If God Should Permit this Fearful Mutiny
Cheam High School, London
What on the BLT19.co.uk website inspired you?
I was inspired by an article in the British Workman (located on the second page of British Workman Vol. 1, No. 36, Dec 1857) entitled ‘A Cry from India’, which suggests the problems in India were a result of England’s failure to convert them to Christianity. This made me think about the colonial mindset present at the time and still often prevalent today and the flawed nature of this view. I decided to explore this through the lens of British soldiers in India, as I felt this could give an interesting perspective on the situation.
“A dreadful sight, is it not?” Captain Thomas Hardwig observed as he gazed out upon the slaughtered bodies of the local population. Their houses were in cindered ruins, their enemies having set them on fire in the night to draw them out in search of safety. Though safety, in this case, had come in the form of a sword in the back or neck, so perhaps it would be safe to say that safety had not been found. Any who had made it away from the burning collection of buildings had simply been shot. Thomas Hardwig was a tall man, five foot eight in height, with a brown handlebar moustache and short brown hair, which was at this time hidden under his pith helmet.
“Do you suppose these were Muslims or Hindus?” He asked.
“I believe these were Hindus.” Lieutenant Samuel Bellit replied, Bellit being a smaller man with a brown lampshade moustache with his hair covered by an identical pith helmet.
“Not that I suppose it matters much, both sides are brutal if you ask me. This isn’t even the worst of it! It’s a real shame there hasn’t been more of a push to put a bible in their hands; no Christian would ever do this sort of thing.” Hardwig said with a sad, despairing shake of his head.
“You’re right of course, sir. A real shame, and over what? I’ve never seen much of a difference between them anyway.” Bellit concurred.
“Nor have I, nor have I. But alas, it is always the duty of us Christians to sort out the bodies,” Hardwig said.
“Yes, I can only imagine the brutal state they would be in if not for our being here; the empire is truly a blessing upon them”, Bellit replied with a shake of his head.
They began to collect the dead to be taken and buried nearby in a mass grave. It was hard work under the burning rays of the Indian sun, but they did what they had been instructed to do. After a few minutes of doing this, Bellit stopped to look down at one of the bodies; it was the body of a young boy who couldn’t have been much older than eight. He was lying face down on the ground, a hole in his back surrounded by congealed blood from where the blade of a sword had entered. He was glad he couldn’t see the boy’s face; he couldn’t imagine the expression would be pleasant. For the first time, he really began to consider what these people’s lives were like, or had been like in this case. He had been here for a few years, but had before this point never really thought much about it beyond what was needed in order to do his job. But he now found himself wondering what games this boy played, what stories his mother told him, what he had aspired to be when he grew up. Ultimately Bellit decided it wasn’t worth giving any more thought; the boy was dead, and he wasn’t here to be an anthropologist. He was here to do what he was to do everywhere, follow orders. The phrase ‘when in Rome’ didn’t seem to matter much when the figurative Rome was ruled by the British empire.
“Are you doing alright there?” Hardwig asked from behind Bellit, who had failed to notice his superior’s approach.
“Yes sir, just about to take this body over to the others.”
“Good, good. It just seemed as though you were taking more time than normal.”
“No, everything is fine sir.” Bellit said. “However, I was wondering if I could ask you something.”
“Of course lieutenant, what is it?” Hardwig asked, raising a thick curious eyebrow.
“Do you ever feel like it’s all somewhat pointless? I mean, we’re out here on the other side of the world in a place that our families will never go to.” Bellit said, becoming more frustrated and passionate as he spoke.
“I think we’ve all felt that at times, but we’re doing this for Britain. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that, but our families gain a lot from the empire” said Hardwig.
“I suppose so.” Bellit said solemnly.
Hardwig put his hand on Bellit’s shoulder and looked down at the child’s body. “I know seeing this sort of thing is hard, even after seeing it many times. I saw many dreadful things during my time in Crimea, but I know ultimately that I saw and did what I had to in order to do my duty.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Bellit said, picking up the child’s body.
It was so disturbingly light as if it were made of nothing at all. He carried it over to the pile of corpses and placed it down gently, in contrast to how he and others had roughly thrown down the previous bodies. As Bellit was about to walk away, he noticed something. On one of the dead bodies, that of a young woman, there was something shining around her neck. He knelt down and inspected it. It was a necklace, which appeared to be made of silver, it depicted a hand with an eye on it. He looked at it for a moment, before taking it from her and stuffing it into his pocket. It wasn’t as though she was going to get any use out of it.
That night Bellit lay in his uncomfortable bed, staring up at the white ceiling, examining a single crack which ran along it. The shape of it reminded him of the necklace, and he felt the compulsion to wear it. He went over to his jacket and reached into his pocket, taking the necklace out and holding it up to the sliver of moonlight which sneaked in through the window. It was even more beautiful than he had remembered; the detailing was subtle but intricate and led the viewer’s eyes along it. He put it over his head and felt the coldness of the metal against his neck, soothing the slight burning there from that day’s work in the sun. Its gentle weight felt natural to him as he climbed back into his bed and he fell asleep almost instantly.
Four years had passed since that night, and Bellit now stood outside his home, a small quaint house in the English countryside. He had almost forgotten the damp chill, which was distinctive of the British weather. It was a cold which rested on your skin and caused the silver necklace which still rested around his neck to bite. It felt strange to be back here; the colours and shapes seemed to take on a surreal quality, more like a dream than any sort of tangible reality. He took a deep breath before opening the gate to the garden and walking up to the front door. He opened it to find his wife sitting on a wooden chair anxiously waiting for him. Her face lit up as soon as she saw him, rushing to hug him. They held each other for a moment, the feeling of her in his arms was at once alien and familiar, only adding to his sense of disorientation.
“You’re back.” She said with a smile.
“I seem to be,” Bellit said, doing his best to smile back.
“How are you?” She asked.
“You read my letters?”
“Of course I read your letters, but that isn’t the same thing as you telling me now that you’re back,” she said before pausing to look more closely at him.
“What’s this?” She asked, grabbing hold of the necklace and pulling it closer to her.
“That’s a necklace I found while in India. I kept it as a sort of souvenir, and it’s grown on me quite considerably.”
“Huh, it’s very unique. What was India like? I’ve heard all kinds of stories about it.”
“Rather boring in all honesty, though perhaps I was simply too busy to enjoy any of the interesting parts.”
“But it wasn’t too unpleasant, I hope?”
“No, not too unpleasant. Just a lot to do, even with it being mostly uneventful where I was stationed,” he said, and they proceeded into the kitchen to eat the meal which she had prepared for them.
Later on that day, Bellit sat in his room alone, listening to the sound of his own breathing and a ticking clock. He had sat in this room many times before he had left, and nothing had really changed about it, but it wasn’t the same room. He wondered if this constant feeling would ever truly pass. He held the necklace in his hands and felt as though he were back in India. Back to the day he had found it. Hardwig had died, he had been shot in the head after being restationed, or so Bellit had been told. It had taken all of his willpower not to cry when he had first heard the news, he and Hardwig had never been particularly close, but it was still shocking to hear someone with whom a sense of camaraderie had been developed was now dead. Here, finally, now alone and back in safety, he finally allowed himself to cry. Only a few tears ran down his face, but an ugly groan escaped from his lips. After a minute, he quickly wiped the tears away.
Back in India, another town was under attack, this time by British troops. The assault was quick and merciless, taking very little time at all. The men walked away after it was done; someone else would clear the bodies, much as Bellit had done. A resounding success, as the commander would later tell his superiors and friends. It was dusk, and the sky was a smokey orange, but the sun never sets on the British empire.