Story 1 | Chapter XIV | Begumbagh, a Tale of the Indian Mutiny

Story 1—Chapter XIV.

I should think it must have been the devil tempting Lieutenant Leigh, or he would never have done as he did; for, as he looked at Miss Ross, the change that came over him was quite startling. He could read all that was passing in her heart; there was no need for her to lay her hand upon his arm, and point with the other out of the window, as in a voice that I didn’t know for hers, she said: “Will you leave those two brave men there to die, Lieutenant Leigh?”

He didn’t answer for a moment, but seemed to be struggling with himself; then, speaking as huskily as she did, he said: “Send away that girl!” and before I could go to her—for I should have done it, then, I know—and whisper a few words of hope, poor Lizzy went out, mourning for Harry Lant, wringing her hands; and I stood at my post, a sentry by my commander’s orders, so that it was no spying on my part if I heard what followed.

I believe Lieutenant Leigh fancied he was speaking in an undertone, when he led Miss Ross away to a corner, and spoke to her; but this was perhaps the most exciting moment in his life, and his voice rose in spite of himself, so that I heard all; while she, poor thing, I believe forgot all about my presence; and, as a sentry—a machine almost—placed there, what right had I to speak?

“Will you leave him?” said Miss Ross again. “Will you not try to save him?”

Lieutenant Leigh did not answer for a bit, for he was making his plans, and I felt quite staggered as I saw through them.

“You see how he is placed: what can I do?” said Lieutenant Leigh. “If I go, it is the signal for firing. You see the gunners waiting. And why should I risk the lives of my men, and my own, to save him?—He is a soldier, and it is the fortune of war: he must die.”

“Are you a man, or a coward?” said Miss Ross angrily.

“No coward,” he said fiercely; “but a poor slighted man, whom you have wronged, jilted, and ill-used; and now you come to me to save your lover’s life—to give mine for it. You have robbed me of all that is pleasant between you; and now you ask more. Is it just?”

“Lieutenant Leigh, you are speaking madly. How can you be so unjust?” she cried, holding tightly by his arm, for he was turning away, while I felt mad with him for torturing the poor girl, when it was decided that the attempt was to be made.

“I am not unjust,” he said. “The hazard is too great; and what should I gain if I succeeded? Pshaw! Why, if he were saved, it would be at the expense of my own life.”

“I would die to save him!” she said hoarsely.

“I know it, Elsie; but you would not give a loving word to save me. You would send me out to my death without compunction—without a care; and yet you know how I have loved you.”

“You—you loved me; and yet stand and see my heart torn—see me suffer like this?” cried Miss Ross, and there was something half-wild in her looks as she spoke.

“Love you!” he cried; “yes, you know how I have loved you—”

His voice sank here; but he was talking in her ear excitedly, saying words that made her shrink from him up to the wall, and look at him as if he were some object of the greatest disgust.

“You can choose,” he said bitterly, as he saw her action; and he turned away from her.

The next moment she was bending down before him, holding up her hands as if in prayer.

“Promise me,” he said, “and I will do it.”

“Oh, some other way—some other way!” she cried piteously, her face all drawn the while.

“As you will,” he said coldly.

“But think—oh, think! You cannot expect it of me. Have mercy! Oh, what am I saying?”

“Saying!” he cried, catching her hands in his, and speaking excitedly and fast—“saying things that are sending him to his death! What do I offer you? Love, devotion, all that man can give. He would, if asked now, give up all for his life; and yet you, who profess to love him so dearly, refuse to make that sacrifice for his sake! You cannot love him. If he could hear now, he would implore you to do it. Think. I risk all. Most likely, my life will be given for his; perhaps we shall both fall. But you refuse. Enough: I must go; I cannot stay. There are many lives here under my charge; they must not be neglected for the sake of one. As I said before, it is the fortune of war; and, poor fellow, he has but a quarter of an hour or so to live, unless help comes.”

“Unless help comes,” groaned Miss Ross frantically, when, as Lieutenant Leigh reached the door, watching me over his shoulder the while, Miss Ross went down on her knees, stretched out her hands towards where Captain Dyer was bound to the gun, and then she rose, cold, and hard, and stern, and turned to Lieutenant Leigh, holding out her hand. “I promise,” she said hoarsely.

“On your oath, before God?” he exclaimed joyfully, as he caught her in his arms.

“As God is my judge,” she faltered with her eyes upturned; and then, as he held her to his breast, kissing her passionately, she shivered and shuddered, and, as he released her, sank in a heap on the floor.

“Smith,” cried Lieutenant Leigh; “right face—forward!” and as I passed Miss Ross, I heard her sob in a tone I shall never forget: “O Lawrence, Lawrence!” and then a groan rose from her breast, and I heard no more.