Chapter XXIII

Too Late! Too Late!

Havelock​—​the man of the hour​—​arrived at Benares on June 27, the day on which the horror of the House of Massacre was perpetrated. By the dawn of the 30th he and his men reached Allahabad, and their eager eyes rested on the fort towering above the majestic stream at its base, the confluence of the Ganges, yellow-brown and turbid, with the Jumna, clear, blue, and sparkling.

Philip Heron had been introduced to the General as a Balaclava man, and been heartily received. Heron was strangely impressed by the slender, well-knit figure, the grave, pale face, the firm, resolute mouth, the earnest eyes surmounted by strongly marked brows. The absence of beard and moustache brought into prominence deep lines telling of a strong will, and of habitual self-command.

A hearty cheer went up as the little force passed through the Allahabad gate. The Madras Fusiliers and the men of the 78th and 64th, who had gone on first, Captain Maude’s gunners, and Brasyer’s Sikhs, joined in one joyous outburst, and Neill, tanned and worn, grasped Havelock by the hand.

“I’ve done my best, General,” Heron heard him say. “You have arrived in time to wish God-speed to Renaud. He sets out this afternoon with an advance column for Cawnpore.”

Philip could not catch Havelock’s reply, but he could see by the General’s face it was congratulatory. The news that an advance column was about to start set Phil Heron on fire. Why could he not be attached to this column? Neill was then taking Havelock to his quarters, where breakfast was awaiting them. There was no time to be lost. Heron hurried after the two leaders and made his request.

“A day or two’s rest would be better for you,” said Havelock curtly.

“I don’t want any rest, sir,” he replied impulsively. “Resting means wearing my heart out. I shall never rest until I reach Cawnpore.”

“And maybe not then,” said Neill, with a grim smile.

“Why are you more impatient than the rest of us to get to Cawnpore?” asked Havelock, bending his keen eyes upon him.

“My brother is there, and​—​and some one else.”

Phil Heron’s voice must have betrayed his feelings. Havelock paused, still with his eyes resting on Captain Heron, and then said:

“A woman?”

“Yes, sir. The woman I love,” said Heron frankly.

The General’s face saddened. His eldest son was with him on his staff, but his wife and the rest of his children were in England. Probably Phil’s words had sent his mind flying homeward.

“Your wife, sir?” he asked.

“No, sir,” said Heron, imitating Havelock’s brevity.

The General made no reply​—​perhaps he understood​—​but turning to Neill said:

“What force are you sending with Renaud?”

“Four hundred Madras Fusiliers, and 84th, three hundred Sikhs, a handful of troopers, and a couple of nine-pounders.”

“Who is in command of the troopers?”

“Captain Harley.”

“Let Captain Heron accompany him. Renaud will want all the horsemen he can get. What about a mount?”

“I will manage that, sir,” Heron put in boldly.

Havelock gave him a nod of approval. He liked men who were anxious to help themselves. Heron took the nod as setting a seal on his instructions, and hastened away. In half an hour he secured the horse, and rode to the cantonments, where the expeditionary force were getting in readiness for departure. At four the bugle sounded. Havelock gave the departing force a few cheering words. Philip set his horse to a canter, and the next minute was by the side of Harley, who was riding at the head of his company of Oudh cavalry.

The force could only travel at a slow pace. The guns were drawn by bullocks, and these leisurely animals sometimes lagged behind. It was of the highest importance to keep in touch with the artillery, and occasionally the head of the column had to halt.

The sun sank, the western sky changed from gold to purple, and finally its rosy glow melted into grey. Night came on, but still the men pushed steadily ahead. By midnight they had been on the march some seven hours, and they had covered scarcely more than twenty miles. It was all-important to make use of the cool of the night, and after a brief halt the bugle sounded once more.

The men marched splendidly. They were as eager as their leaders to get to Cawnpore, for both the Madras Fusiliers and the 84th had comrades shut up in Sir Hugh Wheeler’s entrenchment. Captain Harley and Philip Heron soon became chums. They discovered that they had mutual friends in England, and this was a pleasant link between them. They were trotting a little ahead of the men, when Harley suddenly exclaimed:

“Hallo! What’s that?”

Something white was creeping along towards them, keeping well within the deep shadow of the long grass bordering the road on each side. The moon was shining brightly, and though the grass afforded splendid cover for sharpshooters, the brilliant light enabled them to see the slightest movement. Not a breath of air was stirring, and the feathery tops hung motionless in the heavy atmosphere. As they approached, a man stepped boldly from the shadow. He was in the ordinary native dress of Oudh, and was armed with a bow and arrow.

“I am your highness’s humble servant,” said the man with a low salaam. “I bring news from Cawnpore.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Harley. “Are you sent by Sir Hugh Wheeler?”

“No, sahib.”

The man hesitated, and fumbled with his waistband.

“Then you bring a letter?”

“I bring no letter, sahib.”

“Then tell us your news,” broke in Philip impatiently.

Heron could speak Hindustani, not fluently perhaps, but sufficiently accurate for ordinary conversation. Had the Crimean War not broken out, he would have been sent to India. To that end he had studied the language of the East at Addiscombe. He had also worked at it all day long during the voyage to Calcutta, and after landing had never lost an opportunity of talking to any of the natives he met.

“My news is bad​—​is terrible,” said the man, with downcast eyes. “Your lordships will not believe me.”

“Why the deuce don’t you speak?” rapped out Harley.

“The garrison has surrendered, sahib.”

“It’s a lie. I know General Wheeler too well!” cried Harley.

“It is true. And it is not all the truth.”

“What then?”


“My God!” exclaimed Heron. “The women​—​the children——”

“Massacred too, all but those mem-sahibs shut up by Azimoolah Khan.”

The two listeners looked at each other in silent horror. An indescribable chill passed over Philip Heron, as though every drop of blood in his body had turned to ice. For a few moments the appalling news stunned his brain, paralysed his nerve, his very being. Harley was scarcely less affected, but the terror did not come home personally to him as it did to Philip Heron.

The Hindoo in his simple language told how the end had come. There was no prospect of relief, and General Wheeler, moved by the suffering of the women and the rapidly diminishing strength of the garrison, had surrendered, believing in the promise of Nana Sahib, that he and the remnant of his brave troops, and the women and children, should be allowed to go safely to Allahabad. Then followed the treachery of the Nana and his infamous adviser, Azimoolah. As the two men heard the ghastly story of the boats they ground their teeth, and clenched their fists till the nails were dug into the flesh. Before the native had finished, Major Renaud had joined the two men, and he was not less moved than they.

“Harley!” he exclaimed, “you must ride instantly to Allahabad with this terrible news. Heron will command the troopers meanwhile.”

Harley would have much preferred to remain with the advancing column, but it was of the highest importance that Havelock should know what had happened as soon as possible, and he rode away.

The news from Cawnpore hastened the progress of the force, and the men did not halt until the morning was well advanced. The heat becoming very intense, they rested for three or four hours, and then pushed on by easy stages to Lohanga. They were then forty miles from Allahabad, and had thus come one-third of the distance to Cawnpore. At Lohanga, about midnight, Harley rode in with dispatches from Havelock. The instructions these dispatches brought were disappointing, though possibly wise. Renaud was ordered to stand fast at Lohanga.

Harley reported that there had been a difference of opinion between Neill and Havelock on the subject. Neill regarded the reports from Cawnpore as a device of the enemy, and with his usual energy and eagerness urged that Renaud should push forward. Havelock thought that in the event of the news being true, Renaud’s small force would simply meet with disaster if it encountered the enemy, as most likely it would, in overwhelming strength. Neill was so sanguine that he was injudicious enough to telegraph to Sir Patrick Grant, the Commander-in-Chief, a remonstrance against the orders of his superior officer, and the causeless delay he considered they involved. And so it came about that the little army remained at Lohanga a couple of days, when further instructions came.

Sir Patrick Grant, it appeared, had replied to Neill’s telegram that if the disastrous news from Cawnpore was credited, Renaud’s force was to be halted until supported by Havelock’s. Renaud was nevertheless directed to move forward, and so he cautiously advanced to the vicinity of Kazan, about twenty miles short of Futtehpore, a little less than sixty miles distant from Cawnpore. At Kazan they waited impatiently for the coming of Havelock. Never had they felt so anxious, and all the rest were equally so. At last Philip Heron burst out:

“Major Renaud, this inaction is terrible. Let me ride ahead and see if the road to Cawnpore is open.”

Renaud paused for a moment, and then gave his consent, but somewhat unwillingly.

“You had better take ten troopers with you,” said he.

“I’d rather go unattended,” returned Philip shortly. “I’ve not too much faith in my men.”

“Very well,” said he, “do as you like, and good luck go with you!”

Phil Heron rode about ten miles without meeting a single soul. Even the two villages he passed through were deserted. The news of Neill’s hangings and floggings at Benares had spread, and doubtless it was known that the British force was about to advance from Allahabad. The villagers, in their fear of reprisals for the butchery at Cawnpore, had taken flight.

The road was terribly parched and dusty. The rain was daily expected, but none had yet fallen. The sound of the horse’s hoofs ploughing deep in the soft sand, was scarcely audible. On either side stretched vast, undulating plains, and in front was a range of low hills, apparently covered with short, scrubby trees. A trot of half a mile brought Heron to the rising ground. A few yards farther and he had entered the gloom of the trees, which he found were taller than he had at first imagined them to be.

Philip allowed his horse to go at a walking pace, and the ground gradually rising, he arrived at the crown of the bill, and there saw through the openings between the trees what appeared, in the uncertain light of the moon, to be a large army encamped on the plain below. Beyond, some five miles away, was the town of Futtehpore. Heron reined in his horse. To go farther would be foolhardy, for he would simply come out into the open, a conspicuous object easily to be seen by the most careless of sentries.

“Havelock was right,” he thought. “There are three thousand men at least down there. Renaud’s four hundred, with only one hundred British redcoats among the lot, would be eaten up.”

Philip sat quietly estimating the extent and nature of the force​—​he could see a battery of artillery quite plainly through his field-glass​—​and then decided to return. He had scarcely wheeled round when the jangling of accoutrements and the sound of mocking laughter burst upon his ear. That mocking laughter did not come from English throats. The voices became louder. He could distinguish words. The men were talking in ribald fashion of the massacre in the boats, of the poor captive British ladies. The Englishman’s blood boiled. He had no thought of escape. The only sensation he was conscious of was the desire to cut, slash​—​to kill.

Tramp, tramp, jingle, jingle, more coarse language and offensive chuckles. At last they appeared​—​half a dozen native cavalry, fully armed. Seeing a British officer sitting there so motionless, they were at first horribly frightened. They reined up their steeds in a clatter and confusion. Philip did not give them time to recover. A flash, a report, and the foremost man fell headlong from his saddle. The pistol shot seemed to bring the others to their senses. It convinced them he was not a spectre. They came on helter-skelter. Again a barrel of his revolver was emptied, but, unluckily, Heron’s horse was not well used to the sound of firearms. He had probably missed his mark, for the men kept their seats.

Heron had but time to fire a third shot​—​with success, luckily​—​when they were upon him​—​four sowars, with their swords flashing in the moonlight. In a second Philip’s blade was out. He felt as though he could sweep it through the bodies of the miscreants at a blow. But he attempted nothing of the kind. Slashing was all very well under certain circumstances, but not now. It took too much time. He used the thrust.

The first sowar made the mistake Heron avoided. He raised his sword for a sweeping cut. Before it had descended a quarter of the curve necessary, the point of the Englishman’s blade pierced his windpipe. It was a lucky stroke. Had Heron ran him through the body he might not have been able to withdraw his sword in time for the attack of the second man, who was rushing upon him with a direct stab. As it was, the sowar’s thrust was parried, and before he could recover or guard, he was a dead man.

The victory was won, for the remaining two did not stay to fight. They wheeled round and galloped away their hardest. Heron galloped too, in the opposite direction; he saw the pistol shots had aroused the camp, and he was now anxious to rejoin Renaud and tell him the news.

The moon was shining brightly when he arrived about half a mile from the camp. Surely he could hear the wild, warlike tones of the Highland pipes! He reined in his horse, the better to listen. His ear had not deceived him; and mingled with the shrill note of the pipes came the hearty, soul-stirring cheers of British soldiers. There could be but one explanation. Havelock with the Ross-shire Buffs and the 64th had arrived.

Heron put his jaded steed to the gallop, was soon at the camp, and was at once spotted by his old comrade Macintyre, but had scarcely time to say a word when he caught sight of Havelock, and quickly reported to the General the position of the enemy. Havelock’s face brightened.

“I could wish they were nearer,” said he with a smile.

Havelock had already been informed by means of his spies that a body of mutineers from Cawnpore was advancing​—​3,000 strong in regular sepoys, amply provided with artillery, and swollen by hundreds of irregular cavalry. He felt that Renaud’s position was precarious; but to order him to fall back would have been fatal, so he determined to overtake him by a forced march.

Fatigued as the men were, there was little time for rest; and after a brief halt the night march was resumed, Renaud’s force in the place of honour. At seven o’clock the following morning the tired men reached the camping ground of Belinda, four miles from Futtehpore. Here it was that Philip Heron had seen the mutineers drawn up, but not a vestige of them was now visible, his encounter with the sowars had no doubt altered their plans.

The soldiers, half dead with fatigue, were not sorry to rest and breakfast. The cooks of the various messes were already active, and Havelock was sitting under a tree, when suddenly a round shot came rolling along within half a dozen yards of him. The only damage it did was to smash one of the camp kettles of the 64th.

In an instant the whole camp was alive, and the bugle was sounding the “assembly.” Colonel Tytler, who had gone on a reconnaissance, was then seen galloping back with his volunteer cavalry, followed by a swarm of native horsemen, who no sooner saw they were rushing upon Havelock’s full force than they wheeled round and disappeared.

What happened next can be quickly told. The Nana’s army retreated to Futtehpore; the town was taken at the bayonet’s point; Colonel Maude’s artillery paralysed the sepoys, and the slaughter was great. It was Havelock’s first victory, to be followed by the encounter at Aong, where the gallant Renaud fought his last fight; the deadly struggle at the half-broken bridge over the Pandoo-Nuddee, and the terrific onslaught, against a withering fire, of the village beyond, where the Highlanders and the 64th, forgetting their exhaustion, rivalled each other in the fury of their attack.

The day seemingly was won, though at terrible cost, when suddenly the force in advance came upon the main body of the sepoy army, in the middle of which, in a richly ornamented howdah, on the back of an elephant, was Nana Sahib himself!

Havelock was without his artillery, his men were spent, but he did not waver. The scene was one never to be forgotten. The General wheeled round his pony​—​his horse had been shot under him​—​and facing his men he cried in the steady, sonorous voice which his soldiers knew so well:

“The longer you look at it now the less you will like it. Rise up. The brigade will advance, left battalion leading.”

The magic of Havelock’s personality told. A mad, irresistible rush, and the vast host of mutineers losing heart gave way before the avenging little army, whose courage nothing could daunt. Then up came Maude with his guns, and all was over.

Cawnpore was won!

A much-needed bivouac and the next morning Havelock entered the city. Not a sepoy was to be seen. Where were the poor women and children? Three men of the 78th, Macintyre among them, with Heron, were the first to search. Passing the entrance of a compound near the Cawnpore Hotel some indefinable feeling made them pause. It was as if a restraining hand had been laid upon them.

A native was hovering about the entrance, horror written upon his dusky face. When the four soldiers approached he seemed inclined to fly. Indeed, he did run a few paces, but he, too, was under the mysterious influence which had affected the searchers. He came back, and with a whispered “Sahib!” pointed within.

Inside the compound was a low, flat-roofed bungalow. The Highlander in advance entered, and almost immediately reappeared, his once ruddy face ashen, his hands thrown up convulsively, his whole frame in a tremor. He was paralysed with horror. Vainly he strove to speak. Not a sound came from his white lips.

The end of their quest had come. They had reached the House of Massacre!