Relief of Poona MissionSpecial Thanks to Bob Murch, for allowing me to use his newspaper reports; Kurt Hummitzsch for corrrections and reminders; and Vidal Bairos for being his usual self.
With a final triumphant flourish that caused candles to flicker and windows to shudder, Reverend Beaton finished belabouring the Poona Mission organ. Some might regard cleanliness as next to Godliness; Reverend Beaton seemed to believe that loudness was a close second. He unobtrusively brushed away the small bits of plaster and wattle that had fallen from the church's ceiling onto his beloved organ during his recital. It was reputed that Organist Herr Gerhard Mainz, during the Deutsch Bungiwalliland Opera Haus's two week Wagner Festival could be heard for a forty mile radius. Of course, that was before enough funds had been collected to build the roof to complete the Deutsch Opera Haus, much to the relief of everyone living within a forty mile radius. The Scottish missionary appeared determined to surpass that record.
As people's hearing gradually returned, Reverend Beaton began bellowing his sermon to the aurally ravaged congregation. A faint popping sound could be heard while the Reverend paused for the occasional breath. Most attributed it to some sort of permanent ear drum damage, but Old Colonel "Stumpy" Wilkerson, ancient veteran of Waterloo, aimed his ear trumpet at the doors. His rheumy eyes widened.
Eventually leaping to his feet, he shouted "That's musket fire by Jove! We're under attack by the bloody heathen savages!"
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It was a dire situation. Poona Mission, although hastily fortified with makeshift barricades, was manned with a ragtag bunch of defenders. A handful of European hunters, a small group of mercenary Zanzibaris (hired by Beaton's judicious emptying of the church poorbox) and a locally raised unit of native Askaris were all that protected the women, children and elderly (more specifically - Colonel "Stumpy" Wilkerson, who despite his advanced age insisted on joining the defenders. Fortunately nap time intervened and he soon forgot his decision). A small lot of bewildered pygmies who were at the mission merely to trade hides and ivory for some lovely trinkets were also pressed into service. Assuming that the Go-Go Poonas would likely slaughter them as well as the Europeans, they agreed to aid the defense.
They were badly outnumbered. However, thanks to the incredibly brave and amazingly heroic efforts of the near legendary (but elusive) Lord Sir Harry Bottomly word had reached the ear of Major-General Percival Pinwheel Flunderton who swiftly despatched a relief force. Only a small number of regular soldiers were available at such short notice; the rest of the regiment being on a safari to bag an elephant. Mrs Major-General Percival Pinwheel Flunderton had been greatly chagrined to learn that her house was lacking an elephant's foot ottoman, unlike the abode of Mrs Colonel Ezra Doldrums.
Fortunately the Bungiwalli Station Post Office Rifles swiftly volunteered to join the intrepid relief expedition. They were eager to avenge their comrades who had fallen defending the life of Phineas T. Barnum, showman extraordinaire. (See The Greatest Adventure on Earth for all the exciting details). Both troops of soldiers embarked on the Royal Sympoopa Mail ship to rescue the Poona Mission.
Rounding the last bend of the river, the troopers aboard the Sympoopa all raised a cheer to see the Union Jack still bravely flying. Horribly the cheers were suddenly drowned out by the wild screams of the Go-Go Poonas as they erupted from the jungle. Determined to take the mission, the tribe was making their assault even as the relieving force hove into view. Major General Flunderton grimly ordered the steamer onwards despite the dangers of running aground on a sandbar. Admittedly he wasn't entirely sure what was going on. The Captain of the Royal Sympoopa had accidently trod upon the General's only pair of spectacles the previous evening after losing heavily during their nightly game of whist. Still, the good General could make out vague shapes and shadows, which was certainly qualification enough to lead a British Colonial force.
The Africans bravely threw themselves upon the barricades. Volleys of rifle fire thinned their ranks, but still they kept attacking. Towards the southern wall, the Pygmies were startled to find themselves the brunt of a furious assault. Fortunately for their morale they were ignorant of the identity of the leader of the force directly attacking them. It was none other than the (hopefully) temporarily amnesiac Colonel Ripperton, or Chief Pdongo-Bdongo as he thought of himself now. Perhaps some shred of reason remained in his battered cranium, since he refrained from attacking the European defenders. Or possibly he attacked the Pygmies' section of the wall since he didn't see them over the parapet. Be that as it may, the Pygmies fought ferociously. Not a single Go-Go Poona made it past the grim Pygmy warriors. True to form, "Pdongo-Bdongo" Ripperton fought bravely until eventually accumulated wounds and blood loss caused him to pass out.
On the other side of the compound, the Europeans and the Askaris were having rather a tougher time. Courtney Selous, gentleman and leader of the local Askaris, clad in a rather fetching puce shirt capped with a kicky little bowler, was doing his utmost to encourage his troopers. A well aimed shot would earn the Askari a little pat on his bottom. After a time, well aimed shots, oddly enough, became somewhat scarce Mr. Selous noticed. He redoubled his efforts, fluttering here and there, until his hands were simply battered. To no avail. Tribal warriors began reaching the top of the barricades.
On the steamer, Major General Percival Pinwheel Flunderton, squinting uselessly at the blurry riverbank, still had no idea what precisely was going on within the Poona Mission. He suspected that it would be best if he were to arrive with all possible haste. But the Go-Go Poonas had other ideas it would seem. A veritable fleet (well, four) of Poonan war dugouts emerged from the jungle riverside and blocked the Sympoopa's route to the Mission's dock.
Will the Sympoopa ever reach the Mission? Find out in Part II