All were busily engaged day by day in preparing for defence. Entrenchments were made round the house, with here and there a stockade. It was cruel to see the beautiful flowers uprooted, and fruit trees cut down, but ruthless as it seemed it was a stern necessity. The house itself was loopholed, and sandbags placed on the parapets, from behind which the defenders could fire in comparative safety. Yunacka was here, there and everywhere, and occasionally took a spell at digging. Several natives suffered from his pranks, as he would insist in shovelling the earth about in all directions, sometimes over their heads and backs.
Harry’s first effort was to drill him so that he might get accustomed to handle a gun. By signs he made him look at him, while he went through the exercise. The wild boy squatted on his haunches, and watched him with interest. Harry then handed him a rifle, which Yunacka handled very gingerly, trying to peep down the barrel. The drill was a source of amusement to the others. When Yunacka was tired he would climb a fruit-tree and regale himself, regardless of expostulations. It was wonderful how intelligent and docile he became at last, although still full of fun and mischief. In the middle of a lesson he would throw his rifle down to chase some pilferer of a monkey.
To get him accustomed to the sound of firing, a pistol with blank cartridge was placed in his hand and his finger put on the trigger. When the pistol went off he turned a somersault. He smelt the burnt gunpowder, put his finger into the barrel, and then placed it to his lips. A few rounds steadied him, and he then seemed anxious to fire repeatedly. It was wonderful how soon he became a marksman.
His intelligence was developing daily, and he began to look more and more like a human being. He was also taught to wash himself. The party were soon busy in making cartridges, casting bullets, etc. The cannon were dug up and found to be in capital condition. It was hopeless to attempt making many cannon balls, but they managed to provide themselves with a lot of grape-shot. They knocked up rough carriages under Clarence’s superintendence, and mounted the pieces on them. In the evenings Clarence and Dana sang duets together, much to Val’s disgust.
“Wait till I get home again,” he said to Harry; “I’ll learn singing, and lick that Fitzhugh into fits.”
The messengers returned with news of the mutineers, who were slaying and pillaging not very far distant. As he had drilled Yunacka so well, Harry was entrusted by Fitzmaurice with the task of drilling the servants, which he willingly undertook. One day they received intelligence that a party of mutineers were advancing, and might be expected at any moment. Fitzmaurice had buried his valuables in the garden, so that the insurgents were not likely to get much. The provisions were to be doled out in rations when the siege commenced. The greatest drawback was in the only well being exposed.
This was a serious matter; but they were prepared to face all risks rather than give in. It was dreadful to contemplate Dana’s fate, poor girl! at the hands of such wretches. The messengers had brought newspapers, from which was gleaned horrible details of rapine, murder, and other matters, which made them sick with horror, while it made the blood course through their veins in their desire to be avenged. Human tigers were approaching the jungle home, and they resolved, one and all, to defend it. It is such desperate courage that makes heroes of men.Val and Harry were to take their places among men, and acquit themselves bravely. They resolved to die with their faces to the foe, and not like cravens.
Most boys of their age were at school; they were to attend another and a sterner school, in which to learn what human endurance and suffering were. A look of determination was on every face — even on Dana’s. Yunacka had got used to the sound of firearms, and would prove a wonderful help. Harry suggested to Fitzmaurice to try the cannon with blank ammunition, just to see that everything was right. He consented, and the roar of guns was heard for the first time in the heart of the jungle. Notice was brought that the enemy were in sight, and among them one of Fitzmaurice’s own people who had turned traitor. This man appears to have nurtured spite and resentment in his heart against Fitzmaurice, because he had punished him for misconduct.
It was evident the fellow had lured the mutineers to the jungle home, promising them a rich booty, and an easy conquest. His name was Baboo. He had insulted Dana, and had received a well-merited thrashing. Just as they received this intelligence Val and Harry were gladdened by the sight of Golob, the shikaree, or native huntsman. The fellow had been sent by their friends to find them, and had come on the scene at this critical juncture. He was a splendid shot, was full of resource, and would prove invaluable to the garrison. The brave fellow was appointed to command the servants, under Fitzmaurice, of course, who was commander-in-chief. The Europeans had assembled on the roof of the house to watch for the foe.
“There they are,” said Fitzmaurice, putting down his field-glasses; “and I am sorry to say they have a field-piece with them, a six-pounder, so far as I can make out.”
Several men on horseback were of the party, which numbered some two hundred or more. This was fearful odds, but none thought of that for a moment. Their faces were pale, but their hearts quailed not. As soon as they came in sight their officers reconnoitred, while the men laid their field-piece.
“Now then, lads,” said Fitzmaurice, “give them a taste of our quality. Pick off the officers and gunners; we must draw first blood.”
They fired, when one of the rebel officers and several men bit the dust, at which the defenders cheered lustily. Dana’s face was pale, but it was relieved by a beautiful rose blush.
“Down for your lives!” said Fitzmaurice; “they are going to return the fire.”
They obeyed, and the next moment the rush of a round shot over their heads, within a foot or so, told them that the battle had commenced in real earnest.
From behind their sandbags the defenders kept up a destructive fire, Dana doing more in the work of death than any of the others. Each time her rifle was fired a foeman fell, never more to rise. What a picture was presented by that young and beautiful girl, not yet out of her teens, fighting bravely in defence of her home. The native contingent could not do much as yet, for the enemy were not visible to them. Yunacka was as restless as a hyena, walking hither and thither as if he wished to take part in the fight.
Getting impatient at last, he climbed a tree, from which he blazed away, chattering, grinning, and patting his rifle as if it were something to be proud of. Finding the rifles of the defenders did terrible execution, the enemy retired to a safe distance, having done little or no damage beyond sending a few round shot through the house. The defender had a breathing space now, which was utilised by having something to eat and drink.
On inquiries being made for Yunacka no intelligence of him could be got, except that he had been last seen in the tree, firing away as if his life depended on expending all the ammunition in his pouch. The garrison was in capital spirits, for they had had the best of the fight so far, but the enemy would be sure to return to the attack, most likely at night. Sentries were posted and relieved regularly, a guard having been told off, commanded by one of the Europeans as officer, to see that the necessary precautions against surprise were properly carried out. The darkness would prove more dangerous than anything else, as then a determined enemy could escalade the entrenchments, and carry the place with a rush. Val was in high spirits; he had knocked over a lot of sepoys, as he averred, and was anxious for the fight to recommence.
“Dana is very anxious about Yunacka,” he observed. “I hope the fellow hasn’t got into trouble.”
“Trust him for that,” replied Harry. “He is like a monkey, and would be out of reach of their muskets before he could be touched.”
While speaking Yunacka appeared, bringing with him a set of belts, pouch, etc., and a sepoy’s musket, which he had evidently stripped from a dead sepoy.
Harry was delighted to see the wild boy again, and patted his head approvingly. An idea struck him. If Fitzmaurice permitted, he would head a sortie, and bring in arms and ammunition, the former of which were needed, as many of the natives were armed only with muskets of the old pattern, some of them having flint-locks.
He at once sought the father of Dana, who agreed to Harry’s proposition, stipulating, however, that they were to avoid a collision with the enemy if possible.
Val was to accompany him, as was also Yunacka. They were in capital spirits, and hoped to return with a lot of prizes.
“Good-bye, Harry,” said Dana, “Mind and take care of yourself for all our sakes; and you too, Val. Look after Yunacka, or he’ll be getting you all into some terrible scrape.”
They promised, and started, creeping out of the gate on their hands and knees. Not a word above a whisper was to be exchanged, or a shot fired, unless absolutely necessary. Harry went forward, stooping low, with his rifle at the trail. He was careful to secrete himself behind bushes and shrubs, until he could run across a clear space with safety. No one was in sight, but he heard the hum of voices some distance ahead, and saw the watch fires of the enemy.
He was about to return, when he perceived a native creeping stealthily towards the entrenchments. Harry could have shot the fellow with ease, but was afraid of alarming his comrades. He decided to follow in his wake.
Resting his rifle against a tree, he drew his hunting knife, and stalked after him. He watched the man’s every movement, stopped when he did, and then, advanced, gaining on him by swift strides. Suddenly Harry espied a large tiger crouching ready for the spring. Harry threw himself flat on the ground, but in doing so made a noise, which attracted the native’s attention. The movement was fatal to the startled native. With a roar and a bound the tiger was upon him, bearing him to the ground.
Harry shuddered, and turned to retrace his steps, but suddenly halted when he overheard voices. He pulled up only just in time. Another minute, and he would have rushed right into the arms of the enemy. There was a screen of bamboos between Harry and the rebels. “Let the attack be made to-night,” said one.
“No; wait till the others come up,” was the reply.
“Berga has gone reconnoitring. When he returns we shall know where to direct the assault. Baboo says they cannot hold out-long. There’s plenty of money and jewels for us inside the house, and a beautiful girl also.”
Harry clutched his hunting-knife fiercely, and sprang towards the speaker. But at the same instant the roar of the tiger awoke the echoes, and the men turned and dashed into the thicket. Harry reached the tree where he had left his rifle; and was soon with his companions, who had become alarmed at his lengthened absence. The task of stripping the dead of their accoutrements was soon accomplished. Twelve dead bodies attested the deadly accuracy of the rifles. Harry gleaned from the number of the regiment on the waist-belts that the mutineers belonged to his uncle’s corps, in which was also Val’s father.
He called his friend’s attention to the fact, and the thoughts of both went out instantly to the loved ones. Were they safe, or had these scoundrels imbrued their hands in their blood? They felt sick at heart when they imagined what might have happened. They returned to the garrison, which had been kept under arms to rush to their assistance, had the occasion arisen. A dozen stand of arms, and scores of rounds of ammunition, were not to be despised. Dana complimented Harry on the success of the enterprise, much to Val’s annoyance.
“Val did as much as I,” he remarked. “We share the praise between us, don’t we, Val? But we’ve made a discovery that has saddened us, Dana.”
“May I ask in what way?”
“The mutineers belong to Val’s father and my uncle’s regiment. We do not know the fate of our relatives.”
“Let us hope for the best. Don’t forget that a Providence watches over all, and nothing can happen unless permitted for some wise purpose.”
Harry took the earliest opportunity of drawing Mr. Fitzmaurice aside, and communicated to him what he had seen and heard.
“I am but an inexperienced youth,” he observed, “but it appears to me that it would be wiser far to attack before they were reinforced, than to wait for them to receive reinforcements. They have adopted no precautions against surprise.”
“It is not a bad idea,” observed the gentleman, “but we are so few in number that the loss of even one would be irreparable.”
“I am sure our loss would be nil. We could fire from ambuscade. Think of the wholesome lesson it would teach the wretches. They might retire altogether.”
“We will call a council of war, and decide the matter,” he said. “I must confess I am in favour of the idea. Nothing venture, nothing win.”
“Besides, sir, personally I owe the fellows a grudge. They belong to my uncle’s corps.”
“We are in the hands of Heaven, my dear boy. We cannot do better than trust in Providence.”
It was finally decided to surprise the enemy’s camp that night at all risks. Of course it would be impossible that Dana should take a part in such a hazardous undertaking, although she begged hard to be permitted. She was to remain behind in charge of a small garrison, and received instructions in case of defeat, or the destruction of the force, to make her way to the nearest European station, which was Delhi.
“Dana,” said her father, with solemn impressiveness, “it may be my last wish; I know you will obey me. Here is a sealed packet; in case I fall, open it; it will tell you all.”
“I know you will return,” she exclaimed, kissing him; “but in any case, I will prove myself worthy of you.”
Harry’s heart was full as he beheld this simple, but affecting scene, which told of the deep love they felt for each other. Several times Harry caught his eyes fixed on his with a yearning look, for which the youth could not account.
“Why should he regard him so?”
It was a problem which the future alone could solve.
The surprise party sallied forth silently, like spectres, into the darkness, leaving Yunacka behind, as was supposed. Everything depended on secrecy and despatch, and they had taken every precaution against detection. The natives wore no shoes, and the Europeans placed stockings over their boots to deaden their tread. They had plenty of ammunition, and better still, brave hearts, which were not to be easily daunted.
So far as could be judged, the natives, to a man, were loyally disposed, but religious and national prejudices might operate in their minds, at any moment, against the Europeans. However, they had staked all on the hazard of a die, and must abide by the consequences. Silently they moved forward, the Europeans in front, the natives in rear, in charge of Golob, the shikaree. He was a noble fellow, and one to be trusted with all that one held nearest and dearest in life.
Harry walked a little in advance of the party, with acute hearing and watchful eye, ready to whisper “halt” if danger threatened. Presently the glare of the watch-fires told that they were near the goal, and must prepare for a desperate struggle. Harry was deputed to reconnoitre the position.
Leaving his rifle with Val, he crawled forward, drawing his body along the hard ground like a serpent. A couple of sepoys were sitting before a fire smoking, their muskets resting against their right shoulders. They were half asleep, owing to the effects of the tobacco, which contained a quantity of opium.
“They are delivered into our hands,” thought Harry, with savage glee. He took note of the position of the cannon, and saw no gleaming port-tire ready to hurl death from its frowning muzzle. The arms were piled, which was in itself a fortunate circumstance, as by a rush they might be captured. The soldiers were lying about in small groups of twos and threes, sleeping soundly. Nothing could have been better for the purpose. Harry was on the point of returning, when one of the sepoys roused himself and yawned. Standing upright, he looked around, and fixed his eyes in the direction of the crouching youth.
Standing upright, the Sepoy fixed his eyes in the direction of the crouching youth.
After a series of yawns the sentries settled down into a drowsy state again, and the youth crawled back to his companions. Swiftly but silently the surprise party moved forward, each grasping his weapon firmly. Harry pointed out the various positions of the camp to Fitzmaurice and Clarence, especially that where the field-piece stood. They then stationed themselves so as to pour in a fire from every direction upon the sepoys. Fitzmaurice fired the first shot, which was instantly followed by a general volley, continued by independent file firing. Clarence and Harry made a dash at the six-pounder, bayoneting two of the gunners.
“Quick, Clarence!” cried Harry, “the spike!”
Clarence placed the spike in the vent, and held it there, while Harry struck it with his rifle. The fight went on with but little show of resistance on the part of the mutineers, who were shot down or bayoneted before they could seize their arms. Some of the attacking party were wounded, but none killed, and all fought bravely on. The din was increased by the roar of wild beasts, the trumpeting of a couple of tame elephants and the roars of camels.
Flash upon flash lit up the darkness. The battle was soon over, the surprise complete, and many of the enemy lay with upturned faces, some writhing in agony, others past all earthly troubles, while many escaped in the darkness. The victors gathered all the arms and ammunition and took them to the garrison, also the field-piece.
The wounded men of the party were conveyed on rude litters to the house, and they determined to return for the enemy’s wounded in due course. They were on the point of starting, when there came a yell as if from some human being in agony. It was repeated, accompanied by mocking laughter. The moon rose at this juncture, flooding bush and greensward with a soft, brilliant light.
The yells and laughter were continued, and in a few minutes were followed by some one dropping from the branches of a tree. Another figure came after him, and both made in the direction of the party. They were a mutineer and Yunacka, the latter in full chase, armed with a naked bayonet, with which he prodded his victim from time to time. The wild boy seemed to have imbibed a thirst for blood. Nor had he any fear of death himself. He would have rushed into a breach or faced a battery.
They made the unfortunate wretch a prisoner, thus saving him from the fury of Yunacka. The party had hardly got back to their entrenchments than the sound of a bugle awoke the echoes of the jungle. The call sounded was the “advance,” but they were at a loss to know whether it was given by friends or foes.
It was just possible their position might have been made known to the nearest European garrison by one of their spies, and that a detachment of troops had been sent to their aid. All this was mere conjecture. The bugle sounded again. This time the “assembly,” and the echoes went rolling along the leafy alleys.
The wounded were conveyed to a room which had been set apart as a hospital. It was comfortable though small, and contained a few beds for the accommodation of such patients as might be brought there. Fitzmaurice and Clarence were about the only two that understood anything about surgery. Luckily the wounds received were not dangerous, and were easily dealt with. Dana was ready with a supply of bandages, lint, etc. The Europeans were glad to see such an excellent spirit pervading the native portion of the garrison. Without their aid they could not hope to cope with the odds arrayed against them.
Any disaffection would prove their ruin, and bring death to all, and dishonour upon Dana.
“Well, Harry,” she said, “your expedition has proved a great success, I fancy they won’t attack us again in a hurry.”
“Not that party, Dana. But unluckily they expect reinforcements, I heard them say so.”
“We have plenty of ammunition now, Harry, and another cannon. But where’s Yunacka?”
“He returned with us, and has since gone out again, I suppose.”
“Harry,” she said seriously, “do you know I have a dread that Yunacka will seriously imperil our safety?”
“You do not suspect him of treachery?”
“No; but if the siege goes on the enemy will see how he gets in and out of our position, and copy his example.”
“I never thought of that. There’s danger from that source, Dana. But I’ll try and hit on a plan for stopping his migrations. He’s as active as a squirrel.”
Clarence came out of the hospital and joined them, saying —“Harry, come and help me to get the spike out of the gun. If it isn’t loaded, I think we shall be able to manage it.”
“There’s that bugle again,” said Dana. “What is it sounding now, I wonder?”
“The ’advance,’” replied Harry. “I’m sure the mutineers have been reinforced. We must be on the alert. I’ll just run round and see that all our sentries are at their posts. We mustn’t be caught napping.”
Harry set off to see that a good watch was kept, when Golob came up to him and said —“Harry sahib, plenty fighting soon. More sepoy. Got big guns.”
“How do you know that, Golob?”
“Put ear to the ground, and listen. Do it plenty time in jungle, when hunting.”
The youth’s worst suspicious were confirmed. He sought out Clarence, and told him of what Golob had said.
“It can’t he helped, old fellow,” he replied, nonchalantly, “Let us hope for the best. Give us a help here, Harry. If we can get the spike out, we’ll give them a dose of their own grape and canister.”
They were glad to find that the field-piece was not loaded, which enabled them to work the sponge staff about freely in the region of the breech of the gun, with a view of dislodging the spike. For a time all their efforts were unavailing, although they manipulated the staff skilfully.
“I’m afraid the head of the staff has too much play, Clarence.”
“That is the fault, no doubt, Harry. Perhaps if we wrap something round the head of the staff, we’ll succeed,”
The spike became dislodged at length. The six-pounder was now ready for use. Fitzmaurice and Val congratulated them on the success of their labours.
“I told our commander of what Golob had said,” remarked Harry, adding — “I think he is perfectly correct. But it would be as well if we ascertained the truth for ourselves. Golob and I could do this.”
“I don’t want you to be running your head into danger always,” said Fitzmaurice.
“Give some one else a chance, Harry,” said Val somewhat spitefully.
He was jealous of the lead Harry was taking.
“I don’t want to put myself forward,” said Harry. “I don’t mind casting lots with you to see who’s to go out on this business.”
“Why, of course, that’s the fairest way, Harry,” said Val. “Heads or tails, that’s fairest.”
Golob, Mr. Fitzmaurice and Clarence looked gravely on while Val and Harry were tossing like two street Arabs to see who was to face death and danger. Harry won.
“Never mind, old fellow,” he remarked in a whisper, “you have the best of the position.’’
“How do you make that out?” said Val snappishly, “Do you think I’m afraid of danger, Harry?”
“No, Val, you’re a braver lad than I by far. What I mean is, you have the privilege of being near Dana, and to guard her against danger. You mustn’t forget that, Val.”
Val was easily pacified and wished his friend “God speed” and a safe return. As Golob was an experienced hunter, and knew how to track wild beasts to their lairs, Harry placed himself under his guidance. It was a ticklish adventure he was bound on, especially as there were plenty of mutineers about.
Golob and the youth issued stealthily from their entrenchment, armed only with revolvers and hunting-knives, but with brave hearts that knew no fear.
They stole noiselessly towards the site of the enemy’s encampment, where such a glorious surprise had recently been effected. They found only the dead — not a living creature was near the place. Evidently the mutineers intended giving the spot a wide berth, not caring for a repetition of past disasters. And yet no position could they have selected better suited for an encampment if only ordinary precautions had been taken.
“Where do you think they are, Golob?” said Harry.
Bending his ear to the ground, Golob listened, and then pointed in the direction taken by the enemy. They stole forward cautiously, knowing that on all sides danger lurked. “Hist!” cried Golob suddenly, in Hindostanee, holding up his hand. “Down — hide; somebody is coming!”
Crouching behind the bushes, Harry and the hunter held their breath in suspense. The mutineers were posting sentries far in advance of their camp. They overheard the instructions given to one of the sentinels.
“Golob, he must die,” whispered Harry.
“Yes; the knife is best.”
“Let me do the work,” said Harry.
“No, you are but a boy, I am a man, Golob does it.”
Finding it useless to try and move him, Harry agreed to the arrangement. Like a tiger crouching for a spring, or a boa-constrictor lying in wait for its prey, Golob fixed his eyes on his intended victim, and watched his every movement, the while gliding nearer and nearer to him. As if the sentry had a sense of the presence of unknown danger, he looked about him, and halted at the slightest sound. Gathering himself together for a final effort, the shikaree suddenly launched himself at the sentry, like an arrow from a bow. There was a sharp, short struggle, and the fellow fell dead without a groan, the hunter’s knife buried in his heart, Harry caught sight of the expression on the man’s face as the blow was struck, and with a shudder turned away.
Suddenly he found himself seized, and, although he struggled desperately, was thrown to the earth and made a prisoner. Finding resistance useless, he kept perfectly quiet, and allowed himself to be carried to the enemy’s camp.
“We found this boy,” said one of his captors, “and brought him here, major, thinking he might give you some information.”
“Why, it is Harry Coverdale,” said the major, “who was an officer in his uncle’s corps.”
“Yes,” replied Harry, “it is I, but I never expected to find you a rebel, Custonjee; where is my uncle?”
“Heaven only knows,” he replied, with a shrug of his shoulders. “Dead, I hope, as I trust all Europeans will be soon; we want India for ourselves.”
Indignation kept the boy silent, and he glared at the dark scowling faces bent upon him on all sides. He recognised many of the men, with whom he had been on very friendly terms in the happy past, when murder and rapine did not stalk openly through the land. Strangely enough he felt no fear of these living men, fiends though they had proved themselves,
“Harry,” said the major, “we have been friends, and I would save you. Your life is in your own hands. Consent to join us, and we’ll make you an officer.”
“Custonjee, you say you are my friend: do not insult me. I’d die a thousand deaths rather than desert my queen and country.”
He spoke in Hindostanee, so that all who stood around could understand him. Join such miscreants! Men whose hands perhaps had been imbrued in the blood of those nearest and dearest to him! His words evoked murmurs of anger from the mutineers, and the youth expected either to be instantly shot or stabbed for his boldness.
“Your garrison can’t hold out,” said the major, as he smoked complacently, seated cross-legged like a tailor. “We know how many there are there, and all about them; when we take the place —”
“When you do,” remarked Harry sneeringly.
“We shall blow the natives from guns, and hang the Europeans, excepting the girl, who is far too pretty to die. She shall be my wife. Ha! ha!”
“You old villain!” cried the youth. “Were I not powerless I would kill you. Bah! you and your men are cowards and murderers!”
In reply Harry received a violent blow on the head, and fell back stunned.
When Harry recovered consciousness, he learned that he owed his life to the interposition of the major, who had threatened anybody with death who molested him further.
“He was always an outspoken youth,” he remarked, “and I like him all the better for his courage. I have no son, and therefore I’ll adopt him as my own.”
This was received in a bad spirit by the mutineers, whose lust for blood was insatiable. But the major was firm, and Harry was permitted to live. The major gave him a bed near him by the fire, and made his attendant bring him meat and drink, of which he partook. The old man’s kindness won upon his heart.
“Keep quiet,” said the major in a whisper. “I’ve adopted you as my son openly; trust in me and all will be well.”
“Can you give me any news from home, Custonjee? Did they perish? And the Aubreys — are they safe?” asked Harry.
“Yes; one and all. Do you think I would have stood by and seen my friends butchered? No, Harry, I’m not so bad as that. I and a few comrades escorted them as near as we dared to the English camp at Delhi.”
“You are good and kind,” replied the youth, pressing his hand, and falling asleep.
He awoke refreshed.
“Don’t mind my manner to you at times,” whispered the major, “I must speak roughly, perhaps threateningly, to keep up appearances.”
“I understand, and will submit to anything but right down insult or indignity,” replied Harry.
The mutineers numbered quite two hundred and fifty men, including cavalry, infantry, and artillery, all arms of the service being represented. Three field-pieces stood grim and silent, only waiting to be wakened into life by the sulphurous compound known as gunpowder. The sowars, or irregular cavalry men, numbered some thirty, and were rollicking-looking fellows, ready to commit a murder, drink a stoup of liquor, or kiss a pretty girl.
“What would I not give to warn my friends,” thought Harry.
The odds were great against his party, and unless they kept constantly on the alert, the enemy would be likely to surprise them. In any case they would be sadly harassed by false alarms and feints of attack. Another danger against the garrison was the fact of such a man as Custonjee being in command of the mutineers. He was known as a clever officer, and had seen a good deal of active service, which after all is the best qualification in a commander, who is thus enabled to combine theory with practical experience. They were well provided with intrenching and mining tools, which could be turned to mischievous account. The camp was astir betimes, and from the preparations going on Harry concluded that the garrison was to be attacked that very morning. Custonjee advised him to remain in camp, without attempting to escape, if he did not wish to be shot by the sentries. Harry rebuked the major in no measured terms for heading an attack on his friends.
“Always impetuous,” he said in reply. “Wait. I have a part to play.”
“I love my friends, and hate your men. Let me go and help the garrison. I cannot stay here listening to the thunder of cannon and the rattle of musketry without panting to be in the fight.”
“Be sensible,” he replied. “You’ll never make a clever man, if you do not learn to control your feelings now.”
The sepoys grinned, loaded their muskets with ball cartridges, and made all kinds of jokes at the expense of those they were about to attack. They even alluded to Dana, at which the youth’s blood boiled, and he looked round wildly for some means of escape. Every avenue was barred by glistening bayonets, and his heart sank within him.
Listening to catch the sound of firing, Harry heard a rustling in the tree under which he stood. Raising his eyes he gave a start of delight. Yunacka sat in the branches grinning and shaking his fist at the nearest sentinel with such grotesque pantomimic action that Harry fairly burst out laughing.
“What are you laughing at, Harry sahib?” he asked. “Ah! a monkey, big fellow too. Shall I shoot him for you?”
“No, no, let him be. Ah! the fight has commenced. Listen!”
Heavy firing was heard, and then came answering sounds from the garrison, the sharp, peculiar crack of rifles, as distinguished from the ping of the musket.
“Ah!” exclaimed the youth, “that’s Golob’s rifle; I know the sound, it barks like a dog. Some one has bit the dust, and there’s a volley from the housetop. Bravo! bravo!”
His excitement was so great that he forgot everything save the noise of the battle. The cannon came into play, thundering forth notes of defiance which remained unanswered for a time. Then came the bark of the six-pounder, which belched forth shot and shell. It was evident that the defenders had managed to get the small field-piece on to the roof of the house.
“Glorious, excellent!” cried Harry.
Yunacka dropped from the tree to Harry’s side, and it occurred to the youth that the wild boy might be able to convey a note to his friends in the garrison, apprise them of his safety, and that of his own and Val’s relatives. Leaning back against a tree, he drew forth a pocket-book and pencil, and began to write, looking up frequently to see whether his actions aroused suspicion. Luckily the sepoys paid little attention to what he was doing. Having finished the note and directed it to Mr. Fitzmaurice, Harry waited for an opportunity to make Yunacka understand that he wanted it conveyed to the jungle home. The wounded began to come in fast, evidencing the accurate fire of the garrison. One of the wounded men became so infuriated that he picked up a musket and fired at the boy, luckily without effect. So great was the rage of the wounded that the sentries left in charge of the young captive thought it right to tie him to a tree out of sight of their comrades. This gave Harry the opportunity he desired of speaking with the wild boy.
“Yunacka,” he said, in Hindostanee, loud enough only for him to hear, “take this to Dana. Do you understand me?”
The boy looked puzzled for a moment, and then his face cleared. Taking the note from Harry’s hand, he peeped round the tree, and then went off on all fours like a monkey. It suddenly occurred to Harry that he might work himself free from his bonds, and escape from the rebel camp unseen.
“Thank Heaven, our fellows are well under cover,” thought Harry, “otherwise there’d be very little chance for them. I hope no one is hurt. Perhaps I may be with them myself soon. At all events, here goes to try.”
The ropes were not tight, so he had no great difficulty in freeing himself. But before casting off his bonds altogether, he waited to see whether anybody would visit him, as he did not expect to be left entirely without supervision, especially as the major had given strict orders to guard him closely. It was as well he took this precaution, for one of the sentries came suddenly upon him.
“I think it will be safe to release you now,” he remarked; “but mind what you are about. Our fellows are as savage as bears at the peppering they’ve received.”
“Serve them right,” said Harry. “I won’t be released. You thought fit to place me here, and here I’ll remain until Custonjee returns.”
The fellow was proceeding to release him, when, dropping the cords, and snatching a pistol from his breast, Harry shot him through the head, and ran into the jungle. Several shots were fired after him without effect. Exhausted at last, he threw himself under the shade of a mango-tree. The coolness of the spot, and the quiet, after the excitement, soothed him, and he fell into a deep slumber. He awoke with a start, and was surprised to find that it was evening, and that the sun would soon be below the horizon. He listened for the sounds of firing, but heard none. A cold sweat bedewed his forehead, a terrible feeling seized upon his heart, and he dashed forward at the top of his speed.
Then Golob returned without Harry, and told how strangely he had disappeared, grief and consternation was universal at the lad’s supposed untimely fate.
Of course Golob was unable to give Fitzmaurice any information concerning the strength or intentions of the mutineers, as the untoward accident prevented his getting near the camp. Val was for making a sortie to ascertain Harry’s fate, and in this he was backed up by Dana.
“It would be dishonourable to leave him to his fate, if alive, or let him remain unavenged, if dead,” she remarked. “Poor, dear Harry, I began to love him as a brother, he was so kind to me and so full of fun.”
“I know you liked him very much, Dana,” said Val, in a voice of emotion, “and I was jealous; but you may marry him as soon as you like, if he comes back, I won’t object.”
Dana could not help smiling at Val’s impetuous generosity in disposing of her hand in marriage.
“I’ll bear your permission in mind, Val,” she said, with just a tinge of good-natured satire in her tone. “I’d do anything to bring the poor fellow back again.”
“It’s very good of you both to feel so anxious about the safety of our brave young friend; if we had a large force at our disposal, I’d gladly head a sortie to rescue him, dead or alive; but, as you know, we are sadly outnumbered, and every man’s life is of the greatest consequence to us all.”
So spake Fitzmaurice in a grave voice. His face was anxious and haggard. This solicitude may have arisen from the fact of his having given a hasty and inconsiderate sanction to Harry’s undertaking a mission so fraught with danger. Next morning, at break of day, the garrison was up and at work strengthening the defences, and preparing for the attack, which was fully expected. After a consultation with Clarence and Golob, Fitzmaurice determined to mount the six-pounder on the roof of the house, and to call the house the “Sandbag Battery.” This took some time and exercised the ingenuity of the garrison to a considerable extent, but necessity is the mother of invention and aided the labour to a successful issue.
Once up, the battery was soon finished and ready for action. Arms were cleaned and looked to; pistols and revolvers loaded, and placed in readiness; and then the bell summoned all to breakfast. Loopholes were made in stockades, to enable marksmen to pick off the enemy, and nothing that skill could devise was left undone. The commandant moved from post to post, speaking words of commendation to the natives, who loved him as a kind, considerate master, and felt that for such as he they could willingly die. The menagerie was still intact, Dana having pleaded for her pets, not caring that they should be turned adrift or destroyed.
The greatest drawback the garrison had to contend with was in the only well of water being in an exposed position; although the supply was in no danger of being cut off at first, yet, should the outposts be captured, water could then only be obtained at great risk to life. The surplus ammunition was put in wooden boxes, and buried near the house. Whilst these preparations were in progress Yunacka was looking about everywhere for Harry. Knowing that Golob had accompanied Harry, Yunacka followed him about; but not being able to speak, could not put any questions to him. With more intelligence than any one credited him with, he brought some clothes of Harry’s, also his rifle, etc., and showed them to Golob, and then by signs made him understand that he wished him to speak about his absent friend. This led to the wild boy finding Harry eventually.
Custonjee led his men against the garrison. The force under his command consisted of two guns (nine-pounders), infantry, cavalry, and sappers. He was an able commander, and did nothing rashly, or in a hurry; nor did he in this case, although his force greatly outnumbered that opposed to him. He reconnoitred the defences, and saw that they were stronger than he was led to believe.
“Look at the parapet of that house,” he said to his lieutenant, handing him a pair of field-glasses, “and tell me what you think of those sandbags.”
“It means a battery, major. Ah! I have it; it’s the six-pounder they captured from us. We’ll have to be cautious how we expose our men to its fire.”
“Is there no other position which our guns could take up?” Custonjee asked.
“None; the place is surrounded by stockades and natural barriers, which quite shut it in. I wish that screen of bamboos was down, major.”
“So do I. Can’t we set it on fire?”
“Not easily: the wood is too green to burn."
“To-night we must entrench ourselves at this spot. No supplies must reach them. We shall also mine their stockades, and harass them in every way. Nothing must be left undone to reduce the place.”
“What is to be the fate of the garrison if the place falls into our hands, major?”
“Time enough to talk of that when it does. Give me a back, Lutchman; I mean to get up this tree and reconnoitre. I have an idea our sharpshooters would prove useful up there.”
The lieutenant, a slim man, not half the size or weight of the major, heard this request, which amounted to a command, with dismay.
“Did you say you wished me, or one of the men, to give you a mount, sir?” Lutchman asked, as he gazed upon the awful proportions of his chief.
“But I can climb like a squirrel,” said the lieutenant.
“Indeed; well, you can follow me. But let me tell you, I think you’ll be exposed to a sharp fire from the rifles on the housetop. Come, Lutchman, are you ready?”
He was ready, but not at all willing; nor was he to blame for thinking the service exacted from him a weighty one.
Stooping, he allowed Custonjee to mount on his back, supporting himself the while against the trunk of the tree.
A titter ran through the ranks at sight of the inequality of the officers, as regards weight, and at the ridiculous way in which Lutchman bent under his superior, who balanced himself like a dancing bear.
Despite his corpulency, however, he managed to get into the tree and climbed to a respectable height, where he squatted in the fork, and looked through his glasses.
“Waugh!” he cried, from his lofty post. “Wonderful They’ve made the place very strong.”
Fitzmaurice, who was sweeping the open space with his field-glasses, caught sight of something white in the tree.
“What do you make of that white object?” he asked, as he handed the glasses to Clarence.
“It’s a human being; but whether a friend or foe I can’t determine. Suppose I try the effect of a shot, sir?”
“For Heaven’s sake don’t!” said Val, grasping Clarence by the arm; “it may be Harry.”
“Val is right,” said Dana; “it’s better to spare an enemy than destroy a friend.”
These remarks had the effect of sparing Custonjee, who must have fallen under the unerring rifles of Clarence and his comrades.
“Shall I come up, major?” asked Lutchman.
“No; I’ve got to come down, though, and how to do it I don’t know. If I’m not sharp they’ll be firing at me.”
The lieutenant enjoyed his superior’s predicament, and chuckled inwardly over it, but answered —“I don’t know how you will get down unless we borrow a ladder from the garrison.”
“I’ll be down presently,” thought the old man, as he attempted to descend.
And so he was, for, losing his footing, the fat old man fell atop of his lieutenant, and together they rolled over and over upon the ground.
The fight now commenced in real earnest, the first shot being fired by the rebels, who threw out skirmishers, and took advantage of every bit of cover, thereby showing that they were well-trained soldiers, as indeed they were. The six-pounder belched forth flame and destruction, and the rifles and muskets kept up a regular “devil’s tattoo,” making the place ring again. Men shouted stern commands which could be heard above the din of battle. Bugles sounded, and then came the sonorous “bang, bang” of the enemy’s cannon, followed by the sharp terrier-like bark of the little field-piece on the roof. Custonjee kept his men well in hand, and exposed them as little as possible. Fitzmaurice on the housetop kept a look-out on the movements of the enemy, resolved to check any sudden rush on their part, which was more than probable they would try to make.
“Golob,” he said, “take half-a-dozen fellows, the best shots you can select, and plant them in the bamboo thicket. They will be under your command.”
The fine old fellow saluted, and in less than five minutes the place was occupied in obedience to orders. Hardly had this movement been executed than a score of sepoys advanced at the double to occupy the thicket. If Custonjee had only thought of this in time, the garrison could not have prevented him from securing that position.
“Now, men,” said Golob sternly, “fire! Be steady, and take good aim.”
From the thicket and housetop a deadly fire was opened upon the advancing mutineers, which checked them effectually, with the loss of several killed. Having forced the survivors to retire, Golob and his party turned their attention to the enemy’s artillery, upon which they opened a galling fire. Custonjee bit his lip with vexation, and resolved to drive these waspish musketeers from their fastness. His men began to dread serving the guns, so deadly was the fire of Golob and his companions, his own more especially, as every time his rifle sent forth a bullet a man fell.
“The first man who flinches from his duty,” said Custonjee sternly, “will, be shot. Drag the guns closer and search the thicket with grape.”
Knowing from experience how stern a disciplinarian he was, they did not care to disobey him, although obedience meant certain death for some of their number. Custonjee attended the guns himself, and was so cool under fire that his men could not, for very shame’s sake, do aught else than follow his example. He laid the first gun himself, and fired it, sending a volley of grape scattering like hail through the thicket. Golob had told his men to lie down, and to keep close, until the gun had been fired, when they were to commence afresh their work of death in picking off the gunnery. Such, however, was Custonjee’s determination that he would not give up the undertaking, although several of his men were killed, and many more wounded, he himself slightly.
Fitzmaurice perceiving the danger to Golob and his party from the searching artillery fire they were being subjected to, signalled him to retire within the garrison; which he effected with the loss of one man only, whose body was brought in for burial. This was the first actual death of any of the defenders, and the circumstance had, naturally, a depressing effect. Meanwhile, Custohjee, unaware of the retreat of the sharpshooters from the thicket, continued to fight his guns, and he was in the act of laying-one, with bare head (it was very bald), his turban having fallen off, when he got a crack on the pate with a wood-apple, which set him dancing with pain.
The gunners came in for their share of these missiles, which are not only large, but when unripe as hard as iron. The worst of it was, no one could be seen up in the tree to account for the shower which drove the fellows from their guns, a feat which Golob and his men had failed to accomplish with their trusty weapons.
“There he is,” said one of the men, at last, on catching sight of a black hairy object up the tree; “it must be the evil one himself.”
No sooner had he given his opinion than he received a blow on the forehead from an apple which floored him. This event was followed by peals of unearthly- laughter, which so terrified the mutineers that, seized with a sudden panic, they bolted, leaving the old major to waddle to a safer spot as best he might. The cause of this fright was Yunacka, who was making his way back to the garrison. He was up the tree waiting for an opportunity to get inside the house, when Custonjee and his party came up with their guns, and halted under the tree. Terrified at first by the sound of the firing, he did not become aggressive, but taking courage at last, he began operations by nearly breaking the old major’s head. If the garrison had only known the guns were deserted they could have made a sortie, and spiked the cannon, but unfortunately they were not aware of what had taken place. Yunacka, seeing the coast clear, descended, and proceeded to examine the gun with great curiosity, and to play with the port-fires. which were burning slowly in their respective buckets.
“There he is again,” shouted one of the sepoys, pointing to the wild boy, who had taken up a port-fire, which he held close to his face, and which gave to it a demoniacal appearance.
“Fire at the thing,” said Custonjee; “it’s only a monkey. Shoot it. It nearly broke my skull.”
Luckily for Yunacka, the men who did fire were so convinced of the uselessness of attempting to shoot a fiend, that they took no aim, and therefore the wild boy escaped. Seeing him amusing himself with the portfires, a party of monkeys came trooping down, and joined him. They scampered over the guns and tumbrils, prying into all kinds of mysteries, and tasting some loose powder, which, not being to their liking, they spat out, with sundry grimaces and expressions of disgust. Yunacka ran about with the lighted fire, touching up first one monkey and then another with it, enjoying their screams, as they scampered out of the way. Several of the larger ones, however, made a set upon him. and to escape he jumped upon the powder waggon, port-fire in hand. Several sparks from it burnt his body so that he threw it away with disgust, and it fell right into the waggon among the powder. He leapt from the waggon and climbed a tree, chased by the monkeys.
Alarmed for the safety of the guns, Custonjee ordered the artillerymen to withdraw them to safe distance. They advanced to obey the order, when there was a terrific explosion, the waggon and its contents were hurled into the air, together with a crowd of poor inoffensive monkeys, while the débris wounded several of the advancing mutineers. Fitzmaurice and his companions thought at first it was an attempt to blow up a portion of the outworks. Therefore he and the others hastened down to reinforce their comrades in the trenches so as to drive back the invaders, or to die gallantly in the attempt. Yunacka, on hearing the explosion, tumbled headlong off the highest branch of a gigantic tree, and would have been killed by the fall, if he had not saved himself just in time by catching at a lower bough, to which he clung. Thinking the rebels were the cause of his fright, he became furious with passion. Descending, he seized a broken branch and attacked them savagely, uttering loud cries of rage, as he struck out freely, right and left. His fiendish appearance, the contortions of his visage, and the glowing expression of his small eyes, which resembled orbs of fire, so terrified the men that they fled, leaving him again master of the field, which he quickly evacuated, and reached his friends in safety. It need hardly be stated how pleased every one was to hear of Harry’s safety so far.
“Val,” said Dana, in a whisper, after hearing the good news.
“Harry, must be rescued.’’
“He must, and shall, even if I perish in the attempt. To me he is more than a brother.”
“Keep this resolve to yourself, Val. You and I’ll slip out to-night to look for him, that is if we are lucky enough to escape with our lives from the attack, which the enemy now seem inclined to make again.”
She was correct, for Custonjee resolved to try conclusions with the defenders, and pushed forward his men again, getting them close to the stockade, while a fatigue party brought up escalading ladders. The reserve ammunition for the nine-pounders had also been brought up to the front, and he was in a position to again commence the assault. There was a regular artillery duel between the enemy’s field-pieces and the solitary six-pounder, which latter did good service.
This, however, was only a ruse on the part of Custonjee, to mask his real intention of gaining the place by escalade, and to give him time to carry out his plans, which, to do him justice, were well conceived. The parapet of the house was a good deal knocked about and the sand bags displaced, but, luckily, no one was hurt, although the plucky defenders had several narrow escapes. Golob, who was visiting the sentries, had his attention called by one of them to a party of mutineers, carrying ladders. Golob ran back to Fitzmaurice, and told him of the circumstance.
“This must be seen to, Golob,” he remarked. “’Tis evident they mean business this time. We must leave the housetop now, and defend our position from below, Heaven grant us success.”
Every post was strengthened, and the picquets had orders to retire on the entrenchments, firing as they retreated, if the mutineers succeeded in forcing the outer defences. Each man had an extra supply of ammunition served out to him, and was further exhorted to make a desperate resistance, inasmuch as defeat meant torture or death.
Exactly at one o’clock the picquets commenced to be driven in by the enemy who had gained the outer defences by escalade.
“Steady, men,” said Fitzmaurice in Hindostanee. “Remember you fight under cover; take aim, and don’t forget to use the bayonet when the proper time arrives.”
Before leaving the housetop, Clarence had loaded the six-pounder with grape, and had laid the gun to sweep that part of the position the mutineers would be bound to approach, ere they could attack the entrenchments. He obtained permission to remain to fire that gun himself. Val and Dana were told off to fire the cannon, which defended the entrance. Yunacka was here, there and every where, it being found impossible to restrict him to one spot. Such was the state of affairs at the time when the attack commenced in real earnest. Nothing could be better than the way in which this was managed. Before actually attacking the entrenchments the rebels halted and commenced to fire from behind any cover they could find. Acting on Fitzmaurice’s advice, his men did not return the fire, but kept well under cover, waiting until he gave them the word. He stood erect in the trenches, looking at the movements of the rebels through his glasses, apparently bearing a charmed life, for the bullets flew harmlessly past him. What he wanted was to get the wretches within range of the six-pounder, when great execution might be looked for. Suddenly both field-pieces belonging to the enemy fired simultaneously, and several were sent up.
“Look out, Dana,” said Val, clutching his port-fire; “that’s a signal. They’re coming.”
Val was right — it was a signal, for with cheers the enemy came on from both sides, fully determined to carry the place by assault. A score or more dusky forms rushed to the entrance, and opened fire on the gunners as they stood by the guns, port-fire in hand.
“Number one — fire!” shouted Fitzmaurice, in clarion tones.
Bang! went Val’s gun, and the score or more of rebels were reduced by about two-thirds. This was followed by the sharp report of the six-pounder from the housetop, when a shower of grape swept among the mutineers with fatal effect, scattering death and dismay around. Shrieks and cries of agony mingled with the sounds of musketry and the boom of cannon; the work of death went on bravely, as did that of resistance.
“Number two — fire!” shouted Clarence, who had rejoined the defenders in the trenches.
Dana’s port-fire did its work. Yunacka’s face was a study as this work went on, men being hurled into eternity as ruthlessly as if they were so much vermin.
He fired off his musket and then not caring to reload, waited till the man nearest him was ready to fire, and then snatching his musket from him, picked off his assailant. To do the sepoys justice they fought bravely for a time, some of them actually leaping into the trenches, only to be shot down or bayoneted by resolute men, who knew how to defend themselves.
The Sepoys fought bravely, leaping into the trenches only to be shot down or bayoneted.
It was impossible to reload the cannon, which were quite exposed, without risking the lives of every one engaged in the service. They had done their work, however, for small heaps of dead lay about, and the cries of the wounded were grievous to hear. Dana was as steady as a rock, with Val and Clarence at her side ready to sell their lives dearly for her.
A gigantic sepoy, with the sergeant’s chevrons on his arms, animated his comrades to the attack. They made a rush towards the spot where Dana and her comrades stood, charging with fixed bayonets, and firing as they came on, without taking aim. It was a sight sufficient to try the nerves of a strong man, much less those of a girl of Dana’s age, who ought really to have been at school, instead of facing death in this heroic way. Her cheeks did not blanch as she singled out the giant and fired. Unluckily she missed him. Quietly appropriating Val’s revolver, which lay close at hand, she fired just as the sergeant was within a yard of her. The shot struck his arm, and he dropped his musket as if it were too heavy for him.
This so excited her that she jumped out of the trench and shouted “Charge!” much to Clarence and Val’s surprise, who were altogether unprepared for such a move on her part. However; nothing remained for them but to support her, even though she was acting madly in leaving the comparatively safe shelter of the trenches. Fitzmaurice caught sight of Dana from where he stood and immediately saw her danger. He rushed forward, just as Val and Clarence leaped out of the trench. Like a plucky little heroine that she was, Dana thought not of the danger, now that she was in the thick of it. She saw only wild beasts before her; things that were to be destroyed; not human beings with loving hearts, to be treated as her fellows. The gigantic sergeant seeing her defenceless, as he thought, seized her, but not before she had wounded him again. Squeezed in his strong arms, she struggled helplessly, and then became insensible.
“Defend my retreat,” the fellow shouted hoarsely to his comrades, as he bore her away, right before the very rifles of those who would have given life itself for her.
Dana was torn away, leaving Clarence mad with rage, and Val furious, and her father calm and silent, but with a sharp pain at his heart. A pistol in one hand, a sword in the other, Fitzmaurice threw himself against the human bulwark that stood between him and his darling child. The bright blade flashed, and each time it descended dripped with human blood. Val and Clarence, too, were stabbing and thrusting with their bayonets, silently and vengefully; with clenched teeth and bursting hearts; never a word spake they, as they followed up their foes silently, ruthlessly. They were joined by Golob and a number of others, when a desperate hand-to-hand combat ensued, but in vain; they were compelled to retreat step by step.
“Val — Clarence; to the housetop!” shouted Fitzmaurice hoarsely. “The six-pounder — grape — vengeance — Dana!”
With face begrimed by powder and gory hands, he issued his commands for vengeance. The pair sprang up the stairs and reached the roof. Clarence rammed home with a will, while Val covered the vent with his thumb, already blistered with the heat of the iron. A heaving mass is outside the entrenchments; Custonjee is bringing up reserves of men. But the way is blocked by that man whose avenging sword descends with such unerring effect.
Fitzmaurice’s little band of heroes fought bravely and well, and when the last man of the enemy was driven, out to die beyond the threshold with a bayonet stab in his very vitals, a ringing cheer of victory went up to heaven. The pitiless hail of iron from the roof went crashing like a mighty wind through that mass, rending and tearing, and casting down in its awful fury. It struck the hard ground, too, and rebounded, striking down wretches on all sides.
On this side of the defences the battle is won; how goes it on the other? Bravely, too. No craven heart or weak hand defends the pass; no traitor will sell the right of way for gold. No; he that would pass that way must do, so at his peril — must meet heroes in a death struggle, and prove himself a better man than they.
Mutineers, mad with “bang” (a drink made from rapeseed, which maddens to fury) rushed on the bayonets’ point, and leaped into the trench, only to die.
But their soberer comrades shrank from following their example. Presently, an odd sound mingles with the din of battle. A tigress was at large. Maddened by the noises, the animal had burst her cage door open, and was hastening to the scene of strife. How she licked her lips and glared at the prospect of the feast which she meant to indulge in. Little recked the mutineers, as they fired from behind bush or tree, that a tigres[s] had come to take a part in the battle. With a roar and a bound she was upon an unfortunate wretch who was in the act of firing. He would never draw trigger again or bite a cartridge. In a moment he lies bitten through the neck, dead, while that savage tigress drinks his warm blood, and growls over the draught. Yet another victim falls before her, and then the mutineers realise this new danger for the first time. They took to flight, but not to a place of safety. They had climbed over a stockade by the help of a ladder.
How were they to get back without its aid? They were in a trap.
“Let me mount on your shoulders,” said a man to his comrade, who dearly loved him. “If I get over, I can push the ladder up, and then you will all be saved. Quick! let me mount on your back.”
“Promise faithfully, Hassan, that you will not desert us. Do you promise?”
“Yes, faithfully, solemnly.”
Hassan was soon at the top, and, trembling with joy, dropped down on the other side. Would Hassan be true to his friend, to his comrades, and help to save them? Why should he concern himself about them?
“Hassan, your promise,” said the voice of his friend, from the other side.
“I cannot move the ladder by myself,” he said. “Send me help.”
He well knew that inside that trap would be found no one willing to let his comrade pass out through any help of his.
“Here,” said Hassan’s friend to a comrade, “there is a way of escape for us all.”
“How — where?”
“Stoop, and let me mount your back.”
“Not I. Do you take me for a fool? I am younger than you, and want to live.”
“There are ladders at the other side.”
“I will fetch them then. Help me.”
High words then ensued, epithets were hurled at each other, and from words they came to blows. In a few minutes they lay glaring at each other, fatally wounded, while Hassan, poltroon that he was, stood by the ladder, and could have saved them both. But Nemesis was at his side. Coiled up in some long grass was a huge cobra.
“I cannot raise the ladder,” he cried.
His friend heard his voice, and with his dying breath murmured —“Traitor, I curse you.”
Hassan stepped aside, and in doing so, trod on the cobra, whose poisonous fangs were instantly fixed in his flesh. The wretched man looked down at the reptile with terror-laden eyes. Too well did he realise the doom which was in store for him. The stupor of fear passed away, and he looked wildly around for help. None could aid him. He would run to camp. Perhaps some one there knew of an antidote for a snake bite. People had been saved; why not he?
Taking to his heels, he ran with the energy of despair. His feet seemed wings, so fast did he run. He was soon in the camp; his comrades were there.
Was that an angel in their midst, that beautiful girl? This was Dana, a captive in the midst of a rude soldiery, suffering under a severe defeat. Custonjee was there, the calmest and most collected of all, weighing well in his mind what the result of Dana’s capture would be. Even now the ruffians were debating among themselves as to how they should dispose of their prisoner, without reference to Custonjee’s wishes in the matter.
Hassan, in his terror and delirium, pushing his way to her side, threw himself before her, crying, with uplifted hands —“Save me; I am dying. A cobra has bitten me.”
One look at the poor wretch’s pallid face, on which the clammy dews of death were gathering, proved the truth of his assertion.
“Heaven alone can save you,” she replied. “I can only try. I know of a herb that is an antidote. Let me find it.”
“Stand aside, and let the girl pass,” said Custonjee. “If she can save Hassan, let her. Do you hear there, you fellows? Stand aside.”
He drew his revolver. The trigger clicked ominously. The fellows looked at each other. But no one cared to stop the girl, especially as it involved receiving a bullet through the brain. Custonjee was notorious for keeping his word. They fell back and gathered in small groups to mutter threats with scowling faces.
As soon as Dana was free, she searched among the grass for the herb she wanted, and having found it, made it into a poultice, and placed it on the wound. She also made Hassan drink half-a-pint of “darrhu” (country whisky), and then, ordering him to be wrapped in several blankets, told him to go to sleep, which he was not long in doing, for one characteristic of a snake-bite is to induce drowsiness, ending in a comatose state, then death.
Meanwhile the fight had ended, the garrison being victorious, whilst inflicting heavy losses on the enemy, whose dead lay thick in places. On Fitzmaurice’s side three men only were killed, but the list of wounded was larger. Val, Clarence, and Fitzmaurice were each wounded, but only slightly, which luckily did not necessitate their laying up. Golob was untouched, although he had exposed himself throughout the brilliant affair. But a sadness sat on each face, in spite of their glorious victory. Did they mourn the brave fellows who lay taking their last sleep? No; they died like heroes, with arms in their hands, their faces to the foe, and were to be envied, not mourned. Dana, the light, the sun, of the jungle home, was a prisoner in the hands of ruffians who knew no mercy or pity.
They cared not to look at the poor father’s face, it was so full of silent anguish. Val sat moodily aside, his head buried in his hands.
“Sir,” said Golob, addressing Fitzmaurice, “a number of the enemy are still in our grounds. What are we to do?”
“Kill every one. Come, let us slay them,” said Val, looking up, with hatred depicted on his usually good-natured face.
“Peace, lad,” said Fitzmaurice sadly; “let us teach the rebels a lesson of humanity. No man shall be butchered in cold blood.”
“Exchange them for Dana, then,” said Val, unabashed by the rebuke.
“Good; Val Sahib, speaks well,” said Golob, with an approving nod.
“Yes,” said Clarence, “we can send a flag of truce. I’ll make one of the party.”
“And I another,” said Val.
“Golob too,” put in the huntsman.
“I give the matter into your hands entirely,” said Fitzmaurice, with a weary sigh; “do as you like. Heaven send that I be not bereaved of both my children.”
Clarence and Val looked at each other significantly, as much as to imply that grief had begun to turn their chief’s brain. The task of making prisoners of the fellows who were in the trap they had made for themselves was an easy matter. In fact they could hardly believe that their lives were to be spared, they themselves were so cruel and implacable. Lutchman, Custonjee’s lieutenant, was amongst the prisoners, all of whom were disarmed and placed under guard.
The great difficulty now was in disposing of the enemy’s dead. The natives belonging to the garrison did not care about touching them, and it was impossible that Val or Clarence could dig a trench large enough to hold the corpses.
“Set the prisoners to work,” Clarence suggested; “it will never do to allow the bodies to remain where they fell. We shall have an epidemic if we do.”
Lutchman could not object when the matter was mentioned to him, although it was plain he did not like the suggestion. His men were put to work to dig a trench outside the position, and when it was finished the dead wore placed in it, and the earth closed over them for ever. The garrison’s dead were interred in the ground, under the shade of a tamarind tree, a mark being placed over the grave. The wounded were the next care, and here Fitzmaurice and his comrades were sadly at fault, inasmuch as there were cases necessitating amputation, which none could deal with.
The simpler cases were put right, and then Golob, Clarence and Val started with a flag of truce. Among the dead was a bugler, whose instrument Val took, as he had learnt all the calls by heart. When they had come in sight of the enemy’s sentries Val placed the bugle to his lips and blew three sharp blasts.
Val placed the bugle to his lips, and blew three sharp blasts.
It was an anxious time for the little party; they might be fired on treacherously.
The brave fellows who had gone forth under a flag of truce, carried their lives in their hands, for they had to deal with miscreants, and not honourable men who acknowledged the rules of civilised warfare. Yunacka, who had followed them unperceived, now dropped from a tree and joined them, looking well pleased. Another unexpected visitor also appeared in the shape of Azraal, the cheetah, which had hitherto, or at least since the commencement of hostilities, been confined to the bungalow, to keep it out of harm’s way. It had got out by some means, and, not finding its mistress, followed her by scent, and came up with the party just about the same time as the wild boy. The pair knew each other thoroughly, and immediately fraternised, commencing a game of romps with great animation. Meanwhile the sentry had shouted for the officer in charge of the guard, as no one had appeared in answer to the bugle call sounded by Val.
“Try again,” said Clarence to him. “I don’t like the look of things at all.”
Val blew another call, when Custonjee and a few of his men came forward to see what was the matter. He understood what the white flag meant; and told his people that the little party was not to be molested, but were to be escorted to the camp, which was done. A queerer procession could hardly have been seen than the one which now filed along, Golob leading, and Yunacka mounted on the cheetah’s back bringing up the rear. The mutineers turned out en masse to see the strange sight, and were not complimentary in their remarks. The losses they had sustained made them feel spiteful, and they longed to imbrue their hands in the blood of the unarmed persons, who had, under the protection of a white flag, placed themselves in their power. Dana’s eyes glistened with delight at sight of her friends, who were no less pleased that she was safe and apparently unhurt. No communication was allowed between them, however; but Azraal and Yunacka knew no restraint, nor did they think of asking anybody’s permission to show Dana how much they loved her. It was a touching sight to see the cheetah on its hind legs, and with its paws round the girl’s neck, while Yunacka waited impatiently for her to notice him, going so far as to try to push the cheetah away.
Custonjee, as commander of the rebel forces, carried on the conversation in English, which he understood thoroughly, it being his wish, as he did not want his men, who stood listening, to understand the nature of the negotiations.
“You can have your lieutenant and all your men who are our prisoners back again in exchange for Dana and Harry Coverdale,” said Clarence. “That is a fair offer enough, and we will benefit by it more than you. The girl is here, as you see, but the lad made his escape. I don’t know where he is. I wish I did.”
“Major,” said Val, “will you swear by the sacred water of the Ganges that my dear friend, Harry, is alive?”
“I wish I could, Val Sahib. All I know is that he was not injured by us. I do not wish him to fall into our hands again. He killed one of my men before he went off.”
“Understand one thing, major,” said Clarence, “and don’t think it a mere threat. If Dana or Master Harry is put to death every man of yours dies. We will treat them well, unless you force us to proceed to extremities.”
“Can’t you permit us to speak with Dana?” asked Val. “She can’t escape, you well know.”
“I see no objection. You can talk to her, Val Sahib, but your comrades had better not take part in the interview. The temper of my men is so uncertain, and none of you are armed.”
Val, glad of the permission, walked to where Dana stood.
“Is my father well?” she asked, in a voice which was husky with emotion.
“Yes; he sends his love, Dana, and hopes to see you soon. We have come to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. Custonjee is willing.”
“But he is powerless if his men object, Val, the danger to me is greater than you imagine. I shudder to think of what may befall me.”
“Cheer up; all will be well; see, here is a parcel. Have you heard anything of Harry?”
“Not a word. The major is his friend, I think, and mine also; my whole dependence is on him and Heaven.”
“If you see any chance, make your escape,” whispered Val. “You will find a revolver and ammunition in that parcel, and some other little comforts.”
She could not help smiling although her heart was sad, for, as she herself had said, her danger was imminent.
“I’ll be knocking about all night,” he continued, “as will Clarence also, looking out for you. Custonjee, perhaps, will wink at your escape. Will you try?”
“Will I not?” she replied.
The major motioned to Val to return to his friends, which he did after taking a tender farewell of Dana, in whose lovely eyes the tears stood, but were forced back, as she did not care to show weakness before her captors. Val and his comrades had to leave without anything definite having been settled, all they could get out of Custonjee being that he would lay the matter before a council and let them know under cover of a flag of truce.
Again and again did the trio look back at Dana, who waved her handkerchief, while they remained in sight. Meanwhile Yunacka and the cheetah, having been fondled by Dana, had a romping match together, which led them into the jungle, far away from the camp. Tired out at last, they lay down together under the shade of a banian tree. It was a strange picture this — a being, in name at least, and a wild beast lying down together in loving amity. The bright sun tinged the green leaves, and penetrated into the darkest recesses of this primeval forest and tangle of nature, where for centuries tigers, leopards, hyenas, snakes, and other uncanny creatures, had roamed masters of these domains.
A colony of large black ants were out foraging, and finding Yunacka’s body blocking the way, began to nip certain parts of it unmercifully. Rising in a rage, he began to scream and dance about wildly, much to the discomfort of Azraal, who was indulging in a comfortable nap, which the wild boy disturbed. At this moment a human being appeared in view, clad in vestments that had once been white, but were now dirty and torn through travel. A cork helmet adorned his head, his hair and beard were unkempt, his face blistered with the sun, and his shoes much the worse for wear.
“Holy Mother!” he exclaimed, in an unmistakable Hibernian accent, “what’s before me, I wonder? Is that a monkey or the divil himself? And it’s a cheetah he’s after having with him. I’m in the divil and all of a fix now anyhow, and sorra a bit of a pistol have I with me to defind myself. Whatever am I to do?”
The cheetah, thinking Yunacka was up for a lark, growled, and raced round him, giving him a pat with his forepaw occasionally, much to the boy’s annoyance, as he was in no humour for romping, having quite enough to do in getting rid of the ants.Catching sight of the man, Azraal stopped short in its gambols, and began to growl angrily.
“Ay, swear away before ’ye kill me,” said the individual. “It’s tough ating you’ll be after finding me though. It’s skin and bone I am for the want of a good meal, altho’ my appetite is foine and healthy.”
Yunacka perceived him now, and seemed rather pleased than otherwise. With a shrill scream of welcome, construed into one of menace by the individual before him the wild boy rushed forward.
“It’s time I was off.” said the uncouth-looking fellow, “or it’s murdered alive I’ll be presently.”
Taking to his heels, he ran at the top of his speed, pursued by the cheetah and Yunacka, the former of whom soon overtook and knocked him down, then stood over him growling viciously. “Sorra a bit of mate you’ll find on my bones, you baste!” he said, “and I hope you’ll be choked ating me.”
Yunacka came up, and seated himself close beside the stranger, who gazed at him with dismay. Perceiving the lad’s friendly attitude, Azraal allowed the man to rise, which he did, then seated himself cross-legged like a tailor. The trio formed a queer-looking group, as they sat and looked at each other with a serio-comic expression, as if wondering which would be the first to make a demonstration. The stranger was an army doctor, by name Terence O’Shaughnessy, who had joined his regiment a few months before it had mutinied. He had escaped massacre, and was wandering about in the jungle in search of an asylum. He was almost starved, and was quite footsore, while his bones ached from the hardness of his bed each night — the ground.
He burst out laughing at last, at sound of which the cheetah howled lugubriously, and Yunacka laughed too in a guttural way, as if the exertion were choking him.
“Do you spake the bat?” (native language) asked the doctor, looking at Yunacka; “because if you do, I don’t; or maybe you can discourse in English?”
Yunacka grinned, showing a formidable set of teeth and a capacious mouth, which elicited the following remark from the doctor — “Bedad, you’ve the finest set of teeth I’ve ivir seen on a bhoy, and your mouth makes ating easy. Let’s shake hands, ma bouchal. Who knows but that maybe you’ll be after taking me to your home, and introducing me to your wife and family, and something to ate as well?”
He offered his hand to Yunacka, who, nothing loth, took and gripped it as tight as a vice. The doctor yelled and capered about in the iron grasp of the wild boy, who followed his movements, imitating him so grotesquely that the pair appeared to be dancing a Highland fling, accompanied with awful yells which awoke the echoes far and near. Thinking this was a carnival of fun, Azraal raced round and round the pair, jumping upon them occasionally, but so lightly as not to destroy their equilibrium. How the matter would have ended ’tis hard to say — O’Shaughnessy was getting weaker and weaker — if Val and his companions had not heard loud outcries and hastened to the spot. Yunacka released the unfortunate now, who had never been shaken hands with so warmly in his life before.
“Dun’t ask me to shake hands again,” he groaned. “Iviry bone in my unfortunate fist is crushed.”
“Who are you, sir?” asked Clarence.
“And what the divil is that to you, sir?” answered the irate doctor. “Can you give me something to ate? Tell me that.”
“Yes; and a good bed, too,” said Clarence. “I meant no offence. We are besieged in the house of a friend. It’s a fortunate thing you fell in with us first, and not with the mutineers.”
“Is it fighting, yez are?”
“Yes, for our very lives.”
“There’s my hand. I’m death on a row, and I can not only make a big hole in a fellow but can patch it up afterwards.”
The offering his hand, however, was only figurative, as he had a lively recollection of what had happened to him so recently.
“You’re a doctor, then, I presume,” said Val.
“True for you. Is it any offince, youngster?”
“Just the reverse, sir,” said Val, laughing. “We’ve got plenty of provisions, ammunition, and arms, but no doctor. Mr. Fitzmaurice will be pleased. Suppose we make for home at once?”
“With all my heart. I’m doosid hungry. Haven’t had a square male for days, and have walked ivir so far, without seeing a sowl that I could spake to.”
The party walked to the entrenchments, where they were met by the commander, whose face fell on not seeing his darling child among them.
“Cheer up, sir,” said Clarence, laying his hand on his arm. “Your daughter is quite well and safe.”
“For how long?” the father asked huskily.
“Major Custonjee is her friend, and will do everything in his power for her, He will let us know soon.”
“And Harry — what of him?”
“We did not see him, sir.”
“Great Heavens, let not my punishment be heavier than I can bear! Bereaved of both — oh, cruel, cruel fate!”
He smote his forehead, and spoke in broken tones, which indicated how deep was his grief, how lacerated his feelings. Both Clarence and Val looked at each other in surprise. This was the second time he had referred to Harry in this special way. There was no time, however, for solving mysteries, and they made no comment, therefore, although they thought the more.
O’Shaughnessy was introduced to and cordially welcomed by the chief, who said — “Believe me, dear sir, no luckier event could have happened us, than your coming. Your services are greatly needed.”
“It’s mighty kind of you to spake like that, colonel, or maybe, it’s a gineral you are. But I wouldn’t attend on the Queen of Sheba until I’ve had something to ate,” said the hungry Irishman; “then I’ll take off arms and legs in a jiffy, and be only too pleased.”
Of course his wants were speedily attended to. It would be unfair to say how much he ate. Such an appetite as his in a garrison not overstocked with food was a calamity. He came forth looking quite a different man, quite the gentleman, in fact, both in dress and appearance.
When Harry Coverdale ran forward towards the light he had no idea where he was going to; it might be some will-o’-the-wisp deluding him, or a group of fireflies. He did not cease running until he arrived at the spot, which he found was the entrance to a cave, in which there reigned a stillness that was startling in its intensity. Peeping in with extreme caution, he saw a human figure sitting in a rigid posture, looking as if it had been turned into stone by some malignant magician. Harry recognised in him the fakir he had seen in the jungle, and boldly entered the cave. But the holy man did not stir.His eyes were fixed on vacancy, and his whole frame was as stiff as if cast in metal.
In one corner sat the ape, the one Yunacka had had the desperate battle with; in the other the jackal, and other animals all in a state of repose. A grinning skull and an hourglass stood in a niche — emblems of mortality and of the flight of time. Harry could stand the silence of the place no longer, so he shook the fakir roughly, and told him in Hindostanee that he had lost his way.
The man returned to consciousness with a start. A deadly pallor o’erspread his face to an extent that alarmed Harry. He gasped for breath, and was seized with such strong convulsions that Harry thought he would never come safely out of them. He did so, however, at last, and on his seeing the lad he salaamed (saluted), bidding him welcome to the cave, and adding — “I expected you. Be seated.”
Harry spoke to him of the fighting that was going on, and of his fears that the garrison had been overcome and massacred.
“Such matters concern me not,” he replied. “Peace is for me, war for the people of the world. Come, let us go forth and discover the fate of your friends.”
Harry begged hard to be excused, as his presentiments were of so gloomy a character that he feared to take any steps to verify them. The fakir went forth accompanied by his bodyguard, without whom he hardly ever stirred abroad, but not before he had warned Harry not to explore the cave at the back. But after awhile the youth felt sorry he had not gone with the fakir, for he felt an awe of the spot on account of its associations. A human being dwelt here in mysterious solitude, communing with his own thoughts, or with the mighty spirits of nature, contented and happy to lay on the hard ground, to satisfy his hunger with fruit or dried roots, and to slake his thirst at the nearest rivulet. The small oil-lamp burned fitfully, and threw weird shadows around, which, to the boy’s excited imagination, appeared like giant phantoms floating about the strange abode of a still stranger man. Harry was on the point of rushing from the cave, which he thought haunted, when he remembered the warning of the fakir. Human nature is very obstinate.
“Why the dickens should I care for what he said?” muttered the lad. “I don’t feel so scared now. Who knows, perhaps I may find a place of concealment for the garrison if the rebels take the house by storm.”
He took up the lamp, and advanced cautiously towards an opening that led to an inner cave, so far as he could ascertain just then. Would he go through? If so, what would he see or meet there? These were questions which occurred to him, as he stood irresolute for the moment.
“Here goes,” he said at last; “it’s a man or a mouse with me. What is there to be afraid of?”
This question he answered by walking through, his heart palpitating, not quite with fear, but expectation.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of after all,” he said aloud ; “it’s only a cave like the other one. I’ll go to the end of it.”
He had taken a few steps when a loud hiss proclaimed the presence of a snake or serpent.
“There it is,” he said to himself, as he caught sight of an immense head, which could only have belonged to a boa-constrictor.
For a moment he stood rooted to the spot; then, dropping the lamp, he fled through the opening, and eventually reached the open air, when he fell insensible.
When he returned to consciousness it took him some time to collect his thoughts. Leaning against a tree, he tried to peer through the darkness, and espied something that struck him as having a vague resemblance to a human being. He stood perfectly motionless, hardly daring to breathe. Who could it be? Perhaps one of the unfortunate garrison that had escaped the general massacre. He was about to call out softly when prudence came to his aid, and kept him silent. It was just as likely to be an enemy as not. Nearer and nearer the figure came, straight towards the tree, gliding like a black phantom.
“Who’s there?” it asked huskily.
“A friend. Who are you?”
They were in each other’s arms the next moment, overcome with joy.
“What of Dana?” Harry almost gasped.
“She lives,” was the reply.
Val said this in such a tone as to lend Harry to believe that something else remained to be told.
“But is she well, Val?”
“Yes; but unfortunately she has been taken prisoner, and I’m on the prowl, hoping to fall across her if she manages to escape.”
“I’m with you, Val, heart and soul. Why not attempt to penetrate to the camp, and help her to escape? It would be cowardly to let her remain there, exposed to insult perhaps infamy. Val, you are not the fellow I take you for if you allow Dana to remain there a moment longer than we can help it. Come, we can only die once; let it be for her dear sake, if Heaven so wills it.”
These words came out quickly, so full was the lad’s heart, so strong his determination to risk everything for Dana’s sake.
“Harry,” said Val, “did you ever know me to refuse to follow where you led, whether for good or evil? And tell me if I want urging to help Dana?”
Harry pressed his hand warmly, and whispered — “Forward, Val — Dana or Death!”
They were moving cautiously along, keeping a good look-out for the rebel sentries, and conversing in whispers, when a rustling overhead in a tree brought them to a sudden halt.
[...]Harry followed every movement of his friend with anxiety; but he became more reassured as the contest progressed, and he witnessed the skill with which Hassan met the onslaught of so fine a swordsman as Goroob proved himself.
“It’s very good, your friend is excellent,” said Zoola, puffing the smoke through her pretty lips. “That fellow isn’t bad though, is he?”
Blow followed blow in quick succession, the steel glinted and shimmered in the sunshine, as the swords rose and fell in wavelets of light. Hassan draws first blood, a mere scratch, but still the first. This enrages Goroob, who was certain of victory, and meant to play with Hassan, as a cat does with a mouse before killing him. What is that which moves on that bough, just above the heads of the combatants? that creature with small eyes, which seem to dart fire, and a tongue that works in and out. It is a large boa-constrictor, but no one sees it as yet, nor dreams of the danger which menaces them.
Zoola smokes on placidly, although at any moment either of the combatants may fall dead, pierced to the heart, at her very feet, while those small, venomous eyes look, down upon them. A loud hiss, Hassan’s sword point drops; he sees the serpent; horror is depicted on his face.
A glitter, deadly and revengeful, is in Goroob’s eyes. His enemy is at his mercy now, he raises his sword to strike; down swift as a lightning flash comes a dark object. His arm is pinioned, gripped in a fleshy vice, and falls powerless to his side. He turns angrily to curse the man that has dared to interfere, when he sees who his enemy is, and feels the folds of the enormous serpent coiling round him. The look of horror on his countenance is not easily forgotten. The princess, however, is not alarmed; she sits and smokes, and actually laughs at the unexpected denouement.
Goroob was being pressed in the folds of the serpent without a hand being raised to save him. Horror had seized upon all present, with but two exceptions — Harry and Zoola. Hassan remembered his narrow escape from death, through the bite of a cobra, and was thrown into a state of convulsive terror by the monster now before him.
Harry rose, and cocking a pistol, was in the act of advancing towards the boa-constrictor, when Zoola held him back, saying — “Sit still, I want to see what the great snake will do with him; it saves us a lot of trouble with the fellow, it’s a very novel sight. Sit down!”
“Can there be no pity in that young heart?” thought Harry, as he listened to these seemingly cruel words.
He had no time, however, for indulging in such reflections. Goroob, though no friend of his, was a human being, in danger of death of the most horrible description. To be crushed, every bone broken, was something awful to contemplate. Disengaging himself from Zoola’s detaining hand, he presented the revolver at the serpent’s head and fired in rapid succession. In his agony of fear and pain, Goroob had clutched with his left, hand at an overhanging bough, and supported himself by it, swaying to and fro under the awful pressure put upon him by those fleshy coils. His face was purple, and his eyes started out of their sockets, giving a horrible expression to his features. Harry’s shots took immediate effect on the monster. It unwound its coils from about its victim, and stretched itself out dead. Goroob clutched the bough tenaciously for a few moments, and then fell senseless.
“Are you satisfied?” asked Zoola of Hassan.
“Yes more than satisfied,” was the hasty reply. “I think it’s high time my friend and myself pushed on to Delhi.”
“You’ll wait for me surely — at least, I know you will, one of you especially.”
She meant Harry; he was in her power, and could not afford to be independent; not that she wished, or intended to betray him, but she could not bear to be thwarted. In such moods she was dangerous. She ordered her bearers to take up the palanquin, and resume the journey. Goroob had been left to his fate reluctantly by Harry, who could not bear to see any one deserted. But there was no help for it, and the giant, still breathing, lay on the greensward. Zoola made the bearers accommodate their pace to Harry’s and requested him to walk by her side.
“You would do well to join my father in the field, you and your friend Hassan,” she observed.
“Impossible,” said Harry. “I must reach Delhi. The lives of very many depend upon despatch.”
“One would think there was some one among them you loved dearly,” said Zoola in a bantering tone.
“So there are, several; one more particularly though.”
“Indeed; male or female?”
And she eyed him curiously as she asked the question. Harry unhesitatingly said.
“She’s a girl, Dana by name, and as beautiful as a goddess, and as brave as a lion.”
“Am I beautiful, Harry?” she asked.
The question was so abruptly, and withal so artlessly put, that he hardly knew how to answer. It was an easy matter to answer, however, for Zoola was indeed beautiful, and what’s more, knew it.
“You don’t answer me,” she remarked, with a pout.
“You are beautiful indeed, Zoola, very beautiful,” he said.
“And am I brave?”
“How can I say? I suppose you are.”
Yunacka, who, during the duel had taken himself off into the jungle, now came up, and was welcomed by Zoola with terms of endearment. Harry could see that the girl before him was of a very jealous temper. His allusion to Dana had offended her pride, and quite piqued her vanity.
“Will you give me this monkey?” she asked.
“It is not a monkey, Zoola, neither is it mine to give.”
She had never been used to refusals; her merest whim had always been gratified. Here was an English boy praising a girl, before her very face, calling her beautiful and brave. Offence number one this. She asked for this strange-looking being, and met with an indirect refusal. Offence number two, as ill-luck would have it.
Even Yunacka’s tricks could not restore her good humour for a while; but she conquered herself at last, and was ”Merry Zoola” again. Another halt was called, during which she fed Yunacka with cakes and sweetmeats, and made him smoke the hookah (Indian pipe). She went into fits of laughter over his grotesque actions, and had quite made up her mind to retain possession of such an amusing pet. They had not proceeded very far before they fell in with a cavalry escort, which had been sent in search of her. While she was conversing with the officer in command, Harry and Hassan slipped quietly away, followed by Yunacka. But on discovering this, Zoola had them pursued and brought back.
“You did not even say ’good-bye,’” she remarked, with a meaning smile, to Harry. “What’s your hurry? A short halt at my father’s castle won’t hurt you and your friend, surely.”
“Our business is pressing, your highness,” remarked Hassan.
“My pleasure ranks first,” she said haughtily. “My father’s daughter never requests where she has a right to demand.”
Yunacka was the most unconcerned of the trio. He was delighted with the horses and their gay trappings. The wild uncouth creature soon became a great favourite with these dashing cavaliers. The officer’s horse, a splendid animal, was grazing, with the reins loose upon its neck. Yunacka sprang upon its back, and played with the reins, teasing the animal so, that it started off at full speed, with the wild boy standing on the saddle like a circus rider, and evidently enjoying the novel situation in which he found himself.Both horse and rider were soon out of sight, to the no small chagrin of the officer, as well as to the annoyance of Zoola. Harry and Hassan could plainly perceive that they were nothing better than prisoners now, however much Zoola might try to disguise the truth from them. They were powerless, however, and had to submit to the inevitable, not that they were treated harshly or disco[u]rteously.
The march commenced, and great secrecy and quiet were observed on reaching the vicinity of the high road, the reason of which Harry did not discover till afterwards. The English reinforcements were on their way down from the Punjaub and other stations, and would march along the main road to their destination.
“It was unfortunate our meeting with her,” said Harry. “We shall never reach Delhi at this rate.”
“I mean to try to escape,” replied Hassan. “Our friends want help, and I’ll get it for them, or die in the attempt.”
“I’m with you,” said Harry, “I wonder where Yunacka is?”
“Here’s the horse,” said Hassan, pointing to the animal, which came galloping towards his companions. “I see an opportunity now. Delhi or death!”
Running forward, as if to recover the horse, Hassan vaulted on to its back, and was soon galloping towards the high road at a terrific pace.
“Bravo, Hassan!” murmured Harry, as he saw the brave fellow’s manœuvre successfully carried out. “Thank Heaven, he is free! I will escape, too, the first chance I get.”
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