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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Queen's Cup By G. A. Henty Characters: 28010

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The bugle sounded, and in a short time the infantry fell in. They had been engaged in searching the houses for mutineers. The Punjaubies had lost but five killed and thirteen wounded, while of the whites an officer and eighteen men were killed and sixteen wounded; nine of the former having fallen in the bayonet struggle with the Sepoys. Nine guns were captured, none of which had been fired, the attack having been so sudden that the Sepoys had only had time to fall in before their assailants were upon them.

"It is a creditable victory," Mallett said, "considering that we had to face more than double the number that we expected. Our casualties are heavy, but they are nothing to those of the mutineers.

"Sergeant, take a file of men and go round and count the number of the enemy who have fallen.

"Ah, here comes a Sowar, and we shall hear what the cavalry have been doing outside."

The trooper handed him a paper: "Fifty-three of the enemy killed, the rest escaped into the jungle. On our side two wounded; one seriously, one slightly."

"That is as well as we could expect, Marshall. Of course, most of them got over the wall at the back. You see, all our plans were disarranged by finding them in such unexpected strength. Had we been able to thrash them by ourselves, the Punjaubies would have cut off the retreat in that direction. As it was, that part of the business is a failure."

The Sergeant presently returned.

"There are 340 in the streets, sir," he reported; "and I reckon there are another 20 or 30 killed in the houses, but I have not searched them yet."

"That is sufficiently close; upwards of 400 is good enough.

"Now, Mr. Marshall, set the men to work making stretchers to carry the wounded.

"Mr. Herbert, will you tell off a party of your men to dig a large grave outside the village for the killed, and a small one apart for Mr. Anstruther? Poor fellow, I am sorry indeed at his loss; he would have made a fine officer.

"Sergeant Hugging, take a party and search the village for provisions. We have got bread, but lay hands on any fowls or goats that you can find, and there may be some sheep."

While this party was away, another tore down the woodwork of an empty house, and fires were soon burning, an abundance of fowl and goats having been obtained. The cavalry had by this time come in.

While the meal was being cooked the British and Punjaub dead were carried out to the spot where the grave had been dug. The troops had a hearty meal, and then marched out from the village. They were drawn up round the graves, and the bodies were laid reverently in them. Captain Mallett said a few words over them; the earth was then shovelled in and levelled, and the troops marched to a wood a mile distant, where they halted until the heat of the day was over. They returned by the direct road to the camp, which they reached at midnight.

All concerned gained great credit for the heavy blow that had been inflicted on the mutineers, and the affair was highly spoken of in the Brigadier's report to the Commander in Chief. Shortly afterwards Mallett's name appeared in general orders as promoted to a brevet Majority, pending a confirmation by the home authorities.

Two days after the return of the little column, the brigade marched and joined the force collected at Cawnpore for the final operation against Lucknow, and on the 3rd of March reached the Commander in Chief at the Dil Koosha, which had been captured with the same ease as on the occasion of the former advance.

They found that while the main body had gathered there, 6,000 men under Sir James Outram had crossed the Goomtee from the Alum Bagh, and, after defeating two serious attacks by the enemy, had taken up a position at Chinhut. On the 9th, Sir Colin Campbell captured the Martiniere with trifling loss. On the 11th General Outram pushed his advance as far as the iron bridge, and established batteries commanding the passage of the stone bridge also. On the 12th the Imambarra was breached and stormed, and the troops pressed so hotly on the flying enemy that they entered the Kaiser Bagh, the strongest fortified palace in the city, and drove the enemy from it.

The ––th was engaged in this action, and Major Mallett was leading his company to the assault on the Imambarra when a shot brought him to the ground. When he recovered his senses he found himself in a chamber that had been hastily converted into a hospital, with the regimental doctor leaning over him.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"You have been hit, Mallett, and have had a very close shave of it, indeed; but as it is, you will soon be about again."

"Where was I hit? I don't feel any pain."

"You were hit in the neck, about half an inch above the collarbone, and the ball has gone through the muscles of the neck; and beyond the fact that you won't be able to turn your head for some time, you will be none the worse for it. An inch further to the right, or an inch lower or higher, and it would have been fatal. It was not one of the enemy who did you this service, for the ball went up from behind, and came out in front; it is evidently a random shot from one of our own fellows."

"I am always more afraid of a shot from behind than I am of one in front when I am leading the company, doctor. The men get so excited that they blaze away anyhow, and in the smoke are just as likely to hit an officer two or three paces ahead of them as an enemy. How long have I been insensible?"

"You were brought in here half an hour ago, and I don't suppose that you had lain many minutes on the ground before you were picked up."

"Have we taken the Imambarra?"

"Yes, and what is better still, our fellows rushed into the Kaiser Bagh at the heels of the enemy. We got the news ten minutes ago."

"That is good indeed. We anticipated desperate fighting before we took that."

"Yes, it was an unlucky shot, Mallett, that knocked you out of your share in the loot. We have always heard that the place was full of treasure and jewels."

"If there is no one else who wants your attention, doctor, I advise you to join the regiment there for an hour or two. As for me, I care nothing about the loot. There are plenty of fellows who will benefit by it more than I should, and I give up my share willingly."

The doctor shook his head.

"I am afraid I cannot do that; but, between ourselves, I have let Ferguson slip away, and he is to divide what he gets with me."

"Have we any wounded?"

"I don't know yet. The whole thing was done so suddenly that the loss cannot have been heavy. I was in the rear of the brigade when you were brought in, and as the case at first looked bad, I got some of the stretcher men with me to burst open the door of this house and established a dozen temporary beds here. As you see, there are only four others tenanted, and they are all hopeless cases. No doubt the rest have all been carried off to the rear, as only the men who helped me would have known of this place.

"Now that you have come round, I will send a couple of hospital orderlies in here and be off myself to the hospital in the rear. I will look in again this evening."

In a short time the doctor returned with an orderly.

"I cannot find another now," he said, "but one will be enough. Here is a flask of brandy, and he will find you water somewhere. There is nothing to be done for any of you at present, except to give you drink when you want it."

Two hours later Marshall came in.

"Thank God you are not dangerously hurt, Mallett," he said. "I only heard that you were down three-quarters of an hour ago, when I ran against Armstrong in the Kaiser Bagh. He told me that he had seen you fall at the beginning of the fight, and I got leave from the Colonel to look for you. At the hospital, no one seemed to know anything about you, but I luckily came across Jefferies, who told me where to find you, and that your wound was not serious, so I hurried back here. He said that you would be taken to the hospital this evening."

"Yes, I am in luck again. Like the last it is only a flesh wound, though it is rather worse, for I expect that I shall have to go about with a stiff neck for some weeks to come, and it is disgusting being laid up in the middle of an affair like this. Have we lost many fellows?"

"No. Scobell is the only officer killed. Hunter, Groves and Parkinson are wounded-Parkinson, they say, seriously. We have twenty-two rank and file killed, and twenty or thirty wounded. I have not seen the returns."

"And how about the loot, Marshall?" Mallett said, with a smile. "Was that all humbug?"

"It is stupendous. We were among the first at the Kaiser Bagh, and I don't believe that there is a man who has not got his pockets stuffed with gold coins. There were chests and chests full. They did not bother about the jewels-I think they took them for coloured glass. I kept my eyes open, and picked up enough to pay my debt to you five times over."

"I am heartily glad of that, Marshall. Don't let it slip through your fingers again."

"That you may be sure I won't. I shall send them all home to our agent to sell, and have the money put by for purchasing my next step. I have had my lesson, and it will last me for life.

"Well, I must be going now, old man. The Colonel did not like letting me go, as of course the men want looking after, and the Pandies may make an effort to drive us out of the Kaiser Bagh again; so goodbye. If I can get away this evening I will come to see you at the hospital."

A week later Frank Mallett was sitting in a chair by his bedside. The fighting was all over, and a strange quiet had succeeded the long roar of battle. His neck was strapped up with bandages, and save that he was unable to move his head in the slightest degree, he felt well enough to take his place with the regiment again. Many of his fellow officers dropped in from time to time for a short chat, but the duty was heavy. All open resistance had ceased, but the troops were engaged in searching the houses, and turning out all rough characters who had made Lucknow their centre, and had no visible means of subsistence. Large gangs of the lower class population were set to work to bury the dead, which would otherwise have rendered the city uninhabitable. Strong guards were posted at night, alike to prevent soldiers from wandering in search of loot and to prevent fanatics from making sudden attacks.

"There is a wounded man in the hospital across the road who wants to see you, Mallett," the surgeon said one morning. "He belongs to your company, but as he only came out with the last draft, and was transferred only on the day that the fighting began, I don't suppose you know him. He said I was to tell you his name was George Lechmere, though he enlisted as John Hilton."

"I seem to know the name, doctor, though I don't remember at present where I came across him. I suppose I can go in to see him?"

"Oh, yes, there is no objection whatever. Your wound is doing as well as can be; though, of course, you are still weak from loss of blood. I shall send you up this afternoon to the hospital just established in the park of the Dil Koosha. We shall get you all out as soon as we can, for the stench of this town at present is dreadful, and wounds cannot be expected to do well in such a poisoned atmosphere."

"Is this man badly hit, doctor?"

"Very dangerously. I have scarcely a hope of saving him, and think it probable that he may not live another twenty-four hours. Of course, he may take a change for the better. I will take you to him. I have finished here now."

"It must have been a bad time for you, doctor," Mallett said, as they went across.

"Tremendously hard, but most interesting. I had not had more than two hours' sleep at a time since the fighting began, till last night, and then I could not keep up any longer. Of course, it has been the same with us all, and the heat has made it very trying. I am particularly anxious to get the wounded well out of the place, for now that the excitement is over I expect an outbreak of fever or dysentery.

"There, that is your man in the corner bed over there."

Mallett went over to the bedside, and looked at the wounded man. His face was drawn and pinched, his eyes sunken in his head, his face deadly pale, and his hair matted with perspiration.

"Do you know me, Captain Mallett?"

"No, lad, I cannot say that I do, though when the doctor told me your name it seemed familiar to me. Very likely I should have recognised you if I had met you a week since, but, you see, we are both altered a good deal from the effect of our wounds."

"I am the son of Farmer Lechmere, your tenant."

"Good heavens! man. You don't mean to say you are Lechmere's eldest son, George! What in the world brought you to this?"

"You did," the man said, sternly. "Your villainy brought me here."

Frank Mallett gave a start of astonishment that cost him so violent a twinge in his wound that he almost cried out with sudden pain.

"What wild idea have you got into your head, my poor fellow?" he said soothingly. "I am conscious of having done no wrong to you or yours. I saw your father and mother on the afternoon before I came away. They made no complaint of anything."

"No, they were contented enough. Do you know, Captain Mallett, that I loved Martha Bennett?"

"No. I have been so little at home of recent years that I know very little of the private affairs of my tenants, but I remember her, of course, and I was grieved to learn by a letter from Sir John Greendale the other day that in some strange way she was missing."

"Who knew that better than yourself?" the man said, raising himself on his elbow, and fixing a look of such deadly hatred upon Mallett, that the latter involuntarily drew back a step.

"I saw you laughing and talking to her in front of her father's house. I heard you with her in their garden the even

ing before you left and she disappeared, and it was my voice you heard in the lane. Had I known that you were going that night, I would have followed you and killed you, and saved her. The next morning you were both gone. I waited a time and then went to the depot of your regiment and enlisted. I had failed to save her, but at least I could avenge her. That bullet was mine, and had you not stumbled over a Pandy's body, I suppose, just as I pulled my trigger, you would have been a dead man.

"I did not know that I had failed, and, rushing forward with my company, was in the thickest of the fight. I wanted to be killed, but no shot struck me, and at last, when chasing a Pandy along a passage in the Kaiser Bagh, he turned and levelled his piece at me. Mine was loaded, and I could have shot him down as he turned, but I stood and let him have his shot. When I found myself here I was sorry that he had not finished me at once, but when I heard that you were alive, and likely to recover, I thanked him in my heart that he had left me a few more days of life, that I could let you know that it was I who had fired, and that Martha's wrong had not been wholly unavenged."

He sank back exhausted on to the pillow. Frank Mallett had made no attempt to interrupt him: the sudden agony of his wound and his astonishment at this strange accusation had given him so grave a shock that he leaned against the wall behind him in silent wonder.

"Hello! Mallett, what the deuce is the matter with you?" the surgeon exclaimed, as, looking up from a patient over whom he was bending a short distance away, his eyes fell on the officer's face. "You look as if you were going to faint, man.

"Here, orderly, some brandy and water, quickly!"

Frank drank some of the brandy and water and sat down for a few minutes. Then, when he saw the surgeon at the other end of the room, he got up and went across to Lechmere's bed.

"There is some terrible mistake, Lechmere," he said, quietly. "I swear to you on my honour as a gentleman that you are altogether wrong. From the moment that I got into my dog cart at Bennett's I never saw Martha again. I know nothing whatever of this talk in the garden. Did you think you saw me as well as heard me?"

"No, you were on one side of that high wall and I on the other, but I heard enough to know who it was. You told her that you had to go abroad at once, but that if she would come out there you would put her in charge of someone until you could marry her. You told her that she could not stay where she was long, and I knew what that meant. I suppose she is at Calcutta still waiting, for of course she could not have come out with you. I suppose that she is breaking her heart there now-if she is not dead, as I hope she is."

"Did you hear the word Calcutta or India mentioned, Lechmere?"

"No, I did not, but I heard quite enough. Everyone knew that you were going in a day or two, and that was enough for me after what I had seen in the afternoon."

"You saw nothing in the afternoon," Captain Mallett said, angrily. "The girl's father and mother were at home. We were all chatting together until we came out. She came to the trap with me while they stood at the open window. It was not more than a minute before I drove off. I have not spoken to the girl half a dozen times since she was a little child.

"Why, man, if everyone took such insane fancies in his head as you do, no man would dare to speak to a woman at all.

"However," he went on in an altered voice, "this is not a time for anger. You are very ill, Lechmere, but the doctor has not given you up, and I trust that you will yet get round and will be able to prove to your own satisfaction that, whatever has happened to this poor girl, I, at least, am wholly innocent of it. But should you not get over this hurt, I should not like you to go to your grave believing that I had done you this great wrong. I speak to you as to a dying man, and having no interest in deceiving you, and I swear to you before Heaven that I know absolutely nothing of this. I, too, may fall from a rebel shot before long, and I thank God that I can meet you before Him as an innocent man in this matter.

"I must be going, for I see the doctor coming to fetch me. Goodbye, lad, we may not meet again, though I trust we shall; but if not, I give you my full forgiveness for that shot you fired at me. It was the result of a strange mistake, but had I acted as you believed, I should have well deserved the death you intended for me."

"Confound it, Mallett, there seems no end of mischief from your visit here. In the first place, you were nearly knocked over yourself, and now there is this man lying insensible. So for goodness' sake get off to your room again, and lie down and keep yourself quiet for the rest of the day. I shall have you demoralising the whole ward if you stay here."

Captain Mallett walked back with a much feebler and less steady step than that with which he had entered the hospital. He had some doubts whether the man who had made this strange accusation and had so nearly taken his life was really sane, and whether he had not altogether imagined the conversation which he declared he had heard in the garden. He remembered now the sudden way in which George Lechmere had turned round and gone away when he saw him saying goodbye to Martha, and how she had shrugged her shoulders in contempt.

The man must either be mad, or of a frightfully jealous disposition, to conjure up harm out of such an incident: and one who would do so might well, when his brain was on fire, conjure up this imaginary conversation. Still, he might have heard some man talking to her. From what Sir John had said, she did leave the house and go into the garden about that hour, and she certainly never returned.

He remembered all about George Lechmere now. He had the reputation of being the best judge of cattle in the neighbourhood, and a thoroughly steady fellow, but he could see no resemblance in the shrunk and wasted face to that he remembered.

That evening both the officers and men in the hospital were carried away to the new one outside the town. When the doctor came in before they were moved, he told Mallett that the man he had seen had recovered from his swoon.

"He was very nearly gone," he said, "but we managed to get him round, and it seems to me that he has been better since. I don't know what he said to you or you to him, and I don't want to know; but he seems to have got something off his mind. He is less feverish than he was, and I have really some faint hopes of pulling him through, especially as he will now be in a more healthful atmosphere."

It was a comfort indeed to all the wounded when late that evening they lay on beds in the hospital marquees. The air seemed deliciously cool and fresh, and there was a feeling of quiet and restfulness that was impossible in the town, with the constant movement of troops, the sound of falling masonry, the dust and fetid odour of decay.

A week later the surgeon told Mallett that he had now hopes that the soldier he was interested in would recover.

"The chances were a hundred to one against him," he said, "but the one chance has come off."

"Will he be fit for service again, doctor?"

"Yes, I don't see why he should not be, though it will be a long time before he can carry his kit and arms on a long day's march. It is hot enough now, but we have not got to the worst by a long way, and as there is still a vast amount of work to be done, I expect that the regiment will be off again before long."

"Well, at any rate, I shall be able to go with you, doctor."

"I don't quite say that, Mallett," the doctor said, doubtfully. "In another fortnight your wound will be healed so that you will be capable of ordinary duty, but certainly not long marches. If you do go you will have to ride. There must be no more marching with your company for some time."

A week later orders were issued, under which the regiment was appointed to form part of the force which, under the command of General Walpole, was to undertake a campaign against Rohilcund, a district in which the great majority of the rebels who had escaped from Lucknow had now established themselves. Unfortunately, the extent of the city and the necessity for the employment of a large proportion of the British force in the actual assault, had prevented anything like a complete investment of the town, and the consequence had been that after the fall of the Kaiser Bagh, by far the greater portion of the rebel force in the city had been able to march away without molestation.

Before leaving, Mallett had an interview with George Lechmere, who was now out of danger.

"I should have known you now, Lechmere," he said, as he came to his bedside. "Of course you are still greatly changed, but you are getting back your old expression, and I hope that in the course of two or three months you will be able to take your place in the ranks again."

"I don't know, sir. I ain't fit to stay with the regiment, and have thought of being invalided home and then buying my discharge. I know you have said nothing as to how you got that wound, not even to the doctor; for if you had done so there is not a man in hospital who would have spoken to me. But how could I join the regiment again? knowing that if there was any suspicion of what I had done, every man would draw away from me, and that there would be nothing for me to do but to put a bullet in my head."

"But no one ever will know it. It was a mad act, and I believe you were partly mad at the time."

"I think so myself now that I look back. I think now that I must have been mad all along. It never once entered my mind to doubt that it was you, and now I see plainly enough that except what the man said about going away-and anyone might have said that––there was not a shadow of ground or suspicion against you. But even if I had never had that suspicion I should have left home.

"Why, sir, I know that my own father and mother suspected that I killed her. I resented it at the time. I felt hard and bitter against it, but as I have been lying here I have come to see that I brought their suspicions upon myself by my own conduct, and that they had a thousand times better ground for suspecting me than I had for suspecting you.

"All that happened was my fault. Martha cared for me once, but it was my cursed jealousy that drove her from me. She was gay and light hearted, and it was natural for her to take her pleasure, which was harmless enough if I had not made a grievance of it. If I had not driven her from me she would have been my wife long before harm came to her; but it was as well that it was not so, for as I was then I know I should have made her life a hell.

"I did it all and I have been punished for it. Even at the end she might never have gone off if I had not shouted out and tried to climb the wall. She must have recognised my voice, and, knowing that I had her secret, feared that I might kill her and him too, and so she went. She would not have gone as she did, without even a bonnet or a shawl, if it had not been for that."

"Then you don't think, as most people there do, that she was murdered?"

"Not a bit, sir. I never thought so for a moment. She went straight away with that man. I think now I know who it was."

"Never mind about that, Lechmere. You know what the Bible says, 'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,' and whoever it may be, leave him safely in God's hands."

"Yes, sir, I shall try to act up to that. I was fool enough to think that I could avenge her, and a nice business I made of it."

"Well, I think it is nonsense of you to think of leaving the regiment. There is work to be done here. There is the work of punishing men who have committed the most atrocious crimes. There is the work of winning back India for England. Every Englishman out here, who can carry a weapon, ought to remain at his post until the work is done.

"As to this wound of mine, that is a matter between us only. As I have told you, I have altogether forgiven you, and am not even disposed greatly to blame you, thinking, as you did, that I was responsible for that poor girl's flight. I shall never mention it to a soul. I have already put it out of my mind, therefore it is as if it had never been done, and there is no reason whatever why you should shrink from companionship with your comrades. I shall think much better of you for doing your duty like a man, than if you went home again and shrank from it."

"You are too good, sir, altogether too good."

"Nonsense, man. Besides, you have to remember that you have not gone unpunished. Had it not been for your feeling, after you had, as you believed, killed me, you never would have stood and let that Sepoy shoot you; so that all the pain that you have been going through, and may still have to go through before you are quite cured, is a punishment that you have yourself accepted. After a man has once been punished for a crime there is an end of it, and you need grieve no further over it; but it will be a lesson that I hope and believe you will never forget.

"Hackett, who has been my soldier servant for the last five years, was killed in the fight in the Kaiser Bagh. If you like, when you rejoin, I shall apply for you in his stead. It will make your work a good deal easier for you, and I should like to have the son of one of my old tenants about me."

The man burst into tears.

"There, don't let's say anything more about it," Mallett went on, taking the thin hand of the soldier in his. "We will consider it settled, and I shall look out for you in a couple of months, so get well as quick as you can, and don't worry yourself by thinking of the past. I must be off now, for I have to take down a party of convalescents to rejoin this evening.

"Goodbye, lad," and without waiting for any reply, he turned and left the marquee.

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