In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter XI Retribution Begins.
The zemindar to whom the Warreners' guide conducted them, after crossing the Ganges, received them kindly, and told them that the safest way would be for them to go on in a hackery, or native cart, and placed one at once at their disposal, with a trusty man as a driver, and another to accompany them in the hackery. He told them that British troops were, it was said, arriving fast at Allahabad, and that it was even reported that an advance had already taken place. Nana Sahib would, it was said, meet them at Futtehpore, a place forty-eight miles from Cawnpore, and seventy-five from Allahabad. As yet, however, none of his troops had reached Futtehpore, which was fortunate, for the main road ran through that place, which was but twenty miles from the point where they had crossed the Ganges; and although they would keep by a road near the river, and so avoid the town, the Nana's troops would be sure to be scouring the country. This news decided them not to accept the zemindar's invitation to stay the night and start the next morning early. It was still but little past noon, and they might do many miles before darkness.
Before they halted the party had made fifteen miles, and in passing through a village learned the welcome news that a small English force had advanced to Synee, some ten miles only beyond Futtehpore. This force had, it was said, met with little resistance as yet, and the country people were full of stories of the manner in which the Sepoys and others who had been engaged with them were, as soon as captured, hung up in numbers. Already, in the minds of the peasantry, the idea that the British would be the final conquerors in the strife was gaining ground; and as the whole country had suffered from the exactions and insolence of the triumphant Sepoys, and life and property were no longer safe for a moment, the secret sympathy of all those who had anything to lose was with the advancing British force.
The next day the party followed the road near the river all day, as they feared to fall either into the hands of Sepoys retiring before the English, or of those coming down from Cawnpore. They halted for the night at a village whence a road ran direct to Synee, which was about eight miles distant. The villagers repeated that the Sepoys had all fallen back, and that there would be a great fight at Futtehpore. The English force was small, but a large body were on their way up from Allahabad.
The boys started at daybreak, and had proceeded about three miles when a body of cavalry were seen rapidly approaching.
The driver of the hackery put his head inside the leather curtain of the vehicle.
"English," he said. The boys looked out, and gave a shout of joy as they saw the well-known uniforms; and, regardless of their women's robes. they leaped out and ran to meet them. The advanced guard of the cavalry stopped in surprise.
"Halloo! what is up? who are you?"
"Why, Dunlop, don't you know us?" the boys shouted.
"The Warreners!" exclaimed Captain Dunlop, leaping from his horse and seizing them by the hand. "My dear boys, this is joy."
The men set up a cheer, which was caught up by the main body as they came up, and in another minute the boys were in their father's arms.
The young Warreners had been mourned as dead, for no one doubted that they had been carried to Cawnpore, and had shared the fate of the garrison of that place; and the joy of their father therefore was intense, while the whole corps, with whom the boys were general favorites, were delighted.
After the first rapturous greeting Major Warrener took off his cap reverently, and said a few words of deep gratitude to God, the men all baring their heads as he did so. Then Captain Kent said:
"Shall I push on to the Ganges, major, with my troop? or perhaps your sons can tell us what we are ordered to find out?"
"What is it?" Ned asked.
"Whether there are any bodies of troops pushing down by the river. It would not do for them to get behind us, and threaten our communications."
The boys were able to affirm that there was no body of mutineers near the Ganges below Futtehpore, as they had just come down that way.
"Then we can ride back at once," Major Warrener said. "Major Renaud was on the point of marching when we started, and he will be glad to have us back again. First, though, what have these natives done for you?"
Ned in a few words explained that they came by the instruction of their master, and had been with them for three days.
The major made them a handsome present, and sent a message to the zemindar, to the effect that his kindness would be reported to government; and Dick scribbled a few words to Lieutenant Delafosse, with the news of the British advance, and a kind message to the rajah.
"Now, Dick, you jump up behind me," his father said. "Dunlop can take you, Ned; and you can give us a short account of what has befallen you as we ride back. We must get you a couple of horses of some kind or another at Synee. Can't you cast off these women's clothes?"
"We have got nothing to speak of underneath," Dick laughed; "we got rid of our uniforms in the Ganges, and want a rig out from top to toe."
"Well, we must see what we can do for you tonight. And now," he asked, as they trotted along at the head of the column, amid the smiles of the men at the appearance of their commanding officer carrying, as it seemed, a native woman en croupe, "how did you escape, boys? We did not miss you until we halted for half an hour at midnight. Then six of us rode back ten miles, but could find no trace of you, and we gave you up as lost; so we rode on till we met Major Renaud's force coming up, when we sent our rescued friends on to Allahabad, and turned back with just a shadow of hope that we might yet find you alive somewhere or other."
Dick then told the story of the intervention of the tiger in their behalf, and said that afterward an Indian lady had succored them, hinting that at the end of the war it was probable that Ned would present his father with a daughter-in-law.
"That's all very well," Ned laughed. "If Dick had understood the language, I should have been nowhere. You should have seen him kiss her hand."
"Well, anyhow," Dick said, "she was a brick, father, and no mistake."
By this time Synee was reached. In spite of Major Warrener's liberal offers, no horses or even ponies were forthcoming, so completely had the Sepoys stripped the country, most of the villages having been burned as well as plundered by them. From the valises of the troop various articles of clothing were contributed, which enabled the lads again to take their places in the ranks, but riding as before en croupe. In two hours after their arrival at Synee they were moving forward again at a trot, and in four hours came up with Major Renaud's force, encamped for the day.
They were glad to get in, for the rain, since they left Synee, had been falling in sheets. The force was fortunately moving now along the grand trunk road, a splendid piece of road-making, extending from Calcutta to Peshawur, for already the country roads would have been almost impassable.
"Do we halt here for the day?" Ned asked his father, as they drew rein in the camp.
"Yes, Dick, the enemy are in force at Futtehpore, which is only some fourteen miles away. Havelock is coming up by double marches. He halted last night fifteen miles the other side of Synee. To-day he will reach Synee; will bivouac there for a few hours, and will march on here in the night. We are to be under arms by the time he will arrive, and the whole of us will push forward to Khaga, five miles this side of Futtehpore. So Havelock's men will have marched twenty-four miles straight off, to say nothing of the fifteen to-day. The troops could not do it, were it not that every one is burning to get to Cawnpore, to avenge the murder of our comrades and to rescue the women and children, if it be yet time."
The boys were at once taken by their father to Major Renaud, who welcomed them warmly. This officer had under his command a force of four hundred British, and four hundred and twenty native troops, with two pieces of cannon.
After being introduced to Major Renaud the boys went to the tents allotted to their corps, which were already pitched, and Major Warrener asked the officers, and as many of the volunteers as his tent would hold, to listen to the account of the massacre of Cawnpore, which was now for the first time authentically told; for hitherto only native reports had come down from the city. Great was the indignation and fury with which the tale of black treachery and foul murder was heard; and when the story was told it had to be repeated to the officers of the other corps in camp.
The terrible tale soon spread through the camp; and men gnashed their teeth in rage, and swore bitter oaths--which were terribly kept--to avenge the deeds that had been committed. Uppermost of all, however, was the anxiety about the women and children; for the boys had heard, when staying at the friendly rajah's, that near one hundred and twenty of these unfortunates--the survivors of the siege, and of the river attack--had been shut up in a room in the Cawnpore lines.
At three o'clock next morning--the 11th of July--the troops were under arms, the tents struck, and all in readiness for an advance. Presently a dull sound was heard; it grew louder, and the head of General Havelock's column came up.
There was a short halt while Major Renaud reported to the general the state of affairs in front, as far as he knew them. He mentioned, too, that two survivors of the Cawnpore massacre had that day come in, and that four others were in shelter with a native rajah on the Oude side of the Ganges. The general at once requested that the Warreners should be brought up to him; and the lads were accordingly presented to the man whose name, hitherto unknown outside military circles, was--in consequence of the wonderful succession of battles and of victories, of which that date, the 12th of July, was to mark the first--to become a household word in England.
"The column had better move forward, Major Renaud; your division will lead. If you will ride by me, gentlemen, you can tell me of this dreadful business as we go."
Fortunately there were several horses in Major Renaud's camp, which had been taken from men of the enemy's cavalry who had been surprised in the upward march, and two of them had been assigned to the boys, so that they were able to feel once more as soldiers.
On arriving at Khaga, an insignificant village, General Havelock said to the lads:
"Thank you very much for your information. You have behaved with great coolness and courage, and Major Warrener, your father, has every reason to be proud of you. I am short of aids-de-camp, and shall be glad if you will act as my gallopers"--an honor which, it need hardly be said, the boys joyfully accepted.
The following was the total force under General Havelock's command when he commenced the series of battles which were finally to lead him to Lucknow: Seventy-six men of the Royal Artillery, three hundred and seventy-six of the Madras Fusiliers, four hundred and thirty-five of the Sixty-fourth Regiment, two hundred and eighty-four of the Seventy-eighth Highlanders one hundred and ninety men of the Eighty-fourth Regiment, twenty-two men of the Bengal Artillery. Total of British regular troops, thirteen hundred and eighty-three, with eight guns. Besides these he had Warrener's Horse. Of natives he had the Ferozepore Regiment (Sikhs), four hundred and forty- eight strong, ninety-five men of the native irregular cavalry, who were worse than useless, and eighteen mounted native police.
The order for a halt was welcome indeed to the troops. Havelock's column had marched twenty-four miles without resting or eating, and fires were speedily lighted, and preparation made for breakfast. Major Tytler, quartermaster-general to the force, had, on arriving at the halting-place, taken twenty of Warrener's Horse, and had gone forward to reconnoiter. The water was growing hot, and the tired soldiers as they lay on the ground, pipes in mouths, were thinking that breakfast would soon be ready, when there was an exclamation:
"Here come the Horse! Something's up!"
The reconnoitering party were seen galloping back at full speed, and a minute or two later a large body of the enemy's cavalry in rapid pursuit emerged from a tope on the edge of the plain. The bugles sounded to arms, and the men grasped their fire-arms and fell in, but not without many a muttered exclamation of disgust.
"Confound them! they might have given us time for breakfast!"
"They need not be in such a hurry; the day's long enough."
"I thought I hated them fellows as bad as a chap could do; but I owe them another now."
A laugh was raised by a young officer saying cheerily to his men, "Nevermind, lads, we'll return good for evil. They won't let us have enough to eat, and we are going to give them more than they can digest."
In a very short time a considerable force of the enemy's infantry appeared, following the cavalry, and with them were some guns, which at once opened on the British force.
Hitherto General Havelock had made no move. He knew that his men urgently needed rest and food. The sun had come out, and was blazing fiercely; and it was of great importance that the troops should eat before undertaking what could not but be a heavy morning's work; but the enemy, who believed that they had only Major Renaud's weak force before them, pressed forward so boldly that there was no refusing the challenge so offered. The order was given to advance, and the men, with a hearty cheer, moved forward against the enemy, whose force consisted of fifteen hundred Sepoys, fifteen hundred Oude tribesmen, and five hundred rebel cavalry, with twelve guns. Their position was a strong one, for on each side of the road the plain was a swamp, and in many places was two and even more feet under water. In front, on a rising ground, were some villages with gardens and mango-groves, and behind this Futtehpore itself, with gardens with high walls, and many houses of solid masonry.
It may, however, be said that the fight was decided as soon as begun. The British artillery silenced that of the enemy; the British rifles drove their infantry before them. Warrener's Horse and the irregular cavalry moved on the flank, the infantry marched straight the swamps, and while some of the guns kept on the solid road, others had to be dragged and pushed with immense labor through the morass. As the British advanced the enemy fell back, abandoning gun after gun. The general of the Sepoy force was on an elephant, on rising ground in the rear of his troops, and Captain Maude, who commanded the artillery, by a well-aimed shot knocked the elephant over, to the great delight of the gunners. After that the rebels attempted no further resistance, and fled to Futtehpore. There they prepared to make a stand in the houses and gardens; but our men, whose blood was now thoroughly up, and who were disgusted at their failure to get at their foe, went forward with a rush, and the enemy fled without hesitation.
The streets of Futtehpore were absolutely choked with the baggage train of the defeated rebels, and the discovery of many articles of attire of English ladies and children raised the fury of the troops to the highest point. Pursuit of the enemy was, however, impossible. The troops were utterly exhausted, and officers and men threw themselves down where-ever a little shade could be found. At three o'clock the baggage came up, and by the forethought of the commissariat officer in charge some camels laden with rum and biscuit came up with it, so that the men were able to have a biscuit and a little spirits and water, which revived them; for whatever be the demerits of spirits upon ordinary occasions, on an emergency of this kind it is a restorative of a very valuable kind.
Singularly enough, in this battle, in which thirty-five hundred men were defeated and twelve guns captured, not a single British soldier was killed, the enemy never waiting until fairly within shot. Twelve soldiers, however, fell and died from sunstroke during the fight.
On the 13th the troops halted to rest. The guns taken from the enemy were brought in, and the great baggage train captured in the town organized for our own service.
On the 14th the force again advanced along a road literally strewn with arms, cartridges, chests of ammunition, shot, clothing, and tents, abandoned in their flight by the insurgents. The most welcome find to the army were forty barrels of English porter, part of the Sepoys' loot at one of the scenes of mutiny. That night the force encamped at Kulleanpore, twenty-seven miles from Cawnpore.
"So far it has been easy work, except for the legs," Major Warrener said, as he sat with his sons and his officers on the evening of the 13th; "but it will be very different work now. These scoundrels are fighting with ropes round their necks; they know that every Cawnpore Sepoy who falls into our hands will have but a short shrift, and they can't help fighting. Altogether, they have something like five times our force; and as they have all been most carefully drilled and trained by ourselves, the scoundrels ought to make a good fight of it."
"I don't mind the fighting," Ned said, "so much as the heat; it is awful."
"It is hot, Ned," Captain Dunlop said; "but at rate it is better for us who sit on horseback than for the men who have to march, and carry a rifle and ammunition."
"Do you think we shall have fighting to-morrow, father?" Dick asked.
"We are certain to do so. The pandies have been intrenching themselves very strongly at Dong, which is five miles from here. But this is not the worst part. We know they have placed two heavy guns on the other side of the Pandoo Nuddee, which is a large stream three miles beyond Dong. These guns will sweep not only the bridge, but the straight road for a mile leading to it. The bridge, too, has, we know, been mined; and our only chance is to go on with the mutineers, so as to give them no time to blow it up."
The work of the 14th, however, was less severe than was expected. The enemy fought stoutly at the village, advancing beyond the inclosures to meet our troops. Our superior rifle and artillery fire, however, drove them back, and then they clung stubbornly to the village and inclosures, our advance being retarded by the threatening attitude of large bodies of the enemy's cavalry, who moved upon the flanks and menaced the baggage. The force under Havelock being so weak in cavalry--for the native irregulars had been disarmed and dismounted for their bad conduct--there remained only Warrener's Horse, who were known in the force as the "volunteers." These covered the baggage, and executed several brilliant charges on parties of the enemy's cavalry who came too boldly forward; but the artillery had to be brought from the front, and to open upon the heavy masses of the enemy's cavalry, before they would fall back. Then the column pressed forward again, captured Dong, with two guns placed there, and drove the enemy out in headlong flight.
Then the force moved forward to the capture of the Pandoo bridge. As the artillery, who were at the head of the column, debouched from a wood into the straight bit of road leading to the bridge two puffs of smoke burst from a low ridge ahead, followed by the boom of heavy guns, and the twenty-four pound shot, splendidly aimed, crashed in among the guns, bullocks, and men. Again and again the enemy's guns were fired with equal accuracy. Our light guns were at the distance no match for these twenty- four pounders, and Captain Maude ordered two guns to advance straight along the road until within easy practice distance, and two others to go across the country to the right and left, so as to take the bridge, which stood at the extremity of a projecting bend of the river, or, as it is called in military parlance, a salient angle, in flank.
The Madras Fusiliers, in skirmishing line, preceded the guns, and their Enfield fire, as soon as they were within range, astonished the enemy. Then the artillery opened with shrapnel, and nearly at the first round silenced the enemy's guns by killing the majority of the gunners and smashing the sponging rods. Then the infantry advanced at a charge, and the enemy, who were massed to defend the bridge, at once lost heart and fled. They tried to blow up the bridge, but in their haste they blundered over it; and while the parapets were injured, the arches remained intact.
After all this fighting, the British loss was but six killed and twenty- three wounded--among the latter being that brave officer Major Renaud, whose leg was broken by a musket shot while leading the Madras Fusiliers.
Finding that the resistance was becoming more and more obstinate, General Havelock sent off a horseman to Brigadier General Neil at Allahabad, begging him to send up three hundred more British troops with all speed. On receiving the message General Neil sent off two hundred and twenty- seven men of the Eighty-fourth Regiment in bullock vans, with orders to do twenty-five miles a day, which would take them to Cawnpore in less than five days. He himself came on with the reinforcements, Allahabad being by this time quiet and safe.
At daybreak next morning the troops marched fourteen miles, halted, and cooked their food; after which, at one o'clock, they prepared to attack the enemy, who were, our spies told us, in a position extremely strong in the front, but capable of being attacked by a flank movement. In the burning heat of the sun, with men falling out fainting at every step, the troops, under a heavy artillery fire of the enemy, turned off the road and swept round to execute the flank movement as calmly and regularly as if on parade.
When they reached the points assigned to them for the attack they advanced; and then, while the skirmishers and the artillery engaged the enemy, who were strongly posted in the inclosures of a village, the main body lay down. The enemy's guns were, however, too strongly posted to be silenced, and the Seventy-eighth were ordered to take the position by assault. The Highlanders moved forward in a steady line until within a hundred yards of the village; then at the word "Charge!" they went at it with a wild rush, delighted that at last they were to get hand to hand with their foe. Not a shot was fired or a shout uttered as they threw themselves upon the mutineers; the bayonet did its work silently and thoroughly.
A breach once made in the enemy's line, position after position was carried--Highlanders, Sixty-fourth men, and Sikhs vieing with each other in the ardor with which they charged the foe, the enemy everywhere fighting stubbornly, though vainly.
At last, at six in the evening, all opposition ceased, and the troops marched into the old parade ground of Cawnpore, having performed a twenty- two miles' march, and fought for five hours, beneath a sun of tremendous power.