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- In Times of Peril - 20/55 -
special duty, were dispersed round the walls, to check the advance of the footmen, who crept daringly to within a short distance, and kept up a rolling fire around the village.
At five o'clock half of the men were taken off the walls, and several were set to build a wall four feet high, in a semicircle just inside the gate, which had been struck by several shots, and showed signs of yielding. Two or three of the nearest huts were demolished rapidly, there being plenty of native tools in the village, and a rough wall was constructed of the materials; a trench five feet deep and eight feet wide was simultaneously dug across the entrance. At six o'clock, just as the wall was finished, an unlucky shot struck one of the doorposts, and the gate fell, dragging the other post with it. A distant yell of triumph came through the air.
The gates fell partly across the trench. "Now, lads, push them back a bit if you can; if not, knock the part over the ditch to pieces; it's half- smashed already."
It was easier to knock the gate, already splintered with shot, to pieces, than to remove it.
"Now, Dunlop, fetch one of those powder-bags we brought for blowing up the gates; put it in the trench, with a long train. You attend to the train, and when I give the word, fire it. Bring up those two big pots of boiling water to the gate-towers. Captain Kent, thirty men of your troop will hold the other three walls; but if you hear my dog-whistle, every man is to leave his post and come on here at a run. Thirty men more will man this front wall and towers. They are to direct their fire to check the crowd pushing forward behind those immediately assaulting. The remaining forty will fire through the loopholes as long as possible, and will then form round the breastwork and hold it to the last. One man in each gate-tower, when the enemy reach the gate, will lay down his carbine, and attend to the boiling water. Let them each have a small pot as a ladle. But let them throw the water on those pressing toward the gate, not on those who have reached it. Those are our affair."
In five minutes every man was at his post, and a sharp fire from the seventy men along the front wall opened upon the masses of the enemy, who came swarming toward the gate. The effect on the crowd, many thousand strong, was very severe, for each shot told; but the Mussulmen of Oude are courageous, and the rush toward the gate continued. Fast as those in front fell, the gaps were imperceptible in the swarming crowd. Major Warreners band of forty men were called away from the loopholes, and were drawn up behind the ditch; and as the head of the assaulting crowd neared the gate volley after volley rang out, and swept away the leaders, foremost among whom were a number of Sepoys, who, when their regiments mutinied, had returned to their homes, and now headed the peasantry in their attack upon the British force. When the dense mass arrived within thirty yards of the gate Major Warrener gave the word, and a retreat was made behind the breastwork. On, with wild shouts, came the assailants; the first few saw the trench, and leaped it; those who followed fell in, until the trench was full; then the crowd swept in unchecked. The defenders had laid by their carbines now, and had drawn their revolvers. They were divided into two lines, who were alternately to take places in front and fire, while those behind loaded their revolvers. The din, as the circle inclosed by the low wall filled with the assailants, was prodigious; the sharp incessant crack of the revolver; the roll of musketry from the walls; the yells of the enemy; the shrieks, which occasionally rose outside the gate as the men in the towers scattered the boiling water broadcast over them, formed a chaos. With the fury and despair of cornered wild beasts, the enemy fought, striving to get over the wall which so unexpectedly barred their way; but their very numbers and the pressure from behind hampered their efforts.
If a man in the front line of defenders had emptied his revolver before the one behind him had reloaded, he held his place with the sword.
"The wall's giving from the pressure!" Dick exclaimed to his father; and the latter put his whistle to his lips, and the sound rang out shrill and high above the uproar.
A minute later the front of the wall tottered and fell. Then Major Warrener held up his hand, and Captain Dunlop, who had stood all the time quietly watching him, fired the train. A thundering explosion, a flight of bodies and fragments of bodies through the air, a yell of terror from the enemy, and then, as those already rushing triumphantly through the breach stood paralyzed, the British fell upon them sword in hand; the men from the other walls came rushing up, eager to take their part in the fray, and the enemy inside the gate were either cut down or driven headlong through it!
The crowd beyond, already shaken by the murderous fire that the party on the walls kept up unceasingly upon them, while they stood unable to move from the jam in front, had recoiled through their whole mass at the explosion, and the sight of the handful of their comrades flying through the gate completed the effect. With yells of rage and discomfiture, each man turned and fled, while the defenders of the gateway passed out, and joined their fire to that of their comrades above on the flying foe.
"Thank God, it is all over!" Major Warrener said; "but it has been hot while it lasted. Have we had many casualties?"
The roll was soon called, and it was found that the besieged had escaped marvelously. One young fellow, a civil servant, had been shot through the head, by a stray ball entering the loophole through which he was firing. Thirteen of the defenders of the gateway were wounded with pistol shots, or with sword cuts; but none of the injuries were of a serious character.
It was now rapidly becoming dark, and Major Warrener mounted one of the towers to have a last look.
The enemy had rallied at a distance from the walls, and two fresh bodies of troops, with elephants, were to be seen approaching from the distance.
"That is all right," he said. "They will wait, and renew the attack to- morrow."
An hour afterward it was night. The moon had not risen yet, and Major Warrener had a huge bonfire lighted outside the gate, with posts and solid beams from the fallen gates and from the houses.
"That will burn for hours," he said, "quite long enough for our purpose."
Lights could be seen scattered all over the side of the plain on which the tents were erected, some of them coming up comparatively close to the walls. On the road in front, but far enough to be well beyond the light of the fire, voices could be heard, and occasionally a shout that they would finish with the infidel dogs to-morrow rose on the air. Evidently by the low buzz of talk there were a large number here, and probably the guns had been brought closer, to check any attempt on the part of the little garrison to dash through their enemies. The blazing fire, however, throwing as it did a bright light upon the empty gateway through which they must pass, showed that at present, at least, the besieged had no idea of making their escape.
At nine o'clock the whole of the garrison stood to their horses. Not only had their feet been muffled with the leather shoes, but cloths, of which there were plenty in the village, had been wound round them, until their footfalls would, even on the hardest road, have been noiseless. Then Major Warrener led the way to the spot where ten men had been at work during the afternoon.
At this point, which was on the side furthest from that upon which was the main camp of the enemy, a clump of trees and bushes grew close to the wall outside; behind them a hole in the wall, wide enough and high enough for a horse to pass through easily, had been made, and the ditch behind had been filled up with rubbish. There was no word spoken; every one had received his orders, and knew what to do; and as silently as phantoms the troop passed through, each man leading his horse. Once outside the bushes, they formed fours and went forward, still leading their horses-as these were less likely to snort with their masters at their heads.
Ten minutes' walking convinced them that they had little to fear, and that no guards had been set on that side. It was regarded by the enemy as so certain that the English would not abandon their horses and fly on foot, only to be overtaken and destroyed the next day, that they had only thought it necessary to watch the gateway through which, as they supposed, the British must, if at all, escape on horseback.
The troop now mounted, and trotted quietly away, making a wide detour, and then going straight toward Bithri. The moon had risen; and when, about a mile and a half in front, they could see the castle, Major Warrener, who with Captain Kent and the native guides was riding ahead, held up his hand. The troop came to a halt.
"There are some bullock-carts just ahead. Take the mufflings off your horse's feet and ride on by yourself," he said to one of the native guides, "and see what is in the wagons, and where they are going."
The man did as ordered, but he needed no questions. The wagons were full of wounded men going to Bithri. He passed on with a word of greeting, turned his horse when he reached a wood a little in front, and allowed them to pass, and then rode back to the troop.
"Four bullock-carts full of wounded, sahib."
"The very thing," Major Warrener exclaimed; "nothing could be more lucky."
Orders were passed down the line that they were to ride along until the leaders were abreast of the first cart, then to halt and dismount suddenly. The drivers were to be seized, gagged, and bound. The wounded were not to be injured.
"These men are not mutinous Sepoys, with their hands red with the blood of women," Major Warrener said; "they are peasants who have fought bravely for their country, and have done their duty, according to their light."
SAVE BY A TIGER.
The drivers of the bullock-carts were startled at the noiseless appearance by their side of a body of horsemen; still more startled, when suddenly that phantom-like troop halted and dismounted. The rest was like a dream; in an instant they were seized, bound, and gagged, and laid down in the field at some distance from the road; one of them, however, being ungagged, and asked a few questions before being finally left. The wounded, all past offering the slightest resistance, were still more astonished when their captors, whom the moonlight now showed to be white, instead of cutting their throats as they expected, lifted them tenderly and carefully from the wagons, and laid them down on a bank a short distance off.
"Swear by the Prophet not to call for aid, or to speak, should any one pass the road, for one hour!" was the oath administered to each, and all who were still conscious swore to observe it. Then with the empty wagons
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