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Title: Barclay of the Guides
Author: Strang, Herbert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                        BARCLAY OF THE GUIDES

                          BY HERBERT STRANG


HUMPHREY MILFORD
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
LONDON

_Copyright 1908 in the United States of America_

REPRINTED 1924 IN GREAT BRITAIN BY R. CLAY AND SONS, LTD.,
BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



PREFACE


The great Mutiny embraced so wide an area, in which momentous events
happened almost simultaneously in places far apart, that it seemed
advisable to confine the historical background of this story to the
siege of Delhi, the city which was the heart of the rebellion. In regard
to the historical persons introduced, care has been taken to adhere as
closely as possible to facts; and, where the romancer's licence must
needs put words into their mouths, to conform to probability and their
known characters. If the boys who read these pages should care to know
more of the great men of whom they get glimpses, they will find a store
of good things in _Lumsden of the Guides_, by Sir Peter Lumsden and
George R. Elsmie; the _Memoirs of Sir Henry Daly_, by Major H. Daly; _A
Leader of Light Horse_ (Hodson), and the _Life of John Nicholson_, both
by Lieut.-Colonel Trotter. The history of the Mutiny, as related in the
pages of Kaye and Malleson, will never lose its fascination.

HERBERT STRANG



CONTENTS


CHAPTER THE FIRST The Raid

CHAPTER THE SECOND The Making of a Pathan

CHAPTER THE THIRD Sky-high

CHAPTER THE FOURTH The Return of Sherdil

CHAPTER THE FIFTH Reprisals

CHAPTER THE SIXTH In the Nets

CHAPTER THE SEVENTH Jan Larrens

CHAPTER THE EIGHTH A Competition Wallah

CHAPTER THE NINTH A Fakir

CHAPTER THE TENTH The Delhi Road

CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH The Missy Sahib

CHAPTER THE TWELFTH Bluff

CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH Some Lathi-wallahs and a Camel

CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH Kaluja Dass, Khansaman

CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH Within the Gates

CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH The Coming of Bakht Khan

CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH The Doctor's Divan

CHAPTER THE EIGHTEENTH The Spoilers Spoiled

CHAPTER THE NINETEENTH Asadullah

CHAPTER THE TWENTIETH Wolf and Jackal

CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIRST Master and Servant

CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SECOND The Fight of Bakr-Id

CHAPTER THE TWENTY-THIRD Ordeal

CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FOURTH Nikalsain

CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIFTH The Storming of Delhi

CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SIXTH Eighty to One

CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SEVENTH Duty

EPILOGUE

GLOSSARY



CHAPTER THE FIRST

The Raid


Ahmed, son of Rahmut Khan, chief of the village of Shagpur, was making
his lonely way through the hills some three miles above his home. He
could see the walled village perched on a little tract of grassy land
just where the base of the hills met the sandy plain. It was two
thousand feet or more below him, and he could almost count the
flat-topped houses clustered beyond his father's tower, which, though
actually it rose to some height above them, dominating them, and
affording an outlook over miles and miles of the plain, yet appeared to
Ahmed, at his present altitude, merely a patch in the general level.

Between him and the village lay three miles of grey rugged hill country,
scarred with watercourses, and almost void of vegetation. A mile away,
indeed, there was a long stretch of woodland, lying like a great green
smudge upon the monotony of grey. It was a patch of irregular shape,
narrowing here, broadening there, filling a valley which bent round
towards the village. Ahmed was accustomed to shoot there occasionally,
but he preferred the more exciting and more dangerous sport of hunting
on the hills, where he might stalk his quarry from crag to crag, leaping
ravines, swarming up abrupt and precipitous cliffs, always in peril of a
fall that might break his limbs even if it did not crash the life out of
him. For Ahmed was of a daring disposition, fearless, undauntable, yet
possessed of a certain coolness of judgment by which he had hitherto
brought himself unscathed through sixteen years of adventurous boyhood.

He was a tall, slim, lissom fellow, with very black hair and a swarthy
skin, which set off the spotless white of his turban. He wore the loose
frock and baggy trousers of the country. Yet one observing him would
have marked certain differences between his features and those of the
Pathans among whom he dwelt. His nose was arched, but it was thinner
than was usual among his countrymen. His lips were not so thick as
theirs, nor was his mouth so large, and his eyes, instead of coal-black,
were of a curious steely-grey. And any one who saw him bathing with the
lads of his village (itself a strange pastime, for the hill-men have no
great partiality for water) would have been struck by the paleness of
his skin where it was protected from the sun and the weather. The
observer's conclusion would probably have been that Ahmed was a Pathan
of a particularly refined type, and in all likelihood an offshoot of
some noble family which time's vicissitudes had reduced.

Ahmed stood for a few moments looking down at Shagpur, then turned to
pursue his way. He had a fowling-piece slung at his back; his intention
was to ascend the hills for perhaps another thousand feet, to a spot
where he would probably come upon a small herd of black-buck. But he had
not mounted far from the place at which he had paused when he halted
again, and, putting his left hand above his eyes to shield them from the
sun's rays, gazed steadily in a direction away from the village. Below
him the plain stretched for many miles, bare and desolate, though when
the rains came by and by it would be clothed with verdure. Scarcely a
tree broke its level, and so parched was it now that no beast could have
found sustenance there. But far away Ahmed's keen eye had descried what
appeared to be a speck upon the horizon, and he watched it intently.

There was nothing unusual in the sight itself. Many a time he had seen
just such a speck in the sky, watched it grow in breadth and height,
until it stretched across the plain like an immense wall, thirty miles
long, a thousand feet high. He had seen it approach like a monstrous
phantom, driving before it, as it were, circling flights of kites and
vultures, enveloping the bases of the hills, shutting out the sun with
yellow scudding clouds. But such a dust-storm ordinarily swept over the
plain southwards: Ahmed had never seen one approach from the west; and
after a long and steady gaze at the speck, which grew slowly in size, he
suddenly dropped his hand, uttered an exclamation in the Pashtu tongue,
and turning his back began to retrace his course, at a speed vastly
greater than that at which he had formerly been moving, towards his
distant village.

The moving speck had resolved itself into a band of horsemen. They had
been too far away for him to distinguish individuals and know who and
what they were; but, considering the quarter from which they were
coming, his instant thought was that they were an enemy, and it behoved
him to give his people warning. In that wild country of the border raids
were frequent enough. Especially was a warning necessary to-day, for the
village was in poor condition to defend itself. Only the day before,
Rahmut Khan, his father, had ridden out with all the younger men to raid
horses on the British frontier. Ahmed shrewdly suspected that tidings of
this expedition had been conveyed to Minghal Khan, the chief's
inveterate enemy and rival, and Minghal had taken advantage of it to
make the attack for which he had no doubt long awaited a favourable
occasion. And what occasion could be more favourable than the absence of
the old warrior on an enterprise from which, if at once successful, he
could not return for five or six days, and which, if he found himself at
first baulked in it, might occupy him for a fortnight?

Ahmed was well aware of the danger in which Shagpur lay. The village had
a high wall; but he had no belief that the gates could withstand the
assault of a determined enemy. It would be something to the good,
however, if the assailants could be checked for a time, and they might
be checked by the shutting of the gates. But the villagers could not see
from the walls the advancing band; unless there was some one on the
tower, or Ahmed himself should give warning, the enemy would be upon
them before the gates could be closed, and then it would be a tale of
rapine and massacre. He knew that, make what speed he might, he could
not, if he followed the way he had come, reach the village before the
mounted men. The only chance was to gain the wood, through which, being
on a level, he could run fleetly. Swerving, therefore, from the direct
line to the village, Ahmed scrambled down the rough hillside, leaping
little chasms, springing from rock to rock with the agility of a
mountain goat, yet with circumspection, for should he miss his footing a
sprained ankle would be the least of his mishaps, and Shagpur was lost.

Down and down he went, stumbling, slipping, barking his shins, but never
heeding such slight mishaps so long as nothing brought him to a check.
And now, just as the dark woodland seems at his very feet, he pulls up
with a sudden cry of "Hai!" for in front of him there yawns a ravine,
four or five paces across, and many feet deep. He glances to either
side: a little to the left it narrows slightly, but only by reason of a
jagged spit of rock that juts out--a spit so small as barely to afford
resting-place to a foot. At every other spot the ravine is even wider
than where he was brought to a halt. He waits but a moment--long enough
to reflect that he dare not go the toilsome way round, lest he arrive
too late; and then, setting his teeth and clenching his fingers so
tightly that the nails press deep into his palms, he takes a leap.
Misjudgment of the distance by an inch would dash him into the chasm
below; but practice has given him perfect command of his muscles; he
springs lightly, confidently; his right foot lands on the precariously
narrow spit of rock, and as he stoops his body he brings the left foot
against the right; then, just as it would seem that the momentum of his
flight must cause him to sway and stagger and topple over sideways, he
rises as on springs to his full height, and with another effort of his
well-trained muscles he hurls himself from the spit on to the broader
ledge behind, and is safe.

Panting as he was, Ahmed sped off without delay. At last he reached the
edge of the wood; he plunged into it, and finding a track which he had
often followed, he ran easily as a deer. When he emerged at the other
end, he dashed across the fields, green with his father's crops, and
came to the gates.

"Minghal Khan is upon us!" he cried, as he entered. Some young boys
playing in the street took up the cry and ran screaming into their
houses; old Ahsan, the gate-keeper--now frail and bent, but once the
best rider and the cunningest horse-stealer of Shagpur--came tottering
out of his hut.

"Minghal Khan, say you, Ahmed-ji? That son of a dog!" and he slammed-to
the gates and barred them, muttering curses on the enemy.

By this time the cries of the children had brought the villagers into
the street. They were for the most part old men and feeble; the young
and able-bodied were with Rahmut Khan; but there were among them a few
men in the prime of life and some boys of about Ahmed's age.
Breathlessly he told them what he had seen.

"The gates are but as ghi to Minghal," cried old Ahsan. "They will not
keep him out till the sun sets."

"Then we will go into the tower," said Ahmed, "and shut ourselves up
there until my father returns."

He ran into his father's house and brought out the chief's two wives and
three daughters, who fled swiftly to the tower upon the wall. Then with
the aid of some of the people he collected what provisions he could; the
women filled their brass pots with water at the well, and carried them
on their heads to the tower; men followed them with arms and ammunition,
and with strong balks of wood for barricading the foot of the winding
stair. Within ten minutes of Ahmed's arrival in the village all who
chose had shut themselves with him in the refuge.

Not all chose. Even while these preparations were being made some of the
men held aloof. Minghal Khan was a younger, wealthier, and more powerful
chief than Rahmut: what was the good of holding out against him? There
had been for many years a feud between them; such an attack as was now
imminent might long have been foreseen. The more powerful must win: it
was Fate. Had they not known many such cases? Was it not better to yield
to the enemy at once and make their peace with him? Ahmed and old Ahsan
hotly protested, appealed to their loyalty, reminded them of what the
chief's anger would be when he came back and found that they had
betrayed him. These appeals were effective with the bolder spirits, but
there was still a good proportion of the villagers who foresaw that
their chief's dominion was at an end, and were eager to make their own
future secure by nailing the rising sun. These remained in the village
street, and when, a few minutes after Ahmed and his party had shut
themselves in the tower, the band of horsemen, fifty strong, with
Minghal at their head, rode up to the gates and demanded admittance, one
of the disaffected removed the bars and made humble obeisance as the
rival chief entered.

The new-comers uttered loud shouts of exultation at the ease of their
victory, not at first aware of the resolute little band in the tower. It
was only when Minghal had entered the chief's house and found it
deserted that he suspected what had happened. Then with a grim smile he
questioned the villagers, all most obsequious to their new master; and
Ahmed, watching the scene from a latticed window high up in the tower,
wondered what the smile portended. He expected to see Minghal's men
collect the grain-stuffs and everything else of value that the village
contained, and then set fire to the houses; but old Ahsan by his side,
better acquainted with the long feud which had existed between the two
chiefs, stroked his beard and groaned.

"Hai! hai!" he muttered. "It has come at last. But I am too old, too
old, to serve a new master. Shagpur will have another gate-keeper now,
Ahmed-ji."

"What meanest thou, old man?" asked Ahmed, wondering.

"Minghal has come not for plunder, but for mastery," was the reply.
"'Tis what he has meditated for a dozen years; and who can strive
against Fate? When the master comes back he will find that Shagpur is no
longer his. If he resists he will be slain; if he accepts his lot, he
will be loaded with chains or cast out of the village, a beggar to the
end of his days."

"And what of us, then?" asked Ahmed.

"Hai!" said the old man. "As for you, I speak not, Ahmed-ji; but for me,
I am too old, as I said. I have my knife."

Ahmed looked into the gate-keeper's face. He read there neither fear nor
despair, nothing but a calm resolution. Then he uttered a scornful
laugh.

"No one can strive against Fate, truly," he said; "but who knows that
Fate has given us into Minghal's hand? By the beard of the Prophet,
Ahsan----"

But the old man put his hand on the boy's mouth.

"Hush, Ahmed-ji," he said, with a sort of stern tenderness; "'tis not
meet, little one, that oath in your mouth. You have well-nigh forgotten,
but I do not forget. We are as we were born, and you were born a
Feringhi."



CHAPTER THE SECOND

The Making of a Pathan


Eight years before this raid of Minghal's on Shagpur, a small boy, dark,
bright-eyed, happy-looking, was sitting on the grass at some little
distance from an open tent, nursing a wooden sword, and trying to make
conversation in babbling Urdu with a big, swarthy, bearded Pathan who
squatted opposite him, and smiled as he tried to understand and answer
the little fellow's questions. From the tent came the sound of voices,
and the Pathan would now and then lift his eyes from the child and dart
a keen glance towards the spot where Mr. George Barclay,
deputy-commissioner of the district, was engaged in dealing with one of
the troublesome cases that came before him for settlement.

For many years the dwellers in the plains of the Panjab had suffered
from the encroachments of their neighbours in the hills. At first these
hill-men only came to the plains in the winter-time, when their own bare
lands became uninhabitable from frost and snow, and returned in the
summer, when they might find sustenance for their flocks, and good
hunting. But seeing the weakness of the plain-dwellers and the fertility
of their soil, the hill-men had not been satisfied with paying these
winter visits, and, after remaining as uninvited guests, returning to
their own place without having made a domicile in the plains. They began
to regard the land on which they temporarily settled as theirs, and by
and by exacted tribute from the rightful owners. Thus they became
possessed of two homes, one for the winter, one for the summer.
Naturally this seizure of property was little to the liking of the
plain-dwellers. They made some resistance and fought the oppressors, but
were no match in arms for the more warlike hill-men. When, however, the
Panjab was incorporated in the dominions of John Company, some of the
dispossessed land-owners took advantage of the well-known respect of the
British for law to make an attempt to recover their property through the
agency of their new rulers; and it was to show cause why he should not
yield the lands he held in the plain that Minghal Khan, one of the hill
chieftains, had been summoned before the deputy-commissioner.

Minghal obeyed the summons grudgingly. In the hills he was free, and
owned no master save God; it irked him that any one, least of all the
sahib-log, infidels, eaters of pigs, should question his rights in the
plains; for though he knew that the lands in dispute were not his by
inheritance, yet might was right, and if the plain-men were not strong
enough to hold them--why, so much the worse for them. And when he came
down from the hills to argue the case before the British commissioner,
he begged his nearest neighbour, Rahmut Khan of Shagpur, to accompany
him and give him at least moral support. Rahmut did not refuse this
request; but he was above all things a warrior; he had no skill in
reasoning, like his more wily neighbour Minghal; and while the latter
was using all his eloquence, every trick and artifice of which he was
capable, to persuade Mr. Barclay that forcible possession was of more
account than title-deeds, Rahmut amused himself by talking to and
playing with the deputy-commissioner's little son. The boy's mother had
died in Lahore some little while before, and his father kept him
constantly in his company, even when his duties called him into remote
parts of his district.

Rahmut, like all his race, was passionately fond of children; the
fearlessness of the bright-eyed boy appealed to him, and day after day,
while Minghal was waiting his turn, and when he was trying Mr. Barclay's
patience inside the tent, Rahmut spent hours with the boy, giving him
rides on his horse, laughing as he strutted by with a wooden sword,
allowing him to fire a shot or two from his pistol. And so, by the time
Minghal's case was decided Rahmut and Jim Barclay--the big, bearded
Pathan warrior of near sixty years, and the English boy of eight--were
fast friends.

Minghal lost his case. The deputy-commissioner decided against him, and
gave judgment that he must quit the lands he had usurped. Minghal left
the tent in a rage, muttering curses on the infidel dog who had
rejected, quietly but firmly, all his pleas, and declaring to Rahmut
that he would one day have his revenge. Rahmut was not a whit more
friendly disposed to the new rulers than was Minghal himself; but he was
a man of few words, and never threatened what he could not at once
perform. Moreover, he had never thought much of his neighbour's case,
and was not surprised at its failure. Minghal found him less sympathetic
than he considered to be his due, and returned to his home in the hills
in a very ill humour.

The opportunity for vengeance came sooner than he could have expected.
In the spring of the next year, when a civil servant named Vans Agnew
and Lieutenant Anderson of the Bombay army were escorting a new diwan or
governor to the city of Multan, they were treacherously attacked, and
their murder was the signal for a general uprising of the Sikh soldiery.
News of the rebellion was carried through the country with wonderful
speed; it came to the ears of Rahmut and Minghal, and, fretting as they
were under the restraints imposed upon them by the proximity of the
British, they resolved at once to make common cause with the revolted
Sikhs. It happened that Mr. Barclay had lately "gone into camp" at a
spot very near the place where he had given his decision against
Minghal. The Pathan chiefs set off with their armed followers, rushed
Mr. Barclay's almost unprotected camp, for he had as yet heard nothing
of the revolt at Multan, and the deputy-commissioner, without a moment's
warning, was shot through the heart. His little son would have suffered
the same fate, so bitter was the tribesmen's enmity against all the
Feringhis, but for Rahmut, who remembered how much he had been attracted
by the boy, and saw an opportunity for which he had yearned--of
providing himself with an heir. One of his wives, now dead, had borne
him two sons, but both had died fighting against Ranjit Singh, and his
two living wives had given him only daughters. In such cases it was
common for a chief to adopt a son and make him his heir. Rahmut, now
getting on in years, had envied the English sahib who was blessed with a
boy so sturdy and frank and fearless. While Minghal, therefore, was
wreaking his vengeance on the father, Rahmut caught up the son, set him
on his saddlebow, and forbade any of his men to lay hands on him. He had
resolved to take the boy back with him by and by to Shagpur, to bring
him up as a Pathan, and if he proved worthy, to proclaim him his heir.

Minghal was very indignant when the old chief announced his intention.
The boy, he protested, was an infidel dog: it was shame to a Pathan and
a follower of the Prophet to show kindness to any of the hated race who
had laid their hands on this land, claiming tribute from the free-men of
the hills, deposing and setting up governors at their will. But Rahmut
would not be denied. Minghal dared not cross the old warrior; for the
moment he appeared to acquiesce, but in his heart he hated his neighbour
chief, and resolved from that time to set himself in rivalry against
him. If he could not remove the boy, he could at least bide his time,
and when Rahmut's time came to die, it should be seen whether he could
not rely on racial and religious prejudice to prevent the scandal of a
tribe being ruled by an infidel Feringhi.

Rahmut kept the boy with him in the Panjab through the campaign. He
joined forces with the troops sent by the king of Kabul to the
assistance of the Sikhs. He fought in the terrible battle of
Chilianwala, and when Gough signally routed his brave enemy at Gujarat,
he fled with the Afghans and Pathans to their inaccessible hills,
escaped the pursuit of the Company's troops, and reached in safety his
mountain home at Shagpur.

Then he carried out his intention. He called the boy Ahmed, and had him
trained in the Mohammedan faith by the mullah of his village, who taught
him to read the Koran (though, being in Arabic, he never understood a
word of it). Ahmed wore a white turban, kept the Musalman fasts and
feasts, and though he was at first very miserable, and wept often for
the father he had lost, he gradually forgot his early life, and
delighted his new father's heart as he grew up a straight, sturdy Pathan
boy. Rahmut was wonderfully kind to him. His wives were at first jealous
of the boy, and there were some in the village who never lost their
first distrust and envy of him; but as years passed by, and Ahmed proved
himself to be as bold and daring as he was sunny-tempered, as good at
hunting and warlike exercises as he was in the ritual of religion, he
became a favourite with most. The chief visited with heavy punishment
some who dared to give expression to their resentment at his adoption of
a Feringhi boy, and after that the ill-feeling died down, and if any
remained it found an outlet only in murmurs which the envious ones were
careful to keep from their chief's ears.

Ahmed was now sixteen. He was his adoptive father's constant companion
at home; but the old chief, while he allowed the boy to take part in his
hunting expeditions, would never permit him to share in the raids which
he sometimes made on the villages of his neighbours, nor in the
horse-stealing enterprises he ventured in the British lines. He seemed
to be beset by a fear lest the boy should be snatched from him, and in
particular he dreaded lest any contact with the British should awake
dormant recollections in his mind and be the means of carrying him back
to his own people. The only experience Ahmed had of contests with men
had been gained in occasional attacks on caravans of merchants as they
passed between Persia and Afghanistan. But now that the boy was sixteen,
Rahmut thought it was high time, he should be married in accordance with
the customs of his country, and was looking about for a suitable bride.
The old chief argued that when Ahmed was married there would be less
likelihood of his ever wishing to leave his tribe, and he might then be
given a greater freedom and take a full share in all their activities.

Though Ahmed thus had few enemies in Shagpur itself, there was one in
Minghal's village of Mandan who caused Rahmut Khan some anxiety. This
was his nephew Dilasah, a man near forty years old. Dilasah had expected
to succeed his uncle in the chiefship, but he was an idle,
ill-conditioned fellow, not without a certain fierce bravery when
roused, but little inclined to bestir himself without great cause,
exceedingly fond of eating, and very fat. For him Rahmut had the deepest
contempt. There was a stormy scene between uncle and nephew when the
Feringhi boy was brought to the village and formally adopted by the old
chief; Rahmut poured out his scorn upon Dilasah, and the latter withdrew
in high wrath and indignation from the village and joined himself to
Minghal's folk. Rahmut was at first glad to be rid of him, but as years
passed, and Minghal, by cunning wiles and stealthy diplomacy, increased
his influence in the country and drew more and more men into his tribe,
the chief of Shagpur foresaw that one day he might have serious trouble
with his rival, and that the succession of Ahmed would be disputed. But
he hoped that he would live long enough to see the boy develop into a
full-grown warrior, able to hold his own by force of arms if the need
should arise.

If he had guessed that his absence on the horse-stealing expedition
would be taken advantage of by his enemy, he would without doubt have
remained at home. But he had heard that Minghal had gone westward to
intercept a caravan of cloth merchants on the road to Kabul; it was a
trick of Minghal's to draw the old man out of the way; and thus it
happened that the village was so poorly defended when Minghal made his
attack.



CHAPTER THE THIRD

Sky-high


Old Ahsan, the gate-keeper, looked gloomily out of the lattice window
and watched the proceedings of the invaders. He had spied Dilasah, his
master's nephew, among them, and knew that the incident was more than an
ordinary raid. Minghal's men gave no sign of any intention to collect
the villagers' property--whether in goods or in animals--and afterwards
burn the village; it was clear that the chief meant either to seize the
place as his own, or to set his henchman Dilasah at the head of it. And
that Ahsan had rightly guessed was proved when Minghal himself came to
the foot of the tower and summoned all within it to descend and salaam
to their new lord Dilasah.

Ahmed drew the gate-keeper back and put his head out.

"What dost thou think of us, Minghal Khan?" he cried scornfully. "Are we
asses or even as camels? Know that we hold this tower for our rightful
lord Rahmut, and thou had best return to thy little dwelling while there
is yet time."

The Pathan's face darkened with anger.

"Thou darest mock me, Feringhi dog!" he cried. "Come down at once, or we
will burn thee alive and send thee to the Pit."

But Ahmed only laughed. Talk of burning was mere foolishness, for the
tower was of stone, and though they might burn the door, there was
nothing else inflammable within their reach, save only the barricade
which had been thrown across the winding stair, and even a Pathan's
courage might shrink from attacking that in face of sturdy defenders
armed with jazails on the stairs. Of this barricade, however, Minghal
was as yet unaware, and his reply to Ahmed's scornful laugh was to set
his men to make an assault upon the door. But they had no sooner
approached it than a matchlock flashed from a narrow slit in the wall,
and one of the assailants staggered back with a bullet in his leg.
Furious, Minghal shouted to the other men to do his bidding, but another
shot fell among them as they crowded about the door, and since they
could not see who had fired, nor had any chance of hitting if they shot
back, they made haste to flee out of harm's way, and Minghal himself saw
that the task he had set them was impossible. The door was of stout and
massive timber, and could not be broken in without a deal of hard
battering; it would be folly to lose lives in that way when his purpose
might be achieved by means of a charge of gunpowder. So he called off
his men and bade them search the village for powder, not having brought
more with him than was contained in his men's powder-flasks.

At this Ahmed chuckled: all the powder lay in two large bags in one of
the upper rooms of the tower, whither it had been conveyed at the first
alarm. The men's hunt through the village was fruitless. But Ahsan
sighed heavily a little later when he saw two leave the village and
gallop at a hot pace in the direction of Mandan.

"Minghal has sent for powder, Ahmed-ji," he said. "Without doubt we
shall all be blown up."

"No, no; they cannot get back before morning," replied Ahmed, "and every
day favours us. Maybe my father will come back earlier than we suppose."

"And if he does not?"

"Why, then we must defend ourselves as long as we can. Suppose they
bring powder: they cannot lay a charge against the door in the daytime,
for we could fire into them and blow them up with their own stuff. And
when night comes, the moon will light up the inner wall for some hours,
so that they would still be in great danger. And if, when the moon goes
to the other side, they contrive to place their charge and blow in the
door, it will only be to find us with our jazails at the barricade, and
they will never get beyond it."

Ahmed's cheerfulness inspirited the old gate-keeper and the rest of the
garrison. The women and girls had been conveyed to the upper chambers,
and Ahmed at the fall of night went up to them and did what he could to
reassure them. Once or twice during the night, after the moon had gone
down, there were sounds from below indicating that another attempt was
to be made on the door; but a shot from the window was sufficient to
send the men scuttering back to the houses, and the hours from midnight
to dawn passed undisturbed. The garrison snatched a little sleep, and
were roused by the morning cry of the mullah in the village mosque
calling to the faithful to awake: "Prayer is more than sleep!"

It was afternoon when the two men who had left the village were seen
returning with three others, their horses loaded with bags, which no
doubt contained gunpowder. They were received with shouts of "Wah! wah!"
from their comrades as they entered the gate. Ahmed, watching them with
Ahsan and others, saw them convey the powder to a lean-to beside the
gate-keeper's hut against the wall. There was great cheerfulness among
Minghal's men, who had idled away the day in gambling. Early in the
morning Ahmed had seen three of them leave the village in the opposite
direction from Mandan; and going to the top of the tower, he watched
them ride for some two miles until they reached a hillock whose summit
rose a little higher than the tower roof. There they dismounted and led
their horses into a thin copse. They did not reappear, and Ahmed guessed
that they had been sent there as an outpost to guard against any
surprise from the sudden return of Rahmut Khan. It was clear that
Minghal was resolved to carry through his design to the uttermost.

Confident as he was in appearance, Ahmed in reality felt no little
anxiety. The quantity of powder brought into the village by Minghal's
messengers was large enough not merely to blow in the door and the
barricade, but even to make a breach in the tower wall. He knew very
well that if the enemy once forced their way into the tower the case was
hopeless; for the men he had with him were all well on in years, and
with the fatalism of their race they would regard the first success of
the enemy as a clear sign of Heaven's favour. It seemed to him
imperative that Minghal should be by some means prevented from
succeeding in any part of his purpose, and as the afternoon wore on he
took counsel with Ahsan, telling him frankly of his anxieties.

"What you say is true," said the old man; "but how is it possible to do
anything? They have the powder--may their graves be defiled!--and when
it is dark we shall not be able to see to take aim at them as they bring
it to the door."

"If we had but one friend in the village! The cowards! And they are
fools as well, to desert a chief like my father for one like Minghal
Khan. Were there one brave man having any wits among them, he would blow
up that powder, and our trouble would be gone."

Ahsan could only sigh and wish that the chief had not gone
horse-raiding.

"He is too old for such deeds. 'Tis time he rested and made ready to
obey the last call. Hai! and some day, if he continues thus, he will
fall into a snare--some calamity will light on him. It may be with him
even as it was with Mir Ismail of Bangash."

"Why, how was it with him?"

"He had gone on just such an errand, and he was old, like our master
Rahmut. He had cut a hole in the stable of the Malik he had gone to rob,
and was in the very act of loosening the horse's halter when he was
disturbed by a noise. Loh! he made haste to escape by the hole he
himself had made, but being old and stiff, he had but got his head and
shoulders out when his legs were caught from behind. Hai! hai! and then
was he in desperate fear lest he should be dragged back and known by his
captors, for he was a famous stealer of horses, and it would have
snapped his heart-strings if they saw him and gloated over his capture.
The honour of his family and people would be smirched. Wherefore he
cried aloud to his son, who waited outside, bidding him cut off his head
rather than let that shame fall upon him. His head being gone, they
would not recognize his trunk."

"And did his son obey him?" asked Ahmed.

"He did, and so was the honour of his house saved," replied the old man.

Ahmed was silent for a minute or two; then he said--

"Ahsan, think you I could cut a hole in that shed where the powder-bags
are laid?"

"Hai! How wouldest thou get there?" said the gate-keeper. "Verily not by
the door; were it opened, Minghal's dogs would burst in."

"True, but could you not let me down over the wall by a rope?"

"And what then? The gates are shut: there is no entrance."

"But I know of a place on the other side of the village where there are
notches in the wall, by which I might mount; and, the wall scaled, I
could steal my way to the shed and maybe cut a hole and lay a train, and
so fire the powder that lies there for our destruction."

"You could never get over the wall unspied," said the old man; "and if
they catch you, you are dead."

"But the place where I can scale the wall will be in darkness when the
moon shines on the tower. If it is to be done it must be done before the
moon has crept round, for as soon as the tower door is in darkness be
sure they will set about their purpose."

Ahmed was deaf to all entreaties, and about an hour before the earliest
moment when the besiegers might be expected to begin their operations,
he was let down by a rope from a window overlooking the wall, this side
being in deep shadow. Having reached the ground, he stole along at the
foot of the wall until he came to a spot some little distance away where
he believed the notches to be. They had not been made intentionally, but
were due to the crumbling of the clay of which the wall was made, and
had not been filled up. He found them without difficulty, the outer side
of the wall being at this point partially illuminated, while the inner
side, in the shadow of the houses, was dark. Pausing a moment to make
sure that all was quiet within, he set his bare foot in the lowest
notch, and, aiding himself with his hands, heaved himself slowly up.

When his head was just below the top of the wall, he waited again,
listening intently for sounds of movement or speech within the village.
All was quiet in the immediate neighbourhood, though voices came faintly
to his ear from the direction of the tower. He raised his head and
peered over: nothing was to be seen; then with a final heave he rolled
himself over the top, hung by his hands for a moment or two until his
feet found a hollow to rest in, and then as quickly as might be made the
descent, dropping the last six feet and alighting noiselessly on his
bare soles.

A narrow lane ran between the wall and a large barn in which the
villagers' grain was stored. Beyond this was the smithy, the potter's
house, and one or two more small buildings, so that he could come, with
fair security, to within a few feet of the shed where the powder lay.
These last few feet of space were not screened, and in crossing them his
risk would be greatest. Having come to the edge of it, he passed round
the corner of the building, and saw to his joy that the enemy was hid
from his view by the projecting shed itself. He stole along by the wall,
gained the side of the shed, and without an instant's delay set to work
with a chisel he had brought with him to loosen one of the planks in the
wooden side, working with all possible silence. Once the light sound of
a footstep caused him to scurry back to the shadowed lane; but the
disturber, whoever he was, passed in another direction, and Ahmed sped
back to finish his work.

Having removed the plank, he squeezed through into the shed without much
difficulty, being slim, and groping about soon laid hands on one of the
powder-bags. In this he cut a hole, then laid a train of powder to the
opening in the shed wall, lighted the slow match Ahsan had furnished,
and, breathing hard, ran like a deer back along the lane. At first he
could not find the spot where he had descended the wall, and feared lest
the explosion should occur before he had regained the tower. But
discovering the place at length, he swarmed up, and now in his haste
ventured to drop the full height of the wall. He fell on his face, rose
in an instant, and scampered back to where the rope still dangled from
the window. He had but just laid hands on it when there was a deafening
explosion, followed by a great outcry from the men. When he regained the
top of the tower, he ran with Ahsan and others to a window whence he
could look down upon the scene. The shed was in flames; and he was
surprised to see two or three forms prone on the ground near it. One of
the men who had been keeping watch told him that several of the enemy
had come to the door of the shed, no doubt to bring out the powder, at
the moment when the explosion took place, and had been hurled to the
ground by the flying timbers.

Minghal and Dilasah were raging up and down among their men. They looked
on helplessly while the shed burnt, Minghal crying out that there was a
traitor in the village. The street and the open space in front of the
tower were crowded with people who had been startled from sleep by the
uproar, and Minghal in his fury sent his men among them, to slash and
slay. The poor villagers fled away and hid themselves, Ahsan declaring
that they deserved no pity, because they had deserted their rightful
master for the invader.

There was much rejoicing in the tower at the success of Ahmed's bold
enterprise. Even the most faint-hearted now took courage. But it was
clear that the enemy had no intention of departing. The failure of their
scheme had made them only the more vindictive. Minghal sent some of his
men for more powder; the rest, keeping well out of gunshot, squatted
against the walls of the houses, ready to prevent any egress from the
tower. It was plain that Minghal meant to make another attempt, and if
he failed to gain entrance, to starve the defenders out.

Ahmed did not fear the first, but was greatly troubled at the prospect
of a prolonged siege. In the few minutes' grace between his arrival in
the village and the coming of the enemy there had not been time to
convey a large supply of food and water into the tower. The water was
already running short, and it was necessary to put the inmates on a
scanty allowance. With great economy they might make it last for two or
three days; then, unless help came, there would be no choice but to
surrender, or to make an attempt to escape at night by means of the
rope. Minghal as yet, clearly, had no suspicion that the powder had been
fired by any one from the tower. It might be easy for the men and boys
to let themselves down as Ahmed had done, but it would not be so easy
for the women and girls to descend in the same way, and the least sound
would bring the enemy upon them. From the top of the tower during that
day Ahmed cast many an anxious glance in the direction whence his father
might be expected to return; but there was no sign of him, and indeed,
but for some mischance in his expedition, it was hardly likely that he
would be back for several days.

In the afternoon Minghal's messengers returned with another supply of
powder. As ill-luck would have it, with the fall of night a thick mist
came down upon the village, obscuring the moon; and under cover of the
darkness the men brought powder to the tower door and fired it. The
door, massive as it was, was blown to splinters, and with yells of
triumph the assailants rushed in when the smoke had cleared, confident
that they were on the point of mastery. But the defenders had had ample
time to prepare for them, and when, ignorant of the barricade, they
began to rush up the winding stairs, Dilasah being at their head, they
were met with a sharp fusillade, which struck down several of them and
sent the rest scuttling away with yells of alarm. Dilasah himself was
among those who were wounded, and Ahmed from his conning post above
could dimly see his rival being carried away by two of the men.

This set-back, while it eased Ahmed's position for the moment, had the
effect of making the enemy still more determined. Hitherto the most part
of the men had not been greatly interested in the business. The quarrel
was a personal one of their chief's; for themselves they would have been
satisfied with plundering the village and returning to their own place.
Even though Minghal inflamed their racial and religious prejudices
against Ahmed as one of the hated Feringhis, they saw little to gain by
capturing or killing him. But now that they had themselves suffered,
their warlike instincts and their passion for revenge were aroused; and,
moreover, they were nettled by their failure, considering that they
outnumbered the defenders by at least ten to one.

The night passed quietly, but evidence of their new spirit was shown
next day. Ahmed, looking from his window, saw signs of great activity
below, though for a time neither he nor Ahsan nor any other of his
comrades understood what was afoot. By and by, however, it became clear
that the enemy were busily constructing shields of wood and goat-skins
with which to defend themselves against musket-shots from beyond the
barricade. The work was apparently finished by midday, for the men
squatted in groups on the ground, taking their dinner, and talking with
great cheerfulness. But when the hours of the afternoon went by without
the expected attack, Ahmed concluded that it was put off till night, and
felt that this time it would be pushed home. Defended by their shields,
the men could easily bring powder to the base of the barricade, and if
that was blown away it was only a question of minutes. It was useless to
attempt to disguise from his comrades the great danger in which they
stood, especially as they were now reduced to their last pitchers of
water.

Now Ahsan made a proposal.

"'Tis time for you to leave us, Ahmed-ji," he said. "Minghal, that son
of a dog, is bent on seizing you. It matters little about the rest of
us, but you are the apple of the master's eye, and if you are safe, 'tis
of little moment what happens to us. We shall become Minghal's men; we
shall at least be saved alive. Do you, then, escape by the rope when
darkness falls, and run to the hills, where you may hide until the
master returns; and when you are gone, after a time we will deliver
ourselves up to Minghal."

This suggestion was applauded by the other men. They had in truth little
to gain by further resistance. If their lives were spared they would
only pass into the service of another chief, and since Minghal's star
seemed to be in the ascendant, that was a fate which all expected sooner
or later to befall them. But Ahmed was very unwilling thus to throw up
the sponge. Apart from his disinclination to desert his post, he knew
how his father would be cut to the heart at the triumph of his rival,
and felt that he himself would be for ever disgraced if this calamity
should come upon the old chief during his absence. Yet he felt the
impossibility of holding out much longer, and was troubled at the
thought that all those with him might be killed if he did not yield.

"I will go apart and think over what you have said," he said to the man,
"and I will come again and tell you my thoughts."

He went to the top of the tower, and leaning over the parapet began to
ponder the difficult situation in which he found himself. And as he was
sadly thinking that there was no other course than to surrender (for to
run away and leave his comrades was abhorrent to him), his eye was
suddenly caught by a small dark patch moving on the hillside far away
towards the British frontier. The sun was behind him, the air was clear,
and, gazing at what had attracted his notice, he was not long in coming
to the conclusion that the dark shadow on the hill was a body of
horsemen.

A great hope sprang up in his mind. It might be Rahmut returning with
his men. True, it might be a band belonging to another chief, or even a
troop of British horsemen, or of natives in the British pay. Keen as his
eyes were, it was impossible at this distance--at least twelve miles, as
he judged--to tell who the men were. But they were certainly
approaching, though very slowly; they were coming from the very quarter
whence his father would return, there was at least a good chance that
they were friends. He ran down at once to the room where Ahsan and the
rest were awaiting his return, and told them of what he had seen. They
went back with him and looked eagerly across the plain. The horsemen
appeared to have halted, they were no nearer than when he had seen them
last; none of his comrades was better able than he to identify them.

"Let us make a beacon here," said one of the men. "If they are our own
people they will ride at once to our help; if they are not, we shall be
none the worse off."

"No, no," said old Ahsan; "that would be a foolish thing to do.
Minghal's men cannot have spied them yet; we at this height can see many
miles further than they below. And they cannot have been seen by the
outpost on the hillock yonder, for, look! the copse is between them. Let
us do nothing to put our enemies on guard. And besides, say we light a
beacon, and our master comes riding to our help, Minghal, seeing the
fire, would know its meaning, and even though he saw not the master's
troop, he would suspect, and lay an ambush, and the master might be
killed."

"But how, then, can we bring them to us?" asked Ahmed. "They have
halted, as you see; perhaps they have had a long day's march and are
tired. Perhaps they may encamp for the night; and if they do, or even if
they continue to come slowly towards us, they may arrive too late. Shall
we fire shots?"

"That is no better than to light a beacon," said Ahsan. "The shots would
bring them fast enough to us; but as thou knowest, Ahmed-ji, the sound
of their riding would be heard while they were yet far away, and they
have but to come a little nearer to be seen by the outpost. The end
would be the same: Minghal would lie hid in readiness to meet them, and
they would fall into his hands."

"Yet we must do something," cried Ahmed, "and before it is dark. When
night comes we shall be attacked and overcome; and my father, when he
hears the firing, will come up in haste, and as you say, the sound of
his riding will be heard; having overcome us, Minghal would have time to
prepare to meet him."

"There is one way, Ahmed-ji," said Ahsan slowly. "One of us must go down
the rope and haste to meet him and give him warning of what has befallen
us here. And who better than thyself? Thou art swift of foot and skilled
in the secret tracking down of prey: who more fit to undertake this
errand or more likely to accomplish it?"

This was perfectly true; but the old man had another motive. There was
still uncertainty whether the horsemen were friends or foes, and he
wished in either case to secure the lad's safety. Ahmed did not see
through the gate-keeper's design; he knew that, of the company there
assembled, he would have the best chance of success; and so he agreed,
as soon as dusk fell, to slip down the rope, make his way round the
village, and set off towards the distant hill on which the dark patch
could still be seen, stationary.

It wanted still two hours of dusk when this decision was come to. During
that time Ahmed and the gate-keeper talked over the plan, and as they
did so they saw the band of horsemen begin to move once more slowly
towards them. They were at once alive to a danger. The horsemen were at
least twelve miles from the village. At the pace at which they appeared
to be riding it would take them four hours to reach the walls. But when
they had covered half the distance they would come in sight of the
outpost on the hillock; the alarm would be given, and they would arrive
only to fall into a trap. Yet it was impossible to warn them. It would
be unsafe for Ahmed to leave the tower until the approach of dark, and
by that time the horsemen might have come within view from the hillock.
Ahmed waited in great restlessness and anxiety, feeling his
helplessness.

"'Tis in the hands of Allah," said Ahsan, trying to quiet him. "What is
to be will be. But that thou hast Feringhi blood in thee, Ahmed-ji, thou
wouldst not be so disturbed. We cannot hasten the dark; we cannot speak
through the air to warn the master. But look what Allah can do; they
have halted again."

And pointing over the parapet, he showed that the dark irregular shadow
had rested a little lower down the hill, upon which lay the glow of the
now setting sun.

As soon as the dusk was merging towards dark, Ahmed was let down by the
rope. Ahsan had promised to hold out against any attack that Minghal
might make. Then, creeping stealthily along by the foot of the wall, he
continued till he came to a place where the ground was broken by a
nullah, into which he leapt, and ran along its dry bottom at full speed
until he arrived safely in the hills. By this time it was quite dark;
but the moon was just rising, and in a little he was able by its light
to guide his steps so that he did not stumble into a ravine or trip over
a salient rock.

As he came near the place where the outpost was stationed he went very
cautiously. The men had taken shelter in a rude shepherd's cairn; he saw
the faint glow of their charcoal fire and heard their voices as he
slipped by. Then he pushed on at greater speed, choosing a course in
which he would never come within sight of the men, however carefully
they might keep watch. At one spot he halted and looked behind, to catch
a last glimpse of the tower before he rounded the base of a hill that
would hide it from view. The moon was shining full upon it, and he hoped
that the enemy would defer their threatened attack, as at the first
attempt, until the door was shrouded in darkness.

On and on he hastened, for mile after mile, running down the slopes
where he could, wading brooks, climbing bluffs, doggedly, without rest.
When he came to an eminence where he could scan a long stretch of the
comparatively level ground over which the horsemen would come, he looked
eagerly for some sign of them; but though the greyish soil shone white
in the moonlight and the outlines of things were very clear, he failed
to descry them, and could not but think that they had encamped for the
night. If it was so, still greater was the necessity for speed, since at
any moment the attack on the tower might be begun and the frail
barricade forced or blown up.

Every now and again he paused for a moment to listen, both for sounds
from the village behind him and for the hoofs of the horses. In the
still air of the night the crack of musket-shots might well reach him if
the assault on the tower were begun. But he heard nothing save the
rustle of falling water or the cry of a jackal, and he went on again,
buoyed up by a great hope that he might be in time.

At length, heated and weary, after breasting a steep knoll he espied, in
a well-sheltered hollow far below him, the glow of camp fires. With the
caution habitual in a hill-man he crept down warily; if he should
blunder on a hostile party the chances of saving the village and warning
his father would be small indeed. Taking cover from bushes and angular
projections of the hillside, he drew nearer and nearer to the camp. He
had little fear of encountering a sentry, for the Pathans, in some
matters highly cautious, are in others equally careless. And thus he
came within earshot of the camp, and, lying flat on his face, peered
down to spy if the men there were or were not his friends.

Now he was able to see the dark forms of a number of horses tethered to
trees beyond the camp, and in the middle of the hollow, around the
fires, the shapes of sleeping men. Still he was unable to distinguish
them. He wriggled forward on all fours until he was within a spear-cast
of them, and then caught sight of the red turban which his father always
wore. No other man of the tribe wore a turban of that colour; but still
it might be affected by one of another tribe, and Ahmed was not yet
satisfied. So he crept very stealthily round the encampment until he
reached the line of horses, and his heart leapt with delight when, on
the very first of the line, he recognized the housings of Rahmut Khan's
favourite arab. He hesitated no longer, but gave a low hail, and rising
to his feet walked down towards the fires. His call, low as it was, had
reached the ears of several of the men and of the chief himself. They
rose, gripping their long muskets that lay beside them, and as they
recognized Ahmed, they came forward to meet him, and asked him eagerly
the meaning of this nocturnal visit.

It did not take him long to explain what had happened. Growling with
anger, but breaking off to speak a fond word of approbation to Ahmed,
the old chief called to his men to mount their horses. "Bah!" he cried,
with a scornful intonation, "we will see if the eagle cannot deal with
the night-hawk."

The blood of the old warrior was up; Minghal should rue the day when he
conceived the folly of setting himself in rivalry to Rahmut Khan.

The chief was quick to form his plan. The first thing was to guard
against any alarm among Minghal's men. It was necessary to silence the
two men of the outpost. This would cause some delay, but it was of the
first importance that they should neither see nor hear the advancing
body, since by firing their matchlocks they could put their comrades in
the village on the alert.

It was seven miles from the camp to the outpost. Rahmut durst not ride
towards it with his full body of men, for the clatter of fifty horses'
hoofs could not fail to be heard. Yet the case was urgent, for very
soon, perhaps even at this moment, the tower might be assaulted. Delay
there must be, but to lessen it as much as possible Rahmut decided to
muffle the hoofs of three of the horses with strips of blanket, and to
send three of his men with Ahmed to surprise the outpost. Meanwhile he
himself with the rest of his party would ride in a circular course to
the southward, so that they might sweep round the dangerous point at
sufficient distance to be out of earshot.

The muffling was soon done, and the three chosen men set off, Ahmed
being mounted behind one of them. Following his directions, they came
unerringly to within a short distance of the hillock upon which the
scouts were posted. Then they dismounted, and, Ahmed leading the way,
they crept round and up so as to come on the men from above. The scouts
were reclining in the cairn behind the fire, still talking in low tones.
There was a sudden rush, a cry, a wild scuffle, and then silence.

Their task accomplished, the four returned to their horses and galloped
across the country to join the main body, whom they met at the appointed
rendezvous, a copse on rising ground some three miles south of the
village. From that point Rahmut had decided to make the advance on foot,
so that the chances of premature discovery by the enemy should be
diminished. The moon was sinking in the sky; they could not see the
tower from the place where they dismounted; but the favourable moment
for Minghal's intended assault had certainly now come, and Ahmed
expected within a little to hear the sound of firing.

The whole party, save a few men left to guard the horses, set off at a
rapid march towards the village. It was possible that as they approached
it a keen look-out might descry them from the tower, but they would be
invisible to any one on a lower level. True, a man perched on the wall
might see them; but Minghal, having posted scouts on a hillock
commanding all the surrounding country for several miles, would be
little likely to take this extra precaution.

Marching rapidly, the party had come within a few hundred yards of the
village wall when they heard an explosion, followed by cries and the
crack of muskets. The assault had begun. The gates being shut, it was
only possible to enter the village by climbing the wall, and Ahmed led
the band at the double to the spot where he had mounted when he fired
the powder in the shed. Shouts and the sound of firing still came from
the village; it was clear that a desperate fight was in progress; and
since the din must drown all other noises, Rahmut's troops made no
effort towards silence, but rushed with all speed.

The place for which Ahmed was making was on the opposite side of the
village from the tower. Thus it was possible to climb the wall without
attracting the attention of the enemy. Ahmed was first up; while some of
the men were following him one by one he ran round to the gate on the
chance that it might be left unguarded. He would then throw it open and
give admittance to the rest of his party. But when he came within sight
of it he found that a sentry was on guard there. He dared not risk the
sound of a scuffle, so he slipped back to his friends and waited until
the whole party had climbed the wall. Then, drawing his talwar, Rahmut
put himself at the head of his men and led them through the streets
towards the tower.

Their advance was not at first seen, for the villagers, drawn out of
their houses by the sounds of fighting, had flocked to the neighbourhood
of the tower, and were watching the progress of Minghal's attack. The
barricade at the foot of the winding stair had been blown up, and a
fierce contest was now going on. Ahsan and his comrades were making a
stout resistance, buoyed up by the belief that their chief was coming to
their help; but they were on the point of being overpowered when a great
shout arose from the street, and Rahmut and his men burst through the
ranks of the onlookers and fell upon the rear of Minghal's force. The
surprise was complete. The new-comers laid about them doughtily with
their terrible swords; their enemies fell into a panic, and in a few
minutes the whole crowd, save those who had already fallen, were running
in every direction. Many of them were cut down as they fled. Some made
straight for the gate, which the men stationed there had thrown open at
the first sign of what was happening. Among the fugitives was Minghal
Khan. Rahmut had ordered his men to take the rival chief alive, but in
the darkness it was difficult to distinguish one from many, and Minghal
made good his escape with a few of his followers, and fled away into the
night.



CHAPTER THE FOURTH

The Return of Sherdil


To pursue the fugitives was impossible in the darkness; nor, indeed,
were Rahmut's men capable of further exertions. They were worn out by
two days and nights of hard riding. Before proceeding to carry out the
prime object of his expedition, the old chief had turned aside to raid
the village of an enemy near the frontier, and had scarcely completed
his work there when he was spied by a troop of the Feringhis, who chased
him with such pertinacity that he was forced to abandon his purposed
quest. Having secured, therefore, those members of Minghal's band who
had life in them and were not too severely wounded to escape, Rahmut
ordered the gates to be again closed and the community to rest.

Before he sought his own couch, however, the old chief heard from Ahsan
the full story of what had happened during his absence. Enraged as he
was at Minghal's action, he was still more delighted with the part Ahmed
had played. He embraced the lad fondly, called him by endearing names in
the extravagant Oriental way, and declared that, after punishing
Minghal, he would devote himself in earnest to the quest of a suitable
bride for his heir.

In the morning he caused all the villagers to assemble in the open space
before the tower, and bitterly upbraided those who had tamely submitted
to the enemy. He ordered his nephew Dilasah, who had been severely
wounded, to be brought out among the people, and, cursing him in the
name of the Prophet, he bade all men to witness that he disowned him
utterly. Then he waxed eloquent in praise of Ahmed, about whose neck he
hung a chain of silver cunningly wrought, and called on the people to
recognize him as their future chief. And, finally, he announced that
Minghal Khan should not go unpunished. When the time was ripe his enemy
should lick the dust.

When the assembly was dismissed, Rahmut called his chief men about him
to discuss the means of taking vengeance on Minghal. Ahmed felt a glow
of pride at being admitted to the council. In the ordinary way he could
not have expected so great an honour until he had proved himself in
actual warfare and become a married man. But the old chief was so much
pleased with his coolness and daring, that he was resolved to give the
lad a real share in the activities of the tribe.

There was a long discussion as to the method by which reprisal might be
made on Minghal Khan. It was speedily agreed that to attack his village
openly was impracticable, or would at least expose them to the risk of
disaster. Minghal had lost some twenty men in the fight, but it was well
known that he could still put eighty or ninety good warriors in the
field, whereas Rahmut had but forty or fifty. Success could only be
hoped for from a stratagem. But Minghal, while inferior as a warrior to
Rahmut, was more than his match in wiles. Rahmut, indeed, disdained
trickery of any kind; he had won his reputation by sheer prowess and
skill in generalship, and if it came to a contest in cunning, Minghal
would easily bear the palm. No doubt the wily chief would expect
retaliation, and would be fully prepared to meet it. No one among the
council was able to suggest a likely scheme, and it broke up without
having come to a decision.

Two days passed, and still no plan had suggested itself. On the third
day, there rode up to the village a tall, black-bearded horseman clad in
worn and tattered garments of dust colour, and carrying sword, lance and
carbine. When he had come within a short distance of the gate Ahsan
shouted--

"Halt, there! Who are you, and what is your business?"

"Knowst thou me not, Ahsan?" came the reply. "Dost not remember Sherdil,
son of Assad? Thou didst thrash me often enough, and truly the soft part
of me will never forget thy thwackings."

"Why, Sherdil, thy beard has grown since those days. I remember thee
well. Come in, and say why thou ridest in garments of so strange a
make."

Sherdil rode in, eyed curiously by the crowd of men and boys whom the
brief conversation had drawn to the spot. He was a magnificent specimen
of a Pathan, tall, handsome of feature, well made, and his horse was a
match for him. Dismounting, he led his horse by the bridle and went to
pay his respects to the chief.

Sherdil had left the village nearly eight years before, when he was a
youth of seventeen. He had been the wildest and most unruly boy of the
tribe, always in mischief, showing no respect for his elders--one day he
had called a holy sayad "old scaldhead," and laughed when his father
thrashed him for it. He had been incorrigibly lazy at school: not all
the mullah's thwackings drove into his thick head the scraps from the
Koran which formed the greater part of his lessons, and he was always
very rebellious at having to fast from sunrise to sunset in Ramzan, the
ninth month. But in tent-pegging and racing and sword-play he beat all
boys of his age, and indeed many of the men; and when he insisted on
joining them in their expeditions, which happened at the age of sixteen,
he excelled them all as a highway robber and a horse-thief.

When he was seventeen he ran away, and nothing had since been heard of
him. His mother grieved, for he was her firstborn; but his father,
having three more sons, was not greatly distressed, for the boy had
always been a trouble to him. And now he had come back, grown out of
knowledge, with a fine black beard and the look of a seasoned warrior.

His father, Assad, as in duty bound, made a great feast in honour of the
returned prodigal. He invited a great number of his neighbours, and
regaled them with the flesh of sheep and goats and--this was a great
luxury--fowls, and beautifully light chapatis baked by his wife Fatima
herself, and luscious sweetmeats made of honey and ghi; but the only
drink was water. And having been well fed, Sherdil related the story of
his life since he had left Shagpur--a good riddance, as most of the folk
thought.

It was a stirring tale, of wild doings on the borders, among men who
kept the passes into the hills and lived amid inaccessible rocks, whence
they swept down upon unsuspecting travellers and merchants in the
plains, and even pushed their forays across the frontiers among the
sahib-log. His audience uttered many an exclamation of wonderment and
admiration as he recounted his exploits, and you may be sure he did not
minimize them. The men about him were robbers and brigands and murderers
themselves, but their deeds faded into insignificance beside the bold
and desperate adventures of Sherdil. Ahmed, who was among the company,
listened with all his frame thrilling. He had a faint recollection of
Sherdil as a big fellow who, rough as he was, had treated him with a
certain kindness, and had shown him first how to snare a rabbit. And he
felt a good deal of envy of this fine stalwart fellow who had seen and
done so much.

One story of Sherdil's made the company hilarious. The chief to whom he
for a time attached himself--one Dilawur, a native of Jahangia, a
village on the Cabul river--heard one day that a wealthy Hindu
shopkeeper was to be married. He instantly determined to profit by the
bridegroom's happiness. With his men, among whom Sherdil was one, he lay
in wait on the bank of the Indus at a place which the Hindu must pass on
his way to the bride's house. When the expectant bridegroom came in
sight, all bedizened with wristlets and chains and jewels, the brigands,
armed with pistol, sword and dagger, fell upon the party, seized the
luckless man, dragged him to the river bank, and thrust him into an
inflated cow-hide. Then Sherdil mounted upon this monstrous bladder, and
paddled it across the river. When the rest were across, the Hindu was
carried away into the hills, and Dilawur's scribe--for he could not
write himself--penned a letter to his sorrowing friends, informing them
that their relative was well and happy, and would be restored to them
fat and jolly for the little sum of two hundred rupees.

"Wah! wah!" said the company in chorus. "And what next, O lion of the
hills?"

And Sherdil, whose name means "lion-hearted," chuckled and said--

"Why, did ye ever know a Hindu who would pay a price without bargaining?
And the richer they are, the more they haggle. 'Two hundred rupees? No,
no: we cannot afford that. The sickness fell on our goats last winter;
we are very poor; our friend is very dear to us, but he will be too dear
if we pay that price. We will give a hundred rupees, when we are sure
our friend has lost no flesh.' But Dilawur Khan has not the patience of
a camel. When he got their foolish answer he sent me with another
letter, saying that if the two hundred rupees were not in his hands
within seven days, he would strike off their dear relative's head and
send it them as an offering of peace; only having been at the expense of
feeding him with good fattening food all that time, he would require two
thousand rupees as recompense."

"Wah! wah!" shouted the delighted hearers, to whose sense of justice
this appealed no less than to their sense of humour; "and what was the
answer?"

"Why, the answer was two hundred rupees, full tale, and a present of
goats beside. And the Hindu--whom fear and the delay of his marriage had
most marvellously thinned--was restored to his home, with good wishes
for a long life and many sons--for our sons to pluck likewise."

And in the midst of the laughter this story evoked, one of the guests
asked a question--

"But why, O Sherdil, hast thou given up the dress of thy
forefathers--the chogah, and the blue trousers drawn in at the ankles,
and the sandals? Why dost thou wear this strange garb, like the dust of
the plain or corn of the fields in colour?"

"Eha, that is a strange story too," said Sherdil, and he drew himself
up. "I am a servant of the sahib-log."

"Hai! hai!" gasped the company in astonishment. "A servant of the
sahib-log! the accursed Feringhis! sayest thou, O Sherdil?"

"'Tis true. My coat is the colour of corn, say you? yes, but it is the
colour of the lion also. Is not my name Sherdil? A great sahib, his name
Lumsden, heard of me; he knows everything; no man who does brave deeds
escapes him. Having heard of my great daring in the hills, he sent one
to me who had served him long and was as brave as myself, and begged me,
if it were not too much trouble, to go and see him. And then he spoke
fairly to me: the sahibs are just and speak true; he told me that he had
learnt somewhat of my doings, and asked whether it would suit my honour
to join a company of warriors like myself--Afridis and Gurkhas, Sikhs
and Hazaras, Waziris and even Kafirs, many bloods but one spirit. And
before I made my answer he showed me them at their sports, and verily,
brothers, never did I see such skill among so many men. I saw them throw
the spear at a mark, and doing nazabaze, which is, to fix a stake of a
span length in the ground and take it up on the spear's point when
passing at a full gallop; and, for another sport, putting an orange on
the top of a bamboo three spans high, and slicing it through with the
sword as they ride by at full speed. 'By my beard!' I thought, 'these
are fit mates for me;' and I asked the sahib whether I might try the
nazabaze myself. And he allowed me, and when I caught up the stake on my
spear point he smote his hands together and said words in his tongue to
Hodson Sahib that stood by him, and then he offered me good wages to be
one of his men--Guides, they call them. And I agreed, and therefore it
is, my friends, that I wear this garb, which being of the colour of
earth cannot be seen from afar so clearly as our own garments."

Assad, for the first time in his life proud of this son of his, swelled
with gratification.

"Well did I name thee Sherdil, my son," he said. "But tell us, what dost
thou do for the pay these Feringhis--curst unbelievers--give thee?
Assuredly it is easy work, or thou wouldst not do it."

Sherdil laughed.

"You ask what we do, my father--we of Lumsden Sahib's Guides. We do what
we are bid to do--is not that strange? It is strange to me myself, I
own; for I never did what you bade me, father. But with the
sahibs--well, that is a different matter. They say, Do this! and we do
it, with a cheerful countenance. Canst thou see Sherdil handling a
pick-axe? Say we have no water, and the sahib wishes a well to be sunk.
We of the Guides do it, and I, Sherdil, am the most diligent among them.
Say we need bricks to make a wall; the sahib bids us mould the clay and
burn it, and lo! the bricks are made. Say the sahib desires to go
a-hunting--and a mighty hunter he is, by Allah!--he bids us go into the
jungle as beaters, and gives us rounds of ammunition for ourselves. And
if we do well in our tasks, he gives us goats and rice, and after the
feast we sing songs and make merry."

"But this is not work fit for warriors of the hills," said Assad,
looking a little blank. "Dost never fight and steal?"

"To steal is forbidden," replied Sherdil; "it is against the sahibs'
law. But fight!--do we not fight, my father! Didst never hear how we
fought at Multan, with Fatteh Khan? And how we took the fort of
Goringhar, Rasul Khan being our leader? Lo! I have many tales to tell;
they will last the days of my leave. Yes, we fight, when we get the
chance. Why, only four days ago we spied a troop of fifty or more
hill-men away there in the hills, and we chased them for two days and
nights, but they would never stand to take a shot at us, so much are we
feared."

Inquiry soon discovered that Sherdil had been among the troops which had
kept Rahmut Khan on the run, and loud was his laughter when he learnt
that it was his own chief whom they had been chasing. He became serious,
however, when he heard of what had befallen the village during the
chief's absence, and cursed Minghal Khan with the true vigour of a
Pathan. And on being told that no plans had yet been formed for the
punishment of the offender, he vowed by the beard of the Prophet that
some way should be found before his leave was expired.

Next day he sought an interview with the chief, and had not been in
conversation with him more than half-an-hour before Rahmut called his
council together and asked their opinion of an enterprise Sherdil had
suggested. It won their hearty admiration. One of Minghal's sources of
revenue consisted of a tribute levied on traders passing to and from
Central Asia. Their route lay within a few miles of his village, and,
indeed, sometimes they made use of a change-house in it. They usually
travelled in bodies of considerable size, and sufficiently well armed to
offer a good defence against marauders. But they found it profitable to
placate the principal chiefs through whose territories they passed by
paying a tribute varying with the importance of the chiefs; and the
chiefs on their side recognized that their interests were better served
by the regular income thus derived than by forays which might or might
not be successful, and which would ultimately have the effect of scaring
away the trade caravans altogether.

Sherdil had suggested that advantage of this fact might be taken to
practise a trick on Minghal. He proposed that a small party of Rahmut's
men should be equipped as traders, and thus gain admittance to Minghal's
village. Then, at night, they might find some means of seizing his
tower, and while the village was in confusion Rahmut could attack it
with the main body of his men.

The old chief himself, true to his character, was at first reluctant to
fall in with this cunning scheme. He pointed out that Minghal's attack
on his own tower had failed, and foresaw many possibilities of failure
in the proposed adventure. He would have preferred to wait until he
could have gathered a sufficient reinforcement to enable him to make a
direct attack in force on his enemy. But Sherdil laughed away his
doubts; the burden of his reasoning was that against a wily enemy like
Minghal, wiles must be employed. And as for the matter of the tower, and
a possible failure there, that was not worth considering.

"Minghal had no Sherdil and no Ahmed," he said, with a magnificent
gesture. "I, Sherdil, have learnt somewhat from the sahibs, and has not
Ahmed the blood of sahibs in his veins? We are more than a match for
Minghal, believe me."

Rahmut frowned, and threw an anxious glance at Ahmed when this reference
was made to his English birth. This admiration of the sahibs was little
to his liking; but he discreetly said nothing of what was passing in his
mind, and the general opinion being favourable to the scheme, he gave
his assent to it. Then he threw himself keenly enough into the
preparations suggested by Sherdil. He declared that if the stratagem was
to be attempted, it must be done thoroughly. Any carelessness would
invite discovery, and discovery would mean death to those engaged in it.

Sherdil undertook the arrangements. The first step was to select the
members of the pretended trading party. Five well-tried warriors were
chosen from among those who had accompanied the chief on his recent
expedition. Having been absent from the village during Minghal's attack,
they were not likely to be recognized by his men when they entered his
village. And Sherdil himself begged that Ahmed might be allowed to join
the party. To this the chief at first objected. The enterprise was
fraught with great danger; Minghal would like nothing better than to get
the chief's heir into his hands; and Ahmed, having taken so prominent a
part in the defence of the tower, would certainly be recognized. But
Sherdil had conceived a great admiration for the part Ahmed had played
in resisting Minghal's raid, especially for his exploit in blowing up
the powder. He assured Rahmut Khan that the lad could easily be
sufficiently disguised; Ahmed himself pleaded very hard to be allowed to
join the expedition; and the old chief at last, bethinking himself that,
if successful, it might serve as an additional bond between Ahmed and
the villagers and strengthen his consideration with them, gave his
consent.

"Go, my son, and God go with thee," he said, laying his hands fondly on
the boy's head. "But come back to me, for I am well stricken in years,
and I would fain go to the grave happy, knowing that thou wilt be lord
of Shagpur, and not Dilasah."



CHAPTER THE FIFTH

Reprisals


At sunset of the day on which Sherdil's plan was adopted, the little
party of seven set off from Shagpur in the opposite direction from
Minghal's village. Their goal was a small town on the frontier, many
miles away, where in the bazar they might obtain the articles necessary
to their proper equipment as traders. Sherdil, who had doffed his khaki
uniform and assumed the native dress of his village, thought it best to
start at night so as to evade any spies whom Minghal might have placed
in the neighbourhood.

The journey was to have a great importance in the life of Ahmed, son of
Rahmut Khan. He rode close beside Sherdil all the way, and when they
halted at roadside serais for rest and refreshment, those two ate
together and squatted or lay side by side. The things of which Sherdil
had spoken at his father's feast had fired Ahmed's imagination. Though
the impressions of his early childhood had become dim, and the people
among whom he had then lived were mere shadows, he remembered that he
was of English birth, and Sherdil's words had stirred within him a
desire to know more about his own people. In the first days of his life
at Shagpur he had sometimes thought of running away, but he soon found
this to be impossible, and of late the desire had quite left him. The
old chief, he knew, had saved his life on that terrible day when his
real father was killed. That was a tie between them which could not
easily be broken. And he had now become so thoroughly imbued with Pathan
ideas and customs that he never thought of any other destiny than that
of Rahmut Khan's successor. But his contact with a man who was actually
in the service of the sahibs had roused within him a curiosity to see
the people to whom he rightly belonged, and he plied Sherdil with
questions about them.

Further, Sherdil's references to great fights in which the corps of
Guides had been engaged appealed strongly to his spirit of adventure,
and he pressed the man to tell him more.

"What was that fight at Multan of which you spoke?" he asked, as they
took their siesta in the hot hours of the next day.

"Ah! the fight of Fatteh Khan," replied Sherdil. "'Tis a brave tale, and
I will tell it thee. 'Twas seven years and more ago. We were in the
trenches before Multan. Lumsden Sahib was absent; there were only three
sahib officers with us. One day a kasid galloped into our camp with news
that a party of the enemy's horse, some twenty strong, had driven off a
herd of camels from their grazing near the camp of General Whish. Fatteh
Khan was our risaldar, and he called to us to mount and follow him to
punish those marauders. We galloped off, no more than seventy, the kasid
going before to show the way. And lo! when we had ridden three miles,
and came to the place he had spoken of, we discovered, not twenty, but
the whole host of the enemy's cavalry, full twelve hundred men. They had
been sent, as we learnt, to cut off a convoy of treasure which was said
to be on the way to our general's camp; but they failed in this, and
were now wending back to their own city.

"Did Fatteh Khan bid us halt and return? That is not Fatteh Khan. Wah!
he cried to us to ride like the wind, and the enemy, seeing us, halted,
not knowing what this strange thing might be. And straight through them
we rode, with sword and lance, and when we had come out on the other
side we wheeled about and clove through them again. Wah! they were like
a flock of sheep, witless, huddling together, springing this way and
that without any sense. Again we rode into them, though our arms were
weary and our horses much spent. And then that great host, crying on
Allah to preserve them, broke apart and fled for their lives, and we
pursued them up to the very walls of their city. That is one of the
deeds of Fatteh Khan with Lumsden Sahib's Guides, of whom I am not the
least."

With other stories like this Sherdil beguiled the hours of rest, and
Ahmed became more and more eager to do something in emulation of the
Guides. Perhaps this expedition on which he was soon to be engaged would
provide him with an opportunity; he vowed that if it came he would not
let it slip.

Four days later the party of seven was returning. But it presented a
very different appearance now. The men had changed their costume so as
to appear like peaceable traders. They wore white turbans and long coats
girt about with a sash. All weapons save long talwars slung at their
belts--for even traders must be prepared to make some defence of their
wares--had disappeared. They had two camels, loaded with bales which
might very well contain cloth. The youngest of the party, who, when he
left Shagpur, was a smooth-cheeked youth with a ruddy duskiness of
complexion, was now a shade or two darker in hue, and bore a thin black
moustache on his upper lip.

These transformations had been effected within a day's march of
Minghal's village. The party made their slow way between hill and plain,
so timing themselves that they came to the gate a little before sunset.
To the customary demand of the gate-keeper that they should say who they
were and what their business, Sherdil replied--

"We are traders from Rawal Pindi to Cabul, but a small party, as you
see, and we dare not encamp for the night in the open, lest some
accursed sons of perdition fall upon us and rob us. All the world knows
of Minghal Khan's benevolence to strangers, and we beg a refuge for the
night, O gate-keeper."

"And what do ye offer in return for this favour?" asked the gate-keeper.

"'Tis unworthy of your chief's illustriousness, we fear," said Sherdil
humbly, "but such as it is we make it with grateful hearts. 'Tis indeed
a quantity of cloth, of good weaving, and such as the Amir of Cabul
approves; therefore, unworthy as it is, we yet hope it may find favour
in the eyes of Minghal Khan."

The gate was thrown open without more ado. The traders were led to the
village change-house, where they stalled the camels and their horses,
Sherdil then immediately setting out with one of the men to convey the
present of cloth to Minghal. When he returned, he reported with great
satisfaction that the chief was residing in his tower, which was distant
no more than eighty yards away. And then, with Ahmed's assistance, he
unloaded from the back of one of the camels a small wooden case, which
they carried carefully into the one large room of which the
guest-portion of the change-house consisted. There were only two other
travellers in the room--big bearded Afghans, one of whom inquired
curiously what was the contents of the case which the new-comers had
brought with them.

"Porcelain from Delhi," replied Sherdil at once. "Care is needed, lest
it be shivered to atoms." And he laid it down in a corner near the
charpoy placed for him, and covered it with a roll of cloth.

The travellers ate a simple supper, and conversed freely with the
Afghans; then they all laid themselves down, and there was silence save
for some few snores and the grunting of the camels, which was heard very
clearly through the thin wooden wall.

Some hours later, about three o'clock in the morning, there was a slight
and almost noiseless scuffle within the change-house. The two Afghans
were suddenly awakened from sleep by rough hands laid upon them. The
flickering oil lamp gave little light; the Afghans' sleepy eyes but half
apprehended the meaning of what they saw; and their tongues suffered
from a sudden impediment, for, as they opened their mouths to cry out,
gags were slipped in, and fierce voices muttered in their ears a warning
to be quiet and lie still, or worse would befall them. Their
fellow-guests, the apparently peaceable dealers in cloth and porcelain,
with wonderful dexterity and speed tied their feet and hands together,
and the Afghans had not recovered from their amazement when they saw two
of the merchants creeping out of the door, carrying the small case of
precious porcelain between them.

Meanwhile the other members of the party, after a little fumbling among
their bales of merchandise, had withdrawn from the folds of innocent
cloth a musket apiece, and after the departure of their fellows stood
just behind the door in the attitude of men awaiting a call. One of them
peered round the door; another slightly drew aside the slats of the
adjacent window--an unglazed opening in the wall--and looked eagerly
across the street. There was no moon; the village was in darkness; but
the forms of the two men who had gone out could be dimly seen as they
crept stealthily along by the wall in the direction of the tower between
them and the gate.

The two reached the foot of the tower and laid their burden
down--gently, as befitted a box containing precious porcelain--at the
door. Then one of them stooped lower, and appeared to thrust something
into a hole near the bottom of the box. The watchman on the wall must
have been half-asleep, or he would have noticed a sudden spark at the
foot of the tower. It flashed but for a moment; then the two men,
bending low, hastened back stealthily by the way they had gone, came to
the change-house, and slipping in by the still half-open door, closed it
behind them.

They waited for perhaps a minute, and there was not a sound within the
guest-chamber save the slight smothered grunting of the Afghans through
their gags. Then from without there came a sudden roar; the ground
trembled, the building rocked as if it would fall about their heads, and
the waiting men, drawing a long breath, threw open the door and ran with
great nimbleness towards the tower The street was filled with acrid
fumes; here and there men were crying out, but the merchants paid no
heed, but rushed through the smoke and plunged into the yawning chasm
where the tower door had been. The opening was clogged with burning wood
and fragments of masonry; the intruders stumbled over these, coughing up
the smoke that entered their lungs, and groped their way up the narrow
winding stairway.

Cries from above assailed them. At the top of the first flight of steps
stood a man armed with a long spear. The stairway was so narrow that
only one man could pass at a time, and the man at the head of the
mounting party, coming too suddenly upon the spearman, received a thrust
in the breast and toppled backward. But the man behind him slipped aside
to avoid his falling body, and caught the spear before it could be
withdrawn, dragging the spearman forward. Two others--they were Sherdil
and Ahmed--seized the occasion to squeeze past him; but they gained the
top of the flight only to see the two men who, behind him, had been
content to let him bear the brunt of the attack, dash back across the
narrow passage to a door on the other side. The passage was lit by a
small oil lamp--a wick floating in a shallow saucer. By its light
Sherdil and Ahmed saw the men fling themselves through the door into the
room beyond. They sprang after them, but the door was slammed in their
faces and the bolt shot.

And now great shouts floated up the stairway from below. They were cries
of surprise and fear, calls for arms, mingled with the fierce war-shout
of Pathan warriors. Some little while after the party of merchants had
found entrance to the village, Rahmut Khan with all his fighting men had
come up in the darkness and lain in hiding beyond the walls. The
explosion had been the signal for an attack on the village. They had
dashed forward; some had forced the gate, others had scaled the walls,
and they now held the village at their mercy, for the explosion had been
so startling, and the attack so sudden, that any effective defence was
out of the question.

Meanwhile, Sherdil and his band, finding themselves blocked by the
bolted door, had sought for some means of breaking it down. Their
chief's quarrel was with Minghal Khan, and it was Minghal Khan whom they
were most eager to secure. Some minutes passed before axes could be
found, then with a few shattering blows the door was broken in. Sherdil
sprang into the room, followed closely by Ahmed and the rest. The birds
had flown. The room was small, with one narrow window in the outer wall.
A rope hung from it; the men had descended by this and made their
escape. Ahmed rushed down the stairs to inform his father, and to send
men out in pursuit. Sherdil hastened to the upper apartments in the hope
that Minghal might not have been one of the two who had escaped. But he
found no one in the tower except the women and children.

The surprise had been entirely successful save in this one matter of the
escape of Minghal. The village had fallen to Rahmut almost without a
blow. Indeed, save for the one man who had been speared at the head of
the steps, and one who had been shot by the sentry before he himself was
cut down, the victory had been bloodless. Rahmut's men patrolled the
streets until dawn. Then he called the people to a meeting and reassured
them as to his intentions. Without doubt they had been led away, he told
them, in their attack on Shagpur, by the evil designs of their chief,
Minghal. Minghal was now gone--had fled away to escape disgrace and
humiliation. But his cowardice was a disgrace still greater. None but a
coward would have taken flight thus, leaving his men without a leader
and his family defenceless.

"Minghal has a serpent's cunning, but the heart of a hare," cried the
old chief. "He is not fit for rule. He tried to take my village, and
failed; and we have shown that even at tricks we can beat him. I will
punish no man for Minghal's ill-doings. I myself will be your chief, and
you shall be my people."

The men sent out in pursuit of Minghal returned by and by unsuccessful.
In that hilly country there were many hiding-places where he might
dwell. In the afternoon Rahmut returned to Shagpur, leaving one of his
principal lieutenants in charge with a score of men, and taking a like
number of Minghal's men with him for safety's sake.

Sherdil received great praise for his skilful stratagem. Rahmut wished
to keep him at Shagpur, offering him great inducements to remain. But
Sherdil was not to be tempted. He had eaten Lumsden Sahib's salt, he
said, and when his furlough was over he would return to his duties at
Mardan, the head-quarters of the Guides. Perhaps later on, when his term
of service had expired and he was granted a pension, he might settle in
his native village; but for the present he was content to remain one of
the Guides and serve the sirkar. And when, a few days later, he donned
his khaki again and rode away to rejoin his comrades, no one in Shagpur
was sorrier than Ahmed. Sherdil's departure had left a blank.



CHAPTER THE SIXTH

In the Nets


The capture of Minghal's village gave such an accession of strength to
Rahmut Khan that he was soon emboldened to plan an expedition of greater
importance than any he had undertaken before. He heard that the chief of
a small hill village had refused to pay the Government revenue, and that
Sir John Lawrence, the Commissioner in Peshawar, would shortly dispatch
a force to the village to enforce the payment. The community being a
small one, it was not likely that the British force would be numerous;
and Rahmut conceived the idea of laying an ambush for it on its return
and running off with the revenue. He had a motive beyond that of the
mere acquisition of wealth. He felt that a successful attack on a
British force would greatly enhance his prestige, and strengthen his
hold on the allegiance of his new clansmen.

The project was talked over in council, and the only man who ventured to
oppose it was old Ahsan the gate-keeper, who, since his defence of the
tower, had enjoyed a much higher consideration with the chief. Ahsan
warned Rahmut against measuring his strength with the British. It was
one thing to make an occasional raid on the frontier stations for the
purpose of stealing horses, and quite another to attack a properly
equipped force. But his warning fell on deaf ears, and no one more
vehemently opposed him than the chief's nephew Dilasah, who, since
recovering from the wound he had received in the attack on the village,
had professed repentance and left nothing undone to win his uncle's
favour. The old man, being of a frank and unsuspicious disposition,
freely pardoned Dilasah for his former ill-behaviour and his dealings
with Minghal, and was greatly delighted one day when the man told him
that he gave up all pretensions to the chiefship and admitted Ahmed's
claims. Dilasah had a certain reputation for shrewdness and bravery, and
his voice, being unhesitatingly in favour of the scheme Rahmut proposed,
outweighed what was regarded as the more timorous counsel of Ahsan.

The expedition having been decided on, Rahmut sent Dilasah himself to
Peshawar in the disguise of a pedlar, to discover what he could of the
composition of the British force and the date of its setting out.
Meanwhile he was troubled by the request that Ahmed had made to be
allowed to join the expedition. The boy had shown himself brave and
resourceful; and Rahmut felt that if he took arms against his countrymen
the last link would be removed between him and them. On the other hand,
he did not fail to see that the expedition would be a dangerous one, and
though he believed that he could carry it through successfully, he was
anxious to keep Ahmed out of harm's way, and especially to run no risk
of his falling into English hands. If Ahmed should be taken prisoner,
the old chief feared lest the contact with Englishmen should awaken race
feelings now dormant, and the boy be lost to him. So, after much
hesitation and much pleading on the part of Ahmed, the old chief told
him kindly enough that he was not to accompany him, but to be left in
charge of the village during his absence.

Ahmed was deeply disappointed. Rahmut gave him no reasons for his
decision; he was a wise old man; reasons could be combated and overcome.
When Ahmed asked Ahsan why his father was so loath to let him try his
manhood, Ahsan confessed that he did not know, which was true and yet
untrue; for, though the chief had not told him, Ahsan had made a shrewd
guess.

"Rahmut does not wish it ever to be said of you, 'He takes off his
clothes before he reaches the water,'" said Ahsan, quoting a proverb
against precipitancy. "Why fear?" he went on. "'Milk even in good time
becomes curds.' He who has patience wins. It will come to you in good
time to lead men and do great things."

"I hate your proverbs," said Ahmed; "they have no comfort in them. Will
my father never see that I am grown up?"

"Thou wouldst not fight against thy own countrymen, Ahmed-ji?"

"Why not? Sherdil fights against his countrymen, why not I? And they are
my countrymen no longer; my countrymen are here. What have I to do with
these strangers who come lording it over the free people of the hills?"

"Hush, Ahmed-ji!" said the old man. "Children cry to their parents. To
speak ill of the Feringhis is to speak ill of yourself. Let be, my son;
what a man desires he will gain if it be God's will."

And Ahmed, being a sensible boy, did not nurse his disappointment. But
perhaps the old chief would have changed his mind had he known that his
refusal had only made the boy more eager to see the white men of whom
Sherdil had told him so much.

Dilasah presently returned from his journey to Peshawar. His information
was that the expedition was to start in a week's time, and to consist of
a single troop of Sikh horsemen under the command of one sahib. He had
learnt the route it was to follow; it would pass within three days'
march of Shagpur. Rahmut praised him, and did not inquire how he had
made these discoveries; but Ahsan put the question bluntly when the
chief called his council together and told them what he had learnt.

"It was the talk of the bazar," said Dilasah, looking astonished.

"Then it cannot be true," said Ahsan. "Would the Feringhis let their
purpose be known? Are there not hundreds who would carry the news to Lal
Jan, the chief, and warn him, so that he had time to get away into the
hills? If it was the talk of the bazar, 'tis very certain that things
will be otherwise."

Dilasah appeared for a moment to be taken aback. Ahsan was certainly
right, and the older members of the council showed their agreement with
his reasoning. But Dilasah, after a hesitation so brief as to be
scarcely noticeable, said with a disdainful smile--

"The ass does not know how to laugh. Is Ahsan the only man of knowledge
and understanding? The knowing bird is not caught in the snare, and I,
Dilasah, am not a fledgeling. The expedition was in truth the talk of
the bazar, but I did not swallow what was said there. How should the
truth be known? I sought out in Peshawar a holy fakir whom I know. He
hates the infidel Feringhis, and he has means of finding out their
plans, most marvellous. The talk of the bazar and the truth were as
different as fire and water; and what I have told is not the bazar-talk,
but the truth as I learnt it from the fakir."

"Then, if he hates the Feringhis, will he not warn Lal Jan, and so Lal
Jan will fly to the hills with his treasure, and the Feringhis will get
nothing, so that when our people fall upon them their bags will be
empty?"

"Not so," said Dilasah, in answer to this further question of Ahsan. "He
is no friend to Lal Jan; Lal Jan is, indeed, a thorn in his quilt; he
will gain double delight from the spoiling, first of Lal Jan, and
afterwards of the Feringhis. But why talk thus? If Ahsan, who is old and
toothless, thinks himself so clever, let him go to Peshawar and learn
the truth of things. As for me, I have done the chief's bidding; it is
for him to command."

And with the air of one who had been deeply offended, Dilasah left the
council.

After he had gone, Rahmut asked Ahsan why he threw doubt on the accuracy
of the information; and when the old man confessed that he had no reason
save a distrust of Dilasah, the chief was angry. Dilasah could have no
object in bringing false information, for he was to accompany the chief
in the proposed raid, and would suffer equally with the rest if it
should fail. It was decided in the end to accept his report as accurate,
and preparations for the expedition were hurried on.

A few days later, Rahmut Khan left the village at the head of eighty
men--the pick of his own and of Minghal's warriors. Ahmed, left behind
with a score of fighting men to defend the village, watched his father's
departure with envy. How he longed that the place at the chief's right
hand had been bestowed on him instead of on Dilasah! But it was useless
to repine; he could only swallow his disappointment and hope that during
his father's absence something might happen to give him an opportunity
for active work.

Rahmut could scarcely be expected to return before a fortnight. The
British force would take some time in the work assigned to it, and the
chief's plan was to ambush it on its return journey, when in possession
of the revenue it had been sent to collect. Ahmed went every day to the
top of the tower to scan the surrounding country, but saw nothing to
attract his attention. Life went on in the village from day to day as
usual, the fighting men spending most of the time in playing games of
chance, the workers toiling for an hour or two and idling the rest.
Ahmed was of too active a disposition to remain idle. He practised
swordsmanship with one or two of the men, went hunting in the hills
behind the village with some of the youths, and induced some of the best
riders to join him in the game of nazabaze, in which he proved himself
easily first.

And then one day, the fifteenth since his father's departure, he saw
from his look-out on the tower a band of horsemen approaching. There was
great excitement in the village when he told them the news; nobody had
any doubt that the chief was returning successful, and all excitedly
speculated on the amount of booty he had taken. Ahmed watched the
approach of the horsemen as eagerly as any one. At first a mere blot on
the sky, sometimes disappearing behind a copse or in a valley, the band
gradually became more distinct and definite, and after two hours he was
able to assure himself that it did indeed consist of his father's men.

But it seemed somewhat diminished, and when, an hour later, it had come
so near that he could distinguish the individuals composing it, he
suddenly caught Ahsan by the arm and cried--

"Where is my father? I do not see him; do you?"

"Your eyes are better than mine, Ahmed-ji," replied the old man.
"Without doubt your father is there in the midst, and you will see him
by and by."

But after a few more minutes Ahmed cried again--

"He is not there. I do not see his red turban or his white beard. I see
Dilasah, but not my father."

And then, feeling no little alarm at the chief's absence, he ran down to
the foot of the tower, mounted his horse, and galloped out to meet the
advancing band.

"Where is my father, Dilasah?" he cried, while he was still some
distance away.

"Hai! hai! he is not here," replied the man, with a gloomy look.

"But where is he? He is not dead?"

"No, truly he is not dead, praise to Allah! Not one of us is killed,
Ahmed; but my honoured uncle, with some few more, is a prisoner with
those pigs of English, woe is me!"

"A prisoner! Then he failed?"

"We failed, all of us. We came to the place which we had appointed for
our ambush, and there we waited three days, and on the third day we saw
the accursed Feringhi and his men coming down the defile towards us.
Then we split up into three bands, as we had arranged, and my reverend
uncle went with one band to one side, and I with my band to the other
side, Rajab going with the third to the end of the defile to cut off the
enemy when they should seek to escape."

"And what then?"

"Woe is me! From our post high up in the rocks we could see the chief
with his band creeping on foot round on the other side of the defile,
and there on a sudden men seemed to spring out of the earth; my honoured
uncle had walked into a trap without doubt set for him by those accursed
sons of dogs. In an instant he was surrounded, and what could he do with
his few men against twice the number of Sikhs? There was no time even to
fight, for the Sikhs were armed with the short guns that fire quickly,
and the white-faced Feringhi called in a loud voice to the chief to
yield or he would be a dead man. What could he do? And so he was made
prisoner with all his band."

"And you--did you nothing to help him?"

"Nay, how could I tell that Sikhs were not coming on my side also to
encompass me?"

"You ran away?"

"What could I do? If we had fired a shot we should have betrayed
ourselves to the enemy, and we were not strong enough to fight them when
the chief and his party were gone. And there was danger that Rajab, who
was at the end of the defile behind us and had not seen what had
befallen the chief, might fire and so be discovered also; and it seemed
best to join him, so that our company should be stronger in case the
enemy attacked us."

A youth of Pathan blood would without doubt have burst forth into shrill
cursing and reviling; there would have been a fierce war of words, and
by and by perhaps a knife-thrust. But Ahmed never displayed anger in the
Pathan way; in this he was often a puzzle to the people of Shagpur. He
said not a word now in answer to Dilasah. The lines of his face had
hardened; his lips were pressed tight together; a strange look had come
into his grey eyes. He rode at a quick foot-pace beside Dilasah back to
the village, listening to the man's repetition of the story of the
capture. He listened to it again in the village, where Dilasah told it
in the street, and the people made great lamentation with cries and
groans. And then, when the horsemen had dismounted and gone to their
homes, he accompanied Ahsan to his little hut, and asked the old man
what he thought of the things that had happened.

"Dilasah is a coward--that is sure," said Ahsan. "Did we not know it? He
fled away as a lark flies at the first throw. A man fights; a dog turns
tail. 'Tis an evil fate has befallen the master, and this village of
Shagpur also."

"Is Dilasah's story true, think you?" asked Ahmed.

"Without doubt it is true. A lie has no legs. Did not all the men hear
what he said? He would not say what is false in the hearing of them all,
for they would put him to shame."

"And what will become of my father?"

"Hai! that Allah knows, Ahmed-ji. Jan Larrens is a stern man, they say,
and swift to punish. The Feringhis have many ways of punishing.
Sometimes they slay with a rope; sometimes they make a man pay much
money; sometimes they hold him prisoner. Who can tell what they will do
with the master!"

"And we cannot help him, can we, Ahsan?"

"Ahuh! 'tis impossible. Peshawar is a strong city: once and twice I have
been there in my youth--before the Feringhis came. Jan Larrens is the
governor now; he has many soldiers, both Feringhis and true believers
who take their pay, like Sherdil, son of Assad. It would be like a man
beating his head against the rocks to go there and try to release the
master by force. And to buy his freedom is alike impossible. In the old
days we might have sent presents to the jailer, or to the governor of
the prison, or to the governor of the city, and if the presents were
rich enough the gates of the prison would open. But that is all changed
since the servants of Jan Kumpani came. Strange are the ways of the
Feringhis! Their eyes do not shut when one offers to put rupees in their
palms; nay, I heard of a young Feringhi at Lahore, who, when Kunwar Khan
spoke of giving him a great sum if he would buy Kunwar's mildewed grain
for the soldiers--this young Feringhi doubled his fist and smote Kunwar
in the face, and he fell backward, showing the soles of his feet. Truly
the Feringhis are a strange folk."

"Well then, Ahsan, there is but one thing to do. I shall be chief now,
and I will get more and more men about me until we are strong enough to
make an attack on the prison and bring my father out. He has broken into
their places with a few men and taken their horses; why should not I
with a great company break into their prison and bring forth a man?"

Ahsan shook his head.

"You can climb the mulberry-tree, but not the thorny acacia," he said;
"that is foolish talk. And you forget Dilasah."

"What of Dilasah?"

"Hai! He will make himself chief now, Ahmed-ji; and listen, let me speak
in your ear. Did I not distrust Dilasah? Did I not doubt him when he
spoke of the talk of the bazar?"

"What do you mean? Why do you speak in whispers? Tell me, Ahsan."

"Hush! Traitors have long ears." Then, bending forward until his lips
almost touched the ears of Ahmed, he said: "Do we know that Dilasah did
not make ready this trap for the master?"

Ahmed started. This suspicion had not occurred to him. But remembering
Dilasah's long association with Minghal, the man of wiles, and his
sudden change of attitude towards his uncle, he saw that Ahsan's
suggestion might be well founded. Who stood to gain so much from Rahmut
Khan's disappearance as Dilasah? He coveted the chiefship; he had been
consumed with anger when Rahmut adopted Ahmed as his heir; nothing was
more likely than that he should seize such an opportunity of getting rid
of the old chief, and so open the way to his ambition.

"Then it will be a fight between Dilasah and me," said the boy, setting
his teeth.

"Hai! That is again foolishness," replied the old man. "What can you do,
Ahmed-ji? Dilasah is a grown man, cunning as a leopard. He will speak
soft words to the people, and when he tells them 'tis a choice between
him and you, and you a Feringhi, think you they will respect the desires
of the master when he is far away? Many love you, some are indifferent,
some are envious; but when Dilasah has said his say, and made his
promises, and got the mullah on his side--as he will do with presents of
sheep and tobacco--think you that even those who love you will offend
Allah and risk the pains of Gehenna for you? There is talk even now that
the Feringhis wish to make us all Christians. Dilasah and the mullah
will persuade the folk that you, if you become their chief, will turn
them from the true belief. I am an old man, Ahmed-ji, but though I have
a white beard and toothless gums I can yet see a cloud in the sky."

Ahmed frowned. He had not foreseen these difficulties. He repeated the
Koran and said the prayers the mullah had taught him; in nothing did he
fall short of the observances required of good Mohammedans. In the early
days of his life in Shagpur, when he went tearfully to bed, he had
repeated the little prayers learnt at his mother's knee; but in the long
years since then, during which he had heard no word of English spoken
around him, these English prayers had slipped from him. It was absurd to
suppose that when he became chief he would try to turn the people to a
religion of which he knew nothing. He could not but think that Ahsan's
fears were groundless, and when next day Dilasah met him with a frank
smile, and, after a word of commiseration of the unhappy fate of Rahmut
Khan, addressed him with apparent cordiality as the new chief, he ran to
tell Ahsan that he was quite mistaken.

There was sorrow in the village at the loss of Rahmut Khan. The people
were proud of him, and with shrill cries called down maledictions on the
Feringhis. But no one spoke of attempting anything on his behalf;
Ahsan's views on that matter were shared by them all. Dilasah led the
way in professions of loyalty to Ahmed, much to the wonderment of the
old gate-keeper. Ahsan watched him narrowly. He did not believe in his
sincerity, and yet could see no object in his feigning a loyalty he did
not feel. And it was not until some days had passed that a light flashed
upon him. Though Dilasah agreed with the rest of the men that it was
impossible to rescue the old chief, he said that it was surely desirable
that an attempt should be made to discover his fate. And at that, Assad,
the father of Sherdil, offered to make the journey to Peshawar to
inquire.

"Who better than I?" he said. "Sherdil, my son, is a great man among the
Feringhis; it is a good thing that I, his father, should visit him and
see with my own eyes the greatness that has come to him. Without doubt
he will be in Peshawar or some place near at hand; it will be easy for
me to find him, and he will assuredly know what has become of our
master. I will go to Peshawar, and bring back news of the chief, and
also, I doubt not, some manifest tokens of the estimation in which my
son is held."

This offer he made to Ahmed in the presence of Dilasah, and the latter
strongly urged its acceptance. Accordingly, two days after the return of
the luckless expedition, Assad set off disguised as a mendicant, to
escape all danger of being snapped up by a hostile tribe if he went
otherwise. And shrewd old Ahsan now saw through the conduct of Dilasah.
The man would not feel safe until he knew for certain that Rahmut Khan
was permanently out of the way. If there was the least chance of the
chief's return--whether by escape, or by payment of a fine, for Dilasah
was very hazy as to what his punishment would be--it behooved him to go
carefully. Shagpur would never side with him against its rightful chief;
and if Rahmut should come back and find that he had tried to oust Ahmed,
he knew that he could expect no mercy from his kinsman. He was thus
biding his time, thought Ahsan, until Rahmut's fate was known with
certainty, and then he would show his hand.

"You must be ready for flight when Assad comes back," said the
gate-keeper to Ahmed.

"Why should I flee?" asked the boy.

"Because if you do not it will befall you as it befell Sundar Khan. He
had a rival in the succession to his father, even as you have, and
Gulam, the rival, offered to put the matter before a council of the
clansmen and abide by their choice. The choice fell upon Sundar Khan,
whereupon Gulam made a great feast to celebrate the happy end of the
dispute, to which came Sundar Khan and many of his friends. And when the
pipe of peace was passing round after the feast, Gulam slipped away
secretly to the door and lighted a match, and even as he himself ran for
his life, Sundar Khan and all his friends were blown up into the air. So
Gulam made himself chief, and so also will Dilasah if he learns that
Rahmut Khan is put out of the way."

This advice was distasteful to Ahmed, and for some days he refused to
consider it. Dilasah was still very pleasant; made no assumption of
authority; said once, with a mournful shake of the head, that Ahmed
would soon be chief in reality, for Rahmut, being old, could not long
survive imprisonment. But a day or two after he said something which
recalled the story Ahsan had told, and Ahmed for the first time began to
think that his life might indeed be in danger.

"'Tis to be feared we shall never see Rahmut Khan again, Ahmed-ji," said
Dilasah, "and when Assad returns with the news of what has befallen him,
and we have no longer hope, we must put away our sorrow and make a feast
to hail thee as chief. Dost thou approve, Ahmed-ji?"

Ahmed looked at the fat, smiling face with the cunning little eyes, and
in the light of what Ahsan had said saw villainy there.

"It will be well, Dilasah," he said. "We will have a feast, and Rahmut's
women and my sisters shall make us sweetmeats with their own hands. That
will be a great day, Dilasah."

And Dilasah smiled and rubbed his hands, and Ahmed went off to tell
Ahsan. There was no longer any doubt that Rahmut's nephew meditated
mischief, but Ahmed was still disinclined to take flight. He was popular
with the younger men, and suggested to Ahsan that they might form a
party in opposition to Dilasah and forestall him.

"Hai!" said Ahsan. "Crows home in the nests of hawks. It is vain,
Ahmed-ji. I have seen Dilasah many times in converse with the mullah; he
is cunning as a fox. Thou wilt be safe only by flight. My counsel to
thee is to have thy good horse Ruksh ready, and when Assad returns with
the bad news--for my heart tells me it will be bad--ride out that very
night."

"And whither should I ride, Ahsan? This is my home. I have nowhere to
go."

"Make thyself known to the Feringhis, Ahmed-ji. Maybe thou hast kinsmen
among them."

"'Tis folly, Ahsan. Who would believe me? I cannot speak the Feringhi
speech, save one or two words that come back to me sometimes. I know
nothing of the Feringhis' ways; I do not know the name of my true
father. Dost thou remember it, old friend?"

"Nay, I have often sought for it in my mind, but it is gone. Rahmut
knows it, and Minghal also, but it is clean gone from me."

"Then how could I prove to the Feringhis that I am one of them? No, I
like it not; and furthermore, Rahmut lies in prison, and I begin to
believe that it is even as thou sayest--that Dilasah betrayed him. Is it
not my duty by some means to bring Rahmut back and deal with Dilasah as
he deserves?"

"Hai! foolish talk again. Think of what I say, Ahmed-ji; the time is not
long; Assad will soon be back, and then if thou art not gone, Dilasah
will seek thy life and take it."

Ahmed was impressed by the warnings of Ahsan, still more when he found
that the old gate-keeper's views were shared by Rahmut Khan's family.
Since Minghal's raid these ladies, with their children and servants,
like Ahmed himself, had remained in the tower, and the chief's usual
house had been unoccupied. Dilasah had been given the house in which he
had lived before his breach with his uncle years before. On the day
after Ahsan had spoken so seriously, when Ahmed paid his usual visit of
respect to Rahmut's principal wife, Meriem, the lady strongly urged him
not to go about the village alone.

"That evil man Dilasah hates thee," she said. "Gather some of the young
men who love Rahmut and thee, Ahmed-ji, and have them always about thee
when thou goest into the streets."

Ahmed thought the advice worth taking, but the position irked him. The
constraint was unendurable after his customary life of freedom, and he
felt that it must be ended one way or another. The obvious way--the
natural way to a Pathan--was to meet Dilasah with his own weapons and
kill him at the first opportunity. But Dilasah's party was stronger than
his own, and supposing his enemy were out of the way, the prejudice
against him as one of Feringhi birth would render his position still
very insecure. The death of Dilasah would probably result in a feud
between his faction and Ahmed's. No one could say how such a strife
would end, but certainly it would in no way help towards the restoration
of Rahmut Khan to his village, the object Ahmed had most at heart. The
boy concluded that he had better leave the village and go to Peshawar,
to see whether some means might not be found of freeing the old chief.
It was a debt he owed to the man who had saved his life and loved him so
well. Ahsan might talk of the difficulties, but Ahsan was an old man;
old men often saw difficulties where young men could see none. Ahsan
would not have crept to the shed and blown up Minghal's powder; Ahsan
would not have taken part in Sherdil's daring stratagem against
Minghal's village; yet both of these hazardous enterprises had been
successful. Ahsan might talk as he pleased: certainly this was what
Ahmed would do.

But Ahsan, when the new plan was put to him, did not speak of the
difficulties. He applauded the boy's decision, and even begged him to
carry it out at once, without waiting for Assad's return. Ahmed would
not consent to this. Assad's news might have some bearing on his future
course of action. Besides, before he left the village he wished to know
whether their suspicions of Dilasah were well founded. If they were, he
would have two aims in life: to bring back Rahmut Khan, and to punish
Dilasah.

It was three weeks before Assad returned. He came in one day weary and
footsore, and in great depression of spirits.

"Hai! Sherdil was ever a liar," he said dolefully, when amid a circle of
the chief men of the village he made his report to Ahmed. "He a great
man with the sahibs, forsooth! Why, he is but a servant, and does
foolishness. I found him not in Peshawar; weary as I was, I had to go
two days' journey to Mardan in the north-east. And what did I see there?
Two score of men standing in line beneath the walls, and a Feringhi with
a boy's face calling out strange words to them, and as he spoke these
men lifted their right feet all together, and held them in the air as a
goose does, and then let them fall to the ground again, and up came
their left feet, all together, and so they marched, very slowly. And
then they stopped, and moved their feet up and down without walking;
'twas the most foolish thing I ever saw. And then at another word from
the Feringhi dog they lifted their guns--short guns for babies, not like
our jazails--and held them straight before their noses, and at another
word they let them down again and crossed their hands over them, and so
stood without motion, as quiet and still as if they had been trees. And
I called to Sherdil, and bade him come and greet his father; but he
neither looked at me nor said a word, not daring to make a movement
except at the bidding of the Feringhi boy. And afterwards, when the
Feringhi made a hissing between his teeth--'Dissmisss!' was the word of
the foolish one--Sherdil came to me and asked me with great violence why
I had tried to get him punished, for it seems that if he had walked out
of the line, or lifted a hand, or spoken a word save at the bidding of
the Feringhi, he would have suffered grievous stripes, or have received
no sheep's flesh to eat. Cursed be the dogs of Feringhis! That is what
they make of the free-men of the hills."

"But what of my father?" asked Ahmed, to whom this description of
European drill was not interesting.

"Thy father? Hai! He is shut up for five years."

He was interrupted by shrill cries from the men around. Ahmed, stealing
a glance at Dilasah, saw his eyes flash with satisfaction.

"Yes, for five years he is to lie in the Feringhis' prison. That is the
judgment of Jan Larrens. And Sherdil, my wretched son, said that it was
his just deserts and the due reward of foolishness. Hai! if I had known
what I know now, I would have cut off Sherdil's right hand sooner than
let him go back to do goose-step and other things unworthy of a Pathan.
And when I told him what I thought, he laughed at me with great
laughter, and said, 'Go back, foolish one, or verily I will tell Lumsden
Sahib of thee, and ere thou knowest thou wilt be doing goose-step too.
Lumsden Sahib will have thee.' And I shook the dust off my feet and
departed; and my heart is sore vexed, for I thought my son was a great
man, and would do me honour in my old age."

There was much shaking of heads at this exposure of Sherdil's
boastfulness, and much sympathy expressed for Assad. But the man was an
ignorant fellow, a dyer by trade, who had seldom left the village, and
Ahmed felt sure that he had in some way been mistaken.

Assad's news about Rahmut Khan did but confirm his resolution to leave
the village. He was on the point of mentioning it to Dilasah when that
plausible man himself came to him, all smiles and geniality.

"Salaam, Ahmed," he said. "'Tis to be feared we shall never see our
chief Rahmut Khan again. He is an old man; the prison will kill him. No
man can strive against fate, and it is not meet that we sorrow overmuch
for what cannot be altered. Therefore am I come to bid thee to a feast,
Ahmed-ji, at which we will hail thee as chief and be merry."

"But I cannot be chief while my father lives."

"True, but what matters it? Thou wilt be chief in his absence, it is
what he himself would wish; and if by Allah's mercy he does not die in
the Feringhis' prison, but comes back to us, he will rejoice that we
held a feast in thy honour. This feast will be to-morrow, Ahmed-ji, and
I have already ordered the finest sheep to be killed."

Ahmed had no reasonable excuse for declining the invitation, and Dilasah
went away well pleased.

But later in the day there came to Ahmed an old Hindu scribe who had
settled in the village years before. In all considerable Pathan villages
there were a few men of Hindu race--low-caste men, who plied petty
trades among the Mohammedans in the hope of making money. This man had
been protected once by Ahmed against the rabble of the village when he
had unwittingly given them offence. He came to the tower as soon as it
was dark, and being admitted to Ahmed's room, said--

"Hazur, I come to warn you. I remember the kindness wherewith you saved
your servant when he was in peril of his life, and it is meet and right
to show gratitude. Besides, our lord and master Rahmut Khan will reward
me when he returns, as he assuredly will do. But that is a little
matter. I may be dead before that time comes, and even without a reward
I would do much for you, hazur. And now what I say is this: go not to
the feast to which Dilasah has bid you. I have spoken it."

"But why, Dinga Ghosh?"

"To-day," said the man, dropping his voice, "when I was sitting at my
writing behind my lattice, I heard two of Dilasah's friends talking
together. Without doubt they supposed me asleep, and indeed it was very
hot, and I should have been asleep but for some good jin that held my
eyelids. The men talked, and spoke of the morrow's feast, at which they
would be guests, and one said that it would be a merry feast, and when
it was ended no man would be in doubt as to who was chief of Shagpur.
And both chuckled at this, and shortly after went away, and peeping
through my lattice I beheld them that they were minions of Dilasah. For
this reason have I come to warn you; without doubt mischief is
intended."

"I thank thee, Dinga Ghosh," said Ahmed, "and be sure that my father
will reward thee when he comes back."

"Salaam, hazur," said the Hindu, and went away as secretly as he had
come.

Ahmed had no longer any doubt that he must go; Shagpur was no longer
safe for him. He had no scruples about leaving his father's household;
Dilasah would never dare to molest them, in face of public opinion.
There was nothing to detain him. But, as he had told Ahsan, he would
never slink out of the place furtively like a dog in fear of a whipping.
No doubt if he pleased he might slip down over the wall in the night. He
would not use that way, but go openly and in broad daylight through the
gate.

Next morning, therefore, he told the chief's family of his resolve.

"It is wise, Ahmed-ji," said Meriem; "but we are loath to lose thee. Yet
it is the part of a good son to do what may be done for his father, and
we shall love thee the more if thou bringest back our lord in safety.
But I fear lest Dilasah will not let thee go."

"Wah! He will be glad to be rid of me," said Ahmed.

"Not so. Does he wish our lord Rahmut to return? Will he feel safe if he
live in fear that thou mayst return one day, perhaps after many years,
and become in very truth lord of Shagpur? Nay, Dilasah would fain kill
thee while thou art yet a boy; it will not be so easy when thou art a
man."

"Nevertheless, O pearl, I will go, and Dilasah shall not stay me."

He bade farewell to the ladies and their daughters, left them, and went
immediately to saddle his horse. A Pathan starting on a journey needs
but little equipment; his horse, his weapons, a trifle of money, a
wallet of food--with these he is ready. A few minutes after he left the
women he rode boldly from the courtyard towards the gate. He was
surprised to find it closed, and in charge of a new gate-keeper.

"Where is Ahsan?" he demanded sharply.

The man replied that Ahsan being sick, he had been sent to take his
place. Ahmed immediately grasped the situation. This was Dilasah's first
move; he meant to make sure that his invited guest and victim should not
escape him. Luckily Dilasah's house was at the other side of the
village; Ahmed felt that he had perhaps a few moments to spare.

"Open the gate," he said to the new gate-keeper.

The man hesitated; clearly he had his orders. Instantly Ahmed's knife
flashed before his eyes. There was no escape for him, with Ahmed above
him. Haltingly he moved towards the gate, trying to gain time. Perhaps
Dilasah or some of his friends would arrive before Ahmed had passed
through. There were men and children in the street, and Ahmed heard them
calling to one another; no doubt, unless they were in the secret, they
were surprised at seeing the young chief leaving the village on the very
day of the feast. The news would soon fly through the place.

"Quick!" cried Ahmed to the gate-keeper, "or you are a dead man."

The man cringed, and drew the bolts. Ahmed, his knife in one hand, leant
forward and with the other pulled open the massive structure, which
creaked on its hinges. Seizing the opportunity, the man slipped aside
and ran up the street shouting for assistance. Ahmed walked his horse
quietly through the gateway. He heard cries behind him; it would take a
minute or two for horsemen to saddle up, mount, and follow, and there
were few horses within fifty miles that could match his Ruksh in
speed--the arab he had trained to come at his call, and to kneel down at
a word. Some one might shoot at him from the wall, but he must take his
chance of that; he disdained to run while he was yet in sight. He turned
his horse towards a hill a quarter of a mile away, and did not set him
to a trot until he had rounded the shoulder and the village was hid from
him. Then he rode on for half-a-mile until he gained a spot whence the
walls again came into view. Turning his head, he saw a dozen horsemen
pouring through the gate. It was time to be off. With a touch upon his
flank and a word in his ear the horse broke into a gallop. Even with a
heavier burden than his master the arab could outpace any horse in the
village, and under Ahmed's light weight he would, barring accidents,
easily distance the pursuers.

Ahmed had purposely chosen a track that wound along at the base of the
hills, for the undulations of the country would baffle the pursuers, who
could not press on at their utmost speed for fear of a fall. Every now
and then he had to pull in his horse to avoid a stumble, and his care
enabled the enemy for a mile or two to keep him in sight. They could not
circumvent him, for he knew every foot of the hills, and could turn off
in any direction at need, with perfect confidence in his ability to
elude them. They were bound to follow in his tracks. So for some time
the chase continued, the distance between pursuers and pursued scarcely
varying. At length Ahmed, feeling that the hills had served their turn
in tiring the horses of Dilasah and his troop, swept down into the plain
and gave Ruksh his head. The gallant animal flew on at a bounding pace.
In half-an-hour the pursuers were hopelessly distanced. Coming to a
point from which he could see a long stretch of level ground behind him,
Ahmed pulled up, turned in his saddle, and narrowly scanned the course
of his flight. There in the far distance were his pursuers, but riding
the other way. They had given up the chase.



CHAPTER THE SEVENTH

Jan Larrens


It was early morning when Ahmed, riding through the level plain, among
gardens which, though it was autumn, still scented the air, came to the
cantonments outside the walls of Peshawar. What he saw filled him with
amazement. The ground was studded with tents, amid which soldiers of all
races--tall bearded Sikhs, active little Gurkhas, red-coated
Englishmen--swarmed like bees in a hive. And there in the distance he
sees a lady galloping, followed by a sais, and she is not veiled, as
were all the women in Shagpur, save those of low caste; Ahmed had rarely
seen the faces of Rahmut Khan's wives for a year or two. And here comes
a carriage drawn by two horses, and in it are a lady, she too unveiled,
and a Feringhi man in spotless white clothes. And as it dashes past him,
the lady turns to the officer at her side and says--

"What a fine-looking young fellow! Who is he, Fred?"

"He? A Pathan from the hills, Alice, and a most accomplished brigand,
you may be sure."

Ahmed hears the words, and though he does not understand them, they set
him thrilling with a strange excitement. Long-forgotten scenes are
coming back to him; he remembers ladies just like this one--ladies who
used to speak in the same clear low tones, and men, sometimes in red
coats, sometimes in white, who used to dance him up and down on their
knees. His brain was in a whirl; recollection came to him like the dim
remembrance of things seen in dreams. These were people of his
blood--and he was a stranger among them.

He rode on dizzily, and entering the Kabul gate, found himself in a wide
street, thronged with folk of every race of the borderland. The size of
the place staggered him; Shagpur was a kennel compared with it. How
could he find his way about this huge town? And among so many people,
what place could there be for him? He knew not which way to turn, and as
for seeking an interview with the great sahib, Jan Larrens, of whom he
had heard, his heart sank at the mere thought of it. The speech he heard
around him was not his speech; he began to fear lest he should be unable
to make the least of his wants understood. But catching sight by and by
of a man in the chogah of the hill-men, he rode up to him eagerly, and
asked him where he might find a serai in which to stable his horse. To
his joy the man answered in his own tongue.

"You are a stranger. Whence do you come?"

"From Shagpur, in the hills."

"Hai! the village of Rahmut Khan."

"I am his son. Where is he?"

"That Allah knows. He is gone from here. The foolish one! He is even as
the ass that tried to get horns and lost his ears. Why was he so
foolish?"

"But tell me, where is he gone? 'Twas told us in Shagpur that the
Feringhis had put him in prison for five years. Where is the prison?"

"Did I not say that Allah knows? He was taken from this prison and sent
to some other. He is not my chief: why should I trouble about him? And
if you have come to see him, your journey is vain. Go back to Shagpur;
in five years you will see him again, if Allah wills."

"Show me a place where I may stable my horse, and then I will go and see
the Feringhi Jan Larrens; perhaps he will tell me that which I wish to
know."

"A stone will not become soft, nor Jan Larrens a friend. But you are a
bold youth, that is certain. And that is a good horse of yours; have a
care lest it be stolen. If a stranger may give counsel, I say stable him
not, but keep him always with you--though to be sure you cannot ride
into the room where Jan Larrens is. Wah! no matter; leave the beast with
the sentry at the door; he will keep him safe."

"Then tell me where this Jan Larrens is to be found. I would see him at
once."

"And there is little time to lose, for when the sun is high the
Feringhis cannot be seen any more till night. Come with me; I will show
the way. 'Tis without there, towards the west."

He turned the horse's head, and led the way out again by the gate, and
so on for two miles until they came to the British cantonments which
Ahmed had already passed. He stopped at a small and unpretentious
building, at the door of which stood a red-coated sepoy. After a brief
conversation with him the Pathan hitched the bridle of Ahmed's horse to
a nail in the wall, and bade him go forward into the lobby. Several men
were squatting on the floor, Hindus in one part, Mohammedans in another,
awaiting audience with the Englishman, who devoted certain hours of the
morning to personal interviews with the natives. Ahmed found a place
among the Mohammedans, and squatted upon his heels to wait his turn. He
felt strangely depressed and forlorn. He was the youngest among the
waiting company, the most of whom ranged in age from the prime of
manhood to white old age. Some talked of their affairs with their
friends, others maintained silence; every now and then one would be
summoned to the room beyond, and the door opened to let out one and let
in another. These interviews were brief, and hardly an hour had passed
when Ahmed received his call. He rose and followed the servant, quaking
with nervous anticipation, and found himself in the presence of a
stern-looking, bronzed and bearded man, in plain clothes of the European
sort, his coat off, his shirt-sleeves tucked up to his elbows, seated at
a table strewn with papers. A younger man stood beside him.

"What does this youngster want?" said John Lawrence to the other, and
Ahmed again felt that strange thrill at the sound of English words. The
officer, recognizing his costume, asked him in the Pashtu tongue his
name and his business.

"I am Ahmed, son of Rahmut Khan of Shagpur," said the boy, "and I come
to ask Jan Larrens of my father's welfare."

The officer stared a little at this plain and simple statement, not
prefaced by "Hazur!" or any other title of respect.

"He's the son of that rascally freebooter we caught the other day," said
the officer. "Wants to know how the old villain is. Shall I tell him?"

"Oh yes, tell him, but not where we have sent him; we don't want a gang
of Pathans prowling round on the chance of breaking into the jail."

The officer then told Ahmed what he already knew--that his father was
imprisoned for five years.

"I wish to see him," said Ahmed. "Tell me where he is."

"Come, my boy, this is your first meeting with an Englishman, I take it,
and you don't know our ways. Your father is in prison: we cannot tell
you where he is; but if your tribe behaves itself and gives us no more
trouble, it is possible that his Excellency may reduce the sentence."

"I want to ask Jan Larrens to set him free. That is why I came."

The officer smiled as he translated this to Lawrence. The governor did
not smile. Had it been Sir Henry Lawrence instead of Sir John, the
interview might have ended differently; the former had a sympathetic
manner and understood the natives; the latter was of sterner stuff.

"Tell him it's absurd," he said gruffly. "The man is well out of the
way, and if his people try any more tricks, we'll serve them the same.
The youngster has no claim on us; make that clear, and send him about
his business."

And thus it happened that within five minutes of his entering the room
Ahmed was outside again, disheartened but not abashed. The officer had
spoken to him not unkindly, toning down the governor's sternness, and as
he was speaking Ahmed felt a momentary impulse to blurt out that he too
was English. But he was held back by the same consideration as had moved
him when discussing the matter with Ahsan, and by another motive--the
feeling that such a statement now would savour an appeal to charity. The
Pathans are a proud race; and Ahmed had, besides the pride fostered
among them, a pride that was his birthright. As he stood before his
fellow-countrymen that pride surged within him; there was no humbleness
or subservience in his bearing, and when he left them his unspoken
thought was: "They shall know some day that I am even as they
themselves, and they shall be proud to know it."

He was tingling with excitement, too; some of the words used by the
Englishmen had fallen familiarly upon his ear. "Boy," "business"--these
were two of the words that woke echoes in his memory, and he glowed with
the thought that, if he could spend a little time among Englishmen, he
might soon recover his native speech. So it was with a light in his eyes
that he stepped forth into the street again--a light that deceived his
Pathan friend who had been awaiting him at the door.

"Wah! were the words of Jan Larrens words of honey, then?" he said.

"No; he would tell me nothing that I knew not already, but he will
assuredly tell me more some day. And now let us go to the serai, for I
would fain eat, having some few pice to pay withal. But stay, friend,
canst tell me whether among all these soldiers here there are those that
serve one Lumsden Sahib? I have a friend among them I should like to
see."

"No, they are not here, but at Hoti-Mardan, two days' march towards the
north-east. Two days, I say; but with this horse of yours you could get
there in one. What is your friend's name?"

"Sherdil. Do you know him?"

"No. Well, we will go into the bazar and get food, and then I will put
you in the way for Hoti-Mardan. But if you think to become one of those
Guides of Lumsden Sahib yourself, 'twill be a waste of time; for there
be many now waiting to put on the khaki for whom there is no room. Hai!
I do not understand it; I am a swordsmith and will make swords for them,
receiving a fair price, but Allah forbid I should ever give up my
freedom to serve the sahibs."

He trudged beside Ahmed into the town again, chattering all the way.
They had a simple meal together, Ahmed keeping a watchful eye on his
horse tethered at the door; and then the swordsmith took his leave, with
a sententious maxim by way of parting counsel.

"Friends are serpents: they bite. Strangers are best. May God go with
you."

After resting a while, Ahmed set off on his ride to Hoti-Mardan, the
head-quarters of the Guides. He had always intended to visit Sherdil,
and see for himself whether his position was so ignominious as his
father Assad had made out. But now, as he left the suburban gardens of
Peshawar behind, and came into the wide sandy plain, over which he must
ride for thirty miles or more, other ideas came into his mind. Jan
Larrens had said that he had no claim on the Government of the Panjab:
that was true; but what if he should establish a claim? What if he could
do something for the sahibs as a Pathan, and so not merely attain a
position in which he might serve his father, but also prove his right to
the name of Englishman? It was clear that he could not go back to
Shagpur; he was surprised to find himself glad that he could not. New
feelings were springing within him. To be chief of Shagpur seemed no
very desirable thing; to win his title of Englishman, to prove himself
worthy to stand among these white men, who ruled, not villages, but
empires--this seemed to him a goal worth striving towards.

And how could it be accomplished? The obvious answer to the question
was: Join the Guides as Sherdil had done. But there were two
difficulties. His friend the swordsmith had said that there were already
many candidates waiting for admission to the corps; it was very unlikely
that room could be made for a new-comer, and one so young. It might be
years before he could be enrolled, and he was loath to wait; the little
money he had would soon be gone, and then the only course open to him
would be to join some band of freebooters in the hills, for to earn his
living by any menial occupation would never have entered his head. That
was a matter of caste.

The second difficulty was also a matter of caste. Sherdil was the son of
a man who, while not of the lowest caste, like the washermen and
sweepers and musicians, was certainly not of a high caste. If all the
Guides were like him, Ahmed felt that he, as the son of a chief, would
demean himself by joining them. His bringing-up made him very sensitive
to caste distinctions. No doubt the Englishmen he had lately left were
of high caste: no doubt his own real father had been one of them; he
must certainly do nothing that would make him lose caste in English
eyes.

These problems occupied his mind as he rode. They dropped from his
thoughts by and by when he came in sight of his destination. He saw,
standing in a clearing amid jungle and scrub, a walled fort, with a
tower on which a flag was flying. Beyond rose the great mountain mass of
the Himalayas. Outside the walls were huts and tents of every sort and
size. As he rode among them up to the gate Ahmed saw men of every border
race in their different costumes; none of them was in khaki, so that
these were apparently not members of Lumsden Sahib's corps. He wondered
whether they were the candidates of whom the swordsmith had spoken, and
his heart sank, for they were strong, stalwart fellows of all ages, none
so young as he, and looked as if they had been men of war from their
youth.

Challenged at the gate, he asked for Sherdil, the son of Assad. And in a
few minutes the man came swaggering to him in his khaki, not a bit like
the downtrodden wretch his father had lamented. He hailed Ahmed
effusively, and invited him proudly into the fort. It was, as Ahmed
found, in the shape of a five-pointed star. Sherdil showed him the
officers' quarters on four of the points, and the magazine and armoury
on the fifth; the rude huts of the infantry tucked away under the
parapets; the hornwork in which the cavalry portion of the corps had
their quarters. Two British officers happened to cross the parade-ground
as Sherdil was showing Ahmed round. Sherdil saluted.

"That is Lumsden Sahib," he said--"the tall one. The other is Bellew
Sahib, the hakim. Hai! his powders are terrible: they bite the tongue,
and make, as it were, an earthquake in one's inside."

And then he went on to describe an ailment from which he had recently
suffered, and Dr. Bellew's drastic treatment. But Ahmed only half
listened: he was more interested in Lumsden Sahib, the commander of this
corps of Guides. He saw a tall, athletic figure, surmounted by a fine
head--much handsomer than Jan Larrens, he thought, almost as handsome as
Rahmut Khan. Ahmed was struck with a sudden fancy: allowing for
differences of dress, Rahmut must in his young manhood have borne a
striking resemblance to this Feringhi. Harry Burnett Lumsden was at this
time thirty-five years of age. He had come to India at the age of
seventeen, with a cadetship in the Company's service, and while still a
lieutenant, at the age of twenty-five, had been ordered by Sir Henry
Lawrence to raise the corps of Guides, which he had commanded ever since
except for a brief period when Lieutenant Hodson held the command. His
rank was now that of captain, with a brevet majority.

Sherdil was so taken up with his task of showman that he did not at once
ask Ahmed's purpose in visiting him. But when he learnt what had
happened at Shagpur since the capture of the chief, he cried--

"Wah! Ahmed-ji, I will get leave and go and kill that dog Dilasah. It
cannot be yet, alas! for I have already had my leave for this year. But
Dilasah shall die, and you shall be chief; by my beard, it shall be so."

"I do not want to be chief, Sherdil," said Ahmed; then, brought face to
face with his thoughts, "I want to join the Guides--if I lose no caste
by it."

"Hush! do not speak of caste. We are all high caste--we Guides."

"But you, Sherdil?"

"Hush! no one knows. Lumsden Sahib will only take men of good caste. I
had to lie: lying is an honest man's wings, you know. Hai! you will lose
no caste. We are all good men. But you are young, Ahmed, and there are
many waiting. Those outside the walls: you saw them: they have encamped
there to wait until there is room for them. And they are good men--some
of the finest brigands of the hills, and sons of chiefs among them. I
fear me you are too young. There are thirty waiting, and they live out
there with their friends, spending their money in feeding themselves and
their horses; can you do the same?"

"For a month; no more."

Sherdil drew a long face.

"A month! it is very little. Yet it may be well. Wah! it shall be well.
Maybe there will be room for one or two in a month. And a month will
give us time. I will teach you."

"Teach me what?"

And then Sherdil explained Lumsden's way of filling the vacancies as
they occurred. He held a competition among the candidates, and took them
to the rifle range to shoot it off among themselves: the best shots got
the places.

"And if there are some who shoot equally well, what then?" asked Ahmed.

"Oh, then he does as Hodson Sahib did. He makes them ride unbacked
horses, and the man that rides furthest before being thrown off, that is
the man for the Guides."

"I can shoot, and I can ride, Sherdil," said Ahmed, with a smile. "I do
not fear the tests."

"That may well be: but you are young, we have no boys in the Guides. Yet
it may be possible. If we could give you a moustache and the beginnings
of a beard!"

"That may not be until Allah wills."

"Nay, there is a very cunning magician in the bazar at Peshawar, who
with some few touches of a stick can make the semblance of hair on the
face. So we might add a few years to you till the tests are over: after
that it will be as Heaven wills."

Ahmed thought over this suggestion for a minute, and then said--

"Nay, it cannot be so, Sherdil. Dost thou want me to be shamed? What if
the shooting and riding be good and then it is proved that the hair is
false? It would make my face fall before my countrymen."

"Thy countrymen! Hai! If thou thinkest so, better go straightway to
Lumsden Sahib and say, 'I am a Feringhi, of the sahib-log like yourself.
Give me clothes such as the sahibs wear, and a portion of pig to eat.'"

"Silence, son of a dog!" cried Ahmed. "I will tell all at a fitting
time. And thou, Sherdil, wilt lock thy tongue and say nothing of these
matters, or verily it will be a sad day for thee. Swear by the grave of
thy grandmother."

Sherdil looked astonished at the sudden vigour of Ahmed's speech. He
took the oath required. Then ensued a long conversation, at the end of
which Ahmed rode back to Peshawar and Sherdil sought an interview with
his commander.

"Well, what can I do for you?" shouted Lumsden in his breezy way as
Sherdil stood before him, saluting humbly.

"If it please the heaven-born," said Sherdil, "I have a friend who
wishes to put on the khaki and serve the Kumpani."

"Aha! another son of a dyer, like Sherdil, son of Assad?"

Sherdil gasped. Was his origin known after all?

"The heaven-born knows everything," he said, with a sigh. "No; this
friend is of high caste and the son of a chief--a good man."

"His name?"

"Ahmed, son of Rahmut Khan."

"The villain we chased not long ago!"

"The heaven-born says; and the same villain is my own chief, and is now
laid up in the sahibs' prison, and can make no more trouble; but there
is trouble in the village----"

"Disputed succession, I suppose?"

"Hazur! Dilasah, a fat rascal, makes himself chief until I can slay him,
and Ahmed wishes to serve the heaven-born until such time as his father
is mercifully set free."

"How old is he?"

"I cannot tell that to a day, heaven-born. He seems somewhat younger
than Sherdil thy servant, but he is well-grown, and can ride a horse and
hit a mark. Moreover, he is exceeding skilful in the nazabaze."

"Well, well, I have put his name down. He makes the thirty-second. Is he
here? Is he the boy I saw with you on the parade-ground?"

"Heaven-born, how could it be? Ahmed is in Peshawar: that boy was his
cousin." Sherdil lied without a blush.

"Well, take yourself off now. I will let you know when a vacancy occurs,
and then your friend must take his chance with the rest."

And next day, in the serai where he had put up in Peshawar, Ahmed learnt
from Sherdil that his name stood thirty-second on the list of candidates
for the Guides.



CHAPTER THE EIGHTH

A Competition Wallah


Sherdil did not do things by halves. He was now as keen as Ahmed himself
that the boy should become one of the Guides. During the next fortnight
he devoted every spare moment to coaching him in the shooting tests.
Ahmed had never shot with a carbine, but only with the heavy jazail of
the tribesmen. Sherdil sought out a secluded spot among the lower hills
where practising could be carried on without attracting attention, and
lent Ahmed his own carbine to practise with. And since it was impossible
to obtain ammunition belonging to the corps, he spent some of his saved
pay in buying powder, shot, and percussion caps in Peshawar, and
refilled some old cartridge cases. He drew a rough target on the face of
a rock, and diligently played musketry instructor until he could declare
that Ahmed was as good a shot as any of the candidates was likely to be
at various ranges.

About three weeks after Ahmed's arrival, Lumsden Sahib announced one day
that there was a vacancy in the cavalry. One of the men had overstopped
his leave, and was summarily dismissed. It appeared later that the
trooper had employed his leave in hunting down a hill-man whose father
had spoken disrespectfully of his own grandmother, and until the slight
was avenged the man had no other object in life.

Sherdil lost no time in conveying the news to Ahmed. There was great
bustle among the candidates and their friends, and as the day appointed
for the competition drew near, the camp outside the walls of the fort
became monstrously swollen with relatives of the competitors and people
who had come from Peshawar for the mere pleasure and excitement of the
event. Among them were representatives of every race of the borderland,
speaking a variety of dialects, and keen partisans of the men of their
own blood among the competitors.

The men of the Guides were as much excited as the rest. The corps was
divided into companies, each of which consisted of men of one race; and
though all were as loyal as any European soldiers could be, and had as
high an ideal of soldierly duty and the honour of the corps, the men of
one company would, on slight provocation, have flown at the throats of
those of another if they met when on leave. The vacancy being for a
cavalryman, the competitors were almost all exceptionally tall,
strapping fellows, and the little Gurkhas among the candidates were
vastly disappointed that the defaulting Guide had not been an
infantryman.

On a fine October morning, with a light cold wind blowing down from the
hills--herald of the winter--the competitors marched to the rifle range,
accompanied by three of the English officers--Lumsden himself, Quintin
Battye, the second in command, and Kennedy, commandant of the cavalry.
Behind them came a rabble of spectators, laughing and yelling with
excitement, and almost the whole of the corps. Arrived at the range, the
competitors, twenty-five in all, were drawn up in line--Afridis and
Sikhs, Hazaras and Waziris, Afghans and Pathans of different clans--and
answered to their names as Lumsden Sahib called over the list. Ahmed's
name came last, and as he, like the rest, answered "Hazur! I am here,"
he caught the eyes of all the officers fixed on him, and felt a strange
nervousness under the scrutiny.

"Where is that rascal Sherdil?" cried Lumsden.

"Hazur! I am here," replied the man, saluting as he stepped out from the
throng, and looking very like a dog that expected a whipping.

"What does this trick mean? This Ahmed of yours is a mere boy; you said
he was a little younger than yourself. You seem to be playing up for a
flogging, my man."

"Heaven-born, is it a time to be unjust? Did I not answer truly? I said
I would not tell his age to a day, and the heaven-born would not have
had me say he is older than I. That would have been very foolish."

"But this is a boy: his beard is not grown; we have no place for such in
the corps."

"As for the beard, heaven-born, that will come. If I shave my beard and
moustache--which Allah forbid!--my face will be even as Ahmed's. Shoes
are tested on the feet, sahib, and a man in a fight. Behold him; his
forehead is bright, since his sword-tip is red with blood. He has slain
beasts and men; did he not come with me and blow up Minghal's tower? And
then, to be sure, he had a moustache and the shadow of a beard, and if
the heaven-born pleases we can get the conjurer in Peshawar to furnish
him very quickly with the necessary hair. And he can shoot; if I do not
offend to say it, he can shoot as well as the heaven-born himself; and
he is a good shikari; and as for riding a horse--wah! let Kennedy Sahib
judge of that. Look at a man's deeds, heaven-born, not whether he is
tall or short. The thorn which is sharp is so from its youth, and----"

"Chup!" said Lumsden, who, with the other officers, had scarcely been
able to keep his countenance during this address. "You have a moist
tongue. You quote your proverbs at me; I'll give you one: 'A closed
mouth is better than talking nonsense.'"

"True, sahib," said Sherdil quickly, "and there is yet another: 'If you
are not a good judge of beasts, choose a young one.'"

At this, and Sherdil's sententious look, as of one who says "That's a
clincher," Lumsden laughed outright.

"'The child is father of the man,'" said Battye, with whom quoting was a
habit. "Give the boy a trial; we'll soon see whether this man's talk is
all froth."

And so Ahmed was admitted to the competition. The spectators had been
growing restless and restive during the colloquy, but now that the first
man took post opposite the target, and lay flat on the ground, they
hushed their noise and awaited the issue breathlessly. The range was
three hundred yards; the marksman was a tall, grave-looking Sikh, and as
his musket flashed and the marker signalled a bull's-eye, a great shout
arose from his compatriots.

"Shahbash! Bravo! That's a fine shot. Thou'lt surely win, Faiz."

And then the partisans of the other men tried to shout the Sikh's
friends down.

"Bah! what is that? A bull's-eye, you say. But it was an accident; the
wind carried the bullet. Allah willing, he will miss next time. Courage,
Sula; look not at the cock on his dunghill."

Similar cries, varying as the result of the shots, greeted the Sikh's
succeeding attempts. Then came Sula's turn.

"Hai! Now he shoots!" cried his friends. "What is the marker about? A
miss? Truly the jins are spiteful, the musket is bewitched. Do not lose
heart, O Sula, the sahib will give thee another musket, and then wilt
thou show thyself more than a match for that son of a pig."

And Sula, having taken another musket, fired off his six shots and
retired.

The next came along, an Afghan, with features of a markedly Semitic
cast, and with him a flock of his partisans. The same scene was enacted,
the same yells of delight and howls of derision, the same words of
flattery and of abuse--all kept within certain bounds, however, by the
presence of the sahibs.

At last it came to Ahmed's turn. The colloquy between Lumsden Sahib and
Sherdil had drawn particular attention to him, and the Pathans of the
Guides, who outnumbered men of other races in the corps, were specially
interested in the doings of this young candidate. For ten days past
Sherdil had boasted of his pupil's ability, and Sherdil having a moist
tongue, as Lumsden Sahib had put it, and being something of a favourite,
the Pathans were prepared to open their lungs in vociferous plaudits.
Ahmed fired and missed. A growl of dismay broke from the Pathans' lips;
the other men, who resented the cocksureness of Sherdil and his friends,
leapt about with shrieks of delight. Sherdil himself looked a little
blue; and as for Ahmed, he was quivering with excitement and
nervousness, as the Englishmen perceived.

"Chup! you sons of dogs!" cried Kennedy Sahib. "Let the boy have fair
play. This din of cats would spoil any man's eye. Chup! The boy has five
more shots."

And Ahmed, pulling himself together, took careful aim amid a breathless
stillness, drew the trigger--and the marker signalled a bull's-eye.

"Shahbash! Shahbash!" cried Sherdil, pirouetting like a mad fakir,
brandishing his sword, hurling abuse at the friends of the other
candidates. "Wah! did I not say he could shoot? How should he not, when
I am his teacher? Of a truth, he is the man for the Guides."

When Ahmed had finished his round, he was equal with four others. Amid
the din of altercation which ensued, Lumsden Sahib's voice was heard
calling for order. The competitors had still to shoot at the longer
ranges of five hundred and seven hundred yards. The excitement grew to
fever heat as the number gradually thinned, until the choice clearly
rested between Ahmed and a Rajput named Wahid. They were to have six
shots at seven hundred yards to finish the match. Ahmed had now lost his
first nervousness, and waited quietly with Sherdil and a group of his
friends while Wahid fired his round. The spectators watched in dead
silence as the man took aim. The first shot was a bull's-eye. "Wahid
will win! Wahid will win!" roared a hundred throats. The second was an
inner, the third an outer, and now Sherdil's party were hilarious,
crying that Wahid's eye was crooked, his arm was as weak as a woman's;
what was he good for, except to play the fiddle at a Hindu wedding? But
their jubilation was checked when with his last three shots he scored
three bull's-eyes.

"Wah! where is the Pathan now?" shouted the Rajput's partisans. "Sherdil
eats greens and breathes pulao. A great sound and an empty pot. Come,
let us see what the smooth-faced boy can do."

Ahmed took his place. Four times he scored a bull's-eye, and his friends
fairly shrieked with delight.

"Wah! he will eat up Wahid till not a little bit is left. Let Wahid tend
asses, that is all that he is good for."

The fifth shot was an inner.

"Hai!" said Sherdil. "Some low-born Rajput is breathing, and his foul
breath blows the bullet away. But the next will be a bull's-eye; be
ready, brothers, for Ahmed will win."

But when the marker signalled an outer the uproar became deafening. The
scores of Wahid and Ahmed were equal. The partisans of each clamoured
for the choice to fall on their man. Wahid was the father of two boys:
therefore he was the better candidate. Ahmed was not so fat: therefore
he would prove the better Guide. Wahid had stolen horses for twenty
years: who so fit to catch horse-thieves? Ahmed had blown up fifty men
with gunpowder (Sherdil did not stick at trifles): where would they find
a Rajput who could say the same? Thus they bellowed against one another,
urging more and more ridiculous reasons on behalf of their favourites,
and then Lumsden cried for silence.

"There is only one place," he said, "and these two are equal as shots.
For the life of me I don't know which of them to give it to. Come along,
we'll try the riding test. Fetch out that unbroken colt; jaldi karo!"

The jabbering began afresh, while a sais went off to fetch the colt. The
whole company repaired to a level stretch of about three hundred yards,
where the men practised the game of nazebaze. A post stood at the
further end. When the colt was brought up--a mettlesome beast with arab
blood in it--Lumsden ordered the course to be cleared, and the excited
throng having been pressed back on either side, told Ahmed to mount and
ride the animal bareback to the post and back. Ahmed sprang on to the
quivering horse, which bucked and reared, making frantic efforts to
throw him. But the boy had been given his first lesson in riding in just
this way; Rahmut Khan had set him on horseback and bade him look after
himself. So now, gripping the reins firmly and pressing his knees into
the animal's flanks, at the same time speaking soothing words that he
used with his own horse Ruksh, he succeeded in turning its head towards
the post, and in another moment was off like the wind. The shouts of the
crowd terrified the horse; it reared and plunged, and then made a dash
for the centre of the yelling mob on the right, which broke apart and
scattered with shrieks of alarm. But Ahmed controlled his steed before
it reached the edge of the course. He turned it once more into the
straight; it ran on past the post at a mad gallop, which was only
checked by a hillock in front of it. Then, giving it a minute to
recover, Ahmed patted it and coaxed it, wheeled round, and rode straight
back to the starting-point.

Sherdil and the Guides roared with applause.

"By Jove!" said Lieutenant Battye, turning to Kennedy, "what a seat the
fellow has got! Better make him your riding-master, old chap."

"Don't want one," was the answer. "All my fellows can ride. Let's see
what the Rajput can do."

Wahid was about the same height as Ahmed, but broader and heavier. He
leapt on to the horse's back nimbly enough, and kept his seat, as it
seemed, by sheer muscular force. The horse appeared to fear him, and
started for the post with a docility that surprised everybody, and sent
Sherdil's hopes once more down to zero. Wahid reached the post; then,
instead of galloping past, he pulled the horse up with a violent tug on
the reins, and wheeled it round to return. But the animal had a temper;
this treatment did not please it at all; and when it had got half-way
back to the starting-point, and the crowd was already yelling that the
prize was to Wahid, because he had shown the better management, suddenly
the horse stopped dead, planting his fore feet firmly in the sand; up
flew its hind hoofs, and the Rajput went clean over its head, falling
with a thwack just in front of its nose.

The roar that went up from the crowd might almost have been heard at
Peshawar. The Guides to a man shouted Ahmed's name; the Pathans among
the spectators danced a kind of war-dance, and some, losing their heads,
fired off their jazails with imminent risk of blowing some one to
pieces. Sherdil, after a glance at his commander's face, in which he
read the verdict, called to a comrade, and Ahmed was hoisted on to their
shoulders and carried in triumph back to the fort.

"Wah! Did I not say it?" cried Sherdil. "What a man seeketh happens to
him. I said 'I, Sherdil, will teach thee, Ahmed, the right way and make
thee a Guide.' And now we will have a tamasha. Lumsden Sahib will give
us a sheep or a goat, and we will be very merry."

Thus Ahmed became a trooper of the Guides.



CHAPTER THE NINTH

A Fakir


Ahmed had enlisted in the Guides with two very definite purposes--the
one closely connected with the other. The first was, to achieve
something that would establish a claim on the sahibs; the second, to
effect the release of Rahmut Khan, or at least to shorten his
imprisonment. Since the possibility of the second depended on the first,
he bent his whole energies, from the moment he donned the khaki, to the
mastery of his duties. The circumstances of his admission to the corps
were such that many eyes were watching him. Some of the men were
curious; others, Sherdil's friends, were jealous that he should justify
them; the British officers were interested, not merely in observing the
result of the experiment of enlisting one much below the average age,
but in the boy himself. There was in him a nameless something that
attracted them, and all of them, from Lumsden downwards, kept a special
eye upon his progress.

He showed himself quick at drill, and at exercise with the sword and
lance. Assad had reported quite accurately about the goose-step; but
Ahmed, so far from feeling any indignity in standing on one foot, found
it amusing to watch the lines of men lifting and setting down their feet
like automata at the word of the officers, and gravely balancing
themselves like herons at a pond. He had nothing to learn in "stables"
save some small matters of routine, and in three months passed as a
thoroughly efficient sowar. Furthermore, he was on good terms with his
comrades. Sherdil treated him as a show pupil, and one day took an
opportunity of asking Lumsden Sahib whether his praise of Ahmed had not
been well deserved.

"Do you want us to make him a risaldar at once?" said Lumsden, with a
laugh.

"The heaven-born knows that I, Sherdil, am not yet a naik," said the man
readily. Lumsden owed a great part of his influence with the men to the
freedom he permitted in his intercourse with them. His attitude towards
them was that of one brave man to another; it made for mutual respect;
yet no man forgot that the commander was a hazur or presumed on his
_bonhomie_.

Ahmed was one of the escort that accompanied Lumsden and Sir John
Lawrence to their interview with Dost Muhammed, the Amir of Kabul, at
the entrance to the Khaibar Pass on the first day of the New Year. He
wondered whether Jan Larrens would recognize him, but the great man was
too preoccupied to notice a trooper. When it became known that in
pursuance of the agreement made at that meeting Lumsden was to go before
long on a mission to Kandahar, Ahmed hoped that he would be chosen among
the escort on that occasion. Proximity day after day to the British
officers would provide him with many opportunities of picking up their
language. But before the time came for the mission to start he had
reason to change his mind.

One evening, as he was passing alone through the Pathan lines of the
infantry, he heard through the kusskuss matting which formed the doorway
of one of the huts, and which had been blown aside for a second by a
gust of wind, a voice that sounded strangely familiar. It was not the
voice of any of his comrades, and for a moment he could not remember to
whom it belonged. Not greatly concerned, he was passing on when he
recalled it in a flash; it was certainly very much like the voice of
Minghal, ex-chief of Mandan, and his father's enemy. He paused; if the
speaker was indeed Minghal, what had brought him to Hoti-Mardan? Ahmed
wondered whether the defeated chief had heard of his enlistment in the
Guides, and had come on his own or Dilasah's behalf to do him a
mischief. It occurred to him that he might be mistaken; but it was as
well to make sure.

The hut was one of a row, beneath the parapet of the wall, built of mud,
and eight or ten feet apart. At first Ahmed thought of creeping up to
the doorway and pushing aside the matting gently so as to get a view of
the occupants. There was some risk in this, however; he might be seen by
those inside the hut, or by some one passing outside, and then his
purpose would be defeated. So he crept round to the back, trying to find
a crack in the wall of the flimsily-built hut, such as were often caused
by the shrinking of the mud under the sun's heat. But in this he was
disappointed. The hut, being close against the wall of the fort, had
been defended from the sun's rays. Nothing daunted, he proceeded with
his knife to cut a hole, very gently, as his tribesmen were wont to do
when stealing horses. He was so dexterous in this that he soon scratched
away the dried mud until he had made a hole a little larger than his
eye. Then, as he expected, he came upon the straw network with which the
mud was held together. So far his movements had been almost soundless,
but there was a considerable risk of being heard if he cut the straw
which alone stood between him and the occupants of the hut. Every now
and then a gust of wind came, whistling as it swept between the hut and
the wall. Taking advantage of this slight noise, he inserted the point
of his knife and gently severed the straw until he was able to see
pretty clearly the interior of the hut, lit as it was by a small
saucer-lamp.

The occupants appeared to be three in number. Two of them were Panjabis,
whom, being infantrymen, he knew but slightly. In the third he did not
recognize, as he expected to do, the figure of Minghal Khan. It was a
fakir, with long matted grey hair and a straggling beard. Cold as the
weather was, the fakir was almost entirely unclothed; his body was
smeared with ashes.

And then Ahmed blessed the caution which had prevented him from creeping
up to the doorway of matting in front. Just behind it, so much in shadow
that Ahmed had not at first perceived him, stood a fourth man, who
peeped through now and again, as if to see that nobody approached
without warning. At the same time he lent an ear to the conversation
going on among his comrades, who were seated, cross-legged, on the
floor. There was something suspicious in the attitude of the man on
guard. Ahmed had once or twice lately noticed a certain restlessness
among some of the Musalman members of the corps. He felt quite sure that
the men were after no good, and removing his eye from the aperture, he
turned his ear towards it The meeting was evidently a secret one, and it
seemed to him important to know what was going on. The strange
resemblance of the voice of one of the men to that of his enemy Minghal
still disturbed him, and, as was perhaps natural in the circumstances,
he still had a suspicion that he was himself the subject of their
discussion; but as he listened, he soon found that they were talking
about matters far more weighty than the latest recruit of the Guides.

"The Feringhis are attacking our religion," were the first words he
heard. "Is it not a time when all good Musalmans should lay aside their
little personal quarrels and join hands against the common foe?"

It was evidently the fakir who was speaking, and Ahmed was again struck
by the likeness of his voice to Minghal's.

"The time is at hand when all the Feringhis shall be smitten," the voice
continued. "Why have the infidels enlisted so many followers of Islam in
their army? Why are they making this new cartridge? To turn the sons of
the Prophet from the true faith."

"Bah!" said one of the group. "The Feringhis' religion has nought to do
with the eating of pigs. They are men of the Book. They eat pigs, it is
true; but that concerns not their religion."

"Foolish one, dost thou not see? This cartridge is smeared with the fat
of pigs, and when a true believer bites off the top, as the need is,
does he not lose his caste and become a pariah? Will his father speak to
him? Will his brother eat with him? Nay, he loses father, brother, all
his kin; and then the Feringhi comes and says, 'Dog, thou art outcast.
Embrace my religion, or thou art friendless in this world as well as
damned in the next.'"

"That may be so, O holy one," said the second man; "but what does it
concern us? We have not the new cartridge of which you speak. Our sahibs
are honourable; they would do nothing in despite of our religion;
Lumsden Sahib told me when I became a Guide that he would not permit any
man to interfere with that."

"Hai! Remember the saying, 'What is the goat, what is its flavour?' The
goat can never become a camel, nor can its milk ever taste like the
buffalo's. Your sahibs are kafirs; they hold not the faith; they but
bide the time, and then assuredly you will be defiled."

"But didst thou not say that nothing can be done without the help of the
accursed Hindus? I for one will not join hands with the dogs."

"Nay, nay, in this matter Islam and Shiva are at one. The Hindu by
tasting the fat of the sacred cow, the Musalman by tasting the fat of
the loathed swine, become alike defiled. The Feringhis are powerful.
They are in the saddle. If the Hindus will aid us in tearing them out of
the saddle, shall we despise their help? Have you not a saying,
'Buffalo! though we are not of one mountain, we belong to one thicket'?
We Musalmans have our horns in the thicket; shall not Hindus help to
disentangle them? When the Feringhis are smitten and sent to perdition,
then will be the time for us true believers to deal fitly with the Hindu
dogs. Will it not be then as it was in the days of the great Shah Nadir?
Once more the Afghans, men of your race and faithful sons of the
Prophet, will pour into the plains and set up a new and glorious
kingdom. Who reigns now in Delhi? Bahadur Shah, toothless, feeble-kneed,
a puppet in the hands of the Feringhis, doing nought from sunrise to
sunset but invent foolish verses. We will change that; we will restore
him to his dignities, or set up another in his room. As in the old days,
every soldier in our host shall become a zamindar. There will be no
goose-step to learn; no useless drill; none of the humiliation of
obeying the commands of the white-faced dogs."

Though the fakir spoke in low tones, there was an intensity in his
utterance that had its effect upon the listeners. This news of the
fat-smeared cartridge troubled them in spite of themselves. They had
heard nothing of it before; as a matter of fact, it had not yet been
issued from the factory at Dam-dam; and but for the insolence of a
Lascar, probably no suspicion of it would have arisen. The Lascar asked
a Hindu one day for a drink of water from his brass lotah, which the
Hindu indignantly refused, since he could not himself use the vessel
again without losing caste. Upon this the Lascar retorted that he would
soon have no caste to lose, since he would have to bite a cartridge
smeared with the fat of pigs and cows. The news spread like wild-fire
through the native army; and the terrible fear that the introduction of
the new cartridge was a cunning device to make them pariahs, acting on
superstitious minds which had other causes of disaffection, wrought the
sepoys to a dangerous state of unrest.

But the fakir, besides appealing to his hearers' religious feelings,
appealed also to their cupidity. He knew his men well. Like many of the
Guides, they were by nature and training robbers. The prospect of
unlimited plunder fired their imagination, and they received his last
speech with a grunt of approval. He was quick to seize his advantage.

"Listen, brothers," he said in a mysterious whisper which Ahmed could
barely catch. "'Tis nigh a hundred years since the Feringhi Clive, that
son of perdition, defeated the host of Siraj-uddaula at Plassey. A holy
man foretold that when the evil dominion of the Feringhis had endured
for a hundred years, it should fade and vanish as a dream. The time is
at hand, my brothers. Have I not lately received the sign from the hands
of the Maulavi himself, the saint who now goes to and fro to stir the
hearts of the faithful? Behold!"

Ahmed turned his eye quickly to the hole, and saw the fakir produce from
his loin-cloth a chapati--a flat cake of unleavened bread--which he
handed with a solemn gesture to one of the Guides. The man took it as
though it were a sacred object.

"That is the sign chosen by the holy Maulavi Ahmed Ullah of Faizabad.
Pass it to your comrades, brother, such of them as are true. I myself
may no longer stay: I have far to go. Work in silence and discreetly,
but with no loss of time. The hour is at hand; no man knoweth when the
Maulavi may give the word. The train is laid from Meerut to Calcutta.
The prize--wealth in this world and bliss in the world to come--is for
him who leads, not for him who follows, in the blessed work. I will
record your names, so that the Maulavi may have you in remembrance."

Ahmed had been so intently watching, that, being unable to hear and see
at the same time, he lost part of this address. When he put his ear
again to the hole, he could not catch the whispered words. With his
knife he slightly enlarged the opening, and was straining his ears when
he heard a light footfall behind him. Before he could turn, an arm was
flung round his neck, a hand was pressed over his mouth, and in spite of
his struggles to free himself he was held there until his captor, joined
by others, securely gagged and trussed him. The man nearest him in the
hut had heard the scratching of his knife, and crept out; his companions
had followed him; and Ahmed was a prisoner.

While one of the men was scouting to make sure that nobody approached,
the others dragged their captive round the hut and in at the doorway. As
he entered, the fakir rose to his feet, and a glare of triumph lit his
eyes.

"A spy!" he cried in a whisper. "Allah protects the faithful."

"Shall it be a knife, holy one?" asked one of the men.

"Nay, nay," said another, "a knife means blood on the floor. And how
could we carry him from the lines? Within a little the gun will signal
for 'lights out,' and the gates will be closed. We could not carry a
dead man without being seen by the sentry. 'Tis easier to carry a man
alive than dead."

"But we cannot keep him here," said the third. "'Tis Ahmed, the child
who puts his elders to shame at man's work, and licks the boots of the
sahibs. Search will be made for him; the braggart Sherdil, who shares
his hut, will raise a cry when he is missed. This is evil work: he will
betray us."

"Listen to me," said the fakir. "When the gun fires I go. But I will
remain without, at the foot of the wall. When the night is far spent, do
you lift him and throw him over the wall. Then will I take him and cast
him into the river, and none will know."

"But the sentry!" said one of the men.

"Bah! has he eyes all round? The night is dark; none will see. Brothers,
he is a kafir; he is a Feringhi who has come among you to learn your
secrets and betray you. He shall die. So may all perish that stand in
the way of the faithful."

And then Ahmed knew that the fakir was in very truth his enemy, Minghal.
The voice, the glance of hate, the knowledge that he was an
Englishman--all proved that his first suspicion was just. At the fakir's
words one of the men spat upon him; then he was cast to the floor behind
a charpoy that lay on one side of the entrance. Another charpoy was on
the opposite side. It was near this that the conspirators had been
squatting. The charpoy behind which he had been flung concealed him from
the view of any one who should enter the doorway, and one of the men now
placed the little lamp on the floor near the end of the charpoy, so that
a shadow was cast on the place where Ahmed lay.

His hands and feet being tied, and his mouth gagged, the men felt free
to listen to the fakir as he told them their prisoner's history. Ahmed
felt that that history would soon come to an end. Even if a friend
should enter the hut, he was so well concealed that he might escape
observation. He had no means of giving an alarm; he saw no way of
escape: and when the lights were out and the fort was in darkness, it
would be no difficult matter for the men to do as the fakir had
suggested. And should the sound of his fall from the wall attract the
notice of a sentry, and bring any one to the spot, he knew that Minghal
would certainly dispatch him even though he should himself be seized. A
knife-thrust would take but the fraction of a second; and Minghal was
such an adept in cunning that he might make good his escape.

And so he lay helpless while his captors planned how they would lower
him over the wall by a rope, so that no sound of falling should catch
the sentry's ear. They agreed that they ran a risk; but there was
greater risk in any other course. To dispose of him was imperative, or
they themselves were doomed. The safest time would be two hours after
"lights out," when the sentries had been changed; it would not be many
minutes before the signal gun was fired.

Ahmed tried again and again to think of some way of escaping the
impending doom. If only he could attract the attention of some of his
friends in the corps, all might be well. He longed that Sherdil, or
Dilawur, or Rasul, all good friends of his, might be brought by some
lucky chance into the hut. There was a possibility that he might then
raise himself above the charpoy and be seen. With all his heart he hoped
that the men would not extinguish the lamp before the signal was given,
and he felt that if no help should come while it still burned he was
lost indeed.

With the thought of the imminent extinction of the light a wild chance
suggested itself. On the charpoy, close to his feet, was a small bundle
of straw which had apparently been used as a pillow. It was almost
opposite to the lamp. Drawing up his feet slightly, he gently pushed the
bundle to the edge of the charpoy. He was careful to move it slowly, for
straw crackles, and he expected that the slight rustle he could not help
making would be heard by the men. But if they heard the sound at all,
they probably attributed it merely to his uneasy movements. He pushed
the bundle inch by inch until it came to a position where in a few
moments it must fall over the edge of the charpoy to the floor. Would it
fall on the lamp? If it did, would it extinguish the flame? If it did
not extinguish the flame, would it catch light quickly enough to prevent
the men from quenching the flame? To all these questions was added
another: Would the signal gun be fired before anything could be done?

Ahmed saw that the men were so near to the lamp that even if the bundle
caught fire they could stamp out the flames before they made such a
glare as would raise an alarm. By some means this must be prevented. The
very signal he had dreaded lent him aid. The gun was fired. The fakir
rose to go. In another moment the lamp would be put out. Ahmed gave the
little bundle the last tilt necessary to cause it to overbalance, and
next instant he drew his feet up, stuck them under the charpoy, and,
suddenly shooting them out, kicked it directly upon the three men, who
were still squatting on the floor, looking towards the fakir as they
bade him farewell. The three or four seconds thus gained achieved his
object. The straw was ignited, a huge flame shot up in an instant to the
roof. This, as in all Indian huts, was low. Being made of thatch it
caught fire readily. The hut was ablaze.

For the moment the conspirators were thrown so completely off their
balance that they knew not how to act. But it soon dawned on them that
the fire must bring the whole camp down on them; already there were
cries from without. The discovery of Ahmed bound, dead or alive, would
be fatal to them. They could not get rid of him. Safety lay in flight
alone. Barely five seconds after the sudden outbreak of flame they
dashed out of the hut, rushed among the men who were flocking up, and in
the confusion made for the gate and disappeared.

But the fakir was not with them. On the point of departing when the
straw caught fire, he too had been dazed for a moment by the sudden
glare, and took a step forward to flee. But then he turned, whipped out
his knife, and ran to where Ahmed lay. Ahmed saw him coming, saw the
knife in his hand, knew his fell purpose. Quick as thought he wriggled
against the wall and drew up his knees. Minghal came swiftly towards
him, intent only on his murderous design. Suddenly out shot the
prisoner's bound feet; they caught the stooping fakir square on the
knees. He reeled back against the loose matting of the doorway, and
stumbled against one of the crowd whom the fire had summoned.

The man hurled him aside. He fell and was trampled by the feet of
others. There were cries all around; some were shouting for water,
others were beating at the burning roof with their swords; no one paid
heed to the man on the ground. Bruised with kicks he wriggled through
the press until he came near the gate; then, in full sight of the
sentry, he raised his hands and piously besought the aid of Allah to
save the dwellings of the faithful.

Meanwhile the British officers had run up to the scene of the
conflagration. First of them was Lieutenant Hawes, the adjutant. The men
fell back from him as he pushed his way towards the blazing hut.

"Where are the men?" he cried. "Is any one inside?"

"That we know not, sahib," replied a Gurkha.

"We cannot see through the smoke, sahib," added a tall Afridi; "we are
beating out the flames."

"Idiots!" cried the lieutenant. "Out of the way!"

He rushed through the entrance. The hut was so full of smoke that for a
moment he could see nothing. Then he caught sight of a figure against
the wall: a trooper with his arms crossed on his face to defend it from
the shreds of burning thatch that were falling. His legs were drawn up
to avoid the flames from a charpoy already half consumed. Thinking he
was unconscious, Lieutenant Hawes seized him by the feet and hauled him
by main force into the open air.

"Who is it?" asked Lumsden, standing there with Dr. Bellew.

The prostrate trooper moved his arms.

"Ahmed!" cried the adjutant. "You had no business in the hut. Get up!"

Ahmed wriggled, but could neither stand nor speak.

"Let me see," said the doctor, stooping. "Why, God bless me, he is
gagged and tied up!"

He slit the cords and removed the gag, and Ahmed got up on his feet. He
was half suffocated, and his eyes were red, and watering with the smoke.

"There's some devilry here," cried Lumsden. "Bellew, take him to my
quarters. Hawes, see that nobody leaves the fort. Some of you men put
out the fire and then go quietly to your beds."

The gates were by this time shut. When Lieutenant Hawes asked the sentry
whether he had noticed any suspicious characters leaving the fort, he
replied--

"No, sahib. The last to go before I shut the gate was a holy fakir, who
besought Allah that we might be saved from the fire."



CHAPTER THE TENTH

The Delhi Road


"Just overhaul him, doctor," said Lumsden, when he reached his quarters
with Ahmed. "He has had a narrow squeak."

"Hair singed, eyes a trifle inflamed; nothing else wrong," said the
doctor, after a rapid examination. "Who tied you up, youngster?"

"Let us begin at the beginning," Lumsden interposed. "What were you
doing in that hut?"

Ahmed told his story in as few words as possible. The officers did not
interrupt him until he began to relate what he had heard the pretended
fakir say about the Maulavi. Then Lumsden brought his fist down heavily
on the table before him and said--

"That's the rascal I saw at Lahore a few months ago, without a doubt--a
tall, lean, lantern-jawed fellow with a beak like the old Duke's. They
told me he seemed to be very busy, though no one knew what his business
was. Now, Ahmed, could you judge by what you heard whether this fakir
had spoken to any other men in the corps?"

"I do not think he had, sahib. He was persuading these men to speak to
the others."

"Very well. Go on with your story."

Ahmed repeated, as nearly as he could remember them, the actual words
used by the fakir, and then described how he had been seized and
carried, bound, into the tent, and lay gagged while his captors
discussed how they should dispose of him. When he had related the manner
in which he had set the hut on fire, Lumsden looked pleased.

"It was a good thought, and cleverly done, my lad. That's the kind of
thing I like to see in my Guides--quickness, decision, willingness to
take risks. I shall keep my eye on you. But now, you fellows," he added
in English, the other officers having entered the room, "what are we to
do about an explanation? The men will be desperately excited, you may be
sure; those three scoundrels must be marked off as deserters, and Ahmed
must have some tale for the rest of the men."

"Say they were in a funk at burning down the hut," suggested Lieutenant
Battye.

"Won't wash, Quintin. The punishment would only be stopping of leave or
something of that kind: none of the men would run away from that."

"Ask the youngster," said the adjutant. "These Pathans are good at fairy
tales."

The question was put to Ahmed.

"It might be done thus, sahib," said the boy. "The fakir was not a true
fakir. He is one Minghal, once chief of Mandan, and we blew up his tower
and captured his village."

"I remember. Sherdil told me of that little piece of trickery--a box of
porcelain from Delhi, eh? Well?"

"He is my enemy, sahib. We could say that he came to kill me, and indeed
he tried to stick his knife into me just before Hawes Sahib came, but I
kicked him down. The rest might be told even as it happened, except for
what the fakir said."

"Very good. An excellent notion: you others agree? You shall tell them
that. Now get to your hut: you have done very well."

Ahmed saluted and went away. He found Sherdil awaiting him in great
excitement. The story he told seemed perfectly convincing. The conduct
of Minghal was just what might have been expected of him, and the three
Guides who abetted him clearly had no other course than to take flight.
And the explanation spread through the whole corps next day, and was
accepted with equal belief.

When Ahmed had gone, the officers sat up far into the night discussing
the incident. It indicated the possibility of grave disorders arising.
They were all aware of an undercurrent of disaffection in many regiments
of the native army. Apart from the fears aroused by the threatened
introduction of the new cartridge, there were other causes of discontent
and suspicion, both among the sepoys and the native population
generally. The native officers did not take kindly to the system of
promotion by seniority instead of by merit. Slight instances of
insubordination had been too leniently dealt with by the officers, and
the men had begun to regard themselves as of vast importance. Tales had
been spread of the difficulties of the British army in the Crimea; many
of the sepoys believed that it had been almost entirely destroyed, and
the British prestige had fallen in consequence. They had a grievance,
too, in the matter of foreign service. When they were enlisted they were
expressly guaranteed against service over sea. But the Government, with
reprehensible disregard of this engagement, ordered some native
regiments to sail across the dreaded kala pani, and when they refused,
neither enforced the order nor punished the refusal as mutiny. Since
then a law had been passed withdrawing the reservation in the case of
new recruits, and the older men believed that the guarantee was to be no
longer observed in their case.

Attempts to graft Western ideas and customs on an Oriental people had
embittered the populace generally. Changes in the land system which had
prevailed from time immemorial had exasperated the zamindars.
Interference with the native customs in regard to succession had enraged
the princes, and the recent annexation of the province of Oudh had
alienated an immense population from which the native regiments were
largely recruited.

These and other matters bred a spirit of unrest and distrust, and made
the minds of the sepoys fit soil for the seeds of disaffection which
religious fanatics were beginning to sow among them.

The possibility of a general rising caused grave disquiet to a few of
the more thoughtful of the British authorities--those who knew the
natives best, and were aware of the lengths to which superstition might
drive them. But the great majority were blind to what was passing under
their eyes, and disregarded the warnings of the keener-sighted. Even
when, on February 27, the 19th Native Infantry at Barhampur rose in
mutiny, impelled by a panic fear that the greased cartridges were to be
forced on them at the muzzles of our guns, the incident was regarded as
an isolated eruption instead of a symptom of general uneasiness, and a
strange lack of firmness was shown in dealing with it. "A little fire is
quickly trodden out which, being suffered, rivers cannot quench."

Major Lumsden felt that he could trust the Guides. They were not
affected by many of the matters that agitated the other native
regiments. Their officers had shown such tact and wisdom in respecting
their religious scruples that the men had no fears of enforced
conversion to the Christian faith. Peculiar ties of personal loyalty and
devotion bound officers and men together; the latter had "eaten the
sahibs' salt," and had developed a singular pride in the honour of the
corps. They had, further, a vast contempt for the sepoys of the native
regiments of the line. The latter assumed insufferable airs of
superiority towards the Sikhs, Panjabis, and hill-men, from whom the
Guides were mainly recruited, and turned the cold shoulder on such of
them as enlisted in their own regiments. But though Lumsden had this
confidence in his men's loyalty, he was not blind to the necessity of
watchfulness. At the first hint of trouble he gave orders that any
wandering fakir who might be discovered in the neighbourhood of the fort
should be intercepted and severely dealt with.

A few weeks after news arrived of the rising at Barhampur, Lumsden left
Hoti-Mardan at the head of his mission to Kabul. Among the officers who
accompanied him was Dr. Bellew. The command of the Guides during his
absence was given by Sir John Lawrence to Captain Daly, commander of the
1st Panjab Cavalry. The Guides awaited with considerable curiosity the
arrival of their new commander. He reached Hoti-Mardan at sunset on the
28th of April, and the genial manner of his address to the men on the
parade-ground next day, coupled with his reputation as a gallant
soldier, won their instant confidence.

"Daly Sahib is a good man," said Sherdil to Ahmed, "though in truth he
has not so much hair as Lumsden Sahib."

Thus he alluded to his new commander's premature baldness. Sherdil was
rejoicing in the rank of naik, to which Lumsden had promoted him before
leaving the fort. The good fellow was perfectly convinced that he owed
his new dignity not merely to his merits, but to the broad hint he had
given his commander, and suggested that Ahmed should look out for an
opportunity to make a similar suggestion to Daly Sahib.

"I must wait until I have been in the corps as long as you," replied
Ahmed, with a laugh.

Daly had been but a fortnight in his command when he received grave news
in a letter from Colonel Edwardes at Peshawar. Edwardes had heard by
telegraph that on Sunday, the 10th of May, the sepoys at Meerut had
mutinied. Five days before, when cartridges were served out to the men
of the 3rd Native Light Cavalry for the parade ordered for the next
morning, eighty-five troopers refused to receive them. They were tried
for this breach of discipline by a court-martial of native officers, and
condemned to various terms of imprisonment. On the evening of the
following Sunday, when the bells were tolling for church, the sepoys of
the 11th and 20th line regiments and the 3rd Cavalry broke out of their
lines, and while some set fire to the bungalows of the Europeans, others
hastened to the prison, loosened the gratings of the cells, and dragged
out their manacled comrades. Their fetters were struck off; then the
mutineers set off on a mad riot of destruction, burning houses, smashing
furniture, massacring every white man and woman whom they met.

General Hewitt had with him at Meerut a regiment of cavalry, the 60th
Rifles, and a large force of artillery. With incredible lack of
enterprise he kept them at bivouac during the night, allowing the
mutinous sepoys to set off unmolested on the thirty-six miles' march to
Delhi. Horse and foot made all haste through the darkness, reached the
Jumna at sunrise, crossed by the bridge of boats, and entered the gates
of Delhi exultant. Their arrival was the signal for a general rising.
They massacred without mercy all the English people upon whom they could
lay hands, men, women and children, and the streets of the ancient city
were a scene of plunder and butchery.

With this terrible news Daly received orders to march for Delhi with the
Guides. The men had been fasting all day: it was Ramzan, the Mohammedan
Lent; but at six o'clock the same evening they set off, five hundred
strong, a hundred and fifty being cavalry, on their long march of five
hundred and eighty miles. At midnight they reached Nowshera, the first
stage of their journey, and were up again at daybreak. It was the
hottest season of the year; the sun beat mercilessly down upon them; and
the burning march to Attock, the next stage, taxed their endurance to
the uttermost. But not a man fell out, and after resting until two
o'clock next morning they were on foot again, springing up with cheerful
alacrity at the sound of the bugle. A dust-storm swept upon them as they
started; they plodded steadily through it, marched for thirty-two miles
with only the briefest halts, rested during the day at Boran, and were
off again soon after midnight on the next stage of thirty-two miles to
Jani-ki-sang.

Another night march brought them to Rawal Pindi. There they heard how
the mutiny was spreading--a terrible tale of rapine, incendiarism and
massacre; and--a little light amid the darkness--how native princes in
various parts were showing a noble loyalty, and placing their swords at
the service of the British. There, too, Sir John Lawrence reviewed the
corps, gave the men unstinted praise for their patience and endurance
under fatigue, and did all he could for their comfort. He spoke to many
men personally as he passed down the lines, and, halting before Ahmed,
said in his gruff voice--

"Where did I see you last, young man?"

"At Peshawar, sahib, when I spoke to your honour about my father, Rahmut
Khan."

"Ah yes, I remember. I am glad to see you in such good company."

And he passed on, leaving Ahmed in a glow of pleasure.

Night after night the march continued. Sometimes the troopers dozed on
their horses and had to dismount and go on foot in order to keep
themselves awake. Even that remedy failed, and once Ahmed slept as he
walked, and still trudged on when the rest halted, until Sherdil took
him by the shoulder and shook him into wakefulness.

Early in the morning of June 6, when the corps had been marching for
more than three weeks, they arrived at Karnal, about three days' march
from Delhi, their goal. They had scarcely halted when Mr. Le Bas, the
magistrate, came to Captain Daly with a request that he would destroy
two or three villages in the neighbourhood whose inhabitants had proved
very troublesome and were threatening the lines of communication. Daly
was loath to delay; there was sterner work before him than the
operations of a police officer; but the magistrate being very pressing,
he at last consented to devote a day to the work required. After a few
hours' rest a portion of the Guides marched out to the villages in
question, forced their way into them with the loss of one man killed and
three wounded, and set fire to the houses.

A party of about a dozen Guides, Ahmed among them, with Sherdil at their
head, set off to ride down a body of armed villagers mounted on hardy
country-bred ponies. The Guides' horses were feeling the strain of the
previous three weeks' marching, while the villagers' mounts were fresh;
but it was a point of honour with the Guides never to let their enemy
escape, and Sherdil pushed on for mile after mile, gradually overhauling
the fugitives. Captain Daly's orders were that no prisoners were to be
taken; not one of the hapless villagers escaped.

As the little party was returning at a foot pace to rejoin their
comrades, they caught sight of a group of bearers carrying a palki, and
escorted by a couple of horsemen. Thinking it probable that the palki
contained a village headman endeavouring to escape in a vehicle
ordinarily used only by native ladies, Sherdil decided to give chase; it
would be a notable feather in his cap if he could march into Karnal and
hand over to Captain Daly the ringleader in the recent troubles.

"Daly Sahib will make me a dafadar at once," he said, with a chuckle, to
Ahmed. "True, the palki may hold no person at all, but only treasure; I
know their ways. But we shall have something for our pains, Ahmed-ji."

The men carrying the palki could not go quickly, but they were more than
a mile distant, and the Guides' horses were so done up that they were
incapable of more than a canter. Still, unless the quarry should be able
to hide, they might be overtaken in the course of a quarter of an hour.
Sherdil led the way, the sowars following in a scattered line. They had
scarcely ridden three or four hundred yards when they came suddenly to a
deep nullah. Sherdil attempted to leap his horse over it, but the animal
was too wearied for the effort; it failed to clear the gully, and fell
with its rider. The trooper next behind his leader met with the same
mishap. Then came Ahmed. Being a little in the rear of the others, he
had had time to prepare for the leap, and his horse Ruksh, besides being
superior to the rest, was less fatigued through having had to carry a
lighter weight. He took the leap gamely and landed safely on the other
side, although with only an inch or two to spare.

Being safely over, Ahmed pulled up his horse and called down to Sherdil
to hear if he was hurt.

"A sprained ankle, no more, Allah be praised," his friend replied.

"And the horse?"

"I am feeling his joints. Do not wait, Ahmed-ji; ride after the sons of
perdition. Hai! It will not be I that am made a dafadar, but you a naik.
It is fate. Go on; we will follow."

Ahmed at once set his horse to a gallop. The palki-wallahs were out of
sight now, hidden by a slight wooded undulation of the ground. Eager
that they should not escape him, and fired with the excitement of the
chase, Ahmed did not wait to see how the rest of his comrades fared, but
pressed on as fast as he could. He glanced round once and saw that the
troopers had halted on the further side of the nullah; but he had no
doubt that they would soon find a means of crossing or skirting it and
follow at his heels.

As he reached the crest of the rising ground, he saw the fugitives
hurrying across the plain not more than half-a-mile distant. Apparently
they were aware of the chase, for they were straining every effort, and
the horsemen every now and then plied the flats of their swords
vigorously on the bearers' backs to encourage them. Again they
disappeared from Ahmed's view, entering a small copse. He gave Ruksh a
touch of the spur, followed the party through the copse, and caught
sight of them again, now no more than two hundred yards away.

The two horsemen were at some little distance apart. They were both
somewhat corpulent, and there was no look of the warrior about them. One
of them turned, and, catching sight of the figure in khaki coming at
speed, he shouted to his companion and then dug his spurs into his horse
and rode with all haste towards a patch of woodland beyond. Ahmed set
him down as a cowardly Hindu, yet felt some surprise at his flight.
Surely six men might have the courage to try conclusions with a single
horseman. If he had had time to think he might have concluded that the
runaway was not aware that his pursuer was for the moment alone; but
having previously seen the whole party of Guides, feared that they were
close behind. Whatever his thoughts may have been, his companion was
made of sterner stuff. He disregarded the other's warning shout; at the
very instant when his companion fled, he wheeled his horse and stood to
face the attack.

Ahmed now saw that the man had a pistol in one hand and a talwar in the
other. But it was clear that he was not a practised combatant. Had he
taken aim without flurry he could have shot Ahmed with ease, for the
lad's carbine was empty, all his powder and shot having been used up
during the recent fight. The horseman took a hurried snap-shot at him,
and missed. At the moment when the man fired Ahmed was approaching him
from the near side. By a slight touch on the flank of his horse--a touch
so slight that an ordinary horse in full gallop would have been quite
unaffected by it--he changed the direction of the arab and came up on
the off-side of his adversary. The man seemed bewildered by the sudden
change in the point of attack. Before he could swing round to parry the
stroke, Ahmed's sword caught him at the shoulder; he toppled sideways
from his saddle to the ground; and his horse bolted.



CHAPTER THE ELEVENTH

The Missy Sahib


During this little encounter the bearers had done what might have been
expected of men of their class. They had set the palki down, and stared
in open-mouthed confusion, irresolutely watching the course of events.
When Ahmed had disposed of his opponent, who lay groaning on the ground,
they laid hands on the poles as if to make an attempt to escape with
their burden. But Ahmed called to them to stand fast. He used words of
Urdu, the common language of Hindustan, though to him it was a foreign
tongue. The Guides, being drawn from many different races of the
north-west, had developed a patois of their own--a strange compound of
hill dialects with Urdu and even English. Ahmed in his early childhood
had learnt to prattle in Urdu with his ayah and the other servants, and
in Hoti-Mardan he had quickly picked up more than he had known before,
so that his cry was quite intelligible to the bearers. But even if they
had not understood his words, they could have been under no
misapprehension of the meaning of his tone. They let the palki fall
again, and stood trembling.

"What have you got in the palki?" asked Ahmed sharply.

The men remained silent, looking one at another: it was as though none
cared to accept the responsibility of being spokesman. Ahmed had
contemptuously sheathed his sword after the fall of his adversary, the
cringing bearers being of no account to a Pathan. But now he made a
movement as if to draw it again. It was enough. The four men made haste
to speak at once, and in faltering tones confessed that there was a
person in the palki.

"The headman?" cried Ahmed quickly.

"Not so. It is not a man."

"One of his wives, then?"

"Not so, O strong one: verily it is a person of the Feringhis; a missy
sahib."

A missy sahib! This was strange news. Ahmed scarcely knew what to make
of it.

"How comes the missy sahib here?" he asked.

"Thy servants tell the truth," said one of the men. "The missy sahib was
taken this very morning by the master that now lies on the ground."

"Taken? Where from? What means this? Speak the truth, and quickly, or
verily, thou son of a dog, my sword will taste somewhat of thy jellied
flesh."

"This is the truth," said the man. "The missy sahib was in the city of
the king, but she escaped the killing by the aid of an ayah and a
khitmutgar, who took her to the housetop of a man that was friendly to
the sahibs. But there were some that suspected he was not faithful to
the true king Bahadur Shah----"

"Dog, remember that I serve the sahibs, and name not that master of
cut-throats to me."

"Have mercy, O right-hand of the sahibs, we are but poor men. It was as
thy servant said: some suspected him of favouring the sahibs, and the
housetop was no longer a safe place for the missy sahib. So the ayah
clad her as our women are clothed, and put ornaments about her arms and
feet, and a veil over her face, and by ill-luck they passed through the
gates----"

"By ill-luck, thou dog! 'Twas by the favour of Heaven."

"How should our humbleness know? They came through the gates--by the
favour of Heaven--the missy sahib being called the new wife of one of
the princes. We were even on our way--the missy sahib, and the ayah, and
the khitmutgar, and we hired bearers also--to Karnal, when behold we
were met by a zamindar of the village which your mightiness has laid
waste this day. To him--it is even he that lieth now at the point of
death--the khitmutgar said even as I have told, that in the palki sat
the new wife of one of the princes of Delhi, supposing that he would
salaam and pass on with reverence. But he saw through their pretence,
and demanded that the cover should be lifted that he might see the noble
lady with his own eyes. And behold, the missy sahib, being hot and in a
great fear, had taken the veil from her face, and sat even as the
shameless women of the Feringhis----"

"Son and grandson of dogs," cried Ahmed, "tell thy tale without this
insolence, or verily I will slice thee and leave thee for carrion."

"I but repeat the words of the zamindar, O merciful. He cried out with
great laughter when he saw the white face of the missy sahib, and bade
us carry the palki to his village. And but a little after we had entered
came one running, to say that your mightinesses were riding fast upon
the place. The zamindar is not a man of war, and he lay for a time in
his house, hoping that if his face was not seen by the Feringhis he
would escape the edge of the sword. But when it was told him that the
men of Lumsden Sahib had entered and were burning, he stowed some jewels
in his pockets, and placed more in the palki--they are even beneath the
cushion whereon the missy sahib sits--and he bade us hasten out of the
gate with the palki, purposing to reach Gungah, ten koss to the
north-east, and there dwell with his brother. And then thou didst come
upon us like a swift breath, and the zamindar hath not escaped the edge
of the sword. It is fate: who can strive against it? I have spoken the
truth."

"Well for thee!" cried Ahmed. "And what became of the ayah and the
khitmutgar?"

"Truly we left them in the house, and without doubt they are burnt up in
the flames kindled by the Feringhis' servants."

Ahmed was nonplussed. He looked round for Sherdil and his party; there
was no sign of them. The sooner he rejoined them the better. Suddenly he
heard a voice from the interior of the palki; it was thrown open, and
turning, he saw the face of a young English girl.

"You are a friend of the sahibs?" she said in faltering Urdu.

"Truly," said Ahmed, and then stood speechless. Into his mind came a dim
recollection of having seen ladies such as this long years before, when
he was a tiny child, before that terrible day when his father had been
killed in his tent. The girl's voice recalled other voices; he seemed to
hear them speaking to him, and to see tall ladies with unveiled faces
bending over him, and--yes, surely one of them had given him the wooden
sword which had so much amused Rahmut Khan when he had first seen him,
and another had given him a little horse, on which his ayah used to draw
him about the room.

"You will help me?" said the girl again in the native speech.

"Yes!" Ahmed was on the point of telling the girl that he was English
like herself; she would then have greater confidence in him. But he
checked himself; it was not time for that, especially with Hindus in
hearing and possible danger all around. "I will help the missy sahib,"
he said. "What would the missy sahib wish me to do?"

"Oh, I do not know. I cannot tell what would be best. My father and
mother were killed in Delhi" (her speech was broken by sobs), "and many
of my friends, and I do not know whether even one of them escaped. If
you take me to the sahibs you shall have much bakshish."

"I am of the Guides of Lumsden Sahib," said Ahmed simply. And then he
bade the men lift the palki with its fair burden and follow him. They
left the zamindar where he lay.

He reached the nullah about half-an-hour after he had left it. To his
surprise, Sherdil and his comrades had disappeared. Examining their
tracks he saw that they must have gone back the way they had come. Why
had they deserted him? He felt uneasy. It was already late in the
afternoon; Karnal, so far as he could judge after his riding across
country, was at least three koss distant; and no doubt between that town
and the place where he now was there were scores of villagers whose
homes had been burnt, but who had themselves been more lucky than the
zamindar, and escaped.

He made for the shelter of an adjacent copse, so that the party might at
least be safe from observation while he decided what to do. When they
were among the trees, Ahmed ordered the men to squat down beside the
palki and beware of his sword if they attempted to move. A sudden rush
of four men upon one would have been dangerous; but these palki-wallahs
were not enterprising, and Ahmed's bold and contemptuous attitude did
not encourage them to run any risks. Keeping a wary eye on them,
however, he went a little apart to consider.

It was drawing towards night, and he was, as he guessed, several koss
from Karnal, the nearest place where he knew there were white men. He
could not ride thither and bring help for fear of what might happen
during his absence. If the party set off to walk, they might easily lose
the way, and possibly encounter bands of hostile villagers or even
roving mutineers. In a few hours the Guides would no doubt leave Karnal
for their usual night march, and his duty was to rejoin them as soon as
possible. It seemed on the whole best to remain in hiding until darkness
fell, and then attempt to reach the Delhi road, so as either to
intercept the Guides, or, if they had already passed, to follow in their
tracks. Whether he could gain the road in the darkness would depend
mainly on the knowledge of the palki-wallahs, for though his own sense
of locality and direction was keen, as became one accustomed to wander
among the hills of the Afghan border, his course had been so erratic
since he left Karnal with the Guides in the morning that he was now
quite at a loss.

There was one risk to be guarded against: the escape of any of the men
in the darkness. If one of them should get away, he might bring the
whole countryside down upon the party. A few minutes' thought sufficed
to settle that problem. As a preliminary, Ahmed made the men hand over
their knives to him; the rest of his device he would put in operation
when the time for starting came.

The party was not unprovided with food. Ahmed had already seen the men
eating chapatis, which they had taken from their wallets, and when he
went up to the palki to acquaint the missy sahib with his purpose he
found her eating some fruit. The zamindar had shown forethought in thus
providing against a possibly prolonged march. Ahmed found it rather
difficult to explain his design to the girl, whose stock of Urdu
extended little further than the ordinary phrases used between masters
and servants. The girl acquiesced in his plan; she was indeed too
frightened, and too anxious to gain a shelter with white people, to be
able to criticize or suggest.

Before it became completely dark, Ahmed collected some long strands of a
creeping plant that grew plentifully in the copse. With these he tied
the bearers two by two together, in such a way that while their
movements in carrying the palki would not be sensibly impeded, any
attempt to take flight would be hopeless. The legs of the two men who
went in front were fastened to those of the two behind, so that when
they set off they would have to keep step. He had never seen a
three-legged race; but if they tried to run away the result would be not
unlike that when two boys insufficiently practised in that sport attempt
to run: one would trip the other. The ends of the strands were so firmly
knotted that they could not be undone easily, and Ahmed would have
plenty of time to catch the men if they were so ill-advised as to bolt.
These preparations having been made--not without sundry complaints and
protests on the part of the men--Ahmed asked them whether they could
find their way to the Delhi road. They eagerly professed that they knew
the way perfectly; they were, in fact, so desirous of getting rid of
this masterful Pathan that they would have agreed to lead him anywhere.
He made them understand that any attempt at treachery would be fatal to
them, while, on the other hand, there would be much bakshish if the
missy sahib was brought safely to her friends. Then, a little after
darkness had fallen, he mounted his horse, which had meanwhile been
quietly browsing, bade the men take their places at the poles, and gave
the order to start.

They marched on steadily for an hour or more, then took a short rest and
set off again. Ahmed was by no means easy in mind. While he felt pretty
sure that there was no enemy in sufficient force across the Delhi road
to interrupt communications, he suspected that the whole country was
infested with disaffected persons, and that parties of rebels and
robbers were roving about, ready to swoop down upon any one worth
plundering. It would matter nothing whether such a person were well or
ill affected to the sahibs: unless he were accompanied by an adequate
escort he would stand small chance against the rebel troops and the
lawless element of the population, who had taken advantage of the
disturbances to plunder their own countrymen and the hated Feringhis
impartially. As he rode, therefore, Ahmed was ever on the alert to catch
the first sound of a body of men approaching, or anything that should
indicate the neighbourhood of a village.

But nothing occurred to cause alarm. The party marched on, through
fields, over slight nullahs and across small streams, until, some time
after midnight, they struck into a broad dusty track which the men said
was the high-road to Delhi. Here Ahmed called a halt, and sat his horse
intently listening. Had the Guides passed? he wondered. For the moment
he could not tell. He heard nothing but the faint barking of dogs in the
distance. He asked the men the name of the village whence the sound
came. It was Panipat, they told him, about six koss south of Karnal, and
probably half-a-koss from where they were at that moment standing. He
was in a quandary. If the Guides had not passed, it would be well to
wait for them. On the other hand, if they had passed he stood a poor
chance of overtaking them. Well he knew the rate at which they could
march! The four bearers, encumbered with the palki, could not move at
anything like the pace of the Guides. He dared not leave them; they
could not be relied on, no matter what bakshish were promised, when it
was a Feringhi lady who was concerned: they might get more bakshish by
delivering her up. He thought for a moment of setting her behind him on
his arab and making a dash for Karnal, where she would be safe with Le
Bas Sahib; but Panipat was in the way: if it were not held by the sahibs
the risk was too great. On the other hand, even if he knew that the
Guides were now on the road south of him, he might not overtake them
before daylight, and no doubt there were other villages to pass through.
Were the girl seen by any passing native, he would soon have every
freebooter of the countryside upon his tracks, for he knew the
extraordinary speed with which the news of such a discovery would
travel. Then, his horse bearing a double burden, he could scarcely hope
to outride any pursuers.

But, since delay was dangerous, it was necessary for him to make up his
mind to some course, and he thought it best to push along the highway
southward, keeping a sharp look-out for hostile parties. No doubt he
would have sufficient warning of their presence to give him time to find
some temporary hiding-place by the roadside. The absence of any sound
from the north persuaded him that the Guides had already passed, and
then he bethought himself that he might possibly prove it by examining
the dust of the road. Dismounting, he struck a light with flint and
steel, ignited his tinder, and, shielding it with his pagri, blew up a
sufficient glow to throw a faint light on the road. The dust was marked
with a great number of foot-prints, both of men and of horses, many of
them so blurred as to be indistinguishable. But after a little Ahmed's
trained eye noticed several which were clearer than the rest; without
doubt they were made by the horses coming at the end of a troop. He
easily distinguished the four hoof-marks of a single horse: the mark of
the hind-foot coming close behind that of the fore-foot: and by the
distance between the successive impressions he knew that the horse had
been going at a walking pace. The print was very like that which would
be made by the shoe of one of the horses of the Guides; and the evidence
was so clear that a considerable troop had passed along the road not
many hours before that he felt sure his comrades were ahead of him.

He wondered whether there was any chance of catching them up. It
occurred to him that he might quicken the pace of the party by relieving
the palki-wallahs of their burden for a time, so he asked the missy
sahib, through one of the men, to alight and mount his horse while he
led the animal. Tired as she was of her cramped position in the palki,
and not a little discommoded by the jolting movements of the vehicle as
the men trudged over the rough ground, the girl consented with alacrity.
Thus lightened, the men stepped forward at a good pace--probably as fast
as the Guides, whose progress was of course limited by the marching
power of the infantry portion of the corps.

The march continued for several hours at a brisk rate. They skirted one
village by making a detour into the fields beside the road. When they
returned to the highway Ahmed noticed that the men were flagging; the
palki, even without its occupant, was no light weight to bearers who had
already carried it for many hours; and one of the men plucked up courage
to tell their hard taskmaster that his strength was failing. But Ahmed
could not venture to delay. In a fierce whisper he bade the man, who had
dropped his pole, bringing the party momentarily to a halt, to push on,
if he valued his life. The man obeyed with a groan, but the party had
not gone much further when the girl, who had hitherto endured the
fatigues and anxieties of the journey without a murmur, suddenly broke
down. She would have fallen from the horse but for Ahmed's arm, and when
he had carried her back to the palki he found that she had fainted. He
was utterly ignorant of what to do to restore her; nothing of the kind
had ever come within his experience before. But one of the men explained
that she must have water, and volunteered to go and find a brook; he had
a small lotah with him. Ahmed dared not trust him; the reasons for not
leaving the party himself were as cogent as ever; there was nothing for
it but that the whole party should leave the road and search for a
stream.

The girl recovered from her swoon before their search was rewarded. Then
she broke into a fit of weeping, which to Ahmed was almost as alarming.
But a draught from a brook they by and by discovered revived her, and
they returned to the road. The delay had cost them a good hour.

It was nearing daybreak when Ahmed heard the sound of trotting horses on
the road behind. He instantly ordered the bearers to make for a patch of
woodland bordering the roadside. He hoped that the horses might prove to
be those of the Guides, but it was necessary to prepare for the worst.
It was useless to attempt any deception in case the horsemen turned out
to be enemies and discovered him: his khaki uniform would betray him. If
he should pretend to have deserted from the Guides and joined the
mutineers, a word from one of the palki-wallahs would be his undoing.
The only chance was to remain in hiding in the copse and trust that the
riders would pass by. He wondered whether any of the bearers would have
sufficient courage to cry out, and so disclose their hiding-place.
Dismounting from his horse, he handed the girl his knife, and stood over
the four men with his sword drawn, bidding them not to make a sound if
they valued their lives.

They had been but a minute or two in their place of concealment when the
horsemen came up at a trot. It was still very dark, but Ahmed, peering
out from among the trees, was able to see them dimly, and thought from
their general appearance, and the sounds made by the horses' furnishings
as they trotted past, that they were sowars. If that were the case, it
was almost certain that they were mutineers; he knew that they were not
Guides because they were riding in one compact troop, without an advance
guard. As nearly as he could guess, they numbered about fifty.

They passed by; the immediate danger was over. But it was disconcerting
to find a body of the enemy now between him and the Guides. He wondered
for a moment whether the Guides were after all behind them, but
dismissed that idea when he remembered the leisurely pace of the
horsemen who had just gone by; they would have made greater speed had
they feared pursuit. There was clearly need for redoubled carefulness.
Ahmed waited a full quarter of an hour after the troop had ridden by
before he gave the word to proceed. Then he went after them slowly,
listening more intently than ever, both for sounds from ahead, in case
they should return, and for sounds from behind, in case others were
following. But after a time the tramping of the receding horses faded
quite away; he heard nothing from the opposite direction, and hoped that
with the morning light he would reach the bivouac of the Guides.



CHAPTER THE TWELFTH

Bluff


Before morning broke, however, it was clear that the march must be
intermitted. The girl was in no condition to walk, nor could she sit the
horse; and the palki-wallahs, men of no great stamina or muscular
development, were worn out. Bitterly as he deplored the necessity, Ahmed
saw that further progress was impossible for the present, and promised
the men that if they would hold out until the dawn, which must be at
hand, he would let them have a long rest. He was still hoping that
daylight would reveal the encampment of the Guides.

Very soon afterwards the sky lightened, and he saw nothing but the long
dusty road and the wide plain on either side. It would clearly be unsafe
to continue the journey now that they could be seen, so a hiding-place
must be found where they might lie up in comparative comfort during the
day. The men were so exhausted that he ventured now for the first time
to leave them, to search for a hiding-place himself. At a little
distance from the road he discovered a nullah, and, scrambling up the
bed of the watercourse, now nearly dry, he came upon a spot overgrown
with thorn and brambles, which would shelter the whole party, save,
perhaps, the horse. He retraced his steps, explained to the girl what he
proposed to do, and led the horse in advance of the party to the place
of concealment. When they were settled there, he found, a little higher
up, a tall bush standing almost as high as the horse's head, and there
he left the animal, speaking to him, and knowing that the faithful beast
would not move from the spot until his master called him.

The bed of the watercourse was fairly steep. Two or three tall trees
overhung it. Ahmed thought by climbing one of these he might get a view
of the surrounding country. He managed to make the girl understand that
he wished her to watch the bearers, and use the knife upon any of them
who should attempt to escape or call out. Even if she had not the nerve
for such action, he thought that the men, having heard what he said,
might shrink from putting the matter to the test.

Then he scrambled up the side of the nullah and nimbly climbed the
tallest tree. What he saw from his perch was not reassuring. A little to
the right of the road, perhaps a koss distant, a troop of horsemen,
dismounted, were resting at the edge of a small plantation, which
concealed them from any one passing along the highway. Beyond them the
ground rose slightly, scarcely enough to be called a hill, and yet
sufficiently to cut off any more extended view southward. Far away on
all sides stretched open country, with little vegetation except patches
of scrub. Many miles to the left he fancied he descried the white roofs
of a village, but in front the road ran between almost bare plains.

Ahmed guessed that the plantation at which the men were resting
surrounded a tank where they had watered their horses. He had no doubt
that they were those who had passed in the night. Yet he wondered why
they had halted at that particular spot, for if it was a tank, there was
in all probability a village on the other side of the rising ground. He
watched them for a time, and presently saw a man riding towards them
from round the shoulder of the hillock. As he reached them, some of the
dismounted men crowded about him; in the distance they looked to Ahmed
like flies clustering. After a time two of them mounted their horses,
and accompanied the new-comer along the high-road in the direction of
Delhi. When they came near the crest of the rising ground they halted
and dismounted. One of the men held the horses in the middle of the
road, while the others went on foot to the top, and gradually
disappeared as they descended on the further side. The third man
remained motionless with the horses in the road.

Ahmed felt interested. What were they about? What lay beyond the
hillock?

After a while he saw two figures reappear on the skyline. They were no
doubt the same two, for they walked down to the man with the horses,
mounted, and trotted back to the main body. A few minutes afterwards two
other men left the plantation and rode up the acclivity as the others
had done, dismounting also before they reached the top. While one held
the horses the other ascended the slope, with a slowness that spoke of
caution, and went out of sight as the others had done before him. Ahmed
looked for him to return after an interval, but minute after minute
slipped away and still he did not reappear. Had he gone on some scouting
errand, or perhaps to take post as sentry? It was clear that on the
further side of the hillock something was going on in which the horsemen
on this side were keenly interested.

All at once the explanation occurred to Ahmed. The Guides were without
doubt encamped beyond the hillock. It had been their practice all
through the march from Mardan to halt in the early morning. The horsemen
at the plantation were probably a roving band of mutinous sowars from
Delhi, who had been raiding, and now found the Guides between them and
the city. To obtain confirmation of his conclusions, Ahmed slipped down
from the tree and asked one of the men whether there was a village
beyond the hillock.

"Truly there is," said the man, "and it is some seventeen koss from
Karnal."

This was the distance the Guides might be expected to march during the
night.

"And how far is it from us?" he asked.

"Thy servant knows not with any certainty, but maybe it is two koss."

It was a tantalizing situation to be in. Ahmed felt sure that his
comrades were encamped within an hour's march of him and yet he could
not reach them. Why had the sowars halted at the plantation instead of
returning to Delhi by some roundabout route? And yet, he reflected, even
if they were not there, he could hardly dare to move on in the broad
daylight. There were the same dangers to be feared as had determined his
previous conduct.

The position was delicate enough. The sowars might take alarm. In that
case they would probably retreat to find some shelter, and might easily
come upon the very nullah in which the little party was concealed. The
Guides would no doubt remain in their encampment for the greater part of
the day, moving on again when night fell. Even if the rebel horsemen
should not be scared by any action of the Guides, it was always possible
that some of them should take it into their heads to go a-roving. At any
moment, too, a villager, a wandering mendicant, a kasid from one village
to another, might cross the plain and get sight of the fugitives. There
were signs of footpaths, and passers-by would not need to come right up
to the nullah before suspecting the presence of the hidden party, for
Ruksh was but imperfectly concealed by the bush.

Moreover, the party would soon be in want of food. The bearers had with
them provisions for only one day, and though Ahmed did not know how much
food was in the palki, he suspected that it was very little: the
zamindar would hardly have foreseen the possibility of so long a delay
in reaching his brother's house. Ruksh could find some little sustenance
in the leaves of the shrubs around him, but he would soon strip them
bare. There was water in the bed of the nullah, and the bearers had
already given the girl some in the lotah she had used before; they
themselves of course, being Hindus, would not drink from the vessel
which her lips had contaminated, but stooped and lapped up the running
water. But none of the party was in a condition to wait through the long
hours of an Indian day in the hottest season of the year, and then to
undertake a night march, without more refreshment than it seemed
possible for them to obtain. Ahmed thought over the situation with no
little anxiety. To move away might be immediately fatal; the only
alternative was to remain hidden on the chance of the sowars by and by
moving off.

Once more Ahmed climbed the tree to keep watch. The sun rose higher and
higher, and yet there was no sign of a movement among the party. But
after some time he noticed the man who had gone over the brow of the
hill returning. He came much faster than he had gone. Rejoining his
waiting comrade, he mounted his horse, and the two galloped down to the
rest. Instantly the whole party sprang to their feet, loosened their
horses, and sprang into the saddle. A few even started to ride across
the plain in a straight line for the nullah, and Ahmed feared that in a
few minutes the fugitives would be discovered. He knew that if they were
seen there was no help for them; with his single hand he could do
nothing against a troop of horse. The sowars came on until they were
within a hundred yards of the nullah, and Ahmed shrank back among the
leaves, fearing lest he might be seen and so draw the men on. But they
suddenly wheeled half round and cantered to the road, where they halted.

Their comrades meanwhile, though they had mounted their horses, had not
left the plantation. Apparently they were waiting to see if the report
brought to them by their scout was correct. After some time they
appeared to decide that it was a false alarm, for half-a-dozen now left
the main body and rode up the hillock, dismounting as the others had
done previously, and skirmishing forward over the crest. In a few
minutes they returned and trotted back again. The smaller body who had
taken panic returned slowly to rejoin their comrades. They all
dismounted, tethered their horses, and once more stretched themselves at
ease under the shade of the plantation.

Ahmed watched them for a long time. There was no sign of further
movement among them. It looked as if they had settled down to doze
through the hot hours of the day. The prospect of being kept at a
standstill became more and more unendurable. To say nothing of the
torture of remaining through the long hours of torrid heat without
adequate protection or sufficient food, there was the danger that, if
his journey could not be resumed until nightfall, he would reach the
encampment of the Guides only to find them gone. Was it not possible, he
wondered, in some way to get past or round the men who lay between him
and safety? Obviously the whole party, with the palki, could not advance
openly across the bare plain. Nor could he alone venture to go, in the
tell-tale uniform of the Guides, to bring assistance to the missy sahib.
If only he were clad in the costume of Shagpur he would have risked the
attempt.

Suddenly a new idea crossed his mind. Was it possible to disguise
himself? The palki-wallahs could not help him; they had little on but
their loin-cloths. He wished he had stripped the zamindar whom he had
left on the ground. There was not likely to be a spare dhoti in the
palki. But he remembered the coloured hangings of that vehicle. If he
tore those down and wound them over his khaki tunic, they might raise a
question as to what his race and position were, but they would certainly
never cause any one to suspect that he was one of the Guides.

Hitherto he had shrunk from leaving the missy sahib. But now the
position was desperate. To die of fright, hunger, and exposure to the
heat might be her fate; an accident might at any moment lead to her
discovery; yet there was at least a chance that by carrying out the plan
which had suggested itself to him he could secure her safety. The
bearers had been cowed into submissiveness; the natives, for all their
brave talk, were very amenable to stern and authoritative handling.
Threats of grievous punishment on the one hand, and promises of liberal
bakshish on the other, might at any rate keep their wills in a state of
oscillation, so that they would not make up their minds to any positive
course. And if only the missy sahib would summon up a little resolution,
and show that she meant to use the knife he had given her if they
attempted to betray her whereabouts, he would feel a certain confidence
in leaving her for a time. He could at any rate fasten them more tightly
together. There were creepers growing on the sides of the nullah, and
strands of these would make very serviceable bonds.

His resolution fixed, he climbed down the tree and crept to the palki.
It was difficult for him to explain his purpose to the girl without the
assistance of the bearers, but he did not wish them to know too much.
The missy sahib herself was so depressed from anxiety and want of sleep,
as well as from the effects of the heat, that she was slower to
apprehend than she might otherwise have been. But he succeeded after a
time in making her understand that he was going to bring help from the
sahibs, who were very near at hand, and that during his absence she was
to strike without compunction any of the bearers who tried either to
free himself or to give an alarm. Then he cut lengths of creeper
sufficient for his purpose, and tied the men's arms and legs together so
that they could not move. He did not gag them; they were in a state of
abject submission; and when he told them that the missy sahib would
certainly kill them if they uttered a word above a whisper, they
declared that they had no tongues until he gave them leave. Then he
wrenched the muslin curtains of the palki from their fastenings, and
with the missy sahib's help his khaki was soon entirely concealed.

As she twisted the stuff around him she suddenly said--

"There is a little black hole in your pagri, and the cloth is scorched
around it. Did you know that?"

He did not understand her until at her bidding he took the pagri from
his head, and she pointed to the spot. Then he remembered that the
zamindar had fired almost point-blank at him, and did not doubt that the
bullet had gone through his head-dress. But he had no words to explain
this to the girl, and would hardly have done so if he could. It had been
a narrow escape: a Pathan took such incidents as a matter of course.

Having made his preparations, he repeated his orders to the men, and led
his horse gently up the nullah towards the road. It was now midday; the
sun burnt at its fiercest; not a living soul was passing along the road,
and the horsemen at the plantation were without doubt in a state of
somnolence. It was not at all improbable that he might mount and ride
some paces before he was seen. He crept quietly along the nullah until
he reached the end, then sprang lightly into the saddle, walked the
horse the few yards to the road, and urged it to a mad gallop towards
Delhi. Some few seconds passed before the clatter of the hoofs was heard
by the men dozing in the plantation; then some of them rose lazily to
their feet and gazed at this strange figure in yellow and red tearing
along so furiously. As soon as he was within hailing distance Ahmed
flung up his arms and shouted--

"The Feringhis! The sahibs! They are upon us! Fly for your lives!"

The effect was magical. The lethargic sowars were galvanized into
activity. Those who were already upon their feet rushed to their horses,
unloosed them, and in a few moments were galloping at a headlong speed
in a direction at right angles to the road. Those who had as yet been
too sleepy or too incurious to rise sprang up and followed their
comrades' example. Soon the whole party was scattered, each man riding
as his fear directed him, the dust of the plain flying up in clouds from
the heels of their horses. And still Ahmed rode on, crying lustily, "The
sahibs are upon us!"

He breasted the hillock, topped the crest, and gained the other side.
Then he saw what had so much occupied the sowars earlier in the day.
Some three miles ahead of him the white tents of the Guides gleamed in
the sunlight. Between him and them there was a small mounted patrol of
the same corps. He gave a joyful shout, and Ruksh flew down the gentle
slope with responsive gaiety. The men of the patrol caught sight of him
as soon as he of them, though in the distance it was impossible to
distinguish what or who he was. On he rode, and as he drew nearer he
began to tear off the coloured muslin that disguised him. The khaki was
disclosed. Wondering, the sowars of the patrol watched as he approached,
shading their eyes against the sunbeams. Presently one of them
recognized the horse; there was no horse like Ruksh in the corps. Then
another shouted, "'Tis Ahmed!" and cantered to meet him.

"What news?" he cried.

But Ahmed galloped past, throwing a mere word of greeting to his
comrades. Nor did he draw rein until he reached the commandant's
quarters. Then his story was quickly told. Five minutes afterwards a
half-troop rode out under Lieutenant Hawes, Ahmed leading the way. When
they reached the crest there was no sign of the mutineers. They had
utterly vanished off the plain. Riding down to the nullah, they found
the palki-wallahs lying fast asleep in the shade of the bushes where
Ahmed had left them, and the missy sahib asleep in the palki, grasping
the knife. Ahmed flung himself from his horse, kicked the bearers awake,
and cut their bonds. Meanwhile Lieutenant Hawes was trying to awaken the
girl, speaking to her quietly so as not to startle her. His low tones
making no impression, he touched her lightly on the arm. She sprang up
with a shriek, lifting the knife. Then, seeing an English face, and
hearing an English voice, she flung down the weapon and, to Lieutenant
Hawes' amazement, fairly flung herself into his arms.

"Poor child! You are safe now," he said. "Here, you," he cried sharply
to the palki-wallahs, "get to your poles; quickly!"

The four men hastened to obey, and the party set off to return to the
camp.

"Your nobility will remember the bakshish," said one of them to Ahmed as
they started.

"Chup! Am I not one of Lumsden Sahib's Guides?" was the answer.

Later in the day, Ahmed told the whole story in detail to the group of
officers. The missy sahib had already given them her version of it, and
had indeed sung the praises of the young Guide, and asked Captain Daly
to reward him handsomely. Daly, however, knew that the proud native of
North-west Hindustan is a good deal more sensitive in matters of this
kind than the average man of the plains, and while giving Ahmed
unstinted praise, he refrained from offering any tangible recompense.

"I am proud to have you in the corps," he said. "The matter will not be
forgotten, and when we have finished the march, and have a little time
to rest, I will give you a sheep so that you may feast your friends."

Praise from the sahib was reward enough to the men of the Guides. And
Sherdil, who had heard the story from Ahmed previously, was envious, and
bemoaned his ill-luck in missing the opportunity which had fallen to his
friend.

"May water never flow through that accursed nullah!" he cried. "None of
us were able to leap it; it took me half-an-hour to get my horse out of
it, and the others had to go a great way round about. And then we were
recalled, but we returned later and sought you, and found, not you, but
a dog of a Hindu lying with a cut in his shoulder, and we finished what
you had left undone."

Savagery was in the blood of these men. The butchery of a wounded man
gave them no compunction, and Ahmed, who had grown up among them, was as
ignorant as they themselves of the chivalry which bids an Englishman
spare his beaten foe.

When the evening cool descended, Captain Daly sent the missy sahib under
escort to Karnal, where she would be safe under the protection of Mr. Le
Bas.

It was the morning of the 9th of June when the Guides reached the camp
on the Ridge, two miles north-west of Delhi. They marched in as firm and
light as if they had come but a mile instead of thirty. News of their
great achievement had been brought in by native couriers, and a vast
crowd was assembled to meet these intrepid warriors who had covered five
hundred and eighty miles in twenty-two days. As they reached the lines,
Ahmed was amazed to see some of the infantry break their ranks and rush
up to an English officer distinguished by his very fair hair. They clung
to his stirrups, some kissed his hands, others his feet, pressing upon
him with such excitement as to cause alarm to some of his
fellow-officers.

"What is it?" asked Ahmed of Sherdil.

"'Tis that they are pleased to see Hodson Sahib. He was our commander
when Lumsden Sahib went over the black water, and we love him. Wah! he
is a fighter. See him with the sword: there is no match for him. It is
good to see him again."

And then came an opportunity for these hardy warriors to show the stuff
of which they were made. Even as they approached the Ridge a
staff-officer galloped to meet them, and accosting Captain Daly asked
how soon he could be ready for action.

"In half-an-hour," replied the gallant captain.

It happened that since early morning parties of horse and foot had
sallied from Delhi to attack the advanced posts of the British. Since
attack is ever the best defence, General Barnard ordered his men to move
out and drive back the enemy. The Guides went forward at the trumpet
call with irresistible dash, and were soon engaged hand to hand with the
vastly superior numbers of the mutineers. They carried all before them,
but at a heavy price. Lieutenant Battye was shot through the body, and
died murmuring "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." Lieutenant Hawes
was clipped across the face with a sword, Lieutenant Kennedy was wounded
in the arm; and Captain Daly himself, after having his horse killed
under him, was struck in the leg by a spent bullet. Many of the men were
killed or wounded. But to be in the thick of a fight was as wine to the
Guides. Every man burned to uphold the honour of the corps, and though
they were saddened by the loss of so many officers and men before they
had even pitched their tents, they were conscious of having borne
themselves as their loved commander Lumsden Sahib would have wished them
to do, and were content.



CHAPTER THE THIRTEENTH

Some Lathi-wallahs and a Camel


One afternoon, about ten days after the arrival of the Guides, an
orderly came to Captain Daly's tent, where the captain was sitting on a
camp-stool at the door, drinking a cup of tea with Lieutenant Kennedy.

"The general's compliments, sir," said the orderly, saluting, "and will
you kindly step over to his tent for a minute or two?"

"Immediately," said Captain Daly. "Orders for to-morrow, I suppose," he
added to Kennedy, as he got up to go.

When he entered General Barnard's tent, the general handed him a letter,
saying--

"What do you make of that, Daly?"

Daly took the letter, and read, in a sloping angular hand, as follows--

     "DEAR GENERAL BARNARD--

     "My father is safe. How thankful I am! And I know you will be glad
     too. Yesterday I received the enclosed note from him; you see it is
     written on the back of a torn label. He is in Delhi, but does not
     say where; I suppose he was afraid to write too much in case the
     chit fell into the hands of the mutineers. The man who brought it
     knows nothing; perhaps it is that he knows but will not tell. Will
     you try to find out where my dear father is? Some good friend must
     be hiding him. I know you have spies in the city, and I should be
     so happy if you could find out something more about him, and
     whether he is well, and many, _many_ other things. Do help me,
     there's a good friend.

     "Yours sincerely,

     "MARY CRADDOCK.

     "P.S.--Perhaps that young Guide who saved me from the horrid men
     would go into the city. He would do _anything_ for me, I know."

"Just like a girl," said Daly, handing the letter back.

"Now that's not fair," said the kindly old general. "Wait till you have
daughters of your own, Daly. It is good news that Craddock is still
alive; his wife, poor woman, was killed as she was escaping. He and I
are old friends. D'you know him?"

"No. But the idea is impossible, of course. Without more information it
would be like looking for a needle in a bottle of hay. Besides, he's in
hiding; no one would have the ghost of a chance of finding him."

"One of his servants may be faithful, and keeping him concealed."

"Yes, but better not set anybody inquiring too closely for Craddock's
servants. If those fiends suspect one of them is hiding an Englishman it
will be all up with him and his master too."

"Still, Craddock is my friend, and I stood godfather to his girl.
Couldn't one of Hodson's spies help us? Or this Guide she mentions--what
about him?"

"He's a clever young fellow, no doubt--showed pluck and resource in
saving the girl; but I don't know that I should like to send him into
that wasps' nest. One of Hodson's spies would run less risk."

"Well, we'll ask Hodson. Poor fellow! He is rather knocked up, I'm
afraid."

The general sent an orderly to ask Lieutenant Hodson to visit him, and
in a few minutes he appeared. The case was put to him, and he read Mary
Craddock's letter.

"All my men are out," he said. "Let's have a look at this man of yours,
Daly. Who is he?"

"A Pathan," replied Daly, and related how Ahmed had rescued the girl.

"A likely fellow. Have him up, general."

Ahmed, in company with Sherdil, was eating a mess of rice stewed in a
soup of sheep's tail, when a naik of the corps came up and said that the
general wished to see him.

"Hai!" said Sherdil, with a sigh. "Now it is coming, Ahmed-ji. Verily
thou wilt be a dafadar, or maybe a jamadar, before Sherdil, son of
Assad. What must be will be."

Ahmed wondered what the summons to the general's presence could mean. He
had had a part in the brushes with the enemy, which had been of daily
occurrence since the corps arrived; but he had done nothing to signalize
himself. Hodson gave him a quick look as he came up and saluted.

"Your name?" he said in the Pashtu tongue.

"Ahmed, son of Rahmut Khan of Shagpur, sahib," said the boy.

"A good specimen of the breed," said Hodson to the others. "The general
wants you to go into the city," he added, speaking again in Ahmed's own
language. There was no officer in India more expert than Hodson in the
speech of the natives.

"I am ready, sahib," said Ahmed at once.

"You'll have to pretend to be a mutineer, you know."

"With the hazur's pardon I will not do that. There is no need."

"Then how will you go? The khaki would betray you."

"I would go, sahib, as I went with Sherdil, son of Assad, to Mandan, the
village of Minghal Khan."

"Ah! and how was that?"

Ahmed told how the company of Afghan traders had entered the village,
and about the box containing porcelain from Delhi. He related the story
simply, without any of the boastful garniture which comes so readily to
an oriental's lips. The officers listened with interest, Hodson keeping
his keen blue eyes fixed on the boy's face.

"This is the oddest Pathan I ever came across," he said in English when
Ahmed had finished the story. To Ahmed he said, "Then you will go as an
Afghan trader? How will you do that? Traders do not go alone."

"If I might have Sherdil, son of Assad, and Rasul Khan, and Dilawur----"

"No, no, that won't do.--He wants half your corps, Daly.--You must go
alone."

"As the hazur pleases." He paused, and thought for a minute, the
officers watching him. "I will go alone, sahib," he said. "The tale will
be that I was one of many, travelling towards Delhi with Persian shawls
for the princes' women. And we were set upon by a band of Gujars, and I
alone escaped."

"But if you go alone the Gujars may catch you, for of course you cannot
go to the city from the Ridge; you must approach as from a distant
part."

"It is as the sahib says."

"You will take the risk?"

"If the captain sahib commands."

"Never met so direct a fellow," said Hodson to the others. "My spies
have a good deal to say about bakshish, as a rule. Well," he went on in
Pashtu, "what will you want?"

"Clothes, shawls, and a camel, sahib."

"And where will you get them?"

"In the bazar at Karnal, sahib."

"Steal them, eh?"

"Buy them with the hazur's rupees," said Ahmed, with a smile.

"And what are you going to do in Delhi?"

"I wait for commands, sahib."

"Can you write?"

"No, sahib."

"Of course not. Then you will be no good to me."

"But with rupees I can pay a munshi, sahib."

"He is our man," said Hodson in English. "He has an answer for
everything, and judging by the way he told us his story just now we
shan't have so much trouble in sifting his information as we have with
Rajab Ali's friends."

Rajab Ali was a one-eyed maulavi, an old friend of Sir Henry Lawrence,
whose many connections about the court of Delhi frequently sent Hodson
news of what was going on in the city. These communications were
sometimes made verbally by trusty messengers, sometimes in writing, on
tiny scrolls of the finest paper, two and a quarter inches long by one
and a half broad. The writing on them was so minute that the translation
when written out filled more than two pages of large letter paper. But
the actual information they contained was so scanty, and so much
embellished in the manner no oriental can avoid, that the separation of
the corn from the chaff gave Hodson a great deal of trouble. Moreover,
being written by hangers-on of the court, they included a vast amount of
unreliable gossip and hearsay. Hodson welcomed the opportunity of
gaining news that might be gleaned among the people themselves. He had
reason to believe that a great number of the more respectable
inhabitants of Delhi, who had had experience of the benefits of orderly
government, deplored the excesses of the sepoys and badmashes of the
city, and the disorders that sprang from the weakness of the king. It
would be a material gain to the besiegers to learn how far that feeling
extended, and how far the normal population would support the hordes of
rebels who were constantly pouring into the city.

"You will go among the people," said Hodson to Ahmed, "into the bazars,
among the sepoys, and listen to their talk, and find out what they think
and what their hearts are. You will learn who comes into the city, and
how many they are, and what news they bring from other parts; and you
will go to Fazl Hak, a maulavi to whom you will be recommended by Rajab
Ali, and make him write all this down, saying no more than the truth,
and these letters you will send to me, cunningly concealed, by
messengers who will be appointed. Is it understood?"

"Hazur, it is understood."

"And there is something else, but always have in mind that the other
comes first. The missy sahib whom you saved from the zamindar has a
father in Delhi, but she knows not where. The General Sahib wishes you
to learn, if you can, where he is. He is a hakim; Craddock Sahib is his
name; and we think that he may have been hidden away by one of his
servants. Remember, to ask openly for either the sahib or his servants
may be death to them both. If you find the sahib, and see any way by
which he may escape to us, well. But do not attempt to bring him away
unless it can be done with little fear. He is the father of the missy
sahib."

"Even as Rahmut Khan is my father," said Ahmed.

Hodson did not guess the thought that prompted this apparently
inconsequent statement. He knew nothing, nor did the other officers, of
Rahmut Khan's fate.

"And you must tell none of your comrades of this task we have given
you--not even Sherdil, son of Assad, who appears to be your chief
friend. I know that Sherdil, he has a moist tongue. Where pots are,
there will be a clatter, as they say in your country. You will
start----"

Here he was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a bugle. Immediately
afterwards an officer galloped up.

"The Pandies are attacking our right rear with two thousand men and six
guns, sir," he said.

"By George! that's a new move," said the General. "Off with you, Daly;
Grant will want all the help he can get. Not you, Hodson; you're not fit
to sit a horse yet. You had better take this young Pathan and settle
things with him. I will see you again in the morning."

Thus it was that Ahmed had no part in the fight at Nawabganj--one of the
most critical moments of the siege. Under cover of the gardens that
dotted the broken ground on the right of the British rear a large body
of all arms of the enemy had moved up, taking Sir Hope Grant, who was in
command, completely by surprise. He had only the Guides cavalry, a
portion of the 9th Lancers, and four guns to meet the attack. As soon as
Captain Daly arrived on the scene, he was detached with two guns under
Lieutenant Hills, a troop of Lancers, and the Guides, and found himself
faced by a huge mass of infantry and cavalry, with six or eight guns, in
his immediate front. There was nothing to fall back upon, so, leaving a
handful of Guides to protect the guns, he detached the rest to clear the
left flank, already threatened by the enemy's horse. Lieutenant Hills
got his guns into action, and the little force was bravely holding its
own when Major Tombs hurried up with the remainder of the guns. The
mutineers pressed on in swarms, dodging among the trees, and when they
observed the weakness of the force opposed to them, and the absence of
infantry, they began to close in, until they could pick off Major Tombs'
men as they served the guns. There was a danger that the defenders would
be overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers.

"I fear I must ask you to charge, to save my guns," said Major Tombs to
Daly.

Daly was the only British officer with the cavalry. Waving his sword, he
called on his Guides to charge. The little band dashed forward in the
gathering mist, cut their way right through the crowd of infantry, and
never checked until they reached the enemy's guns. The gunners fled, the
infantry was thrown into disorder, and the bold and perilous movement
had the effect of clearing the front and allowing time for
reinforcements to come up.

A bullet struck Daly in the left shoulder, and he fell from his horse.
In the excitement of the charge his plight was unnoticed. Search was
made for him when the men were returning, and they could not find him in
the dark, until one of the enemy, who had been a jamadar in the 1st Oudh
Irregular Cavalry, pointed out his whereabouts. His wound proved so
serious as to incapacitate him, and indeed he never recovered the full
use of his left arm, so that when Lieutenant Hodson called on the
General next day to report the arrangements he had made with Ahmed, he
learnt that he was to command the Guides until Daly had recovered.

Next day Ahmed set off for Karnal with a returning convoy. Sherdil was
anxious to know what had passed at his interview with the General, still
more when he learnt that he was leaving for Karnal. But Ahmed told him
nothing except that he had been entrusted with an errand, and might not
see him again for some time.

On arriving at Karnal, Ahmed changed his uniform for the ordinary dress
of an Afghan trader, and purchased with money given him by Hodson a
number of shawls. He presented to Mr. Le Bas a letter from Hodson
explaining his mission, and had an interview with Miss Craddock in that
gentleman's house.

She told him no more than he already knew, and when he asked which of
her father's servants was most likely to have befriended him she was
puzzled to answer.

"We thought them all faithful," she said; "but whom can we trust in
these times? They were all good servants; we thought a world of Kaluja
Dass, our khansaman; and Sakun, one of our chaprasis, was always ready
to run errands for me, even when his work for my father was done."

The girl was delighted that her suggestion to General Barnard had borne
fruit, and promised Ahmed much bakshish if he could send her news of her
father. And then, having disguised himself by means of a black beard and
moustache, Ahmed set off in a day or two on his adventurous mission.

He rode out on a camel, reluctantly leaving his horse, Ruksh, behind.
The shawls were strapped in packs before him, and he carried no visible
arms except an Afghan knife; but he had a pistol in his outer garment,
and a talwar was concealed between the packs on his camel's back. Until
he came within twelve miles of Delhi he kept to the great trunk road, on
which troops and armed convoys passed so frequently that it was fairly
safe for travellers. More than once he was stopped and questioned by
parties of soldiers, but the pass given him by Mr. Le Bas satisfied
them, and he was allowed to proceed.

He had decided to approach Delhi from the south-west. He struck off,
therefore, in the direction of Bahadurgurh, and was within seven miles
of his destination when a heavy storm of rain came on, drenching him to
the skin. The camel is a beast of most uncertain temper, and in the
midst of the storm Ahmed's steed suddenly sank on its knees beneath a
large banian-tree that stood solitary by the roadside, tucked its legs
under it, and refused to budge. Ahmed was well acquainted with the ways
of camels, and knew that no coercion would make the animal move until it
pleased: all that he could do was to wait in patience for its sulky fit
to pass. Fortunately it had chosen for its resting-place a spot where
the banian-tree afforded some shelter from the rain, and from the sun
when the rain ceased. Swampy paddy fields lay on both sides of the road,
and muggy steam rose from the ground under the sun's heat, making Ahmed
feel very uncomfortable. He tramped up and down for a time, hoping that
the camel would rise; but as there was no sign of any change of mood in
it, he by and by spread a mat by the animal's side, and squatted on it,
leaning against the camel, prepared to make the best of the situation.
He ate some of the food he had brought with him, and then, it being
midday and hot, he fell asleep. A Pathan sleeps like a rabbit, with only
one eye shut, and Ahmed would wake at the slightest sound. If a band of
mutineers should come upon him he knew that there was no escape for him,
so that whether awake or asleep he would be in the same predicament.

It was late in the afternoon when he awoke. Nothing had disturbed his
rest; the animal had not moved. Ahmed got up to try the effect of a
little coaxing; it was quite time the camel came to a reasonable frame
of mind. As he moved towards the animal's head he noticed a man
approaching across the fields. He carried a lathi, and in dress and
appearance looked like a ryot. The man stopped short when he caught
sight of Ahmed's turban. Apparently he had supposed that the camel lying
in the road was untended. Ahmed looked at him and he looked at Ahmed.
Then he drew a little nearer and shouted a salutation.

"Salaam, sarban, what is amiss?"

"Not a great matter, stranger," said Ahmed. "The camel does but take a
rest."

"Thou hast without doubt come far?"

"That is possible."

"And is it far thou goest?"

"Even to the city of the king."

"Have a care lest thou fall among the Feringhis. What is the news whence
thou comest?"

"Nay, thou wilt have news, being so near the city. What is said here,
stranger?"

"Why, that Bakht Khan is on his way hither with 50,000 men, and the Shah
of Persia has taken Lahore, and Jan Larrens was caught as he sought to
escape on an elephant, and all men knew him by the wounds on his back.
The accursed Feringhis will soon be altogether destroyed, that is
certain."

"If it be Allah's will."

To this the ryot made no reply. He had stood at a distance during the
conversation, every man being suspicious of every other in this time of
unrest and upheaval. Paying him no further attention, Ahmed went to the
camel's head and tried to induce the animal to get up. He did not relish
the prospect of remaining all night in the open, liable to be drenched
by another rain-storm. But the beast was obstinate. Even when Ahmed
offered it the last of his chapatis, its only response was a savage bite
at the hand which fed it, a vicious attack that Ahmed only escaped by a
hair's breadth. The ryot stood for a few minutes watching these
ineffectual attempts, then shouted a farewell and moved away.

Ahmed was annoyed. To an oriental time is nothing; but for the possible
inconvenience of the situation he might have been content to wait the
animal's pleasure. But he felt that the sooner he was in Delhi the
better. And it suddenly occurred to him that his position might prove
even more inconvenient than he had hitherto reckoned for. The ryot who
had just disappeared had probably returned to his home in some not
distant hamlet. He would almost certainly tell the people about the
recalcitrant camel, and they might see a chance of helping themselves to
its load. One solitary trader, even though an Afghan, would be no match,
they would think, for a band of lathi-wallahs. Ahmed wished he had
seized the man, and held him at least until the camel had recovered its
temper. It was too late to think of that now; the ryot was quite out of
sight, and Ahmed had perforce to return to his mat.

In the course of an hour he had reason to wish that the idea of
arresting the man had occurred to him sooner. He saw in the distance a
group of at least half-a-dozen men approaching, all carrying lathis
except one, who had a matchlock. They might, of course, have been
induced by mere curiosity to come and see the amusing spectacle of an
Afghan baffled by a camel. But belonging himself to a robber tribe,
Ahmed suspected that their motive was not so peaceable. Well, they
should not despoil him without a fight. They would indeed hardly expect
to do so, for, though a trader, he was an Afghan, and if they knew
anything of Afghans they would know that he would not yield without
offering resistance. But they were six to one!

Fortunately Ahmed had some little protection in the great bulk of the
camel and in the banian-tree behind him. While they were still a great
way off, he slipped his talwar from its covering, and laid it close to
his hand, ready for emergencies. He had, besides, his pistol and his
knife. But he felt that he was in an awkward predicament. The matchlock
would carry further than his pistol; the man who bore it had only to
keep out of range and "pot" him at his leisure. Even if the man missed
him, he might hit the camel, and then the animal, if not mortally
wounded, would probably rise quickly enough and bolt in an entirely
wrong direction. There was just a chance that the man, not suspecting
him to bear firearms, might come so near that he would be able to get
first shot; that indeed seemed to be his only chance.

He stood behind the camel and watched them. While they were still too
far away for the matchlock-bearer to fire with any certainty of hitting
him, he shouted--

"Eo! eo! Who are you, and what do you want?"

Like all hill-men, he had a very clear, ringing voice, and the note of
authority in his tone caused them to halt. Then one of them called back
in answer--

"We have come to help you with your rogue of a camel."

"I want no help," he replied. "The camel will rise when Allah wills. I
would not trouble you."

There was silence for a moment, then another voice cried--

"We know not who you are. We want no Afghans here. You must come with us
to our village, and our headman shall hear who you are and say what
shall be done. It may be that he will send you to the chief of
Bahadurgurh."

"What talk is this?" cried Ahmed. "I am a trader, as you see, and I
carry my wares to Delhi. What has the chief of Bahadurgurh to say to the
king?"

"That we shall see," replied the man truculently, advancing. "It will be
better for you to come with us quietly."

"You had better return to your dogs' kennels before you come to harm,"
cried Ahmed, flourishing his talwar. "As you perceive, I am armed, and I
will send you back without arms and legs if you come within my reach."

The men laughed. What was a talwar against a matchlock? The man carrying
the firearm came on ahead of the rest, and advancing to within a short
distance of Ahmed he set the weapon to his shoulder and proceeded coolly
to take aim. This was exactly what Ahmed had calculated upon. The firing
of a matchlock was a somewhat lengthy operation, especially to a
villager. Before the man had time to fire, Ahmed quickly changed the
talwar from his right hand to his left, drew his pistol, and fired over
the camel's back. The man dropped without a sound. At the same moment
Ahmed flung down his pistol, and taking the sword again in his right
hand, drew his knife, vaulted over the animal, and dashed straight at
the knot of villagers.

Taken aback by this unexpected stroke from a man they supposed to be
helpless, the villagers stood irresolute. Before they had recovered
their wits, Ahmed was upon them. The sight of his sword flashing in the
glow of the setting sun was too much for most of them; they took to
their heels and fled in all haste across the fields. One or two,
apparently so paralyzed with consternation that they could not even run,
seized their lathis and made feeble attempts to parry the descending
talwar. But with a couple of swift strokes Ahmed settled their account.
Then, incensed at their unprovoked attack, he made off at full speed
after the runaways. They were no match for him in fleetness, and,
realizing this, they scattered, howling. Ahmed could not catch them all;
he ran after the one whom he recognized as the man that had first
discovered him. A pursuit of half-a-mile over the squelching soil
brought him within arm's length, and the wretched man paid the penalty.

It would be dangerous to pursue the rest, loath as he was to let any of
them go unpunished. And reflecting that as soon as they got back to
their village they would without doubt bring others with firearms to
deal with him, he saw that he must lose no time in making his escape.
The camel must be compelled to move. But when he turned, he saw that the
camel, probably startled by the shot, was already on its feet, and
shambling along the road in the direction from which he had come.
Sprinting after it, he lugged it round until its head was again turned
towards Delhi, walked by its side until he picked up the pistol, then
leapt to his seat, and set off, as quickly as the clumsy animal would
move, towards his destination.

He had not ridden for more than half-a-minute when he reflected that he
was not even yet out of danger. If the villagers pursued him, they could
easily overtake him before he had gone many miles. Instantly he drove
the camel off the road on to the field. When he had gone a hundred paces
he stopped, slipped off, and with the quickness of a well-trained scout
proceeded to obliterate the traces of the animal's feet back to the
point at which it had started to go in the opposite direction, the camel
meanwhile stopping to drink at a deep pool. In a few minutes he was back
again, remounted, and continued his journey.

It was by this time nearly dark. After riding a few miles he saw,
somewhat nearer the road, a small shrine amid trees, such as are to be
found in countless numbers dotted over India. It struck him that, since
the gates of Delhi must now be shut, he might well shelter for the night
beneath the walls of the shrine. He halted, tethered the camel to one of
the trees, and made himself as comfortable as he could.

An hour or two afterwards he heard the distant sounds of a body of men
approaching. Were they fellow-villagers of the men he had punished, on
the hunt for him? Devoutly he hoped that the camel would not betray him
by a grunt. The sounds drew nearer--voices, the tramp of feet on the
road. They passed. For the time he was safe. Tired as he was, he durst
not now go to sleep. The men might return; an unlucky grunt might bring
them upon him. In anxious suspense he waited. The hours are long to one
who waits. At last he heard faint sounds from beyond him. Men were
approaching him again. He stood, grasping his weapons. The sounds grew
louder. The marching men were now abreast of him. If they had been his
comrades of the Guides they would find the tracks of his camel even in
the dark. But they passed; the sound of their marching grew fainter; and
at last Ahmed's uneasiness left him, and, wrapping himself in his cloak,
he lay down to sleep.



CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH

Kaluja Dass, Khansaman


On that evening, about the time when Ahmed had his little fight with the
villagers, Kaluja Dass, an Oudh man of pleasant aspect and grave
deportment, was preparing a meal for his master in a substantial house
lying some little distance in the rear of the Chandni Chauk--Silver
Street--the long straight thoroughfare leading from the Lahore gate to
the king's palace in Delhi. His brows were drawn down, a deep vertical
furrow divided his forehead; he wore a look of worry and embarrassment
which accorded ill with his position as khansaman to a subahdar in the
army of the king. But the subahdar had announced that he would bring
guests home to sup with him, and Kaluja was at his wits' end to provide
the meal. The subahdar commanded a regiment, but neither he nor his men
had had any pay for weeks. In spite of his impecuniosity, the officer
always expected his appetite to be appeased, and was wont to give the
rein to a very abusive tongue if the bill of fare was not to his liking.

Kaluja Dass had done his best, but really, without money it was
impossible to persuade the merchants in the bazar, however loyal they
were, that an officer of the king must be suitably fed. The khansaman
had done his best, but he had to confess to himself, as he viewed the
dishes, that the supper was not worthy even of a jamadar.

The room in which the meal was set was a large one on the first floor of
a house which had once belonged to a prince of the blood. But some years
before, when the sahibs came to assist Bahadur Shah--who certainly
needed assistance--in the government of his kingdom, the house had been
purchased by one of them from its impoverished owner. Craddock Sahib was
a hakim, and also, as it appeared, a man of war; in the English way of
putting it, he was a surgeon attached to one of the foot regiments in
the service of the Company. He had a wife, a son, and a daughter; so
large a house was quite unnecessary, as Kaluja thought, for so small a
family, especially when the son went away over the black water to his
own country, to learn how to become a hakim like his father. But that
was a characteristic of the sahibs: they loved spaciousness; and if
Craddock Sahib's family was small, his household was correspondingly
large; Kaluja Dass as khansaman ruled over quite a regiment of
underlings.

Dr. Craddock had been in cantonments when the rising took place. As soon
as news of it reached his ears he mounted his buggy and hastened back
into the city, against the advice of all his friends. At the gate he was
met by a sepoy, who presented a loaded pistol at his head; but quick as
thought the doctor lashed him across the face with his whip, and the man
slunk howling away. Seeing that the street was full of people, Dr.
Craddock jumped from his buggy and made his way by side streets towards
his house. He had almost reached it when he was set upon by a group of
ruffians, who hacked at him with their knives and left him for dead on
the ground.

It happened that next day the doctor's house was granted by the king to
a Pathan adventurer named Minghal Khan, who had just entered the city.
He had come with high recommendations from the Maulavi Ahmed Ullah. Had
he not earned Paradise by going to and fro through the land in the guise
of a fakir and preparing the minds of the faithful for the great
deliverance at hand? So worthy a missionary deserved well at the hands
of Bahadur Shah, and the doddering old king at once made him a subahdar
and gave him for residence the house which had just been purged of the
defiling presence of an infidel Feringhi.

The first thing Minghal Khan did was to fling out of the house some of
the European furniture, treading under heel the many dainty nick-nacks
which had stood for so much to the memsahib as mementoes of home. Among
the larger articles of furniture which he allowed to remain was a lofty
almirah, on the shelves of which stood long arrays of bottles large and
small, containing liquids and powders of various colours. Minghal had no
respect for the infidel hakim's drugs, but the bottles made a pretty
show and pleased his eye.

Those who had known Kaluja Dass as the faithful servant of Craddock
Sahib might have been surprised at his remaining in the same house as
khansaman to Minghal Khan. No doubt they were somewhat astonished at the
change that came over the man. He was never tired of abusing his late
master and all the Feringhi race, and though, not being a man of war, he
did not actually fight against them, no man in Delhi cursed them more
heartily or uttered devouter wishes for their extermination. It was
partly this violence of language that induced Minghal Khan to engage
him. That important personage at first swore that he would have none to
serve him who had served the Feringhis; he even accused Kaluja of
favouring the accursed infidels, and only the most vehement
protestations of hatred--spittings, revilings, maledictions on countless
foregone generations of the sons of perdition--prevented the Pathan from
dealing with Kaluja in his haste as too many loyal natives had been
dealt with. And then, when the man offered to serve the hazur without
pay--so greatly did he honour this doughty enemy of the sahibs--Minghal
was satisfied. A man must live, to be sure, but a khansaman had
opportunities of squeezing the means of livelihood out of the purveyors
honoured with his master's custom; and Minghal, being as arrant a
brigand as ever went raiding on the border, was content to accept the
service of an experienced domestic on such easy terms.

But Kaluja's place was not an easy one, and became more difficult as
money ran short. This evening he had spent his last rupee in buying
sweetmeats as garnishment for the meal. The names he bestowed inwardly
on his master did not savour of respect. And when by and by Minghal came
in with two friends of his kidney, and saw the meagreness of the repast,
he cursed Kaluja as a dog and the son of a dog, and bade him go into the
bazar and buy something more suited to the dignity, as to the appetite,
of a friend of Bahadur Shah.

"Hazur, thy servant has not a pice," faltered the khansaman.

"Pig, wouldst thou answer me? Go, get thee some of the Feringhi's lumber
that remains, and sell it. Wouldst thou keep my guests waiting? Quick,
or by my father's beard I will hamstring thee."

Kaluja hastened from the room. During his absence Minghal inveighed
against the parsimony of the king, which kept his faithful servants in
such straits.

"Where is justice?" he cried. "Did he not command two days ago that
twelve rupees' worth of sweetmeats should be bestowed upon those seventy
sowars who came in from Alipur, with a tale--lies, by my beard!--that
they had slain a hundred Feringhis and pursued a host for three full
koss? And yesterday did he not give large gifts to the Gujars who stole
forty camels from the Feringhis' camp? He is lavish to them, and yet
will not part with a rupee to one who has journeyed in the heat of the
day and faced death a hundred times in conveying the Maulavi's chapatis
to the faithful!"

"The king has no treasury: how can he pay you?" said one of his friends.

"Bah! Has he not untold wealth in that palace of his? And are not the
queen's arms heavy with jewels? Verily he will not long be king when we
have smitten these accursed Feringhis."

"And when will that be, friend? The smiting was the other way this
morning."

"Hai! what is that? Do not our numbers grow day by day? What can the
Feringhis do? Can they scale these walls? Have we not a hundred guns and
more upon them? Within a little we shall issue forth like a swarm of
locusts and devour them. The work grows apace. This day a kasid came
with news that a regiment has risen at Jajjar; troops are coming to us
from Kotwal; the Feringhis have been smitten at Lahore. What can this
handful of white-faced dogs do against our great host?"

Further conversation was interrupted by the return of the khansaman
laden with dainties from the bazar.

"Wah! Did I not say that there is abundance of good things in Delhi? But
why, pig, hast thou not brought spirits? Wherewithal dost thou suppose
we will comfort our hearts?"

"Hazur, the bottles are empty."

"Dog, thou liest! All the Feringhis lay in a plentiful store of the
strong waters. Hast thou drunk them thyself, thou thief, and broke the
Prophet's command? Verily I will myself come and see if thou art telling
the truth."

"Hazur, I will look again," said the khansaman hastily, and with an
anxious air. "Maybe I have overlooked a bottle or two that still remain.
It is not meet that the noble hazur should have the great trouble of
searching himself."

He went away, and soon returned with a full bottle of brandy. Forbidden
though the drinking of intoxicating liquors was, many professed faithful
followers of the Prophet paid scant heed to the prohibition. They drank
if they could afford to buy. Minghal and his guests imbibed freely,
diluting the liquor but little. The bottle was soon empty: the guests,
less accustomed to the spirit than Minghal himself, were completely
overcome; and Minghal, flushed and unsteady, called for more. Kaluja
humbly declared that there was no more in the house; but Minghal,
cursing him for a liar, cried that he would see for himself. He rose and
staggered across the room. Catching sight of the row of bottles on the
almirah, he gave a maudlin chuckle of delight and reached out his hand
to take one down.

"Hazur, have a care!" cried the khansaman. "Those bottles contain not
what thou desirest. They are the hakim's medicines; some cause the pains
of hell, some kill."

"Thou liest in thy throat, dog. I will drink, I say."

He took down one of the bottles and carried it to the divan where he had
been reclining. Then, removing the stopper, he poured a quantity of
liquid into his cup and raised it to his lips. Before he could drink,
however, he choked, caught his breath, and dropped the cup as if it
stung him. The liquid fell upon his sandalled feet, and he sprang up
with a yell of pain.

"I am burning!" he screamed, gasping with the ammonia fumes. "It is the
fire of Tophet at my feet and nose."

"Hazur, did I not say to thee, 'Touch not'? But thou wouldst not hear."

"Dog, dost thou prate while I burn? The pain consumes me. Dost thou
stand and look? Run for the hakim ere I perish."

The khansaman started, and threw a scared look over his shoulder. Then
he appeared to recover himself.

"It needs not to call a hakim," he said. "I will myself ease the hazur's
pain."

He took some ghi from a dish, and smeared it quickly on the tortured
feet. The grease gave instant relief. Minghal was effectually sobered
now, but his temper must needs find a vent. His rolling eyes lighted on
his two guests, who had lain undisturbed in a drunken stupor.

"Carry me those swine to the street!" he cried furiously. "Will they
remain here and bring down the wrath of Allah upon me? Fling them out, I
say."

Kaluja having reasons of his own for clearing the apartment, caught the
men by the heels and dragged them unceremoniously to the door. Then he
suggested that the hazur would be the better for a long night's sleep,
and assisted his master to his bedroom. When he returned to the other
room, he secured both the inner and the outer doors; then, furtively as
a thief might move, he went to the almirah. Looking round as if to make
sure even now that no one was observing him, he slid a portion of the
back of the almirah aside, disclosing the stone wall of the room. He put
his hand on one of the slabs of stone: it yielded to his touch, and
opened slowly inwards. He stepped in, drew back the panel of the almirah
to its former place, and disappeared.



CHAPTER THE FIFTEENTH

Within the Gates


It was still early morning when Ahmed rode up to the red walls of Delhi;
but in spite of the hour there was already much traffic through the
Ajmir gate. A long line of bullock-carts was filing along the Jaipur
road past the garden suburb of Paharganj, conveying country produce into
the city. A regiment of sepoys was marching out of the gate towards the
encampment lying across the road. To the left of the gate rose the tomb
of Ghazi Khan, and in the centre of the city towered the dome and
minarets of the Jama Masjid--the splendid mosque which is the Mecca of
Mohammedan India. Ahmed was amazed at the vastness of this city of the
Moguls. He felt as a Highland lad might feel if suddenly transplanted
from his little village among the lochs and mountains to the turmoil of
London.

Delhi had none of the aspects of a beleaguered city; indeed, it was
never in the military sense besieged. The British force was far too
small to attempt a strict investment of the great city. Men might go in
and out as they pleased. The holders of the Ridge were far more closely
beset. Save that his communications were open in the rear, General
Barnard might himself have been considered to be in a state of siege. He
was holding his ground, waiting for the opportunity to strike a blow.

Ahmed followed at the tail end of the procession of carts. As he
approached the gate he observed a strong guard of armed sepoys there,
and wondered whether he would have any difficulty in passing. He felt a
little timid now that he was actually drawing near to the heart and
focus of the great rebellion, but he crushed down the feeling, and
assuming a bold front accosted one of the guard and began in his
imperfect Urdu to pour out his tale of tribulation.

"Salaam, jamadar!" he said, giving the man a sausage by way of
ingratiation a title at least two grades above his proper rank, and
raising his right hand to his brow in due Moslem salutation; "thou dost
behold one who is very thankful to Allah this day."

"Salaam, banijara," said the man. "What is this thou tellest me?"

"Thou beholdest one, a peaceable trader, as thou seest, who has escaped
the very jaws of death. I was one of a small caravan bringing rich
merchandise for the subahdars of the army of the faithful; nay, maybe
for the most noble shadow of Allah the king himself. And lo! we were set
upon in the twinkling of an eye by a troop of vile Gujars, sons of
perdition, and though we fought like lions--was not Sherdil, the son of
Assad, among us?--what could we do? We are not men of the sword, like
thee."

"True; the camel is but as a leaf when the tiger springs upon him. Go on
with thy tale."

"We were like leaves, as thou sayest, when the wind blows. We were
scattered, and I in my haste quitted the road, and by the grace of Allah
got myself away among trees and bushes, and so escaped. And I wandered
long, and by great good fortune found myself at length upon this very
road. 'Twas good fortune indeed, for had we not been molested we might
verily have blundered upon the camp of the Feringhis, and then my goods
would have come to the hands of vile kafirs instead of true believers.
And now that I have found the city of peace, I would fain know of some
good serai where men of my folk are wont to resort, so that I may rest
somewhat from my journey before I carry my goods to the subahdars and
have some recompense for my toils and perils."

He slipped a coin into the man's hand; bakshish would always smooth the
way.

"In very truth thou hast been fortunate," said the sepoy; "yet not
wholly, for it is no good time for buying and selling in Delhi. We
soldiers--even the subahdars, save some few who made great plunder at
the first rising--cry out for money, and there is none that hears. Yet
thou mayst find some of the princes who will look at thy wares: go in
peace."

And he gave Ahmed the names of two or three serais frequented by traders
of his nation. Ahmed went on his way rejoicing. He had asked for the
Afghan serais merely to avoid them; his imposture might be discovered if
he came among genuine merchants. After a little trouble and discreet
inquiries he found a humble inn at the corner of the Moti Bazar, near
the centre of the city and not far from the Kotwali--the head-quarters
of the city police--and having left his wares and his camel in the
charge of the bhatiyara, he sallied out into the thronging streets, to
learn somewhat of the immense city in which, as he supposed, his lot was
for some time to be cast.

He made his way first to the Chandni Chauk, and was amazed at the shops
which lined that thoroughfare. He had seen shops in Peshawar, but none
like these. The street was thronged, and the people were talking
excitedly in groups. Hovering on the outskirts of one of these he heard
the name of Bakht Khan frequently mentioned, and by and by made out that
this rebel artillery officer was expected to arrive shortly with a vast
host which would sweep all the Feringhis before it. He went on until he
reached the palace, and stood for some time watching the streams of
people coming and going--officers, court officials, scribes,
bankers--all showing signs of the same excitement. Then he passed on by
the palace wall until he reached the Calcutta gate, and saw the fort of
Selimgarh stretching out into the river, and learnt from a bystander
whom he ventured to address that it was by this very route that the
first mutineers had ridden in from Meerut; and there, a little to the
left, was the Magazine, the scene of Lieutenant Willoughby's great
exploit, when, after defending his post with nine companions against a
horde of assailants, he at last blew it up rather than let it fall into
the hands of the rebels.

When midday came he was tired and hungry, and returned to the serai for
a meal. Later in the day, when the heat was past, he unloaded his bales,
hired a coolie, and set forth to offer his wares to the Prince Mirza
Mogul, subahdar of the volunteer regiment of native infantry, who seemed
to be one of the most important persons in the city. But on arriving at
the head-quarters of the regiment he found that the prince had gone to
attend a darbar at the palace. Some of the subordinate officers,
however, were curious to see the contents of the bale he had brought,
and he displayed before them the fabrics he had purchased in Karnal with
money given him by Hodson Sahib. Many of the officers, in spite of their
having received little or no pay from the King of Delhi, were rich with
the spoils of looted provincial treasuries, and were quite ready to
bargain for the many-coloured shawls whose merits Ahmed extolled with
oriental extravagance.

It takes a long time to conclude a bargain in the East, and Ahmed knew
enough of the part he was to play to make no attempt to shorten the
business. After haggling for an hour or two he allowed the purchasers to
buy some of his goods at what they considered very low prices, not
forgetting to assure them that he was being absolutely ruined, and but
for the disturbance of trade, due to the upheaval, he would not dream of
parting with his wares at such low figures. And he told over again the
story of his providential escape from the Gujars, and made himself so
pleasant that the officers gossiped freely with him about things that
were happening--of the regiments that were expected to arrive in the
city, the confiscation of the property of Beg Begam Shamen, the shooting
of four spies who had been captured in the English camp. Above all, they
complained of the stinginess of the miserable old king, who would
neither pay them their arrears nor allow them to obtain their just dues
by exerting pressure on the shroffs. They talked in very large terms of
the wealth they would secure when the Feringhis were finally defeated,
and Ahmed went away feeling that at present they had absolute confidence
in their ultimate success.

Next day he heard sounds of firing, and learnt by and by that an
engagement had taken place with the English at Sabzi Mandi, a suburb at
the southern end of the Ridge. Presently a great mob of yelling fanatics
rushed into the city with an elephant they had captured from the
English, and they led it in triumph to the palace as a present for the
king. Ahmed followed in their wake, accompanied by his coolie with a
bale. He had learnt that a regiment of sepoys was quartered in temporary
barracks close to the palace, and it seemed likely that the officers
might be in the mood to become purchasers. On reaching the barracks he
found that they had gone to the palace to join in acclaiming the leaders
of the force which had that day, according to their own account, done
prodigious execution among the enemy. Ahmed was not sorry; while waiting
for the return of the officers he would have an opportunity of gleaning
a little information from the men. And so, after a little exchange of
courtesies, he said--

"Without doubt such fine men as you must have a famous warrior as
leader."

"Without doubt, though we know him little yet," was the reply. "He is,
at any rate, a fellow-countryman of yours, O banijara, and a very devout
man."

"What! Has he not led you against the Feringhis? Surely in no better way
could he prove his devoutness."

"That is very true, and he will lead us when the time comes. There is no
doubt of our bravery; we came from Nimuch, and were not admitted to the
city until we had covered ourselves with glory in a fight with the
English. But our subadhar has only of late been appointed to command us,
and since then we have not been outside the walls. We lost very heavily
at Badli-ki-serai, the day before those Guides--accursed traitors--came
into the English camp. We killed thousands and thousands of the English,
but could not utterly defeat them for want of ammunition. And our
subahdar was killed. Though our new subahdar has not fought with us yet,
he must be a very brave man, or our king would not have appointed him
over the heads of other officers who led us."

"It is well you have a subahdar so much to your mind," said Ahmed.

"He is indeed a good man," said another sepoy. "These are hard times,
and the great one knows how unjust it is to forbid us to take what we
can. He shuts one eye, and if that eye is turned to us when we are
taking a little loot--why, Allah is good. In truth"--and here the man
dropped his voice--"a part of our loot is set aside, and if it does not
find its way to the subahdar, I know not where it goes. 'Twas only
yesterday we roasted a rascally shroff until he showed us where his
money-bags were hidden. That is as it should be, for the shroffs being
vile Hindus, it is not meet that the faithful should want while the
unbelievers are waxing fat with great gain. In truth, good banijara,
Minghal Khan is a noble officer, and if you do but wait a little, maybe
he will buy somewhat of you, seeing that you are of his race."

Ahmed wondered whether he had concealed the start of surprise he felt he
had involuntarily given when the name of Minghal Khan was mentioned.
That wily enemy of his father was here in Delhi, then, playing a new
part. His impulse was to depart at once, lest Minghal should return and
discover him. His disguise, to be sure, was good: it was hardly likely
that any one who knew Ahmed the boy would recognize him in the bearded
trader--and Ahmed found the beard, fixed on with a kind of glue,
decidedly uncomfortable. But Minghal was an adept at disguises himself,
as his appearance at Mardan as a fakir proved; and if he heard this
supposed trader's voice, Ahmed feared that he was lost.

As ill-luck would have it, before he could decently break off his
conversation and take his departure, a jamadar of the regiment returned,
and, seeing the bundle, demanded that it should be opened. There was no
help for it; Ahmed had to display his wares, and was immediately engaged
in a haggling bout. Being thoroughly uneasy, he determined to cut the
business short, and indeed concluded a bargain with a rapidity and at a
sacrifice that evidently surprised his customer. Ahmed hastened to
assure him that at an ordinary time he would rather starve than accept
such a price, but what was a poor trader to do in these times of
trouble? He must take what he could get and be thankful.

The natural result of this was that the customer hesitated. Perhaps if
he haggled a little longer he would get the article--a fine embroidered
shawl--still cheaper. But Ahmed now spoke up resolutely.

"No, I must make sacrifices; it is fate; but I will not give my goods
away. Here, Ali, the hazur does not want the shawl. Roll it up in the
bundle; we will be gone."

And then the jamadar, fearing he might lose his bargain after all,
closed with the offer, and paid the price.

It was only just in time. The coolie was actually rolling up the bundle
when Minghal Khan himself, accompanied by two or three subordinate
officers, turned the corner, and approached the door of the barracks at
which the chaffering had been going on. Ahmed instinctively bent down,
in spite of his disguise, to avoid recognition, and helped the man to
tie up the bundle. One of the sepoys with whom he had been in
conversation nudged him.

"That is our noble subahdar," he said in a whisper.

Ahmed made but a slight sign that he heard. He did not venture to look
up until Minghal Khan had passed by. Then he said--

"Without doubt he is a very devout man, but does he seem fit to command
such fine warriors as you? Truly he has not the figure of a great
commander. Nevertheless the king knows best."

"And will you not show him your goods?"

"Another time. The great man talked very earnestly with his friends. It
is certain he is occupied with weighty matters. It would not beseem my
insignificance to intrude upon him now. Salaam!"

He went back to the serai and dismissed the coolie. He had had enough of
playing the trader for that time. The rest of the day he spent in
wandering about the city, haunting the gates, noting the strength of the
sepoys at the bastions, and picking up what scraps of information he
could.

That night, under cover of the darkness, he sought out the house of the
Maulavi Fazl Hak, who, while in high favour with the king, was secretly
in the confidence of Rajab Ali Khan, the organizer of Hodson's spies. It
was to him that Ahmed was to make his reports, and by him that the means
of conveying his information to the British lines would be arranged. He
was admitted to the presence of the maulavi, a man of dignified aspect,
with eyes of particular brilliance. Fazl Hak was convinced from the
first that the cause of the mutineers was hopeless, and advised the king
many times during the siege to make his peace with the sahibs before it
was too late.

"I am Ahmed Khan," said the visitor, after salutations had been
exchanged, "and I bring greeting from the Maulavi Rajab Ali."

"Yes. You came in yesterday by the Ajmir gate."

"True," said Ahmed, somewhat surprised.

"And you took up your abode in the serai of Gopal Ali by the Moti
Bazar."

"It is so," said Ahmed, wondering more and more.

"And you have sold goods to officers of the regiments of the Prince
Mirza Mogul and Minghal Khan."

"All this is true," said Ahmed, feeling strangely uncomfortable; "and
yet I know not how it reached your ears."

"That is no matter. It is my business to know things. And now, what can
I do for you?"

"I would send a message to Hodson Sahib."

"Well, I have been asked to assist an Afghan trader named Ahmed Khan.
That was Rajab Ali's word. I will do all I can. Say on. What is the
message?"

"I must say it to a munshi, who will write with a pen what I speak with
my lips."

"I will write. Speak."

Then Ahmed began, in the grave and earnest manner of one engaged in an
important transaction, to describe what he had seen, and relate what he
had heard. For some little while Fazl Hak wrote with the finest of pens,
in diminutive characters, on paper so thin that Ahmed marvelled it was
not pierced. The maulavi's grave face expressed nothing of what he
thought; perhaps one who knew him better might have detected a slight
twinkle beneath his veiling eyelids, and the play of his lips behind
their curtain of beard. All at once he stopped writing, and looking up
at Ahmed, said--

"Does a man cook eggs that are already eaten? This that you say, Ahmed
Khan, is a twice-told tale. The oldest of your news went to the English
three days ago; the newest, a little ere the gates were shut."

Ahmed flushed, and looked exceedingly abashed. He was chagrined at his
failure, and annoyed that Fazl Hak had let him go on even so long
dictating his stale news. Something in the maulavi's manner suggested
that he was not wholly pleased at Ahmed's presence in Delhi. Perhaps he
thought that his friend Rajab Ali might have consulted him before
sending a new and untried spy into the city. And if this was indeed his
feeling, how well, thought Ahmed, was it justified? Was this man
omniscient, that nothing could escape him? Ahmed felt thoroughly
disheartened. What could he do? He would only make himself foolish in
the eyes of the sahibs if he sent them old news, even as he had already
made himself foolish in the eyes of Fazl Hak.

"Go on," said the maulavi. "Let me write some new news."

"Of what use, O wise one? It were but waste of breath."

"Yet go on. Who can tell but that the wind may have carried one little
seed to your ear?"

"A man was hanged to-day on a tree before the Kotwali, it being supposed
he was concerned in the making of a mine that was discovered by the
Kashmir gate."

"And a man in the garb of a fakir," said the maulavi, as if in
continuance of the report, "was seized at the Ajmir gate, and it being
suspected that he was a spy, he was killed. Go on."

"Bakht Khan with his force from Bareilly has halted at the tomb of
Safdar Jang."

"That was yesterday. He is now at Ghaziabad. Go on."

"I will even go to my place, and trouble you no more until I have learnt
somewhat that no one else can know. Is it not vain to pour water into a
vessel that is already full?"

And then Fazl Hak laid down his pen and smiled. It was as though he was
satisfied with having impressed Ahmed with a sense of his knowledge and
of his own insignificance.

"Come, let us talk as friends," he said. "You are but a youth in these
things, in spite of your beard." ("He does not know of my disguise,
then," thought Ahmed; this was a little cheering.) "And for one who is
but beginning you have not done amiss. I perceive that you have a quick
eye and a ready ear, and if, when these troubles are over, you care to
enter my service, without doubt you will in due time become the
possessor of many rupees."

"I thank you," said Ahmed, the sting of his humiliation somewhat
mollified; "but when I have found the hakim I shall return to my own
place."

"The hakim! What is this about a hakim?"

The maulavi's evident surprise pleased Ahmed: here was something else
that he did not know.

"I came not only to learn things about the rebels," he said, "but to
discover the whereabouts of an English hakim who is concealed somewhere
in the city--Craddock Sahib; maybe you know somewhat of him?"

"It was told me that he was slain. How know you that he is yet alive?"

"A chit was carried from him to his daughter in Karnal; therefore am I
here."

"I knew it not, and it is good knowledge, for Craddock Sahib is a good
hakim, and cured me of a fever."

"Then you will help me to find him?"

"That I cannot do; I have too much to do otherwise, and further, it
might bring me into great peril. Already I run great risks. Is it not
known who carried the chit?"

"A man who would say nothing, if indeed he knew anything. The missy
sahib thought that her father might have been saved by one of his
servants: the khansaman, Kaluja Dass, seemed to be a true servant. Know
you aught of him?"

"No. I know much, as you have perceived, but I do not know the
whereabouts of every khansaman who served the English before the
troubles. But I can soon discover."

He clapped his hands, and a chaprasi appeared. The maulavi gave him a
few instructions in a low tone, and the man went out again.

"He will assuredly learn what we desire to know. Until he returns
refresh yourself. There are sherbets at your service, also a hookah."

Ahmed took the sherbets, but declined the hookah. In the course of an
hour the man came back, and spoke apart with his master. Then he
disappeared.

"It is vain," said Fazl Hak. "The khansaman has become a rebel. He
serves Minghal Khan, who now occupies Craddock Sahib's house. The
khansaman, Kaluja Dass, is heard daily cursing the sahibs whom formerly
he served, and verily he hates them above measure, or he would not have
taken service with Minghal Khan. You must seek elsewhere for the
preserver of the hakim. And if you find him, let me know; I would do
somewhat for Craddock Sahib."



CHAPTER THE SIXTEENTH

The Coming of Bakht Khan


Ahmed left the house doubly disappointed--at his failure to supply any
information worth carrying to the Ridge, and at the bad news concerning
the khansaman. He had been full of confidence when he entered Fazl Hak's
presence. His confidence had been rudely shaken, and further, he had now
a certain feeling of personal insecurity which he had not before. Not
that he had been unaware of the risks that he was running. If his
disguise were penetrated, if his connection with the English was so much
as suspected, he would be hanged or shot without mercy. But his peril
had not come home to him as it did now, when he found that, so far from
being unknown in Delhi, his every movement had been watched. If he was
thus known to the maulavi, was it not possible that he was also being
spied upon by agents of the mutineers? Might they not be giving him the
rope by which to hang himself? As he passed through the streets on the
way back to his serai he felt that he was slinking along like a
criminal. He seemed to see an enemy in every passer-by.

But before he reached the serai he had partially got the better of this
feeling. After all, Fazl Hak himself appeared to have no idea that the
bearded Afghan who had stood before him was a youth in disguise. It was
a pleasure to find a gap in that wise person's knowledge, and as for the
mutineers, the summary manner in which they had disposed of the man
caught at the Kashmir gate, and the disguised fakir at the Ajmir gate,
disposed him to believe that if he were suspected he would not now be
alive.

Though thus gaining reassurance as to his safety, he had to confess that
the discovery of Craddock Sahib seemed as far off as ever. He had
counted much on the khansaman, and to find that the man was not only
disloyal, but had actually taken service with one of the most malignant
of the enemies of the sahibs, was much more than a disappointment. Since
it appeared clear that the khansaman could have had no hand in the
concealment of the doctor, he had no clue to follow, and to seek a
hidden man without a clue in this immense city, with its labyrinths of
streets and lanes, was a task that staggered him by its hopelessness.

After a night's rest, however, his fit of black despair had passed. He
awoke with a settled determination to do his utmost, not merely to find
the hakim, but to prove to Fazl Hak and to Hodson Sahib that he was
worthy of the mission entrusted to him. In his interview with the
maulavi his self-esteem had received a wound--not a very serious one, as
his good sense informed him, but still one that could only be healed by
accomplishment. The question was, how to achieve his end? Obviously he
could not force things; it seemed as though the most he could do was to
be alert and vigilant, trusting that chance would throw an opportunity
in his way.

It occurred to him that a visit to Minghal Khan's house might help him a
little. It would at least enable him to learn for himself, perhaps,
whether the chaprasi's report about the khansaman was justified. He
still felt a lingering hope that the informant was mistaken. The missy
sahib had much knowledge of the man, and it seemed incredible to Ahmed,
with his experience of the loyalty of his comrades in the Guides to
their salt, that a man who had served the sahib faithfully for years
should be so utterly perverted as the chaprasi had reported. Had he not
heard stories in camp of the heroic devotion shown by native servants in
rescuing and giving asylum to the families whose salt they had eaten?
Had he not, indeed, seen with his own eyes in the camp on the Ridge
Metcalfe Sahib, who had been saved, not even by a servant, but by a
police officer, one Mainudin Hassan Khan, who at the risk of his life
had conveyed the sahib to Jajjar? If a police officer would do this,
might not a khansaman or some other servant, bound to his master by
personal ties far closer, have done as much for Craddock Sahib?

From his experiences on the previous day, he guessed that in all
probability Minghal Khan would leave his house early to attend the usual
morning darbar at the palace. His absence would furnish a good
opportunity of calling without risk. Accordingly, he summoned his
coolie, and, while the man was preparing a bale of goods, he inquired of
the innkeeper the way to the great man's house. It was not far off,
being on the opposite side of the Chandni Chauk towards the Delhi Bank.
He set off with his goods, found the house without difficulty, and rang
the bell.

"Salaam, darwan," he said to the servant who opened the door. "You
behold a trader from Afghanistan, who comes with some beautiful fabrics
of exquisite workmanship to lay before the great subahdar, Minghal
Khan."

"Away, banijara!" replied the man. "The great one is not at home; he is
gone to the king's palace. And even were he within, dost think he would
deign to look at the filthy rags a man like thee would bring? Away, and
take thy shadow from his door."

Ahmed, who knew very well what this meant, slipped a few annas into the
darwan's hand.

"I know I am unworthy that the light of the great man's countenance
should fall upon my goods," he said. "Yet in his merciful kindness he
may deign to purchase some small thing, and then, O darwan, there will
assuredly be dasturi for hands that so well deserve it."

The preliminary "tip," and the promise of a commission on the goods
sold, had the expected effect.

"The great one is from home," said the man. "If you will come again, I
will do my poor best to persuade him to look upon you."

"It is a favour. How lucky art thou, O darwan, to be doorkeeper to the
exalted one! By what great merits didst thou arrive at so high a
station?"

The darwan's vanity was flattered. He bridled.

"Wah! It is as thou sayest, banijara. And 'tis more merit than luck, be
sure. I have served the great man but two days, and live in the sunlight
of his good favour. I have served other great men in my time. Even but
now I came from the Maulavi Ahmed Ullah himself. Being ignorant, thou
mayst not know that the Maulavi and my present master are as brothers,
and two days ago I came from the Maulavi with news of the great doings
at Cawnpore. And being the first--for those twenty sowars who brought
the news were laggards compared with me--and sent by the Maulavi to
Minghal Khan, the great man was able to acquaint the king before the
sowars came, and for that he received a present of royal sweetmeats, and
made me his darwan."

"Truly it was great merit. And that matter of the doings at Cawnpore--I
have heard some whispers of it, but not as thou couldst tell it. I pray
thee, darwan, say on."

"It was a glorious matter. The Feringhis were shut up there, and Dhundu
Pant, whom men commonly call Nana Sahib, took a full revenge for his
grievances. Thou must know he was adopted son of that Baji Rao whom the
accursed Feringhis put down from being peshwa, and tried to soothe with
a pension of eight lakhs of rupees. And when he died, they would not pay
the pension to his son, though Baji Rao left a host of dependants for
Nana Sahib to support. And when Nana made complaint of this injustice to
the Kumpani, they gave him a rough answer: what did it matter to the
Kumpani if Baji Rao's people starved? And when the rising came, the men
of those parts made Nana Sahib their leader, and he caused entrenchments
to be thrown up before Cawnpore, and mounted great guns to destroy the
Feringhis. They had done well to yield, but they are even as pigs, and
endured great tribulations from shot and shell and the want of food, and
Nana Sahib was wroth, because the men clamoured to be led to Delhi. Nana
Sahib is a very great man. He sent a letter to the Feringhis, in which
he promised, if they would lay down their arms, to let them go safely to
Allahabad. Wah! They are stupid as camels. They sent men to meet
Azimullah, Nana Sahib's munshi, and he promised to have forty boats
stored with food ready for them at the Satia Chama ghat, and it was
written down, and when one of the Feringhis came to see Nana Sahib put
his name to the paper, the Nana shed tears of sorrow at what their women
and children had suffered. Truly he is a very great man."

"As a serpent in cunning. Go on with thy tale, darwan."

"The Feringhis came out, and laughed with joy when they saw the boats
moored, even as it had been written. They got into the boats, and some
two or three began to move on the stream, when at the sound of a bugle
the boatmen leapt overboard, and the sepoys on the banks fired at those
laughing fools, and all the men were killed; it was a great killing; and
the women were dragged ashore and pent up in a little house, and there
they are to this day, and when the Feringhis are all destroyed, then
there will be white-faced wives for any who like to take them. It was a
great day--and for me too. I shall by and by be rich as a shroff, that
is sure. I got much plunder when we entered Cawnpore after the Feringhis
were slain; and in very truth--but tell no man of this, banijara--it
would not surprise me if I were at this moment richer than my exalted
master himself. There is great honour in serving the King of Delhi, but
hitherto little profit. That is only until the Feringhis are utterly
destroyed. Then all faithful servants of the king will become great
subahdars, and Minghal Khan is very high in his favour. But now there is
little money; indeed, our khansaman had yesterday none wherewith to buy
food for the great one, until he had sold some of the things in the
house that belonged to the dog of an English hakim who used to live
here. He is a good man, the khansaman, and it would do your ears good to
hear him curse the vile Feringhis."

"The great one has many servants, no doubt?" said Ahmed.

"Nay, it is not so. Besides me and Kaluja Dass, the khansaman, there is
but one khitmutgar,--a household by no means worthy of so great a man as
Minghal Khan. But what must be will be. When there is little money, even
the greatest must go short. Here is the khansaman himself, going to
market in the bazar."

He stood aside to let the upper servant pass. Ahmed looked at the man
keenly. He saw an elderly man, with a grave and somewhat anxious
countenance. The khansaman glanced at him as he passed.

"A banijara from Afghanistan, khansaman," said the darwan. "Think you
the exalted one will be in the mind to purchase somewhat of him?"

"In the mind, but not the pocket, until the thrice-accursed sons of
perdition are sent to the lowest pit," replied the khansaman, and passed
on.

"Thou hearest?" said the darwan. "Without doubt he is a good man, and
when Minghal Khan is exalted, Kaluja Dass will be exalted too. He hates
the Feringhis with a terrible hatred, and that is easy to understand,
seeing that it was his kismet to serve them for so many years."

"It is as thou sayest, good darwan. But it seems 'tis an ill time to
bring my wares. Yet I would fain show them to the exalted one at a
convenient season. I will come again, and if it should not please the
great man to see me, I should have some consolation in another talk with
thee. 'Tis not often a poor trader like me meets a man who has seen such
great deeds."

"And done them, banijara. Was I not among those who shot the fools of
Feringhis at the ghat? Wah! One boat that had left the ghat was rowed to
the other side--the pigs of English believed they might yet escape. But
I was there, with my musket, and I fired, and my shot kindled the thatch
that covered the boat, and it burnt with a great blaze. And the boat
grounded in the mud, and I ran down and pulled out of it one of the
English by the hair of his head, and drove my knife into him many times,
and he died, pig that he was--though he did not squeal like a pig; the
English, curse them, never squeal."

Ahmed's blood was boiling. It was one of his own race whom this braggart
menial had killed. He would have liked to end the man's account then and
there, but the coolie was at hand, squatting beside the bale of goods.
For the sake of his mission he could not afford to give rein to his
anger.

"It is an honour to meet one who has done such brave deeds," he said.
"Thou wert better among the soldiers, surely, than at the door of a
house. It is men like thee who are wanted to fight the Feringhis, not
those miserable dogs who went out but lately, horse and foot and guns,
and returned saying that they had not fought because the air did not
agree with them. The king did right to drive them from the city. I will
come again, good darwan, at night-time perhaps, when the work is done;
far be it from me to interfere with thy important duties, and maybe if I
bring some sweetmeats or preserves--delicate things for the palate--thou
wilt deign to partake with me, while thou cheerest me with thy pleasant
talk."

"Gladly will I meet thee," said the darwan, greatly pleased with this
flattery. "Never have I seen so excellent a banijara. Salaam!"

Ahmed departed with his coolie. When they reached the Chandni Chauk it
was instantly apparent that something had happened which stirred public
excitement. Crowds were pouring towards the palace, Hindus and
Mohammedans together, their faces lit with joy. One man jostled the
coolie, and his burden was thrown to the ground.

"Pig of a Purbiya!" cried Ahmed, seizing the man--a Pathan could not
overlook such an insult--"what meanest thou to damage thus the goods of
thy betters?"

"How shall I answer?" replied the man. "Knowest thou not that Bakht Khan
with his troops is now on the river-bank yonder, and but waits for the
repairing of the bridge to cross? And the king has ordered four hundred
men to do that work, and I am even now hastening to do his bidding.
Overlook my fault for this time, I pray thee."

Ahmed gave him a kick and released him. Clearly there was little chance
of doing business on such a great day. He took his wares back to the
serai, and then set off to the Calcutta gate to see what might be seen.
As he went he heard the concussion of artillery fire, and men soon came
running in the direction of the palace with news that the English were
bombarding the battery north of the Kashmir gate, commanded by Kuli
Khan. Cries arose that a general assault was being prepared against the
city, and by and by thousands of red-coated sepoys, with lumbering
gun-carriages, marched through the streets towards the Kabul gate, to
take up their position at Idgah and Dam-damma, facing the southern end
of the Ridge. Meanwhile the bridge of boats, which had broken down in a
heavy wind-storm on the previous day, was being hastily repaired by a
host of coolies with two companies of sappers and miners, and across the
river, two or three miles away, lay the long-expected force of Mohammed
Bakht Khan, from whose arrival the rebels hoped so much. All day the
city was in a ferment. Heavy guns were mounted on the batteries; some
attempt was made to reply to the English fire; and great was the
jubilation when it was reported that shells from the city had fallen in
the midst of the English camp, killing hundreds of the accursed
Feringhis.

Amid the excitements of the day Ahmed had no leisure to prosecute his
direct inquiries. He was satisfied with having made a friend of Minghal
Khan's doorkeeper, whom he intended to cultivate. What the darwan had
said of Kaluja Dass, and the words he had himself heard fall from the
khansaman's lips, confirmed the report of Fazl Hak's emissary, and Ahmed
now felt sure that Craddock Sahib, wherever he was, owed nothing to his
former servant. He could not conceive what his next move should be, and
if great fighting was to ensue upon Bakht Khan's arrival, it would seem
that nothing but mere accident could put him on the traces of the sahib.
Meanwhile he went to Fazl Hak with the news of the treachery at
Cawnpore; the particulars he had learnt from the darwan were new to the
maulavi.

Next day the whole city flocked to see the entrance of the Bareilly
force over the renovated bridge. Ahmed stood among the crowd as the
troops filed by, headed by Bakht Khan, who rode among a group of all the
chief officers in the city, sent to meet him by the king. There were
four regiments of foot, seven hundred cavalry, six horse artillery guns,
three field-pieces, three hundred spare horses, and fourteen elephants
laden with treasure worth, as rumour said, four lakhs of rupees. Ahmed
followed the troops to the great square before the mosque, and listened
to the extravagant speeches made there in welcome of the arrivals. Bakht
Khan himself was a bluff, blunt soldier, who had learnt something of
English reticence during his long and brilliant service with the sahibs.
His battery of artillery had received a mural crown as honorary
decoration for its guns in reward for its good work at Jalalabad in the
first Afghan war. He said little in reply to the flowery compliments
showered upon him by the king's officers, and Minghal Khan, who was
present with the rest, appeared to think the new-comer's speech
deficient in encouragement. It was too good an opportunity to be lost.
Minghal raised his voice and poured out streams of fiery eloquence,
denouncing the Feringhis, and boasting of what should be done to them
now that more active measures were about to be taken. The excited mob
yelled applause, even those who failed to understand his speech, which
was delivered in the vile jargon of a hill-man; and Ahmed, taking note
of all, saw that his old enemy had beyond doubt the ear of the rebels.

The sepoys stood to their arms while Bakht Khan and the other chief
officers went to the palace to see the king. Ahmed waited patiently amid
the throng until the great man returned. All voices were hushed as Bakht
Khan announced that the king had grasped his hands and appointed him
commander-in-chief of the forces.

"The king commands that the English shall cease to exist," said the
general. "He has given me a shield and a sword, and shed the light of
his countenance upon me. He has appointed the Kalla Mahall as the
quarters for my troops from Bareilly, and ordered four thousand rupees
to be distributed among you for a merry-making. And now I give orders
that no soldier shall plunder or harm any man whatsoever in this city.
If any soldier is caught plundering, his arm shall be severed from his
body. Thus the king commands. We can do nothing without order, such
order as the Feringhis have; and there is no order where every man seeks
to enrich himself. I said to the king that were I to catch even a prince
of blood in the act of plunder, I would straightway cut off his nose and
ears. And the king made answer: 'Do whatsoever seemeth good unto thee.'
Wherefore I say to the kotwal of this city: if there is any more
plundering he shall be hanged. And let a drummer go forth and proclaim
that all shopkeepers arm themselves, and if any have no arms, they shall
be furnished him. These things I say, and let all men know that I am the
general of Bahadur Shah, and my word is as his word."

There was a soldierly directness and a grim determination about the man
that impressed the people. Ahmed recognized the fruits of English
training in the general, but as he looked round among the sepoys and the
populace, and realized what discordant elements were mingled there, he
knew that one man, even such a one as Bakht Khan, could never discipline
them into the cohesion which alone could command success.

When the assembly dispersed and the troops went to their quarters, Ahmed
still kept track of the movements of the general. He followed him when
he visited Prince Mirza Mogul, the former commander-in-chief, sulking at
his reduction to the post of adjutant-general, and when he inspected the
magazine, and waited for hours at the general's door when he held his
levée of the officers, taking note of those who entered, and those who
remained longest. Minghal Khan was among these last, and since it was
clear that he and the commander-in-chief were on especially good terms,
Ahmed decided that it would certainly be worth while to pay another
visit to the darwan. As yet he had learnt little that all the world did
not know; but it was possible that the men of Minghal Khan's own
household might have information of a more private nature. It was now
drawing towards evening; the business of the day would soon cease, and
the darwan would be at leisure. In preparation for the visit Ahmed
bought a quantity of delectables in the bazar, and as soon as it was
dark, and the streets, which had been thronged all day, became a little
clearer, he set off with his parcel of dainties for Minghal Khan's
house.



CHAPTER THE SEVENTEENTH

The Doctor's Divan


"Salaam, darwan," said Ahmed, as the man opened the gate in answer to
his ring. "Thou beholdest me, even as I said, and I have with me some
few choice things to eat. Peradventure thy duties are done, and thou
wilt have leisure to enliven my ears with more tales of brave doings."

"Woe is me, banijara! I would fain talk to thee and eat thy dainties,
but I fear me 'tis an ill season. My exalted master is even at this
moment above-stairs in council with Bakht Khan himself, and he may call
for me at any moment."

"That is ill news for me, good darwan. I must needs go back and come
another day. And yet it is pity, for these dainties of mine are fresh.
Hai! what must be will be."

"'Tis pity, as thou sayest; but the exalted one might be displeased."

The darwan was clearly vexed at the prospect of losing a feast. Ahmed,
on his part, was the more desirous of gaining admittance to the house
now that he knew what was going on there. Perhaps this was the very
opportunity he had been seeking, of learning something about the rebels'
plans that should escape even Fazl Hak. So he took quick advantage of
the darwan's hesitation.

"Maybe I might come in for a short time," he said. "Never would I
interfere with thy duties, and if thou art summoned I can take up my
shoes and depart quietly. And I mind me of a saying of my country:
'Better sheep's trotters now than a leg of mutton a year hence.'"

"A true saying, and a wise. Well, come in, banijara. Allah is good!"

Ahmed entered, and the darwan led him to his own little shed in the
compound; and, making themselves as comfortable as the bare chamber
admitted, they began to talk in low tones, and to dispose of the
eatables which Ahmed had brought. If the darwan had been observant, he
would have noticed that his companion was scarcely so attentive to his
conversation as he had been on the previous day. Indeed, Ahmed's
imagination was busy all the time with the meeting upstairs. What was
being discussed between the commander-in-chief and Minghal Khan? How
would he find out? He wished that the darwan would be called away, so
that he might make an attempt to look in upon them and, if possible, to
hear something of what they were saying. In view of the possibility, he
got from the darwan by discreet questions a description of the
apartments.

"The great ones are in the room where the English hakim--may his
father's grave be defiled!--took his meals. Opposite is the room where
he kept his medicines. And the khitmutgar told me of a strange
happening. A little while ago the exalted one, being athirst--he had
drunk of the Feringhi's strong liquor, but that must not be told--being
athirst, I say, he took one of the hakim's bottles, thinking it
contained a grateful draught. But lo! when he lifted the stopper,
straightway he was bitten by terrible devils that caught him by the nose
and throat, and some of the liquor was spilt upon his foot and smote him
with very lively pains. And now he goes but rarely into that room, and
he sniffs even at milk before he tastes it."

Time passed; the materials of the feast had disappeared; and the darwan,
at length becoming alive to the apparent tedium of his guest, heartily
wished that he would go. He threw out hints--the hour was getting late;
the early sleep was best. Ahmed feigned obtuseness; he was determined
not to go while there was any chance of gaining his end. But he had
almost given up hope when the darwan was at last summoned to attend his
master. Ahmed at once rose.

"It would be ill to stay longer, good darwan," he said. "I will even let
myself out and close the door behind me when I know that the way is
clear."

"Do as thou sayest, and God be with thee," replied the darwan, hastening
away. Ahmed at once slipped out and opened the gate a little way, to
give the impression that he had gone and forgotten in his haste to close
it behind him. Then he ran into the house, and had just hidden behind a
long curtain in the hall when he heard the darwan's voice addressing
some one as he descended the stairs.

"The exalted one calleth for drinks, khansaman," he said. "He bade me
tell thee as I passed, for he sends me an errand, and the khitmutgar
also. What an evil is the lack of money! Here am I, a darwan, bid to do
chaprasis' work! Well, thou, khansaman, must turn darwan while we are
gone. I go to summon the illustrious prince, Mirza Mogul, to attend the
general. Have good care of the door."

He was evidently in very ill-humour at having to turn out. It was
raining; he growled again as he went out into the street, glancing in at
his shed as he passed to see whether his visitor was gone. Ahmed heard
the khansaman close the door, and then pass by into the kitchen to fetch
the drinks. Instantly he slipped out, and ran lightly up the staircase
to the first floor. The wide landing was lit by two lamps hanging from
the ceiling. Right and left were two doors, the one on the right
slightly ajar, the one on the left wide open. Looking through this
latter, Ahmed saw the medicine-room of which the darwan had spoken; the
bottles stood in array on the shelves of a large almirah. From the other
door came the sound of voices: it was here that Minghal Khan and his
guest were conversing. Ahmed was resolved to learn the subject of their
discourse. It was probably of importance; almost certainly it was
concerned with military affairs, for the darwan had gone to summon the
adjutant-general. To learn the matter of their deliberations might be of
vital moment to the English. Yet how was he to do so? He could not
listen at the door; the servants might pass at any moment. Even as he
stood in a tremor of excitement, he heard the clinking of
drinking-vessels from below; the khansaman was returning. To hide from
him was his first concern. At the other end of the landing was a
passage; he might take refuge there. Yet, ignorant of that part of the
house, he might only run into greater danger. There was no time for
calculation. In another moment he would be seen, and then his fate was
sealed. He slipped into the surgery, and stood behind the door, hoping
that the khansaman, after carrying the drinks to his master, would not
enter the room opposite. If he did--Ahmed fingered his knife: a Pathan
has a short way with his enemies.

He heard the khansaman go into the dining-room with his clinking
vessels. Voices; then silence; then the shuffling feet of the khansaman
as he went downstairs again. Had he shut the door behind him? If he had,
all hope of hearing the conversation in that room was gone. Ahmed peeped
out. The door was fast closed. He slipped out stealthily, crossed the
landing, and put his ear against the door. The sound of talking came to
him muffled and indistinct. But it seemed to be approaching: were the
great men coming from the room? He heard a laugh, and in Minghal's loud
tones the word "almirah." Instantly it occurred to him that the bringing
of the liquors had reminded Minghal of his mishap, and he was about to
show his guest the room in which it had happened, and the almirah from
which he had taken the fatal bottle. In a flash Ahmed saw a chance of
taking advantage of their temporary absence from the dining-room. No
longer hesitating, he ran to the dark passage at the end of the landing,
and shrank into a corner until the two men had crossed from room to
room. Then he stole back on tiptoe, and peeped round the door of the
surgery to make sure that he could not be seen as he entered the room
opposite. The men had their backs to him; Minghal was pointing out the
bottle which had all but killed him. Ahmed slipped into the dining-room,
and looked around for some means of concealment. He had but a moment; if
he did not discover a suitable hiding-place he must get back to the dark
passage before Minghal Khan returned.

The eyes of the Guides were trained to observe quickly. This is what he
saw in an instant of time: at one end of the room, a pianoforte--he had
seen such in the officers' quarters at Hoti-Mardan; in one corner a
number of European chairs pushed back out of the way; in the centre,
four cushioned seats grouped about a little foot-table on which were
cups and bottles and the remains of a meal; along the wall at
right-angles to the door, a wide low divan, with flounces touching the
floor. In a moment he made his deductions and took his resolution. Two
of the four cushioned seats had been occupied by Minghal Khan and the
general; the other two were for the officers whom the darwan and the
khitmutgar had gone to summon. The divan probably would not be used;
beneath it, screened by the flounce, he might lie and hear all that was
said. If other officers came, and the divan were required, it would be
pulled out and rolled across the floor. In that case he must crawl with
it. The chances of discovery by the officers were slight; there was
greater risk of discovery by the servants when the meeting broke up; but
the Guides were accustomed to take risks.

These considerations passed through Ahmed's mind in a flash. A few
seconds after he entered the room he was under the divan, with the
flounce pulled down, not a movement of it to betray that anything had
happened during the men's absence. He wondered whether the beating of
his heart could be heard; it was thumping much more violently now than
when he was deciding what to do. The officers stayed in the surgery some
time; Ahmed heard Minghal Khan talking and laughing; and by the time
they came back his pulse had quietened.

They returned to their seats, and drank, and talked--of the weaknesses
of the king, the vices of the princes, the temper of the queen, the
desperate straits of the English at Lucknow, the glorious future before
them when the English had been annihilated. Ahmed wondered whether all
the risks he had dared were to be rewarded with no better
pribble-prabble than this. But by and by the Mirza Mogul was announced,
and a few minutes after him Khuda Baksh Khan, one of the chief sirdars
of the rebel forces, and then the conversation took a turn which engaged
the listener's attention to the uttermost.

At first he had difficulty in making it out. The speakers referred to
matters which had previously been discussed at the king's palace. But
gradually he was able to piece things together; allusions became clear;
he grasped the whole. That very night, a brigade of four thousand men,
horse, foot and artillery, was to march out secretly, slip by the right
of the British position, and move on to the village of Alipur, several
miles in the rear. The villagers had proved loyal to the British; they
constantly supplied the camp with provisions; and General Barnard had
recently established there a small post of some sixty Sikhs. The first
object of the proposed night attack was to destroy the village with its
guard, and carry off a great amount of stores which was believed to be
there.

But it had a second object. While the attention of the British was
diverted to this movement, twenty thousand men were to parade under arms
at dawn near the mosque, in readiness for a sortie. Bakht Khan meant to
signalize his elevation to the post of commander-in-chief by a
tremendous stroke against the besiegers. The men would issue in two
great columns from the Kashmir and Lahore gates. Outnumbering their
enemy by nearly four to one, they would overwhelm them.

This was the general scheme. About the details the officers proceeded to
wrangle. Mirza Mogul resented the promotion of a mere artillery officer
to the chief command, and had innumerable objections to urge against the
views of Bakht Khan. Minghal sided with his superior; Khuda Baksh with
the prince. Ahmed could not forbear smiling as he listened. What would
all their boasts of a glorious victory come to, if they were thus
disunited? He felt a certain respect for Bakht Khan, the sturdy
plain-spoken warrior who believed in drill; for the prince, who had
bragged for a month of what he meant to do, and had done nothing, he had
only contempt. But the important matter was, how to convey information
of these designs to Hodson Sahib? The gates of the city had long been
shut; to pass out by one of them would be impossible. Should he go to
Fazl Hak and ask his advice? He dismissed that idea at once; he would do
without Fazl Hak; the maulavi should learn that he was not
indispensable. He must trust to his own wits. First of all he had to get
safely from the house, and that might prove difficult and dangerous
enough. He was a prisoner under the divan until the meeting broke up;
when the visitors had gone the door would be bolted; Ahmed began to feel
alarmed lest he should have to remain all night in the house, and be
prevented from giving the sahibs warning.

Some time elapsed before the three officers rose to depart. Minghal Khan
accompanied them to the door; Ahmed heard the bolts shot, the voice of
Minghal giving the servants orders for the morning, then the shuffling
of his feet as he ascended the staircase and passed along the passage to
his bedroom. Presently the khansaman came in, lifted the remains of the
repast from the table, put out the light, and went away. Ahmed lifted
the edge of the flounce to watch him. From his position he could see
across the landing, through the door which the khansaman had left open,
into the opposite room, where a lamp still burned. He saw the khansaman
cross the room with the tray in his hand and set it down on one of the
shelves of the almirah. Then a strange thing happened. The khansaman
pushed aside a panel in the back of the almirah where there were no
shelves, and the wall behind opened inwards, as of itself. He went into
the hole, turned round and replaced the panel, and was shut from view.

What did this mean? What was the explanation of the stealthy, furtive
manner in which the khansaman had acted? Ahmed would have liked to
follow him; it crossed his mind that the man might have a secret hoard
of valuables belonging to his late master; but the urgency of his duty
to Hodson Sahib forbade any delay. He was in a quandary. How was he to
get out of the house? He had heard the bolt of the front door shot; it
was too much to hope that he could descend the stairs, draw back the
bolt, and open the door without attracting the attention of the darwan,
whose shed was close by, and who might not yet be asleep. There was no
doubt a back entrance; could he discover that without making a noise?
This seemed the only course.

He crept from his hiding-place, stole to the door, listened: all was
silent. Then he tiptoed along the landing until he came to the dark
passage at the end. It ran across the breadth of the house. He went
along it, past a closed door which might be the door of Minghal Khan's
bedroom, and reached a staircase. Without doubt this would bring him to
the back door. He went down, passed the kitchens, which were in
darkness, and came to a door which a rapid inspection assured him was
neither bolted nor locked. Opening it just enough to allow him to
squeeze through, he gently closed it behind him, and found himself in a
walled-in garden, with a circular fountain in the middle. A colonnade
ran along three sides of it, supported on slender pillars. There was a
door on the fourth side, but this he soon proved to be securely locked.
It was an easy matter to swarm up one of the pillars, climb the roof of
the colonnade, and from that gain the top of the wall a little below.
Then dropping on the outer side he alighted in a narrow lane. It was
pitch dark; he could not see his way, and knew not whether to turn to
the right hand or to the left; but choosing the left at random, he
groped his way along, through puddles and heaps of ill-smelling refuse,
following the erratic windings of the lane until he came, as he had
hoped, to the street in which the house was situated. Here he got a
little light from a few smoky oil-lamps that hung at irregular intervals
from brackets on the walls. From the sounds he heard before him he
guessed that the street led into the Chandni Chauk, and in less than a
minute he came to that thoroughfare. There were many people about;
though the gates of the city were shut, the hour was not yet late; and
he judged from the laughter proceeding from many half-open doors that
some of Bakht Khan's soldiers were being entertained by the residents.

He walked slowly, and no one paid him any attention. Should he go at
once to the walls, he asked himself, and try to find some way of
quitting the city? He bethought himself of his goods in the serai. If he
left them, without any word of explanation, the bhatiyara might become
suspicious. Even if that gave rise to no immediate danger, he thought it
unwise to make any difficulties for himself when he should return to the
city, as no doubt he would do. So he went back to the serai, and told
the keeper that he had met an old acquaintance (which happened to be
literally true), and proposed to spend the night with him at the other
end of the city. But it would be a pity to disturb his bales at this
time of night; he might safely leave them in his friend the bhatiyara's
care.

"It is understood that you will make some little charge for the
storage," he said, "and I know I leave them with an honest man."

"True, O banijara: I will gladly keep them for you: and as to a charge
for storage, I can without doubt trust to your sense of justice."

In reality the honest innkeeper reflected that in these troublous times
there was always a chance that a stray bullet, or a round shot from the
Feringhis' batteries, might end his customer's career--an unfortunate
matter for the customer, but likely to be very profitable to himself,
with the goods left on his hands. This being satisfactorily arranged,
Ahmed dismissed his coolie, ordered a meal, and while he ate it pondered
the difficult problem--his escape from the city.

There were batteries at intervals along the wall, from the Water bastion
on the extreme north to the Ajmir gate at the south-west corner of the
city. These would be fully manned during the night. The wall would be
watched along its whole circumference; more loosely on the south side,
no doubt, than on the north or west, for in that quarter the city had
not even remotely been threatened by the besiegers. On the other hand,
the sentries there being in no danger of shot or shell, would have
nothing to do but watch, whereas on the west and north, and particularly
on the latter, they would be in some degree concerned in keeping under
cover. Further, if he left the city on the south side he would have a
very long way to go before he could arrive at the Ridge, or at any of
the British outposts, and there was also a chance that he might fall
into the hands of the rebels as he passed through the populous suburbs.
These were strongly held by the mutineers, especially Kishenganj, which
would be directly in his path.

On the whole he decided that it would be best to make an attempt at the
north side, somewhere between the Shah bastion and the Kashmir gate. He
would have to let himself down over the wall, twenty-four feet deep,
into the ditch, ascend the scarp on the opposite side, and gain the
glacis; then there would be nothing but a stretch of jungly country
between himself and the Ridge.

The first requisite was a rope. He had this ready in the cords by which
he bound his merchandise to the camel. But to what could he attach the
rope if he gained the wall safely? At any spot sufficiently quiet and
secluded for him to make the attempt there was scarcely likely to be
anything in the way of a staple or ring. Clearly he must provide himself
with something that would serve his purpose in case of necessity. Taking
advantage of his nightly visit to the stable to look after his camel, he
got a stout lathi and sharpened the end of it into the form of a stake.
Then he prepared a slip-knot at the end of the rope, wound the rope
about his body under his outer garment, and, returning to the inn, gave
his host a courteous "salaam aleikam!" and set off in the direction of
the Kashmir gate.

He passed through the Koriapul bazar, which was filled with a motley
throng of people of the trading classes, eagerly discussing the events
of the day and the strong measures likely to follow upon the arrival of
Bakht Khan. Ahmed ventured to delay for a few minutes in order to get an
inkling of the general feeling of the people. Many were as confident of
the ultimate success of the rebels as the sepoys themselves; but some of
the older men, while as fervently desiring the crushing of the English
as the rest, quietly dropped in words of caution and doubt. One of them
said that he had heard from a servant of Ahsanullah, the king's
physician, that that crafty old fox had foretold the doom of the city,
and was suspected to be making provision for that fatal day.

Ahmed passed on. But instead of striking into the Nasirganj Road, which
would bring him direct to the Kashmir gate and the main guard, he made
his way by quiet and tortuous lanes, among the gardens of some of the
principal residents, towards a point about half-way between the Kashmir
gate and the Mori bastion. He was aware that, besides the heavy guns at
the bastions, there were light guns along the whole of this part of the
wall; but these could only be effectively used if the besiegers
approached the city, and were, perhaps, hardly likely to be manned in
force now. But when he came near enough to see them, he saw also that
the gunners were on duty beside the guns, huddled together--the night
was damp and chilly--and most of them, to all appearance, asleep. Now
and then, however, he heard voices from these little knots of men; it
behoved him to go warily. He passed along, keeping in shadow, until he
reached a part of the wall where all was quiet. There was no firing
either from the British lines or from the defences of the city, and the
night was so still, with the brooding stillness of an imminent storm,
that the slightest sound in his vicinity would have reached his ear.
Pausing for a few moments for reassurance, he at length ventured to
creep to the foot of the wall, and grope his way up the steps leading to
the battlements, eight feet below the parapet. Half-way up he heard a
faint call somewhere to his left, but it was not answered, and he went
on till he gained the top.

Stealing along the battlements, he sought for some fissure in which he
might plant his lathi. But he found none, and the masonry of the wall
was far too hard to allow him to bore a hole in it without making a
noise that was bound to attract attention. He wished he could have gone
to one of the embrasures and tied his rope to the gun itself; but even
if the gunners were asleep, it involved a risk he dared not run. He was
at his wit's end to know what to do. Flat on his belly, to lessen the
chances of being seen, he crawled along, seeking for a hole, and
becoming more and more anxious as the moments fled. What if his warning
should reach Hodson Sahib too late? The parapet was loopholed for
musketry, but the loopholes afforded him no assistance. At length, when
almost in despair, he came to a spot where a shot from one of the
British guns had made a jagged rent in the parapet. Here, surely, at
this fortuitous embrasure, he could put his fortune to the test. Gently
unwinding the rope from about his body, he fixed the slip-knot on the
lathi, and having laid this transversely across the gap, he paid out the
rope until he felt it touch bottom.

Now came the critical moment. He knew that as soon as he attempted to
cross the parapet there was a danger that, dark as the night was, his
form might be seen. There was a gun with its group of gunners not many
yards to his right. If one of the men should chance to look in his
direction he could hardly escape discovery. He was thankful that the sky
was overcast; indeed, his journey promised to be an uncomfortable one,
for big spots of rain were falling. Perhaps these heralds of a storm
might cause the gunners to huddle themselves more closely in their
cloaks. But it was vain to delay; the sooner he made the attempt the
better; so, one hand holding the rope, with the other he got a grip of
the top of the parapet. Then he gave a sudden spring, gained the top,
and grasping the rope with both hands, let himself swing free.

As he did so, there came a shout, followed by the sound of scurrying
footsteps. His knuckles scraped against the wall; to protect his hands
he pushed against the wall with his feet, but the result of this was to
throw all his weight on his hands, and his palms were skinned as he slid
rapidly down. The descent was only twenty-four feet. He touched the
ground. Letting the rope go, he plunged down the scarp into the ditch,
rushed across, up the counter-scarp and the glacis, and reached level
ground on the other side. Then a shot flew over his head; he had been
seen. Upright he would form a target, however indistinct, for the sepoys
on the wall, and some of them were no mean marksmen. He dropped on hands
and toes, and thus crawled as fast as he could over the soppy ground.
Shots flew around him, but he escaped them all, and hurrying along until
he judged that he could no longer be seen, he rose to his feet and ran
at full speed across the Circular Road that encompasses the city, over a
stretch of open ground, until he reached the Kudsia Road, and did not
check his pace until he had got half-a-mile from the wall. And then the
rain came down in a blinding torrent, and in five minutes he was
drenched to the skin.

The rain favoured him in one respect--that it would keep people under
cover. On the other hand, it added to the difficulties of his journey.
Even on a clear night he would have found it by no means easy to find
his way. He had nearly two miles to go before he could reach the British
lines, and the ground was dotted with scrub and trees, and with houses
and enclosures, some isolated, some clustered together. Some of the
houses had been occupied before the rising by British officers and civil
servants; they were now, he did not doubt, in the hands of the rebels.
But his only course was to hurry forward, trusting to the good fortune
that had hitherto befriended him.

For half-a-mile he went on across the swampy ground, then found himself
among the walled enclosures. The best way to avoid observation was to
find a lane, such as commonly divided one enclosure from another, and
proceed along that. This he did, and for perhaps another quarter of a
mile trudged on between high walls, the lane winding this way and that,
but leading always, so far as he could judge, in the direction he wished
to go. At length he found himself on open ground again, and now had some
inkling of his locality. The building he had just passed was a large
one, which he had seen, as he thought, often from the Ridge. He would
very soon find himself on the gentle slope leading up to the British
lines, and his journey would be ended.

He had not gone very far, however, when, even in the darkness, he
thought he saw the forms of a number of men recumbent on the ground a
little in front of him. He halted and crouched down. They might be the
bodies of men killed in some outpost skirmish, but it was well to make
sure. A moment later he heard whispers. The men were certainly alive.
Were they rebels or a reconnoitring party from the British lines? There
were adventurous sahibs, he knew, who would take advantage of just such
a night as this to examine the outposts of the enemy. He listened
intently, but for some time could not form any conclusion--the voices
were too low. At length, however, he saw one of the men rise, and at the
same time heard a voice uttering execrations on the accursed mlechas.
Beyond doubt the men were rebels. He must make a circuit, and try to
pass them on their flank; then, having got in front of them, trust to
his heels.

It was clear from their low tones that they were in some fear of being
discovered. A British outpost could not be far distant. He glanced to
right and left, then, with the instinct of a scout, backwards along the
path by which he had come. And now he received a sudden shock, for,
scarcely more than fifty yards from him, there were five or six dark
forms creeping towards him. In a moment he realized the situation.
Without doubt these men formed part of a rebel outpost stationed in the
building he had just passed. They had seen him pass, and with native
quickness had recognized that his turban, the most conspicuous part of
his dress, was not that of a sepoy. The presence of any other man at
that place and hour was suspicious; he might be a spy returning to the
British lines. The slow movements of the men indicated that they thought
to take him by surprise, without alarming the British outpost by the
sounds of a struggle.

They had seen him halt, and would know that he had caught sight of their
comrades in advance. At any moment they might rush upon him. He felt
that he was in a very tight place. Before and behind were enemies; and
these latter, seeming to have anticipated his meditated flank movement,
were spreading out as if to envelop him. What could he do? To attempt a
dash through the men in front, who had clearly not yet seen him, would
be too risky. There were more than a dozen men in the two parties, and
he could not hope to escape all their shots if they fired. He had but a
moment to decide, and in that moment he remembered the trick by which he
had escaped a somewhat similar peril when he was escorting the missy
sahib. With a quick movement he divested himself of the turban and the
chogah which betrayed him as a trader; then, bending low and crouching
forward, he gave a slight cry to attract the attention of the men in
front. Before they were all on their feet he was in their midst, and
murmuring "Feringhis!" pointed to the party stalking him behind, then
sank to the ground as if wounded or exhausted.

His ruse had the effect he had calculated upon. Many a time in the
course of the great struggle the mere hint that the sahibs were upon
them sufficed to throw panic into the mutineers' hearts. A moment's
reflection would have shown these men that they could scarcely have been
taken in reverse unwarned by their comrades in the house. But the
suddenness of the stranger's arrival, the darkness, the silence of the
approaching forms, combined to banish reason: without a moment's
hesitation they took to their heels, and scampered for safety away to
the left in the direction of Sabzi Mandi. Instantly Ahmed jumped to his
feet and set off at a headlong run towards the British lines. He had not
gone more than a hundred yards when he toppled over the edge of a nullah
and went souse into the muddy pool at the bottom. As he ran, he heard
sounds of conflict behind him. Apparently the men he had startled had
dashed heedlessly into those of their comrades who were stealing round
on the left. But the noise was almost immediately hushed: the mistake
had no doubt been discovered, and the rebels did not wish to bring the
Feringhis down upon them.

Dripping wet, bruised, and shaken, Ahmed groped his way along the nullah
for some distance, then scrambled up the bank. But in his relief at
escaping from the enemy he forgot his usual caution, and did not wait to
prospect the ground before leaving the nullah. He had gone but a few
paces, still running, when he heard a cry, "Who goes there?" Next moment
he tumbled over a man, fell with a thud against another, and while
struggling with rough hands laid upon him, realized that he had fallen
plump into a British outpost.



CHAPTER THE EIGHTEENTH

The Spoilers Spoiled


"Give the word, you heathen son of a washer-woman," said a rough English
voice, the owner of which had his hands on Ahmed's throat. "Give the
word; jaldi karo."

"What have you got there, Tom?" said another voice.

"Blowed if it ain't a Pandy or some other drowned rat by the feel of
him. What do you mean, you suar ka bachcha, by treading on the toes of a
British rifleman? Hilo mat, you bloomin' reptile, or I'll stick my
bay'net in your gala."

"Take me to Hodson Sahib," said Ahmed in halting English, as soon as he
got his breath.

"Hodson Sahib be jiggered! We ain't khaki, as you might see with your
cat's eyes; we're green, we are. You've come to the wrong shop for those
everlasting Guides, if that's what you want. You've got gentlemen of the
60th Royal Rifles to deal with, let me tell you. He ain't got no rifle,
mates, so there ain't no harm in him. What are you a-doing of here, and
what was that there noise we heard just now?"

"Take me to Hodson Sahib," Ahmed repeated.

"Perhaps he's one of Hodson's spies, Tom," said a third man. "Better
send him along to the Colonel."

"We can't send him, not having no conveniences for such. He'll just have
to wait until we're relieved."

"But s'pose he's got news of an attack? There'd be a bit of a dust-up if
the General didn't get warning in time."

"And there'd be another dust-up if an inspection-officer come along and
found me absent from my juty. Rum thing, juty, you nigger; and the
sooner you learn it the better. My juty says one thing, your juty,--if
so be you _are_ one of Hodson's spies--says another. If two juties pulls
in hopposite directions, the thing that wants doing don't get done, and
the consekinces is accordin'."

"Y' ought to bin a parson, Tom. Blest if ever I knowed such a chap for
argyfying."

"Argyfy! I never do it. I only talk sense. That's what my mother used to
say to the old man when they was talkin' over some little bit o'
difference between 'em. 'Woman,' says he, 'your argyment's ridik'lous.
Women ain't got no power of reasonin'.' 'And a good thing for you,
Jimmy,' say she. 'Women ha' got sense.' And then they'd begin over
again, and me eatin' bread and butter listenin' to 'em. 'The amount o'
rubbidge that there poor boy do have to listen to from one as ought to
bring him up proper!' says my father. 'True,' says she, 'and if he
didn't take after me 'twould turn his little stomick, poor lamb!' And
then he'd argyfy that too much butter warn't good for a boy's innards,
and she'd listen and say nothing till the next slice was cut, and blest
if he didn't lay it on thicker than her. Argyfyin' ain't in it against
sense."

Ahmed was growing impatient under the rifleman's garrulity, though he
took a certain pleasure in hearing his mother tongue again. The name
"Jimmy" had caught his ear, and he remembered that he had himself been
called by that name in those distant years of childhood that seemed like
existence in another world. But meanwhile the night was passing; his
news was yet untold; and he was meditating a flight from these English
soldiers when he heard the tread of men marching, and in a few moments
there came up a lieutenant going the rounds with a squad to see that the
men of the outposts and pickets were attending to their duty.

"Who's this, sergeant?" said the lieutenant, observing Ahmed. "You know
the rules: no visitors allowed?"

"Yes, sir, and he ain't exactly a visitor, that is we didn't invite him
and didn't know he was coming; in fact, he came on us all of a heap
like, and nearly knocked the breath out o' my body by falling right on
top of me, sir. He asked for Hodson Sahib, sir, and I was just
explaining that he'd come to the wrong shop."

"Brought khabar, eh?" said the lieutenant. "Take him to Mr. Hodson," he
added, turning to one of his men, and Ahmed was forthwith conveyed along
the Ridge until he reached his commander's tent. Hodson was in bed, but
on hearing that a native had asked for him, he had Ahmed brought into
the tent.

"Who are you?" he said, not recognizing his trooper in the bearded man
before him.

"I am Ahmed Khan, sahib, and I come from Delhi with news."

"By Jove!" cried Hodson, "your get-up is first-rate." Then he laughed.
"You are no doubt the man Fazl Hak wrote about; a simple trader, he
said, who was no good at all for our job. Well, what have you got to
say?"

He listened attentively as Ahmed told his story.

As his manner was, he questioned and cross-questioned him searchingly;
it was no easy matter, as a rule, to sift out the bare truth from the
natives' reports; but Ahmed's account was so simple and direct that he
was speedily satisfied, and then he got up, and flinging on a long
military cloak, went off to tell General Barnard in person what he had
learnt.

"You are wet through," he said before he went, noticing Ahmed's
bedraggled appearance. "My servant will give you some dry things. Go and
get some sleep, and come to me in the morning."

"If there is to be fighting, and the hazur pleases," said Ahmed, "I
should like to go with the Guides."

"Very well," said Hodson, giving him a keen look; "but don't put on the
uniform. You are going to be useful, I think, and the secret had better
be kept a little longer."

It was half-past two in the morning when a little force, consisting of
three hundred and fifty men of the 61st Regiment, Hodson with the
cavalry of the Guides, and Major Coke with some batteries of horse
artillery, left camp to do battle with the mutineers and prevent if
possible the attack on Alipur; if not, to intercept the rebels on their
return. The force was under the command of Coke, of the Panjab Irregular
Cavalry, who had arrived on the Ridge a few days before. He was a
gallant officer, with a great reputation for his achievements in border
warfare; no better man could have been chosen for the work in hand.

Alipur was eight miles distant on the Karnal Road. While Lieutenant
Frederick Roberts with the infantry felt for the enemy along the road,
Hodson with the Guides and Coke with the guns marched along the right
bank of the Jumna Canal. Fortunately the rain had ceased, but the ground
had been turned into a quagmire; the horses trod over their fetlocks in
mud, and the progress of the column was slow. It was soon clear that all
hope must be abandoned of saving the village and the little Sikh post
guarding it. Still, the rebels must return to Delhi, and it was possible
to relieve them of any plunder they had gained and to teach them a
lesson.

The Guides marched on in the darkness. Ahmed had as yet attracted no
attention among the troopers. Hodson's servant had rummaged out an old
scarf which rolled up into a quite respectable turban, and a discarded
great-coat which was not unlike the chogah he had left on the ground
when escaping from the rebels. It was impossible to distinguish his
dress in the night, and if anything strange had been noticed about his
appearance, the fact that many had had to change their drenched garments
might have sufficiently explained it. He took care to keep out of
Sherdil's way; Sherdil was the most likely man to see through his
disguise, and while his mission in Delhi was yet unfulfilled in its
entirety, it was advisable to keep the secret.

Soon after daybreak the patrols came in sight of the enemy returning in
triumph from Alipur. They had fallen on the village, slain the Sikhs to
a man, burnt the place to the ground, and carried off a quantity of
plunder, including an ammunition wagon and several camel-loads of
small-arm cartridges.

At the sight of the rebel infantry in their red coats, Major Coke
unlimbered the guns and brought them into action. They were only light
field-pieces, and did little execution among the enemy, who, instead of
standing their ground and making use of their overwhelming numbers, fell
into a panic when the guns came within six hundred yards of them, and
bolted, flinging away their shoes, belts and other impedimenta, in their
mad haste to get away.

Then Hodson gave his eager men the word to charge. They swept down upon
the disordered ranks of the rebels, and were soon engaged hand to hand
with their cavalry. Shouting their war-cry "Wah-hah!" the Guides cut
their way through them, smiting right and left with their swords.

Hodson himself was in the thick of the fray, and escaped hurt as by a
miracle. His gallant horse, Feroza, was slashed with sabre cuts; his
bridle was severed, and a piece of his glove was shorn off. The men were
no whit behind their leader. Ahmed unhorsed one man with his lance, and
recovered from the stroke just in time to ward off a desperate thrust
from a sabre. The trooper at his side fell from his horse with a mortal
wound in his neck; several of the horses were so badly wounded that they
had to be killed. But the enemy would not stand, and the Guides' losses
were only the one man killed and six wounded.

So desperate was the rebels' flight that they left behind them all their
baggage and the spoil of their night's work at Alipur. Hodson would fain
have pursued them to the very walls of Delhi, but the horses were so
fatigued by their march over the heavy ground that they were incapable
of further efforts. Major Coke's guns, moreover, sank so deep into the
mud that they could scarcely be moved. The rebels were on higher ground,
and the Guides howled with disappointment when they saw them drawing
their guns away in safety. They came up with the tail-end of the
infantry ere the morning was past, and inflicted heavy loss upon them,
so that Bakht Khan, who had led the column in person, had little
satisfaction in his night's adventure. All that his five thousand men
had accomplished was the destruction of a small village, and the capture
of plunder which they were now forced to leave behind them on the field.

The encounter with the enemy having taken place between the road and the
canal, the British infantry could not come up in time to take part in
it. But they were so much exhausted by the scorching heat of the day,
following their march over the swamps, that many of the 61st sank down
beneath trees as they returned to camp, and remained there until
elephants were sent to bring them in.

As the Guides marched back to camp, Ahmed became the object of much
curious speculation on the part of his comrades. Many had noticed the
doughty way in which he had conducted himself during the brief
encounter, and wondered who this bearded warrior was who fought among
them in a garb so strange. He rode on gravely, not turning his head, nor
taking part in the talk of the others. They questioned one another in
low tones about him.

"Who is this stranger, and when did he come among us?" asked Rasul Khan,
of Sherdil, son of Assad, as they rode a little behind him.

"Allah knows," replied Sherdil. "I know him not. I spoke of him to
Hodson Sahib, and the sahib glared at me out of his blue eyes--eyes like
a hawk's, Rasul--and asked me whether he was not a good fighter and
worthy of the Guides. 'Verily he is, sahib,' I said, 'but we know him
not.' '_I_ know him, is not that enough?' says the sahib. Peradventure
he is a new recruit, Rasul, or a candidate, and there being no time for
the tests the sahib bade him come with us and show what he could do. I
care not, so that he does not become a dafadar before me."

"I will even ask his name," returned Rasul, riding his horse beside
Ahmed's. "Thou of the black beard, what is thy name?"

"I am of the Guides," said Ahmed simply. "If thou desirest to know more,
ask of the sahib."

Whereupon Rasul fell back and told Sherdil that the black-bearded one
was either a very surly fellow or one of the sahibs in disguise. "For he
spake to me in the tone the sahibs have when they bid us do things and
we obey even as children. Of a truth he is a sahib, or at the very least
a sowar from one of the English regiments. That is it, he is an English
sowar, one of Blunt Sahib's men, perhaps, and his own clothes being wet
he put on those of a banijara. If that be not the truth, Sherdil, we
shall without doubt learn the truth when we come to camp. He is a good
fighter, that is sure."

That evening Hodson sent for Ahmed, who in common with all the members
of Coke's wearied force had slept through the day, and kept him for a
long time. Ahmed felt afterwards as if he had been turned inside out. He
related all that had happened to him since his departure from the Ridge;
his fight with the lathi-wallahs, his interview with Fazl Hak (at which
Hodson chuckled), his eavesdropping in Minghal Khan's house, the failure
of all his attempts hitherto to discover anything about Dr. Craddock. He
mentioned casually how he had seen the khansaman disappear through a
hole in the wall.

"The rascal!" said Hodson. "Without doubt he has some little hoard of
his own by which he sleeps. And you say that he talks foully about the
sahibs?"

"True, hazur."

"I hope the villain will get his deserts some day. Craddock Sahib will
without doubt be found--if he is yet alive--in some quiet garden or on
some roof-top. You will go back into the city. I am pleased with you.
You will find out all you can that will help us when the assault
comes--the numbers of rebels at the various gates, the haunts of the
ringleaders, the secret ways by which they may try to escape. And if you
can discover anything of their plans again, as you have done, you must
let me know. Have you money?"

"Enough, sahib, and I have still some goods to sell."

"Ah, I had forgotten your goods. I doubt whether you will find them as
you left them."

"Then the bhatiyara will suffer many pangs," said Ahmed simply, and
Hodson laughed.

It was many days, however, before Ahmed returned to Delhi. His exposure
on the night of his escape, followed by the march and fighting, and the
fatigues of returning in the heat, had brought on a slight fever. He lay
up in the quarters of the camp-followers, trusting to Nature for his
cure. And during these days he heard much talk of the incidents of the
camp. Cholera had broken out; General Barnard himself died of it after a
few hours' illness on the day after the sortie to Alipur. His successor,
General Reed, was in ill-health, and officers and men were discussing
who would really lead them. Many of the natives complained bitterly of
their treatment by the British soldiers. The cook-boys, who carried
their food, often had to dodge round shot from the city, and had become
expert at it, dropping down on their knees when they saw the shot
coming. And when they rose and went on with their pots and tins the men
would jeer at them, and curse them for being late with the food. Ahmed,
as he heard things like this, wondered whether all the sahibs had such
contempt for their poor native servants.

Between nine and ten one morning the bugles sounded the alarm, and
Ahmed, having recovered sufficiently to leave his charpoy, went out to
see what was happening. He had heard the sounds of firing so often while
lying sick that he would hardly have noticed it now but that it seemed
so much nearer than ever before.

In the drizzling rain a party of cavalry was seen approaching a battery
near the churchyard. One of the gunners had a portfire lighted in
readiness for firing his gun, but Lieutenant Hills ordered him to
refrain, judging from the horsemen's movements that they were a picket
of the 9th Irregular Native Cavalry. All at once, however, it struck him
that the picket was unusually large, and being now a little suspicious,
he ordered his men to unlimber and open upon the horsemen. Before this
could be done some fifteen or twenty of the enemy dashed over the canal
bridge into the camp and rode straight for the guns.

Lieutenant Hills--he was a second lieutenant and a little fellow--saw
that time must be gained for his men if the guns were to be saved.
Without a moment's hesitation he charged the rebels single-handed, cut
down the first man he met, and had just flung his pistol at a second
when two sowars dashed upon him. Their horses collided with his in a
terrific shock; the horse was rolled over, and Hills sent flying to the
ground, thus escaping the swords of the enemy, one of which, however,
shore a slice off his jacket. Half stunned, he lay still, and the rebel
sowars left him for dead.

But Hills was not dead; in a minute or two he rose to his feet and
looked about for his sword. There it was, on the ground about ten yards
away. No sooner was it in his hand than three of the enemy returned--two
on horseback, the third on foot. One of the horsemen charged him, but he
leapt aside and dealt the man a blow that toppled him wounded from the
saddle. The second man made full at him with his lance. Hills parried
the thrust with a quick movement, and wounded the sowar in the head.
Then up came the third man--a young, limber fellow. Hills was panting
for breath after the violence of his exertions. In his fierce and rapid
movements his cloak had in some way wound itself about his throat, so
that he was almost suffocated. But after dealing with the horseman he
stood to meet the last of his opponents, and as he came within reach
aimed a shrewd blow at him with his sword. The new-comer was fresh and
unwearied. He turned the stroke, seized Hills' sword by the hilt and
wrenched it from his grasp. Thus left weaponless, a man might not be
blamed if he took to flight. Not so Hills. He had neither sword nor
pistol, but he had his fists, and he set upon the rebel with ardour,
punching his head and face with such swift and vigorous blows that the
man was quite unable to use his sword, and gave back. Unluckily, Hills
slipped over his cloak on the sodden ground and fell flat. The rebel had
just lifted his sword to cleave the fallen man's skull, when up galloped
Major Tombs, his troop-captain, who had heard of the rebels' attack from
a trooper of the Irregular Cavalry. In an instant he saw Hills' danger.
He was still some thirty paces away, and before he could reach the spot
the fatal blow would have been struck. Checking his horse, he rested his
revolver on his left arm and took aim at the mutineer, shooting him
through the body.

Major Tombs and the Lieutenant returned to their men, who had chased the
rebels some little distance past the guns. Coming back by and by to
secure the unlimbered gun, they saw another mutineer coolly walking off
with the pistol which Hills had hurled at a rebel's head early in the
fight. Hills closed with him: the man was a clever swordsman, and for a
time it was a fencing-match between them. Then Hills rushed in with a
thrust; the rebel jumped aside and dealt Hills a cut on the head that
stretched him on the ground. Once more Major Tombs came to the rescue,
and ended the matter with his sword.

This incident was the talk of the camp, and Ahmed, who had seen it all,
learnt by and by that the officers were to be recommended for the
Victoria Cross. He had never heard of this, and inquired what it was.

"Oh," said the bhisti to whom he put the question, "'tis a little brown
cross that the great Memsahib over the black water pins to the dhoti of
a soldier who is very brave."

"And is it given only to the sahibs, or to us folks of the country as
well?"

"That I know not. I never heard of any one but a Feringhi getting it.
But why dost ask! Dost think that thou, who art but a banijara, art
brave enough to please the great Memsahib?"

"What I think matters nothing, O bhisti. But there are brave men
everywhere, even among bhistis."

And Ahmed had now a new goal at which to aim.



CHAPTER THE NINETEENTH

Asadullah


Bahadur Shah, King of Delhi, was holding darbar in his private hall of
audience--the Diwan-i-khas. It was an imposing scene: the pure white
marble of the walls, ornamented with delicate inlaid work; the rich
decorations and gorgeous colour of the ceiling; the arches with mosaic
traceries, giving views of beautiful gardens: all this would have made a
fit setting for a mighty monarch's court. The old king, tremulous with
age and anxieties, sat in the centre on a dais of white marble, and no
doubt deplored at times the cupidity of his predecessor Nadir Shah, who
had turned into money, a hundred years before, the wondrous peacock
throne, in which the spread tails of the birds were encrusted with
sapphires and rubies and diamonds and other precious stones, cunningly
arranged in imitation of the natural colours. But his monarchy was sadly
diminished in wealth and dignity. Successive invaders had all taken
something for themselves; and though he was in courtesy styled king, and
received royal salutes from the guards at his doors, his territory had
been confined, since the British imposed their rule upon him, to his
palace; and instead of the untold wealth that had once been his, he had
been granted the mere pittance of £120,000 a year. And now it seemed
that he would lose even this, for the British still held the Ridge; his
generals and their forty thousand men had as yet made good none of their
confident boasts of sweeping the handful of Feringhis away, and the old
king wished with all his heart that the mutineers had let well alone. He
was depressed, wretched; what a mockery seemed that gilt scroll of
Persian on the arches above his head--

    "If on earth is a bower of bliss,
    It is this, it is this, it is this."

The hall was thronged. There was Bakht Khan, the commander-in-chief, the
square blunt soldier, who was yet said by some to hide under his
bluffness a character of cunning and duplicity. To him the querulous old
king turned a cold shoulder; for he had been for several weeks in the
city, and yet no success had attended his arms save the burning of
Alipur--a trumpery feat. There was Mirza Mogul, daily growing more
jealous of his supplanter. Bakht Khan's men had received six months' pay
in advance ('tis true it was the product of their own plundering), while
Mirza Mogul had the greatest difficulty in squeezing a few thousand
rupees out of the treasury to satisfy his clamorous troops. There was
Ahsanullah, the king's physician, a thin fox-faced man in black; and
Mirza Nosha, the poet, with verses in his pocket composed to celebrate
the victory when it was won; and near him Hassan Askari, who had in his
pocket Bakht Khan's order for the construction of five hundred ladders,
so that the sepoys might escape over the walls if the English took the
city. All the notabilities of Delhi were there, and for hours the old
king sat, receiving petitions, hearing demands for redress from
merchants who had been plundered, listening to the Kotwal's reports of
the misdeeds of the young prince Abu Bakr, who was constantly
intoxicated and engaged in riotous disorder. Saligram, the banker,
complained that all his papers and chests had been rifled, and he was a
ruined man. A messenger came in and reported that the English were
constructing a new battery within half-a-mile of the walls. A poor old
man, who said he was the king's cousin, made an offering of two rupees
in aid of the holy cause. Another messenger entered with news that a
detachment of the Nimuch brigade had gone out to fight the English, who
had all run away. The king called him a liar; he had heard such news
before. And then, just as the darbar was closing, there entered one of
the king's attendants, and asked if the Lord of the World would
graciously condescend to receive a chief from the hill country, who had
entered the city at the head of three hundred well-mounted men.

"Who is he?" asked the king.

"Hazur, his true name no one knows; but his horsemen call him Asadullah,
and in truth he is a very lion in wrath and courage. He has done great
things among the Feringhis at Agra and Gwalior, and being at one time a
prisoner of the English he hates them with a bitter hatred. And now he
comes with three hundred brave men whom he has gathered, and craves
leave to present a nassar to the Pillar of State, and to offer his
services in the cause."

"We desire not to receive him," said the king. "Have we not soldiers
enough in Delhi to pay, without adding more? If the English cannot be
beaten with the forty thousand we now have, how shall three hundred help
us?"

This was mere querulousness, as every one in the hall knew. The king
dared not offend anybody at this critical moment in his affairs,
certainly not a chief who could command a body of troops. After bidding
the man wait, and keeping him waiting for a long time while he went
through the form of consulting his advisers, the king announced that he
would see this warrior whom men named the Lion of God. The official
retired. In a few minutes there entered the hall a stately figure with
flowing white beard and red turban. He made obeisance to the king,
handed him a nassar of a hundred rupees, and declared in a strong,
resonant voice that he was ready to fight the English, he and his three
hundred men.

There was a group of officers at the end of the hall from which entrance
was had to the Akab baths. They were so much preoccupied with a matter
they were discussing, that the proceedings in the centre of the hall had
for some time escaped their notice. Now, however, at the sound of that
ringing voice, one of them, Minghal Khan, started, and immediately
afterwards changed his position in such a way that he was partially
hidden by one of the columns supporting the arcade. And there he
remained until the rising of the king signified that the audience was at
an end. Then he made towards the door among the throng, keeping close to
the wall, and moving in the manner of one who avoids observation.

But the crowd was thick, and its departure slow, so that when the chief,
whom his men had named Asadullah, left the side of the king--who had
kept him in talk, having apparently taken a fancy to him--it chanced
that as his eyes ranged round the hall, they fell upon the face of
Minghal Khan, who at that very moment had turned a little aside to look
at the new-comer. Their glances crossed; a light flashed in the eyes of
each; and Asadullah, whom Minghal had known as Rahmut Khan, took a step
forward as though to hasten after his enemy. But he checked himself. The
king's palace was no place for the settlement of a personal quarrel: no
doubt there would be opportunities. Each of the chiefs knew, as he
caught the look in the other's eyes, that the fact that they were
engaged in a common cause would not weigh for a moment if they came
within reach of one another. The many discordant elements in Delhi were
held together for the time by their common hatred of the English; if
that bond were relaxed, they would fly apart with shattering force.

Minghal Khan got out of the palace before Rahmut Khan, and hastened
immediately to his house. He then dispatched his khitmutgar to bid the
attendance of one of the jamadars of his regiment.

"Salaam, Azim Ali," he said in response to the officer's greeting. "I
have but now returned from the palace. The old king grows more feeble,
and his authority less and less. There was much talk among us of the
arrears of pay; but it is indeed true that the treasury is all but
empty, and it will never be full while Wallidad Khan is collector of the
revenue, and such pitiful nassars are brought to the king as were
brought to-day. Imagine, Azim Ali, a bent old dodderer who claimed
kinship with the Lord of the World, and offered him two rupees!"

"It is indeed pitiful," said the jamadar. "What is to be said to the
sowars? They will assuredly plunder the shops if they get no pay, and
the general has said that all plunderers shall be hanged."

"What, indeed? Is it not hard that our men, who have been enduring the
heat and burden, throwing away their lives in fighting the English,
should be worse off than such brigands as the men whom this Asadullah
has brought into the city? The general forbids plunder: well, he is a
friend of mine, and must be obeyed. But these new-comers, have they not
plundered? What have they done but load themselves with the loot of
villages, and snapped up ill-defended convoys--enterprises of little
difficulty and less danger? There is great talk of this old freebooter
as a man of high courage: hai! it is false. Do I not know of him? They
call him lion; a more fitting name would be pariah dog. He is not a man
to risk his skin. And yet, forsooth, he comes into Delhi at the head of
these three hundred, and the king slobbers over him, and without doubt
he will squeeze from the treasury what rupees he can, and then, when the
word comes to fight, he will shelter himself behind us who know what
fighting is, and expect his full share of plunder when the English are
beaten. Hai! it is a shame and a scandal."

"True, most noble subahdar; it is enough to make our men rise up and
claim that all who enter thus with full hands should share what they
have among us."

"And what they could not keep but for us; for are there not princes in
the city who, were these men left undefended, would swoop down like
hawks upon them and strip them of all they have? Without us, trained
soldiers, would not the English assuredly catch them and hang them up?
Is this thing to be endured? Here are we, lodged within a shout's
distance of them, and we starve while they live on the fat of the land."

Minghal knew the man he was talking to. He was a simple ruffian, who
grew more and more indignant as his superior artfully stimulated his
discontent.

"It would not be a matter of surprise to me," Minghal continued, "were
the men to rise in their wrath and secure for themselves what is their
just due. As a servant of our lord the king, and a loyal lieutenant of
Bakht Khan, our commander-in-chief, I could not countenance such a
transgression of his strict command; but I am a man like them: I know
what hunger is: am I not myself often at my wit's end for the
wherewithal to buy a meal, with many months' pay due to me? And as a man
I could assuredly not blame any action that our sowars might take."

The simple jamadar gulped at the bait. Minghal had no need to say more.
That same night, a Pathan trader who had entered the city by the Ajmir
gate at sundown, just before all the gates were closed, witnessed a
scene not unfamiliar in Delhi at this time of unrest and relaxed
authority. In the space before a serai near the Jama Masjid, a great
crowd of men was engaged in desperate rioting. He thought at first that
it was one of those little affairs in which the princes of the blood,
notably Abu Bakr, sometimes disported themselves: a raid upon a banker,
or a silversmith, or some merchant who was suspected of having feathered
his nest. But inquiring of an onlooker who stood out of harm's way
watching the conflict, he learnt that the regiment of Minghal Khan--that
bold warrior, and friend of the commander-in-chief--was attacking the
quarters of a troop of three hundred Irregulars, men of all castes and
no country, who had arrived in the city that day and been granted
quarters in this serai by the king.

"And thou art a Pathan, too, by thy speech, O banijara," said the man.
"Pathans are ever unruly--I mean no offence to thee, who art a man of
peace. The noble subahdar, Minghal Khan, is a Pathan, and the leader of
the new-comers is a Pathan also."

"What is his name, O bariya?" asked the trader, judging by his
informant's attire that he was a swordsmith.

"Men call him Asadullah, and say he is a very great warrior. Bah! There
is too much talk of very great warriors, and too little fighting. I am a
good Musalman, and no man can say I am not a faithful subject of the
king--may Allah be his peace!--but it is nevertheless the truth, O
banijara, that I was more prosperous under the English raj than I am
this day."

"There will be work for thee to-morrow, O grinder of swords, for many
edges will be blunted. Hai! What a din they make! I can hardly hear
myself speak. Why are they using no firearms?"

"That is easy to understand. I speak to a friend--thou and I are men of
peace. Well, without doubt, this is not a quarrel that suddenly arises
from a chance hot word. Not so--it was purposed from the beginning. Some
of these new men are out in the streets, beholding the many fine sights
of this city, and that seemed a good occasion to the men of Minghal
Khan; for in truth these new men are said to have good store of plunder
they have taken from the English as they came hither; and, as all men
know, the soldiers of Minghal Khan, and of many another officer, are
yearning for their pay. And so they came and fell upon the men of
Asadullah at their quarters yonder, and brought no firearms, since they
make a great noise; and the new men being taken wholly by surprise, had
not time so much as to fetch their muskets. As thou seest, there is
great fighting at the gate, and some are even now scaling the wall. Wah!
Unless the Kotwal or Bakht Khan come with a great force, methinks in a
little those men of Asadullah will be in a sad case, for the others are
much greater in number. It is a good fight; as thou sayest, it will give
me work to-morrow, my shop is hard by; and therefore I say, let them
fight on."

The two stood side by side watching the fray. There was a great noise of
clashing arms, and fierce yells, but such uproar was too common to have
brought as yet any of the authorities to the spot. The defenders of the
serai were hard pressed. Some had already been driven within the gate;
more and more of the attackers had mounted the wall and leapt into the
enclosure; and it seemed that the swordsmith's forecast of the end would
be justified. But suddenly a group of eight or ten men rounded the
corner of the street, remote from where the two watchers stood. They
halted for a moment, as though they did not at once comprehend the
meaning of the scene before them. The night was dark, but the light of
the stars revealed those new arrivals as stalwart, turbaned men. Their
pause was very brief. Then, drawing their talwars, they swept upon the
rear of the hundred or more sepoys thronging in front of them. "Wah,
wah!" they shouted, and their fierce war-cry fell upon the ears of the
sepoys at the same time as their terrible weapons smote their limbs. The
Pandies were taken utterly by surprise, and began to scatter in a panic.
The diversion came in the nick of time. The defenders took heart from
the arrival of their comrades; the attackers were divided in mind
whether to stay or to flee; and in a very few moments the whole throng
had melted away; those who were on the wall saw themselves unsupported
and dropped to the street, and the new-comers followed in hot chase,
being joined by others from within the gates.

"Wah! That was Asadullah himself," said the swordsmith. "Of a truth, he
is a great warrior. Didst thou see him?"

"I saw a big man, and he seemed older than I had supposed, but it was
too dark to see him clearly. I am a Pathan, as thou didst say, and were
I a man of war, I would fain have had a part with them. But being a man
of peace, far be it from me to endanger my skin in broils of this kind."

"Well, it is over now, and 'twere best for us to get ourselves home.
Verily I shall have work in the morning, and it befits to be up early.
The night is damp and chill, and now I look at thee, art thou not a-cold
in that thin raiment of thine? Hill-men like thee are not wont to go so
thinly clad."

"True, good bariya, and 'tis by evil chance I am as thou seest. I left
my chogah in a certain place, and lo! within a little it was no longer
there. I doubt not it is now among the belongings of some vile Hindu."

"Hai! Vile, indeed! When is this truce to be ended? The king has
commanded that no cows be killed until the English are beaten, and we
good Musalmans must forsooth abstain from that good meat for the sake of
these Hindus. Wah! The time will come. Let but the English be destroyed,
and then we will see what the Hindus have to say. Get thee a warmer
covering, friend, and Allah be with thee."

He turned the corner of the street and was gone. The other went on his
way, and coming to a shop in the nearest bazar, and finding it closed
for the night, he battered on the door until it was opened with much
grumbling by the owner--a man of hooked nose and venerable appearance.
After nearly an hour's bargaining, the customer departed, wearing his
purchase, a well-lined Afghan chogah. Then he proceeded quickly to a
small serai on the other side of the Chandni Chauk.

"Salaam, bhatiyara, thou beholdest me again," he said on entering.

The innkeeper looked up with a start from among the pots in which he was
preparing supper for two guests.

"Salaam," he said, with no great cordiality. "Thou hast been on a long
visit to that friend of thine."

"Truly. Who can strive against fate! I was smitten with a fever. We
hill-men suffer grievously in the plains in this time of rain. But I am
now recovered, Allah be praised! and ready to go once more about my
business. Give me to eat, I am very hungry; and then I will sleep.
To-morrow I will go forth again with my goods, and maybe I shall find
more ready buyers."

"Hai! who can strive against fate! But a few days after thou hadst
departed, there came in the middle of the night vile robbers, and lo!
when I awoke in the morning, thy goods were not. It is kismet."

"Thou sayest! and my camel--did he die?"

There was a tone of mockery in the question which apparently escaped the
notice of the innkeeper, though it provoked a chuckle from the two
traders who were tearing apart with their fingers a well-stewed fowl.

"Hai!" said the innkeeper, with a mournful face; "when thou didst not
return, thy camel would not eat, and his hump sank away to flatness, and
on the tenth day he died."

"Thou sayest? Of a truth, bhatiyara, he must needs come to life again no
later than the morrow's sunrise, and those vile robbers must be pricked
in their hearts and restore the goods they have stolen, or assuredly the
Kotwal will come and visit this serai, and he will say, since it is so
ill a place for man and beast, it must be made desolate. What must be
will be."

"Hai! hai!" cried the man, lifting his hands, "how should a dead camel
breathe again the breath of life, and evil-doers become good?"

"Even these things are possible, good bhatiyara. And now let me eat, and
make ready a good charpoy. These things that I say shall come to pass
even while I sleep."

And his two fellow-guests laughed aloud, while the innkeeper muttered in
his beard.



CHAPTER THE TWENTIETH

Wolf and Jackal


Next morning Ahmed found his camel contentedly munching at his stall,
with no visible diminution of his hump; and his bales of goods were
ranged in decent order along the walls, though when he came to examine
them he found that their contents were strangely mixed. But he said
nothing of that; he only expressed to the innkeeper his gratification
that the night had seen such wonders wrought, and after a simple
breakfast he went out and, hiring no coolie this time, took a few of his
more costly wares to visit his old friend the darwan of Minghal Khan.
Cordial greetings passed between them; the darwan had pleasant
recollections of the dainties with which he had been regaled by this
excellent Pathan at his former visit. Then he asked why his friend had
been so long in hiding the light of his countenance from him. Ahmed told
him that he had been ill, and made him laugh heartily at his story of
how the rascally innkeeper had brought a dead camel to life and restored
stolen goods in the space of one night.

"And now, good darwan," he said, "thinkest thou I might show some of my
wares to your noble master? My business has halted while I was sick, and
I must needs sell somewhat lest I starve."

"Truly, my friend, it is an ill time. The great man has no money; we,
his poor creatures who are not worthy to unloose his shoes, get no
wages, and our khansaman sells more and more of our chattels day by day
to get the wherewithal to buy our poor food. And I fear me, even if the
illustrious one were as rich as Nadir Shah of old renown, it would be
vain to approach him now. But a little while ago there came a chaprasi
with news that his regiment had been rioting. Indeed (and this khabar
was whispered in my ear) the men tried last night to gain some little
sustenance from the plunder of some new men who have come--woe upon
them!--to this sorely crowded city. And by ill-hap they had the worse of
the encounter; verily these new-comers sting like scorpions; and their
leader, one Asadullah, has gone to the palace to complain to the
Protector of the Poor, our illustrious king. The great one is even now
clothing himself in haste to go also to the palace and acquaint the
Illustrious with the truth of the matter. And so it is an ill time, as I
said; neither his pocket nor his temper suits with business of thy
sort."

"Hai! how wretched is my lot!" said Ahmed.

"Here is the great one's horse," said the darwan, as a sais led the
animal from the courtyard and began to walk him up and down. "And behold
the great one himself."

He rose from his squatting posture at the door as Minghal came out. The
subahdar was clearly in a state of great annoyance. He kicked aside the
small bundle which Ahmed had laid on the ground, and bade him betake
himself to Jehannum.

"Merciful one, be not wroth with the meanest of thy slaves," said Ahmed,
salaaming humbly. "If I might but be allowed to see thy face at some
more convenient season! I have wares of great beauty and worth, even
such as might delight the eyes of the hazur himself and----"

"Bas, bas!" cried Minghal. "Get thee hence and trouble me not."

He called to the sais to bring up his horse.

"There is a shawl woven most marvellously with gold threads," Ahmed
said, with an air of the greatest deference. "If the magnificent one
would but deign the wink of an eye----"

"Enough, I say!" cried Minghal, with his foot in the stirrup. Then a
thought seemed to strike him. "Come to me to-morrow; I may then cast an
eye on thy worthless trumpery."

"Hazur, thy servant's heart leaps for joy," said Ahmed, salaaming, and
Minghal sprang to the saddle.

"Tell the khansaman to make ready a repast fit for princes against my
return this night," he called to the darwan. "I shall not return until
the sun goes down."

Then he rode off on his clattering way to the palace.

"Thou art favoured above all," said the darwan to Ahmed, "and, being a
just man, thou wilt not forget to let a little flow over from thy full
cup?"

"My prosperity shall be thine, worthy darwan; and the thought of the
great one's favour to come will be as a delicious perfume to me this
day."

On leaving the darwan, Ahmed found his way to the quarters of the men
who had beaten off the attack of Minghal's regiment the night before. He
felt some curiosity to see this warlike Pathan, named Asadullah, whose
arrival had so soon been followed by a broil. When he reached the serai,
he learnt that the chief had not yet returned from the palace; and
knowing that Minghal had also gone thither to put his side of the story
before the king, Ahmed guessed that the poor old monarch would have an
uncomfortable morning.

He spent the rest of the forenoon in wandering about the city, picking
up what news he could. Then he returned to his own serai for his midday
meal and a sleep; he foresaw that he might have little opportunity for
rest during the night. On awaking, he went out to the bazar and bought a
stout hook, like those by which carcases are hung in butchers' shops. As
he left the bazar, he overtook Minghal Khan's khansaman, who was
returning with a load of provisions he had bought for his master's
supper. Ahmed had wished more than once for an opportunity of conversing
with the khansaman, and the present moment seemed favourable.

"Salaam, worthy khansaman," he said, stepping alongside the old man.

"Salaam, but I know thee not, stranger, and I am in haste," was the
reply.

"Far be it from me to hinder one so venerable in years and so exalted in
position, yet since thy worthy master has deigned to say that he will
let his eye rest on my poor wares to-morrow, I would fain say a
respectful word to the ruler of his household. It is a proud thing to
serve one so high in the king's favour, and I warrant thou findest his
service more to thy taste than that of him thou wast wont to serve--the
accursed Feringhi."

The khansaman looked at him sharply.

"What knowest thou--a banijara from the hills, if my eyes see aright--of
whom I served?" he said.

"Thy excellent darwan is a friend of mine," replied Ahmed, "and he has
told me one or two things. How thy heart must have rejoiced when thy old
master and all his family met their fate! Didst thou have a hand in it?"

"Would that I had!" said the khansaman, with fervour. "Would that all
the dogs of Feringhis were even as that dog of a sahib under whose yoke
I groaned!"

"'Tis beyond doubt that all his family were slain? Had he many sons?"

"None, save the child that now learns the vile learning of the Feringhis
far over sea."

"That is pity. Maybe he had daughters?"

"One pale-faced thing, of no account."

"Without doubt she is dead also. Though indeed it is said that some of
the Feringhis' women escaped, being preserved by some unworthy children
of the Prophet. Even as I came hither I beheld such a pale-faced thing
in the palki of a zamindar; not that I saw her, the palki being closed;
but it was told me by the palki-wallahs. She had been seized out of the
hands of her ayah and khitmutgar as she sought safety."

Ahmed watched the khansaman narrowly as he said this; but there was no
change in the man's expression. It was that of complete indifference.

"I perceive we are drawing near to the great one's house," he continued.
"Salaam aleikam!"

In a small lean-to off the stable of the serai, Ahmed fastened the hook
he had bought to a short length of rope, and wound this about his body
beneath his outer garment. Just after sunset he issued forth, carrying a
lathi, and made his way across the Chandni Chauk to the narrow lane
which ran past the back of Minghal's house. When he reached the spot at
which he had descended from the colonnade, he unwound the rope, and
raised it by means of the lathi until it rested on the top of the wall.
Then he climbed up the rope, and having disengaged the hook, let himself
down on the other side by means of the lathi; he laid his simple
apparatus in a corner under the colonnade. While doing this he kept a
wary eye on the servants' quarters that looked on to the garden, taking
care to dodge the beam of light that issued from the kitchen, where, no
doubt, preparations were being made for Minghal Khan's evening meal.
Then he stole across the garden, and lurked for a little by the door.

Two hours later, Minghal Khan, having finished the more substantial
portion of his meal, was reclining on cushions in his dining-room,
eating sweetmeats and sipping sherbets with his guest, the Mirza Akbar
Sultan. Both were in good spirits. The sweetmeats were a portion of some
score hundredweight which the Kotwal had recently bought for the
delectation of the soldiers, and which the king himself had inspected
and deigned to taste. And a day or two before Akbar Sultan himself had
summoned all the wealthy bankers of the city, at the instigation of the
queen, and by means in which he was an adept, had extorted from them
8,000 rupees, a thousand of which he had immediately appropriated--was
he not a prince?--handing five hundred, with princely generosity, to his
good friend Minghal Khan.

"Truly thou art much in my debt," said the prince; "not more for rupees
than for my support in that matter of the old rogue."

"I am thy unworthy servant, illustrious one," returned the other, "and
all I have is thine. And how can I repay thee better than by helping
thee to somewhat of the old rogue's booty?"

"Art thou sure he has this booty?"

"My head upon it, illustrious one. For what purpose has he sought refuge
in this city? Only that his booty may not fall into the hand of the
Feringhis, for assuredly he has no mind to fight them. Wah! thou camest
to the palace at a fortunate hour,--fortunate for thee and me. That old
rogue Asadullah forestalled me there, and the king had waxed hot against
me, listening to his tale. He had that moment sent for me when I
arrived. And though when I put the matter before him his anger was
somewhat appeased, the issue would not have been so pleasing hadst thou
not come to lend me the aid of thy persuasive voice. Wah! Did not the
old rogue fume when the king turned to him and bade him cause no more
trouble! Didst thou mark his flaming eye? Didst thou hear him mutter
words of rage as he turned his back on the Pillar of State and strode
from the presence? Wah! the king will favour him no more; never was his
dignity so scantly regarded."

"But this booty of which thou speakest--how is one to obtain it? I have
bled the shroffs; there will be a great wailing among them, and even I
dare not do more for a while, lest the king, who is unstable as water,
should again visit me with his displeasure."

"Listen, illustrious one; I know of a way. Asadullah has not yet proved
himself. He has yet to go out and fight the Feringhis. Now, as thou
knowest, I am a partaker in all Bakht Khan's counsels. We do little
against the Feringhis at present, but to-morrow is Bakr-Id, and what
more fitting than that we should mark the great day with a terrible
onslaught against the infidels? Asadullah must then go forth to fight;
Bakht Khan shall order it; and while he is absent with his band, what
easier than to visit the serai where he lodges, and take the treasure
that he conceals there?"

"But he will leave men to guard it."

"A handful only, and what will they avail against thy faithful ones?
And, moreover, may it not come to pass that Asadullah will be slain in
the fight? Then he will return not, and there will be none to say us
nay. And if, perchance, he returns, can he gainsay what we have done for
the holy cause? Here are thousands of faithful ones perishing for lack
of their just pay; is it not justice that ill-got treasures should be
taken from the few and divided among the many?"

"That is justice," said the prince. "It would be a good thing for the
great number of the faithful that Asadullah should go forth to fight and
not return. But how can we be sure that Bakht Khan will send him forth
and set him in the forefront of the battle?"

"He will do so at thy persuasion, prince. As for me, it were best I held
my peace, for the noise of this quarrel between the old rogue and me has
gone abroad, and if I were to propose this thing Bakht Khan might
suspect me of a desire to serve my own ends more than the interests of
the state. But with thee it is otherwise, and Bakht Khan will assuredly
pay heed to thee."

At this moment Bakht Khan was announced. After greetings, the prince
cunningly led the conversation to the desired point. He suggested that
this new-comer was not a fighting-man at all.

"He is a braggart," he said. "Lo, the father killed a tomtit, and the
son, forsooth, is called a mighty archer! They talk much of this
Asadullah's might in war, but what has he done?"

"I know a fighting-man when I see one, prince," said the sturdy general,
"and if ever there was a fighting-man that so proved himself to me at
the first look, this Pathan is the man."

"Bah!" sneered the prince. "A dog is a lion in his own lane. Dost thou
judge of sweetmeat by the loftiness of the shop where it is bought?"

"Does the cat by the fire know the worth of a hunting-dog?" retorted
Bakht Khan, bridling. "I am a fighter, and I know the marks of a
fighter."

"Shoes are proved on the feet, not on the last," said the prince. "Is it
not easy to prove the truth? Asadullah has not yet done battle with the
English. Let him go forth and show himself a man of war. As for me,
verily I believe that when the time comes he will be found wanting. Did
not the fox say he would rather suffer a hundred hungers than behold one
dog's face?"

The commander-in-chief fell into the trap. He vowed that Asadullah
should indeed go forth and fight, and he was ready to wager that the
Pathan would acquit himself well. A great sortie was planned for the
following night--the night of Bakr-Id, the first of August--the day on
which Abraham's sacrifice of Ishmael was commemorated by the slaying of
a bull, a great day among good Mohammedans. Asadullah should be
commanded to lead an attack on one part of the British lines, and by his
conduct then should the dispute be decided. The three men sat long
discussing the details of the proposed operations. It was late before
the party broke up, and when the visitors had gone, and Minghal had
retired to bed, the khansaman came in sleepily to clear away the
remnants of their refreshments and put out the lamp. He carried the tray
into the other room, listened, as if to make sure that all the household
was in repose, then slid the panel of the almirah and disappeared in the
hole in the wall, carrying his tray with him.

A moment later, a figure crept out from beneath a divan against the wall
of the dining-room. He crossed the landing to the opposite room, went to
the almirah, and slid back the panel. But then he was baulked--the wall
appeared solid. There was no lock, no handle by which the door in it
could be opened. Ahmed felt up and down, from right to left, and was
almost in despair, when the wall opened slowly, as of itself. He started
back, thinking the khansaman was returning; but finding that all was
silent he approached again. Unknowing, he had pressed a little wooden
button cunningly let into the stone, and released the spring that held
the slab in place. He crept through, and took the precaution of pushing
the stone back, then began to descend the steps of the narrow spiral
staircase on which he found himself. He counted the steps--they were
thirty; and then he came to a low passage, as narrow as the staircase,
through which only one person could pass at a time. It was so low that
he knocked his head against its roof in the darkness. But some few paces
in front of him he saw a thin line of light across the floor. He
stealthily approached; there was a door. He heard voices, but could not
distinguish words. Was the door fastened? He pushed it gently--it
yielded.

"If I could but be sure she was safe!" he heard a low voice say.

"Without doubt she is safe, sahib," was the reply. The voice was the
khansaman's. Ahmed thrilled. The khansaman was faithful after all. He
had his old master here in hiding. Who would have suspected so unlikely
a place? And he was trying to cheer the doctor's despondency as to the
fate of his daughter. Clearly he had not told him what Ahmed had said of
the capture of the English girl by a zamindar.

"You have no news of her?" said the first voice.

"None, sahib; but that is not strange. The missy sahib would fear to
send a messenger, lest he should betray your presence. And it is harder
now than it was for folk to go in and out of the city. This very day the
order has gone forth that none shall enter or depart without a written
word. A man--his name is Gordohan Dass, and he lives at Lattu--was going
out at the Delhi gate this morning in a shigram, and the guard stopped
him and searched his cart, and there they found cartridges and bullets.
They were but for his own protection, he declared. Nevertheless they
beat him, and took his cart and all that was in it, and sent him to the
Kotwali. There is little hope of news until the sahibs come and take the
city."

"Will that ever be? What are they doing? Will they never begin the
assault?"

"In Allah's good time, sahib. They are waiting on the Ridge; none can
move them. Why they wait so long who can tell? The people say in the
city that they are but five hundred now; that the colonels eat grain
like their horses; that three generals have killed themselves before
their troops for shame. But it cannot be true, sahib, for else why do
the sepoys always come back discomfited? No; Allah is great, and the
sahibs will yet come and punish the evil-doers, and then all will be
well."

"But it is so long! How long is it since you found me in the street, and
brought me here?"

"Two moons and more, sahib."

"Two months! And we have heard nothing all that time of Mary. I must go,
Kaluja. In this dress none would recognize me; I can pass as one of
their own hakims. You must help me to escape from the city."

"Nay, sahib; it is not safe. And besides, you are too weak--you would
fall in the street."

"No, I am strong enough now. See, I can walk quite well."

There was a brief silence; then Ahmed heard a groan.

"Did I not say so, sahib? It would be folly; it would kill you. You must
be patient."

"I could be patient if I were certain of Mary's safety. Did not your
messenger return? Are you sure he has not returned?"

"I have neither seen nor heard of him, sahib."

"It is this anxiety that is sapping my strength. My wounds were healed
long ago. Is there no one in this great city you can trust to go and
come again?"

And then Ahmed pushed the door wide open, and entered the room.



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIRST

Master and Servant


Ahmed found himself in a small square chamber, dimly lit by an oil-lamp.
The air was close, and pervaded by an odour new to him: the pungent
odour that salutes one at the entrance of a chemist's shop. The room was
naturally lofty, but its height was artificially diminished now by a
large blanket spread from corner to corner.

Against the further wall stood a charpoy, and on it lay a tall
grey-bearded man clad in the customary garments of a respectable
Mohammedan. A table was at his side, with a tray holding a dish and a
phial or two. The khansaman was standing at the foot of the bed. At the
entrance of Ahmed he uttered a cry, and seized a knife from the table.
There was a silence, in the tenseness of which time seemed to be
abolished. The khansaman stared with eyes that spoke his fear. Then
Ahmed held up his hand and spoke: "Be at peace, good khansaman," he
said; "I have news of the sahib's daughter."

The man's overcharged feelings found relief in a sob, and the recumbent
figure started up.

"Is it true? You do not mock me?" he cried. "Who are you?"

"I am Ahmed Khan, of Lumsden Sahib's Guides, and I am sent into this
city by Hodson Sahib, to say that the hazur's daughter is safe at
Karnal."

The shock of this good news rendered the doctor speechless. He was
seized with a violent trembling, and the khansaman hastily poured a
little liquid into a glass and gave it to his master. When he had
recovered he asked Ahmed many questions: whether he had seen the missy
sahib, how she looked, whether she had received his note, why the
messenger had not returned. To these Ahmed replied as well as he could,
but he said nothing of the part he had himself played in the saving of
the girl.

Then he himself asked questions, and learnt from the khansaman the
simple story of the doctor's rescue. He had been left for dead by the
mutinous sepoys a few yards from his door, and had there been found by
Kaluja Dass, who had conveyed him by night to the secret underground
chamber. It was situated immediately below the fountain in the garden,
and was ventilated and dimly lit in the daytime through an ingenious
series of openings in the ornamental stonework at the base of the
fountain. What appeared to an observer in the garden as a delicate
pattern of tracery was really the ventilating system of the room below.
There he had remained ever since. The healing of his wounds had been
slow, and his anxieties and the deprivation of fresh air had retarded
the full recovery of his strength. No one but the khansaman knew of the
secret entrance through the surgery wall, and it had been a happy
thought of his to place the almirah against it, and to make the sliding
panel. The blanket was stretched across the ceiling so as to prevent a
stray beam of light from the oil-lamp from filtering through the
apertures to the garden.

The doctor was much gratified that Ahmed had been allowed to enter the
city to search for him. He inquired for his old friend General Barnard,
to learn with sorrow of his death. He asked eagerly what steps had been
taken to capture the city, and sighed heavily when he heard how the
little army on the Ridge was waiting until the reinforcements and the
siege-train which Sir John Lawrence was collecting in the Panjab should
arrive. Again he pleaded with the khansaman to take him from the city,
but Ahmed supported the good servant's contention that to attempt to
escape now would be to court innumerable perils, and that it was better
to remain in hiding until the city should be retaken. Ahmed promised to
acquaint General Wilson--who had succeeded General Reed in the
command--of the doctor's safety, and to send word to his daughter in
Karnal. The khansaman asked very anxiously how the information was to be
conveyed to the British lines. He was greatly disinclined to trust any
messenger whom he did not know.

"I will take it myself," replied Ahmed.

During the conversation Dr. Craddock kept his eyes fixed on Ahmed's
face, in the manner of a man seeking to recall something.

"Surely I have seen you before!" he said at length. "Have you been in
Delhi before?"

"Never, sahib."

"Perhaps it was in Lahore?"

"No, sahib; I have never been there."

"I must be mistaken, then, but it seemed to me that I knew your face."

And now he was eager to get away. He did not forget the double duty he
had to fulfil: news must be conveyed to the Ridge of the great assault
intended for the morrow. He would have been content to inform Fazl Hak
of this, and trust him to send it by one of his messengers; but the
discovery of the doctor was a matter so personal to him that he was
disinclined to entrust it to any one. Accordingly, he took leave of the
doctor, receiving from him an affectionate message for his daughter, and
then, accompanied by the khansaman, he returned by the narrow winding
stair to the upper room. The two crept silently through the passage to
the back staircase, and passed the servants' quarters, and came to the
door leading to the garden. The khansaman noiselessly drew the bolt, and
Ahmed stepped out. There was a sudden rush in the darkness. In a moment
he was overwhelmed and thrown to the ground. Struggle as he might, he
could not prevent the two men who had seized him from binding his arms,
and then he was dragged back into the house and up the stairs, being
finally deposited at the door of Minghal Khan's room.

The great man was very ill-tempered at being roused from sleep by the
loud calls of his darwan. He cried out to know why his sleep was thus
disturbed.

"Hazur, I have done a great deed!" cried the darwan; "even caught a dog
of a robber. Open, O Great One, and see what thy servant has
accomplished in his great zeal."

Minghal Khan came to the door and called for the khansaman to bring a
light. Several minutes passed, and the khansaman did not appear. Growing
impatient, Minghal dispatched the khitmutgar--the second of Ahmed's
captors--to fetch a lamp from the kitchen. Meanwhile the darwan
explained.

"Hazur, my eyes were heavy with sleep, but before seeking my charpoy I
went, as is my wont, to see that all was safe for the night. In that I
am not as other darwans, that eat and drink and take no thought for
their masters. And lo, beneath the portico, I found a lathi and a rope
with a hook at the end, and I wondered with a great wonderment. And I
called the khansaman, but he came not; peradventure he has gone out on
some evil work this night. And then I called Said the khitmutgar, and
together we talked of what this thing might be. And even as we talked we
heard the gentle drawing of the bolt, and we stood at the door, and when
this son of perdition came out we seized on him, and have even now
brought him before thee; surely no punishment can be too great for him."

The khitmutgar returned with a light. Minghal and the darwan recognized
at the same moment that the prisoner was no other than the deferential
trader whom they had seen in the morning. Of the two the darwan was the
more amazed.

"Dog, what is this?" cried Minghal. "Comest thou in the night to rob me?
What hast thou to say, rogue?"

Being a robber by profession himself, Minghal felt no moral indignation,
and no great personal rancour against this trader who had broken into
his house. It was his chief thought to turn the incident in some way to
account.

"Hazur," began Ahmed, "I am the most unworthy of thy servants. I did but
come to visit my good friend the darwan."

"Hazur, he has a lying tongue," interrupted the scandalized darwan. "A
friend! Allah slay me if I would ever speak two comfortable words to
such a dog."

"Chup!" cried Minghal. "Say on, banijara."

"The darwan has even eaten of my sweetmeats----"

"Perdition light on him!" cried the darwan. "Verily I should choke
if----"

"Chup, I say! Make thy story short, dog."

"And when I found him not at the door I made bold to enter. But
bethinking me then that the hazur, not knowing of my great friendship
with the darwan, might see me and conceive ill thoughts, I feared, and
was seeking to slip out when this pig, who has eaten my sweetmeats, set
upon me most vilely, as the hazur sees."

"Verily thou art a monstrous liar, banijara," said Minghal. "What of the
rope and the hook, and the lathi? What hast thou to say of them, dog?"

"Hazur, what should I know of them; is thy servant a camel-driver?"

Minghal laughed. The trader's explanation was too glib. He wondered what
the truth was. Had the man heard of his recent present of rupees and
come to rob him? or was there more in it? He looked keenly at Ahmed, and
suddenly noticed something strange about his beard. He stepped up to him
and, taking it in his hand, began to pull, not too gently. Ahmed
protested; it is an insult to a Mohammedan to pluck his beard; but
Minghal laughed again, and continued pulling. In the struggle at the
door a small portion of the false beard had become detached, and Minghal
scented a disguise. He pulled, the beard came away gradually, with no
little pain to Ahmed, for the adhesive was a strong one.

"Hold thy light nearer, khitmutgar," said Minghal.

The beard came off, and there was the banijara revealed as a
smooth-faced youth. The darwan uttered cries of amazement and reproach.
Minghal gave a chuckle of satisfaction.

"Wah! I know thee who thou art," he said. "Did not my heart kindle when
I beheld thee? As Asadullah that old dog Rahmut Khan comes to Delhi to
trouble me; as a mean banijara the puppy comes to spy upon me that he
may carry away the scent to the old dog. Verily it is a good day for
thee, darwan, and thou shalt have five rupees--no, that is too much--two
rupees, for bakshish. Go find that khansaman."

"I have sought for him, hazur, but found him not," said the khitmutgar.

"Go seek again."

The khitmutgar departed, and returned in a minute with Kaluja Dass,
grave and imperturbable as ever.

"Where hast thou been?" demanded Minghal.

"Hazur, where could I be but in my own little place, sleeping the sleep
of a just servant when his work is done?"

"Bring me the keys of the strong rooms below."

In these strong rooms the princes of Delhi, who had once owned the
house, had kept their valuables, and on occasion their prisoners. They
were now empty. The khansaman brought the keys. Ahmed was taken down by
a narrow staircase like that which led to Dr. Craddock's hiding-place. A
door was opened. He was pushed in, Minghal and the servants entered
after him. The room was stone-walled, stone-flagged, and bare. There was
no window, but a small grating high up in one of the walls; below it was
an iron staple.

"I know thy wiles," said Minghal. "Thou hast escaped me twice; thrice
thou shall not. Bring a chain," he added to the khansaman. "Verily Allah
is good," he continued, when the man was gone. "Thou art a Feringhi, and
when all the Feringhis are ground between the upper and the nether
mill-stone, there will be one among them whom they know not. But that
will be when I have had my profit of thee."

The chain was brought, and Ahmed was firmly fettered to the staple.

"Give me the key, khansaman; I will keep it," said Minghal. "And know,
all of you, that if this dog slips his leash, I will not only dismiss
you all that moment from my service, but I will even have you flogged
very thoroughly, so that you will groan for many days. That is my word;
take heed to it."

And then they all went out, Minghal turned the key in the door, and
Ahmed was left alone.



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SECOND

The Fight of Bakr-Id


It was Bakr-Id, the great day of Mohammedan sacrifice. Before dawn the
maulavis and mullahs were busy with their preparations for the
ceremonies of their religion. From early morning the streets were
thronged with the faithful; green turbans and green flags were
everywhere seen; long-bearded preachers, in the mosques and the bazars,
and at the corners of the streets, harangued the people, promising the
supreme joys of Paradise for all who should celebrate this great day by
wielding the sword against the infidel; and hundreds of fanatics ranged
the town, shrieking their battle-cry, "Din! Din!" Even the king's edict
that, in deference to the prejudices of the Brahmins and Rajputs who
formed a large proportion of the sepoy army, no bulls should be slain on
this day, but only goats--even this was but a trifling check upon the
enthusiasm; for the Feringhis would be utterly annihilated, and then
good Mohammedans could work their will on the Hindus, whom they hated
little less.

The king held his usual darbar, and then went in solemn procession with
his courtiers to the Idgah, where with his own hands he sacrificed a
goat. And having distributed new suits of clothing and strings of jewels
to the maulavis of the mosque, he returned to the palace, where he
employed himself in composing verses for the encouragement of Bakht
Khan:

    "This day may all the foes of the Holy Faith be slain;
      Cut the Feringhis down, as the woodman fells the tree:
    Smite with the edge of the sword; spare not, nor refrain;
      And celebrate this festal day with martial ecstasy."

While the doddering old king was wrestling with his metres, the
commander-in-chief, true to the compact made the previous night, was
having an interview with Rahmut Khan. He had summoned the old chief to
his presence, and found the conversation more amusing than he had
expected. He began by complimenting Rahmut on his well-known prowess,
and went on to say that in some quarters doubt had been thrown both upon
his military skill and his loyalty--doubt which, Bakht Khan was careful
to explain, he did not share. But since it was well to silence these
sceptics, and since, moreover, Rahmut Khan had not yet proved himself in
fight with the English, he was required to take part in the great
assault that was arranged for the coming night, and to lead his men
against the breastworks of the Ridge. The particular duty assigned to
him was to drive the English from a position they had newly taken up
less than half-a-mile from the Mori gate.

Now Rahmut Khan, though he had not the cunning and capacity for intrigue
of his rival, the whilom chief of Mandan, was not at all lacking in
mother wit. He knew the source of this suspicion of which Bakht Khan
spoke, and was prepared to meet it.

"I am thy servant, Bakht Khan," he said. "No one is more ready than I to
fight the Feringhis; have I not suffered at their hands? But, if the
favour may with humility be asked, I would beg two boons."

"Say on. Thy humility is no less than thy valour."

"The first of these boons is this. As thou knowest, my band of men is of
new growth: they are all valiant fighters, but men I have gathered here
and there, as Allah gave me means. Wherefore they are not skilled in the
warfare of the sepoys, and in their ignorance may fall into error unless
they have the fellowship of some who know the discipline of the
Feringhis. I ask, then, that trained men may be sent with me--such men,
to wit, as are commanded by my countryman, Minghal Khan. He burns, I
doubt not, as I myself, to strike a blow against the English; for, if
report speak truly, fortune has given him few opportunities hitherto.
That is my boon."

Bakht Khan laughed heartily. The suggestion tickled his sense of humour.
He was in no doubt as to the intention underlying it, and was not
disinclined to play off one Pathan against the other. He did not admire
Minghal Khan, but he had found him useful in many ways, especially
through his connection with the great Maulavi. As time went on, he had
grown more and more impatient of the drones in Delhi. With half the
courage and _esprit de corps_ that animated the English, his force could
have carried the Ridge long ago. And among these drones Minghal Khan was
one of the worst. He had always some ingenious way of shirking active
service. Rahmut Khan's suggestion offered him a chance too good to be
missed.

"Thou art great in wisdom," he said. "It shall be even as thou dost
desire. And thy second boon--what is it?"

"It is simply, excellent one, that while I am absent fighting the
English, thou wilt set a guard over the little serai where we dwell. Our
goods are but scanty and of little worth; but they are our all, and it
would be hard indeed if, when we return from our glorious service, we
find them gone. Thou knowest well there are badmashes in the city."

Again the commander-in-chief laughed.

"Why, friend Asadullah," he said; "did I not hear that in that little
serai of yours there is much treasure--gotten, moreover, from others
besides the Feringhis? Surely I will set a guard over it: thou shalt not
be robbed of the little thou hast. Better were it if thou had nothing;
for is it not the empty traveller that dances before robbers?"

Rahmut went away well satisfied. Minghal was in a very different case
when he too had had an interview with the commander-in-chief. Not a word
was said by Bakht Khan to show that the duty he laid upon Minghal had
been suggested by his enemy and rival; he rather hinted that his design
was to learn from Minghal how the old chief comported himself in the
fight. Minghal had, perforce, to acquiesce in the arrangement; his
position was not so secure that he could afford to show open reluctance
to meet the enemy. Their orders were to lead an attack on the breastwork
before the Mori gate, and then, having succeeded in that task, to work
round on two sides to the ruined mosque that stood a little nearer the
Ridge, and slaughter all the enemy they found there.

The attack was to be made after nightfall. Rahmut knew nothing of the
ground between the city walls and the breastwork, and in the afternoon
he went out with one of his men to reconnoitre. Both were mounted, and
since the ground was covered with gardens which would give them cover,
they ventured to ride a good distance in the direction of the goal of
the night's operations.

All at once Rahmut caught sight of a man a little ahead of them, dodging
among the trees in a stealthy manner, that suggested a keen desire to
avoid observation. Rahmut was a born scout, and, without appearing to
see the man, he kept him well in view, until convinced that he was
making for the British lines. Then he gave chase suddenly, and the man,
though he ran hard, was soon overtaken. Hauling him to the shade of some
trees, Rahmut questioned his trembling captive, and was not long in
wresting from him a confession that he was indeed on his way to the
Ridge to give warning of the night attack.

Rahmut had been rendered suspicious by his recent experiences in Delhi.
He was not satisfied with a general statement, but pressed the man for a
precise account of his errand, and he was not greatly surprised when it
came out that the informer had been sent by Minghal Khan himself, and
that the important part of his message was the disclosure of the exact
quarter on which Rahmut's attack was to be made. It was just what might
have been expected of Minghal, as indeed of any other Pathan who
happened to bear a grudge against a fellow-countryman.

Rahmut lost little time in arranging to counter this cunning move of his
enemy. He took the messenger back into Delhi, the man believing that he
would be handed over to the Kotwal for hanging. But Rahmut made the man
take him to his own house, and he set a guard over it, and swore to the
wretch that the house and all within it should be destroyed unless he
did what was bidden him. And the bidding was, to go to the British lines
and give the warning as Minghal had commanded, with one little change:
the point of attack was to be, not that which had been assigned to
Rahmut, but that which had been assigned to Minghal. Holding the
informer's house and family as hostages, Rahmut had no doubt that the
man would obey, and he went back to his serai satisfied with his
afternoon's work.

During the day the excitement in the city had risen to fever heat. News
had come in that Nana Sahib, on the approach of the British to Cawnpore,
had massacred the two hundred women and children who had remained in his
hands since that fatal day when their fathers and husbands had been shot
down on the boats. The wiser residents of Delhi were aghast: they knew
the dreadful story of that other tragedy, at Calcutta, a century before,
when a hundred of the sahibs perished in the Black Hole. They knew what
retribution had fallen on Siraj-uddaula then; what would happen now,
after this far more horrible butchery of women and children? But the
fanatics rejoiced in the tale of blood. The greater the excesses, the
more impossible to draw back. The greater the vengeance to be feared,
the more imperative to strain every nerve to crush these obstinate
Feringhis on the Ridge. The protraction of the siege was already doing
them harm. Risings were taking place in many scattered districts; and
even in the Panjab, which Jan Larrens had hitherto kept quiet, there
were ominous mutterings. If the English on the Ridge could but be
routed, all Northern India would be ablaze.

And so the sepoys at sunset marched in their thousands from the gates.
Amid the blare of bugles, the thunder of artillery from the walls, the
strident calls of the muezzins from the minarets of the mosques,
proclaiming eternal glory for all who bled in the holy cause, the rebels
flocked out, maddened with fanatical fury and with bang, aglow with the
resolve to conquer or die.

But behind the breastworks waited British officers, cool, unemotional,
with their men, British and native, seasoned warriors, disciplined, the
best soldiers in the world. They watched the advancing horde as it came
among the gardens, the moonbeams making a strange play of light and
shade. On they came, and the great guns thundered, and the muskets
crackled, and shouts and yells mingled with the brazen blare of bugles.
Time after time the dusky warriors hurled themselves against the low
breastworks that defended the circuit of the Ridge, coming within a
score paces of them. Hour after hour the din continued, the sky blazing
with the constant discharge of artillery, a shifting wall of smoke
making strange patterns in the moonlight. The moon sank, and still the
firing did not cease; it was not until next day's sun was mounting the
sky that the survivors of the night shambled back, a discomfited mob, to
the rose-red walls of the city.

What had they gained by this tremendous fusillade and bombardment?
Nothing. Their ammunition had been expended by cart-loads; thousands
upon thousands of rounds had been fired; but all the time they had never
seen their enemy, who, behind their entrenchments, waited until they saw
the whites of the rebels' eyes, and then sent them reeling back with
withering volleys. Hundreds of forms lay motionless in the eye of the
rising sun, some in red coats, some in white dhotis, some in the chogahs
of hill-men, with turbans of many colours, amid muskets and swords and
bugles, and everywhere the green flag of the Prophet. And on the Ridge
there was great rejoicing; for this bitter lesson to the Pandies had
cost their masters no more than a dozen men.

Nowhere did the fight rage more fiercely on that night than at the
breastworks before the Flagstaff Tower. But though fierce, the fight was
short, for Rahmut Khan was no fanatic; and when he found, after a brief
trial, that he was opposed, not by warriors with whom his men could
contend in equal fight, but by solid ramparts which burst into flame,
though behind it no men were seen, he concluded that this was fighting
he did not understand, and drew off his men. And Minghal Khan,
approaching with his regiment the spot from which, as he fondly hoped,
most of the Feringhis had been withdrawn to meet the attack against
which he had warned them, was met by a crashing volley so terrible that
a third of his men were stricken down, and he himself barely escaped
with his life. A bullet grazed his cheek, ploughing a red furrow through
it, and carrying away the lobe of his ear; a spent bullet struck his
brow, and he staggered half-unconscious to the ground. And when he
regained the city, and learnt that his enemy, Rahmut, had come unscathed
through the battle, and, moreover, that the men he had left to raid
Rahmut's serai during his absence had been beaten off with great loss by
a guard posted there, for some incomprehensible reason, by Bakht Khan
himself, he boiled with insensate fury, heaping curses on the heads of
those who had betrayed him.

Nor was his rage abated when he was summoned to the palace to answer the
charge of instigating the attack on Rahmut's quarters. The king was
seated in the hall of public audience, surrounded by a glittering
company. The total failure of the night's operations had not yet been
fully reported; Bakht Khan was not in attendance; and when the king
recited the verses he had composed the day before, the courtiers
acclaimed him as the Pearl of Poets and declared that nothing more was
wanted to ensure success. But then the commander-in-chief came with his
pitiful tale, and the king, with the petulance of dotage, flew into a
rage and cried, "You will never take the Ridge; all my treasure is
expended; the Royal Treasury is without a pice. And men tell me now that
the soldiers are day by day departing to their homes. I have no hope of
victory. My desire is that you all leave the city and make some other
place the heart of the struggle. If you do not, then will I take such
steps as may seem to me advisable."

And while the officers were trying to cheer the miserable old man,
declaring that by Allah's help they would yet take the Ridge, Minghal
Khan came in answer to the summons. Upon him the king poured out the
vials of his wrath, demanding that he should instantly restore to the
treasury the money he had been granted two days before, and ordering
Bakht Khan once more to proclaim that heavy penalties should be
inflicted on any who broke the peace of the city. And when Minghal began
to protest, Mirza Akbar Sultan, the prince who was party to the scheme,
plucked him by the sleeve and in a whisper bade him be silent. The king
was beside himself with rage, he said, and it was not a propitious
moment for appeals. The prince accompanied him home, and, over a bottle
of spirits sent for in haste from one of the merchants, they laid their
heads together, devising a plan by which they might still achieve their
designs against Rahmut Khan.



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-THIRD

Ordeal


The underground chamber in which Ahmed was confined was perfectly dark.
The floor was damp; the air stuffy. He leant for a while against the
wall, ruminating on this sudden check in his fortunes. That Minghal Khan
had not killed him at once showed that he was reserved for a worse fate.
And what had Minghal meant by the reference to Rahmut Khan? His words
seemed to imply that he supposed father and son to have entered Delhi
together, and to be engaged in some scheme against him. Ahmed was for a
time at a loss to understand what had given rise to this belief. Was
Minghal unaware that Rahmut was a prisoner of the English? But then he
remembered the conversation he had overheard in the room above. This
"old rogue," this Asadullah, of whom the officers had spoken--could it
be that he was Rahmut Khan? He was a Pathan--so much all Delhi knew; was
it possible that the old chief had been released, or had escaped from
prison, and had come into the city to wreak vengeance on the sahibs?
This was a course he was very likely to follow: yet Ahmed hoped that it
was not so; he did not like to think of his adoptive father and himself
being on opposite sides.

Then he fell a-wondering how long he was to remain thus mewed up. And
remembering the talk of a great onslaught to be made on the British
lines on the morrow, he was dismayed. If Minghal Khan went out to fight
he might remain absent for a whole day or more; he might, indeed, never
come back; and then, unless a way could be found out of this dungeon, or
some one came to release him, he might starve to death. The thought made
his blood run cold, and in a sudden frenzy he began to strain at his
bonds, trying to tear the staple from the wall and to snap the links of
the chain. But from this he soon desisted; his struggles were useless;
he only bruised himself. His exertions and the stuffiness of the room
had made him hot; he was parched with thirst.

He sank down upon the floor, and squatted there, trying to calm himself.
There was perfect silence. By and by he fell into a doze, and woke with
a start in confusion of mind, from which he was roused by the clank of
his chain as he moved. How long had he been asleep? Was it night or day?
The profound stillness oppressed him; if he could but have heard some
slight sound he would not have felt so utterly desolate. Schooling
himself to patience, he tried to kill time by repeating aloud all the
words of English he could remember, attempting to copy the accent of
Hodson Sahib. He was surprised to find how many words came to his tongue
with the effort. But speech was difficult to a dry throat. He lay down
and slept again: maybe presently Minghal would relent so far as to bring
him food.

Thus between sleeping and waking he passed the long hours--he knew not
how many; and was vividly conscious of his discomforts, when at last he
heard the light shuffling of feet in the corridor outside the room. Then
a light shone through the thin crack at the bottom of the door; the key
turned in the lock, and three figures entered. The first was Minghal
Khan; then came the darwan with a lamp; the other was a stranger. And
even Minghal wore a different look. His eyes were haggard; a huge
bandage swathed his head; one arm was in a sling.

"Thou art yet alive, thou son of a dog," said Minghal. "It is well."

He bade the darwan hold the light nearer to Ahmed.

"Now hearken to me, and do my bidding," said Minghal again. "I have here
a munshi, who will write the words thou sayest. Thou wilt send a message
to Rahmut Khan, the rogue that calls himself thy father, and say to him
that thou art in the hands of enemies. The bearer of thy letter is a man
to be trusted, and if thy father will accompany him, he will bring him
to the place where thou art, so that a plan of escape may be devised."

"And how shall my father know that this is a true letter from me, seeing
that it will be written by a hand he knows not?" said Ahmed. It was
well, he thought, that Minghal should still believe him to have come to
the city with his father.

"Thou canst at least write thy name, or make some mark that he will
know."

"I can do so much, it is true. And what if I do this thing?"

"I will set thee free before another sunrise."

"And dost thou think I do not see through thy wile, nor know the
naughtiness of thy heart? Let thy munshi write; I will set no hand to
it."

"Dog, dost thou deny me? Knowest thou not that I can slay thee where
thou standest, or keep thee without bread to eat and water to drink
until thou diest?"

"I know; but I have said."

"Thou fool! I will bring thee to a better mind; aye, or so serve thee
that thy mind will utterly go from thee. Shall a whelp defy me? Go,
darwan, bring bread and water."

The darwan set his lamp on the floor and went out. When he returned with
the bread and water, Minghal bade him put them down just beyond Ahmed's
reach with his chain at full length.

"See!" cried the furious man. "There is bread, but thou canst not eat
it; water, but thou canst not drink it. Chew thy thoughts, for thou wilt
have nought else to chew until thou dost bend thy stubborn neck and do
even as I have commanded. I will come again in the morning; perchance
thy rumination in the dark will give thee counsel."

And having struck Ahmed across the face, he went away with the two men,
and locked the door after him.

For a time Ahmed was so much enraged at the indignity he had suffered
that he could think of nothing else. But when calmness returned he
reflected on what had happened. Minghal must be mad to suppose that he
would lend himself to so transparent a trap. And yet could he endure? He
strained towards the food, but stretching his full length on the floor
he could not touch it; yes, the tips of his fingers just touched the jar
of water. He scratched at it, hoping that it would turn and come a
little nearer; but his movements had the opposite effect, and soon his
longest finger could not even feel the vessel.

He drew back, and huddled on the damp stones. The torture in store
terrified him; could he withstand it? His tongue was parched; he felt
gnawing pains; his brow was damp with fear. He closed his eyes, perhaps
death would come in sleep. But now he could not even sleep; there seemed
to be a hammering at his brow; wild thoughts chased one another through
his brain. He got up and walked about at the utmost tether of his chain
until the clank of the metal became itself a torture. Then he moved his
arms in the motions of drill; he felt that only by action could he ward
off madness.

So the hours dragged on. Surely the sun had now risen. Why had not
Minghal returned? When he did return Ahmed would beg as a boon to be
slain at once. He listened for footsteps. There was none. He walked
about again; then stopped, fancying he heard another sound besides the
clanking of the chain. But the stillness was as of the grave. He lay
down, covering his head with his arms; if he could but sleep! And he was
at last falling into the slumber of exhaustion when a slight sound
struck upon his ear. Or was it a dream sound? Every sense was strung to
the highest tension. He strained his ears; he must have been mistaken.
But no; that was a sound, a creak. Minghal was returning. He got up, and
his chain clanked. He stood motionless. Why did not the door open? There
was another creak, and another interval of silence; and then he felt a
sudden slight gust of fresher air strike his cheek; surely the door was
open. Next moment there was a click, a spark, and in the sudden flash he
thought he saw a figure in the room. Another spark, followed by a red
glow, that grew brighter, and then a low bluish flame. It was the
kindling of a lamp, and behind it he saw Kaluja Dass.

"Hush!" said the khansaman in a whisper. "Here is food and drink."

Ahmed seized upon the jar of water and drank his fill, then upon the
bread covered with honey, and ate ravenously.

"I cannot set you free," said the khansaman, still in a whisper. "The
tyrant has sworn he will dismiss us all if you escape, and I have to
think of the master. I took the vile one's keys from his raiment as he
slept. I must go back lest he wakes. I will come again. The sahib knows:
we will try to think of some plan."

"What is doing?" whispered Ahmed. "Why is Minghal swathed?"

"He fought and was wounded. And, moreover, he is shamed before the king.
His men assailed the serai of Asadullah, and the king is wroth with
him."

"This Asadullah--who is he?"

"A warrior that serves the king, with three hundred men."

"What manner of man?"

"An old man with white beard, of good stature and noble presence. He
wears a red turban; he is from the hills."

"He is my father."

"Sayest thou? Then will I go to him and acquaint him with thy plight.
Verily he will know how to deal with the evil man."

Ahmed was tempted to agree; but with second thoughts he saw that the
khansaman must not do what he had said. Rahmut Khan was among the
mutineers: he could not assist Ahmed without compromising them both.
Only if Ahmed threw in his lot with the rebels would it be fair to ask
the old chief to intervene in his behalf. And Ahmed was one of Lumsden's
Guides; he had eaten the sahibs' salt; he was of the sahibs himself: the
Guides were true to their allegiance.

"It may not be, good khansaman," he said. "Presently, thou wilt
understand."

"Allah be with thee!" said the khansaman.

"And with thee, khansaman."

The servant took away the vessels in which he had brought the food, and
went out with stealth as he had entered. There was left no trace of the
meal. Ahmed laid himself down again; his body was comforted, the light
of hope soothed his mind, and at last he slept.

Some hours later he was wakened by the entrance of Minghal. The same
proposition was put to him: he rejected it with scorn. Minghal was
amazed to find him still obdurate. The food was untouched on the floor.
Would nothing quell the spirit of this youth? He tried to beat down his
captive's resolution, and failing, went away in a rage, declaring that
he would yet starve him into submission.

Ahmed found it easier to endure the slow-dragging hours of the long day.
In the dead of night the khansaman again came to him with food. He said
that the doctor sahib had bidden him release the prisoner, even at the
risk of compromising his own safety. But Ahmed refused to allow it. He
had been sent into Delhi to help the doctor, and could not consent to
anything that would endanger him. His refusal gave the khansaman evident
relief. Once more the servant offered to inform Asadullah of his son's
plight, and Ahmed, in declining, thought it well to explain his reasons.
The khansaman scoffed at them; he did not understand such scruples; and
though he did not say so, he went away with the determination to seek
out the old chief the next day when he went to market.

He left with Ahmed a file with which he might so far cut his fetters as
to be able to break loose if occasion offered, and he advised him to
feign exhaustion at Minghal Khan's next visit. After so many hours
without food even the strongest must collapse, and if the captive were
still found unaltered Minghal's suspicion would certainly be aroused.

Meanwhile Minghal had been occupied with his own concerns. He had no
intention of paying the fine inflicted on him, and at a private
interview with the king, with the assistance of Mirza Akbar Sultan and
the eloquent testimony of his own wounds, he talked the old man over,
and the sentence was remitted. When this reached the ears of Rahmut
Khan, the old chief was furious, and resolved to take matters into his
own hands. He had not only his old quarrel with Minghal to settle: there
were the two fierce attacks made upon him during the short time he had
been in Delhi; there was also the attempt to betray him to the enemy. It
was not Rahmut Khan's way to instigate attacks which he was not himself
prepared to carry through. His men were incensed against Minghal's
regiment, and that Minghal feared reprisals was shown by the fact that
he had now garrisoned his house with a score of men.

Rahmut planned an attack on the house after sunset with a hundred of his
followers. Their approach was spied by the darwan before they actually
reached the house. He promptly bolted the gates and ran to give the
alarm. Minghal took advantage of the breathing space to beat a hasty
retreat through the back entrance, and hurried to Bakht Khan with the
news.

It was some time before Rahmut's men forced an entrance, so solid were
the doors. They had scarcely broken in when the commander-in-chief
arrived on the spot at the head of a considerable body of picked men.
There was a stormy scene between him and Rahmut, who, however, could not
but yield to superior force. He was more enraged than ever, especially
because during the short time they had been in the house his men had
gained little plunder, all the valuables having been sold to supply the
wants of Minghal Khan. The old chief was led away under arrest, and
carried straight to the palace. The king was in no mood to overlook this
direct transgression. All day he had been harassed by reports of the
ill-treatment of residents by the sepoys. It was intolerable, he cried,
that his peaceable subjects should be harassed and threatened by
soldiers who had come to the city with the avowed object of destroying
the English. Still more intolerable was it that the soldiers should
attack one another.

"I see clearly," said the wretched monarch, "that the English will take
the city, and kill me."

"Be of good cheer, illustrious one," said one of his officers. "Do thou
put thy hand on our heads, and without doubt we shall be victorious."

And then, to the number of a hundred and fifty, they filed past him, and
as he placed his hand on the head of each he said, "Go thou with haste
and win victory on the Ridge." And they begged him to lay a severe
penalty on this Pathan stranger, Asadullah, who had come to trouble the
city. Then up spoke Bakht Khan, ever blunt of address.

"Punish Asadullah," he said, "it is but right; but punish Minghal also.
They are arrows of one quiver. The Arab horse gets whipped and the
Tartar is fondled. I am weary of Minghal Khan."

But the covetous officials knew that Minghal was poor, whereas rumour
ascribed to Asadullah the possession of great treasures of plunder. The
treasury was empty. That very day a message came from Gwalior to the
effect that the whole army there was willing to place itself at the
king's service, and he petulantly made answer: "I say there is no money
for their support. We have here in the city 60,000 men, but they have
not been able to win one clod of dirt from the English." The opportunity
of gaining something for the treasury was too good to be thrown away. At
the instance of his sycophants the king demanded a heavy fine from
Rahmut. The chief, curbing his wrath, begged until morning to get the
money. Before morning dawned, he had his men saddled up, and the moment
the gates were opened he dashed through the streets at the head of his
force, rode out by the Ajmir gate, and fled away into the open country.
Before the news reached the palace, before any one could think of
pursuit, the old Pathan was out of sight.

Night being as day to Ahmed in his dungeon, he set to work at once with
the file the khansaman had given him. The links of his chain were of
soft iron, and with ready wit he thought of a way by which he might for
a time disguise the fact that his fetters were loosed. He filed through
one of the links, and then a portion of the next one, until he was able
to pass this thinned portion through the gap he had made in the first.
If, therefore, he should be suddenly disturbed, he could at once replace
the links, and, by turning one of them round so that the portion yet
unfiled was brought against the part that was cut, the chain might
appear to be still unbroken.

As soon as he was free he made a tour around his dungeon, rather by way
of distraction and to stretch his legs than with any idea of making a
discovery that would further his escape.

The vault was pitch dark. He had seen it by the light of the oil-lamp
during the visits of Minghal and the khansaman, but taken no particular
note of it. He now went round it, feeling the walls with his hands. They
were of rough-hewn stones; there was no variation except at the door. He
shook that: it was locked fast. He went back to the staple and sat down;
after a time, having nothing better to do, he started again, and
examined the door by touch more carefully. There was no handle, not even
a keyhole on the inside. Thinking he heard footsteps, he retreated so
hastily that he narrowly escaped overturning the pitcher of water. It
was a false alarm. Once more he went round the walls, this time in the
opposite direction.

And now, as he drew his hand along the wall, he fancied that one of the
slabs of stone protruded a little further into the room than the others.
All the stones were rough and ill-fitting, but this protuberance awoke
his curiosity. Had he detected a slight movement as he first pressed it?
He pushed hard at it--upwards, downwards, sideways, but without result.
Surely he had been mistaken. He would try again. This time he pushed
gently, and thrilled all through when he felt an indubitable movement,
though very slight. Now, instead of pushing, he pulled outward. The
stone yielded. He pulled harder; it moved reluctantly, but it did move,
and by and by he was able to get his fingers round the edge of the slab.
Another pull, and it came a few inches from the wall, then stopped.

He was puzzled. He pushed at the stonework immediately around the slab.
There was no result. He tried a few feet to the right--in vain; then to
the left. Something seemed to give slightly. A harder push, and the slab
moved inward, slowly revolving on a vertical axis until it stood
perpendicular to the surface of the wall.

With beating heart he crawled through the opening, and found himself in
a stone passage, so low that he had to stoop, so narrow that there was
not an inch to spare on either side. In a dozen paces he reached the
end--a dead stone wall. There must be an outlet, but where? He felt over
the wall and discovered a protuberance similar to that in the room he
had left. He pushed and pulled in the same way; the slab moved; a light
shone through the crack between it and the wall. He peeped through.
There was Craddock Sahib reading at his little table by the light of a
lamp.

The doctor was amazed, delighted, perplexed, at once. Ahmed rapidly
explained the discovery he had made, then hurried back through the
passage, closed the slab opening into his cell, and returned. He learnt
from the doctor of the recent attack on the house by Asadullah, and that
the khansaman, in spite of his wishes to the contrary, had gone off that
morning to find the old chief, and inform him of his son's plight. Ahmed
seized on the attack as affording an explanation of his escape. Minghal
would believe readily enough that the prisoner had been rescued by his
father, even though the fact that the door was still locked should
savour of mystery. Thus the khansaman would be in no danger of
dismissal.

The question was: how was Ahmed to escape from the house and the city?
There was no longer any safety in his disguise, even if the khansaman
could procure a beard to replace that of which Minghal had stripped him.
It was the khansaman himself who, when he returned, suggested a way.
Sepoys' uniforms were easily to be got; he would obtain one at his next
visit to the bazar; clad in that and provided with arms, Ahmed must
march out with a mutinous regiment and take an opportunity of escaping
from them. He would, it was true, run the risk of being shot himself as
a rebel; but among risks there was little to choose. The khansaman would
acquaint him with a favourable time for making the attempt.

Ahmed remained for several days in the doctor's company. They heard from
the khansaman of Minghal's fury when he discovered the disappearance of
his prisoner. As Ahmed had guessed, he imputed it to the agency of
Rahmut Khan, and regarded the locked door merely as an additional proof
of the malicious cunning of the old chief. At last the uniform and the
arms were provided, and one morning very early, before the household was
astir, Ahmed was cautiously let out of the house by the khansaman. A few
hours later he joined himself unquestioned to a body of troops made up
of many different components, ordered to reinforce the mutineers holding
the suburb of Kishenganj. There was some delay as they marched past the
Mosque. Some one had told the king that the sepoys, clamorous for pay,
were about to attack him in his palace, and orders were sent through the
city that not a soldier should move until the report had been
investigated.

While the soldiers stood at ease near the Mosque, Ahmed noticed Fazl Hak
moving leisurely among the onlookers, occasionally addressing a word or
two to the sepoys he passed. As he came near, Ahmed accosted him.

"Salaam, worthy maulavi, what is the news?"

Fazl Hak stopped; he looked surprised, then took Ahmed a little apart.

"There is no news, sepoy," he said in a low tone, "later than this
command of the king."

"Hast thou not heard of the fifteen elephants taken from the English
yesterday?"

"Nay, I had not heard of that."

"Hai! that is strange. Nor that a fakir departed from the city yesterday
to travel to Peshawar, and cut the throat of Jan Larrens?"

"Sayest thou?"

"Nor that a black-bearded banijara selling shawls was lately stripped of
his beard and shown to be as smooth of cheek as I myself--a wretched spy
of the Feringhis?"

"Hai! I know of such a banijara, and I could have said he would prove
but a broken reed as a spy."

"And dost thou not know that our great Bakht Khan has driven a hundred
mines beneath the Ridge, and when the moon is full the Feringhis will
all be blown to little pieces?"

Fazl Hak threw a keen sidelong look at this informative sepoy.

"Though I would not counsel thee to write word of that on thy little
scrolls to Hodson Sahib," added Ahmed, lowering his voice to a whisper.

The maulavi started; an angry flush suffused his cheeks.

"Thou misbegotten son of----!" he exclaimed; but Ahmed interrupted him.

"Let it be peace, good maulavi," he said. "There is little thou dost not
know; thou knowest now that the Pathan trader was not such a sorry spy,
since I am he. It is pardonable for a man to prove himself, to one of
such honoured merit as thou."

"Thou sayest well," said the maulavi, somewhat mollified. "When the
troubles are over, come to me; I will pay thee well."

"Nay, I have other service. But if thou hast aught now that thou wouldst
send to Hodson Sahib, deliver it to me; I go to him."

Without hesitation Fazl Hak took from beneath his thumbnail a tiny
scroll of paper, which he handed secretly to Ahmed, and then with a
negligent salutation he walked slowly away.

Ahmed's conversation with the maulavi attracted little attention among
the sepoys. And when, after a delay of two hours, the order came to
march, he went with them out from the Ajmir gate, and into Kishenganj.

At dead of night he crept out very stealthily, stole along the
tree-shaded road until he reached the Jumna canal, then stripped off his
tell-tale red coat, and swam across. Hastening along the further bank
for half-a-mile, he struck northward through the gardens on the
outskirts of Sabzi Mandi, and just before dawn reached a picket of
Irregular Native Cavalry. Half-an-hour later he was in Hodson's tent,
relating his discovery of Craddock Sahib, and much more that Hodson
regarded as of greater importance.



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FOURTH

Nikalsain


Ahmed's return to the corps set his comrades' tongues wagging.

"Why, where hast thou been, Ahmed-ji?" cried Sherdil, when they met.
"Verily the sight of thee is as ointment to sore eyes."

There was now no reason why the men should not know the errand on which
he had been, saving such particulars as were confidential with Hodson
Sahib. So Ahmed related to Sherdil and a group of Guides his adventures
since he had first left them. Two facts he omitted: his disguise, and
his share in the fight with the rebels as they returned from Alipur. The
men listened with amazement, and Sherdil frankly declared his envy.

"Though Allah has been good to me too," he added; "am I not now a
dafadar? He who has patience wins. Thou canst not now be a dafadar
before me."

Ahmed congratulated him warmly on his promotion. Then he asked what the
Guides had been doing during his absence, and heard of almost daily
encounters with the enemy. He learnt also that Hodson Sahib was no
longer in command of the corps. He had raised a new body of horsemen, of
whom the Guides were somewhat jealous.

"There goes one of them," cried Sherdil, pointing to a tall figure in
khaki, with a scarlet sash over the shoulder and a huge scarlet turban.
"We call them flamingoes, for they are very like. Thou shouldst see them
on horseback, some of them who have ridden little; it is a sight to make
you crack your sides."

"And who is now our commander, then?"

"Shebbeare Sahib, a good man: has he not been twice wounded? But it
seems as though our commanders change with the moon, so short a time do
they abide with us."

And then he told of what men had been killed, and what wounded. He
himself had been incapacitated for a week through a sabre cut. Ahmed
asked if any new men had joined the corps.

"None, though there was a man of good promise who came with us into that
fight I told you of towards Alipur; a silent man, with a noble beard.
Some of us thought he was a candidate; some, a sahib--thou knowest how
the sahibs love strange adventures; but I have never looked upon him
since."

"Of what sort was he, Sherdil?"

"A straight man, with a grave face, and a good seat on horseback."

"Was he anything like me?"

"Hai! Thou art a stripling: he was a _man_, I say. Maybe if thou live
long enough thou wilt have a beard like his. Truly thou wouldst have
rejoiced to see him that day. Did he not smite, Rasul? Did he not cleave
his way through the Purbiyas with clean thrust and stroke? I would fain
look on him again."

"Thou hast seen him this day, Sherdil."

"Sayest thou? Where? I knew it not."

"Thou seest him now."

Sherdil stared.

"Dost thou not remember how thou didst thyself give me a moustache that
day we went as traders to Mandan? Even so I got for myself the beard, in
Karnal."

The men laughed, and chaffed Sherdil uproariously on his failure to
recognize his prize pupil.

"Wah!" cried the new dafadar; "but those who said the man was a
sahib----"

He stopped, checked by a look from Ahmed. Then they talked of the
prospects of the siege, and the merits of the new general, Archdale
Wilson, who had succeeded General Reed. In common with the rest of the
little force on the Ridge, they were restive under the long delay in
assaulting the rebel city.

"But we shall see something soon," said Sherdil. "Nikalsain is here."

"Who is Nikalsain?"

"Dost thou not know Nikalsain? Wah! He is a man! There is not one in the
hills that does not shiver in his pyjamas when he hears the name of
Nikalsain. Thou couldst hear the ring of his grey mare's hoofs from
Attock even to the Khaibar, and the folk of Rawal Pindi wake in the
night and tremble, saying they hear the tramp of Nikalsain's war-horse.
There are many sahibs, but only one Nikalsain."

"Hast thou not heard of what he did to Alladad Khan?" asked one of the
men.

"Tell it, good Rasul," said Ahmed.

"Why, Alladad Khan, being guardian to his nephew--a boy--seized upon his
inheritance and drove him from the village. By and by, when the boy's
beard was grown, he went to Nikalsain and besought him that he would do
him right. But Alladad was a great man, and mightily feared, so that
when Nikalsain sent to his village to seek witnesses of the truth of the
matter, no man durst for his life speak for the boy. One morn, ere the
sun was up, a man of the village went forth to his fields, and lo! there
was Nikalsain's grey mare grazing just beyond the gate. The man shook
with amaze and fear, and when his trembling had ceased, ran back again
to tell Alladad Khan. And soon all the men of the village flocked to the
gate to see the sight, and they marvelled greatly. Alladad also was in
dread, for his conscience pricked him, and he bade some to drive the
mare to the grass of some other village, lest evil should come upon
them. And as they went forth to do his bidding, in a little space they
came to a tree, and lo! tied to it, was Nikalsain himself. Some fled
away in great fear; others, thinking to win favour with the hazur, went
forward to loose him. But Nikalsain cried to them in a loud
voice--verily his voice is like thunder--and bade them stand and say on
whose land they were. In their fear none could speak, but they lifted
their fingers and pointed to Alladad Khan, and he came out from among
them with trembling knees and said in haste: 'Nay, hazur, the land is
not mine, but my nephew's.' Then Nikalsain bade him swear by the Prophet
that what he said was true, and when Alladad had sworn, the hazur
permitted the cords to be loosed. And next day in his court he decreed
that the nephew should receive his inheritance, since his uncle had
sworn it was his; and Alladad, shamefaced at the manner of his
discomfiture, and at the laughter of the people, went straightway on a
pilgrimage to Mecca, and the place knew him no more."

"Nikalsain is just, and very terrible," said Sherdil.

"Is he not like one of the heroes of old? A tall man, with a face as
grave as a mullah's, and a black beard thicker than mine, and he holds
his head high in the air as if he scorned to see the ground. Jan Larrens
sent him to us; his troops are yet on the way; and when they come there
will be hot work in the gates of Delhi."

A few days later Nicholson rode out to meet the movable column of which
he was in command, and which had been raised by the energy of John
Lawrence in the Panjab. It was an inspiriting sight when, on the
fourteenth of August, the column, 3,000 strong, British and natives,
marched into camp behind their stately leader, amid the blare of bands
and the cheers of the weary holders of the Ridge. Their arrival infused
the hearts of the besiegers with new courage and cheerfulness; every
man, from the general down to the meanest bhisti, hailed Nicholson's
coming as the beginning of the end.

About three weeks before, the siege-train for which General Wilson had
been for weeks anxiously waiting, left Firozpur. It stretched for five
miles along the Great Trunk Road, and was furnished with an
inconsiderable escort. On the twenty-fourth of August, General Wilson
learnt that a large force of rebels, with sixteen guns, had left Delhi
for Najafgarh, with the object of intercepting the siege-train and
cutting off supplies from the Ridge. Nicholson, ever eager for active
work, was given the task of dealing with the mutineers.

Early on the morning of August 25, in pouring rain, Nicholson left camp
at the head of two thousand five hundred men, consisting of horse and
foot, British and native, and three troops of horse artillery under
Major Tombs. To their great delight, Sherdil and Ahmed were among the
squadron of Guides that formed part of the force. The march reminded
them of the former expedition to Alipur. For nine miles they struggled
through swamp and quagmire, the mud so deep that the guns often sank up
to the axles and stuck fast, the rain falling in torrents all the time.
Some of the artillery officers despaired of getting their guns through,
but when they saw Nicholson's great form riding steadily on as if
nothing was the matter, they took courage, feeling sure that all was
right. A short halt was made at the village of Nanghir, and while the
troops were resting, two officers rode forward to reconnoitre a nullah
that crossed the road about five miles away. They found that a crossing
was practicable, and from its bank they descried the enemy's outposts.

It was five o'clock before the column had forded the nullah, under fire
of the rebels. Darkness would soon fall, and if the enemy was to be
routed no time could be lost. Nicholson himself rode forward to
reconnoitre their position. It extended for two miles, from the town of
Najafgarh on the left to the bridge over the Najafgarh canal on the
right. The strongest point was an old serai at their left centre, where
they had four guns; nine other guns lay between this and the bridge.
This serai he resolved to attack with his infantry, the guns covering
the flanks, and the 9th Lancers and Guides to support the line.

As soon as the line was formed, Nicholson ordered the infantry to lie
down while the guns made an attempt to silence those of the enemy. He
rode along the line, addressing each regiment in turn, aptly suiting his
words to what he knew of their previous achievements in war. One order
he gave to them all: to reserve their fire until they came within forty
yards of the serai, then to pour in one volley and charge home.

The bugles sounded the advance. The eager men--British riflemen, Bengal
fusiliers, Panjab infantry--sprang to their feet with a cheer, and
followed Nicholson amid a storm of shot over the oozy swamp that divided
them from the enemy. They reached the serai, dashed into it, swept the
defenders away, and seized the guns, the sepoys resisting with the
desperate bravery they almost always displayed behind defences. The
serai cleared, the cheering infantry formed up on the left, and with
irresistible dash fell on the rebels as they fled toward the canal
bridge in mad haste to save their guns.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Lumsden, brother of Lumsden of the Guides, had
driven the enemy out of Najafgarh itself. But just as the sun was
setting on the brief battle, Nicholson learnt that a band of mutineers
had halted in a cluster of houses between the serai and the canal.
Determined not to leave his victory incomplete, he ordered Lumsden to
drive them out at the point of the bayonet. The Panjabis followed their
gallant leader into the hamlet; but the rebels were well defended, and
fought with the stubborn valour of despair. Lumsden fell, shot through
the heart; many of his men were killed with him; and it was not until
the 61st Foot came up that the last position was won.

This was the only shadow on the brilliance of the victory. Nicholson had
routed a force of trained sepoys, double the number of his own men,
after a long day's march in the worst of conditions. He had captured
twelve of their sixteen guns, and all their stores and baggage. Their
slaughter had been great; the demoralized survivors were in full flight
for Delhi. On the British side, the casualties were less than a hundred
killed and wounded.

The troops bivouacked on the field. Sherdil, lying that night beside
Ahmed on a horse-rug, said--

"What will happen to thee, Ahmed-ji, when the city is taken?"

"What indeed, save that I go back with thee and the Guides to
Hoti-Mardan!"

"But that cannot be the end of things for thee. Thou art of the sahibs:
the secret cannot be kept for ever. The Guides notice something in thee
that is different from the rest, and they ask me about it, and I tell
them thou art the son of a chief; but they are not satisfied. Dost thou
not yearn to be among thy true people?"

"What wouldst thou, Sherdil? I have had such thoughts, but now that I
have seen the sahibs, who am I that I should claim kinship with them? I
cannot speak their speech; I know nothing of their learning. It were
better, maybe, to remain a Guide and in due time become a dafadar like
thee; and then some day go back to Shagpur, and do unto that fat Dilasah
as he deserves. I came thence to win freedom for my father; and he is
now free, and needs not my help. Him I know, and his people; among the
sahibs I am but as an ignorant little child."

"Thou sayest true; yet a stone does not rot in water, and though thou
remain among Pathans a thousand years thou wilt never be other than a
sahib. Well, what must be, will be. Small rain fills a pond:
peradventure when thou hast been a little longer with the sahibs the cup
of thy desire will run over."



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-FIFTH

The Storming of Delhi


Nicholson's victory at Najafgarh encouraged the little army on the Ridge
as much as it dismayed the enemy. The former needed encouragement. More
than a thousand Englishmen were in hospital. General Wilson was anxious
and depressed; urged on the one side by Lawrence to strike a blow and
save India, on the other fearing to risk an assault which, if it failed,
would mean annihilation or at best ignominious retirement. But Nicholson
inspired officers and men with confidence. The sight of his great form
stalking or riding day after day from end to end of the position, made
men feel that when the long-expected siege-train arrived no time would
be lost in putting all to the hazard. He went carefully over the ground,
deciding with Baird Smith, the head of the Engineers, the sites for the
breaching batteries, arranging the composition and disposition of the
attacking columns, gaining all possible information about affairs in the
city.

In Delhi, meanwhile, it was beginning to be felt that the hour of
retribution was at hand. The dissensions between the rival commanders
became more acute; one day the king would refuse to see Bakht Khan,
holding that he had disgraced himself; the next he would shower
compliments on him and assure him of his continued good favour. The army
still complained of lack of pay; the princes still plundered the bankers
and merchants; the whole city was in a state of terror. Day by day
sepoys deserted, going away unarmed to seek their homes. Yet when a
postal-runner from the Ridge fell into the rebels' hands, and, being
questioned in the king's presence as to what was going on in the camp,
declared that the sepoys would never prevail against the English, his
outspoken opinion enraged the courtiers, and they sentenced him to
death.

At last, on September 4, the siege-train arrived, a long line of heavy
guns and mortars drawn by elephants, with miles of bullock-carts loaded
with shot and shell and ammunition of all kinds, enough to grind Delhi
to powder. During the next week all energies were strained to make ready
for the assault. Nicholson and Baird Smith had settled the plan. The
most vulnerable part of the wall lay between the Water gate and the Mori
bastion. Upon this it was decided to concentrate the artillery fire. On
the night of September 6, the first battery was begun just below the
Sami-house, a half-ruined mosque six hundred yards from the city, and
next day, when it was completed and began to belch its shot on the
doomed walls, strong pickets took advantage of the distraction to occupy
Ludlow Castle, a large country-house of European make towards the left
of the position, and the Kudsia gardens opposite the Kashmir gate and
overlooking the river. Each night a new battery was erected and armed,
to begin each morning its fierce work. The second battery stood in front
of Ludlow Castle, five hundred yards from the walls; the third,
consisting of four heavy mortars, was made in the Kudsia gardens, and
placed in command of the gallant Major Tombs; the fourth, a triumph of
the daring and skill of Captain Taylor of the Engineers, had crept
within a hundred and sixty yards of the Mori bastion. Nor were these
feats of engineering done without loss. As soon as the rebels perceived
what was afoot, they directed a storm of musketry on the heroic workers
who toiled day and night in the hot moist air. British and natives,
officers and men, soldiers of all arms--for Lancers and Carabineers lent
a hand in the work--laboured incessantly with unflinching courage. As
soon as one man was killed or disabled, another took his place.

By the night of the 11th, all the batteries were complete, and on the
12th more than fifty guns and mortars were pounding the walls. The din
was deafening, and mingled with the roar of the guns was the crash of
shattered masonry as the red walls crumbled away. At nightfall every
post of vantage on the Ridge was crowded with sightseers, watching the
living shell flying through the air like falling meteors. The rebels at
first attempted to answer the fire, but the gunners could not hold their
posts on the shot-swept ramparts. Parties of rebel horse sallied forth
from time to time, as if to charge the batteries; but they were met by
showers of grape-shot, or set upon by troops of Hodson's Horse, which
drove them back in frantic haste to find cover. Nicholson rode from
battery to battery, encouraging the men, taking counsel with Baird
Smith, watching the effect of these tremendous salvos that shook the
ground.

So the bombardment continued until the night of the 13th. Then the roar
suddenly ceased. A thrill of expectation ran through the camp. Captain
Taylor had reported that the breaches in the walls were practicable;
every man knew that the moment for the great assault was at hand. And in
the city men knew it too. The old king spent many hours in his private
mosque praying for victory. The traders had all closed their shops, for
fear of being carried off to serve at the fortifications. The officers
wrangled; there was no commanding spirit like Nicholson among them.
Bakht Khan was brave enough, but he was merely a fighter; he had no
genius for leadership. On the night of the 12th a proclamation was
carried with beat of drum through the streets, commanding all the men of
the city, Hindu and Mohammedan alike, to assemble at the Kashmir gate,
bringing picks and shovels; the king himself would lead them forth, and
they would fall on the infidels and sweep them away. The Hindus paid no
heed; but ten thousand faithful Mohammedans, inflamed with fanatic
ardour, their religious feelings wrought upon by shrieking fakirs and
mullahs, congregated at the gates waiting the arrival of their king. But
he came not. Till midnight they remained; then hope died away, and with
despairing hearts the great throng dispersed to their homes.

On the night of the 13th, ere the bombardment ceased, every available
man in the British force, including men just risen from their sick beds
in the hospital, went to his appointed station. The assault was to be
made in four columns. A thousand men,--detachments from the 1st
Fusiliers, the 15th Regiment, and the 2nd Panjab Infantry--under
Nicholson himself, were to storm the breach in the Kashmir bastion, and
escalade the walls. The second column, also a thousand strong, under
Colonel Jones of the 61st, was simultaneously to storm and scale the
Mori bastion. Meanwhile the Kashmir gate was to be blown up, and the
third column, under Colonel Campbell of the 52nd, would sweep in through
the breach. The fourth column, commanded by Major Reid, who had
gallantly held Hindu Rao's house throughout the summer, was to attack
the suburb of Kishenganj and enter by the Lahore gate. A fifth column,
of 1,500 men, was held in reserve to give support to the first, and
Colonel Hope Grant was to post himself on the Ridge, with the cavalry
six hundred strong, to prevent the rebels from re-entering the city when
thrust out of Kishenganj. The whole force consisted of some 7,000 men.

Ahmed had been looking forward with great eagerness to the fight. The
Guides' cavalry, commanded now by Captain Sandford, formed part of Hope
Grant's brigade, and they expected warm work at Kishenganj when Major
Reid had driven the rebels into the open. But on the evening of the 13th
Ahmed was summoned to Nicholson's tent, and learnt, with mingled pride
and disappointment, that he was to accompany the first column. When the
troops entered the city they would require a guide through its network
of streets and lanes, and Hodson had recommended Ahmed for the duty. He
was proud at being selected to serve Nicholson, but at the same time
disappointed that he was not to go side by side with Sherdil into the
fight. Sherdil himself was envious.

"In very truth thou art favoured above all men," he said. "I myself
would fain serve the great Nikalsain."

"But thou dost not know Delhi, Sherdil-ji," replied Ahmed.

"True, but by often asking one can find the way. Wah! I will
nevertheless fight as befits one of my name, and I promise thee that
when the day is done the Purbiyas shall lie around me like grass from
the scythe."

Dawn was just breaking on that sultry September 14, when the bugle
sounded the advance. The Rifles led the way in skirmishing order; the
first column, with Nicholson ahead, marched on steadily until they
reached the edge of the jungle. Then the Engineers and the storming
party, with their ladders, rose from cover, and sprang forward to the
breach near the Kashmir bastion. A storm of musket-shots assailed them
as they gained the crest of the glacis; scores of men fell; but the
survivors let down their ladders, the British officers ran down them
into the ditch, the men close behind, and with a great cheer they rushed
up the scarp and into the breach. The sight of their gleaming bayonets
was too much for the sepoys. They fled, and Nicholson led his men into
Delhi.

Meanwhile, at the Mori bastion, Colonel Jones had been met by a
tremendous fusillade that mowed down three-fourths of his ladder-men,
and a great number of his storming party. But while his men were still
struggling with the ladder, twenty-five of the 8th Foot slid into the
ditch, and scrambled up into the breach at a point where attack had not
been expected. The rebels were taken aback; Jones seized the moment of
hesitation, and in a few minutes the rest of his column were upon the
ramparts. They swept on towards the Kabul gate, driving the enemy before
them, and a wild whoop rose from the panting men as they saw their flag
planted on the summit of the gate.

The progress of the third column had been marked by an act of heroism.
The Kashmir gate must be blown open before they could enter. Home, a
subaltern of the Engineers, with two British sergeants and a dozen
natives, ran forward to the gate under a heavy fire, carrying
twenty-five pound powder-bags. A step or two behind came Lieutenant
Salkeld with a firing party and a bugler. They ran across the ditch by
the planks of the drawbridge, and came unscathed to the foot of the
great double gates, the rebels seeming to be scared into inaction by the
very audacity of the feat. They laid the bags against the gate; then a
terrible fire was again directed upon them. A sergeant fell dead; Home
dropped unhurt into the ditch; Salkeld, holding the portfire, was shot
through arm and leg, and fell back helpless. He handed the portfire to
Corporal Burgess, who was shot dead before he could light the fuse.
Carmichael took the portfire and had just lighted the fuse, when he
received a mortal wound. Smith, fearing that Carmichael had failed,
sprang forward, match-box in hand; but the portfire exploded just as he
reached the gate, and he plunged into the ditch to escape the greater
explosion. Next moment the gate was shattered to fragments. Now was the
bugler's turn. Three times he sounded the advance, but amid the din all
around it was not heard. The explosion itself, however, gave the signal,
and Colonel Campbell led his men forward at the double, and dashed into
the city but a few minutes after the first and second columns had
entered it.

The fourth column had meanwhile suffered a disastrous check. The guns
which were to accompany it were late in arriving, and when they did
come, the gunners were only sufficient to work one out of the four.
Major Reid was waiting until others could be found, when he heard the
explosion at the Kashmir gate and learnt that a portion of his native
troops were already engaged at the Idgah. It was time to be up and
doing, so he set off to the attack of Kishenganj, leaving his guns
behind. But a musket-ball struck him on the head, and he fell insensible
into the ditch. There was some disorder among the men, and a doubt as to
who was now in command of the column; and when Reid settled that, on
returning to consciousness, by ordering Captain Lawrence to take the
command, the fire of artillery and musketry from the unbreached walls of
Kishenganj was so heavy as to necessitate the withdrawal of the column
to their starting-place at Hindu Rao's house. Hope Grant's cavalry,
drawn up to guard their flank when they pressed forward to the city, as
had been the intention, were forced to sit their horses for two long
hours without a chance of doing anything, under a hurricane of lead and
iron from the Burn bastion. Only a third of them were British, but the
troopers of the Guides and Hodson's Horse behaved as steadily under this
critical ordeal as the British Lancers. In the excitement of action men
may face lightheartedly dangers to which they are oblivious: it needs
more heroism to sit like sentries at the Horse Guards while balls are
flying thick around. By and by they were helped to hold their ground by
Captain Bourchier's battery of horse artillery. And not till they learnt
that the three storming columns had entered the city, and established
themselves there, did they fall back to their bivouac around Ludlow
Castle.

In the city the ramparts were in British hands, from the Kashmir gate to
the Kabul gate, and Colonel Campbell had pushed on across the Chandni
Chauk, and as far as the great mosque, which had been fortified. From it
and the surrounding houses a deadly fire was poured upon the British,
and Campbell, finding that the support he had expected from the other
columns was not forthcoming, fell back upon the Begam Bagh, a vast
walled garden, where he bivouacked.

Meanwhile, Nicholson had pressed on along the foot of the walls towards
the Kabul gate, where British colours now flew. The plan had been to
clear the ramparts as far westward as the Lahore gate, and Nicholson
expected that Major Reid's column would by this time have entered the
city there. Nothing daunted by Reid's failure, Nicholson determined to
push forward without this support.

Between the Kabul and the Lahore gates was the Burn bastion, the
strongest part of the defences, whence a galling fire was being kept up
both on the cavalry drawn up outside and on the infantry in the narrow
streets within. A narrow lane, three hundred yards long, and varying
from ten feet to three in width, ran between the Kabul gate and the
bastion, lined with mud huts on one side and on the other by the
ramparts. The rebels, taking heart at the one success they had achieved
in the repulse of the fourth column and the havoc wrought by the Burn
bastion, had come crowding back into the lane, the further end of which
they defended with two brass guns posted behind a bullet-proof screen.

Nicholson knew that his task would not be finished until the bastion was
taken. The enemy would exult if it remained even for a day in their
hands. So he called on the 1st Fusiliers to charge along the lane,
ordering the 75th to rush along the ramparts and carry the position
above. The men, tired as they were, gallantly responded. On they went,
reached the first gun, overwhelmed the gunners, then dashed on with a
cheer to the second. But ere they reached it a storm of
shot--musket-balls, grape, canister, round shot, even stones flung by
hand--burst upon them. They recoiled. Again they formed up, again
charged up the lane, again captured the first gun, which Captain
Greville spiked. Once more they dashed forward to the second gun and the
bullet-proof screen. Men fell fast, blocking the narrow lane. Major
Jacob, of the 1st Fusiliers, and six other officers were struck down,
and Captain Greville was withdrawing the men from what he deemed an
impossible task.

But at this moment the great voice of Nicholson himself was heard
calling on the men to make one more charge and follow him. He rushed to
the front, and turned his back for a moment to the enemy, so that his
men might see his face and take courage. A shot from the bastion struck
him in the back; he reeled and fell. A sergeant caught him, and laid him
in one of the recesses below the ramparts. He was taken back to the
Kabul gate, and by and by was placed in a dooli and entrusted to native
bearers to carry to the field hospital below the Ridge.

Lieutenant Frederick Roberts, an engineer on General Wilson's staff, had
been sent into the city to discover the truth of reports carried to
him--that Nicholson had fallen, and Hope Grant and Tombs were both dead.
As he rode through the Kashmir gate, Lieutenant Roberts saw a dooli by
the roadside with a wounded man in it, but no bearers. The lieutenant
dismounted to see what he could do. He found that the wounded man was
John Nicholson, deserted by the bearers, lying in helpless agony alone.
The bearers had run off to plunder. Four men were found to supply their
places; a sergeant of the 61st Foot was put in charge of the party, and
the dying soldier was carried to Captain Daly's tent on the Ridge.



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SIXTH

Eighty to One


Ahmed entered the city with the first column. When, however, Nicholson
decided to work along the ramparts and leave Colonel Jones and the
second column to push forward into the streets, he ordered Ahmed to act
as guide to the colonel. Ahmed led the way through the streets by which
he had come on the night when he dropped over the wall. The victorious
troops swept them clear of mutineers, but their progress was slow,
because the men could not be restrained from plundering as they went.

In due time they reached the great mosque, whence, after waiting vainly
for the arrival of the fourth column, Colonel Jones decided to retire to
the Begam Bagh. It happened as the troops withdrew, that a determined
rush of mutineers down the street in which Dr. Craddock's house was
situated, cut off Ahmed and a small group of men from the main body. To
force their way through the enemy was impossible without great loss, and
Ahmed, perceiving that the little party was in danger of annihilation,
led them at the double into the lane that ran behind the doctor's house,
to take refuge there until the way was clear. They were only just in
time. They scaled the wall of the garden by mounting upon one another's
shoulders; and the last four or five were only saved from the mutineers,
who came dashing along in pursuit, by the fire of their comrades who had
already gained the top of the wall. In the temporary check the last men
were hauled up, and dropped safely into the garden.

The group numbered fifteen besides Ahmed, thirteen being sepoys of the
4th Sikh Infantry, and two corporals of the 2nd Fusiliers. It was clear
that they would by and by be no better than rats in a trap unless they
found shelter in the house, and Ahmed, rapidly explaining to a native
sergeant that he knew the place, made a dash with half the party past
the fountain to the back door, leaving the rest to deal with any of the
enemy who should attempt to drop into the garden as they themselves had
done.

Just as he reached the door, happening to glance up at a small window
overlooking the garden, he saw the face of Minghal Khan. Next moment he
had disappeared. The door was open. Ahmed rushed in, and up the stairs,
followed by the men. He reached the landing only to see the darwan
leaping down the front staircase. Running along after him, Ahmed looked
over. A shot grazed his ear: the darwan had turned at the bottom and
fired. Ahmed sprang down five steps at a time, there was a hurry-scurry
below, and by the time he arrived at the compound three or four figures
were hastening through the front gate, which they shut behind them with
a bang.

Ahmed had no idea of pursuing them. He barred the gate, ran back to the
men he had left, who had followed him from the house, and went upstairs
again, with the intention of passing through the almirah and assuring
himself that the doctor was safe. In the surgery he was amazed to see
both the doctor and the khansaman, laid on the floor and securely bound.
In a moment he cut their bonds.

"Allah is good!" cried the khansaman. "I have even now suffered grievous
pangs, and but for thee the sahib would have suffered also."

"How comes this?" asked Ahmed.

"I had taken food to the sahib when Minghal Khan and the darwan came to
us with a sepoy: without doubt the darwan had spied me entering the
wall. They were armed: the sahib had his pistol, but it is useless
striving against fate. We should have been slain, and I bethought myself
that the sahibs are in the city, and perchance if we were spared they
could save us. While there is life there is hope. And we were bound, and
Minghal Khan had us carried here, and demanded to know the place where
the sahib's treasure is concealed. Hai! what treasure have we! He had
tortured me to loose my tongue, and would have done the same to the
sahib but that thou camest. Truly Allah is great!"

"Have we taken the city?" asked the doctor.

"We have entered, sahib, and Nikalsain is here; but there is still much
to do, and I heard it said that Reid Sahib has been checked, and the
Lahore gate is still to be won."

"Well, then, we must hold this house until the rebels are driven away,"
said the doctor; "it will be a hard task for us three."

"There are men with me, sahib," said Ahmed. "We make about a score in
all."

"Then we can do it. What men are they?"

"Some Sikhs, sahib, and two Englishmen."

"It could not be better. Go and see what can be done to put the house in
a state of defence, and come to me here. I am still too weak to do very
much, I fear; but I can advise, and the men will obey me."

Ahmed hastened away with the khansaman. In the dining-room they found
several large bales of goods ready packed: Minghal had evidently
prepared for the inevitable. It was clear, in spite of his professed
poverty, that he had managed to amass a good deal of plunder, and he had
apparently only delayed with the prospect of adding to his store the
treasure which he believed the doctor had concealed in the house. There
were two pistols on a shelf: he had not had time to snatch them up as he
fled. And in the passage Ahmed discovered a musket and ammunition left
behind by one of Minghal's men in the hurry of departure. With these
latter Ahmed armed the khansaman, who like most Mohammedans had some
knowledge of the gun. The pistols would form an excellent reserve in
case of fighting at close quarters.

Ahmed did not suppose that Minghal had gone for good. With three-parts
of the city still in the hands of the mutineers there would be no lack
of men to help him recover the house that held not only his enemy, but
all his property and, as he believed, a hoard of treasure also. Ahmed
was considering how best to prepare for a fierce assault when he heard
loud shouts from below. Running to the window from which Minghal had
looked down on the garden, he saw that several of the enemy had mounted
the wall, on the roof of the colonnade, and that some had dropped to the
ground on the inner side. But he saw in the same moment that there was
no reason for anxiety as to the safety of the back of the house. There
was a crowd of about thirty or forty men in the lane outside, but only
about half-a-dozen had had the courage to make the escalade of the wall.
If the assault had been at all general, the little party inside the
garden would have stood no chance; but dropping one by one, and at
irregular intervals, within easy reach of the men underneath the
colonnade, the besiegers had but a short shrift. Before he could recover
himself each man was beset by the man nearest to him, who dashed from
beneath the cover of the colonnade and attacked him with his sword. The
defenders wisely reserved their ammunition. A man dropping from a height
required a fraction of a second to recover himself. In each case, before
recovery was possible, one or other of the men had cut his victim down.

Seeing the fate of their companions, the men on the top of the colonnade
hesitated to make the jump. They felt themselves, however, secure from
attack, and called to their comrades in the lane to join them. A few
began to scramble up, but, although the position of the men beneath the
colonnade was not visible to the attackers on top, the men themselves
could see their enemy through the cracks in the roof where the wood had
warped. One of the Englishmen, firing upwards through the roof, disposed
of a mutineer, who rolled down the slope of the colonnade into the
garden. His comrades, fearing a like fate, hastily vacated the roof and
dropped down into the lane, dashing the new-found courage of the men who
were about to join them.

Ahmed ran back to the doctor to inform him of what he had seen.

"Post two men at the window, and let them fire whenever a sepoy shows
himself," said the doctor.

The khansaman and one of the Sikhs took up their position at the window.
Sped by a few well-directed shots, the enemy either evacuated the lane
or took shelter immediately beneath the wall, where they were secure.

Meanwhile, as was soon apparent, they had sent off for reinforcements to
root out this little island of the Feringhis in the middle of an as yet
unconquered locality. The sound of firing could still be heard in the
distance, but Ahmed and his companions realized that they were cut off
by several hundred yards of streets and houses from Colonel Jones'
column, which indeed had by this time probably reached the Begam Bagh,
and that the intervening district was without doubt swarming with
mutineers. All they could hope to do was to cling to their position
until the tide of attack rolled on once more, driving back the rebels,
and clearing the way for a sortie. Ahmed would have been even more
anxious than he was had he known that Colonel Jones was even then
deciding to fall back from the Begam Bagh to a position nearer the
walls, where he intended to remain for the night.

The house was square built, slightly higher than the houses surrounding
it. On each side there was a more modern residence, detached, and
approaching within about twenty feet of it. There was no access to the
garden from the front compound except through the house itself.

During the lull which succeeded the first check, the doctor summoned the
two English corporals, and told them to consider themselves under his
orders.

"All right, your honour," said one of the men. "We're jolly glad to see
that one Englishman has been left alive by the Pandies."

"You don't look very strong, sir," said the other, "and don't you put
yourself out. We'll give them ruffians what for."

The doctor posted six men in the front compound. There were six in the
garden. Three he stationed within the house, so that they could
reinforce either the front or the rear, whichever might be the more
seriously pressed. Ahmed he kept with him, and when the others had taken
up their positions he sent him to the roof to take stock of the
surroundings.

In two or three minutes Ahmed had got all the information he required.
That the enemy was on the alert he soon found by the shots that whistled
about his ears as soon as he was discovered; but by standing a little
way back from the parapet he was protected against any musketry fire
from below. After a careful scrutiny of his surroundings he hurried
below and made his report to the doctor.

"Hazur," he said in conclusion, "we cannot hold the house if the rebels
come in sufficient numbers to overcome our men outside. We could not
fire on them from the roof, because we should be seen above the parapet,
and hit from below; and if we are seen at the windows we shall be marks
for the enemy."

"Then we must set about making the house defensible. Can the parapet be
loopholed?"

"Yes, sahib; the brickwork is crumbling, and with tools we could easily
make loopholes."

"Get a hammer and a chisel, khansaman, and go to the roof with Ahmed
Khan. Jaldi karo! Stay, give the three men below tools for making
loopholes in the shutters; we may want them by and by."

The khansaman provided one of the men with an auger, and the others with
pokers and other kitchen utensils, with which, made red-hot, they could
bore holes through the heavy wood of the shutters. Then he followed
Ahmed to the roof, where they set to work vigorously to make loopholes
in the parapet.

There were still sounds of firing in the distance. At present there was
no sign of an attack on the house. Knowing Minghal Khan, Ahmed suspected
that he was making quite sure there was no danger of being taken in the
rear before attempting an onslaught.

When his work at the parapet was finished, he went down again to the
doctor, who sent him to see how the men were getting on with their task
at the shutters. Three front windows on the ground floor had already
been bored with two loopholes each, and without consulting the doctor he
set the men to treat the shutters of the four windows at the back in the
same way. The men looked at each other in surprise when he had given
this order and gone.

"Who is this Pathan that gives us commands?" said one of them.

"Yea, he speaks even as the sahibs. Shall we do what one of these
puffed-up Guides commands us?"

"Not I, for one," said the third man. "The sahib said the front windows;
that was his order, given us by the khansaman, who is the sahib's
servant. We shall be shamed if we do the bidding of a vile Pathan."

And they laid down their tools and squatted on the floor.

Ahmed meanwhile had hastened to the front door. He found it was made of
extremely hard wood and thickly covered with iron studs, forming a
sufficiently stout defence against anything short of a battering-ram or
a cannon-shot. Coming back through the house to examine the back door
and the door leading to the servants' quarters, he noticed the three
Sikhs squatting in idleness.

"Dogs," he cried, "did not I say go to the back windows, and do as you
did with the front? Why this idleness?"

"We obey the sahibs," said one of the men sulkily.

"Thou son of a dog, take up thy tools at once, or verily thou wilt be
sorry."

Ahmed stood over the men, and his voice rang with a tone of command as
authoritative as that of their own officers. The Sikh hesitated for a
moment, then, to his own surprise, no less than that of his comrades, he
took up his tools, rose, and went off slowly to the back of the house.

"You two follow him," said Ahmed.

And the others got up, and went without a word.

Ahmed found that the back doors were slightly made and frail. They would
ill sustain a vigorous assault. So he got the doctor to give orders that
a quantity of heavy furniture should be collected in the passage leading
to them--material for blockading it if the doors were battered down.
While perambulating the lower part of the house, he noticed some bales,
containing Minghal Khan's possessions, which had been laid against the
wall of the compound, in readiness for instant removal. These he
carried, with the khansaman's assistance, to the upper part of the
house. Then he removed all provisions--a very scanty store--from the
servants' quarters, and conveyed the water-pots, filled by the bhisti
that morning, to the dining-room. This done, he felt that the garrison
was prepared to meet the storm.

But when he returned to the surgery, the doctor gave a further order.

"Find a long plank," he said, "as wide as the stairs--nail two together,
if you cannot find one wide enough--and drive nails through it so that
their points stand up."

The necessary material was soon found. When it was thickly studded with
nails, the doctor bade them make a hole in it, pass a rope through the
hole, and tie it to the newel of the staircase. Ahmed guessed the
purpose it was designed for; for the present he laid it on its side, so
that there was free passage up and down the stairs.

It was a full hour before the attack was resumed. Looking from a window,
Ahmed saw the street beyond the compound thronged with rebels, some
sepoys, but the majority Irregulars. Ladders were placed against the
wall, and the enemy began to swarm up. There was a volley from the
defenders collected at the door of the house. Several of the men who had
mounted the wall fell back; others, finding themselves unsupported, gave
way before the rush of their opponents, who dashed across the compound
and thrust their bayonets fiercely upwards. For a moment the top of the
wall was clear, but the defenders had fired their pieces, and Ahmed knew
that a determined rush by the enemy must swamp the little band. The
question was, Would this rush come before the men could reload? They
were hard at work charging their muskets. He shouted to the Sikhs in the
house to come to the support of their comrades, and then ran to the back
to see how things were faring there.

Ahmed was surprised to find things very quiet in that direction. He
heard the sound of a pistol-shot from above. The doctor had stationed
himself at the back window, which had been partially shuttered, and
fired one pistol while the khansaman loaded the other. He was a fine
pistol-shot. The wall at the back prevented the mob in the narrow lane
from firing at the window. But, as soon as a head showed itself above
the wall, the doctor never failed to hit. For a few minutes the
mutineers were baffled, but they soon rose to the situation, swarmed
into a house on the other side of the lane, beyond pistol-shot, and
began to fire at the shuttered window with their muskets. In a minute or
two the doctor was forced from his position. A splinter from the
woodwork had slightly wounded him; to stay where he was would have been
merely to court death.

Once more the enemy in the lane were emboldened to climb the wall and
gain the roof of the colonnade. They also swarmed into the gardens of
the next houses, and began to mount the wall from three sides. One of
the corporals had ordered the men to reserve their fire until the enemy
began to leap down into the garden, knowing that half-a-dozen men within
were equal to many times their number dropping one by one from the roof
of the colonnade. But the situation was now changed. It was not a
question of two or three to one, but thirty or forty to one, and a very
determined rush by the enemy might cut the men off from the house
altogether. Ahmed saw the danger. Rushing across the garden, he called
to the Sikhs to make a dash for the doorway. The men instantly obeyed;
in the excitement of the moment they did not stop to question who it was
that was giving them orders; it was instinctive with them to obey
commands delivered in that sharp, decisive way. But the corporal did not
understand the words: he only saw the Sikhs rushing back to the house;
and he turned on Ahmed and began to ask, in the lurid vernacular of the
British soldier, what he meant by interfering. There was no time to
answer. The enemy seized this moment to charge. Ahmed with his sword cut
down one of the men before he had recovered from his leap: the
corporal's bayonet disposed of another. Then the Englishman became alive
to the danger, and with Ahmed sprinted across the garden to the house.
One of the Sikhs was waiting to slam the door as soon as they got
through. Another, just behind, stood with levelled musket, and took a
snap-shot at the man immediately behind Ahmed. The mutineer fell,
tripping up the man following him, and giving Ahmed the fraction of a
second that was necessary to slip in behind the corporal and bar the
door. Two other Sikhs at once occupied the loopholes, and in another
second or two their fire brought down two of the leading mutineers.

The doctor, meanwhile, had cried to the other men to post themselves at
the back windows, the shutters of which also were loopholed, and they
too fired among the throng now crowding into the garden from three
sides. There were not wanting men of courage among the assailants, and
several of them rushed up to the windows with the idea of firing through
the loopholes, which were plainly to be seen, if only by the smoke
filtering through them; but the inside of the house being higher than
the outside, they were unable to reach high enough to get an aim. All
they could do was to fire at the shutters, and a scattered volley of
bullets thudded upon them. For the most part they embedded themselves in
the woodwork. One or two actually penetrated the loopholes, but being
fired from below, they failed to hit the men behind, who had retired
slightly from the windows to reload.

The doctor shouted to the men to fire alternately, one reloading while
the other fired. The mutineers crowding into the garden found themselves
exposed to a deadly dropping of bullets of which they themselves could
see the fatal results, while they were ignorant of what damage their own
fire was doing. There was no cover in the garden except the fountain.
Every part of it was commanded from the door or one or other of the
windows; the fountain would at best shelter only one or two. They found
that every bullet fired by the garrison meant the loss of one of their
number. There were several rushes and attempts to batter in the door
with the stocks of muskets, or to push the muzzles up through the
loopholes, but these always met with the same fate as the first,
although one Sikh was badly hit by a splinter.

While the men still kept up their fire, Ahmed rushed through to the
front, whence he again heard the din of conflict. There had been another
rush up the ladders, met by a fusillade and a charge by the garrison
under the British corporal. Again the enemy had been hurled back. Ahmed
arrived on the scene just in time to see the last man disappearing from
the wall, transfixed by the corporal's bayonet.

Again there was silence both at the back and in front of the house. At
the back the crowd of mutineers in the garden had been suddenly seized
with panic, their comrades dropping one by one beneath the fire of the
garrison without being able to do anything effectual in reply. They had
swarmed back over the colonnade, and regained the lane behind or the
gardens of the adjacent houses.

Ahmed seized the interval of quiet to hurry up to the doctor, whom he
found somewhat shaken by his injury, but perfectly calm. He was, indeed,
on the point of descending, to take more direct and effectual command
than was possible from the room above.

"I have had a knock," he said, with a smile, "but I think I can manage
to crawl down."

"Not so, sahib," said Ahmed. "They are good fighters, the men below, and
the English naik is a very good man. But if the sahib would go to the
roof perhaps he might call down word of what the Purbiyas are doing. The
khansaman and I can help the sahib to go up."

"Chup! I am not so bad as that. Lend me your arm."

He went up, supported by Ahmed. Together they crawled across the roof to
the parapet and peeped over. There was a confused hubbub below. In the
street at the front of the house they saw Minghal Khan with a group of
sepoys, but the greater part of the mob consisted of Irregulars, and
their numbers were much increased since the beginning of the attack.

For a time there was a lull; but ere long it became apparent that the
enemy were intending a new move. Men appeared on the roof of a house on
the far side of the road opposite the doctor's gateway. Others at the
same time crowded at the upper windows. A preliminary shot from one of
the windows showed that the new position occupied by the enemy dominated
the compound in front of the doctor's house, for one of the Sikhs was
wounded by it. Indeed, the doctor wondered whether the men could be
withdrawn safely from their position underneath the front wall. In
running the gauntlet over the exposed portion of the compound, many of
them would probably fall beneath the muskets of the enemy in the house
opposite. Seeing for a moment that there was no threatening of danger
from the direction of the lane at the rear, he bade Ahmed crawl over the
roof and send the khansaman, who was acting as orderly, to summon four
men from the back of the house. These he ordered to keep up a brisk fire
on the men on the roof and at the windows of the house opposite. The
doctor's house being higher than the latter, the enemy here were at a
great disadvantage. They maintained the musketry duel for a few minutes,
then vacated the position; but although the roof of the doctor's house
was higher than that of the neighbouring buildings, with the exception
of one at some little distance, it was not so much higher as to afford,
with its low parapet, complete protection. A fusillade from several
buildings at once would make the roof almost untenable, if only by
reason of the splinters of brickwork.

That the enemy had realized the weakness of the position on the roof was
evident some ten minutes later. Shots began to patter upon the parapet
from several directions. The commanding building at a little distance
was now occupied. Here the besiegers were on more level terms with the
besieged, and bullets began to sing across the roof. First one man and
then another was hit, either by bullets or by fragments of the parapet.

"This will never do," said the doctor. "We must go."

They crawled back to the trap-door and descended into the house. But in
a moment the doctor saw that the evacuation of the roof would have
serious consequences for the gallant band in the front compound. Unless
the fire from the opposite house, now packed with marksmen, could be
dominated, the next attack on the compound must inevitably succeed. As
soon as its defenders showed themselves in attempting to charge the
assailants from the wall, they would become the targets for muskets at
no more than fifty or sixty yards' range.

"Run down and bring the men into the house," said the doctor.

Ahmed hastened below and gave the order in the sahib's name, adding a
caution to beware of flying bullets. The men scampered back along the
foot of the wall, crouching low. They were not visible from the opposite
house until they had covered half the distance to the door; then the
enemy espied their movement and fired a volley. But the men were going
rapidly in single file; only one was struck, by a bullet rebounding from
the wall, and in another ten seconds the whole band was safe within the
house.

The withdrawal was not a moment too soon. There was suddenly a sound of
many hammers falling upon steel. The enemy were making an attack upon
the walls both at the front and back, driving iron spikes into them with
the object of making loopholes. The walls were stoutly built, and it was
a full quarter of an hour before the iron bars began to show on their
inner side. In half-an-hour at least twenty loopholes had been pierced
both in the front and back, and a continuous fusillade was kept up upon
the shutters and doors of the house. As soon as one man fired outside,
apparently his place was taken by another with a newly-loaded musket,
and the new-comer only waited until the smoke had partially cleared to
discharge his piece. The woodwork of the house was both thick and hard;
only a small proportion of the bullets penetrated the interior; but the
range was no more than thirty or forty yards, and there were many good
marksmen among the sepoys. Two of the garrison standing behind the
loopholes were struck, and one musket was rendered useless. The
khansaman ran to inform the doctor, who had the injured men carried
upstairs, where he extracted the bullets and bound up their wounds. For
a few minutes more the work of loopholing the wall continued, and the
defences were battered with an uninterrupted hail of bullets. Gradually
the shots found weak spots in the woodwork. Another man was hit, this
time through a fissure torn in the shutter by a previous bullet. Every
now and again a yell from the outside told that a bullet from the
defences had made its way through the loopholes of the wall. These
apertures were a good deal larger than those in the doors and shutters
of the house, and offered a far better mark. The assailants could afford
to lose twenty men to one of the besieged. And when the mutineers
noticed that the firing from the house was less in volume owing to the
casualties, they became more and more eager. The British columns had
retired to their positions near the ramparts; the report had flown
through the city that the fourth column had been annihilated; the rumour
was spreading that the great Nikalsain himself was dead. The fanatical
crowds in the streets still indulged a hope that the British would be
repelled; and meanwhile, to Minghal Khan and his mob, it seemed that the
little party in the house would ere long fall an easy prey.

The sultry afternoon was drawing on towards night. All sounds of combat
elsewhere in the city had ceased. The attack upon the house had as yet
failed: but the outworks had been rendered untenable, and the defence
must now be confined to the house itself. It seemed that Minghal Khan
was satisfied with what he had gained so far; for the firing suddenly
ceased, and as darkness sank down upon the scene it appeared probable
that the final assault was deferred until the morning. The doctor
scarcely expected a night attack. The enemy had already suffered
severely, and, numerous as they were, they were not likely to court the
heavy losses that an assault in the dark upon strong defences must
entail. That he was right was proved as time passed. A close watch was
kept upon the house; fires were lighted both front and back; and men
could be heard talking; but there was no sign of a renewal of the
assault.

The little garrison was glad enough of the respite. They were tired out
after the strain of work and fighting during the hot hours of the day.
The doctor ordered all the men in turn to act as sentries, one at the
back and one at the front, keeping watch while the others slept. It was
only at the entreaty of the khansaman that he went to his own bed, and
he insisted on being awaked at the first sign of movement among the
enemy.

Day had hardly dawned when there came a great yelling from the street,
and the rumble of distant wheels. The rumbling sound came nearer moment
by moment until it suddenly stopped.

"Go to the roof," said the doctor to Ahmed. His face wore an expression
of great anxiety. Ahmed hurried up through the trap-door and crawled to
the parapet. He was at once seen from the roof of the loftiest house,
and bullets pattered round him; but he looked over and saw--what he had
expected to see. A gun had been brought down the street, and stood in
the gateway of the house immediately opposite the gate of the compound.
There were no horses: evidently the gun had been dragged to its position
by men. The gunners were in the act of loading. Ahmed rushed back across
the roof, with less caution than before, and was just descending through
the trap-door when a bullet whizzed past his left ear, carrying away a
lock of his thick hair. He leapt down the steps, and ran to acquaint the
doctor with the new peril in which the house lay.

Dr. Craddock was perturbed. Neither the gate of the compound nor the
door of the house, nor even the walls themselves, could stand a
battering from round shot, and if a breach was once made the house would
swarm with the fanatical mutineers, against whom resistance would be
vain.

"We must spike the gun, sahib," said Ahmed.

"Impossible! You would rush to your death," replied the doctor.

"Nay, sahib, it must be done; and there is no time to be lost. Give the
order, and we thy servants will obey."

The doctor turned, still hesitating, to one of the corporals and
explained what Ahmed had suggested: he felt that he could hardly order
so desperate an undertaking unless the men would volunteer.

"Spike the gun! Right you are, sir," said the corporal cheerfully. "Them
Pandies never can stand a charge. We'll do it, by Jehosopher we will.
Blowed if an Englishman is going to be licked by a blooming Pathan."

Ahmed had already seized a hammer and a heavy nail.

"Give them to me, you Pathan," cried the corporal.

"Let him alone," said the doctor. "Get all the men together: nine of you
follow the Guide: the rest man the loopholes. Make your rush when they
have fired the gun; quick! you haven't a moment to lose."

The whole garrison ran to the front door. Ahmed drew the bolts. The two
corporals and seven of the Sikhs stood ready; the rest went to the
loopholes. They had hardly taken their places when there was a
tremendous roar; the gate of the compound was shattered to splinters;
and through the gap and the smoke a crowd of yelling sepoys began to
pour into the enclosure. But the men at the loopholes had their muskets
ready: at a word from Ahmed they fired a volley, concentrating their aim
on the gateway. The foremost of the besiegers fell, and those behind,
taken aback by the sudden volley, paused. At that instant Ahmed flung
wide the door, and dashed straight for the gate at the head of nine
cheering men with fixed bayonets.

Pandy never waited for the touch of cold steel. There was a wild
stampede from the gateway. The sepoys tumbled over one another in their
panic. While the men behind were pushing on, those in front were pushing
back. The crowd fell apart as the cheering band drove through them, and
made a path through which Ahmed and the two corporals headed the rest
towards the gun. The gunners stood as if paralyzed; before they could
flee the bayonets had done their fell work.

Ahmed was on the point of spiking the gun when a sudden inspiration
seized him. The gun had been partly prepared for the next charge. Round
shot and grape lay ready. The mutineers up the street, charged by the
Sikhs, were huddled together like a flock of sheep chased by a dog, and
the space around the gun was clear. Ahmed dropped his hammer, and began
to ram in a charge of grape.

"Right you are!" said one of the corporals, divining his intention.
"We'll slew her round. Come on, Bill."

The two corporals with Ahmed's assistance rammed in the charge, and
slewed the gun round so that it pointed down the street, where the crowd
was already beginning to surge back. Then Ahmed snatched up the burning
portfire that lay on the ground and applied it to the touch-hole.

There was a babel of yells from the throng as the shot sped among them.
In so dense a crowd the havoc was terrific. The instant the gun was
fired, before the smoke had cleared away, Ahmed drove his spike into the
touch-hole, and raising his voice to its highest pitch shouted to the
Sikhs to return. In a few moments the whole party was dashing back
through the gateway into the compound. Bullets sang about their ears,
fired from the neighbouring houses; but the smoke still lay thick over
the street, giving them partial protection. One man was struck; him
Ahmed and another caught up and carried between them. They were the last
to reach the door, and had not entered when the crowd, frantic with rage
at their losses and the spoiling of their weapon, came surging in at the
gate. The door was shut just as the first of them, not stopping to fire,
was making a fierce cut at Ahmed.

Breathless but exultant at the success of their desperate enterprise,
Ahmed and the little party went to the loopholes and fired a volley at
the assailants which again daunted them. But now a strident voice was
heard among the shouts outside. Fierce yells answered it, growing in
volume every moment.

"A fakir!" cried a Sikh.

"I've heard the like of that screeching in Seven Dials of a Saturday
night," said one of the corporals.

"And, by gum, it means mischief," said the other. "He'll work those
Pandies up into a perfect fury, Jack, and they'll be that mad they'd
charge into hell."

"Well, screeches won't break down the door."

"No, but a battering-ram will, and dash me if the beggars haven't got
one."

A score of mutineers were hauling a heavy log through the gateway. At
the same moment there was a great uproar from the rear of the house. The
attack in that quarter had not been resumed since the previous night,
the rebels having apparently determined to concentrate on the front,
trusting to win an easy victory with the aid of their gun. Owing to the
casualties among the defenders, only ten men were now available, and the
division of forces necessary to cope with simultaneous attacks in both
front and rear laid a heavy handicap upon them. Half ran to the back to
repel the assault. The furniture had already been massed against the
door, and Ahmed saw with relief that by firing through the loopholes in
the shutters the attackers could for the present be held off. It was
otherwise in front. Several of the men carrying the log were shot down,
but others took their places before the defenders could reload, and the
ram was launched against the timber. The whole building trembled under
the impact, and though the door for the moment held fast, it was plain
that it could not long withstand such a battery.

The doctor was alive to the situation. He called to the men to prepare
for a rush up the staircase, bidding one of them get ready the
nail-studded plank for laying lengthwise on the stairs. While the men
were still holding their position at the loopholes, they heard the sound
of wrenching woodwork above, and in a few minutes there was a large gap
in the ceiling of the hall. Immediately afterwards there came from above
the sharp sound of hammers on metal. Ahmed could not guess what the
doctor and the khansaman were doing, but felt sure that whatever it was
the defence would gain by it.

Meanwhile the battering on the front door had at last loosened the
hinges; it was time to retire. Ahmed and the five men with him went a
few steps up the staircase. Then he laid the plank on the treads, so
that none of the enemy could mount without crossing five feet of sharp
iron points. The massive timber withstood several more assaults before
there was a final crash, and it hung half open, disclosing a part of the
yelling crowd outside. Ahmed and his comrades were only dimly visible to
the besiegers, while the latter in the open courtyard were in full view
of the besieged. A second after the door burst open the six men on the
stairs fired together. There was no chance of missing the densely packed
throng--every shot claimed its victim. For a second or two the crowd
recoiled. The little firing party ran up to the landing. Then the
doctor, limping to the top of the stairs, gave directions to the
khansaman to pour down the plank the contents of a huge blue bottle.
Shots were whistling round them from the muskets of the rebels who had
swarmed into the hall, but neither showed the slightest concern. Kaluja
had just finished his work when, led by the shrieking fakir, the mob
made a rush for the stairway. Several men, heedless of the nails,
scrambled up for a foot or two. Then with shrill cries of rage and pain
they jumped backwards, overturning their comrades who were pressing on
behind them. The plank was smoking with the strong acid which the
khansaman had poured upon it. Most of the mob were barefooted, and even
their tough soles could not withstand the effects of the burning liquid,
the fumes from which set those above choking.

The hall was now packed tight with yelling rebels, so closely pressed
together that to use their muskets was impossible. They had no escape
from the shots fired by the men above as fast as they could reload. Then
a new terror was added to the scene. Ahmed now saw the meaning of the
knocking he had heard. Over the gap in the floor the khansaman had laid
the doctor's sitz-bath, in the bottom of which he had pierced a number
of holes. He was now engaged in emptying the contents of his master's
bottles into the bath, the doctor adding water from time to time. It
would have puzzled the most expert chemist to define the chemical
composition which fell in a steady shower on the heads of the
panic-stricken mutineers. The liquid fizzed and smoked, and changed
colour like a chameleon--now green, now yellow, now brown, now an
indescribable mixture of tints. There was only one desire among the
discomfited enemy: to escape from this cockpit in which they suffered
pangs due to the hakim's mysterious art as well as to the more familiar
weapons of war. Pushing, shouting, scrambling over each other, they
forced their way out into the compound, and there was such a wringing of
hands and such a chorus of groans as surely Delhi had never heard or
seen before.

The attack at the front had been effectually beaten off. The doctor
hoped that the enemy would now retire altogether. But Ahmed ran up to
the roof to see whether they were indeed withdrawing. The street was
still full of rebels, and an excited altercation was going on among
them. The central figures were Minghal Khan, who had hitherto been
content to hound the men on without showing much eagerness to lead them,
and the fakir, who bore many marks of the chemical baptism he had
received. The uproar was too great to allow Ahmed to hear what was being
said; he could only guess at it by the gesticulations of the men and by
what happened afterwards. The fakir had, in fact, called on the fanatics
who surrounded him, to bring combustibles for the burning of the house.
Against this Minghal vehemently protested: the king's orders were that
no houses should be fired: this would be only to assist the Feringhis.
But the fakir scoffed at orders: it was the duty of all the faithful to
destroy the infidels by any means in their power. Then Minghal used
another argument: there was valuable property in the house--his
property, his all. The fakir's answer to this was a horrible laugh, and
the taunt that Minghal had shown no disposition to go into the house and
fetch his valuable property. Minghal was overborne. Devoted adherents of
the fakir brought up shavings, pieces of wood, jars of oil. Then, waving
his arms, his long beard dripping in many-coloured drops, the fakir led
the shouting mob round to the lane at the back. Not even he cared to
face the front again.

Ahmed was descending to inform the doctor of this new move, when he
stopped suddenly. A fresh sound had caught his ear: the sound of firing,
both artillery and musketry, far away. Were the British columns renewing
their assault? Was Colonel Jones forcing his way through the city again
towards the mosque? His heart leapt with a great hope. The mutineers
were coming to fire the house: nothing could prevent them; but rather
than die like rats in a trap, he and his comrades must make a dash
through the compound, and try to cut their way towards their friends.
Suddenly he remembered the doctor. He could not take part in such a
sortie. He must not be abandoned. The idea must be given up: there was
nothing for it but to hold out to the last moment.

The roofs and windows of the surrounding houses were deserted. No doubt
their former occupants had learnt that the house was to be fired and had
joined the mob below, hoping for a share in the expected butchery and
plunder. Here was a chance of dealing the enemy a last blow. Through the
trap-door Ahmed called to the men to bring up his musket and join him.
The mob was already pouring down the lane behind the fakir--hundreds of
men in the frenzied zeal of fanaticism. They came to the garden wall and
began to swarm over it; some burst in the gate; they flocked through in
numbers too great to be checked by the fire of the ten men above. A
volley flashed; Ahmed took aim at the fakir: he and the men nearest him
fell. Those behind leapt over their prostrate bodies, and with fierce
cries threw themselves against the door. Once more the ten fired among
them; then Ahmed saw that men were again appearing on the roof of the
nearest house, and before the little party all descended through the
trap-door a Sikh and one of the corporals were hit.

When the others reached the doctor, they found him quietly preparing a
bomb. He had filled a canister with powder, attached a roughly-made
fuse, and was about to light it and fling the bomb among the enemy. At
the sight of it an alternative scheme flashed into Ahmed's mind. He
quickly explained it to the doctor, then hurried away through the
almirah into the secret chamber below. Placing the table on the doctor's
charpoy, he mounted on it, and laid the canister in a little ventilating
recess just below the fountain. Then he lit the fuse and rushed away,
slamming the door behind him.

He was only half-way up the stairs when he heard the back door burst in
with a crash. Immediately afterwards there was a terrific report, that
shook the house. He ran back, waited a minute or two to allow the fumes
of the explosion to clear away, and re-entered the room. It was a wreck.
The fountain had fallen into it, and it was choked with rubbish.
Creeping over obstacles he saw a gap above his head, through which, by
and by, it might be possible to reach the garden. He hurried back to the
surgery. Whatever might have happened to the crowd in the garden, those
who had entered the house had kindled a fire; the room was already full
of smoke. In another minute all the little company had descended the
spiral stairs to the secret room, leaving the wall of the surgery closed
behind them. Below they would be safe for a time, the underground room
being connected with the house only by the stone staircase.

Meanwhile the mutineers, daunted by the sudden explosion, had withdrawn
to the further side of the garden. Some in terror had recrossed the
wall; but the fire was alight; there had been no sign of any attempt at
escape on the part of the garrison; and the fanatical throng exulted in
the belief that ere long their victims would be consumed with the house.

Half-an-hour passed. The waiting men noticed that the uproar above,
which had diminished, now broke out again with redoubled clamour. And it
was not yells of execration and of triumph, but the cries of men in
fight, mingled with the sound of musketry. Ahmed ventured to mount on
the heap of rubbish towards the small gap where the fountain had been.
He came to the surface, and as he put his head cautiously out, the first
sight that met his eyes was a red-coated British officer, with flashing
sword, chasing the darwan across the garden. The chase was brief; the
man fell; and the officer, turning to rejoin his men, caught sight of
Ahmed, who had crawled out of the hole and was running towards him. He
came with outstretched sword to deal with another mutineer, as he
supposed, and observing the khaki uniform, hastened his step with a
muttered imprecation: it was a new thing for the wearers of the khaki to
turn traitors. But Ahmed drew himself up and stood at the salute.

"Hazur," he said, "there is a sahib below, and I am of Lumsden Sahib's
Guides."



CHAPTER THE TWENTY-SEVENTH

Duty


Three months had passed. The Guides were on their homeward march to
Hoti-Mardan. They had spent a busy three months in breaking up the
numerous bands formed by rebels who escaped from Delhi. For Delhi had
fallen; the old king was a prisoner; and, though Lucknow still held out
against Sir Colin Campbell, the back of the Mutiny was broken.

Ahmed rejoined his corps the same day on which he and the little party
in Dr. Craddock's house were relieved. He was with them on those six
succeeding days when the rebels, disputing every foot of ground against
the British columns, were finally routed, and the British flag flew on
the palace of the Moguls. Amongst the greater doings of that week, the
exploit of the handful of men who defended the doctor's house against
Minghal Khan's horde passed almost unnoticed, save by the persons more
immediately concerned. Dr. Craddock did not make light of it: he took
care to bring it to the notice of the officers of the regiments to which
the men belonged, and they were all mentioned in regimental orders.
Ahmed himself was promoted dafadar, to the mingled delight and envy of
Sherdil; and Dr. Craddock, before he left to rejoin his daughter in
Karnal, presented him with his gold watch as a memento. And when the
Guides passed through Karnal on their return march, Mary Craddock did
not fail to thank Ahmed herself for what he had done for her father. The
doctor, for his part, who had heard from Mary the full story of her
rescue, was at his wit's end to know how to show his gratitude. Ahmed
would not accept money from him. Ultimately he accepted a pair of gold
bracelets of great value which had belonged to Mrs. Craddock, and which
the doctor suggested he might present to his wife when he married. He
was sorely tempted then to reveal his English parentage; but resolved to
keep silence until he knew the fate of Rahmut Khan, of whom he had heard
nothing since he left Delhi.

And now the Guides had come within a week's march of Peshawar. They had
covered the distance from Delhi in very different conditions from those
of their historic march to the beleaguered city. They left Delhi on
December 18--that was more than six weeks ago. There had been little
fighting on the way, but news had just come to Captain Daly at his
bivouac just outside Rawal Pindi, that a small convoy was hard pressed
by a strong body of mutineers about ten miles distant. The cavalry at
once saddled up and galloped off to the rescue. Dusk was falling when
they approached the scene of the fight. They walked their horses for
some distance so that they might recover their wind; then, being almost
within sight of the hamlet into which the convoy had thrown itself, they
dashed forward at a hand gallop. Just outside the hamlet they came upon
a large number of horses, which had been left in charge of a few
mutineers. Hearing the thud of the approaching hoofs, these men fled in
hot haste, leaving the led horses to their fate. It was clear that the
attack on the hamlet was being made on foot. As the Guides dashed past
the abandoned horses they stampeded in terror.

The mutineers were endeavouring to force a barricade of carts which the
escort of the convoy had thrown across the street, and which was flanked
on each side by a house. So sudden was the approach of the Guides that
the assailants were taken utterly by surprise. Their first instinct was
to rush for their horses, but the Guides barred the way. They scattered
to right and left, seeking refuge in the wild undergrowth that covered
the surrounding country. Captain Daly ordered Ahmed to take a dozen
sowars in pursuit, strictly enjoining him to keep the men well in hand,
and not to ride far, since night was almost upon them. It was nearly
dark when he returned, having accounted for many of the fugitives,
though many more had escaped in the gloom.

He had just come within sight of the village when he heard loud shouts
of "Catch him! Catch him!" and saw a horseman galloping across the field
at his left. He wheeled his horse and set off in pursuit. The fugitive
had a few hundred yards' start, and, riding for his life, sped on at a
breakneck pace that took no account of the rough country. Ahmed was
riding his own horse, Ruksh, and was surprised and somewhat nettled to
find that he did not immediately gain on the quarry. Horseman and steed
were well matched: none but a consummately skilful rider would risk such
a pace in the growing darkness. Ahmed warmed to the chase: the fugitive
might be of importance, and he was determined to capture him. There were
sounds of others joining in the pursuit when he first set off, but as
Ahmed rode on with a recklessness equal to the fugitive's, these sounds
gradually became fainter and fainter; Ruksh was still the best horse in
the regiment.

On went the two horsemen. Ahmed could just see the fugitive ahead,
bending low on the saddle, skirting obstacles in bush and tree. He felt
that for his own credit and that of Ruksh the man must be caught.
Patting his horse's head and speaking in his ear, he persuaded the noble
animal to still greater efforts, and in a few moments saw with joy that
the gap between himself and the enemy was lessening. Even Ruksh seemed
to share his exhilaration; he lifted his head and bounded forward at
still greater speed. Only fifty yards separated pursuer and pursued,
when suddenly Ahmed heard a heavy thud; then there was silence; the
hoofs of the horse in front no longer rang on the rough ground. Ahmed
checked Ruksh's pace and drew his pistol. A few seconds later he saw a
dark form on the ground two or three yards ahead. He reined up sharply,
and walked his horse forward, keenly on the alert for an ambuscade. But
on drawing nearer he recognized that the form was that of a horse; it
lay at the edge of a narrow nullah. And just beyond there was another
motionless form, without doubt its rider. What had happened was clear.
The horseman had come unawares on the nullah; the horse had stumbled and
shot its rider over its head.

Ahmed was too good a scout to relax his vigilance; it was needful to be
wary in approaching even a thrown man. Pistol in hand, he made a circuit
of the prostrate figure. The man lay motionless, his face to the ground.
Choosing such a position that the fugitive, if shamming, would have to
turn round before he could fire, Ahmed slipped from his horse, which
stood still at the word of command, and moved forward to see who the
captive might be.

He laid his hand on the man, who made no movement. Then he turned him
over, and saw by his long white beard that he was an older man than he
had supposed. Striking a light with flint and steel, for in the dark it
was impossible to see whether the man was dead or merely insensible, he
was amazed to see that his helpless captive was Rahmut Khan. Hastily he
unslung his water-bottle, poured some drops between the old chief's
lips, and dashed the rest in his face. There was a groan.

"Dog, let me die!" murmured the old man.

"Father, dost thou not know me? It is Ahmed, thy son."

The chief seemed at first too much dazed to understand what was said,
but as he regained his senses he gave utterance to a cry of wonderment
and delight.

"Is it indeed thee, Ahmed-ji?" he said. "Praise to the Most Merciful! I
supposed it was one of the Feringhi dogs. Praise to Allah! Now thou and
I can go together in peace, and do what must be done to that
thrice-accursed reptile, Dilasah Khan."

Ahmed felt a great pity for the old man, ignorant of all that had
happened to his adopted son during the past year.

"Nay, father," he said tenderly, "it may not be. I am of Lumsden Sahib's
Guides; I was sent to catch thee: needs must I give thee up."

"Of the Guides, sayest thou? Hast thou, then, eaten of the accursed
Feringhis' salt?"

"I have indeed eaten of it, my father."

"Hast thou told them that thou art thyself of Feringhi blood?" asked the
old man anxiously.

"Nay, father, none knows it save Sherdil, son of Assad, and he has held
his peace."

"Verily I love thee, my son. But having eaten of the Feringhis' salt,
thou must be true to it. I will go back with thee."

Ahmed examined him, to make sure that no bones were broken, then went
back to the nullah to find his horse. Seeing that the beast's knees were
fractured, he shot him through the head, then returned and set Rahmut on
Ruksh. And thus he led him back to camp.

On the way explanations were exchanged. Rahmut had been imprisoned at
Agra, and when, at the outbreak of the Mutiny, the town was isolated,
all communications being cut off by the rebels, the authorities, fearing
an attack on the prison as at Meerut, conveyed all the prisoners across
the Jumna and released them. The chief was on his way back to Shagpur
when he learnt that Dilasah had made himself master of the place, and
that Ahmed had gone, none knew whither. Incensed at the British, to his
imprisonment by whom he ascribed these misfortunes, he cast in his lot
with the rebels, gathered by sheer force of character a band of
desperadoes, and led them to Delhi. And then Ahmed told all that had
happened to him, and the part that Minghal Khan had played. The old
chief was amazed to hear that his son was incarcerated in Minghal's
house at the very time when he made his attack on it.

"And where is that dog of dogs?" he cried. "Oh, that Allah had given me
to slay him with my own hands!"

"I know not," said Ahmed. "When the sahibs saved us at the house, he was
gone. I searched for him among the slain, but saw him not."

"Peradventure I may yet find him, and then shall he receive the due
reward of his deeds."

Before they reached the village, they were joined by men of Ahmed's
party, who had been searching for him in the dark. They took Rahmut with
them to camp, and Ahmed handed him over to Captain Daly when he made his
report. If the chief had been a mutineer he would no doubt have been
shot at once; but as he had never been in the British service, Captain
Daly decided to take him on to Peshawar for judgment by Sir John
Lawrence. He praised Ahmed for his successful work, and ordered him to
place the prisoner under guard.

A little while afterwards Ahmed returned to his commander's tent and
asked to be allowed to speak to him. He was admitted.

"Well, dafadar, what is it?" asked Daly.

"With your good pleasure, sahib, I will now leave the Guides."

"What?"

"I wish to be no longer a Guide, sahib."

"Why, what's the meaning of this nonsense? You can't leave the Guides."

"With your pardon, sahib, I must. The sahib will remember that we of the
Guides are always free to leave the sahibs' service if we please. It is
one of the conditions."

"That's true; but nobody does it. What's your reason? Are you
dissatisfied? You are the youngest dafadar in the corps, and if you go
on as you have begun, you'll be a risaldar before I shall."

"I am not dissatisfied, sahib. But Rahmut Khan is my father."

Captain Daly stared.

"That is it, is it?" he said. "I see." He was silent for a few moments,
then he said, "Well, dafadar, you can't resign at a minute's notice, and
in war-time. We may be attacked any day, and until we reach
head-quarters I consider it your duty to stand by the corps. When we get
to head-quarters you can speak of it again."

He watched Ahmed narrowly. The boy's face showed his disappointment,
but, as Daly had guessed, the point of honour appealed to him, and
thanking the officer, he saluted and went his way.

A week later the corps marched into Peshawar. The whole garrison was
paraded to receive them. Major-General Sir Sidney Cotton, in command of
the station, ordered a royal salute to be fired in their honour, and the
troops on parade came to the salute as they marched in amid the strains
of the massed bands. The General delivered an eloquent address, speaking
of the pride every man felt in the heroic achievements of the corps,
which had lost more than half its strength in the work around Delhi, and
whose whole complement of officers had been renewed four times, not one
of them being unwounded. Then he called for three cheers for the
war-worn and ragged warriors, and amid a salvo of artillery and
resounding hurrahs the Guides rode at the head of the line and marched
past the flag.

That night, at the banquet given by Colonel Herbert Edwardes in
celebration of the Guides' return, Captain Daly told those about him of
the strange incident that had lately happened. It made a deep impression
on his audience; every Englishman felt a touch of pride in the spirit of
loyalty which set duty to the corps before ties of kinship. Every one
felt that while England could command the services of men like these,
they need have no fear of the permanence of the British raj.

Next day Ahmed and his father were both summoned to attend at the
residence of Sir John Lawrence. General Cotton and the officers of the
Guides and others were with him.

Sir John looked very stern as he addressed the old chief, who stood with
natural dignity before him.

"You were taken in arms, Rahmut Khan," he said. "You had no grievance
against us; your imprisonment was just. You know what penalty is
suffered by those who have acted like you?"

"I know it, Jan Larrens," said the chief.

"Have you anything to say for yourself--any reason why you should not
suffer likewise?"

"None, Jan Larrens. If I were Jan Larrens, and you were Rahmut Khan, I
should without doubt speak even as you speak."

"Fine old fellow!" said one of the officers quietly to his neighbour.

"And you," said Lawrence, turning to Ahmed--"you are the son of this
man. Have I not seen you before?"

"It is true, sahib; I came here a year ago to beg for my father's
release, and you refused."

"And then you joined the Guides; why did you do that?"

"You said, sahib, that my petition must be refused. I had no claim on
the British raj. In my mind I said I will do something to win such a
claim. And Sherdil, son of Assad, being my friend, I thought nothing
better could befall me than to become like him one of Lumsden Sahib's
Guides."

"Ah! You wanted to do something to establish a claim on us. Captain
Daly, what is this man's regimental record?"

Ahmed drew a long breath. He felt the eyes of Jan Larrens and the
officers fixed on him. What would be the end of this?

Captain Daly began to read from a book--his name, the date when he
entered the corps, trifling details of his early service which he had
forgotten. Then came a more important matter.

"'First gave information of a fakir tampering with the Mohammedan
members of the corps.'"

"That was your duty, was it not?" said Lawrence.

"Yes, sahib."

Captain Daly went on--

"'Rescued Dr. Craddock's daughter from a native near Karnal, dashed
through a half-troop of rebels to bring assistance!'"

"Very meritorious. Still, you thought it your duty?" said Lawrence.

"It is true, sahib."

"'Went into Delhi in disguise,'" pursued the captain, "'at the orders of
Lieutenant Hodson. Was the first to bring word of the mutineers' attack
on Alipur. Sent other information. Discovered the whereabouts of Dr.
Craddock!'"

"Excellent," said Lawrence. "You obeyed orders; other Guides would have
done the same?"

"It is true, sahib."

"'Acted as guide to the second column at the assault of September 14.
Took part in the defence of Dr. Craddock's house against the mutineers.
Doctor gives high commendation; marked for promotion!'"

"Exceedingly good; but, as far as I can see, all in your duty. You are
promoted, I observe; you have established no special claim upon the
Government?"

There was a deep silence. The officers watched Ahmed keenly; would he
now break through his reticence?

"No, sahib," he said simply.

"'Rawal Pindi,'" read Captain Daly. "'Captured the notorious freebooter
Rahmut Khan.'"

"Ah! Now we have something," said Lawrence. "But that was your duty,
too?"

"Yes, sahib," said Ahmed. "And now if it pleases the hazurs, I will
leave the Guides."

"I understand that that is your wish. What is your reason?"

"Rahmut Khan is my father, sahib."

"But your claim; do you give that up?"

"It is my duty, sahib."

A smile went round the group. This was turning the tables on the Chief
Commissioner. But Lawrence's expression did not change. He turned to the
old chief, who had stood restlessly at Ahmed's side during this
conversation.

"Rahmut Khan," he said, "what will you do if, for your son's sake, we
pardon you?"

The chief's eyes flashed.

"I will go back to Shagpur, my village, Jan Larrens," he said, "and
first slay that vile son of a dog, Dilasah, and after that I will seek
Minghal Khan till I find him, and when I have slain him I shall be ready
to die."

The officers smiled again--a smile not of derision, or even amusement,
but rather of appreciation of the directness and honesty of the fearless
old chief.

"Well, then," said Lawrence, "we pardon you, on this condition: that you
go back to your village and trouble us no more. And if you keep good
order, and help to maintain the peace of the frontier, we shall hold you
as a friend to the British raj, and that will be for your good. And
now," he added, turning to Ahmed, "do you still wish to leave the
Guides?"

"No, sahib; there is no need." His face was bright with pleasure.

"What would you have done if Daly Sahib had allowed you to resign?"

"Sahib, I should have released my father."

The whole company of officers burst into a chuckling laugh; even Sir
John's stern features relaxed.

"I am glad there is no need for that. Captain Daly, I think this young
man's loyalty to the corps in such circumstances merits recognition.
Perhaps you will make a note of his name for the first vacancy in the
commissioned ranks."

He stepped from his seat and held out his hand to the Pathan chief.
Rahmut grasped it, hesitated a moment, then said in a voice he with
difficulty controlled--

"Jan Larrens, I have a thing to say. It is meet I say it. These nine
years it has been locked in my heart, but the deeds of Ahmed Khan and
thy kindness have proven both as a key. Ahmed Khan is the son of my
heart, but not of my body. He is one of yourselves. He is a Feringhi."

And then he told the story of Ahmed from the time he had been snatched
from his father's murderers. It was characteristic of the old chief
that, even though Minghal Khan was his enemy, he did not disclose the
fact that it was he who had murdered Mr. Barclay.

"God bless my soul!" ejaculated the astonished Englishman. "What is the
boy's name!"

"Barkelay, if that is the Feringhis' way of saying it."

"By George!" ejaculated Colonel Herbert Edwardes. "I knew George
Barclay; so did you, Sir John; in fact, I'm not sure I haven't played
ride-a-cock horse with this youngster on my knee. The whirligig of
time!--my word, it's a queer world."

Rahmut Khan was submitted to a searching cross-examination. There was no
doubt about the matter: Sir John Lawrence was convinced that Ahmed was
indeed George Barclay's son. Having made his confession, the old chief
found it difficult to control his emotion as he contemplated the loss of
the heir upon whom his pride and affection were centred. The officers
meanwhile had grouped themselves about Ahmed, and plied him with
questions, seeking to revive recollections of his childhood.

"What's his real name, I wonder?" said Captain Daly. "Chief, what did
Barclay Sahib call the boy?"

"Jorkins," replied Rahmut.

The officers roared.

"Of course!" cried Colonel Edwardes. "Poor Barclay had a mania for
nicknames. And by George! what was that nonsense I used to rattle off:
it used to amuse the boy's mother--

    "There was a little Jorkins,
    And he had a little pork ins-
    Ide his little tummy,
    And bellowed for his mummy,
    And howled for his daddy,
    Who caught him drinking madi,
    And said the nasty toddy
    Was bad for his little body----"

"How long did that go on, Edwardes?" interrupted some one.

"It never ended; I had to reel off a fresh instalment at every visit.
Poor old Barclay!"

Ahmed was dazed at all this and the dim memories which the
long-forgotten doggrel revived. Looking at Edwardes, he fancied he
remembered the tall jolly officer, brimming over with jokes, whose
visits were so welcome. But he perceived the distress of Rahmut Khan,
and asked permission to take him away.

When the Guides marched to Hoti-Mardan Ahmed was not among them. It had
been decided that he should leave almost immediately for England, where
he would find relatives of his father and mother, and where a small
property awaited its owner. He took leave very cordially, yet with
regret, of his comrades of the corps. Sherdil hugged the belief that
Ahmed's good fortune was due mainly to the coaching he had had when a
candidate for the Guides, and begged that his pupil would never forget
it. Rahmut Khan remained for a week in Peshawar, made much of by the
British officers, who vied with each other in entertaining him. The old
man then set off on his lonely way back to Shagpur. He maintained his
composure throughout his farewell interview with Ahmed; but Ahmed knew
what strength of feeling was masked by his self-control.

A few weeks later Ahmed embarked for England. It had been discovered
that Dr. Craddock and his daughter were leaving for home, and the doctor
willingly undertook the office of guardian. He had known Ahmed's father;
it was the likeness between them which had awakened a vague remembrance
of having seen Ahmed before. With these good friends Ahmed Khan left the
shores of India, but among the passengers who disembarked at St.
Katharine's Docks there was no one of that name; he had become
accustomed to hearing himself called Mr. James Barclay.



EPILOGUE


It is a bleak, raw day in November, 1863. A field force of all arms,
under Sir Neville Chamberlain, is encamped in the rocky country of
Umbeyla; their duty is to punish the tribesmen who, led by a fierce and
fanatical mullah, have long been giving trouble. Above their camp towers
an abrupt and precipitous rock, known as the Crag, and its summit is
held by a picket of the 1st Panjab Infantry, a hundred and twenty
strong. Twice already has the enemy, creeping up in thousands on the
other side from the lower hills, driven the picket from its post, and
twice has the position been recaptured at the point of the bayonet. And
on this 13th of November the wild tribesmen have for the third time
swarmed up to the attack, in such overwhelming force that the Crag's
handful of defenders is driven back, and comes in full flight down the
narrow rocky path that leads to the encampment below.

A panic seizes the camp-followers; they run hither and thither, crying
that all is lost. But detachments of the Guides and the 1st Panjab
Infantry gallantly climb the steep ascent, and press doggedly up and up
in face of a murderous fire from the summit. They have nearly reached
the top; but what can a few hundreds, even of British troops, do against
the horde of fierce warriors above them? They halt; their leader sends
down word that he can barely hold his own, much less retake the Crag,
and asks for supports. He is almost giving way when up comes Major Ross
with more Guides and more Panjabis, who scale the precipitous bluff and
almost gain the crest. They, too, are checked; the dauntless fanatics
above will not yield; their numbers are continually increased, and with
furious and exultant cries they withstand every assault upon their
vantage ground.

From the camp below Sir Neville Chamberlain watches the fight. The
moment is critical; if the enemy maintain their hold on the Crag he will
have to retire. It must be retaken at all costs. He orders the 101st
Royal Bengal Fusiliers to the front, and more companies of the Guides;
and since this is no ground for cavalry work, let the troopers
dismounted share in the assault. The gallant fellows are nothing loath.
Up they go, lightly as only hill-men can. Heedless of the bullets that
shower among them, they force their way steadily to the crest, and then
the word is given to charge.

The line sweeps forward with a cheer--the infantry with fixed bayonets,
the troopers with lance and sword. They dash full into the midst of the
brave enemy; there is a shock, a slight check, and then the tribesmen
falter, give back, and are driven down the slope.

The victors press on in pursuit. Some fleet-footed fellows outstrip the
rest. Look at that black-bearded Guide running to overtake with his
lance one of the fleeing men! Ah! he stumbles over a rock, staggers,
falls at full length; and the fugitive, but a yard or two ahead, turns
to cleave him as he lies. Two or three join him; he has his sword
uplifted to strike, when a British lieutenant runs up and fells him with
a pistol-shot. His comrades close round and beset the Englishman, four
to one. Dafadar Sherdil Khan attempts to rise, but one of the enemy
deals him a blow that disables him. The officer flings his pistol at the
head of one man, then with his sword wards off the desperate thrusts of
the others. If he stands merely on the defensive he will be overborne by
numbers: there is no help at hand. Gathering his strength he rushes into
the midst of the group. It breaks apart; in an instant he springs to the
man on the right and cuts him down. Then he turns to deal with the rest.
One is running again to the prostrate dafadar. With great leaps the
lieutenant makes after him, and reaches him just in time to prevent the
fatal blow. And then, as the Englishman turns once more to face the
odds, a handful of the Royal Bengals come up at the double, and sweep
upon the hapless tribesmen; not one of them escapes.

       *       *       *       *       *

James Barclay had returned to his corps. Many of his old friends were
gone, but Sherdil remained, and none was more delighted than he to
welcome Ahmed Khan, after his five years' absence, as a British officer.
And when, at Hoti-Mardan, some months after the fight at the Crag, it
became known that Lieutenant Barclay of the Guides had been awarded the
little bronze cross "For Valour," it was Sherdil, whose life he had
saved, that led the troopers in their round of cheers.

Lieutenant Barclay did not forget to visit his adoptive father. Old
Ahsan, bent, and very frail, knew him before he reached the gate, and
his withered face beamed as he saluted him: "Salaam, hazur: truly Allah
is great!"

Rahmut Khan gave him a royal welcome.

"Still art thou my son!" he cried, "and the sight of thee is very good."

He had loyally held to his compact with Jan Larrens, and the British raj
had no warmer friend on the frontiers than he. Age had laid its icy
finger on him; the tale of his years was well-nigh told. Only one thing
troubled his peace of mind: neither Dilasah nor Minghal Khan had tasted
his vengeance. Dilasah had fled from the village at the first news that
the chief was returning home; and of Minghal, though he had sought
diligently, he had discovered no trace.

Barclay wondered whether the two men, like Nana Sahib and Bakht Khan and
other figures in the great rebellion, had disappeared for ever. But a
year or so later, when he was being shown over the jail at Agra by the
governor, he was taken to see two notorious ruffians who were serving a
term of fifteen years' imprisonment for highway robbery with violence.
And remembering that Rahmut Khan had been imprisoned in that very jail,
he thought it a just retribution when he recognized, in the two fettered
prisoners tramping round and round at the pole of the oil-mill, Dilasah
and Minghal Khan. He sent word of his discovery to the old chief, and in
due time received an answer written by the village scribe, Dinga Ghosh.

"The house of the wicked shall not prosper. I would I had slain them;
but what must be, will be. Allah be with thee!"



GLOSSARY


The vowels are pronounced (approximately) as in German. The accent
indicates a long vowel.


_almirah_, cupboard.

_ayah_, nurse, lady's-maid.

_badmásh_, bad character, hooligan.

_bakr-id_, Mohammedan festival in honour of Abraham's intended sacrifice
of Ishmael (not Isaac, as in the Bible story).

_bang_, or _bhang_, an intoxicating drink.

_banijárá_, trader.

_bariya_, swordgrinder.

_bas_, enough.

_bázár_, market-place.

_begam_, lady of rank (Musalmán).

_bhatiyárá_, innkeeper.

_bhisti_, water-carrier.

_chapáti_, thin unleavened cake.

_chaprási_, messenger.

_charpoy_, bedstead.

_chit_, note.

_chogah_, sleeveless cloak of camel's hair.

_chup_, silence!

_dafadár_, sergeant of cavalry (native).

_darbár_, king's court, levée.

_darwán_, doorkeeper.

_dasturi_, commission.

_dhoti_, the cloth garment worn by Hindus.

_Dín_, the religious duties of Musalmans; the word is used as their
war-cry in fighting against infidels.

_dooli_, a swinging litter.

_eo_, hail!

_fakir_, Mohammedan religious mendicant.

_Feringhi_, European.

_galá_, throat.

_ghi_, clarified butter.

_Gujars_, a tribe of robbers.

_hakim_, doctor.

_hazur_, lord.

_hilo mat_, don't move.

_jaldi karo_, quickly do; hurry up.

_jamádár_, lieutenant of cavalry (native).

_jasail_, Pathan musket.

_-ji_, affix implying affection = dear.

_jin_, spirit, goblin.

_káfir_, unbeliever.

_kala pani_, black water, the sea.

_kásid_, courier.

_khabar_, news.

_Khán_, prince; a title commonly added to Pathan names.

_khánsámán_, butler, head servant.

_khitmutgar_, table servant.

_koss_, about two miles.

_kotwál_, chief of the police; _kotwáli_, police head-quarters.

_lákh_, 100,000.

_lathi_, stick, club; _lathi-wallah_, man armed with a club.

_lotah_, brass pot.

_mádi_, toddy extracted from the cocoa-palm.

_maulavi_, learned Musalman and spiritual guide.

_mirzá_, prefixed to Mogul names = prince.

_mlecha_, or _mlechchha_, foreigner.

_mullah_, official who leads the prayers in a mosque.

_munshi_, writer, secretary.

_náik_, corporal.

_nassar_, or _nazar_, offering by an inferior to a superior.

_pagri_, turban.

_palki_, palanquin, closed carriage borne on poles.

_Pathán_, Afghan, whether in Afghanistan or immigrant in India.

_Peshwá_, prime minister and actual sovereign of the Maráthá kingdom.

_pice_, copper coin = quarter anna = about one farthing.

_pulao_, a savoury stew.

_Purbiya_, man from Eastern Bengal.

_ráj_, rule.

_risáldár_, officer commanding troop of horse.

_ryot_, peasant.

_sahib-log_, the sahib people = British.

_sais_, groom.

_sárbán_, camel-driver.

_sayid_, descendant of Ali, son-in-law of Mahomet.

_serai_, inn.

_shigram_, carriage.

_shikári_, hunter.

_Shiva_, third person of the Hindu trinity.

_shroff_, banker.

_sirkar_, or _sarkár_, government.

_sowar_, or _sawár_, trooper.

_súar ká bachcha_, son of a pig.

_subahdár_, high officer.

_talwár_, sword.

_tamáshá_, entertainment, jollification.

_wallah_, an affix denoting a person closely connected with the thing
expressed by the word to which it is affixed--_competition wallah_ =
candidate; _palki-wallah_ = palki-bearer.

_zamindar_, landowner.



THE BOY'S NEW LIBRARY

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