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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Adventures Of Kathlyn - Chapter 26. The Third Bar
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The Adventures Of Kathlyn - Chapter 26. The Third Bar Post by :JBowery Category :Long Stories Author :Harold Macgrath Date :May 2012 Read :1835

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The Adventures Of Kathlyn - Chapter 26. The Third Bar

CHAPTER XXVI. THE THIRD BAR

It was Ahmed's suggestion that they in turn should bury the filigree basket. He reasoned that if they attempted to proceed with it they would be followed and sooner or later set upon by Umballa and the men he had won away from the village chief. The poor fishermen were gold mad and at present not accountable for what they did or planned to do. He advanced that Umballa would have no difficulty in rousing them to the pitch of murder. Umballa would have at his beck and call no less than twenty men, armed and ruthless. Some seventy miles beyond was British territory and wherever there was British territory there were British soldiers. With them they would return, leaving the women in safety behind.

"The commissioner there will object," said the colonel.

"No, Sahib," replied Ahmed. "The Mem-sahib has every right in the world to this treasure. You possess the documents to prove it, and nothing more would be necessary to the commissioner."

"But, Ahmed," interposed Bruce, "we are none of us British subjects."

"What difference will that make, Sahib?"

"Quite enough. England is not in the habit of protecting anybody but her own subjects. We should probably be held up till everything was verified at Allaha; and the priests there would not hesitate to charge us with forgery and heaven knows what else. Let us bury the basket, by all means, return for it and carry it away piecemeal. To carry it away as it is, in bulk, would be courting suicide."

Ahmed scratched his chin. Trust a white man for logic.

"And, besides," went on Bruce, "the news would go all over the Orient and the thugs would come like flies scenting honey. No; this must be kept secret if we care to get away with it. It can not be worth less than a million. And I've known white men who would cut our throats for a handful of rupees."

For the first time since the expedition started out the colonel became normal, a man of action, cool in the head, and foresighted.

"Ahmed, spread out the men around the camp," he ordered briskly. "Instruct them to shoot over the head of any one who approaches; this the first time. The second time, to kill. Bruce has the right idea; so let us get busy. Over there, where that boulder is. The ground will be damp and soft under it, and when we roll it back there will be no sign of its having been disturbed. I used to cache ammunition that way. Give me that spade."

It was good to Kathlyn's ears to hear her father talk like this.

At a depth of three feet the basket was lowered, covered and the boulder rolled into place. After that the colonel stooped and combed the turf where the boulder had temporarily rested. He showed his woodcraft there. It would take a keener eye than Umballa possessed to note any disturbance. The safety of the treasure ultimately, however, depended upon the loyalty of the keepers under Ahmed. They had been with the colonel for years; yet . . . The colonel shrugged. He had to trust them; that was all there was to the matter.

A sentinel came rushing up--one of the keepers.

"Something is stampeding the elephants!" he cried.

Ahmed and the men with him rushed off. In Ahmed's opinion, considering what lay before them, elephants were more important than colored stones and yellow metal. Without the elephants they would indeed find themselves in sore straits.

"Let us move away from here," advised Bruce, picking up the implements and shouldering them. He walked several yards away, tossed shovel and pick into the bushes, tore at the turf and stamped on it, giving it every appearance of having been disturbed. The colonel nodded approvingly. It was a good point and he had overlooked it.

They returned hastily to camp, which was about two hundred yards beyond the boulder. Kathlyn entered her tent to change her clothes, ragged, soiled and burned. The odor of wet burned cloth is never agreeable. And she needed dry shoes, even if there was but an hour or two before bedtime.

Only one elephant had succeeded in bolting. In some manner he had loosed his peg; but what had started him on the run they never learned. The other elephants were swaying uneasily; but their pegs were deep and their chains stout. Ahmed and the keepers went after the truant on foot.

The noise of the chase died away. Bruce was lighting his pipe. The colonel was examining by the firelight a few emeralds which he had taken from the basket. Ramabai was pleasantly gazing at his wife. Kathlyn and Winnie were emerging from the tent, when a yell greeted their astonished ears. The camp was surrounded. From one side came Umballa, from the other came the mutineers. Kathlyn and Winnie flew to their father's side. In between came Umballa, with Bruce and Ramabai and Pundita effectually separated. Umballa and his men closed in upon the colonel and his daughters. Treasure and revenge!

Bruce made a furious effort to join Kathlyn, but the numbers against him were too many. It was all done so suddenly and effectually, and all due to their own carelessness.

"Kit," said her father, "our only chance is to refuse to discover to Umballa where we have hidden the basket. Winnie, if you open your lips it will be death--yours, Kit's, mine. To have been careless like this! Oh, Kit, on my honor, if Umballa would undertake to convoy us to the seaport I'd gladly give him all the treasure and all the money I have of my own. But we know him too well. He will torture us all."

"I have gone through much; I can go through more," calmly replied Kathlyn. "But I shall never wear a precious stone again, if I live. I abhor them!"

"I am my father's daughter," said Winnie.

"Put the howdahs on the two elephants," Umballa ordered.

The men obeyed clumsily, being fishermen by occupation and mahouts by compulsion.

Kathlyn tried in vain to see where they were taking Bruce and the others. Some day, if she lived, she was going to devote a whole day to weeping, for she never had time to in this land. The thought caused her to smile, despite her despair.

When the elephants were properly saddled with the howdahs Umballa gave his attention to the prisoners. He hailed them jovially. They were old friends. What could he do for them?

"Conduct us to the seaport," said the colonel, "and on my word of honor I will tell you where we have hidden the treasure."

"Ho!" jeered Umballa, arms akimbo, "I'd be a fool to put my head into such a trap. I love you too well. Yet I am not wholly without heart. Tell me where it lies and I will let you go."

"Cut our throats at once, you beast, for none of us will tell you under any conditions save those I have named. Men," the colonel continued, "this man is an ingrate, a thief and a murderer. He has promised you much gold for your part in this. But in the end he will cheat you and destroy you."

Umballa laughed. "They have already had their earnest. Soon they will have more. But talk with them--plead, urge, promise. No more questions? Well, then, listen. Reveal to me the treasure and you may go free. If you refuse I shall take you back to Allaha--not publicly, but secretly--there to inflict what punishments I see fit."

"I have nothing more to say," replied the colonel.

"No? And thou, white goddess?"

Kathlyn stared over his head, her face expressionless. It stirred him more than outspoken contempt would have done.

"And you, pretty one?" Umballa eyed Winnie speculatively.

Winnie drew closer to her sister, that was all.

"So be it. Allaha it shall be, without a meddling Ramabai; back to the gurus who love you so!" He dropped his banter. "You call me a murderer. I admit it. I have killed the man who was always throwing his benefits into my face, who brought me up not as a companion but as a plaything. He is dead. I slew him. After the first, what are two or three more crimes of this order?" He snapped his fingers. "I want that treasure, and you will tell me where it is before I am done with you. You will tell me on your knees, gladly, gladly! Now, men! There is a long journey before us."

The colonel, Kathlyn and Winnie were forced into one howdah, while Umballa mounted the other. As for the quasi-mahouts, they were not particularly happy behind the ears of the elephants, who, with that keen appreciation of their herd, understood instinctively that they had to do with novices. But for the promise of gold that dangled before their eyes, threats of violent death could not have forced them upon the elephants.

They started east, and the jungle closed in behind them.

As for Umballa, he cared not what became of the other prisoners.

They were being held captive in one of the village huts. The chief had pleaded in vain. He was dishonored, for they had made him break his word to the white people. So be it. Sooner or later the glitter of gold would leave their eyes and they would come to him and beg for pardon.

Moonlight. The village slept. Two fishermen sat before the hut confining the prisoners, on guard. An elephant squealed in the distance. Out of the shadow a sleek leopard, then another. The guards jumped to their feet and scrambled away for dear life to the nearest hut, crying the alarm. Bruce opened the door, which had no lock, and peered forth. It was natural that the leopards should give their immediate attention to the two men in flight. Bruce, realizing what had happened, called softly to Ramabai and Pundita; and the three of them stole out into the night, toward the camp. Bruce did not expect to find any one there. What he wanted was to arm himself and to examine the boulder.

Meantime, Ahmed returned with the truant elephant to find nothing but disorder and evidence of a struggle. A tent was overturned, the long grass trampled, and the colonel's sola-topee hat lay crumpled near Kathlyn's tent.

"Ai, ai!" he wailed. But, being a philosopher, his wailing was of short duration. He ran to the boulder and examined it carefully. It had not been touched. That was well. At least that meant that his Sahib and Mem-sahib lived. Treasure! He spat out a curse . . . and threw his rifle to his shoulder. But his rage turned to joy as he discovered who the arrivals were.

"Bruce Sahib!"

"Yes, Ahmed. Umballa got the best of us. We were tricked by the truant elephant. He has taken Kathlyn back toward Allaha."

"And so shall we return!"

Ahmed called his weary men. His idea was to fill the elephant saddle-bags with gold and stones, leave it in trust with Bala Khan, who should in truth this time take his tulwar down from the wall. He divided his men, one company to guard and the other to labor. It took half an hour to push back the boulder and dig up the basket. After this was done Bruce and Ramabai and Ahmed the indefatigable carried the gold and precious stones to the especially made saddle-bags. All told, it took fully an hour to complete the work.

With water and food, and well armed, they began the journey back to Allaha, a formidable cortege and in no tender mood. They proceeded in forced marches, snatching what sleep they could during the preparation of the meals.

Many a time the impulse came to Bruce to pluck the shining metal and sparkling stones from the saddle-bags and toss them out into the jungle, to be lost till the crack of doom. There were also moments when he felt nothing but hatred toward the father of the girl he loved. For these trinkets Kathlyn had gone through tortures as frightful almost as those in the days of the Inquisition. Upon one thing he and Ahmed had agreed, despite Ramabai's wild protest; they would leave the treasure with Bala Khan and follow his army to the walls of Allaha. If harm befell any of their loved ones not one stone should remain upon another. And Bruce declared that he would seek Umballa to the ends of the earth for the infinite pleasure of taking his black throat in his two hands and squeezing the life out of it.

Eventually and without mishap they came to the walled city of the desert, Bala Khan's stronghold. Bala Khan of necessity was always ready, always prepared. Before night of the day of their arrival an army was gathered within the city.

Ramabai sat in his howdah, sad and dispirited.

"Bala Khan, we have been friends, and my father was your good friend."

"It is true."

"Will you do a favor for the son?"

"Yes. If the Colonel Sahib and his daughter live, ask what you will."

Ramabai bowed.

"I will set my camp five miles beyond your walls and wait. When I see the Mem-sahib I will salaam, turn right about face, and go home. Now, to you, Bruce Sahib: Leave not your treasure within my walls when I shall be absent, for I can not guarantee protection. Leave it where it is and bring it with you. Save myself, no one of my men knows what your saddle-bags contain. Let us proceed upon our junket--or our war!"

* * * * * *

Umballa reached the ancient gate of Allaha at the same time Bruce stopped before the walls of Bala Khan's city. He determined to wring the secret from either the colonel or his daughter, return for the treasure and depart for Egypt down the Persian Gulf.

He made a wide detour and came out at the rear of his house. No one was in sight. He dismounted and entered, found three or four of his whilom slaves, who, when he revealed his identity, felt the old terror and fear of the man. His prisoners were brought in. A slave took the elephants to the stables. He wanted to run away and declare Umballa's presence, but fear was too strong.

Ironically Umballa bade the fishermen to enter to eat and drink what they liked. Later he found them in a drunken stupor in the kitchen. That was where they belonged.

He ordered his prisoners to be brought into the Court of Death and left there.

"You see?" said Umballa. "Now, where have you hidden the treasure?"

Kathlyn walked over to one of the cages and peered into it. A sleek tiger trotted up to the bar; and purred and invited her to scratch his head.

"I am not answered," said Umballa.

A click resounded from the four sides, and a bar disappeared from each of the cages.

"That will be all for the present," said Umballa. "Food and water you will not require. To-morrow morning another bar will be removed."

And he left them.

Early the next morning the town began to seethe in the squares. Bala Khan's army lay encamped outside the city!

When Bruce, Ramabai, Pundita and Ahmed halted their elephants before the temple they were greeted by the now terrified priests who begged to be informed what Bala Khan proposed to do.

"Deliver to us the Mem-sahib."

The priests swore by all their gods that they knew nothing of her.

"Let us enter the temple," said Ramabai. "Ahmed, bring the treasure and leave it in the care of the priests." A few moments later Ramabai addressed the assemblage. "Bala Khan is hostile, but only for the sake of his friends. He lays down this law, however--obey it or disobey it. The Colonel Sahib and his daughters are to go free, to do what they please with the treasure. Pundita, according to the will of the late king, shall be crowned."

The high priest held up his hand for silence. "We obey, on one condition--that the new queen shall in no manner interfere with her old religion nor attempt to force her new religion into the temple."

To this Pundita agreed.

"Ramabai, soldiers! To the house of Umballa! We shall find him there," cried Ahmed.

Umballa squatted upon his cushions on the terrace. The second bar had been removed. The beasts were pressing their wet nozzles to the openings and growling deep challenges.

"Once more, and for the last time, will you reveal the hiding-place of the treasure?"

Not a word from the prisoners.

"The third bar!"

But it did not stir.

"The third bar; remove it!"

The slave who had charge of the mechanism which operated the bars refused to act.

The events which followed were of breathless rapidity. Ramabai and Umballa met upon the parapet in a struggle which promised death or the treadmill to the weaker. At the same time Bruce opened the door to the Court of Death as the final bar dropped in the cage. At the sight of him the colonel and his daughters rushed to the door. Roughly he hurled them outside, slamming the iron door, upon which the infuriated tigers flung themselves.

* * * * * *

The young newspaper man to whom Winnie was engaged and the grizzled Ahmed sat on the steps of the bungalow in California one pleasant afternoon. The pipe was cold in the hand of the reporter and Ahmed's cigar was dead, which always happens when one recounts an exciting tale and another listens. Among the flower beds beyond two young women wandered, followed by a young man in pongee, a Panama set carelessly upon his handsome head, his face brown, his build slender but round and muscular.

"And that, Sahib, is the story," sighed Ahmed.

"And Kathlyn gave the treasures to the poor of Allaha? That was fine."

"You have said."

"They should have hanged this Umballa."

"No, Sahib. Death is grateful. It is not a punishment; it is peace. But Durga Ram, called Umballa, will spend the remainder of his days in the treadmill, which is a concrete hell, not abstract."

"Do you think England will ever step in?"

"Perhaps. But so long as Pundita rules justly, so long as her consort abets her, England will not move. Perhaps, if one of them dies. . . . There! the maids are calling you. And I will go and brew the Colonel Sahib's tea."


(THE END)
Harold MacGrath's Book: Adventures of Kathlyn

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