Page images
PDF
EPUB

by disputes on other matters, and those again by others in a series it would be tedious to enumerate. There were disputes about the militia, disputes about the rifle corps, disputes about the Motee Musjid, disputes about the marble hall, disputes about the Sunday services held within it-disputes, in short, about every conceivable subject. The civil authorities disputed with the military, the militia with the regulars, and all among themselves; and, as if this were not enough, some of the civil officials made a very unprovoked attack on the Roman Catholic bishop and clergy. As Christians of all denominations were then in danger of common destruction from the Mohammedans, the time selected for this was generally regarded as inopportune. Some of the quarrels were at the time excessively amusing, but they would hardly now, after so long a period, much interest the reader. Suffice it to say that, having seen Agra, I could understand Jerusalem. We did not indeed stab or poison, but there were the same jealousies, the same animosities that in a ruder age, and amongst a less civilised and more impulsive people, would have led to such results.

It was often said that a real danger would have united us. I do not think so, for we never could have been in more peril than for the first few days we imagined ourselves, and it was just then that the discord was at the greatest. Also throughout it was in matters that concerned our safety that the disagreements were the most constant and the most virulent; this was especially the case in regard to that most important business, the procuring intelligence.

This duty had lately been made over to a committee; the members of it were men of ability and of official experience. So far as the duties of their department could be reduced to routine they were perfectly performed; beyond

it they failed. The committee did not understand the art of extracting the grain of truth from the mass of exaggeration with which native informants surround it, and, what was almost worse, the committee themselves had strong prejudices.

Natives are exceedingly quick at discovering what information will be agreeable-very unscrupulous and very adroit in modifying their news accordingly. The Government intelligence always confirmed what were known to be the Government views.

But this intelligence was often afterwards discovered to be incorrect, and it was very seldom early. It soon began to be discredited; before long to be a subject of open ridicule. To this result many circumstances contributed. Among others the following:

The office of the Intelligence Department was at the end of the upper storey of one of the sides of our square. The room was reached by a balcony, and being at the end of it visitors to it were exposed to the observation of the occupants of the other apartments, as well as to that of all the loungers in the garden.

It soon began to be noticed that an elderly blind man was in constant attendance. Early each morning he was seen painfully making his way along the narrow balcony, guided by an attendant. Inside the room, or seated before the door, he remained patiently till the evening. If in the meanwhile he descended it was only for his meals, or to confer with some natives in the garden.

The singularity of this proceeding attracted attention, and suggested inquiry. It was ascertained that the blind man was the principal purveyor of the committee's intelligence. He was perfectly honest, and very respectable. His loss of sight did not affect his hearing; there was no

reason, therefore, why he should not collect news as well as another. Nevertheless, the fact of his being employed for the purpose created much amusement; was made the subject of many jokes and caricatures, and, though very unjustly, added to the low estimation in which the intelligence of the committee was already regarded.

The Government intelligence being so defective, several officials endeavoured to supplement it. The most successful was Captain Nixon. He had a natural aptitude for the work, and he had also at his disposal the Bhurtpore establishment of trained messengers, who in a native court are usually very efficient. Captain Nixon's information was generally both the earliest and the most correct. Being so, it would have been wise in the authorities to have availed themselves of it. They endeavoured instead to prevent his receiving it. It was contemplated, indeed, at one time to procure his removal, but difficulties appearing in the way of assigning sufficient reasons the idea was abandoned.

The efforts of the other officials were not more favourably regarded; the Government accepted no information save what was submitted by the Department; and the Department received none that was not supplied by their own employés, the blind man in particular. A time came when early and accurate intelligence was essential to our safety; and then, as I shall relate, this course of procedure nearly produced a terrible catastrophe.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE EXPEDITION.

THE filth of the fort in the early days of our occupation had made us dread an outbreak of pestilence. A few cases of cholera had increased these apprehensions, but they died away when it was found that the disease did not spread. The excellent sanitary arrangements that were afterwards made prevented the occurrence of other epidemics, so far, that is, as order and cleanliness could prevent them.

Nevertheless it was sad to notice how the graveyard filled. A spot for a cemetery had been selected on the summit of the ravines before the Ummer Sing gateway. Commanded by the cannon of the batteries, the dead could be there interred even should the enemy approach. The space enclosed had seemed at first unnecessarily large. Before long it appeared as if its boundaries would have to be extended. Some who had been in the battle died of their wounds; more sank from the effects of exposure; and of the children, many succumbed to the combined effect of the confinement, the want of comforts, and the terrible heat.

Our little girl was seized with fever-she was long ill, but she recovered; our baby sank. Other deaths followed, adults as well as infants, and presently the dreaded cholera again made its appearance, and this time among

the soldiers. For the cholera a hundred remedies have been devised, but when it attacks soldiers only one has been found efficacious, and that is to march out the regiment. It was partly the desire to do this that suggested the expedition to Allyghur.

Allyghur, as the reader may remember, is a station on the road to Meerut, about forty miles distant from Agra. By occupying it, it was thought that communication with Meerut might be re-established. Also it was desired to disperse a body of villagers, and Mohammedan fanatics who had collected in the neighbourhood; and it was expected that other advantages would follow.

It was characteristic of the state of things in the fort that a measure so purely military should have been originated and carried out almost entirely by civilians; equally so, that it should have been made the occasion of angry controversy, quarrels, and disputations. The blind man, it was said, suggested the scheme; the Board of Revenue made all the arrangements. There was a difficulty for some time in obtaining Mr. Colvin's consent. He was ill and despondent, he dreaded a possible disaster; but at length he gave his approval. The preparations were hurried on, and before he withdrew his sanction the expedition started.

It consisted of about a hundred and fifty English soldiers, two guns, the mounted militia, and as many volunteers as liked to join. There was also the medical staff and the Commissariat; and, small as the force was, it took with it, besides two priests and a missionary.

The expedition left the fort about five o'clock in the afternoon. In the evening there came on one of the most terrible storms of wind and rain, thunder and lightning I ever remember. For two days we received no news; on the third, a rumour spread that the force had

« PreviousContinue »