Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
The men on descending from the roof found all the ladies engaged in writing, the Major having told them that there was a chance of their letters being taken out. Scarce one looked up as they entered; their thoughts at the moment were at home with those to whom they were writing what might well be their last farewells. Stifled sobs were heard in the quiet room; mournful letters were blurred with tears even from eyes that had not before been dimmed since the siege began.
Isobel Hannay was the first to finish, for her letter to her mother was but a short one. As she closed it she looked up. Captain Forster was standing at the other side of the table with his eyes fixed on her, and he made a slight gesture to her that he wished to speak to her. She hesitated a moment, and then rose and quietly left the room. A moment later he joined her outside.
"Come outside," he said, "I must speak to you;" and together they went out through the passage into the courtyard.
"Isobel," he began, "I need not tell you that I love you; till lately I have not known how much, but I feel now that I could not live without you."
"Why are you going away then, Captain Forster?" she asked quietly.
"I don't want to go alone," he said; "I cannot go alone--I want you to go with me. Your uncle would surely consent; it is the only chance of saving your life. We all know that it is next to hopeless that a force sufficient to rescue us can be sent; there is just a chance, but that is all that can be said. We could be married at Allahabad. I would make for that town instead of Lucknow if you will go with me, and I could leave you there in safety till these troubles are over; I am going to take another horse as well as my own, and two would be as likely to escape as one."
"Thank you for the offer, Captain Forster," she said coldly, "but I decline it. My place is here with my uncle and the others."
"Why is it?" he asked passionately. "If you love me, your place is surely with me; and you do love me, Isobel, do you not? Surely I have not been mistaken."
Isobel was silent for a moment.
"You were mistaken, Captain Forster," she said, after a pause. "You paid me attentions such as I had heard you paid to many others, and it was pleasant. That you were serious I did not think. I believed you were simply flirting with me; that you meant no more by it than you had meant before; and being forewarned, and therefore having no fear that I should hurt myself more than you would, I entered into it in the same spirit. Where there was so much to be anxious about, it was a pleasure and relief. Had I met you elsewhere, and under different circumstances, I think I should have come to love you. A girl almost without experience and new to the world, as I am, could hardly have helped doing so, I think. Had I thought you were in earnest I should have acted differently; and if I have deceived you by my manner I am sorry; but even had I loved you I would not have consented to do the thing you ask me. You are going on duty. You are going in the hope of obtaining aid for us. I should be simply escaping while others stay, and I should despise myself for the action. Besides; I do not think that even in that case my uncle would have consented to my going with you."
"I am sure that he would," Forster broke in. "He would never be mad enough to refuse you the chance of escape from such a fate as may now await you."
"We need not discuss the question," she said. "Even if I loved you, I would not go with you; and I do not love you."
"They have prejudiced you against me," he said angrily.
"They warned me, and they were right in doing so. Ask yourself if they were not. Would you see a sister of yours running the risk of breaking her heart without warning her? Do not be angry," she went on, putting her hand on his arm. "We have been good friends, Captain Forster, and I like you very much. We may never meet again; it is most likely we never shall do so. I am grateful to you for the many pleasant hours you have given me. Let us part thus."
"Can you not give some hope that in the distance, when these troubles are over, should we both be spared, you may--"
"No, Captain Forster, I am sure it could never be so; if we ever meet again, we will meet as we part now--as friends. And now I can stay no longer; they will be missing me," and, turning, she entered the house before he could speak again.
It was some minutes before he followed her. He had not really thought that she would go with him; perhaps he had hardly wished it, for on such an expedition a woman would necessarily add to the difficulty and danger; but he had thought that she would have told him that his love was returned, and for perhaps the first time in his life he was serious in his protestation of it.
"What does it matter?" he said at last, as he turned; "'tis ten thousand to one against our meeting again; if we do, I can take it up where it breaks off now. She has acknowledged that she would have liked me if she had been sure that I was in earnest. Next time I shall be so. She was right. I was but amusing myself with her at first, and had no more thought of marrying her than I had of flying. But there, it is no use talking about the future; the thing now is to get out of this trap. I have felt like a rat in a cage with a terrier watching me for the last month, and long to be on horseback again, with the chance of making a fight for my life. What a fool Bathurst was to throw away the chance!"
Bathurst, his work done, had looked into the hall where the others were gathered, and hearing that the Doctor was alone on watch had gone up to him.
"I was just thinking, Bathurst," the Doctor said, as he joined him, "about that fight today. It seems to me that whatever comes of this business, you and I are not likely to be among those who go down when the place is taken."
"How is that, Doctor? Why is our chance better than the rest? I have no hope myself that any will be spared."
"I put my faith in the juggler, Bathurst. Has it not struck you that the first picture you saw has come true?"
"I have never given it a thought for weeks," Bathurst said; "certainly I have not thought of it today. Yes, now you speak of it, it has come true. How strange! I put it aside as a clever trick--one that I could not understand any more than I did the others, but, knowing myself, it seemed beyond the bounds of possibility that it could come true. Anything but that I would have believed, but, as I told you, whatever might happen in the future, I should not be found fighting desperately as I saw myself doing there. It is true that I did so, but it was only a sort of a frenzy. I did not fire a shot, as Wilson may have told you. I strove like a man in a nightmare to break the spell that seemed to render me powerless to move, but when, for a moment, the firing ceased, a weight seemed to fall off me, and I was seized with a sort of passion to kill. I have no distinct remembrance of anything until it was all over. It was still the nightmare, but one of a different kind, and I was no more myself then than I was when I was lying helpless on the sandbags. Still, as you say, the picture was complete; at least, if Miss Hannay was standing up here."
"Yes, she rose to her feet in the excitement of the fight. I believe we all did so. The picture was true in all its details as you described it to me. And that being so, I believe that other picture, the one we saw together, you and I and Isobel Hannay in native disguises, will also come true."
Bathurst was silent for two or three minutes.
"It may be so, Doctor--Heaven only knows. I trust for your sake and hers it may be so, though I care but little about myself; but that picture wasn't a final one, and we don't know what may follow it."
"That is so, Bathurst. But I think that you and I, once fairly away in disguise, might be trusted to make our way down the country. You see, we have a complete confirmation of that juggler's powers. He showed me a scene in the past--a scene which had not been in my mind for years, and was certainly not in my thoughts at the time. He showed you a scene in the future, which, unlikely as it appeared, has actually taken place. I believe he will be equally right in this other picture. You have heard that Forster is going?"
"Yes; Wilson came down and told me while I was at work. Wilson seemed rather disgusted at his volunteering. I don't know that I am surprised myself, for, as I told you, I knew him at school, and he had no moral courage, though plenty of physical. Still, under the circumstances, I should not have thought he would have gone."
"You mean because of Miss Hannay, Bathurst?"
"Yes, that is what I mean."
"That sort of thing might weigh with you or me, Bathurst, but not with him. He has loved and ridden away many times before this, but in this case, fortunately, I don't think he will leave an aching heart behind him."
"You don't mean to say, Doctor, that you don't think she cares for him?"
"I have not asked her the question," the Doctor said dryly. "I dare say she likes him; in fact, I am ready to admit that there has been what you may call a strong case of flirtation; but when a young woman is thrown with an uncommonly good looking man, who lays himself out to be agreeable to her, my experience is that a flirtation generally comes of it, especially when the young woman has no one else to make herself agreeable to, and is, moreover, a little sore with the world in general. I own that at one time I was rather inclined to think that out of sheer perverseness the girl was going to make a fool of herself with that good looking scamp, but since we have been shut up here I have felt easy in my mind about it. And now, if you will take my rifle for ten minutes, I will go down and get a cup of tea; I volunteered to take sentry work, but I didn't bargain for keeping it all night without relief. By the way, I told Forster of your offer of your horse, and I think he is going to take it."
"He is welcome to it," Bathurst said carelessly; "it will be of no use to me."
"Now, look here," the Doctor said shortly; "just put Miss Hannay out of your head for the present, and attend to the business on hand. I do not think there is much chance of their trying it on again tonight, but they may do so, so please to keep a sharp lookout while I am below."
"I will be careful, Doctor," Bathurst said, with a laugh; but the Doctor had so little faith in his watchfulness that as soon as he went below he sent up Wilson to share his guard.
At twelve o'clock the sandbags were removed sufficiently to allow a horse to pass through, and Forster's and Bathurst's animals were led out through the breach, their feet having been muffled with blankets to prevent their striking a stone and arousing the attention of the enemy's sentinels. Once fairly out the mufflings were removed and Forster sprang into his saddle.
"Goodby, Major," he said; "I hope I may be back again in eight or nine days with a squadron of cavalry."
"Goodby, Forster; I hope it may be so. May God protect you!"
The gap in the defenses was closed the instant the horses passed through, and the men stood in the breach of the wall listening as Forster rode off. He went at a walk, but before he had gone fifty paces there was a sharp challenge, followed almost instantly by a rifle shot, then came the crack of a revolver and the rapid beat of galloping hoofs. Loud shouts were heard, and musket shots fired in rapid succession.
"They are not likely to have hit him in the dark," the Major said, as he climbed back over the sandbags; "but they may hit his horses, which would be just as fatal."
Leaving two sentries--the one just outside the breach near the wall, the other on the sandbags--the rest of the party hurried up on the roof. Shots were still being fired, and there was a confused sound of shouting; then a cavalry trumpet rang out sharply, and presently three shots fired in quick succession came upon the air.
"That is the signal agreed on," the Major said: "he is safely beyond their lines. Now it is a question of riding; some of the cavalry will be in pursuit of him before many minutes are over."
Forster's adieus had been brief. He had busied himself up to the last moment in looking to the saddling of the two horses, and had only gone into the house and said goodby to the ladies just when it was time to start. He had said a few hopeful words as to the success of the mission, but it had evidently needed an effort for him to do so. He had no opportunity of speaking a word apart with Isobel, and he shook her hand silently when it came to her turn.
"I should not have given him credit for so much feeling," Mrs. Doolan whispered to Isobel, as he went out; "he was really sorry to leave us, and I didn't think he was a man to be sorry for anything that didn't affect himself. I think he had absolutely the grace to feel a little ashamed of leaving us."
"I don't think that is fair," Isobel said warmly, "when he is going away to fetch assistance for us."
"He is deserting us as rats desert a sinking ship," Mrs. Doolan said positively; "and I am only surprised that he has the grace to feel a little ashamed of the action. As for caring, there is only one person in the world he cares for--himself. I was reading 'David Copperfield' just before we came in here, and Steerforth's character might have been sketched from Forster. He is a man without either heart or conscience; a man who would sacrifice everything to his own pleasures; and yet even when one knows him to be what he is, one can hardly help liking him. I wonder how it is, my dear, that scamps are generally more pleasant than good men?"
"I never thought about it, Mrs. Doolan," Isobel said, roused to a smile by the earnestness with which Mrs. Doolan propounded the problem; "and can give no reason except that we are attracted by natures the reverse of our own."
Mrs. Doolan laughed.
"So you think we are better than men, Isobel? I don't--not one bit. We are cramped in our opportunities; but given equal opportunities I don't think there would be anything to choose between us. But we mustn't stay talking here any longer; we both go on duty in the sick ward at four o'clock."
The enemy's batteries opened on the following morning more violently than before. More guns had been placed in position during the night, and a rain of missiles was poured upon the house. For the next six days the position of the besieged became hourly worse. Several breaches had been made in the wall, and the shots now struck the house, and the inmates passed the greater part of their time in the basement.
The heat was terrible, and, as the firing was kept up night and day, sleep was almost impossible. The number of the besiegers had considerably increased, large numbers of the country people taking part in the siege, while a regiment of Sepoys from Cawnpore had taken the place of the detachment of the 103d Bengal Infantry, of whom, indeed, but few now remained.
The garrison no longer held the courtyard. Several times masses of the enemy had surged up and poured through the breaches, but a large number of hand grenades of various sizes had been constructed by the defenders, and the effects of these thrown down from the roof among the crowded masses were so terrible that the natives each time fell back. The horses had all been turned out through the breach on the day after Captain Forster's departure, in order to save their lives. A plague of flies was not the least of the defenders' troubles. After the repulse of the assaults the defenders went out at night and carried the bodies of the natives who had fallen in the courtyard beyond the wall. Nevertheless, the odor of blood attracted such countless swarms of flies that the ground was black with them, and they pervaded the house in legions.
The number of the defenders decreased daily. Six only were able now to carry arms. Mr. Hunter, Captain Rintoul, and Richards had died of fever. Farquharson had been killed by a cannon ball; two civilians had been badly wounded; several of the children had succumbed; Amy Hunter had been killed by a shell that passed through the sandbag protection of the grating that gave light to the room in the basement used as a sick ward. The other ladies were all utterly worn out with exhaustion, sleeplessness, and anxiety. Still there had been no word spoken of surrender. Had the men been alone they would have sallied out and died fighting, but this would have left the women at the mercy of the assailants.
The work at the gallery had been discontinued for some time. It had been carried upwards until a number of roots in the earth showed that they were near the surface, and, as they believed, under a clump of bushes growing a hundred and fifty yards beyond the walls; but of late there had been no talk of using this. Flight, which even at first had seemed almost hopeless, was wholly beyond them in their present weakened condition.
On the last of these six days Major Hannay was severely wounded. At night the enemy's fire relaxed a little, and the ladies took advantage of it to go up onto the terrace for air, while the men gathered for a council round the Major's bed.
"Well, Doctor, the end is pretty near," he said; "it is clear we cannot hold out many hours longer. We must look the matter in the face now. We have agreed all along that when we could no longer resist we would offer to surrender on the terms that our lives should be spared, and that we should be given safe conduct down the country, and that if those terms were refused we were to resist to the end, and then blow up the house and all in it. I think the time has come for raising the white flag."
"I think so," the Doctor said: "we have done everything men could do. I have little hope that they will grant us terms of surrender; for from the native servants who have deserted us they must have a fair idea of our condition. What do you think, Bathurst?"
"I think it probable there are divisions among them," he replied; "the Talookdars may have risen against us, but I do not think they can have the same deadly enmity the Sepoys have shown. They must be heartily sick of this prolonged siege, and they have lost large numbers of their men. I should say they would be willing enough to give terms, but probably they are overruled by the Sepoys, and perhaps by orders from Nana Sahib. I know several of them personally, and I think I could influence Por Sing, who is certainly the most powerful of the Zemindars of this neighborhood, and is probably looked upon as their natural leader; if you approve of it, Major, I will go out in disguise, and endeavor to obtain an interview with him. He is an honorable man; and if he will give his guarantee for our safety, I would trust him. At any rate, I can but try. If I do not return, you will know that I am dead, and that no terms can be obtained, and can then decide when to end it all."
"It is worth the attempt anyhow," the Major said. "I say nothing about the danger you will run, for no danger can be greater than that which hangs over us all now."
"Very well, Major, then I will do it at once, but you must not expect me back until tomorrow night. I can hardly hope to obtain an interview with Por Sing tonight."
"How will you go out, Bathurst?"
"I will go down at once and break in the roof of the gallery," he said; "we know they are close round the wall, and I could not hope to get out through any of the breaches."
"I suppose you are quite convinced that there is no hope of relief from Lucknow?"
"Quite convinced. I never had any real hope of it; but had there been a force disposable, it would have started at once if Forster arrived there with his message, and might have been here by this time."
"At any rate, we can wait no longer."
"Then we will begin at once," Bathurst said, and, taking a crowbar and pick from the place where the tools were kept, he lighted the lamp and went along the gallery, accompanied by the Doctor, who carried two light bamboo ladders.
"Do you think you will succeed, Bathurst?"
"I am pretty sure of it," he said confidently. "I believe I have a friend there."
"A friend!" the Doctor repeated in surprise.
"Yes; I am convinced that the juggler is there. Not once, but half a dozen times during the last two nights when I have been on watch on the terrace, I have distinctly heard the words whispered in my ear, 'Meet me at your bungalow.' You may think I dozed off and was dreaming, but I was as wide awake then as I am now. I cannot say that I recognized the voice, but the words were in the dialect he speaks. At any rate, as soon as I am out I shall make my way there, and shall wait there all night on the chance of his coming. After what we know of the man's strange powers, there seems nothing unreasonable to me in his being able to impress upon my mind the fact that he wants to see me."
"I quite agree with you there, and his aid might be invaluable. You are not the sort of man to have delusions, Bathurst, and I quite believe what you say. I feel more hopeful now than I have done for some time."
An hour's hard work, and a hole was made through the soil, which was but three feet thick. Bathurst climbed up the ladder and looked out.
"It is as we thought, Doctor; we are in the middle of that thicket. Now I will go and dress if you will keep guard here with your rifle."
At the end of the gallery a figure was standing; it was Isobel Hannay.
"I have heard you are going out again, Mr. Bathurst."
"Yes, I am going to see what I can do in the way of making terms for us."
"You may not come back again," she said nervously.
"That is, of course, possible, Miss Hannay, but I do not think the risk is greater than that run by those who stay here."
"I want to speak to you before you go," she said; "I have wanted to speak so long, but you have never given me an opportunity. We may never meet again, and I must tell you how sorry I am--how sorry I have been ever since for what I said. I spoke as a foolish girl, but I know better now. Have I not seen how calm you have been through all our troubles, how you have devoted yourself to us and the children, how you have kept up all our spirits, how cheerfully you have worked, and as our trouble increased we have all come to look up to you and lean upon you. Do say, Mr. Bathurst, that you forgive me, and that if you return we can be friends as we were before."
"Certainly I forgive you if there is anything to forgive, Miss Hannay," he said gravely. "Nothing that you or anyone can say can relieve me of the pain of knowing that I have been unable to take any active part in your defense, that I have been forced to play the part of a woman rather than a man; but assuredly, if I return, I shall be glad to be again your friend, which, indeed. I have never ceased to be at heart."
Perhaps she expected something more, but it did not come. He spoke cordially, but yet as one who felt that there was an impassible barrier between them. She stood irresolute for a moment, and then held out her hand. "Goodby, then," she said.
He held it a moment. "Goodby, Miss Hannay. May God keep you and guard you."
Then gently he led her to the door, and they passed out together. A quarter of an hour later he rejoined the Doctor, having brought with him a few short lengths of bamboo.
"I will put these across the hole when I get out," he said, "lay some sods over them, and cover them up with leaves, in case anyone should enter the bushes tomorrow. It is not likely, but it is as well to take the precaution. One of you had better stay on guard until I come back. It would not do to trust any of the natives; those that remain are all utterly disheartened and broken down, and might take the opportunity of purchasing their lives by going out and informing the enemy of the opening into the gallery. They must already know of its existence from the men who have deserted. But, fortunately, I don't think any of them are aware of its exact direction; if they had been, we should have had them countermining before this."
Having carefully closed up the opening, Bathurst went to the edge of the bushes and listened. He could hear voices between him and the house, but all was quiet near at hand, and he began to move noiselessly along through the garden. He had no great fear of meeting with anyone here. The natives had formed a cordon round the wall, and behind that there would be no one on watch, and as the batteries were silent, all were doubtless asleep there. In ten minutes he stood before the charred stumps that marked the site of his bungalow. As he did so, a figure advanced to meet him.
"It is you, sahib. I was expecting you. I knew that you would come this evening."
"I don't know how you knew it but I am heartily glad to see you."
"You want to see Por Sing? Come along with me and I will take you to him; but there is no time to lose;" and without another word he walked rapidly away, followed by Bathurst.
When they got into the open the latter could see that his companion was dressed in an altogether different garb to that in which he had before seen him, being attired as a person of some rank and importance. He stopped presently for Bathurst to come up with him.
"I have done what I could to prepare the way for you," he said. "Openly I could for certain reasons do nothing, but I have said enough to make him feel uncomfortable about the future, and to render him anxious to find a way of escape for himself if your people should ever again get the mastery."
"How are things going, Rujub? We have heard nothing for three weeks. How is it at Cawnpore?"
"Cawnpore has been taken by the Nana. They surrendered on his solemn oath that all should be allowed to depart in safety. He broke his oath, and there are not ten of its defenders alive. The women are all in captivity."
Bathurst groaned. He had hardly hoped that the handful of defenders could have maintained themselves against such overpowering numbers, but the certainty as to their fate was a heavy blow.
"And Lucknow?" he asked.
"The Residency holds out at present, but men say that it must soon fall."
"And what do you say?"
"I say nothing," the man said; "we cannot use our art in matters which concern ourselves."
"There is a little force of whites in front of Delhi; there are tens of thousands of Sepoys in the town, but as yet the whites have maintained themselves. The chiefs of the Punjaub have proved faithless to their country, and there the British rule is maintained."
"Thank God for that!" Bathurst exclaimed; "as long as the Punjaub holds out the tables may be turned. And the other Presidencies?"
"Nothing as yet," Rujub said, in a tone of discontent.
"Then you are against us, Rujub?"
The man stopped.
"Sahib, I know not what I wish now. I have been brought up to hate the whites. Two of my father's brothers were hung as Thugs, and my father taught me to hate the men who did it. For years I have worked quietly against you, as have most of those of my craft. We have reason to hate you. In the old times we were honored in the land--honored and feared; for even the great ones knew that we had powers such as no other men have. But the whites treat us as if we were mere buffoons, who play for their amusement; they make no distinction between the wandering conjurer, with his tricks of dexterity, and the masters, who have powers that have been handed down from father to son for thousands of years, who can communicate with each other though separated by the length of India; who can, as you have seen, make men invisible; who can read the past and the future. They see these things, and though they cannot explain them, they persist in treating us all as if we were mere jugglers.
"They prefer to deny the evidence of their own senses rather than admit that we have powers such as they have not; and so, even in the eyes of our own countrymen, we have lost our old standing and position, while the whites would bribe us with money to divulge the secrets in which they profess to disbelieve. No wonder that we hate you, and that we long for the return of the old days, when even princes were glad to ask favors at our hands. It is seldom that we show our powers now. Those who aid us, and whose servants we are, are not to be insulted by the powers they bestow upon us being used for the amusement of men who believe in nothing.
"The Europeans who first came to India have left records of the strange things they saw at the courts of the native princes. But such things are no longer done for the amusement of our white masters. Thus, then, for years I have worked against you; and just as I saw that our work was successful, just as all was prepared for the blow that was to sweep the white men out of India, you saved my daughter; then my work seemed to come to an end. Would any of my countrymen, armed only with a whip, have thrown themselves in the way of a tiger to save a woman--a stranger--one altogether beneath him in rank--one, as it were, dust beneath his feet? That I should be ready to give my life for yours was a matter of course; I should have been an ungrateful wretch otherwise. But this was not enough. At one blow the work I had devoted myself to for years was brought to nothing. Everything seemed to me new; and as I sat by my daughter's bedside, when she lay sick with the fever, I had to think it all out again. Then I saw things in another light. I saw that, though the white men were masterful and often hard, though they had little regard for our customs, and viewed our beliefs as superstitious, and scoffed at the notion of there being powers of which they had no knowledge, yet that they were a great people. Other conquerors, many of them, India has had, but none who have made it their first object to care for the welfare of the people at large. The Feringhees have wrung nothing from the poor to be spent in pomp and display; they permit no tyranny or ill doing; under them the poorest peasant tills his fields in peace.
"I have been obliged to see all this, and I feel now that their destruction would be a frightful misfortune. We should be ruled by our native lords; but as soon as the white man was gone the old quarrels would break out, and the country would be red with blood. I did not see this before, because I had only looked at it with the eyes of my own caste; now I see it with the eyes of one whose daughter has been saved from a tiger by a white man. I cannot love those I have been taught to hate, but I can see the benefit their rule has given to India.
"But what can I do now? I am in the stream, and I must go with it. I know not what I wish or what I would do. Six months ago I felt certain. Now I doubt. It seemed to me that in a day the English Raj would be swept away. How could it be otherwise when the whole army that had conquered India for them were against them? I knew they were brave, but we have never lacked bravery. How could I tell that they would fight one against a hundred?
"But come, let us go on. Por Sing is expecting you. I told him that I knew that one from the garrison would come out to treat with him privately tonight, and he is expecting you, though he does not know who may come."
Ten minutes walking, and they approached a large tent surrounded by several smaller ones. A sentry challenged when they approached, but on Rujub giving his name, he at once resumed his walk up and down, and Rujub, followed by Bathurst, advanced and entered the tent. The Zemindar was seated on a divan smoking a hookah. Rujub bowed, but not with the deep reverence of one approaching his superior.
"He is here," he said.
"Then you were not mistaken, Rujub?"
"How could I be when I knew?" Rujub said. "I have done what I said, and have brought him straight to you. That was all I had to do with it; the rest is for your highness."
"I would rather that you should be present," Por Sing said, as Rujub turned to withdraw.
"No," the latter replied; "in this matter it is for you to decide. I know not the Nana's wishes, and your highness must take the responsibility. I have brought him to you rather than to the commander of the Sepoys, because your authority should be the greater; it is you and the other Oude chiefs who have borne the weight of this siege, and it is only right that it is you who should decide the conditions of surrender. The Sepoys are not our masters, and it is well they are not so; the Nana and the Oude chiefs have not taken up arms to free themselves from the English Raj to be ruled over by the men who have been the servants of the English."
"That is so," the Zemindar said, stroking his beard; "well, I will talk with this person."
Rujub left the tent. "You do not know me, Por Sing?" Bathurst said, stepping forward from the entrance where he had hitherto stood; "I am the Sahib Bathurst."
"Is it so?" the Zemindar said, laying aside his pipe and rising to his feet; "none could come to me whom I would rather see. You have always proved yourself a just officer, and I have no complaint against you. We have often broken bread together, and it has grieved me to know that you were in yonder house. Do you come to me on your own account, or from the sahib who commands?"
"I come on my own account," Bathurst said; "when I come as a messenger from him, I must come openly. I. know you to be an honorable man, and that I could say what I have to say to you and depart in safety. I regard you as one who has been misled, and regret for your sake that you should have been induced to take part with these mutineers against us. Believe me, chief, you have been terribly misled. You have been told that it needed but an effort to overthrow the British Raj. Those who told you so lied. It might have seemed easy to destroy the handful of Europeans scattered throughout India, but you have not succeeded in doing it. Even had you done so, you would not have so much as begun the work. There are but few white soldiers here. Why? Because England trusted in the fidelity of her native troops, and thought it necessary to keep only a handful of soldiers in India, but if need be, for every soldier now here she could send a hundred, and she will send a hundred if required to reconquer India. Already you may be sure that ships are on the sea laden with troops; and if you find it so hard to overcome the few soldiers now here, what would you do against the great armies that will pour in ere long? Why, all the efforts of the Sepoys gathered at Delhi are insufficient to defeat the four or five thousand British troops who hold their posts outside the town, waiting only till the succor arrives from England to take a terrible vengeance. Woe be then to those who have taken part against us; still more to those whose hands are stained with British blood."
"It is too late now," the native said gloomily, "the die is cast; but since I have seen how a score of men could defend that shattered house against thousands, do you think I have not seen that I have been wrong? Who would have thought that men could do such a thing? But it is too late now."
"It is not too late," Bathurst said; "it is too late, indeed, to undo the mischief that has been done, but not too late for you to secure yourself against some of the consequences. The English are just; and when they shall have stamped out this mutiny, as assuredly they will do, they will draw a distinction between mutinous soldiers who were false to their salt, and native chiefs who fought, as they believed, for the independence of their country. But one thing they will not forgive, whether in Sepoy or in prince, the murder of man, woman, or child in cold blood: for that there will be no pardon.
"But it is not upon that ground that I came to appeal to you, but as a noble of Oude--a man who is a brave enemy, but who could never be a butcher. We have fought against each other fairly and evenly; the time has come when we can fight no longer, and I demand of you, confidently, that, if we surrender, the lives of all within those walls shall be respected, and a safe conduct be granted them down the country. I know that such conditions were granted to the garrison at Cawnpore, and that they were shamelessly violated; for that act Nana Sahib will never be forgiven. He will be hunted down like a dog and hung when he is caught, just as if he had been the poorest peasant. But I have not so bad an opinion of the people of India as to believe them base enough to follow such an example, and I am confident that if you grant us those terms, you will see that the conditions are observed."
"I have received orders from Nana Sahib to send all prisoners down to him," Por Sing said, in a hesitating voice.
"You will never send down prisoners from here," Bathurst replied firmly. "You may attack us again, and after the loss of the lives of scores more of your followers you may be successful, but you will take no prisoners, for at the last moment we will blow the house and all in it into the air. Besides, who made Nana Sahib your master? He is not the lord of Oude; and though doubtless he dreams of sovereignty, it is a rope, not a throne, that awaits him. Why should you nobles of Oude obey the orders of this peasant boy, though he was adopted by the Peishwa? The Peishwa himself was never your lord, and why should you obey this traitor, this butcher, this disgrace to India, when he orders you to hand over to him the prisoners your sword has made?"
"That is true," Por Sing said gloomily; "but the Sepoys will not agree to the terms."
"The Sepoys are not your masters," Bathurst said; "we do not surrender to them, but to you. We place no confidence in their word, but we have every faith in the honor of the nobles of Oude. If you and your friends grant us the terms we ask, the Sepoys may clamor, but they will not venture to do more. Neither they nor Nana Sahib dare at this moment affront the people of Oude.
"There are Sepoys round Lucknow, but it is the men of Oude who are really pressing the siege. If you are firm, they will not dare to break with you on such a question as the lives of a score of Europeans. If you will give me your word and your honor that all shall be spared, I will come out in the morning with a flag of truce to treat with you. If not, we will defend ourselves to the last, and then blow ourselves into the air."
"And you think," Por Sing said doubtfully, "that if I agreed to this, it would be taken into consideration should the British Raj be restored."
"I can promise you that it will," Bathurst said. "It will be properly represented that it is to you that the defenders of Deennugghur, and the women and children with them, owe their lives, and you may be sure that this will go a very long way towards wiping out the part you have taken in the attack on the station. When the day of reckoning comes, the British Government will know as well how to reward those who rendered them service in these days, as to punish those who have been our foes."
"I will do it," Por Sing said firmly. "Do not come out until the afternoon. In the morning I will talk with the other Zemindars, and bring them over to agree that there shall be no more bloodshed. There is not one of us but is heartily sick of this business, and eager to put an end to it. Rujub may report what he likes to the Nana, I will do what is right."
After a hearty expression of thanks, Bathurst left the tent. Rujub was awaiting him outside.
"You have succeeded?" he asked.
"Yes; he will guarantee the lives of all the garrison, but he seemed to be afraid of what you might report to Nana Sahib."
"I am the Nana's agent here," Rujub said; "I have been working with him for months. I would I could undo it all now. I was away when they surrendered at Cawnpore. Had I not been, that massacre would never have taken place, for I am one of the few who have influence with him. He is fully cognizant of my power, and fears it."
They made their way back without interruption to the clump of bushes near the house.
"When shall I see you again?" Bathurst asked.
"I do not know," replied Rujub, "but be sure that I shall be at hand to aid you if possible should danger arise."