« AnteriorContinuar »
Throughout the remainder of that terrible night we toiled on without intermission, merely stopping for a few minutes now and again to rest our wearied feet, which, owing to our boots and shoes having been in most instances completely destroyed from repeated soakings, were sadly bruised and blistered. Poor Salkeld, I recollect, was going barefoot, having given his own shoes to Miss Annie Forrest, who had lost hers in the act of fording one of the many streams we had crossed.
During the course of the night we had been much alarmed by the noise of firing, which proceeded at frequent intervals from the villages round about, and for which at the time we were at a loss to account; but we subsequently ascertained that it was occasioned by the villagers defending themselves against gangs of marauding Goojurs, who, though ordinarily given to peaceable avocations, had nevertheless taken advantage of the recent disturbance to rob and pillage their neighbours; but I shall have more to say of these rascals as we proceed with this narrative. Day was now beginning to dawn, and it was evident we could not escape discovery long, as the country was quite open and villagers were seen moving about in all directions. At last we came across some harmless-looking individuals tending cattle, so we ventured to offer them our last remaining rupee, and asked them to go to the nearest village and buy us some food. They stared for a few seconds, and then, scampering off, presently returned with a large crowd collected at their heels, amongst them being the head man of the village. This latter seemed inclined to be civil, and at his bidding a man was despatched in search of milk and chuppatties. There was a splendid tope of mango trees hard by, so thither we bent our steps. By the time we had reached this shelter an enormous crowd had assembled, and it was with considerable difficulty that we forced a passage through the throng. In about an hour's time some dal and chuppatties were set before us, which we devoured with a keen appetite. At least a hundred persons of all sexes and ages were now watching us, and some of these, from the occasional remarks they let fall, seemed actually to commiserate our lot; and, to tell the truth, I can hardly wonder at our exciting their pity, for what with the torn and filthy state of our garments, and the truly miserable appearance of the ladies, we must have been objects of compassion to the most hardened wretch. I may add that it is my firm conviction that whatever little civility we experienced in the course of our wanderings was altogether due to the presence of the ladies, and that had it not
been for the sight of these poor creatures we should all have been undoubtedly murdered.'
The seemingly friendly attitude of these villagers put us slightly more at our ease, and we buoyed up ourselves with the hope that the promise of a substantial money payment might induce them to assist us on our way. Alas! our hopes were shortlived, for presently a fakeer (a wandering mendicant held in great venera-* tion by Hindoos), dressed in long yellow robes and with his face besmeared with paint and ashes, entered the tope, and sitting down in one corner, beckoned to the natives standing about, who thereupon, leaving us, went and gathered in a circle round him. They appeared to listen with such eagerness to what he was saying, occasionally casting a furtive glance in our direction, that we instinctively felt all our old fears return with redoubled force. Some one suggested he was a sepoy in disguise from Delhi, whose object was to incite them to murder us, and as this terrible idea seemed by no means improbable, our newly cherished hopes of escape once more deserted us.
No words can express the sickening sensation of despair which crept over us as this dreadful surmise took possession of our minds, and we watched their proceedings with the utmost anxiety. At length the crowd round the fakeer gradually dispersed, and came and surrounded us once more. A short interval of silence prevailed, when some of them intimated that it was no longer safe for us to remain, as they had just received intelligence that the 'Telinga-log' were close behind, and we must take our departure forthwith. Take our departure! An arid plain lay in front, with not a tree in sight; even if we eluded our remorseless pursuers, death from sunstroke was inevitable. Turn whichever way we might our doom was sealed. Deaf to all entreaties, they insisted on our leaving, and in order to expedite our departure commenced to hustle us in the rudest manner.
So they turned us out, and we wandered forth, little caring where we went or what became of us. It was midday, and as we issued forth from the friendly shelter of the trees into the burning plain beyond we were nearly blinded by the scorching wind, which blew volumes of dust in our faces and almost suffocated us at every
These remarks are fully borne out by the fact that Lieutenant Willoughby and four other officers were barbarously murdered by villagers whilst escaping from Delhi to Meerut by a route almost identical with the one we were following.-E. V.
VOL. III.-NO. 16, N.S.
step. On, on we walked, the sun blazing down on In a short covered heads, without a hope, without an object. while we found ourselves getting gradually surrounded by fierceThese were no looking men armed with spears and bludgeons. Their numbers other than the dreaded Goojurs themselves. increased rapidly, and in whichever direction we looked we observed others, similarly armed, running towards us. At length, when they had completely hemmed us in, they gave a fearful We stood shout and rushed upon us with demoniacal gestures.
back to back and made a vain attempt to beat them off, but being ten to one we were soon overpowered. One rascal laid hold of my sword, and tried to wrench it out of my hand. In vain I resisted; a blow from behind stretched me on my back, and ere I could recover myself I was mobbed by some half a dozen others. In the midst of all this mêlée I saw Colonel Knyvett levelling the gun he was carrying point-blank at the head of one of the wretches as he stood whooping and yelling by way of inciting on the rest. Fortunately some one shouted out to him not to fire, so, deliberately removing the caps, he gave it up. It was as well we permitted ourselves to be disarmed, for had we continued the struggle our lives would undoubtedly have been sacrificed. Having once got us down, they set to work stripping us of everything. Studs, rings, watches, &c., all were torn off. They did not even spare my inner vest, and one of the ruffians actually snatched away the piece I trembled of cotton cloth which was wrapped round my head. with foreboding as I saw the unfortunate ladies in the grasp of these savages. One of them had her clothes literally torn off her back, whilst the others were treated with similar barbarity. At last, when they had appropriated everything, leaving only our shirts and trousers, and the ladies their upper garments, the entire band retreated a short distance and commenced quarrelling over the spoil. At this juncture the same fakeer who we thought had been the cause of our expulsion from the tope of trees came It was hard to up and inquired if he could be of any assistance.
believe he was not playing us false, but having no option, we requested him to take us where water could be procured, for we were perishing from thirst. He pointed to some trees in the far distance, where he intimated there was a well, so we slowly followed. On the way we happened to pass a stagnant puddle, and here— perhaps the reader will scarcely credit it—we one and all stooped down on our hands and knees, and greedily drank its filthy contents. After much toil we arrived at the well, where, after
drawing us some fresh water, our conductor suggested we should lie down and rest. Later on he offered to take us to a town in the vicinity where there was a Tehseel and some Government chupprassies (police), who probably might be inclined to afford us some aid. On the way we were again pounced upon by Goojurs, who, finding nothing to rob us of, contented themselves with pulling off the gilt buttons on the Colonel's blue frock-coat, which the other rascals had overlooked, and then, with final gestures of menace and defiance, permitted us to pass on.
By the time the police-station was reached we were nearly dead-beat; but here we were received with supreme indifference. In fact the demeanour of the chupprassies was the reverse of reassuring; they merely looked on in sullen silence, and on our venturing to remind them that as paid servants of the Government they were bound to afford us all the protection in their power, they told us, with a sneer, that the British raj was no longer in existence. They further informed us that the station of Meerut was in flames and nearly all the Europeans killed.
After some trouble we persuaded them to bring out some charpoys, on which the poor ladies were only too thankful to lie down and rest themselves. An immense mob of natives from the town shortly surrounded us, and kept reiterating the dismal intelligence we had already so frequently heard, that sepoys and sowars were out in every direction bent on our capture. Growing bolder and more insolent, they insisted at last on searching each individual of the party, including the ladies, as nothing would dissuade them from the belief that we had money and valuables concealed about our persons. It would take up too much space to describe all the indignities we were forced to submit to at the hands of these scoundrels, or to relate in what conflicting hopes and fears the remainder of that never-to-be-forgotten afternoon passed away and evening arrived. The fakeer meanwhile had gone on his way, and we knew not what course to pursue. Fortunately for us a few natives of somewhat more respectable appearance than the rest offered to take us to their village hard by, where we might procure something to eat and drink and take shelter for the night. We mechanically got up and followed, though our minds were filled all the time with vague apprehensions and doubts as to the sincerity of their intentions, and we could not refrain from fancying that some fresh act of treachery was meditated. As we arrived in sight of the village, which was an unusually large one, named
Khekra, the entire population turned out to come and gaze at our party. They led us up several narrow alleys and dirty streets, till at length we reached the centre of the place. Meanwhile we were suffering from extreme depression of spirits, and felt a presentiment in our minds that we were only being taken to our slaughter; and this awful idea was still further strengthened by some one saying he had seen sowars entering the village. As darkness set in we were given some goor (unrefined sugar) and chuppatties to eat, and then conducted to a small hut on the outskirts of the town, where they informed us we were to remain for the night; but our fears as to their treacherous intentions had such an ascendency over our minds that we found it totally impossible to conquer our feelings of dread and alarm. The atmosphere of the hut was so close and stifling that we were fain to come outside and lie in the open. Here there were a crowd of people still collected, conversing together in whispers, and we had no difficulty in distinguishing that we were the subject of their discourse; but exhausted nature could bear up no longer, and I soon fell fast asleep, notwithstanding the predictions of Forrest and the Colonel that we should all be murdered ere morning broke. It must have been, I should say, as near as possible about midnight when I suddenly found myself rudely shaken. I was so sound asleep at the time that it was some seconds before I could realise where I was, or who it was that had roused me so abruptly. The light of the moon at this moment shining full on his countenance enabled me to recognise as he stood bending over me the scared features of, his hair standing erect, his eyes starting out of their sockets, and wearing such an expression of anguish on his face that I was indeed startled. 'Get up, for God's sake!' he said, 'they are going to cut all our throats!' and then, pointing to a native who had apparently brought him a blanket to lie upon, he whispered hoarsely, 'Do you see that man? He wants me to sit upon that cloth while my head is struck off from behind!" poor man's mind was evidently unhinged, and his heated imagination had conjured up this hideous fancy. The entire party were fully roused by this time, wondering what the commotion was all about, and it was with the greatest difficulty that we succeeded at last in quieting him, but not before he had well-nigh terrified the poor ladies out of their wits by going about and asking every native he met, Khoon kub chullega?' literally, 'When will the blood be spilt?' I don't think any of us slept another wink for the remainder of that night.