Calcutta is the largest city in British India, and is situated on the bank of the Hoogley, one of the branches of the river Ganges, held as sacred by the natives. There are quite a number of Europeans and professing Christians, numbering in the aggregate about fourteen thousand, the principal portions of which are half castes, three quarter castes, Euroasians, Portuguese and Hindoo Britons. The half castes are the progeny of the European men and native women. The three-quarter-castes, that of European fathers and half-caste mothers. The Euroasians spring from European and three-quarter-caste parents, while the Hindoo Britons are the children of European parents, born in India. The Portuguese likewise intermarry with these classes. These people make up the principal number of those professing Christianity throughout the Presidency. The churches of England, Rome, and Scotland were well attended by the officers of the civil service, army and navy, with their families, among which there is very little sectarianism. But the Roman Catholic faith is largely diffused among the other classes. The native population of all castes number about six hundred thousand, and although they have no regular Sunday or day of rest, they have quite a number of religious festivals or holidays which they scrupulously observe.
The principal festival, and the one most religiously kept of all the holidays among the true believers—as the followers of Mahomet style themselves—is that of the Moharum, which lasts ten days, commencing from the appearance of the new moon, in the month of November, during which time handsome temples and mosques are constructed of bamboo and paper, and embellished with glass, paint and gilding. On the last day they are carried in grand procession through the public thoroughfares, proceeded by a band of music and accompanied by an immense concourse of spectators. Many of the faithful prostrate themselves before these Taboots, and in many instances rolling over and over in the muddy streets for a considerable distance, being generally well primed with bang or opium. There are occasional disturbances between the fanatics of the different castes, for many of these work themselves up to a pitch of frenzy by the use of narcotics and other stimulants, but the Government always take steps to prevent any serious outbreak, by having the troops posted in different parts of the town, ready to turn out at a moment's notice, and a strong body of police mounted and on foot accompany the procession to enforce order. At sunset they reach the river, and the day's proceedings terminate by the Taboots being thrown into the water, amid the shouts, gesticulation and vociferations of the now thoroughly excited populace.
The Dewally Festival is equally recognized by natives of all castes and denominations as a sort of New Year's Day. Accounts for the past year are closed, and new books are opened. The dirt and rubbish of the past twelvemonth is removed, the houses thoroughly cleansed and at night the city or town is illuminated with lamps, Chinese lanterns, and other descriptions of lights, and the houses thrown open for general hospitality.
The Hooley, the most revolting of all Hindoo Festivals, draws together an immense concourse of people. Large fires are made on the sides of the public streets and liquid dye stuffs, with every description of filth is thrown by the Hindoos on each other, and should any unfortunate Hindoo woman show herself in the street on these occasions, she is assaulted with language of the most obscene and disgusting nature. These festivals have of late years been curtailed by the Government, and now seldom last more than two days—that is, in large cities containing European communities—but in native towns it is still of many days duration.
Accounts of these and other native ceremonies, together with the horrors of the black hole, experienced by Europeans, nearly one hundred years since at the suggestion of the native princes, had been related to Edith by her Moonshee Ayah, but their dominion, or power for good or evil, has now passed away, and Calcutta of the present day is one of the pleasantest and finest cities to the European to be found throughout our Indian possessions.
And were it not for the great change in her position, from absolute affluence to becoming the recipient of another's bounty, Edith would have been, if not quite happy, at least contented. Yet it must not be imagined that she was ungrateful or the less thankful to her kind protectors, the Bartons, for she could now well realize what might have been her situation had she been compelled to act upon the plan that had first suggested itself to her on leaving Vellenaux—that of becoming a governess or companion to some antiquated Dowager in Europe.
The repeated assurances from Mrs. Barton that she would, at no distant period, secure a brilliant alliance, fell coldly on her ear, but she made no ostentative demonstration of her own ideas on the subject, but with a gentle and quiet dignity, repelled the advances of certain aspirants for her hand, who were continually to be found in her train whenever she appeared abroad. She had a smile for all and a fascinating and bewitching manner which was equally bestowed among her would-be admirers. But beyond this all was calm and cold. Her heart had imperceptibly slipped from her, and was now in the care of another, nor would she wish it were otherwise. The future was before her and she was willing to wait.
Let it not be imagined that Arthur Carlton was a lukewarm lover, coldly prudential, or thinking it would be time enough to marry when he should have obtained his Captaincy, and careless as to what trying position Edith might be placed in, surrounded, as he knew her to be, by those who would willingly wed her at any moment. Far from it. He loved her too well to ask her to share at present the inconveniences incident to a camp life, as experienced by the wives of subalterns, not that he doubted she would yield up without a single regret the gay society and splendid establishment of Mrs. Barton, and contentedly share with him his home, be it ever so humble. But the thought of her having to make any such sacrifice was to him one that could not be entertained for a moment. He believed he knew her sufficiently well to trust implicitly in her constancy, and await the happy time when he could in all honour formally propose for her hand.
About a twelvemonth prior to the outbreak of the great Sepoy mutiny, it pleased the authorities to change the scene of Mr. Barton's labors from Chowringee, that Belgravia of Calcutta, to Goolampore, a military station of some importance in the northwest provinces, or more properly speaking in the Goozeratte country. This act of the Government, although particularly objectionable to Mrs. Barton, was exactly what her lord and master desired. His term of service would shortly come to a close, and therefore, in his opinion, it became expedient, not only to retrench his expenses, which he could not do at the gay Capitol, but likewise gather in a few more of the loaves and fishes of office, which were said to be found in greater abundance at a distance from the seat of Government, besides Mr. Barton was in the decline of life, and felt that the harness of office life did not fit so easily upon him while under the immediate supervision of the Suddur Aydowlett, as it would do when removed from its immediate influence. However, be this as it may, he was quite content with the change, nor was he the only one to whom this change was a sort of relief. The City of Palaces and its surroundings had become distasteful to Edith; not that she disliked the Capitol or the pleasures to be found there; but she felt wearied and annoyed by the attentions that were showered upon her by the numerous suitors who thronged around her, using all the powers of persuasion they had at command, to induce her to listen to their respective suits. The parchment visaged Nabob, with his sacks of rupees, the wealthy planter, whose fortune had been wrung from either opium or indigo, perhaps both, the rich civil servant and field officer, with numerous others, all jostling and hedging each other in the race for the hand of the beautiful Miss Effingham; but the prize was not for them. She cared not a jot for either their persons or their purses and would not consent to be caught, and like a bird in a golden cage, flutter without the means of escape.
But there was one for whom she did care, one whose image was indelibly stamped on her heart, and whom she loved as woman only can love, and this favored one was Arthur Carlton, Lieut. H.M. Light Dragoons—the playmate of her childhood, and companion of her riper years in the golden days at Vellenaux, in dear old England.
"It is absurd in the directors, or whoever has to do with it, to send Horace off to the Northwest, just at the commencement of the season too; besides, we shall scarcely be settled before we shall have to return to England. I declare we are being treated shamefully," said Mrs. Barton, as she stepped from the Chuppaul Ghat to the Budgerow that was to convey them to the steamer, in which a passage had been provided by the Government for them, to the nearest port on the coast of Goozeratte, en route for Goolampore, "and to think," again resumed the little lady to Edith, as they sat together in the handsomely furnished cabin, "that your brilliant prospects will be destroyed; for who is there in the interior that will compensate for the loss of those eligible suitors for your hand?" Edith disclaimed against brilliant alliances or the admirers referred to.
"It is all very fine, my dear, for you to say so; but depend upon it, for a young lady in your position and circumstances, there is nothing equal to a wealthy husband, and an establishment of your own. But what I shall do without you I really do not know; but I expect it must come to that some day or other." Here the good lady sank back among her cushions, and resigned herself to her fate, her Ayah, and her last new novel.
For several months all went pleasantly enough with the Bartons, much more so, indeed than had been anticipated by her little ladyship; for she found that as wife of the judge, the highest civil functionary in the station, she was leader of fashion, and took precedence of all other ladies in Goolampore; and Edith, for a time, found herself relieved from the importunities that beset her at Calcutta. Not that she lacked admirers, but certainly at present their attentions were not sufficiently marked to give her any annoyance.
The worthy judge was retrenching. His expenses were scarcely one fourth of what they had been at the Presidency. He had attained his object, and all things for the time being couleur de rose.
"Come here pretty one," said he as he noticed Edith dismounting, after her usual ride around the race course and band stand, one beautiful evening. "Listen! here is something in the papers that will greatly interest you, or I am much mistaken." Edith was soon at his side, all attention, when the gentleman proceeded to read as follows:—"Extract from general orders. His Excellency the Commander in Chief has been pleased to appoint Lieutenant Arthur Carlton, H.M. Light Dragoons, to act as A.D.C. on the staff of General D——, at Goolampore. That officer will proceed and assume his duties at that station forthwith." Edith could not conceal her joy at this unexpected event, and retired to her chamber in a flutter of agitation, but happier in heart than she had been for many months past.
It was the anniversary of Her Majesty's birthday, and, as was customary at all military stations, it was celebrated by a military display in the morning, theatricals, and a supper and ball at night. The Assembly rooms, as they were called at Goolampore, were built by Government. It was a building of considerable length, divided into three rooms, eighty feet long, by forty feet wide. The end one was fitted up in very handsome style as a theatre, the other two communicating with it by means of enormous folding doors, and were used on ordinary occasions by the military department for holding courts martial, courts of enquiry, committees, &c. The other was at the disposal of the political agents or chief magistrate to transact such business as they might deem necessary. But on such occasions as the present, or others of a similar character, the whole three were brilliantly illuminated and thrown open for the amusement of the elite of the station.
"I say Hopkins, as you know everything and everybody, tell me, who is that young fellow in staff uniform, dancing with Miss Effingham?" enquired a Colonel of the N.I.
"That is young Carlton of the Dragoons, the new A.D.C. He only arrived this morning. Capital fellow I am told; a tip top sportsman; goes in strong for tiger shooting and all that kind of game," was the reply.
"He appears to go in—as you call it—pretty strong for another description of game. Why, this is the third time he has danced with that young lady. Rather strong, that, I should say for a first introduction," responded the Colonel, about to move off, when his friend continued:
"Oh, they are old acquaintances. I met him at the Bartons this afternoon, where he appeared quite at home, turning over the music and accompanying la belle, Edith, in one of her favourite songs, apparently very much to each others satisfaction. But the next waltz is about to commence," said Captain Hopkins, "and I must claim my partner," and the man who knew everything and everybody was soon waltzing with great assiduity.
"You will allow me the pleasure of attending you in your morning and evening rides, whenever my duties will admit of it, dear Edith," whispered Arthur as he handed her to the carriage at the close of the festivities. With a sweet smile the promise was given, and the carriage whirled off.
The new A.D.C. soon became a general favourite. Courteous and gentlemanly in the drawing room, and ever ready to attend the ladies en cavalier, he could not fail to win the esteem of the fair sex. He was a first-class swordsman, a bold rider, and a keen sportsman; therefore held in great repute by his companions in arms. He had scoured the jungles for thirty miles around Goolampore, and knew the haunts of the tiger and cheetah better than any man in the station. This was proved by the numerous trophies in the shape of skins and heads that he brought in. So our young friend, basking in the smiles of beauty, and especially of hers whom he loved so well, was consequently envied by others less fortunate in this respect than himself; and in this delightful manner weeks passed away. But dark clouds were rising in the distance which were gradually closing around them to destroy the tranquility of the station.
Reports began to arise of the disloyalty and insubordination of some of the native regiments; but at first little notice was taken of the circumstance, it being believed that the rumours were greatly exaggerated, and that, if there was anything really in it, the matter would soon be put to rights by the Government, either by proclamation or by force of arms. But report followed report and the mutiny continued, when the massacre at Cawnpore took place, and the affair at Lucknow, and the horrors enacted at the Star Fort of Jansee, where the officer commanding, after doing everything that could be done to protect the unfortunate inmates, just as the mutineers were in the act of bursting open the gates, well knowing what would be the result should they fall into the hands of the remorseless natives, with his own hand shot his wife and child, and then deliberately blew out his own brains. Those who were captured met a death so horrible and revolting at the hands of and under the immediate supervision of that incarnate fiend and she devil, the Rannee of Jansee, the details of which are totally unfit for publication. Then, and not till then, the magnitude of the danger was realized.
Mr. Barton, whose health had been on the decline some weeks past, and whose term of service in India nearly expired, declared that he would no longer remain in the country, and obtained leave of absence to proceed to Bombay, in anticipation of finally leaving for Europe. Mrs. Barton, always nervous, became alarmed for her personal safety, and urged their immediate departure with much vehemence, and it was arranged that they should start at once for Rutlaum en route for the sea coast, and that Miss Effingham should remain and see everything packed up and the servants sent on, then follow herself and overtake them at Rutlaum, where they were to make a halt for a few days. Several other families also left about the same time, for the tide of mutiny and rebellion was now sweeping like the red pestilence through the whole of the North West provinces. Mohow, Indore, Meidpoore, Mundasore, Neemuch and other places of greater or lesser note, had already become the scene of many a bloody drama and fiendish outrage. In fact, whenever native troops had been located, ruin and desolation reigned triumphant. Public edifices were thrown down, Bungalows burned and the Bazaars plundered, while helpless and unprotected Europeans, irrespective of sex or age, were seized, and after suffering the most brutal indignities, ruthlessly slaughtered by the fanatical and blood-thirsty native soldiery.
Goolampore and its immediate vicinity, up to the present period, had remained in perfect tranquility. The native mind was apparently undisturbed by the great convulsions that were now shaking, to its very centre, the supremacy of British power in India; but it was only the lull before the storm, which was so soon to burst and fall like a thunderbolt on the hitherto peaceful station.
The Brigade here consisted of the following troops: One troop of European horse artillery, one regiment of native cavalry, and two battalions of Sepoys. This force was commanded by a Brigadier of the Bengal army; but, having been on the staff for many years, was unequal to an emergency like the present, and such was his belief in the loyalty of the men under his command, that he refused to listen to the reports made to him from time to time by his staff, and others well qualified to give an opinion on the matter, until it was too late and many valuable lives had been sacrificed.
The evening was clear and calm, countless stars studded the dark purple vault of heaven. The young moon shed her silvery light o'er lake and mountain, the atmosphere was no longer influenced by the stifling heat of the scorching sun; a deliciously cool breeze wafted from the ocean that rolled into the Gulf of Cambay, and washed the shores of the Goozeratte, played and rustled among the leaves of the trees and flowers, imparting to the senses a delicious feeling of relief and delight.
In a broad and spacious verandah of the cavalry mess house were assembled a group of officers of different corps. Some stretched at full length on ottomans, enjoying the music of an excellent band; others smoking, laughing or chatting on the various events that were passing around them.
"Listen to me, gentlemen," said a tall, handsome man, about thirty, and the very beau ideal of a cavalry officer, who had for some time been leaning over the balustrade of the verandah, quietly puffing circles of white smoke from his cheroot, and gazing thoughtfully on the moonlit scene before him, and who had hitherto taken no part in the conversation that was going on. "This deceitful calm," said he, drawing himself up to his full height, and advancing to the centre of the group, "will not, cannot last much longer, and it is high time that something should be done for the protection of the families of the European Warrant Officers and staff, Non-Commissioned Officers and others who are residing at different parts of the station, and who would be the first to fall victims to the licentious passion and murderous designs of the troops, should an outbreak ensue before we are re-enforced by more Europeans."
"Right! Major Collingwood is right," exclaimed a Colonel of one of the Sepoy battalions; "too much valuable time has already been lost. What the deuce has come to the Brigadier? Huntingdon, of the Artillery, proposed to him to give an order for the families of the Europeans of his troop to move at once into the Fort, but he would not listen to him, stating that there was no necessity for such a course, and that he would answer for the loyalty and good behavior of the troops under his command."
"This comes of trusting the lives and property of Europeans in the care of General D—— and others of his stamp, who from a long association in a civil capacity with the natives, have become so wrapped up in them, and so hoodwinked, that they will see nothing, only through the spectacles provided for them by the native functionaries, who always toady and flatter their European masters," was the contemptuous remark of one of the party. The last speaker was here interrupted by the Brigade Major, who came bounding up the steps of the verandah, three at a time. "What is the matter, Grey?" enquired several voices at one time. "Oh! there has been the devil to pay at Headquarters, and no pitch hot," was the hasty reply of the staff officer. "Explain yourself, if you please," said Major Collingwood. "What has taken place?"
"Why Huntingdon, in spite of the Brigadier's refusal to grant permission, has sent the married people of his troop within the Fort, and detailed several troopers to man the guns, and put the place in a state of defence, in case of any sudden rising among the natives. General D—— became furious when Huntingdon told him what he had done, and threatened to arrest him. On young Carlton, the new A.D.C., taking sides with the commander of the artillery, and applauding the act, old D—— turned upon him like a lion. A violent squabble ensued, which resulted in Arthur Carlton resigning his appointment on the Staff, and expressed his determination to rejoin his regiment without delay."
"Well done, Huntingdon. That is a step in the right direction. It is a pity that the non-commissioned staff of the station could not have been included," responded several voices; and all praised the plucky way in which young Carlton had acted, though sorry to lose the services of so valuable a sabre as Arthur was known to be, especially at a time when stout hearts and bold riders were necessary to the salvation of the station.
"Pinkerton, Jones, and others acted wisely in sending their families away last week; but I do not think it was quite the thing for the Bartons to leave the pretty Miss Effingham behind to arrange their household affairs, and then make her way to Rutlaum as she best could. Who will see her there in safety?" exclaimed the staff Surgeon.
"Oh, as far as that matters, that young lady would, doubtless, have a score of volunteers to act as her escort, should she require one," said the first speaker; "but I do not think she would accept such an offer, nor do I imagine Arthur Carlton would feel obliged to any one in Goolampore for acting as her guide and protector, while he was at hand to perform so delightful a service," responded Captain Hopkins, with a light laugh, "for you must know that he has been a constant visitor at the Bartons since his arrival, and are they not always to be seen riding together at the race course and band stand? Why, he is her very shadow."
"Miss Effingham is too fine a girl, and has too much good sense to throw herself away on a penniless Lieutenant of Dragoons, when she knows that there are others of high standing in the service who are both able and willing to offer her an establishment and position in society that he will be unable to do for years to come," said a grey haired Colonel of Infantry.
"Phew!" ejaculated a young Cornet. "Sets the wind in that quarter? I wonder if the pretty Edith will be proof against three lacs of rupees? I am afraid the A.D.C.'s chances for the lady will soon sink below par; but there is no accounting for the doings of pretty women, for 'Love levels rank—lords down to cellar-bears, etc.'"
The parties now began to disperse to their various quarters. No doubt many were ruminating as to what might be the result of the fracas at the Brigadiers quarters, just related to them by the Major of Brigade.
The following morning as the Brigadier was preparing to mount his horse and take his usual ride through the cantonments, the Adjutant of one of the Sepoy battalions came up at full gallop to where he was standing, with the, (to him) astounding intelligence that, during the night, a large body of irregular horse had entered the limits of the station, visiting the cavalry and Sepoy lines, and had arranged with them to unite in plundering the Bazaar, seize the guns of the artillery, put to death all the Europeans that might oppose them, and that the men of his own corps and those of the other battalion were then in the act of breaking open the bells-of-arms and taking therefrom the muskets and ammunition.
"Phew! There must be some mistake, your fears must have misled you. The men may be somewhat excited. I will go down and reason with them—they will listen to me, for they know I am their friend"—and the General turned his horse's head in the direction of the Sepoy lines, requesting him to follow. The Adjutant replied:
"My instructions from the Colonel were to report the circumstance to you, then ride to the horse artillery and acquaint Major Huntingdon and others with it," then, saluting his superior officer, he galloped off. Bursting with indignation at the conduct of those around him, who, until the last few hours, were ready to obey without scruple any order, he might give, the General called his Brigade Major, and ordered him to ride with him. That officer shrugged his shoulders, but obeyed the command, and they rode off together. They were soon recognized by the mutineers. A hurried consultation among the native commissioned and non-commissioned officers took place. Some Were for arresting the Brigadier and his Major of Brigade, and holding them prisoners until the guns and Fort were surrendered to them; others were of a different opinion, and insisted that the two officers should be put to death. They argued that delay was dangerous; reinforcements of Europeans might arrive at any hour, and that nothing would be left for them but to make a rapid retrograde movement, and advised the immediate looting of the town. This party, being the strongest and most clamorous, carried their point; and three Sepoys thereupon leveled their muskets and fired, but without having any effect, as the bullets flew wide of their mark. But this was the signal that the irregular cavalry were so anxiously watching for, and immediately encircled the two unfortunate gentlemen who, drawing their weapons, prepared to defend their lives to the last. But what could two men do against a score of fanatical ruffians, thirsting for the blood of Christians. Some of the troopers fell from the effect of the bullets from the Brigadier's revolver, and some were severely wounded by the sabre of poor Captain Grey, but all to no purpose; they were soon overpowered and literally hewn to pieces by the sowars of the cavalry who, by this time, had been joined by the regulars. The party then started off at a canter to the artillery lines, to secure the guns and open the magazine, if they could but obtain the key from the ordinance warrant officer, while the infantry made an attempt to carry the Fort by storm; but having neither guns nor scaling ladders, they signally failed in their attempt, and suffered considerable loss from the spherical case and round shot that was hurled at them from the guns of the fort. The party, to whom fell the work of plundering the Bazaar, were, for a time, very successful, and numerous large Bungalows were soon in a blaze.
The party of cavalry, regular and irregular, who were to attempt to carry off from the magazine such ammunition as they might find, went in the direction of the place, and on their way intercepted the European ordnance conductor, who had charge of the keys, which they at once demanded, but were promptly refused by that officer, who declared he had them not, and immediately stood on the defensive; but a shot from the carbine of one of the troopers, brought him bleeding to the earth. A couple of them dismounted, and with oaths and imprecations, both loud and bitter, stripped off his uniform in search of the magazine keys, but they were not to be found. Drawing his creese, one of the villains cut the throat of the wounded man, nearly severing the head from the body. The others satisfied themselves by merely spitting upon the naked body.
"It is useless to go on without the keys," said a Havildar of the regulars. "Let us move off at once to his Bungalow, they must be there. I know the road, follow me!" and the whole party galloped off and soon reached the murdered man's quarters, where they halted and dismounted.
The terrified woman, wife of the poor fellow who had just been so savagely slaughtered, saw them approaching, and judging their intentions, bolted and barred all the doors and windows, and with her two young children, mere babes, the eldest being scarcely four years of age, retreated to a small closet in an inner room, and locked the door. For some time the troopers, who had now worked themselves up to a pitch of frenzy, could not effect an entrance: but at length, tearing down one of the wooden uprights of the verandah, used it as a sort of ram, and soon battered down the door. Then, with a yell of triumph, rushed into the house, searched every nook and corner far what they so much wished to find, smashing and destroying everything that came in their way, but they were doomed to disappointment. A bullet from one of their holster pistols blew the lock from the door of the closet, and the poor mother and her helpless babes were seized and dragged forth by these monsters in human form. The mother was brutally outraged, and her clothing torn and stripped from her person. A large empty chest, which usually contained clothing, caught the attention of one of the number, and a fiendish thought flashed through his mind, which he communicated to some of the others, and they proceeded to carry it out. Collecting the broken furniture, bed linen, etc., they made a large fire and placed the box in question thereon; then tossed the helpless children into it and literally roasted them alive in the presence of the agonized mother, who made frantic attempts to break from her captors, and rescue her offspring, but it was in vain; they held her firmly until the chest and its contents were reduced to embers; then two of them plunged their creeses into her naked bosom, and flung her bleeding body into the fire to be consumed like those of her children. Other enormities were being enacted in various parts of Goolampore during the short time the mutineers remained there. But an act of unparalleled atrocity was perpetuated on the Postmaster and his wife, who, it appears, had, on the morning in question, gone to look at their new Bungalow which was in course of erection in the suburbs, when they were pounced upon by a body of Sepoys, who were making good their exodus from the station, having no desire to come in contact with the horse artillery, the booming of whose guns sounded not at all pleasantly in their ears. These inhuman wretches dashed at their victims and, after tormenting them almost to madness by their devilish cruelties, dragged them to a sawpit, where pieces of square timber, which had been partially cut into planks for building purposes, lay. The unhappy pair were then bound on two separate planks, then another plank was placed on the top of each, and tightly bound together with strips of fine bamboo; the monsters laughing and gesticulating at what they termed the living sandwiches, dainty morsels to be offered up as a sacrifice to their Deities. The crowning act of this fearful drama was at last enacted by the remorseless villains: With two large cross-cut saws, sawing into two feet lengths the planks which encased their victims, commencing at the feet of each, and then throwing the pieces into the unfinished Bungalow, set fire to it, and made off at the top of their speed along the high road towards Islempoora, a small village at no great distance, which had been appointed as a rendezvous for the whole to assemble at, when their bloody work at Goolampore had terminated.
Major Huntingdon had, early that morning, received private information of the intended outbreak, and the general plan of the mutineers. He was therefore prepared for the emergency, and acted accordingly; so that when the party of horse, accompanied by the Goolandowz (native artillery) arrived at the artillery lines, they found that the birds had flown; the gun sheds were empty, and those whom they thought to have found quietly taking their breakfasts, were, doubtless, then hovering around, ready to fire upon them at the first convenient opportunity; nor was there any one on whom they could wreak their vengeance, for the whole of the families of the Europeans had, by the prudence and determined conduct of their commanding officer, been removed to a place of safety within the walls of the Fort, where, but for the obstinacy and infatuation of General D——, the whole of the Europeans, unable to bear arms, might have found a refuge ere it was too late. Foiled in their attempt to capture the guns, without which they knew they could not hold possession of the town, they turned in the direction of the Bazaar, which they determined to plunder, then make their way to Islempoora. They shortly fell in with the Sepoy battalions, which had made the ineffectual attempt to carry the Fort by assault. Chafing with rage at their disappointment, they accompanied the cavalry, vowing vengeance on all the whites or other Christians that should fall into their hands. But their villainous designs were frustrated, for on the head of the column of cavalry, wheeling into the narrow road leading to the principal Bazaar, they beheld, much to their consternation, four of the guns of the horse artillery, which immediately opened upon them with grape and canister, which told fearfully among them, as the number of riderless and wounded horses plainly showed, and the irregular horse, not being trained to act in concert with the regular troops, the whole were thrown into confusion, and were unable to reform or advance upon the guns. By a rapid movement, Major Huntingdon had brought his two twelve pound Howitzers to play on the Sepoy battalion, with shrapnel, shell and spherical case, with considerable effect. The native officer who commanded them deployed his right wing into line, and sent the left to endeavour to take the artillery in flank or rear. But in order to accomplish this they had to make a detour to the right, and in so doing came to grief. The road they had taken led them across the open plain and in front of the station gun, a long thirty-two pounder. This movement had been anticipated by the artillery officer, consequently it was loaded with as much canister as was considered safe, and a Sergeant, who volunteered, was appointed to take charge, and act as circumstances might require. A small pit had been dug, in which the Sergeant was snugly ensconced, and there was nothing to indicate to those passing within a short distance, that there was anything to be feared from that quarter; but in this they were terribly mistaken, for at the right moment the gun belched forth its storm of bullets into the very centre of the little column of infantry with fearful effect. So unexpected was the charge that the utmost confusion prevailed, which was considerably increased by the sudden appearance of about one hundred well mounted horsemen, acting as cavalry, sweeping down upon them, sabreing right and left. This party of horsemen consisted of officers of all corps in garrison, and every other available European that could sit on a horse or handle a sabre, and had been quietly organized, in expectation of an event like the present, by Major Collingwood.
Repulsed at all points, the mutineers retreated as fast as possible. Their infantry, in many cases, mounting in rear of the cavalry. The artillery limbered up and followed them to the outskirts of the town, where, as they crossed the deep Nulla leading to the Islempoora road, the gallant Huntingdon again blazed away at them, reducing their numbers to a considerable extent; but it was not considered advisable to follow them any farther. The troop was then divided and the guns sent in different directions through the station, while the lately improvised cavalry scoured the Bazaars and other parts, in order to capture any small parties who might be engaged in the work of plunder or other destruction.
The hour of eleven was ringing from the gurries or gongs at the different guard rooms, as Arthur Carlton left the quarters of the Brigadier commanding the station, for unlike most A.D.C.'s he did not reside with his chief, but occupied snug little quarters in the staff lines near the Suddur Bazaar. He was both annoyed and excited as he mounted his horse to return home; but he soon became calm and thoughtful, and his noble charger, as if knowing the mood of his master, slackened its speed to a walk. "General D—— is an obstinate and self-willed man, and his policy anything but what it should be at so critical a time," muttered Arthur half aloud; "but was I wise to cross him, and in the heat of the moment to throw up my appointment on his staff; I who have nothing but my pay to depend on and no interest at the Horse Guards to push me on in the service?" and his thoughts flew back to Vellenaux, Sir Jasper Coleman and Edith Effingham. As her image crossed his mind his countenance brightened, and his spirits rose. "Yes, I will rejoin my regiment. She must return to Rutlaum in a day or two. I will see her to-morrow and beg her to allow me to be her escort, that I think she will not refuse; and when I get my troop I will seek her hand, for her heart I know is mine already." He was aroused from his reverie by the sudden stopping of his horse, and on looking up found that he had arrived at the gate of the Compound which surrounded his dwelling. Immediately on entering he summoned his butler, and gave him instructions to pack up everything without delay, and to start with his baggage and the other servants at an early hour on the following morning, en route for Rutlaum; to halt at the first Dawk Bungalow he came to, and that he would follow on horseback in the evening. Then calling Pedro, a Portuguese, who had entered his service on his first arrival in India as a Kitmagar or Valet, he dispatched him to the Bazaar to procure from the Kotwell the necessary hackarries, or baggage carts and cattle; then, after enjoying several puffs from his hookah, he flung himself on a lounge to snatch what sleep he could before the grey dawn of day appeared. He was aroused at an early hour by the hurried entrance of his Portuguese servant who, after carefully closing the door, communicated the following startling intelligence: It appears that Pedro, after executing the commission entrusted to him, called on a friend in the Bazaar, who, like himself, was a Christian, to bid him farewell, and remained for two or three hours; that on his way home he heard voices in the angle of a small compound, which excited his curiosity. Approaching the spot noiselessly, through a hole in the prickly pear hedge he, by the light of the moon, saw four persons conversing together, two of whom he recognized; one was a Jemidar of Cavalry, the other, Soobadah, Major of one of the native regiments, the remaining two were strangers, evidently belonging to some irregular corps. The substance of their conversation was to the effect that, about six hundred irregular horse, and a company of Goolandowz, (but without guns or ammunition) were halted a short distance beyond the limits of the cantonments ready to enter at a given signal; that all the native corps in garrison were to rise, simultaneously, about eight a.m.; an attempt was to be made to carry off the artillery guns while the European gunners were at their breakfasts; the Fort was to be carried by a sudden rush, and the town plundered; they were then to make off to the next smallest station, where they were unlikely to meet with any European force.
For some moments Arthur was undecided as to what course he ought to pursue. "If," thought he, "I carry this information to the Brigadier, he will pooh, pooh it as mere moonshine, besides I no longer belong to his staff, and he would not listen to anything I might suggest; it would only be time thrown away; but Huntingdon must be warned. Forewarned is forearmed, and he is not the man to disregard a circumstance of this kind." He at once wrote a note relating what had been told him, and sent it by the Portuguese.
"You will deliver this into the hand of Major Huntingdon, and likewise give him a full account of all you saw and heard, and return as quickly as possible." The servant was soon on his way to the artillery lines. The next thing was to start his servants' baggage and personal effects by a road, directly opposite the one where the irregulars were said to be halted. While dressing and arming, he resolved as to what step he should now take. He would ride over to Edith, and, after placing her in safety within the walls of the Fort, join the other officers of the garrison under the direction of Major Collingwood and act as he deemed best in the coming struggle. He was well mounted and thoroughly armed, and likewise carried a double-barreled tiger-rifle, slung carbine-fashion to his saddle, and was as formidable a cavalier as one could meet with in the country. Giving his last instructions to Pedro, who, by this time, had returned, he rode out of the compound and took his way to the Bungalow, where all that he held most dear in life was, perhaps, sleeping, all unconscious of the impending danger. When he was near the house, a few shots were fired, and a hubbub was heard within the Sepoy lines.
"I am almost too late," thought Arthur, as he dashed up to the door. Edith, who had seen his approach met him in the verandah. A few words sufficed to explain how matters stood, and she hurried away to put on her riding habit, and gather together what valuables belonged to her. Arthur lost no time in causing to be saddled one of the best horses in the stable, and had it led round to the front of the Bungalow, where, in a very short time, he was joined by Edith, fully equipped for any emergency.
Placing her quickly and firmly on her saddle, and carefully examining every strap and buckle, and finding everything secure, he sprang lightly on his own steed. One glance at the space in front of the Bungalow, was quite sufficient to realize, to a practical mind like Arthur's, the imminent dangers that would beset them, should they attempt to cross the open plain in the direction of the Fort. The only chance was in a rapid flight. There was no time to arrange any definite plan of action, for a very few minutes would elapse before the mutineers would surround the Bungalow, and cut off all means of escape; so passing directly to the rear of the compound, they sought the cover of the jungle that skirted it. Advancing as rapidly as the narrow path and thickly interwoven underbrush would admit of, they soon left the station far behind them. At the foot of an eminence they emerged from the cover of the woods, and struck into the highroad that wound round the hill in front of them. This they ascended at a gentle canter, for Arthur was too good a rider to push his horses at the commencement of a journey, in which both speed and endurance might be required before its termination. His intention was, if possible, to reach Rutlaum; should he fail in this he must reach some station on the sea coast before night-fall, and place Edith under the protection of the officer commanding such post, until he could arrange for a passage for her to Bombay. On arriving at the crest of the hill, they turned to take a parting look at the pretty little station, where, for so many weeks, they had been supremely happy in the enjoyment of each others society, and framing projects for their union, at some future period, when the young Lieutenant should have advanced sufficiently in his profession to warrant that consummation so devoutly to be wished for.
Lurid flames and thick dark smoke shot up from many a burning Bungalow, while the roar of Artillery and discharge of musketry, convinced the fugitives that the conflict was still going on between the defenders of the Fort and the miscreants who vainly endeavoured to effect an entrance in order to put to death any Europeans who had taken shelter within its walls. Parties of Sepoys were looting the Bazaars and residences of the European officers of whatever they could lay their hands upon, while the cavalry, both regular and irregular, were riding hither and thither in search of Christian men, women, or children, who might have been unfortunate enough not to have gained admission to the Fort, or make good their escape from the fated place ere it was too late.
"Look, dearest Arthur," exclaimed Edith, pointing with her riding whip to a bend in the road some distance below them, "what are those horsemen? are they friends or foes? Oh! I see you change colour, and we are lost. But is there no hope for us?"
For a few moments Carlton remained silent, measuring with a practised eye the distance between those advancing and the spot on which they stood. For himself he had not a single thought, but for her in whom his whole soul was bound, the thought of what would be her fate, should she fall into the hands of those who he well knew were bent on their capture, it was this agonizing thought that caused a convulsive shudder to run through his whole frame, and rendered him for the moment speechless. But it was only for a moment; his deep love for the beautiful being at his side, and her imminent peril, roused him to immediate action.
"It would be wrong for me to attempt to conceal the fact of the great danger in which we stand. Our pursuers are irregular troops; men who have been taught to hate everything Christian, being the followers of petty Rajahs, who for some act of their own, or some of their families' treachery or disloyalty to our Government, lost their landed possessions, and consequently their revenue and power; but, dearest, they shall only reach you over my dead body. They would, in the long run, overtake us; but could we reach a wooden bridge that crosses a small river, a few miles up the road, I believe we could yet elude them. For there is an old road leading from the ford and running parallel with the one we are on. It has not been used for the past two years, and they, being strangers in this part of the country, will, in all probability, know nothing of it, and by this way we may escape. Courage, dearest Edith, all may yet go well with us."
"Your love and devotion, dear Arthur, I have never for one moment doubted, and confidently trust myself to your protecting arm and loving heart. But what can one single arm do against numbers; but should those wretches overtake us, the spirit of the Effinghams will teach me how to act, and, if necessary, how to die." As she said this, she drew from the folds of her riding habit, a handsome five-chambered revolver. "I will never become their prey, nor shall you perish unavenged while I have strength to draw a trigger," exclaimed the beautiful girl, now excited beyond measure at the critical position in which she found herself placed. "Brave and noble girl," responded Arthur, as he bent over and imprinted a kiss on the lovely brow. And in another moment they were bounding along the high road at a hand gallop.
"We are gaining on them," shouted one of the pursuers, as he caught sight of the two lovers flying along a straight piece of road at no very great distance in front of them. "But we shall have some tough work before we capture the young fellow or I am much mistaken."
"Curse him," growled out a tall athletic fellow in the uniform of a Russeldah. "I may thank him for my court martial and loss of commission in the regulars; but my turn is coming now. He and his dainty lady shall curse the hour of their birth before I have done with them. 'Remember,' said he, turning to the party, of whom he was evidently the leader, 'they must, if possible, be taken alive. Their money and valuables—and, doubtless, they have a good store about them—you can divide among yourselves; I will not touch one rupee of it; but their lives are mine." A shout of approval followed this last speech, and the whole party pushed forward with increased speed.
The little wooden bridge, referred to by Carlton, was at length gained. During the ride he had communicated to Edith the steps he intended to take on gaining the cover of the old road. Turning sharply to the right they entered the jungle, and made their way into the stream that crossed the road, then passing up the centre and under the bridge, they landed about one hundred and fifty paces higher up on the opposite bank, and, having dismounted, Arthur sought for, and soon found, the entrance to the road they were in search of, now overhung with brambles and creeping plants. Pushing them carefully aside, they entered, and found themselves in a narrow track, overgrown with soft grass. Assisting Edith to remount, Carlton threw the bridle of his own horse over the stump of a tree, then said to her, in a voice hoarse with emotion, and pointing to a small opening between the bushes, "From this point you can watch the results of my endeavours for our mutual safety. Should I fall, turn and fly. This road will lead you to Rutlaum." Then snatching a hasty kiss, he retraced his steps to the edge of the main road, taking up his position under the cover of the thick bushes.
The road leading to the bridge was, for about one hundred yards, perfectly straight, and much narrower than at other points, and the jungle at both sides was both thick and dense. Rather an awkward place for cavalry, should there be any infantry lurking in ambush, watching to give them a hot reception. I have said that Arthur was thoroughly armed; besides his two revolvers and sabre, he had his double-barreled tiger-rifle, a breech-loader of the newest pattern, which had only lately been introduced into India. Arthur had not long to wait for his foes, for the clattering of the armed hoofs of their troop horses were soon heard coming along at a rapid pace. There were nine of them, riding three abreast. As soon as they were within range, Carlton coolly levelled his rifle and discharged both barrels in rapid succession, shooting the centre file through the chest, who fell dead instantly, and lodging his other bullet in the shoulders of the horse of the file on his right, bringing both steed and rider to the ground, the latter underneath, his leg being crushed by the fall. So sudden and unexpected was the attack, that the two men who were riding immediately in rear, unable to check their speed in time, their horses stumbled and both their riders were thrown. They were, however, not much hurt by their fall and were soon in their saddles again. The dead and wounded men were removed to some soft grass on the side of the road. But this delay, short as it was, enabled Arthur to reload and shift his position, which he did by rapidly passing under the bridge to the opposite side of the road, being too good a soldier to neglect this opportunity.
"Forward!" shouted the Russeldah. "Follow me! I will soon unkennel the foe. May the grave of his fathers be accursed, and his bones be burned," and, after uttering this anathema, he drove the rowels of his spurs into his horse's flanks, springing him, at least, two lengths in advance of his followers, and making a dash for the bush from whence the smoke of the rifle was seen to issue. But ere the scoundrel reached it, a bullet from Arthur's rifle went crashing through his brain. A second brought another to the earth with a broken thigh bone. The others reined up in time to avoid the accident they had before experienced. On finding their leader to be quite dead, and only five of their number fit to carry on the contest, they consulted together as to the expediency of any further pursuit; besides, they could not understand being attacked from both sides of the road. They had seen no one cross, and never dreamed of the passage under the bridge, and imagined there must be others concealed in the jungle. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Arthur returned the way he came as quickly as possible, and, mounting his horse, regained his beloved Edith, who had witnessed the whole affair. She was about to thank, with ardent words of gratitude, her gallant lover, when he silenced her with a motion of his hand, and whispered to her to follow him. They proceeded slowly for a time, carefully avoiding the overhanging branches, lest they should attract the attention of either of the troopers, who were still halted on the high road at no great distance, and as Carlton afterwards affirmed, a chance shot from one of their carbines might have proved fatal to one or perhaps both of them. After riding some distance they had the satisfaction, on looking back, of seeing that their cowardly pursuers were returning the way they came, carrying their dead and wounded with them. But still they had a very long ride before them, under a scorching sun, before they could consider themselves safe from further pursuit; and the deep shadows of the dark jungle had closed around them as they pushed their way along the dusty road. And it was not until the moon had risen in all her splendour, high above their heads, that Edith, worn out with the excitement and fatigue of the day's journey, attended by a gallant cavalier, reached Rutlaum.
Fortunately, they experienced no difficulty in tracing the whereabouts of the Bartons, who had not, as yet, left the place. The news of the disaster at Goolampore had not reached Rutlaum, the mutineers having cut the telegraph lines, and the intelligence would not, in all probability, be received for a couple of days; and it was agreed that it should be suppressed as long as possible. It was arranged that the family should leave on the following evening by the Palkee Dawk for the coast. Carlton, of course, called on the officer commanding the post, and explained to him all he knew concerning the outbreak, and exactly how things stood when he left the station.
The Bartons were delighted to have Edith with them again, for nothing had gone right during her absence. Mrs. Barton had not been accustomed to take any part in the household arrangements or keeping the servants in order, consequently everything had gone wrong.
Edith grew eloquent when describing the dauntless courage of Carlton in rescuing her from a fate too horrible to be thought of. On hearing this, Arthur rose at least fifty per cent. in the estimation of Mrs. Barton, with whom he had always been a great favourite, and she warmly thanked him for the exertion he had made in behalf of her young friend. Taking advantage of the opportunity thus afforded him, Arthur, on the spur of the moment, disclosed to her everything concerning his engagement to Edith, and solicited their approval to the union on his attaining the rank of Captain. He was warmly supported by Edith, who did not hesitate to declare her affection for one whom she had known so long, and who had risked so much for her. And when Mrs. Barton found that the wedding was not to take place for some time, and that Edith was to return with them to England, she professed herself to be satisfied on the subject, whereupon it was arranged that the party should proceed to the sea coast. On reaching Doollia, the lovers parted in hopes of meeting again at no distant day in England, for the ratification of those vows that were exchanged during their ride for life through the Goozeratte.
Independent of the inward satisfaction felt by Edith, that her engagement to Arthur had met the approval of the kind friends to whom she owed so much, she experienced a great deal of pleasure during the overland journey to Europe. Both Horace and Pauline had twice traversed the route, and therefore were enabled to point out the various objects of interest that were met with in the different places they passed through. The Egyptian Pyramids, Cleopatra's Needle, and the far-famed Catacombs at Alexandria, with many a new and strange sight, encountered during their short sojourn at Malta and Gibraltar, which had been unheeded on her passage out, so depressed and sad at heart had she felt at the death of her uncle. But, time having healed that mental wound, and a bright future opening before her, she could now fully enjoy those scenes and the associations they usually call up.
Arthur Carlton lost no time in making his way to the Capital and reporting himself to the Commander-in-Chief. His Excellency was pleased to accept graciously his reasons for throwing up his appointment on the staff of General D——, at Goolampore. Our hero had expected to get a good rap over the knuckles for acting as he had done without first applying to headquarters, and this, doubtless, would have been the case at any other time, but the blind folly and general mismanagement of the late Brigadier had already been commented upon and censured by the authorities, and no doubt if death had not interfered to prevent it, a court martial and dismissal from the service would have been the result. As it was, another officer was sent up and appointed to the command at Goolampore, and Lieutenant Carlton ordered to join his regiment at the earliest opportunity, which, of course, meant that he should proceed with any corps, detachment, or party that might be moving in that direction. But Arthur was too anxious for active employment to brook any such delay; so, after a few days' sojourn at the Capital, attended only by his servants, took the road to Runjetpoora, where his regiment was reported to be stationed. Nothing, of interest occurred on the route, until within a few miles of his destination where he expected to join his corps.
It being his last day's march, he had sent his servants and baggage on several hours in advance, and being well armed and well mounted, he started from his halting place about daylight, alone, and pursued his course along the high road, in the best possible spirits, feeling well contented with the position of things in general, and his own in particular.
About noon, being somewhat heated and thirsty, he turned his horse's head to the right, and rode quietly some distance into the jungle, and finding a cool shady spot by a small running stream, dismounted, and taking off the saddle from his charger, gave him a feed of gram or corn, and allowed a sufficient length of tether to enable him to crop the soft grass which grew in the immediate vicinity of the running stream just alluded to, while he rested and regaled himself with some biscuits, brandy punnee, and his favourite German pipe. He had taken up his position at the foot of a small tree, with his back against the trunk, his famous tiger-rifle lying by his side and the hilt of his sabre within convenient handling distance, for the time and place was such that these precautions could not, with safety, be neglected. While thus resting, he sank into a deep reverie; his thoughts wandering back to his school boy days, in merry old England, ere he had sighed for a sword and feather or longed to seek the bubble reputation at the cannon's mouth, or dreamed of scenes by flood and field, beneath the scorching suns, over the arid plains, or amid the wild trackless jungles of Industan.
Then Vellenaux, the home of his happy youth with its architectural grandeurs, its magnificent parks and rich woodland scenery, passed in review like a panorama before his mental vision, but fair as these visions were, another far brighter rose before which all others paled or faded by comparison. Edith, in all her glorious beauty, now riveted his every thought, engrossed the whole stretch of his imagination, and for the time rendered all else opaque and obscure; for had she not promised to become his wife, to share with him the varied fortunes of a soldiers' life, to be the joy and solace of his riper years, and heart in heart and hand in hand, to glide together, as it were, almost imperceptibly into the yellow leaf of ripe old age. Again, like the ever varying pictures of light and shade, his thoughts turned on the present,—this campaign over, the mutiny crushed out, and the command of a troop conferred upon him, he would be in a position to return to England, claim his bride, and thus would the dearest wishes of his heart be fully realized. From this delightful train of thought, he was aroused by the cracking and breaking of the dry leaves and brush wood at some little distance, yet immediately in front of him, and ere he had time to rise, an enormous tiger, a regular Bengalle, sprang over the intervening bushes on the open space, within a few yards of where Carlton was quietly smoking. This sudden appearance was as unlooked for by our hero as was Carlton's figure by the royal beast himself, and, for a few seconds, they gazed on each other. But Arthur's presence of mind on such occasions never deserted him. Instantly bringing to his shoulder the rifle that lay handy by his side, and without moving his position, he covered and took deliberate aim at his—to say the least of it—just then unwelcome visitor. Until the cocking of the rifle, the enormous brute seemed undecided as to what course to pursue. But no sooner did this sound reach the tiger, than his long tail began to sway slowly backwards and forwards two or three times; and, with a low growl, fierce and deep, settled himself gradually back on his haunches, preparatory to making that spring which this class of animals are so famous for, and which in many instances prove so fatal to those who pursue or oppose them. But Arthur was a cool and energetic hunter, and had scoured the jungles for weeks together, and had brought in more trophies of his skill, as a Shirkarree, than any other man in the regiment, and ere the spring could be completed, for the animal had risen in the air, Arthur had planted a brace of bullets in the chest of the monster, literally cracking, in their progress, the heart of the tiger, who fell forward stone dead within six feet of where our hero was seated. His practical eye in an instant convinced him that no danger was to be apprehended from his late foe, and without changing his attitude, resumed the pipe, he had let fall from his lips prior to firing, and, as unconcerned as though nothing of moment had taken place, commenced carefully to reload his rifle. While thus engaged, the crushing among the branches of the jungle trees, and the cracking of the withered stocks and leaves again attracted his attention; and presently some half dozen horsemen cleared the adjacent bushes and reined up suddenly on the brink of the little brook before alluded to, with surprise and astonishment depicted on their glowing and excited features, as they gazed on the scene, thus unexpectedly presented to their view.
"By Jove! did I not know that Arthur Carlton was hundreds of miles away up in the North-West, I could swear that was he," pointing to the figure of Carlton seated at the foot of the tree, exclaimed the foremost rider, as he with difficulty curbed in his impatient steed.
"And who else but the Burra Shirkarree, the Carlton Sahib, would you expect to find within a couple of yards of the carcass of a lord of the jungle, just slaughtered by him, and cooly re-loading as if he had only been shooting at a pidgeon match," said Travas Templeton in reply, dismounting as he spoke, and advancing quickly, seized and shook warmly the hand of our hero, who had by this time sprang to his feet.
"You guessed right this time, Travas, old fellow," said Carlton, giving his friend another hearty shake of the hand. Then, turning to the first speaker, whom he addressed as Dorville, said, "So you thought me miles away, did you? I was sure you had seen the General's order for me to rejoin. Pray, introduce me to your friends, and we can have a mutual explanation of how we came to meet thus unexpectedly." This being done, the whole party dismounted and threw themselves at full length within such shade as the jungle afforded, and listened to Arthur's account of the outbreak at Goolampore, and his reasons for throwing up his appointment on the staff; the unexpected appearance of the tiger and the death of the same.
"A ticklish thing to do, by Jove, to take the matter in your own hands in that fashion. But all's well that ends well, and devilish glad will our fellows be to learn that you will be so soon among us again, especially as your troop and mine have been ordered out on some special service, and that accounts for our presence in this neighborhood, and so far from headquarters; but Travas will give you the particulars;" and lighting a cheroot, Francis Dorville puffed out numberless circles of pale, blue smoke, which he appeared to enjoy with infinite satisfaction.
"Then you must know, most redoubtable of tiger-slayers," began Travas Templeton, who was a cornet in Arthur's troop, and an enthusiastic sportsman, "that the Brigadier commanding, having secretly got wind that a party of mutineers had ensconced themselves in a small fortress, among yonder hills," pointing with his cigar in the direction as he spoke, "has ordered a flying column, of which two troops of ours form a part, to attack, and, if possible, to carry the place by assault or coup de main; that we are encamped about eight miles to the South-West of this spot. Last night some villagers came in and reported that a large tiger, doubtless the identical one yonder, was causing great havoc among the cattle; so some half dozen of us started this morning in pursuit. We caught sight of the brute about a mile from here, and Dorville, being green at this kind of sport, took a shot at him at too great a range, and, of course, missed, sending the creature in your direction, and so gave you the opportunity of bagging him, which you have most successfully accomplished."
"I am sorry, gentlemen, to have deprived you of your day's sport, but under the circumstances, I really could not have done anything less, for the tiger came so suddenly upon me, that there was nothing else for it; but this really will be capital fun, the expedition to the hill fort you speak of," replied Arthur as he tossed off the remaining portion of his brandy punnee, exclaiming at same time, "Here's all success to our new undertaking."
"You will give up all idea, of course, of going on to Runjetpoora, and return with us to our camp and join our troop, for we are to attack these gentry to-morrow evening, I believe. Colonel Atherly, of the engineers, commands the column. He has heard of your exploits at Mooltan and Chillianwalla, and would be sorry to lose the services of so good a Sabre on this occasion. You can report in writing to headquarters, through his Deputy-Adjutant-General, that you have joined your troop. Your tent and servants can be sent over to you during to-morrow; in the meantime, you can share mine,"—"or mine,"—"or mine,"—shouted a chorus of voices.
"Upon my word, Dorville, you are highly complimentary. It's very flattering to a fellow's feelings to be so thoroughly appreciated, especially, after so long an absence from the regiment. Devilish kind of you, gentlemen, to offer me quarters among you; but, as I cannot divide myself into half a dozen pieces, I shall only be too happy to accept our friend Dorville's offer, he being first in the field. By George, it will be rejoining with eclat if that little fort up yonder, on the hill side, could be carried by one bold dash, and the affair terminated in a day or so," cried Carlton, his handsome face lighting up, and pleasure beaming from his flashing eye at the bare idea of the coming contest.
"If I can only get my twenty-four pound howitzer in a good position I will make the place so hot in a dozen hours that the blackguards will curse their unlucky stars that caused them to unlimber for action in such an owl's nest as that," put in another of the party, an artillery officer, attached to the flying column.
"But what say you to a move, gentlemen. We have some miles to ride, and that, too, before the trumpet sounds the mess call," said Travas, raising himself from his sitting position and moving towards his horse. This suited the views of the whole party. The greater number were already in the saddle. While Arthur and the two others had their feet in the stirrup, preparing to mount, the whole party were startled and amazed by the very novel and unlooked for apparition of a female figure, flying towards them, evidently in great terror and alarm. On reaching Carlton, who was the nearest to her, she bent forward with supplicating looks and clasped hands, passionately exclaiming, "Oh! for pity sake, hasten to the rescue, ere it be too late. Fly! gentlemen, and stay the bloody work of those miscreants, those fiends in human form. Oh! waste not a moment, or your aid may come too late." The supplicant was a handsome three-quarter cast. Her luxuriant hair, dark as a raven's wing, hung in wild confusion about her neck and shoulders. Her well-fitting dress, of fine Madras muslin, hung in shreds around her finely moulded form, and blood was issuing from rents in her light kid slippers, caused, doubtless, by the thorns and other prickly obstacles she had met with on her passage through the tangled brushwood of the jungle.
"Pray, calm yourself, I beg, and endeavour to collect your thoughts. To whom do you allude, and in what direction; do you wish us to go?" said Dorville, as he handed her some sherry and water from his flask; this she drank eagerly, then hurriedly continued—the whole group pressing nearer and nearer to the excited woman, to learn by what mischance or accident she had been thrown amongst them at such a time and place, so suddenly—"The Collector of Runjetpoora, his wife, daughter, and sister, with his four clerks, their wives and children, have been attacked and captured by a band of twenty mounted mutineers, who have sworn to massacre them, and some of the children have already been cruelly butchered by these remorseless villains; I, alone, escaped, and sought shelter in the jungle, where, from an opening down the ravine, caught a glimpse of your party, and have struggled through brake and briar to implore your assistance. Oh! do not lose a moment, if you would be in time. Even now it may be too late to save them;" and, weeping wildly, sank on her knees, convulsive sobs choking her further utterance.
There was now no need to urge them on, for they at once realized the horrors of the position in which the Collector and his party were now placed. Exclamations of anger, and vows of bitter vengeance burst from the lips of all, as they, with paling cheek, and flashing eye, their teeth clenched fiercely together, listened to the appaling tale of the half frantic girl before them.
"They are but three to one, the pack of mutinous scoundrels, and cannot resist our charge five minutes, and must go down before well-tried sabres," cried Carlton, springing into his saddle, and taking the lead, saying, as he did so, "Point out the way we should take, my good girl, and what courage, brave hearts, and trusty swords can effect, shall be done to rescue your friends from the terrible fate which, doubtless, awaits them."
"When you reach that single tree on the crest of yonder hill," indicating with her right hand the direction to be taken, "you will come in sight of the place, where this villainous outrage has been committed; your own judgment will then tell you what is best to be done," she replied, evidently strengthened and refreshed by the wine she had taken, and the comforting assurance held out to her by Arthur and his companions. These words had scarcely passed her lips when, applying the spur vigorously, the whole party, with one exception, dashed off in the direction indicated. Captain Crosby of the artillery, who had not started with the rest, feeling somewhat anxious for the poor girl's safety—alone as she would be shortly in that dense jungle, for every Sabre would be needed in the coming onslaught—approaching her, said kindly and gently, "and you; what is to become of you? what will you do, or where can you go?" "Oh, do not think of me," she replied, "I can retrace my steps the way I came, alone and unassisted," moving a few steps in that direction. "But stay one moment," said Crosby; "take this it may assist you in clearing a pathway through the thicket and underbrush," handing her, as he spoke, his long hunting knife. Raising her beautiful eyes to his, with a look of thankfulness, she accepted the weapon. In another instant, the ringing of horses' hoofs, now growing fainter in the distance, told her that help was hastening on to where help was most required.
The spot where the Collector and his party had been surprised and captured, was on the high road, midway between the Khandish Ghaut and the large and populous town of Runjetpoora, the inhabitants of which, with the exception of their Begum, or Princess, and a few of her immediate followers, had thus far remained faithful to British rule, and to which place he was now returning, after making a tour of inspection through the districts, which inspection consisted in surveying and valuing the crops while growing, the cattle and other properties of those residing within his jurisdiction, so that taxes might be levied on each individual according to their wealth and substance, during the current year.
The baggage escort and principal servants had been sent on in advance. This the mutineers were, doubtless, aware of, or counted on as being likely to be the case, therefore little opposition was to be expected, and so suddenly did they sweep down upon them that the little party were surrounded and overpowered ere they could seize their weapons to defend themselves. All were made prisoners save one, Mrs. de Mello, a handsome three-quarter caste, the youthful bride of the Collector's clerk or first assistant, who had alighted from her palkee to gather some wild flowers that grew on the road side, a short time prior to the appearance of the mutineers, and from where she stood witnessed the attack. Terrified beyond measure at her dangerous proximity to the ruffians, she fled for safety into the depths of the jungle, and so escaped.
The carriage and bullock games were drawn to an open space some little distance into the jungle, the intervening bushes screening it to a considerable extent from the road. The Collector and his clerks were then brutally stripped of their clothing, and, having taken possession of their money and other valuables, the wretches bound them, spread eagle fashion, to the wheels of the vehicles. The terrified women were next dragged forth, with more indignity and even greater brutality, and secured in a similar manner, and in such a position that their tortures might be witnessed by their helpless husbands. The children, with the exception of the Collector's daughter, a bright, golden haired girl of some ten summers, who had clung convulsively to her mother, were thrown together into a small hollow in the ground about the centre of the place, they being too young to make any opposition, the black devils forming a complete semi-circle round their intended victims.
The first scene of the bloody drama they proposed to enact, to satisfy their devilish thirst for the blood of the unfortunates, who had thus fallen into their hands, was opened by a tall, burly ruffian bending over, seizing one of the children, hurling it into the air, and yelling with an awful imprecation while so doing, that he would wager a gold mohur to five rupees, that he could, with his tulwa, strike off the child's right arm at the elbow without touching any other part of the body. This was accepted at once by half-a-dozen voices; the wretch immediately raised his tulwa and, as the infant descended, made a sharp, quick, upper cut, and ere it reached the ground its little arm was disjointed, as though by the knife of an experienced surgeon. A groan of horror burst from the lips of the agonized parents, and a convulsive shudder ran through the remainder of the unhappy party; but this past unheeded by their captors, being drowned by the yells of fiendish delight and approval that broke forth from the throats of these hell hounds, as the mutilated body of the child lay wreathing in agony at their feet, absorbing for the moment all other feeling. "I will double the stakes," cried another, "that I take off the head of a second of these young imps close to the shoulder without making wound or scar on any other part." "Done, and done again!" shouted several voices, throwing up their weapons in the air, and re-catching them again, so delighted were they at the idea of another spectacle so much in unison with their blood-thirsty and relentless passions. A powerful ruffian now dismounted, and catching up a second babe, a pretty little thing scarcely two years old, hurled it with his utmost strength high into the air. On gaining its greatest altitude, it turned completely, and was descending, head downwards. When within six feet of the ground, the brutal villain, with one lightning stroke of his tulwa, severed the head from its shoulders, amid the shouts and gesticulations of the assembled miscreants. By some, the wretch was pronounced a winner, but on examining the body, the skin of one shoulder was found to be grazed or cut. Many maintained it was done by the sword; others asserted that it was caused by falling on a stone or some such substance. The dispute ran high, and possible might have come to blows, but for the interference of another of the party, who appeared to be a sort of leader among them, shouting out "Come! No more of this fooling; too much time has been already wasted on this Tumahsha. Give the cursed feringees a volley from your carbines, loot the garries, and then make off with all speed, or the cursed Kaffirs may get wind of the affair and follow in our track."
"Shumsodeen is right," called out another. "There is both truth and reason in what he says. But there must be no firing, it might attract the notice of any straggler from the camps of those dogs of Kaffirs, and bring their infernal Dragoons down upon us. No! cut the throats of the men, and as there are but twenty of us, and only five of these women, tell off one of them to each four of us, and let us begone, for we must put the broad plain, at the foot of the Khandish Ghaut, between us and this place ere night fall, and on our camping for the night, each four can decide what is to be done with their prize." This suggestion was received with applause, and they immediately prepared to act upon it. Already two or three had dismounted and drawn their creeses to slit the throats of their male prisoners, when a youth, about eighteen, son of the fellow called Shumsodeen, cried out, "Do as you please with the women among yourselves, but I will have yonder curly headed cutcha butchee for my prize, come what may," and he took a few steps in the direction of the Collector's daughter, who was still clinging to her parent for protection; but ere he reached her, a loud, clear voice at no great distance rang out, "Fire! gentlemen, and charge!" Then came from between the leaves and bushes a withering volley of bullets from rifle and revolver, striking down the youth, and emptying three saddles, the riders falling lifeless to the ground. In another instant the branches parted, and Arthur Carlton, with his six companions, cleared the low brushwood, and sword in hand dashed into the centre of the ruffianly group.
Although taken completely by surprise—for they had not calculated upon being interfered with, especially at so early a period of their proceedings or by so formidable a foe—the mutineers instantly prepared to give their unexpected assailants a fierce and bloody reception. They fought frantically with a courage born of desperation, well knowing that to cut through their foes and escape by flight was their only chance; for should they not perish by the sword in the present contest, a halter, or to be blown to fragments from the cannon's mouth, would be their doom if made prisoners, consequently they rained down their blows frantically, and made several desperate attempts to break through or divide the small party that opposed them. But the cool and determined courage and thorough discipline of the Dragoons, and their friends was too much for them, fighting as they did, for a time, on the defensive; warding off the cuts of the dusky villains, and giving only a few thrusts here and there, when it could be done with fatal effect. Many of their number had already bit the dust, and, as yet, no impression had been made on the gallant little band, the Soaws being still two to one. Thus Carlton and his party were still fighting under a disadvantage as far as numbers were concerned. Had the combatants been less pre-occupied with their deadly strife, they might have observed, at a short distance, a female figure cautiously emerging from between the bushes and stealthily creep beneath the vehicle, to the wheels of which the Collector had been bound. This was the wife of the head clerk, the pretty three-quarter caste, whose presence of mind, courage and forethought had so largely contributed to their deliverance. Rapidly but surely, with the hunting knife given her by Captain Crosby, she cut the cords that bound her husband and his companions, who, when they found they were released, rushed forward and possessed themselves of the weapons of the fallen mutineers, and immediately commenced an attack on their flank and rear, in hopes of rendering some assistance to their brave defenders.
Moving quickly, but in such a way as not to attract notice, Mrs. de Mello, released the Collector's wife and the other ladies from their unpleasant and exposed position, and one by one removed them for safety within the cover of the jungle in case of any chance shot or blow injuring them. A brief time served to restore the ladies to something like tranquility, and enable them to arrange their attire to the best advantage under the circumstances, and evincing in the highest manner their thanks and gratitude to her who had, with such peril to herself, relieved them from a fate, to them, worse than death itself.
The unexpected release of the prisoners, and the attack made on their flank and rear by them, totally confounded the mutineers, and rendered all escape on their part impossible or nearly so, while Arthur and his friends, seeing the addition to their number, and being about equally matched—numerically speaking—changed their tactics from the defensive to the offensive, and attacked their opponents in right good earnest, and with such skill and determination did they use their weapons that they very shortly brought the contest to a close. Eleven of the mutinous rascals lay stone dead upon the blood-stained sod, and five others so fatally wounded that it would be impossible for them to survive another hour, three more were slightly injured, but sufficiently so to render them for the present hors de combat, while the one remaining wretch who had escaped scathless had sullenly thrown down his arms and stood looking on in moody silence. Every one of the brave little party that had come thus opportunely to the rescue, had been more or less injured by the Tulwas and pistol shots of the black Sowas, but in no case did their wounds render them unfit for active service; rest for a few days, together with some sticking plaster, was all that they needed to enable them to take the field again. Of the mutineers, the five mortally wounded were left to keep guard over the eleven dead, the remaining four were bound and lashed to one of the garries belonging to the Collector. The oaths and imprecations of these wretched beings at the failure of their project and the position they now found themselves in, were something fearful to listen to.
After a brief time, for congratulations, rest and refreshments, which refreshment consisted chiefly in brandy punnee, sherry and biscuit, from the flasks and wallets of the party, (no bad thing by the way, under the circumstance.) Matters then having been got en train, the whole party proceeded leisurely to the camp near Laurieghur, and arrived just as the sun was casting her golden rays on the slopes of the adjacent hills, previous to its sinking for the night into the purple depths of obscurity. Early the following morning, the Collector, with a suitable escort, proceeded on their way to Runjetpoora, the place to which they were returning when they were so ruthlessly set upon by the atrocious mutineers.
The day proceeding the one on which Arthur had joined his troop, the officer in command of the little force ordered a court martial to assemble for the trial of the prisoners concerned in the late murderous attack on the Collector and party. The finding of the court was, that the prisoners were guilty of all the charges brought against them, and the sentence pronounced was that of death, by being blown to fragments from the cannon's mouth, the sentence to be carried into effect the day succeeding the promulgation of the order for the execution. Preparations were then to be pushed forward vigorously for carrying by assault Laurieghur, the fortress among the hills. Already a heavy breaching battery had been sent for to Runjetpoora, for on a party of Engineers advancing more closely and with the aid of their field glasses, it was found to be a more formidable place, and more strongly guarded than had been anticipated by those in command at Runjetpoora; thus the delay in commencing the attack.
On the evening prior to the execution of the wretched criminals, as Arthur Carlton was quietly smoking a cigar and meditating on Edith, the approaching siege, and things in general, an orderly came to his tent and announced to him, that one of the prisoners desired to speak with him on a subject that admitted of no delay. Surprised at so unlooked for an event, Arthur at first felt inclined to refuse the man's request, but presently, curiosity getting the better of the dislike he felt at having any communication with the wretch, and wondering what he could possibly have to communicate, sent word that he would visit him soon after sun set.
"What is it you have to say to me?" enquired Arthur Carlton, an hour later, as with stern composure and folded arms, he looked down upon the wretched culprit who lay manacled on the floor of the guard tent, and who proved to be the youth before alluded to, as the son of the man called Shumsodeen.
The captive, with much difficulty raising himself to a sitting posture, said, "You are a brave man, and the brave among the whites are always truthful they tell me. I am told that I am to be blown from the cannon's mouth to-morrow. Is this the truth? Is there no hope of pardon or reprieve?"
"The sentence of the court has been read to you, and there is no hope of remission. You will die at sunrise to-morrow morning, and have but a few hours to live. This you might have ascertained from the sergeant of the guard without sending for me," said Arthur, turning to leave the tent.