Chapter XI

After Life’s Fitful Fever

Sir Henry Lawrence had never been so untiring in his activity, as on the day when the order was given to evacuate the Mutcheebhawun. It was as though he had a foreboding of the calamity which was to happen within the next twenty-four hours, and wanted to utilise every minute before the last.

Meanwhile the enemy had opened fire against the Mutcheebhawun; and the guns of the battery, after replying, ceased some time before midnight. This indifference to the rebel cannonade quite deceived the mutineers. They believed the place to be impregnable, and thinking they were wasting powder and shot, also ceased firing. The last thing they imagined was that the place was about to be evacuated and the idea of blockading the garrison never occurred to them.

They were further deceived by Sir Henry’s ruse of opening a fierce fire from the Residency upon the iron bridge between the Residency and the Mutcheebhawun. Not a sepoy remained. Never did the rebels suspect that the plan of keeping the bridge clear was to enable the troops to pass from one stronghold to another. The distance between the two places was about three quarters of a mile, and shortly after midnight the force began noiselessly to move out. The greater portion of the heavier guns had to be left behind, but the troops managed to bring with them two nine-pounders. With such speed did they move, that the 225 men of whom the garrison consisted, the guns, and the treasure, arrived in the Residency in fifteen minutes without having a shot fired at them.

A catastrophe very nearly happened. It was a very dark night, and when the advance guard reached the entrance to the Residency, the officer in command called out:

“Open the gates!”

The gunners inside heard the voice, but imagined it came from one of their own officers within the walls, and that what he said was not “Open the gates,” but “Open with grape!”

At this one of the men was about to fire, when an officer, rushing up, dashed the gunner aside, and so averted a terrible disaster.

Meanwhile the train for the destruction of the fort had been laid by Lieutenant Thomas of the Madras Artillery. The explosion was timed to take place half-an-hour after the departure of the garrison. Sir Henry Lawrence and a group of officers stood awaiting the event.

At the appointed time a blaze of fire shot up to the sky, followed by a deafening report, and a huge dense cloud of smoke, which hung silently over the city for a long time before it dispersed. By that explosion were destroyed 240 barrels of gunpowder, and 6,000,000 ball cartridges, but it compassed the complete dismantlement of the fortress. A vast quantity of percussion caps, with many lacs and 250 boxes of small-arm ammunition, were sacrificed at the same time, to say nothing of all the stores which Sir Henry Lawrence had been at such trouble and expense to get together.

The evacuation of the Mutcheebhawun was a relief to the mind of Sir Henry Lawrence. Not only did the garrison make a welcome addition to the little force in the Residency, sadly depleted by the Chinhut disaster, but it removed a constant source of anxiety.

Indeed, as Colonel Inglis afterwards wrote in his despatch, if it had not been for this wise and strategic measure, in all probability no member of the Lucknow garrison would have survived to tell the tale. The Mutcheebhawun was commanded from other parts of the town, and was, moreover, indifferently provided with heavy artillery ammunition, and if the original intention of holding both the Mutcheebhawun and the Residency had been adhered to, both would inevitably have fallen.

It was a piece of good fortune, too, that Sir Henry Lawrence was so prompt in ordering the abandonment. The time, quite by chance, was well chosen. The enemy had determined, before they commenced in earnest to besiege the Residency to devote a preliminary night to the plunder of the town. They were engaged in this congenial work when the explosion of the Mutcheebhawun signified to them that they had missed a great opportunity.

Meanwhile, since their meeting in the Residency garden, Jean had not seen Ernest Lennard. After Chinhut, the little hospital became full of wounded, and the medical staff had as much as it could do. Jean had not gone into the hospital after her first attempt to assist in tending the wounded. She had not yet become hardened to the horrors of war, and Dr Macpherson forbade her the place for a couple of days at least.

“Puir lassie!” he muttered. “It won’t be long before the whole of the Residency will be one hospital, and she’ll have enough to do then.”

Anxious as she was to help, Jean was grateful to the old doctor, and in obedience to his command, she kept within the tyekhana.

Edith Ross, on the other hand, suddenly became deeply interested in hospital work; and as she was a woman of extraordinary nerve, Macpherson encouraged her attendance.

Once or twice she met Lennard, and would have stopped him; but he either did not care to talk or was too busy. He simply bowed, and hurriedly passed on. But this was immediately after the wounded had been brought in, and there was ample reason why he should not loiter. After a couple of days had gone by the strain upon his services was not so great, and on the 2nd of July, the day after the blowing up of the Mutcheebhawun, he was proceeding, weary and fagged, towards his quarters, when he suddenly came face to face with Mrs Ross. Apparently it was a chance meeting, for the lady started as though she had been thinking of anything but meeting him.

And yet purpose regulated most of Mrs Ross’s happenings, and she had no desire that Jean Atherton’s refusal of Ernest Lennard should be taken as final. She had long desired an opportunity of discussing the matter with him, and now with consummate tact introduced the subject. But Lennard did not carry his heart upon his sleeve, and had no desire to bare his hand to anyone. He had learned the truth of the old Scripture: “The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and the stranger intermeddleth not with its sorrow.”

Mrs Ross would have detained Lennard, for she had much to say to him, but he was not in the mood for conversation, and somewhat abruptly said:

“Good-bye for the present. I’ve two hours’ leave from Macpherson, and I want to spend the whole of it in sleep, if I can.”

He bowed and walked rapidly away.

Edith Ross stood quietly watching his retreating figure. Then she walked on slowly, talking to herself softly. Her thoughts were so absorbing, it is doubtful if she even heard the booming of the cannon and volleys of musketry fire coming from all sides.

It was a matter of common talk among her friends how Mrs Ross had altered in appearance during the last three weeks. Her sallowness had gone, the wrinkles about the eyes had filled up, the lines at the corners of the mouth had softened, her eyes had regained a good deal of their old brilliancy, when a single glance would set the heart of a susceptible subaltern aflame. In a word, she looked ten years younger.

Why was this? Edith Ross herself could not or would not say, and only laughed when any of the officers complimented her on looking so well. The explanation was very simple. The sight of the man she loved with all the fervour of her Eastern nature had renewed her youth.

Little by little she had worn down Hawke’s anger. If not absolutely friends, they were not absolutely enemies, and she did not despair of winning him back.

“He’s smitten by Jean Atherton’s pretty face, but his love won’t last,” she had said to herself over and over again. “I know him too well.”

She decided she had made a mistake in trying to set Jean against Hawke, and latterly she had never mentioned his name. It was far better policy to pretend to be indifferent to him, and to appear to be furthering his interests with Jean.

“It’s all happened for the best,” she murmured. “Jack imagines that because Jean refused Dr Lennard that therefore she is free. Supposing I persuade Jack that his turn has now come; that Jean herself has dropped a few words in his favour? It’s better to bring matters to a crisis. If he gets his refusal from the girl’s own lips that will end the matter; and then​—​well, why shouldn’t my time come at last?”

It was a pleasant dream.

“Jack never cared for a doll-like face in the old days, and though I don’t say Jean Atherton’s face is doll-like​—​I’ll give her that due, although I hate her​—​I don’t believe it’s the style he cares for. Bah! what fools men are​—​and women too,” she added, with sudden tightening of the lips. “But I’ll never let my temper get the better of me again. No, for the future, I’ll be more discreet. He shall never feel the noose is over his head until it is there securely.”

She paced up and down the corridor outside the tyekhana, thinking, planning, revolving. Never once did it occur to her that a chance bullet might put an end to all her dreams. She had made up her mind that sooner or later she would have Jack Hawke’s love and satisfy her own; and when she had made up her mind the thing was fixed. What had chance to do with it?

“Yes, Jack can propose to Jean Atherton if he likes,” she repeated, with a scornful smile, “and perhaps after all the sooner the better.”

The possibility of Jean Atherton accepting Hawke certainly did flit before her like a dark shadow, but she brushed it away impatiently as a most unlikely contingency.

“Jack’s way with women is dangerous. What he hasn’t got in speech he makes up in impetuosity, and she might be won over. Well, well,” she continued, impatiently, “I shall know what to do. There are other ways.”

She was about to return to the tyekhana when she heard her name suddenly pronounced. She turned and saw the subject of her thoughts​—​Jean Atherton. Jean had just run down the staircase and was within a few feet of her. She was very pale, and her eyes had a look of fright in them.

“Oh, Mrs Ross,” she exclaimed, “a terrible thing has happened! Poor Sir Henry Lawrence——” she stopped and burst into tears.

“What have you heard about Sir Henry?”

“He’s been horribly wounded. They say he can’t possibly live. Oh, it’s frightful!”

For a brief space Edith Ross forgot her selfish thoughts; but not for long. If Sir Henry were dead, others would take his place. Jean was terribly distressed, and could hardly muster sufficient calmness to disclose what she had heard.

At dawn of day, it appeared, Sir Henry Lawrence rose, and with his wonted activity, superintended the new arrangements which had become necessary owing to the welcome accession of force which the dark hours had brought him. He had seen new detachments posted and new guns planted; and when the morning sun had become oppressive, he returned to the Residency and rested on a couch while he was issuing his instructions.

His nephew, George Lawrence, was lying on another couch in the same room. By the general’s side stood Captain Wilson, assistant adjutant-general, waiting the orders of his chief. There was also a native servant in the room.

What followed is best told in Captain Wilson’s own words:

“Sir Henry had desired me to draw up a memorandum as to how the natives were to be distributed, and I went into the next room to write it; but previous to doing so I reminded him of his promise to go to the room below, for we had at last persuaded him to remove. He said he was very tired, and would rest a couple of hours, and that then he would have his things removed.

“In about half-an-hour I went back into the room with what I had written. His nephew, Mr George Lawrence, was then lying on a small bed parallel to his uncle’s, with a very few feet between them.

“I went between the beds, and stood on the right-hand side of Sir Henry’s, with one knee resting on it. A native servant was sitting on the floor pulling the punkah.

“I read what I had written. It was not quite in accordance with his wishes, and he was in the act of explaining what he desired altered, when the fatal shot came. A sheet of flame, a terrific shock, and a dense darkness is all I can describe.”

Captain Wilson was thrown to the ground, but on recovering himself he cried out: “Sir Henry, are you hurt?”

At first there was no answer, but after a little while the feeble voice of the chief commissioner was heard to say:

“I am killed.”

The punkah had come down with the ceiling, and a great deal of the plaster, and the dust and smoke were so great it was some minutes before anything could be seen. As the air became clearer Wilson saw that the white coverlet on which Sir Henry lay was crimson with his blood.

He had received his death wound from the fatal howitzer, first found in a Lucknow house, used at Chinhut, there abandoned, and brought by the rebels once more into the city. A shell from this gun had exploded in the general’s room, and a fragment of it had wounded him fearfully on the upper part of the left thigh.

At the sound of the explosion a handful of soldiers rushed in and placed Sir Henry on a chair. Captain Wilson then found that the back of his shirt was all blown off (he had on only a shirt and trousers); that he was slightly wounded by a fragment of the shell and that the servant pulling the punkah had had one of his feet cut off by another fragment of the shell. Mr George Lawrence was alone of the four in the room unhurt, and he ran at once for Dr Fayrer, who, upon his arrival, found that Sir Henry had been removed to a small apartment, not so much exposed, adjoining the drawing-room. Here he lay, surrounded by his friends.

Though he seemed to be under the impression he was in the agonies of death, Sir Henry was talking quite calmly to the people about him.

“Doctor,” said the brave old gentleman quietly, “how long have I to live?”

“I cannot promise more than forty-eight hours,” said Fayrer mournfully.

“So long? I did not think I had as many minutes. Well, well, I will do my duty to the last.”

It was useless to think of amputating the limb. All that could be done was to palliate his sufferings and maintain his strength. The little life that was left in him might still be serviceable to his countrymen, and it was right to lengthen it to the utmost.

He had already bethought himself of what was to be done in the event of the mortal blow descending upon him and there was no hurry or indecision.

He had previously obtained the sanction of Government to the appointment of Major Banks as his successor in the office of chief commissioner, and he now formally made over the charge. Colonel Inglis was given the chief military command.

How it came about no one could say, but it is certain that the news of Sir Henry’s mortal wound reached the enemy, and within half-an-hour that portion of the Residency was subjected to a terrible bombardment.

“The bloodthirsty demons!” exclaimed Fayrer. “The poor general musn’t remain here. It’s torture. He must come to my house.”

And so, with all tenderness and care, he was carried to Dr Fayrer’s residence, which was less within the reach of the rebel guns, though open to their musketry. There his last hours were passed.

Dismal indeed seemed the outlook in the Residency when, on the 4th of July, it was announced that the loved chief was no more.

Half-an-hour before Sir Henry’s death his nephew, Mr G. Lawrence, was shot through the shoulder as he was standing in the verandah of Dr Fayrer’s house. He was taken into the room where his uncle lay dying.

Sir Henry could not be buried until nightfall. Had the interment taken place in the daytime it would have meant more deaths, for the musketry volleys were fierce and incessant. When the burial was determined upon, half-a-dozen soldiers were called in for the purpose, and one of them, lifting the sheet from the face, kissed it reverently.

As in the case of Sir John Moore, no military honours marked the funeral. A hurried prayer was read amidst the booming of cannon and the fire of musketry, and the remains of the good and great man were lowered into the pit with those of his comrades-in-arms who had fallen the same day.

Excepting to those in the Residency, the death of Sir Henry Lawrence was not known to the English and was kept secret for several days. He was even reported to be recovering. But at last the truth could no longer be concealed, and the tidings were received, to quote Colonel Inglis’ despatch, “throughout the garrison with feelings of consternation, only second to the grief which was inspired in the hearts of all by the loss of a public benefactor and a warm personal friend.”

The last words of the brave Sir Henry Lawrence were never forgotten, and gave fresh courage to many a man as he took his post in the early dawn, anxious that before nightfall he might be numbered among the slain:

“No surrender! Let every man die at his post, but never make terms. God help the poor women and children!”

Had the dying injunction of the heroic old chief been blazoned on the walls of every house within the entrenchment, it could not have been more faithfully obeyed by the nine hundred and twenty-seven men who composed the Lucknow garrison on the first day of the siege.