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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 309 pages of information about The Coming Conquest of England.

XIII

THE BATTLE

As Heideck returned to the camp, the road was lit up by the red glare of innumerable fires.  On the wide plain, stretching between the town and river, work was going on in feverish haste.  Rations and ammunition were being dealt out, and long lines of beasts of burden were in motion.  Thousands of hands were busily employed in trying to facilitate the passage of the troops across the shallow tributary of the Ravi.  The boggy places were made firm by a covering of palm branches and leaves; and logs of wood were got ready in hot haste for the artillery.  Heideck could not help wondering why it was that the army had not been concentrated from the first at the point the battle was to take place.  The approach through the difficult tract of land, in connexion with the contemplated movement to the left, made calls upon the endurance of the troops that could not but have the most detrimental effect upon the issue of the battle.

He met his Indian boy, evidently in great excitement, in front of his tent.

“When we start to-morrow we shall leave the tent with everything in it,” said Heideck.  “You will ride my horse and I shall take yours.”

Morar Gopal was a Hindu from the south, almost as black as a nigger, a small, agile little man, weighing scarcely eight stone.  It was in order to save his own horse for the later exertions of the day that Heideck wanted his boy to ride him at first.

Only now he perceived that his servant, contrary to his usual habit, was armed.  He carried a sword buckled round his waist, and when asked the reason, the Indian answered, with a certain amount of pathos—­

“All Hindus will die to-morrow, but I at least will defend myself bravely.”

“What makes you believe that all Hindus must die to-morrow?”

“Oh, sahib! me know it well.  The Mohammedans hate the Hindus, and they will kill all of us tomorrow.”

“But this is nonsense.  Mohammedans and Hindus will unite as one man to fight the Russians to-morrow.”

The Indian shook his head.

“No, sahib!  The Russians also are Mohammedans.”

“Whoever told you so lied.  The Russians are Christians, like the English.”

But however great his confidence in his master might be in general, this time Morar Gopal evidently did not believe him.

“If they are Christians, why, then, should they wage war against other Christians?”

Heideck saw that it would be impossible to explain these things, that were beyond his own comprehension, to the dark-skinned lad.  And only a few hours of the night still remaining for sleep, he despatched him to bed.

The first rays of the sun had begun to quiver over the wide plain when the forward march commenced.  Heideck, already before dawn of day, was in the saddle, and found time to exchange a few words with Colonel Baird before setting out.

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