BABU CHANDRA KUMAR remained in his steamer chair for a full half hour. Then he took a small teakwood box from an inside pocket. Opening it, he extracted a bit of betel nut which he rolled in a pan leaf with a pellet of lime and a cardamon seed and thrust into his flabby mouth. Closing the box with a snap, he replaced it in his pocket, rose ponderously, and waddled to the starboard rail, where he stood, expectorating red juice over the side and watching the distant shore line which was plainly visible in the rays of the rising moon.
Presently he saw that for which he had been watching—a sampan with its sail bellying in the wind about halfway between the yacht and the shore. Swiftly he glanced up at the man in the wheelhouse.
Seeing that his back was turned, he shouted at the top of his voice, “Gentleman! Gentleman! Assistance! Help! Young sahib has jumped into the water!”
Nelson swung around.
“What’s that?” he bellowed incredulously.
“Young sahib! He leaped into bay! I saw him! He will drown!” shrilled the babu.
“Man overboard!” the officer sang out.
Then he issued some swift orders.
There was instant confusion on the yacht. Cries of alarm from those on the foredeck mingled with the ringing of bells, the roar of the suddenly reversed screw, and the barking of orders.
The portly, red-faced Captain McGrew, who had been smoking and reading in his cabin, wheezed up the ladder, hastily buttoning his jacket. Harry Trevor and. Don Francesco dashed up the opposite ladder.
“Who was it?” Trevor demanded.
“It was your son, sir, according to the babu. Just now he shouted that the young sahib had leaped overboard.”
“Good God! Jan? It seems incredible!”
“Bring her about! Break out lines and life preservers and man the rails! Stand by to lower a lifeboat,” barked Captain McGrew.
Trevor and Don Francesco hurried to the foredeck once more to join the ladies. As they did so, Ramona came running up, her eyes red with weeping.
“What happened?” she asked. “I heard shouts, and the engines stopped.”
“The babu says he just saw Jan jump overboard,” said Trevor.
At this announcement Georgia Trevor went deathly white. Her husband passed a supporting arm around her.
“There, there. Don’t be alarmed,” he said, trying to hide his own concern. “The boy is a strong swimmer. Probably just leaped overboard for a lark. There’s no danger. We’ll have him back on board in a jiffy.”
“But there are sharks in these waters. We saw two big ones following the ship this afternoon. Oh, Harry, we never should have brought him on this cruise. If anything has happened to him, we are to blame, because we insisted that he and Ramona should see the world together, before marrying.”
“No, it is not your fault. It is mine.”
It was Ramona who startled the group by this sudden assertion.
“Why, Ramona! What do you mean, dear?” asked the doña.
“We quarreled,” she said. “I told him I would leave him—never wanted to see him, again. And now he has gone—gone to his death.”
She turned suddenly and flung herself sobbing into the arms of her foster mother.
Standing a few feet away from the group, mumbling his quid of betel, Babu Chandra Kumar smiled knowingly and spat into the water.
The yacht came about with engines throbbing, then slowly cruised back over her former course, her searchlight sweeping the waves. A lifeboat was unshipped and swung out on its davits, ready to be lowered at a moment’s notice. Men stood along the rails with life preservers, the lines coiled and ready.
The five who stood together on the foredeck moved to the bow, where they anxiously scanned the water, the doña striving to reassure the sobbing girl, and Trevor supporting his half fainting wife.
Unnoticed by the others, the babu crossed the deck to the opposite rail as the ship came about. But instead of futilely gazing at the water ahead, he kept his eyes on the sampan, which was now nosing out toward the yacht.
Aided by the offshore breeze, the little sailing vessel made rapid progress in the direction of the yacht. And because of the reduced speed of the latter vessel, it had no difficulty in overhauling it.
As it drew near, the babu made out a turbaned figure in white standing at the rail. Instantly he ran, shouting, toward the little group in the bow.
“The maharaja comes!” he cried. “It is fishing boat of my master. Perhaps he can help us.”
“The maharaja!” exclaimed Trevor. “How do you know, babuji?”
“That is his fishing vessel. And he is aboard.”
“That’s right. He told us at Singapore that he would be fishing in these waters.”
“Ahoy the yacht,” came a call from the sampan. “Anything wrong?”
Trevor cupped his hands as the sampan drew closer.
“My son is overboard, Maharaja,” he shouted. “We are looking for him.”
“Shocking! I’ll help you search.”
The two vessels cruised about in the vicinity until past midnight. Then both hove to, side by side, and the Maharaja of Varuda came aboard the yacht. He was slight and slender, with an iron-gray beard, a thin, hooked nose, curved like the blade of a scimitar, and small beady eyes that accentuated his hawk-like expression. Save for his jeweled turban, his dress was English, even to a beribboned monocle. Two handsome Hindu boys in their native garb followed him over the rail.
The maharaja bent low over the hand of the heart-broken Georgia Trevor. “Madame, I am devastated,” he said. “But do not give up hope. Your son may have reached the shore. I believe you told me at Singapore that he was a strong swimmer.”
“But the sharks! What could he do against those monsters?”
“They are not so numerous as you might think. As soon as it grows light enough I’ll have my men search the shore line for some sign of him.”
“You are very kind, maharaja sahib, but I fear it will be useless.”
The maharaja greeted each of the others in turn, then addressed Harry Trevor.
“We have done all that is humanly possible tonight,” he said. “I suggest that you drop anchor here, and rest in your cabins until morning. In the meantime, I will go ashore and organize my men for a search of the beach as soon as the sun rises.”
“That’s good of you, Maharaja,” said Trevor, “but I can’t remain here inactive. I’ll go ashore with you.”
“I, too,” replied Don Francesco. “It is maddening to think of waiting here and doing nothing.”
“Come ashore if you like, gentlemen. You will be welcome at my camp.”
“May humble servant come also, your highness?” asked Babu Chandra Kumar. “Should like to help, if your highness will permit.” He paused to snivel and brush away a tear. “I loved young sahib like son and had counted on exalted privilege of escorting him about Calcutta.”
“You will probably be in the way,” said the maharaja, with a disdainful glance at the babu’s obese figure, “but come, anyway, since sahibs will not have any immediate use for your services as a guide. And bring your man. I have heard that he is a good shikari, and we may need men who are expert at trailing.”
“Kupta is very great shikari, your highness. Can follow trail like hound.”
Save for the half dozen men who stood guard, the camp of the maharaja was asleep when the party went ashore. Against the dark background of the jungle loomed a score of huge, slate-gray shapes—elephants. A few had lain down, but most of them stood, shifting their huge bulks from side to side, clanking their leg-chains and switching grass up over their backs.
The maharaja waved the babu and his servant to quarters among the mahouts. Trevor and Don Francesco were ushered to the richly carpeted and cushioned tent of his highness. Servants brought assorted liquors, soda, ice, cigarettes and cigars.
“Make yourselves comfortable, gentlemen,” said the maharaja. “My tent is your tent and my servants are your servants. I must ask you to excuse me for a few moments. The elephants are restless, and I wish to inspect them. Only last night my most valuable elephant ran away, and Angad, her mahout, who went after her, has not returned.
“We may have urgent need for the others in the morning, so it would be embarrassing to have any more break away tonight.”
“You mean—” began Trevor.
“I mean,” replied the maharaja, “that if we find your son has made his way ashore, it is possible that we may have to do some dangerous jungle traveling to overtake him. My trackers will find him eventually, of course, but it will be the elephants that will carry us and our supplies. There is no safer, surer mode of jungle transportation.”
He took a cigarette which one servant proffered in a jeweled box, permitted the other to light it, and, turning, left the tent. But he did not go to the elephant lines. Instead, he walked into a near-by tent where Babu Chandra Kumar sat alone.
The babu rose and made obeisance.
“You are sure there is no one within hearing?” asked the maharaja, glaring through his monocle.
“Am positive, your highness,” replied the babu. “Kupta is already asleep, and none other except guards are stirring.”
“Good. And now your report.”
“The red-headed one is dead,” said the babu. “Many leagues back Kupta slew him and threw him to sharks, while humble servant held attention of man in wheelhouse. Everything was done according to your highness orders.”
“And you secured one of his handkerchiefs?”
The babu produced a silk handkerchief in one corner of which were the initials “J. T.”
“Splendid! Put it away until I signal you to produce it. But remember, it must be torn and bedraggled.”
“Humble servant will see to that, highness.”
“And now I have another task for you to perform. Take Sarkar, the mahout, who is about the size of the young red-headed sahib, and row along the shore to the southeast for a quarter of a mile. Then let him walk ashore barefooted on the sandy beach and make his way back to camp through the jungle, being careful to conceal his trail after he leaves the beach.”
“Your highness, being so generous, will no doubt recall that humble servant is poor man with large family in Howrah,” said the babu. “I will remember,” replied the maharaja. “Already you have had a thousand rupees to divide with Kupta. Here is another thousand for serving me faithfully until we reach my palace. But all this is mere expense money. Once the little dark eyed beauty is safely delivered into the hands of my priests, no suspicion attaching to me for her disappearance, a lakh of rupees shall be yours. And if you show sufficient cleverness and aptitude it may be that I will make you my deewan for life.”
“Your highness is most generous, indeed,” replied the babu, bowing profoundly as the maharaja took his leave. But once the potentate had gone, he stuffed a quid of betel into his fat cheek and computed his possible profits for the journey. Already he had done Kupta out of four hundred rupees which were supposed to have gone to him for his assassin’s work on the boat. The mahout, he felt sure, would do his part and keep silent for ten rupees. And for another fifty Kupta would willingly lead the assemblage through the jungle toward the maharaja’s palace, while making it appear that he was trailing Jan.
With a beetle-stained smile, Chandra Kumar arose ponderously and went out toward the elephant lines, where Sarkar, the mahout, was sleeping.