Chapter V

From the Ganges to the Thames

“Why don’t you sit down, Phil? I never saw such a restless fellow as you are. Does your arm pain you?”

“Not at all, Amy. It’s getting on famously, thanks to your care and Dr. Langridge’s skill.”

“Well then, dear, I wish you wouldn’t walk about like a caged tiger. You’re getting on my nerves. What are you thinking about?”

“Young Dick and his last letter from Cawnpore.”

“Oh, you mean the bother among the sepoys he speaks of. I forget what it was about.”

“It doesn’t matter; I wasn’t thinking of that particularly. By the way, didn’t that pretty girl, Ruth Armitage, who was staying with you two years ago, when I was invalided home after those terrible six months I passed in the hospital at Varna, go to Cawnpore?” broke off Philip abruptly. “She has an uncle or a guardian there, so you told me.”

“Yes, a Colonel Waring; but what makes you mention her? My big brother hasn’t fallen in love, has he?” laughed Amy. “I thought you were above such frivolities, Phil.”

“I don’t how that I’m in love, and if I were, I’m not sure it would be frivolity,” said Philip Heron slowly.

“Of course it wouldn’t. You’re frightfully serious in everything, dear old Phil,” said his sister, her brown eyes beaming.

“Well, real fighting isn’t exactly a light-hearted business, though it’s infinitely better than what went with it in the Crimea. I fancy the more than a taste of hardship our fellows had there sobered a good many of them. I know it did me.”

“Yes, indeed,” cried Amy, with a little shudder. “Thank goodness Dick won’t have such a time. At any rate I hope he won’t. The boy’s so impulsive. He hasn’t got your cool head, Phil.”

“He’s none the worse for being impulsive. Upon my word, if the youngsters saw danger ahead they might hesitate, and then their chance of covering themselves with glory would be lost. As you say, Dick won’t have my Crimean luck, but if anything should happen​—​if there be a rumpus among the native troops, as some writers in the newspapers seem to foreshadow​—​I’d like to be with him and take my share. I’m tired of this inaction. I want to be at hard work again.”

Phil Heron​—​Captain Heron, late of the 11th Hussars, to give him his full title​—​resumed pacing the lawn of the pretty garden leading down to the river. His sister watched him a little anxiously from the hammock in which she was idly swinging. Dick, her junior by three years, was her favourite brother. She was fond of Phil, but she was never in his confidence. He was two years older than she, and this made all the difference in the world. Phil had never poured his troubles into her sympathetic ear as Dick had many a time. Dick was never without a flirtation on hand, even when he was at Addiscombe, and supposed to be working hard, and somehow this weakness made him more interesting in Amy’s eyes than was her reserved elder brother, who, as far as she knew, never troubled his head about women.

Phil took soldiering somewhat seriously, as, according to his sister, he did most things, and his bitter experience in the Crimea had not tended to lighten his views. It was rather the other way about. He had ridden in the Balaclava charge; he had been severely wounded, fever seized him in the Varna hospital, and he was given up as a doomed man. But somehow he pulled through and came back to England, declared by the doctors to be unfit for further service. It was a bitter disappointment to him to be told that his career as a soldier was at an end, for he loved his profession and had looked forward to rising to a high rank.

Phil returned from the Crimea in the spring of 1855; it was now the spring of 1857, and, thanks to a superb constitution, constant fresh air, the assiduous care of his sister Amy, and the rest at her pretty cottage at Teddington, he had recovered his health and strength in a marvellous way. He was yearning to get back to the army, but nothing had been done. His doctor was cautious, and for the moment refused to sanction the step.

Captain Heron continued to walk up and down the lawn for some five minutes; then suddenly he stopped in front of the hammock.

“Look here, Amy,” he burst out, “I’m not going to do any more loafing. I shall run up to town this afternoon, and see some of the powers that be at the Horse Guards. I’ve got a friend or two at court, and I ought not to have much difficulty in getting a commission. I’d like to have a shot at India.”

“Cawnpore?” said Amy, with a smile.

“Not necessarily,” he answered, after a pause​—​a pause which his sharp-eyed sister interpreted as significant of evasion. “India, you see,” he went on, “is the only place where one is likely to see active service. We’ve always got a little war on somewhere. If it isn’t the frontier, chastising what I believe are generally called ‘insolent tribes,’ it’s helping the various Indian races in the interior to settle their quarrels, and so there’s always something for one to do.”

“Still, it would be pleasant if you could be sent to Cawnpore,” continued his sister, bent on teasing him. “You’d have company in Dick, and there’d be​—​Ruth Armitage.”

Phil took Amy’s bantering very good-humouredly.

“Ruth, of course, would be an attraction, but please don’t forget that my object in going to India is to fight, not to make love.”

“Oh, certainly. Ruth is very pretty and very nice: don’t you think so?”

“I admit that was the impression I was under during the short time I had the pleasure of her acquaintance. She only stayed with you a month, I fancy.”

“And that was nearly two years ago, just after my wreck of a hero came here to get patched up. Your memory’s wonderful, Phil,” exclaimed his sister, laughing. “My dear boy, it’s no use your pretending you’re not interested in Ruth, because you are. Perhaps you’d like to know that she hasn’t fulfilled the mission that took her back to Colonel Waring.”

“Her mission? What was that?” asked Captain Heron quickly. “She never told me she had one.”

The young lady in the hammock burst into an uncontrollable fit of merriment.

“Of course not. It wasn’t very likely,” she exclaimed, when her mirth had subsided. “Didn’t you know that she returned, as scores of girls do who have friends or relatives in India, to find a husband?”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Why not? She might do worse than marry a rich East India Company’s official, especially if he’s old.”

“I wish you wouldn’t talk like that, Amy,” returned her brother, in a tone of reproof. “I can’t think you mean what you say.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter what I mean​—​the point is that Ruth isn’t married; not even engaged, so she told me in her last letter. I ought to tell you I put the question to her​—​so​—​but the subject’s not of the slightest interest to you, I’m sure.”

Phil Heron made no reply. He was not inclined to agree with his sister. He had a very vivid recollection of a pair of beseeching eyes, of a soft, sympathetic voice, of pretty innocent ways which fascinated without the owner intending they should. Ruth Armitage was a girl who could, if she chose, twine herself round a man’s heart so quietly that he would not be conscious she had done so, until he missed her presence. And this had been Phil Heron’s fate. When Ruth said “good-bye” to him, he had tried to steel himself to the decree of fate which apparently ordained that they should never meet again, but he had found the effort very difficult. Yet he had never made love to the pretty, gentle girl; he had only thought a good deal about her.

When Amy suggested that the subject of Ruth’s possible marriage was not of the slightest interest to her brother, she threw out the words as a feeler, but Phil was not to be drawn. Lighting his pipe, he sauntered to the riverside and contemplated the sunlit ripples until the luncheon gong sounded.

That afternoon he carried out his intention of calling at the Horse Guards, but there was no one in attendance whom he knew, and as he was too well acquainted with the routine not to be aware of the futility of explaining his business to strangers, he took a stroll in St. James’s Park to kill time until the dinner hour. He was approaching the bridge over the ornamental water, when a hand smote him on the shoulder.

“Phil Heron!” said a cheery voice.

He turned instantly. It was an old comrade, a Major Walters, who had been at Addiscombe with him, and afterwards in the Crimea at the same time. Bob Walters was as staunch-hearted a fellow as ever breathed, and was as ready with a joke as with his purse.

“Well, old fellow,” said he, “and how are you getting on? Your fighting weight isn’t quite what it was two years ago.”

Heron’s eleven stone was reduced to nine, his five-feet-nine of bone and sinew looked somewhat weedy, and Walters playfully pinched his arm.

“You’re putting on a little muscle, but I shouldn’t like to back you to cut a sheep in half with one blow, as I’ve seen you do it in the old days.”

“That will come to pass again, I dare say, Bob,” Heron answered lightly. “What is the latest news with you, old chap?”

“Good news. The old 101st is ordered to the East. We start from Southampton to-morrow.”

“The East? Do you mean India?”

“No, no. There is nothing to be done in India. All is quiet there. China, lad, is our game.”

“I wish you were going to India.”

“My dear fellow, for what purpose?”

“For no particular purpose, save that I have been reading up Indian matters of late, and I’ve got it into my head that our position there is not so safe as we fancy it is.”

“Pooh! England has got India in the hollow of her hand.”

“Well, it may be so. If—— but there, no doubt you’re right.”

Something in Heron’s tone evidently struck Walters as curious. He looked at his old friend steadfastly for a moment, and then burst into a laugh.

“What the deuce can go wrong in India? Our fellows have thorough control over the sepoys, and I believe the native troops would shoot down their own countrymen, were it necessary, and they were called upon to do it. But I must run away. I’ve a host of things before me.”

“How many leave-takings?” asked Heron.

“Not many. I thank my stars no girl will cry her eyes out after me.”

“Still adamant?”

“Yes, and likely to remain so. Good-bye, old chap.”

“Good-bye. I envy you your luck. You’ll come back from China Colonel Walters.”

“May be or may not. Suppose a Chinese bullet finds its way into my skull? My dead body might figure as an idol in a joss-house. Who knows? I’m ugly enough.”

“Get out, Bob. You’re only fishing for compliments, and you won’t get one from me.”

Walters laughed, and with a wave of his hand rushed away.

A week or two went over. Heron had got no further at the Horse Guards. He wrote to a friendly official, who replied that for the moment he was out of favour with the authorities, and that speaking on Phil’s behalf would do more harm than good. He suggested a personal application, and mentioned the name of an officer who might do him some service. Not believing much in formal applications, which he knew were too often pigeon-holed, Philip Heron resolved to stay a few days in London, and call every day at the Horse Guards on the off-chance of coming across the man he wanted.

One morning he lounged into a West End Club, one much favoured by military men. There was rather a large number of members in the room for such an early hour. They were talking eagerly, and one old gentleman​—​an Indian general​—​was laying down the law with great emphasis.

“Mutiny!” “Barrackpore!” “An officer shot!” “Regiments disbanded,” were among the disjointed sentences which reached Heron’s ears.

He went up to the old soldier, who had possession of The Times, and asked him what had happened.

“Mutiny, by Gad, sir!” was the answer. “And if I’d been General Hearsey I’d have shot the ringleaders offhand. What’s the good of his disbanding a regiment? Something much sterner’s wanted to make an impression on those fellows. What did we do when a mutiny broke out in this very place, Barrackpore, in 1824? Fired upon them with artillery, and the cause of the outbreak was not nearly so serious as this. It had nothing to do with their religion. We heard no more of the mutiny. But this milk-and-water treatment of the scoundrels I don’t like. We shall hear something more before long: mark my words!”

This old gentleman not many days before had been one of the most obstinate in maintaining that nothing like insubordination, much less mutiny, could possibly happen in India. His sudden change of opinion, to Phil’s mind, was ominous. Heron borrowed the paper, and read what The Times correspondent had to say.

The affair at Barrackpore happened on March 30, seven weeks before. There was no telegraphic communication from England beyond Trieste and Alexandria, and hence the time the news took in transmission. In the case of the outbreak at Meerut, when the horrors of the Mutiny first began, the time was even longer. The revolt at this station took place on Sunday, May 10. The Bombay correspondent of The Times, writing on June 9 alluded to the news as requiring confirmation; and not till June 27 was it actually known in England, and that the mutineers, after the scenes of bloodshed at Meerut, had marched upon Delhi, and repeated the horrors there. But not one in that club-room on the morning of May 19 could foreshadow these terrible scenes. Phil Heron read the account of the disbanding of the 19th Native Infantry at Barrackpore, and the shooting of Lieutenant Baugh by Mungul Pandy (from this name all the sepoys afterwards came to be known as “Pandies”) with intense interest. Before he had reached the description of the men laying down their arms at Barrackpore, and of a scare at Dum-Dum sending all the Europeans hurrying in a fright to Calcutta, about eight miles away, he had made up his mind what to do.

“General Cuthbertson,” said he, in a low voice to the old officer, “you know the directors of the East India Company?”

“Almost every one of them, from the chairman downwards,” said the general.

“Give me an introduction to the director whom you think will do most for me, I’m anxious to be in India. I’m off the sick-list now, and I’m ready for some hard work.”

General Cuthbertson was over seventy, but the fire of military ardour was not quite extinguished​—​at any rate, something in Phil Heron’s glance rekindled the dying embers.

“And, by Jove, my lad, you’ll have it!” exclaimed the veteran. “I’ll write you a letter at once. We shall want a few thousand like you in India before this business is over.”

The blood was coursing quickly through Heron’s veins. How slow everything seemed! He already wanted to start on his journey, yet so much had to be done.

He took a cab to the gaunt, grim, dreary East India House in Leadenhall Street. Probably he would not have seen the director but for General Cuthbertson’s introduction, for the great man was full of business. As it was, Heron was quickly ushered into a spacious room, where sat a bald-headed old gentleman, with a high stand-up collar binding each cheek, and with gold spectacles resting on his nose.

“You desire, Captain Heron, to volunteer your services?” said he curtly.

“Yes; I wish to depart at once. The overland route will, I presume, get me to Calcutta in a little less than six weeks.”

“You are in a great hurry, young man.”

“Is there no cause for hurry just now, sir? What about this morning’s news from India?”

“The newspapers exaggerate,” replied the director pompously. “The Government of a century is not overturned in a day. This year, 1857, is the centenary of the taking of Calcutta by the great Clive, of the building of Fort William, and of the victory of Plassy. It would be a strange thing if, when we are about to erect a monument to Clive’s memory, the Empire, the foundations of which he laid for us, should be in jeopardy.”

Philip Heron was silent. It certainly did appear to be absurd, especially as he had no sounder arguments to advance than his own impressions.

“But we won’t argue the point. I don’t blame you for being anxious over the welfare of India. Here are some preliminary papers, which you will read over and sign, and then I should advise you to go to the War Office, and take your instructions direct from the military authorities. Good morning.”

Phil Heron was a new man. He did not care a jot for the director’s abrupt dismissal. He felt he was already on the way to India, that in two months or so he should be in Cawnpore​—​for it was to some regiment stationed there to which he desired to be attached. There might have been some difficulty in accomplishing this, for red tape is all-powerful; but maybe the War Office had private information, and knew that men would be wanted, and so before long the arrangements were made.

The next mail steamer left Southampton in two days, and he had, consequently, not much time for preparations. But the less luggage he took the better; he soon got together what was necessary, and he did not tell his sister Amy his intention until the eve of his departure. She heard him with sad eyes.

“Aren’t you very unwise to select such an unhealthy climate in your state of health?” she asked.

Heron shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m quite well, Amy,” said he. “But, health or no health, I’m going.”

“Well, it’s a great mercy there’s no war in India. I shan’t cry over you as I did when you went to the Crimea. Still, I’m puzzled. Why do you want to go to India, and in so great a hurry, too?”

Heron’s sister Amy was a little, fair, blue-eyed woman, who generally managed to get her way in everything. Her hair brushed her brother’s chin as she put one hand on each of his shoulders and looked into his face. She was shrewd, and she read his countenance like a book.

“You are going because Ruth Armitage is there,” said she quickly.

Heron laughed, but his laugh was forced. He said little more. He did not allude to the risks to which Ruth was exposed, nor did he mention the real object which was taking him so hastily to India. Had he told Amy of the workings of his mind, she would have laughed at him for a dreamer.

The next morning about twelve o’clock saw Heron at Southampton. The steamer was timed to start at half-past one, and the last consignment of luggage was being hastily deposited on board. He sought out his cabin, and, as an old campaigner​—​his Crimean experiences had taught him no end of dodges​—​he busied himself in arranging his goods and chattels so as to have that handiest which was most wanted, and then he went on deck. One of the ship’s officers approached the captain just as Philip reached him.

“High water, sir,” said he.

This was the signal. The Coromandel lazily revolved her paddles, and the huge mass began to move, but so slowly that only the gentle vibrations seemed to indicate motion. But the narrow outlet from the docks was drawing nearer, and gradually the steamer was warped out.

At a convenient distance from the docks she dropped anchor, there to await the coming of the overland mail and the late passengers. A fussy little steamer arrived alongside, and, after a quarter of an hour of intense bustle and seemingly dire confusion, all was declared to be ready, and soon after the vessel was rapidly cleaving Southampton Water towards the Channel.

It was a glorious sunset, but Philip Heron was not in the vein to enjoy it. The setting sun flooded the restless waves with a blood red, and to his excited imagination there was something ominous in the colour. Then the crimson faded away, and the cold grey of the coming night buried everything in an ashen-hued pall.

As the first was typical of the realisation of vengeance, of the lust for blood, of seething hate, and ungovernable passions, so the second suggested an abyss of gloom and despair.