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once more we poured in a deadly fire, and rushed down to meet them in the ascent. But our last discharge had been sufficient. They were now retiring in considerable disorder and giving them a volley and a few halloos to hasten their retreat, we returned to our post again.
We had been more than two hours, I should think, on our isolated position, impatiently awaiting the arrival of our brethren in arms, and many an anxious glance had been vainly cast in the direction in which we had left the boats. At last the glitter of arms was visible, and our eyes were gladdened with the sight of the battalion advancing to our relief.
I had latterly began to be apprehensive that we had advanced too far, and our friends might not be able to find us. It appeared that they had not left the spot where we landed till after the sound of firing was heard ; for the major either did not hear, or did not comprehend what the colonel said to him, and denied having received any instructions to follow. In addition to this, they had pursued a more open but circuitous route, and of course had been much longer on the way.
The colonel, with merely his orderlies, immediately proceeded to take the command of the corps, which soon opened its fire on the front face of the stockade, from the edge of some low jungle, at the distance of about some two hundred paces.
Shortly after, orders were brought me to quit the hill, and bring my wounded to the rear. Making a circuit, I soon arrived at two ho. vels, in which the surgeon and his assistants had established themselves, with the hospital attendants, and the bhisties, or water-carriers of the battalion. Never did I enjoy the clearest iced drink so much as the muddy water the bhistie poured from his leathern bag into my joined hands, from which, after cooling 'my burning throat with an enormous draught, I bathed my face and temples, and felt my strength renewed.
The men were not less eager than myself to obtain water. But the wants of the wounded were first attended to. None attempted to drink till they were all served ; for long and piteous had been their cry for panu, panu! water ! water! to slake their fiery thirst : it seemed all they cared for.
It was here, behind a small piece of mud wall, the general's agent had taken up his position. He had a full view both of the stockade and the attacking party, and when my men drinking, he requested me to lead them under the bank of the river, and make an attack on the stockade from that face, which he conceived might succeed while the attention of the enemy was drawn to the front by the fire of the battalion. I hesitated not a moment to obey. The project seemed feasible, and I knew that if called on to account for making the attempt without orders, the name of the governor-general's agent would bear me out. I learnt afterwards that an officer of much higher rank had previously declined complying with a similar request made to him by Mr. S; but no one ever blamed me for doing so.
Had I retired some distance further to the rear, and then de. scended, I might perhaps have arrived unperceived by the enemy. But I was young, and not over given to reflect. After replenishing their cartouch-boxes, I led my little party direct to the river, and
descended at the first place I could find sufficiently sloped to allow of our getting down. During the rains the current had under. mined the earth on this side, and when the stream receded, a level surface of a few yards' width had been left, along which we bent our way:
As we advanced under the bank, which was nearly twenty feet high, and projected everywhere above our heads, I began to fear we should be unable to scale it. But a minute after, the scene of filth I found myself stepping through convinced me there must be a way to ascend not far off, since the Burmese, it was evident, were in the habit of descending. In almost a whisper I bade my men, in their native tongue, “ be ready.” A few steps further we came somewhat abruptly to the foot of a narrow road or pathway, cut in a slanding direction down the side of the bank, the top of which was lined by the enemy, who lost no time in sa• luting us as our front file appeared. It was premature, however, for their balls flew harmlessly over us; and, without attempting to return their fire, I dashed up the bank at the head of my brave fellows. The enemy met us ere we reached the top ; but their muskets, though of English manufacture, were without bayonets, and, in spite of an occasional sword or spear advanced to arrest our progress, we drove them before us, notwithstanding their superiority in numbers, and gaining the summit of the path, followed them to the very entrance of the stockade, which on this side was but a few paces from the top of the bank. But here our success ended. A row of long spears bristled in the gateway, and in vain the foremost of us endeavoured to cut our way through. A slanting fire from both flanks told severely on our little column. in the rear could bear it no longer, and turning they rushed down the path again, and we were obliged to 'follow, the enemy giving chase till we neared the bottom. Here we were secure from all annoyance from above, the over hanging bank completely sheltering us. After allowing the men time to breathe, I again attempted to lead them up ; but at the first discharge they turned. To my remonstrances, they replied they were fatigued and outnumbered, of which I was but too conscious myself ; and having waited a short time, in hopes a reinforcement might arrive, I was compelled to retrace my steps.
On my return I found the battalion had ceased firing, and the men withdrawn to some distance, were resting on their arms ; several of the officers had been wounded, and some borne off the field. The colonel, who was but slightly hurt, was still on the spot, talking of retiring to the boats, and waiting the arrival of the force under the brigadier, for without proper artillery he deemed it impracticable to dislodge the enemy.
The governor-general's agent was of a different opinion. He maintained that if only one charge were made by the whole detachment at once, the place would undoubtedly be taken. After a short time Colonel B
gave his sanction to the measure being carried into effect. It was, however, apparently against his better judgment; but his situation was a particularly trying one ; for had he withdrawn his men, without making the attempt, it might have subjected him afterwards to imputations of an unpleasant nature.
The battalion was now drawn out, two deep, in a line, under the major, who for the first time I perceived to be in a most extraordi.
nary dress, or rather undress. Instead of his red coat and uniform trousers, he had on a white jacket and a dotee, or cloth wound round his waist, with his legs perfectly bare. That he changed his dress to render himself less conspicuous to the enemy, I can scarcely credit, although the colonel soon after charged him with having done so. I am more inclined to believe his own story, that, the day being very hot, he took off his regimentals to cool himself : for I saw him, I think, encouraging the sepoys, like a brave soldier, when they wavered in the attack.
The stockade was in shape nearly a square, but rather inclining to an oblong. It was formed of thick bamboos, and logs of wood of about ten or twelve feet in length, set upright in the ground, with a space left between each timber, for the purpose of firing through. To the height of three or four feet, earth was thrown up on both sides of these piles, behind which, in a shallow trench, the Burmese sat, only showing their red caps above the embankment when on the point of firing, and withdrawing them to reload as soon as they had given their discharge. It had a small gateway or entrance on each side, and was surrounded, except at the river front, by a ditch, which, on the face we were to advance against, was extremely broad and deep, it having, as I afterwards learnt, been cut to drain the narrow jhul, or morass, which we had now to pass.
It was nearly four o'clock, and I was weary and exhausted. The wound in my foot had become stiff and extremely painful ; and for the first time, I felt an unwillingness to proceed, and a depression of spirits I had never experienced before. The men, too, had not eaten that day, and were both fatigued and dispirited. And when the governorgeneral's agent, as he rode along the line, harangued them in their native tongue, which he certainly spoke most fluently, assuring them they would undoubtedly take the place, with scarcely the loss of a man, if they would but advance without firing, more than one of the non-commissioned officers and sepoys replied, that they would be happy to fight the Burmese on the plain, but they could make nothing of them in their entrenchments ; others called out for a column to be formed, and the grenadiers to lead.
The agent repeated his harangue, and on we went at quick march, for we had still some distance between us and the enemy. We had ad. vanced to within sixty yards, and were entering the swampy ground, when the stockade, which till then had appeared as if deserted, was all at once lined with a long row of red caps, and a deadly fire poured into us from the whole face of it. Numbers fell around me, but I was still untouched. Our men recoiled an instant, then commenced firing without orders, and breaking into small colums, some continued firing, while others advanced.
Amongst those who went on were A and myself. Again not an enemy was visible, and we neared the deep ditch, the borders of which were thickly studded with short spikes, slanting towards us. We were but a few yards from the stockade itself, when once more the red caps appeared to pour another destructive fire upon us. Poor A- and myself both fell, and the colours of the battalion were lying on the ground, the jemadars who carried them being brought down by this discharge. Taking advantage of the disorder and confusion their last fire had produced, the enemy now sallied forth from their entrenchment, and completed the rout, each indi
vidual endeavoring to save himself by escaping from the morass as quickly as possible.
Fortunately the colours of the battalion were not lost. A few brave fellows protected the sepoy who snatched them up, and bore them off when the native officers fell; and the colonel, who had remained in the rear, mounted on a pony, he was unable to put his foot to the ground, soon formed the remnant of the battalion as they arrived, into a hollow square, whose formidable appearance kept the enemy at a respectful distance.
I had merely felt a shock, and was lying with my face close to the mote of the stockade, almost before I was aware I was burt. It was not till I attempted to rise that I found my leg, which bent under me, was dreadfully shattered, the agony I experienced bringing me to the ground once more. The enemy were now amongst us, and our men retreating. With my left hand I seized the sepoy next me by the leg of his thick woollen trousers as he was moving off, and was dragged a pace or two along the ground in this way, still retaining my sword in my right hand, by an almost convulsive grasp. The desire of escape so overpowered every other sensation, that I searcely felt my lacerated limb. A few steps, and my weight, though light, I was quite a lad, prevented the sepoy moving further. He now seized my arm, and relinquishing my hold on his leg, he drew me on more rapidly for a short distance, and as his strength began to fail, threw away his musket, and applied both his hands to the task of pulling me along.
Some of the enemy approached, and I could not expect protection from the sepoy, since he was unarmed. Besides my sword, I had a pistol in my belt, and I determined to sell my life as dearly as possible : the idea had even crossed me of applying the latter to my own head, rather than fall alive into the hands of the Burmese, whose reputation for cruelty was so proverbial. At this moment, when all hope of escape had abandoned me, a few of our men, who were re. treating almost singly, closed around us ; others soon joined. Several arms were now thrust under me, and I was borne at a rapid pace to the shelter of the square.
Poor Awas less fortunate. He was some years older than myself, upwards of six feet high, and stout in proportion. Being very heavy, it would have required the strength of several men to have car. ried him off the field : and perhaps I may attribute my life being saved, in a great measure, to my being so light at that time. Whether he was killed on the spot by the shot that brought him down, or fell into the hands of the enemy alive, is unknown. His sufferings, however, could not have been of long duration, for shortly after I reached the square, his head, stuck on a pike, with a long string of others, was seen exalted above the walls of the stockade. Probably the wretches intended to intimidate our troops by this exhibition, and at the same time to display a trophy of their victory.
A piece of cloth was hastily wound round my wounded limb by the surgeon, to prevent hæmorrhage, I conclude ; but it was too lacerated to bleed much. There was a hospital dooly, a light sort of palankeen, fortunately on the spot, into which I was placed, and the retreat towards the boats began soon after, the wounded being in the centre of the square. The ground however became too broken and interspersed with jungle to admit of the battalion moving
long in this form, and it was broken into subdivisions and single files, as the nature of the country required. My dooly bearers now pushed on, and I was soon out of sight of the battalion. We had not proceeded far, when an elephant, on which were several wounded men, overtook us, and the mahout, or driver insisted that he had orders to take me up also. But I peremptorily refused. My wound had become cold, and so painful that I would rather have died than have attempted to sit on the elephant, and endure the torture which every step would have occasioned. Even in the dooly, when crossing the ravines and broken ground, it required me to bear in mind that I was a soldier, to prevent my shrieking aloud, so intense was the agony I experienced at every jolt.
Scarcely had the elephant passed, when a party of horsemen, with their long spears high above their heads, were seen galloping towards us. To put me down, and rush into the neighbouring jungle, was with the bearers but the work of an instant. Again I gave myself up for lost; but I was now comparatively heedless about life. The little troop passed within a few yards without offering to molest me, and the bearers, recognizing them to be the Rajah G-T Sing's cavalry, who was then an ally of the company's returned, and took me up again.
My sense of thirst had become intolerable, not having had an oppor. tunity of procuring a drop of water since I received my wound. As I approached the boats, my servants, who had probably heard from the elephant-driver that I was wounded, came to meet me ; and, as I estly demanded water, the khidmutgar* held a bottle to my mouth; but to my bitter disappointment, I found it contained raw brandy. Though dying with thirst, I had the resolution to push it from me, and to wait till I reached my boat ere I moistened my parched and burning lips. It was now that I first relinquished my sword, the point of which had been broken in the attack on the banks of the river. I had hitherto retained it firmly grasped in my right hand, and my fingers had become so rigidly fixed, that I could scarcely relax
The battalion soon after arrived. No time was lost in embarking the men, and we dropped down the stream, leaving an officer and a few men at T-e, which we passed about the middle of the night. The next morning we reached a small stockade we had taken from the enemy a short time before, in which we established ourselves. In the evening the surgeon found time to amputate my limb, which from the extent of the injury, and the heat of the weather, had already begun to be offensive. I shall not attempt to dwell on what I suffered during the operation, or while moving about from place to place before the stump was healed, the cure being further retarded by want of proper diet, not a morsel of bread or biscuit being procurable in the wilderness we were in.
Whether the colonel, or the governor-general's agent, in the hasty despatches written on the occasion, reported me as mortally wound. ed, or dead; I cannot say ; but certain it is that the government wrote up soon after to inquire the reason of my being retained on the strength of the battalion after I was killed. My brother in
* The servants who wait at table are called khidmutgars in India : they are generally Mussulmans, for no respectable Hindoo would touch the animal food consumed by Europeans.