Darkness still reigned when Henry, Polly and the rest of the mismatched civilian passengers were led from the Residency to the shunting yards behind the train station. Polly wore a light khaki coloured skirt and a white blouse; due to the extreme heat of the India day. She carried a few possessions in a carpet bag in her right hand while she held her husband’s arm with her left.
Henry was dressed in stout boots, light grey trousers and a white open neck shirt. Around his waist he wore a belt with a holster containing a revolver. Across his chest was a leather bandolier of bullets for the rifle that hung from his left shoulder. He carried his own possessions in a small pack held in his left hand.
It was then they saw it; a little old battered steam engine with an equally battered coach and flat-car. It was surrounded by forty or fifty Sepoys and a couple of British officers, one of whom Polly recognised as Captain Scott. She walked inquisitively up to the engine while the rest of the passengers were being herded aboard the coach.
Polly ran her hand over the name pate on the side of the engine’s boiler; ‘Empress of India’ it proclaimed in four inch high brass lettering. She looked up to the cab where the Native driver worked; she strolled over and peeped in.
“Hey black fella!” she called, “you the driver of this bloody scrap heap?”
The driver turned to stare down at Polly with a hurt expression on his face.
“Memsahib,” replied the driver, “Victoria is very old engine,” he caressed the controls lovingly with a rag filled hand, “but she is hard worker, she will get us to Kalapur most definitely!”
Polly considered the driver’s words.
“Well if you’re sure.” Polly didn’t feel totally convinced, she turned to make her way towards the coach and almost bumped into Captain Scott.
“Everything alright Mrs Carter-Browne?” he enquired.
“Yes thank-you Captain,” replied Polly cheerfully, “I was just asking the black fella if this thing would actually get us to Kalapur.”
“Rest assured Ma’am,” Scott smiled indulgently, “I’m confident we’ll complete our journey in about a day.”
“Well, Captain, if you’re happy,” Polly pushed a lock of hair back into place, “I’m sure we have nothing to worry about.”
Except for the demon sharing the coach with us, she added to herself; Polly started to make her way to the coach.
“Oh! Mrs Carter-Browne,” Scott called softly after her, Polly looked over her shoulder, “the driver’s name is ‘Gupta’ not ‘Black Fella’.”
“Thank-you Captain,” Polly smiled, “I’ll remember that.”
As Polly climbed up into the coach she noted with approval the two Maxim Guns, one placed on the platform at the rear of the coach, the other situated in the flat-car between the coach and the engine. What did not met with her approval was that she could only see a couple Sepoys actually on the train.
“There’s only two Sepoys!” she whispered in her husband’s ear.
“I expect it’s something to do with weight and how much coal we can carry and what the engine can pull,” Henry breezed with all the confidence he could muster.
Polly gave him a sour look.
Once everyone was aboard Captain Scott entered the coach and told them to lie on the floor, close the blinds and keep the lanterns off until he came in to tell them that all was clear.
“I expect we’ll know if things haven’t worked out,” Henry whispered to Polly, “’Cause there’ll be Fuzzies crawling in through the windows and hacking us to little bits!”
“They can try!” Polly smiled at her husband in the darkness under the seats.
“O-yes,” recalled Henry dryly, “I should have remembered! Next time there’s a rebel army that needs defeating I’ll just point you in the right direction and sit back and watch!”
“Too bloody right!” confirmed Polly belligerently.
Just then they heard orders being shouted in army Hindi. The wheels squeaked as the train started to move, pushed by the Sepoys they had seen around the train earlier. Slowly the train picked up speed as it passed over points and headed towards the inner gate. They must have passed through the inner gate as Polly could no longer hear the sound of army boots on the gavel of the shunting yard; she felt the gradient take the train and the coach start to sway from side to side as they headed towards the outer gate and the rebel army.
Polly watched Van Layden as he lay under a seat across the aisle from her, he didn’t seem to notice her scrutiny. As the train moved faster and faster towards its intended target she saw Van Layden close his eyes for a moment and mutter some words under his breath, almost as if he was praying. Seconds later the train’s whistle sounded, shattering the early morning silence and alerting the rebels to their presence!
For a second or two she could hear rebels shouting in panic as they saw the train for the first time. Then any cries were drowned out as the driver opened the throttle and started the engine towards the gates under power. Moments later there was a terrific crash as the heavy wooden ram fitted to the front of the engine hit the outer gate.
The train seemed to stagger and slow for an instant and Polly thought that she would have to fight the rebel army after all. She made a promise to herself that the first to die would be Van Layden. However, the train soon picked up speed again and started to pull away from the city walls. Bullets whip-cracked through the wooden walls of the coach as the rebels reacted to the attempted breakout. Polly’s ears picked out the sound of approaching horse’s hooves only to be nearly deafened by the Maxim on the rear platform opening fire at their pursuers. Polly looked at her husband and shook his arm to get his attention.
“I can’t take this!” she shouted over the noise of the Maxim, “I can’t just lie here and do nothing, it’s against my nature.”
Polly jumped up from the floor and grabbed her bag from the rack above the seats. Pulling it down she wrenched it open and pulled forth her own gun belt. She turned to make her way towards the rear of the train only to find Henry, rifle in hand already going in that direction. The Maxim fell silent and the sound of the rebel cavalry got louder as they closed in on the train.
Husband and wife burst into the small service compartment at the rear of the coach only to see the Sepoy manning the Maxim struggling to clear a stoppage. Henry took up position on one side of the doorway leading to the platform while Polly took up position on the other; they started to fire steadily into the mass of rebel horsemen.
Slowly the train started to outpace the pursuing cavalry until they vanished into the dust of their own passing. Polly grinned teasingly at Henry and lent across the doorway to kiss him heedless of the Sepoy who had by now cleared the stoppage on his machine gun. Their spontaneous kiss was rudely interrupted by Captain Scott bursting in upon the scene.
“I thought I told you to stay in the coach!” he called sharply.
“Sorry Captain,” Henry’s voice lacked any real repentance, “just couldn’t lie there and not do anything, wouldn’t be quite right don’t-cha-know?”
“That’s alright for you Carter-Browne,” continued Scott only slightly placated, “but what about your wife?” He gestured towards Polly, “This is no place for a woman!”
“Don’t worry about me,” Polly broke open her revolver and let the empty cases tinkle onto the floor. “Me an’ Henry look after each other.”
Flustered Captain Scott turned to go.
“Well,” he said, “Be careful in future.”
He walked back into the main body of the coach and slammed the door behind him.
Polly and Henry sat facing each other as they cleaned their weapons. Polly had decided with only slight objections from her husband that she would be wearing her pistol openly on this trip. She could put up with the odd looks that the other passengers gave her if it meant that she would be able to dispatch Van Layden to his just deserts all the quicker. She had heard her husband explain to Lady Wyndham that Polly took the writings of Colonel Baden-Powell and his motto ‘Be Prepared’ very seriously indeed.
“That Van Layden fella,” muttered Polly as she looked down the barrel of her revolver to check it for cleanliness, “I saw him do something before the train whistle went off.”
“Like?” Henry asked.
“Just before the whistle blew he closed his eyes and said something…”
“Like he was praying you mean?”
“What?” cried Polly out loud, then more quietly, “I thought you’d agreed that he was the demon.”
“Oh yes,” Henry agreed, “but it pays to be careful. He’s such an obvious target, what if it’s Lady Wyndham who’s the real demon?”
At that moment Peters, the arms dealer and one of their fellow passengers, looked out the window.
“Damn!” he exclaimed, “we’re slowing down again…seems like we slow down or stop every few miles or so. We’ll never get to Kalapur at this rate.
Moments later Captain Scott hurried into the coach.
“It’s the refugee train on the track ahead of us,” he announced, “blinds down and keep your heads down,” Scott ordered before disappearing as swiftly as he had arrived.
Within a few minutes the train had ground to a halt.
Captain Scott didn’t like what he was seeing as Gupta moved Victoria slowly towards the refugee train; it should have reached safety hours ago. As they got closer Scott could see why the train had stopped. First he saw the great bloated vultures flap lazily into the air, and then he started to pick out the bodies through the heat haze. He signalled Gupta to stop the engine and called the Sepoys forward.
He jumped down from the footplate and led the Sepoys towards the staled train at an easy run. Pistol in hand, he led them towards the station where the train was halted. The three soldiers stopped next to a stone block upon which the station’s name was proclaimed in English and Hindi, Bhivandi Pura it announced mutely.
Slowly Scott stood up and walked towards the refugee train, there were bodies everywhere. Some lay on the ground around the rain having been caught trying to make their escape Most were still on the train they had never even had the chance to make an attempt at running.
The coaches and bodies were riddled with bullet holes. There was dried blood splattered up the walls and across the floors and ceilings. No one had been spared not man or woman, old or young, white or brown. Those who had not been shot had been hacked to pieces with swords. The air was thick with the stench of death and the buzzing of millions of flies that fed off the corpses and laid their eggs in open wounds, eyes and mouths.
Scott walked along the train looking into the carriages in the vain hope of finding survivors. The two Sepoys were on the other side of the train removing bodies from the spur line to allow Victoria to pass by. Captain Scott had reached the engine when he noticed something move out of the corner of his eye. He spun around and nearly put a bullet through Van Layden’s chest.
“So this is the legacy of British rule in India?” he wiped sweat from his face with a grubby screwed up handkerchief.
“Van Layden!” exclaimed Scott, “I thought I told you to stay on the train with the others.”
“Divide and rule,” muttered the newspaperman, “that has always been the British way. Set Hindu against Moslem.”
“Oh for God’s sake Van Layden,” cried a frustrated Captain Scott, “Hindus and Moslems have been slaughtering each other for hundreds of years before the British came to India. At least we’ve installed some order here.”
Van Layden turned away from Scott and started to walk back towards the train.
“You call this order?” he called over his shoulder as he walked away from the scene.
‘Damn him’, thought Scott as he watched the vile little man saunter off, ‘and how did he get so close to me before I noticed the bounder’, wondered Scott.
Polly picked her way carefully between the bodies; she thought she was used to the sights of death. In her short life she had seen enough of it, but nothing like this, nothing on this scale. What made it worse for her was the knowledge that it had been done by humans. True they were little better than savages, but they were still human. She waved away the flies that blundered at her face as she walked up behind Scott.
“You alright Captain?” she asked.
“Bloody hell!” Scott turned on Polly crossly, “Can’t anybody obey a simple order like ‘stay on the train’?”
“Sorry,” replied Polly sheepishly, “but you seemed to be gone a long time and Mrs Wyatt wanted to see what was going on, so Henry an’ me said we’d go with her.”
“What? You mean there’s more of you wandering about?” Scott looked up to heaven for help, finally he said, “Please go back to the train Mrs Carter-Browne, I’ll find your husband and Mrs Wyatt.”
Polly turned and retraced her steps back to Victoria doing her best not to step in any of the puddles of congealed blood that stained the dusty ground.
“I’m glad to see it disgusts you as much as it does me.”
Polly turned quickly and brought her revolver up to point between Van Layden’s eyes, she thumbed back the hammer.
“Did I startle you Ms Carter-Browne?” Van Layden arched a quizzical eyebrow.
“Where the bloody hell did you spring from Van Layden?” demanded Polly, her pistol still pointing, rock steady, at the newspaperman’s head.
“I’ve been here all the time,” he claimed, “typical of the British to react so violently to a simple statement.”
“I’m Australian,” corrected Polly coldly.
“Same thing,” shrugged Van Layden, Polly nearly shot him there and then.
Van Layden moved to walk away from this pistol packing colonial harridan.
“I know what you are Van Layden,” called Polly to Van Layden’s retreating back, “an’ I’m keeping an eye on you.”
“And what am I Mrs Carter-Browne?” Van Layden held his arms out by his sides.
“Evil,” hissed Polly.
Would anybody worry if she just shot him now? Polly asked herself, what was one more body amongst so many? She could shot him down like the dog he was, she could say he had surprised her and she had shot him thinking he as a rebel, would anyone care? But what if Henry was right, what if he wasn’t the demon.
Just because her spider sense had become active when he had come into the room was not conclusive proof that he was a demon. The demon could have been anyone in the room. Henry had spoken of spells that could mask a creature’s true nature; that could be the case here. Reluctantly Polly eased the hammer down on her revolver and slid it back into her holster. Time would tell, she walked briskly back to the train.
When Polly returned to Victoria she discovered that Mrs Wyatt had in fact found the only survivor of the massacre. By a million to one chance she had seen movement in one of the death filled carriages. She had found a baby hidden under its mother’s body, now everyone stood around fussing over the child. The civil servant fellow, who everyone called ‘Bridie’, had produced a basket and some towels from somewhere to make the child a cot.
Even Van Layden seemed taken with the child, and helped out as best he could. However it did not stop him from making some vaguely anti-British point. But when Lady Wyndham asked him to get her travelling case down from the rack he hesitated. Polly thought he looked frightened almost frozen with fear, she also noted that Peters had noticed Van Layden’s reluctance. Eventually the newspaperman steeled himself and lifted the case down and gave it to Lady Wyndham. Both Peters and Polly noticed how Van Layden wiped his hands on his handkerchief before he sat down again.
The train chuffed steadily along the track up off the plain near Bhivandi Pura and into the surrounding hills, that is until it came to a steep incline when it slowed and eventually stopped. Captain Scott who was handing out spare rifles and ammunition to the other passengers stopped what he was doing and ran towards the front of the train, telling everyone to stay inside with the blinds down.
“Anybody would think we can’t take care of ourselves,” grumbled Polly.
“Now, now Polly my dear,” placated Henry, “I’m sure the good Captain is only doing what he thinks is best.”
Polly gave Henry one of her best ‘annoyed faces’, which only made him smile.
“When you do that it makes you look like a cross Koala Bear.”
Polly screwed up her face and stuck her tongue out at her husband in a most unladylike way.
After a few minutes Captain Scott came back into the coach to explain that the ram on the front of the engine needed to be removed. He took both the Sepoys and started work. It took about ten minutes to remove the railway sleepers that made up the ram; and true enough when the train started to move again it did seem to be moving a lot faster. The train topped the incline and started down the other side picking up speed until the coach was swaying alarmingly.
Polly nestled in a corner seat and tried to concentrate on her book as the train rumbled along the track. It was one of those books on what a young wife was supposed to know so as to be able to run a household. Some of it made Polly laugh out loud; other parts were really quite interesting and useful. Already she had picked up several ways of removing stains from clothes, a useful skill for any slayer to know.
But it said very little about sex, or, ‘Marital Relations’ as the book insisted on calling it. Which was odd thought Polly considering how ignorant most young women were on the subject. Polly rather enjoyed ‘Marital Relations’, she smiled as she read the words, although she got the impression that she was not supposed to. From what the author said she was expected to look on it as a duty to be endured for the sake of the Empire!
Polly peered up from her book to see the imposing figure of Lady Wyndham standing over her. She was taller than Polly, but then most people over sixteen were, she was in her late forties or early fifties but still looked healthy and active. From what she had seen of her Lady Wyndham looked a very capable woman. She was the sort of wife that a man could rely on come hell or ‘revolting’ natives. Polly put down her book and looked up at the older woman.
“What can I do for you, Lady Wyndham?” she asked with a smile.
“I’ve just made some tea, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking some out to the men out the front?”
“No worries,” Polly jumped up from her seat, “it’ll give me an excuse to stand about outside for a while.”
Polly took the tray that Lady Wyndham offered her; it held four mugs of strong tea. She headed out of the front of the coach. Outside she found Captain Scott talking to Mrs Wyatt.
“Tea up!” cried Polly cheerfully.
The Captain and Mrs Wyatt each took a mug.
“It’s called ‘char’ in India Mrs Carter-Browne,” supplied Captain Scott as he called to the Sepoy with sergeants stripes who sat by the Maxim.
It had been mounted on the flat car and was surrounded by extra coal for the journey.
She picked out the words ‘Char-wallah’, ‘Havildar Ishar Singh’ which she thought was probably the man's name and rank. She would ask Henry what ‘Char-wallah’ meant later. The Havildar got up and took a mug of tea from the tray, he smiled at her showing great yellow teeth in amongst his bushy black beard, he said something to her then looked at Captain Scott.
“The Havildar says ‘thank-you’ and would you like him to take the tea to the driver?” explained Scott.
Polly looked towards the engine, she would have to step across two gaps where the carriages joined and negotiate the piles of coal on the flat car, no problem she was a slayer after all.
“Tell him thanks Captain but I can manage,” Polly hitched up the hem of her skirt and shot across the flat-car to the engine like a young mountain goat. “Char up!” she called as she arrived at the driver’s station. Gupta the train driver took the remaining mug of tea.
“Many thank-you’s Memsahib,” he called over the noise of the engine.
Polly stood in the corner of the compartment and studied Gupta as he worked at the controls of the engine. He was about average height for a native, maybe five foot eight or so. He had sharp almost fox like features with dark eyes. He wore a dirty white turban and a dark blue railway company shirt. He didn’t wear trousers, instead he wore one of those strange native things that reminded Polly of a baby’s nappy, a ‘dhoti’ she thought the were called, on his feet he wore leather sandals that looked as if they had been repaired many times.
“How’s Victoria going…Gupta?” asked Polly hesitantly.
“She is going very fine Memsahib. Most definitely since Captain Scott-sahib took off great loads of wood!” he gestured towards the front of the train.
Polly nodded her head to show she understood then turned to make her way back to the coach.
“Memsahib!” called Gupta before she could step onto the fat-car, “Wait one very short moment.”
Gupta pointed ahead, Polly followed the man’s finger to see a tunnel mouth looming up ahead. They had been going through a hilly area and had passed through several deep cuttings but this was their first tunnel. Obviously Gupta did not want her going back to the coach in the dark when she might trip and fall, not that that sort of thing was of much concern to her. However she decided to stay up here in the cab until they were out of the tunnel.
Sure enough it went completely black as soon as they entered the tunnel. Even Polly found she was affected; it must be because of the extreme difference between the bright sunshine of a normal Indian day and the cool darkness of the tunnel. Whatever the reason Polly found herself totally blind. Inevitably the smoke and sparks found their way into the cab to make her cough and splutter.
The tunnel’s shortness caused Polly to suddenly find herself out in the sunshine again. She heard Gupta give a cry of alarm as he applied the brakes. Almost without conscious thought Polly drew her revolver to aim where Gupta was gazing in horror as he slammed on the brakes. As the smoke cleared and the train screeched along the rails; Polly could see a section of track that had been blackened and twisted by an explosion. Victoria came to a halt only yards from being derailed.