“Colonel,” said Bruce, “I’d going to get some cartridges.”
He realized then that Kathlyn’s future depended upon him alone. The colonel was a broken man. So he struck the elephant, who lumbered ashore. The moment Kathlyn was safe in the barge Umballa would probably give orders to resume firing. He could do so now with impunity.
The soldiers drew Kathlyn into the barge. Umballa saw that she was wounded in the fleshy part of the arm. Quickly he snatched off the turban of one of the soldiers, unwound it and began to bandage Kathlyn’s arm.
The man, for all his oriental craftiness, was still guileless enough to expect some sign of gratitude from her; but; as he touched her she shrank in loathing. His anger flamed and he flung her roughly into a seat.
“Suffer, then, little fool!”
Meantime the colonel and Bruce dismounted and tried to stem the tide of fleeing coolies; but it was no more effective than blowing against the wind. They found, however, an abandoned pack containing cartridge cases, and they filled their pockets, calling to Ramabai and Pundita to follow them along the river in pursuit of Umballa’s barge, which was now being rapidly poled up-stream. They might be able to pick off enough soldiers, sharpshooting, to make it impossible to man the barge. They were both dead shots, and the least they could do would be to put the fight on a basis of equality so far as numbers were concerned.
The colonel forgot all about how weak he was. The rage and despair in his heart had once more given him a fictitious strength.
“The curse, the curse, always the curse!”
“Don’t you believe that, Colonel. It is only misfortune. Now I’m going to pot Umballa. That will simplify everything. Without a head the soldiers will be without a cause, and they’ll desert Kathlyn as quickly as our coolies deserted us.”
“Where is Ahmed?”
“Ahmed? I had forgot all about him! But we can’t wait now. He’ll have to look out for himself. Hark!”
Squealing and trumpeting and thunderous crashing in the distance.
“Wild elephants!” cried the colonel, the old impulse wheeling him round. But the younger man caught hold of his arm significantly.
The soldiers poled diligently, but against the stream, together with the clumsiness of the barge, they could not make headway with any degree of speed. It was not long before Bruce could see them. He raised his rifle and let go; and in the boat Umballa felt his turban stir mysteriously. The report which instantly followed was enough to convince him that he in particular was being made a target. He crouched behind Kathlyn, while two or three of the soldiers returned the shot, aiming at the clump of scrub from which a film of pale blue smoke issued. They waited for another shot, but none came.
The reason was this: the herd of wild elephants which Bruce and the colonel had heard came charging almost directly toward them, smashing young trees and trampling the tough underbrush. Some of them made for the water directly in line with the passing boats. Kathlyn, keenly alive to the fact that here was a chance, jumped overboard before Umballa could reach out a staying hand.