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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XV.
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 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 i............
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