The Three Sapphires

A Story of Mystery and War Intrigue

W. A. Fraser November 1 1918

The Three Sapphires

A Story of Mystery and War Intrigue

W. A. Fraser November 1 1918

The Three Sapphires

A Story of Mystery and War Intrigue

W. A. Fraser

Author of “Mooswa,” “Thoroughbreds,”


IT was a stirring scene that greeted the three sahibs on their arrival at the conflict. Like a family of monkeys the natives decorated the tree, while below was Burra Moti giving lusty battle to the tusker. Either out of chivalry or cowardice, Raj Bahadar was backing up, refusing to obey the prod of his mahout’s goad, and charge.

As Moti came at the bull like a battering-ram he received her on his forehead, the impact sounding like the crash of two meeting freight cars, and she, vindictively cunning, with a quick twist of her head, gashed him in the neck with a long tusk.

“Come down out of there, you women of the sweeper caste!” Finnerty commanded. The natives dropped to the ground. One of them, uncoiling his rawhide rope, darted in behind Moti, noosed a lifted foot, and ran back with the trailing end.

Raj Bahadar, discouraged by the thrust in his neck, wheeled and fled, pursued by Moti, the native lassooer, clinging to the trailing noose, being whipped about like a wind-tossed leaf. With a shout Finnerty followed, the others joining in the chase.

A thick growth of timber checked Raj Bahadar, and, as Moti slackened her pace, the man with the rawhile darted around a tree with the rope; Finnerty and the others grasped the end, the rawhide creaked and stretched, and as Moti plunged forward her hind leg was suddenly yanked into the air, bringing her down. Another man sprang in to noose a foreleg, but Moti was too quick for him ; she was up to stand for a little sullen meditation.

The native flashed in and out, almost within reach of her trunk, trying to make her raise a forefoot that he might noose it and slip his rawhile about a tree, when Moti, tethered fore and aft, would be helpless.

“Be careful!” Finnerty called as the noose man slipped in and flicked Moti on the knee with no result but the curling up of her trunk, as if out of harm’s way. Again he danced in, and as the long trunk shot out like a snake darting from a coil he sprang beneath the big head, giving a laugh of derision ; but Moti struck sidewise with a forefoot, and with a sickening crunch the man dropped ten feet away.

UTTERING a squeal of rage, the elephant whipped about and charged back, the rawhide noose breaking like a piece of twine. Finnerty was fair in her path, but with a grunt, as if to say, “Get out of the way, friend,” she brushed by him, and would have gone straight off to the jungle had not a man in a sudden folly of fright darted from behind a tree only to stumble and fall before he had taken a dozen steps. Down on her knees went Moti, seeking to spear the fallen man with her tusks, but at the first thrust one went either side of his body, and, being long,

Synopsis.—Lord Victor Gilfain and Captain Sivinton, 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. .4 second has been set for the Rajah by a jetvelry firm but is stolen by natives from a Bengali intrusted with its delivery, Baboo Dass. A third is in the possession of Captain Swinton himself. A native is found murdered in front of the compound where Gilfain and Swinton are quartered and no motive can be found for the deed. Later an effort is made to kill Swinton. A cheetah suddenly springs from the side of the road as he passes in a dog cart, but he escapes. That night the third sapphire is stolen by a native from the hills.

the great, crushing head did not quite reach him. Gasping both pillars of this ivory archway, the man wriggled out and escaped as Moti, pulling her tusks out of the soft earth, rose, cocked her ears, drove a whistle of astonishment through her trunk, and then scuttled off to the jungle.

“We won’t follow her up,” Finnerty declared; “the noosing has flustered the old girl and we’ll not get near her again today; she’d keep going if she heard us and we’d lose her forever up in the hills.” Mahadua advised: “If the mahout will tickle Bahadar with his hook so that he speak now and then, perhaps Moti, being lonesome and remembering of cakes and home, will come back like an angry woman who has found peace.”

Thinking this a good plan, Finnerty gave the mahout orders to entice Moti in if she came about. A dozen men were sent to bring the tiger, slung from a pole, to the bungalow; they would bring back food to the others.

Telling the natives he would join them in the hunt next day, Finnerty and his companions mounted their horses to ride

COMING to the road that wound through the cool sal forest, they saw Prince Ananda riding toward them.

“What luck?” he greeted when they met. “I heard that an elephant had taken to the jungle.” He wheeled his Arab with them, adding: “You look done up.

Come along to the palace and have a cooling drink.”

Lord Victor ranged his horse alongside Ananda’s Arab as they started, but as they drew near the palace grounds Darpore halted his horse, and, pointing his hunting crop across the broad valley below in which lay the town, said: “Yon-

der was the road along which, so many centuries ago, Prince Sakya Singha’s mother came when he was born here in the Lumbini Garden.”

Swinton, in whose mind the prince was arraigned as a vicar of the devil—at least as a seditious prince which, to a British officer, was analogous—felt the curious subtlety of this speech; for, sitting his beautiful Arab, outlined against the giant sal trees, their depths holding the mysteries of of centuries, he had an Oriental background that made his pose compelling.

Lord Victor moved a little to one side, as if his volatile spirits felt a dampening, the depression of a buried past; and Prince Ananda, turning his Arab, drew Swinton along to his side by saying: “Have you come in contact with the cleavage of religious fanaticism in India, captain?”

“My experience was only of the army; there'the matter of Hindu or Mussulman is now better understood and better arranged,” Swinton answered cautiously as he and Ananda rode forward side by side.

The captain was puzzled. Training had increased the natural bent of his mind toward a suspicious receptivity where he felt there was necessity. He had decided that the prince, with Oriental lethargy, never acted spontaneously—that there was something behind every move he made; his halt, back on the road, was evidently to make a change from Lord Victor to himself in their alignment. Temporarily the captain fancied that the prince might wish to draw from him some account of the preceding night’s adventure. Indeed, as a Raj horse had probably been killed, Ananda could not have missed hearing of the accident.

It was Lord Victor’s voice that stirred these thoughts to verbal existence. “I say, Prince Ananda,” he suddenly asked, “did you hear that my mentor had been devoured by a tiger last night?” .

As if startled into a remembrance, Ananda said: “Sorry, captain. I forgot

to ask if anything did happen you last night. My master of horse reported this morning that your pony was found with a broken leg at the foot of a cliff ; then I heard that you had gone off with the major, so knew you were all right. You see, well”—the prince spoke either in genuine or assumed diffidence— “as it was a Raj pony that came to grief I couldn’t very well speak of it; that is, knowing that you were all right.”

“When I heard it,” Gilfain broke in, “remembering what you had said about the hunting leopard, I was deuced well bashed, I assure you.”

“Was there—anything—in the report of—a tiger trying to maul you?” the prince asked, and Swinton, tilting his

helmet, found the luminous black eyes reading his face.

But Swinton could have been plotting murder behind those “farthing eyes” for all they betrayed as he answered: “I

don’t know what frightened the animal; he suddenly shied and I was thrown out, coming a cropper on my head which put me to sleep for a few minutes. When I came to, thè pony and cart had disappeared and there was nothing for it but go back to the major’s bungalow for the night.”

“Then there was nothing in the tiger story,” the prince commented.

“I saw no tiger, anyway,” Swinton declared, and Finnerty chuckled inwardly, for, like the captain, he had been mystified by Darpore’s sudden interest in the

THE prince had presented something akin to a caste aloofness towrard Swinton; now the change had tensed Finnerty’s perceptions so that he took cognizance of things that ordinarily would have passed as trivial. He saw Ananda deliberately ride past the road that would have taken them to the magnificent courtyard entrance of the palace, the beautiful red rubble road that wound its way through crotons, oleanders, and hibiscus around the fairy Lake of the Golden Coin to cross the marble-arched bridge. Now they were following a road that led through the zoo to the back entrance. As they came to a massive teakwood gate, from the left of which stretched away in a crescent sweep a wall of cages—the first one at the very gatepost holding a fiend, a man-killing black leopard—the major pressed his mount close to the rump of Swinton’s horse, upon the right of whom rode Prince Ananda. A guard saluted, an attendant swung the teakwood barrier inward, and while it was still but half open Ananda pressed forward, his horse carrying Swinton’s with him inte a holocaust of lightninglike happenings.

Swinton turned toward the prince at some w'ord, and at that instant the latter’s horse swerved against his mount, as if stung by a spur on the outside; a black arm, its paw studded with glittering claws, flashed through the bars of the cage with a sweep like a scimitar’s, striking Swinton full in the chest, the curved claws hooking through his khaki coat and sweeping him half out of the saddle toward the iron bars against which he would be ripped to pieces in a second. With an oath, Finnerty’s whip came down on his horse’s flank, and the Irishman’s body was driven like a wedge between the leopard and his prey; the thrusting weight tore the claws through the cloth of Swinton’s coat, and, still clutching viciously, they slashed Finnerty across the chest, a gash the width of his chin showing they had all but torn through his throat.

Swinton pulled himself into the saddle and looked back at the major’s bloodsmeared chin and on beyond to the sinister black creature that stood up on his hind legs against the bars of his cage thrusting a forepaw through playfully as though it were only a bit of feline sport. He shuddered at the devilishness of the whole thing that looked so like another deliberate attempt. The prince would know that that black fiend, true to his jungle instincts, would be waiting in hiding behind the brick wall of his cage for a slash at any warm-blooded creature rounding the corner. They were a fitting pair, this black, murderous leopard and the prince. Finnerty was checking the blood flow on

his chin with a handkerchief; his eyes, catching Swintcn’s as they turned from the leopard, were full of fierce anger.

There had been an outburst of grating calls and deep, reverberating roars as leopards and tigers, roused by the snarl of the black demon as he struck, gave vent to their passion.

As if stirred to ungovernable anger by the danger his friends had incurred through the gateman’s fault, Ananda turned on the frightened man, and, raising his whip, brought it down across his back. Twice the lash fell, and two welts rose in the smooth black skin; this assault accompanied by a torrent of abuse that covered chronologically the native’s ancestry back to his original progenitor, a jungle pig. Ananda’s face, livid from this physical and mental assault, smoothed out with a look of contrite sorrow as he apologized to his companions.

“I’m awfully sorry, major; that fool nearly cost us a life by frightening my horse with his frantic efforts to open the gate. He’s an opium eater, and must have been beating that leopard with his staff to have made him so suddenly vicious. Your coat is ripped, captain; are you wounded?”

“No, thanks!” Swinton answered dryly.

“You are, major.”

“Nothing much—a scratch. I’ll have to be careful over blood poisoning, that’s all.

“Yes,” the prince said, “I’ll have my apothecary apply an antiseptic.”

As they wound between a spurting fountain and a semi-circle of iron-barred homes, a monkey dropped his black, spiderlike body from an iron ring in the ceiling, and, holding by a coil in the end of his tail, swung back and forth, head down, howling dismally. Bedlam broke forth in answer to this discordant wail.

“Delightful place!” Finnerty muttered as he rode at Swinton’s elbow.

“Inferno and the archfiend!” And Swinton nodded toward the back of Prince Ananda, who rode ahead.

In the palace dispensary Finnerty brushed the apothecary to one side and treated his slashed chin with iodine; a rough treatment that effectually cleaned the cut at the bottom, which was the bone.

They did not tarry long over the champagne, and were soon in the saddle again. Finnerty asked his companions to ride on to his bungalow for an early dinner. Lord Victor declined, declaring he was clean bowled, but insisted that the captain should accept. As for himself, he was going to bed, being ghastly tired.

AS Swinton and the major sat puffing their cheroots on the veranda after dinner, the latter gave a despairing cry of “Great Kuda!” as his eyes caught sight of the Banjara swinging up the road, evidently something of import flogging his footsteps. “We shall now be laughed at for not having bagged that tiger yesterday,” Finnerty chuckled.

But the Lumbani was in no hurry to disburse whatever was in his mind, for he folded his black blanket on the veranda at the top step and sat down, salaamingin a most grave manner first. Finnerty and Swinton smoked and talked in English, leaving the tribesman to his own initiative. Presently he asked: “Is the

young sahib who shot my dog present?” Relief softened the austere cast of his bony face when Finnerty answered “No.” “It is as well,” the Lumbani said, “for the young have not control of their tongues. But the sahib”—and the Banjara nodded toward Swinton, his eyes coming back to Finnerty’s face—“is a man of discretion, is it not so, huzoor?”

To this observation the major agreed. “And the sahib will not repeat what I tell?”

The Lumbani rubbed his long, lean hands up and down the length of his staff as though it were a fairy wand to ward off evil; his black, hawklike eyes swept the compound, the veranda, as much of the bungalow interior as they could; then pitching his voice so that it carried with wonderful accuracy just to the ears of the two men, he said: “There was a man

beaten to-day at the gate of the tiger garden.”

Neither of the sahibs answered, and he proceeded: “The gateman who was

beaten is a brother to me; not a blood brother, sahib, but a tribe brother, for he is a Banjara of the Lumbani caste.” “By Jove!” The major clamped his jaws close after this involuntary exclamation and waited.

“Yes, sahib”—the Lumbani had noticed with satisfaction the major’s start—“my brother has shown me the welts on his shoulder, such as are raised on a cart bullock, but he is not a bullock, being a Banjara.”

There was a little silence, the native turning over in hjs mind something else he wished to say, trying to discover first what impression he had made, his shrewd eyes searching Finnerty’s face for a sign. Suddenly, as if taking a plunge, he asked : “Does the sahib, who is a man, approve that the servant be beaten like a dog.—• even though the whip lay in the hands of a rajah?”

P innerty hesitated. It is not well to give encouragement to a native against the ruling powers, whether they be black or

“And he was not at fault,” the Banjara added persuasively; “he did not frighten the pony—it

was the rajah's spur, for my brother saw blood on the skin of the horse where the spur had cut.”

“Why didn’t he open the gate wide; had he orders not to do so?” Finnerty asked quickly.

Sahib, if the rajah had passed orders such as that he would not have struck a Banjara like a dog, lest there be telling of the orders; but the gate had been injured so that it would not open as always, and the tender did not know it”

“But the rajah did not know we’d be coming along at that time,” the major parried.

“As to time, one day matters no more than another. The rajah would have invited you through that gate some time. But he did know you were up in the jungle, and rode forth to meet you.”

“it was but a happening,” Finnerty asserted, with the intent of extracting from the Lumbani what further evidence he had.

“When one thing happens many times it is more a matter of arrangement than of chance,” the Banjara asserted.

“I don’t understand,” Finnerty declared.

“There is a window in the palace, sahib, directly in front of the gate, and it has been a matter of pastime for the rajah to sit at that window when somebody against whom he had ill will would be admitted and clawed by that black devil.”

“It is not a new thing, sahib; my brother who was beaten knows of this.”

FINNERTY stepped into his room, and returning placed a couple of rupees in the ready palm of the Banjara, saying: “Your brother has been beaten because of us, so give him this.”

The Lumbani rolled the silver in the fold of his loin cloth, and, indicating Swinton with his staff, said: “The sahib should not go at night to the hill, neither here nor there”—he swept an arm in the direction of the palace—“for sometimes that evil leopard is abroad at night.” Finnerty laughed.

The Banjara scowled: “As to that, the black leopard has had neither food nor water to-day, and if the sahibs sit up over the pool in Jadoo Nala they may see him drink.”

“We’d see a jungle pig coming out of the fields, or a muntjac deer with his silly little bark perhaps,” Finnerty commented in quiet tolerance.

“Such do drink at the pool, but of those I am not speaking. The young man being not with you to disarrange matters, you might happen upon something of interest. sahib,” the Banjara declared dog-

“We are not men to chase a phantom— to go and sit at Jadoo Pool because a herdsman has fallen asleep on the bacK of a buffalo and had a dream.”

“Who meet there?”

Behind a faint smile the Lumbani digested this. “V e r y well, sahib,” he exclaimed presently, with definite determination; “I will speak. When my brother was beaten the dust was shaken from his cars and he har heard. Beside the big gate Darna Singh and his sister, the princess, talked to-day, and the speech was of those who would meet in secret at the pool to-night.”

“The rajah’s name was spoken, sahib.” “How knew Darna Singh this?”

“There be always teeth that can be opened with a silver coin. Now,” and the Lumbani gathered up his black blanket, throwing it over his shoulder, “I go to my herd, for there is a she-buffalo heavyin calf and to-night might increase the number of my stock.”

“Have patience, Lumbani,” Finnerty commanded, and as the Banjara turned to stand in waiting he added to Swinton: “What do you think, captain—we might learn something? But there’s Lord Victor; he’ll expect you home.”

“I’ll drop him a note saying we're going to sit up over the Jadoo Pool and to not worry if I don’t get home to-night.” Finnerty brought pencil and paper, and when the note was written handed it to the Banjara, saying: “For the young

sahib at the bungalow, and if he receives it to-morrow you will be paid eight annas.”

The herdsman put the note in his loin cloth and strode away. At the turn where Swinton had been thrown from his dogcart he dropped the note over the cliff, explaining to the sky his reasons: “A

hunt is spoiled by too many hunters. It is not well that the young sahib reads that they go to Jadoo Pool—it was not so meant of the gods—and as to the service I have eaten no salt of the sahib’s, having not yet been paid.”

The old chap was naturally sure that Swinton had written in the note that the young sahib was to join them at the pool.

As he plodded downhill he formulated his excuse for non-delivery of the note. It w-ould be that the she-buffalo had demanded his immediate care, and in all the worry and work it had been forgotten and then lost. It was well to have a fair excuse to tender a sahib who put Punjabi wrestlers on their backs.


A FTER the Banjara had gone, Finnerty ■f* said: “That’s the gentle Hindu for

you—mixes his mythology and data; he’s found out something, I believe, and worked his fancy for the melodrama of • - ' ^ick leopard stalking abroad at

“I'm here to follow up any possible clew that may lead to the discovery of anything.” Swinton observed.

“Besides,” the major added, “I meant to take you for a sit up over that pool some night; many an interesting hour I’ve spent sitting in a machan over a pool watching jungle dwellers. There’s a salt lick in Jadoo Nala, and even bison, shy as they are, have been known to come down out of the big sal forest to that pool. Nobody shoots over it, so that entices the animals; but Prince Ananda has a roomy machan there with an electric light in it.

I suppose one of his German chaps put it in, for he has an electric lighting plant under the palace, also an ice-making machine. We’d better get a couple of guns fixed up in the way of defence, for it will be dark in an hour or so.”

He went to his room and returned with a gun in each hand, saying: “Fine-

sighted rifles will be little use; here’s a double-barrelled 12-bore Paradox, with some ball cartridges. We won’t be able to see anything beyond twenty yards, and she’ll shoot true for that distance; I’ll take this 10-bore. Now we’ll go over into the jungle and get some night sights.” Wonderingly Swinton accompanied Finnerty, and just beyond the compound they came to a halt beneath a drooping palm, from a graceful branch of which a long, pear-shaped nest swung gently

back and forth in the evening breeze. “This is the nest of the baya, the weaver bird; it’s a beautiful bit of architecture,” Finnerty said as he tapped with gentle fingers on the tailored nest.

A fluttering rustle within, followed by the swooping flight of a bird, explained his motive. “I didn’t want the little cuss to beat her eggs to pieces in fright when I put my hand in.” he added softly as he thrust two fingers up the tunnel-like entrance to the nest, drawing them forth with a little lump of soft clay between their tips in which was embedded a glowworm. “That will make a most excellent night sight,” the major explained; “there should be two or three more in there.”

“What is the idea of this most extraordinarily clever thing?” Swinton asked.

“It may be food in cold storage, but the natives say it’s a matter of lighting up the house. At any rate, I’ve always found these glowworms alive and ready to flash their little electric bulb.”

As he gathered two more nature incandescents Finnerty indicated the beauty of the nest. The insects were placed in the hall, or tunnel entrance, and above this, to one side, like a nursery, was the breeding nest, the whole structure being hung by a network of long grass and slender roots from the branch of the palm.

“Tremendously wise are nature’s children!” Swinton contributed.

“Generally,” Finnerty answered thoughtfully.

rPHEY were at the bungalow now, and A saying that he and Swinton must have a day some time among the birds Finnerty adjusted che night sights. With a slim rubber band he fastened a match across the double barrels at the front sight and beneath this placed a glowworm.

As Finnerty and Swinton went by jungle path up the hill, the oncoming r.ight was draping the forest with heavy gloom.

“We’ll get within sight of the palace by this path,” the major advised, “and then we’ll skirt around the Lake of the Golden Coin to see if there are indications of things unusual.”

When they came out on the plateau they were on the road that wound about the palace outside of the garden wall, and as they passed the teakwood gate it looked forbiddingly sombre outlined against the palace light. Swinton shuddered, and through his mind flashed a curious thought of how so much treacherous savagery could exist in the mind of a man capable of soft-cultured speech, and who was of a pleasing grace of physical beauty.

They circled the Lake of the Golden Coin till they faced the marble bridge; here they stood in the shadow of a mango thicket. The moon, now climbing to shoot its rays through the feathery tops of the sal trees, picked out the palace in bluegray tones, the absence of lights, the pillared architecture, giving it the suggestion of a vast mausoleum.

Finnerty placed his hand on Swinton‘s arm, the clasp suggesting he was to listen. Straining his ear, he heard the measured military tramp of men; then their forms loomed grotesquely in the struggling moonlight as they crossed the marble bridge coming from the palace; even in that uncertain light the military erectness of the figures, the heavy, measured tramp told Swinton they were Prussians. Finnerty and the captain hurried away, and as they passed around the lake end to the road a figure, or perhaps two, indefinite, floated across a patch of moonlight like a drift of smoke.

The major spread his nostrils. “Attar of rose! Did you get it, Swinton?” “Think I did.”

“There’s only one woman on this hill whose clothes are so saturated with at-

“Ananda’s princess? What would she be doing out here at night?”

As they moved along, Finnerty chuckled: “What are we doing up here? What were the Prussians doing in the prince’s palace? What is Marie doing here in Darpore? I tell you, captain, I wouldn’t give much for that girl’s chances if the princess thinks she’s a rival. The princess comes from a Rajput family that never stopped at means to an end.”

“It would suggest that there is really something on to-night. Doesn’t Boelke’s bungalow lie up in that direction?”

“Yes; and I think it was two women who passed; probably it was Marie’s maid whom the Banjara referred to when he said there were always teeth that could be opened with a silver coin. Prince Ananda has not been seen much with the girl, but the princess may have discovered that he r-’eets her at the pool. It would be a safe trysting place so far as chance discovery is concerned, for natives never travel that path at night; they believe that a phantom leopard lives in the cave from which the salt stream issues. This is the way,” he added, turning to the left along a path that dipped down in gentle gradient to the beginning of Jadoo Nala, which in turn led on to a valley that reached the great plain.

ALONG this valley lay a trail,, stretching from the forest-covered hills to the plains, that had been worn by the feet of great jungle creatures—bison, tiger, even elephants, in their migratory trips, Finnerty told Swinton, and sometimes they wandered up Jadoo Nala for a lick at the salt, knowing that they were never disturbed.

There was some bitterness in the major’s low-pitched voice as he said: “Jadoo Pool would be an ideal spot for pothunters who come out here to kill big game and sit up in an machan over a drinking place to blaze away at bison or tiger, generally only wounding the animal in the bad night light; if it’s a tiger he goes off into the jungle, and, crazed by the pain of a festering sore, will kill on sight, and finally, his strength and speed reduced by the weakening wound, will turn to killing the easiest kind of game—man; becomes a man-eater. I once shot a rogue elephant that had killed a dozen people, and found that the cause of his madness was a maggot-filled hole in his skull that had been made by a ball from an 8-bore in the hands of a juvenile civil servant, fired at

Finnerty’s monologue was cut short by the screeching bell of a deer. “A chital at the pool; something, perhaps a leopard, hunting his supper, has startled him,” he advised.

They moved forward softly, their feet scarce making a rustle on the smooth path, and as they came to the roots of a graceful pipal that stretched its lean arms out over the pool, from the opposite bank the startled cry of the deer again rent the brooding stillness as he bounded away, his little hoofs ringing on the stony hill.

A light bamboo ladder, strapped to the pipal, led to a machan that was hidden by a constructed wall of twigs and grass, through which were little openings that afforded a view of the pool.

As they reached the machan, Finnerty said : “As we are here to hear and see

only, I suppose that even if Pundit Bagh comes we let him go free, eh?”

“Yes; I really don’t want to kill anything while I’m in Darpore; that is, unless it’s necessary to take a pot shot at a Hun, and I have a feeling that we’re going to see something worth while—that Banjara is no fool.”

'T'HEN the two men settled back on the A springy, woven floor of the machan to a wait in the mysterious night of a tropical jungle. Stilled, the noise of their own movements hushed, the silence of the mighty forest was oppressive; it suggested vastness, a huge void, as though they sat in a gigantic cave, themselves the only living thing within.

Swinton found the drowsiness of the brooding jungle creeping into his frame; with difficulty he kept fi-om sleep. He knew enough of jungle watching to know that he dare not smoke; the telltale odor of burning tobacco would leave them indeed in their solitude. And there was the thought that something was to happen, some mysterious thing to eventuate; the Banjara had not sent them there to see deer drinking at the pool or even to feast their eyes on bigger game.

What was it? What was it? His head drooped toward his chest; dreamily he heard the soft rustle of something close; half consciously he raised his heavy lids to gaze into two big round orbs that blazed with ruby light. On the point of calling out, he saw a pair of white wings spread; there was an almost silent swoop, and that night hunter, the great horned owl, swept away. He felt the pressure of Finnerty’s elbow; it was a silent laugh.

For five minutes the unruffled pool mirrored the moon in placid silence; it lay beneath them like some jewel, a moonstone on a deep green cloth. Where the stream trickled in and out of ruts and holes left in the muddy shore by drinking animals the water gleamed like scattered pearls.

SUDDENLY there was a crash of breaking bamboos, followed by the heavy breathing of large animals and the shuffling of many feet. Then a herd of bison—two bulls, a few cows, and two calves—less cautious in their enormous strength, swept over the hill brow of the farther bank; there they checked and examined the pool. A big cow, followed by two others and the calves, clambered down to the water, and the scraping of their rough tongues against the crusted salt lick could be heard. One bull, his high wither with its massive hump and enormous head denoting his sex even in the transient, vibrating shimmers of moonlight the swaying branches wove into the heavy gloom, stood on guard, his big ears flapping from side to side to catch every sound of danger. The other bull, as if depending on the sentry, slid down the bank, took a hasty drink, and returned; then the cows, with their calves, went up from the water, and the herd melted like shadows into the gloomed sal forest.

Swinton was wide awake now; the majestic bison, the faithful bull on guard lest a tiger creep up on the calves was a sight worth an hour or two of vigil.

Finnerty’s head leaned toward Swinton as he whispered: “Gad! I wish I dared

smoke.” Then, with a smothered chuckle: “If I had turned on the elec-

tric it would have been a sight. I wonder if the current is on; we might need it if there’s a shindy.”

Like an echo of the major’s whisper a sound floated up from the heavy pall of

darkness that lay beneath the pipal; it might have been the sniff of a honey badger, the inquisitive, faint woof of a bear, or a muttered word. His hand resting on Swinton’s arm in a tense grip, Finerty strained his ears to define the curious sense he had that some one was stealthily moving beneath them. Once he put a hand on the top rung of the bamboo ladder; it vibrated as though some one leaned against it or had commenced to ascend. He slipped the butt of his 10-bore forward, ready for a handy, silent push of defence. But still, he thought, if it were Prince Ananda to meet somebody he would wait below. With a pang, Finnerty realized who the somebody that the prince must meet so secretly would be.

A LITTLE slipping sound as of a foot -‘A higher up on the path came to the listeners’ ears; there was the tinkle-clink of a pebble rolling to the stones below; the rustling push of a body passing from beneath the pipal and along the mud bank of the pool. Then Finnerty saw, for a second, an outlined figure where the moon fell upon the pearl-like cups of water; and the straight, athletic Rajput swing betrayed that it was Darna Singh. Then he was swallowed up in the shadow that lay heavy toward the cave.

A cicada started his shrill piping in a neighboring tree, awakening several of his kind, and the hissing hum, raspingly monotonous, filled their ears. Suddenly it was drowned by droning English words that came floating up from below, smothered to indistinctness.

“It is the prince,” Finnerty thought.

Then there were odd catches of a woman’s voice. Distinctly the major heard: “No, I cannot,” The man’s tones had a wavering drawl, as though he pleaded. More than once the word “love,” with a little fierce intonation, came to the listener. The woman had uttered words that, patched together out of their fragmentary hearing, told that she, or some one, would go away the next day.

A low, purring note carried to the machan from the cave mouth.

Turning his head cautiously, lest the machan creak, Finnerty, holding his eyes on the trickling stream where it splashed into light, dread in his heart, saw a shadow creep toward the pool, its progress marked by the blotting out of the pearllike spots of moonlit water; then the shadow was lost, and next he heard the pushing pad of velvet paws upon the leafcovered ground just beyond the pipal. Finnerty knew. Only a tiger or a leopard stalked like that. Now the approaching animal had stopped. There was no moving shadow, no faint rustle of leaves; the thing was eyeing the pool—looking for something to kill by its brink. Below, the voices still droned, their owners unconscious of the yellow cat eyes that perhaps even then watched them in desire.

To Finnerty came with full horror a memory of the Banjara’s words: “See

the black leopard drink at the pool to-

CILENTLY shifting his 10-bore till its 'A muzzle ranged the side along which the thing crept, he uncovered the glowworm, and a little speck of luminous light showed that it was still alive.

Swinton, who sat facing the other way, feeling that there was something stirring, drew his gun neross his knee.

A minute, two minutes—they seemed years to Finnerty—then he heard, deeper in the jungle, a bush swish as if it had

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Continued, from page 38

been pushed, and in relief he muttered: “The brute must have seen my movement and has gone away.”

For a full minute of dread suspense the silence held, save for the rasping cicada and a droning voice beneath; then, from beyond where those below stood, some noise came out of the gloom—it might have been a small branch falling or the scamper of a startled jungle rat. Holding his eyes on the spot, Finnerty saw two round balls of light gleam—-yellow green, as if tiny mirrors reflected the moonlight. They disappeared, then glowed again; they rose and fell. With a chill at his heart he knew that the beast, with devilish cunning, had circled, and now approached from the side farthest from the machan. Swinging his gun, with a prayer that the current was on, he turned the electric button; a splash of white light cut the jungle gloom, and where his eyes searched was outlined in strong relief, crouched for a spring, a Slack leopard. Turned up to the sudden glare, ghastly in the white light, was the face of Lord Victor; at his side, clutching his arm, with her eyes riveted on the leopard, stood Marie.

Values flashed through Finnerty’s mind with lightning speed. He had expected the jungle dweller to flee when the electric glare lit up the scene, but the leopard was unafraid; he even crept a pace closer to those below. His forepaws gripped nervously at the ground in a churning movement; his tail stiffened; but before he could rise in a flying tackle a stream of red light belched from Swinton’s gun; there was a coughing roar telling of a hit, and the leopard, turned by the shot, bounded into the jungle, his crashing progress growing fainter as he fled. Then darkness closed out the scene of almost tragedy, for Finnerty had turned the switch.

/~'\N the point of calling in assurance, AA Swinton was checked by the sudden death of the light; he understood the major’s motive.

The two sat still, while Finnerty, his grasp on Swinton’s shoulder, whispered into his ear: “The leopard is wounded;

he won’t turn now that he has started to run; let them get away without knowing who saw them, for they’re in no danger.”

There came the sound of feet going with stumbling speed up the path as Marie, dreading discovery more than the terrors

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