Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
As Bathurst brought his story to its conclusion the Doctor rose and placed his hand kindly on his shoulder.
"I certainly should not think of blaming you, Bathurst. What you tell me is indeed a terrible misfortune, situated as we may be soon, though I trust and believe that all this talk about the Sepoys is moonshine. I own that I am surprised at your story, for I should have said from my knowledge of you that though, as I could perceive, of a nervous temperament, you were likely to be cool and collected in danger. But certainly your failing is no fault of your own."
"That is but a small consolation to me, Doctor. Men do not ask why and wherefore--they simply point the finger of scorn at a coward. The misfortune is that I am here. I might have lived a hundred lives in England and never once had occasion to face danger, and I thought that I should have been equally secure as an Indian civilian. Now this trouble is coming upon us."
"Why don't you take your leave, lad? You have been out seven years now without a day's relaxation, except indeed, the three days you were over with me at Cawnpore. Why not apply for a year's leave? You have a good excuse, too; you did not go home at the death of your father, two years ago, and could very well plead urgent family affairs requiring your presence in England."
"No, I will not do that, Doctor; I will not run away from danger again. You understand me, I have not the least fear of the danger; I in no way hold to my life; I do not think I am afraid of physical pain. It seems to me that I could undertake any desperate service; I dread it simply because I know that when the din of battle begins my body will overmaster my mind, and that I shall be as I was at Chillianwalla, completely paralyzed. You wondered tonight why that juggler should have exhibited feats seldom, almost never, shown to Europeans? He did it to please me. I saved his daughter's life-- this is between ourselves, Doctor, and is not to go farther. But, riding in from Narkeet, I heard a cry, and, hurrying on, came upon that man eater you shot the other day, standing over the girl, with her father half beside himself, gesticulating in front of him. I jumped off and attacked the brute with my heavy hunting whip, and he was so completely astonished that he turned tail and bolted."
"The deuce he did," the Doctor exclaimed; "and yet you talk of being a coward!"
"No, I do not say that I am a coward generally; as long as I have to confront danger without noise I believe I could do as well as most men."
"But why didn't you mention this business with the tiger, Bathurst?"
"Because, in the first place, it was the work of a mere passing impulse; and in the second, because I should have gained credit for being what I am not--a brave man. It will be bad enough when the truth becomes known, but it would be all the worse if I had been trading on a false reputation; therefore I particularly charged Rujub to say nothing about the affair to anyone."
"Well, putting this for a time aside, Bathurst, what do you think of that curious scene, you and I and Miss Hannay disguised as natives?"
"Taking it with the one I saw of the attack of Sepoys upon a house, it looks to me, Doctor, as if there would be a mutiny, and that that mutiny would be attended with partial success, that a portion of the garrison, at any rate, will escape, and that Miss Hannay will be traveling down the country, perhaps to Cawnpore, in your charge, while I in some way shall be with you, perhaps acting as guide."
"It may possibly be so," the Doctor agreed. "It is at any rate very curious. I wonder whether Miss Hannay recognized herself in the disguise."
"I should hope not, Doctor; if it all comes true there will be enough for her to bear without looking forward to that. I should be glad if the detachment were ordered back to Cawnpore."
"Well, I should not have thought that, Bathurst."
"I know what you mean, Doctor, but it is for that reason I wish they were gone. I believe now that you insisted on my coming down to spend those three days with you at Cawnpore specially that I might meet her."
"That is so, Bathurst. I like her so much that I should be very sorry to see her throw herself away upon some empty headed fool. I like her greatly, and I was convinced that you were just the man to make her happy, and as I knew that you had good prospects in England, I thought it would be a capital match for her, although you are but a young civilian; and I own that of late I have thought things were going on very well."
"Perhaps it might have been so, Doctor, had it not been for this coming trouble, which, if our fears are realized, will entirely put an end even to the possibility of what you are talking about. I shall be shown to be a coward, and I shall do my best to put myself in the way of being killed. I should not like to blow my brains out, but if the worst comes to the worst I will do that rather than go on living after I have again disgraced myself."
"You look at it too seriously, Bathurst."
"Not a bit of it, Doctor, and you know it."
"But if the Sepoys rise, Bathurst, why should they harm their officers? They may be discontented, they may have a grievance against the Government, they may refuse to obey orders and may disband; but why on earth should they attack men who have always been kind to them, whom they have followed in battle, and against whom they have not as much as a shadow of complaint?"
"I hope it may be so most sincerely," Bathurst said; "but one never can say. I can hardly bring myself to believe that they will attack the officers, much less injure women and children. Still, I have a most uneasy foreboding of evil."
"You have heard nothing from the natives as to any coming trouble?"
"Nothing at all, Doctor, and I am convinced that nothing is known among them, or at any rate by the great bulk of them. Only one person has ever said a word to me that could indicate a knowledge of coming trouble, and that was this juggler we saw tonight. I thought nothing of his words at the time. That picture he showed me of the attack by Sepoys first gave me an idea that his words might mean something. Since then we have heard much more of this discontent, and I am convinced now that the words had a meaning. They were simple enough. It was merely his assurance, two or three times repeated, that he would be ready to repay the service I had rendered him with his life. It might have been a mere phrase, and so I thought at the time. But I think now he had before him the possibility of some event occurring in which he might be able to repay the service I had rendered him."
"There may have been something in it and there may not," the Doctor said; "but, at any rate, Bathurst, he ought to be a potent ally. There doesn't seem any limit to his powers, and he might, for aught one knows, be able to convey you away as he did his daughter."
The Doctor spoke lightly, and then added, "But seriously, the man might be of service. These jugglers go among people of all classes. They are like the troubadours of the Middle Ages, welcomed everywhere; and they no doubt have every opportunity of learning what is going on, and it may be that he will be able to give you timely warning should there be any trouble at hand."
"That is possible enough," Bathurst agreed. "Well, Doctor, I shall be on horseback at six, so it is time for me to turn in," and taking his hat, walked across to his own bungalow.
The Doctor sat for some time smoking before he turned into bed. He had as he had said, heard rumors, when Bathurst first came out, that he had shown the white feather, but he had paid little attention to it at the time. They had been together at the first station to which Bathurst was appointed when he came out, and he had come to like him greatly; but his evident disinclination to join in any society, his absorption in his work, and a certain air of gravity unnatural in a young man of twenty, had puzzled him. He had at the time come to the conclusion that he must have had some unfortunate love affair, or have got into some very serious trouble at home. In time that impression had worn off. A young man speedily recovers from such a blow, however heavy, but no change had taken place in Bathurst, and the Doctor had in time become so accustomed to his manner that he had ceased to wonder over it. Now it was all explained. He sat thinking over it deeply for an hour, and then laid down his pipe.
"It is a terrible pity he came out here," he said. "Of course it is not his fault in the slightest degree. One might as well blame a man for being born a hunchback; but if there should be a row out here it will be terrible for him. I can quite understand his feeling about it. If I were placed as he is, and were called upon to fight, I should take a dose of prussic acid at once. Men talk: about their civilization, but we are little better than savages in our instincts. Courage is an almost useless virtue in a civilized community, but if it is called for, we despise a man in whom it is wanting, just as heartily as our tattooed ancestors did. Of course, in him it is a purely constitutional failing, and I have no doubt he would be as brave as a lion in any other circumstances--in fact, the incident of his attacking the tiger with that dog whip of his shows that he is so; and yet, if he should fail when the lives of women are at stake it would be a kindness to give him that dose of prussic acid, especially as Isobel Hannay will be here. That is the hardest part of it to him, I can see."
Three days later the force at Deennugghur was increased by the arrival of a troop of native cavalry, under a Captain Forster, who had just returned from leave in England.
"Do you know Captain Forster, Doctor?" Isobel Hannay asked, on the afternoon of his arrival. "Uncle tells me he is coming to dinner."
"Then you must look after your heart, my dear. He is one of the best looking fellows out here, a dashing soldier, and a devoted servant of the fair sex."
"You don't like him, Doctor," Isobel said quietly.
"I have not said so, my dear--far from it. I think I said a good deal for him."
"Yes, but you don't like him, Doctor. Why is that?"
"I suppose because he is not my sort of man," the Doctor said. "I have not seen him since his regiment and ours were at Delhi together, and we did not see much of each other then. Our tastes did not lie in the same direction."
"Well, I know what your tastes are, Doctor; what are his?"
"I will leave you to find out, my dear. He is all I told you--a very handsome man, with, as is perhaps natural, a very good opinion of himself, and he distinguished himself more than once in the Punjaub by acts of personal gallantry. I have no doubt he thinks it an awful nuisance coming to a quiet little station like this, and he will probably try to while away his time by making himself very agreeable to you. But I don't think you need quite believe all that he says."
"I have long ago got over the weakness of believing people's flattery, Doctor. However, now you have forewarned me I am forearmed."
The Doctor hesitated, and then said gravely, "It is not my habit to speak ill of people, my dear. You do me the justice to believe that?"
"I am sure it is not, Doctor."
"Well, child, in a station like this you must see a good deal of this man. He is a man who has won many hearts, and thrown them away. Don't let him win yours. He is not a good man; he has been mixed up in several grave scandals; he has been the ruin of more than one young man at cards and billiards; he is in all respects a dangerous man. Anatomically I suppose he has a heart, morally he has not a vestige of one. Whatever you do, child, don't let him make you like him."
"I don't think there is much fear of that, Doctor, after what you have said," she replied, with a quiet smile; "and I am obliged to you indeed for warning me."
"I know I am an old fool for meddling, but you know, my dear, I feel a sort of personal relationship to you, after your having been in my charge for six months. I don't know a single man in all India whom I would not rather see you fall in love with than with Captain Forster."
"I thought uncle did not seem particularly pleased: when he came in to tiffin, and said there was a new arrival."
"I should think not," the Doctor said; "the man in notoriously a dangerous fellow; and yet, as he has never actually outstepped what are considered the bounds which constitute an officer and a gentleman, he has retained his commission, but it has been a pretty close shave once or twice. Your uncle must know all about him, everyone does; but I don't suppose the Major will open his mouth to you on the subject--he is one of those chivalrous sort of men who never thinks evil of anyone unless he is absolutely obliged to; but in a case like this I think he is wrong. At any rate, I have done what I consider to be my duty in the matter. Now I leave it in your hands. I am glad to see that you are looking quite yourself again, and have got over your fainting fit of the other night. I quite expected to be sent for professionally the next morning."
"Oh, yes, I have quite got over it, Doctor; I can't make out how I was so silly as to faint. I never did such a thing before, but it was so strange and mysterious that I felt quite bewildered, and the picture quite frightened me, but I don't know why. This is the first chance I have had since of speaking to you alone. What do you think of it, and why should you be dressed up as a native? and why should?" She stopped with a heightened color on her cheeks.
"You and Bathurst be dressed up, too? So you noticed your own likeness; nobody else but Bathurst and myself recognized the two figures that came out of the wood."
"Oh, you saw it too, Doctor. I thought I might have been mistaken, for, besides being stained, the face was all obscured somehow. Neither uncle, nor Mrs. Hunter, nor the girls, nor anyone else I have spoken to seem to have had an idea it was me, though they all recognized you.. What could it mean?"
"I. have not the slightest idea in the world," the Doctor said; "very likely it meant nothing. I certainly should not think any more about it. These jugglers' tricks are curious and unaccountable; but it is no use our worrying ourselves about them. Maybe we are all going to get up private theatricals some day, and perform an Indian drama. I have never taken any part in tomfooleries of that sort so far, but there is no saying what I may come to."
"Are you going to dine here, Doctor?"
"No, my dear; the Major asked me to come in, but I declined. I told him frankly that I did not like Forster, and that the less I saw of him the better I should be pleased."
The other guests turned out to be Captain and Mrs. Doolan and Mr. Congreave, one of the civilians at the station. The Doolans arrived first.
"You have not seen Captain Forster yet, Isobel," Mrs. Doolan said, as they sat down for a chat together. "I met him at Delhi soon after I came out. He is quite my beau ideal of a soldier in appearance, but I don't think he is nice, Isobel. I have heard all sorts of stories about him."
"Is that meant as a warning for me, Mrs. Doolan?" Isobel asked, smiling.
"Well, yes, I think it is, if you don't mind my giving you one. There are some men one can flirt with as much as one likes, and there are some men one can't; he is one of that sort. Privately, my dear, I don't mind telling you that at one time I did flirt with him--I had been accustomed to flirt in Ireland; we all flirt there, and mean nothing by it; but I had to give it up very suddenly. It wouldn't do, my dear, at all; his ideas of flirtation differed utterly from mine. I found I was playing with fire, and was fortunate in getting off without singeing my wings, which is more than a good many others would have done."
"He must be a horrid sort of man," Isobel said indignantly.
Mrs. Doolan laughed. "I don't think you will find him so; certainly that is not the general opinion of women. However, you will see him for yourself in a very few minutes."
Isobel looked up with some curiosity when Captain Forster was announced, and at once admitted to herself that the Doctor's report as to his personal appearance was fully justified. He stood over six feet high, with a powerful frame, and an easy careless bearing; his hair was cut rather close, he wore a long tawny mustache, his eyes were dark, his teeth very white and perfect. A momentary look of surprise came across his face as his eyes fell on Isobel.
"I had hardly expected," he said, as the Major introduced him to her, "to find no less than three unmarried ladies at Deennugghur. I had the pleasure of being introduced to the Miss Hunters this afternoon. How do you do, Mrs. Doolan? I think it is four years since I had the pleasure of knowing you in Delhi."
"I believe that is the number, Captain Forster."
"It seems a very long time to me," he said.
"I thought you would say that," she laughed. "It was quite the proper thing to say, Captain Forster; but I have no doubt it does seem longer to you than it does to me as you have been home since."
"We are all here," the Major broke in. "Captain Forster, will you take my niece in?"
"I suppose you find this very dull after Cawnpore, Miss Hannay?" Captain Forster asked.
"Indeed I do not," Isobel said. "I like it better here; everything is sociable and pleasant, while at Cawnpore there was much more formality. Of course, there were lots of dinner parties, but I don't care for large dinner parties at all; it is so hot, and they last such a time. I think six is quite large enough. Then there is a general talk, and everyone can join in just as much as they like, while at a large dinner you have to rely entirely upon one person, and I think it is very hard work having to talk for an hour and a half to a stranger of whom you know nothing. Don't you agree with me?"
"Entirely, Miss Hannay; I am a pretty good hand at talking, but at times I have found it very hard work, I can assure you, especially when you take down a stranger to the station, so that you have no mutual acquaintance to pull to pieces."
The dinner was bright and pleasant, and when the evening was over Isobel said to her uncle, "I think Captain Forster is very amusing, uncle."
"Yes," the Major agreed, "he is a good talker, a regular society man; he is no great favorite of mine; I think he will be a little too much for us in a small station like this."
"How do you mean too much, uncle?"
The Major hesitated.
"Well, he won't have much to do with his troop of horse, and time will hang heavy on his hands."
"Well, there is shooting, uncle."
"Yes, there is shooting, but I don't think that is much in his line. Tiffins and calls, and society generally occupy most of his time, I fancy, and I think he is fonder of billiards and cards than is good for him or others. Of course, being here by himself, as he is, we must do our best to be civil to him, and that sort of thing, but if we were at Cawnpore he is a man I should not care about being intimate in the house."
"I understand, uncle; but certainly he is pleasant."
"Oh, yes, he is very pleasant," the Major said dryly, in a tone that seemed to express that Forster's power of making himself pleasant was by no means a recommendation in his eyes.
But Captain Forster had apparently no idea whatever that his society could be anything but welcome, and called the next day after luncheon.
"I have been leaving my pasteboard at all the residents," he said; "not a very large circle. Of course, I knew Mrs. Rintoul at Delhi, as well as Mrs. Doolan. I did not know any of the others. They seem pleasant people."
"They are very pleasant," Isobel said.
"I left one for a man named Bathurst. He was out. Is that the Bathurst, Major Hannay, who was in a line regiment--I forget its number--and left very suddenly in the middle of the fighting in the Punjaub?"
"Yes; I believe Bathurst was in the army about that time," the Major said; "but I don't know anything about the circumstances of his leaving."
Had Captain Forster known the Major better he would have been aware that what he meant to say was that he did not wish to know, but he did not detect the inflection of his voice, and went on--"They say he showed the white feather. If it is the same man, I was at school with him, and unless he has improved since then, I am sure I have no wish to renew his acquaintance."
"I like him very much," the Major said shortly; "he is great friends with Dr. Wade, who has the very highest opinion of him, and I believe he is generally considered to be one of the most rising young officers of his grade."
"Oh, I have nothing to say against him," Captain Forster said; "but he was a poor creature at school, and I do not think that there was any love lost between us. Did you know him before you came here?"
"I only met him at the last races in Cawnpore," the Major said; "he was stopping with the Doctor."
"Quite a character, Wade."
Isobel's tongue was untied now.
"I think he is one of the kindest and best gentlemen I ever met," the girl said hotly; "he took care of me coming out here, and no one could have been kinder than he was."
"I have no doubt he is all that," Captain Forster said gently; "still he is a character, Miss Hannay, taking the term character to mean a person who differs widely from other people. I believe he is very skillful in his profession, but I take it he is a sort of Abernethy, and tells the most startling truths to his patients."
"That I can quite imagine," Isobel said; "the Doctor hates humbug of all sorts, and I don't think I should like to call him in myself for an imaginary ailment."
"I rather put my foot in it there," Captain Forster said to himself, as he sauntered back to his tent. "The Major didn't like my saying anything against Bathurst, and the girl did not like my remark about the Doctor. I wonder whether she objected also to what I said about that fellow Bathurst--a sneaking little hound he was, and there is no doubt about his showing the white feather in the Punjaub. However, I don't think that young lady is of the sort to care about a coward, and if she asks any questions, as I dare say she will, after what I have said, she will find that the story is a true one. What a pretty little thing she is! I did not see a prettier face all the time I was at home. What with her and Mrs. Doolan, time is not likely to hang so heavily here as I had expected."
The Major, afraid that Isobel might ask him some questions about this story of Bathurst leaving the army, went off hastily as soon as Captain Forster had left. Isobel sat impatiently tapping the floor with her foot, awaiting the Doctor, who usually came for half an hour's chat in the afternoon.
"Well, child, how did your dinner go off yesterday, and what did you think of your new visitor? I saw him come away from here half an hour ago. I suppose he has been calling."
"I don't like him at all," Isobel said decidedly.
"No? Well, then, you are an exception to the general rule."
"I thought him pleasant enough last night," Isobel said frankly. "He has a deferential sort of way about him when he speaks to one that one can hardly help liking. But he made me angry today. In the first place, Doctor, he said you were a character."
The Doctor chuckled. "Well, that is true enough, my dear. There was no harm in that."
"And then he said"--and she broke off--"he said what I feel sure cannot be true. He said that Mr. Bathurst left the army because he showed the white feather. It is not true, is it? I am sure it can't be true."
The Doctor did not reply immediately.
"It is an old story," he said presently, "and ought not to have been brought up again. I don't suppose Forster or anyone else knows the rights of the case. When a man leaves his regiment and retires when it is upon active service, there are sure to be spiteful stories getting about, often without the slightest foundation. But even if it had been true, it would hardly be to Bathurst's disadvantage now he is no longer in the army, and courage is not a vital necessity on the part of a civilian."
"You can't mean that, Doctor; surely every man ought to be brave. Could anyone possibly respect a man who is a coward? I don't believe it, Doctor, for a moment."
"Courage, my dear, is not a universal endowment--it is a physical as much as a moral virtue. Some people are physically brave and morally cowards; others are exactly the reverse. Some people are constitutionally cowards all round, while in others cowardice shows itself only partially. I have known a man who is as brave as a lion in battle, but is terrified by a rat. I have known a man brave in other respects lose his nerve altogether in a thunderstorm. In neither of these cases was it the man's own fault; it was constitutional, and by no effort could he conquer it. I consider Bathurst to be an exceptionally noble character. I am sure that he is capable of acts of great bravery in some directions, but it is possible that he is, like the man I have spoken of, constitutionally weak in others."
"But the great thing is to be brave in battle, Doctor! You would not call a man a coward simply because he was afraid of a rat, but you would call a man a coward who was afraid in battle. To be a coward there seems to me to be a coward all round. I have always thought the one virtue in man I really envied was bravery, and that a coward was the most despicable creature living. It might not be his actual fault, but one can't help that. It is not anyone's fault if he is fearfully ugly or born an idiot, for example. But cowardice seems somehow different. Not to be brave when he is strong seems to put a man below the level of a woman. I feel sure, Doctor, there must be some mistake, and that this story cannot be true. I have seen a good deal of Mr. Bathurst since we have been here, and you have always spoken so well of him, he is the last man I should have thought would be--would be like that."
"I know the circumstances of the case, child. You can trust me when I say that there is nothing in Bathurst's conduct that diminishes my respect for him in the slightest degree, and that in some respects he is as brave a man as any I know."
"Yes, Doctor, all that may be; but you do not answer my question. Did Mr. Bathurst leave the army because he showed cowardice? If he did, and you know it, why did you invite him here? why did you always praise him? why did you not say, 'In other respects this man may be good and estimable, but he is that most despicable thing, a coward'?"
There was such a passion of pain in her voice and face that the Doctor only said quietly, "I did not know it, my dear, or I should have told you at first that in this one point he was wanting. It is, I consider, the duty of those who know things to speak out. But he is certainly not what you say."
Isobel tossed her head impatiently. "We need not discuss it, Doctor. It is nothing to me whether Mr. Bathurst is brave or not, only it is not quite pleasant to learn that you have been getting on friendly terms with a man who--"
"Don't say any more," the Doctor broke in. "You might at least remember he is a friend of mine. There is no occasion for us to quarrel, my dear, and to prevent the possibility of such a thing I will be off at once."
After he had left Isobel sat down to think over what had been said. He had not directly answered her questions, but he had not denied that the rumor that Bathurst had retired from the army because he was wanting in courage was well founded. Everything he had said, in fact, was an excuse rather than a denial. The Doctor was as stanch a friend as he was bitter an opponent. Could he have denied it he would have done so strongly and indignantly.
It was clear that, much as he liked Bathurst, he believed him wanting in physical courage. He had said, indeed, that he believed he was brave in some respects, and had asserted that he knew of one exceptional act of courage that he had performed; but what was that if a man had had to leave the army because he was a coward? To Isobel it seemed that of all things it was most dreadful that a man should be wanting in courage. Tales of daring and bravery had always been her special delight, and, being full of life and spirit herself, it had not seemed even possible to her that a gentleman could be a coward, and that Bathurst could be so was to her well nigh incredible.
It might, as the Doctor had urged, be in no way his fault, but this did not affect the fact. He might be more to be pitied than to be blamed; but pity of that kind, so far from being akin to love, was destructive of it.
Unconsciously she had raised Bathurst on a lofty pinnacle. The Doctor had spoken very highly of him. She had admired the energy with which, instead of caring, as others did, for pleasure, he devoted himself to his work. Older men than himself listened to his opinions. His quiet and somewhat restrained manner was in contrast to the careless fun and good humor of most of those with whom she came in contact. It had seemed to her that he was a strong man, one who could be relied upon implicitly at all times, and she had come in the few weeks she had been at Deennugghur to rely upon his opinion, and to look forward to his visits, and even to acknowledge to herself that he approached her ideal of what a man should be more than anyone else she had met.
And now this was all shattered at a blow. He was wanting in man's first attribute. He had left the army, if not in disgrace, at least under a cloud and even his warm friend, the Doctor, could not deny that the accusation of cowardice was well founded. The pain of the discovery opened her eyes to the fact which she had not before, even remotely, admitted to herself, that she was beginning to love him, and the discovery was a bitter one.
"I may thank Captain Forster for that, at least," she said to herself, as she angrily wiped a tear from her cheek; "he has opened my eyes in time. What should I have felt if I had found too late that I had come to love a man who was a coward--who had left the army because he was afraid? I should have despised myself as much as I should despise him. Well, that is my first lesson. I shall not trust in appearances again. Why, I would rather marry a man like Captain Forster, even if everything they say about him is true, than a man who is a coward. At least he is brave, and has shown himself so."
The Doctor had gone away in a state of extreme irritation.
"Confound the meddling scoundrel!" he said to himself, as he surprised the horse with a sharp cut of the whip. "Just when things were going on as I wished. I had quite set my mind on it, and though I am sure Bathurst would never have spoken to her till he had told her himself about that unfortunate failing of his, it would have been altogether different coming from his own lips just as he told it to me. Of course, my lips were sealed and I could not put the case in the right light. I would give three months' pay for the satisfaction of horsewhipping that fellow Forster. Still, I can't say he did it maliciously, for he could not have known Bathurst was intimate there, or that there was anything between them. The question is, am I to tell Bathurst that she has heard about it? I suppose I had better. Ah, here is the Major," and he drew up his horse.
"Anything new, Major? You look put out."
"Yes, there is very bad news, Doctor. A Sowar has just brought a letter to me from the Colonel saying that the General has got a telegram that the 19th Native Infantry at Berhampore have refused to use the cartridges served out to them, and that yesterday a Sepoy of the 34th at Barrackpore raised seditious cries in front of the lines, and when Baugh, the adjutant, and the sergeant major attempted to seize him he wounded them both, while the regiment stood by and refused to aid them. The 19th are to be disbanded, and no doubt the 34th will be, too."
"That is bad news indeed, Major, and looks as if this talk about general disaffection were true. Had there been trouble but at one station it might have been the effect of some local grievance, but happening at two places, it looks as if it were part of a general plot. Well, we must hope it will go no farther."
"It is very bad," said the Major, "but at any rate we may hope we shall have no troubles here; the regiment has always behaved well, and I am sure they have no reason to complain of their treatment. If the Colonel has a fault, it is that of over leniency with the men."
"That is so," the Doctor agreed; "but the fact is, Major, we know really very little about the Hindoo mind. We can say with some sort of certainty what Europeans will do under given circumstances, but though I know the natives, I think, pretty nearly as well as most men, I feel that I really know nothing about them. They appear mild and submissive, and .have certainly proved faithful on a hundred battlefields, but we don't know whether that is their real character. Their own history, before we stepped in and altered its current, shows them as faithless, bloodthirsty and cruel; whether they have changed their nature under our rule, or simply disguised it, Heaven only knows."
"At any rate," the Major said, "they have always shown themselves attached to their English officers. There are numberless instances where they have displayed the utmost devotion for them, and although some scheming intriguers may have sown the seeds of discontent among them, and these lies about the cartridges may have excited their religious prejudices, and may even lead them to mutiny, I cannot believe for an instant that the Sepoys will lift their hands against their officers."
"I hope not," the Doctor said gravely. "A tiger's cub, when tamed, is one of the prettiest of playthings, but when it once tastes blood it is as savage a beast as its mother was before it. Of course, I hope for the best, but if the Sepoys once break loose I would not answer for anything they might do. They have been pretty well spoilt, Major, till they have come to believe that it is they who conquered India and not we."