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   Chapter 3 No.3

Told in the East By Talbot Mundy Characters: 10109

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The finding of a remount for Juggut Khan was not so troublesome as might have been supposed. The rumors and plans and whispered orders for the coming struggle had been passed around the countryside for months past, and every man who owned a horse had it stalled safely near him, for use when the hour should come.

There were country-ponies and Arabs and Kathiawaris and Khaubulis among which to pick, and though the average run of them was worse than merely bad, and though both best and worst were hidden away whenever possible, good horses were discoverable. Within an hour, Bill Brown; with the aid of his men, had routed out a Khaubuji stallion for Juggut Khan, one fit to carry him against time the whole of the way to Bholat.

The Rajput mounted him where Brown unearthed him, and watched the signing of a scribbled-out receipt with a cynical smile.

"If he comes to claim his money for the horse," said Juggut Khan, "I-even I, who am penniless-will pay him. Good-by, Brown sahib!" He leaned over and grasped the sergeant by the hand. "Take my advice, now. I know what is happening and what has happened. Fall back on Bholat at once. Hurry! Seize horses or even asses for your men, and ride in hotfoot. Salaam!"

He drove his right spur in, wheeled the horse and started across country in the direction of Bholat at a hand-gallop, guiding himself solely by the soldier's sixth sense of direction, and leaving the problem of possible pitfalls to the horse.

"If what he says is true," said Brown, as the clattering hoof-beats died away, "and I'm game to take my oath he wouldn't lie to me, I'd give more than a little to have him with me for the next few hours!"

The men came clustering round him now, anxious for an explanation. They had held their tongues while Juggut Khan was there, because they happened to know Brown too well to do otherwise. He would have snubbed any man who dared to question him before the Indian. But, now that the Indian was gone, curiosity could stay no longer within bounds.

"What is it, Sergeant? Anything been happening? What's the news? What's that I heard him say about rebellion? They're a rum lot, them Rajputs. D'you think he's square? Tell us, Sergeant!"

"Listen, then. Rebellion has broken out. The native barracks at Jailpore have been burned, and all the English officers are killed-or so says Juggut Khan. He's riding on, to carry the news to General Baines. He says that the mutineers are planning to come along this way some time within the next few hours!"

"What are we going to do, then?"

"That's my business! I'm in command here!"

"Yes, but, Sergeant-aren't you going back to Bholat? Aren't you going to follow him? Are you going to stay here and get cut up? We'll get caught here like rats in a trap!"

"Are you giving orders here?" asked Brown acidly. "Fall in! Come on, now! Hurry! 'Tshun-eyes right-ri'-dress. Eyes-front. Ri'-turn. By the left-quick-march! Silence, now! Left! Left! Left!"

He marched them back toward the crossroads without giving them any further opportunity to remonstrate or ask for information.

It was not until he reached the crossroads, without being challenged, that he showed any sign of being in any way disturbed.

"Sentry!" he shouted. "Sentry!"

But there was no answer.

"Halt!" he ordered, and he himself went forward to investigate. The blackness swallowed him, but the men could hear him move, and they heard him fall. They heard him muttering, too, within ten paces of them. Then they heard his order.

"Bring a light here, some one."

One man produced a piece of candle, struck a match and lit it. A moment later they had all broken order, and were standing huddled up together like a frightened flock of sheep, peering through dancing, candle-lit shadows at something horrible that Brown was handling.

"What is it, Sergeant?"

"What in hell's happened?"

"Who was that swearing?" inquired Brown, with a sudden look up across his shoulder. "You, Taylor? You again? Swearing in the presence of death? Talking of hell, with your two comrades lying dead at the crossroads, and you like to follow both o' them at any minute?"

Both of the guards lay dead. They lay quite neatly, side by side, without a sign about them to show that they had met with violence. Brown rolled one body over, though, and then the cause of death became more obvious. A stream of blood welled out of the man's back, from between the shoulder-blades-warm blood, that had not even started to coagulate.

"They've been dead about three minutes!" commented Brown, rising, and wiping his hands in the road-dust to get the blood off them. "Pick 'em up. Carefully, now! Frog-march 'em, face-downwards. That's better! Now, forward. Quick, march!"

The procession advanced toward the guardhouse in grim silence, and once again there was no challenge when there should have been. The lamp was still burning in the guardroom, for they could see it plainly as they drew nearer, but there was no noise of a sentry's footfalls, or hoarse "Halt!

" and "Who comes there?"

Nor was there any sign yet of the man whom Brown had left to guard both "clink" and guardroom. Brown let them take their dead comrades into the guardroom first, then set two fresh guards at the door, and covered up the bodies with a sheet before commencing to investigate.

He started off toward the cell where he had imprisoned the fakir. He went by himself, and no one volunteered to go with him.

He had gone five yards when the second explanation met his eyes. This time there was no need to stoop down, nor to turn any body over. The sentry whom he had left to guard both cell and guardroom stood bolt upright, with his mouth and his eyes wide open; skewered to the wall of the guardhouse by an iron spike, which pierced his chest.

"A lamp and four men here!" ordered Brown, without waiting to let the horror of the sight sink in. "Take that poor chap down, and lay him in the guardroom beside the others. How? How should I know? Pull it out, or break it off-I don't care which; don't leave him there, that's all."

He walked on toward the cell-door, while they labored, and fingered gingerly around the spike, which must have been driven through the sentry's chest with a hammer.

"I thought as much!" he muttered. And, though he had not thought as much, he might have done so. "I knew that a man who could maim his own body in that way was capable of any crime in the calendar!"

The door of the cell stood open, and there was no sign of any fakir, or of any one who might have helped him go-nothing but an empty cell, with the haunting smell of the fakir still abiding in it.

Bill Brown spat, and closed the cell-door.

"I'm thinking that Juggut Khan told nothing but the truth," he muttered. "Things look right, don't they, if that's so! Obey, Obey! I'd have liked to see England just once again-I would indeed. If I could only see her just once. If I'd a letter from her, or her picture. This is a rotten, rat-in-a-hole, lonely, uncreditable way to die! I wish Juggut Khan were here. I'd have somebody to help me keep my good courage up in that case."

The lock on the cell-door was broken, so he only closed it, then started back toward the guardroom.

"Three rifles, and three ammunition pouches gone!" he muttered. "That's three weapons they've got, in any case. A hornet's nest'd be better stopping in than this place."

He overtook the men who were carrying in the nail-killed sentry, and he saw that their faces were drawn and white. So were those of the other men, who were clustered in the guardroom door.

"What next, Sergeant? Hadn't we better be quick? Why not burn the place? That'd do instead o' buryin' the dead ones, and it'd give us a light to get away by. Might serve as a beacon, too. Might fetch assistance!"

It was evident that panic had set in.

"Fall in!" commanded Brown, and his straight back took on a curve that meant straightness to the nth power.

"'Tshun! Ri'-dress! Eyes-front!"

He glared at them for just about one minute before he spoke, and during that minute each man there realized that what was coming would be quite irrevocable.

"I'm sergeant here. My orders are to hold this post until relieved. Therefore-and I hope there's no man here holds any other notion; I hope it for his own sake!-until we are relieved, we're going to hold it! Moreover, this command is going to be a real command, from now on. It's going to buck up. I'm going to put some ginger in it. There are three dead men here to be avenged, and I'm going to avenge 'em, or make you do it! And if any man imagines he's going to help himself by feeling afraid, let me assure him that the only thing he needs to fear is me! I've a right to command men-I know how-I intend to do it. And if I've got to make men first out of whey-faced cowards, why, I'm game to do it, and this is just where I begin! Now! Anybody got a word to say?"

There was grim silence.

"Good! I'll assume, then, until I'm contradicted, that you're all brave men. Into the guardroom with you!"

"Sahib! Sahib!" said a voice beside him.

"Well? What?"

It was the Beluchi interpreter who had carried the lamp for him that evening when he arrested the fakir.

"Run, sahib! It is time to run away!"

"Go on, then! Why don't you run?"

"I am afraid, sahib."

"Of what?"

"Of the men who slew the soldiers. Sahib! Remember what the fakir said. You will be pegged out on an anthill, sahib, when you have been beaten. Run, while there is yet time!"

"Did you see them kill my men?"

"Nay, sahib!"

"How was that?"

"I ran away and hid, sahib."

"How many were there?"

"Very many. The Punjabi skin-buyer brought them."

"He did, did he? Very well! Did he go off with the fakir?"

"I think he did. I did not see."

"Well, we'll suppose he did, then. And when the day breaks; we'll suppose that we can find him, and we'll go in search of him, and I wouldn't like to be that Punjabi when I do find him! Get into the guard-room, and wait in there until I give you leave to stir."

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