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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XXII.
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 Bathurst knew the Doctor well, and perceived that glad as he was to have met them, he was yet profoundly depressed in spirits. This, added to the fact that he had left Cawnpore that morning, instead of waiting as he had intended, convinced Bathurst that what he dreaded had taken place. He waited until Isobel stopped for a moment, that Rabda might rearrange the cloth folded round her in its proper draping. Then he said quickly, “I heard yesterday what was intended, Doctor. Is it possible that it has been done?” “It was done this morning.”
“What, all? Surely not all, Doctor?”
“Every soul—every woman and child. Think of it—the fiends! the devils! The native brought me the news. If I had heard it in the streets of Cawnpore I should have gone mad and seized a sword and run amuck. As it was, I was well nigh out of mind. I could not stay there. The man would have sheltered me until the troops came up, but I was obliged to be moving, so I started down. Hush! here comes Isobel; we must keep it from her.”
“Now, Isobel,” he went on, as the girl joined them, and they all started along the road, “tell me how it is I find you here.”
“Mr. Bathurst must tell you, Doctor; I cannot talk about it yet—I can hardly think about it.”
“Well, Bathurst, let us hear it from you.”
“It is a painful story for me to have to tell.”
Isobel looked up in surprise.
“Painful, Mr. Bathurst? I should have thought—” and she stopped.
“Not all painful, Miss Hannay, but in parts. I would rather tell you, Doctor, when we have finished our journey this evening, if your curiosity will allow you to wait so long.”
“I will try to wait,” the Doctor replied, “though I own it is a trial. Now, Isobel, you have not told me yet what has happened to your face. Let me look at it closer, child. I see your arms are bad, too. What on earth has happened to you?”
“I burnt myself with acid, Doctor. Mr. Bathurst will tell you all about it.”
“Bless me, mystery seems to thicken. Well, you have got yourself into a pretty pickle. Why, child, burns of that sort leave scars as bad as if you had been burnt by fire. You ought to be in a dark room with your face and hands bandaged, instead of tramping along here in the sun.”
“I have some lotions and some ointment, Doctor. I have used them regularly since it was done, and the places don't hurt me much now.”
“No, they look healthy enough,” he said, examining them closely. “Granulation is going on nicely; but I warn you you will be disfigured for months, and it may be years before you get rid of the scars. I doubt, indeed, if you will ever get rid of them altogether. Well, well, what shall we talk about?”
“I will take pity on you, Doctor. I will walk on ahead with Rabda and her father, and Mr. Bathurst can then tell you his story.”
“That will be the best plan, my dear. Now then, Bathurst, fire away,” he said, when the others had gone on thirty or forty yards ahead.
“Well, Doctor, you remember that you were forward talking to the young Zemindar, and I was sitting aft by the side of Miss Hannay, when they opened fire?”
“I should think I do remember it,” the Doctor said, “and I am not likely to forget it if I live to be a hundred. Well, what about that?”
“I jumped overboard,” Bathurst said, laying his hand impressively upon the Doctor's shoulder. “I gave a cry, I know I did, and I jumped overboard.”
The Doctor looked at him in astonishment.
“Well, so did I, like a shot. But what do you say it in that tone for? Of course you jumped overboard. If you hadn't you would not be here now.”
“You don't understand me, Doctor,” Bathurst said gloomily. “I was sitting there next to Isobel Hannay—the woman I loved. We were talking in low tones, and I don't know why, but at that moment the mad thought was coming into my mind that, after all, she cared for me, that in spite of the disgrace I had brought upon myself, in spite of being a coward, she might still be mine; and as I was thinking this there came the crash of a cannon. Can it be imagined possible that I jumped up like a frightened hare, and without a thought of her, without a thought of anything in my mad terror, jumped overboard and left her behind to her fate? If it had not been that as soon as I recovered my senses—I was hit on the head just as I landed, and knew nothing of what happened until I found myself in the bushes with young Wilson by my side—the thought occurred to me that I would rescue her or die in the attempt, I would have blown out my brains.”
“But, bless my heart, Bathurst,” the Doctor said earnestly, “what else could you have done? Why, I jumped overboard without stopping to think, and so did everyone else who had power to do so, no doubt. What good could you have done if you had stayed? What good would it have done to the girl if you had been killed? Why, if you had been killed, she would now be lying mangled and dead with the others in that ghastly prison. You take too morbid a view of this matter altogether.”
“There was no reason why you should not have jumped overboard, Doctor, nor the others. Don't you see I was with the woman I loved? I might have seized her in my arms and jumped overboard with her, and swam ashore with her, or I might have stayed and died with her. I thought of my own wretched life, and I deserted her.”
“My dear Bathurst, you did not think of your life. I don't think any of us stopped to think of anything; but, constituted as you are, the impulse must have been overpowering. It is nonsense your taking this matter to heart. Why, man, if you had stopped, you would have been murdered when the boat touched the shore, and do you think it would have made her happier to have seen you killed before her eyes? If you had swam ashore with her, the chances are she would have been killed by that volley of grape, for I saw eight or ten bodies lying on the sands, and you yourself were, you say, hit. You acted upon impulse, I grant, but it was upon a wise impulse. You did the very best thing that could have been done, and your doing so made it possible that Isobel Hannay should be rescued from what would otherwise have been certain death.”
“It has turned out so, Doctor,” Bathurst said gloomily, “and I thank God that she is saved. But that does not alter the fact that I, an English gentleman by birth, thought only of myself, and left the woman I loved, who was sitting by my side, to perish. But do not let us talk any more about it. It is done and over. There is an end of it. Now I will tell you the story.”
The Doctor listened silently until he heard of Isobel's being taken to Bithoor. “The atrocious villain!” he exclaimed. “I have been lamenting the last month that I never poisoned the fellow, and now—but go on, go on. How on earth did you get her away?”
Bathurst told the whole story, interrupted by many exclamations of approval by the Doctor; especially when he learned why Isobel disfigured herself.
“Well done!” he exclaimed; “I always knew that she was a plucky girl, and it needed courage, I can tell you, to burn herself as she has done, to say nothing of risking spoiling her beauty for life. No slight sacrifice for a woman.”
Bathurst passed lightly over his fight in the courtyard, but the Doctor questioned him as to the exact facts.
“Not so bad for a coward, Bathurst,” he said dryly.
“There was no noise,” Bathurst said; “if they had had pistols, and had used them, it might have been different. Heaven knows, but I don't think that then, with her life at stake, I should have flinched; I had made up my mind they would have pistols, but I hope—I think that my nerves would not have given way then.”
“I am sure they wouldn't, Bathurst. Well, go on with your story.”
“Well, how did you feel then?” he asked, when Bathurst described how the guard rushed in through the gate firing, “for it is the noise, and not the danger, that upsets you?”
“I did not even think of it,” Bathurst said, in some surprise. “Now you mention it, I am astonished that I was not for a minute paralyzed, as I always am, but I did not feel anything of the sort; they rushed in firing as I told you, and directly they had gone I took her hand and we ran out together.”
“I think it quite possible, Bathurst, that your nervousness may have gone forever. Now that once you have heard guns fired close to you without your nerves giving way as usual, it is quite possible that you might do so again. I don't say that you would, but it is possible, indeed it seems to me to be probable. It may be that the sudden shock when you jumped into the water, acting upon your nerves when in a state of extreme tension, may have set them right, and that bullet graze along the top of the skull may have aided the effect of the shock. Men frequently lose their nerve after a heavy fall from a horse, or a sudden attack by a tiger, or any other unexpected shock. It may be that with you it has had the reverse consequence.”
“I hope to God that it may be so, Doctor,” Bathurst said, with deep earnestness. “It is certainly extraordinary I should not have felt it when they fired within a few feet of my head. If we get down to Allahabad I will try. I will place myself near a gun when it is going to be fired; and if I stand that I will come up again and join this column as a volunteer, and take part in the work of vengeance. If I can but once bear my part as a man, they are welcome to kill me in the next engagement.”
“Pooh! pooh! man. You are not born to be killed in battle. After making yourself a target on the roof at Deennugghur, and jumping down in the middle of the Sepoys in the breach, and getting through that attack in the boats, I don't think you are fated to meet your end with a bullet. Well, now let us walk on, and join the others. Isobel must be wondering how much longer we are going to talk together. She cannot exchange a word with the natives; it must be dull work for her. She is a great deal thinner than she was before these troubles came on. You see how differently she walks. She has quite lost that elastic step of hers, but I dare say that is a good deal due to her walking with bare feet instead of in English boots—boots have a good deal to do with a walk. Look at the difference between the walk of a gentleman who has always worn well fitting boots and that of a countryman who has gone about in thick iron shod boots all his life. Breeding goes for something, no doubt, and alters a man's walk just as it alters a horse's gait.”
Bathurst could not help laughing at the Doctor dropping into his usual style of discussing things.
“Are your feet feeling tender, Isobel?” the latter asked cheerfully, as he overtook those in front.
“No, Doctor,” she said, with a smile; “I don't know that I was ever thankful for dust before, but I am now; it is so soft that it is like walking on a carpet, but, of course, it feels very strange.”
“You have only to fancy, my dear, that you are by the seaside, walking down from your bathing machine across the sands; once get that in your mind and you will get perfectly comfortable.”
“It requires too great a stretch of the imagination, Doctor, to think for a moment, in this sweltering heat, that I am enjoying a sea breeze on our English coast. It is silly, of course, to give it even a thought, when one is accustomed to see almost every woman without shoes. I think I should mind it more than I do if my feet were not stained. I don't know why, but I should. But please don't talk about it. I try to forget it, and to fancy that I am really a native.”
They met but few people on the road. Those they did meet passed them with the usual salutation. There was nothing strange in a party of peasants passing along the road. They might have been at work at Cawnpore, and be now returning to their native village to get away from the troubles there. After it became dark they went into a clump of trees half a mile distant from a village they could see along the road.
“I will go in,” Rujub said, “and bring some grain, and hear what the news is.”
He returned in an hour. “The English have taken Dong,” he said; “the news came in two hours ago. There has been some hard fighting; the Sepoys resisted stoutly at the village, even advancing beyond the inclosures to meet the British. They were driven back by the artillery and rifle fire, but held the village for some time before they were turned out. There was a stand made at the Pandoo Bridge, but it was a short one. The force massed there fell back at once when the British infantry came near enough to rush forward at the charge, and in their hurry they failed to blow up the bridge.”
A consultation was held as to whether they should try to join the British, but it was decided that as the road down to Allahabad would be rendered safe by their advance, it would be better to keep straight on.
The next day they proceeded on their journey, walking in the early morning, halting as soon as the sun had gained much power, and going on again in the cool of the evening. After three days' walking they reached the fort of Allahabad. It was crowded with ladies who had come in from the country round. Most of the men were doing duty with the garrison, but some thirty had gone up with Havelock's column as volunteer cavalry, his force being entirely deficient in that arm.
As soon as the Doctor explained who they were, they were received with the greatest kindness, and Isobel was at once carried off by the ladies, while Bathurst and the Doctor were surrounded by an eager group anxious to hear the state of affairs at Cawnpore, and how they had escaped. The news of the fighting at Dong was already known; for on the evening of the day of the fight Havelock had sent down a mounted messenger to say the resistance was proving so severe that he begged some more troops might be sent up. As all was quiet now at Allahabad, where there had at first been some fierce fighting, General Neil, who was in command there, had placed two hundred and thirty men of the 84th Regiment in bullock vans, and had himself gone on with them.
The Doctor had decided to keep the news of the massacre to himself.
“They will know it before many hours are over, Bathurst,” he said; “and were I to tell them, half of them wouldn't believe me, and the other half would pester my life out with questions. There is never any occasion to hurry in telling bad news.”
The first inquiry of Bathurst and his friends had been for Wilson, and they found to their great pleasure that he had arrived in safety, and had gone up with the little body of cavalry. Captain Forster, whom they next asked for, had not reached Allahabad, and no news had been heard of him.
“What are you going to do, Rujub?” Bathurst asked the native next morning.
“I shall go to Patna,” he said. “I have friends there, and I shall remain in the city until these troubles are over. I believe now that you were right, sahib, although I did not think so when you spoke, and that the British Raj will be restored. I thought, as did the Sepoys, that they were a match for the British troops. I see now that I was wrong. But there is a tremendous task before them. There is all Oude and the Northwest to conquer, and fully two hundred thousand men in arms against them, but I believe that they will do it. They are a great people, and now I do not wish it otherwise. This afternoon I shall start.”
The Doctor, who had found many acquaintances in Allahabad, had no difficulty in obtaining money from the garrison treasury, and Bathurst and Isobel purchased the two handsomest bracelets they could obtain from the ladies in the fort as a souvenir for Rabda, and gave them to her with the heartiest expressions of their deep gratitude to her and her father.
“I shall think of you always, Rabda,” Isobel said, “and shall be grateful to the end of my life for the kindness that you have done us. Your father has given us your address at Patna, and I shall write to you often.”
“I shall never forget you, lady; and even the black water will not quite separate us. As I knew how you were in prison, so I shall know how you are in your home in England. What we have done is little. Did not the sahib risk his life for me? My father and I will never forget what we owe him. I am glad to know that you will make him happy.”
This was said in the room that had been allotted to Isobel, an ayah of one of the ladies in the fort acting as interpreter. The girl had woke up in the morning flushed and feverish, and the Doctor, when sent for, told her she must keep absolutely quiet.
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