Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
When the party met at dinner they were for a time somewhat silent, for all were exhausted by their hard work under a blazing sun, but their spirits rose under their surroundings.
The native servants had laid the table with as scrupulous care as usual; and, except that there was no display of flowers, no change was observable.
All had dressed after the work was over, and the men were in white drill, and the ladies had, from custom, put on light evening gowns.
The cook had prepared an excellent dinner, and as the champagne went round no stranger would have supposed that the party had met under unusual circumstances. The Doctor and the two subalterns were unaffectedly gay, and as the rest all made an effort to be cheerful, the languor that had marked the commencement of the dinner soon wore off.
"Wilson and Richards are becoming quite sportsmen," the Doctor said. "They have tried their hands at tigers but could hardly have expected to take part in elephant shooting. They can't quite settle between themselves as to which it was who sent the Rajah's elephant flying among the crowd. Both declare they aimed at that special beast. So, as there is no deciding the point, we must consider the honor as divided."
"It was rather hard on us," Isobel said, "to be kept working below instead of being up there seeing what was going on. But I consider we quite did our full share towards the defense today. My hands are quite sore with sewing up the mouths of those rough bags. I think the chief honors that way lie with Mrs. Rintoul. I am sure she sewed more bags than any of us. I had no idea that you were such a worker, Mrs. Rintoul."
"I used to be a quick worker, Miss Hannay, till lately. I have not touched a needle since I came out to India."
"I should recommend you to keep it up. Mrs. Rintoul," the Doctor said. "It has done you more good than all my medicines. I don't believe I have prescribed for you for the last month, and I haven't seen you looking so well since you came out."
"I suppose I have not had time to feel ill, Doctor," Mrs. Rintoul said, with a slight smile; "all this has been a sort of tonic."
"And a very useful one, Mrs. Rintoul. We are all of us the better for a little stirring up sometimes."
Captain Forster had, as usual, secured a place next to Isobel Hannay. He had been near her all day, carrying the bags as he filled them to her to sew up. Bathurst was sitting at the other end of the table, joining but little in the conversation.
"I thought Bathurst was going to faint again when the firing began, Miss Hannay," Captain Forster said, in a low voice. "It was quite funny to see him give a little start each shot that was fired, and his face was as white as my jacket. I never saw such a nervous fellow."
"You know he cannot help it, Captain Forster," Isobel said indignantly. "I don't think it is right to make fun of him for what is a great misfortune."
"I am not making fun of him, Miss Hannay. I am pitying him."
"It did not sound like it," Isobel said. "I don't think you can understand it, Captain Forster; it must be terrible to be like that."
"I quite agree with you there. I know I should drown myself or put a bullet through my head if I could not show ordinary courage with a lot of ladies going on working quietly round me."
"You must remember that Mr. Bathurst showed plenty of courage in going out among the mutineers last night."
"Yes, he did that very well; but you see, he talks the language so thoroughly that, as he said himself, there was very little risk in it."
"I don't like you to talk so, Captain Forster," Isobel said quietly. "I do not see much of Mr. Bathurst. I have not spoken to him half a dozen times in the last month; but both my uncle and Dr. Wade have a high opinion of him, and do not consider that he should be personally blamed for being nervous under fire. I feel very sorry for him, and would much rather that you did not make remarks like that about him. We have all our weak points, and, no doubt, many of them are a good deal worse than a mere want of nerve."
"Your commands shall be obeyed, Miss Hannay. I did not know that Bathurst was a protege of the Major's as well as of the estimable Doctor, or I would have said nothing against him."
"I don't think Mr. Bathurst is the sort of man to be anyone's protege, Captain Forster," Isobel said coldly. "However, I think we had better change the subject."
This Captain Forster did easily and adroitly. He had no special feeling against Bathurst save a contempt for his weakness; and as he had met him but once or twice at the Major's since he came to the station, he had not thought of him in the light of a rival.
Just as dinner was over Richards and one of the civilians came down from the terrace.
"I think that there is something up, Major. I can hear noises somewhere near where Mr. Hunter's bungalow was."
"What sort of noises, Richards?"
"There is a sort of murmur, as if there were a good many men there."
"Well, gentlemen, we had better go to our posts," the Major said. "Doolan, please place your watch on the platforms by the wall. I will take my party up onto the terrace. Doctor, will you bring up some of those rockets you made the other day? We must try and find out what they are doing."
As soon as he gained the terrace with his party, the Major requested everyone to remain perfectly still, and going forward to the parapet listened intently. In three or four minutes he returned to the others.
"There is a considerable body of men at work there," he said. "I can hear muffled sounds like digging, and once or twice a sharp click, as if a spade struck a stone. I am very much afraid they are throwing up a battery there. I was in hopes they would have begun in the open, because we could have commanded the approaches; but if they begin among the trees, they can come in and out without our seeing them, and bring up their guns by the road without our being able to interfere with them. Mr. Bathurst, will you take down word to Captain Doolan to put his men on the platforms on that side. Tell him that I am going to throw up a rocket, as I believe they are erecting a battery near Hunter's bungalow, and that his men are to be ready to give them a volley if they can make them out. Tell them not to expose themselves too much; for if they really are at work there no doubt they have numbers of men posted in the shrubs all about to keep down our fire. Now, gentlemen, we will all lie down by the parapet. Take those spare rifles, and fire as quickly as you can while the light of the rocket lasts. Now, Mr. Wilson, we will get you to send them up. The rest of you had better get in the corner and stoop down behind the sandbags; you can lay your rifles on them, so as to be able to fire as soon as you have lit the second rocket."
The Doctor soon came up with the rockets; he had made three dozen the week before, and a number of blue lights, for the special purpose of detecting any movement that the enemy might make at night.
"I will fire them myself," he said, as Wilson offered to take them. "I have had charge of the fireworks in a score of fetes and that sort of thing, and am a pretty good hand at it. There, we will lean them against the sandbags. That is about it. Now, are you all ready, Major?"
"All ready!" replied the Major.
The Doctor placed the end of his lighted cheroot against the touch paper, there was a momentary pause, then a rushing sound, and the rocket soared high in the air, and then burst, throwing out four or five white fireballs, which lit up clearly the spot they were watching.
"There they are!" the Major exclaimed; "just to the right of the bungalow; there are scores of them."
The rifles, both from the terrace and the platforms below, cracked out in rapid succession, and another rocket flew up into the air and burst. Before its light had faded out, each of the defenders had fired his four shots. Shouts and cries from the direction in which they fired showed that many of the bullets had told, whilst almost immediately a sharp fire broke out from the bushes round them.
"Don't mind the fellows in the shrubs," the Major said, "but keep up your fire on the battery. We know its exact position now, though we cannot actually make them out."
"Let them wait while I go down and get a bit of phosphorus," the Doctor said. "I have some in the surgery. They will only throw away their fire in the dark without it."
He soon returned, and when all the fore and back sights had been rubbed by the phosphorus the firing recommenced, and the Doctor sent Wilson down with the phosphorus to the men on the platforms facing the threatened point.
Bathurst was returning, after having given the message to Captain Doolan, when Mrs. Hunter met him in the passage. She put her hand kindly on his shoulder.
"Now, Mr. Bathurst, if you will take my advice you will remain quietly here. The Doctor tells me they are going to open fire, and it is not the least use your going there exposing yourself to be shot when you know that you will be of no use. You showed us yesterday that you could be of use in other ways, and I have no doubt you will have opportunities of doing so again. I can assure you none of us will think any the worse of you for not being able to struggle against a nervous affliction that gives you infinite pain. If they were attacking it would be different; I know you would be wanting to take your share then."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hunter," he said, "but I must go up. I grant that I shall be of no use, but at least I will take any chance that the others run of being shot. A man does not flinch from a painful operation, and, whatever the pain, it has to be faced. I may get used to it in time; but whether I do or not I must go through it, though I do not say it doesn't hurt."
At this moment the rattle of musketry broke out above. Bathurst gave a violent start, and a low cry as of pain; then he rushed past Mrs. Hunter and up the staircase to the terrace, when he staggered rather than walked forward to the parapet, and threw himself down beside two figures who were in the act of firing.
"Is that you, Bathurst?" the Major's voice asked. "Mind, man, don't lift your head above the sandbags in that way. There, you had best lie quiet; the natives have no idea of attacking, and it is of no use throwing away valuable ammunition by firing unless your hand is steady."
But Bathurst did not hear, and remained with his head above the line of sandbags until the Major put his hand on his shoulder and forced him down. He might have put his hands over his ears to deaden the sound--for in the darkness no one would have seen the action --but he would not do so, but with clenched teeth and quivering nerves lay there until the Major said, "I fancy we have stopped them working. Now, Doctor, do you, Hunter, Bathurst, and Farquharson go and lie down for four hours, when I will send for you to take our places. Before you lie down will you tell Doolan to send half his party in? Of course you will lie down in your clothes, ready to fall in at your posts at a moment's notice."
"Let me send another rocket up first, Major, to see what they are doing. We can sleep tomorrow in the daytime; they won't dare to work under our fire then. Now, get ready, gentlemen, and don't throw away a shot, if they are still working there."
The light of the rocket showed that there were now no natives at the spot where they had been seen at work.
"I thought it would be too hot for them, Major, at such close quarters as these. We must have played the mischief with them."
"All the better, Doctor; we will send a few shots there occasionally to show them we have not forgotten them. But the principal thing will be to keep our ears open to see that they don't bring up ladders and try a rush."
"I think there is no fear of that tonight, Major. They would not have set to work at the battery if they had any idea of trying to scale the wall with ladders. That will come later on; but I don't think you will be troubled any more tonight, except by these fellows firing away from the bushes, and I should think they would get tired of wasting their ammunition soon. It is fortunate we brought all the spare ammunition in here."
"Yes, they only had ten rounds of ball cartridge, and that must be nearly used up by this time. They will have to make up their cartridges in future, and cast their bullets, unless they can get a supply from some of the other mutineers."
"Well, you will send for us in four hours, Major?"
"You need not be afraid of my forgetting."
Dawn was just breaking when the relief were called up; the firing had died away, and all was quiet.
"You will take command here, Rintoul," the Major said. "I should keep Farquharson up here, if I were you, and leave the Doctor and Bathurst to look after things in general. I think, Doctor, it would be as well if we appointed Bathurst in charge of the general arrangements of the house. We have a good amount of stores, but the servants will waste them if they are not looked after. I should put them on rations, Bathurst; and there might be regular rations of things served out for us too; then it would fall in your province to see that the syces water and feed the horses. You will examine the well regularly, and note whether there is any change in the look of the water. I think you will find plenty to do."
"Thank you, Major," Bathurst said. "I appreciate your kindness, and for the present, at any rate, will gladly undertake the work of looking after the stores and servants; but there is one thing I have been thinking of, and which I should like to speak to you about at once, if you could spare a minute or two before you turn in."
"What is that, Bathurst?"
"I think that we are agreed, Major, that though we may hold this place for a time, sooner or later we must either surrender or the place be carried by storm."
Major Hannay nodded.
"That is what it must come to, Bathurst. If they will at last grant us terms, well and good; if not, we must either try to escape or die fighting."
"It is about the escape I have been thinking, Major; as our position grows more and more desperate they will close round us, and although we might have possibly got through last night, our chances of doing so when they have once broken into the inclosure and begin to attack the house itself are very slight. A few of us who can speak the language well might possibly in disguise get away, but it would be impossible for the bulk of us to do so."
"I quite see that, Bathurst."
"My proposal is, Major, that we should begin at once to mine; that is, to drive a gallery from the cellar, and to carry it on steadily as far as we can. I should say that we have ten days or a fortnight before us before matters get .to an extremity, and in that time we ought to be able to get, working night and day, from fifty to a hundred yards beyond the wall, aiming at a clump of bushes. There is a large one in Farquharson's compound, about a hundred yards off. Then, when things get to the worst, we can work upwards, and come out on a dark night. We might leave a long fuse burning in the magazine, so that there should be an explosion an hour or two after we had left. There is enough powder there to bring the house down, and the Sepoys might suppose that we had all been buried in the ruins."
"I think the idea is a very good one, Bathurst. What do you think, Doctor?"
"Capital," the Doctor said. "It is a light sandy soil, and we should be able to get through it at a pretty good rate. How many can work together, do you think, Bathurst?"
"I should say two of us in each shift, to drive, and, if necessary, prop the roof, with some of the natives to carry out the earth. If we have three shifts, each shift would go on twice in the twenty-four hours; that would be four hours on and eight hours off."
"Will you take charge of the operation, Bathurst?"
"With pleasure, Major."
"Very well then. You shall have with you Wilson and Richards and the three youngest of the civilians, Saunderson, Austin, and Herbert. You six will be relieved from other duty except when the enemy threaten an attack. I will put down Saunderson and Austin together. Which of the others would you like to have with you?"
"I will take Wilson, sir."
"Very well, then, Richards and Herbert will make the third party. After breakfast we can pick out the twelve strongest of the natives. I will tell them that they have to work, but that they will be each paid half a rupee a day in addition to their ordinary wages. Then you will give a general supervision to the work, Bathurst, in addition to your own share in it?"
"Certainly, Major, I will take general charge of it."
So at breakfast the Major explained the plan agreed upon. The five men chosen at once expressed their willingness to undertake the work, and the offer of half a rupee extra a day was sufficient to induce twelve of the servants to volunteer for it. The Major went down to the cellars and fixed upon the spot at which the work should begin; and Bathurst and Wilson, taking some of the intrenching tools from the storeroom, began to break through the wall without delay.
"I like this," Wilson said. "It is a thousand times better than sitting up there waiting till they choose to make an attack. How wide shall we make it?"
"As narrow as we can for one to pass along at a time," Bathurst said. "The narrower it is, the less trouble we shall have with the roof."
"But only one will be able to work at a time in that case."
"That will be quite enough,". Bathurst said. "It will be hot work and hard. We will relieve each other every five minutes or so."
A very short time sufficed to break through the wall.
"Thank goodness, it is earth," Wilson said, thrusting a crowbar through the opening as soon as it was made.
"I had no fear of its being rock, Wilson. If it had been, they would not have taken the trouble to have walled the sides of the cellar. The soil is very deep all over here. The natives have to line their wells thirty or forty feet down."
The enemy were quiet all day, but the garrison thought it likely that, warned by the lesson of the night before, they were erecting a battery some distance farther back, masked by the trees, and that until it was ready to open fire they would know nothing about it.
"So you have turned miner, Mr. Wilson?" Isobel Hannay said to him as, after a change and a bath, he came in to get his lunch.
"I calculate I have lost half a stone in weight, Miss Hannay. If I were to go on at this for a month or two there would be nothing left of me."
"And how far did you drive the hole?"
"Gallery, Miss Hannay; please call it a gallery, it sounds so much better. We got in five yards. I should hardly have believed it possible, but Bathurst is a tremendous fellow to work. He uses a pick as if he had been a sapper all his life. We kept the men pretty hard at work, I can tell you, carrying up the earth. Richards is at work now, and I bet him five rupees that he and Herbert don't drive as far as we did."
"There is not much use in betting now, Mr. Wilson," Isobel said sadly.
"No, I suppose not, Miss Hannay; but it gives a sort of interest to one's work. I have blistered my hands horribly, but I suppose they will get hard in a day or two."
"I wish we could work at something," Isobel said. "Now that we have finished with the bags and bandages, the time seems very long; the only thing there is to do is to play with the children and try to keep them good; it is fortunate there is a bit of garden for them to play in."
"It is not much of a garden, Miss Hannay. We had something like a garden when I was a boy at home; the governor's is a jolly old rectory, with a splendid garden. What fun we used to have there when I was a young one! I wonder what the dear old governor and mater would say if they knew the fix we were in here. You know, sometimes I think that Forster's plan was the best, and that it would be better to try and make a dash through them."
"We are in your way, Mr. Wilson; you wouldn't be able to do much fighting if you had one of us clinging to you."
"I don't know, Miss Hannay," Wilson said quietly, "what my fighting powers are, but I fancy if you were clinging to me I could cut my way through a good deal."
"I am sure you would do anything that anyone could do," the girl said kindly; "but whatever you might feel, having another person behind you could not but hamper you awfully. I would infinitely rather try to escape on foot, for then I should be relying on myself, while if I was riding behind anyone, and we were pursued or attacked, I should feel all the time I was destroying his chances, and that if it were not for me he would get away. That would be terrible. I don't know whether we were wise to stay here instead of trying to escape at once; but as uncle and Mr. Hunter and the others all thought it wiser to stay, I have no doubt it was; but I am quite sure that it could not have been a good plan to go off like that on horseback."
Another day passed quietly, and then during the night the watch heard the sounds of blows with axes, and of falling trees.
"They are clearing the ground in front of their battery," the Major, who was on the watch with his party, said; "it will begin in earnest tomorrow morning. The sound came from just where we expected. It is about in the same line as where they made their first attempt, but a hundred yards or so further back."
At daylight they saw that the trees and bushes had been leveled, and a battery, with embrazures for six guns, erected at a distance of about four hundred yards from the house. More sandbags were at once brought up from below, and the parapet, on the side facing the battery, raised two feet and doubled in thickness. The garrison were not disturbed while so engaged.
"Why the deuce don't the fellows begin?" Captain Forster said impatiently, as he stood looking over the parapet when the work was finished.
"I expect they are waiting for the Rajah and some of the principal Zemindars to come down," replied the Major; "the guns are theirs, you see, and will most likely be worked by their own followers. No doubt they think they will knock the place to pieces in a few minutes.
"Listen! there is music; they are coming in grand state. Rintoul, will you tell the workers in the mine to come up. By the way, who are at work now?"
"Bathurst and Wilson, sir."
"Then tell Wilson to come up, and request Bathurst to go on with the gallery. Tell him I want that pushed forward as fast as possible, and that one gun will not make much difference here. Request the ladies and children to go down into the storeroom for the present. I don't think the balls will go through the wall, but it is as well to be on the safe side."
Captain Rintoul delivered his message to the ladies. They had already heard that the battery had been unmasked and was ready to open fire, and lamps had been placed in the storeroom in readiness for them. There were pale faces .among them, but their thoughts were of those on the roof rather than of themselves.
Mrs. Hunter took up the Bible she had been reading, and said, "Tell them, Captain Rintoul, we shall be praying for them." The ladies went into the room that served as a nursery, and with the ayahs and other female servants carried the children down into the storeroom.
"I would much rather be up there," Isobel said to Mrs. Doolan; "we could load the muskets for them, and I don't think it would be anything like so bad if we could see what was going on as being cooped up below fancying the worst all the time."
"I quite agree with you, but men never will get to understand women. Perhaps before we are done they will recognize the fact that we are no more afraid than they are."
The music was heard approaching along the road where the bungalows had stood. Presently a number of flags were raised in the battery amid a great beating of drums. On the previous day a flagstaff had been erected on the roof, and a Union Jack was run up in answer to the enemy's demonstration.
"A cheer for the old flag, lads," the Major said; and a hearty cheer broke from the little party on the roof, where, with the exception of Bathurst, all the garrison were assembled. The cheer was answered by a yell from the natives not only in the battery, but from the gardens and inclosures round the house.
"Pay no attention to the fellows in the gardens," the Major said; "fire at their guns--they must expose themselves to load."
The men were kneeling behind the parapet, where the sandbags had been so arranged that they could see through between those on the upper line, and thus fire without raising their heads above it.
"Shall we wait for them or fire first, Major?" the Doctor asked.
"I expect the guns are loaded and laid, Doctor; but if you see a head looking along them, by all means take a shot at it. I wish we could see down into the battery itself, but it is too high for that."
The Doctor lay looking along his rifle. Presently he fired, and as if it had been the signal five cannon boomed out almost at the same moment, the other being fired a quarter of a minute later. Three of the shot struck the house below the parapet, the others went overhead.
"I hit my man," the Doctor said, as he thrust another rifle through the loophole. "Now, we will see if we can keep them from loading."
Simultaneously with the roar of the cannon a rattle of musketry broke out on three sides of the house, and a hail of bullets whistled over the heads of the defenders, who opened a steady fire at the embrasures of the guns. These had been run in, and the natives could be seen loading them. The Major examined the work through a pair of field glasses.
"You are doing well," he said presently; "I have seen several of them fall, and there is a lot of confusion among them; they will soon get tired of that game."
Slowly and irregularly the guns were run out again, and the fire of the defenders was redoubled to prevent them from taking aim. Only one shot hit the house this time, the others all going overhead. The fire of the enemy became slower and more irregular, and at the end of an hour ceased almost entirely.
"Doctor," the Major said, "I will get you and Farquharson to turn your attention to some fellows there are in that high tree over there. They command us completely, and many of their bullets have struck on the terrace behind us. It would not be safe to move across to the stairs now. I think we have pretty well silenced. the battery for the present. Here are my glasses. With them you can easily make out the fellows among the leaves."
"I see them," the Doctor said, handing the glasses to Farquharson; "we will soon get them out of that. Now, Farquharson, you take that fellow out on the lower branch to the right; I will take the one close to the trunk on the same branch."
Laying their rifles on the upper row of sandbags, the two men took a steady aim. They fired almost together, and two bodies were seen to fall from the tree.
"Well shot!" the Major exclaimed. "There are something like a dozen of them up there; but they will soon clear out if you keep that up."
"They are not more than two hundred yards away," the Doctor said, "and firing from a rest we certainly ought not to miss them at that distance. Give me the glasses again."
A similar success attended the next two shots, and then a number of figures were seen hastily climbing down.
"Give them a volley, gentlemen," the Major said.
A dozen guns were fired, and three more men dropped, and an angry yell from the natives answered the shout of triumph from the garrison.
"Will you go down, Mr. Hunter, and tell the ladies that we have silenced the guns for the present, and that no one has received a scratch? Now, let us see what damage their balls have effected."
This was found to be trifling. The stonework of the house was strong, and the guns were light. The stonework of one of the windows was broken, and two or three stones in the wall cracked. One ball had entered a window, torn its way through two inner walls, and lay against the back wall.
"It is a four pound ball," the Major said, taking it up. "I fancy the guns are seven pounders. They have evidently no balls to fit, which accounts for the badness of their firing and the little damage they did; with so much windage the balls can have had but small velocity. Well, that is a satisfactory beginning, gentlemen; they will take a long time to knock the place about our ears at this rate. Now we will see if we cannot clear them out of the gardens. Captain Doolan, will you take the glasses and watch the battery; if you see any movement about the guns, the fire will be reopened at once; until then all will devote their attention to those fellows among the bushes; it is important to teach them that they are not safe there, for a chance ball might come in between the sandbags. Each of you pick out a particular bush, and watch it till you see the exact position in which anyone firing from it must be in, and then try to silence him. Don't throw away a shot if you can help it. We have a good stock of ammunition, but it is as well not to waste it. I will leave you in command at present, Doolan."
Major Hannay then went down to the storeroom.
"I have come to relieve you from your confinement, ladies," he said. "I am glad to say that we find their balls will not penetrate the walls of the house alone, and there is therefore no fear whatever of their passing through them and the garden wall together; therefore, as long as the wall is intact, there is no reason whatever why you should not remain on the floor above."
There was a general exclamation of pleasure.
"That will be vastly better, uncle," Isobel said; "it is hateful being hidden away down here when we have nothing to do but to listen to the firing; we don't see why some of us should not go up on the terrace to load the rifles for you."
"Not at present, Isobel; we are not pressed yet. When it comes to a real attack it will be time to consider about that. I don't think any of us would shoot straighter if there were women right up among us in danger."
"I don't at all see why it should be worse our being in danger than for you men, Major," Mrs. Doolan said; "we have just as much at stake, and more; and I warn you I shall organize a female mutiny if we are not allowed to help."
The Major laughed.
"Well, Mrs. Doolan, I shall have to convert this storeroom into a prison, and all who defy my authority will be immured here, so now you know the consequence of disobedience."
"And has no one been hurt with all that firing, Major Hannay?" Mary Hunter asked.
"A good many people have been hurt, Miss Hunter, but no one on our side. I fancy we must have made it very hot for those at the guns, and the Doctor and Mr. Farquharson have been teaching them not to climb trees. At present that firing you hear is against those who are hiding in the gardens."
An hour later the firing ceased altogether, the natives finding the fire of the defenders so deadly that they no longer dared, by discharging a rifle, to show where they were hiding. They had drawn off from the more distant clumps and bushes, but dared not try and crawl from those nearer the house until after nightfall.
The next morning it was found that during the night the enemy had closed up their embrasures, leaving only openings sufficiently large for the muzzles of the guns to be thrust through, and soon after daybreak they renewed their fire. The Doctor and Mr. Farquharson alone remained on the roof, and throughout the day they kept up a steady fire at these openings whenever the guns were withdrawn. Several of the sandbags were knocked off the parapet during the course of the day, and a few shot found their way through the walls of the upper story, but beyond this no damage was done. The mining was kept up with great vigor, and the gallery advanced rapidly, the servants finding it very hard work to remove the earth as fast as the miners brought it down.
Captain Forster offered to go out with three others at night to try and get into the battery and spike the guns, but Major Hannay would not permit the attempt to be made.
"We know they have several other guns," he said, "and the risk would be altogether too great, for there would be practically no chance of your getting back and being drawn up over the wall before you were overtaken, even if you succeeded in spiking the guns. There are probably a hundred men sleeping in the battery, and it is likely they would have sentries out in front of it. The loss of four men would seriously weaken the garrison."
The next morning another battery to the left was unmasked, and on the following day three guns were planted, under cover, so as to play against the gate. The first battery now concentrated its fire upon the outer wall, the new battery played upon the upper part of the house, and the three guns kept up a steady fire at the gate.
There was little rest for the besieged now. It was a constant duel between their rifles and the guns, varied by their occasionally turning their attention to men who climbed trees, or who, from the roofs of some buildings still standing, endeavored to keep down their fire.
Wilson had been released from his labors in the gallery, Bathurst undertaking to get down the earth single handed as fast as the servants could remove it.
"I never saw such a fellow to work, Miss Hannay," Wilson said one day, when he was off duty, and happened to find her working alone at some bandages. "I know you don't like him, but he is a first rate fellow if there ever was one. It is unlucky for him being so nervous at the guns; but that is no fault of his, after all, and I am sure in other things he is as cool as possible. Yesterday I was standing close to him, shoving the earth back to the men as he got it down. Suddenly he shouted, 'Run, Wilson, the roof is coming down!' I could not help bolting a few yards, for the earth came pattering down as he spoke; then I looked round and saw him standing there, by the light of the lamp, like those figures you see holding up pillars; I forget what they call them--catydigs, or something of that sort."
"Caryatides," Isobel put in.
"Yes, that is the name. Some timber had given way above him, and he was holding it up with his arms. I should say that there must have been half a ton of it, and he said, as quietly as possible, 'Get two of those short poles, Wilson, and put up one on each side of me. I can hold it a bit, but don't be longer than you can help about it.' I managed to shove up the timber, so that he could slip out before it came down. It would have crushed us both to a certainty if he had not held it up."
"Why do you say you know I don't like Mr. Bathurst?"
"I don't exactly know, Miss Hannay, but I have noticed you are the only lady who does not chat with him. I don't think I have seen you speak to him since we have come in here. I am sorry, because I like him very much, and I don't care for Forster at all."
"What has Captain Forster to do with it?" Isobel asked, somewhat indignantly.
"Oh, nothing at all, Miss Hannay, only, you know, Bathurst used to be a good deal at the Major's before Forster came, and then after that I never met him there except on that evening before he came in here. Now you know, Miss Hannay," he went on earnestly, "what I think about you. I have not been such an ass as to suppose I ever had a chance, though you know I would lay down my life for you willingly; but I did not seem to mind Bathurst. I know he is an awfully good fellow, and would have made you very happy; but I don't feel like that with Forster. There is nothing in the world that I should like better than to punch his head; and when I see that a fellow like that has cut Bathurst out altogether it makes. me so savage sometimes that I have to go and smoke a pipe outside so as not to break out and have a row with him."
"You ought not to talk so, Mr. Wilson. It is very wrong. You have no right to say that anyone has cut anyone else out as far as I am concerned. I know you are all fond of me in a brotherly sort of way, and I like you very much; but that gives you no right to say such things about other people. Mr. Bathurst ceased his visits not because of Captain Forster but from another reason altogether; and certainly I have neither said nor done anything that would justify your saying that Captain Forster had cut Mr. Bathurst out. Even if I had, you ought not to have alluded to such a thing. I am not angry with you," she said, seeing how downcast he looked; "but you must not talk like that any more; it would be wrong at any time; it is specially so now, when we are all shut up here together, and none can say what will happen to us."
"It seemed to me that was just the reason why I could speak about it, Miss Hannay. We may none of us get out of this fix we are in, and I do think we ought all to be friends together now. Richards and I both agreed that as it was certain neither of us had a chance of winning you, the next best thing was to see you and Bathurst come together. Well, now all that's over, of course, but is it wrong for me to ask, how is it you have come to dislike him?"
"But I don't dislike him, Mr. Wilson."
"Well, then, why do you go on as if you didn't like him?"
Isobel hesitated. From most men she would have considered the question impertinent, and would have resented it, but this frank faced boy meant no impertinence; he loved her in his honest way, and only wanted to see her happy.
"I can't speak to him if he doesn't speak to me," she said desperately.
"No, of course not," he agreed; "but why shouldn't he speak to you? You can't have done anything to offend him except taking up with Forster."
"It is nothing to do with Captain Forster at all, Mr. Wilson; I--" and she hesitated. "I said something at which he had the right to feel hurt and offended, and he has never given me any opportunity since of saying that I was sorry."
"I am sure you would not have said anything that he should have been offended about, Miss Hannay; it is not your nature, and I would not believe it whoever told me, not even yourself; so he must be in fault, and, of course, I have nothing more to say about it."
"He wasn't in fault at all, Mr. Wilson. I can't tell you what I said, but it was very wrong and thoughtless on my part, and I have been sorry for it ever since; and he has a perfect right to be hurt and not to come near me, especially as"--and she hesitated --"as I have acted badly since, and he has no reason for supposing that I am sorry. And now you must not ask me any more about it; I don't know why I have said as much to you as I have, only I know I can trust you, and I like you very much, though I could never like you in the sort of way you would want me to. I wish you didn't like me like that."
"Oh, never mind me," he said earnestly. "I am all right, Miss Hannay; I never expected anything, you know, so I am not disappointed, and it has been awfully good of you talking to me as you have, and not getting mad with me for interfering. But I can hear them coming down from the terrace, and I must be off. I am on duty there, you know, now. Bathurst has undertaken double work in that hole. I didn't like it, really; it seemed mean to be getting out of the work and letting him do it all, but he said that he liked work, and I really think he does. I am sure he is always worrying himself because he can't take his share in the firing on the roof; and when he is working he hasn't time to think about it. When he told me that in future he would drive the tunnel our shift himself, he said, 'That will enable you to take your place on the roof, Wilson, and you must remember you are firing for both of us, so don't throw away a shot.' It is awfully rough on him, isn't it? Well, goodby, Miss Hannay," and Wilson hurried off to the roof.