Thackeray gathered his remaining officers round him inside the tiny ruined Chapel that served as his headquarters. The remnants of his native infantry battalion manned whatever part of the perimeter still afforded cover. The guns were for the moment silent. Powder-stained and ragged, his officers crowded round the map Thackeray had spread on the battered altar, which would soon revert to a bloody operating table.
“We’ve been though much since Kandahar,” Thackeray’s strong voice belied his exhausted eyes and wilting side-whiskers, “So I’ll not attempt to gull you now.”
He outlined a circle around the compound with a blunt forefinger, “There are twenty thousand Mutineers out there, in a bloody frenzy, armed to the teeth. We have approximately...” and he glanced at his aide-de-camp Masterson.
“About a hundred and ten native infantry, at the last count.” replied that worthy. “But they’re slipping away to join the rebels on an hourly basis.”
There was a grumble of disapproval amongst them; such treachery was not to be countenanced. Thackeray drew himself up.
“There will be no relief column,” he growled “And there will be no surrender. I expect you to hold to the last man.”
“To the very last bullet, Sir,” they assured him.
Then adjusting their buttons and belts to meet their destiny with full regimental dignity, they strode out to die like Englishmen.
Thackeray waited for each return to his post. Then he tore off his tunic and smeared himself with boot polish. Winding a filthy turban about his head and sticking a murderous knife in his belt, he left by the back door. He hunched his back and ran with a curious, crippled gait. He hoped to God he looked like an old Sepoy as he slipped through the lines to blend with the oncoming hordes.