JACK HAYDON'S QUEST
CONTAINING EIGHT FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR FROM DRAWINGS BY J. JELLICOE
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
LONDON: ADAM AND CHARLES BLACK
* * * * *
I. THE ATTACK ON THE HEATH,
II. A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE,
III. THE BIG RUBY,
IV. BUCK SEES LIGHT,
V. THE SPY,
VI. IN RANGOON,
VII. UP THE RIVER,
VIII. THE ATTACK ON THE SAMPAN,
IX. A CLOSE CALL,
X. THE DACOITS,
XII. A FIGHT FOR LIFE,
XIII. A CUNNING TRICK,
XIV. JACK'S PLAN,
XV. IN THE JUNGLE,
XVI. THE BRIDGE AND THE FORD,
XVII. A FRIGHTFUL PERIL,
XVIII. THE COMBAT IN THE RIVER,
XIX. THE VILLAGE FESTIVAL,
XX. THE DANCING GIRL,
XXI. JACK FINDS HIMSELF IN BAD HANDS,
XXII. THE TWO ELEPHANTS,
XXIII. THE PANTHAY WOOD-CUTTERS,
XXIV. AN UNWELCOME MEETING,
XXV. THE CAVE IN THE RAVINE,
XXVI. THE RESOLVE OF BUCK AND JIM,
XXVII. THE FIGHT IN THE TUNNEL,
XXVIII. THE RUSE OF SAYA CHONE,
XXIX. THE TORTURE BY FIRE,
XXX. THE STRONGHOLD OF THE RUBY KING,
XXXI. FATHER AND SON,
XXXII. THE HORROR IN THE SWAMP,
XXXIII. THE POTHOODAW,
XXXIV. THE HIDING-PLACE AND THE THIEF,
XXXV. THE FLIGHT FROM THE VALLEY,
XXXVI. PENNED IN THE PASS,
XXXVII. HOW THEY MADE A ROPE,
XXXVIII. IN THE DESERTED CITY,
XXXIX. THE SECRET CHAMBER,
XL. THE BATTLE ON THE STAIRS,
XLI. THE SECRET PASSAGE,
XLII. IN THE COURTYARD,
XLIII. THE FACE AT THE DOORWAY,
XLIV. HOW THINGS ENDED,
* * * * *
IN RANGOON, Frontispiece
THE ATTACK ON THE MONASTERY,
THE DANGER AT THE FORD,
THE DANCING GIRL,
A SUDDEN ALARM,
THE RESCUE OF THE NATIVE CHILD,
THE MIDNIGHT THIEF,
THE INTERCEPTED FLIGHT,
* * * * *
JACK HAYDON'S QUEST.
THE ATTACK ON THE HEATH.
Jack Haydon, prefect of Rushmere School and captain of the first fifteen, walked swiftly out of the school gates and turned along the high road. He had leave to go to the little town of Longhampton, three miles away, to visit a day-scholar, a great friend of his, now on the sick list.
He was alone, and he swung along at a cracking pace, for he could walk as well as he could run, and a finer three-quarter had never been known at Rushmere. He was a tall, powerful lad, nearly nineteen years of age, five foot ten and a half inches in his stockings, and turning the scale at twelve stone five. At the present moment he carried not an ounce of spare flesh, for he was in training for the great match, Rushmere v. Repton, and his weight was compact of solid bone, muscle, and sinew. As he stepped along the highway, moving with the easy grace of a well-built athlete, he looked the very picture of a handsome English lad, at one of the finest moments of his life, the point where youth and manhood meet.
The road he followed was called a high road, but the name clung to it from old use rather than because of present service. Eighty years before it had been a famous coaching road, along which the galloping teams had whirled the mails, but now it had fallen into decay, and was little used except by people passing from Rushmere to Longhampton. A mile from the school it ran across a lonely, unenclosed piece of heath, the side of the way being bordered by clumps of holly, thorn, and furze.
Halfway across this desolate stretch of country, Jack was surprised by seeing a man step from behind a thick holly bush and place himself directly in the lad's way. As Jack approached, the man held up his hand.
"Stop," he said, "I want to speak to you."
Jack stopped in sheer surprise, and looked at the speaker in wonder. What could the man want with him? At a glance he saw the man was not English, though upon closer examination he could not place the type. The stranger's skin was darker than an Englishman's, but not darker than many a Spaniard's. His eyes were large and black and liquid; their look was now crafty and a trifle menacing; his hair was lank and intensely black. In build he was very slight, with thin arms and legs. Jack's idea was that if he had been a little darker he might very well have been a Hindoo.
"And what, my friend, may you want with me?" said Jack genially.
"This morning you received a letter from your father," said the dusky stranger.
"How under the sun do you know that?" asked Jack; "and what if I did? I don't see where your interest comes in."
"I wish to see that letter. You had better hand it over at once."
"Don't you ever apply for a further stock of cheek, my little man," said Jack, "for you've got all you need, and a little bit over."
"The letter is almost certainly in your pocket," said the stranger in perfect English, yet pronounced with a curiously odd lisp and click, "and I must see it."
"It's in my pocket all right, confound your cheek," replied Jack, "and there it will stay. Come, get a move on you, and clear out of my way."
"I shall not get out of your way," said the other. "I shall stop you until I have read the letter."
"I don't know what lunatic asylum is short of your cheerful presence to-day," remarked Jack, "and if you don't clear out quick I shall certainly rush you. In which case, I beg you to observe that I am, even if I say it myself, a pretty stiff tackler, and about three stone heavier than you."
The man laughed mockingly and waved his hand, as if making very light of Jack's purpose.
"I assure you," he said in a soft voice, and giving once more his laugh of light mockery, "that it would be much better for you to hand over the letter at once. I do not wish to hurt you, but I have not the least objection to do so if it becomes necessary."
Jack's warm blood was fired at once, and he pulled himself together for a swift charge which would fill this stranger with surprised regret for what he had brought upon himself. But, for a second, something checked him; a strange, mysterious feeling came over him as he wondered what lay behind all this. He stood, though he knew it not, at a great parting of the ways. Behind him lay his happy days of triumph on the football meadow and the cricket field. How was he to know that this dark, slight figure before him meant that a strange, new life was opening out to him, a life of wild adventures in far-off lands, in lands where the memory of English meadows would seem like thoughts and dreams of another life. Jack Haydon knew nothing of this; yet he paused for a moment as some strange prevision seized upon him and held him in its grip. Then he brushed away this odd influence, and was back at once in the present.
"For the last time, clear out," said Jack. The man laughed, and Jack made a swift leap at him. They were not three yards apart, but Jack never reached his man. Without a sign, without a sound, someone sprang upon him from behind, flung a cord over his head, and seized him in a strangling grip. Jack was as strong as a young bull, but in this awful, noiseless clutch he was helpless. He fought madly to throw off his unseen assailant, but he fought in vain. He felt a noose close upon his throat, and his eyeballs began to start out and his head to swim. In front of him stood the mysterious stranger, who had moved neither hand nor foot, and Jack's last conscious recollection was of the quiet, smiling face, and the mocking laugh once more rang in his ears. Suddenly the frightful, strangling clutch seemed to tighten, the blood drummed madly in his ears as if every vein was bursting; then he knew no more.
When Jack Haydon came to himself, he found that he was in the same spot, and that someone was chafing his hands and pouring water on his face. He gave a deep sigh, and a well-known voice said: "Thank God, Haydon's coming round. Whatever could have been the matter with the poor lad? What does this mark round his throat mean?"
Jack opened his eyes and saw Dr. Lawrence, the headmaster of Rushmere School, bending over him. Near at hand stood Colonel Keppel, a gentleman residing in the neighbourhood. The Colonel had been driving Dr. Lawrence back from Longhampton, and his trap stood close by. At the present moment the Colonel held a hat from which water was dripping. He had fetched it from a pool near at hand.
Jack gulped once or twice, then began to speak. The two gentlemen heard his story with the utmost surprise.
"Garrotters!" cried Dr. Lawrence, "I never heard of such an outrage in this neighbourhood before. What a frightful thing! Yes, yes, that explains the mark on your throat. Their object must have been robbery. What have they stolen from you, Haydon?" But the mystery now deepened. Jack's watch and chain, his purse, everything he had worth stealing, were perfectly safe and untouched. Suddenly Jack started up and thrust his hand into his pocket. "The letter! the letter!" he cried. He drew out several letters and looked over them. "My father's letter has gone!" he said.
"What's that?" said Colonel Keppel, pointing to a sheet of paper fluttering over the heath about thirty yards away. He ran and fetched it. "This is the letter," said Jack, "the letter I received from my father this morning."
"But what an extraordinary thing that you should be attacked in this manner, Haydon, in order that this man may read a private letter. Is there anything in it, may I ask, to explain such a strange proceeding?"
"Nothing, sir, that I know of; nothing in the least. My father says nothing there but what anyone may see. I beg that you and Colonel Keppel will glance over it; you will then see how ordinary it is."
The two gentlemen demurred, but Jack insisted, and they ran their eyes over what Mr. Haydon had written. "Purely and simply an ordinary letter from a father abroad to his son," said the Doctor; "it seems madness to go to such lengths to gain a glimpse of such a letter."
"All the same, young Haydon was quite right in not giving up his father's note to such rogues to read, whatever their purpose may have been," remarked the Colonel.
"Oh, quite so, quite so," agreed Dr. Lawrence. "They had no right whatever to see his private correspondence. By the way, Haydon, I see your father is on his way home. This is posted at Cairo. In what part of the East has he been staying lately?"
"He has been in Burmah for some time, sir," replied Jack, "but I do not know exactly what he has been doing. I rather fancy he went out to survey some ruby-mines for a big London firm."
"Quite so," said the Doctor, "I have seen him referred to many times as a famous ruby expert."
At this moment Colonel Keppel came towards them with something in his hand. He had started away after concluding his last speech, and had gone in the direction where he had seen the letter fluttering. Now he was returning.
"Here is something they dropped, something which throws a flood of light on the affair in one way, and makes it much stranger in another," he remarked in a grave voice, holding up his find. It was a curiously-plaited thong of raw hide, with faded strips of silk worked into the plaits.
"The cord with which Haydon was garrotted!" cried Dr. Lawrence. "They dropped it."
"Yes," said the Colonel slowly, "but this does not mean common garrotters. The fact that they stole nothing really disposes of that. This means a much darker and more terrible business."
"And what is that?" cried the headmaster.
"Thuggee," said Colonel Keppel very gravely.
"Thugs, Colonel!" said Dr. Lawrence in a tone of stupefaction. "Are you serious? Thugs on the heath here, in our quiet, familiar country?"
"This is a Thug noose, at any rate," said Colonel Keppel. "I know it very well. I served twenty-seven years among the hill-tribes of northern India in one capacity and another, and once I served in a Thug country, and I shall never forget it. The way young Haydon was handled suggests Thuggee. No common garrotter could have overcome such a fine, powerful young fellow in that fashion. But the skill of these Thugs is a thing truly diabolical. I remember one instance well. One night, just upon dusk, two men of my regiment were entering the gate of the cantonments. The guard saw them pass, and one was relating a story to the other. The man telling the story expected his comrade to laugh at the conclusion of the anecdote. Hearing nothing, he turned and found that he was walking alone and talking to the empty air. Thinking his comrade had slipped aside and played a trick upon him by leaving him to himself, he went on to the barrack-room. Later the second man was missing, and inquiries were made. A search followed, and the dead body of the unfortunate man was found under the wall of the cantonments. He had been seized and strangled by Thugs when actually walking beside a comrade, and the latter had known nothing of it.
"That shows frightful skill and cunning, Colonel," said Dr. Lawrence.
"It does indeed," said the other, "and I could relate a dozen such stories. But why Thugs should be here and attack Haydon seems a most extraordinary mystery. How do you feel now, Haydon?"
"Much better, sir," replied Jack. "My throat's a bit stiff, but for the rest I am none the worse."
"You've had a wonderful escape, my boy," said Colonel Keppel; "there are not many who have felt a Thug noose and lived to say what it was like. But now, Doctor, what are we to do? There must be some inquiry made into this."
"Of course, of course," agreed Dr. Lawrence. "You are a magistrate, Colonel; what do you recommend?"
"We must put it into the hands of the police at once," said Colonel Keppel. "The fellows cannot have got far. We saw no sign of them on the road, so they must have slipped away over the heath, very probably as soon as they heard the sound of wheels in the distance. Now, Haydon, jump up at the back of the trap. The cob will soon run us up to the constable's cottage in Rushmere."
All three climbed into the Colonel's dog-cart, and away went the brown cob at a slashing pace for Rushmere. Tom Buck, the Rushmere constable, was just returning from a round, and he touched his hat respectfully to the gentlemen. Colonel Keppel told the story, and Buck slapped the gate-post with his open hand.
"Well, gentlemen," he said in surprise, "then they are the very men I've just been hearing about."
"What's that?" said Colonel Keppel. "Where have you heard of them?"
"From Parsons, the postman, he drives the mail-cart, you know, sir, from Longhampton. This morning, just after six, he was coming through the Chase, the wood beyond the heath, when two men slipped out o' the trees before him and made a dash at the horse's head. There was hardly light enough to see 'em, an' they'd ha' stopped him as easy as could be if he hadn't been drivin' a young, fresh, chestnut mare. She's that wild he daren't use a whip to her, but seein' these suspicious characters, he snatches the whip out and gives her a cut as hard as he could lay it on. Off she went like a shot, took the bit between her teeth and bolted. As for the men jumpin' at her head, it was all they could do to save themselves from being run down and trodden underfoot. Parsons luckily managed to keep her on the road, and after she'd galloped a couple o' miles or so, he managed to pull her in all of a lather."
"Then those rascals meant to raid the mail-bags to find your letter, Haydon," said Colonel Keppel. "They seem to have been thoroughly posted as to its time of arrival. Missing the postman, they hung about, and a strange chance delivered you into their hands."
"It's certainly a most mysterious business, sir," replied Jack. "But why they should want to see so simple and ordinary a letter, who they are, and what they're after, are altogether beyond me."
"We must try to get hold of them," said Colonel Keppel, "then we shall perhaps be able to fathom the mystery." He gave orders to Buck, who went off at once to follow, if possible, the track of the strangers across the heath, to inquire at cottages, and do his utmost to trace them.
"For my part," said Colonel Keppel, "I shall drive back at once to Longhampton, and see the superintendent. The railway must be watched, and every constable for miles round be warned by telegraph to keep a look out for the rascals."
"You are very kind to take so much trouble, Colonel," said Dr. Lawrence.
"I'm working for myself as much as anyone," laughed the other. "My wife and daughters use that road continually, and very often they are driving alone in a pony-carriage. It is imperative that the neighbourhood be cleared of such desperate characters."
He drove away at once, and Dr. Lawrence and Jack walked up the hill to the school. Jack had given up the idea of his visit to Longhampton.
"If I were you, Haydon," said the Head, "I should go and rest a little. Sit down quietly in your study for an hour or two; you must feel badly shaken by your awful experience."
"Thank you, sir," replied Jack, "I will do as you say, though as a matter of fact I am practically recovered now. Luckily, I'm in first-rate condition, I'm not bothered with nerves."
"No," smiled Dr. Lawrence, "I suppose not. Still, I should be careful for a time if I were you."
At the Doctor's gate they parted, and Jack went to his own study and sat down. He could not keep his mind from his extraordinary adventure. Why had those fellows seized him, and what did they want? Would they be caught, and then would their secret be discovered? His mind worked over these points again and again, like a squirrel working the wheel in his cage.
A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.
Four days later Jack Haydon was in his study, his heels on the mantelpiece, his eyes fastened on the pages of a novel, when there was a tap at his door and a telegram was brought in. He broke open the envelope and read the contents in growing surprise and wonder. Then a look of uneasiness came into his eyes. It was a cablegram from Brindisi, and ran, "Come at once. Most urgent," and was signed "Risley." Jack went across to the Doctor's house, sent up his name, and was bidden to go up to the study. Here he laid the cablegram before the Head.
"Who is Risley, Haydon?" asked Dr. Lawrence.
"My father's man, sir," replied Jack. "It seems to me that they must have got as far as Brindisi on their way home. I feel wretchedly uneasy. Something tells me that things have gone wrong with my father."
"Oh, I hope not," said Dr. Lawrence. "There is no word of ill-news here. The urgency may be quite on another score."
"I should like to start at once, sir," said Jack. "I know my way about the Continent very well. I have spent two or three vacations in Italy."
"Quite so, quite so," said Dr. Lawrence. "Have you plenty of money for the journey, Haydon?"
"I don't need more than sufficient to carry me to London, sir," replied Jack. "I shall go there to Mr. Buxton, my father's friend, who manages all his business affairs, and he will supply me with funds."
Jack was on fire to be off to Brindisi and see what was wrong. He made short work of his packing, and within an hour he was driving to Longhampton to catch the London express. He caught it with scarcely two minutes to spare, and was soon whirling towards the great city. A short distance from Longhampton, he caught a glimpse of Rushmere School in the distance on its hill, and the strip of heath country running up to the foot of the slope. This brought to mind his adventure, which remained as mysterious an affair as ever. The police had been most active, stations had been watched, inquiries had been made in every direction, but all to no result. The Thugs had vanished and left no trace behind. But the thought of his encounter on the heath soon faded from Jack's mind. It was crushed out by the pressing question of the moment. What was the matter at Brindisi? Why had Risley cabled and not his father? Had something happened to his father? Jack felt wretchedly uneasy, for he and his father were bound together by no ordinary ties of affection.
In the first place, he had, as far as he knew, no other living relation. His mother had been dead for many years, and his father was the only close friend that Jack knew. Then the elder Haydon had always been a great hero in his son's eyes. His profession of mining engineer had carried him into many wild corners of the world, and the store of marvellous tales which he would pour forth for the boy's delight had made Jack's holidays a time of intense pleasure. Mr. Haydon had always made a point, if it was possible, of keeping himself free for such times, and he and Jack had spent the weeks joyously, until the day for return to school had become a Black Monday indeed in the boy's eyes.
As Jack mused over memories of other days, his anxiety to know what was wrong at Brindisi grew moment by moment, and the flying express seemed to crawl, so great was his impatience to be in London, where he expected to get further news from Mr. Buxton. But he was destined to learn something long before he saw Mr. Buxton. The express screamed into an important junction and pulled up for five minutes. Three fellow-passengers got out, and left Jack to himself. A boy came along the platform shouting, "London Pay-pers," and Jack bought a Daily Telegraph.
He turned to the football news, and was reading it, when the train pulled out and shot forward once more towards London. But the accounts of his beloved sport failed to interest him, and he turned the paper over listlessly, idly scanning one big sheet after another. Suddenly the word imprinted on his brain caught his eye. "Brindisi"—here was some scrap of news from Brindisi.
What was it? Jack folded the paper, and then a second name seemed to leap at him from the sheet. His own name! Haydon, Brindisi. What now? His eyes darted over the paragraph, and he drew a long, gasping breath. This, then, was the explanation of the cablegram. Over and over again Jack read the paragraph, striving to grasp what it all meant, striving to seize the inner meaning. The paragraph was short and to the point. It ran:—
"FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.
"There is much stir here over the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Thomas Haydon, the famous mining expert and engineer. He arrived here on Sunday, and it was believed that he intended to travel to England by the mail-train. He went for a walk on Sunday evening, but did not return to his hotel, where his man and his baggage were awaiting him. Since he left his hotel there has been no sign of him, and the authorities are making a diligent search."
His father had disappeared? How? Why? Jack could make nothing of it, and he stared at the paper with pale face and perplexed eyes. It was so contrary to his every idea of his father, this extraordinary disappearance. Thomas Haydon was the last man in the world to set tongues wagging and to give anxiety to friends by such a trick. There was something very strange at the back of this, and Jack struck the paper with his open hand. "Foul Play!" he murmured to himself, and then, for he was alone in the carriage, he said it aloud, "Foul Play!"
Jack glanced at his watch. The train was due at St. Pancras in an hour. How slowly that hour dragged! Now that he knew this momentous piece of news, Jack burned more fiercely than ever to be in the midst of affairs and doing something to clear up this strange mystery which had gathered about his father's name. At last, with a thrill of joy, he heard the engine give its warning shriek as it ran into the big station. He had brought nothing but a Gladstone bag with him, and he had it in his hand, and the door of the carriage open, before the train drew up. He made a leap at the first hansom, and shouted, "Lincoln's Inn. Drive fast," and away he rattled into London streets.
There was a good cob in the shafts, and little time was lost on the way. Jack paid the man double fare for the excellent speed he had made, then bounded upstairs to the landing upon which Mr. Buxton's chambers opened. In answer to his knock, a tall, thin man with a long beard came to the door, and Jack gave a cry of joy. "You are at home, then, Mr. Buxton. How glad I am! It has been my one terror that you might be away in the country."
"No, Jack, I'm here," said Mr. Buxton, shaking hands. "I've been expecting you every knock I've heard. I suppose you've seen the papers."
"Yes," cried Jack, "I saw the Daily Telegraph. Are there any further particulars in the others?"
"No," replied Mr. Buxton, leading the way into his sitting-room. "The Telegraph has as much as anyone."
"Have you heard anything? Do you know anything?" cried Jack eagerly.
"Nothing but what I've seen in the papers," replied the other. "I'm altogether at sea. I can't fathom in the least what it all means. What have you had?"
"Nothing but this cablegram," said the lad, and handed it over. Mr. Buxton read it aloud slowly, and nodded. "From Risley," he said. "Of course he wants to get you on the spot at once."
"I shall start without any delay," said Jack. "Isn't there a boat-train to-night?"
"Yes," said Mr. Buxton, glancing at a clock on the mantelpiece, "but there's plenty of time for that. Sit down and talk it over, and besides, you must have something to eat."
He rang the bell and ordered the servant who answered it to set out a meal in the adjoining apartment: he gave Jack a chair beside the fire, and took one opposite to him and began to fill a pipe.
"Mr. Buxton," said Jack earnestly, "there's something out of the common in this. My father has met with foul play. Before I know anything else I feel sure of that."
Mr. Buxton struck a match and puffed out several clouds of smoke. Then he tossed the match into the fire, and nodded through the tobacco clouds. "I agree with you, Jack," he said. "This is the queerest thing I ever came across in my life. I've known Tom Haydon, boy and man, this forty-five years, and he's as straight as a gun-barrel. If they expected him back at that hotel, if Risley expected him back, then he meant to come back. And if he didn't get back, it was because he was interfered with. I'd stake a hand on that."
Jack nodded with glistening eyes. "And I'm going to see why he didn't come back," said the lad.
"I'd come with you if I could," said Mr. Buxton, "but at present I can no more leave London than the Monument can. I'm as fast by the leg, held by press of work, as a bear tethered to a stump. How do you stand for funds?"
"I've only got a sovereign or two in my pocket," said Jack. "I was depending on you."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Buxton, "of course you were. I made time an hour or so ago to run over your father's accounts. There's plenty to draw on." He went over to his desk and ran his fingers through a bundle of papers. "Here it is," he remarked. "At the present moment your father is worth the respectable sum of forty-seven thousand two hundred and nineteen pounds eighteen shillings and fourpence; so he certainly hasn't run away from his creditors."
Jack nodded. "I'll start straight for Brindisi to-night, Mr. Buxton. I can't lose a minute till I get on to the spot and talk with Buck Risley."
Mr. Buxton nodded. "I quite understand your feelings, Jack," he replied. "I've wondered whether the matter might not have a very simple explanation after all. One thing struck me. Has your father ever said anything about his health to you? You know he's been a great deal in India and Burmah. It's a very easy thing to get a touch of the sun, and that will often cause a man to lose the sense of his identity and get lost for a time."
Jack shook his head. "I've never heard him mention such a thing," he said. "He's always been perfectly fit whenever I've seen him."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Buxton, "and whenever I've seen him, too. He has a wonderful constitution. But, you know, the possibility crossed my mind, and I mentioned it."
At this moment the servant announced that the meal was ready, and Jack did his best to eat something. It was a very poor best, however, for he was too anxious to be on his way to be able to eat, and he was relieved when Mr. Buxton said it was time to start and sent the servant for a cab.
On their way to Charing Cross they did not talk much: conjecture was a pretty useless thing, and, in their present state of utter lack of information, conjecture was the only thing possible.
The bustle of getting a ticket and finding a seat occupied most of the ten minutes they had to spare before the train started, and, as the swift express glided out, Mr. Buxton waved his hat to Jack leaning through the window, and cried, "Good luck!"
Of Jack's swift scurry across the Channel and over the Continent it is not necessary to enter into details. He made the journey with the utmost speed, and chafed at every delay. At last the train ran into the station of Brindisi, and Jack hung half out of the window, his eyes searching the crowd for Risley, to whom he had telegraphed his time of arrival.
"Hullo, Buck," sang out Jack, as a middle-sized, stiff-built man of five and thirty ran up to his carriage door.
"Glad to see you, Jack," said Buck Risley, as they shook hands. "Very glad to see you."
"Any news?" snapped Jack.
"Not a word," replied Buck gravely, "not a word. Is this your bag?"
"Yes," said Jack sombrely, for he was very disappointed. He had been hoping to hear that something had been found out, or that his father had returned.
Buck took Jack's gladstone, called a carriage, and gave the name of the hotel. He did not speak till they were rattling along the streets of Brindisi.
"Say, Jack, this beats the band," he said. "I can't make a guess what's happened to the Professor."
Mr. Haydon and Buck Risley had first met in a "wild-cat" mining camp in Dakota. The Lone Wolf Clarion had introduced the English engineer to the local community as Professor Haydon, and Mr. Haydon had been the Professor ever since to his part-comrade, part-servant.
"Tell me all about it," said Jack, and Buck began his story. It was soon finished, for there was very little to tell. They had been four months in Burmah, and Mr. Haydon and Buck had gone up to Mandalay, and then on to the Mogok country. At Mogok Buck had been seized with a sharp touch of fever, and had been compelled to remain in that famous mining town while Mr. Haydon went up country, accompanied only by a few natives who had been with him in other journeys. He came back after an absence of five weeks to Mogok, found Buck better, and announced that they would return to England at once. They had packed and started forthwith, and returned by the usual route.
"Did my father seem quite himself, just as usual in every way, Buck?" asked Jack.
"No," said Buck thoughtfully. "He didn't quite. There was somethin' on the Professor's mind, I'm sure o' that."
Jack put forward Mr. Buxton's suggestion, but Buck waved it aside.
"Touch o' the sun," said he. "Oh, no, nothin' like that. The Professor was as fit as he always was, right as a bull-frog in a swamp. No, it was a sort of anxiousness there was about him. He was that careful that you might almost call him fidgetty."
"Fidgetty!" said Jack in surprise, as he remembered the perfectly equable manner of his widely-travelled father.
"Yes, that's as good a word as any I can jump on at short notice," replied Buck. "He seemed as keen on getting back to London as some o' these globetrotters who have got sick o' foreign parts."
"That was rather strange," commented Jack. "You've been with my father twelve years now, Buck. Did you ever see him like it before?"
"Never in my knowledge of him," said Buck, shaking his head. "As a general rule the Professor was as calm an' easy campin' in a jungle as another man in a front seat at a circus. It was all one to the Professor, let things come how they might. But this time he seemed as if his only idea was to get back. Not that he said much about it. The most I ever heard him say was, 'Well, Buck, I don't care how soon I get into Lane & Baumann's office,' an' he only said that once when he was fretted at losing a day by missing a boat at Rangoon."
At this moment the carriage drew up at the door of the hotel. They had scarcely entered the door when the hotel clerk came forward with a cablegram. It was from Messrs Lane & Baumann, asking if anything was yet known of Mr. Haydon.
"If he was anxious to see them, they are just as anxious to see him," said Buck, handing the form to Jack. "Every day they wire, an' sometimes twice a day, to know if I've got hold of any news."
"I wish I'd been to see them before I left London," said Jack. "I might have got some useful information from them. What do you believe has happened to my father?"
"I dunno what to think," said Risley, "except that some o' these Dagoes got him in a corner and went for his pocket-book. He'd got plenty of money with him."
"But if he'd been attacked by thieves," argued Jack, "the police would have found something out before this. He could not have been hidden away from them."
Buck shook his head. "Some o' these Dagoes are very sly and deep," he replied. "I've heard queer stories about 'em at times. They say there are brigands around."
"Yes, yes," said Jack, "in Sicily and in some of the wilder parts of Calabria, but not in Brindisi, Buck, not in this big port."
"Well, I give it up," said Buck, "but there's a queer twist at the bottom of it somewhere. The Professor ain't the sort o' man to worry us by goin' into hiding somewhere, and lyin' low."
"Of course he isn't," said Jack. "My father was prevented from returning to the hotel, that's clear enough; and we've got to find how."
"Say, I'm your man, Jack," returned Buck. "I shan't feel easy till I've had a glimpse o' the Professor with his old, quiet smile on him. We'll hunt every hole there is."
For two days Jack and Buck hunted every hole about Brindisi, and, stimulated by the promise of handsome rewards, the police, too, did their utmost, but all was in vain; the missing man had disappeared as though the earth had opened and swallowed him. Absolutely the only thing out of the ordinary that the police could discover was that a fisherman's skiff was missing one night, and was found the next morning a couple of miles down the coast, floating idly about. But the painter was drifting astern, and it might easily have happened that it had been carelessly fastened, and the rope had slipped from the mooring ring and allowed the skiff to drift away.
On the afternoon of the second day Jack announced his decision. "Buck," said he, "I'm going back to London. I want to see Lane & Baumann. It's quite possible that some information may be gleaned from them which would give us a basis to go to work upon."
"It's no good stopping here," said Risley. "When shall we start?"
"To-night," said Jack, and, being near the station, they turned in to look up the time of the fast express. Jack glanced along the platform, and soon found what he sought, one of Cook's interpreters. "I want to ask some questions of the booking-clerk," he said to the man, slipping several lire into his hand, "you might come and interpret for me."
"Yes, sir," said the man at once, and followed the tall young Englishman to the office. In three minutes Jack had learned what he wished as to the shortest route and fastest trains; then he and Risley set out to return to the hotel. Suddenly Jack remembered another point, and crying, "Half-a-minute, Buck," he rushed back to the office. He thrust open a swing door and saw that the interpreter was still there, and was now in conversation with a smaller man. Jack stepped forward, and the smaller man looked up and gave a short, quick cry of alarm. For a second Jack stood with widely-opened eyes and parted lips, an image of wild surprise. Then darting forward at full speed, he seized the second man by the throat, and clutched him as a lion clutches his prey.
THE BIG RUBY.
Jack had known the fellow at once, had recognised him instantly as the small, dark man who had stood in front of him upon Rushmere Heath and demanded that he should produce his father's letter. An instant conviction had darted into Jack's mind that these things were connected, and that this man knew something of his father's disappearance.
"I've got you this time," cried Jack, and was upon him in a second. But a most astonishing thing happened. The small, slight man offered no resistance to Jack's fierce rush, instead, he seemed to give way before it as a reed gives way before the wind. Then he bent slightly and laid one small, sinewy hand on Jack's knee, and, in some mysterious fashion or another, the lad felt that his hold was torn away, and that he was flying through the air over the little man's head. All in a heap Jack landed on the dusty floor. As he fell, he caught a glimpse of Buck's head thrust through the swinging door as he followed his young leader, and saw the look of surprise on Buck's face.
"Seize him!" roared Jack, and Buck darted forward as the dark stranger shot through another door and vanished into a crowd which swarmed on to the platform from a train which had just drawn up. Jack gathered himself together, and sprang to his feet, and rushed after his companion. He soon found Buck, who was hurrying through the groups, looking about on every hand, and they searched together, but searched in vain; the mysterious stranger had gone to earth safely amid the ample cover provided by the mass of bustling passengers. At last they pulled up and looked at each other.
"No go," said Jack, "he's lost in the crowd. He may be far enough away by now."
Buck's look of wonder and surprise was striking to behold.
"See here, Jack," he said, laying his hand on his companion's arm. "How in thunder do you come to know Saya Chone, and jump on him at sight like a hawk droppin' on a chicken?"
"You know him, Buck?" cried Jack. "You know his name?"
"Know him all right," replied Buck. "But what under the sun is he doing this distance from home? What brings Saya Chone in Brindisi? The last time I set eyes on him he was coming into Mogok with a little bag of rubies to sell to U Saw, the chap they call the Ruby King."
"He comes from Burmah, where you have been?"
"Sure thing," said Buck, nodding his head. "He's a half-caste. Says his father was a British officer, and prides himself on talking Number One English."
"He talked English as easily as we do," said Jack, "but with an odd click of the tongue."
"That's the native strain in him," returned Buck. "But where did you run up against him and hear his English?"
Jack told his story quickly, and Risley listened with a knitted brow of attention.
"Say, there's business at the back o' this," murmured Buck, "but where it fits in beats me at the moment. We don't know enough, Jack, to be sure which way we're moving."
"We do not, Buck, you are quite right," replied the lad, "and we'll make a bee-line for London and see the firm for whom father was working."
"Let's go and see what tar-brush was talking to the interpreter about," suggested Buck, and they went at once and found the man, who had returned to his post on the platform. The interpreter readily told them that the half-caste had offered him a liberal sum in order to learn what Jack was doing, and what route he intended to follow on leaving Brindisi, but the man declared that he had made no answer, had, indeed, been unable to reply to the questions before Jack was on the scene and making his rush.
"Is it worth while to stop here and put the police on the search for this fellow, I wonder?" said Jack, as he and his companion returned to the hotel.
"I doubt it," returned Buck. "There are such numbers of foreigners of all kinds passing through the port that the police can't keep track of them all. Besides, it would take time, and if there's some queer game in the wind, we've lost a good deal now. If you could learn, Jack, how matters stand between the Professor and the firm that sent him out to Burmah, it might give you a line to go on. At present we're snuffin' the wind and pickin' up no scent."
"You're right, Buck, we'll get the baggage together at once."
Again Jack rushed across Italy, France, and the Channel, never pausing for one instant on the way. It was a little before noon on a Thursday morning when he saw London again, and, at the terminus, he parted with Buck.
The latter went with the baggage to Lincoln's Inn to report to Mr. Buxton, while Jack, too anxious to lose another moment, jumped into a cab and drove straight to the offices of Messrs Lane & Baumann in Old Broad Street. He sent his name in, and was shown at once into a large room where Mr. Lane, the senior partner, sat at his desk.
"Ah, Mr. Haydon," said he, "you have, I hope, come to give us some news about your father."
"Unfortunately I have not," replied Jack. "I have been in Brindisi making every inquiry possible, but I have been able to gather no information whatever as to his whereabouts. I have come here in hopes that you may give me some idea of what his arrangements were with you, and from that I might plan a course of action."
"I think my partner had better join us," said Mr. Lane, taking up a speaking-tube. For a few moments nothing was said. The business man went on with the letter he was writing, and Jack looked about him. The office was large and splendidly fitted up. Jack knew nothing of Lane & Baumann, but it was plain on every hand that it was a large and wealthy firm. Mr. Lane himself was an elderly gentleman, irreproachably dressed, and the picture of an important man in the City.
The door opened and the other partner came in. Jack saw that Mr. Baumann was much younger, a fat, heavy German with clean-shaven face and big, round spectacles, through which little, thick-lidded eyes peered.
"Has he brought some news?" asked Baumann quickly. "What does he say?" His accent at once betrayed him, though his English was excellent.
"No," said Mr. Lane quietly, "he has brought no news. He comes to learn of us."
"To learn of us," said Baumann slowly; "and what is it you wish to learn?" he demanded of Jack.
The latter eyed the German keenly. At the first word he detected an enemy. Mr. Lane had been gravely polite and non-committal in his manner. This man showed hostility at once.
"I wish to learn anything that will aid me in discovering the reason for the mysterious disappearance of my father," replied Jack, firmly.
"Mysterious disappearance," repeated the German, with a sneering stress upon the words. "Ach Gott! it is no mystery to me when a man with such a gombanion as that disappears." He was becoming excited, and his German accent began to thicken.
"Companion," repeated Jack, "I do not understand you. My father had no companion except Buck Risley, his man, who has now returned to London with me."
"Had he not, indeed?" said Baumann. "But he had a very close gombanion, one who might easily lead him astray. Himmel, what was it not worth? I think about it night and day."
"Gently, Baumann, gently," said Mr. Lane. "You are mystifying Mr. Haydon, and I shall explain to him what you mean. He clearly does not understand you, and I do not think it is right to keep him in the dark. Mr. Haydon, do you know why your father went to Burmah for us?"
"I understood that he was going to survey some concession you had gained," replied Jack.
"My goncession," cried Baumann. "I went over there and saw the place, and I said to myself, Himmel, here is the for rubies, yes, fine rubies, and I got all rights to dig there."
Mr. Lane quieted his excited partner and turned once more to Jack.
"Exactly," he said; "your father went to survey a concession for us. My partner had been over the ground, and had returned convinced that there was a fine field for ruby-mining. We sent your father out to look carefully over the ground on our behalf, and a short time ago we received some very startling news from him. He cabled to us that in a fissure of the rock, where, as everyone knows, the finest rubies are found, he had made a most marvellous find. He had come across a ruby of priceless quality, and, as his work was done, he intended to return at once, bringing the ruby with him in order to place it himself in our hands."
"And now he has mysteriously disappeared," sneered Baumann. His meaning was very plain, and Jack leapt to his feet with pale face and shining eyes.
"Sir!" he cried. "Do you dare to hint that the ruby is the cause of my father's disappearance?"
The German smiled, and Jack's anger grew.
"It is impossible!" he cried. "My father is the soul of uprightness and honour. And do you think he would be tempted by a mere stone, whatever its value? He has handled rubies a hundred and a hundred times."
"Ay," snarled the German, "but not such a ruby as this. What did he say himself? What was in his cablegram? 'The finest ruby by far that I have ever seen or handled!' He says that. He, Haydon, the first living expert on rubies, the man who knows everything of every big specimen in existence. Himmel, Himmel, what a stone was that! And what time are we losing! I would set every police of the world on his track. And we do no nothing, nothing!"
"Gently, Baumann, gently, you know very well that I do not agree with you," said Mr. Lane.
Jack turned eagerly to the senior partner. He felt that the whining German was below both his anger and contempt.
"Sir," said Jack earnestly, "if my father had in his charge a stone so immensely precious, I fear he has met with foul play."
"Who knew of it?" said Mr. Lane. "Had he mentioned anything about it to his man?"
"No, he had not," said Jack, and narrated at once what he had heard from Buck Risley.
"Yes," said Mr. Lane, nodding, "it was the possession of the great jewel which made him uneasy."
"Who can say what it was worth?" broke in Baumann fiercely. "A big ruby of perfect colour and without flaw, remember, he said its like did not exist, is of all stones the most precious. Diamonds, poof! This ruby was worth a score of great diamonds."
"And if my father had with him so wonderful a stone," urged Jack on Mr. Lane, "is it not almost certain that someone has learned of its existence? and again I say that he has met with foul play."
"But who should know of it?" said Mr. Lane. "It is most unlikely that he should mention it to anyone; and you say, moreover, that his own companion knew nothing of it."
"But," cried Jack, and thought this point was a clincher, "he cabled home to you about it, and word of it got abroad, perhaps, from the telegraph office."
Mr. Lane shook his head. "He cabled to us in cipher," he said; "a cipher which he had composed himself and wrote down for us before he started. The paper has been safely locked up in our strong-room, and it was the only copy in the world, for he told us that, for himself, he should carry the cipher in his memory."
This was puzzling and baffling, and Jack was silent. In a moment he put forward another point.
"But we are not sure the ruby has disappeared with my father," he said; "it may be packed away in his baggage."
Mr. Lane shook his head once more. "No," he said, "that is very unlikely. Your father would be certain to carry a thing so small and so valuable on his person. He would never part with it night or day."
Again there was a short interval in which nothing was said. Into this silence suddenly broke the grumbling roar of Baumann's great voice. The German had been brooding over the disappearance of the great stone until he was beside himself.
"Ach Gott," he cried furiously to Mr. Lane. "You are foolish. You still believe in the man and trust him. Me, I do not, I tell you plainly he is a thief. He is to-day perhaps in Amsterdam, cutting that noble and splendid stone into many smaller ones, and each of them still a fortune. Yes, he is a thief!"
"You liar!" roared Jack. "My father is not a thief. How dare you take such words on your dirty lips in respect of such a man!"
He had bounded to his feet and clenched his fists. Mr. Lane sprang between them.
"Now, Mr. Haydon," said the elder man, "you must keep the peace. Baumann is speaking very wildly. I do not agree with him. I know your father too well."
Respect for Mr. Lane held Jack back, and nothing else. He would dearly have liked to plant his fist on the German's foaming mouth, but he commanded himself with an immense effort, and tried to speak calmly.
"The man is mad to say such things," said Jack with trembling lips. "Why, the whole facts of the case are against any such monstrous idea. If my father had wished to steal the stone, would he have cabled to you full particulars and started home? What would have been easier than to pocket it at once, and say nothing?"
"He was not a thief at first," vociferated the German. "He was honest when he cabled. But the jewel, the great, big, beautiful jewel itself corrupted him. He looked at it, and looked at it, till the love of it filled his heart and he could not part with it. Himmel, I have felt it all. I know what happened as well as if I had been at his side all the voyage."
"Look here, you foul slanderer," cried Jack. "I'll prove you a liar out and out. Listen to me. I'll find my father if he still remains in existence, and I'll prove that you wrong him by your unjust suspicions." The lad turned to Mr. Lane with flushed face and shining eyes. "I thank you, sir," he said, "for the trust you still retain in my father. I will do my very utmost to prove to you that it was well placed. I cannot promise you anything save that I will do all that lies in my power to trace your great ruby and discover my father's fate at the same time."
Jack could say no more. He held out his hand and Mr. Lane shook it, and the tall English lad strode from the office.
BUCK SEES LIGHT.
Jack walked rapidly through the city, and, free from the presence of Baumann and his vile insinuations, began to cool rapidly and survey the situation with a steadier eye.
"This needs talking over," he said to himself. "Here's a big new development." He hailed a cab and was driven to Lincoln's Inn. He found Mr. Buxton's sitting-room littered with the baggage they had brought home, and Mr. Buxton himself in close confab with Buck Risley.
"Hullo, Jack," said the elder man, rising to shake hands with him; "how have you been getting on with Lane and Baumann? You look excited."
"Rather, Mr. Buxton," said Jack. "I have been learning a great deal." He struck into his story at once, and the two men listened with great interest.
"He had an immense ruby of incalculable value in his possession," said Mr. Buxton slowly, when Jack had finished. "I say, this changes the whole situation. I'm afraid, Jack, something very serious has happened to your father."
"Then that's what was on the Professor's mind," cried Buck. "I knew very well there was something. It was big enough to make even him feel uneasy."
"It's an odd thing he didn't mention it to you, Risley," said Mr. Buxton. "I've always understood that you were privy to all his business movements."
"That's all right, Mr. Buxton," said Risley cheerfully. "You've got that quite straight. In a general way the Professor hid nothing from me. But this time he did hide it about the big stone, and I'm goin' to show you how right, just as usual, the Professor was. You must remember," went on Buck, "that when he picked me up at Mogok on the way home, he found only a dim and distant shadder o' the party now talkin' to you. I'd been on my back for weeks with fever, and was as weak and nervous as a kitten. I've picked up wonderful on the voyage home. Well, if he'd told me o' such a thing as he'd certainly got at that moment in his belt, it would ha' rattled me to pieces. I should have been certain to give the show away in my anxiety for fear anybody should get to know about it, and do him a mischief. So he said nothing at all. But it puts everything in a new light, everything."
"Buck!" cried Jack. "What about that fellow who stopped me on Rushmere Heath and then turned up in Brindisi? Can he have something to do with it?"
"Now you're talking, Jack," said Risley, nodding at the young man. "'Twas all runnin' through my mind. It all hangs together, as straight as a gun."
Buck knitted his brows in deep thought, and stared into the fire. Mr. Buxton was about to speak, but Buck held up his hand for silence, and the quiet remained unbroken till the American slapped his knee with a crack like a pistol-shot, looked round on them, and nodded briskly.
"I've worked it out," said Buck. "The Professor's been kidnapped, and I'll lay all I'm worth I can spot the parties who have boned him."
"Kidnapped!" The cry burst in irrepressible surprise and excitement from the other two.
"Sure thing," said Risley. "Just listen to me. That half-caste Saya Chone comes from up-country somewhere in the direction the Professor headed for after leaving Mogok. That's the starting-point for the whole business. He's mixed up in it from first to last, that's plain enough, by his showing up at Rushmere and then followin' Jack to Brindisi as he must have done. What brought him trackin' us all this way if he didn't know about the big ruby and was in with the gang that's carried off the Professor?"
"But why are you so sure that they have carried Tom Haydon off, Risley?" asked Mr. Buxton. "Perhaps they—" Mr. Buxton paused, unable to put into words the terrible thought which filled his mind.
"Say it right out, sir," said Buck encouragingly. "You can say it out, for I don't believe it's the least bit true. You meant, suppose they've murdered the Professor for the ruby?"
Mr. Buxton nodded, and Jack went white about the lips.
"Well, that's all right," said Buck cheerfully, "they ain't done that, anyway. First thing, if so we'd ha' found the Professor, for all they wanted was the stone; they'd no use in the world for his body. But there's a lot more in it than that. They want the Professor himself. It's a dead sure thing that where that big stone came from there's a lot more, and they intend to make him show them the place."
"Ah," said Mr. Buxton, "there's a good deal in that, Risley. I hadn't thought of that."
"Then, Buck," cried Jack, "you think that my father has been seized and is being carried back to Burmah?"
"I'm as sure of it as I am that we are in this room," said Buck solemnly.
Jack drew a long breath of immense relief. To feel that his father might be alive, and possibly could be rescued, was to bring a bright gleam of hope into the darkness of this strange affair.
"How have they carried him away?" cried Jack.
"By sea," replied Buck. "Couldn't be done by land, nohow. But you can get a quiet road by sea easy enough. I wonder how much that boat that disappeared from the harbour had to do with it. They might have nailed him, pulled him out in it to a vessel waiting off the harbour, and then sent it adrift when they'd done with it."
Mr. Buxton had filled his pipe and was smoking thoughtfully. Now he took the pipe out of his mouth, and spoke.
"I can see another thing which, in the light now thrown upon the affair, seems very possible," said he. "How many letters did you receive from your father, Jack, when he was on his way home?"
"Only one, Mr. Buxton," replied Jack. "The one he sent me from Cairo was the first I had had from him for a long time."
"Isn't it possible," went on Mr. Buxton, "that those who were following him up knew of that letter being sent, and were anxious to read it, hoping that he would describe where he had been and what he had been doing? Then, even if they failed to secure him and the big stone, they would know the spot where he had discovered the ruby-mine."
"Say, Mr. Buxton, you've hit the bull's eye," remarked Buck. "That's about the square-toed truth."
"And that's why they threw the letter away when they had read it," cried Jack. "There was no hint of any such thing in it."
There was silence for a few moments, while all three pondered over the strange events which had taken place. It was broken by Jack.
"Oh, Buck," he said, "I suppose there is no chance of such a precious thing being in the baggage after all."
"Not it," replied Risley. "I packed every consarned thing with my own hands. I had just enough strength for a job like that."
"And you feel convinced, Risley, that Tom Haydon has been spirited off back to Burmah by a gang who have learned of his wonderful find, and mean to seize it for themselves?" said Mr. Buxton.
"Dead sure of it, sir," replied Buck.
Jack sprang to his feet and paced the room excitedly.
"Then we'll go ourselves, Buck," he cried, "and run them to earth."
"Sure thing," said Buck calmly. "I'm on at once for a look into what's happened to the Professor."
"It will be a dangerous quest," said Mr. Buxton slowly; "a very dangerous quest, among wild lands and savage peoples. I know that much. Do you think the Government authority extends over the district where the discovery was made, Risley?"
"No, it don't," replied Buck. "They're all savage Kachins and Shans up there, as ready for a scrap as any you ever met. It's all the authorities can do to hold 'em off the settlements."
"A dangerous quest indeed!" repeated Mr. Buxton.
"But one that must be undertaken," cried Jack earnestly. "Would you have me leave my father's fate a matter of uncertainty, Mr. Buxton? I know very well it's a long journey on the chance of Buck being right in his suspicions. But so many things point that way, and if Buck is willing to guide me to the country where the search ought to be made, I will gladly go."
"Oh, I'm with you, of course, Jack," sang out Buck Risley. "We'll have a look into things, anyhow, an' I know more than a bit of that country. I've been three times up the river, an' made all sorts o' little side-trips."
"Thank you, Buck," cried the lad. "I knew you'd be willing to help me. We'll start as soon as possible. You'll find us plenty of funds, won't you, Mr. Buxton?"
"Oh, yes, Jack," said Mr. Buxton, "I'll find you all the money you want for such a purpose."
Three days later, about four o'clock in the afternoon, Jack and Buck walked into Lincoln's Inn, and knocked at Mr. Buxton's door. They had been staying at a hotel near at hand, and nothing was said until Jack had carefully closed the door of the inner sitting-room, where Mr. Buxton was at work among his papers.
"So you're off to-morrow?" said Mr. Buxton, laying down his pen.
"No, to-night," said Jack.
"What?" returned Mr. Buxton in surprise. "Have you got all your luggage ready?"
"Yes, sir," said Buck. "We've got it with us."
"Oh, your cab is outside?" he said.
"No, sir," replied Buck, with a twinkle in his eye. "You see it all on view."
Mr. Buxton scratched his head. "Do you mean to say that you're going to start for Burmah with an umbrella apiece?"
"We do, Mr. Buxton," replied Jack. "We're going to slip off quietly. Buck thinks we're being watched."
"Watched!" cried Mr. Buxton. "By whom?"
"Can't say that," said Buck. "But there's someone takin' a deep interest in us I feel certain. I should venture to spec'late as the ruby gang want to know what we're up to."
"And you mean to start off for the other side of the world equipped merely for a stroll through the Park?" cried Mr. Buxton.
"Why not, sir?" asked Buck. "You've found us plenty of money, and we can rig ourselves out whereever there are shops. Best for us, too, to pull out on this business with as little show as we can make. If we don't, we may find ourselves pulled up mighty soon and mighty sharp. I tell you this is a deep an' cunning gang we've got to fight. An' they've got a big pull of us. They know us and we know very little of them. I can tell you there are wily birds east of Suez. They are up to all the tricks, both of East and West."
The two visitors did not stay five minutes with Mr. Buxton. They wished their visit to have the air of a mere passing call, and when he had shaken hands with them and wished them good luck, they left his rooms, strolled into Chancery Lane, and went gently up towards Holborn as if they had nothing to do but stare at the sights of the town like country cousins.
"Jack," said Buck softly, "let's pull up and look at this shop window, the panes have just got the bulge I want."
Jack, wondering a little what his companion meant, stopped, and they stared into a print shop where photographs of eminent judges and K.C.'s were set out in rows.
"Say, this is bully," murmured Buck. "Move a bit on one side, Jack, so that I can see the street behind us reflected in the glass. Now, come on, I've seen all I want. Don't turn your own head or you'll spoil the show."
They walked on together, and Buck muttered in deep satisfaction: "I've spotted the man following us; a stout chap with a double chin and a look like a fat policeman out o' work. I reckon I've tumbled to this game. I've seen him outside our hotel."
"Is it one of the gang?" asked Jack.
"Oh, no," replied his companion. "More likely to be one o' these private detectives hired to watch us. Now we've got to throw pepper into his eyes, an' then make a break for the station."
Buck raised his hand and hailed a growler. They got in, Buck said "Marble Arch," and away trotted the horse. Buck now set himself to keep a watch out of the little window at the back of the cab, and soon gave a chuckle of satisfaction.
"He's coming," he said, "he's in a hansom about fifty yards behind. This makes it a dead cert that he's our man. It would be a bit too much of a coincidence for him to be outside our hotel last night, following us up Chancery Lane to-day, and now tracking us along Oxford Street."
"How will you drop him?" asked Jack.
"As easy as tumbling off a log," replied Buck. "We'll use Connaught Mansions. Do you remember its two entrances? We'll pop in at one and out at the other."
Jack laughed, and understood at once. His father had a flat at Connaught Mansions, a huge block of flats near Lancaster Gate, which served as Mr. Haydon's London home between his journeys. They had made no use of it during the few days they had been in town, preferring a hotel near Mr. Buxton's rooms, but now it would be of service to their plans.
As they neared the Marble Arch, Buck gave the address to the driver. He handed up a couple of half-crowns at the same time.
"We may be detained at the place you're driving to," he remarked. "Wait a quarter of an hour at the door, and then if we don't send any message to you, you can go."
"Very good, sir," said the cabby, and on rolled the growler, and soon turned into the courtyard of Connaught Mansions, and pulled up at the main entrance. Jack and his companion left the cab at once and went into the lobby, where the porter came out of his office.
"Hullo, Mr. Risley, you are back again," said the porter. Then he caught sight of Jack, whose face was very well known from frequent visits to his father. The question which had plainly been on the porter's lips was at once checked. He had been eager to talk to Buck about the disappearance of Mr. Haydon, but Jack's presence put a barrier upon that.
The cloppety-clop of the feet of a passing cab horse now came in through the open door of the vestibule. Jack glanced out and saw the stout man passing in his cab. The spy seemed to be very busy reading a paper, and the whole thing looked as innocent as could be.
"Well, I'll nip upstairs an' get what I want," said Buck to the porter, and he and Jack rang for the lift, and were shot up to the fifth floor. Upon this landing there was one projecting window, which commanded the front of the great building, and the two comrades went cautiously to it and peeped out.
"There he is, there he is," whispered Jack.
"Sure thing," chuckled Buck.
Far below them they saw their cabman sitting idly on his perch and waiting for his quarter of an hour to pass. The Mansions looked on to a square, a long narrow strip of gardens, filled with lofty bushes rather than trees. The spy's cab had taken a sweep round these gardens and was now drawing up on the other side, exactly opposite their cab. As they looked they saw the stout man leave his cab and move to and fro till he found a space through which he could look across the gardens and watch the entrance to the great building. From their lofty standpoint Jack and his companion had a splendid bird's-eye view of everything.
"Off we go now," said Jack. "For if our cabman makes a move he'll become suspicious."
"We've got ten minutes yet," murmured Buck; "but as you say, Jack, off we go."
They turned and crossed the landing swiftly, and ran down the stairs, flight after flight. They did not wish to call attention to their movements by ringing for the lift; besides, they were making for the back of the place, where a smaller entrance opened on a quiet side street. They gained this and were once more free to strike where they wished, leaving the baffled spy to watch the main entrance in vain.
"Now for a start in earnest," said Buck, as the two comrades hurried swiftly through the quiet streets, moving westwards in order to put as much ground as possible between themselves and the baffled spy. "I propose, Jack, that we make for Harwich and cross over to the Continent, avoiding the usual English routes and English steamers. We want to get there as quietly as we can. It wouldn't be healthy to arrive in Upper Burmah thumping a drum to let 'em know we were on their track. They've got ways of their own of gettin' rid o' people they want to see the last of."
Jack nodded. "Then we must head for Liverpool Street," he remarked.
"Yes," said Buck. "We're not far from Queen's Road Station. We'll hit the Twopenny Tube and dodge back east, now."
They went into the station and were just in time to jump into an east-bound train, as the conductor was about to shut the gates of the carriage.
"Nobody followed us there anyway," remarked Buck. "We were the last to board the train."
They went right away to the Bank, plunged into the City, and threaded the narrow streets and busy crowds in every direction, gradually working their way towards Liverpool Street. They timed their arrival there five minutes before a fast express pulled out, and were soon on their way. As they rushed through the Essex flats Buck detailed his plans, and Jack listened and agreed.
"From Harwich we'll make for Hamburg," said Risley. "There we can buy an outfit and take passage for Rangoon in a German boat which does not call in England."
* * * * *
Our story now moves on to a point nearly five weeks later, when, as evening fell, a big German steamer slowly moved up to a wide quay of Rangoon, and took up her berth. Over her side leaned two figures we know, one looking at the scene with eyes which noted the familiarity of it all, the other drinking in every detail with eager interest and curiosity.
Jack was too absorbed in the scene to utter a word; the minarets of the mosques, the vast spire of Shway Dagon, the famous pagoda, its crest of gold glittering in the last rays of the sun; the crowd of masts, the native boats, the swift little sampans darting hither and thither, the quaint up-river craft, the Chinese junks—all was so new and strange and wonderful that he could not gaze enough upon the scene. And above all, he felt that this was the land whose wildest recesses he must penetrate upon his quest, and his mind turned strongly upon that.
"Do you know, Buck," he murmured to his companion, "that the sight of all these strange new things makes the whole affair very visionary to me?"
"I think I tumble to what you mean," replied the other. "I had a touch of it myself when I first came to these queer parts. You feel as if you were ramblin' about in a dream."
"That's it, exactly," said Jack. "It seems impossible that this is workaday life in which we have a definite task."
"You'll soon shake that off," replied Buck; "the sight o' these places makes every tenderfoot moon a bit; and we've got a straight enough job before us. We'll have to rustle some before we've got the Professor out o' the hands o' these people who want to jump his claim."
"You feel certain my father is here, Buck?"
"Three times as certain as when we started," replied Risley. "Mr. Buxton's kept the search going, and found nothing. Very good. That makes it all the surer the Professor is in front of us up this river;" and Buck threw his hand northwards, pointing to the broad flood which slipped past the quays of Rangoon to the sea.
At different points of their voyage they had received cables from Mr. Buxton giving the news of the search, which was going on in vain.
The steamer took up her moorings, and the stream of landing passengers began to flow swiftly to the quay. Jack and his companion stepped ashore, each with a large kit-bag in hand. They had travelled light, and all their luggage was with them. Buck held up a finger, and a Chinese coolie darted up to them, his rickshaw running easily behind him. The two bags were pitched into the light vehicle, and Buck bade the man follow them by a gesture.
"This way, Jack," said Risley, and led his companion up a broad street, which, now that the dusk had fallen and the sea-breeze was blowing, was filled with a strange and busy crowd.
"Everybody turns out for an hour or two, now," remarked Buck. "It's pleasant and fresh after the day. This is Mogul Street, about the liveliest street in the city."
Jack looked upon the crowd with wonder, the first Eastern crowd of which he had ever made a part. The thronging pavements were a kaleidoscope of the East—long-coated Persians; small, brown, slant-eyed Japanese; big, yellow, slant-eyed Chinamen; a naked Coringhi, his dark body shining in the lamp-light, and the rings in his nose jingling together; Hindus of all ranks, from the stately Brahmin to the coolie bearing loads or pulling a rickshaw; Burmese; and, to Jack's pleasant surprise, three straight-stepping English soldiers, swinging along with their little canes, their lively talk sounding pleasantly familiar amid the babel of Eastern tongues.
At a narrow opening Buck turned and left the main street. Fifty yards along the side street he stopped the rickshaw and paid off the coolie, each taking his own kit-bag. Next Buck plunged into a dusky, ill-lighted alley, and Jack followed, wondering.
"I'm making for a friend's house," murmured Buck, "an' I'm takin' a shy road. We've got to keep our eyes skinned from now on."
"Do you think the gang will be on the look-out for us in Rangoon, Buck?" asked Jack.
"Likely enough," replied Risley. "No harm in takin' care, anyway."
The two gained a narrow lane beyond the alley, followed it some distance, then turned into a wider street. Here Buck paused before a shop whose windows were closed, but rays of light were streaming through chinks in the shutters. He tried the door and found that it was not fastened.
"Nip right in," said Risley, and the two entered briskly, and closed the door behind them. Behind the counter stood a tall, elderly man taking a rifle to pieces by the light of a brightly-burning lamp. He was surrounded by weapons of all kinds, and a single glance told Jack that he stood in a gunsmith's shop.
"Hello, Buck," said the tall man calmly. "Slidin' in like a thief in the night, eh? What's wrong, and who's your friend?"
"This is the Professor's son, Mr. Jack Haydon," replied Buck, answering the last question first, as he put down his bag and shook hands with his acquaintance.
"Pleased to know you, sir," said the gunsmith, offering his hand to Jack in turn. "Me and your father have known each other a long time and done a lot of business together. Perhaps you've heard him mention me, Jim Dent?"
"Yes, Mr. Dent," said Jack, "I've heard your name many a time."
"I'm very sorry for you, sir," said Dent. "This is a queer business about the Professor. Knocked me all of a heap when I heard of it."
"The news is about Rangoon, of course, Jim?" said Buck.
"Came at once," replied Dent. "The Professor was known to so many people here."
"Well, between me and you, Jim," said Buck in a low voice, "that's just what I've come to talk about. You know the ropes in this country pretty well, and I want your advice."
"Been in Burmah twenty-eight years, and spent a good deal of the time shiftin' about here and there," remarked Jim Dent. "I know a thing or two, as you may say. But come in; I should like to hear all about it."
He secured the outer door, put out the lamp which lighted the shop, and led the way to an inner room. Here another lamp was burning, and all three sat down. Buck plunged into the story, and Dent listened attentively, now and again putting a question.
"They've got the Professor all right," said Dent at the conclusion of Buck's narrative.
"You, too, think so?" cried Jack.
"Oh, yes, sir," returned Dent, nodding at him, "they're going to make your father show 'em his find, there's no mistake about that. The thing's been done before, but the men have been collared in this country, I admit. I've never known anything so big and daring as this, but still it's on the cards, and Buck has tumbled to the right conclusion."
"But how could they carry off my father with such secrecy?" asked Jack. "It was impossible to book a passage back in any vessel. They would have been found out at once."
"That's right enough, sir," replied Dent. "They must have had a vessel of their own, but that's a puzzling thing. Did you see any sign of this Saya Chone on the voyage, Buck?"
"Not a hair of him," replied Risley.
"He and his pals might have been among the third-class passengers after all," said the gunsmith. "You weren't looking out for them, but it's pretty plain they were looking out for you. They must have been fly to your posting that letter, and got an idea somehow or other of the address. Well, this is a rum go. What's your next move, I wonder?"
"Go straight up to Mogok," suggested Jack, "and strike into the country where my father was exploring. Surely we can lay our hands upon one or other of his native guides, and they will lead us to the place. Then we can discover whether those people you suspect of kidnapping him are anywhere in that neighbourhood."
Dent nodded his head in agreement. "Well, sir," he said, "you'll have to do something after that fashion. But you must go to work very cautiously. The men you are after are at home there, and have a hundred ways of finding out what you're up to, while you know no more of them and their movements than you know which way a snake's slipping through the jungle."
"Would it be of any use to appeal to the authorities?" asked Jack.
The gunsmith shook his head.
"Not a mite, sir, not a mite. In the first place, you're moving on suspicion, and you can hardly expect the police to go tramping round in wild and only partly explored jungle to find out if your suspicions are correct. Then, again, if inquiries were started you would only warn the parties you suspect, and they'd take good care your plans came to nothing. For holding a man tight and keeping the place of his hiding secret, this country is a marvel. I've known many a native disappear in a very mysterious fashion and be never heard of again; some enemy had disposed of him." The gunsmith fell silent and mused for a few moments.
"I'll tell you," said he, "the best thing to do now, and that is to strike up to Mandalay. There might be a chance there to pick up a bit of river news which would help you. I wonder whether old Moung San is up in Mandalay yet. He started up river with his hnau weeks back, and you know how they dawdle along, picking up every scrap of river gossip."
"Moung San!" cried Buck, "old Moung, why, he's the very man whose hnau took the Professor up the river Chindwin, the last trip Mr. Haydon made before he went up to Mogok. He'll give us a hand if he can, I know."
"He was in here, buying stuff off me to trade along the river," said Dent, "and he ought to be somewhere about Mandalay by now."
"Then we'll start in the morning by the first train," said Buck; "and that reminds me, Jim, we shall want some guns; we've got nothing at all at present, and we'll look over your stock."
"Come in the shop," said Dent, and all three went back to the little front room where weapons stood in racks about the wall.
"These Mauser pistols are handy things," remarked Dent, as he turned some of his stock on to the counter. "Clap the holster on 'em and they make a very smart little rifle."
"We'll have a couple," said Buck, "they're daisies. I've tried 'em. Have you got a light rifle or two in stock, Jim? We don't want to drag any weight through the jungle, as you know as well as most."
"What's the matter with the Mannlicher?" said Dent, picking up one of those handiest of shooting tools and passing it over to Jack. "No weight, and as good a little rifle as a man wants to put to his shoulder."
"This is all right," said Jack, putting it up. "I've never tried it, but I've heard about it. Makes pretty good shooting, I think."
"Wonderful good, sir," said Dent. "You can't wish for better. And such a handy little cartridge, too. That's a thing to consider on a march. You can carry a much bigger number for the same weight of ordinary cartridges."
For half an hour or more Buck and Jack turned over Dent's stores, and laid in a very complete stock of weapons and cartridges. As the gunsmith talked, speaking of the wild jungle into which they must wander, the wild people they would be likely to meet, and what they would need to meet the chances of their journey, his eye fired and his excitement grew. He poured forth a flood of information, of warning, of directions, which showed how complete was his knowledge of the wilds into which they were about to venture, how deep was his lore of jungle-craft, and how great his passion for the life of the explorer and adventurer. His flood of speech ended on a sigh.
"Five years it is now," he said, "since I made what I call a real trip, getting clean off the track and striking a line which you might fancy no white man had ever struck before."
Buck had been watching his old acquaintance keenly. Now he leaned over and laid his hand on Dent's arm.
"Look here, Jim," he said, "you're achin' in every bone o' your body for a real good trip again. Come with us."
The invitation was like a spark thrown upon gunpowder. The gunsmith struck the counter with his open hand till the weapons danced again.
"By George, I will!" he cried, "I'll come fast enough. It's the sort o' trip I'd choose out of a thousand."
Jack saw what a splendid recruit offered here, and he hastened to second Buck.
"If you could, indeed, spare time to accompany us, Mr. Dent," he said, "we shall be delighted to have your company and assistance."
"Well, sir," said Dent, "I'll give you a month. I can manage, I know, to get the business looked after by a friend as long as that. And within a month, if we go the right way to work, we ought to get a good idea as to whether the Professor's in the hands of that gang or not."
"And if your business suffers at all, Jim, you need never fear you'll be at a loss in the end," said Buck. "There's plenty of money for everything."
"Oh, that's all right," returned Dent. "Didn't you say you're offering a reward of L500 for finding the Professor?"
"That's so," replied Risley.
"Very good," said Dent. "Suppose I hit on him first and pick that up. That'll clear my expenses, and a bit over bar the fun o' the trip."
"Oh, Mr. Dent," said Jack, "we're paying all expenses, of course."
"Better an' better still," chuckled the gunsmith. "I get all the fun and the chance of L500 thrown in, and the lot for nothing. You can count in Jim Dent on this game." And so the matter was settled.
UP THE RIVER.
It was on a Tuesday evening that Risley and Jack entered Dent's shop in Rangoon: late on the Thursday afternoon the three comrades stepped out of the train at Mandalay.
"I know a little place down by the river where we can stay quietly," said Dent, and they took a carriage and drove down to the banks of the broad Irrawaddy. Here, at a native rest-house in a riverside village, they set down their baggage and made a hearty meal in a room whose window overlooked the noble stream with its crowd of craft.
Before they ate, Dent had an interview with the master of the house, a short, stout Burman in silken kilt and headgear of flaming scarlet, and their business was put in hand at once. The Burman sent a native boatman off to see if Moung San had reached Mandalay.
The meal was scarcely ended before the light sampan was back with good news. Moung San had been in Mandalay the last two days, and now lay at his accustomed anchorage.
"That's capital," said Dent. "We'll give old Moung a look up before the evening's much older."
Half an hour later all three embarked upon the sampan whose owner had found out the anchorage of Moung San, and the tiny craft was thrust into the river and pulled across the flowing stream. Jack looked with much interest on the pretty, picturesque little craft with its bow and stern curving upwards, and on its boatman, a strong Shan clad in wide trousers and a great flapping hat, who stood up to his couple of oars and sent the light skiff along at a good speed. A pull of a mile or more brought them to the hnau, a big native boat moored near the farther shore of the wide stream. The sampan was directed towards the lofty and splendidly-carved prow of the hnau and brought to rest.
Now there looked over the side a dark-faced old Burman, whose face broke into smiles at sight of his old acquaintances.
"Hello, Moung San," cried Dent. "We've come to pay you a visit."
"Very glad, very glad," replied the Burman. "Come up, come up."
They climbed at once to the deck of the hnau, where Moung San shook hands with them very heartily. When he heard Jack's name he smiled and showed all his teeth, stained black with betel-chewing.
"Me know your father," he said, and shook Jack's hand again. "Very good man, very good man."
Amidships there was a large cabin, roofed with plaited cane, built up on the hnau. Moung San invited them to enter it, and all four went in and sat down.
"Now, Moung San," began Jim Dent "You listen to me. You know the ruby-mines well, don't you?"
"Yes," replied Moung San. "Do much trade with the miners for many years."
"Do you know a man named Saya Chone?"
"Yes," said the trader. "Know him. Don't like him."
"Who is he with now?"
"With U Saw, the man they call the Ruby King."
"U Saw," murmured Dent reflectively. "He's jumped into notice since I was up here last. What sort of character has U Saw, Moung San?"
The Burman lowered his voice and looked uneasily round to see if any of his crew were within earshot.
"Very dangerous man," he said, shaking his head, "if he hears of one of the hill-miners finding good ruby, that man sure to lose it, perhaps lose his head same time. U Saw has many Kachins who follow him, and every Kachin carry strong, sharp dah (native sword)."
"Have the police been on to him, Moung San?" asked Buck.
"The police!" Moung San laughed disdainfully. "What do the police know about the hills and the jungle, and what goes on there? But we know. The word goes from Kachin to Shan, and from Shan to Burman, over the country, up and down the river. We know."
"Where does U Saw sell his rubies?" asked Dent.
"In China," replied the Burman. "Takes them along the great road to China from Burmah over the mountains. Sells them there for big, big money. Very rich and very strong is U Saw."
Then, with scarcely a pause, Moung San came out with a piece of news that made his hearers jump.
"When I am at Prome two weeks ago, the 'fire-boat' of U Saw pass me, and go up the river."
"Fire-boat!" cried Jim Dent. "U Saw possesses a steamer. How big, Moung San?"
Moung San went into details. He compared the "fire-boat" with the size of his hnau, he compared it with a river-steamer which now went puffing past, he described it with the greatest minuteness, for he had lain beside it at Bhamo for three days on the trip before last.
"Say," murmured Buck, looking round on his deeply-interested companions, "this beats the band. I didn't know U Saw had a steam yacht of about three hundred tons, for that's what Moung San's talk comes to. Say, Jim, my son, this clears things up a bit."
"It does that," said Dent. He turned to Jack.
"You see, sir," he remarked, "that Buck's guess hit the mark pretty straight. I'd stake my shop that the party we want was on that yacht."
Jack nodded, with bright eyes. "It must be so," he said, but Buck was again in conversation with the Burman.
"Do you know where the 'fire-boat' had been?" he asked.
"There was a word that U Saw had been a long cruise in the islands," replied Moung San.
"Been a long cruise in the islands, had he?" said Dent, in a meaning tone. There was silence while the three white men made swift calculations mentally.
"If the yacht is a good sea-boat," said Jack, "they would just about have had the right time to do it, supposing they came up the river two weeks back." He meant the voyage from the Mediterranean, and the others nodded.
The old Burman looked from one to the other gravely. There was something he did not understand behind this, and it was plain that he was about to shape a question.
Buck whispered swiftly to Jack, then spoke:
"Well, Moung San, we must be going. But the son of your old patron wished to see you and to give you a little present because you have served his father."
Jack smiled and passed over twenty rupees. Moung San's mouth was at once filled with thanks instead of questions, and an awkward moment passed safely.
"I could see the old fellow was going to ask questions," remarked Jim Dent, when they were once more in the sampan, and the big Shan was pulling strongly across the stream. "It was a lucky stroke to stop his mouth with the rupees."
"Yes," said Jack, "it's quite clear he knows nothing about my father's disappearance, or he would have said something. So it was just as well to leave him in ignorance, and escape a lot of talk. You never know where the simplest question may lead you to."
"You don't," agreed Dent. "He may wonder why we want to know about the Ruby King, but as long as he's in the dark about things, he'll put it down to mere curiosity."
THE ATTACK ON THE SAMPAN.
Jack nodded and looked out across the wide, shadowy waste of waters which surrounded them. The night had fallen and there was no moon, but the sky was full of the glorious stars of the East, and the great silent river spread itself abroad in the bright starshine till its low distant banks were lost to sight, and the sampan seemed to be crossing a vast lake. Far away up the stream a myriad twinkling lights showed where the shipping lay thickly, and now a huge cargo boat came down stream, its vast bulk looming high above the smooth flood.