In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter II. The Outbreak.
A week after the boar-hunt came the news that a Sepoy named Mangul Pandy, belonging to the Thirty-fourth Native Infantry, stationed at Barrackpore, a place only a few miles out of Calcutta, had, on the 29th of March, rushed out upon the parade ground and called upon the men to mutiny. He then shot the European sergeant-major of the regiment, and cut down an officer. Pandy continued to exhort the men to rise to arms, and although his comrades would not join him, they refused to make any movement to arrest him. General Hearsey now arrived on the parade ground with his son and a Major Ross, and at once rode at the man, who, finding that his comrades would not assist him, discharged the contents of the musket into his own body.
Two days later the mutinous Nineteenth were disbanded at Barrackpore. On the 3rd of April Mangul Pandy, who had only wounded himself, was hung, and the same doom was allotted to a native officer of his regiment, for refusing to order the men to assist the officer attacked by that mutineer, and for himself inciting the men to rise against the government.
"What do you think of the news, papa?" Dick asked his father.
"I hope that the example which has been set by the execution of these ringleaders, and by the disbandment of the Nineteenth, may have a wholesome effect, Dick; but we shall see before long."
It needed no great lapse of time to show that this lesson had been ineffectual. From nearly every station throughout Bengal and the northwest provinces came rumors of disaffection; at Agra, at Umballah, and at other places incendiary fires broke out with alarming frequency, letters were from time to time intercepted, calling upon the Sepoys to revolt, while at Lucknow serious disturbances occurred, and the Seventh Regiment were disarmed by Sir Henry Lawrence, the Commissioner of Oude. So the month of April passed, and as it went on the feeling of disquiet and danger grew deeper and more general. It was like the anxious time preceding a thunderstorm, the cloud was gathering, but how or when it would burst none could say. Many still maintained stoutly that there was no danger whatever, and that the whole thing would blow over; but men with wives and families were generally inclined to take a more somber view of the case. Nor is this to be wondered at. The British form an almost inappreciable portion of the population of India; they are isolated in a throng of natives, outnumbered by a thousand to one. A man might therefore well feel his helplessness to render any assistance to those dear to him in the event of a general uprising of the people. Soldiers without family ties take things lightly, they are ready for danger and for death if needs be, but they can always hope to get through somehow; but the man with a wife and children in India, at the time when a general outbreak was anticipated, would have the deepest cause for anxiety. Not, however, that at this time any one at Sandynugghur looked for anything so terrible. There was a spirit of insubordination abroad in the native troops, no doubt, but no one doubted but that it would, with more or less trouble, be put down. And so things went on as usual, and the garden parties and the drives, and the friendly evening visiting continued just as before. It was at one of these pleasant evening gatherings that the first blow fell. Most of the officers of the station, their wives, and the two or three civilians were collected at Major Warrener's. The windows were all open. The girls were playing a duet on the piano; five or six other ladies were in the drawing-room and about the same number of gentlemen were standing or sitting by them, some four or five were lounging in the veranda enjoying their cheroots; native servants in their white dresses moved noiselessly about with iced lemonade and wine, when a Sepoy came up the walk.
"What is it?" asked Major Warrener, who was one of the group in the veranda.
"Dispatch for the colonel, Sahib."
The colonel, who was sitting next to the major, held out his hand for the message, and was rising, when Major Warrener said:
"Don't move, colonel; boy, bring a candle."
The servant brought it: the colonel opened the envelope and glanced at the dispatch. He uttered an exclamation which was half a groan, half a cry.
"Good Heaven! what is the matter, colonel?"
"The native troops at Meerut have mutinied, have murdered their officers and all the European men, women, and children they could find, and are marching upon Delhi. Look after your regiment."
A low cry broke from the major. This was indeed awful news, and for a moment the two men sat half-stunned at the calamity, while the sound of music and merry talk came in through the open window like a mockery on their ears.
"Let us take a turn in the compound," said the major, "where no one can hear us."
For half an hour they walked up and down the garden. There could be no doubt about the truth of the news, for it was an official telegram from the adjutant at Meerut; and as to the extent of the misfortune, it was terrible.
"There is not a single white regiment at Delhi," exclaimed the colonel; "these fiends will have it all their own way, and at Delhi there are scores of European families. Delhi once in their hands will be a center, and the mutiny will spread like wildfire over India. What was the general at Meerut about? what were the white troops up to? It is as inexplicable as it is terrible. Is there anything to be done, major, do you think?" But Major Warrener could think of nothing. The men at present knew nothing of the news, but the tidings would reach them in two or three days; for news in India spreads from village to village, and town to town, with almost incredible speed, and Meerut was but a hundred and fifty miles distant.
"Had we better tell them inside?" the major asked.
"No," answered the colonel; "let them be happy for to-night; they will know the news to-morrow. As they are breaking up, ask all the officers to come round to the messroom; I will meet them there, and we can talk the matter over; but let the ladies have one more quiet night; they will want all their strength and fortitude for what is to come."
And so, clearing their brows, they went into the house and listened to the music, and joined in the talk until ten o'clock struck and every one got up to go, and so ended the last happy evening at Sandynugghur.
The next morning brought the news of the rising at Delhi, but it was not till two days later that letters giving any details of these terrible events arrived, and the full extent of the awful calamity was known.
The flame broke out at Meerut at seven o'clock in the evening of Sunday, the 10th of May. On the previous day a punishment parade had been held to witness the military degradation of a number of men of the Third Native Cavalry, who had been guilty of mutinous conduct in respect to the cartridges. The native regiments at the station consisted of the Third Cavalry, the Eleventh and Twentieth Infantry; there were also in garrison the Sixtieth Rifles, the Sixth Dragoon Guards, and two batteries of artillery; a force amply sufficient, if properly handled, to have crushed the native troops, and to have nipped the mutiny in the bud. Unhappily, they were not well handled. The cantonments of Meerut were of great extent, being nearly five miles in length by two in breadth, the barracks of the British troops were situated at some distance from those of the native regiments, and the action of the troops was paralyzed by the incompetency of the general, an old man who had lost all energy, and who remained in a state of indecision while the men of the native regiments shot their officers, murdered all the women and children, and the white inhabitants whose bungalows were situated at their end of their cantonment, opened the jail doors, and after setting fire to the whole of this quarter of Meerut, marched off toward Delhi, unmolested by the British troops. Even then an orderly sent off with dispatches to the officer commanding at Delhi, informing him of what had happened, and bidding him beware, might have saved the lives of hundreds of Englishmen and women, even if it were too late to save Delhi; but nothing whatever was done; the English troops made a few meaningless and uncertain movements, and marched back to their barracks. No one came forward to take the lead. So the white troops of Meerut remained stationary under arms all night, and the English population of Delhi were left to their fate.
From Meerut to Delhi is thirty-two miles, and the mutineers of Meerut, marching all night, arrived near the town at eight in the morning. Singularly enough, the ancient capital of India, the place around which the aspiration of Hindoos and Mohammedans alike centered, and where the ex-emperor and his family still resided, was left entirely to the guard of native troops; not a single British regiment was there, not a battery of white troops. As the center of the province, a large white population were gathered there-the families of the officers of the native infantry and artillery, of the civil officers of the province, merchants, bankers, missionaries, and others. As at all other Indian towns, the great bulk of the white inhabitants lived in the cantonments outside the town; had it not been for this, not one would have escaped the slaughter that commenced as soon as the Third Cavalry from Meerut rode into the town. The Fifty- fourth Native Infantry, who had hastily been marched out to meet them, fraternized with them at once, and, standing quietly by, looked on while their officers were murdered by the cavalrymen. Then commenced a scene of murder and atrocity which is happily without parallel in history. Suffice to say, that with the exception of some half-dozen who in one way or other managed to escape, the whole of the white population inside the walls of Delhi were murdered under circumstances of the most horrible and revolting cruelty. Had the news of the outbreak of Meerut been sent by a swift mounted messenger, the whole of these hapless people would have had time to leave the town before the arrival of the mutineers. Those in the cantonments outside the city fared somewhat better. Some were killed, but the greater part made their escape; and although many were murdered on the way, either by villagers or by bodies of mutineers, the majority reached Meerut or Aliwal. The sufferers of Delhi did not die wholly unavenged. Inside the city walls was an immense magazine containing vast stores of powder, cartridges, and arms. It was all-important that this should not fall into the hands of the mutineers. This was in charge of Lieutenant Willoughby of the royal artillery, who had with him Lieutenants Forrest and Rayner, and six English warrant and non-commissioned officers, Buckley, Shaw, Scully, Crow, Edwards, and Stewart. The following account was given by Lieutenant Forrest:
"The gates of the magazine were closed and barricaded, and every possible arrangement that could be made was at once commenced. Inside the gate leading to the park were placed two six-pounders doubly charged with grape. These were under acting sub-conductor Crow and Sergeant Stewart, with lighted matches in their hands. Their orders were that if any attempt was made to force the gate the guns were to be fired at once, and they were to fall back to that part of the magazine where Lieutenant Willoughby and I were posted. The principal gate of the magazine was similarly defended by two guns and by the chevaux-de-frise laid down in the inside. For the further defense of this gate and the magazine in its vicinity, there were two six-pounders so placed as to command it and a small bastion close by. Within sixty yards of the gate, and commanding two cross roads, were three six-pounders, and one twenty-four pound howitzer, which could be so managed as to act upon any part of the magazine in that neighborhood. After all these guns and howitzers had been placed in the several positions above named, they were loaded with a double charge of grape. After these arrangements had been completed a train was laid ready to be fired at a preconcerted signal. On the enemy approaching the walls of the magazine, which was provided with scaling ladders, the native establishment at once deserted us by climbing up the sloped sheds on the inside of the magazine and descending the ladders on the outside."
When the attack began the mutineers climbed the walls in great numbers, and opened fire upon the little garrison; these replied by an incessant fire of grape-shot, which told severely upon the enemy. There were but two men to each gun, but they stood nobly to their pieces until all were more or less wounded by the enemy's fire. Finding that no more could be done, Lieutenant Willoughby gave the order, Conductor Scully fired the several trains, and in another instant a tremendous explosion took place which shook all Delhi, and covered the city with a cloud of black smoke. It was calculated that from fifteen hundred to two thousand of the mutineers and rabble of the town were killed by the falling walls, or crushed under the masses of masonry. Lieutenants Willoughby, Forrest, Rayner, and Conductor Buckley survived the explosion, and effected their retreat in the confusion through a small sallyport on the river face. The mutineers were so enraged by their misfortune that they rushed to the palace and demanded of the king a number of European officers and ladies who had sought refuge under his protection. They were handed over to the mutineers, and at once slaughtered.
The Warreners listened with pale faces as their father, on his return from the orderly-room, where the news had been discussed, told them the sad story.
"There is nothing to be done, I suppose, papa?" Ned said gently.
"No, my boy; we are in the hands of God. We must wait now for what may come. At present the regiment professes its fidelity, and has now volunteered to march against the mutineers. The colonel believes them, so do some of the others; I do not; it may be that the men mean what they say at present, but we know that emissaries come and go, and every fresh rising will be an incentive to them. It is no use blinking the truth, dear; we are like men standing on a loaded mine which may at any moment explode. I have been thinking, indeed for the last week I have done nothing but think, what is best to be done. If the mutiny breaks out at night or at any time when we are not on parade, we have agreed that all the whites shall make at once for Mr. Thompson's house. It is the strongest of any of the residences--for there would of course be no getting to the messhouse--and then we will sell our lives as dearly as we may. If it happens when we are on parade, defense by the rest of the residents would be useless. There are but six civilians, with you two boys--for we have counted you--eight. Probably but few of you could gain Thompson's house in time; and if all did, your number would be too small to defend it. There remains then nothing but flight. The rising will most likely take place on parade. The residents have agreed that each day they will, on some excuses or other, have their traps at their door at that hour, so that at the sound of the first shot fired they may jump in and drive off."
"But, you, papa?" Kate asked.
"My dear," said her father, "I shall be on duty; so long as a vestige of the regiment remains as a regiment, I shall be with it; if the whole regiment breaks up and attacks us, those who do not fall at the first volley will be justified in trying to save their lives. The colonel, the adjutant, and myself are mounted officers, and two or three of the others will have their dogcarts each day brought up to the messhouse, as they often do. If there is a mutiny on parade, the unmounted officers will make for them, and we who are mounted will as far as possible cover their retreat. So it is arranged."
"But will the road be open to Meerut, uncle?" Rose asked after a pause, for the danger seemed so strange and terrible that they felt stunned by it.
"No, my dear; it certainly will not. There are three garrison towns between us, and they also will probably be up. The only thing is to keep to the road for the first ten or twelve miles, and then take to the woods, and make your way on foot. I have spoken to Saba this morning. We can trust her; she nursed you all, and has lived with me ever since as a sort of pensioner till you came out. I have asked her to get two dresses of Mussulman country women; in those only the eyes are visible, while the Hindoo dress gives no concealment. I have also ordered her to get me two dresses: one, such as a young Mussulman zemindar wears; the other, as his retainer. They are for you boys. Keep the bundles, when you get them, in that closet in the dining-room, so as to be close at hand; and in case of alarm, be sure and take them with you. Remember my instructions are absolute. If by day, escape in the trap at the first alarm; if the trap is not available, escape at once on foot. If you hear the enemy are close, hide till nightfall in that thick clump of bushes in the corner of the compound, then make for that copse of trees, and try and find your way to Meerut. I trust I may be with you, or that I may join you on the road. But in any case, it will relieve my anxiety greatly to know that your course is laid down. If I had to return here to look for you, I should bring my pursuers after me, and your chance of escape would be gone--for I rely upon you all to follow my instructions to the letter."
"Yes, indeed, papa," was the unanimous answer of the young Warreners, who were deeply affected at the solemn manner in which their father spoke of the situation.
"I have a brace of revolvers upstairs," he said, "and will give one to each of you boys. Carry them always, but put them on under your coats, so that they may not be noticed; it would be as well for you to practice yourselves in their use; but when you do so, always go some distance from the station, so that the sound will not be heard."
"Can you give Rose and me a pistol each, too, papa?" Kate said quietly.
Major Warrener kissed his daughter and niece tenderly.
"I have a pair of small double-barreled pistols; you shall each have one," he answered with a deep sigh.
That afternoon the young Warreners and their cousin went out for a walk, and, fixing a piece of paper against a tree, practiced pistol shooting for an hour. Any passer-by ignorant of the circumstances would have wondered at the countenances of these young people, engaged, apparently, in the amusement of pistol practice. There was no smile on them, no merry laugh when the ball went wide of the mark, no triumphant shout at a successful shot. Their faces were set, pale, and earnest, Scarcely a word was spoken. Each loaded in silence, took up a place at the firing point, and aimed steadily and seriously; the boys with an angry eye and frowning brow, as if each time they were firing at a deadly foe; the girls as earnestly, and without any of the nervousness or timidity which would be natural in girls handling firearms for the first time. Each day the exercise was repeated, and after a week's practice all could hit, with a fair amount of certainty, a piece of paper six inches square, at a distance of ten yards.
During this time Captains Dunlop and Manners spent their whole time, when not engaged upon their military duties, at Major Warrener's. They were now the recognized lovers of Kate and Rose; and although, in those days of tremendous anxiety and peril, no formal engagements were entered upon, the young people understood each other, and Major Warrener gave his tacit approval. Very earnestly all the party hoped that when the dread moment came it might come when they were all together, so that they might share the same fate, whatever it might be. The young officers' buggies now stood all day in Major Warrener's compound, with the patient syces squatting near, or talking with the servants, while the major's horses stood ready saddled in the stables.
However much the party might hope to be together when the crisis came, they felt that it was improbable that they would be so, for at the first symptoms of mutiny it would be the duty of the officers to hasten to the barracks to endeavor to quell it, even if certain death should meet them there.
In the face of the tidings from Meerut and Delhi, all the pretense of confidence, which had hitherto been kept up at the station, came to an end; and even had there been implicit confidence in the regiment, the news of such terrible events would have caused an entire cessation of the little amusements and gatherings in which Sandynugghur had previously indulged.
As is usual in cases of extreme danger, the various temperaments of people come strongly into relief at these awful times. The pretty young wife of the doctor was nearly wild with alarm. Not daring to remain at home alone, she passed the day in going from house to house of her female friends. Advice and example she obtained from these, but poor comfort. The colonel's wife was as brave as any man in the station; she hardly shared her husband's opinion that the regiment would remain faithful in the midst of an almost general defection; but she was calm, self-possessed, and ready for the worst.
"It is no use crying, my dear," she said to the doctor's wife. "Our husbands have enough to worry them without being shaken by our tears. Death, after all, can only come once, and it is better to die with those we love than to be separated."
But there were not many tears shed in Sandynugghur. The women were pale and quiet. They shook hands with a pressure which meant much, lips quivered, and tears might drop when they spoke of children at home; but this was not often, and day after day they bore the terrible strain with that heroic fortitude which characterized English women in India during the awful period of the mutiny. Ten days after the news came in of the rising at Delhi Major Warrener told his family, on his return from parade, that the regiment had again declared its fidelity, and had offered to march against the mutineers.
"I am glad of it," he said, "because it looks as if at present, at least, they have not made up their minds to mutiny, and I shall be able to go to mess with a lighter heart; as I told you yesterday, it is the colonel's birthday, so we all dine at mess."
In the meantime Saba had faithfully carried out her commission as to the dresses, and had added to the bundles a bottle containing a brown juice which she had extracted from some berries; this was to be used for staining the skin, and so completing the disguise. The Warreners knew that if their old nurse had any information as to any intended outbreak she would let them know; but she heard nothing. She was known to be so strongly attached to the major's family that, had the other servants known anything of it, they would have kept it from her.
The hour for the mess-dinner was eight, and the young Warreners had finished their evening meal before their father started.
"God bless you, my children, and watch over and protect us all till we meet again!" such was the solemn leave-taking with which the major and his children had parted--if only for half an hour--since the evil days began.
For an hour and a half the young Warreners and their cousin sat and read, and occasionally talked.
"It's time for tea," Kate said, looking at her watch; and she struck a bell upon the table.
Usually the response was almost instantaneous; but Kate waited two minutes, and then rang sharply twice. There was still no reply.
"He must be asleep," she said, "or out of hearing; but it is curious that none of the others answer!"
Dick went out into the veranda, but came in again in a minute or two:
"There is no one there, Kate; and I don't hear any of them about anywhere."
The four young people looked at each other. What did this mean? Had the servants left in a body? Did they know that something was going to happen? Such were the mute questions which their looks asked each other.
"Girls!" said Ned, "put your dark shawls round you. It may be nothing, but it is better to be prepared. Get the bundles out. Dick, put a bottle of wine in your pocket; and let us all fill our pockets with biscuits."
Silently and quietly the others did as he told them.
"There is that great biscuit-tin full," Ned said when they had filled their pockets; "let us empty it into that cloth, and tie it up. Now, if you will put your shawls on I will look in at the stables."
In a couple of minutes he returned.
"The horses are all unharnessed," he said, "and not a soul is to be seen. Ah, is that Saba?"
The old nurse had been found asleep in her favorite place outside the door of her young mistresses' room.
"Do you know what is the matter, Saba? All the servants are gone!"
The old nurse shook her head. "Bad news; no tell Saba."
"Now, Saba, get ready to start," for the nurse had declared that she would accompany them, to go into the villages to buy food; "Dick, come with me; we will put one of the horses into the dogcart."
They were leaving the room when they heard the sound of a rifle. As if it were the signal, in a moment the air rang with rifle shots, shouts, and yells. The boys leaped back into the room and caught up the bundles.
"Quick, for your lives, girls! some of them are not fifty yards off! To the bushes! Come, Saba!"
"Saba do more good here," the old nurse said, and seated herself quietly in the veranda.
It was but twenty yards to the bushes they had marked as the place of concealment; and as they entered and crouched down there came the sound of hurrying feet, and a band of Sepoys, led by one of the jemadars, or native officers, rushed up to the veranda from the back.
"Now," the jemadar shouted, "search the house; kill the boys, but keep the white women; they are too pretty to hurt."
Two minutes' search--in which furniture was upset, curtains pulled down, and chests ransacked--and a shout of rage proclaimed that the house was empty.
The jemadar shouted to his men: "Search the compound; they can't be far off; some of you run out to the plain; they can't have got a hundred yards away; besides, our guards out there will catch them."
The old nurse rose to her feet just as the Sepoys were rushing out on the search.
"It is of no use searching," she said; "they have been gone an hour."
"Gone an hour!" shouted the enraged jemadar; "who told them of the attack?"
"I told them," Saba said steadily; "Saba was true to her salt."
There was a yell of rage on the part of the mutineers, and half a dozen bayonets darted into the faithful old servant's body, and without a word she fell dead on the veranda, a victim to her noble fidelity to the children she had nursed.
"Now," the jemadar said, "strip the place; carry everything off; it is all to be divided to-morrow, and then we will have a blaze."
Five minutes sufficed to carry off all the portable articles from the bungalow; the furniture, as useless to the Sepoys, was left, but everything else was soon cleared away, and then the house was lit in half a dozen places. The fire ran quickly up the muslin curtains, caught the dry reeds of the tatties, ran up the bamboos which formed the top of the veranda, and in five minutes the house was a sheet of flame.