The Three Sapphires
A Story of Mystery and War Intrigue
W. A. Fraser
Author of "Mooswa," “Thoroughbreds," etc
FINNERTY grabbed the native and yanked him to his feet. “Stop the lies! Tell me what’s happened ! Where is the sahib?”
“Have mercy on me, a poor man, huzoor; the tiger sprang from the jungle and took the sahib in his mouth like the leg of a chicken and went back into the jungle. I tried to frighten the tiger away by beating him with my hands; then I am running to tell you, my lord.”
But Finnerty was speeding on before the man had finished.
Where the road swept sharply around the edge of a cliff, Finnerty almost stepped on Swinton, lying quite still beside a white bowlder on the road. With a groan, he knelt beside the captain, apprehension numbing his brain; but the latter’s heart
Arthur Heming, the well-known Canadian artist, will illustrate the remaining chapters of “The Three Sapphires .” Mr. Heming illustrated many of W. A. Fraser's stories in the past and his services were sought when this remarkable serial was secured. He was not able to find time for the first instalments. Now he is at work, however, ánd Mr.' H ren)i, who started the story so splendidly, is transferring his activities to a new serial—a story by C. N. and A. M. Williamson that starts in the Nov. issue of MACLEAN’S, ‘‘The Minx Goes to the Front.”
was beating with the even pulsation of a perfect motor. He tipped back an eyelid; the dull blue eyes were as if their owner slept. He ran his fingers along the scalp, and just behind an ear found a soft, puffy lump, but no blood.
“Good old chap! You’ve just got a concussion—that’s all,” welled in relief from the Irishman.
Some chafing of the hands, a little pumping of the lungs by lifting the torso gently up and down, and, with preliminary, spasmodic jerks, Swinton sat up. rubbed his' eyes, looked at Finnerty, and asked:. “What time is it?I—I’ve been
asleep-” Then, memory
coming faster than his hesitating words, he rose to his feet, saying: “The pony and cart went over the wall.”
“That Cabuli donkey thought the bowlder a crouching wolf and shied, eh? The groom said a tiger had eaten you.”
“He never saw the chita. Back around the turn I felt the dogcart tip up and knew the groom had jumped down, as I thought, to run ahead to see that the road was clear at this narrow turn. When I saw the bowlder I looked around for him to take the pony’s head, but he had vanished. As I walked the Cabuli up to the bowlder, he suddenly went crazy with fright, and at that instant, with a snarling rasp, a chita shot from the bank just above our heads there, and, lighting on my pony’s back, carried him over, the sud-
turing the forms of Swinton and Finnerty, remembrance brought back the assault, and he yelled in terror, crying: “Spare me—spare my life! Take the sapphire!”
“Don’t be frightened, baboo,” Swinton soothed. “The man who struck you is gone.”
Realizing who his rescuers were, Baboo Dass gave way to tears of relief, and in this momentary abstraction framed an alibi. “Kind masters,” he said presently, “1 am coming by the path to your bungalow for purpose of beseeching favor, and am hearing too much strife—loud cry of ‘Thief!’ also profane expostulation in Hindustani word of hell. Here two men is fight, and I am foolish fellow to take up arms for peace. Oh, my master, one villain is smote me and I swoon.”
“You’re a fine liar, baboo,” Finnerty declared crisply.
“No, master, not--”
“Shut up! I mean, tell me why you sent this thief, who is dead, to steal the sapphire?”
“Not inciting to theft, sar; the thief is himself steal the sapphire.”
“How do you know he stole a sapphire?” Swinton asked quietly.
Baboo Dass gasped. Perhaps his mind was still rather confused from the blow— he had been trapped so easily.
“Perhaps there was no other,” Finnerty suggested seductively. “I believe you murdered this man, baboo; I fear you’ll swing for it.”
This was too much. “Oh, my master," he pleaded, “do not take action in the courts against me for felonious assault or otherwise. 1, too, am victim of assault and battery when this poor mans is slain. I will tell, sars, why I have arrange to take back my sapphire in this manner.” “Your sapphire?” Finnerty questioned. “Yes, sar—the sapphire that I am suffer the head shave for. Good authority is tell me it is in the bell on the elephant when Rajah Ananda is go to the palace.”
“Phe-e-ew!” Finnerty whistled. “I see! Mister Rajah, eh? Did he tell you that I had the sapphire you lost?”
“Please, sar, I am poor man; let the good authority be incognito.”
“Why didn’t you come and ask for the sapphire?” Finnerty questioned.
“Master, if I come and sa'7 vou have the sapphire has been looted from me with head shave, that is not polite—you are above me with foot from veranda because of accusation.”
“Listen, baboo!” the major said, not unkindly. “Prince Ananda has duped you. He made you believe that I had your sapphire, which is a lie, because it was another. Then he persuaded you to
hire a thief to steal it-—”
“Not persuading, sahib; he make threats. I will lose my place with Hamilton Company, also the Marwari woman who plotted to me the head shave is murdered, and I am fearful of knife.”
“A fine mess of things, now, major,” Swinton observed. “Looks to me as if that woman stole Baboo Dass’ sapphire for the priests; then Ananda had her murdered, recovered the jewel, and put our friend, here, up to stealing this last one; that would give him the three.”
“I think you’re right, captain.” Finnerty turned to the baboo. “You bribed this thief to steal the stone out of my box, some servant having told you it was there, and you waited on the trail here for him.”
Finnery had forgotten about the bamboo trap; now it came to his
memory with angering force.
“You black hound!’ he stormed.
“You were a party to putting up that bamboo trap that might have killed us!”
But the baboo denied all knowledge of ways and means; the thief had represented himself as a man quite capable of arranging all details—all Baboo Dass was to do was hand over twenty rupees when the thief delivered the sapphire on the jungle path. At any rate, he was now very dead and could not dispute this story.
“Sahib, I am too much afraid; this evil jewel is bring too much trouble. 1 will go back to Calcutta. Please, sar, forgive because I am too polite to make demand for the sapphire.”
Finnerty pondered for a minute.
There was absolutely nothing further to do in the matter. No doubt a temple man had got Swinton’s sapphire now and they probably would never see it again.
He turned to the native. “I think you had better go away, baboo; Darpore is not a healthy place for men who cross our gentle friend up on the hill.”
“Thank you, kind gentlemans.
Please, if I can saunter to the road with the sahibs because of jungle terrors.”
Eager in pursuit, the men had run blithely over the ground in their baie feet; now they hobbled back, discussing the extraordinarily complete plans the thief had made beforehand.
The broken glass on the step was an old dodge, but the utilization of a tiger trap to kill a pursuer was a new one.
While they had been away, the servant had found Gutra, securely bound and gagged, lying in the compound, where he had been carried. He had been wakened he declared, by the thrusting of a cloth into his mouth, but was unable to give an alarm.
As Finnerty gazed ruefully into his empty box, he said: “I knew the thief
was after the sapphire; that’s why I raced to get him. Too devilish bad, captain !”
“I don’t understand why he took a chance of opening the box here; the usual way is to take it to the jungle and rifle it there,” Swinton said.
“Oh, I was clever,” Finnerty laughed. “See, I put four screw nails through the bottom of the box into this heavy table, knowing their ways, and somebody who knew all about that and had opportunity to fit a key did the job, or helped. The watchman hadn’t anything to do with it. They’re all thieves, but they won’t steal from their own masters or village.”
Finnerty had the broken glass that littered the steps brought in, saying, as he picked out a gold-draped bottle neck: “A man is known by the bottle he drinks from. The villagers don’t drink champagne to any large extent, and there are several pieces of this caste. Here’s half a bottle that once held Exshaw's Best Brandy, such as rajahs put in a glass of champagne to give it nip. Here’s a piece of a soda-water bottle stamped ‘Thompson, Calcutta,’ and everybody in Darpore but Ananda drinks up-country stuff.”
“Which means,” Swinton summed up,
“that the glass is from Ananda’s place—he outfitted the thief.”
Finnerty replaced the glass in the basket, putting it under the table; then, as he faced about, he saw that Swinton, leaning back against the pillow, was sound asleep. He slipped into a warm dressing gown, turned out the light, left the room noiselessly, and curled up in an armchair on the veranda, muttering: “It must be near morning; it would be a sin to disturb him.”
FINNERTY had slept an hour when he was wakened by the raucous voice of a peacock greeting dawn with his unpleasant call from high up in the sal forest. A cold gray pallor was creeping into the eastern sky as the major, still feeling the holding lethargy of the disturbed night, closed his eyes for a little more of oblivion. But Life, clamorous, vociferous, peopling the hills, the trees, the plain, sent forth its myriad acclaim, as a warming flush swept with eager haste up the vaulted dome, flung from a molten ball that topped the forest line with amazing speed.
A flock of parrakeets swooped like swallows through the air with high-pitched cries; from the feathered foliage of a tamarind came the monotonous drool, “Ko-el— ko-el—ko-el—ke-e-e-e-el !” of the koel bird, harbinger of the “hot spell;” a crow, nesting in a banyan, rose from her eggs, and, with a frightened cry, fled through the air as a hawk cuckoo swooped with shrill whistle as if to strike. The cuckoo, dumping from the nest a couple of the crow’s white eggs, settled down to deposit her own embryo chick. From the kennels came the joyous bark of Rampore hounds, and from a native village filtered up the yapping cries of pariah dogs.
Far up the road that wound past the bungalow sounded the squealing skirl of wooden axles in wooden wheels, and the cries of the bullock driver, “Dut,, dut, dut, Dowlet! Dut, dut—chelao Rajah!” followed by the curious noise that the driver made with his lips while he twisted the tails of his bullocks to urge them on.
Finnerty thought of the stone on the road, and, passing into the bungalow, wakened Swinton. “Sorry, old boy, but we’d better have a look at that stone—there are carts coming down the hill."
“Bless me! Almost dropped off to sleep, I’m afraid!” And the captain sat up.
When they arrived at the scene of Swinton’s adventure, Finnerty7, peering over the embankment, said: “The dog-
cart is hung up in a tree halfway down. I expect you’ll find that chita at the bottom, kicked to death by the Cabuli.” Swinton, indicating an abrasion on the bowlder that might have been left by the iron tire of a wrheel, said: “My cart didn’t strike this, and there are no other iron-wheel marks on the road; just part of this beastly plot—to be used as evi-
dence that the stone put me over the
“They even rolled the bowlder down to leave an accidental trail. There’s not a footprint of a native, though. Hello, by Jove!” Finnerty was examining two bamboos growing from the bank above the road. “See that?” and his finger lay on an encircling mark where a strap had worn a smooth little gutter in the bamboo shell two feet from the ground. Both bamboos, standing four feet apart, showed this line of friction. “Here’s where they held the chita in leash, and, when you arrived, took off his hood and slipped the straps. We’ll just roll that bowlder off the road and go back to breakfast.
“Oh, Lord!” the major exclaimed, as, midway of their breakfast, there came the angry trumpeting of an elephant. “That’s Moti, and she wants her bell. She’s an ugly devil when she starts; but, while I don’t mind losing some sleep, I must eat.”
“The devil of it is that all this circumstantial evidence we’re gathering isn’t worth a rap so far as the real issue is concerned,” the captain said from the depths of a brown study.
“I understand,” Finnerty answered. “It proves who is trying to get rid of us, but the government is not interested in our private affairs—it wants to check Ananda’s state intrigues.”
“And also we won’t mention any of these things to our young friend whom I he* r outside,” Swinton added, as the voice of Lord Victor superseded the beat of hoofs on the road.
As he swung into the breakfast room, Gilfain explained cheerily: “Thought I’d ride around this way to see what had
happened; my bearer heard in the bazaar Swinton had been eaten by a tiger—but you weren’t, old top, were you?”
“My dogcart went wrong,” Swinton answered, “so I stayed with the major.” “What made me think something might have happened was that the bally forest here is pretty well impregnated with leopards and things—one of Anar.da’s hunting chitas escaped last evening and he was worrying about it at dinner; says he’s a treacherous brute, bas turned sour on his work, and is as liable to spring on a man as on a prong-
“Was the prince anxious about me in particular?” the captain asked innocently. “Oh, no; he didn’t say anything, at
Finnerty sprang to his feet as a big gong boomed a tattoo over at the keddah. “Trouble!” he ejaculated. “Elephant on the rampage—likely Moti.”
The bungalow buzzed like a hive of disturbed bees. A bearer came with Finnerty’s helmet and a leather belt in which hung a .45 Webley revolver; a saddled horse swung around the bungalow, led by a running groom.
The major turned to Swinton. “Like to go?”
Finnerty sprang down the steps, caught the bridle rein, and said: “Bring Akbar
for the sahib, quick !”
Soon a bay Arab was brought by his own groom. “Come on, Gilfain, and see the sport!” And Finnerty swung to the saddle. “It’s not far, but the rule when the alarm gong sounds is that my horse is brought; one never knows how far he may go before he comes back.” To the
bearer he added: “Bring my 8-bore and
plenty of ball cartridges to the keddah.”
JHEN they arrived at the elephant lines, the natives were in a fever of unrest. Mahadua had answered the gong summons and was waiting, his small, wizened face carrying myriad wrinkles of excited interest. Moti’s mahout was squatted at the tamarind to which she had been chained, the broken chain in his lap wet from tears that were streaming down the old fellow’s cheeks.
“Look you, sahib!” he cried. “The chain has been cut with a file.”
“Where is Moti?” Finnerty queried. “She is down in the cane,” a native answered; “I have just come from there.” “She has gone up into the sal forest,” another maintained. “I was coming down the hill and had to flee from the path, for she is must.”
“Huzoor, the elephant has stripped the roof from my house,” a third, a native from Picklapara village, declared. “All the village has been laid flat and a hundred people killed. Will the sircar pay me for the loss of my house, for surely it is a government elephant and we are poor people?”
Finnerty turned to the shikari. “Mahadua, which way has Moti gone?”
“These men are all liars, sahib—it is their manner of speech. Moti went near to Picklapara and the people all ran away; but she is now up on the hills.”
The mahout stopped his droning lament long enough to say: “Sahib, Moti
is not to be blamed, for she is drunk; she knows not where evil begins, because a man came in the night and gave
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The Three Sapphires
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her a ball of bhang wrapped up in
“We’ve got to capture the old girl before she kills some natives,” F’innerty declared. “If you chaps don’t mind a wait, I’ll get things ready and you’ll see better sport than killing something.”
First the major had some “foot tacks” brought. They were sharp-pointed steel things with a broad base, looking like enormous carpet tacks. Placed on the path, if Moti stepped on one she would probably come in to the keddah to have her foot dressed. Four Moormen, natives of the Ceylon hills, were selected. These men were entitled to be called panakhans, for each one had noosed by the leg a wild elephant that had been captured, and very lithe and brave they looked as they stepped out, a rawhide noose over the shoulder of each. A small army of assistants were also assembled, and Raj Bahadar, a huge bull elephant.
LMNNKRTY sent the men and Raj *■ Bahadar on ahead, saying that Moti might perhaps make up to the bull and not clear off to the deep jungle. Giving them a start of fifteen minutes, the three
sahibs, Mahadua, and a man to carry the major’s 8-bore elephant gun followed. They traveled for an hour up through graceful bamboos and on into the rolling hills, coming upon the tusker and the natives waiting.
Gothya, the mahout, salaamed, saying:
“We have heard something that moves with noise in the jungle, and, not wishing to frighten Moti, we have waited for the
“It was a bison,” one of the men declared. “Twice have I seen his broad, black back.”
“Sahib.” the mahout suggested, “it may be that it was a tiger, for Raj Bahadur has taken the wind with his trunk many times, after his manner when there are tigers about.”
“Fools, all of you!” Finnerty said angrily. “You are wasting time.”
"Sahib”—it was Mahadua’s plaintive voice—“these men, who are fitted for smoking opium in the bazaar, will most surely waste the sahib’s time. It is better that we go in front.”
“I think you’re right,” Finnerty declared. “Go you in front, Mahadua, for you make little noise; the ears of an elephant are sharp, and we ride horses, but we will keep you in sight.” He turned to the mahout. “At a distance bring along Bahadur and the men.”
The shikari grinned with delight; he salaamed in gratitude. To lead a hunt! He was in the seventh heaven.
As noiseless as a brown shadow, he slipped through the jungle, and yet so free of pace that at times he had to wait lest the sahibs should lose his trail. Once they lost him for a little; when they came within sight he was standing with a hand up, and when they reached his side he said: “Sahib, sometimes a fool
trips over the truth, and those two, who are assuredly fools in the jungle, have both spoken true words, for I have seen the hoofprints or a mighty bison and also the pugs of Pundit Bagh who has a foot like a rice pot. I will carry the 8-bore, and if the sahib will walk he may get good hunting; the matter of Moti can
“You'd better dismount, Lord Victor, and take the shot,” Finnerty advised. “A tiger is evidently stalking the bison, so perhaps will be a little off guard. The grooms will bring along the ponies.”
Swinton dismounted also, saying: “I’ll prowl along with you, major, if you don’t object.”
Lord Victor wore riding boots, and Finnerty, slipping his cotton-soled, sambar leather shoes from his feet, said: “Put these on, and, if you don’t mind, I’ll give you a couple of pointers about still stalking, for if you’re quiet you have a good chance of bagging either a tiger or a bull bison. I can’t do anything to help you; you’ve got to depend on yourself and the gun.”
“Thanks, old chap; just tell me what I should do.”
“You will keep Mahadua in sight. If you hear anything in the jungle that would cause you to look around, don’t turn your neck while you are moving, but stand perfectly still—that will prevent a noisy, false step. Don’t try to step on a log in crossing it; you might slip. But sit on it and swing your legs over if you can’t stride it. When Mahadua holds up a finger that he sees something, don’t take a step without iooking where you are going to place your foot, and don’t step on a stick or a stone. If it is the tiger, don’t shoot if he is coming toward you— not until he has just passed; then rake
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him from behind the shoulder, and he’ll keep going—he won’t turn to charge. If you wound him when he’s coming on, it’s a hundred to one he’ll charge and maul you, even while he’s dying. Äs to the bull, shoot him any old way that brings him down, for the bison’s ferocity is good fiction.”
Finnerty had given this lesson in almost a whisper. Now' he thrust the 8-bore into Lord Victor’s hand, saying: “This
shoots true, flat-sighted, up to fifty yards; but don’t try to pick off that tiger at over twenty. The gun is deuced heavy—it weighs fifteen pounds—so don’t tire your arms carrying it at the ready. It fires a charge of twelve drams of powder, so hold it tight to your shoulder or it’ll break a bone. It throws a three-ounce, hollownosed bullet that’ll mushroom in either a tiger or a bison, and he’ll stop.” Mahadua took up the trail again, not following all the windings and zigzag angles of its erratic way, for they were now breasting a hill and he knew that the bull, finding the flies troublesome, would seek the top plateau so that the breeze would blow' these pests away. The wind was favorable—on their faces— for the wise old bull traveled into it, knowing that it would carry to him a danger taint if the tiger waited in am-
“We’ll carry on for a little longer,” Finnerty said; “but if we find the bull is heading up into the sal forest we’ll give it up and go after Moti ; she won’t be far away, I fancy.”
They followed the bison’s trail, that had now straightened out as he fled from the thing that had disturbed his rest, for fifteen minutes, and Mahadua was just dipping over the plateau’s far edge when a turmoil of noises came floating up from the valley beyond—a turmoil of combat between large animals. Quickening their pace, Finnerty and Swinton saw, as they reached the slope, Mahadua wiring his way into a wall of bamboo that hung like a screen on a shelving bank.
“Come on!” Finnerty commanded. “There’s such a fiendish shindy down there we won’t be heard, and the wind is from that quarter.”
Creeping through the bamboos, they saw Mahadua, one hand in the air as a sign of caution, peering down into the swampy hollow. Finnerty gasped with surging delight as his eyes fell upon the regal picture that lay against the jungle background. A mighty bull bison, his black back as broad as a table, stood at bay with lowered head, his red-streaked, flashing eyes watching a huge tiger that crouched, ready to spring, a dozen feet
“Pundit Bagh—see his spectacles, sahib!” the guide whispered.
The torn-up ground told the battle had waged for some time. With a warning finger to his lips, Finnerty sat quivering with the joy of having stumbled upon the life desire of every hunter of big game in India—the chance to witness a combat between a full-grown tiger and a bull bison. On one side ferocity, devilish cunning, strength, muscles like piano wire, and lightning speed; on the other, enormous power, cool courage, and dagger horns that if once well placed would disembowel the cat.
livery wary twist of the crouching tiger’s head, eveiy quiver of his rippling muscles, every false feint of the pads that dug restlessly at the sward, showed that he had no intention of being caught in a death grapple with the giant
bull; he was like a wrestler waiting for a grip on the other’s neck, his lips curled in a taunting sneer.
With a snort of defiance, the bison suddenly charged; and Pundit Bagh, his yellow fangs bared in a savage growl, vaulted lightly to the top of a flat rock, taking a swipe with spread claws at the bull’s eyes as he passed. The bull, anticipating this move, had suddenly lowered his head, catching the blow on a strong, curved horn, and the Pundit sat on the rock holding the injured paw in the air, a comical look of surprise in his spectacled eyes. As the bison swung about, the tiger, slipping from the rock, faced him again, twenty feet away.
Spellbound by the atmosphere of this Homeric duel, the sahibs had crouched, motionless, scarcely breathing, held by intense interest. Now, suddenly recalling his hunting mission, Lord Victor drew the 8-bore forward; but Mahadua’s little black eyes looked into Finnerty’s in pathetic pleading, and the latter placed his big palm softly on the hand that held the gun. Lord Victor had been trained to understand the chivalry of sport, and he nodded. A smile hovered on his lips as he held up the spread fingers of two hands and then pointed toward the bison.
Finnerty understood, and, leaning forward, whispered: “You’re on for ten
rupees, and I back Stripes.”
“Sahib!” So low the tone of Mahadua’s voice that it barely reached their ears; and following the line of a pointed finger they saw on the rounded knob of a little hill across the valley a red jungle dog, his erected tail weaving back and forth in an unmistakable signal.
"He’s flagging the pack,” Finnerty whispered. “Now we’ll see these devils at work.”
Whimpering cries from here and there across the valley told that these dreaded brutes, drawn by the tiger’s angry roars, were gathering to be in at a death.
The keen-eared bull had heard the yapping pack, and as his head turned for the fraction of a second Pundit Bagh stole three catlike steps forward; but as the horns came into defense he crouched, belly to earth, his stealthy feline nature teaching him that his only hope against his adversary’s vast bulk was some trick made possible by waiting a charge.
Like Medusa’s hair which changed into serpents, the screening jungle thrust forth its many sinuous tentacles. Lean, red, black-nosed heads appeared from thorny bush and spiked grass, and step by step gaunt bodies came out into the arena. Some sat on their haunches, dripping tongues lapping at yellow fangs as though their owners already drank blood; others, uttering whimpering notes of anticipation, prowled in a semi-circle, their movements causing Pundit Bagh to hug closer the bank with its jutting rocks.
DOTH combatants in the presence of •L' this new danger stayed for a little their battle; they knew’ that the one that went down first would have the pack against him.
Finnerty whispered: “The cunning
devils will wait, and if Pundit Bagh wins out, but is used up—which he will be— the dogs will drive him away and eat his dinner. If he’s killed, they will devour him when the bison departs.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this for a thousand guineas!” Lord Victor panted in a husky whisper.
Finnerty, patting the gun, said: “We’ll probably have to settle it with this yet; so have it ready for a quick
throw to your shoulder.” He picked up a stick from the ground and thrust an end into a clump of growing bamboos, adding: “There! That 8-bore is
mighty heavy; rest it across this stick. We won’t shoot the bison, no matter what happens; he’s like a gentleman assailed by a footpad. It will be Stripes or the dogs; so take your time drawing a bead—I’ll tell you when it’s necessary.”
As if during this little lull following the jungle pack’s advent the bison had thought along the same lines as Major Finnerty, and had come to the conclusion that if he turned tail dogs and tiger would pull him down, he lowered his head, and with a defiant snort, charged. A stride, and Pundit Bagh, who had plotted as he crouched, shot into the air, a quivering mass of gold and bronze in the sunlight. But he had waited the fraction of a second too long; he missed the neck, landing on the high, grizzled wither. Like a flash his mighty arms were about the bull, and his huge jaws, wide-spread, snapped for a grip that, if secured, would break the vertebra—it would go like a pipestem in the closing of that vise of arms and jaw. But the little shift from wither to neck caused him to miss the spine; his fangs tore through flesh and he was crushed against a rock, his hold broken.
The dogs, eager in bloodthirst, dashed in, snapping at the tiger’s rump, and, as he whirled, sprang at his face. One blow of a paw, like the cut of a gold scimitar, and a dog landed ten feet away —pulp.
A sigh of relief escaped from Finnerty as the dogs slunk back and Pundit Bagh, seemingly none the worse, crouched again for battle.
“That is their way,” Mahadua whispered ; “they seek to cut Bagh in his vitals behind, while in front others spit poison in his eyes to blind him; the white froth that spouts from their mouths when they fight is poison.”
Blood was dripping from the bison’s neck as he faced about, but the snap at his neck had not discouraged him; his actions showed that he would battle to the end. The taste of blood had broken the Pundit’s debonair nonchalance. Before he had been like a cat playing with a mouse; he had purred and kinked his long tail in satirical jerks. Now he lashed his sides or beat the ground in anger. From his throat issued a snarling “W-o-u-g-h-n-ng!” Again he waited for his antagonist’s charge, slipping to one side as the black mass came hurtling toward him to swipe at the eyes, cutting clean away an ear and leaving red-blooded slits from cheek to shoulder, his damaged paw once more suffering from contact with that hard skull.
The dogs had edged in as the two clashed, but dropped back to their waiting line as tiger and bison faced each other again, the latter shaking his massive head and pawing fretfully, as if angered at his enemy’s slipping away when they came to close quarters. Something of this must have stirred his own strategy, for, as he thundered in a charge, he swept his head sidewise as the tiger swerved, catching Stripes a crashing blow, the sharp incurve of the horn all that saved him from being ripped wide open. Half stunned, he was pinned to earth as the bull swung short to a fresh attack; and, seeing this, taking it for the end, the dogs, with yaps of fury, closed in, snapping with their cutting teeth at flesh, wherever found.
With a bellow of rage, the bull backed away three paces, and a dog that had
gripped his neck was ground to death against the earth. Pundit Bagh thrust his body up through a dozen dogs that clung like red ants, and, whether in chivalry or blind anger, the bull, with lowered head, rushed on the yapping« snarling, lancing pack, at the first thrust his daggerlike horns piercing a dog. The outstretched black neck, the taut, extended spine almost brushing Pundit’s nose, flashed into his tiger mind the killing grip. Forgotten were the dogs in the blind call of blood lust. The widespread jaws crunched astride the neck, and, with a wrench that he had learned from his mother when a cub, the bull was thrown, the dogs pouncing upon him with hunger in their hearts.
AT the first treacherous snap of the tiger’s jaws, Finnerty had acted. With the subservience of a medium, at the word “Now!” Lord Victor pressed the gunstoek agajnst his shoulder; his head drooped till his eye ranged the barrels; and, penetrating the booming thump of his heart, a calming voice was saving: “Take your time; aim behind the tiger’s shoulder. Stead-d-y, man!” His finger pulled heavily on the trigger, the gun roared, and a sledge-hammer blow on his shoulder all but sprawled him; then the gun was snatched from his hands. Half dazed, he saw Finnerty send another bullet into something. There was a “Click! Snap!” as two fresh shells were slipped into the barrels, and again the 8bore thundered twice.
Springing to his feet, Gilfain saw a great mass of gold and brown flat to earth, and the black rump of a bison bull galloping off into the jungle. Then his fingers were being crushed in the huge hand of Finnerty, who was saying: “My dear boy, a corking shot—straight through the heart: He never moved!
I shot two or three dogs!”
“Demme!” was all the pumped-out Lord Victor could gasp, as he sank back to the knob of earth he had been sitting on.
“One never knows,” Finnerty said,, shoving a fresh cartridge into the 8-bore, “if a tiger is really dead till he’s skinned. Gome on; we’ll look.”
Mahadua, saying. “Have patience, sahib,” threw a stone, hitting Pundit Bagh fair on the head. There was no movement. Then, striding in front, Finnerty prodded the fallen monarch with his gun muzzle. He was indeed dead.
“I got a couple of those vermin, anyway,” and Finnerty pointed to two dogs the big 8-bore bullet had nearly blown to pieces.
Mahadua, on his knees, was muttering: “Salaam, Pundit Bagh!” and patting the huge head that held the fast-glazing yellow globes set in black-rimmed spectacles. There was a weird reflex of jungle reverence in his eyes as, rising, he said, addressing Finnerty: “Sahib, Pundit Bagh did not kill men nor women nor children; this ivas the way he fought.’’ And then, when there were no eyes upon him, he surreptitiously plucked three long bristles from the tiger’s mustache, slipping them into his jacket pocket to be kept as a charm against jungle devils.
T ORD VICTOR had come down the hill, dead to sensation; he had walked like one in a dream. The fierce press of contained excitement had numbed his brain; now he loosened to the erratic mood of a child; he laughed idiotically, while tears of excited joy rolled down his pink checks; he babbled incoherent, senseless words; he wanted to kiss Fin-
nerty, Pundit Bagh, or something, or somebody; he would certainly give Mahadua a hundred rupees; he fell to unlacing and lacing his shoes in nervous dementia. What would the earl say? What would the fellows at the London clubs say?
Finnerty had a tape out, and, passing his notebook to Swinton, he, with Mahadua at one end of the tape, rapidly ruled off the following measurements:
From point of nose to tip of tail 10
Length of tail................ 2 4
Girth behind shoulders........ 4 4
Girth of head .............. 3 4
Girth of forearm ............ 1 10
Height at shoulder............ 3 6
“There!” And Finnerty put his tape in his pocket. “Pundit Bagh is a regal one. I feel sorry we had to shoot him in just that way; but the dogs spoiled a good fight. Fancy your getting a skin like that to take back, Lord Victor.—it’s luck! And remember, gentlemen, we must spread this mandate that a bull bison with one ear goes free of the gun, for he was a right-couraged one.”
“Rather!” Lord Victor ejaculated. “To-night we’ll drink a toast in fizz to the one-eared bull — a thoroughbred gentleman !”
“We’ll need the elephant up to pad this tiger,” Finnerty said. Mahadua, who was sent to bring on Raj Bahadar, had not been gone two minutes when from their back trail came, upwind, the shrill trumpeting of two elephants, and mingling with this was the harsh honk of a conch shell.
“That’s Moti, or wild elephants tackling Raj Bahadar,” Finnerty declared. “I must get back. The tiger will be all right here for a little—those dogs won’t come back—and I’ll send Mahadua and the elephant after him.”
To be continued