Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
That evening, after dining alone, the Doctor went in to Bathurst's. The latter had already heard the news, and they talked it over for some time. Then the Doctor said, "Have you seen Forster, Bathurst, since he arrived?"
"No, I was out when he left his card. I was at school with him.. I heard when I was in England that he was out here in the native cavalry, but I have never run across him before, and I own I had no wish to do so. He was about two years older than I was, and was considered the cock of the school. He was one of my chief tormentors. I don't know that he was a bully generally--fellows who are really plucky seldom are; but he disliked me heartily, and I hated him.
"I had the habit of telling the truth when questioned, and he narrowly escaped expulsion owing to my refusing to tell a lie about his being quietly in bed when, in fact, he and two or three other fellows had been out at a public house. He never forgave me for it, for he himself would have told a lie without hesitation to screen himself, or, to do him justice, to screen anyone else; and the mere fact that I myself had been involved in the matter, having been sent out by one of the bigger fellows, and, therefore, having got myself a flogging by my admission, was no mitigation in his eyes of my offense of what he called sneaking.
"So you may imagine I have no particular desire to meet him again. Unless he has greatly changed, he would do me a bad turn if he had the chance."
"I don't think he has greatly changed," the Doctor said. "That was really what I came in here for this evening rather than to talk about this Sepoy business. I am sorry to say, Bathurst, that when he was in at the Major's today your name happened to be mentioned, and he said at once, 'Is that the Bathurst who they say showed the white feather at Chillianwalla and left the army in consequence?'"
Bathurst's face grew pale and his fingers closed. He remained silent a minute, and then said, "It does not matter; she would have been sure to hear it sooner or later, and I should have told her myself if he had not done so; besides, if, as I am afraid, this Berhampore business is the beginning of trouble, and of such trouble as we have never had since we set foot in India, it is likely that everyone will know what she knows now. Has she spoken to you about it? I suppose she has, or you would not have known that he mentioned it."
"Yes, she was most indignant about it, and did not believe it."
"And what did you say, Doctor?" he asked indifferently.
"Well, I was sorry I could not tell her exactly what you told me. It would have been better if I could have done so. I simply said there were many sorts of courage, and that I was sure that you possessed many sorts in a very high degree, but I could not, of course, deny; although I did not admit, the truth of the report he had mentioned."
"I don't think it makes much difference one way or the other," Bathurst said wearily. "I have known all along that Isobel Hannay would not marry a coward, only I have gone on living in a fool's paradise. However, it is over now--the sooner it is all over the better."
"My dear fellow," the Doctor said earnestly, "don't take this thing too much to heart. I don't wish to try and persuade you that it is not a grave misfortune, but even suppose this trouble takes the very worst form possible, I do not think you will come so very badly out of it as you anticipate. Even assuming that you are unable to do your part in absolute fighting, there may be other opportunities, and most likely will, in which you may be able to show that although unable to control your nerves in the din of battle, you possess in other respects coolness and courage. That feat of yours of attacking the tiger with the dog whip shows conclusively that under many circumstances you are capable of most daring deeds."
Bathurst sat looking down for some minutes. "God grant that it may be so," he said at last; "but it is no use talking about it any more, Doctor. I suppose Major Hannay will keep a sharp lookout over the men?"
"Yes; there was a meeting of the officers this afternoon. It was agreed to make no outward change, and to give the troops no cause whatever to believe that they are suspected. They all feel confident of the goodwill of the men; at the same time they will watch them closely, and if the news comes of further trouble, they will prepare the courthouse as a place of refuge."
"That is a very good plan; but of course everything depends upon whether, if the troops do rise in mutiny, the people of Oude should join them. They are a fighting race, and if they should throw in their lot against us the position would be a desperate one."
"Well, there is no doubt," the Doctor said, "that the Rajah of Bithoor would be with us; that will make Cawnpore safe, and will largely influence all the great Zemindars, though there is no doubt that a good many of them have been sulky ever since the disarmament order was issued. I believe there are few of them who have not got cannon hidden away or buried, and as for the people, the number of arms given up was as nothing to what we know they possessed. In other parts of India I believe the bulk of the people will be with us; but here in Oude, our last annexation, I fear that they will side against us, unless all the great landowners range themselves on our side."
"As far as I can see," Bathurst said, "the people are contented with the change. I don't say what I may call the professional fighting class, the crowd of retainers kept by the great landowners, who were constantly fighting against each other. Annexation has put a stop to all that, and the towns are crowded with these fighting men, who hate us bitterly; but the peasants, the tillers of the soil, have benefited greatly. They are no longer exposed to raids by their powerful neighbors, and can cultivate their fields in peace and quiet. Unfortunately their friendship, such as it is, will not weigh in the slightest degree in the event of a struggle. At any rate, I am sure they are not behind the scenes, and know nothing whatever of any coming trouble. Going as I do among them, and talking to them as one of themselves, I should have noticed it had there been any change in them; and of late naturally I have paid special notice to their manner. Well, if it is to come I hope it will come soon, for anything is better than suspense."
Two days later Major Hannay read out to the men on parade an official document, assuring them that there was no truth whatever in the statements that had been made that the cartridges served out to them had been greased with pigs' fat. They were precisely the same as those that they had used for years, and the men were warned against listening to seditious persons who might try to poison their minds and shake their loyalty to the Government. He then told them that he was sorry to say that at one or two stations the men had been foolish enough to listen to disloyal counsels, and that in consequence the regiments had been disbanded and the men had forfeited all the advantages in the way of pay and pension they had earned by many years of good conduct. He said that he had no fear whatever of any such trouble arising with them, as they knew that they had been well treated, that any legitimate complaint they might make had always been attended to, and that their officers had their welfare thoroughly at heart.
When he had finished, the senior native officer stepped forward, and in the name of the detachment assured the Major that the men were perfectly contented, and would in all cases follow their officers, even if they ordered them to march against their countrymen. At the conclusion of his speech he called upon the troops to give three cheers for the Major and officers, and this was responded to with a show of great enthusiasm.
This demonstration was deemed very satisfactory, and the uneasiness among the residents abated considerably, while the Major and his officers felt convinced that, whatever happened at other stations, there would at least be no trouble at Deennugghur.
"Well, even you are satisfied, Doctor, I suppose?" the Major said, as a party of them who had been dining with Dr. Wade were smoking in the veranda.
"I was hopeful before, Major, and I am hopeful now; but I can't say that today's parade has influenced me in the slightest. Whatever virtues the Hindoo may have, he has certainly that of knowing how to wait. I believe, from what took place, that they have no intention of breaking out at present; whether they are waiting to see what is done at other stations, or until they receive a signal, is more than I can say; but their assurances do not weigh with me to the slightest extent. Their history is full of cases of perfidious massacre. I should say, 'Trust them as long as you can, but don't relax your watch.'"
"You are a confirmed croaker," Captain Rintoul said.
"I do not think so, Rintoul. I know the men I am talking about, and I know the Hindoos generally. They are mere children, and can be molded like clay. As long as we had the molding, all went well; but if they fall into the hands of designing men they can be led in another direction just as easily as we have led them in ours. I own that I don't see who can be sufficiently interested in the matter to conceive and carry out a great conspiracy of this kind. The King of Oude is a captive in our hands, the King of Delhi is too old to play such a part. Scindia and Holkar may possibly long for the powers their fathers possessed, but they are not likely to act together, and may be regarded as rivals rather than friends, and yet if it is not one of these who has been brewing this storm. I own I don't see who can be at the bottom of it, unless it has really originated from some ambitious spirits among the Sepoys, who look in the event of success to being masters of the destinies of India. It is a pity we did not get a few more views from that juggler; we might have known a little more of it then."
"Don't talk about him, Doctor," Wilson said; "it gives me the cold shivers to think of that fellow and what he did; I have hardly slept since then. It was the most creepy thing I ever saw. Richards and I have talked it over every evening we have been alone together, and we can't make head or tail of the affair. Richards thinks it wasn't the girl at all who went up on that pole, but a sort of balloon in her shape. But then, as I say, there was the girl standing among us before she took her place on the pole. We saw her sit down and settle herself on the cushion so that she was balanced right. So it could not have been a balloon then, and if it were a balloon afterwards, when did she change? At any rate the light below was sufficient to see well until she was forty or fifty feet up, and after that she shone out, and we never lost sight of her until she was ever so high. I can understand the pictures, because there might have been a magic lantern somewhere, but that girl trick, and the basket trick, and that great snake are altogether beyond me."
"So I should imagine, Wilson," the Doctor said dryly; "and if I were you I would not bother my head about it.. Nobody has succeeded in finding out any of them yet, and all the wondering in the world is not likely to get you any nearer to it."
"That is what I feel, Doctor, but it is very riling to see things that you can't account for anyhow. I wish he had sent up Richards on the pole instead of the girl. I would not have minded going up myself if he had asked me, though I expect I should have jumped off before it got up very far, even at the risk of breaking my neck."
"I should not mind risking that," the Doctor said, "though I doubt whether I should have known any more about it when I came down; but these jugglers always bring a girl or a boy with them instead of calling somebody out from the audience, as they do at home. Well, if things are quiet we will organize another hunt, Wilson. I have heard of a tiger fifteen miles away from where we killed our last, and you and Richards shall go with me if you like."
"I should like it of all things, Doctor, provided it comes off by day. I don't think I care about sitting through another night on a tree, and then not getting anything like a fair shot at the beast after all."
"We will go by day," the Doctor said. "Bathurst has promised to get some elephants from one of the Zemindars; we will have a regular party this time. I have half promised Miss Hannay she shall have a seat in a howdah with me if the Major will give her leave, and in that case we will send out tents and make a regular party of it. What do you say, Major?"
"I am perfectly willing, Doctor, and have certainly no objection to trusting Isobel to your care. I know you are not likely to miss."
"No, I am not likely to miss, certainly; and besides, there will be Wilson and Richards to give him the coup de grace if I don't finish him."
There was a general laugh, for the two subalterns had been chaffed a good deal at both missing the tiger on the previous occasion.
"Well, when shall it be, Major?"
"Not just at present, at any rate," the Major said. "We must see how things are going on. I certainly should not think of going outside the station now, nor could I give leave to any officer to do so; but if things settle down, and we hear no more of this cartridge business for the next ten days or a fortnight, we will see about it."
But although no news of any outbreak similar to that at Barrackpore was received for some days, the report that came showed a widespread restlessness. At various stations, all over India, fires, believed to be the work of incendiaries, took place, and there was little abatement of the uneasiness. It become known, too, that a native officer had before the rising of Berhampore given warning of the mutiny, and had stated that there was a widespread plot throughout the native regiments to rise, kill their officers, and then march to Delhi, where they were all to gather.
The story was generally disbelieved, although the actual rising had shown that, to some extent, the report was well founded; still men could not bring themselves to believe that the troops among whom they had lived so long, and who had fought so well for us, could meditate such gross treachery, without having, as far as could be seen, any real cause for complaint.
The conduct of the troops at Deennugghur was excellent, and the Colonel wrote that at Cawnpore there were no signs whatever of disaffection, and that the Rajah of Bithoor had offered to come down at the head of his own troops should there be any symptoms of mutiny among the Sepoys. Altogether things looked better, and a feeling of confidence that there would be no serious trouble spread through the station.
The weather had set in very hot, and there was no stirring out now for the ladies between eleven o'clock and five or six in the afternoon. Isobel, however, generally went in for a chat, the first thing after early breakfast, with Mrs. Doolan, whose children were fractious with prickly heat.
"I only wish we had some big, high mountain, my dear, somewhere within reach, where we could establish the children through the summer and run away ourselves occasionally to look after them. We are very badly off here in Oude for that. You are looking very pale yourself the last few days."
"I suppose I feel it a little," Isobel said, "and of course this anxiety everyone has been feeling worries one. Everyone seems to agree that there is no fear of trouble with the Sepoys here; still, as nothing else is talked about, one cannot help feeling nervous about it. However, as things seem settling down now, I hope we shall soon get something else to talk about."
"I have not seen Mr. Bathurst lately," Mrs. Doolan said presently.
"Nor have we," Isobel said quietly; "it is quite ten days since we saw him last."
"I suppose he is falling back into his hermit ways," Mrs. Doolan said carelessly, shooting a keen glance at Isobel, who was leaning over one of the children.
"He quite emerged from his shell for a bit. Mrs. Hunter was saying she never saw such a change in a man, but I suppose he has got tired of it. Captain Forster arrived just in time to fill up the gap. How do you like him, Isobel?"
"He is amusing," the girl said quietly; "I have never seen anyone quite like him before; he talks in an easy, pleasant sort of way, and tells most amusing stories. Then, when he sits down by one he has the knack of dropping his voice and talking in a confidential sort of way, even when it is only about the weather. I am always asking myself how much of it is real, and what there is under the surface."
Mrs. Doolan nodded approval.
"I don't think there is much under the surface, dear, and what there is is just as well left alone; but there is no doubt he can be delightful when he chooses, and very few women would not feel flattered by the attentions of a man who is said to be the handsomest officer in the Indian army, and who has besides distinguished himself several times as a particularly dashing officer."
"I don't think handsomeness goes for much in a man," Isobel said shortly.
Mrs. Doolan laughed.
"Why should it not go for as much as prettiness in a woman? It is no use being cynical, Isobel; it is part of our nature to admire pretty things, and as far as I can see an exceptionally handsome man is as legitimate an object of admiration as a lovely woman."
"Yes, to admire, Mrs. Doolan, but not to like."
"Well, my dear, I don't want to be hurrying you away, but I think you had better get back before the sun gets any higher. You may say you don't feel the heat much, but you are looking pale and fagged, and the less you are out in the sun the better."
Isobel had indeed been having a hard time during those ten days. At first she had thought of little but what she should do when Bathurst called. It seemed impossible that she could be exactly the same with him as she had been before, that was quite out of the question, and yet how was she to be different?
Ten days had passed without his coming. This was so unusual that an idea came into her mind which terrified her, and the first time when the Doctor came in and found her alone she said, "Of course, Dr. Wade, you have not mentioned to Mr. Bathurst the conversation we had, but it is curious his not having been here since."
"Certainly I mentioned it," the Doctor said calmly; "how could I do otherwise? It was evident to me that he would not be welcomed here as he was before, and I could not do otherwise than warn him of the change he might expect to find, and to give him the reason for it."
Isobel stood the picture of dismay. "I don't think you had any right to do so, Doctor," she said. "You have placed me in a most painful position."
"In not so painful a one as it would have been, my dear, if he had noticed the change himself, as he must have done, and asked for the cause of it."
Isobel stood twisting her fingers over each other before her nervously.
"But what am I to do?" she asked.
"I do not see that there is anything more for you to do," the Doctor said. "Mr. Bathurst may not be perfect in all respects, but he is certainly too much of a gentleman to force his visits where they are not wanted. I do not say he will not come here at all, for not to do so after being here so much would create comment and talk in the station, which would be as painful to you as to him, but he certainly will not come here more often than is necessary to keep up appearances."
"I don't think you ought to have told him," Isobel repeated, much distressed.
"I could not help it, my dear. You would force me to admit there was some truth in the story Captain Forster told you, and I was, therefore, obliged to acquaint him with the fact or he would have had just cause to reproach me. Besides, you spoke of despising a man who was not physically brave."
"You never told him that, Doctor; surely you never told him that?"
"I only told what it was necessary he should know, my dear, namely, that you had heard the story, that you had questioned me, and that I, knowing the facts from his lips, admitted that there was some foundation for the story, while asserting that I was convinced that he was morally a brave man. He did not ask how you took the news, nor did I volunteer any information whatever on the subject, but he understood, I think, perfectly the light in which you would view a coward."
"But what am I to do when we meet, Doctor?" she asked piteously.
"I should say that you will meet just as ordinary .acquaintances do meet, Miss Hannay. People are civil to others they are thrown with, however much they may distrust them at heart. You may be sure that Mr. Bathurst will make no allusion whatever to the matter. I think I can answer for it that you will see no shade of difference in his manner. This has always been a heavy burden for him, as even the most careless observer may see in his manner. I do not say that this is not a large addition to it, but I dare say he will pull through; and now I must be off."
"You are very unkind, Doctor, and I never knew you unkind before."
"Unkind!" the Doctor repeated, with an air of surprise. "In what way? I love this young fellow. I had cherished hopes for him that he hardly perhaps ventured to cherish for himself. I quite agree with you that what has passed has annihilated those hopes. You despise a man who is a coward. I am not surprised at that. Bathurst is the last man in the world who would force himself upon a woman who despised him. I have done my best to save you from being obliged to make a personal declaration of your sentiments. I repudiate altogether the accusation as being unkind. I don't blame you in the slightest. I think that your view is the one that a young woman of spirit would naturally take. I acquiesce in it entirely. I will go farther, I consider it a most fortunate occurrence for you both that you found it out in time."
Isobel's cheeks had flushed and paled several times while he was speaking; then she pressed her lips tightly together, and as he finished she said, "I think, Doctor, it will be just as well not to discuss the matter further."
"I am quite of your opinion," he said. "We will agree not to allude to it again. Goodby."
And then Isobel had retired to her room and cried passionately, while the Doctor had gone off chuckling to himself as if he were perfectly satisfied with the state of affairs.
During the week that had since elapsed the Major had wondered and grumbled several times at Bathurst's absence.
"I expect," he said one day, when a note of refusal had come from him, "that he doesn't care about meeting Forster. You remember Forster said they had been at school together, and from the tone in which he spoke it is evident that they disliked each other there. No doubt he has heard from the Doctor that Forster is frequently in here," and the Major spoke rather irritably, for it seemed to him that Isobel showed more pleasure in the Captain's society than she should have done after what he had said to her about him; indeed, Isobel, especially when the Doctor was present, appeared by no means to object to Captain Forster's attentions.
Upon the evening, however, of the day when Isobel had spoken to Mrs. Doolan, Bathurst came in, rather late in the evening.
"How are you, Bathurst?" the Major said cordially. "Why, you have become quite a stranger. We haven't seen you for over a fortnight. Do you know Captain Forster?"
"We were at school together formerly, I believe," Bathurst said quietly. "We have not met since, and I fancy we are both changed beyond recognition."
Captain Forster looked with surprise at the strong, well knit figure. He had not before seen Bathurst, and had pictured him to himself as a weak, puny man.
"I certainly should not have known Mr. Bathurst," he said. "I have changed a great deal, no doubt, but he has certainly changed more."
There was no attempt on the part of either to shake hands. As they moved apart Isobel came into the room.
A quick flash of color spread over her face when, upon entering, she saw Bathurst talking to her uncle. Then she advanced, shook hands with him as usual, and said, "It is quite a time since you were here, Mr. Bathurst. If everyone was as full of business as you are, we should get on badly."
Then she moved on without waiting for a reply and sat down, and was soon engaged in a lively conversation with. Captain Forster, whilst Bathurst, a few minutes later, pleading that as he had been in the saddle all day he must go and make up for lost time, took his leave.
Captain Forster had noticed the flush on Isobel's cheeks when she saw Bathurst, and had drawn his own conclusions.
"There has been a flirtation between them," he said to himself; "but I fancy I have put a spoke in his wheel. She gave him the cold shoulder unmistakably."
April passed, and as matters seemed to be quieting down, there being no fresh trouble at any of the stations, the Major told Dr. Wade that he really saw no reason why the projected tiger hunt should not take place. The Doctor at once took the matter in hand, and drove out the next morning to the village from which he had received news about the tiger, had a long talk with the shikaris of the place, took a general view of the country, settled the line in which the beat should take place, and arranged for a large body of beaters to be on the spot at the time agreed on.
Bathurst undertook to obtain the elephants from two Zemindars in the neighborhood, who promised to furnish six, all of which were more or less accustomed to the sport; while the Major and Mr. Hunter, who had been a keen sportsman, although he had of late given up the pursuit of large game, arranged for a number of bullock carts for the transport of tents and stores.
Bathurst himself declined to be one of the party, which was to consist of Mr. Hunter and his eldest daughter, the Major and Isobel, the Doctor, the two subalterns, and Captain Forster. Captain Doolan said frankly that he was no shot, and more likely to hit one of the party than the tiger. Captain Rintoul at first accepted, but his wife shed such floods of tears at the idea of his leaving her and going into danger, that for the sake of peace he agreed to remain at home.
Wilson and Richards were greatly excited over the prospect, and talked of nothing else; they were burning to wipe out the disgrace of having missed on the previous occasion. Each of them interviewed the Doctor privately, and implored him to put them in a position where they were likely to have the first shot. Both used the same arguments, namely, that the Doctor had killed so many tigers that one more or less could make no difference to him, and if they missed, which they modestly admitted was possible, he could still bring the animal down.
As the Doctor was always in a good temper when there was a prospect of sport, he promised each of them to do all that he could for them, at the same time pointing out that it was always quite a lottery which way the tiger might break out.
Isobel was less excited than she would have thought possible over the prospect of taking part in a tiger hunt. She had many consultations to hold with Mrs. Hunter, the Doctor, and Rumzan as to the food to be taken, and the things that would be absolutely necessary for camping out; for, as it was possible that the first day's beat would be unsuccessful, they were to be prepared for at least two days' absence from home. Two tents were to be taken, one for the gentlemen, the other for Isobel and Mary Hunter. These, with bedding and camp furniture, cooking utensils and provisions, were to be sent off at daybreak, while the party were to start as soon as the heat of the day was over.
"I wish Bathurst had been coming," Major Hannay said, as, with Isobel by his side, he drove out of the cantonment. "He seems to have slipped away from us altogether; he has only been in once for the last three or four weeks. You haven't had a tiff with him about anything, have you, Isobel? It seems strange his ceasing so suddenly to come after our seeing so much of him."
"No, uncle, I have not seen him except when you have. What put such an idea into your mind?"
"I don't know, my dear; young people do have tiffs sometimes about all sorts of trifles, though I should not have thought that Bathurst was the sort of man to do anything of that sort. I don't think that he likes Forster, and does not care to meet him. I fancy that is at the bottom of it."
"Very likely," Isobel said innocently, and changed the subject.
It was dark when they reached the appointed spot, and indeed from the point where they left the road a native with a torch had run ahead to show them the way. The tents looked bright; two or three large fires were burning round them, and the lamps had already been lighted within.
"These tents do look cozy," Mary Hunter said, as she and Isobel entered the one prepared for them. "I do wish one always lived under canvas during the hot weather."
"They look cool," Isobel said, "but I don't suppose they are really as cool as the bungalows; but they do make them comfortable. Here is the bathroom all ready, and I am sure we want it after that dusty drive. Will you have one first, or shall I? We must make haste, for Rumzan said dinner would be ready in half an hour. Fortunately we shan't be expected to do much in the way of dressing."
The dinner was a cheerful meal, and everyone was in high spirits.
The tiger had killed a cow the day before, and the villagers were certain that he had retired to a deep nullah round which a careful watch had been kept all day. Probably he would steal out by night to make a meal from the carcass of the cow, but it had been arranged that he was to do this undisturbed, and that the hunt was to take place by daylight.
"It is wonderful how the servants manage everything," Isobel said. "The table is just as well arranged as it is at home. People would hardly believe in England, if they could see us sitting here, that we were only out on a two days' picnic. They would be quite content there to rough it and take their meals sitting on the ground, or anyway they could get them. It really seems ridiculous having everything like this."
"There is nothing like making yourself comfortable," the Doctor said; "and as the servants have an easy time of it generally, it does them good to bestir themselves now and then. The expense of one or two extra bullock carts is nothing, and it makes all the difference in comfort."
"How far is the nullah from here, Doctor?" Wilson, who could think of nothing else but the tiger, asked.
"About two miles. It is just as well not to go any nearer. Not that he would be likely to pay us a visit, but he might take the alarm and shift his quarters. No, no more wine, Major; we shall want our blood cool in the morning. Now we will go out to look at the elephants and have a talk with the mahouts, and find out which of the animals can be most trusted to stand steady. It is astonishing what a dread most elephants have of tigers. I was on one once that I was assured would face anything, and the brute bolted and went through some trees, and I was swept off the pad and was half an hour before I opened my eyes. It was a mercy I had not every rib broken. Fortunately I was a lightweight, or I might have been killed. And I have seen the same sort of thing happen a dozen times, so we must choose a couple of steady ones, anyhow, for the ladies."
For the next hour they strolled about outside. The Doctor cross questioned the mahouts and told off the elephants for the party; then there was a talk with the native shikaris and arrangements made for the beat, and at an early hour all retired to rest. The morning was just breaking when they were called. Twenty minutes later they assembled to take a cup of coffee before starting. The elephants were arranged in front of the tents, and they were just about to mount when a horse was heard coming at a gallop.
"Wait a moment," the Major said; "it may be a message of some sort from the station." A minute later Bathurst rode in and reined up his horse in front of the tent.
"Why, Bathurst, what brings you here? Changed your mind at the last moment, and found you could get away? That's right; you shall come on the pad with me."
"No, I have not come for that, Major; I have brought a dispatch that arrived at two o'clock this morning. Doolan opened it and came to me, and asked me to bring it on to you, as I knew the way and where your camp was to be pitched."
"Nothing serious, I hope, Bathurst," the Major said, struck with the gravity with which Bathurst spoke. "It must be something important, or Doolan would never have routed you off like that."
"It is very serious, Major," Bathurst said, in a low voice. "May I suggest you had better go into the tent to read it? Some of the servants understand English."
"Come in with me," the Major said, and led the way into the tent, where the lamps were still burning on the breakfast table, although the light had broadened out over the sky outside. It was with grave anticipation of evil that the Major took the paper from its envelope, but his worst fears were more than verified by the contents.
"My Dear Major: The General has just received a telegram with terrible news from Meerut. 'Native troops mutinied, murdered officers, women, and children, opened jails and burned cantonments, and marched to Delhi.' It is reported that there has been a general rising there and the massacre of all Europeans. Although this is not confirmed, the news is considered probable. We hear also that the native cavalry at Lucknow have mutinied. Lawrence telegraphs that he has suppressed it with the European troops there, and has disarmed the mutineers. I believe that our regiment will be faithful, but none can be trusted now. I should recommend your preparing some fortified house to which all Europeans in station can retreat in case of trouble. Now that they have taken to massacre as well as mutiny, God knows how it will all end."
"Good Heavens! who could have dreamt of this?" the Major groaned. "Massacred their officers, women, and children. All Europeans at Delhi supposed to have been massacred, and there must be hundreds of them. Can it be true?"
"The telegram as to Meerut is clearly an official one," Bathurst said. "Delhi is as yet but a rumor, but it is too probable that if these mutineers and jail birds, flushed with success, reached Delhi before the whites were warned, they would have their own way in the place, as, with the exception of a few artillerymen at the arsenal, there is not a white soldier in the place."
"But there were white troops at Meerut," the Major said. "What could they have been doing? However, that is not the question now. We must, of course, return instantly. Ask the others to come in here, Bathurst. Don't tell the girls what has taken place; it will be time enough for that afterwards. All that is necessary to say is that you have brought news of troubles at some stations unaffected before, and that I think it best to return at once."
The men were standing in a group, wondering what the news could be which was deemed of such importance that Bathurst should carry it out in the middle of the night.
"The Major will be glad if you will all go in, gentlemen," Bathurst said, as he joined them.
"Are we to go in, Mr. Bathurst?" Miss Hunter asked.
"No, I think not, Miss Hunter; the fact is there have been some troubles at two or three other places, and the Major is going to hold a sort of council of war as to whether the hunt had not better be given up. I rather fancy that they will decide to go back at once. News flies very fast in India. I think the Major would like that he and his officers should be back before it is whispered among the Sepoys that the discontent has not, as we hoped, everywhere ceased."
"It must be very serious," Isobel said, "or uncle would never decide to go back, when all the preparations are made."
"It would never do, you see, Miss Hannay, for the Commandant and four of the officers to be away, if the Sepoys should take it into their heads to refuse to receive cartridges or anything of that sort."
"You can't give us any particulars, then, Mr. Bathurst?"
"The note was a very short one, and was partly made up of unconfirmed rumors. As I only saw it in my capacity of a messenger, I don't think I am at liberty to say more than that."
"What a trouble the Sepoys are," Mary Hunter said pettishly; "it is too bad our losing a tiger hunt when we may never have another chance to see one!"
"That is a very minor trouble, Mary."
"I don't think so," the girl said; "just at present it seems to me to be very serious."
At this moment the Doctor put his head out of the tent.
"Will you come in, Bathurst?"
"We have settled, Bathurst," the Major said, when he entered, "that we must, of course, go back at once. The Doctor, however, is of opinion that if, after all the preparations were made, we were to put the tiger hunt off altogether, it would set the natives talking, and the report would go through the country like wildfire that some great disaster had happened. We must go back at once, and Mr. Hunter, having a wife and daughter there, is anxious to get back, too; but the Doctor urges that he should go out and kill this tiger. As it is known that you have just arrived, he says that if you are willing to go with him, it will be thought that you had come here to join the hunt, and if that comes off, and the tiger is killed, it does not matter whether two or sixty of us went out."
"I shall be quite willing to do so," said Bathurst, "and I really think that the Doctor's advice is good. If, now that you have all arrived upon the ground, the preparations were canceled, there can be no doubt that the natives would come to the conclusion that something very serious had taken place, and it would be all over the place in no time."
"Thank you, Bathurst. Then we will consider that arranged. Now we will get the horses in as soon as possible, and be off at once."
Ten minutes later the buggies were brought round, and the whole party, with the exception of the Doctor and Bathurst, started for Deennugghur.