Peaceful chaps, the men of the Basuto, but they hadn't forgotten how to fight
ONE SUNDAY evening, just after sunset, the assistant collector of Chitablary, a coastal district of Southern India, sat in his office. Over his head a punkah creaked, and the air it disturbed caused the papers on his desk to flutter. Outside, the wind rustled the palm fronds, and not far away wavelets from the bay splashed monotonously on the beach. It was rather a pleasant evening, but the thoughts of the assistant collector were far from pleasant; in fact he was up against the nastiest problem he had ever tackled.
It was a twofold problem. Some time before, garrulous Congress wallahs up in the Bombay Presidency had made one of their periodic, but rather premature, statements to the effect that within a month British rule in India would be at an end. The news of this spread slowly south until it reached the ears of a turbulent, ignorant—and therefore very fanatical—Mohammedan trille, the Wogs, which existed in the hinterland of the Chitablary country. The men of the tribe, who had known no real excitement for a long time, sat up and did a little calculating: making allowance for the time the news had taken to reach them, they decided that the end of British rule must now be an accompli slic'd fact, and had been for some time. Some other, less efficient, rule must have taken its place. They
had wasted weeks; they must be up and doing. They got up and did; they started a full-sized rebellion. They either forcibly converted every Hindu they found in the vicinity or killed him. They burned and looted where they willed; now, urged on possibly by the call of the sea, for their ancestors had been Arab pirates, they were heading in a large body for the coast. In the meantime, in addition to a strike among the coolies in the harbor—a sheltered roadstead—communal rioting had broken out in Chitablary town itself. There Mohammedans were in the minority, and for part of the Sabbath day Hindus had been hunting them with lathis and knives all through the streets and bazaars, while the assistant collector, with the handful of police at his disposal, had been strenuously endeavoring to restore peace to a town that now resembled a shambles.
While engaged on that job, just after daybreak, he had been hit on the head by a brickbat that nearly stunned him, and shortly afterward he received a telegram from the assistant superintendent of police, who, with a small mounted body, was miles away trying to cope with the trouble there. The telegram was disturbing: the tribesmen were advancing in a huge mob—burning, forcibly converting and massacring as they came—and were now a little over a day’s march from the only bridge across the deep and swollen Kalipatam River. Once over that there was nothing to stop them reaching the coast. The assistant collector telegraphed this news to his immediate superior, and went on with his job in the bazaar.
He had a gruelling day. Now, thirsty, hungry and with throbbing head, he sat at his desk.
One thing pleased him. The master of the steamer out in the bay hád wanted to let some of his crew ashore on liberty that day, but had been persuaded not to. A few firemen knocking about the liquor shops of the bazaar would have certainly complicated matters, defied his police and divested him of his last shred of authority.
Then he sat bolt upright, the pen poised above the desk. His eyebrows knit as he thought over the scheme that had just suggested itself.
“Peon,” he shouted, “tell the serang of the launch to get ready. I am going off to the big vessel in the harbor.”
HTI IE LAUNCH headed out into the bay, which was now calm. Its glassy surface was studded with the reflections of thousands of stars, and the steamer’s riding lights were mirrored in two long, irregular, golden streaks. Presently her black shape loomed high out of the water. The launch ranged alongside, but the gangway ladder had been hoisted up.
"Basuto, ahoy!” the assistant collector hailed.
“Hullo!” the night watchman replied.
“Lower away your ladder. I want to come aboard.”
After a little delay the ladder was lowered. The assistant collector ran up it, gained the steamer’s deck, and asked for the captain. The night watchman led him up onto the lower bridge, and there was the captain, already in pyjamas. He showed the official into the darkened saloon, switched on the lights, then begged to be excused while he dressed again. In less than five minutes he was back in the saloon fully clad, listening while the assistant collector detailed his troubles—the rioting in the town which kept him tied down there, and the still more serious position away beyond the Kalipatam.
“Well?” said the captain after he had heard everything and expressed his sympathy.
The assistant collector produced his scheme. It was only a few years after the Great War, and surely there must be aboard the ship a number of ex-servicemen who were used to discipline and could handle a service rifle. Also, of more importance, there must surely be an ex-officer who had served in the war. The assistant collector’s scheme was simply to land a small striking force from the steamer, and send it out to the assistant superintendent of police to help him to hold the bridge.
The captain took pity on him.
“Well, we’ll just send for the chief officer and chief engineer and see what they have to say about it,” he said kindly.
Those two officers—both rather elderly—rolled into the saloon and immediately rallied to the support of the assistant collector. A landing party ! They were all for it! Yes, there were a number of ex-servicemen on board, both on deck and in the stokehold.
“To begin with, the second and third officers were in the Navy all through the war.” the chief officer declared.
“Hasn’t the third engineer got a Military Cross?” the captain asked.
“He has that,” the chief engineer replied stoutly. “He was a major in the Durhams; commanded a battalion for a while.”
“By Jove! that sounds like the sort of fellow I want,” the assistant collector cried eagerly. “Can I see him?”
“Of course,” said the now rather enthusiastic captain Presently the third engineer appeared, with the second and third officers, who had also been summoned, at his heels. He was tall, slim and quiet of demeanor, and he had a close-clipped, military-looking mustache. The assistant collector again explained the situation and his scheme, but this time he took a large-scale Ordnance map out of his pocket, opened it out and spread it on tine table.
“That’s your objective, major: the bridge over the Kalipatam, which is in flood and unfordable just now,” he said. “There’s just the one decent road out to it.”
The third engineer ran an expert eye over the scale. “About twenty-five miles,” he said quietly.
“Any other way the enemy can cross the river?” “There's a large village about three miles higher up where there are a number of boats, but I expect they have all been withdrawn to this side.”
“H’m ! You want us in position by tomorrow afternoon. How do you propose to get us there? Any transport? “Police ponies—that’s all I’ve got.”
“There’s an old car, too,” the assistant collector said. “It can carry out the rations and ammunition and a Lewis gun that’s lying in the police barracks—if you can get someone to drive it.”
“I’ll get someone to drive it all right,” the third engineer replied. He turned to the captain. “I think, sir, you might send for all hands—at least all the Britishers—and let this gentleman address them.”
“That's a good idea,” the captain said to the chief officer. “Get all the Britishers along into the saloon.”
“Do you think you can get a decent crowd together?” the assistant collector asked anxiously while they waited.
“Sure of it!” the third engineer replied. “There are at least five old soldiers in the stokehold, and most of the deck hands were in the Naval Reserve. As for the bo’s'n— he’s a regular old fire-eater; goodness knows how many wars—British and otherwise—he has been in.”
Little whispering groups began to collect in the alleyway outside; then one barefooted sailor, or fireman, after another shuffled into the saloon and hung about awkwardly. The chief officer announced that all the Britons were present, and tire assistant collector rose to address them. Never, he thought, as he looked them over, had he seen such a hard-bitten crowd of toughs.
He described the trouble out beyond the river, and when he came to the stream of refugees flying before the brutal infuriated tribesmen he became really eloquent.
“I propose to form a landing party under Major Reid and send it out to help to hold the bridge,” he concluded.
Major Reid! Who was he? the expressionless eyes in front of him seemed to say.
“That’s the third engineer,” the captain explained.
“Now, will every man who can handle a rifle and is willing to go ashore and do some scrapping put up his hand?” said the assistant collector.
Following the lead of the second and third officers, every man in the group shot a hand toward the ceiling. The captain nodded approval; the chief officer and chief engineer smiled broadly; as for the assistant collector, a lump came in his throat and he could hardly speak. At last he managed a quiet—
“Thank you all very much!”
The hands came down and the faces became impassive again. The assistant collector prepared to go.
“I’ll leave you to it,” he said to the third engineer. ‘The launch will be off for you at daybreak.”
THE CAPTAIN, chief officer and chief engineer followed the assistant collector out of the saloon, and almost immediately the intervening years since the Armistice seemed to fall away from the third engineer; he was back again in the orderly room.
“We'll do a little sorting out now,” he said crisply. “All of you must be aware that any man who isn't used to handling a service rifle is a menace to himself and everyone else in a show like this, and I will not have any such in the party. Bo's’n, I’ll appoint you sergeant.”
He looked toward the second and third officers as if for approval of this summary promotion. Both grinned delightedly.
“Get over to the starboard side of the saloon, you two,” the third engineer told them, “then I’ll question every one of the others.”
The cockney boatswain moved to his side.
“Lay along ’ere, one by one,” he shouted.
The first to move was a fireman with time-expired regular soldier written all over him; besides the long argument with Fritz he had some of Willcock’s week-end wars on the North-West Frontier to his credit. Having been in the Mons retreat, he had been christened the Old Contemptible when he came aboard; this had been abbreviated to Old Conty, and finally to Conty. The third engineer hardly glanced at Conty.
“Starboard side!” he said.
The next to come forward was a sailor. He had little difficulty in proving that he had been in the Naval Reserve, so he joined Conty. The next was another fireman named Jones; he was tall, spare and grizzled of hair—the most taciturn man in the ship.
“Where were you during the war?” the third engineer asked briskly.
“Nowhere, sir—leastways at sea,” the fireman drawled. “Is that all?”
“I was blown up twice by submarines,” Jones explained hopefully.
“Yes, but where did you learn to handle a rifle?”
“Boer War, sir!”
“Well, who were you with in the Boer War?” the third engineer asked impatiently.
“What does that mean?”
“Scoot Away Like Hell, sir,” the boatswain interrupted. The fireman shot a furious glance at the interrupter. “South African Light Horse!" he said with dignity. “Starboard side!” said the third engineer hurriedly.
Most of the others—all, in fact, except two—went to the starboard side, among them an Australian fireman who had been with the Anzac mounted division in Palestine. A giant Orkney sailor named Inkster had a narrow escape from . joining the two rejected goats who had already been stmt out of the saloon. He had been mine-sweeping, and remembered just in time that he had frequently used a rifle for shooting at the horns of mines to explode them. He was allowed to join the sheep. The last man to roll up was also a sailor.
“Smithy’s all right, sir.” the boatswain guaranteed with a leer in the direction of the S.A.L. Horseman. “ ’E was in my troop o’ Driscoll's Scouts in South Africa, an’ we’ve bin together ever since."
The proceedings seemed to be at an end when a youth came flying into the saloon, pulling on a white tunic as ne ran. It was the engineers’ mess-room steward, who had been washing dishes and was not aware that anything out of place was going on until warned by the chief engineer.
“Well, mess-room,” the third engineer said pleasantly, “what do you want? You were too young to be in the war, surely.”
“I was in it and I wasn’t, as you might say, sir," the mess-room steward replied. “I got two medals for it, all right. I did my training and landed at Boulogne two days before the Armistice broke out. I’m a Lewis gunner, sir."
“Starboard side,” said the third engineer. "Now there’s another point.” he went on. ‘The first thing we have to do in the morning is a twenty-five-mile ride on ponies. We may have to leave those who can’t ride to come along the best way they can while the rest of us push on to the bridge. All those who can ride put up their hands.”
Again every man present raised a hand toward the ceiling. The boatswain whistled softly.
"That’s all, then,” the third engineer said. “Bo’s’n. dismiss the men for the present. I ¿hall probably want to see them later.”
“Get out o’ this the lot o’ ye,” the boatswain ordered curtly.
Silently the men filed out of the saloon, but an excited buzz of conversation broke out as soon as they reached the deck. The third engineer and the boatswain were left alone.
“Sir,” said the petty officer, “you’ve got a commando of first-class liars.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Was you ever aboard a steamboat before in w’ich all ’ands was able to ride an ’orse?” the boatswain asked deliberately.
“You ain’t aboard one now, neither. W’y, ’arf o’ them blokes don’t know the bows of an ’orse from its starn.”
T'vAYLIGHT was just coming in next morning when the landing party—well primed with breakfast—paraded on the Basuto’s iron foredeck, and surely a more motley-looking party never landed anywhere. The attire mostly favored by the firemen was black stokehold boots; thick grey socks pulled on over blue dungaree trousers, which were tied below the knees with rope yams; black leather belts; and grey singlets, with sweat rags tied round the necks in the manner of a Boy Scout’s scarf. All wore battered pith helmets of varying shapes and colors. The deck hands mostly favored serge trousers and darkblue flannel shirts. Inkster wore short leather sea boots; on his head was a peaked sailor’s cap. Enquiry elicited the fact that he had not got a topi, so his leader borrowed one from the chief officer for him. The third engineer had riding breeches and gaiters; khaki shirt and helmet; and a Webley service revolver in its holster was strapped to his Sam Browne belt. He had given an old pair of riding breeches to the third officer. The second officer wore plus fours.
Silently they filed along the iron deck toward the gangway ladder. At the top of it stood the captain, who had a word to say to every man who passed down. At the bottom of it lay the steam launch which was to take them ashore. As soon as the last man got aboard the launch she cast off and made for the beach.
She arrived at the pier and ran alongside, but about two feet off it. It was now broad daylight, but the sky was still grey, for the sun had not risen. On the pier stood two Hindus of the agitator brand, clad in dhotis and wearing Gandhi caps and wooden sandals held in position by leather straps.
Their faces wore such cunning leers of contemptuous superiority that half the crowd on the launch longed to bash them. Then the first member of the landing party disembarked, and how he managed to get aboard the launch and remain concealed there wall ever be a mystery. Anyhow, the first to get ashore was Bill, the captain’s bull terrier. He did so by jumping from the launch’s rail onto the pier, and when he reached it he made a beeline for the brethren. They stood not on the order of their going; gathering up their skirts and kicking off their sandals, they fled.
“Well, I’m hanged!” the third engineer cried.
“A ruddy good start, mister,” said the boatswain.
Before they reached the shore end of the pier one of the brethren had been overhauled and the dhoti torn off him; the second lost his two minutes after. Then, unhampered by any garment, naked save for their caps, they legged it like hares along the beach toward the town, with Bill in full pursuit. Presently they disappeared from view.
Almost helpless with laughter the landing party formed up on the pier and marched along it. When they reached the shore they were halted, for there, hurrying along the beach, was the assistant collector. Close behind him came the returning Bill. His tail waved with ecstasy, and in his mouth he carried something white. It was a Gandhi cap, which he deposited at the second officer’s feet.
Outside the police barracks were the ponies—hardy-looking Walers about fourteen hands high—in charge of syces. There also was the old car full of rations and ammunition, and with the Lewis gun reposing on the back seat. The fourth engineer took charge of it, inspected its working parts, and had the engine running in a few minutes. Lee-Enfield rifles and bandoleers, complete with clips of cartridges, were served out and the troop was ready.
“Right, stand to yer ’orses,” the boatswain shouted.
While he went round helping to select ponies, seeing to girths and the lengths of stirrup leathers, the assistant collector and the third engineer stood apart.
“I was in the bazaar at the first streak of daylight,” said the white-faced official. “There has been dirty work during the night. The first thing we stumbled on was a woman’s body almost hacked to pieces. The sight turned my stomach; I was sick. I’m afraid of fire now; they may set things alight. With my hands full here, you’ve no idea the load you and your fellows have taken off my mind.”
“That’s all right. We’re jolly glad of the chance,” the third engineer replied lightly. “Change of work is better than a rest. But I want to be perfectly clear on one point— am I suppressing a riot or fighting an enemy?”
“An enemy, and a bad one. You have no idea how bad, and I have no time to tell you. You will likely meet droves of poor refugees -wandering along to begin with; but when you eventually meet the Wog you’ll get your fill of fighting, and you’ll have to fight hard. Of course, you will report to Thorburn, the assistant superintendent of police—he’ll be somewhere near the bridge—and I must ask you to take his orders. After all, he is a Government official.”
“That will be quite all right, sir,” the third engineer assured him.
They shook hands, and the assistant collector strode away. The third engineer, secretly rather relieved that he had departed before any evolutions began, turned to his troop. He found the horses drawn up in a line by the side of the road with the men stroking their noses, calling them pet names, and endeavoring to make friends.
“All ready, bo’s’n?”
“All ready, sir!”
“Right! Prepare to mount.”
All the men, with an eye on the boatswain or their leader, took up something like correct positions with the exception of Inkster, who stood on the off side.
“Get round to the port side, ye blasted idiot,” the boatswain hissed.
Inkster moved round swiftly, and everything seemed to be in order.
The ponies seemed to know that order, and instinctively, with those strange riders, they dreaded it. As fumbling feet felt for stirrup irons, some of the ponies shuddered, others sagged; a few of them, with scrambling figures trying desperately to climb onto their backs, straggled across the road. One of them raised its hindquarters suddenly and shot the sailor who had just reached the saddle onto its neck, where he clung like a limpet. For a moment there was complete confusion. Men lay along their horses’ backs in grotesque attitudes, or hugged their necks. The boatswain, cursing fluently, rode along the front and gradually drove the crowd back into something resembling a line. The saddles had holsters, and with their aid men began to sit up with confidence and wait intelligently for the next order. The boatswain looked at the slung rifles and reflected grimly that before the troop reached its destination there would be many sore backs both among men and ! horses. It was at that moment that the third engineer coined a name for his command.
"Basulos! Half-sections right—walk, | march !” he shouted.
That evolution was performed quite decently. The right half-section, composed j of Smithy and Jones, now bound together by a common bond of military efficiency, j wheeled like a machine. The left half| section — the Australian fireman and ! Conty, who had done an M.I. course - did the same. T ire third officer wheeled his own pony, and. catching the reins of the | second officer's, brought it round with him. The troop rode off on its great adventure in column of route, the third engineer at its head, the boatswain at its tail, and the car bringing up the rear.
The road was a well-metalled red laterite one. It led between two shallow lagoons, of which there seemed to be a continuous ; chain lying parallel with the sea. A small , bridge crossed a canal which connected the lagoons, and beyond that the scenery changed. Both sides of the road were lined with cocoanut palms, among which were dotted small native buildings also made of red laterite, while between the palms glimpses of rice fields could be obtained.
; Here everything seemed to be peaceful; men and children ran out of the huts to watch the troop as it clattered past.
The first group of refugees came in sight •— a pathetic-looking, downcast, sullen mob, flying from the awful carnage in the villages beyond the Kalipatam. There men, women and children wrere j being butchered till the red laterite grew i redder still with blood; their huts were i being razed to the ground; their places of | worship defiled. Some trudged along ! wearily on foot ; others had bullock carts in which were piled their household gods,
their children and their hens. Most of the ! women walked, many of them carrying : babies. Mangy-looking pariah dogs accompanied every group. One of those, doubt; less the boss of his village, had a word to j say to Bill; a minute later he was lying on his back in the middle of the road, howling like a fiend, while the bull terrier hurried ¡ on to regain the shade of the car.
The character of the surrounding coun1 try again changed; the cocoanut palms gave way to the dense foliage of the evergreen jungle. Then, almost without warning, the iron framework of the bridge, with the river rolling in a yellow flood beneath j it, came in sight, and the third engineer j gave orders to halt. Stiff and sore, but happy, the men slid out of their saddles. The troop leader called the second officer. "Get the car unpacked and find out j what you can do in the way of a meal.” he said. “Mess-room, get the Lewis gun out. see it's all right, and get all the spare i drums filled. Bo’s’n, we’ll send Smithy and Jones out to try and get touch with the ! police, who must still be out beyond the bridge. Ride warily, you two. Then u'e’ll go across the bridge and see how we are going to defend it.”
Smithy and Jones again swung themselves into their saddles, unslung their rifles, and—the envy of most of their ' shipmates—cantered smartly across the bridge. The third engineer and boatswain walked over it and from the other side inspected the ground. For a little distance on both sides of the bridgehead the jungle had been cleared to a distance of thirty yards back from tire river bank, then its tangled undergrowth crept into the sides of the road again. The road ran straight for a bit, and twisted round to the left.
1 hey paced along it to where a prominent tree—a flame-of-the-forest, ablaze with red blossom—stood out on the right-hand side. They made the distance roughly two hundred yards.
“That gives quite a good field of fire,” the third engineer said. “We’ll form a firing line at the end of the bridge on this side and hang on there during daylight.”
T)UTTING into practice some of the scouting methods they had acquired when pitting their cunning against that of
Brother Boer, Smithy and Jones advanced cautiously a mile or so along the road. They were looking for an assistant superintendent of police, but they might easily find Wogs instead. A horse neighed quite near. Smithy dismounted, handed over his horse to Jones, and crawled along the edge of the jungle. Just round another bend he saw a group of dismounted men and some horses. The men were natives, but they were in uniform, so he signalled Jones to come on and approached the group. As he got nearer he saw a white man sitting on the ground with his back against a tree. Beside him was his helmet, also a half-eaten biscuit, which had apparently fallen out of his hand. One of his men wakened him with difficulty as Smithy approached.
The assistant superintendent of police yawned heavily, rubbed his eyes, and looked up. What he saw caused him to rub his eyes again. Standing in front of him, out in the jungle beyond the Kalipatam where few outsiders ever appeared, was one who was obviously an able seaman, also very obviously an Englishman. He would have been a very ordinary spectacle on the quay wall of the Royal Albert Dock, but was an entirely incongruous one where he was.
“Heavens!” cried the policeman, “am I seeing things?”
“You’re seein’ me.” said Smithy.
“And who are you?”
“I might ask politely, ‘who are you?’ ” Smithy retorted pleasantly; “but seein’as ’ow I was sent out to find ye, I’ll be civil.” “Yes, but who are you?”
“One o’ the sailors from the British steamboat Basulo. ”
“But what are you doing here?”
“I’m one o’ the ’eroes that’s ’oldin’ the bridge a mile back. ’Ere’s another,” Smithy said, pointing to Jones who was approaching with the horses.
“Indeed! And how many more heroes are holding the bridge?”
“We’re twenty-two, all told.”
“Have you an officer?”
“Yes. the third engineer! 'E’s a kind of a major.”
The assistant superintendent of police rose painfully to his feet, then looked at his wrist watch.
“By Jove! I’ve slept long enough.” he yawned. “I’ll go back with you and see your officer.”
He ordered his men to follow, and the three white men cantered back. When they reached the bridge the policeman dismounted, looked around, and saw the only person he could possibly imagine to be an officer.
“I’m Thorburn,” he said, holding out his hand.
“My name is Reid,” said the third engineer. “Have a cigarette. Atkinson asked me to meet you and act under your orders.”
“We’ll collaborate.” said the policeman; “I’m darned glad to see you.”
They talked over the situation. Between them, Thorburn thought, they could hold the bridge, but unfortunately the business was not quite so simple as that. A body of Wogs was heading for the village three miles upstream, with, undoubtedly, the idea of swimming across the river and securing the boats. With those in their hands they could ferry a crowd over the river, advance through the jungle and plantations and get out onto the road behind the defenders.
“About a thousand of them have gone off in that direction,” Thorburn concluded.
“A thousand !” cried Reid. “Good lord ! How many of them are there altogether?” “A good two thousand more!”
The third engineer whistled. No wonder the assistant collector had said they would have to fight hard. He looked at his little band; the section of it on that side of the bridge had settled down comfortably; and Bill, squatting beside the Lewis gun, gave it quite a homely touch, its leader thought.
"Oh. well ! I dare say we can take them on!” he said with resignation.
Thorburn was thinking hard.
“Look here.” he said, “don’t think I’m a beastly funk if I suggest that your fellows hold the bridge while I go off with mine and try to hold up the flank attack. You see, my men know the ground up there by the village, and yours would simply get lost in it.”
A good idea!” the third engineer agreed.
The policeman yawned heavily, then excused himself.
“I haven’t had a wink of sleep for two nights.” he explained. “Well, I must gather my brother cops together and get away upstream. You may expect the Wogs along in about half an hour, and you will hear them long before you see them.’’ “They give you plenty of warning, eh?” “Usually; but don’t bank on it.”
The policeman signalled his men to mount and move across the bridge. Then he turned to the third engineer again, and spoke with an emotional earnestness that was partly due to weariness, partly to intense anxiety.
“I do hope you’ll be able to hold this place until tomorrow. They must not get across!” he cried fiercely. “Neither the villagers round those little hills where they grow pineapples, nor the rice-growers in the swamps near the coast, have been evacuated, and if the Wogs get among them they’ll simply play hob with them, for they are all Hindus. But I know you’ll do your best, old man. You’ve a tough little crowd here, and thank heaven you brought the Lewis gun along.”
“If the Wogs get across this bridge tonight, it will be because they have run right over the top of us,” the third engineer replied grimly. “And before that happens there will be a lot of strange brown faces in hell.”
rT'HEY WALKED across the bridge together in silence. Before they parted they looked into each other’s eyes, and there was a long hand clasp. It was only a quarter of an hour since they had met, yet, as they turned away, each had it in his heart to say of the other, “This is a man !” The policeman mounted and with his men rode off along a jungle path; the third engineer turned his attention to the defenses which were being constructed. The car was already broadside on across the middle of the entrance to the bridge, and the two mates, fourth engineer and carpenter were fixing it in that position with many crisscross lashings to the iron girders. Those lashings, which would also act as entanglements, consisted of the now useless telegraph wire which they had got down from the posts at the side of the road; and other strands were being stretched across as trip wires farther along the bridge.
On the other side the mess-room steward's eye glinted along the sights of the Lewis gun, which was trained down the middle of the road, while the rest of the men, lying down, formed a line. For a time they waited in an oppressive silence; in the muggy heat every bird and beast in the jungle seemed to be asleep. Then from far down the road there came a sound which reminded them of waves dashing on a rock-bound coast. The sound grew and swelled; soon they could detect it was human, and as it came nearer they could pick out individual voices. A vast mob was rapidly approaching. With nervous fingers on triggers every man watched the bend in the road. Round it came a gigantic white-robed native, beating time with a spear. Then the head of the solid column appeared; a multi-colored, moving, almost irresistible-looking mass of yelling savages came into view. The mess-room steward broke the tension.
“Gor’ blimey !” he cried.
“I wish I ’ad me bayonit,” said Conty softly.
The quick-eyed savages sjx>tted the prostrate line of white men. With a great brandishing of weapons, and roaring to their god as they ran, they raced forward toward the bridge. The third engineer waited calmly until the leaders reached the flame-of-the-forest tree. Then—
“Let ’em have it!” he ordered quietly. It was not exactly the “mad minute” that followed. The clumsy fingers working bolts and the thumbs pressing clips into magazines were out of practice, and could not get off fifteen aimed rounds in that time. They got them off in a minute and a half though, and the Lewis gun clattered almost continuously, the fourth engineer dexterously changing the drums. His was a cool crowd, the third engineer thought, as he watched the effect of the fire. Although they were being fired at too—for enemy bullets were grazing the ground in front and rattling against the iron framework of the bridge, chipping off splashes of paint—they seemed to be aiming every round.
Dead Wogs and writhing wounded Wogs lay all over the road. Still, impelled by the mass behind them, they came on—but not very far ; beyond the flame-of-the-forest tree they could not get. The stream of men seemed to dry up suddenly; save for the prostrate forms that carpeted it, the road was empty again.
The sun was drawing down toward the long reach of the river that stretched away upstream, turning it a blood red, and before long the great ball of fire disappeared. Reid determined to withdraw to the other side.
Pitch darkness quickly enveloped them; there was no moon, and the stars were obscured by heavy clouds. A sudden wild yell pierced their straining ears; there was a sound of rushing feet, the quick reports of muskets and rifles, and the clang of steel weapons on iron framework. Flashes stabbed the darkness; the Wogs were busy butchering an imaginary enemy on the other side.
“Loose off a drum to let them know we’re still here, mess-room,” the third engineer ordered.
The Lewis gun rattled with short bursts, and howls of pain answered it as bullets thudded into flesh. Once again there was silence—deep and prolonged—save for the murmur of the rushing river below.
It was a night of high tension, and no smoking was allowed to ease it; even the most lighthearted and careless man there could not help being profoundly impressed with the thought of the terrific odds against them. Every sound that came from the jungle depths—the belling of a sambur, the weird howl of a jackal, even the night wind suddenly rustling the tree tops—caused them to start nervously. Most of them lay flat on the road, their rifles beside them; two of them were in the car, a good place from which to open fire.
Toward morning a red sullen glow appeared above the tree tops in the upstream direction, then tongued flames shot up into the sky.
“The Wogs are across the river!” the third engineer muttered. “That must be the village on fire.”
For the twentieth time he looked at his illuminated wrist watch. It was a quarter past five; daylight must show in the sky soon. From the direction of the flames there came the reports of scattered rifle shots; Thorburn was engaged. Trip wires twanged; bodies came crashing over them;
the bridge itself shook with rushing men. !
“Fire like blazes!” the boatswain roared. “The ruddy bridge is alive!”
Bolts rattled, magazines were emptied, the Lewis gun was again going all out. The Wogs were visible at last—a solid mass of them only a few yards away. The men struggled to their feet—it was no use i lying there to be trampled on—and fired | into the rows of dark faces beyond the ! entanglements. Fallen bodies caused a slight obstruction, but the Wogs, trampling over them, pressed on fiercely. A great crowd rushed the car, which slowly toppled over on its beam ends. Luckily its occupants managed to get clear, but as it came over it snapped the lashings that held it to the bridge on one side, and in an instant the Wogs swarmed through the ßaPThe third engineer was on the opposite side; he had emptied his revolver into the yelling fiends who were trying to tear down the wires, and had fallen back a little to reload it.
The longed-for daylight was coming in ¡ at last, and he could see his men on the J other side fighting like tigers to stem the I rush. A giant towered above the stabbing Wogs, wielding his rifle like a club and smashing skulls like eggshells; it was j Inkster, who seemed to have gone berserk. | He stemmed the human torrent for a I moment, then went down. The two mates, j the boatswain and others, jumped into the desperate confused struggle to try and save him, and with them went Bill— snarling and snapping at every bare leg he could reach. The men disappeared from view, absorbed by the mob; Bill alone seemed to be holding up the traffic now, but he could not hold it up for long.
Bitter thoughts chased each other like lightning through the third engineer’s brain. The Wogs were over the bridge, | free to scatter and spread death and desolation all over the coastal district; his own little force was doomed, although every man would go down fighting with bitter hatred in his heart; what would the Basulo do for a crew? He could see the old man scratching his grey head in dire perplexity over the disaster; it was all very sad. He shoved home the sixth cartridge into the cylinder of his revolver, snapped the ejector to, and started across the road.
Then a strange thing happened. He distinctly saw a Wog take a bayonet right in the pit of the stomach and double up on it—and none of his men had a bayonet. I Amid the din of yelling, hacking Wogs, I cursing Basulos and the reports of rifles, a j new noise mingled; some person was firing ; an automatic pistol. More bayonets were ! at work ; the Wogs were retreating over the I body of the prostrate Inkster, being forced j back by a line of steel. With a deepI throated roar great bearded khaki-clad men swept through the gap between the ■ car and the right side of the bridge, and the Wogs fell away before them.
It was almost broad daylight now, and the third engineer found himself talking rather incoherently to a British officer in field service kit who still held an automatic pistol in his hand. Coming along the road behind them at the double was a battalion of Indian infantry.
“You look about all in, old chap,” the officer said kindly. “Have a swig at this.”
He produced a flask of brandy from his haversack. The medical officer of the battalion took charge of Inkster, who had a deep sword cut across his brow and j another in his arm; he was unconscious but breathing. Two other Basufos had | been rather badly damaged, one of them j being the second officer, who had a nasty spear thrust in one of his legs. Almost j every member of the troop had minor cuts ' and bruises. The medical officer bandaged their wounds and had a look at all hands; a nip of brandy was forthcoming for every man.
The colonel and adjutant of the regiment rode up, dismounted and talked over the situation with Reid. He told them of Thorburn’s predicament, and the sound of shots from the upstream direction gave point to his remarks. A company was detached and sent off through the jungle to the aid of the police.
The colonel, adjutant and medical officer mounted and rede over the bridge across which the tail of the battalion had just passed. While the Basulos were righting the car, undoing the wire lashings and clearing up generally, they could hear heavy rifle fire both from beyond the river and from the direction of the village. It gradually receded; the tide of war was ebbing away from them on all sides; they began to feel rather lonely.
“Well, bo’s’n,” the third engineer said with a sigh, “we can’t do any good here now. We’ll have a bite of grub, then we might as well go back to the ship.”
COME time later, their wounded having C-' been safely tucked away in hospital, the Basulos sat around the verandah of the assistant collector’s bungalow eating ravenously. Each man had a heaped-up plate of delicious prawn curry and rice in front of him—curry and rice such as they never had tasted in their lives, and which seemed to bear no relation to any other curry they had ever met. They also had fresh rolls and butter and large bottles of beer, while a further plentiful supply of bottles of beer lined the well-lighted verandah, for the club had been ransacked by the grateful assistant collector and planters.
The collector—who had arrived—the assistant collector with his wife and daughter, and the captain of the Basuto, moved among them freely—urging them to greater efforts in the way of emptying beer bottles. Yes, even their own captain !
“ 7w,” said Conty, with a jerk of his head in the captain’s direction. “An’ the las’ time I came aboard, wot ’e called drunk an’ disorderly, ’e logged me an’ fined me two days pay. But this is buckshee beer; it won’t cost ’im nothin’.”
“Too right,” the Australian agreed. “Shove it dahn quick an’ we’ll get another. Lord, I 'ave a thirst.”
The great adventure of the Basulos was over. The next day the third engineer, clad in a boiler suit, would be overhauling an auxiliary pump; the deck hands—with the exception of Smithy, who would be stitch-
ing a bridge awning—would be over the side on stages chipping rust off steel plates; the firemen would be trimming coal out of the cross bunker. Bill would spend half the day sleeping on the shady side of the deck and dreaming of scraps with pariah dogs.
Progress of Science
"DRITISH chemists have recently de-*-* veloped a paint to be applied to wooden structures to reduce the hazard of fire from incendiary bombs should a war occur. The paint localizes the fire produced by the bombs and has proved successful in small-scale tests.—Scientific American.
Photographs in Dark
TT WAS once believed that photographs *■ could not be taken in the dark, but with the discovery of infra-red rays, photographs are simple in the darkest rooms. These rays are not visible to the human eye, and although the room seems totally dark, it is as light as day to the camera plate. Devices have been made for photographing criminals in the dark. —Popular Science.
Paraffin Removes Pinfeathers
rT"'HE tedious job of removing hair and -L pinfeathers from dressed ducks and geese was speeded up by one poultry raiser, who first dipped them in melted paraffin and then in cold water to harden the wax. When the paraffin was pulled off, it removed the hair and feathers. The same idea can be used by anyone who dresses a fowl only occasionally by simply melting a small amount of paraffin and applying it with a brush. The melted paraffin should be at a temperature just high enough to keep it from hardening, otherwise it may damage the flesh of the poultry.—Popular Mechanics.