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HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER XVII. OUT OF LUCKNOW.
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 One hundred yards or so after starting the disguised fakir and his bear entered a locality teeming with troops, quartered there in order to be close at hand to the batteries, to assist to repel sorties, or to join in attacks. Fortunately the night was very dark, and the exceedingly awkward and unnatural walk of the bear passed unseen. Over and over again they were challenged and shouted to, but the hoarse "Hoo-Hac," which is the cry of the fakirs, and the ring of the iron-bound staff with its clanking rings on the ground, were a sufficient pass.  
Ned guessed, from the fact of their having been met with so close to the fort, that the fakir and his bear would be well known to the mutineers; and this proved to be the case.
Several of the men addressed him, but he waved his arm, shook his head angrily, and strode on; and as fakirs frequently pretend to be absorbed in thought, and unwilling to converse, the soldiers fell back. Beyond this, the streets were deserted. The most populous native quarter lay far away, and few of the inhabitants, save of the lowest classes, cared to be about the streets after nightfall.
The instant that they were in a quiet quarter Dick rose on to his feet.
"My goodness," he whispered to Ned, "that all-fours' work is enough to break one's back, Ned."
They now struck sharply to the left, presently crossed the wide street leading from the Cawnpore Bridge, and kept on through quiet lanes until they came to the canal. This would be the guide they wanted, and they followed it along, taking nearly the route which General Havelock afterward followed in his advance, until they came to a bridge across the canal. Once over, they were, they knew, fairly safe. They kept on at a rapid walk until well in the country, and then sat down by the roadside for a consultation as to their best course of proceeding. The lads were both of opinion that the dangers which would lie in the way of their reaching Cawnpore would be very great. This road was now occupied by great numbers of troops, determined to bar the way to Lucknow against General Havelock. They had advanced without question, because it was natural that Sepoys should be making their way from Cawnpore to Lucknow; but it would not be at all natural that a fakir should at this time be going in the opposite direction. Moreover—and this weighed very strongly with them—they knew that General Havelock would advance with a force wholly inadequate to the task before him; and they thought that even should he succeed in getting into Lucknow, he would be wholly unable to get out again, hampered, as he would be, with sick, wounded, women, and children. In that case he would have to continue to hold Lucknow until a fresh relieving force arrived, and the lads had already had more than enough of the confinement and horrors of a siege such as that of Cawnpore.
Animated by these considerations, they determined to push to Delhi, where they hoped that they might arrive in time to see the end of the siege, at whose commencement they had been present.
No suspicion would be likely to be excited by their passage through that line of country, which, indeed, would be found altogether denuded of the enemy's troops, for all the regiments that had mutinied along this line had marched off, either to Delhi or Lucknow, and the country was in the hands of the zemindars, who would neither suspect nor molest a wandering fakir. It certainly was unusual for a fakir to be accompanied by a bear, but as the fakir they had killed had a bear with him, it was clearly by no means impossible. Dick protested that it was absolutely essential that they should walk at night, for that he would be detected at once in the day.
"I vote that we walk all night, Ned, and make our thirty-five or forty miles, then turn in, hide up all day. In the evening when it gets quite dusk, we can go into the outskirts of a village. Then you will begin to shout, and I will lie down, as if tired, by you. They will bring you lots of grub, under the idea that you will give them charms, and so on, next day. When the village is asleep, we will go on. You can easily ask for cloth—I am sure your rags are wretched enough—and then I can dress at night, after setting out from each village, in native dress, for it would be awful to walk far in this skin; besides, my feet are as uncomfortable as possible."
This plan was agreed upon, and they struck across country for the main Delhi road, Dick slipping out of his bear's skin, and simply wearing it wrapped loosely round him.
The Warreners had been accustomed to such incessant labor at Lucknow that they had no difficulty in keeping going all night. As day was breaking they retired into a tope of trees and threw themselves down, Dick first taking the precaution to get into the bear's skin and lace it up, in case of surprise. It was of course hot, but at least it kept off flies and other insects; and as it was quite loose for him, it was not so hot as it would have been had it fitted more tightly. The lads were both utterly fatigued, and in a very few minutes were fast asleep.
It was late in the afternoon before they awoke, and although extremely hungry, they were forced to wait until it became dusk before proceeding on their way.
At the first village at which they arrived they sat down near the first house, and Ned began to strike his staff to the ground and to shout "Hoo-Hac" with great vehemence. Although the population were for the most part Mussulmen, there were many Hindoos everywhere scattered about, and these at once came out and formed a ring round the holy man. Some bore torches, and Dick played his part by sitting up and rocking uneasily, in the manner of a bear, and then lying down and half-covering his face with his paw, went apparently to sleep.
"The servant of Siva is hungry," Ned said, "and would eat. He wants cloth;" and he pointed to the rags which scarce held together over his shoulder. Supplies of parched grain and of baked cakes were brought him, and a woman carried up a sick child and a length of cloth. Ned passed his hand over the child's face, and by that and the heat of her hand judged that she had fever. First, after the manner of a true fakir, he mumbled some sentence which no one could understand. Then in silence he breathed a sincere prayer that the child might be restored to health. After this he bade the mother give her cooling drinks made of rice water and acid fruit, to keep her cool, and to damp her hands and face from time to time; and then he signified by a wave of his hand that he would be alone.
The villagers all retired, and the lads made a hearty meal; then taking what remained of the food, they started on their night's journey, pausing in a short time for Dick to get out of his skin, and to wrap himself from head to foot in the dark blue cotton cloth that the woman had given.
"I felt like an impostor, getting that cloth under false pretenses,
"Oh, nonsense," Dick said. "The woman gave it for what the fakir could do, and I am sure your advice was better than the fakir would have given, so she is no loser. If ever we come on one of these sort of trips again we will bring some quinine and some strong pills, and then we really may do some good."
Dick took no pains about coloring his face or hands, for both were burned so brown with exposure to the sun that he had no fear that a casual glance at them at night, even in torchlight, would detect that he was not a native.
"Now, Ned, I promised to stop for twenty-four hours, if you liked, to soak that head of hair in a pond; what do you say?"
"No," Ned said; "it is terribly filthy, but we will waste no time. To-morrow, when we halt, we will try and make an oven and bake it. I will try to-morrow to get a fresh cloth for myself, and throw these horrible rags away. Even a fakir must have a new cloth sometimes."
They made a very long march that night; and had the next evening a success equal to that of the night before. Another long night-tramp followed, and on getting up at the end of the day's sleep Ned collected some dry sticks and lit a fire. Then he made a hole in the ground, and filled it with glowing embers. When the embers were just extinct he cleared them out, took off his wig, rolled it up, and put it into the hot oven he had thus prepared, and covered the top in with a sod. Then carefully looking to see that no natives were in sight, he threw away his old rags, and Dick and he enjoyed a dip in a small irrigation tank close to the wood. After this Ned again smeared himself over with mud, and sat down in the sun to dry. Then he dressed himself in the cloth that had been given him the night before, opened his oven, took out the wig, gave it a good shake, and put it on, saying, "Thank God, I feel clean again; I have had the horrors for the last three days, Dick."
In the three nights' journey the boys had traveled a hundred and eleven miles, and were now close to Ferruckabad, a town of considerable size. They pursued their usual tactics—entered it after dusk, and sat down near the outskirts. The signal calls were answered as before, and a number of the faithful gathered round with their simple offerings of food.
As they began stating their grievances, Ned as usual warned them off with a brief "to-morrow" when he saw outside the group of Hindoos two or three Mussulman troopers.
These moved closely up, and contemplated the wild-looking fakir, with his tangled hair and his eyes peering out through the tangle. One of them looked at the bear for some time attentively, and then said:
"That is no bear; it is a man in a bear's skin."
Ned had feared that the discovery might be made, and had from the first had his answer ready.
"Fool," he said in a loud, harsh voice, "who with his eyes in his head supposed that it was a bear? It is one who has sinned and is under a vow. Dogs like you know naught of these things, but the followers of Siva know."
"Do you call me a dog?" said the Mussulman angrily, and strode forward as if to strike; but Ned leaped to his feet, and twirling his staff round his head, brought it down with such force on the soldier's wrist that it nearly broke the arm. The Hindoos began to shout "Sacrilege!" as the Mussulman drew his pistol. Before he could fire, however, his comrades threw themselves upon him. At this time it was the policy of Hindoos and Mussulmans alike to drop all religious differences, and the troopers knew that any assault upon a holy fakir would excite to madness the Hindoo population.
The furious Mohammedan was therefore dragged away by his fellows, and Ned calmly resumed his seat. The Hindoos brought a fresh supply of food for the holy man expiating his sin in so strange a way, and then left the fakir to his meditation and his rest.
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