That there had been a nefarious plot to destroy the lives of himself and his sister, Reginald felt convinced; therefore, as soon as the necessary ceremonies had been gone through in receiving the officers of the newly-arrived troops, Reginald ordered that Khan Cochut and the slave should be brought before him. The only person present besides Burnett was Buxsoo, on whose judgment and acuteness Reginald knew that he could rely to elicit the truth from the slave, if not from Cochut, who was not at all likely to confess it unless from dire necessity. Both were subjected to a close cross-examination; and Buxsoo also examined them, in a way worthy of an English lawyer. Reginald, indeed, felt convinced that they had been instrumental in blowing up the fort. The slave pleaded that he had to obey the commands of his master, who was probably destroyed; while Cochut, who had no such excuse to offer, exhibited the most abject fear, and offered to give information of the greatest importance, provided his life was spared and his property secured to him. He declined, however, doing so in the presence of Buxsoo.
"You may say anything before him without fear of being betrayed," answered Reginald; "I am responsible for his fidelity. And if I find that the information you give is not perfectly correct, I shall leave you to the fate you deserve; but if, on the contrary, it is of the consequence you state, I will undertake that you shall be allowed to go, with all your wealth, ill-gotten as I am afraid it has been."
After much hesitation, Cochut declared that the natives throughout the greater part of the country were ripe for rebellion against the English, and all who favoured their rule; that the rajah had been especially marked out for destruction, because he was evidently attached to the Feringhees; and that before long it was hoped that they might be driven out of the country.
Again and again Cochut protested that what he said was correct. Reginald appealed to Buxsoo, who acknowledged that the statement made by Cochut was probably too true. He himself had had his suspicions aroused for some time, but he had not as yet gained sufficient information to enable him to warn the authorities.
Reginald consulted with Burnett, and they agreed that they were bound at all events to warn the authorities at Calcutta as soon as possible, and also to let Colonel Ross know what they had heard. The difficulty was, to find a messenger who could be trusted. Burnett was unwilling to go, for he felt that his presence was necessary for the protection, not only of the ranee, but of Reginald, as he fancied that he could at all events trust his troopers while he continued in command of them. If Buxsoo were sent, he might be suspected and stopped, and too probably murdered on the road.
"Then I will send Dick Thuddichum," said Reginald. "No one will suspect him; and any message I give he will deliver to the letter. He is well known in Calcutta by persons who can vouch for him, and who will immediately enable him to obtain an interview with the Government gentlemen or members of Council; and he will explain why I considered it prudent not to send any written despatch."
Burnett agreed to Reginald's proposal; and Cochut and Bikoo having been given into safe keeping, Dick was summoned and received the necessary directions. In a few minutes he was ready for his departure, with his master's verbal despatches carefully stowed away in his capacious head, out of which no one but those to whom they were to be delivered were likely to draw them.
"You'll look after Faithful, sir!" exclaimed Dick, giving a hitch to his trousers. "I don't much like leaving the poor beast to the mercy of these nigger fellows, lest they should play her any tricks. Though with me she's as gentle as a lamb, she don't much fancy them. But you'll not forget her, sir, I know. Just let her have half a sheep a day, at least. It will keep her in condition, and prevent her from doing any mischief or helping herself to a blackamoor baby, which she might be apt to do if she didn't get her proper food; and small blame to her, seeing, so to speak, it's her nature."
Reginald assured Dick, that notwithstanding the affairs of state which would occupy his attention, he would take good care that the faithful tigress was not neglected.
"I'm sure as how it wouldn't be your fault if she was, sir," answered Dick. "But it's them niggers I'm mistrustful of; though, I think, if you was to let 'em know that you'll hang half-a-dozen of them if any harm comes to her, they'll be inclined to treat her properly."
The mind of the honest sailor being at length set at rest on that score, he took leave of his master and Burnett Dick made his way without interruption to the Ganges, where he found a boat descending the river, and in due course reached Calcutta. Following Reginald's directions, he soon got himself conducted before the members of Council—the Board fortunately sitting at the time. He entered with his usual undaunted air, not at all abashed by finding himself in the presence of so august an assembly.
On being asked what information he brought, he doffed his hat, and replied—
"Please your worships, I am sent by my master, the young Rajah of Allahapoor—as he now is, seeing that his grandfather, the old rajah, has ordered him to tack that title to his name—to tell your worships that the rascally natives have determined, if they can get the chance, to cut the throats of every mother's son among the English, on the first opportunity. It may be soon or it may be some time hence, but he thinks it as well that you should be warned, and be prepared for whatever may happen."
Dick then gave verbatim Reginald's message; after which he was directed to retire, while the members held a consultation on the extraordinary information they had received.
The next day Dick was ordered to return, and to inform his master that the Council would pay due attention to the warning he had been good enough to send them.
We must now go back to Reginald. While encamped next day at noon, the expected reinforcements from the city arrived, with a despatch from the rajah telling him that he was very ill, and urging him to advance without delay. It was his wish that his grandson should enter the city in due state, to produce an impression on the population. Reginald had therefore, against his own inclination, to don a still richer costume than he had yet appeared in; and with a body of officers and guards walking on either side of him, and Burnett's troopers following on horseback, he prepared to enter the city. The ranee, no longer looked upon as a chief personage, sat concealed in a howdah on the back of an elephant towards the rear of the procession. The vast crowd assembled filled the air with their acclamations; and had not Reginald been well acquainted with the state of affairs, he might have supposed himself the popular ruler of a happy and loyal people. He very well knew, however, that any one of the nobles and guards surrounding him would be ready, at a convenient opportunity, to send a bullet through his head, or give him a cup of poison; and that the populace, now shouting his praises, would with equal delight drag his mangled body through the streets, should a rival succeed in deposing him. His satisfaction at the exalted position he had so unexpectedly obtained was, therefore, not without alloy. His thoughts, however, flew away to Violet Ross, and he could not help hoping that her father would no longer object to him as a son-in-law. That she had remained faithful, he had no doubt; and he should soon have the happiness, he hoped, of again seeing her. Should she object to live surrounded by the splendour of an Oriental court, he was ready, could he do so with honour, by placing the country under the English Government, to give up India, and assume that position in England to which he hoped to prove himself entitled, should he recover the missing documents of which he was in search.
Such were the thoughts which occupied his mind as he rode through the streets, amid the obsequious and bowing multitude who thronged around. As he approached the palace, rich carpets covered the road; and the rajah's bodyguard, with their officers in gorgeous costumes, stood drawn up to receive him. He felt considerable anxiety at not seeing the rajah himself, and it was increased on being informed that he lay too ill to rise, but that he waited the arrival of his grandson on his couch in his private apartment. Saluting the officials of the palace as he passed along, he hurried to the old man's side.
"I am thankful that you have come, my son, for I am sick unto death," said the rajah. "My own physicians know not what is the matter with me, and I have sent to beg that the English doctor who has accompanied the resident may forthwith come and prescribe for me."
Reginald, of course, expressed a hope that the doctor would soon arrive, and have the happiness of restoring him to health.
"And now let me hear an account of your adventures," said the rajah.
Reginald briefly gave it; not forgetting to speak in the highest terms of Burnett, in the hope that the rajah would be induced to sanction his marriage with Nuna. He then thought it right to tell his grandfather of the information he had received from Khan Cochut.
"He is a cunning fellow, and may have wormed it out of some of the natives, though I doubt whether many would trust him," observed the rajah. "But you tell me that a slave of that traitor Balkishen has been captured; let him be brought to me. He knows more about his master's affairs than any one else, and for the sake of saving his life will willingly give all the information he possesses."
Reginald was still with the rajah when Nuna arrived. She was overwhelmed with grief at seeing him so ill. He spoke to her kindly, but it was evident that he had transferred his affections to his grandson, whom he looked upon as his successor. Reginald did his best to make amends to her for the change in their grandfather's manner; but she seemed rather pleased than otherwise, having had no ambition to occupy the exalted position to which she had been destined. Perhaps she reflected that it might remove all objections the rajah would have entertained with regard to bestowing her hand on her brother's friend.
Soon after she had retired, the slave Bikoo, for whom Reginald had sent, was brought, heavily chained, into the presence of the rajah, who at once promised him his life on condition that he would afford all the information he possessed regarding the proceedings of his late master Balkishen.
"You have described him certainly as a great villain," observed the rajah, when the slave had apparently finished his account; "but is there nothing else you can add? I was already aware of most of the circumstances you have told me."
"I will confess to another crime, if I may be pardoned for taking part in it; for consider, O Rajah! In your benignity, that I am but a slave, and my master compelled me to act the part I did," answered Bikoo, trembling all over.
"You have my promise, wretched slave, that no punishment shall overtake you on account of anything you may confess," said the rajah. "Say on, slave."
Bikoo, recovering himself, continued—
"I managed to steal into your highness's treasury, from whence I carried off a casket full of papers, of which my master desired to possess himself."
"What has become of them?" asked Reginald eagerly.
"Remember that if you speak not the truth you will immediately be put to death," added the rajah.
"O Refuge of the World, far be it from me to deceive you," answered the slave. "The casket was placed by my master, with other treasures, within the tomb of the learned saint Danee Domanuck, in the temple of the great god Doorga, before which the pious priests of our faith, at morn, noonday, and eventide, are wont to stand reciting the prayers and the wise sayings he composed; but so absorbed are they in their devotions that they will not discover who enters the temple, and the casket may without difficulty be recovered. If my pardon is granted, I will undertake to carry it off from the spot in which I before placed it."
"Pardon or no pardon, the casket must be brought here before sunset," exclaimed the rajah. "But what assurance have I that you speak the truth, and will not endeavour to make your escape should I order your chains to be knocked off, and allow you to go free?"
"Refuge of the World, I am incapable of such treachery," said Bikoo, putting his hand to his heart.
"With your highness's leave, I will accompany the slave," said Reginald. "If I assume my European costume I shall not be recognised, and the priests will suppose me a stranger led by curiosity to visit their temple. If the slave speaks the truth, the casket may then be obtained without difficulty; and as I will go well armed, I will protect him should the priests attempt to take it from him."
"You may go, my son," said the rajah; "but, as a protection, take fifty of my guards and station them outside the temple, with directions to be ready to rush in at a signal from you, and to capture the priests, should they attempt to stop you. That will be a shorter way of proceeding than the slave proposes; and those priests are all great rascals, to my certain knowledge."
Reginald had grave doubts whether, after all, the slave was not deceiving him. He could scarcely believe that the object for which he had been so long in search was almost within his grasp. The rajah urged him to return as soon as possible, and was evidently unwilling to have him long out of his sight.
After giving orders to the chief officer of the guards to select a band of fifty trustworthy men, he changed his Oriental costume for his seaman's dress, taking care to stick a brace of pistols and a dagger in his belt. Then ordering Bikoo to accompany him, he set out for the temple, which was in a remote part of the city.
Quaint and monstrous designs ornamented all parts of the building. Leaving the guard outside, Reginald passed under a low archway, when he found himself in a hall, on each side of which he could distinguish, through the dim obscurity, the hideous forms of the presiding divinities of the temple.
"I see no priests or worshippers in the place," he whispered to Bikoo.
"The holy men are engaged in their devotions in the lower hall, where the tomb of the saint is situated," answered Bikoo, leading the way.
Reginald followed, holding a pistol ready for use, should his guide prove treacherous, or the priests appear inclined to oppose his entrance. At the further end of the upper hall was a flight of steps leading downwards. The slave descended them, and Reginald boldly made his way after him. His ear then caught the sound of persons uttering prayers in low monotonous tones; and on reaching the bottom of the steps he saw, by the light of a lamp which burned on an altar on one aide of the vault, a number of strange-looking beings. Some had long matted hair hanging over their faces, and heavy iron hoops round their necks; most of them with garments scarcely sufficient for decency. Some were standing upright, beating their breasts; others were kneeling or extending themselves flat on the ground, against which they were striking their heads.
Before a tomb of richly-carved stone stood an aged man, with a long white beard, but with scarcely more clothing on him than his companions had. In his arms he held a large open volume, and though he could not, from the position in which he held it, have read its pages, he was apparently repeating the contents. Reginald doubted whether he was sufficiently absorbed in his task not to observe him as he approached. Bikoo glided noiselessly behind the tomb, while Reginald stood ready to assist him, watching the countenances of the degraded beings engaged in this strange mode of worship. Most of them stood as motionless as statues, with their eyes seemingly fixed on vacancy their lips only moving as they uttered their meaningless prayers. For a moment it struck Reginald as a clever trick of the slave to effect his escape. But at length he saw him emerge from the darkness, carrying something wrapped in a cloth, which he held close to his side to prevent the priests from seeing it. He hoped in another moment to have the long-wished-for treasure in his hand, when the seemingly unconscious beings before him dashed forward to seize Bikoo, who, springing for protection to the young rajah, gave him the casket. The priests on this turned on the white stranger, whom they now apparently perceived for the first time.
"Sacrilege! Sacrilege!" they cried out. "You are robbing us of our treasures. The curses of the gods will fall on you."
"My friends," exclaimed Reginald, presenting his pistol, "stand back, and I will explain myself. This casket belongs to me, and was stolen by one of your fraternity, so that I am but recovering my own. If I am rightly informed, a considerable amount of property stolen from other persons lies concealed in this vault. My guards are without, and, summoned by me, they will enter, and, taking possession of all the treasures they can find, will deliver them to their proper owners. If you refrain from interfering with my proceedings, I will allow you to continue your devotions, and to remain at present as guardians of the treasures concealed in this place."
The priests, considering that "discretion was the better part of valour," and seeing the bold bearing of the young stranger, allowed him and Bikoo to mount the steps; when, traversing the hall, they quickly made their way into the open air, glad to escape from the mephitic atmosphere of the vault and the fury of the priests—who, as soon as they had recovered from their astonishment, broke forth in loud cries and threats of vengeance. They grew cooler, however, on discovering the rajah's troops at the entrance of the temple, and hurried back to their devotions with the advice they had received from the stranger strongly impressed on their minds. Many a prayer was offered up that Doorga would protect their ill-gotten wealth from the grasp of the infidels.
Followed closely by his guards, Reginald, who had a horse in waiting, rode back to the palace, carrying the precious casket, which he was unwilling to trust to other hands. On his arrival an officer met him at the gate with a message from the rajah, who was anxiously waiting his return. Reginald found him, to his surprise, on foot, pacing slowly up and down a broad verandah overlooking the city, to which he had caused his divan to be carried, that he might enjoy the fresh air.
"Have you been successful, my son?" exclaimed the old man eagerly, as Reginald approached. "Tell me quickly; for a dimness has come over my eyes, and I feel a strange sinking of the heart, which forebodes I know not what."
Reginald exhibited the wished-for casket.
"It is the same, my son," he exclaimed; "and contains, I trust, the valuable documents your father committed to my care. Let me see them; I shall know them at once."
Reginald was about to try and open the casket, when he saw a peculiar expression pass over the countenance of the rajah, who staggered and sank back on the divan near which he was standing. The old man gazed at him with a look of affection, and tried to speak; but in vain. He drew his breath every instant with more and more labour; and then came one more sigh, and he seemed to be sleeping calmly. Reginald threw himself by his side and took his hand. It failed to return his grasp. He gazed at the old man's countenance, unable to persuade himself that he was really dead; but he became aware of the fact by the loud cries of the women, who, with fans in their hands, had been in readiness to cool his fevered brow as he lay on the couch.
"Oh, I wish that the English doctor had arrived before," thought Reginald. "He might have saved his life."
At that moment he was aroused by the voice of Burnett, who, approaching, exclaimed, "I trust the rajah is not worse. Dr Graham has ridden hard to come to him."
"I have arrived too late," said the doctor, as he took the old man's hand, and looked into his countenance. "But not too late to form an opinion of the disease which has carried him off. He has been poisoned; and a further examination will confirm what I say."
Reginald was horrified; but the doctor asserted that he was right.
"Let me advise your highness to be careful of what food you partake and what beverages you drink. The same hand which mixed the potion for your grandfather may be ready to administer a similar one to you," added the doctor.
REGINALD RAJAH OF ALLAHAPOOR—ARRIVAL OF CAPTAIN HAWKESFORD—VISIT TO BUXSOO'S FAMILY—THE CAPTAIN TAKEN BY SURPRISE—A BANQUET—REGINALD ESCORTS NUNA TO THE RESIDENCY—MEETING OF NUNA AND VIOLET.
The late rajah had been carried to the tomb of his ancestors in state, and Reginald had been duly installed as his successor amid the acclamations of the people. But remembering the warning he had received, he was very far from enjoying his new position. Willingly would he have left the country, and the Oriental magnificence in which he lived, had he not felt that it was his duty to remain and endeavour to ameliorate the condition of his subjects.
Nuna had been much grieved at the loss of her grandfather, and had hitherto been unwilling to appear in public; though she could not help looking forward with satisfaction to the greater liberty she would be able to enjoy. Reginald had had a long conversation with her about his friend Burnett; and she had confessed that she would rather become his wife than that of the most wealthy and powerful prince in the country. So Reginald, knowing his friend's sentiments, considered the matter settled.
He took an early opportunity of telling Burnett, who thanked him heartily for having undertaken his cause with the ranee.
"You will ever find me, I trust, my dear Reginald, faithful and devoted to your interests," he added.
"That I am very sure you will be," said Reginald. "But, charming as my sister is, I suspect her education is not quite up to what a young English lady's should be. We must get her better instructed in certain female accomplishments. I contemplate asking Colonel Ross to allow her to reside with his daughter in the cantonments, where she cannot fail to benefit by Violet's example, and such instruction as she is able to impart. I wish that the colonel would get over his visit of state, that I might return it, and have the opportunity of seeing Violet, when I would broach the subject. It is tantalising to have her so near, and yet not to be able to go and see her."
Burnett thought Reginald's plan a very good one, and was sure that Nuna would be delighted with it.
So occupied had Reginald been since the death of the rajah, that he had been unable to write to Colonel Ross, who might possibly be still ignorant of who he was. For the same reason he had not as yet written to Violet. Managing at length to withdraw himself for a short interval from the crowd of courtiers and nobles who had arrived to pay their respects—of suppliants who came with petitions or complaints—and of officers of various grades who waited to receive orders—he had retired to the only room in which he could enjoy that privacy which he so much required. Near it was one occupied by Burnett; and on the other side was a chamber which he intended for the use of any European guest who might visit the palace.
He quickly wrote the letter to Colonel Ross, telling him of the wonderful change in his circumstances. He assured him that he now possessed the documents of which he had been in search, and which enabled him to claim a handsome estate and title in England; and he expressed a hope that Colonel Ross would not refuse to allow him to look forward to the possession of his daughter's hand. It was, it must be stated, a very humble and moderate letter, considering the position the writer enjoyed.
He then began one to Violet, giving a brief account of all his adventures; assuring her that his love was unaltered, that the splendour of his court had no attractions for him, and that he would abandon it as soon as he had performed his duty to the people by placing them under the English Government, and return with her to her native land. He had still much more to say—indeed, he was not altogether satisfied with what he had said—when an attendant entered and informed him that an English officer had arrived with despatches from the cantonments, and desired to deliver them in person.
Reginald, with somewhat of a sailor's carelessness, left his papers on the table at which he had been writing, with the casket and the precious document it contained. Remembering that he ought to assume the state and dignity in which his grandfather always appeared in public, he habited himself in his rajah's costume, and, with the chief officers of his household, entered the reception-hall; at one end of which he took his seat on a raised ottoman, which served as a throne, his grim bodyguard in full armour lining either side of the hall, while the late rajah's scimitar and shield hung above his head. All being arranged, he directed that the officer should be admitted.
On the curtain being drawn aside for the entrance of his visitor, Reginald's eyes fell on Captain Hawkesford, who was advancing towards him. He kept his countenance, wondering whether he should be recognised; but it was evident from the captain's manner that he did not suspect into whose presence he had been admitted. Speaking Hindostanee with tolerable fluency, he did not require an interpreter; and having gone through the usual ceremony, he delivered his dispatches, which Reginald eagerly read. The captain then gave a verbal message he had been directed to deliver. It was to the effect that the resident hoped to be allowed, in the course of a day or two, to pay his respects to his highness, to congratulate him on his accession to the dignity of Rajah of Allahapoor, and to express his sympathy at the loss he had sustained by the death of his father, of which he had only just heard. The resident had been led to suppose that the ranee would have succeeded; and he was rejoiced at the thought that the government of the country was in the hands of one who, he doubted not, would be well able to rule the people, while he begged to assure him of the cordial support of the British Government.
Reginald—who had his reasons for not wishing Captain Hawkesford to discover who he was—naturally fearing that his pronunciation might betray him, answered with due caution, and kept his eyes fixed on the captain's countenance. The result of his scrutiny convinced him that his guest was still under the impression that he was in the presence of a native prince. He was still further assured of this when Captain Hawkesford asked if his highness could inform him what had become of the young Englishman who was said to have been at the court of the rajah, and to have accompanied him in his disastrous expedition against the hill tribes. It was his duty, he observed, to warn his highness against that young man, whose objects were open to suspicion; for although he was accompanied by an English officer, he had come up the country without any authority from the Government at Calcutta. It was considered more than probable that he was a Russian spy, whose aim was to create a disturbance, and either to set the people against their rulers, or, by instigating the rulers to conspire against the English, to allow the easy access of a Russian army into the country.
"Does the British resident send this as a message to me?" asked Reginald, restraining his indignation.
"I was not directed to deliver it," answered Captain Hawkesford; "but I considered that it would be advisable to warn your highness,—and I mentioned the subject merely, as it were, in the course of conversation."
"I will follow your advice, and watch the proceedings of the young man— who is, I have every reason to believe, still in the city," answered Reginald. "The late rajah held him in high esteem, and from what I know of him I should not have supposed that he was a Russian spy, or a person likely to be engaged in plots against the English Government."
"Your highness should be aware that conspirators find it necessary to assume all sorts of characters and disguises, and that, plausible as the person in question may have appeared, he is not the less likely to be an arrant rogue."
"We will suppose him, then, to be a rogue, till he has been proved to be an honest man, and narrowly watch his proceedings," said Reginald in a tone which made Captain Hawkesford start, and look earnestly at Reginald. The latter, however, kept his countenance, and after some further conversation directed that the English officer should be conducted to the guest-room, where he might rest till the time appointed for a banquet, at which several nobles, as well as Captain Burnett, were to be present. Reginald, after having received a few petitions, and transacted some other public business, retired to his room, where he threw off his robes of state, and assumed his light seaman's dress, which he infinitely preferred to wear. He had an object, however, on this occasion, in doing so. He wished to visit his Christian friend Dhunna Singh privately, whose sons, including Buxsoo, were busily employed in gaining information for him; for he was well aware that he could not trust any of his nobles, or any other person about the court. There might be honest men among them, but he had as yet been unable to discover them. The intelligence he had received from Dhunna Singh was unsatisfactory. There could be no doubt that the plot of which he had before heard for his destruction, and for the overthrow of the British rule, was fast ripening, and he could not but regret that the old rajah had petitioned for the English forces,—which, though they might, under ordinary circumstances, have materially assisted in keeping his own subjects in check, were utterly inadequate for the purpose should the whole country rise in arms, as he was led to fear would be the case. He resolved, in consequence of the information he had lately received, to send Captain Hawkesford back with a despatch to Colonel Ross, warning him of the danger, and urging him to be on his guard.
After waiting for some time to see Buxsoo, who had been out in the city picking up fresh information, Reginald returned to the palace accompanied by Faithful, who usually attended him when he went out without a guard. Entering by the rear of the palace, he made his way, as was his custom, up the back steps to his private room. A curtain hung before the doorway, and what was his astonishment and indignation, on drawing it slightly aside, to see Captain Hawkesford seated at the table, pen in hand, and busily employed in making notes from the documents which he had taken out of the casket! He hesitated for some moments as to how he should act towards the captain. He could, however, scarcely restrain his anger when he saw him, after reading the despatch to Colonel Ross, deliberately glance his eye over the letter to Violet. Boiling with rage, he drew from his belt a revolver, without which he never went abroad, and silently walked up to the table, which he reached without being perceived by the intruder. Faithful, entering at his heels, sprang forward and raised her head above the table, on which she placed one of her huge paws, directly facing the captain, who threw himself back in his chair with a look of horror and despair in his countenance.
"What treatment do you expect from the man whom you have maligned, whose private letters you have, contrary to all the laws of honour, ventured to peruse?" exclaimed Reginald. "I am not going to imbrue my hands in your blood; but this tigress would, at a word from me, tear you limb from limb. You have broken through all the laws of hospitality, and in consequence of my carelessness obtained a secret with which I wished no one to be acquainted till the proper time arrived for making it known."
"I—I—I—I humbly beg your pardon," exclaimed the captain, his voice trembling with terror. "I had no idea that you and the young rajah of Allahapoor were one and the same person. When I spoke as I did, I merely repeated the reports I had heard. I entreat you to forgive me, and I faithfully promise to keep your secret."
"I have no choice but to trust you," answered Reginald sternly. "You see that your father, who would have deprived me of my property and title, has no prospect of success if I live and can produce these documents. What you would have done with them had I not opportunely arrived, I cannot pretend to say. But I am not anxious for further conversation. Retire, sir, to your room. It is my desire that you appear at the public banquet as if nothing had happened, and after that return as soon as you can to the cantonments with the despatches which I will deliver to you for Colonel Ross. The private letter you have had the audacity to read, I will send by another messenger. And now, sir, I say again, go, and meditate on what has happened. That I have spared your life, may induce you to act with some degree of gratitude."
Hawkesford, obeying the order he had received, rose from his seat. A loud growl uttered by the tigress made him spring rapidly towards the door. She would probably have followed and caught him, had she not been restrained by the voice of her master.
Reginald having closed the door behind the retreating officer, sat down, and thought over the position of affairs and the numerous important matters which pressed on his mind. That he was surrounded by dangers of all sorts, he felt convinced. He knew full well that he had traitors within the walls of his palace; and that his subjects, who had lately received him with shouts of exuberant joy, might at any moment turn again and shout loudly for his destruction; while his troops could not be depended on. He had his stanch friend Burnett by his side, and he could rely on Dhunna Singh and his sons; while Faithful, he felt sure, would defend him with her life. He was not, however, so much concerned about his own personal safety as he was for that of Nuna; and as every supporter was of consequence, he could not help wishing for the return of Dick Thuddichum.
So absorbed was he in his thoughts that he did not calculate how the time went by, and he was still sitting at his desk when an attendant appeared to announce that the banquet was prepared. Not forgetting this time to lock up his documents, and to stow away the casket in a place of safety, he hastily donned his Oriental costume, and entered the grand hall, where the guests were already assembled, with as serene a countenance as he could command. Taking the seat hitherto occupied by the old rajah, he summoned Burnett to a place by his side; requesting Captain Hawkesford, who stood with a somewhat downcast look, to take one on the other hand; the nobles and other guests dropping into their places according to their rank, leaving one side of the table, as was usual, unoccupied. Reginald had left the whole arrangements to the "master of the ceremonies," having forgotten to express any wish on the subject; the customs which had been in vogue during the old rajah's time were consequently adhered to.
As soon as the more substantial part of the feast had been concluded, a band of dancing-girls and musicians made their appearance; followed by a puppet-show, which might have afforded amusement to a party of children, but which to Reginald's taste appeared absurd in the extreme. He felt far more disgusted with the performances of the nautch-girls, and he resolved to prohibit their introduction in future.
He expressed his intention to Burnett. "I agree with you," was the answer; "but I am afraid that your plans, if carried out, will make you unpopular with your courtiers."
"I would rather be unpopular than sanction so barbarous a custom."
"There are not a few barbarous customs which you will have to get rid of before you will be satisfied," said Burnett.
"No English lady would like to see her sex so degraded by being compelled to exhibit themselves as these poor girls are," said Reginald, thinking of Violet.
"I suspect that the performances at an English opera-house can scarcely claim a higher position than the exhibitions of these nautch-girls," observed Burnett.
"I never went to an opera in England, but I should not have supposed that a scene like this would have been tolerated in a civilised country," said Reginald.
"Your highness is very particular," observed Captain Hawkesford with a scarcely suppressed sneer.
"No man can be too particular in doing what is right," said Reginald, turning away from his guest, to whom he had hitherto paid just as much attention as etiquette required.
He was glad, however, when the banquet came to a conclusion; when, issuing an order that Captain Hawkesford's escort should be in readiness to start, he, with studied formality, wished him goodbye; and telling Burnett that he desired his company, he retired to his private apartment.
Burnett in a short time made his appearance.
"I cannot stand this sort of thing much longer," Reginald exclaimed, as he paced up and down the room. "I will try to carry out the necessary reforms, and I will then beg the British Government to take possession of the country, and to preserve order as best they can. I am sure Violet will never be happy here; and I intend proposing a return to England as soon as her father will consent to our marriage."
"There is not much probability that the colonel will refuse his permission," observed Burnett, laughing; "and I trust that you will allow me, at the same time, to become the husband of your sister."
The next day, Colonel Ross arrived to pay his state visit. Reginald received him with a full display of Oriental magnificence. As soon as etiquette would allow, he begged his presence in his private apartments, where, having briefly narrated his adventures, he gave an account of his birth and prospects. He declared that his sole ambition was to become the husband of Violet, and to devote himself to the delightful task of making her happy.
"You have hitherto known me only as Reginald Hamerton, and such I might have remained had I not visited Allahapoor, where, in an unexpected manner, I was acknowledged by the rajah as the son of his daughter, and by his means succeeded in obtaining possession of certain documents which I had been charged by my father if possible to obtain. Some were title-deeds of large estates in England: the most important, however, being the marriage certificate of my father and mother; the existence of which was denied by those who disputed my claim to the title of Lord Hamerton and the possession of the estates."
Colonel Ross, as Burnett had shrewdly suspected, did not hesitate to afford Reginald his hearty sanction to his marriage with his daughter. "Indeed," he added, "after having discovered that my daughter's heart was truly yours, I had determined to waive any objections I entertained, should I, on further inquiries, have found you as worthy of her as she believed you to be."
Reginald was warm in his expressions of gratitude. He felt infinitely happier than he had been for many a long day. Indeed, all the difficulties with which he was surrounded appeared to have vanished. Colonel Ross willingly agreed to his proposal that Nuna should take up her residence in the cantonments with Violet, and it was arranged that Reginald should escort his sister there the following day. The colonel was residing in a bungalow which had been repaired for his reception, and which would afford sufficient accommodation for Nuna and the few attendants she wished to accompany her. Reginald would gladly have set off with the colonel, but he was unwilling to leave Nuna in the palace alone; he was compelled, therefore, to restrain his impatience until the following day.
He wisely kept his plan a secret; and when the richly-caparisoned elephants, escorted by a body of horse, were seen moving through the city, it was supposed that the ranee was simply going to pay a visit of state to the daughter of the English resident.
Reginald rode on horseback, with Burnett by his side, and attended by a party of his trusty guards; and he arrived some time before his sister. It need not be said that he was fully satisfied with the way in which Violet received him. When Nuna arrived and dismounted from her elephant, Violet was also ready to give her an affectionate greeting.
As Violet led her to a seat, Nuna gazed round the neat and nicely furnished room. "Oh, this is what I shall enjoy far more than the gorgeous magnificence of a palace, with the pomp and ceremony I have had to undergo," she exclaimed. "You must teach me English ways and manners, for I want to become quite an English girl, like you."
Violet promised to do her best; and she and Nuna, greatly to Reginald's satisfaction, were soon as intimate as if they had been acquainted all their lives.
CHUPATTIES—UNSATISFACTORY INTELLIGENCE—REGINALD, ON HIS WAY TO THE RESIDENCY, HEARS THE SOUND OF FIRING—A MUTINY IN THE CANTONMENTS— COLONEL ROSS AND HIS PARTY RESCUED—ESCAPE TO A VILLAGE AMONG THE HILLS—THE CAMP FORTIFIED—CAPTAIN HAWKESFORD'S ENMITY CONTINUES— REAPPEARANCE OF FAITHFUL—IMPORTANT INTELLIGENCE BROUGHT BY HER— PREPARATIONS FOR DEFENCE.
For several weeks matters went on quietly at Allahapoor. Aided by Burnett, Reginald was able to carry out many of his projected reforms, though not without opposition from some of the chief men, and often from those who were likely to benefit by them. The indefatigable Buxsoo brought him information of what was going on beneath the seemingly quiet surface of society. It was far from satisfactory. He reported that persons were moving from district to district, distributing "chupatties",—sacred cakes, which answered the purpose of the "fiery cross" of Scotland. With amazing rapidity these cakes were passed over the length and breadth of the land. It was supposed that they came originally from Barrackpore. The watchman of one village gave the watchman of the next village two cakes, with an injunction to make six fresh ones, and retaining two, to pass the others on in the same way. What the object of the cakes was, most of those who received them were in ignorance; but they fully understood that some matter of importance was to be carried out, and they were bound to obey the orders they might receive from the centre of operations. Reginald charged Buxsoo to ascertain, if possible, the secret object of this distribution of the chupatties. That they meant mischief of some sort or other, there could be no doubt.
Burnett, in the meantime, improved the discipline of his horsemen, and endeavoured to ingratiate himself with them. Reginald also increased the number of his guards, selecting those men most likely to prove faithful. Wuzeer Singh had by this time recovered from his wounds, and had resumed his duties. Reginald offered to promote him; but he begged to remain in the ranks, assuring his master that he could there render better service than he could were he made an officer.
Reginald and Burnett, as may be supposed, paid frequent visits to the cantonments; and they were eagerly looking forward to the arrival of a chaplain, who would unite them to the ladies to whom they were engaged. Reginald, of course, kept Colonel Ross fully informed of all the intelligence he obtained. The colonel, however, was convinced that the British rule was so firmly established in India that nothing could shake it; that whatever the meaning of the chupatties might be, they could not possibly be intended to instigate the people to rebellion. His own regiment, he declared, was stanch to the backbone, and nothing would make them swerve from their duty. Burnett said the same of his cavalry; and declared that to a man they were ready to follow him to the death. Reginald, however, was not convinced; and the very next day Buxsoo brought him intelligence which confirmed his suspicions. The sepoy regiments in the British service had lately been armed with Enfield rifles, and a report had been spread that the cartridges to be used in them—and the ends of which had to be bitten off—had been greased with the fat of pigs and bullocks. This was done, it was said, that every Hindoo soldier might thus become unclean and lose caste, and have no other resource but to turn Christian; the British Government having determined, it was affirmed, to compel all its subjects to embrace Christianity.
"Very miserable Christians they would be, if such were the case," observed Buxsoo; "but my poor Hindoo countrymen, brought up in gross ignorance, are ready to believe the most childish reports."
Information arrived, some few days after this, that at Lucknow and other places the sepoy troops had mutinied, but that the mutiny had been put down by a strong hand, and it was believed that order had been restored. Day after day, however, unsatisfactory intelligence came in from all quarters; and even in the British provinces bands of the marauders suddenly sprang up, and commenced plundering and burning villages. Burnett was accordingly directed to scour the country round Allahapoor, in order to put a stop to such proceedings.
Buxsoo having informed Reginald that the Mohammedan part of the population were about to rise and create a riot, the result of which might probably be the plundering and burning of the city, he immediately summoned the most influential Mohammedan nobles and others to meet him in council. They arrived fully armed, many of them assuming a bold and insolent air, and evidently ready to dispute his authority. As soon as they were seated, he addressed them in gracious tones; reminding them that he had not sought the position he now held, and that his sole aim since assuming the reins of government had been to promote the welfare of all classes, and to advance the happiness and prosperity of the country. While he was speaking, he observed Wuzeer Singh glide in and place himself, with a revolver in each hand, behind his chair of state, but so excited were the persons assembled that his entrance was not remarked. Reginald continued his address, inviting one after another to speak in return. His determined demeanour had its due effect, and he managed to keep the attention of his assembly till the day was nearly ended, and the time fixed upon for the outbreak had passed.
The following morning, at an early hour, Reginald, full of anxiety as to what might next occur, rode out to the cantonments, accompanied by a few of his officers and a small company of his guards—some being on horseback, but most of them on foot. He had expected the return of Burnett with his cavalry that very morning, but he had not yet appeared. As Reginald approached the cantonments, he was startled by the sound of continued and rapid firing. Ordering the foot-guards to follow as fast as they could, he dashed forward with his horsemen, among whom was Wuzeer Singh, towards the scene of action. He saw clouds of smoke and flames ascending in several places, evidently from buildings on fire; while the sound of musketry, though more desultory than at first, was still heard. He urged on his horse to its utmost speed, feeling painfully anxious for the safety of Colonel Ross and those dear to him; and in another minute he beheld a spectacle which filled him with dismay and alarm. A small body of English troops who had their quarters in the part of the cantonments nearest the city, had, it was evident, been attacked, and after bravely defending themselves, had been cut down or put to flight; for he now met several men endeavouring to make their escape from an overwhelming body of cavalry, who were savagely sabring all who attempted to withstand them, while numbers lay on the ground, brought down by the bullets of their foes. As he called on them to rally, they obeyed him, thinking that they were about to be supported, and presented a bold face to the advance of the horsemen. The latter on this—observing, as they must have done, Reginald's guards rapidly advancing to meet them—wheeled round and galloped off to a distance. He, to his dismay, remarked that the horsemen had the appearance of Burnett's troopers, and he could not help dreading that the men had mutinied and murdered their commander. He asked Wuzeer Singh his opinion. "It is too likely to be the case," was the answer. "Captain Burnett placed more confidence in them than they deserved; for though some were faithful, there were many traitors among them."
Reginald's chief anxiety at present, however, was about the safety of Violet and Nuna, and the other ladies, as well as that of Colonel Ross and the officers under him. He learned from a British soldier that the sepoy regiment had mutinied, and having killed several of their officers who had remained with them and attempted to bring them back to their duty, had marched off with their arms, after setting fire to several bungalows; that the Europeans had been surprised when on the point of pursuing them by the rebel cavalry, who had dashed suddenly into the cantonments, cutting off all connection with their officers and any of the natives who might have remained faithful. Having for some time gallantly defended themselves, they had been compelled to retreat, and would undoubtedly have been destroyed had it not been for the arrival of Reginald and his party.
No one could inform him whether the house occupied by Colonel Ross had been attacked; therefore, anxious to ascertain the truth, he ordered his men to advance. He was about to push forward with his small body of horsemen, when Wuzeer Singh pointed out the rebel cavalry in considerable force in the distance, ready to pounce down upon him. He had therefore to restrain his eagerness, in order to allow his guards on foot to come up with him. At length he came in sight of the building which contained those so dear to him; and on seeing how totally unfitted it was to offer any effectual resistance, he trusted that the mutineers had not attempted to attack it. He hastened on, his heart beating with anxiety. As he and his party were seen from the windows, Colonel Ross, and several officers who had taken refuge there, came out to meet him. They greeted him warmly, and expressed their thankfulness that he had come so opportunely to their rescue, as every minute they were expecting to be attacked by the rebels; while they were convinced that they had but little chance of successfully defending the house. When they first saw the rebel cavalry, they supposed that they were coming to their assistance; but this hope vanished when they saw the horsemen dashing forward towards that part of the cantonments where the company of British soldiers was quartered. Their fear was that the latter would be surprised before they could have time to make any preparations for defence. Their hopes had risen and fallen as the sound of musketry continued; but they at length began to fear, when the firing ceased, that the party had been cut to pieces. Their satisfaction therefore was great, when they found so considerable a number of English soldiers with Reginald. But even counting the force he had brought with him, they could not hope to defend the residency should any regular attack be made by the rebels, who had carried off several guns, which many of them were well able to serve.
"Your only resource then, Colonel Ross, is to allow me to escort you to the city; within the walls of which you and your party will, I trust, find protection," said Reginald.
Colonel Ross, after a short consultation with his officers, accepted the offer, and preparations were at once made for moving. Reginald enjoyed a few minutes' conversation with Violet and Nuna. The latter, poor girl, was in a state of great anxiety at not hearing from Captain Burnett. The horsemen had been recognised from the residency as belonging to his regiment, and fears had been expressed in her presence that he had fallen. Violet did her best to console her, by suggesting that they had been detached for some separate duty, when they might have been tempted to join the mutineers; or perhaps that they had deserted while encamped, without injuring him or those who remained faithful to their colours.
Some elephants had been procured to carry the ladies and the articles of chief value; and most of the officers had their horses, though some had been carried off by the rebels. Scouts had been sent out in all directions to ascertain the movements of the mutineers; and two of them now came back with the intelligence that the men of the sepoy regiment having been joined by another which had marched across the border, as well as by the cavalry and native gunners with their guns, they were advancing on the cantonments. No time, therefore, was to be lost. The ladies, including Mrs Molony, were immediately placed on the elephants—two of which animals were also employed in dragging the remaining field-guns; the baggage was secured, and the order to advance was given.
Just at that moment a sowar was seen rapidly coming up from the direction of the city; whom, as he approached, Reginald recognised as his faithful ally, Buxsoo.
"Alas, O Rajah! Alas!" he exclaimed, "I bring sad tidings. Scarcely had you left the gates of the city when a tumult arose, and the houses of many persons supposed to be favourable to you were attacked. Several people were killed, and others narrowly escaped with their lives. The whole population are up in arms. Loud cries are raised against the English and those who support them. 'Down with the foreign rajah!' is the cry of every one; while they swear that should you return they will destroy you and all your friends. The armed men broke into the prison, and liberated all the prisoners. Among these were Khan Cochut and the slave Bikoo, who did their utmost to increase the tumult. The khan declared that the old rajah had made him his successor; and he began to address the people, promising them freedom from all taxes, and universal liberty. A considerable number sided with him, and he was marching in triumph to take possession of the palace, when a strong party of chiefs and others who knew he spoke falsely attacked him, whereupon his followers were put to flight, and he himself cut to pieces. Seeing how things were going on, and fearing that you might return unprepared, I disguised myself as you see me, and galloped off to bring you the intelligence."
After Reginald had held a consultation with Colonel Ross, it was agreed that any attempt to enter the city would be madness; while it would be impossible to defend themselves in the residency, or in any part of the cantonments. The colonel inquired whether there was not some strong building in the neighbourhood, of which they might take possession and fortify it; where, if provisions could be obtained, they might hold out till relieved by a British force.
"There are several towards the south," replied Buxsoo; "but the rebels swarm in that direction, the whole population being up in arms."
There was, however, a hilly district a few miles to the north, he said, inhabited by a tribe who were neither Mohammedans nor Hindoos, and to whom consequently the chupatties had not been sent. They had always remained faithful to the rajah of Allahapoor, and would certainly receive the young rajah with open arms. If they could reach that district, they would there be able to throw up fortifications, and defend themselves for any length of time against such a force as the enemy were likely to assemble in that quarter.
The plan proposed was their only alternative, and Colonel Ross at once agreed to it.
Guided by Buxsoo, the party immediately directed their course northward. Burnett's insurgent cavalry had disappeared, and none of the mutinous sepoys were in sight, so they advanced as rapidly as the slow-stepping elephants could move. The native troops were in the van, the few horsemen on either flank, while the British brought up the rear. They were thus prepared, as well as circumstances would allow, for any attack which might be made upon them. They were not, however, unobserved. The officers, through their field-glasses, made out in the far distance a number of armed men on foot, evidently watching their movements; and directly afterwards these were joined by a body of horse, which advanced much nearer. Colonel Ross on this immediately called a halt, and ordered the guns to be prepared for action; while Reginald, drawing up his small body of cavalry, made ready to charge directly the guns had delivered their fire. The bold front thus shown by the little party awed the mutineers, however, who wheeled round and galloped off to a safe distance. So again the party advanced, and made such progress that before evening the hills they hoped to reach appeared in sight.
Buxsoo now dashed forward to prepare the natives for the arrival of the young rajah. He went with every hope of success, but Reginald had his doubts on the subject; indeed, he had seldom before felt so cast down. He had contemplated giving up his government with becoming dignity, amid the tears and regrets of a faithful people; but now he found himself suddenly discarded by those he was so anxious to serve. He recollected too that he had left the precious documents which, after so much labour, he had succeeded in obtaining in the rebel city. Should the palace be burned, as was but too likely to be the case, they would be irretrievably lost. All his bright hopes might thus vanish; for although Colonel Ross would be convinced that they had existed, and would not suppose that he had deceived him, yet, after all, he might be unable without them to prove his claim to his title and estates, and would be reduced again to the position of a needy adventurer. Thus the colonel might be unwilling to trust his daughter's happiness to his keeping. Inclined to look at everything from a gloomy point of view, then, he was prepared for a cold, if not for a hostile, reception from the villagers.
He was anxious too, though certainly in a much less degree, about Faithful. He had left the tigress shut up in her usual abode in the palace, under charge of her keeper; but the man might be killed, or he might neglect her, and she would be starved to death; or should the rebels break into the palace, they would undoubtedly kill her. He had therefore little hope of again seeing his favourite.
The day was now drawing to a close, and Buxsoo had not returned. Perhaps the people had fled; and if so, they must just pitch their camp in the strongest position to be found, and make such preparations for defence as time would allow. His spirits, however, revived when he saw a large concourse of somewhat savage-looking fellows come rushing forward, with Buxsoo at their head. As soon as they caught sight of the young rajah, they began leaping, and shouting, and firing off their matchlocks; and as he rode up to them they uttered their hearty welcomes, kissing his hands, and exhibiting every mark of affection. As no time was to be lost, at his desire they led the way back to their village; near which Colonel Ross, with a soldier's eye, quickly selected a spot for the encampment. By throwing up entrenchments round it, he considered that they might fortify themselves sufficiently to offer an effectual resistance to an enemy. It contained also a spring of water, an important consideration. The villagers, besides, were charged to collect all the provisions possible from far and near for the use of the garrison.
Colonel Ross and his officers, before lying down, designed a plan of the fortifications, which Buxsoo and Wuzeer Singh undertook, with the aid of the natives, to commence immediately. The latter showed themselves willing labourers, and immediately assembled with their muskets slung over their shoulders and pickaxes in their belts. All night long they were heard working away, one party relieving the other; Colonel Ross and his officers taking it in turns to superintend them. Before daylight the two guns were in position, and considerable progress had been made in the work. While some of the villagers were labouring on the entrenchments, others were employed in collecting provisions; and thus the hopes of the party that they should be able to make an effectual resistance rose considerably.
Major Molony and Captain Hawkesford now undertook to drill a number of the people, who would, it was believed, make very efficient soldiers, although their firearms were mostly of a wretched description. Colonel Ross and Reginald, however, were both excessively anxious, as they knew—what others did not—that they had but a limited amount of ammunition, and should they be subjected to a prolonged attack the whole might be exhausted; and the powder possessed by the natives was of too coarse a description to be employed in their firearms.
Still no tidings had come of Burnett, and Reginald's fears for his friend's safety increased. The fate of the casket, too, was continually in his mind. He blamed himself for not having either sent it to Colonel Ross for safe keeping, or despatched it by a trusty messenger to Calcutta. But the risk of the latter proceeding was, he had considered, too great in the present disturbed state of the country. Had it been left with Colonel Ross, he would now have had it. He told Violet of his anxiety, and she endeavoured to console him with the hope that the papers might escape destruction.
"If they are lost, my dear Reginald, and you are deprived of your rightful inheritance, it will be my pride and joy to try and make amends to you for your loss of fortune; and I am very sure that my father would not retract his promise under any circumstances which may occur." What lover could desire more?
Reginald—as well as every man in the camp—being fully employed during the day, he had but few opportunities of seeing Violet. She, on her part, had the task of endeavouring to comfort poor Nuna, who was almost in despair about Burnett.
Reginald endeavoured to obtain information of what was going forward by means of sending out scouts in all directions. The intelligence they brought back was more and more alarming. Every day the news was that the sepoys had risen in fresh directions. Fearful massacres had taken place at Cawnpore, Delhi, and numerous other cities. A small body of Europeans was closely beset at Lucknow; and the generally expressed opinion was that British rule in India was for ever at an end.
"The natives have yet to learn of what stuff the English are made," observed Colonel Ross. "When the European regiments advance to the rescue, they will form a different opinion."
His calm temper and the good spirits he maintained encouraged his countrymen, and contributed much towards inducing the natives to remain faithful. At present they had but little fear of being attacked, as the scouts reported that the larger number of the rebels either occupied Delhi, or were concentrating round Cawnpore and Lucknow. Still there were sufficient numbers in other places to prove formidable, should they design to attack the fort.
In the meantime, all was not peace within the small circle of their community. Reginald had told no one of Captain Hawkesford's conduct, but that officer scarcely attempted to conceal his hatred of him, and took every opportunity of making unpleasant remarks, especially in the presence of Violet and Colonel Ross,—though they were of such a character that Reginald could not well notice them. He knew Violet's opinion of Captain Hawkesford, however; and he believed that her father did not hold him in much higher estimation.
The fact was that Captain Hawkesford felt almost confident that Reginald had left the casket, with its valuable contents, behind at Allahapoor; and he calculated, not without reason, that they would never be recovered. He scarcely concealed his satisfaction, therefore, when intelligence was brought that the palace, after being ransacked by the populace, had been completely burned to the ground. Reginald heard the news with a quivering lip, though he endeavoured to hide his feelings.
"It is as I feared," he said to Violet. "My only hope now is that I may have an opportunity of winning fame and fortune by my sword; and for your sake I will strive to do so, or perish in the attempt. For myself, I confess that, after the brief experience I have had of the little satisfaction wealth and splendour can afford, I would rather live in a quiet home in England, devoting myself to doing all the good in my power to my humbler neighbours, than be compelled again to play the part of an Oriental ruler."
"Believe me, Reginald, I would far rather share that humble home with you than become the bride of the most wealthy noble in the land," said Violet, gazing affectionately at him.
What more could Reginald wish?
"I trust, dearest, that our wishes may be accomplished, and that it may be the will of Heaven that we shall return in safety to Old England," he replied.
The thought of poor Faithful came into Reginald's mind. That unfortunate animal, confined in her den, must have perished miserably in the flames. He truly grieved less for the loss of all his treasures than he did for his strange pet—so gentle with him in spite of her savage nature, so attached, and who had rendered him such essential service. "Her sad fate will go wellnigh to break honest Dick's tender heart, when he hears of it," he said to himself. "I wish, too, that I had Dick back. I fear, however, that he will find great difficulty in getting up the country; and I almost hope that he will not make the attempt."
Captain Hawkesford after this became still more overbearing, and almost insulting in his conduct, yet he so far kept within bounds that Reginald could not, even had he wished it, under the circumstances in which they were placed, have found a valid reason for quarrelling with him.
Though Reginald, of necessity, assumed the character of a chief among the natives, he did duty with the English officers,—visiting the outposts and sentries whenever his turn came. The strictest watch was kept, for their position was well known at Allahapoor, and it was more than probable that an expedition from that city would set out to attack them.
Reginald was one night going his rounds, the moon shining brightly, when he approached one of the English sentries at an outpost. He stopped for a moment to observe the soldierlike appearance of the man, who stood, musket in hand, silent and rigid as a statue. He was about to speak, when his eye fell on a crouching form stealing along amid the tall grass, which completely concealed it from the soldier. It was a tiger; and the creature seemed about to spring on the sentinel. Reginald drew a pistol from his belt, and was on the point of cocking it, at the same time shouting out to the sentry to be on his guard,—when the animal, instead of springing at the man, came bounding towards himself, uttering a purring sound very unlike the usual roar of a tiger. The next instant he recognised Faithful, who had only just then discovered him. He had just time to shout to the sentry—who was bringing his piece to his shoulder—to stop him from firing, or in another instant Faithful would probably have been shot through the body. She purred and fawned on her master, and took every means of showing her delight at having again met him, though he could not help suspecting that she had approached the sentry with no very peaceful intentions. As he stroked her head and neck, his hand came in contact with a thin chain, and, to his surprise and infinite satisfaction, he found secured to it the casket he had given up as lost.
Having finished his rounds, accompanied by Faithful, he returned to the fort to examine his prize, and to ascertain that all was safe within. By the light of a lamp which burned in his hut he now perceived that poor Faithful looked very thin and wretched; and knowing that, pressed by hunger, she might prove dangerous to some of his companions, he immediately despatched a native to bring in a portion of a sheep to satisfy her craving appetite. In the meantime he eagerly opened the casket, the key of which he had about his person. The papers were safe; and he found another document secured to the bottom of the case. It was in Hindostanee, and charged any one who found it to carry the casket to Reginald, with the promise of a handsome reward for doing so.
Besides this, there was a long account of the way in which the casket had been rescued by the writer at the burning of the palace. He expressed an evident regard for him, and assured him that there were many who entertained the same feeling; warning him, at the same time, that it would be dangerous for him to return to the city. Though the paper was not signed, Reginald at once knew that it must have come from his Christian friend, Dhunna Singh. In smaller characters—so as, if possible, to escape the observation of an ordinary reader—was a further piece of intelligence. The writer had also rescued Faithful from the palace, and had kept her, he said, at his house, till it was important to send her off. He had great difficulty, however, in feeding her; notwithstanding which she had remained as gentle as usual, apparently understanding the object he had in view. "And now the time has arrived," he added. "It is well known where you are; and an expedition, consisting of horse and foot, with several guns, is about to set out to attack you. Knowing the bravery of your companions, however, I do not despair of your being able to defend yourselves; and if I can hear of any of your friends in the neighbourhood, I will send them word of your situation, and urge them to come to your relief."
Although Reginald would have waited till the next morning to announce to Colonel Ross his extraordinary recovery of the casket, the warning he had received of the intended attack he considered to be too important to be neglected for a moment. Leaving the casket in the hut, therefore, under the charge of Faithful, being very sure that no one would enter to carry it off,—he hastened to Colonel Ross's quarters. In a few words he narrated what had occurred, and gave the important information he had received. The colonel having congratulated him warmly on the recovery of his papers, next turned to the consideration of the best mode of receiving the expected attack.
"Did we but possess an ample supply of powder, we might hold out as long as the enemy are likely to besiege the fort: and, depend on it, if they meet with a stout resistance, they will soon lose patience, and move off to attack some other less well defended place. But if they persevere for any length of time, our want of ammunition may prove fatal to us. Our only resource then will be to make a desperate sally, and to capture their guns and tumbrils."
At any moment the fort might be attacked, for as the paper brought by Faithful was not dated, it was difficult to say how long it had been on its journey. From the tigress' starved appearance, Reginald thought it likely that she might have been delayed; and that, to a certainty, she must have come by the cantonments, where, after escaping from the city, she would search for him. It was therefore settled that a strong force should at once be stationed on the lines, and the advance-guard pushed still more forward.
The necessary orders having been given, and Reginald being relieved, he returned to his hut to sleep, with a lighter heart than he had possessed for many a day.
DESPERATE STATE OF AFFAIRS—THE FORT ATTACKED—NEWS OF BURNETT—THE SORTIE—CAPTAIN HAWKESFORD'S TREACHERY—FAITHFUL DEFENDS HER MASTER— BURNETT AND HIS TROOPERS COME TO THE RESCUE—GUNS CAPTURED—THE FOE PUT TO FLIGHT—FATE OF CAPTAIN HAWKESFORD—A LULL—BETTER NEWS—THE FORT AGAIN ATTACKED—AWFUL SUSPENSE—ENEMY TAKE TO FLIGHT—FORT EVACUATED— THE MARCH—PURSUED—A FIERCE ENGAGEMENT—REGINALD LEFT WOUNDED ON THE BATTLE-FIELD—RELIEVING FORCE APPEARS—FAITHFUL AGAIN PROTECTS HER MASTER—DICK DISCOVERS HER—BRITISH VICTORIOUS—REGINALD RECOVERED— RETURN TO CALCUTTA—DEATH OF FAITHFUL—VOYAGE HOME—CONCLUSION.
The colonel's bungalow, though rudely constructed, had been made as comfortable as circumstances would allow. Reginald, as may be supposed, proceeded to it at an early hour, and was welcomed by Violet in the breakfast-room. Her father had not told her of what had occurred, and Reginald was thus the first to give her the satisfactory intelligence.
"I am indeed thankful, for your sake," she answered, as she took his hand; "and the recovery of the casket will encourage us to trust that we may yet be carried through all the dangers and difficulties which surround us. I have never despaired, and have placed full confidence in the love and mercy of God. Whatever he orders is for the best, I know, though I cannot tell why he has allowed so many of our unfortunate countrymen and countrywomen to perish miserably. It may be that he intends to give an important lesson to the survivors, and to remind us that our Government has not ruled this country as a Christian people ought to have done, or taken effectual means to spread his Word among the benighted inhabitants."
"That idea has occurred to me more than once," said Reginald. "I have been ready enough to support and trust to the Christians, but I have done nothing to spread the gospel among them; but if I ever again have the power, I will try to do so."
"We may have the power some day," exclaimed Violet. "If we cannot do so in person, we may afford support to the missionaries who are ready to venture their lives among the heathen for the sake of carrying to them the blessed gospel. I am sure that we shall be bound to do our utmost with the means which may be placed at our disposal."
Neither Reginald nor Violet forgot this conversation.
Day after day went by without any news of the approach of the rebels. At length many in the fort began to hope that the enemy would not appear. Some even proposed that they should abandon the fort, and, making their way to the Ganges, descend the river to the nearest post occupied by the British. To this, however, Colonel Ross was strongly opposed. From the information he received, he knew that the whole country swarmed with rebels; and these would certainly attack them in the open country, even if they were not followed by the insurgents in boats from the city. The idea, therefore, was abandoned, and every effort was made to strengthen the fortifications.
Captain Hawkesford still exhibited his ill-feeling towards Reginald. Whether or not he knew anything of the recovery of the casket, it was impossible to say; but, unabashed by Violet's indifference, if not disgust, he continued to pay her attention whenever he got an opportunity, as if he still entertained some hope of displacing Reginald in her affections. She could not feel otherwise than offended; but she knew it was important, at that time, not to create any ill-feeling among the few officers who surrounded her father, and she therefore did not complain to him, as she might otherwise have done.
At length, one day one of the scouts, who had gone out in disguise in the direction of the city, came hurrying in with the intelligence that a large force was marching northward, probably with the intention of attacking the fort. They might be expected to appear before noon on the following day. The loyal natives, who had by this time been organised and well drilled, were therefore summoned in, with their wives and children, as were also all the people whose dwellings were situated in exposed situations, and were likely to be destroyed by the enemy. An ample supply of provisions had been stored for such an emergency, so that there was no fear of starvation. The scarcity of ammunition was their chief cause of anxiety, and orders were issued not to throw a shot away.
The day passed away without the appearance of the enemy. At night, however, every one was on the alert, as it was thought probable that the rebels, unaware that their approach was known, might attempt to surprise them.
Dawn broke, and still all was quiet; but as the sun rose, an officer, who had climbed to a lookout station on a neighbouring height, with his field-glass observed the glittering weapons of a large body in the far distance. He hurried down with the intelligence; and in a short time the advancing host, composed of a body of cavalry, several pieces of artillery, and a large number of foot, could be seen from the fort itself. It was evident that the enemy were aware of the strength of the place, but expected quickly to capture it with this overwhelming force. The garrison, however, undaunted, prepared for its defence. The ladies were placed in the rear of the fort, situated behind some rocks, where they would be protected from the shot. The horses were also picketed in a situation as much as possible out of harm's way.
The enemy, trusting to their numbers, came on boldly, halting at a little distance to reform their ranks, and immediately opened a hot fire on the fort. The garrison replied to it with spirit, the two guns being worked by the artillerymen with great rapidity. It appeared as if the enemy were about to take the place by storm, when the hot reception they met with induced them to abandon their design; and so great was the execution made by the two guns of the fort, that they at length retreated beyond their range, and firing on both sides ceased.
Gladly would Colonel Ross have husbanded his ammunition, but had a feeble fire been kept up at first, it would have encouraged the enemy to come on with greater determination. Several of the garrison had been killed or wounded, but none of the officers had fallen. As soon as possible, therefore, Reginald hastened to assure Violet of his own and her father's safety. On hearing that several men had been wounded, however, she and two or three other ladies entreated to be allowed to assist Dr Graham in attending to them; but he replied that as yet he could do without their assistance. He was glad, however, ere long to accept their offer, when he and his assistant-surgeon found their strength almost exhausted by the number of wounded brought to them.
The following day the enemy recommenced firing as before, and again retreated towards evening. This sort of work continued for many days in succession, every day unhappily increasing the number of the killed and wounded in the garrison. Colonel Ross and Reginald happily remained unhurt, as did Major Molony and Captain Hawkesford. Several officers, however, had been more or less hurt; and two had been shot dead, as had been three European soldiers, while working the guns. The natives behaved with courage and fidelity, notwithstanding the many among them who fell. Still every day was reducing their store of ammunition; and the colonel knew that ere long, if the same fire as heretofore was kept up, it must altogether fail. The Allahapoor gunners could be seen working their guns,—tall fellows with bare shoulders and arms, and richly-ornamented turbans on their heads; wearing loose trousers, and with long tulwars hanging at their sides. Their shot, however, made but little impression on the well-constructed earthworks. Their fire was returned by the guns from the fort; while the Enfield rifles, never silent, seldom failed to bring down a foe. Several gallant sorties were made; one of the enemy's guns was spiked, and another nearly brought in, when it stuck fast in the rough ground, and had to be abandoned. Their own two guns, however, from being so constantly fired, had become almost worn out, and would no longer carry shot or ordinary canister. The contents of the canisters were therefore emptied into stockings, which were rammed home with greater ease, and fired with much effect.
The enemy had come on one day even more determined than before, it seemed, to succeed, when a report louder than usual was heard. One of the two guns in the fort had burst, killing three artillerymen and wounding others.
"We must get possession of their guns and ammunition instead," exclaimed Colonel Ross, on hearing of it.
"I will attempt to do so," said Reginald. "Are any ready to follow me?"
There was no lack of volunteers.
"Stay," said the colonel; "we must consider the plan of operation most likely to succeed."
Notwithstanding the presence of the enemy before the fort, the scouts were still able to make, during the dark hours of night, and sometimes even in the day, their way in with intelligence. During the discussion a faithful sowar approached, holding a small strip of paper in his hand, which he had brought carefully concealed about his person. It contained but a few words:—
"I am at hand, and know how you are situated. I purpose making a dash at the foe at sunrise on the 5th of July. Do you be prepared to cooperate; and if you have a sufficient force, make a bold sortie, and the day will be ours. Delhi is invested. Lucknow still holds out— Burnett."
The news thus unexpectedly received inspired fresh courage into the hearts of all those to whom it was thought wise to communicate it. Of course Burnett's projected attack and the sortie were kept profoundly secret. The news that his friend was alive and well, and still at the head of a faithful band, afforded unmitigated joy and satisfaction to Reginald, giving him fresh hope. He longed to communicate the welcome information to Nuna and Violet; but no time could be spared, and he could only send a line on a slip of paper to bid them be of good cheer, and to tell them that Burnett was safe.
A brief time only was required to settle what was best to be done. Reginald undertook to lead the whole force of cavalry, which was to make a circuit from the rear of the fort, so that they might be concealed till they were ready to dash at the guns. A party of infantry were at the same time to be prepared to rush forward to spike some of the guns, and to drag the others within the lines. A dozen Europeans, with two of their officers, were to lead the party of infantry, composed of the most determined and best disciplined natives. These were to follow when the cavalry, having accomplished their first task,—united, as they hoped would be the case, with Burnett's force,—were to cover the foot as they returned to the fort with the captured guns, or pursue the enemy should they be put to flight. The undertaking was a hazardous one, considering the large force to be attacked; but all knew that daring deeds generally succeed when timid proceedings fail.
Reginald hurried off with his gallant companions, to prepare their horses for the meditated sortie. On passing the women's quarters on his way to the rear of the fort, as it wanted but a short time to sunrise, he saw Violet, with Nuna and Mrs Molony, who had already risen and were on their way to the hospital huts, and he could not resist stopping for one moment to bid her and his young sister farewell,—it might be for ever. Should he and his brave followers perish, what a terrible fate might be theirs! He instantly, however, banished the thought.
"Heaven will preserve us, dear ones," he said, as he embraced his sister and Violet. "I have good news for all of us. He on whose account your heart has long been cast down has escaped all dangers, and is near at hand, and I hope ere long to see him and to return with him in triumph to the fort. The cowardly rebels will not dare to face us. When we attack them in the open ground, they will fly like chaff before the wind. Though Burnett does not tell us the amount of the force with him, I trust that it will be sufficient to enable us to follow up our victory and prevent the enemy from rallying."
A few more words only were spoken, and Reginald hurried on to the spot where the horses were picketed. The men were busily engaged in saddling their steeds; which done, every one carefully examined his arms, and felt that his sabre was loose in its scabbard.
Among the officers who had volunteered to accompany him, Reginald was surprised to find Captain Hawkesford.
"I was not aware that you were to accompany us," Reginald could not help observing.
"I have the colonel's leave; and I wish to have an opportunity this morning of proving which of us is the best swordsman," answered Captain Hawkesford in a peculiar tone. "We have long been rivals, and I intend to settle the matter one way or another before the close of day," he muttered.
"I have confidence in your gallantry, and believe you to be a good swordsman," answered Reginald, not hearing his latter remark.
In a few minutes all were ready; and the order to march being given, each man sprang into his saddle and fixed himself firmly in his seat. In perfect silence the gallant troop of horse rode out of the fort, led by Reginald; while the infantry, who were destined to attack the guns, stood ready for the signal he was to give,—a wave of his sabre,—when they were to jump from the entrenchments and rush onward to attack the foe. The enemy's guns had already been fired, and were replied to as usual by the fort, though many well knew that but a few rounds of ammunition remained.
Many an anxious eye watched the progress of the cavalry. They halted behind the last point by which they were concealed from the enemy. From this Reginald could glance over the plain. He waited till, a ruddy glow appearing in the east, the upper limb of the sun was seen slowly ascending above the horizon. Passing the word to the rear, he struck his spurs into his horse's flanks. Then turning his face to the fort, he waved his bright scimitar in the air and dashed forward, his followers pressing close behind him,—while, at the signal, the infantry marched from the fort in compact order. Dashing rapidly forward for a few seconds, they halted to deliver their fire at the gunners, who were already dispirited by the appearance of Reginald's horsemen close upon them. He did not fail, as he urged forward his steed, to cast a look over the plain—where, to his intense satisfaction, he saw a body of cavalry galloping out from behind a wood, with an officer at their head, whom he at once recognised as Burnett. On they came, fleet as the wind, towards the foe. Shouting to his men that reinforcements were at hand, Reginald dashed forward. Numbers of the native artillerymen were cut down at their guns, others fled towards the infantry, who were hastening to their rescue. So unexpected had been the sortie, that the enemy were completely taken by surprise; the arms of the infantry being piled and the horses of the cavalry picketed, while the men were at some distance from them. The time occupied in the attack on the guns enabled them to mount; by which time Reginald and Burnett's troops having united, they found a strong force drawn up to encounter them.
"We must go at them, notwithstanding their numbers," cried Burnett; and he and Reginald leading, and leaving the guns to be carried into the fort by the infantry, they and their horsemen galloped forward to encounter the rebel cavalry, who, having made a circuit, were endeavouring to recapture the guns. The party who had been first in the saddle succeeded in cutting down some brave fellows who were spiking the guns, when they were met by Reginald and Burnett's horse. Fierce was the conflict; sabres were clashing, the men on both sides shrieking like demons. It seemed as if neither party would give way. Still by slow degrees the rebel horsemen were driven back. Reginald had seen Captain Hawkesford fiercely engaged with a native officer, as he himself dashed on to attack another whom he had just cut down, when he heard a loud cry behind him: turning his head, he caught sight of his rival with his sword uplifted, to all appearance about to cut him down. To defend himself was impossible, as another foe was advancing towards him. The next moment he saw Faithful—who, unknown to him, had been following at his heels—spring at Captain Hawkesford's throat. It was but a glance, for the next minute he was compelled to engage in mortal combat with a powerful chief whom he well knew, and who was noted as being one of the best swordsmen in the country. In the heat of the fight he had got somewhat separated from his men, and he had to depend on his own skill and courage. Neither failed him; and for several seconds he kept his enemy at bay. Still, an imperfect guard would prove fatal; when again Faithful came to his assistance, and springing on the chief dragged him to the ground.
The fall of one of their principal leaders disheartened those who witnessed it; and hard pressed by Burnett's well-disciplined horsemen, the whole of the rebel cavalry at length wheeled round and galloped off, hotly pursued by the former. It would have been prudent had Burnett and Reginald not pursued the flying enemy so far, for in the meantime the infantry, rallying, made a furious attack on the party which had captured their guns; and, although repulsed, they succeeded in carrying off two of them, besides those which had been spiked. Their ammunition and tumbrils were, however, captured by the British.
At length Burnett and Reginald, desisting from the pursuit, turned their horses' heads towards the fort, when, succeeding in getting between it and the foe, they captured another gun. The infantry, though rapidly retreating, presented too formidable a front to allow them the hope of successfully breaking through their ranks and putting them completely to the rout; they therefore contented themselves by hovering round the retreating force, and keeping them in check till the guns and ammunition were secure within the fort.
Some time had been occupied by the events which have been described, and the pursuit had carried Reginald and Burnett to a considerable distance from the fort. Several of their men had fallen, and others had been so badly wounded as to be scarcely able to sit their horses. The leaders were therefore compelled to restrain their eagerness, to assure those who, they knew, were anxiously waiting for them of their safety; and they returned at a slow pace, having to keep watch on the movements of the enemy, in case, regaining their courage, they might again advance to the attack. The beaten foe, however, showed no inclination to do this, and were seen continuing their retreat to Allahapoor. Probably the news of the successes already achieved by the British forces had reached them, and they had by this time abandoned the high hopes they had entertained of driving the Feringhees from the country.
As Reginald and Burnett arrived at the spot where the hardest fighting had taken place, they were grieved to see that so many of their party had fallen. Reginald dismounted from his horse, for the purpose of ascertaining whether any of those who lay scattered about on the field still breathed. At that moment Faithful came trotting up to him, and looked up in his face, as if to receive his approval of her conduct during the day. Not till then did he recollect the momentary glimpse he had obtained of Captain Hawkesford's uplifted sword and the tigress flying at his throat. Could the unhappy man, influenced by disappointment and rage, have really intended to take his life? If so, he had paid dearly. Advancing a few steps, Reginald caught sight of his body. Near it lay his head, severed by a sharp tulwar. Several other bodies lay about treated in the same manner, so that it was impossible to say whether the tigress had killed him. Probably some of the enemy, who had passed backwards and forwards over the spot, had committed the act of barbarity. Of all those who had fallen, none were found alive.
Again mounting, Reginald rejoined Burnett, who had been similarly engaged, and together they rode back to the fort.
It is scarcely necessary to describe the joyful welcome they met with. Poor Nuna quickly recovered her spirits; and their success gave new life to all in the fort. A strong party of natives was sent out to bury the dead, and foes as well as friends were placed in one common grave.
The garrison had still many weeks of anxiety to endure. The only roads by which they could hope to reach either of the English provinces were blocked up by the enemy; who also occupied numerous posts on the Ganges, which would effectually prevent them from descending that river. Sometimes they were without information for many days together. Then news would come of fresh disasters; the truthfulness of which, however, they had reason to doubt. Soon a too authentic account of the frightful massacre at Cawnpore, like all other bad news, which flies apace, reached them. Then came the succour of Lucknow by Sir Henry Havelock and Sir James Outram. Still week after week went by, and they remained shut up in the fort. Some time in November they heard of the storming of Delhi, and the rescue of the women and children from Lucknow. Notwithstanding these successes of the British, the rebels still continued in arms. Again the fort was besieged; the enemy being instigated, it was understood, by one of the chiefs at Allahapoor, whose object was to destroy the young rajah; but the garrison were as ready as before to defend it stoutly, notwithstanding the threats of the enemy to put them all to the sword should they offer any resistance.
With so many mouths to feed, provisions were, however, growing scarce, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that their stores could be replenished. The small quantity of gunpowder captured from the foe would enable them to hold out for some time yet; but should the enemy persevere, they would be reduced to the greatest straits, and be compelled either to cut their way through the enemy or capitulate—which last alternative was not for a moment to be entertained. News of varying import reached them, brought in by the scouts. One thing was certain, that although great success had been achieved by the British, the enemy still held together in large numbers. Consequently, encumbered as they would be with sick and wounded, it would be hazardous in the extreme were they to attempt to make their way through the country towards any of the cities already in the power of the English. Another consideration weighed greatly with Reginald: he would not desert the villagers who had remained so faithful to him,—knowing as he did, that the rebels of Allahapoor would certainly wreak vengeance on their heads.