How to Manage It

‘Quaeque ipse miserrima vidi.’

Chapter I

‘How many can we call upon to-day?’

‘Oh, we shall polish off all the ladies—the bachelors of course you needn’t trouble yourself about. Oh, I nearly forgot my card-case—come along, all right now.’

So saying, the speaker led the way to the door, where a first-rate ‘turn-out,’ consisting of an elegant Calcutta-built buggy and a fine chestnut Arab horse, with silver-mounted harness and everything complete, was waiting to take its owner and his friend a round of visits.

Arthur Graham had, at the time I introduce him to my readers, been about three years in the service of the East India Company. His father, an Anglo-Indian of the old school, who had spent forty-five years in the same honourable service, had returned to England with his colonel’s full pay and off- reckonings, to wait till fortune or a proper valuation of his services should get him a divisional command. He was one of those specimens, occasionally to be met with at Cheltenham and other watering-places, of veteran warriors, victims of the insalubrity of the Indian climate, who, after rising to the highest grades in the army, return to their native land, with grey hairs, plenty of money, and sound health, to enjoy the remaining portion of their lives, and weary out their juniors who wait in vain for the line-step. Having procured a cadetship for his second son, Arthur Claverhouse, he gave him an outfit and a hundred pounds, and shipped him off to Calcutta to seek his fortunes in the gorgeous East. In due course of time the young aspirant after military honours awoke one morning to find himself at the mouth of the Hooghly. They were a merry party, the passengers on board the good ship Plantagenet, and had spent three months and a half pleasantly enough, with the usual routine of bickering, flirting, and real love-making to which the decks and saloons of East Indiamen seem especially devoted. And when the time for parting came, there were the customary tears shed, and farewell words spoken, and the passengers, accompanied by their friends and boxes, descended into ‘budgerows’ and ‘dingies,’ and made for shore. Arthur Graham landed, as many, alas! do not, with a heart all his own, untouched by the charms of beauty. A friendship had, however, sprung up between him and one of his fellow-passengers, Burleigh, a young civilian, bent on the same errand as himself of seeking a livelihood, though in a different and more profitable line—a friendship which was destined to stand the test of time much better than salt-water engagements of a similar kind generally do; and when Graham was at Islamabad with his regiment, the 75th Native Infantry, in which at the time I write he had gained his lieutenancy, and saw his friend’s name in the Calcutta Gazette as posted to the same place in the capacity of assistant magistrate, he was delighted.

There was a degree of similarity in the character of the two young men sufficient to form a foundation for the close intimacy that had sprung up between them; but at a certain point this similarity ceased. Nature had made them both in the same mould, but education parted them. Frank Burleigh was several years senior to Graham, and had the advantage of spending two years at Oxford before he went to Haileybury: and as far as acquisition of knowledge is concerned, he had made a good use of his time. Gifted by nature, energetic and painstaking, and decidedly a man of genius, Burleigh’s mind had early been taught to take nothing for granted, and to believe nothing till proved. As a child he had been called ‘enquiring,’ as a boy ‘precise and argumentative,’ and as a man he was a sceptic. At Oxford he had fallen into the style of reasoning adopted by the metaphysical school, and carrying his ideas of German philosophy to Haileybury with him, he had laboured to inoculate the less acute minds of the students there with his favourite notions. The opposition he met with from men of superior talent to himself, had the effect of increasing rather than counteracting his tendency to scepticism, and he parted from the college tutors after going through the usual course of education under them with credit and distinction, leaving on their minds the impression that their pupil would turn out a useful servant of government, but a dangerous member of society.

Like Burleigh, Arthur Graham was by nature bold, open-hearted, and honest: he had, however, been brought up by religious parents, and the lessons instilled into his heart in early childhood had remained uneffaced by his intercourse with the world in miniature as one meets with it in a public school. His manners were blunt and unpolished, and in his anxiety to speak the truth he sometimes overlooked the fact that there are truths which need not always be spoken: aware of a certain tendency to unsociability in his disposition, he did his best to counteract it by courting popularity among his companions, but it was only where he was thoroughly known that he was really liked. Those who knew him slightly thought him reserved and censorious, and seldom cared to cultivate his acquaintance; but in his own regiment there was no officer so popular. He was a keen sportsman, a first-rate rider, and not a bad hand with a cue; and in all games and amusements he was the first to start and the last to give in. Attentive to his work, he soon mastered the details of military duty. Born in India, though educated in England, to which country he was taken when six years old, he soon acquired a perfect colloquial knowledge of the language, and as most of the native officers and many of the oldest non-commissioned officers in the regiment had served under his father, and recollected Graham himself as a child, and not a few had played with him, and even dandled him in their arms, he was as great a favourite in the ranks as among the officers: it was generally said in the corps, that the men would do anything for Graham, and go anywhere with him; and so, to do them justice, they would—at one time.

Of his family I need say but little further than that misfortune had cast a shade over the path of life that Colonel Graham once thought he would tread in sunshine to the grave. His wife, whom he had loved tenderly, met a violent death in Afghanistan—at the time when crooked policy and ill-starred ambition had led English ladies, under the guardianship of British troops, to settle down in quiet confidence in the capital of a fanatical Mahometan kingdom in Central Asia. In plainer words, she perished in the Kabul massacre; and if neither Eyre nor Kaye, nor any of the historians of the war, have described that lady’s melancholy fate, it is no fault of mine. After the revelations once made of the mutilation of the Afghan despatches, who dares to deny anything that anybody chooses to assert did take place at Kabul? But in truth it has nothing to do with my story, and so I may pass on without discussing the question further; and if any critic chooses to assert that Mrs. Graham did not perish at Kabul, it can make no possible difference to anybody if I choose to assert she did.

Sad as was this blow to the colonel’s feelings, it was scarcely so great as one he was smarting under at the time, and which cast a shade of sadness over his whole life; and that was the ill-conduct of his eldest son, several years older than Arthur. He was a favourite child of nature, ingenious, clever, active alike in mind and body, and seemed destined to excel in any walk in life. But he was reckless, wild, selfish, and unprincipled. For years he gave his father, and all who had the care of his education, the greatest possible amount of anxiety and trouble, and ended in absconding from his home one day after his father had been speaking seriously to him about his way of life, and endeavouring by persuasions and entreaty to win his unruly child back to the paths of virtue. From that time none of his friends ever heard of him, and it was supposed he had ended his days in some drunken broil, or enlisted as a private soldier and gone abroad.

This brief account having been given of two of the characters that appear prominently in the following narrative, let us follow them in their projected round of visits upon the residents at Islamabad.

‘Who are we to call upon?’ asked Burleigh of his friend as soon as they passed through the garden gate: ‘tell me as we go along.’

‘First and foremost there are the Stevenses; but I shall not take you there first.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because if we go there first we shall stay all the morning—we’ll go to the Smiths’ first.’

‘Which way?’

‘Turn to the right—there, the second house on the left-hand side of the road is theirs.’

‘Who are these people?’

‘Smith belongs to my regiment, a captain—here we are.’

They pulled up at the door of a neat little bungalow, surrounded by a neat little burnt-up garden: a child of five years old was playing in the verandah with a very sulky-looking bearer; an orderly sepoy, of the 75th Native Infantry, was lounging about before the doorway.

To the question, if the lady was at home, the sulky bearer vouchsafed no reply, but, taking two cards from Graham’s hand, went inside to see: after the lapse of a few minutes he returned and said, the ‘mem sahib’ was not at home.

The white lie of ‘not at home,’ when the individual of whom it is spoken is in the next room, perhaps looking through the window at the visitor who is subjected to this gratuitous deception, has unhappily been imported along with many other customs of polite life in the West which we should have done well to have left in the other hemisphere. A white lie it is generally called in England, which means, I suppose, a lie that does not deceive, or a lie that may be blamelessly told (in either case the explanation is an anomaly). Certainly not one in a thousand, when told by a servant in England that his or her mistress is ‘not at home’ goes away with the impression that the lady in question is on that account necessarily out; everybody knows that it means nothing more than ‘that for some reason or other it is inconvenient to admit you,’ and in this sense the expression may be excused as a conventionality: but in India this is scarcely the case. Very possibly neither party may be deceived, but the native servant who conveys the message cannot understand so well as we do the nature of a so-called conventionalism, and in his ideas he is the bearer of a direct falsehood from one white face to another. The habit is the more to be regretted as there is no necessity in this country for adopting it, the expression ‘the door is shut,’ (or ‘darwaza band,’) being quite as polite and as much to the purpose as ‘not at home,’ and has this advantage, that it is giving utterance to a direct truth instead of a direct falsehood.

‘Thank goodness for that,’ said Graham in an under-tone—‘drive on, Frank. Slow fellow Smith. Mrs. S. decidedly vulgar; she sleeps all day or muddles about the house in a dressing-gown, leaving that pretty little child to the tender mercies of that tame ourang-outang to teach him all kinds of mischief, and give him a chance of getting fever in the hot wind. Keep along the road: Mrs. Murray lives down at this end of the station. Murray is a good fellow,’ (Graham went rattling on, as his friend had nothing to do but to listen while he looked after his horse, which was a spirited animal, and required a tight hand,) ‘he’s only lately married. Mrs. Murray is a nice person, or would be, if she could extend her ideas beyond her George and baby; but she can’t.’

‘And the husband?’

‘Oh, Murray, he has two prominent ideas, and they are Eliza and the baby; but he’s a good Irregular Cavalry officer, at least so everyone says, and as thoroughly goodnatured a fellow as ever breathed, noisy though.—Here we are—take care how you turn; don’t, for goodness’ sake, drive against the shrubs.’

A winding gravel road, flanked by grass plots interspersed with flowering shrubs, led up to the verandah of a large bungalow.

‘Holloa, Graham! glad to see you,’ said, or rather roared, (he never spoke under a roar,) Captain Murray, emerging through an open glass door on to the verandah, as Burleigh pulled up. ‘Come in; baby’s awake, and Mrs. Murray much better to-day. Introduce me.’

‘Burleigh of the civil service, an old shipmate of mine—Captain Murray.’

The trio walked inside.

Mrs. Murray’s elegant figure was reclining gracefully in an easy chair, while her fingers were occupied with some fancy work, such as is usually seen in the hands of ladies who have a young baby to make pretty caps for. A work-basket stood on the table; an open book turned down flat on its face, and a second easy chair in close proximity to the table, and opposite Mrs. Murray, plainly showed the domestic duties the husband had been engaged in, viz., reading aloud while his wife was working. A little distance off was a group of three natives, two ayahs and one bearer, engaged in taking care of a little child apparently about three months old. The room was comfortably, even handsomely furnished, for Captain Murray was commanding a regiment of irregular cavalry, the 19th, the right wing of which was stationed at Islamabad.

A desultory conversation was kept up for a few minutes, about the weather, and comparisons were hazarded between the heat this year and last, and the prospect of a favourable season to come, when the harmony of the party and the interest of the conversation were suddenly interrupted by the child’s bursting into a loud fit of crying; and so great was the perturbation of both mamma and papa at the occurrence of this untoward event, that Burleigh and Graham deemed it best to take themselves off.

They were proceeding steadily down the road after leaving Captain Murray’s house, when their attention was attracted by the sound of ‘tomtoming’ or beating of native drums, shouting, chattering, singing, and other indications of the approach of a native procession: immediately afterwards a large crowd of natives gaudily and fantastically dressed, some mounted on camels, some on horses, and one more conspicuous than the rest, on an elephant with showy trappings, appeared from a turn in the road advancing with little order or regularity. Burleigh’s horse, Jimmy, as it was called, exhibited manifest signs of displeasure and consternation, which increased as they approached the disorderly rabble in front of them.

‘Jimmy will never stand all this, if these fellows don’t keep quiet or get out of the way,’ said Burleigh, getting a little anxious. ‘I wonder this sort of thing is allowed in cantonments.’

There was a deep ditch on either side of the road, which was, however, broad enough to allow a carriage or buggy to pass any ordinary impediment with ease and safety to all parties.

‘I never saw such a thing before,’ replied Graham, making at the same time signs to the natives to get out of the way.

The horse became momentarily more restive, swerving first to one side, then the other.

‘Keep his head straight.’

‘I can’t,’ said Burleigh.

‘Keep quiet, you brutes!’ shouted Graham, in Hindustani.

It was too late: with a bound and a scream, Jimmy, with the bit between his teeth, dashed off to one side of the road, in spite of the driver’s efforts to restrain him. The groom, who was running behind, let go his hold, and made a frantic and unsuccessful effort to get at the animal’s head. The natives, instead of making way to allow the vehicle to pass, or restraining their untimely clamour, raised a loud shout, half of derision, half defiance. This completed the business, and the next instant the buggy and horse had come-to in the ditch, the former fairly overset, and the latter plunging, kicking, and struggling in his vain efforts to disentangle himself from the broken harness.

Graham was thrown clear off the concern into the road, and would have been severely injured by the fall, had he not been shot right into the arms of a fat native, who subsided beneath the blow, and formed an animated cushion upon which the young officer alighted harmlessly and unscathed.

Burleigh was less fortunate, for he was found by his friend, who went immediately to his assistance, lying insensible and bleeding in the ditch, with his arm beneath the buggy step. The mob of natives who had caused this catastrophe offered no assistance, but seemed, at last, awestruck into silence. With the groom’s help, Graham extracted Burleigh from his perilous position; consciousness speedily returned, and a hasty examination showed that, though much bruised, cut, and bleeding, he had no bones broken. The groom and Graham then proceeded to unfasten the harness and release Jimmy, who did not appear to relish his share of the disaster any more than his master. Burleigh was too much bruised and shaken to be of any use, and sat down on the side of the road. The mob, after a short respite, recommenced the clamour afresh, which increased Jimmy’s discomfiture considerably: and as they passed Burleigh, one of the natives near him, seeing that he was bleeding, called out to the rest, ‘The first Feringhee blood;’ an observation which elicited shouts of laughter from the rest. Burleigh watched them as they went by, astonished at the extraordinary disrespect evinced in their behaviour, and endeavouring to impress upon his memory the features of those that passed nearest him, so as to be able to recognise them.

The harness was too much broken to allow of Jimmy being put in again; so the two friends betook themselves to Capt. Murray’s bungalow, where they rested, and then drove home in his dog-cart.

Chapter II

The military station of Islamabad was situated, as is usually the case in India where troops are located in the immediate neighbourhood of large cities for the purpose of overawing the population, about two miles from the native town. The latter was a large and populous place, inhabited mostly by Mussulman merchants, tradesmen, artisans, &c., and surrounded by a succession of gardens and handsome buildings, belonging to the different Nawabs or Mahometan gentlemen, whose ancestors had possessed property in that neighbourhood ever since the days of the Moghul dynasty, and who had been confirmed in all their rights and privileges by the British Government when the country had passed into its hands. The mode of life passed by these Indian gentlemen was very much what we should expect to see in men situated, as they are, with no intellectual resources to while away the time, no regular employment of any kind, and no lack of all those means of enjoyment and Oriental luxuries for which the East is so notorious. The greater part of them spent their time in the ‘Zenana,’ or in lounging about their gardens, occasionally relieving the monotony of such an existence by the amusement of the chase or hawking. Those who wished to exert themselves sought and easily obtained employment under government, as deputy magistrates or subordinate officers connected with the administration of justice, but to the generality these duties entailed too great mental application, and interfered too much with that easy sensual style of life so highly prized by Asiatics. A few of the more refined and better educated amused themselves by listening to the works of Persian authors, which were read aloud to them by men retained in their service for the purpose; and several of the native newspapers published in one or two of the principal cities in Northern India and Bengal, under the highflowing titles of the ‘Star of Islam,’ the ‘Wellwisher of India,’ the ‘Indian Patriot,’ &c., whose columns generally teemed with seditious sentiments and treasonable expressions against the British government, found their way into the houses of these gentlemen, and were listened to with great attention.

The early morning was generally devoted by the class of men I speak of to whatever out-of-door exercise they deemed it advisable or felt it convenient to take; the middle of the day was spent in sleep; and when the sultry heat of noon had somewhat abated, the degenerate descendants of the Moghul conquerors of Hindustan might be seen dressed in light flowing robes, reclining listlessly upon their carpets, enjoying their pipes and chatting together on the common topics of the day; others remained alone and indoors; and while the ever-present hooka filled the apartment with its fragrant scent, a ‘Munshi,’ squatted on the ground at a respectable distance from the master of the house, read aloud in a sing-song voice and in a nasal twang the melodious couplets of Hafiz or Sadi, or the more stirring tales recorded by the fluent pen of Firdousi. The cooler hours of evening were spent in the ‘Zenana,’ or in wandering under the orange and lime trees which were planted on each side of the straight rectangular garden paths so fashionable in the eyes of native horticulturists, and so unsightly in our own.

Although the greater proportion of the inhabitants of Islamabad were Mussulmans, there were, as a matter of course, among the 120,000 beings that thronged its crowded streets and populated suburbs, a great many Hindus of all classes, castes, and families. They were mostly those engaged in trade and petty shopkeeping: a few wealthy partners of the great native Indian bankers of Benares occupied a lofty and well-built edifice in the finest part of the town, and the Hindu religion was fairly represented by a fine temple and college of priests adjoining, built outside the city, in a grove where the wide-spreading mango, the elegant pine, and the broad-leaved plaintain, combined with their variegated and rich foliage to afford a picturesque and shady resort to the lazy Brahmins and deluded votaries of Mahadeo, who daily repaired to the spot in crowds.

The principal person, however, in the native society, was, as he was called par excellence the Nawab of Islamabad. His name was Zeinat-ul-abadeen, which signifies the ‘ornament of the worshippers.’ The greater part of the city and of the surrounding district belonged to this nobleman, whose father had been indebted to the British government for deciding in his favour a lawsuit of many years’ standing with a rival claimant to the greater part of the estate, and for supporting that decision by a military demonstration, rendered necessary by the vigorous and spirited opposition shown by the ex-Nawab Moozuffer-ood-deen, an adventurer, who having nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting forward a false claim, and supporting it by evidence, which is always to be purchased in India, was at one time very nearly winning the case; but the cunning of the Asiatic was in this instance no match for the skill and tact of the English judges. The worthlessness of the evidence being detected, a decree was given against the claimant, and afterwards confirmed by the decision of the superior tribunal. The adventurer, disgusted at what he chose to consider injustice, and with his character stamped as an impostor, retired from public life, and, selling off what remained to him of his property, took his departure for Mecca.

The present Nawab was a young nobleman of five and twenty years of age, and in intelligence, activity, and good sense, very far superior to the rest of the native gentlemen around. His large property gave him some employment, and although all details were managed by subordinates, the mere fact of superintending their labour and looking over accounts occasionally gave him, what his friends in the neighbourhood had not, at any rate, nominal emplojrment. He had, however, but little taste for duties of this kind. Debarred by prejudice and pride from taking military service under the British government, he contented himself by indulging a natural predilection for military display in drilling a small force of about 200 armed retainers, whom he was permitted to keep up as a kind of militia, and who were withdrawn from their fields and homes once or twice a year, to live in camp and swell the retinue of their chief, when he made a tour on his estate.

The Nawab of Islamabad, it will readily be believed, was a man of great consequence in the country. He had great influence among the Mahometan population, and could raise, if occasion required, a very considerable force. The attachment of influential chiefs it has unfortunately not always been the object of the British government to gain, for it has too often overlooked the fact that the good-will and fidelity of the native aristocracy would be the surest bulwark of its power. But there were many exceptional cases to the general rule, and it had always been an object with the chief civil magistrate of Islamabad to cultivate the acquaintance of the Nawab, and that nobleman’s fondness for English society, and apparent desire to ingratiate himself with English residents of all classes, as well as the acknowledged debt of gratitude he owed to the British government for his present position, all combined to point him out as one of the most staunch supporters of the power of the East India Company to be found in the whole of Hindustan.

With the officers, quartered at Islamabad, the Nawab was a general favourite. Was a tiger-hunting expedition proposed, a note from the magistrate would procure the ready offer of the Nawab’s elephants, and he himself not unfrequently made one of the party: was a picnic to be given, the Nawab’s gardens were at the disposal of the party: and about twice a year he was in the habit of giving a fête to which the European officers and ladies were invited, where they feasted on cold turkeys and champagne, under the marble alcoves in the gardens, while fountains played around them, and sweet-scented flowers filled the air with fragrance.

About the time I have chosen for the opening of my story, one of these fêtes took place, and all the English residents at Islamabad received invitations. The Nawab’s residence, to which the gardens where the fête was to be given were attached, was at the farther side of the city. A large and handsome gateway admitted the visitor into the garden, the full extent of which, however, could not be seen from the entrance. A straight broad path, flanked by square borders for flowers, and regular rows of orange and pomegranate trees, led from the gateway to a large and elegantly shaped summer-house built chiefly of marble, decorated in the inside with mosaics of various colours and patterns: from the floor of the building your eye could wander over the whole expanse of the garden, except where the sight was bounded by the trees, whose rich green foliage contrasted prettily with the light flowering shrubs now in full blossom. There were two or three marble reservoirs full of water, the largest of which was situated immediately beneath the summer-house, and in most of them fountains were playing. The only arrangement that displeased the eye accustomed to a display of European horticultural taste, were the straight paths, the square flower-beds, and the exact regularity with which the lines, whether of shade, trees, masonry, or gravel walks, intersected one another at a right angle. Besides the principal building there were several other smaller summerhouses, built all expressly on the same model, the same architecture (size being the only quality varied), the same pattern mosaics, the same bright dazzling whiteness about them all. In the central building there was a table covered with a white cloth, upon which all the delicacies of European and Asiatic taste were placed in a strange proximity, but with the utmost profusion. Plates and knives and forks were also there, and chairs for the guests to sit upon: a band of four or five table domestics, clad in snow-white garments, stood here and there ready to do the honours, and indeed the most fastidious connoisseur might be sure to find something to suit his taste. A dish of fruit would be flanked by tins of preserved oysters on one side, and hermetically-sealed lobsters on the other; a cold turkey confronted by a small mountain of ‘pillaos;’ flat dishes of jelly and blancmange were surrounded by bottles of chutney and jars of preserved Indian fruits; while the interstices of the table were covered with plates of roasted pistachio nuts, almonds in their shell, white unwholesome-looking sweetmeats of native, and boxes of bonbons of European, manufacture, dishes of oranges, apples from Kabul and Cashmere, and dried raisins. A miscellaneous mass of black bottles stood on another table at the side, exhibiting the native ideas of English powers of absorption, and consisting of champagne, beer, Guiness’ stout, port, claret, sherry, burgundy, so that if the guests were inclined to promiscuous drinking they might have ample means of gratifying their inclination, and doing justice to the somewhat barbaric hospitality of the generous host.

By the cool of the evening, for the hot winds had not yet set in, the guests began to arrive: officers in gay uniform, ladies dressed in all the colours of the rainbow and bonnets of the newest fashion (newest, that is, in Islamabad, where fortunately for husbands no milliner with fashions direct from Paris had as yet ventured to take up her abode), wandered in groups of twos and threes along the garden paths. One scarcely knew which to admire most, the flowers of animate or inanimate nature. Pretty faces smiling from beneath pretty bonnets, the light colours of the dresses of the ladies, whose graceful figures appeared here and there from amid the jessamine and pomegranate trees and beds of flowers of every hue, the merry laugh that rang through the air, the sound of musical voices full of youthful mirth and gaiety, mingled with the noisier strains that came from the band which was playing in a distant part of the garden, the refreshing sound of splashing water from a hundred fountains that were in action in the reservoirs, the sweet scents that floated in the air—all served to enchant the senses, and make young hearts, and older ones too, as to that matter, forget for the time that there was anything more serious in life to be attended to than ladies’ smiles, and music, and love, and flowers.

So may we mortals stand on dangerous ground, giving ourselves up to the fleeting pleasure of life, when a precipice, all unseen, yawns at our very feet.

Among the guests were Colonel and Mrs. Wetherall, and their guest, Captain and Mrs. Stevens, and Miss Leslie, and close after them came the two friends, Graham and Burleigh; the former gazing at the young girl in front of him with such an eager glance, as if he longed to kiss the ground she walked upon: and indeed she did look very pretty; her figure tall and graceful, though not too slender; her rich auburn hair and blue eyes, and delicate colour of her cheek, rivalling the tint of the budding rose; the row of pearl-like teeth that peeped now and then from between the thin delicately turned lips when they opened temptingly to laugh: the grace of her slightest movement, and the queen-like dignity with which she moved along, hanging on her brother’s arm, enchanted Arthur, who had long worshipped his goddess at a distance to such an extent that he felt inclined to disregard the conventionalities of society altogether, and, throwing himself at her feet, to declare before the astonished eyes of the bystanders his unalterable and undying passion. There was Dr. Mactartan, a Scotchman, who knew everything almost about everybody, and made it the business of his life to find out anything he did not know. Then came Captain and Mrs. Murray, and the baby, who was put to sleep, and left with the ayah in an alcove in a retired part of the garden, whither Captain and Mrs. Murray, with a truly parental solicitude for their first-born, repaired regularly every twenty minutes to see how the ‘little sweet’ was getting on, the same ‘little sweet’ being a fair complexioned pretty child, dressed nicely in lace and ribbons, lying asleep in the tawny arms of a hideous black ayah, and looking very like a diminutive beauty with the beast. Then came Captain Scott, glad to get a holiday from his slatternly wife and untidy uncomfortable home, and Mrs. Williams, equally delighted that her gallant husband being on duty, she was forced to enjoy herself alone, and lose for a few hours of one day, at all events, the sound of his grumbling scolding voice. Then came—but time will not allow me to recount the names and qualities of all the illustrious guests that assembled to do honour to the hospitality of the Nawab of Islamabad.

‘Come,’ said Arthur to his friend, when he had silently feasted his eyes on the form of his enslaver, ‘let me introduce you to the nicest people at Islamabad.’

‘Who?’

‘You shall see; we will take this turning to the left, and so we shall get round and meet them, instead of keeping up a chase in open ground.’

Slightly quickening their pace, and taking two or three turnings, one to the left and then to the right, they emerged upon the path they had left a little lower down, and so confronted the party Arthur was in quest of. They stopped, and Graham introduced his friend. While the group were occupied in the commonplace conversation of new acquaintances, Graham, offering his arm to Miss Leslie, proposed escorting her to another part of the garden, where a ‘tank’—as we unpoetically call it—or reservoir, of peculiar architectural beauty, was one of the sights of the place, and served as an excuse for Arthur to separate his fair friend from her companions for a time. Receiving an injunction to meet again at the central building in half an hour, Miss Leslie put her hand in Graham’s arm, and the two walked away together. A slight smile curled upon Burleigh’s lip as he followed the retiring figures with his eyes. ‘So, my friend,’ he thought, ‘you have introduced me to very pleasant people, quite disinterestedly, no doubt.’ Burleigh was much pleased with the first impressions of Mrs. Stevens and her husband, and accompanied them in their sauntering walk through the garden.

Novels are supposed to be representations of real life. I generally find, when a scene between two lovers is described, that the conversation flows glibly on both sides. The gentleman, eloquent and pathetic; the lady, sympathising and attentive. Poor Graham’s case was a very desperate one. He had somehow mustered up courage to get Miss Leslie away from her party, which was the first step in a wonderfully well laid scheme he had all ready cut and dry. Unfortunately he overestimated his own powers. He had not gone more than a few yards with his fair companion before he began to wonder how in the world he had had the courage to take even the first step; and, as for carrying out his well-formed intentions and making all those pretty speeches he thought were ready at the tip of his tongue, why he could as soon fly. Love is generally represented blind; she often deserves to be called dumb also. As long as she is only dumb and blind, we poor mortals can manage to rub on; but should she unhappily ever turn out deaf as well, what shall we do?

I do not pretend to lay bare the secrets of the lady’s heart, though I have been less scrupulous with the gentleman. But if Miss Leslie reciprocated in any degree the feelings entertained towards her by her companion, she was on this occasion particularly perverse and crotchety. Perhaps she was in a bad humour about something; ladies do sometimes get out of humour. Perhaps she was annoyed with his shyness, for it is very irritating to have a tête-à-tête with a shy person. Besides, he pays you such a bad compliment; he must think you a very suspicious character, or that you have something bad about you, or that you are always necessarily thinking ill of others, or else he would not be afraid of you. Whatever the cause may have been, Miss Leslie was rather hard upon her silent lover, and twitted and teased him rather unmercifully, as young ladies sometimes will do, with dry sarcastic little speeches. Graham grew worse and worse; he thought she was ridiculing him, and that he could not stand. He was smarting under the disagreeable feeling that he had made a most egregious failure, and mentally resolved that for the future he would count upon himself in anything rather than doing what is called ‘making love’—though for my own part I am inclined to think the process is generally carried best at odd times, and by chance opportunities, and that when anyone settles down to it as to a task to be done, albeit a pleasant one, he generally finds he succeeds as badly as did Graham on the present occasion. Heartily glad was he for an excuse to conclude their tête-à-tête, and rejoin the rest of the party; though he was in a terribly cross humour with himself, for he put down his failure to his own awkwardness and shyness and stupidity, and called himself to himself ‘an ass’ a great many more times that evening than he would have liked it to be known.

Things, however, were destined to be worse before they grew any better, for no sooner had they joined the others than Burleigh’s advances were received most favourably.

He placed himself next her at the table at which the company all seated themselves to do honour to the splendid repast provided for them by the liberality of their host. She took up with him directly, talked and chatted sensibly enough in a free and comfortable manner that showed how much she was at her ease. All this made Graham more and more cross; and the deeper grew his gloom and moodiness, the brighter and merrier became Miss Leslie. At last he took refuge in desperation. He was determined to abjure ladies’ society henceforth: it was not worth a man’s while to make himself miserable about such fickle creatures; it was the same old story to be told over again: young heart’s affections ruined and blasted on account of filthy lucre. Burleigh was a good match—he, Graham, was a bad; when he was a full blown captain on his five hundred rupees a month, Burleigh would most likely be a full blown magistrate on his two thousand; and what comparison was there here?—‘but Amy, his adored Amy—he did think she had a soul above a money-bag.’

As soon as the collation was over Stevens touched Arthur lightly on the shoulder, and proposed in a pantomime that they should adjourn to smoke a cheroot. Arthur sulkily acquiesced. He would have preferred the ladies’ society certainly, that is, under other circumstances; but now he would commence his practice of philosophy, and show Amy that if her heart was free, his was no less so.

As soon as they had lighted their cigars, and had seated themselves on a rustic bench under a mango tree, Stevens began to address his astonished companion in this wise.

‘I asked you to come avsray thus ungallantly, Graham, from the ladies, because I want to speak to you. I am not blind, my good fellow, at least not quite, and I want to caution you against a danger you are running into, I think. I allude to my sister-in-law.’

Arthur hardly knew how to receive the communication: in his present mood he was most inclined to take anything angrily, and so he almost voluntarily allowed a spirit of ill-temper to assert its sway within.

‘I cannot understand your allusion, Stevens,’ he replied with forced calmness. ‘I suppose you do not mean to insinuate that I have behaved towards Miss Leslie in any objectionable way,’

‘Not in the least, my dear Graham; that is not the point—’

‘What the deuce is, then?’ said the other interruptingly.

‘Why, simply this, Arthur—but do not get annoyed. I am merely doing what I believe to be a duty, and from that, depend upon it, no browbeating or angry behaviour of any man will frighten me. I wish to be on good terms with you always, for I admire and respect you, as I do that brave old soldier your father; so if you choose to quarrel with me I shall be sorry, but it can’t be helped.’

Graham remained silent, and the other continued—

‘I believe you have allowed yourself to become attached to my sister. She has nothing in the world to bring to the man that marries her, and as a subaltern it is out of the question your becoming her husband. I know well enough what poverty is, and to what utter misery and extinction of all mutual respect and affection it leads, and my sister will not marry anyone who has not what we consider a competency. I intend to retire from the service very soon; and as we are going away in a week or two, and shall very probably not return to Islamabad again, I thought it better to warn you, lest you should make yourselves both unhappy to no purpose. Amy’s ideas coincide with mine—so do my wife’s, and we do not think a lieutenant’s pay a sufficient income for an officer to marry on.’

‘In fact, Burleigh, you find a more eligible match,’ said Graham bitterly, rising as he spoke. ‘Good afternoon. Captain Stevens; I shall act on your kind and straightforward advice.’ So saying, with a stress upon the last word but one, Arthur Graham made a formal bow, and, with a look which he felt ought to have consumed Captain Stevens to ashes on the spot, walked leisurely away.

Chapter III

He had scarely gone out of sight when Mr. Dacres, the commissioner, came up, also indulging in the luxury of a post-prandial cheroot.

‘Ha! Stevens!’ he said, accosting that officer, ‘so you are doing the same as I—selfishly absenting yourself from the rest: suppose, as we are both misanthropes or rather misogynists for the present, we join company and take a stroll together; the truth is, I want to speak to you, and cannot have a better opportunity.’

‘Willingly, my dear sir,’ was Captain Stevens’s response, as he arose and joined him.

‘Hark! there is the band striking up; they are going to dance. You and I, Stevens, are too old for such follies—eh?’

‘I am sorry Mrs. Dacres is not here to enjoy the scene; it would have amused her. I hope your last accounts from home—home we always call it—are good.’

‘Excellent. Thank God, she and my dear children are anywhere but here,’ he added after a pause, speaking so earnestly that his tone and manner startled his companion.

‘What? you don’t mean to say, Dacres, then, that you believe all the reports that are about, and think there is any real danger threatening us? I haven’t seen you for the last ten days—when we last talked on public affairs you didn’t appear to consider matters were so serious; for my part, I have too much to do to think about it at all, but I hope to get away soon.’

‘Yes, somebody said you were going away next week.’

‘I was thinking of it, but I got a large batch of fresh work in this morning that will keep me here some time longer. I’ve got my leave, though.’

‘Well, I really think you are wise to get away—mind, I speak in confidence, don’t repeat what I say; I have had some bad news since I saw you last. I believe we are on the eve of a disturbance—things don’t look nice; the political horizon is not clear, as the newspaper phrase is—there are clouds gathering and signs in the heavens that portend something, I can hardly tell what. I have thought so long, and now the news we get day after day confirms me in my views.’

‘Yes, I agree with you; there are causes for apprehension, and so there always must be as long as we hold the position we do in India; but there can be no doubt surely that we have much in our favour: in the event of any great movement, the bulk of the population, at any rate the better classes, and probably the majority of the native army, are attached to us; so that although disturbances may take place, which are always to be looked for in a country like this, there is no reason for doubting the final issue.’

‘Indeed I must differ from you there; the attachment of the population and the fidelity of our native soldiery, and the loyalty of the better classes, are all empty words, which Englishmen use partly because they sound well, and partly because it flatters their national vanity, and partly because they fear, like a prodigal, to examine closely their accounts, and see how they really stand with regard to India. I have had as much experience as most men, and as many opportunities of judging, and I fearlessly assert that these notions and sources of security are all unsound. Instead of being beloved we are hated, instead of being respected we are despised, only we are feared too: instead of being trusted we are looked upon with the greatest suspicion. All classes, high and low, hate us: the low, because among them it is we who get the credit of all the tyranny and oppression and misrule that goes on, and which in reality is the work of our native subordinates, but you can’t get the common people to believe it. The higher classes naturally detest us, as occupying the position they would fill if we were not here. And how miserably do we Englishmen set about courting popularity!—Popularity did I say? why, if we look at the behaviour of nine Englishmen out of ten in the country towards the natives, we might suppose their object was to make themselves as unpopular as possible.’

‘There is much truth in all you say, but does our prestige go for nothing—our moral and physical superiority, the weight of character?’

‘I think Lord Dalhousie’s policy has done a great deal towards destroying the confidence which was formerly placed in us. Our prestige and so on, really, depends upon the fidelity or otherwise of a huge overgrown monster of a mercenary army, who, if they chose to act unanimously against us, might in one day destroy every vestige of our race in India.’

‘And is this what you anticipate?’

‘Not immediately. I believe the first intimation of danger we get, will be a general outbreak among the native troops; but this will be only the initiative, the first stone thrown from the mouth of the volcano that has been preparing for an eruption for years: it is a vast popular movement that I dread, dangerous at any time and anywhere, but when accompanied by the simultaneous defection of, perhaps, a hundred and fifty thousand disciplined mercenary troops, absolutely fearful to contemplate.’

‘Well, Dacres, you have had more experience than I, but I don’t believe that the sepoys would ever be unanimous in wanting to throw away all the advantages they enjoy in our service, their regular pay, their pensions, and prospects—think you they are mad enough to cast them to the winds? Again, how could the Mahometans and Hindus ever combine to act together?—they hate one another more than they can be supposed to hate us, Christians though we are.’

‘Yes, when the time comes there will scarcely be a man found faithful to us: you forget in talking about the strength of our hold upon them by pensions, pay, &c., that the whole fabric is thrown to the ground the moment the belief in the overthrow of our empire takes possession of men’s minds: of what value to them is a claim on the support of a government that is doomed?—why should they make a sacrifice to give them a claim to the favour of a power whose race is run, whose time is drawing to a close, which they believe ours to be, on the faith of prophecies and traditions industriously circulated among them? The annexation of Oude was the most dishonest as it was the most disastrous policy ever pursued by any government, and we shall reap the fruits of it ere long. While Oude was independent we had a hold upon our native army—now we have none.’

‘But the officers—’

‘Are deceived—all deceived—blind, infatuated. Perhaps it is only to be expected they should be so; they are told from the day they enter the service to gain the affections of their men, and this they cannot do without showing and having confidence in them, but I am afraid they will be rudely awakened from their dream some day. One thing, however, is clear, that if my worst anticipations are realised, we shall all be obliged to stand at bay and act independently at every station and outpost, which we must defend with our wives and families till succour reaches us from home. So firmly convinced do I feel that something of the sort is about to happen, that I have thought over the subject, and determined upon a plan of action in case things come to the worst, and I want your opinion as an engineer upon this spot, as a military post do you think it is tenable?’

‘It might be made so certainly,’ replied Captain Stevens, standing and casting a leisurely glance round him—’that is, provided we were secure from treachery within, and had a trustworthy force to garrison it—but may I ask, are your views confined to yourself alone, or are they shared in by the government?’

‘The government is fully aware that there is something amiss, a screw oose in the machine of state; this I know from the replies to letters I have deemed it my duty to write on the state of public affairs: but there is too much routine and red tape, and want of reliance on individual energy, for the Indian government easily to appreciate its position, or to extricate itself from difficulties, and I must say the late exhibition of weakness we have seen in Calcutta is not calculated to encourage one. But you spoke of treachery within.’

‘Yes—if the state of things is as you describe—if those who have most cause to trust us, and to remain staunch to our government, are likely to prove our worst enemies in the end, I see nothing to be gained by protracting a contest which must result in our speedy and inevitable annihilation. We, the mere handful of Englishmen at Islamabad, can never garrison a place like this, and the Nawab—for of course you would not think of coming here against his will and wish—why should he be more favourable to us than the sepoys who have eaten our salt for years, and their fathers and grandfathers before them?’

‘As far as I can trust any Asiatic, I trust the Nawab; but recollect my confidence in him is only a matter of comparison. He might turn against us, but in the event which I am pretending to anticipate, the defection of the native army, we have absolutely no alternative; we must throw ourselves upon the Nawab; he has a small force tolerably efficiently armed and drilled—his men are, we know, personally attached to him, and though I would not give a fig for him or his men as allies to act against the sepoys, supposing they rebelled, I think it is not unlikely they might exert themselves to protect us—at any rate for a time—all would depend on how affairs elsewhere turned out.’

‘Have you ever sounded him on the subject?’

‘To a certain extent I have. Of course it would be an awkward question to put to him direct, but he himself introduced the subject one day. We were alone, and he turned suddenly round and said, “Sahib! you English are extraordinary people: you walk about, eat, drink, and sleep in a magazine of gunpowder.” “How so?” I replied, and he went on to say that there was a great deal going on among the Mahometans under the surface which might result in serious consequences. He told me, among other things, that a friend of his who had just returned from Mecca had informed him that the subject of our expected destruction in India was openly and freely discussed by all the Mussulmans at Mecca, and by the crowds both going and coming. They have prophecies and traditions, all pointing to the present and few succeeding years as pregnant with great events in the Mahometan world, and the first of the series of events is to be, according to them, our expulsion from India, or destruction in it, and the establishment of a Mahometan dynasty in the throne of the Moguls.’

‘And what view did the Nawab take of it himself?’

‘Why, it is difficult to read an Asiatic’s countenance. He hardly knows, I think, what to believe; like the rest of us, he feels that something is about to happen, but has neither made up his mind what to expect, or what course to pursue.’

‘For a native he is a well-educated man, I believe, and has liberal and extended views.’

‘Very much so, and it is to his good sense I trust to act, if I cannot say, in a loyal, yet in a friendly manner towards us, in the event of any great disturbance taking place. He owes his present position entirely to the British government, but I don’t think so much of that as a motive for good behaviour as of his knowledge of the power and resources of Great Britain. A man in his circumstances we may be sure will stick to the winning side; if affairs go well for us, he will be true—if not, I would not give that’ (snapping his finger and thumb) ‘for his fidelity or assistance.’

The conversation was here interrupted by a native servant, called in India a chuprassie, who came up with a note and a card, and after making a low salaam, put them in Mr. Dacres’s hand. The latter looked at the card, then at the address of the letter, and without further delay opened it and read.

‘Is the gentleman here?’ he asked, speaking to the servant.

‘The sahib is there,’ said the man, pointing in the direction of the gate.

‘Go and give him my salaam, and say I am waiting to see him.’ ‘Come along,’ added the speaker, as the servant hastened away on his errand, ‘here is a visitor come to see us, and take notes—a real live member of parliament—Mr. what’s his name—Thurston. See the card, Mr. T. Thurston, an M.P. My friend writes from Calcutta, asking me to do the needful.’

‘Quite an event for our quiet little society at Islamabad.’

By the time they had got half-way up the garden walk, they met the stranger coming down, following the chuprassie.

He was a middle-aged man, apparently, nicely dressed, and looking, as far as externals could decide the point, a thorough gentleman. The impression, however, the two friends gained from a distant view of his appearance became less favourable upon a closer inspection. There was a decidedly common-place look about the stranger’s features, a vacant restless expression in his eyes, and that peculiar turn of lip that denotes obstinacy and a very tolerable opinion of oneself. His complexion was naturally dark, his features of a Jewish cast, and eyes brown. Had he dressed himself in native costume, he might have passed for an Afghan, or a Peshawur Jew.

‘Happy to welcome you to our little station,’ said Mr. Dacres, slightly raising his hat, and then holding out his hand to confirm the welcome by a hearty shake, such as one gets from a hospitable Anglo-Indian of the old school—‘let me introduce you to my friend Captain Stevens, of the Bengal Engineers—when did you arrive?’

‘This morning, some hours ago. I went to the inn, or traveller’s resting-house, which you people call a dâk bungalow, and afterwards to your house, where I learnt you were all down here holiday-keeping, so I followed.’

‘Quite right—you will find a merry party here, and an excellent opportunity of making acquaintance with all our good people. You see an up-country station to advantage to-day, Mr. Thurston. You are travelling, my friend Watson tells me, for information—we must see that you get a good impression of us—first impressions are important.’

‘Yes; I am anxious to pick up some information about India from personal observation, that may enable me to speak with authority, you know, on the great Indian question, when it comes before the House. Nothing like personal observation, after all, Mr. Dacres.’

‘You shall see, then, that we have nothing to be ashamed of: however, to-day is devoted to pleasure, not business; so come and let me introduce you to the ladies—it is not every day we have a real M.P. at Islamabad, I can tell you.’

This was said as a joke, but Mr. Thurston was one of those unhappy individuals we sometimes meet with, who never see a joke like other people: he took the remark as an intended compliment, excusing the vulgarity of it, in his own mind, by his ideas of Anglo-Indian barbarity; it was a compliment, however, and the flattery, though gross, was pleasing: he swelled with importance; and walked in the direction where several of the guests were assembled with a dignified and impressive air.

After being introduced to the ladies and most of the officers present about the grounds, and spending a few minutes in conversation with each group, at Mr. Dacres’s invitation he accompanied him to the pavilion, where the cold collation was still on the table, to get refreshment. This was soon provided, and as he engaged in the all-important work of eating and drinking, he continued the conversation with his companion that had been broken off. Captain Stevens had remained behind, with his wife.

‘You see, Mr. Dacres,’ he said, sipping his wine, ‘the British public are sadly deficient in their knowledge of India: we get wrong impressions at home—in fact, we get no impressions at all but those we create ourselves. It is absolutely necessary to travel and see foreign countries with our own eyes. We are anxious, very anxious, to do something for India, to do something towards emancipating the native population from the political and social slavery they groan under. A glorious empire this, sir, a wonderful sight—a hundred and fifty millions held in subjection by opinion, by moral force; the world has never seen anything like it.’

‘I hope you may not have cause to change your views with respect to that same moral force before you leave us,’ replied Mr. Dacres; ‘believe me, sir, when I tell you—and I am no chicken, but I speak with thirty years’ experienpe at my back—this moral force and empire of opinion is all humbug,’

Mr. Thurston held his breath for a moment—‘Anglo-Indian prejudices, narrow-minded civilian ideas—relics of social barbarity,’ he said to himself; then added aloud,

‘Indeed! I am sorry to hear you speak thus. I knew that such notions were entertained very much by the military—mostly illiterate men, devoted to their profession, but caring for nothing beyond; but I was not aware that gentlemen of your service, and of your position in the country, held them.’

‘Why, I believe we are pretty much of the same way of thinking in these matters, Mr. Thurston; civilians and military men—and, I think, the majority of Englishmen who remain long in the country—come round to our opinion, after a practical acquaintance with the state of the country.’

‘Ah! I am aware there is a vast amount of prejudice to work against, but I must see these things for myself, Mr. Dacres: for instance, I must enquire into the habits and customs of the natives, become acquainted with their time-honoured systems of religion; I must endeavour to look with the eye of a native upon the English government, read their thoughts, see how the system of government works, the administration of justice, the penal laws, the revenue, the land settlements, the practical results of the existing system of education, and the progress of the arts and sciences among the native community—and so on.’

‘Information on these points is doubtless desirable. I suppose you intend to make some stay in the country?’

‘Yes; I shall devote as much time as I can possibly spare from other public duties to this interesting country. I suppose my absence from England will be extended certainly to six or seven months.’

Mr. Dacres knocked off the ash of a stump of a cheroot he was smoking, and prepared to light another. A slight smile played about the corners of his mouth.

‘You will find an intimate knowledge of the language the greatest assistance to you in your enquiries.’

‘Of course, without it my pursuit would be mere waste of time. I am most fortunate in this respect, having secured the services of a very intelligent, well-educated native, who travels about with me, and acts as interpreter, as well as instructor, during my leisure hours: he is a Mahometan of liberal views and a capacious mind, quite a superior kind of man.’

‘You are fortimate; where did you find him?’

‘I got him in Calcutta; he was introduced to me by a native gentleman, with whom I picked up an acquaintance accidentally.’

‘Did my friend Watson recommend him?’

‘Why no, he was rather prejudiced against the man; but, like many others, Watson has imbibed a great many what I call Anglo-Indian notions on these subjects, and does not place that confidence in the natives about him, or treat them with that forbearance and consideration, that a gentleman in his position should do.’

‘May I ask, if not impertinent, what remuneration you give this man for his services?’

‘Oh, something merely nominal: he is actuated by motives far superior to any of a mere personal or mercenary nature. I told him my object in visiting the country, and he offered to attend me, merely for the sake of being useful, and aiding me in the investigation that he is fully aware will tend to the benefit of his country and his race. I pay all his travelling expenses, and allow him ten pounds a month—a hundred rupees—while he accompanies me, a trifling sum to a gentleman of his position and importance; indeed, I should have been ashamed to offer it, but that I knew, from personal acquaintance with Asiatics in other countries, that no Oriental is above taking money when offered.’

As the evening was now drawing in, and the sun had set, Mr. Dacres arose and proposed joining the rest of the party before it became dark, when a grand display of fireworks was to close the festivities.

Chapter IV

We must turn from the picture of fêtes, gardens full of bright flowers, and lovely women, gay parties and merry dancing, to the darker side of nature, secret conspiracy, black ingratitude and infernal treachery.

While the English community at Islamabad were amusing themselves in the way I have attempted to describe, a select portion of the natives were engaged in deep and serious business. The reader must accompany me to the lines of the 75th Native Infantry. For the benefit of those who are ignorant of what native ‘lines’ are like, it will be necessary to say a few words in explanation. They consisted then at Islamabad of ten double rows of mud huts placed back to back in straight lines, the partition wall running right through the centre from one end to the other: the walls were of mud or bricks baked in the sun, and plastered over—the roofs thatched with dry grass and bamboos; the huts were about eight or ten feet square, the roof sloping towards the front; those at each end of the row were higher, larger and better built than the rest, and allotted to native commissioned officers. There was a line of trees planted a few feet in front of the huts, and many of the men had amused themselves in their leisure hours by making small gardens before their doors. This collection of dwellings was intersected by two broad centre roads at right angles to each other, and two other narrower roads parallel to the great centre one which ran through the lines from right to left. Two or three large peepul-trees here and there with their thick foliage and widely-spreading branches afforded a grateful shade during the heat of the day, and a resting-place for innumerable crows during the night.

One night after the party in the Nawab’s garden, a gathering took place in the house of one of the native officers of the 75th Native Infantry. It would not have been an easy matter for a stranger to have gained admittance to that assembly, for two men, sepoys in their native dress, were constantly on the watch outside. Whenever any one approached, they called out and challenged the intruder, as if they had been sentries on duty. Colonel Wetherall had given very strict orders to his men against moving about in the lines during the night, and every man detected in doing so was reported at once to the native officer of the day, and by him to the adjutant and commanding officer the following morning. These orders had been lately enforced with great severity, at the urgent representation of some of the senior native officers, who had doubtless good reasons for wishing all the men to remain in their own huts during the night, and who had accordingly told the colonel that unless this rule was strictly carried out, they could not be answerable for the conduct of the men in the lines. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that on the night in question (and it need not be specified for how many nights before) the sentries in undress had not to challenge a single person who was not acquainted with the watchword or private parole of the conspirators; for I will not disguise from my readers that I am about to admit them into some of the arcana of that tremendous plot which had well-nigh insured the destruction of our boasted empire in the East. The parole was given in a whisper to the sentry, who immediately let the visitor pass; but, to avoid any chance of treachery or deception, he had no sooner reached the door of the hut and entered, than he felt the iron grasp of a strong muscular hand upon him, and before he advanced a step farther he was required to give the second watchword, ‘Ek deen’ (Anglicé, One faith). This proof of complicity afforded, he was allowed to enter an inner apartment, when, after looking for a short time till his eyes became accustomed to the gloom and the feeble light within, that scarce served to render anything visible, he might distinguish the forms of several men seated on their haunches on the ground. One or two hookas were at work, and occasionally passed from hand to hand among those who were permitted by the arbitrary laws of caste to indulge in a community of pipes. The only light thrown upon this dismal scene came from a small oil-lamp on a little wooden shelf in the wall about six feet from the ground. But, either accidentally or by design, the room was kept so dark that it would have been almost impossible for anyone to distinguish the features of any of its occupants with sufficient clearness to recognise or identify the owner of them. What little conversation was carried on was in an under tone: in fact, the dismal-looking creatures half obscured in the gloom of the apartment, seemed to be whispering or muttering to one another like spirits of evil intent on some business too dreadful to be witnessed or heard by the outer world. The party inside the hut increased gradually till it amounted to fifteen men, all of whom came in one after the other and took their seats (if squatting on the ground can be called taking a seat) in silence.

At last a grey-haired old gentleman who was sitting under the lamp, and consequently completely enveloped in its shade, commenced the proceedings of the evening, by calling over in a low voice the names of those whose presence he expected. Finding there were no defaulters, he uttered, to English ear the somewhat remarkable phrase, ‘Ram, Ram, Ram,’ took a long and very deep pull at the hooka—so long that you would have thought it would never have stopped bubbling, and then putting it aside, looked up and addressed a man who sat near him in his own language. ‘Now, Peer Khan—speak, brother.’

Peer Khan who was thus called upon to address the meeting was a tall fine Mussulman havildar, or sergeant: his hair was slightly tinged with grey, his features were handsome, and his broad chest and muscular arms marked him for a very Hercules. He was one of the best men in the regiment in all athletic sports, a particular favourite with the officers, and especially with the colonel, who placed the most entire confidence in him. He was clever and ingenious, could read and write the Persian and Hindi character, was an excellent accountant, and understood English pretty well; a fact, however, which was studiously concealed from the knowledge of his officers. He was senior havildar and pay-sergeant of the grenadier company.

On the present occasion his proceedings were conducted with all the decorum and precision, and freedom from anything like undue haste, for which natives are so famous. He first of all wriggled about his body for a second, which operation resulted in the production from some part of his person or his clothes of a piece of old wax candle about three inches long: this he lighted and placed on the ground before him; he then took from somewhere underneath his garments a rude kind of pocket or account book, and after leisurely opening it as if there were no such invention as time in the world, or as if his life was to come to an end when the book was fairly opened, and he therefore felt anxious to postpone that consummation as long as he reasonably could, he at length concluded the operation, and taking out a small bundle of papers written all over in very small but clear handwriting in the Persian character, he commenced to read.

I must act the part of interpreter to the reader as I go on, for the intelligence thus communicated was wrapt up in so many enigmatical expressions that its meaning would be unintelligible. There was a nickname for every individual mentioned, no officer being spoken of either by his proper designation or rank: the brigadier was called ‘the Old Owl;’ the commissioner, Mr. Dacres, ‘the Hawk;’ the colonel, ‘the Lion,’—and so on; each metaphorical application being appropriately determined by some characteristic quality of the person named.

‘Mahomed Bux says,’ began the havildar, reading with no great fluency the first scrap of paper he took out of the bundle,—‘“The sahibs all went sight-seeing at the Nawab’s garden the other day: the brigadier was there, and sat opposite the commissioner; the colonel was also there: the brigadier asked the commissioner, ‘Do you think the agitation about the greased cartridges will spread?’ the commissioner frowned, and the other was silent: the colonel said ‘he wondered how many English soldiers would come out;’ the commissioner said ‘a lac, but he never talked of such things while natives were present:’ so they were silent.”

‘May Allah confound them in the lowest hell!

‘“After dinner the commissioner walked with Captain Stevens [this officer was designated the Mistree or Mason] a long time: I could not hear all they said. Beware of the Hawk; he has spies everywhere, and knows many things. He talked much about fortifying the place.”’

‘What place?’ asked one of the listeners.

‘I don’t know,’ said Peer Khan, and continued reading, ‘“and not trusting some one, the writer does not know who—more at a future time—adieu.”’

After reading this. Peer Khan proceeded quietly and stolidly to burn it, then taking out another scrap went on reading. ‘Peer Ally says,—“The brigade-major [who was called the Jackal] read some printed newspapers at breakfast-time this morning, and then said to his wife, if the sepoys and natives only knew their strength, they would turn us (the infidels) out of India in two days. He said the brigadier was a fool. The lady asked him if the sepoys would take the new cartridges without a disturbance: he said they had better do so, or they would be destroyed.” There is no more.’

A low murmur passed round the listening group at the conclusion, as Peer Ehan burnt the paper: it soon died away, and the silence, in which you might have heard a pin drop, was resumed.

A third scrap was produced; its contents were short:

‘Boodh Singh says,—“Beware of the Hawk—he suspects.’”

This was destroyed like the rest, and another succeeded.

‘“Captain Stevens and the ladies are going to the hills:” there is no more.’ On the reverse side was written, ‘Captain Stevens said the sirkar (government) were going to build large barracks for European soldiers in every station.’

After this, several letters were produced that had come from a distance, for they had post-marks upon them. The first ran as follows: ‘Toorab Khan, ressaldar of the—— Irregular Cavalry, at——, to Peer Khan, havildar, grenadier company of the 75th Regiment, at Islamabad. May your health remain good! All is well here, the corn almost ripe for cutting. I have changed my horse, and so have the others you mentioned. The horses were worn out and not fit for work. What need of more?’

Several other letters were read of the same import, but it is needless to recount them here. It is evident that a vigorous correspondence was being kept up with distant stations, and in Islamabad itself such a system of espionage was maintained through the medium of domestic servants, that every word that was uttered by any of the officers, military or civil, even in the confidence of official intercourse or the privacy of domestic life, so far as it related to political questions or could be brought to bear on them, was immediately recorded. How long the conspirators might have sat in conclave it is not for me to say, for they were interrupted by the entrance of another visitor, who broke in somewhat abruptly upon the conference. At his entrance they all rose and made a deep salaam.

It was certainly not his dress which caused this expression of respect: that is, dress taken in the ordinary acceptation of the term; for clothes he had none, except a slender band of cloth round his middle, but his arms and neck were bedecked with a number of necklaces and bracelets made of nothing more precious apparently than wood. His thick dirty matted hair, full of dust and filth, stood upright upon his head, or hung straggling over his shoulders and temples in confusion: his face and breast were plastered with a white or yellowish substance, the ashes of cow-dung, which gave a ghastly hue to his appearance. However, everything goes by comparison, and this gentleman’s friends among whom he found himself could not have treated him more respectfully had he presented himself dressed in the newest fashion by Buckmaster or Stultz. The scantiness of clothing worn by the dignitary certainly displayed to the best advantage the symmetry of his form and the development of his muscular limbs. Altogether he was a character very well calculated to frighten a nervous old lady in a dark night.

He returned the salute made to him, and by a sign desired his friends to reseat themselves: some did so, others remained standing. The old gentleman first introduced as the head-man or president of the meeting betook himself to his hooka. ‘Be prepared,’ said the unknown, speaking in a loud whisper; ‘all does not go well—the infidels are beginning too soon. I am in haste, and have many miles to ride before morning, for I am sent to warn all to be prepared, and not to wait for the signal that was before pointed out to you. As soon as you hear of fire and sword, up and be doing as ye may: recollect, no life spared; the King will not receive you, unless you destroy all the infidels; this is a jehad (holy war). When you have taken the station, remain not more than two days, and then march.’ So saying, the unknown left the hut: we may as well follow him.

Outside the cantonment, about half a mile from the lines, stood what is called a ‘chauki’ or post-house, a yard where the horses were kept for the mail-carts. At one corner of this yard there was a small hut or shanty, and just outside it, but on the opposite side of the road, grew a large wide-spreading peepul tree. Here, too, did the unknown keep his stable—at least it would seem so, for, on reaching the place, he found a horse ready saddled and accoutred, tied to a peg in the ground; he unfastened the rope, for there appeared to be no attendant near, twisted it round the animal’s neck, leapt on its back, and striking it with a thong of leather that was attached to the saddle-bow, started off at fall gallop in a south-east direction—the opposite one from Delhi.

The sound of the horse’s hoofs had scarcely died away in the distance, when the figure of a man might have been seen cautiously descending from the branches of the wide-spreading peepul tree before mentioned; he alighted quietly on the ground, cast a hasty glance around him, and then set off with long strides at a rapid pace across the plain in the direction of Mr. Dacres’s house.

Hardly was he out of sight, however, before a third figure appeared upon the scene, this time emerging from the hut, and started off at the rate of full six miles an hour across the plain too—not in the same direction as the last, but in another, namely, towards the lines of the 75th Regiment. The first was hurrying to tell the commissioner that an emissary from the north had come in haste, visited the lines, returned, and sped on his way again, all within a quarter of an hour; and the second went at a double pace, to warn the conspirators that the emissary’s arrival had been watched and reported by a man who had been hidden in a peepul tree. It was double the distance to Mr. Dacres’s house that it was to the lines, and the second messenger ran as fast again as the first for a very good reason, because he had his heart in the affair in more ways than one. The night was sultry and hot, and before the first messenger went in to his employer when he reached the house, he called to a brother Hindu of the same caste as himself to give him some water, for he was very thirsty. This man detained him in conversation for a short time; before it was ended he was seized with violent vomiting and cramps; his fellow-servants gathered round him and carried him silently to his hut in the compound; in the agonies he suffered he called loudly and frequently for his master, and the man who had given him the water went away, as he promised, to report to him the sudden illness of his domestic, and solicit his attendance. The poor fellow waited and waited in vain, his master never made his appearance. His comrade left him as soon as he was too ill and weak to rise, and alone in the dark hut, untended, unsoothed by the attention of a single relation or friend, he lingered out the last agonised moments of his life. Next morning, for the first time, Mr. Dacres heard the news. The other servants, in reporting the man’s death, said he had been bitten by a snake—he guessed what sort of fangs the snake had.

Chapter V

While events were passing which ought to have made every officer, civil and military, who held any important post in India anxious for their result, Brigadier Cartwright, commanding at Islamabad, did not allow the daily routine of his life to be put out at all by any considerations of public or private danger. Brigadier Cartwright was one of those men of whom the rebellion has afforded some good specimens. Oh for the pen of a Dickens or a Thackeray to do them justice! My feeble powers of description are all unequal to the task, still must I try to draw for my readers a portrait of Brigadier Cartwright, commanding at Islamabad.

He was an old man whose grey hairs might have entitled him to respect, had he not invariably worn a wig—a very bad one, still it was a wig; and if it did not make him look younger, it concealed the baldness of his head and the grey of his few remaining silvery locks. This gentleman had entered the service when he was sixteen, consequently his education had not been what is called finished: he had now reached the age of sixty-five, and was a fair instance of the excellent working of the seniority system. During all this time he had never been out of India, had never seen a steam-packet, which little work of art had not been invented when he entered the service: as for a railroad or a steam-carriage, or any of the wondrous products of this wondrous age, he would have been utterly ignorant of their existence had it not been for the ‘Illustrated London News.’ He had a great idea, however, of his dignity and importance as brigadier, and exercised his powers and energies of mind in repressing as much as possible the growth of vegetation in the station of Islamabad, making officers cut down the trees in their gardens when they reached a certain height, to allow, as he said, of a free circulation of air. The mud walls round the compounds were kept at a uniform elevation, and not a speck of dirt or so much as a broken brick or bottle was allowed to disfigure the roads and bye roads: for neatness and cleanliness Islamabad was indeed a pattern station, and had a brigadier’s duties ended here, this gallant officer would have been a pattern brigadier. Of English society he saw but little, preferring the conversation of his domestics, native officers, and sepoys, to that of his own countrymen. There were always two sleek and cleanly-dressed individuals, called bearers, in attendance upon this son of Mars: the head one, named Ramchurn, malicious tongues used to say, was the real commanding officer of the brigade. One of these men was always in the room with the brigadier, ready to answer questions, or converse with his master, who carried out the habits of the old Indian school to such an extent as never to do the least thing for himself that could by any possibility be done by another man. There were some things, such as eating and drinking, which this energetic Englishman was unhappily forced to do for himself; but if at any time during the day he wanted a pen or a piece of paper, or his handkerchief, the services of the sleek Hindu were immediately called into requisition. At mealtimes the British officer ate his dinner and drank his tea, attended by two Mussulman servants in addition to the Hindu, who stood by looking on, and fanning his master with a large circular fan fixed on the end of a pole. After dinner the brigadier smoked a cheroot, reclining on two arm-chairs, and sipped weak cold brandy-and-water, enjoying the society of his ever-present Hindu attendant: at night, when bed-time came, the bearer performed for his master the laborious task of undressing him, and putting away his clothes, skilfully adjusted his nightcap on his head, and then summoned another domestic, also a Hindu, but of lower caste, to shampoo the gallant officer; and under this operation, conversation with the barber, who was the operator, gradually grew less and less animated, and at last he sunk into repose. The two bearers laid themselves down outside the door (doorway I should have said, for such an effectual separation as a real door between master and domestic would have been too sore a trial for the former to endure), and went to sleep too.

My readers will, I hope, have gathered from the former chapter that during this extraordinary and eventful epoch of Anglo-Indian history, a regular system of espionage was kept up by the conspirators. They had friends everywhere: in the public offices native clerks watched jealously the proceedings of government, so far as they were able, and duly reported the contents of all letters and documents that came legitimately under their notice, and a great many that did not; there were spies at the officers’ mess, at the private table, in the ladies’ dressing-rooms, all of whom laid up in their memory every word which was spoken in conversation which they were supposed not to understand, and of which they often did not understand much, and gave not unfrequently the most garbled and exaggerated reports of what they heard to the board. It may readily be imagined that our friend Ramchurn was an important personage: he was always present when the brigadier transacted business with his staff, and being an excellent English scholar, a fact of which it is needless to say his master was in total ignorance, he was able to keep his employers informed of every subject that was discussed, or ought to have been discussed in private, and of every order that was issued or contemplated. The interests of His Majesty the King of Delhi and of the Royal Family of Oude were ably represented at Islamabad by a number of very sharp, clever, designing men, who were none the less sharp, clever, and designing, because they had black skins and went among the European officers for fools or something very like it. The interests of the Honourable the East India Company and the British Government were, on the other hand, as far as military matters went—and in times of mutiny and rebellion military matters go a good way, seeing that the civil power is paralysed at the first outbreak—by Brigadier Cartwright, aided and controlled by Ramchurn, who was as zealous a servant of the Delhi family, though a Hindu, as any they had in India. Thus was the order of things inverted: fools were in high places, while wise men were in low. Daily, hourly, was the net drawn closer and closer round the victims: the English officers and their families ate, drank, got up in the morning and went to bed at night, never dreaming that a sword was hanging over their heads, that a hundred plots and plans were being laid to prevent their escape, while every word they uttered almost and every movement that went on was watched and reported to their deadly foes by traitors in the household.

The commanding officers of the different bodies of troops at Islamabad were as far from suspecting the real danger they were in as even the brigadier. Colonel Wetherall never doubted for an instant that the men of his regiment, whom he had known and served with for the last twenty-five years, were faithful to the government, and, above all, to him. He thought it likely that the cavalry and the artillery perhaps might be induced to be mutinous, but with a thousand infantry well drilled, disciplined and armed, what source of danger was there? Captain Murray, who commanded the irregular cavalry, was perfectly persuaded that if all the rest of the army in India was to mutiny, his irregulars would stand fast, and, though not an alarmist, he thought it not unlikely that the artillery and infantry might show signs of disaffection. The officer commanding the artillery, Captain Hornby, was frequently heard to say, as he indeed really felt, that the artillery was the last body of men in India to desert their guns: they had stood to them bravely and manfully in many a well-fought field, and though it was likely enough that the mutiny might spread into the 75th N. I. and Murray’s Irregulars, as long as the English had six nine-pounders and a faithful company of foot artillerymen to depend on, the mutineers would soon be brought to reason. The reader will easily see how hopeless a state of things was that which prevailed at Islamabad, yet how many cases were there of a similar position of affairs in India in the year of Grace 1857! If any officer suspected mutiny, he dared not reveal his suspicions, for they could only rest on his neighbours’ men, not on his own. The brigadier commanding would have as soon accused Ramchurn of harbouring disaffection as any of the native soldiery, mounted or dismounted; and if Ramchurn were faithless—ruat cœlum—what an idea! Poor man! he was happily quite unaware that Ramchurn had at least a month before sent to his home an inventory of the brigadier’s goods and chattels that he intended to bring with him as soon as the British government was at an end, and his master’s head cut off, which operation he had expressly bargained with the leading conspirators was to be entrusted to him, for he was a good man, this Ramchurn, and a humane one, and in consideration of years and years of kindness lavished on him by an indulgent master in whose service he had grown very rich, he was determined to do him a good turn when his time came, and by cutting off his head at one blow save him from the indignities and tortures which he knew were reserved for all the Europeans who fell into the hands of the rebels.

All the Englishmen at Islamabad, however, were not so blind as the officers I have mentioned. Mr. Dacres had long had his misgivings. He was not one of those men who can look at nothing but through the medium of his own prejudices. The cant phrases ‘attachment of natives to our rule,’ ‘moral influence,’ &c. &c., that were in everybody’s mouth, never passed his lips. He had read history and studied human nature. He had moreover worked hard—very hard—ever since he entered the service, first at learning his duties, and then at performing them. He knew there were not many civilians who worked as hard as he did, and very few (though he was not egotistical or conceited, he could not help knowing it) who were capable of getting through nearly as much work as he did in a given time; yet he saw how utterly impossible it was even for him to give that attention which was required to cases that were brought before him: he felt how powerless he was to restrain bribery, perjury, corruption, and the grossest favouritism and jobbery among the native subordinates he was obliged to employ in the execution of the law; he knew that neither Hindu nor Mussulman had any real reason for preferring a Christian rule to any other, and he knew also how distasteful subjection to a foreign race always is and has been to every one of the numerous families of mankind. He saw that government depended virtually for its very existence upon its native army, composed of men who could not on any of the ordinary principles of human nature have any real cause of attachment to the employers they served—whose minds and feelings and thoughts were a sealed book to their European superiors, and who, the instant it became their interest to do so, would most certainly take advantage of the power in their hands. Putting this and that together, Mr. Dacres could not shut his eyes to the fact that if mutiny became rife in the army, the troops at Islamabad, spite of their apparent good order and discipline, were just as likely to be infected with it as any others, and that if a disturbance took place, separated as they were by about 200 miles from the nearest European soldier, and surrounded by a large Mahometan population, who would of course side with the strongest, their position would become one of the extremest peril. Nor did the utter incompetency of the senior officer escape his notice, or the blind attachment of the junior ones to their men, an attachment which it had been their duty to awaken and encourage, and for which they were not certainly (in a moral point of view) to blame. He had very few natives about him that he could depend on for establishing a system of espionage. After the greatest care and thought, he had selected two men whom he employed in this manner. One of them after a few days exhibited the very faintest symptom of treachery: faint as it was, however, it did not escape the eagle eye that watched him; subsequent events justified the suspicion that this man had been playing false, had probably been discovered, tampered with and bribed over to the opposite party. The second he never had cause to doubt, and through him he learnt one or two significant facts:— 1st, that meetings were held almost every night in the 75th lines, and occasionally in those of the cavalry and artillery; 2ndly, that signs were in use among certain classes of the sepoys and troopers to which there was no clue; 3rdly, that many of them had adopted an enigmatical style of conversation which was intelligent to the initiated alone; 4thly, that very frequently messengers mounted on government dâk (post) horses rode at a great speed to Islamabad, transacted some business of a secret nature, and then sped on their way again; and, 5thly, that the native correspondence in the post-office had of late increased to a marvellous extent. This was about the limit of his knowledge; and even this scanty information was all he was destined to obtain, for the means by which he got it were suddenly taken out of his hands, and the death of the native recorded in the end of the last chapter sealed the fate of Mr. Dacres’s last and only faithful spy. He of course, as in duty bound, kept his superiors informed of all that came to his knowledge, and gave government the benefit of his surmises, and in particular requested that some step should be taken to control the post-office, and examine the native letters that passed through it: the idea, however, was repugnant to the great minds in whom rested at the time, humanly speaking, the fate of the British empire in the East. Red tape could strangle anything that escaped the clutches of prejudice and routine. Thus time went on at Islamabad; and thus fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, soldiers and statesmen, slept on a volcano.

Chapter VI

I am sorry I cannot follow up the incomplete portrait of Brigadier Cartwright given in the last chapter by a more pleasing one of his right-hand man (after Ramchurn and the two khitmatgars), Captain Barncliffe the brigade-major. Truth compels me to state that the features of his moral physiognomy were anything but prepossessing. He was one of those men who never look you in the face; his eyes were always on the ground, and whenever he did raise them while conversing with another person, they seemed to take a furtive and hasty survey of the individual or individuals he was addressing from head to foot, then glanced round and took in anything that might be visible on either hand, and finally sought the ground again, where they remained fixed till a new idea or fresh conception caused them to be raised again, and to go through the same motion as before. I always think the worse of a man who never looks his fellowman full in the face, and if it was the custom to carry a purse in one’s pocket, which it is not in India, should feel while in the proximity of such a man an instinctive desire to test the point as to whether it was all right or not. Captain Barncliffe, however, did sometimes fix his eye on the countenance of anyone he was speaking to, and then the impression was most disagreeable, for he could at times dart a glance of so much meaning and intelligence that you felt as if he was trying, and not unsuccessfully, to read your thoughts. He gave one the idea of being always wide-awake and alive to his own interests; he seemed to be harbouring a constant suspicion of everybody and everything, as if all the world were intent on taking some unfair advantage of him, and he was ever on the look-out to thwart that intent. He was mild and gentle in his manner, and could you have conversed with him in the dark, you would have gone away with the impression that you had been speaking to a downright good fellow who would go ever so far out of his way to do a neighbour—yes, or even a stranger—a good turn, and who would not wilfully harm a living creature for any consideration in the world. Always polite, always affable, always self-possessed, and always taking an interest apparently in everything that he was spoken to about, no one would have guessed that the question which was being revolved in the active mind of the brigade - major was, ‘how does this affect Thomas Barncliffe?’

In his idea, the highest profession a man could belong to was the law—one of the grandest feats achieved by human ingenuity finding a flaw in your neighbour’s discourse or argument, or getting hold of some information about him which had been studiously kept secret from the world, but the possession of which gave the possessor power over him. When this intelligent officer sat on a court-martial, which he frequently had to do before he got on the staff, it was perfect martyrdom to the other members: there was a fair and legitimate field for his legal acumen to display itself, and you may be sure the golden opportunity was never lost. He would raise quibble upon quibble, objection after objection—all in such a mild, bland voice, and with such polite deference to his senior officers, that it was difficult for them to put him down. If he could detect the deputy judge-advocate in a blunder—and it was not very difficult, generally speaking—his triumph was complete, though there were no external signs of it, beyond an increasing blandness of voice and respectfulness in his address. He was, as may well be imagined, a plague and terror to judge advocates. One promising young officer, who bid fair to rise rapidly in the department (and who had been promised an appointment in the stud for which he was by education and habits eminently qualified, only, as ill luck would have it, a vacancy occurred in the judge advocate’s department before the stud, so, as his name was first in the list, he was put into it), threw up the office and went away for six months to the hills on ‘sick leave;’ at the expiration of which period, Captain Barncliffe being put on the brigade-major’s list, and the coast being clear, this gentleman returned to his duties. The gallant captain had seen service, having been in no less than three campaigns, for which he duly obtained ‘batta,’ ribbons, medals, and clasps. He had, however, no particular affection for ‘that villanous saltpetre,’ and served his country on those critical occasions, at the same time that he served himself comfortably enough, as he always managed to secure an acting commissariat appointment, which lasted as long as the campaign lasted, but ‘the worst of it was,’ as he frequently observed to his friends, ‘that, being a commissariat officer, he was not allowed to go under fire.’ He had, as every Englishman must have had, a most thorough contempt for his Indianised superior; but this, I conclude, was the case on ‘à priori’ reasoning, for, as far as exhibiting contempt goes, nothing could be more unlike it than Captain Barncliffe’s manner towards Brigadier Cartwright.

He was, as may readily be supposed, by no means a favourite in the station, though his bland politeness would generally disarm any of his companions who might wish to resent his want of candour; but there was one officer in the place who never could trust himself to speak to him, and that was Captain Murray. He was an Englishman caricatured. Open, blunt, and honest to a degree, he conceived the most utter contempt and aversion for anyone who gave the least appearance of possessing the opposite qualities. He carried truth written in every feature of his face; he never spoke what he did not think, and thought it necessary, always to speak not only as, but all, he thought. The consequence was that he not unfrequently gave utterance to disagreeable truths, which had been better kept in the background. He never had anything to do with Captain Barncliffe when he could avoid it, and when forced to, he got through his business as speedily as possible, looking all the time as if he was taking a dose of physic: and he was never known to come away from an interview with the bland brigade-major that he did not say to the first person he met, no matter who it was, ‘I’d swear that man would rob a church and kill the parson, and then go to dinner just as if nothing had happened.’ After delivering himself of the sentiment, Captain Murray would allow his mind to resume its ordinary state of serenity.

One or two days after the last related events had occurred, Captain Barncliffe, on paying his daily business visit, at ten o’clock, to the brigadier, found that functionary in a state of great excitement.

‘What do you think, Barncliffe?’ he said, as that officer seated himself on a chair—‘never heard such a thing for the last forty years. A baker has just been here, and tells me there is a quantity of human bone-dust mixed up with the flour, and he says, very naturally, that there is a good deal of excitement about it. The sepoys will not touch it—of course not; why, it would break their caste. Ramchurn here tells me the same. Is it not so, Ramchurn?’ he added, turning his head half round and addressing the favourite. ‘Is there bone-dust in the flour?’

‘Certainly, sahib; your slave has eaten no dinner for three days in consequence; but, not wishing to disturb your honour, your slave said nothing. Hindus cannot eat flour with bone-dust in it.’

‘There, you hear what he says—bone-dust! Why, the poor fellows’ caste would be sacrificed—shameful, shameful. I’ve heard a deal about this; those papers are full of it; but I never thought we should have it occur here in Islamabad in my cantonment. I see what it is—it’s all those confounded papers. In my time we had discipline in the country. When I was a young man, no half-starved son of a tailor, with his elbows out, and no shoes on his feet, was allowed to come into the country quill-driving, and spreading stories and putting people up to mischief. It is all that rascally press.’

I must do Brigadier Cartwright more justice than he would do himself, for, with all his animosity against the press, he was both by reading his paper, and paying for it regularly, a staunch supporter of the fourth estate.

While the brigadier had been thus giving vent to his feelings, Captain Barncliffe, who in cunning was almost a match for an Asiatic, and who had plenty of good sense when he could use it in a straightforward manner, had looked up in Ramchurn’s face with one of his piercing glances: he fixed his eye upon him for a moment, but it was long enough to let the wily Hindu feel that that look had penetrated farther than he wished into the recesses of his heart.

‘Did you ask the baker, sir, where he got the flour from?’ said Captain Barncliffe, as soon as the brigadier had puffed out his wrath. ‘I should like to see the man. Is he here?’

‘Ramchurn, did we ask the baker where he got the flour from?’ said the brigadier. ‘Where is he? Here?’

‘The man is gone, sir; he said he could not tell where he got it from.’

‘Then, I should think, sir,’ suggested Captain Barncliffe, ‘he had better be told to destroy all the adulterated flour, and another time procure it from some other source.’

‘Certainly—just so. Ramchurn, call the baker here. Send for him.’

‘Your slave does not know where he is; he came and went.’

‘Was it long since he was here?’

‘No, not very long. How long is it, Ramchurn, since the man went away?’

‘A little while.’

‘Now I think of it, I recollect seeing a man in the road as I came along,’ mused Captain Barncliffe; ‘if you’ll excuse me, sir, I’ll just get into my buggy and drive after him.’

He had not gone a yard beyond the brigadier’s gate before he saw a man some little way in front with a basket on his head; this was the man he met, and must be the baker who had been to the brigadier’s.

‘Here, my man,’ he said, pulling up alongside of the pedestrian; ‘you must come along with me. The sepoys have complained that you have been selling them flour with bone-dust in it, and they have lost their caste; you will be fined a hundred rupees for each case, and imprisoned for two years.’

The man deposited his basket on the ground, put his hands together, and begged for mercy, praying that he might be hanged there and then if there was a particle of bone-dust in the flour; he had never heard of such a thing.

Captain Barncliffe took him back to the brigadier.

‘Will you be good enough, sir, to look at this man, and tell me if it is the same?’

‘Certainly. Ramchurn, isn’t that the man?’

Captain Barncliffe fixed his eyes on Ramchurn’s face; the man hesitated in his answer, though he could not have had the slightest doubt as to the identity of the person who had been talking to him only a few minutes before.

‘Surely, Ramchurn, that must be the man,’ said the brigadier, in a tone of growing assurance. ‘Don’t you think it is?’

Ramchurn, still under the influence of Captain Barncliffe’s eye, yielded at length an unwilling consent, and acknowledged it was the man.

‘You may go,’ said Captain Barncliffe. ‘Stay, first tell me your name and where you live.’

‘My name is Salik Ram, and I live in the Sudder Bazaar.’

‘Where did you get your grain from?’

‘Isri Chundur.’

‘Why did you tell me there was no bone-dust in the flour, when you had just told the brigadier here there was?’

‘I did not; your slave is a poor wretch; why should he say what was false? why should there be bone-dust? the sepoys said there was, and they said I should be hanged along with the others for selling it.’

This confession was given voluntarily, contradictory as it was, each sentence being delivered after a short interval, during which Captain Barncliffe kept his glance fixed on the man’s face; he regularly quailed under it.

‘Did Isri Chundur tell you anything when you bought the grain of him?’

‘Yes; he told me there was bone-dust mixed with all the flour by the orders of government, and that I was not to tell anyone till I had sold it all, or I should be hanged.’

‘And what did you say to the sepoys when they complained of your flour?’

‘I told them what Isri Chundur had told me.’

‘And why did you come to the brigadier?’

‘Because I was afraid.’

‘You may go.’

Captain Barncliffe then discussed a few business matters with the brigadier, and received his orders for the day, Ramchurn being present all the while, and noting down in the tablet of his memory every word that was spoken, while his face wore an expression of the most complete indifference and stupidity. Ten minutes after Captain Barncliffe’s buggy left the compound a messenger started to the sepoy’s lines, with a paper on which all the chief points in the conversation between the two officers were accurately reported.

The brigade-major drove down to the magistrate’s office and told him what had occurred. Half an hour after the grain-seller and the wholesale dealer were summoned to the court. Native fashion, they both denied having ever said anything at all about bone-dust. When confronted with Captain Barncliffe the baker repeated his story, quite regardless of the fact that by so doing he was contradicting himself for the fourth time. Isri Chundur, however, denied the charge imputed to him, and there being no evidence, they were released on giving security for good behaviour.

Chapter VII

Mr. Thurston was indefatigable in endeavouring to accomplish the object with which he had travelled to the far East, and, aided by the astute Wuly Mahomed, his companion, adviser, interpreter, and instructor (whom Dacres would persist in calling ‘Wily Mahomed’), sought for information on all points and from all sources. Wuly Mahomed was a good specimen of his class. Educated at the Government College, Calcutta, he had acquired very tolerable proficiency in English: he could understand it when spoken or read to him, could express himself with tolerable fluency and considerable grammatical exactness, but failed in composition: he had a smattering of science, knew a good deal of Milton and Shakespeare by heart, and was very fairly up in history both ancient and modern. In religion he adhered to the faith of his forefathers, and was to all appearance a bigoted Mussulman. A liberal education had done nothing for him in the way of loosening the spiritual bondage imposed on the followers of the Koran: he still had implicit faith in the fables recorded in that book, still looked upon a Nazarene as a creature doomed to everlasting perdition in the world to come, and so hateful to God and the prophet, that the joys of paradise might be purchased by the slaughter of any number of them. He was most particular in the observation of all the external rites of his religion, performed his ablutions and his prayers, and kept his fasts with the most rigid punctuality. Externally he was all this; in reality he believed all religions equally false and valueless, except as an instrument for supporting social institutions: and while he professed to worship the memory of saints and martyrs who had sacrificed their worldly interests or their lives for their belief, in his heart of hearts he felt the utmost contempt for their characters. In the same way the feelings with which he openly regarded the religion of the cross were a veil to other emotions of a directly contrary nature, which attended the contemplation of the superiority both of a physical and intellectual kind, possessed by the European believer in the New Testament over the Asiatic idolater and the followers of Islam. In short, he was an excellent specimen of the sort of character the government educational system was calculated to produce.

Mr. Thurston was desirous of seeing as much as possible of the country, its buildings and antiquities, as well as of gathering information respecting the condition of the natives, and the abuses of the administration that might be useful to him in the ‘House’: and as there was a famous ruin a few miles from Islamabad, which every stranger was taken to see as the lion of the place, Mr. Thurston, acting upon his host’s advice, determined to go and inspect it. Accordingly, some days after his arrival he set out on one of the Nawab’s elephants borrowed for the occasion, accompanied by his faithful factotum, Wuly Mahomed. Mr. Dacres had sent a set of tents out for the accommodation of his guest, that he might rest during the heat of the day and pass the night in them.

It will hardly be necessary for me to describe the famous ruined tomb of Chunderbagh, or to say that Mr. Thurston was extremely delighted with the beauty of the spot. He arrived there in the early morning, when it was still tolerably cool, and wandered about the place for a full hour, taking off his shoes whenever he entered any of the numerous old tombs and temples that stood there, out of respect to the religious prejudices of the natives, that he was careful not to offend, and at the instigation of his companion, who assured him it was a customary mark of veneration paid by all Kaffirs and Feringhees whenever they visited holy places. ‘These are the venerated relics,’ mused Mr. Thurston aloud, partly to relieve his own feelings, and partly for the edification of his companion—time-honoured memorials of a noble race that has passed away; we tread heedlessly on the graves of heroes, statesmen, philosopher’s of a former age; time levels all things, and the king and the peasant mingle their dust together. Time lays its desolating hand upon all things human: the massive building, the work of art, and the work of the human intellect, alike crumble to dust and oblivion beneath it: the ruin that has befallen these once stately edifices, is a fitting type of the extinction of those glorious social and religious institutions, founded perhaps by these very men who sleep beneath these domes. We trample upon the débris of the one, and with our modern civilisation and our system of government and education ride roughshod over the other.’

After expressing himself to this effect Mr. Thurston parted from Wuly Mahomed, who had some business to attend to in the neighbouring village, where he said some friends of his resided, and walked leisurely up to the tent which had been pitched for him in one of this magnificent groves of mango trees, with which the neighbourhood abounded. On approaching it he was a little surprised to see it surrounded by a crowd of well-dressed respectable-looking natives, most of whom wore belts and swords. Mr. Thurston was sorry that he had parted with his interpreter, as it would be difficult for him, unaided, to find out what the numerous visitors at his tent wanted. He understood enough of the language, however, to discover, when addressed by two of the men, who seemed to be the most important characters among the assemblage, that they were the village authorities and posse comitatus come to pay their respects to the visitor. The fact was, that the commissioner’s tents being pitched so close to the village was quite enough to arouse the curiosity of the rustics; and when it became known, on enquiry from the commissioner’s servants, who were busy getting the tents ready, that it was to be occupied by a friend of the ‘bara sahib’ or the great man, a gentleman who was a much greater ‘bara sahib’ himself, being nothing less than a ‘Vakeel from the Great Assembly of England or Majlis of Inglistan,’ the head man of the place, determined to lose no time in going to pay his respects. Mr. Thurston could speak just enough Hindustani to make them understand that he had lately come from England, and knew nothing of the language beyond the smattering of a few words; and the native visitors knew just enough English to explain that they were wholly unable to converse in that tongue.

However, Mr. Thurston accepted their salams with the utmost affability, and, as far as he could do so by signs, begged him to believe they had his best wishes for their welfare and happiness. This he thought would conclude the ceremony, which was becoming rather protracted and proportionately awkward; so, holding out his hand to shake hands with the front row, he prepared to enter the tent. Instead, however, of taking his proffered hand, they held out theirs towards him, each holding on his extended palm one company’s rupee current coin of the realm.1

‘Remarkable instance of liberality,’ thought Mr. Thurston, trying to make his friends understand that he was in no want of money by tapping his trousers-pocket, showing his purse heavy with rupees (he had not been long enough in the country to leave off carrying about his purse), and sundry other signs calculated, as he thought, to give the impression that he was a wealthy man. All was of no avail: they only smiled, and still kept their hands extended, becoming more and more importunate.

‘It will not do to hurt the feelings of these poor fellows,’ he said to himself; and wishing at the same time to put an end to the interview, he went round from one to the other, taking the rupee from each with a look of grateful affability, bade them a courteous adieu, and went inside the tent.

Mr. Thurston walked up and down the tent while breakfast was being brought, and meditated on the peculiar phase of native character lately presented to him. ‘This was the treatment he had experienced from a people universally described by travellers and journalists as avaricious! What part of England, of Europe—nay, of the world—was there that he could go to, where he would meet with such undisguised open-handed liberality? How grievously had the national character of the race been misrepresented! It was strange, too, all writers upon India and the Indians were unanimous in their opinions respecting the avarice and love of money among the natives—could it be?—and the thought as it flashed across his mind seemed to leave a sting behind: was it not the effect of grievous tyranny, and a symptom of thq oppression under which the natives of India had groaned for centuries? They were so much accustomed to robbery and exaction on the occasion of the appearance of an Englishman among them, that of their own accord they brought the money that they knew would be extorted from them—perhaps by torture!

The bare idea that his friend and host should be guilty of such systematic oppression was so painful that he could scarce bring himself to eat any breakfast. The money which was lying in his left waistcoat-pocket seemed to weigh him down, to press heavily upon his heart; how could he broach the subject to Mr. Dacres, how allude to anything so disgraceful, how reproach a man to whose hospitality and kindness he was so largely indebted? Yet the reflection that it had fallen to his lot to reveal to the British public the secrets of that tremendous system of tyranny which was being carried on by British oificers under the authority of the British government, was a cheering one. Opinions might be doubted, assertions discredited, but here was a fact, a stern fact, a stubborn thing to deal with, and such should the court of directors find it, when he, Mr. Thurston, reached England, prepared to expose the abuses of the system they upheld.

Thoughts like these were busy in his brain all breakfast-time. When that meal was finished, he took his hat and sauntered out of the tent, intending to beguile his time by wandering about a little under the shade of the splendid mango trees beneath which his tents had been pitched.

Now, it so happened that on the morning on which this gentleman visited Chunderbagh, a treasure-party returning from a neighbouring station a hundred and fifty miles off, consisting of a company of the 75th Native Infantry under command of an ensign, reached the same place, and encamped in the mango grove very near the spot where Mr. Dacres’s tent had been pitched. The treasure-tumbrils were empty, and with the exception of a single sentry over the carts, and another over the ammunition of the detachment, all the sepoys were busily engaged, each squatting within his own magic circle, in preparing their midday meal.

This operation with a Hindu of high caste, and such most of the sepoys were, was an important one. Each man clears a little spot of ground about three or four feet square, on which he erects his little fireplace built up with earth softened by water, and, when feasible, plasters the whole with a mixture in which cow-dung forms the chief ingredient. In this he sits, secure from all intrusion of polluting low-caste men. In the old days, the shadow of an officer falling upon one of these cooking-places, or ‘chulas’ as they are called, was sufficient to make the bigoted Hindu throw away his food as polluted. The absurd prejudice by degrees so far wore away, that latterly, so long as an English officer did not tread upon the sacred spot, or touch it or any of the utensils, they did not care for his approaching them while engaged in their meals, though they never liked it.

Some had a goodly pile of bread cakes ready made, others were putting the finishing stroke to their manufacture, and others were stirring up the melted ghee with a long brass spoon. It was not far from Mr. Thurston’s tent to where the sepoys’ ‘chulas’ had been made, and chance led him straight in that direction. On the way, he accidentally encountered his friend Wuly Mahomed, and the two joining company, sauntered along till they reached the place where the extensive cooking was being carried on. Mr. Thurston was much interested in the scene, and expressed some curiosity about the kind of food the sepoys were preparing. Wuly Mahomed advised him to go and try it.

‘But do they not look upon the approach of an Englishman to the spot where they are eating as a pollution? I have heard so.’

‘No, you are mistaken—these are stories invented by travellers to please their readers: go and try.’

‘I shall offend them.’

‘On the contrary, they will be pleased: wait—I will speak to them.’

‘This is a great sahib from the “Majlis of Inglistan,” who has come all the way from Europe to eat with you,’ added Wuly Mahomed, addressing the sepoy nearest him, but speaking in a loud voice so that ten or twenty might hear.

Immediately there was a cessation of business: the men stopped kneading their bread and stirring the ghee, and looked up enquiringly, ‘Won’t you let the sahib eat with you?’ said Wuly Mahomed again, giving his voice a queer half-derisive, half-contemptuous intonation: ‘see, he is standing here—you know there will be no caste soon—why delay?’

‘I have interrupted them,’ said the philanthropist deprecatingly—and he made a sign for them to go on eating, at least he intended to signify as much; the sepoys, though, understood something very different by it.

‘They only fear that you will not approve of their food—they will be offended if you leave without tasting any,’ said Wuly Mahomed persuasively.

‘I should be sorry to offend them—do they really wish me to take some?’

‘Yes—take a little from the one who is nearest, merely as a compliment.’

Mr. Thurston, thus pressed, stepped up to the man who was nearest, and, with a bland smile, took a cake off the heap and commenced eating it. The man started to his feet in astonishment.

‘I fear I have offended him,’ said Mr. Thurston; ‘pray assure him that I meant no harm, and acted on your suggestion.’

‘The sahib says,’ interpreted Wuly Mahomed, speaking in the same tone of voice that he had used before, ‘that you are a great fool for making such a fuss about his taking one cake; before six months are over you will be glad to eat with the Feringhees—he has come from England on purpose to see to it—there is to be no more caste.’

With a look in which the utmost intensity of hatred was mingled with defiance, a look that for the moment transformed the man before him into a demon and made Mr. Thurston feel very uncomfortable, the outraged Brahmin placed his foot under the brazen platter upon which the remainder of his food was standing, and upset it: he then took up his (lota) brass pot in which the stock of ghee for the day’s consumption was simmering upon the fire, turned the contents into it, making it blaze up for a moment or two merrily, and then, gathering up his pots and pans, walked away with the air of a martyr.

‘I have assuredly offended that man,’ said Mr. Thurston.

‘Not at all—he merely meant you to take the rest while he poured the ghee on the fire as an oblation to his god and a sacrifice to avert evil from your head. See, he is gone to get more food.’

Mr. Thurston looked steadily in his companion’s face; not a muscle moved, he returned his gaze calmly. This gentleman considered himself a physiognomist, and felt convinced he read ‘honesty’ written legibly in the guileless features of his companion. He could not help having his misgivings, however, and turned to walk towards his tent. Wuly Mahomed turned too, but not till he had looked round at the men who had been silent and astonished spectators of the scene, and intimated, as plainly as if he had spoken it, ‘You see!’

Chapter VIII

The Nawab of Islamabad was spending his evening hours in his favourite resort—the apartment of his wife. The lady’s name was Leila, and as she had some influence in the fate of several characters in the story, a few words about her will not be out of place. She was very different from most women in her position—that is, from Indian ladies as our ideas represent them. She was by no means one of those animals, those soulless beauties, those frail beings of flesh and blood, whose only object in existence is to contribute to the sensual gratification of their lords and masters, who spend the whole of their lives, that is, till they grow old and ugly, in smoking and sleeping and dressing themselves to receive occasional visits from their lovers or husbands, that travellers and romancists are so fond of depicting in their descriptions of the inmates of an Asiatic harem.

We Englishmen certainly know but little of the domestic life of the Indian aristocracy, and it is difficult to guess from what data we derive the notions that we have of the character of the Asiatic ladies of the upper classes. Now and then an English lady, the wife of some officer of high rank, is allowed as a great favour to penetrate into the sanctum sanctorum of the women’s apartments, and a visit of ceremony is paid to a favoured few who dress themselves out for the occasion, and put on, with their best clothes and jewels, their best, and probably too most reserved, behaviour. I wonder what would be thought of a foreigner who considered himself able to judge of the character of domestic life among the English, or took upon himself to describe the qualifications, accomplishments, principles, and habits of English ladies, from the information gained during the few minutes spent in the society of one or two families in the monotonous ceremonial of a morning call.

Yet our ideas of Indian ladies are formed upon even much less data than this; for, in the first place, there are very few who have gained access to them at all; in the second, when a visit has been paid, it has been, from its very rarity and exceptional character, a much greater business of form and ceremony than even that stiff affair, a morning visit, among us; and, in the third, it would require tact and judgment of character much greater than is generally possessed by our ladies (not excepting Mrs. Colin Mackenzie), to penetrate, in the short time allowed them during one of these visits of ceremony, the mystery of Asiatic character, concealed under the veil of customs, language, mode of thought, and feelings totally different to our own.

Nor must it be forgotten that not only are we debarred from all access to female society among the upper classes in the East, but even the male sex, with whom some of us associate on intimate terms, never by any chance make the slightest allusion in conversation to domestic matters: as they will not insult a friend by asking after his wife’s health (in European society the first thing almost that politeness requires of us), so neither do they expect to be insulted by having any question put to them on the forbidden subject.

We are, therefore, in total and utter ignorance respecting the habits and details of domestic life among the upper classes in India. We have, indeed, plenty of evidence that ladies in Asia do not exercise the same amount of influence over their families and households as those of more enlightened nations. This is apparent from a thousand things, but I think we should be wrong in assuming that even within the most jealously guarded precincts of an Oriental harem, woman never asserts her rights. It must be a hard bondage certainly, much harder than anything we have a right to imagine these ladies are ever subjected to, that will expunge all feeling of maternal love and influence from the heart of woman: and among the higher classes of civilised Europe, where the artificial necessities of fashionable life have so many claims to make upon the time and attention of the fair and youthful matrons that adorn the dazzling saloons and ball-rooms of Vanity Fair, I suspect there are many homes (so to call them) where wedded love and domestic happiness, and a mother’s watchful care over her young children, would show but a sorry figure when compared with the Eastern harem.

That Asiatic ladies are not wanting in energy and spirit, we have numberless proofs. The ‘Arabian Nights,’ as far as they go, and the tales by Persian authors, may be supposed to give a fair representation of manners and customs in the East, and thus we gain a little insight into the domestic habits of families whose indoor life is a sealed book to us. But there are many instances of Eastern ladies who have left the seclusion of the harem and interfered in public life so successfully as to earn for themselves places in the page of history, both in past and present times. Noor Jehan is famous in Indian annals, and there are numberless stories of heroines related in the Persian histories of the Mahometan dynasties of India. In our own time, the Ranee Chunda of Lahore, the Ranee of Jhansie, the Begums of Delhi and Lucknow, have made themselves sufficiently notorious.

But though the public acts of these ladies will give but little insight into their private lives, and though it would be absurd to generalise from the small data we have to go upon, we may safely take our stand upon the broad basis of the universal laws of nature; and to take for granted that the fair sex who in the Western world exercise so great an influence over all society, and in almost every circle and every concern of life, are in the Eastern the utter nonentities they seem to be, because they appear so seldom in the foreground, is a gratuitous assumption unwarranted by the analogy of nature in other cases.

The Nawab was reclining upon a soft carpet, with velvet cushions placed so as to support the back and to allow of his leaning upon his elbow on either side. The more temperate breezes of evening had succeeded to the heat of the day, at that season of the year not excessive, and as the sun had been set for full an hour, the shades of night had begun to envelope completely the whole face of nature. The evening had been spent in conversation between the Nawab and his wife, and yielding at length to the effect of the small dose of opium that had been mixed with the tobacco of his hooka and the stillness of the hour and the softness of the air, he had fallen into a light slumber.

Leila sat by his side, one hand clasped in his, the other supporting her chin, leaning with her elbow upon the lower part of the Venetian shutter, the upper being thrown wide open to admit the air; she gazed at the stars as they came out one by one, and lit up the evening sky, in pensive silence. What a calm and placid life was hers! how dreamlike an existence! From morn to eve, from eve to morn, there was nothing that she could be said to have to do: that toil which is the lot of all mankind, she seemed exempted from, without a single care to occupy her mind, without a thought for the future. Everything that luxury could demand, or wealth procure, was hers; every wish gratified almost as soon as expressed: her only labour seemed to be to devise means of passing time pleasantly; her only duties, to please the man she loved with all the fervour of a young and passionate devotion; her only care, the selection of jewels and ornaments that suited her best, or pleased her husband most. Certainly, if earth and earthly treasure could make a human being happy, Leila ought to have been so. And she was happy in her quiet way; but there was a void in her mind that could not be filled by all her wealth—a something wanting amid her superfluity of comfort and luxury, and all those fleeting pleasures which we are ever striving to obtain, and of which he who possesses most is counted in the world the most favoured child of Fortune; a want which these things could not satisfy; a craving after the fulfilment of some unknown, undefinable desire which could not be gratified. Her mind, undisciplined and untutored, was forced to draw its own inferences from its own premises; but it was full of a strange mixture of wild and uncontrolled fancies, of mild and gentle feeling, and of fiery passion; a fair example of what the human mind can become, when left to wander in the darkness of a false religion, under a system so depressing to the moral energies of womankind as that which regulates domestic life in Asia, and to feed upon itself. Had she been a mother, there would have existed tender ties to engage her attention and employ her thoughts; but, deprived of that blessing invaluable to every married woman under heaven, and, above all, to the wedded inmate of the harem, she felt and freely indulged, when not conversing with her husband, in that insinuating and dangerous luxury, the love of solitude.

Her musings were interrupted by a noise in the court-yard below; the gate was opened, and a horseman entered: a few minutes after, she gently awoke her husband, as a eunuch stood at the door, with hands together in an attitude of prayer. The domestic made a low obeisance, and said there was a man below craving the favour of a private interview with the Nawab, to secure which he had sent the accompanying letter. The Nawab aroused himself, took the letter with a yawn, and called for a light.

A lamp was immediately brought and placed beside him. He took the letter at first listlessly, and glanced at the seal. In an instant his eyes were riveted upon it, and a half-formed exclamation passed his lips as he hastily broke the seal.

‘Look, Leila, what is this?’ he said, turning with an embarrassed air towards her.

She turned also, and moving close to his side, leant her hand upon his shoulder, and they perused the epistle together.

It was a ‘firman,’ or royal decree, ‘from the king of kings, the light of Islam, the centre of the world,’ and various other epithets of the same kind, to the ‘nobleman of high estate, the raiser of the standard of glory, the eye of faith, the Nawab Zainat-ul-abadin. requiring him to receive the bearer, and confer with him in confidence on affairs of state.’

A slight frown passed over the brow of the Nawab, as he respectfully closed the letter, and made a sign to the domestic to summon the bearer to his presence. He then turned to Leila, and kissing her tenderly, bade her retire. She retired, but not very far out of hearing. At the further end of the apartment, a handsome damask curtain, with a purple velvet fringe, concealed a recess beyond; she opened it, and tripping lightly within, let it fall behind her. She had scarcely disappeared from sight, and the curtain was still rustling, when the stranger was announced.

He was a man of more than middle height, but strongly built, and striking in appearance. He was fair; indeed, by his complexion and the colour of his hair and eyes he might have been taken for a European. His forehead was high and ample, his eyes deep set beneath shaggy eyebrows, and with that strange restless glance we sometimes see, and which seldom or never fails to convey a disagreeable impression, for it is impossible to read any meaning in it, or even to mark distinctly upon what object the eye itself is fixed. His dress was plain—a simple Oriental riding costume; a Cashmere scarf was twisted round his waist, and the handles of his sword and dagger were of gold. He made a low bow with all the ease and grace of Oriental etiquette, and at a sign from the Nawab seated himself.

‘Your highness cannot be altogether unaware of the nature of my mission,’ the stranger began, after a short pause: ‘in these days every true son of Islam and follower of the prophet (on whom and whose descendants be the blessing of Allah!) keeps his ears open.’

‘And prudent men lay the finger of silence on the lips of secrecy,’ said the other with a meaning smile.

‘Undoubtedly, till it is time to speak. The brave man lets his sword rest in the scabbard till the enemy approaches, but then he draws it.’

‘But what proof have you that it is now a safe time to open the lips or to draw the sword? The firman says that you are to be treated with confidence?’

‘It is to offer these proofs that I am here: the state of the country, and the hopes of Islam now revived, and the prophecies of holy men now ripe for fulfilment, are all known to your highness?’

The Nawab signified his assent.

‘Then,’ continued the other, speaking with animation, ‘I need not disguise from your highness that the hand of destiny has unveiled the face of opportunity. All things conspire to insure success; the Kaffirs themselves rush blindfold to their own destruction, hurrying on the approach of Fate with their own hands. Allah is working for us in every part of the world—not only in Hindustan, but Europe. I have just returned from the Holy City, and heard while there, from the lips of Turkish soldiers who had come from the confines of Roum, how the accursed English have been weakened by their useless attack upon the Russians. The English army is destroyed, the bones of their soldiers whiten the plains, and the vultures and dogs have fattened on their corpses till they feed no more. In Hindustan the sahibs tell us about their conquests, their success at Sebastopol. It is all a lie; they have failed with the aid of the great French army to take the place, and without the French they would have perished before their ships reached the shore. But we all know better; we all know how the strong and powerful fortress of Kars has been taken by the Russian soldiers, though defended by the largest army England ever sent abroad, and the bravest generals they could find. Kars is a mighty fortress, and has been taken,—Sebastopol a small ‘ghuri’ (stronghold) compared with it, and the English have been unable to capture it.’

The Nawab listened attentively, but said nothing. The other continued—

‘In Hindustan there are no English soldiers; the few that were have gone to Iran, and the swords of the faithful have driven their souls to hell.’

‘We heard that they had gained the victory there.’

‘It is false: I saw an ambassador from the Sultan of Iran, who arrived the day before I left Delhi, and he swore to me on the Koran that the English had all perished—not one survives.’

The Nawab moved nervously, and seemed still more attentive to his visitor; but he resettled himself again to listen.

‘I have more to tell,’ resumed the other. ‘The English have sealed their own fate, and there is not a single Hindu sepoy that will fight for them. You have heard of the new cartridge they have had sent out from England, anointed with the fat of the unclean?’

‘Pish,’ said the Nawab, interrupting him with a look of impatience and disgust: ‘these stories idle fools circulate to throw dust in the eyes of the blind. Who does not know that it is all a fabrication? Who does not know that the English never break their word—that the word of an Englishman is as good as the oath of another man—ay, better? and how many years have they ruled Hindustan, and protected our holy faith as well as the religion of the accursed idolaters, the Hindus and the Sikhs? By the Prophet, if a man swear that it is his religion to eat his children, the English rulers will let him, so it be a point of faith.’

The stranger laughed—a soft musical laugh, not intended to deride; there was amusement, not contempt, in his tone. ‘Your highness will pardon me. These may be idle tales; but the fool is often stronger than the wise man. A stone may be a talisman, of value in both worlds, while the precious gold is worthless beside it. That which is folly to wise men may be the faith of fools. Idle stories or not, the sepoys all believe them, and that is enough for us.’

‘How?’

‘They are convinced that the English have broken faith with them at last, and are ready to fight for the Badshah, the Mussulman for the glory of Islam, and the Hindu for his accursed gods. The instrument becomes holy from the use made of it; these accursed idolaters will help to overthrow the English, and then the people of Islam can trample them under foot.’

‘But the people?’

‘Are all well taught that the English will first make the sepoys Christians, and then use them to make all Hindustan Christian too?’

‘But do you believe this?’

‘That matters not; the people all believe it. I believe there is no God but God, and Mahomet is his prophet—that is enough for me.’

‘And enough for any man who rests his hopes on the next world; but to raise the standard of rebellion against a powerful nation like the English, something more is requisite. The sepoys will not be content to fight without pay; if they are allowed to pay themselves by plunder, they will not be scrupulous as to whose property they help themselves to. Besides, remember, the greater part of them are Hindus. The English are wealthy and brave; and not only that, but crafty too; they know how to use their power, and can turn race against race, faith against faith, Hindu against Mussulman, Sikh against both, and the conquerors in the strife will have no mercy—blood must flow like water, and the whole of Hindustan will be turned into a very hell, till the English come out conquerors again, and trample the conquered in the dust. Have you weighed all these things?’

‘Yes—weighed them in the balance of reason and faith. Allah fights for us, we cannot fail.’

‘The God of the Christians is powerful!’

‘The Kaffirs!’ said the other, angrily interrupting him, ‘they have no God, they are accursed of Heaven, and the swords of the faithful can send them all to hell. But I have said enough—perhaps too much, and with permission will take my leave. First the message from Heaven I am commissioned to give shall be revealed.’

‘Nay, then, give me a message from Heaven, and I am content. As yet I have received none.’

‘Raise your eyes aloft, and listen in faith, and you shall hear.’

The Nawab obeyed, following the example set by his strange visitor, and, straining his head back, gazed up at the ceiling. His eye had been fixed upon it for a few seconds, when a voice that seemed to come from outside the roof, and penetrate into the room below, exclaimed, ‘There is no God but God, and Mahomet is the prophet of God; let the faithful of Islam draw the sword of extermination upon the Kaffir Nazarenes, for their time is come.’

It ceased, and all was silent. The Nawab turned towards his visitor, who had risen preparatory to taking his departure.

‘Allah is gracious to the faithful,’ he said, speaking in a solemn tone, as if delivering a message he was inspired with; and as the words passed his lips, his eye lit up and sparkled with unusual brilliancy and fervour: ‘a second sign shall be granted to your highness. There is the sacred tomb of the holy Saiyad Imam-ood-deen at Chunderbagh. Fast for seven days, and on the seventh, at midnight, repair to the spot, enter the tomb alone, and you shall hear the same message from the lips of the Saiyad himself, on whom be peace, who shall appear to you robed in light.’

Without another word, he made a low obeisance and departed. A few minutes afterwards the sound of his horse’s hoofs on the pavement of the court-yard betokened his departure. Still the Nawab sat in the same position, his eyes fixed on the door through which the stranger had passed, absorbed in reverie. A light touch upon his shoulder recalled him to consciousness; he started and looked round—it was Leila. They sat up talking earnestly together till the dawn appearing in the east warned them to take repose.

Chapter IX

Mr. Thurston, after due deliberation, resolved not to communicate to his host his experiences at Chunderbagh. Various considerations led to this resolve. Perhaps in his heart of hearts there lurked a slight suspicion that the symptom of the grievous results of the dire oppression under which the people of India groaned, might be explained away on the excuse of some ceremony or custom consecrated by antiquity; but to the faint voice of this lurking suspicion he would pay no heed. ‘There was no object to be gained,’ he said to himself, ‘in imparting his views to Mr. Dacres; the whole system of government in India was corrupt—rotten to the very core. The men who formed the executive and carried out the principles of such a government must have deadened all the better feelings of their nature before they could have sold themselves to become the instruments of tyranny. What good could be effected by reasoning with such men? He might as well talk to a Russian nobleman of the rights of serfs, or discourse to an American upon loyalty. No, he would keep the dread secret buried in his bosom till he reached England, and there he would reveal it; or he would write a book like Mrs. Beecher Stowe, and if any doubted the tale he had to tell, he would confound all scepticism by producing and exhibiting the rupees.’

He had some misgivings about the affair with the sepoy: he didn’t half like the look the man gave him as he picked up his pots and pans and stalked away—he thought he looked ‘uncanny,’ as his friend Ronald Macdonald, whose fathers and forefathers had dwelt north of the Tweed, called it. And once or twice a suspicion crossed his mind that Wuly Mahomed might have been playing him a trick.

There was an unpleasant expression he had heard several times made use of on board the steamer on his way out. It was a vulgar word—slang, and of all things Mr. Thurston had a horror of slang—still the word haunted him all that day—he could not get rid of it; it was in his ears, it seemed written by a magic hand upon the yellow lining of the tent; when he took up a book, he half expected to see it on the top of every page—when he went to sleep, still the word haunted him in his dreams.

He fancied he was addressing the House on the India question, when a malicious member, a certain gallant colonel—a great authority on Indian matters, by the bye, and a member of the court—actually had the audacity to pull him by the coat-tail and shout the word into his ear, as he involuntarily sat down amid the laughter of the House. He awoke, and behold it was a dream! but he was annoyed, restless, feverish, so recollecting that his host had put up a little packet of entertaining books for light reading in case he might feel inclined to avail himself of them, he got up, and lighting a candle, put it on a chair near the bed, and putting his hand into the parcel of books, took the first one that it came in contact with, and retired to his couch.

Was he bewitched? in the land of sorcery and sorcerers he undoubtedly was! No sooner had he opened the book and turned his eye on the title-page, than he saw the dread word that haunted him—G. R. I. F. F. He had lighted on ‘The Adventures of a Griff.’ With an exclamation of the deepest and most intense disgust, he hurled it to the other side of the tent.

Now it so happened that Mr. Dacres’s bearer, a confidential and highly-faithful domestic who had been sent by his master to attend to the wants of his guest, was sleeping on the ground, as is customary, just outside the tent, with his head resting against the canvas wall. ‘The Adventures of a Griff’ being hurled with all the force Mr. Thurston’s disgust could communicate to his muscles, hit the bearer on the head, and he, as is the manner of natives under such circumstances, being awoke out of a sound sleep by a blow on the head, jumped up, shouting most lustily ‘that he was killed—that he was already dead—that thieves and burglars had taken possession of the tent, and all was lost.’

Up jumped two Lascars, an equal number of cook-boys, a chuprassie, and a mehter (sweeper) who was sleeping on the opposite side, one and all of whom aided the clamour to the best of their ability by rushing about shouting, ‘Chor! chor!’ (Thieves! thieves!) and that somebody had been killed. Mr. Thurston sat all this time in bed, wondering how such a clamour could have arisen, and what would be the consequences, for there was no knowing how far it might not spread, seeing that all the pariah dogs in the neighbourhood had taken it up, and were barking vociferously in all directions.

Among others who were disturbed by the noise was Wuly Mahomed, who slept in a small tent called a ‘routy’ close by, and who was soon upon the spot. Now appeared in full relief the advantages of an English education. Instead of rushing about and hallooing, like the rest of his countiymen, Wuly Mahomed being an educated and therefore sensible man, went inside the tent to see if there were any traces of the thief to be found there. All he saw was Mr. Thurston sitting up in bed with his nightcap on, wondering what in the world all the fuss was about. Questions were asked, explanations enquired for, still the matter remained a mystery. The bearer, who bethought himself of entering the tent too, as soon as Wuly Mahomed had set him the example, declared most positively he had been hit on the head, and put his hand up and looked at it, to see if it was not covered with blood, as he appeared to expect it would be. Mr. Thurston positively declared no one had been in the tent—somehow he was not particularly anxious that it should be known he had flung the book away, it would seem so childish, and Wuly Mahomed might get hold of it, and would see what it was, and understand, which was much worse, why the philanthropist had flung it away; so he begged them all to leave him to repose—‘The whole thing was a dream of the bearer’s, it was a false alarm.’ The astute Mahometan, however, did not think so, or else he conceived a suspicion that Mr. Thurston had something to do with the affair, though he did not choose to say what, and finding on which side of the tent the bearer had been sleeping, went to the spot to examine.

‘Pray don’t distress yourself, Wuly Mahomed,’ urged his master, entreatingly; ‘it was all fancy, I am sure; let us go to sleep again.’ Wuly Mahomed, however, by this time had caught sight of a book lying on its face, open, and with the pages sorely crumpled, upon the ground close to the ‘kanat’ or canvas wall of the tent. He did not utter a word, but picked it up, and taking it to the light, read the title. He glanced at Mr. Thurston; it was nothing more than a passing glance, but the discomposed member of parliament felt that his secret was all read—his self-respect was gone. Wuly Mahomed deposited the book upon the table, and wishing his patron ‘good night,’ left the tent without another word. The bearer also retired to his place of rest, and muttering sotto voce to the other servants that the sahib was certainly out of his mind, wrapt up his face in his clothes and went to sleep.

Next day Mr. Thurston returned to Islamabad in time for breakfast. In his resolution to keep his adventure a secret, he little thought what a system of espionage went on in addition to the tyranny that was practised on the native population.

It so happened that he was destined to meet that morning at Mr. Dacres’s breakfast-table the collector and magistrate of Islamabad, Mr. Edward Prinsep Bailey Lushington Hastings Plowden Harley, of the Bengal Civil Service, whom I beg to introduce to my readers. This officer, in his capacity of collector and magistrate, was in the habit of receiving daily reports of every incident that occurred in the neighbourhood of the villages and ‘thannas’ in his district, and Chunderbagh being only a few miles distant, the report from that place of the day before had been received by Mr. Harley, and its contents read to him that morning. In thorough Oriental style, the event of Mr. Thurston’s visit was mentioned, and the fact of the native authorities having proceeded to that gentleman’s tent for the purpose of paying their respects on hearing that he was a member of the illustrious ‘Majlis of Inglistan’ was also described. In the most delicate way imaginable, to which an English translation would do but sorry justice, the result of the interview was depicted, and the mistake the traveller had made in appropriating the rupees presented merely as a matter of form, in token of respect, was also described in flowery Persian metaphor, with the gentlest of all gentle hints that the village community would be decidedly gratified if the coin could be returned to them. When the report was read out, the full force of the absurdity struck Mr. Harley, and he roared with laughter, rather to the astonishment of certain sedate members of the Amlah (native employees of the court) who were present, who, however, speedily recovered themselves, and as they saw the sahib laughing, proceeded to laugh also, one by one, though they none of them knew why.

Expecting to meet Mr. Thurston at the commissioner’s house, Mr. Harley went over to breakfast, fully determined, however, not to let his superior into the secret, partly from fear he would play the traitor and warn his guest, and partly because he thought he had caught a thing he was very fond of, a good joke which was too good not to keep to himself.

Mr. Thurston, who, to do him justice, was very zealous in his efforts to acquire information, generally managed to make the conversation at Mr. Dacres’s table turn on public affairs; and, accordingly, the trio on the present occasion had only just begun discussing their fish, curry, and rice, when the leading question from the member of parliament brought the conversation to bear upon the topic that was ever uppermost in his mind. After an observation or two upon the prevalence of bribery and the corruption of justice in our law courts, Mr. Harley said—

‘By the way, it reminds me, I have a curious case, just reported to me, of an attempt at bribery. A murder was committed some time ago in my district, and it appears, as far as I can judge from a superficial view of the case, for I have not yet investigated it, that a bribe has been offered to, and accepted by, a person not answerable to the Mofussil law courts to take the responsibility of the crime upon himself, knowing the difficulties that stand in the way of the law.’

‘Indeed! I suppose a large sum was paid,’ said Mr. Thurston.

‘On the contrary, the amount paid was trifling, proportionate perhaps to the risk—proportionate perhaps to the value the recipient placed upon human life and his own neck. The man sold himself for eighteen rupees!’

‘Is it possible!’ exclaimed Mr. Thurston, much interested in the new phase of native character, as he thought it, thus exhibited. ‘But I do not see how such a measure could be pursued with any definite hope of success. The evidence must result in exonerating the innocent, and pointing to the real criminal.’

‘Your observation, my dear sir, shows how much you have got to learn with regard to the operation of our criminal laws. Witnesses to any fact, and to any amount in number, are to be purchased readily, even in the ante-rooms of our temples of justice, our courts.’

‘I have heard this statement made before, but could scarcely credit it.’

‘Credit it! Ask any magistrate in the country if it is not so. Will you not corroborate my statement, Dacres?’

‘It is, I fear, but too true in the main,’ said the gentleman appealed to.

‘But in the present instance that you have just mentioned, I do not see how even this abuse, great as it is, could operate in the way intended.’

‘Do you not see? Here is a case of murder, child murder I believe it is. Well, the crime is traced with tolerable certainty to a village; suspicions rest upon it, upon every man and woman in it. If once we can lay hold of the criminal, we know plenty of evidence will be forthcoming; but we cannot fix suspicion on any man in particular. Meantime the whole village community suffers from bad repute; the guilt of blood is upon it, it is disgraced in the eyes of the neighbourhood. Where is the culprit?—who is he?—is he a poor man or a rich one? Perhaps no man at all, but a woman, whose reputation would be lost for ever were the thing discovered, and she herself subjected to the disgrace of an exposure that would involve all her family in ruin. What are they to do? The crime must be brought home to some individual to remove the stigma and disabilities from the whole, for until it is discovered we make the whole community feel the displeasure of the government in every possible way. Under these circumstances, the whole community put their heads together to find out some one who will act as scapegoat for the rest, and stand the chance of a trial.’

‘Chance!’ ejaculated Mr. Thurston.

‘Yes, it’s all a lottery with us, you know, criminal law and civil—all a lottery. However, as I was saying, the people of Chunderbagh have got a man to take the post for the trifling sum of eighteen rupees.’

‘At Chunderbagh, you said?’ asked Mr. Thurston.

‘Take a cheroot, Harley, if you’ve finished breakfast,’ said Mr. Dacres, looking hard at him to see if there were any symptoms of risibility in the muscles of his face.

‘Thank you, I will. But about these Chunderbagh people; it’s a curious case, isn’t it, Dacres?’

‘One of the most extraordinary that ever came to my notice.’

‘But you have not heard the most curious part of it. It is a European that has chosen to put himself in this—very equivocal position, to say the least—and for such a paltry sum.’

Mr. Dacres busied himself in opening his letters that had just been brought in by a chuprassie.

‘And what do you suppose will be the consequences to the man of his indiscretion, to call it by no harsher term?’ stammered Mr. Thurston.

‘Oh, of course he must be tried by the Supreme Court. We shall have to commit him; there is sure to be plenty of evidence; he must be sent to Calcutta, where he will be lodged in jail.’

Mr. Thurston was silent, while the most horrible harrowing suspicions crossed his mind. The native who brought him the money at Chunderbagh, and it was exactly eighteen rupees he had taken, said something about the ‘judge sahib’; they all seemed extraordinarily anxious for him to take the money, and apparently relieved when they had succeeded in inducing him to accept it; what they said was all unknown to him. Asiatics were proverbially crafty, and he had read strange stories of the crooked course of Indian criminal law—how dreadful!—how very dreadful! The perspiration streamed from his forehead, and he grew pale as the tablecloth.

At that moment a servant entered with a large public letter, addressed, ‘On Public Service Only,’ to Mr. Harley, and said the orderly was waiting for an answer. Mr. Harley broke the seal; the contents were two sheets of foolscap written over: he glanced his eye over them, and then exclaimed—

‘By Jove, Dacres, here’s a go!’

‘What is it?’ said Mr. Dacres, still perusing his letters.

‘You’ll excuse us, I know,’ said Mr. Harley to Mr. Thurston.

That gentleman bowed slightly,

‘Here’s a letter from Colonel Wetherall. He says—

My Dear Harley,

Can you make anything of this? It has caused quite a sensation among the men. Read the enclosed letter: perhaps you will be able to find out how the mistake occurred, for mistake it evidently is.

Yours sincerely,

R. Wetherall.”

‘Then this is the enclosed letter, an official from captain somebody to the adjutant:—

Sir,

I have the honour to request the favour of your bringing to the notice of Colonel Wetherall that great excitement and some insubordination has been exhibited among the sepoys of my company, especially among the men mentioned in the margin, in consequence of an occurrence that took place among the detachment under command of Ensign Kingsley, while encamped at Chunderbagh. It appears that while the men were cooking their dinner, as stated by Ajit Tewarry, a European, whom he called first a ‘Feringhee,’ until I remonstrated with him for using that expression, came and wittingly trod upon his chula or cooking-place, took some of the cakes of bread off the ground where they were placed ready for eating, and ate a portion of one, offering the remnant to him, Ajit Tewarry, telling him at the same time that he need not be scrupulous and refuse to take it, for very shortly he and all his comrades would be made Christians and forced to eat with Europeans. The matter was not reported, as Ajit Tewarry was sulky about it, and appears to have brooded over the insult, and endeavoured to impress upon the minds of the rest of the sepoys that it was intentionally done. It eventually came to the notice of the pay-sergeant Toorab Khan, who reported it to me, and I lost no time in making the investigation which has led to my becoming acquainted with the facts as detailed above.

‘A very extraordinary story,’ said Dacres, as Harley finished reading the letter and mechanically returned it to the envelope; ‘most extraordinary.’

‘I think I can explain a good deal of this,’ said Mr. Thurston, with a ghastly attempt to smile. ‘I fear I have been the cause, certainly the innocent cause, of all this mischief. I was induced by the representations of Wuly Mahomed to walk up to the spot where one of the sepoys was cooking, and do exactly as is described in that letter; so exactly, indeed, that no doubt can rest on my mind that I am the person alluded to; but I have strong misgivings now about the part Wuly Mahomed has played in the business. He told me I should confer a favour on the men by partaking of their food; and although they did not appear to welcome me, Wuly Mahomed assured me it was only their manner.’

‘Did he say anything to the men?’

‘He was in conversation with them and me the whole time, professedly explaining my observations to them, and theirs to me.’

‘But you did not understand what he said?’

‘No, not thoroughly—that is, not exactly—in fact, not at all.’

‘The thing is as plain as daylight—we must have this Wuly Mahomed,’ said Dacres. Then he added, turning to a chuprassie, ‘Go and fetch this gentleman’s munshi, Wuly Mahomed, and bring him here. Don’t let him out of your sight, and bring him directly you find him. If there are any papers in his room, bring them too.’

The man bowed and went on his errand. Harley and Dacres walked up and down the room, both smoking rather energetically and looking anxious. Mr. Thurston, after a short delay, arose and went out to assist in the search for his ‘Fidus Achates.’

After about half an hour the chuprassie returned, saying that Wuly Mahomed was nowhere to be found. As Dacres was cross-examining him on the extent to which his search had been carried, Mr. Thurston entered, looking anxious and perplexed.

‘Have they found him?’ was his first question.

‘No, he’s bolted.’

Mr. Thurston started. ‘Then it is he who has robbed me.’

‘Robbed?’

‘Yes. I find my writing-desk has been abstracted from my portmanteau.’

‘What did it contain—anything of importance?’

‘Yes, a vast deal—all my notes on Indian affairs and journals.’

‘Nothing else?’

‘Yes, indeed; Bank of Bengal notes to the value of 2,000 rupees, my letters of introduction, and letters of credit to my agents for upwards of £500.’

‘Whew!’ whistled Harvey.

‘I thought he’d play you a trick one of these days,’ said Mr. Dacres; ‘however, Harley, you’ll use your best, I know, to find the thief and recover the stolen property. Meantime, Mr. Thurston, we had better just drive up to Colonel Wetherall and explain matters as well as we can. ‘Wily’ Mahomed has been too much for us this time. Never mind, we’ll catch him yet. Send your compliments to the colonel, Harley, and say I’ll explain all.’

Chapter X

When Mr. Dacres and his guest reached Colonel Wetherall’s house in cantonments, they learnt that the cause and circumstances of the insubordination exhibited by the sepoys was undergoing investigation by that searching ordeal called a regimental court of enquiry. This imposing conclave consisted of three officers, two subalterns, with Captain Sody as president. Captain Sody was an excellent fellow in his way, but a trifle slow: he was well up to his out-of-door regimental work; he knew to the millionth part of an inch the exact spot upon the trousers which the forefinger of the sepoy standing ‘at attention’ ought to reach; he was thoroughly conversant with all the ins and outs of that intricate process, the manual and platoon exercise; he could manoeuvre a battalion as easily as he could knock about a company in subdivisions, sections, threes, and fours: but to have to sit as member of a court of enquiry or court of requests, or any other court or committee, with Captain Sody as senior member thereof, was not pleasant. Not that he neglected his duty, good worthy man; he did his best; but his intellect was none of the most capacious, nor was his memory retentive, except in the matter of bugle-calls and words of command. He had studied, with a view to making himself thoroughly acquainted with his duties, the forms of procedure to be adopted in courts martial, and he never could, by any process of reasoning, be brought to see the difference between a court martial and a court of any other kind. The consequence was, that, on the present occasion, he insisted on each member taking an oath and going through all the other formalities observed on those occasions.

He was a slow writer as well as a slow thinker; though I must do him the credit to say that when he did set himself down to think a subject out, he generally came to a wholesome and sound conclusion. When he wrote, he had a trick, acquired at school and never laid aside, of directing, as it seemed, the motion of his pen by corresponding motions of his tongue, which used to protrude about half an inch from between his lips, and move about backwards and forwards and up and down systematically as long as the literary labour continued. His writing was exquisite; a good bold round-hand, as we used to call it at school, very easy to read, and remarkably free from erasures or blots; though did the latter accidentally befal, the ever-ready tongue was prompt to wipe out all traces of the erratic spot of ink, almost ere it had reached the paper.

The task of collecting and recording the evidence was, as it will readily be believed, a work of considerable time. First the man had to be examined who had shown a spirit of insubordination; then witnesses were examined as to what had really occurred at Chunderbagh; then Mr. Thurston appeared to give his evidence, which again had to be translated, and read out to the prisoner, as Captain Sody, with his deep-rooted impression that he was presiding at a court martial, insisted on calling the principal witness. Mr. Dacres was obliged to come away early, leaving Mr. Thurston to amuse himself as best he might in the mess-room till he was called upon for his statement. At two o’clock the court adjourned to a hot tiffin. Mr. Thurston was courteously invited to join, and that gentleman, before the meal was over, was forced to confess to himself, much against his will, that the officers of the 75th Native Infantry, albeit a Company’s regiment, were as gentlemanly and as hospitable and agreeable a set of fellows as he had met for many a long day.

The court was over at four o’clock, and the impatient member of parliament was glad to get away, and make some enquiries as to the success which had attended Mr. Dacres’s and Harley’s efforts to apprehend Wuly Mahomed.

He was doomed to disappointment. Not a word could be heard of the delinquent, who was, however, all the time very comfortably lodged in a native officer’s hut in the lines of the 75th Native Infantry, where he was taking a little repose preparatory to the journey he contemplated setting out upon, when it became dark, towards the imperial city, Delhi.

No sooner was the court of enquiry over, than Peer Khan, who had been attending as orderly sergeant, repaired to the lines, where he was soon surrounded by a crowd of men all eager to know what had been going on, and what was the result of the conclave. They did not rush out of their huts and surround him, clamouring eagerly for the desired information, as Englishmen or Frenchmen would have done, but by ones and twos they came gradually out of their houses, the crowd increasing as the oracular sergeant walked down the lines, till by the time he had reached the bottom of them, in an open space in rear of the bells of arms, there was a large assemblage gathered round him. The sergeant here stood, and intimated that he was ready to answer questions.

‘Tell us, brother,’ exclaimed a voice from the crowd, ‘what has happened.’

‘Ah! tell us,’ said another, leaning on an iron-bound staff he carried with him, ‘what said the kaffir Bahadoor court?’

There was a laugh at this.

‘The order of the court is,’ replied the sergeant, speaking as with the voice of authority, ‘that we are no more to make petitions or any complaints about our caste, because the orders of the government are that such shall not be attended to. There is a great man here in the station who has come from England, where he is a member of the Great Assembly, with orders from the Queen of England, who is at enmity with the Company Bahadoor, to see that our caste is destroyed till we eat with Kaffirs. This is what the captain sahib told me.’

Deep but earnest were the curses that might have been heard from the assembled crowd. There was a panic for a moment, till one voice spoke above the rest.

‘And what of the impure cartridges?’

‘We are to have them issued shortly, and to be forced to use them. A regiment of Europeans is on its way here to destroy all who refuse.’

The excitement now became intense, and there seemed every probability that it would exceed restraint, and result in an open outbreak of insubordination. At this juncture a recruit stood forward, and called out in rather a loud voice—

‘I was there all the time as the sahib’s orderly at the court, and heard nothing of this; it is a lie.’

The buzz of voices now became subdued; one or two of the leading men standing near Peer Khan exchanged glances with one another.

‘Salig Ram,’ for such was the recruit’s name, ‘has spoken truth,’ said a grey-haired officer, coming forward. ‘I also was at the court, and heard nothing of all this.’

Peer Khan turned round and angrily confronted the speaker, but appeared to understand by some hidden means of communication that nothing but policy and staunch adherence to the cause had dictated this remark. It produced a wonderful effect, however; for the officer was a man of great influence, and fully trusted. There were no more open expressions of disgust and insubordination, and by-and-by the crowd began silently to disperse. The man who had before spoken, however, and who was armed with the iron-bound staff—a, huge muscular Herculean native of Oude, whose family, from time immemorial, had been lords of the soil in the spot where they were born and bred, and inured by long practice and tradition to deeds of violence and rapine—waved his club over his head, and shouted, ‘Deen, deen!’—‘Faith, our faith!’ The cry acted like magic; in an instant the whole lines were full of sepoys, all rushing about in a frantic and excited manner, shouting, ‘Deen, deen!’

‘Curse on you, you fools!’ exclaimed the officer, rushing to the spot where the crowd seemed thickest, and making frantic gesticulations to the men to be silent; ‘you will spoil all.’

Peer Khan, too, frightened at the spirit he had raised, aided the native officer in his endeavours to procure silence. Their joint efforts were at last successful. The men were silent, but they might have been seen all the rest of the afternoon walking or standing about in groups in the centre streets, or outside their houses, talking earnestly to one another. At length the warning bugle for evening parade sent them all to their huts for their accoutrements.

In the meantime the native officer had enquired of Peer Khan what sepoy lived in the same hut as Salig Ram, the recruit.

He was told the name, and then desired that the man might be sent to him.

The man went, and was closeted for about a quarter of an hour with his superior. He then returned to his own hut. That evening, after Salig Ram had concluded his evening meal, he was seized with violent sickness and purging, and sent off straight to hospital. The native doctor, who had pretty much his own way in all hospital arrangements, and who was a bigoted Hindu of high caste, received him and gave him some medicine, and there he remained in spite of the skill of the medical officer of the regiment. Dr. Mactartan, who saw him regularly, with other patients, morning and evening, but who could not imagine how it was that the prescribed remedies produced no effect whatever upon the perverse constitution of Salig Ram.

Colonel Wetherall, like many another men in his position at that critical period, was much puzzled how to act. That the spirit of disaffection had inoculated his regiment he felt morally certain, though if called upon for proof he would have found it exceedingly difficult to advance any; and he sometimes used to ask himself, as he paced, in anxious and thoughtful mood, up and down his verandah, ‘What reason have I for feeling so much anxiety and concern? I can give no proof that the men are not animated with the best possible spirit towards myself and the government. They are more than usually attentive to their duties, more than usually respectful, and, as far as their language and bearing and behaviour towards myself and the other officers go, nothing could be more satisfactory. I may be deceived, but it is scarcely possible.’ The straightforward honesty of the English character has always been the most efficient weapon to oppose to Asiatic cunning and intrigue. He had several times thought of summoning the native officers to his presence and reasoning with them openly on the subject, by which he fully trusted he would be able to convince them of the folly of their fears, and of the absurdity of the reports which were so mischievously prevalent. But, on the other hand, he felt unwilling to begin the subject, as by doing so he would necessarily admit the existence of a feeling the presence of which it was politic to ignore as long as possible. The slight disturbance mentioned above served as an excuse for Colonel Wetherall to do what he had so long wished. Next day the sergeant-major, in bringing the morning report, informed him that the evening before a great deal of excitement had been caused in the lines by means of some man shouting out ‘Deen, deen!’ When asked to name the man or to give such a description of him as would lead to his identification, he replied that that was utterly impossible—he had no idea who he was, nor was it in his power to find out. The colonel then desired that all the native officers should be summoned to his quarters in sword and sash. The serjeant-major went to give the order: the colonel waited.

Meantime Graham dropped in, to ask for a few days’ leave to go out shooting, as he said. This was soon granted, and he was about to leave; but the colonel detained him.

‘Stay a minute or two, if you have no particular business elsewhere. I have sent for the native officers, to speak to them seriously about the disturbance in the lines yesterday. I would have liked to have had the other officers here; but never mind, we won’t wait for them; now you are here, you can stay. What a deal of mischief that fellow has done!’

‘What fellow?’

‘That Mr. What’s-his-name, the M.P. who is staying with the commissioner. He seems to have been guilty of some unpardonable piece of folly, interfering with the sepoys at their dinner, and treading on their chulas.’

‘I don’t suppose he knew what a “chula” was.’

‘Then he should have stayed at home, and not come to this country, when he does not understand the people or their customs—making mischief.’

‘I hear his munshi, who it seems did all the real mischief, has bolted.’

‘Yes, he and Dacres were here yesterday, and told me all about it. I wish I could lay hands on that fellow; he is a regular deep designing villain.’

The native officers were announced, and so the conversation ended. Colonel Wetherall received them standing, as they came in and grouped themselves round the table.

‘I have sent for you,’ said the colonel, in a tone of authority and kindness combined, as he stood erecting his manly and soldierlike figure to its full height, and looking steadily into their faces,—‘I have sent for you because I want to speak with you. I have been near thirty years with you, and you know me well.’

They interrupted him to remark, ‘that he, the colonel, was their father and mother, and they hoped he would soon become a general, and, finally, a lord.’

The colonel went on without heeding them. ‘I have been many years with you, and you know I have always been your friend. Most of you who are standing here I have known as sepoys, and you have almost all received your commissions directly from my hands.’

‘It was true,’ they said; ‘who could doubt that he, the colonel, the nourisher of the poor, was the bestower of their daily bread, their sole support in life?’

The confabulation, interrupted as it was repeatedly by remarks of this sort, is too long to repeat: suffice it to say that the colonel went on to tell them how that it could not be concealed that there was much excitement abroad, and designing men had been poisoning the minds of the natives against their English rulers, who had no intentions but what were open and straightforward, and that he had heard that there had been the evening before a disturbance in the lines, important as it assumed a religious character; that he believed they had most of them exerted themselves to put it down, (the colonel was guilty of something very like a pious fraud here,) and he wished to impress on their minds the gross absurdity of the reports that were abroad, to the effect that the government had designs against their caste and religion, and to point out to them how inevitably any attempt at open disaffection must result in the annihilation of the originators of it, and how that he trusted that the 75th would maintain the reputation it had always held, and be a bright example to the rest of the army.

The native officers, when the colonel gave them an opportunity for speaking, declaimed with the strongest possible asseveration of truth, that there was no shadow of discontent among the men: there had been a disturbance owing to the wild report set on foot by the sepoy who brought the charge against Mr. Thurston of spoiling his dinner, an evil-disposed and mischievous man whom they recommended the colonel to get rid of, (poor colonel! as if red tape and the adjutant-general would allow him to expel a designing conspirator from his ranks!) but that now all excitement had been allayed, and the colonel might depend on the 75th Regiment, for how could anything go wrong when all the native officers were resolutely determined to do their duty? ‘And here is Graham Sahib,’ added the spokesman of the party, a grey-haired old subadar, the senior native officer present, named Gunga Singh, turning with a look of affection and at the same time respect on the young officer—‘I recollect well when he was born, and often have I dandled him in my arms and played with him when a child. General Graham Sahib, the sahib’s father, first took me by the hand when I was a boy, and got me enlisted and promoted, and was a father to me. Shall we not be faithful to such officers, whose fathers have been fathers to us, and we their children? Yes, we swear by the water of the Holy Ganges, we will.’

The rest all murmured assent as the old man finished.

‘Surely there cannot be treachery in the hearts of these men,’ said Colonel Wetherall as they left to return to the lines. ‘Whatever may happen in other regiments, ours, I know, will be all right.’

Chapter XI

Ever since the little occurrence at the picnic, Graham had felt half inclined to quarrel with his friend Burleigh,—why, he could not exactly tell. It so happened that accident had not thrown them together: he did not feel inclined to court Burleigh’s society, or to go to his house and look him up; and Burleigh never came near him. It was a foolish feeling, but somehow it did annoy him to see his friend’s buggy drive past his house, as it did almost daily. He knew very well where he was going. Stevens’s house was down the road, and Burleigh had to pass Graham’s door to get to it. Why shouldn’t he look in as he went by, or invite himself to dine at the mess with him, as he used?

They had made an engagement some time before, to go out together for a few days’ shooting to Chunderbagh, before the hot weather set in. The season would soon be too far advanced; indeed, it was even now uncomfortably hot in the daytime, and Graham determined to postpone his expedition no longer; he would go and have his day or two’s shooting, but, under the circumstances, he thought he should enjoy his holiday more alone, than with Burleigh for a companion. So he made up his mind to go, and broached the subject to the colonel, as related in the last chapter.

Leaving his traps to follow, he took his gun and one servant, and rode out that evening to Chunderbagh, and put up at the dâk bungalow. The sun had set, and he was strolling about in the vicinity of the building, while the neverfailing dâk-bungalow dinner, a grilled fowl, was being prepared, when he observed a large crowd of natives collected round a well under the clump of trees a few hundred yards from the spot where he was standing. On coming up to them, he enquired what was the matter, and was told that a man had fallen down the well. Graham went to the edge, and looked down; and there, sure enough, just discernible in the darkness at the bottom of the well, appeared the head of a human being.

‘Who is he?’ asked Graham from the crowd that had made way for him at his approach.

‘My father,’ replied a strong, robust young man of about twenty-five or thirty years of age, who was holding in one hand the end of a long rope, the other end of which had been let down the well.

‘Your father, you brute!’ said Graham, utterly disgusted, but still amused at the coolness with which the son regarded the awkward position of his parent. ‘Then why don’t you go down and get him up? you stand here and see your father drowned without making an effort to save him!’

‘He has the rope.’

‘The rope—yes, and perhaps his arms are broken, or he is badly hurt, or senseless from the fall. How old is he?’

‘A very old man,’ said half-a-dozen voices, for the rest had now gathered close round the stranger, exhibiting much more curiosity to hear what the sahib was saying, than to find out how the old man was getting on, or to make any attempt at rescuing him.

At this moment a heart-rending appeal for help, like the wail of a lost spirit, ascended from the bottom of the well. The natives crowded closer round; those in front stooped, and peered down.

‘He is dying!’

‘Assuredly.’

‘He is dead by this time!’

‘Ram, Ram, Ram!’

‘It is fate.’

While the crowd contented themselves with expressing their sympathies in this manner, the son of the man who was the object of them exhibited his filial affection by giving the rope a jerk every now and then, to see if his fish had taken the bait, and it was time to haul in.

‘You heartless wretches!’ said Graham; ‘will none of you go down and fetch him up? The man’s dying!’

‘The well is very deep,’ said a voice out of the crowd—‘the rest were silent.

Graham could stand it no longer. He snatched the rope out of the man’s hand, examined it well, and found it was stout and strong, and would bear a good weight.

‘Here, take hold of the rope,’ he said, ‘four or five of you—I’ll go down—hold fast, and when you hear me call, pull up—slowly, mind.’

After making sure that they understood his directions, he laid hold of the rope, and went down hand-over-hand to the bottom, steadying himself with his feet against the side. Here he found about five feet of water.

The old man with considerable difficulty kept his mouth just above the surface: he was very old, and probably injured by the fall; for when Graham asked him if he had sufficient strength to hold on while he was being pulled up, he shook his head, and seemed to have abandoned himself to despair.

‘I must get you up somehow, old chap,’ said Graham, and then proceeded to do the best he could under the circumstances. The rope was strong enough to hold them both, and there were plenty of men above. He looked up, and could see their faces peering over the mouth of the well, where they were all chattering away as hard as they could like monkeys.

There was no time to be lost, for the old man was getting weaker and weaker; so he managed to slip the end of the rope under him, so as to make a loop in which he could sit securely as long as he had strength to hold firmly on with his hands, and fastened it with a good knot. The returning hopes of life imparted nerve and vigour to his aged companion, and after seeing that he was as safe as he could make him, and holding on with both hands in the full consciousness that his life depended on the strength of the grip, Graham climbed a little way above him, so as to be able to rest his foot upon the knot, and aid his hands in the labour of sustaining his weight, and called out lustily to the natives above to draw up. They seemed to work with a will, for the ascent was rapid, and in less than a minute he found himself seized by strong hands and arms, and the old man below him as well, and landed on terra firma. Great was the exultation of the crowd, and loud their exclamations at Graham’s courage,—bahadoori,’ as they called it. As for the old man, they crowded round him, and embraced him like one restored to them from the dead.

Anxious to escape their boisterous gratitude, and to change his clothes—for up to his middle he was one mass of mud, and wet through—he made his way through the crowd, and returned to the dâk bungalow. His things were not to come up till very late, so he had to keep on his wet clothes till they arrived.

In the evening after dinner, Graham was sitting in the verandah smoking. The dinner, such as it was, had been discussed, and the servants had all retired to the cook-room to have a good smoke and a good chat together over the exciting event of the day, the rescue of the old man from the well, and the ‘sahib’s’ bravery and kindness in having ventured down to fetch him up—a feat that raised Graham, in their estimation, to an extraordinary elevation. He was in a reverie, thinking if the truth must be told about the charms of the goddess he worshipped, though he declared over and over again to himself that he would worship her no more. His attention was suddenly drawn to the figure of a man creeping cautiously round the corner of the house. He sat still and watched the intruder on his silence and solitude. He advanced, and Graham beheld the figure of the old peasant who had so shortly before been indebted to him for saving his life.

‘Extraordinary,’ thought he; ‘the old man is coming to express his gratitude.’

He was right; the old man came up, and after making a low salaam, pressed his forehead against the young officer’s knees.

‘Well,’ said Graham, ‘how are you—have you recovered from the effects of your fall?’

‘Allah be praised!’ said the old man. ‘It was Allah sent the sahib to my rescue. I had no hurt; no bones broken; only a few bruises. I have come to speak to the sahib, if the Sahib will listen.”

‘Certainly,’ said the other, rather pleased at having something to distract his attention from the melancholy and moody thoughts that had filled his mind: ‘come and sit down here,’ pointing to the verandah, ‘and tell me what you have to say.’

‘The sahib has saved my life,’ he said, seating himself on the stone—‘the sahibs are wonderful men; will the sahib believe what I say?’

‘That depends,’ thought Graham. ‘Speak, and I shall know,’ he added, aloud.

‘The sahib has done for me to-day what my own son would not do: how should I hide what is to his advantage to know? There are evil men about, wicked men who are plotting to do the sahibs injury, to destroy them; but I shll save the sahib that saved my life.’

‘How is my life in danger—who threatens it?’

‘From the four quarters of heaven, from the seven climes there are foes to the sahibs coming—all ready to strike; will the sahib be warned?’

‘If it is written in the book of destiny that we are to perish, why should I attempt to save my life?’

‘Ah, it is not written in the book of your destiny, sahib: others will fall—you shall be saved.’

‘How so?’

‘Listen, Before many days are passed, you will hear of something that will turn your heart into water: every man around you will be changed suddenly into a deadly foe, thirsting for your life. Read this—here is a paper, and here is another; I have had them by me for many days: there have been many circulated in Islamabad; and all the people put faith in them.’

‘And do you—what is it all about?’

‘When the sahib has time, then he can read them; but let him keep them to himself. I have read them, and all the people in Chunderbagh village have read them. The King of Roos and the Badshah of Iran have sent them to us. Is it true—are the King of Roos and the Badshah of Iran at war with the English?’

‘The English have been at war with them, but now there is peace.’

‘Ah, this peace will not last long. Are there any European soldiers at Islamabad?’

‘Not one.’

‘Are there any coming?’

‘None that I know of.’

‘Allah have mercy on you! but listen. The time will come when you will want a hiding-place; then come to me. I will be waiting for you by day and by night under the peepul tree close to the great tomb; come to me, and I will save you.’

‘How?’

‘I know secrets which no man else knows: that tomb of the Saiyad is a wonderful place, and the Saiyad preserves all those that take refuge under it.’

‘But how shall I know when danger is at hand?’ asked Graham, whose attention was now thoroughly aroused—‘how shall I know when is the proper time to save myself by flight?’

‘The sahib will find that out quite plainly enough.’

‘But tell me more about it—if, as you say, you are really interested in my welfare, why not tell me all, so that I may be able to avoid the danger beforehand, and save myself and friends?’

‘I have no more to say; I can tell nothing but what I have said; when it comes, recollect Rahman Khan of Chunderbagh and the peepul tree. And now may I go?’

‘Yes, if you wish it,’

‘What are these papers, I wonder?’ said Graham to himself as soon as he was alone. ‘It will be something for me to do to puzzle them out.’

He went inside and examined the documents. They were written in Persian. He was a very tolerable Oriental scholar, and could read Persian documents, though not very fluently; still he could manage to spell out the meaning of the words before him. After a great deal of trouble, and beginning first of all in the middle, then at the end, and finally commencing from the first line, he read it all through to the last. The following is a loose translation of the contents. The first ran thus:—

‘To all the Faithful—the followers of the Prophet of Islam, on whom and on whose descendants be peace. Amen—Be it known that it has been decreed, and sealed in the archives of heaven, that the day of the destruction of the Nazarene is fast approaching. These people, hated and accursed of Allah and the Prophet, have filled up the cup of their crimes and iniquities to the brim. When the time comes, the king of kings, the centre of Islam, &c. &c., will issue his firman from the throne of the empire of Hindustan; and, the signal being given, let the faithful draw the sword of religion and sweep off the infidels £rom the face of the earth, and drive their souls to hell.’

There was a seal and a signature to this document, which was illegible.

The other ran as follows, the exordium being in the same style as the last:—

‘Be it known, &c., that the king of kings, the ruler of Hindustan, the light of Islam, &c., has this day been blessed with a royal letter from the mighty and powerful King of Iran, which tells him that the infidel English Nazarenes have been destroyed from the face of the earth of his country Iran, where these infidels, in defiance of God and the Prophet, had impiously dared to set foot; and that the great King of Iran and the omnipotent Emperor of Roos are marching with large bodies of invincible troops to the country of Hindustan, where they will complete the utter destruction of the infidel English Nazarenes, and re-establish the faith of Islam and the ancient religion of the Hindus in all their purity. Let the sword of faith remain quiet in the sheath of caution till the firman of Allah commands it to be drawn.’

Graham folded up these precious documents and locked them up in his writing-desk. He was in no mood for sleep, so he lit another cheroot and walked up and down the verandah thinking.

‘After all, that old fellow’s caution may not be thrown away. The peepul tree—I don’t recollect it; I may as well be walking there as up and down the verandah—so I’ll go.’

He went inside, snatched up his hat and stick, and, putting his revolver in his pocket, sauntered out in the direction of the tomb.

What with the excitement attending the gloomy forebodings of the old man, and the labour of deciphering the manuscript, &c., Graham had not observed how time had slipped by. Who has not found himself, walking up and down the room or the verandah, when reflecting intently on some subject of great interest, more especially if the allurement of a cheroot be added to keep up the delusion, that half an hour—nay, one hour—may pass without being noticed at all? It was the case with Graham; and so full was his mind of all he had heard and read, added to the subject of cogitation that had pretty well filled it before, that he was quite unaware of the fact; but by the time he reached the neighbourhood of the tomb, only a few minutes’ walk from the dâk bungalow, it was close upon the witching hour of midnight.

Now it so happened that this was the very night which had been fixed upon for the Nawab to come and test the truth of the message brought him by the mysterious visitor, as related in a previous chapter. He had fasted tolerably consistently ever since—that is, according to Mahometan rules of fasting—taking nothing till after sundown; and what with the reduction of his natural strength, and the effect of weakness of body upon the brain and nervous system, and the strain to which his mind had been subjected ever since, acted upon as it was by the heightening of the imaginative faculties in consequence of his abstinence from proper food, the Nawab had certainly done the very best to render himself amenable to anything in the shape of a ghost or a spectre, or a visitation, or a revelation from Heaven, or anything mysterious and out of the way that might be conjured up for his special behoof.

Graham had very soon satisfied himself of the presence and site of the peepul tree, and feeling at last sleepy and tired, was thinking of returning to the dâk bungalow to prepare for rising with the dawn the following morning, when his attention was attracted by observing two horsemen approach the spot. They halted within a hundred yards or so of the tomb, and dismounted. One of them then threw his horse’s bridle to the other to hold, and walked leisurely towards the tomb. Graham was obscured by the shade of the trees, and feeling his curiosity a little excited, determined to follow the stranger. As the latter entered the tomb by one door, Graham entered it by another, and the only other one, for the tomb was enclosed on two sides and open on two. He walked very cautiously in, taking care to keep himself under the shade of the wall. When he got inside, all was black as Erebus, the only thing he could distinguish being the other doorway on the side contiguous to that by which he had entered, and, in bold relief with the light of the outer air (though it was night) behind him, the figure of a man standing erect in an attitude of attention. He scanned his outline attentively. He was tall and well dressed, and armed, as far as he could distinguish from the shape of the figure before him. By-and-by he moved, then knelt in the Mahometan fashion and commenced muttering his prayers. He appeared to grow excited with his devotion, for he continued to pray louder and louder, till at last he spoke loud enough to awaken the echoes of the old tomb, and disturb sundry kites, pigeons, and other birds that had long ago quietly disposed of themselves for the night.

Leaving the ordinary forms of the Mahometan ritual, the Nawab began at last to pray in his excitement audibly in Hindustani. ‘Oh, holy Saiyad,’ he exclaimed, ‘blessed follower of the Prophet, on whom be the blessing of Allah, appear if thou art destined to appear to the faithful follower and slave who awaits at the holy threshold of thy tomb the manifestation of thy will and the will of Allah.’

Graham watched the scene now with the greatest interest, but, while listening intently to the words that fell from the lips of the devotee, was suddenly srtartled by a tremendous burst of thunder, as it seemed to him to be at the moment, though on recalling the sound afterwards he remembered that it was more like a rattling of old pots and kettles on a larger scale than any meteorological phenomenon. The frightened birds screamed and flew out of the tomb by fifties; pieces of old plaster and dust and filth fell from the roof in showers,; and, what with the noise and confusion, and dust, he felt half inclined to follow the example of the birds, and get out of the place as speedily as possible. Curiosity, however, kept him. No sooner had the hubbub subsided, than there appeared a brilliant light in the tomb, proceeding from the dark side of it, and almost immediately afterwards a highly-coloured transparent figure of a man, in the costume which our ancestors would have called ‘Moorish’—that is to say, with flowing robes of all the colours of the rainbow, loose trousers, a long beard, a green turban, a scimitar, round rolling eyes that moved about restlessly in the sockets. An instant’s reflection (for he was, it must be allowed, taken aback at first) convinced Graham that he was being treated to a magic lantern show or a dissolving view, the figure before him being one that had probably done duty for many years, in distant lands and other climes, for the old hero of romance, Blue Beard. The Nawab’s consternation on beholding the sudden apparition, and finding himself thus abruptly vis à vis with the ghost of the Saiyad, for it could be none else, cannot be described. He threw himself upon the ground in the humble posture of Mahometan supplication, and hid his face in his hands.

By-and-by, the spectre stopped rolling his eyes, raised his arm, and—began to speak. It was Graham’s turn to be startled now, for the apparition seemed certainly to be endowed with the faculty of speech. ‘Rise, Nawab,’ it said, in a hollow sepulchral tone befitting an inmate of the grave where the mortal remains of the holy man had long ago crumbled into dust; ‘fear not, beloved of Heaven, beloved of Allah and the Prophet. Thou art here in obedience to the mandate of the heavenly messenger, after fasting seven days, and it is to such as thee that the will of Heaven is revealed. To the unbelieving no sign is granted, for to read the signs of the Great One faith is required. Be this, then, a sign to thee, that the spirit of the ever-blessed Saiyad hath been permitted to revisit earth to communicate to thee the will of Heaven.’

‘Amen, amen!’ gasped the Nawab, supporting himself on his knees.

‘Thou art the chosen of Allah, and thy name is written down by the angel Gabriel, at the direction of the holy Prophet, in the book as the second sword of God: thou knowest who was named the first. To thee it is given to lead the jehad, to annihilate the infidels, and to establish the holy religion of the Prophet in the centre of the universe, Hindustan. Pay thy allegiance to the Badshah who reigns at Delhi, the royal city, and will be proclaimed in a few days’ time, and draw the sword for “Deen,” and let no infidel escape thee.’

‘Amen, amen!’ responded the Nawab again. ‘The will of Allah is supreme—who now can doubt Thee?’

‘I have spoken,’ continued the spectre; ‘let the will of Allah be obeyed. I go.’

Graham had heard and seen quite enough by this time to understand that he had accidentally become a witness of some extraordinary jugglery, the end and aim of which it was not difficult to perceive, though the machinery by which it was effected was not by any means so clear. Determined, however, that he would do his best to disabuse the mind of the Nawab (for he had subsequently discerned who he was) as much as possible before the spectre disappeared, he drew his revolver, and, still keeping under the shade of the wall, took a deliberate and careful aim at the spot where he calculated the focus of the lens was, and where he would be able to smash the apparatus, if it was indeed a magic lantern that was being operated with. The report of the revolver sounded within the walls of the tomb like that of a nine-pounder: there was a flash and smoke; again the birds fled, screaming and flapping their wings, out of the place, striking Graham’s head and the Nawab’s as they fled by, and knocking down the dust and plaster; but the spectre disappeared in proper spectre-like fashion—that is to say, instantaneously—and a simultaneous sound of crashing glass and pieces of metal falling on the stone floor told Arthur plainly enough that his shot had taken effect. Upon the Nawab it had most decidedly taken effect; for, with a yell as if all the host of the unseen world had been suddenly let loose upon him, he jumped up and rushed out of the tomb. With rapid strides, and most undignified and unoriental haste, he made for his horse, snatched the bridle from the hands of the attendant (who was almost as frightened as his master), leapt on the animal’s back, and galloped off as hard as he could for Islamabad, closely followed by his servant. Determined to follow up his advantage, Graham rushed off to the dâk bungalow, and soon returned with a light. He preferred following out his investigation alone, and therefore summoned none of the dâk-bungalow servants to attend him. On entering the tomb, he found that the most elaborate preparations had preceded the exhibition he had just witnessed. A white cloth was stretched across a portion of the tomb on which the figure had appeared: behind this there was nothing at first visible, for all this part of the tomb was walled up, and had been so from time immemorial; but the wall had fallen into disrepair—stones had tumbled out in many places, had been taken out in others; in fact, the whole place looked so like a mass of rubbish, that no one had ever dreamed of enquiring the use of, and the date since which the internal structure had been erected. Graham went and looked carefully along the ground just under the heap of stones that did duty for a wall. There he found in one spot fragments of glass, a small piece of tin and bronze; but nothing else. This, however, was sufficient; for in looking above he found a hole in the masonry just large enough to admit the lens of a goodsized magic lantern. He looked in, but could distinguish nothing, and, failing after a diligent search in finding anything else that could serve as a clue to the mystery, he resolved to content himself with his trophies—to wit, the cloth and the pieces of glass, and carefully wrapping them up, he put the precious bundle under his arm and returned to the dâk bungalow.

He had too much to conununicate to spend any more time at Chunderbagh; so rousing his sleepy servant, he desired him to saddle his horse, and bidding his servant return next morning at daylight to cantonments, he set out on his homeward course. Before dawn next morning he had related to Colonel Wetherall all that had passed, and the colonel without more ado drove down to Mr. Dacres to communicate the intelligence to him, and take counsel as to the course they should pursue.

Chapter XII

The following morning Mr. Thurston had an appointment with Mr. Harley to attend at that gentleman’s office while the usual business of the ‘kutchery’ was being carried on, for the express purpose of acquiring information and making notes on the procedure of civil and criminal law as conducted in the Company’s courts. Mr. Harley, however, did not go to kutchery (or to court, as it is becoming the fashion now to call it) until 10 A.M. Mr. Thurston accordingly had ample leisure for transacting a little private business of his own that morning. This consisted in a visit to the shop, or office, or store, whichever the reader likes, kept by the firm of Cork, Screw, and Co., Islamabad. These gentlemen drove a thriving trade. They dealt in what are called ‘Europe goods,’ that is to say, every conceivable article, liquid or solid, edible or non-edible, that could come under the category: they were drapers, shoe and leather sellers, grocers, druggists, chandlers, provisioners, wine-merchants, haberdashers, booksellers, stationers, cutlers, upholsterers, confectioners, horse-dealers, carriage-dealers, hatters, clothiers, milliners, commission agents, jewellers, goldsmiths, auctioneers, &c. &c., all in one. In fact, you might walk from St. Paul’s to Charing Cross, and from Hyde Park Corner to Holborn Hill, and make a purchase at every shop you passed on either side of the street, and you would be sure to find a similar article in the store of Messrs. Cork, Screw, and Co., of Islamabad. Time would foil me to enumerate even the genera of the stock-in-trade of this enterprising firm, much less each species. They enjoyed a monopoly at Islamabad, that is, a monopoly as European tradesmen. There were several shops of a similar though inferior kind kept by native dealers: there was Nubbee Bux and Hoosain Bux, and half-a-dozen other Buxes, whose shops were filled with a heap of articles, if possible, more miscellaneous than those of their more opulent rivals: but their goods were for the most part ancient; they had shelves heaped up with tins of preserved salmon, meats, soups, &c. &c., which had been known to occupy the same position as they held in 1857 from a period coeval with the memory of the oldest inhabitant. Their prices were generally speaking lower than in the European store: but it was a serious business making a bargain with them. It was a whole morning’s work to complete the purchase of a single article, for they began by asking double the price the customers knew they would take. They had therefore to practise all the arts and cunning of professed horse-dealers; to fence with the subject of the price, threaten to leave the shop at least half-a-dozen times, return, upbraid, scold, entreat, reason, and, in fact, put their mental energies to the utmost stretch. In addition to the inconvenience of going through this long process, every man or woman who entered the shop was dogged and followed about by one of the retainers of the owners, who watched the slightest movement of the customer (though he might be thoroughly well known to them, and may have been in the habit of dealing with them for years) with catlike eyes, as if every Englishman imbibed the propensity of shoplifting with his mother’s milk, and visited such repositories with the sole idea of seeing how many things he could steal. Far different was it with Messrs. Cork, Screw, and Co., the two former of whom (for I must plead total ignorance regarding the Co., whose whereabouts and identity were never, that I ever heard of, even approximately guessed at) had been born and bred in respectable society in England, Mr. Cork having been educated for the law, while Mr. Screw was the hopeful progeny of a country surgeon. They had a way of doing business or of keeping a store that was quite gentlemanly and free and easy: this was to be expected, seeing that they came from exactly the same rank of society originally as most of their customers, and had only placed themselves temporarily in the inferior position of shopkeepers because they wanted and intended to make speedy fortunes and retire to England, where they would purchase estates in the country, and where they would be able, thanks to the acquisition of money, that great leveller of all distinctions, to hold up their heads with the best families in the county. That they bid fair to realise this inviting prospect, may be understood when I state that their ordinary rates of profit were three hundred per cent. Anything under this they looked upon as slow and slack.

Enjoying a monoply as they did, they were determined to enjoy it thoroughly; for it was not the custom of the firm of Messrs. Cork, Screw, and Co. to do anything by halves. Accordingly they did not put themselves to any inconvenience in the way of attending to the shop. If you called at a certain time in the morning when these gentlemen had been out for their morning ride, had imbibed their morning cup of tea and smoked their morning cheroots, you might chance to find one or other in the shop and ready to answer enquiries; which answers, to do them justice, would be given with the utmost civility and good breeding: but if you called a little later, or in the middle of the day, when it was much too hot to walk across from the house to the shop, you would be told by an attendant chuprassie, that the ‘durwaza’ was ‘bund,’ that is to say, the shop was shut (Anglicè, the shutters were up). In the evening it was generally the same, as then the firm went out for their evening drive; the afternoon was equally unfavourable for anything like shopping, for that was a period of the day when Messrs. Cork, Screw, and Co. liked to repose after tiffin. The fact was, they argued, ‘everything in India is done by writing: the government in council is carried on by foolscap and pen and ink; why should not shopping be managed in the same way? In this depressing climate, why should a European vendor of Europe goods reduce his weight and weaken his constitution by standing about to show articles that a customer had no need in reality to see before purchasing, and answering queries as to the price of this or that, when the whole transaction could be performed so much more easily by means of a note of three lines?—“Captain So-and-so would be glad if Messrs. Cork and Screw would send him such and such things.”’ The business was then confined to a perusal of the note, and an order to a chuprassie to get the article required, to pack it and send it: the baboo made out the bill, and Messrs. Cork and Screw scrawled their signatures at the bottom, and the thing was done, and might be done without either members of the firm rising from that recumbent position which it is deemed necessary for the benefit of the constitution of so many Englishmen and Europeans in India to occupy during twenty twenty-fourths of the day.

There was, however, a very manifest advantage in dealing with the European firm over the native. Some thrifty people who had but little money to spare, used to make a point of dealing with the Nubby Buxes under the delusive belief that they saved by doing so. Time being no object to many customers, officers in the army and others, they could afford to spend an hour in squabbling with the native dealer, and thought themselves amply repaid if they saved a rupee in ten by so doing; but I question whether the economy was sound: for, in the first place, the wear and tear on the constitution and temper must go for something; in the second, there was a very great chance of the article purchased turning out badly; and, thirdly, if they made a good bargain five times, the sixth, the chances were, was such a bad one as to compensate for the advantages gained on the first five. At the European store, on the other hand, though they did ‘stick it on,’ as it is called, you were sure of getting good articles, and sure of meeting with civility. Storekeeping in India, in fact, is a very gentlemanly kind of trading, and when you come to think that a man starting with a little capital, and being honest, industrious, and punctual in business matters, and well supported by good agents in England who understand the wants of the Indian market, may easily make his twenty or thirty thousand pounds in ten or twelve years, the reader will admit that the line is not such a bad one after all. Everybody has heard the story of the Calcutta tailor who threatened a scapegrace son with the punishment of a commission in the army, and not without cause. If two men start together in life in India, one in the army and the other in the store line, the former may, while on a visit to England as a captain on his furlough, after ten years’ service, and with his furlough pay of one hundred and ninety-one pounds per annum, perhaps be invited by the latter to pay him a visit at his country seat, and have a little shooting over his estate.

But Messrs. Cork, Screw, and Co. had other irons in the fire: they were agents for the great Nogo Bullock Train Company, which ran carts all the way from Calcutta to Peshawur, and to and from all intermediate stations, and undertook to transport the goods of the public at a much lower rate than the Government Bullock Train. At each of the intermediate stations, the company had agents; and these agents were gentlemen engaged in similar business to that of Cork, Screw, and Co.

The advantage of the arrangement was, that all the agents being shareholders, they were able to get their goods up from Calcutta at half the rates they would have had to pay, had they employed any other carrying company, and could always insure a tolerably speedy and regular conveyance for them: when it so happened that there were no goods of their own to be forwarded, they would employ the carts, which would otherwise have been empty, in the conveyance of some of the boxes and packages entrusted to their care by a confiding public; so they could always make sure of having their own stores up speedily and cheaply, and at the same time always had profitable work for the train when there were no stores to come.

Now it so happened that Mr. Thurston had confided his boxes, consisting of all the baggage he had, over and above the light impedimenta which he took in the dâk carriage with him, to the agent of the Nogo train at Calcutta; the boxes had been legibly addressed in letters an inch and a half long to ‘Islamabad,’ and as the agent had assured him that they would only take a few days in transit, Mr. Thurston, who was the more anxious to receive his boxes in consequence of Wuly Mahomed’s treachery, repaired on the morning in question to the establishment of Messrs. Cork, Screw, and Co., to institute enquiries.

He was fortunate enough to find Mr. Cork in the counting-house, and accordingly he addressed himself to that individual, stating his name and business.

Mr. Cork politely assured him he would immediately obtain the desired information, and forthwith commenced to search in large mysterious-looking ledgers, each page of which was ruled in the most complex manner it was possible to conceive.

‘I really think, sir,’ said Mr. Cork, looking up from his ledgers with a smile of satisfaction, ‘that your packages have arrived. Here, baboo!’ A weight was removed from Mr. Thurston’s mind at this announcement.

In obedience to the call of Mr. Cork, a sleek, cleanly-dressed, and rather fat baboo presented himself, with one pen behind each ear, and another in his hand.

‘Baboo, do you know anything about six packages marked Islamabad, left Nunkumpore on the 15th?’

‘What name?’

‘Thurston,’ replied that gentleman, much pleased with the favourable specimen of Asiatic sharpness and aptitude for business evinced by the baboo.

‘Ah, Thurston, master’s name? Yes, I recollect, six boxes?’

‘Yes, six.’

‘All addressed—very big letters—dam big letters?’

‘Yes, exceedingly large letters.’

‘And name?’

‘Thurston,’ again replied that gentleman.

‘Six packages, you say, sir?’

‘Yes.’

‘Ah, all gone.’

‘Gone!’ said Mr. Thurston, supposing they had been sent up to Mr. Dacres, and indulging in a momentary and delightful dream of their being all laid out ready for unpacking.

‘Gone!’ said Mr. Cork, his wider experience giving rise to a qualm in his breast; ‘where to?’

‘Where to?—Peshawur, sir.’

‘Peshawur!’ shrieked the unhappy owner.

‘Peshawur!’ repeated Mr. Cork, despairingly.

‘Yes, master. Me see boxes, one day, two day, in godown. No gentleman want—carts go empty—no goods—me say, forty carts go empty—me send boxes, fill the carts; then, if wanted, can come back when carts empty.’

‘You—black—’ here Mr. Thurston, who, I am sorry to say, had inadvertently committed himself to an extent altogether unseemly in a philanthropist, checked his rising wrath, and turned to Mr. Cork—

‘This is a most extraordinary, unjustifiable proceeding, sir: the boxes are legibly addressed to Islamabad, and your agent or factotum sends them on to Peshawur just because he wants to fill the carts! ‘

‘I am really extremely sorry for the mistake, sir,’ urged Mr. Cork in his blandest manner. ‘We labour under great disadvantages in this country in being forced to employ native agency: the mistake shall be rectified as soon as possible. Baboo, send telegraph to the next station and have these boxes sent back.’

‘That no good, sir—boxes gone on through cart—not unpacked till reach Peshawur. Me write to agents at Peshawur. Agent send boxes back—arrive all safe, sir—no fear.’

‘And pray how long shall I be kept waiting while these cur—carts are going to Peshawur and back again?’

‘How long, baboo, will it take to come back from Peshawur?’ said Mr. Cork, interrogating the factotum.

‘Six week—only six week.’

‘Six weeks!’ shouted Mr. Thurston, fairly beside himself with anger; ‘and this is your method of doing business in this country, is it? I’ll expose it, sir; I’ll expose it in the House:’ and, to relieve himself, he arose and began to walk swiftly up and down the compound.

It was a close morning, and the exertion soon told upon him; he felt weary and faint—he must have a bottle of soda-water and go home: there was no use making more fuss about it—he would open his mind to Mr, Dacres, and when he got to England wouldn’t he expose the system!

Acting on this resolution, he returned to the shop and asked for a bottle of soda-water.

Mr. Cork, who was really exceedingly vexed and anxious to make what amends lay in his power, went immediately to get a bottle nicely iced.

‘You had better have a little brandy with it, sir; cold soda-water on the stomach at this hour in the morning is not at all the thing; allow me to fetch you a little brandy. I am exceedingly annoyed about this mistake, but I will send a man off by the next train, who will be sure to overtake the cart in which your boxes are. I dare say they will be back here in a week.’

Mr. Thurston allowed himself to be calmed with these assurances, and silently acquiesced in the proposal to have a little, just half a glass of brandy at the bottom of the tumbler. The draught was very refreshing—very refreshing indeed, and Mr. Thurston walked away in a more complacent frame of mind than half an hour before he would have thought it possible to attain for at least a week.

I am sorry to say, however, his indignation against Messrs. Cork, Screw, and Co. broke out afresh when he reached his temporary home, for the first thing that greeted him was a note, pushed into his face by a bearish-looking chuprassie: he opened it—it was a bill for two rupees, for the soda-water and nip of brandy. He crushed the paper between his fingers, threw it in the chuprassie’s face, and strode angrily inside.

Mr. Thurston was beginning to make the discovery, that out of *’the trifles that make the sum of human things,’ there were several to be met with in India that seriously interfered with the character of the country as a desirable residence for any man not endowed by nature with a temper that nothing can ruffle.

It may readily be imagined that Mr. Thurston was in no very amiable frame of mind all that morning. He was just in the mood into which we are all of us apt at times to fall, when we think the worst of everything, when the little foibles of our neighbour are exaggerated into grievous faults, and every petty symptom of the faults or follies of human nature which we all share alike, becomes magnified in our mind’s eye into a huge depravity. And it was in this frame of mind that that he proceeded to keep his engagement with Mr Harley at that gentleman’s office.

I detest long descriptions of dry details in the middle of a story, especially when they are unnecessary. I shall, therefore, not waste my reader’s time and my own by describing minutely the outside and the inside of the magistrate’s kutchery (Anglicè, court). Islamabad was one of our old stations, and the kutchery was what all kutcheries are in old stations, a large, rambling, and tolerably commodious range of buildings in the middle of a court-yard, surrounded by a low mud brick wall: this on one side separated the bare compound from a well-watered garden, in the midst of which again stood the collector and magistrate’s residence.

Mr. Thurston threaded his way through a crowd of chuprassies and hangers-on, witnesses, litigants, speculators, and idlers, that thronged the entrance-room: here and there some petty court official recognised him as the sahib who was staying with the commissioner, and gave him a salaam; but the greater part of them took no notice whatever of the member of parliament as he made his way through the crowd into the inner room. Mr. Harley was then engaged in his capacity of magistrate in ‘getting up’ a murder case, which was to be tried before the sessions judge. There was a degree of repose about the whole scene truly oriental. The room was kept tolerably cool by means of a well-watered tatty or screen of khuskhus grass that, when wetted and acted on by the dry hot wind, imparted a delicious coolness to the air, and emitted, at the same time, a fragrant scent; but the atmosphere was, in spite of it, not refreshing: the atmosphere in courts of law, either in our own country or in this, seldom is. A large number of human beings crowded together in a small and confined space, sweltering and perspiring, is not calculated to give freshness or fragrance to the air. The only individuals in the room who were standing, were the prisoners, a man and woman, who confronted the court, from which they were separated by a bar of wood, watched by a couple of policemen with drawn swords, who were squatting on their haunches behind them. The officials were all seated on their haunches, so were the witnesses, while Mr. Harley himself leaned back on his arm-chair and supported his heels on the table. An ‘agdan’—that is to say, a stand for fire—was on the table, and in it was a red-hot ‘gool,’ or ball of charcoal, much used by Anglo-Indians for lighting their cheroots. The trial was proceeding all in proper course, a witness was being examined and his evidence duly recorded, while Mr. Harley listened, suggesting now and then a question. On Mr. Thurston’s being announced, he arose and welcomed him: at a sign, a chuprassie brought a chair, and the two white-faced Anglo-Saxons seated themselves in the temple of justice.

The slight interruption occasioned by the visitor’s entrance soon passed off; at another sign from the magistrate, the examination of the witness recommenced. Mr. Thurston took out his pocket-book and his pencil, gazed around him, and scanned the curious scene and the strange faces with a look in which interest and sympathy were strangely mingled with pity and indignation, and prepared himself to ask questions and take notes.

‘This is a murder case,’ said Mr. Harley, in reply to a question addressed him by his visitor; ‘there are the prisoners you see there; the man is a shopkeeper in the bazaar, and the woman is his wife: a neighbour’s child was missing, a girl of fourteen—suspicion aroused by a dog that would keep scratching on the floor in prisoner’s house: at last a neighbour sees the earth scratched away sufficiently to disclose something, looks at a distance like a toe,—police go and look—sure enough it is a toe, sticking out of the ground—the floor is dug up, and the body of the missing child found buried—she had been strangled for her ornaments, a very common crime.’

‘Very common, do you say? I thought the Hindus had an aversion to destroying life.’

‘Not when gain is to be got, and the life to be sacrificed is that of a human being, and not a cow.’

‘Is the evidence good?’

‘Very, so far as I’ve been with the case.’

‘From you it goes to the higher court, I presume?’

‘Yes, to the sessions judge.’

‘And will he convict?’

‘Can’t help himself; he must.’

‘Then, I suppose, it is a hanging matter?’

‘Not at all, my dear sir. The sudder will reverse the decision. Old Joe, as we call him, the senior judge, reverses all Thompson’s decisions, on principle, right or wrong: curious link in the chain of that fellow’s destiny, isn’t it—his life saved because Thompson wouldn’t marry old Joe’s daughter when he wanted him to?’

Mr. Thurston was silent. After a pause he asked.

‘Pray who is that grey-bearded old fellow squatting so sedately down there?’

‘Oh, that is the serishtadar, a native executioner,’ said Harley, adding the last explanatory clause, as the idea struck him, by an after-thought, ‘derived,’ continued the voluble magistrate, ‘from two Persian words, “serishta,” a rope, and “dar,” root of the verb “dariden,” to pull.’

‘Natives are very apathetic, I am told. They do not regard death as we do.’

‘Not in the least, they take it as jolly as possible; a mild and paternal government allows them a blow-out of sweetmeats at its expense, the day before execution.’

‘Indeed! that’s the rule, is it?’

Mr. Harley nodded, and called out ‘Gool lao’ (bring the gool), using the word as he probably intended to mystify Mr. Thurston, who would naturally be familiar with the common word for fire.

An obedient chuprassie brought a small redhot ball of charcoal on a brazen stand. Harley fumbled in his pocket for his cheroot-case; but an idea seemed to strike him, he desisted.

Harley’s ‘agdan,’ or fire-holder, was a peculiar one, rather formidable in shape. It represented a dragon in brass; the creature’s tongue protruded from its open mouth, and bore upon its concave surface the ball of red-hot charcoal. Mr. Thurston, who had never seen such a thing before, and having the substance of the Blue-book on the Madras torture question uppermost in his mind, was predisposed to imagine everything he saw that was new, uncouth, or inexplicable, as an instrument of torture, took that view in the present instance. Harley had divined what was passing in his mind, and checked himself in his first impulse to find his cheeroot-case.

‘Curious thing this, isn’t it?’ he said, taking the brazen dragon by the tail, and turning it round so that the fire sent its heat right into Mr. Thurston’s eyes and face. ‘Many of the Hindus, you know, worship Agni, the god of fire, so we have a little of their deity here always ready to swear them by.’

‘Ah,’ thought the member of parliament, ‘you think I cannot see through your atrocious wickedness; you would hoodwink me in this way, as if I did not know that Hindus worship water, and not fire. I shudder to think of the real uses this fearful instrument is designed for.’ So thought Mr. Thurston; but the ideas that were passing through his mind were so legibly expressed in his eyes and other features, that Harley understood him almost as well as if he had spoken aloud.

What Mr. Thurston^s position really was, the natives of course could not understand; what they believed he was, has already been hinted at. A special commissioner come out straight from the great council of Inglistan, invested with unknown and scarce-definable powers, was a sufficient object of respect and awe. Harley knew this, so he placed the fiery dragon right in front of the table, in a most conspicuous place, and called out in Hindustani, in a threatening voice—‘Now hear me, all of you present: this bara sahib, this great lord from the council of Inglistan, declares to me that the man who robbed him of his papers and money is among you; that man is certain to be hanged; no power in India can save him, not the sudder or the governor-general himself, unless you confess—who is the thief?’

Harley repeated the last question in his most solemn and impressive tone.

‘Ah,’ said Mr. Thurston to himself, as Harley moved the fire-holder, ‘is it possible that he will make use of this horrible devilish instrument of torture before my eyes!’

Scarce had the idea crossed his mind, than, as Harley ceased speaking, at least a dozen natives, with hands folded in attitude of supplication, fell on their knees before the member of parliament, beseeching him to do something in tones of the most touching humility.

‘Great Heaven! that I should have lived to witness such a spectacle!’ exclaimed Mr. Thurston, rising from his chair. ‘Mr. Harley, how can you, a man with human sympathies, and a human heart—how can you, an Englishman, sell your soul for filthy lucre, and for a stipend, however high, prostitute your intellect and energies to carry out such a system as this? In a British court of justice, a suppliant crowd beseech a mere stranger to save them from the tortures of the damned!’

It was too much for both the principal actors in the scene: Harley was literally almost bursting himself in his efforts to restrain his laughter, while Mr. Thurston was almost bursting with indignation. He managed, however, to restrain his feelings so far as to put his hat on his head and stalk out of the court.

After indulging in a hearty laugh, in which all the employees joined, though none of them for a moment guessed the cause, Harley lit a cheroot from the dragon’s mouth and went on with his case.

Mr. Thurston, when he reached England, which he did eventually, though he went through a good many adventures first, made a speech in the House, and wrote to the ‘Jupiter’ a long letter the next day, describing minutely the ‘fire-torture’ as used in the magistrates’ courts in Bengal. The subject created a great sensation in England; public meetings were held, and no end of newspaper articles written about it, and the excitement only subsided on the appearance of an announcement that the female hippopotamus at the Zoological Gardens had given birth to a male calf with two heads. From that moment the ‘fire-torture’ became a dead letter, and the subject has never been revived since.

Chapter XIII

After an exciting and fatiguing day not feeling inclined to go to mess, Graham had solaced himself with an early dinner at home, and went early to bed. How long he had been asleep he knew not, but he started up out of a sound nap with the consciousness that there was some one stirring in the room. In those days of perpetual excitement and more or less alarm, people got into a marvellous habit of watchfulness. The constant and prevailing rumours that something was going to happen, no one knew exactly what, affected people in such a way that no one went to bed at night without a feeling of uncertainty as to what might not occur before the morning. Officers slept with loaded pistols under their pillows, and indeed for months, even a year and more after the mutiny, it was a common thing to see a loaded pistol in a lady’s drawing-room; nay, the furniture of a house would have been considered incomplete without it.

Graham’s nerves bad been a little worked upon by what he had seen and heard, and a much slighter movement in his room than would under ordinary circumstances have been noticed awoke him, and he started up in bed.

The room was dark, but he was just able to discern a figure standing by his bedside. His first impulse was to thrust his hand under his pillow for his revolver. The movement was arrested by the voice of the intruder, whose tones were familiar to him, though he spoke almost in a whisper.

‘Sahib.’

‘Well, who are you?—what d’you want?’

‘I am Imdad Ali—is the sahib sleeping?’

‘No; what is it?’ said Graham, rubbing his eyes. ‘What in the world are you come for at this time of night, Imdad Ali?—anyone ill?’

‘No, sahib; but I have come to tell you something I have heard accidentally.’

‘Ah! what is it?’

‘I was standing outside my hut just now in the shade, and no one could see I was there—two or three men passed by, and from a few words I overheard them say, I think they are going to set fire to some sahib’s house to-night.’

‘The deuce they are!’ said Graham, jumping out of bed and beginning to put on his clothes. ‘Let’s hear all about it.’

‘Hush,’ said the other; ‘speak softly—there are servants sleeping in the verandah, and if it was known that I came here at night to give you information, my life would be sacrificed. I have nothing more to say. I do not know whose house it is that is threatened: all I know is what I have said.’

‘Have you no suspicion—did nothing they said give any hint or sign as to the house?’

‘No, nothing—yet stay, I do recollect one thing: I heard one of them after they had passed me say something about a young lady, for the other burst out laughing, and made a remark about some one’s going away to the hills.’

‘That looks as if—well, are you quite sure you heard no more?’

‘Quite, and now may I go?’

‘Yes, you had better be off, for I am going to order my horse to be got ready, and when the servants are stirring you may be seen. Here, you can go out this way: you will meet no one through the garden; the wall at the bottom separates it from the lines: get over that, and you are all right.’

Graham, who had been dressing all the time this conversation had been going on, had completed the operation, and as soon as he had allowed a little time for Imdad Ali to get clear off into the garden, he called out and ordered his horse. ‘Late as it is, I’ll go in case of accidents,’ he said: ‘the only people that are going to the hills that I know of are the Stevenses, and God forbid they should be burnt out!’

He mounted and rode off but slowly, for now it occurred to him, ‘What if the whole thing was moonshine, one of the thousand-and-one groundless rumours that were about everywhere? What more likely than that two men should be talking about burning a house?—why, they were always talking about something of the kind. In many cantonments fires had taken place, but there had been none at Islamabad. Besides, he was not on very good terms with the Stevenses; at least, he had not been near them for a long while, and did not intend to go. If the whole thing was a groundless story, how foolish he would look! it would seem as if he had entertained the idea for the sake of making an excuse out of it to go to the house.’ Full of these thoughts, he once or twice resolved to turn back, but somehow each time his resolution was overruled. ‘If it should turn out a true bill,’ he thought, ‘and I had the warning and did not give it, how bitterly should I reproach myself ever after! Better run the risk of being thought an alarmist, or snubbed for presuming on my intimacy, than take the chance of the thing being true with the warning neglected.’

Though his horse only took him at a walk, he found himself at last at Stevens’s door.

‘Tell the sahib I want to speak to him,’ he said to a sleepy servant in the verandah.

There were lights in the drawing-room, and the sounds of music and ladies’ gentle voices came from it. Graham sat on his horse and ground his teeth. Presently Stevens came out, holding his hand above his eyes to distinguish in the darkness who it was.

‘Hallo! is it you, Graham?’

‘Yes, I have something to say to you. I won’t detain you a minute, but I couldn’t feel easy without saying it, though I dare say you will think I have needlessly troubled you and myself too.’

‘What’s up—anything? Come, get off and come inside.’

‘Thank you, I’d rather not.’

‘Nonsense! you must; come in and say goodbye to the ladies; they’re off to the hills tomorrow or next day.’ Suiting the action to the word, Stevens caught hold of Graham’s arm and half dragged him off his horse. Thus importuned, Graham yielded.

‘I’ve just been warned,’ he said, as they entered the house together, ‘that there is a plot to fire some one’s house to-night, and from what little I could gather from my informant I have come to the conclusion that it was yours that was hinted at. I thought I had better warn you so far: of course it may be all humbug, but in these days it is just as well to be on the look-out.’

The lights in the drawing-room dazzled him, having just come from the outside. There were several people in the room; most of them stopped talking as they entered and looked to see who it was.

Graham’s eyes quickly singled out one among the group. She was standing by the piano with her face towards the door, and had apparently just risen from the instrument. Burleigh was close beside her, holding a music-book in his hand. There was a small crowd of red-jackets round her, whose wearers could not, I suspect, have produced a whole heart among them. Miss Leslie was the belle of ‘our station’; and not only that, but she had no rivals. Her empire was an undivided one; and more than volumes could say in her praise, is the fact that her head was never turned or the natural and unaffected grace of her manners spoilt by all the attention she received. Graham was making the best of his way towards her, encouraged by the glance of recognition she gave him as he entered, but his progress was stopped. The word ‘plot,’ significant and ill of omen, though spoken in a whisper, had fallen like a shell into the midst of that gay assembly. He and Stevens were surrounded, and asked by at least half-a-dozen different people at once ‘what was up?’

‘Nothing very serious,’ he said, fairly alarmed at the secret, as he intended to keep it, having got wind so speedily; ‘it maybe only a false alarm—at least I hope so.’

Before any reply could be given, there was a terrible commotion. A shriek from a lady who was standing by the window startled them all. As they turned towards the spot, two or three voices called out, ‘Look!’ Everyone looked at his neighbour; faces grew pale, lips white; there was an undefined murmuring of voices outside, a rushing noise, then came cries of ‘Fire!’ and the next instant a dazzling flash of light illumined half the garden, glaring through the windows and the open door, and making the lamps burn dull. Hissing, roaring, and crackling, the flames made easy way through the dry sunburnt thatch and the still drier bamboo framework of the roof. The inmates of the house were running about like ants in a disturbed nest. Some lost their presence of mind altogether, but the prevailing impression seemed to carry them all outside. Here, leaving the ladies at a safe distance in the garden, the gentlemen turned back to render what assistance they could. Meantime the bugles and drums had added to the general din by sounding the alarm, while everyone shouted for water as if all the engines of the London Brigade could have got that raging fire under. At the first instant of alarm, Mrs. Stevens had hurried to the room where her children were sleeping, followed by her sister. Stevens saw them safe outside, and then returned to try what he could do towards rescuing a little of his property. The house was full of natives in all stages of undress, some running wildly about doing nothing, others tearing down the pictures from the walls, and the window-curtains; lifting up tables, chairs, sofas, books, ornaments, and carrying them all outside: but the savage features of the natives, even of those that were assisting, wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement and frenzy by intoxicating drugs, bore one expression above all others, that of triumphant exultation. Foremost among the group outside stood Mrs. Stevens, watching, with tearless eyes and aching heart, the destruction of her happy home. Her youngest child was in her arms, while Georgy, a little fair-haired boy between three and four years old, stood by her in his little night-shirt, and with his bare feet on the gravel, clinging in terror to his mother’s dress.

The thatch of the bungalow had been fired simultaneously in four places; a gentle breeze was blowing at the time, but the heat caused by the increasing flame soon changed the quiet breeze into a strong wind that fanned the fire and added momentarily to its intensity and force. As it swept over the dry thatch and among the rafters, large pieces of burning wood and straw fell continuously in the interior of the house, igniting the carpets on the floors and any combustible material they came in contact with, and so hastened the work of destruction. The glare of the fire lit up the surrounding scene for a long distance, and shone with dazzling brightness on the faces and figures of those standing in the garden. A great deal of the furniture had been brought out by the efforts of the officers who happened to be in the house at the time, and others who had hurried to the spot at the first alarm to render what assistance they could: the servants, too, appeared zealous, but many were helping themselves to various little articles of value which they found lying about, and which they were able to secrete in the confusion without fear of detection.

Graham was indefatigable in his exertions for the unfortunate family. At imminent risk of his life, he had been the last who dared enter the flaming house, and brought away anything he could lay his hand upon. He had just returned from what he thought must be his last effort, with his arm full of books and little knickknacks from the drawing-room table and mantelpiece, which he deposited on the grass plot, and stood for an instant to gain breath and wipe away the perspiration that streamed down his forehead and cheeks. At that instant he caught sight of Mrs. Stevens, standing with her little boy by her side.

‘Poor little fellow, where are his clothes and shoes?’

‘Where are you going, Graham?’ shouted Stevens at the top of his voice, as he saw him make a dart at the house, which it was now most dangerous to enter. ‘Here, Burleigh, see the ladies into the carriage, will you?—it is just brought out into the road: take care, I dare say the horses will be frightened—I must look after this boy, he will be killed to a certainty.’

Graham, however, was more fortunate. He rushed through the entrance-room, turned to the right in the direction, as he knew, of the bedrooms; he leapt over the burning masses that lay strewed in all directions upon the floor, and gained the inner room: here the beds were standing, the children’s little cots alongside of their parents’; the little shoes of the eldest boy with some of his clothes were on a chair by the bed; he had just time to snatch them up, when a piece of burning thatch fell upon the sheets and ignited them in a moment. The passage by which he had entered was no longer available; his egress was barred by a quantity of bamboos that had just fallen in, flaming like everything else; he turned and dashed through an opposite door; here he found himself in a smaller bedroom so full of smoke, that he could scarcely see to the opposite side of the chamber. There was no time to pause, every instant his danger increased, and escape became more difficult; on, on he went through the smoke, and forced his way into a smaller room, beyond which at a glance he knew must be the sanctum, the place dedicated to the toilet of the girl he loved. Most of the articles of furniture, and the necessary apparatus of a young lady’s dressing-table, had been carried off, and all that remained was a large mirror and a little book lying beside it; he snatched up the latter as he passed, and finding a window half open, and half closed by Venetians, he dashed them open, and without acting on the whole adage of ‘Look before you leap,’ sprung through the aperture, and landed safely in the garden at the rear of the house. He hastened round to the front, and almost ran into Stevens’s arms, who was anxiously looking for him.

‘Here, I have got them,’ he said, thrusting the child’s clothes into the father’s hand, who took them with thanks and hurried after the carriage.

‘This I will keep, and give it to her myself to-morrow,’ he added to himself as he put the little book into his coat-pocket.

Mrs. Stevens and her sister and the children were very shortly after housed in Captain Murray’s bungalow, where they were very glad to feel that they were safe. Nothing more remained to be done, but to collect the scattered property into one spot in the garden, and put a guard over it. This work over, the whole party separated, leaving the ruined bungalow to smoke and burn itself out.

Chapter XIV

Early next morning, Graham, who had fallen into a sound sleep after his exertions, was aroused by a note being brought to him from the adjutant of his regiment. This contained a summons to attend at the brigadier’s quarters at 7 a.m.

When he arrived, he was ushered into the presence of the brigadier, Captain Barncliffe, and Ramchurn.

‘It has been reported to me, Mr. Graham,’ began the brigadier, ‘that you had received notice, last night, that an attempt was about to be made on Captain Stevens’s bungalow: is that the case?’

‘Not exactly, sir. I certainly did receive a warning that some house was to be fired. I guessed it was Stevens’s by a slight clue accidentally afforded. The event proved I guessed right.’

‘And are you not aware, sir,’ replied the brigadier, drawing himself up in his chair, his rotund form swelling with importance, ‘that you have committed a serious military offence? In a matter so nearly concerning the state of the garrison I command, it was your duty, sir, to have reported the matter through the usual channel for my information.’

‘You mean, I suppose,’ said Graham, scarcely able to restrain a smile, ‘that I should have sent a letter to the adjutant to go through the commanding officer to the brigade-major?’

‘Undoubtedly, sir; your proper course was to address the adjutant of your regiment. An officer of your standing could not have been ignorant of his duty in this respect.’

‘Well, sir, all I can say is, I should act on another occasion just as I did last night. I had only just time to warn Captain Stevens as it was. Had I waited to write, the warning would have been useless.’

‘Useless or not, sir, it was your duty to do so. Are the rules of the service to be infringed every day by every boy who thinks himself qualified to judge when they may be set aside? As you choose to justify your course of action instead of apologising for such an unmilitary act, I shall report the matter to the commander-in-chief. In the meantime, Captain Barncliffe, you will be good enough to communicate with Colonel Wetherall, and desire him to place this young man under arrest.’

Captain Barncliffe, who had been sitting quite quietly all the time the conference was going on, apparently listening with a deferential air to the folly his chief was giving utterance to, smiling blandly every now and then at Graham, raised his eyebrows a little with astonishment at the order given him, but recovering his former composure the instant after, merely inclined his head and said,

‘Yes sir.’

‘Indeed, the natives tell me,’ continued the brigadier, glancing at Ramchurn as much as to say, There is my source of information, ‘that the medium by which you derived that information is a very questionable one.’

‘Then the natives are—liars,’ said Graham, now thoroughly enraged.

‘This before me, sir! Leave the room!’ Graham turned and left, his cheek crimson with passion.

‘They talk about the sepoys of the Bengal army being mutinous: in my opinion, it is the officers who are mutinous, not the men,’ said the brigadier, working himself into a passion. ‘I’ll bring that young man to a court martial as sure as my name’s Cartwright. Make the necessary report. Captain Barncliffe, and draw out a statement to forward to his excellency—Gross insubordination and disrespect, and neglect of duty in not reporting the conspiracy and intent to commit incendiarism. I need not detain you any more. Good morning, Captain Barncliffe;’ and Captain Barncliffe went.

The order for putting Graham under arrest reached Colonel Wetherall in due form that morning, about half-past eight. He was astonished, as well he might be, but annoyance at the transaction overcame every other feeling. He immediately ordered his buggy and drove to Graham’s quarters. He arrived before the adjutant, through whom, as a matter of form, the order from the commanding officer had been transmitted.

He had hardly time to utter a word of condolence before the adjutant came in.

‘Here, colonel, is a circular marked “Immediate,”’ he said, on entering; ‘the brigadier’s orderly brought it. I found you were not at home; so knowing you had come here, I took it and brought it on.’

The colonel took the circular and read—‘Commanding officers of corps and detachments are directed to assemble immediately at the brigadier’s quarters. Please write, “Seen.”’

‘Well, I must be off, then,’ said the colonel, signing his initials on the envelope of the circular, and giving it to a servant. ‘The others have seen the order, so I shall be behind-hand. I’ll speak to the brigadier about you, Graham, and get this nonsense put a stop to. Good morning.’

As Colonel Wetherall drove into the brigadier’s compound, he found Captain Hornby had arrived before him, and was walking up and down in front of the house in the shade, looking anxious.

Mr. Dacres’s buggy drew up close behind the colonel’s. Harley was with him.

‘What news, Dacres?’ said Colonel Wetherall, seeing by the expression on that gentleman’s face that some affair of more than usual import had brought them together.

‘A row up country, that is all,’ replied the other. There was a sepoy standing sentry close by. ‘Come along inside; I’ll tell you all about it.’

Mr. Dacres hurriedly led the way in, followed by the rest.

‘May I beg you will desire that native to leave the room,’ said he, after shaking hands with the brigadier.

‘Who? Ramchurn? Oh, he does not understand a word of English. I assure you he has been my servant for thirty years. However, if you wish it,’ added Ramchurn’s master, seeing a look of determination on Dacres’s face, ‘I will certainly do so. Ramchurn, you may go and smoke your hooka.’

The sleek Hindu made an obeisance and departed, not, however, to smoke a pipe till he had sent off a messenger to the lines, saying, ‘that the commissioner and all the commanding officers had met at the brigadier’s house, on some very important business indeed, and that all were to be on their guard.’

‘I have some intelligence of a very grave nature to communicate to you, gentlemen: some of it you may have heard before.’ They all nodded assent except the colonel. ‘I have just received a telegram, saying that the native troops at Meerut have risen, destroyed the station, and slaughtered the whole European population. The mutineers then marched to Delhi. The native troops there joined them and the population of the city. All the Europeans have been killed, and the King of Delhi seated on the throne!’

This was indeed a communication of grave import. How many can recall the feelings with which they listened to the astounding intelligence for the first time!

The brigadier, though the announcement was not new to him, was the one most visibly affected. He fidgetted about in his chair; looked round for Ramchurn, and not seeing him, got up and began to pace nervously up and down the room.

‘Meerut!’ said Colonel Wetherall, who had not heard the report before, and was thunderstruck; why, they have the 60th Rifles and Carabiniers there.’

‘And artillery,’ added Hornby. ‘I heard of this before; the report has got about somehow in the bazaars and lines. I can only repeat here what I said to the natives, that I don’t believe a word of it.’

‘Nor I,’ said the colonel; ‘it is incredible, absolutely incredible.’

‘It is true, though, all the same,’ said Dacres. ‘Of course, it is exaggerated.’

‘Where did the telegram come from?’

‘From Allyghur.’

‘Then, depend on it, the story has picked up a good deal on its way before it reached the telegraph-office at Allyghur.’

‘Very likely; still I do not doubt that in the main it is correct. The fact of its being so universally credited is somethmg in its favour.’

‘Not much,’ said Harley: ‘reports of this sort have been about constantly lately, though I confess there is too much reason to believe this to be true to a certain extent; yet if it were to turn out false, I should not be very much surprised.’

‘What could the Carabiniers have been about?’ again urged Colonel Wetherall. ‘Why, had they followed them up with a troop of the Carabiniers and a couple of guns, even supposing they had got clear off after mutinying and setting fire to their lines—it is not likely they did anything worse—still they might have annihilated them surely before they got to Delhi. That part of the story, therefore, about the rising at Delhi, it seems impossible to believe. And if that is false, probably the whole is.’

‘Besides, they have an artillery officer in command at Meerut,’ said Hornby; ‘nothing will induce me to believe that he could allow a few sepoys to sack a station and get off scot free—it can’t be true.’

‘Nevertheless, strange as it may seem, I tell you it is substantially correct,’ replied Dacres. ‘Do not deceive yourselves, this is but the beginning—no, I am wrong there— the beginning was at Barrackpore the other day, when they turned those mutineers out in such a ridiculous way, as if with the avowed object of spreading disaffection over the whole country. That was the beginning, this is the continuation—we are not out of the wood yet, depend on it.’

Hornby muttered something about ‘an alarmist,’ and ‘a timid old gentleman,’ which Dacres did not, however, condescend to notice, but turned to the brigadier, and asked him if there was any particular course of action he intended to pursue in which the civil authorities could aid and co-operate.

Before any answer could be given, a buggy drove up to the door, and in rushed Murray.

‘Have you heard the news?’ he called out in his stentorian voice; ‘never heard such a thing in my life—can’t be true—all the sepoys!’

‘Hush,’ said Dacres; ‘better not talk too Joud—the natives—’

‘The natives! pshaw! they know all about it—so much for your telegraphs and telegrams—they got the news just as soon as you did.’

‘Perhaps they were expecting it,’ said Barncliffe, speaking for the first time.

‘Just as soon,’ continued Murray, still bawling as if he wished to make everyone within a mile of the house hear him. ‘Inayut Ally, one of my native officers, came running breathless up from the lines to tell me.’

‘What did he say?’ asked two or three voices at once.

‘He said that all the native army had mutinied, murdered every European, woman and child, in every station in India, except Islamabad, and that the King of Delhi was ‘badshah’ now!’

The effect of the announcement, which appeared to carry more weight with it than Mr. Dacres’s, though pretty much to the same tenor, varied according to the difference in the character of each of the hearers. The brigadier’s hasty shambling walk became a sort of uncomfortable amble, at which pace he went up and down, and then round and round the room, muttering all the time, ‘It isn’t true, it can’t be true, I won’t believe it,’ and suchlike declarations of incredulity.

Captain Hornby, who had come in uniform, sat with his sword between his legs playing with his sword-knot, and began to whistle. Dacres had an arm resting on the table, leaning his head against his clenched hand, while with the other he drummed the devil’s tattoo upon the sissoo wood. Harley exhibited no outward signs of emotion at all, but nursed his left leg on his right, and watched with apparent amusement and some contempt the brigadier. Colonel Wetherall walked leisurely up to the window and looked out, with his back to the company. Captain Barncliffe got very white in the face, and began mechanically turning over the pages of a ‘Torrens,’ while Murray balanced himself on the arm of a chair, and looked first at one and then at another, and, like Hornby, began to whistle. The awkward silence was broken at length by the brigadier, who, unable to bear the separation any longer, ejaculated—‘Ramchurn!’

Now Ramchurn had gone to smoke as bidden; but after the first whiff, it occurred to him he might just as well, now that the coast was clear, return to the outside of the door, as he was not allowed in, and listen to what the sahibs were talking about. He had seen Murray come in, and was in time to overhear all that officer had said.

Obedient to his master’s voice, he pushed open the door and thrust his head inside.

‘Take your ugly mug out of this, you black devil!’ shouted Murray with a threatening movement towards the object of his aversion.

The brigadier stopped, stared at the Irregular Cavalry officer a moment or two, and then continued his shuffling gait in silence. Dacres was the next to speak. Repeating his former words, he said—

‘Have you any particular course of action to recommend, brigadier? The intelligence is no doubt but too true in the main: I shall be happy to render any assistance in my power towards carrying out your views; and as all the senior officers are present, it would be well to discuss any plan or suggestion for our common safety.’

‘Yes,’ said the brigadier after a short reflection; ‘I have decided on the first step.’ ‘Colonel Wetherall,’ he added, addressing that officer, ‘will you be good enough to assemble a regimental committee to inspect and report upon the quarter-guard and the magazine? As soon as the duplicate reports have been sent into the brigade-office, I will direct a station committee to assemble. The attention of the committee should be drawn especially to the question, whether these buildings are fire-proof or not.’

Colonel Wetherall indicated assent, smiling as he did so. Harley thrust the head of his riding-cane he had in his hand right into his mouth, and by extending his cheek from the inside to the fullest extent practicable, kept himself from laughing. Barncliffe, with that peculiar expression which you knew not whether to interpret as a sign he was inwardly amused or not, made a pencil note of the order in the book in which he was accustomed to make entries of the kind.

‘And I think, gentlemen,’ continued the brigadier, ‘I may as well take this opportunity of remarking, that considering the unsettled state of public affairs, it would be as well if you would send in the half-yearly and quarterly returns that are usually sent in on the 1st May. You have received none as yet, have you. Captain Barncliffe?’

‘Very few, sir.’

‘Bad habit—it’s a bad habit gentlemen allowing these things to get into arrears: pray stir up your quartermaster, colonel, about it.’

Dacres, scarce able to control himself, rose to go. ‘Would it not be as well to have a picket of irregular cavalry to patrol the station at night, and another over the guns to protect them?’ he asked as he turned towards the door.

‘Why irregular cavalry?’ asked Colonel Wetherall, turning sharply on him; ‘why not infantry, sir?’

‘What the deuce do you want a picket to protect the guns for?’ asked Captain Hornby, at the same moment and with some asperity.

‘I’ll back my men to put down mutiny in a corps of English dragoons,’ said Murray.

‘I have been with my regiment for thirty years,’ said the colonel, ‘and I think I ought to know them.’

‘The officers at Delhi and Meerut were shot by their own men,’ said Harley.

This remark fell like a wet blanket on the party: they were silent and mused for a moment.

‘We ought to show confidence in our men.’ said the colonel.

‘Decidedly, you are quite right. Colonel Wetherall—nothing like showing confidence.’ said the brigadier: ‘suppose we have a patrol of cavalry and a picket of infantry over the guns?’

‘I don’t want pickets sent down to my lines to inoculate my men with disaffection,’ said Captain Hornby.

‘I cannot allow you, Hornby, to throw discredit on my regiment in that way: why should an infantry picket inoculate your men with disaffection?’

‘Has not the mutiny been confined to the infantry and cavalry?’ retorted the artillery officer.

‘No Irregulars in it,’ shouted Murray.

‘The Meerut and Delhi regiments were badly disciplined,’ said the colonel; ‘my men are staunch, I will stake my existence on it.’

‘We all do that pretty much,’ remarked Barncliffe.

‘My men will never leave their guns,’ said Hornby.

‘Nor mine their colours,’ said the colonel.

‘Nor mine their standards,’ said Murray.

Harley was vastly amused. ‘Better let each corps patrol its own lines,’ he said with a sneer.

‘Quite so,’ said the brigadier: ‘an excellent suggestion, Mr. Harley; we military men are not above taking advice from civilians. Colonel Wetherall, will you have a patrol and picket of your own men? And you, Captain Murray, can do the same with yours.’

‘Better go on as if nothing had happened,’ said Barncliffe.

‘Yes, after all, I think that would be the best plan,’ said the brigadier: ‘we’ll go on just as if nothing had happened, and let this excitement blow over. There is a good deal of excitement in the lines, is there not?’

‘None in mine,’ said Colonel Wetherall, indignantly.

‘Nor mine,’ said Murray.

Hornby would not deign to answer.

No one having any further suggestion to offer, there ensued here rather an awkward silence. It was not of long duration, for Dacres signed to Harley to go, and accordingly they rose and left, the others following their example. And so the council of war broke up, and the brigadier was left alone again with Ramchurn.

Chapter XV

The next morning the usual party assembled at the mess of the 75th to ‘chota hazri,’ which is a meal, I must observe, for the information of the uninitiated, taken at any time from 6 to 8 a.m., consisting, where gentlemen alone are present, of tea and coffee, bread, butter, toast, brandy and soda-water, any or all of these promiscuously (and the same when ladies partake of it, except the last two ingredients). Most of the officers of the 75th, and generally two or three of the other residents, met here every morning to discuss this indispensable morning meal, and their neighbours’ affairs at the same time, for it is allowed on all hands that scandal forms the staple subject of conversation at these times. On the morning in question, however, they had something more important to talk about, and, accordingly, took up the subject of the mutiny at the point where it had been dropped when the party at the mess-table broke up the night before, and went on with it, much to the edification of two Mahometan servants who stood behind the group of officers, one on each side, with arms folded, and an expression in their faces of the utmost apathy and unconcern. When my readers are informed that these men understood almost every word that was said, they will be able to judge how much they must have been edified by the conversation carried on very much in the following style:—

‘Any news, Hornby?’ asked one or two voices at once, as that officer rode up to the verandah and dismounted.

‘No; I’ve just been to the post-office, and there’s no up-country post in.’

‘Deuced rum,’ said one.

‘Devilish odd,’ said another.

‘Who’d have thought it?’ moralised Dickenson, the adjutant; ‘these sepoys that we slave away our lives for, that we’ve done everything in the world for—’

‘Even sending them to drill,’ said young Kingsley, the youngest ensign in the corps, who, having a pardonable horror of drill, and the courage to ‘cheek’ the adjutant, went commonly by the sobriquet of ‘Young Cocky’—‘blest, if I was a Jack, if I wouldn’t do as they’ve done.’

‘The devil you would, Cocky! wait till you have to pass your drill, and then see,’ retorted Dickenson, laughing.

‘By all accounts we shall none of us live so long as that,’ said another young fellow named Milford, the senior ensign.

‘Don’t be profane,’ said Cocky, with mock solemnity. ‘Don’t you see, here’s Cursing Blunt coming to keep you in order.’

‘Ax,’ was the laconic reply of his brother-ensign.

At this moment Graham came up, along with another officer of the regiment named Cochrane. Blunt was a little behind.

‘Hallo, Graham,’ said two or three, speaking together. ‘How is it you’re here? We thought you were under arrest.’

‘Well, you see I’m not. Murray managed it right well. The colonel, he went to the old brig, and talked and talked; but it was of no use, he was as obstinate as a pig. Then Stevens tried—no go; at last Murray got hold of Kamchum, gave him four rupees and a little palaver, letting him know what ’twas for, and, would you believe it, sir? before an hour the colonel got a letter through the brigade-office, telling him to release me from arrest, pending a report to the general.’

‘That wasn’t a bad dodge, by Jove. Next time I want leave, I’ll have a go at Ramchurn.’

‘Nice business it will be if we have a row here, with this old fool in command!—why, we shall be up a tree in no time,’ said Cochrane.

‘Gone coons,’ laconically observed Sody.

‘Don’t talk such rot, man: row, why should we have a row here?’ said Hornby. ‘Men can’t mutiny when there are guns to watch them.’

‘Besides, why should our men mutiny?’ said Sody. ‘They’re the quietest set of fellows in the world.’

‘Don’t be too sure,’ said Graham. ‘My old father, who served for thirty years with sepoys, has often said to me, “Depend on it, if ever the sepoys find out their power, they’ll use it.”’

‘Well, perhaps they might,’ said another; ‘but I’ll never believe they would assassinate their officers. They might take the country from us, and all that, but I would trust them with my life and honour to the last.’

‘Would you?’ said Blunt, a grey-haired man, somewhat red in the face, the senior captain with the corps. ‘I knew cursed well these cursed sepoys would cut our throats some day—cursed black brutes.’

‘I almost wonder you stayed so long in the service, if them’s your sentiments,’ said Kingsley.

‘Shows what you youngsters know about it,’ growled Blunt, for the first time for a very long period having given utterance to a whole sentence without any of what Robert Hall calls the devil’s peppercorn rent.

‘Well, all I can say is, if the Jacks liked—mind you, I don*t think they do want to—but if they liked, they could turn us out of the country in no time,’ said Sody.

‘What rot!’ said another; ‘couldn’t we pit Hindu against Mussulman, if they did choose to break out, as they say they’ve done, and make them cut one another’s throats?’ The two servants might have been seen, if anyone had been watching them, to glance at one another, and move a pace nearer the speakers on each side so as to hear better. Their motions, as their presence, were utterly disregarded, however.

‘No need for that,’ said Egerton, an artillery officer in Hornby’s battery. ‘We’ll have plenty of Europeans up here soon, and then we can make these damned brutes shut their mouths. I’d give the Hindus a dish of roast beef all round, and the Mussulmen a ham apiece, and wash it down with pig’s blood.’

This idea was greeted with a shout of laughter. The two servants looked at one another again.

‘What the deuce are these new cartridges they make Such a fuss about?’ said Cochrane. ‘I’ve never seen one.’

‘Well, I have,’ said Dickenson, ‘The colonel has a few sent up by post. I saw them yesterday.’

‘Well, are they greased or not?’

‘Greased—yes, of course they are, with pig’s fat, too, for all I know—that is, the paper they’re made of.’

‘Then all I can say is, it is a damned shame the government making us take an oath to the men that the cartridges are not greased, when they are.’

‘Mind you, I did not say they were to be issued, or had been; only the ones the colonel has are decidedly greased.’

‘Then, if they are not going to issue them, why have they introduced the new platoon exercise?’ said Cochrane. Dickenson shrugged his shoulders.

‘It looks deuced like issuing them, any way; for the last hundred years the men have been biting off the end of their cartridges, and now they are taught a new platoon exercise, by which they break them off without putting them to their mouths at all; and yet they are told there is to be no change whatever. It is enough to make them mutiny.’

‘Curse their mutiny—they never do anything but mutiny. There’s that cursed pay-sergeant of mine never leaves me alone for a day, but he comes up with his cursed accounts,’ said Blunt. ‘The only way to manage the natives, is to make them all Christians—curse them.’

‘It will go precious hard with us if there is a row here,’ said Hornby. ‘I heard Dacres say myself, that if the Nawab turned against us—and he wasn’t at all sure of him—not a soul of us would be able to get out of the district.’

‘Oh, as to that matter, if they like, of course they can murder us like sheep,’ said Dickenson. ‘Why, bless me, they have only to put men with loaded muskets, or say, two men at each of our doors, sound the alarm at night, And murder us as we go out.’

‘Yes; or if they were to surround the mess-house, how easily they might do for most of us, at any rate!’

‘And the ladies and children?’

‘God help them!’ muttered Graham, who had taken but little part in the conversation.

The party soon afterwards broke up, the officers all retiring to their respective houses, for it began to get hot. The two servants, who had been much edified at this conversation, took away the plates, cups and saucers, and then took themselves off to the lines, where they repeated in the ears of the already excited sepoys every word they had heard, with such additions, amendments, and colouring as their prejudices, heightened by religious fanaticism, inclined them to.

Chapter XVI

It is not easy to describe the state of disquietude and excitement that prevailed at Islamabad, after the terrible shock occasioned by the announcement of the outbreak. One or two families of the officers quartered there, and of the non-military residents left, preferred running the risk of travelling during that time of general excitement to remaining in the station, which many began to look upon as doomed. They all reached Allahabad, or some other place of safety, after various adventures, which I cannot now pause to recount, and which are of no importance to the history. My business is only to follow out the adventures and the fate of those that remained behind.

In a very few days, letters came from stations to the south and west, with which communication had not been as yet cut off by the rebels, giving details, doubtless much exaggerated, of the disasters at Meerut and Delhi. The whole European community of India seemed to have been struck by a sudden blow, like a ship at sea caught in a typhoon before any arrangement had been made to meet the fury of the storm. Many, who had friends and dear relatives at distant places, opened their letters almost with trembling hands, fearful of the disclosures that might be made. It was commonly reported, and by a vast number actually believed, that Islamabad was the only place in India where any European was left alive. Stories were invented and massacres described in the minutest detail, and accounts given of occurrences that had taken place at distant stations, from which it was utterly impossible that any could have been received. No matter; people were more eager to devour the information they got, than to examine its source.

Natives of course believed all these stories, and took pleasure in repeating them, magnifying each time they passed from one to another every occurrence that could serve to alarm those who were weak-minded enough to attend to and encourage them. Officers talked to one another of the probable behaviour of their men in the crisis which they foresaw must come sooner or later; ladies talked to their ayahs, and allowed the latter to frighten them to their heart’s content with all sorts of evil prognostications, almost with threats. Many of the domestic servants became insolent to a degree that was absolutely unbearable, Mrs. Stevens’s little boy came running into their drawing-room one afternoon, saying that his bearer had told him that he would be killed, and begging his mamma to protect him. When she went out to remonstrate with the man, he was grossly insolent, and left the house muttering that in a few days he would be the master and she the servant. Mrs. Barncliffe went into her dressing-room suddenly, and found her ayah trying on one of her best dresses, and admiring her figure before the glass: the girl, when she found she was caught, excused herself by saying she thought her mistress had given her the dress, but, as she had not, she would put it back again for a day or two. The generality, however, of the servants exhibited no such insolent behaviour, but performed their work as usual. The native soldiers of all arms were particularly attentive to their duties, and more than usually respectful to their European superiors. The native officers, ever loud in their protestations of fidelity, could find no language strong enough to condemn the conduct of their fellow-countrymen at Delhi and Meerut. The brigadier had had all his fears allayed by the arguments of the faithful Ramchurn, who very easily persuaded him to banish from his mind all distrust, if he ever had any, of his faithful domestics and the sepoys. On the whole, the way in which the English residents discussed public affairs was to be accounted for only by the most utter recklessness or indifference to the danger of their position, or that habitual confidence in their servants and subordinates which had become a second nature.

Officers openly debated in presence of servants and of their men—who, they took for granted, understood nothing of what they said—the plans for their escape, should an outbreak really occur, thus revealing what should have been kept a profound secret if it was to be of any service. What would be the fate of those who, from a sense of duty, remained with their men to the last?—what the fate of the ladies and children, exposed to imminent perils, and dangers all the more terrible because uncertain and undefined? The accounts that had been received of the outbreak at Meerut and Delhi, had come interspersed with all the horrible and heartrending details of atrocities and outrages upon human nature which were so prevalent in the earlier stages of the mutiny,and which were not discovered to be exaggerated till months after.

As time went on, difficulties increased. Unseen though real dangers assumed a tangible form. Servants became unmanageable, impertinent, and openly dishonest. Night after night there were alarms of fire in some part of the cantonment: the residents started from their beds at the first blast of the alarm-bugle, and rushed out to see if it was their own residence or another’s in flames. These fires were not by any means always so destructive as they were intended to be; precautions had been taken, water was at hand, and, strange to say, assistance readily, and to all appearance willingly, rendered by the sepoys and a portion of the servants. Every man slept with loaded pistols under his pillow, and a sword by his bed-side. Even ladies learnt the use of firearms, and kept revolvers on the drawing-room table, or near at hand. The weather, too, was, as it always is at that time of the year, intensely hot, and fathers and mothers thought sorrowfully of what must be the fate of their little ones should they be driven from the shelter of their homes and forced to undergo the exposure of a long journey on foot under the scorching rays of a May sun. It was a time of fearful anxiety—of terrible suspense, not unaptly portrayed in those awful passages of Holy Writ which describe the latter days of the world’s history.

Strange was the contrast between the two heads of the civil and military departments. Brigadier Cartwright, incapable at any time, was now not only an encumbrance, but an actual source of mischief. Relying entirely on the fidelity of his factotum and confidant, Ramchurn, he imparted to that worthy all the information he received respecting events at distant places, and all the plans that were discussed, with which he was acquainted, by the residents at Islamabad for providing for their own security. Beyond this, and signing committee reports, and issuing daily brigade orders utterly useless in their tendency, he did nothing; nor could he be induced to do anything by the persuasions of his brigade-major or Colonel Wetherall, the only two officers in the place who had the least influence with him.

Mr. Dacres, on the contrary, was indefatigable in his exertions to make the most of the slender resources at his disposal. Utterly distrusting all his native subordinates, he yet kept up such an appearance of confidence that they were entirely deceived, while he made use of their services, gladly rendered, as they fancied they served only to fasten the net more tightly round the victims. He sent messengers out to neighbouring stations to gain intelligence, and more than one spy he sent to Delhi, taking care, however, to entrust them with nothing which could be of use to the enemy should they prove faithless.

The nearest place to which they could send for succour was Aurungabad. At this station there was a large civil community, and a strong fort, within whose walls the European and Christian residents would be safe. They had a whole regiment of Europeans and a troop of artillery at this place, but, as Dacres well knew, their strength, small as it was, would be crippled in the day of action by the incompetence of the commander. From this quarter, then, there was but little hope of relief. Cowards are always selfish, and if Brigadier Littlesole, commanding at Aurungabad, was not a coward, he, by all accounts, was as likely to cut off his right arm and send it to Islamabad as to spare a detachment and a gun or two from his force unless ordered, though the number capable of bearing arms among the civil residents would have been ample to hold the fort. Report said, too, that the 159th Muffineers, the only European regiment at Aurungabad, were even then in a state of semi-mutiny, and liable to be panic-struck the first day they were led into the field, so little confidence had they in their officers.

Rather than look for assistance from that quarter, he was inclined to regard Mitterpoor, the next station, and it was the only other station in the whole province that had a European garrison, as the most likely source from whence he might receive aid. There was a major-general there, for it was the headquarters of a division, and the divisional commandant was more likely to take the responsibility of sending a force to their assistance than the officers subordinate to him, as was Brigadier Littlesole at Aurungabad; and the major-general was not only more likely to take this responsibility, but, what was of even more consequence perhaps, he was more likely to feel the responsibility he would incur by refusing the solicited aid.

It may well be supposed that the ladies, sharing with their lords as they did the danger, suffered no less from the anxieties of the time. As with the men, so with the women, the abnormal state of the moral atmosphere produced different results in acting upon different peculiarities of character. Many of the ladies, feeling themselves so utterly dependent upon others who were in their turn helpless, or next to helpless, placed their confidence in the invincible shield of Providence, or resigned themselves faithfully and trustfully to His will. Others again, with weaker minds, but perhaps as much principle, exhibited in their conduct the strangest inconsistencies, which a moraliser, who left out of account the curious effects on the conduct which conflicting principles and passions, and the weaknesses of human nature, not unfrequently produce, might have been at a loss to account for, except in that last support of a baffled philosophy, insanity.

I have not yet introduced the reader to the interior of the colonel’s house, where, in all matters of domestic detail, female genius in the bodily forms of Mrs. Wetherall and her friend Miss Trinchinopoly reigned supreme. Mrs. Wetherall was a good old soul as ever lived; not over-refined, and, at the time of life she had reached when this story commences, with few attractions, though in her younger days tradition said she had been the belle of many a ball-room, and broken the heart of many a bachelor. Her experience in married life had been pretty extensive, having had for a first husband an indigo-planter, next a civilian, and, thirdly, the gallant colonel himself, who espoused her when Captain Wetherall. She was goodnature and kindness personified; aware that she was not possessed of many attractions of person or accomplishment, she wisely endeavoured to make up for their absence by other qualities, in the exercise of which every woman may become useful long after she has ceased to be ornamental. She did her best to keep the colonel’s house for him nicely, that is, as he liked, and as became the commanding officer of a regiment of the Bengal Army: and she made a point of adding as much as she could to the comfort of all the officers of the regiment, who were not above receiving these aids from her; and if in doing this she occasionally laid herself open to the charge of interfering and of indelicacy, all I can say is, it is not in human nature to be perfect.

Of Miss Trinchinopoly, I am sorry to say I can give but a very incomplete history. Who she was, and whence she came, and what was her relation to the colonel and his wife, if any, and what her position in his household, was always a mystery. It is extremely doubtful, I think, if even the colonel himself could have answered a question upon either one of these points. It was rumoured for a long time that she was the daughter of a Madras officer; but Dr. Mactartan, a native of Aberdeen, who was at the time I am speaking of in medical charge of the 76th N. I., very soon after joining the regiment discovered that this tradition merely rested on the slender grounds of the lady’s name being Trinchinopoly, on which foundation the superstructure of the story of her deceased father having been a Madras officer solely rested. This theory being proved untenable, public opinion was utterly baffied in its attempt to fathom the depth of Miss Trinchinopoly’s former history; even Dr. Mactartan was obliged to confess himself utterly non-plussed, and he often used to declare he should be quite ashamed to show his face in his native city after being defeated in his attempt to discover the past history of one out of the many individuals with whom he had been brought much in contact.

As it is not intended to make anything out of the mystery in which Miss Trinchinopoly’s antecedents were involved to add interest to the plot of this history, I shall say no more on the subject, further than that at the period when this lady is first introduced to my readers she was residing, evidently as an honoured guest, in the coloners house, in spite of Mrs. Barncliffe’s hints and innuendoes that she was a paid companion of Mrs. Wetherall, or Captain Blunt’s bold assertion that she was the colonel’s second wife. She was a buxom lass of the mystic age of forty; fair, and fat into the bargain; comfortable in circumstances evidently, whether she drew a monthly pension from a military or widow’s fund, or an annuity from an insurance office. She was always in good spirits, had invariably an excellent appetite, and was quite capable, which a great many people are not, of fully appreciating a joke. She was not superhuman however, and shared in the common weaknesses of human nature; consequently it is not to be wondered at, that the intelligence of the mutiny, and the uncomfortable aspect of affairs at Islamabad, disquieted her as it did other people. She and the colonel’s wife, however, did their best to provide against any accidents. They considered it necessary to make their preparations for flight at night, when the servants could not see what they were doing, as they endeavoured to carry out the colonel’s views, and keep up a show of confidence to the last. Not that Mrs. Wetherall in the least distrusted the sepoys of her husband’s regiment—far from it; there was nothing to be feared from them, of that she was convinced—it was the irregular cavalry she dreaded. Miss Trinchinopoly, who kept up her hypothetical connection with the sister presidency, dreaded all alike, and remarked that she had never felt secure ever since she had been in the Bengal presidency. Mrs. Wetherall, then, by way of being always prepared for flight, sewed up a quantity of rupees in a system of mysterious rows in a corded petticoat, placing them one against the other edgeways; in this manner she had three hundred rupees current coin of the realm always ready to carry off with her, while at the same time the silver circular bars served as crinoline, and helped to set off her figure to the best advantage: she of course could not change this garment, or leave it about, or send it to be washed, and it occasionally occurred to her as a very awkward conjunction of affairs, if the sepoys were to delay the mutiny, what arrangements she should make with regard to the washing of the article in question. Miss Trinchinopoly had a good many rather valuable jewels; these she collected, and sewed up in a kind of semicircular pincushion form, adding a little cotton wool as stuffing, and then, by the aid of two pieces of tape, she was able to wear the article tied round her waist just below the small of the back, with considerable effect upon the figure, and comparative safety as regarded the concealed valuables.

Mrs. Barncliffe adopted the more simple plan of putting all her jewels in her jewel-case, and sleeping with it under her pillow every night, keeping it as much as possible in her sight all the day. After the lapse of about a week, it occurred to her to open the case to see if the jewels were all right, when she found they had all been abstracted, and bits of gravel placed there instead.

Captain Murray was so firmly convinced of the fidelity of his gallant Irregulars, that he not only considered all precautions on the part of his wife utterly unnecessary, but absolutely forbade her to take any, lest she should exhibit want of confidence. Mrs. Stevens, whose anxiety for her children was beyond all description, and who had already had a foretaste of what was coming in the destruction of her house by fire, felt herself unable to take any precautionary measures at all: she tried to console herself, and to place confidence in the only Arm able to protect her and her dear ones; but many and many a tear rolled down her cheek, as she sat alone watching her children sleeping, and thought of what might befal them.

Her sister was another source of great anxiety, and added greatly to their danger. She and her husband had long ago set their hearts upon her marrying Burleigh; but the latter, though evidently much in love, had not come forward, and even if he did it was very doubtful how his advances would be received. As for Miss Leslie herself, I am not at liberty to disclose the exact state of her feelings; perhaps she could not have done so herself; but this I do know, that on the morning after the fire a little packet was put into her hands, which, in the confusion attending their sudden removal to Mrs. Murray’s house, and consequent unsettled state of domestic affairs in that lady’s establishment, she found time and opportunity to open in the privacy of her own apartment. It contained a little book of private devotional exercises to which she was especially attached (it had been her constant companion through many years and in a distant land and happy home), which she supposed had been consumed along with the rest of the property in the house, and was accompanied by a small note that ran as follows:—

‘To Miss Leslie—recovered from the fire by A. G.’

Graham’s perilous adventure and courageous leap into the burning house, which she had heard her brother-in-law speak of in such high terms of admiration, flashed across her mind, and then she thought of Burleigh’s apparent apathy and lack of zeal: the comparison in the young girl’s mind was not favourable to the latter. She sat with the book in her lap, for some little time absorbed in thought; at last it seemed to occur to her that it was necessary to send an answer, so she went and fetched writing materials from the drawing-room and wrote a short note expressing her warmest gratitude for the attention.

The note being folded and enclosed, she took it out to give it to the servant, there being no one within call owing to the confusion in the household. As she passed through the drawing-room, she found it filled. Captain and Mrs. Murray were both there, and the baby roaring; her sister was also there, and her little boy, who was crying at the loss of some of his playthings he missed. Burleigh also was there, who greeted her as she entered, and seeing her taking the note into the verandah, offered to deliver it himself. She was obliged to accept the offer, as to have refused it would have excited more attention than she wished. She gave it to him unwillingly, saying, ‘It is for Mr. Graham’s man,’ and, despite all her efforts to look calm and unconcerned, a treacherous blush crimsoned her cheeks. Her sister did not notice it; Burleigh did, and looked thoughtful as he took the note out to give it to the servant.

Chapter XVII

A few days after Graham was released from arrest, he started considerably before gun-fire one morning and rode out to the tomb at Chunderbagh alone. He arrived there just as the sun rose, and fastening his horse to a tree, went inside the tomb, and commenced a searching investigation of the interior of the building. He easily found the spot where the glass had been shattered by his pistol-shot on the night he had previously visited the place. There was no appearance of anyone having been there since; except that there was no aperture whatever visible in the wall. This aperture he had seen on the former occasion. After a very careful scrutiny, he discovered, or thought he discovered, one stone, the cement around which had a slight appearance of being new; he scraped off the surface with a penknife, and his suspicions were confirmed; the stone had been recently put in, and the new cement covered with dust or earth to give it the same appearance as the old. Diligently and perseveringly he followed up this discovery, until he had loosened the stone sufficiently to draw it out. There was an aperture, and evidently a chamber beyond the wall; but it was too dark to distinguish its size, or form, or depth. He threw a few little stones through; they fell on a hard floor, and that was all he could learn. Without tools and assistance it was impossible to proceed further, so he replaced the stone, and leaving as few vestiges as possible of his visit and operations, he mounted his horse and rode back to Islamabad. He first went to Mr. Dacres, and told him what he had found out. The discovery, unimportant as it was in itself, seemed to the commissioner to be well worth following up, and they determined to pursue the investigation that night. It was necessary to get tools and another hand to help in using them, and they resolved to solicit Stevens’s co-operation. It was arranged that Graham and Stevens, if he would go, of which there was little doubt, should start in a buggy about sunset, taking a couple of pickaxes and crowbars and a lantern in the buggy with them, where they could be tolerably concealed, and adopt the precaution of setting off in their drive in exactly an opposite direction, to avoid arousing the suspicions of the servants, while Mr. Dacres would set out at the same time on horseback by a different road, and meet them at the tomb shortly after nightfall.

When Stevens and Graham drove up, it was pitch dark under the shade of the trees: the neighing of a horse as they approached, however, warned them that Dacres had already arrived. They had none of them brought servants; so, tying their animals to the trees some way apart, they set out on their errand. It was agreed that one should remain outside and keep a good look-out; for although there was no actual danger of any sort to be apprehended, it was very desirable to avoid if possible exciting the attention of the people about, or arousing their curiosity as to the proceedings of the ‘sahibs,’ even though their search after a mystery should end in nothing more than the discovery of a mare’s nest.

Mr. Dacres agreed to take the first watch, and commenced his look-out, keeping carefully under the darker shade of the wall of the building, and walking slowly round it so as to watch all sides. Meantime Stevens and Graham, after lighting the lamp, proceeded to investigate the scene of their intended explorations. Graham easily found the place which had attracted his attention in the morning: everything was just in the same state as he had left it, and he very soon showed Stevens the aperture in the masonry. After this, their work was mere manual labour, and right heartily they went at it; the crowbar was inserted, and both their combined efforts directed to loosening the stones on either side. The night was intensely close and hot, and, with the exertion, the perspiration dropped from their brows like rain, as it did with the knight in Melrose Abbey when he dug up the tombstone by his unaided efforts. Once, and once only, were they disturbed, when, on a signal from Mr. Dacres, they ceased their work, and darkened the lantern in a moment. The disturbing object, however, proved nothing more than a stray bullock which accidentally wandered in that direction, and the two went at the crowbar again with redoubled zeal and energy. After about an hour and a half spent in really hard labour, they had succeeded in making an opening large enough to admit of their entering, or crawling in one by one. Graham, as the first discoverer, went in first, and held the lamp while the others followed. They found themselves in a tolerably sized chamber, which, on the side opposite that by which they had entered, seemed to communicate with a passage. Concealing their working implements on the ground, and seeing that their revolvers were all ready for action, they advanced along this passage. It was narrow, and so low that they were obliged to stoop; but it was quite clear of obstruction, and they advanced without halting for a distance which seemed to them nearly a quarter of a mile, though they may have been too much excited to guess very exactly. At first it was a steep descent, then level for a long distance, and at last they began to ascend, and soon found themselves breathing fresher air than they had below; and after scrambling up a small flight of old and dilapidated stone steps, they reached an apartment, apparently the lower story of a native dwelling-house, having other stories above it. From the direction they had started in—and they had taken no turning worth speaking of—Dacres concluded they must have either reached, or were coming very near, the house of Meer Ali Moorad, a wealthy and influential Mahometan resident of Islamabad, and now holding a high judicial post. He had an estate and a country seat, Mr. Dacres knew, near Chunderbagh, situated very much on the spot, which, as well as he could judge of the direction they had taken, they had now arrived at.

The comparative position of the tomb and the house rendered this the more probable. The latter stood on an elevated plateau of alluvial soil overlooking lower ground below, on which the tomb was built; and this would account for the ascent they had made, considerably greater than the descent by which the passage commenced. The Sudder Ameen’s house was built on the site of an old fort, which I shall have occasion hereafter to allude to, in ancient days the stronghold, so tradition ran, of an influential dacoitee (robber) chief, whose descendants, though long since ousted from the family property, even now retained no small share of the hereditary influence, and, if report said true, the marauding habits, of their ancestors.

In making any further progress the very utmost caution was requisite, and they proceeded in their examination as carefully as any gang of housebreakers that ever pursued their unhallowed calling with the fear of Newgate before their eyes.

At the further corner of the apartment they found themselves in, there was a door leading to a second flight of steps; up these they went, and along a passage, a sudden turn in which, however, revealed something that made them stop and deprive themselves of the little allowance of light they had indulged in up to this moment.

From the spot they were standing on they could just discern that the passage terminated immediately in front in an open gallery, open that is to say on the right-hand side, which looked down into a court-yard; on the left was a wall, but pierced at the elevation of about three feet from the floor of the gallery with a row of lattice-work windows, or carved marble screens, about a foot and a half or two feet square, which form so common an arrangement, combining use and ornament, in Oriental houses. Through this lattice-work a not very brilliant light was shining, and the fact of voices being audible from within was positive proof that the apartment was tenanted. The three explorers halted and listened attentively. They very soon became convinced of the fact that the speakers, whose voices were now plainly heard in the stillness of the night, were women; and the fact was easily followed up to the conclusion to which it led, that they had somehow or other managed to penetrate into the portion of the Mahometan gentleman’s house set apart for the ladies. It was, or might prove to be, an awkward dilemma, and the three English gentlemen, under a simultaneous impulse of fear of being discovered in such a discreditable position, severally, though simultaneously, turned to retrace their steps: as they did so, however, the words ‘kaffir’ and ‘feringhee,’ uttered in loud tones by one of the female speakers, and coupled with epithets as little to be mistaken as they were uncomplimentary to the class alluded to, and followed by shouts and screams of laughter, induced them to stop. The repetition of the phrases and of the laughter induced them to advance still closer to the spot whence they proceeded. Once under the lattice window, it was the easiest thing in the world to raise themselves a little from the stooping position they were forced to assume, and look through the screen at the scene within, without the smallest fear of discovery from the inmates.

It was a curious spectacle, and a very novel one too, that met their gaze. Few Englishmen, certainly none of the three present, had ever before looked undisturbed and unnoticed into the sanctum sanctorum, the penetralia of a Mahometan gentleman: nor, had they been discovered, would they have lived to record their experience for the benefit of their fellow-countrymen and their posterity. Shall I borrow the language and sentiments of Tom Moore, or plagiarise from Don Juan, to describe what they did see? It was nothing very wonderful, after all. There were certainly half-a-dozen or so of Eastern beauties, in all the loveliness, whatever that was, of unveiled features: they were in dishabille too, though clad sufficiently to show that the virtue of modesty is a plant indigenous in the female mind, and grows of itself luxuriantly enough, without requiring any of the concomitant influences of civilisation, as it is called, to produce or foster it. Pretty they certainly were not, according to our ideas of beauty; but tastes differ much among inhabitants of diiferent climes. Unlike the fair daughters of the West, who under similar circumstances would probably have been engaged in some kind of handiwork, while they carried on such conversation as they are generally supposed to indulge in at times when none of the lords of the creation are present to hear and take a share in it, the ladies of Meer Ali Moorad were amusing themselves, some with the never-failing hooka, and others—tell it not in the saloons of our Western Vanity Fair—in chewing betel-nut, ever and anon in a most unladylike manner expectorating upon the floor, like so many American gentlemen.

They were reclining or sitting upon a soft rich carpet, supported by cushions covered with velvet, and many of them ornamented with tinsel and silver filagree work, in all sorts of different attitudes, doubtless more or less graceful, but such as they certainly would not have assumed had they been aware that three pair of eyes belonging to uncircumcised Philistines of Feringhees were gazing upon their charms. Their voices were soft and musical, as the voices of young girls generally are, in whichever hemisphere born; and two or three guitars, such as they use in the East, which were lying on the ground, showed that they occasionally indulged a taste for music. At the moment, however, when they are introduced to my readers, they were all engaged in talking, and the subject of discussion seemed one of great interest, and withal amusing, to judge by the shouts of merriment that had just attracted the attention of their unseen visitors. The subject of conversation was nothing less than what at that time formed the common topic of discussion in the houses and among the retinues of most Mahometan gentlemen in India, viz. the anticipated annihilation of British supremacy, and the consequent destruction or capture of all the English in the country.

‘Will it not be fine!’ said one, clapping her hands with delight at the idea. ‘He says he will be a great hakim (ruler) then, and we shall all be queens; we shall each of us have six slaves, and the finest muslins from Dacca and shawls from Cashmere.’

‘He promised me a necklace of pearls,’ said another, interrupting the first speaker, who having lost the ear of the house, was destined not to recover her advantage for some little time; the ladies were all eager to talk, but none wanted particularly to listen, and so the conversation went on, sometimes two or three speaking together, so that in detailing a few of the remarks that were made, it is impossible to give them their own effect, or represent the order in which they were spoken. Each one, however, seemed anxious to communicate the information she had for the benefit of the rest, and it is not at all improbable that in the very laudable desire to appear better informed than her companions, each fair speaker may have drawn a little on her imagination.

‘Ah, these Feringhee ladies are very proud; they will be humbled, by the blessing of Allah.’

‘I am told they go about like men, immodest creatures, and eat and drink without blushing along with men who are not their husbands or their brothers.’

‘Every man has only one—ha ha!’ This produced a chorus of musical merriment.

‘They are very beautiful, though,’ said a lady who had not much to boast of in that respect, and knew it.

‘Beautiful! no such thing: as beautiful as dancing-girls that expose their charms to everyone.’

‘What will they do with them, when their husbands and brothers have been sent to hell?’

‘We shall have them for slaves.’

‘English soldiers are very strong—regular devils.’

‘Psha! wait till the emperor is proclaimed.’

‘There is some one—a great man—come here to-night. Our lord has a great assembly.’

‘Who is it?’ asked two or three of the last speakers, addressing her at once.

‘I shall hear to-night,’ said a blushing maiden who sat apart from the rest, and seemed rather unpopular among her companions, ‘and will tell you all to-morrow.’

‘Psha, you!’ said an elderly lady from the opposite side of the apartment, who had the seat of honour, and carried a good deal of dignity in her manner, though her face wore an expression of great sadness, perhaps from a habit of brooding inwardly over the fleeting nature of Oriental female charms: ‘as if our lord would tell a girl like you anything of important state secrets—lions do not consult with cats.’

‘No, not when they are old and ugly,’ retorted the offended beauty, pursing up her lips. But public opinion—and public opinion carries weight even in a harem—was against her.

The ill-natured remark, though perhaps called for, fell like a wet blanket upon the glowing spirits of the little party: there was a deep silence, amid which the offended lady gathered up the loose folds of her dress in her hand, threw a corner of it over her face so as to veil it, and rising with considerable dignity, walked slowly out of the apartment. The rest continued their conversation for some time in whispers, till by degrees the silence was broken, and now and then another began to speak a little loudly, and ere five minutes had elapsed the conversation was being carried on as briskly and merrily as ever.

There is no need, however, for me to detail more of it. The listeners continued at their post, apparently much interested, till Graham, thinking their line of retreat perfectly open and secure, determined on extending his exploration, and creeping along the passage, bending his body so as to keep underneath the lattice-work windows, he advanced several paces along the gallery and ascended a flight of stone steps at the other end. The result seemed perfectly satisfactory, for he soon after descended partially, and beckoned to his companions to follow.

During the excitement caused by this successful attempt at espionage, Mr. Dacres had once or twice reflected on the peculiarity of his position, should he and his companions be discovered and their retreat cut off. He, a commissioner of a division, obtaining entrance surreptitiously into a Mahometan gentleman’s house, penetrating even to the ladies’ apartments, watching and listening to the conversation of the inmates—should he be discovered, how would his conduct be regarded by his superiors? Was sufficient justification to be found in the peculiar state of public affairs? Had matters really reached a stage at which, as in love and war, every stratagem might be deemed fair play?—evidently not. To investigate the means by which the trick, so important in its political consequences, had been played upon the Nawab—to explore a subterranean passage and find where it terminated, was a legitimate employment for any British officer; but here the duty ended. All beyond was merely satisfying curiosity, under certain views of the case unpardonable. He had therefore determined not to accompany his two friends any farther, and if possible to prevail upon them to desist and return. Stevens, however, was resolved to go on, and followed Graham; nor did he notice, till he had joined him at the foot of the steps, that Dacres had retreated in the opposite direction. Thinking he had left them from prudential motives, merely to watch lest any accident should lead to discovery and interfere with their line of retreat, he did not think of returning or waiting for him to follow.

Graham and Stevens then continued cautiously to proceed, the former several yards in advance of the latter, till they had reached the summit of the steps, and found themselves upon a narrow landing or ledge of about two feet in width, that ran round an apartment of large dimensions, within a short distance of the roof. Stooping, or rather kneeling upon this, and stretching forward so as to extend their heads just over the ledge, they looked down upon the inmates of the room, who were seated some twelve or fourteen feet below them on the floor. A lamp was burning, and it was the light from this which first attracted Graham’s attention, and now enabled the two officers to scan at their leisure the features of the party below, and watch their motions, while they overheard almost every word of their conversation with the utmost ease.

Meer Ali Moorad was there, and taking a prominent part in the discussion which was going on; there were two or three other natives of standing and property in the neighbourhood, all Mahometans; the only one Graham recognised as from cantonments was Asgar Ali, a native officer belonging to Murray’s Irregular Cavalry. The presiding genius of the place, however, was the same individual who has already been introduced to the reader as the messenger whose interview with the Nawab has been described, and who suggested his visit to the tomb. This man had a map or plan, the exact nature or extent of which the two officers could not discern, but it waa evident from the allusions he made to it, pointing out at one time to Delhi, at another to places in their immediate neighbourhood, that it was a map of a portion, at any rate, of Hindustan.

It appeared that this man was in the counsels of the chiefs or prime movers in the rebellion, or at any rate wished to be thought so, for he was drawing out a sketch of the operations the rebel chiefs had fixed upon. These plans, were almost as wild as could well be imagined; and the inventor or author of them seemed to have left out of his calculations altogether the chance of successful resistance by British soldiers in any part of India. The revolution, according to him, was to be effected in a very simple way—by the successive rise, at every station in the presidency where there were native troops stationed, of all the sepoy army. Anything like a skilful combination or well-organised scheme of rebellion, any preparations to guard against a reverse or remedy a false move, or any attempt or plan to secure cooperation among the different bodies of rebel troops who would be separated by long distances and large tracts of country from each other,—all this was utterly wanting. The plot consisted of a mad attempt, by the exercise of brute force and diabolical treachery, to overpower the English in detail, and the burden of the song, the one point of most importance to which this monster in human form again and again reverted in his lesson of blood, was indiscriminate slaughter of the men, and capture of the women and plunder. He went over all the old arguments, so often repeated, to prove the feasibility of the plan proposed: alluded to our disasters in AfFghanistan, as the event which demonstrated not only the possibility, but the facility of effecting our destruction; he told again the lying story of our recent utter defeat in the Crimea, and the inability of England to send another man to reinforce the army in India; and triumphantly related, what was now no news to his hearers, the account of the success which had attended the Meerut outbreak.

An interruption took place in this part of the conversation, for the first time since Stevens and Graham had been witnesses of it. This was caused by Meer Ali Moorad, who angrily exclaimed, as the stranger mentioned Meerut,

‘The curse of Allah light on them—the fools! They have ruined all by their folly and impatience.’

‘How so?’ said Asgar Ally. ‘On the contrary, the success has been great; have we not the Delhi arsenal in our possession, and are not the hearts of the Kaffirs like water in consequence?’

‘And will not the sword of Islam be drawn now in every country, in Iran (Persia), and Roum (Turkey), and Sham (Syria)?’ added another, whose sparkling eyes literally shone with the fire of fanaticism.

‘You speak like a fool,’ said Meer Ali Moorad with a gesture of impatience and scorn. ‘Allah was working his plan gloriously for the total destruction of the Kaffirs and the victory of Islam; but the time was not yet come. The crop was growing, but not ripened; and he who reaps before the harvest-time is a fool and accursed of God. Speak, Haji, and tell us what you heard in the holy city, on which be the blessing of the Prophet and his descendants!’

An old man with long white beard and most venerable appearance, who was sitting modestly, rather in the background, being thus appealed to, leaned forward and said,

‘What Meer Ali Moorad says is true—the time when the standard of Islam was to be unfurled is not now. Allah bade us wait till the will of Heaven was signified.’

‘How?’ said Asgar Ally, rather sharply, turning upon the speaker.

‘By the manifestation of the holy Imam (leader),’ replied the Haji, without turning his eyes upon Asgar Ally.

‘Heaven knows how many Imams we are to look for,’ replied Asgar Ally; ‘my Pir (spiritual pastor) never told me anything about Imams: but I know it was prophesied the reign of the infidels was to come to an end a hundred years after it began. They say the hundred years are up. I am no scholar, and do not know; but if we are to look for an Imam, tell us, is he to be a Punjabi Imam, or one from Iran or Roum? You Hajis know everything.’

These last words were spoken in a defiant tone, which the old Haji did not relish.

‘Speak not profanely,’ said Meer Ali Moorad: ‘the venerable Haji has visited the holy cities, which you have not; he has gone through the ceremonies, and at the tomb of the holy Prophet himself, with whom be peace, he has seen a vision.’

‘A vision!’ said Asgar Ally with a sneer. ‘My Pir taught me the sons of Islam were vouchsafed no visions nowadays.’

‘That Pir of yours must have been a wonderful saint,’ said the stranger angrily. ‘Did he teach you, among his other lessons, to revile the aged and the holy men who make the pilgrimage to the sacred city?’

‘No; but he taught me to put no faith in renegade Feringhees,’ said Asgar Ally, passionately.

The stranger, to whom these words were addressed, made a vigorous and evident effort to restrain his anger; he bit his lips till the blood almost came from them. The rest were at first apprehensive of violence, but they seemed fully alive to the injury that would result to the common cause from a fracas between any of their number. The stranger, at whom this bitter taunt had been cast, at length mastered his indignation sufficiently to speak. He turned to address his companions, looking away from Asgar Ally.

‘Now, listen,’ he said. ‘I denounce that man as a traitor to the cause. I say he is a traitor—a false, lying traitor, and a secret friend of the Nazarenes, though he pretends openly to be with us. I denounce him, and I warn you all.’

Asgar Ally replied by a scornful laugh.

‘This is but a bad augury for the success of our cause,’ said Meer Ali Moorad, ‘thus falling out among ourselves; let us be at peace. Asgar Ally, we trust you; our friend has spoken in the warmth of his anger—heed not his words: and you, Mirza Sahib, forget what has passed. Let us be friends.’

‘Ay, ay, let us be friends,’ chimed in the rest, all except the old Haji, who kept aloof, and the Mirza, who remained silent.

‘Asgar Ally is true to our cause,’ continued Meer Ali Moorad. ‘I will answer for him with my life. He is a friend of the Feringhees—what then? Have we not all been friends of the Kaffirs? We are slaves of destiny: while it pleased Allah we should bear the yoke, we bore it; now the time is at hand for us to throw it off.’

‘I tell you he is a traitor,’ continued the stranger, pointing at the same time at his opponent. ‘I tell you, he used to go nightly to his sahib and report to him everything he heard in the lines from the lips of the faithful, and to-night when he returns home he will relate all that has passed here. I know it. I have spies everywhere, and they have watched him. I warn you; now you know whom you have among you.’

They looked enquiringly at Asgar Ally, and remained silent, as if expecting him to clear himself.

Asgar Ally sat silent awhile; then feeling that it was necessary to speak, he said, keeping up the same defiant air he had worn all along—

‘You look at me as if you wanted me to speak: do you trust a renegade Kaffir, and doubt the faithful follower of the Prophet? It is indifferent to me what you believe, or what he says. Distrust me if you will, I want not to be of your counsels; still I tell you he lies. When with my regiment, I do visit my sahib often, and he trusts me; but my heart is with the sons of Islam, and with the confidence with which I am treated by the Feringhees, my single voice and arm are worth more to the cause than fifty whitefaced unbelievers that you trust in. I am of the “ekdin” (one religion), but I warn you I will have no needless shedding of blood; I will have no slaughter of defenceless men. The sahibs are kaffirs, and accursed of God, and destiny has marked them for destruction, and their rule has come to an end. But we have received many favours from them; they are brave as lions, and their words are true as steel, and they have taught us much; and the curse of God be on those that shed their blood, or the blood of their sons and daughters, wantonly!’

The deep and ominous murmur of dissent with which the sentiments of the speaker were received, gave evidence at once of the real spirit that animated their breasts. The stranger looked round with an expression of triumph in his face; he seemed to say, ‘Did I not speak the truth? will you trust him now?’

‘Asgar Ally speaks the truth,’ said the old Haji, the first to break the silence. ‘There must be no wanton shedding of blood, but the men must be slain, and the women are lawful prize of the faithful in jehad (holy war).’

‘Hear him,’ said the stranger, ‘hear the Haji; the words in his mouth are the truth of Islam: we will slay the men, and the women, fair as houris as they are, shall be our reward.’

‘It will never do,’ said the fanatic who had spoken before, ‘never do. They are a race of Shaitans (devils); the men are Shaitans, and the women are like the men. The poet says,

God hath given a like nature to male and female of one kind.

Other races you may enslave, but the Feringhees never: by the sword only can ye deal with them, and Heaven preserve us from having a tigress in the harem! Male and female, young and old, root and branch, they must be exterminated. As long as there is one left in the country, you will never be at peace.’

The stranger laughed. ‘The ladies of Iran and Cashmere are fair, but the daughters of the West are fairer; I have a commission from the prince to select the prettiest of the Feringhee ladies of Islamabad for the royal harem—the prettiest and the youngest. Ha, ha! these ladies, that you call tigresses and she-devils, will grow tame under the care of the—But where is Asgar Ally?’ The others looked up and around—he was gone.

‘The traitor, he has gone to the Kaffirs to tell them all.’

‘He has nothing to tell them,’ said the stranger contemptuously—nothing that they do not know already. They all know the end has come, and their hearts are turned to water contemplating it; but they are powerless to do anything, and of our plans Asgar Ally can tell nothing, for he knows nothing.’

Meer Ali Moorad did not seem to think so. ‘He will denounce us to the magistrate, and we shall be seized.’

With a look of concentrated scorn, as if he was speaking to some animal infinitely beneath his notice, the stranger turned sharply round, and said,

‘Magistrate! who is magistrate here now? Do you think these Feringhees do not know you to be their enemy, do you think they trust you? No, but they are helpless: how can they seize you?—send a party of sepoys, perhaps, with a whiteface at their head. Psha! I am the only ruler here, for I have the king’s firman. I am Hakim-ul-hakim governor of the Soobah of Islamabad.’

‘The Nawab is yet faithful to the Kaffirs,’ replied Meer Ali Moorad, with the vision of a halter as it seemed stilly before his eyes; ‘his men might be prevailed upon to seize me; and I am a servant to the Feringhees, and have eaten their salt for ten years: they will hang me if they catch me.’

‘The Nawab’s men are faithful to the cause, though he is wavering. Be at peace, Ali Moorad; be not afraid: a woman’s tongue even shall not hurt you.’

‘Nay, I am not afraid; but still, if Asgar Ally does denounce us, I shall be the first to be seized. Insha Allah—by the will of God—I will ride off to-night, and keep away till I see things safe.’

‘Ay, ride off; it will be the safest plan if you fear: but, now Asgar Ally is gone, I will tell you what I have had in my mind, and what I called you here together for. I hear the sepoys say they will plunder the cantonment and the Nawab’s palace, and then march to Allahabad.’

‘Yes, yes, that is what they say,’ said one or two voices.

‘Then tell them, you who are here when the day of deliverance arrives, for perhaps I shall be away—tell them not to touch the Nawab’s palace; not to touch so much as a brick out of the walls, nor a sod upon any ground that belongs to him; and if they march to Allahabad, they march to certain death. The emperor’s orders are for them to go at once to Delhi, and to bring as little with them as possible, and, above all, no prisoners. The sahibs are all to be slain, but the women and children kept. There will be no fighting here, but there will be elsewhere, and I must go to other places where there is danger to the cause from the strength of the infidels. Here there are but a handful, a few sheep in the shambles. The sepoys will know the time to begin when the messengers arrive with the sacred symbols. We shall have no fighting now, but hereafter there will be trouble in the land. Our struggle is for Islam; and these brute beasts of Hindu soldiers will raise disturbances, and much blood must be shed. But all the troops must be sent to Delhi, and while the sepoys are there employed in exterminating the infidels, who will collect all their numbers, and they are but a handful, and break their heads against the stone walls of the defence of Islam, the districts will be reduced to order, and levies raised under the command of men who will be faithful to the king; and so we shall be strong enough to reduce to subjection the marauders and rebels that will be found among the Hindu sepoys.’

‘And the Nawab?’

‘The Nawab will not declare himself; and if he does not give his adherence to the cause within the prescribed time, I have authority to confiscate his estates, and make them over to the man that does the cause the greatest service. These are the names of those who are faithful and whom you may trust,’—and he proceeded to unfold a paper he drew from his vest, and laid on the ground before him. Graham and Stevens listened with their attention strained to the utmost, not to lose a word of the valuable information that was about to be disclosed. That information, however, they were not destined to profit by, for a slight movement, the slightest possible, from behind, caused the latter to turn his head gently; the next instant Graham felt his arm touched. He too drew back his head, and looked in the direction indicated by his companion. Stevens was leaning upon his elbow, pointing with a strange expression in his face to the space behind the spot where they had been reclining. The sight that met Graham’s eyes was certainly one to astonish, if not to intimidate him, under the peculiar circumstances they were in. There, with his arms folded, and the quaintest expression of amusement, mingled with some respect, and evident pleasure at having the eavesdroppers so completely at his mercy, stood Asgar Ally himself. Graham started involuntarily, cursing his folly the instant afterwards to himself for being so incautious, and well he might, for the sudden movement caused a piece of the plaster of the cornice upon which they had been leaning to give way, and it fell, scattering dust and small fragments of plaster and cement upon the heads of the party below. They, of course, all looked up. Asgar Ally was in the background, and could not be seen by any one below. Graham and Stevens, too, had happily moved out of sight. Just at this moment a bat providentially flew across the room from the rafters above. Those below, noticing the bird’s flight immediately after the plaster had fallen, supposed that the bat was the cause, and ceased to think any more about it.

Simultaneously it occurred to Graham and Stevens, after the momentary excitement caused by the falling plaster and the bat’s flight had passed off, what was to be done with the man who had thus unexpectedly become acquainted with the secret of their presence there—or rather, what would he do to them? for he had but to give the alarm, and, shut in as they were in such an awkward position, and in possession of such dangerous information, it would be but the work of a few minutes for the conspirators to overcome them and effect their destruction. Acting under the impulse of the moment and the feeling that animated both, they looked enquiringly at Asgar Ally. He understood them, and pointed in the direction they had come in a way that showed he meant them to take their departure, and at the same time that he would allow them to do so without raising the alarm. Under the conviction that they were completely in his power, they obeyed, and moved noiselessly away, followed by their newly-found and unwelcome companion, down the steps and along the narrow corridor.

As Dacres had taken away the lantern with him, they had considerable difficulty in groping their way back in the dark. They succeeded in doing so, however, without interruption, Stevens leading the way, and Asgar Ally bringing up the rear. It was not till they reached, or fancied they had reached, the chamber at the entrance of the passage, that they ventured even to whisper to one another: all they said was,

‘Where’s Dacres?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Go on,’ said Asgar Ally, speaking in a louder tone. ‘There is danger in staying here longer.’

It was no easy matter to go in such pitchy darkness, neither of them knowing much about the way. There was a flight of stone steps, Stevens recollected, leading up from the chamber to the passage; but how many or where they began he could not recollect. He went on, however, cautiously and stealthily, groping along with his hands extended, found the steps, and reached the floor safely. As he did so, his foot made a slight, very slight, noise.

‘Is that you?’ said a voice whispering from the darkness.

‘Yes, but in Heaven’s name give us a light and let us get off.’

Dacres shifted aside the shade from the dark lantern, to let the light fall upon his friend: it fell on Asgar Ally’s gaunt figure, as he reached the summit of the stairs. Dacres shut it instantly, with a suppressed exclamation of astonishment.

‘Friends,’ whispered Stevens close beside him, ‘we are discovered, that’s all; let us make haste out—this man comes with us.’

The commissioner needed but little persuasion. Again the lamp was allowed to throw its friendly light on the surrounding objects, and, aided by it, the adventurous explorers reached the entrance to the passage. Dacres went down part of the way, and held the light up to assist the rest; they descended, but not before Stevens had cast a glance round him, and saw, what they had not perceived before, that the chamber they were in was much more spacious than they had supposed, and was well stocked for at least four feet from the walls with boxes of ammunition, and a large collection of muskets and bayonets.

They were arranged in the utmost order all round the chamber, as if it had been an armoury. Then, glancing again to see that Asgar Ally was following, he descended, followed by Graham. No sooner had the latter got down four of the steps, so as to have his head below the level of the floor, than all three started at hearing a trap-door above them shut down with some little force, and a bolt the instant after shot into its socket. Asgar Ally had remained above; they were alone in the passage.

Explanation and prognostications were all left till they had traversed the passage, and stood again in the tomb, whence they had set out on their exploration. Even there they only indulged in a few brief sentences, for, fearful of the dawn coming upon them before the traces of their entrance into the passage had been obliterated, they all set to work to replace the stones that had been taken out, and conceal the marks of their recent operations with a covering of mud, &c. This was done hastily but carefully and effectually, and then, they all three went outside, to indulge, as they wended their way homewards, in such reflections and discussion among themselves as the recent events they had passed through were calculated to excite.

Chapter XVIII

The first half of the way back to Islamabad they traversed at a foot pace, Stevens and Graham being engaged in relating to Dacres the substance of the conversation they had overheard. As the dawn broke, they quickened their pace, and parted eventually about a mile from the station, Dacres taking the nearest road to his own house, and the others to the cantonment. The former, now alone, began seriously to consider what steps he should adopt. He had desired Graham on arriving to go straight to Murray, and find out from that officer what sort of character Asgar Ally bore, what his rank was, and whether he was then in his lines or absent, and if absent on what pretext. In reply to his queries, Graham learnt that Asgar Ally, who was described by his commandant as a ‘first-rate fellow,’ a native officer, was at that time away from his regiment on yearly furlough; and that he was really absent at his home, he, Captain Murray, was certain, for two or three days before he had received a letter from his brother from his village in Rohilcund, about some money remittance made through the government treasury, that had not duly come to hand. This information reached Dacres in the course of the forenoon; meantime during his ride, after separating from his companions, he had had time to resolve upon his course of action. This was to order Harley to issue a search-warrant, and to execute it with a party of burkandazes (literally, ‘hurlers of lightning,’ a term used to designate the armed police maintained by the civil authorities in India for local and police duties) superintended by himself, and to investigate thoroughly the interior economy of Meer Ali Moorad’s house, and arrest all suspicious characters he might find there. Harley had no sooner heard the account of the last night’s discovery, and the duty that lay before him, than he set about to carry it out at once. By the time he had finished a hearty breakfast and equipped himself, his favourite horse was ready saddled, and a party of twenty mounted burkandazes were drawn up in the court-yard waiting for orders.

Mr. Dacres would have much preferred calling out regular troops for this service, but there were objections to this step so strong as to overrule his wishes and set aside his first-formed plans. In the first place, the brigadier would have to be applied to officially; ten to one he would make some frivolous objections, and time would be lost. A good deal of excitement would necessarily be aroused in the cantonment and bazaar by the mission of an armed party into the district on an unknown duty, while the very fact of its being unknown, and a mystery, would increase instead of allaying the excitement and fears of the more timid part of the community: there was also very great danger of the call upon native troops to act against their countrymen, bringing on the crisis it was desirable to stave off as long as possible.

The party Harley took with him, on the other hand, was quite sufficient for all the purposes it was required for; the men were at any rate as much to be trusted as the regular sepoys, and as they would be engaged on their legitimate duties, the fact of their being despatched on such an errand under the command of the magistrate, who would accompany them, was likely to attract much less attention than if a formal requisition for military aid, involving all the concomitant bustle of preparation, was made to the cantonment authorities.

They started about eight o’clock, and nothing occurred to diversify the monotony of their morning ride till they reached the spot where the road turned off, leading directly up to Ali Moorad’s house, and from the direction of which there could remain no doubt as to the destination of the party. Harley was cantering along a couple of yards ahead of his men, who followed four or five abreast in no very particular military array, when he was startled by the report of a matchlock; at the same instant the peculiar whiz or ‘ping’ of a bullet flying through the air, close to his ear, told him that the shot, if intentional, had only just missed its mark. He halted, and confronted his men, but failed to discover from whom the shot had come. At first they declared no shot had been fired; but finding it useless to persist in the denial of so obvious a fact, one of the men in the front rank, a good-for-nothing, low-looking Mahometan, acknowledged that his matchlock had gone off by mistake. Harley ordered him to dismount and give up his arms; he then made him over in arrest to a non-commissioned officer, and leaving a couple of men to look after the prisoner, turned his horse’s head and cantered along’ the road again, followed by the men, as if nothing had occurred.

Just as he reached the ground outside the house, he was joined by Graham, who at Dacres’s request had ridden out from cantonments to assist Harley in finding his way to the corridor where the two officers had concealed themselves the night before, and so get the clue to the secret chamber in which the arms and ammunitifin were deposited. Posting the horsemen outside the house, with orders to allow no one to enter in or to come out, Harley, executing his own search-warrant, and accompanied by Graham and the jemadar, or native commandant of the police, entered the premises. The house was perfectly empty: the only living creature they found inside was a half-starved pariah dog, that barked at them from the centre of the court-yard and ran away when they approached it. Not only had all the occupants deserted the place, but they had taken everything moveable with them, leaving nothing but the bare walls. They went from one room to another, the clanking of their heavy riding-boots and spurs echoing from wall to wall, and proclaiming the solitude that reigned there. On reaching the apartment in which Graham had the night before seen the conclave of conspirators assembled, he looked about for some trace of their recent visit, but none was forthcoming. A stone staircase in one corner of the room led up to the corridor where they had been stationed: they ascended, and passed round three sides of the room, looking down upon it from the ledge, which was carried all round, and which on the fourth side formed the corridor leading to the magazine below. As they went down the steps and along the passage, they stopped at the lattice-work screen through which they had espied the conference of the ladies and overheard their conversation. Beyond all was darkness, and they were obliged to make use of the lantern they had brought with them. In the chamber at the further end they found something to reward them for what seemed likely enough at one time to prove a bootless errand: the general clearance had not reached so far as this. The room was well stocked with muskets, small arms, and boxes of ball ammunition, such as are served out by government for the use of its soldiery, all packed in magazine ammunition boxes, with the year in which they had been issued inscribed on the lid. The words ‘Delhi Magazine’ showed the arsenal whence these munitions of war had been supplied. There were about three hundred muskets there, complete with accoutrements, and about thirty boxes of ammunition, containing upwards of sixty thousand cartridges.

There was only one other place to be explored, and that was the subterraneous passage. Dacres had had his own reasons for keeping the knowledge they had acquired as much to themselves as possible. Harley therefore dismissed the jemadar, with orders to get the men into their saddles; and when the sound of his retreating footsteps told them he was out of hearing and of sight, the two proceeded to unfasten the massive bolt that secured the trap-door, and opened it. Harley held it up, while Graham, lamp in hand, went down and explored the whole passage as far as its termination. There was nothing to be seen; so, after reclosing and refastening the trap-door, they ascended to the upper air, and made the best of their way out. It was impossible to remove the ammunition and arms without means of conveyance. Harley therefore determined to leave it, till he could send carts next day and bring it all away. Meantime he would scour the country, and endeavour to pick up some tidings of the late tenants of the deserted domain. Graham, having work in cantonments, went off in another direction. Harley’s plans were good; but before he could carry them out, events had occurred which interfered considerably with their execution. So true it is, that ‘man proposes, but God disposes.’

The commissioner of Islamabad had, what was too rare unfortunately among officers of high standing and in responsible posts, a clear head combined with great mental energy and plenty of moral courage. He did not shrink from responsibility. It was evident to him now, that matters had all but reached a climax in his district. Before very long, the mask would be thrown aside, the mutinous soldiery would display their true colours, and the peace of the whole district, as well as the lives of all the Europeans at Islamabad, would be in the greatest peril. The brigadier, he knew, would be of no assistance either as a counsellor or coadjutor. Colonel Wetherall was but little better, as long as his men had not broken out into open mutiny. As soon as they had declared themselves, Dacres had the greatest hope from the colonel’s military experience, and well-tried courage and coolness in danger; but until he could be divested of the idea that his men were to be depended upon, he was useless. The other commandants were just the same, except that they lacked the age and experience of the colonel, and were, if possible, more firmly convinced even than he of the utter impossibility of their men behaving otherwise than as good and loyal soldiers of the State.

It was a source of considerable gratification, that the Nawab, whose influence it was difficult to overrate, had as yet shown no outward sign of disaffection: indeed, it was evident, from the way he had been alluded to by the conspirators at Meer All Moorad’s house, that he had as yet not thrown in his lot with the rebels. His alliance was important: having no hope of effecting any good result by interfering with the cantonment people, Dacres resolved to confine himself for the present to his own particular line of duty, and strengthen the bonds between the Nawab of Islamabad and the British government by every possible means. He accordingly despatched a messenger to him with a letter, saying he was anxious to have a personal conference with him, and would call during the course of the day with that view. The reply came as he expected—the Nawab would be delighted to receive the commissioner at any hour. So the commissioner went, and was received with all customary state and ceremony.

Anxious to have an opportunity of discussing matters in a place where there was no possibility of their being overheard, Mr. Dacres proposed adjournment to the garden. As Oriental politeness dictated, the distinguished visitor had but to express a wish to have it gratified, and to the garden they went, and seated themselves upon a stone seat or bench in an alcove built open towards the west, with ‘khuskhus tatties’ in full play between the interstices of the pillars that supported the roof. The temperature was delightful, and under the invigorating influence of the cool and scented breeze the two began their confabulation on political matters, a portion of which I shall take the trouble to transcribe.

‘I need not conceal from you, Nawab Sahib,’ commenced the commissioner, plunging at once in medias res—a plan which he much preferred to beating about the bush, and dropping hints and innuendoes,—‘that the present is a time of very considerable anxiety to myself, and to all officers of the British government in high and responsible situations.’

The Nawab bowed assent. Mr. Dacres went on—

‘The temporary success of the outbreak at Meerut and Delhi has of course given rise to a great deal of excitement, and although the mutiny will doubtless be put down shortly, yet it is not improbable that there will be disturbances in other parts of the country besides Delhi, and maybe much bloodshed.’

‘Certainly,’ replied the other, with another inclination of the head.

‘Now I want to ask you, in a plain straightforward way, as you must know a great deal more of the feeling of your countrymen than I do, how the people in these parts are affected, and what prospect do you think there is of our weathering the storm?’

‘You have asked me in a straightforward manner,’ replied the Nawab: ‘you have driven your arrow straight towards the mark,—I will do the same. How many English’ (the Nawab began to use the word ‘Feringhee,’ but corrected himself and said ‘Ungrezan’) are there in Hindustan?’

‘I can hardly tell just now: perhaps five thousand.’

‘Good; and how many natives?’

‘They are said to be a hundred and twenty millions.’

‘It is well. How many sepoys are there in this presidency?’

‘From one to two hundred thousand, I suppose, at a rough guess.’

‘Good; and how many English soldiers?’

‘That I capnot tell you: perhaps two thousand between Delhi and Calcutta.’

‘How came you in possession of Hindustan?’

‘By the will of Providence, and our own right hands.’

‘And if it is the will of Allah that your rule should cease, what then?’

‘Why, it will cease.’

‘Do you not see the will of Heaven manifested?’

‘How?’

‘That you, men renowned for wisdom, and strong and wealthy, have raised an army of two hundred thousand soldiers! You have placed yourselves in their hands, and yet you act as if you were rulers of the country! The raj is not the British raj—it is the sepoys’ raj, and so it has been for the last five years. While the sepoys are faithful, your raj is firm; when they are tired of you and want a raj of their own, you must go.’

‘Then you think the whole sepoy army is combined against us?’

‘They have been combined for many years.’

‘You think they will endeavour to destroy us?’

‘There is no need to ask that question.’

‘Then how shall you and other influential members of the native aristocracy comport yourselves? Do you, too, turn on your benefactors, or do you remain loyal?’

‘We do not turn on our benefactors. We, the Mahometans, possessed the empire; you English deprived us of it: if we recover it when God gives us the chance, do we turn upon benefactors because we take that which was ours before you took it from us?’

‘What, Nawab! are you, too, lost to all sense of honour, gratitude, faith? Are you, too, one of those miserable, ungrateful, perjured villains hated alike by God and man?’

The Nawab laughed: it was a gentle musical laugh—not a sound of triumph, nor a laugh of scorn.

‘You mistake me,’ he said. ‘The policy of your government has ever been to elevate the lower classes, and weaken and degrade the upper. You have placed us no less than yourselves entirely in their power; and now that they have found out their power, and seem inclined to use it, you would come to us to aid you!’

‘You are right, Nawab,’ said Dacres, catching rather too eagerly for a skilled diplomatist at the argument placed within his reach. ‘We have now a common cause. The lower classes, headed by the native soldiery, will turn against us; if we fall, the native aristocracy falls with us. Those of them who are wise will cast their influence into the scale with us.’

‘Wise men do not put a sword into the hand of their enemies to slay them. Why should we rush on our own destruction?’

‘You speak, Nawab, as if you were doubtful of the issue of the event. There can be no doubt about that. The resources of Great Britain are sufficient to put down a rebellion ten times as formidable as this is likely to prove, even if it turns out the worst that we anticipate. If need be, England could conquer all Asia.’

‘What! weakened as she is by the Russian war?’

‘The Russian war has rather added to her strength than diminished it. It has shown us our weak point; it has pointed out the different things that were wanting in our military system to make that system perfect. England will now be more powerful than she ever was: besides, she has a firm alliance with France.’

‘Ha! France—is it so?’

‘It is. Even now a French and English force is on its way to China: and the alliance between the two nations is firm and lasting.’

‘And Russia?’

‘Russia is crippled. It will be years before she recovers what she lost in the Crimea. Besides, in this rebellion we shall have the sympathies of all civilised nations on our side. Do not allow yourself to be deceived by stories men tell you. We have no design against the religion of the native population.’

‘I never believed that.’

‘As soon as the news reaches England, troops will flock out in numbers: before six months are over, there will be a lac of European soldiers in this country. With us it is a mere question of time. Can we hold out till they arrive? If we cannot, they will have to reconquer the country, and avenge our death—and the vengeance they will take will be sweeping. If we are aided by the aristocracy of the country, by such men as yourself, we can hold out.’

‘How can we aid you?’ exclaimed the Nawab, thoroughly excited. ‘How can I aid you? have I guns—have I ammunition—have I an army? have you not deprived me of all these? and now you talk about my aiding you!’

‘Your influence in the district is enormous. You have merely to issue firmans to the native authorities all through the district, declaring your intention of remaining staunch to the British government, and calling on them to remain quiet, and to aid it too; and thus all our communications will be kept open, our authority will be respected, our lives and property will be secured. Give me permission to occupy this place, this fortified garden, and to bring all the ladies and families here where they may easily be protected, and give me money to raise new levies, and you will have done all that is needed. I will do the rest. On the other hand, if you side against us, what will you gain? The chances are, the first thing the sepoys do after mutinying—for mutiny they doubtless will, at least the greater part of them—will be very likely to loot your house and property: if they do not, you will be completely in their power, and be always apprehensive that, bent on plunder, they may any day insure your destruction and the disgrace of your family.’

The Nawab appeared deeply impressed with all he heard. He remained for a long time silent, wrapt in thought. Then, looking up, he shook his head sadly and replied,

‘Your words are fine, sahib, but I have had a revelation from above. I must do as Heaven bids.’

‘You have been imposed upon, Nawab Sahib. The apparition of the Saiyad that you saw in the tomb at Chunderbagh, was an affair of jugglery and trickery contrived by a device very common among us for amusing or frightening children—a kind of lantern, with transparent glass shade.’

‘How know you aught of it?’ asked the other, with unfeigned surprise.

Mr. Dacres smiled. ‘The pistol-shot that caused the Saiyad to disappear—you heard a pistol-shot, did you not?’

‘I did.’

‘Well, that was aimed by a friend of mine, who witnessed the whole occurrence, and shattered to pieces the glass of the instrument by which this contrivance was effected!’

The Nawab stared in silence. Dacres continued—

‘What I say must be the truth—how else could I have known anything about it? And see, to convince you still more, here are some fragments of the shattered glass I have brought to show you. I have to-day sent a party to arrest a number of conspirators at Meer Ali Moorad’s house: this house is connected with the tomb by a covered way, and it was by this means that you were imposed upon.’

‘You have sent a party to arrest Meer Ali Moorad?’

‘Yes, and others: there is a man among them, I am told, of a fair countenance, with blue eyes and light hair, more like a European than an Asiatic—’

‘You have sent to arrest him!’ exclaimed the Nawab, as if horror-struck at the idea of such audacity.

‘Yes.’

‘Then it has begun.’

The Nawab rose, and walked two or three times up and down the apartment, with his head on his breast and his eyes fixed steadily on the floor, playing all the time with the jewelled handle of a dirk he carried sheathed in his waistband. At length he stopped opposite Mr. Dacres, and looked him full in the face.

‘You are a good Christian, I know—will you swear on your holy book, will you swear in the name of your holy prophet Jesus, that what you have told me is the truth—I mean about the jugglery?’

‘Certainly, I will swear in the name of Jesus, whom we Christians worship—I swear it was the truth.’

Again the Nawab paced up and down the room in silence. Then he said—

‘Sahib, I will trust you. As long as I am able to control my own men, I will protect you, and your ladies and children; but remember, as your government cannot control their sepoys, the time may come when I may not be able to control mine. Till that time you are safe: after that, Allah protect us— I am guiltless.’

‘It is well,’ said Dacres, rising: ‘now let us part, for we have much to do. If disturbance take place in the cantonment, I will send the ladies and children down here.’

The Nawab intimated his assent, and they shortly after parted.

Chapter XIX

Both the Nawab and the Commissioner went each his way with the subject of the late discussion fresh in their minds. The latter was relieved of a considerable deal of anxiety, for he believed that now the Nawab would throw his influence into the scale in favour of the British government. The Nawab, however, was less easy in mind even than he had been before. To him, undoubtedly, the easiest course was to swim with the tide; it was evident that the popular cause was the cause of the rebels; he had only to throw in his lot with them, to allow his name to be made use of as a sanction to their proceedings, to assume the government of the district or the province, nominally if he preferred an inactive share in the proceedings, and all his difficulties would be smoothed away. On the other hand, to side with the British was to struggle against the stream at fearful odds. How could he control his own retainers, his own family, his own wife? How could he, supported only by a small party of English officers, encumbered with their families, preserve the peace of the district in the face of a numerous and powerful enemy, excited by love of plunder and fired with fanaticism?—nay, what chance had they of preserving even their lives? ‘It is destiny,’ he said, or rather sighed, to himself, as he reached the threshold of his house. ‘We are creatures of destiny; let the will of God be done.’

Feeling that he had much to think of, and a burden of anxiety on his mind, he sent for a pipe to assist him in bearing it. Ere it was brought, a servant came with a message from Leila, asking him to attend her in her apartment. So, ordering the pipe of consolation to be taken there, he rose and bent his steps towards the harem.

Leila did not disguise her anxiety to hear what had passed between her lord and the English commissioner, for she knew of the intended conference.

‘Leila will chide me when she hears,’ said the Nawab, in reply to her question.

‘Let me hear, then,’ she said, playfully seating herself at his knee on the carpet on which he was reclining, putting the ornamented silver mouthpiece of his hooka into his hand. ‘Have you given a promise not to slay the Kaffirs?’

‘More than that, my child,’ said the other, as if determined to let the worst come out at once, and trying to persuade himself and her, by his mode of address, that he was not afraid of her. ‘I have sworn to aid them.’

‘To aid them!’ said, or rather shrieked, Leila, ‘to aid those whom Allah has marked down for destruction—to aid the enemies of your country and your faith? These English must be wonderful people: how could the Feringhee so persuade you—talk you over? Oh, Nawab, you are too soft-hearted—too easily won—too easily worked upon by any tale of distress.’

‘You women, shut up all your lives in the harem, know nothing about the affairs of state,’ replied the Nawab rather peevishly: ‘how could you know? The English commissioner is a wise man, and I have had much experience.’

‘And do you disregard so calmly the anger of Heaven, when the will of the Most High was so plainly manifested to you at the holy Saiyad’s tomb?’

‘Leila, I believe—nay, I have found out—there has been some trickery, some jugglery, here. What I saw was no vision, but the effect of some machination that these Feringhees from the West are familiar with. The English commissioner knew all about my visit to the tomb, although I went alone. The explosion I heard there—you recollect I told you all that had passed—was the report from an Englishman’s pistol, whose ball shattered the machine by which the deception was being played upon me.’

Leila looked up to him, and into his eyes with an enquiring gaze. She evidently thought he had been bewitched, and was under the influence of some glamour or spell. Asiatics are particularly prone to believe in such influences.

‘You look at me uneasily, my love—you think I have been bewitched, because I speak to you the conviction of my heart, and the result of sound reasoning and much reflection. What say you when I tell you the English commissioner showed me a fragment of the glass of the broken instrument?’

‘Yes, my lord, I do think you have been brought under the influence of some spell that Heaven will in time rend in twain, and set you free. It was but this morning that my morning slumbers were blest with a dream so bright and beautiful, that I have been gazing on it in my mind’s eye ever since. I saw you returning from hunting, attended by a regal suite, and all the emblems of sovereignty; and I ran to meet you: and as you clasped me to your arms you called me, “my own Leila, my queen!”’

Fired with the animation that lit up her beautiful features, and flashed forth from those full round orbs into which you might gaze as into a bottomless cistern of the purest water, Leila, as she spoke, looked indeed a queen; and her husband felt how bright a jewel he possessed, as he clasped her to his breast.

‘Leila, you are a queen, you are my queen! What is there you want, what desire on earth is there ungratified, that makes you wish I was what I am not?’

‘I would have you fulfil your destiny, fulfil the noble duty Heaven has marked out for you.’

‘And my destiny will be fulfilled. But let us not waste our words: my resolution has been made, and my word given; and nothing that even you, Leila, can say, can alter it. I have promised the English conmiissioner to assist them, and protect their wives and families.’

‘Then the English ladies you will take?’

‘Yes; and they shall be under your charge, Leila.’

‘Shall I have them for slaves?’

‘Slaves, child?—no; as honoured guests.’

‘They are very beautiful, are they not, these English ladies?—I have heard so.’

‘Yes, they are very beautiful, most of them, fair and sweet as the blushing roses of Cashmere. They are wise, too, and chaste, though their notions of modesty do not assort with ours.’

‘And in their society you will soon learn to forget your Leila! Ha! is this the tempting bait that has lured you from the path of duty? I had a sworn promise from you once, that no woman should enter these walls except as my slave. Shall I live to see that promise broken?’

‘Well, Leila, if you please they shall have another part of the palace allotted to them, and you shall neither see nor hear them.’

‘Only to know that you are happy in their company away from me?’

‘Foolish child, it is you who are bewitched now; what cause have I given you for this peevish jealousy? Do you not see that by protecting the English ladies, I secure a hostage for myself, and earn a right to the gratitude of a race that never forget their benefactors—’

‘Except when it suits their purposes. Have I not read in those books you have given me—have I not heard even from your own lips, over and over again, the story of these treacherous Kaffirs?—how their progress in Hindustan has been made step by step, each step deeper in infamy and ingratitude and treachery than the last: how they have made tools of kings, nawabs, and princes; fostered and protected them while it suited their purpose to do so, and then, when the time came, throwing them over and making them a stepping-stone to the next object of ambition and avarice? With them treaty means a compact to be kept while convenient, an oath means a promise to be broken at the fitting time, an ally a machine to work out their own purposes.—Oh no, my lord, you are trifling with your Leila—you are testing her womanish credulity; you never mean to refuse the prize now within your reach. Let those captives be sent here; you shall reign in regal state, and you shall find me attended by those beautiful proud English dames you admire so much; their charms shall serve to set off mine—I will make their bondage light, but I must have fifty of the best at least—’

‘Foolish child, you talk of what you do not understand. The Western ladies are proud and high-born; the best and purest blood flows in their veins—they are as high-spirited as you yourself, and would die a thousand deaths rather than be disgraced by servitude. No, Leila, these wild notions of yours do not please me.’

‘And do you think your retainers and subjects will submit to this? Is not the whole world of Islam moving with a mighty spirit of freedom and glorious independence—a spirit that will rouse all the sons of Islam to a united effort to trample the Cross under foot, and destroy the Nazarenes from the face of the earth? Those who oppose it will perish like the Kaffirs!’

‘Pish! child—you speak like a true daughter of the Prophet, but not like one who knows the world. In six months England alone could send soldiers enough to Hindustan to trample out the last spark of our religion, and to make the land one vast sea of ruin and desolation. It may be that Heaven has willed their destruction; if so, it is by a miracle, for without a miracle our efforts against these Franks would be in vain: and if it is by a miracle that Heaven will accomplish its end, then let us see it. It is all one to Allah to slay with the sword of the faithful, or to cause the earth to open and to swallow up alive the unbelievers; but to act with treachery, and to assassinate in cold blood those who dwell peacefully among us and labour for our good—to turn upon those they have sworn to serve, as the sepoys have done, is not pleasing to Allah. I will remain faithful to the cause of the English while I can. If they prevail, we shall prosper in their prosperity; if they fail by a miracle from Heaven, then may we too escape by a miracle.’

‘No! Heaven will work no miracle to save those who are faithless to our religion. You will perish—you will be swept away to make room for those who show themselves true sons of the Prophet.—Your Leila will not survive your disgrace; she will perish with you.’

‘Allah forbid it,’ said the Nawab with a sigh.—Hark! what is that?’—and they both started to their feet in an attitude of the deepest attention.

Another conference was broken in upon by the same cause and at the same moment.

Graham immediately on his return went to seek the repose he stood so much in need of. The interest excited by recent events, in which he had borne so large a share, had served to distract his mind in a great measure from the subject that lay at his heart’s core, and which had done so much to destroy his happiness and peace. On his way back to the cantonment after the morning’s adventure, the past recurred to his mind with more than ordinary vividness, and do what he would he found it impossible to drive the image of Amy Leslie from his thoughts. Why it should have recurred at that particular time, he was not philosopher enough to divine; it was merely because he was tired and fagged or wearied out, and had not his mental energies in full activity. At times like these, we are always liable to be more affected by any impressions or morbid fancies that have put the mind out of tune, and which are just as much signs that the health of the mind has been disordered, as headaches or sickness are signs of a diseased body. In this way he kept reasoning with himself, as if his nature were divided into two existences or antagonistic elements, reason and feeling. Independent of other considerations and the circumstances that stood between him and the object of his dearest wishes, ‘was this a time,’ he asked himself, ‘to pursue schemes Utopian and Quixotic enough at the best? Was this a time for the course of true love to run smoothly? was this a time, when every minute might usher in the anarchy and distress of a mutiny, for him to be fostering a hopeless passion with dreams or fancies that at best could only serve to feed his excited imagination?’Again and again he said to himself,

‘Is this a time to plant and build,
Add house to house and field to field. When round our walls the battle lowers.
And mines are hid beneath our towers?’

Burleigh might have laid these lines to heart, but did not, for he had never heard them. Confident in the success of his suit if pressed on with vigour, and encouraged by the manifest leaning towards him evinced by Mrs. Stevens and her husband, he had determined on bringing matters to an issue, so far at least as speaking to Captain and Mrs. Stevens, and soliciting their permission to urge his suit upon their sister. It may seem strange that, under such circumstances, people should have had time or inclination to think about such matters as love-making and marriage; but experience has shown that in periods of the greatest peril, and when imminent danger hangs over the heads of those exposed to it, so long as it is not actually present, men become habituated to the feeling, and will continue their usual avocations unmoved by the threatening of the storm, or the rumbling of the distant earthquake. The Stevenses, however, felt that on the occasion of an outbreak they were particularly exposed to danger. Their own children were a sufficient source of anxiety; but when to this was added the responsibility of protecting their sister too, the difficulties became increased tenfold. By taking advantage of circumstances, by prudence and caution, and the exercise of coolness and courage, Captain Stevens felt that he might be able to provide for the safety of his wife and children; but his sister’s presence, and the danger to which she would be exposed equally with them, rendered the chances of escape obviously far less than if she had a protector of her own. Often and often did they debate the subject with one another as they lay awake at night, their darling little ones fast asleep in their little cots beside them. They had already had more than their share of troubles, for theirs had been the first house which had been fixed on as a prey by the incendiaries. That an outbreak was inevitable, was the firm conviction Stevens had arrived at after his adventure in the conspirator’s house. It seemed now to be merely a question of time. They might have a respite; it might be short, or it might be long, but the storm had gathered above their heads, and the doubt was—when would it burst?

And so it happened that when Burleigh, on the same morning on which the events last described took place, appeared at their hpuse, and, in an interview with Stevens and his wife, when Amy was not present, stated his views, and wishes, and made use of the argument, among others, that though the present might not be a suitable time for marriage and its usual consequent rejoicings, such a connection could not but add immeasurably to the chances of Amy’s safety, they received his proposals favourably, and not only accorded their permission, but added every encouragement they could to him to advance his suit.

The main object of his visit being over, and having been attended by success far beyond his fondest expectations, Burleigh rose to go, and Mrs. Stevens went straight to her sister’s room to communicate the information, and her own and her husband’s wishes on the subject.

‘You know, dearest,’ she said, after telling her, in a plain, straightforward, and simple manner, the object of Burleigh’s visit, ‘that we should be sorry, very sorry, to part. But we could not expect you to remain always with us; and besides that, we feel certain that Mr. Burleigh will make a good and affectionate husband, and is comfortably situated; you will be so much safer with him than with us, exposed as you necessarily will be with us to all the dangers that surround a large family, and that are increased tenfold by every additional person on whom that danger may fall.’

‘You want to get rid of me, I see, Sophy,’ said she, smiling, though sadly.

‘You know me too well for there to be any fear of misunderstanding me, otherwise I should not have said what I have, Amy,’ said her sister, kissing her. ‘But if you are to be Mrs. Burleigh, why not be so now, when he could protect you so much better than we can? Indeed, if it had not been for this, I would have proposed your waiting as long as he could be induced to wait.’

‘But suppose I do not intend to be Mrs. Burleigh at all, Sophy, what then?’

‘Ah, then indeed! that alters the case.’

‘Yes, it does slightly,’ said Amy, laughing outright; ‘and to tell the sober honest truth, I never do intend to be, unless, indeed, I have the alternative of being burnt alive, or massacred, or being Mrs. Burleigh: that, indeed, alters the case.’

‘Do not talk so dreadfully. Amy. God forbid it should come to that! but you know Mr. Burleigh would be able to protect you, if anyone can.’

‘I would rather, far rather, stay with you and the children, and share your dangers and distress, if it pleases God we should see the worst. I would—indeed I would. I could not leave you now, Sophy; no, I would not do so, even if I were deeply in love, which I am not—at least with Mr. Burleigh!’ she added, in a kind of spoken parenthesis, and blushing at the time: ‘besides, it would be so dreadful to be married now—it would seem absolutely wicked. No, Sophy! if Mr. Burleigh speaks to me, I shall tell him; and if he speaks to you, do you tell him. My mind is made up; I would not do it for the world.’

‘I have scarcely a right to ask you, I suppose. Amy, but I am curious to know: is there anyone else you would marry now?’

‘No,’ said Amy, after a slight, very slight pause. ‘I think it would be wrong. I would not at such a time as this, for all the world, multiply any man’s anxieties by giving him a newly-married wife to protect: no, it would be wrong.’

‘But I do not understand Mr. Burleigh. He seemed so confident that the only thing to be secured in the case was our consent. Have you encouraged his love?’ Amy blushed again.

‘Yes, Sophy; and to tell the truth, this is what has been making me so unhappy. I was a foolish, thoughtless girl; and before I knew anything of my own heart, I did let him talk nonsense to me in a way I ought never to have allowed. I meant nothing, but I suppose he did.’

‘Indeed he did. Do you know, Amy, he is very much in love with you. I am sorry for this.’

‘It was wrong, very wrong of me,’ she said, fairly bursting into tears. I cannot tell you how sorry I am.’

‘Well, Amy, what is past cannot be undone. There is this consolation, at any rate, that in the active scenes we must all soon take part in, and especially the gentlemen, there will be very little leisure for any of us to brood over our own sorrows, or to attend to feelings.—Hark! what is that?’

[[Volume 2]]

Chapter XX

To describe the cause of this alarm that interrupted the different conversations related in the last chapter, we must follow Burleigh.

That gentleman, after leaving the house, proceeded down the cantonment road at a leisurely pace. It was some little distance to the lines of the 75th, and he had passed that part of the station, when his notice was attracted by a vociferous shouting of some one from the lines, from the neighbourhood of the parade-ground. At first he paid little attention to it; but upon its increasing in loudness and vehemence, and, as it seemed, by the addition of a number of new voices, he stopped his buggy and listened.

The uproar, for uproar it had now become, increased, and anxious to investigate the cause, he turned down the first bye-road that offered itself. This road led down at right angles through that part of the lines occupied by the officers’ houses. He had not gone far, before he saw evident signs of a panic. Inmates of houses appeared for a moment in their verandahs in all stages of dishabille and undress; then they rushed in, and were succeeded by others. The servants were clustering on the tops of the garden walls, or at the gates, all listening eagerly, chattering as fast as they possibly could at the same time, and many gesticulating by signs for the benefit of their neighbours on opposite walls and at opposite gates. By-and-by, like a flash of lightning, an officer on horseback dashed past, riding as if for very life towards the parade-ground. It was Dickenson, the adjutant. Then came another from another direction; the second was Graham.

‘What’s up?’ shouted Burleigh as he passed at full gallop.

^Halloo, is that you?’ said Graham, checking momentarily his horse, and turning his head round. ‘I don’t know—a row, that’s all.’ And on he went.

Meantime the noise increased. It seemed as if all the men had each suddenly obtained two tongues, and all were using them as fast as they could. Burleigh thought it must be the ‘mutiny,’ and so thought others, as we shall see: they were but inexperienced in such scenes.

Burleigh now began to drive at a rapid pace; but he had not proceeded far, when he was startled and horrified at the sound of women’s voices shrieking. The sound came from behind; he pulled up and looked; there were two ladies hurrying down the road, vociferating and gesticulating most vehemently. He had no difficulty in determining the identity of the two fair fugitives, whose pace seemed strangely and unusually impeded by their dresses. They were Mrs. Wetherall and her friend Miss Trinchinopoly. As they were calling out to him to stop, Burleigh could not be so ungallant as to drive on, leaving two elderly ladies running along the road after him in a noonday May sun, with a scorching hot wind blowing. They soon came up, and, breathless, pale, panting, dusty, and hot, and without a word of apology, or ‘by your leave,’ unceremoniously climbed into the buggy, one on each side, squeezed the owner of the vehicle between them as they squeezed themselves (and it was no easy task) into the seat, and telling him to drive on for Heaven’s sake, burst into tears.

Burleigh, hardly knowing what to make of it, did the best he could under the circumstances, obeyed the mandate and drove on. He was making the best of his way to the parade-ground, and had indeed by this time drawn very near it, when the ladies, pausing in their tears, asked where he was going.

‘To the parade-ground,’ said Burleigh, innocently enough, ‘to see what all this hubbub is about.’

‘To the parade-ground?’ shouted his companions, both at once. ‘For mercy’s sake, don’t go there; we shall be murdered, indeed we shall!’

‘Let us see what the noise is about,’ urged Burleigh.

‘What the noise is about?—why, it is a mutiny! Don’t you hear the sepoys’ voices? I know they have murdered my poor husband before this,’ said, or rather cried, Mrs. Wetherall. ‘Drive away down this road, anywhere but there.’

‘Really, ladies, I think you are unnecessarily alarmed. Even if it is a mutiny, let us hope for the best. The artillery will no doubt be down here immediately. But if you will allow me, I’ll just run round the corner and see what really is the matter.’

They had now reached the bottom of the road; a few paces further on would have brought them on the parade-ground. Nothing was to be seen from their present position. Whatever was going on was at a point near the lines, necessarily hidden from the party in the buggy by the sepoys’ huts. There was a terrible noise of hundreds of voices jabbering and shouting, but nothing as yet more formidable.

The ladies tacitly acquiesced in Burleigh’s proposal, so he pulled up the horse, saying, ‘If you will be good enough to wait for me just a minute, I will run round and bring you word what is the matter: if there is anything serious and any danger to be apprehended, you may depend on my letting you know, and driving you off immediately.’

Suiting the action to the word, he politely handed the reins to Miss Trinchinopoly, and proceeded to extricate himself as well as he could from the entanglement of crinoline and starched petticoats that wedged him in on both sides. It was no easy matter to do this; but, believing himself at length clear, he stood on the edge of the buggy, preparing to jump off: jump he did, but, alas! his foot had caught in something belonging to Mrs. Wetherall’s toilet, which was where it ought not to have been; there was the sound of a rent, and a faint scream, and Burleigh fell sprawling on the road, while a shower of rupees rolled itself out from under Mrs. Wetherall’s feet into the buggy, and then dropped into the road. The phenomenon was an unusual one, but there was not time to speculate on probable causes of extraordinary events; and Burleigh, who was not hurt by his fall, jumped up, and leaving the rupees still issuing from their hidden source and rolling about the road, ran off to see what was the matter on the parade-ground.

Just as he got round the corner, the hubbub ceased. All he saw was a very large crowd of sepoys, apparently all congregated together without their arms or uniforms in a space of ground between the quarter-guard and the huts. The officers were there, most of them on horseback and in uniform, and conspicuous among them all was the fine manly soldier-like form of Colonel Wetherall, who was sitting on his horse almost in the centre of the group, and evidently haranguing the men. There was no violence and no appearance of any, no disrespect to officers, no show of force, no snatching of arms; as the colonel proceeded with his oration they became quieter, till at length total silence prevailed, and Burleigh could hear, from where he was standing, the voice of the colonel, though he could not distinguish what he said. It was clear there had been a panic and a hubbub, but nothing more. Matters had not proceeded very far, and the men were evidently quite under control; there was no danger—nothing to be apprehended. So Burleigh thought he might as well return to his buggy, and reassure the ladies, and get them home again. What was his consternation, in turning the corner, to find his buggy and horse gone! There was no vestige of it; only the rupees, still strewed about the road, marked the spot where he had pulled up the horse, and pulled down Mrs. Wetherall’s petticoat purse strings.

To give the reader a little insight into the cause of this panic, and show ‘how we managed’ these things sometimes in the Bengal Presidency, it will be necessary to go back a little in time, even to the early morning of the day in question.

Ever since the intelligence of the outbreak at Meerut and Delhi had reached him. Brigadier Cartwright had been growing hourly more and more nervous. He exhibited no agitation indeed in public; but, as the old adage says, no man is a hero to his valet, so I fear it was the case with this gallant officer and his faithful Ramchurn. Many a time, when that intelligent domestic was engaged in washing his master’s feet, and such other little services which Indians of the old (and I am afraid too many of the more modern) school deem absolutely necessary to have done for them, by way of encouraging and elevating, I suppose, the native mind (it cannot be with a view of saving themselves trouble), did the brigadier attempt to fathom the secrets of his heart, and endeavour to make himself acquainted with the feeling of the native population.

‘Well, Ramchurn,’ he would say, ‘what news?’

‘Nothing but good news, sahib,’ would be the reply.

‘Are the sepoys faithful?’

‘Why should they not be so? Is not the British government the same as a father and mother to them?’

‘Undoubtedly, Ramchurn: but you see what have they not done at Meerut and Delhi? Do you think now they are likely to do the same here?’

‘How could they be so ungrateful? the men under your command, sir, are so pleased and happy, that they would go on board ship and go to England with you, if you but gave the order.’

‘Yes,’ said the brigadier to himself, ‘it is experienced officers such as I, that thoroughly understand the native character, who alone can prevent mutiny and disaffection;’ and then he would continue his conversation, flattering himself all the time that he was obtaining useful and correct information regarding the state of feeling and general topics of conversation among the men in the lines.

But Ramchurn very soon began to find a source of amusement opened out to him by these confidential discussions with his master, and it became his delight to dwell so frequently and forcibly upon the atrocities committed by the rebels at Delhi and Meerut, describing them even to the minutest detail, and illustrating his animated style by so much gesticulation and pantomimic action, that he generally left his master in a very upleasant state of nervous depression, a cold sweat breaking out all over him from apprehension and disquietude. On the morning of the day alluded to, and it was an eventful day at Islamabad certainly, this state of things had reached its climax; for Ramchurn, being either particularly maliciously disposed, or having an object in view, made his master’s heart palpitate to such an extent as to be almost audible, for he informed him with much solemnity, and a most impressive air, that he had undoubted intelligence that a very large body of the sepoys belonging to the 75th were prepared to mutiny, and had resolved upon making the brigadier the very first victim. The gallant soldier, on the receipt of this intelligence, cut short his toilet and sent over for Captain Barncliffe.

When the brigade-major arrived, the brigadier communicated the dreadful intelligence he had received, and asked the advice of his staff, saying, as he did so, that it was his opinion, provided the cavalry and artillery could be depended on, that they ought to disarm the infantry at once.

Barncliffe, who, as my readers will be aware, was by no means wanting in common sense and shrewdness, nor in knowledge of native character, had thought the matter over a good deal. At the stage the mutiny had then reached, it was the general belief that disaffection had tainted only the ranks of the regular army, and that the irregulars, particularly the irregular cavalry, might be depended on. Of the loyalty of the infantry there was of course reason to be suspicious; and if the artillery and cavalry would but act, there could be no doubt that to disarm the sepoys would be a politic measure. He therefore received the proposition with an intimation of assent, and after some further discussion (held in the presence of course of Ramchurn), in which they talked over their plans, and so on, it was finally determined that the sense of the commanding officers should be first taken on the subject, and with their concurrence, which was certain to be given, the disarming of the 75th should be carried out the next morning. Captain Barncliffe then went home, to issue the requisite instructions.

He had not been gone long, before Ramchurn went too, to have his morning meal and smoke his pipe in the lines.

Left in solitude, the brigadier’s mind immediately reverted to, or rather, I should say, continued to dwell upon, his now constant theme for reflection. This reverie was broken in upon suddenly and rudely by the sound of a horse galloping rapidly into the compound, stopping before the door, a clanking of steel scabbard and spurs as the rider dismounted, and a very loud voice demanding immediately to see the brigadier. There was no mistaking that voice; it was Captain Murray’s.

The dashing ‘sabreur’ was not long in finding his way to his chief’s presence, and he made his entree in his usual brusque manner, commencing his remark on the business in hand almost before he got inside the room.

‘By Jove, brigadier, I’ve got some news to tell you: we must act—act at once.’

The brigadier’s heart began to palpitate audibly; but he kept his countenance and his dignity, and requested his visitor to be more explicit.

‘Two of my native officers,—they are coming here, they will be here immediately—’

‘I don’t wish to see them—I don’t wish to see them in the least. You are the proper channel of communication. Captain Murray. Pray proceed with your information.’

‘Two of my native officers have just brought me certain intelligence of a plot they have discovered among the artillery, to rise and murder the Europeans.’

‘The artillery!’ said the brigadier, almost committing himself by an evident start, but he checked it in a moment, and seemed indeed much less excited than his visitor. ‘The artillery! well, this is strange. I thought they would be the last to mutiny.’

‘So did I—so did we all, but it’s true all the same. I saw the letter, the paper which they had all signed. To-day is the day fixed for it, too. I have only just heard in time.’

‘The artillery unaided are not likely to attempt anything of the sort, Captain Murray. Artillery cannot act alone.’

‘No, sir; but, by Jove, they won’t be alone long—they will be joined immediately by all the blackguards out of the whole place. But I’ll tell you what, sir, and this is what I am come to ask you; my men are faithful, true to the back-bone, loyal to their heart’s core, and fit for anything; if you sanction it, I’ll take them down, seize the guns—that is, disarm the artillery, and the station will be saved.’

‘But the officers,’ urged the brigadier, ‘the officers—Captain Hornby must be consulted—I must send for Captain Hornby.’

Murray stamped with impatience—‘Hornby! psha—he is infatuated, sir, mad—he does not know what goes on in his own lines: the danger is most imminent—a single word of this to Hornby would deluge the station in blood; the artillery are all ready—even now they are horsing their guns—there is no time to waste in sending messages which will only lead to endless discussion, and while we discuss all will be lost. My native officers urged me to come instantly to get your authority to act—in half an hour’s time they assured me all would be lost; it will be too late—no natives fight without artillery—if we secure the guns we are safe.’

The brigadier was at first struck dumb with amazement at the idea of so bold a venture. But, as he turned it over in his mind, the chief difficulties that seemed to oppose themselves in the way of such an operation gradually disappeared, and many manifest advantages began to appear, like the tops of mountains showing themselves on the subsidence of a flood.

If what Murray said was true—and he repeated it so often and with so many strong asseverations, and had such perfect absolute confidence in his own statement, that the brigadier soon began to think with him—by securing the artillery they would secure the station. The European officers, with a battery of six guns, supported by a wing of cavalry and a portion, at any rate, of the 75th Regiment—for it was not likely that all would be traitors—would be quite strong enough to inspire intended mutineers with awe, and trample out mutiny if it declared itself. Add to these considerations the effect which a blustering and confident man always has over a timid and wavering one, and the constant assurances Murray gave of his ability to perform the duty, and it is not to be wondered at that the brigadier came to think favourably of the suggestion, and finally acquiesced in it. Captain Murray, however, was fully alive to the value of foolscap, and accordingly requested the brigadier to give him an order in writing. Pulling a writing-case that lay open on the table towards him, he wrote as follows:—

‘Brigade Morning Orders,
‘By Brigadier Cartwright, Commanding.
‘Islambad, May 31st, 1867.

‘Captain Murray, commanding 19th Irregular Cavalry, is directed to take his wing down to the artillery lines, and place sentries of his own men over the guns of No. 10 Z. Battery without delay: the gunners will then be called upon to deliver up their small arms.

‘C. Cartwright, Brigadier,
‘Commanding at Islamabad.’

‘Within an hour, sir, I will report to you that this dangerous and important duty has been performed;’ and so saying, Captain Murray doubled up the order and put it in his pocket, and taking his helmet, walked out of the room. The brigadier was cheered by hearing him whistling jovially as he mounted and rode off.

Chapter XXI

Meantime the news that they were to be disarmed the next morning, carried down by the faithful Ramchurn, flew like wildfire among the men of the 75th. They were well in hand though, and their leaders had complete mastery over them, so that some little time elapsed before any open demonstration of feeling was made. At last a messenger came running in, saying that the irregular cavalry on their left had suddenly received secret orders to get under arms. This looked suspicious; still the leaders did not act till they heard further. There was necessarily, however, a good deal of commotion in the lines; men were standing about outside their huts in the alleys and lanes talking together, and it was not long before the report got wind in the station among the officers’ servants, &c., that there was something wrong. Among others it reached the brigadier, who was, as may be supposed, considerably discomposed on hearing it, and was about sending over for the brigade-major, when a horseman dashed at full gallop into the compound.

It was Captain Hornby of the Artillery, who jumped off his charger, and hurried in breathless haste inside.

‘For Heaven’s sake, sir, lose no time,’ he said to the brigadier; ‘the irregular cavalry have broken out. I received certain intelligence that they were going to this morning, but could not act on it. In ten minutes’ time the troopers will be galloping about the station sabring all the Europeans: give me an order quickly; my guns are ready horsed—I’ll bring them down and check the mutiny at once. If they can be disarmed and their horses taken away before they have broken out, we may save the station; otherwise our lives are not worth a day’s purchase.’

‘Are you certain of your intelligence, Captain Hornby? Murray was with me a short time ago, and seemed perfectly assured of the temper of his men.’

‘Murray’s a fool—he is a brave, dashing soldier, but in all things else he is a mere child. I tell you, sir, my information is undoubted. I had it from the senior native officer of my troop, who came to me just before I came out.’

‘Did he give you any proof, Captain Hornby, of the truth of his statement?—for, after all, it may be a false report. Besides, I have heard very unfavourable reports of the temper of your men.’

‘He showed me the very agreement, drawn up and signed by all the irregular cavalry officers; and here it is,’ he added, drawing the paper out and showing it to the brigadier: it might have been an agreement or anything else, for what he knew. There was a preamble and then a number of signatures in the original in Persian writing.

‘It was given to the subadar to get the signatures of the artillery; but he, like a noble fellow that he is, gave it up to me.’

‘Can you read Persian character?’ said the brigadier.

‘I can make a word out here and there, and I can see there are genuine signatures here: there, see, is Abbas Alli, Meer Khan, and all the rest. The preamble talks about the Badshah at Delhi, and all the rest of it; he read it all to me, every word.’

‘And what was it?’

‘What I told you, sir,’ replied the artillery officer, stamping with impatience. ‘I beseech you give the order; it is the only thing to save the station.’

The brigadier was absolutely at his wits’ end. There was plain proof in this document, all the more awful to his eyes from being illegible, though he could make out a word here and there, and what he did understand certainly corroborated Hornby’s account of it.

The effort to maintain an outward show of calmness and dignity, which, to his credit, I must say he had succeeded in doing very well, was too great a strain upon his mental powers when it came to be protracted. He grew bewildered, looked round for Ramchurn, then took up a bit of paper to write to Barncliffe and request his attendance. Hornby only grew more resolute and more importunate.

‘Every moment is precious, precious as life, for it is life,’ he said, and taking up pen and paper, Captain Hornby wrote out an order for the brigadier’s signature very much resembling, mutatis mutandis of course, that given to Murray, and the brigadier signed it. ‘I must send for Barncliffe,’ thought he, ‘and get these contradictory orders cancelled, all except the last, which must be acted on, of course.’ So, as Captain Hornby was galloping out of the compound, a messenger was despatched to summon Captain Barncliffe. That officer was not at home.

The state of feeling in the lines of the 75tb was by no means tranquillised by the intelligence that shortly reached them, that the guns of Captain Hornby’s battery were horsed. The leaders became confused, uncertain how to act. Was it really the case that they had been betrayed by their comrades, and were the artillery and cavalry really prepared to coerce them? It looked very like it. The men became more and more excited; many of the influential ones were heard to declare openly that they would not suffer themselves to be betrayed by their own leaders; even if the other branches of the service had proved faithless, they would take their arms, and stand in their own defence. Matters became momentarily worse; they ceased to trust one another—they could not understand the turn affairs had taken, nor could they divine the nature of the spring that had set all the works in motion; and so at last, under the influence of their fears, and thoroughly excited, they made their way in masses to the bells of arms, in which the muskets and accoutrements of each company were kept. The noise and confusion became tremendous.

It was very much the same in the artillery and cavalry lines; there too all was distrust and anxiety. Had they been ordered under arms to coerce the infantry, or what was it? The general disquietude communicated itself to the bazaar, and non-combatant portion of the inhabitants of the station. In the bazaar, many of the shopkeepers shut their shops, packed up as many valuables as they could in small bundles, and left the place. Others determined to stay and defend their houses, families, and property to the last. Exaggerated reports speedily flew to the city; all was agitation there. It was evident there was something wrong in the cantonment, from the unusual hubbub that prevailed, which could be distinctly heard.

Before this juncture, Colonel Wetherall and his officers had arrived on the parade-ground. The men offered them no violence, still they were unmanageable. The sergeant-major exerted himself to calm them down and restore order; in vain—they demanded their arms, to defend themselves. ‘They would not remain there to be slaughtered by the artillery and cavalry; they would protect their officers,’ they said, ‘and the colours of the regiment, but they would not give themselves up.’ Presently a report got abroad among them that the cavalry had mutinied, and then with one voice they demanded to be led against the rebels. Their arms they would have! Colonel Wetherall, seeing a crisis had arrived, rode in amongst them, and raising his voice to the highest pitch, implored the men to listen to him.

It was a long time before he could make himself heard; for full half an hour he sat in the midst of the crowd, taking advantage of every occasional lull in the tumult of voices to make his own words heard, and by degrees he succeeded in prevailing those who were the nearest to him to be silent. He then began to speak, and as he continued his address, one by one they ceased talking and shouting, till at length they were all silent, with the exception of that undefinable murmur which arises almost involuntarily from a crowd of excited men.

‘Listen to me, sepoys,’ he called out. ‘You have known me for the last thirty years. Have I ever deceived you? have I ever wronged you? have I ever tampered with your religious superstitions and ceremonies? You have followed me before now bravely in action against the enemy; listen to me now when I require your attention. You have heard a great many reports in the bazaars and lines about what has occurred elsewhere, at Meerut, and Delhi, and other places; how the sepoys there have proved feithless to the British government, that never yet broke its word with them. Some of the reports you hear may be true, but there is a great deal that is false: when did you ever hear a bazaar report that was not in great measure false? Now you have heard that the sepoys have destroyed a number of houses and killed many defenceless persons at Meerut; and at Delhi they have burnt down the station, and placed the pensioned king on the throne, in defiance of treaties and oaths of allegiance. But you have not heard what measures have been taken to coerce them; you have not heard that the commander-in-chief, at the head of a large European force collected from Subathoo, and Umballa, and Meerut, is on his way to Delhi. In a few days he will have arrived there; the place will be surrounded by British troops, by English soldiers, and the mutineers will suffer the punishment they deserve. You say you want your arms to coerce the irregular cavalry and artillery: they do not want coercion—they have not mutinied, nor have they any intention of disarming you.’

‘We are to be disarmed to-morrow,’ said a voice from the crowd, interrupting him.

‘Yes, yes,’ shouted half-a-dozen others; ‘we are to be disarmed to-morrow: the brigadier’s servant told us.’

‘It is false,’ roared Colonel Wetherall; ‘and he who says so, lies to you. Would the brigadier order you to be disarmed without telling me, your colonel? I swear to you he has never spoken one word about it.’

‘We are to take the cartridges,’ shouted another, a deep angry murmur following the words from the whole crowd, like the soughing of a stormy wind.

‘It is false,’ again roared the colonel. ‘The stories you are told in the bazaar, are told you by designing men who want you to commit yourselves by acts of violence which you would be sorry for afterwards, just to suit their own purposes. Let the native officers swear to me on the Koran and the Ganges water that they will be true to their allegiance, and I will swear to you on the Bible of the Christian, which you know is a binding oath to us, that no one shall force the cartridges on you against your will. Let the native officers come forward. There, Thakoordeen Tewarry, I see you among the rest: come forward, and you, Dabie Deen, and you, Sheikh Fyzoolla, and you, Mahomed Khan, come forward.’

The officers, thus addressed by name, and pointed at by the colonel while he was speaking, could not well resist the appeal, and came forward. He then sent the serjeant-major to his house, which was in the right corner of the lines close by, to fetch a Bible, and despatched the pundit and the moulvie of the regiment for the Koran and the Ganges water, which latter is always kept in a small vessel by the pundit, ready for purposes of worship. It may be as well to add, that every native regiment was provided with a pundit and a moulvie, paid by government, for the purpose of giving instruction respectively to the Hindus and Mahometans in their religion, and such literature as the classes in the regimental school might aspire to. In addition to this, they acted as the priests of the religion each professed, administered oaths, &c., according to the forms observed.

While they were gone to fetch them, Colonel Wetherall, who had now fairly gained the ear of his audience, continued to address the men, and flattered himself that he had really recovered his influence, which at one time seemed hopeless and for ever gone. When the Bible was brought. Colonel Wetherall took it in his hand, and holding it up high before the crowd, he said—

‘There, you see this Bible, this book which we Christians believe to be the word of God. I will swear, and I do swear, upon it that your religion shall never be interfered with: you shall not be forced to use impure cartridges. So help me God,’ and he kissed the book ostensibly before them all. There was a slight murmur of satisfaction; a few men whispered to one another, ‘The sahib has sworn, his word is true,’ but those who spoke were in the minority.

The native officers now came forward, and they also took an oath dictated to them by the colonel, the Mahometans placing their hands on the Koran, which was held before them by the moulvie, who stood in front, and the Hindus likewise laying their hands upon the little vessel of Ganges water brought by the pundit. They swore to be faithful to the British government, and to use their utmost influence with the men to keep them to their duty.

If this ceremony had done no real and permanent good, it had at any rate so far acted favourably that it served in a measure to divert the attention of the men, and to allay the terrible state of excitement they were in. The tumult ceased, and they began by twos and threes to drop away from the main body and return to their lines. The colonel lingered about, talking first to one, then another, as long as there were any men left standing on the spot, and then slowly wended his way on horseback through the centre of the lines, followed by a few of the officers, towards his house. As they emerged upon the cantonment road, one of the officers came galloping up from the direction of the cavalry lines.

‘Do you know, sir, it was true after all, the cavalry had turned out and were under arms: they are so now, I saw them myself.’

‘Did you indeed? Were the officers with them?’

‘No, I did not see any. I know they turned out without orders, for I met Barncliffe just this moment and told him, and he said, ‘What the deuce have the cavalry turned out for without orders?’

‘It’s very strange—but there is Barncliffe;’ and as the brigade-major came in sight Colonel Wetherall rode off to meet him.

‘What’s up, colonel, in your lines?’ said Barncliffe.

‘Nothing now, it is all quiet; but the men were excited. They said the cavalry had mutinied, and were determined to march against them; there is a splendid spirit in my regiment—the men are staunch, loyal to the back-bone. Some of them said they were to be disarmed by the cavalry, and they would not be disgraced. Fine soldier-like spirit—but is it true that the cavalry really turned out to mutiny?’

‘It looks like it, by Jove. They’ve turned out, that’s clear enough—and it seems very like mutiny—certainly they had no orders.’

‘Did you see Murray?’

‘Yes, but he is worse than the men. I asked him if he had orders, and he warned me out of the lines. He shouted out, “By Jove, sir, if you come here, I wouldn’t answer for your life.”’

‘Then I suppose the men have seized him, determined, probably, to protect him, but not spare the rest.’

‘Yes, yes, no doubt that is it—he must be a prisoner in reality in their hands: they will protect him, I don’t doubt; but the attitude assumed by the regiment is serious, very serious indeed. Do you think there is much community of feeling between your men and the cavalry?’

‘None in the world—on the contrary, my men would act against them to-morrow.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Certain—the native officers have just this minute all sworn on the Koran and the Ganges water to be faithful. I’d trust them with anything.’

‘Do you know, colonel, I wish you would come with me to the brigadier—I’m just going to him to report this affair about the cavalry. I think the best thing will be to march your corps down and disarm them—don’t you?’

‘I do indeed. I would strike while the iron’s hot, too; the men have just got their pluck up, and they are annoyed at having been threatened: besides, they wanted to march of their own accord against the cavalry just now.’

‘All right, then; there is no time to be lost, let’s off;’ and the two galloped up to the brigadier’s. Captain Barncliffe had no difficulty in intimating to his commanding officer not to divulge just now the subject of the day’s brigade orders, and proceeded to report the state in which he found the irregular cavalry. Colonel Wetherall then reported what had taken place in the lines of his regiment, and dwelt forcibly on the admirable spirit of loyalty evinced by his men, and how anxious they were to be led against the cavalry. The brigadier understood, better than either of the other officers present, the reason of the irregulars being under arms, but he did not like, in the presence of Colonel Wetherall, to let it appear that he had given Captain Murray orders to turn out his men in so unusual a manner without sending them formally through the brigade-major. Besides, Captain Hornby’s report was then fresh in his recollection, and putting the two things together, and Captain Barncliffe’s having been warned out of the lines, the brigadier easily concurred in Colonel Wetherall’s suggestion that his regiment should be called out at once and be marched down to the cavalry lines to disarm the mutinous irregulars, and rescue their officers. Captain Barncliffe, accordingly, penned the brigade orders, and Colonel Wetherall was about to proceed to put them into execution, when they heard a horseman gallop up to the door, followed almost immediately by a second.

In walked Captain Murray, flushed and heated, and close upon his heels Captain Hornby.

‘I came to report, sir,’ said the first, as soon as he had got inside—‘my men refuse to obey orders, and wouldn’t march.’

‘It’s precisely the same case with mine,’ said Hornby: ‘when I gave the word “At a trot, march,” they refused to budge an inch.’

Murray looked rather surprised. Captain Barncliffe, in his blandest manner, said,

‘May I ask. Captain Murray, where you were going to march to? I am not aware of any brigade orders having been issued, directing your regiment to proceed anywhere on duty.’

‘Where to march to!’ said, or rather shouted, Murray, his hatred to Barncliffe absolutely boiling over when he was forced to address him. ‘Why, to disarm the artillery, of course.’

It was now Hornby’s turn to be indignant. ‘Disarm the artillery, sir! why, I hold in my hand an order signed by Brigadier Cartwright, directing me to proceed at once with my whole battery to the lines of the irregular cavalry, and disarm the men and bring away the horses;’ and suiting the action to the word, he drew forth the order and laid it on the table before them all.

‘And here are my orders, sir, to take my wing and disarm the battery, place sentries over the guns, and bring away the small arms of the gunners;’ and he laid his order on the table alongside of the other.

Barncliffe looked puzzled, but he enjoyed a joke, so while the two captains were glaring at one another like enraged tigers, he said quietly,

‘Gentlemen, there has been some misrepresentation here: if you allow me, I will read the brigade orders.

‘Islamabad, Brigade Orders, May—, 1857.

‘Captain Murray, commanding the 19th Irregular Cavalry, and Captain Hornby, commanding No.—company,—battalion Foot Artillery, with battery attached, are directed to proceed to-morrow morning, an hour before daybreak, to the parade-ground of the 75th Native Infantry, and disarm the men of that regiment with as little disturbance as possible.’

‘What!’ roared Colonel Wetherall, absolutely foaming with passion.

‘Here is a subsequent order,’ continued Barncliffe, not heeding the interruption, ‘directing Colonel Wetherall, commanding the 75th Native Infantry, to proceed at once to the lines of the 19th Irregular Cavalry, and disarm the men of that regiment. Both orders to be issued by circular, but entered on record.’

Having read the order, Barncliffe looked up and smiled complacently on the astonished hearers.

The brigadier was one of those men one sometimes meets with, who make up for a vast amount of absolute incompetency by a certain degree of dignity in bearing and behaviour—on occasions. My readers will, perhaps, have little difficulty in calling to mind other instances of this peculiarity in public men. Perceiving the ridiculous attitude of affairs, and how severely such a state of things reflected on his own conduct and aptitude for command, he took refuge in his assumed dignity and said,

‘Gentlemen—you see here the necessary results of over-confidence in your own information, and distrust of that of others. Misled by each of you in turn, I have been induced to lend a too credulous ear to your reports of disaffection and the necessity for immediate action, and to issue orders which, it seems, have not been carried out, owing to your inability to carry them out, and which thus, when they come to be placed side by side, present an appearance of having a contradictory tendency. I must request, gentlemen, for the future, more attention to accuracy of detail and correctness in matters on which you think it your duty to submit reports to me. We will now consider the orders suspended, and will deliberate before taking any further step in the matter. I shall feel obliged by your remaining carefully on the watch as to the conduct of your men, and tranquillising their minds as much as possible. Should you ever require a really faithful and trustworthy person either to give information or communicate privately with natives of any class, I shall always be glad to send Ramchurn to you for the purpose. And now good morning.’

Chapter XXII

The three commanding officers left the brigadier’s house together. Captains Murray and Hornby went to their respective lines to see after their rather refractory ‘babas,’ or children, as they called their men: they found, to their surprise, that they had of their own accord relinquished their attitude of preparation, and were employed, most of them, in cooking their mid-day meals. The explanation of their conduct readily afforded by their native officers and spokesmen was, ‘that they had got under arms under a mistaken idea altogether, that they were to be called on to act against each other; knowing that the whole thing arose from a mistake, and that the sahibs would, with their godlike powers of perception, certainly discover the error immediately, they had considered themselves not only justified in resisting the order to march, but bound to do so: as for their loyalty to the British government, who ever doubted that?’

Thereupon the two officers, having ordered a hundred rupees’ worth of sweetmeats to be distributed among their men as a mark of their approbation of their conduct, and a symptom that their kindly feelings towards them were in nowise diminished, returned to their homes much gratified by the result of the day’s adventures—as far as they had gone.

Colonel Wetherall, however, on reaching home, was dismayed to find that sad havoc had been made with his lares and penates since his departure. The furniture in the room was disordered; his wife’s drawers and the boxes in her dressing-room looked as if they had been rifled and turned inside out; and as for the ladies themselves, there was no vestige of them to be found. He called the servants, who declared, with much concern, that they did not even know the ladies were gone out. The gallant colonel was at his wits’ end to know where his wife and his wife’s friend could possibly be gone to; so, tired as he was, he had to order his carriage and set out like a second Cœlebs upon the search. That the reader may know what had really become of the two ladies, I must retrograde a little in my narrative.

When the two ladies found themselves alone in the buggy after Burleigh had left them to see what was going on, their fears multiplied rapidly. The means of escape were within their reach. Their protector had doubtless fallen beneath the knife or bayonet of an assassin the instant he passed from their view round the corner. Why should they remain there to be massacred too, when they held the reins, literally, not metaphorically, and had but to drive off to place distance, at any rate, between them and those who were doubtless seeking their lives? Reflections of this nature passed rapidly through each lady’s mind, and they were not long in communicating them to each other. There was no dissentient voice. ‘Let us fly. Why should we not? Poor young man, he’s dead by this time, depend on it.’

‘Can you drive?’ asked Mrs. Wetherall of her friend.

‘Oh dear, yes.’

‘Let us go, then;’ and away they went down the first road that offered itself leading in an opposite direction from the lines.

Burleigh’s horse was a spirited animal, and the noise and tumult made it restive: besides, there was something in the general excitement that pervaded all the station which communicated itself somehow to the brute creation, and the two unprotected ladies had not driven far before the horse fairly got the bit between his teeth and bolted. The road was straight, straight as an Indian cantonment road; I can think of nothing straighter to compare it to; there were no obstacles, carts, carriages, gigs, or omnibuses in the way, so the increased speed of the horse was clear gain to the excited fugitives, who had no eye to any danger except that they felt behind in the vicinity of the sepoys’ lines.

So on they went speedily, if not merrily. The animal’s pace, however, increased rather than diminished; and as they fled by garden-gate, and bungalow after bungalow, it began to occur to the ladies that their straight road would soon come to an end, and then what were they to do? Indeed, this consummation seemed not very distant, for they could now distinctly see that it did end, and that in a dead wall, the road branching off exactly at right angles to the right and left. There was no hope of their being able to turn so sharp a corner at the tremendous pace they were going at; nor had they the least power over the horse, or presence of mind to attempt to exercise it. It was getting very exciting; nothing, it appeared, could save them from an inevitable smash, and that in a very few minutes.

And here a philosopher would have found a way to some mysteries of the female mind. At any other time, had these ladies been run away with in a buggy, they would, without the smallest doubt, have gone off into hysterics, or fainted, before the horse had got fifty yards. Now, however, so strong was the counteracting tendency of the fears they had before harboured, that they faced the real danger calmly, while they fled from an imaginary one almost demented from excess of terror.

As the distance, however, between them and the wall diminished rapidly, and the inevitable smash became momentarily more certain, the two ladies began to realise their position; and the reader may judge of the gratification they experienced at seeing a figure on horseback emerge from a garden-gate in front, between them and the dreaded terminus. The figure on horseback, for it was not easy to distinguish what sort of figure it was, glided out of the gate, and when it saw the buggy approaching at railway speed, gallantly and resolutely planted itself in the centre, holding out what seemed to be a spear in rest, like a knight-errant preparing to receive cavalry.

This hostile movement was not lost upon the horse. The animal had had enough galloping with a buggy and two ladies in it behind him, or else did not like running upon the spear pointed against him; so before it reached the spot, it began of its own accord to lessen its pace. Miss Trinchinopoly tugged hard at the reins, and succeeded in pulling up just as they passed the horseman.

‘Oh, Dr. Mactartan, is that you?—how thankful we are you came out just then! we should certainly have been dashed to pieces if you had not come out. Oh, it is dreadful! Such an escape!’ said Mrs. Wetherall.

Her companion, thinking this an excellent opportunity to faint, leant back against the cushion and went off.

‘Faix!’ said the doctor in broad Scotch brogue, ‘I see you want some water. Drive in, Mrs. Wetherall, drive in quick.’

Mrs. Wetherall took the reins and drove in after the doctor, who led the way. By the time they arrived at the door, Miss Trinchinopoly had, however, recovered. This was fortunate, and a great relief to Dr. Mactartan, who had already been considering how he should set about getting her out of the vehicle in her senseless state.

The doctor, having given his horse to a servant to hold, and laid aside his spear, now hastened to assist the ladies to alight, and invited them warmly to take refuge in his house. He had, he said, one or two good hiding-places made expressly for occasions of this sort. There was no doubt whatever that the sepoys would be coming round soon, burning, slaughtering, and plundering; and it was exceedingly desirable that the ladies should conceal themselves. Eagerly did they avail themselves of the offer: indeed, it seemed as if, in the person of Dr. Mactartan, Heaven itself had interfered in their behalf.

When the doctor appeared in the road, I have said he was a formidable-looking personage. Armed he was to the very teeth. First of all, he had two revolvers in his belt; a very large dragoon’s sword in steel scabbard; a huge hunting-knife, the blade of which was full a foot in length; a long hogspear, which had already proved so useful; a double-barrelled gun; and last, though not least, a very heavy walking-stick, with a most formidable-looking knob at one end.

Fully prepared as he was for offensive warfare, he was not the less prepared for defensive. He ushered the two ladies inside his house, assuring them he would defend them with his life; but that there would be no danger, provided they made no objection to taking advantage of his hiding-places.

‘Now, Mrs. Wetherall,’ he said, placing a chair before the mouth of a large thermantidote that stood in the verandah, but had its mouth in the drawing-room, ‘do me the favour to get into this. I have another hiding-place for Miss Trinchinopoly.’

Mrs. Wetherall looked at the height she had to climb from the chair to the mouth of the hiding-place, then turned round nervously: she was half inclined to abandon it, but the sounds of the tumult from the bazaars at the moment increased, and all doubts were dispelled instantly. With a convulsive jump, and a clutch aided by a scream from herself, and a push from the doctor and Miss Trinchinoply, she succeeded in scrambling into the interior of the cooling apparatus.

It was well adapted indeed for a hiding-place, and had been built with that intent by the worthy doctor, who set about it in that spirit of caution which is the peculiar characteristic of his race, immediately after hearing of the disbanding of the mutinous regiments at Barrackpore.

The interior part of the apparatus consisted of three wooden fans springing from the axle in the centre. These, when set in rotatory motion by means of the handle, or occasionally a multiplying-wheel, gave a continuous draught or stream of air through the mouth, which opened through a hole in the wall into the room, the apparatus itself of course standing in the verandah. These fans were so disposed as to admit of a person of ordinary dimensions lying at the bottom of the thermantidote, where the figure was effectually concealed from the view of anyone looking into the mouth, while a khus-khus tatty or screen fixed on each side for cooling the air, which was drawn through them by the draught occasioned by the rapid circular motion of the fans, would effectually shut out from view on either side any person concealed within. So that, provided nobody turned the handle (and to prevent this the handle had been purposely removed), or set the machine in motion, it was as good a hiding-place as could be provided.

Mrs. Wetherall having pronounced she was all right, the doctor took Miss Trinchinopoly’s hand, and led her away to a staircase which communicated with the roof of the house. The doctor’s domicile was a flat-roofed building.

When they reached the outer air, they found themselves on the roof of the lower or side apartment. The centre room, as is generally the case in houses of this sort, was several feet more lofty than the surrounding ones; consequently, they had an ascent of about six feet yet to make to reach the summit. This was accomplished by means of a moveable bamboo ladder. ‘Now,’ said the doctor when they were both on the top, ‘you see this is my plan. We conceal ourselves under the parapet, where no one can catch a glimpse of us from below, and draw up the ladder: not seeing any ladder, it would never occur to mutineers that there could be anyone up here.’

His companion expressed her gratification at the security of this hiding-place, but remarked that if they remained there during the heat of the day she would certainly be struck down by coup-de-soleil, which was, to do her justice, not at all improbable. So they descended again, and got under shelter on the staircase, where they were in a position to observe all that went on below, and to make a hasty retreat to the top of the house if it should become necessary.

Dr. Mactartan was set down by the world as being decidedly not a marrying man: but here the world was, as it very often is in such cases, wrong. Not that his ideas on the subject of matrimony were very practical, or very well defined; but whatever ideas he had were connected in some way or other with Miss Trinchinopoly.

Subsequently, when his penchant for that lady became known, malicious tongues circulated the report that it was in consequence of this lady being the only person in the world in whose case his love of research into the family matters of his neighbours had been fairly baffled, that he entertained the design of making her his own, and so wiping off the stain upon his escutcheon. The doctor was by no means what you would call an ardent lover; indeed, he generally avoided ladies’ society as much as possible, and was dreadfully shy; so it is not to be wondered at that his advances towards Miss Trinchinoply’s affections had been very slow. The present was an opportunity not to be thrown away. Indeed, he found his companion, as the two sat together on the top step, so communicative and confiding, that he felt a good deal of his shyness wear off, and after they had been seated in that interesting position about a quarter of an hour, he found himself talking with her as freely and unreservedly as if he had known her all his life. Many were the hints and attempts the sly doctor made to worm out of his companion something about her former history; but they were all unavailing. He was obliged afterwards to confess himself completely vanquished: not a word, not a syllable escaped her; she did not make even the most distant allusion to either her father, or her mother, or her place of birth, or the number of years she had been in India, or what friends and connections she had, or what she had been doing all her life till now, or her intentions for the future, or anything at all about herself: she remained, as she always had been to the doctor, an impenetrable mystery.

We must now, however, return to Colonel Wetherall, who was looking all this time for his lost family. As at the very same time Burleigh was looking for his lost buggy, it was very natural they should fall in with one another.

‘I say, Burleigh,’ called the colonel, as soon as he saw him on the road, ‘have you seen my wife?’

^Hulloo, colonel, is that you? have you seen my buggy?’ exclaimed Burleigh at the same moment.

‘Why, man, what does it matter about a buggy being lost? My loss is a much more serious matter. Mrs. Wetherall has allowed her fears to get the mastery over her, and has bolted somewhere or another.’

‘True enough, colonel, and in my buggy.’

‘In your buggy? what business had my wife in your buggy, sir?’ asked the colonel with mock indignation.

‘’Pon my life, you must ask her. She and Miss Trinchinopoly both got into my buggy in the height of the panic, without my asking; and now they have gone off with it, leaving me a victim of my own dependence upon feminine honesty.’

‘Too bad, upon my word,’ said the colonel, laughing. ‘But how came you to get out and leave the ladies in possession?’

‘I got out to take a look round the corner, and see if it was really true, as Mrs. Wetherall’s fears suggested, that you were a cold and bloody corpse.’

‘You are too bad—too bad, Burleigh,’ said the colonel, not relishing the joke and the uncomfortable ideas it was associated with. ‘But see, we can trace the marks of the buggy-wheels in the sand. Look here; down here they went—and, by Jove! what’s this? why, rupees—as I’m a sinner! ‘

The colonel stooped down and picked up three or four rupees as he walked along.

‘You are in luck to-day, colonel, not only escaping the sepoys, but picking up rupees in the high road: strange, isn’t it? Mrs. Wetherall must have dropped them on purpose to give you a clue to her hiding-place.’

‘Why, here are more, I declare. Ah! I see how it is: they brought away a bag of money with them no doubt in their flight, poor things, poor things, and it got unfastened.’

‘No, colonel, it wasn’t a bag,’ said Burleigh.

‘How do you know, sir?’ said the colonel, turning sharply round at him.

‘Oh, I don’t know—of course; but what I mean is, I didn’t see a bag.’

‘Well, then, they had them in their pockets, I suppose. Is there anything extraordinary in ladies under such circumstances carrying money in their pockets?’

‘Oh, certainly not, none in the least.’

They were now fairly in the trace of the fugitives, and of course easily found out the house they had taken refuge in, for Burleigh recognised his buggy in a moment. They went in: all seemed silent and deserted.

‘No, they are not here, Burleigh; they must be hiding in an out-house.’

‘Perhaps they are gone next door.’

‘Ah, yes, or they may be here somewhere.’

‘Julia!’ added the colonel, calling his wife’s name aloud—‘Julia!’

‘Yes, George, is that you?’ replied a gentle voice—from some place, but where the colonel could not divine.

‘Gracious Heaven! where in the world is she? Julia! Julia!’

‘Yes, George.’

‘Where are you?’

‘Here.’

‘Where the deuce is here?’

‘Who’s that?’ cries a voice from the staircase.

‘Who’s that?—‘why, it’s I, sir,’ cried the colonel, stamping with vexation. ‘What the devil have you been doing with Mrs. Wetherall?’—it was very seldom the colonel used strong language—when he did, it was a sign he was very much put out.

‘Here I am, George,’ reiterated Mrs. Wetherall, in a louder voice than before.

Burleigh was leaning against the sofa, holding his sides, convulsed with laughter.

The master of the house had by this time appeared on the scene. He came in, followed by Miss Trinchinopoly, blushing up to the roots of her hair.

The colonel turned upon him wrathfully; he did not see his companion enter at first.

‘Where are tbe ladies, sir?—‘this is beyond a joke!’

‘Joke—faix and there’s no joke about it, colonel!—leddies hiding for their very lives, and you call it a joke!’

‘Ha!’ said the colonel, now catching sight of Miss Trinchinopoly; ‘so you have been concealing this lady in your bed-room, I suppose.’

Miss Trinchinopoly, who was at this moment standing close by Burleigh, on hearing this speech of the colonel’s, went off straight, falling into Burleigh’s arms.

‘Pray, have you taken Mrs. Wetherall there too?’ continued the colonel.

‘Oh, George! how can you talk so!’ said his wife’s voice again.

The colonel looked round, enraged.

‘I am sure you are most unjust to Dr. Mactartan, and very unkind to me,’ continued the unseen speaker, beginning to sob audibly.

‘Will you show me where Mrs. Wetherall is, or will you not?’ said the colonel, advancing towards Dr. Mactartan in a threatening manner.

‘I’ve been going to show you ever so long, but you won’t let a man speak, with your blather and scape, can’t ye hear your wife crying for your bad language?’

‘Julia, dear! where are you?’

‘Here, here, in—the—ther-man-ti-dote,’ said the voice, broken with sobs.

‘Bless my soul!’ exclaimed the husband, going up and gazing into the aperture, ‘so you are—what an excellent place of concealment! Excuse my hasty temper. Dr. Mactartan. Now, my dear, let me help you out—there is no danger now—the sepoys are quite pacified.’

Getting into a scrape is often easier than getting out, as I dare say many of my readers know. So it was with the thermantidote. The ‘descensus’ was ‘facilis!’ not so the ‘ascensus,’ for that had to be made up an almost perpendicular concave and smooth wall of wood, against the obstacle of the fan. Mrs. Wetherall indeed reminded one very much of a squirrel in one of those round cages you see little boys with in the streets; only her cage did not go round, but remained stationary. Not so the fans, however: as fast as she scrambled up a little way, pushing the fan in front of her, down came the other fan behind, squeezing her toes between its edge and the case, and making her give up her hold. Down she slipped to the bottom again, and down came the front fan with an impetus, giving her a tap on the head as a reminder that the internal works of a thermantidote are not to be trifled with lightly.

‘Turn the handle, colonel,’ said the doctor, taking him outside and fixing on the iron handle, ‘Gently—so, gently. Now, ma’am, give me your hand, please;’ and so, aided by force from behind, the lady was lifted up towards the mouth of the apparatus, when, seizing the doctor’s proffered hand, she made a vigorous effort and scrambled on all-fours on to the horizontal ledge.

A chair was brought, and, by the united exertions of her husband and the doctor, the lady was safely landed. Explanations followed, and Miss Trinchinopoly, finding people paid her no attention, but left her lying alone on the sofa on which Burleigh had deposited her, came to, and sitting up, joined in the conversation.

Chapter XXIII

The rapid reaction from a state of panic to one of quiescence and confidence that I am about to describe, may be regarded by the inexperienced reader as too great an improbability to be allowed even in the pages of fiction. But it was nevertheless the case at Islamabad, that two hours had not elapsed since the beginning of the panic described in the preceding chapter, before the station was quieter than it had been for a very long time before. People felt as if the crisis had come and gone. If the sepoys had been intending to mutiny, they surely would have broken out then; they had been wrought up to a state of the utmost excitement, yet they had not only allowed themselves to be calmed and quieted, and shown themselves to be most amenable to reason, but had given fresh and undoubted proof of active loyalty; even their apparent misbehaviour had arisen only from excessive zeal—there could no longer be any doubt that the bulk of them were to be depended on.

Several of our friends had an engagement of some days’ standing to dine with Mr. Dacres that evening. The occurrence which caused the panic of course had driven all thought of the engagement out of their heads: it was only late in the evening, when the sun was nearly setting, and Stevens and his wife, with Murray, were walking about the garden discussing the events of the day, that the recollection of the engagement recurred to their minds.

‘By the way, dear, we were engaged to dine with Dacres this evening; we had forgotten all about it. What’s to be done? shall we put it off on account of the absurd panic, or do you think we ought to go?’

‘Will Mr. Dacres expect us, do you think?’ asked his wife.

‘What do you say, Murray?’

‘Really, I see no possible excuse for not going, except the long distance, and the bore of dining out.’

‘But is it safe, do you think, to leave cantonments?’

‘Safe? why not?—Oh, those sepoys! pooh, pooh, man, why you are safer than you have been for the last six months. This little ebullition to-day has acted as a safety-valve; all the excitement and nonsense has effervesced off; depend upon it, we shall hear nothing more of the Islamabad mutiny—as long, that is, as the old brigadier Ramchurn will leave the men alone: if he takes to worrying them, I wouldn’t answer for the consequences.’

‘You are too hard upon him, Murray, indeed you are! That nonsensical affair was more Barncliffe’s fault than his.’

‘There is a pair of them: and, upon my soul, if there ever was an excuse for men mutinying, it is the brigade here that has it. But about Dacres—I’ll go and ask my wife: I know she’ll go—and we’ll go if you will.’

‘I hardly like to go so far and leave the children,’ said Mrs. Stevens, as Captain Murray ran into the house to consult his wife. ‘Suppose anything should happen?’

‘I really think, my dear, that, looking at the thing calmly, we must be of opinion that there is less danger of any disturbance than ever there was before,—that is, since this excitement began. I really think it would do you good to go out, and Amy too: we shall be away a very short time, you see. He won’t dine till eight, and we shall come away at nine or half-past. I want to speak to him, too, very much, about what has occurred, and see if Harley has come back, and what news there is.’

‘Oh, I’m not afraid if you think it is safe to go; but after the fire that night,—and altogether it is natural to feel anxious. However, we’ll make it an excuse for coming away soon; and if we are back by half-past nine, we shall be away but a very short time. Let us go.’

And they went. The party was a small one, however, for several who had been invited from cantonments had refused, being unwilling to leave either their posts of duty or their houses. Besides the party from Captain Murray’s house, which made five, there were only Mr. Dacres, Mr. Thurston, Graham, and Burleigh.

Harley had not come back. Colonel and Mrs. Wetherall had refused to go; so had several others.

It would be tedious to describe the dinner; it was like most dinners of the kind, and very nice dinners they are, such as we see to advantage in India, where the party is a sociable one, and all ostentation, formality, and nonsense are excluded by general consent, and everyone tries to enjoy himself and please his neighbour. Burleigh kept the table in a roar of laughter by his description of the scene with the two ladies, and the colonel’s search for his wife; then Murray told the story of the scene at the brigadier’s, where all the commandants met, and each produced his order to disarm the other men. Mr, Dacres, however, looked very grave while this episode was being described, and seemed to think it no laughing matter, but rather like playing with edged tools.

Mr. Thurston was delighted at the ‘beautiful traits of native character accidentally developed by the day’s proceedings,’ and in allusion to Colonel Wetherall and Captain Murray’s manner of treating their men, and the evident influence they had gained over them, remarked that had the regiments at Meerut, Delhi, or elsewhere, been commanded by men of that stamp, there would have been no mutiny, This immediately led to an animated discussion on the origin of the mutiny, and Lord Canning’s policy in disarming the sepoys at Barrackpore. The ladies had left the room, and the gentlemen, having it all to themselves, fell to, and the argument waxed strong. Mr. Thurston, however, had—at least he fancied he had, it all his own way, and lectured his opponents as if he was speaking, as, indeed, he was in his own estimation, ex cathedra. ‘You may depend upon it, gentlemen,’ said he, ‘and I speak with the advantage of several years’ experience of Asiatic character—nay, of the whole human race, and with the advantage too of having been able to watch recent events in this country, and the working of the system of administration which has led to these results, from a more distant and more just point of view than any of you;—I say, with this experience and these advantages, that I am perfectly, certain that to guide the helm of the state in India only requires ordinary prudence and common sense: to control the people, the lower classes, the soldiery, requires leniency, gentleness, and mildness; even your criminal punishments in this country are far too severe; your treatment of the natives, at least the treatment of most men of your class (for of course I do not speak of individuals), most harsh, revolting—nay, even cruel. These men have been faithful to us for upwards of a century, they have built up an empire for us. They have fought for us, bled for us, died for us; they have always evinced the utmost constancy, the highest devotion, the most unexceptionable, unimpeachable loyalty; they are staunch and true, so long as they are properly managed, and there is no nation on earth I would trust sooner than I would these—’

‘What’s that?’ said Graham, rather abruptly interrupting the member of parliament.

‘The evening gun,’ said Burleigh, taking out his watch,

Stevens looked across the table at Dacres. The latter was pale and thoughtful.

‘How very odd! that is the second time they have fired the evening gun,’ said Murray.

‘The third,’ said Graham; ‘I counted two reports before the last.’

There was not much doubt what was the matter. Wild and breathless, several servants rushed into the room, and gazed at the gentlemen seated at the table in a kind of meaningless way, half in wonder, half in terror. Mr. Dacres’s head-servant, a grey-bearded old Mussulman, came up and whispered something into his ear: the same instant, the voices of the ladies calling from the next room summoned the gentlemen away. They went in, passed through the drawing-room and out into the verandah, where Mrs. Stevens, Miss Leslie, and Mrs. Murray were.

‘God! James,’ said the former, as she leant against her husband almost fainting, ‘the children, the children!’ and a convulsive shudder shook her frame, till her husband was obliged to hold her tightly in his arms to restrain its violence, at the same moment that he whispered into her ear words of hope, and confidence and encouragement. Alas! they were but too empty.

Shall I attempt to describe the scene? I must do so, but I feel how far short my best efforts must fall.

Mr. Dacres’s house was built on slightly-elevated ground. From the verandah, which was semicircular, in which the group were standing, both the cantonments were visible on one side, and a good part of the city on the other to the extreme right. The front was taken up with the different gardens and houses of wealthy natives. The space between them and the cantonment was open cultivated ground, interspersed with groves of mango and other trees. The night was not quite dark, for there was a moon a few days old, but it was dark enough to afford a vivid and fearfully striking contrast to the scenes that soon met the eye of the spectator from the verandah. The same noise, tumult, and confusion that had sprung up so suddenly during the day was now repeated, only magnified tenfold. Suddenly, as if by magic, it arose, when the booming of the third signal-gun at nine o’clock, the usual hour for gunfire, had sounded the knell. The reader in India may have seen, after a sudden and heavy shower of rain, a pond which before was dry, become, all at once, filled with an animated moving mass of frogs, of all sizes and ages, each croaking with all its might and main. The water seems alive with them; it appears a mass of frogs, croaking, screaming frogs, and nothing else. So it was here, on an infinitely magnified scale. Every human being in the city, and within a circuit of five miles of the city, seemed suddenly possessed with an unaccountable determination to make a noise. All the servants and hangers-on, chuprassies, &c., in Mr. Dacres’s household and premises—and they were no small number—were jabbering and chattering as fast and as hard as they could. The noise of voices from the city was something tremendous: you would not have believed human voices could have made so great, so terrible a tumult. All the space of ground between the city and the cantonments seemed alive with human voices, while from the cantonments itself the sound, mellowed by distance, came borne along the sultry evening breeze like the subterraneous rumbling of a volcano, or the distant growling of a tropical thunder-storm. The booming of the heavy guns at intervals sounded more like the firing of minute-guns, or signals of distress from some ship in a tempest at sea, than anything like a real engagement; but the frequent rattle of musketry told too plainly that the artillery were not only being used for signals. First one, then another, then a third, then too many to be counted, rose the blaze of flaming bungalows, the church, the bazaar, the lines. Even so far off as Mr. Dacres’s house you could hear—or it might have been fancy, you seemed to hear—the roar of the flames as they leapt, danced, curled, revelled in this work of destruction among the dry combustible fabrics of the thatched roofs.

It is needless for me to dwell upon the feelings, the fears, the fancies of the little group who watched this terrible scene: no words of mine, no language from the pen of the most brilliant writer that ever lived, could depict a millionth part of the anguish felt by two at least out of the number. There is one place only in which scenes something similar to this have been portrayed, though in prophetic signification, in language at all adequate to the subject, and that is in the pages of Holy Writ. Vividly, when gazing on such scenes, have those passages recurred to me, as if I beheld before me their actual realisation.

The deepest, most harrowing anxiety was felt by all—anxiety that was scarcely bearable, to hear what had befallen the officers and others in cantonments. Mrs. Stevens and Mrs. Murray were the images of utter woe and despair. One glance at the agonised expression of those pale features, on which the moon was shining with a faint sickly glare, would have impressed them indelibly in your mind, never to be effaced, and with such force that for a time you would have felt as if it were impossible ever to smile again. ‘Why did they leave their children?’ was the cry they sent up to Heaven from their hearts—an exceeding bitter cry, a cry of anguish, and of cutting self-reproach, unheard except by Him to whom the faintest breathings of the human heart are audible. Human reason was powerless in such a frame of mind, nor could they ask themselves ‘What could we have done had we remained with our little ones?—for there is no protection save from above. God, surely thou wilt shield them from harm!’

There are some seasons when in the midst of danger and of death the mind can find space, leisure as it were, for prayer—for that raising of the soul to God by a vigorous and active effort of the whole powers of the mind and spirit, of the intellect and the feelings, which alone is worthy the name of prayer. On the deck of the wrecked ship, in the pitchy darkness of a stormy night, surrounded by the roaring, hissing foam of a tempest-tossed ocean, the lost mariner may find time to pray; but in times of intense action, or when thoroughly prostrated by a tremendous blow, the mind may be too unhinged to concentrate its faculties at all for any prolonged appeal to the Source whence alone, in such seasons, deliverance or support can come. Yet in times like these—happy they who never knew them!—the appeal may spring from the sorrow-stricken soul to its Maker in one short impulse that shall penetrate the void ’twixt earth and heaven with a speed that puts the lightning-flash to shame.

Where were the gentlemen of the party all this time? The scene has taken long to describe, but it was short in action. Dacres was calm and self-collected; so were the rest in a degree, but he was especially so. Murray was clear-headed, though excited; he was the first to plan, the first to act on his plan.

‘Come,’ said he, addressing Stevens, who was standing for the moment as I have described him, with his wife locked in his arms, when she fell on his breast, at the first, struck by the suddenness of the blow, and the agony of the reflection that her children were in the midst of that dreadful scene, and she away from them,—‘Stevens, you can be of more use here; Graham can go with me. You, Eliza, love, stay with Mrs. Stevens. We’ll do all mortal men can do. Cheer up; I have every confidence in my orderlies. Thank God, Stevens, your children were under our roof.’

Stevens did not feel as if he could respond to that very well. He saw, however, the wisdom of Murray’s counsel. There were three ladies—they might be attacked any moment; some one must remain with his wife and sister, and, oh, bitter thought! he must trust his children to the protection of others. It was no time for words; he wrung Murray’s hand; that grasp said as plainly as lips could have done, ‘Go, my good fellow—you are right.’ Three minutes afterwards, the sound of three horses galloping along the road towards cantonments told the rest that they were gone. Burleigh had accompanied them with orders from Dacres to bring him a report of what was going on, and to give notice to as many as he could that the Nawab’s palace garden was the place of rendezvous. Having seen them off so, and left Stevens in charge of the house and the inmates, now reduced to the three ladies, Dacres took Mr. Thurston with him and hurried out to superintend the measures he had before resolved upon in the event of an emergency like that which had now come in its full force.

Chapter XXIV

Captain Murray, mounted on one of Mr. Dacres’s horses, and accompanied by Graham and Burleigh, rode as fast as they could go from the commissioner’s house to cantonments. They met with no opposition whatever on the road: they passed, indeed, a good many groups of natives, who seemed to belong to the class of shopkeepers and others, and who, accompanied by their wives and children, and carrying such goods and chattels as they could get together in a hurry, were making the best of their way towards the city. But they passed no armed men, and no sepoys. Every step that they drew nearer to the burning station, the cries and tumult became louder and louder—the roar of voices, the crackling of burning rafters, the peculiar sound caused by raging flames, which may be likened to the roar of the waves on the sea-shore, mellowed by distance—the reports of firearms, the booming of guns at intervals, and shrieks, cries, shouting, and devilish laughter, all combined; it seemed like hell let loose. When they entered cantonments, they parted; Burleigh going one way to carry out as best he could his orders, and the other two dashing along the road at full speed toward the irregular cavalry lines and Murray’s house. Even along the cantonment centre road they met very few people. The smoke and heat from the burning bungalows was intense—almost suffocating, and the danger from sparks and large masses of burning wood, straw, and other combustible material, constantly hurled to some distance across the road by the force of the falling timbers, not inconsiderable. Nearly all the houses seemed to be in flames; and in many there were forms visible flitting in and out of the burning domiciles, carrying away valuables, or searching for them. A few shots were fired from behind garden-walls and shrubs at the two officers as they galloped along; but to them they paid no heed: intense harrowing anxiety to know the worst kept them straight along their course. At last they neared the goal. But ere they turned down the road leading direct to the house, Graham pulled up suddenly.

‘What’s the matter?’ said his companion.

‘There are three bodies in the road—and see, one is moving.’

They stopped and looked. One was the body of an officer, dead: by him lay two sepoys, one dead, the other writhing in his last agonies.

‘It is poor Jackson,’ said Graham: ‘but see, he had done for two of the devils before they finished him.’

‘Let us on,’ said Murray; ‘we can do no good here:’ and on they went.

With a father’s anxiety to learn the fate of his child amid such tremendous scenes, Murray waited not to go round by the gate, but leaped his horse over the garden-wall. Graham went round and galloped in through the open gate. The horses were excited and maddened with the noise, the glare, and general confusion. Just as he entered the gateway, he saw that the whole garden, at any rate all the road before him, was strewed with boxes, tables, chairs, and all the miscellaneous contents of the house, strewn about in disorder. Before he could rein up or guide his horse, its foot came between the legs of a heavy sofa turned up on its side, and the animal fell heavily, throwing its rider to a considerable distance: the latter alighted on some thick shrubs, and got up unhurt. He turned to his horse; the poor beast lay helpless, its leg broken.

‘One chance of escape cut off,’ thought Graham, as he turned to look for his companion.

Murray had been more fortunate; his horse, accustomed to being ridden across country, had cleared the wall beautifully. The first thing that attracted Murray’s notice, as he approached the house, was the figure of a man, apparently a sepoy, standing with a musket directed to the edge of the thatch. He drew his sword—for in those days no one, not even civilians, went about without their arms—and rode up in time to bring speedy vengeance on the head of the incendiary, but not in time to avert the consequence of his act. Almost all the houses burnt by the sepoys in the mutiny were fired by the muzzles of their muskets being placed close to the edge of the thatch, and the trigger pulled when in that position. The man had done the deed: the thatch caught fire, just as Murray rode up, and with one blow of his sword cleft the incendiary’s head in two, and laid him low. He fell with scarcely a groan. Murray dismounted, tied his horse securely to a tree, and then rushed into the house. Graham at this moment joined him; they made their way together first of all to Mrs. Murray’s bedroom. The beds were there, and the little baby’s cradle, but it was empty.

‘Good God! my child!’ exclaimed the agonised father, in tones no pen can describe.

‘Look out,’ cried Graham.

At that instant a figure advanced towards them from the outside. It was one of Murray’s troopers.

‘It is well, sahib,’ said the man; ‘the little baba is safe.’

‘Ha, Futteh Khan! is that you—where is the baba?’

‘Akbar Ally took him off, and the other sahib’s babas too. He told me to remain here and watch till the major sahib came: he would be sure to come, he said, and to tell the sahib he had taken the children off to the commissioner’s house. Now, sahib, go—there is danger here: the English rule is gone.’

‘Stay, Futteh Khan; where are you going? Follow me. I’ll give you five hundred rupees for this, and make you a serjeant on the spot.’

The man paused and turned, for he was in the act of leaving the room. He laughed, but there was no disrespect or insult in his tone.

‘No, sahib,’ said he—‘you have always been kind to me, and so I did Akbar Ally’s bidding, and told you where your child is; but I cannot follow you. I must go and join my comrades:’ and, shouting ‘Deen! deen!’ the savage enthusiast rushed out of the house with one bound, and fled towards the lines.

‘Let us see what mischief has been done,’ said Graham. ‘The flames will not come through yet; we may save something, perhaps.’

They turned to the other apartment; at the door of Stevens’s room they paused and looked.

There were two ayahs, Mrs. Murray’s and Miss Leslie’s, engaged in ransacking a number of drawers and boxes they had dragged in from the other rooms, containing Mrs. Murray’s wardrobe. One had put on a rich flounced silk dress, the other a white embroidered muslin one, and a lace mantle over her head: their necks and arms were adorned with everything in the shape of necklace and bracelet they could find; the floor was strewed with fragments of finery, dressing-table ornaments, wreaths of artificial flowers, and bits of dresses, ribbons, bonnets, mantles, and all sorts of miscellaneous articles of apparel collected from the rifled sanctum of a lady’s wardrobe.

It was a grim and grotesque scene, a strange mixture of tragedy and comedy. The two women were so intent on their spoil, that they were deaf to all external sounds; and great was their horror when startled from their work by the sound of the officers’ footsteps close upon them. With a scream they jumped up: one got away; but the silk dress so impeded the motions of the other, that Murray caught her before she could get through the door. To force her to strip herself of her borrowed plumes, and then push her after her companion, was the work of an instant. They passed on to the next room, threw open the door, which was carefully shut, but paused at the threshold transfixed with emotions the most conflicting at the sight they beheld. There, calm amidst this terrible scene of hellish malevolence, in the very jaws of destruction, with the roof above him in flames, tranquilly sleeping the sleep of infancy, and the picture of beauty and innocence and purity, on his little bed, lay Georgy Stevens. His head lay on his fat round arm, and his long light golden hair on the snowy pillow, breathing calmly and composedly as if in his mother’s arms.

Their feelings were too strong for utterance: but in one instant it flashed across Graham’s mind, that the trooper had spoken of Akbar Ally’s having taken away only one child besides Murray’s little baby, ‘Thank God we came in here,’ was his first thought.

Scarcely had they had time to realise the fact of the child’s narrow escape, when a bundle of white, that was huddled up in the further corner of the room, became suddenly endowed with the faculty of life and motion, and up started little Georgy’s ayah. She looked at the two officers, then at the sleeping form of her darling, and then, with a wild cry of happiness and relief from a burden of anxiety and fear that had weighed down her soul to the lowest depth of despair, she rushed across the room and threw herself at Murray’s feet.

‘Thank God, thank God, he is saved, he is saved!’ she cried, weeping passionately from very exuberance of joy.

‘Tell us, Joomma,’ said Captain Murray, scarcely able to speak coherently, ‘what has happened—how is it you are here? did not Akbar Ally take the child?’

‘Ah, no, sahib; Akbar Ally was very good. He said, “I can only carry two, the two little ones; you stay here. The sahib is sure to come back if he be alive; stay here and watch the baba. I’ve told Futteh Khan to remain and watch the house, too; and tell the sahib, when he comes, that I had saved the two little ones.” The eldest, he said, was safe. God would protect him, and so he has, for has not the sahib come to take him?—now I will go forth and die.’

‘We’ve no time to lose, Graham,’ said Murray, recalling to his mind the necessity for immediate action. ‘I’ll take little Georgy on horseback; do you take old Joomma, if you can, up behind you, and let us be off. God grant we get safe out of the station with our burden!’

‘Alas!’ said Graham, ‘you must go alone, Murray. My horse broke his leg as I rode into the compound. Never mind; I feel so happy at our having saved this little fellow, that I don’t care for anything else: indeed, I feel quite jolly. Come along; take him up and be off. Never mind me; I’ll take care of myself and join you: if not, you’ll know the reason why. Here, give him to me to hold, while you mount.’

Imminent as was the danger, and pressing the necessity for instant departure, Murray, who had the child in his arms, could not deny the faithful old nurse a last embrace. She absolutely threw herself on the child, and kissed it as if she would breathe out her very life and soul in that last kiss. It awakened the sleeper, and it began to cry. Murray snatched it up, as Joomma withdrew her arms with a heart-breaking sob, wrapped it in the sheet, and hurried out.

To give the child to Graham to hold, to mount, to take it again, was the work of an instant. The flames had made head, the rafters were falling, and fire scattered all round, above, below. ‘Now off, and God protect you, Murray!’ cried Graham, as the irregular cavalry officer, with a burden he and his charger had never borne before, fled out of sight.

Graham turned to Joomma. She had thrown herself on the ground again, transformed into a lifeless bundle of white.

‘What are you doing there, Joomma? Do you not see the fire is falling all round you? Get up; you will be burnt.’

‘Ah, sahib! that is what I want. Let the bungalow fall upon me! I wish to die—my mistress is gone; and the young lady is gone too, and the darling baba: why should I live? The world has come to an end—we shall all die—why should I go?—it is fate.’

‘Nonsense, Joomma—get up; your mistress is safe, and the little boy is safe too by this time. No one will harm you: you can go about without fear. Make haste and go down to the commissioner’s house, and join your mistress: she will be delighted to see you, and will reward your devotion. Go, Joomma,—go’

‘Is my mistress there, indeed?’ said the old woman, revived to hope of life by the thought of seeing her again.

‘Yes, of course she is—all safe and well; and she will want you badly to help take care of her and the children. I’ll go there too directly I can: but we will not go together; for if you are found with me, you will be killed—but alone you will go safely.’

‘I’ll go, sahib,’ said Joomma, rising.

‘And tell the young lady, Joomma, how glad I was to find little Georgy, and not to be afraid. I’ll be there, I dare say, as soon as you.’

‘Yes, yes, I’ll tell the missy baba—may God protect you, sahib!’ and away the old woman went, walking unhurt through the falling fire, like a salamander.

Chapter XXV

Graham now turned to think seriously of providing for his own safety. The first thing, as he had to go through the place on foot, was to disguise himself so as to escape easy detection. The dead body of the sepoy lying on the ground before him at once suggested the means of doing this. Without more ado, he dragged the corpse out into the garden, away from the fire, by the feet, and then stripped it, and dressed in the sepoy’s coat, trousers, and accoutrements. His face was already pretty well blackened with dust, smoke, and dirt; he would pass muster well, he thought. There were several rounds of ammunition in the pouch; so he fixed the bayonet on the musket, loaded it, placed his own sword conveniently so as not to impede his movements, felt that his revolver was all right and loaded, then ‘shouldered arms’ and walked away.

With the view of avoiding the risk of breaking his shins among the loose boxes and furniture that were strewed over the road, Graham chose the garden as his route of exit; and it was fortunate he did so, for just as he reached the wall he heard the sounds of bodies of men and horse approaching. One party, apparently horse, were coming up from the direction of the lines; the other, consisting as well as he could see of about a hundred sepoys on foot, were marching in great disorder along the road at right angles.

The roads met just outside the wall under the angle of which Graham stood concealed effectually in shade and shrubs. The two parties confronted one another within a yard or two of the spot he was standing on; he could therefore distinguish with ease and certainty the words that passed between them.

‘Who goes there?’ was the challenge given by the officer in command of the irregular cavalry.

‘Friend,’ was the reply, given in English.

Both parties halted, when it became apparent at once that the infantry were by far the stronger of the two. They seemed to become alive to the fact, for the mutineer in command, who was dressed in the full uniform of some officer whose house had been plundered, and mounted on a first-rate Arab ‘realised’ from the same source, now took upon himself the initiative in challenging. Riding forward, he demanded in a tone of authority who the horsemen were, whence they came, and whither they were going.

‘Going, by order of the brigadier, to the bazaar, to restore order, and protect the inhabitants from being plundered,’ was the reply.

‘What brigadier?’ said the other.

‘Brigadier-general Gunga Singh Sahib Bahadoor.’

The questioner did not seem satisfied; he turned to his men and called out, ‘Left wheel, quick march.’ This movement was effected with very tolerable military precision, and resulted in bringing the company of infantry up facing the handful of troopers, and directly in the way of their onward progress.

‘Ek deen, ya do deen?’1 now demanded the infantry officer.

‘Ek deen,’ replied the other, without a moment’s hesitation.

‘All right,’ said the officer to his sepoys, in Hindustani, and wheeling up the two centre sections, he made way for the cavalry to pass.

The two parties then proceeded on their respective roads.

‘Ha,’ thought Graham, ‘I have by this accident learned something that may be useful. “Ek deen”—I shan’t forget it.’

As soon as the road was clear, he got over the wall, and bent his steps first of all toward his own house. He met no one on the way; the same scenes of desolation by fire, and the same results of the wanton destruction of property of every kind, met his view everywhere; while the same din and tumult reached his ears from the direction of the lines, as had attracted his notice on first entering the sacked cantonment. His own house was nothing but a mass of smoking ruins; nothing seemed to have escaped. There was nothing to be got by remaining there; so, as the brigadier’s house was close by, he determined to explore in that direction, to see if he could learn anything about the old gentleman’s fate, of which, on account of his childish trust in Ramchurn, Graham felt serious misgivings. He was anxious to meet with Burleigh, or with any party of fugitives whom he could join; and he was as likely to get tidings of them in the direction of the brigadier’s house as anywhere.

Just as he turned the corner and entered the brigadier’s garden through the gate, he suddenly found himself in very uncomfortable proximity to a considerable band of sepoys, all engaged in taking down and carrying off the flag and flag-staff, which stood opposite the commandant’s house; the flag which ‘had braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze,’ metaphorically—identically, the same piece of bunting which had braved the hot winds and the night-dews of Islamabad for a period of ten years, ever since it was issued to the brigadier’s indent passed by order of the Military Board from the Delhi Magazine in 1847. The poor flag was now destined to be carried off in triumph by the mutineers, as a token that the power of Great Britain had fallen, and the senior military authority of the Islamabad Brigade had been transferred from the person of Brigadier Cartwright to that of Brigadier Gunga Singh Sahib Bahadoor, from the top of whose tent-pole it was destined for the remaining term of its existence to fly.

So unexpectedly had Graham come upon these men, that to have halted or hesitated in his advance would have at once raised suspicion. The only course was to brave it out, and test the efficiency of his disguise—at the worst, if discovered, well-armed and agile as he was, and befriended too by the darkness of night, and the facility of concealment among the houses and gardens, the chances were in favour of his escape. So, he screwed up his nerves, for the moment was a nervous one, shouldered his musket in the best négligé Pandy style he could adopt, and, with the pride and swagger of a Bengal sepoy flushed with victory, advanced boldly towards the group. His disguise was good; they scarcely noticed him, did not even put him to the test of a challenge. He passed close to them, and pretended to be much interested and amused at the work they were engaged in as he went by.

Unmolested and unchallenged, he reached the house. Like the rest, it had been gutted, and was in ruins dangerous to enter, for the fire still burned fiercely in parts. He turned and went round to the back of the house with a view of seeking egress in that direction, not wishing to subject himself unnecessarily to the chance of detection by passing the group of mutineers in the garden a second time.

There was a long range of outhouses behind the brigadier’s bungalow, built for the use of his servants; and as the old gentleman was always most attentive to the comfort and welfare of his domestics, the row of huts consisted of buildings very much larger and superior in every way to those generally adapted to this purpose. As Graham went by, his attention was attracted by a light in one of them; the others appeared deserted, and the whole premises empty, but the huts had none of them been set fire to. Creeping up cautiously to the door of the one in which the presence of a light betokened occupation, he looked in; and there—engaged in the genial work of rifling a number of trunks which literally covered the whole floor, and which contained all the brigadier’s valuables, in the shape of best clothing, jewellery, plate, &c. &c.—was the faithful Ramchurn. A little oil-lamp on the ground beside him shed a glow of light on the swarthy features of the trustworthy Hindu, and rendered the scene really picturesque, though, accompanied with the associations it was inseparable from, grotesquely horrible. The gleam of delight which played in the man’s bright eyes, and the savage pleasure which was expressed by his open mouth, and grin of devilish satisfaction, as treasure after treasure appeared from its hiding-place—treasure to the thief of almost countless value—and the covetous, greedy clutch with which he grasped each article and scanned it to test its value, placing those he thought worth keeping on one side, and casting aside the rest; all this would have made a subject for Rembrandt to delight in. Graham longed to discharge the contents of his loaded musket at the villain, but he feared to attract attention, and, after watching the man a short time, turned away, and continued his progress steadily and cautiously towards the open ground at the back of the house.

He had not taken many steps before he came across something on the ground; it was like the body of a man dressed in white. He advanced and looked—it didn’t move; doubtless it was a corpse. He turned it over—for it lay on its face—and started back with horror, for there lay before him, his sightless eyeballs glaring in a fixed stare at the sky above, all that was mortal of poor Brigadier Cartwright. He had died in pain, for there was an expression of agony on the countenance that told too well the nature of the attendant circumstances under which the immortal spirit had parted from its earthly tenement. But the dress! he was clothed in native dress; the costume of a head-bearer. The secret was revealed: the brigadier had been induced to trust his villanous factotum to the very last—had, no doubt, at his instigation, disguised himself in his clothes and left the house: betrayed by the man he had petted and pampered for thirty years, he had fallen by an assassin’s hand: a deep wound on the abdomen and chest made with a knife or sword showed how he had met his death.

‘It is too much,’ thought Graham; ‘I must avenge his death, come what may.’

Ramchurn’s days were numbered now; the accident of his victim having been stumbled upon by the intruder sealed his fate. Graham, unwilling to risk more than one shot, preferred using his revolver to his musket, and so advanced close to the door. Even then his blood recoiled with disgust at the thought of slaying an unarmed, defenceless man. He raised his hand and let it fall again, and turned to move off; there, glistening in the pale moonlight a few paces from him, lay the body of the murdered officer; again he felt nerved to do the desperate deed. He took his aim and fired—and the soul of the murderer fled to confront the spirit of his victim before the throne of his Maker.

Aware that the report of the pistol would most likely attract parties of mutineers in the neighbourhood to the spot, Graham turned, and fairly taking to his heels, ran out of the compound in the direction he had previously determined to take. The moon gave a very feeble and uncertain light, not sufficient to guide his steps, or to enable him to see distinctly what was before him. So it is not much to be wondered at, that, after emerging through the small opening in the wall made by the servants for their convenience in coming and going to and from the bazaar, and forgetting entirely the existence of a deep ditch that surrounded the cantonment on that side, which was crossed by a little wooden bridge, he fell headlong in. It was not very deep, but the ground was hard, and, with the impetus of the force he was running at, he might have injured himself severely had he not fallen on something softer than his mother earth. What it was he had fallen on he could not at the moment divine; speedily, however, he discovered that it was the body of a living man, for he found himself clasped tightly round the waist by a grasp which felt as if he who gave it was fully resolved not to release it while life lasted. He struggled to free himself, or to get out his revolver, but ineffectually, and, after a short but fierce contest of strength, Graham was fairly rolled over on his back, while his antagonist planted his knee upon his chest, and held his revolver’s muzzle to his head.

The change in the relative position of the two wrestlers enabled Graham to see full into the other’s face; and then, and not till then, did he attribute his present position, and his antagonist’s hostility, to the right cause; to wit—his dress.

‘Hold, for God’s sake! Harley,’ he said, just as that energetic gentleman was about to pull the trigger of his revolver,

Harley, for it was he, at the sound of his voice started in a moment to his feet,

‘It’s your own fault, Graham,’ said that gentleman, reseating himself in the position he held before Graham came in contact with him, at the bottom of the ditch. ‘You should be more particular what dress you go about in. Who was to take you for an Englishman, with that cursed red coat on?’

‘My good fellow, it has saved my life once to-night.’

‘And put you within an ace of losing it, too: so the advantages are counterbalanced. But, tell me, where have you come from?—mean originally, not immediately, for I have a very good reminder in the feeling in my stomach that the last place you came from was the top of the ditch.’

‘That’s your story, is it?’ said he, when Graham had finished a brief recital of his night’s adventures, which are already known to the reader. ‘Now let us hear yours.’

‘My story is soon told. I went on a wild-goose chase after those people, fancied myself on their trail several times, but always to be disappointed, and was obliged to give it up and come back. When I got about a mile from cantonments, the mutiny broke out, as we saw and heard plainly enough. My gallant escort fired a volley at me and rode off; my horse was wounded, and I was obliged to leave him and come on foot; so I came along cautiously, and, after half-a-dozen of the narrowest escapes I ever read of, even in Captain Mayne Reid’s books, I took refuge here, and have been devouring a crust of bread I had in my pocket, thinking what I should do next.’

‘What do you propose to do?’

‘Do? why, I take it, it doesn’t much matter what we do. Has the Nawab gone?’

‘I don’t know; but I know that Dacres thought he was staunch, for he has given orders for all the ladies and children to be taken to his palace: indeed, it is the rendezvous.’

‘Well, then, we had better try and get there too; but I’d like to see first if we can rescue or help any poor creature in this place first. Come along; get your revolver all right.’

‘I’ll keep my disguise; and if we get into a hobble, recollect I’m a Jack orderly to the General Sahib Gunga Singh, and you are my prisoner going to have your brains blown out. D’you understand?’

‘Perfectly; now move on.’

They avoided the brigadier’s house and garden, and took the next one to it on their way back to the cantonment. They met no one; indeed, the bazaar people seemed to have fled, and the sepoys to be all on parade. As they approached the road, however, they heard the sounds of horses’ feet advancing at a quick trot, and at the same time a great blowing of horns and beating of drums, such as our irregular cavalry always use. There was evidently a large party going along the road. They ran down to the garden-wall, and reached it in time to see the new-comers pass, from a secure hiding-place under the trees.

The arrival was an important one; at least, to judge by the number, dress, and accompaniments of the escort. About a dozen horsemen, armed and gaudily dressed, trotted on in front, preceded by two torch-bearers and two mounted musicians, one of whom beat the drum, and the other kept blowing a trumpet; behind them came the chief of the party, also dressed very gaudily, and well mounted, wearing a cuirass, or breast and arm piece of chain armour; on each side of his horse ran a torch-bearer, and it was by the aid of the light afforded by their flambeaux that Graham and his companion were enabled to see distinctly the dress, form, and features of the chief. Graham easily recognised him, and nudged Harley to draw his attention to him too. It was the same man, with the fair skin and blue eyes and European cast of countenance, they had seen occupying so conspicuous a position in the assembly of conspirators in the Sudder Ameen’s house. The whole party, as I have said, were advancing at a quick trot, so there was but little time for observation. Behind the chief came another body of about fifty horsemen, as nicely but less gaudily dressed than the advance, and all well armed and well mounted.

As the last of the train passed them, Graham and Harley left their hiding-places and emerged on the open road.

Chapter XXVI

It is now time for me to beat back and give a brief narrative of how the outbreak began.

Confidence and tranquillity had been completely restored in the cantonment long before the evening set in; and the first intimation that anyone received of the impending outbreak was the signal-gun being fired. The sepoys, though calmed down after their previous excitement, were raised into almost unanimous mutiny by a very simple device. I have already alluded to the prevalence of a rumour that a body of European troops was marching upon the station to coerce the sepoys into taking the obnoxious cartridges, and otherwise destroying the distinction of caste, &c. The story was now revived; and in corroboration of it, a man went through the lines of each regiment and detachment, showing to every native he met a paper which purported to be, and was indeed, an order to the native authorities in the surrounding villages to collect, and send in to the station, supplies required for a force of two thousand European soldiers: these supplies, it was stated, were required the next day. This paper had the regular seal of the magistrate’s office, and was duly signed by Mr. Harley’s initials. This was quite sufficient: it passed from mouth to mouth, the report growing in importance every minute, till at length it assumed the most extravagant dimensions. The train was thus, as it were, laid, and the signal-guns set fire to it.

The programme was well observed; parties of sepoys were told off by twos and fours to watch the roads, and shoot down all the English, either men, women, or children, that crossed their beat in the attempt to escape. Many actually had the audacity to conceal themselves in the trees and shrubberies in the different gardens, with the same murderous intent; while parties of incendiaries had been told off to fire the houses in different parts of the cantonments simultaneously. All this was pretty accurately carried out. The only thing it failed in was, happily, the destruction of life. A special providence seemed to watch over and befriend the hapless Europeans, who at first sight appeared to have but very little chance of escape. Yet they did escape in numbers: either the shots fired at them missed, or they took other roads than those watched by their would-be murderers; and in not a few instances the sepoys were withheld from firing from an aversion to shedding the blood of the unoffending hapless victims of the insurrection. But what tongue shall tell, what pen shall write, what pencil depict, what imagination conceive, the amount of human agony that the ominous booming of those signal-guns ushered in? The recording angel, and He alone whose eye is everywhere, and who can appreciate the woes of human sufferings, can tell. In an instant the tranquil cantonment seemed transformed into a pandemonium; the very air seemed filled with voices, all yelling out for murder and destruction. Women shrieked, and ran hither and thither purposeless, maddened with fear; others, more calm and composed, gathered their little ones about them, and resigned themselves to the will of their Heavenly Father. Husbands were distracted with no unmanly fear; their arms, strong at other times to wield the sword and strike the foe—their hearts, stout at other times to brave danger, and encounter death in the cause of duty—ceased to respond to the call the crisis made on them. In a few, a very few instances, the domestic servants aided the escape of their mistresses and children, who, disguised in native dresses, sought safety in the out-houses. The brute creation caught the infection of excitement, and the frantic neighing of horses and barking of dogs, mingled with the shouting, yelling, shrieking, and crying from all sides, joined with constant firing from muskets and occasional reports of cannon, all together raised such a tumult and din as we may fancy shall herald in the final destruction of all mortal things, when the trump of the archangel has summoned the quick and dead to the last judgment.

Among the natives, every man’s hand seemed turned against his neighbour: indeed, there is no doubt that it was owing in a great measure to the lust and opportunity for plunder, that so many Europeans escaped with their lives that night. Very shortly after the alarm-gun sounded, parties of sepoys were to be seen plundering the shops in the bazaar, dragging women out by the hair of their heads, throwing them down in the road, tossing their children on the top of them, and then gutting the houses. The better sort of dealers were naturally the first attacked. In vain did the Nubbee Buxes and Ely Buxes, whose emporiums of European goods (Europe goods, as they called them) made their shops a valuable field for the speculating plunderer, implore the sepoys not to injure their own countrymen; in vain did they offer large sums of money to purchase immunity—there was no distinction made, and before the rebel brigadier could carry out his measures for restoring order, which, to do him justice, he did as soon as he possibly could, half the property in the bazaar, amounting to several lacs of rupees’ worth of goods, had changed hands, and become the ‘lawful’ spoil of the patriotic sepoys. Nor was it only shops that were plundered. Stables and coach-houses were made to yield up their contents. Numbers of the officers’ grooms refused to saddle their masters’ horses, or get ready the carriages or buggies for the ladies or children; and they were obliged to harness the animals themselves as well as they could, with their revolvers ever ready at hand. Even those who succeeded in getting a horse to mount generally had to leave at least one animal in the stable, which, of course, became the property of the next visitor, generally a rebel sepoy: in many cases families refused to wait till their conveyances or horses were ready, and took to flight on foot.

The officers of the different branches of the service, each having the most complete confidence in his men, betook themselves on the sound of the alarm-gun to their own lines. Thither went Colonel Wetherall and all the officers of the 75th, except Graham, who was engaged elsewhere; thither went Captain Hornby and his second in command. Mrs. Wetherall and Miss Trinchinopoly were singularly unfortunate in one respect. They had both been fully prepared for a mutiny any and every day and night for the last fortnight previously. Had it occurred at any moment during that period, it would have found them ready, that is to say, with their bundles of clothes made up ready to throw into the carriage, their jewels and their stock of money disposed of as I have before hinted. But on this particular day, so highly improbable did it appear that a second alarm would take place after the first groundless panic had subsided, that they had by mutual consent determined to desist for once for a short while from their watchful attitude. And so like a thunderbolt from Jove came the tremendous shock. They huddled each a few things into a buggy which had been hastily got ready, and followed Colonel Wetherall at a little distance to the parade-ground. The men were at first respectful, but disorderly. They crowded together in a mass round the quarter-guard, all with their muskets in their hands, which they had first taken and then loaded, without orders, many of them in their uniform, others half in their uniform and half in undress, and others in their native attire. The light from the blazing of the thatch-covered houses in the lines, which speedily caught fire, lightened up their savage features with a glare which rendered the scene more terrible from its changing hues, now red, now bright and glowing, now obscured with smoke, now fitful and flickering, decreasing as the flames met with some obstacle in their course, or swelling as they revelled in the dry grass and bamboos.

The officers were not left very long in suspense or uncertainty as to the temper or intention of the men.

After refusing to obey the orders repeatedly given by the colonel, they turned towards a native officer, who now rode out of the lines mounted on one of the colonel’s chargers, and dressed in full staff uniform, with cocked hat and feathers, and with a drawn sword in his hand. He galloped down to the front of the column, if column it can be called, and waving his sword above his head, shouted out, ‘Deen, deen!’ At the sound of this word, the signal for so many acts of treachery and murder in India in 1857, the whole of the men present simultaneously raised their muskets to their shoulders, pointed them at the small knot of officers (some of whom were accompanied, or followed, by their wives and children) standing or sitting on horseback a little way in front, and fired. Of course the movement was observed by those against whom it was directed; they separated instantly, and fled in different directions as fast as their feet or their steeds could carry them.

A few, however, fell; and among them were Colonel Wetherall, and Dickenson, the adjutant: they were mortally wounded. Mrs. Wetherall and her companion heard nothing beyond the discharge of firearms, but drove instantly in the direction of the open country in front, where darkness at least might favour their escape. Hornby and his second in command were fortunate enough to be protected by a small band of faithful men among the gunners, who declared no harm should come to their favourite officers, and succeeded in bringing them safely out of danger.

Having got rid of their European superiors, the mutineers began to take measures for electing officers from among their own number. This was a work not easily accomplished. The post of commandant, and the higher offices, indeed, there was no discussion about; they had been filled up beforehand, and no one dared dispute the claimants’ right; but there were a vast number of junior appointments which depended on the will and pleasure of the new leaders; and regarding these the controversy waxed hot and lasted long. Deputations of native officers came down from the cavalry and artillery, and the delegates, along with the infantry commandants, retired to a short distance from the spot where the mass of mutineers was congregated, and sat down to deliberate, aided in their discussion by the light of a few torches which were planted in the ground in the vacant space in the centre.

As I shall not have occasion to notice particularly the subsequent adventures or achievements of this body of the mutineers, who shortly after marched for Delhi, where they were merged into the mass of the rebel army, there is no necessity to follow out in detail the proceedings at the conclave. Suffice it to say, that before morning they had succeeded in organising themselves into a brigade under command of the officers, part of whom had been previously nominated to the posts they now held, by order from the head-quarters of the rebellion, Delhi, and the rest selected by votes.

The remainder of this narrative will be devoted to following the fortunes of the fugitives, and relating their adventures. Much of the information is derived from Mr. Dacres’s journal, the outline of which he found time to keep somehow, noting down the principal events, and the most marked features of the exciting times they were passing through, and filling it up and completing it at his leisure afterwards. In that journal I find the following extract of a letter written at the time to his wife, and copied into the journal, as a record to be permanently retained, giving a bird’s-eye view of their position and prospects. This is too important a passage to be added at the end of a chapter.

Chapter XXVII

‘Islamabad, June.—I have no fear for our position as long as the Nawab retains authority over his men; but how long that will be is very doubtful. He is a man of no great firmness of character, well disposed towards us certainly; but if the current sets in strong against us, I am afraid he will prove but a poor barrier, and against him the full force of the tide will be first directed. If he can protect us consistently with his own safety, I believe he will.

‘Among the officers and others I have to cooperate with, and to depend a good deal upon for advice and energy in carrying out my orders, there are not many that are worth very much. Brigadier Cartwright’s death, much as I lament the terrible circumstances attending it, was a happy deliverance for us. Colonel Wetherall and young Dickenson were a sad loss, and a loss not to be replaced. I have much confidence in Stevens’s clear head and calm judgment, too much interfered with, alas! by the critical position of his wife and family, exposed to all the dangers the boldest man and most hardy veteran might well shrink from. Barncliffe in shrewdness and cunning is almost a match for the natives, but I doubt his physical courage. Graham is a fine fellow, worth his weight in gold at a time like this; cool and collected in danger, cautious and wary, and at the same time as brave as a lion. In the present crisis, the memory of the unhappy events, in many respects similar to those we have just passed and are passing through, which attended the death of his mother, frequently recur to him, and cast a deep shade of melancholy on his otherwise spirited character. Murray is a brave soldier, but too impetuous, and wanting in judgment; and of my own immediate subordinates, Harley and Burleigh, the former is an active energetic civil officer; but we want now more of the qualities that distinguish military men. As for Burleigh, I thought well of him, but his conduct the other night was calculated to give a very unfavourable impression of his character to one who knows so little of him as I do. The present crisis is one which must soon try a mail and prove what he is made of. Thurston’s is a character I am uncertain about. Once or twice, suspicions, very vague and undefined, so much so that they could not bear examination, and invariably disappeared when I asked myself on what grounds they rested, have crossed my mind, that he is not what he seems. I feel that I may be doing him the greatest injustice in harbouring such an idea for a moment; still, whether an honest man or a dishonest one, he is indisputably an Englishman, and equally, indisputably, are his fortunes involved with ours; and yet—but I will not commit my suspicions to paper—litera scripta manet. The present is a time when a strong hand and a stout heart are worth much. I will rather congratulate myself on having an extra rifle in an Englishman’s hand, than indulge uncharitable surmises. This much I write in case of future accidents.

‘As soon as the mutiny had become an accomplished fact, and it became necessary for me to act, I left the ladies under Stevens’s charge, and requesting the company of Mr. Thurston—for two are better than one—proceeded to the Nawab’s palace. This was about half a mile from my own house. We rode down there, and met with no obstructions on the way. When there, we found the utmost confusion and excitement prevailing. All the city people were about in swarms, like ants in a nest that has been disturbed. The Nawab met us in the gateway of his palace, as soon as he heard of our arrival; and we accompanied him to the top of the arched gateway, from whence we had a good view of the surrounding country, of the cantonment in our front, and the palace and city in the rear. A number of his men and retainers followed us, as natives always do, curious to overhear our conversation, and we with difficulty induced them to keep at a respectful distance.

‘We made them, however, leave us at last; and they went and stood together on the top of the wall about twenty yards off, clustered together, all chattering and looking at the unwonted spectacle of a British cantonment in a blaze. So the Nawab and I were left alone. Thurston of course was with us, but he understood scarcely anything of what we said to one another.

‘I let the Nawab know at once what I expected of him, viz., to fulfil his promises and give us all such an asylum and a refuge as his palace would afford. He assented immediately, and appeared really grieved at the untoward turn of affairs. That he had, however, even then misgivings as to his ability to carry out his good intentions in our favour, was evident enough. And had it not been for what Burleigh would term a fortunate accident, but what I call an interposition of Providence, there is no knowing how far his good intentions and resolutions might not have been thwarted to our injury, and, maybe, destruction, even in the outset of our difficulties and perils.

‘I apprehended no immediate danger to my house or its inmates, and was anxious to complete all arrangements with the Nawab, and not to leave him till I had by argument dispossessed his mind of some unfavourable views and ideas that I saw but too plainly lurked there. I remained with him for some considerable time, till our attention was directed to a cortège, accompanied by torch-bearers with flaming torches, that we saw coming along the road in the direction of the Nawab’s palace, from the cantonment. We watched its progress till it came sufficiently close for us to discern, thanks to the light afforded by the torches, pretty plainly the dress and form of the people who composed it.

‘First came a band of horsemen, fully armed, and dressed in rather a fantastic fashion, like some of our irregular cavalry in full dress, with brass helmets, blowing trumpets, and one was beating a drum: behind them, riding a fine and richly-caparisoned charger, with the torch-bearers on each side of him, came a strange being, whether European or native I could hardly have told, had it not been for his dress and aspect, that were unmistakably Oriental, His features were rather Jewish or Afghan than Indian, though not entirely of either character: his hair—at least the hair on his face and beard, for that on his head was of course concealed by his turban—was light-coloured, of a sandy hue. Had he been a European and in disguise, to dye it black would have been the first step towards concealing his real race and origin; what or who he was I could not make out: he was followed by a band of horsemen all well mounted and armed, and as fantastically dressed as those who had preceded him. The cortège came up to the gate, and there halted; so I had time to scan their features and appearance pretty closely before any colloquy took place. This began by the Unknown calling out to the gate-keepers inside to open the gate and admit him. They demurred, when he called out in a loud and authoritative voice that his business was with the Nawab, and that he wanted to see him immediately. Upon this, the Nawab, acting under the influence of a suggestive nudge from me, leant over the rampart and called out—

‘“I am Nawab Zainat-ul-Abadin; what is your business?”

‘“May health and prosperity attend the noble Nawab Zainat-ul-Abadin. May he flourish like the spreading peepul tree, and extend the grateful protection of his branches over all who take shelter under them. Is his highness the Nawab alone?” replied the stranger.

‘“None but friends are with him,” was the Nawab’s reply.

‘“I,” said the other, “am Sheikh Sulim Sultan Shah, bearing a firman from the lord of Islam, the light of the world, the emperor of Hindustan.”

‘“The Nawab of Islamabad knows of no emperor of Hindustan; he is a faithful ally and servant of the British government,” said my companion.

‘“Has not the Nawab learnt by message from Heaven, and by the information of his own intelligence and foresight and acquaintance with what is passing around him, that by the decree of the Most High, the rule of the British government has ceased? No one in all Hindustan, either great or small, any longer acknowledges the authority of any ruler but the illustrious sovereign of Hindustan, now seated on the throne of his ancestors, on whom be peace, and of his viceroys and lieutenants.”

‘“The Nawab of Islamabad has only one answer for traitors,” he replied, with more tact and resolution than I gave him credit for.

‘Just at this moment, and a most opportune moment it was, though I am persuaded it was not done designedly, a matchlock belonging to one of the Nawab’s retainers, who were standing, as I have said before, in a knot a little way from us, and all leaning forward and looking over the battlements, went off. We were considerably startled at so unexpected a demonstration, and so practical an illustration of the words that had the moment before left the Nawab’s lips; and there was a good deal of smoke where we were, and great confusion among the crowd below. The matchlock was loaded, and some one had been hit, at least so it appeared at first, though it turned out afterwards, as we soon learnt, that a horse, not a man, was the victim. The animal bestridden by one of the attendants of the magniloquent stranger was down, and his rider under him. The latter after a short struggle freed himself, and stood upon his legs—the horse was too badly wounded to rise.

‘A shot delivered under such circumstances might fairly be supposed to be only a forerunner of others to come; and so the leader of the party seemed to think, for he speedily directed one of the other attendants to pick up the dismounted trooper behind him, and then gave the word for the whole party to move off. He did not go, however, without a threat. Regardless of the probable result of other shots aimed at his own person, he remained seated on horseback, looking up towards us, till the whole of his attendants had ridden for a short distance, and then he thus delivered himself:—

‘“The message of this humble servant of God, and the humblest of the slaves of the illustrious emperor of Delhi, Sheikh Sulim Sultan Shah, by his majesty’s royal firman soobahdar of the province of Islamabad, to the rebel Nawab Zainat-ul-Abadin, is that the rebel’s house shall be razed to the ground, after his vile carcase has been hung up over the gateway: and let all true servants of the Prophet (with whom be the blessing of the Most High!) and all Hindus who have regard to the religion of their forefathers, all Moslem and Hindus who do not want to drink swine’s blood, and eat swine’s flesh, and the flesh of the cow sacred to the gods, get from under the tottering wall, lest it fall upon them. The curse of Heaven is upon those who desert their religion and sacrifice their caste.”

‘“Fire at him,” cried the Nawab, angrily, to his men: but this time no matchlock was raised, and, all unharmed, the stranger, after a gesture of hatred and defiance, turned and rode away. For a time no one moved: there was the deepest silence; we watched him riding off as if we were criminals, and he an officer who had just uttered the sentence of the law upon us. I had my revolver, and longed to try my skill upon the villain: but I felt it would be useless. I was a very bad shot—the chances were fifty to one that I missed him, and somehow I felt that I should want my weapon and its six balls for my self-defence that night. The silence of the Nawab’s men and their refusal to fire boded no good for us. I watched the stranger till he joined his attendants, and then, seeing that they took the road in the direction of my house, I felt apprehensive of an attack; and hastily but warmly congratulating the Nawab on the resolute, and indeed noble manner, in which he had played his part, I asked Thurston, who had been a silent spectator of all that had occurred, and who of course had understood little or nothing of the colloquy, to accompany me, and descended, with as much speed as was compatible with dignity, to the spot where we had left our horses. We saw nothing of our visitors on the way back, and on reaching the house I was considerably relieved to find that no hostile demonstration had been made by them. In what direction they had gone I did not know: there were several roads branching off from the main one between the palace and my house, any one of which they might have taken. They might have gone towards the city, or by a circuitous route returned to cantonments.

‘The description Stevens and Graham had given me of the peculiar European features and stamp of countenance of one of the conspirators in the Sudder Ameen’s house, recurred to my recollection as I rode home, and the identity of the conspirator with the principal character in the scene I had just witnessed seemed established.’

Chapter XXVIII

The extract given in the last chapter explains fully Dacres’s views regarding the position he and his friends stood towards the Nawab, as well as his own, ideas regarding the critical nature of their situation. The scene he witnessed on his return is not easily described. He found the ladies in a state of overwhelming distress, and grief most heart-breaking to behold. It seems, Burleigh had returned during his absence, and brought with him a most dismal account, enough to draw tears of blood from any mother’s heart. He had, in fact, done nothing. Whether he was paralysed with fear himself and incapable of action, or whether he had really been unsuccessful in his efforts to obtain tidings, they could not at the moment tell, but his account of himself was that he had ridden through a great part of the cantonments, that every house had been sacked and fired, and every Englishman, every woman and child, ruthlessly massacred. The violence of the first shock of these terrible tidings which the two mothers had to bear, had passed away before Dacres’s arrival, which was only in time to bring him face to face with a scene of distress and despairing agony altogether indescribable. Tears had come to their relief, but nothing seemed to assuage, no reasoning or sympathy seemed to allay, the bitter pangs of self-reproach and remorse which they seemed to take a morbid delight in inflicting on themselves, for what then appeared to them to be their heartless desertion of their little ones. The reader therefore may imagine somewhat of their feelings when a horseman was heard galloping up to the door, and the next instant a native trooper of irregular cavalry rushed into the room with two blooming children in his arms. The poor little things were too much frightened to cry; they looked bewildered and amazed and awed into silence, but their fair white innocent faces, and clear complexions and childlike expression of helpless dependency, contrasted very strangely with the wild excited features, dark skin and jet-black beard of the trooper who carried them. Nature guided him, and he had no difficulty in discovering at one glance who was the mother of each child. With a grin of savage delight and a triumphant air, such as no acting on the stage could imitate, he placed in each mother’s arms her own little one, and then retired towards the door. Glad to leave a scene that was now become absolutely too painful to witness, Dacres followed him, and endeavoured to gain all the information he possibly could, promising him at the same time the most ample reward for his invaluable services. From what he said, Dacres gathered every hope of the safety of the Stevenses’ other child, and returning to the sorrow-stricken group inside, tried to instil into their minds a gleam of the hope that had now lighted up his own.

As Dacres returned into the room, Stevens passed him hurriedly.

‘Where are you going?’ he cried, attempting to stop him.

‘Let me go,’ he said half angrily and most determinately. ‘Nothing shall stop me now: look after my wife, Dacres, like a good fellow, and my one child. God grant I may find the other!’ With these words, spoken in a tone that expressed how his manly heart was wrung with agony, he rushed out into the darkness, and ran at his utmost speed in the direction of the burning cantonment.

Under circumstances of painful excitement, time passes in such a way that we can take no account of it. Dacres had a hundred different things to engage his attention: at one moment he was endeavouring to instill confidence into the hearts of the fear-stricken ladies, to cheer them with hopes of the future; at another he was holding counsel with Thurston, or seeking intelligence from spies or fugitives, or listening to a report brought by some servant or retainer half dead with fear, or trying to issue brief and practical directions for the removal of everything that was moveable from his house and office to the palace. He felt that if he could have divided himself into half-a-dozen different individuals, instead of being one, he would have pursued and carried out his half-dozen necessary yet diverse duties simultaneously. How much time had elapsed he knew not, but probably it must have been half an hour or an hour, when another horse was heard galloping up to the door: was he a messenger of evil or of good? The next instant Murray’s voice was heard, as usual loud and stentorious, and the next, oh! blessed sounds to a mother’s ears! the voice of her little child, almost given up for lost.

It was little Georgy, Murray had brought him safe; and now followed embraces between wife and husband, mother and child, congratulations, words of thankfulness hastily yet heartily spoken. Everyone asked questions, no one paused for answers. As for Murray, what with his joy at seeing his wife and child safe together again, and restoring little Georgy to his mother’s arms, and his late adventures and rapid ride in the sultry night, he was completely exhausted. It was some little time before he could speak composedly.

‘News?’ said he—‘news good and bad—bad enough—God knows in one way—yet we have much to be thankful for—we were just in time—only just in time.’

‘And my husband, have you seen him?’ was one of the many interruptions he met with almost before he had begun to speak.

‘Yes, yes, he’s all right; I met him about half a mile from this, on foot—going up to cantonments—to look for Georgy—good thing I met him—by Jove! never felt such heat—showed him Georgy—sitting like a little man in front of me on the saddle—told him to make haste back—I’d ride on and take him to his mother all right; he’ll be here directly.’

‘Have you come back alone?’ said Amy with a trembling voice.

‘Alone, yes—’

‘Graham? where is Graham?’ said her sister.

‘Graham—oh, he’ll turn up. I never saw a fellow behave so splendidly: you have to thank him for finding Georgy; indeed you have: it wasn’t me—’twas Graham. By Jove, if it hadn’t been for him, I should have come away and forgotten all about him—the finest fellow I ever saw, so cool, and brave—as a lion.’

‘But where is he?’ asked Dacres, feeling really anxious for his young friend’s safety.

‘That’s more than I can tell you, where he is; but he’ll be here before long. I’ll be bound he’ll not come to harm; you see, his horse fell with him—’

‘And you left him?’ said Amy, in a tone in which sorrow was mingled with reproach.

‘Left him—yes, because I wanted to bring away Georgy. I wanted him to take my horse and ride off himself; but he steadily refused, and a house with the flames roaring over one’s head and the sepoys roaring all round is no place to stand and debate a subject. But he’s all right: there’s no real danger there to anyone with his wits about him.’

‘And what has become of all the rest?’

‘Heaven only knows. But I’ve no doubt they’ll most of them find their way here before morning. The sepoys of the 75th fired on their officers, so I heard. Colonel Wetherall is killed; but how many of the rest, or who escaped, I cannot tell. It is impossible that all should have been killed, and it is not likely all escaped. We must wait till morning to hear more.’

‘So Graham behaved well, did he?’ said Dacres, anxious to hear more of their adventures, and he saw how Amy’s eyes brightened up at any allusion to his gallant conduct. ‘Let us hear what you saw.’

‘Well, now, I’ll tell you all about it.—Hark! what is that?’

There were sounds of wheels and of voices.

‘It is my husband!’ cried Mrs. Stevens, rising and rushing to the door.

It was Stevens: but he was not alone. A buggy stopped at the door, and two ladies alighted.

They were Mrs. Wetherall and Miss Trinchinopoly. They came in, threw themselves on the first chairs they found, and burst into a fit of weeping.

Dacres understood it all.

‘Be comforted, my dear Mrs. Wetherall,’ he said, feeling it necessary to say something, but hardly knowing what to say; for nothing is more difficult than to offer consolation for a sorrow that is beyond consoling. ‘We all sympathise deeply with your loss. Colonel Wetherall fell as he had lived, a gallant and brave soldier. His time of trial is over; ours is to come. Let us try to behave as he would have shown us how to behave, had he been spared to set us an example.’

He then beckoned to the gentlemen who were in the room to withdraw, and led the way outside.

‘We can do no good there,’ he said, as they joined him. ‘Let us leave these poor things to their own sorrows for a time. Meanwhile, we have much to think about and much to do ere morning. We must talk it over.’

‘What do you propose doing?’ asked Stevens.

‘Why, I propose—the only plan, indeed, which seems the least feasible—for us all to move to-night, or very early in the morning, into the Nawab’s palace. It is a tolerably strong place as a defensive position; and as long as he is faithful and can trust his men to be so, we shall be safe,—at least, safer there than anywhere else.’

‘Do you trust him?’

‘I trust him, certainly, but not his men.’

He then related what had passed that night.

‘It is a strange thing,’ said Stevens; ‘that fellow that you saw is evidently the same we saw in the Sudder Ameen’s house. Who can he be? What can he be? Is it possible that any European can be villain enough to league himself with, these bloodthirsty brutes, and fight against his countrymen?

‘I can scarcely believe it,’ said Dacres; ‘but whatever he is, we may be quite sure of one thing—he is an enemy, a bitter deadly enemy too, and you may depend on it we shall see more of him yet.’

‘Would it not be possible,’ said Murray, ‘for us to march with the ladies and children to the nearest station? The Nawab, if he is friendly, as you say, would lend us an elephant or two. We should have many dangers and hardships to encounter; but I question whether we should run as much risk in going as we shall in staying here.’

‘The question is, where are we to go to? Aurungabad is the place most easy of access; Mitterpore is the nearest military station, and they have some European soldiers there, I know,’ said Dacres. ‘I’ll send off an express to-night, at any rate, to old General Godhead. But, at best, no succour can reach us for ever so long: we must determine on some immediate course of action. I am against leaving the place, as Murray proposes. We should, none of us, reach Aurungabad alive; we should have a large party of non-combatants to protect, and a very small force to protect them with. Our abandoning the place would be the signal for the whole country to rise. Even the Nawab could not be kept straight a day after our departure.’

‘But would that matter? The district could easily be recovered again with the first European brigade that comes up.’

‘True. But, don’t you see, we should be surrounded by enemies. The whole of the Nawab’s retainers and dependents would be at us like a swarm of bees. Were we alone, with no ladies or children, I would vote at once for riding across country to the nearest garrison, and am quite certain we could do it easily; but, situated as we are, I am persuaded that it is utterly impracticable. On the other hand, I think we can altogether keep matters straight here, for some little time, at any rate. Mitterpore is about 200 miles, say ten forced marches: Aurungabad is 250, or more. I’ll send to-night to Mitterpore a most urgent demand for aid, and I have no doubt the general there will despatch a party of European soldiers on camels, who might make this in seven or eight days—less, perhaps—say five. Then we must allow eight for the messenger to go; so that I think we may look for the effectual assistance in a fortnight, say, from the present. Now, I think we can hold out for that time.’

‘Not if the mutineers attack us.’ ‘No, certainly—our position then will be very precarious indeed: but I do not expect they will. All my information goes to show that they intend marching straight for Delhi. You see, they do not want to offend more men of influence and position, like the Nawab, than they can help. As long as we are with him, they think they have us at their mercy. But to attack us while under his protection, or to attack him for protecting us, would put him against them immediately. If they do attack us, with their guns, why it is all up with us: there is no help for it.’

The colloquy was here broken short by the arrival of some fresh fugitives from the cantonments. They turned out to be three young officers of the 75th, and the two partners of the European firm, Messrs. Cork and Screw, who had accidentally fallen in with them on the road. From them Dacres learnt what had occurred on the parade-ground, and received authentic reports of Colonel Wetherall’s death: and heard also, with much satisfaction, that there was a large party of fugitives behind, escorted by a good number of sepoys and troopers of the irregular cavalry, who had remained faithful, and had withdrawn from the rest of the mutineers. They had proffered their services, and when they found they were trusted, formed themselves into a regular escort, and swore to protect with their lives the small band of officers and families left in cantonments. The men had their arms, and the troopers their horses, and it was good news for all that they were coming, for they would form a powerful reinforcement to the weakened garrison: besides, the moral effect of having a faithful few around them would be great.

To set against this good news, they heard with the utmost sorrow that poor Graham had fallen. Neither of the speakers had seen him fall, nor come across his body, but they had derived their information from some of the sepoys who were among the faithful, and who declared they had seen his dead body on the parade-ground. He had probably gone there with the view of rendering some assistance, and there fallen in the execution of his duty. They had not long to wait for further particulars, for they soon after heard the sound of approaching men and horses. The ladies were at first very much alarmed, fearing that the mutineers were marching down upon the house; but were speedily reassured by being told that the detachment coining were friends, and good friends too. They escorted several of the ladies, Mrs. BarnclifFe among them: her husband was also there.

Dacres personally questioned the men who were said to have seen Graham’s body; they were a sergeant and a sepoy of his company; they declared they had seen it lying on the road, not on the parade-ground, but in cantonments, on the road leading to Murray’s house. Their description of his dress, however, did not quite tally with Dacres’s recollection of it, and he could not help hoping that there was a mistake, though it was likely enough to be true.

The interior of the house was wholly given up to the ladies. Mr. Dacres and the rest had concerted their plans, and the whole of the officers present, with the exception of Murray and one or two of the younger hands, having taken this view of the case, and formed a decided opinion that the best policy was to repair to the Nawab’s palace, and hold out there, he wrote a letter to the general commanding at Mitterpore. It was as follows, condensed as much as possible to allow of its being rolled up and sewn between the inner and outer leather of the sole of the messenger’s shoe. He had selected as bearer of this important letter, upon whose safe delivery the safety of all concerned so much depended, one of Murray’s faithful troopers, who volunteered to make his way across country, passing himself off, of course, as a rebel, to Mitterpore, where, on delivering the letter, he was to receive five hundred rupees, and five hundred more from Dacres on his returning with an answer, or with a detachment of European soldiers, which was the sort of answer that was wanted.

‘From the Commissioner of Islamabad to the Officer Commanding at Mitterpore.—Native troops all mutinied—attempted the lives of their officers; refugees, officers, and families, thirty or forty souls, in the greatest danger; protection afforded for the present by the Nawab. Send a party of European soldiers immediately, mounted on camels if possible. The bearer to receive five hundred rupees on safely delivering this; he will show the nearest road. Most emergent.

(Signed) ‘J. Dacres,
‘Commissioner of Islamabad.’

After seeing the messenger start, mounted on the best horse that could be selected from the batch brought in by the troopers, with the letter securely concealed, Dacres sent another of the irregular cavalry troopers to the cantonments to bring intelligence of the mutineers’ movements, and all that was going on in the now ruined station. He then went into his office to select the most important of the records there, to have them ready at hand in the event of a sudden move being necessary, and on his way through the house paid a visit to the drawing-room, where several of the ladies were, some sitting, some lying down, endeavouring to get a little rest. It was too dark for him to see who they were, as they had only a small wall-lamp burning low, but they saw him, for the moment he entered he was assailed from many quarters at once with—‘What news? What news?’

‘News?’ Dacres replied: ‘all is going on pretty well. We have fixed to remain here for the present, and when a move becomes desirable to go all of us into the palace; it is close by, not half a mile off. I have sent a messenger on the strongest and fleetest horse we could find to the nearest military station for aid, and we shall have a party of European soldiers here in a few days without fail. So keep your spirits up.’

‘And the mutineers—’

‘Are bound for Delhi, and will not molest us, at least I believe not; but I shall have more information soon.’

‘Have there been any lives lost?’

‘Well, we hardly know as yet. I hardly believe that story about poor Graham.’

‘What about him?’ said a voice he recognised as Mrs. Stevens’s.

‘Why, they say he has been killed, and that his body was seen.’

Dacres was interrupted by a suppressed scream, and the sound as if some one had fallen.

He put up the lamp, and saw a group gathered round a lady in the corner. It was Amy Leslie; she had fainted. ‘There is a secret revealed there, at any rate,’ thought he, passing on, feeling he could be of no use. But scarcely had he reached the office, which was beyond the room where the dialogue just related took place, when he was called out again by a hasty summons.

‘What is the matter?’ he asked of Stevens, whom he met entering the house.

‘It is the trooper you sent up to cantonments come back in hot haste. He says the mutineers have horsed the guns, and are already on the road to attack us. We must make a move, I fancy.’

‘At once, if this be true. Is Murray here?’

‘Outside there.’

The intelligence was exactly as Stevens had given it.

‘There is no time to be lost. What do you say, Murray?’

‘We must be off at once.’

‘All right,’ said Dacres. ‘You are senior officer, you know; make your own arrangements. The ladies and children will have to travel slowly. Though it is but a short distance, we may be attacked before we get there. We had better march in fighting order. Put me down as a volunteer; we’ll all obey orders.’

Dacres then returned into the office again, to complete his hasty arrangements for saving the most important of his papers. What an excellent recipe for getting rid of old office documents is a mutiny!

Chapter XXIX

The road from Mr. Dacres’s house to the palace passed through part of the city, but by making a detour and skirting the wall it was possible to avoid it. The latter route was determined upon, for the less they paraded their misfortunes and their weakness before the city-people the better. The great difficulty was to procure conveyances; but by dint of squeezing and making shift, they managed to get all the ladies and children carried somehow. In about half an hour the mournful procession was ready to start. There were eighteen European combatants. A party of six, with the majority of the faithful troopers and sepoys, were to go on ahead, among them Mr. Dacres; the rest under Murray brought up the rear. The moon had set, and the night, or morning, for it was nearer that, was pitch dark. However, the road was open, and there were no obstacles. Stevens had command of the advance party, as Mr. Dacres took on himself no military duty, and as he much wished to complete his arrangements at home, and see as many things as were likely to be of use to him as possible started off under his own eyes, he remained behind till the whole cavalcade had set off, promising to ride on and overtake them before they reached the Nawab’s palace, where it was desirable he should present himself among the first that came. His servants, who had hitherto behaved very tolerably for Hindustanis— -that is to say, they had neither attempted as yet to cut his throat nor run away—had brought together a number of coolies. These he loaded with boxes of articles he thought likely to be most useful. Every stitch of clothing that could be got would be wanted; all his guns, ammunition, shot, &c.—all the medicines, all the preserved meat, soups, tea, coffee, liquor, and the other articles of consumption it is the custom to keep in store, were all packed up and started off. Mrs. Dacres, before she went home, had left two or three boxes of clothing of various kinds, partly her own and partly belonging to the children. Mr. Dacres had always been thinking of giving these things away, but had never done so. Every scrap was now carefully locked up and forwarded among the rest of the really necessary articles to be taken in the flight. The books and papers he deemed it necessary to secure were packed in very small compass: there were a few documents from the office that it was advisable to save, and he took all the bibles and prayer-books he could find, a complete volume of Shakspeare, and one or two other standard works, in case any refugees ever had leisure or inclination to read, which at the time seemed most unlikely.

He was busily engaged in these duties, listening all the time to the sounds made by the retreating party wending their way along the road which led from the back right round to the front of his house, when he heard Stevens’s voice quite distinctly amid the still night air, calling out ‘Halt,’ and the next instant he heard the sound of horses’ feet galloping along the road, as it appeared, from the direction of cantonments. Apprehensive of some disaster, he hurried out, jumped on his horse, which was standing ready saddled at the door, and rode off as hard as he could. It was not without difficulty that he found his way to the front of the column, the road being much obstructed by the vehicles the ladies were in. As he reached it, and rode up to Stevens, who was standing sword in hand in the centre of the road, two horsemen approached at a rapid pace.

‘Who comes there?’ called out Stevens.

‘Friend,’ said a voice, that Dacres recognised in an instant with a thrill of joy; it was Graham’s.

‘That you, Graham?’

‘Yes, all right; who is here?’

‘All of us—going up to the palace; who is with you?’

‘Harley.’

By this time they had come up close and reined in their steeds.

‘Well, what news? we heard you were killed.’

‘No, thank God, I am all right, and so is Harley, though he nearly killed me.’

‘And Graham quite killed me. Fancy a man twelve stone falling head foremost from a height of six feet on the pit of your stomach, just after you had consumed the only meal you had had for twelve hours! What do you think of that, Dacres?’

‘Bad enough, certainly.’

‘And yet he wonders that I tried to shoot him for it.’

‘But what news about the mutineers? We were told they were marching down to attack us, so we were all getting away as fast as we could.’

‘All stuff and nonsense. Stay where you are: the mutineers are not coming. We have only just left them. I hope they have left us—eh, Harley?’

‘I am sure of it: I overheard ever so much of their discussion as to what they should do, and they have determined unanimously to march for Delhi at once.’

‘It is really not true, then, that they are coming?’

‘Certainly they were not when we left cantonments only a quarter of an hour ago.’

‘What do you say, Stevens? shall we go on or wait, or go back on the strength of this intelligence?’

‘Go on, I say, now we have once made a start. If we don’t go now, we shall have to very shortly: we may as well go on.’

As no immediate danger was to be apprehended, they subsequently determined to return to the house, and start again after daybreak. The inconveniences attending so large and incongruous a party of both sexes and all ages getting to a place of residence entirely new to them, and making arrangements for a somewhat lengthy sojourn there, would have been multiplied a thousand fold by arriving in the dark; so that although Dacres had considerable misgivings about the mutineers’ plans, and kept constantly on the look-out for intelligence, he determined it would be better for the cavalcade to wait till day broke, and then start again. So they returned.

As he was busy in preparing for a more complete move by-and-by, Thurston came up to him.

‘Are you at leisure, Dacres?’

‘Why, I can’t exactly say I am at leisure, but I don’t expect to be more at leisure than I am now for a long time to come. I am quite at your service, if you have anything to say.’

‘I have been thinking over affairs, and you will laugh at me perhaps, but it strikes me that we have been premature in our conclusions.’

‘Premature! conclusions? what conclusions?’ said the other, looking up from his work really astonished.

‘Why, with regard to the intentions and acts of the mutineers. We, at least you, conclude they have mutinied.’

‘I do, rather,’ answered Dacres, laughing; ‘it looks something like it: if you don’t think so, take a ride up to cantonments and see for yourself.’

‘The very thing I am going to do, but not without first saying what I have to say.’

‘And what is that?’

‘It is, that I do not see what right we have to oonclude that these men, sepoys, &c., have all determined to go against us. There are always blackguards in every large body of men, ready at any moment to work mischief. Though in the minority, their superior energy always gives them superior influence. The evil principle is active, the good passive—passive and unsuspecting. Well, because a few blackguards have done all this mischief, burnt down the station and wounded several of the officers, you conclude that all are equally guilty, and would bring them all under condemnation.’

‘Condemnation!—very little of that; it is we who are suffering under condemnation—condemnation because we are Englishmen and Christians, and have behaved always with the utmost kindness and strictest honesty towards these villains who would murder us, our wives, and children in cold blood.’

‘A few doubtless would; but why take for granted that all would?’

‘It comes to the same thing. If there are a hundred men in the road, and two of the hundred take a fancy to beat your brains out with a cudgel, while the other ninety-eight don’t help you, but look on quietly, or by shouts and gestures express their approbation of the deed, would you not hold all equally guilty?’

‘If I called on the other ninety-eight and told them I expected them to assist me, and they then refused, I should consider them guilty: but to make the two cases parallel, you must suppose more. Suppose I had grievously wronged all these hundred men; suppose that for years I had had them in my power, and had been carrying on a system by which the greatest injury was inflicted on them—injury to their feelings, as well as to their persons, property, and families; and that then, when attacked by the two villains, I felt so conscious that I did not deserve any consideration from any of the mob, that I hesitated to appeal to their good feelings, or to solicit aid from them;—what then?’

‘What then!’ answered Dacres a little angrily. ‘I see no parallel at all between the two cases. These villains could have prevented, if they had liked, the few (supposing your hypothesis is correct, and the worst part of the work has been done only by a few) from burning houses, plundering property, and massacring innocent people, their own benefactors.’

‘Your view of the case is unnecessarily hard on these poor men ‘

‘Poor men!’ called out Dacres indignantly; ‘who the deuce do you call “poor men?” these infernal blackguards—treacherous, murderous, mutinous, d—d cowardly cut-throats, who murder women and children, you call poor men!’

‘Poor misguided men,’ replied he, with most provoking calmness, ‘but not altogether without excuse or palliation in their fault.’

‘Excuse! palliation!’ again repeated Dkcres, waxing very wroth.

‘Pray be calm, Mr. Dacres, and hear me out. I say, excuse and palliation. In the first place, they are heathens, and not Christians. In the next place, they are savages; like all savages, superstitious and suspicious to a degree, when aroused and excited bloodthirsty, anything you like; still, they are only doing what you and I would have done if we had been in their place. Had you and I, think you, been treated like slaves or domestic cattle, our religious prejudices outraged every day by our masters, abused when we presented ourselves even with the most abject tokens of servility, cursed, reviled even to our faces, our wives taken from us to gratify the licentious passions of conquerors—men, our superiors by accident, but hated as of another colour, creed, and race; if we ventured to complain, called factious, mutinous, disorderly, perhaps punished for insolence;—should we never have raised a finger in our own defence—nay, rather, should we not have gloried in effecting by any means, by every means, the destruction of our oppressors?’

‘I really do not understand you, Mr. Thurston, nor do I see how your remarks are any way applicable to present circumstances,’ said Dacres. ‘You surely do not mean to tell me that you believe the picture you have just drawn of a subject race, represents the natives of this country, and the condition they are placed in by us. This is not a time for much discussion, but believe me when I say that if these are your sentiments, they do you no honour, as they do indeed but little honour to your fellow-countrymen. Whence, I should like to know, have you learnt this lesson?’

‘From books, and my own observation.’

‘Then the first lied, and the second misled you.’

‘All this is matter of mere opinion, Mr. Dacres: I did not expect you would agree with me in our ideas on this subject; but I can tell you these ideas are held by the majority, by far the greater majority, of your fellow-countrymen in England, and it is before them that this question must come ultimately to be decided. These are the ideas I intend to disseminate, when I return, as the result of a practical study of the question. But all this is a digression. Will you lend me a horse?’

‘A horse?’

‘Yes, a horse—one of the equine species—also a saddle, also a bridle.’

‘Certainly—but you will excuse my asking where you are going to ride to? I must warn you that the roads just now are very unsafe.’

‘Thank you, I believe I know almost as much of the state of the country as you do, though I am but a wayfarer, and you a sojourner and a ruler in it. I take it, your experience and my theories, as you call them, are bounded pretty much by the same limit. I don’t want to annoy you, you know, but people at home will say, you didn’t know much about the country after all, seeing that you suddenly found out one day that you had been sleeping for the last ten years over a volcano, and had not the remotest idea what was under you. However, to return to the subject, if you will lend me a horse, I will go for a ride.’

‘In what direction?’

‘To the mutineers’ camp.’

‘Thurston, you are mad.’

‘Very possibly; some philosophers say no man is sane. In their view, I am doubtless mad.’

‘Are you aware of the risk you are running?’

‘Perfectly. The stake I have in view is worth considerable risk—and, after all, there is no such very great risk that I shall run. A man on horseback can generally get away from a crowd on foot. I am a perfect adept at running away, I assure you, Dacres. Mount me well and put an enemy behind me, and trust me for bolting.’

‘It is actually sinful to endanger your life for nothing. I cannot assist you in doing so, unless I know that you really have some very definite object in view.’

‘Oh, yes, I have a very definite object in view. I am going to reason with the mutineers, and you will see I shall induce the majority to return with me.’

‘I hope not; it is the last thing we want, to see them coming this way. But you cannot even speak to them or understand them!’

‘Oh, yes, I can—quite enough to enable me to argue with them as man to man. And I have only further to say,’ he continued, seeing that Dacres still hesitated, ‘that if you won’t lend me the horse, you will force me to go on foot, for to go I am determined.’

Dacres hardly knew what to make of the strange request, but seeing that Thurston was really in earnest, and being moreover rather anxious to get rid of him at the moment, he gave the order for a horse to be saddled.

‘Will you go alone, or shall I order an escort to accompany you?’

‘Alone—I feel no fear for myself. The escort would be in my way.’

These words were the last that passed between them before Thurston set out on this strange expedition. They often recurred to Dacres afterwards, and gave him much deep thought and anxiety. ‘The escort would be in my way’—What was he going to attempt?—and what secret ground of confidence had he, known only to himself, that he should set out on such a peculiar expedition, apparently for no object but the gratification of a whim, or the indulgence of a piece of eccentric obstinacy?

Chapter XXX

Shortly after break of day, preparations for a second move were made. The same arrangements were carried ont as before, but this time they had the satisfaction of knowing that their stock of necessaries had been much increased during the time that had elapsed between the first and second migration. Coolies had been constantly coming and going, and such carts and camels as could be got hold of. The party were provided with the actual necessaries of life for at least fourteen days, as Dacres calculated. By that time he hoped assistance would have arrived from Mitterpore.

All his business having been completed, the commissioner accompanied the party, this time riding at the head of the cavalcade, side by side with Stevens. As they emerged into the high road that led from cantonments after leaving the gate and circumventing the commissioner’s house and garden, they saw two men galloping towards them at the utmost possible speed. They turned out to be Thurston and a trooper of the irregular cavalry—no other than Asgar Ally.

‘Well,’ said Dacres, with the slightest possible expression of triumph in his voice, ‘so your argument is ended? I congratulate you on getting away with your head on your shoulders, I hope you found your friends amenable to reason?’

‘I am disappointed, I own,’ he replied, ‘but tke fact is, the impression against every man with a white face is so strong that the mutineers could not but regard me with suspicion.’

‘You have not persuaded them to accompany you?’

‘Not exactly. If it had not been for that noble fellow,’ pointing to Asgar Ally, ‘I should have fallen a victim to that disrepute which, thanks to you and your system, every Englishman has now fallen into in this country.’

‘What, did they fire at you?’

‘Well, a little more than that. They were about to fire me altogether, I believe.’

‘What, burn you alive?

‘It looked so—as well as I could divine their intentions.’

‘You seem to take it marvellously coolly,’ thought Dacres, impressed more and more with the strange eccentric character of his friend. From the conversation that continued as they went along, he gathered that Thurston had ridden up, favoured by the darkness of the night, close to where the leading mutineers were sitting in conclave, unobserved and unchallenged. No sooner had he revealed himself than he was seized amid the exultant acclamations of the rebels, who thirsted for his blood, and literally revelled with delight at the anticipated pleasure of shedding it, after first putting their victim to every imaginable torture. He was rescued by Asgar Ally, who appeared, according to his account, to have had immense influence in the rebel senate. They tied up Thurston to a stake, intending to burn him alive after torture, as the last commemorative act before they left the place, Asgar Ally, however, had induced them to forego the savage pleasure, and persuaded them to make over their victim to him for safe keeping. They did so; he took his prisoner away under pretence of confining him, and when out of sight, having managed to secure two horses, mounted his prisoner on one, and himself on the other, and so rode off. Dacres closely cross-examined Asgar Ally, whose Ianguage was of course nearly unknown to Thurston, but in no single point did his narrative of events differ from the Englishman’s. He was therefore forced logically to place implicit faith in it. All the rest did so; but for himself, Dacres confessed to having an unconquerable, undefined kind of suspicion with regard to Thurston. As for Asgar Ally, he could not regard him but with feelings of the utmost repugnance. He did not trust him in the least. Repeatedly he tried to disabuse his mind of these misgivings, which his better nature ever prompted him to believe were most unworthy suspicions, but he could not succeed. In spite of himself, he suspected them both. Who was Thurston? what was his history? what was he doing here in India at this time? What could have induced him to venture alone into the rebels’ camp? How was it Asgar Ally turned up providentially at the nick of time? Would any man, especially of Thurston’s temperament, habits, and previous life, have spoken so coldly—nay, jocosely—of the terrible fate he professed to have had such a narrow escape from? Then again as to Asgar Ally, all he knew about him for certain was, that he was at one time admitted to the most confidential counsels of the rebels, even among the leading conspirators; and besides, he had possession of an important secret.

The statement, however, was clear, precise, and to the point; he never contradicted himself on one of the numerous questions that he answered. If a true friend, he could be invaluable to the refugees; active and energetic, at the same time crafty and ingenious, with immense influence over his countrymen, there was scarcely a limit to his sphere of usefulness; at the same time, if he was playing false, he would prove a most dangerous enemy. Murray had the most unbounded confidence in him, but so he had in all who had not actually rebelled: his was a warm impulsive nature, prone to action, ready in danger, but wanting in cool deliberate judgment. Thus Dacres meditated, resolving to watch closely the two suspected characters, and meantime keep his doubts to himself.

One point of Asgar Ally’s story was reassuring. He maintained that the mutineers had never entertained the slightest wish or idea of attacking them. They were perfectly content—more than content—intoxicated with delight at their present success, and their only anxiety was to reach Delhi by the shortest road, and lay the trophies of their victory at the foot of the Mogul throne. Even had they entertained any other ideas, it was quite out of the question, Asgar Ally assured them, their attempting further annoyance to the English while they were under the protection of the Nawab. It was no part of the policy of the leaders in the rebellion to offend the influential members of the aristocracy of the country.

The Nawab gave the party a good reception. Well aware of the importance of outward ceremonials in the Asiatic mind, Dacres was a little anxious about the way he would receive them, lest the unfavourable circumstances they were labouring under should be taken by him as an excuse for doing away with the little details of ceremony that etiquette required him to show to a party of British officers and their families, accompanied by the highest civil functionary in the district. But no Chinese mandarin who had just passed his examination in the ‘ceremonies’ could have received them with more state and outward tokens of respect. This had its effect upon the multitude, who were watching the slightest indication of a change in the political horizon.

The men took their cue from the master, and Dacres felt that for the present, at all events, they were safe.

The palace and grounds allotted to the party of refugees consisted of a large double-storied building overlooking an extensive garden. The entrance was under a handsome gateway that admitted you into a quadrangular piece of ground of considerable extent, laid out in garden-walks, interspersed everywhere with little aqueducts or canals for carrying water to the flower-beds. These beds were well stocked with shrubs, pomegranate and other fruit trees. The left side of the quadrangle was flanked by that portion of the palace allotted for their residence. Its construction was peculiar. You entered the building apparently on the ground floor: after crossing the inner apartments, which were numerous, lofty, and spacious, you came out on a verandah which overlooked a garden at a great depth below. The appearance of this range of rooms being on the ground floor was deceptive, as a glance over the balustrade fronting the verandah told you. There was another suite of rooms below answering to those above, only to reach them you had to descend a broad stone staircase in the interior of the building. On the opposite side of the quadrangle was the part of the palace occupied by the Nawab’s seraglio, that is, by Leila and her handmaidens, for, unlike most Mahometan gentlemen of his age and country, he kept no concubines. The rooms allotted to the English residents were those generally used by the Nawab for his reception-rooms; he now gave them up entirely, on one condition only, that the ladies alone should reside in the upper story, that is, the story level with the quadrangle, and the gentlemen should have the lower range: and it was expressly stipulated that while the ladies had the free use of the garden in the quadrangle to walk about in, the male portion of the party were not to present themselves there at all, save under exceptional circumstances and by special invitation.

The lower garden was surrounded by a fortified wall, with a gate at the other end giving egress to the open country. It was the same garden in which the Nawab had given the fête alluded to in the former part of this narrative.

The fugitives, for such the English residents at Islamabad had now become, reached this harbour of refuge in perfect safety, and set to work without loss of time to make themselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow, and to dispose their property and stores in the most convenient and safe manner possible. Their faithful native followers took up their abode in the lower garden, where they pitched some tents and picketed their horses under the large trees with which it was pretty well filled. Stevens made a careful survey of the whole building, with a view of deciding on what were its strongest and what its weakest points of defence, and how the latter could be most advantageously improved with the slender means at their disposal. He was an excellent practical military engineer, and nothing was likely to escape his eye.

The rest of the party made themselves generally useful. As may readily be imagined, the ladies did more in half an hour than the gentlemen in twice that time towards reducing the chaos to order, and giving the place something more approaching to an air of comfort than it seemed at first capable of having. But it was chiefly owing to one genius among them, whose exertions both then and afterwards excited the highest admiration, that such satisfactory results were attained. Amy Leslie, except to those who knew her intimately, had been looked on generally as a characterless girl, without much originality or talent of any kind, and without much energy. But even her own sister and brother-in-law were perfectly astonished at the new development of her character, as it appeared to them, though doubtless it was only the latent qualities of her mind making themselves felt and seen. How often is it the case that powers of mind and intellect lie latent, their existence entirely unsuspected till suddenly called into action by some unforeseen emergency! It was astonishing what influence this young girl obtained over others who were so much more experienced than herself. All through the trying time that now seemed only to be beginning, her untiring zeal and energy never flagged, her physical strength never gave way; her presence of mind, calm judgment, and quiet, ladylike deportment never deserted her. In the moment of the greatest danger, when their lives seemed to hang almost on a thread, one glance at her calm and heroic features, unmoved amid perils that caused the stoutest heart among them to beat with double speed, was like a blast of Roderick’s horn, almost worth a thousand men. In taking care of the children, nursing the sick and wounded, providing for the wants of the little band of defenders who were engaged in arduous and dangerous duties that allowed them no leisure for looking after meals or refreshments, she was indefatigable. She braved peril as much as any, more than many of the gentlemen, yet never needlessly. They called her the Maid of Saragossa, and it was no unfitting name, save that she confined her sphere of action to duties more consonant with her sex, and more adapted to her gentle nature.

Many have been the heroines of history, but the concurrent testimony of all the members of that little band had it on record in their hearts, that never did the nobility of womanhood shine forth more brightly than in Amy Leslie.

During the day they had several alarms, now that the mutineers were in full march against them, now that the city had risen, now that the Nawab had turned and given orders for their destruction. It was curious to watch how different characters were affected by these alarming rumours and the general state of their circumstances. Amy was, as I have said, calm and self-possessed always. Miss Trinchinopoly had made up her mind that she was destined to end her days in the seclusion of a Mogul’s seraglio, where she pictured to her imagination her lovely frame and maiden charms enveloped in such nondescript garments as Eastern beauties are generally drawn in, reclining upon velvet cushions and smoking a long pipe. Mrs. Wetherall entirely succumbed to her grief: nothing served to rouse her. Mrs. Stevens was wrapt up in her children, and with sound practical common sense busied herself energetically in making the best of the means she had, to insure their comfort, with regard to rest and food. She got their meals prepared, badly, but nevertheless in some sort of fashion, by one of the few Mahometan servants that had accompanied them, fed the little ones herself, and then put them to sleep side by side in a bed made upon the ground, and sat by them, while they slept, to drive off the flies. Amy was about, here, there, and everywhere, arranging this room and that, storing away the commissariat, apportioning the little stock of children’s and ladies’ clothing that had been sent from Dacres’s house among all applicants, superintending the preparation of the evening meal, and having a cheerful word for everyone.

‘Between friends there should be no concealment. I hope the officers who have accepted the hospitality of my roof have found themselves comfortable.’

‘Very much so; we are all grateful to your highness for the refuge afforded us, and I am quite sure the British government will know how to reward its allies and those who prove its friends under adversity. I trust no intelligence of an unfavourable nature has reached your highness from the mutineers’ camp?’

‘None whatever. It appears, as for as my spies can be depended on, that they intend proceeding to Delhi.’

‘As soon as they have gone, we shall be able to return—not exactly to return to our houses, for they are nearly all destroyed; but we shall be able to leave your highness’s mansion, which we shall do with regret, and take up our abode in the Civil station, which has not been destroyed.’

The Nawab shook his head. ‘No, that will be impossible. I can protect you here, but outside you will be in peril of your life. Till the storm is blown over, or till you receive aid, you must remain where you are. If you go out, your blood will be on your own head.’

‘We shall see; I will do nothing hastily,’ replied Dacres.

‘I trust your accommodation is sufficiently large?’

‘Ample for people circumstanced as we are.’

‘Yet the request I made about your English officers restricting themselves to the garden and their suite of rooms has not been observed.’

‘How so?’ asked Dacres, perceiving from the Nawab’s manner that he was about to enter on the subject which had occasioned the necessity of the present interview.

‘My eunuch informed me, this evening, that a European officer was seen very near my private garden, which, you are aware, is contrary to the agreement between us, and militates against all regulations of propriety and good breeding.’

‘Certainly it does,’ replied Dacres. ‘But is your highness sure your eyes have not deceived you?’

‘Nay, I saw him not myself; but my attendants reported it to me—they saw him.’

‘And did not seize him?’

‘To have done so would have been to open the door of contention between us. Nay, he would probably have used violence—you English are always violent. My servants would have been compelled to do the same; blood would have been shed—and, when once it has been shed, who shall staunch it?’

Language of this kind from the Nawab, Dacres was utterly unused to; he was becoming more and more excited, spoke hastily and in a flurried manner, his eyes lighting up with passion or emotion of some kind. Dacres was uncertain how to act or what to say. The story seemed most improbable. Did the Nawab himself believe it, or was it a mere fabrication—a foundation on which to build other things—an excuse, in short, for changing his conduct and behaviour? Had the thing really occurred, no one would have been more desirous of discovering the perpetrator of this outrage against Eastern etiquette and the rites of hospitality, in their position an act of suicidal folly, than Dacres himself. On the other hand, if it was an excuse for unfriendly behaviour, and the Nawab’s words intended to convey a threat, he was determined to receive it as every English officer would receive it, in an undaunted and fearless manner. As long as the Nawab’s friendship was to be retained it was worth retaining, at the cost of almost any exercise of diplomacy; but if he was about to range himself on the side of the enemy, there was nothing for it—the fate of the few English in his hands was sealed, and all that remained for them was to brave the worst, as men and women with English blood in their veins always do. Dacres had no time to pause before he replied, though reflections like these passed rapidly through his mind.

‘Your highness,’ he said, with the utmost calmness he could assume, ‘must, I am convinced, have been misled. You began this conference by remarking that between friends there should be no concealment. I shall adopt that maxim as my guide in addressing you on this painful subject. In the first place, I am in my own mind perfectly persuaded that no English officer, or Englishman of any grade or station from among our party, has been trespassing in the way your highness alludes to. At the same time, I shall make the most diligent and searching enquiry if such a thing could, by any possible mistake, have taken place. On the other hand, I am sure, if your highness reflects a little, your highness’s natural intelligence and keenness of mental vision will lead you to see that there was no surer method that could be employed by our and your highness’s enemies to place our character in an unfavourable light before you; in other words, to induce you to regard us with other feelings than those you have professed, and than those you have shown, by so kindly receiving us into your house. I am persuaded it will be found there has been some trickery in this, just as there was in that affair in the tomb. I have to ask your highness to be patient, and to assist me in investigating this matter.’

The Nawab remained perfectly silent all the time Dacres was speaking, regarding him intently. As he concluded, a smile of satisfaction played upon his lips.

‘You have spoken the words of wisdom,’ he said; ‘let us be silent and watchful. Yet, if there be a trick here, then there must be many in my own household concerned in deceiving me. In my own household,’ he repeated, saying the words very slowly to himself, and apparently meditating deeply on them. Then he added, aloud, ‘These are strange times, and Allah is manifesting the wonders of his creation: last night a child was born in my household with light hair, blue eyes, and a set of teeth—and to-morrow the company’s troops, having proved faithless to their salt, march to Delhi to fight against their rulers.’

Chapter XXXI

Overcome by fatigue, anxiety, and the emotions given rise to by the events of the past twenty-four hours, the whole party gladly retired to rest, after first meeting together for what might be simply called family, rather than public, prayer. Misfortune had united them together closely in one common bond of unity; though many of them had been previously little better than mere acquaintances, they now felt like one large family. After the ladies had retired to rest, the gentlemen settled among themselves the course of action they were to pursue in the event of a sudden alarm. The upper room, where the ladies and children slept, was furnished fortunately with strong massive doors, which were all securely barred and bolted; and the gentlemen resolved to take the precaution of keeping watch in turns, each watch lasting for an hour. They drew lots for turns, and it fell to Graham to keep the first; Dacres came fifth or sixth; Stevens, immediately before him. And so, after exhorting Graham to keep on the alert, they all spread their beds, some on the floor, some on the table, and were soon asleep.

I must not forget to mention that, to Mrs. Stevens’s great relief, her faithful domestic Jooma had arrived about dusk, having, as she said, been all day trying to collect a little property belonging to her mistress and the children, which she brought with her, and having had innumerable obstacles to encounter, and many hairbreadth escapes of being seized and losing her precious burden. The woman was of the greatest possible assistance to her wearied and anxious mistress.

Dacres was awakened out of a very sound sleep by Stevens, who had to shake him once or twice before he could recall him to consciousness. What a contrast there was between the sleeping and the waking! He was far off in the land of dreams, away from anxiety, sorrow, and danger, with his wife and little ones in his own dear country. Returning consciousness brought back with it the horrible realities of the present, and the vivid recollection of the past few eventful hours.

‘Is it my watch so soon?’ he said, sitting up in bed and rubbing his eyes.—‘What is that? Hark!’

The second expression had reference to the report of distant cannon. It was for this Stevens had called him. He rose, and the two went outside together.

‘I counted three reports before I went in to call you; there have been two since,’ said he: ‘let us count—there is another—that is six.’

‘They are firing a salute, the villains—a royal salute, I dare say, before marching off, I hope.’

They counted—there were twenty-one guns, and all was silent again.

‘Now they are off—what say you, Stevens, will they come here or go to Delhi?’

‘To Delhi—stop—listen.’

‘They listened: through the deep and solemn stillness of the midnight air, there came floating on the breeze that but just stirred the leaves of the trees before them, the sounds of military music—then the noise of voices shouting out a wild hurrah—then a pause, and then, after a bright flash had illumined the horizon for a few seconds, came a sound as of distant subterranean thunder. The earth shook under their feet even at that distance. By-and-by the music began again, and continued growing fainter and fainter till it died away in the silence of the night.

‘They are gone, thank God,’ said Stevens.

‘Amen to that,’ replied Dacres; ‘gone, and ill luck go with ‘em! Here’s one of out difficulties removed, and a very serious one. Now you go and lie down, Stevens. I’ll keep the rest of your watch; I could not go to sleep again if I tried.’

‘Nor I—I would rather not attempt it.’

‘Let us keep the watch together, then. I do hope, now that these fellows are really gone, that we shall be able to induce the Nawab to remain staunch, and that his influence will be sufficient to keep his men straight till aid can reach us from Mitterpore. Though I have not told you of it, an event has occurred which may be attended with awkward results. When I came back from my visit to the Nawab, I could not find you, and we were all so weary that I determined to put off any discussion about it till to-morrow.’

He then communicated to Stevens, as the two paced up and down the balcony outside the room, which was raised a few feet only from the garden-walls, what had passed between himself and the Nawab.

‘You were right enough in your suggestion, no doubt,’ replied Stevens, when the other had ceased speaking; ‘but shall we get the Nawab to believe it—or shall we ever get to the bottom of the affair?’

‘We’ll try. There is not the smallest doubt that there is some underhand agency at work doing us mischief, and I will never cease till I have unearthed it all. I frequently wonder who that man can be that has come across our path and flitted away again once or twice. You saw him in the Sudder Ameen’s house. Graham and Harley evidently saw the same man in the cantonments last night—was it last night?—so it was—it seems more like last month. Then I saw him when he came up to the gateway and tried to induce the Nawab to go against us; and now this European, or ghost, or devil, turns up. Do you know,’ he added abruptly, after a short pause, turning round upon his companion in their walk, ‘I must tell you—I can’t help it—I don’t like this fellow Thurston. What does he want here—who the deuce is he?’

Stevens laughed. ‘You don’t mean that you suspect him of having anything to do with all these appearances, do you? Why, you might as well suspect Graham or me. Ten to one, it was the brigadier’s ghost the Nawab saw.’

‘Don’t joke about ghosts, Stevens; we may be all ghosts ere long. Certainly, the old brigadier did as much damage as he could while he was alive—it is hard if he won’t be content without working out our ruin now. But, seriously, answer me if you can—who is Thurston?’

‘Is he not an M.P.?’ said Stevens, laughing heartily: ‘you find his name in the list of members, don’t you?’

‘I find a name—but how do I know he is a good man and true?’

‘But, Dacres, you are talking nonsense; let us think of the matter more seriously, for it is a serious matter. If the Nawab gets his countenance turned against us, as the native phrase is, it will be the end of us all. His men are only waiting the signal to fly like bloodhounds at our throats. Depend on it, we shall be right to avail ourselves of the universal maxim, “When anything goes wrong, ask who is she?”’

‘In this case, then, she must be the Nawab’s wife. You know he is unlike most Mahometan gentlemen. He has only one wife, a Greek or a Turkish lady, I believe; at any rate, a very superior person to the Indian ladies, the occupants of most harems; and she exercises, I know, an immense deal of influence over him.’

‘I don’t believe any man, much less a European, could have got into his private garden, or, what it is in reality (for of course etiquette prevented him from mentioning his wife’s name in my ears), in his lady’s garden, without her consent and connivance.’

‘Could not the eunuchs have given him admission, or wouldn’t they, if they had a private end to answer?’

‘They might, but I don’t think it likely. But if we have to play at diplomacy with a woman, who is moving the machine while all the time we can’t even see her, or see what she is like, it will go very hard with us. We shall never be her match in plotting and planning.’

‘Cannot we use the same tools? If the enemy mine, suppose we countermine; if they plot, let us plot too. At any rate, we can meet them on even ground here.’

‘How so?’

‘Why, can we not use female intrigues as well as the Nawab or his unseen friends? I’ll back my sister Amy to see as far as any woman—or my poor wife, as to that matter, only her anxiety about her children has quite unnerved her. Let us try to-morrow—or to-day, for it is just about dawn—to put Amy up to looking where our eyes cannot see, and find out what is going on behind the screen.’

‘An excellent idea, Stevens. I’ll see the Nawab, and try and persuade him to let Amy go and pay a visit to his wife. I’ve a great curiosity to know what she is like. These fellows are beginning to awake. I’ll ride up to the cantonment the first thing, and see if the coast is really clear, and pick up what news I can; and when I come back, I’ll see the Nawab and try to get the entrée into his seraglio.’

‘All right—but what are you going to do about your office, and Harley’s?’

‘Oh, we will go and try to carry on just as usual at court: we shall take our revolvers of course, and have our horses saddled; but it will never do to give up our regular office-work without an attempt to carry it on; it will look like abandoning the country to the rebels.’

‘Well, take care of yourself, and God bless you.’

Chapter XXXII

Never had Leila’s attendants known their young mistress give them so much trouble as she did this day. She was peevish and fretful the whole morning, more than usually particular about her toilette, trying one little ornament or knick-knack after the other, and throwing them away again with an air of a young coquette dressing for her first ball. Even her favourite domestic who stood in the relation of lady’s maid to her mistress, and who was treated rather as a confidante and companion than an inferior, was in her bad books to-day, and received almost as many rebukes and rebuffs as her less-honoured companions. At last, after a lengthened ordeal of their patience, they were permitted to depart, and leave the imperious beauty to herself, to recover, as they maliciously said to one another, her temper and her good looks, before the daily visit of her lord. When the husband, however, made his appearance, he found his pretty wife still pouting, and a frown upon her brow.

‘What, Leila! still anxious and fearful? The worst is over: the mutineers have gone, and there is nothing that need disturb you in your quiet nest.’

‘I am not anxious,’ Leila replied, ‘nor fearful.’

‘Sulky, then,’ thought her husband, but he did not dare say it, for, like many men with pretty wives in other lands than the East, he was very much afraid of her.

‘What, then?’ he said, sitting down at her feet as she reclined against the cushion, leaning her head upon her hand. A robe of the finest fabric enveloped her beautiful figure, falling from the back of the head and shoulders to the prettily-formed feet, clad in embroidered slippers that peeped out from under its slender covering. He took the hand that was disengaged, playfully, and was about to press it to his lips. She withdrew it.

‘Come, Leila, this is nonsense,’ he said, putting his arm round her waist, and kissing her lips in spite of her struggles to resist. She could no longer keep up the fiction; she smiled, and turned full upon him those large black lustrous eyes that filled—more than filled—overflowed—with love.

‘How is it your highness wastes his precious hours with a poor slave?’ she said with considerable bitterness, the old dark cloud returning to her features, ‘and leaves those kaffir houris, whom you call your friends, all to themselves?’

The Nawab answered with a bitter laugh.

‘Ha, Leila! so this is the cause of the clouds over the sunshine of your beauty today—the kaffirs. Ah, truly, kaffirs—yes, but Allah’s creatures nevertheless—and fugitives I have sworn to protect.’

‘Nay, my lord, Heaven forbid you should not protect the distressed. I only asked you how it was you wasted your time with a poor slave, instead of drinking in wisdom from the pretty lips of the fair daughters of Satan.’

‘I would rather kiss the dew on my Leila’s lip than drink in wisdom from anyone’s, even Suleiman’s.’

‘Yes, you think little of Suleiman’s lessons, I know, otherwise you would not have forgotten his precept:— “The wise man who values Allah’s gifts will cherish the maiden he loves.”’

‘No man can love more than I love you, Leila, and that you know,’ replied the Nawab, speaking more seriously than he had before. ‘You are unwise and unjust to be angry at what I said last night. I said, these English ladies were not brought up like our own ladies—like you, Leila, though you are more like them than any other of my countrywomen.’

Leila pouted disdainfully and pursed up her lips at this equivocal compliment.

‘They are educated, and able to talk with their husbands and brothers on affairs of state, and to aid them too in their duties. I said they are wise, and as beautiful as they are wise, graceful, and elegant, and spotless in chastity—and pure.’

‘Go on, go on, pray do not be afraid of exhausting your stock of praises too soon. I shall never get tired of hearing them.’

‘What will you have, Leila? what shall I do, or what shall I not do, to please you? These people are in great danger; I must be with them, I must consult with them, I must see them, I must talk to them, and their ladies do as much to manage their affairs as the men. I cannot associate with one and not the other.’

‘Pray do not put yourself to inconvenience on my account,’ she said, turning away her face; ‘only when the kaffirs are sent to hell, as they will be,’—and now she confronted him again and spoke with the utmost vehemence, while her large eyes flashed fire,—‘send their women to me, and—’

‘What—keep them here, and you are already so jealous! and what will you do with them?’

‘Send them to join their husbands.’

The Nawab laughed—he could not help it: he made no reply, however, but rose and commenced walking slowly up and down the room.

‘Leila, this is madness,’ he said, after a long silence. ‘I do not speak of your injustice and unkindness in harbouring a doubt or a suspicion of me, after the many years of love and devotion I have spent with you, but you only need to see and speak to these English ladies to find out how utterly unfounded your ideas are. They are not like you; they are not formed to be loved as you are—to be worshipped, doted on; they are made like men, to mix with them in the active duties of life as brothers. I want you to see them and to know them. To-day you shall have a visit from one of them: I am sure you will grow fond of her—you cannot help it—’

‘Have you found it so, my lord?’

‘You will receive her, will you not, Leila? and be courteous—she wants to cultivate your friendship.’

‘As a slave I must do as my master bids me,’ she answered.

‘It is I who am the slave, not you,’ he said, returning and attempting to caress her, but she rose to leave the room.

‘Tell me before you go,’ he said, ‘will you do as I wish?’

‘I always do as I am ordered,’ was the only reply he received, for she gathered her flowing robes in her hand and swept out of the room with the air of a queen.

Chapter XXXIII

If you had been in the room where the interview related in the last chapter took place, about an hour after it was over, you might have seen the curtain at the door by which the Nawab had made his entrance and exit, opposite to that by which Leila had retired to her own private room, gently agitated, then cautiously raised at the corner, and through the opening thus made two piercing little black eyes peeping into the apartment. Seeing the room empty, the owner of the pair of eyes ventured to lift the curtain still more, and to take a good look all round, and then beckoning to some one from behind, advanced boldly across the threshold, followed by the second visitor. They were dressed in different costumes. The first corner was habited in a loose muslin petticoat reaching from the waist to the ankle, the upper part of the dress being that commonly worn by Asiatics of the better sort—a loosely fitting embroidered vest: a turban as a matter of course covered his head. His features were not prepossessing. He was small in stature, though not inelegantly formed; his eyebrows were overhanging, But, with the exception of the eyebrows, he had, though an elderly person, not a trace of hair upon his face, which wore an expression at once painful and forbidding to a stranger. He was fat and well-to-do, as far as outward things went, but a glance at his hard features told you he was one of those human beings who are cut off from all sympathy and community of feeling for their fellow-mortals of either sex, and you could without much stretch of fancy imagine the possessor of them committing, or beholding unmoved, the greatest cruelties that unlicensed or inhuman tyranny was ever guilty of. The person who accompanied him was habited shabbily and untidily in the costume of a European woman. Her bonnet was of a very old fashion; a blue large shawl enveloped her not very elegant figure, and a drab muslin dress, without the pretence of any crinoline, reached as far as the ankles, and no further. Her features were entirely concealed by a thick veil.

‘Wait here,’ said the eunuch. ‘I will send word to my mistress that you are come.’

So saying, he put his head outside the curtain and summoned, in a loud shrill voice, a female attendant. She hastened in obedience to the command, and when she had come in, received orders to acquaint her mistress that the European lady was waiting her, at the command of the Nawab. The servant-girl, who did not trouble herself to conceal her features in the presence of the eunuch, cast a rapid glance at the figure and dress of the visitor, which did not seem to please her, to judge by the scornful manner in which she turned up her nose after the scrutiny, and departed to perform her errand. In a few minutes the rustling of female apparel announced the approach of the mistress of the house; the curtain was raised, and Leila, dressed in the most costly and extravagant style, though with the utmost taste and symmetry, with the same frown upon her brow, and a smile of haughty scorn upon her lips, entered in a most majestic way. She scarce deigned to notice the salutation of the visitor, but seated herself in the same place and position as she had received her husband just before. At a sign from the eunuch, the girl, who had followed her mistress into the room, retired; and after seeing her out, and making a very low salaam, he too left the room, and the lady and her visitor were alone.

A silence ensued: Leila, not condescending to appear aware even of the other’s presence, amused herself by playing with a twisted silver tassel on the corner of the cushion against which she was leaning, in a way that threatened very soon to sever the connection between the tassel and the braid that held it.

At last the stranger spoke.

As a gazelle dozing on a bed of leaves and moss in the shady recesses of a grove by a mountain-stream starts at the baying of hounds now well upon her scent, and listens with ears erect and sparkling eye for a moment ere she bounds from her pursuers, Leila suddenly awoke to life and energy. The frown disappeared from her brow; the disagreeably haughty look that had stamped her lovely features with such forbidding aspect, gave place to a smile, sweet and entrancingly beautiful; her pearl-like teeth glittered between her ruby lips, now partly opened in an attitude of deep attention: a flashing glance of intelligence and emotion lighting up and playing about her large dark eyes, betokened the movement of her deepest sympathies, and showed how the inmost chord in her heart had been played upon by some magic touch with skill and force enough to send its tones vibrating and thrilling through her whole soul and being. With her fixed attention riveted on the speaker, she sat, or rather leant forward, one little hand pressed against her beating heart, the other supporting her delicate but commanding figure.

This sudden magic-like change in Leila had been brought about by the uncouth-looking stranger breaking the awkward silence that prevailed for some little time after they were left alone, in accents of the purest Circassian. Leila heard from the strange lips now addressing her the language of her native land, the language familiar to her earliest infancy, which she had not heard for many years. Who shall describe the sensation caused by it? Who shall imagine the associations awakened in the breast of a young and imaginative girl by such a reminiscence of the past? how visions of home, of the happy days of childhood, glowing with the brightest tints fond memory could throw into the picture—of her mother, her little brothers and sisters, of the games and sports that amused them the livelong day in the shady dells, or among the moss-clad rocks by the side of the rippling stream, where the ever-running water, bubbling among the pebbles, sung the sweetest music to the ears of childhood,—how these happy visions were chased away by others of a more sombre kind, and the scene changed as by the touch of the enchanter’s wand from joy to sorrow, to the deathbed of her doting mother, the separation of her family circle, the departure of her father to the battle-field against the Russian hosts, and the speedy, all too speedily-brought intelligence of his capture and his death—then the wail of the tribe, as the disastrous intelligence of defeat and impending captivity was communicated to them, assembled under the wide-spreading branches of the trees close to their villages where they were accustomed to meet—of the breaking-up of the ties of home, and the flight to distant inaccessible retreats for safety; and, finally, the rapid succession of events that led to her seeking to better her fortunes in a Turkish slave-market. All these memories, joyful and sad, sweet though painful, were awakened in overwhelming force by the sounds of her native language for the first time since her childhood poured into her ear. No wonder she started, and looked first awe-struck, then astonished, then entranced.

‘Enough,’ said the stranger, seeing the overpowering effect his first words had produced. ‘I have found in this distant land one who has breathed the pure air of the Circassian mountains—one whose soul loves to linger among the haunts of her native land, one with whom I have a common bond of sympathy and affection—then why should I retain longer this disguise?’

‘Speak, who are you?’ said Leila, as soon as she could recover herself sufficiently to give utterance to her thoughts.

‘Are we alone—and safe from interruption?’

‘I am mistress of my own apartments,’ she replied haughtily: ‘none dare enter here without my bidding—here we are safe from intrusion.’

‘That is well—for I have been bold, and ventured on great peril.’

‘I expected the English lady—you are not she—your dress is a disguise—hideous it is, and revolting—throw it aside, and let me gaze on one of the daughters of my own loved land undisfigured by these kaffir weeds.’

‘You see before you, lady, not one of the daughters, but one of the sons of Circassia!’ said the stranger, rising, as he threw off his disguise and stood before her in the costume worn by the noble youths of her native mountain-land, with whom she had so often, in happier days, danced on the greensward under the trees near her village home.

Leila forgot all her assumed, though none of her natural dignity of demeanour; she started to her feet, catching in her left arm the folds of her loose robe as it fell off her back and shoulders, and gathering it round her as if the flimsy fabric could be a defence against some unknown peril, at the same time that she threw the other end with her right hand over her head and face. As she stood as if half doubting whether to fly from the room or to summon assistance, her lips parted, her head thrown back, and her beautiful figure displayed to the utmost advantage by the attitude she had assumed, she formed a model of grace which an artist would have known how to value. A strange gleam of emotion, of admiration, adoration, passion, flashed across the eyes and lips of the visitor, as he gazed for the moment entranced by the exquisite beauty of the being that stood before him: it was but momentary, and, well perhaps for him, passed unobserved by Leila herself. His coolness never for a moment deserted him. One word from Leila’s lips, he knew, would summon those to her presence who would make short work of him, perhaps consign him to torture or to death in its most agonising and revolting form. The first time he looked straight at Leila, and she at him, there was a glance of recognition in her features, followed the instant after by an expression of bewilderment, anxiety, and doubt. He laid his finger on his lips as a token of silence, then knelt and kissed the embroidered hem of her garment.

‘Lady, let me entreat you, be silent. I am not here without a purpose, nor without cause, and at the peril of my life: but as you value the memory of the home of our youth, hear me patiently, and by those memories I swear that I mean you no wrong, no dishonour—nay, I will die a thousand deaths before I would injure a hair of your head.’

Again the spell of her native accents asserted its power. Leila was charmed by it—and yielded. She neither fled nor called her attendants, but remained standing in an uncertain attitude as if waiting to hear more. The stranger interpreted her silence favourably, and continued speaking.

‘This is not the first time you have seen me, lady, nor are the rules and ceremonies that entrammel the actions of ordinary men to be observed with those who bear the commission of the Ahnighty; otherwise, bold and fearless as I am, I should not have ventured unbidden into your presence: but the mandates of the Almighty may not be lightly performed, nor may human customs be allowed to stand in the way of their fulfilment. Allah makes what use he pleases of his creatures. I am a humble instrument in his hands, and I have been directed to look to you as another chosen instrument to work out his will. Do you yield obedience to the Divine command, or do you distrust the power of the Most High?’

‘Those who bear messages from heaven,’ replied Leila, who had not reseated herself, but remained standing, though with much more composure than she had before exhibited, ‘bring some token of their authority.’

‘Tokens or signs, you may have as many as you will, lady: you have not forgotten how I stood the test when I held that interview with the Nawab, which you watched from behind your curtain.’

‘No, truly—but my lord was much shaken in his confidence after what passed at the tomb of the Saiyad, on whom be peace!’

‘As the confidence of all are shaken who listen to the voice of the charmer, and allow their souls to be entangled in the net of Satan, which he spreads through his servants the kaffirs, on whom be the curse of God! After all, what are these signs and tokens?’ he continued, as Leila remained silent. ‘The magician, the conjurer, can acquire such authority over the powers of nature, such acquaintance with the mysteries hidden to all common men who have neither the sense nor the perseverance to study them, as to produce the most astonishing wonders and performances, which you, lady, have doubtless often amused yourself with witnessing. And such I could produce and reproduce again and again till you fell asleep from sheer weariness of looking at them; but none but those who are endowed with power from the High One, who bear his message and his mission, can read the thoughts and feelings of the human heart, or hear words spoken at a distance and in concealment. Such power have I, through the mystic sympathy of mind with mind, to read the thoughts, to hear the words of those who are far away, to tell at this moment what is passing in the outer world.’

‘Give me such proofs of your power and I believe,’ said Leila.

‘This morning you were displeased, lady—your soul, imprisoned in the petty circle that bounds human hopes and human feelings, unconscious of the bright and glorious future destined for you, you cherished in your inmost heart the poisonous serpent, jealousy—you repulsed your maidens in waywardness and ill-humour; you rebuked your husband, you resisted his approaches, you repelled his advances, you threw cold water on his love—his devoted, constant, ardent love—that love which every man must be a slave to, who beholds your exquisite, your divine beauty; you tried to bring about an angry altercation, but failed; you are jealous of those kaffir ladies—you are ambitious; you feel within yourself vain longings—aspirations after something, you know not what; there is a gnawing at the core of your heart—a yearning that cannot be satisfied—a desire that has no fulfilment. In the midst of wealth and luxury, and all the outward aids to human happiness and content, you are unhappy—in your solitary hours you ponder on the Unseen—you allow your mind to wander in realms your imagination alone knows of, to hold concert with beings that belong to another existence, and for years the first full draught of pleasure you have quaffed was from the cup of memory, filled with the associations awakened by first hearing the accents of your native language from my lips just now. As the sweet yet painful visions conjured up by those words of mine passed through your mind, you felt your heart beat with a strange, unknown joy you never felt before; your soul was lighted up with new life, and you were once again the Leila of longpast years. The innocence and peace of your childhood, whither are they gone? the entrancing, thrilling pleasure of indulged passion—a passion pure and holy as you yourself are pure, though not the less of earth for all that—what is it now?—Childless, no baby lips have ever called you mother! no infant likeness of yourself, part of your own being, has ever nestled in your bosom, and drunk from its sweet fount the stream of life! That one longing desire of your whole soul has never been granted, and you feel at times as if your whole life were aimless. Deprived of the one hope of your existence, you have fed and fed on the disappointment till it has grown in your heart and sapped the very foundation of your health and life: only at intervals you have felt the stirrings of an impulse to do great things—the scintillations from the ever-burning flame of the Divine Will flashing through your soul; they have sparkled and disappeared, and left the waste ten times more dreary than before; yielding to the influence of external circumstance, vainly and wrongly imagined to be all-powerful and insuperable, you have seen nothing to be called your own, but blank despair; and now you find your own and only solace, your husband’s love, cut off by a stroke of jealousy which has come between you and your sole source of happiness, and left your heart broken and subdued, prepared to hear the Divine mission from my lips.’

Leila had, long before he ceased speaking, sunk on her cushion, and now sat with her hands pressed against her face. The scalding tears gushed from her eyes as the stranger spoke of her home and childhood’s days, and trickled in pearly drops between her slender fingers as he continued, revealing, as it appeared to her, by magic or by Divine inspiration, in every word, more and more of that hidden life that she believed was known only to herself, and read aloud the characters traced out on the page of her memory; her emotion became so great, that her whole frame shook with it, and she with difficulty repressed the almost overbearing propensity to sob aloud.

He was silent. She withdrew her hands and saw—nay, felt—his gaze upon her; fascinated by the mesmeric influence he possessed, her imagination and susceptible nervous temperament made her an easy victim to the art, and as she kept her eyes fixed on him, she felt (or fancied so vividly that she felt, which was the same thing in its results) the power of his will exerted over her, and her own in subjection to it.

‘You speak as one endowed with a mission from Allah,’ she said at length; ‘what would you have me do?’

‘Work out his plans in the destruction of the infidel—the revival of Islam! By the same power that I exercise over you, a power you feel but cannot express, bend your husband’s will to yours. He has the opportunity to do great things for the faith: many kaffir lives are in his hands, yet, unfaithful, he spares, and strikes not; great things are in his power, but he is silent and still. It is for you to lead him in the right path, and, when once entered on it, to keep him there. It is for you to make him raise the green flag, and call on all the faithful throughout the district to rally round it. Let him send to hell the handful of unbelievers Allah has made over to him for punishment—even the women and children he should smite! Those that are spared may be spared—the women to be your slaves, to expiate in a life of servitude their sin against the faith of Islam; the children that are spared—and none beyond the age of eight years may be spared—may be eunuchs in your household, only with one exception. There is one who will be with you when I leave your presence; upon her the hand of destiny has laid its finger. She is singled out by the will of the Most High to be the bride of heaven. Mark her, speak her fair, encourage her confidences, make her yours; and when the hour comes, and I bid you, deliver her over to me to fulfil her destiny. All this it is yours to accomplish; glorious destiny, lady—beloved of Allah! I shall be ever at hand to aid in carrying out your plans: though other duties call me elsewhere, I shall ever and anon return; at times you least expect, I shall appear and go. No doors are closed to me, no secrets hidden from me, no recesses too intricate or distant for me to penetrate into. Science has for me unfolded her greatest mysteries, and given me her instruments to work with, as my tools; these I will entrust to you as you need them, and instruct you how to use them; for to you I am bidden to impart much of that knowledge that Allah has revealed to me, and much that I have gained at his command, by long and lonely watches and deep study, and secret communion with those spirits that visit earth to make their presence known only to those chosen for the mighty privilege, who have subdued the passions and weakness of mortality, as I have, by frequent fastings and mortifications in the lonely desert and the wild mountain. Your soul, thirsting for knowledge, shall drink deep the intoxicating draught; yearning for action, the powers of your mind shall grow daily more and more fitted to enable you to fulfil your destiny. As the task before you is more than human means can accomplish, more than human energy shall be bestowed upon you. And now I must leave you. But first, I will give you a few only of the instruments you may have to work with. ‘Take these,’ he added, giving her three or four small vials, distinguished by labels of different colours, and so small as easily to be concealed in the hollow of the hand, or the tiniest fold of her dress, and singling them out one after another as he proceeded to describe their several properties. ‘This,’ he said, ‘will destroy life gradually; one drop every day administered with food will cause the lamp of life to grow fainter and fainter, till, on the fourth or fifth day, it is extinguished. Of this no traces remain after death. This destroys life instantaneously, but leaves many traces of its violent action in the contorted features and convulsion stereotyped by death. This causes deep sleep, deep and long; a small dose of one drop brings on lethargic feelings, during which the mind loves to dwell on sensual delights, or intoxicates itself with imaginary draughts of pleasure, and under their influence passion is easily excited: this vial contains a liquid of which a little thrown upon a handkerchief, and pressed against the face, produces instant relaxation of the powers of life, during which the victim lies at your mercy; and this,’ he added, bringing from his vest a small dirk or poniard, not much larger than a penknife, encased in a beautiful enamelled sheath, ‘will cause instant and painless death. Look.’

He drew the blade, and exhibited, with all the pride of an artist, its secret virtue. It was small, sharp, and glittering like a diamond in the sun’s rays.

‘You have but to insert it here,’ he pointed to his heart, ‘or anywhere else; the effect is almost, not quite, as instantaneous in less vital parts. Touch this spring with your finger (the slightest touch will do it), and while the weapon penetrates to the organ of life, the poison—ten times more deadly than that of any serpent—is forced through a channel that runs through the instrument into the wound, and mixing with the blood, produces almost instantaneous death. There are many other gifts and many powers I will impart to you at a future time. Now I must bid you farewell. There is one more word only I need say; it is this—trust none of your household except the head eunuch, Sidi Gulzar.’

Almost before she was aware of it, as if desirous to avoid questioning, he kissed her hand, shuffled on his disgaise, and left the room. She heard him oatside summoning Sidi Gulzar to conduct him from the palace, and the sound of his retreating footsteps told her he was alone.

Chapter XXXIV

It was only under a stern sense of duty that Amy was induced to yield an unwilling consent to Mr. Dacres’s proposition, that she should cultivate Leila’s acquaintance, with the object of fathoming, if possible, the depth of the intrigue in which it was believed she was concerned. From whatever side Amy viewed it, however specious were the arguments she used to convince herself to the contrary, it was not an open and fair offer of friendship she was about to make to the Eastern beauty. She was going expressly and avowedly to win her confidence, not exactly for the purpose of betraying it, but to make use of it; and the first step to this would, of necessity, be a sort of betrayal. Amy was guileless and unskilled in the ways of the world—unskilled in the art of concealing under a mask, either of language, look, or manner, the real promptings of the heart and the expression of true feelings. Hence her difficulty.

Having persuaded herself, or rather allowed Dacres to persuade her, as one ‘who, though convinced against her will, has just the same opinion still,’ she dressed herself in as becoming a manner as circumstances and the scanty resources of her diminished wardrobe would allow, and was escorted across the quadrangle to the outer door of the seraglio, whence, under the guidance of Leila’s attendants, she was ushered into the saloon to which the reader has already been introduced.

Whether Leila had not yet sufficiently recovered from the excitement of the scene she had recently gone through, or whether she wished to show a little slight to the visitor she had been desired to receive, I know not, but it is certain that Amy had plenty of leisure to examine with her wondering eyes the interior of the apartment into which she had been ushered before the mistress of it made her appearance. What a contrast to the crowded, noisy room Amy had just left!—where, in spite of all her efforts to produce tidiness and comfort, untidiness and discomfort were the chief characteristics—where the open and unprotected window admitted the full glare of the noonday sun (so jealously excluded from all the houses usually occupied by the better classes)—where the children were unceasingly troublesome, having no place to play in, and being always in the way; while other minor evils dwindled into insignificance before the perpetual torment kept up by the myriads of flies that put anything like rest out of the question. A great contrast to this was Leila’s room,—so quiet, so still, so comfortably darkened, so cool, and such a delicious fragrance from flowers and other perfumes filled the air! Amy would have given much if she could have spent with her own friends even a few hours out of every day in so delightful a retreat; and she could not help thinking, with a pang of envy and regret, of the comforts of the home she had so long enjoyed and so lately lost. Oh, how she wished she could manage to bring her sister and the children there! how they would enjoy the relief from the glare and noise, and flies, to which they were exposed! The room was lighted by a skylight from the top, but the sunbeams were not suffered to stream with scorching glare through unstained glass, but, passing through a medium that absorbed the brightest rays, they threw a subdued—if I may use the phrase, a ‘dim religious’ light, into the room. There was scarcely enough daylight for needle or worsted work; but Leila never amused herself with these, nor did she ever read in this room. It was not too dark for all she wanted to do. There were no chairs or tables—nothing more uncomfortable than soft silk-covered couches, laid on strips of Turkey carpet, round the edge of the floor, or in places here and there. The greater part of the floor had no carpet or covering at all, and it did not need any, for it was pure and clean, and much prettier than any carpet would have made it, for it was of polished tessellated marble, familiar enough to all my readers who have seen the interior of an Eastern palace, or some of the famous buildings, such as the Taj, which serve to redeem the works of Eastern architects from the character of barbaric splendour with which they are so commonly associated. In the centre of the room there was a fountain, with a jet throwing some two or three feet high a stream of cool water, which, breaking into a thousand mimic cascades, fell splashing into the transparent crystal reservoir below. I have noticed the fragrant odour that filled the air. It was produced partly by fresh flowers, and partly by aromatic herbs, and artificially compounded perfumes mingled with such taste as to charm the senses. Pretty as the apartment of Leila’s was by day, it was ten times more beautiful at night when lighted up; for the ceiling was lined with shining mirrors interlaced with silver filagree, and each lamp was reflected ever so many times from the surface of the polished mirrors; and the bright light thus produced, with the rich colour of the carpets and cushions, and golden hangings and embroidery of the curtains over the doorways, and the sparkling fountain that played incessantly day and night, made it look like a fairy palace. By night it seemed a fitting place for mirth, and music, and dancing; by day it was marvellously adapted to court repose—not dull, leaden sleep that drowns the senses in oblivion, but repose. There, reclining at ease on the cushions, you might lie and listen the livelong day to the ceaseless music of that softly-splashing fountain, inhaling the perfumes of the air, and, with eyes half closed beneath the subdued sunlight, dream the daydreams that filled up one-half of Leila’s waking life. Such day-dreaming maybe pleasant, but it is dangerous, for we are creatures of imagination and of sense.

So peculiar was the effect of the light, and the air loaded with fragrance, and the monotonous though pleasing sound of the falling water, upon the nerves and senses, that Amy was startled upon Leila’s entrance to find that she had in that short time succumbed in a slight degree to the influences around her. Nor was it till Leila stood close to her, and the sound of her sweet musical voice fell upon her ear, that Amy fully awoke to the consciousness of her presence. Then all at once the sense of dissatisfaction with herself and her mission returned with renewed force to her mind, making her feel awkward, and for the first time in her life, perhaps, at a loss how to behave. Leila’s kind and winning tone, however, her apparently artless grace, and the unconstrained yet ladylike and elegant deportment, acquired in no other school than that of nature, soon set the bashful visitor at ease, and ere a quarter of an hour had elapsed. Amy found herself, to her own surprise, conversing with this Circassian beauty, this child of nature in the seclusion of her harem, in familiar—nay, almost affectionate terms. The want of fluency of language was a great hindrance to her, as she found herself at fault a hundred times with ideas she endeavoured but failed to express; but her mistakes and blunderings added a charm to their tête-à-tête. Leila, with an almost childish pride, showed her new friend all her jewels and treasures, her dresses, trinkets, and ornaments, and seemed pleased when the English lady praised their beauty and costliness. Their interview was so much taken up with trifles, that Amy found it would be almost impossible for her to do much towards the object of her visit in that first interview. She could but drop a hint here and there, and endeavour to gather from some hasty answer to an apparently casual remark now and again Leila’s views on matters external to the walls of the harem. But she was either very much on her guard, or really unwilling to allow considerations of serious or weighty affairs of real life to interfere with the pleasure she evidently felt in the society of her new acquaintance. One thing only connected with the present state of affairs outside her walls did she dwell upon with anything like warmth, or at any length; and that was upon the idea of keeping the ladies of the party under her protection, while the officers went to join the army in the field.

The visit had lasted about an hour, when Amy’s anxiety was aroused by unmistakeable sounds of popular excitement outside. Far removed as they were from the outer world, the sound of men’s voices chattering and shouting, the hurrying to and fro, the echo of impatient footsteps, and manifold signs and symptoms of agitation, penetrated the walls, and attracted Amy’s attention long before that of her companion. She rose to go; Leila detained her, holding her hand affectionately, and talking, and urging her to renew her visit on the morrow, and bring some of the children with her. The report of a distant cannon-shot made Amy still more anxious to be gone; still Leila detained her on one pretence or another, for she apparently did not attach any importance to the sounds which caused her visitor so much uneasiness.

Amy, however, did at last manage to tear herself away; and as she wends her steps back to the room where her friends await her, full of gloomy forebodings and anxious fears, let us turn back for a moment to see what had caused this commotion.

I have recorded above Dacres’s expressed intention of repairing with his subordinates to their offices as usual that day, with the object of keeping up as long as possible a show of outward tranquillity and organisation. So, at the usual hour, accompanied by Harley and Burleigh, he repaired to the cutchery, or courthouse. Much to their astonishment, though they took care not to express any, they found nearly all the native subordinates and employes at their posts too. All took their accustomed seats; the natives opened their bundles of papers, pens and ink, and proceeded, or pretended at any rate to proceed, with the ordinary work just as if nothing unusual had occurred in their neighbourhood for the last three weeks. Meantime, their European superiors sat with their revolvers loaded, though concealed about their persons, their horses being kept at the door ready saddled.

About noon they were disturbed by distant sounds of ominous import, which they all indeed understood, for they were all more than half anticipating some fresh outbreak. At the same time, the natives about the court began to whisper and look anxious; and some, on one pretext or another, left, and never returned.

I will not detain the reader with details of the attack and escape. Though feeling it his duty, and thinking it might have a beneficial effect on the public mind, to keep up as long as possible the outward semblance of authority, Dacres had no intention of allowing himself and his companions to fall a sacrifice to the violence of a lawless mob, and to be caught in a trap; so, as soon as their approach to the court-house and subsequent disposition of their force left no room to doubt that their intention was to attack the place and cut off the inmates, Dacres and his two fellow-civilians mounted their horses and rode leisurely away, just as the first shot from the gun which the rebels had planted in the road, about a thousand yards from the cutchery, opened fire. In half an hour the place was gutted and set fire to, and the mob was wending its way slowly towards the palace walls, bent on doing as much mischief as it could.

Amy was much relieved, on rejoining her friends, to find that the disturbance which had caused her so much uneasiness, had given them very little real alarm. Dacres, Harley, and Burleigh were back among them safe, and the mob was only howling like a pack of jackals outside the walls.

Amy had to run the gauntlet of inquisitive questioning directly she appeared; for they all knew where she had been, and were all anxious to learn something about the person who was supposed to have so much influence in the palace and the neighbourhood.

‘Does she eat betel?’

‘Does she whip her slaves?’

‘I’ll answer all your questions when I come back—there’s Mr. Dacres beckoning me away; I am an important personage now,’ she said, laughing, and looking back at the little mob of inquisitive friends as she tripped away, accompanied by her brother-in-law.

‘Did you find out anything?’ Dacres asked when they were alone.

‘I did my best,’ said Amy, laughing; ‘but I am but a poor diplomatist, and my knowledge of the language is very limited. However, I had better describe my interview from the beginning, if you will have patience and hear me out: I’ll make it as clear as I can.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said both her hearers; ‘go on.’

‘She was all kindness, I assure you, and such a beautiful creature!’

‘We’ve heard all that before,’ said her brother, good-humouredly.

‘Well, don’t tease me; if you will employ ladies on diplomatic missions, you must put up with their way of doing things. I certainly cannot believe there is any unkind feeling towards us lurking in her heart; I can easily conceive her doing anything, you know. She is the most wonderful woman I ever saw; such energy, such intellect, such a figure!’

‘Ahem!’ said Stevens.

‘And the most exquisite feet—oh, if you had but seen her feet!’

‘One thing she seems bent upon,’ continued Amy, ‘and I should say what she made up her mind to do was done somehow or other. She is determined that we, that is, all the ladies and children, shall go and live in her part of the house, while all you gentlemen go to Delhi and join the army. She will take care of us, she says, and keep us safe; and when all is quiet again, you can come back and fetch us.’

‘Did she say the Nawab had suggested that?’ asked Dacres, looking serious.

‘No; she said particularly it was her own idea, and she asked me what I thought of it; and I said, as I know I should if I were a man, I thought the gentlemen would all like it very much.’

‘Like what?’

‘Why, getting rid of us women for a time, so as to be able to get away and join the army and fight: and she is very fond of children, she said, and wants me to take the children to see her to-morrow.’

‘She invited you to visit her again, then?’

‘Oh, yes; why, I assure you, we were the dearest friends; she said nothing had given her so much pleasure for a long time as my visit, and begged me to go again.’

‘What country is she from? Turkish, isn’t she?’

‘Oh, no; Circassian—she is a Circassian—and, oh, so beautiful!’

‘Were you able to make any allusions to the strange visitor?’

‘Yes. I must tell you, you know, I can’t speak Hindustani at all fluently or well, and so I may not have made myself understood—or I may have offended her, or transgressed some rule of Oriental etiquette with which I am unacquainted—or very possibly it was the suggestion or suspicion of anyone having been near her that ought not to have been; but when I mentioned a stranger having been seen near the palace, she seemed quite affected—indeed, for the moment, totally changed in manner; her large black eyes literally flashed at me, and her lips were compressed tightly together, and her breath seemed to come so quickly, I really was afraid she was going to be taken ill—I was quite frightened—but I explained myself, in my garbled, hesitating way, that it was some one who had been seen in the garden; and when I said “yesterday,” she seemed suddenly calmed, and said, “Oh, yesterday, was it?” Then she said something about her guards having orders to fire on anyone that appeared in the garden who had no business there; but she is evidently not in the secret, and is most excited and enraged if anyone hints such a thing.’

By this time the noise and tumult raised by the mob, from whose clutches the three civilians had only just escaped, had increased to such an extent as to create the greatest alarm in the Nawab’s household. All was confusion, hurry, and excitement. Further conversation in private was impossible. Dacres heard his name called repeatedly, as if some one was looking for him, and got up to find who it was that was calling. The story of the attack on the court-house and the flight from the mob had been freely described and circulated by Harley and Burleigh, so that everyone knew the cause of the disturbance outside. The Nawab himself was very much alarmed lest the mob should turn upon his palace; his own men, however, appeared resolute, and as the European officers made a good strong party, and the faithful sepoys and irregulars who had come in with them were tolerably strong in numbers too, he hoped, with the aid of some old guns that were ready mounted, to be able to keep the mob at bay if they did attack. They, however, apparently had no intention of doing anything more than plundering first and then destroying the civilians’ residences and the court-house; for, after effecting this, and setting on fire anything that would burn that could not be carried away, or that was not worth carrying away, they dispersed of their own accord and returned to the city.

As Dacres came up from the lower garden, whither they had all repaired to see what could be seen from the walls, he was suddenly accosted by Thurston, who was accompanied by Asgar Ally and another native.

‘Just the person we’re looking for,’ said Thurston. ‘Here’s our friend Asgar Ally has found a man wandering about looking for you; he says he is a spy,’

‘Bring him along,’ said the commissioner, leading the way into the room, and seating himself at his private table. ‘Who is it?’

‘A spy from the head-quarters camp,’ replied Asgar Ally. ‘I found him wandering about, looking for the “Bura Sahib,” the commissioner. I told him I would try to find him, and while I was looking I met this gentleman, who said he would try to find the sahib for me.’

‘Who are you?’ said Dacres to the native. The man made no repty, but grinned. At the same time, he wriggled about in a very strange way with his hand under the fold of a large cloth or sheet which he wore wrapped round him.

‘Take care,’ said Thurston; ‘perhaps he has a loaded pistol about him.’

The man at last produced, not a pistol, but a little piece of paper, and handed it to Dacres.

It was covered with Persian writing, and was a firman or royal decree from the emperor at Delhi, addressed to no one in particular, but to all chiefs, nobles, rajahs, &c. &c., in Hindustan, calling on them to raise the standard of insurrection everywhere, murder all the English, and hasten with as many troops as they could collect to Delhi. It was sealed with the royal seal; but the paper was a very small fragment, and looked, Dacres thought, as he turned it round and round to examine it, very much like a piece torn off a large and entire scroll which bore the royal seal.

‘Why, how now—you villain, do you know what is written here?’ said Dacres angrily to the man. * You’ll be hanged for this.’

The fellow only grinned and showed his teeth, and rolled about his eyes, showing the whites of them in such a wny as to lead them to believe he was feigning idiotcy. The more Dacres tried to frighten him with threats, the more he grinned—and seemed to enjoy the prospect of being hanged most thoroughly.

‘Take the grinning brute away, and put him in confinement,’ said Dacres, turning to Asgar Ally.

But, instead of going quietly away, the prisoner wriggled himself about a great deal more; at last he took up the end of the sheet or cloth he had about him, tore open the hem at the corner of it with his teeth, and produced another bit of paper, which he handed to the commissioner, grinning more than ever.

‘What, another!’ said Dacres, taking the paper and opening it. ‘What’s this?’

It was a letter from Sir Marmaduke Mastodon, political agent with the head-quarter camp at Selimpore, written in the closest and smallest hand possible, in Greek letters and the French language. It required considerable labour and attention to make it out. It ran as follows:—

‘To the Commissioner of Islamabad.

‘Troops healthy—much want of reinforcements—nothing known of your district—communication cut off—can only correspond with spies. Don’t trust the Nawab—a letter from him to the King of Delhi has fallen into my hands—you can trust no native chief. Send news. Watch for a European called Thurston—he has been in your neighbourhood—his name is attached to several seditious proclamations taken from rebels. Give the bearer 150 rupees, and send him back with double despatch—one for friend and one for foe.

‘P.S. Don’t hang T.’

Long before Mr. Dacres had succeeded in deciphering this troublesome letter, the news had spread far and wide of a messenger having came from Selimpore, and a small crowd gathered round his table eagerly waiting for such information as he thought it best to communicate. He told them all the contents of the letter, except the allusion to the Nawab and Mr. Thurston.

Chapter XXXV

It was not till the evening that Dacres had an opportunity of speaking to Stevens in private, and consulting him on the tenor of the intelligence received from Selimpore. Meantime he had by invitation attended the Nawab and held another private interview with him. Asgar Ally’s behaviour had given rise to grave suspicions and serious doubts of his fidelity in the mind of more than one of the officers. His conduct, indeed, was easily susceptible of explanation on one supposition, viz., that his fidelity was beyond all danger of temptation, and his zeal in the cause of the English fugitives untiring. But those who can appreciate the peril of their present position, and the many sources of the deepest anxiety that surrounded them, will readily understand the difficulty Dacres and the other officers experienced in placing full and undoubted trust in any Asiatic, particularly one whose antecedents were so unsatisfactory as those of Asgar Ally. He seemed to keep aloof as much as possible from the English officers, even from his own associates, and spent the greater part of his time in the company of the Nawab’s retainers; he ate with them, smoked with them, talked with them. All who really trusted him, among whom Mr. Thurston was the chief, easily accounted for this by saying that he was going the best possible way to work to serve his friends: his avoidance of the English officers and the faithful sepoys was a mask, under which he concealed his real designs, which were to worm himself into the confidence of the enemy, and then betray it to the fugitives. This explanation was not, however, altogether satisfactory, and some of them suspected him so much that they would willingly have dispensed with his allegiance altogether if they could, and would gladly have seen him go over openly to the enemy. It was a season of doubt, anxiety, and the extremest peril, and none realised the responsibility of his position more than Dacres. One error in judgment, one wrong stroke of policy, one mistake in human character, and all might be lost. The best resource, indeed, was to have no policy at all,—at least, attempt no active diplomacy, but to leave events pretty much to themselves, and watch them, being ever ready to take advantage of the slightest circumstance that might occur capable of being turned in any way to their advantage. Yet this course it was impossible to pursue. When so much plotting was going on all round, it was imperative on those who might be the victims of it, to penetrate as far as they could the disguise under which their enemies were acting, and to discriminate friend from foe.

Graham and Harley returned late in the afternoon. They had ridden out for ten miles on the Delhi road, and had been successful in discovering unobserved and watching for some little distance in its progress the mutineers’ column. They were in full march for Delhi, there could be no doubt of that; but the account they gave of the appearance of the column on the line of march was amusing. The native officers, now promoted to generals, colonels, captains, and a ‘brilliant staff,’ as the penny-a-liners say, were all mounted on their officers’ chargers, and in full-dress uniform. The cavalry led, the infantry followed, and the artillery brought up the rear. They had an advance guard and a strong rear guard, but between the rear of the column and the rear guard was a space of at least three miles of road with vehicles and beasts of burden of all kinds and descriptions, heavily laden with plunder of the most miscellaneous sort. Buggies and carriages were filled with boxes, pictures, &c.; elephants, camels, even horses, were all burdened with property; a large number of litters bore along the inmates of the hospitals, and a number of spare baggage-cattle followed, which were employed in bringing up stragglers, or burdened with stray articles that had fallen on the road, or been left in consequence of the vehicles or bearers breaking down. With the exception of a great deal of talking, singing, and laughing, and other disorderly behaviour, strict discipline was maintained. No man was allowed to fall out of the column or to lag behind; flanking parties of horsemen rode on each side, about a hundred yards from the column, for the purpose of keeping a look-out, and seeing that there was no straggling or desertion; and Graham and Harley’s party had some little difficulty in escaping detection from these scouts. They were all going along at a good pace, and seemed determined to get over their ground as speedily as possible. The country the two officers had ridden over seemed quiet enough: husbandmen were engaged in their usual avocations, seemingly indifferent to the change of masters; they, indeed, cautiously avoided going near the mutineers, and those engaged in the field near the road left their work and ran off at the approach of the column; while the people the two officers met in the villages they passed through, offered them no violence or insult, though they showed them no sort of respect.

The first opportunity Dacres had of speaking to Stevens alone, he showed him the despatch he had received from Sir Marmaduke Mastodon, told him to read it, and asked what he thought of it.

‘I think,’ said he, after spelling out the missive with great difficulty, ‘that Sir Marmaduke has been made a dupe of by some designing man. As to that part about the Nawab, why, it is likely enough to be correct. I could have told you as much as that, that he’s not to be trusted; but just now we can’t help ourselves. We must trust him; but I look upon the suspicions cast upon Thurston as in the highest degree unfair—unjust. Have you shown it to him?’

‘No, certainly not. I have no intention of doing so; nor do I think it would be advisable.’

‘Perhaps not. I like that postscript, though, to his letter—terse and business-like: “P.S. Don’t hang T.” Capital!’

‘Yes, it’s to the point, though not needed; but I’ll keep my eye on him all the same. Somehow, I have an unconquerable conviction that he’ll come to the gallows in spite of me, though. I have never forgiven him the coldblooded way in which he defended the acts of the mutineers just before he went to see his friends.’

‘Prejudice, Dacres, prejudice, depend on it. Dismiss the idea from your mind. It is unworthy of you, and Sir Marmaduke too. One of these days you will be sorry for the injustice you have done the man, though only in thought. Anything new from the Nawab to-day?’

‘Yes, I was going to tell you. He is full of this notion of our all going to Delhi, and leaving the ladies and children with him.’

‘That’s the plan Amy spoke of, isn’t it, which was suggested by his wife?’

^Yes.’

‘And did he never hint at it before?’

‘Never.’

‘It looks as if it originated with the lady; can we trust her?’

‘How can I tell? I never saw her. From all I hear, I should say yes. What do you say to the notion?’

‘You wouldn’t have asked me if Mrs. Dacres had been here.’

‘Why not?’

‘Why not!—because you would then have seen the folly of it. I for one will not go away and leave my wife and family here, and I do not think any of the married people will. Good heavens! what might not befal them in our absence? I cannot conceive anything more dreadful.’

‘I dare say you are right. Of course, we all stand or fall together. If the married people refuse it, there is an end to it at once. But if, as you suggest, the thing has been started by this lady with some ulterior object, it would be as well to try and find out her plans.’

‘You are too fond of plotting and counterplotting, Dacres. Leave these devils to plot; let us act only in a straightforward way, and leave the result to Providence.’

‘Providence, my dear fellow, always helps those that help themselves. Depend on it, we were intended to make use of the wits Heaven has given us; not to depend on them, of course, but in submission to the Divine will. I hope always to act in a straightforward way, but still I think we must make some attempt to find out what is going on. There is that crafty devil, Asgar Ally, now; we might sit twirling our thumbs and trusting to Providence, as being unable to fight the man with his own weapons, till we found out suddenly some fine day that he had woven his web so close round us that there was no breaking it. I look on that fellow as a most dangerous brute; he’s as deep as a well, and crafty as a Jesuit.’

‘Talking of Jesuits, I wonder you don’t make out that your bête noire Thurston is a Jesuit in disguise.’

‘There is precious little disguise about him. If he is a Jesuit, he is only what he seems to be. But I don’t care for him half as much as for this Asgar Ally. If the fellow were really faithful, he is worth anything, absolutely invaluable to us; but if not—if he is playing false, the very devil himself couldn’t do us more mischief.’

‘Talk of the devil, and you’ll see his horns,’ said Stevens, pointing into the garden just below them. They were on the balcony, and it was quite dark. Dacres looked in the direction indicated, and there he saw a figure, just discernible in the gloom, advancing towards the bottom of the verandah.

‘Who’s that?’ said Dacres, in a loud whisper.

‘Asgar Ally, sahib,’ said the new-comer, in another whisper.

‘What do you want?’

‘Tospeak to the commissioner, sahib.’

‘Come up here, then.’

‘Will the sahib be kind enough to come down here? His servant wishes to speak into his ears alone.’

‘Stay here, Stevens. I’ll come back by-and-by. Let me go and see what this fellow has to say,’ And so saying, he went.

Asgar Ally led him some little distance from the house to a spot deep in the shade of some lofty trees whose branches overhung the pathway. It was a secluded place, and one where, except by the merest accident, they were not likely to.be interrupted.

Here the trooper paused, and turning round suddenly, confronted Dacres. The latter instinctively let his hand rest on the handle of his revolver.

‘The sahib mistrusts his faithful servant,’ said Asgar Ally, ‘and looks on him with an evil eye, and no wonder; all my friends and brethren, and associates, are such ungrateful unbelievers, that it is right and proper you should distrust us all: but recollect, sahib, all men are not the same.’

‘You know, Asgar Ally, we English always speak the truth. I scorn to deceive you, or to tell you what is false. I have distrusted you—I do distrust you—and, in a certain degree, all of your religion and race; but still I am not blind. Give me proof of your trustworthiness, show me a claim to confidence, and not only will we depend on you, but you shall be amply rewarded.’

‘As to rewards, we must think of that when the bird is out of his net,’ rejoined the other. ‘At present, he is fast beset, and in great danger. Nevertheless, Asgar Ally will release him if anyone can.’

‘What proof, then, can you offer of your sincerity? You know the officers all trusted their men to the very last, were always kind to them—yet how did they behave?’

‘I know it; don’t speak of the kaffirs. The curse of God be on them! But this proof I give you that I am not ungrateful to your salt—I don’t ask your confidence, but I will give you information and advice, and when the former turns out correct you will take the latter. I have been a great deal with the Nawab’s men to-day. The Nawab wants to persuade all you sahibs to go to Delhi, and leave the ladies and children behind. I know it—it has been commonly talked about by the Nawab’s men all day. They think you are sure to agree to the plan, because, they think you can’t help doing what the Nawab advises you; but I tell you, don’t do it!’

‘Why not?’

‘Because there is a plot laid: a party of men are told off to start this night,—a strong party—they have a gun with them, and about 150 men, to lie in wait for you at a particular spot where they will be able to attack you, one by one, in a narrow road; and then—what need I say more?’

‘Did the Nawab order this?’

‘Yes.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I know it—you don’t believe me?—very well, come with me at two o’clock to-night, and I will show you the party marching off.’

‘What is their intention, then, with regard to the ladies and children?’

‘I dare not say.’

‘Speak—you are not speaking to a woman.’

‘No, I will not say—but I must go now—let none of the officers leave this place till the European soldiers come here, and you can all leave together. Now, with your permission, I will go. All the sepoys and troopers suspect me of being a traitor—do you, sahib, not listen to them, or pretend only to believe them. I shall not speak to you again till to-morrow night, unless you will turn out at two o’clock and witness the troops marching, as I told you.’

‘Certainly I will;’ and the two separated, Dacres returning to Stevens, who was on the balcony anxiously expecting him, and Asgar Ally disappearing among the shrubs in the garden.

Dacres and Stevens were joined by Harley, who came up just as the former returned to his companions. Dacres then recounted all that had passed.

‘Well, I’ll tell you what I think,’ said Harley—‘I vote, we remove our lodgings—I don’t like this neighbourhood.’

‘Where can we move to? that’s the question.’

‘It is a difficulty, certainly—but I should say, from this story you have just told me, that the Nawab wanted to get rid of us; and if we don’t make room quite so quickly as he wishes, why, he may remove us against our will—we couldn’t hold out the place for a day.’

‘I think we could,’ said Stevens, ‘and I vote for staying where we are, and facing all odds. As long as these men now with us remain staunch, I am certain we could hold out the place—for a short time, mind you, not for ever—till the detachment comes from Mitterpore.’

‘Suppose none comes?’ said Harley,

‘Oh, you may go on supposing anything you like,’ replied Stevens,—‘but we must act on probabilities. The probabilities are, that we shall have a strong force of European soldiers sent down here on camels the instant our messenger reaches.’

‘Don’t make too sure of that,’ said Harley: ‘of course, I don’t want to croak and to make things out worse than they are—they are bad enough as it is, God knows—but we must prepare ourselves for every contingency. In the first place, how do you know there are any Europeans at Mitterpore at all?’

‘Everyone says so.’

‘Well, allowing there is a small force, the chances are, there has been a mutiny there as well as here, and that they want every available man to enable them to hold their own; and even if there are any men to spare, our generals and brigadiers are such a set of thick-headed fools, that I’ll bet ten to one they find out some reason or other why they ought not to send any reinforcements. I’ve no faith in the Mitterpore dodge; we must depend on ourselves, I fear, to hold our own for many months. If you say this place can be defended, well and good. I’m ready; let’s do our best, and put it in the best possible state of defence. But if we could find another defensible spot a little further from this cursed city, I should be better pleased—that’s all.’

‘Is the proximity of the city your only objection?’

‘No; I don’t like the neighbourhood of the Nawab. I don’t particularly distrust him—I don’t distrust his men more than I do any native who has shown no open signs of hostility; but what dependence have we on his men? Or even if he is to be depended on, how do we know his men may not play him the same trick that our sepoys did us? We are doubtful of him; we are certain his men are ready to turn against us the instant he lets them: they can’t do us much harm; at least, they won’t attempt anything open as long as our own men are staunch; but I don’t like this coming and going all day long between them: “Evil communications—” you know. Depend on it, we should be far safer if we were further apart.’

‘No doubt there’s a great deal of truth in what you say, Harley,’ replied Dacres; ‘and if you can find as good a place as this anywhere else that we can move to easily, why, I’ll agree to your plan—and I don’t doubt the Nawab will thank you.’

‘All right; then I’ll look about for eligible lodgings for single men—a watering-place preferred, eh! Good night; I shall turn in.’

The two others followed his example; but Dacres, not unmindful of his engagement with Asgar Ally, arose at half-past one and went to the trysting-place. Asgar Ally soon after made his appearance, and conducted him through the garden to a side gate leading out into the high road; there they stationed themselves, concealed under the shade of the wall, in such a position that they could effect an easy retreat into the garden, and conceal themselves among the shrubs if detected. They had not been there more than half an hour before they heard a great neighing of horses, then men’s voices, and then rumbling of cart-wheels; soon after, the head of a column appeared in the gloom, advancing along the road in the direction of the open country towards the Delhi road. As they passed within a few feet of where Dacres and his companipn were lying concealed, they were able to form a pretty correct estimate of the strength of the force: as near as Dacres could guess without counting each man, there were a hundred and fifty men, all mounted and well armed; and behind them, drawn by six yoke of oxen, came one of the Nawab’s pieces of ordnance, an iron eight-pounder gun. As the men passed, Dacres distinctly overheard many of them talking, in a laughing, boisterous way, about ‘kaffirs’; and in connection with that word another of ominous import was very constantly mentioned, and that was ‘katl,’ or massacre.

After they were gone, Asgar Ally came up to Dacres, and said,

‘Do you trust me?’

Dacres clasped his hand in silence; he understood it, and they parted without another word.

Chapter XXXVI

Extremely anxious to know what explanation the Nawab would have to give of the expedition, the departure of which he had himself witnessed, Dacres took the first opportunity of seeing him on the following morning, after having passed a sleepless and unrefreshing night. Amy was of course taken into confidence, and desired to find out, if she could, during her interview with Leila that day, whether she was cognisant or not of the departure of the men; for was it not possible, after all, that Asgar Ally was playing false? The first impulse of Dacres’s mind, on seeing such a remarkable and literal verification of his words, was that he had done him a great injury in suspecting him, and that he was fully to be depended on. Under the influence of this feeling, he had warmly pressed his hand, to assure him of his gratitude and confidence; but on calmly reflecting on the matter, as he lay on his bed, it occurred to him that, after all, this apparent corroboration of Asgar Ally’s words might be easily accounted for in many ways. True, the men had started at the hour and in the direction he had said they would: the strength and formation of the detachment was precisely what he had described; but what was easier than for him to have got the information that such a body of men were to march at a certain time on some mission of their master’s, and to have supplied the connecting links in the chain of hypothesis, so as to make his story a plausible one? This view of the case was borne out, in a great measure, by the explanation of the affair given by the Nawab. He said, when Dacres, as it were, casually alluded to the march of a body of men the night before, that he had sent a party out to secure the pass of Kooriwalla, about twenty miles from Islamabad, where the road crossed a range of rugged and not very elevated hills, the boundary of the district on that side, and by which he anticipated the descent of a considerable body of dacoits, or banditti, who, he had been told, were in the neighbourhood, bent on making the best of the opportunity for plunder afforded by the unsettled and disorganised state of the country. Another object, he said, he had in view in detailing the force, was to diminish as much as possible the number of armed retainers in and about the palace and city. They were very ill-affected towards the British government, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he could succeed in restraining them from committing any open act of hostility. It was, therefore, with the utmost readiness that he had seized on so fair a pretext as that afforded by the necessity for protecting the pass, to send a large body of them away. On the other hand, the Nawab was most urgent and importunate in his endeavours to persuade Dacres to accept the offer of the shelter of his palace for the ladies and children, while the officers made their way across country to join the army. This, again, seemed to corroborate Asgar Ally’s story, and was further supported by the character given by the Nawab in Sir Marmaduke Mastodon’s despatch.

Amy had no very satisfactory information to give when she returned from her visit to Leila. She had tried to persuade her sister to let her take the children over for Leila to see, but Mrs. Stevens absolutely refused; her mother’s instinctive dread of danger would not let her part from her little ones at all in these times of constant peril. She had no wish to make Leila’s acquaintance herself, and the children should not go without her. Amy, disappointed and displeased at what she considered a mark of want of confidence in her on her sister’s part, did not ask any of the other mammas to trust their little ones, and Leila looked displeased and angry when she saw her visitor come in alone, and unattended by any of the children she had promised to bring. She appeared, however, Amy said, soon to recover her temper, and conversed as affably and kindly as the day before, even more so. She seemed, however, a good deal disturbed. At times her mind seemed to be altogether occupied in reflections of whose character her words were no index whatever. When Amy endeavoured cautiously to sound her as to whether she was aware of the departure of any body of men from the palace the previous night, she exhibited total ignorance and indifference on the subject; but sbe was extremely energetic in urging on Amy’s mind the advantage of carrying out the suggestion of the ladies moving into her part of the house, and the officers leaving tbem there while they went to join the army. She exhausted, indeed, every argument that could be adduced in favour of the scheme, even accusing the officers at last of faint-heartedness and effeminacy, in preferring to remain with their wives and sisters and children, instead of going to join the army then engaged in active operations against the rebels. To all of which Amy of course replied that she was not capable of giving an opinion, but had full confidence in the judgment of those whose duty it was to decide. She promised, however, at Leila’s earnest entreaty, to go and spend the night with her. Dacres and her brother-in-law shook their heads when she told them of this intention; but she overruled their objections very soon, by assuring them so strongly of Leila’s affection and goodness of heart, and kindness, that they felt they could no longer distrust her. Besides, there was much force in the argument Amy dwelt very strongly upon, that if she was to play her part as spy to any real purpose, it was only by gaining the confidence of Leila that it was to be done, and to effect this end a certain amount of risk must be run; not that she would allow there was any risk in just having her bed moved over to Leila’s rooms, and spending one night with her instead of in the company of the other ladies.

Harley returned late in the morning from his ride, full of intelligence he was all haste to communicate to Dacres. He had discovered, he said, an admirable place for them to remove to, viz., Meer Ali Moorad’s house. It was empty. It was susceptible of being placed in a state of defence with a very small outlay of labour. There was a well of water close to the house, and, in fact, it possessed many advantages—and not the least of these was the secret communication with the Saiyad’s tomb, which might afford, in case matters turned out unfavourably, and they were attacked or hard pressed, safe retreat—or, at all events, a place of concealment. These were things not to be lost sight of; for, being under the firm impression that assistance would be sent them directly their messenger arrived at Mitterpore, the chief point for consideration was how to provide for their safety during the ensuing eight or ten days.

Dacres lent a willing ear to Harley while he expatiated on the advantages of his scheme, and readily promised to adopt it as soon as it became inexpedient to remain any longer under the protection of their host.

The day passed anxiously. In the afternoon, the Nawab sent to learn the final determination of his guests as to whether they would accept his offer of safe protection for the ladies, while the officers repaired to join the army, or not; and received a decided negative in reply, couched in as courteous terms as was possible. Dacres was glad when the day was over, for he wanted to hear Asgar Ally’s report, and was impatient for the promised interview. The time came at last, and he met Asgar Ally in the same spot where he had spoken with him the night before. He had a dog with him.

‘I have much to say to you, sahib, to-night. I durst not come to you before. Even with all the care I have taken to avoid suspicion, I am suspected.’

‘By whom—the rabble, the Nawab calls his troops?’

‘No; they trust me, at least I believe so; but as you suspected me once, I have brought this dog to prove my fidelity ‘

‘Nay, I do not suspect you. I did—but after what has happened you cannot wonder at our being slow to put confidence in any of your class. Tell me what you have heard to-day.’

‘First let us try the dog.’

So saying, he unfastened a corner of his turban and took out a handful of sweetmeats such as are in common use among the better class of natives as an article of food. ‘See here,’ he said, showing the sweetmeats in his hand to Dacres. ‘His highness was kind enough to send his humble servant to-day, in reward for his faithful service, a tray of sweetmeats, a mark of favour and a token of friendship; let us see how the dog likes them.’

The animal sniffed at the sweetmeats when they were held out to him in Asgar Ally’s open hand, and then rapidly devoured them.

‘Now let us watch him,’ said the trooper. It seemed a long time to Dacres that they stood over the dumb animal, anxious as he was to hear more of the intelligence his companion professed to have to communicate; in reality, however, it was not much more than a minute. The dog soon exhibited symptoms of having been poisoned—he fell on the ground, stretched his limbs convulsively for a second or two, howled an unearthly howl and expired.

Asgar Ally, who had been kneeling by him with his head bent down watching closely the animal’s struggles, looked up and smiled.

‘Did you say the Nawab sent you these?’

‘Yes, I said so, and so did the man who gave them to me; but I know they did not come from him.’

‘Who sent them?’

‘I do not know, I only, guess: they were brought me by Sidi Gulzar, the chief eunuch, who attends on his highness’s harem.’

Dacres thought of Amy and shuddered. At that time she was paying her promised visit to Leila, and had gone to spend the night with her.

‘Is it true, sahib,’ asked Asgar Ally, ‘that one of the ladies frequently visits the Nawab’s harem?’

‘Yes—and this night she sleeps there.’

‘Allah protect her, then!—this is dangerous. Can you get access to the Nawab at any time during the night?’

‘Yes—I have but to send to rouse him, and shall have an audience immediately.’

Asgar Ally remained silent.

‘There is some plot that I cannot understand,’ he said at length, after remaining buried in thought for a short time. ‘I will tell you, sahib, all that I know, and your wisdom will be able to interpret what is a sealed mystery to me. All the Nawab’s men are excited and hourly awaiting the time when they will be let loose—the only thing that restrains them is the Nawab’s authority: but all day long messengers are coming and going between the lines where the men live, and the harem: there is intriguing going on, and I know many of them have received much money, but I believe it did not come from the Nawab, who, in his heart, wishes you well; yet there must be some one in his household who is perpetually throwing fuel on the flame—I know not who it is—and there is some stranger at this moment who arrived with a considerable retinue just after dark, and entered the palace stealthily by a door used only by the eunuchs of the harem. His horse and attendants are outside, and a palanquin with them.’

‘Some friend probably come on a visit to the Nawab—there is nothing in this to excite alarm.’

‘You can decide, sahib, better than an ignorant native, as I am, but was there not an attempt made to influence the Nawab against the English officers by a story that one of them had been seen about this private entrance?’

‘There was—but I believe the Nawab’s suspicions were diverted to another channel;—at any rate, I have heard no more about it.’

‘And does this lady go to spend the night in the harem by her own wish?’

‘No; she was earnestly pressed to go by the Nawab’s wife. He does not, you know, keep a number of concubines, as most Mahometan gentlemen, but lives with one alone, something in the same manner that we Christians do.’

‘Is it not a very unusual thing for one of your ladies to be so intimate with those whose lives are passed in privacy?’

‘Yes, it is not the custom: but all our old habits and customs are broken up by this unexpected mutiny.’

‘The sahib will not be angry with his servant for offering his advice; but he fears much for the lady’s safety. Ah, sahib, I could keep you here all night talking, telling you one thing after another, each of which would astonish you more than the last, about my countrymen. You English gentlemen are very learned in science, and very brave, and very rich; you are lords, rulers of the land, and you think you know a great deal about us; and you think we do not understand you, but that you understand us: but, ignorant as I am, and learned, sahib, as you are, I could teach you many things you will never learn in any other way; no, not if the mutiny had not broken out, and you had gone on ruling the land as you have done for the next thousand years. But the mutiny has come, and wonderful things have happened; and here am I, a poor ignorant trooper, talking to the great English commissioner, while he stands under a tree to listen to me. Ha! ha!’ and he laughed outright—‘but hear me, sahib,’ he resumed, suddenly checking himself in his rambling and returning to the subject at hand, ‘it is dangerous to leave the lady in the Nawab’s seraglio all night. You cannot tell what may happen, or what the Nawab may do—Allah alone can read the heart; but I know his men are ready at any moment to break out, and they talk openly among themselves of doing so, and, the cursed blackhearted infidels! of slaying all the English gentlemen—and this may happen any time. Now, I know you English gentlemen are brave as lions and will fight to the last, and perhaps defeat these black-hearted grandchildren of Satan, and save your lives and your families; but if this happen while the lady is away, who shall find her or protect her? Besides, who knows who may have come here to-night?—perhaps it is the Mirza.’

‘The Mirza—who is he?’

Asgar Ally laughed. ‘I told you, sahib, you knew very little of us, or of what goes on. The Mirza! why, there is not a child of two years old in the city here who does not talk of the Mirza. His name is in everybody’s mouth, high and low, rich and poor, soldier and shopkeeper. The Mirza is a wonderful man! a very wonderful man!’

‘Who the deuce is this Mirza, then?’

‘That, sahib, I cannot tell you; no one knows who he is. Some say he’s a jin, some the son of the king.’

Asgar Ally, as it were incidentally, used the word ‘Badshah’ for king. This was the title assumed by the old emperors of Delhi, and implied something more than is expressed by our word ‘king’; it meant the paramount lord of Hindustan, a title never used by natives with reference to any of the existing sovereigns of India till the mutiny, and when used then it signified the Emperor of Delhi in contradistinction to the British government. The expression attracted Dacres’s notice at once, and gave rise to unpleasant though passing suspicions of his companion.

‘And some,’ continued Asgar Ally, ‘say he is the Imam Mehndi, whose appearance in the world is now universally expected by Mahometans; and some say he is the Emperor of Russia in disguise.’

‘What do you say he is?’ asked Dacres, interrupting him; ‘what is the truth out of all this fable?’

‘Allah alone knows.’

‘Have I ever seen him?’

‘Allah knows—perhaps you have, sahib. If you have seen him, you cannot forget him. His skin is fair, very like an Englishman’s; and his eyes are blue, and he rides a beautiful grey Arab mare, worth, they say, a lac of rupees.’

Dacres recalled to mind the incident that had occurred on the night of the mutiny, when he had seen from the gateway of the Nawab’s palace a stranger mounted on a splendid mare, with features and complexion very like those described by Asgar Ally.

‘They say,’ continued Asgar Ally, ‘that this mare can swim and fly in the air as well as she can gallop over the plains. Whether this is true or false I know not, but I know that the Mirza comes and goes; one day he is here, and the next he is fifty miles away.’

‘Has he been here lately?’

‘He is always here and away again. He comes and goes like a jin. He has been all over Hindustan, and is busy day and night in the service of the Badshah. But if he is here now, and if that retinue at the private entrance of the Nawab’s residence be his, and he is within. Allah protect the English lady who is sleeping there! They say he has a beautiful palace somewhere, and a large seraglio, where there are a thousand ladies as beautiful as the houris of paradise, collected from every country,—from Frankistan, and Roos, and Koum, and Iran, and Cashmere. He has a dungeon, too, in the castle, where he has many thousand prisoners, all kaffirs, and he slays one every day, after putting the unhappy wretch to every kind of dreadful torture. All my countrymen and kinsmen who do not turn against the English are threatened by the leaders of the revolt with being given over to the Mirza, and they are frightened—their liver turns to water even at the mention of his name. If it was not so, many thousands would never have proved faithless to their salt. Many believe the Mirza is a messenger from Allah, and so they fear him; and others believe he is the angel Gabriel, and others think he is Eblis himself: so all fear him alike. In battle he is a second Rustam—in council he has the wisdom of Suleiman.’

‘Was it he who was present on that night at Ali Moorad’s house, when you discovered the two officers watching you from above? You must know much of the mutineers’ plans. How long have you been in the confidence of the leaders of the mutiny? Give us all the information you can, and you shall be well rewarded.’

‘I have long ago told all I knew, as you, sahib, must have heard from Captain Stevens; and it is but little: they themselves know little or nothing. The wind is in their heads; and as long as it is, there will be disturbances, and mutinies, and bloodshed; and prodigies will happen, and every day some wonderful thing will take place—no man can tell any day what may not happen before night, nor in the night what may not happen before morning. A beggar may see the sun rise and be a prince by the time it sets, and a rajah or a lord sahib may lie down at night and rise in the morning a beggar or a slave.—Look, sahib! what is that?’

Dacres looked in the direction indicated. Scarce had he done so, when the ominous sounds but too familiar to their ears in those days when fires had become almost a nightly occurrence, rose in the air, accompanied by shouts and cries from a hundred human voices, ‘Fire! fire!’ Dacres rushed inside in a moment; Asgar Ally followed. All the sleepers had started to their feet, and were hastily dressing, stumbling in the dark over the bedding and over one another, scrambling for their arms, and hustling on their clothes. At the same time came sounds of confusion, of terror and alarm, from the ladies’ room above; children crying, mothers shrieking, wives calling for their husbands. In the garden outside, the sepoys hurried for their arms, and hastened up to the apartments where their officers slept, anxious to make one last struggle for the commanders they so dearly loved. Faithful even to death, the troopers rushed to saddle their horses; and the dumb beasts, catching the infection of excitement, snorted, neighed, and stamped impatiently. Outside the gate, and from above, came sounds far more ominous—cries of excited men, exciting themselves by their own violence. ‘The infidels! massacre the infidels! bum the infidels! bring fire! shoot them down! Allah is great!’ and many other cries of similar import, all uttered at once from hundreds of throats, each trying to outvie the other in violence, formed a hideous and frightful din.

Meantime the fire, whose ravages I have so often attempted to describe already in this narrative, spread, but not rapidly. It was in the seraglio that it raged. There were servants, domestics of all ranks, ages, and both sexes, hurrying to and fro in the utmost possible confusion, the women all crying, and the men chattering and shouting, but without any tangible object. They were supposed to be removing the property to a safe place at a distance. And, to complete the confusion, the dogs about the palace barked and howled, while thousands of birds, rooks, pigeons, owls, and kites, frightened out of their roosting places in tbe nooks and corners of the roof of the old house, and the branches of the neighbouring trees, fled wildly about, flapping their wings, hooting and crying, while a dense volume of smoke ascended from the burning pile and filled the air.

Ason the deck of a ship freighted with many living souls, when the elements have overcome and shattered the appliances of human art and skill, and the vessel is doomed to be a wreck, the sport of wind and wave, amid the multitude of sounds that are scarce distinguishable from the hoarse roaring of the stormy sea and the violence of the gale, is clearly heard the voice of the captain, calm alone in the midst of such overwhelming confusion, giving orders through the speaking-trumpet, so clear and commanding came the tones of Murray’s voice, as he issued his directions to the excited officers and men, through the spacious hall where they were assembled.

These events, though it has taken some little time to write them, and will occupy less to read, in reality passed quickly—nay, almost simultaneously. Murray at the first moment of alarm sprang to his feet, cool and collected, but determined. Graham, as he leapt from his couch, encountered Dacres. Stevens rushed up to the group.

‘Where is the fire, Dacres?’

‘In the Zenana.’

‘Good heavens, Miss Leslie!’ cried Graham, half-frantic, but through fear for another’s safety, not his own. There was no need to remind Stevens; he and Graham understood one another instinctively.

‘Bring all the ladies and children down here, Dacres, will you?’ called Murray. ‘BarncliflTe, take command of the men outside, keep them outside; let all the officers join their men. Harley, Thurston, and you, Burleigh, stay with me. Stevens, Graham,—where are they?’

While Murray makes his hasty arrangements for defence, let us follow Stevens and Graham. Asgar Ally had kept close to Dacres till he turned and bade him follow Stevens, who, accomipanied by Graham, rushed up the stairs, through the ladies’ room, into the court-yard, now fast filling with an armed rabble, all shouting for the blood of the kaffirs and eager to shed it. Asgar Ally had just time to summon one or two of the sepoys who had forced their way into the officers’ room, and, followed by them, hurried after Stevens and Graham, and overtook them just as they emerged into the court-yard. Their first impulse was to cross it; this they did, beating back sword in hand all who opposed their progress. But there were few, for, truth to tell, the rabble were vigorous enough in shouting ‘Death to the kaffirs!’ but were very unwilling individually to encounter one of these same kaffirs sword in hand, with a five-barrelled revolver in his belt. They bounded across the court-yard and reached the burning palace, which was immediately opposite the apartment they had emerged from. Arrived here, they were at a loss how to proceed. Where was the entrance? and when once in, whither were they to go in search of Amy? Not an instant was there to spare, not an instant was there lost. Seeing their momentary hesitation, Asgar Ally dashed to the front. ‘Follow me, sahib!’ he cried, and the next instant he disappeared within a doorway through which the smoke was issuing in volumes. Close after him came Stevens, then Graham, then the faithful few, all rushing blindly into this descensus Averni as it looked. On they went, guided by Asgar Ally’s footsteps and his voice, the smoke nearly choking them, and the intense heat almost overpowering their vital energies. On they pressed up a narrow stone staircase, along dark passages, then up steps again, and still on and on. The smoke grew less thick, the air less overpoweringly heated—they drew breath afresh and pushed on still more ardently. It seemed as if they had traversed hundreds of yards—they had not compassed as many feet—suddenly they emerged into a broad passage some ten feet in width, open to the sky; here, hot as the outer air was, it seemed like breathing the breath of life again. They looked round: a few yards to the right, at the end of the passage, was a handsome damask curtain; before it stood some six or eight armed eunuchs. Asgar Ally paused as he found himself suddenly confronted by the points of shining sabres. Graham rushed up; ‘Speak,’ he cried—‘where are the ladies’ apartments?’

‘Here,’ shouted one or two of the eunuchs, pointing to the curtain and grinning as they spoke. At the same time, the whole party, at a signal from a grey-headed old veteran who was their officer, moved forward, orderimg, by gesture and command, Graham and his companion to return. Voices were heard within, beyond the curtain, but very faintly. Graham pressed on. The eunuchs still held their ground. It was a fatal moment for one of them, for Graham’s sword cleft him almost in two, and struck back the others. As the man fell, Graham passed the group, and rushed at the curtain as if he would have pushed it aside and entered. He came in contact with a door, concealed by the curtain, against which, all unconscious of anything with greater power of resistance than hanging damask, he hurled himself with all his force. The blow stunned him, and he fell back among the now frightened and enraged Janissaries. Assistance, however, was at hand. Stevens and Asgar Ally were upon them: the conflict was a very short but a savage one, and no sooner had the sepoys appeared, who had kept as close as they could to the English officers, than the party, fearing to be overpowered by numbers, fled. Stevens, however, held fast the leader of them in an iron grasp.

‘Open that door, villain!’

The man grinned, and showed his decayed and broken teeth, as he said, ‘It is barred on the other side.’

For the whole of them to lend their united strength in forcing it from its hinges was the work of a moment. At such times a man seems to possess twice his ordinary energy and strength.

The door creaked and creaked again: another effort, and it fell in with a loud crash. Graham sat up, feeling faint, but a sense of their position, and the errand of life and death, and more than life and death, on which they had come, nerved him to action; he arose and followed the rest. They had now penetrated, though by a roundabout way which they had taken in ignorance of the locality, into the Zenana. The confusion here was beyond all description; but so dark was it, that none of the domestics who were hurrying hither and thither took the slightest notice of them. All the busy crowd seemed intent upon, was carrying away valuables and furniture, and chattering as fast as their tongues could go. It was evident that the fire had not been able to make much way among the stone walls of the massive building, where it found much less to feed its fury than in the combustible and dry thatched bungalows; still it had not been entirely subdued. There was more smoke than fire, the heat was overpowering, and escape from that part of the building, though not a matter of life and death, yet was desirable in every way. Alarmed for Amy’s safety to such an extent as to overlook entirely all the probable consequences of such an unwonted intrusion into the domestic sanctum of a Mahometan nobleman; desperate, and believing matters had now come to such a pass that all that was left was to try the strength of the little band of lion-hearted Englishmen against the thousands of Asiatics who were thirsting for their destruction,—Stevens, and Graham pushed on, resolved to carry out the object of their dangerous errand with unfailing determination. Every room whose entrance they passed, they examined, drawing aside the curtain, and scanning with ruthless gaze and uncompromising pertinacity the interior of the penetralia, hitherto forbidden ground to all but the lord of the palace, and his eunuchs and female domestics. No vestige, however, of a living soul was to be found in any of the rooms—they were all empty; even the furniture had been removed.

There was but one room, the last in the corridor along which they were hurrying, left. Unlike the others, this was occupied; but they were only just in time, for its last occupant was leaving it by an opposite door when Stevens and Graham entered, being borne out on the shoulders of four men in a handsome covered litter such as ladies of rank use in the East for travelling.

‘There is no other room on the floor,’ said Stevens, in accents of despair—‘we have missed the way—what shall we do?—Oh, Amy! Amy! fool that I was to let you run into the very jaws of destruction!’

‘Stay,’ said Graham; ‘stop that litter!’

‘Let go,’ he added, as his companion laid his hand on his shoulder to ‘hold him back, ‘let me go— I will see who it is!’

‘Stop that litter, bring it back!’ he called out with a voice of authority.

The bearers looked round. There were two or three lamps burning in the room in handsome silver candelabra, and the rest of the furniture and hangings about the apartment were rich and costly and in keeping, while the air was laden with the most delicious but heavy perfume, that produced an effect upon those unaccustomed to its influence quite indescribable, but none the less real: it seemed to deaden the senses and give rise to a feeling of extreme lassitude, yet mingled with the most pleasurable sensation; you felt almost irresistibly inclined to yield to the luxurious impression, to resign yourself to a dream of pleasure, intoxicated with the ethereal draught of sensual delight.

The litter-bearers, instead of exhibiting any great inclination to return on seeing that it was a sahib who was calling out to them, were all the more anxious to get away. They were urged, too, to the utmost speed by the voices of some unseen persons outside, who were perpetually calling on them to hurry out with their burden.

Graham and Stevens had already conmiitted themselves too far to feel over-nice in the measures they took to carry out their investigation, though the latter even then had been alarmed at first at the youthful impetuosity of his companion, and his rashness in daring to stop and examine a litter that no doubt contained one of the ‘tabooed’ inmates of the harem. Without further parley, they rushed across the room, and seizing the hinder part of the litter just as it was disappearing behind the curtain, dragged it by main force back into the room. The men in front, not understanding this backward impulse, found themselves compelled to retrograde with it, or to let the front of the litter, which rested on their shoulders, violently to the ground: this they were afraid to do, and so between them Graham and Stevens had their way, and the palanquin was forced back into the apartment and placed on the ground. Meantime, the noise and hubbub outside increased; those who had been urging the men to bring the litter became frantic with impatience, and roared and yelled incessantly—all in vain; the prize was now in the hands of those who were not likely to let it go.

With profane hand, rash and unscrupulous, yet forced by some mysterious impulse to see with his own eyes the occupant of the litter, Graham raised the curtain and threw it over the framework on the top. He started back, indeed he would have fallen had not Asgar Ally caught him in his arms—a wild cry of agony and despair escaped his lips—he covered his face with his hands and sobbed like a child. Stevens stooped forward, and after one glance at the figure in the litter, threw himself on his knees beside it, and commenced a more calm and close examination than Graham’s excited feelings would allow him to make. Calm and still, with her beautiful features fixed and rigid as if Death had laid his dread hand upon her, with her beautiful hair thrown back upon the snowy pillow on which the head rested, lay Amy Leslie. Could it be sleep? sleep amid that hideous uproar—sleep amid such imminent and appalling danger! Yet a closer inspection satisfied Stevens that his sister was not dead; her breathing was calm—her pulse regular, though faint: yet her sleep was not natural—no natural slumber could continue unbroken amid such noise. He turned and called to Graham.

‘She sleeps, Graham—it is not death.—Quick, let us bear her hence out of this accursed pandemonium—thank God we came not too late!’

At the bidding of the stronger party who now had possession, the bearers lifted the litter and moved towards the opposite door, the one Graham and Stevens had entered by. Many were the dangers they had yet to encounter ere they reached a place of safety—safety! where was that to be found?—ere they reached their friends and companions. Stevens went first, sword in hand; Graham followed; Asgar Ally and his little band brought up the rear. Ere they left the apartment, however, they were startled by a fearful outcry at the doorway behind, through which the litter was being borne when their timely arrival secured the prize that was so dear. The curtain was torn down, and, with shouts of rage and fury, a band of four or five armed men rushed in, led by one full a head taller than any of his comrades, with the complexion and features of an Englishman, and habited in the richest and costliest costume of an Asiatic of high rank.

‘The Mirza! the Mirza!’ shouted Asgar Ally. Graham did not know what he meant, but he had little time for reflection—he saw and understood the danger however, instinctively. The sepoys stood actually paralysed with fear, and not till the dreaded warrior had cut down two of their numbers had the remaining two recovered their senses sufficiently to stand on their defence. Asgar Ally, though pale and trembling, was resolute, and planted himself sword in hand right in the narrow doorway. Graham pushed the hindermost bearers through, and Stevens dragged the front ones on.

Asgar Ally’s courage saved them, for he stayed the pursuit, wondering at the same time at his own daring in venturing to cross swords with the formidable foe he little expected ever to encounter in such close conflict. Singlehanded he kept his enemy at bay for a few seconds; meantime the litter had been borne along the passage as many yards. There, joy of joys! they met a party of their friends who had been sent to their assistance. It was Burleigh and Thurston, and half-a-dozen of Murray’s faithful irregulars. Thus reinforced, the four Englishmen, even with their prize, which was an awkward thing to convey in safety through such dangers, were more than a match for any enemy likely to attack them. At a word from Stevens, Burleigh pushed forward with the troopers to Asgar Ally’s rescue; and his foe, seeing the odds against him, relinquished his design and retreated, followed by his men. Aided by the general confusion and the darkness of the night, increased rather than diminished by the fitful glare that now and then shot up from the burning wing of the palace, the little party succeeded in reaching the apartment on the opposite side of the court-yard, with their treasure unscathed. They took the litter from the bearers and bore it in themselves—then they placed Amy gently on the ground, and leaving her in the care of her sister and the other ladies, hurried below to see how matters had fared with their companions.

Chapter XXXVII

Another crisis was past and over, and the little band of fugitives was still safe. The Nawab had succeeded, though with difficulty, in restraining and then calming the excitement of the rabble. The danger was postponed for a time. The fire, the origin of which was still a mystery, had been gradually subdued, more from exhausting itself in vain attempts against the stone walls of the palace than from any effective measures taken to put it out. Water, however, was close and easily procured; and there was plenty of it, and many hands to use it. The servants flocked up to the roof of the palace in numbers like bees or ants; every corner, every crevice through which water could be poured to reach the fire, was speedily made available as a channel for it. Everything combustible that could be removed was torn down or taken up and carried off before the flames reached it; but the woodwork, what little there was, the beams, rafters, &c., were all more or less consumed.

When morning dawned, it found the little band of faithful sepoys still under arms, their officers still keeping watch, the ladies still anxious, and Amy still in the same lethargic state. The rabble, who had found their way into the upper court-yard, had been with difficulty driven back by the palace guards, and, once outside, the gates were closed. But the danger of a popular outbreak was so great, and the Nawab’s dependence on the fidelity of his men so slender, that he pointed out to Dacres the necessity of the whole of the English officers and their families removing at once from the protection of his roof—which protection, indeed, henceforward existed only in name.

Dacres, too, and his companions saw and acknowledged the necessity. By remaining where they were, they not only attracted danger to their host, but by risking his position and influence—nay, life—they also immeasurably increased the perils that threatened them. It was resolved to move at once the whole party, and all their effects, from the palace to Ali Moorad’s house.

Arrangements were immediately entered on. It was given out by the Nawab, and widely disseminated through the crowd of retainers that thronged the neighbourhood of the palace, and among the city people, that the English officers and ladies were to leave that evening and make the best of their way to Aurungabad. The tale was plausible enough and readily believed, and the anticipated results of this credulity soon became apparent. The armed rabble who were so eagerly bent on effecting the destruction of the little band of heroes and heroines, but who had been hitherto baulked of their prey by the protecting influence of the Nawab, now looked forward to gratifying their evil passions. They ceased their clamour, and left the city in large bodies with the intention of lying in wait on the road, at a spot about twenty miles from Islamabad, where, owing to the difficult and rugged nature of the country, an ambuscade was easily practicable. Carriage for the property and conveyances for the ladies were procured before evening, and it was determined to start on the expedition a little after dark; for a short distance to pursue the Aurungabad road, so as to deceive the city people, and then, making a sudden détour, turn off in the direction of the Sudder Ameen’s house. Once there, they depended greatly on the strength of their position. The Nawab lent them an iron sixpounder gun, old and somewhat honeycombed, but still fit to be used; and he promised faithfully to do his best to collect supplies and to keep them informed of all that went on. One other arrangement was also fixed upon: it was, that Graham and Harley should start that night and make the best of their way to Aurungabad, represent to the officer commanding there the dangerous position the Islamabad fugitives were placed in, and return as speedily as possible with assistance. By this means they would have hope to fall back upon, in case anything had happened to prevent the first messenger from reaching Mitterpore; and it was probable that on Graham and Harley’s personal representations, the pressing urgency of their need would be brought more vividly before their fellow-countrymen. The service was one of extreme peril, but this was a time when no individual thought of his own safety.

One feeling was uppermost in Graham’s mind, and that was his anxiety in leaving Amy Leslie, at such a time, encompassed with innumerable dangers. Much to the relief of her sister, who had watched her incessantly since she was brought back—and, indeed, to the relief of all, for all loved her—she exhibited signs of returning consciousness about noon the day following the fire. The recovery of her mental powers was slow and tedious; and it was not till two full hours had elapsed after she began to show symptoms of awaking, that she was able to sit up, to converse with those around her, and to recall the past. In doing this, however, she was unable to find any clue to the mystery, or to account in any way for the state she was found in. She distinctly recollected conversing with Leila to a late hour. The whole evening her fair hostess had been more than usually affectionate; she had talked to Amy of her former life, of her native land, and dwelt on the reminiscences of past scenes with such tenderness and pathos, that Amy’s sympathies were thoroughly awakened, and she smiled when her friend smiled, and mingled her tears with hers when she wept, listening to the fervent outpourings of a heart overflowing with feeling, and the eloquent language of one whom nature had gifted with all the genius of a poetess. Late in the evening, she recollected partaking of some exquisite preserves, after which Leila parted from her while she prepared herself for sleep. She undressed and lay down, and remembered feeling unusually drowsy; the last effort of the mind which left any traces upon her memory, was a kind of vague feeling of disappointment at not being able to keep awake till Leila returned, for they had proposed to sleep together. She sank to rest under the influence of a feeling of delight she was unable to account for; her senses seemed charmed, and she fancied herself in a kind of paradise where the very air she breathed was fragrant with the most delicious perfumes, while her organs of vision and hearing were entranced with the most exquisite scenes, and sounds of richest melody and sweetest music, that scarce seemed to have an earthly origin. Beyond, all was dream.

The necessary preparations for the move had been completed by the evening, but another hour had to elapse before the time fixed for departure. Amy was reclining in the litter, the very same in which she had made her late escape, in the garden, for she felt too weak and languid to attempt to take any share in the preparations for moving. Graham, booted and spurred, sought her out, determined, before he departed on his perilous expedition, to hear from Amy’s lips whether any of the warmth of feeling with which he regarded her was reciprocated. The recent dangers they had passed through, the present perils that surrounded them, had made him bold and callous to the opinions of others. During the last few days, things had been reduced marvellously to one level. All were equals now, except in those possessions of the mind and body that nature alone can give; and in these Graham was—as he always had been—rich. Of worldly wealth he had but little, but what was the value of worldly goods? They were to be reckoned as the fainting traveller in the desert who sinks exhausted to die, alone and friendless, might value precious stones or the rich merchandise from the land of wealth: a cup of water would to him be cheaply purchased at the price of tens of millions. Under their present circumstances, little was of value beyond a strong arm, a stout constitution, a cool head, and presence of mind. All else was worthless.

It seemed a strange coincidence that Amy and Graham met under the very same tree where he had held that conference which Stevens related in the opening chapter of this narrative. How short a time had really passed since then! and yet it seemed like years.

‘I am glad you are come,’ she said, as Graham seated himself on the ground beside the litter. ‘I have not thanked you—oh, how can I thank you? I owe my life—more, much more than my life—to you. What would have been my fate, had you not persevered in spite of danger?’ and she covered her face with her hands, as if to shut out the hideous visions which fancy conjured up.

‘Don’t think of it, Miss Leslie, more than you can help. It was a miracle almost we saved you, and were 6aved ourselves. Let us hope it is an earnest of deliverance from dangers just as great that still encompass us. I and Harley start to-night for Aurungabad to see if we can bring you aid.’

‘To-night! This is a sudden determination, is it not? Oh, how will you ever get there? Oh, why did they choose you for that dangerous duty?’

‘No one chose me, Miss Leslie; I volunteered. My only dislike to the duty is, that I must leave you—you, surrounded with so many perils—and we may never meet again; nay, sanguine as I am, and much as I try to hope for the best, I cannot help feeling we shall never see one another again. Amy; and this is why I have been bold enough to seek you out, to tell you something—to tell you how long and how truly I have loved you. We are all equals now. This dreadful mutiny has given a new value to things. What was before worth much is now worthless. Your brother and sister would not hear of my suit before, because I was poor—’

‘Do not blame them,’ said Amy, perceiving that he spoke of her relations with some bitterness. ‘They did what they thought was best. It was my fault. Oh, how I have blamed myself, how we all ought to blame ourselves, flirting and feasting, and talking nonsense, and living as if life had no duties or responsibilities, on the very verge of a volcano!’

‘We did not see the danger, Amy. There was no moral guilt in our being blind and living as people ordinarily do, so long as our pursuits were innocent. The way in which you and one or two others have braved danger when you suddenly met it face to face—ay, and death, too—shows that you were prepared—fitted to encounter it, at any rate. But, Amy, if we do survive these troubles—if we do, which may God grant! get over all these difficulties,—then, tell me, shall I be the same to you as I was before this began?’

‘Time enough to talk about that when we have survived them—when we can look back and talk of them as things that were. It seems little short of profanity now, with death absolutely staring us in the face, to think of such a thing as our own selfish happiness. It is more than probable that we shall be attacked to-night and all murdered on the road.’

‘Harley and myself go with you as far as the house—the road so far is in our way: I do not think there is any chance of our being attacked—I know Dacres does not think so. Once there, you will be safer than you could be anywhere else, much safer than here, and you will be more comfortable too.’

‘But how shall you travel—shall you not go disguised?’

‘No, we have. determined not to; disguise is useless, because we cannot keep it up. We shall avoid exposing ourselves as much as possible—spend the day under trees and in the shade. We have two camels; Harley and I ride one, and we take a man on the other with food, such as it is. We ought to do it in six or eight days.’

‘Why do you go to Aurungabad? why don’t you go to Mitterpore—isn’t it nearer?’

‘A little—yes, it is nearer, but it is a much more dangerous country to get through. Between this and Aurungabad it is almost all jungle; the other way we should have to pass tracks of villages and towns. Besides, going to Aurungabad is a kind of double string to one’s bow. Perhaps assistance will reach you from Mitterpore before we return—I hope so; and when we meet again, tell me, will you, do you love me?’

I am aware that it is not at all the proper thing for young ladies in novels to make any verbal response to such momentous questions as these. Amy, however, was an exception, and she did answer in very straightforward, matter-of-fact, and plain English, though blushing as she spoke, and with trembling voice:—

‘Yes—I will—I do—and I owe you my life, that is more; but I do not see the slightest hope of our ever being anything more to one another than we are—in this world.’

‘Anything more! nay, this is all—a mountain-load of care is removed from my heart: no, except for your sake, and what all these poor ladies and children too must suffer and have suffered—and the men, too, as to that matter—I feel as if I did not care for danger; I feel, at any rate, with it all—though I know it is very wrong—but I do feel much happier than I did before. Life was all a blank to me then; now what a future if life is spared!’

‘One thought I love to dwell upon,’ said Amy. ‘What danger, to human sight, could be greater than that I escaped last night? and yet I did escape. The same Providence that watched over me then may deliver us from still greater perils, if greater there can be, in time to come.’

‘My poor mother used to say that; so I have heard my father tell me. She was a French lady, you know, and as nearly as possible wounded in the streets of her native town in La Vendée, when the republican soldiers took the place and shot down or bayoneted all the inhabitants they found: she was in the street at the time they charged, and the balls whistled round her in thousands, but she escaped unhurt. Then she was a little girl, and afterwards when in danger very like ours now, she comforted herself to the very last—“I escaped greater risk than this, and we shall get out of this too.”’

‘And she did?’

‘No, alas! she fell in the massacre, and my life was with difficulty saved. I was then quite young, but I recollect it all, and it has cast a cloud over my life, as it was likely to.’

‘How dreadful! Had you any brother and sister there? was your sister that I have heard you talk about so often there?’

‘No; she was at home. I had no brother; at least, there was one, but he had turned out badly, broke his father’s heart almost, and nothing has been heard of him for thirty years.’

‘What became of him?’

‘We never knew. He went to Russia, so it was said; that was the last we ever heard of him: he was killed in some drunken brawl, most likely.—Hark! I hear Murray’s voice, and the men are falling in. I will ride by the side of your palanquin, Amy, and be with you till we part.’

‘Yes, do.’

Silently and sadly, aided by the light of the moon, the party set forth, keeping pretty much the same order of march as they had adopted on their way to the palace. The sepoys’ muskets were all loaded, and their bayonets fixed, and the little band of Irregulars marched with their swords drawn. Knowing as they did the hostile feeling of the population in the city, and of the Nawab’s men, they were right to take every possible precaution. It was difficult, indeed, to overrate the danger of their position. Many thought they should none of them survive that night. Stevens rode by the side of his wife’s palanquin; how dear to him the treasures it contained! never so dearly prized as since danger had threatened them. The two little children were lying, one on each side of their mother, fast asleep, little dreaming of the perils that beset them, or the wearing anxiety of the fondly-loving parents who watched them. There was one feeling in common: they all prayed that if one fell, all might fall together.

Graham rode by Amy’s palanquin, trying to make the most of the precious moments. The march was very slow; for they were forced to allow their baggage-carts and camels to keep up with them, for the sake of protection. Indeed, if not watched, the cart and camel drivers would have made off with their effects, believing, as every native in and about the city, except the Nawab, did, that the little band of fugitives were doomed, and were marching to certain destruction.

Strange to say, in spite of the threatening aspect of affairs, Graham felt a lightness of heart and buoyancy of spirits to which he had long been a stranger. The horizon of the future would look bright to him, distrust it as he might, though again and again he repelled the thought as unsuited to the external aspect of affairs.

It required, however, but little philosophy to explain the cause of Graham’s lightness of heart amid such universal sorrow and anxiety. He had confessed his love, and found that he was loved in return; and if my readers cannot understand his feelings, it is useless for me to try to make them. ‘Come what will,’ he thought, ‘it is something to have lived for, to have won such love as hers;’ and if evil should befall her and death stand between him and his love, would not death speedily reunite them in a world where there was no parting? So thought Graham, and so he tried to teach Amy to think as they conversed in under-tones, almost in whispers, while the melancholy procession wended its way along the road in the silence of the night, that silence only broken by the occasional word of command and the clanking of accoutrements. Even the animals seemed to feel the depressing influence of the anxiety that weighed heavily that night on many a brave heart. As for the natives, they dared not open their lips to speak aloud; strict silence was enjoined, and the officers in command kept their faculties strained to the utmost to catch the slightest sound or symptom of approaching danger. Every now and then they halted; and Murray and Dacres and one or two others rode on a little distance in front, to see if the road was clear; while mounted scouts on each flank kept at a distance of about a quarter of a mile from the column, with orders to bring intelligence of anything that betokened danger. Too well they knew there was an ambuscade laid already for them, but in a place they had no intention of approaching. Had there been but one traitor in their force, had a word been overheard or a hint been given of their real destination, there was little doubt that the enemy’s plans would be changed, and that they would be surrounded and cut to pieces. Was there a traitor among them? Was Asgar Ally true? These thoughts recurred to Dacres again and again that night. How long it seemed—how utterly interminable the short distahce they had planned to go towards the spot where the enemy awaited them, before they turned off in a different direction! Why, every quarter of a mile seemed twenty, every half-hour a whole night; and what if daylight surprised them on their stealthy march—what if baggage-cattle fell, or carts broke down, or carriages upset, or palanquin-bearers threw their loads and ran away? Nay, what if the neighing of a horse should give the enemy intelligence of their real direction? From many a heart that night arose the prayer—breathed or neglected often in bygone times, where nothing was more distant or unlikely to be met with than danger of any kind—‘By Thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.’ How many times that night did Dacres, from his large, manly heart, thank God that he was spared the bitter cup of agony which so many of his friends were draining to the dregs!—the agony of suspense a brave unselfish heart alone can feel, when those it loves are beset with untold, uncounted perils. Once, and once only, did the native cattle-drivers evince the slightest sign of disobedience or mutiny, and that was when the cavalcade reached the point where their road was to turn; they did reach it at last, though it seemed to most of the officers as if they never would, and bent their course at right angles away from the direction in which it was supposed they were to go, when the driver of the foremost cart hesitated, then stopped, then began to turn his bullocks out of the road, then to remonstrate; all the rest began to do the same, and evince signs of open disobedience. One chance Dacres gave the first recusant, and one only. He pointed to the road he was to go, and bade the man take it and be silent. He began to chatter somewhat too loudly to be convenient, and like parrots or rooks all the rest began to chatter too. Dacres’s sword-blade flashed for a moment in the moonbeams, and the unhappy bullock-driver lay stretched upon the sandy road: his place was filled by the owner of the next cart. Every tongue was hushed, and in silence deeper than before the cavalcade wended its way along the new track.

Before the first streak of daylight had appeared in the horizon, the whole party had reached their destination in safety, and all the officers, aided by the sepoys and irregulars, were busily engaged in adding by every possible means in their power to the defences of the place.

Chapter XXXVIII

It was the second day after the events related in the last chapter occurred. The rays of the burning sun poured with unintermitting fury on the arid earth; the wind blew in gusts, hot as from a furnace seven times heated, bearing with it fine sand, itself heated as if it had been taken out of a fire or discharged from a volcano. As far as the eye could reach there stretched interminable jungle—a desert—not the sandy desert the imagination is so apt to picture to the English reader whenever the word is met with in books of Eastern or African travels, but what we call more expressively in India, jungle—a hard, unfruitful soil—hard from being baked day after day in the sun, unfruitful because unirrigated. For miles and miles there is no sign of human habitation, not a speck of cultivation, not a drop of water,—not the smallest elevation of the ground to relieve the eye, wearied with scanning the dreary expanse of one uniform level: no large trees with spreading branches and green foliage afford a grateful shade to the parched traveller and his exhausted beast; but innumerable stunted shrubs, all about the same size, that is, from five to six or seven feet in height, and about two or three feet apart from each other, with scanty leaves half withered from lack of moisture, and thorny branches, complete the dreary character of the same unvaried, uninteresting scene. Here and there a country-cart track marks the road from some distant point to another; but woe betide the wayfarer who has lost the road and trusts to this track to guide him! for it will lead him in and out, round and round the bushes, away and back again, and end in disappearing altogether, leaving him bewildered and distracted. In the intense fiery heat of an Indian summers mid-day in one of these desert wastes, you fancy you can feel the caloric in the air as some tangible material body diffused through it. The dazzling glare, utterly indescribable in words, almost blinds the unhappy wretch who is exposed to it in such a spot. The burning ground throws off the heat into his face, like the scorching of a kitchen fire, till, afker a short time, the skin begins to peel off—the sand penetrates into the pores of his skin, into his hair, eyes, and ears—perspiration streams from him, and the most agonising thirst is added to the suffering against which the weakened and exhausted frame is scarce able to struggle. The light appears to be a living thing, all round; the air impregnated with it dances and glitters all day long. Philosophers doubtless can give a scientific explanation of the phenomenon; I only attempt to describe it for the benefit of those who have not seen it. The heated surface of the earth, heated to a degree not easily believed or understood by those who have not witnessed it, produces some effect in the rarefaction of the air that causes the dancing, dazzling motion I have alluded to. It is very closely allied to the mirage, though not exactly the same thing:— the mirage, however, is always there, to deceive any one simple enough to be deceived into believing that a lake or pond of water stretches out in front of him. The intense silence that reigns in these solitudes at such times is a striking characteristic of them. Not a sound is there to break the monotony. The brute creation has succumbed under the intolerable heat; you see nothing stirring except the air and the light in their perpetual dance.. The leaves of the shrubs indeed move in thewind, but give forth no sound. The animal you were riding is exhausted like yourself, and lies still, in silent, patient suffering, on the burning ground.

The difficulty of steering one’s course aright across the wastes is very great; once off the high road, if there is a high road, or once out of the country track and ignorant of the direction you should go in, you are lost. Small indeed is the chance of meeting a human being from whom you can enquire. The only plan is to push on; waiting during the heat of the day under the largest shrub you can find for the benefit of the scanty shade it may afford, and travelling all night till you reach a village; and never leave it till you get a guide to put you in the road. Most people, however, riding across such a country, take care to determine beforehand the direction in which their destination lies; this can always be compared with the points of the compass, and either by night or day the traveller knows that, the more perseveringly he presses on, the sooner he will reach human habitations and get assistance.

It was through such a scene as I have attempted to give the Western reader a faint notion of, that a small party were wending their way. There were two camels, the foremost ridden by two Englishmen, the other by a native. The animals were nearly as exhausted as the riders, for it was now mid-day and the heat was unbearable. Still they toiled on and on, mostly in silence, for they had hardly strength to speak; the camels stumbled as they moved their weary limbs, scarce lifting their huge spongy feet off the ground so as to avoid the slight inequalities formed by the hidden roots of stunted or withered shrubs. The party were Harley and Graham on the first camel, and their faithful attendant, Kumbheer Singh, on the second. Harley at last spoke; he was riding behind Graham, who drove, as it is called, the camel, that is, held the rein (a thin cord attached to a kind of bit passed through the animal’s nostril), which enables the camel-rider to guide and control the beast.

‘How far do you think we’ve come, Graham? I can’t go much further; I can’t, indeed.’

‘Nonsense, man! you’re not half a traveller. However, it is pretty nearly time we stopped. We’ve come steadily since our last halt at sunrise, and must have made fourteen miles.’

‘Good heavens! not more than that?’

‘Not so much, as the crow flies. See how we have been going in and out, round and round these cursed bushes—it was a bad job for us that we got off the road in the dark last night. And at times, do you know, I begin to be afraid we are not steering the right course, after all.’

‘We made a good thirty miles the first day, and last night we must have made a good twenty more; we have done a fourth of our distance, don’t you think so?’

‘Yes, if we are going right, that’s all.’

Again they relapsed into silence and jogged on as before: at last Harley spoke again; his voice was faint.

‘I say, Graham—’

‘Well?’

‘I shall not survive this journey; I feel so ill.’

Graham looked round and with some difficulty saw his friend’s features, for they sat close together one behind the other; the glance he got was enough to decide him at once. With whip and spur he put the weary camel into a trot.

‘Don’t, for God’s sake, Graham; gently—you don’t know how ill I am.’

‘All right,’ said Graham, making the camel kneel down under the largest shrub he could see, which they had just reached, as he had guided the camel to it directly it caught his eye, ‘Hold on for a moment: stay, I’ll help you down.’

He jumped off as he spoke, just in time to catch Harley in his arms as he fell senseless from the saddle.

Rumbheer Singh very soon saw what was the matter. He stopped his camel, dismounted, and ran to see if he could be of any assistance.

‘Any water there, Rumbheer Singh?’ asked Graham, as he deposited Harley on the hot burning ground in the shade, and supported his head in his lap.

‘A little in the water-jar,’ said the Hindu, reaching his master the precious store.

He poured it into his hand, and dashed it in Harley’s face: he made no signs of recovery.

‘A sun-stroke,’ said Rumbheer Singh.

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Graham, sighing as he thought of his friend’s exposed situation, and the little aid within reach, and his own solitary condition.

‘God help us! what shall I do?’ The water was all gone. He sent Rumbheer Singh to look about and see if there was by chance a pool anywhere near: alas! it was but a chance.

‘Even thus,’ thought Graham, ‘some four thousand years ago, the fond mother, footsore and wearied, laid down her little one to die of thirst and fatigue and heat, and retired, that she might not witness the last sufferings of him she so dearly loved. There was a God there, nigh at hand, and the angel came and pointed out where water lay. Is there no God here?’

He checked the impious thought, an arrow from the hand of the evil spirit, who then, as once before, tempted one in the desert to doubt the providence of God.

‘Man doth not live by bread alone,’ said Graham to himself, ‘but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’

These words came almost of themselves from his lips. He bent his head over the pale, still features of the sufferer, and the tears fell hot and fast.

‘No water, sahib,’ said Rumbheer Singh. It was like a sentence of death.

‘God has forsaken us—there is no God—else why has he deserted us?’ came the winged shaft of temptation right into his inmost soul.

What helpless creatures we are when affliction strikes us down, and there is no human aid at hand, and science and art are unavailing, and there is no resource to fall back upon, and faith grows weak and love cold! How the soul bows down, bows and bends like the elastic reed!—thank God, to rise again erect when the blast is over and the temptation has swept itself by like the simoom. But what havoc does that simoom commit in its passage over us! How our treasured hopes lie withered! our vows and promises we watched like green buds, glistening in the dews of spring, fall off, not one by one, but by clusters, blasted and dead; the heartfelt prayers we fondly trusted in to pierce the gate of heaven, like too full-blown blossoms that drop their petals to the ground, fall lifeless and dead too, and heaven seems shut against us, and earth has deserted us, and we impiously ask ourselves, ‘why were we created?’

Again and again did Graham try to call to mind any directions he had ever heard or read of for dealing with cases of coup-de-soleil where no medical aid was at hand. He thought of bleeding; that he might try—it might end fatally, or it might afford relief; it was the only remedy he could think of, and Harley seemed getting worse and worse. There could be little hope that his present condition would result in anything but death, and that in a few hours. Yet every minute the sun seemed to be getting hotter and hotter, and each blast more burning and furnace-like than the last. It was terrible—it was hard enough for one in health to resist it—struck down as his companion was, yet exposed to the intensity of the mid-day sun, with no appliance or means of affording relief at hand, his chance seemed small indeed. He resolved to try bleeding.

With his penknife he cut a slit in Harley’s coat and shirt-seams, and laid bare the arm. He then made a deep incision, and the blood began to flow freely.

The relief afforded was almost instantaneous; the sufferer breathed more easily, moved a little, and finally opened his eyes, but closed them again directly—the glare was so intense, gazing as he was into the open sky. He groaned once or twice and raised his other arm, for Graham held the one he had operated on, as if feeling for some one. Graham took his hand; he pressed it.

‘Where am I?’ he said by-ahd-by, in a faint voice. ‘Oh, ah—I recollect—I say! Graham.’

‘Yes.’

‘How fearfully hot it is! Oh God!—water—water!—get me some water, there’s a good fellow.’

‘We haven’t a drop, Harley; would to Heaven we had! I threw the last drop out of the jar over your face and head, hoping ’twould revive you. How do you feel?’

He sighed, then after a pause said—

‘Graham!’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s all over with me, old fellow!—give us your hand’—he had dropped it.

‘You will be better when the sun goes down; it will be less intense—the heat;—I have stopped the bleeding—not to weaken you too much.’

‘Bleeding! what, did I fall?’

‘No; I opened the vein in your arm—till that you were insensible.’

‘You should have let me be; why restore me to consciousness? Oh God! it is hard to die thus.’

‘Don’t talk of dying,’ said Graham, turning away his face, for his tears were falling fast, and he did not wish them to drop on Harley’s burning face.

‘It is hopeless, Graham—it is God’s will. Oh! I feel that dreadful heaviness coming on again—such—a weight—here;’ and he pointed to his head. He was silent for a time; then opened his eyes and said—

‘God bless you, Graham!’

Graham pressed his hand; he could do no more—he dared not trust himself to speak. Harley went on after a pause, articulating his words slowly and with difficulty, stopping constantly as if endeavouring to connect the train of thought.

‘Write to my mother, Graham—tell her—how—it was—all about it, you know—I thought of her at the last—God bless her!—don’t leave me.’

His eyes were now wide open. Graham shaded them with his hand.

‘Doesn’t the glare hurt you?’

‘No—no—move your hand—there is no glare now—the sun has gone down—it will soon be dark. Don’t leave me, Graham—that stupor is coming on again: say a prayer—I can attend to you, though I can’t speak.’

He spoke no more, though his mouth frequently moved as if he was attempting to say something, or perhaps following with his lips the earnest supplications his companion repeated, drawing on his memory for all the petitions he could recollect from the Prayerbook. Emotion almost checked his speech and caused his memory to fail. He trusted to the heart and let it guide his lips; and so in that burning desert, with the fiery sun pouring its white hot rays upon his throbbing head and fevered face, with the holy words of heavenly love and mercy in his ear, Harley breathed his last. Death was upon him ere Graham recognised his immediate approach, and the soul of his friend had winged its way to another world, and the speaker’s words fell on an unheeding ear as he repeated—

‘In all time of our tribulation, in all time of our wealth, in the hour of death and in the day of judgment, Good Lord deliver us.’

The first thing that aroused Graham from the overpowering sensation of loneliness and desolation, to the necessity for immediate action, was the voice and touch of Rumbheer Singh.

‘Sahib,’ he said,— ^ sahib!’

Graham looked up.

‘The sahib’s life is gone,’ he said, abruptly, pointing to Harley’s body, which was lying in the same position, the head still on Graham’s lap. ‘We must take care of our own: the sun is going down; if we do not find water before to-morrow, we shall die too.’

Graham perceived at once the force of the man’s remark. Exertion was absolutely necessary: the sun was now sinking towards the horizon, and every minute its rays became less oppressive and dangerous, but the intensity of the heat abated in no perceptible degree. Graham arose and laid his friend’s head gently on the ground, never to rise again till the voice of the archangel shall summon it to life.

He then took his sword and endeavoured to dig up the earth, with the intention of burying Harley, for the idea of leaving his friend’s body there to be devoured by wild beasts was too horrible to be entertained. The ground, however, was like iron or stone; a quarter of an hour’s labour, with such inefficient tools as he had, had produced no visible effect. It would take him a week at least, and he felt that he was losing strength every half-hour. Since Harley’s illness had first come on, he had not given a thought to his own condition; now he felt it—the most agonising thirst, accompanied by great bodily weakness, came on in full force. He staggered and almost fell.

Rumbheer Singh was very nearly as much exhausted as his master, but, having felt less mental anguish, was more capable of viewing their condition correctly, and appreciating the necessity for action. He dragged Graham to the camel and urged him with the voice of authority to mount. Graham broke from him and returned once more to Harley’s body. He took everything he had in his pocket, as keepsakes; threw his coat over his face, and, with a shudder at the thought of the havoc that would so soon be committed on that fine manly form by the wild beasts of the jungle, he suffered himself to be led away.

They both mounted the same camel; Rumbheer Singh was afraid to trust his young master alone, and it was as well to let one camel go empty and so give it more rest; so Graham took the leading-string of the second, Rumbheer Singh mounted the first, and, rousing up the animals, they trotted off, leaving Harley alone under the bush.

Chapter XXXIX,

Aurungabad was a very important station, for it boasted a seat of government and a large garrison. It was here that the great dignitary, the Prefect of the Central Provinces, held his court: and a fine court it was. There was a large civil society, too—no end of board-of-revenue officers, and sudder judges, commissioners, judges, and magistrates; while the number of secretaries and deputies, and the host of uncovenanted clerks, would take me a long time to reckon.

The garrison consisted of a troop of European horse artillery, a (royal) regiment of European infantry, four of native, and a corps of native irregular cavalry besides.

There were, in addition, two battalions of police, consisting each of eight hundred men, and a force, when counted up, of five hundred chuprassies, as they are called in India, that is, men paid by government for swelling the retinue of civilians and certain staff officers. Their chief occupation was to stand behind the chairs of magistrates, collectors, judges, &c., when at office; to lounge about the doorways and impede the free circulation of air; to carry about notes; run—creep, I should say—on errands; look after the children, take them out for their morning and evening walk and ride, and perform other duties and services, usually the lot of paid domestics, but in India performed by the servants of the state; the government having, in compassion, I suppose, to its proverbially underpaid officials, taken upon itself the burden of providing for the pay and support of one portion of the Anglo-Indian’s household.

The Indian government always acted on the time-honoured maxim, ‘Expense no object.’ It had discovered an excellent system for managing its finances, to wit, perpetual loans, by which its far-seeing financiers imagined they were producing capital and conducting the administration on the most improved principles of political economy. At Aurungabad you saw the glories of the old régime carried out to perfection. The civilians’ residences, or civil lines, as they were collectively called, were almost five miles from the military garrison. The civilians lived in splendid houses in the midst of immense compounds that might have been called parks if they had not been wildernesses. Their stables and outhouses formed a goodly row of buildings, neat and clean, while the interior of the mansions were supplied with every luxury that money could procure. And then their dinner-parties! Such feasts! the worst feature about them was that they were too costly and magnificent, and the tables too much crowded. Champagne and the most expensive wines flowed in profusion. Paris and London confectionery art helped to furnish the tables: delicacies brought hermetically sealed fifteen thousand miles were consumed, I might almost say, wholesale. There was plenty of good feeling, and the guests were received with a warmth and hospitality peculiar to India and the colonies, but there was withal a great deal of formality and stiffness. The ladies were taken into dinner by the gentlemen according to the rank of each with as much precision as if they were peers and peeresses at a state banquet at Windsor or Buckingham Palace. And when the time came for the guests to depart, the first lady present made the first move. Had Mrs. Smith, who ranked next below Mrs. Jones, because Mr. Smith was officiating only in the Sudder Board, whereas Mr. Jones had been permanently appointed in the Prefect’s Gazette a month before,—had Mrs. Smith, I say, at one of these parties risen to take her departure before Mrs. Jones, I think it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the whole party present would have been thunderstruck.

You would meet at these entertainments almost an equal number of military officers and civilians; the two classes amalgamated so far. Caste, which is almost as arbitrary in its rules and distinctions among the English residents in India as it is among the Hindus, did not forbid the two classes from eating and drinking together, and from social intercourse so far as paying and returning morning visits went; but beyond this the separation was clear and distinct. Each class had its own subjects of interest, and neither felt disposed to interfere with the other. They all got on very happily and comfortably together—saw as much of one another perhaps as was good for them; the poorer members of society ate the good dinners and drank the champagne of the richer, and felt thankful, and overlooked a little hauteur, and a little of that purse-proud spirit which the man who has three or four thousand a year will always seem to exhibit to another whose income is as many hundred, whether he really has it or not.

The head of society at Aurungabad of course was the Prefect, the Honourable George Gregory, Esq., C.S., who had written C.S. after his name for five-and-thirty years. He had not been out of India for twenty-five years; indeed, he had only been once to Europe during his whole term of service for six months, for he found, when forced to go home for his health after being seven or eight years in India, that society in England was so little to his taste, that he only stayed long enough to pay a short visit to his several relations, and then, six months having been spent in this way, he returned to Egypt and lived there till the expiration of his leave, when, with liver and mind both reduced in compass, he returned to the scene of his labours.

He was always noted as a rising man, was Mr. Gregory. He was possessed of all the requirements and qualities that in a Bengal civilian of the old school insured success in life. He was plodding and persevering, and a good hand with his pen. He would write off a report of seven or eight sheets of foolscap, on the driest subject in the world, in the driest official style, and the driest divisions into paragraphs, that delighted the heart of governor-generals and councils. Yet he was not exactly what you would call a red-tapist, nor a circumlocution office man: he would go straight to his point, first having mastered the case in all its bearings (so far as they could be viewed from one side at least); he would put it on record in the most comprehensive way, and at the same time in good language and style. He was a great civilian, but far from being a great man; in fact, as a man he was little in proportion as he was great as a civilian. His mind was essentially a narrow one; narrowed by education, narrowed by prejudice, narrowed by routine, narrowed by his lot in the world, that had kept him for the best years of his life at a small out-of-the-way place, where he saw no society but his brother-civilians, and half-a-dozen others in different branches of the services. He studied India till he could study it no more, but he studied it only from one view. He had studied the natives in the same way: he had solved the question of Indian land tenures, of revenue, of the law of evidence, of the operation of the system of government upon the people,—in fact, one and all of the innumerable subjects connected with the administration,—but he had studied them all from the same point of view—and that was one which gave him but a narrow glimpse. In fact, he was an instance of the Indian system carried out to absolute perfection. So little idea had he of the real state of the country, so little practical knowledge of the subject in which he thought himself, and was always supposed to be, perfect, that when the mutiny came—a mutiny which must have been a result brought about gradually by causes that had been in active operation for years—so thunderstruck was he, that his mind never thoroughly recovered the first great blow.

The Honourable George Gregory had his social prejudices as well as his official. Thoroughly persuaded was he that the system of land-tenure in vogue in the Central Provinces—a system which the merest tyro in political economy who had studied the subject on broader grounds than those which excluded every writer’s and every statesman’s views, except of one particular school, would have seen was rotten to the very core—thoroughly persuaded as he was that the system was perfection, he was equally certain that his own views of social duties were correct too. Rather than sit down at the same table with an uncovenanted man, he would have cut his right hand off; rather than let his daughter wed a military man, he would have preferred following her to the grave. And he carried out his principles, too.

Julia Gregory was a beautiful girl when she first came out. Before she had landed in Calcutta, half-a-dozen hearts were broken; and though she was only in Calcutta a week, she had received seven offers before she left,—none of your common offers—your mates of ships and captains of marching regiments, and such fry—but real good fat ones: a couple of sudder judges, two millionaire merchants, and a barrister with large practice which brought him more than a member of Council’s place was worth; and another, the head of a large agency house, a most worthy man, a shining light in certain religious circles, who was always to be seen presiding at every missionary meeting, heading the lists of subscription for charities with handsome sums, and who astonished his friends one day, a short time after his hand had been refused by Julia Gregory, by absconding with a couple of hundred thousand pounds, the property of retired officers, indigent orphans and widows, committed to his trust, with which he purchased a fine estate in England, and lived courted and respected, while the orphans and widows starved.

However, Julia Gregory got to Aurungabad, and there most inconsiderately lost her heart to—my pen will scarce write the word—to a subaltern of a native regiment. Her mother was her confidant: she implored her on bended knees for whole hours together to take her part, and plead her cause; her darling Henry had her heart’s affections—him she would wed, or die a maiden. Ah me! it is a tale often told before—I don’t know what business I have got to repeat it. Her tears and entreaties softened the mother’s heart, and no wonder: there were not many mortals who could have held out against Julia Gregory; in smiles she was dangerous—in tears—unconquerable—to all but her own father.

The mother and daughter repaired to the father’s study, who laid down his pen as he was in the midst of a report on revised settlements, and kissed his wife and daughter affectionately.

‘Well, dears?’ he said.

Julia’s heart sank; she looked imploringly at her mother.

Why waste words or lengthen out this tale? The story was told—a story of pure, honest, loving hearts. The Honourable George smiled, looked longingly at his revised settlements, and asked the name.

‘Mr. Salford,’ said the mother—how Julia blushed!

‘Salford—Salford—I don’t recollect the name—what term was he?’

The two ladies were silent, perhaps they didn’t know what ‘term’ meant.

‘What term was he? when did he leave Haileybury, you know?’

There was a pause.

‘He never was at Haileybury, papa,’ said Julia at length, hesitatingly.

‘Never at Haileybury!’

‘No, papa; but he was at Addiscombe.’

Had a large snake fallen on Mr. Gregory’s neck, he could not have jumped up from his chair more hurriedly. Not only did he jump up, but in his agitation he spilt the ink all over the revised settlements, putting further revision out of the question, and knocked over his chair.

‘Good heavens! at Addiscombe!’ he stammered, gasping for breath. ‘What do you mean, Julia? do you mean—do you mean—that you have dis—disgraced yourself and the whole service by listening to the suit of a creature from Addiscombe? And you, Mrs. Gregory!’—this was the only time during a married life of twenty years he had ever called her Mrs. Gregory—‘how can you approve or advocate such a mésalliance?—for shame! I may follow you to the grave, Julia, but I will never, never sanction such a disgraceful match.’

*  *  *  *

Time heals many wounds, and works many wonders. Julia eventually became the wife of the judge of the famous place Buggypoor—an easy-going old gentleman, very hospitable, very kind to his wife, very fat, and exceedingly stupid.

‘Well, to be sure!’ exclaimed Mrs. Gregory one morning at breakfast about ten months after her daughter’s wedding, as she was reading the Delhi Gazette.

‘What, Maria?’ said her husband, without stopping his morning’s labour of opening envelope after envelope from a large heap of letters on the table before him.

‘There is the 77th ordered to Buggypoor!’

‘Well, it’s a nice place for them; Julia will be kind to the young men, I dare say.’

‘That’s Mr. Salford’s regiment, that is why I felt so much interest in it,’ said Mrs. Gregory.

‘Oh!’ said her husband, and thought no more on the subject.

Six months later, Mrs. Gregory saw something else in the Delhi Gazette that caused her a little more emotion. It was the account of an elopement—of Lieut. Salford of the 77th N. I. with the pretty judge’s wife of Buggypoor.

‘It can’t be helped, Maria,’ was Mr, Gregory’s comment after the first gush of feeling was over: ‘we did our best for Julia, and she married in the service.’

From that time Julia was as if she were dead to her parents.

Chapter XL,

When the mutiny burst upon the astonished residents at Aurungabad, it burst, as it did in most other places, like a storm which no one had observed to be gathering upon the horizon. Officers, civil and military, were totally unprepared: the events at Delhi, Meerut, and other places were no warnings to them: they were local émeutes arising from local grievances, fostered by local mismanagement. The civil officers at Aurungabad had better information. Their native subordinates were trustworthy honest men, and gave information that was to be depended on. The officers in command of native corps were sure of the fidelity of their men. Several of the oldest commissioned and non-commissioned native officers had assured their European superiors that, so far from the men objecting to use the cartridges, they were prepared to swallow them, ball and all, if only their European officers, who were their fathers and mothers, ordered them to do so. And in this way the belief in the fidelity of the troops, and the well-affected spirit of the civil police, &c. &c., was encouraged to the last moment. One night, however, they were much surprised by alarm-bugles and signal-guns: all was confusion, trepidation, uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and universal muddle, in the midst of which the native troops alone preserving order and presence of mind, quietly formed themselves into a column, elected their own native officers, frightened away the European commanders, and leaving a few men to burn as many bungalows and massacre as many unarmed old pensioners, their families and children, as they could without danger to themselves, marched out of the station at dead of night towards Delhi.

After they had got clear away, the European troops were set in motion under the orders of Brigadier Littlesole. It was determined to surround the mutineers and cut them up to a man, so H.M.’s 159th Regiment of Foot marched out by one road for about a mile clear of the station, and then took a fresh direction to the right. The troop of horse artillery, also European, marched out at the same time by another road parallel to the first, and, having gone the same distance, made a detour to the left. It was pitch dark, and both columns felt their way cautiously across the fields over the hedges and through the ditches. By-and-by, each of the commandants became conscious he was approaching a body of armed men immediately in his front. The halt was sounded by the officer commanding the artillery: his guns were in a field overlooking a broad road flanked by hedges, and on the opposite side of the road he was sure must be the enemy. No sooner had his trumpet sounded the halt, than the enemy’s bugles sounded a halt also. The artillery unlimbered and prepared for action, and in an incredibly short space of time, with that speed and precision for which the Bengal Horse Artillery is justly famed, poured several discharges of grape into the enemy’s ranks. Meanwhile, the officer commanding the enemy, which was the 159th Regiment of Foot, hearing his enemy in his immediate front preparing for action, made his men load, and, as there were guns opposed to them, lie down on their faces. After the first discharge of grape, which knocked over about ten rank-and-file, whose curiosity would not admit of their remaining flat on their bellies, but forced them to sit up and look at what was going on, as if they could see anything in the pitchy darkness, up jumped the gallant 159th at the word of command, and poured a destructive file fire of musketry into the artillery, which disabled fourteen men and twenty horses, and then lay down again to load. This time they all lay flat, and the grape passed over their heads without doing any damage except killing all the doolie-bearers, who by some miracle had escaped the first round. How long this would have gone on I do not know, had not an inquisitive bugler left the ranks (for which he afterwards got fourteen days’ pack-drill), scrambled through the hedge, crossed the road, and climbed up the hedge on the other side. Then, seeing the true state of the case, with great presence of mind he sounded the ‘cease firing.’ A stray bugler, close to the horse artillery and coming from the enemy’s camp, had not much chance; he was surrounded and captured. On being examined by the officer commanding, and asked who he was, he made a military salute, and said he belonged to Her Majesty’s 159th Regiment of Foot.

‘You young blackguard!’ says the officer, ‘what made you desert and join the mutineers?—you shall be flogged first, and then hanged.’ His words were cut short by an ominous rattling and movement from the other side of the road.

‘Look out, my men,’ cried the artillery office; ‘lie down.’ They lay down, and the leaden shower passed oyer their heads, but twelve more horses were hors de combat.

‘Now tell me,’ said the artillery officer to his prisoner, ‘before you are hanged, what strength are the enemy?’

‘Plase yer honor, sir,’ said the bagler, ‘’tis Her Majesty’s 159th Regiment, the wrong side of the hedge.’

‘The deuce it is!’ said the officer, jumping up aad rushing down the bank, roaring out at the same time, ‘Cease firing there!—we’re friends.’

Mutual explanations followed, and the column returned to cantonments, with their killed and wounded, it being deemed undesirable to follow up the mutineers any further.

This gallant feat of arms was thus chronicled in despatches:—

‘To Captain Trumps, Brigade Major, Aurungahad.

‘Sir,—I have the honour to report, for the information of Brigadier Littlesole, that in pursuance of the verbal instructions deceived from him, I marched with the 159th Foot, 900 bayonets, on the night of the—June, 1857, in pursuit of the mutineers. The pursuit was kept up over very heavy and difficult ground for two hours. Unfortunately, owing to the extreme darkness of the night, and the difficulty of finding the road, combined with the want of correct information, I was unable to effect the total destruction of the enemy; but he must have suffered very considerable loss, owing to the rapidity of his flight, accelerated by the rapid and well-sustained pursuit kept up by Her Majesty’s 159th.

‘I have the honour to annex the accompanying list of casualties.

‘I cannot conclude this brief despatch without begging Brigadier Littlesole to bring to the favourable notice of government the very efficient aid rendered by the following officers.’

(Here follows a list of all the officers of the 159th Foot, and the serjeant-major.)

‘I have the honour to be, Sir,
‘Your most obedient servant,
‘Robert Knickerbocker, Lt.-Col,
‘Commanding Her Majesty’s 159th Foot.’

A similar despatch to the above, mutatis mutandis, was sent in by Captain Portfire, commanding the artillery. In due course of time (for I may as well conclude in this place the history of the battle of Aurungabad), Colonel Knickerbocker, and all the officers of the 159th, and horse artillery above the grade of lieutenant, received a step of brevet rank. Colonel Knickerbocker was made a C.B. The sergeant-major got an ensign’s commission, and Brigadier Littlesole received a handsome autograph letter from the Governor-General, conveying to him and the officers under him the thanks of the Governor-General in Council for their distinguished services.

Meantime the widows and orphans of the killed and wounded were put on the pension-list, and the battle of Aurungabad took its place in the glorious annals of Anglo-Indian warfare.

The reader will be anxious to know how the civil residents fared during this crisis.

As soon as the mutiny broke out in the garrison, the two battalions of police and the five hundred chuprassies, along with the jail guard (100 men), declared they had had enough of the service of the British government, revolted, and released the prisoners from the central jail, 2,000 desperate villains ready for any crime.

The civilians, at the first alarm, by common consent, assembled with all their families at the judge’s cutchery, or court-house, a large building of solid masonry, not easily destroyed by fire. The uncovenanted servants of government, English and Eurasian clerks, and others, mustered altogether 150 men, most of them mounted, and all armed in some fashion. The covenanted civilians, from the judges of the Sudder Board down to the extra assistant to the collector, also mounted and armed themselves, and leaving a few to take charge of the court-house and its defenceless inmates, the whole body sallied out against the rebels. The latter by this time had swelled to an almost countless multitude; an armed rabble, excited by fanaticism, and thirsting for plunder. The elements of stability, however, were wanting. The civilians, headed by one of the sudder judges, John Bowlemover by name, a large, heavy, stout man, mounted on a splendid Arab (which had carried him through many a jungle after many a hog), armed with a duck-gun loaded with a double charge, a hogspear and hunting-knife stuck in his belt, and followed by the whole posse of brother-judges, magistrates, collectors, revenue officers, assistants, deputy-collectors, uncovenanted clerks, and sudder pleaders, all well mounted, and following each other exactly in the order enumerated here, sallied forth against the rebels. They came upon them in some open country about a mile from the station.

‘Now for them!’ shouted the leader, and brandishing his hog-spear, away he went full tilt across country, followed up by the judges, magistrates, collectors, revenue officers, assistants, deputy-collectors, uncovenanted clerks, and sudder pleaders. Like an avenging host of mounted Goths under their Attila, they closed upon the foe, while the clerks and sudder pleaders, being fully aware of the effect of noise in combating with a semi-barbarous enemy, just as they saw the front rank of their squadron within a few paces of the hostile host, set up a deafening shout of ^Sudder Dewanny and Nizamut Adawlut! to the charge!’ This formidable war-cry, yelled out with all possible energy, struck terror into the hearts of the rabble. They waved to and fro like a surging sea; finally threw down their arms, and fled pell-mell across country into some ravines hard by. The pursuers came up with the hindermost, knocked down several, and took many prisoners, whom they were, however, forced to let go immediately afterwards, not knowing what to do with them.

Bowlemover could not keep up with his companions; for, having encountered a very fat jail darogah (a head jail official), who, as he could not fly, determined to show fight, ran him through with his hog-spear and pinned him to the ground; but when he tried to get his spear out, he found the greatest difficulty in doing so, the man all the time striking at his antagonist dangerous blows with his gilt-handled sword. The civilian’s efforts were much impeded by the uncontrollable fit of laughter brought on by the consideration of the ridiculous position circumstances had placed him in, and being unable to get out of the difficulty any other way, he had recourse at last to his duck-gun, and lodged its contents in the head of his fallen enemy.

After these operations, the civilians returned to the court-house, and made the best disposition they could for their common safety by deputing separate parties to patrol the different roads. The rebels also returned in great numbers, picked up the arms they had thrown away, and straggled off in tens and twenties towards Delhi.

Aurungabad boasted, as I have said elsewhere, a strong fortress, built on elevated ground overlooking the whole surrounding country, encompassed by strong massive stone works, ditches, &c., and all the defensive outworks ordinarily constructed for the protection of a well-fortified place. Inside this fort there was a magazine, stocked with ammunition, ordnance stores, camion, arms, &c. &c., to an almost fabulous amount. This important post was always entrusted to a guard of fifty sepoys, under a subadar. Besides the guard, however, which was relieved every week, there resided in the fort three subordinates in the ordnance department; to wit, conductor John Brown, with his two assistants, sub-conductors Edward Smith and Samuel Jones. When the mutiny broke out, the native guard stood to their arms, shut the fort gate, and declared the place to be in possession of the loyal soldiers of the Emperor of Hindustan. The news spread apace. The conductor and his assistants soon heard what had happened, and soon determined on their course of action. There was a nine=pounder brass gun, mounted on a carriage, which was used for firing the mid-day, evening, and morning gun, a heavier piece of ordnance being stationed in cantonments for the same purpose. They loaded this gun with grape, and wheeled it to within a few hundred yards of the gate held by the mutinous sepoys. The two sub-conductors took their posts at the gun, with a torch and port-fire ready lighted. Brown gave his orders, which were that the two assistants should stand ready to fire; when they heard him speak, they were to light the torch and hold it so that the gun might become plainly visible; on his firing his musket, they were to fire the gun, and then act as circumstances might direct.

After giving his orders, Brown, like a lionhearted fellow that he was, went boldly up to the gate. The mutineers called to him to know who he was, and shouted out that they would fire on him. He then called out; the instant after, the light from the blazing torch brought out the muzzle of the nine-pounder directed point-blank at the mutineers. ‘Now,’ said the conductor, addressing the leader of the rebels in Hindustani, ‘lay down your arms and go quietly out of the fort, or I give the word, and my men will fire grape into you.’

They hesitated; several loaded their muskets, others crept up to the gate and opened the wicket quietly. The subadar laughed at the man’s threat, thinking it very unlikely he would direct his own men to fire grape upon them, when he himself would necessarily be the first victim. One or two levelled their muskets.

‘Take care,’ said the conductor. ‘The signal is the discharge of a musket; fire on me, and you are all dead men.’

There was a laugh of derision; a musket was fired, the bullet whistled harmlessly by his ear.

‘God help us!’ cried Brown, and threw himself on his face: there was a flash, a roar, a spattering of leaden hail, shrieks, curses, and confusion.

Smith and Jones ran to the assistance of their gallant friend. They found him sitting up unharmed, except by a flesh-wound in the leg; but all round about were lying ten or twenty of the sepoys, some dead, others wounded, others dying. The rest had left their arms and fled. They put the wounded men outside the wicket-gate, and then closed it, picked up the arms, and returned to the gun, from which they fired several rounds of blank ammunition to give the alarm. But alarms were so plentiful that night, that theirs passed unheeded; and so the fort of Aurungabad, with all its military stores and enormous magazine, was saved.

The day following the outbreak at Aurungabad, two councils of war were held,—one at Government House, attended by the civilians, and one at Brigadier Littlesole’s quarters, attended by all officers of and above the rank of captain. The result of the former was a peremptory order to the brigadier to march the European troops under his command down to the civil lines, for the protection of the government records, the civilians, and their families. The order reached the military council as they were sitting in debate. It was determined to send a calm but resolute refusal to obey the requisition: ‘The brigadier required all the troops for the protection of cantonments and the fort; but if the Prefect would direct all the civil officers, establishments, and families to move down to cantonments, efficient protection should be extended to them there.’

The military council, after sitting for three hours, determined on sending a telegraphic message to government at Calcutta, asking for orders. This was done, and the meeting adjourned to assemble again in the evening and hear the reply, which would probably be received by that time.

The Prefect’s council also determined upon telegraphing to the supreme government, and accordingly the following message was sent to the telegraph office for transmission:—

‘From Government, Central Provinces, to Governor-General, Calcutta.

‘Troops mutinied; Brigadier Littlesole refuses to cooperate; troops have no head. Reply urgently needed.’

In consequence of the signaller’s presence of mind being somewhat disturbed by recent events, the latter message was put into the hands of the Governor-General running thus:

‘Troops mutinied; Brigadier Littlesole refuses to eat; Trumps cut off his head.’

Both councils having been summoned to meet in the evening to hear and consider upon the reply to their messages, assembled at the appointed hour. The replies had arrived, and were read out, one by Brigadier Littlesole to his subordinates, and the other by the Prefect to his.

They were both alike, and ran thus:

‘From Supreme Government, Calcutta, to Brigadier Littlesole; to Hon. George Gregory, Esq., C.S. &c

‘Message received. The Governor-General will consider it.’

The councils then separated for the night.

[[Volume 3]]

Chapter XLI

For the next ten days such was the state of constant alarm in which the residents at Aurungabad remained that life became almost unendurable. Not a single day, scarcely an hour, passed without some alarming report being spread of the approach of a large body of insurgents, who would sack the place, burn down the houses, and certainly murder every luckless European or Christian that fell into their hands. On these occasions all the noncombatants, that is, the women and children—for every man in those days, whatever his cloth or profession, was a combatant—betook themselves in a hurried helter-skelter way to the fort, remained there till the panic had subsided or been proved groundless, and then returned to their houses. The practical result of this was, that people were constantly on the move, the women to the fort, and the men to the parade-ground or the place of rendezvous; and seeing that the weather was excessively hot, that it was the season during which exposure to the sun is always avoided as much as possible by people who have any regard for their constitution, it became excessively irksome.

Aurungabad was just on the high road to the imperial city, now the focus of insurrection. Almost every body of mutineers, from however distant a station, had to pass by or near Aurungabad on their way to Delhi. That it had not been attacked twenty times over within as many days after the first outbreak was most marvellous, and only to be explained by the unaccountable manner in which the mutineers conducted all their proceedings from the very first. They never did anything at the right time, nor put anything in the right place. They carried on their operations by fits and starts, setting everybody’s calculations out, and filling with surprise those who watched the eccentric progress of the rebellion. Sooner or later, however, it seemed certain that Aurungabad would be attacked by a powerful body of mutineers, who would probably be joined by the city people, and then the position of the residents could not fail to be most precarious. With so small a body of men as they had, it was quite impossible to protect every place and everybody. Divided into small detachments and scattered about over the station, the soldiers would become an easy prey, and the force be cut up in detail. On the other hand, if the brigade was collected at any one given place, there were so many assailable points and posts urgently requiring protection within a circuit of fifteen or twenty miles, that the greatest possible mischief might be done at one spot, while the troops were operating at another perhaps five miles off.

It is not to be wondered at that many a wistful gaze was turned to the fort, and many a proposition whispered round to abandon the two stations and let everyone take up his abode inside the fort, which was large enough to hold all the residents, with a good deal of cramming. This expedient was rendered still more advisable, if not necessary, by the laudable energy of the civilians, who in a most praiseworthy manner set to work to repair the damage that had been done by the defection of the troops, and began, the morning following the mutiny, to raise another police force to replace that which was gone. Enlisting went on daily in the compound of Mr. Octavius Caesar Simple, C.S., Inspector-General of Police in the central provinces; and it was an argument frequently brought forward by that gentleman and his official associates, of the depth to which the spirit of affection and loyalty towards our government had taken root in the minds of the people, notwithstanding a few indications to the contrary, that the lower orders flocked in crowds to be enlisted in the new police battalions.

It is true a bounty of three rupees was given to each man that came forward, but this was only to stimulate them to exertion, and not with any view to kindling a spirit of loyalty which did not exist before.

By some strange fatality, and very much to the astonishment of Mr. Simple and his brother civilians, the very day the new battalion was complete, the men mutinied, cut off Mr. Simple’s head, and after parading it about the place stuck it on one of the gate-posts of Government House, and then proceeded to plunder houses and set fire to them, and murder a few pensioners’ families who had escaped the last massacre, and behave in what the Honourable George Gregory’s secretary described in his report on the occurrence, ‘a very irregular manner.’

The marauders were cut short in their work by the uncovenanted cavalry, who had now formed themselves into a separate body, composed exclusively of men belonging to that class who served the government without being under a covenant. They sabred a few of the most daring, and drove the rest out of the place. Whether they came back again or not was never known, but the Honourable George Gregory, who had received his political education in a school which taught that lessons derived from experience were not worth learning, the day following the mutiny of the second police battalion issued orders for immediately raising a third. But this time, by the advice of his secretary, he directed that, instead of giving each man a bounty of three rupees, every recruit should be made to pay that sum as a kind of guarantee for his good behaviour. Much to the surprise of several quidnuncs, who gravely shook their heads and prognosticated complete failure to a system so entirely void of precedent, so many applicants for service flocked to the new inspector-general of police that, before the third day was out, he had under him a force as large as the former one, every man of whom bad paid government three rupees for the honour of enlisting. The Hon. George Gregory pointed triumphantly to this fact in an able minute written about this time to the governor-general as a convincing proof ‘that the rebellion was an exclusively military movement, and that disaffection had not spread beyond the ranks of the army.’

It happened at last that Aurungabad was really threatened by a hostile force, variously estimated from a lac to five thousand, mutineers of all arms, who were passing up towards Delhi, and had given out their intention of sacking Aurungabad on the way. Brigadier Littlesole, after communicating with the Prefect, determined to take his brigade out and give them battle before they came very near the station; and accordingly, leaving the place under the protection of the new police, watched by a small detachment of the uncovenanted cavalry, the European brigade marched against the enemy. The spot the brigadier determined to attack them was just twenty miles from Aurungabad.

When they got there they found the mutineers drawn up in a strong position, with some heavy batteries constructed under cover of a grove of trees, from which a galling fire was opened on the brigadier’s line as soon as they came within range. The horse artillery lost no time in replying, but the calibre of the enemy’s guns was so much greater than ours, that it was impossible for the horse artillery to silence his fire. It was therefore determined to bring up the infantry, and the flank companies of the 159th were moved out in skirmishing order to cover the advance of the line.

On the order ‘to load’ being given, some hesitation was observed among the men, when the discovery was made that blank ammunition had been served out to them instead of balled.

In fact, except in the pistols of the officers and of the detachment of uncovenanted cavalry who accompanied the force, there was not a bullet in the whole brigade. This was rather awkward; but Brigadier Littlesole was equal to the occasion, and at once ordered a retreat, observing to some of his staff who were riding with him at the time, ‘that a retreat in the face of an enemy often proved a commander’s ability even more than an advance.’ The mutineers seeing this unaccountable move on the part of the English line, and observing moreover that the retreat of the brigade was being conducted in such an orderly and leisurely manner that it could not possibly have originated in anything but a ruse, suddenly became panic-struck, and deserted the field in a most disorderly manner. They even left their guns in position under the trees, undefended.

The gallant commander of the uncovenanted cavalry ordered his men to charge; they did so, and the result was that they captured all the guns, there being no one to defend them.

Meantime the rest of the brigade was wending its way back to Aurungabad, and the uncovenanted cavalry determined not to lose the prize—and no bad prize either, being two batteries of heavy siege guns with ammunition complete—resolved to remain and protect them till elephants were sent to bring them in. This gallant little body was commanded by a man named Augustus Tupper, who from a habit he had acquired, perhaps purposely assumed, of expressing himself always in proverbial style, was generally supposed to be the brother of the man renowned for his famous literary amalgam of original sentiment and mutilated proverbs of Solomon.

One of the troopers had been sent into cantonments to report the capture of the guns and to bring out elephants to fetch them in, but as he had not returned by midnight, it was determined to spike the guns and leave them, as the troop had no forage for their horses and no food for themselves. They did so, and marched for Aurungabad, reaching the station next morning about nine o’clock. Great was their astonishment to find it deserted, while the crowds of people streaming towards the fort indicated at once the direction the residents had disappeared in. Anxious to find out what was the matter, Tupper set his men into a gallop, and hurried down the road towards the fort-gate. No sooner had they got within range than the guns opened fire, and Tupper’s gallant band had one or two empty saddles before they had ridden many yards. There was nothing for it, however, but to ride on. When they came within musket range they had to run the gauntlet of a heavy file firing from the 159th, which did not stop till the remnant of the detachment of uncovenanted cavalry drew rein within easy earshot of the fort-gate. A short parley ensued, and they were admitted inside: then followed mutual explanations, the result of which may be given briefly as follows:—

The news of the retreat of the brigade had spread like wildfire back to Aurungabad, but exaggerated of course into a total rout of the whole force. The remnant, it was said, were making the best of their way back, followed up by the enemy excited with their success. About an hour after this report had got wind in the station, the police battalion who had been left for its protection mutinied, and commenced plundering and burning houses. The civilians’ wives and families, panic-struck, fled to the fort; the families in cantonments did the same. All was confusion and trepidation; but by evening so intent were the new police on realising plunder, that all the residents and non-combatants had succeeded in reaching the fort in safety. Towards evening the 169th and artillery came in; but finding the whole place in the possession of the rebel police and rabble from the city who had joined them, being spread in parties of tens and twenties in every house and outhouse in cantonments, it was hopeless attempting to dislodge them that night; so the brigade made straight for the fort.

They passed an uncomfortable night, but before morning intelligence was brought that the mutineers were in full force marching straight on Aurungabad. The approach of Tupper’s men was magnified into this. The nearer they came the more alarmed grew the garrison. At last the guns were loaded, and directly the supposed enemy came within range fire was opened.

Search was made for the volunteer who had been sent in for the elephants. After a long time he was found in the commissariat storehouse, dead drunk. He had gone there on first arriving to speak to the commissariat officer about the elephants, but an open barrel of spirits which had just before been ‘stove in’ by a mischievous soldier was too much for him, and he forgot all about Tupper, the guns, and the elephants, and gave himself up to the unrestrained enjoyment of undiluted rum.

Augustus Tupper was put under arrest and tried subsequently for disobedience of orders. Elephants were sent out to bring in the guns, but meantime they had been taken away, and one of the mahouts, or elephant drivers, having seized the opportunity of deserting to the enemy and taking the beast he had charge of with him, a bill for the price of the lost elephant—twelve hundred rupees—and for two days’ fodder for the rest, was sent in against the luckless commandant of uncovenanted cavalry, and his pay was mulcted to make good the deficiency. He was deprived of the command of the cavalry, and reduced from the position of head to that of junior clerk to the Board of Red Tape for disobedience of orders.

After these events the residents of Aurungabad by common consent confined themselves in their fort. The panic increased daily, the natives laughed, the European soldiers lost all respect for their superiors, and threw off the restraints of discipline; civilians and military men squabbled about precedence, and their wives took part; an order issued by the civil authorities was counter-ordered by the military, and then issued by the latter to their own subordinates, discussed, and if agreeable or approved of obeyed, if not, disregarded. The Honourable George Gregory died, and finally cholera burst out among the crowded and helpless residents, and made sad havoc in domestic circles.

Chapter XLII

The intelligence of the abandonment of the station and cantonment of Aurungabad spread like wildfire through the whole of the central provinces. Chiefs and powerful zemindars, who had hitherto wavered in their allegiance, now threw all their influence into the scale against the British government. The people who had no regular employment all set off to join the rebels, or raised the standard of rebellion in their own towns and villages; the old bands of dacoits and professional robbers, who had been hunted down and kept quiet under the firm hand of British rule, suddenly sprang into life and energy, and revelled in the indulgence of their predatory habits. The country was devastated by fire and sword; every man’s hand was against his neighbour. The most frightful atrocities were committed. Even unoffending women and children were put to death with the most revolting cruelty, to gratify some cherished spite; the wealthy were impoverished, the low riff-raff became rich and gorged with plunder; in short, all was anarchy and confusion. Under such circumstances, of course, it was impossible for any European to remain in the district. All the out-stations were abandoned, and the residents, planters, railway officials, and everyone with a white face, made the best of their way to the Aurungabad fort, there to wait till the storm had blown over. There could not have been less than four or five thousand fugitives altogether in the fort; of these, about a thousand were soldiers, or men at any rate trained to arms, who had had the advantage of a military education. Of the rest, there were at least six or seven hundred able-bodied fighting men, many of whom had horses and arms; the remainder were non-combatants.

To give any description of the state of confusion that these people were in would be utterly impossible. It can with difficulty be imagined; families accustomed to every luxury were huddled together into quarters which, in former days, they would have thought too wretched for their horses. Delicately nurtured ladies and still more delicate children were forced to live in cramped-up little cells without proper ventilation, deprived of all the appliances for cooling the heated atmosphere by which art has rendered residence in a tropical climate not unendurable. People who had been accustomed to be waited on by hosts of servants, were obliged to attend to their own wants and give themselves up to the merest drudgery, and that, too, with all the disadvantages of the hot weather, insufficient apparatus, and failing health. In short, the artificial distinctions and barriers of society were overturned, and all were reduced to one dead level, the really rich being those who had strong constitutions and unflagging spirits.

For some time after the death of the Honourable George Gregory, confusion was made worse confounded by the disorganisation of the government for want of a constituted head. The Honourable George had been carried off suddenly by an attack of cholera, so that he had died without having left any instruction as to his successor. Meantime the central provinces, after being in insurrection for a fortnight, had by an order of government been put under martial law. This Brigadier Littlesole interpreted to mean that civil government had ceased: he was supported by his staff, and in fact by all the military who held the same opinion. Not so the civil world: they held to the maxim cedant arma togae and would not allow that any circumstance could establish the converse. So the question was referred to the supreme government at Calcutta, for happily, at that time, communication with the presidency had not been cut off. At the same time that this knotty point was referred to the arbitration of the governor-general and council, they were earnestly solicited to name the successor to the Honourable George with the least possible delay, accompanying the selection with a plain letter of instructions, defining beyond all possibility of cavil the duties of each department, and, of course, of the chief functionaries. Meantime, the supreme government of the central provinces had been assumed by the next senior civilian to the deceased, viz. Quintilian Edward Dormouse, who was very fond of signing his initials on the outside cover of official documents, for the sake, as he said, of enlivening the dreary drudgery of official routine by a little pleasantry.

Party feeling ran high. All the military declared they would only look upon their immediate head as the representative of government. All the civilians and uncovenanted denied the right of any but a civilian to rule; while the independent classes, and they were pretty numerous, laughed at both, and acted as they thought best for themselves. But the really sensible men of all classes regretted extremely this unsettled and disorganised state of things, and were only anxious to see some one individual invested with supreme power, for the sake of putting an end to the disgraceful anarchy that prevailed. The answer from government, however, was very long in coming.

When the late Prefect had taken up his abode in the fort, he had insisted on the quarters he occupied being called Government House. A flag-staff had been erected immediately in front of the door, and a small gun on its carriage kept there, partly for security, partly to add a dignity that the Prefect’s quarters did not certainly possess without, and partly for the purpose of firing salutes on certain state occasions. This arrangement had never been interfered with, except that the flag had been hauled down when the Prefect died.

One day the utmost consternation was spread throughout the thickly-populated garrison by the report of cannon in their immediate proximity. The panic was short-lived, for it soon became evident that the firing was a salute, and that it came from the quarters known as Government House. Scarcely had the sixth gun been counted, when a second salute began from the neighbourhood of the brigadier’s quarters. All was perplexity, doubt, and anxiety. Had Delhi fallen? Had the Prince of Wales arrived in Calcutta, at the head of an enormous army? Had the governor-general himself reached Aurungabad? These and such like questions flew from mouth to mouth; but no one could answer them. By-and-by it became noised abroad that a meeting had been called at the armoury, which was the largest building available for public purposes in the fort, and thither pressed an eager crowd in spite of hot winds and a burning sun, for it was given out that here they would receive a solution of the mystery of the double salute. To this meeting I must beg the reader to accompany me; that he, too, may learn the cause of this expenditure of gunpowder.

The armoury was a large hall, capable of holding with ease several hundred persons. There was a long dining-table in the centre used for committees, courts-martial, &c. &c. At one end of this table stood Q.E.D., at the other Brigadier Littlesole, each being surrounded by his partisans and friends; the rest of the hall was pretty well filled by officers of both services, and a number of railway officials and others, who had all bent their steps thither with the hope of satisfying a common curiosity. When the place was pretty well full, Mr. Dormouse, holding up a large official-looking document in his hand, said in a loud voice—

‘I have requested your attendance here today, gentlemen, for the purpose of reading out inyour presence a notification just received from the supreme government, appointing me to succeed to the vacant office of Prefect, so lately filled by our lamented and esteemed friend.’

He then gave the notification to the secretary, Mr. Chutney Tittlebat, and desired him to read it out, which he did in a loud voice.

‘No. 104692/178650

‘Notification Extraordinary, Fort William, June 12, 1857.

‘The Governor-General in Council is pleased to appoint Quintilian Edward Dormouse, C.S., Special Commissioner of the Central Indian Provinces, with full power to control all civil and military operations, and to conduct in general the administration of the country known as the Central Indian Provinces, until further orders, anything heretofore provided notwithstanding.’

A murmur of approbation ran round the hall from all the friends of the Dormouse party. Brigadier Littlesole’s partisans were calm and self-confident; they turned their eyes upon their chief, and he, looking round with a benignant smile, handed Major Trumps an official document in shape and size very like that still displayed in the hands of Mr. Chutney Tittlebat, and said:—

‘Have the goodness. Major Trumps, to read that; and may I beg you, gentlemen,’ he added, turning round and waving his hand in a majestic manner, ‘to listen.’

‘No. 104692/178650

‘Notification Extraordinary, Fort William, June 12, 1857.

‘The Governor-General in Council is pleased to appoint Brigadier John Henry Leviathan Littlesole, C.B., Special Commissioner of the Central Indian Provinces, with full power to control all civil and military operations, and to conduct in general the administration of the country known as the Central Indian Provinces, until further orders, the said provinces being under martial law, anything heretofore provided notwithstanding.’

It was now the turn of the brigadier’s party to chuckle, and chuckle they did. Of course the double salute was no longer a mystery, and there being nothing further to do or say, the two special commissioners retired to their respective quarters, along, the one with his secretary, the other with his brigade-major, to issue orders and write letters.

The next morning the following proclamations in the Hindustani language appeared posted up in different parts of the city, and circulated throughout the district:—

‘Know all men,—That certain designing and evil-disposed men, having seduced the faithful soldiers and servants of the State from their allegiance, and persuaded them to take up arms against the British government:

‘Notice is hereby given, that any sepoys returning to their allegiance within six months from the date of this proclamation shall receive a free pardon.

‘(Signed) Quintilian Edward Dormouse,
‘Special Commissioner,
‘Central Provinces.’

The other proclamation ran as follows:—

‘Know all men,—That certain designing and evil-disposed persons, having seduced the faithful servants and soldiers of the British government from their allegiance, and instigated them to commit the most horrible and flagrant crimes, every man found with arms in his possession after the date of this proclamation will be considered a rebel against the British government and summarily hanged, and any man who gives information that leads to the conviction of such offenders shall receive a reward of ten rupees.

‘(Signed) J. H. L. Littlesole, Brigadier,
‘Special Commissioner,
‘Central Provinces.’

Copies of both these proclamations were sent down to Calcutta, and in due time returned with the cordial approbation of the supreme government.

Meantime the special commissioners went to work. Brigadier Littlesole erected a large gallows outside the Aurungabad fort, capable of accommodating nine natives at once. Mr. Dormouse opened an office in the high road, where he posted a native civil officer, with a large book and pens and ink, to receive and enter all applications for pardon. I need hardly add that the brigadier’s gallows had more applicants than Mr. Dormouse’s receiving office.

One morning when Major Trumps and Brigadier Littlesole were busy looking over the proceedings of a court-martial that had just condemned to death by hanging a cook-boy, on a charge of having attempted to poison a family, consisting of Mrs. Jones and three little Jones’s, an orderly who was in attendance came in and announced a ‘hofficer.’

‘Show him in,’ said the brigadier.

He started at the apparition that presented itself at the door. A tall fine-looking young felow, with a vast profusion of hair about his face, very dirty, his clothes actually hanging to his back and legs in shreds, a native turban of blue cloth round his head, and his skin so sunburnt that he looked in complexion more like a native of the East than an Anglo-Saxon, well armed with sword and revolver, presented himself. It was Graham.

‘Well, sir, what do you want?’ said the brigadier.

‘I want a good deal,’ said Graham. ‘I believe this is the brigadier’s quarters. Have I the honour of addressing the brigadier?’

‘You have. Be quick and state what you want done.’

‘In the first place I want rest; I’ve just ridden a hundred and eighty miles from Islamabad, and am half dead. I have brought bad news.’

‘Bad news, sir! coes anyone ever bring anything else, I should like to know? Bad news! You didn’t suppose I expected you to bring good, did you?’

The brigadier here motioned Graham to a seat, and, summoning a servant, desired him to bring wine and water, cold meat and bread instantly. He then turned to renew the conversation with his visitor.

Meantime Major Trumps (the proceedings, finding, and sentence of the court-martial having been signed by the brigadier) gathered up his papers and took his leave, saying, ‘He would be back in a moment; he had a little business to attend to:’ and so saying he left.

The little business was, returning the proceedings confirmed, and giving the necessary orders for the execution next morning of the cook-boy, who, however, was destined to make his sudden exit out of this world and entrance into another in company with five others. One was a sweeper, who had been detected concealing a rusty knife in his broom; another an ill-looking native, who could give no account of himself, but was proved to have admitted a dog into the fort that afterwards turned out mad; a third had been convicted of loitering near the magazine, with the lens of a telescope in his possession, with the design, no doubt, of blowing up the place by means of the concentrated solar rays; a fourth, a Mahometan, had been convicted of going about instigating a ‘jehad,’ or holy war, against the infidels by wearing green shoes; and the fifth, one of the Honourable George Gregory’s three-rupee police, who went by the nickname of the three rupeewallas, and had been caught in the neighbourhood of the fort the night before.

As soon as Major Trumps had left, the brigadier continued the conversation with Graham.

‘So you’ve come from Islamabad?’ he said. ‘All the country’s up, I suppose?’

‘Well, not the country exactly—that seems tolerably quiet. Islamabad has gone, I am sorry to say.’

‘And you the only survivor? Dear me, dear me!’

‘No, thank God, there are many survivors, but they are in a bad way. I have come to solicit instant aid; a party of Europeans despatched at once may be in time to save the lives of almost all the ladies and children.’

‘Impossible to spare a man,’ said the brigadier, shaking his head; ‘but tell us all about it.’

And so Graham told the whole story from first to last, which I need not repeat here.

In the middle of it Major Trumps returned. and both the brigadier and he listened with breathless interest.

‘I am very sorry,’ said the brigadier, as Graham concluded, and turned to help himself to some cold meat and wine and water, which had meantime been brought. ‘I am very sorry it is quite impossible for me to help you. No doubt long before this General Codshead will have sent troops from Mitterpore: he is much more favourably situated than I am; he has no fort to protect. Here am I, you see, with a mere handful of men—a mere handful—and this enormous fort to protect.’

‘But,’ urged Graham, ‘the case is most pressing; I was in hopes you would order out a party at once. I am ready to start at once to show them the nearest road there: it is most urgent, I assure you. That little band of helpless innocents, ladies and children, will be sacrificed to a fate that it is impossible even to think of without shuddering, unless instant aid is sent them. Indeed, sir, it is most urgent.’

‘It is not for you, sir, to dictate to me what is urgent and what is not urgent,’ said the brigadier hastily. ‘To diminish by one man the garrison of a beleaguered fort like this would be madness; it is altogether out of the question. After all I do not see that your friends are so much worse off than others. It is merely a question of time; perish we all must. We are surrounded, beset on all sides; as for any of us escaping out of this hobble, it is ridiculous to regard such a result in anyway but as most improbable, if not impossible. It is merely a question of time; cut all our throats will be; it’s a toss up who goes first, but cut they all will be, that is certain.’

‘Give me fifty Europeans mounted on camels, brigadier, and I’ll lay a wager no one’s throat is cut between this and Islamabad—that is, if I only get there in time.’

‘Fifty European soldiers! Mr. Graham, I wouldn’t part with a corporal’s party from the fort if I was to be hanged the next moment for refusing. Indeed there is no “if” in the case: either hanged or shot we shall all be sooner or later,—not a man leaves this fort while I command it.’

‘Good heavens!’ said Graham, alternating between a paroxysm of rage, indignation, and despair; ‘leave your countrjnmen to be butchered at Islamabad, brigadier! You cannot be in earnest?’

‘Never more so. What! am I likely to be joking? Is it a time for joking, Mr. Graham, while the grave is yawning beneath your feet and the noose is round your neck? Tell me, is that a time for joking? Major Trumps, do you consider that a fit time for joking?’

‘Certainly not, sir.’

‘And do you consider, Major Trumps, that the grave is not yawning beneath your feet? Do you mean to tell me the noose is not round your neck? Do you mean to say we shall not have our throats cut?’

‘Not necessarily, sir; but I think it’s very likely we shall all be poisoned.’

‘Poisoned! of course we shall be poisoned. Have not Mrs. Jones and the three little Jones’s been poisoned already, and why should we not be poisoned? I say, what is there to prevent our being poisoned—or hanged? Do you see anything to prevent it, Major Trumps?’

‘Certainly not, sir.’

‘Of course not, nor does anyone: it is a mere question of time.’

Graham had not been long in taking, mentally, the measure of his two new friends’ characters. He very soon saw how the wind lay there, and made up his mind at once how to act; but, being dreadfully worn out and in want of refreshment, he determined to make the best use of his time and opportunities, and now that he had the means of getting a good meal, to make the most of them; and then, having satisfied his craving appetite, to start upon the course of action he had resolved to take. The military gods being so unpropitious he would turn to the civil. So abandoning all hopes of getting any assistance from the narrow-minded selfish coward before him, he asked, with difficulty indeed speaking respectfully—

‘Pray who is the chief civil authority here?’

‘Civil authority, sir? There is no such thing,’ replied the brigadier; ‘the country is under martial law, and all the functions of civil government are merged in the military.’

‘This is unfortunate,’ thought Graham, ‘if true.’

‘But what has become of all the civilians? there used to be a great many here at the seat of government. Surely they are not all swept away?’

‘Swept away?—yes, every vestige of them; that is, officially. Individually, they are all here. Of course you know Mr. Gregory is dead?’

‘And his successor?’

‘I tell you he has no successor. The civil government is defunct. It is all military government here, and that will be defunct too shortly—it is merely a question of time.’

Keeping to his point—and, what was much more difficult, keeping his temper—Graham at last managed to discover that what remained of the civil administration was vested in the person of Mr. Quintilian Edward Dormouse, and to him he resolved to apply without loss of time. So, saying he would go and look after his camel and attendant, and thanking the brigadier for the hearty meal he had given him, Graham took his leave.

He was not long in finding out the headquarters of the civil government, and was courteously received by Mr. Q. E. Dormouse, to whom he told his tale very much as he had done to the brigadier, coupling with it the account of the refusal of assistance he had met with, and adding that he hoped Mr. Dormouse would take a wider view of the subject, and see the necessity of despatching a party at once to the relief of his friends.

‘Indeed,’ said Mr. Dormouse, ‘I assure you, Mr. Graham, I fully sympathise with you in your anxiety to hurry to the assistance of your friends. I will do all in my power, and that at once. Unfortunately, you see, I have no control over the European portion of the garrison; otherwise, great as would be the risk of diminishing our garrison during the continuance of the siege, I should at once send a strong party of troops. But, to be frank with you, I have no power whatever in military matters. The brigadier is obstinate—very obstinate; but I’ll tell you what I can do. There is a large portion of our civil police lately broken up. It is true they did mutiny in a way, but it was merely the force of circumstances—a little excitement: it is all over now. I have the best information, and am assured that they are all only too eager to return to their duty, and to be taken into the garrison of the fort. I had an application only yesterday, saying that there were exactly a thousand of them here ready to come in, if I would only admit them into the fort. With that strange spirit of clanship which is so strong a characteristic of the native mind, they refuse to come unless they are all admitted at the same time. Well, you may imagine how very distressing it was to me to be thwarted in a measure that would go farther than anything else towards settling the country and restoring confidence—you may imagine, Mr. Graham, I say, how distressing it was to be thwarted: but when I agreed to their conditions, the brigadier, with that arrogance’—Mr. Dormouse here suddenly checked himself—‘the brigadier, for reasons best known to himself, absolutely refused to allow them to enter the fort. Of course, all negotiations were broken off, and the men remained in the category of enemies and rebels. But I am sure that a large body of them—say five hundred—would accompany you and render excellent service. Besides, I have every reason to know that the country is settling down fast. My proclamation, thwarted as it has been in a degree by the ill-judged measures of severity—the crimes, I may say, of irresponsible power, has nevertheless had a very extended effect. The police, I am sure, will do all you require—they are thoroughly trustworthy.’

Poor Graham’s heart sank within him as he listened to this proposition, and drew a fancy picture in his imagination of his arrival at the head of five hundred native police to the rescue of his friends! He remained silent. Just as Mr. Dormouse had finished speaking a stranger entered.

‘Here’s just the man I want to see,’ said the special commissioner. ‘Come along, let me introduce you: Mr. Bowlemover, Mr. Graham.’

They bowed.

‘Mr. Graham has a sad story to tell; Bowiemover, what do you say?’ He then gave his friend an outline of Graham’s story.

As he was telling it, Graham scanned the features and figure of the new corner with an anxious eye. Somehow or other there was that in his face that gave the young soldier comfort. ‘This fellow will help me,’ he thought; ‘I see it in him.’ As Mr. Dormouse finished, Bowlemover jumped up.

‘I’ll manage it,’ he said—‘just the thing for me. I’m deuced tired of this infernal fort, Dormouse, and shall be only too glad to get out of it, especially as I shall be able to do some good. I hope we shall not be too late. When can you travel, Mr. Graham?’

‘To-night,’ said Graham. ‘Now, I’m ready now, if I can only get another camel. For God’s sake, if you have anything to propose, be quick; you do not know how many lives each minute lost may lose.’

‘All right—now I’ll tell you. I know there are a whole lot of these railway chaps, and some of Tupper’s volunteers, who’ll be delighted to go with us. Now, do you stay here and rest a bit; I’ll see to it, and make all preparations. We’ll muster thirty or forty, or more, and start this evening at sunset.’

Graham stood up to grasp his hand and pour forth his thanks; but his physical powers were utterly prostrated by the tremendous fatigue and exposure he had undergone, and the sudden alternation from despair to hope was too much for his feelings to sustain. He sank down on his chair, pressed his hands to his face, and with difficulty concealed all outward signs of the emotion that thrilled through him.

Bowlemover looked at Dormouse, pointed silently to Graham, and, nodding as if he would have said ‘Take care of him,’ hurried off whistling to call for volunteers and get his expedition ready.

Chapter XLIII

It is a dangerous thing for a young and beautiful married woman to allow herself to hold clandestine interviews with a stranger of the opposite sex unknown to her husband. Who can tell whither the path may lead that turns off at ever so acute an angle from the road to virtue? Who shall dare to say, so many paces will I walk in it, and then recede? Out of all the crimes that ever were committed since Adam fell, how many were foreseen? Was not Eve herself first contented with the appearance of the forbidden fruit? She did not contemplate tasting it till she had first seen, admired, then wished for it. Leila certainly had no notion when she first countenanced the approach of the stranger what their intimacy would end in.

By degrees she became more accustomed to receiving the visits of the man, whom I shall now call the Mirza. Fired as her soul was by enthusiasm and zeal for what she supposed to be the cause of Islam, entranced by the dazzling idea that she was fated—how high and glorious a destiny!—to take a large share in the re-establishment and supremacy of the faith for which she would at any time willingly have laid down her life—animated by ideas of this sort, she entertained no thought or feeling of a baser kind. All pure herself, she had no suspicion of impurity in others. Inspired by religious hopes and fears, she had no sympathy for emotions of a more earthly nature; and so it came to pass that symptoms which women are always the first to see and to detect in the other sex passed unnoticed. Had it not been for this, the innumerable intimations by gesture, voice, and look that betray the existence of passion would have warned her woman’s heart of danger near.

Let not, however, the English reader, accustomed to all the habits and customs of western civilization, be too ready to sit in judgment and utter harsh sentence against Leila. I can better compare her to the bird we read of, that, bewitched by the gaze of the basilisk, falls an easy prey to its deadly enemy, than anything else, and I could more easily describe the means by which the basilisk entranced the bird than the effects of the enchantment upon her. The means were simple, not differing in kind from those we may see exercised every day of our lives if we choose to look—not differing in kind, only in degree. The Mirza understood his art and was well practised. He understood it better than nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of those who make profession of it, and she was more susceptible than nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of those who are generally selected, either by real votaries of science or by impostors, as subjects for experiment, or dupes to deceive the public. I am no believer in the charlatanical nonsense of clairvoyance and electro-biology, yet I most assuredly believe that these grand impostures have been erected on a solid foundation of truth. Nor is it always easy to discern exactly the line where truth ends and imposture begins. It is certain that some minds have power over others, and can acquire it in proportion to the extent to which one chooses to subject itself to the influence of the other. I do not mean to imply that the Mirza mesmerised his victim; he was an adept in mesmerism as in all other kinds of charlatanry, and he had studied the art of mystifying his fellow-creatures in every school almost in the world. All the treasures, whether of real science or imposture, were at his fingers’ ends. And so deeply had he studied, and so long and often practised, that he would have found it no easy matter to define where one ended and the other began. So many were his accomplishments, so many were the things he could do, that you would be induced to suppose there was nothing he could not do. He could put a child under a basket on the ground in the presence of spectators, and then stab it through and through, while you heard the cries of the dying child and saw the blood flowing in streams from under the basket, which he would lift up, and lo! there would be nothing there; he could cut a man in two and make him one again; he could swallow knives, eat fire, seize poisonous serpents in his hands and twist them round his neck, or let them coil round and round in his hair till they disappeared; he could show you himself suspended and seated in mid air, and thousands of other wonderful things, to enumerate which would fill a volume; but more than this, he could talk of the mysteries of real science in a way that showed he had studied deeply. Especially in the healing art was his knowledge great and practical; the most dangerous diseases he could grapple with; for all he had some device, some mode of treatment ready at hand—not always successful, for then he would have been superhuman; he was only a man, but a very clever one, a most ambitious one, with vast capabilities, untiring energy, immense physical powers, and mental resources, which had never during his lifetime been tested to the bottom; and withal he was utterly devoid of all principles save one—self-worship. Add to this that his audience, his patients, his victims, his dupes, his worshippers, were untutored and semi-barbarous, wrapt in sensuality and superstition and prone to credulity, and you might have ceased to wonder at his success had it been even greater than it was.

Yet are these moral giants that we sometimes meet with but week mortals after all. The Mirza, with all his powers of mind that nature had so lavishly bestowed on him and art had cultivated, was a slave to passion, and that not of the purest or most ennobling kind. Leila thought herself in some way destined to be the bride of heaven, and the man who worshipped her, a being she herself worshipped, something little short of an emanation from the deity himself. Nothing else but this could have blunted her woman’s instinct, and blinded her woman’s eyes. Else she must have noticed that glance expressing all the intensity of longing desire fixed not seldom on her: the trembling of his whole frame when she touched him ever so lightly, the fondness for remaining in her presence, the reluctance to leave it, the beating heart and quickened breath when in some of the innumerable pursuits they followed out together he bent over her or she bent over him, till the fragrance from her perfumed hair or robes floated like a cloud over his entranced senses. Was it as an ethereal being or destined bride of heaven that he imprinted that burning kiss upon her hand each time he visited and left her? Was it with the simple adoration of a pure heart and a platonic love that he knelt at her feet when he could frame an excuse for doing so, and once kissed the hem of her robe? So free herself from the influence of any such material passion, Leila dreamed not that the wonderful being who now was her too constant companion had aught but the purest feelings towards her. Under his guidance she had travelled over regions where every step they took opened out some fresh wonder to her hitherto untaught mind. She had thirsted eagerly all her life long for knowledge exactly of that sort the stranger had offered in overflowing endless draughts to her lips: she drank and drank, and still the fountain seemed exhaustless, and her desire still unquenchable.

Never but once had the slightest ray of suspicion gleamed upon her woman’s heart. Once and once only had it flashed across her mind, and then the idea was indignantly repelled, and that was when the plot was laid for Amy’s capture. She had longed for the tree of knowledge, and she found it in him in the fullest and completest sense.

Either deeming that at last the time was come when he could venture to pluck the fruit ripened by his own arts, or, it may be, carried away by the violence of passion, which is proverbially blind, he one evening ventured to hint to Leila his aspirations after happiness of rather more material nature than he had in his lessons held out to her as the end and aim of all existence. She started and blushed, but the hint was very slight, and the emotion caused by it proportionately so.

Misinterpreting the cause of the blush that crimsoned her cheeks, or carried away by feeling, he went on, and said—

‘That union, fairest Leila, between two loving hearts, such as ours, is ever blessed by heaven: nay, it is but the fulfillment of destiny. When mortals are created by Allah, they are created in pairs, sent into the world each to follow out its own destiny, till the happy period arrives when they cross one another’s path; then they recognise their common origin. Like two streams mingling their waters together in one channel, they become united; like two rays of light blending into one, their unity is complete. The temporary separation caused by the accident or circumstances of life acting on their material bodies, fades away. The soul asserts its power, and yields to the inevitable commands of nature. She will not be disobeyed. As well might the air I move my hand through, thus, refuse to let it pass as the soul refuse to acknowledge the unity of its existence with its fellow when providence has brought them into contact. We two were thus created, destined to be one. When first I saw you, I recognised the being that providence had called into existence simultaneously with myself—to be part of myself. Against this mysterious ordinance of nature human laws and customs are powerless. Yield, then, Leila, loveliest of women, whom my soul worships with the fondest, deepest devotion—yield to destiny! Fly with me from this land, from this life you lead—a life that stagnates all the powers and feelings of the soul—to your own native hills, where, hand in hand, untrammelled by the arbitrary laws of tyrants made to fetter in hard bondage the minds that nature destined to be free, we will wander among the haunts of your childhood. There, dwelling always together, I will live with you and for you only; I will unfold still further than I have done the book of knowledge; I will teach you the mysteries of the heavenly bodies, and show you new worlds, where beings you have never dreamed of revel in the enjoyment of immortal life. I will teach you to become still more acquainted with the mysteries of this world’s creation and its treasures. I will open out to your mind new realms of science of whose depth, and extent, and beauty, and magnificence, you can have no idea. I will teach and elevate your mind till, growing daily more pure and more ethereal, you at length become fitted for that perfect union which cannot be attained by ordinary mortals, but which the favourite children of nature are created for, and shall attain, if only they refuse not to embrace their destiny.’

He ceased speaking for a moment. She raised her eyes, till then cast down, to his, and gazed full into his face, as if with those large liquid orbs she would penetrate into his inmost heart. The passionate lover cannot exercise the power of the will over the being before whom he prostrates himself in humble adoration. For the moment the spell was broken, and Leila held the vantage ground. She said—

‘You are teaching me a new lesson this evening, Mirza—different, oh how different!—from those I loved to listen to before. Speak no more in this strain, for something in my breast warns me to close my ears. To you indeed I owe everything; you have taught me that which has given life a value it never had before. Is there poison lurking too in this cup that I have drunk from so freely from your hand? Where is the destiny you spoke of if I return to my native, my beloved country? Where is the destiny to be fulfilled in this? You have told me, that by my hand Allah would work out the destruction of the infidel and the restoration of Islam to its old glories. For this I am willing—willing! Oh how thankful should I be to sacrifice all life has to offer! and for such an end a sacrifice must be made: but for that you propose—indeed, I understand it not. Are there no obligations binding on a wife?’

‘You are right, Leila,’ he said; ‘you have corrected me, you have checked my too hasty aspirations. I was looking forward, dazzled by the brilliant future I beheld in my mind’s eye, forgetting that you cannot see what is made plain to me, revealed by Divine inspiration.’ Then he added, after a pause—

‘The scheme I have foretold will be worked out by destiny, and yours will be the share you hope for; but I looked beyond the present. I was too impatient; for the moment too much under the influence of mere human mortal weaknesses—too eager to reap the reward, to pluck the fruit that will, if left alone, ripen and fall into my lap. The same power that directs and controls the course of the heavenly bodies in their everlasting march, controls human events and human destinies, and will lead two loving hearts in its own time to blend together into one. Leila,’ he added, clasping and pressing to his lips her hand which, overpowered by surprise and the suddenness of his movement, she allowed to linger in his, and the next instant passing his strong arm round her slender waist, ‘Leila, you are mine—mine only—my pupil—nay, my goddess, my love. Destiny, stem to other mortals, is kind—ah, how kind!—to us; for it has united us. Let us only forestall the time by a few short months. Fly—fly with me this night. With me you shall be what Allah intended you to be—a queen.’ She struggled to free herself; he held her, grasped as in a vice—she was powerless as a child. She tried to speak, but emotion prevented her; or was it the power of that desperate iron-like will pouring its force through those firelit eyes of his, that, fixed full on her, seemed to demand the obedience of a slave? At first as the blood rushed up to her face she blushed crimson—her shoulders, her neck, her forehead, were all flushed—her heart beat wildly—he could feel its feverish throbs as he pressed her to his bosom, and each throb sent a thrill of livelier passion through him: then she grew pale, pale as the white rose in her hair, pale as her own snowy robe, save for the red spot of anger in her cheek; still she could not speak: she was spell-bound, condemned to pay the penalty of her imprudence, and listen all helplessly still longer to that voice pouring its moral poison into her ears.

‘A queen, Leila! The fairest queen on all the earth, and the most powerful, for your slave shall be one who never yet found his equal and never will find him and suffer him to live a rival on the earth. And know this,’ he added, passing from entreaty to threat, ‘refuse my offer or yield to my prayers, it is all one—you are mine, and never shall escape my hands. Drive me from your presence with scorn, and I return to it a conqueror in triumph. He you call your husband has but a few days to live. At one word, at one sign from me, the whole district rises in revolt. That word will be spoken, that sign given, when the hour comes; the next time I visit you I shall come as a conqueror, and you will be free to reward me with your love, untrammelled by those bonds of human law which you fancy separate us now and make you another’s for ever. Say you will not force me to violence—say you will be mine—say you yield—you must, for I WILL it—now—’

The gradual cessation of her powers of physical resistance he had attributed to the growing obedience of her will: the subsidence of effort, the symptom only of fainting strength on her part, he interpreted into acquiescence. He was deceived; the recoil was in proportion to the prostration. Her powers of endurance had ebbed like the sea at spring-tide; like the sea at spring-tide was its flood—on and on, overpowering all obstacles, confident in its own overwhelming motive force, the impulse communicated by the powers of nature—on it came with a bound, and with a bound such as he was totally unprepared for—a force he had no idea that slender yet exquisitely proportioned frame could exercise. She tore herself from his grasp, regained her feet, and stood at a few paces from him, glaring, panting like a tigress that has seized its prey in the act of despoiling her of her young. With her hands clenched, her lips firmly compressed together and white as alabaster, her bosom heaving with emotion regularly yet rapidly, she stood the image and ideal of outraged virtue glaring upon vice. Then those thin white lips opened—to address him, to speak words of endearance, of entreaty, of love? No—she uttered a cry—a cry of agony—a wail of distress like that shipwrecked sailors are said sometimes to hear amid the roaring sea that surges over them before they are engulphed in its black hissing waters—a wail from the spirit of the storm. It was heard by her attendants; it was heard through the length and breadth of that large rambling place; it penetrated the most distant apartments and reached the ears of her husband as he sat in his own chamber busy with his counsellors. Then might be heard voices outside, and steps hurrying along the corridor: and among the first that reached her chamber was the Nawab. With him entered, close following on his heels, the chief of the eunuchs, Sidi Gulzar; then women and attendants, servants, soldiers, guards. There was a strange look about the eunuch’s face, and a twinkle in his eyes, but no one noticed him: they had eyes only for their beautiful mistress. There she lay the image of death upon her silken couch; besides her there was no one else present.

‘Water, water!’ shouted the Nawab as he raised her gently in his arms, seeing at once that she had fainted.

They brought him water cooled with ice in a silver goblet; he dashed it over her face, and shouted ‘more—more yet.’ Slowly she revives and opens her eyes; at first she stares wildly—vacantly: then, as consciousness returns, raises her head slightly from the recumbent position it occupied on his arm, and gazes timidly round the room, scans the furthermost corner, looks into every anxious face about her—for by this time her attendants are crowding round—and finally rests her eyes on her husband.

She gazed at him for a moment, and then, throwing her arms round his neck and burying her face in his bosom, she burst into a passionate flood of tears.

It was long before she could recover the least control over herself. Thinking a cooling draught might relieve her, the Nawab ordered Sidi Gulzar to go and fetch a cup of sherbet, at the same time that he directed all the attendants present to leave. By-and-by Sidi Gulzar brought the sherbet, placed it beside his master, and with a low obeisance left them.

The Nawab took up the goblet and held it to her lips. She had ceased weeping, and was becoming more calm; but no sooner had her lips touched the liquid in the cup than she started back, and raising her eyes, wild with excitement, to her husband, she cried out in an hysteric scream, ‘And you too!’ and burst out weeping afresh.

The Nawab was puzzled. Never before in his whole life had he seen her in such a state. The only time that she seemed the least calmed was when he bent over her, pressed his lips against her forehead, and whispered into her ears soft words of love and tenderness, such as a fond husband may whisper to his wife.

Chapter XLIV

When the Nawab sent his men out to the Kooria hills, on the pretence of protecting his district from the incursions of dacoits or banditti—in reality to get them out of the way while the English officers and their families removed from his palace to a place of greater safety—he little thought the feigned danger was so soon to become a real one.

The profession of banditti called dacoitee is one of the regular and time-honoured institutions of India. As in England in old times, and in Ireland and Scotland more recently—in fact, in every country in the world but little advanced in civilisation—no stigma whatever attached to the profession of the hereditary robber. His father and his forefathers, from time immemorial, had been robbers before him; as a matter of course, he followed in their steps. But while this system was common to other countries besides India, it was perhaps a peculiar feature of Indian dacoitee that it was ostensibly and systematically supported by the different independent states. A band of dacoits may have been located in a certain territory, they and their forefathers, for a century—perhaps for centuries. They possessed strongholds, forts, castles, or impregnable positions among the mountains, from which it was difficult, nay impossible, to dislodge them. The ruler of the territory in whose domains they were settled never molested them. They paid him a certain tribute and enjoyed immunity. On the other hand, they never molested their protecting sovereign, under whose shelter, negatively at any rate, they dwelt. They carried their raids into neighbouring territories; but within the boundaries of that they called their own, life and property were secure.

This state of things has lasted in India for many hundred years. The Mahometan sovereigns, in the palmy day of the empire, to a certain extent checked the evil, and suppressed the system of dacoitee, but it survived all their endeavours to eradicate it, and it was only when the Mahometan empire was succeeded by the British government that any effectual progress was made in putting it down. The efforts of our government have been to a considerable extent successful; still the system is suppressed rather than rooted up. It is ready to break out again in full vigour the moment the iron grasp that holds it down is relaxed or removed. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that when the mutiny took place and the government for the time was pretty well broken up all over the country, dacoitee sprang to life again in a moment, as if reinvigorated by a magic impulse. And the effects of the rebellion were traceable in the revival of this institution long after they had disappeared from every other part or system of the country or the government.

There was a noted dacoit or leader of banditti named Doonghur Rao, who had lived as his forefathers had lived, and found protection under the predecessor of the Nawab of Islamabad. There, as elsewhere, the iron grasp of the British government had suppressed the gang, and Doonghur Rao had now for many years been living, as far as was generally known or believed, a peaceful and quiet life on his own estate among the Kooria hills. How be employed himself and spent his time, to what pursuits he devoted the energies of his restless disposition, no one exactly knew. Mr. Dacres had long had his eye on him, but could never detect any sign of guilty complicity in any robberies committed in the neighbouring districts, or in his own division. Indeed, so high an opinion had he of the old robber chief that, since the outbreak had occurred, he hud many and many a time thought of throwing himself upon him for protection. It was a course not to be resorted to till the last; but if everything else failed, he was resolved, if possible, to carry out this scheme. Once in Doonghur Rao’s fort and hands, however, the whole party would have been as much at his tender mercies as the sheep in the shambles is in the power of the butcher. It was a dangerous expedient; it might be successful, or it might be eminently disastrous. It was not to be thought of, except as a last resource.

Doonghur Rao, however, was not long in declaring himself. The conspirators who had set this gigantic mutiny on foot counted well each resource that would be open to them, and no doubt they knew that the dacoitee system would be one. It was their object to involve the whole country as much as possible in confusion, to throw down as many of the landmarks of order and government as possible, and then out of the chaos to reconstruct an empire supported on the bayonets of the soldiers. The sudden revival of dacoitee, therefore, in every corner of the land, was no unimportant feature in the scheme.

It was, as I have said, one of the essentials of the system in its perfect state that a good understanding should exist between the leader of banditti and the chief or sovereign of the territory in which he lived; it was a compact mutually acknowledged to be binding on both sides; and we may be sure, if broken by one, certain to be broken by the other. As long as Doonghur Rao was unmolested by the Nawab of Islamabad he was not likely to molest the life and property of the Nawab’s retainers or subjects. Should the Nawab, however, proceed against the dacoit, the latter would not hesitate to make reprisal. Under the old régime the Nawab would not have dared to attempt so dangerous a task as that of suppressing Doonghur Rao’s power single-handed. And it is probable that, could he have foreseen what was to occur, Kooria was the last direction in which he would have sent his troops. But at that time he had heard nothing of the old dacoit leader’s intention of returning to his old profession; and the latter, though surprised at first that the Nawab should attempt what in former days neither he nor his predecessors would have ventured on, easily accounted for it in his own mind by the reports which prevailed everywhere that the Nawab was the staunch ally of the British government.

He would have found out indeed, had he waited and enquired, that, however disposed the Nawab might be to cast in his lot with the paramount power, his men were actuated by vastly different motives. But there was no time for enquiry. Doonghur Rao had everything ready for raising his standard, so to call it, long before the mutiny of the troops at Islamabad lit up the flame of rebellion in that part of the country. This event was the signal for him to act. The gang were all collected ready at hand; the first moment they flew to arms, at the call of their old hereditary chieftain, they found to their astonishment, and certainly to his, that their old protector, their hereditary sovereign and feudal lord, the Nawab, had occupied the passes with an armed force, apparently with every intention of acting against them.

Doonghur Rao’s men, who had for years been chafing under the restraint imposed on them, were only too eager to indulge their old habits, and ‘their swords in their scabbards,’ as they expressed it in Oriental metaphor, ‘actually thirsted to taste blood.’ It is no matter of surprise then that, finding a body of armed men professedly sent against them, and to all appearance really ready to act in a hostile manner, they paused not to ask questions, but attacked at once. Blood was shed, happily for our friends the refugees, for that bloodshed was the means of averting from them an immediate assault, which in their then condition would undoubtedly have ended fatally. Nothing but this could have kept the Nawab’s men from returning from Kooria the morning after they got there, when they found that their victims had escaped, and completing their destruction. The feeling too that they had been duped, and made the victims of a trick by their own chief, made them especially anxious to wipe out the insult in the blood of the defenceless and innocent Feringhees. But no sooner had it become apparent that they had been duped, and that the party of English officers had not been, and had entertained no intention of going, to the place in which the ambuscade was set, and before they had had time to give vent to their anger even in words, they were called to attention by the voice of their chief, and found themselves assailed on all sides by a vigorous assault of Doonghur Rao’s men. The old warrior knew well the advantage of being the first to act on the offensive. His information was of the best, his men only too willing; and about the grey of the morning, when men and horses are apt to be particularly drowsy, and when it is difficult to distinguish objects at a distance, with a shout and a yell such as they had often uttered before on similar occasions, the dacoit’s men rushed, sword in hand, upon the camp of the Nawab’s troops.

Blood having been once shed—and there was a good deal spilt on that occasion—the Nawab’s retainers felt it a point of honour to have their revenge before they proceeded against the enemy they were all longing to confront, viz. the English refugees. And to this accident, if I may call it so, Dacres and his party owed their immunity from attack and annoyance for many days after they had taken up their abode in the Sudder Ameen’s house.

It is worth while just to glance at the state of affairs and parties in the small territory of Islamabad at this crisis, for it affords an excellent illustration of the chaotic and disordered condition in which all that part of India which was affected by the revolt was thrown. There was the Nawab in the first place, well disposed himself towards the British government, but timid and uncertain how to act, and fearful of the consequence of his actions on whichever side he went. There was even in his own house a powerful faction arrayed against him, though as yet in secret. There were the English refugees—a small party all together in one house, stronger than they looked, on account of their spirit, their unity of feeling, their skill, and their prestige. There was a large part of the Nawab’s own retainers, ready enough to act against their own lord and naaster if they could gain their object, the destruction of the English, in no other way than by first destroying him; and, finally, there was the daring dacoitee band, under Doonghur Rao, of whom it may safely be asserted that their hands were against every man, and every man’s hand against them.

It is obvious that if any two of this faction coalesced, they would have an overwhelming advantage against any of the rest. If Dacres could have communicated with Doonghur Rao, and got him over to his side, the party of officers and ladies would, as I have said before, have been quite safe from everyone but Doonghur Rao. But Dacres hesitated to commit himself. There was, however, another character who played no unimportant part upon the scene, who saw the advantages he could gain, and determined to play for them. It was the Mirza.

The sudden attack just described had been followed by a reprisal, and the desultory kind of warfare native troops when left to their own devices are so fond of. Doonghur Rao could do but little till he had removed the great impediment to freedom of action—the regular troops of the Nawab, now posted in an impregnable situation. It was not easy to overpower them, for they had taken up a position in the hills from which it was difficult to dislodge any large body of men who had ever so little wish to fight. Doonghur Rao had occupied an equally strong post himself, and was equally safe; but action, not inaction, was his object, while the rebels cared not how long they waited for the revenge they were determined to have, so that it came at last. To Doonghur Rao this obstacle was to the last degree irritating. He was afraid to turn his back on his foe, and set out to plunder the country behind him, lest he should be followed up, his own cattle and estates destroyed, and himself attacked at a disadvantage. On the other hand, he was not as yet strong enough to force a passage through the enemy’s lines. Many days passed while matters were in this condition, and in this condition they were when the Mirza, the morning after the interview related above, rode into the dacoit’s camp.

No need to delay this narrative to relate the interview between two such kindred spirits as the Mirza and Doonghur Rao. The former felt as confident of fulfilling his design before he entered on it, as he was certain that he bestrode the camel that carried him to the Kooria hills. Such men as Doonghur Rao and Colonel Hussain Khan, the Nawab’s commandant, the Mirza knew he could twist round his little finger. Before two hours had elapsed a messenger left Doonghur Rao’s camp with a white flag for Colonel Hussain Khan; and half an hour after the latter’s chief was closeted in Doonghur Rao’s tent, the Mirza making a third, all discussing their common plans, as if they had all been bosom friends for the last twenty years. I need only mention the result. Next morning the two camps were struck, and the two lately hostile forces, each under its own leader, with the Mirza for a counsellor to both, marched, to the stirring sound of harsh drums and still harsher trumpets, towards Islamabad, with the avowed object of compelling the Nawab to place himself ostensibly at their head, to declare war against the British government, and to follow up the declaration by a combined attack upon the English refugees, and the small band of native soldiers that still remained faithful to their colours.

Chapter XLV

Meanwhile time had sped, as it was likely to with the English refugees under such circumstances. They had not been slow to take advantage of the breathing space afforded them, and had laboured with unremitting exertions to strengthen their position; not unsuccessfully either, for by taking advantage of every facility for defence afforded by locality, by outhouses, garden walls, &c., which Stevens’ practised eye at once detected, they had succeeded in making the place so strong a fortification that nothing short of starvation or heavy artillery could drive them out of it. Against the former they had provided by laying in a store of provisions, in which the Nawab helped them most materially, for as yet none of his people, whatever they felt, dared openly to disobey a direct command. Against the latter they could but trust in providence; and if artillery was brought against them and the house was destroyed, they would still hold out for many days in the Saiyad’s tomb.

The only drawback to the latter place was the painful suspicion that the knowledge of the subterraneous connection between the tomb and the house was known to those who were likely to take part in the attack. So important was it deemed to clear up all doubts on this head, that Dacres made an express appointment with the Nawab, with whom he still held daily communication, for the purpose of finding out if he knew anything about it, Asgar Ally, when questioned, declared most positively that no one knew of the existence of the underground passage except the owner of the house, who was at Delhi, one of his wives who was also at Delhi, or at least supposed to be there, and himself. It had always, he said, been kept a profound secret by Ali Moorad, and the only way Asgar Ally became acquainted with it was by the treachery of his favourite wife, with whom he had a liaison, and who had been trusted by her lord and master with the secret he as little suspected she would ever betray as her own honour.

There was a good deal of difference of opinion among the officers of the little garrison about this. Murray by no means shared Dacres’ confidence in the Nawab’s loyalty, and continually urged him not to put his faith in princes; especially not to betray this secret of the passage to the tomb by asking him about it. Thurston too was most eager on Murray’s side, but he was especially energetic in his attempt to shake Dacres’ confidence in Asgar Ally, a man who had come to be looked upon now as the most useful member of their force; indeed no one but Thurston ever spoke of him but in terms of the most enthusiastic attachment. The ladies grew fond of him, from witnessing constantly his unwearied exertions in their behalf; the children used to call him their dear Asgar Ally, and were delighted beyond all measure when he could spare a minute or two from his multifarious duties to take them one by one upon his back, or go down on his knees and constitute himself an elephant, when at least four of them would scramble up on his back and neck, and be carried about the hall in triumph. I say ‘multifarious duties,’ for they were multifarious. He was Dacres’ right hand man. He it was who ventured out every night and came in before morning with intelligence—intelligence, too, rare virtue!—that Dacres never found to fail. He it was who guided the different foraging parties to spots where provisions were procurable. He did little menial offices whenever he could for any of the officers, or their wives, or the children, all of whom felt the want of servants sadly; he would help to cook the dinner, carry it to table, wait while the meal was being served, get water, bring the gentlemen lights for their pipes, and the next moment go out on an errand of life and death as zealously and readily as if he too had had a white skin, a fair-faced English wife, and two or three little prattling babies. It may readily be understood that Asgar Ally being such a universal favourite, anyone who spoke against him was proportionately unpopular. Thurston, therefore, was forced to keep his opinions pretty much to himself, and advance them, whenever he did advance them, in counsel with Murray and the other officers. That Dacres already suspected Thurston my readers know. He too was alone in his suspicions; no one else shared them, or looked at them in any other light than as most groundless and unjust, had they not been ridiculous. Barncliffe, as a general rule, suspected everybody, and it is no wonder therefore that Asgar Ally came in for a share of his bad opinion; but he was too cautious a man ever to commit himself by saying anything about anybody. He had gone through a great deal of distress and anxiety of a domestic nature ever since the outbreak, his wife having suffered very much in health from the shock occasioned by it, expecting as she was before long to add to the race of Barncliffes.

Believing most implicitly that their deliverance was only a matter of time, and that the only doubt was whether they could hold out till aid arrived either from Mitterpore or from Aurungabad, Dacres’ spirits rose daily as he saw their position growing in strength under the efforts that were being made to fortify it. And as so much depended on the fact of the subterranean passage being a secret, known only to a very few, he returned from his clandestine interview with the Nawab, with a load of anxiety off his mind. Without divulging the secret of the communication, he had satisfactorily established the fact that the Nawab had not the slightest suspicion of its existence. They might therefore entertain considerable hope that it was not known, and if forced out of the defences in the house, they might all take refuge there, and elude, at any rate for a time, the vigilance of their pursuers; and even after their retreat had been discovered, as discovered of course it must be in time, their position would be as strong if not stronger than the one they would have just abandoned: the enemy would have all their work to do over again and to commence afresh. ‘It is only a question of time,’ Dacres said to himself fifty times a day. Over and over again he counted on his fingers the number of days he calculated it would take his messenger to reach Mitterpore, and a party of European soldiers, mounted on the strongest and fleetest camels that were to be had, to reach them. As each day passed away and each night, with no fresh alarm and no fresh disaster, his spirits rose, and he looked more and more confidently to their eventual deliverance from dangers, of which at one time there was scarcely any hope. They had not been in their new position many days before he found a fresh source of anxiety in the illness of his friend Stevens. His constitution, never very strong, was unable to bear the shock which the late crisis they had passed through and were now experiencing dealt to it. He was a man of deep feeling, and, though no consideration of personal danger would have affected him the least, anxiety on account of his family pressed heavily upon his mind. He had been unwearying in his exertions ever since affairs had assumed their present attitude, and exposed himself to the intense heat of the sun too freely. This, combined with constant labour and ceaseless anxiety, brought on a dangerous illness, and, before the measures for the full defence of their present position, which he had planned, had been completed, the originator of them was prostrated.

The party had many advantages in the Sudder Ameen’s house, which they had not in the Nawab’s palace; not the least valuable of them was the number of different apartments, which enabled them to live with much greater comfort than when they were all together. The ladies had four rooms between them, and the gentlemen a similar number on the ground floor. When Stevens fell ill, arrangements were gladly made for him to occupy one room with his family, so that he could be kept more quiet, and have the advantage of his wife and sister’s uninterrupted attendance. But the sorrows of his afflicted family were far from culminating in Stevens’ dangerous illness. He had not been laid up two full days before Mrs. Stevens’ deepest anxieties were aroused for her youngest child, who was taken dangerously ill with fever. The disease would not be checked, and within forty-eight hours of its first seizure the mother was weeping over the lifeless body of her little darling. The tears were soon dried, however, for in the condition they were in, and with the prospects they had before them, the peaceful and painless death of the infant could not be viewed in any other light or felt to be anything but a great mercy.

A good many members of the other families about this time fell sick—no doubt in consequence of the exposure and hardships they had gone through, acting upon physical powers but little accustomed to endure them: and now that there was a temporary lull in the storm, that, while it raged around them in all its fury had, by its very violence, kept up the excitement, they began to feel the effects of a reaction.

This is too common a phenomenon to deserve much notice, and we need look no farther for the cause of the great depression and sickness that began to affect so many of the garrison. Mrs. Stevens after the death of her youngest cliild seemed broken-hearted; her courage and spirits till now undaunted, entirely gave way; daily, nay hourly, she struggled with the feeling, and, animated by the desire of tending her sick husband to the last, kept at her post till exhausted nature absolutely succumbed, and on Amy devolved the duties of taking care of Georgy and nursing her brother and sister. The old ayah was an invaluable aid, and all their companions were ready with sympathy and assistance. Still matters grew from bad to worse.

Dr. Mactartan had been in to pay his usual evening visit, and Dacres impatiently waited his return. He came out of the room at last, followed by Amy, who was crying, and with difficulty preventing her sobs from being heard.

‘How are your patients this evening?’ asked Dacres of the medicine man.

He shook his head. ‘Both very bad; I scarcely think poor Mrs. Stevens can survive the night. She may be kept up by stimulants, but I do not think there is the least prospect of her ultimate recovery. Oh, for a breath of air a little less stifling than this terrible atmosphere of ninety-eight degrees! Poor lady! And Stevens, too, is no better. Fancy high fever, and the thermometer at ninety-eight day and night—night and day. Who can stand it?’

‘You must take care of yourself, Miss Leslie—indeed you must,’ said Dacres. ‘You are actually worn out with your exertion. Do leave your brother and sister, and go and lie down for a little; to my certain knowledge you have taken no rest for the last four or five days. Now, do; Mrs. Murray will take your place just for an hour or two.’

‘Yes, indeed I will,’ said that lady, who had come up as Dacres spoke. ‘Go, Amy, and lie down, like a good girl. I will call you directly there is the least change.’

Amy felt indeed the need she had of following her friend’s advice; but she felt, too, how vain it was to attempt to follow it. Rest! A cool room, quiet and dark, a soft bed or a sofa, might indeed have tempted her to try. But, alas I these things were unknown to most ladies in the disturbed parts of India in 1857, A common counterpane and blanket spread on the stone floor, in a room occupied by three ladies and several children, full of flies, and with the atmosphere so close and hot that it seemed almost impossible to breathe—these were all the appliances there were to tempt poor Amy to rest her aching limbs and throbbing head. No: she would rather sit at the bedside of her two patients and watch their feverish sleep or listen to their faint moanings than try to court sleep upon her wretched pallet. Though she was unwilling however to do this, she sadly wanted a few minutes’ conversation with Dacres, for she had easily divined from several unmistakeable signs, such as her companions whispering together, while every now and then furtive glances were directed towards her, that intelligence of some sort, and in some way affecting her, had been received by some one. She said therefore, in reply to Dacres’ tender solicitude, that, though it was out of the question her lying down or attempting to sleep, she would be most delighted to take a turn in the garden (for the sun was now gone down) and get a little fresh air. Dacres readily offered to accompany her, only too glad to have an opportunity of doing or saying anything to cheer, in however slight a degree, the gentle girl who had, since their misfortunes set in, won the hearts of all. Alas! he had little to cheer her. The instant the suspicion had entered her mind that her friends had intelligence of some kind they were unwilling to impart to her, it forced itself into a settled conviction that something had happened to Graham. She had been thinking the matter over all the day, as well as she could when her mind was not occupied with other subjects, and the more she thought the more she became convinced that if her friends had anything to conceal from her it could be nothing but what had some reference to Graham. Anxiety at last became overpowering, and she determined to seize the first opportunity of enquiring. So she put a leading question to Dacres as soon as they were alone in the garden.

‘Tell me, Mr. Dacres, have you heard anything from Mr. Harley since they started?’

‘Nothing,’ said Dacres, ‘from him, but we have heard something of him—and the news, I am sorry to say, is not good.’

‘Were they safe—was Mr. Graham safe?—do tell me.’

‘Why, my dear Miss Leslie, you have had so many sorrows to bear that I fear you can, indeed, scarcely bear more. You must be inured to suffering—and yet, sooner or later, you will know the worst.’

‘The worst—oh yes! let me know the worst—indeed I can bear it. What have we not gone through the last month—and there is more in store—yes, more in store. Oh God! how long? how much more have we to suffer? Then poor Mr, Graham is lost, I see it in your face. Tell me, what have you heard? This suspense is intolerable. Anything is better—do tell me!’

‘Indeed, I think it is better to tell you all. It is on native authority only, remember—it may be false—lest I do but buoy you up with hopes that may only deceive. All I know is this: Asgar Ally brought word this morning, after one of his usual nightly expeditions in search of information, that the dead body of an officer had been seen in the jungle several miles from here, on the Aurnngabad road, who had evidently died a natural death—that is, he had not been murdered; and from all we can gather about it we believe—it is most likely—to be poor Graham—that is all.’

How much may be expressed in a word! The simple way in which she repeated the little word ‘all,’ the utter blank despair conveyed in her tone of voice, touched Dacres to the heart. He said nothing, but sent towards heaven a silent prayer that the Father of Mercies would deal tenderly with this wounded heart.

‘I will go in now,’ she said; ‘I do not feel as if I could stand about any longer. Thank you, Mr. Dacres; you have relieved me of one burden at any rate—the burden of suspense.’

Dacres pressed her hand as she turned to go into the house. With difficulty she managed to ascend the steep stone steps that are always found in native houses where there are any steps at all, and resumed her place by the bedside of the patients, permitting Mrs. Murray to go and look after her own little one. That night her labour of watching found diminution, for her sister died. Poor Amy fell upon her neck and sobbed as if her heart would break, but the free flowing of her tears gave her such relief as she had not known for many a day. Stevens was much worse, and little Georgy could only by the greatest difficulty and constant watching be kept from running in to see his papa and mama.

Chapter XLVI

The following morning Asgar Ally came back with more exciting information than usual. This was nothing less than a rumour that the Nawab’s troops had mutinied, plundered the city and palace, and were in full march against them. Like many other reports at that time, it was prophetically rather than actually true. It was the most likely thing to happen, and it was exactly what all men wished, except the few who were well-disposed towards the British government, and it was what everyone saw would happen if reinforcements were not sent soon in the shape of some European troops.

Dacres was talking to Murray and Thurston about this when he heard his name called by some one. It was Barncliffe.

‘Hallo, Dacres!’ he said, ‘here’s the kossid (or messenger) come back from Mitterpore.’

‘Thank God!’ said Dacres, as he hurried to the door, expecting to see the kossid, and behind him a couple of hundred or so of English soldiers, armed with Enfields and mounted on camels. No such thing: the man was alone, and looked as if he had undergone a great deal of suffering, for he was care-worn and haggard to the last degree.

‘Ha, my fine fellow!’ said Dacres, patting the man on the shoulder, ‘you have done right well. What news?—when are the troops to be here?’

‘Troops!’ said the man—‘I saw none.’

‘None!’ shrieked Dacres. ‘None coming? Good God, man! what do you mean?’

‘Letter, sahib! I have got a letter,’ replied the other.

‘Letters be—. Well, let’s have them; I suppose they have written to say the detachment was to start next day. Delay for want of carriage, very likely.’

It was a work of time producing these letters, for the sewing of the man’s shoes had to be unfastened before they could be produced; but produced they were at last—two large service envelopes, all sealed and franked, and addressed, ‘On the Public Service only.’

There were a good many natives standing about, a number of the sepoys and irregulars having been attracted to the spot by the important event of the arrival of the kossid, who was expected by most of them to return with at least a regiment of Europeans and a troop of horse artillery behind him, as well as a battery of siege guns drawn by elephants. Dacres had a kind of presentiment as the man handed him the letters that they would contain intelligence that it would be better to read without native witnesses, at all events. He therefore beckoned those of the officers who had come up, and who wanted to hear the news, to accompany him into one of the rooms. There he opened the letters and read them out. They were as follows, word for word:—

From Captain Blackholt, Assistant Adjutant-General, Mitterpore, to—Dacres, Esq. C.S. Commissioner, Islamabad.

Mitterpore: June—, 1857.

1. Sir,—I am desired by Major-General Codshead, commanding the Mitterpore division, to inform you that your scrap of a letter, dated Islamabad,—, forwarded by the kossid, by whom this answer will be sent, has been duly received.

2. Major-General Codshead begs me to remark that your style of addressing him is exceedingly irregular, and not at all in accordance with the established usages of the service.

3. With reference to your application for a detachment of European soldiers to be sent to Islamabad, the Major-General is unable to comply with the request, or to sanction the move of a body of troops to so great a distance without authority from the Commanderin-Chief.

4. As the sanction of the Supreme Government would be required before His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief could order the march of the detachment, you are requested to forward the following documents, together with an official application for the troops—that is to say, provided the causes which first led you to require their aid be still in existence.

5. The necessary documents are as follows:—

A. A statement of the strength of the detachment required.

B. A statement, supported by committee reports in triplicate, of the barrack accommodation available at Islamabad.

6. Upon the receipt of these papers, the Major-General will forward the application through the usual channel for the consideration of His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, and final transmission to Government.

7. As regards the payment of money promised to the bearer, the Major-General desires me to state that he cannot authorise the disbursement of public money on this account until he has been furnished with an audited bill. You will have the goodness, therefore, to transmit a bill in triplicate for the amount required, which will be sent through this office to Calcutta for audit.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
George Blackholt, Captain,
Assistant Adjutant-General,
Mitterpore Division.

P.S.—I beg to enclose a reply from Captain Constantine Grambag, relative to the carriage and conveyances alluded to in your note.

The other letter was as follows:—

‘From Captain Grambag, Assistant Commissary-General, to Captain Blackholt, Assistant Adjutant-General.

‘Mitterpore: June—, 1857.

‘Sir,—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter No. 5,867 A, Book Z, and enclosures; and in reply to state, for the information of Mr. Dacres, Commissioner of Islamabad, that it will be necessary for him to forward to this office indents in duplicate, countersigned by the officer commanding this station, before I can furnish him with the conveyances required for the use of the women and children alluded to in the enclosure of your letter. It will also be necessary to forward hire in advance for the cattle, whatever species of carriage may be required, in accordance with Sec. XCIV. Par. XV. Chap, XVIII. of the Standing Regulations.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
Constantine Grambag, Captain,
Assistant Commissary-General.

Language would fail to describe the indignation, the disgust, the despair, that seized the few listeners to the above letters. As for Dacres, he actually cried with emotion, partly rage, partly scorn, partly indignation, to think that he and all about him—those tender ladies, those delicate children, those brave hearts that had already endured so much, dared so much—should be sacrificed to the selfish idiocy of official routine, administered by imbeciles. It was a degrading cowardly fear of taking the slightest responsibility, when, by doing so, the lives of numbers of their fellow-countrymen might have been saved, that kept the major-general from sending aid; and, combined with this contemptible cowardice, was a still worse defect of character, a hard-hearted selfishness which prevented one man from sympathising with another.

Bad news somehow communicates itself. It seems to travel in the air, and to find its way into men’s ears, even though untold.

It was the case in this instance. After about ten minutes’ consultation with his friends, a consultation that consisted of little but invectives against the Mitterpore Red-Tapists, Dacres went outside for the purpose of seeing how he could best break the disastrous intelligence to the sepoys, and others who he doubted not were all anxiously looking out for news. He found it had preceded him: doubtless the kossid had told them something; at any rate, they had it all at their fingers’ ends. There were no European soldiers come, and there were none coming. Like wildfire it spread from mouth to mouth; the sepoys ran out of their tents and huts, for many of them had been sheltered in the outhouses in the garden, and asked, ‘What news?’ They were answered by a sign, a waive of the hand, and a snap of the finger, very expressive, but not encouraging.

By the time Dacres got outside, they were all assembled in front of the door. One man came forward, a native officer of the irregulars, and spoke, respectfully enough, but less so than was his wont. ‘His comrades,’ he said, ‘were all of one mind; they had stuck to the sahibs as long as they could, and defended them, and were ready to fight for them, and by this had lost caste among their own countrymen; but this they did not care for, as long as there was a hope of succour coming in the shape of European soldiers; but now that they found they had been deceived, that no assistance was coming, that the British rule was so effectually overturned that a general sahib had not a single soldier to save so many lives, it was useless for them any longer to keep up a show of resistance: the case was hopeless. Nothing could now save the few devoted victims of the mutiny. Why should they remain any longer, to share their certain and inevitable destruction? Besides, had they not been deceived? Had they not been promised reward, over and over again, if they remained faithful? Had they not been repeatedly assured that the mutiny was only a temporary and local check upon the power of the British government? Had not the kossid, who went at the imminent risk of his life all the way to Mitterpore and back again, been promised large rewards, of which not one rupee had reached him? What had happened that the word of British officers, till now scrupulously observed, had been broken, but that heaven had decreed that the rule should pass from them to others? They, too, must bow to the will of heaven, and leave the service of the English officers.’

After concluding his address, the man made a military salute and walked away. Nearly the whole of those assembled followed him, though many of them came and pressed the hands and knees of the officers they were deserting against their foreheads, and not a few had tears in their eyes.

‘What, are you all going?’ said Dacres. ‘Wait till we see whether we do not get aid from Aurungabad. And yet no—I will hold out no further promises,’ he added, speaking to himself and to those immediately around him. ‘We have been basely betrayed by our own fellow-countrymen, basely deserted by them in our worst extremity: shall we expect these men to do more? We are deserted by all but God, but in Him will I trust while I have life.’

A few of the men remained behind. Among them was Asgar Ally, who had the minute before been seen holding commune with the deserters, to whom he was speaking in a very animated way, gesticulating and exhorting them to do something—what, Dacres could not hear. The men who remained, between fifteen and twenty, stepped forward and said—

‘The sahib is our master: we will not leave him. Our lives are in the hands of God: if he dies, we will die too.’

Dacres took each man by the hand, and pressed it warmly. ‘God bless you, my fine fellows!’ he said—‘I thank you all. Depend upon it, Allah will fight for those who fight for their honour and defend the right.’

‘Did you see Asgar Ally?’ said Thurston, whispering in Murray’s ear. The officers were all standing in a small knot in the doorway while this scene was going on. ‘He was persuading those deserters to go, I know he was.’

‘Perhaps he was persuading them to stay.’

‘Ah! you are blind and infatuated mortals,’

replied Thurston. ‘Infatuated! Infatuation is no word for it. With all their double-dyed treachery before your very eyes, you still trust a man with a black skin. For shame, Murray!’

‘Why, how now?’ said Dacres, who came up as he was speaking. ‘This from you, Thurston? Why, you have slightly changed your mind of late. Not very long ago you were all for the black skin against the white skin. What about your moral influence, eh?’

‘Moral influence, my dear sir? Why all that I have seen and suffered only goes to establish the soundness of my theory of moral influence. Had you tried a little more of the moral influence you despised so much, and not goaded these men to rebellion, we should have been spared all this. Your physical force, what does it amount to? Nothing. Had you depended on your moral influence in the days of your prosperity, you would have had it to depend upon now that physical support is withdrawn. But that has nothing to do with what I was saying, which is, that you do wrong to trust Asgar Ally.’

‘What makes you think so?’

‘Appearances.’

‘Appearances made you think we had driven the brave sepoys to mutiny by our injustice and harshness—appearances were wrong.’

‘Why were they wrong?’

Before any reply could be made to this by the man to whom it was addressed, an answer of a different kind, or rather, a practical comment upon Dacres’ previous remarks, was made by the party of deserters, who had now reached the garden gate, and were leaving the premises in a crowd. About half a dozen of them remained behind their comrades, turned round, coolly levelled their muskets at the little knot of officers in the doorway, and fired into them. The bullets rattled about their heads, striking lintel and door-post, but not doing any damage. None of the officers stirred. Thurston, who was more exposed than the rest, never flinched.

‘You are learning to stand fire pretty well, at any rate,’ said Murray, laughing. ‘These gentlemen have settled your argument for you; for my part, I shall go in.’

The sepoys, who, after remaining true to their officers under such tremendous temptation, and after refusing to join their comrades when they could have done so at first and share in all the advantages that had been reaped by those who had taken part in the rebellion in its first stage, and had now made such a dastardly attempt upon their officers, coolly shouldered their muskets and followed the rest.

As soon as Dacres got inside he met Mrs. Murray, who was in search of him. She was coming to the door when the volley of musketry frightened her, and she ran back for shelter.

‘Do come and see poor Captain Stevens; he has sent for you,’ she said.

Dacres immediately went to the sick man’s room. There, standing by the bedside, he found Amy, and, to his surprise, Burleigh also. Amy was crying, and the tears were chasing one another down her cheeks rapidly. Burleigh was much affected, though he exhibited less outward signs of emotion.

‘What was that firing?’ asked Stevens, in a very faint whisper.

‘Some rascally deserters giving us a volley just as they were going off.’

‘What, have the men deserted?’ said Burleigh.

‘Yes, most of them.’

‘No help from Mitterpore?’

‘None whatever.’

‘God help you,’ said the sick man, with stress on the last word, and speaking in so low a voice that he could scarce make himself heard. ‘Give me your hand, Dacres.’

He took it and pressed it. ‘I am going from you,’ he said, ‘to join my darlings. Would that you could all go with me—now—as peacefully as I.’

All were silent: they spoke only with their tears.

‘Keep it up to the last, Dacres—don’t give in—strengthen the outer redoubt as much as you can. If they bring guns, you must send the ladies down below directly. And you, Amy—’

He took his sister’s hand and gazed wistfully into her face. The state of utter desolation in which he was leaving her seemed to come vividly before him.

‘Amy,’ he said, after a pause and a struggle to suppress a sob, ‘God will protect you. Take care of poor Georgy as long as you can. And you, Burleigh, look here. I know you love her, for you have told me so. There was one who was dearer to her than you, I know; but he is gone. Amy will be left utterly defenceless, utterly unprovided for, when I am gone too. I am, I was her guardian; to you I leave her, and if you get out of this you will know how to make her happy. Amy, dearest, give him your hand before I die; it will be a relief to me to know you are not left utterly unprotected.’

She looked up through her tears, first at her brother, and saw his agonised and anxious gaze, and then at Burleigh. Neither spoke, but she placed her hand in his, and felt really in the presence of death, and before God, his affianced wife.

‘Now, Dacres, read to me. And, stay, do not go away any of you—join us.’

Dacres took up an old worn fragment of a church prayer-book, one of the few precious relics they had preserved, and read the prayers for the visitation of the sick. At times he was forced to stop, and the solemn silence of that chamber of death was broken by suppressed sobbing. Suddenly there was a sound of distant firing, volley after volley. Dacres read on calmly and impressively, though his voice trembled as he pronounced the words, so full of awful import to those present: ‘And teach us who survive’—another distant volley—‘in this and other like daily spectacles of mortality to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is, and’—another volley—‘so to number our days that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom while we live here, which may in the end bring us to life everlasting.’

He rose from his knees—there was a great commotion down below—looked at Amy, touched Burleigh on the arm, and they left the two women with the dying man—

For men must work, and women must weep.

Chapter XLVII

We left the Nawab endeavouring to comfort Leila under the tremendous blow which had reached her—from some unseen hand, as it appeared to him, ignorant as he was of what had passed. It was long before the second outburst of grief subsided, and still longer before she was sufficiently calm to speak in a connected way. At last, however, she recovered herself; and then followed a recital of what seemed to him a stranger tale than any he had heard related by the travelling storyrtellers that occasionally in Eastern lands unfold to wondering audiences the marvels of the Arabian nights, and similar compositions. I may spare the reader the tale, for it was simply a history of all that had taken place since first the Mirza had obtained entrance to her chamber in disguise. She concealed nothing. She acknowledged her fault, her imprudence, her guilty breach of etiquette in allowing a man, a stranger, to have free access to her apartments. He sat silent, like one amazed, staring at the beautiful features of the fair narrator, lit up with a glow of enthusiasm, in a kind of wondering trance, playing nervously with the hilt of his dagger, at times drawing it partially from its sheath and then replacing it, as she dwelt with some lingering fondness, as he thought upon the too frequent visits of her mysterious guest. But when she came to the last part of her story, and her voice trembled and faltered, and her face was suffused with blushes, his calmness and stoicism left him; he leapt to his feet, and began pacing up and down the room, pausing every now and then in his walk, and turning and looking at her, at times almost fiercely, as if he wished to read, and to find out beforehand what she was about to reveal. Not a word did he speak till she had finished; he let her tell her story right through from beginning to end, without interrupting her once to ask a single question. She almost wished he had. It would have encouraged her to proceed, could she have known he trusted her, could she have got but one word of confidence and love. But not a sign did he vouchsafe: she was her own advocate, and he left her ample time to plead her cause. As she finished, she threw herself on her knees, and implored his pardon. He raised her and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.

‘I forgive you, child, but you have done wrong; you have allowed yourself to be duped by this deceiver, this enchanter, this magician—for enchanter he must be, as by enchantment alone could he have so blinded my Leila’s eyes to what was right and honourable. Now, tell me, where is he?’

‘Alas, I know not! When I screamed and fainted I saw him no more. He doubtless fled, alarmed at my summoning assistance.’

‘What was it he said?—that he would raise my men against me?’

‘Yes, he threatened me with that. He swore that your life and my honour were in his hands, and he would have both. He swore he would stir up your men to revolt, as he has stirred up the British soldiers to revolt, and in the general confusion and disturbance he would ruin you and me too, and secure the destruction of those he hates above all living kind, the kaffir fugitives.’

‘And you betrayed that fair girl to this devil’s clutches! You, Leila, so good and pure yourself, you try to betray another of a different creed and race, and your husband’s guest too, as pure as—by Allah—as pure as you are and as innocent. By heaven, if this is not a transformation, or the work of magic, I know not what is.’

Leila pressed her hands to her face; the burning tears forced their way between her fingers.

‘I swear by heaven,’ she said, making a violent effort to restrain herself, ‘I was ignorant—utterly ignorant of his devices, of his intentions. I trusted him, fool that I was—I trusted him with my own honour. Should I have feared to trust him with that of this kaffir girl? Never till I saw his baseness, never till he himself threw off the mask, had I once thought of what his real intentions were. He had some strange power of fascination—some secret hidden art by which he could enslave those he fixed his desires on. And at the last, when his true character stood revealed to me, it was long, long before I could find strength to throw off this strange, mysterious, unseen fetter that he cast around me. His eye was upon me, and by its very glance he seemed to have the power of binding me down. I could not weep. I could not tear myself away, till long, long after I yearned to do so with my whole soul. At last he took his eye off me—he ceased suddenly to command, and turned to entreat: he besought, he implored my acquiescence in his guilty love, and then, then in one moment I felt free as air, and I tore myself from him; with one bound I leapt across the room, and spent all my remaining strength in that piercing call for help. It was that cry you heard, and that cry that drove him off.’

‘And who were his accomplices? for it is impossible that he could come and go without the connivance of the servants and the guards.’

‘Ah! I had forgotten; your words remind me. Now will I show you how I have been betrayed. Look here: you remember Sidi Gulzar bringing me this cup of sherbet, and how I just put it—only just put it—to my lips. Here it is. Now, see. Among the many wonderful mysteries in science I learnt from the lips of this minister of Eblis was the nature and use of poison, and their antidotes. See, I have a goodly store of them.’

She drew aside a curtain that concealed a recess in which a large-sized chest was standing. This she unlocked by a key that was attached to a gold chain round her neck. The chest was filled with bottles and jars of all kinds and sizes. The Nawab gazed in astonishment at all this paraphernalia of witchcraft as he thought them, and then looked at Leila to explain it. The very possession of so much knowledge and such wonderful apparatus seemed to raise her in his estimation; whether it increased his love for her, I know not.

‘Now look,’ she continued. ‘Give me that goblet.’ The Nawab brought it.

She selected one small phial from the number that filled the bottom of the chest. It contained a little white liquid. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘if, as I suspect, this sherbet is poisoned, when I pour a drop of this liquid from the phial into it you will see a cloud-like substance forming in it, which will collect, and then gradually fall to the bottom of the glass.’

She poured a little of the sherbet from the silver cup into a small glass, and added a drop or two from the phial she had taken from the chest. The Nawab watched her. In a few seconds, indeed almost instantaneously, after the two liquids met, the cloud-like substance she had spoken of formed and settled at the bottom of the glass.

She looked at her husband.

‘This poison,’ she said, ‘is so deadly, that the draught I should have taken, had I drunk that cupfull, would have been enough to destroy twenty such lives as mine. It must be he that instigated Sidi Gulzar to this dreadful crime, in the hope that I should not live to reveal all that he said to me.’

‘Sidi Gulzar shall die for this—the villain—the traitor! I see. Give me the cup; we will send for him and tell him to drink it. If he knows what it is he will refiise, and then he shall be tortured till we get out of him all he does know.’

He went to the door, and, calling a servant, desired him to summon the chief eunuch instantly.

In a few minutes Sidi Gulzar stood before them, calm and self-possessed, without showing a trace of fear or emotion of any kind. He made a low salaam.

‘Here, you have brought your mistress bad sherbet, Sidi Gulzar. How careless you are! As a punishment you shall be condemned to drink it, and then go and fetch some more.’

The eunuch smiled, made a salaam, and stretched out his hand for the goblet rather eagerly. As the Nawab handed it to him he managed to place his fingers awkwardly upon his master’s, and then to slip them off to the handle of the cup, just as one might do in taking a glass or cup from another’s hand in the dark or without looking. The Nawab moved his fingers as the other’s touched them, never suspecting at the moment that any design lurked behind the apparently awkward little mistake. But it was done so well and so adroitly that between them both the goblet fell to the ground, and every drop of the sherbet was spilt on the floor, and this too in such a way that the Nawab felt he could not say it was the servant’s fault. Whether done designedly or not, there was no more sherbet there to be drunk. The eunuch uttered an exclamation of disgust at his clumsiness and at the mess which the spilt sherbet had made upon the carpet, as he picked up the empty cup and took it away to get more.

The Nawab and Leila looked at each other; the former burst out laughing.

‘By Allah, the rogue did it so cleverly I could not baulk him. What say you now, Leila—was it done by accident, or is he guilty of complicity? But I must go. Drink no more sherbet, Leila. I will have the eunuch seized and examined. What you have said to-night has made me anxious about my own affairs, and I must go and see that this cur does not carry out his threats and tamper with my men.’

The time that had elapsed during Leila’s fainting fit and her subsequent narrative and the events that followed had brought in the dawn: the Eastern horizon was bright when the Nawab reached his own chamber. There he gave directions for having the chief eunuch seized and put in confinement in a place where he could hold no communication with anyone; and after sending for his most trustworthy deewans or counsellors he set about to turn over in his mind the probabilities of the Mirza being able to carry out his designs. What those designs were he fully understood. The Mirza had from the first time he became acquainted with him been an uncompromising foe to the British government and a staunch supporter of the upstart king of Delhi. He saw that now it was a matter of choice merely between rebellion against the British government or a dangerous and doubtful struggle for his own safety. The temper of his men he knew was such that a spark would fire the train. That spark the Mirza would strike—there was no doubt of it. They only wanted a leader such as he—a bold, daring, enterprising spirit—to lead the way, and they were all willing enough to follow. The example set by the British native troops was one only too likely to be followed. He knew, as he had told Mr. Dacres often, that if he could succeed in restraining his men, in keeping them to their alliance for a few days, it was all he could do: if in that time the succour expected from Mitterpore arrived, they might undoubtedly tide over the crisis—they would be saved.

Supported by alliance with the British government, and by the bayonets of British soldiers, he would be secure enough. Once on the winning side, once on the side of the strongest, there was no doubt about the allegiance of the majority. But should there be any delay in sending the troops from Mitterpore, or should any unforeseen event occur to heighten the excitement that still prevailed among the men, or should any one individual of more energy than the rest raise the standard of revolt, there was no room for any doubt as to the result. The Nawab would have either to take the lead in the movement, by putting himself at the head of the insurgents and leading them against the British (for if he did that his popularity would remain unimpaired), or he might make an ineffectual struggle against thousands, and perish with the small band of Englishmen whose lives were already hanging by a thread.

Then there was Doonghur Rao. A ray of hope came from that quarter. Hitherto he had done, unintentionally no doubt, the greatest service to the cause of the British interests and the Nawab, by keeping the soldiery employed and the country in a ferment. He might keep them so engaged till things took a favourable turn. But should his men obtain a victory over Doonghur Rao, which was a finale to the afikir he hourly expected to hear of, then, flushed with success, they would only be the more bent on carrying out their treasonable designs. Should Doonghur Rao prove victorious, the bulk of the soldiers would return to Islamabad in disorder and excitement, and in that case, too, mutiny was the most likely thing for them to turn their hands to. That the two contending parties should coalesce and direct their united efforts to one object, namely, the support of the rebels, the Nawab never for a moment dreamed. It may be imagined, therefore, what was his consternation and horror when the tidings reached him, as they did that evening, that Doonghur Rao’s troops had joined his own, and that the two parties had united and hoisted the green flag, and were in full march upon Islamabad, bent on securing the acknowledgment of the Nawab to the paramount power of the reigning scion of the house of Timour, or—the alternative was not a pleasant one.

The whole of the day was spent by the Nawab in vain attempts to keep up appearances. Very few, if any, of the people about him could be trusted; even those on whom he reposed most confidence and pretended really to rely, had long ago, he well knew, made up their minds how they should behave in the crisis which must come sooner or later. With the exception of the troops in camp not a soul had as yet committed himself openly by word or deed to the rebellion; yet the Nawab knew as well as if they had told him what course they intended to pursue, provided the reinforcements from Mitterpore never came. All hinged upon that: and when next day the kossid’s return and the unsuccessful issue of his mission was noised abroad, as it was with the speed of lightning, the conflagration broke out at once. It was heightened by the arrival of the whole of the mutineers, as I may now call them, from the Kooria hills. They marched up with colours flying and drums beating to the very walls of the palace, and pitched their camp outside. The inhabitants of the city flocked out in crowds to meet them, and the greatest possible excitement reigned everywhere. Old Doonghur Rao was a great centre of attraction; hundreds, aye thousands, hastened to gaze at him. Hussain Khan, who was called himself Sipah Salar, or Commander-in-Chief, was quite jealous of the attention shown to his late rival.

It was now absolutely necessary for the Nawab to decide what course he should pursue. As yet he had been treated with nothing but respect; but when he sent out (for form’s sake he was obliged to take some notice of it) to enquire who it was that without permission had marched his troops up to the very palace walls and encamped outside them, answer was sent that the chiefs were preparing to wait on his highness, if his highness would graciously accept the deputation. He sent back word he would be delighted to receive them, and gave orders for the immediate preparation of the Dewan-i-am, or public hall of audience.

He had a few minutes only to himself. He sat down and wrote a letter to Mr. Dacres, as follows:—

‘After compliments, the Nawab of Islamabad to his trusty friend and counsellor Dacres, Sahib Bahadoor, commissioner of the British government for the district of Islamabad—

‘We are fallen on evil times. Allah has poured out the cup of wrath on his creatures: short space has this well-wisher of the British government for writing, and short space for reflection. Surrounded by violent men, as the stars in heaven for multitude, who are ready to take the life of this well-wisher, unless he consents to put himself at their head, and lead them on in rebellion against the British government, and seeing that no alternative is open but either to take the post offered to him, in which, no doubt, he will be enabled by the blessing of Allah to ward off many blows and disasters from his friend, or to place his neck under the ruthless sword of the executioner (not that he values in the least degree, even to a hair, his own vile life, but is only anxious to secure his friends), this well-wisher has resolved to take in the hand of necessity the sword of duplicity, and writes to warn his friend that the mask of deceit is put on at the bidding of destiny. What need of more?—written words are dangerous.’

Having finished this scrawl, he sent for two of his ministers, and desired them to certify at the foot of the document, which he did not permit them to read, that it was penned and signed by him on such a date, noting the day and hour. He then dismissed them, and hurried to Leila’s apartments, where, without danger of being overlooked, he concealed the note, squeezed up into the smallest possible compass, in the folds of his turban.

I will not detain the reader by describing the interview between the Nawab and Leila. It was brief; he had a presentiment of coming trouble, and wished, before he parted from her, perhaps for ever, to repeat and to hear again from her lips those vows of constancy and words of love they had often interchanged. As he left her, after a long embrace, he held out his hand, and pointed to a ring on his forefinger.

‘Look, Leila,’ he said. ‘You see this ring—this one, the opal set in emeralds. If evil befall me, and Allah wills that we meet the worst, and Azrael’s approach can no longer be warded off by mortal means, you will receive from me this ring—a silent messenger of sorrow and of death, but not of dishonour. By the time it reaches you I shall have fallen; for I will not send it till the last. When I am gone you are at the mercy of the destroyer—you understand me? You will not survive me to live dishonoured and disgraced, the slave to minister to the passion of this cursed son of Satan?’

She intimated through her tears her assent, and with another embrace they parted.

After completing a few additions to his toilet, the Nawab summoned his suite to accompany him to the hall of audience. As he went along the gallery leading from his own room to the lower part of the palace, he passed an open window looking down on the plain on which the camp was pitched. Here, in a most conspicuous part of the field, he saw his own tents erected, with a green flag at the summit of a tall flagstaff in front.

‘By whose orders were my tents pitched?’ he asked.

‘By the commander-in-chief’s,’ was the reply.

He said no more, but continued his way. As he reached the bottom of the flight of steps leading from the upper to the lower story, he bethought himself of the imprisoned eunuch, whom he had totally forgotten in the press of business, and the multitude of anxieties that had filled his mind for the last forty-eight hours. It was too late then to go and see him, so he contented himself with directing one of his servants to give orders that the chief eunuch, who was confined in one of the turrets of the palace, should be supplied with food, mentally resolving that, as soon as the very disagreeable and important business he had on hand was transacted, he would proceed to the examination of the prisoner. The servant received the order, but much preferred going with the rest to witness the grand ceremony in the hall of audience, and thought the necessary instructions about so insignificant a matter as the eunuch’s food could be given as well after as before the durbar.

Chapter XLVIII

The hall was full to overflowing long before the Nawab reached it. He did not enter, however, at the door by which the chiefs and their retainers gained admission, but by a private entrance communicating with his own apartment, that opened out on to the dais or raised platform, elevated about six inches from the floor of the hall itself, on which the Nawab and the dignitaries and chief men who came to transact business at the public durbars were accustomed to seat themselves, in distinction from the common herd who filled the lower part of the spacious room.

No sooner had the Nawab entered, and the door was closed behind him, than he found himself surrounded by a very strong body of fierce-looking barbarians, clad in no uniform like his own soldiers, but all well armed, their matchlocks in their hands, and matches lighted.

He glanced round at the savage features of the semi-barbarous warriors, and then somewhat nervously turned his eye in the direction of the crowd. Here he saw all strange faces. There were none of his own retainers, none of his own sepoys: the large hall was quite full of armed men; they were the ruffian followers of Doonghur Rao. From the more distant part of the hall, the Nawab, now really feeling, though without exhibiting, the least alarm, turned his eye upon the group that lined the dais; they were native officers and chiefs, and they all stood with their shields slung on their shoulders, and their swords drawn in their hands, the points resting on the ground.

Immediately in front stood old Doonghur Rao, the (usually) grey hair on his face, his whiskers and moustache, and the beard parted in the centre and under the chin and stretching out horizontally from his face to right and left, all dyed jet black, as if he was a young man of five and twenty. The old robber had an unpleasant twinkle in his little black eyes, and a smile about the corners of his mouth, as if he was thoroughly enjoying something that he kept, however, to himself. Next to him stood Hussain Khan, a fine-looking Mahometan gentleman of Rohilcund, with the fair complexion and Jewish features characteristic of the descendants of the Afghan conquerors of that fertile province. He was a complete contrast to the rough burly-looking robber chief that stood next to him; his dress, that of an Afghan of high rank, bedizened with gold tinsel, which Asiatics are so fond of, was faultless of its kind, though it would have suited a courtier better than a soldier. A silver-mounted pistol was stuck showily in his waistband; and the scabbard of his sword, which hung resting on the ground, was a mass of gold. On the right and left stood a dozen or so of the chiefs and officers, descending by regular gradation from the higher to the lower ranks, and the circle was completed by the armed followers of Doonghur Rao.

Had the Nawab any doubts or misgivings as to his position, and the intention of those who now almost undisguisedly acted as his captors, they were soon resolved into certainty, for Hussain Khan stepped forward, and after a formal military salute put a written paper into the Nawab’s hands, and desired him, in a tone respectful but firm, almost commanding, to advance to the edge of the dais and read it out, adding that he had permission to peruse it first.

The Nawab took the paper with as much dignity as he could assume, and read it.

Hussain Khan gave him time to master its contents, and to ponder on them too; but seeing that the Nawab hesitated to comply with his demand, he made a sign to the armed ruffians that surrounded him: they, in obedience to the intimation given, coolly raised their matchlocks and began blowing up the matches preparatory to firing.

The Nawab pretended not to notice this ominous movement, though we may be sure he saw and understood it; and, finding escape absolutely hopeless, he signified his intention of reading aloud the paper.

At a second sign from Hussain Khan, the row of chiefs who lined the dais opened and allowed the Nawab to approach to the very edge, where, after again looking round on the multitude assembled before him, he read with a loud, clear, and distinct voice as follows:—

‘Be it known throughout Islam, and let it be especially promulgated in the city and territory of Islamabad, that the servant of the Most High God, and humble attendant at the threshold of the Sovereign, the Light of Islam, the Emperor of Hindustan, has thrown aside the cloak of allegiance to the infidels, whom hitherto, by the decree of destiny, and the prevalence of the powers of evil, he has been necessitated to serve, and has sent to the footstool of the King of kings his humble declaration of feudal obedience, and has raised in the plain of brave intentions the standard of the Mahometan faith, round which all faithful and true servants of God and the Prophet, and all our faith, and well-meaning Hindu subjects and brethren, chiefs, rajahs, raeeses, and soldiers, are called upon to rally and assemble this day, in order that, imploring the aid of heaven and the blessing of the Prophet on our laudable endeaTours, we may set our hands to the extermination of the infidel from the earth in these territories assigned to us by the Most High.

‘And to our Hindu fellow-soldiers and subjects who join with us in this praiseworthy design, we hereby promise to extend to them the right hand of amity and good-will, and to treat them on all occasions as if they were the servants and followers of the Prophet. While every man, Hindu and Mahometan, shall be allowed to follow his own religion, all shall equally share in the good government of the country, and the offices of state, and ihe conduct of the army. In token hereof, we do now appoint our trusty ally and friend Doonghur Rao a Mansabdar of 10,000, and his chiefs, Anar Singh, Buldeo Singh, Sita Ram, Kasi Rao, and Dhiraj Singh, Mansabdars of 5,000. Our well-beloved and trusty Hussain Khan Bahadoor, we appoint Commander-in-Chief (Sipah Salar) of our own forces, and we decree to him a tenth of all the spoil taken by our forces from the infidel, and we appoint him Mansabdar of 10,000, and his chiefs and officers, Emmam Khan, Sirbuland Khan, Shekh Mahrab-ood-deen, Peer Kian, and Tegh Ally Khan, we appoint colonels of our regiments, and Mansabdars each of 1,000, and a title to one-third of the spoil taken from the infidels.

‘This is written and proclaimed by this servant of God, this fourteenth day of Zilhuz, in the year of the Hegira 1277.’

This ceremony having been completed, the Nawab was conducted in state, and with all possible outward signs of respect, to his seat on the back of the dais, where he remained while the officers mentioned in his proclamation brought ‘nazurs’ or presents, consisting of pieces of money, jewels, &c. &c., on the occasion of their appointment. After this was over, various papers containing different orders and instructions were brought to him for signature. They related entirely to details connected with furnishing supplies for the army, collection of revenue, &ec. &c. This occupied some time; when it was over, the Nawab was led, still a prisoner in reality, though surrounded with all the externals of royalty, to the court-yard of his palace. Here his horse, fully caparisoned, awaited him: he mounted, his faithful guard or escort surrounded him, and so the cortège rode through the city down to the camp on the plain beyond, the people assembling in crowds in the streets and roads to see him pass, and shouting out their acclamations as he went along. At his tent he dismounted, and, as he entered, volleys of musketry were fired in honour of the event; and this occasioned the report heard at the Sudder Ameen’s house, and interrupted the solemn duties in which the party were there engaged around the bed of death.

Chapter XLIX

The means that had been taken for the defence of Meer Ally Moorad’s house were the best that could have been devised or carried out under the circumstances, and with the slender resources at the disposal of the small garrison. Fortunately, they were all pretty well completed before the desertion of the larger portion of the sepoys, so that they had the advantage of their manual labour, at any rate.

The house itself was a double-storied one, built of stone and masonry, with a flat roof surrounded by a balustrade, also of masonry, but erected only for ornament, and, therefore, neither massive nor durable. The interstices between these balustrades were filled in with bricks made of mud and baked in the sun, apertures being left at stated intervals for musketry. The same plan was carried out with the windows and doors, though not to such an extent as to exclude altogether air and light. The most important, however, of all the defences were those which would have to be held before the house itself was reached by an enemy, and which were built in such a way as to afford a very formidable obstacle to any body of men who should attempt to carry the place by storm. The rear of the house was pretty well protected by a massive wall of mud, surmounted by a parapet, behind which men could easily conceal themselves, and fire through the loopholes in the battlements, without the smallest danger of being hit themselves from the outside. The present house had been erected by the father of the late owner, on an estate conferred upon him for eminent services to the British government. The old fort he had pulled down, all except a portion of the wall, which was left standing, either from caprice, or on the same principle that we throw an old shoe after a new married couple for good luck. Anyhow, there the wall stood, and, as it turned out, was of most invaluable service to the party of refugees that were driven, by the strange combination of circumstances, to take shelter behind it. The part of the house that required the most engineering skill and labour to render it secure was the front. Here there was but one door. To protect this two redoubts had been thrown up, under Stevens’s direction, opposite the two corners of the house, about one hundred yards from the walls. These redoubts were connected with the house by a covered way, so that the defenders, when driven out at the last extremity, could effect their escape with tolerable safety. The redoubts, of course, were very small miniature affairs altogether compared to what redoubts generally are, but they were suited to the size of the garrison, and, as far as they went, perfect productions of engineering skill. Between the two redoubts a ditch had been dug, and ramparts thrown up, so as to connect the two and afford covered communication, rather than for any defensive purposes, the redoubts themselves affording all the defence that was required, as it would be impossible for an attacking party to storm the house itself till they had possession of these outworks. On the two flanks of the house, where there were no doors to defend, the walls were protected by parallel rows of outhouses, all built of mud. These outhouses were thrown down, and their debris arranged in such a manner as to allow a man to stand and fire over the top, or through the loopholes that had, in some places only, been made. These outhouses afforded no very great protection, but they were easily held, and the approach to them was enfiladed from the wall of the fortification behind, as well as from the rear face of the front redoubts. I have only farther to state that all the trees in the gardens had been cut away, all the shrubs and underwood removed, and nothing within a mile left that could afford cover to an approaching enemy.

In addition to this, however, some pains had been bestowed upon erecting a defence in front of the door of the tomb, with which the house communicated by the subterraneous passage before described.

In carrying out this, no resort had ever been made to the passage as a means of communication. Its very existence was kept a dead secret by all who knew of it from all who did not; the working parties who went daily to carry out the operations at the tomb, went and came back by the ordinary road round the house. The defence consisted of simple redoubts opposite each door—the best method of protection that can possibly be resorted to where the labour of the garrison requires to be economised.

It was not long before our friends’ defences had to be tested rather rudely.

On the evening of the day on which the Nawab had, under pressure, assumed the mock powers of an independent prince, a grand review of the whole troops was ordered, and he was requested—I may as well say ordered—to attend in all the pomp and state that could be mustered. The following morning was fixed for the opening of operations against the infidels, and the review was intended as a grand military spectacle, calculated, by the glitter and parade of war, to rouse the enthusiasm of the multitude of warriors that were gathered together to something like fighting pitch.

At the appointed hour, preceded by mounted trumpeters blowing their trumpets, and other musicians beating the monotonous kettle-drum, the emblem of sovereignty, followed by the umbrella-bearer, the other emblem of royal dignity in this land of state and ceremony, the Nawab rode, on a richly-caparisoned prancing horse, to the spot where the whole force was drawn up in line. At a distance, indeed, it looked imposing; and perhaps the Nawab might have been pardoned if his breast did beat at the thought of the glorious position Fate had suddenly thrust him into. Unfortunately for his friends, or his ambition, he felt that, amid all this splendour, and surrounded with all these externals of majesty and power, he was after all but a captive and a slave. There had been, however, not a moment, since he first took the part assigned to him and read out the proclamation of rebellion as his own, that he had met with the slightest shadow of disrespect. On that score, at any rate, he had nothing to complain of.

I need not describe all the strange evolutions and manoeuvres that were performed by this gallant army for the inspection of their chiefs. They marched this way and that, ran, charged, fired, retreated, advanced, &c. &c., over and over again. The firing, indeed, was an important part of the day’s proceedings, and one that did more than anything else to answer the end and object of the spectacle, viz. to get up the courage of the soldiers to fighting point; for on the morrow they were likely to have such fighting as they never before experienced, seeing that they were about to contend with the ‘Devils of the West,’ as the Chinese call us, even though, reckoned in numbers, there were certainly more than a hundred to one in proportion to those same ‘devils.’ One thing had attracted the Nawab’s notice very much. It was this:

During the review he sat on his horse by the side of the green flag that was stuck in the ground at one point of the fields by which the troops first marched in review order, with the exception of Doonghur Rao’s men, who did not attempt the more difficult movements of the military programme. The Nawab was attended by his usual escort, or a guard of honour, as he was told to consider it, and by several of the chiefs and officers besides, among whom were personages of no less importance than Hussain Khan and Doonghur Rao themselves. That these notables should remain inactive the Nawab thought very strange: it did not strike him that, in the compact between the two rebel chiefs, there was one insuperable obstacle at the outset, which was no other than this—that Hussain Khan’s men would not submit to be commanded by Doonghur Rao, nor did Doonghur Rao’s followers deem it consistent with their dignity to be commanded by Hussain Khan. Fortunately for the designs of the ambitious leaders, there was no need of bringing this question to issue. The Nawab observed that all the evolutions of the troops were directed and controlled by a horseman of noble bearing and great stature, conspicuous among all the chiefs and the retinue that surrounded him by the magnificence of his dress, the size of his steed and its gaudy caparisons, and the graceful yet soldier-like seat of the rider. He wore a coat of polished mail that glittered like a mirror in the afternoon sun: a turban, with a bunch of eagle feathers in it, adorned his head, and over his shoulder and across his breast he wore a green scarf.

‘Pray,’ said the Nawab, as soon as the conclusion of the review and the cessation of firing allowed him to speak with any chance of being heard—addressing Hussain Khan—‘who is yon chief I see directing all the movements of the troops? He sits on his horse right well.’

‘May it please your highness,’ said Hussain Khan, ‘it is the renowned champion of Islam, sent from heaven to lead the soldiers of the Prophet to victory against the Nazarenes.’

‘I saw him not at the durbar.’

‘No, your highness; he was then engaged in prayer and holy communion with the angel Gabriel.’

‘Who and what is he?’ again asked the Nawab, with an expression of some disdain, as if he half thought the other was trifling with him.

‘We hardly know. Some call him the Imam Mehndi, and others say he is the Prophet Esa reappeared on earth, as prophesied in the holy book, at the latter days: others say he is the brother of the angel Gabriel; and others, the ignorant and common herd, call him the Mirza.’

The Nawab’s horse suddenly reared, curvetted, and finally made a pirouette on its hind legs. His rider must have twisted the bit fiercely in its mouth, or dug his spurs into its sides, or otherwise vented his emotion on the harmless but spirited animal, to make it so restive. With pale face, and lips livid as if from rage, the Nawab spoke, as soon as his horse was quiet:

‘Will you summon the Mirza to my presence? Angel or devil, while he commands my troops it is fit he present his nuzzur.’

This assumption and active exercise of the authority they had pressed the Nawab to take, and tried to make him believe belonged to him, rather pleased Hussain Khan than otherwise. He bowed low, and sent an aide-de-camp to the chief, with a message saying that the Nawab had expressed a wish to see him.

Nothing occurred to break the silence till the aide-de-camp had ridden across the field to the chief, delivered his message, and returned, following behind the Mirza at a respectful distance. The Nawab sat like a statue on his horse, watching the officer take the message, and the two returning. Hussain Khan also sat without speaking; so did the other officers and leaders, who formed a semi-circle round their new sovereign.

As the Mirza rode up, the Nawab’s face became paler and paler; still he sat motionless, with his eyes fixed steadily on the approaching horseman. He rode up so close that their horses’ heads almost touched each other; he then made a deep obeisance, or salaam, bending forward to the saddle-bow. The events I attempt to describe were momentary and simultaneous. As the Mirza rose to an erect position on his saddle, the Nawab, who had had his eyes steadily on him all the while, had drawn his pistol, and before anyone present had time to do more than notice the movement, he fired it in the Mirza’s face. The attendant chiefs were at first too much horrified and thunderstruck to speak, but a kind of low suppressed murmur of horror and surprise escaped them. It was all over in a moment. As the smoke cleared off directly after the pistol had been fired, the Mirza was seen sitting on his horse unharmed, and smiling blandly: he held out his left arm at full length, and between his finger and thumb, extended so that all might see it, was the bullet.

The Nawab dashed his pistol angrily to the earth, and drew his sword.

‘Allah Akbar, God is great!’ exclaimed the whole assemblage with one voice when they saw the miracle.

‘Alla Akbar, God is great!’ repeated the crowd of foot-soldiers and attendants, at the same time throwing themselves on their faces to the ground in adoration.

‘Cut down the infidel!’ cried two or three of the mounted chiefs, riding at the same moment down upon the Nawab and brandishing their naked swords.

Hussain Khan spurred his horse and got in between the indignant avengers of the Mirza and their intended victim.

‘Spare violence,’ he called out with dignity and a tone of command, holding out his hand in a forbidding and menacing attitude at the same time. ‘Do no violence; his highness has acted thus merely to show to you all in public the invincible nature of the messenger and leader whom heaven hath sent to guide us to victory. By this miracle, which ye could not else have witnessed, hath it been proved that this our true leader is a prophet, the favoured of Allah, protected by the invisible shield of the angel Gabriel. Allah Akbar, God is great! who can thus preserve and distinguish his chosen ones.’

‘Hussain Khan has spoken well,’ said the Nawab, sheathing his sword, and disguising as much as possible his real feelings of chagrin, hatred, and disgust. ‘Now let the troops return to camp, and we will retire, for it is the hour of evening prayer.’ With these words, and bowing haughtily to the assembled chiefs, he rode slowly away, followed by his escort.

‘Why did you save the cursed fool’s life?’ said Doonghur Rao to Hussain Khan, as they rode off the ground together.

‘Because,’ replied he, as a smile played about the corner of his mouth, ‘it can be undone at any time that; but matters are not settled yet, and it may be that after all the English infidels get the day. The Nawab stands high with them.’

A crowd had gathered round the Mirza by this time, and it seemed as if his prophetic character was not averse to a little vulgar popularity. He had been fully prepared for the Nawab’s firing at him the first moment they met. The feat which looked like a miracle in the eyes of all the beholders was one of the most common of those performed nightly before large audiences in different conjuring saloons in Europe. The Nawab might load his pistol twenty times a day; twenty times a day the ball would be withdrawn or the loaded weapons exchanged for unloaded ones. With spies and accomplices and assistants everywhere, even in the Nawab’s bed-chamber, the Mirza was all-powerful. At any rate it formed no part of his plans to be shot just yet, though it served to mystify the people; and expecting to be shot at with a pistol loaded with blank charge, he took care to have a bullet loose about his person available at any moment. To astonish still more the gaping crowd, he flourished the bullet about in his hand, and finally swallowed it. Then leaning forward he put his hand down to his horse’s mouth and drew the bullet slowly out of the animal’s nostril.

‘Allah Akbar, God is great!’ again roared the multitude, and went away with the firm belief that they had been in the company of the angel Gabriel, or at any rate his brother.

Chapter L

Thanks to Asgar Ally’s accurate information, the party in Meer Ally Moorad’s house were kept fully aware of nearly all that passed in the Nawab’s camp, and at his warning they now took measures to resist a general attack the following morning. The grand spectacle of the review and the noise and bluster of so much gunpowder was supposed to have aroused the enthusiasm of the soldiers to the necessary height, and it was resolved in the counsels of the chiefs, though as yet a secret to the Nawab, to march that night, and make the attack on the house at dawn the following day.

The party that were there to be assailed was well prepared. Poor Stevens had been buried alongside of his wife and child, and Amy, now left in sole charge of little Georgy, felt as if the greatest mercy heaven could show them both would be to send them by one bullet to join the dear ones who had so recently departed from the scenes of strife and misery that now encompassed them. She was beside herself with grief. She tried to read: even the pages of holy writ and the deep feeling of the Psalmist, poured forth in the words of inspired song, failed to arrest her attention. She tried to pray, but could not: she tried to weep, the tears would not flow. Silent and in despair, with her long hair drooping over her to the ground, she sat upon a low stool by the bedside, now empty, her hands pressed against her throbbing temples and aching eye-balls, the picture of despair and grief. Georgy, inured to the hardships of their present mode of life in some measure, and all unconscious of the terrible bereavement that had befallen him, which he could not realise, was playing with the other children; he was dirty, his face unwashed, his long hair matted, tangled, and uncombed, his clothes half torn off his back with romping; he would let no one but Amy touch him; if any of the other ladies went to him and tried to induce him to let them wash his hands and face and brush his hair, he shook off their gentle grasp angrily, and said that he would not have it done till his mama came to do it for him. Rather than force him into a roar, and depressed and half heart-broken themselves, the poor things left him alone. What did it matter now, a little dirt about a child’s hands and face? All day long Amy sat there in the same position; no one thought of disturbing her. The gentlemen were all engaged in their preparations for defence—the ladies in assisting them: and Amy sat alone. It was not till late, till dark, that Georgy, being apparently induced by hunger to find out some protector or other, sought his way to the chamber lately occupied by his father and mother. He found it at last, all alone, and went in. Amy was roused from her stupor of despair by feeling a child’s touch upon her hand. ‘Aunty,’ said a little voice, ‘I am hungry.’

The simple allusion to such a common want, and that in the midst of the stunning blow of distress that had utterly broken down her spirits, aroused her to the realities of life. She clasped the child to her heart, and burst into a passionate flood of weeping. That timely safety-valve of nature had saved her reason. She got Georgy some food, and then washed his face and combed his hair; and as it was late, she heard him say his prayers, and then laid him down beside her in his bed, and fell asleep with his head resting on her arm; nor did she awake till started from her slumber by a heavy volley of musketry almost close at hand.

Though short in men, our friends were remarkably well supplied with arms and ammunition, thanks to the stores laid up in the magazine below the house. Each man consequently provided himself with three muskets; and as they were pretty well resolved to retain their fire till they could deliver it with effect, they reckoned, and not unreasonably, that they had each the lives of three of their enemies at their disposal. There were altogether seventeen Englishmen and thirteen native sepoys, thirty in all. These were disposed in the most advantageous manner possible about the defences. Murray, with ten others, manned the two redoubts; Dacres took charge of the rear post with the flank defences, along and upon which the rest of the small party were stationed, with the exception of three officers and six sepoys who took post on the top of the house.

The final arrangements were scarce completed before the day dawned. With flags flying and drums beating, on came the attacking party. The Mirza rode in front, accompanied by a trooper bearing aloft a green flag on the end of a long bamboo; and behind him marched, in rather tumultuous array, the whole force. As they neared the post they were intending to storm, and where they expected opposition, what was their astonishment to see it totally deserted! Defences there were, it was true, but not a living soul was to be seen about the place. The warriors grew bold in proportion as their chance of finding an enemy disappeared. Whether the Mirza was led away with his enthusiasm, or whether, being aware of the existence of the secret passage, he had taken for granted that they had all retired there, and wanted to secure the approach, I know not; but he certainly led on his men in a most daring helter-skelter fashion. They approached nearer and nearer; still not a sign of a living creature was there. Up they came to within ten paces of the two redoubts. Then suddenly their course was arrested. At a given signal, as one man, the garrison of the redoubt fired without showing themselves. The nine-pounder mounted on the right redoubt gave out a dose of grape that did terrible execution at that distance, while every musket-shot brought down a man; but the Mirza was untouched. A second volley followed; again one man fell to each shot. Before the third reached them, they were flying pell-mell in the utmost possible confusion to the rear, treading upon one another’s heels, and trampling under foot every unfortunate that stumbled. They had a good way to run before they got out of fire; meantime from every loophole where there was a man posted in any part of the defences except the left flank and left rear, from which no shots could be fired on the attacking or retreating party, the leaden messengers sped on their errand of death. As fast as they could lay down one musket and take up another—as fast as they could reload their pieces—did they keep up this deadly discharge; nor did they cease till the whole force had placed too great a distance between themselves and the vigorous garrison for the muskets of the defenders to reach them.

The rebels showed no disposition to renew the attack so inauspiciously begun, but contented themselves with pitching their camp just out of reach of the fire from the garrison. The defenders remained all day at their post, though they were exposed to the fury of the sun, tempered a good deal, however, by clouds which came up early in the morning, and ended in a protracted shower of rain which commenced at mid-day and continued during the afternoon.

The course which the rebel troops had taken in their attack was the one which had been recommended to them by Asgar Ally, who until now had passed himself off in the rebel camp as a spy engaged in their interests, just as he was trusted in the English garrison in the opposite character; and it was owing to his declared conviction to Murray and Dacres that the enemy would attack from that side, which had led those officers to make their arrangements with a view to meeting them so effectually there. The result had been eminently successful, but it was no longer possible for Asgar Ally to venture beyond the defences as heretofore in search of information. Nor was there anyone else to undertake the dangerous duty. The little garrison were therefore dependent on their eyes, and one telescope belonging to Mr. Dacres, for information regarding the movements of their enemies whom they carefully watched.

It soon became evident that their plan was to erect a battery, or a line of batteries, supplied with heavy guns. They could see workmen busily engaged in digging trenches, and heaping up the earth for parapets; and before dark more than one heavy piece of ordnance had been dragged down by bullocks and put into position. They did not, however, open fire. The day passed slowly and with anxiety, from which the shades of evening drawing on brought no relief.

Chapter LI

The monotonous duty of watching the movements of the enemy was relieved, about dusk, by the unexpected arrival of a spy, who, coming in the usual disguise of one of the sepoys from the enemy’s camp, was as near as possible shot from the front redoubt. He made his mission, however, known in time, and was taken to Mr. Dacres. He came from the army head-quarters camp, and brought another secret missive from Sir Marmaduke Mastodon, which he carried, as did the other messengers, sewn in the leather of his shoe. Dacres opened it eagerly and read:—

‘To the Commissioner of Islamabad.

‘No news from below; all communication cut off: we do not know how matters are progressing with you, but fear the worst. All well here: the siege, a matter of time merely; we await reinforcements. Troops tolerably healthy; a good deal of cholera. There is a dangerous character abroad somewhere in your neighbourhood, about whom I wrote once before, but received no answer; am doubtful therefore if my messenger reached. I have in my possession a number of documents written in English and Persian, and signed by one Thurston, purporting to be addressed to the King of Delhi, and calling on him to rise, and all the sepoys, &c., to join; and that in doing so they will be supported by a large and powerful party in England, hostile to E.I.C, and anxious to ruin it at any cost by means of a general insurrection in this country.

‘If you can catch the author, take care of him: don’t hang him unless there is chance of his escape, but do not let him get away. Copies of this have been sent to other commissioners.

‘P.S.—I leave this for Aurungabad tonight, with powers of special commissioner: from thence I shall proceed to any district that, from the accounts I receive, seem most to require assistance and looking after. I may come your way.’

Dacres read out this despatch, all except the part relating to Thurston, which indeed was the principal portion of the whole, to most of the officers of the garrison, who had assembled in the garden as soon as it had become bruited abroad that a kossid had come in; but, anxious to discuss the subject with Murray alone, he took him aside, and communicated the whole contents of the letter as they walked away together.

‘Now, what do you say, Murray?’ asked Dacres of his companion. ‘Don’t you think we had better have a court-martial or some enquiry upon this fellow? Is it safe to let him be going about at large?’

‘My dear fellow, is it possible you really place any dependence on such a cock-and-bull story? Does it look probable? Here he is working and fighting like the rest of us: how can he be such a traitor, such a despicable wretch as Mastodon makes out? Depend on it, there is some infernal plot at the bottom of this, which we shall find out—if we ever get out of this hobble. These politicals are always the first to be hoodwinked and humbugged—they are the “curse of the country.”’

‘But you know Mastodon well enough: he is not like Sir Charles Napier’s “sharp boys, who can speak Persian;” he is not the man to send a spy such a journey with a despatch sewn up in his shoe, and to give him a large reward, all for a mare’s nest. Besides, do you not recollect the tenor of his conversation with me, the night of the mutiny? Why, he called these d—d traitors, these incarnate fiends—he called them “poor fellows,” and said they were quite right to do what they had done. Then, by Jove, sir! he went to them—he went bang into their camp!’

‘Where he was as nearly as possible roasted alive for his folly.’

‘So he said.’

‘And so did not Asgar Ally, your “faithful and true,” say, too?’

‘Yes, indeed, Asgar Ally did say so; but I can’t help thinking it was a plot.’

‘A plot!—what, then, you distrust Asgar Ally after all!’

‘Not at all—not in the least. By a plot, I mean some plot of this deep designing villain and his friends, to take us all in. As for no European being such an abandoned villain as to take part with these murderous wretches, why there is one in camp yonder, at this moment, directing all their operations—and he seems the most bloodthirsty of all. Besides, why is Thurston always so hot against Asgar Ally—why is he always trying to poison our minds against him, and trying to make us distrust and drive the man from us, when he is the most valuable ally?’

‘He declares he distrusts him, and that he is only here to betray us,’ said Murray; ‘and he thinks it is his duty to open our eyes to the man’s real character.’

‘And this is what I cannot bear in the conceited brute, just fresh from home, a mere griff (if he is just from home): he talks and lectures us in his insufferable conceit, as if he knew anything about the natives or about the country; he talks as if he had been in the service all his life, and understood the subject thoroughly. I declare it is sickening sometimes to hear the fellow gabble.’

‘My dear Dacres,’ said Murray, quite amused at his friend’s warmth, ‘don’t let your feelings carry you beyond the bounds of all reason. True, this daring impious wretch has “rushed in where angels fear to tread,” and blasphemously impugned the good sense and the judgment of the civil service! Heaven help him, what blasphemy!—that is what has roused your ire so!’

‘But Mastodon knows nothing of this: he, too, is not influenced by such petty motives, which, upon my soul, Murray, you ought to have known better than attribute to me. Mastodon is a first-rate fellow, though he is one of the “service” you, too, seem to hate so much; Mastodon cannot be influenced by these considerations. He has seen inflammatory treasonable documents with this man’s name attached to them, calling on the natives to rise and massacre us; and when I talk of calling him to account for this, you say I am actuated by motives of revenge because he has abused the service!—my service!’

‘Well, Dacres, calm yourself; for heaven’s sake, don’t act on this despatch of Mastodon’s: you yourself have told me often, that you have received proofs of innumerable plots and conspiracies that have been going on all around us, involving us in their interminable folds like a huge spider’s web. All sorts of juggling and imposture and forgery, and counterfeit characters and writing, are employed; no devilry, no artifice that can be made use of to deceive and entangle us, and insure our ultimate ruin, has been passed over;—you admit all this, and you admit it is all going on now: why, then, may not this be a part of the same machinery? why may not this letter of Mastodon’s—you can’t recognise his handwriting—why may not this letter be a trick intended to sow the seeds of discord in our little camp? Depend on it, you had better leave the matter alone: it will all come right in the end, and explain itself,—that is, if we get out of this hobble, as I said before; and, if not, God knows, it does not much matter: Thurston, if he is a traitor, can’t do us much harm.’

‘Has he been talking to you again about Asgar Ally?’

‘Why, really, I am almost afraid to tell you, Dacres, lest you should order a drumhead court-martial on him, and hang him. But, to tell the truth, he has been most pertinaciously obstinate in endeavouring to persuade me Asgar Ally is a traitor; and, strange to say, though he is so fond of blowing the trumpet for natives, and makes out that they are ten times better than Englishmen, he wanted me to persuade you and others to shoot or hang Asgar Ally—on the plea that he “was only a native.”’

‘Only a native! well, that is good: and this from the philanthropic M.P.! And pray what do you infer from this?’

‘Why, nothing further than that he is persuaded, as also were several members of our garrison for a long time, and some may be so still, that Asgar Ally is deceiving us, and that our only safety consists in putting him beyond the reach of doing us any injury.’

‘Good God! what fearful ingratitude!—as if Asgar Ally, even if he was what you—’

‘Not I.’

‘I beg your pardon—what Thurston says, a traitor; even if he was, what harm could he do us that would justify such a course of action?’

‘No, I do not say it could be justified. I agree with you in trusting Asgar Ally fully, implicitly. I think the services he has done us have been incalculable—absolutely incalculable. I doubt if we should have been alive now if it had not been for him; I consider we owe him our lives; and if we survive this, I hope to see him amply rewarded. No reward could be too much. But all this is nothing to the point. Thurston is persuaded he is a traitor—he is honestly persuaded of it—and thinks our only safety consists in putting him where he can’t do us any harm.’

‘But how can he do us any harm, even if he wished?’

‘Why, he could insure our ruin by showing the secret communication into the tomb. Do you not see how much depends on this? It is morally certain that they will attack this place with heavy artillery: nay, perhaps to-morrow they will open a fire against the house which it cannot withstand an hour—they are certain to do this sooner or later; it must come to our all making for the tomb. We may there elude their grasp for a little while; and just now every hour gained increases our chance of final escape a hundred-fold. Reinforcements are sure to come here from Aurungabad or Mitterpore, or both; it all depends upon whether we can hold out for a day or so whether, when they come, they will find us alive or dead. If our plan succeeds, and the ladies when the artillery opens fire make good their retreat into that passage, and the house is thrown down afterwards—a mass of ruins, which we must take care it is,—access on this side is cut off: on the other we are far stronger even than we are here, for the Nawab’s guns will not make a breach in the old tomb very easily. On the other hand, if we are betrayed, and attacked from this side and from that at once, we shall be caught like rabbits in a warren, a dog at one end and a ferret at the other. This is Thurston’s argument, and there is much in it that is very sound. He says, Asgar Ally will betray us.’

‘He forgets that the existence of the passage is known to at least one individual in the enemy’s camp.’

‘He does not believe that it is.’

‘How does he know?’

‘Nay, this you must ask him, not me; he says his information is good.’

‘His information! and his experience, too! I’ll tell you what, Murray, I believe he is just such another as that incarnate fiend they have yonder hounding on these wild beasts to get our blood; and, what’s more, I believe Asgar Ally knows something about the villain.’

‘Have you ever asked him?’

‘No; but I will, the first time I see him.—Ha! who is this? here he is, by Jove, just the very person!’

It was indeed Asgar Ally himself. He was coming firom the direction of the enemy’s camp, and met the two officers just at the entrance of the fortification between the two redoubts where they had been holding the conversation related above. It was very dark, and consequently Asgar Ally was not perceived till he had come up quite close to them.

‘Where are you come from, Asgar Ally?’ asked Dacres.

‘I have been almost down to the kaffirs’ camp, sahib,’ he replied. ‘It is so dark, and their sentries keep so bad a look-out, that I got down quite close to their lines, and crept along the ground on my belly up to the outside of their advance battery. They are getting heavy guns up, sahib, and they will open fire to-night or to-morrow morning.’

‘They cannot see to open fire to-night,’ said Murray; ‘it is too dark.’

‘No. We must be very careful to show no lights. Did you see anything else, Asgar Ally? any preparation for an assault?’

‘No, sahib. They will not assault again till they have fired the big guns for a day or two.’

‘Tell me, Asgar Ally, do you know this sahib at all?’

‘What sahib?’

‘That sahib that escaped with you from the mutineers’ camp, that they were going to burn, you said—do you know who he is?’

‘Ah, sahib, why should I talk about such things? The men do say foolish things about him; but I tell them they know nothing, and they don’t understand the customs of the English sahib.’

‘What have you heard about him?’

‘I do not like to say—it is not fit to repeat.’

‘Tell me—it shall do you no harm—no one shall hear it but Captain Murray and myself—come, tell us, what is it?’

Asgar Ally might have been about to speak and to disclose something wonderful, perhaps, but they were interrupted by Murray, who suddenly called out—

‘Who goes there?’

‘It is I,’ a voice answered from the gloom, but so close that it was a wonder they had not seen the speaker before: he was standing within three paces of Murray, and hidden, till he moved out of the shade of it, behind an angle of the parapet of the redoubt.

‘Who? Ha, Thurston! talk of the devil, you know—’ Dacres whispered to Murray: ‘he has been listening, and must have heard every word. Where are you come from?’ continued Dacres, addressing the new arrival, and speaking rather sharply.

‘From the rear of the fortification—I have been going my rounds; there are people prowling about that have no business to be.’

‘There are, indeed,’ said Dacres, significantly.

‘Look!’ cried Murray and Asgar Ally together, as if the attention of the whole party had not been simultaneously arrested.

In an instant, from the rear of the house there arose a bright blue light, that brought the whole outline of the house and the neighbouring defences in bold relief against the dark sky.

‘Treachery!’ shouted Dacres, ‘d—d treachery! Some one has lit blue lights, to show our position: now look out—they will open fire.’

It was as he said; blue lights had been used to show the position: they remained burning full a minute, during which time the enemy had pointed their guns, or tried to do so, for, as the lights were suddenly extinguished, probably from some member of the garrison on duty on the rear post having rushed down and put them out, the batteries opened fire, and one, two, three, four balls came swishing through the air, just after the flash and the report had warned the anxious spectators what to look for. At the second discharge, one of the enemy’s guns burst with a tremendous explosion; but they kept up the fire with the other three.

Dacres, Murray, and Thurston separated to repair to their respective posts. In the hurry of the moment, Dacres forgot to say anything more to Asgar Ally; in fact, he lost sight of him in the dark. The garrison remained under arms all night. The fire from the enemy’s batteries, though irritating, did no injury, as they had failed to get the range, or lay their guns properly. The ladies and children, meantime, made the best of their way into the secret passage, and spent the night in conveying their bedding and other little necessaries into the tomb, for the destruction of their present defences was now inevitable.

The sky was cloudy, and it was very dark all night; all looked anxiously forward to the dawn, for it seemed likely enough that the coming day would seal the fate of many. It was hardly to be doubted that the enemy would attack in force. Dacres, who was everywhere, looking now after the movement of the non-combatants, and now rushing up to the redoubt to speak a word of encouragement or to see all right, and now at his own post in the rear, was coming out of the house just after the first streak of daylight appeared in the eastern horizon, for he wanted to give some parting injunction to Murray in the front redoubt before the active operations, in which there was little doubt they would soon have their hands full, commenced. As he entered the garden, he suddenly confronted Thurston, who was coming in, and, not seeing him, ran against him. He stammered out an apology and passed on. He had not gone ten paces, before, stretched on the garden path, with the blood flowing from a recently-inflicted wound in the forehead, his features stiff in death, lay the corpse of Asgar Ally. Dacres was absolutely struck dumb with horror. There could not be a doubt of it, this was Thurston’s handiwork,—the noble, the faithful, devoted Asgar Ally slain by the hand of a murderer. Murray had just distinguished Dacres’s form in the twilight of the morning, and came out of the redoubt to meet him. He, too, stood petrified with horror. They looked from the body of the murdered man enquiringly into each other’s face; at last Dacres spoke.

‘Now do you believe me, Murray? it was he that did it.’

‘I heard a pistol-shot but a minute ago,’ said Murray.

‘And I met Thurston as I came out; he was going in—straight from this direction!’

‘Look! here he comes!’

Dacres turned as Thurston came up; he fixed his eyes sternly on him.

‘Thurston, is this your work?’ he said.

‘It is. I have taken the law into my own hands, and saved your lives,—that is, saved them if they are to be saved at all; if not, it was no crime to deprive this man of what he would have lost anyhow in an hour or two. This is no time to stick at trifles, or wrangle about words.’

‘Indeed it isn’t; but as sure as there’s a God in heaven, you shall answer for this!’

‘So be it, Mr. Dacres. I will answer for it when and where you choose, so you have authority to demand an explanation from me. I have only acted as any right-minded Englishman would have acted under the circumstances. Besides, why this fuss? ’tis only a native after all.’

Any rejoinder to this remark from the philanthropist, so illustrative of the variance we at times discover between theory and practice, was cut short by a tremendous fire of musketry and cannonade that was opened from the enemy’s batteries, and from a large force of infantry they had pushed up during the night to within a short distance of the fortification. The attack soon became general.

Chapter LII

Heavy as was the fire the defenders were exposed to, and threatening the attitude assumed by the enemy, it soon became apparent that the latter had no real intention of coming to close quarters till they had wearied out the besieged, and battered down their defences by a long and protracted use of their artillery. The consequence was, that the efforts of Dacres and his gallant little band were necessarily confined to acting on the defensive, to watching the effect of the cannonade, wondering how long it would be before their defences were destroyed, and wishing for the night. The ladies had all long ago left the house, as I have said, and were safe from present danger in the tomb, to which they had now removed all their little stock of furniture and belongings. The garrison, finding there was no chance of the enemy coming within range even of their one gun, much less their smaller firearms, evacuated the redoubt and outer defences during the heat of the day, and took refuge from the rays of the sun under cover of the house, where, however, they were obliged to be constantly on the look-out, for every now and then a ball struck some more frangible part of the walls and brought down a quantity of stones and plaster. The ladies, with the assistance of the few, very few servants that had remained faithful to them, prepared their food in the tomb, and brought it up to their gallant defenders.

Towards the afternoon, however, parties were seen leaving the enemy’s battery and advancing towards the fortification. It seemed too strong a body for reconnoitring only, and not strong enough for an attack. Dacres therefore feared some stratagem, and was against taking any steps to oppose them. Murray, however, who had the command, and who was cheerfully obeyed by all, took a different view, and resolved to attack if they came sufficiently close to render it feasible. They accordingly watched the cautious approach of this party with considerable interest, and finding that they were coming closer and closer, Murray determined to attack them. He led the sortie himself, well followed up by a chosen party of a dozen of the officers and nearly all the natives: among the former Thurston was conspicuous for energy and daring. The sortie was eminently successful: they came up to within a hundred paces of the enemy unobserved, when firing a volley, they charged with the bayonet. The ground just in this spot was covered with shrubs and bushes, which afforded excellent cover to an advancing party. The enemy, brought up with the sudden discharge of musketry and rifles, which made a number of gaps in their ranks, were panic-struck, and being uncertain of the strength of the body opposed to them, no sooner had the latter made their appearance, rushing upon their foe with dauntless courage, and shouting as they charged, than they took to their heels. Murray would not follow them up, determined not to be drawn into an ambuscade, but contented himself with halting his band and firing at the retreating enemy as long as they were within range. After this, they returned to the fortification to receive the congratulation of their comrades. Except this, nothing occurred during the day to vary the monotony—if monotony it can be called—of remaining on the defensive watching the active though distant efforts of an enemy to insure your destruction.

Just as the evening drew on, Murray suggested to Dacres the daring scheme of making a sortie right into the enemy’s battery, and, if possible, spiking their guns. The credit of the first suggestion of the scheme, he said, was due to Thurston, who had first proposed it to him and demonstrated its practicability. The contempt, it seems, he had now conceived for native valour, was only equal to the admiration he had before expressed of the many virtues of the native character. It was a bold and daring plan, but if successful, the advantage gained would be enormous. Delay was everything, and it was worth a great risk attempting it.

After the fate of Asgar Ally, Dacres resolutely determined not to hold any further communication with the man he now regarded as a murderer. Indeed, he had resolved, if their lives were spared and they were rescued from their present peril, to bring him to account for this atrocious crime, if he was not dealt with to the utmost rigour of the law for the other and grave offence of which he stood charged—nay, in Dacres’s own mind convicted—by the accusation of Sir Marmaduke. It would have been, however, most injudicious to have interfered with him under present circumstances, where he was not only very useful, and where every additional arm and head was worth just now their weight in gold twice counted, but since his late exhibition of true courage and manly daring in the sortie he had become one of the most popular characters in the garrison. The murder of Asgar Ally, favourite as he had been, was deeply felt by many of them, but they had little time to think or to enquire into the story, and most of them took for granted that Thurston, true Englishman as he was now at the eleventh hour showing himself to be, must have had some very good reason for acting as he had; others did not scruple to say that they no longer trusted any native to such an extent as to suppose that any one of them, even of those outwardly most staunch and faithful, might not at any given moment lay himself open to a charge of treachery, and deserve to be dealt with summarily, even as Thurston had dealt with Asgar Ally; while in truth all of them had become so hardened to suffering, so inured to scenes of death, so reckless of human life, owing to the continued hardships and dangers they had passed through, that they had ceased to regard the act of depriving a fellow-creature of life, even in cold blood, at all in the light we are accustomed to view such deeds.

When men or women have the prospect of death steadily before their eyes for a long time, they grow callous to the sight of suffering to an extent they would have thought utterly impossible till the actual experiment had been made. Nature seems to provide a remedy for herself in some cases. It seems mercifully ordained that wounds which would under ordinary circumstances ruin the intellect and unseat the reason, are cauterised the moment they are inflicted. Extreme hardships and sufferings have a hardening effect on the mind; they gradually deaden our sensibilities, and prevent us from feeling very acutely the stroke of calamity when it comes upon us, after we have passed through an apprenticeship of sorrow. We often read of people undergoing trials and enduring mental agonies which we fancy sufficient to destroy life or produce insanity—but the effect may not actually be felt with anything like the intensity we imagine, owing to the process the mind may have gone through previously, not only purified, but naturally hardened to a degree of insensibility in the furnace of affliction. And it is a source of no little relief to those whose dearly-loved relatives or friends may have been exposed to the terrible fate that overtook so many of our fellow-countrymen in 1857. To them, when death did come, it must have come shorn of more than half its terrors. I speak not of the hope that faith whispered in the souls of so many, pointing with wonderful vividness, as the end drew near, to a rest and deliverance beyond the valley of the shadow of death, but of the effect of mere outward circumstances upon the feelings and the moral sense.

But I am digressing. From these and other causes, the murder of Asgar Ally—for murder it most unquestionably was—created about as much excitement among the little garrison, as in ordinary times would have been awakened by the wanton slaughter of a pet animal,—hardly as much, perhaps. It was not because Asgar Ally was a native, though the philanthropist did allege that in justification, but merely that they had grown callous to the loss of human life, and did not, in short, think it worth making a fuss about.

The antipathy which Dacres felt towards Thurston, and the deeply-settled conviction that the latter was what Sir Marmaduke evidently believed him to be, would not allow him, as I said, to hold any communication with him. He, however, talked over the suggestion of a desperate sortie under cover of the night with Murray, and, having at length agreed on the proposed plan, nothing remained but for them to carry it out. The greatest danger to be apprehended, was lest the enemy should make an attack on their position while a large part of the garrison were absent. To obviate this, it would be necessary to leave a good strong guard behind: and how was that to be done, providing at the same time a sufficiently strong party for the attack? It was at length decided that Dacres, with Burleigh and two others, should remain behind with all the sepoys, except those that should volunteer: the whole of the remainder of the garrison were to form the sortie.

As soon as night set in, and it became dark enough for men to move about without much danger of being seen, the attacking party crept quietly and cautiously down to the outside of the batteries without attracting the notice of a single sentry. Sentries, in fact, there were none; for nothing was further from the imagination of the rebels, than that the poor doomed band of ‘kaffirs,’ whom they looked upon as wild beasts caught in a trap, should venture on so bold a display. The consequence was, that our friends had actually clambered up through the embrasure and were in the battery before they were observed. The alarm, however, was then soon given: such confusion and tumult followed,—such yelling and shouting—such random, reckless firing—such running hither and thither of officers and men—such neighing of horses, and trumpeting of frightened elephants—such an uproar and clash of mingled swords, that one might have imagined the inhabitants of Pandemonium had all been turned loose upon the spot. Murray and his party kept well together; this was the prearranged plan. They cut down the guard at the first gun, spiked it, blew up the ammunition-waggons, and then went on to the next as steadily and methodically as if they were going through the rehearsal of a play. It may be imagined, however, that they did not lose any time unnecessarily; there was every prospect of their having rather hot work, and much remained to be accomplished. The second gun they managed as easily as the first: the guard, now completly panic-struck, fled without opposing them. At the third they were met by a large body of the enemy, who had collected just at the foot of the battery, and rushed in a body on the sortie. Murray was in the act of hammering the spike into the vent; Thurston stood immediately behind him; the rest were all round hotly engaged, for the attack was general. Two of the enemy forced themselves through the mêlée and reaching Murray, struck at him simultaneously. Thurston’s eye, however, was on them; with his revolver he shot one through the heart, and with his sword warded off the blow that would but for this have cleft Murray’s head in two. The next instant, the assailant lay dead, wounded in half-a-dozen different places.

The struggle now became most desperate. The Englishmen were opposed by a force fifty times their number; but the magnitude of the odds against them made in reality but little difference; in fact, it operated in their favour. For though their assailants were a hundred to one, in the confined space in which the conflict was raging, but a very few could get to the front or take any actual share in the work: the consequence was, that the enemy’s superiority in numbers went for nothing, or next to it. The bulk of them were afraid to fire; for, being in the rear, the chances were they shot down their own friends, and those in front could not do more than contend singly with their antagonists, for whom they were in actual hand-to-hand conflict no match at all. It was something the same state of things as that described by Macaulay.

Was none who would be foremost,
To lead such dire attack;
But those behind cried ‘Forward.’
And those before cried ‘Back:’
And backward now and forward,
Waver the deep array.

How many times in the history of India and of Asia has it been proved that numbers beyond a certain limit are in reality no additional element of strength! You read of mighty conquerors assembling armies of hundreds of thousands to oppose a much smaller force: of what use are the majority of these hundreds, of thousands? In proportion to the smallness of the force to be opposed, the number actually engaged must be small too: the rest may shout, and raise a tumult and urge on, if they can, their comrades in the front; but, as a general rule, they only create confusion, and do a great deal more harm than good.

Murray and his comrades steadily kept their end in view, to spike all the guns in the battery before they left. There had been six: one had burst, and they managed to spike four; the other it was beyond their power to get at—they could not even approach it, so dense was the crowd of rebel sepoys by which it was surrounded.

‘We must give it up!’ cried Murray. ‘Are you all ready? Follow me into the ditch; then clear out and make the best of our way back. Now!’

And away they went, leaping over the earthen parapet and alighting safely in the ditch: but they had a desperate struggle, for many of the rebels had gone round with a view to intercepting their retreat. They cut their way through, however, and, favoured by the darkness of the night, made good their retreat. When the survivors reached the fortified house, exhausted, all more or less severely wounded, covered with dirt and black with gunpowder, they counted heads: out of thirteen who had gone on that desperate enterprise, but eight returned. Among those who had fallen, whose names had been prominently mentioned in this narrative, were Barncliffe and Hornby: two sepoys had accompanied them, and they too had not returned.

The success, however, was most complete and satisfactory; they had gained a respite, and of what value might it not be! There was no danger of the garrison being disturbed that night; but Dacres and the others who had remained behind insisted on taking all the responsibility of watch and ward upon themselves, and leaving the others to seek undisturbed the rest they so much needed.

‘You will shake hands with him now, will you not?’ said Murray, addressing Dacres, and pointing to Thurston, who had already stretched himself on the bare ground in an attitude betokening complete prostration. ‘He has behaved splendidly: he saved my life; and, indeed, for the whole plan was his, he has probably, in one sense, saved all our lives.’ He said this just before he left the post to visit his wife, and report to her and the other ladies the result of the night’s operations. For some of them he would have but bad news.

‘No, don’t ask me,’ said Dacres. ‘I cannot shake hands with him, stained as they are with the blood of the innocent, even as the guilt of infinitely greater crimes has stained his soul. However, dog as he is, as long as he fights and uses his teeth in the proper way I won’t interfere with him; but shake hands—never!’

The following day was one of cessation of active hostilities. The enemy were busily engaged, as Dacres could easily see through his glass, in remedying the damage done to their guns. They made no attack, however, the whole day, but on the following morning they had succeeded in drilling out the spikes from three of the guns, or else they had mounted others, for they opened fire at dawn from four pieces of ordnance. Still the result of the successful sortie could not yet be told: it had gained them certainly a clear twenty-four hours. Again and again did that postscript to Sir Marmaduke’s letter occur to Dacres’s mind. ‘I leave this to-morrow for Aurungabad, and I may come your way.’ He counted the days, and calculated over and over again how long it would take Sir Marmaduke to ride across country to Aurungabad, and how long it would take Harley—for Graham, he felt convinced, was dead—to get there. Should they happily meet, there was no doubt that their rescue would be attempted by Sir Marmaduke himself; and he had every confidence in his activity and judgment, and knew he could rely on his sympathy. If it could be effected by anybody, it would be by him. Then he thought what a mere chance, a mere probability he was building on as a secure foundation—that Sir Marmaduke and Harley should accidentally meet at Aurungabad. It was not likely the latter would remain there an hour longer than was necessary; and why should fortune, that had played them so many cruel tricks of late, be benign this once and bring Mastodon and Harley together? Not once only, or twenty times, did these reflections pass and repass through Dacres’s mind; and they always ended with the thought, ‘Well, thank God! we gained twenty-four hours at least.’

To batter down a house built of brick masonry, however, with heavy artillery, is after all but an easy task. It was painfully evident that the time was rapidly approaching when it would be necessary to evacuate the old ruined tenement, and take to their last stronghold—as, in one sense, it is destined to be the last resting-place of us all—the tomb.

Tombs are put to queer purposes sometimes in the East—not such tombs—

With many a rhyme and uncouth sculpture decked—

as the ^rustic moralist learning to die’ wanders among in a country churchyard in our native land—but huge massive dome-shaped buildings large enough to quarter a regiment in. Many of these domed tombs have been turned into dwelling-houses, and excellent dwelling-houses they make. The walls are of such enormous thickness that they keep out the heat far more effectually than the thickest thatch or most excellently-contrived roof the would-be luxurious Englishman puts between his head and the sun. Incongruous as it may seem to English notions, many is the time I have witnessed gay scenes and sumptuous feasts and listened to the strains of music to which pretty feet were keeping time, as the dancers tripped along in the polka or the waltz, or enjoyed the romp of a Sir Roger de Coverley, in these buildings sacred to the memory of defunct ladies and gentlemen of the past age: to such vile uses do we sometimes put our—no, other people’s—tombs in the East!

On the afternoon of the second day after the rebels had recommenced their artillery practice, Dacres and Murray came to the conclusion that it was necessary to abandon the house. The walls had been so battered that it was impossible they could withstand another hour’s cannonade. A general muster was accordingly taken, and all hands assembled. They had to clear away a good deal of rubbish and debris which had fallen, even since they began seriously to contemplate the necessity of removing, before they could open up a way to their retreat. It was done, however, and they gained in safety the little room which communicated with the entrance to the subterranean passage. Everything had been removed beforehand, and the whole party went down, except Dacres and Murray, who remained watching for the final catastrophe. And it came. The lower part of the walls no longer served as a support to the upper; every shot told upon its battered weakened state with tremendous effect. By twos and threes, and then in handsful, the bricks fell out. As each ball struck, each time the building shook like an aspen leaf. The climax was not long in coming; there was a crash like the roar of a waterfall or a continuous clap of thunder, and down it came. Murray and Dacres saved themselves in time, and when they reached their friends in the tomb, the entrance to their retreat from one side was protected most satisfactorily by a mass of ruins which would take the enemy, unaided, a week to clear away.

Chapter LIII

Great was the exultation of the rebels when they saw the house fall into ruins, for they took for granted that now the hated kaffirs must be either smashed to atoms, or, if there were any survivors to be dug out alive from the debris, they would necessarily become an easy capture. And their consternation and astonishment were proportionally great when they found, on searching the ruins, which they could now do unmolested, that there were no traces whatever of the expected prey. The Mirza, who it is more than probable might have aided in the solution of this mystery, was either absent or engaged in affairs of his own, or for some reason did not choose to offer the explanation which he most undoubtedly could have given had he liked.

Dacres and Murray, after consultation with the other officers, had resolved upon keeping their present position a secret as long as possible, but not to allow this secrecy to interfere with the resistance and defence to which they must ultimately attribute their delivery, if delivery, indeed, was to come at all.

It was not until the afternoon of the next day that it became known to the rebels where their enemies were ensconced, at least it was not till then that the former commenced active operations for an attack upon the new position. This was begun in the usual manner by the erection of batteries, and placing the heavy guns in position out of reach of the musketry fire from the defenders. This done, they opened fire as before, and kept it up prettly well, except at intervals, all night. The massive walls, however, of the old Saiyad’s tomb afforded far greater resistance than the comparatively slender defence of the more modern-built dwelling-house, and the cannonade appeared at first to produce little or no effect. Great danger, indeed, was experienced from the balls when they ricocheted into the inside of the tomb, the splinters and fragments of stone flying about in all directions, and inflicting awkward wounds.

Very considerable protection, however, was afforded by the redoubt which had been erected opposite the entrance to the tomb, whose thick earthen embankments generally allowed the cannon shot to sink into them harmlessly. The enemy were evidently afraid to come to close quarters, and seemed determined to try either to weary out or to starve the garrison into submission.

That had diminished much in numbers since the outbreak of the rebellion. Poor Mrs. Barncliffe never survived the blow of her husband’s death: she breathed her last the second night after they moved into the tomb, the same that saw the death of her husband. Her sufferings at the last were acute, but short: she died in giving birth to a child, whose soul had already been mercifully taken by its Creator, before it was ushered into a world of suffering and sorrow.

The ladies that now remained were Mrs. Murray, Mrs. Wetherall, Miss Trinchinopoly, and Amy Leslie, of those who have before been presented to my readers. There were, besides, Mrs. Schleiermacher, the wife of the missionary, whose individual share in the adventures and sufferings recounted in this narrative have not been noticed merely to avoid swelling the number of the dramatis personæ to an inconvenient extent. Mrs. Schleiermacher had four children, all of whom with herself survived, till the present crisis, the horrors of the mutiny. There were, besides, Mrs. Jamieson and three children, the family of Sergeant Jamieson of the commissariat department. And that was all that remained of the gentle sex and of the children among the garrison. Most of them had borne up bravely against the tremendous brunt of woe that had come thus suddenly upon them—Mrs. Murray particularly. The mutiny and the hardships she had to undergo, the anxiety she was doomed to suffer, seemed to have had the effect of totally changing her character. Whereas before the outbreak she had been, as far as intellectual attainments go, a commonplace person, she had now become quite the contrary. Before she was one of those women that seem formed for ornament alone and not for use—and indeed such a beautiful creature was well able to fulfill the part nature apparently designed her for; but now she was all energy and self-devotion, thinking little of herself and much of others; she was always ready and on the look-out for opportunity to do some unselfish action. Regardless of danger or of toil, she would take part with her husband in the sterner duties that devolved upon him, and this without losing one iota of that delicacy and refinement and feminine grace that give to the gentler sex the greatest and most valued of their charms.

Amy was heart-broken; but her spirits somehow kept up. The future of this life had no very cheering prospects for her; all was blank, even when she could bring herself to look with anything like hope beyond the gloomy mist of danger and death that now encircled their horizon. She was still capable of doing much, and in activity she found the greatest relief from the burden of her sorrows. Mrs. Schleiermacher was, I am sorry to say, shiftless and useless; she could scarcely be made to understand the necessity of looking after her own children—she did not even attempt this as long as there was anyone else to relieve her of the duty. Her good husband, about whom I should have liked to have said more had time and space permitted me, fought and prayed, and prayed and fought alternately, in a fashion that brought to the recollection of those who witnessed his valour mingled with devotion, and devotion mingled with valour, the character of the old covenanters described by Walter Scott. Mrs. Wetherall, like others in her condition, had become marvellously soon reconciled to the loss of her affectionate husband. It was from no want of real depth of feeling—no lack of true affection—no affectation, much less reality, of heartlessness—but simply and solely the effects which the presence of constant danger and hardship, with death in all its forms perpetually before the eyes, produces in the character whether of men or women. Miss Trinchinopoly afforded an instance of the way in which the delicate flower of love can bloom and blossom even under the most adverse circumstances, and in the most rocky soil. Yet in these adverse circumstances—amid these dreadful scenes, with death staring them in the face and cannon within a short distance of them firing day and night—even here did the tender passion strike its roots deeper and deeper into the soil and twine its tendrils round the heart of Dr. Mactartan. In his own rough way, and with the little leisure for wooing that any of them enjoyed, he had nevertheless wooed and won the heart of Maria Trinchinopoly, and she was his betrothed for earth—if they got safe out of their tomb—if not, for heaven.

Strange is it to see what creatures of habit we are. Here in the terrible circumstances I have attempted to detail, with thousands of savage fanatics yelling for their blood all around them—with cannon shot battering their defences, beneath which they crouched for protection, and occasionally finding a way even into their little circle—did this family, for such they were, carry on their daily duties, indulge in fancies and hopes of the future, talk over the past, and speculate on their probable deliverance, just as if that deliverance was at hand. They found time to make love and to quarrel, to talk a little innocent scandal, nay, occasionally to indulge in a joke. They ate and drank and slept (those who were not actively engaged); the ladies attended to their avocations, nursed the children, gave them food, heard the elder ones say their prayers night and morning, put them to bed, dressed and washed them (though sparing in their ablutions, for water was scarce and precious) in the morning, as if they were in their own houses pursuing their ordinary course of domestic life.

Upon the character of none of the garrison had so great a change been wrought by the events they had passed through as upon Thurston. All his philanthropic feelings had evaporated and given place to impulse of such a contrary tendency, that Dacres, who actually hated the man, could not help thinking sometimes that he was doing him an injustice, and that he could not be held accountable for his actions. The officers, however, who did not share the commissioner’s dislike, were rather amused at watching the change that had come over his spirit. In his hostility to natives and hatred of them he was now the foremost; his thirst for their blood seemed really insatiable. For hours he would sit in the burning sun, rifle in hand, resting on his knee, watching through his loophole, in the hope of getting a shot. Whenever he was lucky enough to get one he became almost frantic. ‘Another of the cursed brutes,’ he would cry, clapping his hands and looking round with glee; or as he leant forward to take aim he might be heard muttering, ‘Now for one of the black devils.’ He never spoke of them as anything but ‘black devils’; and even the faithful and gallant little band of sepoys, who had in spite of such tremendous temptation remained staunch, were afraid to go near the ‘poggle sahib’ (the mad sahib), as they called him, for if they did, or if they addressed him, he would turn upon them with the most dreadful oaths and the foulest abuse. It might be supposed that all this would have gone some way to prove to Dacres that he was wrong in the view he took of Thurston’s character; but, on the contrary, it only confirmed him in his suspicions.

‘The fellow is acting,’ he used to say—‘only acting; all this is only a disguise assumed to hoodwink and deceive us—if he is not mad.’

Through evil report and good report, however, did Thurston pursue the tenor of his way, killing as many natives as he could; where he could not kill, wounding; when he could do neither, cursing. They say adversity shows a man’s character, and displays his true colours. If so, it did not bring out that of Mr. Thurston’s in a very enviable light, for he exhibited all the symptoms of a cowardly selfish spirit, vilifying his own fellow-countrymen when he could make political capital by it, and when threatened with pains and penalties on his own carcase, behaving with the ferocity of a tiger or a wolf.

I must, however, leave the brave garrison to describe what befell Leila during the few eventful days that had just elapsed.

She gained early intimation that her husband had been forcibly taken from his palace, and if she were in any doubt as to the truth of the reports that were brought, they were speedily set at rest by her finding herself a prisoner. She had intimated to her attendants her intention of accompanying her husband, or rather following him, into captivity, but soon found that her authority had passed away. The women-servants told her, with a disrespectful grin, that they had orders to see that she did not leave the palace. When asked ‘Who gave those orders?’ they refused to tell, but Leila had no difficulty in guessing.

She was then compelled to remain in her own apartment, where she ruminated on the fickleness of fortune, and the baseness or ingratitude of mankind. So passed the first day of her captivity.

In the evening she was disturbed by the entrance of the most ungainly, unprepossessing person she had ever seen. This was a tall, gaunt, grey-haired, shrivelled-up old woman, over whom trouble rather than time had drawn its blighting withering touch. But her eyes retained all the fire and spirit of youth, without either its tenderness of expression or guilelessness. The old hag, without asking permission to enter, or going through any of the forms of ceremonial respect that Leila had been accustomed to from everyone that approached her, came in and seated herself in the corner of the room, keeping her little black eyes fixed on the mistress of the apartment, and grinning all the time.

‘Who are you, and what do you want here?’ said Leila, drying her tears, and assuming for a moment her wonted dignity of manner and address.

The old hag seemed deaf or dumb, or both, for she only shook her head from side to side, grinning all the time.

‘Who are you?’ repeated Leila. ‘I insist on your telling me, or leaving this apartment at once. What business have you here, and who sent you?’

Still no answer.

Leila arose and went towards the door, with a view of endeavouring to obtain assistance. As she approached the corner of the room where the old hag was seated, the latter stretched out a long bony arm and caught her dress. Leila shrank back from the touch as if it polluted her, gathered up the folds of her dress in her hand, and retreated a pace or two, looking all the time steadily at the old woman in the corner, as if she was some loathsome reptile. Then, for the first time, the old creature opened her mouth and said—

‘Stay, lady; you need not be afraid, I shall not hurt you; only, if you make a disturbance, it will be unpleasant for you. Stay quiet and no one shall hurt you. I have my orders to watch you day and night—watch you, that is all. I will not touch you, as you don’t like it, though you need not shrink from me as if I polluted you. I was once as young and beautiful as you—not so very long ago either—and it will not be so very long, I dare say, before you are as old and ugly-looking as I—he! he! he!’

There was something horribly malicious in the chuckling croak of the old wretch. Leila absolutely loathed her. She said nothing, however, and the old woman went on.

‘Yes, lady, my orders are never to take my eyes off you, whether you eat or sleep, or whatever you do, or wherever you go—though you cannot go very far just now—he! he! he! I am a very light sleeper, and the least movement awakes me, so it will not matter if I do go to sleep.’

‘Orders! who gave you orders? Who sent you here, I ask you? Tell me at once, or I will summon my women, and have you whipped out of the palace.’

The old hag went off into such a fit of chuckling at this threat that Leila thought she would have choked herself in the fit of coughing that followed.

‘Orders!’ she said, as soon as she had recovered herself sufficiently to speak intelligibly. ‘By his order who is master here now; by his order that men and devils obey. He will come soon and explain it all himself; meantime I watch you, night and day, eating and sleeping, walking and sitting—night and day—night and day!’

Leila shrank instinctively from asking more particulars: she became really alarmed, and changed her tone.

‘Listen, my good woman,’ she said. ‘I have gold and jewels enough to make you rich—richer than ever you dreamed of being. I will give them all—all—if you will help me to escape from this place. Help me to get away to my husband.’

‘There, now you speak like a sweet lady, as you are. We had better be friends, I promise you. Let me see some of these precious jewels of yours, my lady-bird; I like jewels. Are they fine ones?’

‘Oh, yes, magnificent ones! I will show them to you.’ And going to a casket in another corner of the room she unlocked it, and displayed to the old hag two splendid necklaces of pearls and emeralds.

‘Let me look, let me look,’ said the old hag, stretching out her long arms, and speaking with all the earnestness a covetous thirst for the precious baubles awakened in her miserly heart. ‘Let me look. Ah, they are fine—fine indeed! And how much is this one worth?’ she added, holding up to the light the necklace Leila had meantime given her.

‘That one is worth ten thousand rupees,’ she said, pointing to the pearl one—‘so my husband said when he gave it me; and the other is yet more valuable still. Both are yours my good woman. Keep them, and help a poor unfortunate lady in her distress.’

‘The blessings of Allah on your sweet pretty head!’ she said; ‘you are as liberal as Hatim Tai. Yes, I will keep them, and never forget you, be sure,’ she added, putting them away in her bosom; ‘but I dare not disobey orders—you don’t know my master yet—yet, he! he! he!—or you would not counsel me to disobey him. I did once, but never will again. Look here, this is what I got for being so rash.’

So saying she turned her back towards the lady, and, taking off the loose muslin robe that encircled her wasted withered form, disclosed to the astonished and disgusted Leila her bare back, scarred all over with marks of scourging.

Leila shrunk back more horrified than ever: still she was touched with a feeling of sorrow at the marks of suffering and brutal treatment undergone by one of her own sex, ungainly though she was.

‘Who did that?’

‘He—he did it. Ah lady! my story is a sad one, but I am not the only one that has suffered. I was once young and beautiful like you, when he took me, and I lived like a princess for some years, till I grew ugly and my hair turned grey—for I loved him then, ah! I loved him as you, lady, loved your husband—but he was false to me—he grew tired of me and took to other women, and made me a slave in the palace where I had been a mistress before, and a slave I am now. I shall be your slave, lady, when you go to live with him.’

‘I go—I live with him—I!—you are mad, you old wretch, to talk to me like this. I would die—I will kill myself before his hated polluted hand shall touch me. If evil has befallen my poor husband—he who was so good, so noble, so generous—Allah will protect me—Allah will take my life sooner than I shall be delivered to such a son of Satan as he.’

‘Do not talk of killing yourself, lady; it is to prevent that that I am sent to watch you.’

‘You prevent me—you watch me! but come, I have given you jewels enough to purchase your freedom and make you comfortable for the rest of your life. Aid me to escape and I will double them.’

‘Listen, lady—I dare not: his power is so great, he can see what we are doing and hear what we are saying, though he is far away. Do not talk of escape—be patient and wait. He is gone to the wars; perhaps Allah may befriend us yet, and a bullet from the hand of the kaffirs may take away his accursed life; but now, as long as he lives, there is no help for it; we are in his power, and we must obey him.’

‘You will not let me go? you will not help me?’

‘Alas, lady, I cannot if I would! All your servants and attendants have been changed, except those who are in his pay; the outer gates are locked, and every door and window is watched from the outside day and night; every person that leaves the palace is searched and examined, lest it should turn out to be my lady in disguise; at the least attempt at violence or escape I am to call them in; they are even now on the watch. There is not one of them that would dare to let you go; their punishment would be the most dreadful tortures you can imagine. You must be quiet, lady, and submit to the will of Allah—it is destiny. There, it is late—go to sleep; I will not disturb you.’

‘And did you say he was coming here? When will he come here?—to-night?’

‘No, no, not to-night,’ replied the old hag, shaking her head—‘not to-night.’

‘To-morrow?’

‘No, not to-morrow. You see, lady, he has gone to fight the kaffirs, and when he has slain them then he will come.’

‘May Allah grant that the kaffirs slay him,’ said Leila. ‘Then he will not come till he has effected their destruction?’

‘No.’

‘And that cannot be to-night?’

‘No, for they do not begin the battle till to-morrow, and then perhaps he may not win it, for Allah does not always give the battle to the strongest.’

There was a reprieve at any rate, thought Leila; it will give me time to think. Depressed and heart-broken as she was, she had not lost all self-dependence yet. Her spirit was still strong, and her confidence in her own powers still unshaken. She resolved to assume a feigned calmness and composure, with a view to gaining leisure to think well over her circumstances and devise some plan for escape. So she kept up the conversation for some time longer, in order to ingratiate herself as much as possible with her unbidden guest, and keep her in a good humour, and then intimated her intention of retiring to rest, pleading fatigue. She refused to allow the old hag to summon her attendants, and refused still more plainly any assistance from her; but, unrobing herself with her own hands, she lay down on her couch, keeping up the conversation in a friendly conciliatory tone all the time, till at last, pretending to compose herself to sleep, she set to work to think of her situation, and look at it from all possible points of view to see if there was a gleam of hope from any side.

The old hag, too, after courteously enough, for her, wishing Leila good night, stretched her withered limbs upon the floor in her corner, from which she had never moved more than a pace or two, and both relapsed into silence—both feigning sleep. After an hour had passed, Leila, whose intellect and reasoning powers were more awake than they had ever been in her life before, ventured to raise her head very softly from the pillow, and looked through her half-closed eyelids at the figure of the watcher in the corner. She seemed fast asleep, breathing calmly and regularly. Leila ventured to raise her head a little more, and look round: the light was burning low in the room—there was no sound in the palace—all seemed hushed and still—nothing but the calm steady breathing of the old woman was there to break the solemn stillness of the midnight hour.

Now, thought Leila, she must be asleep; I will wait a little, and then, if I can get up and put out the light, I shall have an advantage over her at any rate, for it is impossible she should be so well acquainted with these apartments as I am; if she awake she will lose herself in the dark. And if she awake and make a noise—a thought came across her mind—a passing thought—but it made her shudder. Instinctively she felt for the little deadly weapon he had given her, whose point, laden with poison, would in one moment put her beyond the reach of him or any other mortal, and might with equal ease put the old hag, or any other living being that stood between her and freedom, beyond power of working her ill. She rose gently with the idea of getting up to extinguish the light. The delicate fabric of her night-dress made the slightest rustling in the world, hardly enough to disturb a mouse, yet in an instant she saw, with horror no words can describe, the little glistening black eyes of the old hag peeping forth from between the now raised eyelids: she was too watchful.

‘I must wait,’ thought Leila, ‘till she goes to sleep;’ and she did wait, and watched and watched through the long silent night hour after hour, yet whenever she made the slightest movement that little basilisk eye was upon her in a moment. At last Leila herself began to feel drowsy. Lying with the eyes almost closed, in a room where the feeble light of a solitary night-lamp scarce serves to break the gloom, in perfect stillness and silence, broken only by the regular breathing of another sleeper, especially when the bodily frame is wearied and worn out with fatigue, and the mind feels the reaction that follows upon intense emotion, it is very difficult to keep awake. Certainly Leila allowed herself to doze. Then you might have seen the little black eye of the old hag open and take a good look at the sleeper. Then she moved ever so gently, and watched. Leila lay perfectly still and motionless. She moved again, again, with like result. Then, softly divesting herself of her loose upper robe, leaving her arms and neck bare, the old woman for the first time since she had entered the room left her corner, creeping on all fours like a cat. She crept all round to where Leila kept the stock of medicaments and charms, and filters and vials and medicines she set such store by, softly opened the box—so softly as scarce to disturb a fly upon the lid—and took out bottle after bottle, testing their contents by the smell, and replacing each till she came upon the one she wanted. Then she crept round to Leila’s couch. The beautiful sleeper lay, with her arms and breast uncovered, her head thrown back upon the pillow, slightly turned away from the light. The old hag’s movements now became more speedy, though equally silent and stealthy as before. She took a handkerchief and drenched it with the fluid in the bottle; then, raising her arm, suddenly covered the mouth and nose of the sleeper with the handkerchief, holding Leila’s hands with her other hand at the same time, by way of precaution. It was needless; the drug took instantaneous effect, and the sleeper lay motionless, deprived of sense and will, and at the mercy of her conqueror. She then got up from her crouching position, examined Leila’s dress carefolly, and took from her the poisoned stiletto. There was nothing else about her person that was capable of being made use of as a weapon either against herself or others. She then went to the box, took out the bottles and packets of powder, and scattered and spilt their contents upon the ground. All this occupied but a very short time indeed. She then returned to Leila, took the handkerchief from her mouth, and retired to her own corner, where she lay down exactly in her former position.

By-and-by Leila began to recover consciousness: she moved, raised her head, patting her hand up to it at the same moment, as if in suffering. The first thing that seemed to strike her was the strange odour in the room: she sniffed and sniffed again, then sat upright, and looked more intently at everything round her, and at the old woman feigning sleep. She then arose, and, divining at once the source whence the strange odour arose, went and examined the box. A glance at the contents upon the floor told the story at once, and there was her own handkerchief drenched with the liquid whose sense-destroying properties she knew so well. She put her hand into her bosom and felt for her stiletto; it was gone!

The old woman got up now and tried to raise Leila on to her couch, for she had fainted away.

Chapter LIV

When Leila recovered she was much comforted to find that the old hag had relieved her of her presence. She was tended by her own female domestics, who behaved not, indeed, with respect, but with kindness. How time sped she neither knew nor cared. She ate and drank almost mechanically the food that was brought to her—sparingly enough indeed, but sufficiently to keep up the physical strength which she felt she might at any time need; not but what she often wished some of her domestics had been considerate enough to mix poison with her food, and so put an end to life and anxiety at once. She had aroused herself once to see how far she was a prisoner, and how far freedom was allowed her to come and go as she pleased, and soon learnt that in this respect she was no better off than before the visit of the old hag. She could not go beyond the precincts of her own apartment without being attended by female servants and eunuchs enough to overpower her by force at once if she attempted to make good her escape. Seeing the hopelessness of her position, she ceased to entertain any idea of attempting flight, and resigned herself to her fate, whatever that might be, with a blind trust in destiny, at the same time resolving to be on her guard and ready to take advantage of any circumstance that might turn up to operate in her favour.

The day following that on which the final assault on the fortified house took place, she was surprised by a sudden intimation, conveyed to her by a servant, that the Mirza intended to visit her that evening. She received the intelligence with apparent indifference; in reality, however, though unwilling to show it, she was considerably excited at the prospect of the interview. Intense as were the feelings of hatred with which she viewed this man, any change in their present relative position she thought must be for the better. Her past sufferings had given her confidence and moral strength, and she felt less afraid of meeting her oppressor now than she would have done some days before, ere the mask had been thrown off, and he had appeared in the character of her captor and her jailor. She prepared herself therefore for the coming interview with particular care, taking especial pains to add to her natural dignity of person those accompaniments which scrupulous attention to her dress and adornment could confer. ‘If he is really passionately in love with me,’ she thought, ‘this is the only way I can hope to influence him or to obtain the slightest concession to my wishes.’

When he came, she received him with studied coldness and indifference. He was splendidly dressed, and his military accoutrements, his cuirass of polished steel, his green scarf, his handsome jewelled turban and arms with costly ornaments, set off his fine commanding person to the greatest advantage. His features, too, always handsome and gleaming with intelligence, were lit up with an expression of triumphant joy at the immediate prospect of success in his most cherished schemes of ambition. In his behaviour and address to the lady he professed to love with such adoring devotion he was most respectful and chivalrous. He knelt and kissed her hand as if he had been an accepted lover and she had smiled upon his suit. The occasion was an awkward one, for neither spoke for some little time, each being unwilling to give the other an advantage.

At last she broke the silence, which became more unbearable than the task of commanding her feelings sufficiently to address him.

‘To what do I owe this visit?’ she said.

‘To my intense longing and desire to see you once again, lovely Leila, and to talk over our future plan, and to tell you of my success, and how I won it, and of the lofty position and dignity in store for you, and of the reward which Allah will give you for your faith and zeal.’

‘And to give your captive liberty, I hope, too.’

‘Yes, liberty. As the queen and mistress of him who now kneels before you, Leila—who will be to-morrow the greatest noble in the empire of Hindustan, second only to the viceregent of God himself.’

‘Such a posture then befits not so great a dignitary. And pray, what of my husband? Am I to wed his murderer, or do you share by his consent a husband’s rights?’

‘Your husband, Leila, is he who stands, since you will not suffer him to kneel before you. The late Nawab—may the blessing of Allah rest on his tomb!—has gone to paradise, and is now wandering in the celestial groves with a troop of houris by his side.’

The effect of this abrupt announcement upon Leila was very different apparently from what the speaker expected. She simply disbelieved every word he said; it was her purpose, however, to dissemble.

‘Nay, then, if my lord is indeed dead my hand is free, and on whom can I bestow it more worthily than on the champion of Islam? Yet, my lord, I would fain have liberty to come and go as I please.’

The Mirza hardly knew whether she was speaking in earnest or in satire. He ventured, however, to take her hand and cover it with kisses.

‘That will do,’ she said, withdrawing her hand peevishly. ‘And now, ere we discuss our future plans, pray enlighten me somewhat upon the past—the steps by which you have mounted so rapidly to such a lofty pinnacle of glory. And I would also hear something of my deceased husband. He was ever kind and good and generous to me’—here her tears began to flow—‘but his heart was small—he had not the soul to aspire to great things. May he rest in peace! And you, how have you accomplished all this? Have you defeated the kaffirs? I have heard constant firing for several days past. They seem to have fought well, and long. Doubtless it was in battle against the infidel my late lord obtained martyrdom?’

‘It was: he fell by the sword of the accursed Nazarenes; but they are doomed now. I have hunted them to earth, and they cannot escape. They are shut in the bowels of the earth. Vain fools! they thought to deceive me; but I have them, and by to-morrow the men come forth to die, and the women and children to captivity.’

‘And the beautiful lady that you persuaded me to decoy into your grasp, what of her?’

‘She is destined, Leila, to the highest honour any living mortal can attain—an honour that even I could envy, were I of the other sex: she is to be your slave.’

‘My slave! I am indeed grateful. I like her winning, gentle ways, and shall be glad to have her about me: but recollect, I shall be very jealous—Leila admits no rival.’

‘Nay, do not remind me of that foolish passing passion; it was transient, as the cool breeze after a shower,—a mad, foolish passion, that but served to whet my appetite till I learnt to love you, Leila—to love you for the matchless power of your intellect, that raises you to the level of the angels, no less than your peerless beauty and your commanding grace and dignity of manner. It was a mere passing passion, but it is right the loveliest flowers should not bloom alone: therefore I will place near you, to tend you, and adorn your beautiful figure, and to wait upon your wants, this lovely kaffir girl; and her beauty, sparkling as it is, so much inferior to yours, shall but serve to enhance the majesty of your queenly charms: the moon shines only the more brightly from the neighbouring glimmer of the evening star.’

‘But you have not told me how you accomplished all your deep designs, who aided you?’

‘Allah. Thanks to your influence, my beautifill Leila, among the soldiers, they all obeyed my voice when I summoned them round the green standard: the money you sent them, and the many kind messages, and the feasts and presents, quite won their hearts and turned them into one channel like water; and when the brave old chief, Doonghur Rao—’

‘Doonghur Rao! what, has he joined you?’ asked Leila, speaking for the first time since the interview in her natural manner, and exhibiting no small alarm, for she thought of her husband, and the possibility of the story being really true, now that his old antagonist appeared as one of the actors in the drama.

‘Yes, he joined heart and soul, and together we marched and besieged the infidels.’

‘And it was in battle, you say, my late lord fell: was it open war, where man met man in fair and open fight?’

‘It was; he fell, as I told you, by the sword of the infidel Nazarene.’

‘Go on,’ said Leila, apparently much relieved.

‘I was saying, when Doonghur Rao joined us, our success was certain. The Nazarenes fought like devils—they always do—but they fell before the valour of the faithful, and the standard of Islam waves over the grave of the Christians. This night I complete my conquest, and to-morrow, Leila, will come to claim my reward.’

‘To-morrow!—nay, that is too soon. The customs of our ancestors, and the tenets of our common faith, are not thus lightly to be set aside. For a prince in Islam, the second to the vicegerent of Allah on the throne of the Moghuls, the chosen of God, the favourite of the Prophet, yourself a sacred instrument in the hand of the Almighty for the destruction of the infidel—you would not take to your throne and to your bed one impure, who has not observed the hundred days of mourning enjoined by our holy book. Nay, let these rites be duly paid to the memory of him who has now gone to his reward; and then—then Leila will be his for whom she is destined.’

‘Thanks, dearest Leila, for this promise; a thousand times thanks.’

She gently but firmly repulsed the rather too profuse expressions of his gratitude, and warned him by an angry look that as yet she was not his. She suffered him to kiss her hand again, and then withdrawing it, as if to bring the interview to a close, she said—

‘And now, my lord, be good enough to bid the domestics in the palace pay me a little more respect than they have done lately. Your professions of devotion and humility are little worth, if you suffer her whom you pretend to worship with such adoration to be a laughing-stock for menial servants. Nay, I do not want to allude to the past,’ she went on, by a gesture interrupting him, as he was about to ask forgiveness for the rude, harsh treatment she had been subjected to; ‘I will not allude to the past, though I well might, and heap reproach upon reproach for the insults heaped on me, for the days and nights of suffering, the infamous treatment I have been subjected to, by your orders; a goodly augury for the future, truly!’

‘Pardon me, Leila,’ he said, interrupting her; ‘pardon the too harsh expression of my intense, my anxious love. A treasure that we value above all price, above life itself, do we not guard with most jealous care? I knew well your high spirit, your excitable feelings, your daring aspirations. I knew nothing would keep you from rushing to the side of your adored husband, and remaining there in the thickest of the fight, or searching for his body among the slain, where the bullets fell like hail. I feared that, when the intelligence reached you of his unhappy death, nothing would prevent you from severing with your own hand the thread of life, the means of doing which, in so many ways, all easy and painless, I had myself taught you, I knew all this; I felt and saw that the only way of securing the precious prize was to watch it night and day. I would not, I dared not leave the field myself, or I would have come and with my own lips persuaded you to give me up those too dangerous weapons I had myself given you. I was helpless. All I could do was to watch you with trustworthy eyes day and night, till these things could be taken out of your way. The instant that was done, Leila, you were relieved of the presence of the old woman, whom, believe me, I only sent here from necessity.’

‘You have my best thanks for your great consideration, my lord; and now, to complete your goodness, be so kind as to summon my domestics, and give them charge in my presence that I am mistress here; and also order a litter to be in attendance: I will go out; I have been too long a priscmer, and need fresh air.’

Leila had a way of showing she meant what she said, and the Mirza saw it was useless to attempt delaying compliance with her wishes, unless he was to throw off the mask altogether, and subject her again to actual coercion and restraint. He intimated acquiescence, accordingly, with her wish; and, summoning an attendant, desired him to bid Sidi Gulzar to assemble the whole household.

The eunuch stared when he mentioned Sidi Gulzar’s name, and, after some hesitation, the order having been repeated, he replied that Sidi Gulzar had not been seen for some days, not since the Nawab had left the palace, and it was supposed he had gone with his old master.

The Mirza turned to Leila for some explanation, but she was unable to offer any. He then directed all the household to be summoned in the court-yard below, where he could speak to them, while Leila, from the lattice of her room, which looked out on the court-yard, could hear all he said. He then took his leave with many protestations of his undying passion, and a promise to have a litter and a guard of honour at Leila’s disposal immediately.

He then descended to the court-yard, where he addressed a few authoritative words to the assembled household, warning them that anyone who exhibited the slightest disrespect to the mistress of the palace, either by word or deed, should pay the penalty of death, and then enquired where Sidi Gulzar was. For a long time all the servants stoutly denied having seen anything at all of him, and it was likely enough they spoke the truth, for the men who had placed him in confinement had left the palace, and were with the Nawab’s retinue in camp. The man to whom the Nawab had, however, given the order to take the prisoner food was there; and after a great deal of questioning had gone on, and each one had been examined separately, he came forward and confessed that he had received the Nawab’s orders, but had fairly forgotten to execute them, and from that time he had never so much as thought of the existence of the chief eunuch, amid the stir of so many exciting events.

Full of misgivings as to his fate, the Mirza hastened to the place indicated as the locality in which the prisoner had been confined. It was a little room in a turret at one angle of the palace, exposed to the rays of the sun in such a way as to be at this time of the year more like a little oven than an abode fit for a human being. It was closed on all sides, there being only one door, and that was locked. The Mirza shook it, knocked, called, but no answer came. He then told them to bring something to knock in the door with, and a light. He snatched the torch from the hand of the attendant who brought it; and as the door fell beneath the stroke of the hammer, he crossed the threshold and entered.

The atmosphere of the cell, for a cell it was, was not such as to tempt one to remain, nor was the sight that met the Mirza’s eyes a pleasant one. There lay the old eunuch, in one corner, a mass of corruption—the heat and the deprivation of food and water had done their work—he must have been dead at least some days.

The Mirza came out, pale with rage and the sickening effect of the impure air.

‘Bring that man here,’ he said.

They dragged forward the culprit who had confessed to receiving orders to supply the prisoner with food.

‘Look at your handiwork, sirrah!’ he cried. ‘In with him—he shall keep the old man company.’

The servants were horror-struck at the sentence: they hesitated. He repeated the order in a tone that showed he meant to be obeyed. The doomed wretch threw himself at his feet, and implored pardon in the most piteous accents. The Mirza was deaf to all entreaties.

‘In with him!’ he cried; and recollecting that the door was broken down, added, ‘And send for bricks and mortar, do ye hear, and wall it up. Two of you remain, and take care that the murderer comes not forth.’

This act of severe retributive justice having been completed, the Mirza left the palace, mounted his horse, and rode forth, accompanied by his escort, towards the city. He had ordered a levy of five thousand able-bodied men to be assembled for some work he had in store for them, and went to see that his orders had been carried out. He found them all drawn up in the plain where the camp had been pitched. From thence they were marched off to the site of the ruined house, and employed in removing the debris that had accumulated by the fall of the broken walls. They worked with a will, for there were overseers directing them, who had orders to see that the whole was removed before the dawn of the ensuing day.

Chapter LV

‘Do you tnow the road here, Graham? It is difficult to find. There is a large village in front—it would be as well to get round somehow if we can—we shall only create a panic if we go through,’ said a voice in the darkness.

‘Yes, I tnow the way; follow me,’ said Graham, urging his horse to the front—he had been riding behind the first speaker.

‘Tell them to close up behind there,’ called out a third.

‘Ay, ay, sir,’ was the rejoinder from a fourth.

There was a great clattering of hoofs and neighing of horses, and jingling of steel appointments, as the cavalcade made the best of its way along a narrow winding lane, flanked by tall hedges of cactus, or the prickly pear, that grows in such profusion in many parts of India. The road passed close outside a walled village, and in spite of their efforts not to disturb the inhabitants, the dogs very soon began to give tongue as the advance of the party disturbed them. One after the other took up the chorus, till there was such a barking, yelling, and howling, you could scarce hear a man speak. The watchmen of the village speedily gave the alarm, and one by one the inhabitants left their houses and peered over the walls to see the cause of this uproar. There was very soon a regular panic in the place, for it was whispered from mouth to mouth that an armed party were approaching. Many of the villagers began to bury the most valuable part of their property; women stripped off their ornaments hastily and threw them to their frightened husbands, who grubbed up the earth in the corner of the huts, like dogs; others fairly took to their heels, and did not stop running till they had got into the open fields; others again, more venturesome than their neighbours, stayed upon the walls to see with their own eyes what the danger was before they ran away from it. By-and-by the consoling intelligence reached them that the Feringhees, or dacoits, or whatever they were, had turned off, and were not coming to the village at all; then they mustered courage to creep out into the open ground and peer through the cactus hedges, behind which they could lie concealed in the darkness without a chance of being observed. Those who ventured thus far were gratified by seeing the party whose approach had caused such consternation pass along the lane without exhibiting the slightest symptoms of any hostile or marauding intent.

It is time, however, that I described this party, and who composed it. First of all rode Graham in advance to show the way. Two horsemen riding abreast followed close behind him. They were well mounted; their steeds were not by any means so fresh, though, as they had been three or four days before—a succession of forced marches in the hot weather is wearing both to man and beast. Sir Marmaduke Mastodon’s iron constitution, however, bore it well enough, and so did Mr. Bowlemover’s, for these were the two horsemen: the latter, indeed, suffered a great deal more from fatigue than his companion, as he was less accustomed to it, but his old tastes acquired in his younger sporting days soon returned, and the novelty and excitement of the work they had in hand compensated for the lack of youthful vigour that had declined with advancing years.

After them, came a party of fifty of Tupper’s volunteer cavalry from Aurungabad, and a number of railway engineers and surveyors, indigo-planters and their assistants. The road was so narrow that they could only ride two and two abreast, so it took a long time for the whole party to defile by the village. After the volunteer cavalry, came a party of eighty men of H.M.’s 159th Foot, transformed into a mounted force, and riding upon camels: each soldier carried his rifle and ammunition, and the camel he rode was driven by a Sikh soldier, who sat in front and guided the animal—an arrangement carried out by Sir Marmaduke Mastodon when he passed through Aurungabad, not without difficulty, however, for Colonel Knickerbocker was so horrified at such an infringement of the usages of the service, and such an irregular way of disposing of infantry soldiers, that, on finding himself forced to yield the point, he took to his bed, and was not seen upon parade for a month afterwards; while Brigadier Littlesole, on having his garrison so much diminished, issued a brigade order directing the commissary of ordnance and chief engineer to make arrangements for mining the fort, and placing the necessary supply of powder in such a position that the whole place might be blown up at a moment’s notice. He was determined, he said, to die at his post; and the only thing that consoled him in the gloomy prospect, was that he would blow up the civilians too.

Behind them came a party of a hundred and fifty Sikh irregular cavalry—Sir Marmaduke Mastodon’s chosen escort, tried and faithful servants, and ready for any service. The whole force wended their way along in silence, for they had marched all night, and, as it was now nearly dawn, both man and beast were sleepy and tired.

‘What time is it, Bowlemover? I’m feeling very sleepy; it must be near daylight, surely?’

‘Yes, we shall have daylight before an hour. As for feeling sleepy, my dear fellow, don’t think of such a thing. For my part, I could not think of sleeping if I was in a feather-bed, with curtains drawn all round, in England: sleeping’s vulgar, I’m beginning to think.’

‘Don’t talk of feather-beds, for mercy’s sake, man. Feather-beds and curtains! Pooh, think of a glass of iced soda-water and a plunge into the Naini Tal lake.—Hallo, Graham! Do you know where we are? I am beginning to think you’ve lost your way, or that there’s no such place as Islamabad at all: here have we been going it for the last six nights. Do you recollect this place?’

‘Yes, well; I’ve been out here shooting before now; we have not got more than eight miles more. Do you know, Bowlemover, I am dreadfully anxious,’ he added, reining up his horse and allowing the two to come up to him, for the road here widened, or rather disappeared altogether, leaving them to make their way across the fields, ‘now that we are so near the end!—what if the worst has happened?’

‘Don’t think of it; I’ll bet ten to one Dacres has hid out. But if we are so near the end of our journey, we had better fix what to do when we get there,—hadn’t we, Mastodon?’

‘By all means—a council of war! But councils of war never fight, I believe; and that won’t do for us. I think we understand all about the position we are likely to find them in—don’t you, Bowlemover?’

‘Oh yes; I have a general idea of the localities, of course, from what Graham has told us; but I do not think we can determine any course of action till we arrive at the spot and can see our ground.’

‘Oh, we will take care to reconnoitre before we go into action. That sounds grand, doesn’t it I—“go into action.” I say, do you recollect Blunt?’

‘What, the political, down at Indurpore when the war broke out?’

‘Yes: well, he used to call every skirmish he had with his sowars an action. He came into my tent one day to breakfast—a late breakfast, about three o’clock in the afternoon—we had been out with the old chief reconnoitring, but, before we joined him, there had been a little skirmishing between our escort and some of the enemy’s sowars. When he came into my tent, he said, “Mastodon, we’ve fought seven actions to-day.” Pretty well that, for a morning’s work before breakfast, wasn’t it?’

‘But, look here,’ said Bowlemover, ‘if they have all taken up their position in the tomb, as Graham says is most likely, we shall find the place surrounded.’

‘I beg your pardon; this is a mere surmise of yours, my dear friend. We don’t know yet that there is any enemy at all to oppose us.’

‘You believe, then, the Nawab has been faithful?’

‘I think it not impossible—at any rate, we need not make up our minds to fight till we know for certain there is an enemy to fight with. When I talked of going into action, I was only joking. I hope we shall find them all right, and have no more difficult duty to perform than to bring away the ladies and children. Eh, Graham, what say you?’

‘Why, I know that before I left Dacres had no idea they would remain unmolested. It was, in his opinion, merely a question of time, as old Brigadier Littlesole says: besides, if the information we got at that village yesterday is to be depended on, there has been a good deal of fighting, with what result God only knows.’

‘Well, we shall soon see.’

‘Hallo! I recollect this large tree!’ said Graham, after a short pause, during which they rode by a large peepul tree that stretched its branches half-way across the road. ‘We can’t be far from Chunderbagh now. When I said that village was eight miles, I meant eight miles to Islamabad. We must be close to Chunderbagh. Would it not be as well to halt and reconnoitre?’

‘Perhaps it would. Is not that the first streak of dawn?’

‘Yes, I think so.’

‘Let us get the men together. Where is Captain Evans?—oh, he’s gone back to see after his detachment. We’ll halt your Cutchery hussars, or whatever you call them, Bowlemover, and let us wait till the rear comes up.’

Bowlemover gave the necessary orders, and his volunteer troop formed up in a sort of line and dismounted. The whole detachment was well together; and they did not take long in assembling. Meantime the faint streak of dawn on the horizon became brighter and brighter, till daylight appeared.

Sir Marmaduke Mastodon had thrown himself on his back on the ground, holding his horse’s reins with one hand; Bowlemover and Graham had just dismounted, and were both stretching themselves and yawning. Suddenly Mastodon started to his feet, and the other two jumped into their saddles. It was the report of cannon-shot almost close to them that caused this sudden movement. Graham was no coward, but his heart beat as if it would fly up into his mouth.

There was a great deal of excitement, but no confusion. The volunteers mounted; the company of the 159th remained seated on their camels; the Sikh troopers came to the front.

‘Now, look here,’ said Sir Marmaduke. ‘Graham and I will go and reconnoitre; you had better come on cautiously, Bowlemover; and I think, Captain Evans, you had better dismount your men—they will be more useful on foot. But we cannot tell what to be at till we have seen what is going on. Those guns are shotted—eh, Graham?’

‘Yes, I should say so; and, hark, there is a discharge of small arms: they are at it, hammer and tongs. For heaven’s sake, come on!’

Followed by half-a-dozen of the Sikh horsemen. Sir Marmaduke and Graham cantered to the front; the remainder of the detachment advanced as had been directed. The first thing they saw when they got close enough to distinguish objects was a large mass of ruins, which on the side nearest them rose up in a high heap or hillock, in places obscuring from view everything that lay beyond. Over this ridge, formed by the débris of the house, the figures of armed men could be distinctly seen, climbing up to the summit, and then leaping down the other side, when they became lost to view. There was an immense body of them, and they disappeared by twos and threes in this manner, and could not be seen returning. On the right, between the two officers and the ruined dwelling, was a large dense crowd of unarmed men, coolies apparently, some standing, some sitting on the ground, but none of them actively engaged in any duty. Beyond and to the left and right the ground, as I have elsewhere said, descended to the lower level, upon which the tomb of the old Saiyad was built From where Sir Marmaduke Mastodon and Graham stood, however, the depression of the level was sufficiently gradual to allow of their taking in at one glance pretty nearly the whole space beyond the site of the house and the tomb, and the plain that stretched away to the left and front. This was swarming with a sea of heads, all in motion. In one place a battery of guns kept up a perpetual discharge, while crowds of footsoldiers poured a heavy matchlock and musketry fire on the same point, doubtless the doorway of the tomb, though this could not be distinguished from the point of view from which I am endeavouring to describe the scene as it presented itself to Graham and his friends. It was evident that the position on which the attack was being made was held, and that gallantly too; for every now and then the surging mass of heads that moved towards it was seen suddenly to surge back. At the same moment, volumes of smoke from the point evidently held by the defenders against the assailants showed that they reserved their fire, and gave it when it could be given with effect. The stream of men, however, still kept pouring up and over the heap of ruins, and this filled Graham with misgivings; for he could not at first conceive what their object was, or where they disappeared to behind that ridge of stones.

Sir Marmaduke Mastodon, who by common consent had assumed the generalship of the little party, had left Graham, for by this time the whole detachment had come up, and was pointing out to Captain Evans the direction in which he thought it most advisable for him to lead his men, now thrown out in skirmishing order. Bowlemover was on horseback by Graham’s side; the volunteer cavalry drawn up immediately in rear, with swords drawn all ready for action. Suddenly Graham’s attention became riveted on the host of combatants before him. A great movement had taken place: the firing ceased; in place of it, a shout, like the shout of victory and triumph, swelled to heaven from thousands of throats. At once the sea of heads surged backwards and forwards; there was a rush and a struggle, but it was impossible to make out anything with certainty. Graham’s impatience was beyond control.

‘If you won’t come on, I’ll go alone,’ he said, turning to Bowlemover.

‘Move on, move on, and charge when you think your ground clear and your distance right,’ roared Sir Marmaduke, who had accompanied the skirmishers to a spot of ground a little elevated, about two hundred yards to the right front of where the volunteers were standing.

‘Come along,’ called Bowlemover, waving his hog-spear, in utter contempt of all military words of command.

They advanced at a trot for some distance, when the confused mass of struggling humanity resolved itself into something more definite. There was a movement out of and from the tomb, and a figure on horseback could now be discerned forcing his way through the crowd: he was clad in a cuirass of steel and wore a green scarf across his breast, while seated on his horse in front of him was a female form, whose loose drapery floated in the breeze as he bore her along. By-and-by—for his progress was impeded by the crowd through which he had to make his way—he was overtaken by a man on foot waving a naked sword: he seized the horse’s bridle and forced the animal back on his haunches. A desperate hand-to-hand conflict now ensued between the two, desperate—for the horseman was encumbered with his burden, besides having to hold his reins. He was not unassisted, however, and the crowd of combatants rushed upon the assailants from all sides. And now came help; for two more men on foot staggered up and engaged in the unequal conflict—now unequal, for there was a multitude against three.

All this, and a very great deal more which it would take me too long to describe, had been seen by Graham as he galloped towards the spot, followed closely by Bowlemover and the volunteers, and a hundred of the Sikh horsemen, waving their swords and shouting the Sikh war-cry, ‘Gooroo Ji-ke-Futteh!’ that their horses’ legs were wings, or that they could clear the ground like lightning!

‘On, for God’s sake,’ cried Graham—‘we shall be too late.’

He had recognised the figure in the grasp of the horseman with the steel cuirass and the green scarf.

Down the declivity they came, gaining impetus at every stride their horses took, who were as impatient to dash into the strife as their riders, and like an avalanche they hurled themselves upon the crowd: right and left went the gleaming sword-blades to cut a passage through that living mass. As for Bowiemover’s hog-spear, it was worse than useless in the mêlée: they were at too close quarters for spears; but he used the butt-end, laden as it was with a heavy knob of iron, right lustily, and many a cranium would have cracked that day under it, had it not been they were so well protected by turbans. Still it did its work, for no man who got the iron knob of the spear wielded with all the force of Bowlemover’s arm upon his head, though it was protected byfolds of cloth, felt inclined to try it a second time.

The fierce and determined onset of so strong a body of men as the volunteers and the Sikhs produced very soon a wonderful effect. Many a head was turned from many quarters to see what was the cause of this sudden pressure from the flank; while at the same moment conical rifle-bullets came whizzing from the rear of the tomb in quick succession, each little ball laying low at least one out of that dense crowd. All this seems a long business to write—it may seem as long to read: in action it was, at least it seemed to the actors, like a lightning-flash. Blood flowed freely; the shower of rifle hail came pattering thick and deadly. On sped the cavalry, still charging at full speed, their sword-blades still gleaming as they struck, first on this side, then on that, till another shout was raised from that tumultuous crowd to heaven—this time it was a shout of panic; then followed such a scene that it is folly attempting to describe. There was a confused agonised yell of fear, and the whole mass surged and shook, and attempted by a common impulse to fly. Fly I in such a mass!—they only trod and trampled one another down. Meantime Graham has neared the little group from which his eyes have never once been taken. Burleigh—for it was he who held the horseman’s bridle-rein—still struggles; his two comrades have been struck down; and just as Graham’s sword waves above the Mirza’s head, the sabre of the latter sweeps down with a back-handed stroke upon Burleigh’s unprotected face; it cleft his head in two, and he fell at once.

The battle was well-nigh over now; the enemy were in flight, hard pressed by the victors. Up came Captain Evans’s party, no longer skirmishing, but in line, charging the flying foe and bayoneting right and left. The Sikh horsemen and the volunteers spread out into line too; and Bowlemover, no longer closely pressed, and able to use his spear, rode at their head, and drove the enemy from the field, slaughtering as they went along. The Mirza had fallen badly wounded from his horse, but not before Graham had dismounted and caught in his arms the prize he was bearing off, when vengeance overtook him. Amy Leslie bore up against all; the terror of her situation was too extreme for her to be relieved even by swooning, till the moment when deliverance was at hand. Her eye suddenly rested on the pale, care-worn, haggard, yet well-remembered face of him she loved dearer than her life, and whom she believed long ago dead. At the moment she fancied her own death-hour had arrived, and that he had suddenly appeared from the world of spirits to accompany her to her long home. Then nature gave way; and, with a shriek of terror that rang in Graham’s ears for days afterwards, she fell senseless on his breast.

Chapter LVI

The sun had set upon that blood-stained battle-field, as upon many a bloodier field both before and since. The combatants had disappeared. It was no longer a scene of deadly strife—the arena where man contended with savage ferocity against his fellow. It was deserted now—deserted by all but those who never desert the battle-field—the dead, the dying, the jackal, and the carrion-birds, and those human vultures more heartless than the beasts that prey upon the dead, who hang upon the skirt of war’s ‘red genius,’ and strip the wounded and the dying.

The slaughter had been great in proportion to the small number engaged in actual conflict. But innumerable casualties had resulted, at any rate in the first instance, from the dense mass itself collected in that plain, all bent on the destruction of the gallant little band that kept them at bay so long, and little dreaming that their own discomfiture was at hand.

Panic-stricken by the sudden charge of the volunteer cavalry and Sikhs, the confusion that seized them was proportionate to the number of the crowd. Anything like an orderly retreat was out of the question; it was not attempted; all they thought of was flight. The flight of a mass of human beings, closely crowded together, even across a spacious plain, must be a fatal movement to many. The attempt was madness; the result, the destruction of hundreds. Numbers fell, and those who fell were trodden and trampled to death almost instantaneously. They shrieked, but none heeded their shrieks; the avenger was upon them, and their comrades thought only of their own safety. The spectacle presented by a battle-field, after an action, is never anything but horrible. On this occasion, however, the terrible aspect of the dead was such that it impressed the minds of those who saw it, though inured to all the horrors of war by long practice and bitter experience, with a sickening horror they never felt before. The bodies of those who had fallen were mangled in the most fearful way; trampled to death by the feet of the flying crowd, their limbs broken, their features in most cases destroyed beyond all power of recognition, and subsequently cut up by the lances and swords of the pursuing cavalry and the horses’ hoofs, there was scarce a single body there that was not covered with frightful wounds, any one of which was enough to destroy life. The cavalry had swept through them, using their swords and lances freely, and without the slightest pity for the terror-stricken fugitives, who ran, or tried to run, like sheep; and those who, mangled and wounded, escaped death from the violence of their own flying comrades and the swords of the cavalry, were nearly all bayoneted by the infantry, who came up very soon after the cavalry had swept the field. The pursuit was not kept up beyond the outskirts of the city, in the suburbs of which the surviving fugitives found a temporary asylum; and on their return the Sikhs again swept the field, and put to death, often with revolting cruelty, and always with taunt and insult, the few they found in whose bodies the breath of life still lingered. Long before sunset, however, all active operations were over. The surviving ladies and children—alas! there were now but few!—were removed to the dawk bungalow, in the neighbourhood of which some of the tents belonging to the chiefs were found pitched, and in them and in the house they took up their abode. Ah! who shall describe the heartfelt fervour of the thanksgiving which arose that night from the hearts and lips of the little band, thus delivered in their greatest hour of need, to the throne of Him whose eye had been upon them all through their period of suffering! One, however, was absent—he to whom, under Providence, they all owed their lives. Where was Dacres?

Cool and collected in the midst of the battle, Dacres had observed how things were going on from the first. So vigorous was the attack, and so determined, and so overwhelming was the force engaged against them, that he despaired of success even from the commencement of the fight. It might, indeed, be possible to resist the tremendous onslaught on their little garrison for a time; they might be able to keep their enemies at bay, perhaps, till evening, but the odds were too great for them to hope for ultimate success. A few hours of such exertion as they were all called upon to undergo must of necessity wear out their vital powers, even if swords and cannon-shot spared their lives.

He had observed the Nawab seated on horseback at a great distance from the front, where the most active operations were going on, apparently taking no part in the battle, but regarding it as a spectator. He was surrounded by a posse of armed horsemen, and Dacres easily divined he was not his own master. As long as the battle was against them, the Nawab remained in the field; but the moment the tide turned, and the volunteers were seen charging to the rescue, the Nawab, now deserted by his escort or guard, instead of hastening to join his friends, turned his horse’s head, and fled from the field in the direction of the city. Dacres saw him ride off, and it struck him at the time as most singular; but he had many other things to think of, and in the hurry of the engagement, and press of business that immediately followed, he forgot all about the Nawab’s hasty flight. As soon as all was over, and he had leisure to reflect on his next course of action, the strange behaviour of the Nawab immediately recurred to him, and after a hasty meal he mounted a horse belonging to one of the relieving force, and, accompanied by a few of the Sikh escort, rode off to the city, partly with a view of seeing what was going on there, and whether the rebels had any intention of making another stand, and partly to find out and confer with the Nawab as to their fiiture course of operations, which it was allimportant should be carried out with vigour, judgment, and decision.

The road the whole way almost to the city he found strewed with melancholy relics of the late fight: men wounded, dying, and dead, lay at intervals in the middle of the road, where they had been struck down, or in the ditches on either side, whither they had crawled to die.

The city was in the utmost confusion. The troops—or at least the men who had borne arms and been professedly engaged in the late fight—afraid of being followed up by the overwhelming British force which they believed was behind them, had dispersed and concealed themselves—some in obscure parts of the city, and some in the gardens and suburbs beyond. The wealthy traders, the merchants and shopkeepers, fearful of seeing the city sacked by a host of European soldiers, buried their choicest valuables, and made their escape out of the place with as much of the remainder of their property as they could carry, taking their wives and children with them. The narrow streets were in consequence absolutely blocked up by the crowd of panic-stricken fugitives, and Dacres could only with the utmost difficulty make his way through them. The day before, had he shown himself there, his life would have been sacrificed without a doubt; but to-day he rode unmolested, not even insulted, along the most densely-populated streets, forcing his horse through the crowd of foot-passengers. His progress was slow and tedious, and the sun had set before he emerged into the open country on the further side of the city. Here, finding no traces of the enormous band of armed men that had been arrayed against them, and making up his mind that they must have dispersed to their homes and would give no further annoyance, he turned and retraced his way to the city, and thence to the Nawab’s palace. It was night when he reached it, but bright moonlight. The palace seemed to be in as great confusion as the city. There were a few attendants and loungers hanging about the gates, from whom he learnt on enquiry that the Nawab was within. He rode into the court-yard, gave his horse to one of his escort to hold, and entered the palace on foot, accompanied by three or four of his attendant Sikhs, on foot also. The interior of the palace seemed almost entirely deserted, but there were a few servants about. On enquiring from them where the Nawab was, they pointed in silence towards the seraglio, and thither, after in vain attempting to get anyone to go on and announce his arrival, Dacres proceeded. Half afraid of intruding where he might not be wanted, yet filled with anxious presentiment and foreboding, and at the same time most desirous of meeting the Nawab, with whom it was absolutely necessary he should gain a conference, he advanced cautiously and slowly, pausing at the threshold of each room, and listening carefully to find out if it was occupied or empty. There was no light to guide him, and never having been there before, he was utterly at a loss to know whither to direct his steps, or whither the corridor which he was now traversing would lead. At length he reached the threshold of an apartment which was certainly occupied by some living tenant, for he could distinctly hear a low sound of moaning, as from some one in deep grief or pain inside. He paused and listened, then cautiously drew aside the curtain and peeped in.

A flood of moonlight that poured through an open casement lit up the interior of the apartment. It was spacious, and handsomely built. The walls were beautifully decorated, being lined with snow-white marble, elegantly carved in the semi-Saracenic and semi-Italian style, so often seen in Mahometan buildings erected in the seventeenth century. The ceiling was curiously formed of innumerable polished mirrors of octagonal shape fitting one into another, each with a narrow framework of gold and silver filagree alternately, the whole in the form of a series of pointed domes, supported by rows of slender and profusely-omamented pillars, all of white marble, and carved in elegant tracery. On the opposite side an arched doorway gave entrance to another apartment beyond, separated by a handsome red damask curtain, ornamented with silken ropes and tassels, that hung in ample folds from the ceiling to the ground. The moveable furniture of the room consisted of cushions of red and purple velvet, placed on the marble floor against the foot of the walls all round; while, in the centre, stood a couch or bed, half concealed by muslin drapery of the purest white, that glistened in the moonbeams like silver gauze. At the side of the bed, seated on the ground with the head buried in the drapery of the couch, was a figure, and from this figure proceeded the sounds of grief that had attracted Dacres’s attention and arrested his step. This figure could be no one but the man he was in search of. He called the Nawab by name, at first softly, then more loudly, finding that his low, tones failed to receive attention. At last he was successful; the figure moved, turned, and looked towards the intruder. On seeing who it was, he rose to his feet and advanced to the door to meet him. The Nawab, for it was he, spoke not a word, but taking Dacres’s outstretched hand, led him in silence to the side of the bed, and pointed to it. There, with her angelic features lit up by the pale moonlight, themselves as white as the snowy drapery on which her form reposed, lay Leila, sleeping the sleep of death. Dacres paused and gazed in solemn silence on the scene. Solemn it was, but he thought he had never seen anything more beautiful. His companion stood beside him for a minute or two; then, as if the fountain of his heart had suddenly burst the icy bands of grief that had frozen it, threw himself on his knees, buried his face in the drapery again, and burst into a fit of weeping. Dacres, inured to scenes of trouble as he was, could scarce avoid the contagion of grief, and with difficulty suppressed his own tears. But he had come there to work for the living, not to weep over the dead. What could he do? He dared not intrude unbidden upon such an outpouring of sorrow with the cares of business and the concerns of active life. Still, time was precious, and time was passing. Again after a pause he addressed his heartbroken companion:—

‘It is the will of God, Nawab—your highness must learn sabmission to the will of the Most High. She you love has already passed from the scene of her earthly troubles to the eternal rest of another world; we have been spared—have escaped great dangers, but great dangers surround us still. Your position, your fortune, your life demand immediate action. Could your tears restore to life that beautiful creature you love with such devotion, I would bid you weep till the fountain of your eyes were dried; but it is in vain. She has gone; know you how she met her death? Surely, it was calm and peaceful and painless: look at that beautiful expression on her face; she seems to smile upon you and to say, “Be comforted, for I am happy.”’

‘You speak well,’ said the Nawab, rising and checking his unmanly burst of grief. ‘She is gone; it is for me—for me to avenge her death!’

‘Avenge?’

^Yes, avenge!—think you she died willingly? No; it was I who killed her, but another bears the guilt of this innocent life, and he shall suffer the punishment, as sure as Allah is One and Mahomet the prophet of God.’

‘Do you know, then, how she met her death?’

‘Alas! no; but this much I do know. When forced away from my palace, and knowing that evil was before us both, and that my life and her honour were in the utmost jeopardy, and that the loss of one would be as the signal for the destruction of the other, I told her when the worst befel I would send her this ring—look how it still glistens on her finger!’ and he stooped and passionately kissed the cold marble hand. ‘And when the attack was made, and all thought it was final—for who expected that Allah had deliverance for us at hand?—I bribed the least untrustworthy of those who formed my guard (who had secret orders, as I knew, to slay me the moment the trumpet of that arch-fiend sounded out the note of victory)—I bribed him with a purse of gold to take this ring to her I loved dearer than life itself. Too well, too faithfully he fulfilled his fatal mission. Then, when the will of God in our deliverance was manifested and the sahibs charged upon our foes, my heart smote me as though a bullet from the kaffirs’ guns had cleft it in twain. Swift as lightning, I sped from the field, in the hope that I might be in time to contradict my own messenger—alas! of death. I was too late: you see the rest.’

‘But how has she accomplished the end? I see no sign—no fatal weapons—no wound—no mark on her calm features of the convulsion caused by poison. How was it?’

‘Alas! I know not. I found her thus—it was enough; what need I know more?’

‘But let us satisfy ourselves on this point. Take off the covering, and see if she has any mark upon her person. I will turn away.’

He turned away as he spoke, and the Nawab, obedient as a child to the stronger will of his companion, proceeded to uncover and examine the corpse. Dacres moved mechanically towards the open lattice. As he approached it, something caught his eye, lying on the velvet cushion beneath the window, in the shade. He stooped down to examine it, rather with the view of giving himself some occupation, however trivial, than with any real intention or design.

The object he stooped to look at was a small basket with a lid. He lifted it to the open window, as he fancied something stirred inside; thinking, probably, it was some pet animal, belonging to the ill-fated occupant of the chamber. It was a living creature, but not of the kind Dacres thought to find: it was a small snake, beautiful in appearance, but so venomous that its bite was instant death. The thought flashed across his mind—‘She must have been a second Cleopatra.’

As he stood at the window wrapt in thought, the basket with the dangerous occupant still in his hand, the Nawab approached him.

‘The only mark I can find,’ he said, ‘is a small wound on the ankle of the right leg—a small wound such as might be made by a—Allah! what is that?’ he added, as the snake, disturbed from its lair, roused itself and thrust its head out between the little bars of the basket: then the truth flashed across his mind too, and with a cry of sorrow and despair he threw himself upon the bed.

Finding all his efforts to arouse the Nawab to the necessity for action vain, Dacres took from his unresisting hand his signet-ring, the seal of which was sufficient to attest his authority to any written orders or instruments, and leaving the heart-broken husband in the chamber of death, hurried out to take what measures he might deem expedient for restoring order in the city.’

Chapter LVII

Dacres was busy all that night in the Nawab’s palace in the work of reorganisation. Next morning, however, at daybreak, he mounted his horse and rode out to Chunderbagh. As he neared the scene of the recent strife, he observed a crowd under a clump of trees, engaged in some very interesting work, apparently.

By-and-by one of the party saw him from a distance, and rode towards him, gesticulating in a most frantic manner, as if he was mad. Dacres put spurs to his horse and galloped on. He had not gone very far before he saw that it was Murray who was thus, by dumb show, beckoning him on. As Dacres approached he called out, for the latter was by this time within earshot,

‘Make haste! make haste! here’s a go!’

‘What is it?’ shouted Dacres, trying to overtake Murray, who had now turned his horse’s head, and was galloping back to the clump of trees. Here, too, he continued his violent gesticulations, this time addressed to the little knot of persons gathered together under the trees; and by-and-by the rest of the crowd, who were all collected round something, what Dacres could not see, turned and looked towards him, as if awaiting his approach.

When he reached the spot, full of wonder and anxiety, he found Sir Marmaduke Mastodon seated on horseback, looking very stern: a number of his Sikh escort were there, too, all with their swords drawn, while in the centre of the group, right under the branch of a tree which extended in a horizontal direction some distance above their heads, was a bullock-cart or hackery. The bullocks, yoked, were standing with their faces in the opposite direction from that in which Dacres had approached, awaiting, as it appeared, the order of a bluff, burly-looking European who stood beside the cart. But, standing on the edge of the cart, with his hands securely tied behind him, the fatal noose round his neck fastened at the other end to the branch of the tree, stood—Thurston.

Dacres rubbed his eyes, and looked, then turned to Murray, then to Sir Marmaduke Mastodon, then to the Sikhs, and finally to Thurston himself, as if silently demanding explanation. All this was but a moment in actually passing, though it takes long to describe, for no sooner had Dacres ridden up than Thurston accosted him.

‘I call you to witness, Dacres, this foul murder committed in the name of the law—a foul murder, and nothing else. I am innocent, so help me God—I am innocent of the charge for which I am to be hanged; but enquiry will be made into it, depend upon it, and the law of England will have revenge on the murderer!’

‘What is all this?’ gasped Dacres, as soon as he could speak.

‘All what?’ said Sir Marmaduke. ‘Did you never see a man hanged before? I’ve got enough against this villain to hang twenty such wretches.’

‘Pray stay one moment,’ urged Dac