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HOME > Short Stories > Rujub, the Juggler > CHAPTER XXIII.
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 The next morning Bathurst found Isobel Hannay sitting in a shady court that had been converted into a sort of general room for the ladies in the fort. “How are you, Miss Hannay? I am glad to see you down.”
“I might repeat your words, Mr. Bathurst, for you see we have changed places. You are the invalid, and not I.”
“There is very little of the invalid about me,” he said. “I am glad to see that your face is much better than it was.”
“Yes, it is healing fast. I am a dreadful figure still; and the Doctor says that there will be red scars for months, and that probably my face will be always marked.”
“The Doctor is a croaker, Miss Hannay; there is no occasion to trust him too implicitly. I predict that there will not be any serious scars left.”
He took a seat beside her. There were two or three others in the court, but these were upon the other side, quite out of hearing.
“I congratulate you, Mr. Bathurst,” she said quietly, “on yesterday. The Doctor has, of course, told me all about it. It can make no difference to us who knew you, but I am heartily glad for your sake. I can understand how great a difference it must make to you.”
“It has made all the difference in the world,” he replied. “No one can tell the load it has lifted from my mind. I only wish it had taken place earlier.”
“I know what you mean, Mr. Bathurst; the Doctor has told me about that too. You may wish that you had remained in the boat, but it was well for me that you did not. You would have lost your life without benefiting me. I should be now in the well of Cawnpore, or worse, at Bithoor.”
“That may be,” he said gravely, “but it does not alter the fact.”
“I have no reason to know why you consider you should have stopped in the boat, Mr. Bathurst,” she went on quietly, but with a slight flush on her cheek. “I can perhaps guess by what you afterwards did for me, by the risks you ran to save me; but I cannot go by guesses, I think I have a right to know.”
“You are making me say what I did not mean to say,” he exclaimed passionately, “at least not now; but you do more than guess, you know—you know that I love you.”
“And what do you know?” she asked softly.
“I know that you ought not to love me.” he said. “No woman should love a coward.”
“I quite agree with you, but then I know that you are not a coward.”
“Not when I jumped over and left you alone? It was the act of a cur.”
“It was an act for which you were not really responsible. Had you been able to think, you would not have done so. I do not take the view the Doctor does, and I agree with you that a man loving a woman should first of all think of her and of her safety. So you thought when you could think, but you were no more responsible for your action than a madman for a murder committed when in a state of frenzy. It was an impulse you could not control. Had you, after the impulse had passed, come down here, believing, as you might well have believed, that it was absolutely impossible to rescue me from my fate, it would have been different. But the moment you came to yourself you deliberately took every risk and showed how brave you were when master of yourself. I am speaking plainly, perhaps more plainly than I ought to. But I should despise myself had I not the courage to speak out now when so much is at stake, and after all you have done for me.
“You love me?”
“You know that I love you.”
“And I love you,” the girl said; “more than that, I honor and esteem you. I am proud of your love. I am jealous for your honor as for my own, and I hold that honor to be spotless. Even now, even with my happiness at stake, I could not speak so plainly had I not spoken so cruelly and wrongly before. I did not know you then as I know you now, but having said what I thought then, I am bound to say what I think now, if only as a penance. Did I hesitate to do so, I should be less grateful than that poor Indian girl who was ready as she said, to give her life for the life you had saved.”
“Had you spoken so bravely but two days since,” Bathurst said, taking her hand, “I would have said. 'I love you too well, Isobel, to link your fate to that of a disgraced man.' but now I have it in my power to retrieve myself, to wipe out the unhappy memory of my first failure, and still more, to restore the self respect which I have lost during the last month. But to do so I must stay here: I must bear part in the terrible struggle there will be before this mutiny is put down, India conquered, and Cawnpore revenged.”
“I will not try to prevent you,” Isobel said. “I feel it would be wrong to do so. I could not honor you as I do, if for my sake you turned away now. Even though I knew I should never see you again, I would that you had died so, than lived with even the shadow of dishonor on your name. I shall suffer, but there are hundreds of other women whose husbands, lovers, or sons are in the fray, and I shall not flinch more than they do from giving my dearest to the work of avenging our murdered friends and winning back India.”
So quietly had they been talking that no thought of how momentous their conversation had been had entered the minds of the ladies sitting working but a few paces away. One, indeed, had remarked to another, “I thought when Dr. Wade was telling us how Mr. Bathurst had rescued that unfortunate girl with the disfigured face at Cawnpore, that there was a romance in the case, but I don't see any signs of it. They are goods friends, of course, but there is nothing lover-like in their way of talking.”
So thought Dr. Wade when he came in and saw them sitting there, and gave vent to his feeling in a grunt of dissatisfaction.
“It is like driving two pigs to market,” he muttered; “they won't go the way I want them to, out of pure contrariness.”
“It is all settled, Doctor,” Bathurst said, rising. “Come, shake hands; it is to you I owe my happiness chiefly.”
“Isobel, my dear, give me a kiss,” the Doctor exclaimed. “I am glad, my dear, I am glad with all my heart. And what have you settled besides that?”
“We have settled that I am to go home as soon as I can go down country, and he is going up with you and the others to Cawnpore.”
“That is right,” the Doctor said heartily. “I told you that was what he would decide upon; it is right that he should do so. No man ought to turn his face to the coast till Lucknow is relieved and Delhi is captured. I thank God it has all come right at last. I began to be afraid that Bathurst's wrong headedness was going to mar both your lives.”
The news had already come down that Havelock had found that it would be absolutely impossible with the small force at his command to fight his way into Lucknow through the multitude of foes that surrounded it, and that he must wait until reinforcements arrived. There was, therefore, no urgent hurry, and it was not until ten days later that a second troop of volunteer horse, composed of civilians unable to resume their duties, and officers whose regiments had mutinied, started for Cawnpore.
Half an hour before they mounted, Isobel Hannay and Ralph Bathurst were married by the chaplain in the fort. This was at Bathurst's earnest wish.
“I may not return, Isobel,” he had urged: “it is of no use to blink the fact that we have desperate fighting before us, and I should go into battle with my mind much more easy in the knowledge that, come what might, you were provided for. The Doctor tells me that he considers you his adopted daughter, and that he has already drawn up a will leaving his savings to you; but I should like your future to come from me, dear, even if I am not to share it with you. As you know, I have a fine estate at home, and I should like to think of you as its mistress.”
And Isobel of course had given way, though not without protest.
“You don't know what I may be like yet,” she said, half laughing, half in earnest. “I may carry these red blotches to my grave.”
“They are honorable scars, dear, as honorable as any gained in battle. I hope, for your sake, that they will get better in time, but it makes no difference to me. I know what you were, and how you sacrificed your beauty. I suppose if I came back short of an arm or leg you would not make that an excuse for throwing me over?”
“You ought to be ashamed of even thinking of such a thing, Ralph.”
“Well, dear, I don't know that I did think it, but I am only putting a parallel case to your own. No, you must consent: it is in all ways best. We will be married on the morning I start, so as just to give time for our wedding breakfast before I mount.”
“It shall be as you wish,” she said softly. “You know the estate without you would be nothing to me, but I should like to bear your name, and should you never come back to me, Ralph, to mourn for you all my life as my husband. But I believe you will return to me. I think I am getting superstitious, and believe in all sorts of things since so many strange events have happened. Those pictures on the smoke that came true, Rujub sending you messages at Deennugghur, and Rabda making me hear her voice and giving me hope in prison. I do not feel so miserable at the thought of your going into danger as I should do, if I had not a sort of conviction that we shall meet again. People believe in presentiments of evil, why should they not believe in presentiments of good? At any rate, it is a comfort to me that I do feel so, and I mean to go on believing it.”
“Do so, Isobel. Of course there will be danger, but the danger will be nothing to that we have passed through together. The Sepoys will no doubt fight hard, but already they must have begun to doubt; their confidence in victory must be shaken, and they begin to fear retribution for their crimes. The fighting will, I think, be less severe as the struggle goes on, and at any rate the danger to us, fighting as the assailants, is as nothing to that run when we were little groups surrounded by a country in arms.
“The news that has come through from Lucknow is that, for some time at any rate, the garrison are confident they can hold out, while at Delhi we know that our position is becoming stronger every day; the reinforcements are beginning to arrive from England, and though the work may be slow at first, our army will grow, while their strength will diminish, until we sweep them before us. I need not stop until the end, only till the peril is over, till Lucknow is relieved, and Delhi captured.
“As we agreed, I have already sent in my resignation in the service, and shall fight as a volunteer only. If we have to fight our way into Lucknow, cavalry will be useless, and I shall apply to be attached to one of the infantry regiments; having served before, there will be no difficulty about that. I think there are sure to be plenty of vacancies. Six months will assuredly see the backbone of the rebellion altogether broken. No doubt it will take much longer crushing it out altogether, for they will break up into scattered bodies, and it may be a long work before these are all hunted down; but when the strength of the rebellion is broken, I can leave with honor.”
There were but few preparations to be made for the wedding. Great interest was felt in the fort in the event, for Isobel's rescue from Bithoor and Cawnpore, when all others who had fallen into the power of the Nana had perished, had been the one bright spot in the gloom; and there would have been a general feeling of disappointment had not the romance had the usual termination.
Isobel's presents were numerous and of a most useful character, for they took the form of articles of clothing, and her trousseau was a varied and extensive one.
The Doctor said to her the evening before the event, “You ought to have a certificate from the authorities, Isobel, saying how you came into possession of your wardrobe, otherwise when you get back to England you will very soon come to be looked upon as a most suspicious character.”
“How do you mean, Doctor?”
“Well, my dear, if the washerwoman to whom you send your assortment at the end of the voyage is an honest woman, she will probably give information to the police that you must be a receiver of stolen property, as your garments are all marked with different names.”
“It will look suspicious, Doctor, but I must run the risk of that till I can remark them again. I can do a good deal that way before I sail. It is likely we shall be another fortnight at least before we can start for Calcutta. I don't mean to take the old names out, but shall mark my initials over them and the word 'from.' Then they will always serve as mementoes of the kindness of everyone here.”
Early on the morning of the wedding a native presented himself at the gate of the fort, and on being allowed to enter with a letter for Miss Hannay of which he was the bearer, handed her a parcel, w............
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