JAN’S first act, after he had made his escape from the Black Temple, was to rid himself of the cumbrous clothing of the guardsman, which impeded the free motion of his limbs.
Since his own weapons had been taken from him, he retained the heavy, keen bladed sword which, he noted with satisfaction, had been honed to an almost razor-like sharpness by its owner. After he had belted the weapon to his waist, he began to look for his friend Sharma, the little brown boy, and the two elephants, feeling sure that they were not far off.
Although the moon had not yet risen and it was too dark to see the trail, he soon found it by scent, and followed as swiftly and easily as if the huge pugs of the elephants had been plainly visible to him.
Presently the waning moon came up, making the trail visible in all but the deeper recesses of the jungle. Then he heard Malikshah trumpet.
A moment later, he came out in an open glade near the bank of the river. The place was evidently a ford, for the bank was flattened on both sides by the tracks of numerous beasts and vehicles, and a road wound away from it in both directions.
He caught sight of Sharma, at once. His little brown friend was seated on the neck of Rangini. A little way from them stood Malikshah. The big bull’s trunk was raised belligerently, and his huge tusks gleamed white in the moonlight. It was obvious that something had angered him—but what?
Jan gazed into the jungle shadows at the far side of the glade. Something was moving there—something huge and bulky. It trotted out into the moonlight, a giant tusker as big as Malikshah. Its attitude, too, was belligerent. For a moment it stood there in the open, sniffing the air speculatively with upraised trunk—then trumpeting angrily, it charged.
With equal celerity, Malikshah sprang forward. The two met midway with a terrific collision that shook the ground. Then they began savagely butting and gouging each other until the shoulders of both were slashed and gored in many places.
Jan ran across the glade to where Sharma sat on the neck of Rangini. The boy, intent on the battle of the giants, did not see him until he called.
“Ho, Sharma. Where does the strange elephant come from?”
“He is a pariah,” the boy replied, “an outcast from all elephant herds because of his wicked temper. I have heard of him, but this is the first time I have ever seen him. He has killed three bull elephants, and many men, women, and children. Hunters have been looking for him, but he has always been too cunning for them. Men call him Yama, the Evil One, the King of Hell. But his time has come. Malikshah, the mighty fighter, will kill him.”
Indeed, for a time, it did seem that Malikshah was getting the better of his fierce adversary, as they fought back and fourth across that trampled arena. Swiftly he forced the pariah back along the river bank, and away from the ford.
Suddenly the pariah felt soft mud behind him—a sink hole. He knew that another step backward would doom him to defeat and death. But he was a cunning brute—had it not been for this he would not have lived so long to kill helpless natives and terrorize whole villages. So he pretended to give ground, then suddenly flung himself to one side.
Malikshah plunged forward, intending to wheel and renew the attack. But he discovered, too late, that he was in soft, yielding mud. He floundered desperately in an effort to save himself, but his struggles only sank him more deeply into the soft, clinging mire. Soon his legs were completely imbedded, and still he was sinking.
Yama stood watching him for a moment, speculatively. Then, knowing his powerful adversary to be helpless, sprang forward to finish him. Malikshah trumpeted his anguish as the keen tusks pierced his side.
As soon as Malikshah begun sinking into the mire, Jan sensed the precarious position of the beast who had saved his life. He sprang forward.
“Come back, sahib!” cried Sharma. “You can do nothing! The pariah will kill you!”
But Jan only ran forward the faster, whipping the keen sword from its sheath. He came up behind Yama just as the pariah was beginning the thrust which was to end the earthly career of Malikshah. Then he swung the sword in a terrific blow that half severed the left hind leg of the pariah.
Yama whirled about, trumpeting in anguish, his little mad eyes glaring their hatred. Then he charged, which was precisely what Jan wanted him to do. Swiftly as a deer, the jungle man bounded away, leading the limping killer from his helpless victim. Having crossed the glade, Jan plunged into the jungle and swung himself up into the trees. The mad elephant crashed in after him, following more by scent than sight, his questing trunk sniffing and exploring.
Presently he located the jungle man in the tree above him. Instantly, he applied his broad head to its trunk, and pushed.
Feeling his perch toppling beneath him, Jan sprang into another tree. In a moment the first had crashed to earth. Seeing that he was not upon it the mad elephant turned, and soon located him again by scent. Once more he applied his head to the tree in which the jungle man sat.
Jan might easily have escaped by swinging off through the branches, but he did not want to leave this crazed killer here to wreak his fury on the helpless Malikshah, and perhaps on Rangini and Sharma as well. So instead of trying to run away, he carried the battle to his enemy. Drawing his sword, he dropped onto the broad back.
Instantly the beast’s trunk whipped up to seize him, but Jan was ready for that. His sword flashed, and four feet of the trunk flew off and fell writhing to the ground.
At this, Yama snorted in helpless rage and pain, and once more dashed out into the open glade. Since he could do nothing to the hateful being on his back, he charged straight for the first living creatures that met his gaze—Rangini and Sharma.
Jan thrust his sword to the hilt in that broad back, in the hope of finding the huge elephant heart, but with no apparent effect. Then he withdrew it, and moving forward, thrust it into the giant neck beside the cervical vertebræ. He sliced toward the giant spinal column until the blade caught in a crevice between the vertebræ—and kept on slicing.
Yama charged up to where Rangini stood. She avoided his charge, and turning, inserted her trunk beneath one of his tusks and over another. She held him thus, for a moment, then gave a tremendous heave, intending to throw him off his feet. But by this time, the sword of the jungle man had sliced half through the brute’s cervical vertebræ. The sudden heave of Rangini completed what the sword had started, snapping the monster’s spine asunder with a sharp cracking report.
For a moment the dread killer swayed on his feet, his bloody head twisted grotesquely to one side. Then he sank to the ground, dead.
Jan sprang to the ground.
“Come,” he said. “We must get Malikshah out of the mud, or he will sink so deeply there will be no help for him.”
Sharma urged Rangini after the jungle man as he ran to where the giant bull was mired.
They went to work methodically—the man, the boy and the two elephants.
First Jan and Rangini brought large sticks and logs which they placed in front of Malikshah. The big bull helped them, pulling the material up close to him with his trunk. Then Jan wove a stout rope from jungle creepers, with a large knot at each end. Malikshah grasped one knot between his huge molars and wound his trunk around the rope. Rangini took hold of the other end in a similar manner, and pulled.
But Malikshah was a heavy elephant, badly mired, and it looked for a time as if even the tremendous strength of Rangini would be of no avail. Finally he succeeded in getting a foreleg out of the clinging mud, and up onto the logs which had been placed in front of him. More tugging on the part of Rangini, and up came another foreleg. In a moment he was free, and on solid ground once more.
Trumpeting joyously, he went first to the carcass of his fallen foe, sniffed it for a moment, and then ambled down into the water, where Jan scrubbed him thoroughly with a large flat stone.
When he had rid his mount of the clinging mud, Jan had himself lifted to the huge head, and rode out to the river bank, where Sharma and Rangini waited.
At this moment, he heard the clatter of horses hoofs coming from across the river. Turning, he beheld a party of horsemen approaching. Instantly suspicious that they were enemies, he called softly to Sharma, and the two rode into the shadows.
The horsemen splashed across the ford.
Jan saw that there were more than a score of them. They paused at sight of the huge bulk of the slain elephant. One of the riders, a little wizened white man, dismounted.
“Now what could have slain that beast?” he asked in English. “Good lord! Not only is he badly gored, but part of his trunk is missing! And his neck is broken and partly severed!”
One of the native riders spoke up.
“I know not how he met his fate, sahib, but he has come to a most fitting end, for this is Yama, the pariah, the killer, the most feared elephant in all India. Only last week he slew my little brother and sister in a raid on our village.”
Then another voice spoke up.
“Come, Mr. Whitaker. We have more important business than this post-mortem over a rogue elephant. Let us ride on.”
At sound of this voice, Jan suddenly urged his elephant out into the open.
“Father!” he shouted, sliding to the ground.
Harry Trevor instantly flung himself from his mount and threw his arms around his son.
“Jan, my boy!” he exclaimed. “Where have you been? We heard you were a prisoner in the Temple of Kali, and that you were to be sacrificed to the Black Goddess, so came as fast as we could in order to rescue you and Ramona. Have you seen her?”
“I have just escaped from the temple,” Jan replied, “and know that Ramona is there, although I have not seen her. Is she in danger?”
“In danger!” exclaimed Trevor. “Jan, I’m surprised at you.”
“I did not know but that she was there of her own free will,” Jan answered.
“She was kidnaped by the maharaja, and he intends to either force her to marry him or kill her. Didn’t you see the maharaja?”
“I have seen nothing of him,” Jan replied. “The temple enclosure is large, and there are many buildings. He may be there, for there were many soldiers armed with rifles, and had it not been for the darkness and the fact that they are such poor shots, I would not be alive to tell of it.”
“Half of our mission is accomplished by your safety,” said Trevor, “but we must now hurry to the rescue of Ramona.”
“I will ride the elephant,” said Jan, “and show you the way.” He paused for a moment to greet Don Francesco. Then he signaled to Malikshah, and the big bull instantly lifted him to a seat on his head.
Jan and Sharma led the procession, which consisted of Trevor, Don Francesco, Mr. Whitaker and the British Resident’s twenty Sepoys—brave fighters whom Whitaker assured his companions were worth at least a hundred of the maharaja’s guardsmen.
On reaching the bronze gate of the temple, Mr. Whitaker beat upon it with the butt of his pistol and demanded admission in the name of the British Government.
A shaven headed priest opened a small aperture in the gate and peered out at them. “This is holy ground,” he said, “and no unbeliever can be admitted.”
“It seems you are ready enough to admit them when they are intended for sacrifice,” said Whitaker. “Open the gates and deliver to us the memsahib you hold prisoner here, or we will break them down.”
“There are no prisoners here,” lied the priest, “and it is against the law and contrary to the tenets of our religion for any sahib to enter this place.”
“Very well,” said Whitaker, “then we will enter without your leave.”
He backed his horse from the opening and motioned to Sharma.
“See what your elephant can do against those gates,” he said. “Better pad her head first.” Two of his men quickly brought saddle blankets, which were bound over Rangini’s forehead.
At this moment a burst of rifle fire came from the loop holes above them and the two Sepoys fell to the ground. Their comrades instantly answered the fire, and screams of pain from inside the wall made it manifest that some of the shots had taken effect.
The Sepoys picked up their two fallen comrades and covered the retreat of Jan, Sharma and the three white men with their fire.
Whitaker ordered his warriors to deploy in a semi-circle around the gateway and then took counsel as to what their next move should be. He had not expected armed resistance on the part of the maharaja, and knew that the potentate must be very desperate indeed to order his men to fire upon British soldiers.
While they were taking counsel as their next move, the keen eared Jan suddenly said, “I hear more horses coming—many of them.”
“It must be that the maharaja has sent for help,” said Whitaker. “We will have to withdraw or we will be surrounded and wiped out. Now I know why he so fearlessly ordered his men to fire upon us. It is his intention that not one of us shall live to tell the story.”