THE BABU uttered a cry of exultation when he saw Jan crashing down through the branches.
“Good shot! Very excellent shot!” he chuckled. “Let me down so I may make sure of him.”
He prodded Sarkar, the mahout, who caused the elephant to kneel, and ran toward his victim accompanied by the blood-thirsty Kupta, who already had his kukrie in his hand, and by several spearmen.
But there was another who had heard Jan’s shout and the shot which followed it. Malikshah, the bull elephant, had been feeding by himself in a little glade not two hundred feet away.
He pricked up his ears, raised his trunk and sniffed the breeze. No, his ears had not deceived him, for he recognized the unmistakable scent of the sahib whom he had instinctively liked at first sight.
He climbed up out of the ravine with a rapidity remarkable in a beast so huge and trotted toward the spot where his trunk told him the jungle man lay. And scarcely had he arrived within sight of the fallen Jan when he saw a group of brown men coming from the opposite direction. Some carried guns, some spears and one a huge wicked looking knife. And the wise, old Malikshah instinctively knew that they meant no good to his friend who lay helpless and bleeding on the ground.
Trumpeting angrily, he charged the approaching group with stiffened trunk and tail. The babu took one look at the charging bull, cast his heavy gun upon the ground and turned to flee. The others, equally frightened, dashed off into the underbrush on both sides, leaving their leader to his fate. It was soon upon him, for he was a most indifferent runner. The sinuous trunk wound about Chandra Kumar’s fat waist. Then he was swung aloft and hurled through the air to alight among the branches of a scrubby pandanus. Although the tree saved his life, it did so most painfully, as the saw-edged leaves pierced his tender flesh in a thousand places.
Malikshah trumpeted belligerently and looked about for the others, but all had disappeared; so he returned to where Jan lay.
Tenderly he nuzzled the jungle man with his trunk, but elicited no response. Finding it impossible to arouse him, he picked up the limp body and strode away, making for the spot where he knew Rangini would be feeding, attended by Sharma.
Presently he found them in a sun-dappled glade. Rangini was contentedly stuffing tender leaves and twigs into her huge mouth, with the little brown boy lazily stretched out at full length upon her broad back, inhaling the fragrance of an orchid which he had plucked from its lofty perch, and watching the birds, bees, and butterflies that flitted around him.
At first he paid no attention as Malikshah came toward them, but when the huge bull drew closer he instantly recognized the limp burden dangling from his trunk.
He spoke sharply to Rangini, who lowered him to the ground, then ran toward Malikshah and patted his trunk. Gently the giant beast laid the unconscious man on the ground.
Sharma uttered a cry of consternation when he saw that his friend’s face was covered with blood, which had drained from a long furrow in his right temple. They were a considerable distance from any water, so the lad searched until he had found a suitable rattan. Then he made a cup from a folded leaf and filled it with the cold, clear and slightly bitter sap. With this he returned to the side of Jan, whose fluttering eyelids foreshadowed returning consciousness.
Raising the blood-smeared head, he held his improvised cup to the jungle man’s lips. Jan sputtered, choked and then swallowed the liquid, which seemed to revive him. He opened his eyes and looked up into the brown ones of Sharma.
“Where are we? What happened?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Sharma replied. “Malikshah brought you here just now and some time ago I heard the report of a rifle in the distance. I believe you have been shot.”
“That is true. I remember now,” Jan replied. “It was the babu who shot me. I called to him, believing him my friend, yet he raised his gun and fired.”
“Perhaps he did not recognize you,” said Sharma.
“Perhaps,” Jan answered, “but that is doubtful. He knew me well enough, and I have not yet solved the mystery of the attack on me which took place on board my father’s yacht. He may have been the one who tried to kill me before, and having failed, tried again.”
“But why should this babu wish to kill you?” asked the boy. “I have seen him for many months in the service of the maharaja, and he always seemed a gentle, jovial soul. His one great weakness was his love of money.”
“That may be the solution,” said Jan after some thought. “Perhaps some one has paid him to kill me. It will bear investigation.”
Though dizzy from loss of blood, Jan rose to his feet. His wound throbbed painfully, but had bled sufficiently to cleanse itself, and was closing.
Jan signaled to Malikshah, who lifted him to a seat on his head.
“Which way is the river from here?” he asked.
“I will show you,” Sharma replied.
Resuming his seat on the neck of Rangini, he spoke to her and she started off through the jungle, with Malikshah lumbering behind her. Presently they came to the river, where Jan washed the blood from his face and drank deeply.
“I have lost my spear,” he said, “and it seems that we have need of other weapons, not only for hunting but for protection. If you will look around for some small, sharp bits of stone for arrowheads I will see what I can do toward making bows and arrows.”
The jungle man searched for an hour before he found wood tough enough for his purpose. But once he had found it, he swiftly hewed out two bows with the keen jungle knife—a large and powerful one for himself and a smaller one for the boy.
Twisted bark fiber made stout, tough bow strings, and reeds provided light, straight shafts for the arrows.
When he returned to the river bank he found that Sharma had collected quite a heap of small jagged stones. From among these Jan selected a number, which roughly simulated the shape of arrowheads, patiently chipped and notched them and bound them to the shafts he had brought with him.
“Now we will require feathers to make the shafts fly true,” he said. “I saw some pheasants a while ago, and they will not only supply the feathers but the meat of which we are in need. Wait here and practice with your new bow and arrows.”
Sharma stuck a branch into the sand for target and practiced assiduously for more than an hour. At the end of that time Jan returned with a brace of pheasants. While the jungle man plucked and skinned the birds, Sharma gathered wood and lighted a fire. The two dined on grilled pheasant and had for dessert a mangosteen, an evil smelling but delicious tasting fruit, which fell from a tall tree nearby before they had finished their meat course.
Their meal over, the two set to work to feather all the arrows they had manufactured, and the versatile Sharma wove two quivers from rattan while Jan scraped and polished the rough cut bows.”
They had completed their labors and were assembling material with which to build a sleeping platform in a tall tree nearby when Jan suddenly caught the scent of strange elephants and men. So keenly developed from his years of jungle life was his sense of smell that he could not only distinguish the scent of men, but could discern between individuals. And so he knew without seeing him that the fat babu was following.
Malikshah and Rangini were having their afternoon bath in the river at a point about a quarter of a mile from where Jan and Sharma stood, so they had not sensed the approach of the intruders.
“Wait here,” Jan told the boy. “The babu and his men are following us and I am going to see what they are about.”
Grasping a thick vine, he went up hand over hand and swung off through the interlaced branches. Soon he came within sight and sound of the party that had followed him. The babu had regained his rifle and was riding upon the leading pad elephant as before.
But Kupta preceded them on foot, his eyes glued to the trail.
As Jan looked down upon them from his concealment of his lofty perch, Kupta turned and spoke rapidly in Urdu. Though he could not understand the words, Jan knew from his gestures that he was telling the babu they would soon be upon their quarry.
There was no doubt in Jan’s mind now that the fat Chandra Kumar was bent on killing him.
So he nocked an arrow, drew it back to his ear, took careful aim at the fat figure of the babu and released it. The twang of his bow was followed by a choking cry from Chandra Kumar as the arrow pierced his fat neck. He clutched at it for a moment, then swayed and would have fallen had it not been for the mahout, who turned when he heard his cry, and caught him just in time to prevent his fall. At the first twang of the bow, Kupta scuttled behind the elephant.
Jan fitted a second arrow to the bow string, and this time took aim at the rifleman who sat on the second elephant. Again the heavy bow twanged and the arrow buried itself to the feathers in the man’s breast. He pitched from his seat without a sound. There were cries of alarm from the others, and the entire party turned to flee. But before they could get out of bow shot, Jan managed to bring down the last rifleman.
Jan watched them go, a grim smile upon his lips.
So frightened were they at the deadly accuracy of their unseen enemy that they did not pause to recover the bodies of their comrades or the guns.
As soon as they were out of sight, Jan descended and examined the two men he had shot. Both were dead. He stripped off their bandoleers, took their rifles and left them where they had fallen.
Returning to the river bank where Sharma waited, he said, “The enemy has retreated. I don’t think they will return to bother us again to-day.””
Instead of sleeping at that spot as they had planned, Jan and Sharma walked into the shallows and waded down to the river to where the two elephants were enjoying their bath. Then they mounted and rode off into the jungle, continuing until nightfall, when they found a tall tree which provided them with a safe dormitory.
In the morning Sharma aroused Jan at the first peep of day and proudly exhibited two mouse deer which he had slain with his arrows.
“Some day,” he said, “I shall be a mighty hunter like you.”
“You are already a skilful hunter,” said Jan, “as these little animals are every elusive. Since I have come into this jungle I have not been able to kill one of them. How did you do it?”
“I arose very early while the stars still blossomed in the garden of the sky,” replied Sharma, “and built a small blind. Then I used a device to attract the deer which my father once showed me. They call to each other by beating on the leaves with their feet.
“I closely imitated the sound by beating upon a leaf with two sticks. Presently a deer came and I missed him because of the poor light, but when the second and third came I shot them.”
The two descended from the tree, and after a breakfast of broiled venison set out on the trail of the two elephants which had wandered away during the night. They found them feeding in the jungle about a mile away, and mounting, rode off.
Jan wished to put as much distance as possible between them and the scene of the previous day’s encounter, as he thought it quite probable that the men who sought to kill him would be likely to return with reinforcements and again take up the trail.
They rode on through the jungle until the late afternoon, when Jan, who was swiftly learning how to manage Malikshah, suddenly brought the beast to a halt and sniffed the air with quivering nostrils.
Sharma also stopped Rangini and asked, “What is wrong? Has the enemy come up with us again?”
“No,” Jan replied. “This is a new scent, though one very familiar and very dear to me. Ramona is somewhere nearby.” Slowly he guided the great beast forward until they came to a high wall of black stone.
By springing up from the back of the elephant, Jan was able to catch the edge of the wall and draw himself up. He saw an immense garden, in the center of which stood an ornate building of black stone, decorated with hideous carved statues in hideous postures.
Yellow-robed shaven-headed priests wandered about in the garden, and here and there groups of women and girls laughed and chatted.
He looked about for Ramona, his heart hungry for a sight of her. Up until the time the babu had taken a shot at him he had suspected her of attempting to kill him that night on the yacht.
Now he was extremely doubtful, though he could not be sure that the babu was not in her pay. The latter had been lent to his father by the maharaja for the purpose of serving them and showing the party about Calcutta, and of course the jungle man knew nothing about the fate of the yachting party following the attempt upon his own life and his miraculous escape into the jungle.
For some time he crouched there on the wall, straining his eyes for a sight of the girl he loved, but in vain. He knew she was here, somewhere—knew that scent too well to be mistaken.
Crouching low in order that he might not be observed, he crept across the tiled roof in the direction from which the scent came. He was near the edge of the sloping roof when a loose tile slipped out from beneath him. Wildly he clutched at another, but this one also came off in his hand and he slid over the edge of the roof. It was a twenty-foot drop, but Jan had fallen head foremost, and despite his agility, was unable to turn himself in the air in time to prevent injury.
He struck on his left shoulder. His head collided with the flagstone paving, and oblivion claimed him.