Chapter XV

Waiting for Neill and his “Lambs”

The next day a grand attempt to storm the entrenchment was made, but Nana Sahib did not appear. The wily wretch had too much regard for his own skin. He wanted to show his followers that he was a man of undaunted courage, and after announcing with much bombast that he was going to lead the army to the attack, he gave instructions to certain confidential friends to announce that the Nana might not expose his sacred head in battle, as, in the event of his fall, the army would have no one to look to. Thus the rascal preserved his character for bravery, without encountering danger.

When the attack was begun, the defenders were surprised to see that their immediate assailants were an undisciplined mob of Hindoos and Mussulmans, who had been assembled in the city to give courage and confidence to the sepoys. The Mahomedans had been called together under the green flag, and the day having been decided by the priest to be a propitious one, they marched to the sepoy camp. But as it was found that the Mahomedans did not turn up in sufficient numbers, the Hindoo flag was hoisted, and the proclamation, while calling upon the Hindoos to join, stated that “every Hindoo who does not join the righteous cause, is an outcast. May he eat the flesh of cows!” and a good deal more to the same effect.

The sepoys put this motley mob in front, their idea being to let them receive the first fire of the English guns, and then advance to the charge under cover of the cowering budmash.

The little force inside the entrenchment was on the alert. The batteries were under the command of the gallant Lieutenant Ashe, Lieutenant Eckford, Lieutenant Dempster, and the intrepid Lieutenant Delafosse. Between the batteries men were stationed, fifteen paces apart, and sheltered by the wall. Each man had at least three loaded muskets by his side, with bayonets fixed, in case of assault. Some of the trained men had as many as seven, and even eight, muskets each.

Colonel Waring took his place with the rest of the men. All difference in rank was forgotten. The old soldier looked in at the thatched barrack on his way to his post. Ruth ran to meet him, and flung her arms round his neck.

“Dear Colonel Waring,” she cried, “let me go with you. It’s terrible waiting here helpless, and not knowing anything.”

“What, in heaven’s name, can you do, my dear?” exclaimed the Colonel blankly.

“I can load muskets for you,” she whispered.

The old man did not at once reply. He stared at the girl in amazement.

“By God, you’re right, my girl,” said he, at last huskily. “You’re a soldier’s daughter, and you’ll fight and die, if need be, like a soldier. Come!”

Not another word was said. The brave English girl, erect and dauntless, followed the old man to the wall, and took her place by his side.

“As soon as I have fired a musket, re-load it.”

The veteran spoke sternly, and with a soldier’s air of command. His eyes shone with a wild, fierce light such as Ruth had never seen in them before. She was conscious of a change even in herself. Their old relations had changed: they were now comrades fighting for their lives.

Ruth knew perfectly well how to load a musket, and she was so expert, and the old Colonel fired so rapidly, that in less than five minutes the guns became too hot to hold without great pain. Apart from the heat caused by the firing, the sun made the barrels as though they had been thrust in a furnace. The girl felt her hands becoming scorched; but she bravely endured the torture, and Waring, who was shooting as coolly as though he were knocking over pheasants, every bullet bringing down its man, never had to wait for a loaded weapon.

It was soon seen that the rabble had no heart for fighting. They halted at about two hundred yards from the entrenchment wall, and no efforts of the sepoys behind could induce them to advance a single inch farther. The fire of the defenders was wildly returned, but only with muskets. The spiking of the guns the previous night rendered the guns unusable.

Suddenly a terrific roar of cannon was heard from Ashe’s battery. The grape-shot tore its way through the crowd, dealing death and destruction. Shrieks of terror rent the air, and the next moment the whole host turned tail, and took to their heels in every direction.

“Done ’em, by God,” muttered the Colonel, smiling grimly. “The rascals won’t forget this lesson. If we only had a few shells!”

The old officer was right. By some terrible omission no shells had been stored. The result was that the sepoy force were able gradually to advance their batteries day by day nearer the entrenchment. But for this, the gallant little garrison might have held out.

Colonel Waring ceased to fire. It was but wasting ammunition. Besides, a score or so of the men stationed in the outside barracks had rushed out in pursuit. They were cutting and slashing till their arms ached, and friends and foes were mixed. The Colonel turned to where he had left Ruth. She had disappeared, and he looked across to the thatched barrack, expecting to see her under the verandah. But he was mistaken. Then he heard the next man, stationed fifteen paces from him, give a shout, and saw him leap over the wall.

Waring looked across the parapet, and to his amazement beheld Ruth stooping over a native who was lying on the ground. A wounded sepoy a few yards off, with a fiendish look on his face, was in the act of levelling his musket at her, when the man who had leaped the wall foiled his intention with a vigorous bayonet thrust. The girl was quite unconscious of her peril.

“A narrow escape for you, miss!” growled Private Lyons, of the 32nd, the man who had run to her rescue. “You ought never to have come outside.”

They were joined by Colonel Waring, who, to his amazement, saw that Ruth was binding up the arm of the native.

“My dear child,” he cried half angrily. “What have we to do with wounded Hindoos? Haven’t we enough wounded of our own?”

“Don’t you see who it is?” cried Ruth. “Don’t you know Frank Hale?”

“What!” ejaculated the Colonel.

“It’s all right, Colonel Waring,” said the wounded young man, in a faint voice, and in unmistakable English accents. “I never thought to reach her alive.”

Frank Hale was the son of one of the principal merchants of Cawnpore. Many of the residents had not had time to get to the entrenchment when the Mutiny broke out, and sad indeed was their fate. Hale disguised himself as a native, and remained in hiding until the rabble were assembled to march upon the entrenchment. He then joined the crowd, hoping to find his way to his countrymen, running a fearful risk, not so much from the sepoys as from the bullets of the besieged. He had escaped both only at the last moment to have his arm gashed by the tulwar of a native who had recognised him. It was then that Hale had through an opening in the wall, made by a round shot the day before, caught sight of Ruth, and shouted her name and his own. She heard him and crept out through the aperture.

The lad, he was scarcely more, was frightfully emaciated, and the loss of blood weakened him so much he fainted. He was carried into the thatched barrack; but there was no room for him in the apartment which had been converted into a hospital. It could not be said he had gained much by escaping into the entrenchment.

A gleam of hope crept into the hearts of the poor women at the news of the defeat of their assailants; but it soon faded. The handful of brave fellows who had ventured in pursuit had to return almost immediately, an overwhelming force of the enemy having assembled. The defeat could only be regarded as a temporary check; the next day the attack would most likely be renewed.

Frank Hale described the state of the city at the time of the outbreak as most appalling. It was, he said, as if the day of judgment had come. The European quarter was surrounded by fire. Swarms of dusky natives, the labouring classes, the scum of the city, crowded in on all sides, plundering the houses, and getting drunk on the wines and spirits they found there.

On the following day, when the mutineers commenced the attack on the entrenchment, the state of things was worse. The 2nd Cavalrymen, in an excited state of bravado, galloped to and from the magazine at a tremendous rate, their swords jingling in their scabbards, their horses’ feet resounding on all sides, and throwing up clouds of dust. The soldiers seemed frenzied. Then guns of various sizes and ammunition wagons, drawn by Government bullocks, were taken from the magazine, to be used against the Englishmen who had once owned them.

Hale said that when the batteries opened fire it seemed as if the earth was turning upside down. Fear and trembling were on all sides, except among the mutinous troops, and the plunderers, who went about committing all kinds of atrocities. Meanwhile the work of cold-blooded murder of the Europeans who had not gone into the entrenchment, but hid themselves in places where they thought they would be safe, was carried on with unremitting ferocity. Natives, in many instances their own servants, betrayed them to the murderers. Mr. Mackintosh, a well-known resident of Cawnpore, and one of his sons dressed themselves like chowkadars, and remained amongst their servants for a day or two, but were soon recognised. Then they put on the dress of Brahmins and ran away, but on the road, being alarmed, got under a bridge, where some boys pointed them out to the sepoys, who dragged them from their hiding-place, and hacked them to pieces. Mrs. Mackintosh, a lady of seventy, was hiding in her washerwoman’s house, but was discovered and taken before the Nana. Even so old and so helpless a woman was shown no mercy. She was beheaded. Not one of those who remained out of the entrenchment but was traced out and butchered.

There was no resistance, save in the case of a discharged drummer of the 2nd Infantry, who, with a few native Christians, took shelter in a small but strongly built flat-roofed house, the doors of which they barricaded with bricks and stones. Here they repelled during the whole of one day the attacks made upon them. But at night the wretches set fire to the thatched verandah at the sides of the house, and the gallant little band of heroes were burnt to death.

There was not a house in Cawnpore but what was searched. The murderers even went into the villages in the outlying districts, and hunted for Europeans. At Nujjubgurh, about sixteen miles to the east of Cawnpore, occurred one of those heroic episodes with which the Mutiny abounds, and which cannot be read without a thrill of admiration. Here Mr. Edward Greenway, with his aged mother, his wife and children, together with a friend, Mr. Hollings, sought refuge, thinking the rebels would not proceed so far away to molest them. Mr. Hollings was a capital shot, and determined, if attacked, to fight to the last.

On the approach of the murderous rabble, all the inmates of the house ascended to the upper part, where, from a terrace which ran round the building, Mr. Hollings opened fire. So good was his aim, that he killed and wounded some sixteen of the budmash. The news of his gallant resistance reached the Nana, and a detachment of troops was dispatched from Cawnpore to take the household prisoners.

By the time the sepoys arrived, Mr. Hollings had exhausted all his ammunition, and when he found he could fight no more, he sat down on one of the balustrades, fully exposed to view, and called out to the troops to shoot him. Several shots were fired, and at last one struck him in the chest, and brought the brave fellow, head foremost, to the ground, and the fall completed his death. After this, the others gave themselves up, and would have been killed there and then, but a promise of high ransom by Mrs. Greenway saved their lives.

A Portuguese merchant named De Gama, who did not think General Wheeler’s entrenchment strong enough, hid in a house, where he was discovered, and taken before the Nana, with whom he used to have extensive dealings. As he knew the Nana so well, he thought his life would be spared. Vain hope! The wretch turned his face away in anger, and one of his followers interpreting his expression immediately drew his sword, and struck De Gama three or four times with it. The poor fellow fell bleeding to the ground, and a few more strokes finished him.

A family named Jacobie contrived to cross the river at night, and remained under cover of long grass on the banks. They were discovered and sent to the Nana, Mr. Jacobie dying of sunstroke on the way. Mrs. Jacobie was a woman of high courage, and defied the Nana to his face, reproaching him for the cold-blooded murders he had committed. She told him it was an act of cowardice to kill helpless women and children, and that she and her children had done nothing to offend him in any way, and if he thought that by killing her and others England would become empty, he was greatly mistaken. Mrs. Jacobie’s bold speech had the effect of shaming the Nana and all present, and she was ordered to be sent to the Sowada Kothi with her children, there to be kept prisoners along with old Mrs. Greenway.

Besides the slaughter of Europeans and Eurasians, many Hindoos and Mahomedans, suspected of aiding or serving the British force, were put to death. A list was made of all the bankers, who were shorn of their wealth, and property of every description was plundered or wantonly destroyed. Any attempt to carry intelligence or supplies to the besieged was punished with death or mutilation of the hand or nose, by the order of the Nana or his diabolical lieutenant, Azimoolah Khan.

Everything which poor Frank Hale had to tell was listened to with feelings of horror, heightened by the thought that the fate of these victims might be theirs also. Despair had begun to spread through the entrenchment, and it needed all General Wheeler’s persuasion and calmness to prevent the women giving way to frenzied lamentations.

“Help must reach us before the 14th,” said stout Sir Hugh. “The messages I received on the eve of the outbreak told me that Neill was on his way with the Madras Fusiliers. Two hundred​—​nay, one hundred​—​of Neill’s ‘Lambs’ would suffice.”

And the drooping spirits of the poor creatures revived at the thought that on the 14th an end would come to their miseries. Nothing but this hope buoyed them up.

The day after the failure of the rebel assault the fight was renewed. The sepoys could be seen bringing more guns, and an incessant musketry fire was poured into the entrenchment from the nearest corner, while the guns sent their shot without intermission against the brick walls of the buildings. It was marvellous, indeed, that they held together.

This was June 11, and on that day the torture was increased by a fresh horror. Those in the thatched roof barrack were suddenly startled by hearing shrieks proceeding from the other buildings. The next minute terrified women and children were seen crowding out of the door, and running across the open space to the thatched barrack. The fear of the shots, which, as usual, were flying all round, was for the moment overcome by a new alarm.

“The barracks are on fire!” was the agonised reply to the frenzied questioners.

It was quite true, but the disaster was not so great as was imagined. A quantity of clothes in one of the rooms had indeed become alight, but the fire was soon extinguished, not, however, before a panic had arisen. Unfortunately, the result of this stampede was that the thatched barrack, already crowded to excess, was filled to suffocation, for the timid women refused to go back.

Up to this time some slight shelter from the missiles had been obtained by standing at the angles of the walls, and in the archways of the doors; but now, with fresh numbers crowding in, some were forced into the centre of the apartment, where already was a great gash in the roof.

Among those who were thus compelled to change their position was a lady who held the hand of her little son, a handsome boy of five, tightly in her own. Scarcely had they gone a couple of yards towards the middle of the room, than something struck the roof with a deafening crash, and an 18-pounder fell, killing the boy instantly. The wail of grief which burst from the lips of the agonised mother went to the hearts of all, oppressed as they were already with the intensity of unspeakable misery.

This was only one of the dramatic bereavements which happened during this awful time. It was immediately after the death of the poor little chap that Captain Seppings, the officiating deputy-paymaster, wrote a melancholy record, which was afterwards found on the wall. He was standing under one of the door arches, with wife and children, quite calm and collected, and endeavouring to encourage the ladies with him. After kneeling down and praying, he took out a pencil and wrote on the wall:

“The following were in this barrack on June 11, 1857: Captain Seppings, Mrs. ditto, three children, Mrs. Wainwright, ditto infant, Mr. Cripps, Mrs. Halliday.”

This 11th of June seemed fated to produce surprises. Captain Seppings had just replaced the pencil in his pocket, when another piercing shriek of a female was heard. Two soldiers’ wives were seen hastily moving to a corner in a side room where there was a cot, and pointing to it. Quick as lightning, Sergeant Loveland rushed forward, and dragged out a most hideously loathsome figure of a native, blackened and scorched all over, as if burnt with fire.

“You demon!” hissed the sergeant between his teeth, as he dragged the wretch across the floor to the verandah.

Every one shuddered. They knew the lot in store for this incendiary. The sound of a pistol fired on the verandah told that justice had been short and sharp. No one could tell how the fellow came to be in the barrack. It was, however, settled that he had something to do with the fire in the flat-roof barrack, for a box of matches was found on the body, and doubtless he intended to set fire to the other barrack also.

When the alarm had subsided, some of the women were persuaded to return to the shelter from which the fire had driven them. The journey back through a hailstorm of bullets had to be made. It was done; but such were the nervousness and excitement, many forgot their apartments, and took up fresh quarters. Children were separated from their parents, wives from husbands, and the wretchedness and anguish of mind, if such a thing were possible, were increased.

As the afternoon of the 11th wore on, the battle waxed very hot, and at about five o’clock several desperate attacks were made by the mutineers. Thousands of armed men were spread about under every corner available, their muskets and bayonets only perceptible, and firing as fast as they could load. Their batteries threw in hot shell, and grape, tearing and crashing. The walls, the supporting timbers, the roofs, the verandahs were rapidly becoming tottering ruins. The din of this fearful cannonading and musketry was so incessant, lasting nearly a couple of hours, that it resembled continuous claps of thunder in a tremendous storm.

But throughout all this the sepoys dared not show themselves. When the line of the unfinished barracks outside the entrenchment became filled with the mutineers, creeping up one by one, a gallant band, under Captain Jenkins, or the intrepid Moore, or Mowbray Thompson, would sally out from barracks Nos. 2 and 4, and with musket and sword clear these shelters of the foe. Scores of the enemy were cut down, for they never stopped to fight​—​they were in too great a funk. When they were driven out into the open the men behind the entrenchment wall marked them, and very few escaped with their lives.

At last the end of the terrible day came, and many were the fervent prayers offered up for the speedy coming of Neill. Only three days more, the poor women tried to comfort themselves with saying, and he would be in sight with his “Lambs.”

But the 14th came, and no Neill appeared. Then, indeed, despair was close at hand.