Rung Ho! - Talbot Mundy - ebook

Rung Ho! ebook

Talbot Mundy

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This is the very first novel of Talbot Mundi. This is a very well written adventure story that is very easy to read and keeps the reader’s attention from first to last page. This is a magnificent reproduction of India since 1857. Works like this can become addicted to the reader.

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Liczba stron: 427

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Contents

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 1

Howrah City bows the knee More or less to masters three, King, and Prince, and Siva. Howrah City pays in pain Taxes which the royal twain Give to priests, to give again (More or less) to Siva.*

THAT was no time or place for any girl of twenty to be wandering unprotected. Rosemary McClean knew it; the old woman, of the sweeper caste, that is no caste at all,–the hag with the flat breasts and wrinkled skin, who followed her dogwise, and was no more protection than a toothless dog,–knew it well, and growled about it in incessant undertones that met with neither comment nor response.

“Leave a pearl of price to glisten on the street, yes!” she grumbled. “Perhaps none might notice it–perhaps! But her–here– at this time–” She would continue in a rumbling growl of half-prophetic catalogues of evil–some that she had seen to happen, some that she imagined, and not any part of which was in the least improbable.

As the girl passed through the stenching, many-hued bazaar, the roar would cease for a second and then rise again. Turbaned and puggreed*– Mohammedan and Hindu–men of all grades of colour, language, and belief, but with only one theory on women, would stare first at the pony that she rode, then at her, and then at the ancient grandmother who trotted in her wake. Low jests would greet the grandmother, and then the trading and the gambling would resume, together with the under-thread of restlessness that was so evidently there and yet so hard to lay a finger on.

The sun beat down pitilessly–brass–like the din of cymbals. Beneath the sun helmet that sat so squarely and straightforwardly on the tidy chestnut curls, her face was pale. She smiled as she guided her pony in and out amid the roaring throng, and carefully refused to see the scowls, her brave little shoulders seconded a pair of quiet, brave grey eyes in showing an unconquerable courage to the world, and her clean, neat cotton riding-habit gave the lie and the laugh in one to poverty; but, as the crowd had its atmosphere of secret murmuring, she had another of secret anxiety.

Neither had fear. She did not believe in it. She was there to help her father fight inhuman wrong, and die, if need be, in the last ditch. The crowd had none, for it had begun to realize that it was part a of a two-hundred- million crowd, held down and compelled by less than a hundred thousand aliens. And, least of all, had the man who followed her at a little distance the slightest sense of fear. He was far more conversant with it than she, but –unlike her, and far more than the seething crowd–he knew the trend of events, and just what likelihood there was of insult or injury to Rosemary McClean being avenged in a generation.

He caused more comment than she, and of a different kind. His rose-pink puggree, with the egret and the diamond brooch to hold the egret in its place –his jeweled saber–his swaggering, almost ruffianly air –were no more meant to escape attention than his charger that clattered and kicked among the crowd, or his following, who cleared a way for him with the butt ends of their lances. He rode ahead, but every other minute a mounted sepoy* would reach out past him and drive his lance-end into the ribs of some one in the way.

There would follow much deep salaaming; more than one head would bow very low indeed; and in many languages, by the names of many gods, he would be cursed in undertones. Aloud, they would bless him and call him “Heaven- born!”

But he took no interest whatever in the crowd. His dark-brown eyes were fixed incessantly on Rosemary McClean’s back. Whenever she turned a corner in the crowded maze of streets, he would spur on in a hurry until she was in sight again, and then his handsome, swarthy face would light with pleasure –wicked pleasure–self-assertive, certain, cruel. He would rein in again to let her draw once more ahead.

Rosemary McClean knew quite well who was following her, and knew, too, that she could do nothing to prevent him. Once, as she passed a species of caravansary*–low-roofed, divided into many lockable partitions, and packed tight with babbling humanity–she caught sight of a pair of long, black thigh boots, silver-spurred, and of a polished scabbard that moved spasmodically, as though its owner were impatient.

“Mohammed Gunga!” she muttered to herself. “I wonder whether he would come to my assistance if I needed him. He fought once–or so he says –for the British; he might be loyal still. I wonder what he is doing here, and what–Oh, I wonder!”

She was very careful not to seem to look sideways, or seek acquaintance with the wearer of the boots; had she done so, she would have gained nothing, for the moment that he caught sight of her through the opened door he drew back into a shadow, and swore lustily. What he said to himself would have been little comfort to her.

“By the breath of God!” he growled. “These preachers of new creeds are the last straw, if one were wanting! They choose the one soft place where Mohammedan and Hindu think alike, and smite! If I wanted to raise hell from end to end of Hind, I too would preach a new creed, and turn good-looking women loose to wander on the country-side!–Ah!” He drew back even further, as he spied the egret and the saber and the stallion cavorting down the street–then thought better of it and strode swaggering to the doorway, and stood, crimson-coated, in the sunlight, stroking upward insolently at his black, fierce-barbered beard. There was a row of medal ribbons on his left breast that bore out something at least of his contention; he had been loyal to the British once, whether he was so now or not.

The man on the charger eyed him sideways and passed on. Mohammed Gunga waited. One of the prince’s followers rode close to him–leaned low from the saddle–and leered into his face.

“Knowest not enough to salute thy betters?” he demanded.

Mohammed Gunga made a movement with his right hand in the direction of his left hip–one that needed no explanation; the other legged his horse away, and rode on, grinning nastily. To reassure himself of his superiority over everybody but his master, he spun his horse presently so that its rump struck against a tented stall, and upset tent and goods. Then he spent two full minutes in outrageous execration of the men who struggled underneath the gaudy cloth, before cantering away, looking, feeling, riding like a fearless man again. Mohammed Gunga sneered after him, and spat, and turned his back on the sunshine and the street.

“I had a mind to teach that Hindu who his betters are!” he growled.

“Come in, risaldar-sahib!”* said a voice persuasively. “By your own showing the hour is not yet–why spill blood before the hour?”

The Rajput* swaggered to the dark door, spurs jingling, looking back across his shoulder once or twice, as though he half-regretted leaving the Hindu horseman’s head upon his shoulders.

“Come in, sahib,” advised the voice again. “They be many. We are few. And, who knows–our roads may lie together yet.”

Mohammed Gunga kicked his scabbard clear, and strode through the door. The shadows inside and the hum of voices swallowed him as though he were a big, red, black-legged devil re-assimilated in the brewing broth of trouble; but his voice boomed deep and loud after he had disappeared from view.

“When their road and my road lie together, we will travel all feet foremost!” he asserted.

Ten turnings further away by that time, Rosemary McClean pressed on through the hot, dinning swarm of humanity, missing no opportunity to slip her pony through an opening, but trying, too, to seem unaware that she was followed. She chose narrow, winding ways, where the awnings almost met above the middle of the street, and where a cavalcade of horsemen would not be likely to follow her–only to hear a roar behind her, as the prince’s escort started slashing at the awnings with their swords.

There was a rush and a din of shouting beside her and ahead, as the frightened merchants scurried to pull down their awnings before the ruthless horse-men could ride down on them; the narrow street transformed itself almost on the instant into a undraped, cleared defile between two walls. And after that she kept to the broader streets, where there was room in the middle for a troop to follow, four abreast, should it choose. She had no mind to seek her own safety at the expense of men whose souls her father was laboring so hard to save.

She got no credit, though, for consideration–only blame for what the swordsmen had already done. One man–a Maharati* trader– half-naked, his black hair coiled into a shaggy rope and twisted up above his neck–followed her, side-tracking through the mazy byways of the bewildering mart, and coming out ahead of her–or lurking beside bales of merchandise and waiting his opportunity to leap from shadow into shadow unobserved.

He followed her until she reached the open, where a double row of trees on each side marked the edge of a big square, large enough for the drilling of an army. Along one side of the square there ran the high brick wall, topped with a kind of battlement, that guarded the Maharajah’s* palace grounds from the eyes of men.

Just as she turned, just as she was starting to canter her pony beside the long wall, he leaped out at her and seized her reins. The old woman screamed, and ran to the wall and cowered there.

Very likely the man only meant to frighten her and heap insults on her, for in ‘56, though wrath ran deep and strong, men waited. There was to be sudden, swift whelming when the time came, not intermittent outrage. But he had no time to do more than rein her pony back onto its haunches.

There came a clatter of scurrying hoofs behind, and from a whirl of dust, topped by a rose-pink puggree, a steel blade swooped down on her and him. A surge of brown and pink and cream, and a dozen rainbow tints flashed past her; a long boot brushed her saddle on the off side. There was a sickening sound, as something hard swished and whicked home; her pony reeled from the shock of a horse’s shoulder, and–none too gently–none too modestly–the prince with the egret and the handsome face reined in on his horse’s haunches and saluted her.

There was blood, becoming dull-brown in the dust between them. He shook his saber, and the blood dripped from it then he held it outstretched, and a horseman wiped it, before he returned it with a clang.

“The sahiba’s servant!” he said magnificently, making no motion to let her pass, but twisting with his sword-hand at his waxed moustache and smiling darkly.

She looked down between them at the thing that but a minute since had lived, and loved perhaps as well as hated.

“Shame on you, Jaimihr-sahib!” she said, shuddering. A year ago she would have fallen from her pony in a swoon, but one year of Howrah and its daily horrors had so hardened her that she could look and loathe without the saving grace of losing consciousness.

“The shame would have been easier to realize, had I taken more than one stroke!” he answered irritably, still blocking the way on his great horse, still twisting at his moustache point, still looking down at her through eyes that blazed a dozen accumulated centuries’ store of lawless ambition. He was proud of that back-handed swipe of his that would cleave a man each time at one blow from shoulder-joint to ribs, severing the backbone. A woman of his own race would have been singing songs in praise of him and his skill in swordsmanship already; but no woman of his own race would have looked him in the eye like that and dared him, nor have done what she did next. She leaned over and swished his charger with her little whip, and slipped past him.

He swore, deep and fiercely, as he spurred and wheeled, and cantered after her. His great stallion could overhaul her pony in a minute, going stride for stride; the wall was more than two miles long with no break in it other than locked gates; there was no hurry. He watched her through half-closed, glowering, appraising eyes as he cantered in her wake, admiring the frail, slight figure in the grey cotton habit, and bridling his desire to make her –seize her reins, and halt, and make her–admit him master of the situation.

As he reached her stirrup, she reined in and faced him, after a hurried glance that told her her duenna had failed her. The old woman was invisible.

“Will you leave that body to lie there in the dust and sun?” she asked indignantly.

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