In Times of Peril by G. A. Henty
Chapter XXII. The Last Capture of Lucknow.
The women and children brought from Lucknow once sent off from the British camp, the commander-in-chief was able to direct his attention to the work before him--of clearing out of Cawnpore the rebel army, composed of the Gwalior contingent and the troops of Koer Sing and Nana Sahib, in all twenty-five thousand men. Against this large force he could only bring seventy-five hundred men; but these, well led, were ample for the purpose.
The position on the night of the 5th of December was as follows. The British camp was separated from the city by a canal running east and west. The enemy were entirely on the north of this canal, their center occupying the town. Outside the city walls lay the right of the rebel army, while his left occupied the space between the walls and the river. In the rear of the enemy's left was a position known as the Subadar's Tank. The British occupied as an advanced post a large bazaar on the city side of the river.
The operations of the 6th of December were simple. A demonstration was made against the city from the bazaar, which occupied the attention of the large force holding the town. The main body of the British were quietly massed on its left, and, crossing three bridges over the canal, attacked the enemy's right with impetuosity. These, cut off by the city wall from their comrades within, were unable to stand the British onslaught and the thunder of Peel's guns, and fled precipitately, pursued by the British for fourteen miles along the Calpee Road. Every gun and ammunition wagon of the mutineers on this side fell into the hands of the victors.
As the victorious British force swept along past the city, Sir Colin Campbell detached a force under General Mansfield to attack and occupy the position of the Subadar's Tank--which was captured after some hard fighting. Thus the British were in a position in rear of the enemy's left. The mutineers, seeing that their right was utterly defeated, and the retreat of their left threatened, lost all heart, and as soon as darkness came on, fled, a disorganized rabble, from the city they had entered as conquerors only six days before. The cavalry started next day in pursuit, cut up large numbers, and captured the greater part of their guns.
The threatening army of Gwalior thus beaten and scattered, and Cawnpore in our hands, Sir Colin Campbell was able to devote his whole attention to clearing the country in his rear, and in preparing for the great final campaign against Lucknow, which, now that Delhi had fallen, was the headquarters of the mutiny.
The next two months were passed in a series of expeditions by flying columns. In some of these the Warreners took part, and both shared in the defeats of the Sepoys and the capture of Futtyghur and Furruckabad--places at which horrible massacres of the whites had taken place in the early days of the mutiny. During these two months large reinforcements had arrived; and Jung Bahadoor, Prince of Nepaul, had come down with an army of ten thousand Ghoorkas to our aid.
On the 15th of February the tremendous train of artillery, ammunition and stores, collected for the attack upon the city, began to cross the river; and upon the 26th of the month the order was given for the army to move upon the following day.
The task before it was a difficult one. From all the various points from which the British had driven them--from Delhi, from Rohilcund, and the Doab, from Cawnpore, Furruckabad, Futtyghur, Etawah, Allyghur, Goruckpore, and other places--they retreated to Lucknow, and there were now collected sixty thousand revolted Sepoys and fifty thousand irregular troops, besides the armed rabble of the city of three hundred thousand souls. Knowing the storm that was preparing to burst upon their heads, they had neglected no means for strengthening their position. Great lines of fortifications had been thrown up; enormous quantities of guns placed in position; every house barricaded and loopholed, and the Kaiserbagh transformed into a veritable citadel. In hopes of destroying the force under General Sir James Outram, at the Alumbagh--which had been a thorn in their side for so long--a series of desperate attacks had been made upon them; but these had been uniformly defeated with heavy loss by the gallant British force. On the 3d of March the advanced division occupied the Dil Koosha, meeting with but slight resistance; and the commander-in-chief at once took up his headquarters here. The next three days were spent in making the necessary disposition for a simultaneous attack upon all sides of the town--General Outram on one side, Sir Hope Grant upon another, Jung Bahadoor, with his Nepaulese, on the third, and the main attack, under Sir Colin Campbell himself, on the fourth.
Great was the excitement in the camp on the eve of this tremendous struggle. Colonel Warrener and his sons met on the night before the fighting was to begin.
"Well, boys," he said, after a long talk upon the prospects of the fighting, "did you do as you talked about, and draw your pay and get it changed into gold?"
"Most of it," Ned said; "we could not get it all; and had to pay a tremendous rate of exchange for it."
"Here are the twenty pounds each, in gold, lads," Colonel Warrener said, "that I told you I could get for you. Now what do you want it for? You would not tell me at Cawnpore."
"Well, father, at Delhi there was lots of loot taken, quantities of valuable things, and the soldiers were selling what they had got for next to nothing. I had some lovely bracelets offered me for a few rupees, but no one had any money in their pockets. So Dick and I determined that if we came into another storming business, we would fill our pockets beforehand with money. They say that the palaces, the Kaiserbagh especially, are crowded with valuable things; and as they will be lawful loot for the troops, we shall be able to buy no end of things."
Colonel Warrener laughed.
"There is nothing like forethought, Ned, and I have no doubt that you will be able to pick up some good things. The soldiers attach no value to them, and would rather have gold, which they can change for spirits, than all the precious stones in the world. I shall be out of it, as, of course, the cavalry will not go into the city, but will wait outside to cut off the enemy's retreat."
The fighting began with General Outram's division, which worked round the city, and had on the 7th, 8th, and 9th to repulse heavy attacks of the enemy.
On the 9th Sir Colin Campbell advanced, took the Martiniere with but slight opposition, crossed the canal, and occupied the Secunderbagh--the scene of the tremendous fighting on the previous advance. The Begum's palace, in front of Bank House, was then attacked, and after very heavy fighting, carried. Here Major Hodgson, the captor of the king of Delhi, was mortally wounded. General Outram's force had by this time taken up a position on the other side of the river, and this enabled him to take the enemy's defenses in flank, and so greatly to assist the advancing party.
Day by day the troops fought their way forward; and on the 14th the Imaumbarra, a splendid palace of the king of Oude, adjoining the Kaiserbagh, was breached and carried. The panic-stricken defenders fled through the court and garden into the Kaiserbagh, followed hotly by the Sikhs, Ghoorkas, and Highlanders. Such was the terror which their appearance excited that a panic seized also the defenders of the Kaiserbagh, and these too fled, deserting the fortifications raised with so much care, and the British poured into the palace. For a few minutes a sharp conflict took place in every room, and then, the Sepoys being annihilated, the victors fell upon the spoil. From top to bottom the Kaiserbagh was crowded with valuable articles, collected from all parts of the world. English furniture, French clocks and looking-glasses, Chinese porcelain, gorgeous draperies, golden thrones studded with jewels, costly weapons inlaid with gold, enormous quantities of jewelry--in fact, wealth of all kinds to an almost fabulous value. The wildest scene of confusion ensued. According to the rule in these matters, being taken by storm, the place was lawful plunder. For large things the soldiers did not care, and set to to smash and destroy all that could not be carried away. Some put on the turbans studded with jewels; others hung necklaces of enormous value round their necks, or covered their arms with bracelets. None knew the value of the costly gems they had become possessed of; and few indeed of the officers could discriminate between the jewels of immense value and those which were mere worthless imitations.
As soon as the news spread that the Kaiserbagh was taken the guns fired a royal salute in honor of the triumph; and all officers who could obtain an hour's leave from their regiments hurried away to see the royal palace of Oude.
The Warreners were both near the spot when the news came; both were able to get away, and met at the entrance to the palace. Already soldiers, British and native, were passing out laden with spoil.
"What will you give me for this necklace, sir?" a soldier asked Ned.
"I have no idea what it's worth," Ned said.
"No more have I," said the soldier; "it may be glass, it may be something else. You shall have it for a sovereign."
"Very well," Ned said; "here is one."
So onward they went, buying everything in the way of jewels offered them, utterly ignorant themselves whether the articles they purchased were real gems or imitation.
Penetrating into the palace, they found all was wild confusion. Soldiers were smashing chandeliers and looking-glasses, breaking up furniture, tumbling the contents of chests and wardrobes and caskets over the floors, eager to find, equally eager to sell what they had found.
Bitter were the exclamations of disappointment and disgust which the Warreners heard from many of the officers that they were unprovided with money--for the soldiers would not sell except for cash; but for a few rupees they were ready to part with anything. Strings of pearls, worth a thousand pounds, were bought for a couple of rupees--four shillings; diamond aigrettes, worth twice as much, went for a sovereign; and the Warreners soon laid out the seventy pounds which they had between them when they entered the palace; and their pockets and the breasts of their coats were stuffed with their purchases, and each had a bundle in his handkerchief.
"I wonder," Dick said, as they made their way back, "whether we have been fools or wise men. I have not a shadow of an idea whether these things are only the sham jewels which dancing girls wear, or whether they are real."
"It was worth running the risk, anyhow; for if only half of them are real they are a big fortune. Anyhow, Dick, let's hold our tongues about it. It's no use making fellows jealous of our good luck if they turn out to be real, or of getting chaffed out of our lives if they prove false. Let us just stow them away till it's all over, and then ask father about them."
It was calculated that twenty thousand soldiers and camp-followers obtained loot of more or less value, from the case of jewelry, valued at one hundred thousand pounds, that fell into the hands of an officer, to clocks, candelabra, and articles of furniture, carried off by the least fortunate. The value of the treasure there was estimated at ten millions of money at the lowest computation.
The fall of the Kaiserbagh utterly demoralized the enemy; and from that moment they began to leave the town by night in thousands. Numbers were cut off and slaughtered by our cavalry and artillery; but large bodies succeeded in escaping, to give us fresh trouble in the field.
Day by day the troops fought their way from palace to palace and from street to street. Day and night the cannon and mortar batteries thundered against the districts of the city still uncaptured; and great fires blazed in a dozen quarters, until gradually the resistance ceased and Lucknow was won.
It was not until a week after the storming of the Kaiserbagh--by which time everything had settled down, order was restored, and the inhabitants were, under the direction of the military authorities, engaged in clearing away rubbish, leveling barricades, and razing to the ground a considerable portion of the city--that Colonel Warrener and his sons met. The troops were now all comfortably under canvas in the cantonments, and were enjoying a well-earned rest after their labors.
"Well, boys," he said, "have you heard Warrener's Horse is to be broken up? The officers have all been appointed to regiments, the civilians are anxious to return to look after their own affairs. I am to go up to take the command of a newly-raised Punjaub regiment. Dunlop goes with me as major. Manners has been badly hit, and goes home. The greater part of the naval brigade march down to Calcutta at once. The force will be broken up into flying columns, for there is much to be done yet. The greater portion of these scoundrels have got away; and there are still considerably more than one hundred thousand of the enemy scattered in large bodies over the country. I am going to Delhi, through Agra, with Dunlop; I accompany a detachment of fifty irregular Punjaub horse, who are ordered down to Agra. Then I shall go up to Meerut, and have a week with the girls; and do you know I have seen Captain Peel and your colonel, Ned, and have got leave for you both for a month. Then you will go down to Calcutta, Dick, and join your ship; Ned will of course, rejoin his regiment."
The lads were delighted at the prospect of again seeing their sister and cousin; and Dick indulged in a wild dance, expressive of joy.
"Well, boys, and how about loot; did you lay out your money?"
"We laid it out, father; but we have not the least idea whether we have bought rubbish or not. This black bag is full of it."
So saying, Ned emptied a large handbag upon the top of a barrel which served as a table. Colonel Warrener gave a cry of astonishment, as a great stream of bracelets, necklaces, tiaras, aigrettes, and other ornaments, poured out of the bag.
"Good gracious, boys! do you mean to say all these are yours?"
"Ours and yours, father; there were forty pounds of your money, and thirty-five of ours. Do you think they are real?"
Colonel Warrener took one or two articles from the flashing heap of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, opals, and pearls.
"I should say so," he said; "some of them are certainly. But have you any idea what these are worth?"
"Not the least in the world," Ned said; "if they are real, though, I suppose they are worth some thousands of pounds."
"My boys, I should say," Colonel Warrener replied, turning over the heap, "they must be worth a hundred thousand if they are worth a penny."
The boys looked at each other in astonishment:
"Really, my boys."
"Hurrah," Dick said. "Then you can give up the service when this war is over, father, and go home and live as a rich man; that will be glorious."
"My dear boys, the prize is yours."
"Nonsense, father!" exclaimed the boys together. And then began an amicable contest, which was not finally concluded for many a long day.
"But what had we better do with all these things, father?" Dick said at last.
"We will get a small chest and put them in, boys. I will give it to the paymaster--he is sending a lot of treasure down under a strong escort--and will ask him to let it go down with the convoy. I will direct it to a firm at Calcutta, and will ask them to forward it to my agent at home, to whom I will give directions to send it to a first-class jeweler in London, to be by him opened and valued. I will tell the Calcutta firm to insure it on the voyage as treasure at twenty thousand pounds. Even if some of them turn out to be false, you may congratulate each other that you are provided for for life."
"And when do we set out, father?" Ned asked, after they had talked for some time longer about their treasure.
"In three days' time. We shall accompany a flying column for the first two days' march, and then strike across for Agra."
The next two days the Warreners spent in investigating the town, in wandering through the deserted palaces, and admiring their vast extent, and in saying good-by to their friends. A great portion of the teeming population of Lucknow had fled, and the whole city outside the original town was to be cleared away and laid out in gardens, so that henceforth Lucknow would be little more than a fifth of its former size. The ruined Residency was to be cleared of its debris, replanted with trees, and to be left as a memorial of British valor. The entire district through which Havelock's men had fought their way was to be cleared of its streets, and the palaces only were to be left standing, to be utilized for public purposes. The whole of the remaining male population of Lucknow was set to work to carry out these alterations. The scene was busy and amusing, and the change from the fierce fight, the din of cannon, and the perpetual rattle of musketry, to the order, regularity, and bustle of work, was very striking. Here was a party of sappers and miners demolishing a row of houses, there thousands of natives filling baskets with rubbish and carrying them on their heads to empty into bullock carts, whence it was taken to fill up holes and level irregularities. Among the crowd, soldiers of many uniforms--British infantry, Rifles, Highlanders, artillery and cavalry, sinewy Sikhs, and quiet little Nepaulese--wandered at will or worked in fatigue parties.
The three days past, Colonel Warrener, his sons, and Major Dunlop took their places on horseback with the troop of irregular cavalry commanded by Lieutenant Latham, and joined the flying column which was setting out to attack a large body of the enemy, who were reported to be gathering again near Furruckabad, while simultaneously other columns were leaving in other directions, for broken at Lucknow, the rebels were swarming throughout all Oude. The day was breaking, but the sun was not yet up, when the column started--for in India it is the universal custom to start very early, so as to get the greater part of the march over before the heat of the day fairly begins--and the young Warreners were in the highest spirits at the thought that they were on their way to see their sister and cousin, and that their nine months of marching and fighting were drawing to a close, for it is possible to have too much even of adventure. At ten o'clock a halt was called at the edge of a large wood, and after preparing breakfast there was a rest in the shade until four in the afternoon, after which a two hours' march took them to their halting-place for the night. Tents were pitched, fires lighted, and then, dinner over, they made merry groups, who sat smoking and chatting until nine o'clock, when the noise ceased, the fires burned down, and all was quiet until the reveille sounded at four o'clock, after which there was an hour of busy work, getting down, rolling up, and packing the tents and baggage in the wagons.
Another day's march and halt, and then Colonel Warrener and his friends said good-by to their acquaintances in the column, and started with the troop of cavalry for Agra. Unincumbered by baggage, and no longer obliged to conform their pace to that of the infantry, they trotted gayly along, and accomplished forty miles ere they halted for the night near a village. The country through which they had passed had an almost deserted appearance. Here and there a laborer was at work in the fields, but the confusion and alarm created by the bodies of mutineers who had swept over the country, and who always helped themselves to whatever pleased them, had created such a scare that the villagers for the most part had forsaken their abodes, and driven their animals, with all their belongings, to the edge of jungles or other unfrequented places, there to await the termination of the struggle.
At the end of the day's journey they halted in front of a great mosque- like building with a dome, the tomb of some long dead prince. The doors stood open, and Colonel Warrener proposed that they should take up their quarters for the night in the lofty interior instead of sleeping in the night air, for although the temperature was still high, the night dews were the reverse of pleasant. It was evident by the appearance of the interior that it had been used as the headquarters and storehouse of some body of the enemy, for a considerable quantity of stores, military saddles, harness, coils of rope, and barrels of flour were piled against the wall. A space was soon swept, and a fire lighted on the floor. Outside the troopers dismounted, some proceeded to a wood at a short distance off to fetch fuel, others took the horses to a tank or pond to drink. It was already getting dusk, and inside the great domed chamber it was nearly dark.
"The fire looks cheerful," Colonel Warrener said, as, after seeing that the men had properly picketed their horses, and had made all their arrangements, the little group of officers returned to it. A trooper had already prepared their meal, which consisted of kabobs, or pieces of mutton--from a couple of sheep, which they had purchased at a village where they halted in the morning--a large bowl of boiled rice, and some chupatties, or griddle cakes; a pannikin of tea was placed by each; and spreading their cloaks on the ground, they set to with the appetite of travelers. Dinner over, a bottle of brandy was produced from one of Major Dunlop's holsters, the pannikin was washed out, and a supply of fresh water brought in, pipes and cheroots were lighted, and they prepared for a cheerful evening.
"I am very sorry Manners is not here," Dick said; "it would have been so jolly to be all together again. However, it is a satisfaction to know that his wound is doing well, and that he is likely to be all right in a few months."
"Yes," Colonel Warrener said, "but I believe that he will have to leave the service. His right leg will always be shorter than the left."
"I don't suppose he will mind that," Ned said. "I should think he must have had enough of India to last for his life."
"Mr. Latham," Dick said presently to the officer in command of the cavalry, "will you tell us your adventures? We know all about each other's doings."
So they sat and talked until ten o'clock, when Mr. Latham went round to see that the sentries were properly placed and alert. When he returned the door was shut, to keep out the damp air, and the whole party, rolling themselves in their cloaks, and using their saddles for pillows, laid up for the night. Dick was some time before he slept. His imagination was active; and when he at last dozed off, he was thinking what they had best do were they attacked by the enemy.
It was still dark when with a sudden start the sleeping party in the tomb awoke and leaped to their feet. For a moment they stood bewildered, for outside was heard on all sides the crack of volleys of musketry, wild yells and shouts, and the trampling of a large body of cavalry.
"Surprised!" exclaimed the colonel. "The sentries must have been asleep!"
There was a rush to the door, and the sight that met their eyes showed them the extent of the disaster. The moon was shining brightly, and by her light they could see that a large body of rebel cavalry had fallen upon the sleeping troopers, while the heavy musketry fire showed that a strong body of infantry were at work on the other side of the mosque. Lieutenant Latham rushed down the steps with his sword drawn, but fell back dead shot through the heart.
"Back, back!" shouted Colonel Warrener. "Let us sell our lives here!"