Story 1 | Chapter XV | Begumbagh, a Tale of the Indian Mutiny

Story 1—Chapter XV.

“This is contrary to rule. As commandant, I ought to stay in the fort; but I’ve no one to give the leadership to, so I take it myself,” said Lieutenant Leigh; “and now, my lads, make ready—present! That’s well. Are all ready? At the word ‘Fire!’ Privates Bigley and Smith fire at the two gunners. If they miss, I cry fire again, and Privates Bantem and Grainger try their skill; then, at the double, down on the guns. Smith and I spike them, while Bantem and Grainger cut the cords. Mind this: those guns must be spiked, and those two prisoners brought in; and if the sortie is well managed, it is easy, for they will be taken by surprise. Hush! Confound it, men; no cheering.”

He only spoke in time, for in the excitement the men were about to hurray.

“Now, then, is that gate unbarred?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is the covering-party ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

My hand trembled as he spoke; but the next instant it was of a piece with my gun-stock. There was the dry square, with the sun shining on the two guns that must have been hot behind the poor prisoners’ backs; there stood the two gunners in white, with their smoking linstocks, leaning against the wheels, for discipline was slack; and there, thirty or forty yards behind, were the mutineers, lounging about, and smoking many of them. For all firing had ceased, and judging that we should not risk having the prisoners blown away from the guns, the mutineers came boldly up within range, as if defying us, and it was pretty safe practice at some of them now.

I saw all this at a glance, and while it seemed as if the order would never come; but come it did, at last.


Bang! the two pieces going off like one; and the gunner behind Captain Dyer leaped into the air, while the one I aimed at seemed to sink down suddenly beside the wheel he had leaned upon. Then the gate flew open, and with a rush and a cheer, we, ten of us, raced down for the guns.

Double-quick time! I tell you it was a hard race; and being without my gun now—only my bayonet stack in my trousers’ waist-band—I was there first, and had driven my spike into the touch-hole before Lieutenant Leigh reached his; but the next moment his was done, the cords were cut, and the prisoners loose from the guns. But now we had to get back.

The first inkling I had of the difficulty of this was seeing Captain Dyer and Harry Lant stagger, and fall forward; but they were saved by the men, and we saw directly that they must be carried.

No sooner thought of than done.

“Hoist Harry on my back,” says Grainger; and he took him like a sack; Bantem acting the same part by Captain Dyer; and those two ran off, while we tried to cover them.

For don’t you imagine that the mutineers were idle all this while; not a bit of it. They were completely taken by surprise, though, at first, and gave us time nearly to get to the guns before they could understand what we meant; but the next moment some shouted and ran at us, and some began firing; while by the time the prisoners were cast loose, they were down upon us in a hand-to-hand fight.

But in those fierce struggles there is such excitement, that I’ve now but a very misty recollection of what took place; but I do recollect seeing the prisoners well on the way back, hearing a cheer from our men, and then, hammer in one hand, bayonet in the other, fighting my way backward along with my comrades. Then all at once a glittering flash came in the air, and I felt a dull cut on the face, followed directly after by another strange, numbing blow, which made me drop my bayonet, as my arm fell uselessly to my side; and then with a lurch and a stagger, I fell, and was trampled upon twice, when as I rallied once, a black savage-looking sepoy raised his clubbed musket to knock out my brains, but a voice I well knew cried: “Not this time, my fine fellow. That’s number three, that is, and well home;” and I saw Measles drive his bayonet with a crash through the fellow’s breast-bone, so that he fell across my legs.—“Now, old chap, come along,” he shouts, and an arm was passed under me.

“Run, Measles, run!” I said as well as I could. “It’s all over with me.”

“No; ’taint,” he said; “and don’t be a fool. Let me do as I like, for once in a way.”

I don’t know how he did it, nor how, feeling sick and faint as I did, I managed to get on my legs; but old Measles stuck to me like a true comrade, and brought me in. For one moment I was struggling to my feet; and the next, after what seemed a deal of firing going over my head, I was inside the breastwork, listening to our men cheering and firing away, as the mutineers came howling and raging up almost to the very gate.

“All in?” I heard Lieutenant Leigh ask.

“To a man, sir,” says some one; “but Private Bantem is hurt.”

“Hold your tongue, will you!” says Joe Bantem. “I ain’t killed, nor yet half. How would you like your wife frightened if you had one?”

“How’s Private Lant?”

“Cut to pieces, sir,” says some one softly.

“I’m thankful that you are not wounded, Captain Dyer,” then says Lieutenant Leigh.

“God bless you, Leigh!” says the captain faintly: “it was a brave act. I’ve only a scratch or two when I can get over the numbness of my limbs.”

I heard all this in a dim sort of fashion, just as if it was a dream in the early morning; for I was leaning up against the wall, with my face laid open and bleeding, and my left arm smashed by a bullet, and nobody just then took any notice of me, because they were carrying in Captain Dyer and Harry Lant; while the next minute, the fire was going on hard and fast; for the mutineers were furious, and I suppose they danced round the guns in a way that shewed how mad they were about the spiking.

As for me, I did not seem to be in a great deal of pain; but I got turning over in my mind how well we had done it that morning; and I felt proud of it all, and glad that Captain Dyer and Harry Lant were brought in; but all the same what I had heard lay like a load upon me; and knowing, as I did, that poor Miss Ross had, as it were, sold herself to save the captain’s life, and that she had, in a way of speaking, been cheated into doing so, I felt that when the opportunity came, I must tell the captain all I knew. When I had got as far as that with my thoughts, the dull numbness began to leave me, and everything else was driven out of my mind by the thought of my wound; and I got asking myself whether it was going to be very bad, for I thought it was, so getting up a little, I began to crawl along in the shade towards the ruined south end of the palace, nobody seeming to notice me.