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 Prepared as the mistress of the zenana was to find a great change in the captive's appearance, she was startled when, soon after daybreak, she went in to see her. The lower part of her face was greatly swollen, her lips were covered with white blotches. There were great red scars round the mouth and on her forehead, and the skin seemed to have been completely eaten away. There were even larger and deeper marks on her neck and shoulders, which were partly uncovered, as if by her restless tossing. Her hands and arms were similarly marked. She took no notice of her entrance, but talked to herself as she tossed restlessly on the couch. There was but little acting in this, for Isobel was suffering an agony of pain. She had used the acid much more freely than she had been instructed to do, determined that the disfigurement should be complete. All night she had been in a state of high fever, and had for a time been almost delirious. She was but slightly more easy now, and had difficulty in preventing herself from crying out from the torture she was suffering.
There was no tinge of pity in the face of the woman who looked at her, but a smile of satisfaction at the manner in which the potion had done its work.
“The Nana can see her now,” she said to herself; “there will be no change in the arrangements here.”
She at once sent out word that as soon as the Rajah was up he was to be told that she begged him to come at once.
An hour later he came to the door of the zenana.
“What is it, Poomba?” he asked; “nothing the matter with Miss Hannay, I hope?”
“I grieve to say, your highness, that she has been seized with some terrible disease. I know not what it is, for never did I see a woman so smitten. It must be an illness contracted from confinement and bad air during the siege, some illness that the Europeans have, for never did I see aught like it. She is in a high state of fever, and her face is in a terrible state. It must be a sort of plague.”
“You have been poisoning her,” the Nana said roughly; “if so, beware, for your life shall be the forfeit. I will see her for myself.”
“She has had no poison since she came here, though I know not but what she may have had poison about her, and may have taken it after she was captured.”
“Take me to her,” the Rajah said. “I will see for myself.”
“It may be a contagious disease, your highness. It were best that you should not go near her.”
The Rajah made an impatient gesture, and the woman, without another word, led him into the room where Isobel was lying. The Nana was prepared for some disfigurement of the face he had so admired, but he shrank back from the reality.
“It is horrible,” he said, in a low voice. “What have you been doing to her?” he asked, turning furiously to the woman.
“I have done nothing, your highness. All day yesterday she lay in a torpor, as I told you in the evening when you inquired about her, and I thought then she was going to be ill. I have watched her all night. She has been restless and disturbed, but I thought it better not to go nearer lest I should wake her, and it was not until this morning, when the day broke, that I perceived this terrible change. What shall we do with her? If the disease is contagious, everyone in the palace may catch it.”
“Have a closed palanquin brought to the door, wrap her up, and have her carried down to the Subada Ke Kothee. Let her give it to the women there. Burn all the things in this room, and everything that has been worn by those who have entered it. I will inquire into this matter later on, and should I find that there has been any foul play, those concerned in it shall wish they had never been born.”
As soon as he had left the woman called Rabda in.
“All has gone well,” she said; “your father's philter is powerful indeed. Tell him whenever he needs any service I can render he has but to ask it. Look at her; did you ever see one so disfigured? The Rajah has seen her, and is filled with loathing. She is to be sent to the Subada Ke Kothee. Are you sure that the malady is not contagious? I have persuaded the Rajah that it is; that is why he is sending her away.”
“I am sure it is not,” Rabda said; “it is the result of the drugs. It is terrible to see her; give me some cooling ointment.”
“What does it matter about her now that she is harmless?” Poomba said scornfully. Being, however, desirous of pleasing Rabda, she went away and brought a pot of ointment, which the girl applied to the sores, the tears falling down her cheeks as she did so.
The salve at once afforded relief from the burning pain, and Isobel gratefully took a drink prepared from fresh limes.
She had only removed her gown when she had lain down, having done this in order that it should not be burned by the acid, and that her neck and shoulders might be seen, and the belief induced that this strange eruption was all over her. Rabda made signs for her to put it on again, and pointing in the direction of Cawnpore, repeated the word several times, and Isobel felt with a thrill of intense thankfulness that the stratagem had succeeded, and that she was to be sent away at once, probably to the place where the other prisoners were confined. Presently the woman returned.
“Rabda, you had best go with her. It were well that you should leave for the present. The Rajah is suspicious; he may come back again and ask questions; and as he knows you by sight, and as you told me your father was in disfavor with him at present, he might suspect that you were in some way concerned in the matter.”
“I will go,” Rabda said. “I am sorry she has suffered so much. I did not think the potion would have been so strong. Give me a netful of fresh limes and some cooling lotion, that I may leave with her there.”
In a few minutes a woman came up to say that the palanquin was in readiness at the gate of the zenana garden. A large cushion was taken off a divan, and Isobel was laid upon it and covered with a light shawl. Six of the female attendants lifted it and carried it downstairs, accompanied by Rabda and the mistress off the zenana, both closely veiled. Outside the gate was a large palanquin, with its bearers and four soldiers and an officer. The cushion was lifted and placed in the palanquin, and Rabda also took her place there.
“Then you will not return today,” the woman said to her, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the officers “You will remain with her for a time, and afterwards go to see your friends in the town. I will send for you when I hear that you wish to return.”
The curtains of the palanquin were drawn down; the bearers lifted it and started at once for Cawnpore.
On arrival at the large building known as the Subada Ke Kothee the gates were opened at once at the order of the Nana's officer, and the palanquin was carried across the courtyard to the door of the building which was used as a prison for the white women and children. It was taken into the great arched room and set down. Rabda stepped out, and the bearers lifted out the cushion upon which Isobel lay.
“You will not be wanted any more,” Rabda said, in a tone of authority. “You can return to Bithoor at once!”
As the door closed behind them several of the ladies came round to see this fresh arrival. Rabda looked round till her eye fell upon Mrs. Hunter, who was occupied in trying to hush a fractious child. She put her hand on her arm and motioned to her to come along. Surprised at the summons, Mrs. Hunter followed her. When they reached the cushion Rabda lifted the shawl from Isobel's face. For a moment Mrs. Hunter failed to recognize her, but as Isobel opened her eyes and held out her hand she knew her, and with a cry of pity she dropped on her knees beside her.
“My poor child, what have these fiends been doing to you?”
“They have been doing nothing, Mrs. Hunter,” she whispered. “I am not so bad as I seem, though I have suffered a great deal of pain. I was carried away to Bithoor, to Nana Sahib's zenana, and I have burnt my face with caustic and acid; they think I have some terrible disease, and have sent me here.”
“Bravely done, girl! Bravely and nobly done! We had best keep the secret to ourselves; there are constantly men looking through the bars of the window, and some of them may understand English.”
Then she looked up and said, “It is Miss Hannay, she was captured with us in the boats; please help me to carry her over to the wall there, and my daughter and I will nurse her; it looks as if she had been terribly burnt, somehow.”
Many of the ladies had met Isobel in the happy days before the troubles began, and great was the pity expressed at her appearance. She was carried to the side of the wall, where Mary and Mrs. Hunter at once made her as comfortable as they could. Rabda, who had now thrown back her veil, produced from under her dress the net containing some fifty small limes, and handed to Mrs. Hunter the pot of ointment and the lotion.
“She has saved me,” Isobel said; “it is the daughter of the juggler who performed at your house, Mrs. Hunter; do thank her for me, and tell her how grateful I am.”
Mrs. Hunter took Rabda's hand, and in her own language thanked her for her kindness to Isobel.
“I have done as I was told,” Rabda said simply; “the Sahib Bathurst saved my life, and when he said the lady must be rescued from the hands of the Nana, it was only right that I should do so, even at the risk of my life.”
“So Bathurst has escaped,” Mrs. Hunter said, turning to Isobel. “I am glad of that, dear; I was afraid that all were gone.”
“Yes, I had a note from him; it is by his means that I got away from Bithoor. He sent me the caustic and acid to burn my face. He told me Mr. Wilson had also escaped, and perhaps some others may have got away, though he did not seem to know it.”
“But surely there could be no occasion to burn yourself as badly as you have done, Isobel.”
“I am afraid I did put on too much acid,” she said. “I was so afraid of not burning it enough; but it does not matter, it does not pain me nearly so much since I put on that ointment; it will soon get well.”
Mrs. Hunter shook her head regretfully.
“I am afraid it will leave marks for a long time.”
“That is of no consequence at all, Mrs. Hunter; I am so thankful at being here with you, that I should mind very little if I knew that it was always to be as bad as it is now. What does it matter?”
“It does not matter at all at present, my dear; but if you ever get out of this horrible place, some day you may think differently about it.”
“I must go now,” Rabda said. “Has the lady any message to send to the sahib?” and she again handed a paper and pencil to Isobel.
The girl took them, hesitating a little before writing:
“Thank God you have saved me. Some day, perhaps, I may be able to tell you how grateful I am; but, if not, you will know that if the worst happens to us, I shall die blessing you for what you have done for me. Pray do not linger longer in Cawnpore. You may be discovered, and if I am spared, it would embitter my life always to know that it had cost you yours. God bless you always.
“Yours gratefully,
She folded up the paper and gave it to Rabda, who took her hand and kissed it; and then, drawing her veil again over her face, went to the door, which stood open for the moment.
Some men were bringing in a large cauldron of rice. The sentries offered no opposition to her passing out, as the officer with the palanquin had told them that a lady of the Rajah's zenana would leave shortly. A similar message had been given to the officer at the main gate, who, however, requested to see her hand and arm to satisfy him that all was right. This was sufficient to assure him that it was not a white woman passing out in disguise, and Rabda at once proceeded to her father's house.
As she expected, he and Bathurst were away, for she had arranged to meet them at eight o'clock in the garden. They did not return until eleven, having waited two hours for her, and returning home in much anxiety at her non-appearance.
“What has happened? Why did you not meet us, Rabda?” her father exclaimed, as he entered.
Rabda rapidly repeated the incidents that had happened since she had parted from him the evening before, and handed to Bathurst the two notes she had received from Isobel.
“Then she is in safety with the others!” he exclaimed in delight. “Thank God for that, and thank you, Rabda, indeed, for what you have done.”
“My life is my lord's,” the girl said quietly. “What I have done is nothing.”
“If we had but known, Rujub, that she would be moved at once, we might have rescued her on the way.”
Rujub shook his head.
“There are far too many people along the road, sahib; it could not have been done. But, of course, there was no knowing that she would be sent off directly after the Nana had seen her.”
“Is she much disfigured, Rabda?” Bathurst asked.
“Dreadfully;” the girl said sorrowfully. “The acid must have been too strong.”
“It was strong, no doubt,” Bathurst said; “but if she had put it on as I instructed her it could only have burnt the surface of the skin.”
“It has burnt her dreadfully, sahib; even I should hardly have known her. She must be brave indeed to have done it. She must have suffered dreadfully; but I obtained some ointment for her, and she was better when I left her. She is with the wife of the Sahib Hunter.”
“Now, Rabda, see if the meal is prepared,” Rujub said. “We are both hungry, and you can have eaten nothing this morning.”
He then left the room, leaving Bathurst to read the letters which he still held in his hand, feeling that they were too precious to be looked at until he was alone.
It was some time before Rabda brought in his breakfast, and, glancing at him, she saw how deeply he had been moved by the letters. She went up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder.
“We will get her for you, sahib. We have been successful so far, be assured that we shall succeed again. What we have done is more difficult than what we have to do. It is easier to get twenty prisoners from a jail than one from a rajah's zenana.”
“That is true enough, Rabda. At the moment I was not thinking of that, but of other things.”
He longed for sympathy, but the girl would not have understood him had he told her his feelings. To her he was a hero, and it would have seemed to her folly had he said that he felt himself altogether unworthy of Isobel Hannay. After he had finished his breakfast Rujub again came in.
“What does the sahib intend to do now?” he asked.
“As far as I can see there is nothing to do at present, Rujub,” he said. “When the white troops come up she will be delivered.”
“Then will my lord go down to Allahabad?”
“Certainly not. There is no saying what may happen.”
“That is so,” Rujub agreed. “The white women are safe at present, but if, as the Sahib thinks, the white soldiers should beat the troops of the Nana, who can say what will happen? The people will be wild with rage, the Nana will be furious—he is a tiger who, having once laid his paw on a victim, will not allow it to be torn from him.”
“He can never allow them to be injured,” Bathurst said. “It is possible that as our troops advance he may carry them all off as hostages, and by the threat of killing them may make terms for his own life, but he would never venture to carry out his threats. You think he would?” he asked.
Rujub remained silent for a minute.
“I think so, sahib; the Nana is an ambitious man; he has wealth and everything most men would desire to make life happy, but he wanted more: he thought that when the British Raj was destroyed he would rule over the territories of the Peishwa, and be one of the greatest lords of the land. He has staked everything on that; if he loses, he has lost all. He knows that after the breach of his oath and the massacre here, there is no pardon for him. He is a tiger—and a wounded tiger is most dangerous. If he is, as you believe he will be, defeated, I believe his one thought will be of revenge. Every day brings news of fresh risings. Scindia's army will join us; Holkar's will probably follow. All Oude is rising in arms. A large army is gathering at Delhi. Even if the Nana is defeated here all will not be lost. He has twenty thousand men; there are well nigh two hundred thousand in arms round Lucknow alone. My belief is that if beaten his first thought will be to take revenge at once on the Feringhees, and to make his name terrible, and that he will then go off with his army to Lucknow or Delhi, where he would be received as one who has dared more than all others to defy the whites, who has no hope of pardon, and can, therefore, be relied upon above all others to fight to the last.”
“It may be so, Rujub, though I can scarce believe that there exists a monster who would give orders for the murder of hundreds of women and children in cold blood; but, at any rate, I will remain and watch. We will decide upon what will be the best plan to rescue her from the prison, if we hear that evil is intended; but, if not, I can remain patiently until our troops arrive. I know the Subada Ke Kothee; it is, if I remember right, a large quadrangle with no windows on the outside.”
“That is so, sahib; it is a strong place, and difficult indeed to get into or out of. There is only the main gate, which is guarded at night by two sentries outside and there is doubtless a strong guard within.”
“I would learn whether the same regiment always furnishes the guard; if so, it might be possible to bribe them.”
“I am afraid it would be too dangerous to try. There are scores of men in Cawnpore who would cut a throat for a rupee, but when it comes to breaking open a prison to carry off one of these white women whom they hate it would be too dangerous to try.”
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