RUJUB, THE JUGGLER
By G. A. Henty.
"Rujub, the Juggler," is mainly an historical tale for young and old, dealing with the Sepoy Mutiny, in India, during the years 1857 to 1859.
This famous mutiny occurred while the reins of British rule in India were in the hands of Lord Canning. Chupattees (cakes of flour and water) were circulated among the natives, placards protesting against British rule were posted at Delhi, and when the Enfield rifle with its greased cartridges was introduced among the Sepoy soldiers serving the Queen it was rumored that the cartridges were smeared with the forbidden pig's fat, so that the power of the Sepoys might forever be destroyed.
Fanatical to the last degree, the Sepoys were not long in bringing the mutiny to a head. The first outbreak occurred at Meerut, where were stationed about two thousand English soldiers and three thousand native troops. The native troops refused to use the cartridges supplied to them and eighty-two were placed under arrest. On the day following the native troops rebelled in a body, broke open the guardhouse and released the prisoners, and a severe battle followed, and Meerut was given over to the flames. The mutineers then marched upon Delhi, thirty-two miles away, and took possession. At Bithoor the Rajah had always professed a strong friendship for the English, but he secretly plotted against them, and, later on, General Wheeler was compelled to surrender to the Rajah at Cawnpore, and did so with the understanding that the lives of all in the place should be spared. Shortly after the surrender the English officers and soldiers were shot down, and all of the women and children butchered.
The mutiny was now at its height, and for a while it was feared that British rule in India must cease. The Europeans at Lucknow were besieged for about three months and were on the point of giving up, when they were relieved through the heroic march of General Havelock. Sir Colin Campbell followed, and soon the city was once more in the complete possession of the British. Oude was speedily reduced to submission, many of the rebel leaders were either shot or hanged, and gradually the mutiny, which had cost the lives of thousands, was brought to an end.
The tale, however, is not all of war. In its pages are given many true to life pictures of life in India, in the barracks of the soldiers and elsewhere. A most important part is played by Rujub, the juggler, who is a warm friend to the hero of the narrative. Rujub is no common conjuror, but one of the higher men of mystery, who perform partly as a religious duty and who accept no pay for such performances. The acts of these persons are but little understood, even at this late day, and it is possible that many of their arts will sooner or later be utterly lost to the world at large. That they can do some wonderful things in juggling, mind reading, and in second sight, is testified to by thousands of people who have witnessed their performances in India; how they do these things has never yet been explained.
Strange as it may seem, the hero of the tale is a natural born coward, who cannot stand the noise of gunfire. He realizes his shortcomings, and they are frequently brought home to him through the taunts of his fellow soldiers. A doctor proves that the dread of noise is hereditary, but this only adds to the young soldier's misery. To make himself brave he rushes to the front in a most desperate fight, and engages in scout work which means almost certain death. In the end he masters his fear, and gives a practical lesson of what stern and unbending will power can accomplish.
In many respects "Rujub, the Juggler," will be found one of the strongest of Mr. Henty's works, and this is saying much when one considers all of the many stories this well known author has already penned for the entertainment of young and old. As a picture of life in the English Army in India it is unexcelled.
It would be difficult to find a fairer scene. Throughout the gardens lanterns of many shapes and devices threw their light down upon the paths, which were marked out by lines of little lamps suspended on wires a foot above the ground. In a treble row they encircled a large tank or pond and studded a little island in its center. Along the terraces were festoons and arches of innumerable lamps, while behind was the Palace or Castle, for it was called either; the Oriental doors and windows and the tracery of its walls lit up below by the soft light, while the outline of the upper part could scarce be made out. Eastern as the scene was, the actors were for the most part English. Although the crowd that promenaded the terrace was composed principally of men, of whom the majority were in uniform of one sort or another, the rest in evening dress, there were many ladies among them.
At the end of one of the terraces a band of the 103d Bengal Infantry was playing, and when they ceased a band of native musicians, at the opposite end of the terrace, took up the strains. Within, the palace was brilliantly lighted, and at the tables in one of the large apartments a few couples were still seated at supper. Among his guests moved the Rajah, chatting in fluent English, laughing with the men, paying compliments to the ladies, a thoroughly good fellow all round, as his guests agreed. The affair had been a great success. There had first been a banquet to the officers and civilians at the neighboring station. When this was over, the ladies began to arrive, and for their amusement there had been a native nautch upon a grand scale, followed by a fine display of fireworks, and then by supper, at which the Rajah had made a speech expressive of his deep admiration and affection for the British. This he had followed up by proposing the health of the ladies in flowery terms. Never was there a better fellow than the Rajah. He had English tastes, and often dined at one or other of the officers' messes. He was a good shot, and could fairly hold his own at billiards. He had first rate English horses in his stables, and his turnout was perfect in all respects. He kept a few horses for the races, and was present at every ball and entertainment. At Bithoor he kept almost open house. There was a billiard room and racquet courts, and once or twice a week there were luncheon parties, at which from twelve to twenty officers were generally present. In all India there was no Rajah with more pronounced English tastes or greater affection for English people. The one regret of his life, he often declared, was that his color and his religion prevented his entertaining the hope of obtaining an English wife. All this, as everyone said, was the more remarkable and praiseworthy, inasmuch as he had good grounds of complaint against the British Government.
With the ladies he was an especial favorite; he was always ready to show them courtesy. His carriages were at their service. He was ready to give his aid and assistance to every gathering. His private band played frequently on the promenade, and handsome presents of shawls and jewelry were often made to those whom he held in highest favor. At present he was talking to General Wheeler and some other officers.
"I warn you that I mean to win the cup at the races," he said; "I have just bought the horse that swept the board on the Bombay side; I have set my heart on winning the cup, and so secured this horse. I am ready to back it if any of you gentlemen are disposed to wager against it."
"All in good time, Rajah," one of the officers laughed; "we don't know what will be entered against it yet, and we must wait to see what the betting is, but I doubt whether we have anything that will beat the Bombay crack on this side; I fancy you will have to lay odds on."
"We shall see," the Rajah said; "I have always been unlucky, but I mean to win this time."
"I don't think you take your losses much to heart, Rajah," General Wheeler said; "yet there is no doubt that your bets are generally somewhat rash ones."
"I mean to make a coup this time. That is your word for a big thing, I think. The Government has treated me so badly I must try to take something out of the pockets of its officers."
"You do pretty well still," the General laughed; "after this splendid entertainment you have given us this evening you can hardly call yourself a poor man."
"I know I am rich. I have enough for my little pleasures—I do not know that I could wish for more—still no one is ever quite content."
By this time the party was breaking up, and for the next half hour the Rajah was occupied in bidding goodby to his guests. When the last had gone he turned and entered the palace, passed through the great halls, and, pushing aside a curtain, entered a small room. The walls and the columns were of white marble, inlaid with arabesque work of colored stones. Four golden lamps hung from the ceiling, the floor was covered with costly carpets, and at one end ran a raised platform a foot in height, piled with soft cushions. He took a turn or two up and down the room, and then struck a silver bell. An attendant entered.
"Send Khoosheal and Imambux here."
Two minutes later the men entered. Imambux commanded the Rajah's troops, while Khoosheal was the master of his household.
"All has gone off well," the Rajah said; "I am pleased with you, Khoosheal. One more at most, and we shall have done with them. Little do they think what their good friend Nana Sahib is preparing for them. What a poor spirited creature they think me to kiss the hand that robbed me, to be friends with those who have deprived me of my rights! But the day of reckoning is not far off, and then woe to them all! Have any of your messengers returned, Imambux?"
"Several have come in this evening, my lord; would you see them now, or wait till morning?"
"I will see them now; I will get the memory of these chattering men and these women with their bare shoulders out of my mind. Send the men in one by one. I have no further occasion for you tonight; two are better than three when men talk of matters upon which an empire depends."
The two officers bowed and retired, and shortly afterwards the attendant drew back the curtain again, and a native, in the rags of a mendicant, entered, and bowed till his forehead touched the carpet. Then he remained kneeling, with his arms crossed over his chest, and his head inclined in the attitude of the deepest humility.
"Where have you been?" the Rajah asked.
"My lord's slave has been for three weeks at Meerut. I have obeyed orders. I have distributed chupaties among the native regiments, with the words, 'Watch, the time is coming,' and have then gone before I could be questioned. Then, in another disguise, I have gone through the bazaar, and said in talk with many that the Sepoys were unclean and outcast, for that they had bitten cartridges anointed with pig's fat, and that the Government had purposely greased the cartridges with this fat in order that the caste of all the Sepoys should be destroyed. When I had set men talking about this I left; it will be sure to come to the Sepoys' ears."
The Rajah nodded. "Come again tomorrow at noon; you will have your reward then and further orders; but see that you keep silence; a single word, and though you hid in the farthest corner of India you would not escape my vengeance."
Man after man entered. Some of them, like the first, were in mendicant's attire, one or two were fakirs, one looked like a well to do merchant. With the exception of the last, all had a similar tale to tell; they had been visiting the various cantonments of the native army, everywhere distributing chupaties and whispering tales of the intention of the Government to destroy the caste of the Sepoys by greasing the cartridges with pig's fat. The man dressed like a trader was the last to enter.
"How goes it, Mukdoomee?"
"It is well, my lord; I have traversed all the districts where we dwelt of old, before the Feringhee stamped us out and sent scores to death and hundreds to prison. Most of the latter whom death has spared are free now, and with many of them have I talked. They are most of them old, and few would take the road again, but scarce one but has trained up his son or grandson to the work; not to practice it,—the hand of the whites was too heavy before, and the gains are not large enough to tempt men to run the risk—but they teach them for the love of the art. To a worshiper of the goddess there is a joy in a cleverly contrived plan and in casting the roomal round the neck of the victim, that can never die. Often in my young days, when perhaps twelve of us were on the road in a party, we made less than we could have done by labor, but none minded.
"We were sworn brothers; we were working for Kali, and so that we sent her victims we cared little; and even after fifteen or twenty years spent in the Feringhee's prisons, we love it still; none hate the white man as we do; has he not destroyed our profession? We have two things to work for; first, for vengeance; second, for the certainty that if the white man's Raj were at an end, once again would the brotherhood follow their profession, and reap booty for ourselves and victims for Kali; for, assuredly, no native prince would dare to meddle with us. Therefore, upon every man who was once a Thug, and upon his sons and grandsons, you may depend. I do not say that they would be useful for fighting, for we have never been fighters, but the stranglers will be of use. You can trust them with missions, and send them where you choose. From their fathers' lips they have learnt all about places and roads; they can decoy Feringhee travelers, the Company's servants or soldiers, into quiet places, and slay them. They can creep into compounds and into houses, and choose their victims from the sleepers. You can trust them, Rajah, for they have learned to hate, and each in his way will, when the times comes, aid to stir up men to rise. The past had almost become a dream, but I have roused it into life again, and upon the descendants of the stranglers throughout India you can count surely."
"You have not mentioned my name?" the Rajah said suddenly, looking closely at the man as he put the question.
"Assuredly not, your highness; I have simply said deliverance is at hand; the hour foretold for the end of the Raj of the men from beyond the sea will soon strike, and they will disappear from the land like fallen leaves; then will the glory of Kali return, then again will the brotherhood take to the road and gather in victims. I can promise that every one of those whose fathers or grandfathers or other kin died by the hand of the Feringhee, or suffered in his prisons, will do his share of the good work, and be ready to obey to the death the orders which will reach him."
"It is good," the Rajah said; "you and your brethren will have a rich harvest of victims, and the sacred cord need never be idle. Go; it is well nigh morning, and I would sleep."
But not for some time did the Rajah close his eyes; his brain was busy with the schemes which he had long been maturing, but was only now beginning to put into action.
"It must succeed," he said to himself; "all through India the people will take up arms when the Sepoys give the signal by rising against their officers. The whites are wholly unsuspicious; they even believe that I, I whom they have robbed, am their friend. Fools! I hold them in the hollow of my hand; they shall trust me to the last, and then I will crush them. Not one shall escape me! Would I were as certain of all the other stations in India as I am of this. Oude, I know, will rise as one man; the Princes of Delhi I have sounded; they will be the leaders, though the old King will be the nominal head; but I shall pull the strings, and as Peishwa, shall be an independent sovereign, and next in dignity to the Emperor. Only nothing must be done until all is ready; not a movement must be made until I feel sure that every native regiment from Calcutta to the North is ready to rise."
And so, until the day had fully broken, the Rajah of Bithoor thought over his plans—the man who had a few hours before so sumptuously entertained the military and civilians of Cawnpore, and the man who was universally regarded as the firm friend of the British and one of the best fellows going.
The days and weeks passed on, messengers came and went, the storm was slowing brewing; and yet to all men it seemed that India was never more contented nor the outlook more tranquil and assured.
A young man in a suit of brown karkee, with a white puggaree wound round his pith helmet, was just mounting in front of his bungalow at Deennugghur, some forty miles from Cawnpore, when two others came up.
"Which way are you going to ride, Bathurst?"
"I am going out to Narkeet; there is a dispute between the villagers and a Talookdar as to their limits. I have got to look into the case. Why do you ask, Mr. Hunter?"
"I thought that you might be going that way. You know we have had several reports of ravages by a man eater whose headquarters seem to be that big jungle you pass through on your way to Narkeet. He has been paying visits to several villages in its neighborhood, and has carried off two mail runners. I should advise you to keep a sharp lookout."
"Yes, I have heard plenty about him; it is unfortunate we have no one at this station who goes in for tiger hunting. Young Bloxam was speaking to me last night; he is very hot about it; but as he knows nothing about shooting, and has never fired off a rifle in his life, except at the military target, I told him that it was madness to think of it by himself, and that he had better ride down to the regiment at Cawnpore, and get them to form a party to come up to hunt the beast. I told him they need not bring elephants with them; I could get as many as were necessary from some of the Talookdars, and there will be no want of beaters. He said he would write at once, but he doubted whether any of them would be able to get away at present; the general inspection is just coming on. However, no doubt they will be able to do so before long."
"Well, if I were you I would put a pair of pistols into my holster, Bathurst; it would be awfully awkward if you came across the beast."
"I never carry firearms," the young man said shortly; and then more lightly, "I am a peaceful man by profession, as you are, Mr. Hunter, and I leave firearms to those whose profession it is to use them. I have hitherto never met with an occasion when I needed them, and am not likely to do so. I always carry this heavy hunting whip, which I find useful sometimes, when the village dogs rush out and pretend that they are going to attack me; and I fancy that even an Oude swordsman would think twice before attacking me when I had it in my hand. But, of course, there is no fear about the tiger. I generally ride pretty fast; and even if he were lying by the roadside waiting for a meal, I don't think he would be likely to interfere with me."
So saying, he lightly touched the horse's flanks with his spurs and cantered off.
"He's a fine young fellow, Garnet," Mr. Hunter said to his companion; "full of energy, and, they say, the very best linguist in Oude."
"Yes, he is all that," the other agreed; "but he is a sort of fellow one does not quite understand. I like a man who is like other fellows; Bathurst isn't. He doesn't shoot, he doesn't ride—I mean he don't care for pig sticking; he never goes in for any fun there may be on hand; he just works—nothing else; he does not seem to mix with other people; he is the sort of fellow one would say had got some sort of secret connected with him."
"If he has, I am certain it is nothing to his personal disadvantage," Mr. Hunter said warmly. "I have known him for the last six years—I won't say very well, for I don't think anyone does that, except, perhaps, Doctor Wade. When there was a wing of the regiment up here three years ago he and Bathurst took to each other very much—perhaps because they were both different from other people. But, anyhow, from what I know of Bathurst I believe him to be a very fine character, though there is certainly an amount of reserve about him altogether unusual. At any rate, the service is a gainer by it. I never knew a fellow work so indefatigably. He will take a very high place in the service before he has done."
"I am not so sure of that," the other said. "He is a man with opinions of his own, and all sorts of crotchets and fads. He has been in hot water with the Chief Commissioner more than once. When I was over at Lucknow last I was chatting with two or three men, and his name happened to crop up, and one of them said, 'Bathurst is a sort of knight errant, an official Don Quixote. Perhaps the best officer in the province in some respects, but hopelessly impracticable.'"
"Yes, that I can quite understand, Garnet. That sort of man is never popular with the higher official, whose likings go to the man who does neither too much nor too little, who does his work without questioning, and never thinks of making suggestions, and is a mere official machine. Men of Bathurst's type, who go to the bottom of things, protest against what they consider unfair decisions, and send in memorandums showing that their superiors are hopelessly ignorant and idiotically wrong, are always cordially disliked. Still, they generally work their way to the front in the long run. Well, I must be off."
Bathurst rode to Narkeet without drawing rein. His horse at times slackened its pace on its own accord, but an almost mechanical motion from its rider's heel soon started it off again at the rapid pace at which its rider ordinarily traveled. From the time he left Deennugghur to his arrival at Narkeet no thought of the dreaded man eater entered Bathurst's mind. He was deeply meditating on a memorandum he was about to draw up, respecting a decision that had been arrived at in a case between a Talookdar in his district and the Government, and in which, as it appeared to him, a wholly erroneous and unjust view had been taken as to the merits of the case; and he only roused himself when the horse broke into a walk as it entered the village. Two or three of the head men, with many bows and salutations of respect, came out to receive him.
"My lord sahib has seen nothing of the tiger?" the head man said; "our hearts were melted with fear, for the evil beast was heard roaring in the jungle not far from the road early this morning."
"I never gave it a thought, one way or the other," Bathurst said, as he dismounted. "I fancy the horse would have let me know if the brute had been anywhere near. See that he is tied up in the shed, and has food and water, and put a boy to keep the flies from worrying him. And now let us get to business. First of all, I must go through the village records and documents; after that I will question four or five of the oldest inhabitants, and then we must go over the ground. The whole question turns, you know, upon whether the irrigation ditch mentioned in the Talookdar's grant is the one that runs across at the foot of the rising ground on his side, or whether it is the one that sweeps round on this side of the grove with the little temple in it. Unfortunately most of the best land lies between those ditches."
For hours Bathurst listened to the statements of the old people of the village, cross questioning them closely, and sparing no efforts to sift the truth from their confused and often contradictory evidence. Then he spent two hours going over the ground and endeavoring to satisfy himself which of the two ditches was the one named in the village records. He had two days before taken equal pains in sifting the evidence on the other side.
"I trust that my lord sees there can be no doubt as to the justice of our claim," the head man said humbly, as he prepared to mount again.
"According to your point of view, there is no doubt about it, Childee; but then there is equally no doubt the other way, according to the statements they put forward. But that is generally the way in all these land disputes. For good hard swearing your Hindoo cultivator can be matched against the world. Unfortunately there is nothing either in your grant or in your neighbors' that specifies unmistakably which of these ancient ditches is the one referred to. My present impression is that it is essentially a case for a compromise, but you know the final decision does not rest on me. I shall be out here again next week, and I shall write to the Talookdar to meet me here, and we will go over the ground together again, and see if we cannot arrange some line that will be fair to both parties. If we can do that, the matter would be settled without expense and trouble; whereas, if it goes up to Lucknow it may all have to be gone into again; and if the decision is given against you, and as far as I can see it is just as likely to be one way as another, it will be a serious thing for the village."
"We are in my lord's hands," the native said; "he is the protector of the poor, and will do us justice."
"I will do you justice, Childee, but I must do justice to the other side too. Of course, neither of you will be satisfied, but that cannot be helped."
His perfect knowledge of their language, the pains he took to sift all matters brought before him to the bottom, had rendered the young officer very popular among the natives. They knew they could get justice from him direct. There was no necessity to bribe underlings: he had the knack of extracting the truth from the mass of lying evidence always forthcoming in native cases; and even the defeated party admired the manner in which the fabric of falsehood was pulled to pieces. But the main reason of his popularity was his sympathy, the real interest which he showed in their cases, and the patience with which he listened to their stories.
Bathurst himself, as he rode homewards, was still thinking of the case. Of course there had been lying on both sides; but to that he was accustomed. It was a question of importance—of greater importance, no doubt, to the villagers than to their opponent, but still important to him—for this tract of land was a valuable one, and of considerable extent, and there was really nothing in the documents produced on either side to show which ditch was intended by the original grants. Evidently, at the time they were made, very many years before, one ditch or the other was not in existence; but there was no proof as to which was the more recent, although both sides professed that all traditions handed down to them asserted the ditch on their side to be the more recent.
He was riding along the road through the great jungle, at his horse's own pace, which happened for the moment to be a gentle trot, when a piercing cry rang through the air a hundred yards ahead. Bathurst started from his reverie, and spurred his horse sharply; the animal dashed forward at a gallop. At a turn in the road he saw, twenty yards ahead of him, a tiger, standing with a foot upon a prostrate figure, while a man in front of it was gesticulating wildly. The tiger stood as if hesitating whether to strike down the figure in front or to content itself with that already in its power.
The wild shouts of the man had apparently drowned the sound of the horse's feet upon the soft road, for the animal drew back half a pace as it suddenly came into view.
The horse swerved at the sight, and reared high in the air as Bathurst drove his spurs into it. As its feet touched the ground again, Bathurst sprang off and rushed at the tiger, and brought down the heavy lash of his whip with all his force across its head. With a fierce snarl it sprang back two paces, but again and again the whip descended upon it, and bewildered and amazed at the attack it turned swiftly and sprang through the bushes.
Bathurst, knowing that there was no fear of its returning, turned at once to the figure on the road. It was, as in even the momentary glance he had noticed, a woman, or rather a girl of some fourteen or fifteen years of age—the man had dropped on his knees beside her, moaning and muttering incoherent words.
"I see no blood," Bathurst said, and stooping, lifted the light figure. "Her heart beats, man; I think she has only fainted. The tiger must have knocked her down in its spring without striking her. So far as I can see she is unhurt."
He carried her to the horse, which stood trembling a few yards away, took a flask from the holster, and poured a little brandy and water between her lips.
Presently there was a faint sigh. "She is coming round," he said to the man, who was still kneeling, looking on with vacant eyes, as though he had neither heard nor comprehended what Bathurst was doing. Presently the girl moved slightly and opened her eyes. At first there was no expression in them; then a vague wonder stole into them at the white face looking down upon her.
She closed them again, and then reopened them, and then there was a slight struggle to free herself. He allowed her to slip through his arms until her feet touched the ground; then her eyes fell on the kneeling figure.
"Father!" she exclaimed. With a cry the man leaped to his feet, sprang to her and seized her in his arms, and poured out words of endearment. Then suddenly he released her and threw himself on the ground before Bathurst, with ejaculations of gratitude and thankfulness.
"Get up, man, get up," the latter said; "your daughter can scarce stand alone, and the sooner we get away from this place the better; that savage beast is not likely to return, but he may do so; let us be off."
He mounted his horse again, brought it up to the side of the girl, and then, leaning over, took her and swung her into the saddle in front of him. The man took up a large box that was lying in the road and hoisted it onto his shoulders, and then, at a foot's pace, they proceeded on their way—Bathurst keeping a close watch on the jungle at the side on which the tiger had entered it.
"How came you to travel along this road alone?" he asked the man. "The natives only venture through in large parties, because of this tiger."
"I am a stranger," the man answered; "I heard at the village where we slept last night that there was a tiger in this jungle, but I thought we should be through it before nightfall, and therefore there was no danger. If one heeded all they say about tigers one would never travel at all. I am a juggler, and we are on our way down the country through Cawnpore and Allahabad. Had it not been for the valor of my lord sahib, we should never have got there; for had I lost my Rabda, the light of my heart, I should have gone no further, but should have waited for the tiger to take me also."
"There was no particular valor about it," Bathurst said shortly. "I saw the beast with its foot on your daughter, and dismounted to beat it off just as if it had been a dog, without thinking whether there was any danger in it or not. Men do it with savage beasts in menageries every day. They are cowardly brutes after all, and can't stand the lash. He was taken altogether by surprise, too."
"My lord has saved my daughter's life, and mine is at his service henceforth," the man said. "The mouse is a small beast, but he may warn the lion. The white sahibs are brave and strong. Would one of my countrymen have ventured his life to attack a tiger, armed only with a whip, for the sake of the life of a poor wayfarer?"
"Yes, I think there are many who would have done so," Bathurst replied. "You do your countrymen injustice. There are plenty of brave men among them, and I have heard before now of villagers, armed only with sticks, attacking a tiger who has carried off a victim from among them. You yourself were standing boldly before it when I came up."
"My child was under its feet—besides, I never thought of myself. If I had had a weapon I should not have drawn it. I had no thought of the tiger; I only thought that my child was dead. She works with me, sahib; since her mother died, five years ago, we have traveled together over the country; she plays while I conjure. She takes round the saucer for the money, and she acts with me in the tricks that require two persons; it is she who disappears from the basket. We are everything to each other, sahib. But what is my lord's name? Will he tell his servant, that he and Rabda may think of him and talk of him as they tramp the roads together?"
"My name is Ralph Bathurst. I am District Officer at Deennugghur. How far are you going this evening?"
"We shall sleep at the first village we come to, sahib; we have walked many hours today, and this box, though its contents are not weighty, is heavy to bear. We thought of going down tomorrow to Deennugghur, and showing our performances to the sahib logue there."
"Very well; but there is one thing—what is your name?"
"Well, Rujub, if you go on to Deennugghur tomorrow say nothing to anyone there about this affair with the tiger; it is nothing to talk about. I am not a shikari, but a hard working official, and I don't want to be talked about."
"The sahib's wish shall be obeyed," the man said.
"You can come round to my bungalow and ask for me; I shall be glad to hear whether your daughter is any the worse for her scare. How do you feel, Rabda?"
"I feel as one in a dream, sahib. I saw a great yellow beast springing through the air, and I cried out, and knew nothing more till I saw the sahib's face; and now I have heard him and my father talking, but their voices sound to me as if far away, though I know that you are holding me."
"You will be all the better after a night's rest, child; no wonder you feel strange and shaken. Another quarter of an hour and we shall be at the village. I suppose, Rujub, you were born a conjurer."
"Yes, sahib, it is always so; it goes down from father to son. As soon as I was able to walk, I began to work with my father, and as I grew up he initiated me in the secrets of our craft, which we may never divulge."
"No, I know they are a mystery. Many of your tricks can be done by our conjurers at home, but there are some that have never been solved."
"I have been offered, more than once, large sums by English sahibs to tell them how some of the feats were done, but I could not; we are bound by terrible oaths, and; in no case has a juggler proved false to them. Were one to do so he would be slain without mercy, and his fate in the next world would be terrible; forever and forever his soul would pass through the bodies of the foulest and lowest creatures, and there would be no forgiveness for him. I would give my life for the sahib, but even to him I would not divulge our mysteries."
In a few minutes they came to the first village beyond the jungle. As they approached it Bathurst checked his horse and lifted the girl down. She took his hand and pressed her forehead to it.
"I shall see you tomorrow, then, Rujub," he said, and shaking the reins, went on at a canter.
"That is a new character for me to come out in," he said bitterly; "I do not know myself—I, of all men. But there was no bravery in it; it never occurred to me to be afraid; I just thrashed him off as I should beat off a dog who was killing a lamb; there was no noise, and it is noise that frightens me; if the brute had roared I should assuredly have run; I know it would have been so; I could not have helped it to have saved my life. It is an awful curse that I am not as other men, and that I tremble and shake like a girl at the sound of firearms. It would have been better if I had been killed by the first shot fired in the Punjaub eight years ago, or if I had blown my brains out at the end of the day. Good Heavens! what have I suffered since. But I will not think of it. Thank God, I have got my work; and as long as I keep my thoughts on that there is no room for that other;" and then, by a great effort of will, Ralph Bathurst put the past behind him, and concentrated his thoughts on the work on which he had been that day engaged.
The juggler did not arrive on the following evening as he had expected, but late in the afternoon a native boy brought in a message from him, saying that his daughter was too shaken and ill to travel, but that they would come when she recovered.
A week later, on returning from a long day's work, Bathurst was told that a juggler was in the veranda waiting to see him.
"I told him, sahib," the servant said, "that you cared not for such entertainments, and that he had better go elsewhere; but he insisted that you yourself had told him to come, and so I let him wait."
"Has he a girl with him, Jafur?"
Bathurst strolled round to the other side of the bungalow, where Rujub was sitting patiently, with Rabda wrapped in her blue cloth beside him. They rose to their feet.
"I am glad to see your daughter is better again, Rujub."
"She is better, sahib; she has had fever, but is restored."
"I cannot see your juggling tonight, Rujub. I have had a heavy day's work, and am worn out, and have still much to do. You had better go round to some of the other bungalows; though I don't think you will do much this evening, for there is a dinner party at the Collector's, and almost everyone will be there. My servants will give you food, and I shall be off at seven o'clock in the morning, but shall be glad to see you before I start. Are you in want of money?" and he put his hand in his pocket.
"No, sahib," the juggler said. "We have money sufficient for all our wants; we are not thinking of performing tonight, for Rabda is not equal to it. Before sunrise we shall be on our way again; I must be at Cawnpore, and we have delayed too long already. Could you give us but half an hour tonight, sahib; we will come at any hour you like. I would show you things that few Englishmen have seen. Not mere common tricks, sahib, but mysteries such as are known to few even of us. Do not say no, sahib."
"Well, if you wish it, Rujub, I will give you half an hour," and Bathurst looked at his watch. "It is seven now, and I have to dine. I have work to do that will take me three hours at least, but at eleven I shall have finished. You will see a light in my room; come straight to the open window."
"We will be there, sahib;" and with a salaam the juggler walked off, followed by his daughter.
A few minutes before the appointed time Bathurst threw down his pen with a little sigh of satisfaction.
The memo he had just finished was a most conclusive one; it seemed to him unanswerable, and that the Department would have trouble in disputing his facts and figures. He had not since he sat down to his work given another thought to the juggler, and he almost started as a figure appeared in the veranda at the open window.
"Ah, Rujub, is it you? I have just finished my work. Come in; is Rabda with you?"
"She will remain outside until I want her," the juggler said as he entered and squatted himself on the floor. "I am not going to juggle, sahib. With us there are two sorts of feats; there are those that are performed by sleight of hand or by means of assistance. These are the juggler's tricks we show in the verandas and compounds of the white sahibs, and in the streets of the cities. There are others that are known only to the higher order among us, that we show only on rare occasions. They have come to us from the oldest times, and it is said they were brought by wise men from Egypt; but that I know not."
"I have always been interested in juggling, and have seen many things that I cannot understand," Bathurst said. "I have seen the basket trick done on the road in front of the veranda, as well as in other places, and I cannot in any way account for it."
The juggler took from his basket a piece of wood about two feet in length and some four inches in diameter.
"You see this?" he said.
Bathurst took it in his hand. "It looks like a bit sawn off a telegraph pole," he said.
"Will you come outside, sahib?"
The night was very dark, but the lamp on the table threw its light through the window onto the drive in front of the veranda. Rujub took with him a piece of wood about nine inches square, with a soft pad on the top. He went out in the drive and placed the piece of pole upright, and laid the wood with the cushion on the top.
"Now will you stand in the veranda a while?"
Bathurst stood back by the side of the window so as not to interfere with the passage of the light. Rabda stole forward and sat down upon the cushion.
"Now watch, sahib."
Bathurst looked, and saw the block of wood apparently growing. Gradually it rose until Rabda passed up beyond the light in the room.
"You may come out," the juggler said, "but do not touch the pole. If you do, it will cause a fall, which would be fatal to my child."
Bathurst stepped out and looked up. He could but just make out the figure of Rabda, seemingly already higher than the top of the bungalow. Gradually it became more and more indistinct.
"You are there, Rabda?" her father said.
"I am here, father!" and the voice seemed to come from a considerable distance.
Again and again the question was asked, and the answer became fainter and fainter, although it sounded as if it was a distant cry in response to Rujub's shout rather than spoken in an ordinary voice.
At last no response was heard.
"Now it shall descend," the juggler said.
Two or three minutes passed, and then Bathurst, who was staring up into the darkness, could make out the end of the pole with the seat upon it, but Rabda was no longer there. Rapidly it sank, until it stood its original height on the ground.
"Where is Rabda?" Bathurst exclaimed.
"She is here, my lord," and as he spoke Rabda rose from a sitting position on the balcony close to Bathurst.
"It is marvelous!" the latter exclaimed. "I have heard of that feat before, but have never seen it. May I take up that piece of wood?"
Bathurst took it up and carried it to the light. It was undoubtedly, as he had before supposed, a piece of solid wood. The juggler had not touched it, or he would have supposed he might have substituted for the piece he first examined a sort of telescope of thin sheets of steel, but even that would not have accounted for Rabda's disappearance.
"I will show you one other feat, my lord."
He took a brass dish, placed a few pieces of wood and charcoal in it, struck a match, and set the wood on fire, and then fanned it until the wood had burned out, and the charcoal was in a glow; then he sprinkled some powder upon it, and a dense white smoke rose.
"Now turn out the lamp, sahib."
Bathurst did so. The glow of the charcoal enabled him still to see the light smoke; this seemed to him to become clearer and clearer.
"Now for the past!" Rujub said. The smoke grew brighter and brighter, and mixed with flashes of color; presently Bathurst saw clearly an Indian scene. A village stood on a crest, jets of smoke darted up from between the houses, and then a line of troops in scarlet uniform advanced against the village, firing as they went. They paused for a moment, and then with a rush went at the village and disappeared in the smoke over the crest.
"Good Heavens," Bathurst muttered, "it is the battle of Chillianwalla!"
"The future!" Rujub said, and the colors on the smoke changed. Bathurst saw a wall surrounding a courtyard. On one side was a house. It had evidently been besieged, for in the upper part were many ragged holes, and two of the windows were knocked into one. On the roof were men firing, and there were one or two women among them. He could see their faces and features distinctly. In the courtyard wall there was a gap, and through this a crowd of Sepoys were making their way, while a handful of whites were defending a breastwork. Among them he recognized his own figure. He saw himself club his rifle and leap down into the middle of the Sepoys, fighting furiously there. The colors faded away, and the room was in darkness again. There was the crack of a match, and then Rujub said quietly, "If you will lift off the globe again, I will light the lamp, sahib."
Bathurst almost mechanically did as he was told.
"Well, sahib, what do you think of the pictures?"
"The first was true," Bathurst said quietly, "though, how you knew I was with the regiment that stormed the village at Chillianwalla I know not. The second is certainly not true."
"You can never know what the future will be, sahib," the juggler said gravely.
"That is so," Bathurst said; "but I know enough of myself to say that it cannot be true. I do not say that the Sepoys can never be fighting against whites, improbable as it seems, but that I was doing what that figure did is, I know, impossible."
"Time will show, sahib," the juggler said; "the pictures never lie. Shall I show you other things?"
"No, Rujub, you have shown me enough; you have astounded me. I want to see no more tonight."
"Then farewell, sahib; we shall meet again, I doubt not, and mayhap I may be able to repay the debt I owe you;" and Rujub, lifting his basket, went out through the window without another word.
Some seven or eight officers were sitting round the table in the messroom of the 103d Bengal Infantry at Cawnpore. It had been a guest night, but the strangers had left, the lights had been turned out in the billiard room overhead, the whist party had broken up, and the players had rejoined three officers who had remained at table smoking and talking quietly.
Outside, through the open French windows, the ground looked as if sprinkled with snow beneath the white light of the full moon. Two or three of the mess servants were squatting in the veranda, talking in low voices. A sentry walked backwards and forwards by the gate leading into the mess house compound; beyond, the maidan stretched away flat and level to the low huts of the native lines on the other side.
"So the Doctor comes back tomorrow, Major," the Adjutant, who had been one of the whist party, said. "I shall be very glad to have him back. In the first place, he is a capital fellow, and keeps us all alive; secondly, he is a good deal better doctor than the station surgeon who has been looking after the men since we have been here; and lastly, if I had got anything the matter with me myself, I would rather be in his hands than those of anyone else I know."
"Yes, I agree with you, Prothero; the Doctor is as good a fellow as ever stepped. There is no doubt about his talent in his profession; and there are a good many of us who owed our lives to him when we were down with cholera, in that bad attack three years ago. He is good all round; he is just as keen a shikari as he was when he joined the regiment, twenty years ago; he is a good billiard player, and one of the best storytellers I ever came across; but his best point is that he is such a thoroughly good fellow—always ready to do a good turn to anyone, and to help a lame dog over a stile. I could name a dozen men in India who owe their commissions to him. I don't know what the regiment would do without him."
"He went home on leave just after I joined," one of the subalterns said. "Of course, I know, from all I have heard of him, that he is an awfully good fellow, but from the little I saw of him myself, he seemed always growling and snapping."
There was a general laugh from the others.
"Yes, that is his way, Thompson," the Major said; "he believes himself to be one of the most cynical and morose of men."
"He was married, wasn't he, Major?"
"Yes, it was a sad business. It was only just after I joined. He is three years senior to me in the regiment. He was appointed to it a month or two after the Colonel joined. Well, as I say, a month or two after I came to it, he went away on leave down to Calcutta, where he was to meet a young lady who had been engaged to him before he left home. They were married, and he brought her up country. Before she had been with us a month we had one of those outbreaks of cholera. It wasn't a very severe one. I think we only lost eight or ten men, and no officer; but the Doctor's young wife was attacked, and in three or four hours she was carried off. It regularly broke him down. However, he got over it, as we all do, I suppose; and now I think he is married to the regiment. He could have had staff appointments a score of times, but he has always refused them. His time is up next year, and he could go home on full pay, but I don't suppose he will."
"And your niece arrives with him tomorrow, Major," the Adjutant said.
"Yes, I am going to try petticoat government, Prothero. I don't know how the experiment will succeed, but I am tired of an empty bungalow, and I have been looking forward for some years to her being old enough to come out and take charge. It is ten years since I was home, and she was a little chit of eight years old at that time."
"I think a vote of thanks ought to be passed to you, Major. We have only married ladies in the regiment, and it will wake us up and do us good to have Miss Hannay among us."
"There are the Colonel's daughters," the Major said, with a smile.
"Yes, there are, Major, but they hardly count; they are scarcely conscious of the existence of poor creatures like us; nothing short of a Resident or, at any rate, of a full blown Collector, will find favor in their eyes."
"Well, I warn you all fairly," the Major said, "that I shall set my face against all sorts of philandering and love making. I am bringing my niece out here as my housekeeper and companion, and not as a prospective wife for any of you youngsters. I hope she will turn out to be as plain as a pikestaff, and then I may have some hopes of keeping her with me for a time. The Doctor, in his letter from Calcutta, says nothing as to what she is like, though he was good enough to remark that she seemed to have a fair share of common sense, and has given him no more trouble on the voyage than was to be expected under the circumstances. And now, lads, it is nearly two o'clock, and as there is early parade tomorrow, it is high time for you to be all in your beds. What a blessing it would be if the sun would forget to shine for a bit on this portion of the world, and we could have an Arctic night of seven or eight months with a full moon the whole time!"
A few minutes later the messroom was empty, the lights turned out, and the servants wrapped up in their blankets had disposed themselves for sleep in the veranda.
As soon as morning parade was over Major Hannay went back to his bungalow, looked round to see that his bachelor quarters were as bright and tidy as possible, then got into a light suit and went down to the post house. A quarter of an hour later a cloud of dust along the road betokened the approach of the Dak Gharry, and two or three minutes later it dashed up at full gallop amid a loud and continuous cracking of the driver's whip. The wiry little horses were drawn up with a sudden jerk.
The Major opened the door. A little man sprang out and grasped him by the hand.
"Glad to see you, Major—thoroughly glad to be back again. Here is your niece; I deliver her safe and sound into your hands." And between them they helped a girl to alight from the vehicle.
"I am heartily glad to see you, my dear," the Major said, as he kissed her; "though I don't think I should have known you again."
"I should think not, uncle," the girl said. "In the first place, I was a little girl in short frocks when I saw you last; and in the second place, I am so covered with the dust that you can hardly see what I am like. I think I should have known you; your visit made a great impression upon us, though I can remember now how disappointed we were when you first arrived that you hadn't a red coat and a sword, as we had expected."
"Well, we may as well be off at once, Isobel; it is only five minutes' walk to the bungalow. My man will see to your luggage being brought up. Come along, Doctor. Of course you will put up with me until you can look round and fix upon quarters. I told Rumzan to bring your things round with my niece's. You have had a very pleasant voyage out, I hope, Isobel?" he went on, as they started.
"Very pleasant, uncle, though I got rather tired of it at last."
"That is generally the way—everyone is pleasant and agreeable at first, but before they get to the end they take to quarreling like cats and dogs."
"We were not quite as bad as that," the girl laughed, "but we certainly weren't as amiable the last month or so as we were during the first part of the voyage. Still, it was very pleasant all along, and nobody quarreled with me."
"Present company are always excepted," the Doctor said. "I stood in loco parentis, Major, and the result has been that I shall feel in future more charitable towards mothers of marriageable daughters. Still, I am bound to say that Miss Hannay has given me as little trouble as could be expected."
"You frighten me, Doctor; if you found her so onerous only for a voyage, what have I to look forward to?"
"Well, you can't say that I didn't warn you, Major; when you wrote home and asked me to take charge of your niece on the way out, I told you frankly that my opinion of your good sense was shaken."
"Yes, you did express yourself with some strength," the Major laughed; "but then one is so accustomed to that, that I did not take it to heart as I might otherwise have done."
"That was before you knew me, Dr. Wade, otherwise I should feel very hurt," the girl put in.
"Yes, it was," the Doctor said dryly.
"Don't mind him, my dear," her uncle said; "we all know the Doctor of old. This is my bungalow."
"It is pretty, with all these flowers and shrubs round it," she said admiringly.
"Yes, we have been doing a good deal of watering the last few weeks, so as to get it to look its best. This is your special attendant; she will take you up to your room. By the time you have had a bath, your boxes will be here. I told them to have a cup of tea ready for you upstairs. Breakfast will be on the table by the time you are ready."
"Well, old friend," he said to the Doctor, when the girl had gone upstairs, "no complications, I hope, on the voyage?"
"No, I think not," the Doctor said. "Of course, there were lots of young puppies on board, and as she was out and out the best looking girl in the ship half of them were dancing attendance upon her all the voyage, but I am bound to say that she acted like a sensible young woman; and though she was pleasant with them all, she didn't get into any flirtation with one more than another. I did my best to look after her, but, of course, that would have been of no good if she had been disposed to go her own way. I fancy about half of them proposed to her—not that she ever said as much to me—but whenever I observed one looking sulky and giving himself airs I could guess pretty well what had happened. These young puppies are all alike, and we are not without experience of the species out here.
"Seriously, Major, I think you are to be congratulated. I consider that you ran a tremendous risk in asking a young woman, of whom you knew nothing, to come out to you; still it has turned out well. If she had been a frivolous, giggling thing, like most of them, I had made up my mind to do you a good turn by helping to get her engaged on the voyage, and should have seen her married offhand at Calcutta, and have come up and told you that you were well out of the scrape. As, contrary to my expectations, she turned out to be a sensible young woman, I did my best the other way. It is likely enough you may have her on your hands some little time, for I don't think she is likely to be caught by the first comer. Well, I must go and have my bath; the dust has been awful coming up from Allahabad. That is one advantage, and the only one as far as I can see, that they have got in England. They don't know what dust is there."
When the bell for breakfast rang, and Isobel made her appearance, looking fresh and cool, in a light dress, the Major said, "You must take the head of the table, my dear, and assume the reins of government forthwith."
"Then I should say, uncle, that if any guidance is required, there will be an upset in a very short time. No, that won't do at all. You must go on just as you were before, and I shall look on and learn. As far as I can see, everything is perfect just as it is. This is a charming room, and I am sure there is no fault to be found with the arrangement of these flowers on the table. As for the cooking, everything looks very nice, and anyhow, if you have not been able to get them to cook to your taste, it is of no use my attempting anything in that way. Besides, I suppose I must learn something of the language before I can attempt to do anything. No, uncle, I will sit in this chair if you like, and make tea and pour it out, but that is the beginning and the end of my assumption of the head of the establishment at present."
"Well, Isobel, I hardly expected that you were going to run the establishment just at first; indeed, as far as that goes, one's butler, if he is a good man, has pretty well a free hand. He is generally responsible, and is in fact what we should call at home housekeeper—he and the cook between them arrange everything. I say to him, 'Three gentlemen are coming to tiffen.' He nods and says 'Atcha, sahib,' which means 'All right, sir,' and then I know it will be all right. If I have a fancy for any special thing, of course I say so. Otherwise, I leave it to them, and if the result is not satisfactory, I blow up. Nothing can be more simple."
"But how about bills, uncle?"
"Well, my dear, the butler gives them to me, and I pay them. He has been with me a good many years, and will not let the others—that is to say, the cook and the syce, the washerman, and so on, cheat me beyond a reasonable amount. Do you, Rumzan?"
Rumzan, who was standing behind the Major's chair, in a white turban and dress, with a red and white sash round his waist, smiled.
"Rumzan not let anyone rob his master."
"Not to any great extent, you know, Rumzan. One doesn't expect more than that."
"It is just the same here, Miss Hannay, as it is everywhere else," said the Doctor; "only in big establishments in England they rob you of pounds, while here they rob you of annas, which, as I have explained to you, are two pence halfpennies. The person who undertakes to put down little peculations enters upon a war in which he is sure to get the worst of it. He wastes his time, spoils his temper, makes himself and everyone around him uncomfortable, and after all he is robbed. Life is too short for it, especially in a climate like this. Of course, in time you get to understand the language; if you see anything in the bills that strikes you as showing waste you can go into the thing, but as a rule you trust entirely to your butler; if you cannot trust him, get another one. Rumzan has been with your uncle ten years, so you are fortunate. If the Major had gone home instead of me, and if you had had an entirely fresh establishment of servants to look after, the case would have been different; as it is, you will have no trouble that way."
"Then what are my duties to be, uncle?"
"Your chief duties, my dear, are to look pleasant, which will evidently be no trouble to you; to amuse me and keep me in a good temper as far as possible; to keep on as good terms as may be with the other ladies of the station; and, what will perhaps be the most difficult part of your work, to snub and keep in order the young officers of our own and other corps."
Isobel laughed. "That doesn't sound a very difficult programme, uncle, except the last item; I have already had a little experience that way, haven't I, Doctor? I hope I shall have the benefit of your assistance in the future, as I had aboard the ship."
"I will do my best," the Doctor said grimly; "but the British subaltern is pretty well impervious to snubs; he belongs to the pachydermatous family of animals; his armor of self conceit renders him invulnerable against the milder forms of raillery. However, I think you can be trusted to hold your own with him, Miss Hannay, without much assistance from the Major or myself. Your real difficulty will lie rather in your struggle against the united female forces of the station."
"But why shall I have to struggle with them?" Isobel asked, in surprise, while her uncle broke into a laugh.
"Don't frighten her, Doctor."
"She is not so easily frightened, Major; it is just as well that she should be prepared. Well, my dear Miss Hannay, Indian society has this peculiarity, that the women never grow old. At least," he continued, in reply to the girl's look of surprise, "they are never conscious of growing old. At home a woman's family grows up about her, and are constant reminders that she is becoming a matron. Here the children are sent away when they get four or five years old, and do not appear on the scene again until they are grown up. Then, too, ladies are greatly in the minority, and they are accustomed to be made vastly more of than they are at home, and the consequence is that the amount of envy, hatred, jealousy, and all uncharitableness is appalling."
"No, no, Doctor, not as bad as that," the Major remonstrated.
"Every bit as bad as that," the Doctor said stoutly. "I am not a woman hater, far from it; but I have felt sometimes that if John Company, in its beneficence, would pass a decree absolutely excluding the importation of white women into India it would be an unmixed blessing."
"For shame, Doctor," Isobel Hannay said; "and to think that I should have such a high opinion of you up to now."
"I can't help it, my dear; my experience is that for ninety-nine out of every hundred unpleasantnesses that take place out here, women are in one way or another responsible. They get up sets and cliques, and break up what might be otherwise pleasant society into sections. Talk about caste amongst natives; it is nothing to the caste among women out here. The wife of a civilian of high rank looks down upon the wives of military men, the general's wife looks down upon a captain's, and so right through from the top to the bottom.
"It is not so among the men, or at any rate to a very much smaller extent. Of course, some men are pompous fools, but, as a rule, if two men meet, and both are gentlemen, they care nothing as to what their respective ranks may be. A man may be a lord or a doctor, a millionaire or a struggling barrister, but they meet on equal terms in society; but out here it is certainly not so among the women—they stand upon their husband's dignity in a way that would be pitiable if it were not exasperating. Of course, there are plenty of good women among them, as there are everywhere—women whom even India can't spoil; but what with exclusiveness, and with the amount of admiration and adulation they get, and what with the want of occupation for their thoughts and minds, it is very hard for them to avoid getting spoilt."
"Well, I hope I shan't get spoilt, Doctor; and I hope, if you see that I am getting spoilt, you will make a point of telling me so at once."
The Doctor grunted. "Theoretically, people are always ready to receive good advice, Miss Hannay; practically they are always offended by it. However, in your case I will risk it, and I am bound to say that hitherto you have proved yourself more amenable in that way than most young women I have come across."
"And now, if we have done, we will go out on the veranda," the Major said. "I am sure the Doctor must be dying for a cheroot."
"The Doctor has smoked pretty continuously since we left Allahabad," Isobel said. "He wanted to sit up with the driver, but, of course, I would not have that. I had got pretty well accustomed to smoke coming out, and even if I had not been I would much rather have been almost suffocated than have been in there by myself. I thought a dozen times the vehicle was going to upset, and what with the bumping and the shouting and the cracking of the whip—especially when the horses wouldn't start, which was generally the case at first—I should have been frightened out of my life had I been alone. It seemed to me that something dreadful was always going to happen."
"You can take it easy this morning, Isobel," the Major said, when they were comfortably seated in the bamboo lounges in the veranda. "You want have any callers today, as it will be known you traveled all night. People will imagine that you want a quiet day before you are on show."
"What a horrid expression, uncle!"
"Well, my dear, it represents the truth. The arrival of a fresh lady from England, especially of a 'spin,' which is short for spinster or unmarried woman, is an event of some importance in an Indian station. Not, of course, so much in a place like this, because this is the center of a large district, but in a small station it is an event of the first importance. The men are anxious to see what a newcomer is like for herself; the women, to look at her dresses and see the latest fashions from home, and also to ascertain whether she is likely to turn out a formidable rival. However, today you can enjoy quiet; tomorrow you must attire yourself in your most becoming costume, and I will trot you round."
"Trot me round, uncle?"
"Yes, my dear. In India the order of procedure is reversed, and newcomers call in the first place upon residents."
"What a very unpleasant custom, uncle; especially as some of the residents may not want to know them."
"Well, everyone must know everyone else in a station, my dear, though they may not wish to be intimate. So, about half past one tomorrow we will start."
"What, in the heat of the day, uncle?"
"Yes, my dear. That is another of the inscrutable freaks of Indian fashion. The hours for calling are from about half past twelve to half past two, just in the hottest hours. I don't pretend to account for it."
"How many ladies are there in the regiment?"
"There is the Colonel's wife, Mrs. Cromarty. She has two grown up red headed girls," replied the Doctor. "She is a distant relation—a second cousin—of some Scotch lord or other, and, on the strength of that and her husband's colonelcy, gives herself prodigious airs. Three of the captains are married. Mrs. Doolan is a merry little Irish woman. You will like her. She has two or three children. She is a general favorite in the regiment.
"Mrs. Rintoul—I suppose she is here still, Major, and unchanged? Ah, I thought so. She is a washed-out woman, without a spark of energy in her composition.-' She believes that she is a chronic invalid, and sends for me on an average once a week. But there is nothing really the matter with her, if she would but only believe it. Mrs. Roberts—"
"Don't be ill natured, Doctor," the Major broke in. "Mrs. Roberts, my dear, is a good-looking woman, and a general flirt. I don't think there is any harm in her whatever. Mrs. Prothero, the Adjutant's wife, has only been out here eighteen months, and is a pretty little woman, and in all respects nice.-There is only one other, Mrs. Scarsdale; she came out six months ago. She is a quiet young woman, with, I should say, plenty of common sense: I should think you will like her. That completes the regimental list."
"Well, that is not so very formidable. Anyhow, it is a. comfort that we shall have no one here today."
"You will have the whole regiment here in a few minutes, Isobel, but they will be coming to see the Doctor, not you; if it hadn't been that they knew you were under his charge everyone would have come down to meet him when he arrived. But if you feel tired, as I am sure you must be after your journey, there is no reason why you shouldn't go and lie down quietly for a few hours."
"I will stop here, uncle; it will be much less embarrassing to see them all for the first time when they come to see Dr. Wade and I am quite a secondary consideration, than if they had to come specially to call on me."
"Well, I agree with you there, my dear. Ah! here come Doolan and Prothero."
A light trap drove into the inclosure and drew up in front of the veranda, and two officers jumped down,-whilst the syce, who had been standing on a step behind, ran to the horse's head. They hailed the Doctor, as he stepped out from the veranda, with a shout.
"Glad to see you back, Doctor. The regiment has not seemed like itself without you."
"We have been just pining without you, Doctor," Captain Doolan said; "and the ladies would have got up a deputation to meet you on your arrival, only I told them that it would be too much for your modesty."
"Well, it is a good thing that someone has a little of that quality in the regiment, Doolan," the Doctor said, as he shook hands heartily with them both. "It is very little of it that fell to the share of Ireland when it was served out."
As they dropped the Doctor's hand the Major said, "Now, gentlemen, let me introduce you to my niece." The introductions were made, and the whole party took chairs on the veranda.
"Do you object to smoking, Miss Hannay; perhaps you have not got accustomed to it yet? I see the Doctor is-smoking; but then he is a privileged person, altogether beyond rule."
"I rather like it in the open air," Isobel said. "No doubt I shall get accustomed to it indoors before long."
In a few minutes four or five more of the officers arrived, and Isobel sat an amused listener to the talk; taking but little part in it herself, but gathering a good deal of information as to the people at the station from the answers given to the Doctor's inquiries. It was very much like the conversation on board ship, except that the topics of conversation were wider and more numerous, and there was a community of interest wanting on board a ship. In half an hour, however, the increasing warmth and her sleepless night began to tell upon her, and her uncle, seeing that she was beginning to look fagged, said, "The best thing that you can do, Isobel, is to go indoors for a bit, and have a good nap. At five o'clock I will take you round for a drive, and show you the sights of Cawnpore."
"I do feel sleepy," she said, "though it sounds rude to say so."
"Not at all," the Doctor put in; "if any of these young fellows had made the journey out from Allahabad in that wretched gharry, they would have turned into bed as soon as they arrived, and would not have got up till the first mess bugle sounded, and very likely would have slept on until next morning.
"Now," he went on, when Isobel had disappeared, "we will adjourn with you to the mess-house. That young lady would have very small chance of getting to sleep with all this racket here. Doolan's voice alone would banish sleep anywhere within a distance of a hundred yards."
"I will join you there later, Doctor," the Major said. "I have got a couple of hours' work in the orderly-room. Rumzan, don't let my niece be disturbed, but if she wakes and rings the bell send up a message by the woman that I-shall not be back until four."
The Major walked across to the orderly room, while the rest, mounting their buggies, drove to the mess-house, which was a quarter of a mile away.
"I should think Miss Hannay will prove a valuable addition to our circle, Doctor," the Adjutant said. "I don't know why, but I gathered from what the Major said that his niece was very young. He spoke of her as if she were quite a child."
"She is a very nice, sensible young woman," the Doctor said; "clever and bright, and, as you can see for your-selves, pretty, and yet no nonsense about her. I only hope that she won't get spoilt here; nineteen out of twenty young women do get spoilt within six months of their arrival in India, but I think she will be one of the exceptions."
"I should have liked to have seen the Doctor doing chaperon," Captain Doolan laughed; "he would have been a brave man who would have attempted even the faintest flirtation with anyone under his charge."
"That is your opinion, is it, Doolan?" the Doctor said sharply. "I should have thought that even your common sense would have told you that anyone who has had the misfortune to see as much of womankind as I have would have been aware that any endeavor to check a flirtation for which they are inclined would be of all others the way to induce them to go in for it headlong. You are a married man yourself, and ought to know that. A woman is a good deal like a spirited horse; let her have her head, and, though she may for a time make the pace pretty fast, she will go straight, and settle down to her collar in time, whereas if you keep a tight curb she will fret and fidget, and as likely as not make a bolt for it. I can assure you that my duties were of The most nominal description. There were the usual number of hollow pated lads on board, who buzzed in their usual feeble way round Miss Hannay, and were one after another duly snubbed. Miss Hannay has plenty of spirits, and a considerable sense of humor, and I think that she enjoyed the voyage thoroughly. And now let us talk of something else."
After an hour's chat the Doctor started on his round of calls upon the ladies; the Major had not come in from the orderly room, and, after the Doctor left, Isobel Hannay was again the topic of conversation.
"She is out and out the prettiest girl in the station," the Adjutant said to some of the officers who had not seen her. "She will make quite a sensation; and there are five or six ladies in the station, whose names I need hardly mention, who will not be very pleased at her coming. She is thoroughly in good form, too; nothing in the slightest degree fast or noisy about her. She is quiet and self-possessed. I fancy she will be able to hold her own against any of them. Clever? I should say 'certainly'; but, of course, that is from her face rather than from anything she said. I expect half the unmarried men in the station will be going wild over her. You need not look so interested, Wilson; the matter is of no more personal interest to you than if I were describing a new comet. Nothing less than a big civilian is likely to carry off such a prize, so I warn you beforehand you had better not be losing your heart to her."
"Well, you know, Prothero, subalterns do manage to get wives sometimes."
There was a laugh.
"That is true enough, Wilson; but then, you see, I married at home; besides, I am adjutant, which sounds a lot better than subaltern."
"That may go for a good deal in the regiment," Wilson retorted, "but I doubt if there are many women that know the difference between an adjutant and a quartermaster. They know about colonels, majors, captains, and even subalterns; but if you were to say that you were an adjutant they would be simply mystified, though they might understand if you said bandmaster. But I fancy sergeant major would sound ever so much more imposing."
"Wilson, if you are disrespectful, I shall discover tomorrow, on parade, that No. 3 Company wants a couple of hours' extra drill badly, and then you will feel how grievous a mistake it is to cheek an adjutant."
The report of those who had called at the Major's was so favorable that curiosity was quite roused as to the new-comer, and when the Major drove round with her the next day everyone was at home, and the verdict on the part of the ladies was generally favorable, but was by no means so unqualified as that of the gentlemen.
Mrs. Cromarty admitted that she was nice looking; but was critical as to her carriage and manner. She would be admired by young officers, no doubt, but there was too much life and animation about her, and although she would not exactly say that she stooped, she was likely to do so in time.
"She will be nothing remarkable when her freshness has worn off a little."
In this opinion the Misses Cromarty thoroughly assented. They had never been accused of stooping, and, indeed, were almost painfully upright, and were certainly not particularly admired by subalterns.
Mrs. Doolan was charmed with her, and told her she hoped that they would be great friends.
"This is a very pleasant life out here, my dear," she said, "if one does but take it in the right way. There is a great deal of tittle tattle in the Indian stations, and some quarreling; but, you know, it takes two to make a quarrel, and I make it a point never to quarrel with anyone. It is too hot for it. Then, you see, I have the advantage of being Irish, and, for some reason or other that I don't understand we can say pretty nearly what we like. People don't take us seriously, you know; so I keep in with them all."
Mrs. Rintoul received her visitors on the sofa. "It is quite refreshing to see a face straight from England, Miss Hannay. I only hope that you may keep your bright color and healthy looks. Some people do. Not their color, but their health. Unfortunately I am not one of them. I do not know what it is to have a day's health. The climate completely oppresses me, and I am fit for nothing. You would hardly believe that I was as strong and healthy as you are when I first came out. You came out with Dr. Wade—a clever man—I have a very high opinion of his talent, but my case is beyond him. It is a sad annoyance to him that it is so, and he is continually trying to make me believe that there is nothing the matter with me, as if my looks did not speak for themselves."
Mrs. Rintoul afterwards told her husband she could hardly say that she liked Miss Hannay.
"She is distressingly brisk and healthy, and I should say, my dear, not of a sympathetic nature, which is always a pity in a young woman."
After this somewhat depressing visit, the call upon Mrs. Roberts was a refreshing one. She received her very cordially.
"I like you, Miss Hannay," she said, when, after a quarter of an hour's lively talk, the Major and his niece got up to go. "I always say what I think, and it is very good natured of me to say so, for I don't disguise from myself that you will put my nose out of joint."
"I don't want to put anyone's nose out of joint," Isobel laughed.
"You will do it, whether you want to or not," Mrs. Roberts said; "my husband as much as told me so last night, and I was prepared not to like you, but I see that I shall not be able to help doing so. Major Hannay, you have dealt me a heavy blow, but I forgive you."
When the round of visits was finished the Major said, "Well, Isobel, what do you think of the ladies of the regiment?"
"I think they are all very nice, uncle. I fancy I shall like Mrs. Doolan and Mrs. Scarsdale best; I won't give any opinion yet about Mrs. Cromarty."
The life of Isobel Hannay had not, up to the time when she left England to join her uncle, been a very bright one. At the death of her father, her mother had been left with an income that enabled her to live, as she said, genteelly, at Brighton. She had three children: the eldest a girl of twelve; Isobel, who was eight; and a boy of five, who was sadly deformed, the result of a fall from the arms of a careless nurse when he was an infant. It was at that time that Major Hannay had come home on leave, having been left trustee and executor, and seen to all the money arrangements, and had established his brother's widow at Brighton. The work had not been altogether pleasant, for Mrs. Hannay was a selfish and querulous woman, very difficult to satisfy even in little matters, and with a chronic suspicion that everyone with whom she came in contact was trying to get the best of her. Her eldest girl was likely, Captain Hannay thought, to take after her mother, whose pet she was, while Isobel took after her father. He had suggested that both should be sent to school, but Mrs. Hannay would not hear of parting from Helena, but was willing enough that Isobel should be sent to a boarding school at her uncle's expense.
As the years went by, Helena grew up, as Mrs. Hannay proudly said, the image of what she herself had been at her age—tall and fair, indolent and selfish, fond of dress and gayety, discontented because their means would not permit them to indulge in either to the fullest extent. There was nothing in common between her and her sister, who, when at home for the holidays, spent her time almost entirely with her brother, who received but slight attention from anyone else, his deformity being considered as a personal injury and affliction by his mother and elder sister.
"You could not care less for him," Isobel once said, in a fit of passion, "if he were a dog. I don't think you notice him more, not one bit. He wanders about the house without anybody to give a thought to him. I call it cruel, downright cruel."
"You are a wicked girl, Isobel," her mother said angrily, "a wicked, violent girl, and I don't know what will become of you. It is abominable of you to talk so, even if you are wicked enough to get into a passion. What can we do for him that we don't do? What is the use of talking to him when he never pays attention to what we say, and is always moping. I am sure we get everything that we think will please him, and he goes out for a walk with us every day; what could possibly be done more for him?"
"A great deal more might be done for him," Isobel burst out. "You might love him, and that would be everything to him. I don't believe you and Helena love him, not one bit, not one tiny scrap."
"Go up to your room, Isobel, and remain there for the rest of the day. You are a very bad girl. I shall write to Miss Virtue about you; there must be something very wrong in her management of you, or you would never be so passionate and insolent as you are."
But Isobel had not stopped to hear the last part of the sentence, the door had slammed behind her. She was not many minutes alone upstairs, for Robert soon followed her up, for when she was at home he rarely left her side, watching her every look and gesture with eyes as loving as those of a dog, and happy to sit on the ground beside her, with his head leaning against her, for hours together.
Mrs. Hannay kept her word and wrote to Miss Virtue, and the evening after she returned to school Isobel was summoned to her room.
"I am sorry to say, I have a very bad account of you from your mother. She says you are a passionate and wicked girl. How is it, dear; you are not passionate here, and I certainly do not think you are wicked?"
"I can't help it when I am at home, Miss Virtue. I am sure I try to be good, but they won't let me. They don't like me because I can't be always tidy and what they call prettily behaved, and because I hate walking on the parade and being stuck up and unnatural, and they don't like me because I am not pretty, and because I am thin and don't look, as mamma says, a credit to her; but it is not that so much as because of Robert. You know he is deformed, Miss Virtue, and they don't care for him, and he has no one to love him but me, and it makes me mad to see him treated so. That is what it was she wrote about. I told her they treated him like a dog and so they do," and she burst into tears.
"But that was very naughty, Isobel," Miss Virtue said gravely. "You are only eleven years old, and too young to be a judge of these matters, and even if it were as you say, it is not for a child to speak so to her mother."
"I know that, Miss Virtue, but how can I help it? I could cry out with pain when I see Robert looking from one to the other just for a kind word, which he never gets. It is no use, Miss Virtue; if it was not for him I would much rather never go home at all, but stop here through the holidays, only what would he do if I didn't go home? I am the only pleasure he has. When I am there he will sit for hours on my knee, and lay his head on my shoulder, and stroke my face. It makes me feel as if my heart would break."
"Well, my dear," Miss Virtue said, somewhat puzzled, "it is sad, if it is as you say, but that does not excuse your being disrespectful to your mother. It is not for you to judge her."
"But cannot something be done for Robert, Miss Virtue? Surely they must do something for children like him."
"There are people, my dear, who take a few afflicted children and give them special training. Children of that kind have sometimes shown a great deal of unusual talent, and, if so, it is cultivated, and they are put in a way of earning a livelihood."
"Are there?" Isobel exclaimed, with eager eyes. "Then I know what I will do, Miss Virtue; I will write off at once to Uncle Tom—he is our guardian. I know if I were to speak to mamma about Robert going to school it would be of no use; but if uncle writes I dare say it would be done. I am sure she and Helena would be glad enough. I don't suppose she ever thought of it. It would be a relief to them to get him out of their sight."
Miss Virtue shook her head. "You must not talk so, Isobel. It is not right or dutiful, and you are a great deal too young to judge your elders, even if they were not related to you; and, pray, if you write to your uncle do not write in that spirit—it would shock him greatly, and he would form a very bad opinion of you."
And so Isobel wrote. She was in the habit of writing once every half year to her uncle, who had told her that he wished her to do so, and that people out abroad had great pleasure in letters from England. Hitherto she had only written about her school life, and this letter caused her a great deal of trouble.
It answered its purpose. Captain Hannay had no liking either for his sister in law or his eldest niece, and had, when he was with them, been struck with the neglect with which the little boy was treated. Isobel had taken great pains not to say anything that would show she considered that Robert was harshly treated; but had simply said that she heard there were schools where little boys like him could be taught, and that it would be such a great thing for him, as it was very dull for him having nothing to do all day. But Captain Hannay read through the lines, and felt that it was a protest against her brother's treatment, and that she would not have written to him had she not felt that so only would anything be done for him. Accordingly he wrote home to his sister in law, saying he thought it was quite time now that the boy should be placed with some gentleman who took a few lads unfitted for the rough life of an ordinary school. He should take the charges upon himself, and had written to his agent in London to find out such an establishment, to make arrangements for Robert to go there, and to send down one of his clerks to take charge of him on the journey. He also wrote to Isobel, telling her what he had done, and blaming himself for not having thought of it before, winding up by saying: "I have not mentioned to your mother that I heard from you about it—that is a little secret just as well to keep to ourselves."
The next five years were much happier to Isobel, for the thought of her brother at home without her had before been constantly on her mind. It was a delight to her now to go home and to see the steady improvement that took place in Robert. He was brighter in every respect, and expressed himself as most happy where he was.
As years went on he grew into a bright and intelligent boy, though his health was by no means good, and he looked frail and delicate. He was as passionately attached to her as ever, and during the holidays they were never separated; they stood quite alone, their mother and sister interesting themselves but little in their doings, and they were allowed to take long walks together, and to sit in a room by themselves, where they talked, drew, painted, and read.
Mrs. Hannay disapproved of Isobel as much as ever. "She is a most headstrong girl," she would lament to her friends, "and is really quite beyond my control. I do not at all approve of the school she is at, but unfortunately my brother in law, who is her guardian, has, under the will of my poor husband, absolute control in the matter. I am sure poor John never intended that he should be able to override my wishes; but though I have written to him several times about it, he says that he sees no valid reason for any change, and that from Isobel's letters to him she seems very happy there, and to be getting on well. She is so very unlike dear Helena, and even when at home I see but little of her; she is completely wrapped up in her unfortunate brother. Of course I don't blame her for that, but it is not natural that a girl her age should care nothing for pleasures or going out or the things natural to young people. Yes, she is certainly improving in appearance, and if she would but take some little pains about her dress would be really very presentable."