Chapter XIII

The First Sortie​—​“Bob the Nailer”

In Duprat’s house Hawke found Captain Sam Lawrence, Ensign Green, and Ensign Studdy, all of the 32nd. Hawke and a dozen or so of the soldiers were to make up the party.

“The plan is this,” said Lawrence. “A surprise raid, blast open the door, and do the rest with sword, bayonet and pistol. Never mind the others if we smash up ‘Bob the Nailer.’”

Noiselessly they stole out, and crossed the intervening space between Duprat’s house and the wall, and then one by one they scaled the mud works and dropped on the other side. Lawrence himself carried the bag of powder to burst the door​—​he would trust it to no one else.

It was scarcely light. The idea of the sortie party was to take the natives inside the house unawares, the chances being that the report of the explosion at the door would pass unnoticed amid the thunder going on all round.

In pursuit of this plan a line of dark figures crept stealthily across the intervening ground. Lawrence approached the door and placed the charge against its lower portion. Then he struck a match, and a little dull, red spark of light began to travel slowly along the fuse.

Meanwhile Lawrence returned to his comrades, and all waited​—​waited with faces grim and stern, with iron fingers gripping sword and rifle.

The interval between placing the bag of gunpowder at the door and the explosion was probably not five minutes. It seemed like five hours. Suddenly there was a flash and a report. The men sprang forward, Captain Sam Lawrence at their head, and dashed into the house.

In the lower part were a score of sepoys lying asleep. The noise of the blasting of the door had failed to arouse them. What was one report among so many, even though it were a little louder than the rest? The first man was bayoneted as he lay, but he had time to give the alarm before he expired. Then followed a wild tumult. The sepoys, panic-stricken, and scarcely able to seize their muskets before their assailants were on them like wild cats, were slaughtered to a man.

While this was going on, Captain Lawrence and Hawke crept upstairs to the turret. There sat “Bob the Nailer,” wholly unconscious of their approach, engaged in returning a fire specially directed by the men in the Cawnpore battery to divert his attention.

He had just pulled the trigger when Hawke rushed at him. Almost before he could realise what had happened he was a dead man. It was life for life, for Bob’s last shot, delivered almost at the moment of death, killed one of the 32nd who had foolishly put his head over the mud wall to see how the sortie was progressing.

“Not a bad morning’s work!” cried Lawrence exultingly. “We’ve got rid of ‘Bob the Nailer,’ and that’s as good as despatching a hundred Pandies.”

“And we’ll have to do that besides,” exclaimed Hawke, “unless we clear out sharp. Look yonder!”

About five hundred yards away a couple of hundred sepoys were advancing at the double. The news of the capture of Johannes’ House had become known.

“Get back, my lads​—​get back quick!” shouted Lawrence through the turret doorway, spotting the danger at once.

The two men dashed down the stairs, met the rest of the party coming up, turned them back, and all rushed helter-skelter out of the house, crossed the intervening space, and were over the mud wall into the battery before the hurrying sepoys had an opportunity of getting a fair shot at them. A few bullets whistled over their heads, but that was all.

It was a gallant exploit, and Sam Lawrence obtained the Victoria Cross for his share. The sortie was not unattended by loss, for one man was killed in the scrimmage in the lower part of the house. Unfortunately the building was left standing. There was not time to blow it up, and it was speedily occupied by sharpshooters. But there was no one to replace “Bob the Nailer.”

The party returned triumphant, and Duprat, in honour of the occasion, brought out half-a-dozen bottles of champagne. As before, Hawke drank heavily. The restraint he had put upon himself once broken down could not be restored in a moment. He was one of those who could abstain, but could not be moderate.

“Haven’t you got anything stronger than this, Duprat, old boy?” he exclaimed. “What about that fine cognac of yours, eh?”

Duprat had, when the siege began, a stock of brandy, most of which he had sold in exchange for valuable gems. Coins were very scarce in the early days of the trouble in Lucknow, and after the residents were shut up few had any ready money. So inside the Residency fortifications gold and silver became very scarce, and jewels in many cases were the circulating medium.

“Very little left,” replied Duprat, “and I’m not going to bring it out now. We’ll keep the brandy for the wounded, my boy.”

“Oh, that’s all right. I didn’t know how much you sold. I suppose you made a pretty penny, eh?”

There was a suspicion of a sneer in Hawke’s voice. Duprat, who was a high-spirited man, flushed a little angrily.

“I don’t see what business it is of yours, Captain Hawke. I don’t sell my champagne anyhow; you seem to have forgotten that.”

The retort went home. Hawke had drunk four or five times as much as any of the rest. He started to his feet.

Hawke’s hand wandered over his forehead. He was conscious he had drunk too much, and muttering incoherently he went out of the house.

“That sunstroke did the poor fellow no good,” said Lawrence when he was gone. “You must make allowances for that, Duprat. As a rule, Hawke is quiet and well behaved enough.”

“I understand perfectly,” said Duprat. “It is a pity. He is a brave man.”

“Yes; but a fool when he takes too much. He’d insult his best friend then.”

They watched him walking with unsteady gait in the direction of Gubbins’ garrison, and thought he was going there; but he did not get as far. He went into the brigade mess-house, then occupied by some of the 32nd. The soldiers there saw that he had been drinking, and envied him.

Some men when they have drunk too much instinctively seek the society of their inferiors. Drink invariably lowered Hawke’s nature. His animalism became uppermost. He grew confidential with the soldiers, and, led on by one or two of the more cunning of the men, told where he had obtained the liquor, and expatiated on the quantity left behind.

A meaning look was exchanged between the listeners​—​a look which was to bear fruit within twenty-four hours.

Hawke had some tobacco with him, and this he distributed. While the party were smoking and telling stories​—​more or less of the barrack-room kind​—​the officer in command entered. He cast one look round the room, and shouted angrily:

“Can’t you find a better use for your hands than holding pipes, you lazy scoundrels? Who the devil is this? Hawke! Upon my honour, it’s too bad of you. There are some men in this room ready enough to skulk, without any assistance from their officers.”

“What’s it matter?” growled Hawke, with a fierce twist of his moustache. “We’re bound to peg out​—​all of us. Who cares whether it’s to-day or to-morrow? Take it easy while we’re here.”

“Don’t be a fool,” answered the officer sharply. “You wouldn’t talk such nonsense if you were sober.”

Hawke scowled, but did not look up. The men were silent, and their glances wandered from one officer to another. At last Hawke rose, and held out his hand. The words of Captain Allison had sobered him.

Allison turned his back. He had good reason for being seriously annoyed with Hawke.

“Is this a cut, Allison?” said Hawke sullenly.

Allison was a good-natured fellow. He turned round after a pause and took the proffered hand.

“I don’t want to say too much before the men, Jack,” he said in a low voice. “But, confound it! I was in the mind to talk to you pretty straight I’ve had no end of trouble with my fellows to keep them in order, and your coming here won’t do them any good.”

“I’m awfully sorry, old chap,” said Hawke penitently. “Fact is, I’ve had a drop too much, and——”

“You needn’t tell me that,” interposed Allison abruptly. “I hope you didn’t let out to the men where you got it?”

“Not I,” said Hawke.

In saying this he spoke conscientiously; but, as a matter of fact, he had quite forgotten the conversation he had had with the soldiers.

“Where are you going?”

“The old job​—​mining.”

“Best thing you can do,” returned Allison shortly.

Hawke went out, and Allison, after rating the men severely, despatched them to Anderson’s garrison on the east side of the fortifications, against which at that moment a severe cannonade was being directed.

When dawn broke the following morning it was discovered that Duprat’s house had been raided, and the cellar despoiled of a good quantity of its store of wine.

By a singular coincidence, also, about a dozen of the 32nd were gloriously drunk. Allison did not betray Hawke, but he had little doubt that Jack had been the connecting link.

On the robbery becoming known to Colonel Inglis, he ordered the stores to be removed, and Duprat’s house to be turned into a post for purely defensive purposes. It was no longer tenable for a residence, owing to the incessant firing poured into the Cawnpore battery, which it backed, and Duprat joined Gubbins’ garrison.

The Frenchman had served as a Chasseur d’Afrique in Algeria, and was a jovial, energetic, vivacious fellow, much liked by everyone.

Duprat possessed a large bore heavy rifle, which he used with considerable skill, and his energy during the night alarms, which the enemy constantly practised on the besieged, amounted to almost drollery.

The mutineers would cluster round the works surrounding Mr Gubbins’ house, shouting what appeared to be their war-cry​—​“Ali! Ali!” oft repeated, and calling upon each other to advance, with the words: “Chulo bahadon!” (“Advance, ye brave!”)

On these occasions, Duprat, exposing himself more than was prudent, would yell back defiance at them at the top of his voice: “Come on, ye brave! ye rascals, cowards, scoundrels!” An emphatic rejoinder which generally provoked a discharge of musketry and matchlock balls in return.

On one of these occasions he received a musket-ball full in the face. It did not kill him, and for a time it appeared as though he would recover; but it was not to be, and he shared the fate of many another gallant fellow.

As a rule, the rebels’ batteries were very well placed, some guns being put in position within sixty yards of the defences. Where the defenders’ artillery could reach the enemy’s guns it never failed in soon silencing them; but the sepoys were so clever in placing their batteries that oftentimes no gun from within the walls could be brought to bear upon them.

Sometimes they kept their gun concealed behind the corner of a building, ran it out, fired, and immediately retired before the shot could be returned, the gun being dragged back by ropes.

In other places the gun was kept at the bottom of an inclined plane, to the top of which it was dragged to be fired, when the recoil ran it down into its place again.

They had scores of dodges. All that they were deficient in was bravery. As soon as the siege began they commenced making, along such thoroughfares as were exposed to the fire from the fortifications, screens of wooden palisades placed in a bank of earth. The roads and passages were everywhere intersected by ditches and trenches.

Their batteries were usually formed of strong rafters of wood stuck upright and deeply embedded in the ground, and strengthened and supported by a bank of earth, a square enclosure being left in the centre for the muzzle of the cannon.

A large number of their roundshot passed over the positions at certain points altogether, and plunged into the buildings occupied by the mutineers themselves on the opposite side. Sometimes, however, they contrived, by using small charges of powder, to lob in their shot very cleverly inside the defences.

But they could not stand shells, and the howitzers of the besieged at first did great execution, but not so much afterwards. The reason was the sepoys dug narrow trenches ten feet deep near their guns, into which they could at once spring when they saw a shell approaching.

Within a fortnight after Chinhut the enemy had established batteries all round the fortifications; but at the south-west corner, where Mr Gubbins’ house was situated, they for a long time only had one field-piece, and for this reason Jean and the other ladies who were with her were comparatively safe, though they never dared go out by day.

The time went slowly with the poor women, pent up as they were and utterly ignorant of what was going on. News, of course, was brought them at intervals, but there were occasions when they scarcely cared to know what the besieged and besiegers were doing. They were only interested in the prospects of “relief.” A dull sense of wearisome monotony oppressed them, maybe partly induced by the never-ceasing sound of artillery and musketry firing, which after a while seemed to deaden the brain.

The only occurrences which varied in any way the usual course of things were the occasional attacks of the enemy.

There was something very grand and exciting about these when they suddenly commenced in the dead of night, or rather, after their commencement, when the firing was just at its height. The women then would jump out of bed and run into the verandah, and stay there during these attacks, until sometimes warned back by a stray bullet falling at their feet, or striking the wall or doorway above their heads.

The days passed, each adding to the melancholy list of wounded, dying or dead. During this time Jean saw nothing of Hawke, and she was glad he had taken to heart her injunction not to seek to see her. She felt a meeting would be embarrassing.

The intensity of his passion frightened her, and at first she felt a vague dread creep over her when she thought of the incident which had led to his taking her in his arms. How tightly he had clasped her, just as though he had made up his mind nothing but death should part them! Her face burned when she thought of it. Yet she could not be angry. Had he not saved her life? Besides, he committed no crime in loving her.

As time went on, and she saw nothing of him, her feeling of dread gradually disappeared. She did not know that scarcely a day passed that he did not creep to the house and assure himself of her safety. He had seen her more than once when at night she came out to take the only exercise she could venture upon without risk. He tried to be glad that she had so far escaped injury, but in reality the sight of her gave him no comfort, it only fanned the fire of his passion.

Sometimes, in the wild tumult of emotion, a fierce joy filled his heart when he thought that his rival, the man whom she loved, might never see her again.

“If she were killed​—​yes, if she were killed,” he muttered, in the anguish of his spirit, “it would end this torture.”

And then he would curse himself for his wickedness. To die painlessly as many had died in that terrible time, struck down in a second, was one thing; to die after hours, and maybe days, of suffering, another. That might be her fate.

“Inhuman brute I am,” he groaned, “to wish her to endure a single moment of pain!”

One moonlight night he saw her, motionless and statuesque, looking to his fervid fancy like an angel of peace, and he marvelled that the musketry fire, the boom of the guns, the crash of shot against brick and stone, and the sharp patter of bullets on wall, roof, and pavement, did not cease at her presence.

He was hidden in the doorway of a house opposite, and could watch her without being seen. He was strangely tempted to speak to her, but a fear restrained him​—​the fear that, if she knew he came there to watch her, these stolen moments of mingled pain and pleasure would end.

He always waited till she disappeared, and then, like a man from whom life had fled, crept back to some of the mining operations which were always going on.

The sepoys, although cowardly in direct attack, and with no stomach for hand-to-hand fighting, proved themselves able and persevering in the construction of mines. The skill and science they showed lent colour to the belief that Europeans with a knowledge of engineering guided them. Indeed, had not the garrison possessed engineers of remarkable ability the repeated attacks of the enemy must eventually have proved successful.

Captain Fulton, who constructed and had charge of the Redan battery, was a host in himself. He organised a small body of miners, comprising a few Cornishmen (the 32nd were raised in Cornwall), and some Sikhs. Fulton would pass whole hours in a cramped attitude, lying at the end of a narrow subterranean passage, during the stifling heat of an Indian July, listening to the enemy’s miners coming nearer and nearer, until their pickaxes actually pierced the gallery and exposed the disconcerted workmen to the view and ready pistol of the solitary sentinel.

On this particular moonlight night Hawke walked straight to the Redan battery. Since the raid upon the wine stores in Duprat’s house he had pulled himself together, but this was not entirely due to his own efforts. He might have dropped entirely into his old ways but for the fact that, after Colonel Inglis took the precaution of securing Duprat’s stock, anything beyond what was served out by the commissariat department was difficult to obtain.

But the craving remained with Hawke though he was unable to satisfy it, and if the opportunity presented itself there was little doubt he would break out again. At least, so said those who knew him best.