E-text prepared by Martin Robb
AT THE POINT OF THE BAYONET:
A Tale of the Mahratta War
G. A. HENTY.
Illustrated by Wal Paget.
Preface. Chapter 1: A Faithful Nurse. Chapter 2: A Strange Bringing Up. Chapter 3: A Change In Affairs. Chapter 4: A British Resident. Chapter 5: Down To Bombay. Chapter 6: In The Company's Service. Chapter 7: An Act Of Treachery. Chapter 8: Nana's Release. Chapter 9: A Popular Tumult. Chapter 10: A Mission By Sea. Chapter 11: A Prisoner. Chapter 12: The Defence Of Johore. Chapter 13: The Break Up Of The Monsoon. Chapter 14: The Great Andaman. Chapter 15: Assaye. Chapter 16: A Disastrous Retreat. Chapter 17: An Escape. Chapter 18: An Awkward Position. Chapter 19: Bhurtpoor. Chapter 20: Home.
For a year he worked with the shikaree. Harry went up to him and salaamed. Harry . . . saw a party of soldiers coming along the road. There was a little haggling over the terms. Harry ran up to the proclamation and tore it down. As he rode through the streets he saw . . . how fierce a feeling of resentment had been excited by the news. 'Well, sir, I will now return to shore,' the governor said. Without a cry the rajah fell back, shot through the head. The rattle of musketry broke out again. Plan of the Battle of Assaye. Plan of the Battle of Laswaree. Harry succeeded in crossing the river. Abdool at once slipped down. Harry drew out his handkerchief, and waved it. View of the Rajah's Palace, Bhurtpoor.
The story of the war in which the power of the great Mahratta confederacy was broken is one of the most stirring pages of the campaigns which, begun by Clive, ended in the firm establishment of our great empire in the Indian Peninsula. When the struggle began, the Mahrattas were masters of no small portion of India; their territory comprising the whole country between Bombay and Delhi, and stretching down from Rajputana to Allahabad; while in the south they were lords of the district of Cuttack, thereby separating Madras from Calcutta. The jealousies of the great Mahratta leaders, Holkar and Scindia, who were constantly at war with each other, or with the Peishwa at Poona, greatly facilitated our operations; and enabled us, although at the cost of much blood, to free a large portion of India from a race that was a scourge—faithless, intriguing and crafty; cruel, and reckless of life. The Mahrattas, conquering race as they were, yet failed in the one virtue of courage. They could sweep the land with hordes of wild horsemen, could harry peaceful districts and tyrannize over the towns they conquered; but they were unable to make an effective stand against British bayonets and British sabres. They were a race of freebooters; and even the most sentimental humanitarian can feel no regret at the overthrow of a power that possessed no single claim to our admiration, and weighed like an incubus upon the peoples it oppressed. The history of the Mahrattas, as written by Grant Duff, whose account I have, throughout, followed, is one long record of perfidy, murder, and crime of all sorts.
Chapter 1: A Faithful Nurse.
On a swell of ground, in the wild country extending from Bombay to the foot of the Ghauts, stood a small camp. In the centre was a large pavilion; the residence, for the time, of Major Lindsay, an officer whose charge was to keep the peace in the district. It was no easy matter. The inhabitants, wild and lawless, lived in small villages scattered about the rough country, for the most part covered with forest, and subject to depredations by the robber bands who had their strongholds among the hills. Major Lindsay had with him a party of twenty troopers, not for defence—there was little fear of attack by the natives of the Concan—but to add to his authority, to aid in the collection of the small tax paid by each community, and to deter the mountain robbers from descending on to the plain. He generally spent the cool season in going his rounds while, during the hot weather, his headquarters were at Bombay.
He had with him his wife and infant child. The child was some three months old, and was looked after by an ayah, who had been in Major Lindsay's service ten years; for three elder children had been born to him—all, however, dying from the effects of the climate before reaching the age of five. The ayah had nursed each, in succession, and had become greatly attached to the family, especially to her youngest charge. She had come to speak English well; but with the child she always talked in her native tongue, as the major saw the advantage it would prove to the boy, when he grew up, to be able to speak fluently one, at least, of the native languages.
The nurse was a Mahratta. She had been in the service of the British Resident at Poona and, when he was recalled, had entered that of Major Lindsay, at that time a captain who acted as secretary to the Resident.
A young officer from Bombay had just ridden out, to spend a day or two with the major, and was sitting with him at the entrance to the tent.
"The news from the army," he said, "is most unsatisfactory. As you know, to the astonishment of everyone Colonel Egerton was appointed to the command, in spite of the fact that he was so infirm as to be altogether unfit for active service; and Mostyn, our late Resident at Poona, and Carnac accompanied him as deputies of the Council."
"That is altogether a bad arrangement," the major said. "It has always been a great disadvantage for a general to be accompanied by civilians, with power to thwart his combinations. Against Mostyn's appointment no one could raise any objection as, having been for some years at Poona, he understands the Mahrattas, and indeed is much liked by them, so that in any negotiations he would have far more chance of success than a stranger; but Carnac is hot headed and obstinate, with a very high idea of his own importance, and it is certain that there will be difficulties between him and Egerton."
"I am sorry to say, Major, that these anticipations were very speedily verified. As you know, the advance party landed at Aptee, on November 23rd, and seized the roads over the gorge; and on the 25th the main body disembarked at Panwell. No sooner had they got there than there was a quarrel between Egerton and Carnac. Most unfortunately Mostyn, who would have acted as mediator, was taken ill on the very day after landing, and was obliged to return to Bombay; and I hear there is hardly any chance of his recovery. The army did not reach the top of the Ghauts till the 23rd of December—instead of, at the latest, three days after landing—and actually spent eleven days before it arrived at Karlee, only eight miles in advance of the Bhore Ghauts. Of course this encouraged the enemy, and gave plenty of time for them to assemble and make all their arrangements and, when we last heard, they were harassing our march. For the past two days no news has arrived, and there seems to be little doubt that the Mahrattas have closed in round their rear, and cut off all communications."
"It is monstrous that they should march so slowly. The whole thing has been a hideous blunder, and the idea of encumbering a force of four thousand men with something like thirty thousand camp followers, and with a train of no less than nineteen thousand bullocks, to say nothing of other draught animals, is the most preposterous thing I ever heard of. In fact, the whole thing has been grossly mismanaged.
"I don't say that the conduct of the Mahrattas has not for some time been doubtful, if not threatening. It is well known that the Governor General and the Council at Calcutta have most strongly disapproved of the whole conduct of the Council at Bombay. Indeed, no explanation has ever been given as to why they took up the cause of Rugoba, the scoundrel who grasped the crown; and who was privy to, if he did not instigate, the murder of his nephew, the young Peishwa.
"He was not unopposed, for Nana Furnuwees and Hurry Punt, two of the leading Mahratta ministers, formed a regency under Gunga Bye, the widow of the murdered Peishwa. While matters were undecided, the Bombay Council opened communications with Rugoba, who they thought was likely to be successful; and promised to assist him, if he would advance a considerable sum of money, and cede to the Company Salsette, the small islands contiguous to Bombay and Bassein, which had been captured from the Portuguese by the Mahrattas—an altogether inexcusable arrangement, as the Mahrattas were at peace with us, and Rugoba was not in a position to hand the islands over. That matter, however, was settled by sending an expedition, which captured Salsette and Tannah in 1775, four years ago. Since then Rugoba has become a fugitive and, without a shadow of reason, is making war against the whole force of the Mahratta confederacy; who, although divided amongst themselves and frequently engaged in the struggles for supremacy, have united against us—for they say that Scindia, Holkar, and Hurry Punt are in command of their army. To send four thousand men, of whom less than six hundred are Europeans, against the whole Mahratta power is a desperate step.
"I know we have fought and won against greater odds, many times in the history of India; but our forces have always been well led, marched with the smallest amount of baggage possible, and made up for inferiority in numbers by speed, activity, and dash. Here, on the contrary, we have a force hampered to an unheard-of degree by baggage and camp followers; with an invalid at its head, controlled by two civilians; and moving at a rate which, in itself, testifies to divided councils and utter incompetency on the part of its commander. It is almost impossible even to hope for success, under such conditions."
"The lookout is certainly bad," the younger officer agreed. "However, before now the fighting powers of the British soldier have made up for the blunders of his commanders; and we may hope that this will be the case, now."
"If a disaster happen," the major said, "we shall have the Mahrattas down at the gates of Bombay; and as soon as I hear a rumour of it—and news travels wonderfully fast among the natives—I shall return to the city."
"Oh, I don't think you need fear anything of that sort, Major! Besides, this is not on the direct line between the Ghauts and the city. And even if they find they cannot push on, I should say our force would be able to secure their retreat. The Mahratta horse will never be able to break our squares; but of course, in that case we should have to abandon all our baggage and baggage animals."
"I agree with you that the Mahrattas would doubtless hang on the skirts of our force, and follow them down the Bhore Ghaut, and so would not come anywhere near us; but they might detach flying parties to burn and plunder, as is their custom. Brave as they are, the Mahrattas do not fight for the love of fighting, but simply from the hope of plunder and of enlarging their territories.
"Well, we may hope, in a day or two, to hear that a battle has been fought, and that a victory has been won. Not that one victory would settle the matter, for the Mahratta force consists almost entirely of cavalry and, as we have only a handful, they would, if beaten, simply ride off and be ready to fight again, another day. If we had pushed on and occupied Poona, directly we landed—which should have been easy enough, if the baggage train had been left behind, for it is but forty miles from Panwell to the Mahratta capital—the position would have been altogether different. The Mahrattas would not have had time to collect their forces, and we should probably have met with no opposition and, once in Poona, could have held it against the whole Mahratta force. Besides, it is certain that some of the chiefs, seeing that Rugoba was likely to be made Peishwa, would have come to the conclusion that it would be best for them to side with him.
"Of course, the baggage should all have been left at Panwell and, in that case, the force could have entered Poona three days after landing, instead of delaying from the 25th of November until today, the 7th of January; and even now, at their present rate of advance, they may be another fortnight before they arrive at Poona. I don't think there has been so disgraceful a business since we first put foot in India.
"At any rate, I shall send Mary and the child down to Bombay, tomorrow. It is all very well to have her with me, when everything is peaceable; but although I do not think there is any actual risk, it is as well that, in turbulent times like these, with nothing but a force under such incompetent leading between us and a powerful and active enemy, she should be safe at Bombay."
Just before daybreak, next morning, there was a sudden shout from one of the sentries; who had for the first time been posted round the camp. The warning was followed by a fierce rush, and a large body of horse and foot charged into the camp. The escort were, for the most part, killed as they issued from their tents. The major and his friend were shot down as they sallied out, sword in hand. The same fate befell Mrs. Lindsay.
Then the Mahrattas proceeded to loot the camp. The ayah had thrust the child underneath the wall of the tent, at the first alarm. A Mahratta seized her, and would have cut her down, had she not recognized him by the light of the lamp which hung from the tent ridge.
"Why, cousin Sufder," she exclaimed, "do you not know me?"
He loosed his hold, and stood back and gazed at her.
"Why, Soyera," he exclaimed, "is it you? It is more than ten years since I saw you!
"It is my cousin," he said to some of his companions who were standing round, "my mother's sister's child."
"Don't be alarmed," he went on, to the woman, "no one will harm you. I am one of the captains of this party."
"I must speak to you alone, Sufder."
She went outside the tent with him.
"You have nothing to fear," he said. "You shall go back with us to Jooneer. I have a house there, and you can stay with my wife. Besides, there are many of your people still alive."
"But that is not all, Sufder. I was ayah to the major and his wife—whom your people have just killed, and whom I loved dearly—and in my charge is their child. He is but a few months old, and I must take him with me."
"It is impossible," Sufder replied. "No white man, woman, or child would be safe in the Deccan, at present."
"No one would see his face," the woman said. "I would wrap him up, and will give out that he is my own child. As soon as we get up the Ghauts I would stain his face and skin, and no one would know that he was white. If you will not let me do it, tell your men to cut me down. I should not care to live, if the child were gone as well as his father and mother. You cannot tell how kind they were to me. You would not have me ungrateful, would you, Sufder?"
"Well, well," the man said good naturedly, though somewhat impatiently, "do as you like; but if any harm comes of it, mind it is not my fault."
Thankful for the permission, Soyera hurried round to the back of the tent, picked up the child and wrapped it in her robe; and then when, after firing the place, the Mahrattas retired, she fell in behind them, and followed them in the toilsome climb up the mountains, keeping so far behind that none questioned her. Once or twice Sufder dropped back to speak to her.
"It is a foolish trick of yours," he said, "and I fear that trouble will come of it."
"I don't see why it should," she replied. "The child will come to speak Mahratta and, when he is stained, none will guess that he is English. In time, I may be able to restore him to his own people."
The other shook his head.
"That is not likely," he said, "for before many weeks, we shall have driven them into the sea."
"Then he must remain a Mahratta," she said, "until he is able to make his way to join the English in Madras or Calcutta."
"You are an obstinate woman, and always have been so; else you would not have left your people to go to be servant among the whites. However, I will do what I can for you, for the sake of my mother's sister and of our kinship."
On the way up the hills Soyera stopped, several times, to pick berries. When they halted she went aside and pounded them, and then boiled them in some water in a lota—a copper vessel—Sufder lent her for the purpose, and dyed the child's head and body with it, producing a colour corresponding to her own.
The party, which was composed of men from several towns and villages, broke up the next morning.
"Have you money?" Sufder asked her, as she was about to start alone on her journey.
"Yes; my savings were all lodged for me, by Major Lindsay, with some merchants at Bombay; but I have twenty rupees sewn up in my garments."
"As to your savings, Soyera, you are not likely to see them again, for we shall make a clean sweep of Bombay. However, twenty rupees will be useful to you, and would keep you for three or four months, if you needed but, as you are going to my wife, you will not want them.
"Take this dagger. When you show it to her, she will know that you come from me; but mind, she is, like most women, given to gossip; therefore I warn you not to let her into the secret of this child's birth, for if you did so, half the town would know it in the course of a day or two.
"Now, I must go back with my men to join a party who are on their way to fight the English. I should have gone there direct, but met the others starting on this marauding expedition, which was so much to the taste of my men that I could not restrain them from joining. I shall see you at Jooneer, as soon as matters are finished with the English; then I shall, after staying a few days there, rejoin Scindia, in whose service I am."
Soyera started on her way. At the villages through which she passed, she was questioned as to where she came from; and replied that she had been living down near Bombay but, now that the English were going to fight the Mahrattas, she was coming home, having lost her husband a few months before.
As the road to Jooneer diverged widely from that to Poona, she was asked no questions about the war. All were confident that the defeat of the English was certain, now that Scindia and Holkar and the government of the Peishwa had laid aside their mutual jealousies, and had joined for the purpose of crushing the whites.
On arriving, after two days' journey, at Jooneer, she went to the address that Sufder had given her; but was coldly received by his wife.
"As it is Sufder's order, of course I must take you in," she said, "but when he returns, I shall tell him that I do not want another woman and child in the house. Why do you not go to your own people? As you are Sufder's cousin, you must be the sister of Ramdass. Why should you not go to him?"
"I will gladly do so, if you will tell me where he lives."
"He has a small farm. You must have passed it, as you came along. It is about a mile from here."
"I will go to him at once," Soyera said.
"No, no," the woman exclaimed; "that will never do. You must stop a day or two here. Sufder would be angry, indeed, were he to find that you did not remain here; and would blame me for it. I should be willing enough for you to stay a week, or a month; that is a different thing from becoming an inmate of the house."
"I will wait till tomorrow, for I have made a long two days' journey from the top of the Ghauts and, as I am not accustomed to walking, my feet are sore. In the morning I will go and see my brother. I did not so much as know that he was alive. I feel sure he will take me in, willingly; for he is but two years older than myself, and was always kind to me."
Accordingly the next morning she retraced her steps, and had no difficulty in finding the farm of Ramdass. Choosing the time when he would be likely to be in for his dinner, Soyera walked up to the door of the house, which was standing open.
As she stood there, hesitating, Ramdass came out. He was a man of some forty years of age, with a pleasant and kindly face. He looked at her enquiringly.
"Do you not know me, Ramdass?" she asked.
"Why, 'tis Soyera!" he exclaimed. "And so you have come back, after all these years—thirteen, is it not, since you went away?
"Welcome back, little sister!" and he raised his voice, and called, "Anundee!"
A young woman, two or three and twenty years of age, came to the door.
"Wife," he said, "this is my sister Soyera, of whom you have often heard me speak.
"Soyera, this is my wife. We have been married six years; but come in, and let us talk things over.
"You have come home for good, I hope," he said. "So you too have married and, as you come alone with your child, have, I suppose, had the misfortune to lose your husband?"
"Yes, I was alone in the world, and came hither not knowing whether you were alive or dead; but feeling sure of a welcome, if I found you."
"And you were not mistaken," he said heartily.
"Anundee, you will, I am sure, join me in the welcome; and willingly give my sister and her child a place in our home?"
"Assuredly. It will be pleasant for me, when you are in the fields, to have some one to talk to, and perhaps to help me about the house."
Soyera saw that she was speaking sincerely.
"Thank you, Anundee; you may be sure that I shall not be idle. I have been accustomed to work, and can take much off your hands; and will look after your two children;" for two boys, three or four years old, were standing before her, staring at the newcomer.
"That will be pleasant, Soyera; indeed, sometimes they hinder me much in my work."
"I am accustomed to children, Anundee, as I was for years nurse to English children, and know their ways."
"Well, now let us to dinner," Ramdass broke in. "I am hungry, and want to be off again. There is much to do in the fields."
The woman took a pot off the embers of a wood fire, and poured its contents into a dish. The meal consisted of a species of pulse boiled with ghee, with peppers and other condiments added.
"And how did you like being among the English, Soyera?"
"I liked it very well," the woman said. "They are very kind and considerate to nurses and, although they get angry when the gorrawallah or other men neglect their duty, they do not punish them as a Mahratta master would do. They are not double faced; when they say a thing they mean it, and their word can always be trusted. As a people, no doubt they are anxious to extend their dominion; but they do not wish to do so for personal gain. They are not like the princes here, who go to war to gain territory and revenue. It was reasonable that they should wish to increase their lands; for they are almost shut up in Bombay, with Salsette and the other islands occupied by us, who may, any day, be their enemies."
Her brother laughed.
"It seems to me, Soyera, that you have come to prefer these English people to your own countrymen."
"I say not that, Ramdass. You asked me how I liked them, and I have told you. You yourself know how the tax collectors grind down the people; how Scindia and Holkar and the Peishwa are always fighting each other. Do you know that, in Bombay, the meanest man could not be put to death, unless fairly tried; while among the Mahrattas men are executed on the merest excuse or, if not executed, are murdered?"
"That is true enough," Ramdass said; "none of the three princes would hesitate to put to death anyone who stood in his way, and it seems strange to me that even the Brahmins, who would not take the life even of a troublesome insect, yet support the men who have killed scores of other people. But it is no use grumbling; the thing has always been, and I suppose always will be. It is not only so in the Deccan, but in the Nizam's dominions, in Mysore and, so far as I know, in Oude and Delhi. It seems so natural to us that the powerful should oppress the weak, and that one prince should go to war with another, that we hardly give the matter a thought; but though, as you say, the English in Bombay may rule wisely, and dislike taking life, they are doing now just as our princes do—they are making war with us."
"That is true but, from what I have heard when the English sahibs were speaking together, it is everything to them that a prince favourable to them should rule at Poonah for, were Holkar and Scindia to become all powerful, and place one of their people on the seat of the Peishwa, the next step might be that a great Mahratta force would descend the Ghauts, capture Bombay, and slay every white man in it."
"But they are a mere handful," Ramdass said. "How can they think of invading a nation like ours?"
"Because they know, at least they believe, that Scindia, Holkar, and the Peishwa are all so jealous of each other that they will never act together. Then you see what they have done round Madras and Bengal and, few as they are, they have won battles against the great princes; and lastly, my mistress has told me that, although there are but few here, there are many at home; and they could, if they chose, send out twenty soldiers for every one there is here.
"Besides, it is not these alone who fight. The natives enlist under them, and aid them in their conquests; and this shows, at least, that they are well treated, and have confidence in the good faith of the English."
"It is all very well, Soyera, to talk that way; but I would as willingly believe that the stars will fall from the sky as that these Englishmen, who simply live in Bombay because we suffer them to do so, should ever conquer the Mahrattas, as they have subdued other portions of India where, as everyone knows, the people are not warlike, and have always been conquered without difficulty.
"Look at our power! At Delhi the emperor is a puppet in our hands, and it is the same in all the districts on the plain of the great river. The Rajpoots fear us, and even the Pindaries would not dare carry their raids into our country. That a small body of merchants and soldiers should threaten us seems, to me, altogether absurd."
"Well, brother, we will not argue about it. Time will show. As a woman of the Mahrattas, I trust that day will never come; but as one who knows the English, I have my fears. Of one thing I am sure, that were they masters here, the cultivators would be vastly better off than they are at present."
"What do you think of my sister's opinions, Anundee?"
"I do not know what to think," the young woman said; "but Soyera has seen much, and is a wise woman, and what she says are no idle words. To us it seems impossible, when we know that the Mahrattas can place a hundred thousand horsemen in the field; but I own that, from what we know of the English, it might be better for people like us to have such masters."
"And now, Soyera," Ramdass said, when he returned from his work in the evening, "tell us more about yourself. First, how did you learn where I was living?"
"I learned it from the wife of our cousin Sufder."
"How did you fall in with him?"
"Well, I must tell you something. I had meant to keep it entirely to myself, but I know that you and Anundee will keep my secret."
"Assuredly we will. I am not a man to talk of other people's affairs and, as to Anundee, you can trust her with your life."
"Well, in the first place, I deceived you; or rather you deceived yourself, when you said, 'I see that you have been married;' but the children were here, and so I could not explain. The infant is not mine. It is the son of my dear master and mistress, both of whom were killed, three days ago, by bands—of which Sufder commanded one—who attacked them suddenly, by night."
"What! Is the child white?" Ramdass asked, in a tone of alarm.
"It is not white, because I have stained the skin; but it is the child of English parents. I will tell you how it happened."
And she related the instances of the attack upon the little camp, the death of her master and mistress, another white officer, and all their escort; told how she had hidden the child under the cover of the tent, how Sufder had saved her life, and her subsequent conversation with him regarding the child.
"Now, what do you intend to do with him, Soyera?"
"I intend to bring him up as my own. I shall keep his skin stained, and no one can suspect that he is not mine."
"Then you do not think of restoring him to his people?"
"Not until he grows up. He has neither father nor mother, and to whom could I hand him, now? Moreover if, as you say, our people intend to drive the English from Bombay, his fate would be certain. When I am by myself with him, I shall talk to him in English, as soon as he is old enough to understand that he must not speak in that language to others; then, when he joins his own people, he will be able to converse with them. In the ten years I have spent in English service I have come to speak their language well. Though I cannot teach him the knowledge of the English, I can do much to fit him to take his place as an Englishman, when the time comes."
"It is a risky business," her brother said, "but I do not say that it cannot be carried out; at any rate, since you have so decided to keep him, I can see no better plan."
Two days later, Sufder came in.
"So you got here safely, Soyera?"
"Yes, I had no trouble. But I did not expect you back so soon."
"The matter is all settled, though I think we were wrong to grant any terms to the English. We had them in our power, and should have finished the matter, straight off."
Delay and inactivity, the natural consequences of utter incompetence and of divided councillors, had occurred. Colonel Egerton, in consequence of sickness, had resigned the command; and had been succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Cockburn. On the 9th of January they were within eighteen miles of Poona, and they had still three weeks' provisions with them. Two or three skirmishes had taken place, but without any result; yet Mr. Carnac, without having suffered any reverse, and now within a day's march of the capital, proposed that a retreat should be made, at once.
The proposal was combated by Captain Hartley, a gallant young officer, and Mr. Holmes of the Civil Service. Cockburn, being called upon for his opinion, said he had no doubt the army could penetrate to Poona; but that it would be impossible for it to protect its enormous baggage train. Mr. Carnac, however, persisted in his opinion, in spite of the prayers of Rugoba and, at eleven o'clock on the night of the 11th of January, the heavy guns were thrown into a large pool, a quantity of stores burnt, and the force began its retreat, in face of enemies estimated differently at from fifty to a hundred thousand men.
Against such vigilant foes there was but little hope, indeed, that the movement would be unnoticed and, at two o'clock in the morning, a party of horse attacked the advance guard. Cockburn sent forward two companies of Europeans to support them, but the Mahrattas had succeeded in plundering part of the baggage.
In a very short time the rear was also attacked. This was covered by some six companies of Sepoys, with two guns, commanded by Captain Hartley. These received the charge of the enemy's horse and foot with great steadiness and, several times, took the offensive and drove their assailants back.
When morning broke, the little force found themselves altogether surrounded by the whole army of the Mahrattas. Hartley's Sepoys were now sorely pressed, but still maintained their position, and were reinforced by five companies of Europeans and two more companies of Sepoys. With this support, Hartley beat off every attack. At ten o'clock he received orders from Colonel Cockburn to retreat, but the officer who carried the message returned, begging that he would allow Captain Hartley to await a more favourable opportunity. Cockburn agreed to this, but sent Major Frederick to take command of the rear, with orders to retire on the main body. This movement he effected without serious loss, and joined the rest of the force at the village of Wurgaom.
It was already crowded with camp followers, and the wildest confusion reigned. The enemy's horse took advantage of this and charged through the baggage, and the troops were unable to act with effect, being mixed up with the crowd of fugitives. However, they soon extricated themselves, drove off the enemy, and placed the guns in commanding positions round the village. At four o'clock the enemy retired.
Early the next morning the Mahratta artillery opened fire on the village. Some of the Sepoy troops now became dispirited; but Hartley's men stood firm, and the Mahrattas did not venture to attack. The loss on the previous day was found to amount to three hundred and fifty-two killed, wounded, or missing; including many who had deserted during the night. Among the killed and wounded were fifteen European officers, whose loss was a great misfortune for, although the Sepoys fight well under their European officers, they lose heart altogether if not so led.
Mr. Palmer, the secretary of the committee, was now sent to negotiate with the enemy. The first demand made was the surrender of Rugoba; which the committee would have agreed to, but Rugoba had privately arranged to surrender to Scindia. The next demand was that the committee should enter on a treaty, for the surrender of the greater part of the territory of the Bombay Government, together with the revenue of Broach and Surat. These terms were so hard that even the craven committee, who were entirely responsible for the disaster, hesitated to accept them.
Cockburn was asked whether a retreat was wholly impracticable, and he declared that it was so. Captain Hartley protested against this opinion, and showed how a retreat could be managed. His opinion was altogether overruled, and Mr. Holmes was sent with powers to conclude the treaty—which, however, the committee never intended to observe.
Scindia took the principal part in arranging the details, superseding the authority of Nana Furnuwees, the Peishwa's minister. Scindia's favour was purchased by a private promise to bestow upon him the English share of Broach, besides a sum of forty-one thousand rupees as presents to his servants.
For their share in this miserable business Mr. Carnac, Colonel Egerton, and Colonel Cockburn were dismissed from the Company's service; and Captain Hartley was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. The Governor of Bombay refused to ratify the treaty, on the ground that the officials with the expedition had no power whatever to enter into any arrangement, without the matter being previously submitted to, and approved by, the Government. Fortunately, at this moment a force that had been despatched from Bengal, under Colonel Goddard, to support Rugoba was nearing the scene of action; and that officer, learning the danger to which Bombay was exposed, took the responsibility and, marching from Hoosingabad, avoided a body of twenty-two thousand horse, which had been despatched from Poona to cut him off, and reached Surat without encountering any opposition.
This welcome reinforcement materially altered the situation, and Bombay lay no longer at the mercy of the Mahrattas. There was now Goddard's force, and the army that had fallen back from Poona and, what was still more important, Scindia had by his secret convention deserted the confederacy; and it was morally certain that neither the Peishwa nor Holkar would send his forces against Bombay, leaving to Scindia the power of grasping the supreme authority in the Deccan during their absence.
In 1779 General Goddard, who was now in command at Bombay, entered into negotiations with Nana Furnuwees. These were carried on for some months; but were brought to a conclusion by Nana declaring that the surrender of Salsette, and the person of Rugoba, who was again a fugitive in Bombay, were preliminaries to any treaty. Bombay received a reinforcement of a European regiment, a battalion of Sepoys, and a hundred artillerymen, from Madras; but before they arrived Goddard's force had captured Dubhoy, and a treaty had been effected.
The town of Ahmedabad was to be handed over to our ally, Futteh Sing; but it declined to surrender, and was taken by assault, the storming party being commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Hartley.
Scindia had as usual changed sides, and was now operating in conjunction with Nana; and he and Holkar, with twenty thousand horse, marched to Baroda. Goddard advanced to give battle; but Scindia, to gain time, opened negotiations.
Goddard, however, was not to be duped. The negotiations were broken off, and he advanced against the Mahrattas. Their horse, as usual, charged; but were driven back by the artillery fire, and routed by a regiment of Bengal cavalry. Scindia, however, encamped a short distance off but, when Goddard again advanced to the attack, retired.
Goddard, however, was not to be drawn into pursuit. He captured some small forts, and sent Colonel Hartley to relieve Kallan, which was being besieged by the Mahrattas. Hartley surprised their camp, pursued them for some miles, and killed a great number; while Lieutenant Welsh, who had been sent forward to relieve Surat—which was threatened by a large Mahratta force—defeated these, killed upwards of a hundred, and captured their guns; while one of Scindia's detachments, on the banks of the Nerbuddah, was routed by a detachment of Bengal Sepoys under Major Forbes.
On the other side of India, great successes had been gained by a Bengal force under the command of Captain Popham; who attacked and routed a body of plundering Mahrattas, captured by assault the strong fort of Lahar, and not only carried by surprise the fortress of Gwalior, regarded by the natives as impregnable, but took it without the loss of a single man.
In December, General Goddard laid siege to Bassein. He and Hartley, whose force was covering the siege, were attacked on the 11th of that month by twenty thousand cavalry and infantry. These, however, were defeated after making several desperate charges; and on the following day another battle took place, in which the Mahrattas were totally routed, and their general killed, after which Bassein surrendered.
Chapter 2: A Strange Bringing Up.
The war went on during the following year, but in 1782 peace was concluded. In 1784, the Mahrattas joined the Nizam and the British in an alliance, having for its object the overthrow of Mysore; which state, first under Hyder Ali, and afterwards under his son Tippoo, was a source of danger to all the allies.
In the meantime Harry Lindsay, who was now called Puntojee, had been living quietly on the farm of Ramdass; and no suspicion whatever had been excited in the minds of the neighbours, or of any of the people of Jooneer, that he was aught but what he seemed—the son of Soyera. Once a week he was re-stained; and even his playmates, the two sons of Ramdass, believed that he was, like themselves, a young Mahratta. They knew that, sometimes, their aunt talked to the child for hours in a strange language; but she led them to believe it was the dialect of Bombay, which she thought it might be useful for him to learn.
The child was shrewd and intelligent, and strictly obeyed Soyera's instructions never, on any account, to talk in that language with her except when they were alone; for she said that, if he did so, some great misfortune would happen to him.
Thus, at six, he was able to speak English and Mahratta with equal facility. As soon as his hair began to grow, it had also been dyed; for its colour was fair, and would at once have excited attention. He was a sturdy boy, and had never known a day's illness.
Four more years passed, and Soyera then revealed to him the fact that she was not, as he supposed, his mother, but that he was of English parents; and related to him the manner in which they had come by their death, and how she had saved him.
"The language which you are speaking," she said, "is English. I spoke truly, when I said it was the language in use in Bombay; for it is the tongue of the white men there. Now you will understand why I wanted you not to speak in it, to anyone but myself; and why I have stained your skin, once a week. At present we are at peace with the English; but there may be war again, at any time, and in that case were it known that you are white, your life would not be safe for a moment; or you might be thrown into some dungeon, where you would perish miserably."
She then explained to him why she had not attempted to take him down to Bombay, and restore him to his countrymen. She had always hoped the time would come when she could do so but, until he grew up to manhood, it was necessary that he should stay with her; for, being without friends in Bombay he would, as a boy, be unable to earn his living.
The boy was greatly affected at the news. There were things that he had never been able to understand; especially why Soyera should consider it necessary to wash him with dye so often, when neither his cousins nor the other children of his acquaintance were so treated—as far as he knew, for as he had been strictly charged never to speak of the process, which he considered an infliction, he had never asked questions of others. He had never, therefore, for a moment suspected that he was not like those around him. He knew that he was stronger than other boys of his own age; more fond of exercise, and leader in all their games; but he had accepted this as a natural accident. The fact that he belonged to the race that were masters of southern India, and had conquered and slain the Nabob of Bengal, was a gratification to him but, at present, the thought that he might some day have to join them, and leave all those he loved behind, far overpowered this feeling.
"I shall never become English, if you do not go with me," he said. "You saved my life, and have been a mother to me. Why should I go away from your side, to people that I know nothing of, whose ways would be all strange to me?"
"It is right that you should do so, Puntojee—I will not call you by your proper name, Harry Lindsay, lest it should slip out before others. Your life should be spent among your own people; who, I think, will some day rule over all India. They are a great people, with learning of many things unknown here, from whom I always received the greatest kindness. They are not, like the Mahrattas, always quarrelling among themselves; they are not deceitful, and they are honourable. You should be proud to belong to them, and I have no doubt some day you will be so; though at present it is natural that, knowing no place but this, you should not like the thought of leaving."
Harry Lindsay, whose spirits had hitherto been almost inexhaustible, and who had never been happy when sitting quiet, was greatly impressed with what he had heard and, for some time, he withdrew himself almost entirely from the sports of his friends, hiding himself in the groves from their importunities, and thinking over the strange position in which he was placed.
Soyera at last remonstrated with him.
"If I had thought you would take this matter to heart, Puntojee, I should not have told you about it. I did so because I thought you could scarcely be stained, much longer, without demanding the reason for what must have seemed so strange a thing.
"I do not want you to withdraw yourself from your playmates, or to cease from your games. Your doing so will, if it continues, excite talk. Your friends will think that a spell has fallen upon you, and will shun you. I want you to grow up such as your father was—strong and brave, and skilful in arms—and to do this you must be alert and active. It may well be that you should not join your countrymen until you are able to play the part of a man, which will not be for ten years yet; but you know that my cousin Sufder has promised that, as soon as you are able to carry arms, he will procure a post for you under Scindia.
"There you will learn much, and see something of the world whereas, if you remain here, you would grow up like other cultivators, and would make but a bad impression among your countrymen, when you join them. Sufder himself has promised to teach you the use of arms and, as all say he is very skilful, you could have no better master.
"At any rate, I wish you to resume your former habits, to exercise your body in every way, so that you may grow up so strong and active that, when you join your countrymen, they will feel you are well worthy of them. They think much of such things, and it is by their love for exercise and sport that they so harden their frames that, in battle, our bravest peoples cannot stand against them."
"But the Mahrattas are strong, mother?"
"Yes, they can stand great fatigues; living, as they do, so constantly on horseback but, like all the people of India, they are not fond of exercise, save when at war. That is the difference between us and the English. These will get up at daybreak, go for long rides, hunt the wild boar or the tigers in the jungles of the Concan, or the bears among the Ghauts. Exercise to them is a pleasure; and we in the service of the English have often wondered at the way in which they willingly endure fatigues, when they might pass their time sitting quietly in their verandahs. But I came to understand that it was to this love of theirs, for outdoor exercise, that they owed their strength and the firmness of their courage. None can say that the Mahrattas are not brave but, although they will charge gallantly, they soon disperse if the day goes against them.
"So also with the soldiers of Tippoo. They overran Arcot and threatened Madras; Tanjore and the Carnatic were all in their hands; and yet the English never lost their firmness and, little by little, drove Tippoo's troops from the lands they had conquered; and it may be that, ere long, Tippoo will be a fugitive, and his dominions divided among those whom he has provoked.
"Is it not wonderful that, while not very many years ago the Whites were merely a handful, living on sufferance in Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, they are now masters of southern India and half of Bengal; and even venture to engage a great empire like that of the Mahrattas, stretching from the sea on the west to Delhi, and holding the mastery over all central India? There must be something extraordinary about these men. Why, you would scarce believe it, but I have seen often, and wondered always; when they have an entertainment, instead of sitting quietly 'and having dancing girls to posture for their amusement, they dance themselves with their women—not a mere movement of the body and hands, such as you see among our dancers, but violent dancing, exhausting themselves till the perspiration streams from their faces—and this both men and women regard as amusement; so, Puntojee, if you are to take your place among your countrymen again, you must accustom yourself to fatigues, and strengthen your body in every way; or you will be regarded with contempt as one who, although of their blood, has grown degenerate and unworthy of them."
"I will do so," the boy said. "You shall not complain of me, again. Hitherto I have played for amusement, and because I liked to exercise my limbs, and to show the others that I could run faster and was stronger than they were; but in future I shall have a motive in doing so, and will strive to be worthy of my father."
From that time, Harry Lindsay devoted himself to exercises. He learnt from Sufder, when he visited his native town, and from old soldiers, when he was away, to use a sword and dagger, to hurl a light spear accurately, to shoot straight with a musket, that Sufder had picked up on the field of battle at Karlee, and also with the pistol. He rose at daybreak, and walked for miles before coming in to his morning meal; and exercised the muscles of his arms, not only by the use of the sword, but by holding heavy stones at arm's length.
Soyera, although still retaining her own religion, had carefully instructed him in that of the English; with which she had, during her service, become fully acquainted.
"I am only a servant, an ignorant woman, and it is not for me to decide which religion is the best, and I have never thought of giving up that of my people; but the religion of the Christians is much simpler than ours. They believe in one God, only; and in his Son who, like Buddha, was a great saint, and went about doing good. I will tell you all I know of Him, for my mistress frequently spoke to me of Him; and hoped, I think, that in time I should accept Him, as she did. When you join your people, it is as necessary that you should be of their religion, as of their race;" and so, in time, Harry learned at least the elements of Christianity.
As usual he had been, at the age of six, marked, like Soyera, with three perpendicular lines on the forehead—the sign of the worshippers of Vishnu.
"You are twelve years old now, Harry," Soyera said to the boy, one day. "Now I must do what I have concluded, after a talk with Ramdass and Sufder, is the best thing for you. We have agreed that it will be better that you should not join your countrymen, and claim to be the son of Major Lindsay, until you are a man. I do not know what they would do with you. They might send you back to England, but I cannot say what would become of you there; but we have agreed that, when you do join them, you must be like other young English gentlemen, and not be looked down upon as one who, though he has a white skin, is but a Mahratta peasant.
"In the first place, you must learn to speak English."
"But I do speak English!" Harry said, in surprise.
"Yes, such English as I do; but that is not as the white sahibs speak it. We who have learned it speak the right word, but not in the right way. I have seen young white ladies, when they first came out here, and came to the house of your mother, sometimes smile and scarcely understand what I said to them. It is not like that that you must talk English—good enough for an ayah, not good enough for a sahib—so we have decided, Sufder, Ramdass and I, that you must go down to Bombay, and learn to talk proper English.
"We have thought much how this shall be done, and have settled that our thinking, here, is no good. I must wait till I get to Bombay, where I can get advice from people I know."
"Will you stay there with me, Soyera?"
"I cannot say what will be best," she answered, gravely; "I must wait till I get there. Ramdass will go down with me. It is a good time for him to go. The harvest work is done, he can be spared for a month. He would like to go. He has never seen Bombay. We shall go in the wagon."
The distance from Jooneer to Bombay was but about eighty miles, and the journey was performed in five days, and Ramdass took down a light load of maize, whose sale would pay the expenses of their journey. Soyera rode and slept on the maize, except in two villages, where she was able to procure a lodging for the night. Ramdass and Harry walked by the bullocks, and slept at night by the roadside, wrapped in their blankets.
On arriving at Bombay they put up at a khan, in the native town and, the next morning, leaving Ramdass and Harry to wander about and look at the wonders of the city, Soyera went to the shop of a Parsee merchant, who was in the habit of supplying the canteen of the troops, contracted for supplies of forage and other matters, and carried on the business of a native banker. She had often been to his place with Mrs. Lindsay; and had, from the time that she entered her service, deposited her savings with him. She had, in the first place, asked her master to keep them for her; but he had advised her to go to Jeemajee.
The Parsee was, himself, in his shop. She went up to him.
"You do not remember me, sahib?" she said. "I was the ayah of Major Lindsay. I was often here with the mem-sahib."
"I remember you, now," he said. "I do not often forget those I have known. Yes; your master and mistress were killed, at their little camp on the Concan. Nothing was heard of you, if I remember rightly. I have some money of yours in my hands. Have you the receipts?"
"I have them, sahib; but it is not for that that I come to see you. I wish to ask your advice on a private matter."
The Parsee looked a little surprised.
"Come in here with me," he said, leading the way to his private room, behind the shop.
"Now, what is it?" he asked, as he closed the door behind them.
"It was believed, sahib, that Major Lindsay's infant boy was killed, at that time, like all others in the camp. It was not so. I saved him. It is about him that I want to speak to you."
The Parsee thought for a moment.
"Yes, there was a child. Its body was not found, and was supposed to have been eaten by the jackals. Is it alive still?"
"Yes, sahib, I have brought him up as my own. His skin has been always stained; and none but my brother—with whom I live—his wife, and one other, know that he is English. I love him as my own child. I have taught him English, as I speak it; but I want him, in time, to be an English sahib, and for that he must learn proper English."
"But why have you not brought him down here?" the Parsee said.
"Who would have looked after him, and cared for him, sahib, as I, his nurse, have done? Who could have taken him? What would have become of him? I am a poor woman, and do not know how these things would be. I said to myself:
"'It will be better that he should live with me, till he is old enough to go down as a young man, and say to the Governor:
"'"I am the son of Major Lindsay. I can talk Mahratti like a native. I can ride and use my sword. I can speak English well. I can be useful."
"'Then, perhaps for his father's sake, the Governor will say:
"'"I will make you an officer. If there are troubles in the Deccan, you will be more useful than those sahibs who do not know the language."'
"I can do all that for him, but I cannot teach him to speak as English sahibs speak; and that is why I have come to you. You have twelve hundred rupees of mine, in your hands; for I laid out nothing while I was in the sahib's service, and my mistress was very kind, and often gave me presents. My brother, Ramdass, had five hundred rupees saved; and this he has given to me, for he, too, loves the boy. Thus there are seventeen hundred rupees, and this I would pay for him to be, for two years, with someone where he would learn to speak English as sahibs do, so that none can say this white boy is not English.
"Then he will go back, for two or three years, to Jooneer. He will learn to use his arms, and to ride, and to be a man, until he is of an age to come down and say:
"'I am the son of Major Lindsay.'"
"But if you were to tell this, at once," the Parsee said, "they would doubtless send him home, to England, to be educated."
"And what would he do there, sahib? He would have no friends, none to care for him; and while his Mahratti tongue would be of great service to him, here, it would be useless to him in his own country.
"Do not say that my plan cannot be carried out, sahib. For twelve years I have thought it over. I have taught him all that I could, so far; and convinced myself that it would be the best. The boy loves me, and is happy: he would be miserable among strangers, who would laugh at his English, and would make him unhappy."
Jeemajee sat for some time in thought.
"I am not sure that your plan is not the best," he said, "and after saving his life, and caring for him, at the risk of your own, for all these years, you have assuredly a better right than any other to say what shall be done now. I will think over what you have asked of me. It is not very easy to find just such a home as you want, but I should consider the sum you offer is sufficient to induce many Englishmen living here to take him; but it is not everyone from whom he would learn English, as you would wish him to do, or who could teach him the manners of white officers.
"Come to me tomorrow evening, but you must not expect that I shall be able to answer you then. I must think it over, and make enquiries."
It was three days, indeed, before anything came of Soyera's visits to the Parsee trader; then he said:
"I think that I have found out just the place of which you are in search. I spoke to a friend yesterday, and he at once mentioned one whom I wonder I had not thought of, at once. Some years ago a cadet, who came out here with a young wife, died shortly after his arrival. As he had only been four years in the service, the pension of his wife was but a small one. She did not go back to England, as widows generally do. I know not why, except that I once heard two officers speaking of her. They said that they believed her family had quarrelled with her, for her marriage, and that she was too proud to go back again. She had two girls, who must be about the age of this boy. Her pension was not sufficient for her to live upon comfortably, and she opened a little school for the children of officers here.
"There are not many, you know, for they are generally sent home to England, when they are quite young. But she has always had four or five, sometimes eight or ten. They come to her every morning, and go home in the middle of the day, and she sees no more of them.
"After I had heard this, I went to her. I supply her with many things, for she gets her books and other things from me. I said to her:
"'I have a white boy whose father and mother are dead. He is twelve years old. There are reasons why I cannot tell you who they were, but I can say that the boy's father was an English officer. He has been brought up by natives, and speaks English in the way that natives speak it. Those who have brought him up desire that he should learn to talk English well, and learn to have good manners, so that some day, when he goes to England, people should not say of him:
"'"This is not an English gentleman, or he would not speak like that."'
"I said that I had interested myself in the matter, and knew that it was right, and had come to her to ask her if she would take him into her house, which was very comfortable and well furnished, and everything as it should be.
"She asked questions. I told her enough to interest her; and said that, when the time came, it was hoped that he would be able to obtain employment under the Government—perhaps in the army, as his father had been. I said that those who brought him up were ready to make great sacrifices for his sake, but that they could not pay for him for more than two years; and that, as the boy knew so much English, they hoped this would be enough. I asked how much, if she agreed to take him, she would charge. She said that she would think it over; and would call here, tomorrow, and tell me whether she would take him.
"She will be here at three. I think you had better come at that hour. I am sure that she would like to speak to you. I do not see why you should not say that you had been his ayah, and had saved his life, and brought him up. Many officers have been killed and, indeed, I do not see why you should not tell her the whole story. It will interest her more in the boy. But of course, before you tell her, you must ask her to promise not to repeat it."
Soyera went on the following day. She found that Jeemajee was already, with a lady, in his private room. She waited until the door was opened, and the merchant beckoned her in.
"This is the woman who has brought the child up, Mrs. Sankey," he said. "As I have told you, she was his ayah, and has behaved most nobly."
Turning to Soyera, he said:
"Naturally Mrs. Sankey asked why you had not come forward before. I told her your reasons, and she thinks that, perhaps, you have acted for the best for him. At any rate, she has consented to take the boy for two years; and I am to pay her, for you, the sum that you have named."
In reality, Mrs. Sankey asked a thousand rupees a year; but the Parsee, with the generosity for which his race is distinguished, had agreed to pay the extra three hundred rupees himself.
"Before it is quite settled," Mrs. Sankey said, "I should like to see the boy. As Mr. Jeemajee has told you, I have two daughters about the same age. I must, therefore, be guided in my decision by my impression of him."
"I will bring him to see you, in three or four days," Soyera said. "His stain is already faded a good deal, and I shall be able to get it off, by that time. I have to get English clothes for him.
"I am greatly obliged to you for saying that you will take him, if he pleases you. That I think he will do. I have taught him manners, as well as I could. He is as anxious as I am to improve himself; and will, I am sure, give you no more trouble than he can help."
"I will see that he is properly clothed, Mrs. Sankey," Jeemajee remarked. "I knew his father, and have a great interest in him."
Mrs. Sankey chatted for some little time to Soyera; gave her her card, with her address on Malabar Hill; and then left.
Soyera began to thank the Parsee for his introduction, but he said:
"It was a little thing to do and, as I knew his father, it was only right that I should help, as far as I could. Will you bring me, tomorrow morning, the measurement of the boy's height, size around his shoulders and waist, the lengths of his arms and legs? You need trouble yourself no further about it. I shall take that matter upon myself. Come, three days later, for his clothes.
"Goodbye! I have other matters to see about," and, without waiting for any thanks from Soyera, he at once went into his shop, and began to talk to his assistant.
Many were the scrubbings Harry had to undergo, during the next few days; and his hair and face were nearly restored to their proper colour when Soyera returned, one evening, with a coolie carrying a trunk of some size. It contained the whole outfit for a boy: one dark suit, and four of white nankeen; with a stock of shirts, underclothing, and shoes. Soyera showed Harry how these garments, with which he was wholly unacquainted, should be put on.
"They fit you capitally," she said, when she surveyed him. "And you look like a little English sahib."
"They feel very tight and uncomfortable," he said.
"They are sure to do so, at first; but you will soon get over that. Now, Ramdass will take you out for a walk for two or three hours, so that you can get accustomed to them. I should not like you to look awkward, when you go with me to Mrs. Sankey's, tomorrow."
The interview next day was altogether satisfactory. The carriage and bearing of the natives of India is easier, and more graceful, than that of Europeans; and the knowledge Harry had possessed, for some years, that he belonged to a conquering race, the injunctions of Soyera, his strength and activity, and his unquestioned leadership among the boys with whom he played, had given something of confidence to his manner. Mrs. Sankey was greatly taken with him, and he at once became an inmate of her house.
He remained there for two years, and became so great a favourite that Mrs. Sankey insisted on his staying with her, without charge, for three or four months after the time for which she had received payment for him. He had worked hard and earnestly, and now spoke English as well and accurately as any English boy of his own age. He had, after being there a year, made the acquaintance of several boys of his own age, the sons of officers or officials. They knew him only as the orphan son of an English gentleman, in Government employ; and he was often asked to the houses of their parents, and none suspected that he had been brought up among natives.
At the end of his term, Sufder came down for him. Jeemajee, who had remained his steady friend, arranged that he should go to his house, and there resume his native dress and stain. In this garb he felt even stranger and more uncomfortable than he had done, when he first put on European clothes; but this was not long in wearing off and, by the time he reached Jooneer, he was again at home in it. He took with him, at Mrs. Sankey's suggestion, a number of English books, by authors she recommended; so that he could, by reading and learning some of them by heart, retain his knowledge of the language.
For the next three months he spent his whole time in practising with sword, pistol, and gun; under the tuition of an old soldier in Jooneer, who had been a noted swordsman in his time. He was already far stronger than the sons of Ramdass, although these were now young men. Anxious to, at once, exercise his muscles and gain in skill, he now attached himself to a famous shikaree who, seeing the boy's strength and courage, took him as an assistant when he went on excursions among the hills. Here Harry learned to dig pits for the capture of tigers; to smear leaves with a sticky substance, obtained from a plant resembling mistletoe, so that when a tiger or bear trod upon them and, finding them sticking to his feet, paused and rubbed these on his head, until he became blinded and bewildered with a mass of sticky foliage, a well-placed shot would stretch him dead.
For a year he worked with the shikaree. Sometimes they hunted simply for the value of the skins; but more often they were sent for by villagers, who were suffering from the depredations of tigers or leopards, and who were willing to pay for having them killed. Harry Lindsay acquired quite a reputation in Jooneer and the surrounding country, for the shikaree spoke freely of his bravery, intelligence, and skill with his arms. His width of shoulders and the strength of his muscles caused him to be regarded as a prodigy; and it was generally considered that, when he grew up, he would become a great fighter, and attain wide renown as a leader of bands in the service of Holkar, or the Peishwa.
When he was sixteen, Sufder, who had watched his progress with great approval, said to him:
"You are scarce a man in years yet, Puntojee; but you are strong, skilful with your weapons, and far more of a man than many ten years older than yourself. It is time that you should see something of war. Since the death of Scindia, a few months back; and the succession of his nephew Doulut, who is about your own age; things have become even more unsettled than before. Scindia was a great man and, although at times worsted by his rivals, always managed to repair his fortunes and to add to his power; but whether the young Scindia will keep the wide territory that his uncle won is doubtful. Holkar, although at times he and Scindia united, as when the English marched against Poona, has been his rival and enemy.
"The Peishwa has sometimes been in alliance with one of these great princes, sometimes with the other. His minister, Nana Furnuwees, is a man of commanding talent. Had it not been for him, it is probable that Scindia and Holkar would long since have become altogether independent; but he has always contrived to play one off against the other and, by securing the services of the secondary chiefs, such as the Rajah of Nagpore and the Rajah of Kolapoore, to hold the balance of power; but he is an old man, and at his death there is no saying how things will go.
"Matters are complicated, too, by the fact that Scindia has now in his service sixteen battalions of drilled infantry, commanded by French officers; and these have proved so valuable, in the various sieges he has undertaken, that Holkar has been obliged to imitate his example. There are many who think that the introduction of infantry will, in the end, prove disastrous to the power of the Mahrattas; whose strength has hitherto lain in their cavalry, which could perform long journeys, strike a blow and be off again, and so were more than a match for the infantry of other Indian princes. But with infantry all this will be altered, for the marches must be no longer or faster than they can journey. The order of battles, too, will be changed altogether; and we shall depend more upon foot, while our horse, until now almost invincible, will become of secondary importance.
"However, that is not the question, at present. The first thing to be considered is, to which of the three great leaders you are to attach yourself. As you know, I was for many years in Scindia's service; but at his death the position was changed. Scindia knew that I was active and capable; had he lived, I should soon have gained much promotion. However, his chief minister took a dislike to me; and I felt that, now the Maharajah was gone, Doulut would be easily swayed by the counsels of those around him; and that instead of promotion I should be more likely to lose my command, and perhaps be put out of the way. Therefore I left Doulut's service, and have entered that of the young Peishwa who, at the advice of Nana Furnuwees, has given me the command of a troop of a hundred men.
"Years ago I gained Nana's goodwill, by apprising him of the hostile intentions of the Rajah of Nagpore; when he promised me that, should I at any time leave Scindia's service, he would give me as good a position as I held there in that of the Peishwa. The young prince is but twenty-one, and I will ask Nana to present you to him as one who, in time, will become a valuable officer; and it is likely that Mahdoo Rao will receive you well when he hears that, though so young, you have gained great credit as a slayer of wild beasts; and that, as he will see for himself, you promise to grow into a strong man, and a brave soldier.
"Nana Furnuwees is a man who, by his conciliating manner, gains the confidence of all who come under his influence; and it is wholly due to him that the authority of the Peishwa has not been entirely overthrown by Scindia and Holkar. He is a reader of men's minds, and has always surrounded himself with friends of discernment and courage; and I think you would be likely, if you remained in the Peishwa's service, to rise to a very much higher rank than I should ever do, being myself but a rough soldier with a heavy hand.
"Holkar, at present, is fast becoming altogether imbecile. He is worn out both in mind and body, and I should not advise anybody to join him. Therefore the choice rests between Doulut Rao Scindia and the Peishwa; as far as I can see, there is an equal chance of your seeing service with either."
"I can choose without hesitation," Harry said. "Had you still been in the army of Scindia, I would have joined it, too; but as you have now entered that of the Peishwa, who is the lawful ruler of the Mahrattas, though overshadowed by Scindia and Holkar, I should certainly choose his service.
"In any case, I would rather be with you. You have taught me the use of arms, and to you I owe it that I was not killed, when an infant; therefore I would assuredly rather fight under your orders, than take service with Holkar or Scindia.
"As to their quarrels, I know nothing. Ramdass has often told me as much as he knew of these matters, but it all seemed to me to be confusion; and the only thing I could understand was that they were always intriguing against each other, instead of putting all their forces in the field, and fighting it out fairly, and so deciding who was to be the chief lord of the Mahrattas."
"Although but a soldier, Puntojee, I cannot but see that this constant antagonism, between the three principal leaders of the Mahrattas, is unfortunate in the last degree. We are wasting the strength that, if properly employed, might bring all India into subjection and, when trouble really comes, we shall be a divided people, instead of acting under one head and with one mind. However, it is not for us soldiers to meddle with these things; but to do our duty to the chief under whom we serve.
"Well, if such be your choice, I will present you to Nana Furnuwees. I am glad that you have chosen that service for, in the first place, being young, he may take a liking to you, and you may obtain rapid promotion; and still more, because I should prefer to have you with me."
Hitherto, Harry had worn only the scanty clothing in use by the peasantry, and the small cultivators; but Sufder now bought him clothes such as were worn by youths of a superior class. Soyera had offered no objection to his departure and, indeed, Sufder had spoken to her on the subject, before he had broached it to Harry.
"'Tis hard upon me to give you up," she said to the lad; "but I have always known that it must be so, and indeed, for the last year I have seen little of you. The change will be good for you. You will learn the manner of war, and take an interest in the intrigues and troubles that are constantly going on, and of which we hear little.
"When you rejoin your countrymen, a few years hence, I shall go with you. You need my testimony, to show that you are the son of Major Lindsay; and I can be useful to you, in managing your household. But at present it is best that I should stay here. A young soldier would not care to have his mother looking after him, and it is for your good that you should go your own way; and besides, you will have the counsels of Sufder to aid you. I should be out of place and, for the present, I am happy here with my good brother and sister-in-law, the latter of whom would miss me sorely. Moreover, Poona is but two days' ride from here, and you will no doubt be able sometimes to come over and see us.
"I have done what little I could for you. You are now old enough to make your own way. The bird that has taught its nestling to fly does not try to keep it in the nest, when it is once able to take care of itself."
"I can never be sufficiently grateful, for all that you have done for me," Harry said earnestly. "You have been more than a mother to me and, wherever I go, I shall not be happy unless you are with me, though I see it is best, this time, that I should go alone; but assuredly, when I join my people, and have a home of my own, it would not seem like a home to me if you did not share it."
Two days later, Harry mounted a horse that Ramdass had given him, and started with Sufder for Poona. On arriving there they rode to the little camp, half a mile out of the town, where Sufder's troop was stationed.
"You don't carry your tents with you, when you are on service in the field?"
"Not when on an expedition where haste is needed; for we should make but poor progress, if we were hampered by luggage. When on a distant expedition, we take tents.
"This is a standing camp, and there are a score like it round the town. They always remain in the same position; sometimes one troop occupies them, sometimes another. When we go on an expedition, we leave them; when we come back, if they are still unoccupied, we again take possession. If they have been allotted to another troop, a vacant one is found for us.
"Only one regiment of horse and two of foot are in the city, where they have lines of huts. We differ from the rest of the army, being always on service; the others are only called out when there is occasion for them, each under its own chief and, in case of necessity, the Peishwa can put thirty thousand horsemen in the field, besides those of the rajahs in alliance with him."
The next morning Sufder, in his best attire, went with Harry into the city; the latter for the first time carrying a sword, dagger and pistols in his cummerbund, or sash. Without being questioned, they entered the chamber were Nana was giving audience to all who waited upon him on business.
Sufder took his place at the lower end of the chamber, moving forward as one after another applicant was disposed of until, at length, his turn arrived. The minister, who knew that he was a brave soldier, who had enjoyed the confidence of the late Scindia, acknowledged his deep salutation with a friendly nod.
"What can I do for you, Sufder?"
"I desire nothing, your excellency, save that I may be permitted to present to you one of my family: the son of a relation of mine who, although still young, I may venture to recommend to you as one possessing great courage and intelligence. I have myself given him lessons in the use of his arms; and he has had other instructors, and done credit to them. For the past year he has been working with a famous shikaree, and has killed many tigers that were a scourge to the villages near the Ghauts, together with many bears and leopards; and his master reported that his fearlessness was great, and that as a marksman his skill was equal to his own. He was most unwilling that he should leave him, but I considered it was time for him to enter the army; in which, I believe, he will soon distinguish himself."
"How old is he?" the minister asked.
"He is as yet but sixteen but, as your highness may see, he is as strong as most men, having devoted himself to exercises of all sorts, since he was a child."
"He is indeed cast in a strong mould, and his face pleases me.
"And so, you would enter the service of His Highness, the Peishwa?"
"That is my desire, your excellency."
"You are young to serve as an officer and, for the present, you had best remain with Sufder's troop. In the meantime, I will see what suitable post can be found for you."
With an expression of thanks, Sufder and Harry left the audience hall.
"It is a good beginning, Puntojee," the soldier said, as they left the minister's palace. "Nana Furnuwees was evidently pleased with you, and I think he will give you special employment. At the same time, serving one master here is not without its danger—Nana especially, powerful as he is, has enemies as powerful; for he has always stood in the way of the ambition of Scindia."
That evening an officer brought, from Nana, an order conferring upon Harry the appointment of an assistant officer in Sufder's troop, with the usual pay and allowances and, three days later, an order came for him to attend the audience of the minister. On arrival, he was told by the officer of the chamber that he was not to present himself at public audience, but that Nana would speak to him privately. He was therefore taken to an inner chamber where, an hour later, Nana joined him.
"I think by your face, Puntojee, that you can be trusted; and I have decided to place you in the service of His Highness, the Peishwa. What position you will hold there must depend upon yourself, and him. I shall simply recommend you as one of whom I have heard much good. It would be as well for you not to mention your age; but let him suppose that, as you look, you are about the same age as himself. He is amiable and kindly, and your position will be a pleasant one.
"I am anxious to prevent evil advisers from obtaining influence over him. He is young and unsuspicious, and much harm might thus come to the state. It is, then, for the general interest that he should be surrounded by those whom I can trust; so that, if any plotters are endeavouring to poison his mind, their plans may be thwarted. I have of course, officers about his person who are thoroughly trustworthy; but these are much older than himself, and he chafes somewhat at what he wrongly considers his tutelage. But indeed, as he is but twenty-one, and wholly unversed in matters of state, it is needful that the management of affairs should rest in the hands of those who have long controlled it.
"Scindia would be the first to take advantage of any imprudence. He is already, by far, the most powerful of the Mahratta princes. His possessions are of immense extent; he holds the emperor at Delhi in the palm of his hand; he can put one hundred thousand horse into the field, and has large numbers of infantry, including sixteen battalions drilled by French officers, and commanded by de Boigne; and although Doulut Rao is but twenty, and as yet we know but little of his disposition, he is of course surrounded by the advisers of his uncle, and may be expected to pursue the same policy. His uncle gained great ascendency over the Peishwa, and his death was a fortunate circumstance. Still, it is certain that the prince, until his powers are matured, will yield to the advice of those to whom the conduct of affairs is entrusted.
"Now, I am going to the palace, and have requested a private audience with Mahdoo Rao, and I will take you with me."
Followed by a train of officers, with whom Harry fell in, the minister proceeded to the palace. His train remained in the public hall, and Nana went into the Peishwa's private apartment. In a few minutes, an official came in and called Puntojee; and Harry at once followed him to an inner room, where the Peishwa and his minister were alone. Harry bowed to the ground.
"This, Prince, is the young man of whom I have spoken to you. He bears an excellent character for his skill in arms, and has killed many tigers and other beasts. It was but the other day that you complained that you had no one of your own age to whom you could talk freely; and I have selected this young officer as one who, I thought, would be agreeable to you."
"I thank you heartily, Nana. In truth, I sometimes need a companion; and I think, by his face, that this officer will be an agreeable one. To what post, think you, had I best appoint him?"
"As he is a famous shikaree, I should say that it would be suitable were you to make him director of the chase."
"But I never go hunting."
"That is true; but in time, when your occupations of state lessen, you might do so," Nana said. "And indeed, even at present, there is nothing to prevent your hunting sometimes in the royal preserves, where there must be an abundance of game of all sorts."
"So let it be, then," the Peishwa said. "In truth, I care not for the killing of beasts, unless they do harm to the villagers. But it is right that there should be someone to direct the men who have charge of the preserves and, as an official, you will have the right of entry here at all times, and will be frequently about my person; and I will confer with you about other things, as well as the chase. You will, of course, have an apartment assigned to you.
"You will arrange about the emoluments, Nana."
"You had better go to my house, and wait for me there," Nana said; and Harry, bowing deeply to the prince and his minister, left the palace.
He did not deceive himself as to the reason for which Nana had thus placed him in a position in which he was likely to be frequently in the company of the young prince. He intended him to act as a spy. This he was firmly determined not to do, in any matter save in thwarting any designs Scindia might have. That was a public duty.
By this time, he had learnt much of the events that were passing. Ramdass and the other ryots of his acquaintance regarded Nana Furnuwees as the guardian of the country. For many years, it was his wisdom and firmness alone that had thwarted the designs of Scindia, whose advent to supreme authority would have been regarded as a grave misfortune, by all the cultivators of the Deccan. Scindia's expenses in keeping up so great an army were enormous, and the exactions of his tax gatherers ground to the dust the cultivators and peasantry of his own wide dominions; and Harry was therefore ready to give Nana a faithful support in all public matters. He knew that the minister had many enemies, even among the rajahs in the Peishwa's dominion, and in those round it; for they regarded him, with reason, as a curb upon their private ambitions and, for years, intrigues had been going on for his overthrow.
On the other hand, Harry was much pleased with Mahdoo Rao, who was a most amiable and kindly young man. While determined, then, to do all that he could in support of Nana; he decided that he would, on no account, give him any report that would be unfavourable to the Peishwa. His interview with the minister, on the return of the latter, was a short one.
"Here," the latter said, "is a purse of five hundred rupees, with which to obtain garments suitable for one in attendance on the Peishwa. Your emolument will be two hundred rupees a month. I shall issue orders to the men employed in the forests and preserves to report to you; and have requested the chamberlain to allot an apartment to you in the palace, and to tell off two servants to be in attendance on you.
"You understand that your mission, as far as I am concerned, is to give me early warning, if any of those favourable to Scindia—you shall be furnished with a list of their names—are endeavouring to obtain an undue influence over the prince; who is of an altogether unsuspicious character, and would be likely to fall an easy victim to bad counsels."
"You can depend upon my doing so," Harry said. "I have been taught to regard Scindia as an enemy to the public peace, and shall use all diligence in carrying out your excellency's orders."
And, leaving the minister, Harry went to Sufder and told him what had happened.
"In truth, Puntojee, you were born under a lucky star. I never dreamt that Nana Furnuwees would have thus introduced you to the Peishwa. Now, lad, you have a fine career opened to you. It will need caution but, as Scindia's ancestor was but a slipper bearer, and rose to the highest rank and honour; so it is open to you to win a great position, if you steer clear of the dangers that attend all who play a part in public affairs. I foresee that you will become a favourite with the prince, but remember to put your trust in Nana. He is, at present, the greatest power in the land, and has been so for many years but, unlike most who have attained such authority, he is liked by the people, for he uses his power well, and for the good of the state.