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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XII.
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 “Let us be off at once,” Dr. Wade said to his companion; “we can talk as we go along. I have got two rifles with me; I can lend you one.” “I shall take no rifle,” Bathurst said decidedly, “or rather I will take one of the shikaris' guns for the sake of appearance, and for use I will borrow one of their spears.”
“Very well; I will do the shooting, then,” the Doctor agreed.
The two men then took their places on the elephants most used to the work, and told the mahouts of the others to follow in case the elephants should be required for driving the tiger out of the thick jungle, and they then started side by side for the scene of action.
“This is awful news, Bathurst. I could not have believed it possible that these fellows who have eaten our salt for years, fought our battles, and have seemed the most docile and obedient of soldiers, should have done this. That they should have been goaded into mutiny by lies about their religion being in danger I could have imagined well enough, but that they should go in for wholesale massacre, not only of their officers, but of women and children, seems well nigh incredible. You and I have always agreed that if they were once roused there was no saying what they would do, but I don't think either of us dreamt of anything as bad as this.”
“I don't know,” Bathurst said quietly; “one has watched this cloud gathering, and felt that if it did break it would be something terrible. No one can foresee now what it will be. The news that Delhi is in the hands of the mutineers, and that these have massacred all Europeans, and so placed themselves beyond all hope of pardon, will fly though India like a flash of lightning, and there is no guessing how far the matter will spread. There is no use disguising it from ourselves, Doctor, before a week is over there may not be a white man left alive in India, save the garrisons of strong places like Agra, and perhaps the presidential towns, where there is always a strong European force.”
“I can't deny that it is possible, Bathurst. If this revolt spreads though the three Presidencies the work of conquering India will have to be begun again, and worse than that, for we should have opposed to us a vast army drilled and armed by ourselves, and led by the native officers we have trained. It seems stupefying that an empire won piecemeal, and after as hard fighting as the world has ever seen, should be lost in a week.”
The Doctor spoke as if the question was a purely impersonal one.
“Ugly, isn't it?” he went on; “and to think I have been doctoring up these fellows for the last thirty years—saving their lives, sir, by wholesale. If I had known what had been coming I would have dosed them with arsenic with as little remorse as I should feel in shooting a tiger's whelp. Well, there is one satisfaction, the Major has already done something towards turning the courthouse into a fortress, and I fancy a good many of the scoundrels will go down before they take it, that is, if they don't fall on us unawares. I have been a noncombatant all my life, but if I can shoot a tiger on the spring I fancy I can hit a Sepoy. By Jove, Bathurst, that juggler's picture you told me of is likely to come true after all!”
“I wish to Heaven it was!” Bathurst said gloomily; “I could look without dread at whatever is coming as far as I am concerned, if I could believe it possible that I should be fighting as I saw myself there.”
“Pooh, nonsense, lad!” the Doctor said. “Knowing what I know of you, I have no doubt that, though you may feel nervous at first, you will get over it in time.”
Bathurst shook his head. “I know myself too well, Doctor, to indulge in any such hopes. Now you see we are going out tiger hunting. At present, now, as far as I am concerned, I should feel much less nervous if I knew I was going to enter the jungle on foot with only this spear, than I do at the thought that you are going to fire that rifle a few paces from me.”
“You will scarcely notice it in the excitement,” the Doctor said. “In cold blood I admit you might feel it, but I don't think you will when you see the tiger spring out from the jungle at us. But here we are. That is the nullah in which they say the tiger retires at night. I expect the beaters are lying all round in readiness, and as soon as we have taken up our station at its mouth they will begin.”
A shikari came up as they approached the spot.
“The tiger went out last night, sahib, and finished the cow; he came back before daylight, and the beaters are all in readiness to begin.”
The elephants were soon in position at the mouth of the ravine, which was some thirty yards across. At about the same distance in front of them the jungle of high, coarse grass and thick bush began.
“If you were going to shoot, Bathurst, we would take post one each side, but as you are not going to I will place myself nearly in the center, and if you are between me and the rocks the tiger is pretty certain to go on the other side, as it will seem the most open to him. Now we are ready,” he said to the shikari.
The latter waved a white rag on the top of a long stick, and at the signal a tremendous hubbub of gongs and tom toms, mingled with the shouts of numbers of the men, arose. The Doctor looked across at his companion. His face was white and set, his muscles twitched convulsively; he was looking straight in front of him, his teeth set hard.
“An interesting case,” the Doctor muttered to himself, “if it had been anyone else than Bathurst. I expect the tiger will be some little time before it is down. Bathurst,” he said, in a quiet voice. Three times he repeated the observation, each time raising his voice higher, before Bathurst heard him.
“The sooner it comes the better,” Bathurst said, between his teeth. “I would rather face a hundred tigers than this infernal din.”
A quarter of an hour passed, and the Doctor, rifle in hand, was watching the bushes in front when he saw a slight movement among the leaves on his right, the side on which Bathurst was stationed.
“That's him, Bathurst; he has headed back; he caught sight of either your elephant or mine; he will make a bolt in another minute now unless he turns back on the beaters.”
A minute later there was a gleam of tawny yellow among the long grass, and quick as thought the Doctor fired. With a sharp snarl the tiger leaped out, and with two short bounds sprang onto the head of the elephant ridden by Bathurst. The mahout gave a cry of pain, for the talons of one of the forepaws were fixed in his leg. Bathurst leaned forward and thrust the spear he held deep into the animal's neck. At the same moment the Doctor fired again, and the tiger, shot through the head, fell dead, while, with a start, Bathurst lost his balance and fell over the elephant's head onto the body of the tiger.
It was fortunate indeed for him that the ball had passed through the tiger's skull from ear to ear, and that life was extinct before it touched the ground. Bathurst sprang to his feet, shaken and bewildered, but otherwise unhurt.
“He is as dead as a door nail!” the Doctor shouted, “and lucky for you he was so; if he had had a kick left in him you would have been badly torn.”
“I should never have fallen off,” Bathurst said angrily, “if you had not fired. I could have finished him with the spear.”
“You might or you might not; I could not wait to think about that; the tiger had struck its claws into the mahout's leg, and would have had him off the elephant in another moment. That is a first rate animal you were riding on, or he would have turned and bolted; if he had done so you and the mahout would have both been off to a certainty.”
By this time the shouts of some natives, who had taken their posts in trees near at hand, told the beaters that the shots they had heard had been successful, and with shouts of satisfaction they came rushing down. The Doctor at once dispatched one of them to bring up his trap and Bathurst's horse, and then examined the tiger.
It was a very large one, and the skin was in good condition, which showed that he had not taken to man eating long. The Doctor bound up the wound on the mahout's leg, and then superintended the skinning of the animal while waiting for the arrival of the trap.
When it came up he said, “You might as well take a seat by my side, Bathurst; the syce will sit behind and lead your horse.”
Having distributed money among the beaters, the Doctor took his place in his trap, the tiger skin was rolled up and placed under the seat, Bathurst mounted beside him, and they started.
“There, you see, Doctor,” Bathurst, who had not opened his lips from the time he had remonstrated with the Doctor for firing, said; “you see it is of no use. I was not afraid of the tiger, for I knew that you were not likely to miss, and that in any case it could not reach me on the elephant. I can declare that I had not a shadow of fear of the beast, and yet, directly that row began, my nerves gave way altogether. It was hideous, and yet, the moment the tiger charged, I felt perfectly cool again, for the row ceased as you fired your first shot. I struck it full in the chest, and was about to thrust the spear right down, and should, I believe, have killed it, if you had not fired again and startled me so that I fell from the elephant.”
“I saw that the shouting and noise unnerved you, Bathurst, but I saw too that you were perfectly cool and steady when you planted your spear into him. If it had not got hold of the mahout's leg I should not have fired.”
“Is there nothing to be done, Doctor? You know now what it is likely we shall have to face with the Sepoys and what it will be with me if they rise. Is there nothing you can do for me?”
The Doctor shook his head. “I don't believe in Dutch courage in any case, Bathurst; certainly not in yours. There is no saying what the effect of spirits might be. I should not recommend them, lad. Of course, I can understand your feelings, but I still believe that, even if you do badly to begin with, you will pull round in the end. I have no doubt you will get a chance to show that it is only nerve and not courage in which you are deficient.”
Bathurst was silent, and scarce another word was spoken during the drive back to Deennugghur.
The place had its accustomed appearance when they drove up. The Doctor, as he drew up before his bungalow, said, “Thank God, they have not begun yet! I was half afraid we might have found they had taken advantage of most of us being away, and have broken out before we got back.”
“So was I,” Bathurst said. “I have been thinking of nothing else since we started.”
“Well, I will go to the Major at once and see what arrangements have been made, and whether there is any further news.”
“I shall go off on my rounds,” Bathurst said. “I had arranged yesterday to be at Nilpore this morning, and there will be time for me to get there now. It is only eleven o'clock yet. I shall go about my work as usual until matters come to a head.”
The Doctor found that the Major was over at the tent which served as the orderly office, and at once followed him there.
“Nothing fresh, Major?”
“No; we found everything going on as usual. It has been decided to put the courthouse as far as we can in a state of defense. I shall have the spare ammunition quietly taken over there, with stores of provisions. The ladies have undertaken to sew up sacking and make gunny bags for holding earth, and, of course, we shall get a store of water there. Everything will be done quietly at present, and things will be sent in there after dark by such servants as we can thoroughly rely upon. At the first signs of trouble the residents will make straight for that point. Of course we must be guided by circumstances. If the trouble begins in the daytime—that is, if it does begin, for the native officers assure us that we can trust implicitly in the loyalty of the men—there will probably be time for everyone to gain the courthouse; if it is at night, and without warning, as it was at Meerut, I can only say, Doctor, may God help us all, for I fear that few, if any, of us would get there alive. Certainly not enough to make any efficient defense.”
“I do not see that there is anything else to do, Major. I trust with you that the men will prove faithful; if not, it is a black lookout whichever way we take it.”
“Did you kill the tiger, Doctor?”
“Yes; at least Bathurst and I did it between us. I wounded him first. It then sprang upon Bathurst's elephant, and he speared it, and I finished it with a shot through the head.”
“Speared it!” the Major repeated; “why didn't he shoot it. What was he doing with his spear?”
“He was born, Major, with a constitutional horror of firearms, inherited from his mother. I will tell you about it some day. In fact, he cannot stand noise of any sort. It has been a source of great trouble to the young fellow, who in all other respects has more than a fair share of courage. However, we will talk about that when we have more time on our hands. There is no special duty you can give me at present?”
“Yes, there is. You are in some respects the most disengaged man in the station, and can come and go without attracting any attention. I propose, therefore, that you shall take charge of the arrangement of matters in the courthouse. I think that it will be an advantage if you move from your tent in there at once. There is plenty of room for us all: No one can say at what time there may be trouble with the Sepoys, and it would be a great advantage to have someone in the courthouse who could take the lead if the women, with the servants and so on, come flocking in while we were still absent on the parade ground. Besides, with your rifle, you could drive any small party off who attempted to seize it by surprise. If you were there we would call it the hospital, which would be an excuse for sending in stores, bedding, and so on.
“You might mention in the orderly room that it is getting so hot now that you think it would be as well to have a room or two fitted up under a roof, instead of having the sick in tents, in case there should be an outbreak of cholera or anything of that sort this year. I will say that I think the idea is a very good one, and that as the courthouse is very little used, you had better establish yourself there. The native officers who hear what we say will spread the news. I don't say it will be believed, but at least it will serve as an explanation.”
“Yes, I think that that will be a very good plan, Major. Two of the men who act as hospital orderlies I can certainly depend upon, and they will help to receive the things sent in from the bungalows, and will hold their tongues as to what is being done; I shall leave my tent standing, and use it occasionally as before, but will make the courthouse my headquarters. How are we off for arms?”
“There are five cases of muskets and a considerable stock of ammunition in that small magazine in the lines; one of the first things will be to get them removed to the courthouse. We have already arranged to do that tonight; it will give us four or five muskets apiece.”
“Good, Major; I will load them all myself and keep them locked up in a room upstairs facing the gateway, and should there be any trouble I fancy I could give a good account of any small body of men who might attempt to make an entrance. I am very well content with my position as Commandant of the Hospital, as we may call it; the house has not been much good to us hitherto, but I suppose when it was bought it was intended to make this a more important station; it is fortunate they did buy it now, for we can certainly turn it into a small fortress. Still, of course, I cannot disguise from myself that though we might get on successfully for a time against your Sepoys, there is no hope of holding it long if the whole country rises.”
“I quite see that, Doctor,” the Major said gravely; “but I have really no fear of that. With the assistance of the Rajah of Bithoor, Cawnpore is safe. His example is almost certain to be followed by almost all the other great landowners. No; it is quite bad enough that we have to face a Sepoy mutiny; I cannot believe that we are likely to have a general ri............
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