Chapter XXIII.
 

The next morning Bathurst found Isobel Hannay sitting in a shady court that had been converted into a sort of general room for the ladies in the fort.

"How are you, Miss Hannay? I am glad to see you down."

"I might repeat your words, Mr. Bathurst, for you see we have changed places. You are the invalid, and not I."

"There is very little of the invalid about me," he said. "I am glad to see that your face is much better than it was."

"Yes, it is healing fast. I am a dreadful figure still; and the Doctor says that there will be red scars for months, and that probably my face will be always marked."

"The Doctor is a croaker, Miss Hannay; there is no occasion to trust him too implicitly. I predict that there will not be any serious scars left."

He took a seat beside her. There were two or three others in the court, but these were upon the other side, quite out of hearing.

"I congratulate you, Mr. Bathurst," she said quietly, "on yesterday. The Doctor has, of course, told me all about it. It can make no difference to us who knew you, but I am heartily glad for your sake. I can understand how great a difference it must make to you."

"It has made all the difference in the world," he replied. "No one can tell the load it has lifted from my mind. I only wish it had taken place earlier."

"I know what you mean, Mr. Bathurst; the Doctor has told me about that too. You may wish that you had remained in the boat, but it was well for me that you did not. You would have lost your life without benefiting me. I should be now in the well of Cawnpore, or worse, at Bithoor."

"That may be," he said gravely, "but it does not alter the fact."

"I have no reason to know why you consider you should have stopped in the boat, Mr. Bathurst," she went on quietly, but with a slight flush on her cheek. "I can perhaps guess by what you afterwards did for me, by the risks you ran to save me; but I cannot go by guesses, I think I have a right to know."

"You are making me say what I did not mean to say," he exclaimed passionately, "at least not now; but you do more than guess, you know--you know that I love you."

"And what do you know?" she asked softly.

"I know that you ought not to love me." he said. "No woman should love a coward."

"I quite agree with you, but then I know that you are not a coward."

"Not when I jumped over and left you alone? It was the act of a cur."

"It was an act for which you were not really responsible. Had you been able to think, you would not have done so. I do not take the view the Doctor does, and I agree with you that a man loving a woman should first of all think of her and of her safety. So you thought when you could think, but you were no more responsible for your action than a madman for a murder committed when in a state of frenzy. It was an impulse you could not control. Had you, after the impulse had passed, come down here, believing, as you might well have believed, that it was absolutely impossible to rescue me from my fate, it would have been different. But the moment you came to yourself you deliberately took every risk and showed how brave you were when master of yourself. I am speaking plainly, perhaps more plainly than I ought to. But I should despise myself had I not the courage to speak out now when so much is at stake, and after all you have done for me.

"You love me?"

"You know that I love you."

"And I love you," the girl said; "more than that, I honor and esteem you. I am proud of your love. I am jealous for your honor as for my own, and I hold that honor to be spotless. Even now, even with my happiness at stake, I could not speak so plainly had I not spoken so cruelly and wrongly before. I did not know you then as I know you now, but having said what I thought then, I am bound to say what I think now, if only as a penance. Did I hesitate to do so, I should be less grateful than that poor Indian girl who was ready as she said, to give her life for the life you had saved."

"Had you spoken so bravely but two days since," Bathurst said, taking her hand, "I would have said. 'I love you too well, Isobel, to link your fate to that of a disgraced man.' but now I have it in my power to retrieve myself, to wipe out the unhappy memory of my first failure, and still more, to restore the self respect which I have lost during the last month. But to do so I must stay here: I must bear part in the terrible struggle there will be before this mutiny is put down, India conquered, and Cawnpore revenged."

"I will not try to prevent you," Isobel said. "I feel it would be wrong to do so. I could not honor you as I do, if for my sake you turned away now. Even though I knew I should never see you again, I would that you had died so, than lived with even the shadow of dishonor on your name. I shall suffer, but there are hundreds of other women whose husbands, lovers, or sons are in the fray, and I shall not flinch more than they do from giving my dearest to the work of avenging our murdered friends and winning back India."

So quietly had they been talking that no thought of how momentous their conversation had been had entered the minds of the ladies sitting working but a few paces away. One, indeed, had remarked to another, "I thought when Dr. Wade was telling us how Mr. Bathurst had rescued that unfortunate girl with the disfigured face at Cawnpore, that there was a romance in the case, but I don't see any signs of it. They are goods friends, of course, but there is nothing lover-like in their way of talking."

So thought Dr. Wade when he came in and saw them sitting there, and gave vent to his feeling in a grunt of dissatisfaction.

"It is like driving two pigs to market," he muttered; "they won't go the way I want them to, out of pure contrariness."

"It is all settled, Doctor," Bathurst said, rising. "Come, shake hands; it is to you I owe my happiness chiefly."

"Isobel, my dear, give me a kiss," the Doctor exclaimed. "I am glad, my dear, I am glad with all my heart. And what have you settled besides that?"

"We have settled that I am to go home as soon as I can go down country, and he is going up with you and the others to Cawnpore."

"That is right," the Doctor said heartily. "I told you that was what he would decide upon; it is right that he should do so. No man ought to turn his face to the coast till Lucknow is relieved and Delhi is captured. I thank God it has all come right at last. I began to be afraid that Bathurst's wrong headedness was going to mar both your lives."

The news had already come down that Havelock had found that it would be absolutely impossible with the small force at his command to fight his way into Lucknow through the multitude of foes that surrounded it, and that he must wait until reinforcements arrived. There was, therefore, no urgent hurry, and it was not until ten days later that a second troop of volunteer horse, composed of civilians unable to resume their duties, and officers whose regiments had mutinied, started for Cawnpore.

Half an hour before they mounted, Isobel Hannay and Ralph Bathurst were married by the chaplain in the fort. This was at Bathurst's earnest wish.

"I may not return, Isobel," he had urged: "it is of no use to blink the fact that we have desperate fighting before us, and I should go into battle with my mind much more easy in the knowledge that, come what might, you were provided for. The Doctor tells me that he considers you his adopted daughter, and that he has already drawn up a will leaving his savings to you; but I should like your future to come from me, dear, even if I am not to share it with you. As you know, I have a fine estate at home, and I should like to think of you as its mistress."

And Isobel of course had given way, though not without protest.

"You don't know what I may be like yet," she said, half laughing, half in earnest. "I may carry these red blotches to my grave."

"They are honorable scars, dear, as honorable as any gained in battle. I hope, for your sake, that they will get better in time, but it makes no difference to me. I know what you were, and how you sacrificed your beauty. I suppose if I came back short of an arm or leg you would not make that an excuse for throwing me over?"

"You ought to be ashamed of even thinking of such a thing, Ralph."

"Well, dear, I don't know that I did think it, but I am only putting a parallel case to your own. No, you must consent: it is in all ways best. We will be married on the morning I start, so as just to give time for our wedding breakfast before I mount."

"It shall be as you wish," she said softly. "You know the estate without you would be nothing to me, but I should like to bear your name, and should you never come back to me, Ralph, to mourn for you all my life as my husband. But I believe you will return to me. I think I am getting superstitious, and believe in all sorts of things since so many strange events have happened. Those pictures on the smoke that came true, Rujub sending you messages at Deennugghur, and Rabda making me hear her voice and giving me hope in prison. I do not feel so miserable at the thought of your going into danger as I should do, if I had not a sort of conviction that we shall meet again. People believe in presentiments of evil, why should they not believe in presentiments of good? At any rate, it is a comfort to me that I do feel so, and I mean to go on believing it."

"Do so, Isobel. Of course there will be danger, but the danger will be nothing to that we have passed through together. The Sepoys will no doubt fight hard, but already they must have begun to doubt; their confidence in victory must be shaken, and they begin to fear retribution for their crimes. The fighting will, I think, be less severe as the struggle goes on, and at any rate the danger to us, fighting as the assailants, is as nothing to that run when we were little groups surrounded by a country in arms.

"The news that has come through from Lucknow is that, for some time at any rate, the garrison are confident they can hold out, while at Delhi we know that our position is becoming stronger every day; the reinforcements are beginning to arrive from England, and though the work may be slow at first, our army will grow, while their strength will diminish, until we sweep them before us. I need not stop until the end, only till the peril is over, till Lucknow is relieved, and Delhi captured.

"As we agreed, I have already sent in my resignation in the service, and shall fight as a volunteer only. If we have to fight our way into Lucknow, cavalry will be useless, and I shall apply to be attached to one of the infantry regiments; having served before, there will be no difficulty about that. I think there are sure to be plenty of vacancies. Six months will assuredly see the backbone of the rebellion altogether broken. No doubt it will take much longer crushing it out altogether, for they will break up into scattered bodies, and it may be a long work before these are all hunted down; but when the strength of the rebellion is broken, I can leave with honor."

There were but few preparations to be made for the wedding. Great interest was felt in the fort in the event, for Isobel's rescue from Bithoor and Cawnpore, when all others who had fallen into the power of the Nana had perished, had been the one bright spot in the gloom; and there would have been a general feeling of disappointment had not the romance had the usual termination.

Isobel's presents were numerous and of a most useful character, for they took the form of articles of clothing, and her trousseau was a varied and extensive one.

The Doctor said to her the evening before the event, "You ought to have a certificate from the authorities, Isobel, saying how you came into possession of your wardrobe, otherwise when you get back to England you will very soon come to be looked upon as a most suspicious character."

"How do you mean, Doctor?"

"Well, my dear, if the washerwoman to whom you send your assortment at the end of the voyage is an honest woman, she will probably give information to the police that you must be a receiver of stolen property, as your garments are all marked with different names."

"It will look suspicious, Doctor, but I must run the risk of that till I can remark them again. I can do a good deal that way before I sail. It is likely we shall be another fortnight at least before we can start for Calcutta. I don't mean to take the old names out, but shall mark my initials over them and the word 'from.' Then they will always serve as mementoes of the kindness of everyone here."

Early on the morning of the wedding a native presented himself at the gate of the fort, and on being allowed to enter with a letter for Miss Hannay of which he was the bearer, handed her a parcel, which proved to contain a very handsome and valuable set of jewelry, with a slip of paper on which were the words, "From Rabda."

The Doctor was in high spirits at the breakfast to which everybody sat down directly after the wedding. In the first place, his greatest wish was gratified; and, in the second, he was about to start to take part in the work of retribution.

"One would think you were just starting on a pleasure party, Doctor," Isobel said.

"It is worth all the pleasure parties in the world, my dear. I have always been a hunter, and this time it is human 'tigers' I am going in pursuit of--besides which," he said, in a quieter tone, "I hope I am going to cure as well as kill. I shall only be a soldier when I am not wanted as a doctor. A man who really loves his profession, as I do, is always glad to exercise it, and I fear I shall have ample opportunities that way; besides, dear there is nothing like being cheerful upon an occasion of this kind. The longer we laugh, the less time there is for tears."

And so the party did not break up until it was nearly time for the little troop to start. Then there was a brief passionate parting, and the volunteer horse rode away to Cawnpore. Almost the first person they met as they rode into the British lines was Wilson, who gave a shout of joy at seeing the Doctor and Bathurst.

"My dear Bathurst!" he exclaimed. "Then you got safely down. Did you rescue Miss Hannay?"

"I had that good fortune, Wilson."

"I am glad. I am glad," the young fellow said, shaking his hand violently, while the tears stood in his eyes. "I know you were right in sending me away, but I have regretted it ever since. I know I should have been no good, but it seemed such a mean thing for me to go off by myself. Well, Doctor, and so you got off too," he went on, turning from Bathurst and wringing the Doctor's hand; "I never even hoped that you escaped. I made sure that it was only we two. I have had an awful time of it since we heard the news, on the way up, of the massacre of the women. I had great faith in Bathurst, and knew that if anything could be done he would do it, but when I saw the place they had been shut up in, it did not seem really possible that he could have got anyone out of such a hole. And where did you leave Miss Hannay?"

"We have not left her at all," the Doctor said gravely; "there is no longer a Miss Hannay. There, man, don't look so shocked. She changed her name on the morning we came away."

"What!" Wilson exclaimed. "Is she Mrs. Bathurst? I am glad, Bathurst. Shake hands again; I felt sure that if you did rescue her that was what would come of it. I was almost certain by her way when I talked to her about you one day that she liked you. I was awfully spoony on her myself, you know, but I knew it was no use, and I would rather by a lot that she married you than anyone else I know. But come along into my tent; you know your troop and ours are going to be joined. We have lost pretty near half our fellows, either in the fights coming up or by sunstroke or fever since we came here. I got hold of some fizz in the bazaar yesterday, and I am sure you must be thirsty. This is a splendid business; I don't know that I ever felt so glad of anything in my life," and he dragged them away to his tent.

Bathurst found, to his disappointment, that intense as was the desire to push forward to Lucknow, the general opinion was that the General would not venture to risk his little force in an operation that, with the means at his disposal, seemed well nigh impossible. Cholera had made considerable ravages, and he had but fifteen hundred bayonets at his disposal. All that could be done pending the arrival of reinforcements was to prepare the way for an advance, and show so bold a front that the enemy would be forced to draw a large force from Lucknow to oppose his advance.

A bridge of boats was thrown across the Ganges, and the force crossed the river and advanced to Onao, eight miles on the road to Lucknow. Here the enemy, strongly posted, barred the way; but they were attacked, and, after hard fighting, defeated, with a loss of three hundred men and fifteen guns.

In this fight the volunteer horse, who had been formed into a single troop, did good service. One of their two officers was killed; and as the party last up from Allahabad were all full of Bathurst's rescue of Miss Hannay from Cawnpore, and Wilson and the Doctor influenced the others, he was chosen to fill the vacancy.

There were two other fierce fights out at Busserutgunge, and then Bathurst had the satisfaction of advancing with the column against Bithoor. Here again the enemy fought sturdily, but were defeated with great slaughter, and the Nana's palace was destroyed.

When, after the arrival of Outram with reinforcements, the column set out for Lucknow, the volunteers did not accompany them, as they would have been useless in street fighting, and were, therefore, detailed to form part of the little force left at Cawnpore to hold the city and check the rebels, parties of whom were swarming round it.

The officer in command of the troop died of cholera a few days after Havelock's column started up, and Bathurst succeeded him. The work was very arduous, the men being almost constantly in their saddles, and having frequent encounters with the enemy. They were again much disappointed at being left behind when Sir Colin Campbell advanced to the relief of Havelock and the garrison, but did more than their share of fighting in the desperate struggle when the mutineers of the Gwallior contingent attacked the force at Cawnpore during the absence of the relieving column. Here they were almost annihilated in a desperate charge which saved the 64th from being cut to pieces at the most critical moment of the fight.

Wilson came out of the struggle with the loss of his left arm, and two or three serious wounds. He had been cut off, and surrounded, and was falling from his horse when Bathurst cut his way to his rescue, and, lifting him into his saddle before him, succeeded after desperate fighting in carrying him off, himself receiving several wounds, none of which, however, were severe. The action had been noticed, and Bathurst's name was sent in for the Victoria Cross. As the troop had dwindled to a dozen sabers, he applied to Sir Colin Campbell, whose column had arrived in time to save the force at Cawnpore and to defeat the enemy, to be attached to a regiment as a volunteer. The General, however, at once offered him a post as an extra aide de camp to himself, as his perfect knowledge of the language would render him of great use; and he gladly accepted the offer.

With the column returning from Lucknow was the Doctor.

"By the way, Bathurst," he said on the evening of his return, "I met an old acquaintance in Lucknow; you would never guess who it was--Forster."

"You don't say so; Doctor."

"Yes; it seems he was hotly pursued, but managed to shake the sowars off. At that time the garrison was not so closely besieged as it afterwards was. He knew the country well, and made his way across it until within sight of Lucknow. At night he rode right through the rebels, swam the river, and gained the Residency. He distinguished himself greatly through the siege, but had been desperately wounded the day before we marched in. He was in a ward that was handed over to me directly I got there, and I at once saw that his case was a hopeless one. The poor fellow was heartily glad to see me. Of course he knew nothing of what had taken place at Deennugghur after he had left, and was very much cut up when he heard the fate of almost all the garrison. He listened quietly when I told how you had rescued Isobel and of your marriage. He was silent, and then said, 'I am glad to hear it, Doctor. I can't say how pleased I am she escaped. Bathurst has fairly won her. I never dreamt that she cared for him. Well, it seems he wasn't a coward after all. And you say he has resigned and come up as a volunteer instead of going home with her? That is plucky, anyhow. Well, I am pleased. I should not have been so if I hadn't been like this, Doctor, but now I am out of the running for good, it makes no odds to me either way. If ever you see him again, you tell him I said I was glad. I expect he will make her a deucedly better husband than I should have done. I never liked Bathurst, but I expect it was because he was a better fellow than most of us--that was at school, you know--and of course I did not take to him at Deennugghur. No one could have taken to a man there who could not stand fire. But you say he has got over that, so that is all right. Anyhow, I have no doubt he will make her happy. Tell her I am glad, Doctor. I thought at one time--but that is no odds now. I am glad you are out of it, too.'

"And then he rambled on about shooting Sepoys, and did not say anything more coherently until late that night. I was sitting by him; he had been unconscious for some time, and he opened his eyes suddenly and said, 'Tell them both I am glad,' and those were the last words he spoke."

"He was a brave soldier, a fine fellow in many ways," Bathurst said; "if he had been brought up differently he would, with all his gifts, have been a grand fellow, but I fancy he never got any home training. Well, I am glad he didn't die as we supposed, without a friend beside him, on his way to Lucknow, and that he fell after doing his duty to the women and children there."

Wilson refused to go home after the loss of his arm, and as soon as he recovered was appointed to one of the Sikh regiments, and took part in the final conquest of Lucknow two months after the fight at Cawnpore. A fortnight after the conclusion of that terrible struggle Sir Colin Campbell announced to Bathurst that amongst the dispatches that he had received from home that morning was a Gazette, in which his name appeared among those to whom the Victoria Cross had been granted.

"I congratulate you heartily, Mr. Bathurst," the old officer said: "I have had the pleasure of speaking in the highest terms of the bravery you displayed in carrying my message through heavy fire a score of times during the late operations."

Great as the honor of the Victoria Cross always is, to Bathurst it was much more than to other men. It was his rehabilitation. He need never fear now that his courage would be questioned, and the report that he had before left the army because he lacked courage would be forever silenced now that he could write V. C. after his name. The pleasure of Dr. Wade and Wilson was scarcely less than his own. The latter's regiment had suffered very heavily in the struggle at Lucknow, and he came out of it a captain, having escaped without a wound.

A week later Bathurst resigned his appointment. There was still much to be done, and months of marching and fighting before the rebellion was quite stamped out; but there had now arrived a force ample to overcome all opposition, and there was no longer a necessity for the service of civilians. As he had already left the service of the Company, he was his own master, and therefore started at once for Calcutta..

"I shall not be long before I follow you," the Doctor said, as they spent their last evening together. "I shall wait and see this out, and then retire. I should have liked to have gone home with you, but it is out of the question. Our hands are full, and likely to be so for some time, so I must stop."

Bathurst stopped for a day at Patna to see Rujub and his daughter. He was received as an expected guest, and after spending a few hours with them he continued his journey. At Calcutta he found a letter awaiting him from Isobel, saying that she had arrived safely in England, and should stay with her mother until his arrival, and there he found her.

"I expected you today," she said, after the first rapturous greeting was over. "Six weeks ago I woke in the middle of the night, and heard Rabda's voice distinctly say: 'He has been with us today: he is safe and well; he is on his way to you.' As I knew how long you would take going down from Patna, I went the next day to the office and found what steamer you would catch, and when she would arrive. My mother and sister both regarded me as a little out of my mind when I said you would be back this week. They have not the slightest belief in what I told them about Rujub, and insist that it was all a sort of hallucination brought on by my sufferings. Perhaps they will believe now."

"Your face is wonderfully better," he said presently. "The marks seem dying out, and you look almost your old self."

"Yes," she said; "I have been to one of the great doctors, and he says he thinks the scars will quite disappear in time."

Isobel Bathurst has never again received any distinct message from Rabda, but from time to time she has the consciousness, when sitting quietly alone, that the girl is with her in thought. Every year letters and presents are exchanged, and to the end of their lives she and her husband will feel that their happiness is chiefly due to her and her father--Rujub, the Juggler.

THE END.