Monday, June 18, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game Chapter 9

The 9th chapter of Flashman in the Great Game is an action packed one, maybe a little too action packed.

Just when things looked dire for the besieged defenders they received a note from the Indian leader; Nana Sahib, offering to treat with them. Flashman was sent along with another officer to meet and assess the offer. Attending Sahib were his chief general Tantia Tope, who although Flashman made very little reference to, was a tough proposition for the British forces, the other person was one of this extraordinary characters who seemed to pop up in the sub continent back during the days of the Raj, his name was Azeemoolah Khan. He spoke French and English, had spent time in Britain, knew all about Harry and his reputation and even seemed to be acquainted with one of Flashman’s friends; the journalist Billy Russell. Russell and Khan were actually enemies, but Harry was unaware of that at the time.

The offer seems genuine and even without Flashman’s histrionics, as he plays the noble hero card to the hilt, the British forces had little choice, but to accept it. The alternative is to be overwhelmed where they are. At least this way, even if they are betrayed, they may get the women and children to safety.

As it turns out they are played by Nana Sahib and his forces do massacre the surrendered British. They’re indiscriminate about it too. They kill soldiers, defenceless women and children. Very few escaped. Harry believes that he and a handful of men were possibly the only ones.

Prior to Harry fleeing for his life two incidents occur. Harry’s present at one and hears about the other. Before the actual betrayal some British officers and their retinue which consisted of some loyal native officers, one being Ilderim Khan, were murdered. Ilderim had been given the opportunity to leave and had refused, largely due to his concept of honour. When Flashman is told that Ilderim was shot and left to die in a ditch by the side of the road he can’t initially believe it. Ilderim had always been so indestructible, even when Harry first met him as a teenager. He does appear to be quite angry with Ilderim, because all his honour bought him was an ignominious death by the side of the road. This is probably yet another incident in Flashman’s career that forms his lowly opinion of concepts like courage and honour. The other incident is that East is stabbed in the back during the massacre and dies. His last thoughts and words are about a doctor, the other officers think he’s asking for the doctor. Flashman knows he means Arnold. Flashman never showed anything but contempt for East and his friends, but he is moved by the death of someone he’s known since they were a child and I think angered in the manner of it.

Once he and his fellows escape from the mutineers they are set upon by savages, stirred up by the madness engulfing the country and in running from them find themselves fighting crocodiles in the Ganges. There is some musing by Flashman that the crocodiles may have been a species known as gharials, but that’s unlikely as the notes explain that gharials only hunt fish.

As with many of Harry’s escapades it’s pretty hard to believe that this could all happen to the one group of people and they’d still come out of it alive, but there is documented proof from some of the actual survivors that it did all happen as related by Flashman in his memoirs. Of course the historical people who this happened to weren’t dealing with the twin blows of losing long time friends, although it’s reasonable to assume that some of them did lose people they were close with during the massacre.

Ilderim’s death affected me, and I wished that the news was incorrect and he survived somehow, but he didn’t. I liked the character and was sad to see him go and to have it happen in such a way only rubbed salt into the wound.

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