Page images
PDF
EPUB

wouldn't come. His benefactor seemed to understand it, and dismissed him at the corner with a kindly pat.

"Do your duty always, whether it's easy or not, my boy, and all the rest will be right with you,”

i

he said. "Now, good night, and take care of your bird."

Take care of it! wouldn't he? There was no gladder face in the city than Will's, as he went home with his long-waited-for friend. E. K. O.

THE BHEEL ROBBERS OF INDIA.
HE Bheels are a native tribe
of India, who have obtained
great notoriety by the daring
and skilful way in which
they rob persons travelling
through that part of the
country which they infest.
One of their methods of avoiding
capture shows a degree of ingenuity

that one can only regret is so utterly misspent. They usually select nightfall for their expeditions, for then their dusky bodies are not easily noticeable, and they lie in wait for any party journeying across the plains. They are often pursued by men on horseback, and when unable to reach the jungle in time to escape capture, they rapidly throw off their scanty clothing, scatter it over the ground along with the plunder which they may have secured, and then snatching up a few sticks and dead branches they stand immovable in various attitudes, like so many stunted and withered trees, until their pursuers ride off, having failed to detect them. Many of these plains having been cleared by fire, there are plenty of blackened trunks and leafless branches standing and lying about to aid the Bheels in turning themselves into human trees. When the pursuers have galloped away, the robbers pick up their booty, and make for their retreats without delay. They are thieves by profession, and make all their preparations with great deliberation, well anointing themselves with oil, in order that, even when arrested, they may, if possible, slip out of the clutches of their captors.

It is related that a small body of these marauders chased by a party of soldiers took refuge behind some rocks. When the soldiers came up, the Bheels were found to have mysteriously disappeared. After a fruitless search, the officer ordered a halt beside a clump of withered trees, and as the day was hot he took off his helmet and hung it upon one of the branches. This particular branch happened to be the leg of a Bheel, who with a shriek of laughter threw the

amazed officer to the ground. Thereupon the group of trees immediately were transformed into men, and the whole party flying off in different directions placed themselves beyond reach of pursuit before the soldiers recovered from the tremendous astonishment into which they had been thrown. This took place in the days when the tricks of the Bheels were not so generally known as they now are; fortunately their tactics have become well understood, and though this tribe ranks as the cleverest and most scientific among the robbers of India, their villainous occupation is almost gone.

Loving plunder-excursions and warfare, and thus leading an active life, the Bheels have little leisure and less taste for industrious occupations. Their huts in the forest are of the rudest description, consisting simply of boughs and sticks thatched and bound with long grass. Beyond these humble dwellings, and an enclosure for their cattle, the remainder of their property is strictly personal. With a view to their common protection the huts are generally constructed close to each other, and should a stranger enter the precincts of the village, the inhabitant who first notices the intruder rushes to the nearest hovel, and uttering a loud cry of terror, the note of alarm is caught up by the adjacent huts, and soon the whole community, and even the neighbouring hills, echo the shout. In this manner the tribesmen are warned of the approach of danger, and they very soon determine, according to the circumstances of the case, whether to fight, fly, or remain indifferent-this last decision being arrived at in the event of the strangers proving friendly.

When they are unable to capture cattle, owing to the animals being too well protected even against their excessive cleverness in stealing, they resort to a stratagem of a different but more objectionable character. Ascertaining where the grazing ground of the cattle is situated, they procure a quantity of poison and drop it upon the leaves of the plantain bushes among which the poor beasts feed. In due course the oxen die, and their carcases are cast aside as useless. Useless to their

owners perhaps, but not to the Bheels, who do not fail to return without loss of time to secure the dead animals, for it is the skins and not the flesh that they have all along been anxious to obtain.

Barbarous as the Bheels are, however, it must not be supposed that they are utterly bad. Bishop Heber once passed through their country, and his escort was mainly composed of Bheels. They conducted him safely across a most perilous territory, which abounded in ravines overgrown with jungle that afforded safe hiding for hostile natives or savage tigers, and when he reached his destination these terrible hillsmen watched his camp throughout the night, acting their parts as sentinels with the utmost loyalty and diligence. The bishop met during his travel caravans of Brinjarries, a wandering race who spend their time in conveying grain, and who are often guarded on these occasions by armed Bheels hired for the express purpose of securing them from the attacks of the bands of marauders that waylay unprotected carriers. Sir John Malcolm once raised a corps of Bheel soldiers, and the results of discipline were in this case highly successful, affording a striking instance of the truth of the proverb that there is honour even among thieves. For, says Sir John, "before these robbers had been a month in the

ragon-fly,
Dragon-fly,

Come and be caught;

service, I placed them as a guard over treasure, which had a surprising effect, both in elevating them in their own minds, and in those of the other people of the community."

The Bheels, though eager for the fray, are neither vindictive nor inhospitable, and for a trifling remuneration used in bygone days to guide British officers on fishing and hunting excursions. They excite the horror of high-class Hindoos by eating the flesh of buffaloes and cows, a practice that is altogether abominable in the eyes of these natives, who look upon the cow as a sacred animal.

A RHYME OF A DRAGON-FLY.

Far and nigh

For you I

Long time have sought!

They are adepts at the use of the bow and arrow, which they shoot in a curious manner, lying concealed in the long grass, and holding the bow with their feet. This ancient weapon they handle with surprising skill, even shooting fishes with great dexterity. Heber described their district as being like Rob Roy's country; but he awarded the palm to the people of the latter as being more formidable enemies than the Bheels. Now it was the opinion of cautious Andrew Fairservice that there were many things too bad for blessing, and too good for banning, like Rob Roy; so that if the Bheels were less dangerous than the clansmen of that bold chieftain, it seems to follow that they were a tolerable set of savages after all.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

CHAPTER

LITTLE QUEEN

By L. C. SILKE,

Author of "In Mischief Again," "Nelly's Champion," &c. v.-" NEW FRIENDS."

HE following day, in accordance with her agreement, Mrs. Lang drove over to Heylands to fetch Mabel. The little girl was eagerly anticipating the visit to her new friends, and the prospect of having some nice companions to play with was very pleasant. In great spirits she seated herself beside Mrs. Lang in the carriage.

"I thought at first of bringing Charlie and Minnie with me; but they are apt to get tired of so long a drive, so I decided it would be best for them to be ready to welcome you on your arrival, They are looking forward to having a little visitor."

Mrs. Lang, like Mrs. Hope, was a very young grandmother, and, like her, was a real lover of chil dren. Mabel felt at home with her at once, and much enjoyed her drive through the beautiful scenery. The weather was fine and bright, though the sky looked unsettled, and the rising clouds seemed to foretell rain.

At length, when Mabel was beginning to wonder how much farther they would have to go, they turned in at some lodge gates, which admitted them into a park of apparently very large extent. The road now was all up-hill, and they still drove on a good distance before the house came in sight. It was a castellated building, with a sort of tower at either end, and an arched entrance in the centre, the windows having massive stone mullions, whilst the roof was battlemented. Standing in the centre of the park, away from all other habitations, and shadowed by sombre trees, it did not look a cheerful dwelling, and Mabel secretly decided that she much preferred Heylands, with its sunny aspect and extensive views over the beautiful lake. If only Aunt Alicia could be transformed into another Mrs. Lang! Here there seemed to be nothing but the park to look out upon, but she caught

MAB.

glimpses of some deer in the distance, which made her long to go nearer, whilst a handsome peacock perched on the stone balustrade excited her profound admiration.

[graphic]

Following her companion into the house, she found herself in a large hall, wainscoted with oak, and hung round with old armour and trophies of the chase. They went up a broad staircase of polished oak, which Mabel found very slippery, and then going along a passage, Mrs. Lang called out, "Charlie! Minnie!" A door at the end hastily opened, and out rushed two children, falling into their grandmamma's arms, and giving her vehement caresses and kisses.

"Come, come, that is enough," she cried laughingly. "Here is your little visitor. You must say 'How do you do?' to her, and then see how you can best amuse her. Luncheon will be ready very soon, and after that we must find out what she would like best to do."

"She would like to see the dogs, I should think, or have a ride on my pony," said Charlie.

"I am sure she would like to see the doll's house," asserted Minnie confidently, evidently considering that the crowning delight of all.

"Oh, bother the doll's house!" ejaculated Charlie with boyish contempt. "That is all very well for a wet day, when you can't do anything better, but it's ever so much jollier to race about in the park, or have a ride on Jack."

"I dare say Mabel may like to take a turn at all these different amusements, and after luncheon she shall decide which shall come first," said Mrs. Lang. "But now she must take her things off, and you must all get ready, for the bell will ring in a few minutes."

Mabel, meantime, had been making her observations upon her young friends, and had come to the conclusion that she should like them very much. Charlie was a fine manly boy, of about seven years of age; and Minnie, who seemed a couple of years younger, was a pretty child, with long flaxen hair and dark blue eyes: a loving little thing, ready to make friends with every one. Putting her hand confidingly into Mabel's, she led her into the nursery, where her hat was removed and her rumpled hair made smooth.

At luncheon Mabel did not feel shy and awkward, as she did when Miss Alicia's eye was upon her, but laughed merrily at General Lang's jokes, and

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][graphic][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Minnie had brought down her whole family of dolls, three in number. Lady Geraldine, the last addition, was a beautiful creature, with face and arms of wax, blue eyes, light hair, and a benign unruffled expression of countenance. Then came Miss Judith Lang, who was supposed to be her younger sister, though no one could trace the slightest family likeness. Moreover, she had the appearance of being so overwhelmed by the grandeur and pretensions of the Lady Geraldine as to have but little spirit left. She seemed to have resigned herself meekly to her fate of wearing old dowdy dresses and battered hats; whilst the consciousness of having a flattened nose-the tip of it having been knocked off in a skirmish with Charlieand no hair, so to speak, left on her head, appeared to add to the depression of her spirits, and gave her a woe-begone aspect, that was increased by the dinginess of her complexion, suggesting the idea of its not having been washed for a long time. However, if she could not boast much of her personal attractions, she still retained her place in the affections of Minnie, for she was her oldest friend of the trio: a fact that perhaps accounted for the loss of some of her charms.

But even Miss Judith looked aristocratic by the side of Sally, who was supposed to be maid-of-allwork in the establishment of Lady Geraldine, and who-perhaps because she was of wood-suffered from a certain stiffness of the joints, and indeed of the whole figure, which made her rather resemble a scarecrow, so long and lank was she, with clothes that hung on her instead of falling gracefully around her, as did those of her mistress.

Besides all this, she showed a lamentable want of taste in dress, with a negro's love of bright colours, having a yellow and red striped under petticoat, and some sort of short upper garment of blue calico.

Such was Minnie's family, and Charlie proceeded to explain what his ideas were with regard to them. "Let us dress them up as soldiers, and pretend they are defending a castle, and we have come to take it, like a story grandma was telling me this morning. It was so pretty-about a king called Edward, who besieged a town called Calais; but the people were so brave, they held out a long time. He took it at last, though, and then some of the men came to the queen, his wife, with halters round their necks, and she begged for them, and so their lives were spared. I'll be King Edward, and one of you shall be Queen Philippa."

"That will be a capital play," said Mabel. "And what shall be the castle or town?"

"Let us see;" and the boy glanced around. Suddenly his eye fell upon a low screen, which in

winter stood near the fireplace to shield Mrs. Lang from the draught, but which now was standing back near a window at the far end of the room.

"How jolly! This will be the very thing," he cried, pouncing upon it. "The screen will do for the walls of the fortress, and we can make the dolls hang on like this-by putting their arms well over the top and leaning their bodies a little forward."

"Are you sure they are safe like that?" asked Minnie anxiously, trembling for them in their insecure position.

“Oh, quite,” returned Charlie carelessly. “There, now they are manning the walls. But stay; we must dress them up like soldiers first. No one ever saw a soldier in a white muslin dress and pink sash."

He had Lady Geraldine in his arms, and his eye was roving round the room in search of something suitable for his purpose.

A piece of scarlet cashmere, which Mrs. Lang was braiding, was lying on her little work-table.

"Hurrah!" he cried, pouncing upon it eagerly. "Hurrah! that's the very thing;" and he hastily wrapped it round the doll, fastening it with a great darning-needle he found on his grandmamma's pincushion.

"But look, Charlie, how clumsily you have put it on," exclaimed Minnie, who, young as she was, liked to see things tastefully arranged. "You've huddled it all up round her neck, and hidden her nice curls. Let Mabel do it."

"No, no; it's better like that—a soldier doesn't wear curls, you know. And we'll call her General Lang," he announced, with a total disregard of any nationality; "and Judith shall be a captain. But Sally must be a private soldier, for she doesn't look like an officer, does she?"

"Of course not, because she's only a maid-of-allwork. She doesn't set up to be anything grand." "But what can we dress these two in?" said Mabel.

"Let me see. I think Sally might do as she is, in her blue jacket, because some soldiers have blue coats. But we must find something for Judith. I suppose that mat would be rather hot, and rather heavy too," he said doubtfully, pointing to a crimson one lying in front of the window.

"Oh, Charlie, the idea of putting a mat round her!" laughed Minnie. "I'm sure she wouldn't like that."

"I see something that will do famously," exclaimed her brother eagerly, as he seized upon and held up in triumph a half-finished scarlet comforter which his grandmamma was in the course of knitting. Coolly pulling out the needles, which he explained "might stick into her," he bound it

« PreviousContinue »