Monday, 5 April 2010

Spoils of war

It was a great bloody carnival, with everyone making the most of the war: I recall one incident, in a Lucknow courtyard (I believe it may have been the Begum’s palace) in which I saw Highlanders, their gory bayonets laid aside, smashing open chests that were simply stuffed with jewels, and grinning idiot little Goorkhas breaking mirrors for sheer sport and wiping their knives on silks and fabrics worth a fortune – they didn’t know any better. There were Sikh infantry dancing with gold chains and necklaces round their necks, an infantry subaltern staggering under a great enameled pot overflowing with coins, a naval gunner bleeding to death with a huge shimmering bolt of cloth-of-gold clasped in his arms – there were dead and dying men everywhere, our own fellows as well as pandies, and desperate hand-to-hand fighting going on just over the courtyard wall; muskets banging, men shrieking, two Irishmen coming to blows over a white marble statuette smeared with blood, and Billy Russell stamping and damning his luck because he had no rupees on him to buy the treasure which private soldiers were willing to trade away for the price of a bottle of rum.

Flashman in the Great Game, p.264, Pan edition, 4th printing, 1979.

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