PROLOGUE: THE STORMING OF SERINGAPATAM (1799)
3. CHAPTER III
So, as told in our camp, ran the fanciful story of the Moonstone.
It made no serious impression on any of us except my cousin--
whose love of the marvellous induced him to believe it.
On the night before the assault on Seringapatam, he was absurdly
angry with me, and with others, for treating the whole thing
as a fable. A foolish wrangle followed; and Herncastle's
unlucky temper got the better of him. He declared, in his
boastful way, that we should see the Diamond on his finger,
if the English army took Seringapatam. The sally was saluted
by a roar of laughter, and there, as we all thought that night,
the thing ended.
Let me now take you on to the day of the assault. My cousin and I
were separated at the outset. I never saw him when we forded the river;
when we planted the English flag in the first breach; when we crossed
the ditch beyond; and, fighting every inch of our way, entered the town.
It was only at dusk, when the place was ours, and after General Baird
himself had found the dead body of Tippoo under a heap of the slain,
that Herncastle and I met.
We were each attached to a party sent out by the general's orders
to prevent the plunder and confusion which followed our conquest.
The camp-followers committed deplorable excesses; and, worse still,
the soldiers found their way, by a guarded door, into the treasury
of the Palace, and loaded themselves with gold and jewels.
It was in the court outside the treasury that my cousin and I met,
to enforce the laws of discipline on our own soldiers. Herncastle's fiery
temper had been, as I could plainly see, exasperated to a kind
of frenzy by the terrible slaughter through which we had passed.
He was very unfit, in my opinion, to perform the duty that had been
entrusted to him.
There was riot and confusion enough in the treasury, but no
violence that I saw. The men (if I may use such an expression)
disgraced themselves good-humouredly. All sorts of rough
jests and catchwords were bandied about among them;
and the story of the Diamond turned up again unexpectedly,
in the form of a mischievous joke. "Who's got the Moonstone?"
was the rallying cry which perpetually caused the plundering,
as soon as it was stopped in one place, to break out in another.
While I was still vainly trying to establish order, I heard
a frightful yelling on the other side of the courtyard, and at
once ran towards the cries, in dread of finding some new outbreak
of the pillage in that direction.