Chapter VII.
 

The exultation of the officers of the 103d over Seila's victory was great. They had all backed her, relying upon Prothero's riding, but although his success was generally popular among the Europeans at the station, many had lost considerable sums by their confidence in Mameluke's speed.

Isobel sat down feeling quite faint from the excitement.

"I did not think I could have been so excited over a race between two horses," she said to Mrs. Hunter; "it was not the bets, I never even thought about them--it was just because I wanted to see Mr. Prothero's horse win. I never understood before why people should take such an interest in horse racing, but I quite understand now."

"What is your size, Miss Hannay?" Wilson asked.

"Oh, I don't care anything about the gloves, Mr. Wilson; I am sorry I bet now."

"You needn't feel any compunction in taking them from me or from any of us, Miss Hannay; we have all won over Seila; the regiment will have to give a ball on the strength of it. I only put on a hundred rupees, and so have won four hundred, but most of them have won ever so much more than that; and all I have lost is four pair of gloves to you, and four to Mrs. Doolan, and four to Mrs. Prothero --a dozen in all. Which do you take, white or cream, and what is your size?"

"Six and a half, cream."

"All right, Miss Hannay. The Nana must have lost a good lot of money; he has been backing his horse with everyone who would lay against it. However, it won't make any difference to him, and it is always a satisfaction when the loss comes on someone to whom it doesn't matter a bit. I think the regiment ought to give a dinner to Prothero, Major; it was entirely his riding that did it; he hustled that nigger on Mameluke splendidly. If the fellow had waited till within half a mile of home he would have won to a certainty; I never saw anything better."

"Well, Miss Hannay, what do you think of a horse race?" Bathurst, who had only remained a few minutes at the carriage, asked, as he strolled up again. "You said yesterday that you had never seen one."

"I am a little ashamed to say I was very much excited over it, Mr. Bathurst. You have not lost, I hope? You are looking" and she stopped.

"Shaky?" he said. "Yes; I feel shaky. I had not a penny on the race, for though the Doctor made me put into a sweep last night at the club, I drew a blank; but the shouting and excitement at the finish seemed to take my breath away, and I felt quite faint."

"That is just how I felt; I did not know men felt like that. They don't generally seem to know what nerves are."

"I wish I didn't; it is a great nuisance. The Doctor tries to persuade me that it is the effect of overwork, but I have always been so from a child, and I can't get over it."

"You don't look nervous, Mr. Bathurst."

"No; when a man is a fair size, and looks bronzed and healthy, no one will give him credit for being nervous. I would give a very great deal if I could get over it."

"I don't see that it matters much one way or the other, Mr. Bathurst."

"I can assure you that it does. I regard it as being a most serious misfortune."

Isobel was a little surprised at the earnestness with which he spoke.

"I should not have thought that," she said quietly; "but I can understand that it is disagreeable for a man to feel nervous, simply, I suppose, because it is regarded as a feminine quality; but I think a good many men are nervous. We had several entertainments on board the ship coming out, and it was funny to see how many great strong men broke down, especially those who had to make speeches."

"I am not nervous in that way," Bathurst said, with a laugh. "My pet horror is noise; thunder prostrates me completely, and in fact all noises, especially any sharp, sudden sound, affect me. I really find it a great nuisance. I fancy a woman with nerves considers herself as a martyr, and deserving of all pity and sympathy. It is almost a fashionable complaint, and she is a little proud of it; but a man ought to have his nerves in good order, and as much as that is expected of him unless he is a feeble little body. There is the bell for the next race."

"Are you going to bet on this race again, Miss Hannay?" Wilson said, coming up.

"No, Mr. Wilson. I have done my first and last bit of gambling. I don't think it is nice, ladies betting, after all, and if there were a hospital here I should order you to send the money the gloves will cost you to it as conscience money, and then perhaps you might follow my example with your winnings."

"My conscience is not moved in any way," he laughed; "when it is I will look out for a deserving charity. Well, if you won't bet I must see if I can make a small investment somewhere else."

"I shall see you at the ball, of course?" Isobel said, turning to Mr. Bathurst, as Wilson left the carriage.

"No, I think not. Balls are altogether out of my line, and as there is always a superabundance of men at such affairs here, there is no sense of duty about it."

"What is your line, Mr. Bathurst?"

"I am afraid I have none, Miss Hannay. The fact is, there is really more work to be done than one can get through. When you get to know the natives well you cannot help liking them and longing to do them some good if they would but let you, but it is so difficult to get them to take up new ideas. Their religion, with all its customs and ceremonies, seems designed expressly to bar out all improvements. Except in the case of abolishing Suttee, we have scarcely weaned them from one of their observances; and even now, in spite of our efforts, widows occasionally immolate themselves, and that with the general approval.

"I wish I had an army of ten thousand English ladies all speaking the language well to go about among the women and make friends with them; there would be more good done in that way than by all the officials in India. They might not be able to emancipate themselves from all their restrictions, but they might influence their children, and in time pave the way for a moral revolution. But it is ridiculous," he said, breaking off suddenly, "my talking like this here, but you see it is what you call my line, my hobby, if you like; but when one sees this hard working, patient, gentle people making their lot so much harder than it need be by their customs and observances one longs to force them even against their own will to burst their bonds."

Dr. Wade came up at this moment and caught the last word or two.

"You are incorrigible, Bathurst. Miss Hannay, I warn you that this man is a monomaniac. I drag him away from his work, and here he is discoursing with you on reform just as a race is going to start. You may imagine, my dear, what a thorn he is in the side of the bigwigs. You have heard of Talleyrand's advice to a young official, 'Above all things, no zeal.' Go away, Bathurst; Miss Hannay wants to see the race, and even if she doesn't she is powerless to assist you in your crusade."

Bathurst laughed and drew off.

"That is too bad, Doctor. I was very interested. I like to talk to people who can think of something besides races and balls and the gossip of the station."

"Yes, in reason, in reason, my dear; but there is a medium in all things. I have no doubt Bathurst will be quite happy some time or other to give you his full views on child marriages, and the remarriages of widows, and female education, and the land settlement, and a score of other questions, but for this a few weeks of perfect leisure will be required. Seriously, you know that I think Bathurst one of the finest young fellows in the service, but his very earnestness injures both his prospects and his utility. The officials have a horror of enthusiasm; they like the cut and dried subordinate who does his duty conscientiously, and does not trouble his head about anything but carrying out the regulations laid down for him.

"Theoretically I agree with most of Bathurst's views, practically I see that a score of officials like him would excite a revolution throughout a whole province. In India, of all places in the world, the maxim festina lente--go slow--is applicable. You have the prejudices of a couple of thousand years against change. The people of all things are jealous of the slightest appearance of interference with their customs. The change will no doubt come in time, but it must come gradually, and must be the work of the natives themselves and not of us. To try to hasten that time would be but to defer it. Now, child, there is the bell; now just attend to the business in hand."

"Very well, Doctor, I will obey your orders, but it is only fair to say that Mr. Bathurst's remarks are only in answer to something I said," and Isobel turned to watch the race, but with an interest less ardent than she had before felt.

Isobel's character was an essentially earnest one, and her life up to the day of her departure to India had been one of few pleasures. She had enjoyed the change and had entered heartily into it, and she was as yet by no means tired of it, but she had upon her arrival at Cawnpore been a little disappointed that there was no definite work for her to perform, and had already begun to feel that a time would come when she would want something more than gossip and amusements and the light talk of the officers of her acquaintance to fill her life.

She had as yet no distinct interest of her own, and Bathurst's earnestness had struck a cord in her own nature and seemed to open a wide area for thought. She put it aside now and chatted gayly with the Hunters and those who came up to the carriage, but it came back to her as she sat in her room before going to bed.

Up till now she had not heard a remark since she had been in Cawnpore that might not have been spoken had the cantonments there been the whole of India, except that persons at other stations were mentioned. The vast, seething native population were no more alluded to than if they were a world apart. Bathurst's words had for the first time brought home to her the reality of their existence, and that around this little group of English men and women lay a vast population, with their joys and sorrows and sufferings.

At breakfast she surprised Mrs. Hunter by asking a variety of questions as to native customs. "I suppose you have often been in the Zenanas, Mrs. Hunter?"

"Not often, my dear. I have been in some of them, and very depressing it is to see how childish and ignorant the women are."

"Can nothing be done for them, Mrs. Hunter?"

"Very little. In time I suppose there will be schools for girls, but you see they marry so young that it is difficult to get at them."

"How young do they marry?"

"They are betrothed, although it has all the force of a marriage, as infants, and a girl can be a widow at two or three years old; and so, poor little thing, she remains to the end of her life in a position little better than that of a servant in her husband's family. Really they are married at ten or eleven."

Isobel looked amazed at this her first insight into native life. Mrs. Hunter smiled.

"I heard Mr. Bathurst saying something to you about it yesterday, Miss Hannay. He is an enthusiast; we like him very much, but we don't see much of him."

"You must beware of him, Miss Hannay," Mr. Hunter said, "or he will inoculate you with some of his fads. I do not say that he is not right, but he sees the immensity of the need for change, but does not see fully the immensity of the difficulty in bringing it about."

"There is no fear of his inoculating me; that is to say of setting me to work, for what could one woman do?"

"Nothing, my dear," her uncle said; "if all the white women in India threw themselves into the work, they could do little. The natives are too jealous of what they consider intruders; the Parsees are about the only progressive people. While ladies are welcome enough when they pay a visit of ceremony to the Zenana of a native, if they were to try to teach their wives to be discontented with their lots--for that is what it would be--they would be no longer welcome. Schools are being established, but at present these are but a drop in the ocean. Still, the work does go on, and in time something will be done. It is of no use bothering yourself about it, Isobel; it is best to take matters as you find them."

Isobel made no answer, but she was much disappointed when Dr. Wade, dropping in to tiffin, said his guest had started two hours before for Deennugghur. He had a batch of letters and reports from his native clerk, and there was something or other that he said he must see to at once.

"He begged me to say, Major, that he was very sorry to go off without saying goodby, but he hoped to be in Cawnpore before long. I own that that part of the message astonished me, knowing as I do what difficulty there is in getting him out of his shell. He and I became great chums when I was over at Deennugghur two years ago, and the young fellow is not given to making friends. However, as he is not the man to say a thing without meaning it, I suppose he intends to come over again. He knows there is always a bed for him in my place."

"We see very little of him," Mary Hunter said; "he is always away on horseback all day. Sometimes he comes in the evening when we are quite alone, but he will never stay long. He always excuses himself on the ground that he has a report to write or something of that sort. Amy and I call him 'Timon of Athens.'"

"There is nothing of Timon about him," the Doctor remarked dogmatically. "That is the way with you young ladies--you think that a man's first business in life is to be dancing attendance on you. Bathurst looks at life seriously, and no wonder, going about as he does among the natives and listening to their stories and complaints. He puts his hand to the plow, and does not turn to the right or left."

"Still, Doctor, you must allow," Mrs. Hunter said gravely, "that Mr. Bathurst is not like most other men."

"Certainly not," the Doctor remarked. "He takes no interest in sport of any kind; he does not care for society; he very rarely goes to the club, and never touches a card when he does; and yet he is the sort of man one would think would throw himself into what is going on. He is a strong, active, healthy man, whom one would expect to excel in all sorts of sports; he is certainly good looking; he talks extremely well, and is, I should say, very well read and intelligent."

"He can be very amusing when he likes, Doctor. Once or twice when he has been with us he has seemed to forget himself, as it were, and was full of fun and life. You must allow that it is a little singular that a man like this should altogether avoid society, and night and day be absorbed in his work."

"I have thought sometimes," Mr. Hunter said, "that Bathurst must have had some great trouble in his life. Of what nature I can, of course, form no idea. He was little more than twenty when he came out here, so I should say that it was hardly a love affair."

"That is always the way, Hunter. If a man goes his own way, and that way does not happen to be the way of the mess, it is supposed that he must have had trouble of some sort. As Bathurst is the son of a distinguished soldier, and is now the owner of a fine property at home, I don't see what trouble he can have had. He may possibly, for anything I know, have had some boyish love affairs, but I don't think he is the sort of man to allow his whole life to be affected by any foolery of that sort. He is simply an enthusiast.

"It is good for mankind that there should be some enthusiasts. I grant that it would be an unpleasant world if we were all enthusiasts, but the sight of a man like him throwing his whole life and energy into his work, and wearing himself out trying to lessen the evils he sees around him, ought to do good to us all. Look at these boys," and he apostrophized Wilson and Richards, as they appeared together at the door. "What do they think of but amusing themselves and shirking their duties as far as possible?"

"Oh, I say, Doctor," Wilson exclaimed, astonished at this sudden attack, "what are you pitching into us like that for? That is not fair, is it, Major? We amuse ourselves, of course, when there is nothing else to do, but I am sure we don't shirk our work. You don't want us to spend our spare time in reading Greek, I suppose?"

"No; but you might spend some of it very profitably in learning some of these native languages," the Doctor said. "I don't believe that you know above a dozen native words now. You can shout for brandy and water, and for a light for your cigars, but I fancy that that is about the extent of it."

"We are going to have a moonshee next week, Doctor," Wilson said, a little crestfallen, "and a horrid nuisance it will be."

"That is only because you are obliged to pass in the vernacular, Wilson. So you need not take any credit to yourself on that account."

"Doctor, you are in one of your worst possible tempers this morning," Isobel said. "You snap at us all round. You are quite intolerable this morning."

"I am rather put out by Bathurst running away in this fashion, Miss Hannay. I had made up my mind that he would stop three or four days longer, and it is pleasant to have someone who can talk and think about something besides horses and balls. But I will go away; I don't want to be the disturbing element; and I have no doubt that Richards is burning to tell you the odds on some of the horses today."

"Shall we see you on the racecourse, Doctor?" the Major asked, as the Doctor moved towards the door.

"You will not, Major; one day is enough for me. If they would get up a donkey race confined strictly to the subalterns of the station, I might take the trouble to go and look at it."

"The Doctor is in great form today," Wilson said good temperedly, after the laugh which followed the Doctor's exit had subsided; "and I am sure we did nothing to provoke him."

"You got into his line of fire, Wilson," the Major said; "he is explosive this morning, and has been giving it to us all round. However, nobody minds what the Doctor says; his bark is very bad, but he has no bite. Wait till you are down with the fever, and you will find him devote himself to you as if he were your father."

"He is one of the kindest men in the world," Isobel agreed warmly, thereby effectually silencing Richards, who had just pulled up his shirt collar preparatory to a sarcastic utterance respecting him.

Isobel, indeed, was in full sympathy with the Doctor, for she, too, was disappointed at Bathurst's sudden departure. She had looked forward to learning a good deal from him about the native customs and ways, and had intended to have a long talk with him. She was perhaps, too, more interested generally in the man himself than she would have been willing to admit.

That evening the party went to an entertainment at Bithoor. Isobel and the girls were delighted with the illuminations of the gardens and with the palace itself, with its mixture of Eastern splendor and European luxury. But Isobel did not altogether enjoy the evening.

"I suppose I ought to congratulate you on your success last night, Isobel," Dr. Wade said, when he dropped in after breakfast. "Everyone has been telling me that the Rajah paid you the greatest attention, and that there is the fiercest gnashing of teeth among what must now be called the ex-queens of the station."

"I don't know who told you such nonsense, Doctor," Isobel replied hotly. "The Rajah quite spoilt the evening for me. I have been telling Mrs. Hunter so. If we had not been in his own house, I should have told him that I should enjoy the evening very much more if he would leave me alone and let me go about and look quietly at the place and the gardens, which are really beautiful. No doubt he is pleasant enough, and I suppose I ought to have felt flattered at his walking about with me and so on, but I am sure I did not. What pleasure does he suppose an English girl can have in listening to elaborate compliments from a man as yellow as a guinea?"

"Think of his wealth, my dear."

"What difference does his wealth make?" Isobel said. "As far as I have seen, I do not think that rich Englishmen are more amusing than others, and if he had all the wealth of India, that would not improve Nana Sahib in my eyes. There are women, of course, who do think a great deal about money, and who will even marry men for it, but even women who would do that could not, I should think, care anything about the wealth of a Hindoo they cannot marry."

"Not directly, my dear," Mrs. Hunter said; "but people may be flattered with the notice and admiration of a person of importance and great wealth, even if he is a Hindoo."

"Besides," the Doctor put in, "the Rajah is considered to be a great connoisseur of English beauty, and has frequently expressed his deep regret that his religion prevented his marrying an English lady."

"I should be very sorry for the English girl who would marry him, religion or not."

"I think you are rather hard upon the Nana, Isobel," the Major said. "He is a general favorite; he is open handed and liberal; very fond of entertaining; a great admirer of us as a nation. He is a wonderfully well read man for a Hindoo, can talk upon almost every subject, and is really a pleasant fellow."

"I don't like him; I don't like him at all," Isobel said positively.

"Ah, that is only because you thought he made you a little more conspicuous than you liked by his attentions to you, Isobel."

"No, indeed, uncle; that was very silly and ridiculous, but I did not like the man himself, putting that aside altogether. It was like talking to a man with a mask on: it gave me a creepy feeling. It did not seem to me that one single word he said was sincere, but that he was acting; and over and over again as he was talking I said to myself, 'What is this man really like? I know he is not the least bit in the world what he pretends to be. But what is the reality?' I felt just the same as I should if I had one of those great snakes they bring to our veranda coiling round me. The creature might look quiet enough, but I should know that if it were to tighten it would crush me in a moment."

The Major and Mrs. Hunter both laughed at her earnestness, but the Doctor said gravely, "Is that really how you felt about him when he was talking to you, Miss Hannay? I am sorry to hear you say that. I own that my opinion has been that of everyone here, that the Rajah is a good fellow and a firm friend of the Europeans, and my only doubt has arisen from the fact that it was unnatural he should like us when he has considerable grounds for grievance against us. We have always relied upon his influence, which is great among his countrymen, being thrown entirely into the scale on our side if any trouble should ever arise; but I own that what you say makes me doubt him. I would always take the opinion of a dog or a child about anyone in preference to my own."

"You are not very complimentary, Doctor," Isobel laughed.

"Well, my dear, a young girl who has not mixed much in the world and had her instincts blunted is in that respect very much like a child. She may be deceived, and constantly is deceived where her heart is concerned, and is liable to be taken in by any plausible scoundrel; but where her heart is not concerned her instincts are true. When I see children and dogs stick to a man I am convinced that he is all right, though I may not personally have taken to him. When I see a dog put his tail between his legs and decline to accept the advances of a man, and when I see children slip away from him as soon as they can, I distrust him at once, however pleasant a fellow he may be. As the Rajah, from all I heard, certainly laid himself out to be agreeable to you last night, and yet in spite of that you felt as you say you did about him, I am bound to say that without at once admitting that my impressions about him were wrong, I consider that there is good ground for thinking the matter over again."

"What nonsense, Doctor," the Major laughed. "Everyone here has known the Rajah for years. He is a most popular man, everyone likes him, among the ladies especially he is a great favorite. It is ridiculous to suggest that everyone should have been wrong about him, merely because Isobel takes a prejudice against him, and that as far as I can see is simply because his admiration for her was somewhat marked."

Isobel gave a little shudder. "Don't talk about admiration, uncle; that is not the word for it; I don't know what it was like. They say snakes fascinate birds before they eat them by fixing their eyes upon them. I should say it was something of that sort of look."

"Well, my dear, he is not going to eat you, that is certain," the Major said; "and I can assure you that his approbation goes for a great deal here, and that after this you will go up several pegs in Cawnpore society."

Isobel tossed her head. "Then I am sorry for Cawnpore society; it is a matter of entire indifference to me whether I go up or down in its opinion."

A fortnight later the Nana gave another entertainment. A good deal to her uncle's vexation, Isobel refused to go when the time came.

"But what am I to say, my dear?" he asked in some perplexity.

"You can say anything you like, uncle; you can say that I am feeling the heat and have got a bad headache, which is true; or you can say that I don't care for gayety, which is also true. I shall be very much more comfortable and happy at home by myself."

The Hunters had by this time returned to Deennugghur, and the Major drove over to Bithoor accompanied only by Dr. Wade. He was rather surprised when the Doctor said he would go, as it was very seldom that he went out to such entertainments.

"I am not going to amuse myself, Major; I want to have a good look at the Nana again; I am not comfortable since Isobel gave us her opinion of him. He is an important personage, and if there is any truth in these rumors about disaffection among the Sepoys his friendship may be of the greatest assistance to us."

So the Doctor was with Major Hannay when the latter made his excuses for Isobel's absence on the ground that she was not feeling very well.

The Nana expressed great regret at the news, and said that with the Major's permission he would call in the morning to inquire after Miss Hannay's health.

"He did not like it," the Doctor said, when they had strolled away together. "He was very civil and polite, but I could see that he was savage. I fancy he got up this fete principally in her honor. It is not often he has two so close together."

"Oh, that is nonsense, Doctor."

"I don't think so. He has done the same sort of thing several times before, when he has been specially taken by some fresh face from England."

Others besides the Doctor remarked that the Rajah was not quite himself that evening. He was courteous and polite to his guests, but he was irritable with his own people, and something had evidently gone wrong with him.

The next day he called at the Major's. The latter had not told Isobel of his intention, for he guessed that had he done so she would have gone across to Mrs. Doolan or one of her lady friends, and she was sitting in the veranda with him and young Wilson when the carriage drove up.

"I was so sorry to hear that you were unwell, Miss Hannay," the Nana said courteously. "It was a great disappointment to me that you were unable to accompany your uncle last night."

"I have been feeling the heat the last few days," Isobel said quietly, "and, indeed, I do not care much about going out in such hot weather as this. I have not been accustomed to much society in England, and the crowd and the heat and the lights make my head ache."

"You look the picture of health, Miss Hannay, but I know that it is trying for Englishwomen when they first come into our climate; it is always a great pleasure to me to receive English ladies at Bithoor. I hope upon the next occasion you will be able to come."

"I am much obliged to your highness," she said, "but it would be a truer kindness to let me stay quietly at home."

"But that is selfish of you, Miss Hannay. You should think a little of the pleasure of others as well as your own."

"I am not conceited enough to suppose that it could make any difference to other people's pleasure whether I am at a party or not," Isobel said. "I suppose you mean that as a compliment, Rajah, but I am not accustomed to compliments, and don't like them."

"You will have to learn to become accustomed to compliments, Miss Hannay," the Rajah said, with a smile; and then turning to the Doctor, began to tell him of a tiger that had been doing a great deal of harm at a village some thirty miles away, and offered to send some elephants over to organize a hunt for him if he liked, an invitation that the Doctor promptly accepted.

The visit was but a short one. The Rajah soon took his leave.

"You are wrong altogether, Isobel," the Doctor said. "I have returned to my conviction that the Rajah is a first rate fellow."

"That is just because he offered you some shooting, Doctor," Isobel said indignantly. "I thought better of you than to suppose that you could be bought over so easily as that."

"She had you there, Doctor," the Major laughed. "However, I am glad that you will no longer be backing her in her fancies."

"Why did you accept his invitation for us to go over and lunch there, uncle?" Isobel asked, in a tone of annoyance.

"Because there was no reason in the world why we should refuse, my dear. He very often has luncheon parties, and after that he will show you over the place, and exhibit his jewels and curiosities. He said there would be other ladies there, and I have no doubt we shall have a very pleasant day."

Even Isobel was obliged to confess that the visit was a pleasant one. The Nana had asked Mrs. Cromarty, her daughters, and most of the other ladies of the regiment, with their husbands. The lunch was a banquet, and after it was over the parties were taken round the place, paid a visit to the Zenana, inspected the gardens and stables, and were driven through the park. The Nana saw that Isobel objected to be particularly noticed, and had the tact to make his attentions so general that even she could find no fault with him.

On the drive back she admitted to her uncle that she had enjoyed her visit very much, and that the Rajah's manners were those of a perfect gentleman.

"But mind, uncle," she said, "I do not retract my opinion. What the Rajah really is I don't pretend to know, but I am quite sure that the character of a smiling host is not his real one, and that for some reason or other he is simply playing a part."

"I had no idea that you were such a prejudiced little woman," the Major said, somewhat vexed; "but as it is no use arguing with you we had better drop the subject."

For the next month Cawnpore suffered a little from the reaction after the gayety of the races, but there was no lack of topics of conversation, for the rumors of disaffection among the troops gained in strength, and although nothing positive was known, and everyone scoffed at the notion of any serious trouble, the subject was so important a one that little else was talked of whenever parties of the ladies got together.