E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE JUNGLE FUGITIVES
A Tale of Life and Adventure in India Including also Many Stories of American Adventure, Enterprise and Daring
EDWARD S. ELLIS, A.M.
New York Hurst and Company Publishers
THE JUNGLE FUGITIVES LOST IN THE WOODS IN THE NICK OF TIME LOST IN THE SOUTH SEA AN UNPLEASANT COMPANION A STIRRING INCIDENT CYCLONES AND TORNADOES LOST IN A BLIZZARD THROWING THE RIATA A WATERSPOUT AN HEROIC WOMAN THE WRITING FOUND IN A BOTTLE THAT HORNET'S NEST A YOUNG HERO OVERREACHED A BATTLE IN THE AIR WHO SHALL EXPLAIN IT? A FOOL OF A GENIUS
THE JUNGLE FUGITIVES.
IN THE SPRING OF 1857.
All through India, with its fanatical population five times as great as that of England, the rumblings of the coming uprising had been heard for months. The disaffection had been spreading and taking root. The emissaries of the arch-plotters had passed back and forth almost from end to end of the vast empire, with their messages of hatred and appeal. The people were assured that the "Inglese loge" were perfecting their insidious schemes for overthrowing their religion, and the faithful everywhere were called upon to crush the infidels in the dust. The evil seed fell upon the rankest of soil, and grew with a vigor and exuberance that threatened to strangle every other growth.
The plot, as agreed upon, was that a general uprising was to take place throughout India on the last day of May, 1857, but, as is often the case in such far-reaching schemes, the impatience of the mutineers precipitated the tremendous tragedy.
The first serious outbreak took place at Meerut on Sunday, May 10th, just three weeks previous to the time set for the general uprising. That town, with its population of about 40,000 at that time, lies thirty-two miles northeast from Delhi, which was to be the capital of the resurrected Mogul Empire. It was the precipitancy of this first revolt that prevented its fullest success. The intention was to kill every white man, woman and child in the place. Two regiments were clamorous for beginning the massacre, but the Eleventh Native Infantry held back so persistently that the others became enraged and fired a volley among them, killing a number. Thereupon the Eleventh announced themselves ready to take their part in the slaughter that was to free India from the execrated "Inglese loge."
Seeing now for the first time the real peril, the colonel of the Eleventh made an impassioned appeal to the regiment to stand by its colors and to take no part in the useless revolt. While he was speaking, a volley riddled his body, and he tumbled lifeless from his saddle. The Eleventh, however, covered the flight of the other officers, but helped to release a thousand prisoners, suffering punishment for various offenses, and then the hell fire burst forth.
The bungalows of the officers, the mess houses of the troops, and all the buildings between the native lines and Meerut were fired, and the whole became a roaring conflagration, whose glare at night was visible for miles.
When an appeal was made to the Emperor of Delhi by the troopers, he inquired their errand. The lacklustre eyes flashed with a light that had not been seen in them for years, the bowed form acquired new energy, and he gave orders to admit the troopers.
Their message was enough to fan into life the slumbering fires of ambition in the breast of a dying person.
He yielded to the dazzling dream. A throne of silver, laid away for years, was brought into the "hall of special audience," and the tottering form was helped to the seat, into which he sank and looked around upon his frenzied followers. Mohammed Suraj-oo-deen Shah Gezee was now the Great Mogul of India. A royal salute of twenty-one guns was fired by two troops of artillery from Meerut in front of the palace, and the wild multitudes again strained their throats. To the thunder of artillery, the strains of martial music and the shouting of the people, the gates of the palace were flung open, and Prince Mirza Mogul, with his brother, Prince Abu Beker, at the head of the royal bodyguard, rode forth, the king following in an open chariot, surrounded by his bodyguard.
With impressive slowness this strange procession made its way through the principal street, the populace becoming as frantic as so many ghost dancers. Finally a halt was made at the Juma Musjeed, the largest mosque in India, where the banner of the Prophet was unfurled and the Mogul Empire proclaimed.
ON AN AFTERNOON.
Almost due east from Delhi Dr. Hugh Marlowe, a venerable American physician, had lived for more than twenty years. Since the death of his wife, six years previous to the Mutiny, he had dwelt alone with his only daughter, Mary, and their single servant, Mustad, a devout Mussulman. A portion of the time mentioned had been passed without the society of his beloved child, who spent several years in New England (where the physician himself was born and had received his education) at one of the fashionable schools.
Shortly after her graduation, Miss Marlowe met Jack Everson, fresh from Yale, and the acquaintance ripened into mutual love, though the filial affection of the young woman was too profound to permit her to form an engagement with the young man until the consent of her father was obtained, and he would not give that consent until he had met and conversed with the young gentleman face to face and taken his measure, as may be said.
"If he doesn't esteem you enough to make a little journey like the one from America to this country he isn't worth thinking about."
"But he will make the journey," said the blushing daughter, patting the bronzed cheek of the parent whom she idolized as much as he idolized her.
"Don't be to sure of that, my young lady; romantic young girls like you have altogether too much faith in the other sex."
"But he has started," she added with a sly smile.
"He has, eh? He will change his mind before he reaches here. How far has he got?"
"He was due in England many weeks ago."
"Well, well! How soon will he arrive here?"
"I think he is due now."
"Very probably, but his fancy will give out before he reaches this out-of-the-way place."
"I think not, papa."
"Of course not, of course not; I just told you that that is the way with all foolish girls like you."
The old gentleman had assumed a stern earnestness, and he added: "I tell you he will never show himself here! I know what I'm talking about."
"But he is here, papa; let me introduce you to Jack Everson, a physician like yourself."
All this time the smiling young man was standing directly behind the old doctor, who was lazily reclining in a hammock on the shaded lawn, smoking a cheroot, while his daughter sat on a camp stool, with one hand resting on the edge of the hammock, so as to permit her gently to sway it back and forth. As she spoke the tall, muscular American walked forward and extended his hand.
"Doctor, I am glad to make your acquaintance," he said, in his cheery way. The astonished physician came to an upright position like the clicking of the blade of a jackknife, and meeting the salutation, exclaimed:
"Well, I'll be hanged! I never knew a girl so full of nonsense and tricks as Mary. You are welcome, doctor, to my house; let me have a look at you!"
Jack Everson laughingly stepped hack a couple of paces and posed for inspection. The elder deliberately drew his spectacle case from his pocket, adjusted the glasses and coolly scrutinized the young man from head to foot.
"You'll do," he quietly remarked, removing his glasses and returning them to the morocco case; "now, if you'll be good enough to seat yourself, we'll talk over matters until dinner time. When did you arrive?"
Jack seated himself on the remaining camp stool, a few paces from the happy young lady, accepted a cheroot from his host, and the conversation became general. Like most Americans, when at home or travelling, Jack Everson kept his eyes and ears open. He heard at Calcutta, his starting point, at Benares, Allahabad, Cawnpore and other places, the whisperings of the uprising that was soon to come, and his alarm increased as he penetrated the country.
"Worse than all," he said gravely, speaking of his trip, "one of my bearers spoke English well, and quite an intimacy sprang up between us. Since his companions could not utter a word in our language, we conversed freely without being understood. He was reticent at first concerning the impending danger and professed to know nothing of it, but this forenoon be gave me to understand, in words that could not be mistaken, that the whole country would soon be aflame with insurrection."
"Did he offer any advice?" asked Dr. Marlowe, less impressed with the news than was his visitor or his daughter.
"He did; he said that the escape of myself and of your family could be secured only by leaving this place at the earliest moment possible."
"But whither can we go? We are hundreds of miles from the seacoast and should have to journey for weeks through a country swarming with enemies."
"I asked him that question, and his answer was that we should make for Nepaul."
"That is the province to the east of us. It is a mountainous country, a long way off, and hard to reach. Why should he advise us to go thither?"
"I questioned him, but he seemed to fear that his companions would grow suspicious over our conversation and he said nothing more. I thought he would add something definite when we came to separate, and, to loosen his tongue, I gave him an extra fee, but he added never a word, and, unless I am mistaken, regretted what he had already said."
"It seems to me," observed the daughter, "that the man knew it is impossible for us to get to the seacoast, and believed that by going further into the interior we should reach the people who are not affected by the insurrection. Wide as it may be, there must be many points that will not feel it."
"That is the true reason," said her parent, "but, confound it! I have lived in this spot for twenty years; the little town of Akwar lies near, and there is hardly a person in it who has not been my patient. I am known even in Meerut and Delhi, and I can hardly believe the mutineers, for such they seem to be, will harm me or my friends."
"You once told me," replied Mary, "that when an appeal was made to the religion of this people they knew no such thing as fear or mercy."
"And I told you the truth," said her father gravely. "But since we have weapons and plenty of ammunition, and know how to handle the firearms we shall not be led like lambs to the slaughter."
"That is true enough," said Jack, "but it will be of little avail, when our enemies are numbered by the hundred and perhaps the thousand."
"I take it, then, that you favor an abandonment of our home?"
"I do, and with the least possible delay."
"And you, my daughter, are you of the same mind?"
"I am," was the emphatic response.
"Then my decision is that we shall start for the interior and stay there until it is safe to show ourselves again among these people, provided it ever shall be safe."
"When shall you start?"
The parent looked at the sky.
"It is two or three hours to nightfall. We will set out early to-morrow morning before the sun is high in the sky."
"But will we not be more liable to discovery?" asked Jack.
"Not if we use care. I am familiar with the country for miles in every direction. We shall have to travel for the first two or three days through a thick jungle, and it is too dangerous work to undertake in the night-time. This, you know, is the land of the cobra and the tiger, not to mention a few other animals and reptiles equally unpleasant in their nature. Last night," continued the doctor, "I saw a glare in the sky off to the westward on the opposite side of the river in the direction of Meerut. I wonder what it meant?"
"By Jove!" exclaimed Jack, "that explains something that the palanquin bearer said to me about there being so many Inglese where there are none to-day. I could not catch his meaning, though he mentioned Meerut. But he gave me to understand that it was not quite time yet for the uprising, which would come in a few weeks."
"Those things are apt to be precipitated. I have no doubt that the mutineers burned the city last night. If so, the main body will hurry to Delhi, which, being the ancient capital of the Mogul Empire, will become the new one. Some of the rebels may take it into their heads to come in this direction. What is the matter, Dr. Everson?"
As Jack Everson was seated he faced the broad, sluggish Ganges, with the low, green banks beyond. He was looking over the water, in the rays of the declining sun, when he saw something that caused him to rise hastily from his seat and peer earnestly across the river toward the opposite shore. Observing his action, the doctor asked his question. Both he and his daughter, rising to their feet, gazed in the same direction. It was easy to see what had attracted the attention of their guest. A party of horsemen, fully twenty, if not more, in number, had approached the river and were now halted on the other side, looking across in the direction of Dr. Marlowe's home, as if debating the question of making it a visit.
"Let me get my glass," said Mary, starting toward the house, hardly a hundred feet distant.
"Allow me to bring it," interrupted Jack. "It is on one of the chairs on the veranda, and I want my rifle."
Taking the glass from him on his return, the young woman levelled it at the group of horsemen on the other side.
"I cannot make out who they are," she said, passing the glass to her father.
It took the parent but a few seconds to answer the question. One sweeping glance told him.
"They are Ghoojurs," he remarked, with as much calmness as he could assume.
"And who are Ghoojurs?" asked Jack Everson, less excited than his friends.
"They belong to the nomadic tribes which originally occupied India, and are among the worst wretches in the world. They are brigands and robbers, who are to be dreaded at all times. Now, if the revolt has broken out, they will be as merciless as tigers."
"It looks as if they intended to make us a visit, doctor?"
"Alas! there can be no earthly doubt of it."
"Let us hurry into the jungle," said Mary, her face paling with fear. "We have not a minute to waste."
"The advice is good, but before acting on it I should like to make an experiment."
During this brief interval Jack Everson had carefully examined his rifle to assure himself that it was in good condition.
"Heavens, man!" exclaimed Dr. Marlowe, "you are not going to try a shot at them?"
"That is my intention."
"They are a mile distant!"
"One of my medals was won for hitting a target at exactly that distance," replied Jack, continuing his preparations.
"It is impossible that you should succeed."
"But not impossible that I should try, so please don't bother the man at the wheel."
"They have ridden into the water," added the young woman, still nervous and excited.
"Which will serve to shorten the distance somewhat."
"Why not wait until they are halfway across; or, better still, not wait at all?" inquired the doctor.
Jack Everson made no reply, but, lying down on his back, he slightly separated his raised knees, and, by crossing his ankles, made a rest for the barrel of his rifle. The left arm was crooked under his head, so as to serve as a pillow or support, leaving the hand to steady the stock of his gun, while the right inclosed the trigger guard.
The horsemen, instead of riding side by side, were strung along in a line, with the leader several paces in advance and mounted on a rather large horse of a coal-black color. Directly behind him came one upon a bay, while a little further back rode another on a white steed. There could be no question that they were on their way to kill without mercy.
The situation was intensely trying to father and daughter. The whole party of Ghoojurs had entered the Ganges and were steadily approaching. The water was so shallow that it could be seen as it splashed about the bodies of the riders, who were talking and laughing, as if in anticipation of the enjoyment awaiting them. They preserved their single file, like so many American Indians in crossing a stream, and their last thought must have been of any possible danger that could threaten them from the three on the further bank.
The situation was becoming unbearable when the rifle cracked with a noise no louder than a Chinese cracker, and a faint puff of smoke curled upward from the muzzle of the weapon. At the same moment the Ghoojur at the front, on his black horse, flung up his arms and tumbled sideways into the water, which splashed over his animal's head. Frightened, the horse reared, pawed the air, and, whirling about, galloped back to the bank, sending the water flying in showers from his hoofs.
"Score me a bull's-eye!" called Jack Everson, who in his pleasure over his success, could not wait for the result.
"But see!" cried Mary, "you have only infuriated them. Oh! father, how can we save ourselves?"
The success of the first shot gave Jack Everson self-confidence and he took less time in aiming the second, which was as unerring as the first. Another Ghoojur plunged off his horse and gave but a single struggle when he sank from sight in the shallow water.
"Another bull's-eye!" called Jack, proceeding to reload his piece. "I hope, doctor, you are keeping a correct score; I must have credit for all I do."
"Now for my distinguished friend on the milk-white steed," said Jack, proceeding to adjust his telescopic sight to that individual. "If they will send over the three horses it will give us one apiece."
But the Ghoojurs had had enough of this fearful business. They saw that some unaccountable fatality was at work and it was madness for them to remain. With never a suspicion of the truth they wheeled their animals about and sent them galloping for the bank which they had left a short time before full of hope and anticipation.
"I'm sorry for that," reflected Jack Everson, "for it mixes things and I can't pick out my man, but here goes."
In one sense, his opportunity was better than before; for, while he could not select his particular target, he had but to aim at the bunch to make sure of hitting somebody, which is precisely what he did.
The Ghoojur whom he punctured did not fall, for the reason that two of his friends reached out and prevented him. It was a piece of supererogation on their part, for when the party emerged from the Ganges upon dry land that fellow was of no further account.
Jack now showed more haste than before in reloading his weapon, fearing that the party would get beyond his reach before he could fire for the fourth time. Much to his regret, they did so, for though he made the shot, it was necessarily so hurried that it inflicted no injury, and the whole party galloped out of sight over the slight swell without showing any further concern for their companions left behind. Jack now rose to his feet with the question:
"What is my record, doctor?"
"Three bull's-eyes; your score is perfect."
"Hardly, for the last was a miss; however, three out of a possible four is pretty fair when the circumstances are considered. I suspect that that particular party is not likely to give us further trouble."
"No, they will not forget the lesson."
"If we can induce our enemies to make their approach by the same ford and when the sun is shining this will become truly amusing."
"But the Ghoojurs will not repeat that mistake. This affair has served another purpose," added the physician, "we must not delay our departure."
"Do you advise our going while it is night?"
"I advised the contrary a little while ago, but I confess I am afraid to stay in the house, even for a few hours. However, we will take our dinner there, gather a few belongings and then hurry off. We shall find some spot where it will be safe to pass the night, and where we are not likely to be molested, because no one will know where to find us."
All glanced in the direction of the other shore, and seeing nothing to cause misgiving moved to the house, a low, roomy structure, though of moderate proportions, with a broad veranda extending along two sides. It was time for the evening meal, and there was some surprise felt that Mustad, the servant, had not summoned them before.
This surprise turned to astonishment and alarm when it was discovered that Mustad was not in the house. No preparation had been made for dinner, and though his name was called several times in a loud voice, there was no response.
"He has left us," said the doctor.
"What does it mean?" asked Mary.
"It can have but one meaning: by some legerdemain, such as our own Indians show in telegraphing news from one mountain top to another, word has reached Mustad of what has taken place, and he has been called upon to join the faithful, and has been only too glad to do it."
"I should think he would have attempted to do us harm before going."
"He is too great a coward."
"But his fanaticism will make him reckless."
"When he gets among his friends then he will be among the worst."
"But, father, he was always meek and gentle and respectful."
"Those are the kind who become directly the opposite."
"Do you think he would harm us?"
"I have no doubt of it," was the reply of the doctor. "I know the breed; I have twice been the means of saving his life through my medicines, and Mary nursed him for three weeks when he was suffering from a fever."
"Yon may be doing him an injustice," ventured Jack Everson, to whom the judgment of his friend seemed bitter.
"I wish I could think so, but, Mary, if you can provide us with something in the way of food, Mr. Everson and I will get the things together that we are to take with us."
Dr. Marlowe wisely decided not to burden themselves with unnecessary luggage. Jack took from his trunk a few needed articles and stowed them into a travelling bag whose supporting strap could be flung over one shoulder. Though a physician himself, admitted to practice, he had brought none of his instruments with him, for the good reason that he saw no sense in doing so. Into the somewhat larger bag of the elder doctor were placed his most delicate instruments and several medical preparations, mostly the results of his experiments. They were too precious to be lost if there was any way of preserving them. Mary packed her articles in a small travelling bag, the strap of which she, too, flung over her shoulder, though Jack asked to be allowed to relieve her.
It was after the hurried meal had been eaten by lamplight that the three completed their preparations for departure. That to which they paid the most attention was their means of defense. Jack Everson had brought a plentiful supply of cartridges for his superb breechloader; and the belt was already secured around his body. Dr. Marlowe never allowed his supply of ammunition to run low, so that the two were well supplied in that respect.
Jack was pleased to find that the revolver belonging to Mary Marlowe was of the same calibre as his own, so that the cartridges could be used indiscriminately.
"I remember," he said to her, when the parent was just beyond hearing, "that you were quite skillful with your weapon."
"Not specially so, but what skill I gained is due to your tuition."
"Not so much to that as to the aptness of the pupil."
"Your remark is more gallant than true, but I hope I shall not be called upon to use this weapon as you used yours awhile ago."
"Such is my prayer, but if the necessity arises do not hesitate."
"Be assured I shall not," she replied, with a flash of her fine eyes and a compression of her lips.
COMPANIONS IN FLIGHT.
Everything needed having been gathered, the lamps were extinguished, and with the physician in the lead, the three passed out of the front door to the veranda. The doctor decided to leave the door unfastened, since it was useless to secure it.
Suddenly, when the doctor was about to give the word to move, he saw a shadowy figure in the direction of the river.
"Sh!" he whispered; "it looks as if we had waited too long; some one is approaching. Be ready to use your gun or to retreat into the house if necessary to fight it out there."
"It is a white man," said the daughter in an undertone; "he may be a patient."
It was clear by this time that the stranger was not a native, for he was dressed in civilized costume and his gait was that of a European. He did not perceive the silent figures until within a few paces of the veranda, when he paused abruptly, as if startled.
"Good evening," he said in English. "Is this Dr. Marlowe?"
"It is; who are you?"
"My name is Anderson; I was looking for you."
"In what way can I serve you?"
"You have heard the news, I suppose," said the man, keeping his position, and looking up to the three, who were now all on the edge of the veranda; "the native soldiers at Meerut mutinied yesterday, killed most of their officers, plundered the city, slaying every white person they could find, after which most of them hurried to Delhi."
"You bring dreadful tidings; I had heard nothing definite, but suspected all that you have told me. Are you alone and why do you come to me?"
"I fled with my wife and two other families, Turner and Wharton, from the outskirts of Meerut as soon as there seemed a chance for us. We made our way to the river, found a boat and paddled to this place, for we had no sail and there was scarcely any wind."
"Where are your friends?"
"I left them by the edge of the river in the boat, promising to rejoin them in a few minutes."
"Have you no companions, but those you named?"
"None; my wife and I buried two children last Summer; Mr. Turner has none, and Mr. Wharton and his young wife were but recently married."
"You have not told me why you come to me?"
"Chiefly to warn you of your peril and to beseech you to fly before it is too late."
"I thank you very much for your solicitude; it was kind on the part of you and your friends, but it strikes me that one place is about as safe as another."
"We are so far from the large cities and the coast that it is useless to attempt to reach any of them. Our first aim was to get as far from Meerut as possible; then as we found ourselves approaching your home, it seemed to us there was a chance for our lives by pushing to the northward, into the wilder and less settled country, where the flames of the insurrection may not reach."
"Your sentiments are our own; you have been wonderfully fortunate in getting this far; my friends and I have seen enough to warn us to lose no time, and we were on the point of starting when I saw you."
"May I ask what course you intend to take?"
"I have lived here for twenty years, so that I am acquainted with the section. My intention was to follow a slightly travelled road, which, in fact, is little more than a bridle path, until several miles beyond Akwar, when we should come back to the main highway and keep to that for fifty or perhaps a hundred miles. By that time, we should be safe, if such a thing as safety is possible."
"Your plan is a good one, but is not mine better?"
"What is that?"
"I, too, am familiar with this part of the country; a stream empties into the Ganges just eastward of your house, hardly a half mile distant; it must have its source somewhere among the foothills of the Himalayas. At any rate, it is navigable for all of a hundred miles. It seems to me that when paddling up that stream at night, between the wooded banks, there will be less chance of being discovered by enemies than when travelling overland, as you contemplate."
"I am favorably impressed with your plan; do I understand you to invite us to join your party?"
"You are more than welcome; our boat will accommodate us all without crowding, but I regret to say we have but a single gun among us. That is mine, which I left with my friends against my return."
"We are well supplied in that respect; we accept your invitation with many thanks."
As the doctor spoke he stepped down from the veranda, followed by the others, and Mr. Anderson led the way across the lawn to the river, where his friends were awaiting his coming with many misgivings. A general introduction followed. A common danger makes friends of strangers, and in a few minutes all were as well acquainted as if they had known one another for days and weeks. Anderson and Turner were men in middle life, while Wharton was of about the same age as Jack Everson. They had lived for several years on the outskirts of Meerut, but it was young Wharton who discovered the impending peril, and it was due to him that the three families escaped the fate of hundreds of others on that woful night. The young wife and Mary Marlowe became intimate friends at once, while, as has been said, there was a hearty, genuine comradeship immediately established among all.
The boat was larger than Dr. Marlowe and his companions suspected. It was more than twenty feet in length, with a cabin at the stern, a place for a mast, though there was neither mast nor sail on board. Anderson had spoken of paddling to this point, when, had he spoken correctly, he would have said that no paddles were used, but that the craft was propelled by means of poles.
ON THE GANGES.
While all the members of the party were cheered by hope, none forgot that a dreadful peril impended. Enough time had passed since the revolt at Meerut for the news to spread even beyond the little town of Akwar, which was within a fourth of a mile of the home of Dr. Marlowe. He was aware that some of the most fanatical Mussulmans in all India lived there. The action of the servant Mustad, who owed his life to the father and child, was proof of what might be expected from these miscreants when swept off their feet by the delirium that was spreading with the frightful swiftness of a prairie fire.
Accordingly no time was lost. There was a hurried scrambling on board, the water fortunately being deep enough near shore to allow all to step upon the boat dry shod. The faint moon revealed the smooth surface of the Ganges for nearly a hundred yards from land, but the further shore was veiled in darkness. It was at this juncture that Miss Marlowe made an annoying discovery.
"Oh, papa, I have forgotten my pistol!"
"Wait and I'll soon get it," she added, starting to leap the short distance from the gunwale to land, but Jack Everson caught her arm.
"You must not think of it; tell me where you left the weapon and I'll bring it."
"I laid it on the table in the dining-room and in the hurry forgot it when we left."
Jack turned to his friends.
"Don't wait here," he said, aware of the nervousness of the whole party. "Push down stream, and I'll quickly overtake you."
Without waiting for further explanation, he leaped the slight space and started up the lawn on a loping trot. For convenience he left his rifle behind, but made sure that his revolver was in his hip pocket. He did not apprehend that he would need the weapon in the short time he expected to be absent, but if anything went awry it would be more useful than the rifle.
In that moment of profound stillness following the disappearance of the young man among the trees grouped about the lawn, the motionless people on the boat felt a thrill of terror at the unmistakable sound of oars from some point on the river not distant.
"Let us land and take refuge in your house," suggested young Wharton; "we cannot make a decent fight in this boat."
"We shall have a better chance than in the house," was the reply of the physician; "the bank of the river is shaded by trees a little further down; we must lose no time in getting there, and avoid the least noise."
There were two long poles belonging to the boat, one of which was grasped by Wharton, while Anderson swayed the other, the remainder watching their movements, which could not have been more skillful. Pressing the end against the bank, and afterwards against the clayey bottom, the craft speedily swung several rods from shore.
While the two men were thus employed, the others peered off in the gloom and listened for a repetition of the sounds that had frightened them a few minutes before. They were not heard again, nor could the straining vision detect anything of the dreaded object, which could not be far away. Not a person on board doubted that a number of their enemies were near and searching for them. Dr. Marlowe would have taken comfort from this fact had the circumstances been different; for the men who were hunting for him would go to his house, since it was there they must gain their first knowledge of his flight; but, as he viewed it, it was impossible that they should be wholly ignorant of the boat and its occupants, which must have made most of the distance before night closed in.
It followed, therefore, that if they were looking for the doctor and his family they were also looking for the boat and the fugitives it contained. The low-lying shore, with no trees fringing the bank, was the worst place for him and his friends, and he was in a fever of eagerness to reach the protecting shadows along shore. The nerves of all were keyed to the tensest point, when they caught the dim outlines of the overhanging growth, with the leafage as exuberant as it always is in a subtropical region at that season of the year. The men toiled with vigor and care, while the others glanced from the gloom of the river to the deeper gloom of the bank, which seemed to recede as they labored toward it. With a relief that cannot be imagined the bulky craft glided into the bank of deeper gloom, which so wrapped it about that it was invisible from any point more than a dozen yards distant.
It is inconceivable how a narrower escape could have come about, for the two men had hardly ceased poling, allowing the boat to move forward with the momentum already gained, when their enemies were discovered. Mary Marlowe's arm was interlocked with that of her father, when she nervously clutched it and whispered:
"Yonder is their boat!"
All saw the terrifying sight at the same moment. Almost opposite, and barely fifty yards out on the river, could be traced a moving shadow, the outlines of which showed a craft similarly shaped to their own, except that it was somewhat smaller and sat lower in the water. The men were too dimly seen for their number to be counted or their motions observed, but, as in the former instance, the sounds indicated that they were using paddles.
Since it was certain that the natives were searching for the fugitives in the boat under the shadows of the bank every one of the latter wondered that the pursuers remained out in the stream, when there was need of unimpeded vision. They half expected their enemies to turn to the left and come directly for them. But nothing of the kind took place. The craft headed down the river, the sound of the paddles so slight that only the closely listening ear could hear them, until it melted in the gloom and vanished from sight.
It was a vast relief for the moment, but little comfort could our friends take from the fact. Their enemies were not likely to go far, when they would suspect that something of the nature described had occurred, and they would return and grope along shore for their victims. So certain was Dr. Marlowe of this turn that he believed the wisest course was for the entire party to abandon the boat, and, as may be said, "take to the woods." They had the whole night before them, and, with his intimate knowledge of the roads, paths and trails of the country and jungles, he was confident of guiding them beyond danger and to some place where, when morning dawned, there would be little to fear in the way of discovery.
This course would have been taken except for the absence of Jack Everson. There was no way of apprising him of the change of plan, and, with his ignorance of the topography of their surroundings, he would be certain to go astray, and for any one in his situation, to go astray meant death.
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jack Everson found matters exceedingly interesting.
When he informed his friends that he would rejoin them in the course of a few minutes the possibility of anything interfering with his promise did not occur to him. That danger threatened every member of the little company may be set down as self-evident, but what could happen to disturb him in the brief interval spent in running up the slope, dashing into the house and back again to the river's side?
Such were his thoughts as he entered the shadows and hurriedly approached the front veranda. Although he had reached this spot within the preceding twenty-four hours the evening meal and the preparations for flight had given him sufficient knowledge of the interior to remove all difficulty in going straight to the table in the dining-room and taking the forgotten revolver therefrom.
The first tingle of misgiving came to the young man when he was close to the porch and about to step upon it. He remembered that it was himself who had extinguished the lamp on the table as the three were about to pass into the hall and out of doors, but lo! a light was shining from that very room. What could it mean?
"That's deuced queer," he thought, coming to an abrupt halt; "I screwed down that lamp and blew into the chimney in the orthodox fashion, so it couldn't have been that I unconsciously left the wick burning."
At this juncture he made another significant discovery. The front door which he had seen Dr. Marlowe close was partly open. The inference was inevitable: some one was in the house. In the brief time that had passed one or more persons had entered and were busy at that moment in the interior. Perhaps they had been watching among the shadows on the outside for the occupants to leave the way open for them to pass within.
Prudence dictated that Jack Everson should not linger another moment. Indeed, he ought to have counted himself fortunate that he had made his discovery in time to save himself from running into a trap. He should return to his friends with the alarming news and help them in getting away with the utmost haste possible. But Jack did nothing of the sort.
The chief cause of his lingering was his desire to obtain the revolver belonging to Miss Marlowe. Recalling the paucity of firearms among the people on the boat he felt that a single weapon could be ill spared. But above and beyond this cold truth was a vague, shuddering suspicion, amounting to a belief, that the young woman would soon need that very weapon; that, without it she would become another of the unspeakable victims of the fiends who made the Sepoy Mutiny one of the most hideous blots that darken the pages of history. He compressed his lips and swore that the revolver should be recovered, if the thing were possible, failing in which he would compel her to take his own.
The first thing was to learn whether there was more than one person in the house and what business had brought them there. His own return was not expected, so that that advantage was in his favor. He stepped lightly upon the veranda and, like a burglar in his stocking feet, passed across the porch and pushed back the door far enough to admit him. This required but a few inches, and the hinges gave out not the slightest creak. The entrance to the dining-room was closed, so that all was darkness, but he plainly saw the yellow thread along the edges of the door, caused by the lamp in the room beyond.
Once within the hall he listened intently, but could not detect the slightest sound within the building. He had already drawn his revolver, and held it ready for instant use. Knowing the value of seconds, he began moving along the hall toward the door, which was only a few paces distant, and had passed half the space when a muttered execration escaped him, for his foot struck some object that was kicked the remaining length of the hall with a clatter that he verily believed must have been heard by his friends on the boat.
No use now for precaution. Determined to have the other weapon, but not unmindful of the peril involved, he strode the few remaining steps and hastily shoved open the door of the dining-room. If a foe was there with the revolver he was quite likely to hold it levelled at the intruder, because of which Jack, when he burst into the room, held his own weapon pointed, so as to prevent any enemy from "getting the drop" on him.
For one moment the young man believed it was all a mistake and that, despite the precaution taken upon leaving the house, he had not extinguished the lamp, whose wick had recovered its vigor, but the suspicion was hardly formed when he knew there was no foundation for it. In the first place no lamp ever acts that way, and, the front door having been closed, could not open of itself. More convincing than all was the fact that Mary Marlowe's revolver, which had brought him back, was missing.
Diagonally across the dining-room from where Jack Everson stood was the door leading to the rear of the house. This was open for three or four inches, and while searching the apartment with all the keenness of his powerful vision, he distinctly saw it move. The distance was no more than an inch, but he was not mistaken, and knew it had been drawn that much nearer shut. Since no air was stirring the conclusion was inevitable that some one was on the other side who was aware of the entrance of the American.
The position of the lamp on the table threw the crevice caused by the slight opening of the door in shadow, and all was blank darkness beyond. But, looking in that direction, Jack caught the gleam of a pair of eyes, peering from the gloom like the orbs of a jungle tiger gathering himself for a spring. Nothing could be seen but the glow of the eyes, that seemed to have something of the phosphorescence of the cat species, but he could not mistake the meaning of what he saw.
Jack had partly lowered his revolver, after the first glance around the room, but it now came to a level again with the suddenness of lightning and was pointed straight at the gleaming eyes, as he spoke in a low, deadly tone:
"Come forth or I'll send a bullet through your infernal brain!"
Never was man more fairly caught. In the language of the West, Jack Everson had the drop on him, and none could be more alive to the fact than the fellow who was thus taken at disadvantage. It was merited punishment for his foolhardiness in inviting his own discomfiture. At first the chances of the two were equal, but the white man was more alive to the situation.
The Asiatic showed his appreciation of the situation by stepping forward into the lamplight.
Incredible as it may seem, he not only held a pistol in his right hand, but it was half raised and pointed at Jack Everson.
The East Indian who stood before Jack Everson, thoroughly cowed and submissive, was unusually tall, dark, and thin to emaciation. He wore a turban, a light linen jacket which encompassed his chest to below the waist, with a sash or girdle, loose flapping trousers and sandals. In the girdle at his waist was a long, formidable knife or yataghan, which he would have been glad to bury in the heart of the man who had thus brought him to his knees.
When Jack Everson demanded to know his identity the fellow replied in a low voice that was not lacking in a certain musical quality:
The young man half expected the answer.
"What business brings you here?"
"He is my master; I work for him. I have been to see my aged mother, who is very ill. I have just returned to serve my master."
"That is not true! You went away to bring some of your people to kill the doctor and his family."
"Sahib does Mustad great wrong," replied that individual in a grieved voice. "I love my master and my mistress. I am not ungrateful. I would give my life sooner than harm a hair of their heads. Where have they gone?"
It was the last question that removed all lingering doubt of the native's treachery. He had returned to bring about their overthrow, but knew not where to look for them. When he could ascertain whither they had fled he and his brother miscreants would be at their heels.
"Suppose I should tell you that they had gone to Meerut or Delhi?"
"Allah be praised!" exclaimed the other devoutly; "for then they will be safe."
"Is there no trouble in Meerut or Delhi?"
"What trouble can there be!" asked Mustad, with well-feigned simplicity. "It is in those cities that the missionaries and many of the Inglese live. They have lived there many years. What harm could befall them?"
By this time Jack Everson had lost all doubt of the perfidy of the man. He could not fail to know what had taken place within the preceding twenty-four hours in the cities named, and he lacked his usual cunning when he tried to deceive his questioner.
The young man saw that it was a waste of time to question Mustad. No reliance could be placed on anything he said.
"You will wait here, then, until Dr. Marlowe comes back?"
Mustad vigorously nodded his head and replied:
"I shall wait, and my eyes will be filled with tears until I see the good man and his child again. When will they come to their home?"
"Well, the best thing you can do is to wait here until you see them again."
As Jack made this remark he took a quick step forward and picked up the revolver. He did not pause to examine it, but was sure that none of the chambers had been discharged. Slipping the weapon into his coat pocket, and still grasping his own, he said:
"I think I shall go out on the veranda and await the return of the doctor."
As he made this remark he committed a mistake for which there was no excuse. Instead of backing out of the room he turned about and started through the open door into the hall. The walking cane against which he had once struck his foot still lay where he had kicked it, and he tripped over it a second time. The mishap, slight as it was, saved his life. As he stumbled in the gloom something whizzed like the rush of a cobra's head past his temple, nipping his hat and striking the opposite wall with force enough to kill two or three men. It was the yataghan of Mustad, who had drawn and hurled it with inconceivable quickness and with an aim so unerring that it would have brained the unsuspecting American but for his fortunate stumble.
The furious Jack whirled around with the purpose of sending a bullet through the brain of the wretch, but something like a shadow flitted through the lamplight while Jack was in the act of turning and, before he could secure any aim, the scoundrel had vanished. Determined not to be balked the young man let fly, and then, bounding across the room, snapped back the door, meaning to repeat the shot at the first glimpse of Mustad. But the latter was familiar with all the turnings of the house, while Jack knew nothing of that portion of the building. He could neither see nor hear anything, and did not deem it prudent to use the lamp to help in the search, though it was hard to retire from the field and leave the miscreant unpunished.
To do so, however, was the wiser course, and again he moved into the hall. This time he backed thither, though, since Mustad had no weapon, it was impossible that the attempt upon the young man's life should be repeated. The outer door was opened, and once more he stood on the veranda.
Before venturing across the lawn in the direction of the river he spent a minute or two in peering into the surrounding gloom and listening. He may have been mistaken, but he fancied he heard more than one person moving stealthily about in the house. Once he was sure he caught the sound of whispered words, so that the astounding fact was established that during the few minutes occupied in talking with Mustad he had a friend within instant call.
"All of which goes to prove that these people are cowards at heart," was the sage conclusion of Jack Everson. "They will throw away their lives for the sake of Islamism, and they will fight like wildcats if a man turns his back upon them; but when he stands face to face they are whipped curs."
Since there was no doubt that Mustad and his companions would be on the alert to note the course taken by Everson, so as to learn what had become of his friends, the young man saw the need of misleading them. He took care not to return to the river over his own trail. Instead of doing so he moved to the right, as if on his way to the nearby town of Akwar. When satisfied he was beyond range of the keen vision of those in the house of Dr. Marlowe he made an abrupt change, which led him toward the Ganges, forgetting, when he did so, that there might be natives in the vicinity who were not in the building at all.
Had Mr. Jack Everson spent a few years in Hindoostan he would not have made the blunders that we are obliged to record concerning his movements after parting from his friends on the boat. He had acquitted himself pluckily while in the house of the physician, but his escape from death at the hands of Mustad and his companion was providential and, under similar circumstances, was not likely to be repeated once in a thousand times.
Moreover, with his knowledge, already gained, of Asiatic cunning, he ought to have reflected that if two of their dusky enemies were within the house there were likely to be others in the immediate neighborhood. It looked as if Mustad had entered the dwelling expecting to find the physician there. He was prepared with an excuse for his abrupt departure and an explanation that would satisfy his indulgent master and mistress. Keeping his companion in the background the wretch could then complete his plans for turning the party over to the fury of their brother murderers, who probably were calmly waiting on the outside for the signal.
Nothing of all this, we repeat, entered the head of Jack until he had made the change in the course he was following and had passed down the slope to the river bank. His effort to mislead his enemies necessarily took him some distance above the point where he had left the boat, and he now set out to find his way to it. It was while he was engaged in doing so that he became aware that he was followed.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he muttered, coming to an abrupt stop; "it seems to me that these infernal imps are everywhere."
He had not seen any one, but a rustling, grating noise in the shadow of the nearest tree told him where the immediate danger lay. Believing that an unexpected course was best he wheeled and ran at full speed toward the tree, which contained a large number of dense, wide-spreading branches.
The result was surprising. Instead of one native, two leaped out from cover and ran away at full speed. They had been stealing after him, on the watch for a chance to bring him down by a blow in the back, when the tables were turned in this unexpected manner. Jack, therefore, had no hesitation in firing at the one on his right, and immediately after at his companion, whose superior speed had placed him considerably in advance. As a consequence, he missed the latter, while the first emitted a screech, leaped high in air and sprawled forward on his face as dead as Julius Caesar.
The fact that his pursuers were two in number led the young man to believe they were Mustad and his companion, whom he had heard in the house. A few minutes later he made another halt. He was able, despite the gloom, to identify the spot where he had left the boat, but it was not in sight.
"I told them not to wait for me, and they acted on my suggestion. They can't be far off, and I hope have run into no trouble."
The occurrences of the last quarter of an hour gave Jack a vivid idea of the increasing peril. The natives from the nearby town were hunting for the physician, his daughter and himself, all of whom had not left the house a minute too soon and now, while he paused on the shore of the river and listened, he too caught the sound that had filled his friends with dread. There were no noises from the jungles to the eastward, though at times the outcries are terrifying, and the shouts and shrieks of the mutineers and their victims at Meerut and Delhi were too far away to reach his ears, but he heard now and then the faint sound of paddles out on the stream.
"Anderson spoke of using paddles," reflected Jack, "but it was a misnomer, for they have none, and they would not have pushed so far out from shore when they knew I expected to return so soon. All that proves that a party of devils have also a boat and are hunting for the one in which our new friends are groping for safety."
This threatened to make a new complication, but the plain course for Jack was to keep along the shore of the river and press his search for the craft, which he was certain was not far off.
His experience had taught him the need of unceasing vigilance, and as he advanced, he scrutinized the ground in front and on every hand, like a scout stealing into a hostile camp. Within less time than he counted upon he saw the boat lying close to shore, where his friends were awaiting him. As soon as he recognized the craft he announced himself in a guarded undertone, to guard against any mistake, and the next moment clambered aboard, where, it need not be said, he was warmly welcomed.
After they had exchanged greetings the doctor asked:
"Did I not hear the report of your pistol a little while ago?"
"Inasmuch as I discharged it very probably you did."
Thereupon Jack told of what he had seen and done since leaving the boat to recover the pistol of Miss Marlowe. It was a story of deep interest to all, and his account of his meeting with the faithless Mustad deeply stirred his master.
"Despite my denunciation of the fellow I confess I had a lingering suspicion that I might have been mistaken; but all doubt now is removed. There is no native in all India to be more dreaded than he."
"I have a faint hope that it was he with whom I made my fourth bull's-eye," remarked Jack.
"Hardly likely. Probably there were two others skulking on the outside and waiting for a chance at us."
"But they had all the chance they could have asked at me."
"It may have been the doctor and his daughter whom they were the most eager to secure," suggested Mr. Turner.
"That is my belief," added Anderson.
"And mine, too," joined the doctor himself. "It seems to be a trait of our perverse human nature to hate with the deepest intensity those who have done us the greatest kindness."
This remark meant more to Jack Everson than to any one else, for he believed that it was the daughter who was the special object of the natives. That reminded him of the weapon he had secured.
"Here," he said, "take it before I forget to return it."
"You risked a good deal for my sake," she said gratefully, accepting the weapon, "and I cannot thank you sufficiently—— Well, I declare!"
She was in the act of placing the pistol in the pocket of her dress when she made the discovery that her weapon was already there. Jack Everson had taken Mustad's own property from him.
The curious incident served to lift for a brief time the oppression that rested upon all. The remarkable part of it was how Miss Marlowe could believe she had left her revolver in her home when it was in the pocket of her dress, where, it would seem, she ought to have felt it while walking across the lawn to the boat, even if she had forgotten to examine that most natural receptacle for it when she first missed the weapon.
"It is the most stupid thing I ever did," she declared. "I meant to keep it in my hand while coming from the house, and, awaking to the fact that it was not there, did not stop to examine my pocket. It is too bad."
"We have gained an additional means of defense," observed Mr. Turner, "and that may be decisive before we are through with this business."
Now that all were together again each was impatient to be on the move. Wharton and Turner began using the poles with the skill shown some time before, and once more the unwieldy craft swung slowly down the Ganges, with all on board alert for the first sign of their enemies. The women were advised to remain in the small cabin, where they would be safe against stealthy shots.
As the boat crept under the shadows along shore the spirits of all improved, for it seemed that with every rod placed behind, them the danger was diminished, and by and by would vanish altogether.
"That, however, cannot be," said the doctor to Jack Everson, as they sat a little apart from the rest, near the bow of the craft. "In truth, I see but one possible escape for this party."
"What is that?"
"I have already referred to it. It will take us weeks to reach Calcutta on the east or Bombay on the west, and between us and each of these points the hell fire will rage for months to come. To go south is equally suicidal, since it would take us into the heart of the insurrection. I repeat that there is but one thing to be done: that is to push northward, as I said, until we reach a people too far removed to be affected by this deviltry."
"To find a simple people where our knowledge of medicine will cause us to be looked upon as superior beings. I have discovered a remedy for the bite of a cobra which will stand one in good stead, should a native be bitten. They believe, you know, as does the rest of the world, that the bite of this serpent is certain death. But I have discovered a remedy, the necessary drugs of which I carry in this case," touching the leather case strapped to his back.
"Beyond all doubt. You have tested this remedy of yours?"
"I have, twice."
"Upon man or brute?"
Although the two physicians were deeply interested in the question of toxicology they could not forget their situation and its perils. The craft had nearly completed its half mile to the mouth of the tributary which it was intended to ascend, when the polemen, pausing for a moment's rest, whispered that they heard the sound of paddles again.
"There they are!"
It was Jack Everson who uttered the exclamation, loud enough for all to hear. He pointed down stream as he spoke, and every one perceived the dreaded boat returning.
Although nearer at hand than before, it seemed to be following the course of the river, and there was hope that it would again pass without discovering the shrinking ones so near land.
When first observed the other boat was fifty yards out and not quite so far down stream. Moving against the current its progress was slower than before, but its advance was plainly perceptible. The craft of the white people had lost the momentum imparted by the poling, and was now controlled only by the current, which was so sluggish close to the land that the motion was hardly noticeable.
The hopes of our friends steadily rose until the other boat was almost directly abreast. It would seem that if the occupants intended attacking they would have veered inward before this, but there could be no assurance so long as they remained visible.
Every one started when the gaunt, sloping figure suddenly became upright at the prow of the boat and stood motionless. He had ceased using the pole that he had been plying with so much vigor. At the same moment the noise of the paddles ceased, proving that the men controlling them had also stopped work. What could it mean?
No one of the white people stirred or whispered. Could they have done so they would have checked the beating of their hearts through fear of being betrayed. Surely something had awakened the suspicion of the natives.
Suddenly some one spoke on board the craft. The voice was audible, but the doctor, who was a master of Hindoostanee, could not catch what was said. At the same instant a splash was heard, and the lank form bent over, as he pressed the long pole against the bottom of the river and resumed his slow walking toward the stern. The noise of paddles, too, was heard again. The craft had resumed its progress, and for an instant every one believed it was about to pass by. Then Jack Everson said:
"By heaven! they're coming for us!"
All saw that the boat was swinging around so as to head toward them.
"Into the cabin, quick!" commanded the doctor, and the women quickly scrambled out of sight, while the men lay down, so as to screen their bodies as much as possible.
"It won't do to let them come too near," added the physician. "Try to make every shot tell."
As he spoke he took the best aim he could and fired. Jack Everson was but a moment behind him, and Anderson discharged his gun almost simultaneously.
A WHITE MAN'S VICTORY.
It was clear that the reception was a stunning surprise to the Asiatics in the other boat. In times of confusion and terror strong men often sit dazed and meekly submit to massacre when sturdy resistance would leave a far different tale to tell. Such was the case at Meerut, at Delhi, at Cawnpore, at Lucknow and scores of places where the human fiends revelled in massacre and crime.
But here, where evidently the same submissiveness was expected, the miscreants were fired upon before they had discharged a single shot themselves. Not only that, but the Caucasians kept the thing up. This was contrary to all rule and precedent.
If, however, the white men did not wait to be slain, neither did the dusky barbarians sit still and allow themselves to be shot down. They ceased paddling and appealed to their guns, whose bullets began whistling about the heads of the defenders in the other boat.
Who of our friends did it will never be known, but one of them perforated the gaunt scoundrel who, with his form bent over, was pushing the pole while he stalked the length of the boat, returning again to the prow to repeat the performance. The fellow emitted a screech like a wounded tiger and leaped several feet in air, coming down on the gunwale, over which he toppled into the water and was seen no more. It was the spirited defiance of the white men that told. Screening themselves as best they could they continued firing, Jack Everson occasionally adding a shot from his revolver by way of variety. The conformation of the other boat and its crowded condition prevented the natives from sheltering themselves as did those who were using them as targets. In short, the wretches were getting the worst of the business, and it did not take them long to learn the fact. Left without control, their boat began drifting with the current, which being stronger than along shore gradually carried it down stream and out of sight. So long, however, as it was visible its occupants continued firing, while the white people did still better, for they sent several shots after their enemies when they could see nothing and fired wholly by guess.
There could be no question that the promptness of Dr. Marlowe and the vigor of the resistance threw their foes into a sort of panic from which they did not recover until beyond range. They had been taught a lesson that they were sure to remember for a long time; though, when our friends came to think the matter over, after finding no one of them had been hurt, they could not escape the belief that the consequences were certain to be of the most serious nature to themselves, and in this conclusion, sad to say, they were not mistaken.
UNDER THE BANK.
A few minutes later an open space appeared in front of the boat. It was the month of the tributary flowing into the Ganges from the left or north, and was more than a hundred yards across. Since it was necessary to stem the current in order to take advantage of this refuge, the doctor contemplated it with misgiving, for the work of poling it up stream promised to be laborious. He had not forgotten his original plan of abandoning the boat and striking across the country on foot, taking advantage of the less-frequented roads and paths that were well known to him. He was relieved, however, to find the flow so languid that it was easy to make headway against it.
"I have never followed this stream far," he remarked, "and, therefore, have less knowledge of it than the rest of the country, but my impression is that it cannot serve us long."
"It will be time enough to leave the boat and take to the woods when we can go no further," said Jack Everson; "but we cannot get away from the main stream too soon."
This was self-evident. It was not likely that the natives after their decisive repulse would abandon their purpose of massacring the party, but they would be more guarded in what they did and probably secure reinforcements, an easy thing to do when the sanguinary wretches everywhere were thirsting for victims.
Jack had seized one of the poles, and he and young Wharton plied them with so much sturdiness that the heavy craft made better progress than at any time since it was used as a vehicle of safety. The course of the tributary was winding, and our friends had not gone far when they were shut out from the sight of any persons passing up and down the main river, even if close to the northern bank.
Would the natives suspect the course taken by the whites? That was the all-important question that must soon be answered. After searching up and down the Ganges without success, it was likely they would penetrate the stratagem and follow them, in which event the fugitives would be in a critical situation, since the straightness of the stream and the wooded shores would place them at much greater disadvantage than if they remained upon the Ganges.
When the boat had ascended the tributary for perhaps an eighth of a mile it was deemed safe to lessen the work of poling. Careful listening failed to detect any sound of pursuit, and there was ground for hoping that their enemies neither knew nor suspected what had been done.
Several facts had become apparent. The densely wooded shores offered excellent concealment. By running the boat beneath the dense branches and among the heavy vegetation the keenest-eyed Asiatics might pass up or down stream almost within arm's length without suspecting its presence. But the tributary had perceptibly narrowed and its current was swifter than at the mouth. All this pointed to the truth of what Dr. Marlowe suspected—the stream could not serve them much further.
The night was now so far advanced that the women took the advice of their friends and withdrew to the cabin for slumber. Their quarters were cramped, but they made themselves fairly comfortable. The night was cooler than the day, but only sufficiently so to be pleasant. It was not deemed probable that anything would be seen of their enemies before the morrow, and perhaps not even then.
Dr. Marlowe insisted upon taking his turn in poling, but since there were four vigorous men without him, they would not consent. When two had toiled for an hour or more, they gave way to the other couple, and the progress thus continued without interruption, while the time slowly dragged along. The resting spells gave each the opportunity for sleep, thus husbanding their vigor for the morrow. Finding that there was nothing to which he could turn his hand, the physician reclined at the bow and soon joined the others in dreamland.
It was probably one o'clock when Jack Everson, who had been sleeping for nearly an hour, was awakened by a gentle shaking of his shoulder. Opening his eyes and looking up he saw Wharton bending over him.
"All right," remarked the American; "I'm ready for my turn," and he rose, yawning, to his feet.
"I think we had better rest until morning."
"The current has become so rapid that it is hard to make progress; this stream can't be of much further use to us."
It needed but a glance around in the gloom to see that it was as his friend had declared. The boat was so close to the left-hand shore that it was held motionless by Anderson at the bow, who gripped an overhanging branch, with one hand. The water rippled around the front of the craft, and when Jack dipped the end of one of the poles into the current it swept downward at a rate that astonished him.
"I esteem your advice good," he said, "but it will not do to leave the boat in sight."
With the help of the limbs and the use of the poles it was easy to force the craft under the bank, where it was screened from observation. Then it was secured in place against drifting and all work for the time was over.
Wharton and Jack Everson were the only persons awake. The women had been sleeping for several hours, while Anderson and Turner had long since joined the venerable doctor in the realms of unconsciousness. The two young men sat down where they could speak in low tones without being overheard.
"It won't do for all of us to sleep at the same time," remarked Jack; "the scoundrels may be creeping up stream after us."
"That is hardly possible; I am sure that for the present we are as safe as if in the heart of London."
"I cannot believe as you do; since I have just enjoyed an hour's sleep I will act as sentinel until daybreak. I can easily keep awake for the few hours that remain."
"As you think best, though I am sure it is an unnecessary precaution."
"We must not forget that there are perils from the jungle as well as from the river. There is no saying what wild beast may pay us a visit."
Inasmuch as Jack could not be dissuaded from his purpose, and Wharton began to suspect his friend was half right, the question was decided. Wharton stretched out on the deck, falling asleep almost immediately, and Jack thus found himself the only one with his senses at command and with the safety of the others dependent upon him.
He took his place near the cabin, where the women were slumbering, with his breechloader in hand. He was never more wide awake and was sure he would remain so for hours to come. Wharton had offered to divide the duty with him in acting as sentinel, but our hero preferred to keep the matter in his own hands. He was sure his friend did not realize the full peril of their situation.
The stillness was broken only by the peculiar cries in the jungle, which it may be said were never wholly silent. First on the right, then on the left, then from the front, and again from different points on both sides of the stream he heard the sounds, some faint and far away, with others alarmingly close. The hoarse snarl of the tiger, the finer cry of the leopard, the squawking of night birds, with other noises that he could not identify, were continually in the air. Had they been heard for the first time he would have been in a tremor of fear and nervousness; but man soon becomes accustomed to danger, and the nearest must come still nearer to cause his pulse an additional throb.
Jack Everson was sensible that through this medley of strange noises there was one sound that was continuous and never changing. So faint that at first he and Wharton failed to notice it, it now impressed itself too distinctly upon his consciousness for him to be mistaken. It was a low, steady hum or moaning, such as the traveller hears when miles inland from the ocean. He could not identify it, though he made several guesses, and was still speculating unsatisfactorily, when he received a startling reminder that there was a new peril at his very feet.
The first notice was a faint purring sound, as if made by a gigantic cat, accompanied by a rustling of the vegetation scarcely a dozen feet away. He instantly grasped his rifle with both hands and was alert. It was impossible to distinguish ordinary objects in the gloom, but suddenly two small circles glittered with a greenish light and the purring was succeeded by a low, cavernous growl. Then it all became clear to him: a royal Bengal tiger was stealing upon the boat and was probably gathering himself for a leap at that very moment.
Had all the occupants been asleep the frightful terror would have played sad havoc with them before they could defend themselves. As it was, it looked as if more than one fatality must follow his attack.
But for that phosphorescent gleam of the brute's eyes Jack Everson would not have been able to locate him, but the glow of the two objects defined the outlines and locality of the horrible thing as unmistakably as if the sun were overhead. The occasion was one in which everything depended upon promptness. The tiger was likely to shift his position and turn his head so that the eyes would fail to show.
Jack reflected that there probably were a number of spots in the anatomy of the jungle terror that were more vulnerable than others; that a well-aimed bullet might be instantly fatal in one, while able to inflict only a partial wound in another. Be that as it may, he was sure that a conical bullet driven between the eyes and through bone, muscle and brain by a rifle that could kill a man at the distance of a mile must do effective work when that brain was not a dozen feet distant from the muzzle of the weapon. At any rate, there was no time for inquiry and he did not hesitate.
Aiming for a point midway between the gleaming orbs he pressed the trigger. It takes a well-aimed weapon to kill a royal Bengal tiger, even at a short distance, but Jack's rifle was well aimed. The tiny sphere of lead darted through the brain and along the spinal marrow as if fired with the vicious energy of a charge of dynamite.
It so happened that the tiger was in the act of making his graceful but fearful leap that was to land him upon the breast of the young man, who had risen to his feet just before firing. The check at that instant produced a queer result, the like of which is not often seen. The shock of the bullet crashing into the head of the muscular beast at the instant he was calling into play his prodigious strength intensified that strength to a sudden and astonishing degree. The consequence was that the tiger, instead of making the leap he intended, made one twice as great and overshot the mark. From out the gloom the beautiful sinewy body, of which only a glimpse could be caught, emerged as if fired from the throat of a Columbiad and, curving over the shoulders of the man and the boat, dropped into the stream with a splash that sent the water flying in every direction.
Beyond the line of shadow, where the faint moonlight fell upon him, the tiger was seen to be a beast of extraordinary size. He emitted one rasping snarl while sailing through the air, but was already dead when he fell into the water, where it could not be seen he had made a struggle. The sinewy body dipped out of sight, bobbed up again and the next minute was swept beyond view by the rapid current.
Rather strangely, not one of the women was awakened by the report of the rifle so near them, and of the men Dr. Marlowe and Anderson were the only ones who rose to a sitting posture and anxiously inquired the cause of the firing.
"I discovered an animal prowling near the boat," replied Jack, who thought it well not to disturb them with the whole truth, "and I winged him."
"You are sure you killed him?" asked the doctor; "most likely it was a tiger."
"I am quite sure of that, and am just as sure that, considered strictly as a tiger, he is of no further account. I made another bull's-eye in his case."
"How many is that?" asked the physician, entering into the spirit of the jest.
"My fifth, counting only those that I am sure of."
"You are doing well; keep it up; let the good work go on," replied the elder, again adjusting himself for slumber, quite content to leave the valiant young American in charge of the boat and its occupants. Jack had it in mind to question him about that distant murmuring sound that puzzled him, but when ready to do so he discovered that the doctor was again asleep and he did not disturb him.
The fact that one denizen of the jungle had paid the boat a visit was ground for looking for a call from another. Jack remained, therefore, on the alert, and though under ordinary circumstances he would have fallen asleep he kept wide awake until the growing light in the sky told of the coming day. Before the sun was fairly above the horizon all were astir. They bathed faces and hands in the roiled water and greeted one another with thankfulness that the night had passed without harm to any member of the little company.
When the three men and their wives fled from Meerut they took with them enough food to last for several days. There is little excuse for people dying of starvation in any part of India, though sad to say it is only recently that thousands were swept away by famine. Fruit is abundant and little meat is necessary in hot countries. Before the morning meal was partaken of Jack Everson asked Dr. Marlowe to explain the cause of the low moaning noise that had been in his ears for moat of the night. The elder listened for a minute and replied:
"What I expected! We are very near the head of navigation; that sound comes from falls or rapids, above which we cannot go with this boat."
This announcement precipitated a discussion as to what was the best course to follow. The physician left no doubt of his sentiments.
"The devils will be prowling up this stream within a few hours; I should not be surprised if they are near us this moment; the boat is of no further use to us."
The three, Anderson, Turner and Wharton, did not agree with him. The craft had served them so well that they were unwilling to abandon it. They seemed to believe that it offered a much safer means of defense than they could find anywhere on land.
"But you cannot stay forever on it," protested the doctor impatiently.
"We do not expect to," replied Anderson; "we may decide to descend to the Ganges again, and continue down the river."
"To Cawnpore or some point nearer."
The doctor was aghast.
"You mean to leap straight into the hornet's nest; those are the places, of all others, that must be avoided."
"It may be as you say, but I am hopeful that the English garrisons have been able to hold out against the mutineers."
"It is a woeful mistake, my friend; if you persist in it we must part company."
THE SOUND OF FIRING.
Jack Everson was hardly less impatient than the doctor over the obstinacy of their lately made friends. He reminded them that the physician had spent a score of years in that part of the world, with which he was so familiar that his judgment ought to outweigh theirs, but the argument was useless. They had decided to stick to the boat that had served them so well and could not be dissuaded. Their plan, as they had intimated, now that they found they could go little further up stream, was to descend to the Ganges, with a view of working their way down to some of the cities, where they hoped to find the English had succeeded in holding out against the mutineers.
Could this be done, and could such a haven be reached, all would be well, but the doctor assured them they were leaning upon a broken reed. When it became evident that all persuasions were useless the parties separated. A common peril had brought them near to one another and it was impossible that that they should part except as friends. All felt the solemnity of the hour. Each wife kissed and embraced Mary Marlowe, and like her shed tears at what they felt was probably the final parting, so far as this world was concerned. The men warmly shook hands and there was more than one tremulous voice when the three passed over the side of the boat and said farewell.
The latter walked some distance through the jungle, which was so dense that they were obliged to follow one of the numerous paths made by the animals in going to and coming from the water. The doctor, by virtue of his superior knowledge, took the lead, with his daughter close behind, and Jack Everson bringing up the rear. They were silent and thoughtful, for their spirits were oppressed by a deep gloom and the feeling that something dreadful impended.
Not far off the path which they were following expanded into a natural clearing two or three rods in extent. When they reached the spot the doctor halted and faced his companions.
"I now know where we are," he said in an undertone; "we have to follow this path a little way back, when we enter a hilly and rough country, where the jungle is more open. It is cut up by numerous trails like this, most of which have been made by the feet of wild animals, but one of them leads northward and finally enters a highway, which if followed far enough will land us in the Nepaul country."
"I assume from what you have said that it will not be safe to stick to this road?" said Jack.
"No; for two or three days while travelling over it we shall be in constant danger; our task will be to make our way over it without attracting the notice of any of our enemies who are scouring the country for us."
"Is the thing possible?"
"I should not undertake it did I not think so; the danger will threaten for probably a hundred miles, though growing steadily less as we proceed."
"Will it not be safer to do our travelling by night?" asked the daughter.
"That is what I mean to do after reaching the more plainly marked path, which connects with the highway. I see no risk in pushing through the jungle by day, since the only foes we are likely to encounter are four-footed ones. If we meet any such we must refrain from firing, since the reports of our guns will be sure to draw attention to us. I mean, of course," explained the doctor, "that our weapons are not to be appealed to unless there is no escape otherwise, as was the case with the tiger."
While he was speaking, Mary gave a faint gasp and caught his arm. She and Jack were facing the point toward which his back was turned. Seeing that it was something behind him that had startled both, the doctor turned his head. As if to emphasize the words just spoken, he saw an immense spotted leopard, motionless in the trail not more than fifty feet away. Evidently he was trotting to the stream, when he caught sight of the three persons, stopped short, raised his head and stared wonderingly at them.
The leopard shares the reputation of the tiger for deadly ferocity and daring. When more than 20,000 persons are killed in India every year by wild animals and serpents, it will be found that the leopard is one of the most active among these factors of death, and holds his own well up with the tiger.
Like the venomous serpent, the leopard had a terrible beauty all his own. As he stood with head raised, eyes glaring, mouth slightly parted and his long tail lashing his sides with a force that made the thumping against his glossy ribs plainly audible, his pose was perfect. What a picture he made!
The question that was to be quickly answered was whether the fearful brute would allow himself to be turned aside from the path and withdraw again into the jungle with his thirst unslaked. If he did he would not be molested; if he presumed to advance upon the party, whom he evidently held in slight fear, let him be prepared for the consequences!
Jack Everson fumbled his rifle and looked with sparkling eyes at the beast.
"What a chance for another bull's-eye!" he said, in a low voice. "I would take him right between and above his forelegs, where I should be sure of reaching his heart."
"Don't fire unless he advances to attack us," warned the elder.
It would be hard to say what induced the leopard to retreat, for, as has been said, he is one of the most dangerous denizens of the jungle; but, while our friends were expecting a charge from him, he wheeled about and trotted off.
"It looks as if he had learned something of your skill," remarked the doctor with a smile.
Again, while the words were in the mouth of the speaker, he was interrupted, this time in a more terrifying manner than before.
From the direction of the stream which they had left but a short time previous, and undoubtedly from the boat itself, came the reports of firearms. There were no shouts or outcries, but the firing was rapid and apparently made by gun and pistol.
"They have been attacked!" exclaimed Mary; "we must go to their help!"
She impulsively started along the path, but her father seized her arm and said sternly:
"Remain here! It is no place for you; Jack and I will do what we can."
Perhaps in the excitement of the moment the parent did not fully comprehend the danger of leaving his daughter alone in the jungle, even at so slight a distance and for so brief a time as he anticipated, with nothing but a revolver as a means of defence; but he and Jack Everson were eager to rush to the aid of their friends, and they hurried over the trail without even looking back at her.
The young man was slightly behind his companion and both broke into a loping trot. Each held his rifle in hand, on the alert to use it the instant the opportunity presented itself.
It will be borne in mind that the distance from the slight natural opening to the boat was short, and a few minutes sufficed for the two men to cover it; but a strange thing happened. The reports of firearms which had broken out with such suddenness ceased with the same abruptness, and the silence because of the contrast was tenfold more oppressive than before.
"What can that mean?" asked Jack, as his companion slackened his pace.
"It means that they are through!" replied the doctor, whose face was of deathly paleness. "My God! what have we escaped!"
"We shall soon know," replied Jack, catching the awful significance of the words; and then he added to himself:
"We may have escaped it, but for how long?"
A few rods further and they were at the side of the stream, and the boat loomed to view through the thick undergrowth and vegetation.
Neither Jack Everson nor Dr. Marlowe forgot his own personal danger in hurrying to the help of their imperilled friends. If the two were too late to be of any assistance they were imminently likely to precipitate themselves into the same whirlpool of woe and death. They had slowed their gait to a walk as they neared the spot, and when they caught the dim outlines of the boat the two stood still.
So far as they could see there was no change in its surroundings. It was still moored against the bank, so close that any one could step aboard, but no sign of living person was visible on or about it. There was something so uncanny in it all that but for their mutual knowledge they would have doubted the evidence of their senses.
"I don't understand it," whispered Jack. "Suppose you stay here while I steal nigh enough to learn something that will help clear up the horrible mystery."
"You are running frightful risk," said the doctor; "I cannot advise you to try it."
"All the same, I shall do it."
Thus, it will be observed that the three persons composing the little party became separated from one another for greater or less distances. The daughter was waiting, two or three hundred yards away, for the return of her father and lover, while they had just parted company, though they expected to remain in sight of each other.
Dr. Marlowe stood in the path, partly sheltering himself behind a couple of tree trunks, but with his eyes fixed upon his young friend, who walked cautiously but unhesitatingly forward. Jack held his rifle in a trailing position at his side, his shoulders bent slightly forward, while he stepped lightly, his senses alert, like those of a scout entering the camp of an enemy. That he was running into great danger was self-evident, but he was determined not to turn back until he learned something of the strange occurrences.
Watching his young friend, the doctor saw him stop when at the side of the motionless boat. His profile showed first on one side and then, on the other, while he listened for the slightest sound that could give an atom of knowledge. Apparently the effort was useless, for the next moment he placed his left hand on the gunwale and vaulted lightly upon deck. He stood a few moments as if transfixed, then turning abruptly about leaped to the ground, and, breaking into a run, hurried back to his friend, who noticed that his face was more ghastly than before, while his eyes stared as if they still looked upon unutterable things.
"What is it?" asked the elder in a ghostly whisper.
"My God! don't ask me to tell!"
"You forget that we are both physicians."
"But not that we are human beings; thank Heaven forever that you did not look upon the sight my eyes saw a moment ago. Let it suffice, doctor, to say that of the three men and women to whom we bade good-bye within the past twenty minutes not one is alive! The fiends have been there."
Not the least singular fact connected with this hideous incident was that the devils who committed the unspeakable crime had vanished, so far as could be seen, as utterly as if the ground had opened beneath their feet and swallowed them. Two men had come back upon the scene within a few minutes after all this was done, and yet the doers were nowhere in sight. What was the meaning of their hasty departure?
It was unreasonable to think they had gone far. They must be in the vicinity. They must have noticed the absence of the doctor and his companions; doubtless they were looking for them along shore; possibly they had started over some of the trails and ere long would strike the one along which the three had fled.
"A wonderful Providence has preserved us thus far," said Jack Everson; "but it is too much to expect we shall emerge unscathed from this hell hole."
"I hope nothing will happen to Mary before we rejoin her."
"We shall be with her in a minute."
Nevertheless, a vague fear disturbed both. The parent was again leading, and he unconsciously hastened his footsteps. Only a slight distance beyond they came to the small opening where they had left her standing but a brief while before. Since the men had passed over the intervening distance to the river it was unlikely that anything had occurred to alarm the young woman, but there was no saying what might happen in those times and in that part of the world.
The real shock came to the parent when he turned in the trail and saw the open space but failed to observe his daughter. He hurried on without speaking, but Jack, directly behind him, had made the discovery, for a moment he was so breathless and dizzy that he barely saved himself from falling. His heart became lead, and the awful conviction got hold of him that the most woeful affliction of all had come upon them, and that his betrothed was lost irrecoverably.
But the sight of the anguish of the parent when he turned about and faintly gasped, "Where is my child?" brought the self-command of the young man back.
It was the despairing question wrung from the heart of the parent, with a grief that was no keener than that of Jack Everson himself. Here was another instance of the appalling suddenness with which tragedies began and were completed in this infernal country. A band of half a dozen was cut off within the space of a few minutes, and now, in still less time, a young woman vanished as if she had never been.
Jack did not dare trust his voice in the effort to speak, but when his eyes met those of the parent he shook his head, saying by the gesture:
"God have mercy, I cannot answer."
But strong men do not remain dazed and helpless in the presence of a shuddering calamity. If any one thing could be set down as certain it was that Miss Marlowe had left the place by fleeing deeper into the jungle. She could not have approached them without being observed: therefore they must seek her by taking the same direction.
The energy of the man more than threescore under the spur of his anguish was like that of the athlete of one-third of his years. He still led the way, and, after the brief halt under the fearful blow, he rallied and compelled Jack Everson to keep upon a trot to save himself from falling behind.
A hundred paces from the opening they reached a point where the trails forked. They stopped, the parent being the first to do so.
"Jack," said he, using the less formal name, for under the awful shadow they had drawn nearer to each other, "we can't afford to make any mistake."
"There shall be none if you tell me how to prevent it."
"She must have followed one of these paths, but who shall say which?"
He stooped over and peered at the ground. Within the dim hush of the jungle he was unable to discern the slightest disturbance of the earth.
"No use of that," said the doctor, reading his intention; "therefore we will separate; one of us will overtake them."
"Have you any idea of the identity of these devils?"
"I think they are Ghoojurs, but it makes no difference; Mussulmans and Hindoos are the same; each of us has a rifle and revolver; if you get sight of them don't wait to notify me; shoot to kill; you know how to do it."
"I shall shrink from nothing, but the case may be hopeless."
"If it is will you promise me one thing?" asked, the parent of the young man looking him in the eye.
"I do; what is the pledge?"
"That you point your gun at her?"
A SHADOWY PURSUIT.
It was a fearful pledge to exact, but Jack Everson gave it without hesitation.
"You understand me; enough; let us lose no more time; I will turn to the right; good-bye; we are all in the hands of God."
There was not a tear in the eye of the parent. His heart might be torn by grief, but he was now the Roman from whose lips no murmuring was heard.
It seemed to Jack Everson that the strangeness of the incidents of the past hour had lifted him into a state of exaltation. He never felt calmer nor more self-possessed than when hurrying over the path, rifle in hand, revolver at his hip with the belief that there was not one chance in a thousand that he would ever again look upon the one who had won his heart when the two were on the other side of the world and for whose sake he was ready to go to the uttermost lengths of the earth.
His feeling was: "They have stolen her from us, but by the Eternal she shall cost them dear!"
There was no thought of what all this implied to himself. He did not care what the consequences were, so far as he was concerned. It came to be a legend among the men desperately defending their families and themselves during the horrors of the Sepoy mutiny, that in fighting the unspeakable fiends, the European should save a bullet apiece for his dear ones and one for himself.
Such was the resolve of the young American who was now making all haste to find his beloved and her captors, and settling down into that resolution he acted with the coolness of a veteran.
The first truth that impressed itself upon him was that the path which he was following steadily ascended, being quite steep in many places. This showed as a matter of course that he was attaining higher ground. He was not familiar enough with the country to know that he was approaching a steep ridge of hills, for the doctor had told him nothing of the fact, and the elevated section had been passed in the boat at night. He observed, too, that his course trended to the right, proving that he was penetrating deeper into the country.
"If the line that the doctor is following holds straight on we must approach each other, but his may turn more than mine—confound it!"
He had reached a point where the paths forked again. Supposing he had been fortunate enough to take the right course at the beginning, how could he maintain it?
Swallowing his exasperation, he reflected coolly. The trail to the left was less travelled than the one which kept directly forward. He believed the Ghoojurs had kept to it possibly because there was less danger of pursuit. One fact was self-evident: nothing was to be gained by standing still, while there was a chance of accomplishing something by going on. With scarcely a minute's hesitation he advanced at a rapid stride over the more faintly marked course, peering in advance for a glimpse of his enemies.