At last the frightened infant reached the bungalow, and Sher Afzul met him and took the letter from him. Fred tore it open. It was written by Chunerbutty and couched in the most offensive terms. If within half an hour Miss Daleham came willingly to the Rajah, her brother’s life would be spared and he would be given a safe conduct to Calcutta. But everyone else in the bungalow would be put to death, including the white man reported to have entered it during the night. If the girl did not surrender, her brother would be killed with the rest and she herself taken by force.
Dermot acquainted the Mohammedan servants with the contents, to show them that there was no hope for them, so that they would fight to the death. The little boy was told that there was no answer, and Daleham gave him a few copper coins; but the scared child dropped them as though they were red hot and scampered back to the village as fast as his little legs would carry him.
THE GOD OF THE ELEPHANTS
At the end of the half hour a tempest of noise arose from the village; tom-toms were beaten, conch-shells blown and vigorous cheering was heard. Then from the huts long lines of coolies carrying weapons of every sort, rifles, old muskets, spears, and swords streamed out and encircled the bungalow at a distance. A little later the Rajah’s twenty horsemen rode out of the village on their raw-boned stallions, followed by a hundred infantry soldiers who, Dermot observed, were now armed with rifles in place of their former muskets.
The dismounted troops formed up before the bungalow but half a mile away, in two lines in open order. But the cavalry kept together in a body; and the officer, turning in his saddle to speak to his men, pointed to the house with his sword.
“I believe they’re going to charge us,” said Dermot.
He had divided up the garrison to the four sides of the bungalow; but now, leaving one man with the shot gun to keep a watch on the back, he collected the rest on the front verandah. Noreen was inside, feeding the hungry children and consoling the mothers.
“Now, Daleham, don’t fire until they are close, and then aim at the horses,” said the Major, repeating the instruction to the servants in Urdu.
The Punjaubis grinned and patted their rifles.
The cavalry advanced. The sowars ambled forward, brandishing their curved sabres and uttering fierce yells. Dermot, knowing Sher Afzul and another man to be good shots, ordered them to open fire when the horsemen were about four hundred yards away. He himself took a steady aim at the commander and pressed the trigger. The officer, shot through the body, threw up his arms and fell forward on his horse’s head. The startled animal shied and bolted across the furrows; and the corpse, dropping from the saddle, was dragged along the ground, one