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BRIDGE OF BOATS.
as a cover for the enemy's spies and stragglers to watch or fire upon our videttes, but this jungle was shortly afterwards burnt.
Opposite Sobraon the Sikhs appeared to be remarkably busy, and it was shortly discovered that they were employed in constructing a bridge of boats across the Sutlej. This, at the time, was considered a mere piece of bravado. Few conjectured that the enemy would have the hardihood to attempt a passage in the face of the British army, and they were left, unmolested, to complete their purpose. In a few days the bridge was complete save four boats, and we began to suspect that the deficiency, which was of some days' continuance, was intentional, when one morning the gap was filled up, and their workmen were seen busily constructing a tête-de-pont on the British shore.
A battery of Sikh guns was posted on the right bank which would sweep the bridge, and it was conjectured that the enemy had mined some of the boats, so that in case of the British attempting to use them they might
THE ENEMY'S CAMP.
at any time be blown up; but no inclination was manifested on our part to accept this invitation.
The hum in the enemy's camp towards nightfall, and the glare of their camp fires, caused the scene to resemble the vicinity of a large city, whilst the occasional arrival of a chief from Lahore was greeted with acclamations and the roar of cannon. From the ramparts of a small fortified village on the right flank of our position, we could observe the Sikh battalions turning out every evening for parade and exercise, and their artillery practice was almost unremitting. The fire of cannon and musketry, which was constantly heard even after nightfall, made us frequently conjecture that some point of our position had been attacked, but it proved that the enemy were only amusing themselves.
Our spies brought word that an attack on the British army was meditated on the part of the enemy, who only awaited a report, from their astrologers, of the stars being favourable to the success of the undertaking.
On the 13th of January, a battery of guns was brought up by Sir Hugh Gough's orders, and placed in position; and, as soon as the daylight enabled him to ascertain the distance, a cannonade was opened on their advanced lines, which was promptly replied to by the enemy. Little or no damage ensued except the bursting of our largest gun (an iron eighteen pounder), which wounded an artilleryman severely, and put an end to the game. That evening the Sikhs struck their tents, which had been impudently pitched so near our position, not wishing to risk the effects of a chance shot on a repetition of that day's proceeding; but they might have spared themselves the trouble, for the first experiment was sufficient.
Occasional skirmishes took place at the outposts along the river, which served to interrupt in a measure the tedium of
routine. The Sikhs, who now crossed in great numbers during the day to work at their entrenchments, and usually retired towards nightfall, amused themselves with ball practice at any moving object they could discern within musket range.
A small look-out tower, which we had thrown up to watch their proceedings, served the Sikhs for constant practice, and the compliment was returned
such of their marksmen as ventured to offer themselves for targets.
As our officers were strictly interdicted from the pursuit of small game in the jungles which bordered on the river, some were obliged to content themselves with this inferior sport, but the practice, being at a long range, was nearly innocent.
One night a party of Sikhs made a successful foray upon a picket of irregular cavalry, and killed three or four of them. As the enemy occupied the high ridge above Hureeka ford, which precluded any view into the interior, it was impossible to ascertain the post or strength of their pickets, although the videttes on the bank were always visible. The Sikhs had therefore the advantage of commanding the fords whenever they pleased to make use of them for predatory excursions.
Our inaction at this time, when in face of
the whole Sikh army, may appear strange to many, but the British generals had wisely resolved that offensive operations should not be resumed, if avoidable, until the means were at hand for striking an effective blow and pursuing the advantage when gained. The siege train had only quitted Delhi early in January, and the pontoon train at Ferozepore was, in the meantime, being secretly but effectively prepared for service. Any operations which might be undertaken before the whole machinery could be brought into action would therefore have been of little avail.
The time dragged slowly and monotonously on with us. The outpost duties of outlying and inlying pickets and camp guards were severe and tiresome; but even when free from such restraints, few quitted the lines of their regiments, as we knew not the hour we might be called on for action.
This state was not destined to be of long duration. Reports had already been forwarded to head-quarters that Loodiana was threatened