Chapter XXII


Horsford stared about him in amazement. The air tasted bitter. A great black cloud hung over the city like a pall, in the distance the atmosphere was rose-tinted. The sun was blazing furiously, but its rays had a difficulty in penetrating the smoke. So much had happened during the last ten minutes that he had forgotten the terrific report, the trembling of the ground, the vibrating walls of the Salim-garh​—​the effects, so he thought, of an earthquake.

As the recollection came back he looked about for the familiar landmarks of the city. He expected to find ruin, desolation everywhere. But the great edifices of Delhi were all intact. The Jama Masjid was as stately, the Palace as imposing as ever, and he could see no change anywhere. Stay​—​what was that big expanse of vacancy to the north-west, half obscured by slowly rolling pillars of dark, dense smoke? He could see dimly figures moving at the edges of the area of vapour, some bending as they went, as though searching for something, others carrying burdens between them​—​burdens which he made out to be dhoolies, and the truth flashed across his mind.

“My God!” he cried. “The Magazine’s gone!”

It was true. The little band of immortal heroes, Willoughby, Scully, Buckley, Forrest, Edwards, Crow, and the rest had done their work well. They had destroyed the vast stores of ammunition, of the possession of which the mutineers had made sure. Horsford could only gaze spell-bound at the smoking ruins. Nara’s trembling, fragmentary words had but conveyed to him a vague sense of horror, but now the conviction that the long-simmering rebellion had risen to boiling-point was forced upon him.

If General Hewitt, after the outbreak at Meerut, had only shown a spark of resolution, of energy! No doubt he thought Delhi was safe. No doubt he believed the 54th and the 38th Sepoy regiments stationed at Delhi would prove faithful to their salt. He had his own safety to think of. He had to protect himself from an attack which never came! He had a compact body of English troops under his command, and he cooped them up. Delhi was left to its fate. The anxious men and women who had fled from the massacre within the city walls to take shelter in the Flagstaff Tower; the officers in the cantonments who had seen their men, so obedient but a few hours before, jeer and scoff and rush to join the mutineers from Meerut​—​looked in vain for help!

The roof of the Salim-garh was one big promenade enclosed by a high parapet. There were various openings leading to staircases, but before descending one of these Horsford reconnoitred his surroundings. He held out his hand to Nara, she clung to it gratefully, and together they hastened to the eastern side overlooking the Jumna. One glance was enough. The Grand Trunk Road was strongly held, the bridge of boats had been secured, and troops patrolled the river bank.

“Look​—​look!” suddenly cried the girl. “Those two poor men. They are running to the river​—​they are being pursued​—​they are swimming. Ah, they have escaped, and​—​oh, cruel​—​cruel!”

She covered her eyes with her sari to shut out the sight. Horsford set his teeth and clenched his hands. The men had come from the city chased by a couple of troopers. The horses’ hoofs sank in the soft sand, and the fugitives reached the river. But it was of no avail. The soldiers on the bank raised their muskets, levelled and deliberately shot the two swimmers.

Horsford had hoped to escape by the river. The incident told him that such an attempt​—​at all events by daylight​—​would mean death. He ran with Nara across to the other side of the Fort facing the city. Their ears were filled with a horrid din​—​shouts, yells, the screams of women, the hoarse voices of savage men, the crashing of wood, as of heavy hammers descending on doors and window shutters, the splintering of glass, the sharp report of muskets, and underneath all​—​a sort of ground bass, as it were​—​a continual growl, now rising to an angry roar, now sinking to sullen murmurs. All the narrow lanes within view were packed with seething crowds, struggling, fighting, swaying, with now and again mad rushes to some point where doubtless there was plunder. The budmash, the riffraff of vile slums such as it is impossible to picture had been let loose. Delhi had emptied its sinks of iniquity. Robbery and murder went on everywhere, and no one cared. And it was for this the soldiers had thrown off the allegiance of years, and had turned against those whom they loved and respected!

“It’s pretty bad for me,” murmured Horsford, “but for you, my poor child​—​my God! it’s frightful. Well, we must do something,” he went on desperately. “We can’t stay here. We’re bound to be discovered, and we shall be like rabbits in the open without a vestige of shelter. Look here, Nara, you must leave me——”

“No, I will not,” she burst out passionately.

“Wait a moment. Just listen. You’re of your mother’s race now. You must forget your English blood. No one will harm you by yourself​—​you belong to India. But if you’re with me​—​it will mean death. You must go back and——”

“No,” she interrupted, not now with passion, but with the calm, subdued tone of unshaken resolve. “I’m not afraid to die​—​with you, Sahib. What have I to live for? You are my only friend. I’ve no love for any one but you.”

Her large, lustrous eyes were upturned to his. There was no fear, no doubt in their fathomless depths. Horsford’s heart, and he did not check it, went out to hers. Yet his feeling was not that of love as love is understood in this world. It was something purer​—​something higher​—​some would call it the co-mingling of souls, and so it may have been; but what both were conscious of was sacrifice for each other, and in this intensity of emotion, in the supreme moment when death and life are face to face, there is consolation, courage, an exquisite pleasure.

“You shall have your own way, little Nara. I won’t let you go from me.”

It was not a time for words, but if words had to be uttered, he could have said nothing better than this. Tears of joy trembled on her dark lashes, and for an instant they stood silent, their hands clasped, faith in each other shining in their eyes.

“So,” he cried, in a tone of fierce gaiety, “we’re to be comrades. Good. Then you must help me. Tell me what was in your mind when you burst into my prison. You had some plan, eh?”

“Yes​—​yes. I know of a secret passage from the Palace to an underground place outside.”

“That sounds well. And have you found a secret passage to the Palace too without crossing the bridge?”

His tone of raillery pained her. She was desperately in earnest, and so indeed was he, but he had his own way of showing it.

“No,” she cried, “there’s no other way but by the bridge. Oh, Sahib​—​Sahib, you don’t believe me. You’re laughing at me. It is not kind.”

“Don’t trouble, little one. We’ll go to that hiding-place of yours, and we’ll cross the bridge​—​if we get there alive,” he added to himself.

He chose the nearest exit, an opening which led to a circular staircase exactly like that which he and Nara had ascended. They met no one. They heard no sounds. The fort was deserted. The prisoners had been released and had gone on with the gaolers to join the looters.

The bridge was originally constructed as a private and direct communication between the Palace and the Salim-garh. After the British possessed Delhi the King was debarred from using this passage-way, but the prohibition was, years after, withdrawn. Otherwise Horsford could hardly have been taken secretly to the prison.

The fugitives reached the bridge. Then Horsford hesitated. He could see armed men at the Palace windows. It might be safer to wait until dusk. There was no danger in staying where they were. Neither gaolers nor prisoners glutted with spoil were likely to return to the grim Salim-garh. They would be certain to go to quarters of the city more to their liking and where they could be easily relieved of their ill-gotten gains.

So the two remained in the deep shadow of the doorway overlooking the bridge and talked in low tones. Nara had much to tell. She had escaped from the hospital exactly as Nurse Barton had supposed​—​dropping from the window-sill to the soft sand beneath. Then she hastened to the shop in the bazaar where she had overheard the conversation between Sundra Bai and Muza Khan, and she discovered that Sundra Bai was lodging in the house. She disclosed herself to the old woman and made out that she was sick of being ayah to a mem-sahib and that she wanted to go back to the tuwaif’s life.

“You told the old hag that! My God! how could you!”

“I had to. There was no other way. I heard at the hospital that you had gone to Delhi. Sundra Bai wanted to know what I had been doing since I went from her. I told her lies. I would not say a word about you, Sahib. I said I did not know your name. I said I hated the English. You will forgive me, Sahib, won’t you?”

“I’ve nothing to forgive, Nara, excepting your foolishness in following me. You should have stayed with Dr. Pentreath. I asked him to tell you.”

“I know, but God willed it should be otherwise. He was right​—​was it not so? Sundra Bai has no dancing-girls now,” she went on rapidly, “she is in Zeenut Mehal’s service. She knows all about cosmetics, painting the face, washes, perfumes​—​poisons. Zeenut Mehal and the ladies of the zenana are always making her handsome presents. She has rich jewels; and she put them on just before I ran to your prison. She told me she meant to jeer at you with all her grandeur while you were lying helpless. Everything was ready for the torture​—​the wretches with knives, men with the burning charcoal and the irons. Oh, I can’t bear to think of it! But God would not permit such wickedness. When Sundra Bai was about to start with the others the soldiers from Meerut rushed into the Palace, yelling like demons and waving their swords. I slipped away unnoticed.”

“You’ve been very good and you’ve been lucky,” said he, kissing her forehead. “And now we’ll try our luck again.”

The daylight was gone and hand in hand they crossed the bridge. Everything in Delhi that day had been left to chance. Wild lawlessness, uproar, robbery, murder, reigned supreme. The Palace gate at the bridge had been opened to admit the handful of troopers who arrived with the news from Meerut and had not been shut. The two stole within the portals. They could hear the hum of voices at a distance; otherwise the Palace was as silent as the Salim-garh.

Nara was now the guide. She led Horsford into a courtyard and thence into one of the arcades it enclosed.

“We pass under the archway in the corner,” she whispered. “The stairs inside go to the zenana. Some of the panels of the wall opposite the staircase are really doors. I found that out when I was watching Sundra Bai. I saw her slide one of the panels back and disappear. That made me try the next. I found my way to the hiding-place I told you of, and——”

The girl stopped, recoiled, and pointed her finger.

“Look​—​look​—​there​—​on the ground!” she gasped.

The feeble light of the stars was sufficient to show a shapeless mass like a huge bundle. Horsford went nearer and the bundle resolved itself into a woman, her sari torn and tangled, the arms stretched out at right angles to the body. Dark patches of moisture near the head, the extremities of the arms, the feet, were of sinister significance. One glance at the unwieldy figure, at the face, was enough. It was Sundra Bai​—​dead, murdered for the sake of her jewels! The miscreants could not wait to drag her gold bangles over her hands and feet, and the rings from her fingers and toes; their sharp knives had found a quicker way.

The dead woman was lying near the sliding door of which Nara had spoken. The door was open and Horsford saw on a little bracket close to the doorway a lamp and a box of English matches. He annexed both. He struck a match. Its glare showed a regiment of quaint jars, flasks, gallipots, alembics, pots and pans. A charcoal stove stood in a recess. The air was charged with the smell of drugs and concoctions of herbs. The very sickliness of the atmosphere suggested death. Doubtless it was here that Sundra Bai prepared her nostrums. Horsford hurried back to Nara and told her of his discovery.

“It is just,” said the shuddering girl. “God has punished her for her wickedness.”

It was some time before Nara controlled her trembling fingers sufficiently to manipulate the spring of the other door; then Horsford pushed the panel back and they entered. He lit the lamp, closed the panel, slid his arm within Nara’s and the two hastened between the stone walls of a tortuous passage. They followed its twinings and twistings and emerged into a series of small vaulted cellars. Horsford was not surprised. Many of the Delhi houses were provided with similar tyekhanas. A broad step-ladder against the wall of the furthermost cellar led to a trapdoor, which Horsford forced open. The din of tumult, the mingling of countless horrid sounds, which had been inaudible while he was underground, broke upon his ear.

He found himself in a room which it was clear had been visited by looters, who, out of mere wantonness, had smashed what was not portable or not worth stealing. Through the windows​—​small openings near the ceiling​—​came a red glare, and now and again clouds of suffocating, nauseous smoke. Incendiaries were at work outside.

The house was in the Chandi Chauk. Every room had been pillaged and dismantled and the occupants had left the dwelling to its fate. Horsford and Nara ascended to the roof and from behind the parapet surveyed the terrible scene. Tongues of flame broke the darkness in every direction, the streets, the lanes were filled with a wild, surging mob.

There is no need to tell again the story of the massacre of that horrible first day. It has been described oftentimes. Horsford feared the worst but he could not realise the horror. Two things, however, were very clear to him​—​firstly, the city was in the hands of the mutineers, and secondly, the little British force in the cantonments was helpless. To regain Delhi meant the employment of a properly equipped army. And there were so few British troops in India at that moment, alas!

Their own fate​—​his and Nara’s​—​what would that be? A house which had been looted no longer presented temptation, and they might stay there and be safe, but to what end? Starvation was certain. Before day broke the lust for blood and plunder would probably be sated, and in their native dresses they might steal along in the shadow of the houses to the Lahore Gate. Of course the Cashmeer Gate was the nearest to the cantonments, but here was the centre of violence. If, as he was quite sure was the case, the 38th and the 54th had mutinied no one would be allowed to pass out of the Cashmeer Gate. But the Lahore Gate at the extreme west might not be guarded in the present state of anarchy.

Three hours went by. Where there had been flames were now patches of sullen red. A hoarse murmur, rising now and again to mocking laughter, had succeeded savage yells and frenzied shrieks. After daylight the fell work of butchery would probably recommence.

“We’re going to try to escape, little Nara,” said Horsford quietly.

“Yes, Sahib.”

This was all they said. They descended to the ground floor. The marauders had entered the house from a lane in the rear and had not troubled to close any doors. The lane curved towards the Chandi Chauk and within five minutes the two were hastening towards the Lahore Gate. Horsford was careful to keep the girl between himself and the houses. There were many gruesome sights in the roadway.

The street was full of ruffianly stragglers, but the fugitives looked too poor and wretched to be worth molesting. The Lahore Gate was quite deserted. Had an avenging force been in readiness it could have entered the city without the slightest opposition.

Soon they were in the open country and working their way north towards the cantonments. Horsford knew every inch of the ground. Many a time in the old days had he marched at the head of his company along that road which he was now traversing, possibly to encounter as enemies some of the very soldiers who once obeyed instantly his slightest word of command.

They passed many bungalows, each in its own compound; another mile or so would bring them in sight of the Flagstaff Tower. There were no mutineers or goojurs to be seen. The looters had not yet finished their work of despoiling the city, but in a few hours this would be over and they would be let loose, with their brutal appetites whetted for more pillage and blood. But danger might come from another source. The news of the mutiny and of the seizure of Delhi had spread far and wide; swarms of budmash from the surrounding villages had set out to share in the spoil and these had been joined by later mutineers from Meerut.

Soon after passing the junction of the road to the cantonments with the Karnal road, Nara became so exhausted she was on the verge of fainting. She confessed to having eaten nothing for the last twenty-four hours. The pale light of dawn showed a bungalow close by and Horsford determined to enter it. Most likely the occupants had fled to the cantonments, but something might be left behind in the way of food.

From the size of the compound and the rare plants and flowers it contained the bungalow was evidently the residence of a wealthy man. The bungalow itself was large and solid. In spite of her protests Horsford carried the girl to the verandah and sat her down while he examined the doors and windows. One of the windows was not only unfastened but open. He entered a drawing-room sumptuously furnished in the European fashion. He brought the girl into the room and laid her on the couch. Then he latched the window and set out to explore the other portions of the bungalow, especially the kitchen and the larder. Everybody was gone, and the place was in confusion. He found some portions of chicken and rice and brought them to the drawing-room.

Nara had risen from the couch and was staring at a picture on the wall. Horsford’s eyes went to it too. It was a portrait of Clare! Clare in all her fresh beauty of five years ago, a beauty which had lost nothing in the hands of the artist! Meldrum had had it painted in London during the honeymoon.

“Sahib, I told you I was maid to a lady who brought me back to India. That is she. Is it not strange? I know it’s the same lady because Clare Meldrum is written on some music on the piano.”

Fate had led them to Andrew Meldrum’s bungalow as their last refuge! And fate mercifully was moving with rapid strides. A hideous noise from without burst upon their ears. The doomed man seized the sword he had taken from Muza Khan, and turned to Nara who, her hands clasped to her breast, seemed to be patiently awaiting him. Instantly his arms were round her and their lips met in the last embrace. The girl knew, as he did, that the end had come; but before her boundless love Death lost its terrors.


“One of the most tragic mementoes of the terrible Delhi massacre has just been made public,” wrote the Calcutta correspondent of Galignani’s Messenger six months later, when Delhi had been recaptured, and little was talked about but the heroic exploit of Home, Salkeld, Burgess, Carmichael, and Smith, and the death of the gallant Nicholson. “About a week after the rebels had taken possession of the city a detachment of British soldiers was instructed to occupy a bungalow, which from its elevated position commanded the road between the Lahore and Cashmeer Gates. On entering one of the rooms they found the dead body of an Englishman and a native girl. The Englishman was easily recognised by the officer in command as Colonel Horsford, who was in Delhi on a secret mission at the time of the outbreak. There was ample evidence that Colonel Horsford had sold his life and that of his companion dearly. His sword had snapped, his fingers were still grasping the hilt; the blade was lying several feet away. The bodies of dead sepoys told their own tale. Round the girl’s neck was a thin, gold chain, to which a locket containing a miniature portrait of an English officer was attached. It is said that the girl on the mother’s side was descended from the royal family of Delhi.”

A handsome woman, richly attired, had her eyes fixed on this paragraph, her lips pressed together until they were almost bloodless. There came a tap at the door and, startled, she flung the paper behind the couch. A servant entered and announced the expected visitor, the Duc de Valençon, a man of distinguished appearance who approached the lady with an indefinable air of possession. He took the white jewelled hand extended to him and raised it to his lips with a murmured: “You are charming, Madame.”

Madame smiled coldly, accepted his proffered arm, and the two descended the staircase to the carriage and pair in waiting. They were set down at the Tuileries. The Empress Eugenie was giving one of the splendid balls identified with the Second Empire.

In the adulatory notice of the function which appeared in the Moniteur the following morning a whole paragraph was devoted to a description of the dress and jewels of “La belle Anglaise.” In these pages she is known better as Clare Meldrum.