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Saturday, February 13, 1858
SEPOYS; OR, HIGHLAND JESSIE.
A TALE OF THE PRESENT INDIAN REVOLT.
M. J. ERRYM.
AUTHOR OF "JANE BRIGHTWELL," "THE SNOW-DRIFT," ETC.
[Giving a faithful Account of the Perils and Adventures of Two Families in
The romantic and exciting character of the events in
ASSEMBLY ROOM AT CAWNPORE.
CLINGING to each other with the frantic grasp of despair—-uncertainty and fear
upon every countenance—-blanched cheeks and trembling limbs, bespeaking the terror
of those throbbing hearts—-eyes quivering through tears of agonised apprehension,
as they cast their hurried glances from door to window, and then from face to face
of the poor horror-stricken throng; listening with an agony of dread for any sound
from without, striving with a preternatural eagerness to separate the sobs and
moans of children from all extraneous noises-—silent and hopeless, with the slant
There crouched the mother—-clasping to her heart the little ones wailing for food, and dabbled with the blood of the father who had fallen in their defense—despair on her face, terror of yet unheard-of horrors to come, in her eyes.
There the maiden in the first flush and pride of her girlish beauty, so pale and wan, the very fount of tears dried up with the wild terror of the past, and the dread of the still more terrible future! Where are the fond hearts that love her? where the tender arms that would enfold her from even the winds of heaven, should they visit her cheek too roughly? where is the gallant lover who has looked to her as the star in the East, by the light of which he hoped to march to glory and renown? Not there! not there!—-where she like a pale spectre, with those clasped hands and that faint moaning sound from her lips, awaits her dreadful doom.
Wives—-sisters—-gentle little ones, who have but yet, through their blue eyes, peeped at the great world, which so soon for them is to pass away for ever;—-young, fair children, with the sweet cherub faces of English youth, and the soft voices of our own happy clime—beings of love, and to be beloved, with all the wild idolatry of human passion;—beauty, gentleness—every charm that, in the fairest and the tenderest portion of humanity, graces nature,—all are there—picturesque, yet awful in their despair!
Do not pitying angels crowd those latticed casements and gaze with the ineffable love of a higher state on these poor victims? Is there no cheering murmur from a world to come, whence cruelty and oppression are unknown, since all hope is quenched in this? Oh! it was a sight to make angels weep, if tears are still the inheritance of the starry host!
And higher, and higher still, rose in the soft blue of that Indian sky,
"Hush! What sound is that?"
A shrill, clarion-like burst of eastern music. The clash of cymbals, and the whirr of the many-stringed eeda , with the hoarse rattle of drums, comes on the soft night air.
Then, the mothers clasp their little ones yet closer to their hearts. Then the young maidens sink to the floor, their breath coming short and thick; and there is wringing of hands, and there are frantic prayers, and cries of help, where help there is none—-for mercy, which comes not.
Loudly clash the cymbals again! The monotonous beat of the Indian drum falls as though each tap was on some poor victim's heart! A blaze of yellow light mingles with the moonbeams, and the shouts of many voices awaken echo in the blood-stained streets of the city.
Then, with the bray of trumpets —- the confused clatter of arms—-the crashing of
the cymbals-—the jingle of the silver-belled chunar, and the tap!
tap! of the drums—there sweeps past the
And now, as the rabble band neared the prison-house of these sad victims we have fairly touched upon there is one who, in her despair—-for she thinks the destroyer is at hand—-shrieks aloud. Another, in vain, tries to take her own life—-for death, simply death, has lost its horrors in higher horrors still. A third bemoans her fate, in bitter anguished words, which keep up a strange cadence with the clash of barbarous sounds without.
"Oh, mercy, heaven! Why is all this? What have we done, to be so lost? So happy were we in our dear home—-kind kindred about us—-every word a sound of true affection—-life so dear, so beautiful to us all! The earth so beautiful—-the sky so blue and fair! Each day but the harbinger of new happiness!—-and now, death! death!—-worse than death! Help! help!—-mercy! help! Father!—-mother!—-brother! In mercy help me!—-save me! Will you all leave me here to die? Help—-Oh, help!"
The intellect had tottered and fallen, and the young
Then another sat mute and smiled; she was mad! Before her eyes a father and two brothers had fallen, and heaven spared her further woe. She was weaving a strange kind of chapel from some Indian grasses that, by chance, were in the place; but one glance at those cold, stony-looking eyes were enough to freeze the heart.
The music still sounded, but more remotely, although the tramp of feet continued. Suddenly, then, there was a crashing sound, and some splinters of the jalousies of the windows were scattered into the room, and several shots plunged into the wall and ceiling.
In wanton mischief, as they passed, some of the
And now all crouched low down, as by an instinct which teaches that death, however inevitable it may seem, is yet to be avoided, if possible, to the last. All was still, too, except the moaning of some children, and the painful throbbing of every heart there. Another—-yet another shot, and the splinters from the windows flew about the room. Another yet—-and there is a faint cry. All eyes are turned in that direction, and in the moonbeams they see a stream of blood. The bullet has found its home in one fair breast, and soon death is an inhabitant of that fearful place.
Then broke forth the cries that will no longer be suppressed, and there is a rush
to the doors of the apartment. They are fast, and the
Then from a remote corner, where they had stood clasped in each other's arms, come forward two sisters. The eldest is but on the verge of womanhood, although the wife of a Major Fletcher, who is with the army; a young child of three years of age is clinging around her neck. Her sister, Bessie Hope—-on whose fair brow but sixteen summer had shone—-clings closely to her, and with gasping sobs rather strives to keep her back then aid her in making her way to the centre of the desolate throng, which seems to be Mrs. Fletcher's object. The latter, however, perseveres, and although tears are streaming from her eyes, and she is half-choked by emotions, she speaks.
"Dear friends, all!—-dear in misfortune, and dearer still in this dreadful time—-oh! be patient! Do not—-oh! do not let us abandon ourselves, if we have no hope elsewhere! What but more certain and dreadful destruction can we expect by clamour and by resistance here? Oh, be still and patient! I cannot—-will not think we are wholly lost! The retribution for any ill that could be done to us will surely make even Nana Sahib tremble to corresplect upon. Oh! be hopeful, and do not let us exhaust our poor hearts in useless efforts! We are not lost yet, for we live!"
These words spread a calm over the troubled souls there present. They were spoken with such a holy sweetness, and they came from one whom they all knew suffered much and had much at stake. The screams and cries ceased, and many a mother strove to hush her little ones to rest.
Then Bessie Hope, as she sobbed upon her sister's breast, murmured to her, "Oh, Annie! Annie! you know that—that our foes are not all cruel, not all so barbarous and vengeful. There is one in whom, could he but know of our abandonment, we might yet have hope."
"Hush, sister, hush! Do not sob so!"
"But, dear Annie, you know who I mean! It is strange that his name and the thought of him has ever been on this dreadful eve uppermost in my mind."
"Alas, my poor Bessie, he is of different mould to these
"But yet is with them! Oh, Annie! I thought I saw his plume in the throng, and as I looked I
saw a confusion on the shore when many were firing at the boats, and it was he who
pressed aside the weapons, and I saw him striving to stop the carnage. He has some
wild notions of the deliverance of
"Alas! alas! my poor Bessie! What hope?"
"He loves me!"
Mrs. Fletcher clasped closer to her side her young sister, and wept.
"Yes, he loves me!" sobbed Bessie Hope. "You
"Hush! oh, hush, Bessie! How you sob! Be calm! be calm, for the love of heaven! I would fain hope with you, if I had dared; but, alas! how is one arm to save us, even if it wished, with thousands raised against us?"
"Oh, but he is so brave, so food, so true!"
Annie bent down her head, and kissed her sister through her tears.
"My poor, poor Bessie! may heaven keep you!"
"Hush! Ah, what is that?—this way! Listen! Oh, Annie, God is good and merciful! If I could only speak—-speak, for tears! This way, to the window, here! I heard something!"
"What? Oh, what!"
Bessie Hope was too
agitated to say more; but she led her sister to a corner of the large apartment,
where a window, latticed with thin jalousies, let in the slant rays of the moon.
None were at that part of the room but themselves; and when they reached it,
Annie heard the
faint tickle of one of those small Indian lutes that are in use all over
Bessie clung to her sister with a clutch that was painful, and she sobbed now as though her heart would break.
"He—-he!—-God bless and aid him!—-Jeffur—-'tis he! He will save us yet! He is so good, so—-so noble, and he loves me!"
The soft tinkle of the lute came quickly on the night air, and then it paused, and a few words in different English were spoken from without in a low soft voice.
"Is the English angel of the wild heart of the song of the mountains here, or in the paradise of the blessed and the good!"
The lute again was gently touched.
The prospect of deliverance now indeed began to dawn on the hopes of Mrs. Fletcher, and the mother's first impulse was to cover her child with tears and kisses. "Sister—sister!" said Bessie, "how shall I let him know that I am here?—-that we are here? Oh, yes—yes! I know now! Hush!—-be still! Oh, I know he loves me! You have a small knife with you, Annie! Give it me! That is well! Oh, Annie, these are tears of joy now! I remember once he said my hair was like the clear sunlight of his native hills. He will know it well—-he will be sure to know it! We must not cry out, for he would be in danger. One tender, good heart among a thousand fiends! He will know this!—-he will know this!"
The young girl severed from her head one of the long tresses of her beautiful hair, and with trembling fingers she thrust it through the narrow crevices of the jalousies at the window. Then there was a slight cry without of surprise and joy, and they heard fervent kisses bestowed upon the lock of hair. The lute was struck just for a few seconds in a joyous strain, and then all was still.
The sisters knelt by the window in intense listening; not another sound came to their ears from without.
"All is lost!" sighed Mrs. Fletcher. "He cannot help us!"
"He will help us," said Annie, "for he loves me!"
Rich cloths covered the floor. The plunder of the
Reposing on the cushions about him, and which straggled over a third portion of the hall, were his officers, arrayed partly in European spoils. All were fully armed, and at the feet of most of them lay a pile of weapons, which ever and anon they fingered and examined with interest and attention.
A vast throng of soldiers of all conditions filled up the lower portion of the hall, and the rattle of arms and the din of vices, above which could now and then be heard the cry of "Long live the Sahib!" were incessant.
Close behind the Nana were several attendants, bearing rich wines on golden salvers, to which he frequently appealed, generally flinging the goblet or crystal from which he drank far down the hall, or over his head among those behind him. A blaze of light was produced from a hundred torches of scented wood; and now and then, on a sign from Loll Tall, the present minister of the petty satrap, a clangour of wild music would fill the air, and the clash of the cymbal with the roll of the European drum made up a most martial discord.
The scene was, in truth, a strange and a gorgeous one of wild barbaric pomp. The
flashing of the flambeaux on the arms and jewels—-the hum of the multitude—the
crashing sound of the music—the glitter of arms and accoutrements, and the flutter
and sparkling beauty of the rich Oriental hangings—-all made a semblance to the
past magnificence of old
And evidences, too, were there of the recent battle, in which the troops of the
Nana had been
worsted by Havelock, and forced, flying and disordered, back to
"Wine! wine!" he cried. "Death to the Feringhee! Blood shall flow
till the sacred
The startled attendance who was nearest to him presented, tremblingly, the salver with a golden goblet on it; but his foot caught slightly in one of the fusions of the divan, and in his stumble he spilt some of the wine on the Nana.
With a howl of rage, the latter seized the scimitar at his feet, and made a furious slash at the peon.
"Chor (thief)!" he said; and the sword drunk deep of the life-blood of the gasping wretch, who rolled back among his fellows.
"Wine, I say! wine! Ah! 'tis well! This is new blood!"
He drained the goblet to the bottom that was now presented to him, and then drawing a long breath, he glanced around him ere he flung it furiously at the figure of a crouching Hindoo, who was apparently muttering his prayers.
"Dog!" he cried, "bring me the goblet back again, and let me fill it with your blood!"
A gaunt figure, the upper portion of which was entirely nude, strode forward with the goblet, and making a low salaam, said, "I am your highness's dog, but I bite others!"
"Ah! the executioner of
"More sport!" shrieked the Nana, "more sport! We have no dancing fair ones to night! Ha! ha! The war has scared the bright eyes and the supple limbs, but there is other sport! Sit thou there, friend! We shall want thy cunning hand! Wine here! said I not wine? Ah, that is rich and rare! Why, there is blood upon my caftan! It looks well, too! Defeated—-defeated, are we? Well, well! such defeats are costly to the Feringhee! Ah, the foe! But yet, ere I go, a deed!—-a deed! Ha! ha! there will be tears yet—-tears of blood! Loll Tall?
"Ay, my good lord!"
"The Feringhee women!—-eh?"
He jerked his head in the direction of the
"Safely confined," whispered the minister.
The Nana drew a long breath. "'Tis well! These that can get there will sup to-morrow in Paradise!"
The cymbals and the drums again struck up their
"Ah! I should have known thee!—-I saw thy plume in the fight!"
"By our beard, yes! Wine, wine here, for our good soldier! Death to the Feringhee!"
The young chief trembled slightly as he spoke, and the reeling eyes of the Nana glared upon him. The suspicious character of the savage was aroused at he knew not what. Moreover he was asked to do something which should have been his own thought, and therefore it was not to be done.
"No, no! Great is the valor of our friend from
The parted lips and the show of teeth from the Nana belied his hospitable
words, and to those who knew him well betokened anything but good to the chivalric
Jeffur, who, in
the name of
"The Sahib's words are good!" said the young chief, as he calmly and gracefully reclined on the cushions near the Nana. But there was trouble in the eye of the young man, and there was sadness at his heart! How to save her he loved, was the anxious question of his soul. Had he succeeded in obtaining the command of the relief guard over the prisoners, all would have been easy; but now his powers of action were more restricted than before, and his heart felt faint and fluttering as he clasped his hand with a nervous clutch upon the bullion tassel of the velvet cushion on which he half reclined.
Nana Sahib looked at him with a searching glance, and then, as his head reeled to and fro in incipient intoxication, he whispered, as he thought, but, in reality, spoke sufficiently aloud for all near at hand to hear, to Loll Tall, "Double the guard on the prisoners! Fire on all who approach without the watchword! The dawn will come!—the dawn will come!"
"And the watchword, Light of the World?" said Loll Tall.
The young mountain chief strained his sense of hearing to the utmost; but Nana Sahib grabbed Loll Tall by the neck, and said a word in his ear, which the nicest attention of the young man could not catch.
"It is well!" said the Loll Tall. "Words of wisdom fall like pearls from my lord's lips."
The executioner had whispered something close to the ear of the Nana, and the countenance of the latter literally flushed through the dark skin with pleasure.
"Say you so? Prisoners! Nay!"
"Even so, my good lord."
He clapped his hands loudly, and, in a yelling voice, shouted, "More lights! more
music! more revelling! more wine! more blood! Ha! ha! Prisoners? We live, and some
of the hated race live! By the Grand Laama, the air is
Amid the bray of wind instruments--the clash of cymbals, and the beat of
drums--while countless flambeaux, lit from all quarters, made the
The officer looked calmly and proudly in the face of the Nana. He pointed with his outstretched hand at the guilty wretch, and there was an awe-struck stillness in the hall as he spoke.
"Perjured villain!--double-dyed murderer!--wretch without human heart or human feeling!--I, unarmed and helpless, in the name of my country and my kindred, yet defy you! Beware, Nana Sahib! for the hour of retribution will come! Treacherous as the tiger--more loathsome than the serpent--"
The Nana sprung to
his feet with a roar of rage, and then fell back again on the cushions. He grasped
the revolver, and, without the slightest regard to those in the background of the
The the clash of swords ceased. There was a parting of the mob of
The officer lay still in death, with fifty mortal wounds upon him, and a sad, calm smile upon his face.
The Nana crouched upon the cushions, like some wild animal of his native jungles, preparing for a spring. His hand clutched deeply the velvet, and his bleared and bloodshot eyes glared over the blazing gold edges of the richly embroidered divan.
"Away with the carrion!" he roared. "Away with it! More spoil to-night! The last
Some ten or twelve pistols were reverently handed to the Nana, who formed before him a sort of breast-work of the embroidered cushions, on which he laid them, and then trying--with his vision imperfect from his deep potations--to pierce the distance, he waited the approach of the other prisoners.
"Silence, all! Cease the music!" shouted Nana Sahib; and then, seeing the rank of his prisoner, he seemed to fancy that, before ordering him to death, it might be possible to extract valuable information from him.
"Dog!" he cried, "approach!"
The prisoner did not move; and when the
"Approach, villain!" yelled the Nana.
"There, now," said the Irishman, "did ye hear the likes o' that, now? There's so many of ye, that it must be the biggest blackguard of the whole lot he's after wanting."
Kicked, and cuffed, and, indeed, wounded by spears and tulwars, the poor soldier was forced forward to the front of the divan; and then, Nana Sahib, with a loaded pistol in each hand, showed all his teeth, like an enraged wolf, as he said, in what he intended should be encouraging accents, "You want your life? Answer me what I ask. You want to live?"
"A wise speech! What shall we do for you?"
"Do for me? It's pretty well done for, I take it, myself is at this present time of asking; but a male of victuals, a small taste of whisky, a good-bye to you, and the likes of you, would be mighty agreeable!"
"bang, is it? It's a mighty lot of bangs and whacks, too, you and your heathens have been after giving me already! Twenty Donnybrook fairs is a fool to it, all rolled into one! Oh, it's something to drink, is it? And it's this you call bang? Well, here's mighty bad luck to the whole of you, and may the devil fly away wid you to the place that isn't glory, as soon as his honour has time to do it! bang, is it? Ah! it's mighty poor drink, it is--a trifle better than nothing at all!"
"Who spoke there?" growled the Nana.
"Lord of the World, the other prisoner," said an officer.
"Shoot him! Clear a space down yonder, and shoot him in the
The Nana himself began to handle his pistols so suspiciously, that an open space down the hall was cleared in a moment, in which stood a Highland soldier, in a torn and blood-stained uniform. The attitude of the man was proud and defiant.
"Fire!" shouted the Nana.
There was a miscellaneous discharge of fire-arms, and when the smoke cleared away,
soldier lay motionless on the floor of the
With this remark, the Highlander bent double, to avoid being seen by the
"Tell me," he said, "and spare your own life: how many men and guns has your chief?"
"It's how many?"
"The number you want to know?"
"Wretch! Yes--the number?"
"What was that?"
"Silence, on your life! Remove him!--remove him, I say! We have sworn not to kill him with our own hand! We--ha! ha!--Remove him!"
The Nana now passed his hand across his brow, as though he would fain dissipate the fumes of the wine which had mounted to his brain, and he struggled to his feet. Again, the sullen sound of cannon shook the air, and his face turned a shade darker, as he leant heavily on the shoulder of the Loll Tall.
"They come! they come!" he said, "Blood tracks their path and mine! War to the
death! They or I! They come!--the avenging band!--and, as they think, to deliver
and to rescue. Ha! ha! they chase us from
"My gracious lord."
"Ha! ha! ha!"
The laugh was a hideous contortion.
"Light of the Earth!"
"I--ha! ha!--I have prisoners in the
He clutched the minister by the neck and whispered to him. Loll Tall's knees shook as he gasped, "All? all?"
"All!" screamed the Nana; and then, in a deep guttural voice, he added, "Remember! by
the first light! The
Loll Tall salaamed low.
The boom of the cannon again sounded.
All looked around him; but the young mountain chief had disappeared amid the smoke and tumult of the firing at the Highland soldier.
(To be continued in our next.