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HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER VIII. A DESPERATE DEFENSE.
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 "Well, major, what do you think of the situation?" one of the senior captains asked, after the pipes had begun to draw.  
"It looks rather bad, Crawshay. There's no disguising the fact. We shall have the country up in force; they will swarm out like wasps from every village, and by to-morrow night we shall have, at the very least, ten thousand of them round us. Against a moderate force we could defend the village; but it is a good-sized place, and we have only twenty-five men for each wall, and a couple of hundred would be none too little."
"But surely, major, we might prevent their scaling the walls. It is not likely that they would attack on all sides at once, and without artillery they could do little."
"They will have artillery," said Captain Wilkins, an officer, who had served for some time in Oude. "These talookdars have all got artillery. They were ordered to give it up, and a good many old guns were sent in; but there is not one of these fellows who cannot bring a battery at the very least into the field. By to-morrow night, or at the latest next day, we may have some thirty or forty pieces of artillery round this place."
"It will not do to be caught like rats in a trap here," Major Warrener said. "For to-night it is a shelter, after that it would be a trap. But about Bithri; I don't like to give up the idea of rescuing our country-people there. Still, although the matter has been left to my discretion, I cannot risk losing the whole squadron."
"What is the castle like, Warrener? have you heard?" Captain Crawshay asked.
"A square building, with high walls, and a deep moat. Beyond the moat is another wall with a strong outwork and gate. There are believed to be a couple of guns on the outwork, and eight on the inner wall."
"Do you think they will attack us to-morrow, Wilkins? You know these
Oude fellows."
"They will muster strong, no doubt, and be prepared to attack us if we sally out; but I should think if we remain quiet they would wait till next day, so as to gather as many men and guns as possible."
"Then you think we ought to be out of this early?" Major Warrener asked.
"I don't say we ought to be, major; I only say we ought to be if we intend to get off without having to fight our way through them. I suppose the Bithri man is sure to come out to attack us?"
"Oh, no doubt," Major Warrener answered; "he has openly declared against us."
"The thing would be to pop into his place, just as he is thinking of popping in here," Captain Dunlop said, laughing.
"That's a good idea, Dunlop—a capital idea, if it could be carried out. The question is, is it possible?"
Then gradually the plan was elaborated, until it finally was definitely arranged as afterward carried into execution.
The night passed quietly, but fires could be seen blazing in many directions over the plain, and occasionally a distant sound of drums, or a wild shout, came faintly on the still air. Next morning Major Warrener started early, with half a troop, to reconnoiter the country toward Bithri. The party got to a spot within two miles of the castle, and had a look at it and its surroundings, and were able to discern that a great deal of bustle was going on around it, and that considerable numbers of horse and footmen were gathered near the gate. Then they rode rapidly back again, having to run the gantlet of several bodies of natives, who fired at them. One party indeed had already placed themselves on the road, about a mile from the village; but Captain Kent, seeing with his glass what was going on, rode out with his troop to meet the little reconnoitering party, and the enemy, fearing cavalry on the open, fell back after a scattering fire, but not quickly enough to prevent the horse from cutting up their rear somewhat severely.
At eight o'clock large bodies of men could, be seen approaching the village. These, when they arrived within gunshot, discharged their long matchlocks at the walls, with much shouting and gesticulation. Major Warrener's order was that not a shot should be returned, as it was advisable to keep them in ignorance as to the long range of the Enfield carbine.
"Let all get their breakfasts," he said, "and let the horses be well groomed and attended to; we shall want all their speed to-morrow."
At eleven some elephants, surrounded by a large body of horse, could be seen across the plain.
"Here come some of the talookdars," Captain Wilkins said. "I suspect those elephants are dragging guns behind them."
"Yes, the fun will soon begin now," Captain Dunlop answered. "Now, Dick," he went on to young Warrener, "you are going to see a little native artillery practice. These fellows are not like the Delhi pandies, who are artillerymen trained by ourselves; here you will see the real genuine native product; and as the manufacture of shell is in its infancy, and as the shot seldom fits the gun within half an inch, or even an inch, you will see something erratic. They may knock holes in the wall, but it will take them a long time to cut enough holes near each other to make a breach. There, do you see? there are another lot of elephants and troops coming from the left. We shall have the whole countryside here before long. Ah! that's just as we expected; they are going to take up their position on that rising ground, which you measured this morning, and found to be just five hundred yards off. Our carbines make very decent practice at that distance, and you will see we shall astonish them presently."
The two forces with elephants reached the rising ground at the same time, and there was great waving of flags, letting off of muskets, and beating of drums, while the multitude of footmen cheered and danced.
By this time the greater portion of the little garrison were gathered behind the wall. This was some two feet thick, of rough sun-dried bricks and mud. It was about fourteen feet high. Against it behind was thrown up a bank of earth five feet high, and in the wall were loopholes, four feet above the bank. At the corners of the walls, and at intervals along them, were little towers, each capable of holding about four men, who could fire over the top of the walls. In these towers, and at the loopholes, Major Warrener placed twenty of his best shots. There was a great deal of moving about on the rising ground; then the footmen cleared away in front, and most of the elephants withdrew, and then were seen ten guns ranged side by side. Close behind them were two elephants, with gaudy trappings, while others, less brilliantly arrayed, stood further back.
Major Warrener was in one of the little towers, with his second in command, and his two sons to act as his orderlies.
"Run, boys, and tell the men in the other towers to fire at the howdahs of the chief elephants; let the rest of them fire at the artillery. Tell them to take good aim, and fire a volley; I will give the word. Make haste, I want first shot; that will hurry them, and they will fire wild."
The boys started at a run, one each way, and in a minute the instructions were given. The major glanced down, saw that every carbine was leveled, and gave the word:
The sound of the volley was answered in a few seconds by a yell of dismay from the enemy. One of the state elephants threw up its trunk, and started at a wild gallop across the plain, and a man was seen to fall from the howdah as it started. There was also confusion visible in the howdahs of the other elephants. Several men dropped at the guns; some, surprised and startled, fired wildly, most of the balls going high over the village; while others, whose loading was not yet complete, ran back from the guns. Only one ball hit the wall, and made a ragged hole of a foot in diameter.
"That's sickened them for the present," Captain Dunlop said, "I expect they'll do nothing now till it gets a bit cooler, for even a nigger could hardly stand this. Ah, we are going to give them another volley, this time a stronger one."
Fifty carbines spoke out this time, and the wildest confusion was caused among the elephants and footmen, who were now trying to drag the guns back. Again, a third volley, and then the garrison were dismissed from their posts, and told to lie down and keep cool till wanted again.
Half an hour later another large train of elephants, ten of them with guns, came from the direction of Bithri, and proceeded to a tope at about a mile from the village. There the elephants of the first comers had gathered after the stampede, and presently a great tent was raised in front of the tope.
"Bithri is going to do it in style," Dick laughed to his brother. "I shouldn't mind some iced sherbet at present, if he has got any to spare."
"Look, Dick, there is a movement; they are getting the guns in position on that knoll a little to the right, and a hundred yards or so in front of their tent."
Dick took the field-glass which his brother handed him.
"Yes, we shall have a salute presently; but they won't breach the wall this afternoon at that distance."
Twenty guns opened fire upon the village, and the shot flew overhead, or buried themselves in the ground in front, or came with heavy thuds against the wall, or, in some instances, crashed into the upper parts of the houses. After an hour's firing it slackened a little, and finally died out, for the heat was tremendous.
At three o'clock there was a move again; ten of the guns were brought forward to a point about a thousand yards from the wall, while ten others were taken round and placed on the road, at about the same distance, so as to command the gate. Again the fire opened, and this time more effectually. Again the men were called to the loopholes. The greater portion of them were armed, not with the government carbines, but with sporting rifles, shortened so as to be carried as carbines; and although none of the weapons were sighted for more than six hundred yards, all with sufficient elevation could send balls far beyond that distance. Ten of the best-armed men were told off against each b............
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