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FLIGHT TO AGRA—(continued).
OUR horses were too utterly tired to proceed much further without a rest, and both they and our men wanted food.
About a mile and a half along the road was a village named Aurungabad, so called in compliment to the Emperor Aurungzebe Alumgire, who had erected a pavilion in its neighbourhood, which, though much dilapidated, still existed. Here we resolved to proceed, feed our horses, and rest for a time.
At the entrance of the village was a police station. We rode up to it and shouted; a voice answered, inquiring who we were. My men replied that it was the 'sahib' (gentleman), the title by which in those days the magistrates of the districts were ordinarily designated. On this a man presented himself and informed me that he was the policeman. I desired him to get someone to hold our horses, and to get food for them and our men. On this the policeman woke up another man, who aroused a third, who came and took hold of the bridle of my horse and of Mr. Joyce's. We then dismounted and ascended the terrace in front of the police station, which was raised, a yard or so, above the roadway. The policeman brought us seats, and while the horses were being fed and watered, we sat down and conversed. The policeman told us a good deal of what had occurred in
the city and neighbourhood. This account was very different from that of the watchman, but in many particulars, as I afterwards discovered, equally incorrect. I learnt that the whole country was in confusion, and all the police had everywhere fled. He himself was the only one left in the village or neighbourhood.
By the time the horses were fed and rested the dawn began to break, and I then made an unpleasant discovery: my horse was too utterly knocked up to proceed further. What to do at first I did not know, but the policeman relieved me from the difficulty. He informed me that a Bunniah in the village had a horse he was anxious to part with, and which no doubt he would sell to me for a consideration.
I sent for the Bunniah, who produced the animal; it was a very sorry creature, but I thought would carry me as far as Agra, so I purchased it, the Bunniah undertaking to take charge of my own horse till I returned. We now thought of setting out, but just then the village watchman appeared and informed me that some travellers had just arrived from Agra and brought intelligence that the two Sepoy regiments there had mutinied, released the gaol prisoners, set fire to the station, and were now marching to Muttra.
I desired the watchman to bring the travellers, but they had left the village. Others, however, had come, whom I examined, and who told much the same story. The burning of Agra I thought an exaggeration, but as to the approach of the Sepoys there seemed no question but that it was true-the travellers had themselves seen them. I learnt, however, that they were moving in small parties, and not in uniform-a statement which much puzzled us. Whether in uniform or not we were not desirous of meeting them, and so we decided to travel
by the old disused high road, which went nearer the river, and afterwards more to the west, than the new road by which the Sepoys were advancing.
This old road-long unrepaired-was in many places little more than a track; elsewhere it was full of holes, and scored into deep furrows by the rains of years. It was bad and dangerous riding, but it would have the advantage of enabling us very much to escape observation, for the only travellers who passed along it were country people going from one village to another.
Before starting Mr. Joyce and I, at the request of our men, more completely disguised ourselves. We put on horsemen's boots and native vests, and round our heads swathed enormous turbans. Our complexions, of course, would betray us at near observation, but at a short distance we should not be distinguishable from our escort. All these preparations occupied time. It was near sunrise before we commenced our journey.
For some distance the road ran along the river bank. Our figures standing out against the sky were rather conspicuous; some villagers on the opposite side perceived us and began to fire, and continued to do so till we were out of sight.
In our ride the day before we had been struck by the deserted appearance of the country. Our surprise was now excited by the multitudes of people. In every direction the fields were dotted with parties of men, all were armed, all went in single file, and all appeared to be making for some point in the distance before us. The sight excited our curiosity as it did that of our men. I heard them discussing it; they agreed that it portended some mischief.
We had left the river, and had proceeded for some miles through a plain broken with ravines, when we ap
proached a village. We passed through it unmolested, but at the other end we found a mob of men; they were armed, and had collected on the road, as if to bar our passage. Our men shouted, and they moved aside, saluting us with jeers as we passed. One of them did more, he stepped into the road and took a steady aim at Mr. Joyce, but before he could pull the trigger his matchlock was jerked up by an older man who was standing beside him.
We had not gone far when we heard a noise behind us. Turning our heads we saw that the mob were pursuing us, they were waving their weapons and hallooing out threats and abuse. Their shouts brought forth a crowd of armed men from another village a little in advance. On this we put our horses to a gallop, and got by before they could reach the road and interrupt our passage. After this, where possible, we avoided the villages, leaving the road for the fields as we approached them. In one of the lanes I narrowly escaped a serious accident. In a confined place, where the banks on either side were high, the horses got jambed, and one began to kick. I was near, the first kick struck my horse and nearly knocked him over; fortunately it pushed him further off, for the next kick lighted on my ankle. I thought at first the bone was broken, but I had escaped with only a severe bruise, so severe, however, that I did not get over the effects for some days, and meanwhile the pain was very great.
We had left the lane and were proceeding again across the open plain, when we saw before us a grove of trees. From behind the trees a column of smoke ascended, and there fell on our ears the confused murmur as of a great multitude. We passed the grove, and beheld to our left a long straggling town. An old mud fort stood at one end, a thatched bungalow at the other.
This was the town of Furrah; it was the head-quarters of the police and Revenue officers of the division. The houses of the town were on fire; the smoke rose in a tall straight column; high in the air it spread out far and wide, presenting the appearance of a gigantic umbrella. An immense crowd was collected round the town, and lines of men were approaching it from all directions, very much in the manner in which troops of ants move towards a lump of sugar.
After leaving the burning town, we entered a region of ravines, bare and arid; the sun had mounted high in the heaven, the heat was intense, and our thirst great. It was becoming almost insupportable, when we came on a little patch of cultivation, an oasis in the waste around. An old man was watering his field from a freshly dug well. We halted, and one of our men dismounted and let down his brass pot. The water he drew up was yellow with mud, but the old man assured us that it was sweet and wholesome. I had read of the enjoyment of drinking to travellers in the desert. I now realised it; I poured pot after pot of the turbid liquid down my throat; the sensation was delicious, but my thirst remained as great as before. One of the men then advised me merely to rinse my mouth, and this I found more. efficacious.
After this I think I must have fallen into a half doze, for when one of our horsemen addressed me, I perceived that we had left the ravines and were travelling again over the plain. A large building rose on our left, we turned and rode towards it. We passed through a lofty gateway, much fallen to ruin, and entered a courtyard. Ranges of buildings ran round it, before the doors curtains were hung. Our men shouted, a curtain was raised, and an old man appeared. He directed us to