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HOME > Short Stories > In Times of Peril A Tale of India > CHAPTER XVI. A SORTIE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
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 The night passed off without the expected attack from Johannes' house, the rebels being too much disconcerted by the destruction of the battery, and the loss of so many men, to attempt any offensive operations. The destruction of the house behind the guns, and of all those in its vicinity, deterred them from re-establishing a battery in the same place, as there would be no shelter for the infantry supporting the guns; and after the result of the sortie it was evident to them that a large force must be kept in readiness to repel the attacks of the British.  
For a few days life was more tolerable in Gubbins' garrison; for although shot and shell frequently struck the house, and batteries multiplied in the circle around, none kept up so deadly and accurate a fire as that which they had destroyed.
The Warreners took their fair share in all the heavy fatigue work, and in the picket duty in the battery or on the roof; but they enjoyed their intervals of repose, which were now always spent with Mr. Hargreaves' family.
Mr. Hargreaves was collector of a district near Lucknow, and was high in the Civil Service. He was a fit husband for his kindly wife; and as Mr. Righton was of a cheerful and hopeful disposition, the boys found themselves members of a charming family circle. Often and often they wished that their father, sister, and cousin could but join them; or rather, as Ned said, they could join the party without, for no one could wish that any they loved should be at Lucknow at that time.
One evening late they were sitting together in a group outside the house, the enemy's fire being slack, when Mr. Johnson came up from the battery to Mr. Gubbins, who formed one of the party.
"I am afraid, sir, they are mining again; lying on the ground, we think we can hear the sound of blows."
"That is bad," Mr. Gubbins said; "I heard this afternoon that they believe that two mines are being driven from Johannes' house in the direction of the Martinière, and the brigade messhouse; now we are to have our turn, eh? Well, we blew in the last they tried, and must do it again; but it is so much more hard work. Now, gentlemen, let us see who has the best ears. Excuse us, Mrs. Hargreaves, we shall not be long away."
On entering the battery they found the men on guard all lying down listening, and were soon at full length with their ears to the ground. All could hear the sound; it was very faint, as faint as the muffled tick of a watch, sometimes beating at regular intervals of a second or so, sometimes ceasing for a minute or two.
"There is no doubt they are mining," Mr. Gubbins said; "the question is, from which way are they coming."
None could give an opinion. The sound was so faint, and seemed to come so directly from below, that the ear could not discriminate in the slightest.
"At any rate," Mr. Gubbins said, "we must begin at once to sink a shaft. If, when we get down a bit, we cannot judge as to the direction, we must drive two or three listening galleries in different directions. But before we begin we must let Major Anderson, of the Royal Engineers, know, and take his advice; he is in command of all mining operations."
In ten minutes Major Anderson was on the ground.
"The fellows are taking to mining in earnest," he said; "this is the third we have discovered to-day, and how many more there may be, goodness only knows. I think you had better begin here," he said to Mr. Gubbins. "You have got tools, I think. Say about six feet square, then two men can work at once. I will be here the first thing in the morning, and then we will look round and see which is the likeliest spot for the fellows to be working from. Will you ask your sentries on the roof to listen closely to-night, in order to detect, if possible, a stir of men coming or going from any given point."
Picks and shovels were brought out, the garrison told off into working parties of four each, to relieve each other every hour, and the work began. Well-sinking is hard work in any climate, but with a thermometer marking a hundred and five at night, it is terrible; and each set of workers, as they came up bathed in perspiration, threw themselves on the ground utterly exhausted. Mr. Hargreaves and a few of the elders of the garrison were excused this work, and took extra duty on the terrace and battery.
The next day it was decided that the enemy were probably working from a ruined house near their former battery, and a gallery was begun from the bottom of the shaft. This was pushed on night and day for three days, the workers being now certain, from the rapidly increasing sound of the workers, that this was the line by which the enemy was approaching. The gallery was driven nearly twenty yards, and then three barrels of powder were stored there, and the besieged awaited the approach of the rebels' gallery.
The Sepoys had now erected batteries whose cross fire swept the ground outside the intrenchments, so that a sortie could no longer be carried out with any hope of success. Had it been possible to have attempted it, a party would have gone out, and driving off any guard that might have been placed, entered the enemy's gallery and caught them at their work. A sentry was placed continually in the gallery, and each hour the sound of the pick and crowbar became louder.
On the fifth day the engineers judged that there could not be more than a yard of earth between them. The train was laid now, and a cautious watch kept, until, just at the moment when it was thought that an opening would be made, the train was fired. The earth heaved, and a great opening was made, while a shower of stones flew high in the air. The enemy's gallery was blown in, and the men working destroyed, and a loud cheer broke from the garrison at the defeat of another attempt upon them.
The month of August began badly in Lucknow. Major Banks, the civil commissioner named by Sir Henry Lawrence to succeed him, was shot dead while reconnoitering from the top of an outhouse. The Reverend Mr. Polehampton, who had been wounded at the commencement of the siege, was killed, as were Lieutenants Lewin, Shepherd, and Archer.
On the 8th large bodies of Sepoys were observed to enter the city, and on the 10th a furious attack was made all round the British line. Every man capable of bearing arms stood at his post, and even the sick and wounded crawled out of hospital and took posts on housetops wherever they could fire on the foe. The din was prodigious—the yells of the enemy, their tremendous fire of musketry, the incessant roar of their cannon, but they lacked heart for close fighting.
Frequently large bodies of men showed from behind their shelter, and, carrying ladders, advanced as if with the determination of making an assault. Each time, however, the withering fire opened upon them from the line of earthworks, from the roof of every house, and the storm of grape from the batteries, caused them to waver and fall back. Each fresh effort was led by brave men, fanatics, who advanced alone far in front of the rest, shrieking, "Death to the infidel!"
But they died, and their spirit failed to animate their followers. Only once or twice did the assailing parties get near the line of intrenchments, and then but to fall back rapidly after heavy loss.
Day after day the position of the besieged grew more unendurable. The buildings were crumbling away under the heavy and continued fire; and as one after another became absolutely untenable, the ladies and children were more closely crowded in those which still offered some sort of shelter. Even death, fearful as were its ravages, did not suffice to counteract the closeness of the packing. Crowded in dark rooms, living on the most meager food—for all the comforts, such as tea, sugar, wine, spirits, etc., were exhausted, and even the bread was made of flour ground, each for himself, between rough stones—without proper medicines, attendance, or even bedding; tormented by a plague of flies, sickened by disgusting smells, condemned to inaction and confinement, the women and children died off rapidly, and the men, although better off with regard to light and air, sickened fast. Half the officers were laid up with disease, and all were lowered in health and strength.
On the 18th, as the Warreners had just returned from a heavy night's work, strengthening the defenses, and burying horses and cattle, a great explosion was heard, and one of those posted on the roof ran down shouting:
"To arms! they have fired a mine under the Sikh Square!"
Every man caught up his rifle and rushed to the spot. The mine had carried away a portion of the exterior defense, and the enemy, with yells of triumph, rushed forward toward the opening. Then ensued a furious mêlée; each man fought for himself, hand to hand, in the breach; Mussulmen and Englishmen struggled in deadly combat; the crack of the revolver, the thud of the clubbed guns, the clash of sword against steel, the British cheer and the native yell, were mingled in wild confusion. While some drove the enemy back, others brought boxes and beams, fascines and sandbags, to repair the breach. The enemy were forced back, and the British poured out with shouts of triumph.
Our men's blood was up, and they followed their advantage. Part of the engineers, ever on the alert, joined the throng with some barrels of powder, and the enemy were pushed back sufficiently far to enable some of the houses, from which we had been greatly annoyed by the enemy's sharpshooters, to be blown up.
This success cheered the besieged, and on the 20th, when it was discovered that the enemy were driving two new mines, a fresh sortie was determined upon.
The garrison of Gubbins' house had now less cover than before, for the building had been reduced almost to a shell by the enemy's fire, and all the women and children had the day before been removed to other quarters. The Residency itself was a tottering mass of ruins, and this also had been emptied of its helpless ones, who were crowded in a great underground room in the Begum Khotee. It is difficult to form an idea of the storm of shot and shell which swept the space inclosed within the lines of defense, but some notion may be obtained from the fact that an officer had the curiosity to count the number of cannon balls of various sizes that fell on the roof of the brigade messhouse in one day, and found that they amounted to the almost incredible number of two hundred and eighty. Living such a life as this, the Warreners were rejoiced when they received orders, with ten of the other defenders of the ruins of Gubbins' house, to join in the sortie on the 20th of August. About a hundred of the garrison formed up in the Sikh............
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