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- In Times of Peril - 50/55 -
"We will get a small chest and put them in, boys. I will give it to the paymaster--he is sending a lot of treasure down under a strong escort--and will ask him to let it go down with the convoy. I will direct it to a firm at Calcutta, and will ask them to forward it to my agent at home, to whom I will give directions to send it to a first-class jeweler in London, to be by him opened and valued. I will tell the Calcutta firm to insure it on the voyage as treasure at twenty thousand pounds. Even if some of them turn out to be false, you may congratulate each other that you are provided for for life."
"And when do we set out, father?" Ned asked, after they had talked for some time longer about their treasure.
"In three days' time. We shall accompany a flying column for the first two days' march, and then strike across for Agra."
The next two days the Warreners spent in investigating the town, in wandering through the deserted palaces, and admiring their vast extent, and in saying good-by to their friends. A great portion of the teeming population of Lucknow had fled, and the whole city outside the original town was to be cleared away and laid out in gardens, so that henceforth Lucknow would be little more than a fifth of its former size. The ruined Residency was to be cleared of its _débris_, replanted with trees, and to be left as a memorial of British valor. The entire district through which Havelock's men had fought their way was to be cleared of its streets, and the palaces only were to be left standing, to be utilized for public purposes. The whole of the remaining male population of Lucknow was set to work to carry out these alterations. The scene was busy and amusing, and the change from the fierce fight, the din of cannon, and the perpetual rattle of musketry, to the order, regularity, and bustle of work, was very striking. Here was a party of sappers and miners demolishing a row of houses, there thousands of natives filling baskets with rubbish and carrying them on their heads to empty into bullock carts, whence it was taken to fill up holes and level irregularities. Among the crowd, soldiers of many uniforms--British infantry, Rifles, Highlanders, artillery and cavalry, sinewy Sikhs, and quiet little Nepaulese--wandered at will or worked in fatigue parties.
The three days past, Colonel Warrener, his sons, and Major Dunlop took their places on horseback with the troop of irregular cavalry commanded by Lieutenant Latham, and joined the flying column which was setting out to attack a large body of the enemy, who were reported to be gathering again near Furruckabad, while simultaneously other columns were leaving in other directions, for broken at Lucknow, the rebels were swarming throughout all Oude. The day was breaking, but the sun was not yet up, when the column started--for in India it is the universal custom to start very early, so as to get the greater part of the march over before the heat of the day fairly begins--and the young Warreners were in the highest spirits at the thought that they were on their way to see their sister and cousin, and that their nine months of marching and fighting were drawing to a close, for it is possible to have too much even of adventure. At ten o'clock a halt was called at the edge of a large wood, and after preparing breakfast there was a rest in the shade until four in the afternoon, after which a two hours' march took them to their halting-place for the night. Tents were pitched, fires lighted, and then, dinner over, they made merry groups, who sat smoking and chatting until nine o'clock, when the noise ceased, the fires burned down, and all was quiet until the _réveillé_ sounded at four o'clock, after which there was an hour of busy work, getting down, rolling up, and packing the tents and baggage in the wagons.
Another day's march and halt, and then Colonel Warrener and his friends said good-by to their acquaintances in the column, and started with the troop of cavalry for Agra. Unincumbered by baggage, and no longer obliged to conform their pace to that of the infantry, they trotted gayly along, and accomplished forty miles ere they halted for the night near a village. The country through which they had passed had an almost deserted appearance. Here and there a laborer was at work in the fields, but the confusion and alarm created by the bodies of mutineers who had swept over the country, and who always helped themselves to whatever pleased them, had created such a scare that the villagers for the most part had forsaken their abodes, and driven their animals, with all their belongings, to the edge of jungles or other unfrequented places, there to await the termination of the struggle.
At the end of the day's journey they halted in front of a great mosque- like building with a dome, the tomb of some long dead prince. The doors stood open, and Colonel Warrener proposed that they should take up their quarters for the night in the lofty interior instead of sleeping in the night air, for although the temperature was still high, the night dews were the reverse of pleasant. It was evident by the appearance of the interior that it had been used as the headquarters and storehouse of some body of the enemy, for a considerable quantity of stores, military saddles, harness, coils of rope, and barrels of flour were piled against the wall. A space was soon swept, and a fire lighted on the floor. Outside the troopers dismounted, some proceeded to a wood at a short distance off to fetch fuel, others took the horses to a tank or pond to drink. It was already getting dusk, and inside the great domed chamber it was nearly dark.
"The fire looks cheerful," Colonel Warrener said, as, after seeing that the men had properly picketed their horses, and had made all their arrangements, the little group of officers returned to it. A trooper had already prepared their meal, which consisted of kabobs, or pieces of mutton--from a couple of sheep, which they had purchased at a village where they halted in the morning--a large bowl of boiled rice, and some chupatties, or griddle cakes; a pannikin of tea was placed by each; and spreading their cloaks on the ground, they set to with the appetite of travelers. Dinner over, a bottle of brandy was produced from one of Major Dunlop's holsters, the pannikin was washed out, and a supply of fresh water brought in, pipes and cheroots were lighted, and they prepared for a cheerful evening.
"I am very sorry Manners is not here," Dick said; "it would have been so jolly to be all together again. However, it is a satisfaction to know that his wound is doing well, and that he is likely to be all right in a few months."
"Yes," Colonel Warrener said, "but I believe that he will have to leave the service. His right leg will always be shorter than the left."
"I don't suppose he will mind that," Ned said. "I should think he must have had enough of India to last for his life."
"Mr. Latham," Dick said presently to the officer in command of the cavalry, "will you tell us your adventures? We know all about each other's doings."
So they sat and talked until ten o'clock, when Mr. Latham went round to see that the sentries were properly placed and alert. When he returned the door was shut, to keep out the damp air, and the whole party, rolling themselves in their cloaks, and using their saddles for pillows, laid up for the night. Dick was some time before he slept. His imagination was active; and when he at last dozed off, he was thinking what they had best do were they attacked by the enemy.
It was still dark when with a sudden start the sleeping party in the tomb awoke and leaped to their feet. For a moment they stood bewildered, for outside was heard on all sides the crack of volleys of musketry, wild yells and shouts, and the trampling of a large body of cavalry.
"Surprised!" exclaimed the colonel. "The sentries must have been asleep!"
There was a rush to the door, and the sight that met their eyes showed them the extent of the disaster. The moon was shining brightly, and by her light they could see that a large body of rebel cavalry had fallen upon the sleeping troopers, while the heavy musketry fire showed that a strong body of infantry were at work on the other side of the mosque. Lieutenant Latham rushed down the steps with his sword drawn, but fell back dead shot through the heart.
"Back, back!" shouted Colonel Warrener. "Let us sell our lives here!"
A DESPERATE DEFENSE.
In an instant the door was closed and bolted, and the four set to work to pile barrels and boxes against it. Not a word was spoken while this was going on. By the time they had finished the uproar without had changed its character; the firing had ceased, and the triumphant shouts of the mutineers showed that their victory was complete. Then came a loud thundering noise at the door.
"We have only delayed it a few minutes," Colonel Warrener said. "We have fought our fight, boys, and our time has come. Would to God that I had to die alone!"
"Look, father," Dick said, "there is a small door there. I noticed it last night. No doubt there is a staircase leading to the terrace above. At any rate, we may make a good fight there."
"Yes," Major Dunlop said, "we may fight it out to the last on the stairs. Run, Dick, and see."
Dick found, as he supposed, that from the door a narrow winding staircase led to the terrace above, from which the dome rose far into the air. The stairs were lit by an occasional narrow window. He was thinking as he ran upstairs of the ideas that had crossed his brain the night before.
"It is all right," he said, as he came down again. "Look, father, if we take up barrels and boxes, we can make barricades on the stairs, and defend them for any time almost."
"Excellent," the colonel said. "To work. They will be a quarter of an hour breaking in the door. Make the top barricade first, a few feet below the terrace."
Each seized a box or barrel, and hurried up the stairs. They had a longer time for preparation than they expected, for the mutineers, feeling sure of their prey, were in no hurry, and finding how strong was the door, decided to sit down and wait until their guns would be up to blow it in. Thus the defenders of the tomb had an hour's grace, and in that time had constructed three solid barricades. Each was placed a short distance above an opening for light, so that while they themselves were in darkness, their assailants would be in the light. They left a sufficient space at the top of each barricade for them to scramble over, leaving some spare barrels on the stairs above it to fill up the space after taking their position.
"Now for the remains of our supper, father," Dick said, "and that big water jug. I will carry them up. Ned, do you bring up that long coil of thin rope."
"What for, Dick?"
"It may be useful, Ned; ropes are always useful. Ah, their guns are up."
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