« AnteriorContinuar »
congratulating ourselves on this piece of good fortune, a messenger arrived from Hurchundpore, a walled town situated some five miles further on the road to Meerut, saying his master, a Mr. Cober, hearing of our miserable plight, had sent him to express
his sympathy at our situation, and begging us to take shelter with him. We were naturally overjoyed at the receipt of this kind message, but we could not help wondering why the villagers bai not informed us earlier of Mr. Cohen's whereabouts. This was a question to which we could obtain no satisfactory reply, and we could not help believing that the people of the village had been all along playing a double game, intending doubtless to give us up to whichever side they thought would reward them the most. When we returned to the village in the evening we made them promise to have a country cart in readiness the first thing next morning to take the ladies to Hurchundpore, and in the joyous knowledge that the present night was to see the last of all our miseries and privations we cheerfully lay down and composed ourselves to rest.
By daybreak next morning we were up and on our way to Mr. Cohen's, and arriving there between seven and eight o'clock, we were cordially welcomed by the old man and his two grandsons, who, it turned out, were in some way connected with the famous 'Dyce Sombre' family. It appeared they owned several villages round about, for which they annually paid a certain sum to the Government. The old man himself had lived here all his life-s0 long, in fact, that he had almost forgotten his own language, and had become thoroughly native in all his habits; but his two grandsons were somewhat different in this respect, and lived more in European fashion. We were soon refreshed with a cup of hot tea, after which clean clothes were brought, and we proceeded to divest ourselves of the soiled rags we were wearing and enjoy the luxury of soap and water.
and water. A room was set apart for the ladies of the party, and they too managed somehow to procure a change of apparel, looking so spruce and tidy when they joined us at breakfast that we could scarcely recognise them as the poor forlorn creatures of yesterday. We had seen nothing all this while of Forrest and the Colonel, as on our arrival they had mysteriously disappeared into the old man's private apartments, where they had remained shut up ever since without once deigning to visit us. At length, towards the afternoon a demi-official bulletin arrived in the Colonel's handwriting, addressed to Lieutenant and
Adjutant Gambier, late 38th Light Infantry, requesting his immediate attendance. Marvelling much at the import of all this official parade, we awaited with some impatience Gambier's explanation of the matter; when, coming back shortly after, he gave such a ludicrous account of the dignity and self-importance which the old Colonel had thought fit to assume, now that all sense of danger was past, that we were convulsed with roars of laughter. Scarcely had our merriment subsided when a step was heard at the door, and who should walk in but the Colonel himself. He then proceeded to inform us in an authoritative manner of the arrangements he had thought fit to make for our conveyance to Meerut ; and having told us thus much with the dignity becoming the commandant of a mutinous sepoy regiment no longer in existence, he looked around on the assembled company, and, after the manner of the immortal Pickwick, ‘smiled benignantly.' The dear old Colonel! what a character he was, to be sure. How I wish I could have taken a picture of him then and there, as he stood nodding and smiling at the ladies, and asking us all round in turn how we all did. As for Forrest, we neither saw nor heard anything of him, as he remained shut up all day long in old Mr. Cohen's sanctum sanctorum,' enjoying the luxury of a punkah and smoking a fragrant hookah, without troubling his head about us in the least.
At 4 o'clock P.M. a plentiful repast was set before us, and, to our no small astonishment, several bottles of beer were produced, followed, when dinner was removed, by a bottle of excellent Cog
We were all sitting round the table, quietly talking over our recent adventures and hairbreadth escapes, and looking forward with light hearts to setting out next day on our journey to Meerut, when all of a sudden a tremendous shout was raised without, followed by such a terrible commotion amongst the townspeople that we were utterly dumfounded to conceive the cause of so much uproar : nd confusion. Our ignorance was not of long duration, for soon there arose a cry amongst the excited multitude which, as it became gradually louder and more distinct, filled us with terror and dismay. “Badsháh ká fouj,' they shouted, * Badsháh Dehli ká fouj aya!' (The King's troops, the King of Delhi's troops have come !'); and there, sure enough, on looking out, We saw some fifty troopers, dressed in the French-grey uniform of the mutinous 3rd Cavalry, drawn up in line just outside the walls and demanding admittance.
The first thing we called for was to be supplied with arms; the next thing we did was to throw off the clean clothes we had on and jump into our former old ones. How far this exchange was likely to benefit us I know not; but certain it is that in the space of a very few seconds we were once more clad in the filthy garments of the previous day, and stood ready to meet the worst. In the midst of all this excitement two European officers were observed riding up the street, and as they were followed very quietly a few paces in the rear by the troopers themselves, we came to the very natural conclusion that they were friends and not enemies. And now the rush that was made by one and all to greet them as they rode up to the house! I was not long in recognising both officers to be old friends—Gough and Mackenzie, of the 3rd Cavalry, whose acquaintance I had already made in the course of frequent visits to Meerut for the purpose of attending the usual cold-weather gaieties. I must leave the reader to imagine the innumerable questions which were poured out and answered on both sides during the remainder of that evening; of how we now, for the first time, became aware of the particulars of the previous mutiny at Meerut, and of the unfeigned sorrow with which we learnt the names of all the poor people who had been killed at that place. In reply to our queries as to how they had succeeded in finding us out, they informed us that the messenger we had despatched only reached Meerut on the evening of the previous day--that is to say, forty-eight hours after his departureand that as soon as they ascertained our whereabouts they volunteered, with the remnant of their regiment which had remained faithful, to come out to our rescue, and had accordingly started the same night; but owing to the long round they had unavoidably taken by going in the first place to the village from whence we had despatched our letter, they had been unable to reach us earlier.
The sense of freedom which we now experienced can only be fully appreciated by those—and, alas ! they were not a few—who, like ourselves, have known what it is to wander for five whole days and nights, footsore, famished, and weary, over fields and arid plains, through rivers and morasses, not daring to ask for shelter for fear of being betrayed, and fancying each how that passed would probably be our last. That night, ere retiring to rest, we all sat down to a sumptuous supper, and there was such a sound of ‘ revelry by night'as must have fairly astonished the native rustics of Hurchundpore.
Long before daylight next morning we were up and moving, and having shaken hands all round with our hospitable hosts, and wished them good-bye, we jumped into the hackeries which had been provided for us, and set forth on our journey to Meerut. The hackeries we travelled in were common country carts, each drawn by a pair of bullocks, and the only protection we had from the sun was a piece of white cloth stretched over the top, which barely sufficed to keep off its rays. There were only two of them, one for the ladies, and one for ourselves, and it can be imagined what a trying day we had with eight persons packed inside each. We had nearly thirty miles of a cross-country road to get over before reaching our destination, and the jolting we experienced bade fair to break every bone in our bodies ere the journey was over. Nevertheless we jogged merrily on, and only stopped once for a short rest of a couple of hours to cook a few chuppatties and feed the horses of our escort. In the course of the day we came across the largest herd of antelope I have ever seen, the black buck alone numbering two or three hundred at least. One of the sowars galloped up, and took a shot with his carbine, but failed to hit one.
We were still many miles from Meerut when night closed in, in spite of our pressing fresh bullocks into our service at every eight or nine miles, and making all the expedition we could. About ten o'clock we began to approach the precincts of cantonments, but for a couple of miles we passed nothing but the charred and blackened ruins of houses that had been burnt by the mutineers on the night of the outbreak. What a sad and melancholy sight it was! At length the sound of an occasional rifle shot, as it rang forth sharp and clear in the still night air, proclaimed that we were nearing the pickets of the European troops. Presently we were challenged in the deep hoarse tones of the British sentry, and then we passed a continuous chain of riflemen posted round that part of the station in which all the people had taken refuge. The walls of the improvised fortification named the Dumdumma now appeared in sight, at the gate leading into which the hackeries came to a halt. We all jumped out, and who shall describe the welcome that awaited us! The
Mr. Cohen eventually received a handsome reward for his loyal adherence to the Government in the shape of a large jagheer,' or grant of land, in spite of repeated threats from Delhi that bis property would be confiscated and his villages destroyed.-E. V.
first persons I recognised were Mrs. Stannus and Miss Whish, who were both looking out for me. After making me swallow a cup of delicious tea, they conducted me to a room in a large barrack, where there was a repast already set out in expectation of our coming. Here I found several other friends, who were kindness itself, not the least among them being Dr. and Mrs. Bicknell. The former, after shaking me warmly by the band, presented me with a foaming tankard of pale ale, which I drained to the dregs. There was only one sad heart amongst our party, and that was poor Mrs. Fraser. She had been looking forward to meeting her husband, who was in command of the Sappers and Miners at Meerut, and fancying what his delight would be in welcoming her again, when, alas! the first thing she heard was that he had been shot by his own men. That night we slept soundly, and, oh the joy of waking up the next morning and finding we were really safe!
It will be remembered that in describing our escape from the Cashmere bastion (page 317, Part I.) I mentioned having seen Lieutenant Osborn of my regiment bind up his wounded thigh, and then drop from the embrasure into the ditch and scale the opposite counterscarp in the wake of Lieutenant Willoughby and two or three other officers. It seems this party started at once across country, in the hope of reaching Meerut, but after accompanying them about twelve miles, Osborn, finding himself incapable of proceeding further on account of his wound, was left in a ravine, whilst the others continued their flight, promising to send back help as soon as they reached their destination. It is sad to relate that Lieutenant Willoughby and his companions were all killed a few miles from this spot in a desperate encounter with some villagers, who attempted to rob them ; but Osborn, although stripped of all his clothing, with the exception of his pith helmet, by the villainous Goojurs, was taken pity on by a native woman, who fed him for three days, and after enduring incredible sufferings he was eventually carried into Meerut on a charpoy, more dead than alive, by some well-affected villagers, which place he had only reached the morning of the day on which we ourselves had arrived. Lieutenant Osborn subsequently recovered, and served as orderly officer to Colonel Seaton on his march down the Doab from Delhi to Futtehghur in December 1857.
In bringing this narrative to a close, perhaps it may not be