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HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER XI RETRIBUTION BEGINS.
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The zemindar to whom the Warreners' guide conducted them, after crossing the Ganges, received them kindly, and told them that the safest way would be for them to go on in a hackery, or native cart, and placed one at once at their disposal, with a trusty man as a driver, and another to accompany them in the hackery. He told them that British troops were, it was said, arriving fast at Allahabad, and that it was even reported that an advance had already taken place. Nana Sahib would, it was said, meet them at Futtehpore, a place forty-eight miles from Cawnpore, and seventy-five from Allahabad. As yet, however, none of his troops had reached Futtehpore, which was fortunate, for the main road ran through that place, which was but twenty miles from the point where they had crossed the Ganges; and although they would keep by a road near the river, and so avoid the town, the Nana's troops would be sure to be scouring the country. This news decided them not to accept the zemindar's invitation to stay the night and start the next morning early. It was still but little past noon, and they might do many miles before darkness.
Before they halted the party had made fifteen miles, and in passing through a village learned the welcome news that a small English force had advanced to Synee, some ten miles only beyond Futtehpore. This force had, it was said, met with little resistance as yet, and the country people were full of stories of the manner in which the Sepoys and others who had been engaged with them were, as soon as captured, hung up in numbers. Already, in the minds of the peasantry, the idea that the British would be the final conquerors in the strife was gaining ground; and as the whole country had suffered from the exactions and insolence of the triumphant Sepoys, and life and property were no longer safe for a moment, the secret sympathy of all those who had anything to lose was with the advancing British force.
The next day the party followed the road near the river all day, as they feared to fall either into the hands of Sepoys retiring before the English, or of those coming down from Cawnpore. They halted for the night at a village whence a road ran direct to Synee, which was about eight miles distant. The villagers repeated that the Sepoys had all fallen back, and that there would be a great fight at Futtehpore. The English force was small, but a large body were on their way up from Allahabad.
The boys started at daybreak, and had proceeded about three miles when a body of cavalry were seen rapidly approaching.
The driver of the hackery put his head inside the leather curtain of the vehicle.
"English," he said. The boys looked out, and gave a shout of joy as they saw the well-known uniforms; and, regardless of their women's robes, they leaped out and ran to meet them. The advanced guard of the cavalry stopped in surprise.
"Halloo! what is up? who are you?"
"Why, Dunlop, don't you know us?" the boys shouted.
"The Warreners!" exclaimed Captain Dunlop, leaping from his horse and seizing them by the hand. "My dear boys, this is joy."
The men set up a cheer, which was caught up by the main body as they came up, and in another minute the boys were in their father's arms.
The young Warreners had been mourned as dead, for no one doubted that they had been carried to Cawnpore, and had shared the fate of the garrison of that place; and the joy of their father therefore was intense, while the whole corps, with whom the boys were general favorites, were delighted.
After the first rapturous greeting Major Warrener took off his cap reverently, and said a few words of deep gratitude to God, the men all baring their heads as he did so. Then Captain Kent said:
"Shall I push on to the Ganges, major, with my troop? or perhaps your sons can tell us what we are ordered to find out?"
"What is it?" Ned asked.
"Whether there are any bodies of troops pushing down by the river. It would not do for them to get behind us, and threaten our communications."
The boys were able to affirm that there was no body of mutineers near the Ganges below Futtehpore, as they had just come down that way.
"Then we can ride back at once," Major Warrener said. "Major Renaud was on the point of marching when we started, and he will be glad to have us back again. First, though, what have these natives done for you?"
Ned in a few words explained that they came by the instruction of their master, and had been with them for three days.
The major made them a handsome present, and sent a message to the zemindar, to the effect that his kindness would be reported to government; and Dick scribbled a few words to Lieutenant Delafosse, with the news of the British advance, and a kind message to the rajah.
"Now, Dick, you jump up behind me," his father said. "Dunlop can take you, Ned; and you can give us a short account of what has befallen you as we ride back. We must get you a couple of horses of some kind or another at Synee. Can't you cast off these women's clothes?"
"We have got nothing to speak of underneath," Dick laughed; "we got rid of our uniforms in the Ganges, and want a rig out from top to toe."
"Well, we must see what we can do for you tonight. And now," he asked, as they trotted along at the head of the column, amid the smiles of the men at the appearance of their commanding officer carrying, as it seemed, a native woman en croupe, "how did you escape, boys? We did not miss you until we halted for half an hour at midnight. Then six of us rode back ten miles, but could find no trace of you, and we gave you up as lost; so we rode on till we met Major Renaud's force coming up, when we sent our rescued friends on to Allahabad, and turned back with just a shadow of hope that we might yet find you alive somewhere or other."
Dick then told the story of the intervention of the tiger in their behalf, and said that afterward an Indian lady had succored them, hinting that at the end of the war it was probable that Ned would present his father with a daughter-in-law.
"That's all very well," Ned laughed. "If Dick had understood the language, I should have been nowhere. You should have seen him kiss her hand."
"Well, anyhow," Dick said, "she was a brick, father, and no mistake."
By this time Synee was reached. In spite of Major Warrener's liberal offers, no horses or even ponies were forthcoming, so completely had the Sepoys stripped the country, most of the villages having been burned as well as plundered by them. From the valises of the troop various articles of clothing were contributed, which enabled the lads again to take their places in the ranks, but riding as before en croupe. In two hours after their arrival at Synee they were moving forward again at a trot, and in four hours came up with Major Renaud's force, encamped for the day.
They were glad to get in, for the rain, since they left Synee, had been falling in sheets. The force was fortunately moving now along the grand trunk road, a splendid piece of road-making, extending from Calcutta to Peshawur, for already the country roads would have been almost impassable.
"Do we halt here for the day?" Ned asked his father, as they drew rein in the camp.
"Yes, Dick, the enemy are in force at Futtehpore, which is only some fourteen miles away. Havelock is coming up by double marches. He halted last night fifteen miles the other side of Synee. To-day he will reach Synee; will bivouac there for a few hours, and will march on here in the night. We are to be under arms by the time he will arrive, and the whole of us will push forward to Khaga, five miles this side of Futtehpore. So Havelock's men will have marched twenty-four miles straight off, to say nothing of the fifteen to-day. The troops could not do it, were it not that every one is burning to get to Cawnpore, to avenge the murder of our comrades and to rescue the women and children, if it be yet time."
The boys were at once taken by their father to Major Renaud, who welcomed them warmly. This officer had under his command a force of four hundred British, and four hundred and twenty native troops, with two pieces of cannon.
After being introduced to Major Renaud the boys went to the tents allotted to their corps, which were already pitched, and Major Warrener asked the officers, and as many of the volunteers as his tent would hold, to listen to the account of the massacre of Cawnpore, which was now for the first time authentically told; for hitherto only native reports had come down from the city. Great was the indignation and fury with which the tale of black treachery and foul murder was heard; and when the story was told it had to be repeated to the officers of the other corps in camp.
The terrible tale soon spread through the camp; and men gnashed their teeth in rage, and swore bitter oaths—which were terribly kept—to avenge the deeds that had been committed. Uppermost of all, however, was the anxiety about the women and children; for the boys had heard, when staying at the friendly rajah's, that near one hundred and twenty of these unfortunates—the survivors of the siege, and of the river attack—had been shut up in a room in the Cawnpore lines.
At three o'clock next morning—the 11th of July—the troops were under arms, the tents struck, and all in readiness for an advance. Presently a dull sound was heard; it grew louder, and the head of General Havelock's column came up.
There was a short halt while Major Renaud reported to the general the state of affairs in front, as far as he knew them. He mentioned, too, that two survivors of the Cawnpore massacre had that day come in, and that four others were in shelter with a native rajah on the Oude side of the Ganges. The general at once requested that the Warreners should be brought up to him; and the lads were accordingly presented to the man whose name, hitherto unknown outside military circles, was—in consequence of the wonderful succession of battles and of victories, of which that date, the 12th of July, was to mark the first—to become a household word in England.
"The column had better move forward, Major Renaud; your division will lead. If you will ride by me, gentlemen, you can tell me of this dreadful business as we go."
Fortunately there were several horses in Major Renaud's camp, which had been taken from men of the enemy's cavalry who had been surprised in the upward march, and two of them had been assigned to the boys, so that they were able to feel once more as soldiers.
On arriving at Khaga, an insignificant village, General Havelock said to the lads:
"Thank you very much for your information. You have behaved with great coolness and courage, and Major Warrener, your father, has every reason to be proud of you. I am short of aids-de-camp, and shall be glad if you will act as my gallopers"—an honor which, it need hardly be said, the boys joyfully accepted.
The following was the total force under General Havelock's command when he commenced the series of battles which were finally to lead him to Lucknow: Seventy-six men of the Royal Artillery, three hundred and seventy-six of the Madras Fusiliers, four hundred and thirty-five of the Sixty-fourth Regiment, two hundred and eighty-four of the Seventy-eighth Highlanders one hundred and ninety men of the Eighty-fourth Regiment, twenty-two men of the Bengal Artillery. Total of British regular troops, thirteen hundre............
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