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HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER XIV. THE BESIEGED RESIDENCY.
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 The Warrener's were taken to Gubbins' house, or garrison, as each of these fortified dwellings was now called; and the distance, short as it was, was so crowded with dangers and disagreeables that they were astonished how human beings could have supported them for a month, as the garrison of Lucknow had done. From all points of the surrounding circle shot and shell howled overhead, or crashed into walls and roofs. Many of the enemy's batteries were not above a hundred yards from the defenses, and the whistling of musket-balls was incessant.  
Here and there, as they ran along, great swarms of flies, millions in number, rose from some spot where a bullock, killed by an enemy's shot, had been hastily buried, while horrible smells everywhere tainted the air.
Running across open spaces, and stooping along beneath low walls, the
Warreners and their conductor, Captain Fellows, reached Gubbins' house.
Mr. Gubbins himself—financial commissioner of Oude, a man of great
courage and firmness—received them warmly.
"You will find we are close packed," he said, "but you will, I am sure, make the best of it. I am glad to have you, for every man is of value here; and after the bravery you have shown in coming through the enemy's lines you will be just the right sort of men for me. I think you will find most room here; I lost two of my garrison from this room on the 20th, when we had a tremendous attack all round."
The room was small and dark, as the window was closed by a bank of earth built against it on the outside. It was some fourteen feet by eight, and here, including the newcomers, eight men lived and slept. Here the Warreners, after a few words with those who were in future to be their comrades, threw themselves down on the ground, and, in spite of the din which raged around them, were soon fast asleep.
It was nearly dark when they awoke, and they at once reported themselves to Mr. Johnson—a police magistrate, who was the senior officer of the party in the room—as ready to begin duty.
"You will not be on regular duty till to-night," he replied. "Altogether, there are about forty men in the garrison. Eight are always on duty, and are relieved every four hours. So we go on every twenty hours. Only half our set go on duty together, as that gives room for those who remain. Two came off duty at eight this morning, four are just going on. You will go on with the two who came off this morning, at midnight. Besides their sentry work, of course every one is in Readiness to man the walls at any moment in case of alarm, and a good deal of your time can be spent at loopholes, picking off the enemy directly they show themselves. One of the party, in turn, cooks each day. Besides the fighting duty, there is any amount of fatigue work, the repairing and strengthening of the defenses, the fetching rations and drawing water for the house, in which there are over fifty women and children, the burying dead cattle, and covering blood and filth with earth. Besides defending our own post, we are, of course, ready to rush at any moment to assist any other garrison which may be pressed. Altogether, you will think yourself lucky when you can get four hours' sleep out of the twenty-four."
"Are our losses heavy?" Ned asked.
"Terribly heavy. The first week we lost twenty a day shot in the houses; but now that we have, as far as possible, blocked every loophole at which a bullet can enter, we are not losing so many as at first, but the daily total is still heavy, and on a day like the 20th we lost thirty. The enemy attacked us all round, and we mowed them down with grape; we believe we killed over a thousand of them. Unfortunately, every day our losses are getting heavier from disease, foul air, and overcrowding; the women and children suffer awfully. If you are disposed to make yourselves useful when not on duty, you will find abundant opportunity for kindness among them. I will take you round the house and introduce you to the ladies, then you can go among them as you like."
First the Warreners went to what, in happier times, was the main room of the house, a spacious apartment some thirty-five feet square, with windows opening to the ground at each end, to allow a free passage of air. These, on the side nearest the enemy, were completely closed by a bank of earth; while those on the other side were also built up within a few inches of the top, for shots and shell could equally enter them. The Warreners were introduced to such of the garrison as were in, the greater part being at work outside the house repairing a bank which had been injured during the day. Then Mr. Johnson went to one of the rooms leading off the main apartment. A curtain hung across it instead of a door, and this was now drawn aside to allow what air there was to circulate.
"May I come in?" he asked.
"Certainly, Mr. Johnson," a lady said, coming to the entrance.
"Mrs. Hargreaves, let me introduce the Messrs. Warreners, the gentlemen who have so gallantly come through the enemy's lines with the message. They are to form part of our garrison."
The lady held out her hand, but with a slight air of surprise.
"I suppose our color strikes you as peculiar, Mrs. Hargreaves," Ned said, "but it will wear off in a few days; it is iodine, and we are already a good many shades lighter than when we started."
"How silly of me not to think of that," Mrs. Hargreaves said; "of course I heard that you were disguised. But please come in; it is not much of a room to receive in, but we are past thinking of that now. My daughter, Mrs. Righton; her husband is with mine on guard at present. These are my daughters, Edith and Nelly; these five children are my grandchildren. My dears, these are the Messrs. Warreners, who brought the news from General Havelock. Their faces are stained, but will be white again in time."
The ladies all shook hands with the Warreners, who looked with surprise on the neatness which prevailed in this crowded little room. On the ground, by the walls, were several rolls of bedding covered over with shawls, and forming seats or lounges. On the top of one of the piles two little children were fast asleep. A girl of six sat in a corner on the ground reading. There were two or three chairs, and these the ladies, seating themselves on the divan, as they called the bedding, asked their visitors to take.
Mrs. Hargreaves was perhaps forty-five years old, with a pleasant face, marked by firmness and intelligence. Mrs. Righton was twenty-five or twenty-six, and her pale face showed more than that of her mother the effects of the anxiety and confinement of the siege. Edith and Nelly were sixteen and fifteen respectively, and although pale, the siege had not sufficed to mar their bright faces or to crush their spirits.
"Dear me," Nelly said, "why, you look to me to be quite boys; why, you can't be much older than I am, are you?"
"My dear Nelly," her mother said reprovingly; but Dick laughed heartily.
"I am not much older than you are," he said; "a year, perhaps, but not more. I am a midshipman in the Agamemnon. My brother is a year older than I am, and he is gazetted to the Sixty-fourth; so you see, if the times were different, we should be just the right age to be your devoted servants."
"Oh, you can be that now," Nelly said. "I am sure we want them more than ever; don't we, mamma?"
"I think you have more than your share of servants now, Nelly," replied her mother. "We are really most fortunate, Mr. Johnson, in having our ayah still with us; so many were deserted by their servants altogether, and she is an admirable nurse. I do not know what we should do without her, for the heat and confinement make the poor children sadly fractious. We were most lucky yesterday, for we managed to secure a dobee for the day, and you see the result;" and she smilingly indicated the pretty light muslins in which her daughters were dressed. "You see us quite at our best," she said, turning to the boys. "But we have, indeed," she went on seriously, "every reason to be thankful. So far we have not lost any of our party, and there are few indeed who can say this. These are terrible times, young gentlemen, and we are all in God's hands. We are exceptionally well off, but we find our hands full. My eldest daughter has to aid the ayah with the children; then there is the cooking to be done by me, and the room to be kept tidy by Edith and Nelly, and there are so many sick and suffering to be attended to. You will never find us all here before six in the evening; we are busy all day; but we shall always be glad to see you when you can spare time for a chat in the evening. All the visitors we receive are not so welcome, I can assure you;" and she pointed to three holes in the wall where the enemy's shot had crashed through.
"That is a very noble woman," Mr. Johnson said, as they went out. "She spends many hours every day down at the military hospital where, the scenes are dreadful, and where the enemy's shot and shell frequently find entry, killing alike the wounded and their attendants. The married daughter looks after her children and the neatness of the rooms. The young girls are busy all day about the house nursing sick children, and yet, as you see, all are bright, pleasant, and the picture of neatness, marvelous contrasts indeed to the disorder and wretchedness prevailing among many, who might, by making an effort, be as bright and as comfortable as they are. There are, as you will find, many brilliant examples of female heroism and self-devotion exhibited here; but in some instances women seem to try how helpless, how foolish a silly woman can be. Ah," he broke off, as a terrific crash followed by a loud scream was heard, "I fear that shell has done mischief."
"Mrs. Shelton is killed," a woman said, running out, "and Lucy Shelton has had her arm cut off. Where is Dr. Topham?"
Mrs. Hargreaves came out of her door with a basin of water and some linen torn into strips for bandages just as the doctor ran in from the Sikh Square, where he had been attending to several casualties.
"That is right," he nodded to Mrs. Hargreaves; "this is a bad business,
I fear."
"All hands to repair defenses!" was now the order, and the boys followed Mr. Johnson outside.
"The scoundrels are busy this evening," he observed.
"It sounds like a boiler-maker's shop," Dick said; "if only one in a hundred bullets were to hit, there would not be many alive by to-morrow morning."
"No, indeed," Mr. Johnson replied; "they are of course firing to some extent at random, but they aim at the points where they think it likely that we may be at work, and their fire adds greatly to our difficulty in setting right at night the damage they do in the daytime."
For the next four hours the lads were hard at work with the rest of the garrison. Earth was brought in sacks or baskets and piled up, stockades repaired, and fascines and gabions mended. The work would have been hard anywhere; on an Augu............
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