Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
Now alone, Bathurst threw himself down among the bashes in an attitude of utter depression.
"Why wasn't I killed with the others?" he groaned. "Why was I not killed when I sat there by her side?"
So he lay for an hour, and then slowly rose and looked round. There was a faint light in the sky.
"It will be light in another hour," he said to himself, and he again sat down. Suddenly he started. Had someone spoken, or had he fancied it?
"Wait till I come."
He seemed to hear the words plainly, just as he had heard Rujub's summons before.
"That's it; it is Rujub. How is it that he can make me hear in this way? I am sure it was his voice. Anyhow, I will wait. It shows he is thinking of me, and I am sure he will help me. I know well enough I could do nothing by myself."
Bathurst assumed with unquestioning faith that Isobel Hannay was alive. He had no reason for his confidence. That first shower of grape might have killed her as it killed others, but he would not admit the doubt in his mind. Wilson's description of what had happened while he was insensible was one of the grounds of this confidence.
He had heard women scream. Mrs. Hunter and her daughter were the only other women in the boat. Isobel would not have screamed had those muskets been pointed at her, nor did he think the others would have done so. They screamed when they saw the natives about to murder those who were with them. The three women were sitting together, and if one had fallen by the grape shot all would probably have been killed. He felt confident, therefore, that she had escaped; he believed he would have known it had she been killed.
"If I can be influenced by this juggler, surely I should have felt it had Isobel died," he argued, and was satisfied that she was still alive.
What, however, more than anything else gave him hope was the picture on the smoke. "Everything else has come true," he said to himself; "why should not that? Wilson spoke of the Doctor as dead. I will not believe it; for if he is dead, the picture is false. Why should that thing of all others have been shown to me unless it had been true? What seemed impossible to me--that I should be fighting like a brave man--has been verified. Why should not this? I should have laughed at such superstition six months ago; now I cling to it as my one ground for hope. Well, I will wait if I have to stay here until tomorrow night."
Noiselessly he moved about in the little wood, going to the edge and looking out, pacing to and fro with quick steps, his face set in a frown, occasionally muttering to himself. He was in a fever of impatience. He longed to be doing something, even if that something led to his detention and death. He said to himself that he should not care so that Isobel Hannay did but know that he had died in trying to rescue her.
The sun rose, and he saw the peasants in the fields, and caught the note of a bugle sounding from the lines at Cawnpore. At last-- it had seemed to him an age, but the sun had been up only an hour --he saw a figure coming along the river bank. As it approached he told himself that it was the juggler; if so, he had laid aside the garments in which he last saw him, and was now attired as when they first met. When he saw him turn off from the river bank and advance straight towards the wood, he had no doubt that it was the man he expected.
"Thanks be to the holy ones that you have escaped, sahib," Rujub said, as soon as he came within speaking distance of Bathurst. "I was in an agony last night. I was with you in thought, and saw the boats approaching the ambuscade. I saw you leap over and swim to shore. I saw you fall, and I cried out. For a moment I thought you were killed. Then I saw you go on and fall again, and saw your friends carry you in. I watched you recover and come on here, and then I willed it that you should wait here till I came for you. I have brought you a disguise, for I did not know that you had one with you. But, first of all, sit down and let me dress your wound afresh. I have brought all that is necessary for it."
"You are a true fried, Rujub. I relied upon you for aid; do you know why I waited here instead of going down with the others?"
"I know, sahib. I can tell your thoughts as easily when you are away from me as I can when we are together."
"Can you do this with all people?"
"No, my lord; to be able to read another's thoughts it is necessary there should be a mystic relation established between them. As I walked beside your horse when you carried my daughter before you after saving her life, I felt that this relation had commenced, and that henceforward our fates were connected. It was necessary that you should have confidence in me, and it was for that reason that I showed you some of the feats that we rarely exhibit, and proved to you that I possessed powers with which you were unacquainted. But in thought reading my daughter has greater powers than I have, and it was she who last night followed you on your journey, sitting with her hand in mine, so that my mind followed hers."
"Do you know all that happened last night, Rujub?" Bathurst said, summoning up courage to ask the question that had been on his lips from the first.
"I only know, my lord, that the party was destroyed, save three white women, who were brought in just as the sun rose this morning. One was the lady behind whose chair you stood the night I performed at Deennugghur, the lady about whom you are thinking. I do not know the other two; one was getting on in life, the other was a young one."
The relief was so great that Bathurst turned away, unable for a while to continue the conversation. When he resumed the talk, he asked, "Did you see them yourself, Rujub?"
"I saw them, sahib; they were brought in on a gun carriage."
"How did they look, Rujub?"
"The old one looked calm and sad. She did not seem to hear the shouts of the budmashes as they passed along. She held the young one close to her. That one seemed worn out with grief and terror. Your memsahib sat upright; she was very pale and changed from the time I saw her that evening, but she held her head high, and looked almost scornfully at the men who shook their fists and cried at her."
"And they put them with the other women that they have taken prisoners?"
"They have put the other two there, sahib, but her they took to Bithoor."
Bathurst started, and an exclamation of horror and rage burst from him.
"To the Rajah's!" he exclaimed. "To that scoundrel! Come, let us go. Why are we staying here?"
"We can do nothing for the moment. Before I started I sent off my daughter to Bithoor; she knows many there, and will find out what is being done and bring us word, for I dare not show myself there. The Rajah is furious with me because I did not support the Sepoys, and suffered conditions to be made with your people, but now that all has turned out as he wished, I will in a short time present myself before him again, but for the moment it was better that my daughter should go, as I had to come to you. But first you had better put on the disguise I have brought you. You are too big and strong to pass without notice in that peasant's dress. The one I have brought you is such as is worn by the rough people; the budmashes of Cawnpore. I can procure others afterwards when we see what had best be done. It will be easy enough to enter Bithoor, for all is confusion there, and men come and go as they choose, but it will be well nigh impossible for you to penetrate where the memsahib will be placed. Even for me, known as I am to all the Rajah's officers, it would be impossible to do so; it is my daughter in whom we shall have to trust."
Bathurst rapidly put on the clothes that Rujub had brought with him, and thrust a sword, two daggers, and a brace of long barreled pistols into the sash round his waist.
"Your color is not dark enough, sahib. I have brought dye with me; but first I must dress the wound on your head, and bandage it more neatly, so that the blood stained swathings will not show below the folds of your turban."
Bathurst submitted himself impatiently to Rujub's hands. The latter cut off all the hair that would show under the turban, dyed the skin the same color as the other parts, and finally, after darkening his eyebrows, eyelashes, and mustache, pronounced that he would pass anywhere without attracting attention. Then they started at a quick walk along the river, crossed by the ferryboat to Cawnpore, and made their way to a quiet street in the native town.
"This is my house for the present," Rujub said, producing a key and unlocking a door. He shouted as he closed the door behind him, and an old woman appeared.
"Is the meal prepared?" he asked.
"It is ready," she said.
"That is right. Tell Rhuman to put the pony into the cart."
He then led the way into a comfortably furnished apartment where a meal was laid.
"Eat, my lord," he said; "you need it, and will require your strength."
Bathurst, who, during his walk, had felt the effects of the loss of blood and anxiety, at once seated himself at the table and ate, at first languidly, but as appetite came, more heartily, and felt still more benefited by a bottle of excellent wine Rujub had placed beside him. The latter returned to the room just as he had finished. He was now attired as he had been when Bathurst last met him at Deennugghur.
"I feel another man, Rujub, and fit for anything."
"The cart is ready," Rujub said. "I have already taken my meal; we do not eat meat, and live entirely on vegetables. Meat clouds the senses, and simple food, and little of it, is necessary for those who would enter the inner brotherhood."
At the door a small native cart was standing with a pony in the shafts.
"You will go with us, Rhuman," Rujub said, as he and Bathurst took their seats in the cart.
The boy squatted down at Rujub's feet, taking the reins and whip, and the pony started off at a brisk pace. Upon the way Rujub talked of various matters, of the reports of the force that was gathering at Allahabad, and the madness of the British in supposing that two or three thousand men could withstand the forces of the Nana.
"They would be eaten up," he said; "the troops will go out to meet them; they will never arrive within sight of Cawnpore."
As Bathurst saw that he was talking for the boy to hear, rather than to himself, he agreed loudly with all that he said, and boasted that even without the Nana's troops and the Sepoys, the people of Cawnpore could cut the English dogs to pieces.
The drive was not a long one, and the road was full of parties going to or returning from Bithoor--groups of Sepoy officers, parties of budmashes from Cawnpore, mounted messengers, landowners with their retainers, and others. Arriving within a quarter of a mile of the palace, Rujub ordered the boy to draw aside.
"Take the horse down that road," he said, "and wait there until we return. We may be some time. If we are not back by the time the sun sets, you will return home."
As they approached the palace Bathurst scanned every window, as if he hoped to see Isobel's face at one of them. Entering the garden, they avoided the terrace in front of the house, and sauntering through the groups of people who had gathered discussing the latest news, they took their seat in a secluded corner.
Bathurst thought of the last time he had been there, when there had been a fete given by the Rajah to the residents of Cawnpore, and contrasted the present with the past. Then the gardens were lighted up, and a crowd of officers and civilians with ladies in white dresses had strolled along the terrace to the sound of gay music, while their host moved about among them, courteous, pleasant, and smiling. Now the greater portion of the men were dead, the women were prisoners in the hands of the native who had professed such friendship for them.
"Tell me, Rujub," he said presently, "more about this force at Allahabad. What is its strength likely to be?"
"They say there is one British regiment of the line, one of the plumed regiments with bare legs, and one of the white Madras regiments; they have a few guns, a very few horsemen; that is all, while there are twenty thousand troops here. How can they hope to win?"
"You will see they will win," Bathurst said sternly. "They have often fought well, but they will fight now as they never fought before; every man will feel himself an avenger of the foul treachery and the brutal massacres that have been committed. Were it but one regiment that is coming up instead of three, I would back it against the blood stained wretches."
"They are fighting for freedom," Rujub said.
"They are fighting for nothing of the sort," Bathurst replied hotly; "they are fighting for they know not what--change of masters, for license to plunder, and because they are ignorant and have been led away. I doubt not that at present, confident as they may be of victory, most of them in their hearts regret what they have done. They have forfeited their pensions, they have thrown away the benefits of their years of service, they have been faithless to their salt, and false to their oaths. It is true that they know they are fighting with ropes round their necks, but even that won't avail against the discipline and the fury of our troops. I feel as certain, Rujub, that, in spite of the odds against them, the English will triumph, as if I saw their column marching into the town. I don't profess to see the future as you do, but I know enough to tell you that ere long that palace you can see through the trees will be leveled to the ground, that it is as assuredly doomed as if fire had already been applied to its gilded beams."
Rujub nodded. "I know the palace is doomed. While I have looked at it it has seemed hidden by a cloud of smoke, but I did not think it was the work of the British--I thought of an accident."
"The Rajah may fire it with his own hands," Bathurst said; "but if he does not, it will be done for him."
"I have not told you yet, sahib," Rujub said, changing the subject, "how it was that I could neither prevent the attack on the boats nor warn you that it was coming. I knew at Deennugghur that news had been sent of the surrender to the Nana. I remained till I knew you were safely in the boats, and then rode to Cawnpore. My daughter was at the house when I arrived, and told me that the Nana was furious with me, and that it would not be safe for me to go near the palace. Thus, although I feared that an attack was intended, I thought it would not be until the boats passed the town. It was late before I learnt that a battery of artillery and some infantry had set out that afternoon. Then I tried to warn you, but I felt that I failed. You were not in a mood when my mind could communicate itself to yours."
"I felt very uneasy and restless," Bathurst said, "but I had not the same feeling that you were speaking to me I had that night at Deennugghur; but even had I known of the danger, there would have been no avoiding it. Had we landed, we must have been overtaken, and it would have come to the same thing. Tell me, Rujub, had you any idea when I saw you at Deennugghur that if we were taken prisoners Miss Hannay was to be brought here instead of being placed with the other ladies?"
"Yes, I knew it, sahib; the orders he gave to the Sepoys were that every man was to be killed, and that the women and children were to be taken to Cawnpore, except Miss Hannay, who was to be carried here at once. The Rajah had noticed her more than once when she was at Cawnpore, and had made up his mind that she should go to his zenana."
"Why did you not tell me when you were at Deennugghur?"
"What would have been the use, sahib? I hoped to save you all; besides, it was not until we saw her taken past this morning that we knew that the Miss Hannay who was to be taken to Bithoor was the lady whom my daughter, when she saw her with you that night, said at once that you loved. But had we known it, what good would it have done to have told you of the Rajah's orders? You could not have done more than you have done. But now we know, we will aid you to save her."
"How long will your daughter be before she comes? It is horrible waiting here."
"You must have patience, sahib. It will be no easy work to get the lady away. There will be guards and women to look after her. A lady is not to be stolen out of a zenana as a young bird is taken from its nest."
"It is all very well to say 'Be patient,'" Bathurst said, getting up and walking up and down with quick angry strides. "It is maddening to sit here doing nothing. If it were not that I had confidence in your power and will to aid me, I would go into the palace and stab Nana Sahib to the heart, though I were cut to pieces for it the moment afterwards."
"That would do no good to the lady, sahib," Rujub said calmly. "She would only be left without a friend, and the Nana's death might be the signal for the murder of every white prisoner. Ah, here comes my daughter."
Rabda came up quickly, and stopped before Bathurst with her head bowed and her arms crossed in an attitude of humility. She was dressed in the attire worn by the principal servants in attendance upon the zenana of a Hindoo prince.
"Well, what news, Rabda?" Bathurst asked eagerly.
"The light of my lord's heart is sick. She bore up till she arrived here and was handed over to the women. Then her strength failed her, and she fainted. She recovered, but she is lying weak and exhausted with all that she has gone through and suffered."
"Where is she now?"
"She is in the zenana, looking out into the women's court, that no men are ever allowed to enter."
"Has the Rajah seen her?"
"No, sahib. He was told the state that she was in, and the chief lady of the zenana sent him word that for the present she must have quiet and rest, but that in two or three days she might be fit to see him."
"That is something," Bathurst said thankfully. "Now we shall have time to think of some scheme for getting her out."
"You have been in the zenana yourself, Rabda?" Rujub asked.
"Yes, father; the mistress of the zenana saw me directly an attendant told her I was there. She has always been kind to me. I said that you were going on a journey, and asked her if I might stay with her and act as an attendant until you returned, and she at once assented. She asked if I should see you before you left, and when I said yes, she asked if you could not give her some spell that would turn the Rajah's thoughts from this white girl. She fears that if she should become first favorite in the zenana, she might take things in her hands as English women do, and make all sorts of changes. I told her that, doubtless, the English girl would do this, and that I thought she was wise to ask your assistance."
"You are mad, Rabda," her father said angrily; "what have I to do with spells and love philters?"
"No, father, I knew well enough you would not believe in such things, but I thought in this way I might see the lady, and communicate with her."
"A very good idea, Rabda," Bathurst said. "Is there nothing you can do, Rujub, to make her odious to the Nana?"
"Nothing, sahib. I could act upon some people's minds, and make them think that the young lady was afflicted by some loathsome disease, but not with the Nana. I have many times tried to influence him, but without success: his mind is too deep for mine to master, and between us there is no sympathy. Could I be present with him and the girl I might do something--that is, if the powers that aid me would act against him; but this I do not think."
"Rujub," Bathurst said suddenly, "there must have been medical stores taken when the camp was captured--drugs and things of that sort. Can you find out who has become possessed of them?"
"I might find out, sahib. Doubtless the men who looted the camp will have sold the drugs to the native shops, for English drugs are highly prized. Are there medicines that can act as the mistress of the zenana wishes?"
"No; but there are drugs that when applied externally would give the appearance of a terrible disease. There are acids whose touch would burn and blister the skin, and turn a beautiful face into a dreadful mask."
"But would it recover its fairness, sahib?"
"The traces might last for a long time, even for life, if too much were used, but I am sure Miss Hannay would not hesitate for a moment on that account."
"But you, sahib--would you risk her being disfigured?"
"What does it matter to me?" Bathurst asked sternly. "Do you think love is skin deep, and that 'tis only for a fair complexion that we choose our wives? Find me the drugs, and let Rabda take them into her with a line from me. One of them you can certainly get, for it is used, I believe, by gold and silver smiths. It is nitric acid; the other is caustic potash, or, as it is sometimes labeled, lunar caustic. It is in little sticks; but if you find out anyone who has bought drugs or cases of medicines, I will go with you and pick them out."
"There will be no difficulty about finding out where the English drugs are. They are certain to be at one of the shops where the native doctors buy their medicines."
"Let us go at once, then," Bathurst said. "You can prepare some harmless drink, and Rabda will tell the mistress of the zenana it will bring out a disfiguring eruption. We can be back here again this evening. Will you be here, Rabda, at sunset, and wait until we come? You can tell the woman that you have seen your father, and that he will supply her with what she requires. Make some excuse, if you can, to see the prisoner. Say you are curious to see the white woman who has bewitched the Nana, and if you get the opportunity whisper in her ear these words, 'Do not despair, friends are working for you.'"
Rabda repeated the English words several times over until she had them perfect; then she made her way back to the palace, while Bathurst and his companion proceeded at once to the spot where they had left their vehicle.
They had but little difficulty in finding what they required. Many of the shops displayed garments, weapons, jewelry, and other things, the plunder of the intrenchments of Cawnpore. Rujub entered several shops where drugs were sold, and finally one of the traders said, "I have a large black box full of drugs which I bought from a Sepoy for a rupee, but now that I have got it I do not know what to do with it. Some of the bottles doubtless contain poisons. I will sell it you for two rupees, which is the value of the box, which, as you see, is very strong and bound with iron. The contents I place no price upon."
"I will take it," Rujub said. "I know some of the English medicines, and may find a use for them."
He paid the money, called in a coolie, and bade him take up the chest and follow him, and they soon arrived at the juggler's house.
The box, which was a hospital medical chest, was filled with drugs of all kinds. Bathurst put a stick of caustic into a small vial, and half filled another, which had a glass stopper, with nitric acid, filled it up with water, and tried the effect of rubbing a few drops on his arm.
"That is strong enough for anything," he said, with a slight exclamation at the sharp pain. "And now give me a piece of paper and pen and ink."
Then sitting down he wrote:
"My Dear Miss Hannay: Rujub, the juggler, and I will do what we can to rescue you. We are powerless to effect anything as long as you remain where you are. The bearer, Rujub's daughter, will give you the bottles, one containing lunar caustic, the other nitric acid. The mistress of the zenana, who wants to get rid of you, as she fears you might obtain influence over the Nana, has asked the girl to obtain from her father a philter which will make you odious to him. The large bottle is perfectly harmless, and you can drink its contents without fear. The caustic is for applying to your lips; it will be painful, but I am sure you will not mind that, and the injury will be only of a temporary nature. I cannot promise as much for the nitric acid; pray apply it very carefully, merely moistening the glass stopper and applying it with that. I should use it principally round the lips. It will burn and blister the skin. The Nana will be told that you have a fever, which is causing a terrible and disfiguring eruption. I should apply it also to the neck and hands. Pray be very careful with the stuff; for, besides the application being exceedingly painful, the scars may possibly remain permanently. Keep the two small bottles carefully hidden, in order to renew the application if absolutely necessary. At any rate, this will give us time, and, from what I hear, our troops are likely to be here in another ten days' time. You will be, I know, glad to hear that Wilson has also escaped.
A large bottle was next filled with elder flower water. The trap was brought around, and they drove back to Bithoor. Rabda was punctual to her appointment.
"I have seen her," she said, "and have given her the message. I could see that she understood it, but as there were other women round, she made no sign. I told the mistress of the zenana that you had given me some magic words that I was to whisper to her to prepare the way for the philter, so she let me in without difficulty, and I was allowed to go close up to her and repeat your message. I put my hands on her before I did so, and I think she felt that it was the touch of a friend. She hushed up when I spoke to her. The mistress, who was standing close by, thought that this was a sign of the power of the words I had spoken to her. I did not stay more than a minute. I was afraid she might try to speak to me in your tongue, and that would have been dangerous."
"There are the bottles,"' Bathurst said; "this large one is for her to take, the other two and this note are to be given to her separately. You had better tell the woman that the philter must be given by your own hands, and that you must then watch alone by her side for half an hour. Say that after you leave her she will soon go off to sleep; and must then be left absolutely alone till daybreak tomorrow, and it will then be found that the philter has acted. She must at once tell the Nana that the lady is in a high fever, and has been seized with some terrible disease that has altogether disfigured her, and that he can see for himself the state she is in."
Rabda's whisper had given new life and hope to Isobel Hannay. Previous to that her fate had seemed to her to be sealed, and she had only prayed for death; the long strain of the siege had told upon her; the scene in the boat seemed a species of horrible nightmare, culminating in a number of Sepoys leaping on board the boat as it touched the bank, and bayoneting her uncle and all on board except herself, Mrs. Hunter, and her daughter, who were seized and carried ashore. Then followed a night of dull despairing pain, while she and her companions crouched together, with two Sepoys standing on guard over them, while the others, after lighting fires, talked and laughed long into the night over the success of their attack.
At daybreak they had been placed upon a limber and driven into Cawnpore. Her spirit had risen as they were assailed by insults and imprecations by the roughs of the town, and she had borne up bravely till, upon their arrival at the entrance to what she supposed was the prison, she was roughly dragged from the limber, placed in a close carriage, and driven off. In her despair she had endeavored to open the door in order to throw herself under the wheels, but a soldier stood on each step and prevented her from doing so.
Outside of the town she soon saw that she was on the road to Bithoor, and the fate for which she was reserved flashed upon her. She remembered now the oily compliments of Nana Sahib, and the unpleasant thrill she had felt when his eyes were fixed upon her; and had she possessed a weapon of any kind she would have put an end to her life. But her pistol had been taken from her when she landed, and in helpless despair she crouched in a corner of the carriage until they reached Bithoor.
As soon as the carriage stopped a cloth was thrown over her head. She was lifted out and carried into the palace, through long passages and up stairs; then those who carried her set her on her feet and retired. Other hands took her and led her forward till the cloth was taken off her head, and she found herself surrounded, by women, who regarded her with glances of mixed curiosity and hostility. Then everything seemed to swim round, and she fainted.
When she recovered consciousness all strength seemed to have left her, and she lay in a sort of apathy for hours, taking listlessly the drink that was offered to her, but paying no attention to what was passing around, until there was a gentle pressure on her arm, the grasp tightening with a slight caressing motion that seemed to show sympathy; then came the English words softly whispered into her ear, while the hand again pressed her arm firmly, as if in warning.
It was with difficulty that she refrained from uttering an exclamation, and she felt the blood crimson her cheeks, but she mastered the impulse and lay perfectly quiet, glancing up into the face bent down close to hers--it was not familiar to her, and yet it seemed to her that she had seen it somewhere; another minute and it was gone.
But though to all appearances Isobel's attitude was unchanged, her mind was active now. Who could have sent her this message? Who could this native girl be who had spoken in English to her? Where had she seen the face?
Her thoughts traveled backwards, and she ran over in her mind all those with whom she had come in contact since her arrival in India; her servants and those of her acquaintances passed before her eyes. She had scarcely spoken to another native woman since she had landed. After thinking over all she had known in Cawnpore, she thought of Deennugghur. Whom had she met there?
Suddenly came the remembrance of the exhibition by the juggler, and she recalled the face and figure of his daughter, as, seated, upon the growing pole, she had gone up foot by foot in the light of the lamps and up into the darkness above. The mystery was solved; that was the face that had just leaned over her.
But how could she be interested in her fate? Then she remembered that this was the girl whom Bathurst had saved from the tiger. If they were interested in her, it must be through Bathurst. Could he too have survived the attack of the night before? She had thought of him, as of all of them, as dead, but possibly he might have escaped. Even during the long night's waiting, a captive to the Sepoys, the thought that he had instantly sprung from beside her and leaped overboard had been an added pang to all her misery. She had no after remembrance of him; perhaps he had swum to shore and got off in safety. In that case he must be lingering in Cawnpore, had learned what had become of her, and was trying to rescue her. It was to the juggler he would naturally have gone to obtain assistance. If so, he was risking his life now to save hers; and this was the man whom she despised as a coward.
But what could he do? At Bithoor, in the power of this treacherous Rajah, secure in the zenana, where no man save its master ever penetrated, how could he possibly help her? Yet the thought that he was trying to do so was a happy one, and the tears that flowed between her closed lids were not painful ones. She blamed herself now for having felt for a moment hurt at Bathurst's. desertion of her. To have remained in the boat would have been certain death, while he could have been of no assistance to her or anyone else. That he should escape, then, if he could, now seemed to her a perfectly natural action; she hoped that some of the others had done the same, and that Bathurst was not working alone.
It did not occur to her that there could be any possibility of the scheme for her rescue succeeding; as to that she felt no more hopeful than before, but it seemed to take away the sense of utter loneliness that she before felt that someone should be interesting himself in her fate. Perhaps there would be more than a mere verbal message next time; how long would it be before she heard again? How long a respite had she before that wretch came to see her? Doubtless he had heard that she was ill. She would remain so. She would starve herself. Her weakness seemed to her her best protection.
As she lay apparently helpless upon the couch she watched the women move about the room. The girl who had spoken to her was not among them. The women were not unkind; they brought her cooling drinks, and tried to tempt her to eat something; but she shook her head as if utterly unable to do so, and after a time feigned to be asleep.
Darkness came on gradually; some lamps were lighted in the room. Not for a moment had she been left alone since she was brought in --never less than two females remaining with her.
Presently the woman who was evidently the chief of the establishment came in accompanied by a girl, whom Isobel recognized at once as the juggler's daughter. The latter brought with her a tray, on which were some cakes and a silver goblet. These she set down on an oak table by the couch. The girl then handed her the goblet, which, keeping up the appearance of extreme feebleness, she took languidly. She placed it to her lips, but at once took it away. It was not cool and refreshing like those she had tasted before, it had but little flavor, but had a faint odor, which struck her as not unfamiliar. It was a drug of some sort they wished her to drink.
She looked up in the girl's face. Rabda made a reassuring gesture, and said in a low whisper, as she bent forward, "Bathurst Sahib."
This was sufficient; whatever it was it would do her no harm, and she raised the cup to her lips and emptied it. Then the elder woman said something to the other two, and they all left the room together, leaving her alone with Rabda.
The latter went to the door quietly and drew the hangings across it, then she returned to the couch, and from the folds of her dress produced two vials and a tiny note. Then, noiselessly, she placed a lamp on the table, and withdrew to a short distance while Isobel opened and read the note.
Twice she read it through, and then, laying it down, burst into tears of relief. Rabda came and knelt down beside the couch, and, taking one of her hands, pressed it to her lips. Isobel threw her arms round the girl's neck, drew her close to her, and kissed her warmly.--Rabda then drew a piece of paper and a pencil from her dress and handed them to her. She wrote:
"Thanks a thousand times, dear friend; I will follow your instructions. Please send me if you can some quick and deadly poison, that I may take in the last extremity. Do not fear that I will flinch from applying the things you have sent me. I would not hesitate to swallow them were there no other hope of escape. I rejoice so much to know that you have escaped from that terrible attack last night. Did Wilson alone get away? Do you know they murdered my uncle and all the others in the boat, except Mrs. Hunter and Mary? Pray do not run any risks to try and rescue me. I think that I am safe now, and will make myself so hideous that if the wretch once sees me he will never want to see me again. As to death, I have no fear of it. If we do not meet again, God bless you.
"Yours most gratefully,
Rabda concealed the note in her garment, and then motioned to Isobel that she should close her eyes and pretend to be asleep. Then she gently drew back the curtains and seated herself at a distance from the couch.
Half an hour later the mistress of the zenana came in. Rabda rose and put her finger to her lips and left the room, accompanied by the woman.
"She is asleep," she said; "do not be afraid, the potion will do its work. Leave her alone all night. When she wakes in the morning she will be wild with fever, and you need have no fear that the Rajah will seek to make her the queen of his zenana."