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THE SACK OF THE BANK.
From The Cornhill Magazine.
gun or a good horse, the things in them EIGHT DAYS.
best worth stealing were the copper pots BY THE AUTHOR OF “THE TOUCHSTONE OF and pans in the kitchen, and the convey.
ing of these they left to inferior practi
tioners. True, there was the delight of I will a round unvarnished tale deliver.
killing the English, but that must be in. dulged in only if it came in their way. They left the plundering of them to the
lower orders of their community, to the THOSE of us whose memory of India mob, to the roughs and rogues and ruffians goes back, as does mine, to nearly fifty of the town. years ago, cannot avoid that feeling of
Their own thoughts turned towards the pride which we are told that we Anglo- houses of their own fellow-countrymen, Indians should not entertain at the thought the dwelling places of their wealthy felof the work we have done there. The low-citizens, in which were the underchange wrought in that period has been ground stores of gold, and silver, and marvellous, and enormously to the benefit
gems – the women and children laden of the people. For one thing, we have with jewellery, the wearers of necklets, given them a security of life and property and bracelets, and anklets (all of solid such as was never known, dreamt of, in gold), of ear-rings, and nose-rings, and toethe land before. When we arrived on rings, and girdles of silver and gold — the scene we found robbery and murder where were the valuable shawls and pieces carried on as open professions, and under of cloth of gold; houses well worth the religious sanction. Those who would robbing. To-day was a day in which a “rob you for two pice and murder you for man might make his fortune. But there
(their own saying) were very was one dwelling-place of the English numerous. There were the guilds of poi- towards which the thoughts of the chief soners; there was the fraternity, of stran- robbers in Sheitan pâra turned at once toglers, whose name has become known in day, as they had so often turned before. Europe, the Thugs, with whom death was This was the bank house. The leading the unalterable antecedent of robbery; freebooter among them had often thought, there was the federation of thieves who with a longing mind and an itching palm, stole into houses by boring holes through of the gold and silver collected together the walls; there were the gang of bold in one heap there, of the piles of gold dacoits, who carried houses by storm. mohurs and rupees. And now there was And so Sheitanpåra lifted up its head a chance of getting at these. When he when it heard that the rule of those who hears that the 66th has taken the decisive had interfered so cruelly with the callings step of slaying its officers, he makes up of its inhabitants, with their poisoning his mind that to-day at least the English and strangling, with their robbery by vio- will not be able to maintain that peace lence, or by thimble-rigging and strap-play and order which, to him at all events, and other ingenious devices, was over. have been such disagreeable results of The denizens of the Devil's Quarter their rule. To-day lawlessness leaped up at the thought that they should likely to prevail, and, if so, the bank will be able to call this day their own. The be one of the first objects of attention to news of the murder of the English shop those who mean to take advantage of it. keeper and his family, of the plunder of He must bestir himself if he wishes to be his shop and house, set them all astir. first in the field. He gets together his Here was the bloody token of the downfall band, and adding slightly to its numbers of the English power! Why, here was he does not care to make it too large sanctioned robbery, applauded murder ! he starts for the bank. But when the leaders among them began The bank stands by the side of a road to consider how they should best realize that runs from Star Street to the English this sudden and unexpected opportunity, quarter. Doonghur Singh, the dacoit, it was not towards the houses of the En. would have preferred to have gone round glish people that the thoughts of those and approached it from the side of the highflyers turned. Those houses gener- English quarter, so as to have had the ally contained little that they thought best chance of arriving on the scene of worth the taking. There was hardly ever action alone; but the distance was too any money in them - that was kept at the great. He might arrive at the bank only bank no costly clothing, no jewels or to find that others had been there before gems. Except in the case of a valuable l bim - to find the gold and silver, yea, even
the coppers gone. No, he must make for its delightful hedgerows, and its green it from Star Street. As he enters on the meadows filled with flowers -one of the road leading to the bank, he is as much most delightful sights in the world. When surprised as delighted to find the road so the two girls are borne away to that disvacant and still. The swirl in Star Street tant place by the pieces of paper in their has drawn all the traffic from the neigh-hands, they do not care to look on the boring streets, into it; and so the re. aspect of the land, but on the faces of their nowned freebooter enjoys the satisfaction friends - as yet their greatest friends; of seeing the road running on before him to hear of their fortunes, follow their unoccupied by any large throng or band thoughts, share in their hopes and fears. of people, in fact almost empty. But heThe aspects of any land, its physical is a well-known man in Khizrabad, and his characteristics, are not of such moment entry on the road has been noticed." The to them just now as human life, above all bank is about to be plundered !” – the their own. India has been to them as yet cry fies around. Soon the band of pro.only a land of excitement, pleasurable exfessional marauders has at its heels a hur- citement and delight, the land in which rying crowd, a rushing crowd, with which they have come to pass their lives, meet it must now make a race of it. Some men their parents, perchance their husbands. belonging to the bank are coming down | They have just seen it under its fairest the road; they rush back in order to give aspect, during the beautiful winter season. Mr. Hilton warning; but they will not They have not lived long enough in the reach the bank house much before the land they have come to to have a deep others, whose feet are winged by the craving for the land they have left; not thought of the rich prize that may await long enough in a desiccated atmosphere the first men in the race.
to have an intense craving for cool, moist We have said that, while the mutineers air; not long enough on these flat plains from Abdoolapore were marching up from to have a deep desire for a land that rises the River Gate to Star Street, Mrs. Hilton and falls; not long enough beneath this and her daughters, seated in the pleasant fiery cope of heaven to have a passionate western upper verandah of the house, yearning for a shrouded sky. The aspect were absorbed in the reading of their of their distant native land, as it was when English, their home letters. The trans. those letters left it, comes up more vividly porting power of the carpet of the Prince before Mrs. Hilton's mental gaze, though Kumar-ul-Zaman in the “ Arabian Nights” she had not seen it for ten years, than was nothing compared to that of a sheet before that of the girls who had left it of paper which will carry you over such scarcely a year ago. enorinous spaces, over oceans and conti. The letters Mrs. Hilton is most connents in a second of time. To what a cerned in come from the place in which distance have they been carried within she was born, and in which she lived until the last few minutes — how many thou. she married and came out to India ; its sands of miles away! Away from the very sticks and stones form a part of her vast, flat, alien plain around them, with its being. Now is the time for rural excurmud-walled villages, the only habitations sions, and as mention is made of them of men upon it no man daring to dwell how each well-known spot rises up again, alone by himself in mansion, farmhouse, clear and distinct, before Mrs. Hilton's or cot - and its numerous mango groves; eyes.
“ The children have been to Cars. from the vast plain, just now looking at its well Glen,” she reads in the letter from worst, where the trees are dust-laden and her mother - an old lady still as brisk and for hundreds of miles there is not a single active and cheerful as herself, in whose flower, scarce a blade of green grass to be charge her younger children are - and
- where what is not dry, barren plain the aspect of the place in the early springor dry morass is dry, brown fallow. Back to time is as clear before her as is that of their fair native land, now in all the beauty the Ghilâni Bagh, on which she looks of the springtime, with its varied surface down from the verandah. It was a long, and its beautiful, widespread greenery, and narrow dale or valley lying between the its tall, ancestral trees, and its trim lawns high moorland and the sea, cut out by a and numerous orchards, its scattered cots, little stream on its descent from the former and farms, and mansions — marks of cen to the latter. How clearly she saw that turies of security, as the absence of them wider middle portion to which the children in India is a mark of the opposite - and had gone to gather primroses ! The hur. its gorse-covered commons now aflame rying brook, the beautiful groups of trees, with gold, even the barren land fair; and the moss-grown mill with its calm, still
pool above and its rushing stream below, as you must pass through the Jumoo Gate, the meadows filled with buttercups and you might see Hay, and he might be able daisies, and the golden primroses growing to send down some of his men to defend in such profusion everywhere, under these the bank. You will get there sooner in trees, in that hollow, in the cool shadow the carriage than a man could on foot. So of the bank above the mill-pond. And go and get your bonnets and hats - and then she becomes absorbed in all those he tells the man who has come in to clear little etails about the children which have away the breakfast things to run down so great an interest for her; about Mary's and order the carriage to be got ready at frock and Tommy's jacket, and the change once. As he is speaking the race for the in the color of Susan's hair (which Mrs. bank has begun. "Mr. Hilton then hurries Hilton sighs at), and the loss of her first down to the bank rooms. The bank has tooth. And then, when they all meet to a guard consisting of four burkandazes gether at breakfast the contents of the literally lightning-throwers” – they are letters have to be discussed. And Mr. fond of high-sounding epithets in the Hilton delays leaving to smoke his cigar, East), and a duffadar of its own. These which he does before going down to his men are armed with swords only, but office. And when he has retired to his if they will show fight they may keep own room the mother and daughters still back a crowd, defend a doorway. And continue the interchange of information so Hilton sends a peon to order them and the discussion thereof. Then Mr. to come up to the bank rooms at once. Hilton reappears unexpectedly and says He then tells another peon to run and shut to his wife, “ There is a disturbance in the the gate that leads into the bank grounds city.”
on the city ward side. But all this is of no The emphasis means, “ Here is the discuse. The peon would hardly have been in turbance I have apprehended and we have time to close the gate had he gone himself so often talked about.” He was also as ordered, but as he went to the chokidar, thinking of the discussion at Mr. Melvil's whose business it was to close and open three days before, on the night of the the gates, and told him to do so, the chodance, when Mr. Melvil had so poob- kidar arrived at the gateway only when the poohed the notion of such an occurrence. foremost marauders were rushing through
“ A disturbance - in the city ? " says it, and.being a robber born and bred himMrs. Hilton, not able to disengage her self (in India you always take on a thief to mind at once from the piece of interesting be your chokidar or watchman, not on the home gossip she and her daughters have principle of setting a thief to catch a thief, been discussing.
but because his wages form a kind of Yes; a man in the office has brought blackmail paid to his fraternity), he the news. He does not seem very clear promptly joins them.
to what has given rise to it, but it And now the rushing stream has seems rather a serious one. You and the reached the bank house. Mr. Hilton galgirls had better get out of the city and lantly throws himself in front of it. He go up to the cantonment— go to Mrs. is not seized, or struck down, or thrust Campbell's.”
aside, but simply borne away as if he were “ But we cannot go away and leave you a bit of wood in front of a mass of rushing here, John,” says Mrs. Hilton.
water. The marauders have poured into “ I shall be able to manage better by my. the long hall in the middle of which is the self, when you are away, says Mr. Hil- square underground cellar or vault, spe. ton. “We have the guard, and I shall cially made for the purpose, which forms have the gates closed, and the compound the strong-room of the bank. And they walls are high, and I will send a man to have produced the hatchets and crowbars the police, and, by the way, you might they employ in their large-scale burgladrive round by the brigadier's and tell ries, and brought them to bear on the door him that there is a disturbance in the which leads down into the vault, and which city."
of course lies on the same level with the But, John,” cries Mrs. Hilton.
floor. Doonghur Singh, the experienced “ You know I must remain here, Molly, leader of the band of dacoits, has disposed and you had better get the girls up to the of his men around the mouth of the vault. cantonment,” says Mr. Hilton, looking They stand three deep and shoulder to earnestly at his wife. “I think I shall be shoulder, so as to keep every one else able to keep things straight here, but if it back, to prevent any one else from ap. comes to the worst I shall be able to get proaching the treasure house. The sound away better by myself. And, by the way, I of the hatchets and hammers rings through
There is no other sound. The is being taken out for their own benefit, dense crowd stands hushed and silent. for the benefit of the whole band. Doon. The shouts and yells with which the crowd ghur Singh and those who bave descended had approached the building had died with him are handing up the bags of gold away the moment it had 'entered it, and to the men who form the innermost row every man had to devote his fullest atten. of the ring. And the members of the gen. tion to the business before him. Every eral public perceiving this are nearly man is doing his best to thrust himself driven mad by it. These obstructionists forward, to work his way as near as he must be removed; this ring must be can to the vault. Soon there is no pos. broken. And so the roughs grapple with sibility of further movement, the room the robbers — they have no boots on their is so closely packed. But even when feet with which to kick them and there is there was the naked feet made no noise. a fierce wrestling and furious struggling all In a few minutes after the bursting in of round the ring, and the huge hall resounds the crowd you would have said that the with yells and cries. room was as full as it could be. But the “ Thieves and robbers !” shout the out. fierce desire of the people to get as near siders, - would you prevent us from hav. as possible to that central spot produces ing any share whatsoever in the booty ? compression (had not the marauders Down with the rascals !” thrown themselves into the circular form And though fighting is more the busithey could not have withstood that press- ness of the freebooters, there are many ure), and when no further compression bold, strong men, many professional athseems possible more and more people letes, among the amateur robbers, and they keep squeezing in at the doors, keep are rendered furious at the thought of these wriggling themselves in between the oth- bags of gold being taken possession of by ers, keep thrusting themselves in between others within arm's length of them ; they them and the wall.
bring all their energies into play, and soon Then the horizontal flap or lid or door the ring is beginning to be broken into. is lifted, and an extraordinary scene en- And now the leader of the band of free
On the first knowledge of the fact booters, standing on one side of the vault, a sort of moan goes up from the crowd. shouts aloud some order in the secret The leader of the dacoits and the two or language of the fraternity, and the men three men he has selected rapidly descend standing on the other side suddenly run into the vault to make the most of the few round to him, thus leaving a wide opening, minutes they are likely to have fully and through which the pressing people pour as freely and uninterruptedly at their com- the dammed-back water rushes through mand; to get hold of the bags containing the opened sluice.gate; and as that water the gold mohurs; to the first-comers the would fall into a hole or hollow if it met gold, to the next the silver, to the last the it on its way, so do the people fall into the copper ; to the first the coveted gold, with underground vault. They rush down the so much more value in so much less com- parrow flight of steps, tumble down them, pass, with so much less weight. Why, a leap straight down over the edges, and man could hardly carry the rupees that soon the chamber is filled as full as it can would be needed to give him a decent in. be, and then ensues within its four smooth come for life; he could very easily carry walls, beneath its flat, horizontal roof, a the gold that would make him rich. And scene which it would be impossible to dethe gold is being removed. And these scribe. It is as if a wounded deer had skilful, professional thieves may pretty fallen down to the bottom of a pit, and a nearly clear out the vault. And so a groan, pack of wolves had rushed down upon it and then a howl goes up from the crowd. there. Terrible is the scramble. Every Most of the men are so closely packed to- man is fiercely eager, not only to get hold gether that they can do nothing but groan of some of the coveted wealth, but to get and howl and utter bitter execrations; they away with it; and that is the difficulty. It are obliged to stand still; they cannot is easy enough to descend into the vault
, But those immediately round the but to reascend, that is not so easy. It is ring of freebooters commence an attack possible to slip or swing yourself down upon them, attempt to pull them down; over the edges into the vault, but you can to move them aside. But the freebooters get out again only by ineans of the steps, stoutly maintain their formation, prevent and terrible is the struggle between those the circle from being broken; they know madly eager to get down and those fiercely everything depends on that, and they know anxious to get up. that what is being taken out of the vault The dacoits and their leader have
marched away with their booty. The case with no other thought than that they marauders have passed into the bank will pass down it as usual. rooms through the verandah which ran As they are hurrying across the wide along in front of them on the south side landing-place the huge-statured butcher of the house. Along the east side ran has begun to ascend the staircase. The another verandah, in front of which stood three women suddenly balance themselves the stately portico, with its tall stone col- on the very edge of the descent, stop umos, and within it the entrance hall, from themselves in the act of putting their feet which the main staircase ascended to the down on the first step, as they catch sight upper story. When the bank chamber of that ferocious countenance and that which held the treasure vault was crammed huge naked frame coming round the curve to its utmost, when it was not possible for in the middle of the staircase. They are another single person to force himself into at the top, he half way up. For one moit, when men stood on the threshold and ment the blood seems frozen in their veins, blocked the opening of every doorway, a for one moment they remain balanced, big butcher, a most brawny ruffian, ap. poised in the air. They are accustomed peared upon the scene. He was a man of to the sight of nudity such as his, but only gigantic stature. His only clothing was in the open air. The appearance of the a small linen skull-cap on the top of his man in that condition on their staircase in head, and a narrow strip of linen between the broad light of day is significant of a his legs. His coarse and brutal counte terrible change in the usual condition of Dance was horrible to look on. He carried things. But they are not thinking of that; in his right hand one of the instruments of this is not what affects them, appals them: his trade, a long, heavy, sharply pointed It is the terrible look on the man's face as broad-backed chopper or knife. He peers he catches sight of them, which is like a in at one of the doorways, and sees that sudden, stunning blow. And now the feleven he, with all his strength, could not low shakes the knife at them, and salutes cleave his way through that compacted them with a ferocious grin.
By the time that he is likely to Mrs. Hilton was a woman of a quick, reach the vault his getting there will not ready resolution, Maud of a proud, high be very profitable; he will come in only courage, Agnes of an utter fearlessness. for a scramble for coppers. Surely it Whatever the form of it, they were all would be better to be the first to rob’the brave; if they remain standing at the rooms above than the last to rob the edge of the staircase it is not because rooms below? And so while the mob is they are paralyzed – they have soon reentirely occupied at the present scene of covered from that first sudden shock action he slips round the corner into the but no one of them can fly and leave the adjoining east, or front, verandah, thence others. They see that if this man, with into the entrance hall, and then proceeds the obvious design to assail them, is once to move quietly up the staircase.
on the same level with themselves they Mrs. Hilton and her daughters have cannot cope with him, cannot all escape prepared themselves to drive up to the from him. Two doorways lead into the cantonment. Their bedrooms lay on the huge drawing-room behind them, and they north side of the huge square building would not have time to close both these The freebooters and the attendant crowd against him; and even if they had he have traversed the short distance between would be able to burst them open with his the gateway and the southern verandah, mere weight. have filled up the large room containing Often what we have jested about be. the vault, and the ladies, with the whole comes a stern reality in our lives. Now width of the house between, are not aware what they had joked about at Mr. Melvil's of what has happened. Mrs. Hilton is entertainment only three days before – under the impression that her husband that about Mrs. Hilton having to defend has had the gates of the compound closed, her home with her husband's hog-spearthat the house still retains its ordinary actually comes to pass. Mrs. Hilton resecurity. (Very marvellous is that unseen members that this spear is standing in a influence which gives our homes a sanctity corner of this very landing, only a little which even our friends will not encroach way behind her. She springs back and upon unauthorized, which makes our lives seizes it. She springs forward again to secure, which guards the persons of men the edge of the staircase and makes a half against hurt, and those of women against lunge at the man, now only two steps beoutrage.) And so the good lady and her low the top; a half lunge because she is daughters are hastening towards the stair. I afraid of his seizing the head of the spear,