Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
But though obliged to defer to Major Hannay's wishes, and to abstain from arguing with the men the question of Bathurst being given the cold shoulder, Dr. Wade had already organized the ladies in his favor. During the afternoon he had told them the tiger story, and had confidentially informed them how it was that Bathurst from his birth had been the victim of something like nervous paralysis at all loud sounds, especially those of the discharge of firearms.
"His conduct today," he said, "and his courage in rescuing that native girl from the tiger, illustrate his character. He is cool, brave, and determined, as might be expected from a man of so well balanced a mind as his; and even when his nerves utterly broke down under the din of musketry, his will was so far dominant that he forced himself to go forward and stand there under fire, an act which was, under the circumstances, simply heroic."
There is little difficulty in persuading women as to the merits of a man they like, and Bathurst had, since the troubles began, been much more appreciated than before by the ladies of Deennugghur. They had felt there was something strengthening and cheering in his presence, for while not attempting to minimize the danger, there was a calm confidence in his manner that comforted and reassured those he talked to.
In the last twenty-four hours, too, he had unobtrusively performed many little kindnesses; had aided in the removals, carried the children, looked after the servants, and had been foremost in the arrangement of everything that could add to the comfort of the ladies.
"I am glad you have told us all about it, Doctor," Mrs. Doolan said; "and, of course, no one would dream of blaming him. I had heard that story about his leaving the army years ago; but although I had only seen him once or twice, I did not believe it for a minute. What you tell us now, Doctor, explains the whole matter. I pity him sincerely. It must be something awful for a man at a time like this not to be able to take his part in the defense, especially when there are us women here. Why, it would pain me less to see Jim brought in dead, than for him to show the white feather. What can we do for the poor fellow?"
"Treat him just as usual. There is nothing else you can do, Mrs. Doolan. Any tone of sympathy, still less of pity, would be the worst thing possible. He is in the lowest depths at present; but if he finds by your tone and manner that you regard him on the same footing as before, he will gradually come round, and I hope that before the end of the siege he will have opportunities of retrieving himself. Not under fire--that is hopeless; but in other ways."
"You may be sure we will do all we can, Doctor," Mrs. Doolan said warmly; "and there are plenty of ways he will be able to make himself most useful. There is somebody wanted to look after all those syces and servants, and it would be a comfort to us to have someone to talk to occasionally; besides, all the children are fond of him."
This sentiment was warmly echoed; and thus, when the determination at which the men had arrived to cut Bathurst became known, there was something like a feminine revolution.
"You may do as you like," Mrs. Doolan said indignantly; "but if you think that we are going to do anything so cruel and unjust, you are entirely mistaken, I can tell you."
Mrs. Rintoul was equally emphatic, and Mrs. Hunter quietly, but with as much decision, protested. "I have always regarded Mr. Bathurst as a friend," she said, "and I shall continue to do so. It is very sad for him that he cannot take part in the defense, but it is no more fair to blame him than it would be to blame us, because we, too, are noncombatants."
Isobel Hannay had taken no part in the first discussion among the ladies, nor did she say anything now.
"It is cruel and unjust," she said to herself, "but they only think as I did. I was more cruel and unjust than they, for there was no talk of danger then. I expressed my contempt of him because there was a suspicion that he had showed cowardice ten years ago, while they have seen it shown now when there is fearful peril. If they are cruel and unjust, what was I?"
Later on the men gathered together at one end of the room, and talked over the situation.
"Dr. Wade," the Major said quietly, "I shall be obliged if you will go and ask Mr. Bathurst to join us. He knows the people round here better than any of us, and his opinion will be valuable."
The Doctor, who had several times been in to see Bathurst, went to his room.
"The Major wants you to join us, Bathurst; we are having a talk over things, and he wishes to have your opinion. I had better tell you that as to yourself the camp is divided into two parties. On one side are the Major, Wilson, and myself, and all the ladies, who take, I need not say, a common sense view of the matter, and recognize that you have done all a man could do to overcome your constitutional nervousness, and that there is no discredit whatever attached to you personally. The rest of the men, I am sorry to say, at present take another view of the case, and are disposed to show you the cold shoulder."
"That, of course," Bathurst said quietly; "as to the ladies' view of it, I know that it is only the result of your good offices, Doctor."
"Then you will come," the Doctor said, pleased that Bathurst seemed less depressed than he had expected.
"Certainly I will come, Doctor," Bathurst said, rising; "the worst is over now--everyone knows that I am a coward--that is what I have dreaded. There is nothing else for me to be afraid of, and it is of no use hiding myself."
"We look quite at home here, Mr. Bathurst, don't we?" Mrs. Doolan said cheerfully, as he passed her; "and I think we all feel a great deal more comfortable than we did when you gave us your warning last night; the anticipation is always worse than the reality."
"Not always, I think, Mrs. Doolan," he said quietly; "but you have certainly made yourselves wonderfully at home, though your sewing is of a more practical kind than that upon which you are ordinarily engaged."
Then he passed on with the Doctor to the other end of the room. The Major nodded as he came up.
"All right again now, Bathurst, I hope? We want your opinion, for you know, I think, more of the Zemindars in this part of the country than any of us. Of course, the question is, will they take part against us?"
"I am afraid they will, Major. I had hoped otherwise; but if it be true that the Nana has gone--and as the other part of the message was correct, I have no doubt this is so also--I am afraid they will be carried away with the stream."
"And you think they have guns?"
"I have not the least doubt of it; the number given up was a mere fraction of those they were said to have possessed."
"I had hoped the troops would have marched away after the lesson we gave them this morning, but, so far as we can make out, there is no sign of movement in their lines. However, they may start at daybreak tomorrow."
"I will go out to see if you like, Major," Bathurst said quietly. "I can get native clothes from the servants, and I speak the language well enough to pass as a native; so if you give me permission I will go out to the lines and learn what their intentions are."
"It would be a very dangerous undertaking," the Major said gravely.
"I have no fear whatever of danger of that kind, Major; my nerves are steady enough, except when there is a noise of firearms, and then, as you all saw this morning, I cannot control them, do what I will. Risks of any other kind I am quite prepared to undertake, but in this matter I think the danger is very slight, the only difficulty being to get through the line of sentries they have no doubt posted round the house. Once past them, I think there is practically no risk whatever of their recognizing me when made up as a native. The Doctor has, no doubt, got some iodine in his surgery, and a coat of that will bring me to the right color."
"Well, if you are ready to undertake it, I will not refuse," the Major said. "How would you propose to get out?"
"I noticed yesterday that the branches of one of the trees in the garden extended beyond the top of the wall. I will climb up that and lower myself on the other side by a rope; that is a very simple matter. The spot is close to the edge of Mr. Hunter's compound, and I shall work my way through the shrubbery till I feel sure I am beyond any sentries who may be posted there; the chances are that they will not be thick anywhere, except opposite the gate. By the way, Captain Forster, before I go I must thank you for having risked your life to save mine this morning. I heard from Mrs. Hunter that it was you and the Doctor who rushed forward and drew me back."
"It is not worth talking about," Captain Forster said carelessly. "You seemed bent on making a target of yourself; and as the Major's orders were that everyone was to lie down, there was nothing for it but to remove you."
Bathurst turned to Dr. Wade. "Will you superintend my get up, Doctor?"
"Certainly," the Doctor said, with alacrity. "I will guarantee that, with the aid of my boy, I will turn you out so that no one would know you even in broad daylight, to say nothing of the dark."
A quarter of an hour sufficed to metamorphose Bathurst into an Oude peasant. He did not return to the room, but, accompanied by the Doctor, made his way to the tree he had spoken of.
"By the way, you have taken no arms," the Doctor said suddenly.
"They would be useless, Doctor; if I am recognized I shall be killed; if I am not discovered, and the chances are very slight of my being so, I shall get back safely. By the way, we will tie some knots on that rope before I let myself down. I used to be able to climb a rope without them, but I doubt whether I could do so now."
"Well, God bless you, lad, and bring you back safely! You may make as light of it as you will, but it is a dangerous expedition. However, I am glad you have undertaken it, come what may, for it has given you the opportunity of showing you are not afraid of danger when it takes any other form than that of firearms. There are plenty of men who would stand up bravely enough in a fight, who would not like to undertake this task of going out alone in the dark into the middle of these bloodthirsty scoundrels. How long do you think you will be?"
"A couple of hours at the outside."
"Well, at the end of an hour I shall be back here again. Don't be longer than you can help, lad, for I shall be very anxious until you return."
When the Doctor re-entered the house there was a chorus of questions:
"Has Mr. Bathurst started?"
"Why did you not bring him in here before he left? We should all have liked to have said goodby to him."
"Yes, he has gone. I have seen him over the wall; and it was much better that he should go without any fuss. He went off just as quietly and unconcernedly as if he had been going out for an ordinary evening's walk. Now I am going up onto the roof. I don't say we should hear any hubbub down at the lines if he were discovered there, but we should certainly hear a shout if he came across any of the sentries round the house."
"Has he taken any arms, Doctor?" the Major asked.
"None whatever, Major. I asked him if he would not take pistols, but he refused."
"Well, I don't understand that," Captain Forster remarked. "If I had gone on such a business I would have taken a couple of revolvers. I am quite ready to take my chance of being killed fighting, but I should not like to be seized and hacked to pieces in cold blood. My theory is a man should sell his life as dearly as he can."
"That is the animal instinct, Forster," the Doctor said sharply; "though I don't say that I should not feel the same myself; but I question whether Bathurst's is not a higher type of courage."
"Well, I don't aspire to Bathurst's type of courage, Doctor," Forster said, with a short laugh.
But the Doctor did not answer. He had already turned away, and was making for the stairs.
"May I go with you, Doctor?" Isobel Hannay said, following him. "It is very hot down here."
"Yes; come along, child; but there is no time to lose, for Bathurst must be near where they are likely to have posted their sentries by this time."
"Everything quiet, Wilson?" he asked the young subaltern, who, with another, was on guard on the roof.
"Yes; we have heard nothing except a few distant shouts and noises out at the lines. Round here there has been nothing moving, except that we heard someone go out into the garden just now."
"I went out with Bathurst," the Doctor said. "He has gone in the disguise of a native to the Sepoy lines, to find out what are their intentions."
"I heard the talk over it, Doctor. I only came up on watch a few minutes since. I thought it was most likely him when I heard the steps."
"I hope he is beyond the sentries," the Doctor said. "I have come up here to listen."
"I expect he is through them before this," Wilson said confidently. "I wish I could have gone with him; but of course it would not have been any good. It is a beautiful night--isn't it, Miss Hannay? --and there is scarcely any dew falling."
"Now, you go off to your post in the corner, Wilson. Your instructions are to listen for the slightest sound, and to assure us against the Sepoys creeping up to the walls. We did not come up here to distract you from your duties, or to gossip."
"There are Richards and another posted somewhere in the garden," Wilson said. "Still, I suppose you are right, Doctor; but if you, Miss Hannay, have come up to listen, come and sit in my corner; it is the one nearest to the lines."
"You may as well go and sit down, Isobel," the Doctor said; "that is, if you intend to stay up here long;" and they went across with Wilson to his post.
"Shall I put one of these sandbags for you to sit on?"
"I would rather stand, thank you;" and they stood for some time silently watching the fires in the lines.
"They are drawing pretty heavily on the wood stores," the Doctor growled; "there is a good deal more than the regulation allowance blazing in those fires. I can make out a lot of figures moving about round them; no doubt numbers of the peasants have come in."
"Do you think Mr. Bathurst has got beyond the line of sentries?" Isobel said, after standing perfectly quiet for some time.
"Oh, yes, a long way; probably he was through by the time we came up here. They are not likely to post them more than fifty or sixty yards from the wall; and, indeed, it is, as Bathurst pointed out to me, probable that they are only thick near the gate. All they want to do is to prevent us slipping away. I should think that Bathurst must be out near the lines by this time."
Isobel moved a few paces away from the others, and again stood listening.
"I suppose you do not think that there is any chance of an attack tonight, Doctor?" Wilson asked, in low tones.
"Not in the least; the natives are not fond of night work. I expect they are dividing the spoil and quarreling over it; anyhow, they have had enough of it for today. They may intend to march away in the morning, or they may have sent to Cawnpore to ask for orders, or they may have heard from some of the Zemindars that they are coming in to join them--that is what Bathurst has gone out to learn; but anyhow I do not think they will attack us again with their present force."
"I wish there were a few more of us," Wilson said, "so that we could venture on a sortie."
"So do I, lad; but it is no use thinking about it as it is. We have to wait; our fate is not in our own hands."
"And you think matters look bad, Doctor?"
"I think they could hardly look worse. Unless the mutineers take it into their heads to march away, there is, humanly speaking, but one chance for us, and that is that Lawrence may thrash the Sepoys so completely at Lucknow that he may be able to send out a force to bring us in. The chances of that are next to nothing; for in addition to a very large Sepoy force he has the population of Lucknow--one of the most turbulent in India--on his hands. Ah, what is that?"
Two musket shots in quick succession from the Sepoy lines broke the silence of the evening, and a startled exclamation burst from the girl standing near them.
The Doctor went over to her.
"Do you think--do you think," she said in a low, strained voice, "that it was Bathurst?"
"Not at all. If they detected him, and I really do not see that there is a chance of their doing so, disguised as he was, they would have seized him and probably killed him, but there would be no firing. He has gone unarmed, you know, and would offer no resistance. Those shots you heard were doubtless the result of some drunken quarrel over the loot."
"Do you really think so, Doctor?"
"I feel quite sure of it. If it had been Forster who had gone out, and he had been detected, it would have been natural enough that we should hear the sound of something like a battle. In the first place, he would have defended himself desperately, and, in the next, he might have made his way through them and escaped; but, as I said, with Bathurst there would be no occasion for their firing."
"Why didn't he come in to say goodby before he went? that is what I wanted to ask you, Doctor, and why I came up here. I wanted to have spoken to him, if only for a moment, before he started. I tried to catch his eye as he went out of the room with you, but he did not even look at me. It will be so hard if he never comes back, to know that he went away without my having spoken to him again. I did try this morning to tell him that I was sorry for what I said, but he would not listen to me."
"You will have an opportunity of telling him when he comes back, if you want to, or of showing him so by your manner, which would be, perhaps, less painful to both of you."
"I don't care about pain to myself," the girl said. "I have been unjust, and deserve it."
"I don't think he considers you unjust. I did, and told you so. He feels what he considers the disgrace so much that it seems to him perfectly natural he should be despised."
"Yes, but I want him to see that he is not despised," she said quickly. "You don't understand, Doctor."
"I do understand perfectly, my dear; at least, I think--I think I do; I see that you want to put yourself straight with him, which is very right and proper, especially placed as we all are; but I would not do or say anything hastily. You have spoken hastily once, you see, and made a mess of it. I should be careful how I did it again, unless, of course," and he stopped.
"Unless what, Doctor?" Isobel asked shyly, after a long pause. But there was no reply; and looking round she saw that her companion had moved quietly away and had joined Wilson at his post. She stood for a few minutes in the same attitude, and then moved quietly across the staircase in the center of the terrace, and went down to the party below. A short time later the Doctor followed her, and, taking his rifle, went out into the garden with Captain Doolan, who assisted him in climbing the tree, and handed his gun up to him. The Doctor made his way out on the branch to the spot where it extended beyond the wall, and there sat, straining his eyes into the darkness. Half an hour passed, and then he heard a light footfall on the sandy soil.
"Is that you, Bathurst?" he whispered.
"All right, Doctor;" and a minute later Bathurst sat on the branch beside him.
"Well, what's your news?"
"Very bad, Doctor; they expect the Rajah Por Sing, who, it seems, is the leader of the party in this district, and several other Zemindars, to be here with guns tomorrow or next day. The news from Cawnpore was true.. The native troops mutinied and marched away, but were joined by Nana Sahib and his force, and he persuaded them to return and attack the whites in their intrenchments at Cawnpore, as they would not be well received at Delhi unless they had properly accomplished their share of the work of rooting out the Feringhees."
"The infernal scoundrel!" the Doctor exclaimed; "after pretending for years to be our best friend. I'm disgusted to think that I have drunk his champagne a dozen times. However, that makes little difference to us now, your other news is the most important. We could have resisted the Sepoys for a month; but if they bring up guns there can be but one ending to it."
"That is so, Doctor. The only hope I can see is that they may find our resistance so obstinate as to be glad to grant us terms of surrender."
"Yes, there is that chance," the Doctor agreed; "but history shows there is but little reliance to be placed upon native oaths."
Bathurst was silent; his own experience of the natives had taught him the same lesson.
"It is a poor hope," he said, after a while; "but it is the only one, so far as I can see."
Not another word was spoken as they descended the tree and walked across to the house.
"Never mind about changing your things, come straight in."
"Our scout has returned," the Doctor said, as he entered the room. There was a general exclamation of gladness on the part of the ladies who had not retired.
"I am very glad to see you safe back, Mr. Bathurst," Mrs. Hunter said, going up to him and taking his hand. "We have all been very anxious since you left."
"The danger was very slight, Mrs. Hunter. I only wish I had brought you back the news that the native lines were deserted and the mutineers in full march for Delhi and Lucknow."
"I was afraid you would hardly bring that news, Mr. Bathurst; it was almost too good to hope for. However, we are all glad that you are back. Are we not, Isobel?"
"We are indeed, Mr. Bathurst, though as yet I can hardly persuade myself that it is you in that get up."
"I think there is no doubt of my identity. Can you tell me where you uncle is, Miss Hannay? I have to make my report to him."
"He is on the roof. There is a sort of general gathering of our defenders there."
Two lamps had been placed in the center of the terrace, and round these the little garrison were grouped, some sitting on boxes, others lying on mats, almost all smoking. Bathurst was greeted heartily by the Major and Wilson as soon as he was recognized.
"I am awfully glad to see you back," Wilson said, shaking him warmly by the hand. "I wish I could have gone with you. Two together does not seem so bad, but I should not like to start out by myself as you did."
There was a hearty cordiality in the young fellow's voice that was very pleasant to Bathurst.
"We have all our gifts, as Hawkeye used to say, as I have no doubt you remember, Wilson. Such gifts as I have lay in the way of solitary work, I fancy."
"Now, light a cheroot, Bathurst," the Major said, "and drink off this tumbler of brandy and soda, and then let us hear your story."
"The story is simple enough, Major. I got through without difficulty. The sentries are some distance apart round the garden wall. As soon as I discovered by the sound of their footsteps where they were, it was easy enough to get through them. Then I made a longish detour, and came down on the lines from the other side. There was no occasion for concealment then. Numbers of the country people had come in, and were gathered round the Sepoys' fires, and I was able to move about amongst them, and listen to the conversation without the smallest hindrance.
"The Sepoys were loudly expressing their dissatisfaction at their officers leading them against the house today, when they had no means of either battering down the walls or scaling them. Then there was a general opinion that treachery was at work; for how else should the Europeans have known they were going to rise that morning, and so moved during the night into the house? There was much angry recrimination and quarreling, and many expressed their regret they had not marched straight to Cawnpore after burning the bungalows.
"All this was satisfactory; but I learned that Por Sing and several other Zemindars had already sent in assurances that they were wholly with them, and would be here, with guns to batter down the walls, some time tomorrow."
"That is bad news, indeed," the Major said gravely, when he had finished. "Of course, when we heard that Nana Sahib had thrown in his lot with the mutineers, it was probable that many of the landowners would go the same way; but if the Sepoys had marched off they might not have attacked us on their own account. Now we know that the Sepoys are going to stay, and that they will have guns, it alters our position altogether."
There was a murmur of assent.
"I should tell you before you talk the matter over further," Bathurst went on, "that during the last hour some hundreds of peasants have taken up their posts round the house in addition to the Sepoy sentries. I came back with one party about a hundred strong. They are posted a couple of hundred yards or so in front of the gate. I slipped away from them in the dark and made my way here."
"Well, gentlemen, what do you think we had better do?" the Major said; "we are all in the same boat, and I should like to have your opinions. We may defend this house successfully for days--possibly we may even tire them out--but on the other hand they may prove too strong for us. If the wall were breached we could hardly hope to defend it, and, indeed, if they constructed plenty of ladders they could scale it at night in a score of places. We must, therefore, regard the house as our citadel, close up the lower windows and doors with sandbags, and defend it to the last. Still, if they are determined, the lookout is not a very bright one."
"I am in favor of our cutting our way out, Major," Captain Forster said; "if we are cooped up here, we must, as you say, in the long run be beaten."
"That would be all very well, Captain Forster, if we were all men," Mr. Hunter said. "There are sixteen of us and there are in all eighteen horses, for I and Farquharson have two each; but there are eight women and fourteen children; so all the horses would have to carry double. We certainly could not hope to escape from them with our horses so laden; and if they came up with us, what fighting could we do with women behind our saddles? Moreover, we certainly could not leave the servants, who have been true to us, to the mercy of the Sepoys."
"Besides, where could we go?" the Doctor asked. "The garrison at Cawnpore, we know, are besieged by overwhelming numbers. We do not know much as to the position at Lucknow, but certainly the Europeans are immensely outnumbered there, and I think we may assume that they are also besieged. It is a very long distance either to Agra or to Allahabad; and with the whole country up in arms against us, and the cavalry here at our heels, the prospect seems absolutely hopeless. What do you think, Doolan? You and Rintoul have your wives here, and you have children. I consider that the question concerns you married men more than us."
"It is a case of the frying pan and the fire, as far as I can see, Doctor. At any rate, here we have got walls to light behind, and food for weeks, and plenty of ammunition. I am for selling our lives as dearly as we can here rather than go outside to be chased like jackals."
"I agree with you, Doolan," Captain Rintoul said. "Here we may be able to make terms with them, but once outside the walls we should be at the scoundrels' mercy. If it were not for the women and children I should agree entirely with Forster that our best plan would be to throw open our gates and make a dash for it, keeping together as long as we could, and then, if necessary, separating and trying to make our way down to Agra or Allahabad as best we could; but with ladies that does not seem to be possible."
The opinion of the married civilians was entirely in accord with that of Mr. Hunter.
"But what hope is there of defending this place in the long run?" Captain Forster said. "If I saw any chance at all I should be quite willing to wait; but I would infinitely rather sally out at once and go for them and be killed than wait here day after day and perhaps week after week, seeing one's fate drawing nearer inch by inch. What do you say, Bathurst? We haven't had your opinion yet."
"I do not think that the defense is so hopeless as you suppose, although I admit that the chances are greatly against us," Bathurst said quietly. "I think there is a hope of tiring the natives out. The Sepoys know well enough there can be no great amount of loot here, while they think that were they at Cawnpore, at Lucknow, or still more at Delhi, their chances of plunder would be much greater. Moreover, I think that men in their position, having offended, as it were, without hope of pardon, would naturally desire to flock together. There is comfort and encouragement in numbers. Therefore, I am sure they will very speedily become impatient if they do not meet with success, and would be inclined to grant terms rather than waste time here.
"It is the same thing with the native gentry. They will want to be off to Lucknow or Delhi, where they will know more how things are going, and where, no doubt, they reckon upon obtaining posts of importance and increased possessions under the new order of things. Therefore, I think, they, as well as the Sepoys, are likely, if they find the task longer and more difficult than they expect, to be ready to grant terms. I have no great faith in native oaths. Still they might be kept.
"Captain Forster's proposal I regard as altogether impracticable. We are something like two hundred and fifty miles from the nearest British post where we could hope to find refuge, and with the horses carrying double, the troopers at our heels directly we start, and the country hostile, I see no chance whatever, not a vestige of one, of our getting safely away.
"But there is a third alternative by which some might escape; it is, that we should make our way out on foot, break up into parties of twos and threes; steal or fight our way through the sentries, and then for each party to shift for itself, making its way as best it can, traveling by night and lying up in woods or plantations by day; getting food at times from friendly natives, and subsisting, for the most part, upon what might be gathered in the fields. In that way some might escape, but the suffering and hardships of the women and children would be terrible."
"I agree with you," Mr. Hunter said; "such a journey would be frightful to contemplate, and I don't think, in our case, that my wife could possibly perform such a journey; still, some might do so. At any rate, I think the chances are better than they would be were we to ride out in a body. I should suggest, Major, when the crisis seems to be approaching--that is, when it is clear that we can't defend ourselves much longer--it would be fair that each should be at liberty to try to get out and make down the country."
"Certainly," the Major agreed; "we are in a position of men on board a sinking ship with the boats gone; we should try to the end to save the ship, but when all hope of doing that is over, each may try to get to shore as he best can. As long as the house can be defended, all must remain and bear their share in the struggle, but when we decide that it is but a question of hours, all who choose will be at liberty to try to escape."
"It will be vastly more difficult then than now," Captain Forster said; "Bathurst made his way out tonight without difficulty, but they will be a great deal more vigilant when they know we cannot hold out much longer. I don't see how it would be possible for women and children to get through them."
"We might then adopt your scheme, to a certain extent, Forster," Major Hannay said. "We could mount, sally out suddenly, break through their pickets, and as soon as we are beyond them scatter; those who like can try to make their way down on horseback, those who prefer it try to do so on foot. That would at least give us an alternative should the siege be pushed on to the last, and we find ourselves unable to make terms."
There was general assent to the Major's proposal, which seemed to offer better chances than any. There was the hope that the mutineers might tire of the siege and march away; that if they pressed it, terms might be at last obtained from them, and that, failing everything else, the garrison might yet make their way down country.
"As there is evidently no chance of an attack during the night," the Major said, "we will divide into two watches and relieve each other every four hours; that will give two as lookouts on the roof and six in the inclosure. As you are senior officer next to myself, Doolan, you will take charge of one watch; I shall myself take charge of the other. Forster and Wilson be with me, Rintoul and Richards with you. Mr. Hardy, will you and the other gentlemen divide your numbers into two watches? Dr. Wade counts as a combatant until his hospital begins to fill."
"I fancy he may be counted as a combatant all through," the Doctor muttered.
"Tomorrow morning," the Major went on, "we will continue the work of filling sandbags. There are still a large number of empty bags on hand. We shall want them for all the lower windows and doors, and the more there are of them the better; and we must also keep a supply in readiness to make a retrenchment if they should breach the wall. Now, Mr. Hunter, as soon as you have made out your list my watch can go on duty, and I should advise the others to turn in without delay."
When the ladies were informed that half the men were going on watch, Mrs. Doolan said, "I have an amendment to propose, Major. Women's ears are just as keen as men's, and I propose that we supply the sentries on the roof. I will volunteer for one."
The whole of the ladies at once volunteered.
"There is no occasion for so many," Mrs. Doolan said; "and I propose that tonight, at any rate, I should take the first watch with one of the Miss Hunters, and that Miss Hannay and the other should take the second. That will leave all the gentlemen available for the watch in the inclosure."
The proposal was agreed to, and in a short time the first watch had taken their station, and the rest of the garrison lay down to rest.
The night passed off quietly. The first work at which the Major set the garrison in the morning was to form six wooden stages against the wall. One by the gate, one against the wall at the other end, and two at each of the long sides of the inclosure. They were twelve feet in height, which enabled those upon them to stand head and shoulders above the level of the wall.
When these were completed the whole of the garrison, including the ladies and native servants, again set to work filling sandbags with earth. As fast as they were finished they were carried in and piled two deep against the lower windows, and three deep against the doors, only one small door being left undefended, so as to allow a passage in and out of the house. Bags were piled in readiness for closing this also in case of necessity.
Mrs. Rintoul and another lady had volunteered for a third watch on the roof, so that each watch would go on duty once every twelve hours. The whole of the men, therefore, were available for work below.
A scattered fire was opened at the house soon after daybreak, and was kept up without intermission from bushes and other cover; but the watchers on the roof, seated behind the sandbags at opposite angles, were well under shelter, peering out occasionally through the crevices between the bags to see that no general movement was taking place among the enemy.
About midday there was a desultory discharge of firearms from the native lines; and the Major, on ascending to the roof, saw a procession of elephants and men approaching the camp.
"I expect there are guns there," he muttered, "and they are going to begin in earnest. Ladies, you are relieved of duty at present. I expect we shall be hearing from those fellows soon, and we must have someone up here who can talk back to them."
Accordingly the Doctor and Mr. Farquharson, who was the best shot among the civilians, took the places of the ladies on the roof. Half an hour later the Major went up again.
"They have four cannon," the Doctor said. "There they are, on that slight rise to the left of the lines. I should fancy they are about eight hundred yards away. Do you see, there is a crowd gathering behind them? Our rifles will carry that distance easily enough, I think. You might as well let us have three or four more up here.. The two lads are both fair shots, and Hunter was considered a good shikari some years ago. We can drive their cannon off that rise; the farther we make them take up their post the better, but even at that distance their shooting will be wild. The guns are no doubt old ones, and, as likely as not, the shot won't fit. At any rate, though they may trouble us, they will do no serious harm till they establish a battery at pretty close quarters."
The Major went down, and the two subalterns and Mr. Hunter joined the Doctor on the roof.
Ten minutes later the boom of four guns in quick succession was heard, and the party below stopped for a moment at their work as they heard the sound of shot rushing through the air overhead; then came five shots in answer from the parapet. Again and again the rifles spoke out, and then the Doctor shouted down to those in the courtyard, "They have had enough of it already, and are bringing up the elephants to move the cannon back. Now, boys," he said to the subalterns, "an elephant is an easier mark than a tiger; aim carefully, and blaze away as quickly as you like."
For five minutes a rapid fire was kept up; then Wilson went below.
"The Doctor asked me to tell you, sir," he said to the Major, "that the guns have been removed. There has been great confusion among the natives, and we can see with our glasses eight or ten bodies left on the ground. One of the elephants turned and went off at full speed among the crowd, and we fancy some of the others were hit. There was great trouble in getting them to come up to the guns. The Doctor says it is all over for the present."
Two other large parties with elephants were seen to come up to the native lines in the course of the afternoon. The defenders of the roof had now turned their attention to their foes in the gardens around, and the fire thence was gradually suppressed, until by evening everything was quiet.
By this time the work of filling the sandbags was completed; the doors and windows had been barricaded, and a large pile of bags lay in the inclosure ready for erection at any threatened point.