Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
Prepared as the mistress of the zenana was to find a great change in the captive's appearance, she was startled when, soon after daybreak, she went in to see her. The lower part of her face was greatly swollen, her lips were covered with white blotches. There were great red scars round the mouth and on her forehead, and the skin seemed to have been completely eaten away. There were even larger and deeper marks on her neck and shoulders, which were partly uncovered, as if by her restless tossing. Her hands and arms were similarly marked. She took no notice of her entrance, but talked to herself as she tossed restlessly on the couch.
There was but little acting in this, for Isobel was suffering an agony of pain. She had used the acid much more freely than she had been instructed to do, determined that the disfigurement should be complete. All night she had been in a state of high fever, and had for a time been almost delirious. She was but slightly more easy now, and had difficulty in preventing herself from crying out from the torture she was suffering.
There was no tinge of pity in the face of the woman who looked at her, but a smile of satisfaction at the manner in which the potion had done its work.
"The Nana can see her now," she said to herself; "there will be no change in the arrangements here."
She at once sent out word that as soon as the Rajah was up he was to be told that she begged him to come at once.
An hour later he came to the door of the zenana.
"What is it, Poomba?" he asked; "nothing the matter with Miss Hannay, I hope?"
"I grieve to say, your highness, that she has been seized with some terrible disease. I know not what it is, for never did I see a woman so smitten. It must be an illness contracted from confinement and bad air during the siege, some illness that the Europeans have, for never did I see aught like it. She is in a high state of fever, and her face is in a terrible state. It must be a sort of plague."
"You have been poisoning her," the Nana said roughly; "if so, beware, for your life shall be the forfeit. I will see her for myself."
"She has had no poison since she came here, though I know not but what she may have had poison about her, and may have taken it after she was captured."
"Take me to her," the Rajah said. "I will see for myself."
"It may be a contagious disease, your highness. It were best that you should not go near her."
The Rajah made an impatient gesture, and the woman, without another word, led him into the room where Isobel was lying. The Nana was prepared for some disfigurement of the face he had so admired, but he shrank back from the reality.
"It is horrible," he said, in a low voice. "What have you been doing to her?" he asked, turning furiously to the woman.
"I have done nothing, your highness. All day yesterday she lay in a torpor, as I told you in the evening when you inquired about her, and I thought then she was going to be ill. I have watched her all night. She has been restless and disturbed, but I thought it better not to go nearer lest I should wake her, and it was not until this morning, when the day broke, that I perceived this terrible change. What shall we do with her? If the disease is contagious, everyone in the palace may catch it."
"Have a closed palanquin brought to the door, wrap her up, and have her carried down to the Subada Ke Kothee. Let her give it to the women there. Burn all the things in this room, and everything that has been worn by those who have entered it. I will inquire into this matter later on, and should I find that there has been any foul play, those concerned in it shall wish they had never been born."
As soon as he had left the woman called Rabda in.
"All has gone well," she said; "your father's philter is powerful indeed. Tell him whenever he needs any service I can render he has but to ask it. Look at her; did you ever see one so disfigured? The Rajah has seen her, and is filled with loathing. She is to be sent to the Subada Ke Kothee. Are you sure that the malady is not contagious? I have persuaded the Rajah that it is; that is why he is sending her away."
"I am sure it is not," Rabda said; "it is the result of the drugs. It is terrible to see her; give me some cooling ointment."
"What does it matter about her now that she is harmless?" Poomba said scornfully. Being, however, desirous of pleasing Rabda, she went away and brought a pot of ointment, which the girl applied to the sores, the tears falling down her cheeks as she did so.
The salve at once afforded relief from the burning pain, and Isobel gratefully took a drink prepared from fresh limes.
She had only removed her gown when she had lain down, having done this in order that it should not be burned by the acid, and that her neck and shoulders might be seen, and the belief induced that this strange eruption was all over her. Rabda made signs for her to put it on again, and pointing in the direction of Cawnpore, repeated the word several times, and Isobel felt with a thrill of intense thankfulness that the stratagem had succeeded, and that she was to be sent away at once, probably to the place where the other prisoners were confined. Presently the woman returned.
"Rabda, you had best go with her. It were well that you should leave for the present. The Rajah is suspicious; he may come back again and ask questions; and as he knows you by sight, and as you told me your father was in disfavor with him at present, he might suspect that you were in some way concerned in the matter."
"I will go," Rabda said. "I am sorry she has suffered so much. I did not think the potion would have been so strong. Give me a netful of fresh limes and some cooling lotion, that I may leave with her there."
In a few minutes a woman came up to say that the palanquin was in readiness at the gate of the zenana garden. A large cushion was taken off a divan, and Isobel was laid upon it and covered with a light shawl. Six of the female attendants lifted it and carried it downstairs, accompanied by Rabda and the mistress off the zenana, both closely veiled. Outside the gate was a large palanquin, with its bearers and four soldiers and an officer. The cushion was lifted and placed in the palanquin, and Rabda also took her place there.
"Then you will not return today," the woman said to her, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the officers "You will remain with her for a time, and afterwards go to see your friends in the town. I will send for you when I hear that you wish to return."
The curtains of the palanquin were drawn down; the bearers lifted it and started at once for Cawnpore.
On arrival at the large building known as the Subada Ke Kothee the gates were opened at once at the order of the Nana's officer, and the palanquin was carried across the courtyard to the door of the building which was used as a prison for the white women and children. It was taken into the great arched room and set down. Rabda stepped out, and the bearers lifted out the cushion upon which Isobel lay.
"You will not be wanted any more," Rabda said, in a tone of authority. "You can return to Bithoor at once!"
As the door closed behind them several of the ladies came round to see this fresh arrival. Rabda looked round till her eye fell upon Mrs. Hunter, who was occupied in trying to hush a fractious child. She put her hand on her arm and motioned to her to come along. Surprised at the summons, Mrs. Hunter followed her. When they reached the cushion Rabda lifted the shawl from Isobel's face. For a moment Mrs. Hunter failed to recognize her, but as Isobel opened her eyes and held out her hand she knew her, and with a cry of pity she dropped on her knees beside her.
"My poor child, what have these fiends been doing to you?"
"They have been doing nothing, Mrs. Hunter," she whispered. "I am not so bad as I seem, though I have suffered a great deal of pain. I was carried away to Bithoor, to Nana Sahib's zenana, and I have burnt my face with caustic and acid; they think I have some terrible disease, and have sent me here."
"Bravely done, girl! Bravely and nobly done! We had best keep the secret to ourselves; there are constantly men looking through the bars of the window, and some of them may understand English."
Then she looked up and said, "It is Miss Hannay, she was captured with us in the boats; please help me to carry her over to the wall there, and my daughter and I will nurse her; it looks as if she had been terribly burnt, somehow."
Many of the ladies had met Isobel in the happy days before the troubles began, and great was the pity expressed at her appearance. She was carried to the side of the wall, where Mary and Mrs. Hunter at once made her as comfortable as they could. Rabda, who had now thrown back her veil, produced from under her dress the net containing some fifty small limes, and handed to Mrs. Hunter the pot of ointment and the lotion.
"She has saved me," Isobel said; "it is the daughter of the juggler who performed at your house, Mrs. Hunter; do thank her for me, and tell her how grateful I am."
Mrs. Hunter took Rabda's hand, and in her own language thanked her for her kindness to Isobel.
"I have done as I was told," Rabda said simply; "the Sahib Bathurst saved my life, and when he said the lady must be rescued from the hands of the Nana, it was only right that I should do so, even at the risk of my life."
"So Bathurst has escaped," Mrs. Hunter said, turning to Isobel. "I am glad of that, dear; I was afraid that all were gone."
"Yes, I had a note from him; it is by his means that I got away from Bithoor. He sent me the caustic and acid to burn my face. He told me Mr. Wilson had also escaped, and perhaps some others may have got away, though he did not seem to know it."
"But surely there could be no occasion to burn yourself as badly as you have done, Isobel."
"I am afraid I did put on too much acid," she said. "I was so afraid of not burning it enough; but it does not matter, it does not pain me nearly so much since I put on that ointment; it will soon get well."
Mrs. Hunter shook her head regretfully.
"I am afraid it will leave marks for a long time."
"That is of no consequence at all, Mrs. Hunter; I am so thankful at being here with you, that I should mind very little if I knew that it was always to be as bad as it is now. What does it matter?"
"It does not matter at all at present, my dear; but if you ever get out of this horrible place, some day you may think differently about it."
"I must go now," Rabda said. "Has the lady any message to send to the sahib?" and she again handed a paper and pencil to Isobel.
The girl took them, hesitating a little before writing:
"Thank God you have saved me. Some day, perhaps, I may be able to tell you how grateful I am; but, if not, you will know that if the worst happens to us, I shall die blessing you for what you have done for me. Pray do not linger longer in Cawnpore. You may be discovered, and if I am spared, it would embitter my life always to know that it had cost you yours. God bless you always.
She folded up the paper and gave it to Rabda, who took her hand and kissed it; and then, drawing her veil again over her face, went to the door, which stood open for the moment.
Some men were bringing in a large cauldron of rice. The sentries offered no opposition to her passing out, as the officer with the palanquin had told them that a lady of the Rajah's zenana would leave shortly. A similar message had been given to the officer at the main gate, who, however, requested to see her hand and arm to satisfy him that all was right. This was sufficient to assure him that it was not a white woman passing out in disguise, and Rabda at once proceeded to her father's house.
As she expected, he and Bathurst were away, for she had arranged to meet them at eight o'clock in the garden. They did not return until eleven, having waited two hours for her, and returning home in much anxiety at her non-appearance.
"What has happened? Why did you not meet us, Rabda?" her father exclaimed, as he entered.
Rabda rapidly repeated the incidents that had happened since she had parted from him the evening before, and handed to Bathurst the two notes she had received from Isobel.
"Then she is in safety with the others!" he exclaimed in delight. "Thank God for that, and thank you, Rabda, indeed, for what you have done."
"My life is my lord's," the girl said quietly. "What I have done is nothing."
"If we had but known, Rujub, that she would be moved at once, we might have rescued her on the way."
Rujub shook his head.
"There are far too many people along the road, sahib; it could not have been done. But, of course, there was no knowing that she would be sent off directly after the Nana had seen her."
"Is she much disfigured, Rabda?" Bathurst asked.
"Dreadfully;" the girl said sorrowfully. "The acid must have been too strong."
"It was strong, no doubt," Bathurst said; "but if she had put it on as I instructed her it could only have burnt the surface of the skin."
"It has burnt her dreadfully, sahib; even I should hardly have known her. She must be brave indeed to have done it. She must have suffered dreadfully; but I obtained some ointment for her, and she was better when I left her. She is with the wife of the Sahib Hunter."
"Now, Rabda, see if the meal is prepared," Rujub said. "We are both hungry, and you can have eaten nothing this morning."
He then left the room, leaving Bathurst to read the letters which he still held in his hand, feeling that they were too precious to be looked at until he was alone.
It was some time before Rabda brought in his breakfast, and, glancing at him, she saw how deeply he had been moved by the letters. She went up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder.
"We will get her for you, sahib. We have been successful so far, be assured that we shall succeed again. What we have done is more difficult than what we have to do. It is easier to get twenty prisoners from a jail than one from a rajah's zenana."
"That is true enough, Rabda. At the moment I was not thinking of that, but of other things."
He longed for sympathy, but the girl would not have understood him had he told her his feelings. To her he was a hero, and it would have seemed to her folly had he said that he felt himself altogether unworthy of Isobel Hannay. After he had finished his breakfast Rujub again came in.
"What does the sahib intend to do now?" he asked.
"As far as I can see there is nothing to do at present, Rujub," he said. "When the white troops come up she will be delivered."
"Then will my lord go down to Allahabad?"
"Certainly not. There is no saying what may happen."
"That is so," Rujub agreed. "The white women are safe at present, but if, as the Sahib thinks, the white soldiers should beat the troops of the Nana, who can say what will happen? The people will be wild with rage, the Nana will be furious--he is a tiger who, having once laid his paw on a victim, will not allow it to be torn from him."
"He can never allow them to be injured," Bathurst said. "It is possible that as our troops advance he may carry them all off as hostages, and by the threat of killing them may make terms for his own life, but he would never venture to carry out his threats. You think he would?" he asked.
Rujub remained silent for a minute.
"I think so, sahib; the Nana is an ambitious man; he has wealth and everything most men would desire to make life happy, but he wanted more: he thought that when the British Raj was destroyed he would rule over the territories of the Peishwa, and be one of the greatest lords of the land. He has staked everything on that; if he loses, he has lost all. He knows that after the breach of his oath and the massacre here, there is no pardon for him. He is a tiger--and a wounded tiger is most dangerous. If he is, as you believe he will be, defeated, I believe his one thought will be of revenge. Every day brings news of fresh risings. Scindia's army will join us; Holkar's will probably follow. All Oude is rising in arms. A large army is gathering at Delhi. Even if the Nana is defeated here all will not be lost. He has twenty thousand men; there are well nigh two hundred thousand in arms round Lucknow alone. My belief is that if beaten his first thought will be to take revenge at once on the Feringhees, and to make his name terrible, and that he will then go off with his army to Lucknow or Delhi, where he would be received as one who has dared more than all others to defy the whites, who has no hope of pardon, and can, therefore, be relied upon above all others to fight to the last."
"It may be so, Rujub, though I can scarce believe that there exists a monster who would give orders for the murder of hundreds of women and children in cold blood; but, at any rate, I will remain and watch. We will decide upon what will be the best plan to rescue her from the prison, if we hear that evil is intended; but, if not, I can remain patiently until our troops arrive. I know the Subada Ke Kothee; it is, if I remember right, a large quadrangle with no windows on the outside."
"That is so, sahib; it is a strong place, and difficult indeed to get into or out of. There is only the main gate, which is guarded at night by two sentries outside and there is doubtless a strong guard within."
"I would learn whether the same regiment always furnishes the guard; if so, it might be possible to bribe them."
"I am afraid it would be too dangerous to try. There are scores of men in Cawnpore who would cut a throat for a rupee, but when it comes to breaking open a prison to carry off one of these white women whom they hate it would be too dangerous to try."
"Could you not do something with your art, Rujub?"
"If there were only the outside sentries it would be easy enough, sahib. I could send them to sleep with a wave of my hand, but I could not affect the men inside whom I do not know even by sight. Besides, in addition to the soldiers who guard the gate, there will be the men who have been told off to look after the prisoners. It will require a great deal of thinking over, sahib, but I believe we shall manage it. I shall go tomorrow to Bithoor and show myself boldly to the Nana. He knows that I have done good service to him, and his anger will have cooled down by this time, and he will listen to what I have to say. It will be useful to us for me to be able to go in and out of the palace at will, and so learn the first news from those about him. It is most important that we should know if he has evil intentions towards the captives, so that we may have time to carry out our plans."
"Very well, Rujub. You do not expect me to remain indoors, I hope, for I should wear myself out if I were obliged to wait here doing nothing."
"No, sahib; it will be perfectly safe for you to go about just as you are, and I can get you any other disguise you like. You will gather what is said in the town, can listen to the Sepoys, and examine the Subada Ke Kothee. If you like I will go there with you now. My daughter shall come with us; she may be useful, and will be glad to be doing something."
They went out from the city towards the prison house, which stood in an open space round which were several other buildings, some of them surrounded with gardens and walls.
The Subada Ke Kothee was a large building, forming three sides of a square, a strong high wall forming the fourth side. It was low, with a flat roof. There were no windows or openings in the outside wall, the chambers all facing the courtyard. Two sentries were at the gate. They were in the red Sepoy uniform, and Bathurst saw at once how much the bonds of discipline had been relaxed. Both had leaned their muskets against the wall; one was squatted on the ground beside his firearm, and the other was talking with two or three natives of his acquaintance. The gates were closed.
As they watched, a native officer came up. He stood for a minute talking with the soldiers. By his gesticulations it could be seen he was exceedingly angry, and the men took their muskets and began to walk up and down. Then the officer knocked at the gate. Instead of its being opened, a man appeared at a loophole in the gate tower, and the officer handed to him a paper. A minute later the gate was opened sufficiently for him to pass in, and was then closed behind him.
"They are evidently pretty strict," Bathurst said. "I don't think, Rujub, there is much chance of our doing anything there."
Rujub shook his head. "No, sahib, it is clear they have strict orders about opening and shutting the gate."
"It would not be very difficult to scale the wall of the house," Bathurst said, "with a rope and a hook at its end; but that is only the first step. The real difficulty lies in getting the prison room open in the first place--for no doubt they are locked up at night--and in the second getting her out of it, and the building."
"You could lower her down from the top of the wall, sahib."
"Yes, if one could get her out of the room they are confined in without making the slightest stir, but it is almost too much to hope that one could be able to do that. The men in charge of them are likely to keep a close watch, for they know that their heads would pay for any captive they allowed to escape."
"I don't think they will watch much, sahib; they will not believe that any of the women, broken down as they must be by trouble, would attempt such a thing, for even if they got out of the prison itself and then made their escape from the building, they would be caught before they could go far."
"Where does the prison house lie, Rabda?" Bathurst asked.
"It is on the left hand side as you enter the gate; it is the farthest door. Along that side most of the buildings--which have been used for storehouses, I should say, or perhaps for the guards when the place was a palace--have two floors, one above the other. But this is a large vaulted room extending from the ground to the roof; it has windows with iron gratings; the door is very strong and heavy."
"And now, sahib, we can do nothing more," Rujub said. "I will return home with Rabda, and then go over to Bithoor."
"Very well, Rujub, I will stay here, and hear what people are talking about."
There were indeed a considerable number of people near the building: the fact that the white prisoners were within seemed to exercise a fascination, and even women brought their children and sat on the banks which marked where gardens had once been, and talked of the white captives. Bathurst strolled about among the groups of Sepoys and townspeople. The former talked in loud tones of the little force that had already started from Allahabad, and boasted how easily they would eat up the Feringhees. It seemed, however, to Bathurst that a good deal of this confidence was assumed, and that among some, at least, there was an undercurrent of doubt and uneasiness, though they talked as loudly and boldly as their companions.
The townspeople were of two classes: there were the budmashes or roughs of the place, who uttered brutal and ferocious jokes as to the probable fate of the white women. There were others who kept in groups apart and talked in low voices. These were the traders, to whom the events that had taken place foreboded ruin. Already most of the shops had been sacked, and many of the principal inhabitants murdered by the mob. Those who had so far escaped, thanks in some instances to the protection afforded them by Sepoy officers, saw that their trade was ruined, their best customers killed, and themselves virtually at the mercy of the mob, who might again break out upon the occasion of any excitement. These were silent when Bathurst approached them. His attire, and the arms so ostentatiously displayed in his sash, marked him as one of the dangerous class, perhaps a prisoner from the jail whose doors had been thrown open on the first night of the Sepoy rising.
For hours Bathurst remained in the neighborhood of the prison. The sun set, and the night came on. Then a small party of soldiers came up and relieved the sentries. This time the number of the sentries at the gate was doubled, and three men were posted, one on each of the other sides of the building. After seeing this done he returned to the house. After he had finished his evening meal Rujub and Rabda came into the room.
"Now, sahib," the former said, "I think that we can tell you how the lady is. Rabda has seen her, spoken to her, and touched her; there is sympathy between them."
He seated Rabda in a chair, placed his hand on her forehead, and then drew the tips of his fingers several times slowly down her face. Her eyes closed. He took up her hand, and let it fall again. It was limp and impassive. Then he said authoritatively, "Go to the prison." He paused a moment.
"Are you there?"
"I am there," she said.
"Are you in the room where the ladies are?"
"I am there," she repeated.
"Do you see the lady Hannay?"
"I see her."
"How is she?"
"She is lying quiet. The other young lady is sitting beside her. The lower part of her face is bandaged up, but I can see that she is not suffering as she was this morning. She looks quiet and happy."
"Try and speak to her. Say, 'Keep up your courage, we are doing what we can.' Speak, I order you."
"I have spoken."
"Did she hear you?"
"Yes. She has raised herself on her arm; she is looking round; she has asked the other young lady if she heard anything. The other shakes her head. She heard my words, but does not understand them."
Rujub looked at Bathurst, who mechanically repeated the message in English.
"Speak to her again. Tell her these words," and Rujub repeated the message in English.
"Does she hear you?"
"She hears me. She has clasped her hands, and is looking round bewildered."
"That will do. Now go outside into the yard; what do you see there?"
"I see eight men sitting round a fire. One gets up and walks to one of the grated windows, and looks in at the prisoners."
"Is the door locked?"
"It is locked."
"Where is the key?"
She was silent for some time.
"Where is the key?" he repeated.
"In the lock," she said.
"How many soldiers are there in the guardroom by the gate?"
"There are no soldiers there. There are an officer and four men outside, but none inside."
"That will do," and he passed his hand lightly across her forehead.
"Is it all true?" Bathurst asked, as the juggler turned to him.
"Assuredly it is true, sahib. Had I had my daughter with me at Deennugghur, I could have sent you a message as easily; as it was, I had to trust only to the power of my mind upon yours. The information is of use, sahib."
"It is indeed. It is a great thing to know that the key is left in the lock, and also that at night there are the prison keepers only inside the building."
"Does she know what she has been doing?" he asked, as Rabda languidly rose from her chair.
"No, sahib, she knows nothing after she has recovered from these trances."
"I will watch tomorrow night," Bathurst said, "and see at what hour the sentries are relieved. It is evident that the Sepoys are not trusted to enter the prison, which is left entirely to the warders, the outside posts being furnished by some regiment in the lines. It is important to know the exact hour at which the changes are made, and perhaps you could find out tomorrow, Rujub, who these warders are; whether they are permanently on duty, or are relieved once a day."
"I will do that, sahib; if they are changed we may be able to get at some of them."
"I have no money," Bathurst said; "but--"
"I have money, sahib, and if they can be bribed, will do it; our caste is a rich one. We sometimes receive large presents, and we are everywhere made welcome. We have little need of money. I am wealthy, and practice my art more because I love it than for gain. There are few in the land that know the secrets that I do. Men die without having sons to pass down their knowledge; thus it is the number of those who possess the secrets of the ancient grows smaller every day. There are hundreds of jugglers, but very few who know, as I do, the secrets of nature, and can control the spirits of the air. Did I need greater wealth than I have, Rabda could discover for me all the hidden treasures of India; and I could obtain them, guarded though they may be by djins and evil spirits."
"Have you a son to come after you, Rujub?"
"Yes; he is traveling in Persia, to confer with one or two of the great ones there who still possess the knowledge of the ancient magicians."
"By the way, Rujub, I have not asked you how you got on with the Nana."
"It was easy enough," the juggler said. "He had lost all interest in the affairs of Deennugghur, and greeted me at first as if I had just returned from a journey. Then he remembered and asked me suddenly why I had disobeyed his orders and given my voice for terms being granted to the Feringhees. I said that I had obeyed his orders; I understood that what he principally desired was to have the women here as prisoners, and that had the siege continued the Feringhees would have blown themselves into the air. Therefore the only plan was to make terms with them, which would, in fact, place them all in his power, as he would not be bound by the conditions granted by the Oude men. He was satisfied, and said no more about it, and I am restored to my position in his favor. Henceforth we shall not have to trust to the gossip of the bazaars, but I shall know what news is received and what is going to be done.
"Your people at Delhi have beaten back the Sepoys several times, and at Lucknow they resist stoutly. The Nana is very angry that the place has not been taken, but from what I hear the intrenchments there are much stronger than they were here, and even here they were not taken by the sword, but because the whites had no shelter from the guns, and could not go to the well without exposing themselves to the fire. At Lucknow they have some strong houses in the intrenchments, and no want of anything, so they can only be captured by fighting. Everyone says they cannot hold out many days longer, but that I do not know. It does not seem to me that there is any hope of rescue for them, for even if, as you think, the white troops should beat Nana Sahib's men, they never could force their way through the streets of Lucknow to the intrenchments there."
"We shall see, Rujub. Deennugghur was defended by a mere handful, and at Lucknow they have half a regiment of white soldiers. They may, for anything I know, have to yield to starvation, but I doubt whether the mutineers and Oude men, however numerous they may be, will carry the place by assault. Is there any news elsewhere?"
"None, sahib, save that the Feringhees are bringing down regiments from the Punjaub to aid those at Delhi."
"The tide is beginning to turn, Rujub; the mutineers have done their worst, and have failed to overthrow the English Raj. Now you will see that every day they will lose ground. Fresh troops will pour up the country, and step by step the mutiny will be crushed out; it is a question of time only. If you could call up a picture on smoke of what will be happening a year hence, you would see the British triumphant everywhere."
"I cannot do that, sahib; I do not know what would appear on the smoke, and were I to try, misfortune would surely come upon me. When a picture of the past is shown on the smoke, it is not a past I know of, but which one of those present knows. I cannot always say which among them may know it; it is always a scene that has made a strong impression on the mind, but more than that I do not know. As to those of the future, I know even less; it is the work of the power of the air, whose name I whisper to myself when I pour out the incense, and to whom I pray. It is seldom that I show these pictures; he gets angry if called upon too often. I never do it unless I feel that he is propitious."
"It is beyond me altogether, Rujub; I can understand your power of sending messages, and of your daughter seeing at a distance. I have heard of such things at home; they are called mesmerism and clairvoyance. It is an obscure art; but that some men do possess the power of influencing others at a distance seems to be undoubted, still it is certainly never carried to such perfection as I see it in your case."
"It could not be," Rujub said; "white men eat too much, and it needs long fasting and mortification to fit a man to become a mystic; the spirit gains power as the body weakens. The Feringhees can make arms that shoot long distances, and carriages that travel faster than the fastest horse, and great ships and machines. They can do many great and useful things, but they cannot do the things that have been done for thousands of years in the East. They are tied too fast to the earth to have aught to do with the spirits that dwell in the air. A learned Brahmin, who had studied your holy books, told me that your Great Teacher said that if you had faith you could move mountains. We could well nigh do that if it were of use to mankind; but were we to do so merely to show our power, we should be struck dead. It is wrong even to tell you these things; I must say no more."
Four days passed. Rujub went every day for some hours to Bithoor, and told Bathurst that he heard that the British force, of about fourteen hundred whites and five hundred Sikhs, was pushing forward rapidly, making double marches each day.
"The first fight will be near Futtehpore," he said; "there are fifteen hundred Sepoys, as many Oude tribesmen, and five hundred cavalry with twelve guns, and they are in a very strong position, which the British can only reach by passing along the road through a swamp. It is a position that the officers say a thousand men could hold against ten thousand."
"You will see that it will not delay our troops an hour," Bathurst said. "Do they imagine they are going to beat us, when the numbers are but two to one in their favor? If so, they will soon learn that they are mistaken."
The next afternoon, when Rujub returned, he said, "You were right, sahib; your people took Futtehpore after only half an hour's fighting. The accounts say that the Feringhees came on like demons, and that they did not seem to mind our firing in the slightest. The Nana is furious, but they still feel confident that they will succeed in stopping the Feringhees at Dong. They lost their twelve guns at Futtehpore, but they have two heavy ones at the Pandoo Bridge, which sweep the straight road leading to it for a mile; and the bridge has been mined, and will be blown up if the Feringhees reach it. But, nevertheless, the Nana swears that he will be revenged on the captives. If you are to rescue the lady it must be done tonight, for tomorrow it may be too late."
"You surely do not think he will give orders for the murder of the women and children?"
"I fear he will do so," Rujub answered gloomily.
Each day Bathurst had learned in the same manner as before what was doing in the prison. Isobel was no longer being nursed; she was assisting to nurse Mary Hunter, who had, the day after Isobel was transferred to the prison, been attacked by fever, and was the next day delirious. Rabda's report of the next two days left little doubt in Bathurst's mind that she was rapidly sinking. All the prisoners suffered greatly from the close confinement; many had died, and the girl's description of the scenes she witnessed was often interrupted by her sobs and tears.