Rujub, the Juggler by G. A. Henty
"I have some bad news, Isobel. At least I suppose you will consider it bad news," the Major said one morning, when he returned from the orderly room. "You heard me say that four companies were going to relieve those at Deennugghur. Well, I am going with them. It seems that the General is of opinion that in the present unsettled state of affairs there ought to be a field officer in command there, so I have to go. For myself I don't mind, but you will find it dull in a small station like that, after the gayeties of Cawnpore."
"I don't mind a bit, uncle, in that respect. I don't think I care much for gayeties, but of course the move will be a trouble. We have everything so nice here, it will be horrid having to leave it all. How long will it be for?"
"Six months, in the ordinary state of things, though of course something may occur to bring us in before that. Still, the change won't be as much trouble as you fancy. When we get there you can stay for two or three days with the Hunters till we have got the things to rights. There is one thing that you will be pleased about. Wade is going with us, at any rate for the present; you are a favorite of his, you know, and I think that is the principal reason for his going. At any rate, when he heard I was in orders, he told the Colonel that, as there was no illness in the regiment, he thought, if he did not object, he would change places for a bit with M'Alaster, the assistant surgeon, who has been with the detachment at Deennugghur for the last year, so as to give him a turn of duty at Cawnpore, and do a little shikaring himself. There is more jungle and better shooting round Deennugghur than there is here, and you know the Doctor is an enthusiast that way. Of course, the Colonel agreed at once."
"I am very glad of that, uncle; it won't seem like going to a strange place if we have him with us, and the Hunters there, and I suppose three or four officers of the regiment. Who are going?"
"Both your boys," the Major laughed, "and Doolan and Rintoul."
"When do we go, uncle?"
"Next Monday. I shall get somebody to put us up from Friday, and that morning we will get everything dismantled here, and send them off by bullock carts with the servants to Deennugghur, so that they will be there by Monday morning. I will write to Hunter to pick us out the best of the empty bungalows, and see that our fellows get to work to clean the place up as soon as they arrive. We shall be two days on the march, and things will be pretty forward by the time we get there."
"And where shall we sleep on the march?"
"In tents, my dear, and very comfortable you will find them. Rumzan will go with us, and you will find everything go on as smoothly as if you were here. Tent life in India is very pleasant. Next year, in the cool season, we will do an excursion somewhere, and I am sure you will find it delightful: they don't know anything about the capabilities of tents at home."
"Then do I quite understand, uncle, that all I have got to do is to make a round of calls to say goodby to everyone?"
"That is all. You will find a lot of my cards in one of those pigeon holes; you may as well drop one wherever you go. Shall I order a carriage from Framjee's for today?"
"No, I think not, uncle; I will go round to our own bungalows first, and hear what Mrs. Doolan and the others think about it."
At Mrs. Doolan's Isobel found quite an assembly. Mrs. Rintoul had come in almost in tears, and the two young lieutenants had dropped in with Captain Doolan, while one or two other officers had come round to commiserate with Mrs. Doolan.
"Another victim," the latter said, as Isobel entered.
"You look too cheerful, Miss Hannay. I find that we are expected to wear sad countenances at our approaching banishment."
"Are we, Mrs. Doolan? It seems to me that it won't make very much difference to us."
"Not make any difference, Miss Hannay!" Captain Doolan said. "Why, Deennugghur is one of the dullest little stations on this side of India!"
"What do you mean by dull, Captain Doolan?"
"Why, there are only about six white residents there besides the troops. Of course, as four companies are going instead of one, it will make a difference; but there will be no gayety, no excitement, and really nothing to do."
"As for the gayety, I am sure I shall not regret it, Captain Doolan; besides, our gayeties are pretty well over, except, of course, dinner parties, and it is getting very hot for them. We shall get off having to go out in the heat of the day to make calls, which seem to me terrible afflictions, and I think with a small party it ought to be very sociable and pleasant. As for excitement, I hear that there is much better shooting there than there is here. Mrs. Hunter was telling me that they have had some tigers that have been very troublesome round there, and you will all have an opportunity of showing your skill and bravery. I know that Mr. Richards and Mr. Wilson are burning to distinguish themselves."
"It would be great fun to shoot a tiger," Richards said. "When I came out to India I thought there was going to be lots of tiger shooting, and I bought a rifle on purpose, but I have never had a chance yet. Yes, we will certainly get up a tiger hunt, won't we, Wilson? You will tell us how to set about it, won't you, Doolan?"
"I don't shoot," Captain Doolan said; "and if I wanted to, I am not sure that my wife would give me leave."
"Certainly I would not," Mrs. Doolan said promptly. "Married men have no right to run into unnecessary danger."
"Dr. Wade will be able to put you in the way, Mr. Richards," Isobel said.
"Dr. Wade!" Mrs. Rintoul exclaimed. "You don't mean to say, Miss Hannay, that he is going with us?"
"Yes, he is going for a time, Mrs. Rintoul. My uncle told me that he had applied to go with the detachment, and that the surgeon there would come back to the regiment while he is away."
"I do call that hard," Mrs. Rintoul said. "The only thing I was glad we were going for was that we should be under Mr. M'Alaster, who is very pleasant, and quite understands my case, while Dr. Wade does not seem to understand it at all, and is always so very brusque and unsympathetic."
There was a general smile.
"Wade is worth a hundred of M'Alaster," Captain Roberts said. "There is not a man out here I would rather trust myself to if I were ill. He is an awfully good fellow, too, all round, though he may be, as you say, a little brusque in manner."
"I call him a downright bear," Mrs. Rintoul said angrily. "Why, only last week he told me that if I would get up two hours earlier and go for a brisk walk just after sunrise, and give up eating meat at tiffin, and confine myself to two or three dishes at dinner, I should be perfectly well in the course of a month; just as if I was in the habit of overeating myself, when I have scarcely the appetite of a sparrow. I told Captain Rintoul afterwards that I must consult someone else, for that really I could not bear such rudeness."
"I am afraid we are all against you, Mrs. Rintoul," Mrs. Doolan said, with a little shake of her head at Isobel, who was, she saw, going to speak out strongly. "No one could possibly be kinder than he is when anyone is really ill. I mean seriously ill," she added, as Mrs. Rintoul drew herself up indignantly. "I shall never forget how attentive he was to the children when they were down with fever just before he went to England. He missed his ship and lost a month of his leave because he would not go away till they were out of danger, and there are very few men who would have done that. I shall never forget his kindness. And now let us talk of something else. You will have to establish a little mess on your own account, Mr. Wilson, as both the Captains are married men, and the Major has also an incumbrance."
"Yes, it will be horribly dull, Mrs. Doolan. Richards and I have quarters together here, and, of course, it will be the same there, and I am sure I don't know what we shall find to talk about when we come to have to mess together. Of course, here, there are the messroom and the club, and so we get on very well, but to be together always will be awful."
"You will really have to take to reading or something of that sort, Mr. Wilson," Isobel laughed.
"I always do read the Field, Miss Hannay, but that won't last for a whole week, you know; and there is no billiard table, and no racquet court, or anything else at Deennugghur, and one cannot always be riding about the country."
"We shall all have to take pity on you as much as we can," Mrs. Doolan said. "I must say that, like Miss Hannay, I shall not object to the change."
"I think it is all very well for you, Mrs. Doolan; you have children."
"Well, Mr. Richards, I will let you both, as a great treat, take them out for a walk sometimes of a morning instead of their going with the ayah. That will make a change for you."
There was a general laugh, but Wilson said manfully, "Very well, Mrs. Doolan; I am very fond of youngsters, and I should like to take, anyhow, the two eldest out sometimes. I don't think I should make much hand with the other two, but perhaps Richards would like to come in and amuse them while we are out; he is just the fellow for young ones."
There was another laugh, in which Richards joined. "I could carry them about on my back, and pretend to be a horse," he said; "but I don't know that I could amuse them in any other way."
"You would find that very hot work, Mr. Richards," Mrs. Doolan said; "but I don't think we shall require such a sacrifice of you. Well, I don't think we shall find it so bad, after all, and I don't suppose it will be for very long; I do not believe in all this talk about chupaties, and disaffection, and that sort of thing; I expect in three months we shall most of us be back again."
Ten days later the detachment was settled down in Deennugghur. The troops were for the most part under canvas, for there was only accommodation for a single company at the station. The two subalterns occupied a large square tent, while the other three officers took possession of the only three bungalows that were vacant at the station, the Doctor having a tent to himself. The Major and Isobel had stayed for the first three days with the Hunters, at the end of which time the bungalow had been put in perfect order. It was far less commodious than that at Cawnpore, but Isobel was well satisfied with it when all their belongings had been arranged, and she soon declared that she greatly preferred Deennugghur to Cawnpore.
Those at the station heartily welcomed the accession to their numbers, and there was an entire absence of the stiffness and formality of a large cantonment like Cawnpore, and Isobel was free to run in as she chose to spend the morning chatting and working with the Hunters, or Mrs. Doolan, or with the other ladies, of whom there were three at the station.
A few days after their arrival news came in that the famous man eater, which had for a time ceased his ravages and moved off to a different part of the country, principally because the natives of the village near the jungle had ceased altogether to go out after nightfall, had returned, and had carried off herdsmen on two consecutive days.
The Doctor at once prepared for action, and agreed to allow Wilson and Richards to accompany him, and the next day the three rode off together to Narkeet, to which village the two herdsmen had belonged. Both had been killed near the same spot, and the natives had traced the return of the tiger to its lair in the jungle with its victims.
The Doctor soon found that the ordinary methods of destroying the tiger had been tried again and again without success. Cattle and goats had been tied up, and the native shikaris had taken their posts in trees close by, and had watched all night; but in vain. Spring traps and deadfalls had also been tried, but the tiger seemed absolutely indifferent to the attractions of their baits, and always on the lookout for snares. The attempts made at a dozen villages near the jungle had all been equally unsuccessful.
"It is evident," the Doctor said, "that the brute cares for nothing but human victims. No doubt, if he were very hungry he would take a cow or a goat, but we might wait a very long time for that; so the only thing that I can see is to act as a bait myself."
"How will you do that, Doctor?"
"I shall build a sort of cage near the point where the tiger has twice entered the jungle. I will take with me in the cage a woman or girl from the village. From time to time she shall cry out as if in pain, and as the tiger is evidently somewhere in this neighborhood it is likely enough he will come out to see about it.
"We must have the cage pretty strong, or I shall never get anyone to sit with me; besides, on a dark night, there is no calculating on killing to a certainty with the first shot, and it is just as well to be on the safe side. In daylight it would be a different matter altogether. I can rely upon my weapon when I can see, but on a dark night it is pretty well guesswork."
The villagers were at once engaged to erect a stout cage eight feet square and four high, of beams driven into the ground six inches apart, and roofed in with strong bars. There was a considerable difficulty in getting anyone to consent to sit by the Doctor, but at last the widow of one of the men who had been killed agreed for the sum of twenty-five rupees to pass the night there, accompanied by her child four years old.
The Doctor's skill with his rifle was notorious, and it was rather the desire of seeing her husband's death avenged than for the sake of the money that she consented to keep watch. There was but one tree suitable for the watchers; it stood some forty yards to the right of the cage, and it was arranged that both the subalterns should take their station in it.
"Now look here, lads," the Doctor said, "before we start on this business, it must be quite settled that you do not fire till you hear my rifle. That is the first thing; the second is that you only fire when the brute is a fair distance from the cage. If you get excited and blaze away anyhow, you are quite as likely to hit me as you are the tiger. Now, I object to take any risk whatever on that score. You will have a native shikari in the tree with you to point out the tiger, for it is twenty to one against your making him out for yourselves. It will be quite indistinct, and you have no chance of making out its head or anything of that sort, and you have to take a shot at it as best you may.
"Remember there must not be a word spoken. If the brute does come, it will probably make two or three turns round the cage before it approaches it, and may likely enough pass close to you, but in no case fire. You can't make sure of killing it, and if it were only wounded it would make off into the jungle, and all our trouble would be thrown away. Also remember you must not smoke; the tiger would smell it half a mile away, and, besides, the sound of a match striking would be quite sufficient to set him on his guard."
"There is no objection, I hope, Doctor, to our taking up our flasks; we shall want something to keep us from going to sleep."
"No, there is no objection to that," the Doctor said; "but mind you don't go to sleep, for if you did you might fall off your bough and break your neck, to say nothing of the chance of the tiger happening to be close at hand at the time."
Late in the afternoon the Doctor went down to inspect the cage, and pronounced it sufficiently strong. Half an hour before nightfall he and the woman and child took their places in it, and the two beams in the roof that had been left unfastened to allow of their entry were securely lashed in their places by the villagers. Wilson and Richards were helped up into the tree, and took their places upon two boughs which sprang from the trunk close to each other at a height of some twelve feet from the ground. The shikari who was to wait with them crawled out, and with a hatchet chopped off some of the small boughs and foliage so as to give them a clear view of the ground for some distance round the cage, which was erected in the center of a patch of brushwood, the lower portion of which had been cleared out so that the Doctor should have an uninterrupted view round. The boughs and leaves were gathered up by the villagers, and carried away by them, and the watch began.
"Confound it," Richards whispered to his companion after night fell, "it is getting as dark as pitch; I can scarcely make out the clump where the cage is. I should hardly see an elephant if it were to come, much less a brute like a tiger."
"We shall get accustomed to it presently," Wilson replied; "at any rate make quite sure of the direction in which the cage is in; it is better to let twenty tigers go than to run the risk of hitting the Doctor."
In another hour their eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and they could not only see the clump in which the cage was clearly, but could make out the outline of the bush all round the open space in which it stood. Both started as a loud and dismal wail rose suddenly in the air, followed by a violent crying.
"By Jove, how that woman made me jump!" Wilson said; "it sounded quite awful, and she must have pinched that poor little beggar of hers pretty sharply to make him yell like that."
A low "hush!" from the shikari at his elbow warned Wilson that he was speaking too loudly. Hours passed by, the cries being raised at intervals.
"It is enough to give one the jumps, Richards; each time she yells I nearly fall off my branch."
"Keep on listening, then it won't startle you."
"A fellow can't keep on listening," Wilson grumbled; "I listen each time until my ears begin to sing, and I feel stupid and sleepy, and then she goes off again like a steam whistle; that child will be black and blue all over in the morning."
A warning hiss from the shikari again induced Wilson to silence.
"I don't believe the brute is coming," he whispered, an hour later. "If it wasn't for this bough being so hard I should drop off to sleep; my eyes ache with staring at those bushes."
As he spoke the shikari touched him on the shoulder and pointed. "Tiger," he whispered; and then did the same to Richards. Grasping their rifles, they gazed in the direction in which he pointed, but could for some time make out nothing. Then they saw a dim gray mass in front of the bushes, directly on the opposite side of the open space; then from the cage, lying almost in a direct line between it and them, rose the cry of the child. They were neither of them at all certain that the object at which they were gazing was the tiger. It seemed shapeless, the outline fading away in the bush; but they felt sure that they had noticed nothing like it in that direction before.
For two or three minutes they remained in uncertainty, then the outline seemed to broaden, and it moved noiselessly. There could be no mistake now; the tiger had been attracted by the cries, and as it moved along they could see that it was making a circuit of the spot from whence the sounds proceeded, to reconnoiter before advancing towards its prey. It kept close to the line of bushes, and sometimes passed behind some of them. The shikari pressed their shoulders, and a low hiss enforced the necessity for absolute silence. The two young fellows almost held their breath; they had lost sight of the tiger now, but knew it must be approaching them.
For two or three minutes they heard and saw nothing, then the shikari pointed beyond them, and they almost started as they saw the tiger retreating, and knew that it must have passed almost under them without their noticing it. At last it reached the spot at which they had first seen it. The child's cry, but this time low and querulous, again rose. With quicker steps than before it moved on, but still not directly towards the center, to the great relief of the two subalterns, who had feared that it might attack from such a direction that they would not dare to fire for fear of hitting the cage. Fortunately it passed that point, and, crouching, moved towards the bushes.
Wilson and Richards had their rifles now at their shoulders, but, in the feeble and uncertain light, felt by no means sure of hitting their mark, though it was but some thirty yards away. Almost breathlessly they listened for the Doctor's rifle, but both started when the flash and sharp crack broke on the stillness. There was a sudden snarl of pain, the tiger gave a spring in the air, and then fell, rolling over and over.
"It is not killed!" the shikari exclaimed. "Fire when it gets up."
Suddenly it rose to its feet, and with a loud roar sprang towards the thicket. The two subalterns fired, but the movements of the dimly seen creature were so swift that they felt by no means sure that they had hit it. Then came, almost simultaneously, a loud shriek from the woman, of a very different character to the long wails she had before uttered, followed by a sound of rending and tearing.
"He is breaking down the cage!" Richards exclaimed excitedly, as he and Wilson hastened to ram another cartridge down their rifles. "Come, we must go and help the Doctor."
But a moment later came another report of a rifle, and then all was silent. Then the Doctor's voice was heard.
"Don't get down from the tree yet, lads; I think he is dead, but it is best to make sure first."
There was a pause, and then another rifle shot, followed by the shout "All right; he is as dead as a door nail now. Mind your rifles as you climb down."
"Fancy thinking of that," Wilson said, "when you have just killed a tiger! I haven't capped mine yet; have you, Richards?"
"I have just put it on, but will take it off again. Here, old man, you get down first, and we will hand the guns to you."--this to the shikari.
With some difficulty they scrambled down from the tree.
"Now we may as well cap our rifles," Richards said; "the brute may not be dead after all."
They approached the bush cautiously.
"You are quite sure he is dead, Doctor?"
"Quite sure; do you think I don't know when a tiger is dead?"
Still holding their guns in readiness to fire, they approached the bushes.
"You can do no good until the villagers come with torches," the Doctor said; "the tiger is dead enough, but it is always as well to be prudent."
The shikari had uttered a loud cry as he sprang down from the tree, and this had been answered by shouts from the distance. In a few minutes lights were seen through the trees, and a score of men with torches and lanterns ran up with shouts of satisfaction.
As soon as they arrived the two young officers advanced to the cage. On the top a tiger was lying stretched out as if in sleep; with some caution they approached it and flashed a torch in its eyes. There was no doubt that it was dead. The body was quickly rolled off the cage, and then a dozen hands cut the lashing and lifted the top bars, which was deeply scored by the tiger's claws, and the Doctor emerged.
"I am glad to be out of that," he said; "six hours in a cage with a woman and a crying brat is no joke."
As soon as the Doctor had got out, the subalterns eagerly examined the tiger, upon which the natives were heaping curses and execrations.
"How many wounds has it got?" they asked the Doctor, who repeated the question to the shikari in his own language.
"Three, sahib. One full in the chest--it would have been mortal --two others in the ribs by the heart."
"No others?" the subalterns exclaimed in disgust, as the answer was translated to them. The Doctor himself examined the tiger.
"No; you both missed, lads, but you need not be ashamed of that; it is no easy matter to hit a tiger even at a short distance on a dark night like this, when you can scarce make him out, and can't see the barrel of your rifle. I ought to have told you to rub a little phosphorus off the head of a match onto the sight. I am so accustomed to do it myself as a matter of course that I did not think of telling you. Well, I am heartily glad we have killed it, for by all accounts it has done an immense deal of damage."
"It has been a fine tiger in its time, although its skin doesn't look much," Wilson said; "there are patches of fur off."
"That is generally the case with man eaters. They are mostly old tigers who take, when they get past their strength, to killing men. I don't know whether the flesh doesn't agree with them, but they are almost always mangy."
"We were afraid for a moment," Richards said, "that the tiger was going to break into your cage; we heard him clawing away at the timber, and as you didn't fire again we were afraid something was the matter."
"The mother was," the Doctor said testily. "The moment the tiger sprang, the woman threw herself down at full length right on the top of my second rifle, and when I went to push her off I think she fancied the tiger had got hold of her, for she gave a yell that fairly made me jump. I had to push her off by main force, and then lie down on my back, so as to get the rifle up to fire. I was sure the first shot was fatal, for I knew just where his heart would be, but I dropped a second cartridge in, and gave him another bullet so as to make sure. Well, if either of you want his head or his claws, you had better say so at once, for the natives will be singeing his whiskers off directly; the practice is a superstition of theirs."
"No, I don't want them," Wilson said. "If I had put a bullet into the brute, so that I could have said I helped to kill him, I should have liked the head to get it preserved and sent home to my people, but as it is the natives are welcome to it as far as I am concerned."
Richards was of the same opinion, and so without further delay they started back for the village, where, upon their arrival, they were greeted with cries of joy by the women, the news having already been carried back by a boy.
"Poor beggars!" the Doctor said. "They have been living a life of terror for weeks. They must feel as if they had woke from a nightmare. Now, lads, we will have some supper. I dare say you are ready for it, and I am sure I am."
"Is there any chance for supper, Doctor?--why, it must be two o'clock in the morning."
"Of course there is," the Doctor replied. "I gave orders to my man to begin to warm up the food as soon as he heard a gun fired, and I will guarantee he has got everything ready by this time."
After a hearty meal and a cigar they lay down for a few hours' sleep, and at daybreak rode back to Deennugghur, the two subalterns rather crestfallen at their failure to have taken any active part in killing the tiger that had so long been a terror to the district.
"It was an awful sell missing him, Miss Hannay; I wanted to have had the claws mounted as a necklace; I thought you would have liked it."
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Wilson, but I would much rather not have had them. If the tiger hadn't been a man eater I should not have minded, but I should never have worn as an ornament claws that had killed lots of people--women and children too."
"No, I never thought of that, Miss Hannay; it wouldn't have been pleasant, now one thinks of it; still, I wish I had put a bullet into him."
"No doubt you will do better next time, Mr. Wilson. The Doctor has been telling me that it is extremely difficult to hit an animal in the dark when you are not accustomed to that sort of shooting. He says he was in a great fright all the time he was lying in the cage, and that it was an immense relief to him when he heard your rifles go off, and found that he wasn't hit."
"That is too bad of him, Miss Hannay," Wilson laughed; "we were not such duffers as all that. I don't believe he really did think so."
"I am sure he was in earnest, Mr. Wilson. He said he should have felt quite safe if it had been daylight, but that in the dark people really can't see which way the rifles are pointed, and that he remembered he had not told you to put phosphorus on the sights."
"It was too bad of him," Wilson grumbled; "it would have served him right if one of the bullets had hit a timber of the cage and given him a start; I should like to have seen the Doctor struggling in the dark to get his second rifle from under the woman, with the tiger clawing and growling two feet above him."
"The Doctor didn't tell me about that," Isobel laughed; "though he said he had a woman and child with him to attract the tiger."
"It would have frightened any decent minded tiger, Miss Hannay, instead of attracting it; for such dismal yells as that woman made I never listened to. I nearly tumbled off the tree at the first of them, it made me jump so, and it gave me a feeling of cold water running down my back. As to the child, I don't know whether she pinched it or the doctor stuck pins into it, but the poor little brute howled in the most frightful way. I don't think I shall ever want to go tiger shooting in the dark again; I ache all over today as if I had been playing in the first football match of the season, from sitting balancing myself on that branch; I was almost over half a dozen times."
"I expect you nearly went off to sleep, Mr. Wilson."
"I think I should have gone to sleep if it hadn't been for that woman, Miss Hannay. I should not have minded if I could have smoked, but to sit there hour after hour and not be able to smoke, and not allowed to speak, and staring all the time into the darkness till your eyes ached, was trying, I can tell you; and after all that, not to hit the brute was too bad."
The days passed quietly at Deennugghur. They were seldom alone at Major Hannay's bungalow in the evening, for Wilson and Richards generally came in to smoke a cigar in the veranda; the Doctor was a regular visitor, when he was not away in pursuit of game, and Bathurst was also often one of the party.
"Mr. Bathurst is coming out wonderfully, Miss Hannay," Mrs. Hunter said one day, as Isobel sat working with her, while the two girls were practicing duets on a piano in the next room. "We used to call him the hermit, he was so difficult to get out of his cell. We were quite surprised when he accepted our invitation to dinner yesterday."
"I think Dr. Wade has stirred him up," Isobel said calmly; "he is a great favorite of the Doctor's."
Mrs. Hunter smiled over her work. "Perhaps so, my dear; anyhow, I am glad he has come out, and I hope he won't retire into his cell again after you have all gone."
"I suppose it depends a good deal upon his work," Isobel said.
"My experience of men is that they can always make time if they like, my dear. When a man says he is too busy to do this, that, or the other, you may always safely put it down that he doesn't want to do it. Of course, it is just the same thing with ourselves. You often hear women say they are too busy to attend to all sorts of things that they ought to attend to, but the same women can find plenty of time to go to every pleasure gathering that comes off. There is no doubt that Mr. Bathurst is really fond of work, and that he is an indefatigable civil servant of the Company, but that would not prevent him making an hour or two's time of an evening, occasionally, if he wanted to. However, he seems to have turned over a new leaf, and I hope it will last. In a small station like this, even one man is of importance, especially when he is as pleasant as Mr. Bathurst can be when he likes. He was in the army at one time, you know."
"Was he, Mrs. Hunter?"
"Yes. I never heard him say so himself, but I have heard so from several people. I think he was only in it for a year or so. I suppose he did not care for it, and can quite imagine he would not, so he sold out, and a short time afterwards obtained a civil appointment. He has very good interest; his father was General Bathurst, who was, you know, a very distinguished officer. So he had no difficulty in getting into our service, where he is entirely in his element. His father died two years ago, and I believe he came into a good property at home. Everyone expected he would have thrown up his appointment, but it made no difference to him, and he just went on as before, working as if he had to depend entirely on the service."
"I can quite understand that," Isobel said, "to a really earnest man a life of usefulness here must be vastly preferable to living at home without anything to do or any object in life."
"Well, perhaps so, my dear, and in theory that is, no doubt, the case; but practically, I fancy you would find nineteen men out of twenty, even if they are what you call earnest men, retire from the ranks of hard workers if they come into a nice property. By the way, you must come in here this evening. There is a juggler in the station, and Mr. Hunter has told him to come round. The servants say the man is a very celebrated juggler, one of the best in India, and as the girls have never seen anything better than the ordinary itinerant conjurers, my husband has arranged for him to come in here, and we have been sending notes round asking everyone to come in. We have sent one round to your place, but you must have come out before the chit arrived."
"Oh, I should like that very much!" Isobel said. "Two or three men came to our bungalow at Cawnpore and did some conjuring, but it was nothing particular; but uncle says some of them do wonderful things--things that he cannot account for at all. That was one of the things I read about at school, and thought I should like to see, more than anything in India. When I was at school we went in a body, two or three times, to see conjurers when they came to Cheltenham. Of course I did not understand the things they did, and they seemed wonderful to me, but I know there are people who can explain them, and that they are only tricks; but I have read accounts of things done by jugglers in India that seemed utterly impossible to explain--really a sort of magic."
"I have heard a good many arguments about it," Mrs. Hunter said; "and a good many people, especially those who have seen most of them, are of opinion that many of the feats of the Indian jugglers cannot be explained by any natural laws we know of. I have seen some very curious things myself, but the very fact that I did not understand how they were done was no proof they could not be explained; certainly two of their commonest tricks, the basket trick and the mango, have never been explained. Our conjurers at home can do something like them, but then that is on a stage, where they can have trapdoors and all sorts of things, while these are done anywhere --in a garden, on a road--where there could be no possible preparation, and with a crowd of lookers on all round; it makes me quite uncomfortable to look at it."
"Well, I must be off now, Mrs. Hunter; it is nearly time for uncle to be back, and he likes me to be in when he returns."