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Title: A Soldier's Daughter - And Other Stories
Author: Henty, G. A. (George Alfred)
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Soldier's Daughter - And Other Stories" ***

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[Illustration: "SHE STOOD ADMIRING HERSELF FOR A LONG TIME"]



                         A Soldier's Daughter

                           AND OTHER STORIES



                                  BY

                              G. A. HENTY
        Author of "With Buller in Natal" "The Lion of St. Mark"
           "The Young Carthaginian" "In Freedom's Cause" &c.



                     _ILLUSTRATED BY FRANCES EWAN_



                        BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
                     LONDON GLASGOW DUBLIN BOMBAY
                                 1906



                               CONTENTS


  A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER:

      Chap.                                                       Page

         I. A PUNITIVE EXPEDITION                                    7

        II. ATTACKED                                                20

       III. HARD PRESSED                                            34

        IV. PRISONERS                                               48

         V. ESCAPED                                                 62

        VI. ROUGH TRAVELLING                                        75

       VII. A SKIRMISH                                              90

      VIII. DARLINGER AGAIN                                        104

  HOW COUNT CONRAD VON WALDENSTURM TOOK GOLDSTEIN                  115

  A RAID BY THE BLACKS                                             171



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                  Page

  "SHE STOOD ADMIRING HERSELF FOR A LONG TIME"              _Frontis._

  "I WISH I HAD BEEN A BOY INSTEAD OF A GIRL," NITA SAID             9

  "SHE SUDDENLY SAT DOWN ON THE NEXT BED, FAINT AND SICK"           30

  "NITA HAD ONE SHOT LEFT IN HER REVOLVER, AND SHE DIRECTED THIS
     AGAINST HER FOREHEAD"                                          51

  THE ESCAPE FROM THE CASTLE                                       156

  EFFIE GIVES THE ALARM                                            192



                         A SOLDIER'S DAUGHTER



                               CHAPTER I

                         A PUNITIVE EXPEDITION


On the North-West frontier of India stood the little fort of Darlinger.
It had been erected two years previous to the opening of this story,
and was occupied by three companies of a Punjaubi regiment under the
command of Major Ackworth. It was intended to act as a check to the
incursions of the fierce tribes across the frontier. One of these raids
had recently been made, and the major was about to start with two and
a half companies and two field-guns to punish the invaders. He was
a strict officer but not unpopular, being very particular about the
comfort and well-being of those under his command; in other respects,
however, he was a silent and reserved man. He had lost his wife a
year before, and this had completely broken him down; the only being
he seemed now to care for was his daughter Nita. Nita's mother had
intended to return to England with her daughter just before death put
an end to the plan.

The major talked often of the necessity of sending Nita home, but so
far it had only been talk. "I have quite made up my mind at last, Nita,
when I return from this expedition, to pack you off to your uncle in
England; you are getting a great deal too old to be knocking about in a
barrack-yard, and there are no ladies here who would keep you up to the
mark. I know that you are a favourite with all the officers, but that
only makes matters worse. You have been a regular tomboy for the last
five years, and it is quite time that you were taught to behave as a
young lady."

"I can behave like that now when I like, father, and I am sure I don't
want to grow up a young lady like the colonel's two daughters, who used
to walk about as if their feet were pinched up in wooden shoes, and
simper and smirk whenever anyone spoke to them. Then there was Captain
Mann's wife, who seemed to think of nothing but dress, and expected to
be waited on by all the officers."

[Illustration: "I WISH I HAD BEEN A BOY INSTEAD OF A GIRL," NITA SAID]

"That is all very well," the major said. "I admit that they were not
favourable specimens of their sex, and I by no means advise you to take
them as models; you know well enough that I should not be sending you
home to England unless I was absolutely convinced of the necessity
for so doing. I shall miss you very sorely, and shall count the days
till, in three years' time, I shall take my leave and come home to you,
to bring you out again when I return. You must admit yourself that
your accomplishments are not strictly feminine in their character.
You are as good a shot as there is in the regiment both with rifle
and revolver, you can fence very fairly, you have a very good idea of
cricket, but you know nothing of music."

"Well, father, you know you have said many times that you don't like
musical women."

"No, I am not fond of them, though I like a woman who can play an
accompaniment to a good old English, Scotch, or Irish song; but as for
a woman who is always strumming on a piano, I think that she is a bore
of the worst kind, so we won't say much about the music. Then you could
not make a garment for yourself to save your life, and there is no more
necessary accomplishment on the frontier than for a woman to be able to
make her own clothes. You can cook very decently, I admit; but as for
anything else you know no more than a child of ten. I am afraid that
your uncle will be sadly shocked at your ignorance of everything except
barrack life."

"I wish I had been a boy instead of a girl," Nita said.

"I rather wish so too, Nita; but as a boy, you would have been obliged
to go home and work desperately hard to get a commission. No, I think
you had better be contented with matters as they are, and if we can't
turn you out a soldier we can, at least, make a lady of you."

Nita made a little grimace which showed that the prospect did not
delight her. "What is the use," she said, "of my being able to hit the
ace of diamonds ten times following at twelve paces?"

"It is not impossible that it may be of use if you come out here again.
It is more than probable that you will be a soldier's wife, and in a
country such as this, it is by no means unlikely that your skill with
a pistol may be of use to you. You remember in the mutiny how women
fought at the side of their husbands. There has been more than one
massacre since we have been here, and such an event might occur again.
At the present moment the tribes are restless, and may break out in a
general insurrection at any time. However, that is as it may be. Young
Carter will take his leave and go down country in a month's time, and I
shall place you under his care."

Nita laughed. "I should rather say, father, that you would place him
under my care, for he is the most stupid man in the regiment."

The major smiled. "He is not popular, Nita, but he is a good honest
young fellow; he doesn't say much, certainly, but as you talk enough
for two I have no doubt that you will get on very well when you are
once in a railway-carriage on your way down South, and he will be
able to look after you when you get to Bombay, and see all about your
passage, and make general arrangements for your comfort. I do not know
any one in the regiment to whom I would rather trust you."

"Well, father, as you say so, of course I must go. If it were only
for six months I should not mind, for I want to see the sea, and the
shipping, and of course it will be all new to me in England. I have
no doubt that my aunt will be very kind and make allowances for my
deficiencies, but it will be terrible work saying good-bye to you when
we have never been separated even for a day. I will promise you that I
will do my best to be trained up to be a lady. Shall I have to go to
school?"

"Certainly, dear; I shall ask your aunt to find a first-rate finishing
school to which you can be sent for the three years that you are in
England, except for your holidays."

"The girls will all think that I am a little savage. I have heard you
say that they go out for walks two by two, like an awkward squad being
drilled, and they never run races, but have to walk along with their
arms down by their sides, and their feet turned out. Oh dear, it will
be dreadful!"

"Not so bad as that; I believe there are schools now where girls play
games--hockey, football, and cricket, and have gymnastics; and I shall
ask your aunt to choose one of that sort."

"That will be better," Nita said more cheerfully; "at any rate, I think
that I shall be able to hold my own."

"I dare say you will feel very happy when you have been settled there
for a time. The great point is to make the best of things. You are
a big girl for your age. You are as tall as many village girls at
sixteen, and if you are bright and cheerful you will soon make yourself
liked. Naturally in every school there are one or two disagreeable
girls, but there will be no reason why you should quarrel with them."

Nita threw back her head. "They had better not quarrel with me," she
said; "you know that I have had lessons in boxing."

"Why, you little savage," he said, "you don't suppose in a finishing
school for girls they use their fists against each other! I gave you
permission to learn to box, for I think it well that every man or
woman should be able to protect themselves if necessary. Moreover,
boxing gives quickness of thought, and doubtless improves the pose and
figure. If you were to hit a girl at school, it would lead to your
instant expulsion. Women fight with words, not with fists. I think
after your constant verbal skirmishes with the officers that you will
be able to hold your own."

"I think so, father," Nita said; "oh, yes! I think I shall get on very
well at school."

On the following day the major marched away, and he told his daughter
that he should probably be back in a fortnight. "Take care of
yourself," he shouted as he waved his hand before giving the order to
start; "I expect to hear, when I come back, that you have been doing
junior subaltern's work to Lieutenant Carter."

As soon as the force were beyond the gate she went up to the
lieutenant. "You heard, sir," she said, saluting in military fashion,
"that my father has deputed me to act as your sub?"

The young man looked at her in surprise. "I understood that the major
was joking, Miss Ackworth."

"Partly in jest, partly in earnest, sir," she said calmly; "one white
officer to fifty men is quite enough under ordinary circumstances,
but it might not be enough here if we were attacked in force by the
Pathans. I might not be of any use in directing the men's movements,
they have their own native officers for that, but in case of trouble
I could keep watch and carry orders for you and act as hospital nurse,
and do no end of things."

"I trust that there will be no necessity at all for your efforts in any
direction."

"Look here, Charlie," she said; "if that is the way you take my
well-meant offers, I shall withdraw them." This she said in a tone of
contempt.

"I think you are quite right to do so, Miss Ackworth. I do not think
there is the most remote chance of your services being called into
requisition."

"I don't know," she said; "somehow or other I have a sort of uneasy
conviction that there is trouble brewing."

The lieutenant's face changed its expression instantly. "Have you any
reason whatever for such an idea?" he asked, with a sharpness and
directness differing widely from his usual manner.

"No, I cannot quite say that I have; still, there are sundry little
things which might afford some foundation for it. To begin with, you
know that thirty of the camp-followers went off a week ago. Why should
they have done that? They are always well treated. There has been no
grumbling among them, and yet, without a moment's notice they stole
away, just before the gates were closed at night."

"Yes, Miss Ackworth, we discussed that matter among ourselves, and came
to the conclusion that the men thought they wanted a change and had
gone off to their villages."

"Yes, of course, it might have meant that. I heard you talking it over
when you were sitting in the veranda outside our bungalow. I thought
you were all very stupid, because you only seemed to have one idea
between you. Why, I could have given you several reasons at least.

"The men all belong to the hill tribes, and, I have no doubt, had an
inkling that an expedition was going to start, and so went to join
their friends. They took, I heard, half a dozen rifles with them, which
would certainly seem to show that they had no intention of returning
here.

"Well, that is one solution. The other is that the raid that my father
has gone out to punish is really a feint to get him to take the greater
part of the garrison away, and during his absence to fall upon us tooth
and nail."

The young lieutenant looked at Nita gravely. "What you suggest is quite
possible; I never thought of it before, and I don't think the major can
have done so, or he would have left some more of his force here. I beg
your pardon, Miss Ackworth. I see that in case this supposition turns
out to be correct you will make a very useful subaltern, and I at once
accept your offers in that direction. I trust sincerely that your fears
will not come to anything, but at any rate I will at once take every
precaution in my power--forewarned is forearmed, you know."

"That is right, sir," she said, saluting again; "I hope that when you
are assigning a place in the defence to everyone else you will not
forget me. I am as good with the rifle as anybody, and, as you know,
I am a pretty certain shot with my revolver, and if it came to close
fighting should not waste much ammunition."

"I will remember," he said, with a slight smile; "but I should say
that, to begin with, your place would be in one of the officer's
bungalows, which we will turn into a hospital. There will be plenty of
work for you there if we are attacked. I again apologize for having
treated your first proposal so lightly."

"Oh, never mind about that, Charlie! I am glad that it is you that they
left behind, for most of the other officers would only have chaffed me,
and then I should have got into a rage."

Greatly satisfied, she returned to her father's bungalow, and set
herself to going through his belongings, and putting aside all old
garments she could find that could be torn up and used for dressings.

Charlie Carter at once called up the two native officers and told them
that he did not consider the fort safe from attack while the troops
were away. The soldiers were formed up, and with these they made
a tour of the walls, telling off a man to every twenty yards, and
additional men to the points that were weakest and most open to attack.
"You will let half the men off duty every day, but see that all are
ready for work at night; there will be no occasion for them all to
remain on guard, but you will station a third of them at their posts,
and change these three times during the night. Those not on sentry
will sleep with their rifles beside them, magazines charged, so as to
be ready at once if the alarm is given. One of you by turns will be
on night duty, to see that the sentries are vigilant, and that all is
going on quietly. The troops who are off duty will, of course, hurry to
take their respective posts on the wall should the alarm be given by
day."

The officers appeared in no way surprised at the orders. There had been
some discussion among them on the previous evening about the fort being
left so slenderly guarded, and they were pleased to see that their
officer was determined not to be caught napping. A tour of inspection
was made, and each man was instructed in the position that he was to
occupy in the case of assault. The weakest spot was the gateway, which
was commanded by a native mosque a hundred yards away, several low
buildings surrounding it.

"I wish I could pull that place down," he said to Nita; "but it is more
than I can venture to do when we have really nothing to go upon. The
major has always said that if we were going to be attacked he should
not hesitate to level it to the ground, but he could not venture to
do so unless the danger were imminent, as its destruction would be
bitterly resented by all the people round."

"Don't you think, Charlie, that if we were to plant a couple of barrels
of powder under it, and lay a train by which it could be fired, that it
would smash it up pretty completely? We have a large store of powder,
and can spare two or three barrels for the purpose."

"It is a capital idea, Miss Ackworth, and I will carry it out to-night
when the people in the village are all asleep. Upon my word, if it were
in accordance with military discipline, I should feel disposed to hand
over my command to you, for your brain works quicker than mine does, by
a long way."

"I am quite content to serve under you," she said. "I dare say I
shall have other suggestions to make later on; some, no doubt, will
be possible, others the contrary, but I shall submit them for your
approval or rejection, knowing very well that some of them would be
impracticable. Now look here: I shall find it frightfully dull taking
my meals by myself, and I don't suppose you will find it lively, so I
wish you would join me on the veranda of our bungalow."

"I don't know, Miss Ackworth, whether your father would quite approve
of that."

"Nonsense!" the girl laughed; "you know I am not in any way to be
regarded as a young lady yet. Besides, my father was going to send me
very soon down to Bombay, and from there to England, under your escort,
which shows that he considers you a prudent and trustworthy guardian
for me. If I were at home all day by myself I am sure that I should get
the jumps. My brain is always busy, and, as father's representative
here, I think I ought to be able constantly to confer with you; and
I am sure it will be more pleasant for you to sit in our veranda and
smoke your pipe and put up with my chatter, than it would be for you
to be moping by yourself in the ante-room. If you like I will promise
to talk as childishly as I can, and with all due respect to you as
commander of the garrison."

Carter laughed. "Very well, Miss Ackworth; it would certainly be a
great deal more pleasant for me, and you must take the responsibility
when the major returns."

"I will do that," she said; "my father must see that it would be
ridiculous for us each to be taking our meals alone all the time that
he was away."

"Do you know, Charlie," Nita said on the second evening, "I have always
thought you rather slow, and now I see that you are really nothing of
the sort."

Carter laughed. "I am quite conscious that I am slow, Miss Ackworth.
I am not quick in taking in ideas, or in expressing my own. I often
wish that it wasn't so, but I have lately been getting better. I can't
chaff as most of them can, but I find myself able to join in general
conversation more easily. Some day, I dare say, I shall become quite a
conversationalist."

"How very serious you are!" she said; "you talk with me as if I were
a woman, and not, as most of the others do, as a little girl to be
chaffed."



                              CHAPTER II

                               ATTACKED


"Have you got another uniform, Charlie?" the girl asked on the
following evening.

"Certainly I have," Carter answered in some surprise.

"Well, I wish you would send it over here."

"Send it over here, Miss Ackworth! What on earth do you want it for?"

"Well, it is this. It is as well to be prepared for all contingencies.
I certainly do not mean to be carried away, if the fort should be
captured, and made the slave of some Afridi chief. If I find things
going badly I shall run back here and put on the uniform, cut my hair
off short, and then go out and fight till the last. It would be a
thousand times better to be killed fighting than to be captured."

"Certainly it would," the young officer said gravely; "it would be a
hard lot for a woman to be carried off a captive by these Afridis."

"Very well, then, you will lend me a uniform?"

"Yes I will, Miss Ackworth, but I should advise you to keep the last
bullet in your revolver for yourself."

"I mean to," she said, "but something might happen; I might fall
seriously wounded and be unable to use it, and then, if they found me
lying wounded, they would fire a bullet into me and so finish me."

"God forbid that it should come to that!" he said, "though it is as
well to make provision against it. I am now quite of your opinion that
there is a possibility of our being attacked. For the last two days
many of the villagers have abandoned their homes and cleared off. There
must be some reason for this, and the only one that I can see is that
the men are aware that we are going to be attacked. They have no ground
for complaint against us, we have always paid for everything that we
have had of them. There has been no enforced labour, and we have every
reason for supposing that they are well content to have us established
here, as the fort would be a protection in case of an Afridi raid.
This move on their part certainly is ominous. Should we be driven from
our walls, which, I hope, will not take place, I suppose that we must
rally in the mess-house and make our last stand there. The walls are
solid, and I have this morning set some of the men, who know something
of carpentering, to work at once to make thick shutters for all the
windows and to store the house with provisions. I think we could make a
stout defence there."

"I think it is a very good plan, Charlie; a bugle call would bring all
the men down from the walls in no time. There are no buildings round,
and the enemy would have to attack us across the open; I believe if
only twenty men get there in safety we ought to be able to drive them
off."

"We will have a good try for it, anyhow," the young lieutenant said;
"they will know that the major will not be many days before he is back,
and after one or two sharp repulses they may deem it expedient to move
off, lest they should find the tables turned upon them. You are rather
a bloodthirsty little person, Miss Ackworth!"

"Do you think so? I hope not. I know very well that if we are attacked
it will be a very serious matter, and I fear there will be great loss
of life. But I do think that if they made a trifling attack, and drew
off, I should enjoy the excitement. I most certainly hope that there
will not be any regular attacks. Still, if there are, I fancy that I
should, in a sort of way, enjoy them. It would be very wrong, I have no
doubt, but I don't think that I could help it."

"I think that is the way with all soldiers, Miss Ackworth. They may
feel nervous before action, but when they are once engaged they lose
all sense of fear, and their great anxiety is to get hand to hand with
the enemy. If it were not for that feeling, I fancy that very few
attacks would ever succeed. The man who deliberately said to himself,
'No one could live under such a storm of bullets as this', would not be
likely to march steadily through it."

"It is a funny thing, isn't it, that men should be so fond of fighting?"

"It is; I have wondered over it many a time. All savage races love
fighting, and certainly our own people do. If there were a great war,
hundreds and thousands of men would volunteer at once. I am afraid
this instinct brings us very near the savage. I think no other nation
possesses it to anything like the same extent as the British race. The
Germans are fine soldiers and fight well, but they do it purely because
they are commanded and have to obey. The Frenchmen are nearly the same,
and I think it is something like this with the Russians. The Turk, now,
is a thorough good fighter, and with him it is a matter of religious
fanaticism. It is curious that our Indian subjects, for the most part,
go into battle with the same feelings as do our own people. There are
no finer fighters in the world than the Sikhs, the Punjaubis, and the
Ghoorkhas. They are all magnificent, but are equalled in Africa by
the Hausas and other tribes from whom we draw our soldiers. All these
people go into a fray as if they were going to a feast."

"I expect," Nita said, "it is because we have that feeling that we
always win our battles."

"No doubt that is so, and I only hope that the feeling will not be
knocked out of us by school-boards and other contrivances of that sort."

Nita shook her head. This was beyond her. "Why should it do so?" she
asked.

"The school-board trains up the boys to despise their fathers'
callings. I am afraid they all want to go into shops, or to get some
small clerkship, and to struggle, in fact, for anything where they can
wear black clothes instead of fustian. Still, I hope they won't lose
the courage that our race has always possessed. At any rate a very
large number of young fellows who have been to board schools become
Volunteers afterwards, and I thoroughly believe that the Volunteers
would turn out as one man if we had a very serious war, say, with
France or Germany."

"That would be a serious war," Nita said. "Those nations have
tremendous armies, so I have heard my father say."

"They have; but they are, in my opinion, _too_ tremendous. If they were
to fight in solid masses they would be literally swept away. If they
fought in the open order, which is now the rule with us, the battle
would extend over such an area that no general in the world could
handle an army covering such an enormous space. I should say that from
a hundred to a hundred and fifty thousand is the greatest body that
could be efficiently worked under one command. I don't think the French
are ever likely to fight us. The way the Fashoda affair was settled
seems to show that their rulers are very adverse to plunging into war
with us. When we fought them at the beginning of the century we had a
population of five or six million, while the French had six times that
number. Now our British Islands have something like forty million, and
are every day increasing, while the French are stationary, if not going
back. Besides, if there were a big war, I believe that the colonists
would, if we were hardly pushed, send us half a million fighting-men.
Between us and Germany the matter is different. They are entering
the field as our commercial rivals, and they fret that we should
hold almost all the land in the world where a white man can work. I
except, of course, North America. The Germans are uneasy in themselves.
Democracy is making great strides, and the time may well come when a
German Emperor may be driven to quarrel with us in order to prevent
civil war at home. At present, however, the power of the emperor is
supreme. Germany is adding to her navy, for without a powerful navy
they could not hope to get into contact with us; but while they build
one war-ship we can build three, so that we need not fear our supremacy
at sea being threatened save by an alliance between France and Germany
and Russia, an alliance which there is little fear of coming about, for
the Germans hate the Russians and the Russians hate the Germans. You
might as well think of an alliance between a dog, a cat, and a rat, as
that those three Powers should pull together. No, the next war, when
it comes, may be between us and Russia; and as it is certain that the
little Japs would join us, I think that between us we should make
things pretty hot for her. There, Miss Ackworth, I have been giving you
a sort of lecture on the politics of the world. I hope that you did not
find it dull."

"Certainly not," Nita said. "I am very much obliged to you. Of course,
I have heard these things talked over before, but never in such a way
that I could exactly understand them. It seems funny to be discussing
such matters up here on the frontier with the chance of being attacked
every hour."

"Well, I must go my rounds. Good-night, Miss Ackworth! I hope your
sleep will not be disturbed."

"I hope not, indeed," the girl said; "I have slept soundly every night
so far. There has been so much to arrange and work out that I go off as
soon as I lay my head upon the pillow."

Four hours later she sat suddenly up in bed. It was certainly a
rifle-shot that she heard. This was followed almost instantaneously by
a heavy roar of musketry. "It has come!" she exclaimed as she leapt
out of bed and hurriedly dressed herself. She paused a moment as she
looked at the suit of uniform, and then muttering "There will be time
enough for that later on", she proceeded to put on her own clothes. She
slipped a handful of cartridges into her pocket, and with her revolver
in her hand sallied out. It seemed to her that the place was attacked
on all sides at once, for flashes of fire spat out round the whole
circle of the walls; but this was as nothing to the roar outside. By
the sound, she assured herself that the main attack was directed on the
gate, and here the fire of the defenders was also exceptionally heavy.
She made her way up to the top of the wall. Here she found the greater
part of the men who had been in reserve, although some of them had, as
arranged, hurried to other threatened points.

"Take steady aim, men, take steady aim!" Lieutenant Carter shouted.
This told her where he was stationed, and she made her way to him. When
his eye fell on her he said, "You ought not to be here, Miss Ackworth.
If things were going badly with us I should say nothing against it;
but at present, at any rate, you have no business here, and I must ask
you to retire at once. What do you suppose the major would say if, on
his return, he found that you had been killed by a chance shot on the
walls? I must really beg of you to descend at once."

Never before had Nita heard the young lieutenant speak in such a tone
of command and determination. "All right!" she said meekly; "just let
me have one peep over the wall and then I will go down."

"You may take just one peep, but there is nothing to see. They have
failed in the expectation that they would take us by surprise. At
present they are lying down and using up their ammunition."

Nita took a hasty glance over the parapet, and then, descending the
steps, made her way to the bungalow, which it had been decided had
better be used for the wounded, as it was a bullet-proof building,
although less well ventilated and comfortable than the hospital would
have been. She set to work to light the lanterns ranged along the wall,
to get out bandages, and to prepare for the reception of the wounded.
Two of the men had been told off to assist her, and these were already
there when she arrived. It was not long before the first patient was
brought in. He had been severely wounded in the head while firing over
the parapet. Nita shuddered, but, putting on a thick white canvas apron
which she had made on the previous day, began her work. The surgeon
had unfortunately gone with the expedition, and she felt that the
responsibility was a heavy one. She knew a little of bandaging, having
been present when the doctor had given some lectures to the officers on
the subject, but this was a case altogether beyond her. She could only
bathe the man's head and then put a loose bandage round it. She gave
him a drink of water and then sat suddenly down on the next bed, faint
and sick. She held out her hand to one of the men for a glass of water,
drank it up, and then with a great effort got on to her feet again, and
waited for the next patient.

Five or six more men were brought in during the night. All had been hit
either in the head or shoulder; some of them, however, were only gashed
in the cheek, and these, as soon as their wounds were bandaged, took up
their rifles and went off again to the wall. So the night passed; the
fire had slackened a good deal, and it was evident that the Afridis had
abandoned the idea of taking the fort by assault. Although it was two
o'clock when the attack had begun, the night seemed endless to Nita,
and she was grateful indeed when the first tinge of daylight appeared
in the east. Presently Carter arrived. "You have done well indeed, Miss
Ackworth," he said, "and have been far more useful than you could have
been on the wall. It required a deal of nerve to carry out your work,
and your looks show what a strain it has been. I beg that you will go
and lie down for a time. Half the men have come down from the wall, and
a good many of them are adepts in the art of bandaging wounds, having
been enlisted among fighting tribes. Your bandaging has been really
effective, but these men will make a neater job of it."

[Illustration: "SHE SUDDENLY SAT DOWN ON THE NEXT BED, FAINT AND SICK"]

"How are things going on?" she asked.

"Very well. They have fallen back now to the mosque and village, and no
doubt will spend the morning in consultation."

"You have not fired off the barrels, then?"

"Oh no! I shall keep that as a pill for them when matters become more
serious. Now please go and lie down. Of course if there is a fresh
attack you will get up and come out again."

Nita walked slowly across the yard to her room. "Why are my legs so
ridiculously weak?" she said to herself; "I am sure that I have not
been afraid, and as to the work of bandaging those poor fellows, it
was nothing. I suppose it was the sight of blood, and having to wait
so long for something to do. I am sure that I should have borne it
ten times better if Mr. Carter had allowed me to remain on the wall.
I should not have thought that I could have been overruled by what he
said, but he spoke so sternly and sharply that I felt that I must obey
him. I would not have believed that Charlie could have spoken so. I
shall not be so quick in forming my opinion about people again. I think
I spoke of him as 'stupid' when father said he was to take me down
country, but I see that there is nothing stupid about him. He is very
quiet, certainly, but he takes the command as if he had been accustomed
to it all his life. I am quite certain that if anyone can defend
this place he can. How silly of me! I forgot to ask him what was the
strength of the force attacking us. However, that will keep till I get
up."

So saying, she lay down on the bed, dressed as she was, and in two
minutes was fast asleep. It was eleven o'clock when she woke. "I did
not think that I should have slept five minutes," she said indignantly
to herself; "here I have had nearly six hours." She dipped her face in
water, brushed her hair, and made herself as tidy as possible. When she
went out Lieutenant Carter was talking to the two native officers; she
waited till they both saluted and retired, then she went up to him.
"Please tell me a little more about it, Mr. Carter. How many are there
of the attackers? What do you think they are going to do? Did you kill
many of them?"

"Three questions at once," he said with a smile, "and to none of them
can I give you a satisfactory answer. In the first place, they are
very strong; we have put them down as having fifteen hundred men. As
to their intention, I can tell you nothing yet, for there has been no
development. Thirdly, I think that we must have killed fifty at their
first rush at the gate; but that is pure surmise, for they carried off
the bodies as fast as they fell. I am waiting somewhat eagerly to see
what their next move will be. We have heard outbursts of yells twice
in the last hour, and I expect that we shall soon see the result."

"It is long odds," the girl said.

"Very long," answered the lieutenant; "for there is no doubt that
it is a preconcerted thing. An attack was made on that outlying
post, a considerable distance from the fort, and probably only with
the intention of getting our garrison to march away, while all the
assembled tribes came down upon us, feeling, no doubt, that with the
benefit of a surprise, and knowing how small our garrison must be, it
would be carried at the first rush. Now that that has failed they will,
no doubt, adopt some quite different tactics. I have had the men at
work ever since daybreak, piling up sacks full of earth against the
gate to within two or three feet of the top, where I have made some
loopholes, so that our men can lie down on the sacks and keep up a
heavy fire. That is all that I can do at present, until we see what
game they mean to play."

"That is capital," the girl said; "if they make a real attack, that is
the position where I shall place myself. There will be no chance of my
being hit there, and at that distance I could calculate on bringing
down an enemy at every shot."

"I am afraid that you are a very wilful young person," he said with a
smile; "but as I know how good a shot you are, I shall not refuse your
aid in case of extremity."



                              CHAPTER III

                             HARD PRESSED


Towards daylight next morning a tremendous fire opened suddenly, and
Nita dressed hastily and ran out. Running up to the walls, she saw that
a large number of men were approaching the gate, covered by a rain of
bullets from the mosque and village, and that, as it seemed to her, an
equally strong attack was being made from the other side. The Punjaubis
were hard at work, and from the number of dead that covered the ground
behind the enemy, she felt how accurate their fire had been. This time
the Afridis seemed to have worked themselves up to a pitch of fanatical
bravery. Two or three times they halted for a minute, but their leaders
came to the front, and, waving their flags, led them forward again. At
last, in spite of the fire of the twenty-five men on that side, they
reached the gate, at which they began to hack with their heavy knives.

Half a dozen men now ran down from the wall, and, climbing up the
barricade, opened fire through the loopholes on the mass below,
causing terrible destruction among them. The men who could not get at
the gate opened fire at these loopholes, and it was not long before
two of the defenders fell, shot through the head. Nita at once went
up and took the place of one of them. The two men who had been killed
were lying next to each other. Taking a careful aim from one loophole
she fired--a man dropped; then she shifted her place to the next vacant
loophole, and fired from that. Sometimes she lay still for two or
three minutes, and then fired several shots in rapid succession from
the loopholes; sometimes using one and sometimes the other, and thus
avoiding the storm of bullets that followed each shot. She had no sense
of fear now. She was proud of doing her share of the work. That she was
doing a share she knew, for scarcely one of her shots missed the mark.

Presently the men before the gate began to sneak off, and in five
minutes more all was over, the Afridis suffering heavily as they
retreated across the open. Then Nita went down into the courtyard. As
she did so, she saw Carter run across the court to the other side,
where the combat was still raging. She mounted the wall a short
distance away. The enemy had each brought up a great faggot, and thrown
it down against the foot of the wall, giving a slope almost to the
top. Up this they had again and again rushed, only to be beaten back
each time by the Punjaubis. Fortunately the faggots were insufficient
to reach quite to the top of the wall, and the Afridis had to help
their comrades up the eight feet between the crest and the top of the
parapet, only to see them fall back shot or bayoneted. The arrival of
ten men from the gate turned the tables. With thirty rifles playing
upon them the Afridis felt that no more could be done, and retired
sullenly, taking advantage of every bit of rising ground or bush to lie
down and fire.

"Well, Miss Ackworth, _that_ affair is over. I saw you standing at a
distance, and was thankful that you did not come up to join us."

"I did my fighting on the other side," she said with a smile. "You know
you said that--"

"You did!" he said angrily. "I shall have to put you under arrest, Miss
Ackworth, for disobeying orders."

"Thank you! but it happens that I did not disobey orders. You
particularly said that I might fire through the loopholes of the gate
when it was seriously attacked, and I took advantage of the permission
to get possession of two holes where the defenders had been killed, and
I flatter myself I did some good. I fired thirty shots, and know enough
of my shooting to be sure that there were not many of them thrown
away. The circumstances were exactly what you pointed out. The gate was
very seriously attacked, and it was therefore open to me to do a little
shooting on my own account."

"It was really wrong of you, Miss Ackworth. The attack was serious,
but I never thought for a moment that they would take the gate, and it
certainly never entered my mind that you would expose yourself to being
killed in this way."

"I took every precaution, Charlie, and fired sometimes from one
loophole and sometimes from another; and as I must have accounted for
quite twenty-five men, I honestly believe that I, at least, did as much
as any of your soldiers, and probably a good deal more."

"That is all very well," he said; "I don't say that you did not do good
service, and I admit that my orders did give you some sort of license;
however, this must not occur again, or I shall consider it my duty to
order you to keep your place in the hospital, and shall have to put a
sentry at the door to prevent you from coming out under any pretence
while fighting is going on. You must remember that I shall have to
account for your safety to the major when he returns, and that were
anything to happen to you the blame would fall upon my shoulders, and
would not be put down to your wilfulness. However, should the time
ever come when we are driven to our last corner, I shall then authorize
you to use your pistol."

Glad to have got off so easily, Nita went down to the hospital. There
were but few wounded, and these, as before, had been hit principally on
the head and shoulder. Lieutenant Carter came in shortly afterwards:
"Let me have a look at your patients, Miss Ackworth; I have gone
through the St. John's ambulance course and am pretty good at
bandaging. I see that you have taken great pains with the men, but I
think that I can possibly make a little improvement here and there.
Besides, in some cases, I may be able to get the balls out. It will
be more than a week before the surgeon is back with your father, and
extracting a bullet might make all the difference between life and
death. I have brought in a case of instruments the doctor left behind
him. Do you think that you could help me?"

"Certainly I could," she said; "I think my first attack of weakness
will be my last."

"Well, then, let us set to work."

With two or three of the patients the ball had penetrated too
deeply, but where it had lodged comparatively close to the surface,
Carter managed to find its position with a probe, and in four cases
he succeeded in getting it out. The patients behaved with heroic
fortitude, and although the operation was necessarily painful, bore it
without a murmur. When the work was done and the wounds bandaged again,
he said: "Now, Nita, a little fresh air would do you good; come with
me up to the ramparts. I am going to try the effects of an explosion.
It is certain that the enemy are all gathered now in the mosque and
village, and possibly after their defeat of this morning such a blow
will disconcert them altogether, and send them to the right-about."

"I should think it would," Nita agreed. "What loss did they suffer this
morning, do you think?"

"I should say at least a hundred and fifty of their bravest men."

They went together to the spot where the train of gunpowder ended. "You
go on to the walls," he said, "and watch. I will run up as soon as I
have lighted the fuse. We calculated that it would last five minutes
before it fires the train of gunpowder."

Nita ran up to the wall and a minute later was joined by the officer.
He took out his watch and counted the minutes as they went past. "Now,
Miss Ackworth," he said, putting his watch into his pocket again, "the
fuse ought to be done in forty seconds, but we must allow a minute or
two for miscalculation in its length."

Two minutes passed, then there was a deep roar; the mosque came down
like a house of cards, and many of the dwellings collapsed from the
shock of the explosion. Timbers and stones flew up high into the air.
There was a moment's pause, and then an outburst of wild yells and
screams. "I think that ought to frighten them a bit," the lieutenant
said; "unless their leader has great power over them, and is a man of
iron nerves, they will be off. The worst of it is, they won't like to
return home to face their women after the disasters that they have
suffered, and without having obtained some great success. The men
scarcely know what nerves mean, and they may very well make up their
minds to try one last attempt. You may be sure it will be a formidable
one if they do, and they will probably adopt some entirely new scheme.
We shall have to be doubly cautious for the next two nights."

Although a sharp look-out was kept, there was no sign of the enemy
retreating. Towards evening a scattered fire was opened from the
village against the gate, but otherwise the night passed quietly.

"I don't like it," Carter said the next morning; "the enemy have not
gone yet, and they have not renewed the attack. I have no doubt that
the beggars are up to something. I wish I knew what it was. It worries
me."

"It does seem strange," Nita said; "but perhaps they have been burying
their dead, which would keep them pretty well occupied all day.
However, as we have beaten them off twice with the loss to ourselves of
only six killed and eight wounded, I suppose that we shall be able to
resist them again."

"I am sure we shall if they attack us openly. It is only the unknown
that I am afraid of. I was on the walls the whole night, but except for
a continued random fire from the village they were quiet. I wish we had
a moon. In that case we could make them out comfortably at a hundred
yards, whereas on these dark nights one can't see twenty."

The officer's prevision of danger told upon Nita, and when she reached
the bungalow that night she dressed herself in Carter's uniform, cut
her hair carefully close to her head, and lay down in readiness to leap
up at the first alarm.

Had anyone been keeping special watch in the courtyard, they would
have seen a number of dark figures clustering between the wall and the
hospital. During that and the preceding night a party of Afridis had
gathered at the foot of the wall, crawling forward, one by one, on
their stomachs. They were armed only with spear and knife, and with
these had attacked the wall noiselessly, working the stones out one by
one, unobserved and undreamt of by the watch on the wall above. The
first night they had almost completed their work, and by three in the
morning on the second had made an opening through which two men could
pass abreast; then one had gone back to the village, and presently a
stream of men were passing through the wall.

When all was ready they burst out with triumphant yells. They were,
however, ignorant of the position of the various houses, and scattered
miscellaneously. A moment later the bugle sounded, and twenty men in
reserve at once made a rush to the mess-house. The defenders of the
wall came running down the various steps leading from the battlements.
Many of these were cut down on the way, but twelve of them managed to
join their comrades at the mess-house.

Nita sprang up when the first yell broke out, seized her revolver and
a box of cartridges, and had reached the mess-house just as the party
in the yard came in. The door was kept open until the last fugitive
entered, desperately wounded, and followed by a mob of the exulting
Afridis, who, however, were prevented from entering the building.

Each man had been instructed as to the place he should occupy in
case they were driven from the wall, and the Punjaubis took up their
positions in stern silence.

"Where is Lieutenant Carter?" Nita asked. "Has anyone seen him?"

"I am here, Miss Ackworth, and, thank God, you are here too. I was one
of the last to come in, for I hung round your bungalow to help you if
necessary."

Candles and lanterns had been placed on the table, and Nita took a
match-box from her pocket and lit several of them.

"Hullo, Miss Ackworth, is that really you?" said the astonished
lieutenant as soon as a light was struck.

"Really and truly," she said; "you rather scared me yesterday by your
talk, so I got into your uniform before I lay down."

"You did well," he said; "and I should certainly take you for a lad who
had just joined the regiment. Well, I must not stay here. The first
thing is to go round and rearrange the posts, for we have little more
than half our original number now. I shall only leave three or four men
on this floor at present, and shall at once open fire from the upper
windows. I shall be much obliged if you will stay down here."

"Certainly I will do so. I will place myself near the main door, and
will let you know if the enemy seem to be collecting for an attack upon
it."

"You are a brave girl," he said, "and I wish I had two or three dozen
like you."

The Afridis at once pulled down the barricade from the front gate, and
the tribesmen swarmed in. Very soon, however, they were obliged to take
shelter in the various buildings, for the galling fire from the windows
of the mess-house rendered it impossible for them to stay in the open.

At daylight firing ceased altogether and refreshments were served
out to the troops, and the lieutenant and Nita sat quietly down to
breakfast.

"There is no disguising it," he said, "our position is a very critical
one. In the first place, have you any idea how these rascals got into
the fort?"

"I have no certain idea at all, Charlie, but I think that in the dark
they must have somehow cut a hole through the wall.

"I should think that it was something of that sort; they certainly did
not get over it, they could not have done so without being seen by
the sentries. That they should have got in has certainly changed our
position greatly for the worse. They have shown themselves amazingly
determined and enterprising. I have no doubt they will fill every house
whose windows bear on ours, and keep up such a fire that we shall not
be able to show ourselves. Under cover of that fire they will attack
us. We may kill a great many of them, but I fear that in the long run
it will come to the same thing. Our only hope, I think, lies in the
chance that the major has received news of the attack upon us, and
has abandoned all idea of the expedition and is hurrying back to our
relief. God grant that he may arrive to-day, or at latest, to-morrow.
It is no use our shutting our eyes to the fact that our position is a
very grave one."

Nita herself had already seen this, and yet she turned a little pale at
her companion's words. "Well," she said, "I am glad indeed that I put
on your uniform. One can but be killed once, and if they fail to kill
me I shall do it myself. The only thing that troubles me is the thought
of father returning and finding me dead;" and her eyes filled with
tears.

"It is awful; I can say nothing to comfort you," he said sadly, "but we
must keep up each other's courage till the last. There will be no great
occasion to keep up yours, though, for you are the pluckiest girl that
I ever saw. As for my own courage, I am in command here, and must keep
up a brave face, no matter what I may think."

"I am afraid that I am not so brave as I seem to be. It is as much as I
can do really to keep myself from breaking down and crying."

"That is only natural, Nita, and if you would like to have a good cry I
will leave you to yourself for half an hour."

"Oh no, I don't mean that I am going to, for if I began to cry I don't
know when I should stop; and," she added, with an attempt at a smile,
"that would shake my hand, and I shall want it to be as steady as I
can. I think that I can promise that every shot shall tell this time. I
dare say it seems horrid to you that I should be so bloodthirsty, but
I hate them all so for coming down and attacking us like this that I
would kill them all with one blow if I could."

"I wish you could, very heartily," he said with a smile. "You have been
a great friend to me," he went on, taking her hand; "your high spirits
have kept me up, and I don't know what I should have done without you.
It was you that thought of blowing up the mosque, which I should say
must have accounted for a great number of them, not to mention those
you brought down with your pistol. You have forgiven my speaking so
sharply to you, I hope?"

"I have never thought of it since; you were quite right to blow me up,
and I felt that at the time. Yes, we have been great friends, and I
have told myself scores and scores of times what a little fool I was to
have thought that you were rather stupid because you talked so little
and didn't seem to care much for entering into the amusements of the
others."

"No, I know that I was not what you call a good comrade, but I could
not help it. I fancy I was shy, and I did not care much for any of
their sports; besides, I knew that they regarded me rather as a
killjoy, and that kept me from mixing with them much."

"Well, you have had your turn now, Charlie, and no one could have come
out of it more splendidly. You will be a great soldier some day, if--"
and she stopped.

"If I live, yes. I hoped some day to have got a chance of
distinguishing myself. And the chance has come, but, as you say, it is
unlikely that it will ever come again. But, as you also said, one can
but die once, and at least I hope that I shall die with credit, and a
soldier can wish no more. But I would give all the few hours I may have
left to me to know that you would escape."

"That is all nonsense, Charlie; I am only a girl, and a girl's life
is not worth anything. If it wasn't for my father I should be fairly
content."

"Well," he said, "it is no use talking. We shall have to do the best we
can when the time comes. I must go round and see after the men."



                              CHAPTER IV

                               PRISONERS


There was but a short cessation of hostilities, and then from every
building round a blaze of musketry burst out. The men were at once
called down from the upper rooms, where there were no shutters, and
planted at the loopholes of those on the ground floor. "Don't throw
away a shot," was the order given to them; "keep well in shelter, and
when you do fire take care that you bring down your man."

So the fight went on all day. The losses of the enemy were far greater
than those of the garrison, but the men lost to the latter could be ill
spared.

"It is awful to think of the fate of those in the hospital," Nita said,
when she took a hasty meal in the middle of the day with Lieutenant
Carter. "Four or five of them managed to get in here alive, the rest
must have been massacred in cold blood."

"Do not fret over that, Nita; it may be the fate of all of us in a few
hours. We shall sell our lives dearly, but I cannot shut my eyes to the
fact that the enemy are not far off a big rush. Then the doors will
give way, for we have no means of strengthening them; and as there are
two entrances at the back as well as those in front, nothing but the
return of the major can save us. There is no doubt that in spite of
their losses the enemy are determined to capture the place. We have now
only eighteen men left capable of firing a rifle, and they are fifty to
one against us. It is of no use disguising it from ourselves. To-night
will see the end of the fight."

"If it must be so, it must," Nita said quietly. "You don't think that
anyone is likely to see that I am a girl?"

"Certainly not; your disguise in that way is complete. Perhaps you had
better allow me to trim your hair as closely as I can to the masculine
style. There is more chance for you and me than for the men, for it is
just possible that they may take us and carry us off as hostages. That
means that they will keep us as slaves till they are attacked in such
force that they may think it prudent to make terms. The chances are
against it, but there is a possibility that it is the course they will
take."

"I would rather die than that," Nita said. "I might keep up my disguise
for a time, but they would be sure to detect it sooner or later. I dare
not think of this."

"I don't believe that you would be detected, Nita. I should not
penetrate your disguise myself, and if I who know you cannot do so you
may well pass with these ruffians. You have plenty of spirit and may
very well sustain your character."

"I shall blow my brains out before I am taken," she said passionately,
"I have quite made up my mind to that."

"That must be your own choice," he said gravely. "While there is life
there is hope, and sooner or later you may be restored to your friends.
Sooner than later, I should guess, for you may be sure that when the
news of this massacre reaches the authorities they will lose no time
in getting together a strong punitive expedition against the tribes,
and as soon as they find that resistance is hopeless they will try to
make terms on the strength of any hostages that they may have in their
hands."

Nita shook her head. "It is all very well for you to give me hope,
Charlie, but you know as well as I do that the chances are hundreds to
one against us."

[Illustration: "NITA HAD ONE SHOT LEFT IN HER REVOLVER, AND SHE
DIRECTED THIS AGAINST HER FOREHEAD"]

At night, as soon as it became dark, there was a tremendous rush
against all four doors. "It is of no use, men," Carter said, in firm
tones which rose above the din, "the doors will not hold out five
minutes. We will assemble here and fight till the last. We have done
all that men can do, and I thank you for the way that you have stood
by me; but the odds are too great for us, and we have nothing to do now
except die like men. They will find that, handful as we are, we can
account for a good many of them yet."

The men gathered in a ring, with Carter and Nita in the centre. Three
minutes later two crashes were heard, and the Afridis burst in. They
paused a moment on seeing the compact little body waiting their attack,
then with yells of triumph rushed at them. They were met with a stream
of musketry, every shot of which took effect, and the crack of the
revolvers of Carter and Nita added to the din. In vain the enemy
endeavoured to break the circle. Then they betook themselves to their
muskets. The ground was speedily piled with dead, but numbers gradually
prevailed. The little ring of defenders grew smaller and smaller, and
at last, when but six men were standing, the enemy burst into the
circle. There was wild fighting for a minute, bayonets against sword
and spear, but gradually the din ceased.

Carter was one of the last to fall. Nita had one shot left in her
revolver and directed this against her forehead. But at the moment when
she was about to draw the trigger she was felled to the ground by a
blow from the butt-end of a musket. Then the Afridis, seeing that all
was over, scattered for plunder, leaving the bodies of the slain where
they lay.

Daybreak dawned, and Nita opened her eyes. She saw that Carter,
herself, and two others had been removed from the heap of slain and
placed by themselves. She closed her eyes again with a shudder, and
yet with a feeling of relief. The removal of the three men as well as
herself must have been the result of an examination of the slain, and,
like herself, the other three must have been found breathing. Her head
ached as if it would split, and she lay for a long time without moving.
Then two men, who were evidently chiefs, came up and examined them.

There was some discussion between them, and then Carter and another
were taken away, and she and the remaining man, who was one of the
native officers, were also carried out. The wounds of the four were
all roughly bandaged, and then Carter and his companion were taken up
by four natives and borne away. Nita remained for another hour. By
this time the fort had been completely ransacked. Then she and her
companion were also placed on stretchers and carried out of the fort,
which was at once set on fire in a dozen places. Some water was given
them, and the tribe then started off. Nita lay with her eyes closed all
day, scarcely able even to think, for her head throbbed as if it would
split. They travelled fast and did not halt till nightfall. Then she
was given a piece of dry bread and a little water. She made an effort
to eat, but it was useless; she drank most of the water, however, and
soaked her handkerchief in the rest, and placed it on her head, and
managed at last to doze off to sleep. In the morning she felt better.
The chief then came up and spoke to her. She shook her head, and he
went away, and presently returned with one of the tribesmen who had
served in a Punjaubi regiment.

"Who are you?" he asked, and in that language, which Nita could speak
fairly well.

"I am an officer in the regiment," she said, "and am a relation of the
major who commanded the fort." The man translated this to his leader,
who looked pleased.

"Tell him that he will be my servant," he said, "and will be well
treated if he gives no trouble, but if he attempts to escape he will be
shot at once."

This was translated to Nita. Then he went on: "You are very young to be
an officer, you are no more than a boy."

"I am young," Nita replied, "but when one has a major for a relation
one can get a commission at a much younger age than one otherwise
would."

"Here are some peaches;" he said, "you will eat them better than
bread."

"Thank you very much!" Nita replied.

"You have nothing the matter with you," the chief went on, "except
that you have a big swelling at the back of your head. I suppose you
were knocked down by a musket. It is fortunate for you that you were
supposed to be dead at the time, for the men would not have spared you
after the loss that you had inflicted upon us. By the time we found
that you were alive their passion had died down, and I was able to show
them that you and the other three might be much more useful alive than
dead."

"Is my friend the other officer seriously hurt?" Nita asked.

"Yes, he's badly wounded, but I think that he will recover, and also
the other two." So saying, he turned off and went away.

Nita felt most grateful for the peaches. She gave a couple of them
to the havildar, who evidently needed them even more than she did.
Then she sat down and ate her own slowly, the sweet juice cooling her
parched tongue, and even the pain in her head seemed to abate somewhat.
Half an hour later the tribe again set off. They ascended two steep
passes, and at the end of the sixth day halted in a small valley.
There were several villages scattered about, and every foot of the
ground was cultivated. They were greeted with shouts of welcome by the
inhabitants who flocked out; but soon cries and lamentations mingled
with the cheering, from women whose husbands had not returned. These,
however, soon retired to their homes to grieve in solitude, while
the others went on with their dances of triumph, and the tribesmen
scattered to their own villages.

In the centre of the valley stood a strongly-fortified house, and to
this the prisoners were taken. That day Nita had been strong enough to
walk, and the pain in her head had abated, though the pressure of her
cap still hurt her. The chief's wife, who walked beside her husband,
glanced at the prisoners, and was evidently by no means pleased at
their being quartered upon her, but when the chief explained that they
would both be slaves at her service she looked mollified. They were
taken to a small room in an upper story. Then she gave Nita a large
jug and signified to her that she was to draw water from the stream
that ran through the valley. Anxious to please the woman who was to be
her mistress she fulfilled the mission, although feeling very tired
with her walk. The woman seemed more gracious when Nita returned with
her burden. While she had been away the chief had explained to her
the value of the captives, and that he should either get a large sum
for restoring them to their friends, or might use them to arrest the
progress of a large party of troops sent against him.

"Only to think," she said, as Nita went wearily upstairs, "that that
slight boy should be an officer! Why, with us it is the bravest and
strongest men who are the chiefs. How can they expect to fight against
us, when they are led by boys like that? I could twist him round my
finger."

"The ways of the English are unaccountable," the chief said. "He is, as
you say, but a boy, though he and another officer, not much bigger than
him, with only fifty men, have killed nearly three hundred of us. Not
one offered to surrender, and they fought to the last. These two, and
two others who have gone with the Orokzais, were the only ones found
breathing when we examined the dead. They are strange people these men,
but they are men, and these fought like lions. If they had offered to
surrender we would have given them their lives, and carried them off
as captives. It is a good thing to have a certain number of prisoners
in our hands, for then we can always make peace with their countrymen.
But it was not to be. This little garrison were determined to die, and
they did die. However, both their officers are in our hands. Treat them
well, wife. It will pay us to do so. I rather like that fair-haired
boy; he has shown himself very patient and plucky, and himself
volunteered to walk instead of being carried to-day. I think you will
find him very willing and cheerful."

"He had better be," she said savagely. "As to his being cheerful, I
care not for it one way or the other; but if he is not willing, he will
soon get a taste of my stick."

"I should advise you not to try it. I was in the room in the last fight
and saw how steadily and straight he shot. Certainly fourteen or so of
our men fell at his hands, and I would have saved him then if I could
have done so, for never did I see a lad fight so stoutly. He fired as
deliberately as if he were aiming at a mark. His eyes shone strangely,
and he cheered on his men to the end. I am sure that if you strike him
he is capable of doing you harm, at whatever cost to himself."

The woman muttered to herself. She was evidently impressed with her
husbands warning, and also with the glance Nita had given her when
ordered to fetch water. "Can he cook?" she said. "One of our women
has died since you have been away, and I have all the work on my own
shoulders."

"I am not sure if he knows anything of cooking," the chief replied,
"but you can teach him, and he will not be long in picking it up. Now I
will show you the things that I have brought you home."

The sight of the various articles of spoil completely mollified the
woman. There was a large copper cooking-pot and two small ones. There
were some clothes that Nita recognized as belonging to Carter, a
looking-glass, a dozen knives and forks, and a meat-chopper, all of
them precious things indeed in an Afridi village. Besides this, outside
there were a dozen cattle and some forty sheep, the chief's share of
the animals picked up at various villages in the neighbourhood of
Darlinger. The chief's wife was specially delighted with the mirror,
and, fixing it against the wall, she stood admiring herself for a long
time, twisting her head from side to side and grimacing with such an
air of affectation that it was as much as Nita could do to refrain from
breaking into a scream of laughter.

"This is all my own," she said at last, turning to the chief; "your
other two wives have nothing to do with it, and are not even to look
into it unless I give them permission?"

The chief nodded gravely. The other two wives had, while this was going
on, been occupied with domestic duties and in bringing in the various
goods. Nita made up her mind at once that they had a very bad time and
were little better than slaves.

As the chief left the hut his wife turned to Nita. "Go and help the
others," she said.

Nita understood her action though not her words, and with a shrug of
her shoulders went to help the other women. Presently a large bowl
of rice slightly flavoured with condiment was brought in. The chief,
who had returned, sat gravely down by himself to eat it. When he had
finished, his head wife seated herself and took her share. After she
was satisfied the other women sat down together.

Nita hesitated, but she had now recovered her appetite and sat down
quietly with them. Instead, however, of grabbing handful after handful,
as did the others, she took as much as she wanted, placed it on the
ground in front of her, and quietly began to eat it.

The head wife laughed derisively and made some remark to her husband,
but the chief was evidently not pleased and spoke sternly to her, and
Nita guessed that he said she was a valuable captive, and being an
officer must be fairly treated. It was, of course, all important that
if a British army entered the valley the prisoners should give a good
account of their treatment while captive there. The woman was, without
doubt, cowed. The Afridis use their sticks freely on their wives,
and it was evident that although a tyrant in the house she stood in
wholesome fear of her husband.

The chief moved across the hut, took down an earthenware plate,
and placed it before Nita, who let him see by her manner that she
appreciated his act of kindness. He further signified by gesture that
she might regard this plate as her own and use it upon all occasions.

When the meal was over, Nita assisted to tidy up the room, then went
down with a large earthenware jug to the stream and brought it back
full of water. She had not been ordered to do this, and the woman
nodded to her more kindly than she had hitherto done, seeing that the
captive was ready to make herself useful.

After doing this Nita returned to her room. It was now nearly dark. She
went and chatted to the native officer, bathed his wound, and gave him
some of the food that she had put by for him.

"Don't get well sooner than you can help," she said; "the woman of the
house is a vixen of the worst kind, and will set you to work the moment
you are able to crawl about. Her husband is disposed to be friendly. I
think I frightened the woman. Of course, she would not have understood
anything I said, but I am sure my manner showed her that it wouldn't be
safe to touch me."

Nita went down early in the morning. The mistress of the house had not
yet appeared, but the two women were hard at work grinding meal. Nita
went at once to their assistance. She was clumsy at the work, and her
share was very inconsiderable. Still, the women were grateful. Nita
could not understand all that they said, but by the way they patted her
on the back and shook their fists menacingly at the room where the head
wife was sleeping, it was apparent that they hated her with a deadly
hatred, and recognized in Nita a friend animated by the same feelings
as themselves.

Matters went on quietly for some little time. Nita set to work to pick
up the language, and as their oppressor evidently thought that she
could make more use of the prisoner if she understood what she said
she threw no impediment in the way, and she suffered Nita to chat
freely with the others while they were at work. She even went so far
as to admit to her husband that the prisoner was very willing to work,
and understood what she wanted done. Still, the fact that her husband
had placed Nita to some extent beyond her power galled her, and she
frequently indulged in violent ejaculations and threats. She was the
more furious because Nita received her upbraidings with quiet contempt
and did not appear even to hear her. She would many a time have struck
her, but was, in truth, a little afraid of Nita, and was convinced that
did she attempt to do so "the lad" would, regardless of consequences,
return the blow with interest.



                               CHAPTER V

                                ESCAPED


As Nita picked up the language she heard to her delight that Carter was
recovering from his wounds, and that he was held a prisoner by a chief
who lived fifteen miles away among the mountains. She learned that
his captivity was much more severe than hers, and that while she was
allowed, when not engaged indoors, to wander about the village, he was
held a close prisoner in the house of the chief. As soon as she found
this out she became restless. It would be an easy thing for her to
escape alone, but the idea possessed her that she ought to do something
to free Carter, and this seemed almost an impossibility. One thing was
evident--she must, in the first place, get an Afridi dress. This would
not be difficult. Much more serious was the question how she was to
subsist. She saw that it might be the work of a week, or possibly of a
fortnight, after she got away before she could communicate with Carter
and arrange for his escape. She would then need a considerable quantity
of food, and also a long rope, and a disguise of some sort would be
required for Carter.

Nita began by taking flour and meal from the storehouse downstairs.
These she put in a sack, which she hid in some bushes a short distance
from the house. Every day she added to the store, and as it swelled she
took two or three goat-milk cheeses. She hesitated a good deal whether
she should adopt a male or female dress, but finally decided upon man's
attire. She did not intend to show herself by daylight, but the casual
glimpse of a female on the hillside would almost assuredly excite
observation and suspicion; moreover, she intended to carry a rifle if
she could obtain one, which would be altogether out of character with
the dress of a woman. Three weeks were spent in her preparation, by the
end of which time the sack was as heavy as she could lift. She had from
the first made up her mind that it would be necessary to carry off a
donkey or mountain pony, and intended to sling the sack on one side of
him, with a skin of water on the other.

The sack was about a third full of grain, another third of meal, and
the remainder was made up of cheeses, some rough clothes, and the rope.
She had also cut a pliant stick some four feet in length, with notches
at each end to carry a string; for it would clearly be necessary to
shoot a note, to begin with, into the window of the prisoner's room.
She made three or four rough arrows, which she tied to the bow. She was
now ready, but the first thing was to get hold of a pony. In order
to do this she once or twice a day took a handful or two of grain to
the pony belonging to one of the Afridis, and in a short time it would
come eagerly to her when she called. At last all her preparations were
ended, and one evening, as soon as the house was asleep, she took a
rifle and a bag of cartridges from the corner where they stood, then
some of the chief's robes down from the wall, and very cautiously
unbarred the door, and, carrying the water-skin with her, closed it
behind her and started for the hiding-place of the sack. Then she
went to the little enclosure where the pony was standing, and calling
softly to it, it came at once to the gate, which she opened, gave it
a mouthful of grain, and taking hold of its mane led it to where her
goods were hidden. She placed two or three of the cloths folded across
its back, then, with some difficulty, fastened the sack and water-skin
on to it. She followed the path leading to the south for four or five
miles, and then struck off in the direction of the village in which
Carter was confined. She had chosen a moonlight night, and made her way
some miles without encountering any great difficulty. Then she came
to a piece of country so rough that she was compelled to halt. At the
first break of dawn she was off again, and succeeded in crossing the
crest of the line of hills separating the valley she had left from the
next. Down this she went for some distance, along places so precipitous
that even the sure-footed pony had difficulty in making its way. At
last she came upon a small ravine which she could see broadened out
lower down. Here she lay down and slept, after giving the pony two or
three handfuls of corn and fastening it up to a bush.

After a time she continued her journey. From the description she had
heard of the village she knew that it stood in a strong position on
the hillside. When she got down to the bottom of the ravine she again
fastened the pony up and went out into the valley. She was glad to see
that water ran down it. This was a great relief to her, for although
the water-skin would last her for many days, it would not suffice very
long for the pony's needs. She walked on five or six miles, and then
caught sight of a village three miles ahead, which exactly answered
the description she had gathered of that in which Carter was confined.
Keeping along the sides of the valley, and taking advantage of every
spur of the hill, she got to within a mile of it, and then ascended the
slope till she reached a spot a quarter of a mile behind the village,
and here she lay down and reconnoitred it. It differed but little from
the one she had left, and consisted of five or six fortified houses.

Its position was a strong one, as the hill in front of it sloped
steeply down. She selected a clump of scrub a mile away, and, wrapping
herself up in a blanket, lay down to sleep, as it was already becoming
dusk. In the morning she started at daybreak, spent the day with the
pony, and late in the afternoon returned again with it, and by midnight
was safe in the spot she had chosen. The scrub was high enough for the
pony to stand unseen, and after giving it a good feed, and eating some
of the grain and a piece of cheese, she lay down till the morning.
Looking round she saw another clump of rather larger trees in a dip
half a mile behind her, and at once moved to it, for there she thought
that she would be able to light a fire without fear of being seen. She
then again started for the village, and found that, by keeping to a
small ravine that came down behind it, she could approach within three
hundred yards of it without running the risk of being seen. This she
did, taking advantage of every rock.

From here Nita could see all that was going on in the village. The men
had already driven out their cattle and other animals to the valley,
the women moved about gossiping. One of the houses was larger than the
others. This she guessed to be the abode of the chief. For hours she
lay watching its upper windows, and at last, to her delight, saw a
khaki-clad figure come to one of them and stand for a time looking out.
His air was listless, and as the window was at the back of the house
and looked up the hill, there was but little to interest him. Now that
she had ascertained his room she strolled away again and remained for
the rest of the day in the wood, practising with her bow and arrows.
Then she wrote on a sheet of her pocket-book, of which she had not been
deprived:

"Look out for me at eleven o'clock to-morrow night. I will shoot up a
string, there will be a rope attached to it, strong enough to hold you,
and you can slide down it.--Yours, Nita."

At ten o'clock she started from her hiding-place, and at eleven reached
the village. The house was surrounded by a wall, but, as she hoped, the
gate was unbarred. It opened quietly, and, going round to the back, she
took post as far away from the house as she could, and shot the arrow,
on which she had fastened her little note, at the window-opening. At
the third essay she was successful, and the arrow went right into the
room; then she quietly withdrew. He was, she thought, certain to see it
when he awoke, as the rooms were generally very small, and he would,
she hoped, be certain to wake before any of the people of the village
entered his room. Carefully closing the gate again behind her, she made
her way back to the wood, and lay down and slept till morning. She
passed the day in a state of feverish anxiety. Now that success seemed
almost certain she was far more apprehensive of being discovered than
she had been before, and she spent the day at the edge of the wood on
the look-out for any approaching figure. But the day passed as quietly
as the others had done, and as soon as it was dark she strolled down to
her look-out near the village, carrying with her her bow and arrows,
and the rope.

It seemed to her that the village would never go to sleep that evening,
but finally all became quiet and the last light was extinguished. She
waited half an hour to allow the occupants of the village to settle
down. Then she ventured to move, and in five minutes stood opposite to
Carter's window. It was, of course, without glass, being closed only in
cold weather by a blanket hanging before it. The moonlight permitted
her to see a figure standing there. Four times she missed before she
succeeded in shooting an arrow into the room. In a minute the string
attached to it was pulled. She then fastened the end of the rope to it.
This was drawn up by Carter, and a minute later he slid down. As he
came up to her she whispered "Hush!", led the way out through the gate,
and ascended the ravine.

Not until she was two or three hundred yards away from the tower did
she stop.

"My dear Miss Nita," he said, "by what miracle have you managed this?"

"There is no miracle in it," she answered; "I got away, and naturally
I was not going to leave without you. I hope that you have quite
recovered from your wounds."

"Quite," he said, "though just at present I seem hardly able to use
my legs, for I have had no exercise except what I could get in a room
eight feet square. However, I dare say that I shall recover their use
again before long. Where are you taking me?"

"To a wood a mile and a half away, where there is a pony and
provisions. When we get there we must discuss which way we should go.
It seems to me that it would be better to cross the river and go over
the opposite hills. As far as I can make out that leads away from the
frontier, which is the direction in which they will no doubt look for
you, as I am sure they are looking for me. They would be certain to
suppose that I should go that way. But I think you will know best, for
you have travelled about the country a good deal more than I have."

"I really don't know what to say in the way of thanks," he began after
a pause.

"You will make me very angry if you thank me at all; you may admit,
however, that girls can be of some good sometimes, and are not meant
only to be looked at."

"I will never say anything against their courage again," the young
officer said. "Now tell me how you have fared, and how you succeeded in
getting away."

"I got on fairly well. The chief's wife was a harridan, but her husband
rather took me under his protection, and insisted on my having fair
treatment. I think he was rather uneasy as to the consequences of his
attack on the fort, and wished to keep in well with me. So I was fairly
fed and allowed a certain amount of liberty in the village during the
day. They did not seem to have any suspicion that I was likely to try
to escape. They were confident, I think, that I should not be able
to cross the mountains alone. Therefore I was able to collect stores
little by little. The chief's magazines were generally open during the
day, and I own that I robbed them shamelessly. Then I had but to slip
away after the house was asleep. I had collected a sackful of flour
and meal, some grain, and a few cheeses, for I knew that I might have
to live a long time before I could discover the place where you were
confined, and even if I were lucky enough to do so without much waste
of time, we might have to exist a considerable period among the hills
before we got to the frontier."

"But how on earth could you carry such a weight?"

"I made friends with a pony by treating him to handfuls of grain, and
had no difficulty in getting him to follow me; and a large skin full of
water very fairly balanced the sack of provisions. I annexed two of the
chief's robes and turbans and four or five blankets. So we start under
good auspices. Of course I brought that rope that you came down by, and
a rifle and ammunition which were in a corner of the chief's room. I
wish I could have brought a rifle for you, but there was not one handy,
and I was sorry that I could not get my revolver; but that fell to the
share of someone else when all our goods were taken after the fight."

"Splendid, splendid! But how did you find the place where I was
confined?"

"I picked up a little of the language, and learned that the chief in
whose hands you were, lived about fifteen miles away, nearly due west;
that the village stood on the hillside, and was strongly fortified. And
I was fortunate enough in lighting upon it without much difficulty,
and, lying hidden a short distance away, was not long in making you out
at the window. The rest was, of course, easy. Now I put the command
into your hands."

"No, you followed my orders when I was in command of the fort, and now
you have escaped yourself and freed me, you have shown such a capacity
that I certainly do not wish to interfere with your plans. I think that
what you proposed, namely, that we should cross the river and strike
into the mountains away from the frontier, is the best, and we should
hold on in the same direction as long as we are able before trying
to strike down. I have no doubt the search for us both will be very
hot for the next week or ten days, but it is certain to be pursued on
the downward track, as they will make sure that we have made off in
that direction. The news that I have also got away will not be long
crossing the hills to your village, and they will have no difficulty
in connecting the two events, and will think that when they catch one,
that they are sure to catch the other. Is this wood the place where
your pony is hidden?"

"Yes, I have given him a good meal, and he will be ready to start as
soon as we have loaded him up. It is fortunate, indeed, that we have
the moon, and shall therefore have no trouble in keeping the right
direction."

In five minutes they were moving, and made their way down to the river.
At Nita's suggestion they kept up the stream for about a mile and then
struck across for the hills. By morning they were fifteen miles away
in extremely rocky and precipitous country. Here they halted for some
hours, and then made their way downhill. They found that they were in
fact travelling along near the edge of a precipice, at whose foot a
stream ran between lofty cliffs. So steeply did the hills slope down
to the edge of the precipice, that they could only travel with extreme
caution; and even the pony, sure-footed as it was, had difficulty in
keeping its feet. At length, however, the slope became more gradual,
and the ravine widened out into a valley, apparently about half a mile
wide and a mile long. They chose a dip in the descent, and found when
they arrived at the bottom that they were completely sheltered from
the view of anyone passing along the valley. But that the ravine was
to some extent used was evident from the fact that a few cattle were
scattered about.

"I think that we shall be obliged to confiscate one of these animals
for our own use," Carter said; "a diet of flour and grain would be apt
to pall a little even when varied by cheese, and our eventual success
depends on our keeping up our strength."

"I quite agree with you," Nita said; "one thing is certain, however,
that meat will be of no use to us until we can light a fire to cook
it."

"I think that we shall be able to manage that," he said. "You see this
depression, which looks as if it had once been a water-hole, is eight
or ten feet below the level of the hillside; that's the very place we
want for cooking. They will not see the fire itself, but only its light
reflected on the ground above us; but I think if we collect stones,
and build a circular wall, say four feet in diameter and a few feet
high, with a small opening at the foot for feeding the fire and putting
on the meat, there will be no fear of any reflection falling on the
hillside."

"No, I should think that that would do very well," Nita agreed. "We
have another two hours of daylight, and as the hill is everywhere
scattered with rocks and boulders we ought to make considerable
progress with our oven in that time."

"Well, will you please sit down, then, and I will collect stones. This
depression is scattered pretty thickly with them."

"Oh, but you must let me do my share of the work," Nita said; "I am
just as keen to have a piece of roast beef as you are. At any rate I
will gather up the smaller stones, and as soon as it becomes dark, will
go out and cut some brushwood with the sword-bayonet."

"But I have no matches," Carter said, in a tone of dismay.

"I have some," Nita said; "not many, but a dozen or so. I put some
loose into the pocket of the tunic, so that I could at once get a light
in case of a sudden attack; I had no time even to think of them when
the Afridis broke into the fort, but I did think of them when I got to
the village, for I saw that if I could make my escape they would be of
great use."

"They certainly will be invaluable," Carter said. "We will get the
wall up as high as we can and then spread brushwood over the top. This
will help to deaden the reflection, but will allow the smoke to escape
freely."

They worked very hard till it became dark, by which time the rough wall
was some three feet high.

"Now," he said, "if you will lend me the sword-bayonet I will go out
meat-hunting, while you collect fuel for the cooking and for covering
over the top of the oven."



                              CHAPTER VI

                           ROUGH TRAVELLING


Carter was away two hours, and he returned, carrying a prime joint of
beef. "I was lucky in finding an animal that was lying down. I stalked
him from behind, and came upon him before he could spring on to his
feet and get into motion."

"That is good indeed," Nita said, "but what have you done with the
remainder?"

"He was fortunately lying near the river. I cut the remainder of the
carcass up into a number of pieces and threw them all into the stream,
which is strong and rapid enough to carry them away down the pass
before morning. Of course the owners will light upon the blood, but
will most likely put it down that the beast has been killed by a bear
from the mountains. How have you been getting on?"

"I made a fire at once and have laid in a good stock of fuel, and have
got a batch of chupaties almost ready for eating. They would have been
better if I had had a little of that beef fat to mix with them, but I
shall be thankful for them as they are, after having eaten nothing but
unground corn for the last four days. Now will you please cut off some
slices for spitting over the fire? I have never done any work of that
sort, and I am afraid that I should make a very poor hand at it."

In a couple of minutes four good-sized slices of meat were grilling
over the fire.

"We have neither salt nor mustard," Nita said merrily, as her companion
placed two of the savoury slices on the chupaties. As neither had
knives, and the sword-bayonet was a somewhat clumsy instrument for
feeding with, they were reduced to making unaided use of their teeth.
However, the meal was a merry one, and their spirits rose high at the
thought that they were again free, and that with good fortune it might
not be long before they rejoined their friends.

After the meal was over they had a consultation on the best course to
be pursued, and finally agreed to travel west for some time and then
to turn south towards the frontier. They would thus at least, they
thought, farther throw their pursuers off the track, and would then
only have to run the ordinary risk of detection from the tribes through
whose territory they passed.

They discussed their prospects for the next day's march, but finally
decided to take a day's rest. Nita had suffered much from the anxiety,
and the very long journey had told on her, and as the spot where they
then were was well hidden, it was improbable in the extreme that any of
the herdsmen or passers through the valley would be at all likely to
come upon them.

After their meal and talk, Carter made a shelter tent of the large
blanket for Nita, and wrapping himself up in another rug, lay down a
short distance away.

The next day passed quietly. They had not replenished the fire when
they lay down, nor was it necessary to light one in the morning, as
they had purposely cooked sufficient to last them for a couple of
days. Towards evening they observed three or four herdsmen gathered
by the stream at the point where Carter had killed the bullock the
night before. They were evidently greatly puzzled at the occurrence,
and from their gestures while Carter was watching them, he formed the
conclusion that the theory of its being carried away by a bear did not
find much acceptance among them. "However," he said, on returning to
Nita, who had been having a nap, "they won't start off on a search this
afternoon, and before morning we shall be well away. We sha'n't want
to repeat the offence for some little time, for the store of meat we
now have ought to last us for seven or eight days, that is to say if it
does not get bad before that, but I should think that up in these high
altitudes it would keep for some time."

Two hours before daylight they were on the move. The water-skin was
refilled at the river, and they put a bundle of firewood on the top of
the sack, as they could be by no means certain of finding water and
wood on the way. They were so far up the hillside by the time the sun
rose that they had no fear of their appearance being noticed by people
in the valley that they had left. They went on merrily, laughing and
joking, and were delighted with their progress, though at times the
cold was severe in the extreme. They met with no signs of a pass or
even the smallest track. Sometimes Carter would ascend to some point
which commanded a view of the line that they were following; at others
they came to precipices so steep that they had to make a detour of
miles before they found a place where a descent could be made into a
ravine which, as a rule, was but a water-course covered with boulders
of every shape and size.

After some days of perpetual toil, they agreed at their camp-fire at
night, that they must now have got far enough west and could strike for
the south.

"I suppose you have no idea whatever how far the frontier is, Charlie?"

"Not in the slightest. I don't even know how far it was from Darlinger
to the village, for I was insensible during most of the journey."

"It took us six days, Charlie, and I suppose the two villages where we
were confined were about the same distance from Darlinger."

"What rate did you travel?"

"I fancy about forty miles the first day, but considerably less
afterwards, making it somewhere between one hundred and fifty and two
hundred miles."

"Yes, I suppose so, but of course the calculation is mere guesswork,
and it may be forty or fifty miles out. Since escaping we have only
steered by the sun, and may be a good deal north or south of due west.
Besides, we have made such bends and turns as would make it impossible
to keep anything like a true reckoning. However, suppose we call it two
hundred miles from here to Darlinger, we shall be lucky if, travelling
among the hills, we don't have to go twice that distance. Certainly,
unless we get into a very different country from that through which we
have been travelling so far, ten miles a day is the extreme that we can
calculate upon."

"In that case, Charlie, even if all goes well it will be from forty to
fifty days before I see my dear father."

"But I think we shall travel a good bit faster than that," Carter said
encouragingly. "Everywhere through these mountains are valleys, some of
them of considerable size, and containing a dozen or more villages. Of
course when we come upon these we could travel at night, and ought to
be able to do from twenty to thirty miles. We could not have done that
at first, but the practice we have had at this work has put us into
first-rate marching condition."

"Yes, except my feet, Charlie; think of my poor feet. My shoes are fast
disappearing, and I don't know what I shall do when they come quite to
pieces."

"I must kill a goat and make a pair of sandals for you of its skin."

"Thank you, Charlie, that would be first rate; still, these shoes will
do for a bit yet, and I am a little doubtful as to your capabilities as
a shoemaker. Well, I think we shall do better to-morrow. From the high
ridge we last crossed I could see a large valley in front of us, and I
am not sure but I saw villages."

"Then your eyes are sharper than mine are; I saw the valley, but I
failed to make out anything like habitations. However, in any case, we
are not likely to go very fast to-morrow, for I should say that we must
be still some fifteen miles from the valley."

"Oh well, one day will not make any very great difference. We will go
on as long as it is light enough to see, and then camp for the night,
go down the next day to a point low in the hills, and can either camp
for the night or stop twenty-four hours."

"I certainly vote for the halt," Carter said, "I am sure that we
deserve it. How did you think the valley lay?"

"I should think, from the appearance of the hills behind it, that it
must run north and south, which is the right direction for us."

"Probably when we get to the other end," Carter said, "we shall find a
track of some sort, through which we can pass into the next valley. I
don't know whether there is much traffic between these villages; if so,
we shall have to travel at night; if not, we can risk it and go on by
day. I hope the latter will be the case. It will be bad enough finding
our way along the valleys now that there is no moon, and we should make
very slow work of it on the tracks connecting them on a dark night."

"We shall have a new moon this afternoon," Nita said.

"Yes, it was full the night that I stood at the window, and that is a
fortnight ago to-day."

"It will be splendid, Charlie, if it gets even half full, then we
shall make good travelling, whatever ground we are crossing over. At
any rate, when we get into the valley you will let me carry the rifle,
won't you? You insisted on taking it, you know; but if it comes to
fighting, I have a right to it, haven't I?"

"Certainly you have, and as you are a very much better shot than I am,
it will be more valuable in your hands than in mine."

The following evening they camped some three miles from the valley. The
next day they only moved to a spot where they commanded a full view
of it. They thought it was some twenty miles long and contained many
villages.

"Thank goodness there is a river running down it," Nita said; "that
will be some guide, anyhow. There are only one or two villages on the
banks, as far as I can see, the rest are on the hillsides."

They started as soon as it was dark, made their way down into the
valley, and, striking the river, kept along down it; not keeping close,
however, for the course meandered so much that it would add very
greatly to the distance to be travelled.

"There is the north star," Carter said; "if we keep it on the same hand
and steer by it we sha'n't be very far out."

They plodded steadily on. More than once they would have walked into a
village, but were warned of its exact position by the barking of dogs.
However, after what seemed an almost interminable journey they arrived
at the end of the valley as morning was breaking. They found that a
path ran up the hill in front of them. As soon as they had satisfied
themselves about its position they entered a grove close by it and
camped there. Eating a chupatie or two from the store she had cooked
the evening before, Nita threw herself down and fell asleep at once.
Carter, however, placed himself on watch near the edge of the wood.
Four times during the day parties of two or three men went up the path,
and this led him to believe that the next valley could not be far away,
and that a good deal of communication was kept up with the one they
were now in. Late in the afternoon Nita opened her eyes. She looked
about for a minute or two before she caught sight of her companion. She
at once went up to him.

"You don't mean to say, Charlie, that you have been watching all this
time while I have been asleep?"

"It was absolutely necessary to keep watch," he said, "and I was very
glad to do so. It was nothing to me to miss a night's sleep."

"I am very angry with you," she said, "and insist on taking my turn in
future. Now you must lie down at once without a minute's delay. The sun
is already getting low, and we cannot have more than three hours before
it is time to start. I suppose it is not very necessary to stand quite
still and watch all the time?"

"By no means. From this point you can see well down the valley, and
would be able to make out any one approaching at some distance."

"Very well, then, I will get some meat cooked. I am sorry to say that
we have come to our last piece. It has held out a good deal better than
we expected."

"I have no doubt that we shall be able to replenish it," he said;
"there are a considerable number of cattle in these valleys."

Three hours later they again set out. It was in many places very
difficult to keep to the path, and they had to hark back several times,
but at length they began to descend so rapidly that they felt that they
could be but a small distance from the next valley. They therefore
halted and sat down till daylight broke, and then moved away from the
path to a mass of great boulders, among which they lay up for the day.
Three more valleys were passed in safety. Carter had succeeded in
replenishing their supply of meat, and the water-skin was regularly
filled whenever they got the chance.

"Things are going on first-rate," Nita said, when they halted early one
morning.

"Yes, but we must not expect them always to go so well. This valley
is getting larger. The houses are more carefully built, and it is, no
doubt, inhabited by an increased population. You see, the robes that we
are wearing will do well enough to pass at a distance, but they would
not bear close inspection."

The next evening, emboldened by their good fortune, they started some
time before the sun was down, and at a sudden turn in the pass came
upon three Afridis.

"Walk straight on," Carter said.

Nita happened to be carrying the rifle, while Charlie had been obliged
to lead the pony. The men paused when within twenty yards of them, and
then a sudden exclamation broke from the party, and one raised his
rifle and shouted, "Who are you?"

"We are travellers on our way to our homes, twenty miles off."

"You lie," the man said, pointing his gun at them, "you are not natives
of the country."

Nita had thrown her rifle forward and fired at the same instant as the
native. His bullet knocked off her turban, while she shot him through
the body. With a shout of rage the other two men raised their rifles,
but one fell dead before he could get it to his shoulder. The other
fired a shot and then fled with the agility of a deer, getting cover in
a moment round a sharp corner of the defile.

"It is unfortunate, but there was nothing else to be done," Carter
said; "now what is our best course?"

Nita stood a minute without speaking, and then said:

"My opinion is that we had better find some spot to hide as close here
as possible."

"Hide as close to this place as possible?" Carter said, in surprise. "I
should have thought that we had better turn down the pass at once, or
push on."

"I do not think so," Nita said; "we must take it as certain that
the man who has fled will return as quickly as possible with twenty
or thirty others. As they will not see us on our way here they will
suppose that we have either returned or have taken to the hills, one
side or the other; they would never think of searching close here."

"You are right," Carter said. "What do you say to that pile of boulders
on the right?"

"That will do excellently, if we can find a place among them."

"We are sure to be able to do that by moving two or three of them. We
have probably got a couple of hours to make our preparations."

Accordingly they set to work at once, and by using their united
strength, managed to move enough of them to make a first-rate place
of concealment for themselves and the pony. The animal's legs were
fastened, and it was made to lie down, and they took their places
beside it. Carter went down the path, and looked at the hiding-place
from all sides, in order that he might feel sure that it could not be
made out from any point close by. The heap of boulders lay at the foot
of a steep precipice, and it was evident that no one from above could
approach near enough to the edge to look down upon them. Having made
sure of this he returned to the hiding-place. Three-quarters of an hour
passed, and then a score of wild figures armed with rifles, muskets,
and other weapons appeared round the corner of the pass.

Carter took a glimpse at what was going on. There was an excited
conversation; some of the men pointed to the hills on both sides,
while some were evidently of opinion that their assailants, whoever
they were, had returned to the valley beyond. Finally they broke up
into three parties, seven or eight men going on each side, while the
remainder pushed on along the path. Half an hour later another sixteen
men came up and also divided, half climbing the hills on either side.
But night was now falling. For some time the shouts of the searchers
could be heard, but these gradually ceased as the men abandoned the
hunt as hopeless for the night. They came down in twos and threes,
until presently the fugitives were convinced that all had returned.

"It was certainly an admirable plan of yours, Miss Ackworth, and has
completely thrown them off the scent. Now we had better be going. The
moon gives us enough light to make our way, and we must be as far as
possible from here before morning, when, no doubt, the men of this
valley, and perhaps the one that we have just quitted, will turn out in
search of us."

"I am quite ready," Nita said, "and I have no doubt the pony is too.
His sack has been getting lighter and lighter every day, and I think
that we haven't more than thirty or forty pounds left, and as we have
always been able to get water, I don't think that there is more than
enough in the water-skin to balance the sack."

"I am sorry that the provisions are getting short," Carter said, "but
it is an immense advantage, in climbing about among these hills, to
have such a light burden. The pony ought to be able to make its way
wherever we can, so, as we don't want to cut ourselves adrift from
the valleys, I should say that we had better work round the foot of
the hills, in which case we ought to be well to the south of the next
valley before day breaks. Fortunately they can have no idea who we are.
That we are strangers, and curious ones, they of course know, but we
are so far out of the road which they would think the escaped prisoners
would take, that it is not at all likely that they will in any way
associate us with them, even if they have heard of our escape, which is
very improbable. They will therefore have nothing to indicate the road
we are taking. All they really do know of us is that we have a rifle,
and can shoot straight."



                              CHAPTER VII

                              A SKIRMISH


They started at once, not trying to mount the hillside above the point
where they had been hidden, but to keep along as far as possible at
the same height. After making their way painfully for a couple of
hours, they came to a spot from which they could see the valley below
them. They then gradually made their way down till only two or three
hundred feet above its bottom, and then kept along its side. In the
still night air they could hear many voices, and knew that the coming
of these mysterious and dangerous visitors was being warmly discussed.
Lights burned much later than was usual in the villages, but at last
these altogether disappeared, and they ventured still lower, keeping,
however, a sharp look-out for any villages situated on the spurs. The
valley was not above eight or ten miles long, and they were well past
it before morning dawned.

The country they now entered was a little more precipitous and rugged
than that they had recently passed, and they agreed that it would be
impossible to climb over it, and that they would have to make use of
the pass. They therefore chose a good hiding-place some distance up on
the hill. It was sheltered from behind by a precipice, at whose foot
grew a clump of bushes of considerable size.

"We cannot do better than this," Carter said, "and as the people will
be starting in search of us in less than an hour we have no farther
time to look for another hiding-place, and, indeed, I don't think
that we should be likely to find a better one if we did. There is one
comfort: however numerously they turn out, they will take care not to
scatter much, in view of the lesson you gave them, and unless they do
scatter, their chance of lighting upon us is small indeed. I don't
suppose their heart will be very much in the business, except on the
part of the relatives of the men you shot, who are, after all, as
likely to belong to the valley we left as to this one. These tribesmen
are good fighters when their liberty is threatened, but they are not
very fond of putting themselves into danger.

"I feel much more comfortable," Carter continued, "now I am no longer
condemned to go about unarmed. It was a grand idea taking the rifles of
those two men we shot. The pony carries one, and I carry the other."

"But you have carried one all the time."

"Yes, but as I was under orders to hand it over to you whenever you
wanted it, it has not been any great satisfaction to me. Now I can feel
that I can play my part, and although these Martinis are not quite as
good as your Lee-Metford, they are quite good enough for all practical
purposes, and with your magazine always in readiness we ought to be
able to give a good account of ourselves."

The day passed quietly. Parties of men were seen moving about on the
hills, but none came near them. At night they went forward again, but
moved with great caution, as it was possible that as fugitives could
hardly get across the mountains the Afridis might keep a watch in the
pass. They had crossed the highest point, and were descending, when
they saw rising before them, by the side of the path, an old Buddhist
temple. When within a short distance from it half a dozen men jumped
out and fired a volley. The shots all went wide, but the reply was not
so futile. Four men fell, and the rest, appalled by the heavy loss,
fled down the hill.

"That is sharp," Carter said, "but soon over. However, this is but the
beginning of it; they will carry the news down to the next valley, and
we shall be besieged here. However, fortunately, it appears to be very
steep on both sides of the temple, and I don't think even the Afridis,
firm-footed as they are, will be able to climb the hill and get behind
us."

"But we can no more get up than they can."

"No, but at least it will give us only one side to defend, and we can
keep an eye on the hills and pick off any who try to make their way
along the top, and if the worst comes to the worst we must retire down
the pass again to-night, and try to strike out somewhere over the
hills. It doesn't much matter which way so that we get out of this
neighbourhood, which is becoming altogether too hot for us."

Daylight was just breaking when a number of men were seen coming up the
pass. The two fugitives had already ensconced themselves and their pony
in the temple, and had posted themselves at two of the narrow windows.
Nita shouted, "Keep away, or it will be worse for you. We don't want
to hurt you, if you will leave us alone, but if you attack us we shall
defend ourselves."

The answer was a volley of shots, to which the defenders of the
temple did not reply, as they were anxious not to waste a cartridge.
Emboldened by the silence, the enemy gradually approached, keeping up a
steady fire. When they were within eighty yards the defenders answered
steadily and deliberately. By the time twenty rounds had been fired the
enemy were in full flight, leaving six dead upon the ground, while
several of the others were wounded.

"I expect that will sicken them effectually," Carter said, "and that,
at any rate, they will not attempt to renew the attack until it becomes
dark again. I think we had better wait an hour and see what they intend
doing."

The hour was just up when a white figure was seen high up on the
hillside, making his way cautiously along the face of the precipitous
hill.

"What is the distance, do you think?" Carter said.

"Five to six hundred yards, I should say."

"I suppose it is about that. Well, he must be stopped if possible."
And, levelling his rifle, he took a long steady aim and fired. The man
was seen to start as the bullet sung up close to him. "You can beat
that, Nita," he said in a tone of disgust.

"I will try, anyhow," she said, "but the range puzzles one, the man
being so far above us." She steadied her rifle against a stone and
fired. The man was seen to disappear behind a rock.

"A splendid shot!" Carter exclaimed.

"I am not sure that I hit him, I think he fell at the flash. However,
there is a space between that stone and the boulder ahead of it."

It was five minutes before any movement was seen, then the man started
forward suddenly. Nita was kneeling with her rifle aimed at a spot
half-way between the stones, and as he crossed she pressed the trigger.
This time there was no mistake; the man fell forward on his face and
lay there immovable.

"I have no doubt that they are watching down below, and when they see
him fall no one will care to follow his example. Now I think we had
better be moving. We must risk meeting people coming over the pass.
If we can get over the worst of it, we must hide and then climb the
mountain, on whichever side appears easiest."

No time was lost. It was still early, for daylight was scarcely
breaking when the attack had taken place. Leaving the temple they
started at once, travelling as fast as the pony could pick its way
along the steep path. Two hours later they saw, far in the distance,
two men coming up. There was fortunately some shelter near, and here
they took refuge and lay hidden until the men had passed them, and
then continued their journey. They were three parts of the way down
the pass, when on their right-hand side they saw a slope that seemed
practicable, and they made their way up slowly and cautiously till they
reached a plateau, the mountain still rising steeply in front of them.
They travelled along this plateau, and presently saw an opening in the
mountain range. They halted now, lit a fire in a hollow, and cooked
some food, and then, confident that they were well beyond the area
likely to be searched, they lay down to sleep.

A start was made at daybreak. They found the difficulty of crossing the
range enormous, and had frequently to retrace their steps, but at last
struck the head of a small ravine and decided to follow it down. Late
in the evening they found themselves at a spot where the ravine widened
into a valley. They waited until morning, when they were able to obtain
a view down this. It was of no very great extent--about a quarter of a
mile wide and half a mile long, and contained but a few houses. They
remained quiet all day, and at nightfall moved along the valley on
the side opposite to the village. They found that a small stream ran
through it, and they decided to follow its course, the next morning
halting well beyond the valley in a deep gorge.

"It is strange," Nita said, as they settled themselves for a rest, "how
these narrow gorges can have cut their way through the mountains."

"Yes; it can only be that ages since these valleys were all deep lakes.
At the time of the melting of the snows they overflowed. No doubt in
some places the strata were softer than others, and here the water
began to cut a groove, which grew deeper and deeper till at last the
lake was empty. Then of course the work stopped and the water would
run off as fast as it fell."

"It must have taken an enormous time," Nita said, "for the hills
bordering the ravines must in some places be three or four thousand
feet deep."

"Fully that. It certainly gives us a wonderful idea of the age of the
world, and the tremendous power exercised by water; in dry weather
these ravines formed the chief roads of the country, though some, no
doubt, are so blocked with boulders fallen from above, or washed down
by torrents, that they cannot be used by laden animals. I fancy there
is not much communication between the valleys. They are governed by
their chiefs, and it is only in cases of common danger that they ever
act together. They prize their independence above everything, and are
ready to gather from all parts of the country for common defence. No
European except ourselves, I feel certain, has ever entered these
valleys, and the inhabitants are absolutely convinced that their
ravines and passes are impregnable. No doubt at some time or other
the British will be driven to send an expedition to convince them to
the contrary. I think that if there were no such things as guns their
belief in their impregnability would be well justified. The men are
brave and hardy, and thoroughly understand how to take advantage of
the wonderful facilities of their ground for defence, and even in
the most remote valleys they have managed to accumulate a store of
first-rate rifles.

"How they have got them is a mystery. A good many, perhaps, have been
carried off by deserters from our frontier regiments. Many of these
enlist for this purpose alone. They serve faithfully for a time, but
at the first opportunity make off with their rifle. Still, numerous
as these desertions are, they would not account for a tithe of the
rifles in the hands of the tribesmen. Some, I fancy, must be landed
by rascally British dealers, in the Persian Gulf, or on the coast of
Beluchistan. Some have been imported by traders from India. At any rate
it is unquestionable that a vast number of rifles are in the hands of
the Afridis, and will give us a world of trouble when we set ourselves
in earnest to deprive them of them."

"I wonder the government doesn't forbid the exportation of rifles
altogether," Nita said indignantly.

"It would be well if they did so, but there are difficulties in
the way. The Indian princes buy them in large quantities for their
followers, and nominally they are no doubt imported for that purpose,
but when well up country they are taken north and disposed of to the
Afridis, who are ready to pay any price for them, for an Afridi values
nothing as he does a good rifle, and he would willingly exchange wife
or child to get possession of one."

"But nobody wants to buy a wife or child," Nita said. "It doesn't seem
to me that they possess any sort of property that could pay for the
rifles by the time they got into the country."

"I fancy they are paid for largely in cattle. Herds are driven down the
country, and no watch that we can keep can prevent the traffic. The
cattle are always consigned to some large town well past the frontier,
where the rifles can easily be handed over."

"I think it ought to be stopped altogether," Nita said indignantly;
"the people of the towns can do very well without Afridi cattle, and if
not, they should be made to. It would be much better for them to have
to pay an anna extra a pound for their meat, than for us to have to
spend hundreds of lives and millions of pounds in getting the rifles
back again."

"Yes, there are many things that we soldiers, who are only here to do
the fighting, can make neither head nor tail of. If India were governed
by soldiers instead of civilians, things would be very differently
managed. As it is, we can only wonder and grumble. The authorities are
so mightily afraid of injuring the susceptibilities of the natives
that they pamper them in every way, and even when it is manifest that
the whole of the community suffer by their so doing. It is the more
ridiculous, because, in the old days, their own rulers paid not the
slightest attention to these same susceptibilities, or to the likes or
dislikes of their subjects."

"It is all very strange," Nita said, "and very unaccountable."

"Everyone on the frontier knows that sooner or later we shall have to
deal with the Afridis, and that it will be an enormously difficult and
expensive business, and will cost an immense amount of life."

"Don't let us talk about it any more; it makes me out of all patience
to think of such folly."

The journey was resumed the next morning, and continued day after
day and week after week. Sometimes they were obliged to turn quite
out of their direct course, and they had to run considerable risks
to get fresh supplies for themselves and forage for the pony. Both
were obtained by entering villages at night, and filling their sack
from stacks of grain and forage. The grain they pounded between flat
stones as they sat by their fire, and so made a coarse meal which
they generally boiled into a sort of porridge, their sauce-pans being
gourds cut in the fields. Meat they had no difficulty about, as Carter
managed, when necessary, to kill a bullock and take sufficient meat for
ten days' supply.

They seldom caught sight of a villager when travelling through the
valleys, for the Afridis have a marked objection to moving about after
nightfall. Once or twice one or two of them approached them, but
Carter raised such a loud and threatening roar, that they in each case
retreated with all speed to their village, which they filled with alarm
with tales of having encountered strange and terrible creatures.

Gradually the difficulties decreased, the mountains became less
precipitous, the valleys larger and more thickly inhabited, a matter
which caused them no inconvenience as they always traversed them at
night. During their journey Carter had filled Nita's note-book with
sketches and maps, which, as the country was wholly unexplored, would
be of great advantage to an advancing army when properly copied out
on a large scale. He was clever with his pencil, and Nita used to be
greatly interested in his lively little sketches of the scenery through
which they passed.

"It will be very useful to me," he said; "and in the event of troops
having to march through this district, should go a long way towards
securing me a staff appointment, for in such a case these sketches and
maps would be invaluable, and I should get no end of credit for them."

"So you ought to," Nita said; "you have taken a lot of pains about
them, and anyone with those maps should be able to find their way back
by the route we have come."

"I have my doubts about that," he said; "that is, if I were not with
them to point out the places we have passed. I should find it difficult
myself, for we have come by a very devious road. Of course, I have had
no chance whatever of getting compass bearings, and have only been able
to put them in by the position of the sun. And besides, a great part of
our journey has been done by night. Although, of course, I can indicate
the general direction of the valleys through which we have passed, our
routes at night among the mountains are necessarily little more than
guesswork, for except when we had the moon we have practically nothing
else to tell us of our position, or the direction in which we were
going."

"We had the stars," Nita said.

"Yes, when I get back and work out the position of the stars it will,
of course, help me a great deal, and the pole-star especially has been
of immense use to us. In fact, had it not been for that star we should
not, except when there was a moon, have been able to travel."

"I am sure it will all come right when you work it out," Nita said
confidently, "and that you will get an immense deal of credit for it.
It has been a jolly time, hasn't it, in spite of the hard work and
the danger? I know that I have had a capital time of it; and as to my
health, I feel as strong as a horse, and fit to walk any distance,
especially since my feet have got so hard."

"It is a time that I shall always look back upon, Nita, as one of my
most pleasant memories. You have been such a splendid comrade, thanks
to your pluck and good spirits, and no words can express how much I
feel indebted to you."

"Oh, that is all nonsense!" she said; "of course I have done my best,
but that was very little."

"You may not think so, but in reality I owe you not only my escape, and
the various suggestions which have been of so much use to us, as, for
example, our hiding in that place close to the road instead of starting
up into the hills, where we should have certainly been overtaken; but
you have helped on many another occasion too, to say nothing of the
constant cheeriness of your companionship. It has certainly been very
strange, a young man and a girl thus wandering about together, but
somehow it has scarcely felt strange to me. The defence of the fort
brought us very close to each other, and was so far fortunate that
it prepared us for this business. However, I agree most thoroughly
with you, that in spite of the hardships and dangers we have had to go
through, our companionship has been a very pleasant one."

"Oh, dear!" Nita sighed; "how disgusting it will be to have to put on
girl's clothes again, and settle down into being stiff and proper!
Fancy having to learn school lessons again after all this."



                             CHAPTER VIII

                            DARLINGER AGAIN


At length they came upon a burned village, whose walls showed the marks
of cannon-shot and shrapnel. The towers had been blown up, and the
valley appeared to be entirely deserted.

"This is a good sign!" Carter exclaimed; "this work is evidently quite
recent, and no doubt is the result of a punitive expedition sent out
to revenge the destruction of the fort. I expect from here onwards we
shall find that every village has been destroyed. Of course, we must
still travel cautiously; the natives will doubtless be returning and
setting about rebuilding their homes--still, we are not likely to meet
many of them."

Continuing their journey, they found traces of fire and sword
everywhere. "The work has been done well and thoroughly," Carter said;
"there is not a roof left standing. I have no doubt every village on
our frontier has been visited and punished. It was the most serious
attack that has been made for years on one of our border forts, and
you may be sure that no pains have been spared to make the punishment
proportionate to the offence. There will not be many rifles left in
this part of the country, for you may be sure that all will have to be
handed in. I don't want to run any risks, but if we did fall in with
the natives I should doubt if, after this punishment, any of them would
dare to meddle with us."

Presently, indeed, they did meet a party consisting of a dozen natives.
These were evidently returning to their homes. They were armed
only with old muskets, and, seeing the three rifles carried by the
strangers, they simply saluted and walked on.

"We may fairly consider ourselves among friends, at least among men who
no longer venture to be enemies. I fancy I know this village. It is
about fifty or sixty miles from the fort; I rode out here with a troop
to demand the instant surrender of some cattle that had been stolen
from across the frontier. The country is fairly open all the way, and
we shall have no difficulty whatever with the rest of our journey."

They now pressed forward with all haste, travelling by day, and towards
evening, two days later, they made out, far away on the plain, a group
of white tents. As they came nearer they saw that a considerable number
of men were employed in rebuilding the houses in the fort, and in
adding additional works round them. The sun was just setting as they
arrived at the edge of the camp.

Evident surprise was caused among the soldiers at the appearance of
two officers in khaki. Their uniforms were in ribbons, and so dirty
and travel-stained that it was difficult to make out that they were
officers. Presently one of the soldiers recognized Carter and raised a
shout, and immediately the soldiers flocked round them, cheering loudly
at the reappearance of their officer, who they had deemed was killed at
the capture of the fort.

No one noticed Nita, who, seized with a new shyness, followed Carter,
who could move but slowly, for the soldiers pressed forward to salute
him. Soon some officers appeared on the scene, and these too gave the
lieutenant an enthusiastic welcome.

"Who is it you have with you?" one of these asked.

"I will explain to you later on," Carter said, "At present I want to go
to the major's tent. I hope he is here."

"Yes, he is here, poor fellow, but he is quite a changed man. He is
frightfully cut up at the loss of his daughter."

"Did he find her body?" Carter asked innocently.

"No, it was doubtless among those destroyed by fire in the mess-house.
We thought that you were there also, for on uncovering the ruins we
found nothing but a charred mass of bodies utterly unrecognizable.
There, that is the major's tent. He is standing at the door, waiting,
no doubt, to ascertain the cause of the hubbub."

As Carter approached the entrance to the tent, the major stepped
forward, having gathered from the shouting who the ragged figure
approaching him was. He shook the lieutenant cordially by the hand.

"I am glad, indeed, to find that you are alive, Carter," he said.
"Everyone thought that there was not a single survivor of the massacre;
though we hear now that the havildar and one of the men were taken
prisoners, and only last week we sent off into the mountains to offer
terms for their ransom."

"I will enter your tent, if you will allow me, major. I have something
of importance to tell you."

The major entered, followed by Carter, with Nita three or four paces
behind him. The major, who had not before noticed the lieutenant's
young companion, looked at the youthful figure in surprise. Then he
staggered a pace or two back as Nita, holding out her hands, exclaimed,
"Don't you know me, father?"

With a hoarse cry the major held out his arms and Nita ran into them,
while Carter at once left the tent.

For a time the major could only murmur exclamations of thankfulness,
but as he calmed down at last, he asked, "What are you doing in this
masquerade, Nita?"

"The explanation is this, father. When the place was attacked I dressed
myself up in a suit of Carter's clothes, because I was determined
to fight till the last and be killed rather than be carried away a
captive. I did fight, father, and was at the last knocked down with
the butt-end of a rifle, and left for dead, but by the next morning
I recovered consciousness, and when they examined the bodies they
found that I was sensible; but Carter was still insensible. We were
carried off, in different directions, the idea being, I suppose, either
to obtain ransom for us, or to pacify you if you should bring an
expedition into the mountains."

Then she gave a full account of their wanderings, keeping herself
entirely in the background and giving all the credit to Carter.

"But if you and he were carried off by different parties, how did you
come together again?"

"I escaped eventually and made my way over the hills to where I had
learned that he was confined, and then he got away and joined me. We
have been a long time in the mountains together, travelling all the
time."

"But how did you get food?"

"I stole a good part of it, father. I suppose I ought to be ashamed of
having done so, but it was absolutely necessary. Before I escaped I
collected it gradually till I had a sack full; then I stole a pony to
carry it, and a skin for water. This supply lasted us over a fortnight.
Carter went down sometimes into a valley and killed a bullock, and kept
us well supplied with meat. As to the grain, we occasionally rifled
a village storehouse. So we really were never short of food, though
I must say that I shall be very glad to have a piece of good bread
between my teeth again."

"I should not have known you in the least," the major said; "you are
altered a good deal, but Carter is much more so. Of course, he has had
no opportunity of shaving since he has been away, and so has grown
quite a respectable beard. Now I suppose the first thing that you would
like to do would be to get into your own clothes again. But how you are
to manage I do not know, for of course everything was destroyed at the
capture of the fort.

"I should like some clothes indeed, father. Of course I got quite
accustomed to these when I was a prisoner, and have had no time to
think about them since, indeed I did not even feel strange in them when
the attack upon the fort was going on. But I should not like to be seen
wearing a man's uniform here. Still, I suppose a few traders have come
up and have opened temporary stores, and if you would go over and buy
me some cloth, I can soon make up something in which I shall not mind
appearing."

"No, I do not think any have arrived yet, but I will go across to the
quarter-master's tent and see what he has got." And the major went out.

In ten minutes he returned, followed by a sepoy carrying a roll of
karkee serge.

"There, Nita," he said, "you can make yourself a skirt out of that, and
with one of my jackets you will be all right, although I do not suppose
you will be quite fashionably dressed. You will find needles and thread
in that haversack. Now, my dear, while you are arranging matters I will
go across to the mess-room. No doubt all the officers are gathered
there to hear Carter's story."

The major returned a couple of hours later. Nita, except that her hair
was still short, and her face and hands sunburnt, was herself again.

"Do you know, father," she said as he entered, "I feel horribly
uncomfortable in these clothes. Of course I shall get accustomed to
them in time, but at present they seem to cling about me in a most
disagreeable way."

"You would have been pleased, my dear, if you had heard the hearty
cheering there was in the mess-tent when I told them who Carter's
companion was, for he had kept a profound silence on the subject, and
had simply told them that it was a fellow-captive. I never saw men more
pleased, and it shows how popular you are in the regiment. But Carter
has told us a very different tale from what you told me. He went, of
course, much more into detail, and the details related largely to your
doings. First of all he gave us a description of the siege, and of the
desperate stand made when the Afridis burst in, and how you fought
until the last of the little group was overpowered. Then he told us
how, when he recovered consciousness, he found himself carried along,
and how, after some days' travel, he was imprisoned in the upper room
of one of their fortified houses. He said that he found the captivity
was exceedingly strict, and that no real hope of escape entered his
breast, until one morning he found a note from you fastened to an arrow
lying on the ground.

"It told him that you would shoot in another arrow the next night
with a string fastened to a rope attached to it. Then he went on to
tell how, when he had got down, you took him to your camp, a mile and
a half away, where you had a pony and a large sack of provisions. He
says that during your travels you showed a marvellous amount of pluck
and endurance, and that in the first skirmish that occurred you shot
two out of the three of your assailants, and that, in consequence, you
both became possessed of rifles, which you used to good purpose when
you were afterwards seriously attacked. He said that when you both
concluded that large bodies of tribesmen would be at once sent out in
search of you, it was you advised that you should take shelter among
rocks but a few yards away from the spot where you were attacked, as
it was not at all likely that your enemies would begin their search so
near to the scene of action. Altogether he gave you the highest credit."

"Then he was both foolish and wrong, father," Nita said angrily, "and
I am sure that he will admit that I always followed his advice without
question; but indeed, except in the way of travel, and we did go
through an awfully rough country, and had continually to change our
course to avoid impossible difficulties, we really had no adventures to
speak of except these two skirmishes. Of course we were greatly helped
by the Afridi custom of staying indoors after nightfall."

The next day Nita held a sort of reception, and was called upon by all
the officers of the regiment. Whereas during her journey she had felt
no feeling of shyness, she now felt timid and embarrassed, but, as her
father told her, this feeling would wear off before long.

A few days later, the major sent Nita home to England, where she at
once went to a school close to her aunt's, and it was two years before
she rejoined the regiment. She found that several changes had taken
place. Carter had obtained his company, and had received very high
credit for the sketches and maps that he had furnished of the hitherto
unknown country through which they had passed. Of course they could not
be the same chums as before, but it was not long before it was evident
that they had not forgotten their perilous journey together. Within a
month they became engaged, with her father's complete approval, for
Carter, in addition to his captain's pay, possessed an income of £400
a year. Since then he has passed through the Tirah campaign, where his
maps proved of great value, and gained for him a brevet majority. And
with his cherished companion, who has become his wife, his life bids
fair to be a perfectly bright and happy one.



            HOW COUNT CONRAD VON WALDENSTURM TOOK GOLDSTEIN


"A cheerful home-coming, Johann," Conrad von Waldensturm said bitterly.
"Fool that I was to believe that Goldstein would be bound by any oath!
'Tis well that I had heard the news, and that I did not learn it for
the first time looking at the ruins of my home."

"The Elector of Treves should do you justice, master."

"The elector has his hands full with his quarrels with his neighbours,
and would not care to take up arms against a powerful vassal. It would
need a strong force indeed to take Goldstein, and there are many who,
although they love not the baron, would not care to war against him
in a quarrel which did not greatly concern them. Had I been at home
I do not think that the baron would have dared thus to attack our
castle without further pretext than that our families had always been
on bad terms; but when the emperor called upon all honourable gentlemen
to aid him in his struggle with the Turks I had no thought that harm
might come in my absence, or that death would take away my father, the
bravest and best knight in the province, and that my sister Minna would
be left unprotected. Had I received the news earlier of my father's
death I might have been home in time, but if a messenger was sent to
tell me, which I doubt not was the case, some harm befell him on the
way, and it was not until four months later that a knight from Treves,
joining the army, told me the news. Then, as we fortunately defeated
the Turks with heavy loss, the emperor permitted me to return home, but
before I left the army this blow came: the castle was destroyed, most
of the retainers on the estate killed, and Minna carried away."

The speaker, Count Conrad von Waldensturm, was a young man some
twenty-five years old. His father's castle stood on a steep hill above
the Moselle. When he had left two years before it was strong and
shapely--as fair a castle as any in the valley--now it was a ruin. The
stonework was for the most part but little injured, but the interior
had been gutted by fire, and the empty windows looked mournfully out
on the fair prospect. The gate was gone, and in several places the
battlements had been demolished; the moat was empty, the drawbridge had
disappeared.

This was the work of Baron Wolff von Goldstein, whose castle lay some
twelve miles lower down the river. It was a much larger and stronger
place than the abode of Conrad's ancestors. For nigh a century there
had been little friendship between the lords of Waldensturm and those
of Goldstein; they had taken different sides in the troubles of that
time, and the enmity thus created had never died out. The Baron von
Goldstein had been on the winning side and had been rewarded by the
gift of fully half the lands of Waldensturm.

When the emperor had called upon the nobles and barons of Germany
to aid him against the Turks, he had issued an order that all feuds
should, during their absence, be laid aside, and when allowing his
son to go to war the Count von Waldensturm had called upon Wolff von
Goldstein to take an oath that there should be peace between the two
families during his absence, and this the baron had done without
hesitation. But a month after the count's death Von Goldstein suddenly
fell upon the castle, put all the retainers to the sword, ravaged the
whole of the estate, and carried off Minna, a girl of fourteen, to his
castle.

The other speaker was Johann Bernkof, a stout man-at-arms and the
leader of the little troop of eighteen retainers, the sole survivors
of fifty men who had followed their young lord to the war. These were
sitting on their horses, some twenty yards behind the speakers, looking
in speechless wrath at the ruined castle, the remains of the village
which formerly stood down by the river's edge, the untilled fields,
the wasted farms. What had befallen their families none knew. Fathers,
brothers, and friends, who had been among the retainers of the castle,
had almost certainly perished; where the women were sheltered, or what
had become of them, they knew not. As the count was speaking to Bernkof
they insensibly moved their horses up closer. The young count turned
suddenly.

"Well, men," he said, "you have been fighting well and manfully against
the enemies of our country and our religion; it seems to me that we
have an enemy at home more faithless and more cruel than the Turks.
Will you fight less manfully against him?"

"We will fight to the death," the men shouted, drawing their swords,
"for home and vengeance."

"When the time comes I will call upon you," the young count said,
"though I fear that we can do nothing at present. Were you ten times
as strong you could not hope to storm Goldstein. The first thing is
to take care that no news that we have returned shall reach the baron,
therefore scatter to your homes quietly and singly. If, as I fear will
generally be the case, you find them destroyed, take shelter among
friends who remain; lay aside your armour and appear as peaceful men;
find out as far as possible where all who have escaped Von Goldstein's
attack are sheltered. Some, no doubt, will have gone elsewhere. Let
these be sought out and told, under promise of secrecy, that I have
returned. Bid all capable of bearing arms be in readiness to gather on
any day and hour I may appoint. That is all at present. I shall take
up my abode in the ruins here, and any who have aught to tell me will
find me there every evening. In three days let me have news where each
of you has bestowed yourself. Arrange with your friends that a few lads
shall come here every evening to act as messengers should I have need
of them."

The little troop broke up at once, and Conrad rode with his sergeant
up to the castle. Dismounting, they entered the courtyard. The tears
came into the young count's eyes as he looked round at the ruins. The
thought of how his father and the household had bidden him farewell,
how his young sister had placed a scarf of her own embroidering over
his shoulders, and had wept freely as she did so, at the thought of
the months that would elapse before she would see him again, for the
moment unmanned him. However, with an effort he roused himself, and
said: "They have not done so much harm as I had feared, Johann; the
stonework has suffered but little, and it is carpenters' work rather
than masons' that will be needed. Timber is cheap, and happily my purse
is well lined with the ransom that Turkish emir I captured paid for his
liberty. Still, that matters nothing at present. So long as Goldstein
stands, Waldensturm will never be rebuilt. The first thing to do is to
look round and see where we had best bestow ourselves and our horses."

There was no difficulty in this; the offices on the ground floor were
strongly arched, and although most of these chambers had been crushed
in by the fall of the floors above, or by the battlements that had been
toppled down upon them, three or four remained intact. The horses were
led into one of them, and the young knight and Johann set to work to
clear another of the debris and rubbish for their own habitation.

"That is better than I had hoped," the former said, when the work was
done. "Now, Johann, we must wait for our supper till the men I charged
to obtain food for ourselves and forage for the horses return. We are
accustomed to hard fare, and it matters not, so that we can obtain
bread and enough of it. More than that we cannot expect, for such of
our vassals as have remained in the neighbourhood must be beggared, as
we have not seen a head of cattle or sheep since we crossed the border
of the estate, and the fields all stood uncultivated."

Two of the men presently returned; one brought some black bread,
another two fowls and a flask of wine.

"I got the wine at old Richburg's, my lord," he said; "he had a small
store that escaped the plunderers, and the fowls I got elsewhere.
They had been out in the fields when the raiders came down, and Carl
Schmidt, on his return, gathered a score or two, and these have
multiplied. He lets them run wild, so that should the raiders come
again they may escape as before. He has built himself a shelter of sods
where his house stood. He will bring you two fowls every day so long
as he has any left. He says that to-morrow he will gather a dozen of
them in, and maybe he will be able to add a few eggs to the fowls he
brings. He told me that many of the people have returned. Some have
built shelters in the woods, others, like himself, have established
themselves in rough huts on the spot where their old homes stood, and
have sown small patches of grain. All have been living in hopes of
your return, and there is not a man or boy who will not take up arms as
soon as you give the word."

"I am glad to hear it. Take my thanks to Schmidt and Richburg, and tell
them that I have not come home penniless, and that whether we succeed
or not against this perjured baron they shall have help to rebuild
their houses, and to enable them to live until they can raise crops."

A fire was soon laid, for the yard was strewn with unburned beams which
had fallen from the roofs and sheds. Johann plucked and split open the
fowls, and grilled them over the fire.

"We have done worse than this many a time when we were with the
emperor," Conrad said as they ate their meal. When he had finished he
sat for a long time in deep thought, then he remarked: "We must think
over our plans. So far we have been able to form none. That the castle
had fallen I knew, but I was not aware how absolutely the vassals were
ruined. To-morrow morning we will mount early and ride to a point
where we can have a view of Goldstein. I see now that we cannot hope
to gather a force that could attack the castle, and that if we are to
succeed it must be by some well-devised trick. If I had my sister out
of their hands I could afford to wait, and could go round among my
father's friends, and endeavour to obtain aid from them; though I own I
have no great hopes that many would adventure lives and fortunes in a
quarrel that is not their own.

"Von Goldstein is the most powerful baron in these parts, and stands
well with the Elector of Treves. If I fail to right myself I shall go
to Vienna and again lay my case before the emperor. I saw him before I
left, and told him what had befallen me. He was greatly angered when he
heard that Von Goldstein had broken his oath, and taken advantage of
my absence to destroy my castle. Active aid he could not give me, but
he gave me rescript proclaiming the baron to be a false and perjured
knight, whose estates were forfeited by his treachery. He called
upon the elector to deprive him of his fief, and to bestow it upon
me, declaring that in case of his failure to do so, he himself would
intervene, and would, by force of arms if need be, expel Von Goldstein
and hand over the fief to me, to be held, not under the elector, but
directly from himself.

"It would be useless at present for me to produce this document, for
the elector knows well enough that the emperor's hands are full with
the wars against the Turks, who are a trouble at the best of times. His
authority is but slight over the western provinces, and the elector
would write making all sorts of excuses for not meddling with Von
Goldstein. It were better, before I appeal to the elector, to raise a
troop from my own resources; but even if I laid out every penny of the
emir's ransom I could scarce gather a force that would suffice to storm
the castle. No, I feel that if I am to recover Minna it must be by
stratagem. At present I can see no way by which this can be done, but
maybe as I look at the castle my brain may work to more good purpose.
And now, Johann, it were well to lead the horses out and hobble them.
There was a field we passed half-way down, where the grass was growing
long and thick. When the boys come to-morrow night, I will arrange with
them to cut and bring in bundles of it."

"Shall I stay out there with them, count? Should any rough-riders catch
sight of them standing unguarded they might well take a fancy to them,
for yours at least is an animal such as is not often seen."

"There is no need for that, Johann; it is dark already, and it is not
likely that anyone will pass here after nightfall. But it would be well
to fetch them in at daybreak."

"That will I do, my lord; our arms and horses are our chief possessions
now. Though we might replace mine, such a steed as yours would cost a
noble's ransom."

"Yes, and indeed, apart from his value, I would not lose him, since it
was a gift of the emperor himself."

The next morning they rode out early, entered a wood on an eminence a
mile from the baron's castle, then, dismounting, walked to the edge of
the trees, and the count sat down on a fallen tree and gazed at the
castle for half an hour in silence.

It was indeed a strong place. The castle itself was perched upon the
edge of a precipitous cliff, which on three sides of it fell away
almost perpendicularly. On the other side, the approach, though steep,
was more gradual. In front of the castle was a large courtyard. Inside
and at the foot of the side walls, which rose apparently sheer from
the edge of the precipices, were the quarters of the garrison. The
end wall was very strong and massive, with a flanking tower at each
corner and another over the gateway. At its foot the rock had been cut
away perpendicularly, forming a dry moat some twenty feet deep and
forty wide. On the other side of the moat was a similar enclosure open
towards the castle, but larger and with even more massive walls, with
strong flanking towers at short distances apart. Here the vassals would
drive in their cattle and herds on the approach of a hostile force.
This exterior fortification was in itself unusually strong, and would
have to be taken before the second wall could be attacked, as it could
only be approached on that face.

"It is a strong place, indeed," the count said at last. "It would be
necessary to scale the outer wall, and, even could this be done by
stealth, there would be that deep cut and the next wall to cross, and
the castle itself, which is indeed a fortress, to enter; a well-nigh
impossible undertaking."

"I do not think it would be necessary to scale the wall of the outer
court, my lord, for there is open ground on either side, as far as the
point where the cut is made. Beyond that, methinks, there will be space
enough to walk between the edge of the rock and the wall. The castle
itself is most likely so built that the cliff goes sheer down from its
foot, but I do not think that is so with the wall of the courtyard.
There would be no occasion for it; the bravest men would not venture
upon a narrow ledge where they could be overwhelmed by stones or
missiles from the wall above."

"I think that is so, Johann; but at any rate that cut would have to be
passed. No, the castle is impregnable save by stratagem, or treachery
within, or against an army with battering-machines. 'Tis stronger than
I thought it; I never took so good a look at it before, for it was but
seldom that I rode in this direction."

"It would need an army," Johann agreed, "and might well cost the loss
of a thousand men."

"I should be well content, Johann," the young count said gloomily, "if
I could but carry my sister off, to ride back with her to Vienna, where
the emperor would place her under the protection of some dame at his
court, and where I might carve out a new inheritance with my sword;
but it seems to me as difficult to get her away as it is to storm the
castle. We know not where she is placed, and assuredly that knowledge
is the first that we must gain before any plan can be contrived. That
could only be done in one of two ways: either by bribing one of the
servitors at the castle or by introducing some friend of our own."

"The latter would not be easy, count," Johann said, shaking his head.
"If the baron were apprehensive of attack he might increase his
strength, and one presenting himself as a man-at-arms out of employment
might be enrolled in his band; but at present he is scarcely likely to
increase his force."

"I see that, Johann; I would go myself as a minstrel, but among those
in the castle there might well be some who would recognize me. As you
know, I have some skill with the lute, and could pass well enough if it
were not for that; but were I detected and captured, 'tis certain that
I should never leave the castle alive."

"That is not to be thought of, count. Your person is so well known to
the country round that you would certainly be recognized, if not by the
baron himself, by some of those who were with him at Treves when you
were there with your father, before you started for the war. Methinks
the other is the only plan. The baron's garrison consists not so much
of his own vassals as of wandering men-at-arms, whom he has gathered
round him, and who serve him for pay and not from duty or love. Among
these there must be many who would willingly accept a bribe. If your
lordship think well of the plan, I will myself go down to the village
and endeavour to gather news. I am not likely to be known. I was a
simple man-at-arms when you went out, and it was only when Rudolph and
Max were killed that you made me officer over the rest. There has been
little communication for years between our people and those of the
baron. To make matters sure, I might put a patch over my eye. I should
say that I was a wandering soldier, who, being disabled in the war, was
now returning unfit to my friends at Luxembourg. I shall pretend to be
very hard of hearing, in order that they may speak more freely before
me. I can even stay there for a day or two, alleging that I am wearied
and worn out. 'Tis certain that the baron is not loved by his people.
He is a hard man and a rough one; he goes far beyond his rights in the
dues he demands. I do not know that I may learn anything, but it is
possible that I may do so."

"'Tis a good plan, Johann; I would carry it out myself, but I am full
young and too healthy-looking to pass as a discharged soldier."

"'Tis well that you should run no risks, my lord; did aught happen
to you there is not only your own life that would be lost, but your
vassals would have no more to hope for. So far, from what the others
said last night, the baron does not concern himself with them at
present; but were they to cultivate the land he would assuredly gather
the produce, and with none to protect them or speak for them they would
be driven to go elsewhere. At any rate, my lord, I will gladly try.
Naught may come of it, but maybe I may hear some discontented soldier
growling over his cup, and may find an opportunity of sounding him,
taking care, you may be sure, not to mention your name, but merely
saying that I know of a manner in which a handsome sum may be earned
by one willing to do a service. If I find he rises at the bait, I will
bid him meet me again, and will, before I see him, discuss the matter
with you, so that you may be with me, and judge for yourself how far it
would be safe to go with him."

"At any rate, Johann, no other plan presents itself at present, and
though I do not think it likely that much may come of it, it is at
least worth the trying."

They rode back to Waldensturm, and an hour later Johann set out on
foot, leaving his breast-and back-pieces behind him, and taking only
his steel cap, which was dinted by many a blow, and his sword, for
without a weapon of some kind no one in those days would think of
travelling.

It was afternoon when he entered a wine-shop in the village half a mile
from Goldstein. He chose a quiet-looking house of the better class,
which would be more likely to be frequented by people coming in from
the country round, than by the men from the castle. With a black patch
over one eye, and his well-worn garments, he looked his character well.
The landlady glanced with some disfavour at him, for she did not care
for the custom of wayfarers.

"I can pay my way," he said, "and am no beggar, but a broken-down
soldier, who has saved a little money in the wars;" and he laid a crown
piece on the table. "I have been fighting against the Turks, and, as
you see, lost an eye, and have almost lost my hearing; so I pray you to
speak loudly. I have journeyed far, and am wearied, and desire to rest
a day or two before I continue my journey to Luxembourg, my native
town. I can promise you that I shall give you but little trouble."

"We will talk of that later on," the landlady said. "I do not know
whether I can take you in, but if I cannot I will tell you where you
can obtain a lodging in the village."

Johann made her repeat this twice, each time in a louder voice; then
he nodded. "Thank you, mistress, I know that worn-out soldiers are not
welcome customers at a house like yours, but I have ever been a quiet
man, given neither to quarrelling nor drinking beyond what is seemly. I
only desire a quiet house and such food as there may be, and a flask of
the best wine; for it is long since I drank a flagon of good Moselle.
And as my money will last me well until I get to Luxembourg, I can
afford it. With it I will take, if it pleases you, some cold meat, if
you have it, or if not, some cheese and fruit."

The landlady, seeing that the wayfarer was able to pay, and was likely
to give no trouble, presently placed before him the food he asked for.
When he had finished it, he took his seat in the corner of the room,
taking the jug of wine, of which he had drunk sparingly, with him. The
landlady paid no further attention to him till the day's work was over,
and some of the neighbours dropped in, together with three or four
persons from other villages on the estate, who had been in Goldstein
on business, either to sell their vintage or crops or to arrange for
their carriage by boat to Ems. In an hour or two these left, and only
three or four of the traders of the village, who were accustomed to use
the house as a sort of meeting-place, remained. They chatted for some
time on different matters, casting occasionally somewhat suspicious
glances at Johann, who was leaning back in his chair as if asleep. The
landlady, observing this, said to them: "You need not mind him; he is
an old soldier on his way back to Luxembourg. He is a very civil-spoken
man, but he is almost as deaf as a post. I had almost to scream into
his ear to make him understand me, and even if he were awake he would
not hear a single word you say. I suppose that you have heard that
Bertha Grun and Lisa Hermann will be released from the castle in a few
days, and that Gretchen Horwitz and another girl have got to take their
places. I hear that Bertha was told that she and Lisa and the other two
were to wait on Minna von Waldensturm during alternate weeks."

"Yes, I heard it," the other said. "It passes all bearing that damsels
should be thus taken against their will and that of their parents. Save
for two or three old crones there have been no women in the castle
since the baron's wife died, till Minna von Waldensturm was taken
there after the sacking of their castle. They say that the baron is
determined that she shall marry his son. I suppose he reckons upon
young Waldensturm being killed in the wars, and then he can unite
Waldensturm with Goldstein without anyone making an objection."

"I am sorry for her, for the youth is a lout, and they say as savage
and as brutal as his father. We all know that the baron's ill-treatment
brought his wife to her grave, and I should say that his son's wife
would not fare much better."

"I am sorry for Conrad von Waldensturm," another said; "all spoke well
of him who knew him. He was a gallant youth and kindly, and was likely
to prove as good a master as his father was. It was a bad business,
and I fear that there is little chance of his ever being righted;
the elector is a great friend of the baron, whose castle, in case of
troubles, would act as a bulwark against any enemy advancing up the
river."

The conversation then turned to local matters: the amount of the
vintage and the probability that it would turn out unusually good in
quality. A quarter of an hour later Johann went up to the room that
the landlady had told him he could occupy. The next morning, after a
hearty breakfast, he told her that he felt so much better after a good
night's rest that he would continue his journey, and after paying his
reckoning he left the inn and returned to Waldensturm.

"You must have news for me, Johann," the count said as he came in; "I
had not expected you for two or three days."

"I have news, and I think of importance;" and he related the
conversation that he had overheard. "It struck me at once that this
was the very thing that we wanted. One of the young women, who have
been carried off against their will, to act as chamber-maidens to the
Countess Minna, might be induced to befriend her, who is even more
hardly dealt with than they are, and who is beloved by all who know
her. Her escape, too, would release them from further attendance at the
castle."

"You are right, Johann; 'tis a stroke of good fortune indeed that you
have learned this, and it is of the more importance since it is evident
that no time must be lost. For if the baron has once set his mind upon
marrying Minna to his son, he may at any moment force her to do so.
However great her repugnance to the match, it would weigh as nothing
against his determination. I will myself take this matter in hand,
and although I might be known were I to appear in my own dress, it is
not likely anyone would recognize a well-to-do young farmer, or, what
might be still better, a trader travelling with his wares, as Conrad
von Waldensturm, whom all suppose to be far away, fighting against the
Turks. The fathers of the girls are evidently substantial men, since
their names were familiar to all those you heard talking. There would
be no difficulty in finding them, and their places are probably not
very far from Goldstein, as the baron would hardly send to distant
farms or villages for the young women he required. I wish that I knew
something of the men's disposition, for there are some who would put up
with the outrage of their daughters being carried away against their
will, meekly and quietly, while others would be stirred to the greatest
anger."

"That is so, my lord, but as I believe that the baron is generally
hated by his vassals, I think that there are few who would not be glad
to do him an ill turn. Then you are thinking of speaking to them, and
not to the girls themselves?"

"It would depend upon the fathers. A timid man, however much he might
hate the count, would shrink from allowing his daughter to run the
slightest risk, while a bold man would heartily enter into the scheme.
It is easier to speak to a man than to get speech with a maiden. If,
when I see them, it appears to me that they would not be likely to
consent to their daughters taking any part in a plot, I would then
wait, however long, for an opportunity of addressing one of the girls.
You cannot go again, Johann, but we might send Henrick, who is a sharp
fellow, to Goldstein. He might be dressed as a hind, giving out that he
was seeking employment on a farm. He might say that he had been told
that either of these two men was likely to give him employment, and
might reasonably ask questions as to their characters before going to
either."

"That would be a good plan, count. Henrick is lodging in a cottage down
by the river, which escaped the notice of the baron's men. I can fetch
him up in a quarter of an hour, and if he started at once he would be
there this afternoon."

"Fetch him, by all means, Johann."

The sergeant had already told the soldier the nature of the work that
he was required to undertake, and on his arrival he at once expressed
to Conrad his willingness to carry it out.

"In the first place, you will go to Goldstein and find out where the
men live, then you will go to the hamlet nearest to them, and you will
have no difficulty whatever in learning the reputation in which they
stand with their neighbours, and the characters they bear. They may
live some distance apart, but it is important that you should find out
about both. It is probable that they are well-to-do men, for the baron
would not have taken the daughters of mere boors as attendants on his
captive, but would have chosen maidens of good repute and manners."

It was not until late the next afternoon that Henrick returned.

"The men lived in different directions, count," he said, "and were
each four miles from Goldstein, so that I could only hear about one
yesterday evening, and had to walk to the village near where the other
lived, which was six miles away, the next morning. Both are men with
considerable holdings, and the fact that the baron has carried off
their daughters has excited great indignation among their neighbours,
though, of course, no one dares express his sentiments openly, least
of all the two men themselves. Horwitz is said to be a man of sullen
disposition, a hard man to those who work under him, very close and
parsimonious in his dealings. Grun is much more popular among his
neighbours; he is a kindly man and not easily stirred to anger. He is
passionately attached to his daughter, who is his only child, and since
she has had to go to the castle has not, it is said, left his house
even to attend to the vintage."

"Then I will try Grun first," the count said. "A man of the nature
you describe will not be likely to betray me even should he refuse to
allow his daughter to assist me in any way. You have done very well,
Henrick. To-morrow morning you will ride to Weisenheim and buy for me
a suit of clothes such as the small traders who journey through the
country selling goods would wear. Then go to various shops and buy
such articles as they might carry--materials for dresses, ribbons,
kerchiefs, and cheap silver ornaments,--make them up into a pack, and
bring them hither. Do not buy all at one shop, even if they should have
in store all that you require; your doing so would excite curiosity.
Get materials for at least a dozen dresses--not common goods, but such
as are worn on fête days. Here is money which will be amply sufficient
for your purchases. You, Johann, will go to-morrow morning to a village
beyond the estate and buy a small horse, with a saddle such as would be
used for packing goods on; then I shall be ready for a start the next
morning."

Both commissions were executed, and the young count started, leading
the pony, whose burden was by no means a heavy one. He had learned the
prices that Henrick had paid for each article, and fastened a ticket
to each, as it was possible that he might be invited in by some of the
country-people, and might ask either too much or too little for his
wares, and so create suspicion that he was not what he seemed. He was
indeed asked to show his goods several times, and as he charged rather
under the price that he had given for them in the town, he effected
several sales. About noon he arrived at the house of the farmer Grun.
One of the maids, who saw him coming up, ran out.

"'Tis no use your stopping here," she said. "In bygone times it would
have been different, but the master and mistress are both in deep
grief."

"So I have heard," Conrad said, "and yet I would fain be allowed
entrance, having need of speech with your master on a matter of
importance. I pray you to tell him so."

She returned in a minute. "The master says that your visit is untimely,
but that if the matter is of importance he will see you."

Tying up his pony to a hook in the wall, Conrad followed the maid into
the house. A big powerful-looking man was sitting on a chair before the
empty grate; he looked up listlessly at Conrad's entrance.

"I hope," he said, "young man, that you have not disturbed me in my
trouble needlessly, or entered here under a false pretext?"

"Assuredly I do not enter needlessly, though I own that it is under a
false pretext. And yet it is not so though; the matter I would speak of
to you is of importance. I have heard, Herr Grun, that you are a kindly
man, just in your dealings, and one to be trusted. I am going to trust
you."

The farmer listened with increasing surprise as he spoke; his manner
of speech was not one that a travelling pedlar of goods would have
adopted, but was rather that of a man of rank.

"I am Conrad von Waldensturm," the young count went on. The farmer gave
an exclamation of surprise, and rose to his feet. "I have just hurried
back from the war, at the news that my castle had been destroyed, my
estate ravaged, and my sister carried off. I have come home to rescue
her. I heard of the outrage of which you and your daughter have been
the victims, and, having made enquiries, I judge that you would not be
one to sit down tamely under it."

"Tamely, no," the man said passionately, "and there is the pain of it!
What can I, a tiller of the soil, do against my feudal lord? Show me
the way to avenge myself, Count von Waldensturm, and be assured that
you will not find me backward. There is not a man in the barony who
would not see the castle razed to the ground with joy. What can we do?
He has two hundred armed men within its walls, and could crush us as a
hammer would crush an egg. We have suffered unnumbered wrongs at his
hands and at those of his son, who is even worse than himself; but how
with clubs and staves could we attack a castle that is the strongest
in the electorate, and has never yet been taken. However, count, you
have doubtless some plan in your mind that you have thus come to me.
All knew and honoured your father, and envied those who held land
under him, and it was reported that you, his son, would tread in his
footsteps, and were already beloved by all his vassals."

"My first object," Conrad said, "is, as you may suppose, to rescue my
sister from his hands. With that intention I returned home, and you
may well believe that the news that the baron intends to wed her to
his son has added to that desire, and has shown me the need for haste
in carrying it out. The first thing is to ascertain exactly in what
part of the castle she is confined, how she is guarded, and the manner
in which her chamber could be approached. Having ascertained this,
I must, of course, open communications with her so that she may be
cognizant of my plans, and be ready to assist in their being carried
out. But this is not all; the baron, and no doubt his son, with a party
of men-at-arms, will set off in pursuit, and I shall have an ambush
prepared. I have but some twenty men with me, all good soldiers, who
have fought in the wars, and I hope to gather fifty more from our
former vassals; this should be enough to ensure that none of the party
who sally out shall return alive to the castle. Had I as many more
determined men I might carry the castle by surprise, for I could, with
my own troop, ride forward, and being taken for the baron, would find
the gate open and the drawbridge down. Entering, I could hold the gate
with my men until the rest, who would have followed close behind,
rushed in, when we might well overcome the garrison, taken by surprise
as they would be."

"'Tis a good plan!" the farmer said, striding up and down the room,
"and methinks that not only can I promise you the aid of my daughter,
but can bring some score of stout fellows to aid you. The hired
ruffians of the baron are hated as much as he is; they enter every
house they choose and demand victuals and wine, insult the women
with their foul oaths and coarse manners, lay hands on anything they
fancy, and treat us as if we were a conquered people and they were our
masters. 'Tis worse than useless to complain of them to the baron. A
neighbour of mine did so, and he was hung over the gate as a lesson to
the rest of us. Some of us have talked the matter over again and again,
as to whether it would not be possible to attack the baron when he rode
out with a party of his men; but if we did so, and were successful,
the neighbouring lords would all unite against us as rebels against
our master, and the whole country would be harried, and those who were
caught hung like dogs. But under your leading it would be a different
matter; it would be a feud between two nobles. What would you do with
the castle, sir?"

"I should hold it as my own," Conrad said. "Goldstein has destroyed
Waldensturm. Waldensturm in turn captures Goldstein. I should appeal to
the emperor, if the elector takes part against me, and shall offer to
hold the fiefs of Goldstein and Waldensturm as the emperor's vassal.
I know that he would grant it to me, and that, were the elector to
besiege the castle he would lay his orders on some of the neighbouring
princes, either Hesse or Luxembourg, to give me aid."

"Then in that case, count, you may reckon upon the aid of fully a
hundred men. There is not only the hate against the baron and his
followers, but the prospect of becoming your vassals instead of those
of the baron; which would mean prosperity and happiness instead of
being ground down by his unjust demands, and exposed to constant
insults and injury from him and his. And now, my lord, I will call my
daughter in, tell her your designs, and bid her not only to answer your
questions, but to aid you by every means in her power."

Bertha was sent for; she was a pretty, modest-looking girl, but her
face told of recent suffering.

"Bertha," her father said, "this is the Count von Waldensturm. He has
returned home from the wars to rescue his sister, and I charge you to
answer all his questions, and to aid him in every way to the best of
your powers."

"That will I readily, for the young countess has been very kind to
me, and we pity her deeply. She saved us from insult on the part of
the baron's son, and she appealed to the baron himself to allow us to
remain always with her, and not even to descend to the kitchens to
fetch her food; and the baron, who evidently wishes to humour her in
small matters, gave the order."

"That is just what I should have thought of Minna," Conrad said in a
tone of deep pleasure. "Now, fräulein, in what part of the castle is my
sister confined?"

"In a room in the north angle. It is some fifty feet from the courtyard
into which it looks."

"Is the window barred?"

"No," the girl said; "the lower windows are strongly guarded, but on
this floor they are not so."

"Then I take it, that, if she had a rope, you and the other maiden
could easily lower her to the ground?"

"We could do that easily enough, count; but were she there she would
be no nearer escaping. There is always a guard at the gate, and the
drawbridge is up at night; and even when across that there is the outer
court to be passed."

"Are there stairs to the wall near where she would alight?"

"Yes, sir, there is a flight of stairs in the angle just below our
window."

"The next thing I have to think about is your safety. As you sleep in
her room it would be clear that she could not have escaped without your
knowledge and assistance, and the baron, in his fury, would be capable
of slaying you both."

"And he would certainly do so," the farmer said shortly.

"Then it is clear that either they must escape with my sister or must
hide somewhere."

"But we must be found sooner or later," the girl said.

"Not if my plan succeeds, Bertha. I intend that the escape shall be
known as soon as it is completed, that the baron shall set out in
pursuit, that we shall have an ambush prepared for him, and that he
shall not return to the castle, which I, with my retainers and vassals,
and your father's assistance, will then capture.

"In that case it would be easy enough for us to hide," the girl said.
"There are chambers in the castle that none ever enter, and we could
without difficulty conceal ourselves there. We could either do that or
escape with the young countess."

"I will think it over," Conrad said. "Are there sentries on the walls?"

"There are two on the tower over the gate, but none along the wall
itself. At least, the two are there in the daytime, but I have never
looked out at night."

"It was only yesterday morning that you were released, so we have five
days to think over our plans. By the way, would it be possible for you
to descend from your room to the courtyard at night without passing
through occupied rooms or otherwise attracting attention? because, if
so, there would be no necessity for lowering my sister from the window."

"I think so, sir. There is a staircase by which there is communication
both with the floor above and that below. It is a small stone winding
stair in the thickness of the wall. I have never been up or down it; it
connects with our room by a short passage in which there is a door, but
this is always kept closed, and at night we lock it. The young countess
obtained the key from the baron, saying that, did she not have it,
anyone ascending or descending could come into her room without let or
hindrance."

"There can be little doubt that the stairs descend to the courtyard,
and that they are used by men going up and down to sentry duty on the
upper platform; the only question is whether the door at the foot,
opening into the courtyard, is kept locked."

"That I cannot say, sir; we never went down to the courtyard when we
were at the castle."

"Is there a sentry posted on the top of the tower?"

"Yes, sir, I believe so; at any rate, we often hear the tread of men
going up and down, and that by night as well as by day."

"In that case it is possible that the door is not kept locked; as it is
so often used it would give unnecessary trouble if the key had to be
fetched each time the sentry was changed. It is very important that we
should know for certain, because it would save much risk and trouble
if you could leave the keep without descending from the window. But I
do not see how you could let us know, and I do not like putting the
adventure off until you are again on duty, for there is no saying when
the baron may carry out his intention of forcing my sister to become
his son's wife."

"I could manage that, count," the farmer said. "I might well enough go
to the castle with a present of fruit, or with some woman's gear that
Bertha might have left behind her. I might not be able to see the girl,
but she might send down a message. If the door is locked, she need send
only her thanks; if it is open, she could say that I need not trouble
to send her fruit, as they had an abundance of everything they wanted."

"That would be a very good plan," the young count said. "I will return
here in three days, by which time I hope to have all my plans laid out."

On his return to Waldensturm, Conrad ordered two or three of his men to
make a light ladder some twenty-five feet long, and sent Henrick over
to Weisenheim to buy a hundred yards of light but very strong cord. The
next night he rode with Johann to within a short distance of Goldstein,
the latter carrying the ladder. It was a dark night, and, leaving their
horses half a mile from the castle, they made their way towards it,
reached the foot of the outer wall, taking great care to avoid making
a noise, proceeded along the edge of the wall of the outer court until
they came to the cut in the rock. Then the ladder was lowered down,
they both descended, and, shifting the ladder to the other side, were
soon at the foot of the wall of the inner court. They found, to their
satisfaction, that there were some two feet of level ground between
this and the edge of the precipice. As they went on, this sometimes
widened to twenty feet or more, sometimes narrowed to three feet, as
the wall kept straight along without following the irregularities of
the rock. At length the masonry rose up in front of them extending to
the very edge of the crag, and they knew that they had reached the
castle itself, and that some sixty feet above them was the chamber in
which Minna was confined.

"So far everything is well, Johann, and if only the door at the bottom
of that flight of steps is unbolted it seems to me that we shall have
no difficulty. Everything has succeeded beyond our expectation. But
three days ago the rescue of my sister seemed almost impossible, but
now, thanks to Bertha Grun and her father, everything is in train."

Returning as they came, they carried the ladder to the wood where they
had left their horses, and hiding it there rode home.

The boys had not been idle; every day they had gone out, sometimes to
places many miles away, to warn the vassals that their young lord had
returned, and that they must hold themselves in readiness to assemble
at Waldensturm, with the best arms they could obtain, immediately upon
receiving a summons. The tenants were all delighted when they heard
the message. The boys had carried with them money, to give to those
who were in want, to purchase long pikes and swords in readiness for
whatever service their lord might require of them.

The day after his expedition to Goldstein, Conrad resumed his trader's
dress, and, taking his pack pony as before, went to Grun's.

"The matter will be easier than I expected," he said to the farmer,
who gave him a hearty greeting. "I have found that once at the foot
of the castle there is no difficulty in making one's way along. If
your daughter finds that the door at the bottom of the staircase is
unlocked, there are no difficulties whatever;" and he then described
how they made their way along to the foot of the walls of the castle
itself.

"As it can be but a few paces from the bottom of that staircase to
the one in the angle, they could, if in dark clothes, mount the wall
unperceived, even were there guards in the courtyard itself, which is
most unlikely, as the baron has no fear whatever of attack, and it is
only upon the outer wall that any shrewd watch would be kept. I think
that, to avoid all danger, it would be better that your daughter and
her companion should also fly. When once beyond the walls I would have
a guide in readiness to take them to one of the cottages still standing
on my estate. In my pack is a long rope, well knotted; it is not bulky,
and your daughter could wind it round her under her garments. When they
get on to the wall they will fasten one end securely, and drop the
other down. I shall be there, and shall at once climb to the top and
lower my sister and the girls down, one by one. My sergeant will be
there to receive them. Then I shall descend by the rope, and we will
make off. I have received promises from forty men to join me, and have
fixed on a spot where they shall be placed in ambush a mile from the
castle. Have you done anything?"

"Yes, I have sounded many of my neighbours, and one and all will gladly
join in any attempt to overthrow the baron and his son. Each of them
will communicate with others. I have not mentioned your name, or given
them any particulars, but have simply said that there is a plot on foot
which is in my opinion certain to be successful, and that in a manner
that will prevent any of the neighbouring lords taking up the baron's
cause. And that I have reason to believe that a new lord, who will be a
just and good master, will be forthcoming. I think I can promise that
by the middle of next week there will be a hundred and fifty men ready
for the work."

"That should be ample, Grun; and if we are successful I promise that
your farm shall be for ever exempt from all feudal obligations, rents,
and quittances. I shall not come over again until your daughter has
returned to the castle, and you have learned from her whether that door
is open. If it is not so, she must examine the bolt carefully. It is
probable that it could be shot from the inside if she had a suitable
tool, in which case we must defer it until she again returns to the
castle, unless she and her companion find that they can get the bolt
back without difficulty. Ask her to ascertain this the first day she
returns. I have thought that possibly you might not be able to see her,
and that the message that she sends down to you might not be rightly
reported. Therefore, instead of your paying her a visit, tell her
that, on the morning after she returns to the castle, she is to go to
the window between eight and nine o'clock, and to shake a cloth or a
garment out of it if the door is unlocked, or she finds that she can
open it. We shall be watching for the signal. If it is not made, the
attempt shall be deferred; if it is made, it will be at midnight on
the third night after she returns. At that hour they are to descend
the stairs to the courtyard, mount the steps to the wall, and drop the
rope over, having previously firmly fastened the end. I had better
see her myself, and give her the instructions, so that there may be
no possibility of a mistake. If the signal is made, a boy will bring
a message to you that the affair will come off on the night I have
arranged, and you with your friends will then be by ten o'clock at the
point where the road runs through a wood about a mile away from the
castle. Two or three of you bring axes, so that we can fell some trees
across the road behind them and so enclose them. It is of the utmost
importance that not one shall escape to carry the news to the castle."

Bertha was called in, and the instructions were repeated to her until
Conrad was perfectly satisfied that she knew what she had to do. She
was at once to inform Minna that her brother had returned, and was
prepared to rescue her. "Tell her this directly you get back, Bertha,
and then, if the baron should determine to hurry on her marriage, she
can beg for a week's further grace before it takes place."

Everything being now arranged, Conrad returned home, and waited
impatiently for the hour when the signal would be made. On that morning
he and three of the men, all dressed as peasants, took up their
positions at various points a quarter of a mile or so from the castle,
hiding behind the bushes so that they should not be perceived from the
castle. Soon after eight o'clock the watchers saw a figure come to the
window, and shake a garment as if to free it from dust. Then one by
one they got up and strolled carelessly away, mounted their horses in
the wood, and rode back to Waldensturm. The men and a number of boys
were assembled at the ruins, and all were at once sent off to order the
vassals to assemble there by eight o'clock on the evening of the next
day. At the appointed time all were there, full of delight to see their
young lord again, and protesting their readiness to die in his service.

They now learned for the first time the nature of the enterprise in
which they were about to take part, and their delight at the prospect
of slaying the author of their misfortunes, and of capturing his
castle, was unbounded. Many of them had provided themselves with bows
or cross-bows, the boys having carried messages to that effect a few
days before. One or two of the men still on the estate carried axes
and coils of rope. Conrad and his men-at-arms were mounted at eight
o'clock, by which hour the last of those summoned had come in. These
followed on foot, and by half-past nine reached the wood selected for
the ambush. The men with axes at once set to work to fell three or four
trees across the road where it entered the wood on the side farthest
away from Goldstein, the rest were distributed along it among the trees
on both sides. Half an hour after their arrival, Grun, at the head
of a hundred and fifty men, came up. Most of these had pikes, others
were armed with scythes, while a few of the poorer class carried only
flails; but all had long knives.

After saying a few words of thanks to them, Conrad distributed them
also by the sides of the road. Ropes were then fastened from tree to
tree across it, at a height of two feet from the ground, others being
laid across the road where the baron with his retainers would enter.
These were to be tightened as soon as he had passed, so as to trip
over any of the rearmost horsemen who tried to escape. Some trees were
cut almost through at this point, and men with axes stationed there so
as to bring them down as soon as the horsemen had passed. Having seen
that everything was in readiness, Conrad left Johann in command, and
with three of his followers rode on to the edge of the wood nearest
the castle. Here two of the men remained with the horses, which, when
they heard Conrad's horn sound, they were to bring up towards the
castle, and to stop just beyond bowshot. Henrick, carrying the ladder,
accompanied him. As before, they had no difficulty in gaining the
foot of the castle wall. After waiting a quarter of an hour there was
a slight sound and the end of the rope fell near them. Conrad gave a
slight pull to show that he was there, waited till he was sure that
the other end was securely fastened, and then began to climb it. He
had left his riding-boots in the cut, so that he might climb without
any noise being made by their scraping against the wall. Being strong
and active he had no difficulty in reaching the top, and as soon as he
gained his footing there a figure threw herself into his arms.

"Thank God I have you, little sister! let me put this round your
waist." "This" was a broad band made of a saddle-girth, which was
fastened to the end of the rope which he had brought up with him.

"You will be quite safe," he said. "Hold the rope with both hands; it
has plenty of strength and would hold twenty of you."

A moment later she was over the wall, and he lowered her steadily down
until he felt the rope slacken. Then he drew it up again and lowered
Bertha and her companion, and then joined them on the ledge.

"Now," he said, "you must go on together with Henrick. Walk one behind
the other and keep touch of the wall. As you go, you will have to
descend a ladder on one side of a deep cut, and climb it on the other.
When you get to the top you are to stop till I join you, as Henrick
will have to move the ladder for me to follow you. Go on at once; you
will know afterwards why I have stayed behind."

He waited till Henrick rejoined him with the news that the others had
passed the cut, then he shouted: "Hullo there, watch!"

"Who is that?" a voice called down from the top of the tower.

[Illustration: THE ESCAPE FROM THE CASTLE]

"Tell the baron that I, Conrad von Waldensturm, have carried off my
sister, and give him my defiance;" and then with Henrick he hurried
along and soon rejoined the women. Already there was a tumult in the
castle; the sentry had blown his horn, and then run down from the wall
and entered the castle to arouse the baron. Conrad sounded the note
that his followers knew, and they then hurried along until they arrived
at the spot where the men were standing with the horses.

"Now," he said to Minna, "you must mount behind me, two of my men will
take your maids."

The din in the castle was now prodigious; a horn continued sounding and
the alarm-bell of the castle ringing, orders were being shouted, and
it was evident that the garrison were fully roused, and that in a few
minutes the pursuit would begin. Conrad and two of the men sprang into
their saddles. Henrick lifted Minna to her place behind Conrad, and the
two girls behind the men.

"Hold tight, girls, we have not far to go," Conrad said. Henrick
mounted, and all started at a gallop. Conrad was glad to hear the
watchman on the tower over the gate shout at the top of his voice: "I
hear the tramp of horses; they have just started."

There was no need for haste; it would be another five minutes at least
before the baron could start. Still, as Conrad wished to see that
everything was ready, he maintained his pace until he reached the wood
where his party were assembled. Then they dismounted. The men led the
horses to the spot where the others were tied up, near the farther edge
of the wood. Conrad led his sister and the maids to a distance from the
road; he had already told her what was going to take place.

"Wait here till I come to fetch you," he said; "I must see that all
is in readiness." He joined the men, who were gathered thickly by
the road, and took his place by the ropes which would bring the head
of the column to a halt. Here his own vassals were chiefly gathered,
while his men-at-arms were stationed, under Johann, at the point where
their pursuers would enter the wood. This he considered to be the most
important post, as many of the troopers would certainly try to escape
when they found that they were caught in an ambush. Two minutes after
his arrival he heard the sound of a party of galloping horsemen.

"I think," he said to Grun, who was standing next to him, "there are
from thirty to forty of them. The baron would probably ride off as soon
as a score or two of his men had mounted." In a minute the troop came
along at a furious gallop, led by Von Goldstein and his son. Suddenly
the head of the column seemed to collapse; men and horses rolled over;
those behind, unable to check their horses, crashed into a confused
heap on the ground, and before they could check themselves well-nigh
half the party were heaped upon each other. As the baron and his son
fell, Conrad's bugle rang out, and a flight of arrows and of cross-bow
bolts poured into the rearmost files of the troop, and at the same
moment a crowd of men sprang out from the trees and assailed them with
pike and sword, scythe and flail. Taken utterly by surprise, appalled
by the suddenness of the attack, and by the catastrophe in which their
leaders and half their comrades were involved, the remainder of the
troop offered but a feeble resistance. Johann, with his men, came
rushing up from the rear, for not one of the troopers had time to turn
his horse before being surrounded by his foes. Conrad took no part in
the fight, but, on seeing how complete was the success of the ambush,
sheathed his sword, and returned to the spot where he had left Minna,
leaving it to the infuriated peasants and troopers to complete the work.

"The first blow has been struck, Minna. Von Goldstein and his son have
paid with their lives for their crimes and for the ruin that they have
brought upon us. I shall send you off to the castle under the guard of
four of the vassals, and you will remain there until you hear from me."

"But why should you not come yourself?"

"Because I have only begun my work. I hope before morning to finish
it. I am going to take Goldstein by surprise, and I have little doubt
that I shall succeed. I have nearly two hundred men, and as some thirty
of the garrison have fallen, we shall outnumber them considerably."

The four men had already been told off to escort the young countess
and her maids, and horses having been brought up, the party at once
started, and Conrad returned to the scene of conflict, where all was
now quiet. Not a man of the baron's party had escaped; he himself and
his son had been found dead when the horses had either recovered their
feet or been dragged off. Whether they had broken their necks or been
smothered by the mass piled over them none cared to enquire, but many
a vengeful stab showed that the peasants were determined to make sure
of their deaths. Some torches had been brought for the purpose, and
these having been lit, the peasants had carefully examined the fallen
troopers to make sure that the work of vengeance was complete.

Conrad, on his arrival, called them all together. "So far the work
has been well begun," he said; "your tyrant is dead. Now for the next
blow. Herr Grun tells me that he has, as I requested him, chosen fifty
of the most active for special work. Let these form in a body." When
the young men had obeyed his order he continued: "Now, Johann, you
and Henrick and the four men I have already told off will go with this
party, Johann in command, and do the work with which I charged you.
You will proceed along the foot of the castle wall till you get to the
spot where I descended. There you will remain quiet until you hear the
attack at the gate; then you will climb the rope, and, as soon as you
are all assembled on the wall, will rush down and seize the inner gate,
cut down all who are guarding it, and then, leaving Henrick and ten of
the men there, will run into the outer court and take the baron's men
in rear. Henrick, as soon as the others have gone, will close the gate
behind them. There is little fear that you will be disturbed, for all
the defenders of the castle will rush down when they hear the fighting
in the outer court."

"I understand, my lord," Johann said; "never fear but that we will do
our part in the business."

"Remember," Conrad went on, "everything depends on your carrying this
out silently. Do not go in a solid body; steal along as quietly as
possible. There is little fear of their seeing you, but beware of
striking a foot or weapon against a stone."

As soon as Johann and his party had moved off, he continued: "Now,
strip the armour and steel caps from the dead troopers. How many are
there of them?"

"Thirty-four, count," Grun said, "and there are twenty-five of their
horses uninjured, and the five of Johann and his party."

"Then choose thirty-nine men," Conrad said, "and let them divide the
armour among them, and let each take a horse and mount at once. We
shall, with my fifteen, be a stronger party than rode out, but in the
darkness they will not notice that. All the rest will follow us on
foot, keeping a hundred yards in rear. When we enter the courtyard,
ride, in the first place, and cut down any of the troopers who may be
there; it is probable that the greater part of them will be gathered
on the wall to await the baron's return. When you have cleared the
courtyard you will, at the sound of my bugle, dismount. By that time we
shall be joined by those on foot, and we shall then see what steps we
had best take against the men on the walls."

In a quarter of an hour all was ready, and at the head of over fifty
mounted men Conrad rode off at a foot-pace, the unmounted men following
close behind. When within a quarter of a mile of the castle, Conrad
gave the order, and at a canter they rode towards the gate. As they
approached, the men broke into a cheer, and the garrison, taking this
as a proof that success had attended them, and that the fugitives
had been captured, answered with shouts of welcome. As Conrad had
expected, the drawbridge was down and the gate open. As he rode in with
his men Conrad raised a shout: "A Waldensturm! a Waldensturm! kill!
kill!" and instantly attacked the men who were gathered inside the
gate to welcome the baron's return. Taken wholly by surprise, their
resistance was feeble, and the thirty or forty men in the courtyard
were speedily despatched; but by this time those on the walls were
pouring down to the assistance of their comrades. Conrad blew his horn;
his followers dismounted and rushed for the new-comers, and just as
they did so the unmounted men ran in through the gate with loud shouts.
A panic seized the baron's retainers, and these again ran up the steps
to the top of the wall. Many of the assailants would have followed
them, but Conrad called them off. He knew that the stairs could not
be carried without great loss, as a dozen men at the top of each of
the flights of steps could hold them against hundreds. The fight had
not been conducted in darkness, for there were many torches burning in
the courtyard. "We will wait till morning," he said; "they are like
rats in a trap." At this moment a sudden uproar was heard in the inner
courtyard, and shouts of "Waldensturm! Waldensturm!" and a couple of
minutes later Johann and his party rushed in through the upper gate,
where they stopped, astonished at the quietness that prevailed.

"They are all on the wall, Johann; there is nothing more to do at
present," Conrad said. "I will go back with you, and we will take
possession of the castle itself. There is not likely to be any
resistance; few men will have remained there, and these, when they see
that both courtyards are in our hands, will hardly resist. If they
surrender, we will kill no one, and no damage must be done to anything;
the castle is mine now. Herr Grun, will you remain in command here; I
do not think the men on the wall will make an attack, but keep a close
watch on them."

The castle gate was closed when they reached it, and five or six men
with cross-bows were at the windows commanding it.

"What ho there!" Conrad said. "It is useless for you to resist. I,
Conrad von Waldensturm, call upon you to surrender. The baron and his
son are killed, and half the garrison; the rest are in our power. If
you surrender peacefully your lives shall be spared; if not, every man
will be put to the sword."

There was a short pause, and then a voice said: "We surrender,
relying upon your knightly word." A minute later the sound of bars
being withdrawn was heard, and the door opened. Conrad, with his own
followers, entered, letting the others remain without. The men were
first disarmed and placed in the guard chamber at the gate, and a
sentry posted outside. Then, taking torches from the walls, Conrad made
a hasty survey of the interior, telling the frightened scullions and
other servants that no harm would come to them.

"'Tis indeed a stately castle," he said to Johann, "and I have made a
good exchange. Now, do you remain here in charge; I will go down and
see how matters are proceeding. Day is breaking already." Then with
those who had remained outside the castle gate he joined the main body
in the outer courtyard.

"Now, Grun," he said to the farmer, "we will summon the men on the
walls to surrender. They must see that their case is desperate. There
are but sixty or seventy of them, and they are hopelessly outnumbered.
If they refuse, I shall not attack them; hunger and thirst will soon
tame them. We have not lost a life, and I would not that any of your
good fellows or mine should be killed, and were we to storm the walls
we should assuredly lose many. I should be sorry indeed were any wives
left widows, or children fatherless, by this night's work."

Accordingly, as soon as it became light, Conrad summoned the men on
the walls to surrender on promise of their lives being spared. The
answer was a yell of defiance. When this subsided he said: "Well, if it
pleases you to starve like rats in a trap you can do so; there is no
hope of your escape or of aid arriving. The baron, his son, and all the
party who rode with him are dead, the castle is in my possession, and
you are as much prisoners as if you were in a dungeon." He now ordered
his own men and a dozen of his vassals to leave the courtyard and form
a line across the narrow neck by which the castle was approached,
and to see that no one passed; for he deemed it possible that a man
might be lowered from the wall to entreat aid from some of the baron's
neighbours. Food was brought out from the castle and distributed. The
men were divided into four parties, each of which was to take up its
station near the foot of the four flights of steps up to the wall. Two
mounted men were sent off to Waldensturm to fetch the young countess
back, and the courtyards were cleared of the bodies that had fallen.
Three hours later Minna arrived. On the way she had heard the details
of the capture of the castle, and was delighted to hear that it had
been taken without the loss of a single man.

"I am proud of you, indeed," Minna said. "I always was so, but after
capturing in this way a castle that the baron considered impregnable, I
shall always regard you as a hero indeed."

"The credit is chiefly due to Grun and his daughter," Conrad said.
"Without them we could have done nothing; with their aid the matter was
simple enough."

The brother and sister sat for a long time talking together in the
great hall of the castle. They had much to tell each other of what had
happened since they had parted two years before.

"And you are really to be lord of this castle?" she said. "But can you
keep it, Conrad? the elector may bring an army against it."

"I think I can hold it if he does; but I do not think that he will. I
have an order from the emperor to the elector to declare the baron's
estates forfeited, and to install me in his place, and it contains
a threat that he would himself send a force to carry this out if he
failed to do so, and that I should hold it direct from him. Had I not
captured the castle, the parchment would have been of little good; the
elector would know that the threat was a vain one, since the emperor
has no force that he could send on such a long expedition, needing
every man in his struggle with the Turks. Moreover, the elector
regarded the baron as a great friend of his, and even did he feel
constrained by the command of the emperor to aid me, he would know that
he would need all the force that he could raise to capture the castle.
But now that it has been done, and I am its master, the matter has
changed altogether, and he would rather have me as his friend than his
enemy, especially as most of the vassals that he could call upon to aid
in recapturing the castle must have viewed with displeasure the baron's
attack on my hold in my absence, after having taken the oath of peace.
No, I have no fear whatever of that. A large portion of the vassals of
the estate have aided me, and all would take refuge here if a force
marched against me, and would fight till the last, knowing that no
mercy would be shown to them. No, Minna, I think that we need have no
fear for the future."

At four o'clock in the afternoon Conrad was summoned to the courtyard,
as the men on the wall had shouted that they were ready to surrender.

"I thought that they would soon be tired of being cooped up there
without food or drink," Conrad said as he went out; "I have been
expecting it for the last two or three hours."

Thirst rather than hunger had done its work, and the certainty that
sooner or later they must give in had broken their spirit. As the count
appeared in the courtyard, there was a general shout of: "We surrender,
on the promise of our lives."

"I promise you that. Now let every man take off his armour, and lay it
and his arms on the wall, and then come down four at a time. You shall
have food and water given to you, and you will then leave the castle,
and anyone found within the limits of the estate by nightfall will
receive no mercy."

In an hour the last of the garrison had left the castle. The tenants
on the estate at once dispersed to their homes, all receiving a
present from the count, and a promise of remission of half that year's
dues. His own vassals he kept there, to form, with his retainers, the
garrison until he could hire a sufficient force for that purpose. At
the end of that time they could return to their ruined homes, Conrad
promising them aid to rebuild their houses, and an entire remission
of all dues for the next two years. Conrad then drew up a document,
addressed to the elector, stating what he had done, and enclosing a
copy of the emperor's order, saying that he would himself present the
original when he visited the court of Treves. As he had anticipated,
the elector's reply was favourable.

"He had been," he said, "shocked at the conduct of the baron in
attacking and ravaging the castle and estates of Waldensturm, and the
punishment inflicted upon him was a just one. He would, therefore,
willingly accept Conrad as his vassal for the feoff of Goldstein, and
begged him to speedily repair to his court to take the oaths."

Thus Conrad von Waldensturm revenged his wrongs, and obtained the
finest estate and the strongest castle in the Electorate of Treves.



                         A RAID BY THE BLACKS

                    A STORY OF AN OUTLYING STATION


I begin to think we were wrong in coming so far out into the bush, but
I was tempted by what Hawkins told me of the place, which he had come
across when exploring the country. It seemed everything that could be
desired: plenty of water, timber for all purposes, and fine grazing;
and I admit that it is all that he said. The blacks were quiet enough
then, and, though it was a good bit beyond the nearest station, I
thought, when I came and had a look at the place, that it was well
worth risking. We have not done badly here. The sheep and cattle have
pretty well doubled their number each year; the wool has paid all our
expenses. Everything has been comfortable enough, except the difficulty
we have had in bringing up groceries and flour. In another ten years,
if all had gone well, I should have been a really prosperous man, with
a big flock of sheep and a fine herd of cattle, to say nothing of
horses; but now the blacks have got nasty I begin to think that I have
made a great mistake.

"Have you heard any more bad news, William?" his wife asked anxiously.

"Yes; Harry Read rode up half an hour ago, and said that he and his
brother were going to drive their animals in, and take them to the
station of a friend of his forty miles nearer Sydney, till things
settled down a bit, for he had heard that two or three stations had
been attacked by the blacks and every soul murdered. What do you think,
wife? Shall we do the same?"

Mrs. Roberts was a courageous woman. "I don't know what to say," she
replied. "We are getting on very well here. As you said, of course,
we always knew that there was some risk. We could not have got a big
station like this down-country without paying a large sum for it, far
more than we could have afforded. I think it would be a pity to give
it up at present. After all, we may not be attacked. You see, you have
three men now, and we only had one when we came here. You built the
house specially for defence, with squared logs, and even logs for the
roof, so that it could not be set on fire. We could get the shingles
off in an hour and, as it is the dry season, I think it would be as
well to do that at once. I can shoot fairly well, and so can Effie,
and with six rifles we ought to be able to keep off a mob of natives."

"But how about the animals?" her husband said.

"Well, I should say that the best plan would be to send the greater
part of them away for a bit. Talbot has nothing like enough stock on
his place, and I have no doubt he would be glad to graze them for a bit
at a very small rent. Of course, if you think it best, I am quite ready
to give the place up, though in my opinion it would be a pity. After
all, the chances of the blacks coming here are not great. There are
dozens of other stations as exposed as we are. We have had two or three
alarms before, but nothing has ever come of them."

"I am glad that that is your opinion, wife, mine is exactly the same.
Certainly, for my own sake I would a great deal rather stay here and
take my chances. It was of you and Effie that I was thinking. Well,
then, we will consider it settled. I will ride down to Talbot's at once
and arrange with him. I shall get back late this evening. To-morrow
morning we will take a lot of the stock over there. Thompson shall go
with me to help to drive them down, but I shall bring him back, as it
is as well to keep as strong a garrison here as possible. I can arrange
with Talbot that one of his men shall be specially told off to look
after our animals. I will pick out three hundred of the best ewes and
a few rams, a hundred cattle, and half a dozen of the best horses. I
need not take more horses than that. They are all shy of a blackfellow,
and there is not much fear of their being caught; so we need not bother
about them, especially as, if they were taken away to new ground, they
would give a lot more trouble than the sheep and cattle."

Mr. Roberts had been a small landed proprietor in the old country,
farming his own land. Times had been bad, and the failure of a bank,
in which he had a few shares, had swept away not only all his ready
money, but had brought upon him heavy calls which he was unable to
meet. He had a brother who, some years before, had emigrated to New
South Wales, and he had given so favourable an account of the country
that Mr. Roberts decided to sell his land and emigrate there with his
wife and two children, a boy and a girl. After meeting all claims, and
paying their passages out, he had arrived at Sydney with the sum of
£3000. He had wisely determined not to risk more than a third of this,
and, placing £2000 in a bank, he had invested a thousand in sheep,
cattle, and horses, and had taken up some land on the extreme border
of the settlement. He had now been there four years, and had been well
contented with his choice. The site was an exceptionally pleasant one.
A small stream ran through the property, which was better wooded than
most of the land in that part. His stock had increased fourfold, and
although there had been occasional reports of trouble with the blacks,
they had hitherto met with no molestation whatever. Natives had come
and gone, and had always been hospitably received, and he certainly had
no reason to believe that there was anything but good feeling between
them and the inmates of the Springs, as the station was called, from
a spring that rose some hundred and fifty yards away from the house
and was situated some feet above the floor level, the water bubbling
up into a barrel which was sunk in the ground. A pipe whose end was
inserted in the barrel was buried underground, and through this the
water flowed, giving a constant supply to the house. Another pipe
conveyed the water to a trough, which had been erected for the use
of the animals kept at the station. The other animals watered at the
stream.

The boy, who was now fifteen, had been for the past two years at
Sydney, living at his uncle's and attending school. In another year
he was to return to the station. He had gone most reluctantly, but
his father had said: "I can quite understand your liking this life,
Ned, but I don't wish you to grow up simply a bush farmer. The colony
is increasing fast, and there will be plenty of openings for a young
fellow of intelligence and a fair education. I hope that by the time
you grow up I shall be able to settle you on a farm like mine, and
stock it well for you, if you decide upon following this sort of life,
or to start you in any line that you may like to adopt in Sydney. You
have had two years of running wild, and if you remain here you will
speedily forget what little you have learned; but in any case, three
years at school will be a great advantage to you."

Effie, the daughter, was now fourteen, a strong healthy girl who could
ride any horse on the station, had been taught to use both pistol and
rifle, and was as bold and fearless as a boy.

It was late that night before Mr. Roberts returned, and the next day he
and Thompson drove the stock down to Talbot's station, leaving strict
injunctions that the other men were not to go far from the house, and
were to keep the cattle and sheep in the stock-yard. He returned the
following day, and for the next fortnight things went on as usual. Late
one night, however, in the third week, Effie knocked at her father's
door.

"I think there is something the matter, father," she called. "The
animals are all uneasy in the yard. I don't know what has disturbed
them, but they are evidently alarmed." In half a minute Mr. Roberts
appeared at the door, and followed the girl to her room, which was at
the back of the house, overlooking the stock-yard.

"There is certainly something wrong, Effie," he said, after listening
for a moment. "The horses and cattle are both uneasy."

He went downstairs to the room where the men slept. "Get up at once,"
he said; "there is something the matter. The horses and cattle are
uneasy; I am afraid it is the blacks. Throw on your clothes and take
your guns. We will go out at once and take down all the bars, so that
if it is really the blacks the animals will have a chance of escaping.
It is pitch dark, and even if there are some of them in the yard they
are not likely to see us."

Two minutes later the door was very cautiously opened and the four men
went out. Effie barred it behind them, and then joined her mother, who
had hastily dressed. Both took their guns and went to Effie's window,
which was already open.

"We shall not be able to see where to fire, mother."

"No, dear; but if the blacks do attack, we shall hear by their yelling
whereabouts they are, and can fire in that direction. We may not hit
any of them, but it will confuse and alarm them. However, remember,
when we hear any stir, the first thing for you to do is to run down to
the door in readiness to open it when your father and the men return."

"The sheep are moving about now; they were quiet before, mother."

"It is likely the blacks will begin there," Mrs. Roberts said. "No
doubt they are hungry, and it is always sheep that they make for first.
They will very likely kill some and have a feast before attacking. I
trust, however, that they may not attack at all. They must know that
the house is a strong one, and may not care to risk their lives, but
have only come to drive off the stock. Still, I am afraid they will try
and attack, hoping we may be asleep and that they may gain entrance
before we have time to get our rifles."

Four or five minutes later a low whistle was heard outside. Effie ran
down and opened the door, when her father and the men at once entered
and the door was bolted behind them.

"Well," Mr. Roberts said, "I fear there is no doubt that there are
blacks about, and from the uneasiness of the animals I should say there
are a good number of them. However, we are warned, and I think that
the surprise will be on their side and not on ours. We removed all the
bars, so the animals can get away if they like. Also, I have locked the
door of the stable. Except for the uneasiness of the animals we saw no
signs of the enemy at all. Now, the first thing to do is to get the
shutters closed." This was at once done. Mr. Roberts had always been a
little nervous of trouble with the blacks, so in addition to building
his house of solid logs he had had strong loopholed shutters arranged
on all the windows of the lower story, which when closed were held in
their position by massive cross-bars.

They discussed the best position for each to take in case of attack,
and having arranged this, one of the men went up to keep a look-out
from the upper windows, while the rest of the party remained chatting
in the sitting-room. "I wish there was a moon," Mr. Roberts said; "it
is so dark that we shall be firing quite at random."

"Could we not make some sort of a torch," Effie suggested, "that would
light up the place outside?"

"That is a first-rate idea, Effie; but how are we to manage it?"

The party sat silent for some minutes, then Effie said: "There is
plenty of wool. How would it be to make a bundle of it about as big as
my head, wind it round with wire, then soak it in paraffin. When the
natives come we have only to put a match to it and throw it outside."

"Very good indeed, Effie," her father said; "let us try to carry out
the idea at once, and as all the materials are to hand it will not
take us long." In half an hour six of the balls were finished. Each
had a short length of wire by which it could be thrown through the
window. Fortunately there was plenty of paraffin, and a bucket being
filled with it, the balls were soaked one after another, and were then
carried upstairs each in a separate basin. "We shall have to be very
careful how we throw them," Mr. Roberts said, "or else we shall be
setting ourselves on fire. Thompson, you are, I think, the worst shot
of the lot, as you are rather short-sighted. I will therefore trust
this business to you. Have an old blanket ready to beat out any of the
burning oil that may drop on the floor. Be careful also to keep as much
in shelter as possible, some of the blacks are sure to have bows ready."

"All right, boss! you need not fear, I will look out. Now, as I am to
be on duty upstairs, I might as well go up at once and send James down.
I think, boss, you had better take post at the loopholes now, you may
catch sight of one of the varmints against the sky-line. I will throw a
ball as soon as I hear the first shot."

All was quiet for a quarter of an hour, then Effie suddenly fired. The
shot was followed by a wild yell outside, and dozens of dark figures
leaped to their feet and bounded towards the door, and strove to break
it in with their waddies and axes. The defenders were all hard at work,
and an occasional yell of pain showed that their bullets were taking
effect. Suddenly there was an even wilder yell as a brilliant ball of
fire fell twenty yards from the house, lighting up the front of it
almost as if it were day. Every shot told now, and in a minute the
natives fled with wild bounds outside the circle of light, but losing
heavily before they vanished into the darkness.

"Well, I do not think they will try that game again," Mr. Roberts
said when the firing ceased, and after shaking hands wildly all round
they sat down. "I did not expect them to attack so boldly. It is
quite contrary to their usual habits, and if it had not been for the
fire-ball I do not know how things would have gone. That was a splendid
idea, Effie. Why, you ought to set up as an inventor!"

There was no further attack, but two hours later one of the men on
watch thought he heard a movement in the neighbourhood of the spring,
but on firing a shot in that direction all was quiet, and there was no
further disturbance till day broke.

Soon after daylight all the party except the man on watch sat down to
breakfast and discussed the events of the night.

"What do you think they will do next, father?" Effie asked.

"I do not know whether they will hunt down the cattle and horses, and
drive them off, or whether they will hang round here for a time; it
is difficult to say. At any rate I don't think we have any cause for
uneasiness, except so far as touches one's pockets. It is lucky,
indeed, that we shifted more than half our animals to Talbot's.
Henceforth we must divide into two parties, and keep watch by turn,
for we have provisions enough to last for a couple of months. They had
only one chance, and that was to set the place on fire; but that we
practically did away with when we took the shingles off the roof. They
would never venture to bring sticks and fire up to the doors in the
teeth of our rifles."

Two hours passed quietly, then loud yells were heard, and a number of
specks of fire shot through the air.

"Blazing arrows," the settler said quietly. "I expect they have a white
man among them, an escaped convict, of course, and he has put them up
to this. I don't fancy they use fire-arrows, though of course they may
do so. Well, they can amuse themselves as long as they like; they may
go on for four-and-twenty hours, but they will never set those beams on
fire."

For ten minutes the flight of arrows continued. Those below could hear
the constant tapping as the missiles struck the roof. At the end of
that time they ceased to fall, the natives evidently recognizing that
for some reason or other their attempt was a complete failure. They
made no more efforts, but small groups of them could be seen out on
the plain in pursuit of the animals. These, however, were evidently
alarmed by the shouts and proceedings of the night before, and made off
at the top of their speed whenever the natives approached. The horses
were especially wild, and kept a considerable distance away.

"It will take them a good many days to gather them in," Mr. Roberts
said grimly. "Fortunately your horses and mine, Effie, are safe in the
shed, and as we fastened the door, and it is commanded by the loopholes
in the shutters on that side of the house, as long as we hold out they
will be safe. As soon as the rascals have gone off I will ride into
the settlements, get a dozen men to help us, and then we will set off
in pursuit. I should think that by to-morrow at latest they are likely
to give it up as a bad job. They must know that they have no chance of
starving us out."

The blacks, however, evinced no intention of leaving. They could be
seen moving about among the trees. By the smoke that rose in that
direction it was evident that they had kindled large fires, but these
were so far within the bush that their exact position could not be made
out. A shot was fired from time to time when a black showed himself,
but this was done rather for the purpose of showing that the besieged
were on the watch than with the hope of hitting the quickly-moving
figure. The main body of the sheep were huddled out on the plain half
a mile away under the charge of two of the blacks. Leaving Mrs. Roberts
and Effie on the watch, the rest of the party now went out and dragged
the bodies of the natives who had been killed some distance from the
house, and covered them with a thick layer of earth. Two or three of
the sheep had been killed by chance shots, and these were carried in,
skinned, and hung up.

"That will be ample to last us," the colonist said; "they will be off
long before these are eaten. This evening it is likely they will be
making a great feast, but I expect to-morrow morning they will be off
to carry out some fresh rascality elsewhere. If I thought they intended
to stop here longer, I would try to get through them to-night to fetch
help."

"I wouldn't do that, boss, in any case," one of the men said. "That is
just what they are thinking you will try to do, and I warrant they will
be as thick as peas round the place to-night."

The next morning, however, it was seen that the blacks had no intention
of moving at present. Parties of twos and threes were starting across
the plain, evidently with the intention of driving in some of the
cattle.

"I cannot make it out," one of the men said rather anxiously; "I can't
think what their game can be. As a rule they strike a blow, have a big
feast, and then are off at once, driving the sheep before them. It is
quite contrary to their nature to loiter about like this. They must
be up to some move or other, though what it is I cannot guess, for
they must know well enough that they have not the ghost of a chance of
taking this place. I feel sure they have got a white man with them.
I caught a glimpse of a fellow who seemed to be dressed in white's
clothes. He was well in among the trees, but I took a shot at him. It
was not broad daylight and it was dark under the trees, so I could not
swear to his being white; but if he wasn't he was some black who had
rigged himself out in the clothes of some poor beggar they killed at
the last station."

In a few minutes they saw a number of blacks sally out from the wood.
They planted themselves in small parties in a circle of half a mile
round the farm, and presently all lay down and crept to within half
that distance.

"They are determined that we sha'n't get away," Mr. Roberts said
grimly. "Happily we do not want to do so."

As he spoke his wife's voice was heard.

"Come down, William, come down!"

There was no question that something was wrong. The settler ran below,
and he saw by his wife's face that it was something very serious.

"What is it, Jane?" he asked anxiously.

"There is no water," she exclaimed. "I went to the tap to get some for
the kettle; a quart or two trickled out and then it stopped."

Her husband stood stupefied at the news.

"I thought yesterday that it was not running as fast as usual, but I
did not give it a second thought."

"They must have done something to the spring. Some of the natives who
have been here must have noticed you drawing water, and have told other
blackfellows of the water running out from the side of a wall whenever
you wanted it. If there is a white man among them he would, when he
heard the story, be sure that water was obtained from a spring. He
would hear about a barrel being sunk in the ground, and I have no doubt
that, after their attack failed the night before last, he had the pipe
stopped up. If you recollect, James thought he heard somebody up there
and fired. I have no doubt it was then that they played this trick.
There would be enough water in the pipe itself to supply us yesterday;
now it has come to an end. This accounts for their stopping here. It is
a terrible blow, and it may be a fatal one."

He then went up to the men and explained what had happened. All saw how
serious the position had at once become.

"We must hold on till the last, sir," one of them said. "You may be
sure that they would spare none of us after losing so many of their men
the other night."

"My wife says there is rather over two quarts of water left. We must
content ourselves with half a pint a day; that would last us for three
days. When we are thirsty we must chew some of the raw meat; in that
way we ought to be able to hold out for four or five days. Before that
time the news that we are besieged here may reach the settlements, or
some of our friends may ride over. We will fire a rifle every five
minutes or so to give them warning that something is up, and they will
take care not to fall into an ambush, and as soon as they find how
matters stand will ride back and bring help."

It was but a feeble ground for hope, but all agreed that it might
happen as he said.

"Do you think that there is any chance of getting through, Mr. Roberts?
I could try if you like," Thompson said.

"I should say not the slightest; and now we know what they reckon upon,
you may be sure that the whole of them are pretty close round the house
at night. They are as cunning as cats at their own work, and a man
would be riddled with spears before he had gone twenty yards."

Effie had gone up after her father, and listened in silence to the
conversation. Suddenly she said: "You forget the apples, father. Surely
they would do to quench our thirst."

"Capital, Effie! I had forgotten all about them. There are six barrels
in the cellar, and with their aid we can hold out for a long time.
That alters the position altogether." There was a general exclamation
of satisfaction from the men; the grimness of their faces relaxed, and
they shook hands heartily in their relief at their escape from what
they all felt was a terrible danger.

Two days passed. The cordon round the house was steadily maintained.
Shots were fired every five minutes, but the natives all lay under
shelter, and there was no sign that the firing had had any effect.
Several times the possibility of making a dash through them on one of
the horses was discussed, but each time was negatived. The alarm would
be given as soon as the horse was led out from the stable, and the
blackfellows would have time to gather at any point.

Effie went out twice a day with food for the horses, and each time
carried a dozen large apples in her apron, which she gave them after
they had eaten their corn. On the evening of the second day she took
with her a bottle of oil, with which she carefully lubricated the
hinges of the door and the padlock. The first day she had said to
herself over and over again: "If Jack were here I am sure he would
manage to get out." On the second day she said to herself: "If Jack
could do so why shouldn't I? We may hold out till they go away, but if
we do they will go somewhere else and kill some other settlers; while
if we could but give them a lesson they might not come again for a long
time." She waited another day in hopes that the blacks would leave.
When they did not do so, she decided to make the attempt that night.

On leaving the stable she put the padlock into its place, but did
not lock it; then she wrote a line to leave in her room, telling her
parents what she had done. She had, during the day, taken out a suit of
her brother's clothes, which fitted her fairly well. She had already
saddled her horse, and put his bridle on. When she went up to bed she
changed her clothes, knowing that it would be far easier to crawl in
boy's clothes than in her own. Her window had been open all day, and
she now fastened two blankets firmly together, tied one end to the leg
of a table by the window, and after waiting until she knew that all the
house, with the exception of the two men on guard, were fairly asleep,
she slid down the blanket. It was but some ten feet to the ground. She
was now within a few yards of the stable, which was built facing the
house. She opened the door, noiselessly felt her way to her horse, and
led it to the door. Then she laid the reins across his neck, stroked
his nose--a signal which he well understood was an order for him to
stand still until she whistled for him,--and then she lay down and
crawled noiselessly along. She had left her shoes behind her lest they
should scrape against the wall while she descended.

The night was pitch dark, and she progressed very slowly, pausing for a
moment after each step she made, to listen for the sound of breathing,
or for some movement that would tell her she was near one of the enemy.
Once or twice she heard slight sounds and changed her course. As it was
the stock-yard she was crossing, there was no vegetation by brushing
against which she might cause a rustling of leaves. She had, on leaving
the stable, made first for the bars dividing the sheep from the horses,
judging that the natives would be thickest round the entrance to the
horse-pen, as it was through this a horseman would naturally pass on
his way out. Once through, she kept for the most part close to the
bars, as she would thus be less likely to be observed than if she
crossed the open. So she kept on until she came to the outer bars. Here
she lay for some time listening intently. She heard murmured sounds on
both sides of her, but especially towards the gates of the sheep-yard.
At last, convinced that no one could be within some yards of her, she
crawled under the lower bar and kept straight on. She had the comfort
of knowing that it was not for any slight sound the blacks would be
listening, but for the opening of the door of the house or stables. She
crawled for a good quarter of a mile before she felt assured that she
was well beyond the cordon of natives.

Then she stood up, put the whistle she always carried to her lips, and
blew twice, sharply and loudly. In the stillness of the night she could
instantly hear the sound of a horse's feet. Then there was a burst of
yells and shouts. This continued, but the rapid tramp of hoofs kept
on. She whistled again, and a minute later the horse dashed up to her.
She sprang on his back with a word of encouragement, patted him on
the neck, and then set off at full speed. A hundred yards behind, the
blacks were running as hard as they could, filling the air with their
shouts, but she felt that she was safe now. The strong steady pace
showed her that the horse could not have sustained any serious injury.
This indeed was the case. So swiftly was the distant whistle followed
by the approach of the galloping horse that the blacks had scarce time
to take up their spears and waddies when the animal dashed through
them, scattering those in its path like chaff before him. Spears had
been thrown, but they were aimed high, at the rider who they believed
was in the saddle, and only one had slightly grazed the animal's back.
The girl took a circuit, lest some of the blacks should be on the road,
and knowing every foot of the country she regained the track two miles
farther on, at which time she had eased down to a speed which she knew
the horse could maintain for a long time. The forty miles between the
Springs and Talbot's farm were performed under four hours. Leaping from
the horse she knocked at the door, and a voice from an upper window
soon asked: "Who's there, and what is wanted?" A few words explained
her errand. She heard Mr. Talbot's voice shouting to the men, and soon
the door was opened.

"Besieged for four days by blacks, Miss Roberts! I never heard of their
doing such a thing before. Have you had hard fighting?"

"No; they made a rush at first, but we easily beat them off. But they
cut off our water-supply, and have been lying round to prevent any
of us getting away, making sure that we should have to give in from
thirst. Fortunately we have plenty of apples and could keep going for
another fortnight. They have a white man with them, and no doubt it
was he who put them up to cutting the water-pipe. Will you send out to
all the settlers round? I am going to ride on to Pickford to fetch the
constabulary there."

[Illustration: EFFIE GIVES THE ALARM]

"No, indeed!" Mr. Talbot said; "you have done enough for to-night. I
will start at once for Pickford, and my men will go off to the settlers
round. We shall have at least twenty or five-and-twenty here by nine
o'clock to-morrow. I will leave one of my men here, and my wife will
look after you, and make you comfortable. It is past two o'clock now.
I shall be at Pickford by six, and by ten or eleven Lieutenant Jordan
and his twelve men will arrive. I have plenty of horses in the yard,
and while the police are having breakfast we can change the saddles.
We won't hurry on the way to your place, as we shall want the horses
to be pretty fresh, so as to take up the pursuit of the blacks. An
hour one way or another will make no difference to your people, as the
blacks will hardly attack in daylight. Of course they may make a final
attempt to take the place to-night, for your escape will tell them that
they have no time to lose. I should not be surprised if they make off
the first thing in the morning. However, we will follow them up, and
are certain to overtake them if they try, as no doubt they will, to
carry off some of the cattle and sheep. Jordan will be delighted at the
chance of giving them a lesson that will keep them quiet for some time
to come. I won't stop now to ask you how you got out; you can tell us
about that as we ride back with you."

Mrs. Talbot had now come down, and in a few minutes Effie was in bed,
having the satisfaction, before she retired, of hearing five mounted
men ride off at full gallop, and of knowing that her horse had been
well cared for. She was up at eight and assisting Mrs. Talbot to
prepare breakfast for the expected arrivals. It was not long before the
first comers rode in, all eager to rescue the party at the Springs, and
to inflict a heavy blow upon the natives. Each, on the arrival of Mr.
Talbot's messengers, had sent off men in other directions, and by nine
o'clock thirty had arrived. All carried rifles and pistols, and each
brought a led horse with him, as Mr. Talbot had told the men to suggest
that they should do so, for they would not be able to obtain remounts
at the Springs, and as they might have to follow up the blacks for a
considerable distance it was well that each should have two horses.

As Effie felt shy about appearing in boy's clothes, Mrs. Talbot lent
her a blouse and skirt. Great was the admiration expressed when she
told how she had undertaken on her own account to fetch assistance,
and how she had successfully carried out the attempt. Mr. Talbot,
with the party of police, came in at eleven o'clock, by which time a
dozen more settlers, who lived at a greater distance than the earlier
comers, had also arrived; after a halt for half an hour to give the
police a chance of a meal, the whole party started. The horses of the
police had a good feed, and each trooper was furnished with another
mount from Mr. Talbot's yard. These their officer decided had better
be led until they reached the Springs, and they would then be able to
start in pursuit on comparatively fresh animals. Effie, of course, rode
with them. Although she felt certain that all was well, she was in a
fever of excitement to get home. She knew her parents would be very
anxious about her. Her absence would have been discovered directly she
started, as the outburst of the yells would have caused all to catch
up their rifles and run to the windows. If, as Mr. Talbot had thought
likely, the natives, on finding that she had got off safely, had made
an attack upon the house, the defenders would feel assured that she had
got safely away, and in any case the absence of any yells of exultation
would be almost proof that she had succeeded. It was just four o'clock
when they reached the Springs. No signs of the blacks had been met
with, and as the party rode down the slope towards the house, Mr.
Roberts, his wife, and the men ran out to receive them.

"You have frightened us horribly, Effie," her father said, after the
first greetings, "but we felt sure that you must have got away. We
could not tell that you would not be overtaken, though we had every
hope that you were safe. Thompson, who was on watch on that side,
declared that he heard one of the horses gallop off just before the row
began, and before that he had heard what he was sure was your whistle
some distance away, but he could not tell that the horse had got safely
through, or that he had not been so severely injured as to be unable
to carry you far. Thank God that it has all turned out well! You ought
not to have made the attempt without consulting us, and you may be very
sure that we should not have allowed you to try if you had."

"That was just why I did not do so, father," the girl said. "No one
could have done it but I, because neither of the horses would have
answered to the whistle. Besides, being so much smaller and lighter, I
had a better chance of getting through."

"You must not scold her, Roberts," Mr. Talbot, who had been standing
close by, said. "She has done a splendid action, and you and her mother
ought to be proud of her. She will be regarded as a heroine by the
whole district."

While they were speaking, the police-officer had been questioning the
men, and learnt that a few minutes after the girl left there had been
a fierce attack on the house, which had been repulsed with the loss of
some fifteen of the assailants, and that, when day broke, the natives
had been seen making off in the distance with fifty or sixty cattle,
and a flock of two or three hundred sheep. No time was lost. Bags of
flour and parcels of tea and sugar were made up. No meat was taken, as
the natives were sure to spear any animals that could not keep up with
the main flock. The saddles were all shifted to the horses that were
being led, and half an hour after their arrival the party were in their
saddles again, Mr. Roberts riding his own horse and his men three that
the blacks had been unable to catch, but which had remained close to
the station, and which were now easily driven in. It was not thought
necessary to leave any guard at the farm, and when it was proposed,
Mrs. Roberts laughed at the idea.

"The blacks have all gone," she said, "but if there are a few still
lurking about, Effie and I can easily defend the house. We will take
care not to stir out till you return."

Three days later the party returned. They had overtaken the blacks on
the evening of the day after starting, had killed at least half of
them, including their white leader, and had recovered all the animals.
So sharp was the lesson that the Roberts family were never afterwards
troubled by a hostile visit from the natives.



                          Transcriber's Note:


Italics are indicated by _underscores_.

Small capitals have been rendered in full capitals.

A number of minor spelling errors have been corrected without note.





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