The guns of the batteries have formally commenced full volume assault on the city of Delhi. I set up a continuous delivery of munitions as the artillery commanders time their volleys for maximum destruction. The railroad tracks created a wonderful trolley! One officer explained it as a musical pitching fork. The vibration has to be just right to create a great cascading roll along the entire length of the walls from the Water Bastion to the Mori Bastion. I guess that bible story of the trumpet bring down Jericho was not that nutty after all.
By midday we could see the walls trembling as dust filled the air like a blackening cloud. The rebel artillery crumbled with the volleys. By mid afternoon we could see breaches developing both by the Water Bastion and by Kashmiri Bastion. However, the rebels brought out infantry to keep up a continuous fire on our position. Two parts of two of our batteries actually caught fire from rebel firing. By evening our casualties reached 400. 60 guns firing continuously consumed over 30,000 rounds nonstop every two hours. As the walls started to shudder as if quivering silk the very ground started to heave as if a continuous rolling earthquake. I make it a point to shake the hand of every engineer and artillery officer. “I must shake hands with you fellows. You have done your best to make my work easy….” I left unsaid what that would be entail.
This evening Hobson and I reported to Chamberlain in his tent. “The tenacity of the rebels is disturbing” I said. “I got telegraph reports at even as far as away as Meerut people could hear the artillery fire and feel the ground shaking.
“If the rebels are fighting this hard now then wait until we get inside the walls” Hobson said “They are laying ambushes in the mazes and moving cannon from the other side of the walls to aim at us. We I have been studying the maps of the city. If we attack through the breaches which are developing we will hit god damn mazes that could become killers. Chokeholds. Chandni Chauk by the Kabul Gate could be a good target to attack and then consolidate. A foothold. Also the Skinner Church which is by the Water Bastion breach that is developing. The Jama Masjid Mosque is on the other side of the city but would facilitate the attack on the Red Fort. But the maze of streets is ghastly. If the rebels use each townhouse to shoot at us, using civilians as shields, it will be ghastly. It could turn into a blood bath.”
Chamberlain studied the city maps. “Delhi was always this semi ruin place of mazes instead of broad boulevards. The only way to fight our way to the Red Fort is going to be by bashing our way straight through from room through room. And floor through floor and house through house and block by block. Basically we have to bash our way through and establish footholds. Consolidation points. Then we will simply have to bludgeon our way through as if clearing out an infestation. Systematically flatten the city room by room and house by house and block by block. Literally bulldoze our way through and flatten the city. Create small battering rams that squads of men can carry to bash holes in each adobe wall, duck back for the fanatics to instinctively fire, blindly rake the interiors with return fire, pause, rake the interior with fire, then rush in firing away at anything and everything, take the room, then move on to the next and the next and the next. Civilians? Human shields? We cannot try to save them! As it is — the process will take weeks! And leave the city flattened!”
“And Delhi has been burning all of this time anyway” Hobson said. “Our shelling is starting yet more fires. The battle to come will start more fires. Delhi is like tinder! Delhi will be on fire before we can half way flatten it to the ground! What scares me is the civilians will probably try to ride out the shelling by cowering in their deep cool rooms! But when the fires really get going Delhi will erupt into a fiery holocaust and people cowering in cool rooms will —well— suffocate! Or burn alive!”
“But we could start targeting key parts of the city now with our artillery” I said. “The Red Fort. The mosques are all loaded to the gills with gunpowder. I could try to shell routes through the city, flattening routes through the city. And I will commence rehearsals with the forlorn hope columns. Siege ladders. Memorizing maps in their heads. If they can recite map directions with their eyes closed then maybe they will not get disorientated. I could have teams testing each other. One holding a compass and shouting out directions and the other forced to instantly recite streets and obstacles.”
“Good. Good! And we have to continue to organize the prize agents” Chamberlain said.
“That is your department” I said. “I totally oppose looting.”
“John. It is legal looting! The city refuses to surrender! If a city refuses to surrender then if it falls it can be sacked! Legal looting is at least not total free fall anarchy. We have assigned prize agents. Your military police will monitor to stop outright thuggery. We are not attacking civilian women and children or the extremely aged or banks or temples or churches. Rape will not be an option. Considering the rebel’s use of mass terror, torture, and murder of civilians we are trying to keep to the moral high ground. Edward Campbell, the prize agent, is a fine man isn’t he?”
“Yes” I replied grudgingly.
“Guilty rebels and rebel supporters must be punished but innocent civilians will not be looted” Chamberlain said.
“What about the bazaars?” I said. “The merchants of Delhi have been raped and looted by the rebels and now we are coming!”
“Hindus probably are not supporters and increasingly became the victims so I will talk to the prize agents” Chamberlain replied. “But after all of the rumors of people dancing in the streets as people were massacred and leaving corpses to rot ….unburied……” Chamberlain gestured.
“And the prize agents, being greedy buggers, should aim where the loot already is!” I snarled. “The rebels looted Delhi to the bone and dragged their loot into semi ruined townhouses of the rich who fled and set up criminal gang strongholds! Why not target that! They are the guilty!”
“I will point that out to the prize agents!” Chamberlain replied. “And Muslims lived in different parts of the town from the Hindus and a Muslim house is very different from a Hindu house! I will try persuade the prize agents to target Muslims. Not Hindus. The Hindus were ultimately the victims. Everyone knows it now. The Hindu civilians are not the same as the Hindu sepoys. Canning is saying we should try to shield the Hindus from the reprisals that the Muslims justly deserve with their infamy and treasonable conduct. Hindus were victims of the rebels and must not be victims of us.”
“My monitors say a lot of sepoys are tearing off their tunics and dressing in civilian clothes, even —burkhas — would you believe it!” Hobson said. “To flee! And hauling civilians alongside them and claiming they are families! To escape!”
“And what about the golden bridge?” I said. “We have to get that bastard Maulvi Muhammad Baqar to use one last edition of that Muslim newspaper of his! The Delhi Urdu Akbhar! Announcing that we are leaving the bridge of boats wide open for people to flee! No questions asked! Anyone! Everyone! Even sepoys! Even sepoys in burkhas! We must not press the enemy too hard. Let them have a golden bridge to retire by!
All right! When angry, and when I heard Henry Lawrence was murdered by them, — all right! I went berserk! Raving about flaying mutineers alive and boiling rebels in oil! But everyone knows I go berserk! But right now we need to offer the golden bridge to escape! For anyone except that African ex-slave nigger in Lucknow who shot Henry Lawrence while sniping on the roof! All right! That nigger I would flay with my own hands but otherwise……” I gestured in angry frustration.
“John is right” Chamberlain said. “The more people who leave Delhi now the easier the battle will be! And Clemency Canning has already said he will be authorizing amnesty so we might as well grit our teeth and let the population and even rebels escape with out without burkhas!”
“I have given Baqar an ultimatum” Hobson said. “He has diddled us for amnesty because of his support of the rebellion yet his rag has never once published the truth! I told him he had to issue one last edition advising everyone to flee Delhi NOW and that we would hold our fire and let everyone flee who wants to flee. And he has to at least challenge the fanatics by pointing out the obvious: if Delhi does not surrender it will be sacked and destroyed! But if Delhi formally surrenders then Delhi can be saved from destruction and it’s people saved! Saved! Guarantee! Saved! If he does that I have promised him amnesty. But if he does not deliver that edition then I will seen him strung up as a convicted war criminal. But will he do it? The weasel has not done it yet!”
“What about Zafar?” I asked. “The Royals? Half of those buggers were and are beggars! Beggars! I have a list of the royal brats who used the rebellion to enrich themselves but others were victims of Zafar. I mean for years! People starving! Begging Sir Metcalfe to feed them! Zafar partying and squandering his stipend as aged Royals starved! In rags! They should not be punished at least!”
“But Prince Mirza Mughal must be executed by the Sikhs” Hobson said. “Their pay off!”
“No” I said. “They will regret their revenge later!”
“Ok. I will execute Mirza Mughal in the presence of the Sikhs” Hobson said as he pulled off his blue glasses to rub his eyes. You could tell when Hobson had a stress migraine. He was having one now! I was giving him one!
“Formal treason trial” I said.
“No!” Hobson shouted as he pulled out a lavender poultice and held it to his forehead. “It is a prediction! A Sikh prediction! Tied to a brutal murder of some of their gurus! At a particular gate where gurus died horribly! Mirza Mughal and any other princes with him must die exactly the same way! To fulfill the Sikh prediction! Eye for an eye! Death for a death! This is their payback John! And Mirza Mughal is the only royal prince who was worth anything! Half way honest! Half way rational! Half way competent! The rest are either, as you say, beggars, royal beggars, or quiet nonentities, or else hated and reviled parasites! And believe me everyone violently hates the Royals now! The inbred parasite of the Red Queen is so hated and reviled it will be an achievement for me to save him!”
“What?” I stuttered.
“Propaganda!” Hobson said groaning. “If he is left and everyone hates his guts then the dynasty is totally discredited once I circulate the letters the Red Queen wrote to us during this siege! Offering to betray anyone and everyone! The dynasty will be totally discredited! Zafar handed out five rupees per severed head! And refused to surrender Delhi! But we know he will flee! The craven coward that he is! We will catch him! Then we will parade him through the city he allowed to be destroyed while he ran away to save his miserable neck! Then a show trial! Everyone will hate him! Hate them! Then we will let them live as abject and humiliating symbols of the corruption and depravity of the LAST MUGHALS!”
“Dethroned of course!” I said.
“Dethroned and hated forever!” Hobson snapped back as he rubbed the lavender on his aching migraine.
“Then why kill Mirza Mughal?” I asked.
“Because I need to discredit the LAST MUGHAL utterly! So I cannot deny the Sikhs their lust for vengeance to allow the only half way noble son to live! To become a rallying point! The Indian Bonnie Prince Charlie! For Indian Jacobites! Or even a noble martyr! I have to manufacture a death that is degrading, humiliating, that vindicates the Sikhs, and appears to be karma in action! Death for death! Him for the gurus his ancestors tortured and murdered without pity! Aurangzeb the Terrible’s IOU of brutality and insanity and gut wrenching evil delivered to his ancestor Mirza Mughal to pay in full with the very last drop of his life!”
I gritted my teeth. “One guarantee then!”
“Who?” Hobson all but shouted.
“Ghalib The Poet!” I said.
Hobson groaned as he rubbed the lavender over his aching brain. “John. I did not want to tell you because I know you admire his poetry but the last info my spies are telling me is that apparently there was a huge fight — gun battle — whatever. At the criminal hangout of a violent thug of a mutineer and his band of violent thugs. Holding a courtesan….”
“Manglo?” I gasped.
Hobson nodded. “Apparently Sikes and Ghalib and some few, very few , too few, brave souls tried to rescue her. And apparently …..well….”
“Who is dead?” I asked quietly.
“Unclear! The townhouse was filled with whores and loot and drugs and alcohol and weapons and ammo and it blew up — in the middle of a raging gun battle! No one knows who — or if — anyone — survived.”
“John” Chamberlain said as he gripped my arm. “If Ghalib the Poet lived we will of course protect him! After all, he was just about the very last person in Delhi who would join the Wahhabi cause! I am frankly surprised the Wahhabists did not murder him before now! His satires and sly wit and ridicule of them is notorious! He had fatwas slapped on his demanding his life for the sin of ridiculing Islam. I am sorry John.”
I nodded. “I liked his poetry” I said. “Sikes said he was helping the old man to try to survive the siege. Ride his coattails he said. “So no sign of Sikes either?”
Hobson shook his head. “I thought you hated him anyway?” he added as he rubbed his aching head.
“I do!” I retorted. “But …….I hate everyone! Being a grumpy badger!”
“John. Go home. Hug your family” Chamberlain said patting my arm. So I did. And now as I write this entry in my journal I wonder why I have such mixed feelings about Sikes’ possible death. After all, I utterly loathed the man.