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Nov 4, 2009


I asked Billy later what value he would have put on all the loot that we saw piled up and scrambled for in that one yard, and he said curtly: "Millions of pounds, blast it!" I'd believe it, too: there were solid gold and silver vessels and ornaments, crusted with gems, miles of jewel-sewn brocade, gorgeous pictures and statues that the troops just hacked and smashed, beautiful enamel and porcelain trampled underfoot, weapons and standards set with rubies and emeralds which were gouged and hammered from their settings — all this among the powder-smoke and blood, with native soldiers who'd never seen above ten rupees in their lives, and slum-ruffians from Glasgow and Liverpool, all staggering about drunk on plunder and killing and destruction. One thing I'm sure of: there was twice as much treasure destroyed as carried away, and we officers were too busy bagging our share to do anything about it. I daresay a philosopher would have made heavy speculation about that scene, if he'd had time to spare from tilling his pockets.

I was well satisfied with my winnings, and pondered that night on how I'd employ them when I went home, which couldn't be long now: I remember thinking "This is the end of the war, Flash, old buck, or near as dammit, and well out of it you are." I was very much at ease, sitting round the mess-fire in the dusk of a Lucknow garden, smoking and swigging port and listening to the distant thump of the night guns, while I yarned idly with Russell and "Rake" Hodson (who'd fagged me at Rugby) and Macdonald the Peeler and Sam Browne and little Fred Roberts, who wasn't much more than a griff,41 but knew enough to hang around us older hands, warming himself in the glow of our fame. Thinking of them, it strikes me how many famous men I've run across in the dawn of their careers — not that Hodson had long to go, since he was shot while looting next day, with his glory all behind him. But Roberts has gone to the very top of the tree (pity I wasn't more civil to him when he was green; I might have been higher up the ladder myself now), and I suppose Sam Browne's name is known today in every army on earth. Just because he lost an arm and invented a belt, too — get them to call some useful article of clothing after you, and your fame's assured, as witness Sam and Raglan and Cardigan. If I had my time over again I'd patent the Flashman fly-button, and go down in history.

I don't remember much of what we discussed, except that Billy was full of indignation over how he'd seen some' Sikhs burning a captured pandy alive, with white soldiers looking on and laughing: he and Roberts said such cruelty oughtn't to be allowed, but Hodson, who was as near a wild beast as I ever met, even among British irregular cavalry, said the viler deaths the rebels died, the better; they'd be less ready to mutiny again. I can see him yet, sitting forward glaring into the fire, pushing back his fair hair with that nervous gesture he had, and steady Sam Browne squinting at him quizzically, drawing on his cigar, saying nothing. I know we talked too of light cavalry, and Russell was teasing Hodson with the prowess of the Black Sea Cossacks, winking at me, when Destiny in the unlikely shape of General Mansfield tapped me on the shoulder and said: "Sir Colin wants you, directly."

I didn't think twice about it, but pitched my cheroot into the fire and sauntered through the lines to the Chief's tent, computing my loot in my mind and drinking in the warm night air with sleepy content. Even when Campbell's greeting to me was: "How well d'ye know the Rani of Jhansi?" I wasn't uncomfortably surprised — there'd been a dispatch in about the Jhansi campaign that very day, and Campbell already knew about my mission for Palmerston; it all seemed a long way away now.

I said I had known her very well; we had talked a great deal together.

"And her city — her fortress?" says Campbell.

"Passably, sir. I was never in her fort proper — our meetings were at the palace, and I'm not over-familiar with the city itself -

"More familiar than Sir Hugh Rose, though, I'll be bound," says he, tapping a paper in front of him. "And that's his own opeenion — he mentions ye by name in his latest dispatch." I didn't care for that; it don't do to have generals talking about you. I didn't care for the way Campbell was looking at me, either, tapping a nail against those beautifully-kept teeth that shone so odd in his ancient (face.

"This Rani," says he at length. "What's she like?"

I began to say that she was a capable ruler and nobody's fool, but he interrupted with one of his barbarous Scotch noises.

"Taghaway-wi-ye! Is she pretty, man? Eh? How pretty?" I admitted that she was strikingly beautiful, and he grinned and shook his grizzly head.

"Aye, aye," says he, and squinted at me. "Ye're a strange man, Flashman. I'll confess to ye, I've even-on had my doots aboot ye — don't ask me what, for I don't know. I'm frank wi' ye, d'ye see?" I'll say that for him, he always was. "This much I'm certain of," he went on, "ye always win. God kens how — and I'm glad I don't ken mysel', for I wish to think well of ye. But there — Sir Hugh needs ye at Jhansi, and I'm sending ye south."

Because of how well the readers know Flashman, having characters who see through him to the bastard within shows that they're clever and perceptive. Here we have Campbell explicitly go one further and see past the bastard to the man blessed by fortune.


I didn't know what to think of this — or of his curious opinion of me. I just stood and waited anxiously.

"This mutiny mischief is just aboot done — it's a question of scattering the last armies — here, in Oudh and Rohilkand, and there, in Bandelkand — and hanging Nana and Tantia and Azeemoolah higher than Haman. Jhansi is one of the last nuts tae be cracked — and it'll be a hard one, like enough. This bizzum of a Rani has ten thousand men and stout city walls. Sir Hugh will have her under siege by the time ye get there, and nae doot he'll have to take the place by storm. But that's not enough — which is why you, wi' your particular deeplomatic knowledge of the Rani and her state, are essential to Sir Hugh. Ye see, Flashman, Lord Canning and Sir Hugh and mysel' are agreed on one thing — and your experience of this wumman may be the key to it." He looked me carefully in the eye. "Whatever else befalls, we must contrive tae capture the Rani of Jhansi alive."

If she'd been ugly as sin, or twenty years older and scrawny, it would never have happened. Jhansi would have been taken, and if a plain, elderly Rani had been bayoneted or shot in the process, no one would have given a drat. But Canning, our enlightened Governor-General, was a sentimental fool, intent on suppressing the Mutiny with the least possible bloodshed, and already alarmed at the toll of vengeance that people like Neill and Havelock had taken. He guessed that sooner or later the righteous wrath of Britons at home would die down, and that if we slaughtered too many pandies a revulsion would set in — which, of course, it did. My guess is that he also feared the death of a young and beautiful rebel princess (for her fame and likeness had spread across India by now) might just tip the balance of public conscience — he didn't want the liberal press depicting her as some Indian Joan of Arc. So, however many other n****** died, male and female, she was to be taken alive.

Mind you, I could see Canning's point, and personally I was all for it. There wasn't a life anywhere — except Elspeth's and little Havvy's — that was as precious to me then as Lakshmibai's, and I don't mind admitting it. But fair's fair; I wanted her saved without any dangerous intervention on my part, and the farther I could have kept away from Jhansi the better I'd have liked it. It wasn't a lucky place for me.

So I took as long as I decently could getting there, in the hope that it might be all over by the time I arrived. I had the excuse that the two hundred miles between Lucknow and Jhansi was damned dangerous country, with pandies and the armies of rebel chiefs all over the place; I had a strong escort of Pathan Horse, but even so we went warily, and didn't sight that fort of ill-omen on its frowning rock until the last week in March. Rose was just getting himself settled in by then, battering away at the city defences with his guns, his army circling the walls in a gigantic ring, with observation posts and cavalry pickets all prettily sited to bottle it up.

He was a good soldier, Rose, careful as Campbell but twice as quick, and one glance at the rebel defences told you that he needed to be. Jhansi lay massive and impregnable under the brazen sun, with its walls and outworks and the red rebel banner floating lazily above the fort. Outside the walls the dusty plain had been swept clear of every scrap of cover, and the rebel batteries thundered out in reply to our gunners, as though warning the besiegers what would happen if they ventured too close. And inside there were ten thousand rebels ready to fight to the finish. A tough nut, as Campbell had said.

"We'll have them out in a week, though, no fears about that," was Rose's verdict. He was another Scotsman (India was crawling with them, of course, as always), brisk and bright-eyed and spry; I knew him well from the Crimea, where he'd been liaison at the Frog headquarters, and less objectionable than most diplomat-soldiers. He was new to India, but you'd never have guessed it from his easy confidence and dandy air — to tell the truth, I have difficulty in memory separating his appearance from George Custer's, for they both had the same gimlet assurance, as well as the carefully wind-blown blond hair and artless moustaches. There the resemblance ended — if we'd had Rose at Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse and Gall could have whistled for their dinners.

"Yes, a week at most," says he, and pointed out how he had sited his left and right attacks opposite the strongest points in the rebel defences, which our gunners were pounding with red-hot shot, keeping the pandy fire-parties busy quelling the flames which you could see here and there behind the walls, flickering crazily through the heat-haze. "Frontal night assault as soon as the breaches are big enough, and then …" He snapped his telescope shut. "Bloody work, since the pandies are sure to fight to the last — but we'll do the business. The question is: in all that carnage, how do we preserve her ladyship? You must be our oracle on that subject, what? Would she personally surrender, d'you suppose?"

I looked about me from the knoll on which we stood, with his staff officers. Just before us were the lines of siege-guns in their earthworks, shaking the ground with their explosions, the smoke wraithing back towards us as the gunners, crawling like ants round their pieces, reloaded and fired again. Either side the pickets of the flying cavalry I amps were strung out as far as the eye could see — the red jackets of the Light Dragoons, and the grey khakee of the Hyderabad troopers' coats, dusty with the new curry-powder dye. Two miles behind us, near the ruins of the old cantonment, were the endless tent-lines of the infantry brigades, waiting patiently till the guns had done their work on the massive walls of Jhansi city, behind which the jumble of distant houses stretched in the smoky haze up to the mighty crag of the fortress. She'd be up there, somewhere, perhaps in that cool durbar room, or on the terrace, playing with her pet monkeys; perhaps she was with her chiefs and soldiers, looking out at the great army that was going to swallow her up and reduce her city and fairy palace to rubble. Mera Jhansi denge nay, thinks I.

"Surrender?" says I. "No, I doubt if she will."

"Well, you know her." He gave me that odd, leery look that I'd got used to even in the few hours I'd been at his headquarters, whenever her name was mentioned. The popular view was that she was some gorgeous human tigress who prowled half-naked through sumptuous apartments, supervising the torture of discarded legions of lovers — oh, my pious generation had splendid imaginations, I may tell you.

"We've tried proclamation, of course," says Rose, "but since we can't guarantee immunity to her followers, we might as well save our breath. On the other hand, she may not be eager to see her civilians exposed to continuous bombardment followed by the horrors of assault, what? I mean, being a woman … what is she like, by the way?"

"She's a lady," says I, "extremely lovely, uses French scent, is kind to animals, fences like a Hungarian hussar, prays for several hours each day, recreates herself on a white silk swing in a room full of mirrors, gives afternoon tea-parties for society ladies, and hangs criminals up in the sun by their thumbs. Useful horse-woman, too."

"Good God!" says Rose, staring, and behind him his staff were gaping at me round-eyed, licking their lips. "Are you serious?"

"What about lovers, hey?" says one of the staff, sweating and horny-eyed. "They say she keeps a hareem of muscular young bucks, primed with love-potions —"

"She didn't tell me," says I, "and I didn't ask her. Even you wouldn't, I fancy."

"Well," says Rose, glancing at me and then away. "We must certainly consider what's to be done about her."

That was how I employed myself for the next three days, while the guns and eight-inch mortars smashed away in fine style, opening a sizeable breach in the south wall, and burning up the rebels' repair barricades with red-hot shot. We blew most of their heavy gun posts into rubble, and by the 29th Rose was drawing up final orders for his infantry stormers — and still we had reached no firm plan for capturing Lakshmibai unharmed. For the more I thought about it, the more certain I became that she'd fight it out, in person, when our infantry fought their way hand-to-hand into her palace — it was easy, after Lucknow, to imagine bloody corpses on that quilted Chinese carpet, and the mirrors shattered by shot, and yelling looters smashing and tearing in those priceless apartments, sabring and bayoneting everything that stood in their way. God knows it was nothing new to me, and I'd lent a hand in my time, when It had been safe to do so — but these would be her rooms, her possessions, and I was sentimental enough to be sorry for that, because I'd liked them and been happy there. By George, I'd got her into my bloodstream though, hadn't I lust, when I started worrying about her damned furniture.

And what would happen to her, in that madhouse of blood and steel? Try as I might, I could see nothing for it but to tell off a picked platoon with orders to make straight for the palace and secure her unharmed At any price — provided she didn't get in the way of a stray shot, there was no reason why they shouldn't bring her out safe. By God, though, that was one detail I'd have to avoid — no, my job would be her reception and safe-keeping when the slaughter was safely over: Flashy the stern and sorrowful jailer, firm but kindly, shielding her from prying eyes and lecherous staff-wallopers with dirty minds, that was the ticket. She'd have to be escorted away, perhaps even to Calcutta, where they'd decide what to do with her. A nice long journey, that, and she'd be grateful for a friendly face among her enemies — especially one for which she'd shown such a partiality in the past. I thought of that pavilion, and that gleaming bronze body undulating towards me, quivering voluptuously to the music — we'll have dancing every night, thinks I, in our private hackery, and if I'm not down to twelve stone by the time we reach Calcutta, it won't be for want of nocturnal exercise.

Here we see both the legend of spreading Lakshmibai spreading and, uniquely, Flashman finding a reason to throw himself into danger. A hilariously terrible reason, but still.


I explained my thoughts to Rose — the first part, about the special platoon, not the rest — at dinner in his tent, and he frowned and shook his head.

"Too uncertain," says he. "We need something concerted and executed before the battle has even reached her palace; we must have her snug and secure by then."

"Well, I don't for the life of me see how you're going to do that," says I. "We can't send anyone in ahead of the troops, to kidnap her or any such thing. They wouldn't get a hundred yards through the streets of Jhansi — and if they did, she has a Pathan guard hundreds strong covering every inch of the palace."

"No," says he, thoughtfully, picking at his cheroot. "Force wouldn't serve, I agree — but diplomacy, now? What d'ye think, Lyster?"

This was young Harry Lyster, Rose's galloper, and the only other person present at our talk. I'd known him any time the past ten years; he'd been a special constable with me at the Chartist farce of '48 when I took up old Morrison's truncheon and did his duty for him — me and Gladstone and Louis Napoleon holding the plebeian mob at bay, I don't think. Lyster was a smart 'un, though; given a silver spoon he'd have been a field marshal by now.

Chartism is a fascinating mid-19th century political movement and 1848 coincides with a great deal of continental upheaval. Wikipedia gives their six main desired reforms as:

* A vote for every man aged twenty-one years and above, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
* The secret ballot to protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
* No property qualification for Members of Parliament (MPs), to allow the constituencies to return the man of their choice.
* Payment of Members, enabling tradesmen, working men, or other persons of modest means to leave or interrupt their livelihood to attend to the interests of the nation.
* Equal constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing less populous constituencies to have as much or more weight than larger ones.
* Annual Parliamentary elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since no purse could buy a constituency under a system of universal manhood suffrage in every twelve months.

And yes, the future Napoleon III was in the UK at the time.


"Bribery, perhaps — if we could smuggle a proposal to some of her officers?" says he.

"Too complicated," says Rose, "and you'd probably just lose your money."

"They've eaten her salt," says I. "You couldn't buy 'em." I was far from sure of that, by the way, but I wanted to squash all this talk of intrigue and secret messages — I'd heard it too often before, and I know who finishes up sneaking through the dark with his bowels gurgling and his hair standing on end in the enemy's lair. "I'm afraid it comes down to the special platoon after all, sir. A good native officer, with intelligent jawans -

"Counsel of despair, Flashman." Rose shook his head decisively. "No — we'll have to trick her out. Here's a possibility — storm the city, as we intend, but leave her a bolt-hole. If we draw off our cavalry pickets from the Orcha gate, they'll spot the weakness, and when our rebel lady sees that her city's doomed, I'll be much surprised if she don't try to make a run for it. How well do Indian women ride?"

"This one? Like a Polish lancer. It might work," says I, "If she don't suspicion what we're up to. But if she smells a rat -

"She'll be smelling too much powder-smoke by then to notice anything else," says Rose confidently. "She'll break for the open, to try to join Tantia, or some other rebel leader — and we'll be waiting for her on the Orcha toad. What d'you say, gentlemen?" says he, smiling.

Well, it suited me, although I thought he underrated her subtlety. But Lyster was nodding agreement44 and nose went on:

"Yes, I think we'll try that — but only as a long stop. It's still not enough. Lord Canning attaches the utmost importance to capturing the Rani unscathed; that being so, we must play every card in our hand. And we have s trump which it would be folly not to use for everything it's worth." He turned and snapped a pointing finger at me. You, Flashman."

I choked on my glass, and covered my dismay with a shuddering cough. "I, sir?" I tried to get my breath back. "How, sir? I mean, what — ?"

"We can't afford to neglect the opportunity which your knowledge of this woman — your familiarity with her — gives us. I don't suppose there's a white man living who has been on closer terms with her — isn't that so?"

"Well, now, sir, I don't know —"

"I still think we can talk her out. Public offers of surrender are useless, we agree — but a private offer, now, secretly conveyed, with my word of honour, and Lord ('Canning's, attached to it … that might be a different matter. Especially if it were persuasively argued, by a British officer she could trust. You follow me?"

All too well I followed him; I could see the abyss of ruin and despair opening before my feet once again, as the bright-eyed lunatic went eagerly on:

"The offer would assure her that her life would be spared, if she gave herself up. She doesn't have to surrender jhansi, even — just her own person. How can she refuse? She could even keep her credit intact with her own people.

"That's it!" cries he, smacking the table. "If she accepts, all she has to do is take advantage of the bolt-hole we're going to leave her, through the Orcha Gate! She can pretend to her own folk that she's trying to escape, and we'll snap her up as she emerges. No one would ever know it was a put-up business — except her, and ourselves!" He beamed at us in triumph.

Lyster was frowning. "Will she accept — and leave her city and people to their fate?" He glanced at me.

"Oh, come, come!" cries Rose. "She ain't European royalty, you know! These black rulers don't care a snuff for their subjects — ain't that so. Flashman?"

I seized on this like a drowning man. "This one does, sir," says I emphatically. "She wouldn't betray 'em — never." The irony of it was, I believed it to be true.

He stared at me in disappointment. "I can't credit that," says he. "I can't. I'm positive you're mistaken, Flashman." He shook his head. "But we have nothing to lose by trying, at any rate."

"But if I went in, under a flag of truce, demanding private audience with her -

"Pshaw! Who said anything about a flag of truce? Of course, that would blow the gaff at once — her people would know there was something up." He tapped the table, grinning at me, bursting with his own cleverness. "Didn't I say you were the trump card? You not only know her well, you're one of the few men who can get inside Jhansi, and into her presence, with no one the wiser — as a native!" He sat back, laughing. "Haven't you done it a score of times — ? why, all the world knows about how you brought Kavanaugh out of Lucknow! What d'ye think they're calling you down in Bombay these days — the Pall Mall Pathan!"

There are times when you know it absolutely ain't worth struggling any longer. First Palmerston, then Outram, and now Rose — and they were only the most recent in a long line of enthusiastic madmen who at one time or another had declared that I was just the chap they were looking for to undertake some ghastly adventure. I made one attempt at a feeble excuse by pointing out that I didn't have a beard any longer; Rose brushed it aside as of no importance, poured me another brandy, and began to elaborate his idiot plan.

And now that the British have the upper hand in the conflict, foolish racists with stupid plans assert themselves. However precise the history it makes for good narrative.


Nov 4, 2009


In essence it was what I've already described — I was to convince Lakshmibai of the wisdom of giving herself up (which I reckoned she'd never agree to do), and if she accepted, I was to explain how she must make an attempt to escape through the unguarded Orcha Gate at the very height of our attack on Jhansi city — the timing, said Rose, was of the utmost importance, and the further advanced our attack was before she made her bolt, the less suspicion her people might feel. (I couldn't see that this mattered much, but Rose was one of these meticulous swine who'll leave nothing to chance.)

And if she rejects the offer — as I know she will?" I asked him.

"Then on no account must you say anything about the Orcha Gate," says he. "Only when she has accepted the offer must you explain how her ‘capture’ is to be contrived. But if she does refuse — well, she may still be tempted to use A bolt-hole in the last resort, if we leave her one. So we shall nab her anyway," he concluded smugly. .

"And I — if she refuses?"

"My guess," says he airily, puffing at his cheroot, "is that she'll try to keep you as a hostage. I hardly think she'd do more than that, what? Anyway," says he, clapping me on the arm, "I know you've never counted risk yet — I saw you at Balaclava, by George! Did you know about that, I Lyster?" he went on, "charging with the Heavies wasn't enough for this beauty — he had to go in with the Lights As well!" And, do you know, he actually sat laughing at me in admiration? It would turn your stomach.

That monster.


So there it was — again. Hell in front and no way out. I tried to balance the odds in my mind, while I kept a straight face and punished the brandy. Would Lakshmibai listen to me? Probably not; she might try to escape when all was lost, but she'd never give herself up and leave her city to die. What would she do with me, then? I conjured up a picture of that dark face, smiling up at me with parted lips when I pinned her and kissed her against the mirrored wall; I remembered the pavilion — no, she wouldn't do me harm, if she could help it. Unless … had she set those Thugs after me? No, that had been Ignatieff: And yet — there was the Jhansi massacre — how deep had she been in that? Who knew what went on in an Indian mind, if it came to that? Was she as cruel and treacherous as all the rest of them? I couldn't say — but I was going to find out, by God, whether I liked it or not. I'd know, when I came face to face with her — and just for an instant I felt a leap of eagerness in my chest at the thought of seeing her once more. It was only for an instant, and then I was sweating again.

I'll say this for Hugh Rose — along with his fiendish ingenuity for dreaming up dangers for me, he had an equally formidable talent of organisation. It took him a good thirty seconds to think of a fool-proof way of getting me safe inside Jhansi — I would have the next day to prepare my disguise, with skin-dye and the rest, and the following night he would loose a squadron of Hyderabad Cavalry in a sudden raid on the breach in the city wall. They would break through the flimsy barrier which the defenders had thrown up, sabre a few sentries, create a hell of a row, and then withdraw in good order — leaving behind among the rubble one native badmash of unsavoury appearance, to wit, Colonel Flashman, late of the 17th Lancers and General Staff. I'd have no difficulty, said Rose breezily, in lying low for half an hour, and then emerging as one of the defenders. After that, all I had to do was tool up through the streets to the palace and knock on the door, like Barnacle Bill.

Speaking from a safe distance, I can say it was a sound scheme. Hearing it propounded at the time I thought it was fit to loosen the bowels of a bronze statue — but the hellish thing is, whatever a general suggests, you can do nothing but grin and agree. And, I have to admit, it worked.

I don't remember the agonising day I must have spent waiting, and attiring myself in a filthy sepoy uniform, so that I could pass in my old role of 3rd Cavalry mutineer. But I'll never forget the last moment of suspense beside the siege guns, with the Hyderabadi troopers round me in the gloom, and Rose clasping my hand, and then the whispered order, and the slow, muffled advance through the cold dark, with only the snorting of the horses and the creak of leather to mark our passing towards that looming distant wall, with the dull crimson glow of the city behind it, and the broad gap of the breach where the watch-fires twinkled, and we could even see figures silhouetted as they moved to and fro.

Away to our left flank the night-batteries were firing, distant tiny jets of flame in the dark, pounding away at the flank of the city which faced the old cantonment. That was for diversion; I could smell the bazaar stink from Jhansi, and still we hadn't been spotted. Even through my genuine funk, I could feel that strange tremor of excitement that every horse-soldier knows as the squadrons move forward silently in the gloom towards an unsuspecting enemy, slowly and ponderously, bump-bump-bump at the walk, knee to knee, one hand on the bridle, t'other on the hilt of the lamp-blacked sabre, ears straining for the first cry of alarm. How often I'd known it, and been terrified by it — in Afghanistan, at Cawnpore with Rowbotham, in the Punjab, under the walls of Fort Raim when I rode against the Russians with old Izzat Kutebar and the Horde of the Blue Wolves, and that lovely witch, Ko Dali's daughter, touching my hand in the dark …

The crack of a rifle, a distant yell, and the thunderous roar of the rissaldar: "Aye-hee! Squah-drahn — charge!" The dark mass either side seemed to leap forward, and then I was thundering along, flat down against my pony's flanks like an Oglala, as we tore across the last furlong towards the breach. The Hyderabadis screamed like fury as they spread out, except for the four who remained bunched ahead and either side of me, as a protective screen. Beyond them I could see the smoky glare of the fires in the breach, a rubble-strewn gap a hundred yards wide, with a crazy barricade thrown across it; pin-points of flame were twinkling in the gloom, and shots whistled overhead, and then the first riders were at the barrier, jumping it or bursting through, sabres swinging. My front-gallopers swerved in among the jumble of fallen masonry and scorched timbers, howling like dervishes; I saw one of them sabring down a pandy who thrust up at him with musket and bayonet, while another rode slap into a big, white-dhotied fellow who was springing at him with a spear. His horse stumbled and went down, and I scrambled my own beast over a pile of stones and plaster, from which a dark figure emerged, shrieking, and vanished into the gloom.

There was a fire straight ahead, and men running to-wards me, so I jerked my beast's head round and made for the shadows to my right. Two Hyderabadis surged up at my elbow, charging into the advancing group, and under their cover I managed to reach the lee of a ruined house, while the clash of steel, the crack of musketry, and the yells of the fighters sounded behind me. Close by the house there was a tangle of bushes — one quick glance round showed no immediate enemy making for me, and I rolled neatly out of the saddle into what seemed to be a midden, crawled frantically under the bushes, and lay there panting.

I'd dropped my sabre, but I had a stout knife in my boot and a revolver in my waist under my shirt; I snuggled back as far into cover as I could and kept mum. Feet went pounding by towards the tumult at the barricade, and for two or three minutes the pandemonium of shooting and yelling continued. Then it died down, to be replaced by a babble of insults from the defenders — presumably directed at our retreating cavalry — a few shots went after them, and then comparative peace descended on that small corner of Jhansi. So far, so good — but, as some clever lad once said, we hadn't gone very far.

I waited perhaps quarter of an hour, and then burrowed through the bushes and found myself in a narrow lane. There was no one about, but round the corner was a watch-fire, with a few pandies and bazaar-wallahs round it; I ambled past them, exchanging a greeting, and they didn't do more than give me an idle glance. Two minutes later I was in the bazaar, buying a chapatti and chili, and agreeing with the booth-wallah that if the sahib-log couldn't do better than the feeble skirmish there had just been down at the breach, then they'd never take Jhansi.

Although it was three in the morning, the narrow streets were as busy as if it had been noon. There were troops on the move everywhere — rebels of the 12th N.I., regulars of the Rani's Maharatta army, Bhil soldiers-of-fortune, and every sort of armed tribesman from the surrounding country, with spiked helmets, long swords, round shields, and all kinds of firearm from Minies to matchlocks. It looked to me as though Jhansi knew our main attack was soon coming, and they were moving reserves down to the walls.

There were ten civilian townsfolk about for every soldier, and the booths were doing a roaring trade. Here and there were ruined shops and houses where some of our stray shots had fallen, but there was no sign of unease, as you'd have expected — rather a sense of excitement and hustle, with everyone wideawake and chattering. A party of-coolies went by, dragging a cart piled with six-pounder cartridges, and I took the opportunity to remark to the booth-wallah:

"There go a thousand English lives, eh, brother?"

"Like enough," says he, scowling. "And every cannon-shot means another anna in market-tax. Lives can be bought too dear — even English ones."

"Nay, the Rani will pay it from her treasury," says I, giving him my shrill sepoy giggle.

"Ho-ho-ho, hear him!" says he, scornfully. "You should set up a stall, soldier, and see how fat you get. When did the Rani ever pay — or any other prince? What are we for but to pay, while the great ones make war?"

Just what they'd be saying in the Reform Club or the Star and Garter, thinks I.

Seeing the humanity in his enemies, even when he ignores it.


Aloud I said:
"They say she holds a great council in the fort tonight. Is it true?"

"She did not invite me," says he, sarcastically. "Nor, strangely enough, did she offer me the use of the palace when she left it. That will be three pice, soldier."

I paid him, having learned what I wanted to know, and took the streets that led up to the fort, with my knees getting shakier at every step. By God, this was a chancy business; I had to nerve myself with the thought that, whatever her feelings towards my country and army, she'd never shown anything but friendliness to me — and she'd hardly show violence to an envoy from the British general. Even so, when I found myself gazing across the little square towards that squat, frowning gateway, with the torches blazing over it, and the red jacketed Pathan sentries of her personal guard standing either side, I had to fight down the temptation to scuttle back into the lanes and try to hide until it was all over. Only the certainty that those lanes would shortly be a bloody battleground sent me reluctantly on. I wound my puggaree tightly round head and chin, hiding half my face, slipped from my pocket the note which Rose and I had carefully prepared, walked firmly across to the sentry, and demanded to see the guard commander.

He came out, yawning and expectorating, and who should it be but my old acquaintance who spat on shadows. I gave him the note and said: "This is for the Rani's hand, and no other. Take it to her, and quickly."

He glowered from me to it and back. "What is this, and who may you be?"

"If she wishes you to know, belike she'll tell you," I growled, and squatted down in the archway. "But be sure, if you delay, she'll have that empty head off your shoulders."

He stood glaring, turning the note in his hands. Evidently it impressed him — with a red seal carrying young Lyster's family crest, it should have done — for after an obscene inquiry about my parentage, which I ignored, he scratched himself and then loafed off, bidding the sentries keep an eye on me.

I waited, with my heart hammering, for this was the moment when things might go badly astray. Rose and I had cudgelled our brains for wording that would mean nothing to anyone but her, in case the note fell into the wrong hands. As an added precaution, we'd written it in schoolboy French, which I knew she understood. It said, simply:

One who brought perfume and a picture is here. See him alone. Trust him.

Rose had been delighted with this — he was plainly one who enjoyed intrigue for its own sake, and I've no doubt would have liked to sign it with a skull and crossbones. Squatting in the doorway, I couldn't take such a light-hearted view. Assuming that Pathan blockhead took it straight to her, she'd guess who it was from fast enough — but suppose she didn't want to see me? Suppose she thought the best way of answering the message would be to send me back in bits to Rose's headquarters? Suppose she showed it to someone else, or it miscarried, or …

Worst of all, it succeeds?


The sound of marching feet came from the gloom beyond the archway, and I got to my feet, quivering. The havildar came out of the dark, with two troopers behind him. He stopped, gave me a long, glowering look, and then jerked his head. I went forward, and he motioned me on into the courtyard beyond, falling in beside me with the two troopers behind. I wanted to ask him if he'd given the note to the Rani personally, but my tongue seemed to have shrivelled up; I'd know soon enough. As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom after the glare of the torches by the gate, I saw that we were heading across the yard, with high black walls on either side, and another torch at the far end over a doorway, guarded by two more Pathans.

"In," growls the havildar, and I found myself in a small vaulted guard-room; I blinked in the sudden glare of oil lamps, and then my heart lurched down into my boots, for the figure peering intently towards me from the centre of the room was the little fat chamberlain whom I knew so well from Lakshmibai's durbar.

The stupid bitch had told him who I was! There was no hope of a secret offer now — Rose's fat-headed scheme had sprung a leak, and -

"You are the officer who brought gifts from the British Queen?" he squeaked. "The Sirkar's envoy — Colonel Flashman?" He was squinting at me in consternation, as well he might, for I didn't look much like the dandy staff officer he'd known. Sick and fearful, I peeled off my puggaree and pushed my hair back.

"Yes," said I. "I'm Colonel Flashman. You must take me to the Rani, at once!"

He goggled at me, his little eyes wide in that fat face, twisting his hands nervously. And then something fluttered in the air between us — for an instant I thought it was a moth — and fell to the floor with a tiny puff of sparks. It was a cigarette, smoking on the flags; a long yellow tube with a mouthpiece.

"All in good time," said Ignatieff's voice, and I believe I actually cried out with shock, as I spun round to stare in horrified disbelief at the doorway. He was standing there, his hand still frozen in the act of flicking away the cigarette — Ignatieff, whom I'd supposed a thousand miles away by now, looking at me with his dreadful cold smile, and then inclining his tawny head.

"All in good time," he repeated in English, as he came forward. He ground his heel on the fallen cigarette. "After we have resumed the … discussion? . . which was so unfortunately interrupted at Balmoral."

Oh dear.

How are u
May 19, 2005

Oh christ haha, Flashy you unlucky bastard.

Apr 28, 2007

Veteran, Bermuda Triangle Expeditionary Force, 1993-1952

Frasier really can spin a yarn.

Nov 4, 2009


How I've survived four-score years without heart seizure I do not know. Perhaps I'm inured to the kind of shock I experienced then, with my innards surging up into my throat; I couldn't move, but stood there with my skin crawling as he came to stand in front of me — a new Ignatieff, this, in flowered shirt and pyjamy trousers and Persian boots, and with a little gingery beard adorning his chin. But the rat-trap mouth was still the same, and that unwinking half-blue half-brown eye boring into me.

"I have been anticipating this meeting," says he, "ever since I learned of your mission to India — did you know, I heard about it before you did yourself?" He gave a chilly little smile — he could never resist bragging, this one. "The secret deliberations of the astute Lord Palmerston are not as secret as he supposes. And it has been a fool's errand, has it not? But never so foolish as now. You should have been thankful to escape me … twice? … but you come blundering back a third time. Very well." The gotch eye seemed to harden with a brilliant light. "You will not have long to regret it."

With an effort I got my voice back, damned shaky though it was.

"I've nothing to say to you!" cries I, as truculently as I could, and turned on the little chamberlain. "My business is with the Rani Lakshmibai — not with this … this renegade! I demand to see her at once! Tell her —"

Ignatieff's hand smashed across my mouth, sending me staggering, but his voice didn't rise by a fraction. "That will not be necessary," says he, and the little chamberlain dithered submissively. "Her highness is not to be troubled for a mere spy. I shall deal with this jackal myself."

"In a pig's eye you will!" I blustered. "I'm an envoy from Sir Hugh Rose, to the Rani — not to any hole-and-corner Russian bully! You'll hinder me at your peril! drat you, let me loose!" I roared as the two troopers suddenly grabbed my elbows. "I'm a staff officer! You can't touch me — I'm —"

"Staff officer! Envoy!" IgnatiefFs words came out in that raging icy whisper that took me back to the nightmare of that verminous dungeon beneath Fort Arabat. "You crawl here in your filthy disguise, like the spy you are, and claim to be treated as an emissary? If that is what you are, why did you not come in uniform, under a flag, in open day?" His face was frozen in fury, and then the brute hit me again. "I shall tell you — because you are a dishonoured liar, whose word no one would trust! Treachery and deceit are your trade — or is it assassination this time?" His hand shot out and whipped the revolver from my waist.

"It's a lie!" I shouted. "Send to Sir Hugh Rose — he'll tell you!" I was appealing to the chamberlain. "You know me, man — tell the Rani! I demand it!"

But he just stood gaping, waiting for Ignatieff, whose sudden anger had died as quickly as it came.

"Since Sir Hugh Rose has not honoured us with a parley, there is no reason why we should address him," says he softly. "We have to deal only with a night prowler." He gestured to the troopers. "Take him down."

"You've no authority!" I roared. "I'm not answerable to you, you Russian swine! Let me go!" They were dragging me forward by main strength, while I bawled to the chamberlain, pleading with him to tell the Rani. They ran me through a doorway, and down a flight of stone steps, with Ignatieff following, the chamberlain twittering in front of him. I struggled in panic, for it was plain that the brute was going to prevent the Rani hearing of my arrival until after he'd done… . I nearly threw up in terror, for the troopers were hauling me across the floor to an enormous wheel like a cable drum, set perpendicular above ground level. There were manacles dangling from it, and fetters attached to the stone floor beneath it — Jesus! They had racked Murray to death in this very fort, Ilderim had said, and now they flung me against the hellish contraption, one grinning trooper pinning me bodily while the other snapped the floor-chains round my ankles. I yelled and swore, the chamberlain sank down fearfully on the bottom step, and

Ignatieff lit another cigarette.

"So much would not be necessary if I only sought information," says he, in that dreadful metallic whisper. With such a coward as you, the threat is sufficient. But you are going to tell me why you are here, what treachery you intended, and for what purpose you wished to see her highness. And when I am satisfied that you have told me everything —" he stepped close up to me, that awful eye staring into mine, and concluded in Russian, for my benefit alone " — the racking will continue until you are dead." He signed to the troopers, and stepped back.

"For Christ's sake, Ignatieff!" I screamed. "You can't do this! I'm a British officer, a white man —

Just letting it all fly.


let me go, you bastard! Please — in God's name, I'll tell you!" I felt the drum turn behind me as the troopers put their weight on the lever, drawing my arms taut above my head. "No, no! Let me go, you foul swine! I'm a gentleman, drat you — for pity's sake! We've had tea with the Queen! No, please —"

There was a clank from the huge wheel, and the chains wrenched at my wrists and ankles, sending shoots of pain through my arm and thigh muscles. I howled at the top f my voice as the wheel turned, stretching me to what seemed the limit of endurance, and Ignatieff stepped closer again.

"Why did you come?" says he.

"Let me go! You vile bloody dog, you!" Behind him I saw that the chamberlain was on his feet, white with horror. "Run!" I yelled. "Run, you stupid fat sod! Get your mistress — quickly!" But he seemed rooted to the spot, and then the drum clanked again, and an excruciating agony flamed through my biceps and shoulders, as though they were being hauled out of my body (which, of course, they were). I tried to scream again, but nothing came out, and then his devil's face was next to mine again, and I was babbling:

"Don't — don't, for Jesus' sake! I'll tell you — I'll tell you!" And even through the red mist of pain I knew that once I did, I was a dead man. But I couldn't bear it — I had to talk — and then inspiration came through the agony, and I let my head loll sideways, with a groan that died away. If only I could buy a moment's time — if only the chamberlain would run for help — if only Ignatieff would believe I'd fainted, and I could keep up the pretence with my whole body shrieking in pain. His palm slapped across my face, and I couldn't restrain a cry. His hand went up to the troopers, and I gasped:

"No — I'll tell you! Don't let them turn it again! I swear it's the truth — only don't let them do it again — oh, God, please, not again!"

"Well?" says he, and I knew I couldn't delay any longer. I couldn't bear another turn.

"General Rose —" My voice seemed to be a whisper from miles away. "I'm on his staff — he sent me — to see the Rani — please, it's the God's truth! Oh, make them let me down!"

"Go on," says that dreadful voice. "What was your message?"

"I was to ask her …" I was staring into his horrible eye, seeing it through a blur of tears, and then somewhere in the obscured distance behind him there was a movement, at the top of the steps, and as I blinked my vision was suddenly clear, and my voice broke' into a shuddering sigh of relief, and I let my head fall back. For the door at the top of the steps was open, with my red-coated guard sergeant, that wonderful, bearded genius of a Pathan who spat on shadows, holding it back, and a white figure was stepping through, stopping abruptly, staring down at us. I had always thought she was beautiful, but at that moment Lakshmibai looked like an angel pavilioned in splendour.

Wait, no,

There we go.


I was in such anguish that it was even an effort to keep my eyes open, so I didn't, but I heard her cry of astonishment, and then the chamberlain babbling, and Ignatieff swinging round. And then, believe it or not, what she said, in a voice shrill with anger, was:

"Stop that at once! Stop it, do you hear?" for all the world like a young school-mistress coming into class and catching little Johnny piddling in the ink-well. I'll swear she stamped as she said it, and even at the time, half-fainting with pain that I was, I thought it sounded ridiculous; and then suddenly with an agonising jerk that made me cry out, the fearful traction on my limbs was relaxed, and I was sagging against the wheel, trying to stop my tortured legs from buckling under me. But I'm proud to say I still had my wits about me.

"You won't get anything out of me!" I groaned. "You Russian hound — I'll die first!" I fluttered an eye open to see how this was received, but she was too busy choking back her fury as she confronted Ignatieff.

I've said it before but boy does it bear repeating: the man recovers fast when he has to.


"This is by your order?" Lord, it was a lovely voice. Do you know who this is?"

I'll say this for him, he faced her without so much as a blink — indeed, he even tossed his blasted cigarette aside in deference before giving his little bow to her.

"It is a spy, highness, who stole into your city in disguise — as you can see."

"It is a British officer!" She was blazing, trembling from her white head-veil all down her shapely sari-wrapped body to her little pearled sandals. "An envoy of the Sirkar, who brings a message for me. For me!" And she stamped again. "Where is it?"

Ignatieff pulled the note from his girdle, and handed it to her without a word. She read it, and then folded a deliberately, and looked him in the face.

"Sher Khan tells me he had orders to deliver it into my hands alone." She was holding in her anger still, with an effort. "But seeing him with it, you asked what it might be, and the fool gave it you. And having read it, you dared to question this man without my leave —"

"It was a suspicious message, highness," says Ignatieff, dead level. "And this man was obviously a spy —"

"You bloody liar!" croaks I. "You knew damned well what I was! Don't listen to him, Lakshmi — highness — the swine's got it in for me! He was trying to murder me, out of spite!"

She gave me one look, and then fronted Ignatieff again. "Spy or not, it is I who rule here. Sometimes I think you forget it, Count Ignatieff." She faced him eye to eye for a long moment, and then turned away from him. She looked at me, and then away, and we all waited, in dead silence. Finally she said quietly:

"I shall see to this man, and decide what is to be done with him." She turned to Ignatieff. "You may go, Count."

He bowed, and said: "I regret if I have offended your highness. If I have done so, it was out of zeal for the cause we both serve — your highness's government —" he paused —"and my imperial master's. I would be failing in my duty to both if I did not remind you that this man is a most dangerous and notorious British agent, and that —"

"I know very well who and what he is," says she quietly, and at that the gotch-eyed son-of-a-bitch said no more, but bowed again and took himself off, with the two troopers sidling hastily after him, salaaming nervously as they passed her. They clattered up the steps behind Ignatieff, and Sher Khan closed the door after them, and that left the four of us, all cosy as ninepence — Lakshmibai standing like a glimmering white statue, the little chamberlain twitching in anxious silence, Sher Khan on the door, and H. Flashman, Esq., doing his celebrated imitation of a Protestant martyr. Damned uncomfortable, too, but something told me grateful babblement wouldn't be in order, so I said as steadily as I could:

"Thank you, your highness. Forgive me if I don't make my bow, but in the circumstances …"

Very gallant, you see, but the truth was that fiery pains were still shooting through my arms and legs, and it was all I could do to keep from gasping and groaning. She was standing looking at me, quite expressionless, so I added hopefully:

"If your havildar would release me …"

But she didn't move a muscle, and I felt a sudden thrill of unease under the steady gaze of those dark eyes, the whites so clear against her dusky skin. What the hell was she up to, keeping me strung up on this bloody machine, and not so much as a glimmer of a smile, or recognition even? I palpitated while she stood, watching me and thinking, and then she came up within a yard of me, and spoke, in a flat hard voice.

"What did he want to know from you?"

The tone took my breath away, but I held my head up. "He wanted to know my business with your highness."

Her glance went to the chains on my wrists, then back to my face.

"And did you tell him?"

"Of course not." I thought a brave smile mightn't be out of place, so I tried one. "I like people to ask me questions — politely."

She turned her head towards the little chamberlain. "Is this true?"

He puffed and flapped his arms, all eagerness. "Indeed, exalted highness! Not a word did the colonel sahib say — not even under the cruel torture! He did not even cry out — much … oh, he is an officer sahib, of course, and —"

Poor little bastard was hoping to butter his bread on the right side, of course, but I wasn't sure he was backing a winner here; she was still looking at me as if I was some carcase on a butcher's slab. The chilling thought struck me that it probably wasn't the first time she'd contemplated some poor devil in my situation … God, perhaps even Murray … and then she turned her head and called to Sher Khan, and he came tumbling down the steps double quick, while the sweat broke out on me. Surely she wasn't going to order him to -

Somehow this isn't even the most suspenseful part of the book, maybe top 5.


"Release him," says she, and I near fainted with relief. She watched impassively while he undamped me, and I took a few staggering and damned painful steps, catching at that hellish wheel for support. Then:

"Bring him," says she curtly. "I shall question him myself," and without another word she turned and walked up the steps, out of the dungeon, and with the little chamberlain bobbing nervously behind her, and Sher Khan spitting and grunting as he assisted me to follow.

"Speak well of me to her highness, husoor," he muttered as he gave me a shoulder. "If I blundered in giving thy kitab to the Ruski sahib, did I not make amends? I went for her, when I saw he meant to ill-use thee … I had not recognised thee, God knows —"

I reassured him — he could have had a knighthood and the town hall clock for my part — as he conducted me up through the guard-room to a little spiral stair, and then along a great stone passage of the fort, which gave way to a carpeted corridor where sentries of her guard stood in their steel caps and backs-and-breasts. I limped along, relieved to find that apart from a few painfully-pulled muscles and badly skinned wrists and ankles, I wasn't much the worse … yet, and then Sher Khan was ushering me through a door, and I found myself in a smaller version of the durbar-room at the palace — a long, low richly-furnished apartment, all in white, with a quilted carpet, and silk hangings on the walls, divans and cushions and glowing Persian pictures, and even a great silver cage in which tiny birds cheeped and fluttered. The air was heavy with perfume, but I still hadn't got the stink of fear out of my nostrils, and the sight of Lakshmibai waiting did nothing to cheer me up.

She was sitting on a low backless couch, listening to the little chamberlain, who was whispering fifteen to the dozen, but at sight of me she stopped him. There were two of her ladies with her, and the whole group just looked at me, the women curiously, and Lakshmibai with the same damned disinheriting stare she'd used in the dungeon.

"Set him there," says she to Sher Khan, pointing to the middle of the floor, "and tie his hands behind him." lie jumped to it, wrenching the knots with no thought for my flayed wrists. "He will be safe enough so," she added to the little chamberlain. "Go, all of you — and Sher Khan will remain beyond the door within call."

Dear God, was she going to set about me herself, I wondered, as the ladies swiftly rustled out, and the chamberlain hurried by, eyeing me apprehensively. I heard Sher Khan withdraw, and the door close, leaving me standing and her sitting erect, staring at me — and then to my amazement she sprang from the seat and was flying across the room towards me, with her arms out and her lace trembling, throwing herself against me, clinging to me, and sobbing:

"Oh, my darling one, my darling, my darling! You have come back — oh, I thought I should never see you again!" And her arms were round my neck, and that lovely dark face, all wet with tears, was upturned to mine, and she was kissing me any old how, on the cheeks and chin and eyes and mouth, sobbing out endearments and shuddering against me.

The hits keep coming.


I'm an easy-going chap, as you know, and can take things pretty well as they come, but I'll admit that I wondered if I was mad or dreaming. Not much above two hours ago I'd been in Rose's tent in the safety of British lines, gulping down a last brandy and trying to read the advertisements in an old copy of The Times to take my mind off the ordeal ahead, with young Lyster humming a popular song — and since then I'd taken part in a cavalry skirmish, and skulked through a hostile n***** city in disguise, and been scared out of my senses by that fiend Ignatieffs appearance, and stretched on a rack in fearful physical and even worse mental agony, and been rescued at the last minute and dragged and bound in the presence of a female despot — and here she was clinging and weeping and slobbering over me as though I were Little Willie the Collier's Dying Child. It was all a shade more than enough for my poor bemused brain, and body, and I just sank to my knees under the weight of it all, and she sank with me, crying and kissing.

"Oh, my sweet, have they hurt you? I thought I should swoon when I saw — ah, your poor flesh!" Before I knew it she was down at my legs, soothing my scraped ankles with one hand while she kept the other behind my head, and kissed me long and lingeringly on the mouth. My amazement was giving way to the most wonderful mixture of relief and joy, and pure ecstatic pleasure in that scented dark skin pressed against my face, her open mouth trembling on mine. I could feel her breasts hard against me — and, dammit, my hands were tied, and I could only strain against her until she freed her lips and looked at me, holding my face between her hands.

"Oh, Lucky — Lucky Lakshmi!" I was babbling out of sheer delight. "Oh, you wonderful, beautiful creature!"

"I thought you were dead," says she, cradling my head down against her bosom — by George, that was the place to be, and I struggled my hands desperately to try to free them. "All these months I have mourned you — ever since that dreadful day when they found the dead dacoit near the pavilion, and I thought …" She gave a little sob and pulled up my face to kiss me again. "And you are safe, and back again with me … my darling." The great eyes were brimming with tears again. "Ah, I so love you!"

Well, I'd heard it before, of course, expressed with varying degrees of passion by countless females, and it's always gratifying, but I couldn't recall a moment when it had been more welcome than now. If ever I needed a woman to be deeply affected with my manly charms, this was the moment, and being half in love with her myself it required no effort at all to play up and make the most of it.

So I put my mouth on hers again, and used my weight to bear her down on the cushions — damned difficult with my hands bound, but she was all for it, and lay there drinking me in, teasing with her tongue and stroking my face gently with her fingertips until I thought I'd burst.

"Lakshmi, chabeli — untie my hands!" I croaked, and she disengaged herself, glancing towards the door and then smiling at me longingly.

"I cannot … not now. You see, no one must know … yet. To them, you are a prisoner — a spy sent by the British soldiers …"

"I can explain all that! I had to come secretly, in disguise, to bring you a message from General Rose. Lakshmi, dearest, you've got to accept it — it's an offer of life! Please, untie me and let me tell you!"

"Wait," says she. "Come, sit here." And she helped me up, pausing on the way to fondle me again and kiss me before seating me on the edge of a divan. "It is best for the moment that we leave you bound — oh, beloved, it will not be for long, I promise … but in case someone comes suddenly. See, I shall get you a drink — you must be parched — ah, and your poor wrists, so cruelly torn!" The tears welled up again, and then such a look of blazing hatred passed across her face that I shrank where I sat. "That beast of Russia!" says she, clenching her tiny fist. He will pay for it — I will have him drawn apart, and make him eat that hideous eye of his! And the Tsar his master may go straight to hell, and look for him!"

Excellent sentiments, I thought, and while she filled a goblet with sherbet I thought I'd improve the shining hour.

"It was Ignatieff who set the Thugs on me that night — he's been dogging me ever since I came to India, spying and trying to stir up rebellion …"

I suddenly stopped there; she, after all, was now one of the leaders of that rebellion, and obviously Ignatieff was her ally, whatever her personal feelings towards him. She put the cup to my lips, and I drank greedily — being put on the rack's the way to raise a thirst, you know — and when I'd finished she stood up, with the cup between her hands, looking down at me.

It's quite apparant on your second read-through is how perfectly she's working him and trying desperately to keep her options open. If you share the end-notes' opinion that it wasn't her at the pavilion then take special note of her keeping his hands bound so he can't join in their reunion.

From a horrifying return to torture to rescue to suspense to this, and all in just under 4000 words. If that's not economy I don't know what is.

Arbite fucked around with this message at 02:38 on Jun 12, 2021

Jul 24, 2007

You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.

Arbite posted:

From a horrifying return to torture to rescue to suspense to this, and all in just under 4000 words. If that's not economy I don't know what is.

One of the things I like about the Flashman books is that Fraser never really wastes a page. Flashman is always in motion from one thing to the next, and if he's ever in one place long enough to establish a status quo, you just hear about it for a paragraph or two as Flash whiles away a few weeks, just as a way of marking time before the next thing happens. It's a little bit exhausting sometimes, but it makes these books really hard to put down.

Jan 16, 2020

No matter what he was like in his later years, Fraser truly was a master at his craft. His books are not high culture, and he doesn't pretend they are.

Nov 4, 2009


"If I had only listened to you," says she. "If there had only been more time! I did not know … if only I could make you understand — all the years of waiting, and trying to right injustice to … to me, and my son, and my Jhansi …"

"How is the young fella, by the way? Well, eh, and thriving — fine lad, that …"

… and waiting turns to despair and despair to hatred, and I thought you were another cold and unfeeling creature of the Sirkar — and yet …" she suddenly knelt down in front of me, and caught my hands, and there was a look in her great almond eyes that made even my experienced old heart skip a beat "… and yet, I knew that you were not like the others. You were gentle, and kind, and you seemed to understand. And then … that day when we fenced, in the durbar room … I felt something inside me that — that I had not known before. And later … "

"In the pavilion," says I, hoarsely. "Oh, Lakshmi, that was the most wonderful moment of my life! Really capital, don't ye know … beat everything … darling, couldn't you untie my hands a second…?"

Just for an instant there was a strange, distant look in her eyes, and then she turned her head away, and her hands tightened on mine.

Multiple ways you can read that. Perhaps disappointment that he actually was fooled, or disappointment that's what sprang to mind, or that he interrupted the planned monologue, or, or, or... Any which way, she pushes on.


"… and when you disappeared, and I thought you dead, there was such an emptiness." She was trying not to cry. "And nothing else seemed to matter — not I, or Jhansi, even. And then came news of the red wind, sweeping through the British garrisons in the north — and even here, in my own state, they killed them all, and I was helpless." She was biting her lip, staring pleadingly at me, and if she'd been before the House of Lords the old goats would have been roaring "Not guilty, on my honour!" with three times three. "And what could I do? It seemed that the Raj — and I hated the Raj! — was falling, and my own cousin, Nana, was raising the standard of revolt, and to stand idle was to lose Jhansi, to the jackals of Orcha or Gwalior, or even to the sepoys themselves … oh, but you are British, and you cannot understand!"

"Dearest," says I, "you don't have to excuse yourself to me, of all people. What else could you do?" It wasn't an idle question, either; the only treason is to pick the wrong side, which, in the long run, she had done. "But it doesn't matter, you see — that's why I'm here! It can all come right again — at least, you can be saved, and that's what counts."

She looked at me and said simply: "I do not care, now that you have come back." And she leaned forward and kissed me again, gently, on the lips.

"You must care," says I. "See here — I've come from

General Rose, and what he says comes straight from Lord Canning in Calcutta. They want to save you, my dear, if you'll let them."

"They want me to surrender," says she, and stood up. She walked away to set the cup down on a table, and the sight of the tight-wrapped sari stirring over those splendid hips set my fingers working feverishly at the knots behind my back. She turned, with her bosom going up like balloons, and her face was set and sad. "They want me to give up my Jhansi."

"Darling — it's lost anyway. Any day now they'll storm the walls, and that's the end. You know it — and so must your advisers. Even Ignatieff — what the devil's he doing here, anyhow?"

"He has been here — and at Meerut and Delhi — every-where, since the beginning. Promising Russian help — making rebellion, as you say, on his master's behalf." She made a little helpless gesture. "I do not know … there has been talk of a Russian army over the Khyber — some would welcome it; myself … I fear it — but it does not matter, now. He remains, I suppose, as long as he may do your government some harm … if Jhansi falls, he will go to Tantia or Nana." And she added, with a shrugged afterthought that somehow prickled my spine. "Unless I have him killed, for what he has done to you."

All in good time, thinks I, happily, and got back to the matter in hand.

"But it isn't Jhansi they want — it's you." She opened her eyes at that, and I hurried on. "They can't make terms with rebels — why, half your garrison must be pandies, with nothing to hope for; there's no pardon for them, you see. So they'll storm the city, whatever you do. But they want to save you alive — if you will give yourself up, alone, then … then they won't —" I couldn't meet her eye, though " — punish you."

So many lies between them.


"Why should they spare me?" For a minute the fire was back in her eye. "Who else have they spared? Why should they want to keep me alive — when they blow men away from guns, and hang them without trial, and burn whole cities? Will they spare Nana or Tantia or Azeemoolah — then why the Rani of Jhansi?"

It wasn't an easy one to answer — not truthfully, anyway. She wouldn't take it too kindly if I said it was just politics, to keep the public happy.

"Does it matter?" says I. "Whatever their reasons …

"Is it because I am a woman?" She said it softly, and came to stand in front of me. "And the British do not make war on women." She looked steadily at me for several seconds. "Is it because I am beautiful? And do they wish to take me to London, as the Romans did with their captives, and show me as a spectacle to the people —"

"That ain't our style," says I, pretty sharp. "Of course, we don't make war on women … and, well, you see, you're — well, you're different —"

"To them? To Lord Canning? To General Rose? They do not know me. Why should they care? Why should any of you …" And then she stopped, and dropped to her knees again, and her lip was trembling. "You? Have you spoken — for me? You came from Lord Palmerston — have you asked them to save me?"

By George, here was an unexpected ball at my foot, with a vengeance. It hadn't crossed my mind that she'd think I was behind Rose's remarkable offer. But when the chance arises, I hope I know how to grasp it as well as the next man — carefully. So I looked at her, steady and pretty grim, and made myself go red in the face, and then looked down at the carpet, all dumb and noble and unspoken emotion. She put out a hand and lifted my chin, and she was absolutely frowning at me.

"Did you — and have you risked so much, to come here — for me? Tell me."

"You know what I think about you," says I, trying to look romantically stuffed. "I've loved you since the moment I clapped eyes on you — on that swing. More than anything else in the world."

At that moment, mind you, it wasn't all gammon. I did love her — pretty well, anyway, just then. Not as much as Elspeth, I dare say — although, mind you, put 'cm together, side by side, both stripped down, and you'd think hard before putting England in to bat. Anyway, I'd no difficulty in looking sincere — not with that flimsy bodice heaving almost under my nose.

She looked at me in silence, with strange, grave eyes, and then said, almost in a whisper:

"Tonight — I did not think … I only knew that you were here with me again — when I had thought you lost. It did not matter to me, whether you loved me truly or not — only that you were with me again. But now …" she was looking at me in the strangest way, sorrowfully almost, and with a kind of perplexity "… now that you tell me that it was … for love of me, that you have done this …" I wondered if she was going to fling herself on me again in tears, but after a moment she just kissed me, quite gently, and then said:

"What do they wish me to do?"

"To surrender, yourself. No more than that."

"But how? If the city is to be taken, and there is no pardon for the mutineers, how can I —"

"Don't fret about that," says I. "It can all be arranged. If I tell you how — will you do it?"

"If you will stay with me — afterwards." Her eyes were fixed on mine, soft but steady. "I will do whatever they ask."

Persuasively urged, Rose had said, but I'll bet he'd never envisaged the likes of this — by George, his randy staff men wouldn't have been able to believe their eyes.

"When the city is stormed," says I, "our fellows will fight their way in to the fortress. You must be ready to make an escape — through the Orcha Gate. We'll have drawn off our cavalry picket just there, so it can be done in safety. You must ride out on the Orcha road — and then, you will be captured. It will look as though … well, it will look all right."

"I see." She nodded gravely. "And the city?"

"Well, it'll be taken, of course — but there'll be no looting —" Rose had promised that, for what it was worth "- and of course, the people will be all right, provided they lie low and don't resist. The mutineers … well, it'll all be the same for them, anyway."

"And what will they do … with me? Will they … imprison me?"
I wasn't sure about this, and had to go careful. They'd exile her for certain, at least to a distant part of India where she could do no harm, but there was no point in telling her that. "No," says I. "They'll treat you very well, you'll see. And then — it'll all blow over, don't you know? Why, I can think of a score of nig — native chieftains and kings, who've been daggers drawn with us, but their wars have got by, and then we've been the best of friends, and so forth. No hard feelings, you see — we ain't vindictive, even the Liberals …"

The captial L Liberal Party wasn't actually formed until 1859 but that hadn't stopped them from holding power as a Whig-Radical coalition. British party politics can be a beautiful messy puzzle.


I was smiling to reassure her, and after a while she began smiling back, and gave a great sigh, and settled against me, seemingly content, and I suggested again that it might be a capital notion to unslip my hands, just for a moment — I was most monstrously horny with her nestling up against me — but at this she shook her head, and said we had delayed already, and must not excite suspicion. She kissed me a lingering good-bye, and told me to be patient a little longer; we must bide our time according to Rose's plan, and since her people must have no inkling of it I would have to be treated as a prisoner, but she would send for me when the time was ripe.

"And then we shall go together … with only a trusted few?" She held my face in her hands, looking down at me. And you will … protect me, and love me … when we come to the Sirkar?"

Till you're blue in the face, you darling houri, thinks I — but for answer all I did was kiss her hands. Then she straightened her veil, and fussed anxiously with her mirror before seating herself on her divan, and it was the charmingest thing to see her give me a last radiant smile and then compose her face in that icy mask, while I waited suitably hang-dog, standing in the middle of the floor at a respectful distance. She struck her little gong, which brought Sher Khan in like the village fire brigade, with chamberlain and ladies behind him.

"Confine this prisoner in the north tower," says she, as if I were so much dross. "He is not to be harshly used, but keep him close — your head on it, Sher Khan."

You may well say this series is not High Culture, but if it weren't for the adult themes I'd be willing to stake a high wager it was only a matter of time.


I was bustled away forthwith — but it's my guess that Sher Khan, with that leery Pathan nose of his, guessed that all was not quite what it seemed, for he was a most solicitous jailer in the days that followed. He kept me well provisioned, bringing all my food and drink himself, seeing to it that I was comfortable as my little cell permitted, and showing me every sign of respect — mind you, in view of my Afghan reputation, that might have been natural enough.

It took me a few hours to settle down after what I had been through, but when I came to cast up the score it looked none so bad. Bar my aching joints and skinned limbs, I was well enough, and damned thankful for it. As to the future — well, I'd thought Rose's plan was just moonshine, but then I'd never dreamed that Lakshmibai was infatuated with me. Attracted, well enough — it's an odd woman that ain't, but the force of her passion had been bewildering. And yet, why not? I'd known it happen before, after all, and often as not with the same kind of women — the high-born, pampered kind who go through their young lives surrounded by men who are forever deferring and toadying, so that when a real plunger like myself comes along, and treats 'em easy, like women and not as queens, they're taken all aback. It's something new to them to have a big likely chap who ain't abashed by their grandeur, but looks 'em over with a warm eye, perfectly respectful but daring them just the same. They resent it, and like it, too, and if you can just tempt them into bed and show them what they've been missing — why, the next thing you know they're head over heels in love with you.

That's how it had been with Duchess Irma, and that wild black bitch Ranavalona in Madagascar (though she was so stark crazy it was difficult to be sure), so why not the Rani of Jhansi? After all, her only husband had been as fishy as Dick's hatband, by all accounts, and however many young stalwarts she'd whistled up since then, they wouldn't have my style. Well, it was a damned handy stroke of luck — as well as being most flattering.

If you believe she's just working him then you may get a very rare feeling of pity at his naivete.


As to the surrender — well, she wasn't a fool. Here was a way out for her, with more credit and safety than she could have expected, under the wing of the adored Flashy, who she imagined would protect and cherish her happy ever after.. I was all for that — for a few months, anyway, which was more than most females could expect from me. Mark you, I was famously taken with her (I still am, somehow) but I guessed I'd cool after a spell. Couldn't take her home, anyway — she'd just have to reconcile herself to waving me good-bye when the time came, like all the others.

In the meantime, I could only wait, in some excitement, for Rose to mount his assault. When a tremendous cannonading in the city broke out on the following day, with native pipes and drums squealing and thundering, I thought the attack had begun, but it was a false alarm, as Sher Khan informed me later. It seemed that Tantia Tope had suddenly hove in sight with a rebel army twenty thousand strong, to try to relieve Jhansi; Rose, cool as a trout as usual, had left his heavy artillery and cavalry to continue the siege, and had turned with the rest of his force and thrashed Tantia handsomely on the Betwa river, a few miles away. At the same time he'd ordered a diversionary attack on Jhansi to keep the defenders from sallying out to help Tantia; that had been the noise I'd heard.

"So much for our stout-hearted mutineers in Jhansi," sneers Sher Khan. "If they had sallied out, your army might have been caught like a nut between two stones, but they contented themselves with howling and burning powder." He spat. "Let the Sirkar eat them, and welcome."

I reminded him he was on the rebel side, and that it would be short shrift for mutineers when Jhansi fell.

"I am no mutineer," says he, "but a paid soldier of the Rani. I have eaten her salt and fight for her like the Yusufzai I am — even as I fought for the Sirkar in the Guides. The sahibs know the difference between a rebel and a soldier who keeps faith; they will treat me with honour — if I live," he added carelessly. He was another Ilderim, in his way — shorter and uglier, with a smashed nose and pocked face, but a slap-up Pathan Khyberie, every inch.

"With any luck they will have hanged thy Ruski friend by now," he went on, grinning. "He rode out to join Tantia in the night, and has not returned. Is that good news, Flass-man husoor?"

Wasn't it just, though? Of course, Ignatieff would have been daft to stay in Jhansi — we'd have hanged him high enough for the foreign spy he was. He'd be off to assist the leading rebels in the field; I felt all the better for knowing he was out of distance, but I doubted if he'd allow himself to be killed or taken — he was too downy a bird for that.

With Tantia whipped, it seemed to me Rose would lose no further time assaulting Jhansi, but another day and night passed in which I waited and fretted, and still there was nothing but the distant thump of cannon-fire to disturb my cell. It wasn't till the third night that the deuce of a bombardment broke out, in the small hours, and lasted until almost dawn, and then I heard what I'd been waiting for — the crash of volley-firing that signified British infantry, and the sound of explosions within the town itself, and even distant bugle calls.

"They are in the city," says Sher Khan, when he brought my breakfast. "The mutineers are fighting better than I thought, and it is hot work in the streets, they say." He grinned cheerfully and tapped the hilt of his Khyber knife. "Will her highness order me to cut thy throat when the last attack goes home, think ye? Eat well, husoor," and the brute swaggered out, chuckling

Plainly she hadn't confided her intentions to him. I guessed she'd wait for nightfall and then make her run; by that time our fellows would be thumping at the gates of the fort itself. So I contained myself, listened to the crackle of firing and explosion, drawing always nearer, until by nightfall it seemed to be only a few hundred yards off — I was chewing my nails by then, I may tell you. But the dark came, and still the sound of battle went on, and I could even hear what I thought were English voices shouting in the distance, among the yells and shrieks. Through the one high window of my cell the night-sky was glaring red — Jhansi was dying hard, by the look of it.

I don't know what time it was when I heard the sudden rattle of the bolt in my cell-door, and Sher Khan and two of guardsmen came in, carrying torches. They didn't stand on ceremony, but hustled me out, and down narrow stone stairs and passages to a little courtyard. The moon wasn't up yet, but it was light enough, with the red glare above the walls, and the air was heavy with powder-smoke and the drift of burning; the crashing of musketry was close outside the fort now.

The yard seemed to be full of red-coated troopers of the Rani's guard, and over by a narrow gateway I saw a slim figure mounted on a white horse which I recognised at once as Lakshmibai. There were mounted guardsmen with her, and a couple of her ladies, also mounted, and heavily veiled; one of the mounted men had a child perched on his saddle-bow: Damodar, her stepson. I was about to call out, but to my astonishment Sher Kahn suddenly stooped beside me, there was a metallic snap, and he had a fetter clasped round my left leg. Before I could even protest, he was thrusting me towards a horse, snarling: "Up, husoor!" and I was no sooner in the saddle than he had passed a short ha in from my fetter under the beast's belly, and secured my other ankle, so that I was effectively shackled to the pony.

And away we go...

Nov 8, 2009

The only way to get huge fast is to insult a passing witch and hope she curses you with Beast-strength.

For anyone taking notes at home, this is how you portray an unreliable narrator. It’s all in keeping with Flashy’s personality up until now, and he thinks he’s getting one up on her. But like a good heist movie, if you know what’s going on, everything takes on a different meaning

How are u
May 19, 2005

I never put it together, the first time I read the book years and years ago. Love it!

Oct 9, 2012

When I kill you with a motor-car, you should have the common decency to stay dead, you horrid little object


I was about to call out, but to my astonishment Sher Kahn suddenly stooped beside me, there was a metallic snap, and he had a fetter clasped round my left leg. Before I could even protest, he was thrusting me towards a horse, snarling: "Up, husoor!" and I was no sooner in the saddle than he had passed a short ha in from my fetter under the beast's belly, and secured my other ankle, so that I was effectively shackled to the pony.

Oh, Flashy... the other shoe's been there just waiting to drop for so long and if you'd only stop thinking with your dick for two seconds you'd look up and notice it.

But let's face it: we're all waiting for the next time he gets hosed over. Let's see what the world (well, Fraser) does to him this time!

Nov 4, 2009


"What the hell's this?" I cried, and he chuckled as he swung aboard a horse beside me.

"Heavy spurs, husoor!" says he. "Peace! — it is by her order, and doubtless for your own safety. Follow!" And he shook my bridle, urging me across the square; the little party by the gate were already passing out of sight, and a moment later we were riding single file down a steep alleyway, with towering walls either side, Sher Khan just ahead of me and another Pathan immediately behind.

I couldn't think what to make of this, until it dawned on me that she wouldn't have let her entourage into the whole secret — they would know she was escaping, but not that she intended to give herself up to the British. So for form's sake I must appear to be a prisoner still. I wished she'd given me the chance of a secret word beforehand, though, and let me ride with her; I didn't want us blundering into the besieging cavalry in the dark, and perhaps being mistaken.

However, there was nothing for it now but to carry on. Our little cavalcade clattered down the alleyways, twisting and turning, and then into a broader street, where a house was burning, but there wasn't a soul to be seen, and the sound of firing was receding behind us. Once we'd passed the fire it was damned dark among the rickety buildings, until there were torches and a high gateway, and more of her guardsmen in the entry-way; I saw her white horse stop as she leaned from the saddle to consult with the guard-commander, and waited with my heart in my mouth until he stepped back, saluting, and barked an order. Two of his men threw open a wicket in the main gate, and a moment later we were filing through, and I knew we were coming out on to the Orcha road.

It was blacker than hell in November under the lee of the great gateway, but half a mile ahead there was the twinkling line of our picket-fires, and flashes of gunfire as the artillery pieces joined in the bombardment of the city. Sher Khan had my bridle in his fist as we moved forward at a walk, and then at a slow trot; it was easy going on the broad road surface at first, but then the dim figures of the riders ahead seemed to be veering away to the right, and as we followed my horse stumbled on rough ground — we were leaving the road for the flat maidan, and I felt the first prickle of doubt in my mind. Why were we turning aside? The path to safety lay straight along the road, where Rose's pickets would be waiting — she knew that, even if her riders didn't. Didn't she realise we were going astray — that on this tack we would probably blunder into pickets that weren't expecting us? The time for pretence was past, anyhow — it was high time I was up with her, taking a hand, or God knew where we would land. But even as I stiffened in my saddle to shove my heels in and forge ahead, Sher Khan's hand leaped from my wrist to my bridle, there was a zeep of steel, and the Khyber knife was pricking my ribs with his voice hissing out of the dark:

"One word, Bloody Lance — one word, and you'll say the next one to Shaitan!"

The shock of it knocked my wits endways — but only for a moment. There's nothing like eighteen inches of razor-edged steel for turning a growing doubt into a stone-ginger certainty, and before we'd gone another five paces I had sprung to the most terrifying conclusion — she was escaping, right enough, but not the way Rose and I had planned it — she was using the information I'd given her, but in her own way! It rushed in on me in a mad whirl of thoughts — all her protestations, her slobbering over me, those tear-filled eyes, the lips on mine, the passionate endearments — all false? They couldn't be, in God's name! Why, she'd been all over me, like a crazy schoolgirl … but now we were pacing still faster in the wrong direction, the knife was scoring my side, and suddenly there was I shouted challenge ahead, and a cry, the riders were spurring forward, a musket cracked, and Sher Khan roared in my ear:

"Ride, feringhee — and ride straight, or I'll split your backbone!"

He slashed his reins at my pony, it' bounded forward, and in a second I was flying along in the dark, willy-nilly, with him at my elbow and the thundering shadows surging ahead. There was a fusillade of shots, off to the left, and a hall whined overhead; as I loosed the reins, trusting to my pony's feet, I saw the picket-fires only a few hundred yards off. We were racing towards a gap between one fire and the next, perhaps two furlongs across; all I could do was career ahead, with Sher Khan and a Pathan either side of me — I couldn't roll from the saddle, even if I'd dared, with that infernal chain beneath my horse's belly; I daren't swerve, or his knife would be in my back; I could only gallop, cursing in sick bewilderment, praying to God I wouldn't stop a blade or a bullet. Where the hell were we going — was it some ghastly error after all? No, it was treachery, and I knew it — and now the picket-fires were on our flanks, there were more shots, a horse screamed ahead of us, and my pony swerved past the dim struggling mass on the ground, with Sher Khan still knee to knee with me as we sped on. A trumpet was sounding behind, and faint voices yelling; ahead was the drumming of hooves and the dim shapes of the Rani's riders, scattered now as they galloped for their lives. We were clear through, and every stride was taking us farther from Jhansi and Rose's army, and safety.

Reality and the Rani are harsh mistresses.


How long we kept up that breakneck pace I don't know, or what direction we took — I'd been through too much, my mind was just a welter of fear and bewilderment and rage and stark disbelief. I didn't know what to think — she couldn't have sold me so cruelly, surely — not after what she'd said, and the way she'd held my face and looked at me? But I knew she had — my disbelief was just sheer hurt vanity. God, did I think I was the only sincere liar in the world? And here I was, humbugged to hell and beyond, being kidnapped in the train of this deceitful rebel bitch — or was I wrong, was there some explanation after all? That's what I still wanted to believe, of course — there's nothing like infatuation for stoking false hope.

However, there's no point in recounting all the idiot arguments I had with myself on that wild ride through the night, with the miles flying by unseen, until the gloom began to lighten, the scrub-dotted plain came into misty view, and Sher Khan still clung like a bearded ghost at my elbow, his teeth bared as he crouched over his pony's mane. The riders ahead were still driving their tired beasts on at full stretch; about a hundred yards in front I could see Lakshmibai's slim figure on her white mare, with the Pathans flanking her. It was like a drunken nightmare — on and on, exhausting, over that endless plain.

There was a yell from the flank, and one of the Pathans up in his stirrups, pointing. A shot cracked, I saw a sudden flash of scarlet to our left, and there was a little cloud of horsemen bursting out of a nullah — only half our numbers, but Company cavalry, by God! They were careering in to take our leaders in the flank, pukka light cavalry style, and I tried to yell, but Sher Khan had my bridle again, wrenching me away to the right, while the Pathan guardsmen drew their sabres and wheeled to face the attackers head on. I watched them meet with a chorus of yells and a clash of steel; the dust swirled up round them as Sher Khan and his mate herded me away, but half-slewed round in my saddle I saw the sabres swinging and the beasts serving and plunging as the Company men tried to ride through. A Pathan broke from the press, shepherding away a second rider, and I saw it was one of the Rani's ladies — and then more figures were wheeling out of the dust, and one of them was Lakshmibai, with a mounted man bearing down on her, his sabre swung aloft. I heard Sher Kahn's anguished yell as her white mare seemed to stumble, but she reined it up somehow, whirling in her tracks, there was the glitter of steel in her hand, and as the Company man swept down on her she lunged over her beast's head — the sabres clashed and rang, and he was past her, wheeling away, clutching at his arm as he half-slipped from his saddle.

That was all I saw before Sher Khan and the other herded me down a little nullah, where we halted and waited while the noise of the skirmish gradually died away. I knew what was happening as well as if I was seeing it — the Company riders, out-sabred, would be drawing off, and sure enough presently the Pathans came down the nullah in good order, clustered round Damodar and the Rani's women; among the last to come was Lakshmibai.

It was the first clear look at her that I'd had in all that fearful escape. She was wearing a mail jacket under her long cloak, with a mail cap over her turban, and her sabre was still in her hand, blood on its blade. She stopped a moment by the rider who carried Damodar, and spoke to the child; then she laughed and said something to one of the Pathans and handed him her sabre, while she wiped her face with a handkerchief. Then she looked towards me, and the others looked with her, in silence.

As you know, I'm a fairly useful hand on social occasions, ready with the polite phrase or gesture, but I'll confess that in that moment I couldn't think of anything appropriate to say. When you've just been betrayed by an Indian queen who has previously professed undying love for you, and she confronts you — having just sabred one of your countrymen, possibly to death — and you are in the grip of her minions, with your feet chained under your horse … well, the etiquette probably takes some thinking about. I suppose I'd have come out with something in a minute or two — an oath, or a squeal for mercy, or a polite inquiry, perhaps, but before I had the chance she was addressing Sher Khan.

"You will take him to Gwalior." Her voice was quiet and perfectly composed. "Hold him there until I send for you. At the last, he will be my bargain."

Serves him right.


You may say it served me right, and I can't disagree. If I weren't such a susceptible, trusting chap where pretty women are concerned, I daresay I'd have smelled a rat on the night when Lakshmibai rescued me from Ignatieff's rack and then flung herself all over me in her perfumed lair. A less warm-blooded fellow might have thought the lady was protesting rather too much, and been on his guard when she slobbered fondly over him, vowing undying love and accepting his proposal for her escape. He might or again, he mightn't.

For myself, I can only say I had no earthly reason to suppose her false. After all, our last previous meeting had been that monumental roll in her pavilion, which had left me with the impression that she wasn't entirely indifferent to me. Secondly, her acceptance of Rose's proposal seemed natural and sensible. Thirdly, I'll admit to being enthralled by her, and fourthly, having just finished a spell on the rack I was perhaps thinking less clearly than usual. Finally, m'lud, if you'd been confronted by Lakshmibai, with that beautiful dusky face looking pleadingly up at you, and those tits quivering under your nose, I submit that you might have been taken in yourself, and glad of it.

In any event, it didn't make a ha'porth of difference. Even if I'd suspected her then, I was in her power, and she could have wrung all the details of Rose's scheme out of me and made her escape anyway. I'd have been dragged along at her tail, and finished up in the Gwalior dungeons just the same. And mind you, I'm still not certain how far she was humbugging me; all I know is that if she was play-acting, she seemed to be enjoying her work.

Gotta like what you do.


More than I enjoyed Gwalior, at any rate. That's a fearful place, a huge, rocky fortress of a city, bigger than Jhansi, and said to be the most powerful hold in India. I can speak with authority only about its dungeons, which were a shade worse than a Mexican jail, if you can imagine that. I spent the better part of two months in them, cooped in a bottle-shaped cell with my own filth and only rats, fleas and cockroaches for company, except when Sher Khan came to have a look at me, about once a week, to make sure I hadn't up and died on him.

He and his fellow-Pathan took me there on Lakshmibai's orders, and it was one of the most punishing rides I've ever endured. I was almost unconscious in the saddle by the time we reached it, for the brutes never took my chain off once in the hundred miles we covered: I think, too, that my spirit had endured more than I could stand, for after all I'd gone through there were moments now when I no longer cared whether I lived or died — and I have to be pretty far down before that happens. When they brought me to Gwalior by night, and half-carried me into the fortress, and dropped me into that stinking, ill-lit cell, I just lay and sobbed like an infant, babbling aloud about Meerut and Cawnpore and Lucknow and Thugs and crocodiles and evil bitches — and now this. Would you believe it, the worst was yet to come?

Amazingly he's not wrong.


I don't care to dwell on it, so I'll hurry along. While I was in that dungeon at Gwalior, waiting for I didn't know what, and half-believing that I'd rot there forever, or go mad first, the final innings of the Mutiny was being played out. Campbell was settling things north of the Jumnah, and Rose, having captured Jhansi, was pushing north after Tantia Tope and my ministering angel, Lakshmibai, who'd taken the field with him.

He beat them at Calpee and Kanch, driving them towards Gwalior where I was enjoying the local hospitality. The odd thing was, that at the time I was incarcerated there, Gwalior's ruler, Maharaja Scindia, had remained neutral in the rebellion, and had no business to be allowing his prison to be used for the accommodation of captured British officers. In fact, of course, he (or his chief advisers) were sympathetic to the rebels all along, as was proved in the end. For after their defeat at Calpee, Tantia and Lakshmibai turned to Gwalior, and the Maharaja's army went over to them, almost without firing a shot. So there they were, the last great rebel force in India, in possession of India's greatest stronghold — and with Rose closing inexorably in on them.

Ignatieff and the Chapatti's notwithstanding, the book shows how improvised and zeitgeist based so much the revolt was. Even here, when the end is plainly here, the Majahara's portrayed as going with the flow of the moment.

At least that's what I was about to say, instead it looks like the man engaged the rebels in the field unsuccessfully and then fled to Agra, as can be seen by him keeping his lands and title after it was all over.

So, a rare minus one on the history score for Fraser.


I knew nothing of all this, of course; mouldering in my cell, with my beard sprouting and my hair matting, and my pandy uniform foul and stinking (for I'd never had it off since I put it on in Rose's camp), I might as well have been at the North Pole. Day followed day, and week followed week without a cheep from the outside world, for Sher Khan hardly said a word to me, although I raved and pleaded with him whenever he poked his face through the trap into my cell. That's the worst of that kind of imprisonment — not knowing, and losing count of the days, and wondering whether you've been there a month to a year, and whether there is really a world outside at all, and doubting if you ever did more than dream that you were once a boy playing in the fields at Rugby, or a man who'd walked in the Park, or ridden by Albert Gate, saluting the ladies, or played billiards, or followed hounds, or gone up the Mississippi in a side-wheeler, or watched the moon rise over Kuching River, or — you can wonder ii any of it ever existed, or if these greasy black walls are perhaps the only world that ever was, or will be … that's when you start to go mad, unless you can find something to think about that you know is real.

I've heard of chaps who kept themselves sane in solitary confinement by singing all the hymns they knew, or proving the propositions of Euclid, or reciting poetry. Each to his taste: I'm no hand at religion, or geometry, and the only repeatable poem I can remember is an Ode of Horace which Arnold made me learn as a punishment for farting at prayers. So instead I compiled a mental list of all the women I'd had in my life, from that sweaty kitchen-maid in Leicestershire when I was fifteen, up to the half-caste piece I'd been reprimanded for at Cawnpore, and to my astonishment there were four hundred and seventy-eight of them, which seemed rather a lot, especially since I wasn't counting return engagements. It's astonishing, really, when you think how much time it must have taken up.

Well that's not healthy. And yes, Leicestershire is right next to Warwickshire which has Rugby School.


Perhaps because I'd been listing them I had a frightful dream one night in which I had to dance with all of them at a ball on the slave-deck of the Balliol College, with the demoniac Captain Spring conducting the music in a cocked hat and white gloves. They were all there — Lola Montez and Josette and Judy (my guvnor's mistress, she was), and the Silk One and Susie from New Orleans and fat Baroness Pechmann and Nareeman the nautch, and all the others, and each one left her slave-fetters with me so that I must dance on loaded and clanking, crying out with exhaustion, but when I pleaded for rest Spring just rolled his eyes and made the music go faster, with the big drum booming. Elspeth and Palmerston waltzed by, and Pam gave me his false teeth and cried: "You'll need 'em for eating chapattis with your next partner, you know" — and it was Lakshmibai, naked and glitter-eyed over her veil, and she seized me and whirled me round the floor, almost dead with fatigue and the cruel weight of the chains, while the drum went boom-boom-boom faster and faster — and I was awake, gasping and clutching at my filthy straw with the sound of distant gunfire in my ears.

It went on all that day, and the next, but of course I couldn't tell what it meant or who was firing, and I was too done to care. All through the morning of the third day it continued, and then suddenly my trap was thrown open, and I was being dragged out by Sher Khan and another fellow, and I hardly knew where I was. When you're hauled out of a dead captivity like that, everything seems frighteningly loud and fast — I know there was a courtyard, full of n***** soldiers running about and shouting, and their pipes blaring, and the gunfire crashing louder than ever — but the shock of release was too much for me to make sense of it. I was half-blinded just by the light of the sky, although it was heavy with red and black monsoon clouds, and I remember thinking, it'll be capital growing weather soon.

It wasn't till they thrust me on a pony that I came to myself — instinct, I suppose, but when I felt the saddle under me, and the beast stirring, and the smell of horse in my nostrils and my feet in stirrups, I was awake again. I knew this was Gwalior fortress, with the massive gate towering in front of me, and a great gun being dragged through it by a squealing elephant, with a troop of red-coated n*****-prince's cavalry waiting to ride out, and a bedlam of men shouting orders: the din was still deafening, but as Sher Khan mounted his pony beside me I yelled:

"What's happening? Where are we going?"

"She wants you!" cries he, and grinned as he tapped his hilt. "So she shall have you. Come!"

He thrust a way for us through the crowd milling in the gateway, and I followed, still trying to drink in the sights and sounds of this madhouse that I had all but forgotten — men and carts and bullocks and dust and the clatter of arms: a bhisti running with his water-skin, a file of pandy infantry squatting by the roadside with their muskets between their knees, a child scrambling under a bullock's belly, a great-chested fellow in a spiked cap with a green banner on a pole over his shoulder, a spindly-legged old n***** shuffling along regardless of them all, the smell of cooking ghee, and through it all that muffled crash of cannon in the distance.

I stared ahead as we emerged from the gate, trying to understand what was happening. Gunfire — that meant that British troops were somewhere near, and the sight that met my eyes confirmed it. Before me there was miles of open plain, stretching to distant hills, and the plain was alive with men and animals and all the tackle of war. Perhaps a mile ahead, in the haze, there were tents, and the unmistakable ranks of infantry, and gun emplacements, and squadrons of horse on the move — a whole army stretched across a front of perhaps two miles. I steadied myself as Sher Khan urged me forward, trying to take it in — it was a rebel army, no error, for there were pandy formations moving back towards us, and native state infantry and riders in uniforms I didn't know, men in crimson robes with little shields and curved tulwars, and gun-teams with artillery pieces fantastically carved in the native fashion.

Wow he's not kidding.


That was the first fact: the second was that they were retreating, and on the edge of rout. For the formations were moving towards us, and the road itself was choked with men and beasts and vehicles heading for Gwalior. A horse-artillery team was careering in, the gunners clinging to the limbers and their officer lashing at the beasts, a platoon of pandies was coming at the double-quick, their ranks ragged, their faces streaked with dust and sweat, and all along the road men were running or hobbling back, singly and in little groups: I'd seen the signs often enough, the gaping mouths, the wide eyes, the bloody bandages, the high-pitched voices, the half-ordered haste slipping into utter confusion, the abandoned muskets at the roadside, the exhausted men sitting or lying or crying out to those who passed by — this was the first rush of a defeat, by gum! and Sher Khan was dragging me into it.

"What the blazes is happening?" I asked him again, but all I got was a snarl as he whipped my pony to a gallop, and we clattered down the roadside, he keeping just to rear of me, past the mob of men and beasts streaming back to Gwalior. The formations were closer now, and not all of them were retreating: we passed artillery teams who were unlimbering and siting their guns, and regiments of infantry waiting in the humid heat, their faces turned towards the distant hills, their 'mks stretched out in good order across the plain. Not far in front artillery was thundering away, with smoke wreathing up in the still air, and bodies of cavalry, pandy and irregular, were waiting — I remember a squadron of lancers, in green coats, with lobster-tail helmets and long ribbons trailing from their lance-heads, and a band — native musicians, squealing and droning fit to drown gunfire. But less than half a mile ahead, where the at-clouds were churning up, and the flashes of cannon shone dully through the haze, I knew what was happening — an army's vanguard was slowly breaking, falling back on main body, with the weaker vessels absolutely flying down the road.

We crossed a deep nullah, and Sher Khan wheeled me all along its far lip, towards a grove of palm and thorn, Where tents were pitched. A line of guns to my left was shelling away towards the unseen enemy on the hills — my, by God, that was my army! — and round the tents and trees there was a screen of horsemen.

With a shock I recognised the long red coats of the Jhansi Royal guard, but for the rest they were only the ragged ghosts of the burly Pathans I remembered, their uniforms torn and filthy, their mounts lean and ungroomed. We passed through them, in among the tents, to where a carpet was spread before the biggest pavilion of all; the royal guardsmen there, and a motley mob of n******, military and civilian, and then Sher Khan was pulling me from the saddle, thrusting me forward, and crying out: "He is here, highness — as you ordered."

One last meeting.


She was in the doorway of the tent, alone — or perhaps I just don't remember any others. She was sipping a glass of sherbet as she turned to look at me, and believe it or not I was suddenly conscious of the dreadful, scarecrow figure I cut, in my rags and unkempt hair. She was in her white jodhpurs, with a mail jacket over her blouse, and a white cloak; her head was covered by a cap of polished steel like a Roman soldier's, with a white scarf wound round it and under her chin. She looked damned elegant, I know, and even when you noticed the shadows on that perfect coffee-coloured face, beneath the great eyes, she was still a vision to take your breath away. She frowned at sight of me, and snapped at Sher Khan: "What have you done to him?"

He mumbled something, but she shook her head impatiently and said it didn't matter. Then she looked at me again, thoughtfully, while I waited, wondering what the devil was coming, dimly aware that the volume of gunfire was increasing. Finally she said, simply:

"Your friends are over yonder," and indicated the hills. "You may go to them if you wish."

That was all, and for the life of me I couldn't think of anything to say. I suppose I was still bemused and in a shocked condition — otherwise I might have pointed out that there was a battle apparently raging between me and those friends of mine. But it all seemed unreal, and the word which I finally managed to croak out was: "Why?"

She frowned again at that, and then put her chin up and snapped her cloak with one hand and said quickly:

"Because it is finished, and it is the last thing I can do for you — colonel." I couldn't think when she'd last called me that. "Is that not enough? Your army will be in Gwalior by tomorrow. That is all."

It was at this moment that I heard shouting behind us, but I paid it no heed, not even .when some fellow came running and calling to her, and she called something to him. I was wrestling with my memory, and it will give you some notion of how foundered I was when I tell you that I absolutely burst out:

"But you said I would be your bargain — didn't you?" She looked puzzled, and then she smiled and said to Sher Khan: "Give the colonel sahib a horse," and was turning away, when I found my tongue.

"But … but you! Lakshmibai! I don't understand … what are you going to do?" She didn't answer, and I heard my own voice hoarse and harsh: "There's still time! I mean — if you … if you think it's finished — well, dammit, they ain't going to hang you, you know! I mean Lord Canning has promised … and-and General Rose!" Sher Khan was growling at my elbow, but I shook him off "Look here, if I'm with you, it's sure to be all right. I'll tell 'em -

God knows what else I said — I think I was out of my wits just then. Well, when the shot's flying I don't as a rule think of much but my own hide, and here I was absolutely arguing with the woman. Maybe the dungeon had turned my brain a trifle, for I babbled on about surrender and honourable terms while she just stood looking at me, and then she broke in:

"No — you do not understand. You did not understand when you came back to me at Jhansi. But it was for me you came — for my sake. And so I pay my debt at the end."

"Debt?" I shouted. "You're havering, woman! You said you loved me — oh, I know now you were tricking me, too, but … but don't it count for anything, then?"

Before she could answer there was a flurry of hooves, and some damned interfering scoundrel in an embroidered coat flung himself off his horse and started shouting at her; behind me there was a crackle of musketry, and shrieks and orders, and a faint trumpet note whispering beyond the cannon. She cried an order, and a groom hurried forward, pulling her little mare. I was roaring above the noise, at her, swearing I loved her and that she could still save herself, and she shot me a quick look as she took the mare's bridle — it was just for an instant, but it's stayed with me fifty years, and you may think me an old fool and fanciful, but I'll swear there were tears in her eyes — and then she was in the saddle, shouting, and the little mare reared and shot away, and I was left standing on the carpet.

Sher Khan had disappeared. I was staring and yelling after her, as her riders closed round her, for beyond them the gunners were racing towards us, with pandy riflemen in amongst them, turning and firing and running again. There were horsemen at the guns, and sabres flashing, and above the hellish din the trumpet was blaring clear in the "Charge!" and over the limbers came blue tunics and white helmets, and I couldn't believe my eyes, for they were riders of the Light Brigade, Irish Hussars, with an officer up in his stirrups, yelling, and the troopers swarming behind him. They came over the battery like a wave, and the scarlet-clad Pathan horsemen were breaking before them. And I'll tell you what I saw next, as plain as I can.

Lakshmibai was in among the Pathans, and she had a sabre in her hand. She seemed to be shouting to them, and then she took a cut at a Hussar and missed him as he swept by, and for a moment I lost her in the melee. There were sabres and pistols going like be-damned, and suddenly the white mare was there, rearing up, and she was in the saddle, but I saw her flinch and lose the reins; for a moment I thought she was gone, but she kept her seat as the mare turned and raced out of the fight — and my heart stopped as I saw that she was clutching her hands to her stomach, and her head was down. A trooper drove his horse straight into the mare, and as it staggered he sabred at Lakshmibai back-handed — I shrieked aloud and shut my eyes, and when I looked again she was in the dust, and even at that distance I could see the crimson stain on her jodhpurs.

And then Flashman loses his head.


I ran towards her — and there must have been riders charging past me as I ran, but I don't remember them — and then I stumbled and fell. As I scrambled up I saw she was writhing in the dust; her scarf and helmet were gone, she was kicking and clawing at her body, and her face was twisted and working in agony, with her hair half across it. It was hideous, and I could only crouch there, gazing horrified. Oh, if it were a novel I could tell you that I ran to her, and cradled her head against me and kissed her, while she looked up at me with a serene smile and murmured something before she closed her eyes, as lovely in death as she'd been in life — but that ain't how people die, not even the Rani of Jhansi. She arched up once, still tearing at herself, and then she flopped over, face down, and I knew she was a goner.

It was only then, I believe, that I began to think straight again.

There was one hell of a skirmish in progress barely twenty yards away, and I was unarmed and helpless, on all fours in the dirt. Above all other considerations, I'm glad to say, one seemed paramount — to get to hell out of this before I got hurt. I was on my feet and running before the thought had consciously formed — running in no particular direction, but keeping a weather eye open for a quiet spot or a riderless horse. I dived into the nullah, barged into someone, stumbled up and raced along it, past a group of pandies in pill-box hats who were scrambling into position at the nullah's edge to open fire, leaped over a wrecked cart — and then, wondrous sight, there was a horse, with a wounded n***** on his knees holding the bridle. One kick and he was sprawling, I was aboard and away; I put my head down and fairly flew — a fountain of dirt rose up just ahead of me as a cannon-shot from somewhere ploughed into the nullah hank, and the last thing I remember is the horse rearing up, and something smashing into my left arm with a blinding pain; a great weight seemed to be pressing down on my head and a red smoke was drifting above me, and then I lost consciousness.

And that's the end of Flashman's fight in India.

Tune in next time for the most impossibly suspenseful bit of fiction you'll ever read.

Apr 1, 2010

Wow that was a ride.

Jan 15, 2003

Fun Shoe

Next part is my favorite part.

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

withak posted:

Next part is my favorite part.

it's actually the only part i can really remember from the book, goddam

Nov 8, 2009

The only way to get huge fast is to insult a passing witch and hope she curses you with Beast-strength.

sebmojo posted:

it's actually the only part i can really remember from the book, goddam

Genghis Cohen
Jun 29, 2013

withak posted:

Next part is my favorite part.

It is absolutely riveting!

Oct 23, 2010

Legit Cyberpunk

Genghis Cohen posted:

It is absolutely riveting!

i'm on tenterhooks

Oct 11, 2016

Over time, random factors add up. What is chaos in the moment becomes systemic over time and space. As data accumulates, a pattern emerges.

Anyone been keeping track of times Flash has nearly died/been close to death/in mortal peril this book? It's well into the double digits; as many times as all the other books combined, practically. I'm trying to think of who's left in India who HASN'T taken a swing at him.

Apr 6, 2009

Fuck it then. For another pit sandwich and some 'tater salad, I'll post a few more.

sebmojo posted:

it's actually the only part i can really remember from the book, goddam
Ah. Now I recall.

Nov 4, 2009


I told you the worst was still to come, didn't I? Well, you've read my chronicle of the Great Mutiny, and if you've any humanity you're bound to admit that I'd had my share of sorrow already, and more — even Campbell later said that I'd seen hard service, so there. But Rose himself declared that if he hadn't been told the circumstance of my awakening at Gwalior by an eyewitness, he wouldn't have believed it — it was the most terrible thing, he said, that he had ever heard of in all his experience of war, or anybody else's, either. He wondered that I hadn't lost my reason. I agreed then, and I still do. This is what happened.

Presented without interruption:


I came back to life, as is often the case, with my last waking moment clear in my mind. I had been on horse-back, riding hard, seeing a shot strike home in a sandy nullah — so why, I wondered irritably, was I now standing up, leaning against something hard, with what seemed to be a polished table top in front of me? There was a shocking pain in my head, and a blinding glare of light burning my eyes, so I shut them quickly. I tried to move, but couldn't, because something was holding me; my ears were ringing, and there was a jumble of voices close by, but I couldn't make them out. Why the hell didn't they shut up, I wondered, and I tried to tell them to be quiet, but my voice wouldn't work — I wanted to move, to get away from the thing that was pressing against my chest, so I tugged, and an unspeakable pain shot through my left arm and into my chest, a stabbing, searing pain so exquisite that I screamed aloud, and again, and again, at which a voice cried in English, apparently right in my ear.

"'Ere's another as can't 'old 'is bleedin' row! Stick a gag in this bastard an' all, Andy!"

Someone grabbed my hair and pulled my head back, and I shrieked again, opening my eyes wide with the pain, to see a blinding light sky, and a red, sweating face within a few inches of mine. Before I could make another sound, a foul wet rag was stuffed brutally into my mouth, choking me, and a cloth was whipped across it and knotted tight behind my head. I couldn't utter a sound, and when I tried to reach up to haul the filthy thing away, I realised why I hadn't been able to move. My hands were lashed to the object that was pressing into my body. Stupefied, blinking against the glare, in agony with my arm and head and the gag that was suffocating me, I tried to focus my eyes; for a few seconds there was just a whirl of colours and shapes — and then I saw.

I was tied across the muzzle of a cannon, the iron rim biting into my body, with my arms securely lashed either side of the polished brown barrel. I was staring along the top of that barrel, between the high wheels, to where two British soldiers were standing by the breech, poking at the touch-hole, and one was saying to the other:

"No, by cripes, none o' yer Woolwich models. No lanyards, Jim my boy — we'll 'ave to stick a fuse in, an' stand well clear."

"She's liable to blow 'er flamin' wheels off, though, ain't she?" says the other. "There's a four-pahnd cartridge in there, wiv a stone shot. S'pose it'll splinter, eh?"

"Ask 'im — arterwards!" says the first, gesturing at me, and they both laughed uproariously. "You'll tell us, won't yer, Sambo?"

For a moment I couldn't make it out — what the devil were they talking about? And how dared the insolent dogs address a colonel as "Sambo" — and one of 'em with a pipe stuck between his grinning teeth? Fury surged up in me, as I stared into those red yokel faces, leering at me, and I shouted "drat your eyes, you mutinous bastards! How dare you — d'ye know who I am, you swine? I'll flog the ribs out of you …" but it didn't come out as a shout, only as a soundless gasp deep in my throat behind that stifling gag. Then, ever so slowly, it dawned on me where I was, and what was happening, and my brain seemed to explode with the unutterable horror of it. As Rose said afterwards, I ought to have gone mad; for an instant I believe I did.

I don't have to elaborate my sensations — anyway, I couldn't. I can only say that I was sane enough after that first spasm of dreadful realisation, because behind the fog of panic I saw in a second what had happened — saw it with blinding certainty. I had been knocked on the head, presumably by a splinter of flying debris, and picked up senseless by our gallant troops. Of course they'd taken me for a pandy — with my matted hair and beard and filthy and ragged sepoy uniform; they'd seen I wasn't dead, and decided to execute me in style, along with other prisoners. For as I flung my head round in an ecstasy of such fear as even I had never known before, I saw that mine was only one in a line of guns, six or seven of them, and across the muzzle of each was strapped a human figure. Some were ragged pandies, like me, others were just n******; one or two were gagged, as I was, the rest were not; some had been tied face to the gun, but most had the muzzles in their backs. And shortly these brutes who loafed about the guns at their ease, spitting and smoking and chaffing to each other, would touch off the charges, and a mass of splintering stone would tear through my vitals — and there was nothing I could do to stop them! If I hadn't screamed when I regained consciousness, I wouldn't have been gagged, and three words would have been enough to show them their ghastly error — but now I couldn't utter a sound, but only watch with bulging eyes as one of the troopers, in leisurely fashion, pushed a length of fuse into the touch-hole, winked at me, and then sauntered back to rejoin his mates, who were standing or squatting in the sunlight, obviously waiting for the word to start the carnage.

"Come on, come on, where the 'ell's the captain?" says one. "Still at mess, I'll lay. Christ, it's 'ot! I want ter get on my charpoy, I do, an' bang me bleedin' ear-'ole. 'E couldn't blow the bloody pandies away arter supper, could 'e? Oh, no, not 'im."

"Wot we blowin' 'em up for?" says one pale young trooper. "Couldn't they 'ang the pore sods — or shoot 'em? It 'ud be cheaper."

"Pore sods my arse," says the first. "You know what they done, these black scum? You shoulda bin at Delhi, see the bloody way they ripped up wimmen an' kids — fair sicken yer, wot wi' tripes an' innards all over the plice. Blowin' away's too — good for 'em."

"Not as cruel as 'angin', neither," says a third. "They don't feel nothin'." He strolled past my gun, and to my horror he patted me on the head. "So cheer up, Sambo, you'll soon be dead. 'Ere, wot's the matter wiv 'im, Bert, d'ye reckon?"

I was writhing frenziedly in my bonds, almost fainting with the agony of my wounded arm, which was gashed And bleeding, flinging my head from side to side as I tried to spit out that horrible gag, almost bursting internally in my effort to make some sound, any sound, that would make him understand the ghastly mistake they'd made. He stood, grinning stupidly, and Bert sauntered up, knocking his pipe out on the gun.

"Matter? Wot the 'ell d'yer think's the matter, you duffer? 'E don't want 'is guts blew all the way to Calcutta — that's wot's the matter! Gawd, 'e'll kill 'isself wiv appleplexy by the look of 'im."

"Funny, though, ain't it?" says the first. "An' look at the rest of 'em — jes' waitin' there, an' not even a squeak from 'em, as if they didn't care. Pathetic, ain't it?"

"That's their religion," pronounced Bert. "They fink they're goin' to 'eaven — they fink they're goin' to get 'arf-a-dozen rum bints apiece, an' bull 'em till Judgement Day. Fact."

"Go on! They don't look all that bleedin' pleased, then, do they?"

They turned away, and I flopped over the gun, near to suffocation and with my heart ready to burst for misery and fear. Only one word — that was all I needed — Christ, if I could only get a hand free, a finger even! Blood from my wounded arm had run on to the gun, drying almost at once on the burning metal — if I could even scrawl a message on it — or just a letter — they might see it, and understand. I must be able to do something — think, think, think, I screamed inside my head, fighting back the madness, straining with all my power to tear. my right wrist free, almost dislocating my neck in a futile effort to work the gag-binding loose. My mouth was full of its filthy taste, it seemed to be slipping farther into my gullet, choking me — God, if they thought I was choking, would they pull it out, even for a second? … that was all I needed, oh God, please, please, let them — I couldn't die like this, like a stinking n***** pandy, after all I'd suffered — not by such cruel, ghastly, ill-luck …

"Aht pipes, straighten up — orficer comin'," cries one of the troopers, and they scrambled up hastily, adjusting their kepis, doing up their shirt-buttons, as two officers came strolling across from the tents a couple of hundred yards away. I gazed towards them like a man demented, as though by staring I could attract their attention; my right wrist was raw and bleeding with my dragging at it, but the rope was like a band of steel round it, and I couldn't do more than scrabble with my fingers at the hot metal. I was crying, uncontrollably; my head was swimming — but no, no, I mustn't faint! Anything but that — think, think, don't faint, don't go mad! They've never got you yet — you've always slid out somehow …

"All ready, sergeant?" The leading officer was glancing along the line of guns, and my eyes nearly started from my head as I saw it was Clem Hennidge" — Dandy Clem of the 8th Hussars, whom I'd ridden with at Balaclava. He was within five yards of me, nodding to the sergeant, glancing briefly round, while beside him a fair young lieutenant was staring with pop-eyes at us trussed victims, going pale and looking ready to puke. By heaven, he wasn't the only one! shuddered, and I heard him mutter to Hennidge: "Christ! I shan't be writing to mother about this, though!"

"Beastly business," says Hennidge, slapping his crop on his palm. "Orders, though, what? Very good, sergeant — we'll touch 'em off all together, if you please. All properly shotted and primed? Very good, then."

"Yessir! Beg pardon, sir, usual orders is to touch 'em out one arter the other, sir. Leastways, that's 'ow we done it at Calpee, sir!"

"Good God!" says Hennidge, and contained himself. "I'll be obliged if you'll fire all together, sergeant, on this occasion!" He muttered something to the lieutenant, shaking his head as in despair.

Two men ran forward to my gun, one of them pulling matches from his pocket. He glanced nervously back and called.

"Sarn't — sir! This 'un ain't got no lock, nor lanyard, please! See, sir, it's one o' them n***** guns — can't fire it 'cept with a fuse, sir!"

"What's that?" cries Hennidge, coming forward, "Oh — I see. Very well, then, light the fuse at the signal, then, and — Good God, is this fellow having a fit?"

I had made one last desperate effort to pull free, hauling like a mad thing, flinging myself as far as my lashing would allow, tossing my head, jerking to and fro, my head swimming with the pain of my arm. Hennidge and the boy were staring at me — the boy's face was green.

'E's been carryin' on like that since we triced 'im up, sir," says one of the gunners. "Screamin', 'e was — we 'ad to gag him, sir."

Hennidge swallowed, and then nodded curtly, and turned away, but the lieutenant seemed to be rooted with horrified fascination, as though he couldn't tear his eyes away from me.

"Ready!" bawls the sergeant, and "Light the fuse now, Bert," says the man at my gun. Through a red haze I saw the match splutter, and go out. Bert cursed, struck a second, and touched it to the fuse. A moment, and it fizzed, and the gunners retreated.

"Best stand back, sir!" cries Bert. "Gawd knows what'll happen when she goes off"- might blow wide open!"

The lieutenant shuddered, and seemed to collect himself, and then the strangest thing happened. For I absolutely heard a voice, and it seemed to be very close in my ear, and the oddest thing was, it was Rudi Starnberg, my old enemy from Jotunberg, and as clear as a bell across the years I heard him laughing: "The comedy's not finished yet! Come on, play-actor!"

No doubt it was the product of a disordered mind, as I stared at Death in the spluttering fuse, but just for a second I realised that if there was the ghost of a chance left, it depended on keeping ice-cold — as Rudi would have done, of course. The lieutenant's eyes were just on mine for an instant before he turned away, and in that instant I raised my brows and lowered them, twice, quickly. It stopped him, and very carefully, as he stared, I closed one eye in an enormous wink. It must have been a grotesque sight; his mouth dropped open, and then I opened my eye, turned my head deliberately, and stared fixedly at my right hand. He must look, he must! My wrist was as fast as ever, but I could just turn my hand, palm upwards, fold the thumb and last three fingers slowly into my palm, and beckon with my fore-finger, once, twice, thrice — and still beckoning, I stared at him again.

For a moment he just gaped, and closed his eyes, and gaped again, and I thought, oh Christ, the young idiot's going to stand there until the bloody fuse has burned down! He stared at me, licking his lips, obviously flabbergasted, turned to glance at Hennidge, looked back at me — and then, as I tried to bore into his brain, and crooked my finger again and again, he suddenly yelled "Wait! Sergeant, don't fire!" and striding forward, he yanked the burning fuse from the touch-hole. Clever boys they had in the Light Brigade in those days.

"What the devil? John — what on earth are you doing?" cries Hennidge. "Sergeant, hold on there!" He came striding up, demanding to know what was up, and the lieutenant, pale and sweating, stood by the breech pointing at me.

"I don't know! That chap — he beckoned, I tell you! And he winked! Look, my God, he's doing it again! He's … he's trying to say something!"

"Hey? What?" Hennidge was peering across at me, and I wobbled my eyebrows as ludicrously as I could, and tried to munch my lips at the same time. "What the deuce — I believe you're right … you, there, get that gag out of his mouth — sharp, now!"

"Arise, Sir Harry" was one of the sweetest sounds I ever heard; so was Abe Lincoln's voice in that house at Portsmouth, Ohio, asking "What do you want with me?" when the slave-catchers were on my tail. I can think of many others, but so help me God, none of them rang such peals of hope and joy in my ears as those words of Hennidge's beside the guns at Gwalior. Even as the cloth was wrenched loose, though, and the gag was torn out of my mouth, and I was gasping in air, I was thinking frantically what I must say to prevent the appalling chance of their disbelieving me — something to convince them instantly, beyond any doubt, and what I croaked out when my breath came was:

"I'm Flashman, Flashman, d'ye hear! You're Clem Hennidge! The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, God save the Queen. I'm English — English — I'm in disguise! Ask General Rose! I'm Flashman, Harry Flashman! Cut me loose, you bastards! I'm Flashman!"

You never saw such consternation in your life; for a moment they just made pop-eyed noises, and then Hennidge cries out:

"Flashman? Harry Flashman? But … but it's impossible — you can't be!"

Somehow I didn't start to rave, or swear, or blubber. Instead I just leered up at him and croaked:

"You give me the lie, Hennidge, and I'll call you out, d'you know? I called a man out in '39, remember? He was a cavalry captain, too. So — would you mind just cutting these damned ropes — and mind my arm, 'cos I think it's broken …"

"My God, you are Flashman!" cries he, as if he was looking at a ghost. Then he just stuttered and gaped, and signed to the gunners to cut me loose, which they did, lowering me gently to the ground, horror and dismay all over their faces, I was glad to see. But I'll never forget what Hennidge said next, as the lieutenant called for a water-bottle and pressed it to my lips; Hennidge stood staring down at me appalled, and then he said ever so apologetically:

"I say, Flashman — I'm most frightfully sorry!"

Mark you, what else was there to say? Oh, aye, there was something — I hadn't reasoned it, as you can imagine, but it leaped into my mind as I sat there, almost swooning with relief, not minding the pains in my head and arms, and happened to glance along the guns. I was suddenly shuddering horribly, and bowing my head in my sound hand, trying to hold back the sobs, and then I says, as best I could:

"Those n***** tied to the guns. I want them cut loose — all of 'em, directly!"

"What's that?" says he. "But they've been condem—"

"Cut 'em loose, drat you!" My voice was shaking and faint. "Every mother's son-of-a-bitch, d'you hear?" I glared up at him, as I sat there in the dust in my rags, with my back to the gun-wheel — I must have been a rare sight. "Cut 'em loose, and tell 'em to run away — away, as far as they know how — away from us, and never to get caught again! Blast you, don't stand there gawping — do as I say!"

"You're not well," says he. "You're distraught, and —"

"I'm also a bloody colonel!" I hollered. "And you're a bloody captain! I'm in my right mind, too, and I'll break you, by God, if you don't attend to me this minute. So… set — them — loose! Be a good chap, Clem — very well?"

So he gave the orders, and they turned them free, and the young lieutenant knelt beside me with the water-bottle, very respectful and moist-eyed.

"That was merciful," says he.

"Merciful be damned," says I. "The way things are hereabouts, one of 'em's probably Lord Canning."

Arbite fucked around with this message at 00:43 on Jun 14, 2021

Feb 29, 2008


Apr 28, 2007

Veteran, Bermuda Triangle Expeditionary Force, 1993-1952

It simply does not get closer than that. Tied over the muzzle of a gun with the _______ fuze lit !

Jan 29, 2012

Really Madcats

It shows how terrible Flashman is that I was surprised by him ordering the actual prisoners released.

Jan 16, 2020

Jesus goddamn what the gently caress.

Feb 4, 2003

Kids, it's not cool to have Shane MacGowan teeth

Warden posted:

Jesus goddamn what the gently caress.

The pop culture image of the British as good natured, cheerful, stoic, cultured etc does a good job of obscuring just how monsterous the Empire was.

Jan 29, 2012

Really Madcats

TBF, the Mughals invented it.

The other bad thing about it apart from the brutality is that it made it impossible to perform funeral rites

Apr 1, 2010

sweet christmas - "Oh pip i'm writing home to mother about this"

Oct 11, 2016

Over time, random factors add up. What is chaos in the moment becomes systemic over time and space. As data accumulates, a pattern emerges.

Not a particularly cruel method of execution, but certainly a...spectacle.

Nov 4, 2009


There isn't much more to tell. The Great Mutiny ended there, under the walls of Gwalior, where Rose broke the last rebel army, and Tantia Tope fled away. They caught him and hanged him in the end, but they never found Nana Sahib, and for the rest, a few bands of pandies roamed about like bandits for a month or two, but were gradually dispersed.

I was back in the pavilion then, with my pads off, recovering from a broken arm and a battered head, to say nothing of a badly disarranged nervous system. I was exhausted in body and mind, but it's surprising how you pick up when you realise that it's all over, and there's nothing to do but lie back and put on weight, and you can sleep sound at nights. In the weeks of my convalescence at Gwalior I wrote my reports for Rose and Campbell, and composed another, at great length, for Palmerston, in which I detailed all my doings at Jhansi and elsewhere so far as they concerned the mission he'd given me. I told him what had happened with the Rani (the respectable bits, you understand, no romantic nonsense) and how I had been there at the end; I also warned him that Ignatieff had not been heard of again, and might still be abroad, doing mischief, though I doubted it.

(I've met the gotch-eyed bastard on two occasions since, by the way, both of 'em diplomatic bunfights, I'm happy to say. We used each other with perfect civility, and I kept my back carefully to the wall and left early.)

Sadly neither of those incidents would be written about in the seven books left.


It was autumn before I was up and about again at Gwalior, and had received word from Campbell that I was released from my duties and might go home. I was ready for it, too, but before I left I found myself riding out on the road to Kota-ki-serai, to have a look at the spot where her people had made a little shrine to Lakshmibai, near the nullah — they thought no end of her, you know, and still do.

Indeed, indeed.


Well, I could understand that; I hadn't been indifferent myself, although it all seemed far past now, somehow… They had cremated her, in the Hindoo fashion, but there was this little painted model temple, which I took to be her memorial, and withered flowers and wreaths and little pots round it, and I mooched about, scuffing the dust with my boots, while a few old n****** squatted under the thorns, watching me curiously, and the bullock-carts went by. There wasn't much sign of the skirmish where she'd died — a few trifles of broken gear, a rusty stirrup, that sort of thing. I wondered why she'd done it all, and in spite of what she said to me at the last, I believe I did understand. As I'd said in my report to Pam, she didn't give up her Jhansi. That was what had mattered to her, more than life. As to what she may have thought or felt about me, truly — and for that matter, what I'd really felt about her — I couldn't make up my mind. It didn't matter now, anyway, but I could always make the best of it, and remember those eyes above the veil, and the soft lips brushing my cheek. Aye, well. Damned good-looking girl.

I went up the Agra trunk on my way home, and down to Cawnpore, where there were letters waiting for me, including one from Billy Russell, congratulating me on my escape and recovery, which he said had been the talk of Simla, where he had been taking things easy with a game leg. He was down at Allahabad now, following the seat of government on its peregrinations, as he put it, and I must stop off and celebrate with him. I didn't mind that a bit; I was ready to start enjoying life again, after all the nonsense I'd been through, and to put me in the best fettle there were several letters from Elspeth, in her usual rattle-pated style, full of loving slush about her dear, darling champion whom she was yearning to clasp again to her Loving Bosom (hear! hear! thinks I) when he returned with his Laurels fresh upon his Brow. She absolutely did write like this; came from reading novels, I suspect: the Town is full of talk of you and your Gallant Comrades, especially Sir Hugh Rose and dear Sir Colin — or Lord Clyde as we must now call him — I own I felt a Flush of Pride when I thought that my Distinguished Countryman had chosen for his title 'the name of the Beauteous Stream beside which I — humble little Me — was born, and where I spent such Blissful Hours with my Own True Love — yourself, dear, dear, Harry!! Do you remember? I did — and the thought of that first splendid gallop we'd had together in the bushes brought sentimental tears to my eyes and set me bursting to be at her again, back in green England, away from this bloody beastly country and its stench of death and war and dust. Elspeth, with her golden hair and blue eyes and adoring idiot smile and resplendent — oh, that was certainty, and happiness and jollity and be-damned! … and even Lord Cardigan is civil — altho' he thinks Sir Colin was tardy, and can have made but poor use of his Light Cavalry, I think it was, in punishing the Rascally Sepoys — and Lord Cardigan was very full in his attentions to me when we met in the Row, but I gave him the Right About, for I was certain you would wish it, and he went off not too pleased, I thought, but perhaps he is disposed to Toady, for he sent me a new book as a gift for you, saying he was sure it must interest you most particularly, but I have glanced at it and don't care for it much, since it seems to be about rustics, and quite without that Tender Passion which I admire in writing, and which Fills my Thoughts whenever they turn to my Dearest of Husbands and Lovers, as they do every minute, and my legs go quite weak. Still, I send it to you, with his Lordship's compliments. Now then, there is the finest scandal about Daisy Marchmont's footman …

I didn't care to hear about Cardigan — the mention of the name was enough to set my jealous bile working, for it reminded me that my darling Elspeth wasn't always the dutiful and loving wife she pretended to be, and heaven knew how many randified admirers had been beating our door-knocker in my absence. She'd have no time or opportunity for dalliance when Flashy roared back into residence, though … I chuckled at the thought, threw Cardigan's present into my valise without looking at it, and caught the train to Allahabad, where Billy Russell was at the station with a ghari to meet me.

He was all beams and whiskers as usual, full of fun, and demanding my news of the Jhansi and Gwalior affairs — which he knew already, of course, in their essentials, "but it's the spice and colour I'm after, old fellow, and devil a bit of those d'ye get in despatches. This business of your stealing into the Jezebel of Jhansi's fortress in disguise, now, and being carried away prisoner in the night, eh …?"

I parried his questions, grinning, as we bowled away towards the Fort, and then he says:

"I've got your winnings from Lucknow safe, by the by, and your prize-money. It's about all you've had out o' this campaign, ain't it — bar a few wounds an' grey hairs?"

I knew what he meant, blast him. While orders and ribbons and medals and titles had been flying about like hail among the Indian heroes, devil a nod had come my way — nor would it. You see, the irony was that while I'd seen more than my share of hell and horror in the Mutiny, I knew that in official eyes, my service must have been a pretty fair frost. I'd failed entirely in the original mission Pam had given me, and Rose had been damned stuffy that the plan to save Lakshmibai had come adrift; Lord Canning, he'd said, would be profoundly disappointed — as though it was my fault, the ungrateful bastard. But these are the things that matter, when they come to passing out the spoils, and I knew that while the likes of Rose and Campbell were having honours showered on them, and the prowess of Outram and Sam Browne and the snirp Roberts were being trumpeted round the world, poor old Flash would be lucky to get an address of welcome and a knife-and-fork supper at Ashby Town Hall.

"There's others have been well rewarded," says Billy. "Slow-coach is a lord — but ye know that. There must be about fifty Crosses flying about, and God knows how many titles … they might ha' done something for you. I wonder," says he, as we got out at the Fort and went along the verandah, "if a leaderette in the old Thunderer might stir 'em up, what? We can't have Horse Guards neglectin' our best men."

I liked the sound of that, rather, but as he conducted me across the hall, where Sikh sentries stood and the punkahs hissed, I thought it best to say I didn't mind, really — and then I found he was grinning all over his whiskers as he ushered me through a doorway, and I stopped dead in amazement.

Flashman always manages to be somewhat sincere while getting on well with reporters, as seen with Billy and later Blowitz.


It was a big, airy room, half office and half drawing-room, with a score of people standing at the far end, beyond the fine Afghan carpet, all looking in my direction, and it was sight of them that had checked me — for there was Campbell, with his grizzled head and wrinkled Scotch face, and Mansfield smiling, very erect, toying with his dark whiskers, and Macdonald grinning openly, and Hope Grant, stern and straight. In the middle was a slim, elegant civilian in a white morning coat with a handsome woman smiling beside him; it took me a moment to realise that they were Lord and Lady Canning.

Then Russell was pushing me forward, and Canning was smiling and shaking hands, and I was bowing to Lady Canning, wondering what the devil this was all about, and then there was silence, and Canning was clearing his throat and addressing me. I wish I could remember all of it, but I was quite taken aback to find myself thrust into this company, so unexpected … what was this? —"distinguished conduct on many numerous occasions, familiar to all …Afghanistan, Crimea, Balaclava, Central Asia … lately, and most exemplary, service in the insurrection of the Bengal Army … most gallant conduct in the defence and evacuation of Cawnpore … and most signally, at the direction of Sir Hugh Rose, in undertaking service of the most dangerous and difficult nature in the Gwalior campaign … warmest approval of Her Majesty and of her Ministers and principal advisers … recognition of conduct far beyond the call of duty …"

I listened to all this in a daze, and then Canning was passing something to Campbell, and he was coming up to me, glowering under his brows, and harrumphing.

"It is at my perr-sonal request," growls. he, "that I have been purr-meeted tae bestow a disteenction that should rightly have come from Her Majesty's ain — own — gracious hands."

He reached up, and I felt a sudden keen pain in my left tit as he stuck a pin in it — I gasped and looked down, and there it was, on its ribbon, the shabby-looking little bronze cross against my jacket; at first I didn't even recognise it, and then Lady Canning was leading the clapping, and Campbell was pumping my right hand and staring at me with his brows down.

"The Order o' the Victoria Cross," says he, and then he added, "Flashman …", but there he stopped and shook his head. "Aye," says he, and grinned at me — and God knows he didn't often grin, that one, and went on shaking his head and my hand, and the clapping and laughter rang in my ears.
I couldn't speak; I was red in the face, I knew, and almost in tears, as they clustered round me, Mansfield and Macdonald and the rest of them, and Billy slapping me on the back (and then scribbling quickly in his book and sticking it in his pocket) and I was trembling and wanted ever so much to sit down — but what I was thinking was, by God, you don't deserve it, you know, you shifty old bastard of a Flashy — not if it's courage they're after … but if they hand out medals for luck, and survival through sheer funk, and suffering ignobly borne … well, grab 'em with both hands, my boy — and then, in the august presence of the Governor-General and the Commander-in-Chief, someone started to sing, "For he's a jolly good fellow", and there were happy faces all round me, singing, until Canning led me out on to the verandah, and in the garden there seemed to be crowds of soldiers, and civilians — bearded Sikhs and ugly little Goorkhas, Devil's Own and Highlanders, artillery-men and sappers, chaps in white coats and sun-helmets, ladies in garden-party dresses, and as Canning waved to them someone shouted "Hip-hip-hip!" and the crashing "Hurrah!" sounded three times and a tiger — and I looked out at them through a mist of tears, and beyond them to the Gwalior guns and the Cawnpore barricade and the burning lines of Meerut and the battery reek of Balaclava and the bloody snow of Gandamack, and I thought, by God, how little you know, or you wouldn't be cheering me. You'd be howling for my blood, you honest, sturdy asses — and then again, maybe you wouldn't, for if you knew the truth about me, you wouldn't believe it.

"What a gratifying experience to relate to your children, colonel," says Canning, and on the other side Lady Canning smiled at me and says: "And to Lady Flashman." .

I mumbled yes, indeed, so it would be; then I noticed that she was looking at me a trifle arch, and cudgelled my wits to think why — she couldn't be wanting to get off with me, not with Canning there — and then her last words sank in, my legs went weak, and I believe I absolutely said, "Hey?"

They both laughed politely at my bewilderment, Canning looking fond reproval at her. "That must be under the rose, my dear, you know", says he. "But of course we should have informed you, colonel, privately." He beamed at me. "In addition to the highest decoration for valour, which has been justly bestowed on many gallant officers in the late campaigns, Her Majesty wished to distinguish your service by some additional mark of favour. She has therefore been graciously pleased to create you a Knight of the Bath."

I suppose I was already numb with shock, for I didn't taint, or cry "Whoops!" or even stand gaping at the man in disbelief. In fact, I blew my nose, and what I was thinking as I mopped away my emotion was: by God, she's got no taste, that woman. I mean, who but little Vicky would have thought to pile a knighthood on top of the V.C., all at one go? It didn't seem scarcely decent — but, by God, wasn't it bloody famous! For over everything the words were revolving in my mind in a golden haze —"Sir Harry Flashman, V.C." It wasn't believable … Sir Harry … Sir Harry and Lady Flashman … Flashman, V.C… my stars, it had come to this, and when least expected — oh, that astonishing little woman … I remembered how she'd blushed and looked bashful when she'd hung the Queen's Medal on me years before, and I'd thought, aye, cavalry whiskers catch 'em every time … and still did, apparently. Who'd have thought it?

"Well … God save the Queen," says I, reverently.

And then somehow Fraser gets you to feel happy for the bastard.


There was no taking it in properly at the time, of course, or indeed in the hours that followed; they remain just a walking dream, with "Sir Harry Flashman, V.C." blazing in front of my eyes, through all the grinning faces and back-slapping and cheering and adulation — all for the V.C., of course, for t'other thing was to remain a secret, Canning said, until I got home. There was a great dinner that evening, at the Fort, with booze galore and speeches and cheering, and chaps rolling under the table, and they poured me on to the Calcutta train that night in a shocking condition. I didn't wake up till noon the following day, with a fearful head; it took me another night to get right again, but on the next morning I had recovered, and ate a hearty breakfast, and felt in capital shape. Sir Harry Flashman, V.C. — I could still hardly credit it. They'd be all over me at home, and Elspeth would go into the wildest ecstasies at being "My lady", and be insufferable to her friends and tradesmen, and adoringly grateful to me — she might even stay faithful permanently, you never knew … I fairly basked in my thoughts, grinning happily out at the disgusting Indian countryside in the sunrise, reflecting that with luck I'd never see or hear or smell it again, after this, and then to beguile the time I fished in my valise for something to read, and came on the book Cardigan had sent to Elspeth — what could have possessed Jim the Bear, who detested me, to send me a present?

Last time was the most suspenseful sequence, next time is the most hilarious. And also the conclusion!

Arbite fucked around with this message at 11:34 on Jun 17, 2021

90s Cringe Rock
Nov 29, 2006

*waves little british flag*

Oct 11, 2016

Over time, random factors add up. What is chaos in the moment becomes systemic over time and space. As data accumulates, a pattern emerges.

Well, he deserves it as much as any of the officers over there.

Feb 4, 2003

Kids, it's not cool to have Shane MacGowan teeth

Arbite posted:

Last time was the most suspenseful sequence, next time is the most hilarious. And also the conclusion!

Other than the first book in the series, this book is my favorite specifically because of how well he covers the Mutiny and also the highs and lows in it. I don't think any other has quite as many excellent set pieces as this.

Apr 1, 2010

Cobalt-60 posted:

Well, he deserves it as much as any of the officers over there.

in the same way, you could say that he deserved more than any rebel to get executed by cannon

Apr 6, 2009

Fuck it then. For another pit sandwich and some 'tater salad, I'll post a few more.

Arbite posted:

I knew what he meant, blast him.
You've accidentally pasted the same paragraph twice.

Arbite posted:

In GMF's excellent WWII memoir, Quartered Safe Out Here,, the reader is, well, just listen to the sample. He then voices GMF's squadmates with strong Northern accents but the handful of times when Fraser gave himself dialogue instead of narration you get a sudden and shocking dose of Glaswegian.
I've started reading that. It opens absolutely brilliantly - quoting some academic (pfft) talking about how the public had to be fed a distorted and mythologized propaganda account of WWII, firing off "I have no idea what that fancy academic talk could possibly mean... but I know it's absolutely and totally false" in quick succession, then... utterly failing to elucidate those harsh and uncomfortable truths that were apparently ever so clear to the general public and soldiery during the war.

Xander77 fucked around with this message at 06:16 on Jun 17, 2021

Jul 30, 2008

Cobalt-60 posted:

Not a particularly cruel method of execution, but certainly a...spectacle.

Its instant and hard to gently caress up. Actually quite humane compared to hanging, really.

Nov 4, 2009


I opened it at random, idly turning the pages … and then my eye lit on a paragraph, and it was as though a bucket of icy water had been dashed over me as I read the words:

"But that blackguard Flashman, who never speaks to one without a kick or an oath —"

"The cowardly brute," broke in East, "how I hate him! And he knows it, too; he knows that you and I think him a coward."

I stared at the page dumbfounded. Flashman? East? What the blind blue blazes was this? I turned the book over to look at the title: "Tom Brown's School Days", it said, "by an Old Boy". Who the hell was Tom Brown? I whipped quickly through the pages — rubbish about some yokels at a village fair, as Elspeth had said … Farmer Ives, Benjy … what the deuce? Tom trying his skill at drop-kicks … "Rugby and Football" … hollo, here we were again, though, and the hairs rose on my neck as I read:

"Gone to ground, eh?" roared Flashman. "Push them out then, boys; look under the beds … Who-o-o-p!" he roared, pulling away at the leg of a small boy … "Young howling brute. Hold your tongue, sir, or I'll kill you!"

By God, it was me! I mean, it wasn't only my style, to a "t", I even remembered doing it — years ago, at Rugby, when we flushed the fags out and tossed them in blankets for a lark … Yes, here it was —"Once, twice, thrice, and away" … "What a cursed bully you are. Flashy!" I sped through the passage, in which the horrible ogre Flashman, swearing foully, suggested they be tossed two at a time, so that they'd struggle and fall out and get hurt — it's true enough, that's the way to get the mealy little bastards pitched out on to the floor.

But who on earth could have written this? Who had dared — I tore the pages over, scanning each one for the dread name, and by God wasn't it there, though, in plenty? My eyes goggled as I read:

"Flashman, with an oath and a kick, released his prey …" "… the tyranny of Flashman …" "… Flashman was on the look-out, and sent an empty pickle jar whizzing after them, which narrowly missed Tom's head. ‘He wouldn't mind killing one, if he wasn't caught,’ said East …" "… ‘Was Flashman here then?’ — ‘Yes, and a dirty little snivelling sneaking fellow he was, too … used to toady the bullies by offering to fag for them, and peaching against the rest of us …’"

I was red and roaring with rage by this time, barely able to see the pages. By God, here was infamy! Page after foul page, traducing me in the most odious terms * for there wasn't a doubt I was the villain referred to; the whole thing stank of Rugby in my time, and there was the Doctor, and East, and Brooke, and Crab Jones * and me, absolutely by name, for all the world to read about and detest! There was even a description of me as big and strong for my age — and I "played well at all games where pluck wasn't much wanted" if you please, and had "a bluff, offhand manner, which passed for heartiness, and considerable powers of being pleasant". Well, that settled it — and my reputation, too, for not a page went by but I was twisting arms, or thrashing weaklings, or swearing, or funking, or getting pissy drunk, or roasting small boys over fires — oh, aye, that brought back Master Brown to memory sharp enough. He was the mealy, freckled little villain who tried to steal my sweepstake ticket, drat him — a pious, crawling little toad-eater who prayed like clockwork and was forever sucking up to Arnold and Brooke —"yes, sir, please, sir, I'm a bloody Christian, sir," along with his pal East … and now East was dead, in the boat by Cawnpore.

Someone was alive, though — alive and libelling me most damnably. Not that it wasn't true, every vile word of it — oh, it was all too true, that was the trouble, but the devil with that, it was a foul, malicious blot on my good name … dear Christ, here was more!

"… Flashman's brutality had disgusted most even of his intimate friends …" No, by God, there was one downright, shameful lie — the kind of friends I had at Rugby you couldn't have disgusted, not Speedicut and Rattle and that lot … What next? "Coward as he was, Flashman couldn't swallow such an insult …" and then followed a description of a fight, in which I ("in poor condition from his monstrous habit of stuffing") was soundly thrashed by a couple of fags and skulked off whining: "You shall pay for this …"

I believe I foamed at the mouth at this point, and yet again at the description of my drunken expulsion from Rugby, but what was even worse was the scene in which the unctuous little swabs, Brown and East, were described as praying for "poor Flashman". I hurled the book across the carriage, and set about thrashing my bearer, and only when I'd driven him howling on to the carriage-roof did I settle down and realise the full bitterness of what this vindictive biographer had done.

He'd ruined me — half England must have read the beastly thing by now. Oh, it was plain enough why Cardigan had sent it to me, the spiteful swine. How could I ever hold up my head again, after this poisonous attack? — my God, just in my moment of supreme glory, too! What would my Cross and my Knighthood be worth now, with this venom spewed on me by "an Old Boy"?, whoever the brute was … probably some greasy little sneak whom I'd disciplined for his own good, or knocked about in boyish fun … well, by heaven he'd pay for it! I'd sue the wicked, scribbling son-of-a-bitch through every court in England.

And with that one last lurch of fortune the fifth and perhaps greatest volume of the Flashman Papers roars to a close.

There are two appendices and footnotes. I'll include the former before wrapping up.


Appendix 1: The Indian Mutiny

As far as it goes, and leaving aside those more personal experiences and observations which there is no confirming or denying, Flashman's account of his service in the Mutiny seems both generally accurate and fair. His descriptions of Meerut, before and during the outbreak, of Cawnpore and Lucknow and Jhansi and Gwalior, are consistent with other eye-witness accounts; at worst, he differs no more from them than they do from each other. As to causes and attitudes, he seems to give a sound reflection of what was being said and thought in India at the time.

It is still difficult to discuss certain aspects of the Mutiny without emotion creeping in; it was an atrociously bloody business, and it is not easy to appreciate entirely the immense intensity of feeling on both sides. How to explain the conduct of Nana Sahib at Cawnpore, on the one hand, or on the other, the attitude of the Christian and personally kindly John Nicholson, who wanted legislation passed for the flaying, impaling, and burning of mutineers? Flashman's observations are not without interest, but it is really superfluous to comment on them; there should not he, for intelligent people, any question of trying to cast up the atrocious accounts, or attempting to discover a greater weight of "blame" on one side or the other. Fashions in these things change, as Flashman remarks, and one should beware of fashionable judgements. Sufficient to say that fear, shock, ignorance, and racial and religious intolerance, on both sides, combined to produce a hatred akin to madness in some individuals and groups — British, Hindoo and Muslim — but by no means among all.

At the same time, it is worth remembering that the struggle which produced so much cruelty and shame was marked by countless examples of self-sacrifice and human kindness almost beyond understanding, and by devotion and heroism which will last as long as British and Indian memory: the spirit which inspired the last stand of a handful of unnamed mutineers in Gwalior fortress was the same as that which held the wall of Wheeler's entrenchment at Cawnpore.

"And one should beware of fashionable judgements" is a beautiful phrase that can easily be used for ill.


Appendix II: The Rani of Jhansi

Lakshmibai, Maharani of Jhansi, was one of the outstanding leaders of the Mutiny, and a heroine of Indian history. She has been compared, not unjustly, to Joan of Arc; on the other hand, while the evil reputation which propaganda gave her in her lifetime has now been largely discounted, there remain some shadows over her memory.

The general facts about her career, as Flashman learned diem from Palmerston and Skene, and as he himself describes them, are accurate — her upbringing, marriage, political attitudes, part in the Mutiny, escape, campaigning, and death. What is less clear is when and why she became actively involved in the Mutiny, for even after the Jhansi massacre (see Notes) she professed friendship for the Sirkar; it may even be that, despite her bitterness towards the British, she would have stayed clear of rebellion if she could. What is certain is that, once committed, she led her troops with great resolution and personal bravery — she was, in fact, a fine swordswoman and rider, and a good shot, as a result of her upbringing among boys (Nana Sahib among them) at the Peshawa's court.

On a more everyday level, Flashman's impressions of Lakshmibai and her court are borne out by contemporary accounts. He seems to have given a fair picture of her conduct of affairs and public behaviour, as well as of such details as her daily routine, her apartments, private zoo, recreations and tea-parties, and even clothing and jewellery. Other Britons who met her shared at least some of his enthusiasm for her looks ("remarkably fine figure … beautiful eyes … voluptuous … beautiful shape", are among the descriptions, although one added that he thought her "not pretty"). The most apparently authentic surviving portrait shows her much as Flashman first describes her. Her personality seems to have been pleasant enough, if forceful (her two most quoted remarks are "I will not give up my Jhansi", and the taunt thrown at Nana Sahib when they were children: "When I grow up I'll have ten elephants to your one!").

But her true character remains a mystery. Whether she is regarded as a pure-hearted patriot, or as a devious and cruel opportunist is a matter of choice — she may have been something of each. Her epitaph was given by her most persistent enemy, Sir Hugh Rose, speaking of the rebel leaders; he called Lakshmibai "the best and bravest."

(For biographies see The Rebellious Rani, by Sir John Smyth, V.C., and The Ranee of Jhansi, by D. V. Tahmankar. Also in Sylvester, Forrest, Kaye/Malleson.)

Now that's an angle I wouldn't have been inclined to explore on my own: How long the Indian leaders had known each other. They are presented fully formed in the text but of course they should have known each other for much of their lives.

Quite the journey from Balmoral, wasn't it?

About the halfway mark in the book when the mutiny at Meerut kicked off I asked the thread their feelings on the portrayal of the people and events so far. Now the bloody business has drawn to a close and I'm just as curious what their feelings are about the back end.

The first time I read this my knowledge of the whole business was limited to knowing it had happened and who had won. As seen with 'Flashman's' mistake regarding the Maharaja of Gwailor's allegiance, the history contained is not flawless but so far as I've learned that is one of if not the only uncontested facts regarding the conflict that it gets glaringly wrong. While viewed through the lens of a right bastard as written by a middle aged late 20th century Scotsman, the key people and events are shown.

So, pretty good history, marvelous writing, what could be wrong? Well, if anything, the book's too good at presenting information to the reader. Because of the variety of perspectives and breadth of the journey the reader can set the book down feeling that they've been given the whole story and not see any need to build on their knowledge. I can easily picture this being someone's only source when discussing the whole affair with feelings of authority at some dinner party.

Needless to say, the conflict may only have lasted a year and a half but a 336 page novel does not tell the whole story, however brilliantly economical it is with words. Just because the book makes note of the British reprisals and betrayals, as just one example, doesn't mean they're their full weight. And if there is one significant perspective the book wholly neglects it is the Indian leadership who stayed with the British throughout the conflict. One can't imagine GMF being bothered if his books were to be thoroughly crossreferenced by historians or if they were the starting point of someone's interest in a topic, but that may not happen often enough.

Still, drat good read, wasn't it?

Arbite fucked around with this message at 08:25 on Jun 18, 2021

Apr 1, 2010

Thanks for keeping it going Arbite. What a bizarre and timeless pile of lovable lies.

Jan 16, 2020

Arbite posted:

Still, drat good read, wasn't it?

Thanks for the Let's Read, I enjoyed it a lot.

I'm still bummed out for Ilderim.

But then again, I guess that was the whole point of having him get killed anti-climatically off-screen.


Darth Walrus
Feb 13, 2012

I feel like this book marked a key point in the softening of Flashman as a character. He's more romantic, more competent, more capable of acts of basic decency, and less frequent and extreme in his acts of cruelty to people who really don't deserve it. Compare him to the Flashman of Afghanistan, and this one generally seems significantly less objectionable.

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