E-text prepared by Martin Robb
THE QUEEN'S CUP
G. A. Henty.
A large party were assembled in the drawing room of Greendale, Sir John Greendale's picturesque old mansion house. It was early in September. The men had returned from shooting, and the guests were gathered in the drawing room; in the pleasant half hour of dusk when the lamps have not yet been lighted, though it is already too dark to read. The conversation was general, and from the latest news from India had drifted into the subject of the Italian belief in the Mal Occhio.
"Do you believe in it, Captain Mallett?" asked Bertha, Sir John's only child, a girl of sixteen; who was nestled in an easy chair next to that in which the man she addressed was sitting.
"I don't know, Bertha."
He had known her from childhood, and she had not yet reached an age when the formal "Miss Greendale" was incumbent upon her acquaintances.
"I do not believe in the Italian superstition to anything like the extent they carry it. I don't think I should believe it at all if it were not that one man has always been unlucky to me."
"How unlucky, Captain Mallett?"
"Well, I don't know that unlucky is the proper word, but he has always stood between me and success; at least, he always did, for it is some years since our paths have crossed."
"Tell me about it."
"Well, I have no objection, but there is not a great deal to tell.
"I was at school with—I won't mention his name. We were about the same age. He was a bully. I interfered with him, we had a fight, and I scored my first and only success over him. It was a very tough fight—by far the toughest I ever had. I was stronger than he, but he was the more active. I fancied that it would not be very difficult to thrash him, but found that I had made a great mistake. It was a long fight, and it was only because I was in better condition that I won at last.
"Well, you know when boys fight at school, in most cases they become better friends afterwards; but it was not so here. He refused to shake hands with me, and muttered something about its being his turn next time. Till then he had not been considered a first-rate hand at anything; he was one of those fellows who saunter through school, get up just enough lessons to rub along comfortably, never take any prominent part in games, but have a little set of their own, and hold themselves aloof from school in general.
"Once or twice when we had played cricket he had done so excellently that it was a grievance that he would not play regularly, and there was a sort of general idea that if he chose he could do most things well. After that fight he changed altogether. He took to cricket in downright earnest, and was soon acknowledged to be the best bat and best bowler in the school. Before that it had been regarded as certain that when the captain left I should be elected, but when the time came he got a majority of votes. I should not have minded that, for I recognised that he was a better player than I, but I fancied that he had not done it fairly, for many fellows whom I regarded as certain to support me turned round at the last moment.
"We were in the same form at school. He had been always near the bottom; I stood fairly up in it, and was generally second or third. He took to reading, and in six weeks after the fight won his way to the top of the class and remained there; and not only so, but he soon showed himself so far superior to the rest of us that he got his remove to the form above.
"Then there was a competition in Latin verses open to both forms. Latin verse was the one thing in which I was strong. There is a sort of knack, you know, in stringing them together. A fellow may be a duffer generally and yet turn out Latin verse better than fellows who are vastly superior to him on other points. It was regarded as certain that I should gain that. No one had intended to go in against me, but at the last moment he put his name down, and, to the astonishment of everyone, won in a canter.
"We left about the same time, and went up to Oxford together, but to different Colleges. I rowed in my College Eight, he in his. We were above them on the river, but they made a bump every night until they got behind us, and then bumped us. He was stroke of his boat, and everyone said that success was due to his rowing, and I believe it was. I did not so much mind that, for my line was chiefly sculling. I had won in my own College, and entered for Henley, where it was generally thought that I had a fair chance of winning the Diamonds. However, I heard a fortnight before the entries closed that he was out on the river every morning sculling. I knew what it was going to be, and was not surprised when his name appeared next to mine in the entries.
"We were drawn together, and he romped in six lengths ahead of me, though curiously enough he was badly beaten in the final heat. He stroked the University afterwards. Though I was tried I did not even get a seat in the eight, contrary to general expectation, but I know that it was his influence that kept me out of it.
"We had only one more tussle, and again I was worsted. I went in for the Newdigate—that is the English poetry prize, you know. I had always been fond of stringing verses together, and the friends to whom I showed my poem before sending it in all thought that I had a very good chance. I felt hopeful myself, for I had not heard that he was thinking of competing, and, indeed, did not remember that he had ever written a line of verse when at school. However, when the winner was declared, there was his name again.
"I believe that it was the disgust I felt at his superiority to me in everything that led me to ask my father to get me a commission at once, for it seemed to me that I should never succeed in anything if he were my rival. Since then our lives have been altogether apart, although I have met him occasionally. Of course we speak, for there has never been any quarrel between us since that fight, but I know that he has never forgiven me, and I have a sort of uneasy conviction that some day or other we shall come into contact again.
"I am sure that if we meet again he will do me a bad turn if possible. I regard him as being in some sort of way my evil genius. I own that it is foolish and absurd, but I cannot get over the feeling."
"Oh, it is absurd, Captain Mallett," the girl said. "He may have beaten you in little things, but you won the Victoria Cross in the Crimea, and everyone knows that you are one of the best shots in the country, and that before you went away you were always in the first flight with the hounds."
"Ah, you are an enthusiast, Bertha. I don't say that I cannot hold my own with most men at a good many things where not brains, but brute strength and a quick eye are the only requisites, but I am quite convinced that if that fellow had been in the Redan that day, he would have got the Victoria Cross, and I should not. There is no doubt about his pluck, and if it had only been to put me in the shade he would have performed some brilliant action or other that would have got it for him. He is a better rider than I am, at any rate a more reckless one, and he is a better shot, too. He is incomparably more clever."
"I cannot believe it, Captain Mallett."
"It is quite true, Bertha, and to add to it all, he is a remarkably handsome fellow, a first-rate talker, and when he pleases can make himself wonderfully popular."
"He must be a perfect Crichton, Captain Mallett."
"The worst of it is, Bertha, although I am ashamed of myself for thinking so, I have never been able to divest myself of the idea that he did not play fair. There were two or three queer things that happened at school in which he was always suspected of having had a hand, though it was never proved. I was always convinced that he used cribs, and partly owed his place to them. I was jealous enough to believe that the Latin verses he sent in were written for him by Rigby, who was one of the monitors, and a great dab at verses. Rigby was a great chum of his, for he was a mean fellow, and my rival was always well supplied with money, and to do him justice, liberal with it.
"Then, just before we left school, he carried off the prize in swimming. He was a good swimmer, but I was a better. I thought myself for once certain to beat him, but an hour before the race I got frightful cramps, a thing that I never had before or since, and I could hardly make a fight at all. I thought at the time, and I have thought since, that I must have taken something at breakfast that disagreed with me horribly, and that he somehow put it in my tea.
"Then again in that matter of the Sculls at Henley. I never felt my boat row so heavily as it did then. When it was taken out of the water it was found that a piece of curved iron hoop was fixed to the bottom by a nail that had been pushed through the thin skin. It certainly was not there when it was on the rack, but it was there when I rowed back to the boathouse, and it could only have got there by being put on as the boat was being lowered into the water. There were three or four men helping to lower her down—two of them friends of mine, two of them fellows employed at the boathouse. While it lay in the water, before I got in and took my place, anyone stooping over it might unobserved have passed his hand under it and have pushed the nail through.
"I never said anything about it. I had been beaten; there was no use making a row and a scandal over it, especially as I had not a shadow of proof against anyone; but I was certain that he was not so fast as I was, for during practice my time had been as nearly as possible the same as that of the man who beat him with the greatest ease, and I am convinced that for once I should have got the better of him had it not been for foul play."
"That was shameful, Captain Mallett," Bertha said, indignantly. "I wonder you did not take some steps to expose him."
"I had nothing to go upon, Bertha. It was a case of suspicion only, and you have no idea what a horrible row there would have been if I had said anything about it. Committees would have sat upon it, and the thing would have got into the papers. Fellows would have taken sides, and I should have been blackguarded by one party for hinting that a well-known University man had been guilty of foul practices.
"Altogether it would have been a horrible nuisance; it was much better to keep quiet and say nothing about it."
"I am sure I could not have done that, Captain."
"No, but then you see women are much more impetuous than men. I am certain that after you had once set the ball rolling, you would have been sorry that you had not bided your time and waited for another contest in which you might have turned the tables fairly and squarely."
"He must be hateful," the girl said.
"He is not considered hateful, I can assure you. He conceived a grudge against me, and has taken immense pains to pay me out, and I only trust that our paths will never cross again. If so, I have no doubt that I shall again get the worst of it. At any rate, you see I was not without justification when I said that though I did not believe in the Mal Occhio, I had reason for having some little superstition about it."
"I prophesy, Captain Mallett, that if ever you meet him in the future you will turn the tables on him. Such a man as that can never win in the long run."
"Well, I hope that your prophecy will come true. At any rate I shall try, and I hope that your good wishes will counterbalance his power, and that you will be a sort of Mascotte."
"How tiresome!" the girl broke off, as there was a movement among the ladies. "It is time for us to go up to dress for dinner, and though I shan't take half the time that some of them will do, I suppose I must go."
Captain Mallett had six months previously succeeded, at the death of his father, to an estate five miles from that of Sir John Greendale. His elder brother had been killed in the hunting field a few months before, and Frank Mallett, who was fond of his profession, and had never looked for anything beyond it save a younger son's portion, had thus come in for a very fine estate.
Two months after his father's death he most reluctantly sent in his papers, considering it his duty to settle down on the estate; but ten days later came the news of the outbreak of the Sepoys of Barrackpoor, and he at once telegraphed to the War Office, asking to be allowed to cancel his application for leave to sell out.
So far the cloud was a very small one, but rumours of trouble had been current for some little time, and the affair at least gave him an excuse for delaying his retirement.
Very rapidly the little cloud spread until it overshadowed India from Calcutta to the Afghan frontier. His regiment stood some distance down on the rota for Indian service, but as the news grew worse regiment after regiment was hurried off, and it now stood very near the head of the list. All leave had not yet been stopped, but officers away were ordered to leave addresses, so that they could be summoned to join at an hour's notice.
When he had left home that morning for a day's shooting with Sir John, he had ordered a horse to be kept saddled, so that if a telegram came it could be brought to him without a moment's delay. He was burning to be off. There had at first been keen disappointment in the regiment that they were not likely to take part in the fierce struggle; but the feeling had changed into one of eager expectation, when, as the contest widened and it was evident that it would be necessary to make the greatest efforts to save India, the prospect of their employment in the work grew.
For the last fortnight expectation had been at its height. Orders had been received for the regiment to hold itself in readiness for embarkation, men had been called back from furlough, the heavy baggage had been packed; and all was ready for a start at twenty-four hours' notice. Many of the officers obtained a few days' leave to say goodbye to their friends or settle business matters, and Frank Mallett was among them.
"So I suppose you may go at any moment, Mallett?" said the host at the dinner table that evening.
"Yes, Sir John, my shooting today has been execrable; for I have known that at any moment my fellow might ride up with the order for me to return at once, and we are all in such a fever of impatience, that I am surprised I brought down a bird at all."
"You can hardly hope to be in time either for the siege of Delhi or for the relief of Lucknow, Mallett."
"One would think not, but there is no saying. You see, our news is a month old; Havelock had been obliged to fall back on Cawnpore, and a perfect army of rebels were in Delhi. Of course, the reinforcements will soon be arriving, and I don't think it likely that we shall get up there in time to share in those affairs; but even if we are late both for Lucknow and Delhi, there will be plenty for us to do. What with the Sepoy army and with the native chiefs that have joined them, and the fighting men of Oude and one thing and another, there cannot be less than 200,000 men in arms against us; and even if we do take Delhi and relieve Lucknow, that is only the beginning of the work. The scoundrels are fighting with halters round their necks, and I have no fear of our missing our share of the work of winning back India and punishing these bloodthirsty scoundrels."
"It is a terrible time," Sir John said; "and old as I am, I should like to be out there to lend a hand in avenging this awful business at Cawnpore, and the cold-blooded massacres at other places."
"I think that there will be no lack of volunteers, Sir John. If Government were to call for them I believe that 100,000 men could be raised in a week."
"Ay, in twenty-four hours; there is scarce a man in England but would give five years of his life to take a share in the punishment of the faithless monsters. There was no lack of national feeling in the Crimean War; but it was as nothing to that which has been excited by these massacres. Had it been a simple mutiny among the troops we should all be well content to leave the matter in the hands of our soldiers; but it is a personal matter to everyone; rich and poor are alike moved by a burning desire to take part in the work of vengeance. I should doubt if the country has ever been so stirred from its earliest history."
"Yes, I fancy we are all envying you, Mallett," one of the other gentlemen said. "Partridge shooting is tame work in comparison with that which is going on in India. It was lucky for you that that first mutiny took place when it did, for had it been a week later you would probably have been gazetted out before the news came."
"Yes, that was a piece of luck, certainly, Ashurst. I don't know how I should be feeling if I had been out of it and the regiment on the point of starting for India."
"I suppose you are likely to embark from Plymouth," said Sir John.
"I should think so, but there is no saying. I hardly fancy that we should go through France, as some of the regiments have done; there would be no very great gain of time, especially if we start as far west as Plymouth. Besides, I have not heard of any transports being sent round to Marseilles lately. Of course, in any case we shall have to land at Alexandria and cross the desert to Suez. I should fancy, now that the advantages of that route have been shown, that troops in future will always be taken that way. You see, it is only five weeks to India instead of five months. The situation is bad enough as it is, but it would have been infinitely worse if no reinforcements could have got out from England in less than five months."
"Is there anything that I can do for you while you are away, Mallett?" Sir John Greendale asked, as they lingered for a moment after the other gentlemen had gone off to join the ladies.
"Nothing that I know of, thank you. Norton will see that everything goes on as usual. My father never interfered with him in the general management of the estate, and had the greatest confidence in him. I have known him since I was a child, and have always liked him, so I can go away assured that things will go on as usual. If I go down, the estate goes, as you know, to a distant cousin whom I have never seen.
"As to other matters, I have but little to arrange. I have made a will, so that I shall have nothing to trouble me on that score. Tranton came over with it this morning from Stroud, and I signed it."
"That is right, lad; we all hope most sincerely that there will be no occasion for its provisions to be carried out, but it is always best that a man should get these things off his mind. Are you going to say goodbye to us tonight?"
"I shall do it as a precautionary measure, Sir John, but I expect that when I get the summons I shall have time to drive over here. My horse will do the distance in five and twenty minutes, and unless a telegram comes within an hour of the night mail passing through Stroud, I shall be able to manage it. I saw everything packed up before I left, and my man will see that everything, except the portmanteau with the things I shall want on the voyage, goes on with the regimental baggage."
A quarter of an hour later Captain Mallett mounted his dog cart and drove home. The next morning he received a letter from the Adjutant, saying that he expected the order some time during the next day.
"We are to embark at Plymouth, and I had a telegram this morning saying that the transport had arrived and had taken her coal on board. Of course they will get the news at the War Office today, and will probably wire at once. I think we shall most likely leave here by a train early the next morning. I shall, of course, telegraph as soon as the order comes, but as I know that you have everything ready, you will be in plenty of time if you come on by the night mail."
At eleven o'clock a mounted messenger from Stroud brought on the telegram:
"We entrain at six tomorrow morning. Join immediately."
This was but a formal notification, and he resolved to go on by the night mail. He spent the day in driving round the estate and saying goodbye to his tenants. He lunched at the house of one of the leading farmers, where as a boy he had been always made heartily welcome. Before mounting his dog cart, he stood for a few minutes chatting with Martha, his host's pretty daughter.
"You are not looking yourself, Martha," he said. "You must pick up your roses again before I come back. I shall leave the army then, and give a big dinner to my tenants, with a dance afterwards, and I shall open the ball with you, and expect you to look your best.
"Who is this?" he asked, as a young fellow came round the corner of the house, and on seeing them, turned abruptly, and walked off.
"It is George Lechmere, is it not?"
A flash of colour came into the girl's face.
"Ah, I see," he laughed; "he thought I was flirting with you, and has gone off jealous. Well, you will have no difficulty in making your peace with him tomorrow.
"Goodbye, child, I must be going. I have a long round to make."
He jumped into the dog cart and drove away, while the girl went quietly back into the house.
Her father looked up at the clock.
"Two o'clock," he said; "I must be going. I expected George Lechmere over here. He was coming to talk with me about his father's twelve-acre meadow. I want it badly this winter, for I have had more land under the plough than usual this year. I must either get some pasture or sell off some of my stock."
"George Lechmere came, father," Martha said, with an angry toss of her head, "but when he saw me talking to Captain Mallett he turned and went off; just as if I was not to open my lips to any man but himself."
The farmer would have spoken, but his wife shook her head at him. George Lechmere had been at one time engaged to Martha, but his jealousy had caused so many quarrels that the engagement had been broken off. He still came often to the house, however, and her parents hoped that it would be renewed; for the young fellow's character stood high. He was his father's right hand, and would naturally succeed him to the farm. His parents, too, had heartily approved of the match. So far, however, the prospect of the young people coming together was not encouraging. Martha was somewhat given to flirtation. George was as jealous as ever, and was unable to conceal his feelings, which, as he had now no right to criticise her conduct, so angered the girl that she not unfrequently gave encouragement to others solely to show her indifference to his opinions.
George Lechmere had indeed gone away with anger in his heart. He knew that Captain Mallett was on the point of leaving with his regiment for India, and yet to see him chatting familiarly with Martha excited in him a passionate feeling of grievance against her.
"It matters nought who it is," he muttered to himself. "She is ever ready to carry on with anyone, while she can hardly give me a civil word when I call. I know that if we were to marry it would be just the same thing, and that I am a fool to stop here and let it vex me. It would be better for me to get right out of it. John is old enough to take my place on the farm. Some of these days I will take the Queen's shilling. If I were once away I should not be always thinking of her. I know I am a fool to let a girl trouble me so, but I can't help it. If I stay here I know that I shall do mischief either to her or to someone else. I felt like doing it last month when she was over at that business at Squire Carthew's—he is just such another one as Captain Mallett, only he is a bad landlord, while ours is a good one. What made him think of asking all his own tenantry, and a good many of us round, and getting up a cricket match and a dance on the grass is more than I can say. He never did such a thing before in all the ten years since he became master there. They all noticed how he carried on with Martha, and how she seemed to like it. It was the talk of everyone there. If I had not gone away I should have made a fool of myself, though I have no right to interfere with her, and her father and mother were there and seemed in no way put out.
"I will go away and have a look at that lot of young cattle I bought the other day. I don't know that I ever saw a more likely lot."
It was dark when George returned. On his way home he took a path that passed near the house whence he had turned away so angrily a few hours before. It was not the nearest way, but somehow he always took it, even at hours when there was no chance of his getting the most distant sight of Martha.
Presently he stopped suddenly, for from behind the wall that bounded the kitchen garden of the farm he heard voices. A man was speaking.
"You must make your choice at once, darling, for as I have told you I am off tomorrow. We will be married as soon as we get there, and you know you cannot stop here."
"I know I can't," Martha's voice replied, "but how can I leave?"
"They will forgive you when you come back a lady," he said. "It will be a year at least before I return, and—"
George could restrain himself no longer. A furious exclamation broke from his lips, and he made a desperate attempt to climb the wall, which was, however, too high. When, after two or three unsuccessful attempts, he paused for a moment, all was silent in the garden.
"I will tackle her tomorrow," he said grimly, "and him, too. But I dare not go in now. Bennett has always been a good friend to me, and so has his wife, and it would half kill them were they to know what I have heard; but as for her and that villain—"
George's mouth closed in grim determination, and he strolled on home through the darkness. Whatever his resolutions may have been, he found no opportunity of carrying them out, for the next morning he heard that Martha Bennett had disappeared. How or why, no one knew. She had been missing since tea time on the previous afternoon. She had taken nothing with her, and the farmer and his two sons were searching all the neighbourhood for some sign of her.
The police of Stroud came over in the afternoon, and took up the investigation. The general opinion was that she must have been murdered, and every pond was dragged, every ditch examined, for a distance round the farm. In the meantime George Lechmere held his tongue.
"It is better," he said to himself, "that her parents and friends should think her dead than know the truth."
He seldom spoke to anyone, but went doggedly about his work. His father and mother, knowing how passionately he had been attached to Martha, were not surprised at his strange demeanour, though they wondered that he took no part in the search for her.
They had their trouble, too, for although they never breathed a word of their thoughts even to each other, there was, deep down in their hearts, a fear that George knew something of the girl's disappearance. His intense jealousy had been a source of grief and trouble to them. Previous to his engagement to Martha he had been everything they could have wished him. He had been the best of sons, the steadiest of workers, and a general favourite from his willingness to oblige, his cheerfulness and good temper.
His jealousy, as a child, had been a source of trouble. Any gift, any little treat, for his younger brothers, in which he had not fully shared, had been the occasion for a violent outburst of temper, never exhibited by him at any other time, and this feeling had again shown itself as soon as he had singled out Martha as the object of his attentions.
They had remarked a strangeness in his manner when he had returned home that night, and, remembering the past, each entertained a secret dread that there had been some more violent quarrel than usual between him and Martha, and that in his mad passion he had killed her.
It was, then, with a feeling almost of relief that a month after her disappearance he briefly announced his intention of leaving the farm and enlisting in the army. His mother looked in dumb misery at her husband, who only said gravely:
"Well, lad, you are old enough to make your own choice. Things have changed for you of late, and maybe it is as well that you should make a change, too. You have been a good son, and I shall miss you sorely; but John is taking after you, and presently he will make up for your loss."
"I am sorry to go, father, but I feel that I cannot stay here."
"If you feel that it is best that you should go, George, I shall say no word to hinder you," and then his wife was sure that the fear she felt was shared by her husband.
The next morning George came down in his Sunday clothes, carrying a bundle. Few words were spoken at breakfast; when it was over he got up and said:
"Well, goodbye, father and mother, and you boys. I never thought to leave you like this, but things have gone against me, and I feel I shall be best away.
"John, I look to you to fill my place.
"Good-bye all," and with a silent shake of the hand he took up his bundle and stick and went out, leaving his brothers, who had not been told of his intentions, speechless with astonishment.
Frank Mallet, after he had visited all his tenants, drove to Sir John Greendale's.
"We have got the route," he said, as he entered; "and I leave this evening. I had a note from the Adjutant this morning saying that will be soon enough, so you see I have time to come over and say goodbye comfortably."
"I do not think goodbyes are ever comfortable," Lady Greendale said. "One may get through some more comfortably than others, but that is all that can be said for the best of them."
"I call them hateful," Bertha put in. "Downright hateful, Captain Mallett—especially when anyone is going away to fight."
"They are not pleasant, I admit," Frank Mallett agreed; "and I ought to have said as comfortably as may be. I think perhaps those who go feel it less than those who stay. They are excited about their going; they have lots to think about and to do; and the idea that they may not come back again scarcely occurs to them at the time, although they would admit its possibility or even its probability if questioned.
"However, I fancy the worst of the fighting will be over by the time we get there. It seems almost certain that it will be so, if Delhi is captured and Lucknow relieved. The Sepoys thought that they had the game entirely in their hands, and that they would sweep us right out of India almost without resistance. They have failed, and when they see that every day their chances of success diminish, their resistance will grow fainter.
"I expect that we shall have many long marches, a great many skirmishes, and perhaps two or three hard fights; but I have not a shadow of fear of a single reverse. We are going out at the best time of year, and with cool weather and hard exercise there will be little danger of fevers; therefore the chances are very strongly in favour of my returning safe and sound. It may take a couple of years to stamp it all out, but at the end of that time I hope to return here for good.
"I shall find you a good deal more altered, Miss Greendale, than you will find me. You will have become a dignified young lady. I shall be only a little older and a little browner. You see, I have never been stationed in India since I joined, for the regiment had only just come home, and I am looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to seeing it. Ordinary life there in a hot cantonment must be pretty dull, though, from what I hear, people enjoy it much more than you would think possible. But at a time like the present it will be full of interest and excitement."
"You will write to us sometimes, I hope," Sir John said, when Mallett rose to leave.
"I won't promise to write often, Sir John. I expect that we shall be generally on the move, perhaps without tents of any kind, and to write on one's knee, seated round a bivouac fire, with a dozen fellows all laughing and talking round, would be a hopeless task; but if at any time we are halted at a place where writing is possible, I will certainly do so. I have but few friends in England—at any rate, only men, who never think of expecting a letter. And as you are among my very oldest and dearest friends, it will be a pleasure for me to let you know how I am getting on, and to be sure that you will feel an interest in my doings."
There was a warm goodbye, and all went to the door for a few last words. Frank's portmanteau was already in the dog cart, for he had arranged to drive straight from Greendale to Chippenham, where he would dine at an hotel and then go on by the mail to Exeter.
It was three o'clock when he drove into the barracks there. Early as the hour was, the troops were already up and busy. Wagons were being loaded, the long lines of windows were all lighted up, and in every room men could be seen moving about. He drove across the barrack yard to his own quarters, left his portmanteau there, and then walked to the mess room. As he had expected, he found several officers there.
"Ah, Mallett, there you are. You are the last in; the others all turned up by the evening train, but we thought that as you were comparatively near you would come on by the mail."
"I thought I should find some of you fellows keeping it up."
"Well, there was nothing else to do. There won't be much chance of going to sleep. We all dined in the town, for of course the mess plate and kit have been packed up. We are not taking much with us now, just enough to make shift with. The rest will be sent round to Calcutta, to be stored there till we settle down. The men had a dinner given to them by the town, and as they all got leave out till twelve o'clock, and the loading of the wagons began at two, there has been a row going on all night. Most of us played pool till an hour ago, then we gradually dropped off for an hour's snooze."
"There will be a chance of getting breakfast, I hope?"
"Yes, there is to be a rough and tumble breakfast at a quarter to five. We fall in at a quarter past. We got through the inspection of kits yesterday. The mess sergeant and a party will pack up the breakfast things, and the pots and pans will come on by the next train. There is one at eight. It will be in plenty of time, as I don't suppose the transport will be off until the afternoon, perhaps not till night. There are always delays at the last moment.
"However, it will be something to be on board ship. That is the first step towards getting at those black scoundrels. We are all afraid that we shall be late for Delhi; still there is plenty of other work to be done."
"Any ladies with us?"
"No, there was a general agreement among the married officers that they had best be left behind. So for once the regiment goes without women."
"There is a levity about your tone that I do not approve of, Armstrong," Frank Mallett said, reprovingly. "There were no women when we went out to the Crimea, at the time when you were a good little boy doing Latin exercises."
"Well, altogether it is a good thing, Mallett, and we shall be much more comfortable without them."
"Speak for yourself, Armstrong. Lads of your age who can talk nothing but barrack slang, and are eminently uncomfortable when they have to chat for five minutes to a lady, are naturally glad when they are free from the restraint of having to talk like reasonable beings; but it is not so with older and wiser men. How about Marshall?"
"He has been away on leave for the last ten days. He has not come back here. There have been two fellows inquiring after him diligently for the last week. There was no mistaking their errand, even if we did not know how he stood. I expect he is on board the transport. I fancy the Colonel gave him a hint to join there. No doubt the Jews will be on the lookout for him at Plymouth, as well as here; but he will manage to smuggle himself on board somehow, even if he has to wrap up as an old woman."
"He deserves all the trouble that has fallen upon him," Frank Mallett said, angrily. "I have no patience with a young fool who bets on race horses when he knows very well that if they lose there is nothing for him to do but to go to the Jews for money. However, he has had a sharp lesson, and as it is likely enough that the regiment won't be back in England for years, he will have a chance of getting straight again. This affair has been a godsend for him, for had he remained in England there would have been nothing for him to do but to sell out."
So they chatted until the mess waiters laid the table for breakfast, when the other officers came pouring in. The meal was eaten hastily, for the assembly was sounding in the barrack yard. As soon as breakfast was finished, the officers went out and took their places with their companies.
There was a brief inspection, then the drums and fifes set up "The Girl I Left Behind Me," and the regiment marched off to the station, the streets being already full of people who had got up to see the last of them, and to wish them Godspeed in the work of death they were going to perform.
The baggage was already in the train that was waiting for them in the station, and in a few minutes it steamed away; the soldiers hanging far out of every window to wave a last goodbye to the weeping women who thronged the platform. Two hours later they reached Plymouth, marched through the town to the dockyard, and went straight on board the transport.
There was the usual confusion until the cabins had been allotted, portmanteaus stowed away, and the general baggage lowered into the hold. A tedious wait of three or four hours followed, no one exactly knew why, and then the paddle wheels began to revolve. The men burst into a loud cheer, and a few minutes later they passed Drake's Island and headed down the sound.
They had, as expected, found young Marshall on board. He kept below until they started, although told that there was little chance of the bailiffs being permitted to enter the dockyard. As he had the grace to feel thoroughly ashamed of his position, little was said to him; but the manner of the senior officers was sufficient to make him feel their strong disapproval of the position in which he had placed himself by his folly.
"I have taken a solemn oath never to bet again," he said that evening to Captain Mallett, who was a general favourite with the younger officers; "and I mean to keep it."
"How much do you owe, young 'un?"
"Four hundred and fifty. What with allowances and so on, I ought to be able to pay it off in three or four years."
"Yes, and if you keep your word, Marshall, some of us may be inclined to help you. I will for one. I would have done so before, but to give money to a fool is worse than throwing it into the sea. As soon as you show us by deeds, not words, that you really mean to keep straight, you will find that you are not without friends."
"Thank you awfully, Mallett, but I don't want to be helped. I will clear it off myself if I live."
"You will find it hard work to do that, Marshall, even in India. Of course, the pay and allowances make it easy for even a subaltern to live on his income there, but when it comes to laying by much, that is a difficult matter. However, so long as the actual campaign lasts, the necessary expenses will be very small. We shall live principally on our rations, and you can put by a good bit. There may be a certain amount of prize money, for, although there is nothing to be got from the mutineers themselves, some of the native princes who have joined them will no doubt have to pay heavily for their share in the business."
"Well, you won't give me up, will you, Mallett?"
"Certainly not. I was as hard as anyone on you before, for I have no patience with such insane folly, but if you keep straight no one will be more inclined to make things easy for you."
The voyage to Alexandria was unmarked by any incident. Drill went on regularly, and life differed to no great extent from that in barracks. All were glad when the halfway stage of the journey was reached, but still more so when they embarked in another transport at Suez.
Here they learned, according to news that had arrived on the previous day, that at the end of August Delhi was still holding out; and that, although reinforcements had reached the British, vastly greater numbers of men had entered the city, and that constant sorties were made against the British position on the Ridge.
Excitement therefore was at its highest, when on the 20th of October a pilot came on board at the mouth of the Hooghly, and they learned that the assault had been made on the 14th of September; and that, after desperate fighting extending over a week, the city had been captured, the puppet Emperor made prisoner, and the rebels driven with tremendous loss across the bridge of boats over the Jumma.
The satisfaction with which the news was received, in spite of the disappointment that they had arrived too late to share in the victory, was damped by the news of the heavy losses sustained in the assault; and especially that of that most gallant soldier, General Nicholson.
Nor were their hopes that they might take part in the relief of Lucknow realised, for they learned that on the 25th of September the place had been relieved by Havelock and Outram. Here, however, there was still a prospect that they might take a share in the serious fighting; as the losses of the relieving column had been so heavy, and the force of mutineers so large, that it had been found impracticable to carry off the garrison as intended, and the relieving forces were now themselves besieged. There was, however, no fear felt for their safety. If the scanty original garrison had defied all the efforts of the mutineers, no one doubted that, now that their force was trebled, they would succeed in defending themselves until an army sufficiently strong to bring them off could be assembled.
Not a day was lost at Calcutta. General Sir Colin Campbell, who was now in supreme command, was collecting a force at Cawnpore. There he had already been joined by a column which had been despatched from Delhi as soon as the capital fell, and by a strong naval brigade with heavy guns from the ships of war.
All arrangements had been made for pushing up reinforcements as fast as they arrived, and the troops were marched from the side of the ship to a spot where a flotilla of boats was in readiness. The men only took what they could carry; all other baggage was to be sent after them by water, and to lie, until further instructions, at Allahabad. As soon, therefore, as the troops had been packed away in the boats, they were taken in tow by two steamers, and at once taken up the river. Officers and men were alike in the highest spirits at finding themselves in so short a time after their arrival already on the way to the front, and their excitement was added to by the fact that it was still doubtful whether they would arrive in time to join the column. Cramped as the men were in the crowded boats, there was no murmuring as day after day, and night after night, they continued their course up the river.
At Patna they learned that the Commander in Chief was still at Cawnpore, and the same welcome news was obtained at Allahabad; but at the latter place they learned that the news of his having gone forward was hourly expected.
They reached Cawnpore on the morning of the 11th, and learned that the column had left on the 9th, but was halting at Buntara. Not a moment was lost. Each man received six days' provisions from the commissariat stores, and two hours after landing the regiment was on the march and arrived late at night at Buntara, being received with hearty cheers by the troops assembled there.
They learned that they were to go forward on the following morning. Weary, but in high spirits at finding that they had arrived in time, the regiment lighted its fires and bivouacked.
"This has been a close shave indeed, Mallett," one of the other captains said, as a party of them sat round a fire. "We won by a short head."
"Short indeed, Ackers. It has been a race all the way from England, and it is marvellous indeed that we should arrive just in time to take part in the relief of Lucknow. A day later and we should have missed it."
"We should not have done that, Mallett, for the men would have marched all night, and, if necessary, all day tomorrow, to catch up. Still, it is a wonderful fluke that after all we should be in time."
"There is no doubt that it will be a tough business," one of the majors said. "Havelock found it so, and I expect that the lesson he taught them hasn't been lost, and that we shall have to meet greater difficulties than even he had."
"Yes, but look at our force. Sixteen guns of Horse Artillery, a heavy field battery, and the Naval Brigade with eight guns; the 9th Lancers, the Punjaub Cavalry, and Hodson's Horse; four British regiments of infantry and two of Punjaubies, besides a column 1,500 strong which is expected to join us tomorrow or next day.
"I hope in any case, Major, that we shan't follow the line Havelock took through the narrow streets, for there we cannot use our strength; but will manage to approach the Residency from some other direction. We know that it stands near the river, and at the very edge of the town, so there ought to be some other way of getting at it. I consider that we are a match for any number of these scoundrels if we do but get a fair ground for fighting, which we certainly should not do in the streets of the town."
"I don't care how it is, so that we do get at them," another officer said. "We have heard such frightful details of their atrocities as we came up that one is burning to get at close quarters with them. I suppose we shall go to the Alumbagh first, and relieve the force that has so long been shut up there. I only hope that we shan't be chosen to take their place."
There was a general exclamation of disgust at the suggestion.
"Well, someone must stay, you know," he went on in deprecation of the epithets hurled at him; "and why not our regiment as well as any other?"
"Because I cannot believe that after luck has favoured us so long she will play us such a trick now," Frank Mallett said. "Besides, the other regiments have done something in the way of fighting already while we have not fired a shot; and I think that Sir Colin would be more likely to choose the 75th, or, in fact, any of the other regiments than us. Still if the worst comes to the worst we must not grumble. Other regiments have had weary times of waiting, and it may be our turn now. Your suggestion has come as a damper to our spirits, and, as I don't mind acknowledging that I am dog tired with the march, after not having used my legs for the last seven or eight weeks, I shall try to forget it by going off to sleep."
Making a pillow of his cloak, he lay down on the spot where he was sitting, his example being speedily followed by the rest of the officers.
The next morning the troops were on the march early, but they were not to reach the Alumbagh without opposition, for on passing a little fort to the right they were suddenly attacked by a small body of rebels posted round it.
But little time was lost. Hodson's Horse, who were nearest to them, at once made a brilliant charge, scattering them in all directions. A short pause was made while the fort was dismantled, and then the column proceeded without further interruption to the Alumbagh.
There was some disappointment at its appearance. Instead of finding, as they had expected, a palace, there was nothing but a large garden enclosed by a lofty wall, and having a small mosque at one end. It had evidently been a place of retirement when the Kings of Oude desired to get away from the bustle and ceremony of the great town.
The Commander in Chief was thoroughly acquainted with the situation in the city, by information that he had received from a civilian named Kavanagh; who had at immense risk made his way out from the Residency, and was able to furnish plans of all the principal buildings and the route which, in the opinion of Brigadier General Inglis, was the most favourable for the attack.
In the evening the reinforcements arrived, bringing up the total force to 5,000. When the orders were issued, the officers of the ——th found to their intense satisfaction that, as Captain Mallett had thought likely, the 75th was selected to remain in charge of the baggage at the Alumbagh.
The force moved off, early on the morning of the 14th, but, after marching a short distance along the direct road followed by Havelock, struck off to the right, and, keeping well away from the city, came down upon the summer palace of the Kings of Oude, called the Dilkoosha. It stood on an eminence commanding a view of the whole of the eastern suburbs of the town, and was surrounded by a large park.
As soon as the head of the column approached this, a heavy musketry fire broke out, and it was at once evident that their movements had been watched and the object of their march divined. The head of the column was halted for a few minutes until reinforcements came up. Then they formed into line, the artillery opened on their flanks, and with a cheer the troops advanced to the attack.
"The beggars cannot shoot a bit," Frank Mallett said to his subaltern, Armstrong. "I expect they are Sepoys, for the Oude tribesmen are said to be good marksmen."
Keeping up a rolling fire at the loopholes in the walls, the infantry pressed forward. The fire of the enemy slackened as they approached, and they soon forced their way in, some helping their comrades over the wall, others breaking down a gate and so pouring in. A halt was made until the greater portion of the troops came up, and then the advance was continued.
The defenders of the wall had been considerably reinforced by troops stationed round the Palace itself, but they were unable to withstand the British advance, and soon began to retreat towards the city; stopping occasionally where a wall or building offered facilities for defence, but never waiting long enough for the British to get at them. In two hours all had been driven down the hill to the Martiniere College. Here again they made a stand, but were speedily driven out, and chased through the garden and park of the college, and thence across the canal into the streets of the town. Here the pursuit ceased, the ——th being told off to hold the Martiniere as an advanced position. Sir Colin established his headquarters at the Dilkoosha, the rest of the troops bivouacking around it or on the slope of the hill between it and the college.
After seeing that the men were comfortable, and getting some food, most of the officers gathered on the flat roof of the college, whence a fine view was obtainable over the town. The Residency had been already pointed out to them, and the British flag could be seen floating above it. Several very large buildings, surrounded for the most part with walled gardens, rose above the low roofs of the native houses in the intervening space.
"The way is pretty open. A good deal of the ground seems to be occupied with gardens, and most of the houses are so small that they could not hold many men."
"I agree with you, Mallett. It is evident that we shall be passing through an open suburb rather than the town itself. Those big buildings, if held in force, will give us a good deal of trouble. They are regular fortresses."
"I don't think that any of them are built of stone. They all seem to be whitewashed."
"That is so," the Major agreed, as he examined them through his field glass. "I suppose stone is scarce in this neighbourhood, but it is probable that the walls are of brickwork, and very thick. They will have to be regularly breached before we can carry them.
"It makes one sad to think that that flag, which has waved over the Residency for the last five months, defying all the efforts of enormously superior numbers, is to come down, and that these scoundrels will be able to exult in the possession of the place that has defied all their efforts to take it. Still one feels that Sir Cohn's decision is a necessary one. It would never do to have six or seven thousand men shut up there, when there is urgent work to be done in a score of other places. Besides, it would need a vast magazine of provisions to maintain them. Our force, even when joined by the garrison, would be wholly inadequate for so tremendous a task as reducing to submission a city containing at least half-a-million inhabitants, together with thirty or forty thousand mutineers and a host of Oude's best men, with the advantage of the possession of a score or two of buildings, all of which are positive fortresses."
"No, there is nothing for it but to fall back again till we have a force sufficient to capture the whole city, and utterly defeat its defenders. With us away, this place will become the focus of the mutiny. Half the fugitives from Delhi will find their way here, and at least we shall be able to crush them at one blow, instead of having to scour the country for them for months. The more of them gather here the better; and then, when we do capture the place, there will be an end of the mutiny, though, of course, there will still be the work of hunting down scattered bands."
"We may look forward to very much harder work tomorrow than we have had today," Captain Johnson said. "With these glasses I can make out that the place is crowded with men. Of course, today we took them somewhat by surprise, as they would naturally expect us to follow Havelock's line. But now that they know what our real intentions are, they will be able to mass their whole force to oppose us."
"So much the better," Frank Mallett said. "There is no mistaking the feeling of the troops. They are burning to avenge Cawnpore, and little mercy will be shown the rebels who fall into their hands."
"I should advise any of you gentlemen who want to write home," the Colonel said, gravely, "to do so this evening. There is no doubt that we shall take those places, but I think that there is also no doubt that our death roll will be heavy. You must not judge by their fighting today of the stand that they are likely to make tomorrow. They know well enough that they will get no quarter after what has taken place, and will fight desperately to the end."
Most of the officers took his advice. Captain Mallett sat down on the parapet, took out a notebook, and wrote in pencil:
"Dear Sir John:
"Although it is but four days since I posted you a long letter from Cawnpore that I had written on our way up the river, I think it as well to write a few lines in pencil. You will not get them unless I go down tomorrow, as I shall of course tear them up if I get through all right. I am writing now within sight of the Residency. We had a bit of a fight today, but the rebels did not make any serious stand. Tomorrow it will be different, for we shall have to fight our way through the town, and there is no doubt that the resistance will be very obstinate. I have nothing to add to what I wrote to you last. What I should like you to know is that I thought of you all this evening, and that I send you and Lady Greendale and Bertha my best wishes for your long life and happiness.
"Yours most sincerely,
He tore the page from his notebook, put it in an envelope and directed it, then placed it in an inner pocket of his uniform.
"So you are not writing, Marshall," he said, as he went across to the young ensign who was sitting on the angle of the parapet.
"I have no one particular to write to, Captain Mallett, and the only persons who will feel any severe sorrow if I fall tomorrow are my creditors."
"We should all be sorry, Marshall, very sorry. Ever since we sailed from Plymouth your conduct has shown that you have determined to retrieve your previous folly. The Colonel himself spoke to me about it the other day, and remarked that he had every hope that you would turn out a steady and useful officer. We have all noticed that beyond the regular allowance of wine you have drunk nothing, and that you did not touch a card throughout the voyage."
"I have not spent a penny since I went on board at Plymouth," the lad said. "I got the paymaster to give me an order on London for the amount of pay due to me the day we got to Cawnpore, and posted it to Morrison; so he has got some fifteen pounds out of the fire. Of course it is not much, but at any rate it will show him I mean to pay up honestly."
"Well done, lad. You are quite right to give up cards, and to cut yourself off liquors beyond the Queen's allowance; but don't stint yourself in necessaries. For instance, fruit is necessary here, and of course when we once get into settled quarters, you must keep a horse of some sort, as everyone else will do so. How much did you really have from Morrison in cash?"
"Three hundred; for which I gave him bills for four fifty and a lien on my commission."
"All right, lad, I will write to my solicitor in London, and get him to see Morrison, and ask him to meet you fairly in the matter. He will know that it will be years before you are likely to be in England again, and that if you are killed he will lose altogether; so under these circumstances I have no doubt that he will be glad enough to make a considerable abatement, perhaps to content himself with the sum that you really had from him."
"I am afraid that my letter, with the enclosure, assuring him that I will in time pay the amount due, will harden his heart," Marshall laughed. "I am much obliged all the same, but I don't think that it will be of any use."
However, on leaving him, Mallett went downstairs, borrowed some ink from the quartermaster, and wrote to his solicitor, enclosing a cheque for 300 pounds, with instructions to see the money lender.
"You will find that he will be glad enough to hand over young Marshall's bills for four fifty for that amount," he said. "He has already had fifteen pounds, which is a fair interest for the three hundred for the time the lad has had it. He will know well enough that if Marshall dies he will lose every penny, and that at any rate he will have to wait many years before he can get it. I have no doubt that he would jump at an offer of a couple of hundred, but it is just as well that the young fellow should feel the obligation for some time, and as the man did lend him the money it would be unfair that he should be an absolute loser."
The next morning three days' rations were served out to the troops, and the advance begun; the movement being directed against the Secunderbagh, a large garden surrounded by a very high and strong wall loopholed for musketry. To reach it a village, fortified and strongly held, had first to be carried. The attack was led by Brigadier Hope's brigade, of which the regiment formed part. As they approached the village, so heavy a musketry fire was opened upon them that the order to advance was changed and the leading regiment moved forward in skirmishing order. The horse artillery and heavy field guns were brought up, and poured a tremendous fire into the village, driving the defenders from their post on the walls.
As soon as this was accomplished, the infantry rushed forward and stormed the village, the enemy opposing a stout resistance, occupying the houses and fighting to the last. The main body of them, however, fled to the Secunderbagh. The 4th Sikhs had been ordered to lead the attack, while the British infantry of the brigade were to cover the operation. The men were, however, too excited and too eager to get at the enemy to remain inactive, and on leaving the village dashed forward side by side with the Sikhs and attacked the wall. There was a small breach in this, and many of the men rushed through it before the enemy, taken by surprise, could offer a serious resistance. The entrance was, however, so narrow that very few men could pass in, and while a furious fight was raging inside, the rest of the troops tried in vain to find some means of entering.
There were two barred windows, one on each side of the gate, and some of the troopers creeping under these raised their shakos on their bayonets. The defenders fired a heavy volley into them, and the soldiers, leaping to their feet, sprang at the bars and pulled them down by main force, before the defenders had time to reload. Then they leaped down inside, others followed them, the gates were opened, and the main body of troops poured in.
The garden was held by 2,000 mutineers. With shouts of "Remember Cawnpore," the troops flung themselves upon them; and although the mutineers fought desperately, and the struggle was continued for a considerable time, every man was at last shot or bayoneted.
In the meantime a serious struggle was going on close by. Nearly facing the Secunderbagh stood the large Mosque of Shah Nujeeff. It had a domed roof, with a loopholed parapet and four minarets, which were filled with riflemen. It stood in a large garden surrounded by a high wall, also loopholed, the entrance being blocked up with solid masonry. The fire from this building had seriously galled Hope's division, while engaged in forcing its way into the Secunderbagh, and Captain Peel, with the Naval Brigade, brought up the heavy guns against it. He took up his position within a few yards of the wall and opened a heavy fire, assisted by that of a mortar battery and a field battery of Bengal Artillery; the Highlanders covering the sailors and artillerymen as they worked their guns, by a tremendous fire upon the enemy's loopholes. So massive were the walls that it was several hours before even the sixty-eight pounders of the Naval Brigade succeeded in effecting a breach.
As soon as this was done the impatient infantry were ordered to the assault, and rushing in, overpowered all resistance, and slew all within the enclosure, save a few who effected their escape by leaping from the wall at the rear.
It was now late in the afternoon, and operations ceased for the day. The buildings on which the enemy had chiefly relied for their defence had been captured, and the difficulties still to be encountered were comparatively small. The next day an attack was made upon a strong building known as the Mess House. This was first breached by the artillery, and then carried by assault by the 53rd and 90th regiments, and a detachment of Sikhs; the latter, single handed, storming another building called the Observatory, in the rear of the Mess House.
At the same time the garrison of the Residency had, in accordance with the plan brought out by Kavanagh, begun operations on their side. The capture of the Secunderbagh and Mosque had been signalled to them, and while the attack on the Mess House was being carried out they had blown down the outer wall of their defences, shelled the ground beyond, and then advanced, carrying two large buildings facing them at the point of the bayonet.
All day the fighting continued, the British gaining ground on either side. The next day the houses still intervening between them were captured, and in the afternoon the defenders of the Residency and the relieving force joined hands. The total loss of the latter was 122 officers and men killed and 345 wounded.
Frank Mallett's letter to Sir John Greendale was not sent off. He received a bullet through the left arm as the troops advanced against the Secunderbagh, but, using his sash as a sling, led on his company against the defenders crowded in the garden, and took part in the desperate fighting. Three of his brother officers were killed during the three days' fighting, and five others wounded.
"Well, Marshall," he said on the evening of the day when the way was open to the Residency; "you have not cheated your creditor, I see."
"No, Captain Mallett. I thought of him when those fellows in the mosque were keeping such a heavy fire upon us as we were waiting to get into the Secunderbagh. It seemed to me that his chance of ever getting his money was not worth much. How the bullets did whizz about! I felt sure that we should be all mown down before we could get under the shelter of the wall.
"I don't think I shall ever feel afraid in battle again. One gets to see that musketry fire is not so very dangerous after all. If it were, very few of us would have got through the three days' fighting alive, whereas the casualties only amount to one-tenth of the force engaged. I am very sorry you are wounded."
"Oh, my wound is a mere trifle. I scarcely felt it until the sergeant next to me said, 'You are wounded in the arm, Captain Mallett.' The doctor says that it narrowly missed the bone, but in this case a miss is as good as a mile. I am very sorry about Hatchard and Rivers and Miles. They were all good fellows, and when this excitement is over we shall miss them sadly. It will give you your step."
"Yes, I won't say that it is lucky, for one cannot forget how it has been gained. Still it is a good lift for me, for there are two or three down for purchase below me, and otherwise I should have had to wait a long time. It puts you one higher on the list, Captain Mallett."
"I am going to clear out altogether as soon as the fighting is all over, so whether I am fourth or fifth on the list makes no difference whatever to me."
"Still it is a great satisfaction to have been through this and to have taken one's share in the work of revenge. It was a horrible business in the Secunderbagh, though one did not think of it at the time. The villains richly deserved what they got, but I own that I should not care to go into the place again. They must have suffered tremendously altogether. The Colonel said this afternoon that he found their loss had been put down as at least six or seven thousand."
The regiment took its full share in the work that followed the relief of Lucknow, portions being attached to each of the flying columns which scoured Oude, defeated Kunwer Singh, and drove the rebels before them wherever they encountered them.
In the beginning of February the vacancies in the ranks were filled up by a draft from England. The work had been fatiguing in the extreme, but the men were as a rule in splendid health, the constant excitement preventing their suffering from the effect of heat or attacks of fever.
Two companies which had been away from the headquarters of the regiment for six weeks, found on their return a number of letters awaiting them, the first they had received since leaving England. Captain Mallett, who commanded this detachment, found one from Sir John Greendale, written after the receipt of his letter from Cawnpore.
"My Dear Mallett:
"We were all delighted to get your letter. Long before we received it we had the news of the desperate fighting at Lucknow, which was, of course, telegraphed down to the coast and got here before your letter. You may imagine that we looked anxiously through the list of killed and wounded, and were glad indeed that your name in the latter had the word 'slightly' after it.
"Things are going on here much as usual. There was a terrible sensation on the very morning after you left, at the disappearance of Martha Bennett, the daughter of one of your tenants. She left the house just at dusk the evening before, and has not been heard of since. As she took nothing with her, it is improbable in the extreme that she can have fled, and there can be little doubt that the poor girl was murdered, possibly by some passing tramps. However, though the strictest search was made throughout the neighbourhood, her body has never been discovered.
"We lost another neighbour just about the time you left—Percy Carthew. He went for a year's big game shooting in North America. We don't miss him much, as he lived in London, and was not often down at his place. I don't remember his being there since you came back from the Crimea. Anyhow, I do not think that I ever saw you and him together, either in a hunting field or at a dinner party; which, of course, you would have been had you both been down here at the same time. If I remember right, you were at the same school."
And then followed some gossip about mutual friends, and the letter concluded:
"The general excitement is calming down a little now that Delhi is taken and the garrison of Lucknow brought off. Of course there will be a great deal more fighting before the whole thing is over, but there is no longer any fear for the safety of India. The Sikhs have come out splendidly. Who would have thought it after the tremendous thrashing we gave them a few years back?
"Take care of yourself, lad. You have the Victoria Cross and can do very well without a bar, so give someone else the chance. My wife and Bertha send their love."
Two or three of his other letters were from friends in regiments at home bewailing their hard fortune at being out of the fighting. The last he opened bore the latest postmark. It was from his solicitor, and enclosed Marshall's cancelled bill.
"Of course, as you requested me to give 300 pounds for the enclosed, I did so, but by the way in which Morrison jumped at the offer I believe that he would have been glad to have taken half that sum."
Mallett had gone into his tent to open his letters in quiet. He presently went to the entrance, and catching sight of Marshall called him up.
"I have managed that affair for you, Marshall," he said; "and have arranged it in a way that I am sure will be satisfactory to us both. You must look upon me now as your creditor instead of Morrison, and you won't find me a hard one. Here is your cancelled bill for four hundred and fifty. I got it for three hundred, so that a third of your debt is wiped off at once. As to the rest, you can pay me as you intended to pay him, but I don't want you to stint yourself unnecessarily. Pay me ten or fifteen pounds at a time at your convenience, and don't let us say anything more about it."
"But I may be killed," Marshall said, in a voice struggling with emotion.
"If you are, lad, there is an end of the business. As you know, I am very well off, and the loss would not affect me in any way. Very likely you will light upon some rich booty in one of these affairs with a rebel Rajah, and will be able to pay it all off at once."
"I will if I can, Mallett, though I think that it will be much more satisfactory to do it out of my savings, except that I shall have the pleasure of knowing that if I were wiped out afterwards you would not be a loser."
A few days later Frank Mallett was sent with his company to rout out a party of rebels reported to be in possession of a large village twenty miles away. Armstrong was laid up by a slight attack of fever, and he asked that Marshall should be appointed in his place on this occasion.
"One wants two subalterns, Colonel," he said, "for a business like this. I may have to detach a party to the back of the village to cut off the rebels' retreat, and it may be necessary to assault in two places."
"Certainly. Take Marshall if you wish it, Captain Mallett. The young fellow has been behaving excellently, and has gone far to retrieve his character. Captain Johnson has reported to me that he is exemplary in his duties, and has shown much gallantry under fire, especially in that affair near Neemuch, in which he rushed forward and carried off a wounded man who would otherwise have certainly been killed. I reported the case to the Brigadier, who said that at any other time the young fellow would probably have been recommended for a V.C., but that there were so many cases of individual gallantry that there was no chance of his getting that; but Marshall was specially mentioned in orders four days ago, and this will, of course, count in his favour.
"Take him with you by all means; your ensign only joined with the last draft, and you will certainly want someone with you of greater experience than he has."
Marshall was delighted when he heard that he was to accompany Captain Mallett. In addition to his own company, a hundred men of the Punjaub infantry and fifty Sikh horse were under Captain Mallett's command, the native troops being added at the last moment, as a report of another body of mutineers marching in the same direction had just come in.
Frank spent a quarter of an hour in inspecting some maps of the country, and had a talk with the native who was to act as guide. When the little force was drawn up, he marched off in quite another direction from that in which the village lay. Being in command, he was mounted for the first time during the campaign. The lieutenant in command of the Sikhs presently rode up to him.
"I beg your pardon, Captain Mallett, but I cannot but think that your guide is taking you in the wrong direction. I looked at the map before starting, and find that Dousi lies almost due north. We are marching west."
"You are quite right, Mr. Hammond, but, you see, I don't want any of the natives about the camp to guess where we are going. None of these Oude fellows bears us any goodwill, and one of them might hurry off, and carry information as to the line we were following.
"We will march four miles along this road, and then strike off by another leading north. We must surprise them if we can. We don't really know much about their force, and even if we did, they may be joined by some other body before we get there—there are numerous bands of them all over the country. And in the next place, if they knew that we were coming, they might bolt before we got there.
"Besides, some of these villages are very strong, and we might suffer a good deal before we could carry it if they had notice of our coming. However, you were quite right to point out to me that we were not going in what seemed the right direction."
The column started at four o'clock in the afternoon. It had been intended that it should move off at daybreak on the following morning, but Frank had suggested to the Colonel that it would be advantageous to march half the distance that night.
"Of course, we could do the twenty miles tomorrow, Colonel," he said, "but the men would hardly be in the best fighting trim when they got there. Moreover, by starting in the afternoon, the natives here would imagine that we were going to pounce upon some fugitives at a village not far away."
The permission was readily granted, and accordingly, after marching until nine o'clock in the evening, the column halted in a grove of trees to which their guide led them, half a mile from the road. Each man carried four days' cooked provisions in his haversack. There was therefore no occasion for fires to be lighted, and after seeing that sentries were placed round the edge of the grove, Frank Mallett joined the officers who were gathered in the centre.
"What time shall we march tomorrow?" the officer in command of the native infantry asked.
"Not until the heat of the day is over. We have come about twelve miles, and have as much more to do; and if we start at the same hour as we did today we shall get there about nine. I shall halt half a mile away, reconnoitre the place at night, and if the ground is open enough to move without making a noise, we will post the troops in the positions they are to occupy, and attack as soon as day breaks.
"In that way we shall get the benefit of surprise, and at the same time have daylight to prevent their escaping. Besides, if we attacked at night a good many of the villagers, and perhaps women, might be killed in the confusion.
"Tomorrow morning we will cut down some young saplings and make a dozen scaling ladders. We have brought a bag of gunpowder to blow open the gate, and if the main body enter there while two parties scale the walls at other points we shall get them in a trap."
At about nine o'clock the next evening the guide said that they were now within half a mile of the village, and they accordingly halted. The men were ordered to keep silence, and to lie down and sleep as soon as they had eaten their supper; while Mallett, accompanied by the two officers of the native troops and the guide, made his way towards the village.
It was found to be larger than had been anticipated. On three sides cultivated fields extended to the foot of the strong wall that surrounded it, while on the fourth there was rough broken ground covered with scrub and brushes.
"How far does this extend?" Captain Mallett asked the guide.
"About half a mile, and then joins a big jungle, sahib."
"This is the side they will try to escape by; therefore, Mr. Herbert, you will lead your men round here with four scaling ladders. You will post them along at the foot of the wall, and when you hear the explosion of the powder bag or an outburst of musketry firing, you will scale the wall and advance to meet me, keeping as wide a front as possible, so as to prevent fugitives from passing you and getting out here. The cavalry will cut off those who make across the open country. I would give a good deal to know how many of these fellows are inside. Four hundred was the number first reported. They may, of course, have already moved away, and on the other hand they may have been joined by others. They were said to have some guns with them, but these will be of little use in the streets of the village, and we shall probably capture them before they have time to fire a single round."
At three o'clock the troops stood to their arms, and moved noiselessly off towards the positions assigned to them. Captain Mallett led his own company to within four hundred yards of the wall, and then sent Marshall forward with two men to fix the powder bag and fuse to the gate. When they had done this they were to remain quietly there until warned that the company was about to advance; then they were to light the fuse, which was cut to burn two minutes, to retire round the angle of the wall, and join the company as it came up. The troops lay down, for the ground was level, and there was no spot behind which they could conceal themselves, and impatiently watched the sky until the first gleam of light appeared. Another ten minutes elapsed. The dawn was spreading fast, and a man was sent forward to Lieutenant Marshall to say that the company was getting in motion.
As soon as the messenger was seen to reach the gates, Mallett gave the word. The men sprang to their feet.
"Don't double, men. We shall be there in time, and it is no use getting out of breath and spoiling your shooting."
They were within a hundred yards of the gate, when they heard a shout from the village, and as they pressed on, shot after shot rang out from the wall. A moment later there was a heavy explosion, and as the smoke cleared off, the gate was seen to be destroyed.
A few seconds later, the troops burst through the opening. Infantry bugles were sounding in the village, and there was a loud din of shouting, cries of alarm and orders. From every house the mutineers rushed, musket in hand, but were shot down or bayoneted by the troops. As the latter approached a large open space in the middle of the village a strong body of Sepoys advanced in good order to meet them, led by their native officers.
"Steady, men, steady," Captain Mallett shouted. "Form across the street."
Quickly the men fell in, though several dropped as a volley flashed out from the Sepoy line.
"One volley and then charge," Mallett shouted. Some of the guns were already empty, but the rest poured in their fire, when the word was given, as regularly as if on parade.
"Level bayonets—charge!" And with a loud cheer the soldiers sprang forward. The Sepoys, well commanded though they were, wavered and broke; but the British were upon them before they could fly, and with shouts of "Cawnpore," used their bayonets with deadly effect, driving the enemy before them.
As they came into the open, and the fugitives cleared away on either side, they saw a long line of men drawn up. A moment later a flash of fire ran along it.
"Shoulder to shoulder, men," Captain Mallett shouted. "Give them the bayonet."
With a hoarse roar of rage, for many of their comrades had fallen, the company rushed forward and burst through the line of mutineers as if it had been a sheet of paper. Then they divided, and Captain Mallett with half the company turned to the right. Marshall took the other wing to the left.
Encouraged by the smallness of the number of their assailants, the mutineers, cheered on by their officers, resisted stoutly. A scattering fire opened upon the British from the houses round, and the shouts of the mutineers rose louder and louder, when a heavy volley was suddenly poured into them, and the Punjaubies rushed out from the street facing that by which the British had entered. They bore to the right, and fell upon the body with which Marshall was engaged.
The Sepoys, taken wholly by surprise, at once lost heart. Cheering loudly, the British attacked them with increased ardour, while the Punjaubies flung themselves into their midst. In an instant, that flank of the Sepoys was scattered in headlong flight, hotly pursued by their foes. There was no firing, for the muskets were all empty; but the bayonet did its work, and the open space and the streets leading from it were thickly strewn with dead.
The Sepoys attacked by Captain Mallett's party, on the other hand, though shaken for a moment, stood firm; led by two or three native officers, who, fighting with the greatest bravery, exhorted their men to continue their resistance.
"Would you rather be hung than fight?" they shouted. "They are but a handful; we are five to one against them. Forward, men, and exterminate these Feringhees before the others can come back to their assistance."
The Sepoys were now the assailants, and with furious shouts pressed round the little body of British troops.
"Steady, men, steady," Captain Mallett shouted, as he drove his sword through the body of one of the rebel leaders who rushed at him. "Keep together, back to back. We shall have help here in a minute."
It was longer than that, however, before relief came. For three or four minutes a desperate struggle went on, then Marshall's voice was heard shouting:
"This way, men, this way!"
A moment later there was a surging movement in the ranks of the insurgents, and with a dozen men Marshall burst through them, and joined the party. These at once fell furiously upon the mutineers, and the latter were already giving way when some fifty of the Punjaubies, led by their officers, fell upon them.
The effect was decisive. The Sepoys scattered at once, and fled in all directions, pursued by the furious soldiers and the Punjaubies. Reaching the walls, the fugitives leapt recklessly down. Forty or fifty of them were cut down by the cavalry, but the greater portion reached the broken ground in safety. Here the cavalry could not follow them, for the ground was covered with rocks and boulders concealed by the bushes. In the village itself three hundred and fifty lay dead.
"Thanks, Marshall," Frank Mallett said, when the fight in the village was over. "You arrived just in time, for it was going very hard with us. Altogether it was more than we bargained for, for they were certainly over a thousand strong. They must have been joined by a very strong party yesterday."
"I ought not to have gone so far," Marshall replied, "but I had no idea that all the Punjaubies had come to our side of the fight. The men were so eager that I had the greatest difficulty in getting them off the pursuit. Fortunately I met Herbert, and learned that all his men were with us. Then I gathered a dozen of our fellows, and rushed off, telling him to follow as soon as he could get some of his men together.
"You can imagine what agony I felt when, as I entered the open space, I saw a surging mass of Sepoys, and no sign of any of you; and how I cursed my own folly, and what delight I felt, as on cutting our way through we found that you were still on your feet."
"Yes, it was a close shave, Marshall; another two or three minutes and it would have been all over. The men fought like lions, as you can see by the piled-up dead there. Half of them were down, and twenty men cannot hold out long against four or five hundred.
"We owe our lives to you beyond all question. I don't see that you were in the least to blame in the matter, for naturally you would suppose that some of the Punjaubies would have joined us. Besides, it was of course essential that you should not give the Sepoys time to rally, but should follow them up hotly.
"Where is Anstruther?"
"I don't know. I have not seen him since we entered the square."
"Have any of you seen Mr. Anstruther?" Captain Mallett asked, turning to some soldiers standing near.
"He is lying over there, sir," one of the men said. "He was just in front of me when the Pandies fired that volley at us as we came out of the streets, and he pitched forward and fell like a stone. I think that he was shot through the head, sir."
They went across to the spot. The ensign lay there shot through the brain. Four or five soldiers lay round him; one of them was dead, the others more or less seriously wounded.
"Sound the assembly," Captain Mallett said, as he turned away sadly, to a bugler. "Let us see what our losses are."
The bugle sounded, and in a short time the infantry fell in. They had been engaged in searching the houses for mutineers. The Punjaubies had lost but five killed and thirteen wounded, while of the whites an officer and eighteen men were killed and sixteen wounded; nine of the former having fallen in the bayonet struggle with the Sepoys. Nine guns were captured, none of which had been fired, the attack having been so sudden that the Sepoys had only had time to fall in before their assailants were upon them.
"It is a creditable victory," Mallett said, "considering that we had to face more than double the number that we expected. Our casualties are heavy, but they are nothing to those of the mutineers.