THE SUN sank, red and sullen, behind the tossing waters of the Bay of Bengal, and the lights of the yacht Georgia A. flashed on as the night descended with tropical suddenness.
Under the gay canopy which shaded the foredeck an after-dinner bridge game was in progress. The four who played were Harry Trevor, American millionaire sportsman and owner of the yacht, a tail, dark-haired man in his early forties; Georgia Trevor, his stately, Titian-haired wife; and their guests, Don Francesco Suarez and Doña Isabella, from Venezuela.
Leaning over the stern rail side by side, but with eyes sullenly aloof from each other, and no thought for the beauty of the Indian night, were Jan Trevor and Ramona Suarez. Like his father, Jan was tall and broad-shouldered, yet he had the auburn hair and blue eyes of his mother. And instead of the stiff, military carriage of the elder Trevor, his was rather the lithe, supple grace of a jungle animal—a grace of movement that had not been cultivated in any drawing-room, but had, rather, been learned from the ocelot, the jaguar and the puma in their native haunts. For, despite his immaculate tropical evening clothes and the fashionable cut of his hair, Jan was but six months removed from the vast trackless jungle of South America that had mothered him.
Ramona was small and slender, a striking brunette with a slightly Oriental tilt to her big brown eyes, which showed that though she bore the name of Suarez, she was descended from a race much older than that which inhabits the Iberian Peninsula. Just now tears quivered on her long dark lashes, for she and Jan had quarreled for the first time. The quarrel had been trivial enough. This tall, red-headed fiancé of hers had been so attentive to her during the six months they had spent on their leisurely round-the-world cruise, that she had become piqued by his inattention of this evening and had spoken sharply to him.
She gazed out over the water for some time in silence. Then, her mood softening, she turned and laid a hand on his arm.
“Tell me, Jan. What is wrong? What has come over you? Ever since we came within sight of this strange jungle you have paid no attention to me. You go about as one in a dream. Or you hang over the rail, staring, sniffing the air. What has happened to you?”
Jan passed his hand over his eyes. “Ramona, I—I don’t know. I have a strange feeling inside me which I cannot understand—a feeling of sadness. I wish I could explain—”
“You need not,” she interrupted, her pride aroused. “You have tired of me, Jan, that is it. I know it—can tell it by your every action. It is well that this happened before we were married—that I found it out in time. I will leave you at the next port. Father, mother, and I can take a steer from Calcutta. Oh, I’m glad! Glad! Do you hear?”
Her last words were uttered in a choking voice, and ended in a muffled sob. Then she turned and sprinted across the deck toward the companionway.
With a single bound, Jan caught her, held her prisoned in his arms. “Ramona, please—” he begged. “You do not understand. I—I—”
She beat upon his breast with her tiny fists, wrenched herself free. “You are a brute, a beast! I hate you!” she sobbed.
Then she darted off and plunged down the companionway.
Standing bewildered by this sudden change in the girl he had always considered so gentle, Jan waited until he heard the slam of her cabin door. What could he have done to arouse her so? Why should this strange moodiness which had seized him have so startling an effect upon her? And after all, what was it that had suddenly come over him upon their advent in these waters?
He returned to the rail to ponder the perplexing problem, and while he pondered he gazed at the distant jungle over which the gibbous moon was just rising, and from which there came to him strange scents and sounds—strange, yet somehow vaguely familiar.
First, there was the musty odor of decaying wood and leaves, which in every jungle is the same. There was the mingled perfume of many tropical wild flowers which were strange to him. And there were cat scents and cat sounds which he instantly recognized as such, though they were subtly different from those with which he had been familiar in his jungle. There were the calls of night birds, and somewhere a strange beast was trumpeting. Never before had he heard that sound, yet he instinctively knew that only an immense creature could make it.
Jan had never heard of nostalgia, and since he had never had a permanent home, save a cage in a private menagerie, which he hated, it would be difficult to imagine him homesick. Yet the jungle was his home. The jungle had reared him, fed him, mothered him. And while she had taught him many cruel lessons, they had been more than compensated for by the freedom and happiness she had brought him.
And so this alien jungle, which was like his jungle, yet different, had stirred a fierce longing in his heart, a strange, subjective yearning which he was unable to interpret in objective terms. He was drawn as iron is drawn to a lodestone, but he did not realize it. He only knew that he felt a strange sadness, an inexplicable longing; and that for no reason which he could understand, Ramona was angry with him.
As he leaned morosely over the rail, a plump, brown-skinned man who sat in a steamer chair beside the door of the companionway, observed him closely for some time. Then he took a lacquered case from beneath his voluminous garments, selected a cigarette, and lighted it, the flare of the match revealing his turbaned head, his round moon-like face, and the generously padded proportions of his short, rotund person.
Scarcely had the yellow flare died down ere a small, wiry figure slunk out from the shadows and crouched beside the chair of the obese one.
“I am here, babuji,” he said in Urdu.
The fat man did not turn his head, but whispered from the corner of his mouth in the same language.
“The time has come to do what is to be done. See that you do it well. If you fail you will surely die. If you succeed you will not only acquire merit before your black goddess; you will be a rich man as well.”
“I will not fail, babuji.”
“So? Then wait here, my good Kupta, until I again strike a light.”
The babu rose ponderously, and tossed his burning cigarette into the water. Then he circled the deck and mounted the ladder to the wheelhouse, where the second officer, Nelson, stood watch.
“Good evening, sair,” he said with a profound bow.
“Evening,” Nelson replied with a touch of surliness. He was not a man to encourage familiarity from any native, educated or otherwise.
“A cigarette, sahib?” The babu proffered his case.
“No, thanks,” curtly.
The Indian took one, placed it between his flabby lips. Deliberately he fished out a match.
“Look, gentleman!” he exclaimed suddenly, pointing a chubby finger over the bow. “What is that floating in water ahead of us?”
Nelson gripped the wheel and strained his eyes forward. “Don’t see a thing,” he grunted.
The baba struck the match.
“Right there in front of us!” he exclaimed. “Looks like an overturned boat.”
In the meantime, the small wiry man had been lurking in the shadows, waiting for the signal of the lighted match. He now sprang out and ran swiftly and silently toward the unsuspecting Jan, who still leaned over the rail. In one hand he carried a heavy slung shot. The direction of the breeze was such that the jungle man could not scent the approach of the enemy. And the roar of the propeller drowned any slight noise which might otherwise have come to his acute hearing.
The slung shot whirled aloft, was brought down with sickening force on the wind-tousled red head.
Jan slumped silently over the rail.
His assailant stooped, caught him by the ankles, and heaved. The limp body turned over once, struck the waves with a great splash, the sound of which was muffled by the propeller, and disappeared from view.
A moment later the assassin had melted into the shadows.
Up in the wheelhouse, Nelson was still straining his eyes toward the moon- silvered water ahead. Presently he turned to the babu.
“You must be seeing things,” he growled. “Maybe you’ve got some hashish in those cigarettes.”
“Do not use hashish, gentleman,” said Babu Chandra Kumar in a hurt tone. Covertly he glanced toward the stern rail. It was deserted. Then with an injured, “Good night, sair,” he flung the cigarette into the water, and descended the ladder, whence he waddled slowly back to his steamer chair. As he squeezed his great bulk into that protesting piece of furniture, a voice came from the shadows.
“It is done, babuji.”
“Very good, Kupta. I am sure that Kali will bless you. And here are your hundred rupees.”
The coins clinked softly in the darkness, and the dusky Kupta once more merged with the shadows.