Ned and Dick Warrener seem to find themselves in disguise a lot in this story, but their adventures are not so far-fetched as might be imagined. One should be aware of the exploits of a certain Mr Kavanagh (briefly mentioned at the start of Chapter 19), who lived with his wife and children in the Lucknow Residency at the time of the Mutiny.
In Late November 1857, as Sir Colin Campbell’s force was advancing from Kanpur on the besieged Residency, Kavanagh became convinced that someone had to get ‘intelligent information’ out. He approached Colonel Napier, whom he had known for many years and volunteered, His friend scoffed at the notion of a European ‘making up as a native’, but Kavanagh insisted on seeing General Outram, who shared his colonel’s opinion.
Undeterred, Kavanagh ‘went and borrowed native garments, only one in each place, to avoid suspicion’. He then went to a trusted friend’s house and dressed himself in the native clothes. His friend blacked his face, beard and hands – ‘all parts not covered by my dress’ – with oil and burnt cork. Kavanagh’s following description could come from many stories of the time (see especially the scenes in Storm Over Khartoum, where Rupert pulls a similar stunt on both Major Kitchener and later on his friends Lieutenants Easton and Skinner in Chapter 17).
‘I went to the officers’ mess, entered with my shoes on, and sat down uninvited, very rude things for a native to do. The officers commented in English on my impudence, and asked in Hindoostanee what I wanted. I replied in the same language that I wanted to see Colonel Napier.
‘He was called, and I talked to him in Hindoostanee, pretending to be a spy from a friendly rajah outside. Then I asked for General Outram. When [he] came i talked to him in the native language, and then said, in English, that I thought my disguise would answer, as neither he nor Napier had recognised me. “Why, it’s Kavanagh!” they both said together”.’
Late that same night the disguised Englishman set out with a native spy, forded the River ‘Goomtee’ near the Residency, recrossed it by the Iron Bridge and entered the city. After several adventures, including being stopped and questioned by a rebel officer when Kavanagh had to do the talking because his companion was too frightened to open his mouth, they got through the city and out towards the approaching British army.
© 2010 Reckless Books
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