Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
A young man in a suit of brown karkee, with a white puggaree wound round his pith helmet, was just mounting in front of his bungalow at Deennugghur, some forty miles from Cawnpore, when two others came up.
"Which way are you going to ride, Bathurst?"
"I am going out to Narkeet; there is a dispute between the villagers and a Talookdar as to their limits. I have got to look into the case. Why do you ask, Mr. Hunter?"
"I thought that you might be going that way. You know we have had several reports of ravages by a man eater whose headquarters seem to be that big jungle you pass through on your way to Narkeet. He has been paying visits to several villages in its neighborhood, and has carried off two mail runners. I should advise you to keep a sharp lookout."
"Yes, I have heard plenty about him; it is unfortunate we have no one at this station who goes in for tiger hunting. Young Bloxam was speaking to me last night; he is very hot about it; but as he knows nothing about shooting, and has never fired off a rifle in his life, except at the military target, I told him that it was madness to think of it by himself, and that he had better ride down to the regiment at Cawnpore, and get them to form a party to come up to hunt the beast. I told him they need not bring elephants with them; I could get as many as were necessary from some of the Talookdars, and there will be no want of beaters. He said he would write at once, but he doubted whether any of them would be able to get away at present; the general inspection is just coming on. However, no doubt they will be able to do so before long."
"Well, if I were you I would put a pair of pistols into my holster, Bathurst; it would be awfully awkward if you came across the beast."
"I never carry firearms," the young man said shortly; and then more lightly, "I am a peaceful man by profession, as you are, Mr. Hunter, and I leave firearms to those whose profession it is to use them. I have hitherto never met with an occasion when I needed them, and am not likely to do so. I always carry this heavy hunting whip, which I find useful sometimes, when the village dogs rush out and pretend that they are going to attack me; and I fancy that even an Oude swordsman would think twice before attacking me when I had it in my hand. But, of course, there is no fear about the tiger. I generally ride pretty fast; and even if he were lying by the roadside waiting for a meal, I don't think he would be likely to interfere with me."
So saying, he lightly touched the horse's flanks with his spurs and cantered off.
"He's a fine young fellow, Garnet," Mr. Hunter said to his companion; "full of energy, and, they say, the very best linguist in Oude."
"Yes, he is all that," the other agreed; "but he is a sort of fellow one does not quite understand. I like a man who is like other fellows; Bathurst isn't. He doesn't shoot, he doesn't ride --I mean he don't care for pig sticking; he never goes in for any fun there may be on hand; he just works--nothing else; he does not seem to mix with other people; he is the sort of fellow one would say had got some sort of secret connected with him."
"If he has, I am certain it is nothing to his personal disadvantage," Mr. Hunter said warmly. "I have known him for the last six years-- I won't say very well, for I don't think anyone does that, except, perhaps, Doctor Wade. When there was a wing of the regiment up here three years ago he and Bathurst took to each other very much --perhaps because they were both different from other people. But, anyhow, from what I know of Bathurst I believe him to be a very fine character, though there is certainly an amount of reserve about him altogether unusual. At any rate, the service is a gainer by it. I never knew a fellow work so indefatigably. He will take a very high place in the service before he has done."
"I am not so sure of that," the other said. "He is a man with opinions of his own, and all sorts of crotchets and fads. He has been in hot water with the Chief Commissioner more than once. When I was over at Lucknow last I was chatting with two or three men, and his name happened to crop up, and one of them said, 'Bathurst is a sort of knight errant, an official Don Quixote. Perhaps the best officer in the province in some respects, but hopelessly impracticable.'"
"Yes, that I can quite understand, Garnet. That sort of man is never popular with the higher official, whose likings go to the man who does neither too much nor too little, who does his work without questioning, and never thinks of making suggestions, and is a mere official machine. Men of Bathurst's type, who go to the bottom of things, protest against what they consider unfair decisions, and send in memorandums showing that their superiors are hopelessly ignorant and idiotically wrong, are always cordially disliked. Still, they generally work their way to the front in the long run. Well, I must be off."
Bathurst rode to Narkeet without drawing rein. His horse at times slackened its pace on its own accord, but an almost mechanical motion from its rider's heel soon started it off again at the rapid pace at which its rider ordinarily traveled. From the time he left Deennugghur to his arrival at Narkeet no thought of the dreaded man eater entered Bathurst's mind. He was deeply meditating on a memorandum he was about to draw up, respecting a decision that had been arrived at in a case between a Talookdar in his district and the Government, and in which, as it appeared to him, a wholly erroneous and unjust view had been taken as to the merits of the case; and he only roused himself when the horse broke into a walk as it entered the village. Two or three of the head men, with many bows and salutations of respect, came out to receive him.
"My lord sahib has seen nothing of the tiger?" the head man said; "our hearts were melted with fear, for the evil beast was heard roaring in the jungle not far from the road early this morning."
"I never gave it a thought, one way or the other," Bathurst said, as he dismounted. "I fancy the horse would have let me know if the brute had been anywhere near. See that he is tied up in the shed, and has food and water, and put a boy to keep the flies from worrying him. And now let us get to business. First of all, I must go through the village records and documents; after that I will question four or five of the oldest inhabitants, and then we must go over the ground. The whole question turns, you know, upon whether the irrigation ditch mentioned in the Talookdar's grant is the one that runs across at the foot of the rising ground on his side, or whether it is the one that sweeps round on this side of the grove with the little temple in it. Unfortunately most of the best land lies between those ditches."
For hours Bathurst listened to the statements of the old people of the village, cross questioning them closely, and sparing no efforts to sift the truth from their confused and often contradictory evidence. Then he spent two hours going over the ground and endeavoring to satisfy himself which of the two ditches was the one named in the village records. He had two days before taken equal pains in sifting the evidence on the other side.
"I trust that my lord sees there can be no doubt as to the justice of our claim," the head man said humbly, as he prepared to mount again.
"According to your point of view, there is no doubt about it, Childee; but then there is equally no doubt the other way, according to the statements they put forward. But that is generally the way in all these land disputes. For good hard swearing your Hindoo cultivator can be matched against the world. Unfortunately there is nothing either in your grant or in your neighbors' that specifies unmistakably which of these ancient ditches is the one referred to. My present impression is that it is essentially a case for a compromise, but you know the final decision does not rest on me. I shall be out here again next week, and I shall write to the Talookdar to meet me here, and we will go over the ground together again, and see if we cannot arrange some line that will be fair to both parties. If we can do that, the matter would be settled without expense and trouble; whereas, if it goes up to Lucknow it may all have to be gone into again; and if the decision is given against you, and as far as I can see it is just as likely to be one way as another, it will be a serious thing for the village."
"We are in my lord's hands," the native said; "he is the protector of the poor, and will do us justice."
"I will do you justice, Childee, but I must do justice to the other side too. Of course, neither of you will be satisfied, but that cannot be helped."
His perfect knowledge of their language, the pains he took to sift all matters brought before him to the bottom, had rendered the young officer very popular among the natives. They knew they could get justice from him direct. There was no necessity to bribe underlings: he had the knack of extracting the truth from the mass of lying evidence always forthcoming in native cases; and even the defeated party admired the manner in which the fabric of falsehood was pulled to pieces. But the main reason of his popularity was his sympathy, the real interest which he showed in their cases, and the patience with which he listened to their stories.
Bathurst himself, as he rode homewards, was still thinking of the case. Of course there had been lying on both sides; but to that he was accustomed. It was a question of importance--of greater importance, no doubt, to the villagers than to their opponent, but still important to him--for this tract of land was a valuable one, and of considerable extent, and there was really nothing in the documents produced on either side to show which ditch was intended by the original grants. Evidently, at the time they were made, very many years before, one ditch or the other was not in existence; but there was no proof as to which was the more recent, although both sides professed that all traditions handed down to them asserted the ditch on their side to be the more recent.
He was riding along the road through the great jungle, at his horse's own pace, which happened for the moment to be a gentle trot, when a piercing cry rang through the air a hundred yards ahead. Bathurst started from his reverie, and spurred his horse sharply; the animal dashed forward at a gallop. At a turn in the road he saw, twenty yards ahead of him, a tiger, standing with a foot upon a prostrate figure, while a man in front of it was gesticulating wildly. The tiger stood as if hesitating whether to strike down the figure in front or to content itself with that already in its power.
The wild shouts of the man had apparently drowned the sound of the horse's feet upon the soft road, for the animal drew back half a pace as it suddenly came into view.
The horse swerved at the sight, and reared high in the air as Bathurst drove his spurs into it. As its feet touched the ground again, Bathurst sprang off and rushed at the tiger, and brought down the heavy lash of his whip with all his force across its head. With a fierce snarl it sprang back two paces, but again and again the whip descended upon it, and bewildered and amazed at the attack it turned swiftly and sprang through the bushes.
Bathurst, knowing that there was no fear of its returning, turned at once to the figure on the road. It was, as in even the momentary glance he had noticed, a woman, or rather a girl of some fourteen or fifteen years of age--the man had dropped on his knees beside her, moaning and muttering incoherent words.
"I see no blood," Bathurst said, and stooping, lifted the light figure. "Her heart beats, man; I think she has only fainted. The tiger must have knocked her down in its spring without striking her. So far as I can see she is unhurt."
He carried her to the horse, which stood trembling a few yards away, took a flask from the holster, and poured a little brandy and water between her lips.
Presently there was a faint sigh. "She is coming round," he said to the man, who was still kneeling, looking on with vacant eyes, as though he had neither heard nor comprehended what Bathurst was doing. Presently the girl moved slightly and opened her eyes. At first there was no expression in them; then a vague wonder stole into them at the white face looking down upon her.
She closed them again, and then reopened them, and then there was a slight struggle to free herself. He allowed her to slip through his arms until her feet touched the ground; then her eyes fell on the kneeling figure.
"Father!" she exclaimed. With a cry the man leaped to his feet, sprang to her and seized her in his arms, and poured out words of endearment. Then suddenly he released her and threw himself on the ground before Bathurst, with ejaculations of gratitude and thankfulness.
"Get up, man, get up," the latter said; "your daughter can scarce stand alone, and the sooner we get away from this place the better; that savage beast is not likely to return, but he may do so; let us be off."
He mounted his horse again, brought it up to the side of the girl, and then, leaning over, took her and swung her into the saddle in front of him. The man took up a large box that was lying in the road and hoisted it onto his shoulders, and then, at a foot's pace, they proceeded on their way--Bathurst keeping a close watch on the jungle at the side on which the tiger had entered it.
"How came you to travel along this road alone?" he asked the man. "The natives only venture through in large parties, because of this tiger."
"I am a stranger," the man answered; "I heard at the village where we slept last night that there was a tiger in this jungle, but I thought we should be through it before nightfall, and therefore there was no danger. If one heeded all they say about tigers one would never travel at all. I am a juggler, and we are on our way down the country through Cawnpore and Allahabad. Had it not been for the valor of my lord sahib, we should never have got there; for had I lost my Rabda, the light of my heart, I should have gone no further, but should have waited for the tiger to take me also."
"There was no particular valor about it," Bathurst said shortly. "I saw the beast with its foot on your daughter, and dismounted to beat it off just as if it had been a dog, without thinking whether there was any danger in it or not. Men do it with savage beasts in menageries every day. They are cowardly brutes after all, and can't stand the lash. He was taken altogether by surprise, too."
"My lord has saved my daughter's life, and mine is at his service henceforth," the man said. "The mouse is a small beast, but he may warn the lion. The white sahibs are brave and strong. Would one of my countrymen have ventured his life to attack a tiger, armed only with a whip, for the sake of the life of a poor wayfarer?"
"Yes, I think there are many who would have done so," Bathurst replied. "You do your countrymen injustice. There are plenty of brave men among them, and I have heard before now of villagers, armed only with sticks, attacking a tiger who has carried off a victim from among them. You yourself were standing boldly before it when I came up."
"My child was under its feet--besides, I never thought of myself. If I had had a weapon I should not have drawn it. I had no thought of the tiger; I only thought that my child was dead. She works with me, sahib; since her mother died, five years ago, we have traveled together over the country; she plays while I conjure. She takes round the saucer for the money, and she acts with me in the tricks that require two persons; it is she who disappears from the basket. We are everything to each other, sahib. But what is my lord's name? Will he tell his servant, that he and Rabda may think of him and talk of him as they tramp the roads together?"
"My name is Ralph Bathurst. I am District Officer at Deennugghur. How far are you going this evening?"
"We shall sleep at the first village we come to, sahib; we have walked many hours today, and this box, though its contents are not weighty, is heavy to bear. We thought of going down tomorrow to Deennugghur, and showing our performances to the sahib logue there."
"Very well; but there is one thing--what is your name?"
"Well, Rujub, if you go on to Deennugghur tomorrow say nothing to anyone there about this affair with the tiger; it is nothing to talk about. I am not a shikari, but a hard working official, and I don't want to be talked about."
"The sahib's wish shall be obeyed," the man said.
"You can come round to my bungalow and ask for me; I shall be glad to hear whether your daughter is any the worse for her scare. How do you feel, Rabda?"
"I feel as one in a dream, sahib. I saw a great yellow beast springing through the air, and I cried out, and knew nothing more till I saw the sahib's face; and now I have heard him and my father talking, but their voices sound to me as if far away, though I know that you are holding me."
"You will be all the better after a night's rest, child; no wonder you feel strange and shaken. Another quarter of an hour and we shall be at the village. I suppose, Rujub, you were born a conjurer."
"Yes, sahib, it is always so; it goes down from father to son. As soon as I was able to walk, I began to work with my father, and as I grew up he initiated me in the secrets of our craft, which we may never divulge."
"No, I know they are a mystery. Many of your tricks can be done by our conjurers at home, but there are some that have never been solved."
"I have been offered, more than once, large sums by English sahibs to tell them how some of the feats were done, but I could not; we are bound by terrible oaths, and; in no case has a juggler proved false to them. Were one to do so he would be slain without mercy, and his fate in the next world would be terrible; forever and forever his soul would pass through the bodies of the foulest and lowest creatures, and there would be no forgiveness for him. I would give my life for the sahib, but even to him I would not divulge our mysteries."
In a few minutes they came to the first village beyond the jungle. As they approached it Bathurst checked his horse and lifted the girl down. She took his hand and pressed her forehead to it.
"I shall see you tomorrow, then, Rujub," he said, and shaking the reins, went on at a canter.
"That is a new character for me to come out in," he said bitterly; "I do not know myself--I, of all men. But there was no bravery in it; it never occurred to me to be afraid; I just thrashed him off as I should beat off a dog who was killing a lamb; there was no noise, and it is noise that frightens me; if the brute had roared I should assuredly have run; I know it would have been so; I could not have helped it to have saved my life. It is an awful curse that I am not as other men, and that I tremble and shake like a girl at the sound of firearms. It would have been better if I had been killed by the first shot fired in the Punjaub eight years ago, or if I had blown my brains out at the end of the day. Good Heavens! what have I suffered since. But I will not think of it. Thank God, I have got my work; and as long as I keep my thoughts on that there is no room for that other;" and then, by a great effort of will, Ralph Bathurst put the past behind him, and concentrated his thoughts on the work on which he had been that day engaged.
The juggler did not arrive on the following evening as he had expected, but late in the afternoon a native boy brought in a message from him, saying that his daughter was too shaken and ill to travel, but that they would come when she recovered.
A week later, on returning from a long day's work, Bathurst was told that a juggler was in the veranda waiting to see him.
"I told him, sahib," the servant said, "that you cared not for such entertainments, and that he had better go elsewhere; but he insisted that you yourself had told him to come, and so I let him wait."
"Has he a girl with him, Jafur?"
Bathurst strolled round to the other side of the bungalow, where Rujub was sitting patiently, with Rabda wrapped in her blue cloth beside him. They rose to their feet.
"I am glad to see your daughter is better again, Rujub."
"She is better, sahib; she has had fever, but is restored."
"I cannot see your juggling tonight, Rujub. I have had a heavy day's work, and am worn out, and have still much to do. You had better go round to some of the other bungalows; though I don't think you will do much this evening, for there is a dinner party at the Collector's, and almost everyone will be there. My servants will give you food, and I shall be off at seven o'clock in the morning, but shall be glad to see you before I start. Are you in want of money?" and he put his hand in his pocket.
"No, sahib," the juggler said. "We have money sufficient for all our wants; we are not thinking of performing tonight, for Rabda is not equal to it. Before sunrise we shall be on our way again; I must be at Cawnpore, and we have delayed too long already. Could you give us but half an hour tonight, sahib; we will come at any hour you like. I would show you things that few Englishmen have seen. Not mere common tricks, sahib, but mysteries such as are known to few even of us. Do not say no, sahib."
"Well, if you wish it, Rujub, I will give you half an hour," and Bathurst looked at his watch. "It is seven now, and I have to dine. I have work to do that will take me three hours at least, but at eleven I shall have finished. You will see a light in my room; come straight to the open window."
"We will be there, sahib;" and with a salaam the juggler walked off, followed by his daughter.
A few minutes before the appointed time Bathurst threw down his pen with a little sigh of satisfaction.
The memo he had just finished was a most conclusive one; it seemed to him unanswerable, and that the Department would have trouble in disputing his facts and figures. He had not since he sat down to his work given another thought to the juggler, and he almost started as a figure appeared in the veranda at the open window.
"Ah, Rujub, is it you? I have just finished my work. Come in; is Rabda with you?"
"She will remain outside until I want her," the juggler said as he entered and squatted himself on the floor. "I am not going to juggle, sahib. With us there are two sorts of feats; there are those that are performed by sleight of hand or by means of assistance. These are the juggler's tricks we show in the verandas and compounds of the white sahibs, and in the streets of the cities. There are others that are known only to the higher order among us, that we show only on rare occasions. They have come to us from the oldest times, and it is said they were brought by wise men from Egypt; but that I know not."
"I have always been interested in juggling, and have seen many things that I cannot understand," Bathurst said. "I have seen the basket trick done on the road in front of the veranda, as well as in other places, and I cannot in any way account for it."
The juggler took from his basket a piece of wood about two feet in length and some four inches in diameter.
"You see this?" he said.
Bathurst took it in his hand. "It looks like a bit sawn off a telegraph pole," he said.
"Will you come outside, sahib?"
The night was very dark, but the lamp on the table threw its light through the window onto the drive in front of the veranda. Rujub took with him a piece of wood about nine inches square, with a soft pad on the top. He went out in the drive and placed the piece of pole upright, and laid the wood with the cushion on the top.
"Now will you stand in the veranda a while?"
Bathurst stood back by the side of the window so as not to interfere with the passage of the light. Rabda stole forward and sat down upon the cushion.
"Now watch, sahib."
Bathurst looked, and saw the block of wood apparently growing. Gradually it rose until Rabda passed up beyond the light in the room.
"You may come out," the juggler said, "but do not touch the pole. If you do, it will cause a fall, which would be fatal to my child."
Bathurst stepped out and looked up. He could but just make out the figure of Rabda, seemingly already higher than the top of the bungalow. Gradually it became more and more indistinct.
"You are there, Rabda?" her father said.
"I am here, father!" and the voice seemed to come from a considerable distance.
Again and again the question was asked, and the answer became fainter and fainter, although it sounded as if it was a distant cry in response to Rujub's shout rather than spoken in an ordinary voice.
At last no response was heard.
"Now it shall descend," the juggler said.
Two or three minutes passed, and then Bathurst, who was staring up into the darkness, could make out the end of the pole with the seat upon it, but Rabda was no longer there. Rapidly it sank, until it stood its original height on the ground.
"Where is Rabda?" Bathurst exclaimed.
"She is here, my lord," and as he spoke Rabda rose from a sitting position on the balcony close to Bathurst.
"It is marvelous!" the latter exclaimed. "I have heard of that feat before, but have never seen it. May I take up that piece of wood?"
Bathurst took it up and carried it to the light. It was undoubtedly, as he had before supposed, a piece of solid wood. The juggler had not touched it, or he would have supposed he might have substituted for the piece he first examined a sort of telescope of thin sheets of steel, but even that would not have accounted for Rabda's disappearance.
"I will show you one other feat, my lord."
He took a brass dish, placed a few pieces of wood and charcoal in it, struck a match, and set the wood on fire, and then fanned it until the wood had burned out, and the charcoal was in a glow; then he sprinkled some powder upon it, and a dense white smoke rose.
"Now turn out the lamp, sahib."
Bathurst did so. The glow of the charcoal enabled him still to see the light smoke; this seemed to him to become clearer and clearer.
"Now for the past!" Rujub said. The smoke grew brighter and brighter, and mixed with flashes of color; presently Bathurst saw clearly an Indian scene. A village stood on a crest, jets of smoke darted up from between the houses, and then a line of troops in scarlet uniform advanced against the village, firing as they went. They paused for a moment, and then with a rush went at the village and disappeared in the smoke over the crest.
"Good Heavens," Bathurst muttered, "it is the battle of Chillianwalla!"
"The future!" Rujub said, and the colors on the smoke changed. Bathurst saw a wall surrounding a courtyard. On one side was a house. It had evidently been besieged, for in the upper part were many ragged holes, and two of the windows were knocked into one. On the roof were men firing, and there were one or two women among them. He could see their faces and features distinctly. In the courtyard wall there was a gap, and through this a crowd of Sepoys were making their way, while a handful of whites were defending a breastwork. Among them he recognized his own figure. He saw himself club his rifle and leap down into the middle of the Sepoys, fighting furiously there. The colors faded away, and the room was in darkness again. There was the crack of a match, and then Rujub said quietly, "If you will lift off the globe again, I will light the lamp, sahib."
Bathurst almost mechanically did as he was told.
"Well, sahib, what do you think of the pictures?"
"The first was true," Bathurst said quietly, "though, how you knew I was with the regiment that stormed the village at Chillianwalla I know not. The second is certainly not true."
"You can never know what the future will be, sahib," the juggler said gravely.
"That is so," Bathurst said; "but I know enough of myself to say that it cannot be true. I do not say that the Sepoys can never be fighting against whites, improbable as it seems, but that I was doing what that figure did is, I know, impossible."
"Time will show, sahib," the juggler said; "the pictures never lie. Shall I show you other things?"
"No, Rujub, you have shown me enough; you have astounded me. I want to see no more tonight."
"Then farewell, sahib; we shall meet again, I doubt not, and mayhap I may be able to repay the debt I owe you;" and Rujub, lifting his basket, went out through the window without another word.