Littell's Living Age/Volume 127/Issue 1635/The Dilemma - Part X
From Blackwood's Magazine.
This removal of the barrier looked like mischief, and before the short June night had given way to the early dawn, the garrison was got under arms, and the captains of posts warned to be on the alert, while Falkland ascended with Yorke to the roof to reconnoitre. Mounting the staircase, they advanced to the edge of the eastern parapet. The stars were now disappearing, and the line of park wall could just be distinguished here and there in the gaps between the trees, as well as the roof of Sparrow's house.
"Everything quiet," observed Yorke in a whisper; "Pandy is not awake yet, any more than our own poor ladies," glancing as he spoke backwards at the recumbent figures behind them, with rugs and shawls thrown over their dresses, most of them still asleep, while one or two, awakened by the footsteps, were sitting up leaning on their elbows, among these latter one whom his quick eye made out to be Olivia, and who, disengaging herself from the shawl thrown over her dress, was rising and coming towards them.
"See, what is that?" whispered Falkland, pointing across the park, "are not these men? Yes, I can make them out distinctly now; the ground behind the wall swarms with them. They mean mischief evidently; "and as he spoke, a number of figures in white could be seen in the twilight clambering over the wall and forming up on the inside.
Falkland rushed down the stairs with Yorke at his heels, but just as he reached the bottom, he turned to the latter, and pointing upwards said, "Just run back and tell them all to lie down and keep under shelter till this business is over."
Yorke ran up again to the roof. The top of the staircase was near the edge, and coming out of it his attention was irresistibly caught by the sight which presented itself below. On all sides a swarm of sepoys, rushing out from cover, had surrounded the building, and halting at about fifty paces opened fire upon it. They were dressed in white, with small skull-caps and bare legs. Some lay down as if skirmishing on parade, others stood boldly up on the lawn, reloading, or taking aim. The flashes of fire, bright in the grey twilight, seemed almost to encircle the building. And coming up the main road from the entrance-gate was a strong column with their arms at the shoulder, led by a native officer waving his sword.
Yorke stood spell-bound for a moment watching the scene, till, becoming sensible that some one was standing close behind him, he turned round. It was Olivia. A light scarf round her shoulders concealed the crumpled dress, but her long tresses had escaped from their bands and hung loosely over her shoulder.
"Is this to be the end?" she said, hardly looking at him, but gazing with dilated eye, in which, however, there was no sign of fear, at the spectacle below. "What can we women do to help?"
"Nothing," he returned, "except to keep out of fire. You really must," he continued, in a pleading voice, for they had been observed on the roof, and the bullets began to whizz past them; and then seeing that she stood as if spell-bound, he suddenly seized her hands in his, and pressing her palms back on the wrists forced her to the ground. This was done in an instant. "I am only obeying orders," he said smiling, as he rose up and let go her hands; "keep like this, quite flat, and you will be safe." Then turning to the others, who were now, some sitting, some standing, bewildered, he cried, "Down, all of you, flat on your backs!" and then rushed down the stairs.
Hurried though he was, the young man could not help being struck by the contrast between the scene within and that which he had just seen without; the crowd of sepoys pressing round the building, and the blaze of fire as seen in the cool morning air, the dark barricaded portico below, with the handful of grimy-looking defenders in the sweltering heat, some firing through the loopholes, the rest standing in reserve on the steps, ready for what might happen. But there was not much time for deliberation. The attacking column, some hundreds in number, was already upon them, spreading round the portico; and the foremost, seizing the protruding muskets with their hands turned the aim away, and, pressed on by those behind, pushed against the frail wall which blocked up the two carriage-entrances and the spaces between the pillars, and tried to turn it over, pulling down the sandbags at the top at the same time and throwing them inwards, the dust from which, as they fell to the ground, mingled with the smoke to obscure the scene. There was no firing just at this moment. The defenders of the portico, having already discharged their muskets, had not time to load. The sepoys in the rear could not fire in that direction for their comrades in front. For a few seconds, although the fusilade was kept up all round, the only sounds immediately about the portico were the shouts and oaths of the rebel party, freely given back by the sepoys within, their scuffling as they pressed against the rampart, and the stamping of the frightened horses trying to preak loose from their tethers. Nothing could be seen by either side of the other; the sandbag rampart protected the assailants as well as the defenders.
Presently a hand protruded over the wall, clutching it by the top as if some one were going to spring over. A sword gleamed in the air, and came down swiftly on the exposed wrist, and the armless hand dropped lightly down inside the wall. It was Ameer Khan who had struck the blow, springing forward from the side of his master on the steps.
Just then a piece of the upper part of the wall came down, a portion three feet in width, at the east side of the portico. Behind it stood one of the seventeen faithful sepoys, a stalwart young fellow, who brandished his musket by the barrel, ready to strike the first man who should enter through the gap. There was irresolution among the assailants closest to him, but a man from behind called out to them to step aside, and firing his musket the sepoy fell. The next moment the rebel leader jumped through the gap, making a furious cut at Braddon, who stood nearest. But the latter parried, and instantly running him through the body, the tall fellow threw up his arms, and Braddon with difficulty extricated his sword as the man fell face foremost on the body of the prostrate sepoy.
"Hand me a musket, quick!" cried Braddon, stepping into the gap. "And me!" cried Yorke, taking his place beside him. There was just room for the two where the rampart had given way, leaving them exposed down to their knees. On the other side was a crowd of the enemy, almost close enough to touch, but too crowded to fire or fight. Behind Braddon and Yorke were now some half-dozen men whom Falkland, surveying the situation from the steps, had sent forward on the spur of the moment to load and pass their muskets. The rest of the defenders of the portico were distributed around the wall, some therefore having their backs to the critical point; while the remainder of the reserve, standing on the steps by Falkland's side, were firing over the heads of the defenders into the crowd beyond as fast as they could load.
A rush, and surely the frail defence must have given way; but the crowd without swayed to and fro irresolute, while the two officers, levelling the muskets handed to them, shot the two men nearest, who fell dead under the wall. There was a short pause, and they fired again, and again two men fell. Still the crowd held on, pressing, struggling, and the men behind shouting orders to each other and to those in front, which no one obeyed. Again there was a pause in the duel, while Yorke, facing the enemy, waited for another musket, and he felt for the moment as if any one of them might seize him by the collar and drag him out, and one fellow, imitating his tactics, raised a loaded piece and levelled it in his face. He can't miss me at that distance, thought the young man; and a grim sense of the absurdity of the situation came over him, as he stood waiting to receive the shot, and the flash of fire seemed almost to scorch his face; but the bullet whizzed past harmlessly: and the next moment Yorke, feeling a musket put into his hand, returned the fire with better effect, and his opponent fell at his feet.
All this takes longer to tell than it did to happen. Three times the two officers fired, and six bodies lay before them just outside the gap; others fell from the shots of the defenders on the steps. A backward movement took place among the crowd; some began to move towards the rear, the men in rear of the column began to stream off in increasing numbers, and soon the whole column was running down the road in flight for shelter, an example followed at once by the skirmishers round the building. A few men still showed front, here and there, remaining as solitary units where just before the ground had been crowded with white figures, retiring slowly and facing about to deliver their fire. But they gradually disappeared, and in a few minutes the park was again deserted, save by the bodies of the slain which lay strewn about the ground. Then the victors in the portico raised a shout of triumph, echoed from other parts of the buildings; and then, panting for breath, looked at each other in silence, feeling for the moment all the exhaustion which follows great vital efforts.
Falkland, assured that the attack would not be immediately renewed, sent Ameer Khan to the roof to fetch the ladies down, and hastened with Yorke round the building to see how the rest of the garrison had fared. The attack had been simultaneous on all sides; but the assailants, for the most part, had done no more than advance out of cover to within a few yards of the building, and open fire against the loopholes, exposing themselves freely without doing any damage in return. A rush had, however, been made at the trench leading to the bath-house, and a bold attempt made to enter both buildings from it. The south door leading from the billiard-room had fortunately been fastened, and a dead sepoy lay in the south veranda, shot while trying to force it open, and Falkland had to step over the bodies of three more lying in the trench. The bath-house presented a solid wall, loopholed, to the enemy, against which no impression could be made; but the arch leading from the trench, which formed the entrance to the building, had not been filled up, but was guarded by a sandbag traverse about two feet in rear of the opening. Here some of the bolder assailants had tried to force their way, and the leader had been shot on the steps after cutting down young Raugh, who stood defending the entrance. The south archway was also an open one, and here a simicircular parapet had been constructed to enclose the well; and in guarding a loophole at this point, M'Intyre had been hit while in the act of firing himself, by a bullet which shattered his left arm above and below the elbow.
"Poor little Johnny," said Spragge, who was supporting him, and trying to stanch the blood which streamed down from the sabre-cut in his shoulder, "they might have hit one of their own size. But, by Jove, sir!" he continued, addressing Falkland, who had stopped at sight of the wounded lad, "it was Johnny who saved us. There was such a row by the well, we were all looking that way; and if he had not kept the doorway for a bit, they would have taken us in rear, I do believe; but I don't think there is much harm done — is there, Johnny, my man?" Nor did the wound appear so bad as that of M'Intyre, who, however, stood coolly, without wincing, while some of the party were making a sling out of a towel to support the shattered arm.
Maxwell was summoned to the scene, and recommended that the wounded officers should be brought over to the main building at once. Thither M'Intyre walked without assistance, and Raugh, who felt faint, supported by Yorke; but the rebels had so far recovered themselves as to open fire sharply from Sparrow's house as the party passed along the trench, with no further effect, however, than to send a bullet through the top of Yorke's helmet. It had been arranged beforehand between Maxwell and Falkland that the south-east room should be used, if necessary, for a hospital; and the two wounded officers were at once put to bed there, and their wounds dressed by the surgeons. M'Intyre's injuries were very severe, although Maxwell hoped to save the arm; Raugh's wound was a clean though deep sabre-cut, which Maxwell pronounced would soon heal up.
Meanwhile there was plenty of excitement in the other parts of the building, as the event of the morning was discussed, especially in the dining-room, where the reserve were now assembled, drinking their tea. "Let no one say that Pandy cannot fight," said Braddon, who, having been hit slightly by the graze of a bullet, was returning to his post after having had the wound dressed; "it is lucky that all had not the pluck some of them showed."
"He is a strange mixture of courage and cowardice," said Falkland, who was making his report to the brigadier: "nothing could have been better than the style of that fellow you disposed of, Braddon, but he was not supported."
"That was one of our corporals," said Major Dumble; "I have just been having a look at the bodies. It was the reserve that did the business; it's always the reserve, you know, that has the hardest work; you people behind the wall were all right, you know; we on the steps were quite exposed — weren't we, colonel? Thrice I fired, and each time laid my man low; I can show you which they were, brigadier, if you could manage to come out and have a look." And Dumble, who had up to this time been very subdued, had now put on quite a mild swagger, and seemed on good terms with himself again, as he drank his tea, holding his musket over his left shoulder the while, and looking round to the company for approbation. "Thank ye, Dumble, but I was out there all the time," said the brigadier, "and saw it all; "and indeed the old gentleman had hobbled to the top of the portico steps at the first noise, and, had witnessed the attack from that point, and now, returned to his couch, was listening to Falkland's report of what was going to be done to restore the defences, and nodding his head from time to time to express approval.
But by degrees the excitement of the morning passed away, and as soon as the broken parapet had been restored, and the dead bodies of the enemy thrust outside it, those who were at liberty lay down to rest, while the others stood listlessly at their posts, undisturbed by any sound, for the enemy's fire had now stopped altogether. Falkland, too, having seen all done that was necessary, had lain down in the dining-room, and was fast asleep. But the ladies had now for the first time an occupation in nursing the wounded, especially in fanning them with the hand-punkah, if only to keep off the flies with which the building swarmed; and had formed themselves into watches for carrying on the duty continuously.
"Hollo, Arty! is that you?" said little Raugh, his body covered with a sheet, his shoulder and right arm bandaged up, turning his eyes, without moving his head, towards his brother subaltern as the latter entered the sick-room about mid-day, where Mrs. Falkland sat by his bed plying the fan, while Mrs. Hodder was performing a similar office for poor M'Intyre, — "I am as jolly as possible; don't you wish you were me?" The boy meant it as a joke, and without any allusion to the young man's feelings; but Yorke could not help blushing, and Olivia looked confused. "Of course," continued the patient, "I don't mean to say I am not sorry the other fellow should have to take my turn of duty; but it is very jolly lying here to be petted, and having a regular bed and sheets, and all that sort of thing. Oh, Mrs. Falkland, I do think you are an angel!" and the lad put out his hand to convey hers to his lips. "Now, Mr. Raugh," said his nurse, laughing, "pray be steady, and don't move your head. The doctor has ordered him to keep perfectly still," she said to Yorke, by way of explanation, "so that the wound may heal by first intention."
As for Mrs. Polwheedle, without taking any regular watch — for, as she observed, there were enough without her, and some one must superintend matters generally — she was in and out of the sick-room at all times; and when she joined the party in the dining-room for the midday meal, clad in an old wrapper, her appearance would have qualified her for immediate appointment as monthly nurse to any institution; and she gave her instructions very fully to the other ladies as to what they were to do. "Kitty, my dear," she said to Miss Peart, as that young lady took her place at the table, "suppose you take a little of that curry to young Raugh — he might fancy it; and take him my half-bottle of beer too — I am sure it can't do him any harm. As for M'Intyre, poor fellow, the lower he lives just now the better. Now, Polwheedle, don't fidget so, my good man, but just lie down quietly, and try if you can't manage a bit of something."
Grumbull, too, had risen to the occasion. His share in the surgery business had consisted principally in looking on while his senior. Maxwell, examined and dressed the wounds; but in virtue of his office he now walked about with his shirt-sleeves rolled up above his elbows, and was very solemn and mysterious.
The garrison had now time to recollect that it was Sunday, and at Mr. Hodder's suggestion, all who could be spared from their posts assembled in the drawing-room during the forenoon for divine service. The ceremony was a brief one. The little party stood in a semicircle, Mr. Hodder, arrayed in black alpaca, alone of the men laying aside his weapon for the time, while he read the fifty-ninth Psalm, and then, after offering an extempore prayer, gave them a short address by way of sermon. "These were times," said the preacher, "when Christians must feel drawn together in a special degree. Let brotherly love abound. They must discern the work of the Lord in this ordering of chastisement for their faults, vile and unworthy creatures that they were, by the hands of their enemies, who were now seeking like raging lions to devour them; but the saving hand of Providence, which had been stretched out to guard them so far, might be trusted to shield in all the dangers still to come. Though they walked through the valley of the shadow of death, they need fear no evil. Above all, let brotherly love abound, not only among themselves, but extending to the poor misguided heathen who were now drawn up together against them. If they were to return anger for anger, and cruel scorn for cruel deeds, wherein would the Christian be better than the contemned Hindu or Mussulman? Let them act and think as Christians, although maintaining their cause to the last with the sword of Gideon and David." Mr. Hodder spoke through his nose, but with both fluency and earnestness; and never was a congregation more devout than the little party of beleaguered worshippers. "Now let us conclude with a hymn," said Mr. Hodder; "if any lady will oblige us by playing the symphony, I guess I can lead off the melody right away. Mrs. Falkland, ma'am, perhaps you will preside at the piano." A strange and unexpected sound truly, arising from the motley band in the stifling noonday heat — a song of fervour if not melodious, startling the other defenders at their different posts, and some faint echoes of which may have reached to the besiegers, to remind them that it was the Feringhee's sacred day.
Mr. Hodder was popular in the garrison for his unselfish ways and good spirits, but his theology did not jump with the general feeling.
"Your sermon seems to have been more eloquent than logical, from the account I get of it," said Braddon, when Mr. Hodder returned to his post in the portico. "If your sentiments are right, there is nothing for it but to pull down the barricade and let the enemy come in and make an end of us."
"Not at all, sir," rejoined the other; "our mission in this country is to evangelize these benighted heathen, and I expect we can't do that noways if we are all to be cut off out of the land. No, sir, we must put them down first, and improve them afterwards. Samuel was a very proper man, I guess, and he hewed Agag in pieces before the altar because it was his duty. A man's duty ain't always what comes sweetest. If these poor misguided creatures come to attack us, I'll shoot at them straight, and I'll go on shooting till they stop coming; but I don't bear any malice, and when it's over I'll be right pleased to go and live among them again."
This, the third day of the siege, wore on in perfect quiet; the enemy were evidently discomfited by their failure, and desisted for the present from any further molestation. But a grave difficulty now presented itself, the disposal of the unburied dead. A sickening smell had pervaded the building in the afternoon, the cause of which was known only to the few initiated — the burning of the corpse of the faithful sepoy, whose funeral pyre, lighted in the veranda, formed a heavy drain on the limited supply of firewood available. But the corpses of the enemy could not be got rid of in this way, and more than thirty of these could be counted, some close to the building, others in various parts of the grounds. Two of the bodies were of men not dead, as could be seen by an occasional movement of the limbs, and the younger men, when they perceived it, were for leaving them to perish slowly. "Serve them right," observed Egan, when somebody suggested that he should send a bullet to finish the work, "dying straight off is too good for them;" but Falkland, when the matter was reported to him, ordered that they should be fired at, and after a couple of shots all movement ceased. On this firing taking place, which happened about midday, there was a great show of heads from behind the wall and in Sparrow's house, showing that the blockade was still maintained in force; but it was not replied to.
A notice in Hindustani was now written with a burnt stick on a table-cloth, to the effect that the enemy might carry off their dead without molestation, and hung over the side of the building from the roof, but no answer was made to it.
"I suspect they mean to poison us out," said Braddon to Falkland, as they surveyed the position from the roof.
"That would hardly be like Hindus," replied the colonel; "no, I suspect they think we mean to lay a trap for them. It is a pretty commentary on the sort of confidence in our good faith we have succeeded in inspiring our sepoys with."
Something, however, must needs be done. The corpses, under the burning sun, had already swelled up into bloated misshapen masses, and a swarm of crows had settled down to their loathsome feast, joined in the afternoon by the more cautious vultures, some of which had already alighted on the ground, while others, in ever-increasing numbers, circled in the air above.
"Young Yorke is a better engineer than I am," said Falkland, again discussing the situation with Braddon later in the day. "We ought to have occupied Sparrow's house in the beginning, and we shall have to do so now, coute qui coute."
"Won't it be rather a weakening of our strength, sir? We should have to leave a dozen men there at least, and we are none too many here as it is."
"So I objected, when Yorke proposed it, but the place is a regular thorn in our side. By occupying that house, you see, and knocking some loopholes through the wall in the other side, we should be able to command the park wall right and left, — take it regularly in flank, for the house projects beyond the line of the wall. In fact the whole of one side of this building would be set free, and it is only on this side that we need fear anything from them. But that is not my chief reason," continued Falkland; "we absolutely must get rid of these carcasses. Now there is a well over yonder, just by the wall, which we should get access to by taking the house, and we could throw the bodies into it and cover them with earth. The thing must be done to-night, too, or we shall be all poisoned to-morrow. The air down below is bad enough already as it is."
Thus was the plan settled. It was kept as quiet as possible; and the brigadier, who hobbled after Falkland into a side-room to discuss the details of the enterprise, was enjoined not to let his wife or the ladies know of the matter. Falkland determined to make the venture at midnight, by which time the occupants of Sparrow's house would probably be asleep, and, from what Yorke had seen the night before, keeping no guard; this would admit of intrenching the place before dawn.
At midnight, accordingly, a party of six climbed through a gap made in the portico breastwork, — Falkland, Yorke, Braywell, Sparrow, an officer of the 80th, and the jemadar, — and ranging themselves in line at two paces' distance from each other, made a rush swiftly but silently across the lawn. At the same moment, another party of six, led by Major Passey, rose out of the covered way and made for the same point. Braddon had remonstrated privately with Falkland at being left out of the business, but the latter said that it was necessary to leave some one besides women in the castle, in case the party should come to grief; and when Braddon urged that in such case the commandant would be the man most wanted, Falkland rejoined, smiling, that he was only second in command, and that it was the recognized duty of seconds in command to lead assaults and do work of that sort. Sparrow had been told off for the party, because his knowledge of his own house might prove useful. "Oh, of course," said he, when he was told what was going to happen; "by all means. I shall be most happy to do my best." But his countenance did not harmonize with the satisfaction he expressed; and presently he said, "Of course the objection has occurred to you, sir, that both the commissioner and his assistant will be absent from the building at the same time. However, no doubt you have good reason for the arrangement, although it seems peculiar."
"Sparrow wants to command the party himself, I do believe," said Braddon, sarcastically.
"I think your objection is a good one, Sparrow," said his chief after a pause; "you shall stay and represent the civil element here. You are too hard on him, Braddon," he continued, after the little council of war was over, and the two were alone; "it is not a man's own fault if his nerves are not strung up to the right pitch." But Sparrow, after spending a miserable hour thinking over the matter, with Braddon's sarcasm stinging in his ears, and tormented by the recollection of the smiles of the others, came afterwards to Falkland, and obtained his consent to be allowed to go.
As the two little parties rushed out from the opposite ends of the building on their errand of battle, the men left on guard on the east side of the building climbed up and leaned over the parapet, breathlessly peering into the darkness for signs of the issue of the enterprise. The ladies, meanwhile, except such as were on duty in the sick-room, were asleep on the roof, unconscious of what was going to happen. The stormers, armed with muskets and fixed bayonets, moved down quick and silent on the point of attack. It was as Yorke's account had led Falkland to expect; the occupants of the building were fast asleep, without guard or sentries, and as the two parties turned the breastwork at the two ends, they came at once on some men lying in front of the veranda steps, and driving their bayonets into their unresisting bodies, pushed on to the veranda, killing or wounding at each step. But now there was an alarm, and a scuffle, with figures springing up in the darkness, and the flashes of firearms as the startled garrison snatched up their muskets. The alarm once given, the stormers now fired in their turn their muskets and the few revolvers they had with them, and then, pressing forward, plied the bayonet again. For a brief space the grim conflict lasted, some twoscore of men crowded into a few feet, lighted up for the moment by the flashes of fire which seemed to scorch their faces, and made the succeeding darkness still blacker. The firearms once discharged, there was no time to load again, and the silence was only broken by here and there an oath or a cry, and the dull thud of blows and bodies falling heavy on the pavement. But the struggle was not for long: on the one side were numbers, but of men surprised out of sleep, without their bayonets, and not knowing who were before them; on the other a band of determined men, working together with a purpose carefully planned. For a little while the occupants of the post, after firing off such weapons as they could snatch up, stood huddled together irresolute against the back of the veranda, struggling feebly against the thrusts made at them; then the survivors made their escape into the rooms of the house at the back, and so over the wall into the road, the stormers groping their way through the dark house after them, and striking down such of the hindmost as they could overtake.
"Is that you, Yorke?" whispered Falkland to a figure beside him, brought up like himself in the pursuit by the park wall outside the back of the house; "pass the word to form up here; we must see if our numbers are all right. And you, Egan? Well done! you are always to the front. Run back and tell Braddon to send the reinforcement at once."
On this spot the muster took place; Braywell and Sparrow were missing; the other ten were unhurt. Leaving Passey and his squad to line the walk, Falkland returned with the others to the house to examine it, the lantern which the jemadar had brought slung over his shoulder being now lighted. In each room were one or two bodies, but the greatest carnage had been in the veranda, the floor of which was covered with dead and wounded. Lying across the body of a sepoy was Braywell, his brains shattered by a musket-shot fired close to his head.
"Despatch the wounded," said Falkland, "and drag the bodies outside. But where can Sparrow be?" "Here," said a voice, — and he came limping up towards them. "I am afraid I have not been of much use, for I got this ball through my ankle before I got up." And the jemadar carried him off on his back to the big house.
But the first person to relieve the garrison of their suspense was Egan, who was seen by the lookers-on — the guards below, the ladies awakened by the firing peering down from the roof — coming out of the darkness, just as, the noise having ceased, they were able to conclude that the post had been won. The thing was done in splendid style, he told Braddon as he came up to the portico, with no loss, he believed. The colonel wanted six hands more and the crowbars and ropes. And the reinforcement, which was waiting for the orders, hurried across.
There remained four hours of darkness in which to strengthen the post for defence, and to execute the loathsome task which had rendered the capture of it necessary. Loopholes were knocked through the back walls of the house at such a height as to be capable of use by standing on the tables which were placed against the walls; the sandbags on the roof were turned round from the west to the east, so as to form a parapet towards the road: and the rampart in front of the inner or west veranda was extended at an angle, and connected at each end with the house, so as to secure the garrison from surprise; and for the rest of the night the work of defence went on briskly, more lanterns being brought over to light up the interior. But the other work to be done was the more laborious; the bodies of the enemy slain in the morning had to be dragged to the well near Sparrow's house from all parts of the grounds, and it could not have been completed but for the help of the sepoys of the garrison. Falkland had not detailed any of them for this duty lest caste feeling might render them unwilling to obey; but the corporal came to Braddon and asked why they were not called on to help; the sahibs could not do it all alone, and could they not be trusted outside the building? So half of them were sent out, and the aid was not at all too much. The castle was almost denuded of defenders during the night, but the enemy were too much cowed to venture on attacking it, although keeping up a desultory but innocuous tire all night in the direction of the noises they heard, as the different working parties were distributed to collect the dead. "This is just like the fellows in the picture clearing the arena for a fresh set-to," observed Spragge to Yorke as they were engaged in dragging one of the bodies by a rope to the well; "but it is rather hard lines that we should be made to do the slavey, as well as the ave imperator morituri dodge. Who could have thought that an ensign in the Honourable East India Company's service would ever be called on to fight his own men one minute, and work as a scavenger the next?"
All through the night the loathsome task went on, the enemy firing constantly, although not venturing within the park wall, while Mr. Hodder and one of the native orderlies dug a shallow grave for poor Braywell's body; and, by morning, only a patch of dried blood here and there on the parched-up surface of the park, to which the early crows resorted in little flocks, as it discussing their disappointment at being balked of their expected feast, betokened the slaughter of the previous day. There still remained, however, to clean the blood-stained floors of the Lodge, which looked after the slaughter of the night a veritable charnel-house. The rebels had destroyed some of the furniture, and smashed the glasses of the pictures hanging on the walls, and a stray bullet had enlarged the nose of a lovelorn swain prominent in one of the engravings; but the damsels whose faces had satisfied Captain Sparrow's aesthetic taste, still looked down on the company with simpering smiles, in horridly grotesque contrast to the blood-stained floor below. Jars of water and brooms were now sent for from the big house, to make, with earth-sprinkling, the place habitable for the picket to be stationed there, of which Passey, who had shown conduct and coolness throughout the defence, was placed in command. Lastly, drinking-water and rations for the day were sent across, for men must eat, even though their feet be damp with rebel gore.
The advantage of this occupation of the Lodge was at once apparent as daylight broke. The back of this house, as has already been mentioned, projected beyond the line of the park wall, which the loop-holes constructed during the night completely commanded; so that when daylight permitted fire to be opened from them, a shot or two sufficed to clear the wall, and the men who were lining it retired, some towards the court-house, and others to the village which bordered the other side of the broad road opposite the Lodge. The effect of this retreat was to relieve the east side of the residency completely from fire. The intervening ground was still commanded by the sharpshooters behind the north and south walls; but they were too far off for accurate fire. At first the passers to and fro, bearing water and provisions to the picket, were disposed to run across the park by way of shortening the ordeal of stray bullets saluting them; but the example of Falkland strolling leisurely back to the residency after his night's work, with his eyes on the ground and hands behind him, was soon taken up by the others; and the enemy, seeing that it was disregarded, gradually slackened their fire.
"Well, my love," said Falkland to his wife, as she met him in the entrance hall, "bearing up as bravely as ever, I see," and he held her two hands at arm's length, and looked her fondly in the face. "There is one person at any rate on whom the siege makes no impression. No, my dear," he said, as she made a gesture of moving towards him, "I am not fit to be kissed; I feel like a dirty butcher, and look the part thoroughly, I am sure."
"Dear Robert, how can you talk like that?" replied Olivia, as breaking down his guard, she imprinted a gentle kiss on his grimy face. "But, oh! Robert, I don't want to seem like a coward; but must you be always leading the way into all the risks?"
"Somebody must do what has to be done, I suppose, my child," he said, gently; "we can't all be stopping behind and telling the rest to go on."
"But the brigadier says that, as second in command, it is quite contrary to etiquette for you to be heading a storming-party."
"The brigadier is an old wo— is quite wrong; but, after all, the risk was quite trifling: the work last night was more disagreeable than dangerous. But will you see, my love, if the commissariat can manage some tea for us, while I try to get rid of some of this dirt? How have the wounded been getting on during the night?"
"Pretty well, I think; I have just come from them; but Mr. M'Intyre is very restless with pain, poor fellow, though he has no fever, and Dr. Maxwell says Captain Sparrow's wound is not dangerous. Johnny is quite in spirits at the news of your success, but saying it is a shame he is not allowed to get up and help."
To Yorke, who, following the colonel, and standing in the doorway just behind them, had witnessed the meeting, this little scene had caused a qualm of pain. Somehow during the siege he had come to regard Olivia, not so much as Falkland's wife, as a sort of angelic being, separate from everybody else, whose very presence rendered danger or defeat impossible. There had so far been nothing of wifely ministrations to witness. Falkland himself had been too busy and preoccupied to pay any attention to her, never resting save to take an occasional nap in the public room, on a sofa or on the floor; while, as Olivia came before him, sometimes to bring him his rough meal when on watch, with the warm sisterly greeting she always accorded him, stopping perhaps for a few minutes to tell him the little stock of news collected in the public rooms, she seemed to be the Miss Cunningham of former days come back again. Or when he caught glimpses of her in the sick-room, she appeared like a sister of mercy, removed from all association of love and passion. But now the stern fact came home to him again, and, weary with labour and want of sleep, and under the influence of the reaction of the night's excitement, he turned aside without coming forward to greet her as usual, and took his way to the men's dressing-room downspirited and sad at heart.
"Poor Braywell," said one of the portico guard, as they were discussing the action of the night, "he had the makings of a good soldier; his turn has come quickly, but a soldier could not wish for a better end than his has been."
"Aye," said Braddon, "and how the poor fellow would have enjoyed describing it to us, if he had been here to do so."