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- In Times of Peril - 30/55 -
He was, however, mistaken, for the very next day a shell entered, and burst in the room, the fragments inflicting a mortal wound upon Sir Henry, who died a few hours afterward. The loss was a heavy one indeed, both to the garrison, to whom his energy, calmness, and authority were invaluable, and to England, who lost in him one of her noblest and most worthy sons. On his death the command of the defense devolved upon Colonel Inglis, of the Thirty-second Regiment, a most gallant and skillful officer. After this, day after day the fighting had continued, the enemy ever gaining in numbers and in strength, erecting fresh batteries, and keeping up a ceaseless fire night and day upon the garrison.
The Warreners with their guide experienced the difficulties which this increased activity of the attack caused to emissaries trying to enter or leave the Residency. After it had become dark they swam the Goomtee, and made a wide circuit, and then tried to approach the river again opposite the Residency. Several batteries, however, had been erected on this side since the guide had left, five days before, and these were connected by a chain of sentries, so closely placed that it would have been madness to endeavor to pass them unseen. It was clear that the mutineers were determined to cut off all communication to or from the garrison. The little party skirted the line of sentries, a line indicated clearly enough by the bivouac fires on the near side of them. Round these large numbers of mutineers were moving about, cooking, smoking, and conversing.
"It is hopeless to attempt to get through here," said Ned.
"We will go on to the road leading to the iron bridge," the guide replied; "we can follow that to the river and then slip aside."
Here, however, they were foiled again, as fires were lighted and there were sentries on the road to forbid all except those on business to pass. Presently a body of men came along, bearing shell upon their heads for the service of the batteries on the other side of the river.
"Whence are they fetching these?" Ned asked the guide.
"From the king's magazine, a quarter of a mile away to the right. They are taking ammunition, now, for the bridge is within four hundred yards of the Redan battery, and they cannot cross at daylight under fire."
"Here is a party coming back," Ned said; "let us fall in behind them, go to the magazine and get shell, and then follow back again till we are close to the bridge, and trust to luck in getting clear."
The guide assented, and they followed the Sepoys down to the magazine, keeping a little behind the others, and being the last to enter the yard where the loaded shell were standing.
Each took a shell and followed closely upon the heels of the party. In the dark no one noticed the addition to their number, and they passed the sentries on the road without question. Then they fell a little behind. The natives paused just before they reached the bridge; for the British knowing that ammunition was nightly being carried over, fired an occasional shot in that direction. The party halted under shelter of a house until a shot flew past, and then hurried forward across the exposed spot. As they did so, the Warreners and their guide placed the shells they were carrying on the ground, turned off from the road, climbed a garden wall, and in a minute were close to the river.
"Go silently," the guide said; "there are some more sentries here."
Stealing quietly along, for they were all shoeless, they could see crouching figures between them and the water, every twenty yards apart.
"We shall have to run the gantlet, Ned," Dick said. "Our best chance will be to shove one of these fellows suddenly into the water, jump in and dive for it. You and I can dive across that river, and we shall come up under the shadow of the opposite bank."
Ned spoke to the guide.
"The water is shallow for the first few yards, sahib, but we shall get across that into two feet, which is deep enough for us, before the sentries have recovered from their surprise. They are sure to fire at random, and we shall be out of the water on the other side before they have loaded again."
The plan agreed to, they stripped off their uniforms, and crept quietly along until they were close to a sentry. Then with a bound they sprang upon him, rolled him over the bank into the shallow water, and dashed forward themselves at the top of their speed.
So sudden was their rush that they were knee-deep before the nearest sentry fired, his ball whizzing over their heads as they threw themselves face downward in the stream, and struck out under water.
Even when full the Goomtee is not more than ninety yards wide, and from the point where they started to equally shallow water on the other side was now not more than forty. The boys could both dive that distance; but their guide, although a good swimmer, was a less expert diver, and had to come twice to the surface for breath. He escaped, however, without a shot; for, as they had expected, the report of the musket was followed by a general volley in the direction of the splash, by all the sentries for some distance on either side. Therefore, when the party rose from the water, and dashed up the other bank, not a shot greeted them. It was clear running now, only a hundred yards up the slope of the garden, to the British earthwork.
"We are friends!" the boys shouted as they ran, and a cheer from the men on watch greeted them. A few shots flew after them from the other side of the river, but these were fired at random, and in another minute the party had scrambled over the earthwork and were among friends.
Hearty were the hand-shakes and congratulations bestowed upon them all; and as the news that messengers had arrived flew like wild-fire round the line of trenches, men came running down, regardless of the bullets which, now that the enemy were thoroughly roused up, sang overhead in all directions.
"We won't ask your message," was the cry, "till you have seen the colonel; but do tell us, is help at hand?"
"English general coming," the native guide said.
"Yes," Ned said, as delighted exclamations at the news arose; "but not yet. Do not excite false hopes among the ladies; some time must pass before help arrives. I must not say more till I have seen Colonel Inglis; but I should be sorry if false hopes were raised."
Cloaks were lent to the boys, and they were taken at once to the Residency, and along passages thronged with sleepers were conducted to Colonel Inglis' room. He had already heard that the native messenger had returned, with two Englishmen in disguise, and he was up and ready to receive them--for men slept dressed, and ready for action at a moment's call.
"Well done, subadar," he exclaimed, as the native entered; "you have nobly earned your step in rank and the five thousand rupees promised to you. Well, what is your message?"
"The General Sahib bids me say that he is coming on to Lucknow with all speed. Cawnpore was taken four days before I left. The Nana has fled from Bithoor, and all goes well. These officers have further news to give you."
"I am indeed glad to see you, gentlemen," Colonel Inglis said, warmly shaking them by the hand. "Whom have I the pleasure of seeing, for at present your appearance is admirably correct as that of two Sepoys?"
"Our name is Warrener," Ned said; "we are brothers. I have just been gazetted to the Sixty-fourth; my brother is a midshipman. We have a message for your private ear, sir; and if I might suggest, it would be better to keep our native friend close by for a few minutes, lest his news spread. You will see the reason when we have spoken to you."
Colonel Inglis gave the sign, and the other officers retired with the guide.
"Our message, sir, is, I regret to say, far less favorable than that transmitted by the subadar, and it was for that reason that General Havelock sent us with him. If taken, he would have told his message, for the general had ordered him to make no secret of his instructions if he fell into the enemy's hands, as it was desirable that they should believe that he was about to advance, and thus relieve the pressure upon you by keeping a large force on the road up from Cawnpore. But in fact, sir, General Havelock bids us tell you that he cannot advance. He has but a thousand bayonets fit for service. He must hold Cawnpore, and the force available for an advance would be hopelessly insufficient to fight his way through Oude and force a road through the city. The instant he receives reinforcements he will advance, and will in the meantime continue to make feints, so as to keep a large force of the enemy on the alert. He fears that it may be a month before he will be able to advance to your aid with a chance of success."
"A month!" Colonel Inglis said; "that is indeed a long time, and we had hoped that already help was at hand. Well, we must do our best. We are even now sorely pressed; but I doubt not we can hold out for a month. General Havelock cannot accomplish impossibilities, and it is wonderful that he should have recaptured Cawnpore with so small a force."
"We thought it better to give you this news privately, colonel, in order that you might, should you think fit, keep from the garrison the knowledge that so long a time must elapse without succor."
"You were quite right, sir," Colonel Inglis said; "but the truth had better be made public. It is far better that all should know that we are dependent upon our own exertions for another month than that they should be vainly looking for assistance to arrive. And now, gentlemen, I will call my officers in, and you shall get some clothes. Unhappily, death is so busy that there will be no difficulty in providing you in that respect. You must want food, too, and that, such as it is, is in plenty also."
The other officers were now called in, and the commandant told them the news that he had received from the Warreners. There was a look of disappointment for a moment, and then cheering answers that they were all good for another month's fighting were made.
"I know, gentlemen," Colonel Inglis said, "our thoughts are all the same. We are ready to fight another month, but we dread the delay for the sake of the women and children. However, God's will be done. All that men can do, this garrison will, I know, do; and with God's help, I believe that whether aid comes a little sooner or later, we shall hold these battered ruins till it arrives. Captain Fellows, will you get these officers something to eat, and some clothes? Then, if they are not too tired, they will perhaps not mind sitting up an hour or two and giving us the news from the outside world."
Daylight was breaking before Ned and Dick--who had, at Colonel Inglis' suggestion separated, Ned going to the colonel's room, while Dick formed the center of a great gathering in a hall below, in order that as many might hear the news as possible--brought to a conclusion the account of
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