« AnteriorContinuar »
ominously, and mutter strange things to each other. The walls of the citadel are two miles in circuit, and gapped with half a dozen wide breaches. The supply of water is scanty and bad. There are houses running almost up to the base of the wall, affording excellent cover for the advance of an enemy. Out of six hundred and eighty men, nearly one-sixth are in hospital. The main army is already distant, and getting farther and farther out of reach with .every hour. It is, no doubt, very unlikely that the heathens will have heart enough to attack us, especially after the thrashing which we have just given them ; but still, if such an unheard-of thing were to happen, should we not be in rather a bad way ? .
But such warnings (like the better judgment of the world in every age), pass wholly unheeded. The majority laugh at any thought of danger. What unbelieving dog would dare to face a Russian ? and even if he did, are not six hundred orthodox bayonets a match for anything that wears a turban from the SyrDaria to the Oxus? And they betake themselves to rest in perfect security.
The sun rises on the morning of the 2nd as brilliantly as ever ; but to the few who are astir within the citadel, he shows a very unlooked-for spectacle. On every side, the hills which encompass the town have broken into sudden life. Every hill-top is one creeping swarm of white turbans, and embroidered dresses, and fluttering pennons, and gleaming steel. It is a living sea of war
—and a sea which flows, not aimlessly hither and thither, but straight downward, from every side, upon the doomed city. The heathens have got heart enough to attack us—and they are come!
But the commandant, though no tactician, is a brave soldier, and in no haste to despond. Preparations for defence are made with all possible speed. The guns are withdrawn from the ramparts, and planted in the breaches, which are hastily obstructed with whatever comes to hand; while two parties are sent out, one to reconnoitre, the other to attempt the destruction of the houses lying nearest the wall.* At the same time, several loyal natives are sent off to recall the main army.
But, towards afternoon, the leader of the reconnaissance returns in haste, and with a very grave look on his bronzed, manly face, tells his tale of evil. The enemy have entered the town, and occupied the gardens in such strength as to be dislodged only by a large force; while strong bodies of them are actually pushing forward toward the bazaar in front of the citadel, which they will undoubtedly seize before it can be destroyed. There is nothing for it but to recall the working party at once; and then comes the brief, stern order :
“Shut the gates !"
Before evening the bazaar is already crowded with * In consequence of this terrible lesson, the ground has since been cleared to a considerable distance around the citadel.
the enemy, whose gay dresses cluster like bees among the little clay hovels that mask their advance. The main point of attack is evidently the “ Bukharski Prolomm” (Bokhariote Breach)* a huge gap in the eastern face of the wall, close to one of the city gates; and to meet the threatened assault, two guns are planted in the breach, supported by a body of forty picked men. The nearest houses are within easy range of the citadel ; but the grey old wall is silent as the grave, grimly biding its time. And the trees whisper in the evening breeze, and the birds Autter overhead, and the sky is bright with the glow of sunset, and all is calm and beautiful; but in the midst of this peace and beauty, the carnival of hell is about to begin.
It is close upon six o'clock, when a sudden movement shows itself among the dense masses in the bazaar. Horsemen are seen riding to and fro—fierce cries come up from the heaving throng—and along its outer edge runs a spattering fire of musketry. Then suddenly there is a forward heave like the surge of a stormy sea, and up to the skies goes the Mussulman war-shout, “God is victorious !” and the horde of tigers, all breaking loose at once, rush to the slaughter.
Why do they not fire? Gracious Heaven! the cannon are ill-loaded, and will not explode!
“Never mind, lads !” shouts the officer in command, with a ring of stern gladness in his voice ; “we'll give
* This breach is still visible.