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HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER XII. DANGEROUS SERVICE.
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 On the morning of the 17th of July the troops rose with light hearts from the ground where they had thrown themselves, utterly exhausted, after the tremendous exertions of the previous day. Cawnpore was before them, and as they did not anticipate any further resistance—for the whole of the enemy's guns had fallen into their hands, and the Sepoys had fled in the wildest confusion at the end of the day, after fighting with obstinacy and determination as long as a shadow of hope of victory remained—they looked forward to the joy of releasing from captivity the hapless women and children who were known to have been confined in the house called the Subada Khotee, since the massacre of their husbands and friends on the river.  
Just after daybreak there was a dull, deep report, and a cloud of gray smoke rose over the city. Nana Sahib had ordered the great magazine to be blown up, and had fled for his life to Bithoor. Well might he be hopeless. He had himself commanded at the battle of the preceding day, and had seen eleven thousand of his countrymen, strongly posted, defeated by a thousand Englishmen. What chance, then, could there be of final success? As for himself, his life was a thousandfold forfeit; and even yet his enemies did not know the measure of his atrocities. It was only when the head of the British column arrived at the Subada Khotee that the awful truth became known. The troops halted, surprised that no welcome greeted them. They entered the courtyard; all was hushed and quiet, but fragments of dresses, children's shoes, and other remembrances of British occupation, lay scattered about. Awed and silent, the leading officers entered the house, and, after a glance round, recoiled with faces white with horror. The floor was deep in blood; the walls were sprinkled thickly with it. Fragments of clothes, tresses of long hair, children's shoes with the feet still in them—a thousand terrible and touching mementos of the butchery which had taken place there met the eye. Horror-struck and sickened, the officers returned into the courtyard, to find that another discovery had been made, namely, that the great well near the house was choked to the brim with the bodies of women and children. Not one had escaped.
On the afternoon of the 15th, when the defeat at Futtehpore was known, the Nana had given orders for a general massacre of his helpless prisoners. There, in this ghastly well, were the remains, not only of those who had so far survived the siege and first massacre of Cawnpore, but of some seventy or eighty women and children, fugitives from Futteyghur. These had, with their husbands, fathers and friends, a hundred and thirty in all, reached Cawnpore in boats on the 12th of July. Here the boats had been fired upon and forced to put to shore, when the men were, by the Nairn's orders, all butchered, and the women and children sent to share the fate of the prisoners of Cawnpore.
Little wonder is it that the soldiers, who had struggled against heat and fatigue and a host of foes to reach Cawnpore, broke clown and cried like children at that terrible sight; that soldiers picked up the bloody relics—a handkerchief, a lock of hair, a child's sock sprinkled with blood—and kept them to steel their hearts to all thoughts of mercy; and that, after this, they went into battle crying to each other:
"Remember the ladies!" "Remember the babies!" "Think of Cawnpore!"
Henceforth, to the end of the war, no quarter was ever shown to a Sepoy.
One of the first impulses of the Warreners, when the tents were pitched in the old cantonments, and the troops were dismissed, was to ride with their father to the house of the ranee. It was found to be abandoned-as, indeed, was the greater part of the town—and an old servant, who alone remained, said that two days previously the ranee had left for her country abode. Major Warrener at once drew out a paper, saying that the owner of this house had shown hospitality and kindness to English fugitives, and that it was therefore to be preserved from all harm or plunder; and having obtained the signature of the quartermaster-general in addition to his own, he affixed the paper to the door of the dwelling. The next day he rode out with his sons and twenty of his men to the house where the boys had first been sheltered. The gates were opened at his summons by some trembling retainers, who hastened to assure them that the ranee, their mistress, was friendly to the English.
"Will you tell her that there is no cause for alarm, but that we desire an interview with her?" the major said, dismounting.
In a minute the servant returned, and begged the major to follow him, which he did, accompanied by his sons. They were shown into a grand reception room, where the ranee, thickly veiled, was sitting on a couch, surrounded by her attendants, Ahrab standing beside her.
The ranee gave a little cry of pleasure on recognizing the boys, and Ahrab instantly signed to the other attendants to retire. Then the ranee unveiled, and the major, who had remained near the entrance until the attendants had left, came forward, the boys kissing the hands that the ranee held out to them.
"I have mourned for you as dead," she said. "When the news of that horrible treachery came, and I thought that I had let you go to death, my heart turned to water."
"This is our father, dear lady," Ned said; "he has come to thank you himself for having saved and sheltered us."
The interview lasted for half an hour; refreshment being served, Ned recounted the particulars of their escape. Major Warrener, on leaving, handed the ranee a protection order signed by the general, to show to any British troops who might be passing, and told her that her name would be sent in with the list of those who had acted kindly to British fugitives, all of whom afterward received honors and rewards in the shape of the lands of those who had joined the mutineers. Then, with many expressions of good-will on both sides, the major and his sons took their leave, and, joining the troops below, rode back to Cawnpore.
For three days after his arrival at Cawnpore General Havelock rested his troops, and occupied himself with restoring order in the town. Numbers of Sepoys were found in hiding, and these were, as soon as identified, all hung at once. On the third day Brigadier-General Neil arrived, with the two hundred and twenty men of the Eighty-fourth, who had been hurried forward-a most welcome reinforcement, for Havelock's force was sadly weakened by loss in battle, sunstroke, and disease. On the 20th the army marched against Bithoor, every heart beating at the thought of engaging Nana Sahib, who, with five thousand men and a large number of cannon, had made every preparation for the defense of his castle. At the approach of the avenging force, however, his courage, and the courage of his troops, alike gave way, and they fled without firing a shot, leaving behind them guns, elephants, baggage, men, and horses, in great numbers. The magazine was blown up, and the palace burned, and the force, with their captured booty, returned to Cawnpore.
During the advance to Cawnpore the zeal and bravery of the young Warreners had not escaped the notice of the general, who had named them in his official report as gentlemen volunteers who had greatly distinguished themselves. On the return from Bithoor, on the evening of the 20th, he turned to them as he dismounted, and said, "Will you come to my tent in two hours' time?"
"Young gentlemen," he said, when they presented themselves, and had at his request seated themselves on two boxes which served as chairs, "in what I am going to say to you, mind, I express no wish even of the slightest. I simply state that I require two officers for a service of extreme danger. I want to send a message into Lucknow. None of the officers of the English regiments can speak the language with any fluency, and those of the Madras Fusiliers speak the dialects of Southern India. Therefore it is among the volunteers, who all belong to the northwest, that I must look. I have no doubt that there are many of them who would undertake the service, and whose knowledge of the language would be nearly perfect, but there are reasons why I ask you whether you will volunteer for the work. In the first place, you have already three times passed, while in disguise, as natives; and in the second, your figures being slight, and still a good deal under the height you will attain, render your disguise far less easy to be detected than that of a full-grown man would be. If you undertake it, you will have a native guide, who last night arrived from Lucknow with a message to me, having passed through the enemy's lines. You understand, young gentlemen, the service is one of great honor and credit if accomplished, but it is also one of the greatest risk. I cannot so well intrust the mission to the native alone, because I dare not put on paper the tidings I wish conveyed, and it is possible, however faithful he may be, that he might, if taken and threatened with death, reveal the message with which he is charged. I see by your faces what your answer is about to be, but I will not hear it now. Go first to your father. Tell him exactly what I have told you, and then send me the answer if he declines to part with you—bring it me if he consents to your going. Remember that in yielding what I see is your own inclination, to his natural anxiety, you will not fall in the very least from the high position in which you stand in my regard. In an hour I shall expect to hear from you. Good-night, if I do not see you again."
"Of course father will let us go," Dick said when they got outside the tent. Ned did not reply.
"Dick, old boy," he said presently, as they walked along, "don't you think if I go alone it would be better. It would be an awful blow to father to lose both of us."
"No, Ned," Dick said warmly, "I hope he will not decide that. I know I can't talk the lingo as you can, and that so I add to your danger; still sometimes in danger two can help each other, and we have gone through so much together—oh, Ned, don't propose that you should go alone."
Major Warrener—or Colonel Warrener as he should now be called, for General Havelock had given him a step in rank, in recognition of the most valuable service of his troop during the battles on the road to Cawnpore—heard Ned in silence while he repeated, as nearly as possible word for word, the words of the general. For some time he was silent, and sat with his face in his hands.
"I don't like you both going, my boys," he said huskily.
"No, father," Dick said, "I feared that that was what you would say; but although in some respects ............
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