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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XVIII.
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 As soon as Bathurst began to remove the covering of the hole, a voice came from below. “Is that you, Bathurst?”
“All right, Doctor.”
“Heaven be praised! You are back sooner than I expected, by a long way. I heard voices talking, so I doubted whether it was you.”
“The ladder is still there, I suppose, Doctor?”
“Yes; it is just as you got off it. What are you going to do about the hole?”
“Rujub is here; he will cover it up after me.”
“Then you were right,” the Doctor said, as Bathurst stepped down beside him; “and you found the juggler really waiting for you?”
“At the bungalow, Doctor, as I expected.”
“And what have you done? You can hardly have seen Por Sing; it is not much over an hour since you left.”
“I have seen him, Doctor; and what is more, he has pledged his word for our safety.”
“Thank God for that, lad; it is more than I expected. This will be news indeed for the poor women. And do you think he will be strong enough to keep his pledge?”
“I think so; he asked me to wait until tomorrow afternoon before going out with a flag of truce, and said that by that time he would get the other Zemindars to stand by him, and would make terms whether the Sepoys liked it or not.”
“Well, you shall tell us all about it afterwards, Bathurst; let us take the news in to them at once; it is long since they had good tidings of any kind; it would be cruel to keep them in suspense, even for five minutes.”
There was no noisy outburst of joy when the news was told. Three weeks before it would have been received with the liveliest satisfaction, but now the bitterness of death was well nigh past; half the children lay in their graves in the garden, scarce one of the ladies but had lost husband or child, and while women murmured “Thank God!” as they clasped their children to them, the tears ran down as they thought how different it would have been had the news come sooner. The men, although equally quiet, yet showed more outward satisfaction than the women. Warm grasps of the hands were exchanged by those who had fought side by side during these terrible days, and a load seemed lifted at once off their shoulders.
Bathurst stayed but a moment in the room after this news was told, but went in with Dr. Wade to the Major, and reported to him in full the conversation that had taken place between himself and Por Sing.
“I think you are right, Bathurst; if the Oude men hold together, the Sepoys will scarcely risk a breach with them. Whether he will be able to secure our safety afterwards is another thing.”
“I quite see that, Major; but it seems to me that we have no option but to accept his offer and hope for the best.”
“That is it,” the Doctor agreed. “It is certain death if we don't surrender; there is a chance that he will be able to protect us if we do. At any rate, we can be no worse off than we are here.”
Isobel had been in with Mrs. Doolan nursing the sick children when Bathurst arrived, but they presently came out. Isobel shook hands with him without speaking.
“We are all heavily indebted to you, Mr. Bathurst,” Mrs. Doolan said. “If we escape from this, it will be to you that we humanly owe our lives.”
She spoke in a voice that all in the room could hear.
“Your are right, Mrs. Doolan,” the Doctor said; “and I think that there are some who must regret now the manner in which they have behaved to Bathurst since this siege began.”
“I do for one,” Captain Doolan said, coming forward.
“I have regretted it for some time, though I have not had the manliness to say so. I am heartily sorry. I have done you a great and cruel injustice. I ought to have known that the Doctor, who knew you vastly better than I did, was not likely to be mistaken. Putting that aside, I ought to have seen, and I did see, though I would not acknowledge it even to myself, that no man has borne himself more calmly and steadfastly through this siege than you have, and that by twice venturing out among the enemy you gave proof that you possessed as much courage as any of us. I do hope that you will give me your hand.”
All the others who had held aloof from Bathurst came forward and expressed their deep regret for what had occurred.
Bathurst heard them in silence.
“I do not feel that there is anything to forgive,” he said quietly. “I am glad to hear what you say, and I know you mean it, and I accept the hands you offer, but what you felt towards me has affected me but little, for your contempt for me was as nothing to my contempt of myself. Nothing can alter the fact that here, where every man's hand was wanted to defend the ladies and children, my hand was paralyzed; that whatever I may be at other times, in the hour of battle I fail hopelessly; nothing that I can do can wipe out, from my own consciousness, that disgrace.”
“You exaggerate it altogether, Bathurst,” Wilson broke in hotly. “It is nonsense your talking like that, after the way you jumped down into the middle of them with that mace of yours. It was splendid.”
“More than that, Mr. Bathurst,” Mrs. Doolan said, “I think we women know what true courage is; and there is not one of us but has, since this siege began, been helped and strengthened by your calmness—not one but has reason to be grateful for your kindness to our children during this terrible time. I won't hear even you speak against yourself.”
“Then I will not do so, Mrs. Doolan,” he said, with a grave smile. “And now I will go and sit with the Major for a time. Things are quieter tonight than they have been for some time past, and I trust he will get some sleep.”
So saying, he quietly left the room.
“I don't believe he has slept two hours at a time since the siege began,” Mrs. Doolan said, with tears in her eyes. “We have all suffered—God only knows what we have suffered!—but I am sure that he has suffered more than any of us. As for you men, you may well say you are sorry and ashamed of your treatment of him. Coward, indeed! Mr. Bathurst may be nervous, but I am sure he has as much courage as anyone here. Come, Isobel, you were up all last night, and it's past two o'clock now. We must try to get a little sleep before morning, and I should advise everyone else off duty to do the same.”
At daybreak firing commenced, and was kept up energetically all the morning. At two o'clock a white flag was hoisted from the terrace, and its appearance was greeted with shouts of triumph by the assailants. The firing at once ceased, and in a few minutes a native officer carrying a white flag advanced towards the walls.
“We wish to see the Zemindar Por Sing,” Bathurst said, “to treat with him upon the subject of our surrender.”
The officer withdrew, and returned in half an hour saying that he would conduct the officer in command to the presence of the chief of the besieging force. Captain Doolan, therefore, accompanied by Bathurst and Dr. Wade, went out. They were conducted to the great tent where all the Zemindars and the principal officers of the Sepoys were assembled. Bathurst acted as spokesman.
“Por Sing,” he said, “and you Zemindars of Oude, Major Hannay being disabled, Captain Doolan, who is now in command of the garrison, has come to represent him and to offer to surrender to you under the condition that the lives of all British and natives within the walls be respected, and that you pledge us your faith and honor that we shall be permitted to go down the country without molestation. It is to you, Por Sing, and you nobles of Oude, that we surrender, and not to those who, being sworn soldiers, have mutinied against their officers, and have in many cases treacherously murdered them. With such men Major Hannay will have no dealings, and it is to you that we surrender. Major Hannay bids me say that if this offer is refused, we can for a long time prolong our resistance. We are amply supplied with provisions and munitions of war, and many as are the numbers of our assailants who have fallen already, yet more will die before you obtain possession of the house. More than that, in no case will we be taken prisoners, for one and all have firmly resolved to fire the magazine when resistance is no longer possible, and to bury ourselves and our assailants in the ruins.”
When Bathurst ceased, a hubbub of voices arose, the Sepoy officers protesting that the surrender should be made to them. It was some minutes before anything like quietness was restored, and then one of the officers said, “Here is Rujub; he speaks in the name of Nana. What does he say to this?”
Rujub, who was handsomely attired, stepped forward.
“I have no orders from his highness on this subject,” he said. “He certainly said that the prisoners were to be sent to him, but at present there are no prisoners, nor, if the siege continues, and the English carry out their threat, will there be any prisoners. I cannot think that Nana Sahib would wish to see some hundreds more of his countrymen slain or blown up, only that he may have these few men and women in his power.”
“We have come here to take them and kill them,” one of the officers said defiantly; “and we will do so.”
Por Sing, who had been speaking with the Talookdars round him, rose from his seat.
“It seems to me that it is for us to decide this matter,” he said. “It is upon us that the losses of this siege have fallen. At the order of Nana Sahib we collected our retainers, abandoned our homes, and have for three weeks supported the dangers of this siege. We follow the Nana, but we are not his vassals, nor do we even know what his wishes are in this matter, but it seems to us that we have done enough and more than enough. Numbers of our retainers and kinsmen have fallen, and to prolong the siege would cause greater loss, and what should we gain by it? The possession of a heap of stones. Therefore, we are all of opinion that this offer of surrender should be accepted. We war for the freedom of our country, and have no thirst for the blood of these English sahibs, still less for that of their wives and children.”
Some of the officers angrily protested, but Por Sing stood firm, and the other chiefs were equally determined. Seeing this, the officers consulted together, and the highest in rank then said to the Talookdars, “We protest against these conditions being given, but since you are resolved, we stand aside, and are ready to agree for ourselves and our men to what you may decide.”
“What pledges do you require?” Por Sing asked Bathurst.
“We are content, Rajah, with your personal oath that the lives of all within the house shall be respected, and your undertaking that they shall be allowed to go unharmed down the country. We have absolute faith in the honor of the nobles of Oude, and can desire no better guarantee.”
“I will give it,” Por Sing said, “and all my friends will join me in it. Tonight I will have boats collected on the river; I will furnish you with an escort of my troops, and will myself accompany you and see you safely on board. I will then not only give you a safe conduct, praying all to let you pass unharmed, but my son with ten men shall accompany you in the boats to inform all that my honor is concerned in your safety, and that I have given my personal pledge that no molestation shall be offered to you. I will take my oath, and my friends will do the same, and I doubt not that the commander of the Sepoy troops will join me in it.”
Bathurst translated what had been said to Captain Doolan.
“It is impossible for him to do more than that,” he concluded; “I do not think there is the least question as to his good faith.”
“He is a fine old heathen,” Captain Doolan said; “tell him that we accept his terms.”
Bathurst at once signified this, and the Rajah then took a solemn oath to fulfill the conditions of the agreement, the other Talookdars doing the same, and the commander of the Sepoys also doing so without hesitation. Por Sing then promised that some carts should be collected before morning, to carry the ladies, the sick and wounded, down to the river, which was eight miles distant.
“You can sleep in quiet tonight,” he added; “I will place a guard of my own men round the house, and see that none trouble you in any way.”
A few other points were settled, and then the party returned to the house, to which they were followed a few minutes later by the son of Por Sing and three lads, sons of other Zemindars. Bathurst went down to meet them when their approach was noticed by the lookout on the roof.
“We have come to place ourselves in your hands as hostages, sahib,” Por Sing's son said. “My father thought it likely that the Sepoys or others might make trouble, and he said that if we were in your hands as hostages, all our people would see that the agreement must be kept, and would oppose themselves more vigorously to the Sepoys.”
“It was thoughtful and kind of your father,” Bathurst said. “As far as accommodation is concerned, we can do little to make you comfortable, but in other respects we are not badly provided.”
Some of the native servants were at once told off to erect an awning over a portion of the terrace. Tables and couches were placed here, and Bathurst undertook the work of entertaining the visitors.
He was glad of the precaution that had been taken in sending them, for with the glass he could make out that there was much disturbance in the Sepoy lines, men gathering in large groups, with much shouting and noise. Muskets were discharged in the direction of the house, and it was evident that the mutineers were very discontented with the decision that had been arrived at.
In a short time, however, a body, several hundred strong, of the Oude fighting men moved down and surrounded the house; and when a number of the Sepoys approached with excited and menacing gestures, one of the Zemindars went out to meet them, and Bathurst, watching the conference, could see by his pointing to the roof of the house that he was informing them that hostages had been given to the Europeans for the due observance of the treaty, and doubted not he was telling them that their lives would be endangered by any movement. Then he pointed to the batteries, as if threatening that if any attack was made the guns would be turned upon them. At any rate, after a time they moved away, and gradually the Sepoys could be seen returning to their lines.
There were but few preparations to be made by the garrison for their journey. It had been settled that they might take their personal effects with them, but it was at once agreed to take as little as possible, as there would probably be but little room in the boats, and the fewer things they carried the less there would be to tempt the cupidity of the natives.
“Well, Bathurst, what do you think of the outlook?” the Doctor asked, as late in the evening they sat together on some sandbags in a corner of the terrace.
“I think that if we get past Cawnpore in safety there is not much to fear. There is no other large place on the river, and the lower we get down the less likely the natives are to disturb us, knowing, as they are almost sure to do, that a force is gathering at Allahabad.”
“After what you heard of the massacre of the prisoners at Cawnpore, whom the Nana and his officers had all sworn to allow to depart in safety, there is little hope that this scoundrel will respect the arrangements made here.”
“We must pass the place at night, and trust to drifting down unobserved—the river is wide there—and keeping near the opposite shore, we may get past in the darkness without being perceived; and even if they do make us out, the chances are they will not hit us. There are so few of us that there is no reason why they should trouble greatly about us.”
“I am sorry to say, Bathurst, that I don't like the appearance of the Major's wound. Everything has been against him; the heat, the close air, and his anxiety of mind have all told on him, he seems very low, and I have great doubts whether he will ever see Allahabad.”
“I hope you are wrong, Doctor, but I thought myself there was a change for the worse when I saw him an hour ago; there was a drawn look about his face I did not like. He is a splendid fellow; nothing could have been kinder than he has been to me. I wish I could change places with him.”
The Doctor grunted. “Well, as none of us may see Allahabad, Bathurst, you need not trouble yourself on that score. I wonder what has become of your friend the conjurer. I thought he might have been in to see you this afternoon.”
“I did not expect him,” Bathurst said; “I expect he went as far as he dared in what he said at the Durbar today. Probably he is doing all he can to keep matters quiet. Of course he may have gone down to Cawnpore to see Nana Sahib, but I should think it more probable that he would remain here until he knows we are safe on board the boats.”
“Ah, here is Wilson,” said the Doctor; “he is a fine young fellow, and I am very glad he has gone through it safely.”
“So am I,” Bathurst said warmly; “here we are, Wilson.”
“I thought I would find you both smoking here,” Wilson said, as he seated himself; “it is awfully hot below, and the ladies are all at work picking out the things they are going to take with them and packing them, and as I could not be of any use at that, I thought I would come up for a little fresh air, if one can call it fresh; but, in fact, I would rather sit over an open drain, for the stench is horrible. How quiet everything seems tonight! After crouching here for the last three weeks listening to the boom of their cannon and the rush of their balls overhead, or the crash as they hit something, it seems quite unnatural; one can't help thinking that something is going to happen. I don't believe I shall be able to sleep a wink tonight; while generally, in spite of the row, it has been as much as I could do to keep my eyes open. I suppose I shall get accustomed to it in time. At present it seems too unnatural to enjoy it.”
“You had better get a good night's sleep, if you can, Wilson,” the Doctor said. “There won't be much sleep for us in the boats till we see the walls of Allahabad.”
“I suppose not, Doctor. I expect we shall be horribly cramped up. I long to be there. I hope to get attached to one of the regiments coming up, so as to help in giving the thrashing to these scoundrels that they deserve. I would give a year's pay to get that villain, Nana Sahib, within reach of my sword. It is awful to think of the news you brought in, Bathurst, and that there are hundreds of women and children in his power now. What a day it will be when we march into Cawnpore!”
“Don't count your chickens too soon, Wilson,” the Doctor said, “The time I am looking forward to is when we shall have safely passed Cawnpore on our way down; that is quite enough for me to hope for at present.”
“Yes, I was thinking of that myself,” Wilson replied. “If the Nana could not be bound by the oath he had taken himself, he is not likely to respect the agreement made here.”
“We must pass the place at night,” Bathurst said, “and trust to not being seen. Even if they do make us out, we shan't be under fire long unless they follow us down the bank; but if the night is dark, they may not make us out at all. Fortunately there is no moon, and boats are not very large marks even by daylight, and at night it would only be a chance shot that would hit us.”
“Yes, we should be as difficult to hit as a tiger,” the Doctor put in.
Wilson laughed.
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