"Does Colonel Macleod expect an attack before daybreak?" I asked.
"I suppose he does," Holroyd replied, "for he said a great deal about the necessity for vigilance; though he neither gave me any idea from what quarter danger is to be chiefly apprehended, nor of his plans in the event of a sudden attack in overwhelming force. I feel sure," he went on, "that Colonel Macleod is wrong in posting us so far in advance of El Hamet, as it will be impossible to keep up communication, except by occasional patrols; thus the company will stand a serious risk of being cut off, and the village, which, I understand, we are supposed to protect, will be placed in jeopardy."
Rather surprised at these critical remarks, I ventured to remind my captain that Generals Fraser and Stewart thought very highly of Colonel Macleod, and that the 78th Highlanders swore by him.
"True, Tom," rejoined Holroyd. "Macleod's character as a regimental commander most deservedly stands high, and a braver man there is not in the British army; nevertheless, judging by what I have heard and observed, I don't think he is the right sort of officer to hold a separate command at an important post. He lacks firmness and promptness of decision, and should an emergency arise, I much doubt if he will be properly prepared to meet it. Anyhow, I intend to use my own judgment in taking up the position assigned to us, and instead of moving the whole company up to the sandhills, I shall leave Cantillon, with the left subdivision, half-way between them and the village. We shall then have a support to fall back on if hard pressed."
"What of the Mamelukes?—have they turned up?" asked Paddy.
"Not that I know of," was the reply. "The ammunition we escorted is intended for them; but my own impression is that Mohammed Ali will make up his differ-