In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIII. Lucknow.
Lucknow, although the capital of Oude, the center of a warlike people smarting under recent annexation, had for a long time remained tranquil after insurrection and massacre were raging unchecked in the northwest. Sir Henry Lawrence, a man of great decision and firmness united to pleasant and conciliating manners, had, when the Sepoys began to hold nightly meetings and to exhibit signs of recklessness, toward the end of April, telegraphed to government for full power to act; and having obtained the required authorization, he awaited with calmness the first sign of insubordination. This was exhibited by the men of the Seventh Oude Irregular Infantry, who on the 3d of May endeavored to seduce the men of the Forty-eighth Native Regiment from its allegiance, and broke out into acts of open mutiny. Sir Henry Lawrence the same evening marched the Thirty-second Foot and and a battery of European artillery, with some native regiments to their lines, three miles from the city, surrounded and disarmed them, and arrested their ringleaders. After this act of decision and energy, Lucknow had peace for some time. The native troops, awed and subdued, remained tranquil, and on the 27th of May Lucknow still remained quiet, whereas every other station in Oude, except Cawnpore, was in the hands of the rebels.
At the same time every preparation had been made for the struggle which all regarded as inevitable. The houses which formed two sides of the large irregular square in the center of which stood the Residency were connected by earthworks, and a breastwork, composed of sandbags and fascines, surrounded the other sides. Stores of provisions were collected, cattle driven in, and every preparation made for a lengthened defense. The cantonments were three miles distant from the Residency, and were occupied by the Thirteenth, Forty-eighth, and Seventy-first Native Infantry and Seventh Native Cavalry. Her majesty's Twenty-second Regiment, a battery of European artillery, and a small force of native horse.
On the evening of the 30th of May the revolt broke out. It began in the lines of the Seventy-first, and spread at once to the other native regiments, who took up arms, fired the bungalows, and killed all the officers upon whom they could lay hands. Happily all was in readiness, and a company of European troops, with two guns, took up their post on the road leading to the city, so as to bar the movement of the mutineers in that direction. Nothing could be done till morning, when Sir Henry Lawrence, with a portion of the Thirty-second, and the guns, moved to attack the mutineers. The British were joined by seven hundred men of the various regiments, who remained true to their colors, and the mutineers at once fled, with such rapidity that, although pursued for seven miles, only thirty prisoners were taken.
The troops then marched quickly back to the Residency, where their presence was much needed, as there was great excitement in the town, and a good deal of fighting between the police and the roughs of the city, who endeavored to get up a general rising and an indiscriminate plunder of the town. Sir Henry Lawrence upon his return restored order, erected a large gallows outside the fort and hung some of the rioters, executed a dozen of the mutinous Sepoys, rewarded those who had remained faithful, and for a time restored order. All the European residents in Lucknow were called into the lines of the Residency, the small European force being divided between that post and the Mutchee Bawn, a strong fort three-quarters of a mile distant, and the remnant of the native infantry regiments who had so far remained true, but who might at any moment turn traitors, were offered three months' leave to go home to their friends. Many accepted the offer and left, but a portion remained behind, and fought heroically through the siege by the side of the whites. Thus one source of anxiety for the garrison was removed; and safe now from treachery within, they had only to prepare to resist force from without.
So determined was the front shown by the little body of British that Lucknow, with its unruly population of over a quarter of a million, remained quiet all through the month of June. It was not until the last day of the month that the storm was to burst. On the 30th a body of insurgent Sepoys, some seven or eight thousand strong, having approached to Chinhut, within a few miles of the town, Sir Henry Lawrence, with two companies of the Thirty-second, eleven guns, some of them manned by natives, and eighty native cavalry, went out to give them battle.
The affair was disastrous; the native cavalry bolted, the native gunners fled, and after a loss of sixty men, three officers, and six guns, the British troops with difficulty fought their way back to the Residency. The rebels entered the town in triumph, and the city at once rose, the respectable inhabitants were killed, the bazaar looted, and then, assured of success, the enemy prepared to overwhelm the little British garrison.
Immediately upon the return of the defeated column, it became evident that the weakened force could not hold the two positions. Accordingly the Mutchee Bawn was evacuated, its great magazine, containing two hundred and forty barrels of powder and six hundred thousand rounds of ammunition, was blown up, and the British force was reunited in the Residency.
In order that the position of affairs in this, perhaps the most remarkable siege that ever took place, should be understood, it is as well to give a full description of the defenses. The Residency and its surroundings formed an irregular, lozenge-shaped inclosure, having its acute angles nearly north and south, the southern extremity being contiguous to the Cawnpore Road, and the northern point approaching near to the iron bridge over the river Goomtee. Near the south point of the inclosure was the house of Major Anderson, standing in the middle of a garden or open court, and surrounded by a wall; the house was defended by barricades, and loopholed for musketry, while the garden was strengthened by a trench and rows of palisades. Next to this house, and communicating with it by a hole in the wall, was a newly constructed defense work called the Cawnpore Battery, mounted with guns, and intended to command the houses and streets adjacent to the Cawnpore Road. The house next to this, occupied by a Mr. Deprat, had a mud wall, six feet high and two and a half thick, built along in front of its veranda, and this was continued to the next house, being raised to the height of nine feet between the houses, and loopholed for musketry. This next house was inhabited by the boys from the Martiniere School. It was defended by a stockade and trench, both of which were continued across a road which divided this house from the next, which stood near the western angle, and was the brigade messhouse. This house had a lofty and well-protected terrace, commanding the houses outside the inclosure. In its rear were a number of small buildings, occupied by officers and their families.
Next to the brigade messhouse were two groups of low buildings, called the Sikh Squares, and on the flat roofs of these buildings sandbag parapets were raised. Next to this, at the extreme western point, stood the house of Mr. Gubbins, the commissioner, a strong building, defended with stockades, and having at the angle a battery, called Gubbins' Battery. Along the northwestern side were a number of yards and buildings, the racket-court, the sheep-pens, the slaughter-house, the cattle-yard, a storehouse for the food for the cattle, and a guardhouse; and behind them stood a strong building known as Ommaney's house, guarded by a deep ditch and cactus hedge, and defended with two pieces of artillery. A mortar battery was planted north of the slaughter-house. Next along the line was the church, converted now into a granary, and in the churchyard was a mortar battery. Next came the house of Lieutenant Innis, a weak and difficult post to hold, commanded as it was by several houses outside the inclosure. Commanding the extreme north point, which was in itself very weak, was the Redan Battery, a well-constructed work. From this point, facing the river, was a strong earthwork, and outside the sloping garden served as a glacis, and rendered attack on this side difficult. Near the eastern angle stood the hospital, a very large stone building, formerly the banqueting-hall of the British residents at the court of Oude. Near the hospital, but on lower ground, was the Bailey Guard. Dr. Fayrer's house, south of the hospital, was strongly built, and from its terraced roof an effective musketry fire could be kept up on an enemy approaching on this side. Next to it came the civil dispensary, and then the post office, a strong position, defended by a battery. Between this and the south corner came the financial office, Sago's house, the judicial office, and the jail. The Residency, a spacious and handsome building, stood in the center of the northern portion of the inclosure, surrounded by gardens. It was on elevated ground, and from its terraced roof a splendid view of the city and surrounding country could be obtained. The begum's khotee, or ladies' house, stood near the center of the inclosure; it was a large building, and was used as a commissariat store and for the dwellings of many officers' families. Thus it will be seen that the Residency at Lucknow, as defended against the insurgents, comprised a little town grouped round the dwelling of the Resident.
In this little circle of intrenchments were gathered, on the 1st of July, when the siege began, over a thousand women and children, defended by a few hundred British troops and civilians, and about a hundred and fifty men remaining faithful from the Sepoy regiments. Upon that day the enemy opened fire from several batteries. A shell penetrated the small room in the Residency in which Sir Henry Lawrence was sitting, and passed between him and his private secretary, Mr. Cowper. His officers begged him to change his room, but he declined to do so, saying laughingly that the room was so small that there was no chance of another shell finding its way in. He was, however, mistaken, for the very next day a shell entered, and burst in the room, the fragments inflicting a mortal wound upon Sir Henry, who died a few hours afterward. The loss was a heavy one indeed, both to the garrison, to whom his energy, calmness, and authority were invaluable, and to England, who lost in him one of her noblest and most worthy sons. On his death the command of the defense devolved upon Colonel Inglis, of the Thirty-second Regiment, a most gallant and skillful officer. After this, day after day the fighting had continued, the enemy ever gaining in numbers and in strength, erecting fresh batteries, and keeping up a ceaseless fire night and day upon the garrison.
The Warreners with their guide experienced the difficulties which this increased activity of the attack caused to emissaries trying to enter or leave the Residency. After it had become dark they swam the Goomtee, and made a wide circuit, and then tried to approach the river again opposite the Residency. Several batteries, however, had been erected on this side since the guide had left, five days before, and these were connected by a chain of sentries, so closely placed that it would have been madness to endeavor to pass them unseen. It was clear that the mutineers were determined to cut off all communication to or from the garrison. The little party skirted the line of sentries, a line indicated clearly enough by the bivouac fires on the near side of them. Round these large numbers of mutineers were moving about, cooking, smoking, and conversing.
"It is hopeless to attempt to get through here," said Ned.
"We will go on to the road leading to the iron bridge," the guide replied; "we can follow that to the river and then slip aside."
Here, however, they were foiled again, as fires were lighted and there were sentries on the road to forbid all except those on business to pass. Presently a body of men came along, bearing shell upon their heads for the service of the batteries on the other side of the river.
"Whence are they fetching these?" Ned asked the guide.
"From the king's magazine, a quarter of a mile away to the right. They are taking ammunition, now, for the bridge is within four hundred yards of the Redan battery, and they cannot cross at daylight under fire."
"Here is a party coming back," Ned said; "let us fall in behind them, go to the magazine and get shell, and then follow back again till we are close to the bridge, and trust to luck in getting clear."
The guide assented, and they followed the Sepoys down to the magazine, keeping a little behind the others, and being the last to enter the yard where the loaded shell were standing.
Each took a shell and followed closely upon the heels of the party. In the dark no one noticed the addition to their number, and they passed the sentries on the road without question. Then they fell a little behind. The natives paused just before they reached the bridge; for the British knowing that ammunition was nightly being carried over, fired an occasional shot in that direction. The party halted under shelter of a house until a shot flew past, and then hurried forward across the exposed spot. As they did so, the Warreners and their guide placed the shells they were carrying on the ground, turned off from the road, climbed a garden wall, and in a minute were close to the river.
"Go silently," the guide said; "there are some more sentries here."
Stealing quietly along, for they were all shoeless, they could see crouching figures between them and the water, every twenty yards apart.
"We shall have to run the gantlet, Ned," Dick said. "Our best chance will be to shove one of these fellows suddenly into the water, jump in and dive for it. You and I can dive across that river, and we shall come up under the shadow of the opposite bank."
Ned spoke to the guide.
"The water is shallow for the first few yards, sahib, but we shall get across that into two feet, which is deep enough for us, before the sentries have recovered from their surprise. They are sure to fire at random, and we shall be out of the water on the other side before they have loaded again."
The plan agreed to, they stripped off their uniforms, and crept quietly along until they were close to a sentry. Then with a bound they sprang upon him, rolled him over the bank into the shallow water, and dashed forward themselves at the top of their speed.
So sudden was their rush that they were knee-deep before the nearest sentry fired, his ball whizzing over their heads as they threw themselves face downward in the stream, and struck out under water.
Even when full the Goomtee is not more than ninety yards wide, and from the point where they started to equally shallow water on the other side was now not more than forty. The boys could both dive that distance; but their guide, although a good swimmer, was a less expert diver, and had to come twice to the surface for breath. He escaped, however, without a shot; for, as they had expected, the report of the musket was followed by a general volley in the direction of the splash, by all the sentries for some distance on either side. Therefore, when the party rose from the water, and dashed up the other bank, not a shot greeted them. It was clear running now, only a hundred yards up the slope of the garden, to the British earthwork.
"We are friends!" the boys shouted as they ran, and a cheer from the men on watch greeted them. A few shots flew after them from the other side of the river, but these were fired at random, and in another minute the party had scrambled over the earthwork and were among friends.
Hearty were the hand-shakes and congratulations bestowed upon them all; and as the news that messengers had arrived flew like wild-fire round the line of trenches, men came running down, regardless of the bullets which, now that the enemy were thoroughly roused up, sang overhead in all directions.
"We won't ask your message," was the cry, "till you have seen the colonel; but do tell us, is help at hand?"
"English general coming," the native guide said.
"Yes," Ned said, as delighted exclamations at the news arose; "but not yet. Do not excite false hopes among the ladies; some time must pass before help arrives. I must not say more till I have seen Colonel Inglis; but I should be sorry if false hopes were raised."
Cloaks were lent to the boys, and they were taken at once to the Residency, and along passages thronged with sleepers were conducted to Colonel Inglis' room. He had already heard that the native messenger had returned, with two Englishmen in disguise, and he was up and ready to receive them--for men slept dressed, and ready for action at a moment's call.
"Well done, subadar," he exclaimed, as the native entered; "you have nobly earned your step in rank and the five thousand rupees promised to you. Well, what is your message?"
"The General Sahib bids me say that he is coming on to Lucknow with all speed. Cawnpore was taken four days before I left. The Nana has fled from Bithoor, and all goes well. These officers have further news to give you."
"I am indeed glad to see you, gentlemen," Colonel Inglis said, warmly shaking them by the hand. "Whom have I the pleasure of seeing, for at present your appearance is admirably correct as that of two Sepoys?"
"Our name is Warrener," Ned said; "we are brothers. I have just been gazetted to the Sixty-fourth; my brother is a midshipman. We have a message for your private ear, sir; and if I might suggest, it would be better to keep our native friend close by for a few minutes, lest his news spread. You will see the reason when we have spoken to you."
Colonel Inglis gave the sign, and the other officers retired with the guide.
"Our message, sir, is, I regret to say, far less favorable than that transmitted by the subadar, and it was for that reason that General Havelock sent us with him. If taken, he would have told his message, for the general had ordered him to make no secret of his instructions if he fell into the enemy's hands, as it was desirable that they should believe that he was about to advance, and thus relieve the pressure upon you by keeping a large force on the road up from Cawnpore. But in fact, sir, General Havelock bids us tell you that he cannot advance. He has but a thousand bayonets fit for service. He must hold Cawnpore, and the force available for an advance would be hopelessly insufficient to fight his way through Oude and force a road through the city. The instant he receives reinforcements he will advance, and will in the meantime continue to make feints, so as to keep a large force of the enemy on the alert. He fears that it may be a month before he will be able to advance to your aid with a chance of success."
"A month!" Colonel Inglis said; "that is indeed a long time, and we had hoped that already help was at hand. Well, we must do our best. We are even now sorely pressed; but I doubt not we can hold out for a month. General Havelock cannot accomplish impossibilities, and it is wonderful that he should have recaptured Cawnpore with so small a force."
"We thought it better to give you this news privately, colonel, in order that you might, should you think fit, keep from the garrison the knowledge that so long a time must elapse without succor."
"You were quite right, sir," Colonel Inglis said; "but the truth had better be made public. It is far better that all should know that we are dependent upon our own exertions for another month than that they should be vainly looking for assistance to arrive. And now, gentlemen, I will call my officers in, and you shall get some clothes. Unhappily, death is so busy that there will be no difficulty in providing you in that respect. You must want food, too, and that, such as it is, is in plenty also."
The other officers were now called in, and the commandant told them the news that he had received from the Warreners. There was a look of disappointment for a moment, and then cheering answers that they were all good for another month's fighting were made.
"I know, gentlemen," Colonel Inglis said, "our thoughts are all the same. We are ready to fight another month, but we dread the delay for the sake of the women and children. However, God's will be done. All that men can do, this garrison will, I know, do; and with God's help, I believe that whether aid comes a little sooner or later, we shall hold these battered ruins till it arrives. Captain Fellows, will you get these officers something to eat, and some clothes? Then, if they are not too tired, they will perhaps not mind sitting up an hour or two and giving us the news from the outside world."
Daylight was breaking before Ned and Dick--who had, at Colonel Inglis' suggestion separated, Ned going to the colonel's room, while Dick formed the center of a great gathering in a hall below, in order that as many might hear the news as possible--brought to a conclusion the account of Havelock's advance, of the awful massacre of Cawnpore, of the fresh risings that had taken place in various parts of India, of the progress of the siege of Delhi, and the arrival of reinforcements from China and England. With daybreak, the cannon, which had tired at intervals through the night, began to roar incessantly, and shot and shell crashed into the Residency.
"Is this sort of thing always going on?" Dick asked in astonishment.
"Always," was the answer, "by day, and four nights out of five. We have not had so quiet a time as last night for a week. Now I will go and ask the chief to which garrison you and your brother are to be assigned."