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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER VIII.
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 “I have some bad news, Isobel. At least I suppose you will consider it bad news,” the Major said one morning, when he returned from the orderly room. “You heard me say that four companies were going to relieve those at Deennugghur. Well, I am going with them. It seems that the General is of opinion that in the present unsettled state of affairs there ought to be a field officer in command there, so I have to go. For myself I don't mind, but you will find it dull in a small station like that, after the gayeties of Cawnpore.” “I don't mind a bit, uncle, in that respect. I don't think I care much for gayeties, but of course the move will be a trouble. We have everything so nice here, it will be horrid having to leave it all. How long will it be for?”
“Six months, in the ordinary state of things, though of course something may occur to bring us in before that. Still, the change won't be as much trouble as you fancy. When we get there you can stay for two or three days with the Hunters till we have got the things to rights. There is one thing that you will be pleased about. Wade is going with us, at any rate for the present; you are a favorite of his, you know, and I think that is the principal reason for his going. At any rate, when he heard I was in orders, he told the Colonel that, as there was no illness in the regiment, he thought, if he did not object, he would change places for a bit with M'Alaster, the assistant surgeon, who has been with the detachment at Deennugghur for the last year, so as to give him a turn of duty at Cawnpore, and do a little shikaring himself. There is more jungle and better shooting round Deennugghur than there is here, and you know the Doctor is an enthusiast that way. Of course, the Colonel agreed at once.”
“I am very glad of that, uncle; it won't seem like going to a strange place if we have him with us, and the Hunters there, and I suppose three or four officers of the regiment. Who are going?”
“Both your boys,” the Major laughed, “and Doolan and Rintoul.”
“When do we go, uncle?”
“Next Monday. I shall get somebody to put us up from Friday, and that morning we will get everything dismantled here, and send them off by bullock carts with the servants to Deennugghur, so that they will be there by Monday morning. I will write to Hunter to pick us out the best of the empty bungalows, and see that our fellows get to work to clean the place up as soon as they arrive. We shall be two days on the march, and things will be pretty forward by the time we get there.”
“And where shall we sleep on the march?”
“In tents, my dear, and very comfortable you will find them. Rumzan will go with us, and you will find everything go on as smoothly as if you were here. Tent life in India is very pleasant. Next year, in the cool season, we will do an excursion somewhere, and I am sure you will find it delightful: they don't know anything about the capabilities of tents at home.”
“Then do I quite understand, uncle, that all I have got to do is to make a round of calls to say goodby to everyone?”
“That is all. You will find a lot of my cards in one of those pigeon holes; you may as well drop one wherever you go. Shall I order a carriage from Framjee's for today?”
“No, I think not, uncle; I will go round to our own bungalows first, and hear what Mrs. Doolan and the others think about it.”
At Mrs. Doolan's Isobel found quite an assembly. Mrs. Rintoul had come in almost in tears, and the two young lieutenants had dropped in with Captain Doolan, while one or two other officers had come round to commiserate with Mrs. Doolan.
“Another victim,” the latter said, as Isobel entered.
“You look too cheerful, Miss Hannay. I find that we are expected to wear sad countenances at our approaching banishment.”
“Are we, Mrs. Doolan? It seems to me that it won't make very much difference to us.”
“Not make any difference, Miss Hannay!” Captain Doolan said. “Why, Deennugghur is one of the dullest little stations on this side of India!”
“What do you mean by dull, Captain Doolan?”
“Why, there are only about six white residents there besides the troops. Of course, as four companies are going instead of one, it will make a difference; but there will be no gayety, no excitement, and really nothing to do.”
“As for the gayety, I am sure I shall not regret it, Captain Doolan; besides, our gayeties are pretty well over, except, of course, dinner parties, and it is getting very hot for them. We shall get off having to go out in the heat of the day to make calls, which seem to me terrible afflictions, and I think with a small party it ought to be very sociable and pleasant. As for excitement, I hear that there is much better shooting there than there is here. Mrs. Hunter was telling me that they have had some tigers that have been very troublesome round there, and you will all have an opportunity of showing your skill and bravery. I know that Mr. Richards and Mr. Wilson are burning to distinguish themselves.”
“It would be great fun to shoot a tiger,” Richards said. “When I came out to India I thought there was going to be lots of tiger shooting, and I bought a rifle on purpose, but I have never had a chance yet. Yes, we will certainly get up a tiger hunt, won't we, Wilson? You will tell us how to set about it, won't you, Doolan?”
“I don't shoot,” Captain Doolan said; “and if I wanted to, I am not sure that my wife would give me leave.”
“Certainly I would not,” Mrs. Doolan said promptly. “Married men have no right to run into unnecessary danger.”
“Dr. Wade will be able to put you in the way, Mr. Richards,” Isobel said.
“Dr. Wade!” Mrs. Rintoul exclaimed. “You don't mean to say, Miss Hannay, that he is going with us?”
“Yes, he is going for a time, Mrs. Rintoul. My uncle told me that he had applied to go with the detachment, and that the surgeon there would come back to the regiment while he is away.”
“I do call that hard,” Mrs. Rintoul said. “The only thing I was glad we were going for was that we should be under Mr. M'Alaster, who is very pleasant, and quite understands my case, while Dr. Wade does not seem to understand it at all, and is always so very brusque and unsympathetic.”
There was a general smile.
“Wade is worth a hundred of M'Alaster,” Captain Roberts said. “There is not a man out here I would rather trust myself to if I were ill. He is an awfully good fellow, too, all round, though he may be, as you say, a little brusque in manner.”
“I call him a downright bear,” Mrs. Rintoul said angrily. “Why, only last week he told me that if I would get up two hours earlier and go for a brisk walk just after sunrise, and give up eating meat at tiffin, and confine myself to two or three dishes at dinner, I should be perfectly well in the course of a month; just as if I was in the habit of overeating myself, when I have scarcely the appetite of a sparrow. I told Captain Rintoul afterwards that I must consult someone else, for that really I could not bear such rudeness.”
“I am afraid we are all against you, Mrs. Rintoul,” Mrs. Doolan said, with a little shake of her head at Isobel, who was, she saw, going to speak out strongly. “No one could possibly be kinder than he is when anyone is really ill. I mean seriously ill,” she added, as Mrs. Rintoul drew herself up indignantly. “I shall never forget how attentive he was to the children when they were down with fever just before he went to England. He missed his ship and lost a month of his leave because he would not go away till they were out of danger, and there are very few men who would have done that. I shall never forget his kindness. And now let us talk of something else. You will have to establish a little mess on your own account, Mr. Wilson, as both the Captains are married men, and the Major has also an incumbrance.”
“Yes, it will be horribly dull, Mrs. Doolan. Richards and I have quarters together here, and, of course, it will be the same there, and I am sure I don't know what we shall find to talk about when we come to have to mess together. Of course, here, there are the messroom and the club, and so we get on very well, but to be together always will be awful.”
“You will really have to take to reading or something of that sort, Mr. Wilson,” Isobel laughed.
“I always do read the Field, Miss Hannay, but that won't last for a whole week, you know; and there is no billiard table, and no racquet court, or anything else at Deennugghur, and one cannot always be riding about the country.”
“We shall all have to take pity on you as much as we can,” Mrs. Doolan said. “I must say that, like Miss Hannay, I shall not object to the change.”
“I think it is all very well for you, Mrs. Doolan; you have children.”
“Well, Mr. Richards, I will let you both, as a great treat, take them out for a walk sometimes of a morning instead of their going with the ayah. That will make a change for you.”
There was a general laugh, but Wilson said manfully, “Very well, Mrs. Doolan; I am very fond of youngsters, and I should like to take, anyhow, the two eldest out sometimes. I don't think I should make much hand with the other two, but perhaps Richards would like to come in and amuse them while we are out; he is just the fellow for young ones.”
There was another laugh, in which Richards joined. “I could carry them about on my back, and pretend to be a horse,” he said; “but I don't know that I could amuse them in any other way.”
“You would find that very hot work, Mr. Richards,” Mrs. Doolan said; “but I don't think we shall require such a sacrifice of you. Well, I don't think we shall find it so bad, after all, and I don't suppose it will be for very long; I do not believe in all this talk about chupaties, and disaffection, and that sort of thing; I expect in three months we shall most of us be back again.”
Ten days later the detachment was settled down in Deennugghur. The troops were for the most part under canvas, for there was only accommodation for a single company at the station. The two subalterns occupied a large square tent, while the other three officers took possession of the only three bungalows that were vacant at the station, the Doctor having a tent to himself. The Major and Isobel had stayed for the first three days with the Hunters, at the end of which time the bungalow had been put in perfect order. It was far less commodious than that at Cawnpore, but Isobel was well satisfied with it when all their belongings had been arranged, and she soon declared that she greatly preferred Deennugghur to Cawnpore.
Those at the station heartily welcomed the accession to their numbers, and there was an entire absence of the stiffness and formality of a large cantonment like Cawnpore, and Isobel was free to run in as she chose to spend the morning chatting and working with the Hunters, or Mrs. Doolan, or with the other ladies, of whom there were three at the station.
A few days after their arrival news came in that the famous man eater, which had for a time ceased his ravages and moved off to a different part of the country, principally because the natives of the village near the jungle had ceased altogether to go out after nightfall, had returned, and had carried off herdsmen on two consecutive days.
The Doctor at once prepared for action, and agreed to allow Wilson and Richards to accompany him, and the next day the three rode off together to Narkeet, to which village the two herdsmen had belonged. Both had been killed near the same spot, and the natives had traced the return of the tiger to its lair in the jungle with its victims.
The Doctor soon found that the ordinary methods of destroying the tiger had been tried again and again without success. Cattle and goats had been tied up, and the native shikaris had taken their posts in trees close by, and had watched all night; but in vain. Spring traps and deadfalls had also been tried, but the tiger seemed absolutely indifferent to the attractions of their baits, and always on the lookout for snares. The attempts made at a dozen villages near the jungle had all been equally unsuccessful.
“It is evident,” the Doctor said, “that the brute cares for nothing but human victims. No doubt, if he were very hungry he would take a cow or a goat, but we might wait a very long time for that; so the only thing that I can see is to act as a bait myself.”
“How will you do that, Doctor?”
“I shall build a sort of cage near the point where the tiger has twice entered the jungle. I will take with me in the cage a woman or girl from the village. From time to time she shall cry out as if in pain, and as the tiger is evidently somewhere in this neighborhood it is likely enough he will come out to see about it.
“We must have the cage pretty strong, or I shall never get anyone to sit with me; besides, on a dark night, there is no calculating on killing to a certainty with the first shot, and it is just as well to be on the safe side. In daylight it would be a different matter altogether. I can rely upon my weapon when I can see, but on a dark night it is pretty well guesswork.”
The villagers were at once engaged to erect a stout cage eight feet square and four high, of beams driven into the ground six inches apart, and roofed in with strong bars. There was a considerable difficulty in getting anyone to consent to sit by the Doctor, but at last the widow of one of the men who had been killed agreed for the sum of twenty-five rupees to pass the night there, accompanied by her child four years old.
The Doctor's skill with his rifle was notorious, and it was rather the desire of seeing her husband's death avenged than for the sake of the money that she consented to keep watch. There was but one tree suitable for the watchers; it stood some forty yards to the right of the cage, and it was arranged that both the subalterns should take their station in it.
“Now look here, lads,” the Doctor said, “before we start on this business, it must be quite settled that you do not fire till you hear my rifle. That is the first thing; the second is that you only fire when the brute is a fair distance from the cage. If you get excited and blaze away anyhow, you are quite as likely to hit me as you are the tiger. Now, I object to take any risk whatever on that score. You will have a native shikari in the tree with you to point out the tiger, for it is twenty to one against your making him out for yourselves. It will be quite indistinct, and you have no chance of making out its head or anything of that sort, and you have to take a shot at it as best you may.
“Remember there must not be a word spoken. If the brute does come, it will probably make two or three turns round the cage before it approaches it, and may likely enough pass close to you, but in no case fire. You can't make sure of killing it, and if it were only wounded it would make off into the jungle, and all our trouble would be thrown away. Also remember you must not smoke; the tiger would smell it half a mile away, and, besides, the sound of a match striking would be quite sufficient to set him on his guard.”
“There is no objection, I hope, Doctor, to our taking up our flasks; we shall want something to keep us from going to sleep.”
“No, there is no objection to that,” the Doctor said; “but mind you don't go to sleep, for if you did you might fall off your bough and break your neck, to say nothing of the chance of the tiger happening to be close at hand at the time.”
Late in the afternoon the Doctor went down to inspect the cage, and pronounced it sufficiently strong. Half an hour before nightfall he and the woman and child took their places in it, and the two beams in the roof that had been left unfastened to allow of their entry were securely lashed in their places by the villagers. Wilson and Richards were helped up into the tree, and took their places upon two boughs which sprang from the trunk close to each other at a height of some twelve feet from the ground. The shikari who was to wait with them crawled out, and with a hatchet chopped off some of the small boughs and foliage so as to give them a clear view of the ground for some distance round the cage, which was erected in the center of a patch of brushwood, the lower portion of which had been cleared out so that the Doctor should have an uninterrupted view round. The boughs and leaves were gathered up by the villagers, and carried away by them, and the watch began.
“Confound it,” Richards whispered to his companion after night fell, “it is getting as dark as pitch; I can scarcely make out the clump where the cage is. I should hardly see an elephant if it were to come, much less a brute like a tiger.”
“We shall get accustomed to it presently,” Wilson replied; “at any rate make quite sure of the direction in which the cage is in; it is better to let twenty tigers go than to run the risk of hitting the Doctor.”
In another hour their eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and they could not only see the clump in which the cage was clearly, but could make out the outline of the bush all round the open space in which it stood. Both started as a loud and dismal wail rose suddenly in the air, followed by a violent crying.
“By Jove, how that woman made me jump!” Wilson said; “it sounded quite awful, and she must have pinched that poor little beggar of hers pretty sharply to make him yell like that.”
A low “hush!” from the shikari at his elbow warned Wilson that he was speaking too loudly. Hours passed by, the cries being r............
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