He led them back to the colonel’s camp, but those he sought had flown. He reasoned quickly. The trail led toward the camp of Bruce Sahib, and along this he led his men, arriving in time to find the native boatmen leaving for their boats.
A hurried question or two elicited the direction taken by the fugitives. Umballa commandeered the boats. There was some protest, but Umballa threatened death to those who opposed him, and the frightened natives surrendered. The soldiers piled into the boats and began poling down-stream rapidly. A mile or two below there was a ford and to go south the pursued must cross it.
Later, pursuer and pursued met, and a real warfare began, with a death toll on both sides. Bruce and Ahmed kept the elephants going, but in the middle of the ford a bullet struck Kathlyn, and she tumbled headlong into the water.
The curse had not yet lifted its evil hand.
THE WHITE ELEPHANT
It was the shock of the bullet rather than the seriousness of the wound that had toppled Kathlyn into the river. In the confusion, the rattle of musketry, the yelling of the panic-stricken pack coolies who had fled helter-skelter for the jungle, the squealing of the elephants, she had forgot to crouch low in the howdah. There had come a staggering blow, after which sky and earth careened for a moment and became black; then the chill of water and strangulation, and she found herself struggling in the deepest part of the ford, a strange deadness in one arm. She had no distinct recollection of what took place; her one thought was to keep her head above water.
Instantly the firing ceased; on one side because there were no more cartridges, on the other for fear of hitting the one person who had made this pursuit necessary.
Kathlyn struggled between the elephant which carried Ramabai and Pundita and the boat or barge which held the eager Umballa and his soldiers. The mahout, terrorized, had slid off and taken to his heels ingloriously. Thus, Ramabai could do nothing to aid Kathlyn. Nor could the elephant ridden by the colonel and Bruce be managed.
Umballa was quick to see his advantage, and, laughing, he urged his men toward the helpless girl. The colonel raised his rifle and aimed at Umballa, but there was no report, only a click which to the frantic man’s ears sounded like the gates of hell closing in behind him.
“Forward!” shouted Umballa.
She was his again; he would have the pleasure of taking her from under the very eyes of her father and lover. His star never faltered.
Bruce stood up in the howdah, ready to dive; but the colonel restrained him.
“Don’t waste your life! My God, we can’t help her! Not a bullet in either gun. God’s curse on all these worthless stones men call guns! . . . There, he’s got her! Not a shell left! Kit! Kit!” The colonel broke down and cried like a child. As for Bruce, hot irons could not have wrung a tear from his eyes; but Kit, in the hands of that black devil again!