BY urging his elephant, which was the swiftest beast in his herd, the maharaja hoped to catch up with his guests before they reached Varudapur. But he had not covered more than half the distance when he overtook the three elephants he had sent out to hunt Jan, traveling in the same direction.
He noticed with some surprise that his two riflemen were missing and that the babu, who rode on the foremost elephant, was solicitously supported by Kupta, a blood-soaked cloth wrapped around his thick neck.
“Now what, fat swine,” he said, glaring at the babu as he came up to him. “Have you fallen off your elephant? And where are your other two men?”
“This babu is very sickly man, highness,” said Chandra Kumar. “Most dangerously wounded. Had encounter with redhead jungle sahib. Both slain with stone-tipped arrows like that which came near ending this reincarnation for humbly servant.”
“You mean to say that this man with a primitive bow and arrow defeated three of you who carried rifles?” said the maharaja.
“Once I shot him down from tree top,” said the babu, “and we would have finished him then and there, but an unfriendly bull elephant charged, scattering men and hurling humbly servant into shrubbery.”
“As soon as you return to Varudapur,” said the maharaja, “you will get in touch with my guardsmen, and while I do not wish to make the offer official, you may tell them that a reward of five thousand rupees will be paid for the head of this savage jungle man. The head must be brought secretly to you and you will be empowered to pay the reward.
“When you catch up with the others you will say that you saw the young sahib and attempted to signal him, but that he evidently took you for an enemy, wounded you and killed two of your men, and so you were forced to retreat. Understand?”
“Understanding is perfectly, highness,” the babu replied.
They overtook the rest of the party at the city gates of Varudapur. The maharaja then resumed his seat on the howdah with his two male guests and they continued to the palace—an imposing structure of marble and carnelian, age weathered and representing the Hindu architecture of five centuries before.
The Trevors’ party was given luxurious suites, and the maharaja excused himself because of much state business which had accumulated during his absence.
As soon as this was attended to he went straight to Mr. Whitaker, the British Resident of Varuda. Whitaker was a wizened, bespectacled, sun-dried specimen of humanity who had spent the greater part of his sixty years in India.
“I trust that you have enjoyed your vacation, maharaja sahib,” said the British Resident, waving his caller to a seat.
“Unfortunately, sahib, it has been marred by a most unpleasant incident,” the maharaja replied, “two of them in fact.”
“Not really,” drawled Whitaker. “Sorry to hear it. Anything I can do about it?”
“There is much you can do about it,” said the maharaja, “and it should be done soon. But I will begin at the beginning: I met a party of interesting Americans in Singapore and we became very friendly. They were on their way to Calcutta, so I lent them Babu Chandra Kumar to act as their guide and interpreter because of his familiarity with Calcutta and environs.
“Then I returned here and left to do some deep sea fishing, using the permit you so kindly obtained for me so that I might legally cross and hunt in British territory.
“Some days later I sighted the yacht of my American friends, apparently in distress, and on investigation found that the son of the owner had leaped or fallen overboard. Next day we saw his tracks leading into the jungle, so knew that he had reached the shore alive, and set out to find him.
“He is a most extraordinary youth, and I understand lived the life of a savage in the South American jungle up to a few months ago. We found that he had frightened a number of villagers, and later he slew two of my men who were searching for him, apparently taking them for enemies, and wounded the babu himself.”
“Quite a dangerous fellow, I take it,” said Whitaker. “It seems that he must be treated as a wild man. Perhaps he can be captured with nets or something of the sort, what?”
“I believe it would be safest to have his parents and friends head the search parties for him,” the maharaja replied. “Surely, he won’t try to kill them? But I have not told you the worst part of my story.”
“Eh! How is that?”
“When we were encamped for the night in British territory I left the camp with my two male guests to have a try at bagging some sambar. While we were gone the camp was raided by Rajputs, and the Suarez girl was kidnaped. We trailed her abductors straight to Rissapur.
“On the way we met Abdur Rahman, but the Muslin maharaja disclaimed all knowledge of the affair and pretended to make inquiries. Of course, the inquiries came to nothing. So we left him, warning him that if the girl were not returned there would be serious consequences.”
“This is indeed a most grave matter,” said Mr. Whitaker. “I shall communicate with my superiors at once.”
“In my opinion,” said the maharaja, toying with his monocle, “this Rajput who has forsaken the religion of his forefathers is a most dangerous person and a menace to the peace and security of India. He should be removed.”
“He shall be,” Mr. Whitaker promised, “if investigation proves that he is back of this dastardly plot.”
The maharaja screwed his monocle in place.
“I must return to my guests now,” he said, “so we can organize search parties for both of these young Americans who have disappeared. There is little hope of finding the girl, however, unless we search the seraglio of Abdur Rahman, which will of course mean war.”
“I think he will submit to the British Raj without a war,” said Mr. Whitaker, rising. “To do otherwise would be plain suicide. I will get busy on this matter at once and you will hear from me shortly.”
On his return to the palace the maharaja found his guests driven almost to distraction by worry and inactivity.
“Have you learned anything?” Georgia Trevor asked him as he entered.
“Nothing as yet, I am sorry to report,” he said, “but I have not been idle. I have just reported the entire affair to Mr. Whitaker, the local British Resident, and he has promised me the aid and support of his government. I am sure this Rajput upstart will be compelled to release Miss Suarez in the next day or two. In the meantime we can organize searching parties for the boy, but before we do this, I wish to call in the babu who has some information for you.”
He clapped his hands, and a servant appeared in the doorway.
“Send in Babu Chandra Kumar.”
A few moments later the portly babu waddled into the room. His fat neck was swathed in clean white bandages and his face had an unwonted pallor.
“You will tell the sahibs of your experience this morning,” said the maharaja.
“Was heading search party for youngly sahib,” said the babu, “looking in the vicinity of village where he was last seen. Then saw him perched on limb of tree. Shouted to him to come down with friendly gestures, but he shot stone-tipped arrow which pierced my neck. This babu fainted away from pain and loss of blood, but when conscious once more, found that two of men had been slain by young sahib, and he had disappeared.”
Trevor, who had been pacing the floor nervously, stopped and faced the babu.
“Do you mean to tell me that my boy made an unprovoked attack on you and your men, wounding you and killing two of them?”
“Very sorry to have to make such report,” the babu answered, “but have very painful evidence here on neck.”
“Do you think the terrors and privations through which he has passed have driven him mad?” asked Georgia Trevor, looking up at her tall, sun-bronzed husband.
“Nothing of the sort,” Trevor replied. “There is something fishy about this. Some of these men must have appeared hostile or Jan would not have attacked them.”
The babu shook his head sadly.
“Were very friendly,” he said, “but perhaps youngly sahib did not recognize us and took us for enemies.”
Trevor glanced at the portly figure of the babu. “If he failed to recognize you,” he said, “he needs to have his eyes tested. But what are we to do now? That is the point.”
“I was coming to that,” the maharaja said. “I intend to organize three large search parties, and suggest that you, Trevor Sahib, head one, Suarez Sahib head another and I head the third. The babu is too badly wounded for the rigors of jungle travel and judging from his first experience his second encounter with the young sahib might prove fatal. However, I am sure that unless, as Mrs. Trevor has suggested, he has been driven mad, he will not be hostile toward any of us.
“Does this plan meet with your approval?”
He turned to Don Francesco.
“And you, sahib?”
“I think it is a splendid idea,” the Don replied.
“Then I will see that preparations are made, and we will start in the morning, allotting different territory to each search party,” the maharaja replied. “Now let us go in to tiffin.”