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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XVI.
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 The next four days made a great alteration in the position of the defenders in the fortified house. The upper story was now riddled by balls, the parapet round the terrace had been knocked away in several places, the gate was in splinters; but as the earth from the tunnel had been all emptied against the sandbags, it had grown to such a thickness that the defense was still good here. But in the wall, against which one of the new batteries had steadily directed its fire, there was a yawning gap, which was hourly increasing in size, and would ere long be practicable for assault. Many of the shots passing through this had struck the house itself. Some of these had penetrated, and the room in the line of fire could no longer be used.
There had been several casualties. The young civilian Herbert had been killed by a shot that struck the parapet just where he was lying. Captain Rintoul had been seriously wounded, two of the natives had been killed by the first shot which penetrated the lower room. Mr. Hunter was prostrate with fever, the result of exposure to the sun, and several others had received wounds more or less severe from fragments of stone; but the fire of the defenders was as steady as at first, and the loss of the natives working the guns was severe, and they no longer ventured to fire from the gardens and shrubberies round the walls.
Fatigue, watching, still more the heat on the terrace, was telling heavily upon the strength of the garrison. The ladies went about their work quietly and almost silently. The constant anxiety and the confinement in the darkened rooms were telling upon them too. Several of the children were ill; and when not employed in other things, there were fresh sandbags to be made by the women, to take the place of those damaged by the enemy's shot.
When, of an evening, a portion of the defenders came off duty, there was more talk and conversation, as all endeavored to keep up a good face and assume a confidence they were far from feeling. The Doctor was perhaps the most cheery of the party. During the daytime he was always on the roof, and his rifle seldom cracked in vain. In the evening he attended to his patients, talked cheerily to the ladies, and laughed and joked over the events of the day.
None among the ladies showed greater calmness and courage than Mrs. Rintoul, and not a word was ever heard from the time the siege began of her ailments or inconveniences. She was Mrs. Hunter's best assistant with the sick children. Even after her husband was wounded, and her attention night and day was given to him, she still kept on patiently and firmly.
“I don't know how to admire Mrs. Rintoul enough,” Mrs. Hunter said to Isobel Hannay one day; “formerly I had no patience with her, she was always querulous and grumbling; now she has turned out a really noble woman. One never knows people, my dear, till one sees them in trouble.”
“Everyone is nice,” Isobel said. “I have hardly heard a word of complaint about anything since we came here, and everyone seems to help others and do little kindnesses.”
The enemy's fire had been very heavy all that day, and the breach in the wall had been widened, and the garrison felt certain that the enemy would attack on the following morning.
“You and Farquharson, Doctor, must stop on the roof,” the Major said. “In the first place, it is possible they may try to attack by ladders at some other point, and we shall want two good shots up there to keep them back; and in the second, if they do force the breach, we shall want you to cover our retreat into the house. I will get a dozen rifles for each of you loaded and in readiness. Isobel and Mary Hunter, who have both volunteered over and over again, shall go up to load; they have both practiced, and can load quickly. Of course if you see that the enemy are not attacking at any other point, you will help us at the breach by keeping up a steady fire on them, but always keep six guns each in reserve. I shall blow my whistle as a signal for us to retire to the house if I find we can hold the breach no longer, so when you hear that blaze away at them as fast as you can. Your twelve shots will check them long enough to give us time to get in and fasten the door. We shall be round the corner of the house before they can get fairly over the breastwork. We will set to work to raise that as soon as it gets dark.”
A breastwork of sandbags had already been erected behind the breach, in case the enemy should make a sudden rush, and a couple of hours' labor transformed this into a strong work; for the bags were already filled, and only needed placing in position. When completed, it extended in a horseshoe shape, some fifteen feet across, behind the gap in the wall. For nine feet from the ground it was composed of sandbags three deep, and a single line was then laid along the edge to serve as a parapet.
“I don't think they will get over that,” the Major said, when the work was finished. “I doubt if they will be disposed even to try when they reach the breach.”
Before beginning their work they had cleared away all the fallen brickwork from behind the breach, and a number of bricks were laid on the top of the sandbags to be used as missiles.
“A brick is as good as a musket ball at this distance,” the Major said; “and when our guns are empty we can take to them; there are enough spare rifles for us to have five each, and, with those and our revolvers and the bricks, we ought to be able to account for an army. There are some of the servants and syces who can be trusted to load. They can stand down behind us, and we can pass our guns down to them as we empty them.”
Each man had his place on the work assigned to him. Bathurst, who had before told the Major that when the time came for an assault to be delivered he was determined to take his place in the breach, was placed at one end of the horseshoe where it touched the wall.
“I don't promise to be of much use, Major,” he said quietly. “I know myself too well; but at least I can run my chance of being killed.”
The Major had put Wilson next to him.
“I don't think there is much chance of their storming the work, Wilson; but if they do, you catch hold of Bathurst's arm, and drag him away when you hear me whistle; the chances are a hundred to one against his hearing it, or remembering what it means if he does hear it.”
“All right, Major, I will look to him.”
Four men remained on guard at the breach all night, and at the first gleam of daylight the garrison took up their posts.
“Now mind, my dears,” the Doctor said, as he and Farquharson went up on the terrace with Isobel and Mary Hunter; “you must do exactly as you are told, or you will be doing more harm than good, for Farquharson and I would not be able to pay attention to our shooting. You must lie down and remain perfectly quiet till we begin to fire, then keep behind us just so far that you can reach the guns as we hand them back to you after firing; and you must load them either kneeling or sitting down, so that you don't expose your heads above the thickest part of the breastwork. When you have loaded, push the guns back well to the right of us, but so that we can reach them. Then, if one of them goes off, there won't be any chance of our being hit. The garrison can't afford to throw away a life at present. You will, of course, only half cock them; still, it is as well to provide against accidents.”
Both the girls were pale, but they were quiet and steady. The Doctor saw they were not likely to break down.
“That is a rum looking weapon you have got there, Bathurst,” Wilson said, as, after carrying down the spare guns and placing them ready for firing, they lay down in their positions on the sandbags. The weapon was a native one, and was a short mace, composed of a bar of iron about fifteen inches long, with a knob of the same metal, studded with spikes. The bar was covered with leather to break the jar, and had a loop to put the hand through at the end.
“Yes,” Bathurst said quietly; “I picked it up at one of the native shops in Cawnpore the last time I was there. I had no idea then that I might ever have to use it, and bought it rather as a curiosity; but I have kept it within reach of my bedside since these troubles began, and I don't think one could want a better weapon at close quarters.”
“No, it is a tremendous thing; and after the way I have seen you using that pick I should not like to be within reach of your arm with that mace in it. I don't think there is much chance of your wanting that. I have no fear of the natives getting over here this time.”
“I have no fear of the natives at all,” Bathurst said.
“I am only afraid of myself. At present I am just as cool as if there was not a native within a thousand miles, and I am sure that my pulse is not going a beat faster than usual. I can think of the whole thing and calculate the chances as calmly as if it were an affair in which I was in no way concerned. It is not danger that I fear in the slightest, it is that horrible noise. I know well enough that the moment the firing begins I shall be paralyzed. My only hope is that at the last moment, if it comes to hand to hand fighting, I shall get my nerve.”
“I have no doubt you will,” Wilson said warmly; “and when you do I would back you at long odds against any of us. Ah, they are beginning.”
As he spoke there was a salvo of all the guns on the three Sepoy batteries. Then a roar of musketry broke out round the house, and above it could be heard loud shouts.
“They are coming, Major,” the Doctor shouted down from the roof; “the Sepoys are leading, and there is a crowd of natives behind them.”
Those lying in the middle of the curve of the horseshoe soon caught sight of the enemy advancing tumultuously towards the breach. The Major had ordered that not a shot was to be fired until they reached it, and it was evident that the silence of the besieged awed the assailants with a sense of unknown danger, for their pace slackened, and when they got to within fifty yards of the breach they paused and opened fire. Then, urged forward by their officers and encouraged by their own noise, they again rushed forward. Two of their officers led the way; and as these mounted the little heap of rubbish at the foot of the breach, two rifles cracked out from the terrace, and both fell dead.
There was a yell of fury from the Sepoys, and then they poured in through the breach. Those in front tried to stop as they saw the trap into which they were entering, but pressed on by those behind they were forced forward.
And now a crackling fire of musketry broke out from the rifles projecting between the sandbags into the crowded mass. Every shot told. Wild shrieks, yells, and curses rose from the assailants. Some tried madly to climb up the sandbags, some to force their way back through the crowd behind; some threw themselves down; others discharged their muskets at their invisible foe. From the roof the Doctor and his companion kept up a rapid fire upon the crowd struggling to enter the breach. As fast as the defenders' muskets were discharged they handed them down to the servants behind to be reloaded, and when each had fired his spare muskets he betook himself to his revolver.
Wilson, while discharging his rifle, kept his eyes upon Bathurst. The latter had not fired a shot, but lay rigid and still, save for a sort of convulsive shuddering. Presently there was a little lull in the firing as the weapons were emptied, and the defenders seizing the bricks hurled them down into the mass.
“Look out!” the Major shouted; “keep your heads low—I am going to throw the canisters.”
A number of these had been prepared, filled to the mouth with powder and bullets, and with a short fuse attached, ropes being fastened round them to enable them to be slung some distance. The Major half rose to throw one of these missiles when his attention was called by a shout from Wilson.
The latter was so occupied that he had not noticed Bathurst, who had suddenly risen to his feet, and just as Wilson was about to grasp him and pull him down, leaped over the sandbag in front of him down among the mutineers. The Major gave a swing to the canister, of which the fuse was already lighted, and hurled it through the breach among the crowd, who, ignorant of what was going on inside, were still struggling to enter.
“Look out,” he shouted to the others; “mind how you throw. Bathurst is down in the middle of them. Hand up all the muskets you have loaded,” he cried to the servants.
As he spoke he swung another canister through the breach, and almost immediately two heavy explosions followed, one close upon the other.
“Give them a volley at the breach,” he shouted; “never mind those below.”
The muskets were fired as soon as received.
“Now to your feet,” the Major cried, “and give them the brickbats,” and as he stood up he hurled two more canisters among the crowd behind the breach. The others sprang up with a cheer. The inclosure below them was shallower now from the number that had fallen, and was filled with a confused mass of struggling men. In their midst was Bathurst fighting desperately with his short weapon, and bringing down a man at every blow, the mutineers being too crowded together to use their unfixed bayonets against him. In a moment Captain Forster leaped down, sword in hand, and joined Bathurst in the fight.
“Stand steady,” the Major shouted; “don't let another man move.”
But the missiles still rained down with an occasional shot, as the rifles were handed up by the natives, while the Doctor and Farquharson kept up an almost continuous fire from the terrace. Then the two last canisters thrown by the Major exploded. The first two had carried havoc among the crowd behind the breach, these completed their confusion, and they turned and fled; while those in the retrenchment, relieved of the pressure from behind, at once turned, and flying through the breach, followed their companions.
A loud cheer broke from the garrison, and the Major looking round saw the Doctor standing by the parapet waving his hat, while Isobel stood beside him looking down at the scene of conflict.
“Lie down, Isobel,” he shouted; “they will be opening fire again directly.”
The girl disappeared, and almost at the same moment the batteries spoke out again, and a crackle of the musketry began from the gardens. The Major turned round. Bathurst was leaning against the wall breathing heavily after his exertions, Forster was coolly wiping his sword on the tunic of one of the fallen Sepoys.
“Are either of you hurt?” he asked.
“I am not hurt to speak of,” Forster said; “I got a rip with a bayonet as I jumped down, but I don't think it is of any consequence.”
“How are you, Bathurst?” the Major repeated. “What on earth possessed you to jump down like that?”
“I don't know, Major; I had to do something, and when you stopped firing I felt it was time for me to do my share.”
“You have done more than your share, I should say,” the Major said; “for they went down like ninepins before you. Now, Wilson, you take one o............
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