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The Sirdar's Oath: A Tale of the North-West Frontier

Bertram Mitford

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Sirdar's OathA Tale of the North-West FrontierBy Bertram MitfordPublished by F.V. White and Co Ltd, London.This edition dated 1904.The Sirdar's Oath, by Bertram Mitford.


  ________________________________________________________________________THE SIRDAR'S OATH, BY BERTRAM MITFORD.



  "Yer--Kroojer! Kroojer. Go'n get yer whiskers shyved."

  "Ere, chaps. 'Ere's old Kroojer!"

  And the section of the crowd among whom originated these remarks closedup around the object thereof.

  The latter, though clad in the frock-coat of European civilisation, wasobviously an Oriental. He was a man of fine presence, tall anddignified, handsome in the aquiline-featured type, and wearing a fullbeard just turning grey. Hence it will be seen that his resemblance tothe world-famed President was so striking as to commend itself at onceto the understanding of his molesters.

  It was night, and the flare of the street lamps, together with a fewimpromptu illuminations, lit up the surging, tossing, roaring multitude,which filled to packing point the whole space in front of the MansionHouse, each unit of the same bent on shouting himself or herself hoarse;for the tidings of the relief of Mafeking had just been received, andthe inauguration of the public delirium was already in full swing. Hatsand caps flew in the air by showers, the wearers of silk hats nothesitating to hurl on high their normally cherished and protectedheadgear, those who did so hesitate being speedily relieved of allresponsibility on that point by their obliging neighbours, to theaccompaniment of such shouts as "Ooroar for B.P. Good old B.P.," whilethe strains of "Soldiers of the Queen" rose in leathern-lunged rivalrywith those of "The Absent-minded Beggar"--save when, in staccatovolleyings of varied timelessness and tunelessness, those of "RuleBritannia" availed to swamp both. Thus the multitude rejoiced,characteristically, therefore, for the most part, roughly.

  "Wot cher, myte?" drawled an evil rough, shouldering against theOriental. "You ortn't to be 'ere. You ort to be in the Trawnsvawl, youort. Why you're Kroojer, you are."

  "I sy, Bill!" shrilled a girl to her swain. "Let's shyve 'is whiskers,shall we?"

  The pair had exchanged hats, and while the speaker's oily fringe wasset-off by a bowler, wide and curly of brim, the ugly face of the otherleered red and beery from beneath a vast structure of nodding ostrichplumes.

  "Rawther. Come on, cheps. Let's shyve old Kroojer's whiskers!" Andreaching over, as a preliminary to that process, he snatched theOriental's high, semi-conical black cap--the only article of un-Europeanwear about him--from his head, and flung it high in the air, emitting araucous yell.

  At this assault, delivered from behind, the stranger turned, his eyesflashing with resentment and hate. As he did so a violent push, againfrom behind, sent him staggering, would have brought him to the groundindeed but that the crowd was too dense, and its only effect was tobring him right against the rough who had snatched off his cap. In amoment the long, brown sinewy fingers had shot out and closed round thebull throat of the cad, while with the snarl of a wild beast, theOriental flashed forth something from his breast pocket. A roar ofwarning broke from the bystanders, likewise of rage, for these lovers offair play were virtuously indignant that one well-nigh defenceless man,and a stranger, should protect himself as best he might when set upon bynumbers. In a second the weapon was knocked from his hand, and he wasviolently wrenched back from the man whose throat he had gripped; andwell indeed for the latter that such was the case. Then he was hustledand punched and kicked, his beard pulled out in wisps--the virago whohad first instigated the assault, and who fortunately was separated fromhim by the crowd, struggling and screaming in the language of the slumsto be allowed to get at him--only just once.

  "Let him alone, cawn't yer?" cried a voice, that of another woman. "Heain't Kroojer! 'E's a bloomin' Ingin. Any fool could see that."

  "'E's a blanked furriner--it's all the syme. And didn't 'e try to knifemy Bill," retorted the other, making renewed efforts to reach him--andthe vocabulary of this young person earned the delighted appreciation ofeven the toughest of her audience. Then a diversion occurred.

  "Myke wy? Oo are you tellin' of to myke wy?" rose a voice, in angry andjeering expostulation, followed immediately by the sound of a scuffle.The attention of the crowd was diverted to this new quarter, whichcircumstance enabled the luckless Oriental to gain his feet, and hestood staggering, glaring about him in a frenzy of wrath andbewilderment. Then he was knocked flat again, this time by the pressureof those around.

  What followed was worth seeing. Straight through the mass of roughscame upwards of a dozen and a half of another species, in strong andcompact order, hitting out on either side of them, scrupulouslyobserving the Donnybrook principle, "When you see a head hit it"--onlyin the present instance it was a face. Most of these were members of anathletic club, who had been dining generously and had caught theprevailing excitement. They had seen the predicament of the Orientalfrom afar, and promptly recognised that to effect his rescue wouldfurnish them with just the fun and fight for which they were spoiling.

  "Make way, you blackguards. Call yourselves Englishmen, all packing onto one man? What? You won't? That'll settle you."

  "That" being a "knock-out" neatly delivered, the recipient, he who hadbegun the assault. Still crowned with his female companion's headgearthe abominable rough sank to the ground, permanently disabled.

  "Here--you, sir--get up. Hope you're not much the worse," cried theforemost, dragging the stranger to his feet.

  "I thank you, gentlemen," said the latter, in excellent English. "No,not much, I think."

  "That's right," cried the foremost of his rescuers, admiring his pluck.For undoubtedly the stranger was considerably the worse for what he hadgone through. His cheek bones were swollen, and one eye was bunged up,and his now tattered beard was matted with blood flowing from a cut onthe lip; and as he stood, with somewhat unsteady gait, the forced smilewherewith he had greeted his deliverers changed to a hideous snarl ofhate, as his glance wandered to the repulsive and threateningcountenances of his late assailants. Here, obviously, was no shrinking,effeminate representative of the East, rather a scion of one of its fineand warrior races, for there was a mingled look of wistfulness andaroused savagery in his eyes as instinctively he clenched and unclenchedhis defenceless fingers as though they ought to be grasping a weapon.

  But the moral effect of the first decisive rush having worn off, therough element of the crowd, roughest of all just here, began to rally.After all, though they had science, the number of these new arrivalsconstituted a mere mouthful, so puny was it. Yells, and hoots, andcatcalls arose as the surging rabble pressed upon the gallant few, nowstanding literally at bay. Those in the forefront were pushed forwardby the weight of numbers behind, and the pressure was so great thatthere was hardly room to make free play with those fine, swingingout-from-the-shoulder hits--yet they managed partially to clear a way--and for a few moments, fists, feet, sticks, everything, Teere going inthe liveliest sort of free fight imaginable. The while, over theremainder of the packed space, shrill cheers and patriotic songs, andthe firing off of squibs and crackers were bearing their own part inmaking night hideous, independently of the savage rout, here at the topof King William Street.

  "Kroojer! Kroojer! 'Ere's Kroojer!" yelled the mob, and, attracted byits vociferations, others turned their attention that way. And whilehis deliverers had their hands very full indeed, a vill
ainous-lookingrough reached forward and swung up what looked like a slender, harmlessroll of brown paper above the Oriental's head. Well was it for thelatter that this move was seen by one man, and that just in time tointerpose a thick malacca cane between his skull and the descending gaspipe filled with lead, which staff, travelling down to the wrist of himwho wielded the deadly weapon, caused the murderous cad to drop thesame, with a howl, and weird language.

  "A good `Penang lawyer' is tough enough for most things," muttered thedealer of this deft stroke. "Here, brother, take this," he went on, inan Eastern tongue, thrusting the stick into the stranger's hand.

  The effect was wondrous. The consciousness of grasping even this muchof a weapon seemed to transform the Oriental completely. His tall formseemed to tower, his frame to dilate, as, whirling the tough stickaloft, he shrilled forth a wild, fierce Mohammedan war-cry, bounding,leaping, in a very demoniacal possession, charging those nearest to himas though the stick were a long-bladed, keen-edged tulwar. Whirling itin the air he brought it down with incredible swiftness, striking hereand there on head and face, while looking around for more to smite. Andthen the rabble of assailants began to give way, or try to. "Cops" wasthe cry that now went up, and immediately thereupon a strong posse ofthe splendid men of the City Police had forced their way to the scene ofdisturbance--or very nearly.

  Crushed, borne along by the swaying crowd, the man who had soeffectually aided the distressed Oriental had become separated from hisfriends. For his foes he cared nothing, and, indeed, these had all theycould think of to effect their own retreat, the motive being not so muchfear of immediate consequences as the consciousness with many of themthat they were desperately wanted by the police in connection with othermatters, which would infallibly assert their claims once identity wasestablished. At last, to his relief, he found himself in a side streetand outside the crowd.

  "You're better 'ere, sir," said a gruff voice, whose owner wascontemplating him curiously.

  "Yes, rather. I've been in a bit of a breeze yonder."

  "So I should say, sir," answered the policeman, significantly."Thank'ee, sir. Much obliged."

  "They were mobbing a stranger, and I and some others went to help him."

  "Was it a Hindian gent, sir, with a high black sort of 'at? I seen himgo by here not long since."

  "Yes. That was the man. Well, I suppose he's all right by now.Good-night, policeman."

  "Good-night, sir, and thank'ee, sir."


  An hour and a half later one corner of the supper-room in the PeculiarClub was in a state of unwonted liveliness, even for that by no meansdull institution, where upwards of a dozen more or less damaged memberswere consuming devilled bones and champagne.

  Damaged, in that bunged up eyes and swelled noses--and here and there acut lip--were in evidence; but all were in the last stage ofcheerfulness.

  "Why isn't Raynier here, I wonder?" was asked.

  "He? Oh, I expect he went on taking care of that Indian Johnny. Helikes those chaps, you know, has to do with them out there. He'll turnup all right--never fear."

  "Don't know. Don't like losing sight of him," said another.

  "Oh, he'll turn up all right. He knows jolly well how to take care ofhimself."

  But as the night became morning, and the frantic howling of patriotismgone mad rent the otherwise still hours, Raynier did not turn up. Thenthe revellers and quondam combatants became uneasy--such of them, thatis, as were still capable of reflection in any form.