Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
The Doctor had just sat down to dinner when Bathurst came in. The two subalterns were dining with him.
"That's good, Bathurst," the Doctor said, as he entered. "Boy, put a chair for Mr. Bathurst. I had begun to think that you had deserted me as well as everybody else."
"I was not thinking of dining," Bathurst said, as he sat down, "but I will do so with pleasure, though I told my man I should be back in half an hour;" and as the servant left the room he added, "I have much to say, Doctor; get through dinner as quickly as you can, and get the servants out of the tent."
The conversation was at once turned by the Doctor upon shooting and hunting, and no allusion was made to passing events until coffee was put on the table and the servant retired. The talk, which had been lively during dinner, then ceased.
"Well, Bathurst," the Doctor asked, "I suppose you have something serious to tell me?"
"Very serious, Doctor;" and he repeated the news he had given the Major.
"It could not be worse, Bathurst," the Doctor said quietly, after the first shock of the news had passed. "You know I never had any faith in the Sepoys since I saw how this madness was spreading from station to station. This sort of thing is contagious. It becomes a sort of epidemic, and in spite of the assurances of the men I felt sure they would go. But this scoundrel of Bithoor turning against us is more than I bargained for. There is no disguising the fact that it means a general rising through Oude, and in that case God help the women and children. As for us, it all comes in the line of business. What does the Major say?"
"The only question that seemed to him to be open was whether the women and children could be got away."
"But there does not seem any possible place for them to go to. One or two might travel down the country in disguise, but that is out of the question for a large party. There is no refuge nearer than Allahabad. With every man's hand against them, I see not the slightest chance of a party making their way down."
"You or I might do it easily enough, Doctor, but for women it seems to me out of the question; still, that is a matter for each married man to decide for himself. The prospect is dark enough anyway, but, as before, it seems to me that everything really depends upon the Zemindars. If we hold the courthouse it is possible the Sepoys may be beaten off in their first attack, and in their impatience to join the mutineers, who are all apparently marching for Delhi, they may go off without throwing away their lives by attacking us, for they must see they will not be able to take the place without cannon. But if the Zemindars join them with cannon, we may defend ourselves till the last, but there can be but one end to it."
The Doctor nodded. "That is the situation exactly, Bathurst."
"I am glad we know the danger, and shall be able to face it openly," Wilson said. "For the last month Richards and I have been keeping watch alternately, and it has been beastly funky work sitting with one's pistols on the table before one, listening, and knowing any moment there might be a yell, and these brown devils come pouring in. Now, at least, we are likely to have a fight for it, and to know that some of them will go down before we do."
Richards cordially agreed with his companion.
"Well, now, what are the orders, Bathurst?" said the Doctor.
"There are no orders as yet, Doctor. The Major says you will go round to the others, Doolan, Rintoul, and Forster, and tell them. I am to go round to Hunter and the other civilians. Then, this evening we are to meet at nine o'clock, as usual, at the Major's. If the others decide that the only plan is for all to stop here and fight it out, there will be no occasion for anything like a council; it will only have to be arranged at what time we all move into the fort, and the best means for keeping the news from spreading to the Sepoys. Not that it will make much difference after they have once fairly turned in. If there is one thing a Hindoo hates more than another, it is getting from under his blankets when he has once got himself warm at night. Even if they heard at one or two o'clock in the morning that we were moving into the fort I don't think they would turn out till morning."
"No, I am sure they would not," the Doctor agreed.
"If there were a few more of us," Richards said, "I should vote for our beginning it. If we were to fall suddenly upon them we might kill a lot and scare the rest off."
"We are too few for that," the Doctor said. "Besides, although Bathurst answers for the good faith of the sender of the warning, there has as yet been no act of mutiny that would justify our taking such a step as that. It would come to the same thing. We might kill a good many, but in the long run three hundred men would be more than a match for a dozen, and then the women would be at their mercy. Well, we had better be moving, or we shall not have time to go round to the bungalows before the people set out for the Major's."
It was a painful mission that Bathurst had to perform, for he had to tell those he called upon that almost certain death was at hand, but the news was everywhere received calmly. The strain had of late been so great, that the news that the crisis was at hand was almost welcome. He did not stay long anywhere, but, after setting the alternative before them, left husband and wife to discuss whether to try to make down to Allahabad or to take refuge in the fort.
Soon after nine o'clock all were at Major Hannay's. There were pale faces among them, but no stranger would have supposed that the whole party had just received news which was virtually a death warrant. The ladies talked together as usual, while the men moved in and out of the room, sometimes talking with the Major, sometimes sitting down for a few minutes in the veranda outside, or talking there in low tones together.
The Major moved about among them, and soon learned that all had resolved to stay and meet together whatever came, preferring that to the hardships and unknown dangers of flight.
"I am glad you have all decided so," he said quietly. "In the state the country is, the chances of getting to Allahabad are next to nothing. Here we may hold out till Lawrence restores order at Lucknow, and then he may be able to send a party to bring us in. Or the mutineers may draw off and march to Delhi. I certainly think the chances are best here; besides, every rifle we have is of importance, and though if any of you had made up your minds to try and escape I should have made no objection, I am glad that we shall all stand together here."
The arrangements were then briefly made for the removal to the courthouse. All were to go back and apparently to retire to bed as usual. At twelve o'clock the men, armed, were to call up their servants, load them up with such things as were most required, and proceed with them, the women, and children, at once to the courthouse. Half the men were to remain there on guard, while the others would continue with the servants to make journeys backwards and forwards to the bungalows, bringing in as much as could be carried, the guard to be changed every hour. In the morning the servants were all to have the choice given them of remaining with their masters or leaving.
Captain Forster was the only dissentient. He was in favor of the whole party mounting, placing the women and children in carriages, and making off in a body, fighting their way if necessary down to Allahabad. He admitted that, in addition to the hundred troopers of his own squadron, they might be cut off by the mutinous cavalry from Cawnpore, fall in with bodies of rebels or be attacked by villagers, but he maintained that there was at least some chance of cutting their way through, while, once shut up in the courthouse, escape would be well nigh impossible.
"But you all along agreed to our holding the courthouse, Forster," the Major said.
"Yes; but then I reckoned upon Cawnpore holding out with the assistance of Nana Sahib, and upon the country remaining quiet. Now the whole thing is changed. I am quite ready to fight in the open, and to take my chance of being killed there, but I protest against being shut up like a rat in a hole."
To the rest, however, the proposal appeared desperate. There would be no withstanding a single charge of the well trained troopers, especially as it would be necessary to guard the vehicles. Had it not been for that, the small body of men might possibly have cut their way through the cavalry; but even then they would be so hotly pursued that the most of them would assuredly be hunted down. But encumbered by the women such an enterprise seemed utterly hopeless, and the whole of the others were unanimously against it.
The party broke up very early. The strain of maintaining their ordinary demeanor was too great to be long endured, and the ladies with children were anxious to return as soon as possible to them, lest at the last moment the Sepoys should have made some change in their arrangements. By ten o'clock the whole party had left.
The two subalterns had no preparations to make; they had already sent most of their things into the hospital; and, lighting their pipes, they sat down and talked quietly till midnight; then, placing their pistols in their belts and wrapping themselves in their cloaks, they went into the Doctor's tent, which was next to theirs.
The Doctor at once roused his servant, who was sleeping in a shelter tent pitched by the side of his. The man came in looking surprised at being called. "Roshun," the Doctor said, "you have been with me ten years, and I believe you to be faithful."
"I would lay down my life for the sahib," the man said quietly.
"You have heard nothing of any trouble with the Sepoys?"
"No, sahib; they know that Roshun is faithful to his master."
"We have news that they are going to rise in the morning and kill all Europeans, so we are going to move at once into the hospital."
"Good, sahib; what will you take with you?"
"My books and papers have all gone in," the Doctor said; "that portmanteau may as well go. I will carry these two rifles myself; the ammunition is all there except that bag in the corner, which I will sling round my shoulder."
"What are in those two cases, Doctor?" Wilson asked.
"We may as well each carry one of those, Doctor, if your boy takes the portmanteau. It would be a pity to leave good liquor to be wasted by those brutes."
"I agree with you, Wilson; besides, the less liquor they get hold of the better for us. Now, if you are all ready, we will start; but we must move quietly, or the sentry at the quarter guard may hear us."
Ten minutes later they reached the hospital, being the last of the party to arrive there.
"Now, Major," the Doctor said cheerily, as soon as he entered, "as this place is supposed to be under my special charge I will take command for the present. Wilson and Richards will act as my lieutenants. We have nothing to do outside, and can devote ourselves to getting things a little straight here. The first thing to do is to light lamps in all the lower rooms; then we can see what we are doing, and the ladies will be able to give us their help, while the men go out with the servants to bring things in; and remember the first thing to do is to bring in the horses. They may be useful to us. There is a good store of forage piled in the corner of the yard, but the syces had best bring in as much more as they can carry. Now, ladies, if you will all bring your bundles inside the house we will set about arranging things, and at any rate get the children into bed as quickly as possible."
As it had been already settled as to the rooms to be occupied, the ladies and their ayahs set to work at once, glad to have something to employ them. One of the rooms which had been fitted up with beds had been devoted to the purposes of a nursery, and the children, most of whom were still asleep, were soon settled there. Two other rooms had been fitted up for the use of the ladies, while the men were occupying two others, the courtroom being turned into a general meeting and dining room.
At first there was not much to do; but as the servants, closely watched by their masters, went backwards and forwards bringing in goods of all kinds, there was plenty of employment in carrying them down to a large underground room, where they were left to be sorted later on.
The Doctor had appointed Isobel Hannay and the two Miss Hunters to the work of lighting a fire and getting boiling water ready, and a plentiful supply of coffee was presently made, Wilson and Richards drawing the water, carrying the heavier loads downstairs, and making themselves generally useful.
Captain Forster had not come in. He had undertaken to remain in his tent in the lines, where he had quietly saddled and unpicketed his horse, tying it up to the tent ropes so that he could mount in an instant. He still believed that his own men would stand firm, and declared he would at their head charge the mutinous infantry, while if they joined the mutineers he would ride into the fort. It was also arranged that he should bring in word should the Sepoys obtain news of what was going on and rise before morning.
All felt better and more cheerful after having taken some coffee.
"It is difficult to believe, Miss Hannay," Richards said, "that this is all real, and not a sort of picnic, or an early start on a hunting expedition."
"It is indeed, Mr. Richards. I can hardly believe even now that it is all true, and have pinched myself two or three times to make sure that I am awake."
"If the villains venture to attack us," Wilson said, "I feel sure we shall beat them off handsomely."
"I have no doubt we shall, Mr. Wilson, especially as it will be in daylight. You know you and Mr. Richards are not famous for night shooting."
The young men both laughed.
"We shall never hear the last of that tiger story, Miss Hannay. I can tell you it is no joke shooting when you have been sitting cramped up on a tree for about six hours. We are really both pretty good shots. Of course, I don't mean like the Doctor; but we always make good scores with the targets. Come, Richards, here is another lot of things; if they go on at this rate the Sepoys won't find much to loot in the bungalows tomorrow."
Just as daylight was breaking the servants were all called together, and given the choice of staying or leaving. Only some eight or ten, all of whom belonged to the neighborhood, chose to go off to their villages. The rest declared they would stay with their masters.
Two of the party by turns had been on watch all night on the terrace to listen for any sound of tumult in the lines, but all had gone on quietly. Bathurst had been working with the others all night, and after seeing that all his papers were carried to the courthouse, he had troubled but little about his own belongings, but had assisted the others in bringing in their goods.
At daylight the Major and his officers mounted and rode quietly down towards the parade ground. Bathurst and Mr. Hunter, with several of the servants, took their places at the gates, in readiness to open and close them quickly, while the Doctor and the other Europeans went up to the roof, where they placed in readiness six muskets for each man, from the store in the courthouse. Isobel Hannay and the wives of the two Captains were too anxious to remain below, and went up to the roof also. The Doctor took his place by them, examining the lines with a field glass.
The officers halted when they reached the parade ground, and sat on their horses in a group, waiting for the men to turn out as usual.
"There goes the assembly," the Doctor said, as the notes of the bugle came to their ears. "The men are turning out of their tents. There, I can make out Forster; he has just mounted; a plucky fellow that."
Instead of straggling out onto the parade ground as usual, the Sepoys seemed to hang about their tents. The cavalry mounted and formed up in their lines. Suddenly a gun was fired, and as if at the signal the whole of the infantry rushed forward towards the officers, yelling and firing, and the latter at once turned their horses and rode towards the courthouse.
"Don't be alarmed, my dear," the Doctor said to Isobel; "I don't suppose anyone is hit. The Sepoys are not good shots at the best of times, and firing running they would not be able to hit a haystack at a hundred yards. The cavalry stand firm, you see," he said, turning his glass in that direction. "Forster is haranguing them. There, three of the native officers are riding up to him. Ah! one has fired at him! Missed! Ah! that is a better shot," as the man fell from his horse, from a shot from his Captain's pistol.
The other two rushed at him. One he cut down, and the other shot. Then he could be seen again, shouting and waving his sword to the men, but their yells could be heard as they rode forward at him.
"Ride, man, ride!" the Doctor shouted, although his voice could not have been heard at a quarter of the distance.
But instead of turning Forster rode right at them. There was a confused melee for a moment, and then his figure appeared beyond the line, through which he had broken. With yells of fury the troopers reined in their horses and tried to turn them, but before they could do so the officer was upon them again. His revolver cracked in his left hand, and his sword flashed in his right. Two or three horses and men were seen to roll over, and in a moment he was through them again and riding at full speed for the courthouse, under a scattered fire from the infantry, while the horsemen, now in a confused mass, galloped behind him.
"Now then," the Doctor shouted, picking up his rifle; "let them know we are within range, but mind you don't hit Forster. Fire two or three shots, and then run down to the gate. He is well mounted, and has a good fifty yards' start of them."
Then taking deliberate aim he fired. The others followed his example. Three of the troopers dropped from their horses. Four times those on the terrace fired, and then ran down, each, at the Doctor's order, taking two guns with him. One of these was placed in the hands of each of the officers who had just ridden in, and they then gathered round the gate. In two minutes Forster rode in at full speed, then fifteen muskets flashed out, and several of the pursuers fell from their horses. A minute later the gate was closed and barred, and the men all ran up to the roof, from which three muskets were fired simultaneously.
"Well done!" the Doctor exclaimed. "That is a good beginning."
A minute later a brisk fire was opened from the terrace upon the cavalry, who at once turned and rode rapidly back to their lines.
Captain Forster had not come scathless through the fray; his cheek had been laid open by a sabre cut, and a musket ball had gone through the fleshy part of his arm as he rode back.
"This comes of fighting when there is no occasion," the Doctor growled, when he dressed his wounds. "Here you are charging a host like a paladin of old, forgetful that we want every man who can lift an arm in defense of this place."
"I think, Doctor, there is someone else wants your services more than I do."
"Yes; is anyone else hit?"
"No, I don't know that anyone else is hit, Doctor; but as I turned to come into the house after the gates were shut, there was that fellow Bathurst leaning against the wall as white as a sheet, and shaking all over like a leaf. I should say a strong dose of Dutch courage would be the best medicine there."
"You do not do justice to Bathurst, Captain Forster," the Doctor said gravely. "He is a man I esteem most highly. In some respects he is the bravest man I know, but he is constitutionally unable to stand noise, and the sound of a gun is torture to him. It is an unfortunate idiosyncrasy for which he is in no way accountable."
"Exceedingly unfortunate, I should say," Forster said, with a dry laugh; "especially at times like this. It is rather unlucky for him that fighting is generally accompanied by noise. If I had such an idiosyncrasy, as you call it, I would blow out my brains."
"Perhaps Bathurst would do so, too, Captain Forster, if he had not more brains to blow out than some people have."
"That is sharp, Doctor," Forster laughed good temperedly. "I don't mind a fair hit."
"Well, I must go," the Doctor said, somewhat mollified; "there is plenty to do, and I expect, after these fellows have held a council of war, they will be trying an attack."
When the Doctor went out he found the whole of the garrison busy. The Major had placed four men on the roof, and had ordered everyone else to fill the bags that had been prepared for the purpose with earth from the garden. It was only an order to the men and male servants, but the ladies had all gone out to render their assistance. As fast as the natives filled the bags with earth the ladies sewed up the mouths of the bags, and the men carried them away and piled them against the gate.
The garrison consisted of the six military officers, the Doctor, seven civilians, ten ladies, eight children, thirty-eight male servants, and six females. The work, therefore, went on rapidly, and in the course of two hours so large a pile of bags was built up against the gate that there was no probability whatever of its being forced.
"Now," the Major said, "we want four dozen bags at least for the parapet of the terrace. We need not raise it all, but we must build up a breastwork two bags high at each of the angles."
There was only just time to accomplish this when one of the watch on the roof reported that the Sepoys were firing the bungalows. As soon as they saw that the Europeans had gained the shelter of the courthouse the Sepoys, with yells of triumph, had made for the houses of the Europeans, and their disappointment at finding that not only had all the whites taken refuge in the courthouse, but that they had removed most of their property, vented itself in setting fire to the buildings, after stripping them of everything, and then amused themselves by keeping up a straggling fire against the courthouse.
As soon as the bags were taken onto the roof, the defenders, keeping as much as possible under the shelter of the parapet, carried them to the corners of the terrace and piled them two deep, thus forming a breastwork four feet high. Eight of the best shots were then chosen, and two of them took post at each corner.
"Now," the Doctor said cheerfully, as he sat behind a small loophole that had been left between the bags, "it is our turn, and I don't fancy we shall waste as much lead as they have been doing."
The fire from the defenders was slow, but it was deadly, and in a very short time the Sepoys no longer dared to show themselves in the open, but took refuge behind trees, whence they endeavored to reply to the fire on the roof; but even this proved so dangerous that it was not long before the fire ceased altogether, and they drew off under cover of the smoke from the burning bungalows.
Isobel Hannay had met Bathurst as he was carrying a sack of earth to the roof.
"I have been wanting to speak to you, Mr. Bathurst, ever since yesterday evening, but you have never given me an opportunity. Will you step into the storeroom for a few minutes as you come down?"
As he came down he went to the door of the room in which Isobel was standing awaiting him.
"I am not coming in, Miss Hannay; I believe I know what you are going to say. I saw it in your face last night when I had to tell that tiger story. You want to say that you are sorry you said that you despised cowards. Do not say it; you were perfectly right; you cannot despise me one tenth as much as I despise myself. While you were looking at the mutineers from the roof I was leaning against the wall below well nigh fainting. What do you think my feelings must be that here, where every man is brave, where there are women and children to be defended, I alone cannot bear my part. Look at my face; I know there is not a vestige of color in it. Look at my hands; they are not steady yet. It is useless for you to speak; you may pity me, but you cannot but despise me. Believe me, that death when it comes will be to me a happy release indeed from the shame and misery I feel."
Then, turning, he left the girl without another word, and went about his work. The Doctor had, just before going up to take his place on the roof, come across him.
"Come in here, my dear Bathurst," he said, seizing his arm and dragging him into the room which had been given up to him for his drugs and surgical appliances.
"Let me give you a strong dose of ammonia and ginger; you want a pickup I can see by your face."
"I want it, Doctor, but I will not take it," Bathurst said. "That is one thing I have made up my mind to. I will take no spirits to create a courage that I do not possess."
"It is not courage; it has nothing to do with courage," the Doctor said angrily. "It is a simple question of nerves, as I have told you over and over again."
"Call it what you like, Doctor, the result is precisely the same. I do not mind taking a strong dose of quinine if you will give it me, for I feel as weak as a child, but no spirits."
With an impatient shrug of the shoulders the Doctor mixed a strong dose of quinine and gave it to him.
An hour later a sudden outburst of musketry took place. Not a native showed himself on the side of the house facing the maidan, but from the gardens on the other three sides a heavy fire was opened.
"Every man to the roof," the Major said; "four men to each of the rear corners, three to the others. Do you think you are fit to fire, Forster? Had you not better keep quiet for today; you will have opportunities enough."
"I am all right, Major," he said carelessly. "I can put my rifle through a loophole and fire, though I have one arm in a sling. By Jove!" he broke off suddenly; "look at that fellow Bathurst--he looks like a ghost."
The roll of musketry was unabated, and the defenders were already beginning to answer it; the bullets sung thickly overhead, and above the din could be heard the shouts of the natives. Bathurst's face was rigid and ghastly pale. The Major hurried to him.
"My dear Bathurst," he said, "I think you had better go below. You will find plenty of work to do there."
"My work is here," Bathurst said, as if speaking to himself: "it must be done."
The Major could not at the moment pay further attention to him, for a roar of fire broke out round the inclosure, as from the ruined bungalows and from every bush the Sepoys, who had crept up, now commenced the attack in earnest, while the defenders lying behind their parapet replied slowly and steadily, aiming at the puffs of smoke as they darted out. His attention was suddenly called by a shout from the Doctor.
"Are you mad, Bathurst? Lie down, man; you a throwing away your life."
Turning round, the Major saw Bathurst standing up--right by the parapet, facing the point where the enemy fire was hottest. He held a rifle in his hand but did not attempt to fire; his figure swayed slightly to and fro.
"Lie down," the Major shouted, "lie down, sir;" and then as Bathurst still stood unmoved he was about to run forward, when the Doctor from one side and Captain Forster from the other rushed towards him through a storm of bullets, seized him in their arms, and dragged him back to the center of the terrace.
"Nobly done, gentlemen," the Major said, as they laid Bathurst down; "it was almost miraculous your not being hit."
Bathurst had struggled fiercely for a moment, and then his resistance had suddenly ceased, and he had been dragged back like a wooden figure. His eyes were closed now.
"Has he been hit, Doctor?" the Major asked. "It seems impossible he can have escaped. What madness possessed him to put himself there as a target?"
"No, I don't think he is hit," the Doctor said, as he examined him. "I think he has fainted. We had better carry him down to my room. Shake hands, Forster; I know you and Bathurst were not good friends, and you risked your life to save him."
"I did not think who it was," Forster said, with a careless laugh. "I saw a man behaving like a madman, and naturally went to pull him down. However, I shall think better of him in future, though I doubt whether he was in his right senses."
"He wanted to be killed," the Doctor said quietly; "and the effort that he made to place himself in the way of death must have been greater than either you or I can well understand, Forster. I know the circumstances of the case. Morally I believe there is no braver man living than he is; physically he has the constitution of a timid woman; it is mind against body."
"The distinction is too fine for me, Doctor," Forster said, as he turned to go off to his post by the parapet. "I understand pluck and I understand cowardice, but this mysterious mixture you speak of is beyond me altogether."
The Major and Dr. Wade lifted Bathurst and carried him below. Mrs. Hunter, who had been appointed chief nurse, met them.
"Is he badly wounded, Doctor?"
"No; he is not wounded at all, Mrs. Hunter. He stood up at the edge of the parapet and exposed himself so rashly to the Sepoys' fire that we had to drag him away, and then the reaction, acting on a nervous temperament, was too much for him, and he fainted. We shall soon bring him round. You can come in with me, but keep the others away."
The Major at once returned to the terrace.
In spite of the restoratives the Doctor poured through his lips, and cold water dashed in his face, Bathurst was some time before he opened his eyes. Seeing Mrs. Hunter and the Doctor beside him, he made an effort to rise.
"You must lie still, Bathurst," the Doctor said, pressing his hand on his shoulder. "You have done a very foolish thing, a very wrong thing. You have tried to throw away your life."
"No, I did not. I had no thought of throwing away my life," Bathurst said, after a pause. "I was trying to make myself stand fire. I did not think whether I should be hit or not. I am not afraid of bullets, Doctor; it's the horrible, fiendish noise that I cannot stand."
"I know, my boy," the Doctor said kindly; "but it comes to the same thing. You did put yourself in the way of bullets when your doing so was of no possible advantage, and it is almost a miracle that you escaped unhurt. You must remain here quiet for the present. I shall leave you in charge of Mrs. Hunter. There is nothing for you to do on the roof at present. This attack is a mere outbreak of rage on the part of the Sepoys that we have all escaped them. They know well enough they can't take this house by merely firing away at the roof. When they attack in earnest it will be quite time for you to take part in the affair again. Now, Mrs. Hunter, my orders are absolute that he is not to be allowed to get up."
On the Doctor leaving the room he found several of the ladies outside; the news that Mr. Bathurst had been carried down had spread among them.
"Is he badly hurt, Doctor?"
"No, ladies. Mr. Bathurst is, unfortunately for himself, an extremely nervous man, and the noise of firearms has an effect upon him that he cannot by any effort of his own overcome. In order, as he says, to try and accustom himself to it, he went and stood at the edge of the parapet in full sight of the Sepoys, and let them blaze away at him. He must have been killed if Forster and I had not dragged him away by main force. Then came the natural reaction, and he fainted. That is all there is about it. Poor fellow, he is extremely sensitive on the ground of personal courage. In other respects I have known him do things requiring an amount of pluck that not one man in a hundred possesses, and I wish you all to remember that his nervousness at the effect of the noise of firearms is a purely constitutional weakness, for which he is in no way to be blamed. He has just risked his life in the most reckless manner in order to overcome what he considers, and what he knows that some persons consider, is cowardice, and it would be as cruel, and I may say as contemptible, to despise him for a constitutional failing as it would be to despise a person for being born a humpback or a cripple. But I cannot stand talking any longer. I shall be of more use on the roof than I am here."
Isobel Hannay was not among those who had gathered near the door of the room in which Bathurst was lying, but the Doctor had raised his voice, and she heard what he said, and bent over her work of sewing strips of linen together for bandages with a paler face than had been caused by the outbreak of musketry. Gradually the firing ceased. The Sepoys had suffered heavily from the steady fire of the invisible defenders and gradually drew off, and in an hour from the commencement of the attack all was silent round the building.
"So far so good, ladies," the Major said cheerily, as the garrison, leaving one man on watch, descended from the roof. "We have had no casualties, and I think we must have inflicted a good many, and the mutineers are not likely to try that game on again, for they must see that they are wasting ammunition, and are doing us no harm. Now I hope the servants have got tiffin ready for us, for I am sure we have all excellent appetites."
"Tiffin is quite ready, Major," Mrs. Doolan, who had been appointed chief of the commissariat department, said cheerfully. "The servants were a little disorganized when the firing began, but they soon became accustomed to it, and I think you will find everything in order in the hall."
The meal was really a cheerful one. The fact that the first attack had passed over without anyone being hit raised the spirits of the women, and all were disposed to look at matters in a cheerful light. The two young subalterns were in high spirits, and the party were more lively than they had been since the first outbreak of the mutiny. All had felt severely the strain of waiting, and the reality of danger was a positive relief after the continuous suspense. It was much to them to know that the crisis had come at last, that they were still all together and the foe were without.
"It is difficult to believe," Mrs. Doolan said, "that it was only yesterday evening we were all gathered at the Major's. It seems an age since then."
"Yes, indeed," Mrs. Rintoul agreed; "the night seemed endless. The worst time was the waiting till we were to begin to move over. After that I did not so much mind, though it seemed more like a week than a night while the things were being brought in here."
"I think the worse time was while we were waiting watching from the roof to see whether the troops would come out on parade as usual," Isobel said. "When my uncle and the others were all in, and Captain Forster, and the gates were shut, it seemed that our anxieties were over."
"That was a mad charge of yours, Forster," the Major said. "It was like the Balaclava business--magnificent; but it wasn't war."
"I did not think of it one way or the other," Captain Forster laughed. "I was so furious at the insolence off those dogs attacking me, that I thought of nothing else, and just went at them; but of course it was foolish."
"It did good," the Doctor said. "It showed the Sepoys how little we thought of them, and how a single white officer was ready to match himself against a squadron. It will render them a good deal more careful in their attack than they otherwise would have been. It brought them under our fire, too, and they suffered pretty heavily; and I am sure the infantry must have lost a good many men from our fire just now. I hope they will come to the conclusion that the wisest thing they can do is to march away to Delhi and leave us severely alone. Now what are your orders, Major, for after breakfast?"
"I think the best thing is for everyone to lie down for a few hours," the Major said. "No one had a wink of sleep last night, and most of us have not slept much for some nights past. We must always keep two men on the roof, to be relieved every two hours. I will draw up a regular rota for duty; but except those two, the rest had better take a good sleep. We may be all called upon to be under arms at night."
"I will go on the first relief, Major," the Doctor said. "I feel particularly wide awake. It is nothing new to me to be up all night. Put Bathurst down with me," he said, in a low tone, as the Major rose from the table. "He knows that I understand him, and it will be less painful for him to be with me than with anyone else. I will go up at once, and send young Harper down to his breakfast. There will be no occasion to have Bathurst up this time. The Sepoys are not likely to be trying any pranks at present. No doubt they have gone back to their lines to get a meal."
The Doctor had not been long at his post when Isobel Hannay came up onto the terrace. They had seen each other alone comparatively little of late, as the Doctor had given up his habit of dropping in for a chat in the morning since their conversation about Bathurst.
"Well, my dear, what is it?" he asked. "This is no place for you, for there are a few fellows still lurking among the trees, and they send a shot over the house occasionally."
"I came up to say that I am sorry, Doctor."
"That is right, Isobel. Always say you are sorry when you are so, although in nine cases out of ten, and this is one of them, the saying so is too late to do much good."
"I think you are rather hard upon me, Doctor. I know you were speaking at me today when you were talking to the others, especially in what you said at the end."
"Perhaps I was; but I think you quite deserved it."
"Yes, I know I did; but it was hard to tell me it was as contemptible to despise a man for a physical weakness he could not help, as to despise one for being born humpbacked or a cripple, when you know that my brother was so."
"I wanted you to feel that your conduct had been contemptible, Isobel, and I put it in the way that was most likely to come home to you. I have been disappointed in you. I thought you were more sensible than the run of young women, and I found out that you were not. I thought you had some confidence in my judgment, but it turned out that you had not. If Bathurst had been killed when he was standing up, a target for the Sepoys, I should have held you morally responsible for his death."
"You would have shared the responsibility, anyhow, Doctor, for it was you who repeated my words to him."
"We will not go over that ground again," said the Doctor quietly. "I gave you my reasons for doing so, and those reasons are to my mind convincing. Now I will tell you how this constitutional nervousness on his part arose. He told me the story; but as at that time there had been no occasion for him to show whether he was brave or otherwise, I considered my lips sealed. Now that his weakness has been exhibited, I consider myself more than justified in explaining its origin."
And he then repeated the story Bathurst had told him.
"You see," he said, when he had finished, "it is a constitutional matter beyond his control; it is a sort of antipathy. I have known a case of a woman courageous in all other respects, who, at the sight of even a dead cockroach, would faint away. I have seen one of the most gallant officers of my acquaintance turn pale at the sight of a spider. Certainly no one would think of calling either one or the other coward; and assuredly such a name should not be applied to a man who would face a tiger armed only with a whip in defense of a native woman, because his nerves go all to pieces at the sound of firearms."
"If you had told me all this before I should never have spoken as I did," Isobel pleaded.
"I did not go into the full details, but I told you that he was not responsible for his want of firmness under fire, and that I knew him in other respects to be a brave man," the Doctor said uncompromisingly. "Since then you have by your manner driven him away from you. You have flirted--well, you may not call it flirting," he broke off in answer to a gesture of denial, "but it was the same thing--with a man who is undoubtedly a gallant soldier--a very paladin, if you like--but who, in spite of his handsome face and pleasant manner, is no more to be compared with Bathurst in point of moral qualities or mental ability than light to dark, and this after I had like an old fool gone out of my way to warn you. You have disappointed me altogether, Isobel Hannay."
Isobel stood motionless before him, with downcast eyes.
"Well, there, my dear," the Doctor went on hurriedly, as he saw a tear glisten in her eyelashes; "don't let us say anything more about it. In the first place, it is no affair of mine; and in the second place, your point of view was that most women would take at a time like this; only, you know, I expected you would not have done just as other women would. We cannot afford to quarrel now, for there is no doubt that, although we may put a good face on the matter, our position is one of grave peril, and it is of no use troubling over trifles. Now run away, and get a few hours' sleep if you can. You will want all your strength before we are through with this business."
While the Doctor had been talking to Isobel, the men had gathered below in a sort of informal council, the subject being Bathurst's conduct on the roof.
"I would not have believed it if I had not seen it," Captain Rintoul said. "The man was absolutely helpless with fright; I never saw such an exhibition; and then his fainting afterwards and having to be carried away was disgusting; in fact, it is worse than that."
There was a general murmur of assent.
"It is disgraceful," one of the civilians said; "I am ashamed that the man should belong to our service; the idea of a fellow being helpless by fright when there are women and children to be defended --it is downright revolting."
"Well, he did go and stick himself up in front," Wilson said; "you should remember that. He may have been in a blue funk, I don't say he wasn't; still, you know, he didn't go away and try to hide himself, but he stuck himself up in front for them to fire at. I think we ought to take that into consideration."
"Dr. Wade says Bathurst put himself there to try and accustom himself to fire," Captain Forster said. "Mind, I don't pretend to like the man. We were at school together, and he was a coward then and a sneak, but for all that one should look at it fairly. The Doctor asserts that Bathurst is morally brave, but that somehow or other his nerves are too much for him. I don't pretend to understand it myself, but there is no doubt about the Doctor's pluck, and I don't think he would stand up for Bathurst as he does unless he really thought he was not altogether accountable for showing the white feather. I think, too, from what he let drop, that the Major is to some extent of the same opinion. What do you think, Doolan?"
"I like Bathurst," Captain Doolan said; "I have always thought him a first rate fellow; but one can't stick up, you know, for a fellow who can't behave as a gentleman ought to, especially when there are women and children in danger."
"It. is quite impossible that we should associate with him," Captain Rintoul said. "I don't propose that we should tell him what we think of him, but I think we ought to leave him severely alone."
"I should say that he ought to be sent to Coventry," Richards said.
"I should not put it in that way," Mr. Hunter said gravely. "I have always esteemed Bathurst. I look upon it as a terribly sad case; but I agree with Captain Rintoul that, in the position in which we are now placed, a man who proves himself to be a coward must be made to feel that he stands apart from us. I should not call it sending him to Coventry, or anything of that sort, but I do think that we should express by our manner that we don't wish to have any communication with him."
There was a general expression of assent to this opinion, Wilson alone protesting against it.
"You can do as you like," he said; "but certainly I shall speak to Bathurst, and I am sure the Doctor and Major Hannay will do so. I don't want to stand up for a coward, but I believe what the Doctor says. I have seen a good deal of Bathurst, and I like him; besides, haven't you heard the story the Doctor has been telling about his attacking a tiger with a whip to save a native woman? I don't care what anyone says, a fellow who is a downright coward couldn't do a thing like that."
"Who told the Doctor about it?" Farquharson asked. "If he got it from Bathurst, I don't think it goes for much after what we have seen."
Wilson would have replied angrily, but Captain Doolan put his hand on his shoulder.
"Shut up, Wilson," he said; "this is no time for disputes; we are all in one boat here, and must row together like brothers. You go your own way about Bathurst, I don't blame you for it; he is a man everyone has liked, a first rate official, and a good fellow all round, except he is not one of the sociable kind. At any other time one would not think so much of this, but at present for a man to lack courage is for him to lack everything. I hope he will come better out of it than it looks at present. He will have plenty of chances here, and no one will be more glad than I shall to see him pull himself together."
The Doctor, however, would have quarreled with everyone all round when he heard what had been decided upon, had not Major Hannay taken him aside and talked to him strongly.
"It will never do, Doctor, to have quarrels here, and as commandant I must beg of you not to make this a personal matter. I am very sorry for this poor fellow; I accept entirely your view of the matter; but at the same time I really can't blame the others for looking at it from a matter of fact point of view. Want of courage is at all times regarded by men as the most unpardonable of failings, and at a time like the present this feeling is naturally far stronger even than usual. I hope with you that Bathurst will retrieve himself yet, but we shall certainly do him no good by trying to fight his battle until he does. You and I, thinking as we do, will of course make no alteration in our manner towards him. I am glad to hear that young Wilson also stands as his friend. Let matters go on quietly. I believe they will come right in the end."
The Doctor was obliged to acknowledge that the Major's counsel was wise, and to refrain from either argument or sarcasm; but the effort required to check his natural tendency to wordy conflict was almost too great for him, and when not engaged in his own special duties he spent hours in one of the angles of the terrace keenly watching every tree and bush within range, and firing vengefully whenever he caught sight of a lurking native. So accurate was his aim that the Sepoys soon learned to know and dread the crack of his rifle; and whenever it spoke out the ground within its range was speedily clear of foes.
The matter, however, caused a deep if temporary estrangement between Wilson and Richards. Although constantly chaffing each other, and engaged in verbal strife, they had hitherto been firm friends. Their rivalry in the matter of horseflesh had not aroused angry feelings, even their mutual adoration of Isobel Hannay had not affected a breach in their friendship; but upon the subject of sending Bathurst to Coventry they quarreled so hotly, that for a time they broke off all communication with each other, and both in their hearts regretted that their schoolboy days had passed, and that they could not settle the matter in good schoolboy fashion.