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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XIV.
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 But though obliged to defer to Major Hannay's wishes, and to abstain from arguing with the men the question of Bathurst being given the cold shoulder, Dr. Wade had already organized the ladies in his favor. During the afternoon he had told them the tiger story, and had confidentially informed them how it was that Bathurst from his birth had been the victim of something like nervous paralysis at all loud sounds, especially those of the discharge of firearms. “His conduct today,” he said, “and his courage in rescuing that native girl from the tiger, illustrate his character. He is cool, brave, and determined, as might be expected from a man of so well balanced a mind as his; and even when his nerves utterly broke down under the din of musketry, his will was so far dominant that he forced himself to go forward and stand there under fire, an act which was, under the circumstances, simply heroic.”
There is little difficulty in persuading women as to the merits of a man they like, and Bathurst had, since the troubles began, been much more appreciated than before by the ladies of Deennugghur. They had felt there was something strengthening and cheering in his presence, for while not attempting to minimize the danger, there was a calm confidence in his manner that comforted and reassured those he talked to.
In the last twenty-four hours, too, he had unobtrusively performed many little kindnesses; had aided in the removals, carried the children, looked after the servants, and had been foremost in the arrangement of everything that could add to the comfort of the ladies.
“I am glad you have told us all about it, Doctor,” Mrs. Doolan said; “and, of course, no one would dream of blaming him. I had heard that story about his leaving the army years ago; but although I had only seen him once or twice, I did not believe it for a minute. What you tell us now, Doctor, explains the whole matter. I pity him sincerely. It must be something awful for a man at a time like this not to be able to take his part in the defense, especially when there are us women here. Why, it would pain me less to see Jim brought in dead, than for him to show the white feather. What can we do for the poor fellow?”
“Treat him just as usual. There is nothing else you can do, Mrs. Doolan. Any tone of sympathy, still less of pity, would be the worst thing possible. He is in the lowest depths at present; but if he finds by your tone and manner that you regard him on the same footing as before, he will gradually come round, and I hope that before the end of the siege he will have opportunities of retrieving himself. Not under fire—that is hopeless; but in other ways.”
“You may be sure we will do all we can, Doctor,” Mrs. Doolan said warmly; “and there are plenty of ways he will be able to make himself most useful. There is somebody wanted to look after all those syces and servants, and it would be a comfort to us to have someone to talk to occasionally; besides, all the children are fond of him.”
This sentiment was warmly echoed; and thus, when the determination at which the men had arrived to cut Bathurst became known, there was something like a feminine revolution.
“You may do as you like,” Mrs. Doolan said indignantly; “but if you think that we are going to do anything so cruel and unjust, you are entirely mistaken, I can tell you.”
Mrs. Rintoul was equally emphatic, and Mrs. Hunter quietly, but with as much decision, protested. “I have always regarded Mr. Bathurst as a friend,” she said, “and I shall continue to do so. It is very sad for him that he cannot take part in the defense, but it is no more fair to blame him than it would be to blame us, because we, too, are noncombatants.”
Isobel Hannay had taken no part in the first discussion among the ladies, nor did she say anything now.
“It is cruel and unjust,” she said to herself, “but they only think as I did. I was more cruel and unjust than they, for there was no talk of danger then. I expressed my contempt of him because there was a suspicion that he had showed cowardice ten years ago, while they have seen it shown now when there is fearful peril. If they are cruel and unjust, what was I?”
Later on the men gathered together at one end of the room, and talked over the situation.
“Dr. Wade,” the Major said quietly, “I shall be obliged if you will go and ask Mr. Bathurst to join us. He knows the people round here better than any of us, and his opinion will be valuable.”
The Doctor, who had several times been in to see Bathurst, went to his room.
“The Major wants you to join us, Bathurst; we are having a talk over things, and he wishes to have your opinion. I had better tell you that as to yourself the camp is divided into two parties. On one side are the Major, Wilson, and myself, and all the ladies, who take, I need not say, a common sense view of the matter, and recognize that you have done all a man could do to overcome your constitutional nervousness, and that there is no discredit whatever attached to you personally. The rest of the men, I am sorry to say, at present take another view of the case, and are disposed to show you the cold shoulder.”
“That, of course,” Bathurst said quietly; “as to the ladies' view of it, I know that it is only the result of your good offices, Doctor.”
“Then you will come,” the Doctor said, pleased that Bathurst seemed less depressed than he had expected.
“Certainly I will come, Doctor,” Bathurst said, rising; “the worst is over now—everyone knows that I am a coward—that is what I have dreaded. There is nothing else for me to be afraid of, and it is of no use hiding myself.”
“We look quite at home here, Mr. Bathurst, don't we?” Mrs. Doolan said cheerfully, as he passed her; “and I think we all feel a great deal more comfortable than we did when you gave us your warning last night; the anticipation is always worse than the reality.”
“Not always, I think, Mrs. Doolan,” he said quietly; “but you have certainly made yourselves wonderfully at home, though your sewing is of a more practical kind than that upon which you are ordinarily engaged.”
Then he passed on with the Doctor to the other end of the room. The Major nodded as he came up.
“All right again now, Bathurst, I hope? We want your opinion, for you know, I think, more of the Zemindars in this part of the country than any of us. Of course, the question is, will they take part against us?”
“I am afraid they will, Major. I had hoped otherwise; but if it be true that the Nana has gone—and as the other part of the message was correct, I have no doubt this is so also—I am afraid they will be carried away with the stream.”
“And you think they have guns?”
“I have not the least doubt of it; the number given up was a mere fraction of those they were said to have possessed.”
“I had hoped the troops would have marched away after the lesson we gave them this morning, but, so far as we can make out, there is no sign of movement in their lines. However, they may start at daybreak tomorrow.”
“I will go out to see if you like, Major,” Bathurst said quietly. “I can get native clothes from the servants, and I speak the language well enough to pass as a native; so if you give me permission I will go out to the lines and learn what their intentions are.”
“It would be a very dangerous undertaking,” the Major said gravely.
“I have no fear whatever of danger of that kind, Major; my nerves are steady enough, except when there is a noise of firearms, and then, as you all saw this morning, I cannot control them, do what I will. Risks of any other kind I am quite prepared to undertake, but in this matter I think the danger is very slight, the only difficulty being to get through the line of sentries they have no doubt posted round the house. Once past them, I think there is practically no risk whatever of their recognizing me when made up as a native. The Doctor has, no doubt, got some iodine in his surgery, and a coat of that will bring me to the right color.”
“Well, if you are ready to undertake it, I will not refuse,” the Major said. “How would you propose to get out?”
“I noticed yesterday that the branches of one of the trees in the garden extended beyond the top of the wall. I will climb up that and lower myself on the other side by a rope; that is a very simple matter. The spot is close to the edge of Mr. Hunter's compound, and I shall work my way through the shrubbery till I feel sure I am beyond any sentries who may be posted there; the chances are that they will not be thick anywhere, except opposite the gate. By the way, Captain Forster, before I go I must thank you for having risked your life to save mine this morning. I heard from Mrs. Hunter that it was you and the Doctor who rushed forward and drew me back.”
“It is not worth talking about,” Captain Forster said carelessly. “You seemed bent on making a target of yourself; and as the Major's orders were that everyone was to lie down, there was nothing for it but to remove you.”
Bathurst turned to Dr. Wade. “Will you superintend my get up, Doctor?”
“Certainly,” the Doctor said, with alacrity. “I will guarantee that, with the aid of my boy, I will turn you out so that no one would know you even in broad daylight, to say nothing of the dark.”
A quarter of an hour sufficed to metamorphose Bathurst into an Oude peasant. He did not return to the room, but, accompanied by the Doctor, made his way to the tree he had spoken of.
“By the way, you have taken no arms,” the Doctor said suddenly.
“They would be useless, Doctor; if I am recognized I shall be killed; if I am not discovered, and the chances are very slight of my being so, I shall get back safely. By the way, we will tie some knots on that rope before I let myself down. I used to be able to climb a rope without them, but I doubt whether I could do so now.”
“Well, God bless you, lad, and bring you back safely! You may make as light of it as you will, but it is a dangerous expedition. However, I am glad you have undertaken it, come what may, for it has given you the opportunity of showing you are not afraid of danger when it takes any other form than that of firearms. There are plenty of men who would stand up bravely enough in a fight, who would not like to undertake this task of going out alone in the dark into the middle of these bloodthirsty scoundrels. How long do you think you will be?”
“A couple of hours at the outside.”
“Well, at the end of an hour I shall be back here again. Don't be longer than you can help, lad, for I shall be very anxious until you return.”
When the Doctor re-entered the house there was a chorus of questions:
“Has Mr. Bathurst started?”
“Why did you not bring him in here before he left? We should all have liked to have said goodby to him.”
“Yes, he has gone. I have seen him over the wall; and it was much better that he should go without any fuss. He went off just as quietly and unconcernedly as if he had been going out for an ordinary evening's walk. Now I am going up onto the roof. I don't say we should hear any hubbub down at the lines if he were discovered there, but we should certainly hear a shout if he came across any of the sentries round the house.”
“Has he taken any arms, Doctor?” the Major asked.
“None whatever, Major. I asked him if he would not take pistols, but he refused.”
“Well, I don't understand that,” Captain Forster remarked. “If I had gone on such a business I would have taken a couple of revolvers. I am quite ready to take my chance of being killed fighting, but I should not like to be seized and hacked to pieces in cold blood. My theory is a man should sell his life as dearly as he can.”
“That is the animal instinct, Forster,” the Doctor said sharply; “though I don't say that I should not feel the same myself; but I question whether Bathurst's is not a higher type of courage.”
“Well, I don't aspire to Bathurst's type of courage, Doctor,” Forster said, with a short laugh.
But the Doctor did not answer. He had already turned away, and was making for the stairs.
“May I go with you, Doctor?” Isobel Hannay said, following him. “It is very hot down here.”
“Yes; come along, child; but there is no time to lose, for Bathurst must be near where they are likely to have posted their sentries by this time.”
“Everything quiet, Wilson?” he asked the young subaltern, who, with another, was on guard on the roof.
“Yes; we have heard nothing except a few distant shouts and noises out at the lines. Round here there has been nothing moving, except that we heard someone go out into the garden just now.”
“I went out with Bathurst,” the Doctor said. “He has gone in the disguise of a native to the Sepoy lines, to find out what are their intentions.”
“I heard the talk over it, Doctor. I only came up on watch a few minutes since. I thought it was most likely him when I heard the steps.”
“I hope he is beyond the sentries,” the Doctor said. “I have come up here to listen.”
“I expect he is through them before this,” Wilson said confidently. “I wish I could have gone with him; but of course it would not have been any good. It is a beautiful night—isn't it, Miss Hannay?—and there is scarcely any dew falling.”
“Now, you go off to your post in the corner, Wilson. Your instructions are to listen for the slightest sound, and to assure us against the Sepoys creeping up to the walls. We did not come up here to distract you from your duties, or to gossip.”
“There are Richards and another posted somewhere in the garden,” Wilson said. “Still, I suppose you are right, Doctor; but if you, Miss Hannay, have come up to listen, come and sit in my corner; it is the one nearest to the lines.”
“You may as well go and sit down, Isobel,” the Doctor said; “that is, if you intend to stay up here long;” and they went across with Wilson to his post.
“Shall I put one of these sandbags for you to sit on?”
“I would rather stand, thank you;” and they stood for some time silently watching the fires in the lines.
“They are drawing pretty heavily on the wood stores,” the Doctor growled; “there is a good deal more than the regulation allowance blazing in those fires. I can make out a lot of figures moving about round them; no doubt numbers of the peasants have come in.”
“Do you think Mr. Bathurst has got beyond the line of sentries?” Isobel said, after standing perfectly quiet for some time.
“Oh, yes, a long way; probably he was through by the time we came up here. They are not likely to post them more than fifty or sixty yards from the wall; and, indeed, it is, as Bathurst pointed out to me, probable that they are only thick near the gate. All they want to do is to prevent us slipping away. I should think that Bathurst must be out near the lines by this time.”
Isobel moved a few paces away from the others, and again stood listening.
“I suppose you do not think that there is any chance of an attack tonight, Doctor?” Wilson asked, in low tones.
“Not in the least; the natives are not fond of night work. I expect they are dividing the spoil and quarreling over it; anyhow, they have had enough of it for today. They may intend to march away in the morning, or they may have sent to Cawnpore to ask for orders, or they may have heard from some of the Zemindars that they are coming in to join them—that is what Bathurst has gone out to learn; but anyhow I do not think they will attack us again with their present force.”
“I wish there were a few more of us,” Wilson said, “so that we could venture on a sortie.”
“So do I, lad; but it is no use thinking about it as it is. We have to wait; our fate is not in our own hands.”
“And you think matters look bad, Doctor?”
“I think they could hardly look worse. Unless the mutineers take it into their heads to march away, there is, humanly speaking, but one chance for us, and that is that Lawrence may thrash the Sepoys so completely at Lucknow that he may be able to send out a force to bring us in. The chances of that are next to nothing; for in addition to a very large Sepoy force he has the population of Lucknow—one of the most turbulent in India—on his hands. Ah, what is that?”
Two musket shots in quick succession from the Sepoy lines broke the silence of the evening, and a startled exclamation burst from the girl standing near them.
The Doctor went over to her.
“Do you think—do you think,” she said in a low, strained voice, “that it was Bathurst?”
“Not at all. If they detected him, and I really do not see that there is a chance of their doing so, disguised as he was, they would have seized him and probably killed him, but there would be no firing. He has gone unarmed, you know, and would offer no resistance. Those shots you heard were doubtless the result of some drunken quarrel over the loot.”
“Do you really think so, Doctor?”
“I feel quite sure of it. If it had been Forster who had gone out, and he had been detected, it would have been natural enough that we should hear the sound of something like a battle. In the first place, he would have defended himself desperately, and, in the next, he might have made his way through them and escaped; but, as I said, with Bathurst there would be no occasion for their firing.”
“Why didn't he come in to say goodby before he went? that is what I wanted to ask you, Doctor, and why I came up here. I wanted to have spoken to him, if only for a moment, before he started. I tried to catch his eye as he went out of the room with you, but he did not even look at me. It will be so hard if he never comes back, to know that he went away without my having spoken to him again. I did try this morning to tell him that I was sorry for what I said, but he would not listen to me.”
“You will have an opportunity of telling him when he comes back, if you want to, or of showing him so by your manner, which would be, perhaps, less painful to both of you.”
“I don't care about pain to myself,” the girl said. “I have been unjust, and deserve it.”
“I don't think he considers you unjust. I did, and told you so. He feels what he considers the disgrace so much that it seems to him perfectly natural he should be despised.”
“Yes, but I want him to see that he is not despised,” she said quickly. “You don't understand, Doctor.”
“I do understand perfectly, my dear; at least, I think—I think I do; I see that you want to put yourself straight with him, which is very right and proper, especially placed as we all are; but I would not do or say anything hastily. You have spoken hastily once, you see, and made a mess of it. I should be careful how I did it again, unless, of course,” and he stopped.
“Unless what, Doctor?” Isobel asked shyly, after a long pause. But there was no reply; and looking round she saw that her companion had moved quietly away and had joined Wilson at his post. She stood for a few minutes in the same attitude, and then moved quietly across the staircase in the center of the terrace, and went down to the party below. A short time later the Doctor followed her, and, taking his rifle, went out into the garden with Captain Doolan, who assisted him in climbing the tree, and............
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