I was recounting to you a “jolly ramble” through Lucknow, just before the Second Relief of Lucknow by Sir Colin Campbell during the 1857 Mutiny. Most of the first post was background and now we are coming to the crux of how Flashman…. well, read it for yourself…
~~~~ “if he can disguise himself well enough to pass muster with me, he can go,” says Outram at last. “But I wish to heaven Kananji would accompany him – I don’t blame him for refusing, mind … but if only there were someone else who could go along – some cool hand who can pass as a native without question, to do the talking if they’re challenged by the pandies – for if they are, and if Kavanaugh has to open that great Paddy mouth of his…. stop though! Of course, Napier – the very man! Why didn’t it occur…”
I was off the cot and moving before Outram was halfway through his speech; I knew before himself whose name was going to pop into his mind as the ideal candidate for this latest lunacy. I paused only to scoop up my boots and was tip-toeing at speed for the verandah rail; a quick vault into the garden, and then let them try to find me before sunset if they could… but blast it, I hadn’t gone five steps when the door was flung open, and there was Outram, pointing his cheroot, looking like Sam Grant after the first couple of drinks, crying:
“Flashman! That’s our man, Napier! Cn you think of a better?”
Of course, Napier couldn’t – who could, with the famous Flashy on hand, ripe to be plucked and hurled into the bloody soup? It’s damnable, the way they pick on a fellow – and all because of my swollen reputation for derring-do and breakneck gallantry. As usual, there was nothing I could do, except stand blinking innocently, in my stocking-soles while Outram repeated all that I’d heard already, and pointed out that I was the very man to go along on this hideous escapade to hold the great Fenian idiot’s hand for him. I heard him in mounting terror, concealed behind a stern and thoughtful aspect, and replied that, of course, I was at his disposal, but really, gentlemen, was it wise? Not that I cared about the risk (Jesus, the things I’ve had to say), but I earnestly doubted whether Kavanaugh could pass… my convalescent condition, of course, was a trifling matter…. even so, one wouldn’t want to fail through lack of strength … not when a native could be certain of getting through….
“There isn’t a loyal sepoy in the garrison who can come near you for skill and shrewdness,” says Outram briskly, “or who’d stand half the chance of seeing Kavanaugh safe. Weren’t you playing your old Pathan role the other day for the ladies? As to the toll of your illness – I’ve a notion your strength will always match your spirit. whatever happens. The thing’s your meat and drink, Flashman, and you know it – and you’ve been fairly itching to get into harness again. Eh?”
“I’ll hazard a guess,” says Napier, smiling, “that he’s more concerned for Kavanaugh than himself – isn’t that so, Flashman?”
“Well, sir, since you’ve said it – “
“I know,” says Outram, frowning at his damned cheroot. “Kavanaugh has a wife and family – but he has volunteered, you see, and he’s the man for Campbell, not a doubt of it. It only remains to get him there.” And the brute simply gave me a sturdy look and shook my hand as though that where the thing settled.
Which of course it was. What could I do, without ruining my reputation? – although such was my fame by this time that if I’d thrown myself on the floor, weeping with fright, they’d probably have not taken me seriously, but thought it was just one of my jokes in doubtful taste. Give a dog a bad name – by God, it doesn’t stick half as hard as a good one.
So I spent the evening dyeing myself with soot and ghee, shuddering with apprehension and cursing my folly and ill luck. This, at the eleventh hour! I thought of having another shot at Napier, pleading my illness, but I didn’t dare…..
To be continued…..