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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 29609

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


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 spi

rits 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,

"Frank Mallett."

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."

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