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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XIII.
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 The Doctor had just sat down to dinner when Bathurst came in. The two subalterns were dining with him. “That's good, Bathurst,” the Doctor said, as he entered. “Boy, put a chair for Mr. Bathurst. I had begun to think that you had deserted me as well as everybody else.”
“I was not thinking of dining,” Bathurst said, as he sat down, “but I will do so with pleasure, though I told my man I should be back in half an hour;” and as the servant left the room he added, “I have much to say, Doctor; get through dinner as quickly as you can, and get the servants out of the tent.”
The conversation was at once turned by the Doctor upon shooting and hunting, and no allusion was made to passing events until coffee was put on the table and the servant retired. The talk, which had been lively during dinner, then ceased.
“Well, Bathurst,” the Doctor asked, “I suppose you have something serious to tell me?”
“Very serious, Doctor;” and he repeated the news he had given the Major.
“It could not be worse, Bathurst,” the Doctor said quietly, after the first shock of the news had passed. “You know I never had any faith in the Sepoys since I saw how this madness was spreading from station to station. This sort of thing is contagious. It becomes a sort of epidemic, and in spite of the assurances of the men I felt sure they would go. But this scoundrel of Bithoor turning against us is more than I bargained for. There is no disguising the fact that it means a general rising through Oude, and in that case God help the women and children. As for us, it all comes in the line of business. What does the Major say?”
“The only question that seemed to him to be open was whether the women and children could be got away.”
“But there does not seem any possible place for them to go to. One or two might travel down the country in disguise, but that is out of the question for a large party. There is no refuge nearer than Allahabad. With every man's hand against them, I see not the slightest chance of a party making their way down.”
“You or I might do it easily enough, Doctor, but for women it seems to me out of the question; still, that is a matter for each married man to decide for himself. The prospect is dark enough anyway, but, as before, it seems to me that everything really depends upon the Zemindars. If we hold the courthouse it is possible the Sepoys may be beaten off in their first attack, and in their impatience to join the mutineers, who are all apparently marching for Delhi, they may go off without throwing away their lives by attacking us, for they must see they will not be able to take the place without cannon. But if the Zemindars join them with cannon, we may defend ourselves till the last, but there can be but one end to it.”
The Doctor nodded. “That is the situation exactly, Bathurst.”
“I am glad we know the danger, and shall be able to face it openly,” Wilson said. “For the last month Richards and I have been keeping watch alternately, and it has been beastly funky work sitting with one's pistols on the table before one, listening, and knowing any moment there might be a yell, and these brown devils come pouring in. Now, at least, we are likely to have a fight for it, and to know that some of them will go down before we do.”
Richards cordially agreed with his companion.
“Well, now, what are the orders, Bathurst?” said the Doctor.
“There are no orders as yet, Doctor. The Major says you will go round to the others, Doolan, Rintoul, and Forster, and tell them. I am to go round to Hunter and the other civilians. Then, this evening we are to meet at nine o'clock, as usual, at the Major's. If the others decide that the only plan is for all to stop here and fight it out, there will be no occasion for anything like a council; it will only have to be arranged at what time we all move into the fort, and the best means for keeping the news from spreading to the Sepoys. Not that it will make much difference after they have once fairly turned in. If there is one thing a Hindoo hates more than another, it is getting from under his blankets when he has once got himself warm at night. Even if they heard at one or two o'clock in the morning that we were moving into the fort I don't think they would turn out till morning.”
“No, I am sure they would not,” the Doctor agreed.
“If there were a few more of us,” Richards said, “I should vote for our beginning it. If we were to fall suddenly upon them we might kill a lot and scare the rest off.”
“We are too few for that,” the Doctor said. “Besides, although Bathurst answers for the good faith of the sender of the warning, there has as yet been no act of mutiny that would justify our taking such a step as that. It would come to the same thing. We might kill a good many, but in the long run three hundred men would be more than a match for a dozen, and then the women would be at their mercy. Well, we had better be moving, or we shall not have time to go round to the bungalows before the people set out for the Major's.”
It was a painful mission that Bathurst had to perform, for he had to tell those he called upon that almost certain death was at hand, but the news was everywhere received calmly. The strain had of late been so great, that the news that the crisis was at hand was almost welcome. He did not stay long anywhere, but, after setting the alternative before them, left husband and wife to discuss whether to try to make down to Allahabad or to take refuge in the fort.
Soon after nine o'clock all were at Major Hannay's. There were pale faces among them, but no stranger would have supposed that the whole party had just received news which was virtually a death warrant. The ladies talked together as usual, while the men moved in and out of the room, sometimes talking with the Major, sometimes sitting down for a few minutes in the veranda outside, or talking there in low tones together.
The Major moved about among them, and soon learned that all had resolved to stay and meet together whatever came, preferring that to the hardships and unknown dangers of flight.
“I am glad you have all decided so,” he said quietly. “In the state the country is, the chances of getting to Allahabad are next to nothing. Here we may hold out till Lawrence restores order at Lucknow, and then he may be able to send a party to bring us in. Or the mutineers may draw off and march to Delhi. I certainly think the chances are best here; besides, every rifle we have is of importance, and though if any of you had made up your minds to try and escape I should have made no objection, I am glad that we shall all stand together here.”
The arrangements were then briefly made for the removal to the courthouse. All were to go back and apparently to retire to bed as usual. At twelve o'clock the men, armed, were to call up their servants, load them up with such things as were most required, and proceed with them, the women, and children, at once to the courthouse. Half the men were to remain there on guard, while the others would continue with the servants to make journeys backwards and forwards to the bungalows, bringing in as much as could be carried, the guard to be changed every hour. In the morning the servants were all to have the choice given them of remaining with their masters or leaving.
Captain Forster was the only dissentient. He was in favor of the whole party mounting, placing the women and children in carriages, and making off in a body, fighting their way if necessary down to Allahabad. He admitted that, in addition to the hundred troopers of his own squadron, they might be cut off by the mutinous cavalry from Cawnpore, fall in with bodies of rebels or be attacked by villagers, but he maintained that there was at least some chance of cutting their way through, while, once shut up in the courthouse, escape would be well nigh impossible.
“But you all along agreed to our holding the courthouse, Forster,” the Major said.
“Yes; but then I reckoned upon Cawnpore holding out with the assistance of Nana Sahib, and upon the country remaining quiet. Now the whole thing is changed. I am quite ready to fight in the open, and to take my chance of being killed there, but I protest against being shut up like a rat in a hole.”
To the rest, however, the proposal appeared desperate. There would be no withstanding a single charge of the well trained troopers, especially as it would be necessary to guard the vehicles. Had it not been for that, the small body of men might possibly have cut their way through the cavalry; but even then they would be so hotly pursued that the most of them would assuredly be hunted down. But encumbered by the women such an enterprise seemed utterly hopeless, and the whole of the others were unanimously against it.
The party broke up very early. The strain of maintaining their ordinary demeanor was too great to be long endured, and the ladies with children were anxious to return as soon as possible to them, lest at the last moment the Sepoys should have made some change in their arrangements. By ten o'clock the whole party had left.
The two subalterns had no preparations to make; they had already sent most of their things into the hospital; and, lighting their pipes, they sat down and talked quietly till midnight; then, placing their pistols in their belts and wrapping themselves in their cloaks, they went into the Doctor's tent, which was next to theirs.
The Doctor at once roused his servant, who was sleeping in a shelter tent pitched by the side of his. The man came in looking surprised at being called. “Roshun,” the Doctor said, “you have been with me ten years, and I believe you to be faithful.”
“I would lay down my life for the sahib,” the man said quietly.
“You have heard nothing of any trouble with the Sepoys?”
“No, sahib; they know that Roshun is faithful to his master.”
“We have news that they are going to rise in the morning and kill all Europeans, so we are going to move at once into the hospital.”
“Good, sahib; what will you take with you?”
“My books and papers have all gone in,” the Doctor said; “that portmanteau may as well go. I will carry these two rifles myself; the ammunition is all there except that bag in the corner, which I will sling round my shoulder.”
“What are in those two cases, Doctor?” Wilson asked.
“Brandy, lad.”
“We may as well each carry one of those, Doctor, if your boy takes the portmanteau. It would be a pity to leave good liquor to be wasted by those brutes.”
“I agree with you, Wilson; besides, the less liquor they get hold of the better for us. Now, if you are all ready, we will start; but we must move quietly, or the sentry at the quarter guard may hear us.”
Ten minutes later they reached the hospital, being the last of the party to arrive there.
“Now, Major,” the Doctor said cheerily, as soon as he entered, “as this place is supposed to be under my special charge I will take command for the present. Wilson and Richards will act as my lieutenants. We have nothing to do outside, and can devote ourselves to getting things a little straight here. The first thing to do is to light lamps in all the lower rooms; then we can see what we are doing, and the ladies will be able to give us their help, while the men go out with the servants to bring things in; and remember the first thing to do is to bring in the horses. They may be useful to us. There is a good store of forage piled in the corner of the yard, but the syces had best bring in as much more as they can carry. Now, ladies, if you will all bring your bundles inside the house we will set about arranging things, and at any rate get the children into bed as quickly as possible.”
As it had been already settled as to the rooms to be occupied, the ladies and their ayahs set to work at once, glad to have something to employ them. One of the rooms which had been fitted up with beds had been devoted to the purposes of a nursery, and the children, most of whom were still asleep, were soon settled there. Two other rooms had been fitted up for the use of the ladies, while the men were occupying two others, the courtroom being turned into a general meeting and dining room.
At first there was not much to do; but as the servants, closely watched by their masters, went backwards and forwards bringing in goods of all kinds, there was plenty of employment in carrying them down to a large underground room, where they were left to be sorted later on.
The Doctor had appointed Isobel Hannay and the two Miss Hunters to the work of lighting a fire and getting boiling water ready, and a plentiful supply of coffee was presently made, Wilson and Richards drawing the water, carrying the heavier loads downstairs, and making themselves generally useful.
Captain Forster had not come in. He had undertaken to remain in his tent in the lines, where he had quietly saddled and unpicketed his horse, tying it up to the tent ropes so that he could mount in an instant. He still believed that his own men would stand firm, and declared he would at their head charge the mutinous infantry, while if they joined the mutineers he would ride into the fort. It was also arranged that he should bring in word should the Sepoys obtain news of what was going on and rise before morning.
All felt better and more cheerful after having taken some coffee.
“It is difficult to believe, Miss Hannay,” Richards said, “that this is all real, and not a sort of picnic, or an early start on a hunting expedition.”
“It is indeed, Mr. Richards. I can hardly believe even now that it is all true, and have pinched myself two or three times to make sure that I am awake.”
“If the villains venture to attack us,” Wilson said, “I feel sure we shall beat them off handsomely.”
“I have no doubt we shall, Mr. Wilson, especially as it will be in daylight. You know you and Mr. Richards are not famous for night shooting.”
The young men both laughed.
“We shall never hear the last of that tiger story, Miss Hannay. I can tell you it is no joke shooting when you have been sitting cramped up on a tree for about six hours. We are really both pretty good shots. Of course, I don't mean like the Doctor; but we always make good scores with the targets. Come, Richards, here is another lot of things; if they go on at this rate the Sepoys won't find much to loot in the bungalows tomorrow.”
Just as daylight was breaking the servants were all called together, and given the choice of staying or leaving. Only some eight or ten, all of whom belonged to the neighborhood, chose to go off to their villages. The rest declared they would stay with their masters.
Two of the party by turns had been on watch all night on the terrace to listen for any sound of tumult in the lines, but all had gone on quietly. Bathurst had been working with the others all night, and after seeing that all his papers were carried to the courthouse, he had troubled but little about his own belongings, but had assisted the others in bringing in their goods.
At daylight the Major and his officers mounted and rode quietly down towards the parade ground. Bathurst and Mr. Hunter, with several of the servants, took their places at the gates, in readiness to open and close them quickly, while the Doctor and the other Europeans went up to the roof, where they placed in readiness six muskets for each man, from the store in the courthouse. Isobel Hannay and the wives of the two Captains were too anxious to remain below, and went up to the roof also. The Doctor took his place by them, examining the lines with a field glass.
The officers halted when they reached the parade ground, and sat on their horses in a group, waiting for the men to turn out as usual.
“There goes the assembly,” the Doctor said, as the notes of the bugle came to their ears. “The men are turning out of their tents. There, I can make out Forster; he has just mounted; a plucky fellow that.”
Instead of straggling out onto the parade ground as usual, the Sepoys seemed to hang about their tents. The cavalry mounted and formed up in their lines. Suddenly a gun was fired, and as if at the signal the whole of the infantry rushed forward towards the officers, yelling and firing, and the latter at once turned their horses and rode towards the courthouse.
“Don't be alarmed, my dear,” the Doctor said to Isobel; “I don't suppose anyone is hit. The Sepoys are not good shots at the best of times, and firing running they would not be able to hit a haystack at a hundred yards. The cavalry stand firm, you see,” he said, turning his glass in that direction. “Forster is haranguing them. There, three of the native officers are riding up to him. Ah! one has fired at him! Missed! Ah! that is a better shot,” as the man fell from his horse, from a shot from his Captain's pistol.
The other two rushed at him. One he cut down, and the other shot. Then he could be seen again, shouting and waving his sword to the men, but their yells could be heard as they rode forward at him.
“Ride, man, ride!” the Doctor shouted, although his voice could not have been heard at a quarter of the distance.
But instead of turning Forster rode right at them. There was a confused melee for a moment, and then his figure appeared beyond the line, through which he had broken. With yells of fury the troopers reined in their horses and tried to turn them, but before they could do so the officer was upon them again. His revolver cracked in his left hand, and his sword flashed in his right. Two or three horses and men were seen to roll over, and in a moment he was through them again and riding at full speed for the courthouse, under a scattered fire from the infantry, while the horsemen, now in a confused mass, galloped behind him.
“Now then,” the Doctor shouted, picking up his rifle; “let them know we are within range, but mind you don't hit Forster. Fire two or three shots, and then run down to the gate. He is well mounted, and has a good fifty yards' start of them.”
Then taking deliberate aim he fired. The others followed his example. Three of the troopers dropped from their horses. Four times those on the terrace fired, and then ran down, each, at the Doctor's order, taking two guns with him. One of these was placed in the hands of each of the officers who had just ridden in, and they then gathered round the gate. In two minutes Forster rode in at full speed, then fifteen muskets flashed out, and several of the pursuers fell from their horses. A minute later the gate was closed and barred, and the men all ran up to the roof, from which three muskets were fired simultaneously.
“Well done!” the Doctor exclaimed. “That is a good beginning.”
A minute later a brisk fire was opened from the terrace upon the cavalry, who at once turned and rode rapidly back to their lines.
Captain Forster had not come scathless through the fray; his cheek had been laid open by a sabre cut, and a musket ball had gone through the fleshy part of his arm as he rode back.
“This comes of fighting when there is no occasion,” the Doctor growled, when he dressed his wounds. “Here you are charging a host like a paladin of old, forgetful that we want every man who can lift an arm in defense of this place.”
“I think, Doctor, there is someone else wants your services more than I do.”
“Yes; is anyone else hit?”
“No, I don't know that anyone else is hit, Doctor; but as I turned to come into the house after the gates were shut, there was that fellow Bathurst leaning against the wall as white as a sheet, and shaking all over like a leaf. I should say a strong dose of Dutch courage would be the best medicine there.”
“You do not do justice to Bathurst, Captain Forster,” the Doctor said gravely. “He is a man I esteem most highly. In some respects he is the bravest man I know, but he is constitutionally unable to stand noise, and the sound of a gun is torture to him. It is an unfortunate idiosyncrasy for which he is in no way accountable.”
“Exceedingly unfortunate, I should say,” Forster said, with a dry laugh; “especially at times like this. It is rather unlucky for him that fighting is generally accompanied by noise. If I had such an idiosyncrasy, as you call it, I would blow out my brains.”
“Perhaps Bathurst would do so, too, Captain Forster, if he had not more brains to blow out than some people have.”
“That is sharp, Doctor,” Forster laughed good temperedly. “I don't mind a fair hit.”
“Well, I must go,” the Doctor said, somewhat mollified; “there is plenty to do, and I expect, after these fellows have held a council of war, they will be trying an attack.”
When the Doctor went out he found the whole of the garrison busy. The Major had placed four men on the roof, and had ordered everyone else to fill the bags that had been prepared for the purpose with earth from the garden. It was only an order to the men and male servants, but the ladies had all gone out to render their assistance. As fast as the natives filled the bags with earth the ladies sewed up the mouths of the bags, and the men carried them away and piled them against the gate.
The garrison consisted of the six military officers, the Doctor, seven civilians, ten ladies, eight children, thirty-eight male servants, and six females. The work, therefore, went on rapidly, and in the course of two hours so large a pile of bags was built up against the gate that there was no probability whatever of its being forced.
“Now,” the Major said, “we want four dozen bags at least for the parapet of the terrace. We need not raise it all, but we must build up a breastwork two bags high at each of the angles.”
There was only just time to accomplish this when one of the watch on the roof reported that the Sepoys were firing the bungalows. As soon as they saw that the Europeans had gained the shelter of the courthouse the Sepoys, with yells of triumph, had made for the houses of the Europeans, and their disappointment at finding that not only had all the whites taken refuge in the courthouse, but that they had removed most of their property, vented itself in setting fire to the buildings, after stripping them of everything, and then amused themselves by keeping up a straggling fire against the courthouse.
As soon as the bags were taken onto the roof, the defenders, keeping as much as possible under the shelter of the parapet, carried them to the corners of the terrace and piled them two deep, thus forming a breastwork four feet high. Eight of the best shots were then chosen, and two of them took post at each corner.
“Now,” the Doctor said cheerfully, as he sat behind a small loophole that had been left between the bags, “it is our turn, and I don't fancy we shall waste as much lead as they have been doing.”
The fire from the defenders was slow, but it was deadly, and in a very short time the Sepoys no longer dared to show themselves in the open, but took refuge behind trees, whence they endeavored to reply to the fire on the roof; but even this proved so dangerous that it was not long before the fire ceased altogether, and they drew off under cover of the smoke from the burning bungalows.
Isobel Hannay had met Bathurst as he was carrying a sack of earth to the roof.
“I have been wanting to speak to you, Mr. Bathurst, ever since yesterday evening, but you have never given me an opportunity. Will you step into the storeroom for a few minutes as you come down?”
As he came down he went to the door of the room in which Isobel was standing awaiting him.
“I am not coming in, Miss Hannay; I believe I know what you are going to say. I saw it in your face last night when I had to tell that tiger story. You want to say that you are sorry you said that you despised cowards. Do not say it; you were perfectly right; you cannot despise me one tenth as much as I despise myself. While you were looking at the mutineers from the roof I was leaning against the wall below well nigh fainting. What do you think my feelings must be that here, where every man is brave, where there are women and children to............
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