FICTION

The Three Sapphires

A Story of Mystery and War Intrigue

W. A. Fraser August 1 1918
FICTION

The Three Sapphires

A Story of Mystery and War Intrigue

W. A. Fraser August 1 1918

The Three Sapphires

A Story of Mystery and War Intrigue

W. A. Fraser

Author of "Mooswa,” "Thoroughbreds,” etc

Synopsis.—Lord Victor Gilfain and Captain Swinton, presumably his guide but in reality Captain Herbert of the secret service, visit Rajah Darpore, who is suspected by the British authorities. Herbert finds that the Rajah is plotting to collect three sacred sapphires, in order that he may use to his advantage a Hindu superstition that the holder of the jewels is the true Buddha and will rule all India. One of the sapphires that has been found around the neck of a wandering elephant is stolen by Darpore from Major Finnerty, keeper of the elephant keddah. A second has been set for the Rajah by a jewelry firm but is stolen by natives from aBengali intrusted with its delivery, Baboo Dass. A third is in the possession of Captain Swinton himself.

CHAPTER VI.— (Continued)

SWINTON started to swear, angered by the mess Lord Victor had made of things; but when that young man pulled himself like a mud turtle out of the ooze and stood up, the reproach trailed off into a spasm of choking laughter. But the Banjara arriving on the scene checked this hilarity; indeed it was probably Gilfain’s grotesque appearance that saved his life.

Finnerty, too, hove hugely into the scene, a little rivulet of blood streaming from his elephant’s trunk. “Were there two tigers?” he called as he emerged from the cane. “Did you bag yours?”

His circling eye fell upon the blackmucked nobleman. “Gad, man, what’s happened?” he queried, clapping a hand to his mouth to smother his laughter. Then he saw the dog and its owner, and hastilydropping from the howdah pushed over beside Lord Victor, saying: “Get

back on your elephant.”

“Look, huzoor!” And the Banjara spread his big palm in a denunciatory way toward the dying dog. “I, having had my buffalo slain by a tiger that I had befriended, and bringing the word to the sahib that he might obtain a cherished skin, now have this accursed trial thrust upon me. Why should the young of the sahibs go forth to do a man’s work, huzoor?”

“It was an accident,” the major replied. “Come to the bungalow to-night and you will be given the price of two

“Better make it the price of five dogs, major,” Swinton called.

“I’ll pay for a whole pack of hounds; I’ll stock a kennel for him. I was too devilish quick on the trigger.” Lord Victor emptied the black muck from his ears.

The Banjara, not understanding English, looked suspiciously at Finnerty, who hedged: “The sahib says you will be

given the price of three dogs.”

“Sahib, how shall we fix the price of Banda, that is a Banjara? Such are not sold. I have dogs that are just dogs, and if I had known that this sahib was young in the ways of the hunt I would have brought them for his practice. And was there a kill of tiger, or did the sahib also shoot somebody’s dog?”

“Be careful!” Finnerty took a step towar.cfcidfte ironical one, who backed up. Then the major said in a mollifving way. “We’ll kill the tiger to-morrow.”

\/fUTTERING “Kul, kul—it is always to-morrow for a difficult work,” the herdsman took under his arm his wounded dog and strode angrily away.

“Too devilish bad! He’s fond of that cur,” Lord Victor said mournfully.

“I had a corking good chance at Stripes,” Finnerty offered, “but I muddled it when my elephant almost stepped on the smooth old cuss, who was lying doggo; he got up with a roar of astonishment and took a swipe at the beast’s trunk. I was holding the ten-bore, loaded with shot to

fire across the cane should Stripes try to break back, and, rattled by his sudden charge, I blazed away, pennering him with bird shot. So, you see, Gilfain, we’re all liable to blunder in this game. We’ll go back now and take up the hunt tomorrow.”

As they went back Mahadua put his hand on Finnerty’s foot and asked: “Did you see the spectacles on Pundit Bagh?”

Finnerty nodded, for he had seen the black rings when the tiger lifted his head.

“And did sahib put down the ball gun and take up the one that is for birds and shoot over Pundit’s head because he, too, thinks that it is the spirit of a man?”

“It is not good to offend the gods, Mahadua, if one is to live with them, so we will save the killing of the oundit for the young sahib who soon goes back to Inglistan, where the anger of the gods cannot follow him,” Finnerty answered solemnly.

The Ahnd looked troubled. “As to a judgment on Pundit Bagh, sahib, if he were possessed of an evil spirit, as the Banjara says, would he not, have charged right up the elephant’s head to the howdah when he saw the gun was not a thing to be feared? And, sahib, there is a leopard hides in a cave in Tandah Nala, near the Banjara’s cattle, and there is no black spot in the centre of the flowers on his coat; that means that he is a cattle lifter and a killer of men. It was that leopard, not the tiger, that killed the cow buffalo.”

In the other howdah, Lord Victor, in whose mind rankled the dog’s shooting, brought up in extenuation this same matter of Finnerty’s confessed blunder, for he had not caught the chivalry of the major’s lie. “I didn’t miss like the major, anyway,” he began.

“No, you didn’t—unfortunately.” Swinton was holding a cheroot to a lighted match.

“Really, captain, I wasn’t so bad. Fancy an old hunter like him getting fuzzled and banging at a tiger with bird shot.”

Swinton shot a furtive look at the thin,

long-nosed face that was still pie-bald with patches of caked lava : then he turned his eyes away and gazed out over the plain with its furze of ringal and wild indigo scrub. A pair of swooping jheel birds cut across, piping shrilly: “Did

you do it, did you do it!”

“That’ll be a corking fine yarn for the club when I get back,” Lord Victor added.

“And will you tell them about the dog you shot?”

“Rather! It was a mistake, I admit; but I did bag something, and I’m new at the game, not an old Anglo-Indian like the major.”

Swinton turned his brown eyes on the cheerful egoist. “Gilfain, you’re young, therefore not hopeless.”

“I say, old chap, what’s the sequel to that moralizing?”

“That probably before you get out of India you’ll understand just how good a sportsman Major Finnerty is.”

“I don’t get you, my dear Swinton.” “You will—there’s no hurry.”

THEIR elephant had been traversing a well-worn path along the bottom of a hollow, and where it left the nala to reach the plain they suddenly came upon the Banjara’s encampment. It was a tiny village of dark-colored tents; to one side of this was a herd of buffalo that had come in from the plain to be milked. They could see the herdsman sitting moodily on his black blanket, and beside him lay the dead dog.

Their appearance set agog the tented village. Two brothers of the herdsman, with their wives and sisters and mothers— the women arrayed in many-colored garments—came scurrying from tents, even desexting their milking to gaze upon the sahib who had shot a dog. This motive Swinton carefully explained to Gilfain. A swarm of children, agitated by both anger and levity, with juvenile frankness grinned in wondering amusement. Smeared like a fakir, Lord Victor did not look unlike a sahib who would have committed this hilariously mad act.

The young Englishman viewed not without alarm the women who wore belts beneath which were stuck old-fashioned pistols and knives. This was the Banjara custom, but the guilty man feared it was a special course cf punishment for him.

Finnerty’s elephant had overtaken them, and now again the major had to explain that the dog would be paid for three times ever, and the tiger would be surely shot on the morrow.

At this promise, a ponderous woman who had the airs of a gypsy queen pointed to the slayer of the dog and said: “To-

morrow the sahib will hunt again!”

The youngsters whooped with joy, catching the satire.

Finnerty ordered the mahout to march, and the women went back to their milking.

At a turn, Mahadua pointed to some little red-and-white flags that fluttered above a square plinth of clay upon which was the crude painting of a vermilion tiger, saying: “That is the shrine of

Pundit Bagh, and if the sahib wishes to slay him, it being necessary in the law of the jungle, it might avert evil if sacrifice were made at the shrine.”

“An offering of sweetmeats and silver?” “No, huzoor. If a goat is purchased by the sahib and a bottle of arrack, Mahadua will take the goat to the shrine, pour the wine on his head till he has bowed three times to the god, and cut his throat so that the blood falls upon the shrine to appease the god. Also I will hang up a foot of the goat.”

“What becomes of the goat?” the major

asked.

“We will make roast of the flesh in the little village yonder, and hold a feast to-

Finnerty remained silent, and the Ahnd, to secure a feast, fell back upon tangible arguments. “Sahib, if the villagers are full with feasting and happv because of a little arrack warm in their stomachs, they will not go forth in the early morning with conch horns and axes to beat upon trees to drive Pundit Bagh up into the hills so he may not be slain.”

“All right, Mahadua, I’ll furnish the goat.”

CHAPTER VII.

'T'HEY had come to where the open plain -*■ gave way to patches of jungle and rolling land clad with oak and rhododen-

The other elephant came alongside, and Finnerty suggested: “We might walk

back to my bungalow from here on the chance of getting some game for the pot. There’s quail, gray and painted pheasants, green pigeon, and perhaps a peacock—I heard one call up in the jungle. I’ve got shells loaded with number six for my 10-

bore."

“Good !” Swinton answered. “I’m cramped sitting here.”

“I’m game,” Lord Victor agreed.

Finnerty sent the elephants on, keeping Mahadua, the shikari.

A hot sun was shooting rapidly down close to the horizon, glaring like a flaming dirigible. A nightjar was swooping through the air like a swallow, uttering his weird evening call, “Chyeece, chyeece, chyeece!” as they went through a fringe of dwarf bamboos and up into the shadow of the trees.

Here Finnerty checked, saying: “I’m afraid I’ll have to keep in the lead.” He lifted a foot, showing a boot made of soft sambar skin with a cotton sole. “Every creature in the jungle is on the qui vive, and for stalking on foot one has to wear these silent creepers.”

They had not traveled far along the narrow jungle path that had been worn smooth by the bare feet of natives crossing from village to village when Finnerty stood rigid and beckoned gently with a forefinger; and when thev had reached his side they could hear the jabber monkeys scolding angrily far up the path. Between them and the jungle discord was a large monkey sitting on the' limb of a tree, with his face turned away and his long tail hanging down.

Finnerty put a finger to his lips, and, slipping forward with the soft stealthiness of a leopard, undetected by the monkey, who was intent on his companions’ squabble, gave the tail a pull. The startled and enraged lungur whisked about and thrust his black face, with its fringe of silver-gray whiskers forward pugnaciously, pouring out a volley of simian oaths. Seeing a sahib, he stopped with a gasping cry of fright and raced up the tree to take a diving flight to an-

other.

“No end of a funny caper!” Lord Victor laughed. ,

“No use of keeping quiet now, the major declared; “those noisy devils have stirred up everything. If I were following up a tiger I’d know they had sDOtted

hl “Behold, sahib!” And Mahadua pointed to the trunk of the rhododendron.

WHEN Finnerty had closely examined some marks about the height of his head in the tree, he said: “Even if OUT friend Pundit Bugh hasn’t an evil spirit, he has a sense of humor; he’s sharpened his claws here, and not loner asro, eithei.

“Really? Oh, I say, old top, you re spoofing. No end of a good draw, though.” And Lord Victor chuckled.

“I’m in earnest,” Finnerty declared crisply. “A rhododendron has a bark like rough sandpaper—it’s a favorite whetstone for the cat tribe; and this was a big tiger, as you can judge by the height of the marks.” ... „

“There are no pugs on the path, sahib, Mahadua advised, after a search.

“We’ll keep close together for a bit, Finnerty advised, starting on.

At Finnerty’s elbow the shikari whispered : “Tell the sahibs to talk, so that we come not in a startled way upon the Pundit, that he may escape in peace. ’

The major conveyed this message to his companions.

For a hundred yards they walked through a jungle that was now silent save for their voices and the slip of their feet on the smooth earth. From a tangle of raspberry bushes ahead a king crow rose in excited flight.

“That’s a bird that always gets m a rage when tiger is about,” Finnerty explained; “so keep your eye open—the jungle’s thick here.”

The major had taken a knife from his pocket, and he now ran its sharp blade around two 10-bore shells, just between the wads which separated the powder from the shot, saying, as he slipped first the shot half and next the powder half into his gun: “That is now practically a ball cartridge, for the shot packet will carry like a bullet for a good many yards.

I don’t think we’ll see him, though. Ah ! Mistaken!”

MAGNIFICENT striped creature slipped without noise from some thick undergrowth twenty yards ahead, and now stood across the path, his huge head turned so that the questioning yellow eyes were full upon them.

“Pundit Bagh—see his spectacles, sahib!” Mahadua gasped.

The curious black oval markings added to the sinister malignity of the unblinking eyes. , ,

“Don’t move, you chaps; he’s only bluffing. If you weaken he’ll charge,”. Finnerty cautioned.

“I will speak to Pundit Bagh,” Mahadua said, stepping a pace forward. “Kudawand, Protector of the Village, go in peace. Did not the sahib this day give you back your life? Did not the sahib put down the rifle and take up the bird gun and shoot in the air over your head? Go in peace, Kudawand, lest the sahib now smite thee with the ball gun.” “Have you a box of matches, Swinton?” the major asked, a quick thought coming to him that probably the tiger, in his migrations to the hills, had learned to dread the fire line of the burning crass.

Something of this scheme registered in Swinton’s brain, for he answered: I’ve

got a newspaper, too.”

“Give the paper and matches to Ma-

hadua.” Then to the servant he added: “Roll the paper like a torch and light it.”

The tiger watched this performance with interest. There is no dweller of the jungle but is a victim of curiosity—the unusual will always arrest their attention; and the tiger’s attitude assured Finnerty that he really had no fixed purpose; it would take very little to make him either attack or retreat. If it had not been for the Banjara’s buffalo, killed out of pure deviltry, and the mauled native, Finnerty would have had no hesitation in thinking the tiger would turn from the path if they kept steadily advancing.

When Mahadua struck a match on the box, its snapping hiss and flare of light caused an uneasy shift of the spectacled eyes. When the paper showed its larger flame, the look of distrust and suspicion increased; the bristled lips twitched in a nervous snarl; the powerful tail that had been swinging in complacent threatening from side to side now stilled and dropped.

“Move on!” Finnerty commanded stepping slowly forward, the 10-bore held waist-high, both fingers on the triggers.

MAHADUA, holding the burning paper straight in front of him, kept pace with his master, Swinton and Lord Victor following close.

The sinister ominousness of this performance, its silent aggression, wakened in the tiger’s wary mind the dominant thought of his lifetime—caution, suspicion of a trap. It was a supreme test of unheated courage between two magnificent creatures, each of his own species—the gigantic man and the regal tiger ; and the physical advantage was with the beast. Step by step, slow-measured, Finnerty and the shikari pressed forwai’d. The Pundit now swung his lithe body with sinuous grace till he stood aggressively straight in the path, his head lowered so that a little furrow showed between his shoulder blades and the red-green eyes slanted evilly upward through the spectacles.

Finnerty read the sign. If the tiger crouched flat to earth, ready for a spring, it would be well • to halt and try still further his courage by calmly waiting his attack. The big tail had ceased its rhythmic swing, but did not stiffen in ferocity; it curved downward. Even that beat of the pulse of events Finnerty gauged.

At ten yards Lord Victor had ceased to breathe; he wanted to scream under the cracking strain. He felt a hand on his arm—it was Swinton’s. The paper torch palpitated in the native’s trembling hand; but he faltered not, though the vicious eyes were ever on him and the fire. Nine yards, eight yards—all a hell of silent, nervous strain. Seven yards—the tiger turned in a slow, voluptuous glide, his ominous eyes still on the torchbearer, and slipped through the bushes to the jungle beyond.

Finnerty quickened his pace to a fast walk, saying: “Put the light out—save

the paper.”

Presently Mahadua touched Finnerty’s elbow and held up a hand. Listening, the major heard the “miouw” of a peacock— not the usual, droning note, but a sharp, angry screech. Immediately the alarmed belling of a sambar came from the direction in which the peacock had called, followed by a short, muffled roar from the tiger.

“Missed him!” Finnerty commented. He turned to his companion. “Our shooting has been spoiled; we’ll just push on to my bungalow.”

CHAPTER VIII.

CAPTAIN SWINTON and Lord Victor remained with Finnerty for dinner, and after that meal, sitting on the veranda, the latter asked : “What sort

of bally charm did that shikari repeat when he made that ripping address to the tiger, major?”

Finnerty looked at Swinton and the latter nodded violently; but the major answered curtly : “I forget.”

“Oh, I say! I want to know, old top —it’ll go well when I tell the story in London.” He turned to Swinton. “Captain, perhaps your memory is better.”

“If you must know,” Swinton answered, in mock resignation—for he was most anxious to interpret the native’s words—“Mahadua told the tiger to play the game, for Finnerty had purposely put down his rifle, taken up the shotgun, and fired over his head to spare his life.” “That’s when you made the fumble in the howdah, eh, major? It would have been quite on the cards for him to have mauled you to-day. You should have potted him when you had a chance on the elephant.”

Tried beyond patience by Gilfain’s obtuse egotism, Swinton blurted: “Ma-

hadua lied to the tiger; he was concealing the fact that Major Finnerty spared his life that you might have the glory of the kill later on.”

"But, I say, this is no end of a draw; the major told us he got rattled and pumped bird shot into Stripes.”

With a sigh, Swinton gave up the hope-

less task; and Finnerty, to change the yenue, said:

“I don’t think we were in any danger, really. A tiger is considerable of a gentleman; all he asks is to be left alone to kill his legitimate prey. And if it weren’t for him the wild pig and deer would eat up the crops of the poor.”

“But tigers kill a lot of human beings,” Lord Victor contended.

“About two in every million are killed annually by tigers in India—that’s statistical. Wolves, leopards, hyenas kill far more. Also a very few tigers do the killing, and generally it was man’s fault in the first place. A griffin comes out to the service, makes a bad shot in the dark, and the tiger is wounded; the rankling wound makes him ferocious and he kills any human that comes within his reach. If he recovers he may be incapacitated for killing game—who are either strong or swift—and, driven by hunger, he takes the easiest mark, man.’L

THE Banjara had come up the road unnoticed. He now stood at the steps, and, with his black eyes fixed on Lord Victor, said, in heavy gravity: “Salaam, shikari sahib."

“Will you pay the beggar for that dog, major? I’ll send the money over,” Lord Victor said, missing the sarcasm.

When, after much bargaining, the blood debt had been wiped out at twenty rupees, the Banjara, ringln" each coin bv a spin in the air with his thumb nail, broached

the matter of his deferred --------

“What of the slaying of that debased

killer of my cow, 0 sahib?” he asked. “I will tie up a young buffalo, so be it the sahib will pay for it, and, as the t’"er has got in this way of amusing himself, he will come. But”—and he cast a scornful

glance at Lord Victor—“do you make the kill, major sahib?”

“It is too late. We will take a dozen elephants to-morrow and make a wide beat, driving the tiger up to the guns.”

But the native shook his head. “The sahib knows that if the elephants are not trained to the hunt they are no good, and tiger knows it. When he smells that it is a trap, he will break back, and some of the elephants will not stand. But if the sahib will pay me and my brothers, we will take all our buffalo and drive tiger ahead of them. He will not break back through the buffalo, for I will take them first to smell of the blood of the cow he has slain.”

“A good idea,” Finnerty declared; “the buffalo make great beaters—Strines won’t face them. All right!” he told the Banjara. “I’ll post the sahibs on elephants. Get your men and buffalo ready for two o’clock—it will take me till that time to get things ready.”

“The tiger will be in the same grass, huzoor,” the Banjara said; “but if the young sahib shoot a buffalo or another dog, that also he will be required to pay for. My brothers will be behind the buffalo, walking slowly, that they do not come too sudden upon the tiger, and they are men of passion.”

Then the herdsman went clanking down .

Continued on page 104

Continued from page 39

the road, feeling that he had done all that could be done in the way of insurance.

'T'HEY sat for an hour planning a grand hunt for the next day. Prince Ananda must be invited; as they were shooting over his grounds, it was only proper courtesy. The prince would bring his own elephant, of course, but reliable hunting elephants were scarce. The one Lord Victor and Swinton had used that day had shown either a white feather or too excit-

able a temperament; he would only do to put on the side of the cane belt as a stop to keep the tiger from cutting out. Finnerty’s elephant had proved fairly steady, but he needed another; he would give that one to Swinton and Lord Victor and in the morning get a goldsmith to beat out Moti’s bell, putting a metal clapper in it. The maharajah had elephants, but none well trained for a drive, because the maharajah never shot anything.

Before leaving, Swinton took the ma-

j:: hit: tl'.2 bungaiow and gave him the sapphire to use in the bell should it be necessary, insisting that it was as safe with Finnerty as it was with him. At any rate, he did not value it highly, not placing any faith in its miraculous power.

The moon had risen when the two drove back to their bungalow in the major’s dogcart. As they swung to enter the gate, the horse recoiled with a snort of fear; the check was so sudden that Swinton, to avoid a headfirst dive, jumped, cannoning into a native, who, his face covered by his loin cloth, dashed from the compound. Instinctively Swinton grabbed the fleeing man; but the latter, with a dextrous loosening twist of his garment, left it in the captain’s hands and sped away. On the ground lay a white envelope and a small notebook that had fallen from a fold of the cloth, and these Swinton put in his pocket, saying: “That man has been up to some deviltry.” To Finnerty’s servant he added: “Take the tom-tom back; we’ll walk to the bungalow.”

“I say, old chap,” cried Lord Victor, “don’t you know this is no end of a risky caper; that urban tiger dashed that fellow—what!”

“We’d be in a hat if we stuck to the tom-tom in that event; that flooey-headed horse would kill us ifthe tiger didn’t.”

A T that instant the captain’s foot caught something that projected from the crotons. A look disclosed a pair of legs. There was something familiar j about these white-trousered limbs that terminated in canvas shoes, and their j owner must be either very drunk or dead, \ Swinton grasped the projecting feet and j pulled their owner to the drive, where he : lay on his back, the moonlight glinting the glazed eyes. It was Perreira—and he was dead. His neck showed an abrasion-, as though a rope had scorched it; and when Swinton lifted the dead man’s shoulders the head hung limp like the head of a rag doll.

“That old Thug trick!” Swinton de-a dared. “Somebody caught him from behind with a towel across the throat, threw him to the ground, put a foot on his back, and with one twist broke his neck.” "■

“Murdered!” Lord Victor gasped.

“Yes. That native I met at the gate did the trick.” Raising his voice, the captain called: “Chowlcidar! Watchman!”

There was an answer from somewhere in the compound, and the evil-faced native they had seen the night before came hurrying to where they stood.

“If the half-caste sahib is dead, he must have fallen from a horse and broke hi$ neck,” the watchman declared.

“Call the servants and carry him into the bungalow where the baboo is ; then go at once down to the police and tell who killed this man,” Swinton commanded.

At that instant Baboo Dass, who, startled by the clamor, had waited in fear on the veranda, now plowed through the bushes, saying: “Please, sar, I will be

frighted if defunct body is brought within. This place is too much evil-spirited. If tiger is not devour I am head-shaved like a felon and burglared of jewel.”

But Swinton turned away and proceeded with Lord Victor to their bungalow, leaving Baboo Dass wrangling with the watchman.

T ORD VICTOR was in a captious mood “ over the rapid succession of stirring episodes. “No end of a somnolent old India—what!” he said ironically, sitting on Swinton’s bed. “I’m bally well dashed with all the floaty creeps. We’ve only been here twenty-four hours, and we’ve

dined with the rajah, seen a topping wrestling bout, been at a temple riot, chevied a tiger out of our front yard, entertained a baboo flooey on Hindu gods,

had a drive for a tiger-”

“Shot a Banjara dog,” Swinton interrupted, because he wanted to go to bed.

“Rather! And made a devilish good shot. Then we were spoofed by Stripes, and found a murdered man on the doorstep. A tallish order, I call all that. Going some—What!”

Swinton yawned sleepily, and when Lord Victor had gone to his room he took from his pocket the notebook and letter he had picked up. The letter was addressed to himself and contained two rupees. The notebook contained curious, ambiguous entries. To a casual reader they would have meant nothing, but to Swinton they were a key to a great deal. With a small screw driver he took the shoulder plate from the butt of a gun, and, wedging the book in the hollow with some paper, replaced the plate.

Undoubtedly the little black book had something to do with Perreira’s death. He would have been closelv watched since the watchman had listened on the veranda the night before, and it would be known he was coming to see the captain.

(To be continued)