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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XXI.
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 While Bathurst was busying himself completing his preparations for the attempt, Rabda came in with her father. “My lord,” she said, “I tremble at the thought of your venturing your life. My life is of no importance, and it belongs to you. What I would propose is this. My father will go to Bithoor, and will obtain an order from one of the Nana's officers for a lady of the zenana to visit the prisoners. I will go in veiled, as I was on the day I went there. I will change garments with the lady, and she can come out veiled, and meet you outside.”
“I would not dream of such a thing, Rabda. You would be killed to a certainty when they discovered the trick. Even if I would consent to the sacrifice, Miss Hannay would not do so. I am deeply grateful to you for proposing it, but it is impossible. You will see that, with the aid of your father, I shall succeed.”
“I told her that would be your answer, sahib,” Rujub said, “but she insisted on making the offer.”
It was arranged that they were to start at nine o'clock, as it was safer to make the attempt before everything became quiet. Before starting, Rabda was again placed in a trance. In reply to her father's questions she said that Mary Hunter was dead, and that Isobel was lying down. She was told to tell her that in an hour she was to be at the window next to the door.
Rujub had found that the men inside the prison were those who had been employed as warders at the jail before the troubles began, and he had procured for Bathurst a dress similar to that which they wore, which was a sort of uniform. He had offered, if the attempt was successful, to conceal Isobel in his house until the troops reached Cawnpore, but Bathurst preferred to take her down the country, upon the ground that every house might be searched, and that possibly before the British entered the town there might be a general sack of the place by the mob, and even if this did not take place there might be desperate house to house fighting when the troops arrived. Rujub acknowledged the danger, and said that he and his daughter would accompany them on their way down country, as it would greatly lessen their risk if two of the party were really natives. Bathurst gratefully accepted the offer, as it would make the journey far more tolerable for Isobel if she had Rabda with her.
She was to wait a short distance from the prison while Bathurst made the attempt, and was left in a clump of bushes two or three hundred yards away from the prison. Rujub accompanied Bathurst. They went along quietly until within fifty yards of the sentry in the rear of the house, and then stopped. The man was walking briskly up and down. Rujub stretched out his arms in front of him with the fingers extended. Bathurst, who had taken his place behind him, saw his muscles stiffen, while there was a tremulous motion of his fingers. In a minute or two the sentry's walk became slower. In a little time it ceased altogether, and he leaned against the wall as if drowsy; then he slid down in a sitting position, his musket falling to the ground.
“You can come along now,” Rujub said; “he is fast asleep, and there is no fear of his waking. He will sleep till I bid him wake.”
They at once moved forward to the wall of the house. Bathurst threw up a knotted rope, to which was attached a large hook, carefully wrapped in flannel to prevent noise. After three or four attempts it caught on the parapet. Bathurst at once climbed up. As soon as he had gained the flat terrace, Rujub followed him; they then pulled up the rope, to the lower end of which a rope ladder was attached, and fastened this securely; then they went to the inner side of the terrace and looked down onto the courtyard. Two men were standing at one of the grated windows of the prison room, apparently looking in; six others were seated round a fire in the center of the court.
Bathurst was about to turn away when Rujub touched him and pointed to the two men at the window, and then stretched out his arms towards them. Presently they turned and left the window, and in a leisurely way walked across the court and entered a room where a light was burning close to the grate. For two or three minutes Rujub stood in the same position, then his arms dropped.
“They have gone into the guard room to sleep,” he said; “there are two less to trouble you.”
Then he turned towards the group of men by the fire and fixed his gaze upon them. In a short time one of them wrapped himself in his cloth and lay down. In five minutes two others had followed his example. Another ten minutes passed, and then Rujub turned to Bathurst and said, “I cannot affect the other three; we cannot influence everyone.”
“That will do, Rujub, it is my turn now.”
After a short search they found stairs leading down from the terrace, and after passing through some empty rooms reached a door opening into the courtyard.
“Do you stay here, Rujub,” Bathurst said. “They will take me for one of themselves. If I succeed without noise, I shall come this way; if not, we will go out through the gate, and you had best leave by the way we came.”
The door was standing open, and Bathurst, grasping a heavy tulwar, went out into the courtyard. Keeping close to the house, he sauntered along until he reached the grated windows of the prison room. Three lamps were burning within, to enable the guard outside to watch the prisoners. He passed the two first windows; at the third a figure was standing. She shrank back as Bathurst stopped before it.
“It is I, Miss Hannay—Bathurst. Danger threatens you, and you must escape at once. Rabda is waiting for you outside. Please go to the door and stand there until I open it. I have no doubt that I shall succeed, but if anything should go wrong, go and lie down again at once.”
Without waiting for an answer, he moved towards the fire.
“Is that you, Ahmed?” one of the warders said. “We all seem sleepy this evening, there is something in the air; I felt half inclined to go off myself.”
“It is very hot tonight,” Bathurst replied.
There was something in his voice unfamiliar to the man, and with an exclamation, “Who is it?” he sprang to his feet. But Bathurst was now but three paces away, and with a bound was upon him, bringing the tulwar down with such force upon his head that the man fell lifeless without a groan. The other two leaped up with shouts of “Treachery!” but Bathurst was upon them, and, aided by the surprise, cut both down after a sharp fight of half a minute. Then he ran to the prison door, turned the key in the lock, and opened it.
“Come!” he exclaimed, “there is no time to be lost, the guards outside have taken the alarm,” for, by this time, there was a furious knocking at the gate. “Wrap yourself up in this native robe.”
“But the others, Mr. Bathurst, can't you save them too?”
“Impossible,” he said. “Even if they got out, they would be overtaken and killed at once. Come!” And taking her hand, he led her to the gate.
“Stand back here so that the gate will open on you,” he said. Then he undid the bar, shouting, “Treachery; the prisoners are escaping!”
As he undid the last bolt the gate opened and the soldiers rushed in, firing at random as they did so. Bathurst had stepped behind the gate as it opened, and as the soldiers ran up the yard he took Isobel's hand, and, passing through the gate, ran with her round the building until he reached the spot where Rabda was awaiting them. Half a minute later her father joined them.
“Let us go at once, there is no time for talking,” he said. “We must be cautious, the firing will wake the whole quarter;” for by this time loud shouts were being raised, and men, hearing the muskets fired, were running towards the gate. Taking advantage of the shelter of the shrubbery as much as they could, they hurried on until they issued into the open country.
“Do you feel strong enough to walk far?” Bathurst asked, speaking for the first time since they left the gate.
“I think so,” she said; “I am not sure whether I am awake or dreaming.”
“You are awake, Miss Hannay; you are safe out of that terrible prison.”
“I am not sure,” the girl said, speaking slowly; “I have been strange since I went there. I have seemed to hear voices speaking to me, though no one was there, and no one else heard them; and I am not sure whether all this is not fancy now.”
“It is reality, Miss Hannay. Take my hand and you will see that it is solid. The voices you heard were similar to those I heard at Deennugghur; they were messages I sent you by means of Rujub and his daughter.”
“I did think of what you told me and about the juggler, but it seemed so strange. I thought that my brain was turning with trouble; it was bad enough at Deennugghur, but nothing to what it has been since that dreadful day at Bithoor. There did not seem much hope at Deennugghur. But somehow we all kept up, and, desperate as it seemed, I don't think we ever quite despaired. You see, we all knew each other; besides, no one could give way while the men were fighting and working so hard for us; but at Cawnpore there seemed no hope. There was not one woman there but had lost husband or father. Most of them were indifferent to life, scarcely ever speaking, and seeming to move in a dream, while others with children sat holding them close to them as if they dreaded a separation at any moment. There were a few who were different, who moved about and nursed the children and sick, and tried to comfort the others, just as Mrs. Hunter did at Deennugghur. There was no crying and no lamenting. It would have been a relief if anyone had cried, it was the stillness that was so trying; when people talked to each other they did it in a whisper, as they do in a room where someone is lying dead.
“You know Mary Hunter died yesterday? Well, Mrs. Hunter quite put aside her own grief and tried to cheer others. I told her the last message I received, and asked her to go with me if it should be true. She said, 'No, Isobel; I don't know whether this message is a dream, or whether God has opened a way of escape for you—if so, may He be thanked; but you must go alone—one might escape where two could not. As for me, I shall wait here for whatever fate God may send me. My husband and my children have gone before me. I may do some good among these poor creatures, and here I shall stay. You are young and full of life, and have many happy days in store for you. My race is nearly run—even did I wish for life, I would not cumber you and your friends; there will be perils to encounter and fatigues to be undergone. Had not Mary left us I would have sent her with you, but God did not will it so. Go, therefore, to the window, dear, as you were told by this message you think you have received, but do not be disappointed if no one comes. If it turns out true, and there is a chance of escape, take it, dear, and may God be with you.' As I stood at the window, I could not go at once, as you told me, to the door; I had to stand there; I saw it all till you turned and ran to the door, and then I came to meet you.”
“It was a pity you saw it,” he said gently.
“Why? Do you think that, after what I have gone through, I was shocked at seeing you kill three of those wretches? Two months ago I suppose I should have thought it dreadful, but those two months have changed us altogether. Think of what we were then and what we are now. There remain only you, Mrs. Hunter, myself, and your letter said, Mr. Wilson. Is he the only one?”
“Yes, so far as we know.”
“Only we four, and all the others gone—Uncle and Mary and Amy and the Doolans and the dear Doctor, all the children. Why, if the door had been open, and I had had a weapon, I would have rushed out to help you kill. I shudder at myself sometimes.”
After a pause she went on. “Then none of those in the other boat came to shore, Mr. Bathurst, except Mr. Wilson?”
“I fear not. The other boat sank directly. Wilson told me it was sinking as he sprang over. You had better not talk any more, Miss Hannay, for you are out of breath now, and will need all your strength.”
“Yes, but tell me why you have taken me away; you said there was great danger?”
“Our troops are coming up,” he said, “and I had reason to fear that when the rebels are defeated the mob may break open the prison.”
“They surely could not murder women and children who have done them no harm!”
“There is no saying what they might do, Miss Hannay, but that was the reason why I dared not leave you where you were. I will tell you more about it afterwards. Now, please take my arm, we must be miles away from here before morning. They will find out then that you have escaped, and will no doubt scour the country.”
They had left the road and were passing through the fields. Isobel's strength failed rapidly, as soon as the excitement that had at first kept her up subsided. Rujub several times urged Bathurst to go faster, but the girl hung more and more heavily on his arm.
“I can't go any farther,” she said at last; “it is so long since I walked, and I suppose I have got weak. I have tried very hard, but I can scarcely drag my feet along. You had better leave me; you have done all you could to save me. I thank you so much. Only please leave a pistol with me. I am not at all afraid of dying, but I will not fall into their hands again.”
“We must carry her, Rujub,” Bathurst said; “she is utterly exhausted and worn out, and no wonder. If we could make a sort of stretcher, it would be easy enough.”
Rujub took the cloth from his shoulders, and laid it on the ground by the side of Isobel, who had now sunk down and was lying helpless.
“Lift her onto this, sahib, then we will take the four corners and carry her; it will be no weight.”
Bathurst lifted Isobel, in spite of her feeble protest, and laid her on the cloth.
“I will take the two corners by her head,” Bathurst said, “if you will each take one of the others.”
“No, sahib, the weight is all at the head; you take one corner, and I will take the other. Rabda can take the two corners at the feet. We can change about when we like.”
Isobel had lost greatly in weight since the siege of Deennugghur began, and she was but a light burden for her three bearers, who started with her at a speed considerably greater than that at which she had walked.
“Which way are you taking us, Rujub?” Bathurst asked presently; “I have lost my bearings altogether.”
“I am keeping near the river, sahib. I know the country well. We cannot follow the road, for there the Rajah's troops and the Sepoys and the Oude men are gathered to oppose your people. They will fight tomorrow at Dong, as I told you, but the main body is not far from here. We must keep far away from them, and if your people take Dong we can then join them if we like. This road keeps near the river all the way, and we are not likely to meet Sepoys here, as it is by the other road the white troops are coming up.”
After four hours' walking, Rujub said, “There is a large wood just ahead. We will go in there. We are far enough off Cawnpore to be safe from any parties they may send out to search. If your people take Dong tomorrow, they will have enough to think of in Cawnpore without troubling about an escaped prisoner. Besides,” he added, “if the Rajah's orders are carried out, at daybreak they will not know that a prisoner has escaped; they will not trouble to count.”
“I cannot believe it possible they will carry out such a butchery, Rujub.”
“We shall see, sahib. I did not tell you all I knew lest we should fail to carry off the lady, but I know the orders that have been given. Word has been sent round to the butchers of the town, and tomorrow morning soon after daybreak it will be done.”
Bathurst gave an exclamation of horror, for until now he had hardly believed it was possible that even Nana Sahib could perpetrate so atrocious a massacre. Not another word was spoken until they entered the wood.
“Where is the river, Rujub?”
“A few hundred yards to the left, sahib; the road is half a mile to the right. We shall be quite safe here.”
They made their way for some little distance into the wood, and then laid down their burden.
They had taken to the spot where Rabda remained when the others went forward towards the prison a basket containing food and three bottles of wine, and this Rujub had carried since they started together. As soon as the hammock was lowered to the ground, Isobel moved and sat up.
“I am rested now. Oh, how good you have all been! I was just going to tell you that I could walk again. I am quite ready to go on now.”
“We are going to halt here till tomorrow evening, Miss Hannay; Rujub thinks we are quite beyond any risk of pursuit now. You must first eat and drink something, and then sleep as long as you can. Rabda has b............
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