Many Years Before My Story Starts
In the Red Fort Palace in the Ancient City of Delhi: September 1857
By standing on a chair and peering forward through the sandalwood lattice, Ali could see the fires of the beautiful, ancient city drawing ever nearer to the palace. The evening sky was lit up by the lurid flames engulfing homes and buildings across the city. It was the fourth month of the siege and time was running out for the people of the palace. Ali was standing in the gallery, high above the street. Normally the city below would be teeming with life: all around the palace walls in peaceful times there were the lanes of the bazaar and the comings and goings of the Emperor's subjects with haughty camels, proud elephants, lumbering ox carts and humble donkeys. But that was in happier times - before the rebellion had swamped the heart of the great Mughal Empire.
Now the noise of the battle and the smoke of the canon fire reached into the heart of the old city and Ali could see in every face the fear of what tomorrow might bring. He felt it too. Many of the Emperor's servants had already escaped, slipping away through unguarded gates or through the underground passages that connected the palace to the old city. Once the palace was surrounded and the Emperor himself could not honourably escape, there had been a plan to take the Empress and the ladies of the harem to safety but a treacherous slave had betrayed the plan and the secret passage had had to be collapsed with gun powder. Everyone knew that within days - perhaps only hours- the palace and the Emperor and all the court would fall to the ferocious British troops gathered at the gates. Above the noise of the battle below the palace walls, Ali could hear the whirling of the Scottish bagpipes and the drunken shouting of the English soldiers who knew that victory was close at hand. When the last of the Emperor's brave Indian soldiers were killed, the palace, the Emperor and all his treasures would be lost.
More than all this, it would be the end of the Empire itself. For centuries, an Emperor had ruled the people of India from this palace. With its high red sandstone walls, its noble towers, its hidden gardens and treasures, the Red Fort palace had been loved by the people of the old city. The present Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, lived a holy and good life: he was an old and scholarly gentleman. His ambitious sons and his Grand Wazir, however, had encouraged rebellion and had brought the anger of the British down upon them all. Six months ago, it looked as if the hated British would be driven out of India; now it was certain that the Emperor himself would be forced to plead for his life from the violent soldiers who would kill his faithful servants, burn his beautiful home and steal everything of value.
Ali was the lowest of the servants in the great palace - a little boy who worked in the kitchens and who always seemed to get the dirtiest jobs to do. His boss was the palace cook - a grand person with a sleek red turban and a haughty manner who often gave his orders to Ali with a sharp blow or a threat. Ali was used to being bullied; he had never known the love of a mother or father before he came as a slave to work long days in the palace kitchen and sleep at night on a mat beside the stove. He was silent among the many grand people of the palace but he was not stupid - and he was not surprised when one of the first servants to desert the Emperor was the bullying cook who told everyone before he slipped away that he had had a letter from his grandmother in Kashmir who needed him urgently. Many others found similar excuses to desert the Emperor when he needed them most and soon Ali found himself promoted to serving at table. That is how little Ali, the lowest of the palace servants, found himself in the last days of the terrible siege waiting on the Emperor himself in the private apartments of the Red Fort palace.
The plate he carried on a big silver tray may have been made of gold, but the meal on it was simple and scanty. After months of siege, there was little enough for anyone to eat - even the Emperor. Ali bowed as he brought the food forward and he bowed again when he had placed the tray before the man he recognised as the Emperor himself. Ali knew that a good servant did not look into the face of his master, but as he bowed waiting to be dismissed, he was surprised to feel a gentle hand on his chin, lifting his face up to look into the Emperor's kind eyes.
"Well, little one," the Emperor said sadly, "have all my servants run away? And will you run too, when you can?"
Ali was too frightened to answer- none of his work in the kitchens had prepared him for a moment like this - but the Emperor held his chin and seemed to demand an answer. Then the Emperor smiled a sad, kind smile that encouraged Ail to smile back. Even at this time of crisis, the Emperor was dressed in beautiful silk robes. There was a chain of emeralds around his neck and in his turban there was an enormous pink pearl set with diamonds into a splendid gold pin. But for all the splendour of the Emperor's clothes, one was drawn immediately to the sad and haunted eyes in his old, weathered face.
"Your Majesty," Ali whispered, “I think that I will have to wait until the British soldiers come. I have nowhere to go."
"Nor do I," chuckled the Emperor bitterly, "nor do I. And as we are both prisoners then, waiting for the same terrible, uncertain ending, perhaps you could keep an old man company while I eat my dinner. Tell me your name and about your life and where you come from. We don't have much time before the British soldiers break through into my palace but you're only a little boy so perhaps you don't have a very long story to tell. Sit here beside me - and share my dinner."
This was a desperate, sad time but in the midst of the noise and drama of the battle, old man and boy sat and shared the simple rice and vegetables. Ali had never eaten from a gold plate before and the Emperor was right: there was little enough to tell of his life but Ali did his very best. He began with his earliest memories of a poor village far from the splendours of the palace. He had been orphaned at such a young age that he couldn't remember his parents at all. His uncle had taken in the little boy and his bigger sister, Parvati, when his parents died but that uncle was poor too and had children of his own to care for. There simply wasn't enough work [and certainly not enough food] to be found in the one little farm his uncle worked for a grasping landlord. When Parvati was only ten years old, she had been given as a wife to the local money lender; at the same time, Ail had been sold to the cook at the palace. There was nothing much more to tell and Ali fell silent, before looking into the sad face of the old Emperor - and finding him in tears.
"Ali," said the Emperor sadly through his tears, "you are so young and your life has been so poor and hard - and yet here you are when so many others have fled to the British or run away." There was a long silence; Ali sensed that the Emperor was struggling to make a difficult decision. Finally, he smiled and took Ali's hand.
"Soon, the British soldiers will be here. I know them - and what they are capable of. They will burn and loot the palace; they will probably kill me. But they may spare the ladies of my harem; perhaps they will even spare my sons and my grandsons. Almost certainly they will spare a little boy like you who has no value to them. Do you know my sons? Do you know my grandson?"
"Yes, Your Majesty,'“Ali replied. "But why is that important at this moment?"
"I need you to do me a great service, the Emperor said quietly. "And I must trust you -
for to be honest, all the men I thought I could trust have run away and broken my heart. Will you promise to serve me in this, Ali, even though what I will ask of you must put your life in danger?"
"Yes, Your Majesty, I will," said the boy. He spoke in a whisper because the Emperor himself spoke quietly; he seemed to fear anyone hearing them at this moment.
The Emperor sighed and drew back, trying to make his voice sound conversational and relaxed. "Ali,” he said, "can you bring me the wooden box on the table over there?"
Ali hadn't noticed until now the beautiful wooden box on the low brass table; he went to fetch it and bowed again as he held it carefully out with both hands. The box was beautiful, made of fine cherrywood and carved all over in an elegant Kashmiri design of roses and oak leaves. Even among the splendours of the palace, Ali had never seen anything so beautiful. The Emperor noticed how the boy's eyes lit up as he held the marvellous object in his hands.
"Do you like it, little one?" asked the Emperor with a chuckle. Ali nodded, a little ashamed that he had allowed his feelings to show quite so obviously to the great man, his Master. "We'll then, in happier times- when all of this is over, you may keep it for yourself. And it has a secret. Look carefully."
The Emperor opened the box and Ali was a little disappointed to find that it was empty. Such a box, Ali thought, should contain a great treasure. The interior was divided into three sections; the left and right sections were empty, the cherrywood being left plain and unadorned. The middle third of the box, however, was closed over and the roses and oak leaf design was repeated in this lovely panel.
"And now, little one, rest your finger on the rose carved right in the bottom corner of the box- just here." Ali did as he was told and pushed gently and the carved panel covering the middle section of the box sprung open and Ali gasped.
"You may pick it up," said the Emperor sadly and Ali - with the most exquisite care - reached in and picked up a diamond as big as his fist. It wasn't easy: the box had obviously been designed to house the diamond for it fitted so snugly that it was only with the greatest care that Ali was able to prise it out of its setting and lift it up to the last of the evening light filtering through the carved sandalwood window.
It was astonishing. The stone had been cut in a perfect tear drop shape and light sparkled from every facet. It was heavy and cold and astonishingly beautiful. The Emperor held out his hand and Ali happily turned the stone over to him; he immediately felt a sense of relief. He hadn't realised until the stone was gone from his hand how sad it made him feel.
"Ah, little one," said the Emperor, "I can see that even you can feel the grim power of the most precious gem in the whole collection of the Crown Jewels. My ancestor- the first emperor to conquer India for the Prophet- took this jewel from a Hindu prince whom he slew in battle. The Hindu prince wore the stone on a chain around his neck and my ancestor took both the jewel and the life of the man who wore it. It is known by many names but I call it the Star of Hind. Apart from my family, this is the most precious thing I own. It has the power to bring great happiness - and great sadness to its owner. Every one of my ancestors who has owned the Star of Hind has suffered grief but that, of course, is the fate of great kings. And I give it now into your safe keeping."
Here the Emperor returned the gem stone to its snug position in the wooden box and closed the lid. Secured like this, only someone who was very careful or part of the secret would think that the box held something precious.
"I charge you, Ali, with this great responsibility. Soon, the British will storm into the palace: they may kill me but I pray that they will spare my sons or my grandson. Take this great treasure and keep it safe. When the time is right, deliver the Star of Hind to the Crown Prince, Mirza Mughal. If by terrible chance my son does not survive until there is peace in the Empire again, please give it to my grandson. The British soldiers may ignore a little boy and you might escape with the great treasure."
Ali was deeply touched by the trust of the saintly old man and took his hand gently. He had not the slightest idea how he could ever keep this extraordinary promise but rather than make any excuse, Ali spoke from his heart. "Your Majesty, if it is possible to do what you ask, then I will gladly do it. You can trust me. I will obey you in this and in all things. At least, I will do my best."
"Then I cannot ask anything more of you," said the Emperor. "But perhaps you will need something precious to help you escape - to offer as a bribe or to secure a way through the enemy lines. Take this," said the Emperor.
He handed Ali a little leather purse: it was full of gold coins - much more money than Ali had ever seen in his life. "Put it in your pocket, little one. And put this into the Kashmiri box."
Here, the Emperor took off the splendid turban jewel he was wearing - the glorious pink pearl and diamond ornament set in gold. The Emperor placed the jewel on one side of the secret compartment. Then he took off the emerald chain around his neck and placed it on the other side of the box. The two beautiful jewels took up the whole box and the Emperor closed the box with a sad smile. "If you can escape and deliver the Star of Hind to my son, you may keep the emeralds and the pearl. That will be your reward - only be faithful to me in the matter of the great jewel. That is all I ask."
Ali was frightened of the great treasure being put into his hands but knew that he had made his promise and now he must do all that he could to save the precious jewel for the Emperor's son. If he could, of course, he intended to give the chain of emeralds and the turban jewel into the keeping of Mirza Mughal. Such treasures really belonged to the Emperor, of course, and not to a little slave boy.
"Now go with God, little one, and may He keeps you safe from the British - and from every temptation to abandon the charge I have given you. There will never be another Empire without the Star of Hind. The British know that- and they will be looking for it as soon as their cannons and bombs have done their work."
Ali bowed to the Emperor but on an impulse, he hugged the old man and cried with him. He had never known the gentle kindness of a father or grandfather and his parting from the only adult male who had ever shown him gentleness was heartbreaking and sincere.
Ali could not know it, but the next ten minutes as he walked from the Emperor's room to his place in the kitchens was the most dangerous moment of that day. If one of the Emperor's courtiers or guards had stopped him and demanded to know what he was carrying it is unlikely that he would have lived to see the evening. The little boy had been in the Emperor's chamber and now he was found with a purse of gold and two priceless treasures. He could be taken for a thief and killed on the spot by a nervous guard or palace official. But the word had spread through the palace that the end was very close- that there was no way the brave Indian soldiers could hold out against British cannon for one more night. Everyone was thinking only of how they would face the terror that must come in the next hour or so; no one was interested in just one more little servant.
Ali had to think quickly. He went to the tiny corner of the kitchen where he slept and found the dirty swag where he kept his bedroll. He slipped the box into the bedding, then spread it out and put in his only change of clothes and a rough pottery cup. Then he added the last dry chapattis that were left over from dinner and rolled the bedding up. He tied it with a leather belt and stood it on end in the corner. When the time came to flee, he would be ready.
He did not have long to wait. Only three hours later, there was a mighty clamour through the palace and Ali could hear people screaming and running. There was noise too of wood and glass being smashed and cries of agony and fear. Ali swung the precious swag onto his back and dashed up the stairs and into the great hall where the Emperor conducted his business in happier times. What he found there made his heart sick. The last of the Indian soldiers had retreated to the hall, their swords still drawn but many were wounded and bloody. The British had stormed through triumphantly and now held their rifles to their shoulders, ready to kill the last resisters. In the crowded room, however, it was just as likely that stray bullets would kill British officers as Indian soldiers. The standoff was only broken when the Emperor himself and his sons and grandson came calmly through the corridors at the rear and told the Indian guards to put down their swords. The battle was over and the pain was now all the Emperor's to bear.
What followed was too terrible to tell in any detail. The commanding British officer, Colonel Hodson, silenced his own soldiers and stepped forward. He struck the elderly man in the face and ordered two of his officers to take the Emperor away. With a dignified bow, his face ashen, the Emperor turned to go. As he did so, he caught Ali's eye and nodded at him. Then he was gone. Other soldiers now seized the family of the Emperor and dragged them down the long marble staircase and beyond the courtyard, past the scenes where the defenders had stood so bravely against the British invaders. The courtyard carried all the signs of the recent battle: the bloodied bodies of the fallen palace guards were piled up where they had fallen. The air was thick with gun smoke; smashed carts and furniture which had served as a barricade had been set alight. The palace servants were forced to join the terrible procession and held to one side as the sons of the Imperial family were assembled against the great stone gate of the Red Fort.
Ranks of British soldiers were drawn up to keep away the crowd of frightened onlookers. Ali, as one of the smallest of the servants, was pushed towards the front of the crowd. He could see two of the sons of the Emperor standing against the gate with great dignity. One of these men, Mirza Mughal, was the prince to whom he must one day give the Star of Hind. Ali also recognised the Emperor's favourite grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr. They were quickly joined by other men - noblemen, Indian officers, courtiers of the Emperor and his most loyal servants- all of them manhandled into a tight group against the stone wall. At the direction of Colonel Hodson, soldiers now went through the prisoners stripping from them anything of value and frequently striking or abusing the helpless prisoners. They threw their looted treasures in a pile at the feet of their Colonel who waited impatiently while all this was done. Then boldly and with cold determination he ordered a squad of his riflemen to set up in front of the gate. When this was done, he shouted the order to fire.
Ali could not believe what was happening. Even during the siege, the court had continued its life and dignity; now members of the Imperial family whom Ali had served and loved were lined up like targets in a shooting gallery. Forgetting the danger in the heat of the moment, the servant screamed a warning to the men against the wall whose dignity and courage were overwhelming. His cry was joined by those of others around him - a terrible cry of agony amid grief- but it was drowned out by the deafening sounds of rifles. Volley after volley was fired. The shooting didn't finish until every one of the men- princes, wazirs, soldiers and chamberlains- was dead. Their lifeless bodies were piled against the stone wall; blood ran thickly over the cobblestones. The air was heavy with the smell of blood and the acrid fumes of the rifles. It was over in moments- the great Indian Empire that had served the nation for centuries was altogether gone in a rush of blood. Ali could not know it, but the commander of the British soldiers at the siege, General Nicholson, had promised the Emperor that he would spare his life when the citadel fell. Colonel Hodson was furious that he had to keep the General's promise but he was determined to take his revenge in the most terrible way that he could. Yes, he would have to spare the Emperor's life, but no promise had been made to the other men of the Imperial family and now they lay dead. Murdering all the Emperor's sons and grandsons was revenge indeed.
And now, with the Emperor's children and senior members of the court murdered, it was the turn of every other Indian servant in the palace. Colonel Hodson ordered his soldiers to work. Ali shrunk back in terror as the soldiers fixed bayonets to their rifles and then took to slashing and pillaging. The soldiers spread out from the gate into every room of the palace. No one was spared. The only time the soldiers paused in their grisly work was to loot and steal. The sound of the guns had dominated the city for many days; now that sound was replaced by the screams and cries of hapless people being murdered by the angry British soldiers.
At the gate, the little boy knew that his life depended on his surviving the next few moments. Surrounded as he was by struggling men and women, Ali fell forward, putting his own body over the swag and its precious contents. His uniform as a palace servant was quickly stained with the blood of men, women and children who had been slaughtered by the soldiers. If only he remained perfectly still until the soldiers had passed on, however, he might escape. He could smell bodies, blood and fire and every now and then the pile of bodies covering him was pulled apart by another British soldier looking for something more to steal. He was lucky that each of them seemed to think that a little boy would have nothing of value worth taking.
The final attack had happened just on dark and Ali waited for an age - until there was silence all round him - before he was brave enough to make any kind of move. He carefully lifted his head. Broken furniture had been stacked and set alight. Casks of wine and whisky from the palace cellars had been broken out and the British soldiers were soon drunk; the alcohol helped to harden their hearts and drove them on to do the terrible things their officers had commanded of them. From time to time, drunken soldiers staggered back to the gate making it impossible for Ali to escape and it was not until the dark hour before dawn that the little boy ventured out into the streets of the bazaar that surrounded the burning palace.
Apart from escaping the scene of the tragedy where the Emperor's sons had been murdered, Ali had little idea of what he would do and where he would go. He was frightened and lonely and felt overwhelmingly responsible for the priceless jewels the Emperor had entrusted to his care. He clutched his ragged bedroll to his chest, feeling the sharp edges of the beautiful cherrywood box hidden within it. The purse of gold coins in his pocket felt like a great weight. Where could he go? He had lived in the palace ever since he had been sold by his uncle and he knew no one outside the palace walls. He could return to his uncle's farm, perhaps, but he had no way of knowing where to go and whether any road was safe at this terrible time. In the last hour of the night, he found a doorway in an alley and slunk down in it to hide and to try to think what he should do.
He was still there when dawn broke over the burning city; exhausted and dozing, Ali’s dreams were troubled by the shouts of drunken soldiers and the cries of murdered princes. Then suddenly, his nightmares became real as he was shaken awake. He looked about in terror: standing above him were two Scottish soldiers, shaggy and fearsome in the green kilt and bright red jackets of the Black Watch regiment. Ali woke with a start and huddled back into the doorway in terror, the two soldiers laughing coarsely at his fear. The boy was too frightened to realise that the soldiers were little more than boys themselves, though they wore the hot and heavy clothes of one of the most famous Scottish regiments in the Queen's service. One of the soldiers clutched a bottle that he passed to his companion. Both the men were interested in Ali's blood stained clothes; he was still dressed in the uniform of the palace. Perhaps, the men thought, the lad had carried off something in the chaos of the last, terrible attack? And he had clearly escaped the sentence of death passed on everyone who served the Emperor. At the very least, this boy would be worth shaking down and searching.
One of the soldiers roughly pulled Ali to his feet and held his hands together behind his back. The boy knew to keep calm and not provoke these men; perhaps they would leave him alone once they had found the purse of gold. He remembered the dignity and courage of the Emperor's sons as they met their death at the hands of Colonel Hodson’s soldiers. He would have to match their courage now. From the corner of his eye, Ali saw the swag with its precious contents pushed out of the way against the doorway. If he could just remain cool, perhaps the soldiers would not even notice it.
All of that changed in a moment, however, as the second of the soldiers dropped the bottle he carried and tore at the boy's simple uniform. It didn't take him long to find the leather purse. With a shout of excitement, the soldier tipped the coins into his hands and howled with excitement. His companion shouted too and if Ali had been less worried about protecting the fabulous Star of Hind diamond this might have been the moment he could have twisted away and fled down the alley to safety. But he didn't dare leave the swag and even though the two soldiers were drunk and excited, they were still alert enough to hope that there might be more to find and steal.
One of the soldiers was short and blond and solid with his first whiskers growing on his chin. His face was not unkind but in his service through the Mutiny, he had seen terrible things done on both sides and his heart was calloused and hardened. He tore at Ali's uniform and used a strip of cotton to tie the little boy's hands behind his back. Then he carefully searched the little servant again but found nothing. While this was happening, his friend - a taller, thinner man with a shock of black hair- was searching about where Ali had been sleeping. Even fuddled by drink, it struck him as odd that a boy carrying a swag would not have used it to get comfortable in the rough stone doorway. He swept it up in his hands and shook it out, feeling immediately the presence of the box wrapped into the cotton bedding.
Ali cried out as the soldier found the box in its cotton hiding place. The boy lunged for the swag in a futile gesture because with his hands bound, there was nothing he could do but shout a threat. Both the soldiers laughed, the blond one following his guffaw, however, with a blow to the boy’s head. And in a moment to Ali's horror the dark haired soldier had the cherrywood box in his hands and had pulled out the beautiful turban jewel and the rope of emeralds. With an oath, he swung the emeralds about his neck and planted the beautiful pearl ornament in his beret.
There was a lot of drunken swearing and laughing at this stage and Ali might again have escaped - even with his hands bound- but he couldn't leave without the Star of Hind. If he waited just a moment more, perhaps the soldiers might even forget him in the excitement of finding the precious jewels. Then Ali's hopes were almost realised - and in the most unexpected way. The dark haired soldier capered about in his finery, laughing and showing off. He sang boisterously, scooping up the bottle that had been discarded and raising it like a wine glass at a feast. His blond friend laughed with him at first, then paused, looked up and down the alley, then greedily at the jewels his friend had found. Ali, from his place on the pavement, saw the blond soldier's face cloud over and twist in anger.
Without warning, the soldier grabbed at the pearl from his friend's cap. He took the whole beret in his hands, smirking as the dark haired soldier reacted angrily. The blond tried to joke and cajole his friend but the atmosphere in a moment had shifted from good humoured mateship to ugly conflict. There were fierce words and threats now and then with a gasp, the dark haired soldier threw the bottle against the stone wall of the alley and tugged on his sword. He was fuddled by drink perhaps and overwhelmed by the temptation to possess the most beautiful treasure either man had ever seen; how else to explain the next terrible moments?
Ali saw the terror on the face of the young soldier the moment before the sword struck and he heard the sickening sound of the sharp blade slicing into skin and bone. For the second time that day, Ali watched in helpless fear as greed and anger drove out every other feeling. The young blond soldier fell to the pavement, groaning as he gurgled out the last of his short life. Ali saw the dark haired soldier recoil in shock, then snatch the beautiful pearl jewel from his friend's hand. With both treasures in his grasp, he reached again for the cherrywood box. Ali cried a warning but it was too late. The young soldier pushed his treasures - bought with the blood of his friend- back into the box.
And at that moment, it all changed. His friend was dead at his feet; the dark haired soldier still held the bloodied sword in his hand. Struck by the horror of what he had done, the young soldier held out the box, his heart breaking. He burst into tears and at that moment met the accusing eyes of the little Indian boy he had robbed and beaten. The soldier's only thought now was to silence the guilt and fear rising in him like a flood. He couldn't leave this child to tell others what he had seen. Hadn't Colonel Hodson told them anyway to kill every Indian wearing the livery of the palace? With a strangled cry of despair, the young soldier raised his sword and struck at the Indian boy again and again until he was still and dead. Ali's body fell beside that of the blond Scottish soldier; the two murdered boys looked so young and innocent in death. Crying bitterly, the young Scottish soldier dropped the sword and stuffed the cherrywood box into his coat. Without looking back, he ran as fast as he could from the alley out into the burning city.
Late that evening, Private Dougal Kerr reported to his commanding officer in the Black Watch regiment that his friend and comrade, Private Jamie McWhirter, was missing. He had gone into the city, Dougal explained, after his platoon had been sent off to loot in the shattered ruins of the palace. He had not returned for dinner - something must be terribly wrong. Dougal feared for the safety of his friend and the officer could tell from the young soldier's agitated manner that he was really concerned. Dougal’s dark hair was matted; his red jacket was stained by fire and blood. His eyes were red from crying.
The Duty Officer, Captain Fife McFife, was not concerned. So many young soldiers had taken themselves off at the end of the siege to see what they could steal. "He'll turn up, Laddie - aye, with a sore head and an empty sporran, to be sure!"
But Private Jamie McWhirter did not turn up. Late the next afternoon, Captain McFife took a small group of soldiers including Private Kerr to search in the ruins. In the doorway of an alley near the palace gate, they found the body of a young soldier dressed in the Black Watch tartan, his head broken open and his body already swelling in the heat. Beside the body were a bloodied sword and the body of a little Indian boy, dressed in the livery of the palace. There was nothing at all to indicate what had happened but it was clear that both soldier and slave had died at the hands of violent men. In the annals of the Regiment, Private Jamie McWhirter was listed as a casualty of the siege. The story that Captain McFife sent in a letter to Jamie McWhirter’s old mother in Edinburgh was that her brave son had been attacked by a wicked Indian in the last hours of the siege. Jamie McWhirter, it was said, had taken a terrible wound from the Indian warrior but had managed to kill him anyway. Both had died of wounds. In recognition of Private McWhirter's bravery, the Queen was pleased to bestow on him a medal for valour in the field.
The Indians, of course, told another story - of a brave palace servant named Ali who had died defending the Emperor and his family from the wicked soldiers of the Scottish Black Watch Regiment. Ali was to be remembered by his countrymen as a hero of the siege - one of many brave young men who gave their life for their country. Years later, a plaque would mark the spot so that modern day Indian children might be inspired by brave Ali, the kitchen servant.
Private McWhirter's funeral was a sad affair. The handsome young soldier was loved by his mates who carried his coffin to the graveside. His best friend, Private Dougal Kerr, cried more bitterly than any of the others. He looked to his friends to be quite broken down with grief. "How much he must have loved his friend," was all that the solemn parson could think as he watched Private Kerr stand beside his friend's grave in that hot and faraway country were so many young Scots had died in the terrible rebellion.