Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER IX. SAVE BY A TIGER.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 The drivers of the bullock-carts were startled at the noiseless appearance by their side of a body of horsemen; still more startled, when suddenly that phantom-like troop halted and dismounted. The rest was like a dream; in an instant they were seized, bound, and gagged, and laid down in the field at some distance from the road; one of them, however, being ungagged, and asked a few questions before being finally left. The wounded, all past offering the slightest resistance, were still more astonished when their captors, whom the moonlight now showed to be white, instead of cutting their throats as they expected, lifted them tenderly and carefully from the wagons, and laid them down on a bank a short distance off.  
"Swear by the Prophet not to call for aid, or to speak, should any one pass the road, for one hour!" was the oath administered to each, and all who were still conscious swore to observe it. Then with the empty wagons the troops proceeded on their way. At the last clump of trees, a quarter of a mile from the castle, there was another halt. The troop dismounted, led their horses some little distance from the road, and tied them to the trees. Twenty men remained as a guard. Four of the others wrapped themselves up so as to appear at a short distance like natives, and took their places at the bullocks' heads, and the rest crowded into the wagons, covering themselves with their cloaks to hide their light uniforms. Then the bullocks were again set in motion across the plain. So careless were the garrison that they were not even challenged as they approached the gate of the outworks, and without a question the gate swung back.
"More wounded!" the officer on guard said. "This is the third lot. Those children of Sheitan must have been aided by their father. Ah, treachery!" he cried, as, the first cart moving into the moonlight beyond the shadow of the gateway, he saw the white faces of the supposed wounded.
There was a leap from the nearest driver upon him, and he was felled to the ground. But the man at the open gate had heard the cry, and drew a pistol and fired it before he could be reached. Then the British leaped from the carts, and twenty of them scattered through the works, cutting down those who offered resistance and disarming the rest. These were huddled into the guardroom, and five men with cocked revolvers placed at the door, with orders to shoot them down at the first sign of movement.
The garrison in the castle itself had been alarmed by the shots; and shouts were heard, and loud orders, and the sentries over the gate discharged their muskets. There was little time given them to rally, however; for Captain Kent, with four of his men, had, on leaping from the cart, made straight across the drawbridge over the moat, for the gateway, to which they attached the petards which they had brought with them. Then they ran back to the main body, who stood awaiting the explosion. In a few seconds it came, and then with a cheer the troops dashed across the drawbridge, and in through the splintered gate. There was scarcely any resistance. Taken utterly by surprise, and being numerically inferior to their assailants—for nearly all the fighting men had gone out with their lord—the frightened retainers tried to hide themselves rather than to resist, and were speedily disarmed and gathered in the courtyard.
Major Warrener, informed by the bullock drivers of the quarter in which the Europeans were confined, followed by a dozen men, made his way straight to it, and had the delight of being greeted by the voices of his countrymen and women. These were, as reported, three officers and five ladies, all of whom were absolutely bewildered by the surprise and suddenness of their rescue.
There was no time for explanation. The stables were ransacked and eight of the rajah's best horses taken. Then, when all was ready for starting, Major Warrener proceeded to the door of the women's apartments. Here, in obedience to the order he had sent her, the wife of the talookdar, veiled from head to foot, and surrounded by her attendants, stood to await the orders of her captor.
"Madam," said Captain Wilkins, who spoke the dialect in use in Oude, "Major Warrener, the British officer in command, bids me tell you that this castle, with you and all that it contains, are in his power, and that he might give it to the flames and carry you off as hostage. But he will not do this. The Rajah of Bithri is a brave man, but he is wrong to fight against fate. The English Raj will prevail again, and all who have rebelled will be punished. We treat him as a brave but mistaken enemy; and as we have spared his castle and his family, so we hope that he in turn will behave kindly to any Englishman or woman who may fall into his hands or may ask his aid. Lastly, let no one leave this castle till daybreak, for whoever does so we will slay without mercy."
Then, turning round again, Warrener and his companions returned to the courtyard. The moment the castle was entered and opposition quelled, half the troops had run back for the horses, and in twenty minutes from the arrival of the bullock-carts at the gateway of Bithri the last of its captors filed out from its walls and trotted off into the darkness. Day broke before any of the inhabitants of Bithri dared issue from its walls. Then a horseman took the news on to the camp. The artillery, increased now to thirty-six guns, had already opened upon the village ere he reached the great tent on the plain. The rajah could not credit the intelligence that the enemy had escaped, that his castle had been attacked and carried, and the white prisoners released; but his surprise and fury were overpowered by the delight he felt at the news that his women and children were safe and his ancestral dwelling uninjured. "The English are a great people," he said, stroking his beard; then, issuing from his tent, he told the news. Like wildfire it ran through the camp, and as none of the thousands gathered there had his feelings of gratitude and relief to soften their anger and disappointment, the fury of the multitude was unbounded.
With a wild rush they made for the gate-almost blocked with their dead-scoured the little village, and soon discovered the hole through which the besieged had escaped. Then with wild yells three thousand horsemen set off in pursuit; but it was six o'clock now, and the fugitives had got seven hours' start. The Rajah of Bithri's contingent took no part in the pursuit. On issuing from his tent he had, after telling the news, briefly given orders for his tents to be struck and for all his troops to return at once to the castle, toward which he himself, accompanied by his bodyguard, set out on his elephant of state.
Major Warrener and his troops had no fear of pursuit. New foes might be met; but with horses fresh and in good condition, and six hours' start—for they were confident that no pursuit could commence before daybreak at the earliest—they felt safe, from the enemy who had just attacked them, especially as these could not know the direction which they were pursuing, and would believe that their aim would be to return with their rescued friends to Delhi, instead of proceeding through the heart of Oude. The party whom they had found at Bithri consisted of Mr. Hartford, a deputy commissioner, with his wife and two daughters; of a Mrs. Pearson and her sister, the former the wife of a district magistrate, who had been absent on duty when the rising at the little station at which they lived took place; and of Captain Harper and Lieutenant Jones, who were the officers of the detachment there. The men, native cavalry, had ridden off without injuring their officers, but the fanatical people of the place had killed many of the residents and fired their bungalows. Some had escaped on horseback or in carriages; and the present party, keeping together, had, when near Bithri, been seized and brought in to the chief, who intended to take them with him to Lucknow, when—an event of which he daily expected news—the little body of English there were destroyed by the forces gathering round them. The captives had heard what was doing, both at Lucknow and Cawnpore. At the latter place not only had the native troops mutinied, but the Rajah of Bithoor, Nana Sahib, whom the English had regarded as a firm friend, had joined them. Sir Hugh Wheeler, with the officers of the revolted regiments the civilians of the station, and forty or fifty white troops, having some eight hundred women and children in their charge, were defending a weak position against thousands of the enemy, provided with artillery.
When after riding thirty miles, the party stopped at daybreak at a ruined temple standing in its grove at a distance from the main road, Major Warrener called his officers into council, to determine what was the best course to adopt under the circumstances. Should they dash through the lines of the besiegers of Cawnpore, or should they make for Agra, or endeavor to join the force which was being collected at Allahabad to march to their relief?
Finally, and very reluctantly, the latter course was decided upon. It was agreed—and the truth of their conclusion was proved by the fact that throughout the mutiny there was no single instance of the rebels, however numerous, carrying a position held by any body of Englishmen—that Sir Hugh Wheeler and his force could probably hold the intrenchments against any assault that the enemy could make, and that if forced to surrender it would probably be from want of supplies. In that case the arrival of a hundred men would be a source of weakness rather than of strength. The reinforcement would not be of sufficient strength to enable the garrison, incumbered as it was with women and children, to cut its way out, while there would be a hundred more mouths to fill. It was therefore resolved to change their course, to avoid Cawnpore, and to make direct for Allahabad, with the news of the urgent strait in which Sir Hugh Wheeler was placed, and of the necessity for an instant advance to his relief.
Cawnpore was now but forty miles away, and Lucknow was about the same distance, but in a different direction; and as they stretched themselves on the ground and prepared for sleep, they could distinctly hear the dull, faint sounds that told of a heavy artillery fire. At which of the stations, or if at both, the firing was going on, they could not tell; but in fact it was at Cawnpore, as this was the 25th of June, and the siege of the Lucknow Residency did not begin in earnest until the 30th of that month.
The course had now to be decided upon, and maps were consulted, and it was determined to cross the river at Sirapore. It was agreed, too, that they should, at the first village they passed through that evening, question the inhabitants as to the bodies of rebels moving about, and find out whether any large number were stationed at any of the bridges.
At nine o'clock in the evening they were again in the saddle, and an hour later halted at a village. There several of the men were examined separately, and their stories agreed that there were no large bodies of Sepoys on the line by which they proposed to travel, but that most of the talookdars were preparing to march to Lucknow and Cawnpore, when the British were destroyed. Having thus learned that the bridge by which they intended to cross was open to them, the troop again proceeded on their way, leaving the village lost in astonishment as to where this body of British horse could have come from.
Upon this night's ride Ned and Dick Warrener were on rearguard—that is to say, they rode together some two hundred yards behind the rest of the squadron.
An hour after leaving the village, as they were passing through a thick grove of trees some figures rose as from the ground. Ned was knocked off his horse by a blow with the butt-end of a gun; and Dick, before he had time to shout or make a movement in his defense, was dragged from his horse, his head wrapped in a thick cloth, and his arms bound. Then he could feel himself lifted up and rapidly carried off. After a time he was put on his legs and the covering of his head removed. He found Ned beside him; and a word of congratulation that both were alive was exchanged. Then a rope was placed round each of their necks, and surrounded by their captors, two of whom rode their horses, they were started at a run, with admonitions from those around them that any attempt to escape or to shout would be punished with instant death.
For full two hours they were hurried along, and then the party halted at the edge of a thick jungle, lighted a fire, and began to cook. The prisoners were allowed to sit down with their captors. These were matchlock-men, on their way to join the forces besieging the Residency at Cawnpore, toward which town they had been making their way, as the boom of the guns sounded sharper and clearer every mile that they traveled. Ned gathered from the talk that their capture was the effect of pure accident. The party had sat down in the wood to eat, when they heard a troop of horsemen passing. A word or two spoken in English as the leaders came along sufficed to show the nationality of the troop, and the band lay quiet in the bushes until, as they supposed, all had passed. They had risen to leave when the two last horsemen came in view, and these they determined to capture and carry off, if possible, hoping to get a considerable reward from Nan a Sahib on their arrival at Cawnpore.
Nana Sahib's name had not as yet that terrible history attached to it which rendered it execrated wherever the English tongue is spoken; but the boys had heard that after pretending to be the friend of the whites, he was now leading the assault against them, and that he was therefore a traitor, and fighting as it were with a rope round his neck. At the hands of such a man they had no mercy to expect.
"It is of no use trying to make a bolt, Ned?"
"Not the least in the world. The two fellows next to us are appointed to watch us. Don't you see they are sitting with their guns across their knees? We should be shot down in a moment."
There was a debate among the band whether to push on to Cawnpore at once; but they had already made a long day's journey, and moreover thought that they could create a greater effect by arriving with their prisoners by daylight. The fire was made up, and the men wrapped themselves in their cloths—the............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved