Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
Dr. Wade was sitting in the veranda smoking and reading an English paper that had arrived by that morning's mail, when Isobel returned.
"Good morning, Doctor. Is uncle back?"
"Not yet. He told me he might be half an hour late, and that I was to come round and amuse you until he came back."
"So in my absence you have been amusing yourself, Doctor. I have been round at Mrs. Hunter's; she is going to have a juggler there this evening, and we are all to go."
"Yes, I got a chit from her this morning. I have seen scores of them, but I make a point of never missing an exhibition when I get the chance. I hate anything I don't understand, and I go with the faint hope of being able to find things out, though I know perfectly well that I shall not do so."
"Then you think it is not all quite natural, Doctor?"
"I don't say it is not natural, because we don't know what all the natural laws are, but I say that some of the things I have seen certainly are not to be accounted for by anything we do know. It is not often that the jugglers show their best tricks to the whites-- they know that, as a rule, we are altogether skeptical; but I have seen at native courts more than once the most astounding things --things absolutely incomprehensible and inexplicable. I don't suppose we are going to see anything of that sort tonight, though Mrs. Hunter said in her note that they had heard from the native servant that this man was a famous one.
"There is a sect of people in India, I don't mean a caste, but a sort of secret society, who, I believe, claim to be able by some sort of influence to suspend altogether the laws of nature. I do not say that I believe them--as a scientific man, it is my duty not to believe them; but I have seen such things done by some of the higher class of jugglers, and that under circumstances that did not seem to admit of the possibility of deception, that I am obliged to suspend my judgment, which, as you may imagine, my dear, is exceedingly annoying to me; but some of them do possess to a considerable extent what the Scotch call second sight, that is to say, the power of foreseeing events in the future. Of that I am morally certain; I have seen proofs of it over and over again. For example, once an old fakir, whom I had cured of a badly ulcerated limb, came up just as I was starting on a shooting expedition.
"'Do not go out today,' he said. 'I foresee evil for you. I saw you last night brought back badly wounded.'
"'But if I don't go your dream will come wrong,' I said.
"He shook his head.
"'You will go in spite of what I say,' he said; 'and you will suffer, and others too;' and he looked at a group of shikaris, who were standing together, ready to make a start.
"'How many men are there?' he said.
"'Why, six of course,' I replied.
"'I see only three,' he said, 'and three dull spots. One of those I see is holding his matchlock on his shoulder, another is examining his priming, the third is sitting down by the tire. Those three will come back at the end of the day; the other three will not return alive.'
"I felt rather uncomfortable, but I wasn't, as I said to myself-- I was a good deal younger then, my dear--such a fool as to be deterred from what promised to be a good day's sport by such nonsense as this; and I went.
"We were going after a rogue elephant that had been doing a lot of damage among the natives' plantations. We found him, and a savage brute he turned out to be. He moved just as I fired, and though I hit him, it was not on the fatal spot, and he charged right down among us. He caught the very three men the fakir said were doomed, and dashed the life out of them; then he came at me. The bearer had run off with my second gun, and he seized me and flung me up in the air.
"I fell in a tree, but broke three of my ribs and one of my arms; fortunately, though the beast tried to get at me, I was out of his reach, and the tree was too strong for him to knock down. Then another man who was with me came up and killed him, and they got me down and carried me back, and I was weeks before I was about again. That was something more than a coincidence, I think. There were some twenty men out with us, and just the four he had pointed out were hurt, and no others.
"I have seen scores of other cases in which these predictions have come true, especially in cases of disease; though I grant that here the predictions often bring about their own fulfilment. If a native is told by a fakir, or holy man, that he is going to die, he makes no struggle to live. In several cases I have seen natives, whose deaths have been predicted, die, without, as far as my science could tell me, any disease or ailment whatever that should have been fatal to them. They simply sank--died, I should say, from pure fright. But putting aside this class, I have seen enough to convince me that some at least among these fanatics do possess the power of second sight."
"That is very extraordinary, Doctor. Of course I have heard of second sight among certain old people in Scotland, but I did not believe in it."
"I should not have believed in it if I had not seen the same thing here in India. I naturally have been interested in it, and have read pretty well everything that has been written about second sight among the Highlanders; and some of the incidents are so well authenticated that I scarcely see how they can be denied. Of course, there is no accounting for it, but it is possible that among what we may call primitive people there are certain intuitions or instincts, call them what you like, that have been lost by civilized people.
"The power of scent in a dog is something so vastly beyond anything we can even imagine possible, that though we put it down to instinct, it is really almost inexplicable. Take the case that dogs have been known to be taken by railway journeys of many hundred miles and to have found their way home again on foot. There is clearly the possession of a power which is to us absolutely unaccountable.
"But here comes your uncle; he will think I have been preaching a sermon to you if you look so grave."
But Major Hannay was too occupied with his own thoughts to notice Isobel.
"Has anything gone wrong, Major?" the Doctor asked, as he saw his face.
"I have just learnt," the Major said, "that some more chupaties were brought last night. It is most annoying. I have questioned several of the native officers, and they profess to have no idea whence they came or what is the meaning of them. I wish we could get to the bottom of this thing; it keeps the troops in a ferment. If I could get hold of one of these messengers, I would get out of him all he knew, even if I had to roast him to make him tell."
"My dear uncle," Isobel said reprovingly, "I am sure you don't mean what you say."
"I don't know," he said, half laughing; "I should certainly consider myself perfectly justified in taking uncommonly strong steps to try to get to the bottom of this business. The thing is going on all over India, and it must mean something, and it is all the worse if taken in connection with this absurd idea about the greased cartridges. I grant that it was an act of folly greasing them at all, when we know the idiotic prejudices the natives have; still, it could hardly have been foreseen that this stir would have been made. The issue of the cartridges has been stopped, but when the natives once get an idea into their minds it is next to impossible to disabuse them of it. It is a tiresome business altogether."
"Tiffin ready, sahib," Rumzan interrupted, coming out onto the veranda.
"That is right, Rumzan. Now, Isobel, let us think of more pleasant subjects."
"We are to go into the Hunters' this evening, uncle," Isobel said, as she sat down. "There is going to be a famous juggler there. There is a note for you from Mrs. Hunter on the side table."
"Very well, my dear; some of these fellows are well worth seeing. Bathurst is coming in to dinner. I saw him as he was starting this morning, just as he was going down to the lines, and he accepted. He said he should be able to get back in time. However, I don't suppose he will mind going round with us. I hope you will come, Doctor, to make up the table. I have asked the two boys to come in."
"I shall have to become a permanent boarder at your establishment, Major. It is really useless my keeping a cook when I am in here nearly half my time. But I will come. I am off for three days tomorrow. A villager came in this morning to beg me to go out to rid them of a tiger that has established himself in their neighborhood, and that is an invitation I never refuse, if I can possibly manage to make time for it. Fortunately everyone is so healthy here at present that I can be very well spared."
At dinner the subject of juggling came up again, and the two subalterns expressed their opinion strongly that it was all humbug.
"Dr. Wade believes in it, Mr. Wilson," Isobel said.
"You don't say so, Doctor; I should have thought you were the last sort of man who would have believed in conjurers."
"It requires a wise man to believe, Wilson," the Doctor said; "any fool can scoff; the wise man questions. When you have been here as long as I have, and if you ever get as much sense as I have, which is doubtful, you may be less positive in your ideas, if you can call them ideas."
"That is one for me," Wilson said good humoredly, while the others laughed.
"Well, I have never seen them, Doctor, except those fellows who come around to the veranda, and I have seen conjurers at home do ever so much better tricks than they."
"What do you think of them, Mr. Bathurst?" Isobel asked. "I suppose you have seen some of the better sort?"
"I do not know what to think of them, Miss Hannay. I used to be rather of Wilson's opinion, but I have seen things since that I could not account for at all. There was a man here two or three months back who astounded me."
"Mrs. Hunter said that the girls had had no opportunity of seeing a good conjurer since they came out, Mr. Bathurst. I suppose they did know this man you are speaking of being here?"
"He was only here for a few hours, Miss Hannay. I had happened to meet him before, and he gave me a private performance, which was quite different to anything I have ever seen, though I had often heard of the feats he had performed. I was so impressed with them that I can assure you that for a few days I had great difficulty in keeping my mind upon my work."
"What did he do, Mr. Bathurst?"
Bathurst related the feat of the disappearing girl.
"She must have jumped down when you were not looking," Richards said, with an air or conviction.
"Possibly," Bathurst replied quietly; "but as I was within three or four yards of the pole, and it was perfectly distinct in the light of my lamp, and as I certainly saw her till she was some thirty or forty feet up in the air I don't see how she can have managed it. For, even supposing she could have sprung down that distance without being hurt, she would not have come down so noiselessly that I should not have heard her."
"Still, if she did not come down that way, how could she have come?" Wilson said.
"That is exactly what I can't make out," Bathurst replied. "If it should happen to be the same man, and he will do the same thing again, I fancy you will be as much puzzled as I was."
After dinner was over the party walked across to Mr. Hunter's bungalow, where, in a short time, the other officers, their wives, and all the other residents at the station were assembled. Chairs were placed in the veranda for the ladies, and a number of lamps hung on the wall, so that a strong light was thrown upon the ground in front of it. In addition, four posts had been driven into the ground some twenty feet from the veranda, and lamps had been fastened upon them.
"I don't know whether the juggler will like that," Mr. Hunter said, "and I shan't light them if he objects. I don't think myself it is quite fair having a light behind him; still, if he agrees, it will be hardly possible for him to make the slightest movement without being seen."
The juggler, who was sitting round at the other side of the house, was now called up. He and the girl, who followed him, salaamed deeply, and made an even deeper bow to Bathurst, who was standing behind Isobel's chair.
"You must have paid them well, Bathurst," Major Hannay said. "They have evidently a lively remembrance of past favors. I suppose they are the same you were talking about?"
"Yes, they are the same people, Major." Then he said in the native dialect to the juggler, "Mr. Hunter has put some posts with lamps behind you, Rujub, but he hasn't lit them because he did not know whether you would object."
"They can be lighted, sahib. My feats do not depend on darkness. Any of the sahibs who like to stand behind us can do so if they do not come within the line of those posts."
"Let us go out there," Wilson said to Richards, when the answer was translated; "we will light the lamps, and we shall see better there than we shall see here."
The two went round to the other side and lit the lamps, and the servants stood a short distance off on either side.
The first trick shown was the well known mango tree. The juggler placed a seed in the ground, poured some water upon it from a lota, and covered it with a cloth. In two or three minutes he lifted. this, and a plant four or five inches high was seen. He covered this with a tall basket, which he first handed round for inspection. On removing this a mango tree some three feet high, in full bloom, was seen. It was again covered, and when the basket was removed it was seen to be covered with ripe fruit, eliciting exclamations of astonishment from those among the spectators who had not before seen the trick performed.
"Now, Wilson," the Doctor said, "perhaps you will be kind enough to explain to us all how this was done?"
"I have no more idea than Adam, Doctor."
"Then we will leave it to Richards. He promised us at dinner to keep his eyes well open."
Richards made no reply.
"How was it done, Mr. Bathurst? It seems almost like a miracle."
"I am as ignorant as Wilson is, Miss Hannay. I can't account for it in any way, and I have seen it done a score of times. Ah! now he is going to do the basket trick. Don't be alarmed when you hear the girl cry out. You may be quite sure that she is not hurt. The father is deeply attached to her, and would not hurt a hair of her head."
Again the usual methods were adopted. The basket was placed on the ground and the girl stepped into it, without the pretense of fear usually exhibited by the performers.
Before the trick began Major Hannay said to Captain Doolan, "Come round with me to the side of those boys. I know the first time I saw it done I was nearly throwing myself on the juggler, and Wilson is a hot headed boy, and is likely as not to do so. If he did, the man would probably go off in a huff and show us nothing more. From what Bathurst said, we are likely to see something unusual."
As soon as the lid was put down, an apparently angry colloquy took place between the juggler and the girl inside. Presently the man appeared to become enraged, and snatching up a long, straight sword from the ground, ran it three or four times through the basket.
A loud shriek followed the first thrust, and then all was silent.
Some of the ladies rose to their feet with a cry of horror, Isobel among them. Wilson and Richards both started to rush forward, but were seized by the collars by the Major and Captain Doolan.
"Will you open the basket?" the juggler said quietly to Mrs. Hunter. As she had seen the trick before she stepped forward without hesitation, opened the lid of the basket and said, "It is empty." The juggler took it up, and held it up, bottom upwards.
"What on earth has become of the girl?" Wilson exclaimed.
As he spoke she passed between him and Richards back to her father's side.
"Well, I am dashed," Wilson murmured. "I would not have believed it if fifty people had sworn to me they had seen it." He was too much confounded even to reply, when the Doctor sarcastically said: "We are waiting for your explanation, gentlemen."
"Will you ask him, Major," Richards said, as he wiped his forehead with his pocket handkerchief, "to make sure that she is solid?"
The Major translated the request, and the girl at once came across, and Richards touched her with evident doubt as to whether on not she were really flesh and blood.
There was much curiosity among those who had seen jugglers before as to what would be the next feat, for generally those just seen were the closing ones of a performance, but as these were the first it seemed that those to follow must be extraordinary indeed.
The next feat was the one shown to Bathurst, and was performed exactly as upon that occasion, except that as the girl rose beyond the circle of light she remained distinctly visible, a sort of phosphoric light playing around her. Those in the veranda had come out now, the juggler warning them not to approach within six feet of the pole.
Higher and higher the girl went, until those below judged her to be at least a hundred and fifty feet from the ground. Then the light died out, and she disappeared from their sight. There was silence for a minute or two, and then the end of the pole could be seen descending without her. Another minute, and it was reduced to the length it had been at starting.
The spectators were silent now; the whole thing was so strange and mysterious that they had no words to express their feeling.
The juggler said something which Mr. Hunter translated to be a request for all to resume their places.
"That is a wonderful trick," the Doctor said to Bathurst. "I have never seen it done that way before, but I once saw a juggler throw up a rope into the air; how high it went I don't know, for, like this, it was done at night, but it stood up perfectly stiff, and the juggler's attendant climbed up. He went higher and higher, and we could hear his voice coming down to us. At last it stopped, and then suddenly the rope fell in coils on the ground, and the boy walked quietly in, just as that girl has done now."
The girl now placed herself in the center of the open space.
"You will please not to speak while this trick is being performed," the juggler said; "harm might come of it. Watch the ground near her feet."
A minute later a dark object made its appearance from the ground. It rose higher and higher with an undulating movement.
"By Jove, it is a python!" the Doctor whispered in Bathurst's ear. A similar exclamation broke from several of the others, but the juggler waved his hand with an authoritative hush. The snake rose until its head towered above that of the girl, and then began to twine itself round her, continuously rising from the ground until it enveloped her with five coils, each thicker than a man's arm. It raised its head above hers and hissed loudly and angrily; then its tail began to descend, gradually the coils unwound themselves; lower and lower it descended until it disappeared altogether.
It was some time before anyone spoke, so great was the feeling of wonder. The Doctor was the first to break the silence.
"I have never seen that before," he said, "though I have heard of it from a native Rajah."
"Would the sahibs like to see more?" the juggler asked.
The two Miss Hunters, Mrs. Rintoul, and several of the others said they had seen enough, but among the men there was expressed a general wish to see another feat.
"I would not have missed this for anything," the Doctor said. "It would be simple madness to throw away such a chance."
The ladies, therefore, with the exception of Mrs. Hunter, Mrs. Doolan, and Isobel, retired into the house.
"You must all go on one side now," the juggler said, "for it is only on one side what I am now going to do can be seen."
He then proceeded to light a fire of charcoal. When he had done this, he said, "The lights must now be extinguished and the curtains drawn, so that the light will not stream out from the house."
As soon as this was done he poured a powder over the fire, and by its faint light the cloud of white smoke could be seen.
"Now I will show you the past," he said. "Who speaks?"
There was silence, and then Dr. Wade said, "Show me my past."
A faint light stole up over the smoke--it grew brighter and brighter; and then a picture was clearly seen upon it.
It was the sea, a house standing by itself in a garden, and separated from the water only by a road. Presently the figure of a girl appeared at the gate, and, stepping out, looked down the road as if waiting for someone. They could make out all the details of her dress and see her features distinctly. A low exclamation broke from the Doctor, then the picture gradually faded away.
"The future!" the juggler said, and gradually an Indian scene appeared on the smoke. It was a long, straight road, bordered by a jungle. A native was seen approaching; he paused in the foreground.
"That is you, Doctor!" Mr. Hunter exclaimed; "you are got up as a native, but it's you."
Almost at the same moment two figures came out from the jungle. They were also in native dress.
"You and Miss Hannay," the Doctor said in a low tone to Bathurst, "dressed like a native and dyed." But no one else detected the disguise, and the picture again faded away.
"That is enough, Rujub," Bathurst said, for he felt Isobel lean back heavily against the hand which he held at the back of her chair, and felt sure that she had fainted.
"Draw back the curtains, someone; I fancy this has been too much for Miss Hannay."
The curtains were thrown back, and Mrs. Hunter, running in, brought out a lamp. The Doctor had already taken his place by Isobel's side.
"Yes, she has fainted," he said to Bathurst; "carry her in her chair as she is, so that she may be in the room when she comes to."
This was done.
"Now, gentlemen," the Doctor said, "you had better light the lamps again out here, and leave the ladies and me to get Miss Hannay round."
When the lamps were lit it was evident that the whole of the men were a good deal shaken by what they had seen.
"Well," Mr. Hunter said, "they told me he was a famous juggler, but that beat anything I have seen before. I have heard of such things frequently from natives, but it is very seldom that Europeans get a chance of seeing them."
"I don't want to see anything of the sort again," Major Hannay said; "it shakes one's notions of things in general. I fancy, Hunter, that we shall want a strong peg all round to steady our nerves. I own that I feel as shaky as a boy who thinks he sees a ghost on his way through a churchyard."
There was a general murmur of agreement and the materials were quickly brought.
"Well, Wilson, what do you and Richards think of it?" the Major went on, after he had braced himself up with a strong glass of brandy and water. "I should imagine you both feel a little less skeptical than you did two hours ago."
"I don't know what Richards feels, Major, but I know I feel like a fool. I am sorry, Bathurst, for what I said at dinner; but it really didn't seem to me to be possible what you told us about the girl going up into the air and not coming down again. Well, after I have seen what I have seen this evening, I won't disbelieve anything I hear in future about these natives."
"It was natural enough that you should be incredulous," Bathurst said. "I should have been just as skeptical as you were when I first came out, and I have been astonished now, though I have seen some good jugglers before."
At this moment the Doctor came out again.
"Miss Hannay is all right again now, Major. I am not surprised at her fainting; old hand as I am at these matters, and I think that I have seen as much or more juggling than any man in India. I felt very queer myself, specially at the snake business. As I said, I have seen that ascension trick before, but how it is done I have no more idea than a child. Those smoke scenes, too, are astonishing. Of course they could be accounted for as thrown upon a column of white smoke by a magic lantern, but there was certainly no magic lantern here. The juggler was standing close to me, and the girl was sitting at his feet. I watched them both closely, and certainly they had no apparatus about them by which such views could be thrown on the smoke."
"You recognized the first scene, I suppose, Doctor?" Bathurst asked.
"Perfectly. It took me back twenty-five years. It was a cottage near Sidmouth, and was correct in every minute detail. The figure was that of the young lady I married four years afterwards. Many a time have I seen her standing just like that, as I went along the road to meet her from the little inn at which I was stopping; the very pattern of her dress, which I need hardly say has never been in my mind all these years, was recalled to me.
"Had I been thinking of the scene at the time I could have accounted for it somehow, upon the theory that in some way or other the juggler was conscious of my thought and reflected it upon the smoke --how, I don't at all mean to say; but undoubtedly there exists, to some extent, the power of thought reading. It is a mysterious subject, and one of which we know absolutely nothing at present, but maybe in upwards of a hundred years mankind will have discovered many secrets of nature in that direction. But I certainly was not thinking of that scene when I spoke and said the 'past.' I had no doubt that he would show me something of the past, but certainly no particular incident passed through my mind before that picture appeared on the smoke."
"The other was almost as curious, Doctor," Captain Doolan said, "for it was certainly you masquerading as a native. I believe the other was Bathurst; it struck me so; and he seemed to be running off with some native girl. What on earth could that all mean?"
"It is no use puzzling ourselves about it," the Doctor said. "It may or may not come true. I have no inclination to go about dressed out as a native at present, but there is no saying what I may come to. There is quite enough for us to wonder at in the other things. The mango and basket tricks I have seen a dozen times, and am no nearer now than I was at first to understanding them. That ascension trick beats me altogether, and there was something horribly uncanny about the snake."
"Do you think it was a real snake, Doctor?"
"That I cannot tell you, Richards. Every movement was perfectly natural. I could see the working of the ribs as it wound itself round the girl, and the quivering of its tongue as it raised its head above her. At any other time I should be ready to take my affidavit that it was a python of unusual size, but at the present moment I should not like to give a decided opinion about anything connected with the performance."
"I suppose it is no use asking the juggler any questions, Hunter?" one of the other men said.
"Not in the least; they never do answer questions. The higher class of jugglers treat their art as a sort of religious mystery, and there is no instance known of their opening their lips, although large sums have frequently been offered them. In the present case you will certainly ask no questions, for the man and girl have both disappeared with the box and apparatus and everything connected with them. They must have slipped off directly the last trick was over, and before we had the lamp lighted. I sent after him at once, but the servant could find no signs of him. I am annoyed because I have not paid them."
"I am not surprised at that," Dr. Wade said. "It is quite in accordance with what I have heard of them. They live by exhibiting what you may call their ordinary tricks; but I have heard from natives that when they show any what I may call supernatural feats, they do not take money. It is done to oblige some powerful Rajah, and as I have said, it is only on a very few occasions that Europeans have ever seen them. Well, we may as well go in to the ladies. I don't fancy any of them would be inclined to come out onto the veranda again this evening."
No one was indeed inclined even for talk, and in a very short time the party broke up and returned home.
"Come and smoke a pipe with me, Bathurst, before you turn in," the Doctor said, as they went out. "I don't think either of us will be likely to go to sleep for some time. What is your impression of all this?"
"My impression, certainly, is that it is entirely unaccountable by any laws with which we are acquainted, Doctor."
"That is just my idea, and always has been since I first saw any really good juggling out here. I don't believe in the least in anything supernatural, but I can quite believe that there are many natural laws of which at present we are entirely ignorant. I believe the knowledge of them at one time existed, but has been entirely lost, at any rate among Western peoples. The belief in magic is as old as anything we have knowledge of. The magicians at the court of Pharaoh threw down their rods and turned them into serpents. The Witch of Endor called up the spirit of Samuel. The Greeks, by no means a nation of fools, believed implicitly in the Oracles. Coming down to comparatively later times, the workers of magic burnt their books before St. Paul. It doesn't say, mind you, that those who pretended to work magic did so; but those who worked magic.
"Early travelers in Persia and India have reported things they saw far surpassing any we have witnessed this evening, and there is certainly a sect in India at present, or rather a body of men, and those, as far as I have been able to learn, of an exceptionally intelligent class, who believe that they possess an almost absolute mastery over the powers of nature. You see, fifty years back, if anyone had talked about traveling at fifty miles an hour, or sending a message five thousand miles in a minute, he would have been regarded as a madman. There may yet be other discoveries as startling to be made.
"When I was in England I heard something of a set of people in America who called themselves Spiritualists, some of whom--notably a young man named Home--claimed to have the power of raising themselves through the air. I am far from saying that such a power exists; it is of course contrary to what we know of the laws of nature, but should such a power exist it would account for the disappearance of the girl from the top of the pole. Highland second sight, carried somewhat farther, and united with the power of conveying the impressions to others, would account for the pictures on the smoke, that is, supposing them to be true, and personally I own that I expect they will prove to be true--unlikely as it may seem that you, I, and Miss Hannay will ever be going about in native attire."
By this time they had reached the Doctor's bungalow, and had comfortably seated themselves.
"There is one thing that flashed across me this evening," Bathurst said. "I told you, that first evening I met Miss Hannay, that I had a distinct knowledge of her face. You laughed at me at the time, and it certainly seemed absurd, but I was convinced I was not wrong. Now I know how it was; I told you at dinner today about the feat of the girl going up and not coming down again; but I did not tell you--for you can understand it is a thing that I should not care to talk much about--that he showed me a picture like those we saw tonight.
"It was a house standing in a courtyard, with a high wall round it. I did not particularly observe the house. It was of the ordinary native type, and might, for anything I know, be the house in the middle of this station used as a courthouse by Hunter, and for keeping stores, and so on. I don't say it was that; I did not notice it. much. There was a breach in the outside wall, and round it there was a fierce fight going on. A party of officers and civilians were repelling the assault of a body of Sepoys. On the terraced roof of the house others were standing firing and looking on, and I think engaged in loading rifles were two or three women. One of them I particularly noticed; and, now I recall it, her face was that of Miss Hannay; of that I am absolutely certain."
"It is curious, lad," the Doctor said, after a pause; "and the picture, you see, has so far come true that you have made the acquaintance with one of the actors whom you did not previously know."
"I did not believe in the truth of it, Doctor, and I do not believe in it now. There was one feature in the fight which was, as I regret to know, impossible."
"And what was that, Bathurst?"
Bathurst was silent for a time.
"You are an old friend, Doctor, and you will understand my case, and make more allowances for it than most people would. When I first came out here I dare say you heard some sort of reports as to why I had left the army and had afterwards entered the Civil Service."
"There were some stupid rumors," the Doctor said, "that you had gone home on sick leave just after the battle of Chillianwalla, and had then sold out, because you had shown the white feather. I need not say that I did not give any credit to it; there is always gossip flying about as to the reasons a man leaves the army."
"It was quite true, Doctor. It is a hideous thing to say, but constitutionally I am a coward."
"I cannot believe it," the Doctor said warmly. "Now that I know you, you are the last man of whom I would credit such a thing."
"It is the bane of my life," Bathurst went on. "It is my misfortune, for I will not allow it is my fault. In many things I am not a coward. I think I could face any danger if the danger were a silent one, but I cannot stand noise. The report of a gun makes me tremble all over, even when it is a blank cartridge that is fired. When I was born my father was in India. A short time before I came into the world my mother had a great fright. Her house in the country was broken into by burglars, who entered the room and threatened to blow out her brains if she moved; but the alarm was given, the men servants came down armed, there was a struggle in her room, pistol shots were fired, and the burglars were overpowered and captured. My mother fainted and was ill for weeks afterwards-- in fact, until the time I was born; and she died a few days later, never having, the doctor said, recovered from the shock she had suffered that night.
"I grew up a weakly, timid boy--the sort of boy that is always bullied at school. My father, as you know, was a general officer, and did not return home until I was ten years old. He was naturally much disappointed in me, and I think that added to my timidity, for it grew upon me rather than otherwise. Morally, I was not a coward. At school I can say that I never told a lie to avoid punishment, and my readiness to speak the truth did not add to my popularity among the other boys, and I used to be called a sneak, which was even more hateful than being called a coward.
"As I grew up I shook off my delicacy, and grew, as you see, into a strong man. I then fought several battles at school; I learnt to ride, and came to have confidence in myself, and though I had no particular fancy for the army my father's heart was so set on it that I offered no objection. That the sound of a gun was abhorrent to me I knew, for the first time my father put a gun in my hand and I fired it, I fainted, and nothing would persuade me to try again. Still I thought that this was the result of nervousness as to firing it myself, and that I should get over it in time.
"A month or two after I was gazetted I went out to India with the regiment, and arrived just in time to get up by forced marches to take part in the battle of Chillianwalla. The consequence was that up to that time I literally had heard no musketry practice.
"Of the events of that battle I have no remembrance whatever; from the moment the first gun was fired to the end of the day I was as one paralyzed. I saw nothing, I heard nothing, I moved mechanically; but happily my will or my instinct kept me in my place in the regiment. When all was over, and silence followed the din, I fell to the ground insensible. Happily for me the doctors declared I was in a state of high fever, and I so remained for a fortnight. As soon as I got better I was sent down the country, and I at once sent in my papers and went home. No doubt the affair was talked of, and there were whispers as to the real cause of my illness. My father was terribly angry when I returned home and told him the truth of the matter. That his son should be a coward was naturally an awful blow to him. Home was too unhappy to be endured, and when an uncle of mine, who was a director on the Company's Board, offered me a berth in the Civil Service, I thankfully accepted it, believing that in that capacity I need never hear a gun fired again.
"You will understand, then, the anxiety I am feeling owing to these rumors of disaffection among the Sepoys, and the possibility of anything like a general mutiny.
"It is not of being killed that I have any fear; upon the contrary, I have suffered so much in the last eight years from the consciousness that the reason why I left the army was widely known, that I should welcome death, if it came to me noiselessly; but the thought that if there is trouble I shall assuredly not be able to play my part like a man fills me with absolute horror, and now more than ever.
"So you will understand now why the picture I saw, in which I was fighting in the middle of the Sepoys, is to me not only improbable, but simply impossible. It is a horrible story to have to tell. This is the first time I have opened my lips on the subject since I spoke to my father, but I know that you, both as a friend and a doctor, will pity rather than blame me."