Val found himself in the infernal regions, as he thought.There was such a hissing, such a rustling of scaly masses, and certainly he distinctly saw huge serpents peering out of chasms, and smaller snakes gliding about by the score.
“It’s the cave of serpents!” he thought, with a shudder, as he kept close to his eccentric guide. “I almost wish I had not come here.”
Nor was he to blame for saying this, or did it evince cowardice on his part, for nobody in their senses would care to walk quietly through a labyrinth of serpents, some hissing from holes in the roof, and others gliding from under one’s feet. The fakir, whilst walking through this uncanny subterranean passage, chanted a dirge-like chant, which seemed to have a quieting effect upon the scaly monsters. Probably, too, the light from the torch had something to do with the peaceful attitude of the serpents. At all events, some potent or mysterious power seemed to be at work to quell and almost subdue the natural instincts of these venomous reptiles. Nervous though he was, yet Val could not help noticing how the sides and roof of the cave glittered, as if studded with gems.
Suddenly there came a halt, and Val saw before them a rocky wall, standing out from which was a gigantic figure, with one of the most diabolical faces he had ever seen depicted, whether in a painting or sculpture.
“Here’s a pretty go,” said Val. “There’s no outlet; we must go back, I suppose.”
The fakir looked at him calmly, and said — “Twice have I passed through this mystic cave; the third time will be fatal to me.”
Val was silent, not knowing what to say in reply.
His thoughts, however, were that this journey would be likely to prove fatal not only to the fakir but to himself. One thing struck him now for the first time. They were quite alone in this vaulted chamber, the escort having left them in some inexplicable way. These matters, trivial though they were, occupied Val’s attention, but not to the exclusion of more momentous ones. He looked anxiously at the fakir, who stood as if suddenly turned into stone, the only signs of life being in the movement of his thin, dry lips, which were as bloodless as those of a corpse.
Shaking him gently, Val said —“Holy father, time presses. Let us hasten forward.”
It seemed mockery to suggest such a thing as going forward with that wall of rock and that demon-like figure barring the way.
“Look, boy! Does it smile? Your eyes are younger than mine,” said the fakir, holding the torch aloft, as if he had suddenly awakened to life again.
“Has he gone mad?” thought Val. “As if a chiselled face could smile!”
Yet he mechanically looked up at the gigantic piece of sculpture.
“Yes! — no!” he exclaimed in breathless astonishment. “It does! — yes, it smiles!”
He stopped not to think that perhaps the uplifted torch might have given the expression to the face of the figure.
“It is well,” issued from the lips of the fanatic. “Heaven is propitious.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Val was on the point of saying.
But he checked it, as it might appear like levity on his part. Reaching forward his right hand, the fakir pressed against a protuberance — something metallic, so far as Val could see — when the figure began to revolve. As soon as this commenced, music floated through the place, the sounds of which were so ravishing that Val listened with rapt attention.
“Pass through,” said the fakir harshly, gripping Val’s arm until he winced with the pain. “To listen long would be to die. Such music is not for mortals. Come!”
Val saw a gleam of light, and an aperture large enough to admit a human body passing through it, and walked through, followed by the fakir, who just managed to get clear, when the aperture closed with a loud noise.
“Another moment and I’d have been with Bramah,” said the fakir.
“A miss is as good as a mile,” thought Val, who breathed more freely.
The light seemed to come from above through an opening in the earth, and he waited somewhat impatiently for the fakir to enlighten him upon the matter. Looking back, not a sign of any opening was visible.
“Yonder is the light of day,” said the fakir. “Let us ascend, and drink in the warmth of the glorious sun. We have escaped from the very jaws of death itself; be thankful.”
“It would take a lot to make me face that fearful place again,” thought Val, as he followed the fakir, who had thrown down his torch, and was clambering up through an opening.
Up they went, catching at the gnarled roots of a tree until they emerged through the hollow bole and found themselves above ground again. The sound of firing rang in their ears, and a dozen yards off was a wild cheetah drinking the blood of a deer.
“Yonder is your way,” said the fakir, pointing to the bamboo thicket, which flanked the principal entrance to the garrison.
“Will you tell them I am safe, when you return?” said Val.
“Yes. You are a brave boy, and deserving of Heaven’s blessing.”
“And you, holy father, have earned our thanks for your kindness. I hope to be able to repay you some day. Farewell.”
Rushing away, he reached the thicket, and suddenly found himself in the hands of half-a-dozen sepoys, who were under the command of Custonjee himself. Before Val could utter a cry, or use his weapons, he was thrown to the ground, pinioned and gagged. All this had taken place within hearing of Val’s friends.
This was more galling than anything that had hitherto happened to the boy, who had not only come on a bootless errand, but had fallen into the hands of the enemy, who would not be likely to allow him to escape in a hurry, and who probably would not care to retain him as a prisoner, but would put him to death.
“Keep quiet, and no harm will befall you,” said Custonjee.
“I’m quiet enough, I should think,” was Val’s thought.
It struck Val too that this was an ambush prepared for the Europeans in the cave should they attempt to throw themselves into the garrison that night. Custonjee and his men must have lost no time in leaving the neighbourhood of the cave to take up their present position, for Val was positive the old major had been there leading the attack in person. What could he do? Was he to lay there like a log, and not be able to tell his comrades of the forms lurking in ambush? He thought, too, how careless the garrison must have been to allow the rebels to ensconce themselves in the thicket, forgetting that this was not a difficult matter to do, as it could be approached pretty secretly.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the thicket; the sepoys clutched their bayonets fiercely, for they dared not use firearms. It was Yunacka, who looked sharply round, and, evidently not liking the appearance of things, vanished as suddenly as he had come upon the scene. Val listened for any remarks that might be made on this little episode, but was disappointed; Custonjee and his men did not care about using their voices any more than they cared to attract attention by firing. Yunacka might have seen him, and would make known his plight to the garrison, and on this probability he based his hope of safety.
Meanwhile the very thing that Val had striven so gallantly to accomplish had been brought about. Mallea, it will be remembered, chased his unwieldy foe, trying to overtake him, while he, poor brute, knowing what was in store for him if overtaken, made his way through the leafy glades, and at last wheeling suddenly to the right, made his way back to the rebel camp, from where he came that morning. Mallea followed, nor ceased pursuing until the camp was reached. Here the defeated elephant found an ally in his mate, and both turned upon Mallea, when a desperate combat ensued.
Men fled before the infuriated beasts, and the camp was quickly deserted, save by the wounded, who lay helplessly looking at this war of Titans, not knowing the moment when the huge beasts might trample them to death. Field pieces were overturned, stacks of arms thrown down and ammunition waggons injured. Up to this point the wounded men had escaped injury; but now they cried out frantically for help, for the elephants were nearing them, not intentionally certainly, but nearing them nevertheless.
They might as well have called to the dumb earth as to their comrades, who were flying through the jungle. Some of the wounded sepoys could sit up, but further than this were quite helpless.Their terror-laden eyes seemed to start from their sockets as they saw the elephants approach nearer and nearer, and heard the screams of rage which the combatants emitted in their fury. One poor unfortunate could just crawl away from the spot and hide behind a tree.
At last the moment came. With shrieks that startled the elephants themselves, so piercing, so full of agony were they, the rebel wounded were trampled into indistinguishable masses. Fitzmaurice had seen through his field glasses the fleeing mutineers, and imagined that relief was approaching. But still he was at a loss to account for the absence of firing. Sending Golob and a file of men out, they soon returned with the startling news that the enemy’s camp was deserted.
“But for what reason?” their chief asked. “Why is it deserted?”
“Elephants have been fighting, sir,” Golob replied. “A dozen or more poor wretches have been trampled to death. One elephant, too, is dead — a great gash in his breast.”
“Assemble all your men, Golob. We’ll make a sortie in force and bring in the guns,” said Fitzmaurice, who could hardly believe that the enemy should fall such an easy prey without there being occasion to fire a shot.
The men were soon assembled, and started under the leadership of Fitzmaurice, the garrison being left practically undefended. This was a great oversight on the part of Fitzmaurice. but he was so excited at the prospect of putting an end to the ruinous conflict that he forgot to be prudent. Besides, he took it for granted that the rebels had taken to flight en masse, and would never think of turning the tables by taking possession of the garrison. Yunacka had returned, which led Fitzmaurice to suppose that Harry and Hassan were on their way with reinforcements, before which the rebels had fled. The rapid advance of the party under Fitzmaurice was not interfered with.
Custonjee placed his hand on the arm of the man nearest him, and whispered — “Pass the word for silence.”
Not a sound proclaimed the fact that in the thicket there lay in ambush one ready to take advantage of the event which was then happening under his very eyes. Val listened to the tramp, tramp of his departing comrades, and felt bitterly his inability to join them.
“Collect all the men you can and bring them here,” Custonjee said in a hurried whisper; “and the place will soon be ours.”
Only half-a-dozen men had been left in the garrison to look after the sick and wounded. These were under command of Doctor O’Shaughnessy, who sat on the housetop smoking his pipe, and keeping a look-out in the distance, hoping to see the approach of reinforcements. The bamboo thicket screened what was passing in that direction, or he must have seen men running swiftly and silently in twos and threes.
Soon fully fifty men were ready for the coup which the major intended making.Just about the time that Fitzmaurice, after reconnoitring the rebel camp, marched his men in and took possession of it, Custonjee and his followers dashed into the precincts of the garrison, and after shooting and bayonetting the few poor fellows who had been left behind, took possession of the place. Doctor O’Shaughnessy saw the attack and heard the cries of the wounded as they were being butchered in their beds, but dared not show himself for fear of sharing their fate. If he stayed where he was he would be sure to be killed without mercy.
But how was he to escape? He could not rush down the steps. The only alternative was that he should jump down or let himself drop, and trust to the chapter of accidents to favour his escape. No sooner had this idea presented itself to his mind than he put it into execution, and his dropped on his feet unhurt. Rushing through the entrance, unobserved by the sepoys who were engaged in looting the place, he reached the thicket. Here he found Val, whom he quickly released.
“Divil such a sight was ivir seen,” said the doctor, who looked pale, and whose voice trembled. “Oh, Val, to hear the poor wounded fellows shriek for mercy and me not able to help them. Ochone! but it’s my heart that’s broke.”
“We must clear out of this,” said Val. “Not a moment is to be lost. Come on, doctor; follow me.”
He had made up his mind to reach the cave if possible, as that spot promised to be safer than any other, for the present, at least, Custonjee having withdrawn his men from thence.
“Let me take a pull at the flask first,” said the doctor, “I feel as shaky as a boiled owl, and as nervous as a cat.”
A tot of brandy soon restored him, and he kept up with Val, and reached the cave out of breath, and full of the startling intelligence that the place which had held out so bravely, was now in the hands of the enemy. The doctor’s narrative was listened to with rapt attention by Colonel Aubrey and his companions, some of whom were slightly wounded in the recent skirmish.
“What is to be done?” asked Val.
“Mr. Fitzmaurice must be communicated with at all risks,” said the colonel.
This was the unanimous opinion, but how it was to be done was the thing. Custonjee was too experienced an officer not to throw out scouts to apprise him of the advance of Fitzmaurice’s party, and any one passing from the cave to the rebel camp would be more than likely to fall in with these fellows. The fakir would be suspected if seen going in that direction, and perhaps shot. Zoola offered her services as a messenger, provided Yunacka would accompany her. Harry wanted to undertake the adventure, but was overruled by his uncle. Zoola would not be likely to incur the same risk, dressed in the garb of a monkey.
Hassan offered to accompany Zoola, and this was agreed to; but Yunacka was to go with them also. Dana quite acquiesced in Zoola’s offer being accepted; it was what she would have done herself had she been in the position to go. One matter for thankfulness was that Dana had not been in the garrison when it was stormed by the mutineers. If she had she might have been slain, for Custonjee was not always able to control the vicious propensities of his men.It took but a few minutes for Zoola and Hassan to get ready. Yunacka grinned with delight.
“Bedad, they’d make a pretty pair,” remarked the doctor, as he bandaged up a man’s wounded arm; “it’s meeself that nivir saw a handsomer monkey-lady before; faix, I’d almost be afther marrying her meeself.”
Harry took a tender farewell of Zoola, regretting that he could not go with her — into the jaws of death perhaps.
Zoola and the wild boy kept in front of Hassan. No signs of a watchful enemy were to be seen for a while, but presently two men sprung from their ambush and seized Hassan, but did not interfere with his companions, who scampered off on all fours as if veritable monkeys.
“Ah, traitor!” hissed one of his captors in Hassan’s ear; “you would warn your friends the Feringhees, would you?”
“What is the meaning of this roughness? Unhand me!” said Hassan. “Have you no eyes? Do you not see that I am your own cousin?”
“Cousin! Would you have me own you, of all men?” his captor hissed. “Goroob has returned and has told us all.”
Other scouts now came up, and Hassan was secured, gagged, and apparently given up hopelessly to destruction.
“Let’s make a target of the traitor with our knives,” said the man whom Hassan had claimed as a cousin. “If Goroob was here he’d soon commence the fun. Ah! here he comes!”
The giant came forward, limping, and with his left arm in a sling.
On seeing whom they had captured he gave a diabolical grin, and said hoarsely — “Ho, ho! my friend of princes, and my prince of traitors, so you are caught at last! Where are your European friends now? We have got their boasted stronghold at last.”
He had been drinking freely, which augured bad for the unfortunate Hassan.
Hassan’s cousin suggested stabbing him, but Goroob scoffed at the idea, remarking — “That would be too merciful a death; burn him alive; sacrifice him to the gods; come, look alive, lads; gather sticks and dry grass. I have a flint and steel in my pocket. His English friends will be welcome to him when we have done with him.”
While preparations for this diabolical deed were going on, Zoola and Yunacka hastened forward in search of the English commander. A busy scene presented itself to the gaze of the princess. Arms were being collected, and ammunition gathered together by the natives, while the Europeans and Golob, together with some of the loyal sepoys, kept a sharp look-out against a surprise.
Zoola singled out Fitzmaurice, and at once addressed him, saying — “I am a friend of Harry’s, and like the English. I know Dana too, now. Are you the white rajah?”
“And who may you be?” asked Fitzmaurice. “I’ve never seen a girl in so strange a garb before.”
“I’m Zoola; but never mind who I am. The sepoys have taken possession of your place. Several Europeans are at the cave, and Hassan is a prisoner not far from here.”
“Impossible! taken the garrison by surprise. Heavens, if this be true the doctor and all the others are murdered, I’m afraid. Clarence, Golob, come here.”
In a few words he told them of the report Zoola had brought.
“What can we do?” asked Fitzmaurice.
“Please help Hassan first,” pleaded Zoola.
“Can you lead Golob and some of his men to where you saw him last?”
Zoola replied in the affirmative, and was soon on her way. The sharp reports of muskets soon began to ring through the solitary glades, when the contending skirmishers caught sight of each other. Regardless of danger, Zoola rushed forward, and would have fallen into the hands of Goroob, if Yunacka, who had ascended a tree, had not arrested her in time. She heard the monster taunting the unfortunate Hassan with the fate in store for him, and longed to rush from her concealment behind the tree-trunk and shoot him, but she was unarmed.
“You think your friends will save you!” he hiccoughed. “That’s them firing, I suppose. See, I’ve only to light the grass, and you will soon be all ablaze. What a pity you’re not a little fatter.”
Apparently Goroob disregarded his own danger, in the delight which it afforded him to mock at his victim.
“Goroob, come away!” shouted one of his friends; “the enemy is upon you.”
“A fig for your Europeans,” he said; “I want to make Hassan comfortable before I leave him. Ha! ha! the ants are biting him. Ho, ho! Why don’t you laugh?”
Hassan was enduring torture from the bites of a colony of ants, infesting the tree to which he was bound. Goroob was about to light the heap of inflammable materials, when Yunacka sprang from the tree, right a-top of him, and he fell to the earth.
Goroob was about to light the heap, when Yunacka sprang from the tree on top of him.
Yunacka rushed towards Hassan and soon had him free; the light had fallen and ignited the leaves, the flames setting fire to Goroob’s clothing. Yunacka and Hassan got away, and Goroob rose to his feet and rushed off. Hardly had he gone twenty yards than he met a large tiger face to face; the brute snarled but did not touch him, being afraid of the fire; in his agony Goroob kicked the savage monster, which drew aside like a beaten hound. The giant fled into the jungle in his agony, and dropped from pain close by the cave where Harry and his companions awaited with anxiety. Within the hour both parties had joined, and a council was held.
“What do you think of retreating on Delhi?” said Harry. “We are free to move about now.”
This was met with opposition from Fitzmaurice and others.
“I cannot leave my home in the hands of the miscreants,” he observed ; “but of course, there is no reason why others should remain. All those who wish it are at liberty, of course, to retire upon Delhi.”
The Europeans decided that it was their duty to stand by Fitzmaurice, and the natives were of the same mind. Colonel Hutchinson had a somewhat lengthy and private conversation with Fitzmaurice.
“Not a word of this to Harry at present,” said the latter; “it will do no good to tell him the truth just now. Let us see our way out of our present difficulties first, and then let justice be done.”
Meanwhile, a terrible scene was being enacted in the cave, into which Goroob had crawled, suffering from severe burns, and almost demented.
The fakir spoke to him kindly, but he repulsed him, crying — “The Feringhees, the Feringhees; where are they? My sword shall drink their blood like water!”
“Peace, my son,” was the grave reply. “Heaven is peace. Why should man insult the Deity with war and cruelty?”
“Prate not to me, but give me drink,” said the giant. “Drink, man, I say, if you value your life.”
“Water is my drink. Outside you will find plenty. Strong drink takes away man’s strength.”
Looking round, Goroob espied the inner cave, and said, with a chuckle — “Bah! preach to old women about water. I like brandy, and plenty of it. You keep it in there, I daresay, you old hypocrite.”
“Forbear, rash man — beware! You go to certain death if you enter there.”
Goroob, mad to procure strong drink, sprang forward and entered the dark chamber.
“You’ve some Feringhee hidden here,” the fellow muttered, as he stumbled onwards, regardless of the loud hiss which greeted him.
“Come back,” cried the fakir; “or Heaven have mercy on your soul!”
“Ah! you’re afraid I’ll find your hoard, are you?” laughed Goroob.
Then he added — “Let me go. You won’t, won’t you?”
This was followed by shrieks as the wretched man found himself, for the second time in his life, in the deadly folds of a boa constrictor. In his madness he cursed, and he tore with his right hand, while it was disengaged, at the fleshy coils that tightened about him, his cries echoing throughout the cavern. The fakir was powerless to help the wretch, who had brought his fate upon himself. Goroob, being a powerful man, was not easily crushed. It would have been a mercy to shoot him dead, but no one was at hand to do this office for him. He was now to realise what it was to fall into the power of a creature even more pitiless than himself. But death was near him — nearer than he himself had any idea of.
A cobra struck its fangs deep into his flesh, and soon the deadly poison began to fill his veins.
In less than an hour he found a grave in the immense stomach of the boa constrictor.
Custonjee was now in actual possession of the stronghold with its treasures, which he had no doubt he would discover if even they were hidden away in some secret spot, as he suspected. He could stand on the defensive for a couple of weeks at least, and then cut his way out with any spoils he might find. He knew it would be war to the knife now the massacre of the sick and wounded by his men, an act he was sorry they had committed, left no way open for the observance of the amenities of civilised warfare.
“Lutchman,” he said gravely, “this (pointing to the dead bodies) means no more prisoners on either side; have you thought of that?”
“I have, major; it’s war to the death now. Perhaps it is best, it will sooner end. I am looking up supplies. The ammunition is not over plentiful, and food is running short. We shall put our fellows on short rations.”
“All the better; they’ll fight the better. I hope there’s a supply of English brandy, Lutchman?”
“Yes, major. Would you like a little now?”
“I should. Mind, that’s all to be kept for us, every drop. It’s fit for officers only, Lutchman; in fact, I think only majors should indulge in it; lieutenants ought to be satisfied with arrack” (a drink distilled from rice).
The old fellow was fond of the good things of this life, and partial to brandy. Having partaken of his ”drops,” he ordered a parade of his men, and himself called over the muster roll. Having finished this task, he harangued his followers in a short speech, pointing out the immense advantage which the possession of the defences gave them, and exhorting them to desperate valour in the event of the enemy assaulting the place.
“Remember, too,” he added, “we are sure to receive reinforcements, in which case we shall have them between two fires. Be resolute, obey orders, and submit to privations even for the sake of the good cause.”
About this time the scouts were driven in, and the siege commenced afresh, besieged and besiegers changing sides in an almost unexampled way. Custonjee was right in exhorting his men to act with increased bravery, inasmuch as they had a vigilant determined enemy to contend against. Every inch of ground within the line of defences was known to the members of the former garrison; where the ammunition and provisions were stored, the weak points in the place. There being only one well to procure water from was a fact which would not be lost sight of by them as might be readily supposed.
One great drawback which Fitzmaurice and the other Europeans sustained was in the lack of rifle ammunition. Golob’s rifle, too, was practically useless; but other supplies were plentiful, which somewhat counterbalanced matters. Fitzmaurice sent a party forward under a flag of truce to ascertain the fate of the people he had left behind. He had no doubt that all of them had been massacred, but he wished to place the matter beyond a doubt before proceeding, to measures of retaliation.
Custonjee met Golob and heard all he had to say, and then remarked — “They have met the fate of all who take up arms against a superior foe. They are no more; dead, as you and I shall be some day.”
“My question refers particularly to the sick and wounded.” said Golob. “They surely have been spared?”
“They have died, I am sorry; they cannot be recalled to life.”
“But can be avenged, and they shall! A terrible revenge will now be taken on you and your murderous crew.”
“No more prisoners!” were the ominous words that went from mouth to mouth. “No more mercy.”
“Cowards, murderers!” said Fitzmaurice, when Golob reported what had passed at the interview. “Did they not recollect how we spared their comrades when they were in our power? Golob, you promised vengeance; it shall be fulfilled to the very utmost!”
“Spare none! Slay, slay!” said Golob vengefully. “My wife’s brother was among the wounded. Let the wretches look to it. Sahib, let them look to themselves!”
Sharpshooters were at once placed in positions from which the enemy could be harassed; and the well received particular attention. And as the hours went by many a tongue in the garrison longed for a single drop of water to quench its burning thirst. Custonjee more than half repented allowing himself to be mewed up with his men in such a restricted place, which he found was not half so strong as he had thought when he was attacking it. His men were at work incessantly in trying to strengthen the defences, but the galling fire from the outside hindered them greatly. The mutineers were picked off by ones and twos by the dead shots opposed to them, and great discontent began to prevail among the garrison.
At last a deputation waited on Custonjee. The ringleader was a relative of his own, a mere youth, named Eyaba, and mutiny was the object of both the lad and his companions.
“Give us water,” said Eyaba; “our tongues are cracked and blistered; we shall die.”
“Is there not a well, Eyaba?” said the old man.
“Is there not death at the well, major?”
“It is everywhere, lad; you want drink you say. Come with me to the well. I will draw water for you; come.”
Unheeding his refusal, and wishing to quell the rising spirit of insubordination by gentle means if possible, and by an example of courage, that would put the malcontents to shame, Custonjee took up a bheestie bag — pig skin for carrying water — and proceeded in the direction of the well. It provoked a smile from many to see the old man shouldering this burden, and doing menial work as cheerfully as if the duty was of the most exalted kind.
It also won the hearts of many to see him thus facing death in discharge of a principle which meant — “Never ask another to do that you would flinch from doing yourself.”
Several men had been killed or desperately wounded in the undertaking the major was engaged in. Harry had taken his turn at the spot commanding the well.Nor did he flinch from inflicting death on wretches who had disgraced the name of men by murdering defenceless beings, who lay sick and wounded. Strangely enough, his thoughts had dwelt much on Custonjee that morning; on the great kindness he had shown both to Dana and himself when in his power, and also on the protection he had extended to them. Undoubtedly but for him they would have been murdered by the mutineers. No one had ventured near the well whilst Harry had been watching. But now some one toiled along, not trying to screen himself from observation in any way, but apparently courting death.
“Who can it be?” thought Harry, as he handled his unerring rifle.
“He’s a plucky old fellow,” muttered Harry as he recognised Custonjee. “I don’t like to shoot him, but yet I mustn’t let him get the water. Halloa, he’s filling the bag. I really don’t like, and yet duty urges me not to spare him.”
“I wonder who’s in that tree now,” Custonjee was thinking; “perhaps Harry or Val; it’s a friend, whoever it is, or he would fire.”
He offered a fair mark for the rifleman’s bullet, and could have been shot easily. His task was finished, though he found it anything but easy to draw up the heavy-buckets several times in succession ere the mussuck was filled. It was the hardest work the stout old gentleman had done for many a day, and in his heart he promised a good jacketting to Eyaba, if he only managed to get back in safety. He almost swore when he came to the getting the water bag on his back.It was heavy, and when be first made the attempt the strap got round his neck and nearly strangled him, while it did wholly land him on the broad of his back in a pool of water.
Harry laughed, and shouted at the top of his voice — “Major, you have got your match in that, eh?”
By a great effort the old fellow extricated himself, and as he mopped his forehead looked in the direction of Harry’s post.
Nothing daunted, he made another attempt, this time succeeding in avoiding the mischance of the strap, but the bag, instead of resting on his back, slipped round in front of him. Harry enjoyed the comical sight as the major endeavoured vainly to shift the burden from the front to the back, and from the trenches also came the sounds of suppressed laughter showing that the sepoys were alive to the comic side of their chief’s situation. Taking aim at the bag, Harry fired. The major was unhurt, but the water was pouring from the mussuck in two streams where the bullet had penetrated.
“Good-bye, major,” Harry shouted, as the portly gentleman waddled away.
“Don’t let any of your men try it on,” Harry added; “I spared you, but would shoot them like dogs.”
“See what I’ve got for my pains all through you, Eyaba,” said the major on his return; are you satisfied?”
“No, we want more food, and something to drink better than water, which Heaven knows is short enough,” replied the mutinous youth. “Share the brandy with us; it will make us brave.”
“Come,” said Custonjee, “I will show you how to be brave without drink. We will make a sortie; fall in, men; remember, no prisoners are taken on either side. Cowards stand no chance now!”
He looked significantly at the youth who was not notorious for conspicuous bravery, and who now resolved to beard his superior.
“We don’t intend doing any more fighting until we are paid,” said Eyaba. “You promised us plenty of loot, and I did hope the English girl would fall to my share.”
“Only the brave deserve the fair,” said the major, trying hard to keep down his rising wrath for the sake of the youth’s mother, “Fall in, men!”
“Men!” said Eyaba, thoroughly reckless, and mistaking his relative’s good humour for weak forbearance, “we mustn’t allow ourselves to be bullied; we’re getting hard knocks and no pay; in Delhi things are different. Don’t fight.”
“Will you give the place up to the Europeans then, Eyaba? Do you know what you have done for us all?” asked Custonjee, with a look of contempt.
“What?” was the impudent reply.
“Cut off all chance of life being spared on either side by being the first to slay the sick and wounded. ’Twas a cowardly act, Eyaba, and a poor return for their having spared our prisoners, yourself among the number.”
“Listen to him! Is he fit to command us? Why does he not join the white-faced dogs; if he feels so tender towards them.”
“You will soon join your forefathers,” said the old man as he drew a pistol from his belt and cocked it.
Quick as thought Eyaba levelled a weapon and pulled the trigger. It missed fire, when Eyaba, with dastardly cowardice, threw himself flat upon the ground and bellowed for mercy.
“The enemy! the enemy!” shouted a score of voices, as a dark face peered over the stockade.
It was only Yunacka, who did not see why he shouldn’t pay a visit to his accustomed haunt, where he had spent many a happy hour among the fruit trees, when war was unknown or undreamt of in those parts. The next moment he was over the obstruction and making for his favourite guava tree.
“No prisoners,” said the sepoy who stood near Custonjee, as he raised his musket to fire.
The major threw the fellow’s arm up, and thus saved the wild boy’s life.
“Shame! Don’t you see who it is?” said Custonjee. “Keep your ammunition for men; yon is little better than a monkey.”
Yunacka went fearlessly among the rebels. Cruel as the sepoys were, they did not wish to shoot or harm him, especially as Custonjee objected to his being treated as a belligerent. Eyaba had risen from his grovelling position, and was sitting up, looking very ill at ease, when Yunacka took a seat beside him.
It was an unlucky act on the lad’s part. Eyaba first pushed and then struck him, thinking he had found a suitable object on which to vent his spleen. Monkeys are rendered furious by blows, and as if Yunacka had this characteristic in common with his jungle playmates, he turned on the cowardly fellow, and made his teeth meet in the fleshy part of his arm.
He received a severe kick from Eyaba, when, snatching a loaded musket from one of the sepoys, he deliberately blew the fellow’s brains out, and then fell on the quivering corpse with tooth and nail. Such was the horror of the bystanders, that no one attempted to avenge the death of their comrade. Yunacka, finding no resistance from Eyaba, left him, and with a series of bounds made for the stockade. With a spring he was at the top, and in another moment would have been safe, when the sepoys treated him to a volley. Two shots took effect, and tumbled him over, very seriously, though not mortally, wounded. He fell, fortunately to the other side of the stockade, and lay there helplessly, with the blood flowing from his wounds. Two animals approached him from opposite directions.
One was Azraal, his friend, the other a wild cheetah, allured to the spot no doubt by the scent of blood. Yunacka held out his hand to Azraal, who licked it in token of affection. The next instant it had flown at the throat of the strange animal, and a fierce fight ensued. If Azraal lost the fight the wild boy’s fate would be sealed. He evidently felt this, for he fumbled for the pistol in his belt. His eyes were becoming glazed from the loss of blood, but he conquered the weakness by a great effort, and raising himself on his elbow, watched for an opportunity and then fired; and only just in time, for the wild cheetah was standing victoriously over Azraal, ready to fasten its deadly fangs in its throat.
No human help was near to succour the wild boy, who stood a good chance of dying, unless his wounds were attended to. Azraal caressed his friend, and then catching him tenderly by the belt, carried him in the direction of the English camp.
“Halloa! Azraal has a prisoner,” said Val, on catching sight of the creature and its burden; “it’s against orders, isn’t it, Clarence?”
“It’s Yunacka, I believe. Isn’t it wonderful, Val? There’s an act of friendship for you. It would put many a Christian to shame.”
The beautiful creature laid its burden gently down at the feet of the youths, and looked up into their faces as if to say — “I’ve done my duty by my friend, yours now begins; help him.”
Dr. O’Shaughnessy was soon at Yunacka’s side, attending to him as skilfully as if his life was as important as a king’s.
“Ochone! my poor baste of a boy. It’s nearly kilt ye are, and almost murdered alive. Begorra, it’s meself that wishes I had the fellow that did this before me, and maybe I would bate him until he couldn’t say his prayers for the want of a tooth in his ugly head.”
Poor Zoola was much cast down at Yunacka’s mishap; indeed it was surprising the amount of sympathy which the case called forth from everybody in camp, he was such a universal favourite.
A bed was made up for the sufferer, with her own hands, and she took upon herself the post of nurse to her poor favourite, whose life was hanging in the balance.
News had reached them of the massacre of the ill-fated garrison at Cawnpore. It was a terrible record of vile treachery, and taught every little stronghold holding Europeans that surrender meant butchery. The prince came at last, and was saddened by the awful change that had taken place in Fitzmaurice’s condition. His sunken eves and hollow cheeks told of dissolution fast approaching.The dying man’s eyes questioned Arungzebe, whose face did not bear a hopeful expression.
“Surrender. Lay down your arms, and your entire force will be safely escorted to Delhi,” said the prince.
The little crowd listened to these words of Runjet’s princely envoy, and a scowl of defiance came upon each brow, which wrinkled with determination, and each hand grasped the weapon more firmly.
“Never,” said Fitzmaurice, “never!”
Raising himself by a supreme effort, he exclaimed, in a voice which was supernaturally strong — “Men, comrades, fight to the death, but never surrender. I am dying, but even when dead, my spirit will be in your midst, animating you to victory.”
A cheer greeted these words, and a smile illumined the dying man’s face.
“I leave you a precious charge, my daughter. Stand by your guns! England and St. George. Victory — victory!”
With a faint cheer issuing from his white lips, and a last gleam from his closing eyes, he sank back — dead! Arungzebe was sent back with this defiant message to Runjet — “Englishmen die, but never surrender!”
There was no time for sorrow. Dana dried her eyes, and closed her father’s reverently, then left him to his rest. The cannons were loaded with grape, spare muskets, each with a death-dealing bullet in their iron barrels, were placed here and there for men to snatch up in the hurry of the coming strife. Zoola stood near Harry, looking up into his face tenderly.
“Will it be war?”
“I’m afraid so, Zoola. Retire before it is too late.”
“And leave you?”
“It would be better. Think of it. Your father fights in the ranks of the enemy. Your hand might strike him down.”
“I will load your musket for you, Harry, and not fire myself. Do not send me away, my more than brother. I love you. Kiss me, Harry, and say you are not angry.”
In the other camp, while she spoke, Runjet was listening to the message from the English commander.
“What of Zoola?” the rajah asked.
“She stays with the enemy.”
The father bowed his head in silence. Parental love struggled hard with duty. If he returned to Delhi without striking a blow he would be eternally disgraced. While on the other hand, in a conflict, Zoola, the apple of his eye, the one being he loved best, might perish.
Runjet hesitated how to decide, seeing which, the prince said — “I have seen that lovely girl; she is my cousin. Her father is dead. Let her escape. Why should she die?”
“Ah!” said Runjet, as if the words offered a gleam of hope; I will go with you to the English camp, Arungzebe, and plead that the girls, who are as yet mere children, should be placed in safety, or even sent into the British lines before Delhi, while we fight the battle. Come, I will do this. Heaven grant me success.”
Half-an-hour later the rajah, under a flag of truce, approached, and was met by Colonels Aubrey and Hutchinson.
“You have two girls with you.” said Runjet. “Let them go out from your midst to a place of safety. We war with men. Do you approve?”
“It is for them to decide; they must speak for themselves,” said Hutchinson, who at once went to fetch them.
“Zoola,” said her father, “have you any love for me?”
“Oh, yes. I love you ever so dearly,” she replied.
“Good. And would obey me with a loving obedience?”
She did not answer, but cast down her eyes.
“Leave this spot where death may soon be busy?”
“I cannot, unless my friend Dana here goes with me.
“What say you?” asked the rajah of Dana. “I swear that your life, your person, shall be safe.”
“My father lies dead yonder,” replied Dana, “He said ’no surrender!’ You are answered.”
With a reproachful glance at Zoola, the rajah left; but the prince did not offer to accompany him, considering that his parole was up, and that he was again a prisoner.
“You may go with him,” said Hutchinson. “Your uncle, the noble man who lies dead wished it.”
“I thank you; this is indeed a noble act,” said Arungzebe.
“Act nobly yourself. When the time comes spare a defenceless enemy. Adieu!”
An hour later death was revelling in the jungle. The place seemed literally alive with flame and smoke, that spoke of the doom of many a brave man.
Custonjee’s men had joined Runjet, who had therefore a respectable force to lead to the assault, which he did right valiantly. But behind the trenches were more valiant men still — men who were resigned to die, but who resolved that they would not depart alone on that journey from which no man returns. The cannon vomited forth death into the ranks of the assailants, as they tried to carry the place by storm. Val, Harry, Clarence and Dana stood by the cannon, assisted by other Europeans, and poor little Zoola helped to carry cartridges, as unmoved by the presence of danger as if she was at play in her father’s castle. Yunacka laughed with glee as the cannon roared, and the musketry rattled, and bullets flew about like hail.
Propped against a tree the wild boy loaded his musket and fired from time to time, not at random, but with a true aim, that cost some of the assailants their lives. Trampling over Custonjee’s grave, came the dusky men, led by Runjet and his officers, right up to the very trenches, only to be hurled back by the brave and desperate defenders. Reforming his men for a last desperate effort the rajah came on, sword in hand. The nine-pounders were loaded almost to the muzzle with grape. The wind blew aside the smoke, showing the attacking party with clearness.
“Harry, see, ’tis my father!” said Zoola, as the brave lad stood with the port-fire.
She placed her hands over her eyes. Her father’s stalwart form was in the line of fire.
“Merciful Heavens,” she thought, as the thunder of the cannon sounded in her ears, “he has gone!”
She swayed to and fro like a willow bending under a storm, but did not fall. Harry’s supporting arm was around her, her head rested on his breast; the bullets whizzed about her, one of which cut off a dark tress, which, fluttering, fell to the ground.
Fiercely the contest continued; the trenche[s] were choked with dead as the assailants pressed on, urged forward by a single impulse — To slay, to aid the horrid work of destruction. The rajah, though badly wounded, kept to his post like a brave man, resolved to conquer or to die. He knew his daughter was in the midst of this carnage — knew that the missiles aimed at the defenders might strike her down. But he did his duty, and sword in right hand, and his left pressed to his wounded side, led on his men again, his figure towering like an oak among larches.
Never was battle more stubbornly contested on both sides. Val was lightly wounded, but in the excitement thought nothing of it; his blood was up, and he fought splendidly. Dana proved herself a true Englishwoman, now fighting, anon tending the wounded, giving them water and assisting Dr. O’Shaughnessy, who, with sleeves tucked up, was performing his work like the noble fellow that he was.
“Bedad, it’s warm work,” he said, as he wiped the perspiration from his face; “those black devils know how to fight. I’ll try a little fighting now for a change.”
There was a lull in the battle at last; the enemy were discouraged, but not yet beaten. Colonel Aubrey saw his opportunity.
“Now, men,” he said, “give them a taste of the bayonet.”
Placing himself at their head, they rushed out of the entrenchments with a wild cheer, and were soon stabbing right and left. This decided the issue. The battle was won!
Among the prisoners was the rajah himself.
When the muster roll was called, many brave fellows did not answer to their names. They had died a soldier’s death, and done their duty nobly.The dead were buried silently, while tears rolled down cheeks which bore marks of the recent sanguinary fray. All the Englishmen of the party were alive; not because they had not exposed themselves, but simply that a Providence had been watching over them. Poor Fitzmaurice had many companions to that bourne from whence no travellers return, all true men, who had not disgraced their manhood.
So enraged were the friendly sepoys, that they demanded the prisoners should be hung. It was a ticklish time for the Europeans, who were in a fearful minority in this crisis. Zoola was in sore distress. Her father incurred the same risk as the others, as he was amongst the prisoners.
“Don’t let them hurt him,” she said pleadingly to Harry, whom she clung to in her despair.
Poor lad, his heart failed him as he listened to the clamours of the men who called aloud for vengeance. Nor was their demand unjust, horrible as it might appear. They remembered comrades butchered in cold blood, as they lay wounded in the bungalow. Why should they not be avenged now that the opportunity offered itself? The officers held council among themselves, and the men who demanded justice looked with eager eyes as they waited for the verdict, their faces grimed with powder and smoke, and bearing evidences about them of the gallant fight. The enemy’s dead were unburied, and lay in and near the trenches by the score. Already birds of prey hovered in the air, waiting to gorge themselves on the corpses. It was a sickening spectacle. Various plans were suggested by members of the council.
“We can’t prevent its being done if they insist upon it,” remarked Colonel Hutchinson. “I really am at a loss what to advise.”
Harry spoke next, and said —“I am only a boy, and have no right to be heard when wise men are discussing so serious a question as that at issue, but if allowed I should like to make a suggestion.”
“Speak, boy. We are only too happy to listen,” said Colonel Aubrey. “You have earned the right to speak, having fought bravely.”
“Why should all the prisoners die? Let lots be cast. There are twenty of them; fix upon the number to be offered up as a sacrifice to stop this clamour for blood.”
“Well spoken, Harry, my boy! You have, in my opinion, solved the difficulty.”
The matter was decided thus, but the rajah was not to be included in the number. Five men were to be given up to appease the fury of those who demanded the sacrifice.
“Now, comrades,” said Colonel Aubrey, addressing them calmly, “we have considered your demand, and deem it a just one.”
Hoarse murmurs of approval greeted these words.
“But we do not see why all should die.”
“All, all!” said several.
“Listen, comrades. Did we flinch in the hour of trial? Did we not stand shoulder to shoulder?”
This point was not contended — not a man spoke. ”And let me ask you, if we, as Englishmen, ought not to feel bitter against an enemy who have massacred our fellow-countrymen, outraged our women before slaying them, and impaled our children on the bayonet-point. This being the case, surely you ought to listen to us then?”
“It is true,” said one of the men, acting as spokesman for the rest. “Say on.”
“Let five die, and let that number suffice, but Runjet Singh is not to be included.”
The rajah raised himself on his elbow, and said —“If my men are to die, let me not be spared. I led them to battle, and am not afraid of death.”
It was nobly spoken, and even his dusky foes murmured their admiration. A pistol lay near him.
Snatching it up, and giving it to him, Zoola said — “Father, die like a man. I will go with you!” at the same time holding a weapon to her own temple. “I will take time from you.”
This incident was so startling that not a hand, nor a single voice, was raised in protest. A look of determination came over the rajah’s face. His finger was on the trigger. He looked at his daughter with a loving glance. She stood with compressed lips, waiting for the signal. His heart failed him. She was his only child, his darling, and so young — too young to die.
“No, I cannot do it,” he said, with a deep groan.
The pistol dropped from his hand and he fainted.
“He is dead!” shrieked Zoola.
Another instant and she would have been a corpse. But Harry sprang forward and struck the pistol out of her hand, and saved her from committing suicide.
Harry sprang forward and struck the pistol out of her hand.
“This is dreadful,” said Colonel Aubrey ”Can nothing be done to stop it?”
Golob now spoke to his comrades, saying — “Men, let us be merciful; let them live.”
These words told upon his hearers.
“Let them live,” was the verdict of the rest.
It was decided to remove the arms and ammunition to the other entrenched position, and to wait there a few days while scouts went out to reconnoitre, to ascertain whether the coast was clear. If conveyances had been at hand a march on Delhi would have been the consequence. But it was impossible to provide them under the circumstances, nor would any of the Englishmen hear of deserting their comrades who were sick and wounded, although Dr. O’Shaughnessy offered to remain in charge while the others went to Delhi.
The scouts went out and returned with the news that the country was still swarming with the enemy. It was a ticklish time for the garrison. Supplies of all kinds were getting short, especially ammunition. Never had human beings been placed in a worse strait. But they were determined to hold on to the last, and if necessary to die together. Yunacka had escaped, and roamed about as usual, knowing neither fear nor danger. In this emergency Runjet Singh came to the rescue most unexpectedly. He had an interview with Colonel Hutchinson, and spoke to him as a man would to his brother.
“You cannot remain here,” he said. “I have heard all from Zoola. What do you and your comrades intend doing?”
“Our duty,” was the calm reply. “Starvation stares us in the face, but we must suffer in silence, and if needs be die.”
“Gallant men should not be in such a strait. Will you listen to me? I have been an enemy, and am now a true friend, at least I wish to be such.”
“I thank you; have you anything to propose?”
“Yes; but first of all I beg of you to trust me. You and your comrades have spared the lives of my daughter and of my men; I want to befriend you all.”
“I do and will trust you.”
“’Tis well. I will send a messenger for conveyances, and convey the sick and wounded, and all in fact, to my castle, where I pledge my honour you will be safe. When an opportunity occurs you can join your friends at Delhi.”
“But why cannot we go to Delhi at once?”
“Because the country swarms with your enemies. I cannot risk getting you there just at present.”
“I will lay your proposal before my comrades, and thank you, Runjet, for your manly offer which does you credit.”
Colonel Hutchinson did so, and the matter was fully discussed.
“We cannot remain here,” said Colonel Aubrey; “if we were not hampered with sick and wounded we might fight our way on to Delhi. In the cause of humanity I think we ought to accept the rajah’s offer, that is if you believe he can be trusted.”
“I would stake my life on his honesty,” said Harry. “We were in his power, myself and my uncle, and he saved us.”
“But in accepting his offer we may draw destruction upon him as well as upon ourselves,” said Clarence. “If Dana and Zoola were in a place of safety, I would not care for ourselves; their safety ought to be our first consideration.”
“Well spoken,” said Captain Redwood, “I have thought seriously over the matter, and have something to propose.”
“Say on, and may Heaven guide our counsels,” said Colonel Aubrey, “for we want divine help in our troubles.”
“Let Dana disguise herself and accompany two or three trusty people to Delhi. Zoola is safe enough; she can claim the protection of her father.”
“Let Dana be consulted,” said Val. “She is a brave, sensible girl, and ready to listen to reason.”
She was called in, and the matter put to her by Colonel Aubrey.
“Why should I leave you who have proved true friends to me?” she asked. “If I must die, let me do so in the company of such brave, noble-hearted men.”
“Women ought not to suffer. You are young, and life is before you, Dana,” said Colonel Hutchinson. “We do not wish to part from you, but your safety is of paramount interest in our eyes.”
Val now spoke up, saying — “Listen to me, Dana. I love you truly, and would not part from you willingly; let Hassan and I see you safely to Delhi.”
Harry was about to offer himself too, but he caught Zoola’s imploring looks. Her young heart was given to him, and she would prefer death to losing him. On his part he loved her dearly, and was convinced that if Heaven spared them they would yet unite their fortunes.
“What say you, Dana?” asked Colonel Hutchinson. “We all wish it.”
“But what will you and your comrades do, colonel?” she asked.
“The rajah has offered us shelter in his castle. If you reach Delhi you might bring us succour there.”
“Then I will go,” she said; “not because of my own safety, but to bring you all help.”
The rajah was told of this, and he was grateful for the confidence reposed in him. Sending for one of his men, who was a prisoner, he wrote instructions to the captain of his guard to send conveyances and provisions without delay. The man started on his errand at once.
“Father,” said Zoola, on hearing of his noble conduct, “I always loved you; now I worship you. You are indeed worthy of brave men’s esteem.”
“They have been kind to you, child?”
“Yes, indeed. I love Englishmen. I had always thought them enemies of our people, but was wrong; but one thing I must speak of. May I?”
“You know Harry Coverdale? Is he not a noble youth?”
“He is all that, my child.”
“Do not be angry. I love him; he loves me. Without him I would die; he is not of my religion nor of my race, but I cannot help loving him.”
The rajah was silent, he had other views for his child — a matrimonial alliance that would place her in a proud position.
“Are you angry with me, my father?” she asked, kneeling and taking his hand.
“Not angry, Zoola; not angry, but sad.”
“I do not wish to grieve you. I cannot help loving Harry. ’Tis fate, I suppose; and I cannot be sorry.”
“I had other intentions if this unhappy war had not happened. You were to be affianced to a prince.”
“Harry is my prince, father.”
“You cannot help loving him, I admit; but can any happiness ensue? Your religion is different.”
“Love with me is stronger than any consideration you can put before me.”
“I am answered; but before you say more, or I decide, let Colonel Hutchinson be consulted, he is the lad’s uncle and guardian.”
“I will fetch him,” she answered, with the light-o’-love in her beautiful eyes as she sped away.
“You have sent for me, Runjet. I am here,” said the colonel.
Zoola had not returned with him from motives of delicacy. She was better employed with Harry — in looking into his eyes, in caressing him — as they sat under the shade of a mango tree.
“Hutchinson,” said the rajah, “Heaven knows how I care for you, but I am called upon to make a bitter sacrifice for the sake of one very dear to you.”
The colonel was silent.
“Harry Coverdale is your nephew?”
“Yes ; I am proud of him.”
“As you have every right to be. He loves my daughter, who to me is dearer than life itself.”
“What do you wish?”
“Your advice. Zoola says she cannot be happy without him.”
“You are opposed to her loving him then?”
“To a certain extent, yes. They are not of the same race or creed. I had other views for her.”
“They are only boy and girl; let time test their love. Opposition will do no good, believe me.”
“I suppose you are right, colonel. Let them be called and be betrothed in our presence. May Heaven give none of us cause to repent the step we are now about to take.”
Colonel Hutchinson found the pair, and said to Harry — “You rogue, what have you been doing?”
“Me, uncle? nothing.”
“Do you love Zoola? And would you in course of time like to make her your wife?”
This conversation was carried on in Hindostanee, and before Harry could reply Zoola said — “Of course he does. If he didn’t love me I’d break my heart. Harry, you love me, don’t you?”
“Very, very dearly,” he answered as he kissed her.
This settled the matter. The pair were solemnly betrothed in the presence of the rajah and Colonel Hutchinson.
Dana and Val left the camp and proceeded on their way cautiously until they reached the confines of the village.
“We’d better reconnoitre this place before entering it,” said Val. “It may be full of the enemy. Will you remain here while I go forward, Dana?”
“No, Val; we must not separate; it would not be wise; we have shared every danger together hitherto, let us still do so.”
Having concealed their horses in a thicket, the fugitives approached the village just as day began to dawn. The only street it possessed was deserted, a few mongrels being about, which snarled and yelped at them.
“This is lively,” said Val, laughing.
“I shall be so glad of a rest. There’s voices, let’s be wary; this is no place to expect friends.”
Hassan had evidently made a mistake in thinking the village inhabited. The scourge of war had passed over it, and the villagers had retired to make their humble homes in a safer spot. The sounds came from a caravanserai (traveller’s rest), a moderate-sized brick cottage. Having ascertained this fact, they were about to retire when several sepoys came out. Dana had a string of gold beads about her neck, such as are worn by natives of rank and position. The sight of this wealth excited the cupidity of these marauders, gangs of which were to be met with almost everywhere.
“Come along. Dana,” said Val. “We must run for it.”
They rushed down the street, and were fired upon by their pursuers, who, however, were too much under the influence of drink to take anything like good aim. Our young friends reached the horses, and vaulted into the saddle, dashing away at a mad gallop with bent heads to avoid the bullets.
“We are safe from pursuit now,” said Val, drawing rein. “Are we never to be out of danger?”
“It would appear not, Val. Let us get on again. I think a storm is approaching.”
“All right, Dana, you are my commanding officer. A soaking isn’t desirable by any means.”
The sky was overcast.
Presently the thunder rattled and the lightning flashed. Anon the clouds broke, and the rain descended, not in drops as in England, but in a regular deluge. Dana and Val had found shelter under a large banyan-tree capable of affording shelter to a regiment. Before they were aware of the fact they found themselves in the presence more natives seated at breakfast. They seemed peaceably disposed, for they greeted the newcomers courteously, and invited them to partake of their hospitality. The dishes smelt appetising, and Dana was hungry.
“Shall we or not, Val?” she asked.
“By all means,” he replied.
It was a strange sight, this picnicing under a tree during the progress of a severe storm, and nowhere out of India could it have been witnessed. In going to his seat Val noticed a very suspicious circumstance — a newly-dug grave. But he made no comment on it. Such things were common enough when every man’s hand was against his brother. It might mean nothing wrong, but he resolved to keep his wits about him. Delicious coffee, unleavened cakes, and other luxuries satisfied their appetites. Sweatmeats and native drinks followed, and the storm having subsided, some of the company began to sing, accompanying themselves on a small drum or tom-tom. Two of the company rose and approached Val and Dana from behind, Val sprang to his feet, pistol in hand, just in time. A few seconds more and they would have been strangled. Without suspecting it they had accepted the hospitality of a band of thugs. Robbery and murder under the guise of religion were their objects.
“We thank you for your hospitality, gentlemen,” said Val ironically; “but we did not bargain to leave our bodies in yonder grave.”
Dana had risen, and was now also on her guard. It was a ticklish moment. The thugs outnumbered them, and no doubt carried concealed arms. At this juncture half a troop of cavalry rode by, headed by an Englishman. It was Captain Hodson of the corps of guides, the finest cavalry officer in the service, and a splendid fellow to boot.
“Stop, sir!” Val shouted.
“Who calls?” asked Hodson, halting his men.
“I, an English boy, Valentine Aubrey. We are in the hands of murderers, I am afraid.”
The thugs did not wait for anything further but fled.
Val explained everything to the gallant officer, who observed — “What has become of the garrison? I came out in the hope of hearing something about them. Is the enemy about?”
“Our comrades intend leaving for the castle of Runjet Singh,” Val replied; “perhaps they are on their way there now. I have not seen many of the enemy, but have heard that they are in ambush somewhere in strong force.”
He was extremely kind to both Val and Dana, who were now under his charge, and therefore comparatively safe. On their way back to Delhi they picked up Hassan, who gave the welcome intelligence of the convoy being en route to the garrison.
“There is a lot of lootwallahs (robbers) encamped not far from here, sahib,” Hassan said to Hodson; you can surprise them if you wish.”
“Do I not,” he replied, showing his teeth; “let me only get the chance; lead on, my fine fellow.”
Hassan acted as guide, and like a rush of the whirlwind the guides were among the enemy, cutting and slashing right and left, but few escaping. A lot of useless booty was destroyed, and it was a welcome sound to our young friends when first they heard the thunder of British cannon, and came in sight of the rows of tents, which to them was indeed a haven of safety and rest.
Runjet and all our old friends were safely escorted to Delhi. Val and Harry pleaded so hard to be allowed to take part in the subsequent events before Delhi, that they were appointed cadets in Hodson’s corps of the guides, and valuable officers. Dana and Zoola were sent up to the hill stations, there to await the end of the war. Golob, as well as all the natives who had taken part in the gallant defence of the bungalow in the jungle, were well rewarded.Hassan, being a young promising fellow, was given a commission. Runjet Singh and his people remained faithful to the British, and did not suffer for their fidelity.
Poor Yunacka, who proved to be the rajah’s lost son, and whose sojourn in the jungle for so many years, unaided by human agency, a companion of wild animals, survived for a few mouths, and was buried in the vast cemetery of the camp, regretted by all who knew him or had heard his story. He would have accompanied his sister Zoola to the hill station, but was too ill to bear the journey.
When the war ended, and peace reigned throughout India once more, Val and Harry were united to the objects of their boyish loves. Generals Aubrey and Hutchinson were present at the double wedding, as was the rajah and many of the defenders of the solitary bungalow. The spot was visited, but the house never rebuilt. A handsome obelisk of granite commemorated the gallant struggle, on which was inscribed many names, at the head of them being that of Gregory Fitzmaurice.
Clarence Fitzhugh rose to high rank in the Indian Civil Service, and both he, Doctor O’Shaughnessy, and Colonel Redwood are always welcome visitors at the houses of our heroes and heroines.
The fate of the fakir was never known. He may have died in the solitary wilds, or been devoured by wild beasts. It was supposed that he had entered the inner cave, and been hemmed in, as the entrance was blocked up by masses of rock which had fallen from the roof. Yunacka’s memory is held in esteem by his relatives and friends, and the rajah, when caressing his grandchildren, thinks with moistened eyes of his first-born,
“The Wandering Boy of the Jungle.”
Completed December 31, 2007
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