A midnight ramble through Lucknow during the Mutiny VII

And our heroes have, after a night of trials and tribulations, safely reached the ranks of the relieving force

~~ …… 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.

He must have been a rare disappointment to Kavanaugh, though, for at the sight of him my blundering Paddy threw off his tiredness, and made a tremendous parade of announcing who he was, fishing out the message and presenting it like the last gallant survivor stumbling in with the News; you never saw suffering nobility like it as he explained how we’d come out of Lucknow, but Campbell, listening and tugging at his dreary moustache, just said “Aye”, and sniffed, and added after a moment: “That’s surprising.” Kavanaugh, who had probably expected stricken admiration, looked quite deflated, and when Campbell told him to “Away you and lie down,” he obeyed pretty huffily.

I knew Campbell, of course, so I wasn’t a bit astonished at the way he greeted me, when he realised who I was.

“It’s no’ you again?” says he, like a Free Kirk elder to the town drunk. “Dearie me – ye’re not looking a whit better than when I saw ye last. I doot ye’ve nae, discretion, Flashman.” He sighed and shook his head, but just as he was turning to his tent he looked back and says: “I’m glad tae see ye, mind.”

I suppose there are those who’d say that there’s no higher honour than that, coming from Old Slowcoach; if that’s so, I must make the most of it, for it’s all the thanks I ever got for conveying Kavanaugh out of Lucknow. Not that I’m complaining, mind, for God knows I’ve had my share of undeserved credit, but it’s a fact that Kavanaugh stole all the limelight when the story came out; I’m certain it was sheer lust for glory that had made him undertake the job in the first place, for when I joined him in the rest-tent after we’d left Campbell, he broke off the kneeling-and-praying which he was engaged in, looked at me with his great freckled yokel face, and says anxiously:

“D’yez think they”ll give us the Victoria Cross?” 

Well, in the end they did give him the V.C. for that night’s work, while all I got was a shocking case of dysentery. He was a civillian, of course, so they were bound to make a fuss of him and there was so muchV.C.-hunting going on just then that I suppose they thought recognised heroes like me could be passed over – ironic, ain’t it? Anyway, I wasn’t recommended at that time for any decoration at all, and he was, which seemed fairly raw, although I don’t deny he was brave, you understand. Anyone who’s as big a bloody fool as that, and goes gallivanting about seeking sorrow, must be called courageous. Still…. if it hadn’t for me, finding his blasted slipper for him, and fishing him out of canals – and most important of all, getting the right direction from that little brown banger – friend Kavanaugh might still have been traipsing along Haidar’s Canal asking the way. But thinking back, perhaps I got the better of the bargain – she was a lissome little wriggler, and it was Kavanaugh’s five rupees, after all.

NOTE: Flashman does T.Henry Kavanaugh considerably less than justice. The big Irishman was undeniably eccentric – one Mutiny historian, Rice Holmes, has called him vain and self-important to the point of insanity – but his night journey to Campbell, in his ludicrous disguise, was an act of the most calculated courage. Perhaps Flashman was nettled by the fact that other accounts of the exploit describe Kavanaugh’s companion as an Indian; he may also have been unfavourably impressed by the somewhat immodest title of the book in which Kavanaugh described his adventure: “How I won the V.C”. It tallies fairly closely, in general facts, if not spirit and interpretation, with Flashman’s version.


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