BN Book 1 – Chapter 14 – Skirmish in the Foothills

“I enlisted in the army when I was only 16 following my father and two uncles who had all seen service. I showed promise during training and I was made a Subaltern, posted to the Berkshires and sent off to India to join the regiment. I eventually managed to join them in Simla. I was lucky; there was little action at the time and life in the town was very pleasant. I fell in with a good crowd so that although I was the youngest, they did not lead me too far astray. Of course that did not mean they neglected my education and I learned gambling and drinking, neither to excess and became conversant with the tremendous range of India food. From time to time were sent to do a tour of duty at the hill station, which entailed regular patrols round the foothills to show a presence and keep the peace, but beyond a few personal disputes among the locals, which we helped to Commissioner to sort out, all was quiet. Then of course there were the women. They were harlots, but it was easily possible to make a relationship with a particular one and they were all young with very beautiful features. I will never forget those wonderful evenings, when the sun had gone down and we had eaten and drunk our fill. There was the smell of the flowers, the buzz of insects, the rhythm of the music and the mesmerising dancing of the girls, with their swaying hips and their elegant and gentle movement to the beat of the instruments.” Samuel paused with a far away look in his eye, then his gaze turned to Amelia and he blushed.

Anyway, we were moved up to the hill station and I was assigned to a patrol led by Major Hawthorne, who was only a Captain at the time, his promotion came later. There was the Captain and I and 10 serving soldiers in his patrol. As before we were sent on regular patrols and one day, I think it was Area 6 (the area round the station was divided into different sections each with a defined route so that the whole area was covered on a systematic basis.) Things were as quiet as usual when as we approached the top of a rise, we noticed smoke rising in the distance. The Captain spurred ahead an topping the rise we saw the smoke was coming from the local Maharajah’s palace. We had had problems with the Maharajah in the past, when he had led a short uprising and since then, although he had been left in his palace, his staff had been massively curtailed and he had only a few followers left. the Captain let the way towards the palace and through the telescope he could see a few people leaving in a hurry and the smoke from a number of distinct fires. It pointed to the fact that the palace had been attacked. We rode closer, and stopped in a shallow gully as near the palace as we dare. the Captain sent off one of the men to bring reinforcements, as at that stage we did not know how many attackers there were. We hobbled the horses, left one man to look after them and approached the palace in foot. We reached the gate, which was open, without challenge and entered. It appeared to be deserted, but we had no sooner passed the threshold we came across numerous bodies. All were dead and some were in a very mutilated state. I didn’t say before, but this was my first taste of action and of sudden death and I was very scared. Seeing as we had not been intercepted in any way and there was no sign of any intruders, or for that matter living residents, the Captain split us into twos, telling me to stay with him ( I think he saw I scared I was and took pity on me) and sent the men off to different parts of the palace, telling them to be quiet and to shoot on sight if they came across any brigands. he also told them to follow any sound of gunfire from any other couple and to shout out loud if they came across anything interesting. The Captain and I set off up some stairs, and entered what appeared to be a series of bedrooms leading off a corridor. Entering one room, still as quietly as possible, we espied a brigand, kneeling at the side of a bed, looking into an open box (the one you have in front of you) and we could plainly see that it contained some fabulous jewels. We waited and watched what happened. He closed and locked the box (we were unable to see how he did it) and stood up holding the box which he laid on the bed. Then we must have moved or made a sound for like a flash he had turned and thrown a knife in out direction, in a single move. Captain Hawthorne loosed off a shot which killed the man outright. The knife sped past me catching me in the thigh. It was a superficial wound but it has left a scar which you can see to this day. In my fear I had been unable to loose off a shot and I’m sure if the Captain had not been there the man would have killed me. There were shouts from the other men and we heard footsteps running in our direction. The Captain picked up the box and put it under the bed just as the first soldier arrived. The Captain told the men that he had shot the brigand and asked how they had got on. None of them had found anything, so he told them to go onto the parapet and see if there was anyone in view.”

Amelia interrupted “The letter said that the Major had spotted the box under the coat of the dead Maharajah.”

“What letter was that?”

“The Major wrote to Cynthia that he had found something in the palace, but that it was under his dead body.”

“I don’t know about that. It may be he wanted to spare the feelings of his wife by not telling her he had shot someone. Did he mention the treasure?”

“No but there was a page, or more, missing from the letter when I found it and I assumed the details of what he had found were on the missing pages.”

“Did she tell you about it?”

“No”

“Perhaps she told your Cousin and that was the reason he killed both of them.”

“Be careful. There is no definite evidence that he committed any murders, but it does seem like a plausible motive. He certainly attempted to kill me! Anyway, I’m sorry I interrupted your story, please go on.”

“Where was I. Oh yes, when we got onto the walls we saw a group of the brigands towing away two cannon from the palace. They were ancient, but in the right hands, could have a devastating effect on unsuspecting cavalry or even foot soldiers. The Captain lined up the men on the wall and gave the order to fire a round. A couple of the brigands fell down. The rest turned and the Captain ordered off another volley. This time a couple more men fell and the rest took to their heels. They were too far away for the third round to have any effect and the Captain ordered us to stop firing. He detailed a couple of men and sent me off with them to see if there were any wounded among the fallen. When we reached the guns we found four dead, and one man who was wounded and setting up a great moaning noise. I told him to shut up and tell me where he was injured. He looked very frightened, but he did not understand what I was saying. It seemed that he had received a bullet in the top of his leg and there was a lot of blood. Anyway,” he took a quick look at Amelia who was quite pale “moving on. We took him into the palace, stopped the bleeding and patched him up best we could. The Captain said that we would have trouble holding the palace and protecting the guns with our meagre forces, but we would have to do your best until reinforcements arrived which would not be at least for 48 hours.  He set sentries at each entrance and on the walls, sent someone to bring in the horses for protection and set out to look for food, for by that time we were all feeling very hungry, and it appeared that we were going to be there for a couple of days at least. The dead would have to be buried, but the priority was our own protection and the guns. Having found some food and some wine, we ate heartily and settled into a routine of sentry duty. The night was worrying because we thought that the brigands may come back, but no one appeared and the next morning a fresh patrol arrived and we were able to relax a bit and share the jobs round more. We started on the burials, which was quite horrible as some of the bodies had been very badly mutilated. The Captain had inspected the storehouse and found a number of sacks of grain and he decided that we would take a couple with us when we left. There did not seem much point to me until I realised that he was going to use one of the sacks to hide the box of jewels. All remained quiet and the following day, a column arrived under the direction of Colonel Fitz-Singleton. He took command and after receiving a debrief from the Captain, ordered us to return to the hill station. The Captain took with him 3 sacks of grain, one of which contained the treasure and we returned to base without incident and made out reports. A few days later we were relieved and returned to barracks at Simla. The Captain spoke to me only briefly, to tell me that if I kept my mouth shut, I would be given a share of the treasure when we returned to England. As a result of his action in the skirmish the Captain was awarded his Major pips. The rest you know more or less. The Regiment embarked together with the luggage, but my ship and the ship with the luggage, were both delayed and by the time I got back, the Captain was dead and the treasure was nowhere to be seen. I dropped one or two hints, but I just had to bide my time until the luggage arrived and I could get a look whether the treasure was there or not.” He heaved a sigh and stopped. Amelia congratulated him on his clear explanation and they both looked at each other wondering what to do next.

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