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India by  Victor Surridge

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THE END OF THE COMPANY

[268] FORTY-FIVE miles from Cawnpur another desperate siege was being conducted. At Lucknow, one of the most beautiful cities in India, a handful of Englishmen were holding out gallantly against the fierce hordes of Sepoys who hemmed them in on every side. They had, however, one great advantage over their comrades at Cawnpur; Sir Henry Lawrence, their commandant, was a wise and far-seeing soldier. It was a Sepoy saying that "when Lawrence Sáhib had looked once down to the ground, and once up to the sky, and stroked his beard, he knew what to do." So it came about that while the Mutiny had taken other British officers completely by surprise, the outbreak at Lucknow found Lawrence with all his plans matured. For weeks past he had been working silently and secretly to guard against revolt. The Residency building, together with the cluster of houses and gardens surrounding it, was well stored with provisions and ammunition. Earthworks were thrown up, batteries placed in position, and the external walls of the houses pierced with loopholes. Yet so quietly were these preparations carried on, [269] that the Sepoy regiments in the city were blissfully unconscious that the British were making ready to defend themselves. During May and June Lucknow was seething with excitement. Tales came to the native ears of their comrades' successes at Meerut, at Delhi, and at many other places where the standard of rebellion had been hoisted and the white rulers put to painful deaths. The Sepoys were all agog to share in the glory of conquest, yet during these two long months the iron will of Lawrence kept the city from revolt. One day a Hindú noble came to him with a suggestion. "Why," said he, "do you not collect a number of monkeys within the Residency? Let them be tended and fed by high-caste Brahmins. Then surely will the gods look with favour upon Englishmen, and you will be well beloved of the people."

"Your advice is good," replied Lawrence with imperturbable gravity. "Come, I will show you my monkeys." He led the way to a newly completed battery, and laid his hand on an eighteen-pounder gun. "See!" he said, "here is one of my monkeys; that "—pointing to a pile of shot—"is his food; and this"—turning to a sentry who stood at attention close by—"is the man who feeds them. Now go and tell your friends of my monkeys!"


[Illustration]

"SEE," HE SAID, "HERE IS ONE OF MY MONKEYS."

On 30th May came the most exciting moment of that period of suspense. Lawrence had been informed by an officer of his staff that the firing of the nine o'clock gun that night would be the signal for revolt. After taking all possible precautions, the general sat down with his staff to dinner. Nine [270] o'clock came, and with it the report of the gun. For a moment the silence was deathlike, then Lawrence smilingly addressed his informant. "Your friends are not punctual," he said. Even as he spoke the sharp crackle of musketry was heard, followed instantly by a loud shouting and uproar. The meal was left unfinished, and upon the Residency steps Lawrence and his officers waited for their horses to be brought round to them. Out of the darkness leapt red tongues of fire where houses had been set alight; the roar of the angry mob was plainly audible. Suddenly the sound of running feet was heard, and a body of Sepoys emerged from the gloom. It was the Residency guard, known to be disloyal. They drew up in line, facing the Residency steps, while the native officer inquired if the men should load. "Yes, let them load," replied Lawrence quietly. A few thrilling moments passed while the men obeyed the order. Then came the crisis. The entire staff at Lucknow stood at the mercy of a body of mutinous Sepoys! A single volley from their muskets and all would have perished. Yet none of the officers turned a hair during this trying ordeal. It was their iron composure alone that saved their lives; for after a few moments of terrible suspense, the troops wheeled off again into the darkness.

It was not until a month later that the siege of the Residency commenced. On 30th June tidings arrived that the mutinous regiments from Eastern Oudh were marching on to Lucknow. Lawrence resolved to strike first, and sallied out to meet the rebels. The enemy were found to be overwhelmingly [271] strong. They advanced to the attack with a regularity worthy of a field-day on parade. They executed their manoeuvres with mathematical precision. One wonders with what emotions the white officers beheld such martial prowess on the part of men whom they themselves had taught to fight. Only too well had the Sepoys remembered their lessons; and after some stiff fighting the British were driven back with heavy loss. The same night all the Europeans were gathered into the Residency, which was now closed for the siege. A building called the Mutchee Bhawan, which had been heavily fortified for the purpose of overawing the city, had to be abandoned. It was blown up with all the ammunition it contained, while the garrison, after lighting the fuse, crept out under cover of darkness to take refuge in the Residency. By some oversight a private of the 32nd, wrapped in drunken slumber, was left behind in the doomed building. He was, of course, blown up in the gigantic explosion which followed. Next morning the sentries were surprised to see a naked Irishman, blacked and begrimed with smoke, hammering lustily at the Residency gates. "Arrah, then, open your gates!" he was shouting. The strange visitor proved to be none other than the drunken private, who by some miracle had escaped with a whole skin!

About three thousand souls were collected together within the Residency. The fighting force consisted of nine hundred white troops and seven hundred loyal Sepoys, while there were besides some six hundred European women and children and seven hundred [272] native servants and non-combatants. The brave Lawrence, who had taken such able measures for the defence of those committed to his care, did not live to conduct the defence. On the first day of the siege an eight-inch shell burst in the room where he was sitting, but he escaped unharmed. They urged him to change his quarters. "I do not think," was his laughing rejoinder, "that the enemy have a gunner good enough to put a second shot through that same window." Nevertheless, after much pressure he consented to change as soon as he could make arrangements for moving his papers.

Next evening, while Lawrence was lying on his bed in this same room, another shell rushed through the window and exploded with a terrific uproar. Two other officers in the room escaped uninjured; Lawrence himself was hit. "Sir Henry, are you hurt?" called out Colonel Wilson, unable to see through the blinding smoke. Thrice he thus called: then came the mournful answer, "I am killed." The wounded general lingered in agony for thirty-six hours, during which time he gave careful instructions as to how the defence was to be carried on. No detail, however small, had escaped his marvellous foresight. "Let every man die at his post, but never make terms," he whispered with dying breath. Of his officers he took a tender farewell, and joined with them in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Just as he was slipping into eternity, he roused himself to frame his own immortal epitaph. "Here lies Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty. May God have mercy on him."

[273] Let us leave the brave garrison to their task. The story of the siege of Lucknow is one of the most enthralling in our annals. No one can read an account of those desperate months, of that gallant and heroic combat against overwhelming odds, without feeling something more courageous, something more proud of our great and glorious heritage of empire. Look we now farther afield. How had India withstood the shocks of this terrible series of outbreaks? What were we doing to stamp out the Mutiny?

During the first fortnight in June nearly every native regiment from Delhi to Benares had broken into open revolt. From Allahabad came a grim tale of misplaced confidence and its inevitable results. Here where the Jumna mingles its waters with the stately Ganges stood a mighty fort. In strategical importance it was second only to Delhi itself; its arsenal was one of the largest in India, and in the city which lay around it dwelt over seventy thousand fanatical natives. Yet there were no European troops in Allahsbad. With the exception of the magazine staff the entire garrison was composed of Sikh and Sepoy regiments. Colonel Simpson, who was in command, had a pathetic faith in the fidelity of his men. Other regiments might mutiny wholesale, but his gallant heroes would remain true to the end. At evening parade on 6th June he paid a glowing tribute to their loyalty, and read to them the formal thanks of the Governor-General for their offer to fight the mutineers. Within four hours of this little ceremony seventeen officers and many women and children were lying weltering in their blood, while the gallant [274] colonel himself had to run the gauntlet of his cherished Sepoys' musketry fire before, faint and wounded, he succeeded in reaching the fort.

But even the fort was a very precarious shelter. The gates were held by a company of Sepoys eager to open them to their revolted comrades. Inside the building were a number of highly excited Sikhs, trembling on the verge of mutiny. If they should join forces with the Sepoys at the gates, then all was lost indeed. It was Lieutenant Brayser who saved the situation. He was a born leader of men, an officer of wonderful daring, famous for his swordsmanship and athletic prowess. He seized a red-hot poker and flourished it menacingly over the powder magazine. Turning to the turbulent soldiery, he swore by all the calendar of Sikh deities that he would blow the entire regiment to Hades if they did not instantly obey his orders. The startled Sikhs obediently fell into line. With loaded muskets they were marched down to the gates, and the Sepoys, who had held them, were driven from the fort. A brave and clever feat to overcome the mutinous Sepoys with a regiment of semi-mutinous Sikhs!

The garrison had not to wait long for relief. Fierce Colonel Neill, who at the head of his famous "Lambs"—as the 1st Madras Fusiliers was satirically nicknamed—had just succeeded in suppressing a mutiny at Benares, now marched to the relief of Allahabád. So arduous was the journey that many of the "Lambs" fell dead of sunstroke on the way. Neill himself was only kept up by having buckets of water constantly poured over his head. But at length [275] their destination was reached, the fort relieved, and the city recaptured. Fearful atrocities had been committed upon the white residents in the city. One unfortunate lady was, it is said, boiled alive in melted butter. Little children were tossed from bayonet to bayonet, while all Europeans, irrespective of age or sex, were horribly mutilated and slain. The wrath of Neill was terrible to behold. He punished the mutineers without mercy, and every rebel caught was relentlessly strung up on the gallows.

In connection with this outbreak a peculiarly touching story is told. There were at Allahabad eight boy cadets, newly arrived from England, and not yet passed to their regiments. Over their youthful minds the glamour of military life had cast a powerful spell; in thrilling whispers they would speak of the wonderful adventures which lay before them and the gallant deeds that each should perform. Alas for their hopes! The mutineers, into whose hands they fell, rudely cut short their dreams of martial glories. Seven had their throats cut like sheep. The eighth, who had been left for dead, managed to crawl away and conceal himself in a ravine. For four days he lay hidden, suffering untold agonies from his wounds. Then he was discovered by some Sepoys and carried back a prisoner to their lines. Inside the hut into which he was thrust he found a Christian catechist. The poor man had formerly been a Muhammadan, and the Sepoys were torturing him to make him give up his new faith. The diabolical devices of his gaolers had sorely shaken the catechist's resolution, and had it not been for the [276] arrival of the young ensign he would assuredly have given way. The brave English boy did his utmost to sustain his wretched companion's courage. "Don't deny Christ! Never deny Christ!" he urged. From whatever dreadful fate the Sepoys may have planned for them the prisoners were rescued by Colonel Neill, but four days after his release the gallant little ensign died of his wounds.

It was a dictum of the gallant Hardinge that if India were ever in danger and Havelock were put in command of an army, it would be saved. It is probable that this saying occurred to Sir Patrick Campbell when he was seeking a leader for the relieving force that had been collected at Calcutta. At all events he sent a hasty summons to the veteran soldier and introduced him to the Governor-General with the words, "Your Excellency, I have brought you the man." Sir Henry Havelock was then in his sixty-third year. He was a little man, white-bearded and stern of feature, with a passion for religion. He was fond of delivering lengthy harangues to his men—who were known as "Havelock's Saints"—and would often pray earnestly with them. But Havelock was above all a soldier, and in spite of the adverse criticisms that were passed upon his appointment (when he was called "an old fossil dug up and only fit to be turned into fireclay"), he succeeded in covering his name with undying glory.

It may well be that Hardinge never anticipated that the army with which Havelock was to "save India" would number only fifteen hundred men. [277] Yet such was the sum total of the troops under his command. But they were all trained fighters and full of indomitable courage. It was 7th July before the little force set out from Allahabad to march to the relief of Cawnpur. At first the ground was wet and swampy—at times they had to march breast-deep through seas of slush—but after the first three days the rains ceased and the fierce scorching rays of the sun beat down upon them. At Fatehpur the huge army of Tantia Topi swept down to surprise them. But it was the Sepoys who were the most surprised. They had little suspected that the tired and toil-worn sáhibs would fight with such energy and valour; and within ten minutes the great mass of rebels were flying for their lives. From the Náná's point of view this reverse was distinctly unfortunate. He had only recently proclaimed that the British had "all been destroyed and sent to hell by the pious and sagacious troops who were firm to their religion," and it was annoying to be so forcibly reminded that "all the yellow-faced and narrow-minded people" were by no means yet extinct.

Not yet was the way to Cawnpur won. The enemy appeared to have adopted for their motto the old couplet:—

That same man, that rennith awaie

Maie again fight, an other daie;

for, in spite of frequent defeats, they continued stubbornly to oppose the British advance. The news of the Náná's perfidy was known to Havelock. He had heard of the ghastly massacre on the river- [278] banks; he knew that some two hundred women and children were waiting to be rescued from the clutches of the traitor prince. "Think," said he to his men, "of our women and the little ones in the power of those devils incarnate! " The "Saints" needed no further incitement. They burned to avenge their fallen countrymen, and to deliver the trembling captives from their bonds. And so, reeking little of their slender numbers, of the terrible heat, or of their intense weariness, they strode valiantly on their way, scattering the Sepoys like chaff before then, and striking chill fear into the heart of his treacherous Highness the Náná Doondoo Punth of Bithoor.

They arrived at Cawnpur to find that all was over. A Highlander discovered by chance the chamber in which the women and children had been done to death, and staggered out pale and inarticulate with horror at the sight he had seen. The floor of the room was covered inches deep with blood. The walls were splashed with crimson and covered with sword-cuts, while all around were strewn mournful relics of the murdered dead. Long locks of hair, severed by the assassins' blades, children's pinafores, broken combs, and the scattered leaves of books were reverently picked up and preserved. But perhaps the most pathetic memento of all was a cluster of childish curls tied together and inscribed "Ned's hair, with love." The fierce Neill, terrible in his rage, forced a number of high-caste Brahmins to clean up a portion of the blood-stained floor. Men were set over them with whips to see that they did not shirk their task. The Brahmins, thus ceremoni- [279] ally defiled, were afterwards hanged and buried in a ditch; but it is satisfactory to know that the commander-in-chief on hearing of the circumstance promptly forbade such a very un-English method of punishment.

What became of Náná Sáhib? That is a question to which no answer can be returned. He fled from his stately palace to become a wanderer and a fugitive, and all trace of him was lost. Occasionally a sensational paragraph will appear in the papers announcing "The Reappearance of Náná Sáhib," but hitherto investigation has shown such reports to be fictitious. Nobody knows where and how the Náná died, or whether, broken and bent with age, he still lingers on in some remote and lonely hiding-place; but if it be true that "the evil that men do lives after them," then surely the memory of Náná Sáhib will be handed down in horror to perpetuity.

The fate of Lucknow still trembled in the balance. Would Havelock and his "Saints" arrive in time to prevent a repetition of the Cawnpur tragedy? It was a momentous question. On 25th July the valiant little general set out to rescue the beleagured garrison. Lucknow was only forty-five miles away, and the dull booming of the enemy's guns, as they poured their incessant fire into the Residency, could be plainly heard. Yet two long months were to elapse before Havelock should reach the sorely pressed city. The first attempt to break through the enemy's lines ended in failure. The English general lost so many men and expended so much ammunition that he judged it prudent to fall back on Cawnpur and await [280] reinforcements. On 4th August another valiant effort was made, but an outbreak of cholera among our soldiers necessitated another retreat. It was not till 16th September that the relieving force was again ready to march. And then their gallant leader suffered a grievous disappointment—General Outram was sent to supersede him! Havelock had set his heart on rescuing Lucknow. It would have been cruel indeed if, after all his gallant efforts to attain this object, another should reap the honour. But Outram was a brave and chivalrous gentleman. He has been called the "Bayard of India," for all the characteristics of that famous knight were to be found in him, and the Chevalier's motto, "Without fear and without reproach," became him well. Generously he waived his right to assume the chief command. "The Major- General," he wrote, "in gratitude for and admiration of the brilliant deed of arms achieved by Brigadier-General Havelock and his gallant troops, will cheerfully waive his rank in favour of that officer on this occasion, and will accompany the force to Lucknow in his civil capacity as Chief Commissioner of Oudh, tendering his military services to Brigadier-General Havelock as a volunteer. On the relief of Lucknow the Major-General will resume his position at the head of the forces."

On the 19th of September Havelock's army, which now numbered three thousand men, crossed the Ganges. Rain was falling in torrents, but the spirits of the gallant company were in nowise damped. They drove the mutineers before them like sheep, and Outram, who carried no weapon but [281] a gold-headed malacca cane, amused himself by aiming vigorous blows upon the backs of the flying enemy. At Alambagh the rebels prepared to make a desperate stand. But the impetuous charge of the British, who came galloping in magnificent fashion to the attack, was not to be resisted. Twelve thousand Sepoys were soon in desperate flight, and within the short space of ten minutes a notable victory had been gained. At early dawn of 25th September the troops were drawn up for the final venture. "Fall out, all you men who are footsore or sick," cried the sergeants to their companies, many adding, "And all you fellows whose heart isn't good as well!" Needless to say no chicken-hearts were numbered among that valiant band!

The Charbagh Bridge was the scene of a terrible conflict. Upon this narrow crossing the enemy had concentrated all their strength, and were grimly determined to hold it to the end. But at all costs the bridge had to be taken. Desperately the British flung themselves on their foes. In that tremendous struggle many heroic souls were slain—more than one gallant officer fell to fight no more. Outram received a bullet through his arm, but it did not cause him any great concern. Smilingly he asked a brother officer to tie his handkerchief above the wound. But at length the bridge was won. It was the gallant Madras Fusiliers who led the way, and very soon the entire army had crossed the dearly bought strip of roadway.

An even more perilous passage lay before them. To reach the Bailey Guard of the Residency a long [282] and narrow street had to be traversed. The houses on each side were loop holed and crowded with Sepoys, while upon the flat roofs hundreds of dusky marksmen crouched. All were ready to pour a withering fire upon our troops the instant they should advance. It was a path of glory that could lead nowhere but to the grave for many of our gallant soldiers, but Havelock was all agog to push forward. "There is the street," he cried; "we see the worst. We shall be slated, but we can push through and get it over." Outram, whose brain was cooler, objected to this course. He counselled a halt until the next morning, when the street could be taken gradually and by degrees. But the fiery ardour of his colleague at length overcame his scruples, and almost angrily he called upon Havelock to lead on the troops "in God's name."

With lusty cheers the troops rushed up the narrow street. It was about three-quarters of a mile long. From the houses, the roofs, and the cross-streets a terrific storm of shot tore through their devoted ranks. The brave Neill was shot dead by a Sepoy, who, leaning forward from a window, almost touched the general's head with his musket-barrel. With dogged pluck the British soldiers pushed on their fiery way. Then a great shout of exultation arose. The gallant Highlanders, who led the van, had espied dimly through the curling wreaths of smoke the battered entrance to the Bailey Guard. Their goal in sight, the men pushed on with fresh vigour. Outram, mounted on a huge Australian charger, was the first to scramble through the breach. With [283] what joy did the heroic garrison welcome their deliverers! Above the dull roaring of the enemy's guns arose the sound of loud and ringing cheers, which were taken up and repeated again and again by the jubilant inmates of the Residency. Ladies waved their handkerchiefs and tossed smiling kisses to the toil-worn soldiers, while the children—all sadly thin and pallid—joined with no less enthusiasm in the general welcome. The brave and simple-hearted Highlanders were filled with astonishment to find that the little ones were still alive. They picked them up in their arms, kissing them tenderly, and passing them from hand to hand, while down their rough-bearded faces rolled tears of thankfulness and joy.

But although the gallant Havelock had come to Lucknow, the Residency was not yet relieved. It was only reinforced. The British were powerless to scatter the great masses of Sepoys encamped round the city. They dared not leave the protection of their fortifications to seek a safer refuge. There was nothing to do but to extend the defences and wait until further relief could come to them.

Meanwhile a great and illustrious soldier had arrived in India. Sir Colin Campbell, the veteran of a hundred fights, had been sent from England to assume the chief command. His first task was to re-organise the military system of the Presidency. This accomplished, he set out to rescue the Lucknow garrison. On 9th November the Commander-in-Chief led an army of five thousand men and thirty guns out of Cawnpur. The next day a weary-looking and [284] travel-stained man—to all appearances a native soldier —was brought to the general's tent. He turned out to be an Irishman—Kavanagh by name—who with wonderful daring had picked his way through the sixty thousand vigilant Sepoy troops surrounding Lucknow, meeting with many thrilling adventures during his perilous journey. From Outram he brought despatches and detailed plans of the besieged city, which proved to be of great assistance. "Lucknow" Kavanagh, as he was afterwards called, received the Victoria Cross as a reward for his courageous exploit.

The relieving force did not advance to the Residency by the same blood-stained path up which Havelock's men had charged. "The desperate street-fighting," wrote Colin Campbell, "so gallantly conducted by Sir James Outram and General Havelock—the only course open to them—must, if possible, be avoided in future." A circuitous route through the suburbs was adopted. Nevertheless, the way was full of perils. It was no easy task to lead a small army of five thousand men through the midst of fifteen times that number of fierce and determined rebels. Before the Secundrabagh—a large, heavily fortified square, held by no less than four Sepoy regiments—an extraordinary scene was witnessed. For about three-quarters of an hour our gunners pounded the heavy brick walls with shot. Meanwhile the enemy's bullets fell thickly about our men, and it was with difficulty that the infantry could be restrained from charging. At length a breach about three feet square was made, and scarcely [285] waiting for the order to charge, three regiments made an impetuous dash towards the walls. It was a glorious race to death. Men of many nationalities—Highlanders and Sikhs, Rájputs and Patháns—fiercely competed for the honour of being the first to enter the deadly breach. Whether it was a Highlander or a Sikh who first leapt through the tiny opening it is impossible to say—even eye-witnesses differ on the point—but it was a leap into eternity. The Sepoys shot him dead as he sprang in amongst them. It is curious to find that in this race of swift-footed brawny men one of the first to enter the breach should have been a tiny drummer boy of the 93rd. Lord Roberts tells us how he found his dead body just inside the breach—"a pretty, innocent-looking, fair-haired lad, not more than fourteen years of age."

The Sepoys inside the Secundrabagh defended themselves with the desperation born of despair. For two hours the fight raged. The slaughter was immense. Of the garrison, numbering over two thousand, not one man lived to tell the tale. All were slain, either by bullet or the bayonet, until there was nothing left of them but "a heaving, surging mass of dead and dying, inextricably entangled."

But at length, after much hard fighting, Colin Campbell managed to force his way through to the Residency. Sir James Outram and Havelock came out to greet their deliverer, and on the sloping ground in front of the mess-house the three great heroes met. Unhappily there is no record of what was said at that historic meeting. But perhaps, after all, the remarks passed by those brave leaders [286] as they shook hands amidst a hail of whistling bullets would have been by no means inappropriate in a London drawing-room!

It was decided to abandon Lucknow to the Sepoys. The gallant garrison crept out from the defences which they had held so long and so bravely, and commenced a hazardous march through the enemy's lines to Cawnpur. So skilfully was the retreat conducted that not a single casualty occurred. The natives were completely deceived, and kept up a bombardment of the Residency long after the last soldier had left it. But one sad incident occurred that cast a profound gloom over both officers and men. As the valiant Havelock was being carried out of the Residency his soul passed away to its rest. In the beautiful garden of the Alambagh he lies buried, while over his head rises a stately obelisk to tell the passing stranger that the ground whereon he standeth is holy, for the dust of one of the bravest and saintliest of England's warlike sons lies resting near at hand.

Let us return to Delhi. We left this great city in the hands of the rebels—an aged and timid Emperor at their head. The historic capital of the Moghuls at once became the centre of conspiracy, the heart and brains of the great revolt. To win it back at all costs was the task that lay before the British, for the eyes of all India were upon the struggle, and tremendous issues hung on the result. It was a flash of true strategical genius that caused the Commander-in-Chief to march upon the city as [287] soon as the news of its capture became known. Delhi was too strongly fortified to be taken by a small force of three thousand European soldiers. But the British were able to take up their position upon the famous Ridge, and from this point of vantage could keep a watchful eye upon the enemy's movements. In spite of incessant assaults, the European troops stubbornly held their ground, and for several long months the Union Jack floated proud and menacing from the flagstaff on the Ridge—a perpetual reminder to the Sepoys of the enduring might of Britain and of the stern retribution which awaited her foes.

News of the mutineers' success had spread far and wide. With great joy was it hailed by the fierce tribesmen of Afghanistan, who imagined that their chance had come for revenge. "Hear the news from Delhi," they would cry, throwing their turbans at the Amir's feet. "See the difficulties the Feringhees are in. Why don't you lead us on to take advantage of their weakness, and win back Pesháwar?" But Dost Muhammad remained true to the treaty he had signed. He loyally refused to lead an army against his quondam foes and present allies. Fortunate indeed was this. Had Afghanistan risen up against us, the Punjáb, together with all our territories north of Bengal, would assuredly have been lost.

Even as it was, the task of keeping the Punjáb quiet during the troublous day of the Mutiny was one of enormous difficulty. Happily, however, the men at the head of affairs in the "land of the five rivers " were representative of all that is best and greatest in [288] our nation's character. John Lawrence, the Chief Commissioner, Neville Chamberlain, the Commandant of the Punjáb frontier force, Herbert Edwardes, Commissioner of Pesháwar, and John Nicholson, his Deputy, all were men of exceptional wisdom and bravery. But perhaps the most remarkable of that distinguished group was Nicholson. An Irishman of majestic presence and overwhelming personality, he was loved and venerated to a quite remarkable degree by the fierce Sikh soldiery, who regarded him as the very incarnation of the God of War. A certain frontier tribe went so far as openly to adopt him as their deity, much—it need hardly be added—to that "deity's" disgust. But when eventually the gallant Nicholson fell fighting for his country, his worshippers came to the conclusion that the best way to please their dead "guru" would be to adopt his own religion, and shortly afterwards the entire tribe was baptized into the Christian faith.

The younger brother of the saviour of Lucknow was not the man to let the grass grow under his feet, and it was owing to the prompt action taken by Lawrence and his colleagues that the Mutiny—so far as the Punjáb was concerned—was frustrated and outpaced. There were a great number of Sepoy regiments in the province. All were known to be disloyal. But before they had time to mutiny, they found themselves disarmed and disbanded. Having thus summarily disposed of the existing Indian army, John Lawrence proceeded to create another. The warlike Sikhs and the fierce little Ghúrka tribesmen were excellent material to draw upon, and never [289] did soldiers fight more gallantly than those whom Lawrence now enrolled in his battalions.

But since the recapture of Delhi was our chief aim, Lawrence despatched every man he could spare towards the Moghul capital. So anxious, indeed, was he to see this hot-bed of mutiny stormed and taken, that at one time he wished to give up the entire North-West Provinces to further the object. But this would have been a disastrous course, and Lord Canning promptly forbade it. "Hold on to Pesháwar to the last," telegraphed the Governor-General from Calcutta. "Give up everything," wrote Nicholson, "but Pesháwar, Lahore, and Multan." So Lawrence held on grimly to the Punjáb. He had only four thousand European troops to aid him in the task; the rest of his army had marched eastwards to reinforce the garrison on the Ridge. Even the famous Movable Column—which had been organised by Lawrence immediately on the outbreak of the Mutiny, and had performed much brilliant and effective service—was sent to Delhi. The daring Nicholson was in command, and the revolted Sepoys fled like sheep before the terror of his name.

By slow degrees the army on the Ridge grew in size and in strength. Loyal native princes had sent their quota of men, while from England reinforcements were fast arriving. By the beginning of September the force before Delhi numbered fifteen thousand men. Cholera, however, had fiercely ravaged the camp, and nearly a fifth of that number were sick in hospital. Nevertheless, it was evident [290] that the hour had come for the long-postponed attack on the city. There was nothing to be gained by delay. Yet General Wilson, who was in chief command, hesitated long before he gave the order for assault. He was ill and nervous, and spoke despairingly of giving up the siege and of withdrawing his guns from the Ridge. But the gallant officers who served under him were not so timorous; by dint of vigorous expostulation they succeeded in screwing up their chief's courage to the sticking point. In grim earnest was the bombardment of the city begun. On 13th September, under cover of darkness, four engineer officers crept out to examine the breaches that had been made by the guns. They returned, reporting them practicable; and orders for the assault were at once given.

It was three o'clock in the morning. The curtain of night had fallen gently upon a warring world, and all nature lay hushed in peaceful slumber. But the lustrous stars, wheeling their fiery courses in the brilliant eastern sky, looked down upon a scene of intense and silent activity. Four columns, each numbering about a thousand men, were making ready to dash fiercely upon the city. The service for the day had just been read, and the wonderful words of the lesson were ringing in the soldiers' ears as they gazed upon the stately towers and minarets of the city, looming ghostlike before them through the star-lit gloom: "Woe to the bloody city!. It is full of lies and robbery. . . . Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of Hosts."

[291] Preparations went busily forward. One by one the stars grew pale and died before the cold, grey light of the coming dawn. Slowly the sun rose over the eastern hills until at length—a great ball of molten gold—it leapt clear of the horizon. Then it was that Nicholson, sitting on horseback, calm and immovable before Column 1, raised his hand with a stately gesture. It was the signal for assault! A great shout, sharp and fierce and menacing, broke from the men's throats, and the four columns moved swiftly towards the city. Then the enemy made reply. From every point their guns broke into flame, and thick and fierce the shell and shot swept through our ranks. Onwards the stormers rushed, losing comrades at every stride, but with every nerve intent upon their goal. Nicholson's column found their breach, scrambled speedily over the intervening ditch, and fought their way at the bayonet's point into the city. The second column was equally successful in its attack. Column 3 was unable to find a breach, so made an extraordinarily bold attack upon the Kashmir Gate. While the rest of the column waited under cover, a small band of heroes ran towards the gate. Fiercely the enemy opened fire upon them; but undismayed by the thickly flying bullets, the gallant men pursued their daring task. The first section consisted of a dozen sappers led by Lieutenant Home. Each man carried a bag containing twenty-five pounds of gun-powder. In single file they crossed the beam which spanned the ditch, flung down their bags before the gate, and leapt into the ditch for cover. Then the [292] firing-party came racing up. Sergeant Carmichael laid the train. Lieutenant Salkeld, who carried the port-fire, fell shot through the leg and arm. As he dropped helpless, he handed the match to Corporal Burgess, who was shot dead as he attempted to fire the train. Carmichael now seized the port-fire, and succeeded in lighting the fuse, falling back in his turn mortally wounded. A second later the powder exploded with deafening roar, and the little wicket in the gate was blown to fragments. Thrice was the advance sounded by the buglers in the ditch, and the storming-parties came rushing to the attack. Speedily they clambered through the wicket, and found themselves within the Sacred City. In front of a church just inside the gate the three columns met, breathless but exultant. But what had become of Column 4? Unable to find a breach and lacking the guns to make one, they found themselves obliged to retire before the murderous fire of the enemy. But Delhi had been entered! The British flag was flying within the city walls; and after some stiff fighting—in which the gallant Nicholson fell—the entire city was wrested from the rebels.

In the tomb of Humayun—a stately white marble building some six miles from Delhi—the last of the Moghul emperors had sought a refuge. As he crouched despairingly within this shelter, there came to his ears the thundering tread of horses' feet. Presently a small force galloped furiously up to the entrance of the tomb. At their head was Hodson of Hodson's Horse, the most daring cavalry leader of his day. Unheeding [293] the hordes of armed and turbulent natives who flocked around the building, and caring nothing for the fanatical attendants who guarded the Emperor's person, he seized the unhappy monarch and carried him off a prisoner to Delhi. Then he returned to fetch the Emperor's three sons—monsters of iniquity—who had been responsible for many fiendish cruelties. As Hodson was bringing his prisoners back to the capital the attitude of the huge mob became so threatening that he feared a rescue might be attempted. He determined to execute the princes there and then, and seizing a musket from one of his men he shot them dead with his own hand. Hodson has been greatly criticised for this action. But there can be little doubt that the princes richly deserved their fate.

With the fall of Delhi the back of the Mutiny was broken. Lucknow was soon afterwards recaptured, and the contest resolved itself into the hunting down of isolated parties of rebels. In Central India Sir Hugh Rose carried out a series of brilliant operations, defeating the brave queen of Jhánsi, who had espoused the mutineers' cause, and utterly destroying the huge hosts of Tantia Topi. Peace at length was restored. In a singular manner was the native prophecy fulfilled. The historic East India Company, which for a hundred years had controlled the destinies of India, came to an end. The government passed from the Company to the Crown, and on the 1st November 1858 Queen Victoria issued her famous Proclamation to the Chiefs and Princes of India:—

[294] "We hereby announce to the Native Princes of India that all treaties, engagements made with them by or under the authority of the Honourable East India Company, are by us accepted, and will be scrupulously maintained, and We look for a like observance on their part. . . . We hold ourselves bound to the Natives of our Indian territories by the same obligations of duty which bind us to all our other subjects, and those obligations by the Blessing of God we shall faithfully and conscientiously fulfil."

Farewell, then, to the historic Company! Never before in the world's history has a single company of merchants attained to such power and responsibility as was theirs. They produced mighty statesmen, daring warriors, and great administrators. They wielded their immense power with wisdom, forbearance, and discretion. And in the dusty minutes of their transactions will be found chronicled the most glorious and enthralling pages in all our Empire story.


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