And we finally get to Flashman and that “great Fenian idiot” starting their midnight ramble from the besieged Residency, across rebel-held Lucknow, to Sir Colin Campbell’s forces…..
~~~~ Before I could hush his babbling, he had seized my hand – and him standing there bollock-naked with his togs piled on his head – and said fervently: “D’ye know what – we’re goin’ to do wan o’ the deeds that saved the Impoire, so we are! An’ Oi don’t moind tellin’ ye somethin’ else – for the first toime in me loiife, Oi’m scared!”
“The first time!” squeaks I, but already he was plunging in with a splash like the launching of the Great Eastern, leaving me with the appalling realisation that for once I was in the company of someone terrified as myself. It was desperate – I mean, on previous enterprises of this kind I’d been used to relying on some gallant idiot who couldn’t keep his head, but here I was with this buffoon who was not only mad Irish, but was plainly drunk with the idea of playing Dick Champion, the Saviour of the Side, and was trembling in his boots at the same time, Furthermore, he was given to daydreaming about trout and otters at inappropriate moments, and had no more idea of moving silently than a bear with a ball and chain. But there was nothing for it now; I slid into the freezing water and swam the half-furlong to the far bank, where he was standing one one leg in the mud, hauling his clothes on, and making the deuce of a row about it.
“Are ye there, Flash?” says he, in a hoarse whisper you could have heard in Delhi. “We’ll have to be hellish quiet, ye know. Oi think there’s pandies up the bank!”
Since we could see their picquets round the camp-fires not fifty yards away, it was a reasonable conclusion, and we hadn’t stolen twenty yards across the riverside when someone hailed us. I shouted back, and our challenger remarked that it was cold, at which the oaf Kavanuagh petrified me by suddenly bawling out: “Han, bhai, bahut tunder! (Yes, brother, very cold!)” like some greenhorn reciting from a Hindi primer. I hustled him quickly away, took him by the neck, and hissed:
“Will you keep your damned gob shut, you great murphy?”
He apologised in a nervous whisper, and muttered something about Queen and Country; his eye was glittering feverishly. “Oi”ll me more discreet, Flash,” says he, and so we went on, with me answering another couple of challenges before we reached the bridge, and crossed safely over into Lucknow town.
This was the testing part, for here there was lightning in the streets and passers-by, and Kavanaugh might easily be recognised as counterfeit. The swim hadn’t done his dyed skin any good, and apart from that outlandsih rig, the European walk, the whole cut of the man was an invitation to disaster. Well, thinks I, if he’s spotted, it’s into the dark for Flashy, and old O’Hooligan can take care of himself.
The worst of it was, he seemed incapable of keeping quiet, but was forever halting to mutter: “The mosque, ah, that’s right now – and then de little stone bridge – where the divil is it? D’ye see it, Flashy – it ought to be right by hereabouts?” I told him if he must chunter, to do it in Hindi, and he said absent-mindedly “Oi will, Oi will niver fear. Oi wish to God we had a compass.” He seemed to think he was in Phoenix Park.
It wasn’t too bad at first, because we were moving through gardens, with few folk about, but then we came to the great Chauk Bazaar. Thank God it was ill-lit, but there were groups of pandies everywhere, folk at the stalls, idlers at every corner, and even a few palkis swaying through the narrow ways. I put on a bold front, keeping Kavanuagh between me and the wall, and just swaggered along, spitting. No one gave me a second glance, but by hellish luck we passed close by a group of pandies with some whores in tow, and one of the tarts plucked at Kavanaugh’s sleeve and made an improper suggestion; her sepoy stared and growled resentfully, and my heart was in mouth as I hustled Kavanaugh along, shouting over my shoulder that he’d just been married the previous day and was exhausted, at which they laughed and let us be. At least that kept him shut for a spell, but no sooner were we clear of the bazaar than he was chattering with relief and stopped to pick carrots in a vegetable patch, remarking at the top of his voice that they were “the swaitest little things” he’d tasted in months.
Then he lost our way……
To be continued……