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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER X.
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 As Bathurst brought his story to its conclusion the Doctor rose and placed his hand kindly on his shoulder. “I certainly should not think of blaming you, Bathurst. What you tell me is indeed a terrible misfortune, situated as we may be soon, though I trust and believe that all this talk about the Sepoys is moonshine. I own that I am surprised at your story, for I should have said from my knowledge of you that though, as I could perceive, of a nervous temperament, you were likely to be cool and collected in danger. But certainly your failing is no fault of your own.”
“That is but a small consolation to me, Doctor. Men do not ask why and wherefore—they simply point the finger of scorn at a coward. The misfortune is that I am here. I might have lived a hundred lives in England and never once had occasion to face danger, and I thought that I should have been equally secure as an Indian civilian. Now this trouble is coming upon us.”
“Why don't you take your leave, lad? You have been out seven years now without a day's relaxation, except indeed, the three days you were over with me at Cawnpore. Why not apply for a year's leave? You have a good excuse, too; you did not go home at the death of your father, two years ago, and could very well plead urgent family affairs requiring your presence in England.”
“No, I will not do that, Doctor; I will not run away from danger again. You understand me, I have not the least fear of the danger; I in no way hold to my life; I do not think I am afraid of physical pain. It seems to me that I could undertake any desperate service; I dread it simply because I know that when the din of battle begins my body will overmaster my mind, and that I shall be as I was at Chillianwalla, completely paralyzed. You wondered tonight why that juggler should have exhibited feats seldom, almost never, shown to Europeans? He did it to please me. I saved his daughter's life—this is between ourselves, Doctor, and is not to go farther. But, riding in from Narkeet, I heard a cry, and, hurrying on, came upon that man eater you shot the other day, standing over the girl, with her father half beside himself, gesticulating in front of him. I jumped off and attacked the brute with my heavy hunting whip, and he was so completely astonished that he turned tail and bolted.”
“The deuce he did,” the Doctor exclaimed; “and yet you talk of being a coward!”
“No, I do not say that I am a coward generally; as long as I have to confront danger without noise I believe I could do as well as most men.”
“But why didn't you mention this business with the tiger, Bathurst?”
“Because, in the first place, it was the work of a mere passing impulse; and in the second, because I should have gained credit for being what I am not—a brave man. It will be bad enough when the truth becomes known, but it would be all the worse if I had been trading on a false reputation; therefore I particularly charged Rujub to say nothing about the affair to anyone.”
“Well, putting this for a time aside, Bathurst, what do you think of that curious scene, you and I and Miss Hannay disguised as natives?”
“Taking it with the one I saw of the attack of Sepoys upon a house, it looks to me, Doctor, as if there would be a mutiny, and that that mutiny would be attended with partial success, that a portion of the garrison, at any rate, will escape, and that Miss Hannay will be traveling down the country, perhaps to Cawnpore, in your charge, while I in some way shall be with you, perhaps acting as guide.”
“It may possibly be so,” the Doctor agreed. “It is at any rate very curious. I wonder whether Miss Hannay recognized herself in the disguise.”
“I should hope not, Doctor; if it all comes true there will be enough for her to bear without looking forward to that. I should be glad if the detachment were ordered back to Cawnpore.”
“Well, I should not have thought that, Bathurst.”
“I know what you mean, Doctor, but it is for that reason I wish they were gone. I believe now that you insisted on my coming down to spend those three days with you at Cawnpore specially that I might meet her.”
“That is so, Bathurst. I like her so much that I should be very sorry to see her throw herself away upon some empty headed fool. I like her greatly, and I was convinced that you were just the man to make her happy, and as I knew that you had good prospects in England, I thought it would be a capital match for her, although you are but a young civilian; and I own that of late I have thought things were going on very well.”
“Perhaps it might have been so, Doctor, had it not been for this coming trouble, which, if our fears are realized, will entirely put an end even to the possibility of what you are talking about. I shall be shown to be a coward, and I shall do my best to put myself in the way of being killed. I should not like to blow my brains out, but if the worst comes to the worst I will do that rather than go on living after I have again disgraced myself.”
“You look at it too seriously, Bathurst.”
“Not a bit of it, Doctor, and you know it.”
“But if the Sepoys rise, Bathurst, why should they harm their officers? They may be discontented, they may have a grievance against the Government, they may refuse to obey orders and may disband; but why on earth should they attack men who have always been kind to them, whom they have followed in battle, and against whom they have not as much as a shadow of complaint?”
“I hope it may be so most sincerely,” Bathurst said; “but one never can say. I can hardly bring myself to believe that they will attack the officers, much less injure women and children. Still, I have a most uneasy foreboding of evil.”
“You have heard nothing from the natives as to any coming trouble?”
“Nothing at all, Doctor, and I am convinced that nothing is known among them, or at any rate by the great bulk of them. Only one person has ever said a word to me that could indicate a knowledge of coming trouble, and that was this juggler we saw tonight. I thought nothing of his words at the time. That picture he showed me of the attack by Sepoys first gave me an idea that his words might mean something. Since then we have heard much more of this discontent, and I am convinced now that the words had a meaning. They were simple enough. It was merely his assurance, two or three times repeated, that he would be ready to repay the service I had rendered him with his life. It might have been a mere phrase, and so I thought at the time. But I think now he had before him the possibility of some event occurring in which he might be able to repay the service I had rendered him.”
“There may have been something in it and there may not,” the Doctor said; “but, at any rate, Bathurst, he ought to be a potent ally. There doesn't seem any limit to his powers, and he might, for aught one knows, be able to convey you away as he did his daughter.”
The Doctor spoke lightly, and then added, “But seriously, the man might be of service. These jugglers go among people of all classes. They are like the troubadours of the Middle Ages, welcomed everywhere; and they no doubt have every opportunity of learning what is going on, and it may be that he will be able to give you timely warning should there be any trouble at hand.”
“That is possible enough,” Bathurst agreed. “Well, Doctor, I shall be on horseback at six, so it is time for me to turn in,” and taking his hat, walked across to his own bungalow.
The Doctor sat for some time smoking before he turned into bed. He had as he had said, heard rumors, when Bathurst first came out, that he had shown the white feather, but he had paid little attention to it at the time. They had been together at the first station to which Bathurst was appointed when he came out, and he had come to like him greatly; but his evident disinclination to join in any society, his absorption in his work, and a certain air of gravity unnatural in a young man of twenty, had puzzled him. He had at the time come to the conclusion that he must have had some unfortunate love affair, or have got into some very serious trouble at home. In time that impression had worn off. A young man speedily recovers from such a blow, however heavy, but no change had taken place in Bathurst, and the Doctor had in time become so accustomed to his manner that he had ceased to wonder over it. Now it was all explained. He sat thinking over it deeply for an hour, and then laid down his pipe.
“It is a terrible pity he came out here,” he said. “Of course it is not his fault in the slightest degree. One might as well blame a man for being born a hunchback; but if there should be a row out here it will be terrible for him. I can quite understand his feeling about it. If I were placed as he is, and were called upon to fight, I should take a dose of prussic acid at once. Men talk: about their civilization, but we are little better than savages in our instincts. Courage is an almost useless virtue in a civilized community, but if it is called for, we despise a man in whom it is wanting, just as heartily as our tattooed ancestors did. Of course, in him it is a purely constitutional failing, and I have no doubt he would be as brave as a lion in any other circumstances—in fact, the incident of his attacking the tiger with that dog whip of his shows that he is so; and yet, if he should fail when the lives of women are at stake it would be a kindness to give him that dose of prussic acid, especially as Isobel Hannay will be here. That is the hardest part of it to him, I can see.”
Three days later the force at Deennugghur was increased by the arrival of a troop of native cavalry, under a Captain Forster, who had just returned from leave in England.
“Do you know Captain Forster, Doctor?” Isobel Hannay asked, on the afternoon of his arrival. “Uncle tells me he is coming to dinner.”
“Then you must look after your heart, my dear. He is one of the best looking fellows out here, a dashing soldier, and a devoted servant of the fair sex.”
“You don't like him, Doctor,” Isobel said quietly.
“I have not said so, my dear—far from it. I think I said a good deal for him.”
“Yes, but you don't like him, Doctor. Why is that?”
“I suppose because he is not my sort of man,” the Doctor said. “I have not seen him since his regiment and ours were at Delhi together, and we did not see much of each other then. Our tastes did not lie in the same direction.”
“Well, I know what your tastes are, Doctor; what are his?”
“I will leave you to find out, my dear. He is all I told you—a very handsome man, with, as is perhaps natural, a very good opinion of himself, and he distinguished himself more than once in the Punjaub by acts of personal gallantry. I have no doubt he thinks it an awful nuisance coming to a quiet little station like this, and he will probably try to while away his time by making himself very agreeable to you. But I don't think you need quite believe all that he says.”
“I have long ago got over the weakness of believing people's flattery, Doctor. However, now you have forewarned me I am forearmed.”
The Doctor hesitated, and then said gravely, “It is not my habit to speak ill of people, my dear. You do me the justice to believe that?”
“I am sure it is not, Doctor.”
“Well, child, in a station like this you must see a good deal of this man. He is a man who has won many hearts, and thrown them away. Don't let him win yours. He is not a good man; he has been mixed up in several grave scandals; he has been the ruin of more than one young man at cards and billiards; he is in all respects a dangerous man. Anatomically I suppose he has a heart, morally he has not a vestige of one. Whatever you do, child, don't let him make you like him.”
“I don't think there is much fear of that, Doctor, after what you have said,” she replied, with a quiet smile; “and I am obliged to you indeed for warning me.”
“I know I am an old fool for meddling, but you know, my dear, I feel a sort of personal relationship to you, after your having been in my charge for six months. I don't know a single man in all India whom I would not rather see you fall in love with than with Captain Forster.”
“I thought uncle did not seem particularly pleased: when he came in to tiffin, and said there was a new arrival.”
“I should think not,” the Doctor said; “the man in notoriously a dangerous fellow; and yet, as he has never actually outstepped what are considered the bounds which constitute an officer and a gentleman, he has retained his commission, but it has been a pretty close shave once or twice. Your uncle must know all about him, everyone does; but I don't suppose the Major will open his mouth to you on the subject—he is one of those chivalrous sort of men who never thinks evil of anyone unless he is absolutely obliged to; but in a case like this I think he is wrong. At any rate, I have done what I consider to be my duty in the matter. Now I leave it in your hands. I am glad to see that you are looking quite yourself again, and have got over your fainting fit of the other night. I quite expected to be sent for professionally the next morning.”
“Oh, yes, I have quite got over it, Doctor; I can't make out how I was so silly as to faint. I never did such a thing before, but it was so strange and mysterious that I felt quite bewildered, and the picture quite frightened me, but I don't know why. This is the first chance I have had since of speaking to you alone. What do you think of it, and why should you be dressed up as a native? and why should?” She stopped with a heightened color on her cheeks.
“You and Bathurst be dressed up, too? So you noticed your own likeness; nobody else but Bathurst and myself recognized the two figures that came out of the wood.”
“Oh, you saw it too, Doctor. I thought I might have been mistaken, for, besides being stained, the face was all obscured somehow. Neither uncle, nor Mrs. Hunter, nor the girls, nor anyone else I have spoken to seem to have had an idea it was me, though they all recognized you.. What could it mean?”
“I. have not the slightest idea in the world,” the Doctor said; “very likely it meant nothing. I certainly should not think any more about it. These jugglers' tricks are curious and unaccountable; but it is no use our worrying ourselves about them. Maybe we are all going to get up private theatricals some day, and perform an Indian drama. I have never taken any part in tomfooleries of that sort so far, but there is no saying what I may come to.”
“Are you going to dine here, Doctor?”
“No, my dear; the Major asked me to come in, but I declined. I told him frankly that I did not like Forster, and that the less I saw of him the better I should be pleased.”
The other guests turned out to be Captain and Mrs. Doolan and Mr. Congreave, one of the civilians at the station. The Doolans arrived first.
“You have not seen Captain Forster yet, Isobel,” Mrs. Doolan said, as they sat down for a chat together. “I met him at Delhi soon after I came out. He is quite my beau ideal of a soldier in appearance, but I don't think he is nice, Isobel. I have heard all sorts of stories about him.”
“Is that meant as a warning for me, Mrs. Doolan?” Isobel asked, smiling.
“Well, yes, I think it is, if you don't mind my giving you one. There are some men one can flirt with as much as one likes, and there are some men one can't; he is one of that sort. Privately, my dear, I don't mind telling you that at one time I did flirt with him—I had been accustomed to flirt in Ireland; we all flirt there, and mean nothing by it; but I had to give it up very suddenly. It wouldn't do, my dear, at all; his ideas of flirtation differed utterly from mine. I found I was playing with fire, and was fortunate in getting off without singeing my wings, which is more than a good many others would have done.”
“He must be a horrid sort of man,” Isobel said indignantly.
Mrs. Doolan laughed. “I don't think you will find him so; certainly that is not the general opinion of women. However, you will see him for yourself in a very few minutes.”
Isobel looked up with some curiosity when Captain Forster was announced, and at once admitted to herself that the Doctor's report as to his personal appearance was fully justified. He stood over six feet high, with a powerful frame, and an easy careless bearing; his hair was cut rather close, he wore a long tawny mustache, his eyes were dark, his teeth very white and perfect. A momentary look of surprise came across his face as his eyes fell on Isobel.
“I had hardly expected,” he said, as the Major introduced him to her, “to find no less than three unmarried ladies at Deennugghur. I had the pleasure of being introduced to the Miss Hunters this afternoon. How do you do, Mrs. Doolan? I think it is four years since I had the pleasure of knowing you in Delhi.”
“I believe that is the number, Captain Forster.”
“It seems a very long time to me,” he said.
“I thought you would say that,” she laughed. “It was quite the proper thing to say, Captain Forster; but I have no doubt it does seem longer to you than it doe............
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