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CHAPTER XXIX.

MR. COLVIN'S DEATH.

WE had received no letters for some time, for the communications had again been interrupted, when one evening the news spread that a messenger had arrived with a mail from Bombay, and that it contained despatches from Calcutta.

The Governor-Generals in those days interfered but little in the affairs of the Upper Provinces. Lord Canning had been two years in India, yet hardly anything was known among us regarding him. The mutiny, however, had altered his position; much would now depend on his personal character and the policy he might adopt. On both these points there was great curiosity. To learn something on the subject I strolled over to my brother-I found him looking worn and anxious. My brother was by nature reticent, on official matters-he was so also on principle. We sat some time in silence. Then, as if he had been vexed beyond endurance, he told me that Mr. Colvin had received despatches that had quite upset him. I remarked that I supposed they were some unfavourable criticisms on his policy before the battle. Not at all,' my brother replied, or I should not have mentioned them-only a reprimand for the delay in sending in last year's administration report, and an elaborate form, to be filled up and returned,

regarding the unanswered letters for the last six months.'

My brother went on to tell me that had Mr. Colvin been in his usual health, the despatch would not have done more than temporarily annoy him. As it was,

it had thrown him into a state of extreme agitation. He insisted that the report should be prepared at once. With much trouble my brother convinced him that this was impossible. The records were burnt, the information that they had contained could not now be procured.

Persuaded of this, Mr. Colvin commenced to dictate an explanation; he possessed, ordinarily, a remarkable facility for official composition, but the faculty had now deserted him. After a few sentences he became confused, hesitated, then broke down altogether. There followed a sad scene, the sense of injustice, the knowledge of his own powers, the consciousness of his inability now to use them. At length he became calm, and permitted my brother to draft for him a short letter, stating the impossibility of submitting the report or of filling up the form.

Having begun to talk, my brother continued; it seemed a relief to him to disburden his mind of some of its anxieties. He spoke of the extreme peril of our situation, of the great danger we ran of being besieged. And if we are,' he said, 'it will be God's mercy if we do not share the fate of Cawnpore; and what manner of men must they be in Calcutta,' he added, who, at a time like this, when they ought to be straining every nerve to save the Empire, are thinking only of unanswered letters?' I do not pretend to give my brother's exact words, only their purport, as after these long years I recall them.

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From this time Mr. Colvin's health began to fail rapidly. This was not caused by the despatch, it was a mere accident its arriving as the crisis of his malady was approaching. The despatch had vexed him sadly, but the vexation was not repeated. The communications were again interrupted; from Calcutta, at least, no more annoyances proceeded. Mr. Colvin had no particular illness, none at least that the doctors could recognise, but he felt weak, he felt weary. Soon he took to his bed; he did not again leave it. He was very patient, very resigned, weary of this world, and willing to quit it. He bade farewell to his son, gave his last instructions, and awaited calmly the end that he felt approaching.

As occasionally happens in such illnesses the end, though from the first inevitable, was long delayed, longer than he had expected, longer than his physicians thought possible. He lingered so long that some of those about him began to entertain hopes of his recovery, hopes that he himself did not share.

Mr. Colvin was much respected; the news of his illness caused universal sorrow. The sorrow was sincere, nevertheless it had the effect of making us very sociable. We gathered in knots to hear the latest reports; we assembled in the evenings to discuss them. There were more tea parties at that period than at any other during our confinement in the fort. For some days there were contradictory rumours; it was given out that Mr. Colvin was worse, then that he was better, then that he continued the same, till one afternoon it became known that hope was over, and that he was dying.

There was a large party of us assembled that evening on the terrace before the marble hall. Mr. Colvin's apartments adjoined, the sounds of our voices could not

reach them; but the knowledge of what was there passing impressed us with a feeling of reverence. We spoke low, and of little but his illness. The party broke up early; one by one the other lights went out, the square became dark and silent, save that through the doorway of Mr. Colvin's enclosure figures came and went, and from over the marble screen appeared the glow of a lamp, and we heard the sounds of that hushed activity which prevails near the chamber of death.

I remained late, as did another gentleman. He was a contemporary of Mr. Colvin; long ago he had been his companion. His thoughts flew back to the time when they had been lads together; he spoke of Mr. Colvin's great abilities, his desire to win a high position, and how step by step he had attained it. In sad commentary to this came the light of the lamp from the room where he then lay dying.

The next morning Mr. Colvin was still alive-a report even spread that he was better. I spent the day at the Taj, where, in one of the side buildings, I held my office. About four in the afternoon as I was returning I happened to raise my eyes; I was struck by the immense number of birds that were hovering over the fortthousands of crows, and whole flights of kites and vultures. Filthy and revolting as is the appearance of these creatures when seen close and on the ground, nothing can exceed the grace and beauty of their movements in mid-air. They were sweeping round and round in great curves, and ascending and descending in long spirals. The sight was so beautiful that, notwithstanding the glare, I kept my eyes fixed for some time on the skies to observe it.

There was then a belief among many of the English that these carrion birds possessed some instinct that

warned them of an approaching death, and that guided by it they collected above a habitation from whence a soul was about to take its flight. As I watched the birds the recollection of this superstition occurred to me; I wondered if there was any truth in it, and if this present assemblage denoted Mr. Colvin's end.

As I entered the gate I met an acquaintance, who told me that Mr. Colvin was still alive, and that it was given out he was better. We dined at five; when the meal was over I called one of my servants, and desired him to go over and inquire how Mr. Colvin was. The man dropped his eyes, and replied quietly that it was unnecessary, he had just heard is dunniah fânê să rehlat keah' (that his spirit had commenced its march from this transitory world).

In India decay so soon follows death, that the soul has hardly taken its flight before it becomes necessary to prepare for the interment of the body. Mr. Colvin died about five in the afternoon, a little after seven o'clock I passed his rooms on my way to my brother. The repose of death was already broken, servants and officers were hurrying in and out, furniture was being moved, and carpenters were at work preparing the coffin. The noise and bustle were in painful contrast to the stillness, the hushed footsteps of the night before.

After tea I repaired as usual to the terrace of the marble hall; there was a larger party assembled even than on the previous evening. The sad event of the afternoon was the topic of conversation. All were unfeignedly sorry, but the future so overpowers the past that much less was said of him who was gone than of the events which his death might give rise to, especially as to who would succeed him in the government.

Mr. Colvin was buried in the armoury square, at a spot

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