Chapter III

The Storm Bursts

Jean retired to her room, but she found it impossible to sleep. Tara, her ayah, was full of the news. She had been out into the bazaar, where the intelligence had spread like wildfire, exaggerated, doubtless, by the fervid imagination of the natives.

The girl gathered that the news had come to Lucknow from Agra, as all communication with Meerut was cut off. A private telegraphic message, sent by the sister of the Meerut postmaster to her aunt at Agra, postponing a visit as disturbances had broken out and officers had been killed, was the first intimation given that matters had taken a serious turn. The outbreak occurred about five o’clock on Sunday; the message arrived at Agra at nine. From that hour all was blank.

Towards morning after a fitful slumber Jean awoke with a start and a half-suppressed scream. Tara was moving about the room, making preparations for their departure, and the pale grey light of dawn was stealing through the blinds.

She rose, and dressed hastily, and joined her father and Lennard, when she found a pony carriage was in readiness at the door.

“We can’t take much luggage,” said Mr Atherton. “Just a change or two of clothing. I don’t suppose we shall remain at the Residency more than a week,” he added.

So he thought, and so thought scores of others who at that moment were on the same errand as himself. Had they been told they were destined to be cooped up in the Residency walls for six months they would have laughed the idea to scorn.

Lucknow seemed more picturesque than ever in the golden light of morning. The narrow streets were already beginning to be thronged, but no one took much notice of the pony carriage. They met other vehicles containing Europeans proceeding towards the Residency, and Atherton and Lennard exchanged greetings with their many friends, but nothing more. It was not safe to discuss their fears in the streets. The worst thing to do was to show any sign of timidity before the natives.

At last they arrived at the outer wall enclosing a number of official buildings in the centre of which was the imposing and elegant structure which gave the name “The Residency” to the entire locality.

The Residency itself contained a vast number of lofty and magnificently decorated rooms. Extensive verandahs and noble porticoes were among its exterior embellishments. Besides the accommodation afforded by a ground floor and two upper storeys, it possessed a tyekhana, or excavated suite of handsome apartments, running under the whole superstructure, and designed to shelter the inmates from the intense heat of the -day. These apartments were well lighted and ventilated by shafts and basement windows. The extent of the ground occupied by the Residency may be imagined from the fact that from eight hundred to a thousand persons could find accommodation within the building at one time.

The Residency was situated on the highest point of an elevated and irregular plateau, sloping down sharply towards the river. At one of the angles of the structure was an octagonal dome-crowned tower. In the interior of this tower a spiral staircase of fine proportions led to the terraced roof, from which an extensive view of the whole city could be obtained. This tower was of the utmost use during the soul-stirring events which followed thick and fast after the month of May.

Within the Residency all was confusion. Ladies and children were arriving every five minutes, and doing their best to locate themselves in various parts of the building. The accommodation, ample as it was, proved none too large, especially as one spacious room had to be converted into a sort of hospital ward for the sick men of the 32nd Regiment, who were being rapidly brought up in dhoolies.

Every day showed Sir Henry Lawrence untiring in his exertions. He mixed personally among the native troops, and tried to find out their real feelings. He could discover nothing to cause alarm. Yet there might be disaffected men, and these he determined to conciliate by holding a durbar, at which rewards and presents should be distributed.

Not the least precaution did Sir Henry neglect. At once he began to concentrate the little European force at his command, and reduce the number of stations, so that in the event of an outbreak the Europeans might not be cut off in detail.

“We had eight posts,” he wrote on the 20th of May, to Sir Hugh Wheeler, who at Cawnpore was preparing for the worst. “As Sir C. Napier would say, we are like chips in porridge. We have given up four posts, and greatly strengthened three.”

The chief of these three posts was the Mutcheebhawun. This fort, which derives its name of Mutchee (fish) from the device over the gateway, and Bhawun (Sanscrit for house), occupied a commanding position to the west of the city which it overlooked. Cannon was at once planted on its walls, and where that could not be done, the deficiency was supplied with “jingals,” or immense blunderbusses moving on pivots.

There is an old tradition that he who holds the Mutcheebhawun might in time of trouble safely reckon upon an army as numerous as the fish in the Gumti to rally round his standard. This tradition did not influence Sir Henry Lawrence. He was more inclined to believe in the assertion of the natives that, if the fire of our own guns did not bring down the place about our ears, the fire of an enemy would soon convert it into a ruin. It was very ancient and difficult to make secure.

It was determined to convert this capacious edifice into a great storehouse and arsenal. Provisions of all kinds were brought and carefully stored in it. All the available ordnance and ammunition were collected and secured. The buildings surrounding the Residency, dangerous for the shelter they might afford an assailant, were demolished. Nothing but a regard for the religion of the natives induced Sir Henry to allow the mosques, from which a fire might be directed upon the Residency with terrible effect, to remain. He had before long occasion to bitterly repent his forbearance.

Within a week all the ladies and children were lodged in the Residency, and by degrees something like order was secured. The gardens in which the buildings were situated were spacious, and there was no need to go outside the walls for exercise.

Despite the confirmation of the alarming news from Meerut, Sir Henry Lawrence resolved not to depart from his conciliatory policy, and the durbar was held as he had arranged, in front of the Residency bungalow, in the cantonments about three miles from the city proper.

The time chosen was sunset, and Sir Henry Lawrence, attended by all his military and civil officers, met the officers of the native army. Addressing them in Hindustani, he appealed to their best feelings as soldiers and as comrades.

It was an imposing scene. The lawn was carpeted; the seats ranged for the visitors formed three sides of a square. Behind them stood groups of sepoys, eagerly watching the proceedings, and listening to the words which fell from the venerable chief. And visible to all were the dresses of honour and the trays of presents that were to be given to the faithful soldiers who had earned these rewards by their loyalty and devotion.

The proceedings passed off quietly. The native officers were loud in their professions of devotion to the British Government, and it was hoped that all danger was at an end.

The result was anxiously awaited by those in the Residency. Mr Atherton was jubilant. He had been present at the durbar, and was convinced that the troops as well as the officers had been completely won over.

He found his daughter and most of the other ladies in the tyekhana, the underground apartment already described, whither they had gone owing to the intense heat.

“We shall be back in our own house in a day or two,” he exclaimed.

“Mr Martin Gubbins doesn’t think so,” said a tall, dark, handsome woman.

Mr Martin Gubbins was the commissioner for Oudh.

“Gubbins is an alarmist, Mrs Ross,” returned Mr Atherton. “Why, he commenced fortifying his house long before Sir Henry thought it necessary to send you all into the Residency; and wasn’t he laughed at for doing it?”

“That may be,” replied the lady, with a languorous air, “but Mr Gubbins is in a position to know best. He wouldn’t have taken his precautions without good cause. I’m afraid the trouble isn’t at an end. I suppose I may be allowed to know something about the Hindoo nature. When the storm breaks there’ll be no warning, take my word for it!”

“My dear Mrs Ross, you’ll alarm my daughter if you hold such gloomy views. You forget she’s just come from England, and hasn’t yet overcome the notion, which most new-comers have, that every native carries a knife concealed somewhere about him for the express purpose of murdering someone, preferably a European.”

“I never had such a foolish idea as that, papa,” protested Jean.

“Your father’s only jesting,” said Mrs Ross quietly.

Mrs Ross had risen while speaking, and was now gazing out of the window into the Residency gardens.

“Here’s Dr Lennard,” said she suddenly, “I don’t know what we should do without him. He has never omitted calling upon us twice a day to tell us the latest news. Somebody is with him, I——”

She stopped abruptly. Her lips went very white.

She turned hastily from the window.

Mr Atherton was standing where he could not see Mrs Ross. He did not hear what she said. In fact, he did not know she was near.

“Who’s the man walking with Lennard? It looks uncommonly like Jack Hawke! But surely Captain Hawke wouldn’t show his face in Lucknow!”

The man next Atherton nudged his arm.

“Mrs Ross is close by,” he whispered.

Mr Atherton shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. He remembered the scandal associated with Captain Hawke and how nearly it touched Mrs Ross, to whose sister, Agnes, Hawke had been engaged.

Mrs Ross walked away with a gesture of anger it was impossible to mistake. Jean heard her words. Mrs Ross interested her immensely. The tall handsome woman​—​handsome in spite of her somewhat sallow complexion​—​suggested romance.

The two men were now about thirty yards from the Residency, and Jean looked with curiosity at Lennard’s companion. He was a handsome fellow whose sunburnt face was burnt to almost the same colour as his tawny hair and moustache. His figure was erect and firmly set, despite the fact that he walked with a slight limp. His uniform was torn and dusty, his boots cracked, and altogether he looked worn and travel-stained. Whatever was his character, outwardly he was picturesque.

Shortly after he came in with the surgeon. His reception was peculiar. He bowed to the ladies, but they acknowledged his salutation so frigidly it could scarcely be said to be an acknowledgment at all. One or two men pointedly turned their backs, and others pretended not to recognise him.

“What did I tell you, Lennard?” he growled savagely. “Why did you persuade me to come here? I was a fool! I ought to have stayed in the cantonments. All my chums there haven’t given me the cold shoulder. Isn’t it deuced droll to find that the men gladdest to see me should be the black-skinned chaps​—​the fellows of my old regiment?”

“Not at all, Jack. They know the best side of you.”

“And my own countrymen its worst. Let’s get out of this.”

But the doctor was loth to go. He had seen Jean, and the sight of her was to him like a spring of sparkling water to a thirsty traveller. All the pulses within him​—​an impassive, unemotional man as he was​—​were stirred by this girl as they had never been stirred before.

“Wait a moment, Jack,” Lennard whispered, “don’t be in such a confounded hurry!”

Jack Hawke scarcely heard him. His face was as hard as flint, and his eyes, with a spark of sullen fierceness in them, were fixed upon Mrs Ross, who, after meeting his gaze for a couple of seconds, turned away abruptly, and soon after left the tyekhana.

“Curse her!” Lennard heard him mutter. “But for that woman I might be holding up my head with the best.”

The young doctor pressed his arm sympathisingly.

“And so you can now,” said Lennard. “I’ve but to tell the story of your doings for the past fortnight, and there’s not a man who won’t be proud to shake you by the hand, nor a woman who would refuse to kiss you.”

“Bah! Don’t talk of women. Mind, Ernest, not a word of the horrible business at Delhi.”

“If you wish it, I’ll hold my tongue; but it can’t be kept a secret long, and then you’ll be a hero. Atherton, you remember Captain Hawke?”

Lennard had by this time led him to where Jean was.

“Yes, certainly,” said Atherton frankly, extending his hand, and grasping Hawke’s heartily.

“Thank you, Mr Atherton, I’ve not forgotten that you stuck up for me at a time when it was with Jack Hawke a case of give a dog a bad name.”

“I know​—​I know. The past is all buried. This isn’t a time for certificates of good character. We want men who can fight. No one can fight harder than you, Captain Hawke.”

“By heaven, Atherton, you’re right,” cried Lennard, emphatically.

Then Lennard turned to Jean with a somewhat embarrassed air. He shook hands with her, but said not a word concerning his companion, although it was obvious from Jean’s expression she expected he would do so. Lennard looked very embarrassed, and cast a glance towards Mr Atherton, as if asking him to come to his rescue, but the magistrate remained quiescent.

Meanwhile Hawke stood cap in hand, and, now that he was bare-headed, handsomer than ever, despite the cloud on his brow, and his tightly compressed lips. He gave Jean one swift glance and then abruptly turned away, as if to relieve Lennard of all embarrassment.

“I was an ass to come here​—​I’m going back to the cantonments,” he said in a low voice to the surgeon, “but you stay. I won’t take you from your friends.”

“Wait one moment in the gardens,” said Lennard hurriedly​—​“Atherton and I will join you there. Will you excuse us, Miss Atherton?”

“How troubled he looks,” thought Jean, with a little bow of acquiescence. “Can anything have happened?”

She watched her father and the doctor walk away arm in arm. Jack Hawke had preceded them.

“Miss Atherton,” said a voice behind her.

She turned and saw Mrs Ross. A singular change had come over the woman. Her countenance seemed convulsed with passion.

“I hope Dr Lennard hasn’t been so indiscreet as to introduce that man to you?” she cried.

“You mean Captain Hawke? No. But why not? What is there against him?”

“Everything. He’s a man no decent woman ought to know. Some day—— But I won’t trouble you with an old scandal. I’m surprised Lennard should have brought him here. Thank heaven no harm’s been done. His reception must have convinced him his conduct’s neither forgotten nor forgiven. I congratulate you, my dear, on your having escaped making the acquaintance of Captain Hawke.”

Before Jean could ask for an explanation Mrs Ross was gone, leaving the girl both pained and puzzled.

“I dared not introduce Jack Hawke to Miss Atherton,” said Lennard to the magistrate as they walked across the tyekhana. “Had I acted according to my own opinion and judgment I should have had no hesitation in so doing; but I left it for you to do so if you thought fit.”

“You were right,” said the magistrate after a pause. “I really believe Hawke is innocent, but when a man acts as if he were guilty it wants some courage to go in the face of public opinion. At all events, at present I don’t feel justified in recognising him to the extent of making him a friend of Jean’s.”

“It doesn’t very much matter,” returned Lennard a little coldly. “Before long we shall need all the friends we can muster. We won’t discuss Hawke now, but rather the frightful tidings he has brought. Atherton, it’s horrible! Delhi’s in the hands of the rebels and they’ve been murdering right and left!”

“Great God! It can’t be true​—​the miscreants!” exclaimed Atherton.

“It is true. Hawke escaped by a miracle, and reached here he scarcely knows how. For two days he carried a wounded comrade on his back. The man is now in the cantonment barracks, and will tell you much more of Hawke’s pluck and endurance than you’ll get out of Hawke himself.”

Jack Hawke was walking, or rather limping, slowly in front, and the magistrate, greatly moved, ran to him and placed his hand on his shoulder.

“Hawke,” he exclaimed, “tell me about​—​about this horrible catastrophe. Is it so bad?”

“It’s as bad as it can be,” answered Hawke, tugging savagely at his moustache. “Todd, of the Telegraph-office, Fraser, the Commissioner, Mr Jennings and his daughter and Miss Clifford, Colonel Ripley, Captain Burrowes—— My God! I can’t go on with the list; it’s too awful!”

“My dear fellow, what do you mean?” cried Mr Atherton.

“What do I mean, man? I mean that they’re all dead​—​murdered, butchered​—​and scores more! I shall never forget the sight​—​never! Imagine seeing your comrades, men whom you had laughed and joked with in the morning, lying in the afternoon dead, side by side, some almost unrecognisable. What the man in command at Meerut can be about I can’t conceive. Meerut’s only a thirty-six miles’ ride from Delhi, yet no one seems to have thought of sending on the news of the bad business there. The arrival of the mutinous sepoys, fresh from the murder of Colonel Finnis and the massacre of others​—​men and women​—​was the first intimation we had at Delhi that anything was wrong. Even then the devils might have been pursued. There were plenty of troops at Meerut to do it, but no one to give them orders.”

“But General Hewitt——”

“General Hewitt simply sat still. Don’t talk of it. It’s cruel​—​cruel. The most ghastly thing in English history, and to think that it might have been prevented​—​my God!”

“Still there were European troops in Delhi.”

“Oh yes, there were troops​—​a mere handful; but what could we do with a city seven miles in circumference to defend, with enemies without and mutiny within?”

“But you did something?”

“Yes, we did something. Willoughby and his eight men blew up the magazine, and sent a thousand or so of the devils to perdition. Scully, the plucky fellow who fired the train, perished in the explosion, and so did Sergeant Edwards. I wish I’d gone with them. No such luck. Lennard, old chap, I’m off to the cantonments. I shall see you later on. Good-bye, Mr Atherton.”

He strode away with the fierce hunger for revenge shining in his eyes.

“He hasn’t said a word about himself,” cried Lennard. “That’s just like Jack Hawke. I’ll tell you what his comrade said. At the last moment his regiment, the 38th, turned against their officers. A few surrounded Major Abbott, who was very popular, and forced him out, shutting the main guard gate so that he shouldn’t return and be killed. Hawke was among the officers left behind. He was about to make a jump from the ramparts into the ditch when he heard the scream of women. He and another man rushed back, rescued two ladies, and making a rope with their handkerchiefs, lowered them safely into the ditch. They made their way to the river and lay in hiding. Hawke was the only one of the party who could swim, and he got his friend and the two women across safely. Then after terrible privations, to say nothing of being attacked by three troopers​—​two of whom Hawke killed single-handed​—​his friend was wounded and almost hors de combat​—​they reached a village where the natives were friendly, and here the women were left​—​indeed, they couldn’t travel any farther​—​and Hawke and his friend came on to Lucknow to bring the news.”

“How brave of him!”

Lennard started. Unperceived, Jean had joined them. She was too anxious to remain any longer in the tyekhana.

“Go back​—​go back, Jean,” said her father impatiently, almost harshly. “Don’t you know the danger of sunstroke?”

The girl looked wistfully from her father to Lennard as if seeking an explanation from the latter; the doctor was impassive.

“I must insist, my dear,” reiterated the magistrate.

Jean did not contest the point, but slowly turned to the Residency with a disappointed look on her face.

“The women had better not know of this fresh disaster,” said Atherton. “It will only increase their apprehensions, though I still maintain there’s nothing to fear in Lucknow.”

“I hope so,” said Lennard curtly. “At all events, we may know more before to-night. I’m going now to see what gossip I can pick up. You know I’ve many friends among the bazaar people.”

They parted, the magistrate returning to the Residency, and the doctor passing into the city.