Chapter IV.
 

The life of Isobel Hannay had not, up to the time when she left England to join her uncle, been a very bright one. At the death of her father, her mother had been left with an income that enabled her to live, as she said, genteelly, at Brighton. She had three children: the eldest a girl of twelve; Isobel, who was eight; and a boy of five, who was sadly deformed, the result of a fall from the arms of a careless nurse when he was an infant. It was at that time that Major Hannay had come home on leave, having been left trustee and executor, and seen to all the money arrangements, and had established his brother's widow at Brighton. The work had not been altogether pleasant, for Mrs. Hannay was a selfish and querulous woman, very difficult to satisfy even in little matters, and with a chronic suspicion that everyone with whom she came in contact was trying to get the best of her. Her eldest girl was likely, Captain Hannay thought, to take after her mother, whose pet she was, while Isobel took after her father. He had suggested that both should be sent to school, but Mrs. Hannay would not hear of parting from Helena, but was willing enough that Isobel should be sent to a boarding school at her uncle's expense.

As the years went by, Helena grew up, as Mrs. Hannay proudly said, the image of what she herself had been at her age--tall and fair, indolent and selfish, fond of dress and gayety, discontented because their means would not permit them to indulge in either to the fullest extent. There was nothing in common between her and her sister, who, when at home for the holidays, spent her time almost entirely with her brother, who received but slight attention from anyone else, his deformity being considered as a personal injury and affliction by his mother and elder sister.

"You could not care less for him," Isobel once said, in a fit of passion, "if he were a dog. I don't think you notice him more, not one bit. He wanders about the house without anybody to give a thought to him. I call it cruel, downright cruel."

"You are a wicked girl, Isobel," her mother said angrily, "a wicked, violent girl, and I don't know what will become of you. It is abominable of you to talk so, even if you are wicked enough to get into a passion. What can we do for him that we don't do? What is the use of talking to him when he never pays attention to what we say, and is always moping. I am sure we get everything that we think will please him, and he goes out for a walk with us every day; what could possibly be done more for him?"

"A great deal more might be done for him," Isobel burst out. "You might love him, and that would be everything to him. I don't believe you and Helena love him, not one bit, not one tiny scrap."

"Go up to your room, Isobel, and remain there for the rest of the day. You are a very bad girl. I shall write to Miss Virtue about you; there must be something very wrong in her management of you, or you would never be so passionate and insolent as you are."

But Isobel had not stopped to hear the last part of the sentence, the door had slammed behind her. She was not many minutes alone upstairs, for Robert soon followed her up, for when she was at home he rarely left her side, watching her every look and gesture with eyes as loving as those of a dog, and happy to sit on the ground beside her, with his head leaning against her, for hours together.

Mrs. Hannay kept her word and wrote to Miss Virtue, and the evening after she returned to school Isobel was summoned to her room.

"I am sorry to say, I have a very bad account of you from your mother. She says you are a passionate and wicked girl. How is it, dear; you are not passionate here, and I certainly do not think you are wicked?"

"I can't help it when I am at home, Miss Virtue. I am sure I try to be good, but they won't let me. They don't like me because I can't be always tidy and what they call prettily behaved, and because I hate walking on the parade and being stuck up and unnatural, and they don't like me because I am not pretty, and because I am thin and don't look, as mamma says, a credit to her; but it is not that so much as because of Robert. You know he is deformed, Miss Virtue, and they don't care for him, and he has no one to love him but me, and it makes me mad to see him treated so. That is what it was she wrote about. I told her they treated him like a dog and so they do," and she burst into tears.

"But that was very naughty, Isobel," Miss Virtue said gravely. "You are only eleven years old, and too young to be a judge of these matters, and even if it were as you say, it is not for a child to speak so to her mother."

"I know that, Miss Virtue, but how can I help it? I could cry out with pain when I see Robert looking from one to the other just for a kind word, which he never gets. It is no use, Miss Virtue; if it was not for him I would much rather never go home at all, but stop here through the holidays, only what would he do if I didn't go home? I am the only pleasure he has. When I am there he will sit for hours on my knee, and lay his head on my shoulder, and stroke my face. It makes me feel as if my heart would break."

"Well, my dear," Miss Virtue said, somewhat puzzled, "it is sad, if it is as you say, but that does not excuse your being disrespectful to your mother. It is not for you to judge her."

"But cannot something be done for Robert, Miss Virtue? Surely they must do something for children like him."

"There are people, my dear, who take a few afflicted children and give them special training. Children of that kind have sometimes shown a great deal of unusual talent, and, if so, it is cultivated, and they are put in a way of earning a livelihood."

"Are there?" Isobel exclaimed, with eager eyes. "Then I know what I will do, Miss Virtue; I will write off at once to Uncle Tom-- he is our guardian. I know if I were to speak to mamma about Robert going to school it would be of no use; but if uncle writes I dare say it would be done. I am sure she and Helena would be glad enough. I don't suppose she ever thought of it. It would be a relief to them to get him out of their sight."

Miss Virtue shook her head. "You must not talk so, Isobel. It is not right or dutiful, and you are a great deal too young to judge your elders, even if they were not related to you; and, pray, if you write to your uncle do not write in that spirit--it would shock him greatly, and he would form a very bad opinion of you."

And so Isobel wrote. She was in the habit of writing once every half year to her uncle, who had told her that he wished her to do so, and that people out abroad had great pleasure in letters from England. Hitherto she had only written about her school life, and this letter caused her a great deal of trouble.

It answered its purpose. Captain Hannay had no liking either for his sister in law or his eldest niece, and had, when he was with them, been struck with the neglect with which the little boy was treated. Isobel had taken great pains not to say anything that would show she considered that Robert was harshly treated; but had simply said that she heard there were schools where little boys like him could be taught, and that it would be such a great thing for him, as it was very dull for him having nothing to do all day. But Captain Hannay read through the lines, and felt that it was a protest against her brother's treatment, and that she would not have written to him had she not felt that so only would anything be done for him. Accordingly he wrote home to his sister in law, saying he thought it was quite time now that the boy should be placed with some gentleman who took a few lads unfitted for the rough life of an ordinary school. He should take the charges upon himself, and had written to his agent in London to find out such an establishment, to make arrangements for Robert to go there, and to send down one of his clerks to take charge of him on the journey. He also wrote to Isobel, telling her what he had done, and blaming himself for not having thought of it before, winding up by saying: "I have not mentioned to your mother that I heard from you about it--that is a little secret just as well to keep to ourselves."

The next five years were much happier to Isobel, for the thought of her brother at home without her had before been constantly on her mind. It was a delight to her now to go home and to see the steady improvement that took place in Robert. He was brighter in every respect, and expressed himself as most happy where he was.

As years went on he grew into a bright and intelligent boy, though his health was by no means good, and he looked frail and delicate. He was as passionately attached to her as ever, and during the holidays they were never separated; they stood quite alone, their mother and sister interesting themselves but little in their doings, and they were allowed to take long walks together, and to sit in a room by themselves, where they talked, drew, painted, and read.

Mrs. Hannay disapproved of Isobel as much as ever. "She is a most headstrong girl," she would lament to her friends, "and is really quite beyond my control. I do not at all approve of the school she is at, but unfortunately my brother in law, who is her guardian, has, under the will of my poor husband, absolute control in the matter. I am sure poor John never intended that he should be able to override my wishes; but though I have written to him several times about it, he says that he sees no valid reason for any change, and that from Isobel's letters to him she seems very happy there, and to be getting on well. She is so very unlike dear Helena, and even when at home I see but little of her; she is completely wrapped up in her unfortunate brother. Of course I don't blame her for that, but it is not natural that a girl her age should care nothing for pleasures or going out or the things natural to young people. Yes, she is certainly improving in appearance, and if she would but take some little pains about her dress would be really very presentable."

But her mother's indifference disturbed Isobel but little. She was perfectly happy with her brother when at home, and very happy at school, where she was a general favorite. She was impulsive, high spirited, and occasionally gave Miss Virtue some trouble, but her disposition was frank and generous, there was not a tinge of selfishness in her disposition, and while she was greatly liked by girls of her own age, she was quite adored by little ones. The future that she always pictured to herself was a little cottage with a bright garden in the suburbs of London, where she and Robert could live together--she would go out as a daily governess; Robert, who was learning to play the organ, would, she hoped, get a post as organist. Not, of course, for the sake of the salary, for her earnings, and the interest of the thousand pounds that would be hers when she came of age, would be sufficient for them both, but as an amusement for him, and to give him a sense of independence.

But when she was just seventeen, and was looking forward to the time when she would begin to carry her plan into effect, a terrible blow came. She heard from her mother that Robert was dead.

"It is a sad blow for us all," Mrs. Hannay wrote, "but, as you know, he has never been strong; still, we had no idea that anything serious ailed him until we heard a fortnight since he was suffering from a violent cough and had lost strength rapidly. A week later we heard that the doctors were of opinion it was a case of sudden consumption, and that the end was rapidly approaching. I went up to town to see him, and found him even worse than I expected, and was in no way surprised when this morning I received a letter saying that he had gone. Great as is the blow, one cannot but feel that, terribly afflicted as he was, his death is, as far as he is concerned, a happy release. I trust you will now abandon your wild scheme of teaching and come home."

But home was less home than ever to Isobel now, and she remained another six months at school, when she received an important letter from her uncle.

"My Dear Isobel: When you first wrote to me and told me that what you were most looking forward to was to make a home for your brother, I own that it was a blow to me, for I had long had plans of my own about you; however, I thought your desire to help your brother was so natural, and would give you such happiness in carrying it into effect, that I at once fell in with it and put aside my own plan. But the case is altered now, and I can see no reason why I cannot have my own way. When I was in England I made up my mind that unless I married, which was a most improbable contingency, I would, when you were old enough, have you out to keep house for me. I foresaw, even then, that your brother might prove an obstacle to this plan. Even in the short time I was with you it was easy enough to see that the charge of him would fall on your shoulders, and that it would be a labor of love to you.

"If he lived, then, I felt you would not leave him, and that you would be right in not doing so, but even then it seemed likely to me that he would not grow up to manhood. From time to time I have been in correspondence with the clergyman he was with, and learned that the doctor who attended them thought but poorly of him. I had him taken to two first class physicians in London; they pronounced him to be constitutionally weak, and said that beyond strengthening medicines and that sort of thing they could do nothing for him.

"Therefore, dear, it was no surprise to me when I received first your mother's letter with the news, and then your own written a few days later. When I answered that letter I thought it as well not to say anything of my plan, but by the time you receive this, it will be six months since your great loss, and you will be able to look at it in a fairer light than you could have done then, and I do hope you will agree to come out to me. Life here has its advantages and disadvantages, but I think that, especially for young people, it is a pleasant one.

"I am getting very tired of a bachelor's establishment, and it will be a very great pleasure indeed to have you here. Ever since I was in England I made up my mind to adopt you as my own child. You are very like my brother John, and your letters and all I have heard of you show that you have grown up just as he would have wished you to do. Your sister Helena is your mother's child, and, without wishing to hurt your feelings, your mother and I have nothing in common. I regard you as the only relation I have in the world, and whether you come out or whether you do not, whatever I leave behind me will be yours. I do hope that you will at any rate come out for a time. Later on, if you don't like the life here, you can fall back upon your own plan.

"If you decide to come, write to my agent. I inclose envelope addressed to him. Tell him when you can be ready. He will put you in the way of the people you had better go to for your outfit, will pay all bills, take your passage, and so on.

"Whatever you do, do not stint yourself. The people you go to will know a great deal better than you can do what is necessary for a lady out here. All you will have to do will be to get measured and to give them an idea of your likes and fancies as to colors and so on. They will have instructions from my agent to furnish you with a complete outfit, and will know exactly how many dozens of everything are required.

"I can see no reason why you should not start within a month after the receipt of this letter, and I shall look most anxiously for a letter from you saying that you will come, and that you will start by a sailing ship in a month at latest from the date of your writing."

Isobel did not hesitate, as her faith in her uncle was unbounded. Next to her meetings with her brother, his letters had been her greatest pleasures. He had always taken her part; it was he who, at her request, had Robert placed at school, and he had kept her at Miss Virtue's in spite of her mother's complaints. At home she had never felt comfortable; it had always seemed to her that she was in the way; her mother disapproved of her; while from Helena she had never had a sisterly word. To go out to India to see the wonders she had read of, and to be her uncle's companion, seemed a perfectly delightful prospect. Her answer to her uncle was sent off the day after she received his letter, and that day month she stepped on board an Indiaman in the London Docks.

The intervening time had not been a pleasant one. Mrs. Hannay had heard from the Major of his wishes and intentions regarding Isobel, and she was greatly displeased thereat.

"Why should he have chosen you instead of Helena?" she said angrily to Isobel, on the first day of her arrival home.

"I suppose because he thought I should suit him better, mamma. I really don't see why you should be upset about it; I don't suppose Helena would have liked to go, and I am sure you would not have liked to have had me with you instead of her. I should have thought you would have been pleased I was off your hands altogether. It doesn't seem to me that you have ever been really glad to have me about you."

"That has been entirely your own fault," Mrs. Hannay said. "You have always been headstrong and determined to go your own way, you have never been fit to be seen when anyone came, you have thwarted me in every way."

"I am very sorry, mamma. I think I might have been better if you had had a little more patience with me, but even now if you really wish me to stay at home I will do so. I can write again to uncle and tell him that I have changed my mind."

"Certainly not," Mrs. Hannay said. "Naturally I should wish to have my children with me, but I doubt whether your being here would be for the happiness of any of us, and besides, I do not wish your uncle's money to go out of the family; he might take it into his head to leave it to a hospital for black women. Still, it would have been only right and proper that he should at any rate have given Helena the first choice. As for your instant acceptance of his offer, without even consulting me, nothing can surprise me in that way after your general conduct towards me."

However, although Mrs. Hannay declined to take any interest in Isobel's preparations, and continued to behave as an injured person, neither she nor Helena were sorry at heart for the arrangement that had been made. They objected very strongly to Isobel's plan of going out as a governess; but upon the other hand, her presence at home would in many ways have been an inconvenience. Two can make a better appearance on a fixed income than three can, and her presence at home would have necessitated many small economies. She was, too, a disturbing element; the others understood each other perfectly, and both felt that they in no way understood Isobel. Altogether, it was much better that she should go.

As to the heirship, Captain Hannay had spoken freely as to his monetary affairs when he had been in England after his brother's death.

"My pay is amply sufficient for all my wants," he said; "but everything is expensive out there, and I have had no occasion to save. I have a few hundred pounds laid by, so that if I break down, and am ordered to Europe at any time on sick leave, I can live comfortably for that time; but, beyond that, there has been no reason why I should lay by. I am not likely ever to marry, and when I have served my full time my pension will be ample for my wants in England; but I shall do my best to help if help is necessary. Fortunately the interest of the thousand apiece the girls were left by my aunt will help your income. When it is necessary to do anything for Robert, poor lad, I will take that expense on myself."

"I thought all Indians came home with lots of money," Mrs. Hannay said complainingly.

"Not the military. We do the fighting, and get fairly paid for it. The civilians get five times as highly paid, and run no risks whatever. Why it should be so no one has ever attempted to explain; but there it is, sister."

Mrs. Hannay, therefore, although she complained of the partiality shown to Isobel, was well aware that the Major's savings could amount to no very great sum; although, in nine years, with higher rank and better pay, he might have added a good bit to the little store of which he had spoken to her.

When, a week before the vessel sailed, Dr. Wade appeared with a letter he had received from the Major, asking him to take charge of Isobel on the voyage, Mrs. Hannay conceived a violent objection to him. He had, in fact, been by no means pleased with the commission, and had arrived in an unusually aggressive and snappish humor. He cut short Mrs. Hannay's well turned sentences ruthlessly, and aggrieved her by remarking on Helena's want of color, and recommending plenty of walking exercise taken at a brisk pace, and more ease and comfort in the matter of dress.

"Your daughter's lungs have no room to play, madam," he said; "her heart is compressed. No one can expect to be healthy under such circumstances."

"I have my own medical attendant, Dr. Wade," Mrs. Hannay said decidedly.

"No doubt, madam, no doubt. All I can say is, if his recommendations are not the same as mine, he must be a downright fool. Very well, Miss Hannay, I think we understand each other; I shall be on board by eleven o'clock, and shall keep a sharp lookout for you. Don't be later than twelve; she will warp out of the dock by one at latest, and if you miss that your only plan will be to take the train down to Tilbury, and hire a boat there."

"I shall be in time, sir," Isobel said.

"Well, I hope you will, but my experience of women is pretty extensive, and I have scarcely met one who could be relied upon to keep an appointment punctually. Don't laden yourself more than you can help with little bags, and parcels, and bundles of all kinds; I expect you will be three or four in a cabin, and you will find that there is no room for litter. Take the things you will require at first in one or two flat trunks which will stow under your berth; once a week or so, if the weather is fine, you will be able to get at your things in the hold. Do try if possible to pack all the things that you are likely to want to get at during the voyage in one trunk, and have a star or any mark you like painted on that trunk with your name, then there will be no occasion for the sailors to haul twenty boxes upon deck. Be sure you send all your trunks on board, except those you want in your cabin, two days before she sails. Do you think you can remember all that?"

"I think so, Dr. Wade."

"Very well then, I'm off," and the Doctor shook hands with Isobel, nodded to Mrs. Hannay and Helena, and hurried away.

"What a perfectly detestable little man!" Mrs. Hannay exclaimed, as the door closed over him. "Your uncle must have been out of his senses to select such an odious person to look after you on the voyage. I really pity you, Isobel."

"I have no doubt he is very much nicer than he seems, mamma. Uncle said, you know, in his letter last week, that he had written to Dr. Wade to look after me, if, as he thought probable, he might be coming out in the same ship. He said that he was a little brusque in his manner, but that he was a general favorite, and one of the kindest hearted of men."

"A little brusque," Mrs. Hannay repeated scornfully. "If he is only considered a little brusque in India, all I can say is society must be in a lamentable state out there."

"Uncle says he is a great shikari, and has probably killed more tigers than any man in India."

"I really don't see that that is any recommendation whatever, Isobel, although it might be if you were likely to encounter tigers on board ship. However, I am not surprised that your opinion differs from mine; we very seldom see matters in the same light. I only hope you may be right and I may be wrong, for otherwise the journey is not likely to be a very pleasant one for you; personally, I would almost as soon have a Bengal tiger loose about the ship than such a very rude, unmannerly person as Dr. Wade."

Mrs. Hannay and Helena accompanied Isobel to the docks, and went on board ship with her.

The Doctor received them at the gangway. He was in a better temper, for the fact that he was on the point of starting for India again had put him in high spirits. He escorted the party below and saw that they got lunch, showed Isobel which was her cabin, introduced her to two or three ladies of his acquaintance, and made himself so generally pleasant that even Mrs. Hannay was mollified.

As soon as luncheon was over the bell was rung, and the partings were hurriedly got through, as the pilot announced that the tide was slackening nearly half an hour before its time, and that it was necessary to get the ship out of dock at once.

"Now, Miss Hannay, if you will take my advice," the Doctor said, as soon as the ship was fairly in the stream, "you will go below, get out all the things you will want from your boxes, and get matters tidy and comfortable. In the first place, it will do you good to be busy; and in the second place, there is nothing like getting everything shipshape in the cabin the very first thing after starting, then you are ready for rough weather or anything else that may occur. I have got you a chair. I thought that very likely you would not think of it, and a passenger without a chair of her own is a most forlorn creature, I can tell you. When you have done down below you will find me somewhere aft; if you should not do so, look out for a chair with your own name on it and take possession of it, but I think you are sure to see me."

Before they had been a fortnight at sea Isobel came to like the Doctor thoroughly. He knew many of the passengers on board the Byculla, and she had soon many acquaintances. She was amused at the description that the Doctor gave her of some of the people to whom he introduced her.

"I am going to introduce you to that woman in the severely plain cloak and ugly bonnet. She is the wife of the Resident of Rajputana. I knew her when her husband was a Collector."

"A Collector, Dr. Wade; what did he collect?"

"Well, my dear, he didn't collect taxes or water rates or anything of that sort. A Collector is a civil functionary, and frequently an important one. I used to attend her at one time when we were in cantonments at Bhurtpore, where her husband was stationed at that time. I pulled a tooth out for her once, and she halloaed louder than any woman I ever heard. I don't mean to say, my dear, that woman holloa any louder than men; on the contrary, they bear pain a good deal better, but she was an exception. She was twelve years younger then, and used to dress a good deal more than she does now. That cloak and bonnet are meant to convey to the rest of the passengers the fact that there is no occasion whatever for a person of her importance to attend to such petty matters as dress.

"She never mentions her husband's name without saying, 'My husband, the Resident,' but for all that she is a kind hearted woman--a very kind hearted woman. I pulled a child of hers through who was down with fever at Bhurtpore; he had a very close shave of it, and she has never forgotten it. She greeted me when she came on board almost with tears in her eyes at the thought of that time. I told her I had a young lady under my charge, and she said that she would be very pleased to do anything she could for you. She is a stanch friend is Mrs. Resident, and you will find her useful before you get to the end of the voyage."

The lady received Isobel with genuine kindness, and took her very much under her wing during the voyage, and Isobel received no small advantage from her advice and protection.

Her own good sense, however, and the earnest life she had led at school and with her brother at home, would have sufficed her even without this guardianship and that of the Doctor. There was a straightforward frankness about her that kept men from talking nonsense to her. A compliment she simply laughed at, an attempt at flattery made her angry, and the Doctor afterwards declared to her uncle he would not have believed that the guardianship of a girl upon the long Indian voyage could possibly have caused him so little trouble and annoyance.

"When I read your letter, Major, my hair stood on end, and if my leave had not been up I should have canceled my passage and come by the next ship; and indeed when I went down to see her I had still by no means made up my mind as to whether I would not take my chance of getting out in time by the next vessel. However, I liked her appearance, and, as I have said, it turned out excellently, and I should not mind making another voyage in charge of her."