XXI. The Red Cord of Courage
In all her wars, Britain has never had more stubborn
enemies 1 to fight than the Hillsmen 2 of India. Their attack is
always swift 3 and sudden. They seldom fight in the open,4 but,
like the American Indians, lie in ambush 5 and fight from cover.d
Their homes are far in the interior,7 hidden among the hills, and
can be reached only by a few well-covered and wellguarded passes.8
They are brave and reckless,9 and admire courage more than any
These Hillsmen have a strange custom 11 of showing respect for
their dead chiefs. After a battle, they tie around the wrists 12
of their bravest warriors 13 who have fallen in the fight, a
green or a red cord.14 The red cord is the highest tribute they
can pay 15 to the bravery of a dead hero.
A small body of British troops 16 was once sent into the hills
against a tribe 17 that had been making is much trouble. Their
way led them through a long valley lo with high hills on either
side.20 From these hills the enemy harassed them, so they marched
on quickly, hoping to reach an open space 21 before long.
On their way they came to a large mass of rock. The main body of
the troops 22 kept to one side ; but a sergeant 23 and eleven men,
thinking it was only a huge boulder 24 in the way, went around
the other side, expecting to meet the others when they had passed
the rock. They soon found, however, that they had left the main
valley and were in a narrow ravine entirely shut in by high hills,
with no outlet but the one by which they had entered.
On top of a steep 25 mountain just in front of them was a flat
21 space, defended 26 by a strong breastwork of tree trunks,27
behind which were hidden seventy Hillsmen. From behind this breastwork
the enemy sent down a heavy fire.
The officer in command of the troops signalled the little party
to retreat.28 By some mistake, they understood the signal to mean "Charge! " 29
Without a moment's hesitation,30 the small band of heroes answered
the mistaken 29 order with a cheer, and charged the heights.
Think of it-twelve unsupported 31 men charging seventy defended
by cliffs and a strong breastwork ! Up, up, up, they toiled,32
and six reached the very top ! Then followed a handto-hand struggle,33
which lasted until the last of the little band
lay doad ; but-every British life cost two lives of the Hillsmen.
When the main body of the troops reached the place, they found
the bodies of their dead comrades 34 at the foot of the rock from
which they bad been thrown by their savage enemies. They were covered
with terrible wounds,35 and crushed; but round both wrists of every
British hero was tied the red cord of courage.
Even the wild Hillsmen had admired the bravery of the handful 36
of their enemy and had paid them the highest tribute they could
1 enemies who keep on fighting, who will not say: "We are
beaten." 2 natives of the hilly country in the north of
India (in Asia). The West Indies (see XIX. 1) are in America.
s They always attack quickly. 4 in the open (country), in the
plains. 5 they wait for their enemies, hiding behind trees, rocks,
etc. 6 something which covers or hides them. 7 the parts of the
country that are far from the coast. s A pass is a narrow passage
through mountains. 9 They do not heed dangers, they have no fear;
opp. cautious (see VII. 4). 10 Courage, modesty (see I. 7), loyalty
(see XIV. 13) are virtues. lla curious way. Their custom is to
fight from cover : they generally do so. 12 The wrist is where
the hand joins the arm. 13 Or: soldiers. 14 A stout (or thick)
string, not as thick as a rope (see V. 2). 15 Or : the highest
(greatest) honour they can show. 16 Or : a small number (or band)
of British soldiers. 17 A number of natives, under a chief ;
much smaller than a nation. ls Or : giving, causing. They were
very troublesome. 19 Or: dale (see XIII. 47). 200r: on both sides.
21 Or: open country, a place far from hills, a part of the land
that was flat (not hilly). 22 Or: most of the troops, the greater
part of them. Cp. mainland (XVIII. 3). A main road is an important
road. 23 There are four sergeants to a company of soldiers. 24
a small rock, standing alone. 25 It is hard to climb up a steep
rock. 26 Or : guarded. 27 Tree trunks had been placed in front,
so that the Hillsmen could hide behind them. This was an ambush.
28 Or : to go back. 29 Or: they thought that the signal meant: " Attack
!" They made a mistake ; they were mistaken. 30 Without
waiting for an instant, showing no sign of fear. They did not
hesitate. 31 Unassisted, with none to support (help) them. 32
Or : went (climbed) with great trouble ; s. toil, very hard work.
33 a fight, not at
a distance, but man against man. The British soldiers struggled
with the Hillsmen. 34 Or : companions, friends. 35 The Hillsmen
shot and wounded them. A man who is seriously wounded, sometimes
dies ; or he takes a long time to get well again. "A handful
of men : a small number, a little band.