intruder, who was pulling himself up into the carriage. He was very fierce-looking, wore a huge turban, and had a bushy black beard. In one hand he held a knife and with the other he assisted himself into the compartment, in spite of the ladies' protestations.
Some of them began to cry but one or two bolder spirits ventured to argue with him. In answer to their questions and objections, he said roughly: "It is a long while before you will reach another station. I have come for your jewels. If you give them to me quietly, I will not hurt any of you; but if not—" and he looked very expressively at the knife in his hand.
After some few minutes, the ladies, who were inclined to oppose him, yielded to the tearful advice of their more timid sisters, and one by one they began to unclasp necklaces and belts and hand them over to the dacoit together with bracelets, bangles and rings. The ruffian, finding them docile, did not hustle them in any way but stood leisurely receiving the spoil. Then he carefully folded all in a rich saree and was knotting the ends together when the train suddenly stopped, and an Englishman pushed open the door of the ladies' compartment and sprang at him with the exclamation, "You scoundrel!"
The sudden surprise and assault threw the robber off his feet, and he fell sprawling on the carriage floor, with the Englishman on top of him. In the meantime, the guard and others arrived and the thief was secured and his hands and feet were bound together with his own pugree, and he was removed to the guard's van.
The widow was the heroine of the adventure. As soon as she saw the man entering the carriage, she realised his purpose. Slipping into the lavatory she climbed through the window there on to the footboard, and pulled herself along by the carriage rods to the next compartment where the solitary occupant, an Englishman, sat reading.
He was amazed to see a woman clinging to the window of his carriage, but fortunately he understood the language; and when she said "Help, thief in the next carriage", he opened the door and got her into his carriage without any delay. In a few words, she acquainted him with what was happening in the next compartment. He immediately pulled the alarm cord to stop the train, and hurried along the footboard to the assistance of the ladies. They were profuse in their expressions of gratitude to him, but he insisted that they owed their lives and their jewels to their courageous friend.