George Manville Fenn.

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Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

Draw Swords! by George Manville Fenn.





"Oh, I say, what a jolly shame!"

"Get out; it's all gammon. Likely."

"I believe it's true. Dick Darrell's a regular pet of Sir George

"Yes; the old story - kissing goes by favour."

"I shall cut the service. It's rank favouritism."

"I shall write home and tell my father to get the thing shown up in the
House of Commons."

"Why, he's only been out here a year."

Richard Darrell, a well-grown boy of seventeen, pretty well tanned by
the sun of India, stood flashed with annoyance, looking sharply from one
speaker to another as he stood in the broad veranda of the officers'
quarters in the Roumwallah Cantonments in the northern portion of the
Bengal Presidency, the headquarters of the artillery belonging to the
Honourable the East India Company, commonly personified as "John Company
of Leadenhall Street." It was over sixty years ago, in the days when,
after a careful training at the Company's college near Croydon, young
men, or, to be more correct, boys who had made their marks, received
their commission, and were sent out to join the batteries of artillery,
by whose means more than anything else the Company had by slow degrees
conquered and held the greater part of the vast country now fully added
to the empire and ruled over by the Queen.

It was a common affair then for a lad who had been a schoolboy of
sixteen, going on with his studies one day, to find himself the next, as
it were, a commissioned officer, ready to start for the East, to take
his position in a regiment and lead stalwart men, either in the
artillery or one of the native regiments; though, of course, a great
deal of the college training had been of a military stamp.

This was Richard Darrell's position one fine autumn morning a year
previous to the opening of this narrative. He had bidden farewell to
father, mother, and Old England, promised to do his duty like a man, and
sailed for Calcutta, joined his battery, served steadily in it for a
year, and now stood in his quiet artillery undress uniform in that
veranda, looking like a strange dog being bayed at by an angry pack.

The pack consisted of young officers of his own age and under. There
was not a bit of whisker to be seen; and as to moustache, not a lad
could show half as much as Dick, while his wouldn't have made a
respectable eyebrow for a little girl of four.

Dick was flushed with pleasurable excitement, doubly flushed with anger;
but he kept his temper down, and let his companions bully and hector and
fume till they were tired.

Then he gave an important-looking blue letter he held a bit of a wave,
and said, "It's no use to be jealous."

"Pooh! Who's jealous - and of you?" said the smallest boy present, one
who had very high heels to his boots. "That's too good."

"For, as to being a favourite with the general, he has never taken the
slightest notice of me since I joined."

"There, that'll do," said one of the party; "a man can't help feeling
disappointment. Every one is sure to feel so except the one who gets
the stroke of luck. I say, `Hurrah for Dick Darrell!'"

The others joined in congratulations now.

"I say, old chap, though," said one, "what a swell you'll be!"

"Yes; won't he? We shall run against him capering about on his spirited
Arab, while we poor fellows are trudging along in the hot sand behind
the heavy guns."

"Don't cut us, Dick, old chap," said another.

"He won't; he's not that sort," cried yet another. "I say, we must give
him a good send-off."

"When are you going?"

"The despatch says as soon as possible."

"But what troop are you to join?"

"The Sixth."

"The Sixth! I know; at Vallumbagh. Why, that's the crack battery,
where the fellows polish the guns and never go any slower than a racing
gallop. I say, you are in luck. Well, I am glad!"

The next minute every one present was ready to declare the same thing,
and for the rest of that day the young officer to whom the good stroke
of fortune had come hardly knew whether he stood upon his head or heels.

The next morning he was summoned to the general's quarters, the quiet,
grave-looking officer telling him that, as an encouragement for his
steady application to master his profession, he had been selected to
fill a vacancy; that the general hoped his progress in the horse brigade
would be as marked as it had been hitherto; and advising him to see at
once about his fresh uniform and accoutrements, which could follow him
afterwards, for he was to be prepared to accompany the general on his
march to Vallumbagh, which would be commenced the very next day.

Dick was not profuse in thanks or promises, but listened quietly, and,
when expected to speak, he merely said that he would do his best.

"That is all that is expected of you, Mr Darrell," said the general,
giving him a friendly nod. "Then, as you have many preparations to
make, and I have also, I will not detain you."

Dick saluted, and was leaving, when a sharp "Stop!" arrested him.

"You will want a horse. I have been thinking about it, and you had
better wait till you get to Vallumbagh, where, no doubt, the officers of
the troop will help you to make a choice. They will do this, for they
have had plenty of experience, and are careful to keep up the prestige
of the troop for perfection of drill and speed."

"No one would think he had been an old school-fellow of my father," said
Dick to himself as he went out; "he takes no more notice of me than of
any other fellow."

But the general was not a demonstrative man.

The preparations were soon made, the most important to Richard Darrell
being his visit to the tailor who supplied most of the officers with
their uniforms. The little amount of packing was soon done, and, after
the farewell dinner had been given to those leaving the town, the time
came when the young subaltern took his place in the general's train, to
follow the detachment of foot artillery which had marched with their
guns and baggage-train for Vallumbagh, where the general was taking
charge, and preparations in the way of collecting troops were supposed
to be going on.

Travelling was slow and deliberate in those days before railways, and
the conveniences and comforts, such as they were, had to be carried by
the travellers themselves; but in this case the young officer found his
journey novel and pleasant. For it was the cool season; the dust was
not quite so horrible as it might have been, and the tent arrangements
were carried out so that a little camp was formed every evening; and
this was made the more pleasant for the general's staff by the fact that
there were plenty of native servants, and one of the most important of
these was the general's cook.

But still the journey grew monotonous, over far-stretching plains,
across sluggish rivers; and it was with a feeling of thankfulness, after
many days' journey, always north and west, that Richard Darrell learned
that they would reach their destination the next morning before the heat
of the day set in.

That morning about ten o'clock they were met a few miles short of the
town, which they could see through a haze of dust, with its temples and
minarets, by a party of officers who had ridden out to welcome the
general, and who announced that the detachment of artillery had marched
in during the night with the heavy guns, elephants, and bullock-wagons.
In the evening, after meeting the officers of his troop at the
mess-table and not being very favourably impressed, Richard Darrell took
possession of his quarters in the barracks overlooking the broad
parade-ground, and, utterly tired out, lay down to sleep once more under
a roof, feeling dreary, despondent, and utterly miserable.

"India's a wretched, desolate place," he thought as he lay listening to
the hum of insects, and the night felt breathless and hot. He wished
himself back among his old companions at Roumwallah, for everything now
was depressing and strange.

A couple of hours later he was wishing himself back at the old military
college in England, and when midnight arrived without a wink of sleep he
began to think of his old country home, and how different a soldier's
life was, with its dreary routine, to the brilliant pictures he had
conjured up as a boy; for everything so far in his twelvemonth's career
had been horribly uneventful and tame.

At last, when he had arrived at the most despondent state possible to a
lad of his years - when his skin felt hot and feverish, and his pillow
and the one sheet which covered him seemed to be composed of some
irritating material which grew hotter and hotter - a pleasant moisture
broke out all over him, bringing with it a sudden sense of confusion
from which he slipped into nothingness and slept restfully till the
morning bugle rang out, when he started from his bed wondering where he

Then it all came back, and he was bathing and dressing long before he
needed to leave his couch, but the desire for sleep was gone. He had to
nerve himself to master as manfully as he could the horribly depressing
feeling of strangeness; for the officers he had for companions in the
journey were with their own company, quite away from his quarters, and
his new companions were men who would look down upon him for being such
a boy; and at last he found himself wishing that he had been able to
keep as he was, for the honour and glory of belonging to the dashing
troop of horse artillery seemed to be nothing better than an empty

The next three days were days of desolation to the lad, for he was left,
as he expressed it, horribly alone. There was a good deal of business
going on in the settling of the new-comers in the barracks, and his new
brother-officers were away with the troop. He knew nobody; nobody
seemed to know him, or to want to know him. There was the native town
to see, but it did not attract him; and there were moments when he
longed to go to the general, his father's friend, and beg that he might
be sent back to his old company. But then there were moments when he
came to his senses again and felt that this was folly; but he could not
get rid of a strange longing to be back home once more.

Then he grew better all at once; the troop of horse artillery filed into
the barrack-yard, and he hurried out to look at the men, horses, and
guns, whose aspect chilled him, for they were in undress and covered
with perspiration and dust. There was nothing attractive or glorious
about them, and he went back to his quarters with his heart sinking once

Then it rose again with a jump, for his native servant met him at the
door, showing his white teeth in a broad smile, to inform the sahib that
the cases had come; and there they were, with each bearing his name
branded thereon: "Lieutenant Richard Darrell, Bengal Horse Artillery."


It was a loud expiration of the breath, and the lad felt better already.
Those cases had come from the regimental tailor's, a long journey
across the plains, and looked very ordinary, and cumbered the room; but
then there were the contents - medicine to the disconsolate lad at a time
like that - a tonic which completely carried the depression away.



Richard Darrell was not a vain or conceited lad, but the time had
arrived when he could not help feeling like a young peacock. He had
gone on for a long time in his ordinary dowdy plumage, till one fine
spring day the dull feathers began to drop out, and there was a flash
here and a gleam there - a bit of blue, a bit of gold, a bit of purple
and violet, and golden green and ruddy bronze - and he was strutting
along in the sunshine in the full panoply of his gorgeous feathers, from
the tuft on his head to the grand argus-eyed train which slants from the
back, and is carried so gingerly that the tips may not be sullied by the
dirt; all which makes him feel that he is a bird right glorious to

And the day had come when, in the secrecy of his own room, Dick was
about to moult from the simple uniform of the foot and preparatory days
into the splendid full dress of the Bengal Horse Artillery, a commission
in which was a distinction, a feather in any young soldier's cap.

Call it vanity what you will; but it was a glorious sensation, that
which came over Dick, and he would have been a strangely unnatural lad
if he had not felt excited.

No wonder that he shut himself up for the first full enjoyment of the
sensation alone, though perhaps there was a feeling of dread that he
might be laughed at by any one who saw him for the first time, since he
was painfully conscious of being very young and slight and smooth-faced,
although there was a suggestion of something coming up on the narrow
space just beneath his nose.

Those things did not come from the military tailor's in common
brown-paper parcels, but in special japanned tin cases, with his name in
white letters and "R.H.A."

How everything smelt of newness! The boxes even had their odour. It
was not a scent, nor was it unpleasant - it was, as the classic term
goes, _sui generis_; and what a rustle there was in the silver
tissue-paper which wrapped the garments!

But he did not turn to them first, for his natural instinct led him to
open the long case containing his new sabre, which was taken out,
glittering in its polish, and glorious with the golden knot so neatly
arranged about the hilt.

It felt heavy - too heavy, for it was a full-grown sabre; and when he
drew it glistening from its sheath, he felt that there was not muscle
enough in his arm for its proper management.

"But that will come," he said to himself as he drew it slowly till the
point was nearly bare, and then slowly thrust it back, when, pulling
himself together, he flashed it out with a rasping sound, to hold it up
to attention.

Yes, it was heavy and long, but not too long for a mounted man, and the
hilt well balanced its length. Nothing could have been better, and,
after restoring it to its scabbard, he attached it to the slings of the
handsome belt and laid it aside upon the bed.

The cartouche-box and cross-belt followed, and were examined with the
most intense interest. He had seen them before as worn by officers, but
this one looked brighter, newer, and more beautiful, for it was his very
own, and it went slowly and reluctantly to take its place beside the
sword upon the bed. For there was the sabretache to examine and admire,
with its ornate embossings and glittering embroidery.

"Pity it all costs so much," said Dick to himself as he thought of his
father, the quiet doctor, at home; "but then one won't want anything of
this kind new again for years to come, and aunt has paid for this."

But soon he forgot all about the cost; there was no room in his mind for
such a thing, with all that military panoply before his eyes. He had to
buckle on the belt, too, and walk to and fro with the sabretache
flapping against his leg, while he felt strange and awkward; but that
was of no consequence, for a side-peep in the looking-glass showed that
it appeared magnificent.

He was about to unbuckle the belt and take it off, but hesitated,
feeling that it would not be in his way. But the boy was strong-minded;
he had made up his mind to try everything separately, and he determined
to keep to his plan. So the belt was taken off, sabretache and all, and
the case opened to draw out _that_ jacket.

Yes, that jacket with its gorgeous cross-braiding of gold forming quite
a cuirass over the padded breast, and running in cords and lines and
scrolls over the seams at the back and about the collar and cuffs. It
was heavy, and was certain to be very hot to wear, especially in the
tremendous heat of India and the violent effort of riding at a furious
gallop. But what of that? Who would mind heat in a uniform so

The jacket was laid down with a sigh of satisfaction, and the breeches
taken up.

There is not much to be admired in a pair of breeches, be they ever so
well cut; but still they were satisfactory, for, in their perfect
whiteness, they threw up the beauty of the jacket and made a most
effective contrast with the high, black jack-boots - the uniform of the
Bengal Horse Artillery-man of those days being a compromise between that
of our own corps and a Life Guardsman.

The temptation was strong to try the white garments, and then draw on
the high, black boots in their pristine glossiness; but that was
deferred till a more convenient season, for there was the capital of the
human column to examine - that glistening, gorgeous helmet of gilded
metal, with its protecting Roman pattern comb, surmounted by a plume of
scarlet horsehair, to stream right back and wave and spread over the
burnished metal, to cool and shade from the torrid beams of the sun,
while the front bore its decoration of leopard-skin, emblematic of the
fierce swiftness of the animal's attack and the dash and power of the
Flying Artillery, that arm of the service which had done so much in the
subjugation of the warlike potentates of India and their savage armies.

It was almost idol-worship, and Dick's cheeks wore a heightened colour
as he examined his casque inside and out, gave it a wave in the air to
make the plume swish, tapped it with his knuckles, and held it at
arm's-length as proudly as any young knight of old donning his helmet
for the first time.

At last he put it on, adjusted the scaled chin-strap, gave his head a
shake to see if it fitted on tightly, and then turned to the glass and
wished, "Oh, if they could only see me now!"

But _they_ were far away in the little Devon town, where Dr Darrell
went quietly on with his daily tasks as a general practitioner, and Mrs
Darrell sighed as she performed her domestic duties and counted the days
that must elapse before the next mail came in, wondering whether it
would bring a letter from her boy in far-away Bengal, and feeling many a
motherly shiver of dread about fevers and cholera and wounds, and
accidents with horses, or cannons which might go off when her boy was in

And the boy made all this fuss about a suit of clothes and the
accoutrements just brought to his quarters from the military tailor's.

Does any lad who reads this mentally exclaim, with an accompanying look
of contempt, "What a vain, weak, conceited ass Dick Darrell must have
been! Why, if under such circumstances I had received the uniform I
should have behaved very differently, and treated it all as a mere
matter of course."

At seventeen? Hum! ha! perhaps so. It would be rude for me, the
writer, to say, "I don't believe you, my lad," but one cannot help
thinking something of the kind, for we all have a touch of vanity in our
composition; and as for the uniform of the Bengal Horse Artillery, there
was not a man who did not wear it with a feeling of pride.

Dick fell proud enough as he gazed in the glass to see a good-looking,
sun-browned face surmounted by that magnificent helmet; but the lad's
head was screwed on the right way, and he was not one of those who were
turned out when fools were being made. For, as he gazed at himself and
admired his noble helmet and plume, his proud delight was dashed with

"I've got such a little face," he said to himself, "and it's so smooth
and boyish. I seem so young and thin. I wish I hadn't tried so hard to
get appointed to the horse brigade. I shall look ridiculous beside all
those great, finely-built men. I wonder whether they'll laugh. Well,
it's too late now. I wish I could go back home for two years to do
nothing but grow."

Dick had gone through everything, even to the gloves, and was having a
fight with the desire to try everything on at once, when there was a
sharp rap at his door, the handle was turned, and a manly voice shouted:

"May I come in?"



Before an answer could be given the door was thrown open, and a
brother-officer strode into the room in the shape of Lieutenant Wyatt, a
tall, broad-chested fellow of seven or eight and twenty, a man whom
nature had endowed with a tremendous moustache, all that was allowed to
grow of a prolific beard.

Dick turned scarlet as he faced his visitor, who looked sharply round
and burst into a hearty fit of laughter.

"Hullo, shrimp!" he cried. "What! have I caught you?"

"I don't know what you mean," said Dick sulkily.

"Of course you don't. Get out, you wicked young fibster. You have not
been inspecting your new plumage - not you! Trying on, and having a good
look in the glass, have you?"

"Well, if I have, what then?" said Dick fiercely.

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!" cried the visitor, after giving a very fair
imitation of the challenge of a game-fowl. "Hark at him! Oh, the
fierceness of the newly-fledged officer! Don't call me out, Dick, and
shoot me. There, I apologise."

"I suppose it was quite natural that I should look at the things and see
if everything was there."

"Quite, dear boy, quite. Well, has the snip sent in everything right?"

"I don't know. I suppose so."

"Don't be cross, Dicky. Don't sing out of tune. Well, do they fit?"

"I don't know," said the lad coldly.

"Haven't you tried them on?"


"Bless us! what self-denial! Well, I'm glad I dropped in at the nick of
time. We'll have 'em all out again."

"That we won't," cried Dick shortly.

"That we will, my boy. I'm precious proud of our troop, and I'm not
going to have my junior turn out a regular guy to make the men grin."

Dick ground his teeth at the very thought of it. Grinned at - for a guy!

"Our uniform takes some putting on, my lad, and we can't afford to let
the ignorant sneer. We're the picked corps, and why such a shrimp as
you should have been allowed to join passes my comprehension."

"Look here, Mr Wyatt, if you've come here on purpose to insult me, have
the goodness to leave my room!" cried Dick fiercely, and feeling hot all

"Bravo! Well done, little un," cried Wyatt, patting him on the back; "I
like that."

"Keep your hands off me, sir, if you please!" cried Dick furiously.

"Better still, shrimp."

"And look here," cried Dick, who was now bubbling over with anger, "if
you dare to call me shrimp again I'll - I'll - Look here, sir, your
conduct is most ungentlemanly, and I shall - I shall - "

"Kick me, and make me call you out; and we shall meet, exchange shots,
shake hands, and be sworn friends ever after - eh, shrimp, lad? No;
we'll do it without all that. Yes, precious ungentlemanly of me, and
it's not nice to be laughed at and called names," said Dick's visitor.
"Only my way, my lad. But I say, you know," continued the young
officer, taking a chair by the back, turning it round, and then mounting
it as if he already had his left foot in a stirrup, raising his right
leg very high so as to clear an imaginary cantle and valise, throwing it
slowly over, and then dropping down astride, "I like that, but you are
little and thin, you know."

"I suppose I shall grow," retorted Dick hotly, and the words were on his
lips to say, "as big and rude and ugly as you are," but he refrained.

"Grow? Like a weed, my lad. You're just the big-boned fellow for it.
We'll soon make you put on muscle."

"Thank you!" cried Dick scornfully.

"Bless us! what a young fire-eater it is! You'll do, Dicky; that you
will. From what I saw of you last night, I fancied you'd be a nice,
quiet, mamma's boy, and I was sorry that they had not kept you at home."

"Indeed!" said Dick.

"Cool down, my lad; cool down now. You've shown that you've got plenty
of stuff in you. There, shake hands, Darrell. Don't be upset about a
bit of chaff, boy. I am a bit of a ruffian, I know; but you and I have
got to be friends. More than that - brothers. We fellows out here have
to do a lot of fighting. Before long, perhaps, I shall have to be
saving your life, or you saving mine."

"That sounds pleasant," said Dick, resigning his hand to the firm grip
which closed upon it, and responding heartily, for there was something
taking in the young man's bluff way.

"Well, hardly," said the latter, his face lighting up with a frank
smile. "But never mind that; I only wanted to tell you that we're a
sprinkle of Englishmen among hundreds of thousands of fierce, fighting

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Online LibraryGeorge Manville FennDraw swords! : In the horse artillery → online text (page 1 of 22)