In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter XX. The Relief of Lucknow.
On the 6th of November Captain Peel, with five hundred of his gallant bluejackets, marched from Cawnpore, taking with them the heavy siege guns. Three days later they joined General Grant's column, which was encamped at a short distance from the Alumbagh, and in communication with the force holding that position. On the 9th Sir Colin Campbell, who had come out from England with all speed to assume the chief command in India, arrived in camp, and his coming was hailed with delight by the troops, who felt that the hour was now at hand when the noble garrison of Lucknow were to be rescued.
The total force collected for the relief were: Her Majesty's Eighth, Fifty-third, Seventy-fifth, and Ninety-third regiments of infantry; two regiments of Punjaub infantry; and a small party of native sappers and miners. The cavalry consisted of the Ninth Lancers, and detachments of Sikh cavalry and Hodgson's Horse. The artillery comprised Peel's naval brigade, with eight heavy guns, ten guns of the Royal Horse Artillery, six light field guns, and a heavy battery of the Royal Artillery. A total of about twenty-seven hundred infantry and artillery, and nine hundred cavalry.
On the morning of the 10th Mr. Kavanagh, a civilian, came into camp. He had, disguised as a native, started the evening before from the Residency with a native guide, named Kunoujee Lal, had swum the Goomtee, recrossed by the bridge into the city, passed through the streets, and finally made his way in safety. He was perfectly acquainted with the city, and brought plans from Sir James Outram for the guidance of the commander-in-chief in his advance.
After an examination of the plans Sir Colin Campbell determined that, instead of forcing his way through the narrow streets as General Havelock had done, he would move partly round the town, and attack by the eastern side, where there was much open ground, sprinkled with palaces and mosques and other large buildings. These could be attacked and taken one by one, by a series of separate sieges, and thus the Residency could be approached with far less loss than must have taken place in an attempt to force a way through the crowded city.
On the 15th the troops marched to the Alumbagh, defeating a small rebel force which attempted to stop their way.
At the Alumbagh Dick Warrener--for Ned was with his regiment, which, to his great disgust, had remained at Cawnpore--had the joy of meeting his father again, as Warrener's Horse had not shared in Havelock's advance to the Residency, but had remained as part of the garrison of the Alumbagh. It is needless to tell of the delight of that meeting after all that the lads had gone through since they parted from their father, nearly four months before, at Cawnpore. Colonel Warrener had heard of the safe arrival of his sons at Delhi before he marched up from Cawnpore, but since then no word had reached him. Captains Dunlop and Manners were also delighted to meet him again; and the whole of the troop vied with each other in the heartiness of the welcome accorded to him. Disease and death had sadly lessened the ranks; and of the one hundred men who had volunteered at Meerut to form a body of horse, not more than fifty now remained in the ranks. It was very late at night--or rather, early in the morning--before the party assembled in Colonel Warrener's tent separated, to seek a few hours' sleep before the reveille sounded for the troops to rise and prepare for the advance.
Soon after daybreak the column were under arms. The Seventy-fifth Regiment, to its intense disappointment, was ordered to stay and guard the Alumbagh, with its immense accumulation of stores and munitions; and the rest of the troops, turning off from the direct road and following the line the boys had traversed when they made their way into the Residency, marched for the Dil Koosha, a hunting-palace of the late king of Oude.
The enemy, who had anticipated an advance by the direct line taken by Havelock, and who had made immense preparations for defense in that quarter, were taken aback by the movement to the right, and no opposition was experienced until the column approached the beautiful park, upon an elevated spot in which the Dil Koosha stood.
Then a brisk musketry fire was opened upon them. The head of the column was extended in skirmishing order, reinforcements were sent up, and, firing heavily as they advanced, the British drove the enemy before them, and two hours after the first shot was fired were in possession of the palace. The enemy fled down the slope toward the city; but the troops pressed forward, and, with but slight loss, carried the strong position of the Martiniere College, and drove the enemy across the canal. By this time the enemy's troops from the other side of the city were flocking up, and prepared to recross the canal and give battle; but some of the heavy guns were brought up to the side of the canal, and the rebels made no further attempt to take the offensive.
The result of the day's fighting more than answered the commander-in- chief's expectations, for not only had a commanding position, from which the whole eastern suburb could be cannonaded, been obtained, but a large convoy of provisions and stores had been safely brought up, and a new base of operations obtained.
The next day, the 15th of November, is celebrated in the annals of British military history as that upon which some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting which ever took place in India occurred. At a short distance beyond the canal stood the Secunderbagh (Alexander's garden), a building of strong masonry, standing in a garden surrounded by a very high and strong wall. This wall was loopholed for musketry; the gate, which led through a fortified gateway, had been blocked with great piles of stones behind it, and a very strong garrison held it. In front, a hundred yards distant, was a fortified village, also held in great force. Separated from the garden of the Secunderbagh only by the road was the mosque of Shah Nujeeff. This building was also situated in a garden with a strong loopholed wall, and this was lined with the insurgent troops; while the terraced roof of the mosque, and the four minarets which rose at its corners, were crowded with riflemen.
The column of attack was commanded by Brigadier Hope; and as it crossed the bridge of the canal and advanced, a tremendous musketry fire was opened upon it from the village which formed the advanced post of the enemy. The column broke up into skirmishing line and advanced steadily.
"The guns to the front!" said an aide-de-camp, galloping up to the naval brigade.
With a cheer the sailors moved across the bridge, following the Horse Artillery, which dashed ahead, unlimbered, and opened fire with great rapidity. It took somewhat longer to bring the ponderous sixty-eight- pounders of the naval brigade into action; but their deep roar when once at work astonished the enemy, who had never before heard guns of such heavy metal.
The rebels fought obstinately, however; but Brigadier-General Hope led his troops gallantly forward, and after a brief, stern fight the enemy gave way and fled to the Secunderbagh.
The guns were now brought forward and their fire directed at the strong wall. The heavy cannon soon made a breach and the assault was ordered. The Fourth Sikhs had been directed to lead the attack, while the Ninety-third Highlanders and detachments from the Fifty-third and other regiments were to cover their advance, by their musketry fire at the loopholes and other points from which the enemy were firing.
The white troops were, however, too impatient to be at the enemy to perform the patient role assigned to them, and so joined the Sikhs in their charge. The rush was so fierce and rapid that a number of men pushed through the little breach before the enemy had mustered in force to repel them. The entrance was, however, too small for the impatient troops, and a number of them rushed to the grated windows which commanded the gates. Putting their caps on the ends of the muskets, they raised them to the level of the windows, and every Sepoy at the post discharged his musket at once. Before they could load again the troops leaped up, tore down the iron bars, and burst a way here also into the garden.
Then ensued a frightful struggle; two thousand Sepoys held the garden, and these, caught like rats in a trap, fought with the energy of despair. Nothing, however, could withstand the troops, mad with the long-balked thirst for vengeance, and attacked with the cry--which in very truth was the death-knell of the enemy--"Remember Cawnpore!" on their lips. No quarter was asked or given. It was a stubborn, furious, desperate strife, man to man--desperate Sepoy against furious Englishman. But in such a strife weight and power tell their tale, and not one of the two thousand men who formed the garrison escaped; two thousand dead bodies were next day counted within the four walls of the garden.
The battle had now raged for three hours, but there was more work yet to be done. From the walls and minarets of the Shah Nujeeff a terrible fire had been poured upon the troops as they fought their way into the Secunderbagh, and the word was given to take this stronghold also. The gate had been blocked up with masonry. Captain Peel was ordered to take up the sixty-eight-pounders and to breach the wall. Instead of halting at a short distance, the gallant sailor brought up his guns to within ten yards of the wall, and set to work as if he were fighting his ship broadside to broadside with an enemy. It was an action probably unexampled in war. Had such an attack been made unsupported by infantry, the naval brigade would have been annihilated by the storm of fire from the walls, and Dick Warrener's career would have come to a close. The Highlanders and their comrades, however, opened with such a tremendous fire upon the points from which the enemy commanded the battery, and at every loophole in the wall, that the mutineers could only keep up a wild and very ineffectual fire upon the gunners. The massive walls crumbled slowly but surely, and in four hours several gaps were made.
Then the guns ceased their fire, and the infantry with a wild cheer burst into the garden of the Shah Nujeeff, and filled the mosque and garden with the corpses of their defenders. The loss of the naval brigade in this gallant affair was not heavy, and Dick Warrener escaped untouched.
Evening was approaching now, and the troops bivouacked for the night. The Ninetieth and that portion of the Fifty-third not engaged in the assault of the Secunderbagh and Shah Nujeeff were now to have their turn as leaders of the attack.
The next point to be carried was the messhouse, a very strong position, situated on an eminence, with flanking towers, a loopholed mud wall, and a ditch. The naval guns began the fray, and the heavy shot soon effected a breach in the wall. The defenders of the post were annoyed, too, by a mortar battery in an advanced post of the British force in the Residency-- for the space between the garrison and the relieving force was rapidly lessening. The word was given, and the Ninetieth, Fifty-third, and Sikhs dashed forward, surmounted all obstacles, and carried the position with the bayonet; and the observatory, which stood behind it, was soon afterward most gallantly carried by a Sikh regiment.
In the meantime the garrison of the Residency was not idle. On the day of the arrival of the British at Dil Koosha flag-signals from the towers of that palace had established communication with the Residency, and it was arranged that as soon as the relieving forces obtained possession of the Secunderbagh the troops of the garrison should begin to fight their way to meet them.
Delighted at taking the offensive after their long siege, Havelock's troops, on the 16th, attacked the enemy with fury, and carried two strong buildings known as Hern Khana and engine-house, and then dashed on through the Chuttur Munzil, and carried all before them at the point of the bayonet.
All the strongholds of the enemy along this line had now fallen; and on the 17th of March Sir Colin Campbell met Generals Outram and Havelock, amid the tremendous cheers of British troops, which for awhile drowned the heavy fire which the enemy was still keeping up.
The loss of the relieving column during the operations was far less than that which had befallen Havelock's force in its advance--for it amounted only to one hundred and twenty-two officers and men killed, and three hundred and forty-five wounded. The loss of the enemy considerably exceeded four thousand. The relieving force did not advance into the Residency, but were stationed along the line which they had conquered between the Dil Koosha and the Residency, for the enemy were still in enormously superior force, and threatened to cut the line by which the British had penetrated.
The first operation was to pour in a supply of luxuries from the stores at the Dil Koosha. White bread, oranges, bananas, wine, tea, sugar, and other articles were sent forward; and these, to those who had for nearly six months existed on the barest and coarsest food, were luxuries indeed. An even greater pleasure was afforded by sending in the mails which had accumulated, and thus affording the garrison the intense delight of hearing of those loved ones at home from whom they had been so long cut off.
The day that the junction was made Dick obtained leave for a few hours to visit his friends in the Residency. It was singular to the lad to walk leisurely across the open space of the Residency garden, where before it would have been death to show one's self for a minute, and to look about rather as an unconcerned spectator than as formerly, with nerves on strain night and day to repel attack, which, if successful, meant death to every soul in the place.
In the battered walls, the shattered roofs, the destruction everywhere visible, he saw how the terrors of the siege had increased after he had left; and in view of the general havoc that met his view Dick was astonished that any one should have survived the long-continued bombardment. In some respects the change had been favorable. The accession of strength after the arrival of General Havelock's force had enabled great and beneficial alteration to be made in the internal arrangements, and the extension of the lines held had also aided in improving the sanitary condition. But the change in the appearance of the place was trifling in comparison with that in the faces of the defenders. These were, it is true, still pinched and thin, for the supply of food had been reduced to a minimum, and the rations had been lowered almost to starvation point. But in place of the expression of deep anxiety or of stern determination then marked on every face, all now looked joyous and glad, for the end to the terrible trials had arrived.
As he moved along men looked at the midshipman curiously, and then, as the lad advanced with outstretched hands, greeted him with cries of astonishment and pleasure; for it was naturally supposed in the garrison that the Warreners had fallen in the sortie on Johannes' house. Very hearty were the greetings which Dick received, especially from those whom he met who had fought side by side with him at Gubbins' house. This pleasure, however, was greatly dashed by the answers to his questions respecting friends. "Dead," "dead," "killed," were the replies that came to the greater part of the inquiries after those he had known, and the family in whom he was chiefly interested had suffered heavily. Mr. Hargreaves was killed; Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie and all their children had succumbed to the confinement and privation; but Mrs. Hargreaves and the girls were well. After briefly telling how they had escaped in disguise, after having been cut off from falling back after the successful sortie, Dick Warrener hurried off to the house where he heard that his friends were quartered.
It was outside the bounds of the old Residency, for the ground held had, since the arrival of Havelock's force, been considerably extended, and the ladies had had two rooms assigned to them in a large building. Dick knocked at the door of the room, and the ayah opened it--looked at him-- gave a scream, and ran back into the room, leaving the door open. Dick, seeing that it was a sitting-room, followed her in. Mrs. Hargreaves, alarmed at the cry, had just risen from her chair, and Nelly and Edith ran in from the inner room as Dick entered. A general cry of astonishment broke from them.
"Dick Warrener!" Mrs. Hargreaves exclaimed. "Is it possible? My clear boy, thank God I see you again. And your brother?"
"He escaped too," Dick said.
Mrs. Hargreaves took him in her arms and kissed him as a dear relative would have done; for during the month they had been together the boys had become very dear to her, from their unvarying readiness to aid all who required it, from their self-devotion and their bravery. Nor were the girls less pleased, and they warmly embraced the young sailor, whom they had come to look upon as if he had been a member of the family, and whom they had wept as dead.
For a time all were too much moved to speak more than a few disjointed words, for the sad changes which had occurred since they had last met were present in all their thoughts. Nelly, the youngest, was the first to recover, and wiping away her tears, she said, half-laughing, half-crying:
"I hate you, Dick, frightening us into believing that you were killed, when you were alive and well all the time. But I never quite believed it after all. I said all along that you couldn't have been killed; didn't I, mamma? and that monkeys always got out of scrapes somehow."
Mrs. Hargreaves smiled.
"I don't think you put it in that way exactly, Nelly; but I will grant that between your fits of crying you used to assert over and over again that you did not believe that they were killed. And now, my dear boy, tell us how this seeming miracle has come about."
Then they sat down quietly, and Dick told the whole story; and Mrs. Hargreaves warmly congratulated him on the manner in which they had escaped, and upon the presence of mind they had shown. Then she in turn told him what they had gone through and suffered. Edith burst into tears, and left the room, and her mother presently went after her.
"Well, Nelly, I have seen a lot since I saw you, have I not?"
"Yes, you are a dear, brave boy, Dick," the girl said.
"Even though I am a monkey, eh?" Dick answered. "And did you really cry when you thought I was dead?"
"Yes," the girl said demurely; "I always cry when I lose my pets. There was the dearest puppy I ever had--"
Dick laughed quietly. "Who is the monkey now?" he asked.
"I am," she said frankly; "but you know I can't help teasing you, Dick."
"Don't balk yourself, Nelly, I like it. I should like to be teased by you all my life," he said in lower tones.
The girl flushed up rosy red. "If you could always remain as you are now," she said after a little pause, "just an impudent midshipman, I should not mind it. Do you know, Dick, they give terriers gin to prevent their growing; don't you think you might stop yourself? It is quite sad," she went on pathetically, "to think that you may grow up into a great lumbering man."
"I am quite in earnest, Nelly," Dick said, looking preternaturally stern.
"Yes," Nelly said, "I have always understood midshipmen were quite in earnest when they talked nonsense."
"I am quite in earnest," Dick said solemnly and fixedly again.
"No, really, Dick, we are too old for that game," Nelly said, with a great affectation of gravity. "I think we could enjoy hide-and-seek together, or even blindman's buff; but you know children never play at being little lovers after they are quite small. I remember a dear little boy, he used to wear pinafores----"
Here Mrs. Hargreaves again entered the room, and Dick, jumping up suddenly, said that it was quite time for him to be off. "I shall only just have time to be back by the time I promised."
"Good-by, Dick. I hope to see you again tomorrow."
Edith came in, and there was a hearty shake of the hand all round, except that Dick only touched the tips of Nelly's fingers, in a manner which he imagined betokened a dignified resentment, although as he looked up and saw the girl's eyes dancing with amusement, he could scarcely flatter himself that it had produced any very serious effect. Dick returned in an indignant mood to the naval brigade, which was quartered in the Shah Nujeeff's mosque and gardens.
"You are out of sorts to-night, Dick," one of his brother midshipmen said, as they leaned together upon the parapet of the mosque, looking down on the city; "is anything the matter?"
"Were you ever in love, Harry?"
"Lots of times," Harry said confidently.
"And could you always persuade them that you were in earnest?" Dick asked.
Harry meditated. "Well, I am not quite sure about that, Dick; but then, you see, I was never quite sure myself that I was in earnest, and that's rather a drawback, you know."
"But what would you do, Harry, supposing you were really quite in earnest, and she laughed in your face and told you you were a boy?" Dick asked.
"I expect," the midshipman said, laughing, "I should kiss her straight off, and say that as I was a boy she couldn't object."
"Oh, nonsense," Dick said testily; "I want advice, and you talk bosh!"
The midshipman winked confidentially at the moon, there being no one else to wink at, and then said gravely:
"I think, Dick, the right thing to do would be to put your right hand on your heart, and hold your left hand up, with the forefinger pointing to the ceiling, and to say, 'Madam, I leave you now. When years have rolled over our heads I will return, and prove to you at once my affection and my constancy.'"
Dick's eyes opened to their widest, and it was not until his friend went off in a shout of laughter that he was certain that he was being chaffed; then, with an exclamation of "Confound you, Harry!" he made a rush at his comrade, who dodged his attack, and darted off, closely pursued by Dick. And as they dashed round the cupola and down the stairs their light- hearted laughter--for Dick soon joined in the laugh against himself--rose on the evening air; and the tars, smoking their pipes round the bivouac fires below, smiled as the sound came faintly down to them, and remarked, "Them there midshipmites are larking, just as if they were up in the maintop."