More than half-a-century has passed since the Mutiny of 1857 shook the structure of our supremacy in India to its very foundations. The causes of the disaffection, the identity of the actual leaders, the methods of organisation, are as mysterious now as they were then. Time has done little to add to our knowledge of the native of India. He moves slowly and silently, he goes about his avocation apparently contented, he pays his taxes, and probably grumbles less than the average Englishman. So long as all is quiet, his rulers do not trouble; they are satisfied everything is well if nothing is seen. But the Eastern nature never changes. It is as it has ever been, subtle, secret, patient. No one at the time of the Mutiny was able to penetrate below the surface. The episode of the greased cartridges was but the spark which ignited the fuse. The fuse itself was invisible, the hands that laid it unknown.

“Unrest in India”​—​the words might almost be stereotyped. From time to time a mist of doubt has arisen, has floated across the horizon, has melted away. Until two years ago, no serious importance was attached to simmerings of discontent. The events of the past two years, however, show that this “unrest” has entered upon a new phase. Western education and training, grafted upon Eastern traditions, custom, character, religion, have introduced fresh dangers, the result of which no man can foresee.

We in England must never forget the fixed, immutable characteristics of the Indian race. It is well, therefore, that the memory of the past should not be allowed to die out. This end I have had in view in selecting the Siege of Lucknow as the background of a story in which an attempt has been made to picture the circumstances and conditions of the time, the character and methods of the mutineers, the influence of caste, the treachery of which the native is capable and the loyalty which upon occasion he can show, and the heroism, the fortitude, the unflinching devotion of the defenders. For colour I have gone to the pages of Mr Commissioner Gubbins, Major Wilson, Colonel Inglis, whose graphic accounts glow with actuality. Colonel S. B. Malleson has, in his “History of the Indian Mutiny,” brought together most of the salient facts in connection with the siege, and Mr Archibald Forbes’ account of the entry of the relief force under Havelock can scarcely be bettered. To the authors of “Defence of Lucknow, by a Staff Officer,” and “A Lady’s Diary of the Siege” I am also under an obligation.

A few words need to be said of Azimoolah Khan, the mysterious figure of whom I have ventured to give an imperfect outline. The only historian of the Indian Mutiny who, so far as I know, has dealt with Azimoolah Khan is Lieutenant Mowbray Thomson, one of the survivors of the Cawnpore Massacre. Lieutenant Thomson writes, “Subtle, intriguing, politic, unscrupulous and bloodthirsty, the man betrayed no animosity to us until the outburst of the Mutiny, and then he became the presiding genius in the assault of Cawnpore.” Lieutenant Thomson attributes to Azimoolah Khan the instigation of the rebellion. Nana Sahib, he asserts, was but a puppet in the crafty villain’s hands, “for this Azimoolah was the actual murderer of our sisters and their babes.” Lieutenant Thomson adds that when Havelock’s men entered the Nana’s palace at Bithoor they found piles of letters from leading society ladies in London​—​unmistakable proofs of Azimoolah’s fascination, and of his amazing duplicity. The words I have placed in the mouth of the club gossip’s description of Azimoolah, his origin, and the object of his mission to England, are based on Lieutenant Thomson’s statement. The end of Azimoolah Khan, like that of his infamous confederate Nana Sahib, is buried in darkness. Taking advantage of the licence of romance, I have endeavoured to supply a solution of the mystery.