Saturday, August 18, 2012

Flashman in the Great Game - Chapter 13

This, the lucky thirteenth chapter of Flashman in the Great Game starts the close of the whole crazy adventure. It's also one of the best chapters in the book in my opinion. It contains sections I've remembered better than a lot of others in this fifth of Harry's escapades.

Flashman is imprisoned at Gwalior on Lakshimibai's orders, although I think she expected Sher Khan to treat him better than he was. The soldier basically ignored Flashman for the entire two months he was held captive in a tiny cell in the dungeon at Gwalior, only occasionally checking to see that he was still alive.

While Harry was incarcerated the mutiny ground to a halt as the superior British forces began to clean up the few remaining hold outs and pockets of resistance. Flashman was unaware of this as he only rarely saw Sher Khan, and he didn't get any news.

To prevent madness Flashman had heard of prisoners performing mental exercises in their heads. Some remembered hymns or poetry, others did mathematical theorems. Harry freely admits he's not much for religion or mathematics, and the only poem he had ever committed to memory was one Arnold made him remember as a punishment for farting in church.

What Harry does is try to remember every woman he's ever had. From a maid when he was fifteen to a half caste at Cawnpore. His final tally is four hundred and seventy eight. It's a total that impressed even Flashman, especially as he wasn't counting return engagements. He was in his mid thirties at the time, and I'd be willing to bet that by the time he died in his 90's he'd probably more than doubled that amount.

Possibly due to this Flashman had one of those marvelous nightmares that George MacDonald Fraser wrote so magnificently. He was hosting a ball for all of the ladies aboard the Balliol College. John Charity Spring conducted the orchestra and Elspeth danced with Lord Palmerston. Also in attendance, and mentioned by name were Lola Montez (Royal Flash), Josette and Judy (Flashman), The Silk One (Flashman at the Charge), Susie Willincks (Flash for Freedom!), Baroness Pechmann (Royal Flash) and even Nareeman (Flashman).

It's not long after that little trip down memory lane that Harry is taken from the dungeon because Lakshimbai wants to see him. There's a description of a battle at this point, and Fraser does do these very well, he seems to capture the chaos and confusion of a fight, and it all centres around his narrator. The Rani gives Harry his freedom, but he doesn't take it and sees her enter the battle, and is by her side when she dies. Harry doesn't elaborate on how she received her fatal wound, but the Notes indicate that it's believed to be the result of a bullet.

Worse is yet to come for Flashman. He's knocked unconscious during the battle and wakes to find himself strapped to the barrel of a cannon! I don't think this was the preferred method of execution, but a number of mutineers were killed this way. It's barbaric, but the soldiers seemed to think it was fitting revenge for the depredations of the mutineers in killing and cutting up British women and children. Harry manages to catch the eye of a lieutenant and have his gag removed. He knows one of the officers; a captain from the 8th Hussars, who was in the Charge of the Light Brigade with him, and displays enough knowledge to make them believe his claim to being the famous Harry Flashman. He then demands that the other mutineers be taken down and set free.

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