Church services on the Ridge for the devout. Ditto Sikh services. Ditto Hindu services. Ditto Sufi services. I attend a Sikh service and a tiny Shiva Lingayat Service. Freddy says the Christian services are all kirk doom and gloom. 50% of the British just got drunk. Everyone tidies up their doomsday outfits and clean their guns. Everyone must carry 200 rounds of ammo as well as at least 48 hours worth of water and emergency rations. Hobson’s last spy to escape says Bakht Khan is going to command the Kabul Gate. Prince Mirza Mughal again sent town criers to draft every male in the city to join the defenses — but only Muslims are appearing. The Hindus are voting with their feet. Monitors report that the Bridge of Boats and other Gates see over 10,000 more sepoys and civilians fleeing despite attempts by gate guards to either stop them or loot them. For once the mobs all but trample the bullies in their terror of fleeing the doomed city. Now even their fear of dacoits pale to fear of us.
Our guns continue to blast the city, ‘softening up’ routes and targets, widening mazes into possibly wider corridors for us to invade through. There are more and more explosions and fires erupting throughout the city. Freddy slips in after one of my contentious briefings of officers to report that a man I told him to watch, a suspicious digger, died of the cholera. I asked Freddy to pass the man’s whore a hundred rupees I gathered up when Mother was not looking. I shoved the money into Freddy’s pocket. “Don’t talk to anyone about it. I don’t want Mother to know. And another servant of mine died. Sadat Khan. He also has a wife up country. He had a falling out with the Commander of Wah! In Exile Plus over a dancing boy but…..” I shoved another 200 rupees in Freddy’s pockets. “And here is a letter to Hogg # 2 in Calcutta for you. Hogg # 2 will be a good contact for you Freddy. Ditto a letter here to Hogg # 1 London at India House. It does not hurt a soldier to know people at India House. Nothing wrong with that! I wrote to my Hogg Uncles so they know your name.” Freddy stuffed the letters into his now stuffed pocket and shuffled. “No emotions!” I said gruffly. “You know what a badger of a man I am! Final briefing! Come on! Detour by telegraph office!”
I get telegraphic messages from the Princes of Rajasthan. I have been keeping them all abreast of the operation. ‘Has the siege on Gwalior been lifted? I telegraph back no. Scindia is in deadly danger and facing thousands of mutineers from all sides. Jhansi has utterly betrayed him and is allowing rebels, Muslims, to attack Scindia using Jhansi as a launching pad. Scindia keeps a brave front. My Shining Prince! But his last telegraphic message referred to the Russian Gambit. That was the chess ploy he was holding up his sleeve. A chess ‘sacrifice’ means luring the opponent into taking the bait of a key piece that would lead to fatal check mate. But to work the ‘sacrifice’ must be a big. Very big. In this case the sacrifice would be Gwalior Fort. Hence the name: Russian Gambit. As in the Russian sacrifice of Moscow to defeat Napoleon and save Russia at the cost of it’s capital.
I told them I telegraphed Scindia when I first got the letter from Zafar offering to surrender to the Princes of Rajasthan if if if. But since then Zafar has not done a tinker’s damn as far as Scindia’s peril. Nor has he offered any sort of real gesture of surrender. Nor contacted me directly or indirectly. Prince Mirza Mughal and Bakht Khan have proceeded with their preparations to turn Delhi into the ultimate battlefield which will destroy Delhi utterly.
Then one by one the Rajput Princes telegraph back. “If the Mughal Emperor of the Rebels is sincere he must order the siege of Gwalior off and encourage the poor citizens of Delhi to flee. Only then can we believe he is sincere. Then we can offer to be telegraphic liaisons and negotiators for his formal surrender to save Delhi. But if his offer to us, the Royal Princes of India, is sincere he must stop the siege of Gwalior to prove his sincerity.”
Mewar telegraphed to offer to ride post haste if the siege can be suspended by all sides to personally negociate the surrender of the Emperor Zafar to deliver Delhi to the Loyalist Cause —- but only if the siege of Gwalior is called off and all civilians were allowed to flee Delhi now. All civilians. And Emperor Zafar must deliver two royal hostages to prove his sincerity: Mirza Mughal and his youngest son by the Red Queen.
I deliver the message to Hobson’s final spy to deliver to his agent inside the Red Fort. The spy said he would also try to find out what happened to Bill Sikes and Ghalib the Poet. If Sikes had been among the hordes desperately fleeing during the night he surely would have contacted me on the Ridge. We owed him safe passage. Why hasn’t he come to the Ridge with his loot to reap his reward: safe passage to Calcutta and home? And Sikes said he told Ghalib to contact me because I was his biggest fan. And right now having a major quasi general of the Loyalists as his biggest fan counted for something — if the aging poet could just escape from a doom city already on fire.
Final Briefing of the officers in Wilson’s tent. Four columns through the breaches with a fifth column in reserve. The first two columns would attack the Kashmiri Bastion breach and the Water Bastion breach. The third column would attack the Kashmiri Gate which was to be blown by engineers. The fourth column would try to take the Kabul Gate by blowing it. Mostly it was a diversion to tie down Bakht Khan. Each column would be between 500 and a thousand men. We were facing 30,000 trained sepoys and 30,000 raving Muslim fanatics. Each column leader would carry a different color flag. I would lead Column # 1. My banner would be green. Khan Son # 1 would carry it. Among my column would be Wah! In Exile Plus and Brother # 2 who was my aide de camp.
I led the briefing as I run down the agenda, standing as I always did with one foot on a chair as I use my black ruler to point out each key position on the map. Son # 1 long ago told me, when speaking in public, because I tended to stutter being shy, to speak abnormally slow. I did so now. But it actually worked. I don’t know why. But it kept me sounding calm and not like some god damn berserker which I come off sounding like! I use my agenda so I did not get flustered and swear at all. Then I looked at Wilson. That was his cue.
Wilson then said “For the sake of humanity and the honor of our country women and children are not to be hurt” and I nod curtly.
“After three days we should be in control and my Military Police will commence law and order. Here are the targets for immediate law and order. Anyone caught looting without permission or attacking women and children will personally get their fingers broken by me. Pro rata official looting will be pooled into a supervised fund to be ladled out in three months. So no one can fucking whine about not being allowed to fucking loot!” I took a deep breath and slowed down my breathing. Then I finished the briefing. “Remember! Each man is to carry 200 rounds of ammo and 48 hours worth of water and emergency rations! Leave the wounded! No prisoners! No looting! Follow the plan! Aim for the footholds we have marked! Get to the footholds and then consolidate your positions Sirs!”
After the final briefing I checked the telegraphs. Bill Sikes has not appeared. Nor has any official representative from the Red Fort. But Hobson produces the final edition of the Muslim rag.
“Although the kafirs are advancing toward us and dig a new front almost every night. The important thing is to admire the spirit and bravery of our victorious army! If Allah has placed us in this situation then there is some divine design in it. We should pray to Allah for forgiveness and enlightenment and we should make it a point to refrain from committing any excesses on our fellow human beings or exploiting or injuring them in any way. It is said the people of the city are in dire straits. It is time to provide succor and pray. Remember that when the time is right Allah will instantaneously bring us miraculous victory!”
“Bullshit!” I howled! He is suppose to be telling the people the situation is hopeless and they must flee tonight!” I all but tore it to ribbons.
Hobson snorted. “A little late to advise the zealots to stop terror tactics and atrocities!”
“And not one fucking word about the fact that if the city does not surrender before the guns fall silent then we can and will sack the city! Fuck it! Fuck it! Even now god damn it! If they would just send a god damn agent out to offer to negociate surrender we can hold off the battle! The Royal Princes have offered to mediate!”
“Yes. Well. This saves them an useless trip then!” Hobson said waving the trash. “I will consider this as not earning Baqar any gold stars toward eluding a hanging!”
“Are the gates open allowing people to flee?” I asked.
“People are fleeing but a lot are being harassed by rebel guards looting them and some gates are being closed to stop people fleeing. The rebels are hemorrhaging sepoys! Raving fanatics are one thing but trained soldiers fighting with their backs against the wall is another! The rebel leaders are trying to stop the trained soldiers from deserting to force them to fight to the death!”
“Damn!” I shouted.
“Tomorrow the citizens of Delhi will be in ‘dire straits’ indeed! Human shields! Caught right in the middle of a damnable battle to the death in the middle of the city of Delhi! It will be a deliberate blood bath!” Hobson pulled off his sun goggles and rubbed his baby blue eyes.
“Migraine?” I asked. Hobson nodded and put his sun goggles back on. “Well for once it is not me causing your stress headache Hobson!” I added. He snorted.
“Who wants to go down in history as the ‘Butcher of Delhi’?” he said. “But the rebels are leaving us no choice!” We looked at each other for a moment. Then like silly prats we formally shook hands.
“Oh fuck this!” I snarled and then I hugged the smaller man in my bony arms. “Remember back in Calcutta! So long ago! You were this brash, dashing, young cavalryman and I was this red neck greenhorn of a griffin! Remember!”
“I sold you my lease on a falling down bungalow!” Hobson laughed.
“And you told me on the 6 month ride up the Great Trunk Road to sleep with my god damn horse in my tent!”
“I still do when I have expensive polo ponies!” Hobson replied laughing. “Oh John! How did we come to this mess?”
“I don’t know. But you know I will always be your biggest fan Hobson!” I replied.
“Thanks!” Hobson said. “I seem to always somehow mess things up. I don’t know… people…. lose their respect for me. And my wife…..well….. one last love letter tonight in my tent eh!”
“Yes” I said. “You are the only man in all of India who writes love letters every single day to his wife! And actually is faithful to her!”
“And you should write to Edwardes John. I know his wife is back and being very ….memsahiby but….. you would regret not writing Edwardes ……now…..”
We hugged. Then Hobson swaggered off like the clown prince he was. I waved. But I did not write to Edwardes. His last letter to be dropped with religious hypocrisy. ‘We will pray for your soul John.’ That sort of kirk crap. And Edwardes was not even a kirk boy! I went and cooked Rose Delight with my Indian Sister and Mother instead. Then Mother surprised me with Bombay Fizzers!
“I had my first Bombay Fizzer with sailing to India age 16!” I said. I studied the seltzer water with the ball of sherbet bobbing as it melted into bubbly mess of delight. “I thought it was the cat’s meow! Still do!”
Bill Sikes has not contacted me. Hobson’s spy has not come back from Delhi.