And this series has been languishing for quite some time and before I lose track or interest, I better wrap it up….
And Flashman’s still rambling around Lucknow and the surrounding countryside with a man whose’s capacity for disaster is enormous. Lets see what happened after they manage to extricate themselves from the swamp….
~~~~ I went to the house and who should be at the window but the charmingest little brown girl, who said we were not far from the Alam Bagh, but the British had arrived there, and people were running away. I thanked her, inwardly rejoicing, and she peeped at me over the sill and says:
“You are very wet, big man. Why not come in and rest, while you dry your clothes? Only five rupees.”
By George, thinks I, why not? I was tired, and sick, and it had been the deuce of a long time, what with sieges and cholera and daft Irishmen falling into bogs; this was just the tonic I needed, so I scrambled up, and there she was, all chub…. (well, I think we can we can safely give this part the go-bye for reasons of public policy and morals) ….. I was though, and it was just as well, for I’d no longer finished the business than Kavanaugh was under the window, airing his Urdu plaintively in search for me, and wanting to know what was the delay?
I leaned out and cadged five rupees from him, explaining it was a bribe for an old sick man who knew the way; he passed it up, I struggled into my wet fugs, kissed my giggling Delilah goodnight, and scrambled down, feeling fit for anything.
It took us another two hours, though, for Kavanaugh was about done, and we had to keep dodging behind trees to avoid parties of peasants who were making for Lucknow. I was getting a mite alarmed, because the moon was up, and I knew that dawn couldn’t be far off; if we were caught by daylight, with Kavanaugh looking as pale as Marley’s ghost, we were done for. I cursed myself for a fool, whoring and wasting time when we should be pushing on – what had I been thinking of? D’you know I realised that in my exasperation with Kavanaugh, and all that aimless wandering in wrong directions, and watching him fall in tanks and canals, I’d forgotten the seriousness of the whole thing – perhaps I was still a trifle light-headed from my illness, but I’d even forgotten my fears. They came back now, though, in full force, as we staggered along; I was as tuckered as he was, my head was swimming, and I must have covered the last mile in a walking dream, because the next thing I remember is bearded faces barring our way, and blue-tunicked troopers with white puggarees and thinking, “These are 9th Lancers.”
Then there was an officer holding me by the shoulders, and to my astonishment it was Gough, to whom I’d served brandy and smokes on the verandah at Meerut. He didn’t know me, but he poured spirits into us, and had us borne down into the camp, where the bugles were blowing, and the cavalry pickets were falling in, and the flag was going up, and it looked so brisk and orderly and safe you would have wept for relief – but the cheeriest sight of all, to me, was that crumpled, bony figure outside the headquarter tent, and the dour, wrinkled, old face under the battered helmet. I hadn’t seen Campbell close to, not since Balaclava; he was an ugly old devil, with a damned caustic tongue and a graveyard sense of humour, but I never saw a man yet who made me feel so secure.
To be continued…..