Chapter VIII

In the Residency Garden

After her interview with Azimoolah Edith Ross hurried back to the Residency. She had done a daring thing in venturing out alone the distance of nearly a mile. Rebellion was seething unseen in the city, and the revolt of the military police the day before was but an ebullition of the hidden ferment. An upheaval was within measurable distance.

Edith Ross, like hundreds of other Anglo-Indians, never thought of this. She lived in a state of false security. The fact that Azimoolah Khan was in Lucknow as a spy did not come upon her with any significance. Spies had abounded in India from time immemorial. They were indigenous to the soil. What was one spy in Lucknow, more or less?

Had she disclosed to Colonel Inglis the identity of this man, the horrors of Cawnpore might have been averted. But she had not the gift of second sight, neither did she know Azimoolah’s real character. She remembered him only as Jack Hawke’s servant, and as a man admirably adapted to carry out her scheme of passionate revenge. She knew nothing of his altered position, of his visit to England on behalf of the Nana, of his being really the master spirit of the mutiny, not only in Meerut but in Cawnpore.

How could she tell that his visit to Lucknow in disguise was really to ascertain the state of affairs there and to find out for himself whether Sir Henry Lawrence was in a position to send assistance to Sir Hugh Wheeler?

There is little doubt that Azimoolah’s hand stirred up the military police to revolt. When these men went off to join the mutineers, Sir Henry became convinced that he would have enough to do to hold his own. The police fled on the 12th of June, and on the 16th Sir Henry sent a letter to Sir Hugh Wheeler in reply to the beleaguered general’s earnest appeals for help.

“I am very sorry, indeed, to hear of your condition,” wrote Sir Henry Lawrence, “and grieve that I cannot help you. I have consulted with the chief officers about me, and except Gubbins, they are unanimous in thinking that, with the enemy’s command of the river, we could not possibly get a single man into your entrenchments. I need not say that I deeply lament being obliged to concur in this opinion, for our safety is as nearly concerned as yours. We are strong in our entrenchments, but to attempt the passage of a river should be sacrificing a large detachment without a prospect of helping you.”

And without a doubt, Sir Henry was right. In all probability Azimoolah satisfied himself that Sir Henry was powerless to assist Sir Hugh Wheeler. What he saw in Lucknow determined him to hurry on with the bombardment of the Cawnpore entrenchments. There could be but one end to the siege.

Edith Ross went back to the Residency like one who had been relieved of the burden of a millstone. Of all contingencies, the last she reckoned upon was meeting with Azimoolah. But she was now safe and free to further her scheme as to Dr Lennard and Jean.

“I’ve no ill-will against the girl,” she comforted herself by saying, “unless she comes in my path. If she does she’ll have no mercy from me. It may be,” she added and her eyes shone with a light not often seen in them, it almost suggested tenderness​—​“if Jack is once convinced he can’t get her, he’ll turn to me. Time was when he would do anything I asked. But in those days I had a dozen men at my feet, and Jack was no more to me than any of the others. So I used to think then​—​I know differently now.”

Hawke was only detained in the hospital two days, in one way far too long for his impatient spirit. But after the first day there was no inducement to remain, for Dr Macpherson ordered Jean to another patient. “Ye ken enough about cold bandages, lassie,” said he grimly. When she was gone the place became hateful to Hawke. Macpherson released him with some misgiving.

“That sunstroke has done ye nae good, my lad,” said the old doctor to himself, with a shake of his head.

A week passed away, and no change took place. The city was quiet, but Sir Henry Lawrence never relaxed his efforts towards strengthening the Residency. He knew this was destined to be his stronghold.

The Residency with its adjacent buildings was to the west of the city, and not quite a quarter of a mile south of the river Gumti. The iron bridge was well within half-a-mile of its western extremity, the stone bridge was a little more than three-quarters of a mile still farther west. These were the only bridges the city possessed. They led to the British cantonments, to the north side of the river, where the first signs of the mutiny were seen.

The entrenchments surrounding the main buildings were in the form of an irregular pentagon. Many houses were within these entrenchments, and all were carefully loopholed in every direction. Where there were exposed verandahs overlooking the exterior wall towards the street, these verandahs were walled up with mud from two to three feet thick. Thus they were protected from any attempt at storming.

In some cases, where it was practicable, a sort of scaffolding was built upon the roof, so as to enable the defenders to fire from a more elevated position. Other roofs were surrounded by low earth walls covered with sandbags.

Mr Martin Gubbins, the commissioner, a man of wonderful energy, was untiring. He erected at his own expense a half-moon battery, mounting a nine-pounder, which could play on three different points. Another house was defended by a deep ditch and a cactus hedge, and fortified by a couple of guns.

The church, a gothic building, with twenty low pinnacles, was converted into a storehouse for grain. At the gate to the east was a mortar battery, destined to shell the whole of the western and northern buildings outside the entrenchments as far as the iron and stone bridges.

The victims of the outbreak in the cantonments were the first who were buried in the church. It had not before been used as a place of interment. It was soon destined to be filled with the bodies of the gallant defenders of the Lucknow garrison.

The strongest piece of fortification work was the redan, erected by Captain Fulton, an engineer of great capacity. The whole of the riverside and the buildings on the opposite banks could be played upon by the cannon Fulton planted here. In the event of an attack both the north and east, as well as the west sides, could be swept with grape from the redan.

Along the redan, to the north, in an irregular line extending to the hospital, was a wall of fascines and of earthwork, above which and through whose loopholes formed by sandbags the men were able to fire with certain effect. The Baillie Guard was in an isolated position, and practically outside the boundaries of the Residency entrenchments.

The Baillie Guard Gate to the right was lofty, and a fine piece of architecture. The gate was to be blocked up with earth, and in the event of an entrance being forced, two nine-pounders and an eight-inch howitzer could between them shower grape and canister upon the assailants.

The post-office was one of the most important positions. It commanded a large area in different directions. It was made the barrack-room of a great portion of the soldiers. It was besides the headquarters of the engineers, and offered accommodation to several families.

There were also other buildings, some of them inside the boundaries, and others on the borders, and used as outposts. Here many of the most stubborn fights occurred, and hundreds of sepoys paid for their temerity with their lives. Through the enclosed space ran various roads and lanes, most of them very narrow, and all destined to be scenes of fierce combat.

Sir Henry Lawrence’s quarters were in the Residency itself, in a room convenient from its elevated position for observing the enemy, but unduly exposed. Had he regarded his own safety, he would have chosen any room but this.

As the days went on the feeling of disquietude which was always present in a greater or less degree deepened. No news had come from Cawnpore, and upon Cawnpore everything depended.

Sir Henry Lawrence, writing to Lord Canning on the 23rd of June, said: “If Cawnpore holds out, I doubt if we shall be besieged at all.”

But five days later came the terrible news. Cawnpore had fallen, and its brave garrison had been butchered.

A thrill of horror went through the little community. Never before had the savagery of the mutiny seemed so real to them. Never had it touched them so nearly. Cawnpore was not so many miles from Lucknow. Until the mutineers closed the roads, communication between the two places was ready and frequent. Members of the same families were in both, and the friendships were many.

Yet, amid the thousand and one rumours which spread with lightning rapidity, in spite of the apprehensions as to the approach of danger, love, hatred, jealousy, revenge, went on apace. The moment for the merging of purely personal feelings into one common emotion had not arrived.

Jack Hawke’s fierce unreasoning love for Jean became more intense day by day. For all that he was careful to avoid her. He busied himself in work which took him to a distant part of the Residency and only saw her at a distance.

Edith Ross was not deceived by this apparent indifference. She knew Hawke thoroughly. He was a man who could by a strong effort of will abstain from anything towards which his passions or inclinations led him; but the self-imposed barrier once broken, he knew no bounds. It was so with gambling, so with betting, and so with drinking.

“I shall leave Jack alone for a while,” said Mrs Ross to herself. “I gain nothing by irritating him. Why doesn’t Ernest Lennard make the running with Jean now he has the chance? I hate your scientific men. They’re so slow in making up their minds. They must be sure of everything before they stir a step.”

This was not quite true of Lennard. He had made up his mind that he loved Jean Atherton. The doubt was what her answer would be if he declared himself.

Mrs Ross never lost an opportunity of dropping hints to Lennard as to what she pretended she knew about Jean’s feelings towards him. Jean herself always appeared pleased when he approached her, and her father was certainly in his favour. Mr Atherton was both a shrewd and blunt man and he never beat about the bush.

“You needn’t be unnecessarily reticent about the matter, Lennard,” said he with a smile. “I’ve seen for some time past how your thoughts have been tending. Let me say at once there is no man to whom I would more gladly see my dear girl married than yourself.”

“How good of you to say that,” cried Lennard, his pale face flushing. “I admit that I admire​—​well, admire is too cold a word​—​let me say plainly that I love Jean; but——”

“Well, where does the ‘but’ come in?” said Mr Atherton, seeing that he hesitated.

“I fear she doesn’t care sufficiently for me. There may be some prior attachment​—​somebody in England perhaps.”

“Don’t you worry, doctor. It wouldn’t amount to more than a mere flirtation​—​a boy and girl affair. Girls of her age are not in the same mood two weeks together. Besides the present lover has always the advantage over the absent one. It’s his own fault if he doesn’t make full use of his opportunity. And especially now, Lennard,” continued Atherton, his voice suddenly becoming very grave. “We’re on the eve of a terrible crisis. Do you know what news Sir Henry received this morning?”

“No; I’ve been in the hospital all day, and have heard nothing.”

“The rebels are massing from all quarters at Nawabgunge, only twenty miles away. This morning a spy came into the Residency with the intelligence that an advance guard of 500 infantry and 100 horse had arrived at Chinhut on the Fyzabad road, to collect supplies for a main body, who are to follow. Chinhut, as you know, is but eight miles away. Twenty of our cavalry​—​the best we could muster, and that isn’t saying very much​—​went out at once to reconnoitre, but were unable to do so. The cunning rascals posted pickets, and these were in too strong a force to allow our men to pass. They came back without learning anything.”

“What’s going to be done?” returned Lennard, with an anxious face.

“Sir Henry will attack the enemy in force to-morrow morning. He hopes to smash up the advance guard before the reinforcements reach it. I’m very doubtful as to the result. The fall of Cawnpore has released a few thousands of the devils, and my opinion is that the enemy is much stronger than Sir Henry imagines. It will be an awful business if we’re defeated. You may depend upon it, the Residency will be at once attacked, and well, it may be Cawnpore over again.”

Atherton paused a moment and went on in lower and more earnest tones.

“Lennard, this is a queer time, isn’t it, to talk of marriage and giving in marriage, and what I’m going to say is for your sake and for the sake of my daughter whom I dearly love. At any moment I may be taken away​—​there are no non-combatants now; even you surgeons may have to fight, though heaven knows you’ll have plenty of work in the hospital​—​and it would be some slight comfort to me in my final hour to know that my girl had a husband who would guard her to the last drop of his blood.”

“By heaven, Atherton, you speak the truth there,” cried Lennard, his eyes flashing.

“Very well. Then lose no time. You know my ideas. I leave the rest to you. Go at once to Jean.”

Lennard went out in a tumult of feeling. He would not give himself time to think. It was not a moment for doubts, subtleties of thought and analysis of emotions. One lurking suspicion had indeed been removed, at least so he thought. Jean, while pitying Hawke, did not love him. So much he had learned in his conversations with her. Nor had Hawke forced himself in any way upon her.

With hope thrilling in every nerve, he hastened towards the quarter of the building which had been assigned to the ladies.

As a doctor here, there, and everywhere, at everybody’s beck and call, Lennard was known by sight to every lady in the Residency and to a large number by professional service; and there were few indeed among the children who did not know him and look upon him with that reverence and awe with which children commonly regard men in his profession. He had therefore no difficulty in finding a messenger to carry a note to Jean, to ask her for an early interview. When he reached the ladies’ quarters, he commandeered a sometime patient of nine or ten years of age to carry his note to Miss Atherton and to bring him her reply. The girl, glad to do the doctor a service and pleased to win a smile from Jean, whom everybody loved, carried the note to her and delivered it with more exactness than necessary, saying that she had brought it from the doctor, who waited her reply.

Several ladies heard the child’s remarks as she delivered the note, and one of them, whose eyes lit up with an unusual interest, rose and left the room. As the child returned with Jean’s answer, she met the lady, who induced the child to let her look at the scribbled note she carried, from which Mrs Ross learned that Jean Atherton had promised to meet Ernest Lennard by the fountain in the Residency garden in a quarter of an hour.

Having secured this important secret, she hastened with all speed to make the best possible use of it for her own purposes, and immediately set out for the redan.

Here she knew she would find Hawke. She met him half way. He was leading a horse, and he scarcely noticed her. She went up to him.

“Jack!” said she.

He turned abruptly.

“Don’t hinder me. I’m in a hurry.”

“You’ve need to be,” she replied with emphasis, “if you don’t want to lose Jean Atherton.”

“What do you mean?” he asked fiercely.

“I suppose you thought you were the only man likely to take her girlish fancy, and that you’d but to look at her and she would wait your highness’s pleasure. That’s how it used to be in the old days. You haven’t altered much, Jack, but circumstances have​—​worse luck for you.”

He seized her wrist, twisted her round, and glared into her face.

“You haven’t sought me without a motive. You never do anything without a motive. What is it now?”

Edith Ross knew Jack Hawke well. He was a man who required a strong stimulant before his nature was roused.

“How dull you are! Can’t you understand that a man at this very moment is making love to Jean Atherton? But perhaps you don’t care sufficiently about her for this to affect you.”

He started. The blood surged to his face. He allowed the rope attached to the horse’s head to drop from his hand.

Hitherto Hawke had been living in a delicious day-dream. He had got it into his head that Jean was perfectly free, and he resolved to wait his time. The stigma attached to his name was the stumbling-block. He knew the difficulty of explaining away his past. Even if he could do so, it meant going into so deep a confession of folly, that he shrank from the task. What an older woman would readily understand and condone, a young girl would look upon with repugnance.

He longed to do some daring deed, some stupendous feat of heroism which would blot out all that he had done in the past and all that was said against him in the present. Then, when all would be glad to shake him by the hand, he would go boldly to Jean and ask her for her love.

This was his dream. Mrs Ross had rudely shaken him out of it. The possibility of another man carrying Jean off before his eyes had never occurred to him. It roused every drop of hot blood in his body.

“Have you anything else to say?” he cried hoarsely.

“I see you don’t believe me,” said Mrs Ross. “It’s easy to satisfy you that I speak the truth. Come with me.”

He hesitated for a moment. Edith Ross watched his heavy brows lowering, and his lips tightening till they were almost white. She knew she had gained the day.

“Where?”

“In the Residency garden, near the fountain.”

He wrenched his horse’s head round with a force which must have hurt the animal’s mouth, tied him to a palisading, and with a look of midnight on his handsome face, followed the temptress.

The Residency garden, once so trim and gay, was now a scene of disorder. Stores in boxes, barrels and bags were heaped upon the flower-beds; shot were piled up on the lawn; bullock carts, tumbrils, artillery waggons crowded the paths. Only the few flowers near the fountain beneath a large tree had been spared. In some places the stores had been so heaped up in sections that going through the narrow gangways was like threading a maze.

The sun was setting, and they could easily approach the fountain without being seen by the two who were already there.

“Come nearer,” whispered Edith Ross, “you can hear what they are saying.”

“Who’s the fellow?” was Hawke’s fierce answer.

“Don’t you know? Ernest Lennard!”

His friend! The man who had stuck to him through evil report, who had defended him when all seemed black.

“I’ll not go a step farther,” he muttered in a choking voice. “Lennard, at least, is worthy of her​—​more worthy than I am. Why did you bring me here, Edith?”

A gleam of triumph lit up the woman’s dark eyes. It was the first time he had called her Edith since his return to Lucknow. Was this a sign of her returning power?

He was destined to hear, whether he would or not.

The two figures who had been talking so earnestly, moved from the fountain, and came slowly in Hawke’s direction. To move would mean discovery. Mrs Ross’s fingers closed swiftly round his arm, as a sign for him to remain quiet.

Lennard did not look like a man who had proposed and had been accepted. He was very pale. There was no joy in his eyes. Jean was walking by his side, not close to him, as she would have been had things gone smoothly. Her eyes were bent on the ground. Her lips seemed to tremble. Neither spoke.

“You’ll forgive me, Dr Lennard, won’t you?” at last they heard her say, and she spoke with evident effort.

“What have I to forgive, Miss Atherton? I staked and lost, that’s all. Many men have done the same thing,” was his answer. And he drew a long breath.

“I’m so sorry,” she went on pityingly. “I​—​I do like you very much; but you see how it is, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes, say no more. I’m glad you’ve told me. It’s better always to find out the truth. It’s saved me much future pain, because had I not known what I now know I might have come to love you so much that——” Then he checked himself, and cried:

“What’s the good speculating as to what might be? I’ve done too much already of that, I’m afraid.”

“But we shall still be friends?” she urged.

The vibration of feeling in his voice had brought tears to her eyes. She knew that her refusal had inflicted the sharpest pain a man can feel, and it went to her heart to tell him she could never become his wife.

“I hope so. What has happened can make no difference in my regard for you. May I see you to the Residency?”

She bowed her head, and slipped her little hand within his arm as a token he had not offended her. They went slowly off together.

The man and woman left behind exchanged a glance. The eyes of the former had in them a savage joy. The eyes of the latter were dull with disappointment and baffled spite.

“I never thought to thank you for bringing me here,” he exclaimed, “but I do. Poor beggar! How nicely and considerately she refused him! Perhaps you’ll say she’ll refuse me when my turn comes to ask her.”

“Yes,” said Mrs Ross, in a voice trembling with suppressed passion. “Fool that you are, Jack Hawke! Can’t you read between the lines? Didn’t you hear sufficient to tell you that the girl refused him, not because she could not love him, but because she loved someone else better? Are you the one she loves?”

“Why not?” returned Hawke. But his tone was not confident.

“Shall I find out for you? Nothing is easier. Take my advice, Jack Hawke. Think no more of Jean Atherton. You’re not the man to take punishment in Dr Lennard’s fashion.”

“That’s my affair.”

And with a reckless laugh and at tug at his moustache, he strode off.