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   Chapter 5 No.5

Told in the East By Talbot Mundy Characters: 12591

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


General Baines was in a position to be envied. No soldier worthy of his salt is other than elated at the thought of war. Now for the proving of his theories. Now for the fruit of all his tireless preaching and inspection and preparing-the planned, pegged-out swoop to victory!

He knew-as few men in India knew-the length and the breadth of what was coming. And when two of his non-commissioned officers sent in word that the whole country was ablaze, he realized, as few other men did in that minute, that this was no local outbreak. The long-threatened holocaust had come, and he had to act, to smite, to strike sure and swift at the festering root of things, or Central India was lost.

But his hands were tied still. He knew. He could see. He could feel. He could hear. But he had his orders. That very morning they had been repeated to him, and with emphasis. In a letter from the Council he had been told that "slight disturbances, of a purely local character, were not without the bounds of possibility, due partly to religious unrest and partly to local causes. Under no circumstances were any extended reprisals to be undertaken until further orders, and generals commanding districts were required to keep the bulk of their commands within cantonments."

The countryside was up. All India probably was up. His own men, set by himself to watch with one definite idea, had confirmed his worst fears. And he was under orders to stay with the bulk of his command in Bholat! Corked up in cantonments, with three thousand first-class fighting-men squealing for trouble, and red rebellion running riot all around him though it might be quelled by instant action!

And then worse happened. Juggut Khan clattered in to Bholat, spurring a horse that was so spent it could barely keep its feet. It fell in a woeful heap outside the general's quarters, and Juggut Khan-all but as weary as the horse-swung himself free, staggered past the sentry at the door and rapped with his hilt on the tough teak panel. They had to give him brandy and feed him before he could summon strength enough to tell what he had seen and heard and done.

"And Brown stayed on at the crossroads?"

"Aye, General sahib! He stayed!"

The general sat back and drummed his heels together on the floor in a way that his aides had come to recognize as meaning trouble.

"You say that all of the European officers in Jailpore have been killed?"

"I did not count. I did not even know them all by mine or sight. I think, though, that all were killed. I heard men among the mutineers declare that all had been accounted for, save only three women and a child, and me. Those four I myself had hidden, and as for myself-I too was accounted for, and not without credit to the Raj for whom I fight!"

"I believe you, Juggut Khan! Did you have to cut your way out?"

The Rajput smiled.

"There was a message to deliver, sahib! What would you? Should I have waited while they arrested me?"

"Oh! You managed to evade them, did you?"

"At least I am here, sahib!"

The general chewed at his mustache, leaned his chair back against the wall and tapped at his boot with a riding-cane.

"Tell me, Juggut Khan," he said after another minute's thought, "what is your idea? Is this sporadic? Is this a local outbreak? Will this die down, if left to burn itself out?"

The Rajput laughed aloud.

"'Sporadic,"' he answered, "is a word of which I have yet to learn the meaning. If 'sporadic' means rebellion from Peshawur to Cape Cormorin-revolution, rape, massacre, arson, high treason, torture, death to every European and every half-breed and every loyal native north, south, east and west-then, yes, General sahib, 'sporadic' would be the proper word. If your Honor should mean less than that, then some other word is needed!"

"Then you confirm my own opinion. You are inclined to think that this is an organized and country-wide rebellion?"

"I know of what I speak, sahib!"

"You don't think that you are being influenced in your opinion by the fact that you have seen a massacre, and have lost everything you had?"

"Nay, sahib! This is no hour for joking, or for bearing of false tidings. I tell you, up, sahib! Boots and saddles! Strike!"

The general chewed at his mustache another minute.

"You know this province well?" he asked.

"None better than I. I have traversed every yard of it, attending to my business."

"And your business is?"

"Each to his trade, sahib. My trade is honorable."

"I have good reasons for asking, and no impertinence is meant. Be good enough to tell me. I wish to know what value I may place on your opinion."

"Sahib, I am a full sergeant of the Rajput Horse retired. I bear one medal."

"And-"

"I sell charms, sahib."

"What sort of charms?"

"All sorts. But principally charms against the evil eye, and the red sickness, and death by violence. But, also love-charms now and then, and now and then a death-charm to a man who has an enemy and lacks swordsmanship or courage. I trade with each and every man, sahib, and listen to the talk of each, and hold my tongue!"

"Strange trade for a soldier, isn't it?"

"Would you have me a robber, sahib? Or shall I sweep the streets-I, who have led a troop before now? Nay, sahib! A soldier can fight, and can do little else. When the day comes that the Raj has no more need of him-or thinks that it has no more need of him-he must either starve or become a prophet. And his own home is no place for a prophet who would turn his prophesying into silver coin!"

"Ah! Well-now, tell me! What is your opinion, without reference to what anybody else may think? You have just seen the massacre at Jailpore, and you know how many men I have here. And you know the condition of the road and the number of the mutineers. Would you, if you were in my place, strike at Jailpore immediately?"

"Nay, sahib. That I would not. I would strike north. And I would strike so swiftly that the mutineers would wonder whence I came. In Jailpore, all is over. They have done the harm, and they are in charge there. They have the powder-magazine in their possession, and the stands of arms, and the first advantage. Leave them there, then, sahib, and strike where you are not expected. In Jailpore you would

be out of touch. You would have just that many more miles to march when the time comes-and it has come, sahib!-to join forces with the next command, and hit hard at the heart of things."

"And the heart of things is-"

"Delhi!"

"You display a quite amazing knowledge of the game."

"I am a soldier, sahib!"

"You would leave Jailpore, then, to its fate?"

"Jailpore has already met its fate, sahib. The barracks are afire, and the city has been given over to be looted. Reckon no more with Jailpore! Reckon only of the others. Listen, sahib! Has any message come from the next command? No? Then why? Think you that even a local outbreak could occur without some message being sent to you, and to the next division south of you? Why has no message come? Where is the next command? The next command north? Harumpore? Then why is there no news from Harumpore? I will tell you, sahib."

"You mean, I suppose, that the country is up, in between?"

"You know that it is up, sahib!"

"You think that no message could get through to me?"

"I know that it could not! Else had one already come. My advice to you, sahib, as one soldier to another and tendered with all respect, is to up and leave this Bholat. Here, of what use are you? Here you can hold a small city, until the countryside has time to rise and lay siege to you and hem you in! Outside of here, you can be a hornet-storm! They will burn Bholat behind you. Let them! Let them, too, pay the price. Swoop down on Harumpore, sahib-join there with Kendrick sahib's command. There make a fresh plan, and swoop down on some other place. But move, quickly, and keep on moving! And waste no time on places that are already lost."

"Then you would have me leave those women and that child, that you tell me of to their fate?"

"Nay, sahib! I am not of your command. I have done my duty to the Raj, and I now go about my own business."

"And that is?"

"To repay a debt that I owe the Raj, sahib!"

"Your answers are rather unnecessarily evasive, Juggut Khan. Be good enough to explain yourself!"

"I ride back to Jailpore, sahib. I would have stayed there, but it seemed right and soldierly to bring through the news first. Now, I return to do what I may to rescue those whom I hid there. I owe that to the Raj!"

"You mean that you will ride alone?"

"At least half of the distance, sahib. I had a favor to ask."

"Well?"

"Are you marching north, sahib?"

"I have not determined yet."

"Determined, sahib! This is no hour for dallying! Give orders now! Up! Strike, sahib! Listen! Should you march on Jailpore, the mutineers, who far outnumber you, will learn beforehand of your coming, and will put the place in a state of defense. It may take you weeks to fight your way in! Leave Jailpore, and those who are left in it to me, and lend me that non-commissioned officer of yours who guards the crossroads, and his twelve men. With a few, we can manage what a whole division might fail to do. And you march north, sahib, and burn and harry and slay! Strike quickly, where the trouble is yet brewing, and not where the day is lost already!"

It was case of the British power in India on one side of the scale, against three women and a child on the other; sentiment in the balance against strategy. And strategy must win, especially since this Rajput was offering his services.

"What are their names, you say?"

"Mrs. Leslie, wife of Captain Leslie; Mrs. Standish, wife of Colonel Standish and mother of Mrs. Leslie; Mrs. Leslie's child-I know not his name, he is but a child in arms-and the child's nurse."

The general still found it difficult to make up his mind.

"What proof have I of you?" he asked.

"Sahib, my honor is in question! I have a debt to pay!"

"What debt?"

"To the Raj."

"To the Raj?"

"Aye, Sahib! I have but one son, and his life was saved for me by a British soldier. A life for a life. Four lives for a life. I ride! I need, though, a fresh horse. And I ask for the loan of that sergeant, and those twelve men."

"I wonder whether a man such as you can realize exactly what it means to us to know that white women are in Jailpore, at the mercy of black mutineers? I mean, are you sufficiently aware of the extreme horror of the situation?"

"Knew you Captain Collins Sahib, of the Jailpore command?"

"Know him well."

"Knew you his memsahib?"

"She was a niece of mine."

"I slew her myself, with this sword!"

"When? Why?"

"Yesterday. Because her husband could not get to her himself, and since he and I knew each other, and he trusted me. I said to her, 'Memsahib! I have your husband's orders!' She asked me 'What orders, Juggut Khan?' I said, 'Why ask me, memsahib? Is my task easier, or yours?' She said 'Obey your orders, Juggut Khan, and accept my thanks now, since I shall be unable to thank you afterward!' And then she looked me bravely in the face, and met her death, sahib. Of a truth I know! I am to be trusted!"

"I believe you, Juggut Khan. And, incidentally, I beg your pardon for having doubted you. Have you slept?"

"Nay, Sahib. And I sleep not on this side of the crossroads!"

"I don't place Sergeant Brown under your command-you'll understand that's impossible-but, it's quite impossible for him to catch me up. He may as well cooperate with you. Wait." He paused, and wrote, then continued, "Here is a note to him, in which I order him to work with you, and to take your advice whenever possible. Go to the stables, and choose any horse you like except my first charger. Here-here is money; you may need some. Count that, will you. How much is it? Four hundred rupees? Write out a receipt for it. Now, good luck to you, Juggut Khan. And if you should get through alive-I'll pay you the compliment of admitting that you won't come through without the women, and I know that Brown won't-if you should have luck, and should happen to get through, why, look for me at Harumpore, or elsewhere to the northward of it. I start with my division in an hour."

"Salaam, sahib!" said Rajput, rising and standing at the salute.

"Salaam, Juggut Khan! Take any food, or drink, or clothing that you want. Good-by, and your good luck ride with you. I feel like a murderer, but I know I've done the best that can be done!"

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