In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIX. A Riot at Cawnpore.
While the guns of Delhi were saluting the raising of the British flag over the royal palace, General Havelock and his force were fighting their way up to Lucknow. On the 19th of September he crossed the Ganges, brushed aside the enemy's opposition, and, after three days' march in a tremendous rain, found them in force at the Alumbagh. After a short, sharp fight they were defeated, and the Alumbagh fell into our hands. All the stores and baggage were left here, with a force strong enough to hold it against all attacks; and after a day to rest his troops, General Havelock advanced on the 22d, defeated the enemy outside Lucknow, and then, as the direct route was known to be impassable, he followed the canal as far as the Kaiserbagh, and there turning off, fought his way through the streets to the Residency, where he arrived only just in time, for the enemy had driven two mines right under the defenses, and these would, had the reinforcements arrived but one day later, have been exploded, and the fate of the garrison of Cawnpore might have befallen the defenders of Lucknow.
The desperate street fighting had, however, terribly weakened the little force which had performed the feat. Out of fifteen hundred men who had entered the city, a third were killed or wounded, among the former being the gallant Brigadier-General Neil.
With so weak a force it was evident that it would be hopeless to endeavor to carry off the sick, the wounded, the women, and children through the army of rebels that surrounded them, and it was therefore determined to continue to hold the Residency until further aid arrived. The siege therefore recommenced, but under different conditions, for the increased force enabled the British to hold a larger area; and although the discomforts and privations were as great as before--for the reinforcements had brought no food in with them--the danger of the place being carried by assault was now entirely at an end.
One noble action connected with the relief of Lucknow will never be forgotten. Before General Havelock started up from Cawnpore, General Sir James Outram, his senior officer, arrived, with authority to take the command. Upon his arrival, however, he issued a general order, to say that to General Havelock, who had done such great deeds to relieve Lucknow, should be the honor of the crowning success; and that he therefore waived his seniority, and would fight under General Havelock as a volunteer until Lucknow was relieved. A more generous act of self-negation than this was never accomplished. To the man who relieved Lucknow would fall honor, fame, the gratitude of the English people, and all this General Outram of his own accord resigned. He was worthy indeed of the name men gave him-- the "Bayard of India."
The news that Lucknow was relieved caused almost as much delight to the troops at Delhi as their own successes had given them, for the anxiety as to the safety of the garrison was intense. To the Warreners the news gave an intense pleasure, for the thought of the friends they had left behind in that terrible strait had been ever present to their mind. The faces of the suffering women, the tender girls, the delicate children, had haunted them night and day; and their joy at the thought that these were rescued from the awful fate impending over them knew no bounds.
It was not at Delhi, however, that the Warreners heard the news; for on the 23d, only three days after the occupation of the city, they left with the flying column of Colonel Greathead, which was ordered to march down to Agra, clearing away the bands of mutineers which infested the intervening country, and then to march to Cawnpore, to be in readiness to advance on Lucknow. The boys had no difficulty in obtaining leave to accompany this column, as Ned would naturally on the first opportunity rejoin his regiment, which was at Cawnpore, while Dick was longing to form one of the naval brigade, which, under Captain Peel, was advancing up the country.
The rebels were found in force at Allyghur, and were defeated without difficulty; and after several minor skirmishes the force marched hastily down to Agra, which was threatened by a large body of the enemy. Without a halt they marched thirty miles to Agra, and encamped in the open space outside the fort.
Just as they were cooking their meals a battery of artillery opened upon them, an infantry fire broke out from the surrounding houses, and a large body of cavalry dashed in among them.
For a moment all was confusion; but the troops were all inured to war; with wonderful rapidity they rallied and attacked the enemy, who were over five thousand strong, and finally defeated them with great slaughter, and captured fourteen guns. Agra saved, the column started two days later for Cawnpore; upon the way it defeated bodies of rebels, and punished some zemindars who had taken part against us, and arrived at Cawnpore on the 26th of October.
At Majupoorie, halfway up from Agra, the force had been joined by a brigade under Colonel Hope Grant, who, as senior officer, took the command of the column. They marched into Cawnpore three thousand five hundred strong, all troops who had gone through the siege of Delhi; and Ned at once joined his regiment, where he was warmly received.
On the following day the Ninety-third Highlanders and a part of the naval brigade, two hundred strong, arrived; and Dick's delight as the column marched in was unbounded. He reported himself for duty at once, and, as among the officers were some of his own shipmates, he was at once at home.
There was little sleep in the tents of the junior officers of the brigade that night. Dick's name had been twice mentioned in dispatches, and all sorts of rumors as to his doings had reached his comrades. The moment, therefore, that dinner was over, Dick was taken to a tent, placed on a very high box on a table, supplied with grog, and ordered to spin his yarn, which, although modestly told, elicited warm applause from his hearers.
On the 30th Colonel Grant's column moved forward, and arrived after three days' march within six miles of the Alumbagh. They had with them a great convoy of siege material and provisions, and these were next day escorted safely into the Alumbagh, where the little garrison had held their own, though frequently attacked, for six weeks. The Sixty-fourth Regiment had already done so much fighting that it was not to form part of the advance. The naval brigade was increased on the 1st of November by the arrival of Captain Peel himself, with two hundred more sailors and four hundred troops. They had had a heavy fight on the way up, and had protected the convoy and siege guns of which they were in charge, and had defeated the enemy, four thousand strong, and captured all his guns, but with a loss to themselves of nearly one hundred men. Soon after the commencement of the engagement, Colonel Powell, who was in command of the column, was killed; and Captain Peel then took command of the force, and won the victory.
The astonishment of the people of Cawnpore at the appearance of the brawny tars was unbounded. The sailors went about the streets in knots of two or three, staring at the contents of the shops, and as full of fun and good humor as so many schoolboys. Greatly delighted were they when the natives gave them the least chance of falling foul of them--for they knew that the people of the town had joined the mutineers--and were only too glad of an excuse to pitch into them. They all carried cutlasses, but these they disdained to use, trusting, and with reason, to their fists, which are to the natives of India a more terrible, because a more mysterious weapon than the sword. A sword they understand; but a quick hit, flush from the shoulder, which knocks them off their feet as if struck by lightning, is to them utterly incomprehensible, and therefore very terrible.
One day the Warreners were strolling together through the town, and turned off from the more frequented streets, with a view of seeing what the lower-class quarters were like. They had gone some distance, when Ned said:
"I think we had better turn, Dick. These scowling scoundrels would be only too glad to put a knife into us, and we might be buried away under ground in one of these dens, and no one be ever any the wiser for it. I have no doubt when we have finished with the fellows, and get a little time to look round, there will be a clear sweep made of all these slums."
The lads turned to go back, when Dick said, "Listen!"
They paused, and could hear a confused sound of shouting, and a noise as of a tumult. They listened attentively.
"Ned," Dick exclaimed, "I am sure some of those shouts are English. Some of our fellows have got into a row; come on!"
So saying, he dashed off up the narrow street, accompanied by his brother. Down two more lanes, and then, in an open space where five or six lanes met, they saw a crowd. In the midst of it they could see sabers flashing in the air, while British shouts mingled with the yells of the natives.
"This is a serious business," Ned said, as they ran; "we are in the worst part of Cawnpore."
Three or four natives, as they approached the end of the lane, stepped forward to prevent their passage; but the lads threw them aside with the impetus of their rush, and then, shoulder to shoulder, charged the crowd.
Expecting no such assault, the natives fell aside from the shock, and in a few seconds the boys stood by their countrymen. There were six in all-- sailors, as the boys had expected. The fight had evidently been a sharp one. Four or five natives lay upon the ground, and two of the sailors were bleeding from sword-cuts. The tars gave a cheer at the sight of this reinforcement, especially as one of the newcomers was a naval officer--for Dick had bought the uniform of a naval officer killed in the fight of the 1st.
The infuriated crowd drew back for a moment; but seeing that the reinforcement consisted only of two lads, again attacked fiercely. The boys had drawn their swords, and for a minute the little party fought back to back. It was evident, however, that this could not last, for every moment added to the number of their foes, the budmashes flocking down from every quarter.
"Now, lads," Ned shouted, "get yourselves ready, and when I say the word make a dash all together for that house at the left corner. The door is open. Once in there, we can hold it till help comes. Press them a bit first, so as to scatter them a little, and then for a rush. Are you all ready? Now!"
With a cheer the sailors hurled themselves upon the crowd in a body. The surprise, added to the weight and force of the charge, was irresistible; the natives were sent flying like ninepins, and before the enemy quite understood what had happened, the whole party were safe in the house, and the door slammed-to and bolted.
"See if there are any windows they can get in at."
The men ran into the two rooms of which, on the ground floor, the house consisted; but the windows in these, as is often the case in Indian towns, were strongly barred. There was a furious beating at the door.
"It will give in a minute," Dick said. "Upstairs, lads; we can hold them against any number."
"It's lucky they did not use their pistols," Ned said, as they gathered in the upper room; "we should have been polished off in no time had they done so."
"I expect they made sure of doing for us with their swords and knives," Dick replied, "and did not like to risk calling attention by the sound of pistol-shots. Now, lads, how did you get into this row?"
"Well, your honor," said one of the tars, "we were just cruising about as it might be, when we got down these here lanes, and lost our bearings altogether. Well, we saw we had fallen among land pirates, for the chaps kept closing in upon us as if they wanted to board, and fingering those long knives of theirs. Then one of them he gives a push to Bill Jones, and Bill gives him a broadside between the eyes, and floors him. Then they all begins to yell, like a pack o' they jackals we heard coming up country. Then they drew their knives, and Bill got a slash on his cheek. So we, seeing as how it were a regular case of an engagement all along the line, drew our cutlasses and joins action. There were too many of them, though, and we were nigh carried by the pirates, when you bore up alongside."
At this moment a crash was heard below; the door had yielded, and the crowd rushed into the lower part of the house. When it was found to be empty there was a little delay. No one cared to be the first to mount the stairs, and encounter the determined band above. Dick stepped forward to glance at the state of things below, when half a dozen pistol-shots were fired. One inflicted a nasty cut on his cheek, and another struck him on the hand.
"Are you hurt, Dick?" Ned said, as his brother leaped back.
"No, nothing to speak of; but it was a close shave. Perkins, pick up my sword, will you? I didn't think of their firing."
"Being indoors, they are not afraid of the pistols being heard any distance," Ned said. "Keep a sharp lookout, lads, in case they make a rush upstairs, while I tie up my brother's hand and face."
"They are coming, sir," the sailors cried, as the house shook with the rush of a body of men up the stairs.
"Stand well back, lads, and cut them down as they enter the door."
Pushed from behind, five or six of the enemy burst simultaneously into the room; but ere they could fire a pistol, or even put themselves into an attitude of defense, they were cut down or run through the body. Then a tremendous crash and a wild cry was heard.
"Hurrah!" Dick shouted, "the staircase has given way."
Many groans and shrieks were heard below; then there was a sound of persons being carried out, and for awhile, quiet below, while outside the hubbub became greater.
"What is going on outside?" Ned said, and Dick and he peered through the closed jalousies into the street.
A number of budmashes were bringing bundles of bamboos from a basket- maker's shop opposite; some of the crowd were opposing them.
"They are going to fire the house," Dick exclaimed. "The people opposing are the neighbors, no doubt. They'll do it, though," he added, as the fiercer spirits drove the others back. "What's best to be done, Ned?"
Ned looked round, and then up.
"Let us cut through the bamboo ceiling, Dick; there must be a space between that and the roof. The wall won't be thick between that and the next house, and we can work our way from house to house; and if the flames gain--for they are sure to spread--we can but push off the tiles and take to the roofs, and run the gantlet of their pistols and muskets. Their blood's up now, and they will shoot, to a certainty. Do you think that the best plan?"
"That's it. Now, lads, two of you stand close together; now, Perkins, you jump on their shoulders and cut a hole through the bamboos with your cutlass. Quick, lads, there's no time to lose;" for they could hear the tramping of feet below, and the sound as the bundles of bamboo were thrown down.
"Now, lads," Dick went on--for as a naval officer he was naturally in command of the men--"take two or three of those rugs on that couch there, and knot them together. Shut the door, to keep the smoke out. There, they've lit it!"--as a shout of pleasure rose from below.
The bamboos were tough, and Perkins could not use his strength to advantage. Smoke curled up through the crevices of the floor, and all watched anxiously the progress made.
"That's big enough," Dick cried at last; "we have not a moment to lose, the flames are making through the floor. Now, Perkins, climb through the hole; now, lads, follow in turn."
Four of the sailors were rapidly through the hole.
"Now, lads, one of you two; don't waste time. Now, Ned, catch hold of this man's legs and give him a hoist; that's right. Now drop that rope, lad. Now, Ned, I'm in command; go on. Now, lads, catch this bundle of rugs; that's right. Give me one end. There we are. Now spread one of those rugs over the hole, to keep the smoke out. Now, lads, how is the wall?"
"Quite soft, your honor; we'll be through in a minute."
In accordance with orders, those first up had begun at once with their cutlasses to pick a hole through the mud wall which formed the partition between the houses. Although thicker below, the divisions between what may be called the lofts of the houses were made but of a single brick of unbaked clay or mud, and as Dick clambered up through the hole, the sailors had already made an opening quite large enough to get through. All crept through it, and again Dick hung a rug over the hole to keep out the smoke.
"Now, lads, attack the next wall again; but don't make more noise about it than you can help. The people below will be removing what things they can, and making a row; still, they might hear us; and it is as well they should think us burned in the house where we were. But you must look sharp, lads, for the fire spreads through these dried-up houses as if they were built of straw."
The sailors labored hard, and they worked their way from house to house; but the flames followed as fast; and at last, almost choked by smoke and dust, Dick said:
"Quick, my men, knock off some tiles, and get on the roof, or we shall be burned like rats in a trap. This side, the furthest from the street."
The tiles gave way readily; and each man thrust his head out through the hole he had made, for a breath of fresh air. In a minute all were on the roof.
"Crouch down, lads; keep on this side of the roof; people are not likely to be looking out for us this side, they will be too busy moving their furniture. Move on, boys; the fire is spreading now pretty nearly as fast as we can scramble along."
It was already a great fire; down both the lanes at whose junction the house first fired stood, the flames had spread rapidly, and leaping across the narrow streets had seized the opposite houses. Already fifty or sixty houses were in a blaze, although it was not five minutes from the beginning of the fire.
"There is a cross lane about ten houses ahead, Dick," Ned said.
"We will stick on the last house as long as we can, Ned, and then slide down by the rope on to that outhouse. They are too busy now with their own affairs to think about us; besides, they suppose we are dead long ago, and the fellows who are at the head of it will have made off to look after their own houses, for the wind is blowing fresh, and there is no saying how far the fire may spread. Besides, we shall have our fellows up in a few minutes. Directly the fire is seen, they are sure to be sent down to preserve order."
They were soon gathered on the roof of the last house in the lane, and three minutes later were driven from it by the flames. One by one they scrambled down by the aid of the rope on to the outhouse, and thence to the ground. Then they passed through the house into the lane beyond. Looking up the lane, it was an arch of fire; the flames were rushing from every window and towering up above every roof, almost meeting over the lane. Upon the other hand, all was wild confusion and terror; men were throwing out of upper windows bedding and articles of furniture; women laden with household goods, and with children in their arms and others hanging to their clothes, were making their way through the crowd; bedridden people were being brought out; and the screams, shrieks, and shouts mingled with the roaring of flames and the crashes of falling roofs. As in great floods in India, the tiger and the leopard, the cobra and the deer, may all be seen huddled together on patches of rising ground, their mutual enmity forgotten in the common danger, so no one paid the slightest attention to the body of Englishmen who so suddenly joined the crowd.
"Sheathe your cutlasses, my lads," Dick said. "There's no more fighting to be done. Lend a hand to help these poor wretches. There, two of you take up that poor old creature; they have carried her out, and then left her; take her on till you find some open space to set her down in. Now, Ned, you take a couple of men and work one side of the lane, I will take the opposite side with the others. Let us go into every room and see that no sick people or children are left behind. There, the flames have passed the cross lane already; the corner house is on fire."
For quarter of an hour the tars labored assiduously; and many a bedridden old woman, or a forgotten baby, did they bring out. Fortunately at the end of the lane was an open space of some extent, and here piles of household goods and helpless people were gathered.
At the end of a quarter of an hour they heard a deep tramp, and the naval brigade, led by Captain Peel, filed up through the lane. The sailors burst into a cheer as they saw their friends arrive, and these responded upon seeing some of their comrades at work carrying the sick and aged. Dick at once made his way to Captain Peel, and reported briefly that the fire was in the first place lighted with the purpose of burning him and his party; but that they had escaped, and had since been at work helping the inhabitants.
"Very well," Captain Peel said. "You can give details afterward; at present we have got to try and stop the flames. It seems a large block of fire."
"It is, sir. It extends across several lanes; there must be a couple of hundred houses in flames, and I fear, from what we have seen in the lane we have been working in, a considerable loss of life."
"Mr. Percival," Captain Peel said to one of his officers, "take your company and knock down or blow up all the houses on this side of that lane there. Mr. Wilkinson, you take number two company, and do the same with the lane to the right. The rest follow me. March!"
In five minutes all the tars and the Highlanders--who arrived on the ground immediately after the sailors--were at work pulling down houses, so as to arrest the progress of the flames by isolating the burning block. Upon three sides they succeeded, but upon the other the fire, driven by the wind, defied all their efforts, and swept forward for half a mile, until it burned itself out when it had reached the open country. In its course it had swept away a great part of the worst and most crowded quarters of Cawnpore.
All through the evening and night the troops and sailors toiled; and morning had broken before all danger of any further extension was over; the men were then ordered home, a fresh body of troops coming up to preserve order, and prevent the robbery, by the lawless part of the population, of the goods which had been rescued from the flames. Then, after a ration of grog had been first served out to each man, and breakfast hastily cooked and eaten, all sought their tents, exhausted after their labors.
It was not until evening that signs of life were visible in the camp. Then men began to move about; and an orderly presently came across to request the Warreners to go to Captain Peel's quarters to report the circumstances through which the fire arose.
The lads related the history of the affair from the time when they had come upon the scene, and Captain Peel expressed himself in terms of warm laudation of their gallantry, quickness, and presence of mind. Then the sailors were called up, and their story, although longer and more diffuse than that told by the Warreners, was yet substantially the same, and Captain Peel told the men that they ought not to have wandered in that way into the slums of Cawnpore, but that beyond that indiscretion they had acted, as reported by Mr. Warrener, with great courage, coolness, and good discipline. Then the Warreners went back to their tent, and had to go through their yarn again with great minuteness and detail.
"I do think," said Rivers, a midshipman of some two years older standing than Dick, "that you are the luckiest youngster in the service. It is not one fellow in a hundred thousand who has such chances."
"That is so, Rivers," one of the lieutenants answered; "but it is not one in a hundred thousand who, having gone through such adventures, would have been alive to tell them at the end. The getting into these scrapes may be luck, but the getting out of them demands courage, coolness, and quickness of invention, such as not one lad in a thousand possesses. Now, Rivers, tell me honestly whether you think that, had you been cut off as he was in that sortie at Lucknow, you would ever have thought of robbing that old fakir of his wig?"
"No," Rivers said; "I am quite sure it would never have occurred to me. Yes, as you say, sir, Dick Warrener has no end of luck, but he certainly deserves and makes the best of it."