So, as told in our camp, ran the fanciful story of the Moonstone. Itmade no serious impression on any of us except my cousin--whose loveof the marvellous induced him to believe it. On the night before theassault on Seringapatam, he was absurdly angry with me, and with others,for treating the whole thing as a fable. A foolish wrangle followed; andHerncastle's unlucky temper got the better of him. He declared, inhis boastful way, that we should see the Diamond on his finger, ifthe English army took Seringapatam. The sally was saluted by a roar oflaughter, and there, as we all thought that night, the thing ended.
Let me now take you on to the day of the assault. My cousin and I wereseparated at the outset. I never saw him when we forded the river; whenwe planted the English flag in the first breach; when we crossed theditch beyond; and, fighting every inch of our way, entered the town.It was only at dusk, when the place was ours, and after General Bairdhimself had found the dead body of Tippoo under a heap of the slain,that Herncastle and I met.
We were each attached to a party sent out by the general's orders toprevent the plunder and confusion which followed our conquest. Thecamp-followers committed deplorable excesses; and, worse still, thesoldiers found their way, by a guarded door, into the treasury of thePalace, and loaded themselves with gold and jewels. It was in the courtoutside the treasury that my cousin and I met, to enforce the laws ofdiscipline on our own soldiers. Herncastle's fiery temper had been, asI could plainly see, exasperated to a kind of frenzy by the terribleslaughter through which we had passed. He was very unfit, in my opinion,to perform the duty that had been entrusted to him.
There was riot and confusion enough in the treasury, but no violencethat I saw. The men (if I may use such an expression) disgracedthemselves good-humouredly. All sorts of rough jests and catchwords werebandied about among them; and the story of the Diamond turned upagain unexpectedly, in the form of a mischievous joke. "Who's gotthe Moonstone?" was the rallying cry which perpetually caused theplundering, as soon as it was stopped in one place, to break out inanother. While I was still vainly trying to establish order, I heard afrightful yelling on the other side of the courtyard, and at once rantowards the cries, in dread of finding some new outbreak of the pillagein that direction.
I got to an open door, and saw the bodies of two Indians (by theirdress, as I guessed, officers of the palace) lying across the entrance,dead.
A cry inside hurried me into a room, which appeared to serve as anarmoury. A third Indian, mortally wounded, was sinking at the feet of aman whose back was towards me. The man turned at the instant when I camein, and I saw John Herncastle, with a torch in one hand, and a daggerdripping with blood in the other. A stone, set like a pommel, in the endof the dagger's handle, flashed in the torchlight, as he turned on me,like a gleam of fire. The dying Indian sank to his knees, pointed tothe dagger in Herncastle's hand, and said, in his native language--"TheMoonstone will have its vengeance yet on you and yours!" He spoke thosewords, and fell dead on the floor.
Before I could stir in the matter, the men who had followed me acrossthe courtyard crowded in. My cousin rushed to meet them, like a madman."Clear the room!" he shouted to me, "and set a guard on the door!" Themen fell back as he threw himself on them with his torch and his dagger.I put two sentinels of my own company, on whom I could rely, to keep thedoor. Through the remainder of the night, I saw no more of my cousin.
Early in the morning, the plunder still going on, General Bairdannounced publicly by beat of drum, that any thief detected in thefact, be he whom he might, should be hung. The provost-marshal was inattendance, to prove that the General was in earnest; and in the throngthat followed the proclamation, Herncastle and I met again.
He held out his hand, as usual, and said, "Good morning."
I waited before I gave him my hand in return.
"Tell me first," I said, "how the Indian in the armoury met his death,and what those last words meant, when he pointed to the dagger in yourhand."
"The Indian met his death, as I suppose, by a mortal wound," saidHerncastle. "What his last words meant I know no more than you do."
I looked at him narrowly. His frenzy of the previous day had all calmeddown. I determined to give him another chance.
"Is that all you have to tell me?" I asked.
He answered, "That is all."
I turned my back on him; and we have not spoken since.