Page images
PDF
EPUB

thrashed by his master, he made short work of him, and the man didn't trouble to go back to court."

“Aye,” chimed in the manager's wife, with a sigh of regret,“ Colonel -- was something like a magistrate. He was always just."

“Now," the manager continued, “we can hardly call our house our own, can't knock a fellow down if he's insolent, can't thrash the cook if he's late with dinner. But I

gave it the butler last night; and he daren't go to court, or they'd ask him where he got the brandy from.”

There was a gleam of comfort in this; but, on the whole, the good old times seem to have departed from India, and the stereotyped notice posted in country hotels “earnestly requesting guests, not to ill-treat native servants,” but to report delinquencies to the managers, is growing out of date.

Cawnpore is built much after the fashion of Lucknow, being spread over a considerable plain, breaking forth into streets of houses in unexpected places. It is a busy place, being the principal grain market in the district. It is also a head-quarters of the cloth trade. There are two large cotton mills here, and a third is being built. But its interest for the Englishspeaking race centres round the places where is kept green the memory of Nana Sahib's cruel treachery.

The story begins to be written on the bare space of ground where a few stones mark the lines of the camp where General Wheeler entrenched himself with his little army and his many camp followers. In the first week of June, 1857, all India was in revolt, the fire burning most fiercely in Oude, whence the fiery cross had been sent round. Delhi was held by the rebels, and the descendant of the old Mogul kings had been tumultuously reinstated upon the throne. John Lawrence held the mutineers in check in the Punjaub, but Henry Lawrence was already beleaguered in Lucknow, and there was not a native regiment in Oude that could be depended upon. On the 5th of June the crisis came at Cawnpore, and found General Wheeler entrenched in this illchosen quarter. All told, he had 1100 souls within the limits of his camp. Less than 500 were fighting men, and Nana Sahib had surrounded the camp with an impenetrable ring of 30,000 men.

Wheeler had thrown up a wall of mud, well enough to keep an ill-disciplined rabble out, but no protection against the rain of bullets and the incessant cannonading kept up from the camp of the mutineers. At first he had two buildings which served for partial shelter, not so much from the fire of the enemy as from the deadly heat of the sun, and from the rains which had commenced. These buildings were speedily levelled by Nana Sahib's batteries, and there remained for the hapless refugees nothing but the bare ground and the open sky. At the end of three weeks, when hundreds had died and the rest were starving, the crafty Hindoo proposed terms of capitulation which were surprisingly generous. The troops were to march out, stacking their rifles, but wearing their side-arms. They were to be escorted to the riverside, where they were to take boat and make the best of their way to Allahabad.

The road by which they started on this fatal march is clearly enough marked to-day. It follows a direct line for the Suttee Ghat, passing under the high road at a short distance from the river. After the rainy season a rivulet finds its way by this course to the Ganges, and it must have been heavy marching for Wheeler's men and the women and children who accompanied them. It is dry enough today—a dusty pathway through an arid plain. The ghất by which the sick and weary company took boat was at that time a busy landing-place. At the top of the steps is the little

VOL. II.

36

temple and suttee-house which gives the ghât its name.

Other spots connected with the tragedy have been swept and garnished, and are guarded as sacred memorials. But the slaughter gate through which the unsuspecting men and women went to their doom has been left untouched as an accursed thing. The temple is doorless and windowless. The house behind, where a faithful Hindoo widow was, long time ago, burned with the head of her dead lord on her knee, is crumbling to pieces, and the tomb in which husband and wife lie undivided in death is broken and defaced. The steps of the ghât are half an inch thick with dust, undisturbed by the tread of human foot. The two peepul trees which witnessed the murder still flourish, and doubtless are green enough after the rains; but just now the leaves are dust-laden and parched, and the grey, gnarled trunks lean over towards the river as if they had long been tired of life, and would above all things like to tumble into its cool depths.

The place is indescribably lonely and desolate. Standing by the temple there is plainly in view the bend of the river behind which Nana Sahib had hid his guns. A little lower down on the other side of the river lay in ambuscade a regiment of rebels charged with

the duty of slaying all whom the cannon spared. Three boat-loads got off, and rowed for a thousand yards in fancied security, and with lightened hearts at the thought that their troubles were now over; that no more would they see the terrible camp, with its hunger and thirst, its houselessness, its never-ceasing rain of bullets, and its frequent thunderstorm of artillery. Just round the point the slaughter began. The boats were sunk with cannonshot, and those who escaped and tried to reach the land were pitilessly shot by the troops on the other side of the river. General Wheeler, some of his officers, and most of the women had been halted under a tree, which still stands, eight or nine hundred yards distant from the ghất. When they heard the firing they knew what had happened, and fled in wild affright along the main road. But the cavalry speedily hunted them down. The men were shot like dogs and the women and children carried off to Nana Sahib's house.

Had Wheeler been able to hold out a few days longer all would have been well. Havelock was already on the march, his nearer approach being made the signal for an episode which is the darkest act in the hurried tragedy. On the eve of going out to give battle to the English general Nana Sahib

« PreviousContinue »