MoboReader> Literature > The Queen's Cup

   Chapter 3 No.3

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 26986

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


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 greate

r 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."

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares