Imágenes de página

the world in arms, and we will shock them.' Yes, gentlemen, we will shock them very heavilee, so that the burnt child, twice bitten, shall fear the fire.'

The honourable members cheered vociferously as the President resumed his seat upon the throne-like chair and wiped his streaming brow; but anon, heavy gloom sat once more upon the Council.

The members had been hastily summoned to meet a dangerous crisis, and the President, His Excellency Biswas Kalamji, had been explaining to them the dangers which they were now called upon to face.

The Right Hon. Mr Mukirji, Minister for War, had that morning come to him with intelligence of the gravest nature. The troops in the Punjaub were in a state of mutiny; into the causes of that he did not propose to enter, rather leaving them to the Minister himself to explain. While still pondering over this serious state of affairs, the Foreign Minister had driven furiously to his house to inform him that the Maharajah of Nepaul had, positively without rhyme or reason, suddenly declared war upon the Confederated States of Hindustan, and was even now believed to be upon the point of invading their territories at the head of a large army of Gurkhas. Several members had shuddered at the very thought of an irruption by these barbarians, and one had murmured something apt about Attila and his Huns.

The question question before the Council was, briefly, to decide what was to be done, and the Minister for War now rose to do his part. He rose, he said, with a mens conscia recti, and he proceeded to tell the Council that the troops in the Punjaub had been in a very serious state of ferment for some months. In the first place, they had flatly declined to serve anywhere outside their own country of the Punjaub, which really he thought, upon due reflection, was perfectly reasonable on their part. But there had been a very serious breach of discipline upon the part of the Sirhind Brigade, who who had actually chased off the paradeground the eminent Bengali officer who had been sent to take over the command of that brigade. Something similar had occurred at Rawul Pindi: an officer, for whose merits he could answer (since he was a near relative of his own), had been selected for the command of the 2nd Division, whose headquarters were at Pindi, but on arrival at the railway station, after а fatiguing journey from Calcutta, he had been met by a disorderly mob of soldiers who refused to let him alight from the train. These, uttering murderous threats, had then sent this officer all the way back to Calcutta with an insulting message to himself. He had not mentioned these matters in Council, for he was willing to alarm honourable members with reports of what he felt sure at the time were merely sporadic outbreaks on


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

the part of a high-spirited and chivalrous soldiery.

Certain other reports had reached his ears. One of these was to the effect that the garrisons of stations upon the North-West Frontier had evacuated their posts en bloc. These posts had been held by certain troops from Madras and Bengal, for, naturally enough, the Punjaub troops had valid objections to being placed in all the unpleasant stations. But the regiments from downcountry had also in their turn objected-very naturally, he thought-to being compelled to reside at places which were at once distant from their homes and very uncomfortable as regards climate and surroundings. They had therefore left them, and were now, he believed, marching to the various centres in which they had been recruited, with the exception of a Madras unit which, the Minister of Marine informed him, had commandeered a transport at Karachi, and was now believed to be upon the sea. Such failures in duty were of course wrong in principle, but he ventured to say that they were essentially unimportant at this time, so much so that he had not troubled the Council with a report, for the Council knew as well as he did that the Pathan tribes were in a state of unwonted quiescence, and that the Amir had only recently made many protestations of friendship. Moreover, he had sent as a gift to the more important of the transFrontier mullahs certain sums

of money which would otherwise have been expended upon the pay and maintenance of the Frontier garrisons. In any case, he reminded hon. members, any irruption by the tribes or by the Afghans, little as this was to be feared or expected, must necessarily fall first upon the Punjaub, and that was very distant from the more important centres of their beloved country.

Lastly, there was one thing further that he must just touch upon; for, absurd as it was, it might have served as a pretext for the mutiny of the forces of the Punjaub. It was alleged by the soldiers that their pay was some months in arrears: they had had the hardihood to complain that for six months no pay had reached them. As to that charge he had an explicit answer: it was false. The Paymaster - General was a personal friend of his own, and he could therefore vouch for the financial purity of one whom he knew to be a high-minded patriot; but more than that, upon informing the Paymaster - General of the complaints made, that officer had of his own initiative furnished him with documents and receipts which showed clearly that the money had been disbursed. Certain highly placed but scurrilous officers had then alleged that these receipts were forged, and he had sent orders month ago that they should forthwith be placed under arrest and brought before a court-martial: he had not

yet received information that rangements made. As to the mutinous army of the Punjaub he had no fear, no, none ! The news of the invasion of


these orders had been carried out, but he daily expected a report to that effect, the delay being probably due to some their beloved country by the trifling irregularity in the Gurkha hosts would rally department presided over by them like a trumpet - call to his Right Hon. friend the the banner of their country: Minister of Posts and Tele- while the heroes of Bengal graphs. stemmed the onward rush of Having now vindicated his the invading hordes, the department from any possible gallant Sikhs and the fearcharge of laxity or other less Mussulmans of the North faults, the War Minister pro- would approach their flank, ceeded to reassure members and, catching them unawares, as to their actual position drive them to the very devil. in the present crisis. He Let them, then, put their trust admitted that the danger in the Army, and all would be from Nepaul was a grave one, but the Gurkha army was faced by the flower of the Indian troops. Bengal was garrisoned exclusively by Bengalis, and a full division of all arms was now being concentrated at Bhagpur under the command of MajorGeneral Lal Feetajee. He felt he had no need to reassure the Council as to the qualities of that officer, or of the gallant Bengalis whom he was about to lead victory. It was enough for him to remind hon. members that the courage of this force was a pure Swadeshi article. There might be, he feared, some little difficulty as to transport, and possibly as to supply as well, but he had no hesitation in laying the burden of making the necessary arrangements upon the shoulders of the capable Feetajee, who was as able as he was gallant, and the Council need have no fear as to


the efficacy of the ar

The War Minister here resumed his seat, but there was no great show of enthusiasm at his sanguine words; some members of the Council were, in fact, debating already in their minds as to the best place of safety, and the President himself was rejoicing at his own sagacity in having placed his capital securely in Europe.


The Minister of Railways now rose to say that he feared there might be & little delay in in the concentration of the troops tioned by the War Minister: owing to this being the season of harvest, a large part of the available rolling-stock, which the Council knew well was no longer maintained on the same extravagant scale as that adopted by their late oppressors, was unfortunately at the present time engaged in carrying wheat from agricultural centres in the Punjaub to the port of Karachi.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

He could not at short notice give details as to the amount of rolling-stock which was immediately available, and there might be some further difficulty in collecting this, as there had been friction lately between the various grades of railway personnel. However, he trusted that all would be well. He, as had always been his practice, would spare no efforts in serving their glorious State.

At this point the President suggested that the Council should adjourn till the following day he did not underrate the gravity of the position, but he was confident of his country and his countrymen. He felt assured that every measure was now being taken that could be taken, and though not wishing to count all his eggs in one basket before they were hatched, he predicted that glorious and bloody victories would be the result of this encounter with the truculent Gurkha. In the meantime nothing more could be done, so let them now break up and meet again on the morrow to discuss the situation.

Curiously enough, within half an hour the President and the Minister of War were booking passages to Marseilles in the offices of the Messageries Maritimes, where each, with supreme tact, pretended not to see the other.

A few days later the Council of the Confederated States of Hindustan was in a state of sad perplexity and dismay.

The War Minister had wired frequently and frantically to

[ocr errors]

the Commander-in-Chief of the forces in the Punjaub, informing that officer of the imminence of an invasion by Nepaul, and ordering him—I had almost said imploring him to despatch without delay all available troops-horse, foot, guns, and armed police. The General, a most distinguished man of the old-fashioned sort, who still wore his shirt outside his trousers, maintained for some days a strict silence. When, however, he did vouchsafe a reply to the War Minister's twenty-fifth telegram, it was couched in such terms as brought no relief to the Minister's anxieties, for there was something disquieting about its

[blocks in formation]

"Never fear; we are coming to Calcutta too."

That was all, and not another word could the General be induced to write or telegraph. Communication was, in fact, pretty well out off with the Punjaub, for though a few trains ran to that province, not one came back, and the Council was really seized almost with panic.

The attitude of the Madras troops was far more correct, but scarcely more comforting, for they could not be persuaded to march northwards: it was known, for they said it themselves, that they loved the Motherland at least as dearly as did others, and they protested in lengthy telegrams, classed 88 "State Urgent, their eagerness to shed their blood in its defence. But in the same telegrams they insisted with great obduracy that

[ocr errors]

it was their duty to do this only in the southern parts of India, and they pointed out that the defence of hundreds of miles of sea-coast lay upon their devoted shoulders. The attitude of Ceylon was most unfriendly, while its geographical position was itself a menace to the Motherland, and they were not the men to shirk a duty merely because it was full of danger.

pelled to resort to a military execution of the country through which he passed. The country folk were no true patriots, and they excited the General's disgust by the unwillingness with which they disgorged their food-stuffs and received in exchange receipts signed by his supply-officers.

However, in a week he had succeeded in assembling at Bhagpur a force which, though not formidable in numbers, was in every other way a magnificent body of men. It was composed exclusively of Bengalis, and officered by those who had taken leading parts in the agitation against the late oppressors. The physique

The Madras troops were, in short, convinced of the paramount necessity of staying where they were, and the local Commander-in-Chief telegraphed to Calcutta the earnest wishes of his army for the success of its brothers-in-arms: he assured the War Minister of his infantry was splendid; that every soldier of his com- it was composed of burly, mand, down to the youngest broad-shouldered men, each of drummer - boy, felt supremely whom looked and felt ready to confident of the overthrow of eat half a dozen undersized the Nepaulese, and he added little Gurkhas, and its firm that in every Madrasi bosom foundation of Swadeshi courthere reigned a deep and keen age was crowned and completed regret that stern duty pre- by the most modern thing in vented the army from taking French rifles. The battery of its proper share in the glories Creusot guns was worked by of the stricken field. His gunners who were thoroughly telegram must have cost the well versed in the most intricate Confederated States quite a theories of artillery science, and number of rupees, and it by drivers who, at stables, were failed to assuage the Council's wont to cap each other's quotaalarms. tions from the standard handbooks of veterinary lore. The eyes and ears, and some of the teeth too, of this formidable force, consisted of two regiments of cavalry, the Dacca Dragoons and the Asansol Lancers. Finely mounted and splendidly equipped, they were in all respects equal to the best Household Cavalry of Europe, and woe betide the infantry

But all was not yet lost; Nepaul tarried, and to bar the way of the invader General Feetajee was assembling at Bhagpur the flower of his troops. Their concentration took a little time, for the railways were available in only a limited degree, while for want of proper commissariat arrangements the General was com

« AnteriorContinuar »