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- In Times of Peril - 2/55 -
serving for upward of a year. His ship being now in Indian waters, a month's leave had been granted him that he might go up the country to see his father. The other lad had arrived from England three months before, with his sister and cousin. Major Warrener had sent for his daughter, whose education was finished, to take the head of his house, and, as a companion, had invited Rose Hertford, who was the orphan child of his sister, to accompany her. Ned, who had been at Westminster till he left England, was intended for the Indian army. His father thought that it would be well for him to come out to India with his sister, as he himself would work with him, and complete his education, to enable him to pass the necessary examination--then not a very severe one--while he could be at the same time learning the native languages, which would be of immense benefit to him after he had entered the army. Coming out as they had done in the cold season, none of the four exhibited any of that pallor and lassitude which, at any rate during the summer heats, are the rule throughout the Anglo-Indian community.
As Ned finished his sentence the sound of the tread of two horses was heard along the road.
"Captains Dunlop and Manners," Dick exclaimed; "a shilling to a penny! Will either of you bet, girls?"
Neither his sister nor cousin replied to this offer; and the boys gave a sly nod of intelligence to each other, as two horsemen rode up to the veranda and dismounted; throwing their reins to the _syces_, who, whatever the pace at which their masters ride, run just behind, in readiness to take the horses, should they dismount.
"Good-morning, Miss Warrener; good-morning, Miss Hertford: we have brought you some interesting news."
"Indeed!" said the girls, as they shook hands with the newcomers, who were two as good specimens of tall, well-made, sunburnt Anglo-Saxons as one would wish to see. "What is it?"
"We have just got the news that a family of wild boars have come down, and are doing a lot of damage near Meanwerrie, four miles off. I suppose they have been disturbed somewhere further away, as we have not heard of any pig here for months; so to-morrow morning there is going to be grand pig- sticking; of course you will come out and see the fun?"
"We shall be delighted," said Kate; but Rose put in: "Yes; but oh! how unfortunate! it's Mrs. Briarley's garden party."
"That has been put off till next day. It is not often we get a chance at pig, and we have always got gardens. The two need not have interfered with each other, as we shall start at daylight for Meanwerrie; but we may be out some hours, and so it was thought better to put off the party to a day when there will be nothing else to do."
"Hurrah!" shouted Dick; "I am in luck! I wanted, above all things, to see a wild boar hunt; do you think my father will let me have a spear?"
"Hardly, Dick, considering that last time you went out you tumbled off three times at some jumps two feet wide, and that, were you to fall in front of a pig, he would rip you up before you had time to think about it; besides which, you would almost certainly stick somebody with your spear."
"That was the first time I had ever been on a horse," he said; "will you ride, Ned?"
"No," said Ned; "I can ride fairly enough along a straight road, but it wants a first-rate rider to go across country at a gallop, looking at the boar instead of where you are going, and carrying a spear in one hand."
"Do you think papa will ride?" Kate asked.
"I don't know, Miss Warrener; the major is a famous spear; but here he is to speak for himself."
Major Warrener was in uniform, having just come up from the orderly-room. He was a tall, soldierly figure, inclining to stoutness. His general expression was that of cheeriness and good temper; but he was looking, as he drove up, grave and serious. His brow cleared, however, as his eye fell upon the group in the veranda.
"Ah! Dunlop, brought the news about the boar, eh?"
"You will take us with you?" the girls asked in a breath.
"Oh, yes, you shall go; I will drive you myself. I am getting too heavy for pig-sticking, especially with such responsibilities as you about. There, I will get out of this uniform; it's hot for the time of year. What are you drinking? nothing? Boy, bring some soda and brandy!"
Then, producing his cigar-case, he took a cheroot.
"Ag-low!" he shouted, and a native servant ran up with a piece of red-hot charcoal held in a little pair of tongs.
"There, sit down and make yourselves comfortable till I come back."
The lads, finding that their society was not particularly required, strolled off to the stables, where Ned entered into a conversation with the _syces_ as to the distance to Meanwerrie and the direction in which that village lay. Like all Anglo-Indian children brought up in India, the boys had, when they left India, spoken the language fluently. They had almost entirely forgotten it during their stay in England, but it speedily came back again, and Ned, at the end of three months' work, found that he could get on very fairly. Dick had lost it altogether.
When they went back to the veranda they found that the girls had gone indoors, and that their father was sitting and smoking with his brother officers. When the lads came up the conversation ceased, and then the major said:
"It is as well the boys should know what is going on."
"What is it, father?" Ned asked, struck with the grave tone in which the major spoke, and at the serious expression in all their faces.
"Well, boys, for some months past there have been all sorts of curious rumors running through the country. Chupatties have been sent round, and that is always considered to portend something serious."
"Do you mean the chupatties we eat--flat cakes, father?"
"Yes, Ned. Nobody knows who sends them round, or the exact meaning of the signal, but it seems to be an equivalent for to 'prepare,' 'make ready.' Chupatties are quickly prepared; they are the bread eaten on a journey, and hence probably their signification. At any rate, these things have been circulated among the native troops all over the country. Strangers are known to have come and gone, and there is a general uneasy and unsettled feeling prevalent among the troops. A ridiculous rumor has circulated among them that the new cartridges have been greased with pig's fat, in order that the caste of all who put it to their lips might be destroyed. To-day I have received news from Calcutta that the Nineteenth native regiment at Berhampore has behaved in a grossly mutinous manner, and that it is feared the regiments at Barrackpore and Dumdum will follow their example. The affair has been suppressed, but there is an uneasy feeling abroad, and all the troops in Bengal proper appear tainted with paltry disaffection. We have no reason for believing that the spirit has spread to the northwest, and are convinced that as far as our own regiment is concerned they can be relied on; but the affair, taken in connection with the previous rumors, is very strange, and I fear that there are lots of trouble ahead. I wish now that I had not had the girls out for another year; but I could not foresee this, and, indeed, until this morning, although there has been a good deal of talk, we all hoped it would have passed off without anything coming of it. One hopes still that it will spread no further; but should it do so, it is impossible to say what may happen. All we have to do is to be watchful, and to avoid with care anything that can offend the men's prejudices. We must explain to the native officers the folly of the greased cartridge story, and tell them to reassure the men. You don't see anything else to do, Dunlop?"
"No, major; I trust that the regiment is to be depended upon; it has always been well treated and the men have seemed attached to us all. We will do our best to reassure them; but if there is any insubordination, I hope that the colonel will give the men a lesson which will put an end to the nonsense in the bud."
"Of course you will stay to tiffin?" the major said, as the _kitmagar_, or head servant, announced that tiffin was ready.
"Many thanks, major, but we promised to tiff with Bullen, and he would be mad if we did not turn up. How are you thinking of going to-morrow? I intend to drive over, and send my horse on; so I can give one of your boys a lift in my buggy."
"Thank you," the major said, "that would suit us exactly. I shall drive in my dog-cart, which will carry four of us; and if you will take Dick, that will make it all right."
"What time do we start?"
"We are to be there by seven; we set it so late to give the ladies time to breakfast comfortably before starting. I will call here at half-past six for Dick; it will be all in my way. Good-morning."
Two minutes later the girls, Ned, and Dick came into the dining-room, and the party sat down to luncheon--a meal always called tiffin in India. It is a great mistake to suppose that people in India cannot eat because of the heat; in the extreme heat of summer their appetites do, no doubt, fall off; but at other times, they not only eat, but eat more largely than is good for them; and a good deal of the liver complaint which is the pest of India is in no small degree due to the fact that, the appetite being unnaturally stimulated by hot and piquant food, people eat more than in such a climate as this can be properly digested. The meal consisted of curries, with which were handed round chutney and Bombay ducks--a little fish about the size of a smelt, cut open, dried, and smoked with assafoetida, giving it an intolerably nasty taste to strangers, but one which Anglo-Indians become accustomed to and like--no one knows why they are called Bombay ducks--cutlets, plantains sliced and fried, pomegranates, and watermelons. They were waited upon by two servants, both dressed entirely in white, but wearing red turbans, very broad and shallow. These turbans denoted the particular tribe and sect to which their wearers belonged. The castes in India are almost innumerable, and each has a turban of a peculiar color or shape, and by these they can be at once distinguished by a resident. On their foreheads were lines and spots of a yellowish white paint, indicating also their caste, and the peculiar divinity to whose worship they were specially devoted. On their feet they wore slippers, and were as noiseless as cats in all their movements. There are no better or more pleasant waiters in the world than the natives of Hindostan.
Early as the hour named for the start would appear in England, it was by no means early for India, where every one is up and about soon after
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