No cause could be assigned for the explosions we had heard, but we were informed subsequently that, by the orders of our commander, the magazines or bells of arms belonging to the two native regiments had been blown up by a party of sappers in the fear that they might fall into the hands of the rebellious sepoys. It was a futile precaution, and a mere waste of ammunition; for nothing could have been easier than to send the contents of the magazines under our escort to the arsenal.
At eight o'clock we were dismissed to barracks, and left the spot where we had stood in line inert and inactive since four o'clock the previous afternoon.
Shortly after breakfast I was sent for by the Colonel to the orderly-room, and informed that it was the wish of the Brigadier that I should proceed with my company into the cantonments. I was ordered to make strict search for, and to take prisoner, any sepoys or bad characters that might be lurking about; and to this end I was to patrol the station from one side to the other. I was also to visit the commissariat quarters, disarm the native guard, using force if necessary, and secure the treasure chest, which contained some 20,000 rupees.
It struck me that this duty might very well have been performed many hours before. Why had not a company been detailed to patrol the cantonment the previous evening, or, at any rate, at the first sign of incendiarism?
However, I started without delay with ninety Grenadiers, and marched over a great part of the station, extending the company in skirmishing order whenever we passed through the numerous large gardens, orchards, and enclosures.
Not a soul was to be seen, and the place seemed entirely deserted. The sepoys, after their work of destruction, must have left during the night, and were now probably well on their way to Delhi, while thebadmashes who had assisted them had returned quietly to their occupations in the bazaars of the city.
The cantonment presented a complete scene of desolation. The church and chapel were a heap of burnt-up and smouldering ruins, our mess-house the same, and numerous bungalows - former residences of the officers - were still on fire. The heat from the burning embers was intense, and as we passed slowly by we viewed, with anger in our hearts, the lamentable results of the timidity and vacillation, the irresolution and culpable neglect, of one man.
Lastly, we visited the commissariat quarters at the far side of the station. Here there was no guard, not even a native in charge. Strange inconsistency! It turned out that, some hours before our arrival, the sepoy guard, true in this respect to their trust, had procured a cart, taken the treasure to the fort, there handed it over to the officer at the gate, and then started for Delhi.
My duty was accomplished, and I marched the Grenadiers back to barracks, then reported the unsatisfactory result of my mission to the Colonel; and, thoroughly tired and worn out from want of rest, I threw myself on a bed and slept soundly for some hours.
We were told that afternoon that the 57th Native Infantry, who had marched to the rear of our barracks the evening before, had remained quietly in the country during the night without one sepoy showing any mutinous disposition. In the early morning, without molesting their English officers, about half the regiment signified their intention of marching down-country; while of the rest, some 300 men returned to their lines at Ferozepore, and on being called upon to do so by the Colonel, laid down their arms.
It must be recorded to the credit of these regiments that no officer was hurt by them, or even insulted. The sepoys quietly but firmly announced that they released themselves from the service of the East India Company, and were about to become enrolled as subjects of the King of Delhi. Then, in several instances even saluting their officers and showing them every mark of respect, they turned their faces to the great focus of rebellion, to swell the number of those who were about to fight against us in the Mohammedan capital of Hindostan.
The officers of these two corps were more fortunate than their comrades of other regiments throughout the land, many of whom were shot down by their own sepoys in cold blood under circumstances of signal barbarity. They saw their wives and children murdered before their faces, while those who escaped the fury of the sepoys wandered in helpless flight through jungles and plains, suffering incredible privations. Some few there were who reached a friendly station, or were succoured and hidden by loyal natives. But the greater number fell by the hands of the wretches who in these times of outrage and anarchy swarmed out of the low quarters of the cities, and swept unchecked over the whole country in hundreds and thousands.
The officers had taken up their quarters in the barracks in one or the centre buildings, which was reserved entirely for their use. Here we endeavoured to make ourselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, the large apartment serving at once as mess-house sitting-room and bedroom for us all. The Colonel alone lived apart, while the married ladies and their families for the present occupied the main guard bungalow pending arrangements for more suitable quarters.
The poor ladies, as was natural, were in a state of great agitation, and would not be comforted. We did our best to quiet their fears, telling them there was not the slightest danger as regarded their safety; that, even were we attacked by the rebels, they need have no dread of the result, for we were more than a match for double our number of sepoys. Still, it pained us much to see their distress, and we could only be thankful that, come what might, they were under the protection of British soldiers.