DESPITE the painful wound in his fat neck, Babu Chandra Kumar rode happily toward the railway station. Not one, but two money belts heavy with gold were buckled around his ample middle. And his greasy turban bulged with the wealth of rupees it could scarcely contain.
On arriving at the station he dismounted and handed the reins to Kupta.
“Gooptoo is very good donkey,” he said. “How would you like to own him?”
“I would like very much to own him,” Kupta replied.
“He is worth one hundred rupees, but since I like you so well I will sell him to you for fifty.”
“Nay, I can spare but twenty-five for so small and mangy a beast,” replied the hillman.
“Make it thirty-five,” said the babu, “and he is yours.”
Kupta removed his turban, fished out thirty-five rupees, and handed them to the babu. Then he untied the latter’s battered suitcase and rusty old umbrella from the rear of the saddle and handed them to him.
“I hope we shall meet again soon, babuji,” he said, and tears suddenly welled from his eyes. “We have been together a long time, now.”
“I hope so, too, my brave comrade,” the babu sniveled, tears rolling down his fat cheeks. But inwardly he was rejoicing, because he had only paid ten rupees for the decrepit donkey which the gullible Kupta had just purchased for thirty-five.
The little hillman mounted and rode away, turning several times to wave farewell.
Babu Chandra Kuma sighed, smiled, and picking up suitcase and umbrella, walked into the tiny railway station.
“When is next train for Howrah?” he asked the young babu in the ticket office, with a superior air.
“Next train will arrive in ten minutes,” the clerk replied.
“Then sell me one second class tikkut—”
He got no further, for at this moment he felt something sharp pricking him in the back. Turning, he beheld a huge scar-faced man with a flame-red hennaed beard—and his knees almost collapsed beneath him.
“Adab babuji!” rumbled Zafarulla Khan. “Will you come quietly, or shall I thrust the knife clear through you?”
“Adab araz,” replied the babu, turning pale and essaying a sickly smile. “Of course I will come with you. Am very glad to see you.”
He waddled out of the station with the tall Pathan close at his side.
“Did you wish to speak to me privately?” he asked.
“Very privately,” Zafarulla Khan told him. “This place will not do at all. It is entirely too public.”
He took the babu’s fat arm in his iron grasp and marched him down the road to the place where his men awaited him in a little secluded glade.
Zafarulla Khan prodded the money-laden midriff of the babu and chuckled.
“A fat sheep ready for the shearing,” he said. Then he asked: “Will you remove those money belts yourself, or shall I take them off for you?”
“What money belts?” asked the babu, blandly.
“So! You are going to lie about it!” growled the Pathan, with a fierce look and a significant wave of the knife.
“No, I will take them off,” said the babu hastily, unbuckling the two belts and dropping them at his feet.
“Pick them up, you swine,” roared Zafarulla Khan.
The babu bent over to comply. As he did so, his turban fell off with a loud clink.
“Hah! What’s this? By the beard of the prophet, on whom be peace and Allah’s blessing! By the holy well of Zem Zem, and by the Hatim Wall! You have been hiding some money from me! I should cut off your head for this!”
The babu was trembling as if with the ague.
“Pray spare your humble and unworthy slave,” he whined. “I was so frightened by that big knife of yours that I forgot about the few rupees in my turban.”
One of the Pathans who had picked it up shook the last rupee from the babu’s greasy headpiece. Then he clapped it back on his shaven head.
Zafarulla Khan buckled the two heavy money belts beneath his sash. The rest of the money was put into a saddle bag. All was to be divided later.
“Not only will we spare your life; we will see you off for Howrah,” said Zafarulla Khan, grinning broadly. “We should be ungrateful swine, did we not see you off, after the magnificent and princely gift you have bestowed upon us in farewell.”
The babu was hustled back to the roadway. The Pathans all mounted their horses, except Zafarulla Khan, who led his as he walked beside the babu.
Before they reached the station, the train pulled in, stopped for a moment, and rumbled on.
“You’ve missed your train,” said Zafarulla Khan. “That’s too bad. But the track is still there, and fortunately you still have your legs. If you will use them to good purpose, perhaps you may save your head.”
The babu waddled into the station and recovered his suitcase and umbrella. Both were so shabby that no one had bothered to steal them.
The clerk looked at him curiously as he waddled out.
“Farewell, babuji,” called Zafarulla Khan, as the babu started off down the track. “May good health and prosperity attend you.”
Weeping copiously, the tears running down his fat jowls, the babu plodded doggedly away in the direction of Howrah, suitcase in one hand and umbrella in the other.
The Pathans laughed uproariously, as they watched him depart. Then Zafarulla Khan turned and swung into his saddle. He was about to give the command to ride away, when the words stuck in his throat. For a hundred Rajput warriors armed with rifles suddenly rode in upon them from all directions. Their leader, a huge, black-bearded warrior, reined his mount to a halt beside that of the Pathan chieftan.
“Salaam aleykum, Zafarulla Khan,” he said.
“Aleykum salaam, Mahmood,” the Pathan replied. “Were you looking for some one?”
“Ayewah! We were looking, but our search has ended. You and your men will surrender your weapons and loot, and come with us at once.”
Zafarulla Khan looked around at the menacing rifle barrels of the Rajputs, and knew that they meant business. He also knew that if he and his men resisted they would be shot down without mercy.
“In Allah’s name,” he asked, “What is the meaning of this? We are but peaceful horse-traders who came down to the station to see a friend off.”
“I saw you following your friend, and guessed your purpose,” said Mahmood. “You are under arrest for raiding the camp of the Maharaja of Varuda in British territory, and for abducting the memsahib, Ramona Suarez. Also, you have just committed a robbery in Rissapur territory. Now surrender at once, or it will be the worse for you.”
Zafarulla Khan cringed and blustered by turns. He called upon all the Moslem saints and prophets to bear witness that he was innocent. But in the end he and his men were compelled to turn over their weapons and their loot.
Then, with their hands bound behind their backs, and their horses led by stalwart Rajputs, they rode back to Rissapur, the prisoners of its maharaja.