In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter XXI. A Sad Parting.
Sir Colin Campbell had considered it possible that the enemy would, upon finding that the Residency was relieved, and the prey, of whose destruction they had felt so sure, slipped from between their fingers, leave the city and take to the open, in which case he would, after restoring order, have left a strong body of troops in the city, and have set off in pursuit of the rebels.
It soon became apparent, however, that the enemy had no intention of deserting their stronghold. Lucknow abounded with palaces and mosques, each of which had been turned into a fortress, while every street was barricaded, every wall loopholed. As from forty thousand to fifty thousand men, including many thousands of drilled soldiers, stood ready to defend the town, foot by foot, it was clear that the fighting force at Sir Colin Campbell's command was utterly inadequate to attempt so serious an operation as the reduction of the whole city. To leave a portion of the force would only have submitted them to another siege, with the necessity for another advance to their relief. The commander-in-chief therefore determined to evacuate the Residency and city altogether, to carry off the entire garrison, and to leave Lucknow to itself until the reinforcements from England should arrive, and he should be able to undertake the subjugation of the city with a force adequate for the purpose.
His intention was kept a secret until the last moment, lest the news might reach the enemy, who, from the batteries in their possession, could have kept up a terrible fire upon the road along which the women and children would have to pass, and who would have attacked with such fury along the whole line to be traversed, that it would have been next to impossible to draw off the troops.
In order to deceive the enemy, guns were placed in position to play upon the town, and a heavy fire was opened against the Kaiserbagh, or King's Palace, a fortress of great strength. In the meantime preparations for retreat were quietly carried on. Bullock hackeries were prepared for the carriage of the ladies and children; and on the morning of the 23d of November the occupants of the Residency were informed that they must prepare to leave that afternoon, and that no luggage beyond a few personal necessaries could be carried.
The order awakened mingled emotions--there was gladness at the thought of leaving a place where all had suffered so much, and round which so many sad memories were centered; there was regret in surrendering to the foe a post which had been so nobly defended for so many months. Among many, too, there was some dismay at the thought of giving up all their movable possessions to the enemy. One small trunk was all that was allowed to each, and as each tried to put together the most valuable of his or her belongings, the whole of the buildings occupied were littered, from end to end, with handsome dresses, silver plate, mirrors, clocks, furniture, and effects of all kinds. A short time since every one would have gladly resigned all that they possessed for life and liberty; but now that both were assured, it was felt to be hard to give up everything.
Dick went in to Mrs. Hargreaves' to see if he could be of any service, but there was comparatively little to do, for that lady had lost all her portable property in the destruction of the bungalow on the estate owned by her husband, and had come into Lucknow shortly before the outbreak, when the cloud began to lower heavily, with but a small amount of baggage. Dick had not been able to see them since his first visit, being incessantly on duty.
"I was so sorry I could not come up before," he explained; "but each of the officers has been up to have a look at the Residency; and as we may be attacked at any moment, Captain Peel expects them all to be on the spot with their men."
"Shall we get away without being fired at?" Nelly asked.
"I am afraid you will have to run the gantlet in one or two places," Dick said. "The enemy keep up an almost incessant fire; and although, we must hope, they will not have an idea that any number of people are passing along the road, and their fire will therefore be only a random one, it may be a little unpleasant; but you are all accustomed to that now. I must be off again, Mrs. Hargreaves; I really only came to explain why I did not come yesterday, and only got leave for an hour, so I have come at a trot all the way."
And so Dick made off again; and as he shook hands with them, he could feel that Nelly had not yet forgiven the coldness of his last good-by.
Upon the previous day all the sick and wounded had been moved to the Dil Koosha; that done, the very large amount of money, amounting to nearly a quarter of a million, in the government treasury, was removed, together with such stores as were required. Then the guns were silently withdrawn from the batteries, and at half-past four in the afternoon the emigration of the women and children commenced. All had to walk to the Secunderbagh, along a road strewn with debris, and ankle deep in sand, and in some places exposed to a heavy fire. At one of these points a strong party of seamen were stationed, among whom Dick was on duty. As each party of women arrived at the spot they were advised to stoop low, and to run across at full speed, as the road being a little sunk, they thus escaped observation by the enemy, whose battery was at some little distance, but the grape whistled thickly overhead, and several were wounded as they passed.
Dick had been on the lookout for the Hargreaves party, and came forward and had a talk with them before they started across the open spot. He had quite recovered from Nelly's attack upon his dignity as a man and a naval officer, and the pair as usual had a wordy spar. Dick was, however, rather serious at the prospect of the danger they were about to run.
"Will you let me cross with you one at a time?" he asked.
"Certainly not, Dick," Mrs. Hargreaves said. "You could do us no good, and would run a silly risk yourself. Now, girls, are you ready?"
"Stoop low, for heaven's sake!" Dick urged.
Mrs. Hargreaves started at a run, accompanied by Alice. Nelly was a little behind. Dick took her hand and ran across, keeping between her and the enemy.
"Down low!" he cried, as, when they were half across, a heavy gun fired. As he spoke, he threw his arms round Nelly, and pulled her to the ground. As he did so a storm of grape swept just above them, striking the wall, and sending a shower of earth over them. Another half-minute and they were across on the other side.
"Good-by," he said to them all; "you are over the worst now."
"Good-by, my dear boy. Mind how you cross again. God bless you." And Mrs. Hargreaves and Alice shook his hand, and turned to go. Nelly held hers out to him. He took it and clasped it warmly; he was loosening his hold when the girl said: "You have saved my life, Dick."
"Oh, nonsense," he said.
"You did, sir, and--yes, I am coming, mamma"--in answer to a word from her mother. "Oh, how stupid you are, Dick!" she cried, with a little stamp of her foot; "don't you want to kiss me?"
"Of course I do," Dick said.
"Then why on earth don't you do it, sir?--There, that is enough. God bless you, dear Dick;" and Nelly darted off to join her mother.
Then he returned to his post, and the ladies went on to the Secunderbagh. Here a long halt was entailed, until all were gathered there, in order that they might be escorted by a strong guard on to the Dil Koosha. Then came an anxious journey--some in bullock-carts, some in doolies, some on foot. The Hargreaves walked, for the anxiety was less when moving on foot than if shut up in a conveyance. Several times there were long halts in expectation of attack; and a report that a great movement could be heard among the enemy at one time delayed them until reinforcements could be sent for and arrived. But about midnight all reached the Dil Koosha, where a number of tents had been erected, and refreshments prepared for the many fugitives.
Later on the troops came tramping in, having gradually, and in regular order, evacuated their posts, leaving their fires burning and moving in absolute silence, so that it was not until next morning that the enemy awoke to the knowledge that the Residency was deserted, and that their expected prey had safely escaped them.
The next day was spent quietly, all enjoying intensely the open air, the relief from the long pressure, and the good food, wine, and other comforts now at their disposal. Dick brought Colonel Warrener to make the acquaintance of his friends, and a pleasant afternoon was spent together. On the 25th a heavy gloom fell upon all, for on that day the gallant General Havelock, worn out by his labors and anxieties, was seized with dysentery, and in a few hours breathed his last. He was a good man as well as a gallant soldier, and his death just at the moment when the safety of those for whom he had done so much was assured cast a gloom not only over his comrades and those who had fought under him, but on the whole British nation. All that day the great convoy had been on the move between the Dil Koosha and the Alumbagh. Half the fighting force served as an escort, the other half stood in battle order between them and Lucknow, in case the enemy should come out to the attack. The whole road between the two stations was throughout the day covered by a continuous stream of bullock carts, palanquins, carts, camels, elephants, guns, ammunition carts, and store wagons.
Mrs. Hargreaves and her daughters were on an elephant, with their ayah; and as the Warreners had placed in the howdah a basket of refreshments, the long weary march was borne, not only without inconvenience, but with some pleasure at the novelty of the scene and the delight of air and freedom.
Sir Colin Campbell had intended to allow a halt of seven days at the Alumbagh, but on the 27th of May a continuous firing was heard in the direction of Cawnpore. Fearful for the safety of that all-important post, the commander determined to push forward his convoy at once. On the morning of the 28th they started. Dick had come soon after daybreak to the tents where the Hargreaves were, with many others, sleeping.
"There is bad news from Cawnpore," he said, "and you will have to push on. I expect that it will be a terrible two days' march with all this convoy. Pray take enough provisions with you for the two days in the howdah, and some blankets and things to make a cover at night. I am sure that the tents will not be got up, and the confusion at the halting-place will be fearful; but if you have everything with you, you will be able to manage."
It was well that they were so prepared, for the first march, owing to the immense length of the convoy, lasted until long past dark; then there was a halt for a few hours, and then a thirty miles' journey to the bridge of boats on the Ganges.
The naval brigade accompanied the convoy, but Dick had seen nothing of his friends. Colonel Warrener, however, who with his troop had moved along the line at intervals, spoke to them, and was able at the halting-place to assist them to make a temporary shelter, where they snatched a few hours' sleep.
The news that had caused this movement was bad indeed. General Wyndham, in command at Cawnpore, had been defeated by the Gwalior rebel contingent, aided by the troops of Nana Sahib and those of Koer Sing, a great Oude chief, and part of the town had been taken. Sir Colin himself pushed forward at all speed with a small body of troops and some heavy guns, so as to secure the safety of the bridge of boats; for had this fallen into the hands of the enemy the situation of the great convoy would have been bad indeed. However, the rebels had neglected to take measures until it was too late, and the approaches to the bridge on either side were guarded by our guns. The passage of the convoy then began, and for thirty-nine hours a continuous stream passed across the river.
The whole force which had accomplished the relief of Lucknow had not returned, as it was considered necessary to keep some troops to command the town, and prevent the great body of mutineers gathered there from undertaking expeditions. The Alumbagh was accordingly held by the Fifth, Seventy-eighth, Eighty-fourth, and Ninetieth Foot, the Madras Fusiliers, the Ferozepore Sikhs, and a strong artillery force, the whole under the command of Sir James Outram.
As the long day went on, and the thunder of the guns at Cawnpore grew louder and louder, Sir Colin Campbell took the naval brigade and the greater portion of the fighting troops, and pushed forward. The regiments as they arrived were hurried across the bridge, to take part in the defense of the position guarding the bridge, where General Wyndham's troops were defending themselves desperately against immense forces of the enemy.
"What has happened?" was the question the officers of the naval brigade asked those of the garrison when they first met.
"Oh, we have been fearfully licked. A series of blunders and mismanagement. We have lost all the camp equipage, all the stores--in fact, everything. It is the most disgraceful thing which has happened since the trouble began. We lost heavily yesterday, frightfully to-day. They say the Sixty-fourth is cut to pieces."
It had indeed been a wretched business, and was the only occasion when British troops were, in any force, defeated throughout the mutiny. The affair happened in this way. The British force at Cawnpore were stationed in an intrenched position, so placed as to overawe the city, and to command the river and bridge of boats, which it was all-important to keep open. The general in command received news that the mutinous Gwalior contingent, with several other rebel bodies, was on its way to Cawnpore. Unfortunately, they were approaching on the opposite side of the city to that upon which the British intrenchments were situated, and the general therefore determined to leave a portion of his force to protect the intrenchments and bridge, while with the rest he started to give battle to the enemy in the open at a distance on the other side of the city, as it was very important to prevent Cawnpore from again falling into their hands. He advanced first to Dhubarlee, a strong position on the canal, where a vigorous defense could have been made, as a cross canal covered our flank. Unfortunately, however, the next day he again marched forward eight miles, and met the advanced guard of the enemy at Bhowree. The British force consisted of twelve hundred infantry, made up of portions of the Thirty-fourth, Eighty-second, Eighty-eighth, and Rifles, with one hundred native cavalry, and eight guns. The troops advanced with a rush, carried the village, defeated the enemy, and took two guns, and then pressing forward, found themselves in face of the main body of the enemy's army. Then for the first time it appears to have occurred to the general that it was imprudent to fight so far from the city. He therefore ordered a retreat, and the British force fell back, closely followed by the enemy. Had he halted again at Dhubarlee, he might still have retrieved his error; but he continued his retreat, and halted for the night on the plain of Jewar, a short distance from the northeast angle of the city.
No preparations appear to have been made in case of an attack by the enemy, and when in the morning they came on in immense force, the British position was seriously threatened on all sides. For five hours the troops held their ground nobly, and prevented the enemy advancing by a direct attack. A large body, however, moved round to the flank and entered the city, thus getting between the British forces and their intrenchments. The order was therefore given to retire, and this was carried out in such haste that the whole of the camp equipage, consisting of five hundred tents, quantities of saddlery, uniforms for eight regiments, and a vast amount of valuable property of all kinds, fell into the hands of the mutineers. All these stores had been placed in a great camp on the plain outside the fortified intrenchments. It was a disastrous affair; and Cawnpore blazed with great fires, lighted by the triumphant mutineers.
During the retreat a gun had been capsized and left in one of the lanes of the town, and at dead of night one hundred men of the Sixty-fourth, accompanied by a detachment of sailors, went silently out, and succeeded in righting the gun, and bringing it off from the very heart of the city.
The next day the whole force moved out, and took up their position to prevent the enemy from approaching the intrenchments. The mutineers, commanded by Nana Sahib in person, advanced to the attack. One British column remained in reserve. The column under Colonel Walpole succeeded in repulsing the body opposed to it, and captured two of its eighteen-pounder guns. The column under General Carthew maintained its position throughout the day, but fell back toward the evening--a proceeding for which the officer in command was severely censured by the commander-in-chief, who, riding on ahead of his convoy, with a small body of troops, reached the scene of action just at nightfall.
But it was the division under Brigadier-General Wilson, colonel of the Sixty-fourth, that suffered most heavily. Seeing that General Carthew was hardly pressed, he led a part of his own regiment against four guns which were playing with great effect. Ned Warrener's heart beat high as the order to charge was given, for it was the first time he had been in action with his gallant regiment. With a cheer the little body, who numbered fourteen officers and one hundred and sixty men, advanced. Their way led along a ravine nearly half a mile long; and as they moved forward a storm of shot, shell, and grape from the guns was poured upon them, while a heavy musketry fire broke out from the heights on either side. Fast the men fell, but there was no wavering; on at the double they went, until within fifty yards of the guns, and then burst into a charge at full speed.
Ned, accustomed as he was to fire, had yet felt bewildered at the iron storm which had swept their ranks. All round him men were falling; a bullet knocked off his cap, and a grape-shot smashed his sword off short in his hand. The Sepoy artillerymen stood to their guns and fought fiercely as the British rushed upon them. Ned caught up the musket of a man who fell dead by his side, and bayoneted a gunner; he saw another man at four paces off level a rifle at him, felt a stunning blow, and fell, but was up in a minute again, having been knocked down by a brick hurled by some Sepoy from a dwelling close behind the guns--a blow which probably saved his life. Two of the guns where spiked while the hand-to-hand conflict raged.
Major Stirling fell dead, Captain Murphy and Captain Macraw died fighting nobly beside him, and the gallant Colonel Wilson received three bullets through his body. From all sides masses of the enemy charged down, and a regiment of Sepoy cavalry swept upon them. Captain Sanders was now in command, and gave the word to fall back; and even faster than they had approached, the survivors of the Sixty-fourth retreated, literally cutting their way through the crowds of Sepoys which surrounded them.
Ned was scarcely conscious of what he was doing; and few could have given a detailed account of the events of that most gallant charge. The men kept well together; old veterans in fight, they knew that only in close ranks could they hope to burst through the enemy; and striking, and stabbing, and always running, they at last regained the position they had quitted. Of the fourteen officers, seven were killed and two wounded; of the one hundred and sixty men, eighteen killed and fifteen wounded; a striking testimony to the valor with which the officers had led the way. Such slaughter as this among the officers is almost without parallel in the records of the British army; and lads who went into the fray low down on the list of lieutenants came out captains. Among them was Ned Warrener, who stood fifth on the list of lieutenants, and who, by the death vacancies, now found himself a captain.
It was not until they halted, breathless and exhausted, that he discovered that he had been twice wounded; for in the wild excitement of the fight he had been unconscious of pain. A bullet had passed through the fleshy part of his left arm, while another had cut a clean gash just across his hip. Neither was in any way serious; and having had them bound up with a handkerchief, he remained with his regiment till nightfall put an end to the fighting, when he made his way to the hospital. This was crowded with badly wounded men; and Ned seeing the pressure upon the surgeons, obtained a couple of bandages, and went back to his regiment, to have them put on there. As he reached his camp, Dick sprang forward.
"My dear old boy, I was just hunting for you. We crossed to-night, and directly we were dismissed I rushed off, hearing that your regiment has suffered frightfully. I hear you are hit; but, thank God! only slightly."
"Very slightly, old boy; nothing worth talking about. It has been an awful business, though. And how are you? and how is father?"
"Quite well, Ned. Not a scratch either of us."
"And the Hargreaves?"
"Mrs. Hargreaves and the girls are all right, Ned, and will be in to- morrow; all the rest are gone."
"Gone! dear, dear! I am sorry. Now, Dick, come to the fire and bandage up my arm; and you must congratulate me, old boy, for by the slaughter to-day I have my company."
"Hurrah!" Dick exclaimed joyfully. "That is good news. What luck! not eighteen yet, and a captain."
It was only on the 1st of December that the whole of the convoy from Lucknow were gathered in tents on the parade-ground at Cawnpore, and all hoped for a short period of rest.
On the morning of the 3d, however, notice was issued that in two hours the women, children, and civilians of Lucknow would proceed to Allahabad, under escort of five hundred men of the Thirty-fourth Regiment. It would be a long march, for the convoy would be incumbered by the enormous train of stores and munitions of war, while a large number of vehicles were available for their transport.
Colonel Warrener heard the news early, and knowing how interested his sons were in the matter, he rode round to their respective camps and told them. Leaving them to follow, he then rode over to the Hargreaves' tent.
They had just heard the news, and short as the time was, had so few preparations to make that they were ready for a start. A dawk-garry, or post-carriage, was allotted to them, which, the ayah riding outside, would hold them with some comfort, these vehicles being specially constructed to allow the occupants, when two in number only, to lie down at full length. It would be a close fit for the three ladies, but they thought that they could manage; and it was a comfort to know that, even if no tents could be erected at night, they could lie down in shelter.
The young Warreners soon arrived, and while their father was discussing the arrangements with Mrs. Hargreaves, and seeing that a dozen of claret which his orderly had at his orders brought across, with a basket of fruit, was properly secured on the roof, they sauntered off with the girls, soon insensibly pairing off.
"It will be two years at least before I am home in England, Nelly," Dick said, "and I hope to be a lieutenant soon after, for I am certain of my step directly I pass, since I have been mentioned three times in dispatches. I know I am a boy, not much over sixteen, but I have gone through a lot, and am older than my age; but even if you laugh at me, Nelly, I must tell you I love you."
But Nelly was in no laughing mood.
"My dear Dick," she said, "I am not going to laugh; I am too sad at parting. But you know I am not much over fifteen yet, though I too feel older--oh, so much older than girls in England, who are at school till long past that age. You know I like you, Dick, very, very much. It would be absurd to say more than that to each other now. We part just on these terms, Dick. We know we both like each other very much. Well, yes, I will say 'love' if you like, Dick; but we cannot tell the least in the world what we shall do five years hence. So we won't make any promises, or anything else; we will be content with what we know; and if either of us change, there will be no blame and misery. Do you agree to that, Dick?"
Dick did agree very joyfully, and a few minutes later the pair, very silent now, strolled back to the tent. Ned and Edith were already there, for Ned had no idea of speaking out now, or of asking Edith to enter into an engagement which she might repent when she came to enter society in England; and yet, although he said nothing, or hardly anything, the pair understood each other's feelings as well as did Dick and Nelly.
All was now ready for the start, everything in its place, and the ayah on the seat with the driver. Then came the parting--a very sad one. Mrs. Hargreaves was much moved, and the girls wept unrestrainedly, while Colonel Warrener, who had made his adieus, and was standing a little back, lifted his eyebrows, with a comical look of astonishment, as he saw the farewell embraces of his sons with Edith and Nelly.
"Humph!" he muttered to himself. "A bad attack of calf love all round. Well," as he looked at the manly figures of his sons, and thought of the qualities they had shown, "I should not be surprised if the boys stick to it; but whether those pretty little things will give the matter a thought when they have once come out at home remains to be seen. It would not be a bad thing, for Hargreaves was, I know, a very wealthy man, and there are only these two girls."