One very hot day, I found myself in the heart of an Indian jungle, in company with a great chum of mine, Valentine Aubrey.
My name is Harry Coverdale, my age fifteen, my profession that of a rover in search of adventure. My mother is dead, my father disappeared mysteriously when I was quite an infant, and has not been heard of since. I have neither brother nor sister, and no relative except an uncle and aunt, who have been parents to me, and very kind to boot. Val and myself were jaded and tired, as we had walked some distance under a burning sun, and having found a convenient tree threw ourselves on the ground beneath it to rest. We were fully armed, as it beho[o]ved us to be, considering we were trespassing on the demesne of tigers, leopards, cheetahs, bears, hyenas, snakes, etc., one and all enemies to man.
“Harry,” said my companion, “we’ve lost our way it seems. What shall we do when night comes on?”
“Do?” I replied; “why, lots of things. Climb a tree, light a fire, and keep watch in turns. I’m not at all afraid of the prospect, Val; in fact, I rather like it. Camping out for the night will not hurt us. It’s just the time for tumbling across tigers. I long to encounter one, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, Harry. But while we’re waiting for a tiger to show itself, suppose we have something to eat?”
“By all means,” I replied, “Have you anything in your haversack?”
“Only a few biscuits, Harry. By Jingo! I’d forgotten our compact. True to our character of hunters, we must depend upon our guns for food. They’ve brought us precious little as yet, though.”
Big with expectation of bagging all kinds of game, we had come away from home with nothing in our haversacks but a few biscuits, tea, coffee, and sugar. Val and I had spent many hours in talking over our plans in secret. We had purchased two splendid rifles out of our pocket-money, and lots of ammunition, too, so that we were well prepared for our hunting campaign. Nor had we neglected to make ourselves proficient in shooting, which we accomplished by practising frequently at the military firing-butts. To test our efficiency, he and I spent one entire moonlight night in search of hyenas. We bagged one, but nearly lost our lives in doing so, the brute was so ferocious.
“Val,” I said, after a minute’s pause, “I’ve an idea.”
“So have I,” he said, with a rueful expression. “Mine is that I’m awful hungry.”
“Mine is,” I replied laughing, “that we’d better go heads or tails to see who’s to go in search of game, while the other stays here to light a fire, in readiness to cook when it’s brought.”
“Agreed,” he said, springing to his feet, and producing a rupee. “You call to me.”
The coin spun in the air, and I cried “a head!” and won.
“I’ll be the hunter, you the cook,” I remarked, as I shouldered my rifle. “You’ve got the flint and steel, Val, and there’s plenty of wood about. Good-bye; I won’t be long.”
I felt no fear, although danger lurked on all sides. I longed to meet a tiger face to face, feeling confident that I could hold my own with him. Why should I be afraid of a tiger, when I was armed with a splendid rifle, which I knew how to use? In addition to this I had a revolver, and a formidable hunting-knife; so on the whole I was fully prepared for any emergency, as was also Val. I sauntered slowly along, turning my eyes warily to the right and left, and quite enjoyed the beauty of the scenery and its surroundings. Birds of bright plumage flittered hither and thither in the brilliant sunshine, looking like masses of jewels.
Squirrels climbed the trees, and chased each other in play along the boughs and branches, while occasionally the head of a monkey peeped out of a leafy cover to reconnoitre as I passed. A murmuring streamlet went merrily on its way, from which I drank a delicious draught of water. Cocoanut palms grew hereabouts in numbers. Mango and guava trees, full of luscious fruit, were within my reach, and I helped myself, and enjoyed the feast amazingly. The occasional his of a snake smote my ears.
However, as I wore Wellington boots I did not fear them much, although at the same time I did not wish to be bitten, even through leather. Centipedes, scorpions, and tarantulas were to be found in the hot sandy soil; in fact, the place teemed with nasty creatures, whilst outwardly it appeared a veritable paradise, the trees being decked with brilliantly-hued flowers of gigantic sizes, which dazzled the eye by their beauty. I caught sight of a solitary deer, but, before I could fire, it bounded out of view, much to my annoyance and disgust, as I would have liked to have taken its carcase back to Val.
“Halloa!” I said aloud, as I saw a splendid peacock perched on a bough; “what a beauty! I’ll have you for dinner if I can.”
I raised my rifle, took aim, but dropped the weapon the next moment, as I felt something brush against my right leg. Looking down I started; a large cheetah, or hunting leopard, stood at my side, and looked into my face with its mild beautiful eyes. It rubbed against me again, as if it had been a tame cat, when I stroked its beautiful coat, and we became very friendly.
Whilst I was wondering at the strange phenomenon of meeting a tame cheetah in the heart of the jungle, I heard a silvery laugh, and a voice which said in good English —
“Who are you? How dare you come here you boy?”
I turned to see who it was that addressed me so brusquely, but saw no one.
“Where are you?” I asked, looking around in amazement.
Another silvery, rippling laugh was the only reply, which seemed to come from a plantation of bamboo trees, whither I hastened. I caught sight of a girlish figure, but only for a moment, it had disappeared the next, nor could I follow without making a considerable detour. The cheetah was near me, but on hearing a shrill whistle it bounded away and disappeared. I was lost in wonder. It appeared to me such a mystery to be addressed in English in these wilds, and that the speaker should be a girl. Although I was disappointed at not being able to meet the mysterious personage face to face, I was consoled by the fact that Harry and myself were not quite so much alone as we imagined.
“She must have a house somewhere hereabout,” I thought; “and we’re bound to meet her later on. Won’t Harry stare when I tell him my adventure?”
I had almost forgotten my errand, or that a hungry companion awaited my return with impatience, when a splendid stag walked leisurely from covert to the rivulet, and drank freely. It was a noble animal. I took careful aim and fired. The brute staggered, and lifted its head high in the air; when, fearing it might be only wounded and would escape, I rushed forward without waiting to re-load, eager to secure such a noble prize. But before I reached it I heard a roar, and saw a bright mass fly through the air. The stag was down, and bestriding it was an enormous tiger.
The whole thing was sudden and unexpected. I was annoyed at the loss of what I considered my property. The tiger paid no attention to me, but busied itself in tearing pieces out of the stag, which still lived. Snatching the revolver from my belt, I rushed forward and confronted the monster. The brute fixed its eyes upon me, and transfixed me with its glance. I had no more power to move or speak than if I had been turned into stone, but my thinking faculties were not suspended. The tiger appeared to me the most beautiful object I had ever seen; its striped satiny coat looked like some much burnished gold inlaid with jewels, and its eyes gleamed like emeralds, whilst it horrid fangs assumed the form of beautiful ivory. But although I was fascinated, I had an undefined sense of horror upon me which seemed to hold me back, and made my whole frame shiver as if I was attacked by a fit of the palsy.
The revolver fell from my nerveless grasp, and I stood defenceless and at the mercy of the cruel brute. There was a sound like thunder in my ears, followed by the report of a rifle, which had the effect of rousing my dormant faculties. I saw the tiger in its death agonies, crawling towards me, when I instinctively snatched up my revolver, and fired the barrels in quick succession. Each shot must have taken effect at such a point-blank range; but so tenacious was the brute of life that even in its last extremity it reared on its hind quarters and tried to claw me down, falling dead in the very act.
In its fall it struck against me and sent me over like a ninepin; but I soon regained my feet, and looked round in the expectation of seeing Val, for who else could have fired the shot which saved my life? But neither Val nor any one else could I see. Placing a pocket bugle to my lips I blew a call as a signal to Val that I needed his help. I listened for his answering call, but heard only the echo of my own in the direction of the bamboo plantation.
“Ah!” I murmured, as a light broke in upon me. “I know who my preserver was — the mysterious stranger. I wish I could thank her.”
As Val had not yet replied, I repeated the call, which was answered this time; and in a few minutes he dashed up to my side.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
Then, as his eyes rested on the dead tiger, he continued —
“Harry, you were in luck when you knocked such a splendid fellow as that over. How did you manage it?”
“I only came in at the death,” I replied, in sporting phraseology; “the credit is due to some one else.”
“Who?” he asked quickly.
“I don’t know. I wish I did.”
“Not know? Nonsense, Harry; it seems incredible that anybody could have fired and knocked the tiger over without you seeing him.”
“It wasn’t a ’him’ at all,” I said.
“You’re only chaffing,” he said, somewhat hastily. “It isn’t fair, Val, when I’m so eager to know all about the matter.”
“We can’t eat the tiger, Val?” I said.
“Who said we could,” he replied. “I wish I had won the toss, and come out instead of you. I’d have bagged something to eat before this, I know. But tell me, Val, who was it that fired the shot?”
“I don’t know, I have my suspicions. If you will listen patiently I’ll tell you all I know of the affair.”
When I finished my narrative, he said —
“Harry, you ought to have followed her. We want food and shelter. Surely no one would be cruel enough to refuse us either under the circumstances.”
“She evidently did not wish me to follow her,” I replied; “and I’m sure neither of us would care to force our company upon her; besides there may be other people for her to consult — a father and mother for instance.”
Val was evidently disappointed. We cut off portions of the deer in silence, being too much engrossed in our own thoughts to converse. Secretly I longed to see the girl who had saved my life, and around whom I began already to weave a web of romance.
“And was it a tame cheetah?” Val asked, as we trudged to our bivouac, carrying a goodly portion of the carcase slung across a bamboo which we had cut from the plantation.
“Yes, and such a beauty. Look, here it comes again.”
Something much resembling the friendly cheetah bounded towards us.
My companion dropped his end of the bamboo in alarm, and stood on the defensive, revolver in hand, saying —
“It’s all very fine, Harry, but it may not be your cheetah, but a wild and ferocious beast.”
We were very near the plantation at the time, from which a girlish voice said imperiously —
“Drop your weapon, boy, or I’ll fire.”
“Halloa!” exclaimed Val, “there she is. I’ll find her, and see what she’s like; so here goes.”
And he ran towards the spot from whence there suddenly came the sharp crack of a rifle, which brought him up suddenly. The bullet went clean through the top of his cork helmet. Then the same voice spoke in Hindoostanee, the cheetah rushed at Val, bore him to the ground, and stood over him, growling viciously.
The cheetah rushed at Val, bore him to the ground, and stood over him.
I was at a loss how to act. My duty was to help Val; but in doing so I would only jeopardise his own safety and mine. In sheer desperation I appealed to the girl in her place of concealment, saying — “Please call off your cheetah; my friend did not wish to harm you.”
“Harm me!” was the contemptuous rejoinder; “let him dare try, and see how it will end for both of you.”
“Val, say you are sorry,” I said to him.
“Shan’t,” he replied; “I’ve done nothing. I’m an English boy, and have as much right to be here as any one else.”
“But it isn’t your place. Why don’t you go home and stay at home? That’s the proper place for you,” said the voice.
“I’ve as much right here as any one else,” said Val, raising his head defiantly, only to pop it down again on receiving a warning growl from the cheetah.
A silvery laugh came from the plantation, and a death-dealing rifle was covering him, no doubt.
“I’m a boy,” cried Val, “and if you were another I’d give you a good licking for setting a brute like this on a fellow; it’s cowardly, and despicable!”
“Are you afraid?” was the question, laughingly put.
“Not exactly, but I don’t like it. Would you?”
“Perhaps not. Azraal won’t hurt you if you are quiet.”
“Thank you for nothing. Why don’t you go home to your mother instead of setting beasts on others?”
“I have no mother,” said the voice sadly; “I never knew a mother’s love and care.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” said Val, who was one of the kindest-hearted fellows alive. “Forgive me if I have pained you.”
She spoke to the cheetah in the native tongue, when it lay down beside Val and offered him its paw in token of friendship.
“That’s better,” said Val, as he assumed a sitting posture, and shook the friendly paw. “I’m quite well, thank you; how are you?”
“Boy, are you fond of sweetmeats?” cried the voice.
A large packet fell at his feet, which he opened, saying —
“Come on, Harry; they’re fine — splendid. I say, miss,” he cried, after he had eaten several, “have you a brother? because if you haven’t, Harry and I will be your brothers. We’ll teach you to lick anybody that behaves rudely to you.”
“Thanks,” she replied. “I’ll think about it; but I say, can you shoot?”
“Well, yes. I’m on the look-out for a tiger. He won’t live long when I meet him.”
“Don’t be so sure of that; but tell me could you shoot a guava off my head?”
“Perhaps. I’d like to see you first, though,” said Val, with a grin.
“Would you mind my shooting at a guava placed on your head, eh?”
“You might miss, you know.”
“Bah! I never miss. Your friend wouldn’t be alive now else; he was in the way, or I’d have killed the tiger with a single shot.”
“I don’t mind being your target,” I remarked.
“No, no,” she replied; “you might get nervous. But Azraal, my pet, whom I love dearly, shall. There’s a guava; place him a hundred yards away, and put the fruit on his head.”
“He might object.”
She laughed, and gave her commands to the cheetah, which followed me. Judging the distance as well as I could, I placed the guava on its head; the beast remained in a statuesque position, neither moving, nor hardly breathing.Val and I stood aside out of the line of fire, curious to learn how she would acquit herself. A sharp ringing report, a cry of triumph, and the guava fell to the ground, pierced through the very core. We were loud in our praises, and Val addressed her, but received no answer. She had evidently gone, as silently as she had come, leaving us full of astonishment.
“I wonder who she is?” said Val.
That’s all we could do — to wonder — for there was no doubt she did not intend to satisfy our curiosity, for the present, at least.
We shouldered our burden and made our way back to our bivouac, which we reached without further adventure.
“Here’s the meat, Val,” I remarked, as we put it down; “the next thing is to cook it.”
“That’s easily done,” he said. “I’ve a cookery book,” producing a well-thumbed volume; “but where’s my haversack?”
It was nowhere to be found, and we were wondering who could have taken it, when Val said —
“By Jingo, the monkeys have stolen it. Look, there’s a whole troop of them under yonder tree. One of them’s got inside it, and is rolling about.”
“Let’s get as near them as we can and watch the fun,” I said.
“Fun,” said Val, in a grumbling voice; “where’s our tea, coffee and sugar by this time, I’d like to know, and the snuff which I brought as a present for Golob, the shikaree,” (native huntsman).
“Let’s hope for the best,” I said, as we made our way cautiously in the direction of the thieves.
We gained the cover of a tree close to where the monkeys were, and watched their tricks, breaking out frequently into hearty fits of laughter. The various packages had been opened, and were being examined by the monkeys, that containing the loaf sugar being in special request. The fights and squabbles that occurred over these toothsome lumps were extremely ludicrous, and mirth provoking. The big monkeys chased the smaller ones, and forced them to disgorge their booty, amid shrieks and cries. No sooner had one fellow stolen a piece from another, that he was chased in turn. The violent efforts that were made to swallow the prize before it could be wrestled away, and the grimaces accompanying the operation, were of a character to move the risible faculties of the gravest. Some went so far in their greediness as to poke their fingers into the mouths of others to abstract the sugar, and received sharp bites for their pains, all of which incidents ended in a regular free fight. Those who were not fortunate enough to obtain a portion of the sugar, turned their attention to the coffee and tea, which, not being to their liking, was rejected. But the best part of the fun was with the monkeys who had meddled with the packet of snuff.
They were coughing, sneezing, and rubbing their eyes alternately, so funnily that Val and I had to hold our sides. One unlucky little imp, almost a baby monkey, had buried its nose so deeply in the snuff as to be in a state of frenzy. It ran to its mother for help, who, on seeing its face smeared, put her nose close to her young one’s, and immediately went off into a paroxysm of sneezing, greatly to the discomfort of another mite which clung to her back. Val had brought a pocket looking-glass, and a pair of spectacles, as a present for Golob. These were objects of great interest, and it was laughable to see the perplexity of the several monkeys, who got hold of them in turn. On looking into the glass, and seeing themselves reflected in it, they invariably put their disengaged hand behind it, to feel for the other monkey. In one instance when this was done, there happened to be a curious imp on the other side of the glass, who resented the intrusion of the hand by giving it a severe nip.
The spectacles were placed around the neck, on the top of the head, and tried on every conceivable way except the right one. One fellow bit the glass through, and gave a series of shrieks in consequence.
“I can’t stand this any longer,” said Val; “they’ve ruined the spectacles.”
Out he dashed, when the whole troop sprang into the tree, and was out of reach in a moment. A baby monkey, however, tumbled to the ground in its eagerness to escape, and was captured by me. The poor mite was in a great fright and cried piteously, for its mother, I suppose. There was a great commotion up the tree among the entire colony, of which however we took no heed. I had some sweetmeats in my pocket, with which I fed the imp, greatly to its satisfaction, and it soon became quite tractable.
“Look out, Harry, here’s the mother,” said Hal. “She means mischief.”
A large female monkey sprang from the tree to the ground, and confronted me with open mouth. I threw a sweetmeat which it disdained to touch, but made a rush at me, and bit my leg, fortunately through my Wellington boot. I dropped the baby, which sprang on its mother’s back, and both were soon out of sight. The commotion in the tree increased, and many monkeys assumed such a threatening attitude towards us that I deemed it prudent to counsel an immediate retreat.
“Come along then,” said Val, “I don’t want to be bitten; the fellows have sharp teeth, and know how to use them.”
We took to our heels, and, looking back, saw we were being chased by the whole colony. How the matter would have ended I cannot say, monkeys are so spiteful, had not a diversion happened from the sudden appearance of a tigress and her cubs.
The tigress gave a series of roars, making the whole place resound, which had the effect of sending the troop of monkeys off at a helter-skelter pace to their tree. Val and I reached ours, and at once busied ourselves in heaping lots of fuel on the fire.
“We must climb into the tree,” he said.
“Hadn’t we better try the effect of a couple of shots at her first?” I exclaimed.
“And if we miss we’ll have to look out for squalls. No, the tree is the safest place. We can take our guns up with us, and have a shot at her from cover.”
“All right, I’ll give you a lift and then follow you. I can climb better than you.”
“I’m the best climber,” he replied. “I’m not going to give up the post of danger to you.”
A glance in the direction of the tigress showed me that she had not seen us as yet, but the cubs were toddling towards us, attracted no doubt by the scent of the deer’s carcase. Val sprang on to my back and climbed from thence into the tree, when I handed him up both guns. The cubs were within a few yards of us now, but appeared afraid of the fire, and began to mew and growl. I soon took my place at Harry’s side. The tigress, attracted by the cries of its cubs, came on at a smart trot.
“Now’s our time,” said Val. “Let’s have a shot at her; but mind, no hurry. Take careful aim.”
On seeing the fire the brute halted, and uttered a peculiar cry, which brought the cubs to her side.
“Now Val,” I said, as I ran my eye along the barrel of the rifle.
We fired simultaneously, wounding the tigress and shooting one of the cubs dead.The tigress roared and lashed her tail in a furious manner; and then, seeing the lifeless from of one of her young, caressed it, and tried by various means to arouse it.
“I haven’t the heart to hurt her,” I said. “Poor brute, how she must be suffering! Let her go.”
“Nonsense, Harry. I’m hungry and want to get down from here to cook the dinner,” said Val.
We fired and wounded the tigress again, which so infuriated her that she made a rush in our direction, entirely disregarding the fire, of which wild beasts are most afraid. Catching sight of us she sprang over the flames, and began to climb the tree as nimbly as a cat. We poured in a simultaneous fire at point blank range. She tumbled backwards, and fell into the fire, but was quickly up again, with a singed coat.
Unluckily, Val lost his balance and fell headlong to the ground at the tiger’s feet. The brute seized him as a cat would a mouse, and trotted away with him in her mouth, followed by her cubs. Val’s danger aroused me, and I descended the tree, resolved to follow the brute, rescue my friend, or perish by his side.
Unfortunately I had her hind quarters only to aim at, and I might miss her and hit my friend. I would have given my life freely to save him. But I kept myself cool for his sake, feeling that everything depended on my doing so. I suddenly recollected that I had not loaded my rifle. Hardly had I rectified this oversight that the tigress halted, and this gave me a fair mark for taking a deadly aim, which I resolved not to throw away. I fired from a kneeling position, and uttered a cry of joy when she dropped Val, staggered backwards, and made off with her cubs.
“Ah, ah!” I muttered, “it will take you all your time to digest those leaden pills.”
I was at Val’s side the next moment, peering into his face, anxious to ascertain if he still lived. He had only fainted, and I busied myself in bringing him to. I obtained water from the adjoining rivulet, and bathed his face and temples, administering, too, a small quantity of brandy from my flask. These measures had the effect of restoring him to consciousness after awhile.
“Halloa, Val, dear old fellow,” I said, “how do you find yourself now?”
“All right,” he said, sitting up; “why do you ask? Isn’t it time for dinner eh? I am so hungry.”
“But are you hurt, old fellow? Don’t you recollect the tigress carrying you off?”
“Ah,” he said, “so she did; but after she had given me a shake or two I went off into a stupor.”
“Which might have ended in death,” I remarked; “but thank Heaven you don’t appear to be at all hurt.”
“Nor am I, Harry. She must have carried me by my clothes. She wasn’t such a bad tigress after all.”
“I believe you’d have your joke if you were about to be executed,” I remarked. “Let’s get back to our tree, old fellow; we’ve got to cook our dinner, don’t forget that.”
He got up and leaned on my arm for support, for he was much shaken in nerve and body. When we reached the bivouac I prevailed on him to lie down, whilst I busied myself in cooking the dinner. I hurried to the bamboo plantation and began cutting down two stout sticks. Suddenly I heard a loud hiss, and turning, saw an immense cobra, with distended hood. At the same moment I heard a rustling in the grass, and turning my gaze there, I gave a loud shout of joy.
A welcome sight met my gaze, although it was nothing but a little creature resembling a ferret somewhat in size and appearance. But I recognised in the mongoose a friend in need, knowing it to be a determined enemy of snakes of all kinds. I had often seen it exhibited by snake-charmers, but never before had an opportunity of seeing it in its wild state. I lost all sense of fear now that an active little ally had come on the scene, one which I felt assured would not fail me. The cobra recognised its enemy, which flew at it and pinned it by the head with its sharp teeth, and held on to it with the tenacity of a bull-dog. The snake tried to shake the animal off, and, failing in this, wound its coils around it until little more than its head and tail were left uncovered. The struggle was soon over. Victory declared itself in favour of the plucky little mangoose, which, as soon as the snake uncoiled itself and lay dead, ran away and was soon out of sight.
The whole affair did not last more than a few minutes, and seemed unreal but for the evidence before my eyes—the body of the cobra, which measured over four feet, and was as fine a specimen of the class as I had ever seen. I made a slit in a bamboo cane, and took the dead snake to show to Val, who hated all its species heartily, and was never better pleased than when destroying them himself, or seeing them destroyed.
“That’s a real whopper, Harry,” he said. “Did you kill it?”
“No, but a friend of mine did.”
“Ah, I know, our little friend.”
“My little friend saved my life, Val.”
“I know she did; she’d have saved mine twice over I dare say.”
“My little friend was a mangoose,” I said. I then told Val of my adventure, when he said seriously—
“I am so thankful for your escape, dear Harry. I’m sure I’d die, too, if anything happened to you.”
He got up, and helped to erect our cookery apparatus, and it was almost finished when he cried excitedly— “Look, Harry, look!”
I snatched up my gun, fully expecting danger from some wild beast.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “It’s only three natives carrying something very like dishes.”
“Who on earth can they be?” I said; “and what can they want here, I wonder? They’re making straight for us, Val.”
“Tell me something I don’t know, will you? Oh, can’t I smell something nice—roast meat for one thing?”
“It may not be for us.”
“Just shut up, will you? Who else can it be for? You don’t suppose the fellows have come out to feed tigers, do you?”
As this question was unanswerable, I waited for the affair to explain itself.
The natives, evidently servants, were well-dressed, and respectful in their demeanour. One of them handed me a note, which was addressed as follows—
“TO THE TWO ENGLISH BOY-HUNTERS.”
“I’m glad she put it in the plural, Harry.”
“Why?” I asked, in surprise.
“Because otherwise she would have meant me,” said Val.
I opened the note, and read— “DANA presents her compliments to the two boys who are playing truant, and who ought really to go home, and begs their acceptance of the accompanying repast. Ask my servants no questions—it is useless; and mind, don’t forget to send back the dishes. Dana wishes both a good appetite.”
We laughed at the quaint humour displayed by the writer, who became more interesting than ever in our eyes. While one of the servants spread a cloth and placed the dishes on it, another busied himself in opening a couple of bottles of claret, which he took out of an ice pail.
“This is like what you read of in the ‘Arabian Nights,’” said Val; “and, I say, Harry, just look at that fellow’s gun; ain’t it a stunner and no mistake!”
The third servant was armed with a splendid rifle, and evidently meant to guard us while we ate our dinner. Wonder upon wonder! the dishes were of solid silver, and the plates of the finest china. The cutlery was of the best description, and the forks and spoons real silver, and crested. We did ample justice to the good things so plentifully placed before us, and drank our delicious wine with thankful hearts. The native servants, though respectful and attentive, never opened their lips, which provoked Val’s ire.
“Why the dickens don’t the fellows talk?” he said peevishly. “We might then learn something of our mysterious friend, especially as these men are not aware we understand Hindoostanee.”
“Sirs, may we clear away?” said the head servant, in good English, and with a sly grin on his face.
Val and I burst out laughing at this rebuff, for as such it was evidently meant. We offered the servants a present of money, which they declined, and went their way as quietly as they had come. We made up a big fire, looked to our weapons, and prepared ourselves to pass the night where we were. Our conversation turned on the events of the day, especially with regard to Dana, which we thought a very pretty name.
“I wonder whether we’ll ever see her,” said Val. “I think she must be very beautiful, and of high rank! Look at the style she lives in!”
We hazarded all kinds of conjectures about her, but that was all we could do; the affair was in every respect a mystery. It was near sunset when a remarkable incident occurred quite in keeping with the others which had preceded it. An arrow fell at our feet, but where it came from, or who had sent it, was another mystery. It was a blunt arrow, and near the tip was a note attached with twine.
Val read the missive, which was not in Dana’s handwriting, and it ran thus— “If you are wise seek the shelter of the fakir’ cave; or else light a circle of fires, and don’t move out of it. Disregard this warning at your peril. A FRIEND.”
“It’s a man’s handwriting,” I remarked, “and the writer is an Englishman evidently. No native ever wrote such a hand as that.”
“I agree with you,” he replied. “It matters little who he is, though he has given us good advice, which we had better act upon.”
“Decidedly, but wasn’t it rather stupid of him to tell us to go to the fakir’s cave, a place we had never heard or dreamt of?”
“Yes, I admit that; but our present business is to make ourselves secure from danger. Let’s set about it at once.”
We did so, and were soon bivouacing within a circle of flame, having provided ourselves also with abundance of fuel to last the night through. It was arranged between us to keep watch in turn, as it would be highly dangerous for both to sleep at the same time.
“I’ll stand sentry first, Val,” I said.
“You would be first in everything, Harry. I don’t like it, old fellow. You think because that beautiful girl——”
“Have you seen her, Val?” I asked.
“No, but I’m sure she’s lovely. I suppose I can say she’s good-looking if I like?”
“She’s everything that’s charming, no doubt, Val, but after all, she didn’t save your life.”
“But you did, Harry,” and he grasped my hand warmly. “Heaven bless you, old boy. But let’s toss up—heads or tails? Here’s a coin; call to me.”
Thinking he meant the choice of standing sentry, I said— “Heads.”
“You’ve lost, Harry.”
“All right. What have you won ?”
“The girl, of course. Good night, old fellow. I’ll give way on the other point, Wake me early, Harry.”
Val wrapped his cloak around him, and was soon in the land of dreams. I was keeping watch by the bivouac fires, with scores of dangerous creatures surrounding me. My thoughts reverted to home and to the alarm which my uncle and aunt would be sure to feel at my absence. I began whistling “Home, Sweet Home” softly, as I made the fires blaze and threw more fuel on. It was a weird scene—the lurid glow from the fire penetrated the jungle for several hundred yards, lighting up objects sufficiently for me to recognise them. Just beyond huge shadowy forms seemed to flit about, assuming various shapes.
Suddenly there came a burst of melody, which seemed to me to come from the clouds. It was the ballad “Home, Sweet Home” that floated on the breeze, and held me wrapt in delight. Then the singer broke into a merry ditty, which made me feel inclined to laugh and dance, and ended with a peal of rippling laughter and a “Good night, boys.”
“Good night,” I shouted in return.
I knew who the singer was now, and longed to hear more, but there was silence, save when a tiger roared, or a hyena laughed. Then the jackals made night hideous, and the “toowhit” of an owl came solemnly on the breeze, while large bats circled overhead, attracted by the light of our fire. Some of these, the vampire species, are dangerous. A salamander lizard came down the tree and basked in front of the fire, looking at me with its bright intelligent little eyes, as much as to say— “Isn’t this jolly?”
My two hours were up, but I wouldn’t wake Val.
“Sleep on, old fellow,” I muttered, as I heaped more fuel on the fire. Innumerable fire-flies hung from trees and bushes, looking like tiny lamps, and presented a pretty sight. I had my rifle ready for use, not knowing when I might require its services to guard both myself and my companion from danger. As the night advanced the dews began to fall heavily, and with a chilling effect, making my cloak acceptable, although I was surrounded by fire. Suddenly looming in the distance, amid the fantastic shadows, came a human form, but who or what he was I was at a loss to conjecture. Behind him came other forms.
“What ho, there!” I shouted. You are in deadly peril.”
No answer. Was this procession one of phantoms? The foremost figure was that of a man, tall, gaunt and with flowing locks, bearing in his hand a staff. Following him was a gigantic ape, armed with a branch of a tree, walking upright like a man, his black muzzle and white body giving it an uncanny appearance.Bringing up the rear were a tiger, cheetah, hyena, and a jackal. Not one of the party uttered a sound, although they passed within full view of me. Astonishment kept me silent for a time.
“Who comes there?” I cried at last, but without raising my rifle.
The human figure raised its staff, and a smile stole over its face, on which time had ploughed deep furrows, and the lips moved, as if bestowing a silent benediction.
“Good night,” I said involuntarily.
A wave of the staff, and the procession passed into the deep shadows, and was lost to view.
“Halloa!” said Val, starting up and rubbing his eyes. “Who were you talking to? Her, I suppose?”
“No; I saw a procession of ghosts.”
“Ghosts? Don’t believe it. She has been here; that’s why you let me oversleep myself.”
“You missed a treat, Val,” I said.
“I’m always missing treats. What did she say? Did she look at me?”
“No; she did not refer to you even, but I can tell you she sang divinely.”
“Certainly! You were asleep, you know.”
“I don’t want to be reminded of my misfortune,” he replied, in a tone of annoyance.
“No nightingale could have sung sweeter, old fellow,” I said.
“Charming, no doubt,” he sneered.
“‘Home, Sweet Home,’ and a sweet ‘good night!’ which thrilled me through and through.”
He suddenly awoke to the fact that I was chaffing him. I related all that had passed, to which he listened, half incredulously.
“Go to sleep, Harry,” he said; “I mean to have a turn at all these mysteries now. Pleasant dreams, old fellow.”
Wrapping my cloak about me, I was soon locked in sleep, and had dreams, in which past events figured prominently.
The mysterious girl had made a deep impression on Valentine Aubrey; and he longed to see her, not from any ordinary motive of curiosity, but from a conviction that they were to be mixed up in life together. Val had a very vivid imagination, and was always on the qui vive for something wonderful. Now that he was watching he listened, and kept his eyes well employed.
“Why doesn’t she come?” he thought, with annoyance. “She sings and talks to Harry when I’m asleep. Didn’t I offer to be a brother to her? It’s positive ingratitude, and I’m disgusted. Halloa, what’s this?”
The dim outline of a human figure could be seen, hovering about in a way that made Val feel uncomfortable.
“Come along,” he said at last, “and show me what you are like, and don’t go sneaking about like that.”
Hardly had he spoken than there came the report of a rifle, followed by a laugh, and a scream of terror.
“This is getting past a joke,” thought Val. “Harry had all the singing, and I’ve come in for all the row.”
The figure he had seen came bounding towards him, head over heels, like an india-rubber ball.
“Halloa! stop! Where are you coming to?” he shouted, stopping the uncanny thing with the butt of his rifle, just in time to prevent it going right into the fire. Slowly uncoiling itself, the figure first sat, and then stood upright, revealing to Val’s astonished gaze a youth, covered with long hair all over his body and arms, and with nails like the talons of a bird. The face alone was human, and a pair of large intelligent eyes looked at him half defiantly, half in terror. Val addressed him in Hindoostanee, but received no reply.
“Blest if it ain’t just like the story of ‘Valentine and Orson.’ I wonder whether he’s been suckled by a bear?” muttered Val.
Harry slept soundly; but Val, feeling somewhat uneasy, awoke him.
“All right, old fellow; it’s my turn to keep watch I suppose?”
“Look, Harry, look! Here’s a queer chap. What do you make of him?” said Val.
“It’s a monkey with a human face, Val; an ugly looking creature, too. What does he want?”
“Ask him. I spoke to him in Hindoostanee, but he didn’t answer. You try him.”
“Let’s try him with a biscuit first,” said Harry, as he threw him one.
The strange creature caught and ate it with avidity, holding out his hand for more.Harry held out another to entice him nearer. At first he was shy; but hunger prevailed at last, and he entered the circle of flames.
Harry held out a biscuit to entice the strange creature nearer.
Harry patted his shaggy head, and gave him a biscuit and a few lumps of sugar, which caused him great delight. Seeing the carcase of the deer, he looked up wistfully at Harry and pointed.
“What an appetite the fellow has!” said Val. “Blest if I wouldn’t rather keep him a week than a fortnight.”
Harry cut off a large piece of flesh, and raking some embers together, put it on to broil, to the intense satisfaction of the queer-looking boy, who smacked his lips and sniffed the odour of the cooking meat with every sign of pleasure. Before it was quite done he made a snatch at it, and began eating it quite hot, growling over the morsel like a cat, to the great amusement of his companions.
“He ain’t particular, Harry?” asked Val. “What teeth the fellow has! I hope he won’t bite us.”
“Wouldn’t he do well in a show?” said I, laughing. “We’d make a fortune out of him, old fellow.”
“Not if he eats two or three pounds of meat at a sitting. I wonder who he is?”
“Can’t say; evidently a wild wandering boy.”
“Let’s dub him the ‘Wandering Boy of the Jungle’ Look! he wants more already. Why, he’d breed a famine.”
The uncouth creature was pointing to the venison; but Harry shook his head, to intimate he was not to have any more just then. The creature cleared the fire at a bound and began climbing a cocoa-nut tree, hand over hand, with the agility and dexterity of a monkey.
“I suppose he’s going to roost up there,” remarked Val, “out of the way of snakes. Not a bad idea.”
“He’s thirsty, and wants the milk. He’ll be back presently,” replied Harry.
This proved correct, for the wild boy returned with some cocoa-nuts. They were full of delicious milk; but the lads were at a loss to know how he would open them. Bounding over the fire again, the wild creature returned with a large club, evidently his weapon, and at once cracked the top of a cocoa-nut, the contents of which he drank.
“You might crack one for us, I think,” said Val. “I’ll help myself.”
He stretched out his hand to take one, when the wild boy seized him by the wrist, and pressed it so hard that Val danced about with pain. Val raised his rifle threateningly, when, with a cry of rage and defiance, the wild boy swung his club in the air. In another moment Val’s skull would have been crushed, but I grasped the creature by the arm and shook him. He was quiet in an instant, and knelt submissively at my feet, with every sign of contrition. Evidently he appreciated my kindness, and liked me, and at a sign he cracked a cocoa-nut and handed it to me.
“The sooner we get rid of the savage beast the better,” said Val. “He’s bruised my wrist.”
“Don’t be angry, old fellow,” I said. “He knows no better, and I’m positive he’s amenable to kindness.”
“But his hand is as hard as iron, Look at him now. He’s playing with your gun. He’ll shoot some one.”
The wild boy was looking into the barrel, and poking his fingers down it with a puzzled look. Turning the weapon round, he scratched himself like a monkey does, and then examined the trigger. It was at half-cock; he pulled hard, but it wouldn’t move. This enraged him, and he took his club to break it, when I interfered, and, seizing the rifle, attempted to wrest it from him. Uttering cries of rage, he whirled his club fiercely. Raising his rifle, Val fired in the air, when the wild boy, with a shriek of terror, bounded over the fire and was lost in the surrounding darkness.
“What do you think of your pet, Harry?” asked Val.
“Especially in his character of ‘King of Clubs,’ eh?”
“I’m afraid we’ve frightened him.”
“That’s cool. I think he has frightened us. I don’t want to see him again.”
The conversation, was interrupted by a voice, which came from the bamboo plantation, saying— “Boys, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing particular,” I replied. “We’ve been amused by a wild creature.”
“No, we haven’t,” said Val, “We’ve been disgusted. But I say.”
“Well, what is it?”
“Aren’t you coming nearer so that we can see what you are like?”
“No, certainly not. Boys like you ought to be at home in bed.”
“We can give you some hot tea,” said Val. “Do come.”
“We’re very lonely, Miss Dana,” I ventured to remark, “It would be a charity to keep us company. We can tell you a whole lot of news.”
“Indeed! Well, talk away: I can hear. Besides, I know all the news.”
“I wish I could see you,” muttered Val. “All this mystery is very bothering.”
“Shall we join you, miss?” I asked.
“No; you are safer where you are; to be in the Jungle at night means death.”
“But you are alone,” said Val. “What a girl can do, so can boys. I’m coming.”
“There’s a tiger yonder, boy. Look in the bushes by your light, can’t you see two greenish orbs?”
We did as we were desired, and perceived two glowing greenish orbs, which we took at first for clusters of fireflies. We were about to raise our rifles to fire when the wild boy appeared in chase of a small deer which made straight for our fire, and, brought to bay by the bright flames, stood still. With a blow from his formidable club he felled the creature to the earth, and then threw it on one of our fires to roast whole.
“Is that Yunacka, the wild wandering boy?” asked the voice from the plantation.
The wild creature pricked up his ears and showed evident signs of delight.
“Yes, miss,” I replied. “Do you know him?”
“I should think so,” was the reply. “Here, Yunacka, I want you.”
He bounded away; and Val and I dragged the carcase of the deer out of the fire.
“Look to your rifles,” cried the girl. “Yunacka may need help. Keep your eyes on the bush.”
We saw the wild boy quickly disappear in the darkness.
We kept our gaze fixed on the bush, where the two balls of green fire gleamed and scintillated. Now that we had been made aware of what they meant we were not quite so much at our ease.
“Make the fires blaze,” said Val.
We stoked the fires, and could now see the striped coat of a tiger as it lurked among the bushes, waiting for a chance to spring out at us. After awhile we saw the wild boy approaching the bush from the rear, swiftly and stealthily, with upraised club. He dealt the lurking tiger several blows in quick succession, and when the brute turned with an angry growl to attack him, he bounded right over it, and, rolling himself into a ball, tumbled in our direction. The tiger left its ambush and followed Yunacka, patting him with its paws as a cat would play with a mouse before killing it.
“Why don’t you fire?” cried the mysterious occupant of the bamboo plantation. “Can’t you see the poor fellow’s danger? You’re in the line of fire, or I’d have shot the brute before this.”
Bang! bang! a roar, and a sudden uncoiling of Yunacka’s body, who raced for our bivouac, and jumped clean in. Before we could reload, the tiger, which was badly wounded, slunk away into the darkness.
“You had better practise shooting,” said Dana. “Bah! you call yourselves marksmen? Why don’t you go home?”
While she was speaking, the procession which I had before seen returned, and to Val’s great astonishment. Yunacka’s rage on seeing the ape knew no bounds; he gnashed his teeth and stamped with passion. Evidently the pair were not friends, for the ape, on its part, was much disturbed at sight of him, and grasped its formidable club viciously, showing its yellow teeth. I tried to soothe Yunacka by patting him gently on the back, but mistaking this for encouragement, he dashed out, and a fight ensued. The fakir used his staff freely on the heads of both combatants to separate them, but all to no purpose; they struck and tore at each other savagely. The yells and screams of the enraged combatants, the gaunt old man, grim and stern of countenance; and the other animals, all formed a horrid picture, which did not seem real. While the row was at its height, and everything pointed to the possibility of one of the combatants falling lifeless at the feet of the other, a form glided through the darkness.
“At last,” said Val. “Look, Harry, isn’t she beautiful?”
This was a stretch of imagination on his part, as Dana’s features were half hidden in a lace mantle, and could not therefore be judged of.Her form was graceful, and almost statuesque in its shapely proportions.
“Yunacka, down, sir,” she said sharply. “Come here this instant.”
He turned at the sound of her voice, when the ape dealt him a blow on the head which would have killed an ordinary mortal, but only doubly enraged him. The next moment the combat was renewed with more fury than ever. Putting forth all his strength, Yunacka dealt the ape a blow which felled it to the earth. He was about to deal it a coup de grace when Dana’s voice arrested him. So great was her influence over the wild creature that he threw himself at her feet and licked her hand, like a faithful dog.
“Father,” she said to the old man, “what is the meaning of this? I thought they were such good friends.”
“Alas! my daughter, see for yourself what brute passions lead to. They quarrelled over some fruit. I’m afraid my poor friend is dying.”
“I hope not,” she replied.
Then turning to us, she said— “Give me a little water.”
Val snatched up a tin in a great hurry, and, as ill-luck would have it, upset the contents. He looked awfully sheepish, and at once darted off to refill it. I dashed after him, and Dana, snatching up her rifle, followed. I did not anticipate danger, but she did, knowing that the denizens of the jungle used the rivulet as a drinking place. Her eyesight was keener than mine, for she espied a crouching beast, where I saw nothing. Bang! bang! went both barrels to our great amazement, followed by an angry roar from some brute in its mortal agony. A buffalo stood near us, drinking, under the shade of a large tree.
Suddenly it bellowed, and we saw some huge body fold itself about it, followed by the noise of cracking bones. The poor beast was in the deadly embraces of a large boa-constrictor. I was glad to get away from the spot, for the groans of the wretched buffalo made me feel sick at heart. On returning to the bivouac the ape had partly recovered, and under Dana’s treatment was quickly itself again, and followed the fakir, evidently pleased to get out of Yunacka’s reach.
Dana stayed with us a short while, and was very jolly company.
“Don’t you think you had better go home?” she said. “You have had a taste of jungle life. Be advised, and give up your intention of roaming any further.”
“Oh, we’ll be all right when we meet Golob,” replied Val. “He is a shikaree, and will pull us through everything; besides, it’s worth all the danger to have met you, Miss Dana.”
She was radiantly beautiful, and reminded me of somebody I had before seen, but whom I could not remember. She avoided all reference to herself, or her mysterious sojourn in the heart of an Indian jungle, and after partaking of some tea she bade us good night, and disappeared as mysteriously as she had come.
Harry and Val kept awake the remainder of the night, talking over what had transpired.
“As for tigers,” said Val disdainfully, “I don’t think much of them; they’re nobodies in my estimation.”
“Don’t run them down,” said Harry. “They seem very partial to you.”
“Don’t chaff, Harry. Mrs. Tiger treated me very fairly, certainly; but Dana isn’t quite so chummy as she might be, you know.”
“Oh, you think she favours me.”
“Don’t be conceited, Barry. Didn’t she run after me when I went for the water? and you can’t say she didn’t knock that tiger over just when it was in the act of collaring me.”
“I was there, you know, Val.”
“Nonsense. I tell yon she likes me.”
“You are aggravating, Harry. Didn’t we toss up, and I won her?”
“I am not convinced, Val.”
“Then I’ll ask her who she likes best when I see her; but there’s daylight. Look at the glorious rays of old Sol.”
The faint rosy tint of morn tipped the trees and bushes, and beautified everything. Birds of brilliant plumage flitted about, making the place vocal with sound, chanting their matins, and looking as if they enjoyed their lives.Troops of monkeys gambolled among the trees, hailing the light of the glorious sun as something to be thankful for. Squirrels frisked about in search of food, and sat and ate roots and cracked woodnuts in their pretty fashion. Even snakes came out of their holes to bask in the warm rays, which chased away the dews of night, and painted the flowers, which grew here in rich abundance.
“Isn’t this glorious, Val?” said Harry, baring his head to the zephyr-like breeze.
“Very,” replied Val; “but I begin to feel peckish. Thanks to Yunacka, we can have a venison steak for breakfast, I wonder where the fellow is?”
Hardly had he spoken than the wild boy dropped at their feet, having slept in the branches overhead. Good morning, my friend,” said Val, raising his cork helmet ceremoniously. “Talk of somebody, and he’s sure to appear.”
The wild creature laughed, and rubbed his hands as he held them over the blazing embers, the warmth being evidently very pleasing to him.
“Yunacka, you’re to be scullery-maid. Attend to the fires.”
To show him Harry placed some sticks on the fire, and motioned to him to do the same, which he did. Now that they had a good look at him in the daylight, he was not so uncouth; there was something winning in his face, despite his general appearance.
“Now, then, for breakfast,” said Harry, as he drew the ramrods, and prepared to cook the meal. “Val, skin the deer and cut it up in readiness.”
Yunacka was like a parched pea in a frying-pan, looking at this and that, and watching Val’s operations with evident satisfaction. The hunting-knife was an object of curiosity to him.
“Here Yunacka,” said Val, passing him a steak, “give that to Harry. Ha, you rascal! It isn’t fit to eat yet.”
Yunacka had given evident intentions of devouring the meat raw, but desisted on being reproved. He saw the hunting-knife on the ground, and picked it up, and began examining it, licking the blade first. They were greatly amused at his operations, especially when he cut his finger. He showed his teeth like a monkey, glared at the knife, and then threw it into the fire.
“Halloa!” said Val, “don’t make so free with my property, or we’ll quarrel.”
He drew the knife out of the fire, and put it aside to cool. The tea and sugar were placed in readiness for use. close to the trunk of the tree, little dreaming that thieves were about in the shape of monkeys, who were pilfering the sugar, when they were detected by Yunacka. Before he could capture the offenders, they were up the tree, chattering, swearing, and making faces. Val, annoyed by their chattering, picked up a stone and threw it at them, to which they replied by pelting down wood apples. Yunacka got a nasty crack on the head. Picking up the knife, he ascended the tree, and then commenced prodding every unfortunate monkey he could get near. Such a screaming and chattering were never heard than that now ensued. Yunacka’s sardonic laugh accompanied every yell given by his victims. While enjoying the fun, a procession of servants appeared, bearing a variety of dishes, which emitted an appetising odour.
“Dana has thought of me,” said Val.
“I bet she has addressed a note to me, Val,” said Harry.
“We needn’t have cooked our own breakfast if we had known; but there, I thought she wouldn’t forget me.”
Val was evidently smitten with Dana, and was working himself up into a belief that she reciprocated his feelings. There was no note, only Miss Dana’s compliments, which elicited a comical look of triumph from Val, at which Harry laughed heartily. Yunacka’s olfactory organs were tickled by the smell of the good things, and he quickly descended, with a grin of satisfaction, at having chastised the monkeys for their daring impudence. The breakfast commenced, and the wild boy, who tasted delicious coffee for the first time in his life, enjoyed it. So much did he like it that he suddenly seized the coffee-pot, and drank the hot stuff through the spout, scalding his mouth, at which he spluttered, and made such grimaces that his companions were fairly convulsed with laughter.
A dish of “kedgeric,” made of rice and lentils, pleased him immensely. He held out his plate for more. Harry thought he had had enough, and refused, which elicited from him a growl of dissatisfaction. Suddenly he seized the dish, and bolted with it into the tree, where he sat, eating to his heart’s content, not caring a whit for threats or coaxings.
The servants were anxious for the recovery of their mistress’s property, in the shape of the silver dish, and one of them spoke harshly to the wild boy, and then threw a stone at him. Yunacka hurled the empty dish at the fellow, and struck him on the head, and he went down like a ninepin, but was not much hurt.
Harry was angry at the boy’s conduct, and called him down sharply. When he came, he caught up a stick and gave him several blows. He was penitent enough after awhile. He was receiving his first lesson in discipline, and didn’t seem to like it much; his wild nature rebelled at all restraint. At this juncture a bear came shambling along, and Yunacka, with a cry of rage, dashed out, club in hand, and attacked it. The others watched the combat eagerly, and with anxiety, the bear being full grown, and a very powerful brute. As usual it hugged Yunacka; who, however struck it with his club, and the long nails of his left hand tore its breast open. The combatants fell at last, when the wild boy managed to free himself, and, before the bear could rise, dealt it several terrific blows with the club, which stunned it. The battle was over, the victory complete, when Val rushed in, and slew the animal with his hunting-knife.
After the things had been carried away by the servants, Val and Harry dragged the carcase of the bear to their bivouac, and were about to skin it when Dana appeared.
“That’s, a fine fellow. Did you shoot it?” she asked.
“Yunacka stunned it,” replied Harry.
“And I gave it the finishing stroke,” said Val, assuming an air of importance.
“But where is Yunacka?” she asked.
He had taken himself off somewhere to dress his wounds.
“Will you accept of the skin, miss?” asked Harry.
“It isn’t yours to give, it’s mine!” said Val, with an aggrieved air; “but you can have it, Dana. Won’t it keep you warm at night, eh?”
“Boy,” said Dana, with a merry twinkle in her dark eyes, “don’t give way to jealousy.”
“Me jealous — and of Harry? No. I’m sure you like me best, Dana; don’t you?”
“Why should I like you?”
“Didn’t you save my life?”
“So she did mine,” said Harry, somewhat hotly, for he didn’t quite like Val’s air of proprietorship.
“If you are going to quarrel about me,” she said, “I must say good morning.”
“I beg your pardon, Dana,” said Val. “It was stupid, of me. I’m so impulsive; and I like you so much.”
“I apologise, too, miss,” said Harry; “and — and —”
“And you like me, too,” she said, with a laugh.
“Very much indeed. You saved my life.”
“Bosh! that’s stale news,” said Val. “Tell us something we don’t know.”
“Now, now, boys, don’t quarrel. Would you like to come and see my home?”
“It would afford us great pleasure, miss.”
“Call me Dana, please,” she said, “it sounds better out here in the jungle.”
“And will you call me Harry?”
“Certainly; it’s a very pretty name, and a favourite of mine.”
Val felt fit to commit some absurdity or other, he was so wild at Dana’s familiarity with his friend.
“Val isn’t at all a bad kind of name is it?” said Harry.
“You mind your own business, will you?” he growled.
“Come on, Val and Harry,” she said, with a laugh, “let’s have a race home.”
Val’s face brightened when she mentioned his name.
“What shall we race for, Dana?” he asked.
“Home, of course.”
“Let’s make it for a kiss?”
“Val, don’t be rude!” said Harry, horrified at the proposal.
“I accept the bet, Val,” replied Dana. “Now then, a fair start. One, two, three, and away!”
They started, Dana leading the way at a very fast pace.
Dana won, being as fleet of foot as a young deer. They halted at a gateway, hitherto hidden by the bamboo plantation, when Dana said— “You’ve lost, you see.”
“Yes, but you’ve won. I’m ready to pay you, Dana,” said Val.
“But I don’t want paying.”
“Oh, come, that isn’t fair,” said Val. “You must be paid.”
“As second, you’ve saved your stakes, Val,” she said mischievously, “Harry, you can pay me.”
Harry kissed her, and gave Val a look of triumph, and received one of defiance if not hatred, in return.
“You may, if you like, Val,” she said demurely.
“I ought to have paid mine first,” he said; “but better late than never.”
He saluted her lips, and good humour was instantly restored.They looked about them in wonder and amazement; here in the heart of an immense jungle, surrounded by wild animals, and noxious reptiles, was a house and grounds which could vie with any ever seen. The demesne covered several acres of ground and was in beautiful order, and full of flowers and fruit of the choicest kinds. The house, or rather bungalow, was on the ground, and contained many lofty rooms, the whole surrounded by a verandah, to keep off the sun, and to afford a cool seat for the inmates.
“Isn’t this jolly?” said Val, putting his hands in his pockets, and looking round with the air of a lord, “I could stay here always, Dana.”
“You’re not a man, yet,” she said, laughing.
“I wish I was,” said Val.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because then I’d marry you.”
“Oh, indeed,” was the laughing reply. But suppose I didn’t care for you enough, eh?”
This was a floorer, from which Val took some time to recover. Not care for him — impossible! The idea was monstrous to him — too ridiculous to be entertained.
“Besides,” said Harry, somewhat spitefully, “there’s money wanted, Val.”
“Go it, pile on the agony! and all just because a fellow is honest enough to speak the truth. I mean to marry Dana, or not at all.”
“Don’t talk nonsense, Val,” she said, smiling. “Let us eat some fruit.”
They were soon busily engaged in picking delicious fruits, and eating them in this veritable paradise. The sun was shining brightly, the trees full of birds, and a gentle breeze was blowing, making music to the melody of a miniature waterfall. Suddenly a large cobra emerged from a rhododendron bush, and reared itself just in front of Dana. Harry seized a stick to strike it down, when she said —
“Don’t, Harry, it’s one of my pets. See, it only wants to greet me.”
She stroked its head gently, when it displayed every mark of delight.
Its forked tongue moved like a magnetic needle, and its body swayed to and fro with a graceful, undulating motion.
“It follows me about like a dog,” she said.
“Come along, Baboo, and have some milk, my pet.”
The snake glided along by her side, but hissed when the others went too near it. She put a saucer of milk and sugar down, from which it fed, while Val and Harry looked on with wonder. Both hated snakes, and invariably killed any they fell across, yet here was one quite tame, and displaying an affection and docility that was amazing.
“Are you afraid of snakes?” she asked.
“Yes, very,” replied Harry.
“I’m not,” said Val. “See, I’ll take Baboo up.”
Dana pulled him sharply back, saying — “Don’t touch it, for your life. A bite would produce almost instant death.”
“And yet you handle it?” he said incredulously.
“Yes; I found it when it was quite a baby, almost dead. I fed and nursed it, until it has grown into the fine fellow it now is; but I have wonderful power over snakes. Come, I’ll show you what I mean.”
She led the way to the extreme end of the grounds, where there was a regular menagerie of animals and snakes.
“You see that fellow,” she said, pointing out a huge cobra, which struck at the wire netting viciously, “it’s of a species called cannibal, because it eats its fellow snakes, and is perfectly untameable.”
“You’re’ not going to handle that fellow, surely?” said Val.
“Yes, I certainly am.”
“Don’t, Dana; think of the danger.”
Harry joined his entreaties to his, but she only laughed, displaying a set of teeth that vied with pearls in appearance.
“Stand aside, just out of sight of the creature,” she said. “The sight of you irritates it; and mark what follows.”
They did as she desired, and saw a wonderful sight. The snake stood perfectly erect, being four feet and more in length, eyeing Dana, who remained motionless, its hood expanded, a sure sign of its being in a state of rage. Like the rattlesnake, which never strikes until it has sounded its rattle, the cobra never bites while its hood is flat. Dana fixed her eyes on the reptile, which vainly endeavoured to evade them, hissing and showing signs of fear now, as if it knew it was about to pass under a spell. At first it swayed its body to and fro, almost violently, then this ceased gradually, and it stood perfectly rigid, as if suddenly turned to stone.
Meanwhile another person, who is to exercise an influence upon the lives of the personages of this story, was unconsciously approaching. He was a stranger, out on a botanising expedition, having come from Lucknow, where he was attached to the court of the King of Oude. He was quite a youth, being only eighteen, and had only recently arrived from England. He was handsome, clever, and a charming fellow, and his name, Clarence Fitzhugh. He knew no fear as he traversed these wilds, pack on back, in which he kept his specimens, for he was a decent shot.
“Halloa!” he said, on seeing the smouldering embers of the bivouac fires, and the guns, and personal belongings of the boys; “somebody’s about. I wonder who?”
He took up the rifle and examined it, when Yunacka, bristling with rage, dropped from the tree, club in hand, and confronted him. The wild boy seemed to have some indistinct notion regarding the rights of property, and that the stranger had no business to meddle with the rifles of his friends.
“Bless me, what a wonderful-looking creature this is,” Clarence thought. “Half monkey, half man, I should say. What does he want, I wonder?”
Yunacka jabbered like a monkey, and was evidently about to attack him, when the young man quickly raised the rifle and fired, thinking it would bring the owner of the weapons to the spot.
The young man quickly raised the rifle and fired.
As before, Yunacka, on hearing the report, tumbled head over heels, and rolled over and over like a ball.
“That fellow would make his fortune in a circus,” thought Clarence, as he watched the queer antics of the wild creature.
“I wonder who and what he is? I wonder, too, if the owner of this carcase would mind my having a venison steak? I feel precious hungry. Here goes; I’ll eat first, and ask permission afterwards.”
He soon had a brisk fire, and proceeded to cook his luncheon, using the carcase of the bear as a seat. Having got over his fright, Yunacka shambled back, looking penitent, and inclined to make friends with the man who could make thunder at a moment’s notice.
“Well, my funny friend,” said Clarence, laughing and holding out his hand, “Won’t you shake hands, eh?”
Yunacka took his hand and looked at it, but did not attempt to shake it; in fact, he seemed at a loss to understand what was required of him.
“That’s how it’s done,” said Clarence, squeezing the hairy boy’s hand, and nodding good-humouredly.
Yunacka’s closed on his with a grip like iron, making him wince, as he said — “Hi! that’s enough. Come, come; I don’t want to shake hands any longer.”
The wild creature grinned, and pressed harder, bringing the tears into his companion’s eyes.
“I’ll give you a smack aside the head, if you don’t let go,” said Clarence, at last. “There, how do you like that?”
Yunacka staggered under the blow, and released his hold. He did not resent it, but knelt at Clarence’s feet to show him he submitted.
“I was a brute to hit you; you knew no better,” said Clarence, patting him on the head. “Poor creature; come and have something to eat.”
Yunacka was pleased to find himself received into favour, and began stoking the fire, casting a longing eye at the steaks, which were cooking. Clarence lit a cigar, and commenced smoking, greatly to the wild boy’s astonishment, who looked at the lighted cigar, and the smoke, with curiosity mixed with fear.
Perceiving this, Clarence good-naturedly lit another cigar, and handed it to him, saying — “Try a weed, old man.”
Yunacka squatted like a monkey, and then looked at the cigar, popping the wrong end into his mouth and getting burnt.
“No, stupid, not that way. Let me show you,” said Clarence, laughing, and putting the right end into Yunacka’s mouth.
He soon took to it, and smoked away furiously, watching the smoke curling above his nose with great glee.
“I wonder whether it will make the odd creature sick?” he thought. “This is an adventure if you like. Now for luncheon. Come, old man; everything is ready.”
He gave the wild boy a large piece of meat, which he devoured hot, and with evident relish.
“What an appetite the creature has,” thought Clarence. “There, there’s more. Eat away; it’s a real pleasure to watch you.”
Yunacka darted away when his appetite was satisfied, and climbing a cocoa-nut tree, brought down some nuts, and gave them to Clarence. He also brought guavas, mangoes, bananas, and other fruits, and Clarence enjoyed the best luncheon he had had for several days.
Meanwhile Val and Harry watched with the greatest interest the struggle for mastery between Dana and the snake. The cobra gradually sank to the bottom of the cage, and lay perfectly motionless.
“You can come now,” she said, as she opened the door, and entering, lifted the snake which was as stiff and rigid as a log of wood.
They could not help observing the peculiar expression of her face more particularly of her eyes, which blazed like fire. She was a wonderful creature, and they almost began to be afraid of her.
“What manner of girl is this,” they thought, “who can reduce a venomous untameable creature like this to slavery?”
“By Jove, Dana, you’re a plucky girl. I think you could send me to sleep too, if you cared to try,” said Val.
“I can mesmerise you,” she said, laughing; “shall I try? If I do you are bound to tell me all your secrets.”
They handled the snake with impunity, and examined the marks on the head, which were exactly like a pair of spectacles.
“I say,” said Val, “I have an idea that you I and Dana could stump the country as itinerant show people; we’d make lots of coin.”
“Not a bad idea, certainly,” said Dana, laughing. “But I don’t think we’ll take up with it just now, at least. Come and see my other pets.”
A large tigress, a splendid creature, bounded from side to side of its cage when it saw her. It had thee cubs, the size of poodle dogs, and they also were evidently pleased to see their mistress.
“All my pets,” she said, “have been reared from mere babies. I shall go in to see ’Pussy’ and her little ones. Would you like to come too, Val?”
“Certainly,” he said. “I’m not afraid of tigers. I’ll undertake to kill any amount of them.”
Dana opened the door of the cage, and went in followed by Val, with the air of a gladiator going to deadly combat.
“Pussy,” as the tigress was called, purred like a cat, and rubbed its glossy coat against her mistress, who caressed her.
The cubs too frisked about, and one of them rushed through Val’s legs, upsetting him. Val got up in a rage, and kicked the cub, which howled with pain.
“Get out for your life,” said Dana in a harsh voice, “quick!”
But Val wouldn’t, although the tigress glared at him, and tried to pass Dana, who, however, kept her position.
“For Heaven’s sake, Val, come out!” cried Harry. “Don’t you see Dana’s danger as well as your own?”
“Nonsense!” he said. “I’m not afraid of her.”
The tigress growled, and rearing, placed its paws on Dana’s shoulders, showing its horrid fangs.
“Val, go! go!” she said in a faint voice. “I can’t stand this pressure much longer. Oh, Heavens, why don’t you go?”
Harry rushed in, dragged him out, and shut the door of the cage, only just in time, for Dana fell, and the tigress bounded over her prostrate form.
“Run for assistance to the house,” cried Harry. “Quick, or it will be too late.”
Val was serious enough now; all the bravado had been taken out of him by Dana’s danger, and he ran off at the top of his speed.
“Dana,” said Harry, as he pushed his handkerchief through the bars, “cover your left shoulder with this; it’s bleeding.”
“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll lie perfectly still, and perhaps she will get pacified.”
“Can I do nothing?”
“Yes. Leave the door slightly ajar when you get a chance. I can work my way gradually there, and get through perhaps.”
Watching his opportunity he did this, while she talked to the tigress, calling it her “dear Pussy,” and fondling the cubs, which raced over her in their gambols.
“Val has gone for assistance. Shall we shoot the tigress?” asked Harry.
“No, no; a red-hot iron will be the best. I’m afraid I’ve lost all control over her for the present.”
Dana cautiously worked her way to the door of the cage, on her back and the tigress bounded from side to side, lashing its tail, and growling fiercely.
Meanwhile Clarence Fitzhugh had finished his meal, and wondered why it was the owners of the guns, etc., did not return.
“They can’t have fallen victims to wild beasts,” he thought, “or been murdered by the Thugs?”
He had heard and read of the existence of these wretches, who, under the guise of religion, entrap and murder unsuspecting travellers. It suddenly struck Clarence that Yunacka might throw some light on the subject, and a horrible suspicion crossed him that the wild creature might have destroyed them in their sleep. However, he put the thought away from him, as being too dreadful, and taking up one of the guns pointed to it, and then by signs hinted that he would like to find the owners. Yunacka seemed to understand what was wanted, and led the way to Dana’s house, followed by Clarence.
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed, as he saw the beautiful grounds and magnificent house; “this almost passes belief.”
He entered the grounds, and seeing Val, addressed him.
“For Heaven’s sake come with me,” said Val, dragging him forward. “You’re an Englishman, and can help us.”
“What is the matter?” asked Clarence.
“Dana is with the tigress, and in an awful fix, and Harry’s there; and — hurrah! here comes the servants with the hot iron.”
Clarence might well be pardoned for thinking Val a little cracked; his talk was so incoherent, and his manner so excited.
“There’s Harry,” he said. “Where’s Dana?”
“Still with the tiger. Where’s the bar?” cried Harry.
“Here it comes.”
Thinking Clarence was a relative of Dana’s, Harry said — “Here’s a gentleman. Is it your brother, Dana?”
“He’s a stranger; I’ve no brother,” she replied. “Oh, Harry, are they never coming? See! ’Pussy’s’ eyes are glaring at me so. She scents the blood on my neck.”
“Let me join you,” cried Harry. “The brute will turn on me, and you may be saved.”
“Never; if I’m to die, it’s Heaven’s will. Look, look!” she added, as her face blanched; “she’s getting more furious. Oh, Heaven have mercy on me!”
“I’ll shoot the brute,” cried Clarence. “It’s her only, chance for life.”
As he spoke he raised his rifle and levelled it at the tiger, who; with a growl lowered its head to bury its teeth in the throat of the prostrate girl. One of the cubs managed to get through the partly open door, and began to mew piteously. This circumstance altered the state of things, and probably saved Dana from mutilation, if not death. The tigress’s attention was taken off Dana by the solicitude she now felt for the safety of her young one.
Clarence’s gun was raised, when Dana said — “Don’t fire; I think I am safe now.”
The natives now came hurrying up with the hot iron, which Clarence took, saying — “When I drive the tigress back, open the door and get her out. Keep as cool as you can; bungling at this moment might cost us all our lives.”
He thrust the iron through the bars, straight into the tigress’s jaws. Quick as lightning Harry opened the door, seized Dana, and dragged her half way through the opening, when the tigress uttered a horrible roar, and appeared about to spring. Clarence thrust the bar right into her mouth and pressed hard. Dana was out now, and safe, but the poor girl had fainted, and had to be carried into the house, where she was attended to by an ayah, or nurse. Yunacka meanwhile had got hold of the cub, and was pulling its ears and tail until it howled with pain. He did this too in sight of the tigress, evidently meaning it as a retaliation for Dana’s treatment. The wild creature was passionately fond of her, and would have done battle for her with even the tigress itself. The tigress, rendered furious by the cries of its little one, and the pain caused by the burning iron, bounded against the sides of its cage with terrific force. At last it dashed against the door and it flew open with a crash. But Yunacka was not to be taken at a disadvantage. Perceiving his danger, he climbed the nearest tree, taking the cub with him. The news of the tigress having got loose was carried to the house by the natives, and caused no little uneasiness. Every door and window was instantly secured to prevent the creature from obtaining ingress. Clarence, Val and Harry held a council of war, but could come to no definite conclusion as to the best course to pursue.
“If human life is endangered,” said Clarence, “we must sacrifice the tigress, trusting to the young lady’s good sense to hold us blameless.”
One of the servants entered to tell them that if they liked to ascend the roof — a flat one — they could see what was going on in the grounds. Clarence took his gun up with him, and when they were there a comical sight met their gaze. They could not help laughing. Yunacka was up the tree, and the tiger was clambering after him like a cat, eager to rescue her cub, which was mewing piteously. The wild boy was having a regular lark with the tigress, seating himself on a bough, and letting her almost reach him, when, with a spring, he would go higher, and then pinch the cub to make it howl. They could hear his guttural laugh as he showed the young one to its mother to increase her rage. Higher and higher went Yunacka, careful not to assume a position where the tiger could make a spring at him.
When he had ascended as high as he thought prudent he ran out along a bough, and sat almost at the extreme end, making it sway under his weight. The tigress, bent on succouring its young, crept along the branch, keeping its eyes fixed on Yunacka, who seemed to enjoy the occasion to his heart’s content.
The tigress crept along the branch, keeping its eyes fixed on Yunacka.
He left off swaying occasionally to allow the tigress a chance of getting a foot or so further, and then increased the oscillation, much to her perplexity. Despite her nimbleness she had all her work to do to keep on the bough. Louder and louder did Yunacka laugh, it became a perfect yell, and sounded horribly discordant and demoniacal. Suddenly he placed the cub on a branch just above him, and, dropping on to a bough beneath, descended to the ground.
Yunacka climbed to the roof and joined the others, evidently well pleased with his exploit. Meanwhile, the tigress had a difficult task to accomplish in rescuing the cub and descending with it in safety. Raising itself, it seized the cub in its mouth, and then commenced to recede slowly, balancing itself as dexterously as a tight-rope dancer. Dana now joined the others on the roof with a smiling face, and looking little, if anything, the worse for her recent misadventure. They congratulated her, and Val fell on his knees and begged her pardon.
“Can you forgive me, Dana?” he asked.
“Certainly! you, deserve praise for your courage, although it was akin to foolhardiness.”
Then, turning to Clarence, she said— “Accept my thanks, sir, for your timely assistance; thanks to you and my young friends here, I escaped from a terrible danger.”
“It afforded me great pleasure, miss, to be of service to you,” replied Clarence. “Allow me to express the hope that you are none the worse for your trying ordeal?”
She made a suitable reply, and then, catching sight of the tigress, cried — “’Pussy’ is in a great strait. I must go and get her help.”
The lads offered their services; but she said, with a smile— “Thanks; but the sight of you would only irritate her.”
Shortly afterwards she appeared in the grounds, accompanied by two natives, carrying a long ladder.
“She’ll be killed,” said Val.
“She evidently has faith in the brute, or she wouldn’t run a second risk in so short a time,” said Clarence.
Now that the irritation has passed the tigress most likely will resume its old relations with her.”
“Have your gun in readiness; or if you like I will take it,” said Harry.
“Thanks, no,” said Clarence, “I will keep it ready myself; I’ve been told I am a good shot, and I know it.”
The scene was now getting exciting; the ladder had been placed, and the tigress was evidently debating within itself whether to make use of the means of descent thus offered. Dana encouraged her to descend by voice and example, ascending a little way herself, and then descending. The tigress evidently knew how to calculate chances, for it looked about, examining the other means of descent. After a little persuasion from Dana, the creature descended the ladder.
Dana had sent the natives indoors to be out of danger.
“If she attempts to attack you,” shouted Clarence, “throw yourself flat on the ground, and I’ll save you.”
Dana raised her hand to intimate she had heard him. Val paced the roof, anathematising himself for the part he had played in bringing such danger about.
Clarence, although anxious about her, did not allow his presence of mind to desert him in this critical juncture. He was calm and collected as he stood, gun in hand, ready to send a leaden messenger to Dana’s succour, if the need should arise. Even the natives were in a great state of alarm for the safety of their young mistress, whom they loved devotedly. Nothing but her strict injunctions kept them from rushing to her side. The odds were that the tigress would assail her. At this crisis a horseman rode through the gate, dismounted, and advanced to Dana’s side.
“My darling, go into the house,” he said. “Leave Pussy to me. I will come to you presently. I have grave news to tell.”
She obeyed, and joined the others on the roof. The new arrival was Dana’s father. He was a man of splendid physique, and his iron-grey hair curled over his massive forehead. The name he went by out in these wilds was Fitzmaurice, but why he should have selected this out-of-the-way spot for a habitation was a mystery. One look at his face told its own tale. He had suffered some great sorrow, which had left its mark there in deep-lined furrows. Harry looked at him with great interest without knowing why. The tigress seemed to be more under his control than Dana’s, and he soon caged the pair, and the danger, which had threatened to be serious, was over.
“My father has a wonderful power over animals,” said Dana, looking towards him with an expression of affectionate pride which bespoke the love which existed between them. “I suppose I inherit mine from him. But let us go down; I’ll introduce you to him.”
They were soon assembled in the verandah and being introduced in turn. When the old gentleman heard Harry’s family name the youth thought he noticed him start, and eyed him keenly. “I am pleased to see you all, although I must confess my surprise. Visitors here are a rare event. But I have something to tell you. The sepoys have mutinied, and I regret to say are committing outrages on every European unfortunate enough to fall into their hands,” said Fitzmaurice.
“I heard a rumour of their disaffection before I left Oude,” Clarence observed. “I sincerely hope you will be safe from their depredations here.”
“Thanks for the wish,” was the reply. “I love my jungle home, and will not leave it unless I am forced. If they should come, they’ll get a warm reception. I have plenty of arms and ammunition, and can stake my life on the fidelity of my servants. If Dana was only in a place of absolute safety, I would not care for myself.”
“Do not send me away, dear father,” pleaded the girl, with tearful eyes. If there is danger, let me face it with you.”
“I’ll stay too, sir, if you have no objection,’’ said Harry.
“And I,” said Val and Clarence.
“We’ll hold a council of war to-night. Meanwhile I’ll send out a trusty messenger to obtain news,” said Fitzmaurice.
In the excitement of the moment, neither Val nor Harry thought of the danger to their own relatives. Harry’s uncle and Val’s father were officers of a sepoy regiment, and would no doubt be in deadly peril of their lives, as also would their families. To go back to the cantonments now would be madness, especially as bands of mutineers were about, from none of which could they hope for mercy. Val was rather glad of the prospect of a brush with the enemy, and said to his friend when they were alone — “Won’t it be jolly, Harry, potting men instead of wild beasts?”
“Perhaps you won’t like it when it comes, Val,” replied Harry.
“Bah!, you’re always looking at the dark side of things. I think a fight in real earnest against odds is glorious.”
“What about those at home?” asked Harry, looking hard at him.
“By Jove! what indeed? I never gave it a thought. They’ll be in the very thick of it, won’t they?” said Val.
“Yes; but we mustn’t think of joining them. They’ll be awfully anxious about us.”
“I’m sorry we left home, now; but how were we to guess such a thing was going to happen?
“Our duty is clear. We must stay and assist in defending Dana and her father,” Harry observed. “Don’t you think he’s very like the portrait of my father?”
“What a fellow it is for seeing family likenesses in everybody he meets,” said Val, with a mocking laugh. “But seriously, Harry, I do see a likeness. It is a mere coincidence, I suppose.”
“Perhaps so, old fellow. You don’t know how much the matter affects me.”
“I know how it affects me, though.”
“If he your father, Dana must be your sister, Harry; and a fellow can’t marry his sister, you know.”
Harry laughed, and as they were joined by their friends, the subject dropped.
“Dana,” said her father, “you must be our quarter-master for the nonce — take stock of arms, ammunition and food, and bring me the account. We may have to stand a siege.”
The beautiful girl was delighted at the office assigned her, especially as it proved beyond doubt that her father intended her to remain with him. She went out with a beaming then Mr. Fitzmaurice said —“Now, to business. I don’t suppose any of you know much about fortifying a place?”
“Well, no,” said Val, “I can’t say we do; but we know a lot about defending fortifications.”
“I know a little, sir,” said Clarence modestly, “having studied for a few years at a military school.”
“And you, boy?” asked Fitzmaurice, placing his hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“I’m like Val, sir,” he replied. “All I can do is to shoot straight.”
“An excellent accomplishment, too,” he remarked, with a smile. “Well, then, Mr. Fitzhugh and myself must be the engineers. You two go and help Dana; I daresay she will be glad of your company,”
They wished nothing better, and were soon at her side, carrying out her instructions. They found her very sharp and intelligent, and quite equal to her task.
They were glad to find that there was a plentiful supply of ammunition, as well as several kegs of powder and pigs of lead.
“What a pity it is we haven’t got cannon,” said Val. “They’re the things to wake the rebels up.’’
“We have two,” she replied.
“Where?” asked Val, looking round the storeroom.
“They’re outside. We use them as posts, but they are as good as ever.”
“But you haven’t any carriages,” said Val.
“We have men who can make them.”
“What is to become of poor Yunacka?” asked Harry.
“We must get him in here, if possible; but sepoys would not think of harming a poor boy like him, bad as they may be,” said Dana.
“Besides, he can take care of himself,” Harry remarked. “They’d take him for a monkey; I’m sure we did.”
They returned to the room, when Dana’s father said —
“We have completed our plans, and will begin at once.”
“Can’t we work, sir?” said Harry. “If we had a mould we could cast bullets, and make cartridges. There are two cannon, too, which could be utilised.”
“A happy thought, lad,” he remarked.
“And I fancy I could construct a mould,” said Clarence. “I have often visited Woolwich Arsenal, and watched the men at work there.”
“Capital, capital,” said Fitzmaurice. “I mean to set the servants to work at once. They will prove faithful to a man, or I’m much mistaken.”
The servants were summoned, and Fitzmaurice harangued them in a short, stirring speech, telling them of the danger that threatened him and his house, and appealing to their loyalty.
They were unanimous in their answer; they were ready to die in his defence.
VAL AND I CONTENTS
Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Art
Comments/report typos to
BACK TO COVER PAGE
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL & SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2009 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.