AFTER the maharaja left the babu he did not inspect the elephant lines. Instead, he returned to his own tent where Trevor paced nervously back and forth, while Don Francesco sat in his chair and puffed violently at his slender, black cigar. Adjusting his monocle, the potentate walked to the table, sat down, and selected a cigarette which a servant quickly lighted for him.
“Rotten go, this,” he remarked. “There’s nothing more we can do until morning. Now if it had only happened in the day time we could be doing things. But this beastly waiting jangles one’s nerves.”
“It does that,” Trevor agreed explosively. “Enough to drive a man nuts.”
“Quite. But you mustn’t let it get you. Come. Sit down and let me be your doctor. I prescribe a spot of brandy.”
“His highness is right, amigo,” said Don Francesco. “Worry can accomplish nothing. Constructive thinking and planning may help.”
“Of course,” replied Trevor, coming to the table. “I am a fool to get jittery. What’s needed is constructive planning, and action.”
Waving his servants away, the maharaja poured brandy for his guests.
Trevor tasted his drink and reached for a cigarette.
“Do you think, maharaja, that we will be able to find Jan in the morning—that is if he’s still alive?”
“There is a strong possibility that we may,” was the reply. “We can at least assure ourselves as to whether or not he has come ashore.”
“For several miles in both directions the beach is of soft sand. My trackers will easily be able to discern whether or not a man has come ashore.”
“Right. But suppose he has gone on into the jungle. I have an idea that is the thing he is most likely to do. He grew up in the jungle, you know, and we all noticed that he seemed strangely attracted by this one the moment we came within sight of it.”
“In that case,” said the maharaja, “we must follow his trail until we can come up with him. My shikaris will be able to find him eventually, but it may take time.”
“There is a possibility that we may be stuck here for days, weeks—even months.”
“That is true,” said the maharaja. “When we met in Singapore I did myself the honor of inviting you and your party to visit me. You declined then, because of your haste to get back to your affairs in America. However, since this matter has come up, it may be that you will change your mind. I flatter myself with the hope that you will, and all the resources of my little kingdom at your disposal.”
“You are most kind, maharaja sahib,” said Trevor. “I declined before because of urgent business at home. But there can be no more urgent business for me than the finding of my son. If a long search for him should be indicated by what we find in the morning, I will gladly avail myself of your kind invitation.”
Morning dawned at last, and the camp was instantly astir with feverish activity. The maharaja divided his men into two parties to search the beach, one to go northwest, the other southeast. At his suggestion, Don Francesco accompanied the first party while he and Trevor went with the other.
At the head of this latter group of searchers waddled the fat babu, accompanied by Kupta the hillman.
Presently, when they had proceeded about a half a mile along the shore, the babu threw up his hands.
“Stop!” he cried. “Freshly tracks are here coming up out of the water.”
Trevor sprang forward.
“Where?” he cried.
But a moment later, he saw them himself. The tracks of bare feet leading from the water’s edge toward the jungle.
“Jan wore shoes,” he said, “but he would have kicked them off in the water. Probably got rid of his socks, also.” He turned to the maharaja. “Do you think it possible that any one else might have swum ashore here?”
“Hardly. No one left my little boat, and so far as we are aware, nobody but your son left the yacht. No one with any knowledge of these waters would be likely to try it from any other craft because of the danger from sharks. Your son, it seems, has escaped them by some miracle.”
“Then you are reasonably certain these are Jan’s tracks.”
“Wait. Let us make sure.” He called the babu. “Have your hillman inspect the tracks and tell us what sort of person made them,” he ordered. Then he turned once more to Trevor. “The things these hillmen can tell from a few marks in the sand are uncanny,” he said.
At Chandra Kumar’s command, Kupta bent over the tracks. There followed a swift muttering in Urdu.
“Shikari says these are not tracks of Indian man, but of young and strongly sahib,” the babu announced.
“That settles it,” said the maharaja. “Take two men and go with him. Follow the trail into the jungle. In a half hour, send a man back to camp with news of what you have found on the trail. And in another half hour stop and wait for us, sending the second man to lead us to you. We will return for the elephants, and to pack.”
When Trevor and the maharaja got back to the camp, they found that the ladies had already arrived there in one of the yacht’s lifeboats, piloted by Officer Nelson. The eyes of all three showed the effect of a tearful, sleepless night.
“Have you learned anything?” all wanted to know in unison.
“Something that gives me great hope,” Trevor replied. “Tracks leading into the jungle. We believe that Jan is alive and somewhere nearby.”
“Alone and unarmed!” exclaimed Georgia Trevor. “What can he do? He will starve, or be devoured by wild beasts.”
“I doubt that he will do either,” said her husband. “Jan didn’t manage to survive in the South American jungle for many years without learning a thing or two. The boy will be able to take care of himself. And we may find him any time now. An expert tracker is already on his trail, and we will follow as soon as the elephants are loaded.”
“You will follow? But what of us? Are we to be left behind to—to die of suspense?”
“I have two large howdahs in addition to the pad elephants,” said the maharaja. “There will be ample room for all if you care to come with us.”
“But will it not be dangerous for the ladies?” asked Don Francesco.
“Not at all,” replied the potentate. “The back of a docile and intelligent elephant is the safest place for any one in the jungle.”
In less than a half hour the caravan was loaded and on its way into the jungle. The second man, who had come from Kupta and the babu, led the way. In the first howdah rode the maharaja with Trevor, Don Francesco, and a servant to take charge of the rifles. In the second rode the three ladies. Behind them came the loaded pad elephants. And strung out in two files, one on each side, walked the maharaja’s retainers, armed with spears and large jungle knives.
An hour’s ride brought them to the bank of a small stream. And here, squatting at their ease in the dense shade of a deodar tree, they found the babu and Kupta, mumbling their betel and expectorating red juice at such unfortunate insects as chanced to wander within range.
At sight of the maharaja’s elephant, the babu hoisted himself ponderously to his feet, and the hillman sprang lightly up beside him. Then both salaamed.
“Proceed on the trail, babuji,” ordered the maharaja, “and see to it that your hillman does not lead us astray.”
“He will not lose trail, your highness,” the babu replied. “Kupta is very expertly shikari.”
Taking a rusty looking old umbrella which Sarkar, the mahout, had brought for him from his private kit, he raised it over his head and waddled off behind the wiry hillman.
They followed the stream for some distance, then crossed at a shallow ford which seemed to have been used extensively both by domestic and jungle animals. The bank, which had been flattened out for more than a hundred feet on both sides of the stream, was indented with the tracks of elephants, deer, buffalo, horses and other lesser herbivores, and in the soft mud at the water’s edge, Trevor saw the pugs of tigers and leopards. Obviously it was an old game trail which had come to be frequently utilized by man.
Having crossed the ford, Kupta circled for a time, then struck off in a northerly direction. The babu lumbered heavily after him, grunting, wheezing, and using the greasy end of his turban from time to time to mop the streaming perspiration from his eyes.
Trevor, to whom jungle travel was no novelty, noticed that they crossed and recrossed the well-marked game trail they had passed at the ford, but never stayed upon it for any great length of time. He concluded, from this, that Jan was following the trail, possibly in the hope of reaching civilization, or perhaps for the more primitive and necessary purpose of making a kill.
At noon they paused at a little pool, fed by a limpid spring which trickled down from the rocky hillside. Scarcely had the elephants paused to discharge their passengers, when the babu, who had climbed up beside the spring for a drink of water, came rushing toward them, waving a torn, sodden handkerchief and shouting shrilly.
“Highness! Sahibs! Memsahibs! Have found most importantly clue! See! See!”
“What is it, babuji? Let me see,” said Trevor, who had been the first to dismount.
With the important air of one who has made a momentous discovery, Chandra Kumar handed him the handkerchief.
“Look at initials—in corner,” puffed the babu.
“‘J.T.,’ by the gods!” exclaimed Trevor. “It’s Jan’s, all right.”
The ragged bit of cloth was quickly passed from hand to hand as the others crowded around, and as quickly identified. The maharaja was the last to examine it. He squinted at it through his monocle for a moment. Then he turned to Georgia Trevor.
“You are positive that this is your son’s handkerchief?” he asked.
“Then it is time for us to crystallize our plans. We have found that h is traveling swiftly to the northward. If he continues, he will soon be in my territory, Varuda, and my palace at Varudapur will be an ideal base from which to conduct our search. I therefore suggest that we make camp here, and send two pad elephants back to the coast for any baggage you may wish to bring with you, instructing the commander of your yacht to take it to Calcutta and there await further orders. In the meantime, I will send the babu and the shikari forward on the trail, to learn whither it leads, and to make inquiry as to whether or not any natives they may encounter have seen your son.”
Georgia Trevor turned to her husband.
“What do you think, Harry?”
“A splendid plan,” he replied. “We accept your suggestion and invitation, maharaja, with pleasure and with gratitude.”
The potentate included all five of his guests with a courtly bow, “My house will be most signally honored,” he said.
Then he turned, clapped his hands, and issued a few swift orders. In a few moments the elephants were relieved of their loads, and a village of tents grew as if by magic. There was a large tent for the three ladies, another for Trevor and Don Francesco, and a third for the maharaja. All three were sumptuously and lavishly furnished with thick rugs, divans with spring mattresses, silken cushions, and embroidered hangings.
As soon as the two pad elephants had been dispatched, the maharaja retired to his tent and sent for the babu. A few moments later, as Chandra Kumar wheezed in past the ornate curtains, the potentate dismissed his two servants. Then he beckoned the babu to him, and spoke softly in Bengali.
“The first part of our plan is accomplished,” he said. “The tracks of Sarkar deceived them, and the handkerchief proved most convincing. But there yet remains much to be done. What of Zafarulla Khan and his Pathan cutthroats? Are you sure they are encamped near here, and that you will be able to find them?”
“Those horse-stealing malefactors would camp where I bade them until the British leave India, for a chance to win the princely sum which your highness has promised them,” he replied.
“Very well. Here are the five thousand rupees which you are to pay them. And ten thousand more await them when they deliver the girl to my priests. Now here is the plan in full, and it must be carried out to the letter or we will all be ruined.”
His voice dropped to a whisper, and the babu nodded and grunted from time to time, to show that he understood.
Shortly thereafter Chandra Kumar rode away to the northward on a small pad elephant, guided by Sarkar, the mahout, with Kupta ranging before them as if following a trail.