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into the abyss of time. It grew darker overhead; the Colonel's grey coat made him stand out like a spectre of the night. Still nothing happened. I took out my watch, and, cautiously striking a match, read the time : it was twelve minutes to
I flung the match down, restored my watch to its place, and looked towards the Colonel once more. He was not there !
I flung all caution to the winds, and ran forward into the night, carbine in hand. No, my eyesight had not played me false : without a sound, without struggle or resistance of any kind, Colonel Cornwallis had disappeared !
Down to the ground I stooped. I wasted half a dozen matches in examining the ground: it was too disturbed by parades to afford any clue as to the direction in which the Colonel had gone.
I shouted-I alarmed the camp; and the troopers came pouring out, half dressed, with their carbines clutched ready for foes, human or otherwise ; but they met none. We spent the night scouring the district for the Colonel; but he was not to be found. Daylight came, and, as officer next in command, I paraded the men. They were quieter than might have been expected. No one afterwards volunteered any statement of his opinion, except Dennis.
The Colonel—the Lord presarve him !-was grit to the last, I'll swear,” said he to me, as we walked to my tent after parade. “He hasn't knuckled under without a struggle; but he's worsted, and by that incarnate skunk, Lutt Tuchmee.”
I TOOK Dennis into my tent.
*Dennis," I said, watching the lines of his mouth,- for so I can tell a coward from a man who has nerve and the ability to use it,—“if Colonel Cornwallis doesn't come back to-day, and the search-party I am sending out doesn't succeed in finding him, I intend to put you on sentry go to-night."
“Then I'll dine wid the saints to-morrow, if my company isn't required in another direction, sor," said he, with a tightening of his jaw.
“ There's a matter of twenty-five rupees pay as perhaps you will see is sent to the ould counthree for me,--that's all I want to say. I'll go right enough, av coorse; but if there's Glory to be had, I'll take whoever comes along to-night with me-by St. Patthrick and the toads he banished, will I that same.”
“Listen to me, Dennis : we will both do duty together. We will take up our post in one place. While you walk ten paces to the left and see what is to be seen, I will remain stationary. When you return, I will leave you there while I go a similar distance to the right and back.”
“Why not turn the lot out to night, beggin' your pardon ? " “ That won't do," I responded : “nothing would happen.”
“As I'm me mother's son, I don't know that,” said Dennis, with a dissentient nod.
“Obey orders, Dennis; and, above all, keep from the canteen to-day. We may have some tough work cut out for us to-night. Tell the other men you've volunteered for the post, being anxious to find out where the Colonel disappeared to.”
“Which I am-most mightily curious, sor. Ay, and we'll yet best that Tuchmee." And he left me.
I spent the day in putting my affairs as straight as a soldier can under such circumstances. When night came, I gave imperative orders for silence and lights out; then sent for Dennis.
“I'll just whistle the ‘Boyne Watther' to myself afure we start, if you don't
object, an' then the Wearin' of the Green': it isn't a time to be partial to one side or t’other, sor, and I'll take in all Ireland that way."
When the fellow had done with his whistling, he came towards me. “ I've me carbine loaded, as is yours : we'll see what turns up.”
I grasped his hand for a moment, and, like Cornwallis, we went forward into the darkness and silence.
The watch wore slowly away. The afternoon had been close and oppressive, and towards evening a storm had come and gone. Now and again a sheet of lightning made the dark like day; but towards midnight, to our chagrin, the occasional beacon disappeared, and the clouds hung heavy, close and low.
Again the stillness of the previous night was repeated, and, in spite of myself, I felt my nerves twitch as the midnight hour passed. We kept up our marches in turn.
At about a quarter-past twelve something grazed my cheek, and I raised my hand hastily to ward it off. I felt sure, from its soft feel, that it had only been the wing of a night moth; yet, when Dennis returned to my side a minute afterwards, I mentioned this little incident. The orderly felt the tension of our anxious watch as much as I did.
“It may have been a moth, and it may have been _” he began, then stopped.
“Been what, Dennis ?” demanded.
“I don't know," he answered thoughtfully. "Perhaps you'll think it a queer idea of mine to ask ye the favour, sor, but have ye ahny objection to tyin' this end of thread about your left wrist ? The other end is tied to mine, and I've measured the length : the thread is about taut when we're ten paces apart. The night is as black as a black goat : if one of us was to disappear suddin like, t'other ’ud know it in a rat's whisper of time. A minit-ay, or a quarter of one—may be vallible to the one that's taken. It's worth while, sor, if ye don't mind : the thread won't take up much room.”
More to satisfy the man's whim than for any other reason, I did as he asked. The time went slower still after that; for, with our ears strained to catch the slightest sound, we did not converse.
It came to be my turn to walk froin where Dennis stood. Reaching the allotted distance of ten paces, I stood still a moment, and made a survey as well as I could. Nothing was visible in the small field of vision which was to be had from there. Stay! Was there something yonder a little darker than the night? No; it was my fancy: my imagination was running riot.
At that moment I felt a slight pull on the thread about my wrist; then, feeling with my right hand, I found the thread was broken. A yard of it or so hung down. Still there was that extraordinary silence. I ran instantly to where I had left Dennis a minute before. It seemed impossible--incredible : the man was gone.
I shouted, “ Dennis ! Dennis !” but no answer came-not the faintest sound of one. I raised my carbine and fired into the air, with the object of rousing the camp, No sound followed as I touched the trigger. I struck one of my remaining matches, and saw, to my dismay, that the cartridge had been withdrawn.
I wiped the beads of perspiration from my forehead with the back of my hand; then ran forward, still calling-calling out the orderly's name. Not a sound ensued : the world might have been dead eternally. I found the place where Dennis had
stood, going back to do so. Again I struck another match, and looked for the man's trail : the way he had marched was to be seen, but nothing else. I followed it, but it ended in a sandy mass of untrodden soil. I went back to the startingplace: it was plain there were signs neither of man nor beast having passed there, forward or backward. Without losing further time, I went on ahead as straight as I could. Fifteen paces in front I stumbled over something. I laid an eager hand upon it: it was the orderly's carbine. I flung my cwn away, and pulled the trigger of the other : there was no sound. Treachery in camp as well as out, I thought, as again I went forward. I had no ammunition at all; for, after finding my own carbine empty, I had opened my pouch to take from it a ball-cartridge, only to find that some pieces of stone had been substituted by a cunning hand.
I hastily fetched a lantern from my tent, and carefully searched the ground. Within a few yards of the spot where I discovered the orderly's carbine, I found, for the first time, footmarks. The one fact which sorced itself upon my mind was that Dennis had been listed off his feet and transferred a distance of twenty yards. I knew that Thugs could perform such a seat, and my opinion was that he and the others were in the power of a gang of such men.
I followed the footmarks I had discovered. I concluded that three men were concerned in the adventure. Two had carried the captive, and a third had walked by the prisoner's side. Three tracks of naked seet ran across the sand- one close to the other, as of one man walking behind his companion, the third being a little to the left of the double track.
It was easy to see that the prisoner was struggling for liberty, for in places the track assumed a zigzag.
For three hours or more I followed, doggedly tracking the captive and captors; and yet, hasten as I did, getting no nearer to them. At last the track passed up a long cleft between some rocky ground, and there suddenly disappeared. Eagerly I examined the rocks around. Had they been scaled ? Had the fellows discovered that they were being pursued, and tricked me?
I climbed a projecting scarp, and, holding on with one hand, raised my lantern. Nothing but the precipitous rocks could I discover. I climbed down and determined to go on to the end of the passage between the rocks. The storm broke once more as I passed on, and my lantern went out ; but, aided by the lightning flashes, I went resolutely on and on.
Rising before me I saw, at last, the losty, carved front of a temple,"Rising before me I saw the
lofty carved front of a temple." over the spacious entrance of which was grotesquely represented the god worshipped within. I passed over the portal and through the outer court, to find myself viewing one of
the strangest scenes I have ever witnessed. In the centre of the temple was a huge image of the Monkey God, Hanuman. Made of reddish stone, its every feature distorted and repulsive, the stone god looked down with great ruby eyes upon the assembled body of worshippers. Had there been no other light than that of the incessant, terrific lightning, even this would have enabled me to see all that passed.
A pujaree or priest, with scarcely a vestige of clothing upon his body, which was smeared with some ochreous compound, stood before the idol, beseeching favour for the prostrate worshippers. So wildly fanatic and so frenzied did he become, that I almost drew back and ran from the temple in horror. Indeed, I had half determined to do so, and was glancing towards the door from where the shadow of a pillar hid me from view, when I saw enter a procession of worshippers, following two pujarees who bore between them the body of a victim. It was neither that of Cornwallis nor Dennis ; and, much as my eyes revolted at the sight, I could not turn away, but looked on with a strange fascination.
The body was that of either Hallon or Smith, the two soldiers who had previously disappeared. All over it were marks of violence. The neck was broken, and the body had been rubbed with koon-kam, or red powder, while the forehead was bound with the skin of a spotted snake.
Closer I kept within the shadow, as near me the procession passed, making a circuit of the temple within, before offering the body to the idol of Hanuman.
There, the three pujarees made an offering of the body to
Hanuman. I listened intently. Knowing the language, I thought that in their zeal some mention might be made of the other victims or prisoners.
Low and weird the chant began, mingled with cries from the worshippers at times. I caught the meaning of part of the chant :
"Sunjeeva Raya! Great Monkey God! Behold we give !
Seize ! seize and slay! Indra rides upon thee !
Then the worshippers rose ; and the three pujirees, drawing uncouth figures upon the stone flags of the temple, trod them in mazy ways, followed by all those who were before the idol of the Monkey God. Again they passed in procession round the temple ; then went through the portal, closing the great gate with a clang.
Whether I should succeed in finding the men I sought, I knew not. From the exhortation to Hanuman I gathered that they were somewhere fast prisoners in the temple. I had little hope, even should they be alive, of our ultimate escape, for there was no egress from the temple, save by the great fast-closed gate. That, not the strength of twenty men could move, I knew, as, for a minute after the worshippers had departed, I stood regarding it.
I made a careful tour of the temple, but could see no place where prisoners or victims could be concealed. With the stock of Dennis' rifle I sounded the walls : they were solid; it was only too apparent.
I tried the stone slabs of the floor. One of them gave out a hollow sound. I flung myself down beside it, and tried to move the mass from its position. The task was beyond my strength. I dug at it with bleeding fingers, till a faintness came over me, but with no result. There was a hollow space beneath it—of that I was convinced. Then it occurred to me to knock upon the slab of stone to see if any answer were returned. Thrice I tapped, and waited.
Whether I had given some secret sign or not in so doing, to this day I have never discovered ; but slowly and cautiously I saw the stone raised, and the evil face of a pujaree peered forth.
By the merest chance I saw the brown paw of the fellow in the interstice before his face appeared, and accordingly I darted away. Apparently the pujaree was not satisfied with his casual survey; and, probably thinking that some worshipper was accidentally left a prisoner in the temple, he slowly drew himself up, let the great slab fall into its place, and then advanced till he stood under the great swinging lamp before the Monkey God. Still he failed to see me; and after a few minutes' stay, during which he called to whoever was within the temple to come to his side, he went back to where the stone slab was.
As the pujaree stooped down to give the signal which I had accidentally given, I seized him by the neck, and, dragging him from the slab, turned the fellow over and planted my right knee upon his chest. I held his throat fast, so that he could